Universal coupling — February 1, 2023

Universal coupling

Ken Burns’ aptly-titled 2019 Country Music documentary renewed my semi-obsession with the life of Tammy Wynette. Tammy, as she will be referred to in this-here post, was known as the First Lady of Country Music due to the string of hits she accumulated in the 1960s and ‘70s. In addition to her songs and her success, the country music doc delved into her personal tribulations. As a friend and I discussed the doc, I said that Tammy’s life deserved an updated movie. (In 1981, Tammy’s life was made into a TV movie.)

The universe listened.

Well, sort of.

Late last year, I learned of a limited series called George and Tammy, which would chronicle the lives and careers of Tammy and her third husband, George Jones aka the greatest male country music vocalist of all time.

A six-episode series about Tammy and George? The universe not only listened, it improved on my request.

There was only one problem. The series would be shown on Showtime, and I didn’t have Showtime. What’s that? Showtime was offering a 99-cent-a-month deal through my streaming service. Heck, I find that much change on floors and in parking lots every month. Sign me up, Showtime.

I knew I would love George and Tammy within the first few minutes of the first episode when I spotted actor Walton Goggins in George’s band. Goggins has been in oodles of movies and shows, but I know him best as Shane from The Shield and Boyd from Justified. In George and Tammy, he plays Peanutt. Yes, with two tts.

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play, respectively, George and Tammy. I have mentally sent both actors – and Goggins – bouquets of their favorite flowers to express my appreciation for their performances. Chastain’s Tammy comes across as so vulnerable and so seeking of love and a home. Shannon does such a good job as George that I alternated between wanting to push him off his riding lawnmower to wanting to hug him to wanting to ask for home décor advice to wanting to give him a high five. Their performances, especially Shannon’s, in the final scene brought tears to my eyes.

Except for that final scene, when the leads and others perform a singalong of Lost Highway, I wish the actors hadn’t done their own singing. I legit thought my friend and I were going to throw hands over this subject, but I do not like hearing actors perform songs made famous by others. It triggers me. For some reason, their duets weren’t as triggering, but I fast-forwarded the show during some of the solos. It was either that or overturn a table.

Anyway, when I heard about the series, I wondered if it would cover the reasons I became semi-obsessed with Tammy’s life – her “kidnapping,” her fifth husband, her health, her hair. Once again, the universe listened.

I thoroughly enjoyed George and Tammy and highly recommend you find a way to watch. You don’t have to be a fan of theirs or of country music to appreciate the series. Keep in mind, though, that since it’s not a documentary, they do play fast and loose with the timeline (and perhaps some facts) for dramatic effect. Oh, it’s based on a book by George and Tammy’s daughter, Georgette. Keep that in mind, too, and keep your eyes and ears out for her. She appears twice in the series as a backup singer.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Here to stay — January 25, 2023

Here to stay

In case you haven’t heard, our long national nightmare is over – Fritos barbeque flavored corn chips are back on a permanent basis.”

I’m not sure when this event of epic proportions occurred. Therefore, I’m not sure if it qualifies as breaking news. All I know is that in early December, as I stood at the dollar store checkout, my eyes spied two small bags of barbeque Fritos, as it’s known by fans. Fearing the company was teasing me by offering the chips on a limited basis, as they did in 2020 and 2021, I snatched both bags and added them to my order.

Oh, how I savored every chip as it would be the last. For, you see, I remember when Frito-Lay pulled the chips from the shelves, thereby breaking my heart and messing with my mind. Allegedly, this heartbreak occurred in 2018, but my taste buds say it’s been longer.

Regardless, I was in need of some barbeque corn chips in my life after Frito-Lay’s betrayal, so I tried Fritos’ chili cheese and honey barbeque varieties, but I didn’t care for either. And although I have eaten other companies’ barbeque corn chips, this has only occurred on an emergency basis. Along those lines, I will also only eat the original Fritos in an emergency because they leave an aftertaste.

