I'm Gonna Have a Piggly Wiggly Hissy Fit!

October 23, 2014

Do you ever have one of those days when you know that you should probably just wake up, roll out, and immediately take some kind of calmative?  Today was one of those days.  When I was growing up, I remember this one family with a house coat wearing, lazy mama and three dirty kids.  It seems like every time we ever went to the old Piggy Wiggly where Homer Douglas's feed store used to be, they were there.  I remember them having fits- boy dog fits!  These kids became known at our house as "The Piggly Wigglies".

The Mama was always dragging the littlest one by her arm, and every one of them was barefooted as a cat.  All three of them had dirty faces with crusty boogers and dried milk on them and they had grocery store feet, just filthy.  Every now and then, the littlest one would run away from the Mama screaming at the top of her lungs. She would then find a spot front and center in front of the checkout aisles and start spinning on her back in the middle of the floor acting like a crazy person.  I just thought they weren't right, but my mother always sighed heavily and would say under her breath with gritted teeth "I cant believe that woman lets those children just crawl around on this nasty floor and act like fools, I would whip their butts!" A trip to the Piggly Wiggly was always a show.

Today, I was so frustrated.  This entire week I've been so frustrated. Ever have one of those weeks when nothing goes right, not even your order at Waffle House?  Blame it on Mercury Retrograde, or whatever you want to blame it on, but the universe has been out of kilter.  Today, I had a moment and I was just beyond mad.  I  wanted to go full-on Piggly Wiggly in the doctor's office and it took all I could do not to just lie down in the middle of the floor and start screaming and spinning on my back until I was as dirty as the three spinning Piggly Wigglies.

Moral of the story- when Mercury is retrograde, go to yoga, have some good wine on hand, and don't sign up for anything new, because it will be a train wreck.

Love y'all, I'm going to spin on my back now and scream!

Bill Ingram and Godwinks

October 20, 2014

In 1992, I picked up a copy of Southern Accents that would forever more change my life.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Southern Accents was a beautiful shelter magazine that was the Southern superlative version of Architectural Digest.  Before the internet, it was my outlet to the world outside of my small town.  Its pages were filled with stories of places that I had never been in the Deep South, and traditions that were unfamiliar to me.  And homes, it was full of the most beautiful homes that I had ever seen!

This magazine began my love of interior design.  I was 20, and was remodeling a 1926 bungalow home in Brewton, Alabama.  I had ripped down cheesecloth wallpaper, painted, refinished floors, and installed mouldings by myself.  I knew that this was what I wanted to do- I knew that I wanted to design.

Friends, relatives, and one very elegant real estate agent came to my home and told me "You shouldn't be majoring in English, you should go to school to become an interior designer."  I had no idea what design might entail, but I wanted to read more. I took in every word from the pages of Southern Accents and Architectural Digest and I tried to read the philosophies of every architect and designer featured-  philosophies that were crammed into a few columns of copy.  Imagine reducing the philosophy of your life's work to a few columns- it's not an easy thing to do, especially not when you are being interviewed live.

There in the pages of Southern Accents, in one of their very first issues, was the home of Birmingham, Alabama architect, Bill Ingram.  I fell in love with everything that he did- the simplicity and elegance of his designs were flawless.  Through the thick, glossy pages, you could feel the warmth in the homes he designed.  I will never forget the leather upholstered portal door to his kitchen; I could almost smell the leather.  That door won me over- I was a fan! I read that issue cover to cover a thousand times and I still have it somewhere in my box of things that really matter to me. The next year, I sold the home that I had worked so hard on, and went back to design school.

I became a licensed interior designer and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to secure work.  I have worked in commercial and residential interior design over the last 20 years, and no matter what kind of successes or failures I have had along the way, I always remembered that my goal was to be featured in Southern Living and Southern Accents- it was on my list.  I had no idea how I would do it, but I knew that one day, it would happen- after all, I had written it down.

Birmingham became home to me and I settled into a church family and became involved in our outreach ministry. My job was to coordinate volunteers for the women's Homeless Shelter for our church. And there, in my out-reach group, I met a man named Bill Ingram.  I didn't connect him at the time with the article that changed my life, but I knew that I really liked him.  His signature round glasses and dashing Southern style were out of a movie;  he truly is extraordinary in every way.

A few months later, I took some food over to Bill's house because a mutual friend of ours had been ill. When I arrived at his home, we stood in his kitchen unpacking the meal. I looked around and there was the door from Southern Accents, my door, my LIFE CHANGING door.  I realized at that moment that he was THAT Bill Ingram, my hero architect Bill Ingram. It was sort of like meeting Elvis or Elton John, except that  I realized I was at Elvis's house in the equivalent of a house coat. All I could think of was that I was wearing Birkenstocks and dressed like a hippie in the kitchen of my inspirational style guru.  I can't begin to explain how excited I was all the way home and how I kept trying to get it across to my husband, who just didn't quite seem to share my joy over the portal door.  But, I knew that I was where God wanted me to be.  The door was a sign.

Today, I saw an article that popped up in my news feed on Facebook, it was a lake house that Bill designed recently- absolutely stunning!  Lately, I have questioned where I am on my path- whether I am where I am supposed to be, whether I am where God wants me to be, whether I am fulfilling my true calling. And there, once again, was Bill Ingram.

Seeing his work today reminded me that if I hadn't seen his work in 1992, I would have never gone back to design school.  If I hadn't gone to design school, I would have never moved to Birmingham. If I hadn't moved to Birmingham, I would have never opened a design shop there and met the incredible people who are some of my best friends- friends who have helped me so much along my journey. As fate would have it, our shop was featured in Southern Accents before the magazine folded.

Without having the experience of owning my own shop,  I would have never learned so many hard lessons about success and failure.  If I hadn't closed the shop due to the crash of the economy in 2009, I wouldn't have been home working on a website to market my design business online when the tornadoes hit Alabama in 2011.  The tornadoes threw me into an entirely different outreach ministry that has changed my life, saved my marriage, and transformed me as a human being.  If I had never heeded the call to get involved in the outreach ministry with disaster relief, I would have never been featured in Southern Living. Although I wasn't featured as a designer, it was even better- I was featured as a disaster relief coordinator working with the most incredible group of humans to ever come together.  And once again, to reinforce that I was on the path, my other hero, Rick Bragg, wrote the article and sent me a special copy. The other writer who worked on the Southern Living story, Kim Cross, became my friend through all of this and is a sister from another mother.  Because of all of these things-  I find myself, however inadequately, writing the story of my 4-27 journey.

When you think that what you do doesn't matter to others, know that you will never fully comprehend the impact your work may have on the life of another person until some time has passed- maybe twenty years?  Maybe they will send you a blog post to let you know that by you walking your divinely ordained path, they found theirs. Being recognized for doing great work is validation, and we all need to know that our work is appreciated, but know this- know that no matter how unstoppable and validated you feel some days, or how insignificant you may feel on others, your contribution to this planet makes a difference.

Thank you, Bill Ingram. This has been one hell of a ride and I am grateful for the journey.


Here is some of his amazing work  Bill Ingram Lake House

How do we Erase the Negative Recordings in our Heads?

October 8, 2014

I have become a huge fan of Jaime Primak Sullivan, the star of Bravo's Jersey Belle and Birmingham/ Hollywood PR gal. Our paths crossed in 2011, and although we never met in person, we spent a few days back and forth on the phone trying to find one of her clients a place to volunteer after the tornadoes.  She's a little rough around the edges, she doesn't believe in monogramming, and she speaks from her heart and swears a LOT.  But, she speaks her truth, from her heart.  Her morning video blog, CawfeeTawk (that has recently been picked up and sponsored by Keurig) has touched my heart more than one morning lately. She and my grandmother really got me thinking today...

