As I sit here writing this, the dog and I are hunkered down in the kitchen trying to stay out of everyone’s way. I have no idea where the cats are and don’t care. The reason for this seige mentality is because at my house there are four mowers mowing, three painters painting, two installers drilling and a paaartriiiidge in a peaaaar treeeeee.
In the beginning, in April, I was a little kid, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited for all the coming changes. But five months of living like a refugee in my own home have morphed me into a cranky old lady. (Turning 60 a few weeks ago didn’t help, either.) My mantra, It’s an adventure! fizzled out a long time ago. Now, I’d just like to go into a state of suspended animation and have someone wake me when it’s done.
The work goes in phases. This is necessary for my mental health because having workers on the premises for days on end gets stressful, so we cram in downtime to give me a chance to decompress and rev up for the next project. (Richard gets to escape to the office, so his sanity is not at stake.) I said earlier that we live like refugees and it’s true. We move from one part of the house to another, keeping just ahead of the workers with their cans and brushes and saws and drills. We are currently in Phase 349. It feels like it, anyway.
The kitchen was the first thing we tackled. After weeks of eating out, we finally moved back in and now I don’t want to cook because I don’t want to dirty my new appliances, they are so shiny and pretty. They are also evil. The microwave and both ovens will condescend to work, but only after giving me a digital version of the third degree: what do I plan to do? and with what? and when? and for how long? The fridge, thankfully, is mute, but it’s sly and will happily disgorge the latest batch of newly minted ice all over the floor. The gas stovetop takes eons to boil a small pan of water, but two nanoseconds to burn the butter. And the faucet? Let’s face it, the faucet is racist. We bought the kind that has a sensor. Wear white clothing, it’ll give you water all day long. Wear dark clothing and you don’t exist. The dishwasher is the best behaved of the bunch, but you know what people always say about the neighbor who makes the 10 o’clock news, “Gee, he was quiet and seemed like such a nice guy.”
Picking out the furnishings has been a kind of purgatory because neither of us has any design sense. Despite spending every weekend scouring furniture stores, roughly half of our new things were found and purchased online. Online furniture shopping is tricky because there is no way to test drive anything. And once you’ve got it out of the box (and rendered the box and packing materials useless in the process), the chance that you’ll return it — even if you don’t like it or it has minor damage — is remote because just the thought of trying to ship the thing back is exhausting, so you find a way to live with it. People actually say this in online reviews: “It’s more pink than red, but I can live with it.” “Some scratches, but I can live with it.” “Arrived broken in a million pieces, but I can live with it.” That being said, we’ve had good luck with our online purchases — so far — but that has come at a cost: hours and hours that I will never get back surfing the Internet and then, once I’ve found something, a day or two screwing up the courage to buy it. I took a leap of faith on a large — actually, oversized — piece of art for the living room wall. It’s 54 inches square (the ceiling is 11 feet high) and because it’s so big, I have to stretch the canvas myself, something I have never done in my life but the website assured me an idiot could do it.
As with the new kitchen appliances, I want to keep our new furniture looking nice, too. This is impossible with two cats in the picture. Ranger knows he’s not allowed on the furniture unless invited, but the cats do not understand the word “NO!!!” and, unlike the dog, cannot be shamed. So, all of the new chairs are covered with plastic and the new couch sports a lovely swath of aluminum foil. Phoebe is wearing plastic caps on her claws (hot pink, so help me) to keep her from scratching stuff, and Penny will meet the same fate as soon as we find the liquid courage to tackle her; she’s 15 lbs. and freakishly strong. Speaking of Penny, getting rid of the old living room couch was the best thing we could have done for her. She spent her days hiding under it, coming out only at night to eat and potty. Once the couch was sold in the estate sale, she had nowhere to hide and was forced to become a part of the family, whether she wanted to or not. I never thought I’d see the day, but Penny will actually curl up and sleep near the dog. Here’s a photo documenting this miracle:
Needin’ a pedicure and some downtime,
Last night Richard came home with some Thai take-out. Here's a snippet of the ensuing conversation:
Richard: Where's the salt?
Prunella: In the office.
R: Red pepper flakes?
P: With the rest of the spices in the Jacuzzi.
R: I can't find a serving spoon.
P: Try that box under the wing chair in the living room.
R: Are we out of paper towels?
P: There's a roll in the kids' old bathroom next to the iced tea maker.
R: Now I need a bowl.
P: I saw some disposable ones by the fireplace. Be careful you don't step on the wine glasses.
R: I just saw Phoebe. She has masking tape stuck to her hind leg.
P: That's the third time today.
R: I need a knife.
P: The knife block is under the kitchen table in the living room, and the cutting boards are shoved under the chair cushion.
When our neighbors gave their house a top-to-bottom renovation last year, they did the smart thing and moved out for four months. We are doing the cheap thing and staying put.
The first order of business is the kitchen. To prepare for this, every last cup, pot, spoon and can of soup were hauled out of their hidey holes and into other parts of the house, mainly the living room. Neither Richard nor I gave a thought to some kind of organization. This oversight means we spend precious minutes scrounging through boxes and under heaps of plastic dropcloths to find a drinking glass or a trash bag. We put the microwave in the office but we can’t operate it when the computer is on or the fuse will blow. With no dishwasher and no kitchen sink, dishes have to be washed in the bathroom. Until the new fridge is hooked up, we have to purchase ice in bags.
