Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry and Bright, Alright

You may have noticed by this point that I am the teeniest, tiniest bit excitable. I love a holiday, and/or any chance to celebrate. I'm a devotee of anything sparkly, shiny, or bedazzled, and I generally think that more is more. Go big or go home. I am wild about birthdays--and isn't that what Christmas is--the most fabulous birthday party of all? Add all of this up and you may have guessed how I feel about Christmas. Giddy, ecstatic, jubilant, merry, merry, merry!

Some of you have seen my collection of tacky Christmas sweaters, so you know that I dress the part. The current count on Christmas CDs is somewhere around ten, which was the magic number to prompt Clint's ban on buying any more. We spend as many nights in December as possible driving around looking at lights (the tackier the better), seasonal flavor lattes in hand. Shopping, wrapping, baking. Christmas cards, Christmas movies, Christmas ornaments from each new place we visited over the last year. In my humble opinion, it really is the most wonderful time of the year, and it always has evidenced by a few of my favorite memories from Christmases past.

For my 6th grade Anchor club holiday meeting, I rewrote the Twelve Days of Christmas and in my version, my true love gave to me: an MC Hammer CD. I think there may have also been mention of slap bracelets in place of the five golden rings. Instant classic. My parents must have been so proud of that compilation, performed in the Big A Elementary school cafeteria with musical accompaniment from the "property of 4-H club" boom box. I wonder why it never went top 40?

Growing up, one of our traditions was spending Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house, enjoying all kinds of homemade Christmas goodies and opening presents. My Mimi had a lovely centerpiece she always put on her table with gleaming red candles, setting the scene for our holiday family gathering. My cousins and I could not freaking wait for the adults to leave the room so that we could spend the remainder of our quality time together burning pieces of homemade Chex Mix in the candle flames. Ah, nothing says Christmas like the smell of pretzel sticks incinerating.

One year, I desperately wanted a trampoline from Santa. When I woke up Christmas morning, I found a note on our tree that read: "Susie, your main gift is outside." I jumped my little pajama-clad legs off all morning on my new present! Later, I asked my parents how they managed to hide the trampoline from me...and found out it had been out there for over a week. I think I was still enrolled in the gifted program at the time (probably a good thing I dropped out of that voluntarily). Let's hope my powers of observation have improved over the years. Wait, is there a trampoline behind me right now?

At my December wedding reception back in 2001, we decorated Christmas trees with ornaments for our guests to take home as favors. Knowing that I am a) a stickler for the rules and b) prone to having somewhat of a temper, two of my lifelong friends spied guests taking more than their one allotted ornament off the trees (think: arm loads). They approached the folks who were hoarding the ornaments and just warned them with, "Whoever you are, you obviously do not know the bride." Back away from the favors, folks.

Ah, 'tis the season for holiday traditions and memories abounding. I'll also never forget the year we got our Nintendo and met the Super Mario Brothers for the first time, or our family trip a few years ago to New York City for all the yuletide magic the Big Apple has to offer. So, take a big swig of your eggnog and let your mind wander to places fonder when you find yourself a bit smothered by the warm embrace of  kith and kin. Maybe watch Ralphie and family unwrap the leg lamp, find out what happens to an angel every time a bell rings, and get in on the Griswold's happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny Kaye. It's Christmas! Make it merry, y'all!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Marriage Mystique: What They Don't Tell You

The very first day of this most Christmasy month was my and Clint's twelfth wedding anniversary--an even dozen years of wedded bliss. In typical male fashion, Clint didn't seem overly enthused about celebrating the milestone, until I pointed out that we have managed to coexist together for 12 whole years without causing each other any serious bodily harm. And that, my friends, is reason to celebrate.

We took a three-day weekend to the Virginia mountains and spent a fabulous time at the Homestead resort in Hot Springs. Twenty-six Presidents, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, have stayed at the Homestead...and now they can add "Stancil" to their very distinguished list of guests. We arrived to find afternoon tea in full swing in front of the fireplaces in the Main Hall. Every square inch of the place was covered in both charm and Christmas decorations--a very winning combination in my book. As if that weren't enough, we woke Saturday morning to find almost a half a foot of fluffy white snow on the ground.

Dressing for dinner Saturday night, I discovered that I had forgotten my deodorant. Without hesitation, Clint told me I could use his. "Of course I can," I matter-of-factly replied, already in his toiletry bag digging. Off we went just in time for our reservation, dressed to the nines and both smelling sweetly of eau de Right Guard Sport. You see, upon marriage, not only do the two become one; all the personal belongings also become community property. Toothbrushes, restaurant entrees, t-shirts--it's a free-for-all. Last week, I gleefully bragged that even though Clint had meticulously  marked all his old college CDs with "Stancil," that's my name, too, which gives me free reign to pilfer and use what I want. Call it the John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt effect.

There are plenty of things about being married that no one warns you about. When you are engaged, you hear tons of clichés about how married life will be and how you should act in order to maintain harmony in the house. People offer up pearls of wisdom like "treat your spouse like your best friend," "listen more than you speak," and tons of tips about compromising. But there are other survival skills and warnings that are left unsaid. These things are learned through pure marital experience, and boy, are they an eye-opener.

The first phase is "getting to know you." What's that? You honestly believe you know the person you married? Wrong! That is precisely why you vow to stay in this conjoined state for better or worse. Maybe your fiancé promised that he doesn't will discover on your honeymoon that he rattles the windows with his zzzzs. Perhaps you were dating a self-confessed neat freak? Um-hmm. You'll wake up one morning and discover that they left yesterday's dirty underwear on the bathroom counter, right next to your toothbrush. And those dirty dishes left in the sink? Why, those are just "soaking" until the time is right (which will turn out to be half past never). I will spare you the gory details of sharing a bathroom--you can earn those nightmarish stripes all on your own.

We were also offered the sage advice to never go to bed angry. This is much easier said than done. Clint really, truly, absolutely (well probably) has narcolepsy, and he can and will fall asleep any old time he wants. He can be mid sentence, mid thought, mid argument...Rip Van Stancil will get his solid 8+ hours of deep slumber. I have been in full rant mode, only to watch him pull the covers up under his chin and drift right off into REM sleep. Sometimes you will go to bed angry. You will hug the side of the mattress to stay as far away from the other person as you possibly can, and you will drift off to sleep with a scowl in your face and visions of continuing the feud in the morning will dance through your little married head.

I once heard Oprah say that sometimes in a relationship, you have to decide, "Do I want to be right, or do I want to have peace?" I think her point was to persuade viewers to pursue peace. I have to be honest with you, though, and tell you that sometimes you just want to be right. And it is worth digging in, holding on, and risking wrinkles from keeping your angry face on for a while. Even married martyrs need to hear their partner admit to being wrong once in a while. Peace on earth, good will toward those stubborn enough to wait for the apology.

Remember that part where you vow to love your partner in sickness and in health? Oh sure, it seems like a no-brainer, but you want to really consider this one. Because the time will come when your partner will have commandeered both the couch and the remote control and turned your entire home into their very own sick ward. You will hear every possible complaint about the condition and deterioration of their health. They will assure you that no one has ever had any sickness that comes close to the epidemic they are battling, and because of those vows, you are now the nurse on duty. I wish you many years of good health, for your sanity's sake. And maybe register for matching hazmat suits.

You will, inevitably, tell each other the same stories over and over. Once you get a few years of matrimony under your belt, you will each learn the "trigger words" that set off such tried and true tales. When one of these triggers is uttered, you will reflexively wince and wait for the story to be set in motion. And it will. Every single time, until death do you part. Some days I pretend the story is new information, other days I assist in the storytelling to speed things along, on less jolly days I make it known that the story is more stale than leftover wedding cake. And vice versa on my husband's end. Even fairy tale romances will wind up in the anecdote twilight zone, you wait and see. Once upon a time, these stories were new. Now is definitely not that time.

Another little thing I discovered after a decade or so: don't try to pick out an anniversary card while you are angry. You will read all those sweet, flowery sentiments and think, "None of these describes that doofus I married." A week later, you will return to the same store, read the same cards, and think, "Awww, this perfectly describes that doofus I married." A short memory is one of the best tools for a happy relationship. That, and learning how to smile and nod while having your other half completely tuned out. The heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants to be left alone. Hallmark chooses not to recognize that fact.

