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Burns Supper Post (a month late)

When you are invited to a Burns Supper, you never know if it will be a semi-formal affair with proper scholars or a dinner with drunken louts. A successful Burns Night is a combination of the two. 

The first Burns Supper I attended was in 1995, in London with friends, and it was full of pomp and poetry, and I remember being enveloped by the warmth in the room. There was laughing and clapping, even some dancing.

burns_night_vintage
What the Scots call a “Proper Do” or a cèilidh (pronounced “cay-lee”) usually involves a live band and dancing – traditional Scottish folk music and reel/line/square dancing (think blue grass meet Lord of the Dance).  The whisky helps. 

The next one I attended was in the States, in 2005, and a conservative St. Andrew’s Society affair up north; it was a stale dinner party evening, and I was not allowed to get drunk. I was disappointed by the lack of Burnsy Things. No one even made a jokes or speeches about women, or dying young, or the importance of poetry in life.

Until I sat to write this little blog post, it had not occurred to me that I have managed to attend a Burns Supper every decade for the last three. (That’s Shameful.) So this year, when Hubby and I were invited by our new bowling club to one, we jumped at the chance.

lawn_bowls1
Yes, that’s right. Lawn bowls, bitches. Not ten pin. As in a veritable pensioner’s sport.
(It closely resembles the version of bocce ball we played in the mountains, when I tried – unsuccessfully – to get Yelladog to cheat for me.  RIP YD.)

We had considered one of the local restaurant offerings; we live in an area with some amazing eateries, and were cruising the Burns Supper menus when we decided the bowling club would be more fun.  For starters, we are new members, and this would be a great chance to make new friends.  Also, we can contribute to the bar, and the club is a 150 yard stumble from our front door. Sold.

rabbie_burns
Since 11 of my 12 readers are Americans, let me sum up a Burns Dinner for you. 

Robert Burns, national poet of Scotland, renowned and much beloved scoundrel, is honored somewhere around the 25th of January every year by Scots around the world. It is a dinner that also honors all things Scottish, with Haggis taking the grand seat at the table.

haggisBurns
Robert Burns is forever linked to the haggis because he wrote a poem about it.
That’s right.  A poem.  Regaling the “Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!”
(Ah the power of whisky…)

Hubby had never been to one before, and this turned out to be a grand introduction. We get dressed up and walk down to the club. We are greeted warmly, our name cards located quickly, and are glasses filled heartily. We are introduced to the other couples at our table, discovering that one couple lives 5 doors down from our flat.  They are lovey people, who are bemused and confused by the description of my research (why am I never prepared for these questions?) and then proceed to tell us how lovely the local baths are, if we’d like to visit as guests.  Scottish Non Sequiturs are the Best.

Turns out, the “Victorian baths” (so-called because they were built in 1876) are actual Turkish and Russian baths in our neighborhood, and are a luxury to be investigated.  Fitness classes, a pool, saunas and tea rooms, a billiards room, a bar and bistro, manicurists and masseuses of some fame.   Yes please. 

The actual supper is served: Cullen skink or some other brothy soup (think fish stock or chicken noodle with no noodles) Haggis (see previous post for details on this) with neeps and tatties (mashed parsnips and mashed taters), shortbread, cheese plates, and of course, the Water of Life (whisky aka Scotch).

The poem, “Address tae the Haggis” is always the first item on the program of a Burns Supper. The haggis is generally carried in on a silver tray escorted by a piper, who plays a suitable, rousing accompaniment.

For a great example of this, click here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8l2m3_2Xjg

One of the honored guests then recites the poem, a theatrical production in and of itself which includes praising and drinking whisky and stabbing the haggis with a ceremonial knife.

Haggis duly praised and stabbed, we start drinking prosecco. The men and women at the table are varying degrees of subtle while checking out my ring, my boobs, my husband.  Some things are the same in every clubhouse in every neighborhood in the world.

There is delightful conversation about the weather, the baths, the city and its live music scenes, and a rousing story of a quarreling lesbian couple cosying up to our neighbor Benjamin at Hogmany cèilidh.  Evidently they were trying to make each other jealous and in Benjamin, a man in his late 60s, wearing a burgundy velvet tuxedo (complete with matching bowtie!) was not complaining, until his wife unceremoniously removed one of them from him, a process she compared to removing a leech.  Brilliant!

I am warned about the cattiness that happens in the women bowling and I almost spew my cocktail.  I am pretty sure if I can handle the Stitch and Bitch crowd of a southern Baptist Church than I can handle some Scottish Bowling Betties.  The idea alone actually thrills me.

lawn_bowls3

Robert Burns “Rabbie” lived hard and died young; at 37, he died before lamenting the passing of his youth into the midlife that brought me to his land. A notorious drinker and womanizer, many Scots take great pride in reminding a Burns Supper audience that while he had many (9 or 10?) illegitimate children, he provided for all them, financially.  Including the girls, whom he insisted receive the same education as the boys.

His letters record him having a particularly great time one summer on Loch Lomond [side], which is very near where we live now.  Tales of women, all night parties, drunken horse races, mysterious cuts and bruises, are all part of what makes the modern Scot love him.

My affection comes more from the fact that he never claimed to be anything more than what he was:

burns_letter

And this, in short, is why I love Rabbie Burns.

I am a woman of many sins, but I am not duplicitous and I will continue to live my life with as much abandon as I can while keeping out of prison. 

lawn_Bowls2

So we drink and we toast and we eat and we drink some more.  Rabbie Burns knew it, and every January we are reminded of it – that life is too fabulous not to enjoy the living of it. 

 

Coming soon – – a post with thoughts of Rome, Chianti, and naked Gladiators…

 
2 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2016 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Christmas in Glasgow or How to Rock Christmas despite the Royal Mail

Christmas in Glasgow
or How to Rock Christmas despite the Royal Mail

3 DECEMBER 2015
ST. GEORGE’S SQUARE, GLASGOW

We have taken the subway on a dreary Scottish day to City Center, to shop.  A Ferris wheel, a carousel, an ice-skating rink, and one of those insane swing rides have been set up in the square.  Unaware that Scottish Christmas apparently includes a State Fair Flare, we take a rest and watch the shoppers and teenagers as we eat lunch in The Counting House.

stgeorgesxmas

We shop, we stroll, we drink, we shop some more.  I have had enough to drink by 3pm to want to ride (despite my fear of rides set up by carnies) and am vetoed.  We accomplish all of our shopping in between pints and people watching.  The rain decides to dump on us in earnest and we duck into The Pot Still, where a semi-retired teacher named George, waiting on his wife, starts a conversation with us.  This is typical for Glasgow.  A city full of Never-Met-A-Strangers. He asks about America, we learn that he plays the accordion, and he ends up buying a round for the three of us before we move on.  The rain had stopped by then and the night sky was amazing and crisp, the smell of wet cobblestones more relaxing than a shoulder rub. We end our night with a wee cocktail at the very posh bar in the first floor of The Corinthian Club. Merry!

6 DECEMBER 2015
COSAs in GLAGOW

With my school term at an end, JP has decided to schedule our daily walks around locating COSAs.  Cozy Outdoor Smoking Areas.  Yes, this is happening, people.  Cigars are hard to come by – and expensive when we can find them – so they have become quite the treat.  But our little garden has no shelter, so we must be creative.  We walk to the Hotel du Vin, for which, in jeans, we feel instantly underdressed.  We slip into the whisky bar (abundantly warm, crackling fire, comfy leather couches) and began chatting to the whisky concierge, Ibon, who discusses the 20-page whisky menu.

*I have no photos of Ibon, but rest assured, I will in the future.  He may even get written into my will.

Ibon also gives us the cigar menu (only a page, alas) and we make selections as he leads us outside to the Cigar Bothy. There is a stone courtyard with tables and fairy lights above (he tells us this used to be the stables 100 years ago) and at its end, a Tiki Hut structure with soft leather chairs and space heaters underneath.  He turns them on, takes our orders, and returns with a whisky, cigars, an ashtray and two Cubans.

bothy

Merry. Christmas. To. Us.

Ibon calls it a hidden gem, as many people to do not know about it, and it does not get regular use.  I do not think he believes us when we tell him in earnest that we intend to change that.  He returns in a while with a second round, which, when we are ready to go, he pays for. Merry. Merry.

8 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW Christmas Excitement

Holiday shopping, for us, was accomplished by December 9.  I realize that by typing this sentence, I run the risk of alienating half of my readership but let me beg the other 6 of you to stay and read on.

royal_mailNever Complain about the USPS!!  You have no idea how wonderful they are.  The Royal Mail, in addition to its competitors (yes there are multiple mail services here) ALL SUCK.  They deliver when they want, and they charge extortionate rates and pile on taxes and customs fees that would make a Mafia Loan Shark blush.

fragile
And no one seems to know what FRAGILE means,
so give up on that too.

We had two big boxes of pressies purchased, wrapped, packaged and shipped; other presents were being shipped for us (thank you Amazon!) and we had some Incredible Elves stateside who helped us with a few things too.  Let me be clear; I am not bragging so much as admitting that I was beaten into this Time Management Machine by none other than Hurricane.  It is one of the things I am most grateful to her for – in life in general- but definitely around the holidays.
DECEMBER (1978-88)
CALM AND BRIGHT

The Christmases of my childhood appear in memory as Storybook Superb.  And Hurricane was never manic over it all.  This is not to say that we didn’t have a Griswold moment or two, but those mainly revolved around Mackula’s shenanigans. Hurricane would have something on the stove, something in the oven, the menu planned, cards mailed, presents wrapped and/or delivered, linens pressed, tree and house superbly decorated, Christmas music softly playing, Pork Chop (our dog) curled on the end of the throw blanket, under which she was curled, on the couch, reading a book, and sipping Russian Tea.

xmas table
Procrastination was viewed by Hurricane as some sort of mental disorder.

8 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW
If ever there is evidence that I am her child, it is during the holidays.  Christmas shopping is managed, meals planned, and the time for reveling has begun! We have tickets to a movie (Star Wars), a show (A Christmas Carol), and reservations for a Christmas day feast (@Curler’s Rest). I will cook a Christmas Eve meal, and we will snack on the leftovers for days while JP plays Christmas movies and I pretend to read or work.  We have everything we need, (indeed more) and we revel in the luxurious sexy pace of our lives.

whisky.jpg

9 DECEMBER 2015
EDINBURGH

We have no desire to travel this holiday.  We’ve not been here 3 months yet, so we are content to explore our new home We take the train to Edinburgh, to a Choral Light Show, choosing the night, of course, with gale force winds (up to 40 mph) in the pelting rain in which to enjoy Handle’s messiah.

edinburgh fest of lights1

With temperatures in the mid-50s, prior to the show, we did some walking and shopping (cigar shops are few and far between in Scotland, people, you must always be on the lookout!) and had a magnificent birthday meal of roasted duck and garlic mashed potatoes, prawn and crab cakes and a bottle of Merlot. We have a few pints, we buy JP a new hat (the wind threatening to take the one he was wearing) and a find a new whisky bar.  Thus reinforced, we headed to the music, ready to kick of our holiday in more style.

xmas pic

If you’ve never been beaten by stinging rain while listening to the Hallelujah chorus while standing beneath a Disney-like light structures, glowing and pulsing in perfect synchronicity with the music, then you do not know Christmas Excitement, my friends. Merrrrrrry.

10 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLASGOW

Our boiler (think: hot water and heat) goes out.  As in, stops working.  We have a mostly-hot shower (it’s electric) and a few phone calls to the landlord (do you remember him? Hamish?) and he’s on his way over, with John, one of the building’s owners.  I’m fairly sure they both expected that we were simply intoxicated or otherwise incapable of properly operating the thing, because neither masked their genuine shock when they turned up and the boiler performed its little on-and-off-watch-the-pilot-light-tick-and-dance-and-disappear act.  Scottish Power was summarily called.

