Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Ponies, Life, and Laughter

November was not typical for me and my family.

I’m wondering how much of what happened this month I should write down. What do I want to remember? What should I try to forget? Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about putting it all in this post. I wouldn’t do that to you.

Some of this is going to be sad, so you don’t have to keep reading if you don’t want to. But not all of it is sad.

My brother called me at work one day. He had been taking care of Dad at home, acting as Dad’s 24/7 nurse, doing everything and more for Dad. Mother, a retired nurse, was helping, too, and she described those couple of weeks as “the shift that never ends.”

When brother John called me, he said, “Mel, I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”

He had done so much to keep Dad from going into the hospital, but he is only one man. My heart broke at the despair in my brother’s voice.  If only he would believe, as I do, that he did more than anyone else could have done for Dad, for far longer than any of us could have done it. My respect and gratitude for what John gave Dad is boundless. 

So we called 911, and Dad took a ride to the hospital. Dad was having a cascade of events that individually weren’t insurmountable, but for an 86 year-old with congestive heart failure, the outcome didn't appear promising.

Still, we held on to the thought that Dad had pulled himself back from death many times before.

The attending doctor, Dr. Blue, examined Dad, told us he was in atrial fibrillation and was beginning to get pneumonia. Dr. Blue asked Dad if he wanted to be resuscitated, should his heart stop. Dad had always answered “yes” in the past.

This time he said, “No, let me go.” In some ways I was stunned to hear this, but in other ways I understood. Life had become a struggle for Dad. He was tired. He was nearly ready.

You can see where this is going, but that’s not all to the story. Dad was still Dad, and the next professional in the room was Cassie, the telemetry lady, who came to hook up Dad’s heart monitor. She hit it off with Dad right away, and they began to flirt, shamelessly. Cassie had a scarf on, and said it was getting in the way. So she took it off.

Dad said, “Is that all you’re going to take off?”

They bantered like that for a half-hour. Cassie, I’m going to write you a note. You had my dad laughing out loud in the hours before he died. Thank you, dear lady.

Later, Dad had been admitted to a room, and I was giving his health history to a wonderful nurse, Sandy. Sandy acted as if she had all the time in the world to spend with us, made Dad comfortable, and sat down at the bedside computer to ask us a long list of questions. We were going along fine, until she asked Dad, under standard procedure, if he was in an abusive relationship.

“Yes, she beats me, “ Dad said, blue eyes twinkling.

“Dad, you can’t say that about Mom! The nurse will have to report it and they’ll go arrest Mama!” Even as well as I knew my dad, I was flabbergasted.

He wouldn’t back down, and was having quite the little chuckle at how flustered he'd made me and Nurse Sandy. We finally got him to admit he was kidding, but it was like pulling teeth. So ornery! That was his last little joke with us.

A few hours later, he passed away in the Intensive Care Unit.

Mama overspent a tad on Dad’s gravesite, and I fully supported her decision. His grave is on a hill, overlooking a lake with ducks and swans. We have an old photo of Dad feeding ducks at a lake; he was completely obsessed with feeding  all creatures great and small. Beautiful, ancient live oaks, evergreen, draped with silver Spanish moss, flourish near his grave. Beyond the cemetery is a tidal saltwater creek teeming with the fish, clams, and oysters he loved. 

We learned that the cemetery property was formerly a pony farm. Mother and I smiled when we heard this. How fitting for the little boy who’d had a Chincoteague pony from the time he was a toddler, for the man who'd realized a life-long dream of working with horses. Dad had traveled far from the coastal family farm of his youth.

He didn't know we would bury him on a pony farm. I can picture Dad chuckling. He would approve.

photo from

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Who, Me? Shallow?

In my infinite shallowness*, I fantasize about:
1.       Laser hair removal. On my face, oh noooooo! The female heartbreak of unwanted facial hair.
2.       Laser eye surgery. It would be lovely to see clearly again, but I’m way too chicken, even if I had the extra $$$. Yet, I still dream.
3.       The upper arms I had in my 20s and 30s. Can you believe it? I thought I was fat back then. Bwah-
ha-ha-ha! Snort.
4.       A personal trainer/nutritionist named Sergio. He is very nice to me and whips me into shape. People! Get your minds out of the gutter. J
5.       A live-in personal chef, like Oprah has. Her name is Gi-Gi, I pay her very well and love every morsel she cooks for me. She cleans up the kitchen after herself, too.
6.       When my buddy Oprah comes over, we laugh about back in the day. 
7.       Then Gi-Gi passes a tray of truffle puffs with sparkling glasses of award-winning wine. That Oprah! I have to watch her or she’ll get tipsy.
8.       Nablopomo ending not with a whimper, but a bang. Do I have anything left to close out the month? Sadly, by next year I will have forgotten the agony and will say, “Oh, that was so fun last year! Sign me up again, Blogher!”
* apologies to Jane in Her Infinite Wisdom


Monday, November 28, 2011

Nablopomo: You're kicking my butt. Love, Melanie

1.       Check out “one-note” so I don’t keep losing my lists.
2.       Figure out if I should get a smart phone. Gasp! My current phone is not smart.
3.       Do I want to use Twitter in the classroom next semester? See #2.
4.       Find homes for some of Mom’s rescue kitties. They have their shots & are spayed/neutered, and need forever homes. Guilt-trip good people into becoming kitty-parents, if necessary.
5.       Spend more time with my husband while we are both awake.
6.       Cut back on beating myself up with so many “should’s.”
7.       Get a haircut.
8.       Stop forcing my lists to be at least 10 items long. Sometimes 7 bits/pieces are enough for one list.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Word Nerd Side Takes Over: Foreign Phrases