There are plenty of other little surprises that crop up once the knot has been tied, but there's no sense in spoiling all the fun by telling you. Part of the joy of marriage is discovering these truths, rolling your eyes, and sticking it out. In return, you'll get a partner for life, someone to share your days and your memories with, and a backup deodorant any old time you find yourself in need.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't Mind if I Do(nuts)

Consider this post breaking news: I need to tell you about something really special. And dangerous. And delicious. Wednesday, I heard about a new bakery here in Charlotte called Your Mom's Donuts. Ever the skeptic, I set aside my love of all things carbohydrate and furrowed my brow first at the spelling of these fine confections. You see, I really do think that only Yankees spell it "donuts." And like any true belle, I want my doughnuts Southern. My allegiance to Krispy Kreme over Dunkin Donuts does not waiver. After taking a look at YMD's fine product, however, I would spell it "dohknutz" if that was a requirement to get my hands on these goodies.

Your Mom's Donuts doesn't have an actual store. You email them your order and they deliver the doughnuts straight to your door. Let's review: you don't even have to pick up the phone and talk to a human being to make this deliciousness happen. You don't even have to put on shoes. You just email and then--the hardest part--wait.

Clint and I are trying our best to avoid holiday weight gain. Weight loss would be a marvelous, miraculous thing, but in our world of gluttony and food giddiness, we are just trying not to literally burst at the seams this holiday season. But when I saw the flavors of these pastries--flavors like eggnog custard, cranberry with lemon buttercream, apple cider with caramel pecans, and Mexican chocolate with candied banana chips--I almost choked on my Lean Pocket and I threw my carrot sticks right into the trash. I dare anyone with taste buds to resist.

I immediately emailed my order. Foolishly, I had plans of dining on doughnuts that very afternoon, but it was not to be. They had already reached capacity for both Wednesday and Thursday, but wanted to know if Friday would suit my schedule? Well, I suppose I can make room in my life for a gourmet doughnut delivery. It's hard being me, but someone has to do it.

My doorbell rang this morning and my box of awesomeness arrived. Here is what I found when I opened it up:

I know, right? Now, ever the dutiful wife, I am not-so-patiently waiting for Clint to get home before I devour these confections of perfection. (It's only fair, since I would kill him if he sent me to work and ate doughnuts without me at home. Do unto others and avoid homicidal rage, I always say. Or in this case, donut unto others.) I can confidently tell you that if they taste a tenth as good as they look...jackpot! I have already read rave reviews, and I can't wait to confirm it for my greedy little self. As a bonus, my entire kitchen smells like I have been slaving away and baking all day.
Some of you are no doubt experiencing doughnut envy at this point, especially if you aren't in Charlotte and you can't order yourself a dozen or five. You are thinking, "who cares about these long distance, North Carolina doughnuts?" Never fear, (as always) I have a solution for you. Just come for a visit--it will be the perfect excuse occasion for me to place another order. Hey, it's Christmas! The calories don't even count!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Lest We Forget

Wherever you are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, you will probably take a moment to pause over your overflowing plate of turkey and trimmings and ponder some things that make you especially grateful. And when that subject comes up, we can pretty much all agree that we're thankful for the warm embrace of kith and kin, for hearth, health, and home, for pumpkin spice lattes, jumping into piles of fall leaves, and for all the joys of the season.

Those are fantastic, but they are the obvious ones--the tip of the iceberg (or cornucopia, if you prefer). There are some lesser-listed joys that are too often overlooked during the counting of our blessings. Let's dig a little deeper, lest we forget some of the other pretty special gifts we've been given. Allow me to present you with a few things for which you may have forgotten to be thankful (or at least tell you why I love them so).

To begin, let's all bow our heads and give a moment of gratification for any and all awkward silences at family gatherings. These are particularly thanks-inducing because they beat the cornbread stuffing out of all the other chatter that could otherwise be going on. I much prefer the sound of silverware grating on plates than the status of Aunt Gladys's gallstones or Uncle Bob's bunions. Silence really is golden, and for that, we are most thankful.

I'd like to take another pause to express my gratitude for all those ever-delicious, very popular right now gourmet cupcakes. Thank you for having twice the frosting of ordinary cake, yet somehow seeming smaller and thus making me feel half as guilty. And in flavors like red velvet, Kentucky bourbon pie, s'mores, and chocolate salted caramel, you always keep me guessing. Don't mind if I do.

After that round of applause for cupcakes, I would be remiss not to mention my deep appreciation for Spanx. Since 2000, those miracle underpinnings have been holding it all in and keeping it looking smooth and slim. I battle to get you on, and cannot wait to peel you off, but in between, the things we have accomplished together! Thank God for you, wonder workers! And let's not forget about Spanx for men (or Manx as I like to call them). Boys, you can turn that beer gut into buff stuff instantly by slipping on a Spanx undershirt. Yes, they're supposed to fit that tight. No, you shouldn't be able to take a deep breath. Welcome to the world in which we women have always lived.

I could never list the things that fill my heart with gladness without including the shopping carts at Walmart with four working wheels, capable of all moving in the same direction. These are few and far between, almost mythical in existence, but when I manage to score one that will work with me rather than having to drag the entire cart around the store like a mule with a plow, I feel grateful. I feel even more grateful when I see the EXIT sign and I leave the store, but you already knew that.

What about all those trendy places photographers are taking pictures now? That is a fancy shot--how did your couch get out in the middle of that field? Is it safe to be posing inside that huge drain pipe? It makes me thankful that I grew up in an era where family portraits happened on rolls of backdrop paper with studio props like footstools and fake rocks and not on the railroad tracks, beside an abandoned, graffiti-covered warehouse, sitting on a steamer trunk.

I am also much obliged to Netflix. I mean, no, Netflix doesn't have any current movies that are really worth watching. But for $8.57 a month, it does give you the ability to binge-watch Family Ties, Jem and the Holograms, and Melrose Place (classic 1992 version, of course). It's like a time machine that can transport you back to simpler times--times when television was more about Alex P. Keaton and less about John Q. Reality Star. Ah, those were the days.

Last, but certainly not least, I wait with rapt anticipation for Duck Dynasty's Christmas special, Duck the Halls. Thank heavens we will be able to celebrate Christmas with a brood of bearded men in camouflage (although if you're from my hometown in northeast Georgia, this might have already been a given for you). The Duck Dynasty Christmas special airs 12.11.13 and I, for one, am full of thanks.

No matter what gives you bliss, we can agree we all have a bounty of blessings to appreciate. Whether it's the fact that leggings are in style and thus make wearing an elastic waistband a real fashion moment, or that feeling you get from your first swig of caffeine in the morning, or that Days of Our Lives comes on five days a week for your (guilty) viewing pleasure, take a moment and be thankful. Then, roll up your sleeves, have the Rolaids at the ready, and get to it.

Happy Thanksgiving, pilgrim!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clear and Present Danger

This week, Clint and I will be forced to deal with one of the biggest obstacles a marriage can face. I'm not speaking of disagreements over money, inlaws, or changing the toilet paper roll...I'm talking about the clash of college football rivalry. Alma mater vs. alma mater. Things get dicey. Or, as I said to Clint earlier in the week, "Your team had better not beat mine. I will make things terrible for you around here." Because I can be a delight like that.

Back in October of 2000, when we were just a bright-eyed, lovesick, newly engaged couple, Clint and his Yellow Jacket friends came to Clemson for the Tigers to take on Tech. I arranged a very diplomatic tailgate, divided straight down the middle. Half Clemson Tigers (yay! gorgeous!) and half Georgia Tech (boo! hiss!). The tablecloth, napkins and cups, even the centerpiece were all evenly split so that both teams were equally represented. Kumbaya, everyone was welcome. (It's easy to be a good sport when you anticipate a solid victory).

However, after all my very best hostess efforts, Georgia Tech scored in the last seconds of the game to upset Clemson. Dream season--once again--over. My Clemson friends and I left the stadium and headed back to the tailgate spot with heavy hearts, our heads hung in bitter disappointment. Meanwhile, Clint and company whooped and cheered and danced and celebrated. These fans, who stood shoulder to shoulder at my most gracious of tailgates and broke bread with us, came into our stadium and unapologetically dashed our hopes of championship greatness. And so, I did what any reasonable fan would do; I locked myself in the car and refused to come out until the revelry and the crowd had died down to a dull roar. That was my first indoctrination to marrying the opposing team.

