The early bird gets the tree — November 13, 2019

The early bird gets the tree

It is my belief that people generally fall into two camps – those who refuse to acknowledge Christmas’ existence until after Thanksgiving and those who think it’s fine and dandy to start the festivities as soon as the last trick or treater vacates the premises.

I used to be solidly ensconced in the first camp. For years, I could be heard asking folks to refrain from listening to Christmas music or trimming the tree until I was finished complaining about the Thanksgiving parade or making sure everyone knew that I don’t like turkey.

But at some point, I faced the fact that I was harmed not one iota by early embraces of the holiday. If somebody in my neighborhood or in Nebraska wants to drape a billion red, green, and white lights on their house on Nov. 1, well, that’s none of my business.

And, then, the strangest thing happened. I went away for the weekend in early November a few years ago. This trip occurred when I still listened to the radio, so during my travels, I sought a classic country or rock station. Instead, I found a station devoted to playing nothing but Christmas music from Halloween until the big day.

I stayed with that station for miles, eventually changing only when I heard more static than songs.

From that year forward, I’ve started listening to Christmas music when I dern well please. For the record, every year I’ve dern well pleased somewhere in that sweet spot between Halloween and Thanksgiving. And just because I listen to it on Nov. 1 doesn’t mean I’ll listen to it on Nov. 2. The mood has to hit.

So far, I’ve never been in the mood to decorate or to start my Christmas baking before Thanksgiving. But I do plan to devote the entire month of December to baking. The way I see it, it’s called the holiday season for a reason. What better way to savor the season than by savoring baked goods all month long? Besides, if you wait until mere days before the actual holiday, then you’ll run out of time as well as room in your fat pants.

I also ascribe to the philosophy of one of my cousins. Expressing her reasons for decorating early, she explained that she enjoys looking at her Christmas lights. As she’s gotten older, she’s realized the importance of treasuring life’s simple pleasures.

And if your simple pleasures include complaining about early Christmas decorations, you should have a merry season.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Witch-ful thinking — November 6, 2019

Witch-ful thinking

I am so grateful to the powers that be who postponed tricks-or-treats night from Thursday to Saturday. The change in schedule allowed me to spend Halloween the way the framers of the Constitution intended – by watching a “Bewitched” marathon.

As a wee lass, I enjoyed watching “Bewitched” reruns on the SuperStation WTBS. And even at my advanced age, Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the chic witch-turned-housewife Samantha, remains one of my favorite TV performers.

Aspects of the show, however, have always bothered me. For example, at every phase of my life – from an imaginative child who wished she could conjure up a spell with a twitch of the nose to a skeptical woman who realizes she’s the embodiment of Sam’s nosy neighbor, Gladys Kravitz – I have wondered what Sam saw in her husband Darrin. In addition to being incredibly boring, Darrin was prone to fits of hysteria and easily provoked. (By the way, I’m not sure what this says about me, but I only recently recognized the differences in the two actors who played Darrin.)

Anyway, ever since I first started watching “Bewitched,” I’ve questioned Darrin’s directive that Sam not practice witchcraft. Granted, Sam usually ignored him, but that’s not the point. The point is that Darrin – and Sam – were crazy for not taking advantage of her powers. Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why Sam continued to do housework.

The fact that Sam dusted the furniture or swept the floors is more unrealistic than her choosing Darrin as her mate. In one holiday episode, she worked her magic to make a fully-decorated Christmas tree appear in multiple areas of the living room. After she determined where to put the tree, she made it disappear.

That’s not magic. It’s madness.

Sam’s behavior makes it easy to understand why her mom Endora, played to campy delight by Agnes Moorehead, held such contempt for the man she referred to as Derwood, Darwin or Dum-Dum. She blamed her boring son-in-law for turning Sam into a woman who apparently enjoyed performing chores that normal people delay until company has arrived on the doorstep.

Nonetheless, as I hate Halloween, looking forward to the “Bewitched” marathon helped me make it through a rainy day populated with coworkers dressed like cartoon characters. It also made me, even at my advanced age, practice twitching my nose because you never know when magic might happen.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s the first pumpkin — October 30, 2019

It’s the first pumpkin

For various and sundry reasons, I do not like Halloween. Indeed, much like a trip to the gynecologist, I view it as something that I have to get through.