We danced with three different technicians from Scottish Power over the next SIX DAYS as they finally managed to order, deliver, and install the parts needed for our poor boiler. Space heaters were delivered in the interim and we were quite cozy, but having to wait on the deliveries and technicians cut into our neighborhood wanderings a bit. Lesser humans would have been bitter and bored.  We are superior humans; we drank bitters and played board games.

12 DECEMBER 2015
WARM AND BRIGHT

It’ 55 degrees and everyone is complaining about the weather.  In North Carolina, temps are 20 degrees higher than that, and people are complaining about the weather.  We flatly blame Al Gore and his Global Warming and head out, having waited the previous day for a Scottish Power part delivery that never arrived.  #royalmailcankissit

We go see a movie (Victor Frankenstein), walk around the Christmas stalls in St. Enoch’s square, pick up a birthday delivery at Debenhams, then sail home on the warm weather with thoughts of a cigar. Hubby’s birthday is our excuse, but we really don’t need one.  (His birthday this year was a concert, a dinner, a fine bottle, and a fine cigar.)

bothy2

It is full dark when we walk there (at 4pm) and we shake off our boiler frustrations with a cigar and two glasses of whisky while listening to Christmas Carols on my iPhone, the heaters whirring away in the bothy, keeping us toasty.  The wind picks up at the last and after we settle up, we decide to have another drink inside at the whisky bar.  What’s the rush back to our Space Heater Flat?  The lounge is crowded, but there is small couch by the front window and Ibon ushers us to it.  We change our whisky order to champagne, for Hubby’s birthday. And Ibon brings us a plate of truffles:

bdaytruffles

He refuses to let me pay and is embarrassed when I hug him good-bye.

We walk home, our way lit through the neighborhood by Christmas trees alight in bay windows.  We play our first round of the Christmas Tree Game.

24 DECEMBER (1978 -88)
AFTER DINNER RIDE ALONG

Following the Candlelight Service at FBC and then our annual Chinese dinner, my family would drive all over the city, looking at Christmas lights and play the Christmas Tree Game. 

The Rules:
The car is divided, to left and right sides – these are your teams and you cannot switch.  If there is a lit tree with multi-colored lights on your side of the car (road), that’s one point for your team.  Trees with all white lights are two points. A tree with any other solid color (red, blue) lights are five points each.  Trees that you can see but are not lit do not count.  Trees inside and outside count.  Bigger trees do not yield additional points. Decorations in/on businesses do not count.  It must be residential. Trees must be real trees as far as you can tell. (No obviously plastic or wire trees, icicle lights on bushes, or trees created by lights strung from poles).  Plastic figurines, angels, Moravian stars, and balls of wound lights hanging from trees do not count. When in doubt, the driver was the ultimate judge (Mackula).

With a belly full of egg rolls and pork fried rice, we drove around neighborhoods all over the city, looking at the decorations and adding up our scores.  Less competition and more about pointing out the new, the unique, the amazing, and more often than not, singing along with the Christmas songs on the radio.  Every so often, Mackula would make crazy twists and turns through the neighborhood, looking for more lights and trying to keep the scores close, often making last minute decisions about which way to drive around a cul-de-sac, sending us flying across the back seat, and giving one team all the points.  Mackula would inevitably turn in the direction to let “my” team get the points for the great big tree in the front window of my best friend’s house (she still calls herself the Jew that Loves Christmas). And we’d look for the plastic reindeer with the dented butt in the yard of the Kristy family, which dad ran over one year leaving a party from a driveway over.

charliebrown_trees

As Christmas nears, and Hubby and I walk through our neighborhood (we’ve lived in many over the years) we often play the Christmas Tree Game when the sun sets and the trees glow vividly in the front windows of homes. We talk about the lights, and smile over stories of people they remind us of.  It’s really the only Christmas tradition that we keep.  I sometimes cheat (he lets me) but we always wind our way home, with a slow relaxed pace, simply enjoying the company.  And feeling the peace of the season wash over us in the whisky-warmed, Scottish-chilled December air. A Very. Merry.

14 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW CITY CENTRE

We go to a movie (Black Mass) and have a late late lunch of small plate and ciders at All Bar One, where we laugh at a group of female Christmas revelers with Christmas cracker hats, one of which we were sure would stumble on her stilts either coming or going to the toilets.  We lost that bet (the brunette stumbled, not the blonde) with our neighbor, Alex, who works for a company based in RTP.  Small world indeed. Merry. Merry.

18 DECEMBER 2015
STAR WARS

Heat restored and the universe set aright, it’s time for some 3-D Cinema.

highstreet_xmas

There are brass bands playing festive music, shoppers on the Fashion Mile and high street are bustling, and the decorations on the street lamps and storefronts glow in the grey light of a Scottish Friday. We go in extra early in anticipation of Comic Con Craziness, but are greeted with no lines and an hour to burn before our matinee.  We go to the pub across the street, and a spend time with an off-duty bus driver (John) who regales us with stories about the madness of private holiday bus hires and, in a coordinated effort with the bartendress, does his best to convince Hubby to sing karaoke in a few days, as the pubs hosts this and trivia every Sunday.  The old man next to John has seven teeth in his head, and laughs maniacally at every other things Hubby says.  He steps outside twice in the hour we are there to smoke Camels from what looks like a WWII rations tin. Merry. Merry.

23 DECEMBER 2015
GLASGOW

We walk to the Valhalla Goat wine shop.  Last minute shoppers amuse us at every turn.  A man trying to reel in his 10-year old who is having a melt-down, a woman outside a cooking shop yelling into her mobile phone ”…I am not going to spend my holiday waiting for you to get off your arse and decide what you want to do…”  You tell him, honey.

shopping_for_me

We have a relaxing walk home from the Valhalla Goat, stopping at a bookstore, Oran Mor, a few charity shops, The Hillhead Bookclub, a candle shop, and Hubby’s favorite, Curler’s Rest. In Curler’s I am accosted while heading to the bar by a group of men (ages 30-60) full of Christmas Cheer.  I say excuse me, as I split them to get to the bar to order.
One of them manages to tell me, more or less, that he thinks that I am pretty.
I say thank you and am asked if I am Australian.  I laugh and say no.  Canadian? Another asks.
American, I say before they can guess more countries.
You here are on holiday?  No, we’ve moved here.
They collectively miss the possessive pronoun and the loudest, who looks and sounds like Scottish Drunken Uncle wraps an arm around me and snaps a selfie.

It happens very fast, but the rest are on him quickly, apologizing and embarrassed; Drunken Uncle grins like an idiot and says something about helium.  So I have been instagrammed now.  One of them tells Drunken Uncle that I probably have a boyfriend that will now “level him, and rightly”.
I laugh and say, no, my boyfriend won’t mind, but my husband, who is standing over there, just might. (Thank G-d Hubby is actually standing and watching, wearing what I know is a smirk, but can be interpreted by the rest of the world as something more menacing.)

En masse, they turn to him, then explode in laughter.
Then they make Drunken Uncle buy my drinks.
Merry. Merry. Merry.

24 DEC MORNING
(1978-88)

Hurricane is up early, and so is everyone else.  She makes cinnamon rolls with orange sugar glaze, grapes and sliced oranges. These are set on the kitchen table with chocolate marshmallow Santas. She then begins prep for Christmas dinner, which usually involved a standing rib roast, hot dips and crackers, casseroles, pies, and if the weather was even lightly chilly, a soup of some sort.  If the weather had been dry, there would be tins of homemade peanut brittle and hard candies that she’d divided into wax-lined tins.  Some years, there would be fudge, some years a fancy jelly-roll cake.

xmas jellyroll

One year, she sent me outside to pluck “perfect” leaves off of the holly bushes under the kitchen windows.  Under her tutelage, I washed and dried them, then mixed green food coloring into white chocolate, which was then brushed into the leaves with a small paint brush.  A whole cookie sheet of these went into the fridge for about 3 minutes, and then came out so I could peel and discard the leaves, which had left perfect chocolate versions in their wake. Then I strategically attached small Red Hots to each using left over green chocolate that had been melted in a ramekin and piped through the edge of a Ziploc.  Other people learned life lessons while spending quality time with family over the holidays; I learned how to make chocolate sculptures.

24 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLAGOW

I have cocktails and desserts well in hand.  I am not rushed; I have time for casseroles and two chapters in a good book. I heat up slices of pumpkin pie and Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie (made after we returned from Curlers). Then I make cornbread, the mix slyly obtained 6 weeks prior, from a field trip to the only Whole Foods in Scotland.  They had an American Aisle, and from it I obtained a box of cornbread mix and a can of Libby’s pumpkin pie filling.  I think it’s disgusting, but Hubby loves it (and I love him).  A cinnamon loaf is the freezer and I have fresh oranges to slice.

pecan pie

I make sausage cornbread dressing and an asparagus casserole, then we bake a small turkey and feast. We snuggle and watch Christmas movies. There is no stress to our holiday. We shall eat leftovers and drink Strongbow for days.

At 6:30, we walk down to Cottiers (once a cathedral, now a pub, restaurant, and playhouse) get a few glasses of wine and then take our seats for a three-person show of A Christmas Carol.  (At the first sign of a puppet, I could feel Hubby’s panic, but they turned out to be hysterical; Scrooge interacting with the audience on the border of pantomimes that are so popular here.) We laugh for 90 minutes straight.  We walk home slowly, enjoying the chill and then the warmth of hearth that follows.

cottiers

25 DECEMBER 2015
TeamShrop HQ, GLASGOW

We open gifts, we call friends and family, and revel in a 5-course feast at Curlers.  We come home to our flat and call more friends and more family and we are stuffed, whole, healthy, warm, and happy together.

My family is here under this roof and we are whole.

While we remember the Christmases of our past, we should never forget to live the Christmases of now.  Every season has magic, if you are open to it. There are many for whom anxiety, depression, selfishness, and even ego take over their holiday; they feel immense pressures – to compete, to emulate, to participate – and it crushes their spirit.  I am no stranger to holiday blues; this season is often the time of year I miss my dad terribly and am saddened most that Hubby is not a Daddy. (Things I cannot change.)

But I know that joy and laughter abound in this world, and that focusing on fears and regrets makes us miss the opportunities to revel in them.

So here’s wishing all 12 of my Devoted Readers a reveling good holiday, however you celebrate it.  Be you a last minute shopper, a baker of pies, a consumer of fortune cookies, a weather-moaner, a Xanax Grinch, a Drunken Uncle, even a driver for the Royal Mail… I wish you all joy and laughter.

braw wee christmas

FOOTNOTES & LINKS:

St. Enoch’s Christmas Stalls: http://www.glasgowloveschristmas.com/Pages/Home.aspx
St. George’s at Christmas: http://www.glasgowguide.co.uk/images_gsquare-xmas.html
Edinburgh Festival of Lights:
http://www.edinburghschristmas.com/whats-on/virgin-money-street-of-light
The Pot Still: http://www.thepotstill.co.uk/
The Corinthian Club: http://www.thecorinthianclub.co.uk/
All Bar One:
http://www.allbarone.co.uk/national-search/scotland-and-northern-ireland/all-bar-one-glasgow
Valhalla’s Goat: http://www.valhallasgoat.com/
Hillhead Bookclub: http://hillheadbookclub.com/
Curler’s Rest: https://www.thecurlersrestglasgow.co.uk/
Hotel Du Vin: https://www.hotelduvin.com/locations/glasgow/
Cottiers: http://www.cottiers.com/

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 26, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Why this Methajew supports Starbucks

Years ago, my 6-year old nephew asked Hubby and me why we didn’t go to church.

