Monday, December 29, 2014

Merry Moments

We are now entering the time of year that my husband calls Susie's post-Christmas denial. It's still December, and I'm still celebrating. I need to wean myself slowly off Christmastime, or the withdrawal symptoms are just too severe. I love everything about this time of year--the traditions, the hustle and bustle of shoppers in crowded stores, and all of the festivity that abounds. This year, our holiday was filled with great people, fantastic food, and beautiful decorations. It was merry, that's for sure.

I had the chance to interact with some truly fascinating folks during the Christmas season. Two standouts for me, other than my wonderful group of friends and family, deserve to be mentioned on the blog. First, there was the pretentious lady in the nail salon who enthralled me (eye roll) with her life story, capped off with a gem of an anecdote about the nude sculpture in her foyer--a woman doing a split on top of a large gold sphere. And I quote, "Her vajayjay tells you hello, and her a-- tells you goodbye. Isn't that just fantastic?" You can't make up stuff like that folks. Although it might inspire you to add to your art collection. Titillating talker #2 would have to be the near stranger who told me all about her dream of spending $7,000 a night "glamping" at the Coachella music festival. Sorry, hon: I like indoor plumbing and 80s music, so all of that was lost on me. Maybe you didn't see the word yuppie monogrammed on my forehead, but it's there. In interlocking script, of course.

You may already know at this point that food is also a big part of why I love this season. It would take me a week to describe all of the deliciousness I've managed to devour over Christmas, so let me just tell you some of the highlights I scarfed down just in the four day visit to my parents' house, including but not limited to: Paula Deen's french toast casserole, chicken and dumplings at Cracker Barrel, homemade macaroni and cheese, German chocolate cake, Junior's cheesecake shipped all the way from its home in New York, turkey and dressing, and even a well-timed lunch at Brother Johns subs in my hometown, right before they closed on Christmas Eve day. We had sausage balls and a cheese ring, Christmas cookies and hot spiced tea, peppermint bark and pecan pie; everyone was happy except the seams on my pants. This year, I managed to eat so much that I spent two days worried that I had given myself gout. It turned out to be a bone bruise on my foot (whew!), so luckily, I could keep right on snacking. We're still working on the leftovers, because it would be a shame to let all those goodies go to waste. You gotta do what you gotta do.

Let's spend some much-deserved time talking about the lights and decorations. I think that once I show you the way my mother decorates for Christmas you will understand why I grew up loving this time of year so much. Ebenezer Scrooge would get giddy pulling into the driveway at Susan's abode. Here are a few pictures of this year's decor:

This year's theme included vintage blow-mold Santas and silver tinsel trees.

Here's a closer picture of the front door, in all its glowing glory.

You know your decorations are on par when they include life-size Santas.

Even the mailbox is decorated to the hilt.

This is the tree in the living room, most importantly, where my presents were stored.

The snowman tree kept us company during breakfasts (okay, and a few snacks) at the kitchen table.

My mom said when she saw this sign, she knew it was made for our family. There's a lot of truth there.

Oh, did you not have a snowman bathing in your tub? We certainly did.

This silver gilded tree was waiting for me in my bedroom. 

We had a grand total of seven Christmas trees. Here is the one in the game room, ready to play.

Maybe these pictures will give you an inkling of how my love affair with Christmas came to be; you can plainly see I was raised with tinsel in my veins. The only thing missing was a real live Santa Claus and maybe a reindeer...which we added on Christmas Eve:

Santa knew that we'd been so good this year, he didn't even wait until we were sleeping to stop in.

Naturally, the Toccoa Santa has a pickup truck sled. That reindeer is four-wheel drive, Bo.

All of the decorations set the scene for a fantastic Christmas. My family was blessed with a mountain of gifts, good health, and plenty of laughter (aided in part by hours of our favorite Christmas movies, like Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and Holiday Inn). We were talking about the ABC show "Great Christmas Light Fight," when my parents told us about a house not far away that had been featured last year. Naturally, we had to go check it out, and believe me when I tell you it did not disappoint.

The Goff family Christmas lights display in Canon, Georgia.
Dad, Mom, and I getting in the spirit at the Goff's.
You know I"m not usually one for inflatables, but how do you not like a hot tubbing Santa Claus?

I think the light display was a great way to sum up our holiday: merry, bright, and abundant. And until January rears its ugly, resolution-clad head, I'm going to stay that way. It's still Christmas at our house, at least for a few more precious days. Now, pass me the Christmas cookies and keep your mitts off my decorations. Oh what fun it STILL is!

*Update: I almost forgot to share with you, dear readers, one of my favorite gifts I received this year. Allow me to present what all the fashionable folks will be wearing in the coming year--a For Whom the Belle Tolls tshirt! (Bonus feature: the back reads, "Give 'em Belle!")

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

There's Some Crazy in the Christmas Carols

I admit that I am crazy for Christmas. I'm yahoo for yuletide. Over the years, I have amassed an embarrassingly large collection of Christmas CDs--so many that my adoring husband has now banned me from purchasing even one more disc of carols. While I love almost all of them, I have to admit there are some downright strange lyrics to more than a handful of these songs. Some of these are just in-your-face absurd: "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" is basically a song about the merriment of vehicular manslaughter, and let's not forget the ridiculousness of  "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" (Oh, you do, princess? Well, too bad, because the health department says no. Now, go play with the American Girl doll your mom had to kill and maim to get for you).

But I've noticed some oddities in other songs that you might not have given much thought; these little ditties are pretty well-known songs, and yet, when I really stop and think about what it is we are singing, I scratch my head. Here are just a few of the songs (and their lyrics) that I find seriously questionable:

All I Want for Christmas:

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you
You baby.

Just to (further) prove what a horrendous actor Mariah Carey really is, I don't believe for one second that all Mimi wants for Christmas is me, er, you, er, whoever she's singing into her bedazzled, 24-karat gold microphone about. This is coming from a woman who bathes in champagne and uses cashmere washcloths, before spritzing herself with eau de angel tears and flossing her teeth with diamond tennis bracelets (or whatever it is extravagantly rich people do in their spare time). I would be more inclined to believe her crooning if she were singing to a giant stack of gold bars. Still, according to the former Mrs. Nick Cannon, she doesn't need snow, mistletoe, reindeer, or presents. All she wants for Christmas is you--and probably  a new car, a fur coat, and a few dozen servants catering to her every whim. But that's just way harder to rhyme.