Of course, my heart and head aren’t entirely closed to the holiday. I don’t begrudge others for engaging in Halloween frivolity. What’s more, I enjoy seeing the younglings in their costumes and I have adorned my fake fireplace with holiday décor. Oh, and I also have a cauldron.

But that’s pretty much been it … until this year.

For reasons that even I don’t understand, I decided to purchase a pumpkin. If that comes as a surprise to you, my dear readers, you are not alone. Upon hearing my out-of-character plans, my sister assumed she was hallucinating.

I felt poorly on pumpkin-picking day, however, so my sister selected my gourd. And – even on a good day – I have no idea how to carve a pumpkin, so my beloved niece was entrusted with that esteemed honor.

Since I wasn’t feeling my best, I didn’t have the energy to create a spectacular pumpkin design. I had not lost my cleverness, though, so I asked my niece to carve a pumpkin into a pumpkin. I’m sure we were making a serious artistic statement with that design. I’m just not sure I’m smart enough to understand the statement.

On pumpkin-carving day, my niece sent me a message to let me know the double pumpkin had arrived on my porch. Then, she asked if I had a candle.

Although I was still unwell, I checked my temperature. I was not running a fever. So, I asked her for an explanation and promptly learned that one is supposed to illuminate a pumpkin with a candle so that one’s neighbors can view the shining gourd.

Imagining a hungry critter knocking my glowing double pumpkin onto the ground, I informed her that the suggestion was too dangerous.

Her response went something like this, “LOL! Haven’t you ever had a pumpkin before?”

No, smarty-pants, I haven’t, which is proof that a person can appreciate new experiences at an advanced age.

Nonetheless, I refused to leave a burning torch unattended on my front porch, so we decided on glow sticks. Yes, I had to look up glow sticks on the Internets so I would know what to buy at the Dollar Store. And, yes, my niece had to instruct me on how to use glow sticks, but everything worked out. I placed said glow sticks in the double pumpkin and, whilst I snapped photos, a member of my cat army jumped into the frame.

However, for various and sundry reasons, this might be my first and last pumpkin. The double pumpkin adds a splash of color to my life, but between coming up with a design and an alternative to candles, I’ve found the experience to be entirely too stressful.

Besides, glow sticks burn out after a night or two and those things cost a dollar a pack.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Went for the burn — October 23, 2019

Went for the burn

One night last week, I ate freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes for supper. And I did so willingly.

The meal’s origin story begins, as do many of my stories, with a trip to Super Dollar. Or, as the store is known around my mom’s house, FD.

As I strolled through FD on that early spring day, I had a smidgen of a hankering for pancakes. As I eat pancakes only once every three or four years, I didn’t think it made sense to buy pancake mix that would eventually turn to dust in my pantry. So, I tossed a box of generic frozen pancakes into my shopping cart.

Upon my return home, I tossed the box into my freezer, where it remained unopened. Then, one night in early summer, I had a full-blown hankering for pancakes. So, I tossed three into the microwave and, later, onto my plate where I applied spray fake butter to them and moistened them with generic syrup.

Although they weren’t as fluffy or as tasty as pancakes produced by a mix or purchased at a restaurant, they were good enough. In fact, they fulfilled the hankering. Indeed, I didn’t consider eating pancakes again until nearly four months later.

That brings us to last week. When I couldn’t decide what to eat for supper, I recalled a coworker saying she had made pancakes the previous evening. That sounded good enough, so I headed to the freezer.

After I heated the pancakes accordingly, applied spray fake butter to them, and moistened them with generic syrup, I used a fork and knife to cut them into dainty bites.

And when I took the first bite, I flashed back to an episode of “The Facts of Life” and paraphrased the character, Jo, by asking, “Is this what freezer burn tastes like?”

At that point, I could have tossed the pancakes into the trash and found something else for supper. After all, believe it or not, but freezer burned food doesn’t become more appetizing the longer you eat it. But I had gone to all that trouble to make the pancakes. Besides, in case I’ve never mentioned it, I don’t like to waste.

So, I ate every bite. When I finished, I said, “Well, at least it was a meal.”

