Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bed Linens

When I was a kid beds came in three sizes: double, twin and cot/rollaway. There were no queen or king size beds and nobody seemed to notice that they didn’t exist. Mattresses were relatively thin by today’s standards and there was no such thing as a pillow-top on a mattress. Ticking was all blue and white striped. Pillows came in one size – the modern equivalent of “standard.”

From the time I was about four on we always had a clothes dryer, but one simply didn’t use the dryer for sheets. Instead, sheets were hung out on the line to dry. Bottom sheets looked pretty much like top sheets because they had not yet invented fitted sheets. I think the reason everyone liked to dry the sheets on the line is that they didn’t come out very wrinkled and they smelled nice.

In those days, sheets were white and not made out of permanent pressed material. They were always washed in hot water with bleach and bluing, ensuring a bright white. It was important to have bright white sheets. I don’t remember anyone ever ironing sheets in my time, except for the period when we had an ironer (which turned out to be of little value except for sheets). I do, however, vividly remember ironing pillowcases. My grandmother taught how to iron pillowcases—a skill I still practice today.

Sheets came in two types – muslin and percale. Nobody talked about thread count, but the greater the count, the better the sheet. “Nice people” used percale. Muslin was considered a lesser product. I could only assume that poor people slept on muslin, but it was OK for them (since they were poor and all).

Pillows had feathers in them until about the time I was in elementary school; then they started being made out of foam rubber. My father HATED foam rubber pillows and one day made quite a stink about it. My mother went out that day and bought him a new pillow. That pillow was made of goose down and cost $35 – a princely sum in 1950s dollars. I still have that pillow; it is by far the best pillow we own and I use it in the late evenings to rest my head on while I watch TV. It still has its tag on it – you know the one that you can’t remove “under penalty of law.” We are a VERY law-abiding family. That pillow is about 52 years old and it still has its tag!

Department stores used to have “white sales” – even after bed linens came in an array of colors. For all I know, they still DO have “white sales.” I just don’t pay attention to stuff like that any more, as I have a lot of sheets (and that’s another story). Now and then I do buy some sheets for our king size bed, but rarely and usually when I stumble on them cheap at some place like Costco (more on that later).

When I was about six my mother went to one of those “white sales” and got really carried away. Knowing my mother, it must have been quite a sale. She bought all sorts of colored sheets and they were even monogrammed in fancy white script letters. I had some that said PEH (Patricia Elizabeth Humphreys). They were soft pink, giving me the hint that soon she was going to paint my room pink (and she did). She also bought a set for my grandparents (who lived with us). Theirs were soft green to match their bedroom. For herself and my father she bought a pinkish raspberry color. All in all, we were pretty hot stuff with all of our monogrammed sheets in pastel colors.

Bedspreads were generally white or beige and lightweight, with little bumps in them, otherwise know as chenille. There were no pillow shams or comforters. You just pulled the spread up over the pillows (which had been rolled), after the sheet and blanket had been pulled up, pulled up the sheet and blanket and tucked them in, added a couple of throw pillows and the bed was made. I wonder why you can’t easily buy chenille bedspreads any more. They were all made by a company named Bates --- I wonder if they have a Web site? Hmmmh…

My favorite bedspread was brown, with little fuzzy cowboys on it. It was too big for my bed, so they put it on the cot in the hallway up in the attic by the attic fan. I don’t recall any ever sleeping on that cot, but it was nice to know it was there. I still have that bedspread. When our son was little I used it sometimes on his bed, but he was never that fond of it. It I now up in the cabinet above the washer and dryer with a few other odd bedspreads I am holding onto for some reason.

When I went to college my mother took me to JC Penny’s and we got matching sheets and towels. My sheets were pale apricot color, as were my towels. It was some sort of warped tribute to the Auburn University colors, orange and blue. Besides, I liked pale apricot; it went well with my freckles. My mother made me pale blue bedspreads.

These sheets served me well through graduate school, but when I got married it was time for new sheets. Permanent press was new and hot, so some of my gift sheets were permanent press and some were not. Guess which ones I still have.

