Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Decorations

The Christmas trees of my childhood were always cedar. My parents bought them live at the local tree lot. The day we set up the tree was always special. The decorations were fragile and varied, many of them from the Depression era or World War II. Most of the ornaments were glass and fragile. The angel had paper wings and a scowl on her face, worthy of a Depression-era angel. The string of lights had large pointed bulbs in red, green, blue and orange. Invariably the lights were tangled and my father’s job (cursing the while) was to untangle them. Usually, when they were plugged in they didn’t work. And, of course, in those days if any one bulb was bad or one socket defective, the whole string didn’t light up. Daddy would patiently take his voltmeter and check each socket until he found the problem. Yes, our strings of lights often had black electrical tape splices. We finished off the tree by throwing strands of tinsel on it – always making a horrendous mess. Without fail, before New Year’s Day, the tree had to come down. Forget the 12 Days of Christmas. Down South we had traditions and our tradition was it was bad luck to have a Christmas tree standing on New Year’s Day. Usually we burned the tree at the corner of the backyard, where we burned all the paper trash.

Soon the cedar tree gave way to a spruce imported from some distant northern state. It still smelled good, though arguably as messy as the cedar tree. We added some new shiny ornaments, but the years went by and nothing much changed.

Then in 1958, the year we moved, we got modern. My mother bought one of those aluminum trees that were all the rage. She decorated it with matching pink ornaments and then at night we used a color wheel and spotlight to change its color from red, to the blue, to green, to gold. The pink ornaments really faded into the background. I remember sitting in the living room as a young teenager, thinking about how cool and modern our family was, as I watched the color of the tree change.

That same year, my mother added a hummingbird tree. She decorated a small, green table-top tree with small multicolored hummingbirds that clipped on. They had small fiber wings and tails and actually were very pretty and delicate – a nice counterbalance to the aluminum tree.

In the late ‘50s our next door neighbor taught my mother how to make soap Christmas trees. Actually, they were rather clever and certainly a good mother/daughter activity. We made a cone out of chicken wire, inserted a dowel, and then stuffed it with newspaper. We then mounted the dowel in a square block of wood. But, here’s the best part, we dumped Ivory Flakes and water in the mixer and whipped up this substance that resembled meringue. We added pink food coloring and “iced” the chicken wire tree with our soapy concoction. Then we added some tiny ornaments (just stuck them in the soap) and topped the whole thing with glitter. We made a bunch of them and took them to cheer up the sick and elderly, and, of course, kept one for ourselves. It stood proudly in the entrance hall to greet everyone who attended our holiday party. Fortunately, this was a one season venture!

But, within a few years the aluminum tree was passé. Ornaments in bright colors were back, along with twinkly lights in multi-colors. Once again, we had a live tree. By then I was in college and decorating the tree became part of my “home for the holiday” ritual.

By 1969, I was married and my young husband and I came home for Christmas from Illinois. When we arrived, we had the task for decorating the tree. But Steve never was into tree decorating, so my mother and I did it.

But by 1971, our son was on his way and we were in California with our own home. David was due December 23 and my parents were flying out to be with us for Christmas. I decided that it would be a good idea to do the tree early – just in case. I went to a discount store and bought green, gold, red and silver smallish dull coated ornaments (144 to be exact – 12 boxes of 12) and an artificial tree (we didn’t want to have a live tree with a new baby). I also bought one box of ornament hooks alleged to contain 144 hooks. So I was all set. On December 6, I set up the tree and discovered that I was short 23 hooks. Boy, was I mad and I called the store where I bought the hooks and complained. The answer was – “They were made in China --- you could have a few more or less than is listed on the box. Why not just by another box and you will be set for years to come.” Today that seems like prudent advice, but to an expectant mother, that was an unsatisfactory answer. Instead of indulging them by purchasing more hooks, I simply used some bent paper clips. That will teach them! David was born the next day!

The next couple of years we just decorated that same artificial tree, but the final year we were in California, we decided to go to the Christmas tree farm and cut down a fresh tree. David was older now and we thought it would be a treasured memory (I should ask him if he remembers – I doubt he does). For those five Christmases, my parents came to our house and we all shared Christmas with my uncle and his family who coincidentally lived in the same area.

Once we moved to Maryland, we resumed the tradition of going to Alabama for Christmas. Still, we put up the old artificial tree, decorated it and took it down before New Year’s Day. During those years, when David was growing up, we amassed a collection of ornaments – many of them handmade. You see, I was teaching and it was the norm for students to give teachers ornaments.

When we went to Alabama sometimes my mother already had the tree up before we arrived. That was OK with me, as I had already decorated one tree before we left. But one year I remember, we decided (most likely with David’s urging) that my mother needed a live tree and we went out and bought one. I am not sure how much she appreciated the needles shedding, but it seemed like a good idea. They used the same old decorations, and they seemed special.

The years drifted by. David went from a toddler to a teenager. The last Christmas in Birmingham was 1988. My mother was dying with lung cancer and we all knew it. It was a horrid Christmas. We made a feeble attempt at decorations. There was no party and Christmas Eve we had Chinese take-out. We had Christmas dinner and our friends, the Joneses, joined us, as usual. I did a lot of the cooking, as did Eloise, as my mother was too weak. But she couldn’t stand watching us mess up the gravy, so she threw us both out of the kitchen and did it herself. It was perfect, as always. That Christmas an azalea was in bloom at the back gate. My mother always loved azaleas. I can’t help but think this one bloomed in December just for her. By January 13, my mother was gone.

Those next two Christmases my father flew up to spend with us. We decorated our artificial tree in the family room and bought a new small artificial tree for the bay window in the living room. Daddy wasn’t well, but we tried very hard to enjoy the time together.

We moved into our new house in 1992, though it seems just yesterday and the house still seems new to me. David has been married for many years now and his wife and the grandkids help me with the decorations. I discovered I was allergic to poinsettias, so I have a good-sized collection of silk poinsettias that we pull out every year. I have a special cabinet under the eaves where I store everything. I put a wreath on the door (guess I have had that same wreath now for about 14 years). Most years we just decorate the small tree and put it on the table in the bay window in the living room. All the ornaments are different. Strangely, the only things that survived from those original decorations from my childhood are the cross-eyed angel and a couple of hummingbirds. We still put them on the tree. I have grown rather attached to the cross-eyed angel. I still have a bunch of those dull small ornaments from 1971, but the other ornaments are much more interesting to use and the tree is small. But, whenever we need more ornament hooks, we use bent paper-clips. I have never bought another box of ornament hooks. I guess now it is a matter of principle.

I look around the neighborhood and notice that some of my neighbors have extravaganzas with outdoor lights. I doubt that is something I will ever do. Not that I mind them, but I don’t know how in the world at age 60 I am going to get them up in the trees or strung along the edge of the house. Then, of course, I would still have to get them down by New Year’s Day. A couple of years there, though I slipped up and left the decorations up after New Year’s – talk about bad luck!! I will have them down by New Year’s Day for sure this year. I want 2007 to be my best year yet

Sunday, November 26, 2006


My bedroom when was growing up didn’t have a closet – not until my father built one when I was about ten years old. Everything I had fit nicely in my small white dresser. Actually, I don’t recall actually using that closet for my stuff, but my mother had it filled with dresses and shoes. My father built a closet in their bedroom, but he had his clothes in that one. My grandparents, who had the back bedroom had a metal cabinet where they hung all their clothes. Now that I think about it, that cabinet was awfully small…still they managed to be well-dressed. My grandmother kept her hats in boxes on top of the closet.

In that old house there was also a very large walk-in closet off the kitchen. It was a strange and mysterious place filled with out-of-season clothes, sheets and towels, the vacuum cleaners, and an assortment of things they had no other place for. Once a year they cleaned it out and it was a big deal.

The house also had a big walk-in pantry off the kitchen. They kept china and food in the pantry. One day I was outside and heard a large crash. A shelf in the pantry had collapsed and all of my grandmother’s fine china was broken. All I have left of it today are a few serving pieces that managed to escape.

When we moved to our new house, there was a closet in each bedroom and even two linen closets in the hallway. The closets were small by today’s standards, but luxurious by 1958 standards. There was no pantry, so my mother had one of the kitchen cabinets converted to a make-shift pantry – great for food and broom, however. She kept an overflow pantry in the basement consisting of metal shelves in the garage. She couldn’t resist a sale on canned goods, so we always had plenty of food on hand just in case of World War III. There were two closets in the entrance hall. She kept things like table leaves and baskets in one, along with tablecloths. In the other one, they had winter coats and all my father’s suit jackets. The basement had a huge closet under the stairs, but as time went on, the basement itself became more and more like a giant closet.

It’s funny, but I can’t remember much about the closets in my college dormitory, but I know we had them. What I do recall is that each summer we had to take all of our stuff home. I had a clothes bar that stretched across the back seat of the car – once I had a car on campus which wasn’t until my sophomore year. You could always spot the college students on the highways by their clothes rails.

When we first go married I had to share a clothes closet with my husband. That immediately proved problematic. Our first house, in San Bernardino, had two closets in the master bedroom, one of the house’s nicest features. It was luxurious! Still I overflowed my clothes into the guest room closet and had to do the seasonal closet swap.

But when we moved to Maryland in 1976, we bought a house with only one closet in the master bedroom. That was not a wise move. I gave that closet to my husband and for many years kept all my clothes in the guest room closet across the hall. Plus there was a large cedar-lined closet in the basement and I used that for my off-season clothes. It worked, but the seasonal trek up and down the stairs wasn’t fun. Finally, in 1989, I had had enough and we built another closet in the corner of the master bedroom and a huge pantry and two more closets. Life started looking up!

When we built our house in 1992, we knew we wanted LOTS of closets. We designed big walk-in closets for ourselves in an area off the master bedroom. Both have lots of built in shelving and mine even has a window. Recently I installed a small water cooler so I don’t have to go downstairs to get filtered water. Finally, I don’t have to do the seasonal clothes swap anymore. The result, however, is that clothes tend to accumulate unworn in the closet. Once a year I have to go through and get rid of things, otherwise that closet would totally max out and start overflowing to other rooms.

