Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hot Flash

Published in the Miami News-Record on January 31, 2016 

I have a lot of confidence in my cooking and baking abilities and know my way around a kitchen quite well, thank you very much. But last week, I was a hot mess in the kitchen. Kind of literally.

I had decided to boil a chicken for a few meals over the next few days. I wanted a lot of broth so I used my big pot and filled it kind of full. Once the hen got to boiling in her hot tub full of onions and celery, the broth would occasionally splash out a little. I tried to keep things cleaned up on the stove as she boiled, but apparently, I missed some. Okay, like, a whole lot of it.

Since Paul works evening shift now, we eat our biggest meal of the day at noon when the four of us are home together. It has taken some adjusting to and even still I find myself busy with laundry or school or housework, will look up and realize it’s nearly time for Sam to be home from vo-tech and I haven’t started a thing. I guess I’m a slow learner.

And that was the case last week when I looked up from taking down that last Christmas tree. Oh, who am I kidding. That tree’s still up. Anyway, when I looked up from my crossword puzzle, I realized it was way past when I needed to start the chicken pot pie for lunch. I peeled my potatoes and put them on to give boil a little to soften them up before putting them in the pie. I was rolling out my pie crust, my back to the stove, when I heard this “WHOOSH!” sound – you know, that unmistakable sound of something catching fire. Apparently, while I did a great job cleaning the stovetop the night before, I kind of forgot about checking the drip pan underneath the burner and chicken broth has just enough fat in it to be dramatically combustible.

I turned to see my lovely red Guy Fieri saucepan engulfed in flames. You know when you see something you can’t believe you’re seeing and you just stand there in a state of stupefaction and incomprehension as chaos just kind of happens? Yeah. I did that. And suddenly I was transported back to the Home Ec kitchen at Wyandotte High, standing there in my tight-rolled, acid-washed jeans, my bangs reaching to the heavens, while the stove flamed right before my eyes. And in that memory I saw Mrs. Johnson calmly reach for the baking soda and smother the flames like it happened every day of her life. (Truth be told, it probably did. She was a Home Ec teacher, after all.)
My brain kind of did a mental face-slap and I came back from 1988. As I bolted to the cabinet with the baking soda I hollered, “Pauly? Uhm….fire. My stove is on fire. Fire! FIRE! PAUL. MY. STOVE. IS. ON. FIRE.” I don’t think that man ever came up out of a recliner so fast in his life. And as he hit the kitchen he, too, did the whole deer-in-the-headlights freeze. I brushed past him, tossed baking soda at the flames, and we both just stood there staring at the powdery disaster that was now my stove.

 Once the mess was cleaned up I went ahead and continued on with the pot-pie-making. And it would’ve been Paula Deen perfect had I not opened the scoop-y part instead of the shake-y part of the paprika.

At lunch, while poking at it with his fork, Paul asked, “Why is the pot pie goop pink instead of the usual kind of…. yellow-ish color?”

It’s funny how one raised eyebrow can say so much and a query about pink pot pie goop suddenly becomes a non-issue.  It was a very quiet and peaceful lunch that day. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Another Year

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on January 24, 2016. 

I am writing this on my 43rd birthday. By the time you read this I’ll be 43 and three days. Remember when age was able to be broken down into increments? “I’m 15…and a half.” Or when your kids were little you’d proudly say, “She’s two and three quarters.” At the age I am now, 43 is 43 for an entire year and there is really no point in halving it or quartering it. It is what it is: old.  

Being a January baby, it usually snows on my birthday. Sometimes it’s just rain. I think I can only recall maybe three years out of 43 that it hasn’t precipitated on my birthday. This year, as I look out the office window, I see…..bleh. There is  just enough moisture in the air to glaze the world with a dangerous sheet of ice – a scary thing for a woman who is at a stage in life where she is genuinely concerned about breaking a hip.

The first time I met one of my best friends in the world, the girl who would be my sidekick (and I, hers) for many a year, was at my 5th birthday party. Mom opened the front door to behold a brown-eyed neighbor girl named DeLisa who was standing under a yellow umbrella with her mom in a torrential downpour.  We remain friends to this day. 38 years. I haven’t even known my husband that long.