Possibly the worst thing about this rivalry is the fact that, no matter what the rankings or predictions or circumstances, games between my Tigers and his Jackets are notoriously a toss-up. Twelve of the last 18 games have been decided by five points or less, which makes for a tense time at the Stancil house until the clock finally runs out--and many times, even more tense after that fact.

We have learned the hard way that we do not attend these games in person (see above incident, marked 2000 Defeat Disaster). They are watched from the hushed confines of our den, where we are each dressed in our team's colors and seated on opposite ends of the couch. A house divided. Even the dog is afraid to take sides in this face-off, although I will remark how his paws look uncannily like the Clemson tiger paw logo, and Clint will swear he wags his tail every time Tech scores. (I shudder to think what will happen if and when we bring children into this equation. )

Each of us says something to the other about how we are certain our team is going to lose this year (lies, all lies) and that it is, after all, only a football game (and only the most nail-biting, heart-pounding, soul-deflating encounter we face each year as Mr. and Mrs.). We cheer silently and pretend to be only half-interested in the game. My nerves typically get the better of me, as I am known for being the hot-tempered, passionate one who is the teensiest bit fanatical about her school, and I turn to Facebook for moral support. I chat online with friends who also have Yellow Jacket spouses, all the while glaring over the laptop at what is unfolding on TV.

Depending on how things are progressing, I have been known to leave the room and watch from the bedroom instead--somehow, I feel more comfortable distancing myself from my "enemy" for the evening until I know the outcome. Arguments will arise and I will say things such as, "no, I am not mad at you about the football game. I'm mad because *insert fabricated reason here* and you should know that. How insensitive can you possible be?!" The man dressed in the old gold jersey will roll his eyes and shake his head.

When it's all over and the dust has settled, one of us has emerged the victor. This person has earned bragging rights for the next year. And in this house, bragging rights means that the winner keeps their head down and their mouth shut. They walk into another room and very quietly do their victory dance in secret. Over the course of the year, when said game is mentioned, the winner may ever-so-slightly meet the glance of the loser and say--with their eyes only--I WON. It must never, ever, be spoken aloud under penalty of cold shoulder and indefinite banishment to sleeping on the couch.

This year, Clint will be out of town on business when our teams take the field (pure coincidence? I'm not so sure). Which means we will get a slight reprieve from all the discomfort of watching this showdown together. However, at some point he will return home, and so all the same rules still apply. And now you know the survival basics of making it through this very clear and present danger. May the best team win--especially if that team is mine. GO TIGERS!

Friday, November 8, 2013

I Feel Pretty

I have to walk the dog. The dog must be walked. This ordinary ordeal is made extra difficult today due to the fact that my world is still blurry around the edges and swaying dizzily from the double shot of Nyquil (no chaser) I downed last night. I enhanced that with a heavy dose of migraine medication and am still waiting, ever so patiently, for something to take effect. But I have been sick for five days now, and I am starting to fear mutiny in the Stancil house if I don't put one foot in front of the other and get it going around here.

Off we go. Walking Cotton is basically like dragging an 18-pound bowling ball on a leash. He is 11-years old, blind, and in no hurry to get through with his walk and return to the rest of his day, which normally consists of waiting on me while I flat iron, makeup, Facebook, and/or run errands. I pull him along, a solid two feet behind me, while coaxing him with my usual, "Cotton, please, walk. Please." and "Come on, let's get going. You need to walk." (Note to self: add "motivational speaker for canines" to resume). He moves forward a total of three inches and pauses to spend the next five full minutes sniffing what looks to me to be a very run-of-the-mill patch of grass.

At this point, you should know I have dressed myself in an insanely chic Hanes sweatshirt in a fetching shade called eggplant, which has given me a strong resemblance to the beloved children's character Barney, the purple dinosaur. The physique I'm rocking can best be attributed to a weeklong diet of double noodle soup and chicken pot pie. It's the anti-Atkins plan, if you will, following that old age to carb load a cold and sugar fix a fever. To that, I've added my well-worn yoga pants onto which I just sneezed and wiped my palms, and accessorized with a high quality pair of fleece gloves I found in a $3.99 bargain bin at Old Navy several years ago. Did I mention I have a wad of Kleenex tucked in my sleeve like my granny used to do?

We shuffle along and, as luck would have it, run smack into the neighborhood Power Walk Posse. Despite the nippy 52-degree temperature, they are dressed fashionably in tennis skirts that reveal legs the size of Popsicle sticks--if Popsicle sticks were shapely and toned to perfection--with matching half-zip shirts and shiny, bouncy pony tails. They greet us, take in the whole scene, and exchange knowing glances and stifled giggles. The on-foot fashionistas stomp on. Cotton and I toddle on through the rest of our route.

An hour later, I have returned to my well-worn spot on the couch and am getting ready for Days of Our Lives and another bowl of double noodle. I tell you this tale for one reason: someone should get something good out of this little adventure. I hope that whatever you are doing/wearing/thinking right now, you suddenly feel much more attractive in comparison. Believe me when I say that you should.

Happy weekend, darlings. You look marvelous!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Boo Y'all

My mom and me, bewitching as usual, Halloween 1981.
I love this time of year. Halloween through Christmas is just a fabulous stretch of celebration which starts with candy and costumes (playing dress up and getting rewarded with junk food? I could have invented Halloween it's so me), moves on turkey and dressing and binge eating and shopping (again, I could have invented this me), and then we arrive at my Most Very Favorite of All Holidays, Christmas. (Sparkly decorations and parties and gifts and eggnog...I could have invented that holiday it's so me).

But back to Halloween. My mom is the one who really honed my fondness for this particular fete; her birthday is October 20 and she loves a good celebration as much as her daughter. Our house was always decorated to the Halloween hilt, we had pumpkins the size of snow tires, and we trick-or-treated with pillow cases our candy haul was so big. As a kid, I had a Halloween party every year complete with a frozen hand floating in the punch bowl, a hayride through a graveyard, and a showing of some horror movie that had at least one attendee sleeping with their parents afterward. And lest I forget the best part of Halloween for me...the costumes. Oh, the costumes!

As you can probably garner, I love dressing up for Halloween. In actuality, I love dressing up for any occasion, but on the 31st of October I can really gussy it up. Over the years, I've been Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Elvira, a mermaid, Wonder Woman--even Monica Lewinsky (a tacky, yet timely choice back in 1998). And because Clint really is a good sport, he has even gotten in on the costume fun over the years:

Tell me those costumes don't deserve a big handful of treats? If you find yourself looking for a good getup here at the last minute, let me suggest some out-of-the-box ideas for something scary. Why don't you go as a bathroom scale on a Monday morning--yikes! Is there anything more terrifying than an Ogilvie home perm *shivers up my spine*? Or maybe you want to really scare it up and go as the scoreboard at a Clemson football game (that one gets thousands of hearts racing and blood curdling). It's all in good fun, and don't you want to get in on some good fun?

When it comes to Halloween, my answer is pretty much always yes. Yes to the Monster Mash and the Thriller dance, yes to candy corn being considered a vegetable, yes to pumpkin flavored everything. From candy apples to haunted houses, I want in on all of it.

Now that I've confessed to being batty over all things All Hallows Eve, some of you may remember that last year I debated about whether to answer the door for the approximately one zillion trick-or-treaters that typically bombard our house. In the end, I did wind up treating every single one of those little sugar snatchers and a good time was had by all (well, except those of us trying to eat dinner and one very overstimulated little guard dog). This year, in a move that I think is pure genius, I'm leaving a bowl of candy on the front steps and heading to a friend's house for cocktails and marshmallow roasting. Now everyone's happy.

So put on your witch's hat, watch scary movies until you need your nightlight, and eat your weight in candy. It's a national holiday, so you're pretty much obligated. And one more thing:

Boo, y'all.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Belle Tolls!

What a year it has been! For Whom the Belle Tolls went up and running one year ago...Happy Birthday to the blog!

This past year, you've let me celebrate, ruminate, complain, brag, and vent. I've been to the Bahamas, to Dallas, and to the dentist. People on Craigslist were certifiably crazy, I learned that bowling is not my sport, my neighborhood garden club continued their snub, and I managed to nurse Clint through not one, not two, but three surgeries without trying to smother him even once. As my friend Dawn so perfectly put it when talking about playing nurse, "Remember the pillow goes under the head, not over the face."