I know. First world problems. I keep telling myself it’s an adventure.
Even our menagerie can’t escape. The dog doesn’t know where his food and water bowls will be on any given day. Phoebe has developed a weird affinity for masking tape. Penny, who is homeless since her sofa was bought at the garage sale -- sorry -- estate sale, is having a hard time finding a new place to call home. First, she tried living under the plastic dropcloths next to the Crock Pot. When she got mistaken for the large white bowl we use for popcorn, she tried to shove her bulk under the den sofa, but the space underneath is too narrow. Then there was the closet in the front bedroom. That worked until the painter, or perhaps the paint fumes, scared her away. She was last seen lurking behind a guest room toilet, not the most hygienic place to set up housekeeping, but when your food bowl is next to the litter box, I suppose it’s just a matter of degree.
We spent three-and-a-half months picking out all the new doo-dads for the most important room in the house. Remember playing Crack the Whip when you were a kid? Poor Richard was (and still is) the hapless kid at the end of the line getting yanked hither and yon every time the leader (read moi) changed direction. I changed my mind so much, it's like I had no mind at all, just a sieve with giant holes incapable of holding onto a decision for more than a day or two. Richard learned very quickly that "I love it! That's what I want!" didn't mean squat. You wouldn't believe the hand-wringing that went into deciding between two different shades of grey. Once the grey we had so agitated over went up on the walls, we discovered it was more blue than grey, necessitating another round of needless drama. Thankfully, our second choice turned out to be perfect.
There is so much out there it is overwhelming. Couple that with no color or design sense and we were on a collision course with bad taste. Making it worse was the fact that we wanted to go in an entirely different direction. Our old kitchen could pass for country French in dim light with eyes crossed. We wanted something modern and minimalist. Modern in the hopes it won't look too dated before we are called to Glory (or the kids stick us in a home, whichever comes first). Minimalist because we are both "getting up there" and the less stuff to bother with, the better. Paige swears she had a dream that when it was all over but the shouting, our new kitchen looked exactly like the old one.
Whoever said the devil is in the details was probably three weeks into a reno. You get so wrapped up in the big stuff that no thought is given to the little things until the contractor asks a question that you are totally and awkwardly unprepared for. For example, our fridge is moving several feet west. It never occurred to us that the new placement would block the light switch until the electrician pointed it out. It’s amazing how quickly I can make a decision — and stick to it — when a contractor is standing there frowning at me. We never knew how yellowed-with-age our electrical sockets and light switches were until the bright white subway tile for the backsplash went in. There were forty different grout colors to choose from. Forty! My mother’s generation has no idea how easy they had it.
Another tick mark in the column labeled “Stuff We Didn’t Think of and Should’ve” was the impact four-plus weeks of dining out and take-out were going to have on our waistlines. I never need an excuse to eat out; as I tell everyone who asks, my favorite food is anything I don’t have to cook or prepare, but this is getting ridiculous. Richard and I have sworn that as soon as the kitchen is functional again, we are both going on diets.
As restrictive as life as been lately, it’s also been freeing. Messes that used to be cause for a meltdown don’t bother me anymore. Spill liquid on the floor? Nobody cares. The floor’s going to get ripped up eventually. Cat hacked up a hairball on the carpet? Ditto. Queso on the couch? The couch will soon be history; until then, turn the cushion over. (I wish I could blame my husband for that last bit.)
In the meantime, it's fun (and a little scary) watching what has only ever existed in my head take shape in reality.
As I type this sentence, we are in the middle of hosting a garage sale.
I really don’t know why I say “host”. Hosting is supposed to be fun, like hosting a party, or hosting a game show, or hosting the Academy Awards. Garage sales are not fun. They are work, especially if you are like me and have to be super-anal about everything. Left to his devices, Richard would throw it all out there in one giant heap, with no idea of how many music CDs there are (49), or decorative mirrors (9), or assorted picture frames (23). My system is to type up a categorized inventory on Excel, affix price tags, sort the junk into a dozen heaps, and drive everyone crazy in the process. I’m happy to say that after the sale was done, I went through my inventory and was able to account for every last CD. There was no shoplifting at Prunella’s.
The reason for this garage sale is because we are getting ready to remodel our nearly thirty-year-old house, and have to downsize to make room for all the new stuff we’re planning to buy. We have been slowly getting rid of things over the past couple of years, foisting the better junk on our underwhelmed kids and divvying the rest between the Goodwill and the landfill. Brent was an especially good victim for our ding-dong ditches. While he was deployed last year to the Middle East and, therefore, too far away to stop me, I hauled stuff from Dallas all the way to his house in Washington, near Olympia. I took a meandering route through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Montana, before easing into eastern Washington and then moseying my merry way to the west coast. But that’s another blog.
As I said, we’ve been slowly getting rid of things. The problem was that while we were getting rid of things, we were also taking on other things. This happened because we moved my mother into assisted living and my father-in-law died. I would get rid of something only to take on two more somethings, forcing me to go steadily backwards in my quest to go forward. Once the remodel -- something we'd talked and fantasized about for years -- became a reality (by plunking down a hefty deposit with our contractor), we realized we were going to have to resort to drastic measures if there was any hope of clearing out some space. Thus, the garage sale.