Great foreign language terms or phrases, so fun for a word-nerd like me:

1.      Café con leche (nothing happens in my world without this ebony/ivory nectar of the morning)
2.      Faux pas (thanks for reminding me, Janey, and no, I never commit zee faux pas. Well, maybe not more than once a day)
3.      Sic semper tyrannis (Latin motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia: “thus always to tyrants.” Sticking it to the man, old school! Love that!)
4.      Ménage a trois (if you don’t know, ask your mother, cause I ain’t splainin’ it)
5.      Un poco loco (as in slightly cuckoo, nutty, or fruitcake-ish; bonus points for the rhyme)
6.      Au contraire (fancy way of saying, “You are an idiot, and oh, so wrong”)
7.      Contretemps (the snooty way to say: a row, a falling-out; “Melissa blithely  threatened to pinch me when we had a contretemps about the quality of my writing”)
8.      Mas tequila, por favor (always drink responsibly-- me, I stick to una cerveza—don’t want Bad Luck Detective slapping the dreaded pink cuffs on me)
9.      Carpe diem (seize the day, gather your rosebuds, kiss your sweetie right now; this one’s for Desi, who already is a superb seizer of the day)
10.  Amigas (who doesn’t need a few more of these?  I’m proud to call Home Reared Chef mi amiga)
11.  ¿Dónde está el cuarto de baño?; Ou est la salle de bain? (Arguably the most important phrase in any language; Karen Lynn, will you come with me? Ladies need backup for that trip.)
12.  Chaise-longue (think I’ll go take a nap in one now, hi  Oh Napper Deluxe, VV, aka Belle of the Carnival)
13.  Antonio-Banderas-hubba-hubba (he needs no translation. Tonio appears in my creative visualizations happy place—make that a chaise-longue for two, please).

Are there words from languages, other than your own native tongue, that you enjoy using? If English is your second language, are there English words you find interesting, confusing, or amusing?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Student Who Taught Me

I met Ted the second semester I taught at a community college—just a few short years ago.

He sat in the front row. His legs were too long to fit under the ridiculously small 1970’s desks we had then. The chair seemed tiny in comparison to his frame. He was a former Marine, 49, six-foot-five, and the oldest student in the class. Ted was even a couple of years older than the newbie instructor--me.

When he first spoke up, challenging me on an essay we’d read for the English comp class, I thought, “What am I going to do with this dude?”

His voice boomed off the concrete block walls of the classroom.

The essay we’d read for class that day, “The Androgynous Man,” was pure crap, Ted informed me. I later learned he’d been a drill instructor among his many other Marine Corps positions, so no wonder his lungs seemed to dwarf my pitiful, newly developing “teacher voice.”

You know what? That essay was pure crap.

And Ted was going to be Trouble with a capital T.

I didn’t know what to think about Ted. I thought I was prepared to work with military, former-military, and military-dependent students, but no one had mentioned Ted. I found I was dumb as a mud-stump.

Ted even had to explain to me what “Sergeant Major,” his last rank before retirement, meant. Even though my dad was a WW II Marine Corps vet, two of my brothers were Marines, and one brother served in the Navy, enlisted men all, ranks were fuzzy to me.  I had no clue, until Ted, that S.M. is the highest rank an enlisted Marine can hold, and that the rank is not just another Sergeant.  Sergeant Majors are few and powerful. They can and do talk back to officers.

Because of his “no bullshit” attitude, it had taken Ted a bit longer than it might have to achieve this high rank, but he was justifiably proud of the achievement. Ted seemed an anomaly to me at first, a Marine to the bone, an American patriot in the tradition of the best fighting force in the world, who was not afraid to point out flaws in the Marine Corps. In spite of my personal experience with my father and brothers, who are as different in their political views as any other randomly chosen group of four men, I had the dumbass idea that many military men and women were generally brainwashed into unquestioning support of their service branch.

In the years since he was my student, thanks to Ted and many other individual students, I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a “military” person. Each man or woman who is serving or has served may have shared the same training, the same job title, the same rank, the same duty station and more, but the military never truly “takes over” the person the way I suspected. Generalizing about military or former military members is not wise, is not accurate, and shortchanges them. They are individuals who may share a sense of camaraderie.

There has never been another Ted, that’s for sure.

Soon, I realized Ted was not my adversary in the classroom. It happened slowly, but I saw him nodding in agreement during class lectures. He visited my office with rough drafts of his papers. He was good at expressing himself in an essay. He was unfailingly polite, carefully considered my criticisms and suggestions, revising his papers to bring them up to A level. He worked hard.

We grew to like each other, and although our classroom banter was a little edgy, we gained each other’s respect. Ted will never understand how much his respect means to me.

There came a day, though, when Ted sat sullenly in the classroom. He wasn’t looking at me, wasn’t paying attention, wasn’t answering any of the questions I posed to the class.

I thought he had a hangover. I was a bit angry because I expected more of Ted.

Frustrated, I finally called on him by name. “What’s the matter with you today, Thaddeus? Celebrate a little too much with the boys at the club?”