By now you probably know that I am not a fan of beards or cell phones, but a lover of all things Clemson and a good fad diet. There's been talk about college football, life in the South, and the agony of shopping at Walmart. All year long, there has been love for the blog, hate for the blog (Crazy Cat Lady, if you're still reading, that's for you), and great chatter about the blog. The only thing worse than having people talk about you is not having people talk about you, so I have enjoyed every second of it.

The blog's Facebook page is up to over 300 likes (321, if you're counting--which I believe only my mom and I are, but there you have it), and last month Clint met a coworker for dinner and when he mentioned my name, lo and behold, Mr. Project Manager was a blog fan! Small world. I voted that guy get a big promotion, as he clearly showed a high level of intellect and keen judgment.

Thanks, everyone, for your stories, comments, and encouragement over the last year. Feel free to raise a cocktail, enjoy some cake, and maybe send a gift (I kid...but if you insist...). I hope the blog has taken it's "toll" on you this year in the best possible way.

Love you. Mean it.

The Belle of the Blog

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Technically, No

It would be fair to say that I am not what you would call a lover of technology. I prefer my three-ring binder day planner to an online calendar, I love going to the mailbox each day to check my snail mail, and my pulse races for real cards and paper invitations over e-sentiments. All this fancy, newfangled stuff is just more opportunity for something to break.

As a prime example, my car has sensors in the door handles. You touch the handle and, if the car senses you have the key with you, it locks. Grab the back part of the handle and the car automatically unlocks. Friday night, Clint was having trouble getting the very high-tech sensor to recognize that he just wanted to lock the car doors and get on with his grocery store pit stop. I pointed out that no one ever had problems like that with manual locks. Simpler is just better. You never see someone having a crazy time figuring out how to work a record player, now do you?

The cell phone I have been using (or not using, if you will) is five or six years old and it came free with the calling plan. I don't even think they make the model any more--LG Shine, anyone? I picked it purely because it had a mirrored surface and I could use it to apply lip gloss. That's the feature which impressed me most. My calling plan is the Twilight for Seniors package. I kid you not. I did not know this until Clint accidentally left the bill lying around a while back. He was afraid I might find it insulting; but I know my tech resistant ways generally put me in with the AARP crowd. At least it did until last week, when all that changed.

I don't, or didn't, text. My phone didn't even really have that capability, and receiving texts on the Senior Twilight plan costs $1.29 each. But we are headed to Clemson (see also: God's Country) this weekend, and football game weekends tend to turn into mini college reunions. In the past, when people said they would call or text me the day of the game to connect, I just gave them Clint's cell phone number and let him handle it. It seems he has grown tired of responding to my girlfriends' texts and having to hand over his phone every half hour or so for me to return calls. He can be pretty unreasonable that way; I think it's only child syndrome.

I don't own an iPad, and the iPod I have is a "shuffle" from 2008 that holds 100 songs, so I hardly think that counts. When it comes to Apple and all their fancy schmancy inventions, iDon't. The general population has become a trail of ants marching, with their iPhones held directly in front of their faces. Case in point: last week in San Francisco, a man on a commuter train held a gun in the air not once, but four times and the other passengers were all too consumed with their phones to even notice. I don't need a smartphone glued to my hip, beeping, binking, and buzzing all day. I am a housewife, after all, and there is rarely an instance where someone just has to get in touch with me immediately. As much as I hate to say it out loud, I am just not that important. Leave a message on my home answering machine, and I will call you when I get back from running errands.

But now, at my hubby's insistence, I am the reluctant owner of an iPhone. In protest, I tried to point out that Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty doesn't own any kind of cell phone, and I read that he has never even used a computer. Clint countered by reminding me that I am not a Duck Commander, and that occasionally it might be nice if someone wanted to reach me and my phone was not out in the console of my car.

While I don't like it love it the way everyone else seems to, I am making the best of the high-tech situation. I promptly ordered a gold glitter leopard print case for the thing--hey, accessorizing is important in any situation, never forget that. I have sent a grand total of three text messages in the last week, and let me tell you that at the speed I type, I might as well just drive over to wherever you are and have the conversation in person. You would think that I was a 300-pound man with big sausage fingers the way I hit every key on that phone except the one I actually mean to send. I still love you, pen and paper. You complete me.

Off we go to Clemson for the weekend, and my new leopard print phone will be in my purse, at the ready. Since Clint doesn't seem to want to fan me, feed me grapes, and do all my communicating for me, I'm going to be a big girl and send my own texts and everything. At least until I figure out how to get that Duck Commander title.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Boot Scootin' Cheapskate

You may be surprised to hear this from a girl who is easily distracted by pretty, shiny things, but I have become, as one of my oldest friends and my husband have both pointed out: cheap. Not as in cheap thrill, cheap date, or cheap trick, but rather frugal, thrifty, prudent. Believe me, I haven't always been that way; it started out as just an inclination to save money and stick to a budget, and like most of the things I do, I may have gotten a little carried away.

A few years ago, we found ourselves on a tight(er) budget. I am, after all, a housewife, so while the benefits of my job are fabulous, the pay is nonexistent. I started clipping coupons, comparing prices, signing up for freebies whenever possible, pinching pennies if you will. I deemed myself a bargain babe and after a few months of thriftiness, it became a natural habit. The thrill of scoring a good deal and seeing how much money we could save was addictive.

I reuse shopping bags, gift bags, and garbage bags. I wash Styrofoam plates, and I always ask for extra napkins and ketchup at the drive-thru so I can keep some on hand and not have to use my own supply. I buy generic almost everything--with a few exceptions like Duke's mayonnaise and Diet Coke (some things are worth every penny), and I am pretty darn savvy about what is an actual deal at the dollar store.

I remember as a kid saving allowance money to buy the most current awesome thing, and thinking that once I was an adult, I would have all the money I wanted (ah, the innocence of youth) and then I could have all the Swatch watches/Sebagos/Members Only jackets my little heart desired. Now that I have graduated to that 'adult' category, I find myself still wanting the most current awesome things, but wanting to pay what they would have cost back in 1992, when I was fourteen. Inflation can be so cruel.

Saturday night, I was up late waiting for my dear hubby to come home from a long road trip. I entertained myself by scouring the Internet for a pair of brown riding boots (we will not go into detail about the pair I currently own, which I proudly scored at a discount shoe warehouse last year for $59.99, which will not stay fastened and have been an absolute laughing stock with my family). Specifically, I was searching for a pair of designer boots I have been lusting after for close to two years. My eyes burned, my fingers cramped, my search history grew. I surfed, and surfed, and surfed.

Around 1:30 a.m., when Clint finally made it home, he came in to find me bleary eyed, frustrated, and in a state of exhausted despair. "Do you think that is a scam website? Because they have THE boots for 62% off the retail price, but for some reason, I can't get my order to go through!" He may or may not have confiscated our laptop in response.

I went to sleep that night dreaming of beautiful leather boots. In colors like "bourbon," "almond," and "luggage." Visions of outfits perfected by those boots danced through my head. (All of this could have been influenced and/or enhanced by a rather large dose of cherry Nyquil, but I digress). By Sunday morning, Clint could barely enjoy his Eggo waffles in peace without hearing about THE boots.

And then: super husband came to the rescue. He calculated how many times I would wear the highly coveted boots and reasoned that the price, broken down over that many wears, was not that ridiculous after all. He used my grandmother's old adage about having one nice thing rather than several cheap finds. Then he took me to the mall, the place where so many dreams come true for girls who love clothes like I do.

Operation Riding Boot was a hairy experience. We enter the store and search the shelves. The boot is not there. A salesgirl says she is certain they have it in stock, and we wait on pins and needles (well, one of us, anyway) until she returns with the very large box containing those gorgeous creatures. Did we know they are 25% off this weekend, she asks? My heart skips a beat. I zip up my sole mates and--horror of horrors--they are too tight. I don't want to admit it, but I am afraid that the way they are squeezing my calves will cause a blood clot and I will die the very first time I wear them, which will cause the cost-per-wear calculations to go right out the window.

Salesgirl searches for an eternity for a larger size, and comes up empty handed. I can barely stand this roller coaster of emotion. She says they can order them and ship them to our house, which we reluctantly agree upon. Salesgirl then brings out another style to try on for size, pauses in contemplation, returns to the stockroom once more, and comes out triumphant: she has found THE boots. In the right size--the one that will not cause clotting. Score! Clint turns down her offer of celebratory Coronas and champagne, pays the woman, and I exit the store with a bag the size of a refrigerator box and a smile that is practically the same size.