In the late 60s and early 70s sheets were, like everything else, very colorful. Flowers were big and bold and the colors were bright. Bottom sheets were fitted and sometimes were a solid color in contrast to the bold print of the top sheet.

When we first got married we bought a king-sized bed. My husband is 6’5” and didn’t like for his feet to hang off the end of the bed. He selected the mattress and it turned out to be not very good and made of foam. By about 1973 it had to be replaced and we were in southern California at the time, courtesy of the air force. We went to the local mattress store and bought a mattress; it was a California king. None of our old sheets fit it because California kings are shaped differently from regular kings. Of course, we didn’t know that when we bought the mattress.

For the life of that goofy mattress, we bought California king sheets. By 1976, we were in Maryland, in the land of regular kings. California king sheets were not to be had at any price. So, we got along without new sheets, save those purchased on an occasional trip to San Bernardino (our old home) and the local Pic’N Save.

Eventually, the California king mattress wore out and we bought a regular king. The old sheets that were wedding gifts fit again and we could buy new sheets at almost any store. Ah, the freedom!

Then that mattress wore out and we bought a new one. It was somehow thicker than the old one and the old sheets (including the California kings) didn’t fit. They would spring off at the corners. Undaunted, I purchased some garter like contraptions to hold them on against their will. These little devices, that resemble a garter belt, stretch diagonally across each corner of the fitted sheets.

I bought some new sheets and they fit my new mattress just fine. For a time we were in sync – but only when I used the newest sheets.

Then I bought some more new sheets and the bottom fitted sheets were WAY too big. Not only did I not have to use the garters, I had to fold them over in the corners. Strange, I thought! Maybe they think they will shrink. Then I discovered the sad truth, the new sheets were designed for pillow-top beds. So once again, my mattress is out of sync with my sheets.

While I was going back and forth with sheets for the king size bed, I was quietly collecting twin and double sheets. My grandmother gave all of her sheets to my mother and so did my aunt. When my mother died, I got all of her sheets. Conveniently, I also got all the double and twin beds. The sheets fit the mattresses until we had to replace one twin mattress. The only kind we could buy had a pillowtop. Now my antique sheets don’t fit anymore on that bed and I have to use the old garter things, now unneeded for the king-size bed.

I still have the old chenille bedspreads on three of the beds in the house, but I have quilts for all the beds (but they are too good to use). One bed has a quilt on it. Our king size bed has a comforter that won’t cover the pillows because it is too short (but that has to be OK, as I like the comforter) and the pillows look OK in their cases. No way am I going to pull them out of pillow shams every night. Do people really do that?

What’s next? Probably a king-size mattress with a pillow-top. Only my newest sheets will then fit at all. My newest sheets are flannel. I never heard of flannel sheets when I was growing up, but in recent years I decided to try some of them. My husband insists on cutting the thermostat back at night and those flannel sheets feel great on a cold winter night. They aren’t percale, nor even muslin – oh the shame of it all! They are what might well be described as “Yankee sheets.” They are OK for winter, but not for the other seasons. Percale is still required!

Yesterday I was at Costco and looking at king size sheets. They had some for $59.95 that were of fine percale and soft colors popular today. I was tempted, but $59.95 still seems like a lot of money for sheets. I’ll have to give it some more thought and see how bad the ones I have really are. This is a major investment after all. They had some others for $35.99, but they were made out of jersey. For a brief moment, I contemplated getting a set of the jersey sheets, but I decided my self-esteem required percale. After all, I am a southern lady and a southern lady doesn’t sleep on muslin, much less jersey. Isn’t life strange?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Keeping Cool

When I was growing up, we didn’t have air conditioning, but neither did anyone else we knew, so we didn’t miss it. Alabama summers were hot and sticky, but we used fans to keep us cool. We had several of them, including a big one that sat on the floor and oscillated. You were hot for a while, but then the fan would blow on you and cool you instantly. Sweating was something you did all the time, all summer, not just a physical phenomenon that happens at the gym (but then nobody went to the gym except boxers). Nobody ran unless they were in a hurry to catch a bus!