“My nephew was killed in Fallujah last night,” he said, flatly.

 Of course, the rest of the class members fell silent. Of course, the wall clocked ticked, ticked, ticked.

“Oh, Ted. I am so sorry,” I finally mumbled.

 I will never forget those words, “My nephew was killed in Fallujah last night.” Never.  The clock, and Ted’s face, and his long legs crunched up under the stupid too-small desk. The nephew was married, and had an infant son at home.

Ted was gracious, then. How could he be gracious? I don’t know, but he was.

“It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

I didn’t know anything.

Now, seven years later, he sits across from my desk. He is a friend. We chat for a while, mostly about his rose garden and his grandkids. When he leaves, I tell my office mate, newly hired to teach, about Ted.

“God, I was green,” I tell her.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“Ted taught me more than I ever taught him. I hope you have a Ted in one of your classes.”

I say it, I mean it, and it is inadequate.

But I do. I do wish her a Ted. Teds make teaching an honor, a joy, and incredibly worthwhile.

Thank you, Sergeant Major.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Taboo Topic: Would You Write Your Own Obit?

Writing my father’s obituary was not as daunting as one might think. He died on Saturday at 86, after an eventful life. The challenge was figuring out what to include in the limited space.

Dad had so many colorful experiences, traveled the world, fought in WW II, raised two daughters and three sons, and had a 63 year marriage. He worked for 30 years at a chemical company, trained horses, raised vegetables and flowers, played semi-pro baseball.

With so many events to choose from, I tried to write an obit that reflected what Dad found most important in his life: his family, his paid and unpaid work, his country. While it was difficult in some ways, the experience of writing it made me proud and humble. Dad saw to it that I never wanted for any necessities of life, made sure I had a good education, and fussed over all his children like a mother hen.

I hope someone will have as many positive words to say about me one day.

Have you ever written an obituary? What was the experience like for you? Have you considered writing your own obituary?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey... What're your favs?

In reckless disorder, here are a few sentimental pop songs I love. Shall I sing you a few bars? No, let's stay friends instead.

What are some of your favorite pop songs, especially those songs the world may have forgotten?

1. Autumn Leaves, Nat King Cole
2.       Lights, Journey
3.       Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye), Gladys Knight and the Pips
4.       Tunnel of Love, Bruce Sprinsteen
5.       Wonderful  Tonight, Eric Clapton
6.       I’ve Been Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner
7.       Dreams, Fleetwood Mac
8.       Ma Cherie Amour, Stevie Wonder
9.       Blue on Black, Kenny Wayne Shepherd
10.   Summer Breeze, Hall and Oates
11.   The Thrill is Gone, B.B. King
12.   Poor Side of Town, Johnny Rivers
13.   Hello, It’s Me, Todd Rundgren
14.   Angie, Rolling Stones
15.   Melissa, Allman Brothers Band
16.   For the Good Times, Al Green
17.    Desperado, Eagles
18.   If You Don’t Know Me By Now, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
19.   Midnight Confessions, Grass Roots
20.   Me and Bobby McGee, Janis Joplin
21.   Oh, Girl, Chi-lites
22.   Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), Delphonics
23.   Try a Little Tenderness, Otis Redding
24.   Rainy Night in Georgia, Brooke Benton
25.   The Shadow of Your Smile, Tony Bennett
26.   We’ve Only Just Begun, Karen Carpenter
27.   Walking on Broken Glass, Eurythmics
28.   Fire and Rain, James Taylor
29.   I Will Always Love You, Dolly Parton
30.   These Dreams, Heart

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Memories of My Father

Dad passed away on Saturday. Here are some of my favorite quirky memories about him:
1. he got mad when Vanna White wore long dresses instead of the shorter ones that showed off her gams.
2. his obsession with shellfish, especially clams and oysters.
3. that grimy old Carolina Panthers ball cap. Tomorrow we will bury him with that cap in his casket.
5. the way he would go out to the car five minutes before the rest of the family was ready, and honk the horn for us to hurry up.
6. he loved to garden and thought Miracle-gro plant food was one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
7. his sweet-tooth that he passed down to me. Some of his favorites: chocolate milkshakes, strawberry ice cream, chocolate Little Debbie’s
8. his world centered around his wife and family, making sure they were well fed.
9. the way he floated on his back in the ocean and spouted water through his fist like a whale.
10. he showed me how to fold and hang pants properly and I think of him every time I fold pants.
11. he’d get so attached to “his” chair and would sit nowhere else until the chair fell apart and was replaced once every twenty years.
12. he loved pretty ladies of all ages, races, nationalities and religions; all ladies were pretty ladies to him. He flirted until the day he died at 86 years old.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Playing Mom & Dad's Song

Do you remember the song that was playing during an important event in your life? What was the event and the song? Do you and your significant other have a song that you call "yours"?

Nat King Cole was singing on the jukebox when my dad asked Mom to marry him.
The song was "Nature Boy." They were married for 63 years until Dad passed away on Saturday.
I looked up the lyrics and found that many other singers covered the song: Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Celine Dion, and others.
Here are the lyrics to "Nature Boy," by the eccentric composer eden ahbez.

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy. 
They say he wondered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he.
And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way.
And while we spoke of many things,
Fools and kings,
This he said to me,
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Big Girl Panties

Big Girl Panties

Oh, I wash ‘em, I dry ‘em
fold ‘em in the drawer
Stormy day comin’
An’ I gonna need ‘em sure.