Once, when I was around four years old, my granddaddy took me to the toy store and bought me a little red wagon, already assembled. He then put me in that wagon and commenced to fill it with toys and candy until I was so giddy I could barely sit upright, and then he pulled me around the mall while I lived the best day a kid could imagine. This shoe shopping experience reminds me of that day. I suppose that when you get older, designer boots are the new red wagon.

I fell asleep last night staring at my new pair of boots, with a dreamy smile across my face. This cheapskate had a banner day, and with my new fabulous footwear, I will be the most stylish penny pincher at the bargain bins to boot.

Caution: objects may be even more awesome than they appear.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Saloon Girl

So long, weekend! Don't let the door hit you on the way out! Whew. Let me begin by saying that I have fully realized I am old. And married. Old and married, that's me. A typical Friday night for Clint and me is an exciting outing for dinner at Jason's Deli, a stop at the bookstore where a latte indulgence is optional, then home to watch Dateline at 10:00. Whatever kidnapping, murder, or heist Keith Morrison is delving into is typically the extent of our Friday night excitement. If Clint manages to stay awake long enough to see Leno's opening monologue, I consider it a personal victory.

But this Friday night made up for any lack of weekend hubbub we may have been experiencing. A friend of mine, who for the sake of anonymity will further herein be referred to as My Friend (terribly creative, I know, please try to follow all this complexity), invited us out to celebrate a happy occasion in her life.

We don't really go "out" in that sense any more. "Out" is the bar scene: downtown--or Uptown as Charlotte likes to call it. It's for youngsters, for singles looking for dates, for people who don't care about Dateline but do care about Twitter and texting and mingling and who can stay out late and whoop it up. I did my share of whooping back in the day, but I've reached the age where it actually whoops me back, if you know what I mean, so this is not really my comfort zone.

We are told to meet at a bar that calls itself a saloon. Why it does this, I still cannot reckon. We did not enter through swinging doors, there was no sawdust on the floor, no cowboys at the bar. In fact, I have unaffectionately nicknamed the place TGICocktails for its generic approach to serving overpriced, watered down drinks.

Back in my heyday, we didn't wear dresses for bar hopping. First of all, we thought it looked like you were trying too hard. Secondly, it's not as comfortable as pants or jeans. In fact, the big decision for night-on-the-town wardrobe used to be: black pants, or jeans? This particular Friday night, I chose jeans and a silky peasant top--it was from Bebe, which in my opinion always means it is bar/saloon worthy. Banana Republic? No. Ann Taylor? Puh-lease. Bebe? Let me open the velvet rope for your cool self, miss. Right this way.

Once we arrive, I see that I am dead wrong. I am surrounded by a sea of girls/ladies/women in every shape, size, color, and hemline of dress imaginable. Except for those of the male persuasion, there isn't a pair of pants in the room. Except yours truly. We just arrived, it is already nearing my bedtime, and I feel old.

However, compared to My Friend, I was bright eyed and bushy tailed. Apparently, there were lots of celebratory drinks involved in this outing, even before we arrived on the scene. My Friend is a tiny girl and let's just say that all the revelry was taking a serious toll. She clutched a fistful of my silk blouse and used me to keep her in an upright position for a pretty good while. When she finally let go, I would have been relieved except for the fact that she promptly tumbled to the floor. And then stood up and fell again five minutes later.

At this point, I began searching for her ride, who we came to learn had decided to abandon ship leave while the getting was good. Clint and I go to the bar, get My Friend's tab paid up, and then have to physically pry her away. Seriously--this five foot one, hundred and five pound girl starts grabbing the bar and refusing to leave. Now, this is kind of baffling for me since the bar had not exactly been kind to her in the first place, and in the second place she could absolutely no longer hold her head up.

Thank God she's not heavyset, because we literally carried her down the sidewalk and to our car. Along the way, I bent down on my hands and knees and unbuckled her four inch strappy sandals that were serving as a serious ankle breaking threat and carried them, too. I felt like a fireman doing one of those challenges where they are forced to carry objects and run an obstacle course. As we pull up to the exit of the garage, My Friend announces she thinks she is going to be sick. I hop out of the car, open the back door, and wave traffic around our car as she loses some of the Jager bombs she very enthusiastically imbibed in a little while before. I offer my sympathy and some Quick Trip napkins I handily keep stored in my console.

Then we begin the adventure of finding her house. You see, we had only been there once before, and she is in no shape to be giving us directions. While My Friend is curled up in the backseat with the quilt our dog likes to ride on when he's in the car, we mercifully stumble upon her home. And fumble with all 45 of the keys on her key chain (why? what are all of these for?!) before finally getting it right and getting her inside.

While her little terrier is very happy to see us, she has not been a happy dog while she was home alone without her owner. Clint is nice enough to clean up the doggy 'business' that has been left unceremoniously in the den while I help My Friend to the bathroom. While she is worshipping the porcelain god, we take the dog out for some air, play with the pooch for a bit, and then fetch My (moaning, groaning, disheveled, near comatose) Friend some water. Then we throw in a blanket and a pillow for good measure, put her phone by her hand just in case, and head home.

What a night! A long, crazy, strange, exhausting night. We woke up Saturday still shaking our heads over that adventure and all its ins and outs. Clint texts My Friend to make sure she is okay. The response? She tells us (after announcing that she feels like pure death) that she remembers very little about us being there and has no idea how she got home. All of that, and she has no memory of the fricking fiasco. You seriously cannot make stuff like this up.

So after a very eventful out-and-about experience, I think we have had enough excitement for a while. If you need us, we'll be having our usual at the neighborhood Jason's Deli. If the night needs a little spicing up, well, it's almost time for pumpkin spice lattes over at the bookstore. And for my Friday night outings, dresses are absolutely optional. Actually, depending on the mood, yoga pants are optional. That's just the way this saloon girl does it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Suzanne Sugarbaker and Uncle Buck

At this point, most of you have probably heard or read about my (usually) darling husband, Clint. But what you may not know is that for years, I had a second husband. Yep, I'm a bigamist. Allow me to introduce you to Matt, my "work husband" for almost three years.

I met Matt when I went to work at Satan's lair Wachovia Securities, way back in 2003. We both worked in Marketing, and we hit it off as soon as we were introduced. He immediately commented on my fabulous bag, within five minutes he had declared me the modern day Suzanne Sugarbaker and we were laughing like hyenas, and within a week we were fast friends.

When you are a cubicle rat, you need people around you to commiserate with, or you will slip slowly into madness (you may still do that, but it will be expedited without fellow cubemates to keep you company). My work environment at the time was the stuff the movie Office Space was made of (the first time I saw it, it felt like a documentary of my Wachovia years).

Allow me to elaborate. A man who worked on my floor made the local news: the family dog was missing and he taped strips of raw bacon to his car windows and drove around town for a week looking (incidentally, they found the dog. Part of me was happy for the family and the other part of me was sad for the dog). Another guy wore a real, honest-to-God kilt every Friday (so I can't wear jeans, but Walker can strut around with naked kneecaps and a wool skirt? That seems normal). We found an homage on the employee bulletin board someone wrote to their beloved "Rocky," a pet rat who had passed away. The thermostats on the walls were fakes, giving us the illusion of being in control of the temperature, but in reality, we didn't even have the authority to turn up the A/C on a hot day. And lest I forget the dude in the back corner: a contractor whose project was over, yet someone had forgotten to let him go. So he continued coming to work, reading the newspaper and sleeping in his cubicle until quitting time each day. Can you see why the need for moral support?

Matt and I bonded over similar upbringings; he was from Monroe, North Carolina and could completely relate to my small town of Toccoa, Georgia. We were both as Southern as they come, raised on the same junk food, the same TV shows, the same Southern Baptist ways. Our mamas and grandmothers used the same sayings. We had the same sense of humor and could not resist the urge to cut up whenever we were together. Which was pretty much all the time, once my lucky stars and a reorganization found us working in cubicles right across the aisle from each other.

My adoring work husband weighed in on questionable outfits, new shoes, new haircuts. He carried all my heavy boxes of marketing materials for me without ever being asked, and almost every single day that we worked together, he dutifully walked me to my car at 5:00. We were scolded a few times for having more fun at work than we should, and it wasn't long before we learned to talk across the aisles from our tiny little gray cubicles without saying a word. One glance and the eyes would tell the tale. That, and a few zillion emails back and forth, helped pass the time in an endless sea of work days.

