Total recall

On several occasions, my co-workers have complimented me on my good memory. They’ve praised me for conjuring up the names of people, places, and things seemingly on demand.

But this ability has nothing to do with a good memory and everything to do with good notes. Indeed, I don’t have a good memory at all. I can meet someone on Friday and re-introduce myself on Monday as if we were strangers. On most weeks, I’ve forgotten the topic of my column less than 72 hours after I’ve written it.

Sometimes, however, my memory amazes me.

That’s what happened a couple weekends ago at my mom’s. As we discussed the practice of renting out the first floor of your house, my oldest sister expressed confusion. Needing a way to help her understand, I said, “Remember the show, ‘Too Close for Comfort?’ It’s like that.”

That cleared up the matter for her, but our mom and other sister didn’t remember the show, which ran from 1980-87 and starred Ted Knight, of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” fame, as a cartoonist. He and his wife – and, later, their young son – live in their house’s second floor while their grown daughters live on the first floor.

As we tried to jog their memories, my oldest sister said, “Ted Baxter and Georgia Engel were in it.”

“No,” I corrected her, “Ted Baxter was Ted Knight’s character on ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ and Georgia Engel played his wife on that show.”

“So who was his wife on ‘Too Close for Comfort’?” she asked.

“Nancy Dussault,” I answered.

This dialogue had not triggered any memory of the show for Mom and my other sister, so I added, “They had two daughters. The one with dark hair was Jackie and the blonde was –”

That’s where my memory failed. I could not remember the blonde daughter’s name. I could remember her friend Monroe, who was played by Jim J. Bullock. I could remember that her real-life name was Lydia, but her character’s name was not forthcoming.

Although my family started talking about something else, my thoughts remained on the blonde daughter. Finally, several minutes later, I shouted, “Sara.”

When my startled family turned their curious eyes on me, I said, “Sara. The blonde daughter’s name was Sara.”

Having already moved on and having not cared much anyway, they expressed no interest.

Although I was pleased that the name came to me relatively quickly and, thus, prevented me from consulting the Internets for an answer, I don’t know how I’ve remembered so much about a TV show I have not watched in more than 30 years. What’s more, it was never a favorite of mine. I watched it only because it was on during a time when we had to make do with five channels.

I also recall having one of my baby teeth pulled during an episode of the show and coveting the bowl of candy bars that Jackie and Sara kept in their apartment.

Wonder how much more I would remember if I had kept notes?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.


Throw in the dish towel

dish towel

Photo courtesy SWX. Photography

When I was a wee lass, my mom used store-bought dish towels as well as those she referred to as feed sack dish towels. At the time, and for years to come, I never studied much on the origin of those plain white dish towels with the red edging. Indeed, if I thought of the matter at all, I probably decided there was no way those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food rendered cloth dish towels.

Decades later, after I started keeping a house of my own, my mom gave me a few feed sack dish towels. As is my way, I used them until they contained holes and were coming apart. In spite of the fact that I could read through them, I would have continued using them had my mom not spied one during a visit to my house.

When I told her I didn’t want to relegate them to the rag bin, my mom offered to make more for me. I’m all for receiving free, useful stuff, so I said, “Sure.”

The second set of homemade dish towels were comprised of plain white ones as well as some that feature a light green and red floral pattern. Even though I’ve used them oodles of times, I didn’t try to connect the dots between my pretty dish towels and a feed sack. That is, I didn’t until this past weekend. For some reason I cannot explain, when I pulled one of the dish towels from the cabinet, I said to myself, “Self, did this dish towel really come from one of those woven, hard plastic bags that contained the horse and hogs’ food? If so, how did Mom turn it into cloth? Is she a magician?”

That evening, I asked my mom for the dish towels’ origin story. She once again told me they came from feed sacks. When I expressed confusion, my sister noted that Mom wasn’t referring to the aforementioned woven, hard plastic bags. As it turns out, back in the day, feed sacks were made of cotton. What’s more, in addition to making dish towels, my mom’s mom crafted dresses for her daughters from feed sacks.

As is my way, I needed to learn more about these feed sacks. I turned to the Internets where, in no time, I discovered that animal feed as well as pantry items like flour and sugar were sold in cotton sacks. Homemakers across the country figured out that the cotton could double as fabric. Once the feed companies learned of this phenomenon, they began printing patterns on their feed sacks.

Alas, the companies started using less-expensive paper bags in the 1950s, which put an end to the days of feed sacks doubling as high fashion. Fortunately, my mommaw amassed such a supply of feed sacks that her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are enjoying the benefits of feed sack dish towels more than half a century later.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.



Seize the day

I enjoy baking. One of the desserts, pronounced as zerts by my late father, I most enjoy baking – and eating – is white cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting.

A couple years ago, however, I decided to mix it up and make chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream frosting.

The cupcakes turned out splendidly and, in the end, so did the frosting. It’s just that it never became white chocolate frosting.

Indeed, as I mixed together the frosting, I multitasked by melting the white chocolate baking bars. But the bars didn’t actually melt. Instead, they appeared to scorch and form into puffs.

Assuming I had made a mistake, I expressed gratitude that I hadn’t mentioned the white chocolate aspect of the frosting to my family. Frankly, I feared they would accuse me of using outdated baking goods. And we all know what a ludicrous accusation that would be.

So, my pet army and I made a vow to never again speak of the incident and I scraped the brownish-looking white chocolate into the trash.

Flash forward to last December. As we gathered at my mom’s to prepare Christmas goodies, my sister tried to melt white chocolate chips. Although she frequently stirred them and added copious amounts of oil, the chips turned into scorched puffs. She noted that white chocolate is dern-near impossible to melt and lamented our lack of almond bark.