Richard insisted on calling it an estate sale. In his mind, “estate sale” implied wealth (which we don’t have) and class (ditto) and quality merchandise (umm...no). He also insisted that we hold it indoors because he didn't care to lug heavy furniture out of the house and into the garage. I was very unhappy with the idea and argued, and when that didn’t work, whined, but Richard played the old age card and the bum ankle card and the trick knee card, all of which trumped my I-don’t-want-strangers-in-my-house-what-if-we-get-robbed card. As it turned out, Mother Nature couldn't resist one last blast of winter weather. It was in the mid-thirties all day and actually spit snow/sleet for a few minutes. We would have been so miserably cold in the garage that we probably would have set fire to my carefully collated heaps just to keep warm.
We confined the entire thing to the middle part of our house, where the formal living room and formal dining room are. To keep snoopy people out of the rest of our abode, I bought cheap plastic shower curtain liners and hung them in the doorways. I flirted with the idea of putting signs on the liners saying things like NO ADMITTANCE and PROHIBIDO ENTRAR and TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT, but decided that, surely, the liners alone made the message clear. Nope. We couldn't believe the number of people who asked if they could go into the other rooms. When told no, it was obvious they were very disappointed. No doubt they thought we were holding out on them and hiding the good stuff. Honestly, we were merely trying to hang onto the few pieces of furniture earmarked to get us through this remodel. After all, we have to have somewhere to sit and a table to eat off of and a bed to sleep in.
I advertised our sale on Nextdoor and to encourage the neighbors to attend and get their pick of this junk wonderland, we had a "soft opening" from 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM. One lady showed up at 7:20, ten minutes early. It was awkward having this perfect stranger poking around in my house and handling my things. I watched her without trying to be obvious about it and wondered what she was thinking. Was she impressed with thirty-seven years of carefully curated impulse buying? Was this the benchmark future sales would be measured by? Or was she merely acting interested while deciding how fast she could leave without being rude? In the end, all she wanted was a pottery bowl I had marked for $10.00 because the piece was signed by the artist. She said she would pay $5.00 for it. I pointed out the signature and said I would part with it for $7.00. I thought I was being reasonable, but she was highly offended and stalked off. We were not off to a good start.
I worried about Phoebe sneaking out the front door and confined her to the laundry room. But her yowling got on everyone's nerves and we were forced to let her out. She promptly staked out the spot you see in the photo above, leading me to add the handwritten portion on the price tag.
At 9:00 AM on the nose, we posted signs at the neighborhood entrance and threw open the doors to the public. People came in waves. We'd be busy for ten minutes or so, and then there would be fifteen minutes of downtime. Towards noon, a middle-aged man bringing what I presumed to be his elderly mother stopped by. Mama, wig askew and dentures clacking, was at least a hundred, but she was as sharp as a tack and loved to talk. He poked around while she yammered up a storm about events that happened sixty years ago and people dead longer than that. Next thing I know, he disappears to "go get some cash", leaving us to eldersit/entertain his mother. He was gone so long, I worried he wasn't ever coming back, but Mama didn't seem perturbed and went on full-tilt, like a 33 record played at 78 speed. I was about to suggest Richard call the old-people version of CPS when sonny-boy came back, bought a few items, packed up Mama with his new treasures and left. Later, Richard told me that he got the impression they were a married couple, from some overheard snippets of conversation between them.
Finally at 3:00 PM, after I'd checked my watch a million times to find it was only five minutes later than the last time I'd checked and not the forty it felt like, we gathered up our signs and shut down business. Richard mixed a celebratory Bloody Mary and announced that We Are Never Going to Do This Again. He's said this many times over the years. The first was when he was bleary-eyed from lack of sleep shortly after Mitch was born, and then after Brent came along and introduced us to the charming phenomena called projectile vomiting. It is also proclaimed every January after all the Christmas things are finally put away, and whenever someone in the immediate family needs help moving (and they move a lot).
The stuff deemed too crappy to buy got unloaded on a neighbor who is having a garage sale tomorrow. The good stuff that didn't get bought is now up for grabs on Nextdoor. And so it goes, the circle unbroken.
Welp, I must still be jet-lagged from losing that hour of sleep earlier this month. Or maybe, like a lot of things, writing is a muscle and if you don't use it, you lose it. Either way, the words are not flowing and so, my big comeback to blogging was not the bang I'd hoped for. Pardon me while I whimper through this.
Things happen when one has been absent from the social media scene. One of those things was that I had cataract surgery. Make that plural --- surgeries. Until it happened to me, this was an ailment that fell solidly in the domain of Really Old People. I was in my early 50's when I first suspected that my vision was "off"; it was like looking through the sheerest, finest, barely-there gauze. It was especially noticeable whenever I was inside a big retail store with rows and rows of fluorescent lighting. Over time, it got to the point where I wouldn't drive at night in unfamiliar areas, and if a person was backlit by any kind of light, even a low wattage bulb, I couldn't see their features. This made lip-reading, something that is almost as necessary to me as breathing, impossible. In a social setting it meant positioning myself so that my back was always to the light.
You'd think that as soon as my optometrist officially diagnosed the cataracts that I would rush to get myself into the operating room. After all, surgery would fix two problems: hearing and vision. But I didn't. No one likes the idea of anything coming at their eyes, but that fear is exaggerated in someone, like me, whose eyes fill in for a missing sense. If the surgery is botched, I'm not just nearly deaf, I'm blind too. So, rather than get the problem fixed, I chose to ignore it, keeping the light to my back, squinting my way through my days and saying "What?" a lot.