We had plenty of (mis)adventures, but I will never forget the time we decided to get ourselves spray tans. Overhead fluorescent lighting does not exactly impart a healthy glow to a cubicle rat. I agreed to try it, but only if Matt would go in first. Let's just say that when he showed up for work the next morning, he definitely turned some heads. And bless his sweet heart, he thought all the comments were compliments. There were lots of "wows," only not for a good reason. At 5:00 that day, he said, "Call me and let me know how your tan goes!" To which I had to reply, "Honey, there will be no spray tan for me. Sorry to renege on our deal, but you look like you have overdosed on beta-carotene. I cannot do the half human/half carrot look." He found it funnier five days later when his orange essence finally washed away.

Matt was not just my 8:00 to 5:00 other husband, he also took on dog sitting duties (he proudly pronounced himself Cotton's "Uncle Buck"), and he helped moved more than his fair share of furniture into our house. The only forms of payment I could get him to accept were cheesy souvenir t-shirts, the occasional home cooked meal, and bags upon bags of Sweet Sixteen powdered doughnuts. Well, all of that and the fact that I dutifully covered for him at work while he went out to the parking garage and napped in his car. "Matt? He's in a meeting. A very important meeting. I'll tell him you stopped by." It's what work husbands and wives do, right?

Matt was zany, outgoing, general, he was what you would call a real character. Some of his friends nicknamed him "Shine," as in sunshine, because generally he was a bright spot to any day. To know Matt was to love him; he was full of charm, quick wit, and infectious laughter.

At least once every few weeks, he went to his neighborhood bakery and bought an entire cake, pretending it was for some special occasion, and then ate the whole thing himself. He bought lotto tickets on a regular basis, always promising to split the jackpot with his work wife. I'll never forget when he took a part-time job at GNC. He called and screeched into the phone, "Guess where I'm working now? Here's the hint: we are going to pickle ourselves with vitamins and supplements and live forever!" Man, I wish that was the case.

The brighter the flame, the quicker it tends to burn out. And Mattie was no exception. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, that big heart of his just gave out. My precious friend had a heart attack, alone in his apartment, and transitioned from my work husband to my guardian angel instead. It took  me three years to take his number off my speed dial, and I still think of something at least once a day that I want to tell him. When I left Wachovia to take another job, Matt sent me flowers and the card read, "I will certainly miss you." The irony of that is still bittersweet, since I am the one who wound up doing the missing.

Matt--my sweet friend, work husband, confidante, cohort, partner-in-crime--because you loved attention almost as much as me, this post is for you. They say there are no tears in heaven, but I have no doubt that since you got there, you have had them laughing so hard they cry. It's not the same without you.

So, like we used to say, UHBB: uh-huh, buh-bye. For now, anyway. Miss you, Shine!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Everything's Better in the Bahamas

Ah, vacation. As a somewhat (read: highly) excitable kind of gal, the mere anticipation of getting away to the beautiful Caribbean starts my heart pitter pattering months in advance. Seriously, I have been counting down the days since we made our reservations back in May.

I love vacation for so many reasons: I don't cook, I don't clean, I don't floss my teeth (believe it or not, I am a stickler for the rules. This devil-may-care, in your face flirtation with gum disease is total renegade behavior). You get to stay up late, enjoying what Kevin McAllister in Home Alone very aptly called, "stuff that will rot my teeth and my mind." So! Much! Fun!

This year's trip was no exception. They say everything is better in the Bahamas, and I tend to agree. But rather than tell you about what an amazing time we had last week, sipping daiquiris and sunning ourselves, I thought I would tell you about the educational aspects of our trip (or, as Clint called it every two minutes, "VAY-CAY!"). Consider this my version of What I Learned Over Summer Vacation. And proof that people watching will truly expand your mind.

1. After spending five days poolside and gawking at my fellow vacationers/passersby, I now estimate that roughly 33% of the population is tattooed. The number would be higher except that I am factoring in children and the elderly, who may or may not have made the decision to ink themselves. Some of the tattoos are better choices than others--I'm looking at you, meathead with 'fearless' written in all CAPS across your big, beefy neck. And all of you with the tramp stamps. And the Chinese lettering--haven't the Chinese bested us at enough, without dominating the world of tattoos as well?

2. In an even more striking statistic, I would now say that 80% of the world is overweight. Not morbidly obese or anything, but definitely carrying a few extra doughnut holes around the middle. Let me also note that I determined this while enjoying an order of nachos in between sips of pina coladas. The point being that you really should stop worrying that people are judging you in your swimsuit; they are too busy trying to stay stuffed into theirs to throw any criticism around. Well, 80% of them are, anyway.

3. No matter what the shape or size, women will find a way to wear a bikini. I was jaw-droppingly amazed at some of the swimwear choices that strutted by my lounge chair. Ladies, you do not have to force a square peg into a round hole, in this case the round hole being a triangle-top string bikini. I happen to know for a fact that Spanx makes swimwear, and a sensible one piece would make everyone, including you and the sighted folk around you, more comfortable poolside. And you can avoid looking like a big ol' buttered Thanksgiving turkey while working on your tan.

4. The Duck Dynasty phenomenon has not yet made its way to the Bahamas. I wore my "Happy, happy, happy" t-shirt to breakfast one morning and it drew far more attention than I would have anticipated. Several hotel employees were fascinated by Phil's picture, and drawn to the three-happy saying he has coined. I was, well, happy to spread the word. And that's a fact, Jack.

5. There is a *slight* chance you are getting old when you get shin splints from doing too much walking in flip flops while on vacation. And you hurt your hamstring riding water slides. Walk it off, walk it off.

6. Last, but certainly not least, it turns out that Clint and I can spend six days and five nights together without completely wearing out each other's nerves. Our vacations are usually four nights but this year we stayed an extra day. I had feared the worst, but aside from a little eye rolling here and there (and everyone knows that side eyes, eye rolls, and tuning the other person out are the trinity of long term relationships), we got along just fine. Our flight home was completely full and we wound up sitting 10 rows apart, and even though Clint said he tried in vain to find someone to switch seats with him, I secretly think he was back there in 17F enjoying his solitude. Hey, we're married and we like each other fine, but we're also human.

Now, I know I promised not to brag, but all-in-all, it was an awesome trip. We had a delicious pre-birthday dinner for Clint at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill and it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. It was worth (Clint) turning a year older. We spent time on the beach, by the pool, reading, relaxing, swimming, sipping, sunning, grinning. And now that the trip is over, it's back to cooking, cleaning, flossing, doing...I told you it's better in the Bahamas, now didn't I?

I suppose it's time to start the countdown until next year's trip....

Monday, August 26, 2013

College Football 101: Crash Course

Do you hear the rumblings? Can you feel the excitement in the air? Are you counting the minutes until kickoff? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, this post may help get you up to speed a bit. You see, we are entering a most magical time of year, especially in the South. College football season is almost upon us. Before we break out the koozies, sing the fight song, and head to the tailgate spot, let's cover some basics, shall we? A little preseason drill for the rookies out there. For the rest of you armchair quarterbacks, consider it a pregame show.

Some of you are puzzled by what you just read. Is this seriously coming from a girl who doesn't particularly like sports, and who will only break a sweat in the name of weight loss or sun tanning? Yes, it's me, but I can explain. Please don't think for half a second that we are about to discuss the hurry-up offense or the shotgun formation...oh heavens, no. You can get that pretty much anywhere; I am here to provide you with college football from a Southern belle perspective. Darlings, I am in it almost entirely for the social aspect.

For the sake of self-indulgence, please let me throw in that Clemson takes on the Georgia Bulldogs for their season opener on Saturday. ESPN's College Game Day (more on this later) will be live on Clemson campus, and the Good Year blimp will be there, too. Students started camping out in what was nicknamed "Tentville" nine full days before the game to make sure they got their tickets (all students are supposed to get game tickets, but it's not guaranteed and it's first-come, last-in-line-sits-up-near-the-blimp). To top it off, our head coach came out to Tentville and surprised all the students waiting with doughnuts for breakfast. It has given me serious heart palpitations from excitement. It's almost too much, except it's deliciously just enough. As great as all this is, it is not a fluke or anomaly: This. Is. College. Football. See what all the fuss is about yet?

