Friday, August 29, 2014

Too Cool for School

For the most part, I always liked school. Minus having to get up early and the agony that was PE class, school always came easy for me. I was not one of those students who couldn't wait to graduate (well, not from college anyway...I may have been the first person to enthusiastically toss my cap in the air to pronounce the end of my high school days). My grandmother used to say, "You didn't know how good you had it until it was over, did you?" And I would always tell her, yes ma'am, I did know how good I had it. My friend Will and I graduated a semester (or a football season, however you prefer to look at it) late from Clemson, and even then, we were not exactly jumping for joy. In fact, we met outside the auditorium on graduation day and exchanged looks very similar to people who were heading for a funeral. It was over, and it had been fabulous.

Then I got my first job, and the cruel reality of the end of my school days really set in; I was sitting at my tiny little desk, in my dingy, cramped little office, probably working on a scintillating Excel spreadsheet or office-wide memo that would never be read, when I realized it was President's Day. Which meant school was out. Oh. My. Stars. It was a holiday and I was working. Ah, you wicked world! Why, why, must this happen to me? The realization that I would never have another fall break, spring break, or Columbus Day off almost caused me to try and three-hole punch a major artery.

I muddled through by wising up and finding a semi-compromise: I went to work in banking. I didn't get May through August off, but I did at least manage to get back all those holidays that stop the mail from being delivered and the school buses from running. I'm not saying that crunching numbers from 8:00 to 5:00 every day was my ideal situation, but at least I didn't find myself stuck in a staff meeting when I could--nay, should--be celebrating George Washington's birthday. You have to right the wrongs and balance the scales of justice whenever you can.

But now I find myself in a much better place than banking, and even better than being a student: I live in the land of housewifedom. School just started back, and I'm not one iota jealous of any of you backpack-toting pencil pushers. Now that you're all back in your desks, the world is mine again. Now, the mall on a Tuesday morning is a deserted and I can enjoy my retail therapy at my leisure. My friends with children are free again to meet me for lunch. So long as I get there before the final bell rings, I don't have to worry about running over someone's Capri Sun-amped child in the aisles of Target or Walmart (it really slows your shopping down to have a preteen caught in the wheels of your cart). I can walk my dog in the morning without fear of being sideswiped by kids on bikes. They get all cocky once the training wheels come off, and it has been a dangerous summer dodging those wheels of terror.

That's right, little Johnny. The lazy days of summer are over and I am doing my best evil laugh about it. You are squirming in your seat, dreaming of recess and writing a 150-word essay on how you spent your summer vacation, and I'm just getting ready to kick mine off. School is out permanently at my house, and we are headed to St. Thomas for a week. Now that class is in session, we don't have to worry about long lines at the airport or crowded resorts. We've got our diplomas, and now we've got the beach and pool all to ourselves. It may have taken a while for the sting of graduating to subside, but it is a distant memory as we pack our bags for the Virgin Islands.

When we get back home, all the promising pupils will be spending their nights studying and doing homework. And while I don't get to schedule my classes so that my weekend starts on Thursday or so that my first class on Monday morning starts at 11:00, my biggest chore at the end of the day is trying to decide between Netflix or TiVo. Well, that, and trying to keep my semi-narcoleptic husband awake until 10:00. I'm working on my Masters in living the good life. Now, that is higher education.

I'll gladly trade algebra equations for suburban yuppie math--which is figuring out the price of a shirt that is 20% off the original marked price plus an additional 15% off with your coupon. Just don't start talking about mixers or crush parties, because, sadly, there really is no adult equivalent no matter how hard I try. But as much as I might miss dressing up in disco clothes and platform boots on a Tuesday night, I'm still glad I've traded blue books for US Weekly magazines, and ditched my backpack in favor of a Kate Spade purse. I'm wishing every single kid a fantastic school year--because I know I plan on having one. Now, I think I heard the bell ring. Hurry, we don't want you to be late. Because I've got some crowd-free living to do. Happy back-to-school!

Monday, August 25, 2014

What a Ride

Last Saturday night over dinner, I told Clint that I needed to come up with my next topic for the blog, but so far, I had absolutely no ideas. When you've been blogging for almost two years, you pretty much use up all the good just-in-case stories you keep in your back pocket. I was feeling the pressure of writer's block. Maybe, I told him, something funny will happen in the next week and I will have my subject matter. It didn't. Instead, I got my subject matter in an entirely different way.