We put big standard type lighted closets in all the bedrooms and have three linen closets, plus a big walk-in pantry, a large entrance hall closet, office closets, and more. And, of course, we have managed to fill all of them.

The closets in my office are especially deep. They are designed to hold filing cabinets, and they do quite nicely. My office, on the main floor of the house, is designed for easy conversion to a bedroom if either of us should be incapacitated and unable to climb stairs. The filing closets quickly convert to clothes closets and the hallway closet, which now has shelving and a spare refrigerator, can be converted to hold a washer and dryer.

I guess with closets, you can never have enough. But in our house, we have sure tried to have to maximum we can. I love closets – they keep things handy, but out of sight. One of the hardships of being an early settler in the US was that most people didn’t have closets. I guess they didn’t have that many clothes and closets were taxed – so why bother! Oh, how the world has changed. Today there are whole stores devoted to closet systems.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Environment

As a kid in grammar school, I heard about Smokey the Bear. It was a clear message. Don’t burn down the forest. Not that this was something I had even considered doing, or might do even accidentally. I didn’t smoke, nor did any of my eight-year old friends, and we didn’t even make campfires, except possibly under adult supervision. But we were definitely committed to the cause of conservation.

The years passed, along with the Civil Right Movement, the Vietnam War, the Feminist Movement and all manner of cultural changes. Then, in 1969 – I remember it well, people started talking about the environment. I was grown and married by then. My first thought, was how nice – this is a subject that everyone can agree on. From my limited perspective, it was going to be like all the other raging movements in the country, with the one exception that everyone would be in agreement. Naïve – you bet!

The Hippies easily embraced environmentalism. Right away, that turned off many people. If the Hippies like it, it can’t be important. I wasn’t a Hippie, but I thought taking care of the environment made sense. Not that I did much about it, but I tried to be responsible in my own backyard – whatever that meant.

In 1971, we found ourselves living in San Bernardino, California. Talk about a life-changing experience! Air pollution was REAL. The air was so thick with pollution that you could barely see a block away. We didn’t know we had a view of the mountains from our kitchen window until three months after we moved in. I felt lousy all the time; I remember my joints ached. One of our cars, a Dodge Dart, came equipped with California emissions controls. It cost more money because of it. It was clear to me that pollution wasn’t a matter to be taken lightly, and I made environmental responsibility one of the things that was important to me in voting decisions.

In 1976, when we moved to Maryland, air pollution was not on the local radar screen. Environmentalists were called “tree-huggers” and many thought them to be “over the top.” I kept my own belief system in place and tried to make a difference where I could.

In about 1977 I wrote a newspaper article about Severn Run, the headwaters of the Severn River. The story required me to walk the land with a ranger. I saw the effects of water pollution with my own eyes. From then on, water pollution was high on my list of environmental concerns.

Through my community work, I found myself leading an umbrella association, the Greater Severna Park Council, and a good friend was involved in the Severn River Association at the same time. He got me to attend some environmental coalition meetings. The goal was to bring all the community groups who cared about the environment together to take joint stands. It was a great idea, but it never really worked because of the independent nature of each organization. Still, the result was improved communication. For this group, water pollution was the main concern; air pollution was on the list, but pretty far down.

My work with the community, however, made me understand that in our area there are two major forces – development and environmentalism. In simplistic terms, people see business as anti-environmental and environmentalists as anti-business. But, of course, it is not that simple, and anyone who takes the time to try to understand the dynamic knows that. In my view, it comes down to – you don’t foul your own nest. Business groups in our area have environmental committees who do some fine work. Environmental groups are not necessarily against business, but they do expect business to play by the rules.

We live on the water, in the Critical Area. The 100 feet of our lot closest to the water, we can’t change. We can’t, for example, chop down the trees and plant grass. On the other hand, we did get a permit to build a walkway down to our pier. The older the home, the more the likeihold that the lot was stripped before the law was enacted. Personally, I love our natural backyard. The view changes dramatically with the seasons and we feel like we are living in the treetops.

When I chaired the County’s Cancer Task Force, I learned a great deal about our local environment. One thing I learned was that we do have air pollution issues here in Maryland that are getting more and more significant. I learned that the water pollution is causing problems for our fish, oysters and crabs. But I also learned that you can’t prove any of this causes cancer – at least not any one individual’s cancer. But should we be concerned? Absolutely!

These days I manage a regional carwash association. I have learned that it is much more environmentally responsible to use a carwash than to wash my car in the driveway. Of course, I never have liked to wash my car in the driveway. It is too hard, wet, and messy. Now, I can take my car to the wash and be environmentally responsible at the same time.

I imagine the major effects of pollution will be felt long after I am gone, but it would be irresponsible not to care. My grandchildren’s world could be much better than ours if we put partisan politics aside and unite around environmental issues.

As for me – I recycle my trash; I go to the carwash; and I think my next car might just be a Hybrid.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Furniture has a way of sticking around long after its owners. Not that it is a bad thing, but as the generations go by, the amount of furniture to be passed along to the next generation multiplies. Some items must be given up or wear out, others just keep on going.

I thought it might be fun to trace what has happened to a few pieces of furniture from my childhood. You know…. where are they now?

My grandmother’s rocking chair: I honestly don’t know where she got it or when, but my mother told me that they had it when she was a small child. On one of the arms there is a small round hole that my mother apparently whittled out. My doubt my grandmother was not pleased. This rocker had a stuffed seat and padding on the T-shaped back. From what my mother told me, the rocker had not originally had a padded back, but that the wood cracked and she decided to upholster the back to match the seat. The night my grandmother died, in 1957, she sat in the rocker awaiting the ambulance’s arrival. She was having a massive heart attack. I can still see her sitting in the rocker in her nightgown, her face dripping with perspiration. I think in those days, the rocker was covered in blue fabric. The next year, we moved to a new house and my mother “re-did” the rocker to match the new house. She replaced the fabric with a rose velvet. For thirty-two years the rocker sat in the living room of my parents’ home. When my mother died, I inherited the rocker. I found a place for it in my living room. Then, when we built our new house in 1992, I saw that it had a prominent place in the living room. It is still covered with my mother’s pink velvet fabric. The chair is big and comfortable, and very special. I don’t know what wood it is made of…maybe pine, but it is stained mahogany.

My grandfather’s chifferobe: My grandfather was born in 1878 and I have been told that he received the chifferobe as a young man around the turn of the century. I don’t know for sure, but was told that it was made in England and shipped on the Mississippi to his home in Memphis. I suppose he must have used it between 1900 and 1940, but from its condition in the late ‘40s it was not used gently. The chifferobe used to sit on the back porch. The back porch was really an enclosed room off the kitchen. It has twenty-eight windows, the freezer, the washing machine, the dryer, a green cabinet for garden supplies, and the chifferobe. We kept paint, tools, the DDT dispenser, etc. in the chifferobe. Some of the drawers were missing hardware, so we would stick a screwdriver in the hole to pull out the drawer. The bottom board was rotted, like it had been flooded. When we moved in 1957, my grandfather and I begged for the chifferobe to come along. It found a home in the basement garage. One summer day, at about age 17, I decided it needed to be refinished. It always upset me to see such a beautifully carved piece in such terrible shape. It was go grand – even put together with pegs. So I refinished one drawer (stripped), the bottom one. It looked great, but life intervened and soon I was off to college. My mother saw its potential and took on the task of refinishing the piece. After months of painstaking work, a replacement bottom board (which apparently was some sort of special wood that had been blessed for a synagogue project – but matched perfectly and was available), and new hardware, the chifferobe made its way to the family room of my parents’ home. And there is staying, always with a silk fern on top, for another twenty-five years. My parents used it for storing all sorts of miscellaneous household items. My father closed the house in about 1990 when he moved to an assisted living apartment. The chifferobe came home with me. It found a home in our family room. When we built our new home, we designed it with the chifferobe in mind. It stands proudly on the entrance foyer wall. Behind the small mirrored door, we keep all of our emergency supplies – lanterns, tiny TV, radio,flashlights, etc. We keep keys, candles, wrapping paper, batteries, lightbulbs, vacuum cleaner bags, cameras and more in the chifferobe. I just put a new silk fern on top of it. It is still my favorite piece of furniture in the house.

My grandmother’s library table: My grandmother grew up in rural Clay County, Alabama. From what I have read about her Hatchett Creek Community, every respectable family had a library table prominently placed in the living room. Books were scarce and the library table was a place to display them. Library tables were high enough so that you could stand and look at a book on the surface of the table. When I was little, the library table was in the attic room my grandfather used as an office. Sometime in the mid-‘50s my mother decided to cut the table down (two large pedestal legs) and use it as a coffee table. She hired a man to do the job. He removed the veneer from the top, but on the bottom he left it in place and tacked it down. Although the table looked good, my mother was NOT happy with him for tacking down the veneer. Still, the table (tacked veneer and all) came to be my mother’s living coffee table. When my father closed down the house, it came to me. Like much of the furniture that I inherited, the table was coated with a yellow film (my parents smoked). In the rental moving van on the way up from Alabama, the heat melted the fuzzy fabric of the pads into the coating on the table. It took me many hours to remove all the fuzz and the yellow film, but today the table looks fine. It is still my coffee table in the family room. My mother used to keep the center drawer filled with playing cards. I never really have enjoyed playing cards, but I keep playing cards in that center drawer. You never know…maybe someday I will take up bridge.

My house is filled with items with this kind of history. I love them all.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Being Female

As a child, I played with other neighborhood children without regard for who was a boy and who was a girl. I didn’t really seem to matter, and we all liked the same things – playing in the woods (a vacant lot), playing cowboys and Indians, building things with bricks and, as we got older, roller skating. My best friend, Mary Jane, and I did play dolls, but not when the boys were around.

Once, when I was about four, I was playing with my friend, Butch, (who lived in the house behind us). It was a hot Alabama summer day, and he took his t-shirt off. That seemed like a fine idea to me, as well, so I took off mine. When my mother saw me running about without a top, she got very upset with me. She told me that I had to put my top on “right this minute” and that I was never to do it again. Meanwhile, Butch was standing there with his bare chest for all the world to see. I looked at his chest and then at my chest --- as far as I could see they looked exactly the same. My response was, you guessed it, “That’s not fair.” But I put my top back on and got on with life, never to remove my blouse in public ever again!