So it's almost time, and it is practically a religion. But you don't want to get started off on the wrong foot. Badmouthing someone's team, especially if it also happens to be their alma mater, is right up there with insulting their mother. Rivalry runs rampant, so tread lightly. This is a house divided between my husband, the Georgia Tech alumnus, and yours truly, a Clemson grad. We pull for each other's teams all season long, until the dreaded day when the Yellow Jackets take on the Tigers. Then, we sit and watch in tense silence. The winner has unspoken bragging rights for the next year, which basically means they know their team won and have thereby earned the right to give smug looks whenever it is mentioned, but it cannot, must not, will not be spoken aloud.

While we're on the subject of bragging rights, in college football timetables, there is no statute of limitations. Clemson fans still talk about the '81 championship, Alabama has won back-to-back national championships (so your children's grandchildren's children will still be hearing about that one), Georgia Bulldog football fanatics will say Herschel Walker three times in a ten second sentence. Some years, nostalgia is all you have. The good years are the ones you will cling to and talk about...forever.

Now, let's get you dressed for the occasion. Most importantly, wear team colors. This is all about spirit and is not the time to show up in your khakis and white button-down. Unless you went to GAP University, in which case, go Chinos! I, personally, would discourage you from body paint or spirit wigs and say keep it simple with a cute dress for her and a team appropriate polo shirt or button down for him. You aren't sitting in the sorority or fraternity block any more, so you don't have to go too overboard. Unless you (like myself) just enjoy dressing up. In which case, be my well-dressed guest. These lovely Bulldog belles have it down beautifully:

(Photo courtesy of Ashley Culberson)

It is inevitable that discussions of football will arise during tailgate time. If you have no idea what is going on or what is being discussed, always fall back on the aforementioned College Game Day. This is essentially the papal mass of college football Saturdays. This will be easier for you if you actually watch said program (on ESPN for the uninitiated), but if not, you can fake it. Say things such as, "Who did Corso and Herbstreit pick today? Well, they are doomed!" Bonus points if you can work in Lee Corso's mainstay, "Not so fast, my friend!"

And now more detail about my personal favorite: the tailgating. Tailgating is serious business. People show up hours, sometimes days in advance to get their spot and get the party going. And sure, everyone has grills and coolers, but nowadays there are real tablecloths, fresh flowers, flat-screen TVs, and signature cocktails. At my alma mater, a Tiger can't swing its tail without hitting a plate of just-smoked barbecue, and Ole Miss fans are infamous for boasting, "We may lose a game, but we never lose a party." You don't want to miss a minute of it either. I would be remiss if I didn't take the chance to brag, er, inform you that Clemson did in fact win the South's Best Tailgate Competition in 2012. Those folks at Southern Living know what they're talking about.

In the realm of college football, tradition (and superstition) runs rampant. There are chants, cheers, good luck charms, and rituals abounding. Don't question it, just go with it and enjoy the fun. At Notre Dame, before the game begins, the team makes its way to the "Touchdown Jesus"—a mural overlooking the stadium showing Jesus with his arms raised like a referee declaring a touchdown. Mississippi State fans will drive you insane with ever-ringing cowbells. At the University of Pennsylvania, fans throw toast on the field after the third quarter at every home game, a tradition started in the '70s when alcohol was banned from the stadium and fans used it as a way to "toast" the team. Ohio State's band is famous for it's tradition of "dotting the i" during their pregame show, and it's been dotted by tuba players, famous folks and tons of special honorees over the years. There are a million examples; every school does something unique--that is the fun and fascination of college football. It's pure spectacle.

There are so many things to love about college football; I think that is why the fan base is so enthusiastic. It takes something pretty special to entice a grown man to paint his team logo on his bald head, yes? At any rate, I can tell you about it all day long, but the best thing to do is pack up your cooler and your pom poms and experience it for yourself. And with only a handful of days left until the season starts (fourth and inches, if you will), it's time to get going. That tailgate isn't going to set itself up, and the die hard fans are probably already on campus, raring to go.

A few years ago, I got a framed sign for Christmas with some sage college football advice: "Arrive early, stay late, be loud, wear orange" (you have my permission to insert your own team colors into that equation). Amen to that! Now that you've had your tutorial, you are ready to live this season to its fullest. May the best team win--especially if it's MY team!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Weight Loss Challenge

I know, I know, this is not my first post discussing diets and weight loss. But I have to think about dieting every single day, so the least you skinnies can do is read about it every few months or so. Now grab yourself a cupcake and read away. Mmmm, cupcakes. Sorry. We now return to your regularly scheduled blog post.

It would appear, at least from my 35 year old perspective, that getting old is hell. Last year, I went to my doctor and asked him to test my thyroid. You see, I was watching every calorie that went into this big mouth of mine and working out about five days a week (and we're talking really working, bless my heart) and still not seeing any results. I figured it had to be some sort of medical condition, because clearly, it was no fault of my own.

My cute, sweet, Brooks Brothers-wearing doctor, who is about the same age as moi, said he has never seen anyone so disappointed to get good test results. I kept asking: are you sure my thyroid is working? Really? Noooo! It can't be! He explained that the older you get, the more effort it takes. I asked him if everyone has to work as hard as I had been, and he said that most people are content to gain some extra pounds as they age. Um, no. I am not one of those people.

I moved on to plan B and asked him if he could please send me to some sort of fat farm. Ever the patient professional, he managed to keep his laughter to a minimum and said that he did not believe a fat farm would accept me as a candidate, and also that the other folks there might be a bit hostile towards someone (such as myself) who came to such a drastic measure to lose ten pounds. Then he diagnosed me with perfectionist tendencies and made me promise to relax. Yeah, I see that happening.

I knocked off those pounds through some extreme measures (800 calories a day, ultra low carbs), but found that it is next to impossible to sustain such efforts without become homicidal. I decided that a little extra candy coating on my frame was probably more flattering than shackles and an orange jumpsuit, so I eased off on my diet. By the time winter passed and the holidays were gone, I was back up my ten pounds, plus some change. It's a shame that, in order to look decent, I can't hang out with my good friends Little Debbie and Chef Boyardee. They really are good people.

Since January, I have gained and lost the same four pounds over and over again. I will have a good week and lose a couple of pounds, have a fun eating weekend and gain it back. Lose one pound, have an extra slice of pizza, gain it back. It is the Groundhog Day syndrome of weight loss. And suddenly, our tropical vacation is looming large. When faced with the option of wearing a wet suit instead of a bikini, and walking around the Bahamas in jeans because all my summer shorts are too tight, I saw it as a call to *immediate* action.

Which brings me to my current adventure. I am, deep breath, embarking on the Adovcare 24-Day Challenge. The details of this ditty include no cheese (which I swore I would never do, but you know what they say about desperate times), no alcohol, no sugar. Not even mushrooms--apparently these are mold/fungus and the goal of the first ten days of this challenge are to 'cleanse' the system of such toxins. No Diet Coke...Lord have mercy on my Coca Cola soaked soul on that one. This avoidance of processed foods also means no Baked Cheetohs (which are kind of my jam), no Saturday morning Egg McMuffin runs, no handful of Teddy Grahams after dinner (hey, they are nutritious and vitamin-enriched--it says so right on the box). Sigh. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

So, none of that stuff, and plenty of healthiness. For a girl who doesn't like fruit, cares little about meat, and doesn't get super excited about veggies, this has been a bit of a change. There have been plenty of supplements (I have to keep a chart on my fridge to keep track of it all), three ounce servings of lean proteins (no red meat), egg whites, and plenty of salads with lemon juice instead of salad dressing. These are not typically my favorite foods, but believe me when I say, you get hungry enough and this stuff will taste pretty good. Did I mention I can have unlimited green vegetables at any time? Green beans and broccoli, you sexy beasts, you!

All in all, it has gone pretty well. There was a panicky incident on day one when I accidentally ate an extra tablespoon of almond butter (I wrongly read the serving size for 'medium' sized people--damn you, small frame!), and a few less-than-delicious episodes with a fiber drink that tasted the way I would imagine a hay milkshake to taste, plus a near sobbing incident when I passed the frozen pizzas in the grocery store, but I'm plugging along. I may--but probably not--be a bit "hangry" from time to time (angry because I'm hungry), although I feel that all things considered, I am maintaining quite the sunny disposition. Clint may tell you different, but who knows why men say the things they say, am I right?

At this point, I am seven days in and four pounds down. Our trip is in exactly three weeks, and I am determined to be a buff bodied, lean, mean, beach dwelling machine. Or at least not swimming in a t-shirt and wearing a muumuu to dinner every evening.  Will I find these lost pounds over one family-sized plate of pasta at Carmine's in the marina village? Or sip them back on, one Miami Vice cocktail at a time out by the pool? Hopefully, the fact that I am leaving for vaycay a few pounds lighter will lessen the chances of the muffin top becoming a pound cake.

