Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Don't Glue the Wreaths to the Windows

We are entering the home stretch on this thing called Christmas, and the chaos of getting everything ready and having it all done is reaching a fever pitch. The mall is overrun, the grocery store is a zoo, traffic is jammed. I couldn't help but think back to a particular yuletide incident that happened a few years ago and laugh at how crazy Christmas preparations can make you...if you let it.

It had been one of those years when Christmas just sneaks up on you, like a tinsel-covered ninja. Before I knew it, we were a week away from the big day and I was about a month behind. I still had a list as long as my arm of gifts to buy, Christmas cards that were half addressed waiting to be sent out, and an optimistic assortment of baked good waiting to be created. The stockings were not exactly hung by the chimney with care, and not only was I stirring, frankly, I was freaking out.

Because this was just the second year we lived in our house, I made the rookie mistake of using suction cup holders to afix the wreaths to all our windows. Basically, every time I pulled into our driveway, one of the seven wreaths across the front of our house had fallen off into the shrubbery below. My daily routine was to throw the car in park, grab the ladder from the garage, rustle around in the bushes, pluck out the wreath and try with all my might to stick that sucker back into place where it belonged. And did I mention that the garland framing our front door completely refused to stay up? If the right side was in place, the left side would droop and fall, or vice versa. No, no, no: this was not the picture of perfection I envisioned for household holiday splendor.

After a particularly miserable day in my little gray cubicle at work, I came home and, for the millionth time, surveyed the wreath chaos which had unfolded during the day. A girl can only fight the suction cup battle for so long before something snaps. And I suppose it did. In a fit of what some might call rage, but I prefer to label intense holiday cheer, I stormed inside looking for super glue. Mercifully, in my seeing red, spitting nails, smoke out of my ears state, I couldn't locate any, but I did find a heavy duty glue stick that was roughly the size of a can of tennis balls and went to work. By this time, my husband had arrived home, and he watched with a combination of curiosity and horror as I zealously glued each wreath to the window on which it belonged. I can't imagine that Elmer's has ever brought anyone such satisfaction.

When I finished my glue work, I stormed to the garage and returned with a hammer and some roughly two-inch long nails--a fistful of them. I climbed our eight foot ladder and used every ounce of noel I had in me to nail the entire length of garland into place. Yes, you read that right: I nailed our garland to the side of our house, using about a dozen nails, and it felt darn good. I'm pretty sure I came inside and had a good cry at that point, but I can tell you without hesitation that our decorations stayed put for the rest of the season until I was good and ready to pry them down.

It's easy for me to look back on all of it and laugh now. I've finally realized that Christmas is coming whether you're ready or not, and that it doesn't have to be perfect to be perfectly enjoyable. No one is going to notice if your garland takes a tumble or if those cookies don't get baked, or if you use gift bags instead of spending hours crafting perfect bows for all your presents (and if they do, send them back to Grinchtown where they belong).

The fact of the matter is that it really is the most wonderful time of the year, but if you don't stop and make yourself be in the moment, Christmas will pass you by. So enjoy the lights and decorations. Wear an ugly sweater. Revel in the fact that calories don't exist at Christmas. Give yourself a break and watch Clark and the Griswolds enjoy some quality family time, or feel for Ralphie as he pines away for his Red Rider BB gun, or join Buddy the Elf as he connects with his dad--who is (gasp!) on the naughty list. Put your feet up, take a big swig of eggnog, and savor it. And no matter how great the temptation may be, don't glue the wreaths to the windows. It kind of freaks out the neighbors.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pinterest: Decoded

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Time for baking, decorating, crafting, and shopping...which means it's the ultimate season of Pinterest.

And isn't Pinterest just the best? So full of clever tips and tricks, crafts and clothes, recipes and projects, it really is a wealth of information. Last year, around Valentine's Day, I found the cutest topiaries that I loved and just had to make for my front door. Two trips to Michael's, a visit to Hobby Lobby, and half a paycheck later, mine didn't turn out exactly the way the instructions assured me they would:

I mean, bless. Although the website promised the overpriced paint I bought would not destroy the premium Styrofoam, it gobbled it right up, and left splotchy, discolored places all over those allegedly "simple" heart shapes. The best part of the project was February 15 when I threw the whole mess of it in our curbside trash can.

I've had a few more pinning ups and downs, most recently, with an "easy and delicious" red velvet trifle I decided to make for a Christmas party last week. I had a terrible plague head cold, and so the thought of something comforting and festive, while still simple to prepare was too much to resist. Imagine my surprise when not one, but two hours passed before the confection was complete? And, upon tasting, I found this oh-so-promising red velvet trifle not as delicious as Little Debbie or as appetizing as Entenmann's. Oh, Pinterest, you got me again.

So quick and easy that I almost missed the party.

It's taken me a while, and several epic fails, to discover what exactly all that Pinterest information actually means. If you go into it naively, you will suffer greatly. Allow me to put my pain to good use and decode what Pinterest is really trying to say in those clever little descriptions that accompany each pin:

Elegant: This will look absolutely nothing like the picture. In all likelihood, it will turn out burned, bruised, smudged, smushed, cracked, and/or busted.

Quick and easy: Go ahead and make this, we dare you. Double dog dare you. And kiss the rest of your day goodbye. Watch the sun set, and then rise again, as you attempt to find the end of your crafting journey. Take a long swig of Red Bull and a big dose of patience, and pretend you don't hear that cosmic evil laugh the entire time you are working.

Inexpensive and fun: I hope you don't have any plans for the next four straight days, and that you have an excellent credit rating that can help with a low interest rate to finance your little project. From experience, "inexpensive" is a Pinterest term that only applies to millionaires or shoplifters. The rest of us are going to feel the pinch when we get that mile long receipt and have to pay in installments. But hey, isn't that all part of the "fun?"

Simple: Any idiot can do it. As long as that idiot is part MacGyver, part Martha Stewart. As my grandma was fond of saying, get right with the Lord before you try this one, because you're probably going to need a miracle.

Takes less than (insert amazingly small number here) minutes!: Based on my experience, it would be wise to quadruple the given number of minutes and use that as your base time. Add extra time if you are prone to any of the following: exhaustion, fits of rage, crying, bathroom breaks, or any type of daily routine.

