Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Musings Friday: Champagne Toast to 2011

First of all, Shana has established a link-up for Random Musings Friday. I'm not saying she has caved to heavily whispered peer pressure...but you can link up for Random Musings Friday here. As I shaved my cavewoman legs (hush goes with the Paleo diet) in the shower this morning, I contemplated writing a Year in Review. And suddenly, that just seemed wickedly overambitious. Especially when there is laundry to do, Christmas to put away, champagne to purchase...y'know, the basics. So, I am simply recalling random moments from the week and leaving it at that. It's all part of my 2012 New Year's resolution to realize and embrace the idea that I can't do it all, all at once, every second of every day. I think it's going to be a good year.

  • Santa brought me an iPad for Christmas. I gave Santa 2 jars of handmade, organic shaving cream (because the Barbisol was making me physically ill with all of its Chernobyl-smelling puffs of foamy death) and the Pinterest craft, the "I Love You Because" framed print. Handmade Christmas was an awesome success...but there were moments of inferiority. 
  • My new, all-time, favorite hobby is pinching the application closed on the new IOS 5 update. Pincers for the win! 
  • Maker's Mark sends out Christmas gifts every year to its lengthy list of ambassadors. When we moved, Neal forgot to update the Maker's website with our new mailing address...which probably means the elderly snowbirds who bought our old house are wondering why the hell Maker's sent them a doggie sweater. It is not, however, a doggie sweater. It's a Maker's bottle sweater. Except when it's a cat sweater. I promise, no Lulus were harmed in the donning of this warm weather attire. 

  • We took Mama Virgo and Anna Banana to The Whistle Stop Cafe, where Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed in Juliette, GA. Thinking we would make a day of it, we researched downtown Juliette and found a field residing there. And then checked surrounding picturesque towns that we may want to visit. Nada. Nothing. Zilcho. Barren. Oh, except for the Jarrell Plantation which is 10 minutes down the road. Mom, buoyed by the idea that it might be the big house from Fried Green Tomatoes, asked us to drive over. I assure you, it is NOT the big house. But it is open all year round...and by that, I mean Thursday-Saturday. Get it together Jarrell cannot advertise it both ways.
  • But before we visited Ruth and Idgy's old stomping grounds, we had dinner the night before at a local pizza joint in Warner Robins...Atlas Pizza. We ended up there after pulling into Cheddar's and seeing a line...out the the bitter cold and biting wind...on a Tuesday night. Atlas was the much better choice, of course...being local and all. Plus they offer a military discount. However, we learned that evening that not all pizza dough is equal. Upon sitting, we were told that they were out of small and medium pizzas. These pies are not pre-made, in a cooler, waiting for micro waves to be shot through them. has to do you run out of small and medium pizzas? Did elves steal your pizza pans? Elf on the Shelf is over, y'know...
  • The short version of this is the clothes washer finally bit it and we ended up getting a front-loading Kenmore from AAFES, which was delivered last Monday. We did 4 loads of laundry and listened to it squeak and rock for 4 solid hours. We called Sears to request a repair man because no way, on God's green earth, did 115 reviewers and Consumer Reports say "Get this machine! It is the bee's knees!" after hearing that ear assault for hours on end. The guys arrived on Wednesday morning as I was preparing a breakfast of chocolate chip waffles for our houseguests. Mama Virgo asked for butter. I said, "sure! Would you like Country Crock or grass-fed butter?" And, according to both Mama Virgo and Neal, the repair guys turned and looked at me as if I had just said, "By the way, I've invited the Queen of England to dine with us this morning. She just called from the motorcade. They'll be here in 5." Grass-fed butter is not that uncommon. I buy it at Kroger (also, people...please stop saying Kroger's). But I guess that was a fine example of 2 cavemen who are not on the Paleo diet. 
  • Lastly, this is my final post on 400 Wakeups. I have conducted a constant internal debate about which blog to use ever since Neal returned home. And to be quite honest, the blog's title no longer fits me, my blogging style and the life we share the way Magnolias & Mimosas does. So, I will be returning on New Year's Day with a new and welcoming post over there. My deepest apologies to your Google Reader, your RSS Feed, and to all of you who keep up with a list of blogs in the sidebar of your own blog. I'm done moving. I promise. 
Thank you for reading and commenting us through the past year. When I woke on January 21st, I literally thought I cannot do this. But I put my head down and pushed through each day, one day at a time, lifted up by your own comments, thoughts, prayers, well wishes, and hysterical stories. We will always be on a countdown of some sort and we actually thrive on occasional change, but we pray, along with the rest of the country, that Neal's time in the sandbox is finished, as it will hopefully soon be for all of our troops. May God bless each of you and your families in 2012. May you find peace if this year has been tumultuous, a well-lit path if it has been dark, quiet if it has been chaotic, and new ways to love others, but especially yourself.
Signing off....