About the same time, another of my little male friends and I were playing in cardboard boxes, scooting ourselves across the carpet by sliding the boxes. For some reason, he felt compelled to show “himself” to me. Of course, I was interested. I knew that boys were different, but the details were unclear. His mother caught him, and he got in loads of trouble. I suspect he never did that again with a girl until he was MUCH older.

The whole time I was in grammar school, the differences between boys and girls and how they were treated were really not noticeable that I can recall. We were all friends, and played together at recess. The boys wore pants and we wore dresses. They had short hair and we had long hair.

In that same time frame, the early ‘50s, it was clear that what was expected for women was very different from what was expected of men. Mothers stayed home; they cooked and cleaned and sewed. When they went out, they went out to shop. Some days it was to the local shopping center or corner grocery. Some days, it was downtown to the big department stores. My mother drove, but my grandmother never learned how. So, my grandmother either rode along as a passenger or stayed home and gardened (which I think she preferred).

As a child, I wondered what my life would be like as a grown-up woman. I wasn’t really all that interested in the “domestic” things my mother and grandmother did. I was fascinated that my aunt worked in a law office. That was, of course, because she never married and had to “support herself.”

By the time I got to junior high, especially 9th grade, things started to change. We started looking at boys not as friends, but as boyfriends. In those days, it wasn’t really possible to be “friends” with a boy. Friendships with boys had to be dating-type friendships. That was a definite change, but one I accepted with—that is just the way it is.

By high school, this was even more pronounced. Some boys became more or less “gods” because they were good football players. Some girls fell into the goddess role as beauty queens. The rest of us, both boys and girls, tried to find our way. We all wanted to go to college, and about 98% of our graduating class DID go on to college. The boys were looking for careers. We girls were not sure what we were looking for.

In high school, I was told to study hard so I could get into college. Actually, I think the girls in my high school did better academically than the boys. Mothers were pushing college (remember, this was the South in the mid ‘60s) on their female daughters as a way to find a “man,” and to learn how to do something in case the unthinkable happens and you have to support yourself. You could get unlucky and not ever find a man, or the one you find may die or, heaven-forbid, divorce you. Or you could pick a real loser who was not a “good-provider.”

The summer before college, I spent time with my girlfriends talking about the future. We all wanted to do something with our lives other than just be wives and mothers. “It’s not fair” kept coming up in conversation. One friend was going to one of the “seven sisters” girls’ schools. She had to read a book called the Feminine Mystique. She asked me if I wanted to read it, but I never got around to it until years later. I wonder…would it have changed me back then?

Upon arrival at college, it was clear the landscape had changed. This was Auburn University in 1964. There was many more boys that girls (something mothers, including mine, had mentioned repeatedly during the college selection process). And it was immediately clear that the boys got considerably more freedom than we girls. Not that we were exactly looking for freedom. Just living in a dorm and not having parents telling us what to do was a big change.

Girls HAD to live in the dormitory; there was one large dormitory for boys, but boys could live wherever they liked. There as a legal doctrine of “in loco parentis” that gave the university the right to control the lives of its female students – known in those days as “co-eds.” Since boys typically come with parents as well, we were always a bit puzzled as to why they didn’t have to have rules, too. “It’s not fair” was heard a lot around the campus.

State law at that time was quite clear on the subject of drinking. You had to be 21. At Auburn, this was interpreted as “girls had to be 21.” Boys could drink, and did drink – to great excess! The beer and bourbon flowed freely in apartments and frat houses. Obviously, the boys weren’t doing all the drinking, but the girls (who typically mixed bourbon with Coca-Cola) could be kicked out of school. In my dorm, we had to take turns standing at the desk and smelling our fellow students’ breath at the desk. My sorority sisters made a pact – if they caught a sister with alcohol on her breath, she would first be reported internally to the “standards committee” before being reported to the school. Meanwhile, the boys drank and drank and drank and nobody cared. “It’s not fair” was our only response, but we did as we were told (at least I did).

We co-eds had other rules that didn’t apply to the boys. We had to be in the dorm by 11 p.m. on weekends; and even earlier on weeknights. We couldn’t go out in public with our hair in rollers. Slacks were banned, except within the quadrangle (the area formed by the “women’s” dormitories). Shorts were totally banned except in the dorm. Auburn girls, in those days, wore raincoats a lot, even on the sunniest of days in the summer time. Meanwhile, the boys could wear whatever they wanted.

I decided to major in education, although I would have much preferred to major in journalism. My mother thought I would do much better as an English major in education because with a teacher’s certificate I would never be without work.

I did meet my husband at Auburn, and I got my degree in education. In fact, I then went on and got a master’s degree, also in education. Then what? I had played by all the rules and did all the right things.

That was the point at which the REAL issue started to come into focus. I had the degrees, and I didn’t want to save them for the unlikely event that my healthy young husband would die an untimely death. He was an air force officer, but he was not going to Viet Nam – so I felt the odds of him dying were pretty slim. Besides, we could use the extra money we would get if I worked. Also, in college the they told us that if you didn’t use your degree, you would quickly go stale (the world was changing so fast --little did they know) and never be able to work.

Once married, I became a military dependent. I hated that term. I was a wife – a position with special provisions. I got an orange colored ID card. I joined the Officers’ Wives' Club and tried to play my role as best I could, although I wrestled with it a bit. They brought in luncheon speakers to keep our minds occupied. I had the pleasure of meeting and photographing Maureen Reagan, Erma Bombeck, Tom Snyder, Blackstone the Magician and other famous people.

What I noticed about the other officers’ wives was that they were bright, capable women. Most didn’t work, but most had college degree or even advanced degrees. The ones who did work, took part-time jobs just to keep involved in their professions. I enjoyed getting to meet them and made some great friendships.

I worked full-time for the first two years of our marriage and I enjoyed working. We saved the money I made. In time, our son came along and I worked a bit as a part-time college instructor. I kept my hand in, and I enjoyed the deviation from a life of diaper changing and, later, preschool.

In these years, the country was in an uproar over the rights of women. I didn’t (maybe I should have) take the time to be involved then. I was too busy doing my own thing and making my own way. In my field, being education, there really wasn’t much of a problem with how women were treated. There were WAY more of us than men, and women often rose to the rank of school principal.

As time went on and our son started school, I tried working a full-time job and leaving our son in daycare afterschool. It didn’t work very well; he hated the daycare. Meanwhile, the company I was working for closed, and I could do something different.

I ended up accepting a part-time job in an independent school and my son could go to school there for free. It was a great deal for both of us and our hours coincided.

But it was not to last, and the school closed. With three other women, I started another independent school and through eighth grade my son and I had schedules that meshed. But, truth is, I often stayed after regular school hours – something he didn’t really appreciate.

The years went by, our son went to high school and onto college. Meanwhile I became an entrepreneur and started my own business.

I have typically hired women who are very capable and talented, but can’t stand the “stay at home wife” thing. That has worked well for me, and has led us to flexible scheduling and even now, virtual offices. Ironically, I now have the best of both worlds.

When I became executive director of a women’s professional association, I became more in tune with the history of women’s rights, and it became crystal clear to me that there really was (and still is a problem) with how women are treated, particularly in some professions.

At age 60, I feel I can do whatever I want to, and nobody is going to tell me I can’t do that because I am a “woman.” (With the exception of taking my shirt off in public – that would still get me in trouble!). But, what I have to say, in retrospect, is that I could have approached being in business much differently – more like a man would. But that is not who I am, and I have to do it my way!

I hope the young women out there appreciate just how far we have come as women. Looking back, I can thank my “bra-burning” contemporaries for forcing society to re-think how women are treated. I can’t imagine a state university today imposing special rules on female students or enforcing state law selectively on women-only. But are there still things that happen that make us say “It’s not fair.” You bet! There is still much work to be done.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


There are times in your life when you know things will never be the same. The longer I live, the more of those times I have experienced. And it gets to be a more familiar feeling, but I am not sure it gets any easier.

The first time for me was when our next door neighbor had a heart attack. Uncle Leonard, as I called him, was a very special family friend. The day I heard of his heart attack, it was February 14, 1951. I was just five years old, but I knew he was going to die. I crawled behind the rocking chair and wept. Two weeks later, he was gone, but I knew it instantly and I grieved.

My grandmother died suddenly in 1957 of a massive heart attack. My life was blown away. Nanny lived with us and I loved her deeply. It all happened so fast; it was so unfair. A few years later, my grandfather was gone and I missed him very much.

We moved on December 1, 1958. I would have been contented to stay in our house in Bush Hills forever, but my parents wanted to be “over the mountain.” At the tender age of twelve, I didn’t understand the need to “have a new house” in the suburbs. The first week or so in the new house, I had nightmares. I wanted to go back to the old house; I missed my friends from grammar school. The new school was so different, and so were the kids. They all knew each other and they wore lipstick and listened to rock music. Life was so very different, and I hated it!

Weeks later, on Christmas Eve, my beloved cocker spaniel, Twink, hung herself. I had left her with her leash on in the full open basement of the new house. She had caught the leash under the door molding, fallen off the stairs, and was hanging by her collar. It was awful! The dog I loved so much was dead and it was my fault.

But life went on, and gradually I became accustomed to the new house, the new school, the new kids, the new dog and more. But my body was changing and I hated that too! Why did everything have to always keep changing?

Soon I found myself graduating from high school and off to college. I chose a big state university, Auburn University. There was a side of me that wanted a private, woman’s college, but the pragmatist in me won out. I felt it made more sense to experience the big university – to live in the “real” world and that was more important than challenging myself intellectually. Also, Auburn was a lot cheaper for my parents. My parents drove me to Auburn on a bright September morning in 1964. Several times along the way, I had to stop and throw up. I was scared to death.

The first few weeks at college were awful, starting with sorority rush. I was rejected by my mother’s sorority and that was so very painful. I ended up pledging another very fine sorority, which was actually a better fit for me, but at the time I was not so sure. I really just wanted more than anything in the world to go home.

But I stayed at Auburn, and four years later I graduated. By June of 1969, I had my master’s degree, also from Auburn. I hated to leave Auburn behind, but my time there was done.