How many of us live our lives saying "When I'm 80, I can say anything I want."  Why wait?  When you strip down all of your material possessions and you are left alone, your truth is all you have.

We know our own truth. Other than God, we are really the only ones who were there when it became our truth- whatever the situation.  We know when we failed, when we helped a friend, when we told a white lie, when we were kind until it hurt and no one saw it, when we failed our marriages, when we supported our husbands when they might or might not have deserved it, when we loved our children who were breaking our hearts, only we know these things about ourselves.  Only we know our truth- every detail of our character- all of the things that we have to work out within our souls, with our Creator,or the Universe, or whatever your version of a higher power is.  No one has to tell us our shortcomings, because most people wake up with those things in the forefront of our minds, and spend the day trying to overcome them to become a better version of ourselves.

So why do we surround ourselves with people who don't support our growth?  And even after we have gotten negative people out of our lives, why do we keep playing their tape recordings over and over in our heads?  Tape recordings that are filled with negative messages that we don't want or need to hear. Tape recordings that negate our truth.  Why do we befriend people with negative, nasty energy because we feel sorry for them and then we aren't honest with them because we don't want to hurt their feelings.  And then, then, we let them linger in our lives for way too long while they suck the life out of us?

Why do we go on a diet or try to change our lifestyle and the first thing we hear is our mother or grandmother or ex or skinny "friend"  in our minds saying "You know you'll never be a size 6 again, just do the best you can." Or..."Do you really think that you can make a go out of writing?  I mean, is that even a real job? You didn't major in journalism or creative writing.  What will you write about?"
Or..my favorite one from my size 2 Bible study pal, whose surgeon husband is always at the 'golf course',  she actually said to me "You sure are lucky that your husband loves you just like you are." JUST LIKE I AM?  Did she really SAY that?  Can you say this out loud to someone and think that they will still speak to you? I certainly wouldn't say that to anyone, especially not a woman holding a wine glass!

From the above comments, what will stick in most women's minds to be repeated in our heads, is the following:   1.  I'm a fatty and will never be thin again  2.  I'm a failure and suck as a writer and I have failed at everything else 3.  I have totally out-kicked my coverage in the marriage department. THESE ARE ALL LIES.

These recordings are usually from people that we love or care about , or people whose opinion we were taught to value, or worse, women whom we have believed to be our FRIENDS!  We KNOW that these things aren't true, because we've had success during the course of our lives, some HUGE successes, things that some of these recording people cannot even comprehend accomplishing. And deep down, we know that if we weighed 500 pounds, our husbands would be damned lucky to be with us because we know what we have survived with them and how we've come through it all, together.

So, my new course of action is not to be nasty back to the tape recorder people, because that is my first instinctive response that I always suppress.  My second instinct, and usually my course of action, is to smile and rationalize their comments back to them, which is what cements these thoughts into my head.  My new course of action is to say "I hate that you have those limitations and feelings about yourself, but please don't impose them on me."  I have to realize that each of us is on our own journey and I don't know why people do or say the things that they do. I can take constructive criticism about anything and welcome it with the best of them, but for the people whose hearts need blessing, I have a new answer beginning tomorrow.

I'm shredding these tapes.  I refuse to make myself a victim to this stinking thinking.  I am very fortunate to have a wonderful group of female friends who support one another and are always there no matter what. So the next time that this happens, and I have to respond with  "Check that comment at the door and pick it up on your way out",  I am going to immediately pick up the phone and call one of my awesome, positive, supportive girlfriends and tell her something awesome about herself and ask her to tell me something positive about myself.

One comment at a time, I will record over this tape until I can listen to the whole tape again without crying and it is going to sound like a parent holding a new born baby, sort of like this:

"Look, she's so beautiful! Wow, she's so smart.  Look at those strong legs, she's going to be an athlete!  Doesn't she have the prettiest hair you've ever seen?  Those are the brightest eyes- you can tell she's going to have a kind soul and a sweet heart. Look at that precious little hiney!  She has perfect toes and those hands, they are gorgeous!  Those are the fingers of a pianist.  I bet she will change the world."

Love y'all-
Now go change those tapes!

Orange and Blue Velvet Cake

October 8, 2014

Driving in from Orlando to Auburn, I always enjoy the afternoon Georgia sunsets behind farmhouses, pecan orchards, and gigantic rolled bales of hay.  This past weekend, the sunset was the most beautiful blue and orange that I have ever seen.  I was heading to the Auburn/ LSU game and I believed that it was an omen of things to come.  When I posted this photo, Auburn people began posting pictures of their orange and blue sunsets from all over the country.  We all saw and we all believed.  Auburn rolled over LSU 41-7.

This year, I have been tailgating with a group of FANatics, who are the most dedicated and AUsome Auburn fans that I've ever known.  Most serious tailgaters have a theme of the week and prepare food for that theme and go all out!  In honor of Les Miles (aka the mad hatter) coming to town, we had a Mad Hatter party.  My contribution was an orange and blue velvet cake.  I've been asked by several people for the recipe, so here goes:

Holly's Orange and Blue Velvet Cake:

1T cocoa
1 T white vinegar
1 C salted butter
2 C sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 C Swan's Down Cake Flour- Sifted
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 C buttermilk
1 t vanilla
Gel Food coloring: I used AmeriColor Soft Gel Paste from Hobby Lobby
                               134 Navy and 113 Orange

1 stick of salted butter
8 oz cream cheese
1 box confectioner's sugar
1 C nuts- I use walnuts, but some people prefer pecans
1 t vanilla 
If I am doing three layers instead of two, I will make this recipe with another half recipe added to it.
I use a small mixing cup and make a paste out of the vinegar and the cocoa.  You can use a toothpick to mix it or a cocktail fork works equally well.  Set the paste aside.

Cream the 2 sticks (1C) of softened butter with 2 C of sugar  Add 2 eggs and beat until fluffy. Mix in the cocoa/ vinegar paste.  Make sure that you get every bit of the paste.

Sift the cake flour, soda, and salt all together.  Gradually mix the flour mixture into the butter/ sugar/ egg mixture to make a batter.  Add in the buttermilk and vanilla.  

Depending on how many layers you want to do, divide the cake batter mixture into either 2 or 3 equal parts.  I ended up making one layer thicker and splitting it in half so that I had two smaller blue layers and one orange layer.  I wouldn't recommend that headache.  

For the navy, I used about 1/3 of the bottle gel coloring to the get the navy that I wanted...and the batter looked sort of like the cookie monster:

The orange, I didn't photograph, but I used about 1/4 of the gel coloring for a little more than a layer. Just play with it until it looks like you want it to look. 

Make sure that you butter and flour your pans so that the cake doesn't stick.  I use standard 9" round pans.

Bake at 350 until cake springs back and starts to separate from the pans.

Once cooled, frost the layers.  They should look like this... (probably shouldn't have as many air bubbles, but..the color)

And finally, it should look like this:

This cake freezes really well for transport.  You can tell this one was wrapped with plastic wrap and frozen for game day.  I hauled it with dry ice on a 7 hour trip and it did great!

War Eagle!  And happy baking.  Let me know if you make it and how it turns out for you.

Love y'all,

Why you Don't Want to be a First Round Draft Pick in the NFL

October 6, 2014

Grandmother and her best friend and cousin, Jody, at Grand's 85th birthday

I just got off of the phone with Grandmother and my Aunt Jody and I have laughed so hard that I have tear stains on my face.  Everyone should have a pair like these two in their lives.  First cousins and best friends who are 18 months apart, they have been inseparable since birth. Grandmother has always been the conservative one of the two (on the exterior anyway), while Jody puts it all on the table and holds nothing back- she has no filter and I absolutely love that about her!  She is flashy and wears wild shoes and funky clothes and she always has the best accessories. They talk about anything and everything and  I am often blushing from some of the stories that they tell- there is NO TELLING what topic of conversation might come up when they get together.