My father really did NOT like to be hot and, although our house was sheltered by lots of trees and we had our fans, it wasn’t enough for him. One day he came home with an enormous fan. It was 4 ft. square and was mounted on the wall in the hallway at the top of the stairs in our attic. When that thing was on, it would blow women’s dresses up over their heads as they walked up our attic stairs (fortunately, the only women who walked up the stairs were in our family or those specifically invited to go upstairs and watch the fan, so it was OK). Obviously, my parents didn’t want me to be sucked into the fan or put curious young fingers in its invisible spinning blades, so they covered it with hardware cloth. After that, we were comfortable most of the time. All we had to do was to open the windows and gale force wind swept through the house.

While we were staying comfortable at home with our monster attic fan, central air conditioning was taking over the commercial world. Department stores, hotels, and grocery stores were installing air conditioning and bragging about it far and wide. Wealthy people were air conditioning their homes, but most new homes still came sans air conditioning.

We moved “over the mountain” in 1958 to a lovely home in the suburbs. It too had lots of trees, and it even had a small attic fan in the ceiling in the hallway. The fan was about half the size of fan the old house and it had louvers over it that opened when the fan was on. It did an OK job, but not for the basement (where my mother sewed). My parents bought a window unit for downstairs. But within a year, my father decided to install central air conditioning. He and my mother wrapped the ducts with insulation and suddenly we were among the elite with a cool house!

The schools were not air conditioned in those days. My high school, which was among the newest and best, had window units for the principal’s office and the guidance counselor’s office. The rest of us coped with the summer heat the best we could. School was out in late May and didn’t start again until after Labor Day, so we never had to deal with the worst of the summer heat.

In 1968 I went to college at Auburn University and I remembered what it was like to be hot again. I had a small fan that usually lived in the window, sucking in air from the outside and circulating it in my room. I remember that one particularly hot night I improvised a cooler by taking a Styrofoam ice bucket and filling it with old pantyhose. I then cut out the bottom and stretched a panty hose leg around over it, creating a cover. Then I taped the ice bucket to the fan. I poked a hole in the top side of the ice bucket and poured water in, saturating the pantyhose. In effect, I created a “desert cooler.” It was similar to my little invention for cooling myself in the car (see road tirp article). It was better than nothing!

In my junior year, I got to move to a new air conditioned dormitory. Life was good again, but I did miss having the windows open in the evening.

In graduate school, I had an apartment that was air conditioned, so I was comfortable and didn’t have to cope with the hot days. In the evening, if it was cool, I could turn off the air conditioner and open the windows.

Then in 1969, I married Steve. Steve grew up in New York City and sweltered through summers without air conditioning. Our first apartment in Illinois was air conditioned and we went straight from heat to air conditioning and that suited him just fine. He doesn’t like humidity and pollen can set off his sinuses. I hated having to have the windows closed at night.

When we moved to Southern California in 1971, we bought our first house. It had two desert coolers (evaporative). There was a large one on the roof, and a smaller room in the wall of the family room. These units were remarkably similar to my earlier inventions. They used automatically wetted excelsior pads and a fan to circulate the air. The folks next door had central air, but most of the time our house was cooler. In that kind of heat central air can only do so much. The desert cooler on the roof would often need new pads or get stopped up and Steve would have to do on the roof to fix it. I bought him some special shoes for this purpose at a local athletic store. They were funny looking shoes – orange suede, with a swoosh stripe on the side, made by a company I had never heard of – Nike. I wish I had bought another pair as an investment. Just think what they would go for on eBay now!

When we moved to Maryland in 1976, we bought an air conditioned house. Steve was happy; he could have heat in the winter and cold in the summer and never have to open a window. The house had a built in attic fan and I would have preferred to use on those nights that were not all that hot. But that was not to be. When he was away, I would open windows and air out of the house.