Big girl panties
Keep me strong
Keep me sane
Keep me goin’
Up life’s lane.

Without my big girl panties
want to cry and moan.
I whine, I fuss,
groan and cuss.
Wanna run away from home.

But blessed big girl panties
sho’ nuf revive my pride
My spirit rises,
Backbone grows
I’m gonna make it
This I knows.

Small stuff
Ain’t worth sweatin’
Big girl panties
Ain’t just fluff!

Thank you, big girl panties.
Almost lost my way.
But with yo’ soft
silky support
Tomorrow is
Another day!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Until we meet again, Pop

My dad, 86, passed away from us yesterday. He leaves his wife Nancy of 63 years, 5 children, their spouses, seven grandkids, two great-grands.
He was a loving husband, a good father, a diligent worker, a sometimes difficult man, extremely modest about his achievements, a great cook, WW II combat vet (Iwo Jima/occupied Japan), quick with the one-liners and loved to laugh.
He fought hard to live through various illnesses and disabilities, including blindness, in recent years. He fought until he was too tired to fight any more. He said, “Let me go.”
We did, Daddy, we let you go.
You would hate me to say this, but that’s too bad. You were a great man where it counts most: a great husband and father.  You were a true representative of the Greatest Generation.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'm Still Here

When someone you love is gravely ill, it’s tempting not to blog, to throw in the towel for Nablopomo.
My dad, as some of you know, is not doing well. This may be the time he doesn’t come home from the hospital.
I’m going to keep blogging, if I possibly can. There's a gospel song on my MP3 player called "I'm Still Here," and that's my anthem today.

Many of you Nablopomo-ers  have written about what blogging means to you, and the rest of us have been nodding our heads, saying yes, me too. I don’t intend for this to be a long post about blogging—I don’t have that in me right now.
But, I will say this.

Blogging has given me a support group at a time when I wasn’t sure anyone else on the planet felt the way I did. I was lonely and desperate, even with loving, well-meaning people around me. Depressed, menopausal, overwhelmed.

Blogging, and in particular, the women I’ve met through Blogher, did nothing less than save me.

In varying stages of life, with different backgrounds and perspectives, we don’t all share the same experiences—we’re a "proud to be quirky" lot.  Yet sometimes the similarities are startling between us, in ways small and large.

We are all willing to take chances. We write. We read. We listen. We laugh. We respect. We encourage. We dream. We love.

I can feel the power of this, and it helps sustain me. I can’t give it, or you, up.

Thank you: readers, writers, friends.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Picks: Seven Natural Wonders

*Prompt thanks to MamaKat via Katie @Sluiter Nation

The Seven Great Natural Wonders of My Life
 I went with landscape wonders. Bringing in people or animals would be a whole ‘nother ballgame.

7. Deception Pass Bridge, Whidby Island, Washington state, USA
6. Yellowstone National Park. If you haven't been there, GO!
5. the view of Lake Sunapee from my grandmother’s house in New Hampshire
4. the approach to Cobh, Ireland, & Cork Harbor from where my g. grandfather likely sailed to America
3. anywhere along the coast of Cornwall, England
2. the ocean-side beach at Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, with a pod of dolphins cresting
1. on top of the Wasatch Mountains in Alta, Utah with the snowy 360 view of Salt Lake City, Heber Valley, and the arch of cloudless blue sky. I hung my head over and heard the wind blow*. :-)

What's on your list?

* apologies to the old song, "Down in the Valley" reprinted below. You may know the song as "Birmingham Jail." Burl Ives sang a version of it when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a young girl. I actually love the song despite my sarcasm. We sang it in elementary school, back when they had music teachers! "Put your arms round me, give my heart ease." Love that!

Down in the valley the valley so low 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow 
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Roses love sunshine, violets love dew 
Angels in heaven, know i love you

If you don't love me, love whom you please 
Put your arms round me, give my heart ease 
Give my heart ease love, give my heart ease 
Put your arms round me, give my heart ease

Write me a letter, send it by mail 
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail 
Birmingham Jail love, Birmingham Jail 
Send it in care of, the Birmingham Jail

Build me a castle, forty feet high 
So I can see her, as she rides by 
As she rides by love, as she rides by 
So I can see her, as she rides by

Down in the valley, the valley so low 
Hang your head over, hear the wind blow

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Huh? What?

Being in midlife and caring for aging parents can be a circus. Or maybe a merry-go-round that's not always merry?

Mom is 81, and Dad is 86. They live about 10 minutes away, in their own home. Steadfast Hubbie, my stalwart brother John, and I try to make life a little easier for them, but sometimes that works out better than others.

Mom does much of the caregiving for Dad, who's visually impaired and uses a walker. She chases him around to get him shampooed at the kitchen sink. She shaves him with an electric razor every couple of days, with him puffing and blowing like a steam engine.

Dad's visual problems lead to some interesting situations. He complained that he didn't like his rice the other night at a restaurant. The rest of us looked at each other. His “rice” was coleslaw, we told him. He's a good sport, and a generous man. He laughed along with us.

Currently we are wracking our brains to find something he'll like to eat. Yet we have to keep watch on him—he's been known to eat the scraps my mother saves for her cats.

“Mmm, that sausage was good,” he'll say.