Like any two little old ladies who have been best friends since they were born, they fight and bicker like sisters, but they love each other.  Their adventures have taken them all over the world- from plastic surgery to A&R parties in Nashville.  When they were driving home after their first face-lift, they were caught speeding.  When the officer came up to the window to write the ticket, they took off their gigantic movie star sunglasses and told him that they'd been beaten by their husbands (who were in the mob) and that they were on the run. The officer gave them a police escort  all the way out of town.  They almost lose it telling that story.

Jody drove today from Daytona Beach to south Alabama just to take my Grandmother to a doctor's appointment, so that Grandmother wouldn't have to go alone. Their friendship is probably the most loyal and dedicated one that I have ever witnessed in my life.

Their conversations are hysterical.  The more that I hear them carry on, the more that I realize where I get my insanely accurate memory.  Tonight, they were discussing Chester somebody, who sent Grandmother a Valentine in the eighth grade.  One by one, the two of them went through every boy that they dated before they married.  Chester, the Valentine sender, triggered a memory of a guy who had come back from the war with a stiff leg and subsequently walked like Chester from Gunsmoke. On their date, he tried to get fresh with my Grandmother.  Lucky for her, her nosy brother was following them home and jumped out of the bushes, scaring ole stiff legged Chester away for good.

As they carried on and laughed, they talked about their cousins who dated some of the same boys AFTER they'd dated them, and they made it very clear that those boys were their boyfriends first. Jody laughed uncontrollably and said, "Hell, Lenis, do you realize that they're all dead? All of those boys are dead! We're the only ones left. Good thing it's Monday Night Football tonight, because we are officially in the NFL:  No Friends Left."  

I couldn't help but laugh with them as they faced their mortality and the fact that their friends have almost all died.  What I did take away from their conversation with me tonight, as they shared a bottle of wine and some laughs over the speaker phone, is that regardless of your age, you can't become a slave to a number, a label, a stereotype, or anyone else's imposing idea of who you should be at any point in your life. Tomorrow, I am going to rock 42 like I haven't rocked it since my odometer rolled from 41.

Before you become a member of the NFL, go by and see an old friend, schedule an unexpected lunch, call them on the phone and reminisce about old times.  Maybe you can carve out some time to create the memories that will carry you through the NFL draft.  Take care of yourselves, you don't want to make the first round.

Love y'all,

90th Floor Miracle

September 12, 2014

Thankful for the life of one of my best friends in the world today, Chris Egan.

September 11, 2014

Thirteen years ago today, I was in my home office, when my husband (then fiance') called me from Troy, Alabama, to tell me that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.  He asked me "Which building is your friend Chris in?" I said "He's in World Trade One."  Jimbo said "Pray, because it hit around the 90th floor...and it doesn't look good."  

Chris worked on the 90th floor of WTC 1. I immediately ran and turned on MSNBC in time to see the second plane hit, while frantically trying to dial Chris's work number and cell phone.  What was weird about the timing, is that we talk almost every morning around that time- nine o'clock- always have.  Chris was really excited about the newly opened Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the food court, and I was praying that he was downstairs getting a hot glazed doughnut.  Phone lines were down and jammed all over Manhattan, and I couldn't get through, not to mention the cell tower on WTC 1 was damaged.

He worked for an international bank at the time, so I called his home office in Luxembourg, thinking that they would have  a contact for everyone there.  They informed me that Chris had made it down to the plaza with five others, but that someone thought they saw him go back inside the building to help.  They believed he was dead. I refused to believe it, and knew that if ANYONE could make it out, he could.  He smokes,  and always illegally smoked in the stairwell on the 90th floor.  I knew that he knew ALL of the exits.

My daughter, now a registered nurse, was in elementary school.  I picked her up from school, and we went straight to the Red Cross to give blood- believing that there would be survivors who would need blood.  We sat with hundreds of others also there to give blood, as we watched the horrific scenes replayed over and over on the big screen television on the wall.  Then, with strangers, we watched the President's address.  It was surreal.  Strangers were there together, crying and hugging one another.  People from all backgrounds and socio-economic statuses were there to truly give of themselves, to give their blood to hope and make a difference. In  Alabama, so far away,  we didn't know what else to do...and I think most people were desperate to do something, anything.  It was 2am before it was my turn to roll up my sleeve, and the nurse couldn't find a vein.  I remember telling him "Then you'd better get a ziplock and an x-acto blade, because my friend is in that tower and you are getting some of my blood tonight. He may need this...."  Finally, another tech came over and found the vein.  The Red Cross didn't close that night- they worked all night long in the Birmingham Southside office.

I called every hospital in Manhattan looking for Chris.  I called the make-shift morgue that the Port Authority had set up in New Jersey at a park, thinking that they would have so many bodies to process, yet they had hardly none.  I emailed every person on every email he had every forwarded me, hoping that someone knew where he was and had heard from him...no one answered.  I called the police precincts and a cop with a heavy Brooklyn accent took my number and was so kind to call me back and check to see if I had found my friend days later.  It was a frantic search that lasted for days via telephone that ended in no information to be had until Friday.

On September14th, I received a call from Luxembourg informing me that they had been in touch with Chris, and that he was indeed alive, and to tell me that he would call as soon as he could get a phone line out, because the phone lines were still so jammed.  I talked to him on the 16th, and it was the best phone call I have ever gotten in my life.  Never had I been so glad to hear my friend's voice on the other end of the line.

Chris is like a brother to me.  We became friends in 1998 shortly after my Grandfather died and he was the best friend a person could have when going through something like that.  We still talk every day and have shared every part of our lives from his divorce, to crazy stories about our children, dating and marriage, career decisions, home purchases, the whole nine yards. Now he has a new love, Karen, and they are so happy. He has such a full, wonderful life.  He has four beautiful children who would have been devastated that day, had he not returned.  One of his sons watched it all on television, while a boy at school kept saying to him "Your daddy's dead...your daddy's dead."   Chris said that for days his son, Timmy, wouldn't let go of him.

I am thankful to still have my friend with us and that I know God still has great plans for his life.  I am thankful that his children weren't orphaned that day.  I am thankful that he lived so that Karen could have the love that he has in his heart showered into her life.  With all of that being said, I cannot fathom what the families who lost their Dad, Husband, Grandfather, Mother, Wife, Grandmother, Sister, Brother, Best friend, Fiance', Neighbor, Son, Daughter, or Co-worker, went through that day and the weeks following.

My heart breaks for them all, and I vow to NEVER FORGET.
The outpouring of love in the days that followed 9-11, were like the days in Alabama following the tornadoes.  I wish that it didn't take a terrorist attack or a natural disaster for us to all truly show the love that is in all of our hearts to one another on a daily basis.  As we mourn for the dead, and celebrate the living, let's try to love one another a little more.
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Hey,Hoss...Lemme Tell ya Something, You Gotta Look Sharp to be Sharp!

August 28, 2014

Anyone who went to T.R. Miller High School when Donnie Rotch was there, felt his death like that of a family member.  Coach Rotch couldn't have been taller than 5'9"-  if he stretched.  Maybe I'm wrong, but that is my memory. His personality, however, was at least 6'5".  Coach Rotch always had his hair just right, was clean shaven, and he always was dressed to perfection.  He had larger than life personality to go with his perfectly starched shirts and hurried walk, and he was an icon in Brewton.  Ask ANYONE who grew up when I did or thereafter to give you a one-liner from Rotch, and it might start with "Hey, Hoss..lemme tell you something."  His death shook the community to its core.  Everyone living there, and everyone who had lived there, loved him and respected him. I loved him.