We Need A Little Christmas:

Haul out the holly
Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking
I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now

For I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder
Grown a little sadder, grown a little older
And I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder
I need a little Christmas now

The holidays can bring out the crazy in the best of us, but clearly, this is a disturbed, mood-swinging person singing this song and barking out the decorating orders. Hurry and get that tree up, and don't forget to hang the Prozac garland! Put the angel on top before my other personality loses interest! We've gotta celebrate before mama's medication wears off. Don't get your tinsel in a tangle, fruitcake. It'll get decorated when it gets decorated, so let's hope your meds are time-released. Now, be sure to leave some Xanax and milk for Santa because it's going to be a long holiday season.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus:

I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus
Underneath the mistletoe last night.
She didn't see me creep
Down the stairs to peep;
She thought that I was tucked up
In my bedroom fast asleep.

Then I saw mommy tickle Santa Claus
Underneath his beard so snowy white;
Oh, what a laugh it would have been
If Daddy had only seen
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night
Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night . . .
Last night

I'm sorry, did you say what a laugh it would have been? For your dad to catch your mom stepping out on him, under his own roof, with a fat man in a bright red suit? I don't know what kind of crazy swingers you have for parents, kid, but in most houses, that would not have caused much of a giggle. And exactly how long did you watch Mommy and Santa's little escapade? Because that's called voyeurism, and it'll get you slapped with the nickname Peeping Tom pretty quick, too, buddy. Unless domestic disputes tickle your funny bone, maybe you want to just keep quiet about Mommy's indiscretions. At least until Santa brings Mommy and Daddy an "open marriage" and leaves it under the tree. Or stuffs their stockings with counseling sessions.

This is how I picture the Christmas shoes. Not exactly "to die for."

The Christmas Shoes:

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It's Christmas eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful, if mama meets Jesus tonight

In my book, this is hands down the worst of all Christmas songs. I can be the first to admit that a good pair of shoes can work wonders, but this kid's mom is on her death bed and he is out bumming change for a sweet pair of Keds or something. The song plainly tells you that the boy in the checkout line doesn't have enough money for the shoes he's trying to buy, so he turns to a stranger and proceeds to give him his sob story in an effort to get shoe money. The whole thing just leaves my head swimming with questions: where is the dad in this story? Didn't anyone notice this child wandering off alone in search of the perfect pair of Crocs for his mama? What kid even knows his mother's shoe size, anyway? Here we have grifting, stranger danger, and rampant materialism all wrapped up into one little tune. Maybe , just maybe, the kid's mom would rather just spend some precious last quality time with her son rather than scoring a new pair of kicks before she, well, kicks the bucket. 

Deck the halls, jingle your bells, and dash through the snow all you want. Just beware of crazy Christmas claims about folks not wanting gifts, mood disorders, yuletide adulterers, and phishing scams in the shoe department checkout line. Keep calm and carol on--Christmas is right around the corner!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

I Love a (Macy's Thanksgiving Day) Parade

As a girl who loves holidays, costumes, themes, whimsy, and anything showy and shiny, it goes without saying that I love a good parade. For me, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade is the #1 supreme granddaddy of all parades, and I love watching it on TV every year before stuffing myself into a food coma over lunch. You can't even imagine the shock and awe last year when my parents asked if Clint and I would be interested in going to New York for Thanksgiving...and watching the parade. After they peeled me off the ceiling and calmed me down from my hysterically excited state, I said that I believed I could clear my schedule and make myself available. And then I began counting down the days, and bragging to any and everyone within shouting distance.

Courtesy of an unseasonable cold front, it was snowing Wednesday night when we arrived in the Big Apple. After a dinner of towering pastrami sandwiches at Katz's Deli (you know, where Harry and Sally ate when everyone wanted to have what Sally was having), I spent most of the night checking the clock to see how much longer we had until the big day. Even my hubby was uncharacteristically excited--I have decided not to take offense that he was more excited about the parade watching than he was about our wedding day. In my defense, I did not have the advantage of giant inflatable super hero balloons the day of our nuptials thirteen years ago.

When I say we had decided to go see the parade, I want to clarify that it was never part of our plan to wind up standing outside on the street for hours, in the cold, unable to go to the bathroom for fear of losing our spot along the parade route. Instead, we booked a viewing package so that we sat inside a warm, cozy Del Frisco's steakhouse right down the street from Radio City Music Hall and enjoyed brunch and mimosas as the parade passed by our window. Have some french toast, bacon, and a Snoopy balloon right by your table, if you please. It. Was. Amazing. This is the part where I bombard you with all my pictures, so curb the jealousy and forge ahead:

The turkey kicks off the parade. Awesomeness ensues.

There goes Spiderman--close enough to touch. Or use for a photo-op.

Did I mention there was facepainting? And a DJ? And awesomeness?

Caution: parade fun may be closer than it appears.

Cheers to the Thanksgiving Day Parade! 

Dear Santa: thanks for the early present. Best day ever!

In case you couldn't tell, the experience did not disappoint. We finished off our most awesome day with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Bobby Flay's Bar Americaine, and topped that with a holiday window decorations tour. The holiday windows in New York City are more than a big deal--Barney's actually had ice skaters performing every hour on the hour in one of their storefront windows this year. Pictures really can't do all the razzle dazzle justice, but since I am already assailing you with photos, here is a sample of what we saw at Macy's, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, and Bloomingdale's:

Holiday Window Displays 2014

I fell asleep that night thoroughly exhausted, completely full of delicious food, and thrilled right down to my holiday-loving core. It really doesn't get much better than that. Well, except for the fact that we still had two more days of enjoying the city and sightseeing. Friday morning, we hopped on the subway and headed to lower Manhattan. We went on a very moving tour of the 9/11 Memorial, guided by a survivor who worked in tower 2 and a retired firefighter who was a first responder that day.

The bronze mural outside Firehouse 10, which was among the first to respond on September 11, 2001.