We told him that when you are an adult, you get to choose your church, and that we were currently going to a different one each Sunday, shopping for the one we liked best.  (This was, in fact, the truth of things until about 4 months later when we decided to give up on that quest and play more golf on Sundays instead.)

I was raised in a (progressive) Baptist church, in which I enjoyed choir and music, and a youth group that went on ski trips and mission trips, but I did not maintain a church connection into college.  Hubby (apathetically) attended a Methodist church until about 9th grade, when his parents stopped forcing him to attend, and sees little connection between spirituality, kindness, and organized religions in general, so this task may be have been doomed from the start.

Are you a Methodist? The little one asks, since this is what he is. No, I don’t think so, I answer.
Do you believe in God?  He asks. Yes, I do.  We both do, I say, nodding at Hubby.
Do you believe in Hell?  Certainly, I say, mentally cataloging a short list of people I hope are currently there.

How much to tell a 6 year old? Do you tell him that going to church doesn’t make you a good person?  When his (Hubby’s) family is telling him that it does?  Do you tell him that you know Lutherans who tell racists joke that some Catholics find hysterical? That you know Jews who have joined an Episcopalian church because they had the best pre-K program in the city? A couple who joined a Presbyterian church simply because of the collective social status of its membership, easily seen in the number of luxury cars in the parking lot on Sunday mornings?  Baptists who were hypocrites? Methodists who were thieves and liars?  HE’S SIX YEARS OLD.

child_in_church Ever talked religion with a 6 year old?  This was a first for me.

Do you believe in Jesus? this six year old asks me.
For me, I believe that Jesus as a very cool guy, I say, but I don’t know if I believe he is the Messiah.  I very much like the idea of him, and the ideas he shared. I believe that being kind to others is very important.  I believe that God gave us both hearts and brains, and we should use them both.  I believe that our actions define us, not our church membership.

Humanist! Hubby coughs, non-too-subtly, giggling.
What? The little one hates nothing more than feeling left out.
Hubby says, grinning, Vivi is a closet Jew.
Jesus was a Jew, the little one offers, happy to understand and contribute to the convo again.
Yes he was, I say.
Are you a Jew? he asks.
I’m like the mutts at the animal shelter, I say, I’m a little bit of lots of things.

Hubby sputters, simultaneously choking on his margarita and his own wittiness, and says Vivi is a MethaJew!
Methajew? The little one repeats, to the explosion of laughter at the table.
We are sitting in a post-holiday meal, awaiting more margaritas and fish tacos with Hubby’s/the little one’s extended family, all of whom are intent on this exchange.
Methajew!  The little one says louder, reveling in the attention on him.
METHAJEW! METHAJEW! The more he carries on, the more the tension leaves the table, other customers looking at him as he dances around with joy, and then he is shushed and all the tension is gone, floating up and away over the coming drink tray.

xmas_margarita
Methajew, indeed, I think happily.  On the rocks, please, with a salted rim.

So why am I thinking today about the moment I embraced this descriptor?
Facebook, that’s why.  Facebook and the endless stream of news stories tethered to the Great Starbucks Cup Controversy of 2015 (I am suspicious too of Fox news… did they by any chance air this “news” first?)

indy_Xmas

In summary:  some nutjob (read: evangelist) in Arizona, obviously eager for his 15 minutes of fame, received it when he made a video post in which essentially claims that Starbucks’ new (plain, red) cups are the company’s way of removing Christmas from their stores.  His viral video has more than 2 million views and has been shared over 500,000 times. (1)

toby_keithKnow who does like plain red cups?  Toby Keith.
And every college student who’s ever played beer pong.

At first I thought this was brilliant. People who jump on this cracked bandwagon and stop shopping Starbucks keeps nutbugs like him out of their coffee shops, making it more relaxing for the rest of us. Excellent! (Case in point: Donald Trump swore he’d never grace a Starbucks again.)

But, damnit, to combat the attempts of Starbucks to “take the Christ out of Christmas”, his “movement” actually encourages wingnuts to go into their local Starbucks and, in protest, buy coffee and insist that their names are “Merry Christmas”.

are_you_serious“What better way to way to stick it to Starbucks then by telling everyone to run in
and buy their products”

– Steven Colbert (a devout Catholic)

My inner Methajew asks (all 12 of) my readers:

Since when is Starbucks responsible for keeping the Christ in Christmas?

Just as I suspect that a 12-pack of chicken nuggets (while delicious) from ChikFilA(2) has never brought a customer closer to Jesus, I am equally doubtful that anyone has ever been moved to Christ through a Caramel Macchiato.

Admittedly, Starbucks’ ubiquity might motivate this move (as much as fame-grubbing); the coffee chain is indeed everywhere.

escher_starbucks
Lewis Black once remarked that he recognized the End of Days when he exited a Starbucks and saw, not 40 yards away, on the opposite side of the same street, another Starbucks. Indeed, Subway restaurants, Starbucks and the cranberry industry may in fact be leading the most effective “in plain sight” plan of global dominance.(3)

And I know that some people prefer to support locally owned coffee shops, viewing Starbucks as an economic evil that (along the Wicked Walmart) is destroying America. To these folks, I say, your choices matter.  Don’t want “made in china”?  Shop local.  And if you believe that Starbucks is soul-sucking, drink your java elsewhere. That’s cool.  Because actions speak louder than words.

Personally, I will continue to support Starbucks when I feel the need for a mocha frap with whip because of these ACTIONS:

starbucks_cup Starbucks CREATES JOBS
Starbucks are a massive employer, both domestically and abroad.  In fact, according to Hoovers, they have more employees (>140,000) than Greenland has citizens. (4)

starbucks_cupFounder and CEO (Schultz) is AN AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY we should tell.  Unlike wealthy, enabled outliers (like Seattle’s Bill Gates) Schultz was born in true poverty in the projects of New York. (5)

starbucks_cupFAIR TRADE COFFEE.  While Starbucks is not a Fair Trade Company, they have made considerable effort and expense to support Fair Trade Coffee growers. While only one line of their brewed coffees is “Certified Fair Trade”, they offer several others that can be purchased as beans. And due to their size, this makes them one of the largest purchasers of Certified Fair Trade coffee on the planet.(6)

starbucks_cupThey TREAT EMPLOYEES WELL
It is true that Starbucks spends more on healthcare for its employees than it does on BEANS.  Starbucks offers full and part time employees COMPREHENSIVE HEALTH coverage, including vision and dental, a feat I have yet to see any of the universities I’ve worked for (both large public, and rich private ones) offer to PT employees. Employees (FT and PT) also get free food, coffee, stock options, and a 401K plan. (7)

starbucks_cupThis also includes FREE COLLEGE TUITION PROGRAMS (8) Tuition reimbursement and full four years paid tuition are available through an amazing program like no other, through Arizona State University online. Yeah. ARIZONA. The same state the wackadoodle launching this stupidity lives in… (9)

starbucks_cup Starbucks has also added FREE COLLEGE opportunities for the spouses and children of OUR VETERANS. In a nation, where overwhelming, the treatment of our military vets is little more than shameful, Starbucks makes this impressive commitment. (10)

Starbucks is not perfect; I’m not suggesting that they are. But these actions speak to me.

So this Methajew will continue to shop Starbucks.

I believe we should be putting our energy and efforts into tackling true problems that matter, like sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, seeking justice, helping the lost and desperate and ill, supporting those who spread joy and enrich our communities, those who actively contribute to peace in our world; you know, all those things Jesus was talking about?

hulk_xmas

FOOTNOTES
(1) The dude’s name is Feurstein. I will not embed his link in this blog; if you want to watch him, you’ll have to leave my site to do it, sorry.

(2) ChikFilA (unlike Starbucks) is a company which openly professes itself as a Christian company

(3) While Hubby has long eyed the cranberry industry with suspicion of global dominance plans, I tease him a little less each month. And now that you’ve read it here, you will start to notice the ubiquitous (seemingly innocuous) cranberry campaign and consider, too,  that he may be right. And maybe, when the end comes, you will recognize him as prophet and your death at the hands of the Cranberry Overlords will be quick and painless.

(4) http://www.hoovers.com/company-information/cs/company-profile.Starbucks_Corporation.824509ef484db9e9.html

(5) Schultz biography: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197692

(6) http://afairtradeplace.com/2012/01/25/the-changing-face-of-starbucks-fair-trade-coffees/

(7) For a detailed list of these benefits, hit this 2014 Time article: http://time.com/2885743/starbucks-benefits/ and this article on defending FULL coverage for PART time employees: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/08/27/2531751/starbucks-ceo-obamacare/
Also, these actions do not come at a small price:
http://fortune.com/2015/10/29/starbucks-wages-profits/

(8) Starbucks employee college tuition plan details/news:
http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/starbucks-expands-tuition-program-workers-4-years-n337201
http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/06/pf/college/starbucks-college-tuition-arizona-state

(9) Wackadoodle also bragged about smuggling his firearm into Starbucks to order this Merry Christmas Mocha, who has discouraged carrying of such in states where concealed carry license are legal, but has not banned them outright as other companies have done.

(10) http://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2015/11/09/starbucks-to-veterans-well-send-your-spouse-or-child-and-you-to-college-100-free/

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 14, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Missing “Creampuff”

I miss Creampuff.

He is a young, blonde, handsome personal trainer who tolerated me, even on the days when I would sweat nothing but vodka.

I am missing him because this week I went to the gym (and did yoga!) for the first time in more than 2 years.  Even though I walk on average 3 miles a day because I am living life with no car, I went to the GYM.  Creampuff would be so proud of me.

For 18 months, I have been recovering from a horrific abdominal surgery in which a skilled surgeon more or less sawed me in half, effectively removing masses of scar tissue that had been limiting my movements for at least 6 months prior to that.  The good news is that I no longer have daily pain; I rarely have a day when I even think about my GI tract, which to someone plagued over the years (almost 20) is nothing short of a miracle. The bad news is that I now have a rather healthy, large ass.

big butts dont lie

Before the pain had become daily (read: unbearable) I actually worked out bi-weekly with Creampuff, a cherub-faced young man so-named because he looked to me like a dream-faced teen crooner from the 1950s.  He was too damn cute, but genuine in his efforts to help me relocate my abs and curb my drinking; he took pains to teach me equipment and techniques that wouldn’t hospitalize me when I did them solo.  We never once referenced or discussed the reduction of the Sisters without him blushing (how cute is that, right?) and even though we became friends, he was a tough trainer.

He was newly married and they had a Chihuahua that ruled their house because his wife seemed incapable of training it.  I often felt that the advice he asked me about conditioning and training dogs was likely implemented in his house on his wife.

beach blanket bingo

They moved to California for him to pursue his Master’s degree dream,
and with his Beach Bingo looks, he will most likely never return to the east coast
.

I have been thinking about Creampuff lately, because my life has finally taken on a rhythm into which I can add (and actually do) regular exercise, including (squeal!) swimming.  According to my GP in the US, I am overweight (no shock there) but I have the heart and lungs of a 27 year old, low cholesterol, and the blood pressure of a zombie.  I do not take a single prescription medicine.  I drink (too much) I smoke (cigars) and I believe that life is too short for diets.  But I do believe in hauling your ass to the gym every now and then.  I think Creampuff would agree that there is no reason I couldn’t be a size 6 again.

ass affecting the tides

I have friends who SWEAR by the Paleo-life.  That’s great. But so is sourdough bread. And bourbon.

Heart disease runs in my family, as do struggles with obesity. I am not being flippant here about people who NEED DIETS.  Obesity is (and I am not making a joke here) not a problem to be taken lightly, and if you live in a southern US state, you are statistically at the greatest risk for obesity in the country that has the fattest population in the world (1).

