Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Let It Snow

Overnight, the city of Charlotte was dusted with about one inch of snow. In typical Southern fashion, the city screeched to a halt and schools were promptly delayed and/or canceled. Winter weather advisories scrolled across every television screen in town, and weathermen went into overtime talking about cold fronts, arctic blasts, and the possibility of black ice (which is, below the Mason-Dixon line, the equivalent of the boogie man).

I had to laugh at the pictures I saw posted on Facebook. Sweet little Southern children attempting to make snow angels in what looked like a bag of spilled flour on the ground. Snowmen made with more pine needles and leaves than actual snow. Puffy snowsuits and sturdy boots standing on barren ground, throwing "snowballs" the size of acorns. It's not just the weather to us--it is an event. Any Southerner worth their salt knows how to turn pretty much anything into a party, and snow days are no different.

My friend Whitney's son, enjoying a Georgia snow day.
What he lacks in snow, he makes up for in technique!
Millie and Myles managed to make themselves a snowman.
Granted, he doesn't have a lot of (frozen) ground to stand on....

Meanwhile, the Northeast has gotten a giant dose of winter weather--the mayor of Boston had to make a public announcement last week asking residents to please stop jumping out of second story windows into piles of snow in what people were calling the #BostonBlizzardChallenge. While it was fun (and hilarious), apparently it was a waste of the efforts of first responders, who had actual emergencies with which to contend.

This is another example of the differences between the North (the snow capable) and the South (who are paralyzed by frozen precipitation of any kind--snow-capped, if you will). When people in New York or Ohio hear predictions of snow, they check to make sure they have batteries in their flashlights, snow tires and chains for their cars, and firewood. Of course, down here, we revert to what we always do when we are happy, sad, excited, bored, or stressed: food. Every Southerner worth their salt knows that a winter weather forecast equals a BME alert: bread, milk, and eggs. Or, in more modern day cases, junk food, sweet treats, and wine. Hey, if we are going to have 1/8 inch of slippery stuff, we need sustenance to see us through. And let's not forget about snow cream: I'm not sure whose idea it was to add heavy cream and sugar to snow to make a sweet treat, but if we can manage to collect a bowl of frozen precipitation around here without grass clippings in it, snow cream is happening. (In the event that we can't, Mayfield makes Snow Cream Ice Cream just for that purpose.)

We don't meant to act so foolishly whenever a handful of the white stuff (there is a Saturday Night Live skit that rightly refers to it as "the devil's dandruff") starts to fall; it's just that we see snow so infrequently down here in Dixie that we get flurry flustered. My little dog doesn't really know what the heck snow is, and my husband has never, ever been sledding. Growing up, there was really no need for waterproof boots since our winters were generally mild, and I vividly remember my mom putting sandwich bags on our feet over our socks, so that we could put on our regular shoes and still play in the snow without "catching your death of a cold." Rest assured that anytime the temperature drops below 60 degrees, Southern women don their mink coats to stave off the frigid air.

The vast majority of us don't own generators, very few even have snow shovels, and none of us have any idea how to drive in the icy stuff. Most things shutdown--in fact, it's easier to just be notified of what's actually open since we know it's not schools or government entities, and no one is expected to do much of anything until the ground thaws out again. I've already decided that (among other reasons), it is by the grace of God I don't live in a state with large amounts of snowfall: I would be the most sedentary, overfed, atrophied individual ever. I just can't stand the thought of trying to carry on a normal life when it's that cold outside. When the weatherman says to take the necessary precautions, I assume he means watching a marathon of Lifetime movies and systematically eating all the food in the entire house. After all, don't survival guides tell you to conserve your energy when facing the elements?

There is another band of winter weather moving our way, and the Charlotte area is supposed to get somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five inches of snow by Thursday morning. As for me, I plan to dig myself out of this layer of white powder barely covering my driveway and head out for supplies: Chex Mix, gossip magazines, a back-up case of Diet Coke (just to be safe). Because if there's one thing we can all agree on, no matter where you live, it's that the key to surviving severe winter weather is being well-prepared.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Valentine's Day Was Out To Get You

Have you seen those commercials that have been endlessly running for the $100 giant teddy bear? The one claiming it is "every woman's wish this Valentine's Day?" It's just a sad example of how retailers everywhere are out to dupe poor men into sabotaging themselves on a romantic holiday. You aren't imagining it, people: Valentine's Day is out to get you.