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Long Way Home

For a variety of reasons, we have decided not to return home for Christmas this year....we were just there for 2 weeks at Thanksgiving...drivers on I-75 have all, apparently, lost their freaking's consistently 20 degrees warmer in Georgia...etc., etc.

But the full impact of missing Christmas Eve with my family did not hit me until about 20 minutes ago, when I began to plot out my day (plotting and planning is very characteristic of Virgos...don't be alarmed). With the exception of wrapping the last of the gifts and making a last minute post office run, there is nowhere I have to be and nothing I have to do today.

That would not be the case if we were back home.

Christmas Eve activities and preparations begin in the morning. Cheese dips are assembled...turkeys are basting...children are chasing each other manically around the house while the adults pick at the last of the bacon on the plate near the stove. And, of course, there is always the curious kid shaking and weighing any gifts which bear his name. My grandparents, Daisy and Elmer, provided a home and a hub for all Christmas Eve activity. Papa even had a "one gift before church" rule. So, naturally, we always chose the largest box. One year my one gift before church was a toy piano, which I banged on incessantly while the adults prepared dinner. I'm not sure how I survived that Christmas, although I'm pretty sure that, at some point, I was exiled to the back bedroom.

Granny could be counted on to emerge from the bedroom on Christmas Eve morning in a velour suit of some kind and jewelry. Lots of jewelry. Her hair perfectly coiffed from a well-spent day at the salon earlier in the week and nails always painted in some shade of pink. She helped Papa in the kitchen (although the kitchen and the garden were his domain, he accepted the occasional helper elf) and teased us about what Santa was dropping off that night. They were a team and although they were probably unaware, Christmas at Papa and Granny's was the greatest consistency in my life. Everyone was always there. Every year. Almost without exception. My only regrettable memory of Christmas was when someone very close to me opted out of the celebration. It's the only Christmas that I wish I could forget.

My grandparents have been dead for several years now. No bank envelopes with the grandchildren's names scribbled across the top await in the tree. Sometimes the shrimp tray goes uneaten. The 8-track player, which was actually built into the dining room wall, was sold along with the house and the background music now comes from someone's satellite radio or Internet provider. We still go to church. We still eat a ham. But sometimes it's at Mom's house and sometimes everyone gathers at my aunt's place. And sometimes it's just the 2 or 4 of us. Sometimes Neal is deployed and often the parents of young children don't want to travel far from home on Christmas Eve for fear that "Santa will not know where to find them". But this year, it's us...unwilling to drive 7 hours north through Jellico Mountain and whatever weather await us there...unable to tear ourselves away from a chance to have a quiet Christmas at home. And suddenly, I wish I was there in the thick of it...shuffling a deck of cards for a spirited game of Rummy or Uno...pouring a glass of Oliver wine for Mom while she slices the ham...begging Neal to stop tickling the kids which causes them to scream as if someone is on fire...opening one gift before church.

Mom said in an email last week that this was "the beginning of new era". And, in some ways, I'm afraid she's right. The Army will move us wherever and whenever and we may not always make it back home to the Bluegrass. There could be air fares and work schedules and pregnancies to consider. We may have to consolidate Thanksgiving and Christmas or shift it all back a couple of weeks. But it's not for forever. It's a temporary and uncomfortable condition of the life that we chose in the Army. But one day he will retire and we will move home and Christmas Eve will once again be the flurry of activity that I knew growing up. Because I will make it so. We each have the opportunity to raise our children in whatever environment and with whatever traditions we choose. I may not own an 8-track player, but I can certainly croon to some Bing Crosby as I scribble names across bank envelopes and pass out the one gift before church.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Spirit of Savannah

Partly because I want to share the photos (and, consequently, my Photoshop skillzzzz) from Savannah and partly because I have a million random comments from this week, none of which I wrote down...please enjoy the tour through Savannah as it is decorated for Christmas. Merry Christmas Eve Eve...