In 2006, I was filming an audition film for a design show and had to have shots of my hometown, so I went to Brewton and asked Coach Rotch if he would be in my video.  He said he'd be honored. When I got there, and walked into the doors of the high school, the person with me filming immediately knew who the principal was, because he had on a coat and tie.  Rotch was all business and he understood how to command respect, and run a tight ship.

As I find out more and more things that have happened and that are going on at my alma mater, my heart just hurts.  I have thought about Coach Rotch- that's what we called him, not Mr. Rotch like the latest generation- he was always Coach Rotch.  I think about Coach Rotch and wonder if he can see all of this, and I wonder what he is thinking as he's looking down from heaven? I think he'd say "What kind of Molly Pop operation are they running down there at my school?"

He taught health one semester and driver's ed the other.  He was the baseball coach, and he was the offensive line coach. If there is a major league baseball field in the country that is more well-kept than Rotch's high school field ever was, I would like to see it, because I used to wonder if he didn't secretly sneak out to the field at night and trim it with scissors.  He loved that field.  He loved T. R. Miller.  He loved the kids who went there.  I remember vividly, being in band early one morning- first period, when the band practiced in the outfield.  A few clarinet players ended up taking a shortcut and were walking through the infield.  I seriously thought that Rotch might hurdle the chain link fence when he came running out like an Olympic medalist yelling "Hey...hey, band people...get off my stinkin' grass! Don't you people know that you don't walk on my baseball field?"   It was his baseball field and he maintained it with pride.  He had a group of football players and baseball players that we called "Donnie's boys" that he recruited to keep the fields maintained and to keep everything looking pristine. My husband was one of Donnie's Boys, and he will tell you that Rotch worked him in the dirt, but that he learned invaluable lessons about pride and excellence and just hard work. Jimbo always jokes that if the baseball team had been as good as they looked, they would've been state champs every year.

In the tenth grade, I was talking in his health class.  Robin and I were talking - softly- when Coach Rotch came over and said..."What's so important ladies?  Anything you might want to share with the claaaaass?  We said "No, sir"  and he proceeded to write a special assignment on a square piece of paper. We were to write 400 sentences.  The piece of paper he handed me said "I will not talk in Coach Rotch's fourth (spelled out) period health class." I still have that note somewhere in my yearbooks, because like a smart-ass, I wrote the sentences with "Spelled out" in the sentence.  I was in the library with two pencils taped together so that I could knock out two sentences at a time, when from over my shoulder, like a gust of wind, Rotch swooped down and snatched those pencils out of my hand and said "There ain't no shortcuts in life, so I guess we're just gonna have to start over with these sentences."  I was reassigned 800 sentences- just in case I taped my pencils together. They said "I will not talk in Coach Rotch's fourth period health class, and I will not tape my pencils together."

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.  My husband has a similar one about skipping baseball practice that was held during spring break, when he and a buddy decided to go fishing.  He lied to Rotch and immediately, without hesitation, even though Jimbo was one of his good players, Coach Rotch kicked him off of the baseball team. There was no warning, no second chance, it was done.  Jimbo went back every day begging to get back on the team. After running the ball bag for a week - and Rotch almost physically breaking him down to tears- Coach Rotch let Jimbo back on the baseball team.  Jimbo will be the first to tell you that he never considered skipping a practice, or a day of work, or a meeting, ever in his life.

We both do Coach Rotch's voice and every now and then- especially when a life lesson comes up with our kids. Sometimes, while we are cooking and listening to music, if we break out into some disco, we talk about Disco Donnie and his Disco lessons at the Brewton Country Club, where my husband and his friends would go watch Donnie taking Disco lessons through the window.  It was unfathomable for them to believe that he might actually have a life outside of school, and that he wasn't a tough guy all the time.  In their minds, he was a four star general, not Disco Donnie.

I will never forget the year that Coach Rotch recruited a bunch of girls to help sell oranges so that the baseball team could get jackets that looked like the Dodgers' jackets. The girl who sold the most oranges also got a baseball jacket. Wendi won, and she was so proud of that jacket.  Coach Rotch was so proud of those jackets- it was like Christmas morning when they arrived.  When the matching hats came in, he said "Hey,you see this right here-  seb'm stitches, that's how you know a good hat.  These are sharp and hey hoss, you gotta look sharp to be sharp."  I can't tell you how many times I heard him make a boy tuck his shirt in and say "Hey, Hoss...tuck in that shirt and look sharp."  When he was in charge, things were different.

Anyone thinking of of walking on the grass on campus instead of the sidewalks needed to think twice, because that just wasn't happening.  There needs to be no further explanation of this, it was the law- period. We didn't have to have an eight foot tall fence around our school to keep us there, we had Coach Rotch, and we had Mike Hathorne, and we had Frank Cotton.  You didn't want to EVER be in the hallway, where you had been sent out of class, when any of them was making the rounds- and they made the rounds, regularly. That was the T. R. Miller that I knew.  I think that is the T.R. Miller that was so great.  T. R. Miller can be that again.  There are great parents and great students who know what we had back then and they need leadership.

I think if Coach Rotch was alive today, he would be outraged right now and his heart would be broken.  I can't speak for him, and I can't guess what he might say, but this morning in my best Disco Donnie voice, while talking to a friend who has kids at TRM, I said to her...

"Get in there people, and take back your stinkin' school. Hey hoss, you gotta make some noise. What you waiting for, a miracle?"

It Didn't Happen to my Child, so...

August 23, 2014

A few years ago, my daughter's best friend died of a heroin overdose.  That sweet, funny girl, whom I dearly loved, had shown up at my house at a baby shower, high.  I tried to take her keys when she tried to leave. She fought with me and got into her car and drove away.  But, I tried.  Did I continue to try and intervene on her behalf?  I did call her mother, but I didn't want to interfere in another person's family, that wasn't my place.  I didn't check on her enough after that, I didn't support her mother like I should have because I had enough problems raising my own teenagers.  I didn't try to reach out and talk to her and find out what was going on. Would it have mattered or made a difference?  Would it have saved her life?  I don't know if anything I could have done for her or her mom would have made a difference, but I will always wonder if I could have done more and I truly wish that I had been educated enough to understand what was happening right in front of my eyes.

What happens in a community when an epidemic like drugs takes hold of our children? What do we do as parents to come together and try to eradicate the problem and seek treatment for our kids? What do we do?  We must educate ourselves and we must be proactive.  

What do we do in a situation, like the one currently presented to my home town, where 8- possibly more students have been sexually violated by a teacher?  I mean, is it your responsibility to get out of your comfort zone and rock the boat if it didn't happen to your kid?

As communities, we are all quick to call a group of children "Our Kids" when they win a state championship. They are "Our Kids" when they win Science Olympiad or a Destination Imagination competition.  They are "Our Kids" when they bring home superior ratings at a band competition. So, aren't they still "Our Kids" when tragedy strikes and they are hurting?

It's easy to stand up and call them "Our Kids" when they are winning on a beautiful fall day and the stars line up and the Universe serves up perfection.  But, it's difficult to think of the collective as "Our Kids" when tragedy strikes and it isn't at your house or my house.  Then, "Our Kids" become "Those kids".  "Those Kids" should have known better, "Those Kids" blah blah blah.  I've read some things regarding "Those Kids"- and how they have been put in a position of blame that have made my stomach turn.  "Those Kids" are "Our Kids".  "Those Kids" need advocates.  "Those kids" could have been YOUR kid.