The tipping point came in August, when I attended a board meeting of my women's philanthropy. The meeting was held at the president's house, in her den with its wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows letting in the early evening light. Despite all my careful maneuvering, I got stuck in a bad spot and literally could not see the faces of six or so ladies sitting opposite me. Of course, they would be the ones with the most to say that night, so I missed out on better than half of the conversation, and had to bring myself up to speed by reading the minutes a couple of days later.
I made an appointment for a consultation with an ophthalmologist, my mother's doctor, in fact, and suprise! I'm a candidate for cataract surgery in both eyes. After a lot of discussion, I settle on toric monofocal IOLs (intraocular lenses), the right eye powered for distance vision, the left for intermediate. This means that I will need reading glasses for near vision, but that's okay. I'd much rather be able to see clearly at a distance.
Two days prior to the first surgery on November 8, I instill the first of what will be four solid weeks of antibiotic eye drops in my right eye. The morning of the operation, once I'm settled in my little pre-op cubicle, the nurse floods my eye with more drops designed to numb it. She sets up the IV and the anesthesiologist comes in for a quick chat. Richard is with me and, bless his heart, he yanks a small business card out of his wallet and gives it to the doctor. On it is written the name of a drug, Droperidol, that was given to me more than 30 years ago, when I had abdominal surgery. This drug was part of a cocktail designed to prevent nausea and calm and relax the patient prior to surgery. In my case, it had the opposite effect: I was about to jump out of my skin from major anxiety and paranoia. It was a highly unpleasant sensation because, typically, I am next to comatose 75% of the time. Anyway, my spouse had that long-ago anesthesiologist write down the name of the drug on his business card, and then he squirreled the precious bit of information away in his wallet for "just in case". I was touched (and more than a little amused) that he had kept it; Lord knows, he'd had plenty of opportunities over the past three decades to throw it out.
I'm finally rolled into the surgical suite and another nurse sets about washing my right eye, flooding it with what seems to be about two gallons of water and something that looks suspiciously like Betadine. Now I'm worried that the eye scrubbing and the water will have diluted or washed away any numbing effect from the pre-op drops. But before I can question her about it, it's dark and there's a fantastic light show going off in my head. Colorful fireworks, white spirals and zig-zags. I can feel tugging, pressure and pulling, but no pain. I'm completely aware of what's going on in a weirdly detached way. The nurse had told me I would be conscious during the procedure, but I wouldn't give a rap. She was right. I didn't give a rap.
After a post-surgical nap at home, I try out my new eyeball. The difference between what I see with my "bad" eye and the same image with my good one is amazing. It's crystal clear and --- here was a bonus I wasn't expecting --- colors are much more vibrant, especially white. So far, so good.
It's been four months and one day since the second surgery. My distance vision is incredible; I tell people I can see into next week. My night vision has improved remarkably. The cloudiness is gone and the backlighting is a thing of the past. The only fly in the ointment is that my near vision is horrible, worse than I expected it to be, actually, so I keep reading glasses handy in different rooms. I just started experimenting with monovision, where I wear a contact lens powered for close-up vision in my left eye. It sounds weird, but after a couple of days, the brain adjusts and seamlessly shifts from eye to eye, depending on my visual needs at the moment.
A few weeks ago, Richard and I went to a college baseball tournament with some friends. It was awesome to be able to track the baseball far into the outfield and not lose sight of it. It was even awesomer, as the designated driver, to be able to get us safely home in the dark and on unfamiliar roads. It's little things like this that make me wish I hadn't waited so long, but I manned up and did it!
I also manned up and wrote this!
Smiling dog: http://dogsome.net/smiling-dogs-make-you-smile/ds86-16/
A few weeks ago, my one and only fan, meaning someone who is not related to me and forced to read the drivel I write, Terry H., reached out to ask if I was dead and if not, that she missed my blogs. So, it is thanks to Terry that you are reading this and, hopefully, more drivel in the future.
It's been two years, seven months and change since I wrote about my bathhouse experience in Hot Springs, AR. My mother, whose 90th birthday was the impetus for that road trip, is closing in on number 93. Richard and I are still chugging along; the kids are well and determinedly single; the cats, Phoebe and Penny, continue to bicker, and our granddog Ranger is a partially permanent fixture around the house.
Bear with me while I get my groove back.
My cousins and I took a road trip to Hot Springs, AR. None of us had ever been and for one of us, Bonnie, the trip helped her to scratch off one of her bucket list items: to have visited all fifty states.
We are six first cousins ranging in age from 52 to 70. All girls. There were no boys in our generation, much to my paternal grandfather's disappointment; he had hoped for a grandson to carry on the family name. (We now have two generations after us and the boys far outnumber the girls. It currently stands at 14 to 5.) The eighteen-year span in our ages, along with a ten year gap between cousin number three and yours truly, had the three oldest out of college, married and raising kids while the three youngest were in or barely out of elementary school.
Two years ago at a family reunion to celebrate my aunt's 90th birthday, we went to dinner away from everyone else. We had such a good time that we struck a bargain to get together in two more years. With my own mother's 90th birthday coming up, that seemed like the perfect excuse to throw a party for her and afterwards take off on a road trip to somewhere.