The memorials feature 30-foot waterfalls--the tallest man made waterfalls in the United States.

After visiting the memorials, we got back to our more superficial selves and stopped at a fantastic little place in Tribeca called Kitchenette for lunch--complete with mac and cheese BLTs and three layer chocolate cake (good comfort food after a somber morning). We ogled the opulence at the Plaza hotel, did a little shopping at Dylan's Candy Bar and Bloomingdale's, and then enjoyed dinner at One If By Land, Two If By Sea, a restaurant housed in Aaron Burr's carriage house. There are tons of stories about ghosts in the restaurant, but the only thing that haunted me was trying to decide which of their desserts to enjoy.

Once I finished my cinnamon souffle at the carriage house, we headed to Radio City for the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular. It lives up to its name in every sense of the world--there are 3D effects, unbelievable costumes, a live nativity, and even snowflake DRONES, people. If you cannot be impressed by the use of drones during a live performance, I'm not sure what is left for you in this world.

We've seen the Rockettes three times, and they get better with every show.
Why yes, those are snowflake drones. Why not?

Saturday morning, we went to Junior's (home of the most amazing cheesecake on the planet) and had breakfast fit for a king before we hopped on the Real Kramer's Reality Tour. It was a 3-hour tour around the city guided by the man who inspired the character Kramer on the television show Seinfeld. Kenny Kramer regaled us with stories about Larry David, their friendship, and true events that turned into storylines on Seinfeld. He also took us to the Soup Man (aka Soup Nazi), where we fell in line, did as we were told, and managed to buy ourselves some pretty dang good soup without incident.

With the real Kramer, at the original Soup Man

I tried to get her to buy the tag for her Mercedes, but maybe Santa will bring it instead.....

Tom's diner, the restaurant in many an episode of Seinfeld over the years.

Once Kramer finished showing us his "reality," we headed for Rockefeller Center and to the Top of the Rock. It was almost sunset and the views of the city were gorgeous from 850 feet up. Naturally, they took a couple of souvenir photos for us:

My mom liked the posed shot of all of us...
But I thought this one really captured who we are as a family best.

We made a quick stop at Magnolia Bakery and picked up a little sustenance to take back to the hotel, then headed back towards Times Square to get ready for dinner. We feasted on a great Italian meal at Basso56 (yes, the carbs just kept on coming), and made it to our seats at Gershwin Theater just in time to see Wicked--which, despite its name, was very, very good. The costumes, the sets, and the talent were amazing. The saddest thing about it was that it was our last night in it's a good thing we had those cupcakes waiting for us afterward as a pick-me-up.

This one is a must-see. Wicked is unbelievably good.

Like I told my parents, I'm sure that if our footprints all over the city were mapped out, it would look a lot like those old Family Circus cartoons that show Billy's steps swirling up, around, and all over the place. Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Financial District, Tribeca, Greenwich Village, and Noho--we really did cover some ground. We even managed to do some Christmas shopping in Macy's at Herald Square Thanksgiving night, and also made a stop at the beautiful St. Patrick's cathedral; we rode the NY Skyride at the Empire State building, and did I mention the M&Ms store, or checking out the Swatch watch boutique?

Whew! I'm almost tired of bragging about what a fantastic trip it was, so I'll just leave you with one more thing: my Thanksgiving was better than yours. How's that for talking turkey?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gone (Crazy) Girl

Saturday was not exactly a banner day for me. I have a feeling that, had I bothered to read my horoscope, it would have simply said, "Bless your heart. Just stay in bed." It was time, once again, for our house divided college football rivalry. Alma mater versus alma mater. I absolutely hate when Clemson and Georgia Tech play each other. It's usually a very close game, and often it comes down to the very last nail-biting seconds of the game to know who has gained bragging rights for the year. Well, usually that's the way it goes.

The game started at noon (I am resisting the urge to say high noon and insert the theme song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly). Clint and I, per our usual, were keeping to ourselves and watching the game from different rooms. Other friends were either tailgating in Atlanta or watching from various sports bars and imbibing in adult beverages and fried, delicious, football-worthy food. But due to the fact that even my underwear is too tight right now, I feasted on a "rich & satisfying" (according to the box, anyway) chocolate protein shake as part of my game time festivities. Oh yes, the good times were certainly rolling.

For the sake of my still wounded pride, let's not rehash the gory details of the game. I will tell you that our star quarterback seemingly tripped over his own two feet during the first quarter and was out for the rest of the game. Rumors circulated that he had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Enter our second string quarterback, aptly nicknamed "three-and-out Stoudt." Poor Stoudt managed to throw not one, but two pick-sixes (if you have been lucky enough to remain unfamiliar with that term, a pick-six is an interception returned for a touchdown), and effectively seal our fate as completely and utterly doomed. We even sent in our third string quarterback and let him have a shot--I'm pretty sure we were recruiting guys in line at the concession stands to help us out at that pitiful point in the game--but the Yellow Jackets swarmed us 28-6, prompting headlines such as, "Tigers Wrecked at Georgia Tech" and "Confidence Lost: #Clemson."

The game was so ugly, I think Clint was actually afraid to brag. I was teetering on the edge of insanity once you factored in my starvation, my frustration, my disappointment, and my raging PMS. My hubby wisely suggested we see a movie, and I eagerly agreed. At this point in the day, sitting in a dark room without talking for a couple of hours seemed like the best possible option, and so we headed to the movie theater.

After I read Gone Girl, I convinced Clint to give it a read, too, and we were both looking forward to seeing the movie since it has gotten so much buzz. Even though I was reasonably sure my stomach was chewing on my backbone, we stayed strong and resisted the lure of popcorn and candy, and settled for two Diet Cokes (I refuse to sit in a movie theater drinking's just too depraved). I threw a wistful goodbye in the direction of the Raisinets and soldiered on.

I should go ahead and tell you at this point in the story that I have an uncanny superpower--not the ability to fly, not x-ray vision or superhuman strength; I am an idiot magnet. If there is a buffoon, a dunce, or an imbecile anywhere in the vicinity, they will be immediately attracted to me like a moth to a flame. Coincidentally, Clint has the ultra powerful allure to the annoying, so when the two of us are together, we are almost guaranteed to encounter idiots. Any dimwit within a 10-mile radius is irresistibly pulled into our orbit.