It's never going to happen.
You see, no matter what you do, the hype is too great. Expectations are too high. Every gift, action, word, and look is over-analyzed. Valentine's Day is the great kyptonite of a relationship. Women are bombarded with all these supposed romantic images: candlelit dinners, black velvet boxes with sparkly jewels inside, chilled bottles of champagne at the ready. The truth of the matter is that the only men who give diamonds for Valentine's Day are those with a guilty conscience, all the restaurants are overbooked and overpriced on February 14, and you are being set up for bitter disappointment. Despite what ads would have you believe, if your Valentine's Day includes a shirtless man lying on a bearskin rug in front of a cozy fireplace, you're either dating Fabio or you've wandered onto the set of an Old Spice commercial.

I am an idealist: a dreamer who has visions of grandeur and hopes of perfection. Hence, I learned the cold, hard truth about Valentine's Day a long time ago. For example, a guy I dated in college planned a special Valentine hike for me, back in my coed days. Anyone who has ever met me has undoubtedly gleaned that my idea of a hike is walking up a sloped parking lot to enter a store. There is nothing romantic about practical shoes, dirt, and physical exertion. The best part of that day was when he mercifully dropped me off at my dorm and the day was over. I took a long, hot shower and tried to scrub away the disappointment that was seeping from my every pore.

What did you do on Valentine's Day 2002? I'm willing to bet that you don't remember. We've been together for fifteen of these treacherous Valentine holidays, and honestly, many of them I don't recall. There are a few fond memories I can conjure up, for the sake of storytelling. The first Valentine's Day we were married, we were seriously strapped for cash and seriously over the diet and fitness plan we had been on for a year getting into shape for our wedding. The result: we wound up at Olive Garden. The only thing I remember is a dessert called chocolate lasagna, which absolutely did not disappoint--so at least there's that.

The second year, Clint gave me a card with a fart joke and a pair of shoes--sensible shoes, at that! I don't need to tell you that the holiday did not go well for him, as my emotions went from tears to rage and may or may not have resulted in him sleeping on the couch. A couple of weeks later (and after much searching in the newspapers and online), he redeemed himself with the best Valentine's gift I ever got: a little one and half pound bichon frise puppy. Order was restored and the fart joke card was all but forgotten.

This little fur ball was the gift that keeps on giving.

Then there was the year we got all fancy and decided to try the five-course meal at a restaurant in our neighborhood that everyone raves about. It was way over our budget, but I had some "I love you" money that my granddaddy had given me and thought it would be a fun splurge for us on a romantic holiday occasion. I don't remember what our argument was about over dinner, but I do remember that it started during the first course--which was beet salad (seriously, why beets?)--and it caused us to eat the remainder of the meal in tense silence. Suffering through four more courses in a restaurant that seats 20 will put a real strain on your evening. Personally, I think we should have gotten a discount for being the entertainment portion of the meal. I wonder how many of the couples who dined with us left saying, "Well at least we aren't that couple?"

Several years ago, we got all adventurous and went snow tubing in Asheville with some friends. Cheaply naively, we decided to share a hotel room, just the four of us. The symphony of snoring that played all night long was not, in fact, music to my ears. You never really know someone until you live with them, or share a tiny Hilton Garden Inn hotel room. By Sunday morning, my nerves were so jangled I faked a sore throat so that we could get on the road a few hours early and get away from them get back home. And so we spent that Valentine's Day eating frozen pizza and watching the movie Couples Retreat (Stancil and Stancil give it a solid two thumbs down rating, FYI).