I know an obese woman who is so careless with her health that she is about as wide as she is tall; she complains about headaches, back aches and knee problems, (and more) but never does anything about it, through diet or exercise, when she desperately needs both. Why would you live in pain if you could something about it?  She claims work, stress, kids, blah blah blah. I’ve never understood how someone can be that lazy, but it’s also habit, too, isn’t it?  “The problem that got you into the gym didn’t happen overnight, so you can’t undo it overnight,” says Price, who co-authored the book The Idiots’ Guide to Functional Training.(2) Getting in shape feels overwhelming, and habits are so hard to break, including the ones where you sit on the couch and eat snacks on the daily. I get it. And motivation is key. But if it’s important to you, you find a way to do it, right?  (And we’re back full circle to being lazy…)

Part of the reason I don’t believe in diets (for ME) is that I have good eating habits; many developed through hard years of surviving cancer treatments, during which certain foods were simply not possible, and becoming educated about nutrition was synonymous with survival.  I’ve been known to go meatless for 3 months, just to give my lower GI a break. And Hurricane is to be given some credit here.  The pantry of my childhood never held any snack that had Little Debbie’s face; I was raised to grow and eat vegetables.  I am a damn fine cook, and I have better-than-average eating habits, admittedly. And, most recently, my body’s digestive-sensitivity to GMOs has been aided further by moving to a country that has growing restrictions on GM foods and has “opted out” of growing them (3).

So exercise is the path for me.  I know this path.  I am counting on muscle-memory to help me on this path.  I will not “get crazy with it”, as Caddy likes to tell me. (I have the torn rotator cuff from an adult swim team experience two years ago to remind me of that one.)

My friend Ben, in his mid-life crisis, became an ultra-runner.

ben_ultrarunning_sahara
This is a photo taken of Ben in a race that traversed the SAHARA Desert. #definitionofinsanity
You can learn more about this and his latest craziness on his blog http://www.pussyfootingaround.net,
and also in his up-coming memoir.

Ben had been cautioned by doctors to change his poor (diet and exercise) habits and when he committed to it, boy did he ever.  Moved from Kent to Monaco.

Generally speaking, I support all lifestyle changes that involve relocating to the Cote D’Azur.

But, like our recent move, even this is not without its complications and stresses, and he dealt with his through running.  ULTRA running. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. And his transformation, mentally, spiritually, and (of course) physically is truly inspiring.

I’ve never been a fan of running, mostly because since the Sisters arrived in 9th grade, it’s one of the most awkward (even painful) activities to do. Do you see many women with big boobs running?  Of course not.

boobs are real

Additionally, most workout gear is ill-fitted to any woman with more than a C-cup, so any woman out there without the body of a 13 year old feels my pain.  Victoria’s Secret workout gear is a prime example of this nonsense. Have you seen this product line? (4) It looks great on the 5’11” size zero with implants, but in reality, how exactly do you think a tube top would look like on a pair of droopy boobs worthy of a National Geographic cover? (Trust me, it’s not pretty.)

As an adult, I grew to hate running and runners, because in no other sport to its participants attempt to suck you into their world using methods similar to cult recruitment.

charles_Manson

As far as cult ratings, runners are the tops (worst) with tennis players coming in a close second.
Crossfitters, while zealous in their devotion, are mid-list overall, despite the fact that
they have more than their share of socio-economic (and otherwise) snobs.
But I see a Tough Mudder everyman-crossover that so far has prevented the Crossfitter Culture from Complete Cult Status.

Swimmers do not tell you that chlorine is life-changing and openly insinuate that your life will never be fully realized if you don’t join an aquatics club immediately. Yogis respect your life choices without condescension and judgement; they do not promote their success in a difficult pose with a trendy milestone bumper-sticker.  People who play basketball or soccer or baseball /softball well into adulthood do not roll their eyes at the non-athletic adults on the sidelines; they gladly drink beer with them after games. On the snobbery hierarchy of fit adults, Runners are on top (being the worst lot to consort with) and Bowlers are the lowest (My People).

Runners will not only put great effort into selling you on it, but will look down their Cult Membership fit noses at you if you don’t.  And Lord have mercy on your soul if you have a big dog and don’t jog with it.  Then you are a special kind of moron in their eyes, and they throw hollow pity in your dog’s direction, and rest-assured, you will never get invited to their Fourth of July BBQs. Additionally, women over 35 who job tend to not to have day jobs.  They jog at 2 in the afternoon before the kids get home from school and I see them on my lunch hour; I burn with elitist hatred and fight the urge to run them over with my car.

this could be us

I fully appreciate the dedication and training that go into being a runner.  Especially one who runs seriously, in marathons for instance.  The ones with real bodies and real sweat and no push-up bras.

boston_runners

These are women are a shape I could never be without serious surgeries.
I have not had hip bones that narrow since I was 12.  You cannot be voluptuous and run the Boston Marathon.

I’m sure my 12 readers have comments on this.  And I welcome them all.

These women (in the Boston pic above, and all marathon runners) are incredible and deserve respect.  And I will gladly give it them.

So long as they don’t try to recruit me, thank you very much.

In the meantime, I will waddle (er, walk) my ass to the gym and find me a new training buddy (a woman this time I think) and watch the latest episode of Orange is the New Black while I sweat vodka on the elliptical.   Creampuff-approved.
NOTES:

(1) Borrell, Luisa N., and Lalitha Samuel. “Body mass index categories and mortality risk in US adults: the effect of overweight and obesity on advancing death.”American journal of public health 3 (2014): 512-519.

(2) Admittedly, I am not sure if this book is being marketed as a “complete guide”, in that it is comprehensive, or that it’ target audience is being identified as total morons “completes idiots) but many of the basic principles are sound, and could satisfy both criteria.
https://www.ebcwebstore.com/product_info.php?products_id=95353

(3) Varela, J. C. (2014). Opt-out Clause in the Cultivation of GMOs Is Closer (Or Not). J. Risk Reg., 359.
      Scotland to ban GM crop growing (BBC) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-33833958

(4) Kate Hudson can also KISS MY ASS.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Haggis, Ex-Pats, and Kool & The Gang

My Landlord’s name is Hamish.

We met him on a Sunny Sunday in Glasgow last June.

We were in town for a week and had quite a few things we needed to accomplish, chief among them finding a place to live for my Midlife Crisis.  We had landed on a Friday red eye flight (7 am arrival) and our only goal that day was to stay awake until dinner that night with ex-pats, whom I’d met only through email.  After unloading in the hotel, we started walking a slow and leisurely pace towards Byers Roads, full of shops and cafes. A misting rain was falling and we turned down an alley, deciding that a wee dram in a place called the “Wee Pub” might actually be a sign from God.

scotland welcomes you

We chatted with the bartender, who had travelled to the US the previous year, taking his father on a Jazz-themed vacation that started in St. Louis, then to Chicago, then traveling to points south as they made their way to New Orleans.  He had regretted using Air B&B to book most of the accommodations, which outside of New Orleans, included one miserable night’s stay in a “share cropper’s shack”; from his descriptions of biting flies and leaking roof, sounded authentic enough to us.  We gave him a few pointers for the next trip he was planning to the States (to Florida) with the only other couple in the pub, who also wanted to know about the NFL.  Awake for more than 30 hours at this point, we went next door to (what we know now) is one of the best restaurants in Glasgow, the Ubiquitous Chip.

And here JP eats haggis(1) for the first time, falling in love; he would eat it at least five more times before the week was out, sometimes giving his parsnips to me, sometimes not.

haggisBurns Damn that Robert Burns.  If you’ve never tried it, try to wrangle an invite to a Burns Dinner.

We walk around. The sun comes out.  We have a pint or two.  We walk some more.  We breath fresh air and talk about our new lives until dinner.

These ex-pats are both professors at the University, and while nice in most every way, we quickly learn as they share their Moving Tales that we live well below their tax bracket.  Multiple homes in multiple states, now a flat in Scotland, their favorite furniture freighted and shipped. They love it here and assure us we will too, but the adjustments we are making shock them a little bit.   They clearly think JP has married a mad woman; they are clearly planners who would never do something so impetuous. They make faces when we ask about a local pub that shows sports and do not try to hide their snobbery, but they are gracious and honest and have helpful information to share about the University, traveling, jobs, cars.  Phoebe and her husband live in the (posher) neighborhood we most desire; it’s extremely safe, clean, and walking distance to the University.  We were jet lagged but miraculously energized still, so after dinner we walked the neighborhood with them, talking about pubs, restaurants, museums, and theatre, all the while taking photos of addresses and phone numbers on “TO LET” signs.

Saturday we make our now-zombie selves rise around 10, trying to adjust to the time change and the punishing day-light savings summer, in which the sun rises at 4:45 am and sets at 11:25 pm.  We walk around the University, snapping photos of the amazing buildings, making Harry Potter jokes under our breath, stopping in every third pub for a pint.  I eat steamed mussels in a white wine and cream reduction with leaks and beer bread at most every meal.

At Brel (a pub near campus) I am harassed by a large tattooed Lithuanian bartender named Lars who will not serve me a bourbon.  I’ve already had (in this pub alone) a pint of hard cider (that is unpasteurized and looks as cloudy as the jugs we used to buy as children at the Barber Apple Orchard in the Smoky Mountains) and a pint of Strongbow, which he calls a “girly cidre”, it not having the 6% punch of the former.

whisky1

Why don’t I try a whisky? I am in Scotland; I should be drinking Whisky.
I don’t want a whisky.  I want two cubes and two fingers of that Buffalo Trace please.
(I point at the bottle.)
No.
Pardon?
No.
He crosses his arms, making them bulge and look even scarier.  I am not impressed.  I’ve seen this same bartender-bounder-bravado on the faces of tattooed dudes from LA to Atlanta.  I will spider-monkey over that bar and pour it myself, bitch.
Diplomatically, Hubby explains this very real possibility to Lars, which makes them both laugh.
He has an amazing laugh.
He says how would you feel about a whisky aged in a sherry cask? It’s not as sweet as bourbon, but I think you’ll like it.
Sure I say.
Lars and I will now be friends for life.

Two of these later, we stumble down the street, into a grocery store where we buy a bar of dark chocolate and a bottle of Bourdeau for dinner.  Exhausted and positively punch drunk, we watch some British game shows and ponder the impossible commercials, one that involves someone in a large foamy costume shaped like the number four that walks his/her dog on a leash through a trailer park.  Another one involves a cartoon sequence in which monkeys race by on bikes, penguins drop from the sky and land in trees where they bark like seals, and hot air balloons plop what appears to be purple jam on picnickers in a park.  Another has a Danny Kaye looking fellow tap-dancing on the kitchen table of some poor family’s flat while they try to have breakfast?  We think this last one was an advertisement for marmalade.

We wake Sunday (after 10 hours sleep) and walk to one of the flats where we have an appointment tomorrow.  I’ve tried to book viewings in the same/close neighborhoods, so we don’t have to take many taxis. We sit outside in the sun, eating brunch (I have salmon, JP has haggis) and drinking Guinness as he looks at the maps and I look through estate agent emails on my phone.

Estate agents in the UK can’t just show you any damn property, like a realtor in the US; they can only show you a listing that their company lists (so a ReMax agent would not be allowed to show you a Prudential listing- or any listing not with ReMax).  They also don’t drive you around like they do in the States; you simply meet them at the property at your appointment showing time. I had searched properties in three different areas of town and booked appointments with 4 estate agents in order to see 6 properties over the next 5 days. We thought we might go visit a few early, check out the neighborhoods, maybe call some numbers from our first night’s walk.

to let sign

An email I sent the International Student liaison (Ellie, who we met later, on Wednesday) was returned with a link.  I had emailed her with the news that while we certainly weren’t in Professor Phoebe’s tax bracket, we were definitely not going to look at anything labeled “student housing”, having now arrived and actually seen some of them.  This emails says that there were two or three agents in West End (the neighborhood we wanted!) who often rented to Post Grads Only; it is rare but we could try.  I click on the link and there is a single listing.