Two weeks after getting my master’s, I got married to Steve. I wept the night before. I wasn’t sure I could go through with it. I would have to leave Birmingham and live in Illinois, a place I had never even been. I would have to leave my parents. Life would never be the same.

I remember the day we left our apartment in Illinois. I had come to love our apartment, not to mention my job at McKendree College and Lebanon, the little town where we lived. I could have stayed right there for the rest of my life. But the air force had other plans for us.

We moved to California is September of 1971. We bought a house and a car the same day, and the baby was due in December. I really didn’t enjoy our time in San Bernardino very much, although I met some great folks. Mostly, I hated the weather, the lack of seasons and the smog. But five years later when we left, I felt a sense of loss and remembered those things I had come to love – the sweet scent of orange blossoms, Big Bear Lake in the winter and Oak Glen and its apples in the fall.

When we left San Bernardino, Steve also left active duty with the air force. We spent our last night in town on base and stayed in the VOQ. Early that morning, Steve took my military ID to turn it in. The air force had been part of my life for seven years. I didn’t especially enjoy the officers’ wife role, but I played it well and I grieved when it ended. That morning I looked at the empty place in my wallet where the ID had been and realized that life would never be the same.

We moved to Maryland in 1976 and we bought a house where we lived for 16 years. I never really loved that house, but it worked for us. Gradually, we improved and expanded it and the more we did to it, the more we liked it. We raised our son in that house. It was a bit quirky and bit noisy (due to the high school right behind it).

Change was hitting me on another front. Within three years of each other, both of my parents were gone. My mother had lung cancer and died within a year of diagnosis. My father died on congestive heart failure two years later. I think his heart was broken.

After my mother died, my father sold the house. They lived in that house for 30 years and the years had taken their toll. My father still saw the house just as it was the day they moved in. He didn’t take it well when the real estate lady suggested refinishing the floors, putting down beige carpet and painting everything white. He had made the decision all by himself that it was time to sell the house and for him to moving to assisted living. Still, the process of cleaning out the house was too painful for him to watch. He became ill and had to be hospitalized. I did what I had to do and the house got cleaned out and sold. My father moved to assisted living. And I grieved for a life that would never again be the same. And it wasn’t!

We sold the house we lived in since 1976 in 1992, as we built a wonderful new house on the water. The day I turned out the lights in that house, the memories flooded back. The new house was better in almost every way, but it wasn’t the same.

Professionally, I have had to deal with change as well. When I worked at Wroxeter-on-Severn School from 1978-1980, I felt I had finally arrived. The place was like working in a castle. My office had antique furniture, oriental rugs, a stained glass window overlooking the Severn River. But it wasn’t destined to last. By 1980, the school was gone; it ran out of money. Packing up my materials to go home was tough!

The items that went home with me from Wroxeter soon found their way to the new school four of us from Wroxeter founded in 1980. I worked at Chesapeake Academy from 1980 – 1989 and it became a major focus of my life. But in 1989, it was time to stop working there, so I packed up my things and took them home. The school is still a part of my life as a member of the board of trustees, but it will never be the same.

In 1989, I started Bay Media and worked from my home. Within five years, I knew the time had come to get real office space and hire employees. The challenges were many, but we persisted and stayed in the first location for six years. Our rented space was sold to a tile distributor who intended to gut our unit and use it for warehouse space. Walking out of that unit was tough, but it had to be done.

We moved to a new office location in a nice professional center. I debated at that time whether I really still needed office space or not. I decided that I still required it, so for another six years, to 2006, we maintained physical office space. But the way we do our business kept changing and by Spring of 2006 I was convinced that we needed to go virtual.

Tonight I went to my office for the last time. We worked all day yesterday cleaning up everything spic and span; we spackled nail holes and painted over the logo on the wall. It all went back to white paint. For the last two months, we have been moving stuff out of the office. Everything is out now and I can breathe a sign of relief. But I am grieving tonight because I know things will never be the same.

The promise of a virtual business is invigorating and exciting, but is anything but comfortable. Many changes await, and I know each day will hold new surprises and challenges. But I will do what I always have done – embrace the changes, enjoy them, and eventually grieve for them when it is time for the next change --- the next chapter awaits!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Lawn Furniture

When I was very small, we had a glider and matching chairs. The set was made out of strips of white metal, with green trim. You could sit on the glider and move back and forth on a hot summer night. I used to love those evenings with my family on the front porch. The grownups told tales of the old days – often about World War II and what life was like. Sometimes I caught lightening bugs in a glass jar with hole punched in the top. Life was good!

In the back yard we had some wooden lawn furniture, but we seldom used it. In fact, I don’t remember ever using it. There were two Adirondack chairs stained dark red – probably to look like redwood. One day my mother told me I could paint them pink. I did, and the yard near the chairs was probably never the same.

When I was about nine my mother replaced the old glider with a fancy new one she bought at a warehouse sale. It had an aluminum frame and bright green vinyl cushions. It was definitely softer to stretch out on than the old one without cushions. I know sometimes when we had lots of houseguests she would bring the glider inside and fold the back down somehow and use it as an extra bed.

When we moved in 1958 we brought the glider with us, but got rid of the two old white metal chairs. My mother bought a round glass topped table with four matching wrought iron chairs. She also bought some of those fold up aluminum chairs with the straps that were all the range back then. We always kept a few of those chairs at the base of the driveway so we could sit out in the evening and talk with the next door neighbors. We also had an aluminum chaise lounge, but it and all the furniture lived on “the deck.” It was great having a deck all up in the trees, but it lacked the magic of the front porch at the old house.

The years went by and my mother bought a couple of really black wrought iron chairs. They went onto the deck and all of the aluminum fold up chairs went to the basement, eventually to be joined by some beach chairs (which my mother never would have bought, but probably won) which still grace my garage. We have never taken them to the beach because we always go to the beach on an airplane. Oh’ well!

Steve and I got married in 1969 and bought our own lawn furniture. We started out with two small aluminum chairs with green straps. In time, we added two r aluminum folding chairs with high backs, orange strapping, and a wooden handles. We bought a strapping repair kit. These served us well through our two years in Illinois and our five years in California, but while we were in California we were overcome by the urge to buy a redwood table and two bench seats. I think having a set like that was requisite to living in the state.

The lawn furniture moved with us to Maryland in 1976. The redwood table never really worked well on the screen in porch. The previous owners had used a spool from electrical cable for a table. We moved that monster to the yard, but it was hard to dispose of. Eventually, I decided to donate the redwood table to Chesapeake Academy for use in the summer program. By then it was 1983. I went to the local discount store and bought a square glass table with white vinyl trim. We kept our aluminum folding chairs for years afterwards until they finally rotted and I couldn’t remember what happened to the repair kit.

At some point along the way, they introduced stackable white plastic chairs. Of course, I had to have some, so I bought four and they looked with the glass topped table with the white vinyl trim. I had a hole in the center for an umbrella, but I didn’t bother with an umbrella because it would be sort of silly inside a screened porch.

In 1990, we built a big addition to the house and a deck. The screened in porch became a pantry and the white glass topped table went to the deck where it was joined by a smart new vinyl umbrella and about eight white plastic chairs. In addition, because my mother had died and my father was selling the house, I acquired their black wrought iron table and four chairs and their two black wrought iron chairs. The deck was full of furniture.

In 1992, when we built our new house, we ended up with lots of decks, two at the main level of the house and one great big one at the basement level. That is more deck than anyone could possibly need, but we have them now and I have to make the best of it.

We put my mother’s black wrought iron table and four chairs on the small deck off the kitchen. It was perfect for barbeque dinners with our son and his wife. It even worked OK with two very small children joined the family.

The old glass topped table with white vinyl went on the big deck off the family room, along with collection of white plastic stacking chairs and a white vinyl chaise lounger in failing health.

I told my husband I really wanted a glider. He surprised me with a wooden porch swing. It’s nice , but it is not a glider. My daughter-in-law bought me cushions for the porch swing and the chaise lounge. I bought a green topped container to keep them in and green cloth market umbrella for the table (since the blue vinyl one had long since gone to the dump infested with squirrel debris). In time the white chairs got really yucky, so they went to the lower deck and were stacked up for some future need – you never know! And we got high backed dark green ones instead. Not great with the glass topped table with white vinyl trim (maybe I should paint it, but Steve says that would “be a mistake.”)

The two good wrought iron chairs and matching table were set up on the lower deck where they began to rust after 16 years. Nobody ever sat on them except for few minutes now and then in all those years.

I bought two fold-up chairs with white plastic straps to go in the hot tub room in 1992. They are still there, looking new!

A few years ago, I spotted some chairs that folded up and slipped into a bag. Very clever, I thought, and immediately bought two. They were destined to become all the rage. Now you see them everywhere. We now own four, but the second pair are heavier with arms. Who needs arms? We take the lighter ones when we go to outdoor events.

Recently, I decided it was time to re-do our outdoor furniture. This time I was going to think the whole thing through and get some good stuff that was really “suitable” for the deck off the kitchen. I considered some lovely wooden furniture from the grocery store at a great price. I told my son and his wife about my plans. They reminded me that this furniture was likely made with wood from tropical rain forests. Jeez…that had not occurred to me. I would not want to personally be responsible for destroying the ozone layer. It is bad enough that I bought that redwood picnic table back in the 1970s.

The small round table on the deck off the kitchen was not big enough for four adults and two rapidly growing children. I went to a local store and bought a hexagonal table and chair for six. The chairs have nice beige cushions, so I had to buy a big bronze colored container to keep them in and a beige cloth market umbrella.

OK, so I did the one deck and it looks great in fashionable bronze and beige. The other big deck was still green themed. After all, it is OK to have different rooms in different colors, right! The same should be true of decks!

The lower deck became home to my mothers’ black wrought iron table and four chairs. It is starting to rust seriously (again – Steve repainted in once).

Over the next year or so I am anticipating having some more gatherings at my house and need the lower deck. My goal is now to get that deck and everything on it in shape.

So, all the white chairs went to dump. Steve said I could power wash them, but I tried and destroyed the finish. Besides the things chalk like crazy!