a bar on a corner...somewhere....I'm assuming on Lincoln

descending to the river
river street
observing the container ships as they chug by

from china, with love

looks like you've run aground, repunzerella....

when a woody mates with a sailboat

well, that's just mast-ive...

in city market, the carriage horses come to rehydrate

and the nutcrackers stand guard outside the candy shop...

wreaths encircle the street lamps, finished with rosy red and perfectly folded bows

while more bows tack a wreath of fir garland around wright square gates

no inflatable Santa globe or rotating and lit deer here

beautifully framed photos spring eternal at forsyth park

spit of goose into the wraps of red

it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

and that makes us all pretty jolly

the potted poinsettias of the hamilton-turner house

the random wisps of red on everything from lamp posts 

to sidewalk shop decor...

and the unexpected delight of a carousel pony straddling an apartment balcony

but always, always the jewel-tone glow of church

and the whipping stripes of state. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When I pulled up the ole blog this morning, with a cup of pumpkin spice coffee by my side and a sense of free time now that all of the Christmas orders have been shipped, I gasped....have I not written anything since December 9th?? Did NaBloPoMo teach me nothing? Have I fallen back into a ragged routine of writing whenever there is free time or rain in the forecast?

Not good.

As most Americans will be making silent promises of getting fit and healthy in 2012, I must promise to stick to a regular posting schedule. If only because writing often keeps me from feeling a literal sense of constipation. And because I can...because I'm free...thank you for the reminder, Rick Perry cartoons.

In addition to pushing over 50 custom orders out the door since Thanksgiving, I've also completed the decorating process (made a little easier this year by the fact that the tree never left the living room last year), finished Christmas shopping (handmade and small business gifts were a giant success....more on that after all of the gifts have been distributed), baked and ate 2 batches of sugar cookies (and learned that 2 fully decorated sugar cookies at 10 PM is a spectacularly bad idea), and spent the day in Savannah with my sister the queen, her daughters Repunzerella and Sleeping Booty, my brother-in-law The King of Scots, and his parents.

I've also crossed a few things off of the 101 list, made a couple of Pinterest crafts/recipes, and almost finished The Hunger Games series.

I've been busy.

But so has everyone else.

Tami purchased the first Wings for Our Troops plane ticket for a Marine and his wife to go home before deployment. She is, apparently, in San Diego now presenting them with it and I'm trying to wait patiently for a blog post or pictures...or both. If you've purchased a RED Friday item and asked that your 50% be donated to Wings for Our Troops, then YOU are a part of this and you should be proud.

Shana's daddy-o has been released from the hospital and into the care of rehab facility. It's a relief and a giant step forward to getting him home for Christmas.

We are officially out of Iraq. I realize I should have addressed this when it first happened last weekend, but, honestly, I wasn't sure what to say. Almost exactly a month after Neal's boots hit American soil, the rest of our Soldiers are crossing over into Kuwait...for better or worse. Neal and the 352 spent 10 months preparing for that moment. They were actively involved in shutting down bases and transporting equipment and supplies out of the country. Their work in Balad was key to making sure that we were ready to leave by the end of the month. And yet, just as it seemed like a publicity stunt manufactured by the media when Stryker Force left Iraq a year ago, it still doesn't feel final. I know there are American troops left behind in Iraq, tasked with manning the embassies and the state department so saying that there are no troops left is unfair to the ones that are left. Just like the media blasting the end of combat troops in Iraq while Neal was packing his duffles to go to Iraq. For me, there is no closure in lowering the flag that flew over Baghdad. It's designed to make the American people feel warm and fuzzy and send poll numbers sky high. I understand the need...I just don't buy into it.

And on a completely unrelated note...I've spent almost 2 weeks thinking that tomorrow was Christmas Eve.

Until yesterday.

It's like I've been gifted with an extra day in the week and it's a little slice of awesome.

Lastly, I'll leave you with quote from one of last Sunday's politishows.
Michelle Bachman: I am a serious candidate for the presidency.

Um...honey...when you are a serious candidate for the presidency, you generally don't have to say I am a serious candidate for the presidency.

That is all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Champagne Friday: Random Thoughts

When I wrote my random last week, I mentioned that I knew there was more...I just couldn't remember the rest. Shana commented that keeping notes throughout the week was a must. Yeah...she was kind of right about that. So, here are this week's musings, in no particular order.