But Charles,” Mom shrieks, “that was for the cats-- it was cooked two weeks ago!”

Both Mom and Dad are hearing impaired; Hubby is slightly deaf. Me too. When did everyone start mumbling and garbling? Trying to hear in a noisy room is getting difficult for all of us.

A conversation: “Well, it’s snowing in Boston,” I say.
“Oh, you’re reading Jane Austen?” Mom asks.
 “You’re throwing the moss? What moss?” Hubby inquires.
“You’re going for Frosties?” Dad wonders.

Oh, never mind.

I pray for patience, with menopausal wickedness making me feel like a certified witch on a broom. Outwardly, I do my best to smile. Mostly.

The “Sandwich Generation” term has already become cliché. We don't have the bottom piece of bread in our family sandwich, since Hubby and I don't have children. So I guess we're the peanut butter, stuck to the plate, topped by a piece of bread?

Hope it's not moldy. I'll have to put my glasses on to see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Top 5 Lessons Learned, Day 15, NaBloPoMo

1.      Many truly wonderful writers out there. I mean everywhere! The suburbs of Canada, the backwoods of Kentucky, the Bay area. This is not shameless sucking-up to readers. It’s bald truth.
2.      My writing is okay, but I should never get a big head because there will ALWAYS be better writers than I. Or is that “me”? Where did my grammar skills go?
3.      I should never stop making an effort to improve my writing.
4.      The internets are good. How else would I have met these fabulously creative people?
5.      Blogging keeps me sane, helps me feel young again, and has made my hair curly and full of body. Well, the first two for sure.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Prodigal Student

Once she
danced fervently with sweaty
men, pounded hard liquor
in loud places
slept late in ashy,
unwashed sheets
blew smoke halos from stained fingers.
Drove fast, left the scarred red
Camino in a muddy ditch,
Mardi Gras beads dangling
from the rear-view mirror.
Anointed that wormy chick's
head with a beer bottle
flew from the roadhouse.

Now she limps, slightly,
paints her nails bruised purple
scowls down at her desk
through long, black bangs,
scribbles furiously.

She’s in the front row.
When she leans forward
in the college English class,
angels exhale.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mad Methods: First, Get Their Attention

When you come visit my house, you may be shocked to see People magazine on the coffee table.
You may think “But Melanie is a certified egghead-intellectual. I expected to see first editions of Proust, Tolstoy and Hemingway. How can it be that a woman of such high intelligence reads low-brow People magazine?” I know, right?

It’s self-defense, with a little teaching method on the side.
You have heard that I teach at a community college. One of my important goals in working there, aside from saving the world for democracy, molding  clean and healthy young minds, and making my mortgage payment, is to NOT look like a TOTAL, CLUELESS  DORK when it comes to popular culture.
Yes, I am that shallow. ­
I don’t want to be the laughingstock teacher who doesn’t know the remake of Footloose stars newcomers to the big screen Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough. Twenty-three and dating Ryan Seacrest, Julianne is one of the many gorgeous blonds from Dancing With The Stars.
Although it’s a bit of a losing battle for middle-aged me, I do try to keep up with more than the latest methods to teach an expository essay.  
Does Kate Gosselin have a new hairdo? Queen Latifa a new clothing line? Suri Cruz a new designer bag? Lady Gaga a hat with fruit-colored dollar signs? Just ask me. I feel like the kid who wildly waves her hand in class hollering “I know, I know!”
Through People I grub a smidge of pop culture street-cred by brazenly dropping factoids about Ashton Kuctcher or Laurence Fishburne after class.
Even at my most “hip” (in relative terms), about three decades ago, I preferred watching old black and white movies from the 1930s, was more than slightly fashion-challenged, and didn’t follow the love lives of celebrities.
Yet nowadays I try to stay informed on the cast of True Blood. When the English lesson has gone sour, the students are yawning, and we’re all looking at the clock, I can throw out an "Anna Paquin" and re-charge the atmosphere.  Don’t worry, the off-the-wall comment will get tied back into "how to add detail to a college level essay." But first, I had to get their attention by name dropping.
Does most of this People magazine information matter a whit in the big scheme of life? Heck, no.
Does People help me teach better by keeping my students guessing what nugget of cultural nonsense they may hear next? Yes.
To get and hold their attention, I’m willing to play the fool, the prankster, the geek. Some might see this behavior as beneath a college teacher, but it works for me. I’ll sometimes sell my dignity to roust the dears out of a stupor. They have to break out of the fog before I can reach them.
And you know what? In the end, I have fun, and my students learn. All from an unexpected source: People magazine.
I have copy of Proust if you’d like to borrow it. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blogging Milestone: "First Contact" With a Reader

Thanks to reading advice from my favorite “big-girl bloggers,” the wise ones who have way more blogging experience than I do, I knew it was coming.

First contact. A reader. And me.

Yes. I met in person someone I knew who’d read my blog. Dun, dun, duuunnnn (scary organ music).

Of all places, I was at the pharmacy counter picking up perhaps two of the most potentially embarrassing prescriptions known to womankind. A former student now works there as a pharmacy tech.  She’s a charming young woman, was an excellent student, and is a talented writer. (If you’re reading this, hello dear one!)

A slightly terrifying fact is that she changed her major to English, partly at my encouragement. Although pleased when a student chooses English, I also panic, thinking that if they face a lifetime of starvation and deprivation due to the liberal arts degree, the guilt will be on my shoulders.