We found a spot in a short little five seat row on the side of the crowded theater, which left three seats to my right. Because there was still a line of people coming in, I held my coat in my lap so I wouldn't occupy a seat that someone might need. And then, my idiot magnetism must have kicked in, because two simpletons women made a beeline for our row and sat down in the seats right next to me. This left them one lone seat all to themselves that they happily used to hold their coats and purses,  leaving me to hold mine in my lap the entire movie. Really, people? Why can't we all just get along, and leave a seat in between us for a community coat rack? Are we savages, or civilized movie goers?

I had hoped that my deep sighs, shifting of my coat, and glares in their direction would have hammered my point home, but these two were clueless. If looks could kill, I would be wearing an orange jumpsuit right now. They were so enamored with their jumbo bucket of popcorn--you know, the ones that come in a tub the size of a laundry basket, that they were completely consumed with crunching and oblivious to anything else going on around them. Misophonia is a condition where people become angered or disgusted by certain sounds, such as chewing, slurping, or smacking. Go ahead and label me a misophoniac because I cannot stand the sound of someone slurping coffee or soup, and hard candy dragging across someone's teeth is worse than nails on a chalkboard in my book. The noise coming from those two dingbats scavenging for popcorn was giving me serious heart palpitations.

It's even worse to be hungry and not only surrounded by a crowd of people all noshing on buttery goodness, but having to endure it in surround sound right next to me should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. Don't get me wrong, folks: I am a glutton and I have helped eat that giant bushel basket of popcorn in its entirety before. I've even gone back for the free refill, but I have never in my overeating life managed to finish two of those behemoth sized tubs o' corn. Clearly, these were exceptional doofuses (or is it doofi? I've never considered the plural of the word doofus until this particular experience) I had attracted.

I should have been happy with the popcorn smack soundtrack, because in between fistfuls, I also got to enjoy a highly insightful running commentary throughout the entire movie. Really clever and helpful things like, "Is that his sister?" or "She's going to kill him isn't she?" It's a good thing I had my poor pea coat in a wad in my lap, because I needed something to clutch to keep me from going for someone's jugular.

As we were finally, mercifully leaving the theater, I notice the two dunces who sat next to me were leaving the concession stand...with a third laundry basket of popcorn to go! You have got to be kidding me. These folks are high on the dumb-o-meter, even for this idiot magnet. Clint wouldn't let me "pretend" to bump into them and dump their ill-gotten popcorn all over the sidewalk, so I threw them some side eye for the 3,789th time that day and walked off to the car. But it does beg the question: does it count as saving someone's life if you just refrain from killing them?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Confessions of a Junior League Dropout

Contrary to what some of you may think, I am not a rebel without a cause. I'm a staunch rule-follower. A people pleaser. At times, a downright goody two-shoes. Growing up, the mere thought of the principal's office would give me an ulcer. I was such an overachiever that on the "activities" section of my college application, I had to write "see attached page(s)." Breaking the rules is so against my nature that, to this day, I refuse to enter a store with food or drink. Even if there isn't a sign posted specifically telling me I can't, I still fear a disapproving look from a store clerk and I can't cross that line. Needless to say, I keep off the grass, I don't loiter, and I most certainly do not wear white after Labor Day. Whoever said rules are meant to be broken is living an existence that is way too haphazard for my liking.

All that being said, you may find it out of character that I am a Junior League dropout. A debutante delinquent. As much as I wanted to please the prepsters, the well-to-dos, and the dozens of fine, fresh yuppies I encountered, I just could not commit. I had put this little part of history completely out of my mind until a few weeks ago, when a friend's fiance triggered my Junior League flashbacks. Just like a girl I met during my provisional (read: newbie) days in the League, this fiance was covered in so many designer labels she looked like an ultra-posh race car driver sponsored solely by luxury brands. There wasn't a spot on this girl or on that Junior Leaguer that wasn't covered in something high-end. But before we get to tales of the Neiman Marcus 500, let me start at the beginning.

Just days after our honeymoon, I found myself in Charlotte; new to not only the city, but the state of North Carolina as well. This bright-eyed newlywed thought the Junior League of Charlotte (JLC, if you want to sound like an insider) was a no-brainer. What a great way to meet people, be involved in my freshly adopted community, and socialize with like-minded Southern women such as myself? Well, not so much.

To help new members get to know each other better, you are assigned to a small group of other provisionals who live in close proximity to you. The downside to being grouped that way is that at that time, we lived in a beautiful apartment complex in a neighborhood touted for being affluent (SouthPark, dah-ling). I went to my first small group meeting at a home in a nouveau riche neighborhood where each house was made from so much stacked stone it looked like a collection of medieval castles. Throw down the drawbridge, then, because Susie from Toccoa has arrived! I felt a little self-conscious parking my Jeep Grand Cherokee beside the Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes already in the driveway--except when you consider that my Jeep had a real leather interior and power windows. Get a load of that, castle dwellers.

I was seated next to a girl who introduced herself as Katherine. High fashion Katherine was wearing a Lilly Pulitzer floral dress, carrying a Coach bag, wearing a stack of David Yurman bracelets, and then began writing with a Mont Blanc pen. My fake Chanel bag I bought so proudly at the straw market in the Bahamas seemed a tad out of place, and let's not even discuss the fact that I was more than likely wearing some career clothes scored on a clearance rack somewhere.

Katherine and I discovered that we worked in the same building and dutifully met for lunch one day. This was the day that dear Junior League Katherine took me to Dean and Deluca and gave me my introduction to the what might possibly be the world's most expensive sandwich. Yes, I am a self-confessed cheapskate, but this was 2003 and my sandwich cost somewhere in the ballpark of $14. (We have joked in the years since that the thing that makes D&D sandwiches tasty is your own $20 in between those two slices of bread). Couple the cost of that sandwich with the paltry salary my job in the bank's cubicle farm paid and you will quickly see that it negated any profit from my working that day.