The only recipe you will ever need: Likely so because the crushing blow delivered to your self esteem after attempting said recipe will result in you never, ever, cooking again and instead paying a caterer or professional to handle the culinary situation instead. Still, it's the only recipe you'll ever need. Sob.

You must try this: Simply put, misery loves company. Please try this so that you can feel my pain and enter this special inner circle of hell created just for Pinterest-trusting souls who haven't yet learned the code.

Worth the effort: Ah, here it is. The granddaddy of them all. If you attempt any project labeled this way, you are a masochist. When Pinterest-speak admits that there is effort required, you can bet it will be Herculean. Get your game face on and may the odds be ever in your favor. God speed. At the very least, you will walk away with a story to tell your grandchildren about one day.

In all fairness, I've made a few things that were relatively easy and inexpensive. I can't for the life of me think of any of them now, but I'm certain they exist, otherwise I wouldn't keep going back to the site for more, right? Maybe it's the thrill of the chase, the art of the challenge that keeps me pinning, trying, failing, pinning, cursing, pinning. While I've had cocktails fall flat, cookies crumble, cake chaos, dinner disasters, and crafts crap out, it can't all be impossible; my Pinterest hope springs eternal. If all else fails, there's always the humor section. Because nothing cures shattered domestic dreams like a Pinterest-worthy inspiring quote.

A quote from Pinterest, seemingly about Pinterest. Happy crafting!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

To the Mean Girl at the Car Wash: Bless Your Heart

Disclaimer: I do not usually dedicate blog posts to mean, hateful people, mainly because there are so many people out there who act like mean idiots these days, I would inundate you with post after post after post after...well, you get the idea.

But yesterday took the old proverbial cake. This car wash incident raised my eyebrows and kept them raised like I had a bad face lift all afternoon. Allow me to explain: I was out and about, running errands and trying to cross about a zillion and two things off my to-do list. My poor car still has remnants of muddy tailgate lots on the tires, and so I pulled into my local 7-Eleven for what I hoped would be a quick car wash. I entered the queue line behind the building and sat there behind four other cars. And waited. And waited some more. After five full minutes and not a single bit of forward movement, I decided that my schedule did not allow for this nonsense. But a car behind me had me blocked in.

I rolled down my window and tried to get the driver's attention, to no avail. I (wrongly, as it turned out) assumed that the girl behind the wheel simply did not see me, and so I put my car in park, got out, and walked back to her car. In retrospect, the story is even more enjoyable when I remember that the fringe of my ankle boots was causing added spring in my step, but I digress. I tapped on her car window and when she rolled it down, asked in my most genteel, polite tone: "Could you please back up so that I can get out? I don't want to wait in this line, so I'm just going to go."

And this person harshly replied, "I could, but I won't. Since you were rude and cut in line in front of me to get to the car wash, I'm just going to sit here."

I started to explain that I was reasonably sure I did not cut in front of her, but thought better of it. Instead, I said, "I'm sorry. But if I leave, you can have my place in line." I noticed that mean car wash girl was now vehemently shaking her head no and giving me The Hand In Face maneuver. I tried reason: "So, you would rather sit and wait for me to go through the car wash than back up a foot and let me out? You would have my place in line once I leave?"

"I sure had. I'm not moving anywhere, just because you want me to." This is what the girl said, in the nastiest tone of voice I assume is typically reserved for negotiating with terrorists or telemarketers.

"Wow, what a kind gesture. Thank you so much. I hope your random act of kindness comes back to you at some point today," I said, in my most drippingly sarcastic, sugar sweet voice. My fringe boots and I turned and headed back for the car.

My story doesn't end there. But before I tell you how this near road rage incident came to a conclusion, I'd like to say a few things to that mean girl behind me in line at the car wash:

Bless your heart.

When I walked up to your car to ask you to back up, you were not only ignoring me out of spite, you were also plucking your eyebrows. In public. I'm not sure if anyone's ever told you, but that is a personal grooming habit that really doesn't need to happen in the bright light of public day. And when you snarked at me, you and those red, angry brows were quite a sight to see.

Bless your public grooming, overplucked eyebrow-loving heart.

I couldn't see your license plate, but I have a pretty good idea by the way you spoke that you were probably not raised in an environment where things like Southern hospitality or manners were stressed. Nor were things like patience, civility, or anger management.

Bless your ill-mannered, short-tempered heart.

Based on the fact that you were not aware that cars driving straight have the right of way (me), not cars making left turns (you), I'm going to also assume that no one took the time to teach you much about the rules of the road or driving. Sadly for you, however, my mother spent hours working with me before I took my driver's test. She also made sure I mastered the art of a very tight, confined space 3-point turn. Which is why my heart lept with joy when I walked back to my car and realized there might be a way out of that car wash line after all.

Oh, the look on your blotchy, just-plucked face when I backed my car within millimeters of yours, turned that steering wheel for all it was worth, and executed the most magnificent 3-point turn of my entire driving career.

Bless your enraged, defeated, out-for-revenge heart.

And when I pulled out of that exit, honked my horn in victory, rolled down my window, flashed you my biggest smile and called out, "Thanks again! Have a blessed day!" and you gave me the the finger, I want you to know that I only thought one thing:

Bless. Your. Heart.

I hope you at least got your Honda Accord clean. And maybe your rage under control.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Clemsoning (And Loving It)

For those of you who may not be familiar with the roller coaster of emotions that comes with being a Clemson fan, let me only begin to describe to you the spectrum of euphoria, heartbreak, triumph, and tragedy that one goes through on a weekly basis. Like many college football fans, there have been numerous times so horrific that the only mantra we can muster is, "next year." I have been known to describe Clemson football as a prince charming type, who exists solely to catch your eye, make your little heart go pitter patter, show you just enough attention to get you hooked, and then only call or come around when you are about to give up on him and move on with your life. Clemson will give you just enough to ensure that you keep coming back for more.