“Should I call the number?” I ask.
“What can it hurt?”
“Well it’s Sunday; some people get pissed when people call them on their day off.”
“I’m sure it will go to voice mail.  Just leave a message that we’re interested in seeing it.  Look.  Here it is on the map.  It’s closer to campus than all the others we’re looking at.”
As usual, he’s right.

So I call.  I leave a message.

We order more drinks and plot out the path to the nearest flat.  Hubby had not been too keen on this idea until that morning, when he’d vetoed one of our appointments.  It was a fully-furnished flat that is newer construction, with modern fixtures and appliances, and a short bus ride to campus. It was promptly removed from the list when he stumbled on a reviewer’s post that included a photo of a dirty needle, with the caption “as seen in stairwell last weekend”

drug neighbors
Oh. Fuck. No.

So we walk towards another appointment/flat on the list, and the building is on the corner of a really loud busy street.  Not ideal.  But up the quiet street around the corner, there are TO LET signs.  We write down addresses, phone numbers.  I leave some voice mails.  I actually connect to one agent, who tells me the flat is top/3rd floor (that’s 4th floor to Americans) and 1200GBP/ month. (2) And all the carpets need to be replaced.  Um, No.

Fuck Fuck Fuck.  Surely there is something between crime scene cheap and suburban bankruptcy? We take Lamaze breaths, walk to the nearest pub and break out the map again to plot our walk to the next appointment location.

We are into our second round here when my phone rings. It’s Hamish.  My plans have changed, he says, I’m still in town (he lives in the country) can you meet me at the flat today instead? In about 45 minutes?  We consult the map.  Sure.

30 minutes later, we are by Kelvinside Park, consulting the map.  Construction on campus diverted us off our planned cut through and we were just south of where we needed to be.  Hamish calls.  Are you close? We explain we may be about 5 minute late.

I’ll just come and get you, no worries.  Where are you?
Just south of Kelvinside Park.
Where?
Just south of Kelvinside Park. On Patrick Bridge.
Where the fuck is Partick Bridge?
Across from the entrance to Kelvinside Park.
What do you see?
I am standing in front of the entrance to Kelvinside Park.  On Saucheihall street – big street, 6 lanes.  I am looking at a stone bridge with a sign on it that reads Partick Bridge.  Down the road, east from me, is a large building under construction.  Large, like it could be a museum or an old hospital or something.
Where are you?
Par-Tick-Bridge.

partick bridge1

For fuckssake. (says Hamish) I have lived in Glasgow my whole life and I have never heard of Partick Bridge.
Well I can’t fucking help you dude if you’ve lived here your whole life and don’t know where this is.  It’s clearly fucking labeled and there are loads of people walking into the park who have found it with no problems.
Right.  Do me a favor.  Hand the phone to someone there, ok?
At this point, I tell JP what Hamish has asked. He says, this guy is crazy, but then points to a nice-looking couple pushing a pram.  I approach her and explain that my landlord is on the phone and needs directions to our location.  Can she help?
She smiles.
Right.  No problem.  She takes my phone and says:
Hello?  Yeah, Hiya.
Partick Bridge on Sauchehall.
Right near the entrance to the park.
No. Down a bit from Kelvingrove main.
Yeah Partick Bridge.
(At this point, she looks at me and shrugs, feeling my pain.)
Right do you know where the old train station is? The one they’re gutting? Been under construction for ages?  Across the street and a few meters from that.
Right. Sure, okay.
She hands the phone to me with a look of sympathy.  I thank her.

partick bridge2A view of Partick Bridge (crosses the Kelvin River) from the north

Hamish tells me he’s on his way, he thinks he knows where we are. His instructions are to go into the six lane street (INTO THE STREET) and look for a blue Audi, and wave at him. WAVE. (3)

We walk east to a stop light, thinking if we get lucky, he’ll get caught by the light and we can jump in.  Five minutes later, this is exactly what happens.   We have a harrowing five minute car ride in which Hamish goes on about the damn bridge he never knew had a name; we are both in the back seat, JP on the left, me riding the hump, as an enormous child carrier seat combo takes up the right. He yells at motherfuckers to move! And get out of the fucking way! and drives partially on the sidewalk at one point, all while alternately engaging in friendly banter with us. Where are you from? How long will you live here? What’s your program at the University? How many kids do you have? (He is genuinely shocked when we say ‘none’ and asks if we plan to share the flat. We say no, we want a spare bedroom for guests. Or for an office.)

The flat is about 1000 square feet of simply perfect.

It’s a crescent shaped building on a hill, containing 30 units, all of which were either designed or converted to be private flats in the mid 1830s Renovated in the last five years to save as much of the old plaster work and wrought iron trim as possible, it is freshly painted with new carpets; it’s open and airy and has big bright floor-to-ceiling windows. And a 10 foot mantle in the great room with 15 foot ceilings.

IMG_2997
This is Selma.
Her twin sister, Patty, flanks the other side of the kitchen.

Listed as Fully Furnished, it has the basics.  Couch, table, chairs, beds, dressers. We telepathically agree that we can buy any missing pieces. A towel heater in the bathroom, a tub shaped like a coffin, a tiny garden in back.

Sold. Sold. Sold.

Hamish jumps around like he’s all coked up.  He may, in fact, be.  He is wearing dark blue track pants, with white Adidas stripes down the legs and Forest Gump tennis shoes.  He is slightly taller than me, but it’s hard to tell as he won’t stand still. Even when he says “right, look around, see what there is to see” he keeps darting his eyes around like someone is going to leap somehow from the behind the mantle. Hubby and I are talking telepathically, saying “done and done” but aloud we’re asking questions that annoy Hamish.  How old is the building? When was the plumbing installed/updated?  I run hot water from every tap. Hamish keeps saying that he could probably get 1200 for the place, it’s a steal, you love it, it’s a prime neighborhood, it’s cool, it’s a fucking amazing flat, amazing views, you love it, it’s cool.

We verify the actual price.  We were prepared for this (though dreading it) that we may have to “double up” for a few months until our house sells, but Hamish confirms it.  It’s now or never.  Hubby and I exchange looks that say we are in agreement without discussion.

We agree to meet Hamish the next morning at 10 to sign the paperwork.   He gives us his card, thinking only then to shake our hands and properly introduce himself (which had been previously accomplished through the rear view mirror of his car).

MacLeod.  His last name was MacLeod. Hubby’s lips are pursed and his eyes are dancing.

Telepathically we have another conversation:
There can be only one! he is saying.
Damnit if you quote some 80s movie here and now I swear I will leave the flat.  I may even leave you.
But there can be ONLY ONE.
Yes, Highlander, I get it.  Can you focus on the flat please?

highlander
I say (aloud) let us walk through again, real quick?  Hamish follows us to the master bedroom and points to the garden we share with three other flats. There was a lawyer, he is saying, lived her for years, and she kept really good care of it, but no one has since she left about a year ago.

Hubby’s expression is unreadable. Hamish’s fevered dance begins to make more sense as he tells us that his wife is mad at him, because she and his kid are waiting for him outside; it’s glorious day and the West end Festival is today.  The streets are blocked off and vendors, ice cream, music, and parades, all getting ready for the big day and his kid is all worked up over a live pirate stage show starring David Hasselhoff.

Hamish all but flees as if the building is in flames.

We stand on the front stoop, looking at our new view, a little short of breath. We defied death in Hamish’s car less than 30 minutes ago.  And now he’s gone to a pirate show and we desperately need cocktails.

pirate hasselhoff

We are late to another dinner invitation of an ex-pat we’ve met through mutual friends, this time through social media.  We apologize, trying to explain the Hamish whirlwind, recalling all the details to our new friends over a tremendous dinner, complete with champagne and after dinner bourbon and cigars.

In the morning, Hamish asks Hubby all kinds of questions about the U.S. as I cruise through the tenant agreement information.  Every time I sign, or initial something, he says “I’m cool, it’s cool”, the refrain of which expands and crescendos to “I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang”. We have no idea what this means, but he says it with such conviction that we are all smiling.

kool and the gang

“I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang” became a well know mantra for us over the summer.  

We drink, eat, walk our way through the rest of the week, imagining and planning our new life.  We have mild adventures on the bus, we stumble upon a period movie being filmed (nuns drinking and smoking on their lunch break) and make more Hogwarts jokes.  We have meetings on campus; we make new friends who love the way we talk.   In one of the neighborhood pubs, Chef Neil drools over the way I say “curry” and tries to explain cricket to me. And women bend an ear to hear Hubby, too; after a 20 minute conversation with one Scots woman, she offers Hubby use of her coastal cottage. What is as common as red clay in the Carolinas is somehow exotic here and this is endlessly entertaining to us.  We fall asleep each night entwined and exhausted, recounting the day’s sights and sounds, taking in the enormity of it all in small, delicious, digestible bits.

Hamish, unknowingly, was the pace car for our summer.

glasgow sign

Our Glasgow transition began and ended with him, and when he met us again in September, and told us to call Scottish Power and “say we’re here, we’re the motherfucking Shropshires” we were not shocked or offended.  (He might actually be disappointed in us that we didn’t, in fact, use that language with the power company.)  Hamish was quite kind, in fact, helping us with our bank, even loaning us linens when we were newly arrived. It’s Hamish, after all.  There can be only one.

I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re kool and the gang.

*************************                    *******************************               *******************************

(1) Haggis is essentially lamb meatloaf, people. Get over it.  It’s spicy sausage lamb meatloaf, served traditionally with mashed potatoes, mashed parsnips, and chips (fries). It’s not prepared inside a sheep’s intestines, modern Scots use pork casings and Pyrex like the rest of us for fuckssake. And blood sausage is made fresh, its ingredients not nearly as scary as your average American hotdog.  And if you’ve ever seen my sister-in-law’s meatloaf, you’d chose haggis without hesitating.

(2) GBP = Great Britain Pound£ (1£ = $1.60)

(3) Everytime we are on Sauchiehall Street now we make jokes about wading into traffic in search of a blue Audi

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Where’s My I DON’T KNOW t-shirt

Since my contract with my University was ending in May and since JP was not happy with his (soul-sucking) job, we decided that now was as good a time as any to bugger off from the world of suburbia. When I applied for new jobs last fall, I cast a wide net.

net with crabs
Like my 2015 fishing expeditions, the results were lively and varied.

I applied, as I do every year or so, to two PhD programs, wanting to keep the job I currently have/do but knowing that the odds of continuing in it without a PhD were slim to none.

Out of 14 applications, 2 teaching jobs, 1 writing center admin gig, 1 waitlist PhD acceptance, and 1 full PhD acceptance, which were in Georgia, California, Georgia, London, and Scotland, respectively.  I presented at a conference in southern California in January and managed an interview while there; I was ready to move back to that coast.  Both the Atlanta and southern California areas held great promise for us; lots of sunshine, better job markets (yes even in CA!), we have friends already in both areas, and both are metropolitan in a way that was ultimately appealing; six years in suburbia for us and it was definitely time to go.

My writing took on a different tone; arguments with my editor/advisor, which were usually fun, took on an aggressive edge that we were both struggling (read: barely managing) to overlook. I dove into more research and left both blog and book abandoned as frustrations took a firm hold. I skipped the usual staycation or solo vacation opportunities and instead volunteered to babysit my nieces in Milwaukee for a week for Spring Break, flying low and slow until the big decision was made; I had until April 5 to give the top job my answer.
falcons stadium Could I be a Falcons fan?