I racked my brain to remember what in the world we did last year. When I came up empty, I realized it was probably because there was no bickering to color our night and no questionable gifts to reflect upon--we have mercifully decided to stop giving Valentine gifts and just exchange cards. It takes away a lot of pressure and greatly decreases the likelihood of domestic violence at our house. Anyway, after searching the dark recesses of my mind, it turns out we went to Brio for dinner. I can't think of what we ate, or if it was good, but I do remember that the bartender gave me my dirty martini for free, which I do believe was the highlight of the evening. If you ever doubted that Cupid is stupid, that should be proof positive: two blue cheese-stuffed olives and a chilled martini glass were the pinnacle of the holiday.

Even with Valentine's reduced to the simple exchanging of the cards, there are still plenty of opportunities for it to sabotage your seemingly happy life. Inevitably, if I get Clint a funny card, he will show up with one that is incredibly thoughtful, sweet, and conveys the perfect sentiment. I feel shallow. The occasions I've shown up with a serious, tender card, he's gotten me one that's funny and I feel mushy and embarrassed. Pretty soon, we're going to be down to only dinner--no cards, no gifts, no fuss, no muss. Life is too short for all this pressure for grand romantic gestures.

This year, after the exchanging of the cards (he went funny but still sweet, I went sweet but still funny, win-win), we endured one of the longest, slowest, least tasty, most taxing meals of our lives. I'm not sure which was worse, the service or our food, but let's just say that our Valentine dinner left us so defeated, we didn't even order dessert. We were that anxious to put the whole fiasco behind us. You know your dining experience has been less than stellar when you stop off for a Snickers bar on your way home. By 9:45, we were back on the couch, in our pajamas, watching Netflix. Some enchanted evening.

The moral of this story is that the chocolates will make you fat, the overpriced flowers will promptly wither away, and all that will be left of Valentine's Day is the wave of relationship destruction that Cupid loves to spread. My advice is to hope for the best, expect the worst, don't believe any of the bragging you read on Facebook, and revel in the fact that there's almost a full year before that little troublemaker Cupid comes around again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love At Second Sight

My first date with my now-husband did not go well. To say it wasn't exactly love at first sight would be an accurate statement; I prefer to think that, for me, it was love at second sight.

Clint and I were set up on a blind date...by our mothers. You see, our moms had been college roommates, and when they reconnected after many years, they were excited to discover that they had children who were practically the same age. They were even more excited to discover that neither of us was seriously dating anyone, and so their matchmaking began.

At first, I wouldn't even take his phone calls. It was my last year at Clemson and frankly, I was sick of dating. All I wanted was to fully enjoy the last, carefree days of college and not be saddled with the same date to every party. I think Clint called about two dozen times before I finally answered. He will tell you that it became such a game, he stubbornly decided to just keep at it to see if I would eventually wear down. If it weren't for my friend Katie, who finally threw down the ultimatum that someone in our apartment was going to answer that phone, and someone in our apartment was going to date Clint, and she didn't care if it was me or if it was her, I would probably have missed the boat all together. But she convinced me to at least take his phone call, and then the situation further spiraled out my control when I found myself agreeing to go on a date. And so it began.

You already know I didn't want to like this poor guy. He drove all the way from Atlanta to Toccoa to pick me up, and then went an extra 30 minutes out of the way to the Italian restaurant I suggested. Over dinner, his nerves (coupled with the fact that he was also a college-age male) obviously made him thirsty, because he ordered not one, not two, but three vodka tonics during the course of our meal. For a first date, that's a fair amount of cocktailing. I could hardly wait to go home and report this fact to my Southern Baptist mother. Take that, matchmakers.

We left dinner and headed to the movie theater. Ever the gentleman, Clint let me choose what to see. I looked over the movie posters and tried to find the least romantic, most offensive movie playing, and hence chose American Pie. That's right, I took my mother's friend's khaki-pants-and loafers-wearing son to see THAT. While we were standing in the lobby waiting for the theater to open for seating, a man happened to pass by who, shall we say, was a tattoo enthusiast. I made some snarky comment about how "classy" that was, at which point my date lifted the hem of his khakis and showed me the inside of his ankle, complete with...a tattoo of his very own (his fraternity letters, lest anyone think it might be a flaming arrow or a heart with "Mom" inked inside it). I was horrified, and immediately tried to cover myself by telling him what a tasteful choice his particular inking was. Needless to say, I did not foresee a second date in our future. Which was absolutely, positively, fine and dandy with me. If you're keeping score, that's Susie-2, matchmakers-0.