When I saw Alice (not her name) was going to wait on me, my mind started spinning. I wanted to ask how her studies at a major university were going, and was trying to remember other points of conversation. Slightly embarrassed at picking up major drugs, I knew I could unreservedly trust Alice with the personal nature of my “lady scrips.”

Sweet Alice rescued me from the somewhat awkward moment, asked me how I was, and said with a smile, “I read your blog!”

That was when I thought I’d faint.

Whoa, boy. The look on my face must have been priceless.

Alice said “I hope that was okay?”

“Oh, of course, that’s great!” I said, leaning on the counter nonchalantly to keep from falling down.

“I really liked it! It was the one about you dressing up?”

My brain was blanker than blank. I couldn’t think, in this month of NaBloPoMo, what post she may have meant. I mumbled something about writing posts every day for a month, the posts being a blur.

“Oh, you must be doing NaBloPoMo!” brainy Alice said. She knew about NaBloPoMo! I love that girl!

We chatted a moment more; she rang up my purchases. We wished each other well and I went on my way.

High-pitched voice inside my head: Someone I know in person read my blog! A former student read my blog! What does it MEAN?

Sweet Alice, thank you. Of all the people who could have been the first one to tell me they’ve read my blog, it was supportive, generous you.

I’m overwhelmed, scared, proud, humbled, and happy. Where blogging is leading me, I have no clue. But I’m one step further along the journey.

Has it happened to you? Tell the story, please. If it hasn’t happened yet, how do you imagine, or fear, it will go when it does happen? And the big-girl-bloggers were right—it will happen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ode to Bacon

Bacon in the morning,
Bacon at noon.
Bacon is so good
He sends me to the moon.
*With sincere apologies to my many friends and family members who do not eat pork on moral or religious grounds.  Truly.
I don’t eat bacon every day, nor every week.

Most months I do eat some bacon either on its own or as seasoning, especially in soup.  

I’m not addicted to bacon; I can give him up, er, it up, any time I want!

Yeah, right.

I never eat bacon on a burger, never eat ersatz/turkey/soy bacon, never eat “bacon bits.” If these are some of your favorites, this blog is a safe place—I do not judge you.

I can’t eat more than three strips of bacon per day, or it triggers a migraine. No, really. Helps give bacon that dangerous edge, no?

Yet bacon is one of those foods I don’t want to live without.

Bacon and I go back as far as I can remember… it was a sunny spring morning, and Bacon and I were racing to each other across a meadow of daisies…

Or was it a glittering nightclub in Harlem, in 1924, when I saw him dancing in another woman’s arms, and yet I knew…

Or was it that day in the market in Barcelona, when he looked up from under the brim of his Cordobés, with a dimpled smile of destiny?

Whenever it was, Bacon and I became lovers.

Much later, after Bacon and I smoked a cigarette, I made soup.

Almost every soup in my repertory (yes, I am a soup maven) includes at the onset two strips of bacon and a diced onion, browning in the bottom of a stock pot. By the time the soup is complete, you barely know the bacon is in there.

The bacon flavor is elusive, adding a depth of flavor to the star of the soup: the mushrooms in Cream of Mushroom, the potatoes in Potato/Cheddar cheese soup, or the clams in Manhattan Clam Chowder.

The aroma of bacon cooking is why, although a confirmed animal lover and kitty foster mother, I may never be a vegetarian.

If you fry bacon in my house and I don’t come to investigate, you know I am extremely ill. Quite likely, dead.

Bacon will mourn. Comfort him any way you can.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Take My Menopause, Please

Henny Youngman and Herman Melville are my muses today.

Henny Youngman, comedian, was famous for his line, “Take my wife… please.” I feel the same way about my menopause.

Without sharing too much, technically, I’m not even in menopause. Not totally. But if this is perimenopause, I’ve been in in for seven years. Seven years.

What else could I have done with the last seven years of my life besides languish in anguish in perimenopause?

If I had gone back to school, I could be a surgeon by now. I could have built my own log cabin, gnawing the logs for it with my teeth.

I could have walked the Appalachian trail at least 3 times, round-trip.

I could have learned to water-ski, trained and run in several marathons, grown hair down to my knees, built a raft and sailed to Tahiti, gotten an engineering degree and gone to work for Microsoft, climbed every mountain in the Alps, driven a Subaru to the southernmost tip of South America, founded a new religion, watched Casablanca 2,433 times, learned to play the piano.

Equipped with only a nail-file, I might have sculpted a block of marble into larger-than-life dolphins leaping from waves.

But nooooo, I’ve been too busy having perimenopausal symptoms: crying, breaking out in acne, having migraines, sleeping, not sleeping, crying, fighting fatigue to the point of nausea, sweating, aching, moisturizing my dry skin, having night sweats, crying, having heart palpitations, fog brain, gaining weight, waving buh-bye to my libido, dragging myself out of bed every morning with my mind screaming NO!, buying Kleenex in bulk at Sam’s Club, crying, and having nightmares. Oh, and being depressed to the point of crying quite a lot.

So this whole perimenopause-menopause never-ending-bundle-of-fun thing? I’ve decided it’s not for me.

 No thanks. Take it, please, like Henny used to say about his wife.