The dreaded term "clemsoning" came about after a particularly disastrous Orange Bowl game in 2012, which resulted in Clemson losing to West Virginia 70-33. Over the last several years, clemsoning had come to mean screwing up in a monumental way, embarrassing oneself in a truly spectacular and public fashion. I supposed you could say Napoleon clemsoned at Waterloo, for example. Clemsoning: the stuff that makes grown men cry. Until this year. As of today, my Tigers are 9-0 and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit himself has declared clemsoning a new term to mean kicking butt and taking names. We are redeemed. We are celebrating. We are--dare I say it--optimistic?

This weekend was the last home game we will be able to attend, and it was a big one. Clemson needed to beat our nemesis Florida State in order to secure a spot in the ACC Championship game, and also,mercifully, to bury the idea of clemsoning. It was an interesting day, to say the least. Campus was filled with nervous energy and you can could feel the excitement all around. A week of heavy rain filled the area with five inches of rain in just five days and made tailgating an adventure sport not for the faint of heart. We wound up in a scenic spot down by the Seneca River on campus, conveniently situated on a 45-degree angle.

We went minimalist because of the weather conditions, but this looks picturesque, right?

Until you consider the *slight* incline we were on. Hold on to your cups!

Thankfully, we had a few minutes of drizzle but the rain never showed up. I'll tell you who did show up on Saturday, though: my long lost friend, Jodi. Jodi and I lived next door to each other in the dorm my freshman year. Through the miracle of Facebook, we reconnected years ago, and had kept in touch but still had not seen each other in person since fall 1996. Over the summer, reading my blog about Duke's mayonnaise, Jodi decided she was more than a little homesick for the great state of South Carolina and so she bought tickets, loaded up her family, and drove down from Chicago. 

Reunited with this girl after 19 years...and we picked right up where we left off (which means with plenty of sarcasm).
Never underestimate the power of mayonnaise.

At this point, it had already been a great day in the life of a Clemson Tiger--decent weather, time on campus, seeing old friends. But it was game day. There was people watching to be had as well. Believe me when I say everyone really dressed for the occasion. Note to self: add "adult tiger onesie" to Christmas list.

First, there was this guy, who was pretty much mobbed with picture requests.
I thought he was a true original, until....

Lo and behold, I saw a pair of Tiger onesies entering the stadium.

Last but not least, I don't want to forget these diehards who were hanging out at the Esso Club after the game,
as comfortable as could be.

The game kicked off at 3:30. There were 83,099 fans packed into Clemson Memorial Stadium, also known as Death Valley. And this game was a nail biter. It was loud and frenzied...and fantastic. My Tigers were dressed head-to-toe in orange, and they had something to prove.

Our seats were above all this action, but having the fans spell out #clemsonfamily was fantastic.

Spoiler alert: the Tigers beat the Seminoles 23-13, which means they are coming to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game in December. Game days are always fun, but this one was special. 

Singing the alma mater after getting the win.

Clemson was voted the number one team in the nation on Sunday according to the Associated Press poll: the first time that has happened since 1982. I guess you could say we really are clemsoning right now--and loving every minute of it.

See you in Charlotte, Tigers! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Pumpkin Spice: Breaking the Addiction

The leaves are beginning to fall, the morning air is crisp and cool, and you can practically smell nutmeg wafting on every gentle breeze. It's pumpkin spice season, also (less commonly) known as fall, and the flavor is turning up everywhere. With this addictive substance now being pushed on every corner, pumpkin spice is getting its hooks into more and more of us, and its hold is strong. My completely fabricated statistic shows that one in three Americans is addicted to pumpkin spice. Consider the following list of symptoms to see if you, too, have fallen prey to the spice phenomenon:

Do you find yourself anxiously awaiting the arrival of autumn, simply because you know pumpkin spice will start showing up on shelves?

Are you afraid to bypass any pumpkin spice product, for fear of missing out on some delicious, far-too-fleeting seasonal experience?

Have you stockpiled as many sources of pumpkin spice ecstasy as humanly possible? Does your inventory include cookies, cakes, cupcakes, coffee, coffee creamer, pies, muffins, cream cheese, jam, bread, and (gasp) even beer?

Do everyday activities seem arduous without the aid of pumpkin spice? Do you find yourself thinking that you could get through the task at hand much easier if you had a pumpkin spice latte within your grasp?

You are not alone in this compulsion. Personally, I don't even drink coffee--Starbucks holds very little fascination for me--and yet, I begin jonesing for a pumpkin spice latte in early September. Once I hear that an acquaintance has scored a hit, I practically jump out of my skin until I, too, can get my fix. And once that high wears off, all I can think about is when I can get my hands on more of that glorious stuff. Pumpkin spice (also nicknamed p-spice by pushers and junkies) has become a street drug, people, and a powerful one at that.

Just to show how serious my condition is, I want you all to know that I willingly and eagerly bought these a couple of weeks ago (the fact that there is still some product remaining over a two week period should tell you something about the taste):

This is a dire situation, indeed. I'm not usually a connoisseur of fine chia and flaxseed products, but you throw a pumpkin seed in there and suddenly, I am powerless to resist. I have even given into the temptation and purchased pumpkin spice protein shakes...in the name of fall fitness, of course.

If any of these situations rings familiar for you, you should know that you are not alone, and that there is help. I'm pretty sure that last week, while snacking on a Little Debbie Pumpkin Delight cake, I read that the first step is admitting you have a problem. I was contemplating whether or not Pumpkin Spice Oreos were a worthwhile purchase when I came across the second step, which is admitting that you are powerless over pumpkin spice. I'm ready to agree with both of those, in an effort to move forward with healing.

In addition to those first, courageous steps, I think the most effective way to break the cycle of p-spice addiction is to bombard your senses with all things pumpkin and spice. It's a daunting commitment, but you have to take your well-being into your own hands and risk drastic measures. Indulge yourself in sinful amounts of cinnamon, mega doses of nutmeg, and copious amounts of cloves. Sooner or later, our taste buds will be desensitized to the deliciousness, and this pumpkin spice spell will be broken, right?