On Monday morning (June 15) we left Dallas for Hot Springs. The region is abundantly spotted with natural springs and pools that produce water heated to a very toasty 143 degrees, on average. Despite the name --- it's not Lukewarm Springs or Tepid Pools --- and despite the fact that you can see the steam rising from the water's surface, even on warm days, people stupidly stick their hand, foot, or some other body part into the water, only to jump back and exclaim:
Like Barnum said, There's a sucker born every minute.
Here's an interesting bit of trivia for you to amaze your friends with: the water currently bubbling out of the various springs came from rain that fell in the region 4400 years ago. If you need some perspective, this was about when the Egyptians were building the pyramids. It takes that long for rain to make the circuit from the clouds back to the surface as spring water. How they figure these things out, I'll never know.
People, namely the local Indians, visited the springs for thousands of years for their supposed curative powers. Then the white man came along and decided to make money off what Mother Nature had been providing for free. The result was Bathhouse Row, eight independently operated bathhouses situated on the east side of Central Avenue, below the so-called Grand Promenade, a paved walkway that meanders in the hills above the buildings. From south to north they are Lamar, Buckstaff, Ozark, Quapaw, Fordyce, Maurice, Hale and Superior. The Fordyce is now a museum, the Superior is a restaurant and brewery, while the Quapaw is a millennial take on the bathhouse experience. Only the Buckstaff, built in 1912, still operates much like it did in its heyday in the 30's.
As the saying goes, When in Rome do as the Romans do. So I decided to shed my inhibitions and drop my drawers for a visit to the Buckstaff. Here's a very bad picture of the place:
That's the only picture you will get because the Buckstaff won't allow its patrons to take photos inside, for obvious reasons.
I arrived shortly after 8:00 AM. After filling out a card and paying $33.00 for the basic package, I was escorted up to the second floor via elevator to the women's facilities. At the Buckstaff, the sexes do not mix. The attendant took me to a small changing room equipped with a chair and a locker. I was told to take everything off, stow it in the locker, and keep the key on my person at all times. When I was dressed in nothing but my grown-up birthday suit, the attendant came back with a large white sheet. While I faced away from her, she wrapped the sheet around me toga-style. I noticed immediately that the sheet, while clean, was kind of threadbare, and as I moved from station to station, the sheet got progressively wetter and wetter and what had been opaque became translucent. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was handed off to another woman who was to be my bathing attendant. Her name was Julie and she was young and fit. I was hoping for a matronly 250-pounder so I could feel better about my own flab being on display, but I figured Julie had probably seen every shape and size of boob and booty there is, and my own figure, while not the best, is certainly far from the worst.
The first order of business was to tell Julie I was extremely hard of hearing, and to be sure and face me when talking so I could read her lips. Bless her heart. Instead of talking normally, she enunciated each word as if I was not only deaf, but not too swift in the head, either. It was fine, but I had to laugh when her reply to my question about the water temperature was accompanied by hand gestures: ONE (holds up one finger), OH (makes circle with her hand), THREE (holds up three fingers). I said OK (makes universal OK gesture).
Once we got the communications squared away, Julie took me into my own personal bathing suite. This consisted of a big white enameled tub already filled with water, a chair, a small wooden step stool, and a motor thingy --- like a miniaturized Evinrude outboard. I stepped onto the little stool, handed over my modesty, and lowered myself gingerly into the tub. Lemme tell ya, ONE OH THREE is AITCH OH TEE. Had Julie not been there watching, I would have taken more time getting acquainted with the environs, one toe at a time, but my desire to cover myself, even if it was only clear water, was stronger, so I plunged in.
The next order of business was to languidly stretch out, as I'd seen the model do in the advertisement:
But this was impossible because the tub was longer than my 5 ft, 7 in and I couldn't get a grip with my toes at the far end. The result was that I bobbed around on the surface like a dead fish until Julie got some rolled towels anchored beneath my neck and upper back. Once I was stabilized, she whipped out another towel, dipped it into the bathwater and wrapped one long end around my neck, so that only my head was sticking out. Julie pointed to the clock on the wall and made me to understand that this torture was to last TWO OH minutes. Her last act before disappearing, presumably to someplace cooler, like Siberia, was to turn on the mini-Evinrude lurking at the far end of the tub. I'd forgotten all about this gadget in my quest to get anchored down. This was the 30's version of the Jacuzzi and the terrific onslaught of bubbles at my feet very nearly turned me over. I bet Julie goes home with at least one hilarious story to tell the family over dinner each night.
TWO OH minutes is a long time in ONE OH THREE. As I watched the clock hands creep slowly around, I was reminded of an online review I read about the Buckstaff the morning we left for Hot Springs. One lady had given the place a poor rating because, she claimed, her attendant had forgotten about her in the bath. I sincerely hoped Julie didn't forget me.
The next station was a lie down in a room with several cots. Julie placed a bolster under my knees and OH! blessed relief! a cold wet towel on my head and around my face. I think one is expected to relax at this point, but I had a hard time zoning out for wondering what new devilment was awaiting me. This turned out to be hot packs, or more precisely hot wet towels, placed under my back, on my chest, stomach, and one around each leg. This was much more bearable because the towels quickly cooled off, unlike the bath water. Another cold towel for my head and face also helped. If you don't believe time is relative, trust me when I say twenty minutes on the cot zipped by compared to twenty minutes in the bath.