Come to think of it, I’ll add that famous line from Herman Melville’s classic character, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and say, “I prefer not to.” I have not fully appreciated Bartleby until this moment of clarity. Bartleby was right. (Whenever someone asked Bartleby to do something, his reply was "I prefer not to.")

Are there stages or phases in your life that you’ve wanted to reject? Times you felt like, no, none of that for me, no thanks?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Not-yo-mama's Mixed Greens

What could be better than a vegetable garden? A friend with a garden!
My dear friend Pat brought me a grocery bag full of greens today: beet greens, turnip greens, radish greens. They were the prettiest mess of greens I’ve ever seen (in the South, they’re a “mess” if there’s enough for the whole family). Pat’s greens were young, tender, not a blighted spot anywhere. Just perfectamous. We had a horribly hot and dry summer that was hard on Pat’s garden, but the fall has brought rewards to her patient sowing and hoeing.
I washed the greens carefully in a sink full of cold water, even though they looked spotless, just in case a little grit had clung to them.
The volume of greens called for my big 6 qt. Dutch oven. In they went with about a cup of water, seasonings, and in about a half hour, ooh-la-la! They had cooked down from filling the pot to about 2 inches of green goodness in the bottom of the kettle.
Warning for the greens newbie: greens give off an aroma that can smell just… awful! These really smelled horrific to me, even though my husband thought they smelled good. But when I tasted them, wow, I've never had any better, thanks to the picked-the-same-day freshness.
Each batch of greens you cook will be different. The type of greens, the size, age, and even whether the greens have been through a frost affects their flavor. (Greens such as collards that have been through frost are considered to be sweeter.) Experiment with the seasonings below as a guide, and add more or less to your taste.
If you’ve never had greens, give them a try!
Greens, the Not-Yo-Mama’s Way
 (Southern mamas sometimes overcook greens by about 6 hours!)
Fresh greens: collards, kale, spinach, beet, turnip, radish, whatever is in the farmer’s market, enough to fill a 6 qt. pot. Wash the greens thoroughly in plenty of cold water and cut off any tough stems. I leave greens whole, un-chopped. Some people prefer to coarsely chop greens. No need to dry the greens after their bath.
1 cup water
2 cloves chopped fresh garlic or 1 teaspoon jarred roasted garlic
2 slices lean bacon
1 teaspoon Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, or to taste (it has salt in it, so take that into account if you are watching your salt intake) (if you don't have Tony use herbes de provence with a dash of salt, black and red pepper)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Combine all the ingredients except the butter. Bring the greens to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer. Add the butter. Let the greens cook about half an hour, stirring occasionally, making sure the greens don’t simmer dry (add a little more water if needed).
Serve with cornbread, pinto beans, and sliced raw onion for a real Southern meal. My hubbie has taught me to spoon some of the pot liquor from the greens onto my cornbread. Ummy.
Y’all enjoy! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I'll Never Understand, the random list

Some things I'll never understand:
  1. Why the couple ends up in separate bathtubs in the Viagra commercial (thanks, Karen!)
  2. Why at a certain point in the wash cycle, my dishwasher flashes the words “Ho Ho;”
    is it judging me or is it happy about Christmas coming?
  3. Why almost soft-porn sex is used to sell hamburgers (Hardees), & pomegranate juice (POM)
  4. Why I keep getting stuck with neighbors who burn trash daily and have incessantly barking dogs-- in a subdivision, not the backwoods of Alaska (apologies to Alaskans)
  5. Why my cat apparently sheds more hair weekly than covers her entire body
  6. Why people keep telling me they have a friend who looks exactly like me (my chance to use the word doppleganger!)
  7. Why an unnamed family member puts clothes on the floor next to the empty clothes hamper
  8. Why I never find priceless valuables in the attic like the folks on Antiques Road Show
  9. Why I am an animal lover and yet such a hopeless carnivore
  10. Why whatever line I get in at the supermarket will be the line that moves excruciatingly slow
  11. Why when I was twenty people who were forty seemed incredibly, sadly, pitiably old (now they're hotties) 
  12. Why I thought it was a great idea to commit to writing a blog post every day for a month: NaBloPoMo remorse (not really, but yeah, kinda, but no, it's good for me). Have mercy!
What miscellaneous, nonsensical, whimsical things don't make sense to you? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Surprise Blues Buster: Cooking Shows

Why do I love watching cooking shows so much?

At the moment, P. Allen Smith (Garden to Table) is mixing a Blackberry Jam Cake with walnuts. He’s cute! He can come make cake in my kitchen any time. Love that touch of Southern accent.

Cooking shows relax me. I inherited this trait from my father: I love to watch other people work, especially when they are cooking with skill and efficiency. Makes me feel good, seeing people getting ‘er done, even while I’m in the recliner.

Some of my favorite cooking shows are: Primal Grill, America’s Test Kitchen, Cooks Country, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Sandra Lee Semi-Home Made (I’m not a total cooking snob),Down Home With the Neelys, Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, Lidia’s Italy in America, Throwdown with Bobby Flay… and on and on. Undoubtedly, I left out some of my favorites and yours.

It’s hard for me to feel blue when I’m watching a cooking show. Always on the lookout for depression-busters, watching a few cooking shows on the weekends has become a ritual for me. And as Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.”

How about you? What are your favorite cooking programs? Does any other genre of shows work as a blues-buster for you?