We found out last Monday that my cousin, Lana, had passed away unexpectedly. She was young and vibrant and fun, and frankly, I had thought many times that I could not wait to enjoy the havoc Lana would wreak one day as a little old lady. Needless to say, it was quite a shock to all of her family and friends to find out that she was suddenly gone.

Since we grew up pretty far apart--Lana in Dallas and myself in the metropolitan city of Toccoa, Georgia, I always heard about Lana but had never really gotten to know her until a few years ago. She and I connected through Facebook and hit it off immediately. As it turns out, Lana liked good food, good clothes, good friends, and good times (oh, and Peeps--let's not forget about Peeps). I am on board with every single one of those things, so we quickly found plenty of common ground. She loved my blog, and practically every post would start a discussion between us or bring up some funny family story or memory that she would share. How fun to get acquainted with my zany Texas cousin!

You may remember that last April, my mom and I went out to Dallas to visit with Lana for a few days. It would be an understatement to say that she rolled out the red carpet for us. I am so thankful I had the chance to go and spend time with her in person. She even loved me enough to take me on the tour of Southfork ranch (home of the television show Dallas, of course), even though she swore that no self-respecting Texan would be caught in such a tourist trap. The memories of our trip have given us a lot to laugh and smile about over the last week.

I have to say, what a life she lived. A perfect illustration (quite literally): there is an oil portrait hanging in her living room from a trip she and her parents made years ago to Monte Carlo. The portrait is an actual scene from the vacation, with 17-year old Lana slouching, pouting at the end of a craps table as her parents play and gamble. She was irate that they refused her the chance to sail on a yacht for a week with a cute guy she had met at the hotel a couple of days earlier. Imagine them ruining poor Lana's good time! The picture is even more priceless than the story.

Lana was also one of the select few who can call themselves a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. At least she was until, standing on the sidelines at one of the games, she looked up into the stands and realized her family was in a luxury box and they were having more fun than she was, and so she retired her pompoms the next day. What's more fun and glamorous than being a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader?  Being Lana Sosebee.

Lana was smart, funny, articulate, and a total free-spirit. She was incredibly generous, and her family and friends meant more to her than anything in the world. She was, like her daddy, a fabulous cook, and her love of food was a big part of her life. I used to feel so envious of the friends who lived close enough to attend the parties, cookouts, and get togethers that she would frequently throw. It was almost tempting enough for me to justify paying the airfare to go!

That cousin of mine loved music, Las Vegas, thunderstorms, and spending quiet morning time sipping coffee out by the pool. Her two boys were her pride and joy, she was an avid hater of squirrels, and she literally counted down the days until the Texas state fair opened every year.

Another thing that mesmerized the celebrity worshipper in me was the fact that Lana lived in L.A. for a while before coming back to her Dallas roots, and while she was there, she traveled in the same circles as Jamie Lee Curtis ("we still give her fits about the yogurt commercials!"), Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Melanie Griffith, and Antonio Banderas (I'm sure there were more, but my cousin was modest and I would have to beg these details out of her).

Did I mention that wicked laugh of hers, or that irreverent sense of humor? To show you how much she loved having fun, a few months ago, she had a 15-foot high, 37-foot long custom slide built for her pool that would give any water park a run for its money. She certainly knew how to keep us all entertained. As a side note, I'd also like to thank her for introducing me to popovers with strawberry butter at Neiman Marcus and for giving me my first taste of Cristal champagne (her favorite). I'm pretty sure they are serving these in heaven, especially now that Lana is there. These are a but handful of things I know about my cousin; I wish I had been given more time to learn more.

I will certainly miss Lana, and the suddenness of her passing reminds me that life is short. Don't wait for the right number on the scale or in your bank account to make you happy.  You know that grudge you're holding? Let it go. Those nagging critical thoughts about yourself? Dismiss them. Don't let petty issues or petty people take even a moment away from you. Live large. Laugh out loud. Love fiercely. Enjoy every minute of it, and appreciate the fact that right now is the only thing you have for certain. I suppose, in the spirit of Lana Sosebee, I should also add, "Don't Mess with Texas." And as for sweet Lana, I think we can all agree: Wow! What a ride!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is This MoonPie Organic?

Southerners love food. I truly believe the cornerstones of the South are family, faith, football, and food. Especially food, since we may have disagreements about the other three but will always come together over a bowl of chicken and dumplings. It's no wonder we have a love affair with food--how could you not when you come from the land of RC Cola and MoonPies, boiled peanuts and Coca Cola, cobblers and cornbread, and biscuits and gravy? And don't even get me started about grits and fried okra. I could go on and on, but my mouth is already watering and my stomach is starting to growl.