The next order of business was a short walk to the steam cabinet. The victim walks inside, turns and sits down. The attendant shuts the door in front and brings down two flaps that leave only your head sticking out, while hot steam assaults the rest of you. This was a five minute ordeal made bearable because I could at least look out and see the activity going on in the room. Ladies were being led into tub enclosures and out of them, everyone discreetly toga'ed up in sheets. It was obvious that more than a few had been there and done that; they were wearing flip-flops or shower shoes. I wished I'd thought of that.
After the steam cabinet, I was led to the sitz bath. At this point my sheet is soaking wet and sticking to me in all the wrong places, but what the hell. It's hard to describe the sitz bath. It looks like an ordinary shower stall except one side of the floor humped up in a gentle hill. Julie once again removed my sheet and helped me sit down with my legs over the hump and jutting outside, while my business end was uncomfortably immersed in more ONE OH THREE action. She considerately gave me a towel to cover the girls. It was about this time that I realized there were no hand-holds in the place. None. Zilch. Nada. The Buckstaff is run by the National Park Service and you'd think that entity, being part of the guvmint, would have grab bars, rubber mats and printed warnings in six-inch high letters covering all the available wall space. Signs like CAUTION! And SLIPPERY WHEN WET! And NO RUNNING! As I sitzed and sizzled, I contemplated just how in the heck I was going to get into a standing position with no grab bars, a slippery floor and worse, no clothes. Julie came to my rescue once again (she was freakishly strong) and it was off to the needle shower.
Slippery is one of those words that looks weird the longer you stare at it.
Anyway, call me crazy, but I had it in my head that the needle shower would be 1) cold'ish and, 2) sharp and needle-like. It was warm and there was hardly any water pressure in the shower heads. I didn't actually count, but I think there were six heads, all aiming for different parts and doing a poor job of it. Two minutes of that and Julie was back with a fresh dry sheet and a clean towel. My bathhouse ordeal was now over and it was back to the changing room.
I was so hot the last thing I wanted to do was get dressed. Cooling off was necessary, but with no A/C that was problematic. The windows were open and fans were running, so I stood in front of one of the second story windows in my threadbare toga with a fan blowing on me for a few minutes. It wasn't much help. I had renewed appreciation for what folks had to deal with in the days before air conditioning. I always liked what Harper Lee, in her book To Kill a Mockingbird, had to say about how the ladies in Maycomb were like "...soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum." Well, this lady was nothing like a teacake. My hair was in wet strings, my face was beet red, and my deodorant had given up the good fight and died in the steam tank.
Would I do it again? You betcha. And a Swedish massage, too.
Don't forget the flip-flops,
Paris Hilton: when you make a sex tape, you are public domain, IMHO. Idiot.
Lady bather: http://www.buckstaffbaths.com/services.html
My sister-in-law got a Christmas ham from a friend last year. With no plans to use it immediately, she put the ham in her father's freezer.
Once the Christmas decorations were packed away and we were knee deep in the January blahs, I started making tentative plans for a party to celebrate Brent's return home from Afghanistan. SIL got wind of this and offered her ham. I thanked her, but didn't commit. At the time I was toying with the idea of bidding on a catered Louisiana-style shrimp boil to be hosted by a friend and held at her beautiful home in Dallas. This presented some problems, the first being finding enough change under the couch cushions to win the thing. Eventually the guest list grew too big, and although my friend was sweet and said, "The more, the merrier!", I couldn't impose this mostly Texas Aggie crowd on her Arkansas Razorback sensibilities. As it turned out, we had the party at home and had it catered by a local bbq joint.
But I digress.
I forgot about the ham until last month when the upcoming holidays forced me to take a breather from level 201 of Candy Crush. Thanksgiving Day would be spent tailgating in College Station. But with all the kids home (and in need of a real home-cooked meal or two), two house guests, and my mother to think of, I decided to host a second Thanksgiving dinner for the Saturday after.
It was while we were at my SIL's house for a chili dinner that I announced our dinner plans. SIL immediately offered her Christmas ham for the occasion. At this point, the ham had been reposing in the freezer for just shy of a year, and quite honestly I was a bit grossed out by the idea. Instead of a nice, firm "Thanks, but I've got it covered, would you bring a salad, instead?", I went with an evasive, obfuscatory, beat-around-the-bush, "Welllllll, it's probably freezer burned by now, don'tcha think?" and "What's the expiration date on something like that?" Whereupon, SIL Googled "How long can a ham be kept in the freezer before I can no longer unload it on my brother's ungrateful wife?" The answer, apparently, is indefinitely.
It looked like I was beaten and doomed to take in a rock-hard, toddler-age, frozen ham, when SIL made a crucial mistake. She said, "Save me the ham bone."
You have to understand that Richard gets very territorial when it comes to ham bones. Almost, like, well, a dog with a bone. There are two things he can manage to cook without making a complete hash of it, no pun intended. One of those things is a slow-cooker ham bone soup that is, as the saying goes, to die for. The aroma as it burbles on low all day long is unbelievable. I've heard people say that the smell of baking cookies or potpourri simmering on the stove can help sell houses. I've decided if we ever put this place on the market, I'm going to have Richard make his soup. We will have offers out the wazoo.
Anyhoots, as I said, Richard loves his ham bones and I knew there would be hell to pay if his sister took off with it. So I explained to her about her little brother's weird obsession, and told her that in the interest of family harmony I would purchase a ham, if she would bring a salad.