Now it seems that the last frontier is the wrought iron furniture. Clearly it has to be thrown away or painted. I considered getting rid of it; then I priced wrought iron furniture. I had Steve get some dark green paint and he has started the scraping and priming part of the process. Probably by the end of the fall it will all look great and can start rusting again with the winter snows.

So, now you have it – half a century of lawn furniture history and drama!

Friday, September 01, 2006

I am waging a war on clutter, but with a tear in my eye. With every item I throw over the edge of the giant dumpster at the landfill, I throw away a memory. Every time I make a drop at the Salvation Army, I see the items I leave behind as they were when they were new and sparkling. At one point all of these things I am getting rid of I brought home with a promise. But time passes; tastes change; things break! You can’t keep it all… and remain sane.

Clutter has been a family curse and try as I might, I can’t break the curse. There was a time when I didn’t care, but now I care passionately. When I go, I don’t want those I leave behind to have to spend weeks and months of their lives going through my stuff. I have cleaned up after too many dead people to wish that on anyone. But at the same, time I want the stuff I need to go on living; the stuff that gives me warm fuzzy feelings and good memories; and, of course, the valuable stuff.

I recall when I was a kid that junk accumulated in certain places in the house. There was a large, large closet off the kitchen (not the pantry) where the grownups kept out of season clothes and other stuff they didn’t have a place for. About twice a year, they cleaned it out and gave clothes away – usually to the maid or sometimes to charity.

There was a basement with a dirt floor. It was scary down there and I didn’t go there often. They kept weird stuff down there – I remember a coal scuttle (though they didn’t use coal), some big flower containers like they used to use at funerals, lots of garden tools, wood scraps, bags of fertilizer and more.

The upstairs was divided into four parts, but the biggest room was my father’s office. He was an Amateur Radio Operator and had all sorts of equipment, including transmitters, receivers, microphones and more. He also kept all the back issues of Readers’ Digest and National Geographic.

My grandfather had an office on the front of the house, opposite my father;’s on the back side and a hallway connected them. The room my grandfather used was more in name only. I had a desk and his adding machine and a chair, but he seldom went up there. Mostly my mother and grandmother stashed stuff in that room.

The back porch, which actually was enclosed and had a row of narrow, vertical windows surrounding it, was another messy place. It was where we kept the washer, dryer, freezer and old refrigerator and my mother’s sewing machine. We also kept my grandfather’s chifferobe out there and it was filled with tools, a sprayer for DDT and small cans of paint.

When we moved in 1958, everything had to go. My mother was determined not to transfer any junk to the new house. My father set up a workshop downstairs in the basement, finished half the basement into a “rumpus room” (in Maryland called club basement), and set up my mother with her sewing machine in the rumpus room.

Gradually, the “rumpus room” wasn’t needed for “rumpuses” and became my mother’s sewing room. She bought a huge cabinet to store her patterns in. An old dresser was added to hold the other sewing supplies, and the closet under the stairs became filled with fabric. By the time of my mother’s death thirty years later, the room was overtaken by sewing supplies, etc. I had to get rid of it all. I can barely thread a needle.

On the other side of the wall, my father’s “shop” became more and more filled to capacity. He had laundry baskets full of vacuum tubes, lots of electronic equipment – some antique, some worthless and some valuable. But he also had lots of transmitters, resistors, and capacitors – all referred to by the female members of the family as “electronic doohickies.” Some of this stuff found its way into my husband's "shop."

When he sold the house the year after my mother died, everything had to go. That’s when I had to come in a do the really tough stuff and part with decades of memories. But I did what I had to do.

Meanwhile, of course, I had my own home and my own growing collection of stuff. I married an electronics engineer, so, of course, he had the requisite electronic “doohickies.”

When we first got married we had a small two-bedroom apartment. Steve used the second bedroom as a “shop.” I didn’t mind really – it was what I was accustomed to after all.

I guess there are men who don’t collect electronic parts, solder things together, or have boxes of wire. But my father did, my husband does and so does our son. Could it be genetic? But I digress!

When we moved to California in 1971, we bought a four bedroom house. Steve had one bedroom as his “shop” and since we had a garage, we managed to fill it with everything but our cars. When we moved to Maryland in 1976, we got rid of a lot of stuff, but the Air Force would move whatever we had, so it was simpler to hold onto stuff than to get rid of it.

Our Maryland house had only three bedrooms, but it had a full basement. There was a room my husband could use as an office and another large area where he could have a “shop.” The “shop” was where he did electronics and woodworking – not a great combination. We had grand designs to make the basement into something nice and even had several rooms down there that could be used for something. As it turned out, only one room really had much of a life as my office. When we moved out, however, we cleaned out the whole area and had it all redone. It looked great when we left it.

When we moved in 1992, we got rid of loads of stuff. I filled up the large family room with piles –keep, throw away and donate. What we kept, we moved into our new house and we were very selective about what we kept. And for a few years, we were winning the battle against clutter. We purposely went ahead and finished the basement so that it would be easier to keep it nice. Nice theory!

Now here we are in 2006, and the clutter is trying to win again. My husband has an office, an electronics shop and a workshop, plus a furnace room for stuff. They are all filled with stuff that I cannot throw away. I can’t because I promised him that I wouldn’t mess with his stuff. And for him these are precious items.

Meanwhile, I have decided to be totally ruthless with the “shared” areas of the house as well as my own personal spaces. My cleaning lady is my partner in crime. We cleaned out my closet and got rid of dozens of bags of worn out, out of style, non-fitting, or otherwise objectionable clothes, shoes and purses. We attacked the pantry, the large finished basement room, the basement storage room, my office, and various closets. I feel very virtuous, if not exhausted. At last I am winning over the clutter.

I do worry about the unabated clutter in areas of the house beyond my control. Will they somehow spill over into my newly liberated areas? Can I really expect to stop clutter creep? Not really, but I can hope!

My instinct used to be “save it – you might need it later.” Now my instinct is “trash it or give it away – later is too vague to mean anything to me.” If I need it later, I probably wouldn’t know where to find it anyway.

And I guess that brings me to the point, if there is one. Saving stuff only makes sense if you can find it when you need it. Clearly there is trash and trash should be thrown away. There is not going to be “better time” to get rid of trash. Some things should be kept because they are very special. Other things are useful for someone, but not for me –so they should be donated. And for those things that are useful – the useful time better be in the foreseeable future! Otherwise, out they go! Enough is enough!!!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Our house in Bush Hills, the one where I lived until I was 13, had rugs. I can’t remember them very well. One, I think, was green with pink flowers. When we moved, we got rid of all the rugs.

Our new house had wall to wall carpet in the living room and dining room. My mother picked out the color; it was soft beige – apparently very fashionable in 1958. But what way odd was that they put this wall to wall carpet over hard wood floors – beautiful, new hardwoods. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but then I was just a teenager. My father didn’t understand it either, but he went along with it.

Within twenty years, they had ripped up all the wall to wall carpet and replaced it with Karastan oriental style rugs. The floors were still in pretty good shape, preserved by the then ugly beige carpet. It would have been better to have someone come and work on them a bit more, but that didn’t happen until we sold the house after my mother died.

My mother bought a gray rug from the next doors neighbors at a garage sale about the time I was graduating from high school. For a few years, it lived in the guest room.

That gray carpet followed me to graduate school and into my bedroom. My roommate and I bought (for $35) this really strange brown and yellow rug for the living room. Our apartment had hardwood floors, and even in 1969 it was fashionable to cover them up, though not completely.

That gray rug finally was banished from my life when I was married and it went back to my mother’s house and back in the guest room where it lived until we sold my parents’ house decades later.

We began our married life in a small, two-bedroom apartment in Illinois. We had beige wall-to-wall carpet everywhere but the kitchen. That apartment, while fine for my husband by himself, was not fine for the two of us.

Within a few months, we had moved across town to a brand new apartment building. We had much more room and the carpet was much more fashionable. We had a choice of harvest gold or avocado green shag carpet. Green was our first choice and that dictated a decade of color decision-making for furniture and appliances and more.

Our house in California had avocado green shag carpet throughout, except in the family room where is had a flat weave green carpet. We replaced the carpet in two of the bedrooms with a gold flat weave carpet (similar to what is popular today), as we knew shag was on its way out.

Meanwhile, my parents mostly stayed out of the whole shag carpet thing, with the exception of my bedroom (which I had, of course, vacated). My mother, being very handy, put down aqua shag carpet tiles in there. It looked pretty good at the time (but not a pretty site when we had to take them out to sell the house).

When we moved to Maryland, the house we bought had green shag carpet in the living room. It was similar to what we had left behind in California. The bedrooms didn’t have any carpets in place, but the hardwood floors had all been stained very dark and didn’t look great. We replaced the bedroom carpet with ubiquitous beige. Soon the hallway carpet wore out and we replaced it with beige tweedy heavy duty carpet. The living shag was soon history, replaced with a soft green carpet.

When we sold the house in 1991, we replaced all the carpets (except the living room) with ubiquitous beige burbar, as recommended by the real estate people.

My father spent his last couple of years in a very nice senior high rise in Birmingham. The place was, you guessed it, carpeted with ubiquitous beige throughout. My father put one of their nice Karastan rugs in the living room on top of the beige carpet (what you do in senior housing when you have nice rugs to show). The other Karastans went to my basement – all rolled up.

When we moved into our new house a couple of years later, we put my parents’ Karastans in the living room and dining room, and their area rugs in the hallways. We bought stair runners and other area rugs in the same pattern (30 years later) and they matched perfectly.

It is now 14 years later and those rugs are still going strong with almost no signs of wear.

For the rest of the new house, we also selected Karastan because of its durability. The upstairs hallway of our house is hardwood floors, but the bedrooms are carpeted (I did not put hardwood floors under any place I intended for wall to wall carpet). We selected a palette of soft green, blue, and pink for the upstairs bedroom carpets. Each bedroom is a different color. For our master bedroom we have a light oatmeal sort of color that I have learned to regret because it spots easily.

In my home office, we got a nice gray dense, low weave wall to wall carpet that has worn like iron. I think it was also made by Karastan.

For the kitchen dining area we bought a specially cut trapezoidal shaped pink carpet with a light colored border. It looked great until the grandchildren came along. It got nastier and nastier until it was retired. It was Karastan and great, but it could only take so much. Now (and it will be that way until the grandchildren are grown) there is no carpet under the kitchen table.