After the movie, he drove me back to my parents' house and--in a manner that I would find out later was completely and totally out of character for the boy--talked my ear off. I wanted the date to be over, wanted this blind date to leave, and I could practically hear the clock ticking above the mantel in our living room as he chatted on and on...and on. As he wound down, he mentioned that he and some friends were going to see Willie Nelson in concert the next weekend and he had an extra ticket if I would like to go. I was on the spot, and I couldn't think of a way out. The sheer length of the evening had worn my resistance down. I said yes. And spent the next week complaining about getting myself into this second date situation. I told anyone that would listen I would see this guy one more time and that was it. Ah, the best laid plans.

Our second date went swimmingly well. We saw Willie play at Chastain Park in Atlanta, and enjoyed a fantastic dinner on a white linen tablecloth with candles while he played under a warm, summer sky. I couldn't help but notice that my date had impeccable manners: he stood up when I left the table, opened doors, and even had a handkerchief at the ready when I spilled something on myself. The odds of me finding a way to clumsily get dirty are high; the odds of a 22-year old fraternity boy having a handkerchief to remedy the situation is slim to none. I took it as a sign, and I was completely smitten.

Here we are in 1999 on our third date, and by that point, we were both actually glad to be there.

That was over 15 years ago. I wound up marrying that tattooed, allegedly vodka-swilling, loafer-wearing Southern gentleman (he proposed onstage at--you guessed it--a Willie Nelson concert), and it's a good thing he had more foresight than I did and didn't give up, not after trying to call me 25 times, and not after a fiasco first date. They say love is blind; sometimes it's also farsighted and a bit hazy. You might have to look again for it to come into focus.

Since that first date, we graduated college, honeymooned, moved to a new state, bought our first house, got a family dog. We've traveled near and far, from Dollywood to Hawaii and New York to California, and we're about to add Italy to our list of visited places in a few weeks. We've grown up (some), and we've also done our fair share of kidding around. The boy I didn't really want to date has put up with hormones, hot rollers, and hissy fits. I'm still putting my foot in my mouth, forever needing his handkerchief, and going along for the ride when Willie Nelson is playing. And when he's running late (most of the time), when we disagree (less often as the years go by), or when he's taking forever to finish one of those home improvement projects of his, I just remind myself: give him a break, and take a second look.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Our toilet has been sitting in our garage for a month, and I still don't envision it moving back into the house any time soon. We are in the throes of yet another home improvement project, or D-I-Why? as I like to call it. Well, actually, I don't like calling it anything, except done. But it will be awhile before I get to make that pronouncement. Let me explain.

Basically, there is no project in existence that Clint isn't confident enough to undertake; even if he's never done it, heard of it, or thought about it, Mr. Fix It is always 100% sure he can tackle the task at hand. While I certainly admire his ambition, I don't always share his enthusiasm for these adventures in home improvement. This latest fiasco endeavor started when he came home with this:

Egad. To most, that appears to be nothing more than a harmless (if boring) hardcover book. However, after years of do-it-yourself fun at my house, I know that Tiling 1-2-3 is actually the beginning of a nightmare. For starters, nothing at the Stancil house is as easy as 1-2-3. If you literally attempt to count to three at my house, before you reach "2," the phone will ring, the dog will bark or throw up, and something will inevitably break or stop working and demand immediate attention. Tiling 1-2-3, plus about a zillion more steps. Let me break this project down for you by the more realistic numbers.

1: One somewhat massive anxiety attack hit me when I saw the state of our bathroom after the tile had been ripped out. If you want to make a man giddy with excitement, forget lingerie and move straight to demolition work. And if you enjoy banging, clanging, crumbling, and clattering, the demo portion of a renovation will be a virtual symphony to your ears. After several days of chiseling away at 1970s sunny yellow tile, here is what our gutted bathroom came to look like (deep, calming breaths):

2: That's the number of weekends my contractor (i.e. hubby) told me this little job would take. The actual run time, as of now, is 4 weekends and 3 vacation days from work. And there is still work left to do, so the timer keeps running....