When we built the home we are in today in 1992, we air conditioned it and we also installed an attic fan, at my insistence. This fan is SO noisy and doesn’t do much to cool the house. It is, however, useful when clearing the house of smoke after a cooking accident. Steve is still very happy to go from heat to cool and never open a window. But on lovely Spring nights like last night, when he is away, I enjoy opening the windows and turning on the ceiling fans. I slept SO well last night and was awakened by the birds this morning.

These days almost everywhere you go there is air conditioning. For that reason, it never occurred to me when I went to Skyland Drive last summer to work on my business plan that they didn’t have air conditioning. I had only been there in the past in the Spring and Fall. There was NO way I was going to get any work done in my room in the sweltering 90 degree plus July heat. I got in the car and headed for the nearest Walmart, in Luray, and bought an oscillating fan on a stand. Once I had that fan, I was cool and comfortable and I could think. Most of all, I felt like a kid again! And I could sleep with the windows open!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Road Trips

I remember traveling with my parents when I was a kid. We would pack the car to the limit and head cross country from Birmingham to Boston or LA or Denver or Florida. My father seemed to feel that on good day you had to make 600 miles. This was not 600 miles at 65 mph on the Interstate. This was 600 miles on US Highways, like US 66 and US 11. We loaded up the car with an ice chest, packed with Coca Colas. When the ice melted, we looked for an ice house, as each small town had one.

At the end of each day, we would stop at a motel. We didn’t make reservations; we just picked a decent looking place at the end of the day. The chains were too fancy and costly for us. Usually my parents got a room with a double bed and a rollaway for me. By today’s standards the places we stayed would be considered motels of “last resort.” But in those days they were clean and sometimes even air conditioned. Some even had a tv in the room and maybe even a swimming pool. Usually I think we paid about $10-$15 per night.

I learned to look out the window when traveling and the savor the joy of open windows in the sweltering summer heat. Even mile after mile of Kansas, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico wasn’t boring. I took imaginary photographs of scenes along the road, carefully framing each scene in my head.

When I was grown and married and the mother of an infant, we still had the travel cross country, as plane fare was too costly. With the freeways, travel was faster, so the 800 mile day became possible for us. Why not? We were young and full of energy! We opted for the major motel chains. Our son needed a crib and not every motel had one. We went from stopping when we were tired, to mapping out a route and making reservations well in advance. At that time we lived in southern California and our families were back East! You haven’t lived until you have traveled from California to New York to Alabama and back with a three month old in a two door ’71 Dodge Dart. When they dropped the speed limit from 70 to 55 mph it added a full day to our last trip!

I have now been in every state I think but North Dakota and Alaska and I’ve seen the countryside up close and personal. We now can afford to fly on vacation travel, especially since we have loads of frequent flyer miles. Still, however, sometimes it makes sense to drive.

I think I have driven the full width of Texas for the last time. But when we are headed for someplace along the East coast, the car is the way to go. I don’t mind sharing in the driving with my husband and we make enough rest stops and meal stops. Is the trip up the Jersey Turnpike boring? Or how about Virginia as seen from I-95 or I-81? These are long boring rides, but so is sitting for two hours in the Atlanta Airport.

A new kind of trip has entered my life in the last few years, and that is the “road trip with girlfriends.” I realize “girl” is perhaps not the best way to describe my friends, most of them 50+. But you get the idea! It is more the “spirit” of “girlhood.” We love the men in our lives deeply, but sometimes it is fun to just get away with the “girls.”

Women understand the “art” of shopping. My husband, on the other hand, wanted to buy two shirts in Gatlinburg at the Van Heusen outlet. He walked in; picked up two shirts in his size (all in less than a minute) and was quickly in line at the cashier. Had he been a woman, he would have first scoped out the whole store, zeroed in on about half dozen blouse candidates; felt the texture of each fabric; selected at least three for purchase and perhaps picked up a pair of coordinating slacks. Any self-respecting woman would then consider trying to pick up a matching purse and shoes, and maybe a sweater to match. This process could take up to two hours, finished up by a restroom break and lunch and a few more stores, just in case.