So, let's pretend for a moment, that one of "those kids" was your kid.  Let's pretend that you are the parent who has to ask the hard questions and are wondering how the system failed your child. Imagine that you are at home questioning your own parenting abilities and wiping your tear stained face and trying to read what people are saying about your child through swollen, red, eyes. How could you have missed teaching your child about predators, how could this have happened and you never know? I would be asking-  Why didn't I check her text messages more regularly? Why didn't I ride by that night to make sure she was where she said she was?  Why didn't I stay after late and get there early?  Why did I trust ANYONE to be alone with my child?  Why didn't I put a microchip in her forehead?  Why didn't I see the warning signs that something was wrong?  Why didn't I know something had happened to my child? I would be asking all of the crazy questions right now and punishing myself over and over in my own mind if I were in "those parents" shoes.

So think about it for a second.  Let's pretend.  Now, you are in the position of "those parents"  so that would make THAT child-YOUR child that has been violated.  Where would you begin?  What kinds of questions would you want answered from the school system where this happened?  What kinds of procedures and policies would you want now implemented to protect your child from this ever happening again.

I would want to know the following:

Why does the principal or the superintendent still have a job? If there was one child who had been violated, it would be one thing, but we are talking about 8- possibly more children.  Epic fail- epic. If you failed a private corporation in this manner, your head would've been on the chopping block the minute this news was released.  So, why do we allow educators any more slack than we would in a business? If your job is to make sure that children are educated, safe, and protected and you fail- then you failed your job and you should be replaced- period.  It's simple, really.  I've failed at plenty of things in my life and there is no forgiveness in a world that has no tenure.  Do you think that the manager of Walmart would still have his job if eight women had been sexually violated on the job there? 

What are the procedures for reporting a situation that involves violence, bullying or sexual harassment at the school? 

Can students report things that are suspicious, anonymously, so that they don't feel like they will be singled out?

What is the policy regarding teachers or staff members violating the confidence of a child who has made a claim against a particular educator or another student? Such as- calling the student out in front of other students to shame the student?  A ZERO tolerance policy regarding this should be in place immediately.

Who is ultimately responsible for reports made to the guidance counselor or principal's office? Is there a grievance council that is made aware of these complaints that is made up of a student advocate, a counselor, and the principal and possibly an educator?  This way, checks and balances are maintained to make sure that what is reported is addressed and not swept under the rug.

What is the written policy regarding bullying?  Is it in the school handbook at the beginning of the year?

What is the system's plan to implement a mandatory class on sexual harassment and sexual violence that would be required by all students to attend in order to teach the warning signs of inappropriate behavior by staff or other students?

What is the policy on campus when it is reported that an educator or staff member has been seen engaging in inappropriate activity with a student- sitting in the teacher's lap, kissing, touching in an inappropriate manner.  What is the method of investigation?  Are parents immediately notified? 

And why weren't parents notified about any of this information prior to the children being notified? Wouldn't it have made sense to address parents so that they could be prepared to speak to their children? When does the school system plan to address the concerns of parents in a public forum and how do they plan to share information with them regarding this situation?

Is there a procedure or plan of action in place to ask if there are any further students who have information or want to come forward regarding any other possible situations on campus? 

What outside group will be investigating the school system by doing an internal audit from the top down to find out who knew if anything was going on regarding this situation and when?

Since these are all our children, why wouldn't we all want these questions answered?  As a taxpayer, you have a right to question the people who, at the end of the day, work for you- for all of us.  You aren't being disrespectful to people you have grown up loving and respecting to ask hard questions.  

When there are answers, then your questions merely reinforce the fact the someone has done their job.  If there are no answers or policies, then you need to demand that policies be changed. Demand that people entrusted with your tax dollars and our children do their jobs.

Taking a stand, one person at a time, adds up. Phone calls demanding answers add up. One person alone won't cause change, but one person can be the catalyst for change.  You can encourage your neighbors and together you can make a difference in the lives of all of our children.  And hopefully if everyone does that, there will never be questions that you ask yourself as you lie awake at 3 am wondering what you could have done to have been more informed.  And hopefully, you will never have to ask the question that "those parents" are asking and that is "How and why did this happen to my child?"

Problems That Only Big Boobed Girls Have

August 8, 2014

Freya bikini top available at www.biggerbras.com

When I hear women talk about getting breast implants, I just shake my head.  I don't get it.  I will never get it if I live to be a hundred years old!  I've had boobs since I was eleven.  When my Grandmother and I went to Hawaii, shortly before I turned thirteen, I was asked if I was there for the executive secretaries' convention. It has pretty much been downhill ever since, other than my junior prom when all of my guy friends actually realized that I was a girl.

Don't get me wrong, there have been  a few times that big boobs have had their advantages, like job interviews in my twenties, and well, job interviews.  Here are some big boob problems to consider before going under the knife to buy yourself some problems.

1.  No matter what I wear, I look like I weigh thirty pounds more than I do because unless I wear something clingy, I look like a box.

2.  If I do wear something clingy, I look like I'm preparing to audition for the role of Roger Rabbit's girlfriend.

3.  I don't go around asking men if their lower backs hurt from carrying around those gigantic beer guts, I wish they would stop asking me if my back hurts from carrying around my breasts.  And yes, for the record, my back does hurt sometimes.

4.  At least once a week a stranger asks me "Have you ever considered having breast reduction surgery?"  Of course I have.  But, have you seen the scars?  And do you realize that it is a major surgery and that you could die?  Not sure that I'm that vain, if I were, I'd be a lot thinner.  And, I'm a chicken- a BIG OLE CHICKEN!

5.  Doesn't it hurt to run with those things?  Yes, it does.  Not running is part of how I gained the weight that I am fighting presently.  It does hurt to run, but if you don't, they WILL get bigger.  It is a slippery slope. RUN through the pain and give up everything that you love to eat, and they MIGHT shrink a little.

6.  There are no bathing suits available over the counter.  You practically have to have a prescription for a bathing suit that fits.  AND, if it fits your gigantic boobs, chances are the bottom won't work in a one piece. Hellooooo weird looking two piece bathing suits that aren't bikinis.

7.  You can never get sassy matching bras and panties like you could when you were a 36C (high school)- throw that dream out the window!  Well, you can, but never on clearance or on sale...you can pay $150 for a matching set and even then, you have to order them online or from a specialty store. So basically what  I am saying,  is that the opening scene from Devil Wears Prada, won't be happening for big boobed girls unless you have a trust fund or an underwear sponsor.

8.  Everything that I eat, eventually ends up landing on the shelf that is my chest.  I can never cheat on my diet without my husband knowing, because I am usually wearing my lunch.  Clumsy + big boobs= wardrobe disasters.

9.  No, I'm not "advertising my goodies", I'm just wearing a shirt.  It just so happens that have ridiculous cleavage in everything I wear.  I'm not any more excited about it than you are, but sometimes it's hot and a girl wants to wear a v-neck t-shirt.

10.  Do you have grooves in your shoulders from carrying around those huge boobies? What do you think?

11.  I would never go up to a strange man and ask him about the size of his parts, but for some reason, men, whom I have never met in my life, feel that it is completely appropriate to approach me and ask "So, what size bra do you wear?" Unless you are considering purchasing a $100 over the shoulder, boulder holder, it is really none of your concern- leave that to the expert, my fitting specialist.

12.  Women with large breasts aren't "easy"; they aren't any more sexual than women with small breasts.  As a matter of fact, most of the larger breasted women that I know are more self- conscious about their bodies than our skinny, flat-chested counterparts, who seem to pull off any outfit with the ease of a super model.

13.  No, I never worked at Hooter's in college and no, I don't consider that an opportunity missed.

14.  There isn't a strapless bra made that will hold up boobs that are over 36C- I don't care what anyone says, those bras don't work and you end up with boobs everywhere- or they can morph into what I call a uniboobie.  They can also look like four boobs once the bra begins to slide.