3: The loss count on hand towels ruined. Now, you can buy all the rags and cloths your handyman heart desires at the hardware store, but where's the fun in that? Clint thought no fun at all, and so he grabbed a handful of towels from our linen closet and used them for his cleanup needs after he put up drywall in the bathroom. I can report from experience that laundering said towels does not seem to do much good in removing waterproofing compound, which I found out the hard way several days later when I used what I thought was a perfectly clean towel to wipe my face while exercising--and immediately felt like someone had set my face on fire. What are a few towels and a face rash when you are blitzing your way through Tiling 1-2-3?

47: Approximate number of trips to Home Depot to acquire needed supplies for this simple undertaking. He goes, he buys, he comes home, broods, and returns. He exchanges, he rents, he makes new lists, he buys again. It's really more like Home-Away-From-Home Depot in our case.

321: I'm not one to brag, but I used my superior math skills to guesstimate this one. You see, every time Clint needed to cut a tile for his washroom masterpiece, he walked through the den and outside to the wet saw about three times. Multiply that by around 107 tiles that needed to be cut, and it's my educated guess that he came in and out of house 321 times during the course of laying that dazzling new tile. I thought about installing a revolving door, but that would require starting yet another project. I don't think it is any coincidence that this number--321--is the exact opposite of 1-2-3, do you?

XLIX (49): That's the number of the Super Bowl, which Clint missed in its entirety whilst working away in our 5 foot x 5 foot bathroom. Here's another number--$50--that's the cost per day of renting the wet saw, and after three days, he was bound and determined to get that tile cut and have that saw back at Home-Away-From-Home Depot by 7:00 a.m. Monday morning. He finished at midnight on Sunday, and we are both pleased to report that the saw was returned in a prompt, if not cheerful, fashion.

There are a few other wonderful facets of this tiling venture that numbers simply can't describe. For example, I would have to guess that infinity is the number of times I have dusted in an effort to rid our house of the white, chalky powder that is covering every surface. I feel like Rosie from the Jetsons, just a robotic, Swiffering, dust-hating fool. As soon as I finish and begin to feel some sense of satisfaction, I look back at where I started and once again, it looks like someone cleaned chalkboard erasers over my entire home (I'm pre-dating myself here, back to the school days before dry erase boards took over).

During this renovation, we are also sharing a bathroom--how did we do it in our little apartment the first years we were married? We both forgot the joys of waiting your turn, of sharing counter space, and trying to cram everyone's body wash/face wash/shampoo/favorite bath products all on that one little shelf in the shower. I found myself saying things like, "help yourself to my favorite cranberry soap that is only available once a year" and (my personal favorite), "I hope you were through with the used BandAid you left in the soap dish? Because I threw it away." I'm genuinely amazed that any one person could manage to get toothpaste in so many places; I picture the man dancing around the bathroom, flailing his electric toothbrush in an effort to spatter paint all four walls as heavily as possible. If I weren't the one to clean it all up, I would be impressed by the artistry. They say if you love something, set it free and all that. Hooey. If you love something, share a bathroom with it. If you still love it two days later, your love is eternal.

But we've made progress (right?). We're getting there (aren't we?). Last night, Clint actually reinstalled the bathroom door, so at least I can close this DIWhy delight off from the rest of the house and enjoy some out of sight, out of mind time.  I know you are on the edge of your seat, so here is the current status of the bathroom:

It's coming right along, don't you think? All that's left is some painting, some trim work, maybe putting the toilet back in....In the meantime, I'm learning to love the look of our other bathroom. That avocado green tile I always hated has grown on me, and I think I'll keep it for a while. Or forever. But I know that if I change my mind and want to start up another project, there is a resident handyman who is ready, willing, and able. Just as soon as he gets back from his trip to Home Depot.