Women tour differently too. Men want to know all the facts – what happened when and to whom. If a war was involved, all the better, and who was the commanding general? On the other hand, we women want to know what was life really like in the historic place in question? What did they wear; how did they spend their days?

When looking for a hotel room, women want security, cleanliness, and convenience. Good food and a smoke-free bar are appreciated. But if there is a spa where you can get a massage – so much the better. Affordable is better than expensive, but scuzzy won’t cut it.

Women like to act on impulse! “I know we planned to do X, but, hey, here is Y and it seems like more fun! Let’s do it.” And if we can experience something of the local culture, that is a big plus!

So let’s face it, husbands and men friends are great, but to really enjoy travel, it is best to go with “girlfriends.” You laugh; you relax; you share memories and you build friendships.

I just returned from a five day road trip to Charleston with three fellow Facestwomen. Nancy Badertscher, Jane Tyson, and Barbara Polito and I had an incredible time. We squeezed every ounce we could out of our time in Charleston. In my next entry I will hit the highlights.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

My mother took me to Gatlinburg when I was very small; I was about four or five years old. We had a good time; we rode the Incline Railroad, stayed at a motel and bought fudge. I always treasured that trip; one of the few times my mother and I went anywhere with just the two of us. Of course, we traveled, but always with my Dad. I have no idea why my father was not along on this trip. I can only speculate that he had planned to go, but couldn’t at the last minute and my mom didn’t want to lose the deposit. But for whatever the reason, I was in Gatlinburg in about 1950 with my mother and I always wanted to go back.

In the mid-70s, Steve and I, along with our son, went back there—just passing through. I remembered a sleepy little mountain town. What I found was a “tourist attraction.” It seemed overbuilt and far too overdeveloped to please me. I had no interest in going there ever again.

Then about eight years ago, an old friend offered me a week at a Gatlinburg timeshare. The price was right – FREE. There was that business about the condo fee every year and the fee to join Interval International. Still it seemed like a bargain. After all, we could trade the time for anywhere in the world.

And for the first few years, we did exactly that. We traded for Cornwall and Myrtle Beach. We banked our time. We missed one year all together but failing to make our deposit on time. Still, it was a good deal.

Then one day we got a notice from the Club Chalet that “our” unit was going to unavailable for some weeks because of a problem associated with a landslide and the small creek that runs THROUGH the cabin and the need to build a retaining wall and redecorate the unit. Now we were curious – just what kind of place is this anyway? A landslide, a creek, a retaining wall?

So, we decided to actually “use” our time and go to Gatlinburg and stay at our cabin. That was several years ago. When we arrived one dark, rainy, and foggy March night to start our week, we discovered that “our” unit was STILL not available, due to all the remodeling work. They had, however, assigned us to a similar unit.

Right before arriving at the timeshare office, we had gone about 2/3 up Ski Mountain Road, and had just passed the most incredible hairpin turn I have ever seen in my life. To find the unit reserved for us, we had to follow a map. It seemed easy enough, a few roads and a few turns. Well, not exactly! The roads off Ski Mountain Road are all the same – narrow spiral ribbons of asphalt, with edges that drop down about eight inches. The thought of hooking a wheel is terrifying because you will instantly “flip” down an embankment into a ravine and die a horrible death!

The chalet (they call them that in Gatlinburg) that first trip was really nice and had an incredible view – no wonder it was near the top of a big mountain! Three bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room and dining room, plus three baths. Not bad for two people! I was supposedly "just like" our chalet, just minus the creek and the retaining wall.

That first trip, we went to see “our” unit and discovered a construction crew hard at work. We didn’t bother them for a tour…we knew we would be back. This place, crazy as it was, was actually starting to appeal to us. Sure, the town of Gatlinburg was even more “touristy” than it had been in the 70s. The “strip” (maybe it has some other name) between Pigeon Forge and Sevierville is every bad hillbilly cliché wrapped into one. It is continuous series of miniature golf, “Dixie” shows, catfish places, “As Seem on TV Stores,” motels of all stripes, outlet malls, and pancake houses. I can’t believe this place can support so many pancake houses!