1. In Kentucky, we have glass shower doors in the master bath. As I was squee-geeing them, I started thinking about how I'm glad I only had to do that once a day. Because as beautiful as glass shower doors are, and as much as I've always wanted to have them, it's sort of a pain in the ass to have to clean them after every shower. And it really needs to be done after every shower because the guy who lived there before us did it...oh...maybe...once a month?? And you can tell. Which then begs the question: do professional window cleaners prefer glass doors or shower curtains? If I cleaned glass all day long, I don't think I would want to do it at home, too. Anyone out there clean glass for a living? Want to weigh in?

2. Earlier this week they had a story on CNN International about a car wreck somewhere in Europe. It was basically a pile-up on the interstate...except it only involved about 6 cars and the total damage was in the millions. Because it was a couple of Lamborghinis, 3 or 4 Ferraris, several BMWs...

and a Prius.

Neal's theory? The Prius is probably what caused the accident...going too slow.

3. The next story that morning was about a woman from Effin, Ireland who couldn't get her mail delivered because some company didn't really think she lived in a town from Effin. She exclaimed, in a huff, that "I will always be an Effin woman!"

Alrighty then. We'll just go ahead and cancel that sex change operation.

4. We are all caught up on the 5 or 6 shows we watch regularly (looking at you, Grimm...decided just to take off the week of Thanksgiving, did you?) so we've been perusing Hulu for new shows. I stumbled upon Destination: Truth earlier this week. The premise is based on the search for the truth behind urban legends. I am a freak for Myth Busters, so I thought I had hit a gold mine. Not so much. I can see with complete clarity how this pitch meeting went: Fraternity boy with his 3 frat brothers and a girlfriend walk into a meeting with the exec. They decide that getting a 9-5 out of college sounds like a drag and how much more fun would it be to travel the world and get a television network to fund it all? So, they promise to scour the earth debunking local legends and, essentially, ruining story telling for remote villages all over the eastern hemisphere. During the first episode (which is as far as we got), he traveled to Papua New Guinea and then on to a swampy village only accessible by helicopter or boat to dig up mermaid bones under a palm tree. If he can get a TV show, why can't I?

5. This conversation occurred on the way home from Michael's yesterday, after purchasing 2 of the Christmas village buildings (which, by the way, are 50% off right now).

Neal: This is great. Each year we can get a different one and eventually you'll have the whole set.
Me: But I already have a couple and they aren't from that collection.
Neal: Well you can start a new village with all of them from this collection.
Me: Don't you think that's kind of creepy?
Neal: What?
Me: Well, if you drove into a town where all of the buildings basically looked the same, you would be creeped out. Like you had arrived in a Stephen King town. Or The Twilight Zone.
Neal: hysterical laughter Yeah...I guess so...

Christmas is not about re-creating a Stephen King death village on our entry table. I win this one.

So, tell you agree? Do all of your village pieces match? Do you think the villages are lame? Would you prefer to own a Prius or a Lamborghini....

Happy Champagne Friday. Here's to 2 weeks and 2 days until Christmas! *clink*

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Help

If you have been making your home under a rock for the past 2 years and have no idea what this book is about, please read a synopsis of the plot here....because I'm not covering that part.

When this book hit the shelves in 2009 and then the NY Times bestseller list shortly thereafter, I knew that it would, at some point, end up on my nightstand. But reading a book that so boldly approached the history of black help in white homes made me...uncomfortable. Revisiting that period in history seemed counter-productive. It didn't make sense that we would drag it all back up again when we are still pushing a certain portion of our population to accept a black man as president. Why not let it go, move forward, put it all behind us?

This is 2011, after all.

Except that this was a story that needed to be told.

I grew up in the middle class homes of my divorced parents. The only help we had was the house cleaner Mama Virgo hired for a short time. And she was white, well paid, and had it somewhat easy (since Mom would make me clean my room before she came...I still don't understand that). Being the brat that I was, I would sometimes refer to her as the maid, which would cause Mom to hiss at me that she was not the maid. If Mom had been living in Jackson, MS in the 1960's, she would have most assuredly given all of her help yearly raises and vacation days.

Perhaps most startling to me was that the book does take place in the 1960's...not the 30's or even 50's. And, come to find out, there are still homes in the deep south who employ help on a regular basis. So, if we open this book with the preconceived notion that we are about to read about a slice of the past, that would be quite wrong. Granted, we have integrated and the flagrant white violence against a black population is less, but this lifestyle still exists.