I'm off to eat my half piece of fruit and 1/8 cup of almonds as my second meal of the day. "Meal," ha, ha. Hopefully I have expended enough calories typing this post to burn off that meal replacement shake I enjoyed for breakfast, because every bit of effort counts at this juncture. I leave you with this little bit of wisdom I found last week, and I hope it inspires and motivates you as much as it has me:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Drop in the Bucket (List)

Pre-concert cocktail. And yes, that's a one gallon fishbowl.
Last week, I am proud to brag say, I crossed an item off my bucket list. For my birthday, Clint gave me tickets to see Dave Matthews Band and the concert was Wednesday night. Since I got the tickets in April, I had been plotting and planning every little detail of an amazing evening.

I even found a cocktail worthy of celebrating a bucket list event (coincidentally, it was also the size of a bucket, so perfecto) for a pre-concert tailgate. Everything was fully arranged. But, as you may know by now, things happen to me that don't happen to most people. Case in point: after looking forward to the concert for months and giddily anticipating a fantastic night, around concert go-time, big, black Armageddon clouds began to roll in and a downpour ensued.
Rain ravaged, but still all smiles.

It rained so hard it came down sideways. Lightening strikes zigged and zagged. It was, as the meteorologists like to say, a severe thunderstorm (which is a severe understatement). The concert was delayed for about two hours and the lawn seats at the amphitheater had to be evacuated. My carefully tousled beach waves got drenched, and my new turquoise earrings and well-planned outfit got accessorized with a chic plastic poncho. We grinned, we beared it, we bought t-shirts. When life hands you raindrops the size of lemons, make lemonade.

But I have to tell you, now that I have crossed an item off and checked that box as 'done,' I have examined said bucket list, and the bucket is pretty darned empty. I find this highly alarming because somehow I feel as though a short bucket list might cause an early demise...and that leaves me eager to add to my want-to-dos.

So far (and you will see from what my little heart desires that I live a semi-sheltered life), here's what I've got:

1. Have a surprise party thrown for me. Preferably to celebrate my birthday, but hey, I'll take what I can get.

2. In a word: ITALY. See it, tour it, eat it.

3. Buy an insanely big, fantastic hat and take it to the Kentucky Derby. Drink mint juleps and accept compliments on said hat.

4. Renew my and Clint's wedding vows at one of those ultra tacky drive-thru wedding chapels in Las Vegas, officiated by an Elvis impersonator. Use the picture from the ceremony for our Christmas card that year, with a tagline saying something about your holidays being full of surprises.

5. Throw a band party in my backyard. Band, and occasion for party, TBD. Start brown nosing now and you might just make the guest list. Flattery will get you everywhere.

6. I am not a big sports person (duh), but the Days of Our Lives celebrity softball tournament would be so awesome. I have been watching Days since preschool, and I would adore watching Stefano DiMera catch a fly ball.

7. Have season tickets for Clemson football, and a major tailgate spot to go along with it. Orange-filled, tiger-paw-covered fun to follow. (I could probably add Clemson items numbering up to a zillion, but for the sake of brevity, I won't go there. I love it, you know it, you get the idea.)

8. See the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade--not from the street level, but from a hotel balcony overlooking the parade route so I can be warm and have the luxury of my own private bathroom.

9. Sail on a yacht. Preferably in Greece or along the French Riviera, but I don't want to knit pick. You know me, easy breezy.

And that's pretty much all I've got. Clearly this list needs to be padded, so I'm opening the floor to suggestions--what else belongs on my ultimate to-do list?

Let me also add that I have already checked off visiting New York City, seeing a Broadway play, and going to Hawaii. I've been indoor skydiving, parasailing, and have managed to meet a President (that would be G.H.W. Bush '41). Further, be aware that suggestions of sporting events (as a spectator or participant) need not apply.

Beyond that, I'm all ears. Tell me what belongs on my list--and hey, it's not all about me (well, maybe a little)--tell me what's on your bucket list, too. Fill 'er up!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

House Crashers

When we bought our house, my granddaddy told me, "Now that you own a house, you will never be bored again." That was his nice way of saying that owning a home is a constant chore. If you own a home, believe me that as I speak, there are multiple things that need attention. And when you finish those, a few more things will have accumulated. Our house was built in 1973, which makes it older than myself, and heaven knows I need maintenance on an ongoing basis. So it makes sense that the house would need a certain amount of attention to keep it looking its most fetching.

We have also come to learn that household projects are a lot like pulling a thread on a sweater...and then watching a large hole unravel. Like the day we moved in, when we took down the bathroom mirror and discovered it was covering a gaping hole in the wall with electrical wiring hanging out. Welcome to the joys of home ownership.

Much to my chagrin, my husband is a big believer in DIY (or, in my opinion most of the time, DIWhy?!?). We have painted every room in this casa, plus all the trim work, hung wallpaper, removed wallpaper, painted ceilings, plus several other projects that are really "he" and not "we" so they will go unmentioned. Side note: never hang wallpaper yourself. This is clearly a product manufactured by Satan and his minions, designed to drive you insane. Let a paid professional exorcise those demons. I have spent plenty of weekends with paint in my hair, my upper lip sweating (this is your body's way of telling you that what you are doing is absolutely miserable and should be stopped ASAP), and my project manager crew chief foreman husband and I bickering over each beloved project.  There is definite sweat equity in this home, that much I can tell you.

I was thrilled when we decided to have the outside of the house painted and were finally going to hire someone to make that happen. At long last--we could just sit back, relax, and have the work done for us with no effort on my part. What a naïve, sweet, home owning fool I was.

Let me preface this by telling you that it has rained in the city of Charlotte three and a half of the last four weeks. I am starting to feel like Noah, and I never realized that my red Hunter rain boots would become such a practical purchase. The painting should have been done two weeks ago and would be but a distant memory, except for the fact that the entire city is a giant fish pond at this juncture.

We were told that last Monday, the crew would come and pressure wash the house to get ready to paint. Progress! Only they never showed. Tuesday was the same story, and again on Wednesday. The guy at the painting company assured us that they would, in fact, come and that there was no need to even be home while the pressure washing was being performed. Right. And I actually believed that.

They finally started work on Thursday. Imagine my surprise when the doorbell rang not once, not twice, but five times throughout the day and I was flooded with a bevy of questions. Did I want the storm windows off? When did I want them off, before or after the pressure washing? Which boards needed replacing? What kind of paint? Um, aren't professionals supposed to know these things?

The day went a lot like this: doorbell rings, dog goes berserk, I stop what I'm doing, try to answer questions that I hired these people to know, repeat. I can also tell you there was somewhat of a language barrier going on; Southern belle was clearly not this gentleman's first language. At one point, I jerked open the front door in all my P90X glory to answer yet another inquiry. (The guy looked a little scared at that point. I am certain it was my rippling muscles and not the state of my appearance that caused his anxiety.)

Do you know what happens when someone removes storm windows, then pressure washes? Why, I can tell you from experience that all the dirt, debris, and filthy water runs in the window, onto the inside window sill, blinds, walls and floors. It was super convenient and luxurious when the hired workers created this little chore and I got to go window to window and clean it all up. I looked like Cinderella being forced to clean by her evil stepsisters, on my hands and knees wiping muddy water off the walls and the floor. Yep, this little venture is paying off in spades.

I opened my bedroom window the next morning and came face to face with a rather large man with a caulking gun. Hello, sunshine! No need to ring that doorbell that you loved so much yesterday to maybe tell me you were here and working around my home. Just let me find that out for myself while I am still wearing my retainer and fuzzy pink slippers. During this latest home improvement project, I have quickly realized that nothing makes you more aware of how often you walk around your house in your underwear than having men on ladders outside every fricking window, peering in all day long.

We are now entering day five of this beautification. I keep telling myself (over the lively mariachi music playing outside) that this is an adventure which will soon be over. All the banging, hammering, sawing, spraying, and messiness goes with this crew when they move on to their next job (and they will move on, right? Right?). And then my 19 pound watch dog can stop growling and let down his guard, I can move freely about the cabin without these extra "roommates," and things will get back as normal as they ever are at this palace of pandemonium we call home. And that paints a beautiful picture.