In case you’re asking yourself, “Self, what exactly is a chip emergency?” here’s an example: Someone invites you to his or her house. You offer to bring chips and are told the chip situation is under control. You arrive at the house to discover Fritos Scoops being served with delicious bean dip. You find yourself in the middle of a chip emergency. The Scoops, aka oversized original Fritos, will leave an aftertaste, but you can’t not eat the delicious bean dip and you need chips to do so.

Anyway, after my find at the dollar store checkout, I didn’t expect to run across more barbeque Fritos. Once again, however, I was in for an early Christmas present. As I walked down the dollar store’s chip aisle, I spied several adult sized bags of the chips. I grabbed a bag without even checking the price.

When I relayed this to a group of friends, they legit gasped. Yes, dear readers, my cheapness is well-known among my friends. But what was I supposed to do? Not buy another bag after a years-long separation?

Since then I have bought only one more bag of the chips. I’m proud to say that the bag lasted four days. That’s a record around me. No, I haven’t gotten my feel of the “tangy, flavor-packed twist on Fritos’ classic corn chip,” to quote Frito-Lay. But I can buy a bag whenever I want because the chips are here to stay. I know because I checked the definition and that’s what permanent means.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Crisis management — January 18, 2023

Crisis management

I experienced an existential crisis last month whilst shopping for post-holiday sales.

Or as I called it, Monday.

This particular crisis occurred as I considered whether I should buy drastically reduced Christmas gift tags. The price was right and the tags were super cute. But when I did the math, I realized there were so many tags in that packet that I probably wouldn’t have to buy any for a decade. I legit said, “Oh, no,” returned the tags to the hanger, and marched out of the aisle without looking back.

You should know this is not the first time gift tags have caused me to experience an existential crisis. Years ago, I purchased a roll that contained oodles of tags. Finding the deal filled me with unbridled glee especially when I realized I could use that roll for years.

The dread set in a couple years later. I said to myself, “Self, how old will you be by the time you’ve used all these gift tags?” After I had pulled out the abacus, done the math, and figured out I’d be eligible for Social Security before I needed to buy another gift tag, I decided to accidentally leave that roll of tags at a relative’s house. Deal be derned.

Since then, I’ve bought gift tags on a year-by-year (or two) basis. Of course, that produces another kind of crisis. Last year I thought I had tags. I didn’t. I had to scramble to find some at the last minute. Well, at what I consider the last minute. (By the way, the tags I procured looked like little books. They were so fancy and shiny that two people, upon seeing them attached to gifts, asked, “What are those?” Uh, gift tags…from a dollar store, but not my favorite dollar store.)

Anyway, I can buy in bulk if it’s something like ibuprofen or toilet paper. You know, items I use on the daily. But not something I don’t use frequently. For reals. I’ve been working on a thousand-count box of toothpicks for approximately 15 years. Even the late professional wrestler Scott Hall aka Razor Ramon would have needed some time to make his way through that mocking box of toothpicks. The money I saved on those tiny pieces of wood wasn’t worth the damage to my psyche.

By the way, last month, on the day after Christmas, I did find a deal on one sheet of tags that should serve my gifting needs for the next couple years. That’s as far in the future as I care to plan.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Reading my thoughts, part two — January 11, 2023

Reading my thoughts, part two

Last week I named the best work of fiction I read in 2022. Now I shall share the title of the best work of nonfiction I read last year.

Before I do so, allow me to explain my process. I alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction books. Whilst reviewing my 2022 Goodreads book challenge, I realized that I didn’t care for most of the works of fiction on last year’s list. In fact, I didn’t complete five of them. Don’t tell Goodreads, though, because I marked them as completed. Do not judge me! The way I see it, I deserve the credit for the pain and suffering I endured whilst slogging through X percent of those boring books.

Last year’s nonfiction offerings were better. They were so good that I had trouble choosing among the best. I ultimately chose The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple.

Yes, it’s a book about politics. So, if that’s not your thing, maybe you should quit reading this-here space and return for more of my nonsensible ramblings next week. Then again, maybe you should continue reading for my nonsensible ramblings about the book.

Anyway, on Goodreads, a user asked if The Gatekeepers is biased. Although a debate ensued, most respondents agreed that Whipple produced an unbiased and balanced book. I agree. He shares the strengths and weakness of the presidents and how these attributes guided their selections of chiefs. In turn, the chiefs helped shape policy.