It was probably my 8th or 9th birthday that school was canceled due to a major snow storm. I was devastated because school birthday parties rocked. You got to skip that last subject of the day, your mom brought cookies or cupcakes and Koolade, and you usually got to be the first “doggie” in a game of “Doggie, Doggie, Who Has the Bone?” To soothe the disappointment of having to stay home, Mom sat me up behind the loveseat at the sliding glass door with all of my Strawberry Shortcakes and gave me a present every hour. By day’s end, I was getting individual outfits for the dolls, a shoe here, a hat there (they were probably part of a multi-pack, but I think Mom had to get creative after about ten hours of presents), but it remains one of my most memorable birthdays.

For my 11th birthday, my parents decided I was old enough to have a slumber party. Stacie, Chloe, Necia, the ever-present DeLisa, and I stayed up suuuuuuuper late (like, MIDNIGHT!) and began a tradition that lasted for many years: we drank soda from baby bottles. Do not ask me why. My kids have asked repeatedly and I cannot even begin to tell anyone why on earth that became a thing.  But I have photographs that seriously amuse my children regaling the entire weird thing. Thankfully, by the time we got to 9th grade we let that one go. Whew.

Birthdays have lost a little of their excitement as the years have gone by. When the kids were little I was showered with crayon drawings on construction paper, kisses, hugs, and promises to not fight with each other and pick up their toys. Paul has been good to try and always take me to dinner, even during the lean years when money was tight. Those were the years when McDonald’s was a treat. He’d even let me Super Size. I don’t find myself struggling to fall asleep the night before anymore – in fact, I was dozing in the recliner by 9:30 last night. I intended to slouch around the house all day long, but am on my way to put on a little makeup because Mom is insisting I have dinner out. And I was thinking that maybe later, I’ll round out this special day by taking down my last remaining Christmas tree. Hey, don’t judge me. We old folks forget things. And sometimes it’s things like 6-foot tall Christmas trees in their dining room. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Much Too Busy

Originally published in the Miami News-Record on January 17, 2016.

Most weeks I succeed in achieving my goal of not going off the place for days on end. And then sometimes I have weeks like the past couple where I find myself in town pretty much every dadgum day. I don’t like those weeks.

Homeschooling is a flexible adventure, but at the same time I like order and well, it’s their futures at stake, so yeah. We don’t take many days off. We don’t even take snow days as a general rule. (I know, I know, I’m awful, just ask the kids.) They’re in 8th and 11th grade, so most of their work is self-directed, but they still need me around to guide them and keep them from “accidentally” playing X-Box and Candy Crush when they’re supposed to be learning about percentages, Puritan settlements, and Moby Dick. The weeks I have appointments and errands, I leave them in the capable hands of their daddy who works evenings and is here to help during the day. Of course, he loves him some Candy Crush as well ….. but that’s a story for another day.

Week before last I ran to town on Tuesday to pick up a prescription for Paul. Then the next day I realized we had four car tags due (poor car-buying planning on our part), two of them overdue. I hauled myself back to town to pay the overdue tags because ignorance is bliss and the fact that I was suddenly aware of the overdue tags meant I just KNEW I’d get a ticket. The day after that I had a dentist appointment. Friday and Saturday I got to stay home and do laundry. Sunday was church, Abby’s boyfriend’s baptism, lunch with the family, more church. I had officially been to town more times in four days than I usually am in an entire month.

When I checked out the calendar on Sunday night and it showed a fairly easy week with lots of time at home. I was glad.

Then…this week happened. A homeschooling friend invited us over for lunch. I had forgotten about Kady’s orthodontist appointment. We spent a day in Tulsa at doctor’s appointments. I attended the visitation of a dear lady from a family that was a major part of my growing-up.

I was missing my house, my routine, my sweats, my husband. My heart was heavy. After the day in Tulsa I left Kady at Abby’s house while I attended the visitation and had plans to just get her and go home afterward. But Abby had had a bad week and I was kind of missing her so I said, “Be ready when I get back and we’ll all go grab dinner.”