If you find yourself still in the throes of codependency, take heart in the notion that soon it will be entirely possible to wean yourself off the rush of a spiced, seasonal gourd by gradually making the switch to our next round of limited-time treats. This is also known as the third step in the recovery process: turning it over to a higher power, which in this case, clearly means such holiday-inspired flavors as eggnog, gingerbread, and peppermint. Put down the pumpkin, and reach for the hand of a gingerbread man. Resist the lure of the p-spice, and let the soothing sensation of peppermint wash over you. Think calming thoughts of eggnog and caramel brulee. We can, and we will, persevere and come out on the other side of this, come hell, high water, or chestnut praline latte. Because, above all else, we are pumpkin spice survivors.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Halloween Costumes--Let's Get Awesome

Halloween is less than three weeks away, and whether you've got a party to attend or just want to get in the spirit of the holiday, it's time to start planning a costume. And while the Caitlyn Jenner getup does exist, I think we're all more than tired of keeping up with the Kardashians. So put down that white corset and let's see what other options abound, shall we?

I've learned over the years to avoid the costume extremes. Politely say no to things labeled "sexy"--this includes sexy nurse, sexy pirate, sexy police officer, sexy fairy...because in the world of Party City dress up, sexy is code for trashy. On the other end of the spectrum, no one wants to spend their Halloween looking exceptionally homely either. A few years ago, Clint and I dressed as Popeye and Olive Oyl. His costume included big, faux muscles and a trusty corn cob pipe; mine came with a homely black wig and a dress only a bargain bin could love. He felt like a rock star, I felt like crawling under a rock. Ever since, I've collected a few costume ideas--for individual costumes and couples costumes--that might be a little less painful to sport.

Let's start with some timeless fun. Personally, I have never met a carbohydrate I didn't like, so I was particularly taken with this macaroni and cheese costume I saw on Pinterest. I haven't made this one myself, but allegedly, in Pinterest speak, all you really need is a laundry basket with a homemade label to serve as your cup, and spray painted toilet paper rolls for noodles. (If you find yourself ill-prepared and don't have 50 toilet paper rolls just lying around, toilet papering yards is also considering a fun Halloween festivity. Now your costume gets bonus points for mischief making, in addition to looking delicious).

Macaroni and cheese? Yes, please.

If that bowl of noodles feels a little too cumbersome, I love this easy option for guys. I'm a sucker for any and every pun that there is, and funny costumes are always top prize winners in my book. You could easily make this chick magnet with some cardboard and paint, but for less than $25 you can buy the real deal here and really look the part. If it were me, I would also hand out Peeps left and right, but I'm not a chick magnet per se, so it's only a suggestion.

For the man who's already a chick magnet the other 364 days a year.

I also love trendy and timely costumes--those that capitalize on the headlines and pop culture of the moment. If you think I'm suggesting you dress as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle this year, you have ever-so-slightly missed the mark. No matter what your political preferences might be, here are a couple of options that might be right up your left or right wing alley.

We actually have this milk carton costume in our attic, a leftover remnant from Halloweens gone by (because it's a ridiculously easy costume that I can convince my hubby to wear when he has willfully resisted all other options). It's available on Amazon and all over the Internet. Typically, it looks as though your face is on the side of a milk carton, aka you are dressed as a missing person. To make this costume more current, don the same "missing" costume and go as Hillary Clinton's emails (minus the FBI investigation). Suddenly, you're so 2015.

Have you seen Hillary's emails? I have a feeling there's a reward.

I have to admit, this next option is a personal favorite of mine. even if it does include the wearing of booty shorts. It's the (and I promised we would steer clear of this option, but this simply has to be an exception) sexy Donald Trump costume. The hat and wig are sold separately, but don't you dare show up without them. Get into character by telling everyone that your costume is the best, most amazing costume ever and all other costumes are stupid and fat. If I were going to a party and asked to bring a dish, I would change the label on a box of Bugles to "Trump-ets"--perfect for snacking, or tooting your own horn. 

Trump all the other costumes with this one. Make Halloween great again.

Couples costumes can also present a dress-up challenge. You want to find that special pairing that is complimentary, but not gag-inducing. Let's shy away from that electrical outlet and plug (please, just no), and we all know you can't throw a piece of candy corn without hitting a flapper and her gangster companion. What the ideal couple's costume seeks to convey is the sense that they are the perfect pair, made for each other. What better way to illustrate that than by dressing as Paula Deen and her passionate lover, butter? For the record, I would absolutely give out Butterfinger candy bars if this were my costume choice.

We love each other, y'all.

If the idea of being a walking stick of butter doesn't exactly thrill you, here's another out-of-the-box option that really "struck" me: how about a bolt of lightening and a person who has been struck? 

Clearly, their attraction is electric.

One last "thrilling" option for couples or for a group is to outfit yourself as roller coaster riders (raised hands and screaming optional, but encouraged). Get a little crafty and make yourself a cardboard seat with a stuffed pair of pants and some old shoes for legs, add a safety harness and you are ready to ride, so to speak.

Roller coaster costume--a real scream.

If all else fails, you can always cut some holes in a sheet and go as a ghost (or add a halo and go as "holy sheet"). Or write "life" on a plain white t-shirt and hand out lemons. Or don your designer everything, a ridiculously tall pair of high heels, add a glass of champagne, and be a Real Housewife of anywhere--just to be sure to create a scene and/or cat fight everywhere you go or your costume won't be authentic. Whatever you choose to be this Halloween, go all out, have plenty of fun with it, and when you win that Best Costume trophy, maybe give me a mention in your acceptance speech. 

Happy Costuming!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Plays Well With Others (Well, Usually)

I've always thought of myself as a people person. I like being social as well as anyone, I've never been known to be shy, and I've rarely met a stranger. My conduct reports back in my school days always confirmed this with comments like "talkative during class" or "Susie needs to focus on her work as much as she focuses on her neighbors." I was even voted Mrs. Congeniality in a beauty pageant once. If that's not high praise for playing well with others, then I don't know how else to give it to you. However, in case you haven't noticed, the times--and people, for that matter--are a'changing. (And if you really haven't noticed, it's highly likely you are part of the problem and not the solution).