All provisional members are required to work a certain number of hours at the Junior League "WearHouse"--a consignment store where the downtrodden can find relief from their troubles in the form of last season's Ann Taylor or some gently used Brooks Brothers cast-offs. The majority of the other members seemed to have very flexible work schedules (or work was completely optional for them, to be used only in cases of extreme boredom), but I was only free to work on the weekends. If you think working 8:00-5:00 five days a week at an abysmal job making abysmal pay sounds amazing, try spending all your free time in a store room, price tagging cardigans with pearl buttons and barely worn ballet flats.

Inevitably, I would wind up working a few hours of my precious Saturdays in that dank little room with people named things like Buffy, Mitzy, Breezy and of course Mary Pat/Mary Kate/Mary Frances/Mary Helen/Mary Catherine/Mary Elizabeth. Mary, mother of God, get me out of here! I suppressed an infinite number of eye rolls listening to these women chatter about their mutual friends from high school and college ("Oh my gosh! Remember junior year when she acted super crazy that night!? Shut up!"), the needlepoint belts and driving moccasins they were going to buy for their hubbies and boyfriends, and the wine bars they couldn't wait to try after we were through. I am sad to say that--and I really did try--I did not meet one person I would ever care to have a conversation with ever again. Not even about wine bars.

After more than enough unhappy Saturdays and several months of those wonderful small group/Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meetings, I reached the breaking point. Desperate for some sort of loophole, I scoured the JLC website and found that you may defer your membership for one calendar year. At the time, one glorious year sounded like an incredible amount of breathing room, and I eagerly drafted my letter stating that due to "extenuating personal and family circumstances" I was not able to give the League the attention it so deserved. I am quite certain I left the board members tsk, tsking and wondering about the status of my marriage, my grandmother's health, and whether or not we had been victims of a Ponzi scheme or some other terrible fate. Hey, Mom always told me to leave 'em wanting more.

About a year after my deferral, I stepped into the elevator at work and came to face-to-face with Katherine. I watched her eyes widen in horror and she quickly looked away and pretended not to recognize me. Obviously, deferment was a no-no in Katherine's book, and so that promising friendship had run its course. It was a long ride down to the lobby, and I can't even say I was wistful when I watched Katherine stroll away in her Kate Spade pumps.

Sadly, my deferral deadline came and went, and I never went back. I have friends who enjoy the Junior League (or so they say), and they even claim to have never met a Muffy or a Bitsy or a Mary Anyone. That's great for them, I just know from cashmere-clad experience that it's not for me. When it comes right down to it, I guess those women are just out of my league.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweater Svelte: Getting that Perfect Winter Body

The temperature is starting to drop, the days are getting shorter, and the crisp autumn air is ushering in the season of jackets, sweaters, jeans, and boots. That's right, folks: it's time to shed that ridiculous bikini body and get yourself ready for sweater weather. I may have fallen ever-so-slightly short of my goals for swimsuit season, but I have the dedication and drive that it takes to perfect a body that will be shown off in oversize sweaters and stretchy leggings for the next five months or so. If you haven't already started, don't panic; I am going to give you some quick tips today to put you on the road to achieving the ultimate fall and winter figure in no time.

It takes the right physique to look good in a sweater. Heavier clothing demands a bulkier frame, and a gaunt shape just can't carry off a winter wardrobe with the proper panache. Personally, I find that a good starting point for getting sweater shapen has been a steadfast menu of tailgate food each weekend, paired with the arrival of candy corn and pumpkin spice everything, aided by a steady stream of carbohydrates. If you set your mind to it and commit to a regimen of consistent binge eating, you can attain the bigger, fuller body type that fall and winter command. We all know the motto "no pain, no gain," but this is the season to commit to the mantra "buffet, all the way."

As luck would have it, this is the perfect week to put your winter body plan into action. If you haven't already started indulging in Halloween candy, I would recommend that you find the stash closest to you and dig in immediately. To achieve your ultimate goal, steer clear of fat-free and low-fat options like Twizzlers, gummy candy, or (heaven forbid) gum. Instead, choose candy that will get to work right away in not only tasting delicious, but sticking to your ribs and keeping you padded and cushioned all season long. Aim for as many servings of chocolate as possible, with bonus points for things like caramel, peanut butter, and coconut. This candy gluttony will become the building block for your diet over the next weeks and through the holiday season.

To illustrate and make sure you understand the chow down fundamentals, let me include a picture my friend Holly was kind enough to share with me. As you can see, the middle picture shows the most commonly followed, most miserable option, the Weight Loss Trapezoid. That is not the fast track to sweater svelte that we are seeking to obtain this time of year, so instead, devote your focus to what is known as the Happiness Paper Hat. Now you can clearly see the foods that are the most important for full-figured success. Put down the apple, pick up the fried apple pie.

For those of you who think that this plan seems too difficult, or are doubting the methodology of winterizing your body, I have medical science to back my claims. My mother's physician told her just last month that he does not recommend dieting through the cold and flu season, as it can weaken the immune system and leave one more susceptible to illness. I'm not exactly sure his stance on actively gaining weight during this time of year, but I think the message is clear: it's October and thin is so three months ago. Flab is fab, and it's time to decide, commit, and succeed in the form of carbs, carbs with melted cheese, and carbs with melted chocolate. The beauty of this plan is the flexibility all these options give you to tailor your menus and snacks to suit your individual tastes. With the right combination of sweets, fried foods, pasta, and cocktails, your perfect winter shape is well within reach.

Some of you will still remain skeptical. You have been mistakenly taught that a slender frame looks equally appealing in winter clothing, and that moderation is the key to looking and feeling your best during the cooler months of the year. You've been conditioned to try and resist all of the temptations that holiday parties and get togethers can bring, and you may even be inclined to try and prepare healthy versions of the comfort food we all crave when the weather turns cold. I can understand how you may have been misled, so again, I offer unequivocal proof that a rotund shape is more than desirable now that autumn is upon us. Let's take a look at the most popular images of the season, shall we? After all, a picture is worth a thousand pounds words.