The next day, I got an email that said, "You can have the ham bone! I really don't care!" And instead of the usual big smiley face after her name 😀 there was a sorta of frowny face 🤨
Here's my face after I read the email 😡
I was on the verge of giving up and accepting the ham when, thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. When she asked what she could contribute to the dinner, I said, "The ham!" with a lot more emotion than those two words together generally merit. And so it came to pass that I was able to dump all the blame on my poor, unwitting mother ("She insisted, twisted my arm, what could I do?"). The meal turned out great, we had a good time, and afterwards Richard carefully wrapped up his precious ham bone, with lots of meaty bits on it. We're going to make that delicious soup while we've got all the kids home for Christmas. That and jalapeno cornbread. I can smell it already.
With the turkey day festivities over, I turned my attention to Christmas. On December 10, I sent an email to the family inviting them to our house for a Christmas Day brunch. In the email I said I will be frying up my homemade Scrapple, but would also have plenty of bacon on hand for those who don't like Scrapple, or are afraid to try it. Here's an actual screenshot of SIL's reply:
Richard had the misfortune to be home from work when I received the above. I told him his sister was relentless and stubborn. I believe crazy, lunatic, gaga, and over-zealous were also used. When I finally wound down late the next day, I sent the following reply:
The stalemate might have continued indefinitely but for a teaser for an upcoming airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas, and seeing that little fir tree nobody wanted. It got me to thinking about the ham. Nobody wanted it, either, and that was a really lousy way to thank Mr. Hog for his holiday sacrifice at the business end of an official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle. The more I thought about it, the more I got to feeling sorry for the poor orphaned hindquarter languishing away in my FIL's freezer. As soon as my heart wasn't feeling so tight, I told my SIL I would take her ham and we will have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas Day brunch ever. Hallelujah!
Then my daughter messaged me:
Richard has been assured by my doctors that my nervous breakdown is quite common during the holidays. The restraints will come off in a couple of weeks, and I should be able to receive visitors in a month. Group therapy, meditation, rest, a steady diet of little pills, and I should be out of here in time for our annual Easter ham dinner.
NOTE: I started this two weeks ago and then got distracted playing Candy Crush.
We, meaning Richard, Mitch and I, decided to spend the Labor Day holiday in Louisiana visiting Brent. Paige was miffed that she didn't get an invite, but being way out west in Lubbock and into her first week of classes, it really wasn't feasible.
Floating on the Aggies' miraculous 52 - 28 win against South Carolina the night before (Johnny WHO?), we left mid-morning on the last Friday in August and drove the five hours east and south to Leesville and Fort Polk, much of that in a wet drizzle. Brent was waiting for us with a fully stocked bar, and a townhouse that was quite a change from the empty one we'd toured in March after his redeployment. He'd bought furniture, all very masculine, and very tasteful. No posters of half-naked girls, no beer bottle collection like his father had, tho' I do suspect the plastic folding table that was covered with a nice cloth and used for dining during our visit, moonlights as a beer pong table. The reason I know this is because I found three ping pong balls lurking in a small box on the kitchen counter.
Earlier in the week, Richard and I had a disagreement over what to fix for Friday night's dinner. He wanted to grill steaks; I wanted something more southern, like shrimp and grits. He said the boys wouldn't like grits, which I took to mean that he didn't like grits, or at least the way I prepare them, so I said, "You and your steaks can KISS MAH GRITS!" in my best Flo the Waitress voice. In the end, the steaks persevered. It's difficult for a lone female to compete with three males and their need for bloody meat.
My only contribution to dinner was a horseradish cream sauce, something that is normally served with prime rib, but what the heck. The problem here was that Brent's kitchen is devoid of all but the most basic kitchen tools, so I was forced to whip the cream by hand. It took roughly 40 minutes. Just as I was starting to give it up as a bad job, it began thickening. It's stuff like this that makes me wonder how certain things came to be, like whipped cream. I mean, what would possess someone to sit down with a bowl of fresh cream and start beating the hell out of it? And keep in mind, this was before electricity.
As it turned out, the four expensive filets de boeuf we bought from our favorite butcher cooked to perfection. This led to some intense discussion as to WHY they were so good, because, in all honesty, Richard's grilling technique is a tad spotty. Brent opined that it was probably his tiny Weber grill. The chef said he thought it was because he bought choice instead of prime. I chalked it up to luck and getting the coals just right. Mitch had no opinion because he subsists on Taco Bell five days a week. Brent was even nice enough to compliment my horseradish cream sauce, tho' by serving time it was a bit watery and broken down from not getting a proper whipping.
Bedtime was problematic, as it nearly always is when one sleeps with Richard. Being just this side of stone deaf, I always thought I'd make the perfect wife for a man who snores. Instead, I married Richard who jerks, twitches, spasms, and flops all night long. And at Brent's, for the first time in decades, we were faced with the prospect of sleeping in a double bed. Our newlywed bed was a double, but 34 years ago we were both a lot skinnier. Needless to say, for one of us it wasn't a restful night.
Saturday we drove to Natchitoches, about an hour or so north of Leesville. Despite its spelling, Natchitoches is pronounced NACK-a-tish, for some unfathomable reason, and is the oldest town in Louisiana, founded in 1714. If you've never been, you really should visit. In fact, I have decided that this is where I want to retire, even if it means having to put up with the scores of LSU and Saints fans that are everywhere in this state. Richard wasn't nearly so receptive to this idea, and the boys looked at me as if I'd grown horns, especially Brent. He can't wait to get out of Louisiana and here was his mother talking about moving in.