No boyfriends, no husbands, just me and my girls. We sat at a corner table at Arby’s for much longer than it took to consume our food. We laughed. We solved the world’s problems. (Now to get the world to listen to us.) We laughed some more. We got a few dirty looks from people who were not having near the fun we were. At one point Kady made a face that prompted Abby to say, “You looked like a lion….if that lion were about to eat a deer…..and you were possessed by a demon….yeah, that’s what you just looked like.” I laughed so hard I nearly cried off my mascara.

I think much too often we get caught up in our exhaustion, our stresses, our schedules, and our running that we forget to slow down, breathe, soak up time with the people we adore the most, laugh loud enough to get weird looks, and just be loved. I didn’t know how desperately I needed that crazy dinner with my girls. And I’m looking forward to this week and a ridiculous amount of time in my sweats. And I hear my husband is still hanging around, anticipating seeing my face again soon. I remain hopeful. 

Stage Presence

Originally published in the Miami News -Record on January 10, 2016.

When I was a Junior, our school got a speech and debate program. I was no stranger to the stage what with me reciting Luke 2:12 proudly on the stage at Hudson Creek Baptist Church at the ripe old age of five and other church plays, skits, and the occasional special on Sunday morning. I was SO in when Mrs. Enoch and Mrs. Sharbutt suggested I be part of the team and went to state competition both years I was on it. I was also a busty Bertha Beaumont in our production of “Greater Tuna” my Senior year. I may be an introvert, but I have always LOVED being on stage.  

So when the pastor’s wife stood up in front of the church one October Sunday and said she’d be in the foyer after the service with a sign-up sheet for the church Christmas play I nearly got filled with the Spirit right there before the offering was ever taken up. I was down the aisle and had pen in hand before the last strains of the invitation hymn faded. I think the poor woman was a little taken aback at my excitement and was probably thinking, “What on earth have I done?” when I did a kick ball change and yelled “FOSSE!” while showing her my best jazz hands. I enthusiastically told her I had stage experience and would help out any way she needed. She just smiled and nodded and patted me on the shoulder.  

The next Sunday she approached me with script in hand and I was nearly light-headed. She smiled and said, “Here you go. You’re Anita.” And ohhhhh the thoughts went through my head as I clutched the script to my chest.  Anita! It sounds like a female lead’s name. Ohmygosh she gave me the LEAD! Stop shaking and for heaven’s sake, don’t cry. Okay, cry. It will help when Anita has to decide whether to have the surgery that will save her life or spend her last days courageously fighting alongside her long-lost twin sister against the savage guerillas in the jungles of Alaska.

Turns out, Anita was not the female lead, but rather the heinous and evil, self-centered department store manager who got what she deserved in the end. It didn’t involve guerilla warfare or even a life-saving surgery, but I did manage to scare every small child in the church with my evil antics. One week at practice a sweet little girl sat down next to me, gave me a sideways glance, then quietly asked, “You’re not really mean, are you? You don’t look mean now, but….you sure are up there….” I asked her what she thought as I raised an eyebrow and looked over my glasses into her tiny face. She didn’t come to practice much after that. And when she did, she sat on the other side of the sanctuary.

But the true test of my acting skills came when a mere week before the play, we found ourselves without our male lead. The original “Barry” and I had finally managed to conquer the scene where I flirted rather aggressively without him quivering in fear and suddenly, I was going to have to swiftly break in another poor soul. Turns out, that poor soul was my son. My 17-year-old son. The first run-through with Sam as lead was….awkward. At best. We muddled through the scene with red faces and giggles, but managed.

As I walked off stage after the scene, one of the deacons approached me and said, “I know y’all are new to the church and all, but I had no idea y’all were from Arkansas.” Once again I found myself with a raised eyebrow giving an evil stare over my glasses.

When we got in the car after practice that night Sam said, “Soo….that was weird.” I said, “Yes, weird indeed. But here’s the positive: at least we don’t have to kiss.” The poor kid nearly fainted. 

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...