And then…

1 April
News of my acceptance into the PhD program arrives online.

We had already agreed that moving overseas would trump the other offers.  But I had been “waitlisted” in London, as my thesis would not have an appropriate supervisor (they limit them to 6 per supervisor in the UK) until Jan 2017.  So I ask JP, “Are we going to do this?” He knows that while I love my job, the last two years have been difficult, knowing that I was going to lose it due to the power of university politics out of my control. He knows I long to return to a life of writing. He has no great desire to stay in Greensboro and we both understand that without us both working, we’ll lose our house anyway. He becomes the Greatest Hubby Ever when he replies:

“Fuck yeah.  We’ll sell everything and just go.”

love you more than

And enter the “I don’t know” t-shirt.
Over the last 4 months, I’ve never said “I don’t know” – and genuinely meant it- so much in my life.

We were not uncertain of our plans, mind, simply uncertain as to the peripheral details, often very important details.  For instance, when asked When do you leave? (I don’t know. We’re waiting on visas to be processed.) What will you do if the house doesn’t sell? (I don’t know.) What if it does? (I don’t know.) What about the pups? (I don’t know.) What will JP do there? (I don’t know.  Find work.) What does he want to do? (I don’t know. We’ll figure it out when we get there.)
What kinds of classes will you take? (I don’t know. I’ll figure it out when I get there.) Will you store your stuff? (I don’t know.) Will you pack your clubs? (I don’t know.) Will you come back? (I don’t know.)

I would joke about needing a t-shirt with big letters across the sisters: I DON’T KNOW, so I could simply point to it.  (Hubby pointed out that people don’t really need more excuses to look at the sisters, though, and he’s probably right.)

BELOW are most of the answers.  Officially.

APRIL
We share the news with only a few people, testing the waters are we make our schemes.

Fosters for the dogs Otter & Abby have been offered.  We’re ecstatic.  There is lots of champagne.

champagne 1
It was, in fact, a harbinger of the mass amounts of bubbles to come in the coming months.

Then, the foster situation for Otter & Abby falls apart and we are devastated.  We panic about the possibilities; we drink bourbon and breathe.  We have time to strategize.  We breathe some more.  We decide that Otter will come with us. We have another offer to foster Abby; we will figure this out.  But for one night – just one – we consider moving to Georgia rather than Glasgow.

1 May
We tell the world-at-large, which involves calling people, telling our employers, and some creative use of social media.  Most everyone is excited and hysterical with their love and support, mixed with jealousy and surprise, and a little sadness that we are moving.  We feel loved and encouraged. But a few standouts are angry, judgmental, even obnoxious about our life choices, which is disheartening. And stressful. JP suggests that we ignore these people altogether; I adopt this strategy immediately.

15 May
Our house goes on the market and we’re excited, hopeful, a bit overwhelmed.  Every open house or showing results in a small list of things that need to be repaired or addressed. Nothing overwhelming or exorbitant, but a constant pattern of small repairs and cleaning envelopes us. Hurricane is a Rockstar, even sewing additional curtains for the mudroom.  I have weird dreams of waves of Clorox and perfect tile floors.

The non-supportive element persist in being angry and selfish about our decision. Some people just simply find a way to make everything about themselves. We agree to simply ignore them; if we are not living our lives as they would have us, then this is THEIR problem, not ours. Fuck ‘em.


behold the fieldThis.  I think this is going to be Art in our new flat.

Next, I post flyers on Facebook and successfully adopt out all three of our cats. Bittersweet but we couldn’t ask for better for them. We love them but they are perfectly placed.

Elvis lives in luxury in Wilmington with another cat (Sam) and a 6 years old boy who loved him instantly.
Loretta and Lyle were adopted together by a young couple in Winston-Salem.

25 May
My final semester at Elon has ended, and the True Limbo has begun. I have given my last exams, turned in the last grades, emptied my office, turned in the keys. I slip away with no ceremony; my heart is light and I feel remarkably calm.  I drive the long way home, with the top down, and I try to imagine where I will be this time, next year.

At an intersection, a man in a green AC repair van says out window to me, ”You look like a woman on vacation.”  I tell him that my vacation in fact, starts today.  He laughs and says, “Can I come with you?”  Thankfully, the light turns green and I can simply smile in reply before the moment becomes creepy.

1 June
We are crushed with the news that Otter can’t come with us, as he part American Pittie, a banned breed in the UK. Many tears ensue

pitties educate.

5-12 June
We travel to Glasgow to look for a place to live. (1) It is bright and sunny and people apologize for the “crazy weather” as they laugh and move outside to drink another dram.  We adore it. We make 6 appointments with 4 agents and we take the first flat we view. We pay our landlord, HAMISH, our deposit and then drink our way through the remainder of our week. We have officially hedged all bets and now we must let the table ride.

Upon our return, we get rid of JP’s car.

JUNE
The systematic sorting of our lives becomes my full time job.  I literally lay a hand on every item in my life and decide to 1) store it 2) ship it 3) sell it or 4) donate it.  Some days this applies to Hubby, too. Storage is expensive (4 years minimum) and shipping is extortionate ($150 for a 30 lb. box) the Estate Sale date is chosen (we must do this even if house doesn’t sell) and Goodwill is a weekly destination.

goodwill
JP’s employers, at first supportive, decide instead to screw him.  They don’t have a reputation for treating their employees well, so why should we expect them to start now?  So without their assistance, he now has to pursue a different (much more expensive) type of visa in order to move with me at summer’s end.  Super stress.

Along with the stress, though, comes the revelry.  We begin spending every free moment with friends and family who love and support us; most every night and each weekend full of spending quality time counting our blessings.  To remember these days is still too overwhelming to describe.

4 JULY holiday.
Long weekend at the beach.  It’s wonderful to relax. We straighten our backs and brace ourselves for July.

7 July
We get a Solid Offer on the house.  We accept.  Closing in 21 days. Playing the odds has paid off in round one and doubters can suck it. Drinking of champagne re-commences.

champagne 2

10 July
Our good fortune increases. A home is found for Abby & Otter and they can stay together.  The meet and greet/play date was a complete success and we are thrilled. They are our mountain neighbors and we know and love them. We couldn’t imagine a better home for our pups.

11 July
We sell my car.  The momentum of our new lives cannot be stopped now.

JULY
The triage of all we own steps into high gear. I am a bit insane. No money for storage means creative dispersal of the most valuable parts of our lives, which proves much more entertaining that you can imagine. There is unconfirmed day drinking.

drink all day

The items for the Estate Sale are individually tagged and lying on every surface in the house. Friends come to pre-sale shop, which involves drinking the last case of Malbec. We have also managed to (mostly) eat the freezer empty, resulting in some very creative meals, most memorably a night with venison medallions and pan-fried pork dumplings, steamed broccoli, and corn on the cob. Chocolate-covered bananas for dessert.

24 July Otter & Abby are officially adopted, driven to their new home in the Smoky Mountains
25 July JP’s last day of work
26 July Estate Sale (2)
27 July Cleaned out house
28 July Closed on house, drove to the Outer Banks.

beach image
Then we sat in the sun and sand for a week.
Smoking cigars, reading good books, drinking Miller Lite.

AUGUST: HOMELESS, PART I
August 10-17
We take a fun road trip (strange to have Hubby and not Otter as co-pilot) to Milwaukee (Shannon’s cellar continues its half-life as storage facility) and spend quality summer break time with my favorite girls in the world.  We eat and drink and even swim our way through America’s Dairyland.

The next 4 weeks follow this pattern: 4-5 days at BEACH, 2-3 in GBORO
We have amazing tans.
We have farewell gatherings, dinners with friends; there is a lot of pool and beach chillaxing and boating and fishing and golf and cigars and bourbon.  We live like retirees and in between eating and drinking ourselves out of our clothes, we file visa and entry paperwork with the UK consulate, pay rent on our flat, get our Homeland Security biometrics completed, and agree to let our joy trump our visa anxieties. The weeks RACE by.

SEPTEMBER: HOMELESS PART II
7-9 SEPT
Labor Day Weekend is relaxing and fun.  We are, of course, with our besties at the beach.

11 SEPT
We are officially restless. The last of the packing and what to ship becomes a focus, as we feel we can’t ignore it any longer.  We buy luggage.  We buy new shoes. We are feeling the weight of limbo and ready to get on with it.

15 SEPT JP’s visa is finally approved.
16 SEPT We book flights and spread the word.
21 SEPT We sell JP’s truck.
19-22 SEPT
Final dinners, hugs, laughs, and cocktails ensue.
23 SEPT We board a plane for Philly. Then on to Scotland.

A friend of ours who is an airline attendant tells her friend working our flight to treat us well.  She does.  We have a cozy row, a real (full sized) bottle of wine, premium bourbon, a good meal, and we arrive in Glasgow at 7 am 24 SEPT.

All of our luggage arrives together and is not so much as scratched.

We sail through customs in about 10 minutes.

Our hired car awaits us in Car Park 2.

Hamish meets us at the flat at 8 with keys, linens, and a quick walk through.

8:30. He’s gone. We’re alone in the flat.

Blue sky windows.

Our new chapter begins.

Where’s my t-shirt?

IMG_2771
Our New Home.

(1) More on this later. The week we became Scots.

(2) Much more fun than it should have been. More on this later too.

POSTSCRIPT

UGlasgow west quad
My father, of all people, would find great delight
in me attending Hogwarts.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2015 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

The First Thanksgiving or: How Hardees Ashtrays and Salt Water Once Saved My Family

I was a baby when it happened, the First Thanksgiving.

My dad and Q-tip (his newly minted stepmom) were engaged in a passive aggressive battle of the spineless, having what amounted to phone calls made by marionettes, Hurricane and DB, respectively, operating their strings.

This, everyone accepts as fact.

OJ glove
OK so I was looking for a pic to go here and typed in “courtroom drama”
and this came up, making me snort my coffee.  I just can’t resist.

Everyone also accepts AS FACT that the First Thanksgiving also STARTED over the Turkey (who is cooking it at whose house etc.), and like most pusedo-arguments in families like mine, it spread like a California wildfire; the flames of contention burned hot and covered topics ranging from grandbabies, birthdays, golf, closet renovation, my dad’s job, his pay, his *lack of* vacation time, the general controlling ass-hattery of DB, the simpering disapproval of QTip, Christmas plans, Christmas shopping (these later lead to the First Christmas), the weather, daylight savings, the price of milk, the lawnmower, the cleaning lady Julia, the pediatrician Dr. Brinks, and President Carter.

Even our beagle Penny got dragged into the fight, which seems in retrospect the true measure of how low this fight had grown…

penny the beagle
…since Penny, poor thing, had already been taking all sorts of abuse at the hands of Golden Boy, age 4,
who was still pissed off about my very existence; I was 8 months old.


QTip had married my granddad DB the year before, and she was looking to make her holiday claim on Thanksgiving; Hurricane was having none of it.  Hurricane was protective of her little family and also wanted to have control over this holiday – especially one that revolves around food.

Oh Hell.

But Hurricane was a fabulous cook.  It would become a well-known fact in every neighborhood in which we ever lived that the best snacks and the best meals came from her kitchen.  Summer afternoons and snow days often saw a steady stream of hungry folks, and not just kids, either.  Adults knew that in the spring there would be Scottish shortbread and wine spritzers, in the summer there would be fresh cut fruit and fuzzy navels, in the fall, Russsian tea and sometimes a peach cobbler, and in the winter, homemade cinnamon scones, pecan pie tea tassies, and hot dark cocoa or grasshoppers (or often a strange mix of the two). In addition, all year round you could find an assortment of pound cakes, bourbon for the men, Drabuie for the women(1). It was gloriously idyllic; I was about 10 years old before I started to truly understand that all kitchens and all moms didn’t operate in this generous, welcoming, aromatic way.