Then, my voice of reason, which sounds like Tommy Lee Jones, said, “No, that wasn’t a meal. That was freezer burned, generic frozen pancakes.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

In a nutshell — October 16, 2019

In a nutshell

Last week, a Pittsburgh woman stopped at the library to return movies and detected a “burning” odor emanating from her car. Noting that the car had also been making a “weird” noise, she popped the car’s hood and discovered oodles of walnuts, as well as grass, nestled among her car’s innards.

It was later determined that more than 200 walnuts were under the hood. While it appears that no one thought to weigh the grass, it was also determined – or maybe just assumed – that enterprising squirrels had stored the walnuts and grass in the car. And they had done so in only a few days.

According to news reports, it took nearly an hour to rid the car of the nuts and grass. What’s more, when mechanics later removed the car’s protective plate, more nuts fell from underneath the engine. Luckily, the car suffered no damage.

The same can’t be said for the squirrels. What are they going to eat this winter? Apparently, they read and understood the moral of “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” Still, all their hard work went for naught.

Of course, I have to question the wisdom of selecting a car as a pantry. So many things could go wrong. What if the car’s owner moved or sold the car? What if you – an enterprising squirrel – became trapped under the hood whilst retrieving said nuts and ended up taking an unplanned trip? Or what if the nuts and grass caused some sort of non-damaging burning sensation that led to the removal of said nuts and grass?

The presence of the grass also makes me wonder if the squirrels planned to squat in the car during the winter. If so, it further proves that they did not put a lot of thought into this endeavor.

They also didn’t learn their lesson. They day after the 200-plus nuts were found, they stored more nuts in the car.

Although I admire the speed at which the squirrels worked, I once again must question their judgment. First of all, didn’t they immediately notice that their oodles of nuts were missing? Second of all, why didn’t that lead them to deduce that maybe they shouldn’t use that there car as a pantry?

Regardless, I feel bad for the squirrels. It’s similar to the feeling I have when I sweep away spiderwebs. Spiders go to all that trouble weaving those webs so they can catch unsuspecting insects and then it’s all gone in one or two swipes.

Then again, I guess I am saving the lives of unsuspecting insects. But what are the spiders going to eat?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mutual fund — October 9, 2019

Mutual fund

One morning in the not-so-distant past, a friend shared her daughter’s fundraising packet with me. Recognizing my fondness for baked goods, said friend pointed out that the merchandise included cookie dough.

With smugness dripping from my words, I said, “I don’t buy cookie dough. I make my own.”

Fast forward seven hours. That’s when my niece shared her daughter’s, my great-niece’s, fundraising packet. With excitement radiating from my words, I said, “She’s selling cookie dough? Great! I’ll take one of each!”

To my defense, I didn’t take one of each. I ordered only chocolate chip dough. What’s more, I also placed an order for treat boxes with my friend’s daughter.

I share this with you to demonstrate that we’ll do the darndest things for the kids in our lives and to show that I’m not troubled at all when parents or students try to sell me something.

For some reason, however, when parents make their sales pitches, they also add the disclaimer that I shouldn’t feel I have to make a purchase. No worries there. My great-niece also sold mums this year, but she didn’t sell one to Antie Cookie. I don’t like mums and, as far as I know, she neither attends high school nor plays football.

Anyway, just last week, a coworker brought a fundraising packet to the office. At first, thinking the merchandise comprised only popcorn, I was prepared to decline the request. But when I saw that it also included those little peanut butter bears my nieces enjoy, I said, “Great! I’ll buy a box!” (It seems we will also do the darndest things for the adult kids in our lives.)

I also ordered Crazy Bread from yet another friend who, I should add, tried her best to talk me out of making the purchase. But as I explained to her, how could I pass up the opportunity to make authentic Crazy Bread in my kitchen. It’s similar to why I ordered the cookie dough, which I can keep refrigerated for months whilst making a few cookies here and there. It’s a win-win-win for the school, the student, and me.