Published in 2017, the book starts with President Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, regarded as the first modern chief. I was familiar with Haldeman so my education began with President Jimmy Carter’s free-wheeling first chief, Hamilton Jordan, who was better known as Ham. That nickname immediately endeared him to me.

I was skeptical upon reading Whipple’s description of Carter’s second chief, Jack Watson, as having movie star good looks. Let’s just say experience has taught me that men and women have differing opinions when it comes to men’s looks. But Whipple was not wrong about Watson’s looks. I consulted our friend Google for images of him and they reinforced my belief that Whipple was unbiased and balanced.

I also learned oodles about President Ronald Reagan’s chiefs. James Baker was the first and best, but Donald Regan – yes, Donald Regan worked for Ronald Reagan – was the most memorable. A drama king who loved attention, he feuded with first lady Nancy Reagan. In fact, he once hung up on her! Later, to exact revenge, he told people that she relied on astrology to plan the president’s schedule.

I didn’t think his antics could be topped … until I got to George H.W. Bush’s presidency. One of his chiefs kept coming to work after he was fired. The dude wouldn’t leave! I don’t have time or space to get into the reasons the president fired him.

And people say these kinds of books are boring!

Of course, I also learned oodles about policy and history. Although I dreaded reading about one significant part of recent history, when I arrived at that section, it was a page turner. It was amazing to read all the differing takes and see how Whipple wove everything together.

Politics might not be your thing, but if it is, Whipple’s book should be on your reading list.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Reading my thoughts, part one — January 4, 2023

Reading my thoughts, part one

Last year I shared the best fiction and nonfiction books I read in 2021. I shall now continue that newfangled tradition by naming my favorite (read) books of 2022.

The first book I read last year – The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett – turned out to be my favorite. Here’s the skinny: I don’t understand a gosh dern thing about magic or card tricks and I have less than zero desire to learn. Mimes and puppets are about the only things that interest me less than magic. If I hadn’t read six of Patchett’s other novels, I wouldn’t have downloaded a book that featured a bunny rabbit on the cover.

But my bestie introduced me to Patchett’s Commonwealth a few years ago. The book legit drew me in on page one and never let me go. As is my way, I dedicated myself to reading as much of Patchett’s work as possible. In addition to Commonwealth, I highly recommend Bel Canto and Dutch House. I loved Dutch House so much that I almost regret reading it. No. That is not a misprint.

There are a couple Patchett books I’m meh about, including the one set in Kentucky. With that in mind, as well as my unenthusiastic feelings for magic, I didn’t know how I would feel about The Magician’s Assistant, which was published in 1997. One more thing. By the time I began the book, I had also forgotten the synopsis, so when I started reading it, I was about as ignorant as a person could be.

Just as with Commonwealth, Patchett drew me in on the first page of The Magician’s Assistant. I stubbornly refused to return to the synopsis, which I think enhanced my enjoyment of the book. I was asking myself questions like, “Self, who is this lady, Sabine? What is her deal? Why is she at a hospital? Who is the man she’s with? Oh, he’s her husband. Oh, my stars! He died!”

That is not a spoiler as the synopsis – the one I had forgotten – lays out the fact that Sabine, the magician’s assistant, is widowed when her husband, the magician, dies. That’s only the beginning of the story. What follows is the rawest depiction of grief I have ever read. There’s a passage where Sabine takes people from her husband’s past (I won’t spoil it and reveal how they’re connected to him) to places he frequented. The way one of them reacts haunts me. She’s wrecked by guilt and grief and all she wants is a connection with a loved one she lost years ago. There’s another passage where a teenage boy asks Sabine if a trick really was magic. His need to believe hurts my heart.

I don’t want to make The Magician’s Assistant, which takes readers from Los Angeles to Nebraska, sound like a weepy. It’s not a laugh fest, either, but it is a book full of good people. I miss those people. One criticism I’ve read is that Sabine is a boring protagonist who doesn’t do anything. Things just happen to her. Well, that’s not exactly true. But even if it were true, so what? She’s not a superhero. She, like the book’s other characters, is just a woman dealing with life the only way she knows how.