15.  I've would never go up to someone and ask...how much does your jello arm weigh?  Or how much do you think that gut weighs? So, I don't know why people say to me "How much do you think they weigh?"  More than your brain, I am quite sure.

16.  Jewelry is limited to a choker or a necklace that is higher than the cleavage line.  Otherwise, you end up with pendants swooshing around and hypnotizing every person that you meet over the course of a day.  This could be used to your advantage if you swing the necklace back and forth in front of your boss and say "You're giving me a raise...you're giving me a raise..."

So...before you consider going under the knife to look like Pamela Anderson, think about it.  There's a lot more to the big boobies than just having big boobies.

We're Praying for you...

August 7, 2014

We're praying for you, sometimes actually means just that- at least with my friends.  But, other times in the South, it's what self-righteous people say to you when they are judging you behind your back and quite often to your face. It seems to be more of a small town thing, but I think it crosses all lines.  "Hon, we're praying for your son (to turn straight) or Hon, we're praying for you (to stop being a Mary worshiping Catholic and get right with the Lord because you ain't like us) or Hon, we're praying you find a good man (that ain't a drunkard like that last one you was married to)..." Notice the grammar in these prayers.  Are you starting to see where I am going with this?

I was born going to a Pentecostal church with my Great Grandmother who grew up Church of Christ, and then I went to a Catholic School. In third grade, I went to a Lutheran school for about four months. I went to a Baptist church for youth group and I was a summer camp counselor at the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints.  I baptized my daughter in a Methodist church, I was baptized Catholic, I was married the second time in an Episcopal church, and I have a Presbyterian Aunt.  I think I've covered my bases in the Christian arena.  My parents started dragging me to a Pentecostal church when I was in high school and that is where they met Brother and Sister So-and-So.

The So-and-So  family "prays" for me. I love the way that they look at me and cock their heads to the side and roll their eyes up  little when they say "Hon, I'm praying for you."  I love the matriarch of this family and I truly believe that she is the most sincere, kind, and precious woman who has ever lived.  She truly is zen and practices what she preaches. Her family, though, looks down on others who aren't as "holy" as they are. Her children and most especially, her husband, have always looked at me like I wearing the scarlet letter and even more so since I converted to Catholicism. Lord knows, I've made my share of mistakes in this life. I know that I am a sinner and that grace is all that I've got going for me in this world.  I know where I have fallen short of living up to my faith, and no one has to remind me of my short-comings, and for grace I am grateful and thankful every single day.

I saw the So-and-So's  at a recent function where the Patriarch of their tribe looked at me with utter disdain and said "We been praying for you, Miss Holly".  You know how you always want to respond with something witty and clever and then always think of that witty and clever response during the car ride home?  Well, here is my response:

"Brother So-and-so, thank you so much. I've been praying for you too.  I woke up this morning and asked Mary, the mother of Jesus, to intervene on your behalf.  I prayed for your daughters who have always judged me, and especially that one who had those marital problems that time when her husband was addicted to porn.  I have also been praying for her daughter, the one who seems to have an affinity for the marijuana and fornicating; I don't understand her being a missionary and spewing judgment toward me on facebook when she's running all over the world getting high and sleeping with strangers. Thank the LORD she shows up on Sundays and does that interpretive dance for Jesus, I know that He appreciates it.  And hey, if us Catholics can drink all we want and repent on Sundays, I reckon y'all can too (that's what they really think).  I pray for your daughter- the one who says to her children "Just because I can't see you, Jesus can..." and I have prayed for years for that son of  hers- the one who tried to feel up my daughter on the school bus that time when they went to Six Flags (I know Jesus saw THAT).  I don't think I have ever apologized properly for the fact that she might have sterilized him when she kicked him in the family jewels. I've also been praying for the spirit of gossiping that seems to run rampant in your family.  I pray that you, Brother So-and-so, will learn to practice what you preach by taking a stand for what is right ALL the time and not overlooking adultery when it affects your hunting lease.  I pray that your personal morality won't have such a cheap price tag on it. I pray that you will overcome your ignorance and realize that your church isn't the only one going to heaven. I pray that you will realize that not only your prayers make it up the chain . And I pray that even though I don't jump pews and act like a crazy person who has been released without their meds on a three day pass, that God will hear my prayers as loudly as he hears yours.  I hope that one day you realize that Jesus isn't a jerk and that he actually did love EVERYONE- ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE WORLD- red and yellow, black AND white.  Love doesn't have colors at my church, your Granddaughter and her boyfriend would love it here. And I want you to know, Brother So-and-so, that I will keep you in my prayers every day and I pray that one day you may find true peace in God's arms and that you will one day understand His love to be without bounds and limitations, even for sinners like me. I also pray that you learn to tie a Windsor knot so that clip-on ties will no longer be necessary for you."

And the people said, Amen.

Granddaddy and Keeping it Real

August 6, 2014

“A man who denies his past is a man who truly denies himself a future, for he refuses to know himself, and to deny knowledge of oneself is to stumble through life as handicapped as the blind mute.” 

By the time that I was born, Granddaddy was getting older.  He was 66 when I came into the world and we were immediately best friends.  He retired in 1977 against his will, kicking and screaming. He was 71 that year and it was time.

Always an amateur gardener, he took gardening to a new level once he retired.  We had banana trees with baby bananas on them by the pool and there was a pomegranate bush underneath Grandmother's window.  Mind you, all of this was years before pomegranates were en vogue as a super fruit.

Granddaddy's apple trees were my first example of rhythmic design, and they grew in two rows behind the banana bushes.  By June, they were loaded with tiny crab apple fruit that Bigmama would peel and cook in butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon when she was visiting.  There were rows of pear trees, blueberry bushes, plum, and peach trees.  My Granddaddy created his own Eden in the midst of flat, hot, south Alabama and turned the ten acres that defined his yard into a veritable outdoor marketplace.

We would pick plums warmed by the sun and have the juice running down our chins. When I was with him, manners flew out of the window.  I could slurp and make all of the gross noises that I wanted as long as my Grandmother wasn't around.  He taught me to drive when I was eleven,  and I was allowed to drive his car back and forth to my house that was three miles away-  all by myself.

He called me "Boy" until he died.  I was twenty-eight when he passed.  I had been married, divorced, given birth, and still, to him, my name was "Boy".

I spent a lot of time helping him tend to fruit trees and grapevines, fertilizing them, pruning and picking them.   I probably learned more during those days about who he was than any other time I spent with him.  Granddaddy had an unquestionable work ethic. He would work you in the dirt, but only after 11 a.m., never during the Walter Cronkite news hour from 5-6 p.m, and then again from 6 p.m. until dark.

I believe his penchant for acquiring 8-10 hours of sleep per night is why he lived so long, in spite of the abuse that he did to his body in his younger years running a hospital and rarely sleeping.  I never remember him doing much before 10 a.m. other than eating the Raisin Bran Grandmother put out at his placemat every day.  Every morning, Grandmother would arise and head down the hall in her satin peignoir set. She always had the most beautiful pajamas. As she sacheted down the hall with the grace and presence of  a 1940's Hollywood movie star,  she was glamorous. She still is everything that can be defined as glamour.

Once the coffee was perking, Grandmother made Granddaddy's cereal and put it at his place at the table.  Like clock work, she would go back to her dressing room and put on her face for the day, while leaving his cereal to soak for at least thirty minutes (he had a hernia). I know, gross, but that's how he rolled for breakfast.  After over forty years of marriage, my Grandfather never saw my Grandmother a single morning without her hair and makeup.  She never emerged for anyone to see her before her "face was on".

