Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Being Southern in the Winter

It was 26 degrees this morning when I walked the dog. I wasn't even sure I could move at such a frigid temperature, but we managed a half hour stroll before I came home to warm up my numb, frozen limbs (as a side note, little blind 13 year-old dogs never get in a hurry no matter how cold; their odometers are perpetually pegged out at "amble"). Then I saw a friend on Facebook was in Wisconsin and it was -5 degrees and I had one thought: I can't. I couldn't. Ever.

There have been many times the hubby and I have been watching TV or a movie and the setting is some remote, frozen tundra covered in snow, one of those places where frostbite sets in after a few minutes of exposure. One of us will inevitably comment, "I would weigh 300 pounds if I lived somewhere like that. I could never leave the house, and I would just sit inside and eat." And the other person chimes in, "I would be stuck-in-a-bathtub fat." Doesn't that paint a lovely mental picture?

We had only lived in Charlotte for a couple of winters when we encountered the great snowstorm of February 2004. In one day, almost a foot of snow accumulated, and over the course of two days, Charlotte had nearly two feet of snow. The dog--a young pup at that point--could not have been happier, even though only the top of his tail was visible when he hopped along the drifts, investigating this curious situation. As much as I wanted to delight--I had never seen this much fluffy white precipitation in all my Georgia-dwelling life--it freaked me out. A lot. What if this was a common occurrence in the city where we had moved? Is this what winter would bring in North Carolina? Thankfully, that was a very uncharacteristic winter, or the chances are high that I might be stuck in my bathtub from sheer shut-in gluttony.

February 2004, and all that snow!

You see, we Southerners just aren't cut out for the cold. We were made for porch sitting, sunny days at the lake (or better still, the beach), and asphalt hot enough to fry an egg. We can cope just fine with 100% humidity and mosquitoes the size of your fist, ergo we expect not to be troubled by sleet, ice, and frigid conditions. Winter hats are not conducive to our big hair, after all. Our feet are accustomed to traipsing around barefoot or in flip flops, not trudging on slick surfaces in clunky boots. And while I own about a dozen cute coats in every color, pattern, and length, I think maybe one of them may actually be warm...which was a side effect and not the main reason for purchase, I can assure you.

Growing up in northeast Georgia, we only got snow once a year, if at all. That meant no need for fancy frills like snow boots. Rather, whenever we got enough flurries to warrant sledding or outdoor playing, my mom would put sandwich bags on our feet, over our socks, and then put on our regular shoes. Our thanks to the fine family of Glad products for keeping us dry-footed and all-weather ready during the winter months. Nothing says we aren't geared up for the cold and ice quite like sporting sandwich bags on your feet.

You see,  we don't do winter down here. The best we can hope for is an inch or so dusting of snow, which will immediately and completely shut down every business, school, and government operation in the entire city, along with half the roads. Then we are free to play outside in the winter wonderland for approximately a half hour before coming in to the heat to enjoy the comfort foods we are so good at preparing. Southerners enjoy snow the most from the other side of a window, where it's warm and dry and cozy (and there are beverages and snacks).

We have a certain way we carry ourselves in the winter. Watch any good Southerner walk out into brisk temperatures and you will notice we all adopt the same "turtle" posture: shoulders hunched forward, head pulled down as far into our coats, scarves, and other winter accessories as we can manage while still keeping some type of field of vision. We want out of the elements as quickly as possible, and are reduced to just hurried head nods in passing rather than our usual hospitable greetings and small talk. It's a total departure from our normal way of life, this winter thing we have to contend with--especially when we're talking about what the weatherman labels "extreme cold." I personally believe the extreme part of that moniker refers to the lengths we will go to down South to avoid such bone-chilling, arctic conditions.

The forecast for Charlotte this weekend is calling for snow--a whopping one to three inches, which to a Southerner equates to a blizzard. The bread and milk sections of the grocery store are all but empty, and I'm bracing myself for some treacherous dog walks. I just hope I have some sandwich bags big enough for my feet.