These images are the body ideals for this time of year. Need I say more? Now, get out there and graze. Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, and the good folks at IHOP are eager to help in your winter body shape up with their seasonal pancakes. Common sense will tell you that an eggnog-praline-creme-brulee-hazelnut-cinnamon-bun stack of flapjacks is the obvious choice for the conscientious dieter. Traditional diets sometimes suggest eating six small meals a day; I urge you to eat three large meals with at least two or three medium-size snacks. When in doubt, nibble. Appetizer, or dessert? Yes to both. Super size it, have that second helping, use real butter, get the whipped cream on top. Bacon can also be a useful tool for you on your diet journey. As a general guideline, avoid anything green unless it is guacamole. It may help to get a sweater svelte diet buddy to keep you accountable and make sure that you do not skip snacks or opportunities to indulge.

Stick to your plan, and visualize the results you will have after just a few short days of eating like there's no tomorrow. In no time, you will notice the byproduct of your efforts (I almost said the fruits of your labor, but we are avoiding fruit at all costs here) and begin to fully enjoy your elastic waistbands with confidence, and wear those tunics with pride. As always, I am here to guide you on your path to health, happiness, and a body that can support the weight of cable-knit sweaters without flinching. Our support group meets weekly at IHOP, and we'll save some chocolate syrup and marshmallow fluff just for you.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom!

My mom. The woman who introduced me to big hair, Days of Our Lives, and beauty pageants. She taught me to say please and thank you, always say my prayers, and never chew gum in public. The woman has watched more of my ballet recitals, pep rally routines, tap dances, baton twirls, and talent show capers than anyone should be subjected to witnessing. I call her roughly every other day--many times there are emergency calls that are on unscheduled days so that I can get wardrobe/etiquette/cooking advice that I feel quite certain I would die without. Or at least develop a very painful ulcer from the sheer stress of not being able to get Mom's input.

And so, I couldn't let the day go by without a special post for my mother, who is celebrating her birthday today. This is a lady who is a Neiman Marcus in a world full of Walmarts. We were at her house over the weekend, and it is decorated for fall in a manner that would make Martha Stewart either very proud, or very jealous, depending on her mood. My mom is a master of all things decorating-related; she arranges flowers, she sews, and even though she doesn't like to cook, you can tell by looking at our family that darn good things come out of her kitchen on a very regular basis.

Susan (also known as my mom) is a woman whose wardrobe is to die for, is always well-manicured, and full of style. She is a rare breed who still sends cards, uses beautiful stationery, and if she is asked to bring a dish of food, hers will undoubtedly be homemade. My mom is incredibly generous, and if you are lucky enough to know her, you have probably been the recipient of this generosity for no apparent reason or occasion. There were several years when a good size portion of her grocery money was siphoned away for prom and pageant dresses, while she got out the sewing machine and made her own gowns for her cotillion club ball. Whenever we get back to Charlotte after a visit to my parents' house, it takes us an extra hour to unload all the goodies my mother has sent back for us to enjoy.

One of the best gifts she ever gave me was an introduction to my alma mater. As difficult as it may be to believe, I did not always bleed orange. In fact, it was the spring of my senior year in high school when I came to the realization that the only college I had ever had any intention of attending was, despite my acceptance and the plans we had already been making, so not the place for me. I panicked. My carefully laid plan had totally unraveled and time was running out. Since she knows me like the back of her hand, my mom calmly suggested that perhaps I might like this school in South Carolina, this placed called Clemson, that we had passed for years on our way to the Anderson mall. I had been naive and totally oblivious, but once I stepped foot on campus, it was perfect. Like pretty much every other time in my life, mom was right. Were it not for her, none of you would have to listen to me extol the virtues of being a Clemson Tiger week after week (you can thank her later).

I could go on and on, because my mom is a force of nature. She does so much for Clint and I that I would need days to tell about it all, and she and I have so many memories and stories and inside jokes that I can't even begin to fill you in on the things we have shared over the years. She has a wicked sense of humor and a love for fun that is completely contagious. When I was in high school, my friends always wanted to spend time at our house--to hang out with my mother. She is funny, feisty, and fabulous, and I wanted to wish her a birthday that is the same. Quite literally, she is the one who put the "belle" in For Whom the Belle Tolls.

Happy, Happy Birthday to my one-of-a-kind mom! 
No matter what age the calendar says, you will always be a perfect "10!" 

You've come a long way, baby!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

8 Things Scarier than American Horror Story

American Horror Story: Freak Show premiered last week, and everyone has been frenzied with anticipation for the new season. I watched a few minutes of the first episode, but once Twisty the homicidal clown started hacking away on a guy in very vivid, violent detail, I had to shut it down. Maybe you've seen the show, possibly you haven't, but almost everyone has heard about its reputation for bringing the terrifying to television. Is it scary? Without a ghostly, haunted doubt. But as the saying goes, "truth is better than fiction," and I can think of a few things that are even scarier than a handful of fictional characters in a freak show; things that would make ol' Twisty squirm inside that clown suit.

Here is just a small sample of every day horrors more frightening than American Horror Story...because while I haven't encountered a two-headed, split personality oddity like they have on the show, these things are very, very real to me.

1. Making eye contact with one of those kiosk people in the mall. One moment, your only care in the world is if you should pay full price for that sweater in Anthropologie or wait and hope it winds up in the sale room, and the next, you are being slathered with miracle lotions and pressured into buying skincare kits from "world renowned" companies no one has ever heard of before. You can't break free because they are busy moisturizing every inch of skin they can find, while sticking business cards and coupons in every pocket and orifice of yours they can manage. These people are relentless retail torturers, and I find it especially frightening because nothing that you say or do seems to daunt their hard sell routine. My best advice is to throw one of their samples in the other direction as a distraction, and run like the (lotion covered) wind.

2. Answering the phone without looking at the caller ID (daunting in and of itself), thinking you know who is on the other end, only to have them answer, "What?!?" upon hearing your witty greeting. That is a moment of terror that will get your pulse pounding. My mom, from time to time, will pick up the phone when I call with a friendly, "Stop calling here!" She almost fainted last year when she answered a call she assumed was from me in her special way, only to find out the caller was a lady from her church congregation calling about Bible study. I'm pretty sure they have permanently barred her from serving on the hospitality committee.

3. Your dog sits up in the bed in the middle of night and growls into the dark, for what you hope/think/pray is no apparent reason. Gulp. Now lie there and try not to jump at every sound you hear for the next four hours while you try to doze back off to dreamland. In my case, my dog is 18-pounds and completely blind, which means he is neither fully aware of his surroundings nor a very intimidating watch dog. It makes for a slightly-less-than-peaceful slumber, I can tell you that.