Now, I know we are all cut out of different cloth, and that being the same is boring. Heaven knows, my friends are all sorts of different characters, and I enjoy the company of someone who is unique. It's just that, lately, society seems to have made a change for the worse. We are accepting things as normal behavior that would make Emily Post roll over in her grave. We're not cringing anymore when people do cringe-worthy things. And I'm getting fed up. It's time to take a stand, so I'm putting out some guidelines. People person or not, if you commit the following offenses, I'm afraid it means we just can't be friends.

When you say, "I'm not bragging or anything, but..." you aren't fooling anyone, and you certainly aren't making any friends. Don't think for a second that little disclaimer hides the fact that you are, in fact, bragging about yourself, your dog, your child, your life, etc. Here's my disclaimer: if rolling my eyes so hard at your "non-bragging" causes me to have an aneurysm, I will sue. I'm not threatening or anything, but....

If you don't eat meat, dairy, gluten, soda, bread, fast food, or sugar, I applaud your very weird strict dietary efforts. I will make an attempt to understand why you punish yourself this way, and when you aren't around, I will even feel sorry for you for living your life in such a depraved, malnourished fashion. But if you insist on lecturing me about the evils of all these foods on your Do Not Consume list, we just cannot be friends. Into every life, a little Chex Mix must fall.

When you tell me that you don't watch a single show on the Bravo network, I will politely pretend to believe you and applaud your high intellectual standards. And then, I will befriend you, gain your trust, and find out which of the Real Housewives franchises is really your favorite. We all watch, and it's making us all dumber for it, but it's just such good, guilty pleasure. Once you admit that you're just as sinfully addicted as the rest of us, I think we can be friends.

If you use the word "ridic" (as in short for ridiculous) in conversation and you are not being humorous, ironic, or sarcastic, we probably cannot be friends. Totes, obvi, adorbs, awesomesauce, and amazeballs are one thing, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

You don't have to have big hair for us to be friends (granted, it helps), but I am going to need you to, at a minimum, understand its important place in society. After all, big hair rules the world. Southern women are only half joking when they say, "the higher the hair, the closer to heaven." If you need further proof that bigger is better, take a minute and Google "celebrities with big hair"--the images that will bombard you are a who's who of Hollywood. And for historical reference, may I present this:

These savvy women (and their amazingly coiffed hair) would never steer you wrong. A picture is worth a thousand words. And in this case, about three gallons of extra firm hold hairspray.

If I invite you to my house for dinner, and you tell me beforehand that you don't have any food allergies and you like every single food in existence, then do not show up to the table and complain that there are mushrooms in the green beans, or that the homemade roasted red pepper hummus is "a little too spicy." And definitely do not bemoan the three-layer chocolate s'mores cake I have lovingly prepared for you as "way too rich." I know most of you would never do that, but it actually happened to me a few years ago with some (now former) friends of ours. Let's just say I figured out quickly that we did not play well together, and we could not be friends. Don't let the door hit your cake-hating arse on the way out, folks.

If you don't love dogs, don't like mayonnaise (I'm looking at you, Jen), think that things called "flirtinis" are real martinis (no, no, no, they are most certainly not), wear white after Labor Day, or are one of those freakish people who actually need to gain weight, I don't want to be unreasonable and rule you out just yet. Let's just say it's negotiable. We can try things out on a probationary term and see if I can bring you around how it goes.

In the meantime, if none of these attributes describe you, I think we can play together. Meet me on the playground at recess. It'll be ridic.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Birthday Tailgate

We officially kicked off football season on Saturday in beautiful Clemson, South Carolina. (Technically, my Tigers had already played their first game the previous week, but since we weren't there, it hardly counts, right?) The weather was perfect, the Tigers won, and the tailgate was pretty fantastic, too, if I do say so myself.

Clint's birthday is this week, so instead of our usual orange-and-Tiger-paw-covered-everything, I went with a fun and festive birthday theme. After all, he may or may not be ringing in his last year as a 30-something, and that calls for a celebration.

I let the birthday boy choose his own menu for the day, which included a Bloody Mary bar (complete with all kinds of pickled vegetables, sauces, spices, and Slim Jims), baked ham and Swiss tailgate sandwiches, Chick-fil-A nuggets, mozzarella dip, boozy gummy bears, and a dozen very festive cupcakes in honor of the occasion. You may already know that I am a firm believer that more is more, so I topped that off with plenty of confetti, balloons, party hats, streamers, blow outs, and signs to make sure every passerby knew there was a birthday in progress.

I had a multi-colored seersucker tablecloth left from my 30th birthday party--which is to say, it's practically new (wink)--that I reused on the tables, and our "Happy Birthday" banner has been through every birthday we've had since we've been married. Needless to say, it's been witness to dozens of wishes, celebrations, and gift exchanges. To top it off, I wrapped a couple of pretend "gifts" and used them, along with the cupcakes, as our centerpiece. My friend Doug told me he would vote for me for World's Best Tailgate; I'm not sure there is such an award, and I'm quite certain if there were, it would go to something much more elaborate than my set up, but flattery will take you a long way with me.

In case you hadn't noticed, the party is here!

Clint's birthday tailgate

The guest of honor got plenty of well wishes throughout the day, and we all enjoyed the good food, good friends, and good times that tailgating always offers. After the game, we spent some time at the Esso Club dancing and enjoying the band. Once we managed to work up an appetite again, we packed up all the birthday decor and headed to Peppino's for some very delicious pizza as our late dinner. We capped off our night with a little quality time at Tiger Town Tavern before calling it a day. It wasn't even my birthday, and I had quite a day of celebrating! It's always nice when you can enjoy all the fringe benefits without the burden of turning a year older.

We still have plenty of birthday partying left to do, but I think we got off to a great start. In the meantime, if you see the slightly older, tad more grown-up version of this guy, be sure to wish him a Happy Birthday and many more to come.

Happy Birthday, Clint! 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

If You Like Pina Coladas

"If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain...." Well then, you would have adored our vacation last week because we managed to do a little bit of both--although thankfully, (many) more pina coladas than rain. Tropical storm Danny tried to make himself a third wheel on our trip to the Bahamas, but he was no match for us and we enjoyed a fantastic six days on Paradise Island.