My favorite character in The Magician’s Assistant is Dot. Dot is wise. She knows you can’t make people do what’s in their best interest. The best you can hope for is that you get that sewing room you’ve always wanted.

Tune in next week for the title of the best nonfiction book I read in 2022.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Carb appeal — December 21, 2022

Carb appeal

Every year at Christmas, I view the spread of appetizers, desserts, and other snacks and goodies displayed at the Goff Estate, and proclaim, “We have to quit making so much stuff.”

Then, around mid-October the following year, my sisters and I start sharing holiday-themed recipes with one another, following up with such messages as, “Let’s try this at Christmas!”

Which is why I just inhaled several of those little pretzel/Hershey’s Hugs/holiday M&M’s treats. I ran across the recipe weeks ago, but apparently forgot to share with the class. Thankfully, I remembered the recipe a few days ago.

Of course, finding the three (only three) ingredients proved much harder than one would have predicted. One store had the Hugs but didn’t have the Ms. The other store had the Ms but didn’t have the Hugs. Locating the right pretzels turned out to be so controversial that we had to follow in the steps of that insurance company and the NFL and check the replay.

Anyway, I eventually assembled all three – only three – ingredients and tested the new (to me) recipe. It’s a good thing I made only several or I would have had to borrow my cat’s insulin. Yes, they were that delicious. And also filled with carbs.

I basically subsist by snacking, depending on one’s definition of snacking, during the holidays, mainly on sugary i.e. carb-filled snacks. I balance my diet with generous portions of dip and cheese ball, though. The cheese ball even contains nuts. Nuts are good for us.

Oh, I slather dip and cheese ball on, respectively, chips and crackers, both of which I believe might contain carbs.

Hmm. Have I mentioned the punch?

Seriously, I’m going to turn into lump of glucose. Or is it sucrose? Or maybe I’ll become a carb.

It wouldn’t be as bad if I was one of those people who would stop after eating one or two of whatever. Here’s my question to those of you who do: If you like it, why stop at one or two? If I like something, I will eat until it’s gone. That is why I don’t bake as much as I did in the past. It’s why, when I feel the urge, I buy a small bag of chips. Yes, I know it’s more economical to buy the big bag. But that big bag will disappear as if by magic almost as soon as it enters my house.

Christmas is my Achilles heel because it’s the only time I eat the cheese ball and drink the punch and make many of the sweet treats. Now, if only I would quit looking at recipes.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Not boxed in — December 14, 2022

Not boxed in

For the past few months, a section of my home has resembled a warehouse. Indeed, it’s filled with various sizes of cardboard boxes. No, I haven’t fallen behind on recycling duties. Instead, this year I finally remembered to stock up on boxes so I wouldn’t be forced to empty my closets and cabinets in order to box gifts and goodies.

What’s that, you say? The post office and stores sell boxes.

I’m going to assume this is your first visit to this-here space because I do not buy boxes.

In fact, if you ever receive a gift or goodie from me in a purchased box, please know that I have recycled said box. There was a moment of weakness a couple years ago when I considered buying a box from the US Post Office. I had trekked to the post office in the rain. There were only a few mailing days left before Christmas and when the postal worker told me the box I wanted to use wouldn’t work, I said to myself, “Self, I’m going to buy one of their fancy boxes.”

To which self replied, “The expletive you are!”

So, I slogged back home in the rain, looked through the cabinets, emptied my box of nails and screws, placed the goodie inside said box, and returned to the post office. (No worries, the nails and screws eventually found a new home.)

By the way, dear readers, the US Post Office will allow us to reuse boxes if we remove the old addresses from said boxes. Although I had done so, there was another issue with the box. I cannot remember the issue at this moment. All my other reused boxes have passed inspection.

Anyway, when it comes to wrapping presents, I’ve stuffed gifts in whatever boxes I can find in the house. You know, like envelope and cereal boxes. One year, my great-niece (emphasis on great), opened her present from me, which was in an oatmeal box, and put it aside. When her mom asked her what Cook – that would be me – got her, she said, “Oatmeal.”