I think the fact that our Southern food is so delicious is largely responsible for our reputation of friendliness and genteel manners. It's not hard to be in a good mood when you have a belly full of good food. Replace that with some organic celery and well, you've got a whole other ballgame. Down here, we do not eat our vegetables naked--any Southerner worth their salt will tell you that a vegetable doesn't become food until it is coated with some sort of creamy soup, sprinkled with cheese, and topped with breadcrumbs or french fried onions. And all Southern cooks know that everything is better with butter--and even more so with lard.

Food is such an important thing here in the South that it marks practically every important occasion in our lives. New baby? Let's take them a meal (or six). Death in the family? Of course there will be funeral food. As a kid, our church's bereavement committee would ask my mother to make a banana pudding so often, my brother and I couldn't see a bunch of overripe bananas on the kitchen counter without asking, "Who died?" Please insert a joke about that banana pudding being "to die for" here. If you've been sick, had surgery, moved into a new assured, the food is on the way. My church has over 4,000 members and we still have potluck lunches (or "covered dish" lunches, as Southerners like to say). It doesn't matter how large a crowd you have, that potluck will still revolve around fried chicken and Jell-O molds.

Speaking of church, as it was told to me, my mother's Sunday School teacher recently asked everyone in the class to close their eyes for 20 seconds and think of the word "comfort." The class was then asked what was the first thing that came to mind. The answers ranged from prayer, cuddling with pets, hugs, and the like. My first thought? Macaroni and cheese. That could be an inkling as to why I have a weight problem. If I've had a terrible day, a hug is fleeting, but macaroni and cheese will hold your hand and soothe your jangled nerves for quite a little while.

Last week, I went to see a new doctor who practices "integrated medicine." Basically, she is a regular, traditional doctor who combines that with holistic healing. Much to my relief, my visit did not entail any acupuncture or crystals being placed on my forehead, as my friends had giddily predicted. Instead, she told me that there were probably prescriptions that would help me out, but rather than go that route and depend on medicine, changing my diet on a permanent basis would be the way to go. Eat "clean and green," she told me. Cut out Diet Coke, buy organic, non-GMO everything, and stick to lean protein and vegetables. One should avoid high fructose corn syrup, also known as The Ingredient In Absolutely Everything. I was informed that grains are really never necessary, and that there is no reason that anyone should ever eat a sandwich.

Mmm, hmm. I know this is a well-educated and respected physician, and I am trying to take it all seriously, but there is never a reason to eat a sandwich? How about fresh grown tomatoes, Duke's mayonnaise, and white loaf bread? If a summer of tomato sandwiches and baked Cheetohs is wrong, I do not want to be right. I also adamantly refuse to give up Peeps, pimento cheese, or Egg McMuffins. That would be a prescription for disaster.

Is there not some magic pill I can take instead? Maybe I need to rethink this whole being healthy thing, because I'm not sure it's worth the sacrifice. I was also told that a good guideline for healthy eating is: if you can't pronounce the ingredients, don't eat it. This has served as a great motivator for me to brush up on my phonics so that I can expand my vocabulary and successfully pronounce more delicious things. My mom suggested I just grow all my own food, which would probably aid in weight loss due to the fact that I can't keep a cactus alive, but I'm not big on starvation either. By the way, are corn dogs hard to grow? No matter; all the hard work will be worth it when that crop is ready to be harvested.

What good will it do me to live to a ripe, old age if my days are filled with hunger and kale chips? I think I would rather roll the dice and let them find me, gone to meet my maker, with Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze still coating my fingers and my mouth stained red from the Cheerwine. After all, I am a very Southern girl, and my definition of an all-natural diet means eating the things that come naturally to me. So pass me the fried green tomatoes, and save me a piece of pecan pie for dessert. But first, we have some new neighbors down the street and I've got a casserole to make.

P.S. A few years ago, my mom gave me one of my favorite gifts of all time: a cookbook filled with best-loved family recipes. In the "advice" section, she included some quotes that perfectly sum up a Southerner's view of food. Take a moment (while your greens are still simmering on the stove) and enjoy:

"Never eat more than you can lift." - Miss Piggy

"You know it's a good recipe if it starts with a stick of butter." - Paula Deen

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they are sticking to their diet." - Unknown

"Dessert is probably the most important part of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table." - The Anarchist Cookbook