But this was before Hurricane’s culinary reputation was well known, and this battle would be one that set the tone for all family food coups to come.

QTip cooking
QTip, on the other hand, was a God-Awful Cook.

At this time it was as yet unearned, but over time it was a thing we feared, QTip’s cooking. She tried to poison us once a year for other various events, including one year at Christmas when my dad almost went blind from biting a whole peppercorn in his salad (how do you fuck up SALAD?  Ask QTip), my brother shoved some of his entrée in the toilet, backing it up and making it overflow (ironically, a welcome distraction) and we ended up ordering PIZZA when we got home because we were starving.  Mack gave the pizza guy $100 and a 6 pack of Michelob as a tip.

People used to remark about how loving and spoiling DB was with his wife; they had at least three WEEKLY standing reservations in restaurants around town.  But really we knew it was because the man liked to actually eat FOOD.

But back to the Case of the First Thanksgiving…

The arguing in the two weeks or so leading up to the First Thanksgiving escalated; on this point all involved agree.  The details are sketchy and varied; someone screamed, someone cursed (maybe in Gaelic), recipe cards were left in mailboxes (the nerve!) and there was an evening with a phone left deliberately? suspiciously? off the hook in order to have the “last” word.  Caught in the middle, as usual, was my dad, who saw DB at work pretty much every day, and only those two know what was said or not said; not even Pat the World’s Best Secretary was talking.

It was Tuesday before the Big Day; heated exchanges were simmering in a stand-off, sweet potatoes and turkeys had been purchased.  It was go time.

tgiving stress
Family Lore at this point, has in the official record, a Big Ass Fight.

No one knows exactly what was said, but History records these – and only these – facts:

* two dishes, one glass, and a trash can were broken
* the handle on the refrigerator was wrenched, making it wobble (2) and every shelf was covered in salt
* Mack snapped a stalk of celery clean in two with his bare hands and drank 3 beers (three!) in the house
* Hurricane punctuated part of her closing arguments by stabbing a butcher’s knife in the air
* Mack slept on the couch for the first and only time in their married life.

The next day, Mack went to work.

And Hurricane sprang into action.

She called Vince, my dad’s college roommate and all around Good Guy. He was still single then, living in Myrtle Beach, working as a property manager.  His parents owned some houses that rented nonstop through the summer, but in the winter they sat empty.  He told mom that if she cleaned it after we left, she was welcome to it.

She packed us up and used the beer cooler to pack the bird and the fixings. (3)

And left a note.

It read:

tgiving note

The note got framed and hung in the kitchen for years. (4)
Every now and then someone would ask,“ is that for real?” Uh. Yeah.

After work, Mack came home, found the note, packed a bag, and started driving.

And did the same thing for every Thanksgiving from that year on.

No drama. We would cook a Big Ass Bird, and then eat leftovers and seafood the rest of the week.  We took walks on the beach, watched football, and drank beer from the cooler.  When we were older and both in school, we took the whole week – Sunday to Sunday – and Hurricane would violently defend this mental health holiday of her family’s to school officials and teachers alike, who eventually gave up trying to make us come to school that week. So we never battled traffic either.

Over the years, we had different houses – a run of FREE ones there for a while, thanks to Vince!  One year we showed up and the ceiling in the kitchen was in the floor and a pelican had roosted in the hole where to oven was supposed to be. We were flexible; we sometimes had company: dogs, exchange students, boyfriends, girlfriends, eventually spouses, and one time even DB & QTip joined (5) but mainly it was just the four of us. And it was FUN.

It was the ONE WEEK of the year my dad took off work for the Whole Week and we played football or tossed Frisbee on the beach with him for HOURS; we snuggled and watched football and we were in heaven.

aerobee
The year of the Areobee stands out as a particularly sunny and fun year.

There was no discussion about Pilgrims or Indians. We watched Frosty when it came on and ate popcorn in our footy pajamas. And there was NO BLACK FRIDAY. We didn’t shop, although sometimes we’d brave the Holy Land of Towels and Baskets (otherwise known to Tarheels reading this as WACCAMAW Pottery and Gifts). But usually this was for some craft project we’d decided to do, as a family!  GASP.

Even my dad pretending to do crafts (he maintained his role was supervisory unless there was something that involved a power tool) Until our middle school years, we made our Christmas gifts on Thanksgiving break. Painted holiday signs, birdhouses, homemade jams and jellies, homemade cards, shit with string and Popsicle sticks I still don’t understand, and a variety of ornaments.

Oh the ornaments!

My favorite of these was when we were little and Hurricane had been collecting (read: stealing) all of the tin gold foil ashtrays from the Hardees down the street from us. If you were unaware that you used to be able to SMOKE IN HARDEES, then I’m not sure we can be friends.  Ask someone next to you and they will confirm that I speak the truth.

They looked like this:
hardees ashtrays

You can buy this unused one for $1.50 from VintageLeftovers.com
http://www.vintageleftovers.com/hardees-ashtray-foil-gold-tone-round-unused-mint-vintage/

She had saved all the previous year’s Christmas cards and we cut images from them in circles, glued those in the middle, glued ribbon and string, and then doused the whole thing in glitter somehow.  And gave these as gifts.

Because nothing says Christmas like the face of Baby Jesus glued into a Hardees ashtray. (6)

Baby Jesus Ashtrays included, Thanksgiving means FAMILY to me. With salty waves, Bloody Mary bundled beach walks, snuggling for football and beer, telling funny stories, cheating at board games, eating amazing leftovers, plus all you can eat steamed oysters and crab legs when the turkey croquettes are gone.

These days we hit Wilmington with besties and Pub Crawl on Black Friday instead of shopping. I’m not sure who decided on this tradition (it may very well have been me) but it’s a good one. This year we were home by 9 and I don’t need to go into details, but someone’s head got shaved.

bald is beautiful
C’mon Patty. Bald is Beautiful.

So we continue the no “big family” Thanksgiving with 10-12 place settings and a Norman Rockwell moment. No pressure, no drama, just food and fellowship.

Bite me, Rockwell. Ours was so much better.

And THAT is what I am the most THANKFUL for this time of year.

(1) If you wanted a beer, even at a party my folks were hosting, you had to bring your own and it had live in in the big green steel belted Coleman cooler in the garage. Hurricane believes that beer –all beer- is the white trash of the alcohol world and will not allow it in her house.
(2) And never repaired, incidentally. We suspect as a passive aggressive reminder.
(3) Whether or not these beers were poured out or just dumped in the garage floor unopened remains a point of contention
(4) It was only replaced later with hate mail from Sen. Jesse Helms. Bookmark that story for another time.
(5) Although they wouldn’t stay with us; they rented a condo in Barefoot Landing with some of his golf buddies. Which was FINE by us.
(6) I’m not sure anyone kept them; that wasn’t the point.The point was always that Christmas was about the joy you can find in DOING FOR OTHERS.
 
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Posted by on November 30, 2014 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Bitch Are You Sleeping In My Class?!

My niece has been a freshman at college for few weeks now.

She’s home for a family dinner (her college is one hour from home) and she’s telling us about all the cool and exciting things she’d doing in college. She is a dream daughter; never skipped school or made bad grades, rebelled or ridden a motorcycle with a college boy out of the church parking lot.  She’s somewhat shy, very conservative, sweet-natured, and outside of what she was exposed to in her public high school, very sheltered.  She’s never had a job.  She rarely dates, and spends most of her free time at home, hanging with family. She’s not dull, but she’s not a risk-taker; she’s not wild.

wed aadams
In short, she’s everything I was NOT at her age.
She’s the kind of daughter almost every parent wants. (Any other day of the week.)

She’s telling us about her classes.  200 students in one 400 in another with a smaller lab taught by T.A.s, typical first-year fare at any large state school. When she shares that people sleep through her Psychology class, I mention that I don’t think I have ever had anyone fall asleep in one of my classes.

“That surprises me,” she says, to the relative delight of the table.

“Well my class is not lecture-based,” I try to explain.  “Students are actually expected to talk and do things in class.”  This is either not heard/ignored or is incomprehensible and the conversation simply moves forward.

Later that night, I am texting a colleague.
“Should I be offended at that?”

She LOLs me.  And then says, “that’s just SCHOOL to her in general. She doesn’t know anything else.”
And our conversation also moves forward to more interesting things.  Like college football* and this new bourbon our Hubbies are so keen on.(2)

“HAHAHAHA!” came another colleague message on FB.
HAS SHE EVER FUCKING MET YOU?”

do i know you

Why, yes, actually.  I’ve known her since she was 4, but my niece and nephew have never been interested in me at all, really, much less what I do for a living, so I think her ignorance on that score is genuine.

wonderwoman
Isn’t this how all my students see me?  Of course it is.  Now pass the bourbon.

My academic life has been the only thing of TRUE PRIVILEGE in my life.  My granddad (DB) was a Class A jackass, but his snobbery led him to pay for my outstanding education in a private (non-boarding) high school. When I got to college, I did not struggle; I quickly got through what core curriculum I didn’t place out of in order to get to the courses I really wanted to take.  Things of real interest to me.  Living Religions of the East.  Archaeology.

As an undergrad, I sat in classes in which my peers snoozed.  French.  Political Science.  I took some drugs to help me, true.  I worked as a bartender in my undergrad years, so I often lived with my days and nights reversed.  I was a vampire before YA novels made them so sexy.   I caught myself nodding off a time or two but I don’t think I ever snoozed through a class.

And graduate school?  Holy shit I couldn’t wait to get to classes. I drank them like absinthe and craved more, and was heart-broken when I had to finish my last term long-distance, away from campus and my source of strength.

My niece is smarter than me, with nothing other than academics on her plate; she is already taking courses that are of interest (versus required) and will no doubt do well in them.  Which is also why she notices that her classmates are asleep in there.

But this idea of sleeping through class remains intriguing to me due to a lack of frame of reference. Both as a student and an educator.

Ugh. EDUCATOR.  Why does that word make me cringe as I type it?  I am happy to sing the woes of the poor teacher (especially in THIS state!) most any day to anyone with or without musical accompaniment. Teaching is a thankless fucking job, which I am becoming more vocal about now that I am growing more likely to not be one next year.  I have been a college instructor for 16 years now. It was never a job I thought I would love so much, but now that my life has entered its 40’s, it is becoming clear that the next phase will not see me continuing on in this role.  I am not unhappy with teaching; I LOVE my job. But it doesn’t pay well, has no job security(3) and the flexibility it provided me in my 30’s is no longer a high priority now that we have no need for nesting.

suess arguing
I teach Writing & Rhetoric.  Argument and Inquiry.
Researching-based fighting.  How to write snark and get paid. 

I teach Writing & Rhetoric.  Argument and Inquiry.   Researching-based fighting.  How to write snark and get paid. This means that my courses have an ENG designation, which means to GenY-Millennials like my niece, BORING.   English classes in her purview (as I have been reminded) are in fact, lecture-based. And regimented in a way that Gen-Xers like me can’t really remember.

When she was in 8th or 9th grade, her HS English class read Romeo and Juliet.  She got points marked off for a question about “rising action” in the course of the play.  She called me up (because evidently that’s what I do – again WTF?) and asked my opinion. She tells me the question, and her answer, which is right (and she knows it) so her quandary?  Should she tell the teacher? Should she speak up and get the points she deserves or should she just let it go, and avoid making waves. (4)

Her quiz grade was still an “A” after all. I say that it may have been an error; the answer was clearly right even though I hadn’t had eyes on that play in at least a decade. When she asked her teacher to take a look, the teacher said that indeed the answer is correct but she had to count it as incorrect, and then showed my niece the TEACHER STUDY GUIDE PLANNER from which she was expected to teach.  She pointed to the “possible acceptable answers” listed in the Teacher’s Guide and apologized; I can’t remember if she changed the quiz grade or not. *sigh*

We are not only NOT allowing teachers to use their own brains, but stifling students who attempt to use theirs. The Zombie Apocalypse is real, people.  This is how they are created.

 zombie ate your honor student
You make fun of Zombie Doomsday Preppers, but then send your kids to public schools that turn them to zombies and send them home to eat you. 
You bitches need to look up the word IRONY.