I don’t know what made me happier – that she didn’t question why I had bought her oatmeal or that she didn’t throw a tantrum. As I mentioned earlier, she is great. But let’s face it. Some kids would have thrown that alleged box of oatmeal back at Antie Cook, demanding a toy or, at the very least, a pair of wacky socks.

But I like to think she said to herself, “Self, it’s on brand for Cook to buy a kid oatmeal for Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

All you have to do is stream — December 7, 2022

All you have to do is stream

One of the absolute best things about streaming services is that subscribers can watch shows whenever they want. I believe that’s why they call it on demand. This also means I can wait until all episodes of a season or series have dropped before tuning in. That’s how we watched TV in the olden days. Back then, we had to wait an entire week – seven long days – or an entire summer – three long months – for the resolution of a Knots Landing cliffhanger. I’m here to tell you, I’m not sure how I survived the perils of Valene Ewing.

Anyway, some of my best friends still watch shows week-by-week. Not me. That’s why I am just now encouraging you to watch Andor, a Star Wars story, and giving you a tepid recommendation for The Crown’s fifth season.

Andor begins five years before the events of Rogue One, which by the way might be my favorite Star Wars movie. The 12-episode first season – a second season is scheduled for 2024 – depicts how Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) evolves from a cynical thief to the passionate rebel who makes heroic sacrifices in Rogue One.

If you’re a Star Wars galaxy fan, you’re probably already aware of this. If not, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, why do I want to see a Star War? I won’t understand anything.”

No worries. You don’t have to understand a gosh dern thing about the Star Wars galaxy to dig Andor. I didn’t know who the heck most of the characters were or what was happening in the first couple episodes. But the third episode was spectacular and it legit gave me chills. In fact, I couldn’t wait for the fourth episode – and I didn’t have to wait because it was already streaming.

You can and should watch Andor on Disney+. For what it’s worth, my favorite parts of the show were the prison scenes. Yes, those are words I never thought I would write.

I also never thought I would be disappointed in The Crown. Still, I tuned in to all 10 episodes of this season like it was my job, but something was off. Perhaps it was the actor who plays King Charles III or as I refer to him, KCIII. Dominic West, best known for his performance as Jimmy McNulty on The Wire, is charming and attractive. KCIII is not. An actor doesn’t have to be a real-life counterpart’s clone, but Jimmy McNulty, I mean West, is so charming and attractive that his performance as the then-Prince of Wales and the now-KCIII took me out of the story.

Elizabeth Debicki, who plays Diana, Princess of Wales, sounds so much like her that I couldn’t understand a word she said. Although I applaud her for learning Diana’s voice, as well as her mannerisms, it seemed like she was doing an imitation instead of giving a performance.

I also didn’t feel like I got to know Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II aka QEII, in part because she wasn’t on screen much, but also because this season’s writing did her no favors. Nevertheless, you can and should watch The Crown on Netflix. Start on season one, though. If you start on season five, you might not know who the heck most of these characters are.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Oh, Christmas tree — November 30, 2022

Oh, Christmas tree

I have a public admission to make. When I hear friends talking about the multiple Christmas trees in their homes or see the photos of said trees, I say to myself, “Self, what is wrong with these people?”

And, no, this has nothing to do with my inherent thriftiness.

I’ve heard some mothers – note the use of the word some – joke that they forgot the pain of childbirth, which is the reason they had subsequent children.

That’s the way I feel after decorating a Christmas tree. Every year I’m so mentally and physically exhausted that I have to recuperate in a bacta tank. I cannot imagine being so energized by the process that, after finishing a tree, I say, “The living room tree is up. Let’s move on to the kitchen tree so we can decorate the bathroom trees.”

It’s not so much the stringing of the lights or the hanging of the ornaments. It’s the shaping of the branches. I’m always surprised when I assemble the sections of the tree and they don’t magically take shape. We have phones that can take photos. We can, if we choose, tell someone named Alexis to turn off our electronics. We can watch our front doors from anywhere in the galaxy. A self-shaping Christmas tree is not too much to ask for.