In the family room we had a matching pink Karastan rug in place. After about ten years I got to the point where it was too spotted to go on living, so off it went to the dump. At about that same time, I had moved from one office to another and had a nice similarly sized Karastan blue carpet as surplus. That one went right into the family room and still looks decent today.

For the basement family room we opted for a gray good quality Karastan wall to wall. It is still in reasonably good condition, despite some rough treatment. My goal is to shampoo it and hope that it is good for another five years or so.

I don’t know what carpet adventures await me in the rest of my life. But if I ever have to leave this house for senior living I suspect I will take at least one Karastan oriental with me to put over the ubiquitous beige wall to wall carpet that will surely be there awaiting me.

Friday, July 28, 2006


OK, here is it comes. I am tackling the BIG one!

I guess I have always been fat. Looking back at pictures of me as a baby I had fat little cheeks. My body wasn’t huge or anything like that, but my face was round and puffy. Some things never change – they just get bigger.

I grew up in the South and had a steady diet of wonderful food, most of which is now banned in polite circles. If you could fry it, we fried it! Or, we saturated it in gravy. And salt was almost one of the three food groups. Salad was iceberg lettuce with tomatoes (which I hated). We did have some healthy foods too – fresh tree-ripened fruits and wonderful melons; fresh peas, beans and squash. And there were always plenty of wonderful pies and cakes. My mother was a fantastic cook and quite the hostess, and people raved about her recipes.

My grandmother was the traditional Southern cook. She could fry incredible chicken and her green beans seasoned with fatback were amazing. What I particularly loved (and have never really been able to replicate) is her fried corn.

Most of my childhood, I enjoyed food, except for a brief period when I was about three, when for some reason I decided that I was not going to eat in front of my father. My parents told me that if I didn’t eat I would have to put on my little white shorts and my little white shirt and go to the hospital. They kept them in the bottom of my dresser. After a few weeks, I relented. And I haven’t stopped.

About the time I was 14 I realized I was FAT. My mother grew concerned about my weight. Now, looking back at the photos from that time, I really wasn’t fat at all. I probably weighed 130 pounds, but you were supposed to have a waist like Scarlett O’Hara and I never have – ever. Of course Scarlett got all laced up in a corset.

In typical teenage fashion, I ignored my mother’s warnings and ate whatever I pleased.
And it wasn’t hard because we had great food. And although I played tennis every day, I usually followed this vigorous exercise with a cherry turnover topped with an incredible sweet buttery sauce (the specialty of a local coffee shop).

My mother, who had a small weight problem herself, managed to buy some cans of Metrecal powder from the man down the street who was a hospital administrator. She bought several cases of the stuff. I don’t think I have tasted anything more blah than this mixture. It sounded good – just 900 calories a day. But the boredom was incredible! We kept it around in case of World War III. Some people had a fallout shelter; we had about 40 cans of Metrecal and some Clorox jugs full of water in the laundry room.

By the time I graduated from high school I was pushing 150 pounds. My mother, in desperation, took me to the doctor. No way was I going off to college being FAT! The pediatrician gave me the “cure” – the same “cure” that thousands of teenage girls all over the US were given. Diet pills (now known as amphetamines) were all the rage. One little green and yellow pill and you didn’t want to eat. Of course, you talked a mile and minute and actually fooled yourself into believing that you could focus.

But, the summer of 1964, I lost a whopping 27 pounds and I was off to college looking good at the magical weight of 125. That summer I ate the grapefruit diet. I had half a grapefruit every morning, plus one piece of bacon well-drained and an egg fried in a Teflon skillet. Mid-morning I ate 7 dry soda crackers. For lunch I had a hamburger patty and a salad. In the afternoon I had a small cup of lime sherbet. For dinner I ate what other people ate, but severely limited my portions and no bread or dessert. As diets go, it wasn’t awful.

The first year and half at college I took the diet pills regularly, though some days I took them in the afternoon, instead of the morning and found I could stay up late and study. Of course, every other slightly pudgy girl in the dorm was doing the same thing. I watched in horror as a few friends became addicted to the pills. Soon I discovered that I was feeling lousy, so I threw the pills out and vowed that I would never take them again – no matter what any doctor told me to do!

Of course, I promptly gained 20 pounds and by the time I graduated from college I was about the same weight as when I graduated from high school. What put the weight on was the “machines.” There were soft drinks in small paper cups with ice, candy bars and cheese crackers. It was in college that I discovered the combination of chocolate and peanut butter and its addictive properties.

The year of graduate school I ate OK and lost some weight again, and by the time I married I weighed an acceptable 135 pounds – still FAT, mind you, but not all THAT fat!

Within a couple of years our son came along and I gained about 20 pounds. I jokingly say that he is 34 now and I am still carrying the baby weight. I know it is bad joke, but at least party true. I did lose some of it -- for a while.

By the time we moved to Maryland I weighed 145 – respectable for a 30 year old, but still FAT. Soon 145 had crept up to 155 and then to about 160. I think it might have been wafer bars with chocolate and peanut butter that did it. Another factor was my mother’s heart attack in 1977. I stayed in a Birmingham hospital day and night, subsisting on nothing but machine food (i.e. sodas, crackers, candy bars). Fortunately, my mother recovered, but my weight was another matter.

My mother made most of my clothes from the time I was a baby until I was in my thirties. She would measure me and just make them bigger. She would, of course, lecture me each time that the waist had to be a bit bigger, but I wasn’t listening. After she died in 1988, I was forced to encounter the real "Women's World" section of the department store and began to appreciate outlet shopping as a way of life.

But then along came Atkins. I had found my perfect diet. I could eat fried food, fatty steaks, pork rinds and whipped cream. I loved the diet, felt great and lost about 18 pounds. Then it stopped working. Or may I just fizzled out with it. You can just eat so much whipped cream.

Next I tried a weight loss system where they provided all your food. Every week I had to go blow into a machine and they would be able to tell if I had cheated. I hated the food, and though I lost some weight I couldn’t stick with it. In time, I regained what I had lost and more.

Then I tried Weight Watchers and even a special program for people with 50 or more pounds to lose. It worked for a while, but I lost interest. Something came along to jar me back into my normal eating mode. I still have a file drawer of coupons which I am sure are of no value now.

After that I got really busy with my business and resolved that being FAT was OK – at least for now. But from time to time I would try Atkins again, or pick up a fad diet book at the bookstore. I would try a new diet and it would work for a bit, but then I couldn’t stand it anymore. Meanwhile, my weight kept going up, with the occasional downward dip.

A few years ago I bought some motivational CDs that are designed to help you relax and while you are relaxing the tapes sooth your soul with building a new, not overweight persona. These actually do seem to help! But you have to listen to them!

Over the years I have consulted professionals with expertise in this area. They all say the same thing – eat a balanced diet and the weight will come off.

So, finally, as my 60th birthday approached, I realized that this was going to have to be a watershed day in my life. I used to think 60 was old, but, of course – no longer! I want to live another 20 or 30 years and I want my quality of life to be good up until the day I go. Probably an unrealistic dream, but…

The day after my 60th birthday I told myself – “Self, you are running out of changes. You know how to eat right. Start doing it. Don’t try to play mind games and rationalizations. It is no use. Just eat the right stuff. If you don’t do this, you are going to die too soon!”

So far I am about 6 weeks into my plan, and I have lost about 12 pounds. And I feel better than I have felt in years. I am sleeping through the night without any sleeping pills. But more importantly, I am happy. Yes, I am definitely losing weight and this time it might just work. The main reason it might just work is that I have literally changed the way I think about food and it was amazingly easy.

I know you are trying to track through this and figure out how much I weigh right now. Don’t bother; I am not going to tell you. The only way you can find that out is read my driver’s license and add 5 pounds.

Check back next week for a summary of my diet and an update on my progress.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


When I was about four they taught me my phone number; it was 6-6130. The phone was heavy, black, sort of a square shape, with a very heavy receiver. It belonged to Southern Bell (aka The Phone Company). My mother taught me how to dial the numbers and it took a lot of effort to get my small fingers to move the dial. It made a clicking sound when you let go of it. In time, if I listened carefully as my mother dialed the phone I could tell who she was calling by the number of clicks.

I don’t recall that my grandparents, who lived with us, used the phone very much. My mother mostly managed the telephone. It lived on a small stand in the hallway between the bedrooms. I still have the stand; it sits in my entrance hall today with the silk flowers in a vase and a pair of porcelain doves I got as a wedding present.

When my mother used the phone, I didn’t like it because she would talk and talk. I was supposed to stay there with her while she was on the phone and read books. There was book shelf right next to the phone and if she got on a really long call I would pull all the books off the shelf and amuse myself by rearranging them (sometimes failing to put them back).

My father seldom initiated phone calls. When he did answer the phone (usually after it was passed to him by my mother), he responded with something that sounded like “Harry.” I wondered why he only spoke on the phone to my Uncle Harry, until I learned that he was actually saying “alright.” I guess he meant – OK, so you have me on the phone, ALRIGHT, tell me why you called.

When I was in elementary school, they changed our phone number to State-5-6130. That meant, we had to dial St5-6130. Everyone complained about it a lot--- just one more thing to remember. You could tell by your exchange where you lived. My father had a Fairfax for his work number. Our friends who lived “over the mountain” all had numbers that started with Tremont.

We did eventually move “over the mountain” ourselves, back in 1958. In the language of Birmingham, “over the mountain” means on Shades Mountain and points south, rather than within the confines of Jones Valley, as defined by Red Mountain. The move back then to “over the mountain” meant you had arrived.

So with our move, we got our Tremont exchange, and our number was Tremont 9-2215. After a couple of years, however, they ran out of Tremont numbers and gave us a new number – Valley-2-3003. My mother was not too happy about this; I think she always liked the old Tremont number better, but life goes on. Eventually, the phone company dropped the use of letters and our number became 822-3003.

Along with our move “over the mountain” came a new kind of telephone. In fact, we actually had FOUR telephones in our new house and each one was a different color. We had a beige phone in the family room and yellow wall phone in the kitchen. Down in the basement we had black wall mounted phone in the laundry room. My parents had pale blue phone between their twin beds. All of the phones were rotary, very heavy, and belonged to the phone company.