She would emerge a picture of perfection, and he might or might not change out of his pajamas all day long. When Granddaddy was practicing medicine, there were many days that he went to work in his pajamas. Pajamas weren't a far cry from scrubs, were they?  Granddaddy believed in comfort and marching to his own drum- and he marched to his own drum better than anyone I know.

He always had time for me and I spent many days sitting on his desk with a prescription pad learning to write my name, while "helping him" with patients.  He was Dr. Holley, and I was "Dr. Holly". Granddaddy did exactly what he wanted, exactly the way that he wanted to do it, and apologized to no man for the methods to his madness.  He was an inventor,  a genius- who had an obsession with quantum physics, and believed that a perpetual motion machine could be invented. He was constantly working on  his "wheel".  I believe that if he had lived long enough to truly enjoy the miracle of the internet, he could have solved the energy crisis by defying the laws of physics.

I can remember patients coming from hundreds of miles away to see him.  They would sign in at the small waiting room and sit in their cars in the driveway at my Grandparents' home.  Sometimes Granddaddy would see seventy patients in one day.  All of those people, in their cars with picnics waited in the cold or heat to get in to spend ten minutes with him.  Unlike today's general physicians, mired in malpractice insurance and regulations, he gave of himself freely and never charged for office visits, only for procedures.  If a patient couldn't pay, he saw them anyway.  Granddaddy's mission was to provide care to everyone, regardless of their financial situation.

Back then, people who couldn't pay would bring vegetables, chickens, pigs, goats, cows, you name it!  Most of the furniture that I had when I started out was from people who brought furniture to pay their bills.  He would tell his patients that he didn't want their bedroom furniture or trinkets, and they would drop it off in the yard anyway and leave it with a note because that is just how country people were back then.  There was this one particular wash stand that had been a poor, country lady's prized possession.  She had died owing my Grandfather for a procedure.  When she passed, her husband showed up with that wash stand and said that it was her dying wish for Dr. Holley to have that piece of furniture for all that he had done for her.  That piece of furniture is probably still at the farm today.

Granddaddy struggled with many things in this life. He lost his father when he was fairly young and had to drop out of high school for a year and run the family's drug store. His mother died when he was in his fifties and I know that he always missed her. He suffered from milk leg that was a result of some kind of fever he had as a teenager. During the war years, he was one of the only doctors in town, and kept the hospital running.  He rarely slept and carried a huge burden for my hometown until the other doctors returned from WWII.

What Granddaddy didn't struggle with was his faith.  He knew the Bible backward and forward and shared with me from every page.  I think we probably read it through at least twice together.  He was consumed with end times prophecy and had me convinced that the world was going to end in 1985.  Because of his faith, I think that Granddaddy had an unwavering ability to keep it real.  Dr. Holley never mixed words much.  If you didn't want to know how he felt, you probably shouldn't have asked. If he thought you were heading to hell in a hand basket, he would tell you, and and then share the love and forgiveness of Christ.

Jehovah's Witnesses met their match in my Grandfather.  He LOVED for a JW to visit the house. The conversation always began with "I tell you what, I will listen to your Watch Tower business, but only after you let me share my Jesus with you."  He beat them down to a point that most of them conceded that he was correct because he could match them verse for verse and trump whatever they said. They finally stopped sending people to our house.  I think they lost too many members. Later in life, I met a really nice guy who was a Jehovah's Witness and I just couldn't date him because I knew that I would win every argument that we ever had about religion.  I had seen this movie and truly had an unfair advantage.

I missed him today terribly.  There are so many things that I want to share with him, so many questions that I want to ask him.  I want to tell him that his great-grandson Paul looks exactly like him, and that his grandson, Nicholas, has his sense of humor and is maybe the funniest little boy that I have ever met.  I hope he knows that his granddaughter, Camille, is a math wizard and is what he would've looked like as a girl, and that my daughter, Mary Catherine, just graduated from nursing school and finally SOMEONE went into medicine!  I wonder if he knows that his granddaughter, Danielle, is a special education teacher who has the patience of a saint and that she truly is called to do beautiful things and that her brother Trey is going to be a physical therapist and is a healer as well. I wonder if he knows that my stepchildren are working on their doctorates in cellular biology? He would be so proud of all of our children.  I think of the strawberry milkshakes (with ice cream in them, as he would say) that we drank, and the Monte Cristos that we smoked (while hiding from my Grandmother), and all of the hours that I danced on his feet to Frank Sinatra and Guy Lombardo, and I long for those days.  And I truly, truly hope that his version of heaven is right and that one day we get to dance in our pajamas together again.

The Kitchen Chemist: Deciphering Grandmother's Lemon Meringue Recipe

August 3, 2014

Grandmother (left) and her first cousin, Jody, at Grand's 85th birthday celebration.

     Anyone who has ever eaten my Grandmother's cooking will tell you that she is arguably one of the best cooks in the South. I will put her head to head with Paula Deen any day.  She's pretty much a super hero and I'm not sure if she has alien DNA or what is in her body, but she never ages.  She runs on a treadmill every morning for about an hour, climbs ladders to change her own light bulbs, and is offended when I tell her not to do something because of her age.  She has no limitations and never has.  Sort of the Ketut Liyer of Damascus, she is always smiling, always has a positive attitude regardless of the situation, and just flat out tells it like it is. You NEVER have to wonder where you stand with her because when she has had enough, she will just hang up on you- period, the end.

     Replete with wisdom and one liners, my morning phone calls to her every day are usually the highlight of my day.  She has lived her life marching to her own drum, and has never cared much about what people think about her or how she lives her life.  With a name as unique as her approach to living, Lenis has made things work for her, regardless of her situation. To have been born shortly prior to the crash of 1929, she is a very unconventional woman who has been breaking glass ceilings and boundaries that most women of her generation dared not dream touch.  From having a pet pig that could swim, to painting the letters on the county buses as as summer job when she was sixteen, she has always done things her own way.

     Of course, this would apply to recipes- which she never follows.  All recipes are in her head.  Every year, we grab a bottle of wine, have a few glasses and then call Grandmother to get her cornbread dressing recipe.  And each year, I write it down and laugh that it is just a "little bit" different than it was the year before, and she always says "To be a good cook, you have to experiment and taste things as you go.  I'm perfecting things constantly."

    I woke up this morning thinking of Lemon Ice Box pie and looked in my trusty recipe book to find her recipe.  I looked at what I written down and then had to call for clarification.  Here is what it read..and then I will tell you what she said.

3-4 yokes
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c Lemon Juice (4 lemons) rind
3 beaten egg whites 
1/2 cream of tartar
1/3 c   or 2T/ egg - sugar
1/2 t vanilla
Graham cracker crust, just a dab of sugar and enough butter.

This is what her recipes look like.  I had no idea what the hell this meant.  So, I dialed up the kitchen chemist and it went something like this.

"Who told you to put 1/2 t of cream of tartar?  Good Lord!  That is too much.  You don't need more than a 1/4t. Be careful with that vanilla.  And I don't make that crust homemade anymore when there are good ones at the store, but you do what you want.  I have no idea how much butter it takes to make the crust if you are going to make one homemade. Can't you figure it out while you are putting it together?  You should know by now when there is enough butter to make a crust; you cook just like I do. And you'd better use the Eagle Brand milk because it makes a difference.  Don't get some sorry store brand or your pie just won't turn out.  Don't grate all four of those lemons or your mouth will be puckered up.  Just use enough zest to give it some flavor.  How much is that?  Well, I don't know- just zest one of those lemons.  Now days, they say to cook the custard for the pie, but none of us ever died from salmonella and this makes a wonderful pie- the one that you all love so much and fight over.  Don't put the cream of tartar in until the end when you finally get peaks.  Make sure you use those good Honey graham crackers now, don't use some other brand."

So here we go- if you want the recipe, this is it:


Preheat oven to 350.