We did go back the next March and actually stayed at our chalet. Sure enough, it had a BIG new concrete retaining wall behind it and still a stream trickled through the basement. It had been redecorated and was actually quite pleasant, and it was certainly quiet.

We felt more comfortable than the first trip. We knew where to find a good grocery store and had found a few good relatively authentic restaurants the previous trip. Some friends came up from Alabama to join us for a few days. Being with friends gave us an excuse to do some things we had resisted the previous trip, like ride the aerial tramway up to Ober Gatlinburg, at the top of Ski Mountain.

This past week, we went back yet again, mostly because we failed to deposit our timeshare with Interval on time to get the better trading opportunity. The two previous trips we had spent considerable time in our cabin, just working. That was what made it appealing – the opportunity to get some work done. We felt we had already seen everything we really wanted to see. After all, we had driven through the width of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, including the driving nature trail (really), toured Cade’s Cove, shopped at the outlets, walked through town and looked at the shops, and even visited an As Seen on TV store. We had eaten at some interesting restaurants and had lots of barbeque, steak, catfish and trout. In Gatlinburg there is a restaurant that specializes in trout (pretty good too – trout a lot of different ways). No, we have not gone to any of the shows. The thought of men in Confederate and Union army sequined uniforms racing on ostriches was not tempting enough to lure us to the Dixie Stampede (maybe some year). And Dollywood is closed in March.

This trip we mostly worked, and worked, and worked. Steve set up his laptop at one end of the table and I at the other. We tried to go out once each day and get back by sunset, after an early dinner. Those roads are scary enough in the daylight! The “designated driver” among us (only the two choices) agreed to not drink any wine with dinner. Those roads and even slight intoxication do not mix!

This trip we found a few more things of interest, including the Gatlinburg Arts and Crafts Community. This is a few clusters of interesting craft shops off the beaten path. They have everything from pottery to brooms. I picked up a few interesting items to feature on the FacetsWoman online boutique.

As we were leaving the craft shop area, I noticed a sign on the side of the road. It said Buckhorn Inn, since 1938, Dinner by Reservation. The sign was in great condition and road looked inviting. We soon came to an enclave of white clapboard cabins and main building reminiscent of the Gibson Island Club. Yes, they could take us for dinner. Dinner would be at 7 p.m. and the menu was clam chowder, salad, trout, green beans, rice, and marscapone cheesecake, for $30 a person (expensive by Gatlinburg standards). If we didn’t want trout, we could have chicken. They don’t have a liquor license, but if we bring our own wine they will serve it. Our immediate reaction was very positive. We were ready for something quirky and casually elegant. We arrived back promptly at 7 p.m. and were seated in the dining room at a table for two, among about a dozen other tables. The food was fabulous, as was the service! On the way out, we picked up a brochure. They are a B & B, and the cabins are upscale, but still reasonable. They have an estate with nature trails and a labyrinth. I definitely want to come back—maybe as an overnight guest.

This trip we set aside one day for exploring – no work, just clear our brains! We opted to make the car trek to Catalochee settlement. From our cabin, it is about 60 miles each. On the way there we chose the shorter, more scenic route (aka back roads). The last 15 miles or so of the trip was on gravel roads, around hair pin curve after hair pin curve. Thank goodness it was a beautiful day. Cataloochee Settlement is one of those very quiet little tourist destinations that most folks never visit. At one point it had nearly two hundred buildings. Today, just a handful remain. The townspeople had to leave when the Park was formed. There was a church, a school, and a few houses, barns and cabins, all along a quick running and broad mountain stream. Small blue butterflies darted about and each wooden surface was peppered with ladybugs. It felt good to be outside!

I guess what I am saying is, there is more to Gatlinburg than meets the eye. We will continue to trade our time share out some years, but some years we will go back for a quiet week at our cabin with the BIG retaining wall and stream through the basement. And, for sure, we will plan on dinner at the Buckhorn Inn.