List most teenagers in my acquaintance, I mostly used the laundry room phone. There was more privacy that way. The laundry room was just off what we called the “rumpus room.” Today this room might be referred to as a “club room.” The idea was that the homeowner would finish off part of the basement to be extra space to be used for casual entertaining (aka place for teenage kids to hang out without damaging the good furniture).

It wasn’t long, however, before I wanted my own phone. My Daddy ran a wire into my bedroom and hooked up an old phone he had in his collection of used “stuff.” This one was VERY old and sort of round shaped. The dial made a loud noise and the receiver was quite heavy. While it was, of course, originally black, my mother painted it gold. It somehow went with the gold trim on the furniture that she had painted white. In those days it was fashionable for teenage girls to have French Provencial furniture. Rather than splurge for all new furniture, my mother simply painted their old mahogany furniture.

My father also decided he wanted a phone in his basement workshop, so he installed one. It was a conventional looking phone in basic black, but it had a red hand set. He liked red a lot, so why not.

I don’t think the phone company ever knew about those two phones (mine and his), but eventually it became a moot point when it became OK to add your own phones.

We never did have “Princess” or “Slim-Line” phones – not in our family. Some of my friends had them, but “we” didn’t like them because they were too light and silly looking. A phone, should, after all, look like a phone and not be so light that if you pulled the receiver cord too hard you pulled the phone onto the floor. But, we were sort of unusual in our taste for big clunky phones.

Sometime when I was still a teenager, we started having area codes. Now our phone number of 205-822-3003, but we didn’t have to use the 205 except when dialing from out of state. Just one more number to remember!

When I was in college, we didn’t have phones in our dorm rooms. Instead there were a couple of phones on each floor and another in the sorority chapter room. For that reason, we didn’t talk on the phone very much. When you got a phone call in the dorm, someone to answer the phone and come get you.

When Steve and I got married, we opted for one phone in the kitchen and another in the bedroom. We kept up with this arrangement up until we built our new house in 1992. From our apartment in Illinois, to our house in California, to our house in Maryland, we had a yellow wall phone in the kitchen and white phone in the bedroom. But when we moved to Maryland in 1976, we upgraded to touch-tone.

When we moved to Severna Park, we were given a 544 number. Soon I learned that the 544 number would forever brand us as newcomers. Real oldtime Severna Park people have 647 numbers. But, in time, 544 became more socially acceptable. Other new numbers that nobody ever heard of were assigned to the latest influx of newcomers.

Knowing the value of the 647 exchange, when I set up the phone service for Chesapeake Academy, I asked for a 647 number; ditto for Bay Media, Next Wave Group, and FacetsWoman. Our fax number is a 544, but some things in life you have to just live with.

We got our first answering machine sometime in the 80s I guess. At first I swore I would never have one, but in time I gave in. Now, of course, everybody has them and they have become a way of life.

But in 1992, when we built our own house, we included a phone system. We have phones all over the house – the kitchen and master bedroom, of course, plus all the other bedrooms, the laundry room, and both of our offices. We even have phone jacks on both of our decks. Although we moved from Severna Park to Arnold, we stayed in the same phone exchange and and did not have to give up our old 544 number, which we have had since 1976.

In 1996, when I set up my office, we bought a multi-line phone system. We have about 15 instruments spread throughout the offices. It is an OK system, though it seems to be vulnerable to losing its programming during power outages.

I got my first cellular phone at a Chamber of Commerce raffle in the early 90s. It was a “bag phone” about the size of shoe box. It plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. I thought I was “hot stuff.” The phone was “free,” but the service wasn’t. I found myself with a monthly bill to Cellular One. Sure, it was the poor woman’s cell phone because it wasn’t actually wired into the car, but it was a big help and gave me great comfort. I was glad I had it the day my car’s timing chain went out at the entrance to the 14th Street Bridge in DC.

The bag phone eventually gave way to the “flip-phone.” It was large and gray and clunky, but so much better than the bag phone. I could actually fit into a large purse.

But eventually it died, and I got a Nokia stick phone. I never liked it as much and I was glad when I could upgrade to a Star Tac flip style phone. Sadly I lost that one out of my purse when I fell in the snow. I ended up with a Motorola stick phone – the cheapest thing I could get at the time because I was so angry with myself for losing the cute little Star Tac. In time, however, the batteries started fail, so I started looking for a new option about a a year and half-ago.

My current phone is a Palm Treo 650. I love it! Of course, it was so much more than a phone and that makes it all the better.

I see yet another phone revolution in my future. Our son is doing VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) consulting and is going to help me set up a VOIP system for my business. I imagine in time we will have a similar system for our home. But one step at a time!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Cleaning Products

I noticed recently that our dishwasher was developing a bit of mildew and I was not happy about washing dishes in it. In response to my complaints, my husband (being a husband) did not suggest new dishwasher; instead he recommended using Lysol to clean it. So we bought a bottle of old fashioned Lysol and ran it through the dishwasher. No doubt it killed any germ that might be lurking in there. But, of course, the house smelled of Lysol.

Steve said the smell reminded him of his childhood. His mother apparently used to be regular used of Lysol. It reminded me of my childhood too. My grandmother used to soak her flower bulbs in it. For both of us it was a very familiar smell. He found it nostalgic; I can’t say that would be how I would describe it. Actually, it really reminded me of the dog pound.

The other day I bought product that is supposed to clean the shower automatically. All you do is put the dispenser in the shower and the last person of the morning pushes a button; the thing beeps for 15 seconds; it then starts squirting liquid all over the shower. I am optimistic that it will work, but it will be another week before I know for sure. My husband, on the other hand, is skeptical. He is a big believer in the old fashioned scrub brushes. I lack his enthusiasm for scrub brushes; they make my hands hurt and I don’t do well on my knees or on ladders. Most things that need scrubbing are in inconvenient places.

All of this got me to thinking about how cleaning products have changed in my lifetime. When my mother and grandmother did their Spring cleaning they relied on Tide in the bathtub for the Venetian blinds; they used Johnson’s Paste Wax on the hardwood floors; they used Glasswax on the windows; they used ammonia or bleach to clean nasty places, but never mixed ammonia with bleach. They scrubbed the sink with Ajax powdered cleanser. They had liquid wax for the furniture. Nothing seemed to come in a spray bottle, much less a spray can. Cleaning was a BIG deal and there seemed to be no short cuts.

I remember when Pledge spray wax came out. My role in the past, when it came to cleaning, was to dust. They were always wanting me to dust. When Pledge came along suddenly waxing was within the scope of my duties. Did I feel powerful or what?

The Glass Wax soon gave way to Windex. Along came 409 and Mr. Clean and a parade of specialized cleaners to make the life of the housewife much easier. By the time I was young and married, I had a whole new arsenal of cleaning products to choose from.

I guess we all have our favorite cleaners. Personally, I like Dow Bathroom Cleaner. For years I have used it in the bathroom, of course, but also in the kitchen. I have discovered that it will clean smoker residue off furniture, as well as layers of old wax (or a mixture of the two).

Regardless of the cleaning products, cleaning is simply hard work. Maybe we don’t have it as rough as our mothers and grandmothers, but we don’t have as much time to clean either. We working women are continually trying to squeeze in cleaning between everything else. All the new products we have make it quicker and easier than in the past. Is our cleaning as deep and effective as the way past generations did it? I don’t think most of us even come close. When you have cleaned a window with Glass Wax (they still make it), that window is CLEAN. I think that is true of most of the old labor intensive products. They were time-consuming to use, but they did a great job!!!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


When I was a very little kid, I used to amuse myself when my mother was on the telephone in the hallway (in those days the phone was a stand in the hallway) by rearranging all the books on the bookshelf, also in the hallway. Well, perhaps rearranging the books is not exactly correct. My mother said I like to pull them out, but didn’t do so well at putting them away.

I used to collect the Bobbsey Twins books. I think I probably had about 30 of them when I moved on to harder books. My poor mother had a hard time finding some library to take them when I no longer wanted them. Kids loved them, but I guess they are not considered fine children’s literature.

In my public school, books were included in the deal. Mercifully, I was not given the option of retaining my elementary and high school texts. I did manage, some years later, to get a copy of Dick and Jane, my first reader. Later, when I was a student teacher, I managed to acquire a copy of English Grammar and Composition – the 12th grade edition (the one that has EVERYTHING in it).

College textbooks were easily sold for the first couple of years, but as I got closer and closer to graduation and the books became more relevant, it seemed more important to keep them. I still HAVE them. Not that they are good for much anymore.

Graduate school texts – well, you never get rid of those, right?

Meanwhile, while I have been accumulating textbooks, the whole world has changed. It used to be necessary to hold information close to you, just in case you needed it.—even if it was outdated. Now, it is easy to find information just when you need it. So, why do I have all these old textbooks, mostly written by dead people?

Then there are the paperbooks. You pay good money for them, so why get rid of them? Well, at some point you know you have read them and will likely never read them again. I do manage to get rid of many of mine, but my husband never has, to my knowledge, parted with a single one. In his case, maybe it is excusable, as he often re-reads them.

This week, I have been thinking about books a lot. I just seem to collect them. I don’t really mean to. It just happens. I attend luncheons and conferences and authors speak. They autograph their books, and I buy one almost every time. Who could resist?

Then there are the medical reference books. True, they have come in handy over the years. I don’t know why I have a small shelf filled with them. Pre-Internet I had to deal with the prolonged deaths of both of my parents. I was hungry for information. So as a result I know more about obsolete treatments for lung cancer and heart failure than the average person.

Costco is a dangerous place for a book lover. They have all of these great books at very cheap prices. They have the latest and greatest in hardback that can easily slip into the cart next to the Feta cheese, underwear and towels.

Regardless of the reason, I have a lot of books – too many books! I should have been going to the library all these years. After all, I am trained as a librarian and worked as one for twenty years. You would think I would get the idea! Sure, sometimes I do actually go to the library, but not often enough. You see, all the books that somehow make their way into my life are there waiting in patiently in line to be read. I wouldn’t dare introduce a borrowed book to jump in line ahead of them all.