4. Getting stuck in the corner at a gathering with a big, dull, dud who won't take the hint and realizing there are no rescuers in sight. Being slaughtered by a killer clown seems like a picnic compared to the endless, droning tales of allergies, gluten-free recipes, and Montessori schooling advantages. Thanks to the age of iPhones, there will now also be a slide show from Dull Dud's camera roll of little junior's latest Boy Scout badge ceremony, and a real time video from little cutesy's dance recital. Are you starting to panic yet? Thaasophobia is the fear of boredom (go ahead, look it up), and it is real.

5. A friend calls to tell you she's in the neighborhood and thought she'd just drop by in a few minutes--which means you have about 360 seconds to try and hide the fact that you are still in your pajamas and your house looks like a promo spot for an episode of Hoarders. I mean, not that this has ever happened to me, of course--my house, like my personal appearance, is always tidy and well kept (ha), but I have heard from friends that it will set your heart a-racing. Now, quick, shove that stuff under the couch and throw a kitchen towel over the dirty dishes.

6. That sinking moment when you finish eating something and only then notice that, according to the packaging, it expired last week. Suddenly, you don't feel well, do you? Or are you fine? No, you definitely feel "off" somehow. Right? Enjoy having this debate with yourself for the next 12 hours while waiting to see if sickness is coming for you. Lions, and tigers, and bears, and placebo effects, oh my!

7. Trying on swimsuits in early spring, before the sun has had a chance to take the incandescent glow from your thighs. Your New Year's resolutions have either never started or have already gone by the wayside, and you are still carrying some extra "warmth" from that stretch of anti-diet that occurs from Halloween candy to Christmas cookies and eggnog. There are few images that will haunt your dreams the way those of your pale, spandex-clad body glowing underneath fluorescent dressing room lighting can. Things that go bump in the night have got nothing on things that bulge, jiggle, and dimple.

8. This one is probably the most horrifying of them all, so prepare yourselves and know that you have been warned. It is not for the faint of heart. Take a deep breath, and when you feel ready, proceed:

A woman asks, "What did you say?" The odds are approximately 99.999% that she has heard exactly what you said, and this is the chance she is giving you to correct yourself before she rips you to pieces. The best reaction to this hazard is similar to protocol for being attacked by a grizzly bear. Do not make any sudden movements, or engage in any behavior that could be deemed aggressive. If the woman cannot be distracted or calmed, play dead. Lie down, and do your best to cover your vital organs in preparation for attack. And for the love of Pete, stay quiet. Trying to talk your way out of such situations could result in a higher casualty count. Lie there and wait for the storm to pass, and hope someone else says something stupid soon to save you from yourself.

After touring that little house of horrors, you do your best, knife-wielding, hatchet-toting carnival folk. I live in the real, cellulite-laden, boring-party-folk populated, questionable-food-safety world. You can't scare me. But if you could scare off those mall kiosk folks, I'd be ever grateful.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Magic Words

When I was growing up, whenever I asked for-- or let's be honest--demanded something with my mother, she would almost always reply, "What's the magic word?" To even be considered for whatever request I was making, I had to say please. As usual, Mom knew best. Please and thank you are the magic words. They can make the world go 'round.

We have been in Clemson for football games for the last two glorious weekends (be still my tiger print heart). Thankfully, I am proud every time we return to God's country, not only because of how beautiful it is there, but by the hospitality we inevitably receive. Strangers have voluntarily helped us put up our tailgate tent, take down our tailgate tent (side note: that tent gives us some trouble), doors are opened, friendly conversations started. There is an ease and warmth that never fails to make me feel at home. Graciousness and courtesy are as abundant as the color orange around my favorite little town, and it does not go unnoticed.

Five North Carolina State fans sat in front of us at the game on Saturday. I can't even sugarcoat this by saying they were zealous or passionate; the truth is, they were downright rude. As they arrived at their seats, surrounded by a sea of orange-clad Tiger fans, they loudly expressed their opinion that our stadium was not up to their standards (ahem). They heckled an Air Force captain who was receiving an award down on the field prior to the game (really, boys?). Several times during the first half, they yelled to the crowd that Clemson can never beat Florida State (although we beat the Wolfpack 41-0 this week, so there is that to fall back on). I kept hoping that, as their team continued to fall further and further behind, they might quiet down a bit. It never happened. I did love when, at one point, a gentleman in a camouflage Tiger paw hat down in front of them gave them A Look, then turned to his friend and asked in a disgusted voice, "Are they bothering those ladies?" Because a Clemson man might put up with those kind of nuisances, but as soon as a lady becomes a damsel in distress, the game is over.

The North Carolina boys seemed to catch the death threat drift that Clemson fan was throwing in their direction, so they settled into a charming round of armpit farts and spent the rest of the first half shouting things that would make a sailor in a swearing contest blush. I get that we were at a football game, not a black-tie event, but I still think that using a little sensibility would have helped prevent everyone in our section from wanting to high five those the face, with a chair.

Later in the day, I saw a little boy wearing a (very tiny) shirt that read: "Always say please, thank you, ma'am, sir, and GO TIGERS!" In my book, those are good guidelines. But no matter what team you pull for, or what state you might be in, good manners are always in fashion. Why is it that, as we get older, we tend to forget those very basic ways to treat others? We have a saying in the South: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. What does it mean? Simply put, you'll find that the sweeter you treat people, the more likely they will be cooperative with you. When you dictate that someone do something, your results are iffy at best. But try making a request, throwing in those magic "please" and "thank you" words, and I guarantee you will get a much better response. People are drawn to good behavior like a moth to a flame.

These things called manners are not rocket science. They are free. They don't require an etiquette class or an Emily Post guide, just a little common sense and courtesy. Say excuse me. Respect your elders. Don't take things that don't belong to you--this includes parking spaces, accolades, and especially someone else's boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other. Even if you don't believe in the power of manners, there is a thing called karma and it has a long memory and ironic sense of humor.