We spent the afternoon wandering around the downtown area and doing the tourist bit. Downtown fronts the Cane River, and is a smaller and much cleaner version of the French Quarter. During lunch, a real live monk walked into the premises and headed for the bar. He was decked out in a brown robe, sandals, a rope belt, and a tonsure. I was so enthralled with this time traveler straight out of the medieval ages, that I didn't even think to snap his picture. The restaurant staff seemed to take his presence for granted, so maybe there is a monastery somewhere in the area.
After our encounter with Friar Tuck, we went across the street to a public garden, Beau Jardin. Here are some photos:
It was another drizzly day and while it was not hot, it was very muggy. Looking to get into some air-conditioning for a couple of minutes, Richard and I moseyed unsuspectingly through a modest door and into the wonderland that is:
This is one of those places you have to see to believe. Hardware, kitchenware, household goods, toys, CLOTHES. Perhaps buoyed by his culinary success, Richard kept wandering over to the BBQ section and stealing looks at a Big Green Egg on display. I was busy going back and forth between the kitchenware and the toys. One could easily lose a whole afternoon lost in a trip down memory lane:
I could not resist purchasing these measuring spoons. I mailed them to my daughter to give to Texas Tech's executive chef (she works with him), as I thought Dewey would get a kick out of them. Notice the amounts: smidgen, dash and pinch. Now we know what grandma was talking about in those cryptic recipes that never gave precise measurements:
After a stop at a local bar to wet our whistles — I had ONE drink, it is important that you know this — we headed back to Leesville. A little two-lane highway, 117, connects the towns. I wrote about our first excursion down this road from hell in the black of night, and the numerous deer grazing alongside, and how wound up I got for thinking one of the animals would get it into its head to leap in front of the car. One collision with a deer, and you are scarred for life, trust me on this. This time it's dusk, happy hour for those in the Cervidae family. I am in the back seat trying not to hyperventilate, and wishing we had some kind of deer radar, like the thingymabobs people use to alert them to speed traps. Sure enough, I spy with my eagle eye two deer, perhaps 100 yards ahead on the left. I did what one does in such circumstances: I yelled, "Watch out for the deer!", screwed my eyes shut, and braced for impact. When nothing happened, I cracked open an eye. The car was stopped, Mitch had turned in the driver's seat and was glaring at me, and the deer I'd seen were actually two mailboxes. I have a feeling I'm not going to live that one down.
Musta been a heckuva strong drink,
Today's blog is a public service announcement.
I was wandering around my local Kroger the other day and decided, on a whim, to try this Herdez brand microwave meal, see the photo below. I also bought a pork chile verde entree. I can't be bothered to cook lunch for myself, so it's soup, or a sandwich, leftovers from dinner, or a frozen meal I can nuke in the microwave. Unless I'm meeting someone for lunch, I seldom go out; the high fat, high calorie choices out there are too tempting.
Notice the Spanish at the top of the box. It says "con toda confianza". Now, my grade school Spanish is pretty bad, considering how it was contaminated with a lot of Yiddish, but even I can translate the words to English. It says with confidence. Also notice the nice chunky morsels of tender beef swimming in the guajillo chile sauce.
So it was with confidence I bought the two entrees, and with that same confidence, I decided to try the beef version for lunch. When I took the bowl out of the box, my confidence started to ebb. Through the plastic I could see a mound of rice on one side, and a brown blob on the other. No meat was apparent, but I figured it was lurking down at the bottom of the bowl, beneath the frozen sauce. Five minutes later, here's the result:
Now, I don't expect the actual meal to look exactly like its advertised counterpart. The Whataburger I buy doesn't have the lettuce tweezered on just so, nor has the fry cook picked through a bushel of tomatoes to find just the right shade of red, nor is the cheese precisely placed so that the corners flop daintily and evenly over the sides. But the elements advertised are in their promised shape and form. What happened to the CHUNKS of meat seen in the photo? This was nothing but shredded glop.
Surely, this had to be an anomaly, so I opened the other Herdez entree, the pork chile verde. This was even worse:
The beef, at least, was identifiable as beef, or maybe beef-like. This "pork" was completely unappetizing, a grey mush with tiny bits of mystery meat.
So, how'd they taste? I have no idea. I was too revolted by the "pork" to want to try either, and both ended up in the trash.
I am confident I won't be buying Herdez products in the future.
My side of the family had a reunion last August in Denver. The occasion was my aunt's 90th birthday. But she was not the only one celebrating a birthday on or near that month. There are so many of us with July and August birthdays, that someone, I can't remember who, was moved to declare an ultimatum: no more birthdays during those two months. July and August are closed. So sorry.
Three cousins in the generation after mine apparently took that ultimatum as a challenge and got...ahem...busy. The results are the three beautiful additions to the family shown above. Gregory arrived July 15th in Washington, Santino hatched on August 8th in Colorado (two days after MY birthday), and little Claire said hello in Oregon on August 20th, one day after her great-grandmother's 91st birthday. My Aunt Liz now has nine great-grandchildren. They are all happy, healthy, and best of all, have wonderful parents and lots of doting relatives.
The next family reunion will definitely be a little wilder and a lot louder.
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