I did get behind on my reading. It has to do with eyeglasses. If you can’t focus on type, you can’t read books. It is that simple. It turns out that I am a polycarbonate non-adapt. That means that the expensive polycarbonate lens I spent good money on (because they are supposed to be better than plastic or glass) don’t work for my eyes. Now I have plastic lenses and can see again. That means I can read books again!

But, now what to do with all those books! I am going to give a bunch away. Maybe I will give them to the Rotary club to send to people all over the world. Sometimes I wonder what the people in Senegal really will do with my old psychology text from 1965. But maybe some person hungry for knowledge will dwell on every word and this book will change that person’s life. It gives me comfort to think that anyway!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


I first knew something was different about me when I was very small – maybe about three years old. We would go to Florida and I was not allowed to go to the beach between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. – EVER, even if it was cloudy.

My mother said that I “fair skin” just like my grandmother. My grandmother DID have very light skin and she didn’t seem to have any freckles – at least none that I noticed. She was born in 1890 and must have spent many hours wearing a sun bonnet and long sleeves. She said she used buttermilk on her skin to keep it pretty and white.

By the time I was full-fledged kid about 8 years old, I had freckles all over my arms, face and legs. I somehow thought if I used suntan lotion the freckles would magically run together and turn tan and I would be “normal.” Alas, it never happened! I would use suntan lotion and wait for the tan. Instead, I got sunburn. I discovered Noxema at a very tender age, later followed by Solarcaine. It was clear to me that I was condemned to a life a freckles, while all of my friends were turning gloriously tan.

As a teenager, I really started to hate my freckles. My friends were sunbathing and I wasn’t. I simply couldn’t without blistering. There was no sunscreen, just suntan lotion and it didn’t do anything much for me. The only thing for me to do was to stay out of bright sunlight for extended periods.

Then along came a miracle product—QT. All you had to do was to smear this stuff over your body and presto, you turned a golden tan. From a freckled kid who couldn’t tan, this stuff seemed like a miracle. But then I tried it and found that I was left with orange streaks that made me look really strange. It took a few weeks for them to fade and I swore – never again.

At about age 20, I was a Girl Scout camp counselor in southwestern Georgia. One camp director decreed that we would lead the kids on a “forced march” of about 7 miles over red clay back roads. The camp director euphemistically called it an “endurance hike” and there was no escaping it. The chosen day was 97 degrees in the shade. We staff members begged the camp director to cancel the hike, but she was determined. Some little girls passed out and were close to heat stroke. It was a nightmare, but I made it to the end. The back of my neck was SO sunburned that big water blisters lined the back of neck from shoulder blade to shoulder blade. My recovery took days and I could only wear a white T-shirt to reduce the risk of infection. I know if I ever get skin cancer that will be the place.

Steve and I took our honeymoon in 1969 to Puerto Rico and we even took a flight over to St. Thomas. Steve’s mother, who has always been knowledgeable in health matters, told me to buy a product called “sunscreen.” It had a magic ingredient called PABA. I did and it worked – this was the miracle I had been waiting for all my life.

I had long since given up on the idea of being tan. I just didn’t want to get sunburned – not because I was afraid of skin cancer. I just didn’t like being sunburned – it hurt and was messy!

Between sunscreen and care to stay out of the sun I managed to avoid sunburn for a couple of decades. In one weak moment, I was talked into using some “quick tanner.” They SAID it was different from the stuff when I was teenager. It would not turn me orange. Well, of course, it DID turn me orange and it looked awful. I felt really stupid and vowed “never again.”

At this point, I have resolved that I will never be tan. There is nothing that can change that. It was so nice to be in Scotland among lots of people with skin just like mine.

Last year, we took the grandchildren to an amusement part in Pennsylvania. We took a boat ride with a young black girl about ten years old. She was very chatty and told me with great excitement about her trip thus far. But I could see she was staring at me. Finally, her curiosity got the better of her and she asked, “What are all those spots all over your arms?” I tried to explain about my ancestors from Scotland and “fair skin.” She smiled and nodded and was clearly still puzzled.

Not too long ago, I met some ladies who had gone to a store in Ocean City, Maryland and had their full bodies spray painted. The indignity of it all won out over the temptation . But I have a feeling if I were spray painted “tan” I would look downright strange and no doubt, orange! But it is an interesting thought!

This weekend we took the grandchildren whale watching off Cape May, New Jersey. The boat was to leave at 1 p.m. We joined the other tourists on the uncovered top deck with the best view. I came prepared with sunscreen and lathered us all up with the stuff, especially the back of my neck. But after about five minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore and went below. The others soon followed. In my old age, I know discretion is the better part of valor.

At age 60, I am freckled and that is just the way it is going to be. I know that I am more vulnerable to skin cancer than the average person. I no doubt look my age, but I really don’t have a lot of wrinkles and my skin is in decent shape. I don’t get freckles on my face anymore—just mostly on my arms. I imagine this is because I wear foundation that blocks the sun enough to withstand regular activities.

These days they tell people not to suntan, and to always use sunscreen. Pale and pasty is still not “in,” but I don’t care. I am what I am, and I have learned to love my own skin. It is the only skin I will ever get, so I might as well be content with it.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Growing up in the South, chicken was mainstay of our diet. My grandmother could fry a chicken like nobody else, not even my mother, and certainly not me – not even using the same skillet and following her directions fifty years later. I think bacon grease was the key ingredient. We always kept a jar of bacon grease next to the stove and used in liberally for frying, supplemented by Crisco. Nobody thought about cholesterol. Bacon grease was perfect in green beans, although fatback is the more conventional artery clogging choice.

My grandmother died at 67 of a massive heart attack; my grandfather had “hardening of the arteries” and died at 86. Hmmmh….could there be a connection?

Of course, I loved fried chicken and I even hummed when I ate it, I loved it so much. I always had the drumsticks – that was my right as an only child. My grandmother or mother always cut up our chickens and did it a certain way so that there was a “pulley bone.” It as a pulley bone because played a game with it before eating it. One person pulled on one side of it and the other person (preferably a visiting kid, but an indulgent aunt would do) pulled on the other side of it. The person who got the longest section “won” and your wish was to come true. Now, of course, the pulley bone is just part of the breast unless you buy your own whole chicken and cut it up.

In those days, chickens didn’t have huge breasts. The white meat was moist and tasty. But compare that with today’s average “D-cup” size chicken. No doubt all the hormones they are pumping into chickens enlarge their breasts while doing a number on the taste, not to mention the nutrition.

Thinking of chicken parts, always brings to mind my sorority sister, Sally (not her real name), at Auburn University. She is a wonderful person, successful, bright and articulate. But, apparently she grew up without any personal acquaintance with chickens. One day I was working as a graduate assistant in the Curriculum Lab (educationese for library) and in came Sally looking quite distressed. She had just been kicked out of elementary school art and told not to come back to class until she had seen a chicken. Obviously, it was far easier to go up one flight of stairs and ask to see a picture of a chicken than it was to seek out a live one – even when attending an agricultural college (i.e. cow college). Sally explained that the assignment was to draw a picture of a chicken and she had drawn one with four legs. I patiently explained that chickens had two legs. Sally questioned that, “they have the long legs in the back and the short legs in the front, right?” In some parts of the South, drumsticks are referred to as “long legs” and thighs are referred to as “short legs.” Sally got no end of good natured ribbing and a few weeks later we happened to be out in the country and actually sought out a real-live two legged chicken for her inspection.

So much for fried chicken – let’s go on to other popular preparations. Sometimes my mother smothered chicken. You coated it with flour, added some water and butter, and put it in a heavy deep skillet in the oven. Another favorite was chicken and dumplings (reserved for special occasions because the dumplings were so much work). Sometimes we had chicken pie – vegetables, just chicken and pastry – yum! Sometimes we barbequed it (but never on Sunday). Roast chicken was a Sunday treat.

My mother loved to make chicken tetrazini (and frankly, so do I) because it is a great party dish. Whenever she made it, she made a second casserole which she froze. That way we had an extra dinner for some night when there was no time to cook. When she had her heart attack (yes, she had one too at age 59 and survived), she was in ICU and insisting that my father and I go home and heat up chicken tetrazini from the freezer. We would have been just as happy with 2 couple of Reeses and Coke from the machines, but we went home and dutifully ate our chicken “tet” (as we called it).

I remember going to Marshall Durbin with my mother and grandmother to buy chickens. They only sold chickens and it was widely believed that they had the best chickens in Birmingham. For my grandmother, shopping at the chicken store (I guess it would be properly called a poulterer) was a luxury. She used to tell of her days on the farm growing up and she had to kill the chicken in order to have it for dinner. They used to pick up the poor chicken and spin it around by its head, effectively “wringing its neck.” I have no idea how they kill chickens today at the processing plants, but wringing seems unusually cruel.

My father apparently went through a stage of wanting to “raise chickens. “ This was in the late 1930s I think. I can’t imagine what possessed him to do this. From what I hear, however, this was a fantasy many men shared in that time frame – perhaps an urge for a simpler life. From what I hear, the chicken raising didn’t last very long or involve many chickens. By the time I was born in 1946 there were no chickens and there wasn’t a lot of conversation about growing them either. I don’t think it turned out to be nearly as much fun and it was rumored to be.

At any rate, here it is 2006 and I had chicken for dinner. I bought it pre-roasted at Costco, along with a new tea kettle, plastic bags, vitamins and supplies for the office drink machine. Pre-roasted chicken isn’t bad; Steve will actually eat it and not complain and it lasts for a couple of meals. Of course, the best part is the part I am not supposed to enjoy – the skin.

That’s the thing—you are just supposed to eat the white meat; and if it is dry and tough, so much the better. In fact, lots of people buy their chickens in little frozen blobs of breast meat and when you cook it on the George Forman grill it has absolutely no obnoxious fat.

I don’t have fried chicken often, and when I do I feel positively decadent. Of course, I don’t save bacon grease and I don’t keep shortening, so I have to use Canola oil. It isn’t quite as tasty, but it is tasty enough to remind me of another time. And if I fry some okra along with it and maybe even fry some corn, I can pretend it is 1954 and Sunday dinner.