Of course, I don’t want you to think I’m easy. For example, unless I’m buying one to bestow as a gift, I’m probably not going to purchase a candle. Or cutlery. Or bowls. Or wrapping paper. Or makeup. Or jewelry. Or knickknacks. Or, well, you get the picture.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Mercury is retrograde — September 18, 2019

Mercury is retrograde

Last week, I shared in this-here blog that I had developed runner’s knee(s). Since the publication, countless readers – okay, maybe three or four – have reached out to inquire about the condition of my knees. I’m happy to report that they continue to improve. Indeed, I’ve been able to slowly resume exercising.

In other news, I’ve also been thinking about methylade, pronounced as muh-thigh-laid.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a primer: the Neosporin of its time, methylade came in a little glass bottle. When one of us younglings would get a boo-boo, an adult would apply methylade to our injury with an eye dropper that came with the bottle.

Apparently, when methylade made contact with skin, the pain was so intense that younglings regretted mentioning said boo-boo to the adults. I don’t remember methylade causing pain, but I do remember that it turned my skin a coppery color. This phenomenon probably eased any pain that methylade might or might not have caused to my sensitive skin.

When I researched methylade, Google directed me to pages devoted to mercurochrome and merthiolate. Both products were banned in the 1990s because they contained mercury. As you might know, mercury poisoning can cause oodles of symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, memory issues, and drooling.

Anyway, I’m not sure if methylade was supposed to be mercurochrome or merthiolate, but I’m leaning toward the later. I guess if you squint, plug your ears with cotton, and ignore the letter “r,” then merthiolate could be misread and/or misheard as methylade.

With that in mind, I wondered if the pronunciation was restricted to my family. After all, our late patriarch introduced us to such terms as Kolox, zink, and yemway. So it didn’t seem like a stretch to think that he had created his own pronunciation of merthiolate.

But then I remembered a work-related event I attended approximately six years ago that comprised an audience of Eastern Kentuckians. For a reason I can’t recall, a fellow attendee made a methylade-related joke, which caused everyone within earshot to chuckle. What’s more, thanks to my research, I discovered a few Pinterest posts and one blog that actually referred to methylade by name.

That means it’s not specific to my family. So, why did oodles of folks – definitely more than three or four – start calling merthiolate or, perhaps, mercurochrome, muh-thigh-laid?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Weak in the knees — September 11, 2019

Weak in the knees

Last year, I participated in a 5k race. As someone who only runs away from snakes or toward treats, I walked the course and never considered attempting to so much as jog. But this year, I decided to train to run the race.

So I consulted several from-the-couch-to-a-5k training regimens, finally settling on one that began with three minutes of running and 30 minutes of walking until I reached a mile. The regimens also included several rest days, which I gratefully observed.

But on my training days, I’d perform stretches and warm-up walks and then run laps around my back yard like a hyperactive greyhound. I chose the backyard as my training ground because it afforded me privacy, which was important because I was secretly training. You see, I planned to surprise my family on 5k day. When the three minutes of running felt like three hours, I’d imagine their shocked and encouraging faces when they saw me running from the starting line.

That, combined with the numbers displayed by my faithful Fitbit, Esmerelda – Esme for short – kept me going when I wanted to quit. Indeed, it didn’t take long for me to increase my endurance, my distance, and my calories burned.

I was doing well. So well that I started ignoring the rest days. In fact, I ran for five consecutive days.

Excruciating knee pain kept me from running for six consecutive days. Actually, it’s kept me from running since.

Although I haven’t suddenly earned a medical degree, I believe I developed something called runner’s knee. As an overachiever, I have it in both knees. In retrospect, all those turns I took in my back yard couldn’t have been kind to my knees.

Of course, I didn’t immediately learn my lesson. For days after my self-diagnosis, I continued walking until I reached my daily step goal. To my defense, my right knee had started to feel somewhat better. The left one, however, continued to feel like it was on fire. Finally, after the pain woke me in the middle of the night, I submitted to the will of my knees. For the past few days, I’ve been adhering to the four components of RICE. Right this very second, I’m resting and alternating an ice pack and a compression wrap on my left knee, which is elevated.

RICE is helping. If nothing else, the compression wrap prevents me from walking at my normal pace. The worst part of this ordeal, though, is that I’m unable to exercise and it’s my own dumb fault. I have no one but myself to blame for not taking my rest days and for running laps around my back yard like a hyperactive greyhound.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Simple past tense — September 4, 2019

Simple past tense

Except for Eastern Kentucky’s own Chris Stapleton, I don’t actively listen to current country music. Sometimes, however, the music is forced upon me. This usually occurs when I’m in someone else’s car or inside a store.