Being Southern in the Winter, Exhibit A: How We Shop
Being Southern in the Winter, Exhibit B: How We Drive

Bundle up and stay warm out there, y'all! See you on the other (warmer) side!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Party Like It's 1981 (Almost)

"Party like it's 1981!" 1981 was, after all, the year that the Tigers won their national title, and that has been the mantra of so many Clemson fans over the last several weeks, leading up to the national championship playoff game. Our Tigers had an undefeated season and topped it off with an Orange Bowl victory, leaving them at 14-0, with one very important game left to play.

Against my better cheapskate judgement, we spent part of our New Year's Eve buying our tickets and booking our trip to sunny Phoenix, Arizona. As my husband so tactfully pointed out, the last time Clemson won "the natty," I was only 3 years old, so this isn't exactly something that comes around for us every day. And even thought we didn't win the grand prize, we had a great time--and I learned a few things along the way:

First, it doesn't come cheap. No seriously, I'm not using that as a bad cliche for all the hard work and perseverance that goes into making it all the way to the national championship game. I mean literally: everything associated with the event is SO expensive! Practically every attendee was wearing it as a badge of honor, a type of battle scar to compare with other savings account-ravaged travelers. Those who got a deal on game tickets confessed that they were awestruck at what they paid for airfare, and vice versa. Rewards points, hard negotiations, airline miles, favors from name it, Clemson fans bargained with it. And it was absolutely, positively, worth every penny--but more on that in a bit.

At least it died for a noble cause, right?

Clemson people take their wardrobe very seriously. I was amazed and honestly, delighted, at the sea of orange everywhere we went. The airport in Charlotte as well as in Phoenix, was a site to behold, with about 9 out of 10 people clad in orange, purple, Tiger paws, and the new, popular Bring Your Own Guts merchandise. Everywhere we went, it looked like game day on campus. And this continued for the duration of our trip, which means many of you have a Clemson wardrobe so spectacular that it can continue for a duration of four or more days without any interruption. Very impressive, indeed. I'd like to take this moment share with you two of the more creative game day outfits that I particularly enjoyed:

This outfit gets bonus points when you consider the fact that this diehard walked around all day in the desert heat, full sun exposure, with a smile on his face in a plush onesie. That's real dedication.

For me, Clemson is as close to heaven as a girl can get, so a Clemson Pope seems like a natural fit.

There is such a thing as too much Mexican food. Frankly, this one shocked me right to my core. My family has often joked that I need an IV drip of salsa in order to sustain life, but four days of southwestern influenced fare may have temporarily cured me. Don't get me wrong: it was delicious, but the good people of Phoenix are eager to flavor every bite of food you might ingest with salsa, pico de gallo, green chilies and the like. The morning of the game, we enjoyed a fantastic brunch at a delicious place called Snooze before beginning our tailgating. We were some happy diners with huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos, and spicy Bloody Marys.

Breakfast of (near) champions at Snooze Eatery, Phoenix.

For our last dinner in Phoenix, we went to Aunt Chilada's, a Mexican restaurant housed in a hacienda that dates back to the 1870s. There, I discovered fideo--which is basically short cut Mexican spaghetti. It was a fantastic side item to my chicken chimichanga, and so much better than the rice that typically lingers on your plate at most Mexican restaurants. However, by the time we reached the airport Wednesday for our flight home, I was ready to leave the world of tacos, burritos, and chilies behind (for a little while, anyway). I forced down one last breakfast burrito and bid Arizona hasta la vista. 

There's really nothing quite like the College Football National Championship. I've talked to people who have been to the Kentucky Derby, the U.S. Open, the Final Four, the Masters--you name it--and the unanimous opinion is that the national championship game is the best experience of them all. The excitement was palpable, and there were so many wonderful stories and moments leading up to this final game that the experience was exciting and unique. There were parties and concerts, tailgates, and old college friends reunited.

My friend John and his wife live in Charlotte, too, but we saw them more in Phoenix than we have in a year at home!