If contributing to a generation of kids that are taught to a test, and then measured against standardized exams (that, arguably, measure very little) had ever been an expectation for this job, I would never have signed a contract. And neither would many of my colleagues.

Which brings me back around to one big reason that I am considering retiring from teaching.  I don’t think I will ever have a gig as great as the one I have right now. I teach at a small 4-year liberal arts university.  My class sizes are capped anywhere from 20-35. You cannot hide.  You cannot sleep.  I will not lecture you into a coma, because I am not interested in teaching you “the book”.  Any Book! Neither is my goal to teach you to read like me, or write like me, or think like me. Many choke on their coffee when they see the price tag on my university.  But students will get an unparalleled education here and I am proud to be a part of that. They have access to amazing grants and scholarships. They will get an internship and/or job before graduation.  They will most likely speak another language when they are through here. They will become the people who employ those who slept through state schools and daddy wouldn’t hire them later.

But in my mind, the best part? Because they are NOT sleeping through the privilege of an education?

Is that they will know how to THINK FOR THEMSELVES.

(1) FIGHT ON!
#rockchalkjayhawk
#nomoresanctionsTrojans

(2) LARCENY.  I highly recommend it.

(3) I am too old and too poor to pursue a PhD and in my University, this limits my employment opportunities greatly. I do not think I need one, moreover, to do my job one fucking iota better than I do it right now, which is a hard sell to many who ought to know this as gospel.

(4)The idea of the teacher being so powerful with her “magic” at the head of the class is absurd, but in many high schools, this is taken to an extreme. My niece didn’t want to have that teacher think she was what? Being a brat? A suck-up? A trouble maker? Correcting adults is never easy, but should part of an education include this? I have had first-year students who love my class so much because (their words) I “don’t lecture them or condescend or belittle them”.  WTF? Teachers who act as bullies should be given jobs at the DMV.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Notes from the Road I: Watch this, bitches.

As promised…

So four weeks (virtually to the day) of being sawed in half by a very talented surgeon(1) I was allowed to get my Frankenstein monster scar wet (i.e. dip in a pool) although not exercise.  I was also allowed to drive, lift things less than 20 pounds, and eat and drink whatever I wanted. This sounded like the perfect opportunity for Otter and me to hit the road, eating and drinking our way across America. He was thrilled.

Two years ago, when he was only 6 months old, we drove from our home in NC to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to visit my bestie and brother, Golden Boy.  Golden Boy, for those of you not interested in archival research on the memoir front, is my older brother, who (while we were growing up) set impossible standards, especially for a fuck up like me, to live up to.  We had, in short, what we both thought was very little in common. (Turns out we were both wrong.) He has since fallen out of grace, as it were, with Hurricane (ref: our batshit crazy mother) and we, in our adult lives, have become the best of friends.  Indeed.  In hectic weeks, I will talk more with GB than I do – or even see – Hubby. GB, his wife, and his 2 fabby daughters live in the Land O’ Cheese.

 mars_cheese1   mars_cheese2
I typically stop for the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine type items while on the road.  I’ll even make detours for them since these are the places you meet the people that make America great.

Yelladog made that same road trip in his last year of life and the GB’s girls lavished him with the purest of affections that only they can give. My brother’s oldest (ANGEL) is predominantly wheelchair bound, being the survivor of a horrible childhood infection that almost took her from us.

IMG_0812
Yelladog and Angel – both living miracles, with hearts so big that it made their mobility issues seem very small.

 It was time for the new generation of pup to visit.

The first trip, Otter weighed approximately 40 pounds.  He had basic commands (in as much as he has them now anyway) under his belt.  And was completely housebroken.  In addition, he had learned that when the top goes down on my car, the Doggles come out and Otter’s Big Time Happy Fun Fun Adventures begins.


   IMG_1052

The Doggles are only needed when the top is down.
I never worry about debris flying into his eyes at 80+ miles an hour.
And it makes people take his photo (he poses) and come pet him (Otter Heaven). 

Otter loves riding in cars so much that he had taken to jumping into ANY car that rolls into the driveway and opened a door.

He tried to go for a beer run with a girlfriend at our Kentucky Derby party.  He once jumped into the open trunk of Hurricane’s Honda while she was trying to unload it. And jumped into a UPS truck, whose driver eyed me as if Otter might be an abused dog trying to escape.  Evidently I have that crazed look about me of a Tuesday afternoon day drinker. *sigh*

drink responsibly

Now Otter is full grown at 70 pounds of Solid Muscle; meanwhile, I’ve been sawed in half, stitched back together and he’s stroking out a little watching me load the car at a geriatric pace.  He may break a hip wagging his ass he’s so excited.

We have tech and maps for our 18-day road trip that involves Dayton, OH, Milwaukee & Green Bay, WI, Kansas City & Lawrence, KS, Nashville, TN, and then back home for 48 hours before Otter and I hit the beach at Wilmington, NC.

And yes, bitches.  I mean maps. As in the paper kind. Hubby said it must have been fun hanging out with all of the senior citizens at AAA while getting all my free maps.  But I love a paper map.  I love the smell of it, fighting to fold it, searching for my GPS with my index finger, stopping to look and have a drink and a stretch and chat with total strangers.  Hubby thinks that the 1950’s called and wants its Route 66 mentality back.  Fuck him.  He’s just jealous that he works for Asshats who give him no vacation time and therefore he can’t come along.

Packing is a science and I am good at it.(3) In addition to all of Otter’s gear (bed, food, seat belt harness thingy, Doggles, chewies, leash) I have packed clothes for 10 days, including swimwear(4) two cocktail dresses (game day decision for a wedding in Kansas) a cooler for roadies and waters, sunscreen, spare TP, an inflatable mattress with linens, a pillow, cases of Cheerwine, assorted NC goodies for GB, a box full of pressies for his girls, homemade Kahlua for his wife, my 9MM, and no less than 6 pairs of shoes.


Hubby and GB are worried about me.  What if Otter gets a bee up his furry butt or suddently decides to chase something small and fast at a rest stop?(2)  What if I have abdominal pain? What if I hurt myself somehow and am stranded in the middle of West Virginia?  (I am going through no less than 7 states, but both men cited West Virginia as the site of my fictional stranding.  Interesting.)

And my response to this is the typical Tomboy Debutante one:

Watch this, bitches.

 IMG_0140
A selfie before we hit the road. 

(1) A surgeon of my choosing Fuck you very much BlueCrossBlueShield

(2) For the record, if I can’t control Otter, NO ONE can.

(3) Hubby sucks at packing the car. Unless he’s going hunting.  Then he turns into fucking MacGuiver and his brain suddenly has the capacity to figure out what can fit inside of what in order to sit just right so that the cooler is within roadie reach while propping up the deer stand so that nothing rattles and you can still see out the back window.

(4) THAT was a fun chore.  No one over a size 6 likes shopping for a swim suit in fluorescent lighting dressing rooms. AND having a (very recent) 9-inch scar across your abdomen makes getting in and out of clothes a virtual feat of strength and agility  I have soreness in ab muscles that I didn’t even remember having, since I’ve not used them since my 20s.  It took me 4 hours at the Macy’s End of Season sale in order to purchase a Granny Swimsuit that is relatively comfy and properly hides all of my scars.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in BLOG DEPOSITS

 

Summer of Pain (aka Hold on to Your Asses)

I have been teasing (to just about anyone who’ll give me an ear) about my midlife crisis.  It’s coming.  It’s scheduled for June 1, 2015.

I know I know.  You’re not supposed to calendar this shit, but slow your roll.  

This is my midlife crisis and I will run it however I want.

dorothy hamill

On June 1, 2015 my current contract with my university runs out,
and I will no longer eligible to renew it(1);
 I will be unemployed for the first time since I was 18 years old.

But really? The midlife crisis started June 1 of THIS year.  I have been making big decisions, most of them sanctioned by Hubby, and making plans to move on.  We’ve been here for 5 years, and it’s time to go.  And by HERE, I mean in this spot in our lives.  It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.  And it’s grown stagnant, which to us is a version of HELL.  Hell is Hubby in a shitty job, whose glass ceiling he hit two years ago, and me, faced with a dwindling career and a suburban life that sits on me like an ill-fitting sweater.  In June I finished academic commitments that I made all the while making new BETTER commitments, including one to myself NOT to sign on for any more academic commitments.  

I want to be here.  In the blog, writing the book. 

Focusing on the things in life I love and fighting with my editor over whose turn it is to buy the Merlot.

editor

I spent the last four weeks being prepped and then having a massive abdominal surgery in which scar tissue that had essentially moved and hardened (by-products of a cancer surgery 20 years ago) had to be removed. In the first week of pain, I thought of little except breathing.  In the second week, my thoughts kept returning to the time of the surgeries that caused this scarring, when I was young, thin, blonde even.  Remembering the day I got the news that chemo had helped, but had not been the solution, and that surgery was the best way forward.  I was brave.  I had my Queens to support me. 

 I told myself that scars were cool.  I was young.  I got good drugs. I healed quickly. And I never looked back.

 

LA 3 LA 1 LA 2

These shots were taken of me the day before that surgery, in my apartment in Los Angeles. 

Turning 40 didn’t make me sad.  Having this surgery did.  I still had good drugs, but two weeks of bed rest made me think too much.  Catheters are not fun.  Drainage tubes stayed in longer, mobility returned slowly.  Sitting alone and examining where you WERE and where you ARE and the gaps of missed opportunities and regrets in between is not for the weak.  Neither is abdominal surgery, but I got both in great heaps this summer.

I am not a maudlin person.  Overloads of red wine and pot sometimes get me there, but in general, I am an upbeat kind of gal.  I am not necessarily a NICE person, but I am an UPBEAT person.  People who confuse the two usually arrive with rude awakenings at cocktail parties and then de-friend me on FB.  Pussies.  (2)

nice

I appreciate all the home-cooked meals our friends and family have provided.  I am a Good TBD and I sent thank you notes. Hand written fucking notes, thank you very much. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.  I even sent one to Hurricane, who stayed with us for three days and added at least 4 pounds to our waistlines. But those are in the mail and now I feel like I can’t breathe.

My answer to this cabin fever?  ROAD TRIP.  (3)

Otter is ready.  The car is packed. 

otter with the top down

On Saturday, I Ieave for three weeks of NON BED REST recuperation.

I can handle the pain of surgery.  I can handle my 3 inch scar is now 9 inches long and I look like someone who volunteered for a magician trick gone wrong.  But I can’t handle the stillness that surrounds it.  The emptiness and dissatisfaction of being cooped up, both literally or metaphorically.

So hold on to your asses. 

Here we go.

 

 (1) If you want to read about the trials and treatment of limited term (i.e. non-tenure faculty) I can recommend a variety of articles and blogs. It’s a national epidemic, and one that, after 18 years of collegiate instruction as my primary job, has made me want to retire for this profession, even though I adore it.

(2) You should never confuse energy with kindness.

(3) Actually, the ROAD TRIP has been my life-long answer to lots of things in my life. Spring break, break-ups, break-ins, beach madness, confusion, general unhappiness or malaise, writer’s block, you name it.  I once drove three states to buy a cigar from a midget in New Mexico.  Not all road trips need AAA maps to get there.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2014 in BLOG DEPOSITS