When we arrived on Monday, we were greeted by a pretty steady rain storm, which thankfully died down just as we reached our hotel. We've managed to make it to the Atlantis resort every summer for the last few years, and we love it there so much that it feels like home away from home to us whenever we get the chance to steal away there (if only). Other than Clemson, South Carolina, it's my favorite place to be.

We went straight for the Bahamian food on our first night's dinner and enjoyed conch fritters, spicy conch salad, and then went in search of a cocktail. The bar menu said the cocktails come in two sizes: regular and "Gussie Mae"--that's island talk for large. If you know us at all, you have zero doubt which size we chose...team Stancil's general motto is that more is more is more, after all. We have actually ordered Gussie Mae size drinks in the past and they were about the size of two regular cocktails. This time, however, they were bigger than the size of our heads and so heavy it took two hands to carry them, I almost died when I walked over to the bar and saw these behemoth mojitos waiting on us--the amount of mint alone looked like a salad!

These were more than drinks, they were a conversation piece. Every single person who passed by had to comment, inquire, and a few even wanted pictures. And at $18 each, believe me when I say these drinks were the best deal at the entire resort. 

Does this mojito make me look thirsty?

And of course, we finished the entire things. Hey, we're no quitters.

We dodged another bout of rain Tuesday morning and spent a gorgeous afternoon out by the pool before heading to one of our favorite Italian restaurants for dinner. My hubby may or may not have eaten himself into oblivion, causing us to call it an early carb-fueled night.

Sunset selfie.

We always take a taxi into downtown Nassau and have breakfast and wander through all the shops there. There isn't much to buy unless you're in the market for 3 t-shirts for $20 or a woven straw bag with "Bahamas" stitched on the side, but it's fun to get off the resort property and see how the downtown has changed since our last visit. There were five cruise ships in port during our stay, so Nassau was full of hustle and bustle and Carnival cruisers. 

We relaxed for a couple of more days out the pool, bought some rum drinks made in real coconuts on the beach--we are never ones to pass up on a gimmick, enjoyed the crystal clear water, and even rode a few water slides. We had a low key pizza dinner out at the marina (which is the closest to dining on a yacht I'll probably get), walked through the world's largest open air saltwater aquarium, and bellied up to the buffet at another one of our favorite eateries at Atlantis. The only problem with the vacation was that it seemed like it went by way too fast. As usual, I wished for just one more day. And maybe a day or two after that....

Meanwhile, back in Charlotte, someone else was not enjoying their r & r nearly as much.

We wrapped up our trip with dinner at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. If you've never been, let me recommend the goat cheese fundido, ancho pork tenderloin, sweet potato tamale, and well, pretty much any and everything else. It's a great spot to save for the end of vacation so you can eat like it's your last meal without the dreaded thought of having to put on a swimsuit the next day. After dinner, we even managed to make a little profit--$50--on a slot machine, That probably paid for the tax on our dinner!

Big smiles outside Bobby Flay's restaurant.

Our Bahamas vacation was last week. This week, I've had plenty of dirty laundry and zero food in our house, which means I've had plenty of fun washing, folding, and Walmart grocery shopping. When it's over, it really is over, folks. I'm holding on by wearing my "It's Better In The Bahamas" shirt to walk the dog and reminiscing over the pictures from time to time. We're already counting down until next year, but in the meantime, we will just have to make due with football season. Be still my Clemson-loving heart.

Good-bye, summer! Hello, fall! And see you as soon as I can get back, Bahamas!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Pearls of Wisdom

I will be the first to admit that I don't know it all. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that I don't know much of anything, in the grand scheme of things. But there are a few undeniable facts that I have learned in my thirty-some-odd (a lady never reveals her age) years, and in order to pad my community service hours for the week, I thought I would share them today. Charitable deduction, here I come. These pearls of wisdom, in no particular order, are as follows:

Anytime you leave your house looking less than presentable and hoping you won't see anyone you know, you will, inevitably, see multiple people that you know. They will look unusually fabulous during this encounter. Despite your ninja-like efforts to evade these folks, they will recognize you and want to chat. And possibly ask if you are sick, due to the deteriorated state of your appearance. Conversely, on the days you emerge looking like a supermodel, not a soul will see you. I'm almost entirely sure that is how the selfie came into existence--as hard evidence of good hair days even without a single witness.

Be very afraid.
On a different but equally important note, no matter how tempting, under no circumstances should you order shrimp (a.k.a. camarones) at a Mexican restaurant. I learned this in the extremely unfortunate quesadilla incident of 2003. There is a very good reason that diarrhea sounds like a Spanish word. Ole, indeed.

Any item that you lose automatically doubles in value. It really is true that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. Where are you, super soft, perfectly worn-in Acapulco t-shirt from 1988?! I can't live without you, and I can't replace you, either! Come baaaaaack to me!

If someone offers you a breath mint, always take it. There's a good chance that they are just being polite and not fending off your offensive halitosis, but it's still better to be safe than stank.

Never chew gum while cleaning a toilet. This one was an especially difficult learning experience for me, and I would really prefer not to discuss it any further. Ignore this advice at your own risk.

Your mom is right. Always, every single time. Even if you don't know it yet. Arguing with her will only make you look dumb, so it's best to just bite your tongue and wait for the proof to come that she was right all along.

The only answer anyone wants to hear when they ask, "how are you?" is fine. No one wants to hear that you aren't fine, or that you are better than fine. Stick to the status quo. And even if you don't want to know the answer, you are obligated to ask how that person is doing in return. Pretend to listen for a second or two, smile, nod, and then you can be on your merry way.

99% of the things you worry about will never happen. That probably includes whatever it is you're worrying about right now. The things that will really jump out and bite you in the butt are the ones you never saw coming.

The quickest way to have someone prove you wrong? Defend them by telling other people, "she would never do that!" Then prepare yourself for the fallout.

I love to watch Wheel of Fortune at night after dinner. When it comes right down to it, life is a lot like Wheel of Fortune. You rarely know the answer to the puzzle right away, so you spin the wheel, try to make some guesses, and hope you never land on bankrupt. And get jump-up-and-down excited for vacations and new cars.