For the record, good manners are a big part of the reason I married my husband. By our second date, he was such a gentleman that I was completely smitten. He opened doors, carried a handkerchief (which comes in handy when your date is a tad clumsy, like yours truly), refilled my drink, and even stood up when I left the table to go to the ladies' room--which, embarrassingly, prompted me to naively ask, "Oh, are you getting up, too?" Bless my heart, and bless him for knowing how to treat a lady. To this day, he still gets oohs, aahs, and swoons from my girl friends for being so chivalrous.

Mind your manners. Be pretty, witty, and gracious. Even if you don't see immediate results, at the very least you'll keep a good ol' boy from having to take you aside and show you how to behave. Please and thank you are still the magic words, and after all, who doesn't want to make a little magic?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Art of the Belle

Every endangered species deserves its day in the sun. We know the pandas are dwindling, sea turtles are fewer and far between, and the poor polar bears are on some very thin ice. But there is one rare creature near and dear to my own heart that deserves a little recognition today: the Southern belle.

When you hear the term Southern belle, more than likely the first image that springs to mind is Scarlett O'Hara, and things like fluttered eyelashes, coy giggles, and gentlemen callers. We've obviously moved out of the age of corsets and hoop skirts and ruffled parasols, but there are still a few Southern belles left walking among us. For some famous examples we all know, think of beguiling actresses like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, and Reese Witherspoon. These women all possess a certain charm, exude a special warmth, and have an ease about them that sets them apart from the rest of the Hollyweird crowd.

I suppose some of you are going to tsk, tsk, and take issue with Reese Witherspoon being knighted a belle, considering that unfortunate incident last year when her hot temper introduced itself to the Atlanta police. While this is definitely not a belle on her best behavior, I am willing to forgive and forget Reese's drunk and disorderly moment in the spirit of Southern sisterhood and put it behind us. I think we have all been in danger of being overcome by mint juleps or champagne cocktails in the hot Southern sun at least once in our lives. Evidently, even our dear Reese is not immune.

What is it that makes a girl a belle? While charm is certainly part of the equation, what else does it take to earn that promising title? Simply being Southern, while it is a blessing in and of itself, is not enough. Let's take the ever-barefoot Britney Spears or the twerkingly talented Miley Cyrus into account. These "ladies"--and I use that term loosely--are in a league of their own, and it is not belle territory, I can promise you that.

Times have changed, and the art of being a Southern belle is different than it once was, but there are certain fundamental characteristics of this creature that will always ring true. The recipe for a true belle ultimately consists of equal parts tradition and good manners. It's not the Southern drawl that makes the belle (although that certainly never hurt, and if you've ever heard me talk you know I have a smidge of a drawl myself); it's the quality of her traditions. Around here, it's not so much what you do, as how you do it.

In the South, we mind our manners. We bring hostess gifts, we RSVP in a timely fashion, and we don't chew gum in public--because we avoid any risk of being tacky. A Southern woman would rather be called fat than called tacky. You see, a fad diet can probably help whittle your waist, but except through an act of divine intervention or a fairy-good-taste-godmother, tacky is forever. Think about that if you ever find yourself tempted to wear cheap white shoes (especially before Easter, Lord help your soul) or show cleavage in the daytime (never, evah, ladies).

Even though I am now well into adulthood, I still say ma'am and sir. Quintessential words used by belles include please, thank you, and excuse me. If and when a belle forgets someone's name, she gracefully covers herself by using terms like "sugar," "darlin'," or ""sweetie."

A good belle understands the importance of being charming and flirtatious, in a coy and innocent way. It is never belle behavior to throw yourself at someone, but Southern women know that there is no crime in being feminine. Just last month, I managed to bat my eyelashes, smile sweetly, and apologize my little way out of a speeding ticket. According to the officer, that was about $450 worth of Southern charm (perhaps having a lead foot is also a Southern belle trait). Never let anyone tell you that it doesn't pay to make eye contact, keep your cool, and be nice. After all, everyone knows you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

This next one, especially in my book, is a biggie. Southern belles send thank you notes. Let me stress this: handwritten thank you notes. It is never too early to send a thank you note, and it cannot, should not be done via email, or--heaven forbid--text message. I was horrified several months ago when a new neighbor texted me a thank you for a pie I brought over as a welcome gift. Not only that, but at the time I had not yet been forcibly shoved into the world of the iPhone, so she unknowingly sent it to my landline. The answering machine in our kitchen was blinking, and I pressed play only to hear a robotic voice stammer in broken phrases: "Thank you...for the...peanut butter pie. It was...great and we" It was horrifying. The experience scarred my psyche and I haven't been able to make a peanut butter pie since. If you have moved into my neighborhood recently, I apologize for my lack of hospitality; I am suffering from PTTD--Post Tacky Text Disorder. I would rather have been ignored or insulted, because that is certainly no way of being thanked.

Southern belles know that it's important to look the part, and that means dressing up. If you attend a college football game and there is a chance you could be mistaken for a member of the coaching staff, you are not a Southern belle. You may be a lovely, wonderful person, but not a belle. Mind you, it doesn't have to be an actual dress; Southern belles know how to harness the power of lip gloss and a cute pair of shoes. My mother won't walk her dog in clothes that don't match her sneakers. I, personally, have been taught that an ear without an earring is naked. You will not catch a belle in Walmart in her pajamas. Some of us still enjoy the phenomenon of big hair (I know I certainly do), while others prefer a more simple look. No matter what her personal style, a belle always makes sure to put her best foot forward.

I can't discuss the Southern belle without also adding that they are undoubtedly feisty. In the South, there may be times when we are down, but we are certainly not out. Belles possess a self-confidence that allows them to be spunky and assertive (notice I did not say aggressive). Southern women aren't shy about going after what they want, but belles know that it doesn't have to come as a winner-take-all prize. We keep our heads held high and avoid rudeness at all costs. Because of this confidence, this Southern strength, the true Southern belle also feels welcome to break the rules, and does so with a sense of good humor (and a quick glance that her mama is not around to see). There is no cookie cutter for creating a belle--just a world full of gracious, endearing, fiery women with a drawer full of good stationery and a purse full of lipstick options. Now, put on a little color, suck your stomach in, and go out there and give 'em belle!