There was so much excitement in the air walking into University of Phoenix stadium at sunset.

Here come the Tigers! What a game!

Maybe we didn't exactly get to party like it was 1981, but that's not the only number to consider, Tigers. This season brought about 14 wins, 4 Sports Illustrated magazine covers, a top 3 finalist for the Heisman trophy, and--probably my favorite of all--2,000 proud and cheering fans waiting at Death Valley when their team returned home from Arizona Tuesday night. Even if it's not 1981 all over again, this was still a season to celebrate. 

A "C" of orange faithful waiting for the Clemson football team to return home. 

What a great time to be a Clemson Tiger! Thanks to our team and our fans for an amazing, joyful season, and you'd better believe we will 'CU' next fall!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

What I Really Wanted

Let me take you back a bit to the year 1983: the clothes were neon, the hair was huge, and the Care Bear craze was sweeping the nation. Every kid imaginable was going gaga over these plush little bears with their personality insignia on their bellies--cute and clever little bears like Tenderheart Bear, Grumpy Bear, Funshine Bear...and my personal favorite, Cheer Bear. That little hot pink bear with a rainbow on his belly was what my five-year old heart was set on for Christmas. There was but one small problem with this wish: those bears were near impossible to come by. Highly coveted, unbelievably scarce, and more popular than Tickle Me Elmo would ever dare to dream. And so, my mother did the best she could with what she had to work with. Imagine my reaction on Christmas day, when I looked under the tree and found this from Santa:

Not exactly cuddle worthy, was it?

Your eyes do not deceive you. What I got that year, instead of a fur-ever friend to sleep and play and cuddle with, was a Cheer Bear mug fit for apple juice and the like. I took one look at it and tried to explain to my mom, "That's not really what I wanted." "Sure it is," my mom reassured me. After all, what kid doesn't want a coffee mug for Christmas? She continued her hard sell every single morning when she presented Cheer Bear in ceramic form with my breakfast.

That mug incident began a kind of tradition with me as far as gifts are concerned. Don't get me wrong: I live a pretty charmed life, but when it comes time to tear off the gift wrap and getting down to present time, things can get a little dicey. (I can practically hear my friend Holly saying, as she is known to do, "Shop the list, people! Do not deviate from the list!") Apparently, the things I want either do not exist or they are typically difficult to find. I know I can be a very particular gal, but the heart wants what it wants--and sometimes, close just doesn't count.

There was the year I graduated from college, and I had seen the most beautifully framed diplomas in a shop window downtown--the diploma was matted along with a picture of an iconic building on Clemson campus. Be still my heart. Instead, I opened a snap-together, do-it-yourself kit with instructions to insert my diploma right below a pencil sketch of the same building. This Lego diploma frame was fine, and it got the job done, but it wasn't what I really wanted.

Poor Clint, over the years, has stumbled into the not-what-I-really-want trap as well. I truly believe he reads my wish list, and has good intentions of procuring the things on said list, and somewhere in the execution he loses his mind and things fall apart. I tend to open things that are sort of/nearly/almost/it's the thought that counts versions of what I had my heart set on...but not what I really wanted. I will spare the specifics, because after over 13 years of exchanging gifts, I believe he has suffered enough.

Christmas went that way for me this year, almost completely. I wound up with a large pile of returns, and kept a necklace and a book (clearly, the plan is for me to be well accessorized while catching up on my reading). And one more very important thing: you see, my mom told me when we got to her house that there was a special surprise for me waiting in my room. And after 32 years, do you know what I finally got?

That, my friends, in case you didn't know, is Cheer Bear! You can just feel how his plush, cheerful, adorable self was all the frenzied rage in the 80s, right? I squealed when I saw him, picked him up in a tight hug, and for a rare moment enjoyed telling everyone about my gift: "It's exactly what I really wanted!"

So if you are a member of the not-what-I-really-wanted club, don't lose hope. Keep making your list, dreaming your dreams, and putting on a brave gift opening face. Because some day--maybe even 32 years later--I hope you get everything you really want.