This year was especially exhausting because I bought a new tree. No, I did not pull off a heist. At my advanced age, I had purchased one full-sized tree. When the branches on that tree legit fell off, I inherited a hand-me-down tree. This year, I agonized over the decision to buy a tree. Then I remembered one day several years ago when I took my mom shopping. As she agonized over whether to buy a tree, I encouraged her to do so, telling her that she and my dad had worked hard. You deserve that fancy-adjacent new tree, I said to her.

With those words echoing in my memory, I decided to buy a fancy-adjacent new tree.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t want a pre-lit tree, which limited my options. I found a couple trees online that met my eligibility requirements, but I couldn’t really tell anything about them because they were, you know, online. I made several trips to five local stores before I finally said, “Expletive it!” and bought a fancy-adjacent tree whose price was drastically reduced. That last part made the process a tad easier.

And it is a good-looking tree. A good-looking tall tree. It’s so tall it could be the National Christmas Tree. It’s so tall I have to stand in the back yard to get all of it in a photo. It’s so tall I considered renting a cherry picker so I could decorate the top branches.

Okay, maybe it’s not that tall. But I did have to drag out the step ladder to reach those top branches. The good news is that decorating the tree qualified as my daily workout.

Now that I’ve made this admission, I’m going to forget all about climbing the ladder and shaping the branches. That way, I’ll want to decorate that tall tree again next year.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Swarp meet — November 23, 2022

Swarp meet

I recently made a glorious discovery – a Waylon station on the radio music streaming service that I utilize for free. And by Waylon I mean Jennings. After all, there is but one Waylon.

I grew up listening to Waylon and other stars of outlaw country. Indeed, Waylon was a favorite of my dad’s. (By the way, Daddy pronounced his name Wayling.) When I was a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, at Daddy’s instruction, my oldest sister played Waylon’s greatest hits on her record player after everyone went to bed. Waylon serenaded us as we met Mr. Sandman. Well, everyone but me. Even as a wee lass, I couldn’t sleep with distractions like Waylon’s deep voice wafting through the house.

Before I made my glorious discovery, I had already been listening to Waylon’s songs and those by other musicians from my youth. In fact, I did so on the daily. Still, once I started listening to Waylon radio, I did hear songs, his and others’, I hadn’t heard in dozens of years. As these tunes, both familiar and unfamiliar, worked their way into my consciousness, I detected themes. Actually, I noticed one theme in particular – swarping.

Swarping, for those of you who don’t know, basically means to party. In other words, to raise some expletive. It’s not that I was surprised singers featured on the station, including Waylon, Willie, and Merle, sang about swarping. But I was surprised by the volume of these swarping songs.

And when Willie and Merle’s Reasons To Quit came on, I said to myself, “Self, they might be listing all the reasons to quit swarping, but they sure make it sound like a lot of fun.”

By the way, Waylon’s Lonesome, On’ry and Mean, which depicts a dark tale of swarping gone wrong, makes swarping sound like anything but fun. The song, one of my all-time favorites, speaks to me.

Although Conway Twitty wasn’t part of the outlaw genre, his songs provide a different aspect of swarping. Why are his tunes on Waylon radio, you ask? Because one song leads to another on these streaming services and the next thing you know, you’re hearing Conway croon about yet another conquest. During Tight Fitting Jeans, I said to myself, “Self, is he saying what I think he’s saying? Did I know what that song meant when I was a wee lass?”

All this reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend weeks ago. Whilst at lunch, a Rod Stewart song came on the restaurant’s jukebox. (Yes, you read that right.) We agreed we’re not fans of his, but I said I do like a couple of his songs. I couldn’t remember the name of one of them, so I looked it up. When I told said friend it was Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, she laughed and said, “I knew it” and joked about me liking pornography.

As I countered, that song represents the music I grew up listening to. If I had thought about it, I could have mentioned to her that I also listened to Donna Summer moaning on the radio, Conway crooning about making out with strangers, and Waylon and the other outlaws singing the praises of swarping.

Gosh. It was a glorious time to be a wee lass.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.