So...the pros...
1. It is a fast read. And by that, I don't mean the book is 100 pages of large type. I mean there aren't many words that I had to look up or sentences I had to read twice. The only stumbling block for some may be the way in which Stockett writes the maids' stories. She writes it exactly as they would say it. If I had read this book 2 years ago, I may have struggled with that. I may have even given up after the second chapter and never looked back. But I've been in Georgia for 18 months and, well, I actually prefer to read it as it is written. It makes perfect sense. She could have used the word "y'all" a little more though. Everyone knows our babies say "y'all" before "mama" or "daddy".

2. For someone who knew absolutely nothing about the life of the help in white homes, this is a decent introductory course. I believe that Stockett shows both sides fairly. There were white women who spread lies that sharing toilets with the help could result in "black diseases" and white women who fought against every one of those lies. The maids, although always subservient to their employer, were sometimes like family and sometimes considered it "just another job". It was a black and white world with infinite shades of gray and Stockett showed those shades as best she could within the cover of a 400-page book.

3. The characters are rich, complex, and completely believable. Being from a small town in (we consider Kentucky the south, by the way) the south, and being around the same age as the women in the book, I can see how life could revolve around the Junior League and an annual benefit. I can see how high school cliques would come home to nest and build their empire, working hard to raise the next generation of popular girls. Having it all in the 1960's in Jackson, MS meant marrying during or right out of college, producing 2 healthy and beautiful babies, and having help to host extravagant brunches and the weekly bridge game. For a few of my high school classmates, that still holds true today. Not judging...just saying that it's a lifestyle that some have chosen. More power to them.

But Skeeter represents a different perspective. A woman can also finish college, move (reluctantly) back home, and devote time to a cause that is going to result in a rippling effect for many years to come. There may or may not be a man. There may or may not be children. That part isn't quite so important. It's an alternate lifestyle with different priorities. So, not only is the book about the racial divide, it's also about the choices we women make and the courses our lives take as a result of those choices. We can get married or not. We can have babies or not. We can care and love those babies or not. We can create an environment of love, respect, and inclusion or not. We can question outdated beliefs and stand up for injustices....or not.

And now the cons...
1. This book does not cover the sexual harassment that, I'm sure, the help endured at the hands and lips of the men of the house. Not once does a husband make a comment or grab a handful. Perhaps Stockett, who herself had a maid growing up in Jackson, MS, didn't see that in her house. But I'm sure she is aware that it occurred. Whatever reasons she had for omitting it from the book, it is still an unfair exclusion and leaves an unfortunate gap in the big picture.

2. There is a fairly graphic, pretty disturbing miscarriage scene in the book and the movie. Fortunately, I had been warned by several people about it and could see it coming from a mile away. So, to be completely honest, I didn't read about 6 pages of this book. I just can't read that stuff right now and I'm not sure that I ever will. When you live it, you certainly don't need to read about it. And that might not be a con for many readers. It doesn't exactly fit the "con" category for me, either...but I wonder if it was completely necessary. The character's miscarriage does need to happen in order for the rest of her behavior to make sense and for the rest of her story to unfold, I'm just not so sure it needed to be in that kind of detail (because while flipping through to find the next scene, I accidentally caught a glimpse of the middle).

3. All of the black men in this book are abusive or absent. And maybe that's how it was in Mississippi in the 1960's, but not all men are the same and that's a fact regardless of skin color or decade. While Stockett was painting both the white women and black women with a brush of redemption, she could have added a few strokes to the maids' husbands. They are men, after all...with fragile egos and all that.

There is certainly plot and character development in this book. It's not slow or boring. However, it is also predictable. But wouldn't a book about the past have to be somewhat predictable? We already know how it's going to end. It's all going to boil over with Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the way and people are either going to have to adapt or get out of the way. The best lens through which to read this novel is that of historical fiction. A lot of it happened, some of it has been embellished, and it's all entertaining. There is a happy ending, which we all know still hasn't really happened for some parts of the deep south, and you will most likely turn the last page with a warm and fuzzy feeling. It's a novel. Not a textbook.

Favorite line (when Aibileen is talking about the different variations of grits she makes for Baby Girl): That's all a grit is, a vehicle. For whatever it is you rather be eating.
Isn't that the damn truth?