The older I get, the longer it takes me to get ready. Crimp, curl, spackle, putty. At the rate I'm going, by the time I'm 80, I will eat breakfast, start doing my hair and makeup, then watch Wheel of Fortune and go to bed. I'd like to solve the puzzle: you look mah-ve-lous, darling.

Now, there are plenty of other gems I could share with you, but my mother always raised us with the mantra that you never tell them everything you know and you always leave them wanting more. And so, on that note, I will simply leave you with some sage words that really sum up the seriousness of this life we're all living:

“When I die, I want to die like my grandfather, who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.” -Will Rogers

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Garden & Gun, Duke's Mayonnaise, and the Ties that Bind

I have become a big fan of Garden & Gun magazine, especially after discovering that, despite its name, the publication is not in fact about gardens or guns (I can't grow the former, and while I'm not opposed to the latter, I don't particularly enjoy reading about the subject). The magazine is a great resource for all things southerly, genteel, and charming. That's why it came as no surprise that last week, Garden & Gun put together a short article entitled "Why Duke's Mayonnaise Matters." And it certainly does matter, my friends.

Let's just start at the beginning, where all that goodness originated: Greenville, South Carolina in 1917. Eugenia Duke (now forever known as the Duchess of Mayonnaise) started making and selling sandwiches with her signature homemade spread to World War I soldiers stationed at Fort Sevier. Needless to say, the sandwiches, and that mayo, got rave reviews, and by the spring of 1919, Eugenia sold over 10,000 sandwiches in one day. A brand, and a business, was born.

Duke's mayonnaise has achieved a type of cult following in the South. It's the third largest mayonnaise brand in the United States, and even if many folks north of the Mason-Dixon line aren't familiar with this fine product, any good Southerner worth their salt will tell you that there is just something special about Duke's. I came across another article, this time from the Washington Post, with some pretty impressive anecdotes from Erin Hatcher, who oversees the brand's label (the article is here if you want to read it in entirety): "There was the man on his hospital death bed who asked for a tomato sandwich made with Duke's. There was the mother of the bride who, after the company made its switch from glass to plastic containers around 2005, demanded four glass jars with labels intact to use as centerpieces at her daughter's wedding. And there was the elderly woman from North Carolina. She wrote in hopes of obtaining just three glass jars, saying she'd like to be cremated and have her ashes places in the containers for her three daughters." Hatcher assured the article's author that she made good on that last request.

For me, Duke's is synonymous with that summertime delicacy, tomato sandwiches (which I only recently found out are also commonly called "sink sandwiches" because the best way to eat them is to stand over the kitchen sink and just let all the juices run right down your arms). Ripe, homegrown tomatoes, a fresh loaf of soft white bread, salt, pepper, and Duke's--that's how you really make a sandwich. For those of you who have been using an inferior product like--heaven forbid--Miracle Whip, come on over to the tasty side and use my mayo. You'll never go back. As further evidence that Duke's mayonnaise and tomatoes are the best pairing since Bogart and Bacall or Ben and Jerry, here is a quintessentially summer-in-the-South picture a friend of mine posted on Facebook over the weekend, aptly captioned "Southern nights:"

Photo by Jake Green

Duke's, fresh tomatoes, and a little candlelight. If that doesn't make you swoon, you might need to check your pulse. There's good reason for the battle cry: if it isn't Duke's, it isn't really a sandwich!

I could eat tomato sandwiches all day long. But sadly, those garden grown tomatoes don't last all year, which is why it's fortuitous that Duke's is also equally delicious in deviled eggs, potato salad, pimento cheese, casseroles of pretty much any kind, and even...desserts. The Duke's website has over a dozen delicious-sounding sweet recipes that are made with their spectacular spread. (The mayonnaise keeps cakes and baked goods moist, in case you were wondering how in the world the idea of mayonnaise for dessert came into existence.)

I have an early memory as a kid, in the kitchen with my mom, watching her put together some homemade chicken salad. She scooped a big spoonful (or three) of mayonnaise and began to stir all the ingredients together, explaining as she worked that you needed to be sure to use enough mayonnaise--after all, "it's what binds it all together." All these years later, I still remember that advice and consider it true, especially in the case of Duke's, in more ways than just the kitchen.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sun, Fun, and Chupa Chups: The Joys of Summertime

I was having one of those banner days Monday (please insert sarcasm font here). As I pulled into Walmart parking lot to go buy my groceries for the week (so you know I was in a great mood), the thermometer in my rental car--a very chic Chevy Malibu--said the outside temperature was 101 degrees. (Don't even ask as to why I'm driving the Malibu this week...it's a sad, unlucky story that I hope is over extremely quickly). As I trudged through the hot lava fiery depths parking lot, my shorts creeping up my never-svelte thighs, I started to question my love of summer. Despite the sweet ride I had, I was wondering what in the world is there to like about hot-as-Hades weather, 99% humidity, and the general feeling that it's too hot to live?

As I write, it is hotter here in North Carolina than it is in Las Vegas. Something is seriously wrong with that picture. You could fry and egg on the sidewalk, so long as you didn't want it over easy, because it's an inferno out there and your yolk would cook pretty quickly. I made the mistake of cooking a tomato pie last night for dinner, and having the oven on for an hour made our house so hot we barely had the strength to eat once the pie was ready. Okay, we managed to make it through not one but two helpings, but the struggle was real.

So why do I like this sweltering time of year? I took a break in front of the oscillating fan and gave it some thought. When I was a kid, summer meant packing our red and white Playmate cooler full of Cokes and packs of crackers and heading to the country club pool for the day. Breaks from swimming involved a trip to the pro shop where my brother and I would agonize over the very important decision of what flavor of Chupa Chups sucker to buy, then proudly tell the cashier to charge it to my dad's account and swagger back poolside. Then there was the family vacation each summer, usually to Myrtle Beach where we would feast on footlong hotdogs on the boardwalk, load up on "essentials" at Wings, and ride all the rides the Pavilion had to offer. During my high school years, my parents put in a pool in our backyard, and I spent those summer days floating, swimming, and sunning. My first summer during college, before my dad put me to work, involved sleeping late and catching up on Charlie's Angels reruns. Now, as an adult, any free Saturdays we have involve soaking up rays on our deck while sipping cold cocktails and catching up on our gossip magazine reading. I'm starting to remember how my fondness for June, July, and August came to pass.