That’s exactly what happened recently while I strolled the aisles of the Super Dollar. As I compared the prices of tea, I caught snippets of a song that recalled the halcyon days gone by when everything wasn’t automatic.

I would later learn that the song, by Miranda Lambert, is aptly-titled “Automatic.” Although it was released in 2014 and won oodles of awards, I heard it for the first time in August 2019.

According to Lambert, the song is “about slowing down, taking a breath and remembering what it’s like to live life a little more simply.”

Although I agree with those sentiments, Lambert and I don’t have the same definition of living a simple life.

For example, in the song, she reminisces about using an atlas to find the way to Dallas. I’ve never been to Dallas, but I once consulted an atlas for a trip up north and, let me tell you, that was a disaster. Thankfully, a 10 year old used her wits to get me on the right track or I would still be driving around the backroads of Delaware.

Also in the song, in a nod to Polaroid cameras, Lambert muses about taking the kind of pictures you had to shake. My sister had a Polaroid and we enjoyed posing for photos and then watching our images come to life.

But you know what I didn’t enjoy? Watching those images come to life only to realize that we wasted film on a photo that made us look like rejects from a horror movie.

For some reason, Lambert also suggests we roll down windows, the kind with cranks.

I’m not sure if this means we should keep crank-less windows shut. Heck, I’m not even sure what kind of windows she’s talking about, but if it’s car windows, it makes me wonder why anyone would miss rolling a car window up and down by hand. Maybe the cars we drove required a healthy dose of WD-40, but if my memory serves, it was no easy feat to crank those windows. Indeed, I was usually so tired after rolling them up and/or down that I had to take a nap.

Anyway, I’m sure the song has millions if not billions of fans, and I can appreciate feeling nostalgic for times gone by. But it’s not the tools, be they atlases, cameras, or windows, that made the times so worthwhile.

It’s the people we did them with.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Welcome to the family — August 28, 2019

Welcome to the family

My mother has always cautioned that self-bragging is half scandal.

So, when I hear people boasting about their accomplishments or possessions or when I’m tempted to brag about my ability to eat an entire can of potato crisps in one evening, I’m reminded of her advice.

But one of my dreams has come true. So I’m throwing her caution to the wind and announcing to my dozen or so readers that my household has been selected to participate in an important research study.

That’s right.

The Nielsen company has reached out to me!

For those of you unfamiliar with Nielsen, maybe this snippet from the letter will prove illuminating: “Have you ever wondered how radio, television and other media outlets decide what shows to broadcast and cancel? In large part, those decisions are based on feedback from people like you.”

And by “you,” Nielsen means me.

I’ve been hoping to receive recognition from the company since I first heard of the Nielsen ratings in the 1980s. Back in the day, I wanted so badly to help decide which shows remained on air and which ones got the ax. And, at the sake of sounding boastful, I would have been such a good Nielsen family member because I used to watch the heck out of the TV. Believe me when I say that I watched it so much that there was no chance it was going anywhere.

Nowadays, I’m not so sure I’m a good fit for Nielsen. Although my television is dern-near always on, I don’t actually watch much TV. And I listen to the radio only when I’m forced to do so. Indeed, for question four – “In a typical day, how many hours of radio do you listen to?” – I’ll have to mark zero.

So I’m not sure how helpful I can be to my new friend, Nielsen, and that gives me a case of the sads.

After all, the letter explains that my household, which Nielsen characterizes as “unique,” “may receive cash rewards or check rewards” for participation. I’m not sure what a check reward is, but to thank me for doing something as simple as opening an envelope, Nielsen enclosed a crisp one dollar bill.

Due to such generosity and a decades-long dream, I really don’t want to let Nielsen down, especially since he and/or she addressed the letter to “Dear Area Household.”

Talk about a personal touch!

But I can’t exaggerate my TV viewing or outright lie about listening to the radio. I’m fairly certain that doing so would constitute a bigger scandal than bragging.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.