OMG, P. Allen Smith is putting Caramel Icing on his cake! Gotta Go!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Their Turn

Presidential election cycle in the U.S. I’m so weary of it and we have a year to go. It’s making me very tired and short-tempered when it comes to political rhetoric.

Many candidates don’t have anything helpful to say. They talk and talk and talk, and all I hear are empty promises and sometimes outright nonsense.

The students at my community college look at me funny when I refuse to talk politics with them.

Instead, I say, YOU are the ones that need to consider running for office.

Their eyes bug out of their heads. What was in Mrs. B.'s coffee this morning?

Start small, I tell them. Run for county commissioner, city council, work up to sheriff or mayor. Keep going from there: state legislature, working for a congresswoman, running for a national office or accepting a federal appointment.

YOU have more to offer than most political figures we see.

YOU came home from three combat tours and enrolled in college. YOU were the spouse who kept it together while your hubby/wife was in harm’s way. YOU know what it’s like to live on a budget, to work your job all day, study all night, take care of your kids, and get up the next day to do it all again.

YOU are the solution to this mostly shoddy field of poor excuses for leaders.

I tell them often. It’s your turn. IT’S YOUR TURN.

I’m a registered independent, I say, so I don’t even care what party you want to throw in with.

Who would do a better job than you? WHO?

They laugh at first or smile indulgently like I’m nutzo. I say: I’m not kidding!

Sometimes I see a glimmer in their eyes. Maybe Mrs. B. has something. Could I do it? Am I good enough, smart enough? they wonder. I'm the first in my family to go to college. How could I become a person of influence, a person whose opinions matter, and who could make things happen?

You are good enough, smart enough, moral enough to run for office, I repeat.

They think over this preposterous idea. Maybe I should consider helping to run this county, this city, this state, this country of mine. Maybe I could do better than those in office now. Should I listen to this crazy lady, talking her crazy talk?

I will keep talking, wearing them down to the possibility. They need to get used to the idea, to the glorious notion. I will keep talking.

God, I hope they are listening. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Last Meal

Oh, no!

It’s my last meal?

That sucks.

Fire up the grill, then, mes amis. But first….

Launder, dry, and iron my white linen blindfold, light on the starch. Load the rifles of the firing squad, and bring me hot water for my final ablutions.

Is Chaz Dean available to do my hair? Will he weave some baby’s breath around my head? Bobbie Brown for my makeup, please.

My sunset ombre ruched gown by Monique Lhuillier just arrived from Neiman-Marcus, for a mere $5,290.00 + tax and shipping. Sunset colored, get it? Isn’t it the bomb? Strapless, backless, full flowing skirt.

No thanks on the Spanx.

Oprah—so good of her to attend every day of my trial—has loaned me her favorite diamond drop earrings. I won’t need them for long. Kim Kardashian sent me her 20.5 ct. engagement ring, since she can’t bear to look at it with the unfortunate pending divorce. That will round out my understated jewelry.

For my perfume… hmmn. C’est tres difficil. I’ll have a light spritz of Insolence (Guerlain)? My Sin (Lanvin)? Poison (Dior)? Yes, Poison, please.

No shoes. I’ll have a nice pedicure and expire, au naturelle, barefoot, just the way I was born.

The hour is upon me.

Bring out the antique bone china, the cut crystal, the sterling flatware. Something nice and ornate.Being held prisoner in this royal castle does have its advantages. The dining room is well appointed; a ballroom is nearby.

Some red rosebuds in a crystal bowl are the centerpiece. Twelve ivory beeswax candles glow. The air-conditioner is cranked, so the room is just slightly cool. Even preparing for death, my menopausal needs must be met.

Billy Joel, wearing a tux, is singing “Only the Good Die Young.” Gregg Allman and the boys rock out on “I’m No Angel.” Sting makes a special appearance, and patiently waits for his turn to sing “Every Breath You Take.” “Hungry Heart” is Bruce Springsteen’s contribution.

Now, for the repast. The appetizer: a half dozen Chesapeake Bay oysters, with lemon, chilled on ice.

What’s this? Jon Bon Jovi offers to be my server for the evening. He looks smashing and asks me to dance while my main course is prepared. I’m a wonderful dancer after the tutoring by Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Jon sweeps me across the floor in a blur, whispering the lyrics to "Living On A Prayer" in my ear.

Next arrives a 1 ½ inch thick Angus beef, New York strip steak, marinated eight hours in a mix of fragrant, freshly chopped garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh thyme, salt, and black pepper. Grill it medium rare, over a hickory-wood fire, and make sure it is still pink in the middle, please.

I am a woman of simple tastes.

On the side, freshly made mashed Idaho russet potatoes with butter and cream, salt and pepper. Butter melting into the lovely mound of fluffy goodness.

Asparagus spears, lightly steamed, with homemade hollandaise sauce.

Hot, crusty French bread, and keep it coming, with the finest Italian olive oil and herbes de Provence in a small bowl for dipping.

Scotch, please, in a Waterford crystal glass. An 18 year-old-Macallan single malt should do.  A goblet and a pitcher of spring water with ice, as well.

For desert… an assortment of miniature French pastries, Devonshire scones, clotted cream, and a warm dark chocolate sauce on the side. Some strawberries, too.

Ah, I am replete. I will say my prayers, now, and bid you, adieu.

I push away from the table.

But what is that ringing? The telephone? The governor, a reprieve?

I’m not giving back the gown.