There are some very great, familiar, and fun things that only summer can really offer. Things like lazy evenings lit up by lightening bugs, the joy of wearing flip flops (it's nearly impossible to be stressed out while wearing flip flops), time spent at the beach with your toes in the sand or on the lake with the wind in your hair. Fourth of July fireworks, the unmistakable smell of suntan lotion, swinging in the wooden swing on the front porch at my mom's house (in close proximity to the ceiling fans, naturally). Delicious, fresh summer tomatoes (and Duke's mayonnaise) to make tomato sandwiches, grilling out, baseball games. Watermelon, the perfect excuse to eat ice cream--to beat the heat of course, and mindless summer movies: explosions, and superheros, and dinosaurs, oh my! I could keep going, but I don't want heat exhaustion to set in....

Yes, despite the heat, there is still much to love about good ol' summer, and there's a little more than a month of it left to savor. I'm going to do my best to endure the heat, upper lip sweat and all, and focus more on the pleasures this time of year brings. Before you know it, fall will be here and it will be time to pack away all the beach towels, sunscreen, and flip flops in favor of jeans, boots, and jackets. We'll have left the pool vacant with the exception of water aerobics classes, and the beach will be emptied for the sharks to enjoy in solitude. In the meantime, grab a Popsicle, work on your cannonballs, and worship the air conditioning. It's summertime--enjoy, and I'll meet you on the porch swing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Feeding Frenzy

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a Hardee's commercial for a new "Most American Thickburger." This giant slab of fast food is a 1/3 lb. hamburger patty topped with 2 hotdogs and a generous fistful of kettle chips. The commercial showed the whole monstrosity falling from the sky like some great bounty of cardiac arrest-inducing harvest. Move over Whoppers and Big Macs, there's a new artery clogger in town. Even I, a lover of junk food who can Chex Mix it up with the best of them, was left thinking: what the what? I felt like my cholesterol went up just from looking at that beef behemoth. As my grandmother would have said, "Lord have mercy, now I have seen it all."

But I was wrong, because it was just a few days later (when my gag reflex had all but calmed down) when a friend asked if I had seen Pizza Hut's newest creation: the pizza with the mini hot dog crust. The need for this product is clearly for those who don't consume enough calories from regular pizza, and ergo have to supplement their intake and their sodium consumption with something wholesome and nutritious like mini hotdogs. (And please rest assured, the photo of that mutant pizza came from Google images, not from my kitchen. I have some standards, although they be low at times).
If that one didn't exactly whet your appetite, you should think about heading to Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Delaware, the home of of the "donut dog." Created by the folks at Krispy Kreme, this concoction takes the ballpark staple hotdog and tops it with bacon and raspberry jam, snuggled in a sugar-glazed doughnut bun. If you like food that has a real potential to kill you, this could be your weapon of choice.

I'm sure I'm showing my age with this, but I remember back in the good ol' days when Dairy Queen's chicken strip basket (you know, the one with the cream gravy, fries, and Texas toast) won the title of most fattening fast food meal. Now, with a mere 1,340 calories, it should probably appear on the light and fit menu.  I remember the days when we ate Oreo cookies just because they were chocolate and vanilla cream and a little bit bad for us, but just so dang delicious. Now, the fine folks at Oreo have to keep us happy and hungry with flavors like watermelon, red velvet, birthday cake, and s'mores (which, in my humble marketing opinion should have been called s'mOreos--a missed opportunity on the part of Nabisco if you ask me). All of a sudden, Little Caesar's is wrapping pizzas in bacon, and Applebee's contribution to the obesity epidemic is to offer unlimited free french fry refills--because Americans need access to all the fried foods we can possibly eat, right?

Aside from the obvious fact that the world has gone crazy, I think this full-on feeding frenzy has to be a rebellion against the barrage of healthy eating tips and trends that are constantly being pushed on us these days. I mean really, when is kale finally going to go away? People across America are saying, I see your organic, gluten-free lifestyle, and I raise you these chili smothered fries with extra Cheez Whiz. Yoga pant-clad people everywhere are running away from tofu and toward totchos (which, if you were not yet aware, are just like traditional nachos, with one very important twist: instead of tortilla chips, they are smothered tater tots).

Even the timeless Bloody Mary has been affected by this gusto for gluttony. Since the cocktail was invented in the 1930s, it has typically been garnished with a simple celery stalk, occasionally to be spruced up with a couple of olives or some pickled okra. Over the last few years, the Bloody Mary bar has become increasingly popular; it's basically a salad bar for booze that allows imbibers to hot sauce and garnish to their heart's content. Sunday, an episode of Food Network's show The Kitchen showed Bloody Marys garnished with an entire beef slider...a drink and a snack, as they called it. And with very little effort, I found this monstrosity on Pinterest:

Have. Mercy.

By my count, that's a pizza, four pieces of fried chicken, a double cheeseburger, onion rings, a sub sandwich, olives, pickles, fries, garlic bread, a jalapeno...and another smaller Bloody Mary. I think I'm having chest pains just from typing all that out. What's next? Years ago, Her Majesty Queen of Butter Paula Deen made my blood sugar quiver with her bread pudding recipe, made from doughnuts and sweetened condensed milk. By these trendy new junk food standards, that's practically health food.

Why don't we get rid of all those plain hamburger buns and replace them with two miniature pizzas instead? How much longer before we get rid of tomato sauce on pizzas--all those icky vegetables--and start using gravy or bacon grease? Is there a think tank somewhere working on increased, better uses for corn dogs? Why, despite all our advances in science and technology, does ranch dressing still seem to remain so underutilized? And excuse me, but why is there fruit in my banana split? Wouldn't that concoction taste better if we ditched the actual bananas and put hotdogs or sausages in there instead? These ideas are, of course, just a springboard toward more sinful snacking. I'm sure if America keeps going at its current rate and in the same decadent direction, we can find all kinds of delicious ways to shorten our life spans and rid the food pyramid of those pesky fruits and vegetables once and for all.

Now, pass the totchos. All this talk about gluttony has made me hungry.