Crust:  Get some graham grackers - try a sleeve of them- cause I can't remember how many it takes..but start with this: 
See, I am more like her than I think sometimes.
Mix in about 1/4 c of sugar and then melt a stick of butter.
Crush the graham crackers in a ziplock bag, add in the sugar and pour the melted butter in with the crushed crackers.  It should form a ball and you should be able to spread it out in the pie plate to make a crust.  I like mine thick.

Lemon Pie Filling:
Separate 3 egg yolks and put the whites over to the side for the meringue later
Mix in 1 can (14oz) of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
Juice abour four lemons- or however many it takes to come up with 1/2 c of fresh lemon juice.
Prior to the juicing, make sure that you zest/ grate the rind from one of the lemons (gives it a little extra punch)
Mix with a wire whisk until it's all blended and it's all mixed well and looks creamy and consistent.
Pour filling into the crust.

Take your 3 egg whites and add in 6 T of sugar and
1/2 t vanilla extract (not flavoring)
Beat on medium until the whites begin to stiffen, then add in 1/4 t cream of tartar
When you finally get firm peaks that stand up on their own pour the meringue on top of the lemon filling and use a spoon to make pretty peaks all over the pie.  You want one pretty curly peak in the center because that always makes me smile.

Bake 10-15 minutes at 350 until the meringue starts to brown.  Watch it carefully and do not let it burn.

I have really been struggling to eat clean and vegan and without sugar, but I think a lemon pie is calling my name.  I am going to set a goal for myself this week and if I meet it, I might make a pie.  Happy baking if you decide to use the recipe. If you do make this lemon pie and love it, please leave a comment for my Grand.  She loves it when I share her recipes and people enjoy them.

Love y'all,

She Let Herself Go!

July 15, 2014

"She let herself go" is a phrase that I heard quite often during my childhood. If you didn't grow up in the South and you don't know this, one of the very WORST things a woman can do is let herself go. I don't mean on a trip or crazy- although crazy sometimes falls in line when a woman does let herself go- but, I am speaking of the "let herself go" as in she  just let herself fall into disrepair. That is what has happened to me.

It sort of crept up on me, the falling apart. I don't remember waking up and making a decision to get fat, or to stop doing my skin care regimen, or to eat a bag of Oreos for a snack,  or to start wearing Birkenstocks twelve months out of the year,  but somewhere along the way, I lost myself.  In my twenties, while my friends were developing their crows feet that now require botox, I was running five miles a day and putting gobs of acid on my face every night. I had a six pack. My boobs were amazing.  You could have bounced a quarter off of my butt.  My legs looked like I was a track star.  I really looked great in heels.  I had matching underwear that I bought just because it made ME happy, not for anyone else to see, but because it made me feel pretty and I wore it every day.  

And then, I lost myself.

I got married after ten years of being a single mom.  With the package, I brought one pissed off, very territorial daughter, who had always been a joy, but did not want me getting married, and blended her with  two step children who had their own challenges at their home with a new stepdad.  A new blended family at our house and a new baby on the way at their mom's, and they had a mess!  Also note, their parents' divorce was fresh when their mom remarried and when Jimbo and I started dating.  If our family had been a  restaurant, our special of the day would have been Emotional Turd Soup with a side of Hurt Feelings, with Bitch Pie for desert.

I lost myself in trying to mend other people's hurts and by trying to restore things that were broken. I wanted everyone to be happy.  I grew up being a fixer, and a mediator between my mother and grandmother.  I was parentified  and learned early that fixing people and situations was my lot in life- or so I thought- since then I have learned that is no longer my job.   I had the best of intentions but really made a mess out of some things.  I didn't have a handbook for some of the crap that we were dealt early on in our marriage. I let my own hurt feelings make me act like a child and I had some fits that I can never erase from my memory or my family's.  I don't recommend the ex-wife package on any of the new husband models.

So many times during all of this, I lost myself trying to substitute what I really wanted for what was available to me at the time.  In the back of my mind, I didn't deserve what I really wanted because I thought that I wasn't good enough for that.  Too many "selfish little bitch" conversations and situations with my mother from my childhood were rooted in my brain.  I thought that I always had to give in order to be loved.  There wasn't much love freely given in our family, and I still find myself trying to "earn" love and approval.  Amazing that I can grasp the concept of "Grace" with God, but not my own family.  I also think that I had read too many fairy tales and had to many princess friends living in dream castles with perfect children, and perfect jobs, and house keepers.  Most of that, ended up being lies, but at the time, I was pretty jealous of what seemed to be so perfect for my friends.

Hiding our wants and needs seems to begin at an early age- parents telling babies that they aren't hungry, or that they don't need a sip of water- that is when we begin burying our true desires and wants.   We are told to bury those wants and we, even as babies and toddlers, let ourselves go.

I lost myself in a retail store that was a daily reminder of what I had given up to have it- and truth be told, I didn't even really want the damned thing, I just wanted an avenue to make the extra money to buy the house that wasn't bursting at the seams with people.  I thought that if I made enough money, we could move into the dream house, my husband would change his mind and give me the baby that he promised me when we married.  But, none of those things happened.  I let other people make my decisions for me and that is no one's fault but my own. And some of the things that happened, just happened.  My husband didn't wake up one day and create a market crash.  And, he had no idea his ex-wife would be the way that she was toward me from the start, or that I would end up raising his son with no emotional support from anyone.  

I let a teenage daughter walk all over me and I tried to set boundaries with everything that I knew to do. Tough love, counseling, we tried it all.  I let children manipulate our home and our marriage, and allowed my husband's ex-wife to control years of my life.   It feels like I read every book on parenting, and still, somehow, I failed my children.   I wonder so many times what if I had done things differently, been a different wife, a different mother, if I had looked at my business as a form of my creative expression and been thankful to have that amazing job every day instead of viewing it as what I traded for what I gave up, how much happier and fulfilled I would have been.  But guilt, and shame and depression, just kicked me in the teeth.

And so why did I write this?  Because I let myself go.  And now, I'm forty something and completely reinventing myself for about the fourth time in my life, maybe fifth.  But this time, I am following MY heart, MY passion, and My own desires, I am writing from my heart.   I am not really interested about what you think about me or if you need to flag down my Aunt Shelia at the Piggly Wiggly to fact check my ramblings because you are a nosy person that I don't really even know.  What I have learned in these forty something years, is that is your problem, not mine.  If you have a question for me, email me at deepsouthramblings@gmail.com and I will be happy to respond promptly.

So, yes, this time...I am letting myself go.  I'm going to the gym, I'm going to the beach, I'm going to make amends for things I've done wrong and the people I've let down along my path. I'm letting myself go to acupuncture and I'm swimming in a fat girl swimsuit until I can get into the skinny girl version..  I'm letting myself go be free without guilt and the burdens of not being perfect that weigh me down.  I'm letting myself go be happy.  I'm letting myself finally feel like I deserve some of the happiness that is presented to me.  And, I'm going to let go of the people who don't bring happiness into my life. People who constantly make me feel like I am a terrible, inadequate person, need to go.  I'm letting myself GO down a road to happiness.  I'm going to a place of health.  I'm going home to a two bedroom apartment that has hardly no maintenance that is probably the coolest place that I have ever lived and it is a far cry from the dream house that we almost bought.  I'm going to a place where stress doesn't exist in my life and a place where my deadlines are self-imposed.  I'm going to a place where I am appreciated and not tolerated.  I'm going to a place of acceptance where I can share my flaws and fears and short comings and epic failures and be accepted and not judged. I'm going to a place where I can stand on my own opinion freely and not give a darn about what anyone else thinks.    I'm letting myself go to a place of peace and contentment.  Come with me?

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