She might have felt forlorn, but I became so giddy I dern-near skipped down the road.  (I also once again questioned the origin of almond bark. Is it literally the bark of an almond tree? And how does bark come in more than one flavor?)

Anyway, my happiness stemmed from the realization that I hadn’t goofed. It wasn’t me. It was the white chocolate. Flash forward to last week. After I purchased half a flat of strawberries, I decided chocolate-dipped strawberries would improve my quality of life.

As it turned out, I had some white chocolate baking bars in the cabinet. Where did they come from? How long had they been in said cabinet?

None of that matters. All that matters is that I said to myself, “Self, you’ve got nothing to lose. You might as well melt them and see what happens.”

I guess you know what happened. The bars turned into scorched puffs. I’m sure I didn’t help matters by adding milk instead of oil, but I think they were already beyond salvaging.

Fortunately, I had some chocolate baking bars, which I melted. In case you’re wondering, chocolate-dipped strawberries did improve my quality of life.

Yet, due to my thirst for knowledge, I had to know more about melting white chocolate. Was it simply something we Goff sisters struggled to accomplish? Is there an easy remedy?

There’s not.

In fact, based on everything I read, my sister followed the standard operating procedure vis-a-vis melting white chocolate.

My research also resulted in the discovery of a new term – seized chocolate. Surprisingly, this does not refer to confiscation of a bakery’s assets. It’s the term for the scorched puffs created when one unsuccessfully melts white chocolate.

Maybe someday I’ll learn the term for what happens when one successfully melts white chocolate.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The weight of water

As you’re probably aware, most health experts recommend we humans consume eight cups/64 ounces of water a day. There’s some debate amongst the aforementioned experts as to whether other beverages and food should also count in our quest for 64 ounces. But I don’t think anyone – expert or otherwise — would argue that drinking approximately six cans of soda and zero sips of water on a daily basis constitutes a healthy relationship with liquids.

Anyway, although I’ve been aware of the eight-cup rule for decades, I ignored it for most of my life. There were times, however, when I vowed to drink more water. But even as I did so, I felt like I was torturing myself. When I expressed my opinion that water was boring, folks would recommend I try flavored water to make it more interesting. Since that sounded, to me, like extremely weak Kool-Aid, I decided to pass.

But a few years ago I became serious about losing weight and, thus, had to make some hard decisions. From the way I saw it, planning meals and snacks was like planning a budget. When I looked over my caloric budget, I realized I needed to replace most of my beverages with water. And that’s what I did. Sure, I still drink a soda every now and then, but usually as a treat when I’ve been good or when I feel bad.

My weight loss program has been a success in large part because of my reliance on water. In addition to serving as an alternative to calorie-laden beverages, it also fools me into thinking I’m full. The more water I drank, the more I wanted. Indeed, I haven’t found water boring in years.

To help me on my water-drinking, weigh-losing quest, my sister gave me one of those stainless steel tumblers. Thinking the tumbler held 20 ounces, I pledged to fill it with water three and a half times per day so I could drink 70 ounces of water. And that’s what I did.

Then one day during a meeting, I noticed that a co-worker was drinking from a tumbler that looked like mine. The only difference was that hers featured a band proclaiming that it held 20 ounces.

I looked back and forth from her tumbler to mine several times before finally conceding that hers would fit into mine.

As it turns out, my tumbler holds 30 ounces, which means I’ve been consuming 105 ounces – or more than 13 cups – of water a day. And that doesn’t even count the water I usually drink for lunch.

Now that I know the truth, I have an explanation for all those trips to the bathroom and for all those days when I said to myself, “Self, I can’t drink one more sip of water.”

Of course, this revelation doesn’t mean I plan to scale back to eight cups a day. It just means I won’t chastise myself on those days I fall a little short of filling my tumbler three and a half times.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story

For the most part, I think people who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s can be divided into two camps – those who prefer Little House on the Prairie and those who prefer The Waltons.

I’m definitely in the Waltons camp, so every holiday season I watch The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Broadcast on Dec. 19, 1971, The Homecoming opens with snowy scenes of seven children – and a cow – marching in single file across a field. The narrator – author Earl Hamner Jr. – explains that the Depression has forced family patriarch John Walton to find work miles from his home, nestled in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. On this day, Christmas Eve 1933, John has yet to make his way home. Later that night, when family matriarch Olivia Walton learns the icy roads have resulted in a bus crash and the death of an unidentified person, she sends her son, John Boy, out to find his daddy.

The Homecoming was so popular that CBS ordered a full season of the series that would become The Waltons. The only actors who would reprise their roles on the show, however, are the ones who played the children, including Richard Thomas as John Boy, and Grandma Walton.

Kentucky native and Oscar winner Patricia Neal plays Olivia in The Homecoming. Her interpretation of Olivia is harsher than the warmer version Michael Learned would make famous through her award-winning performance on the series.

Neal’s Olivia frequently unleashes her fury at John Boy. She yells at him when the young’uns misbehave and accuses him of smoking cigarettes and bringing bootleg whisky into her home. (The Waltons love pronouns. It’s never just Daddy or Mama or the children, but always my Daddy, your Mama, my children.)

Anyway, when confronted with the truth, Olivia shows a softer, supportive side. She loves her children, but she’s basically a single mother managing a house full of seven young’uns in the dark days of the Depression. It’s no wonder she derives such pleasure in simple things like finding her Christmas cactus and making applesauce cake.

Olivia’s characterization isn’t the only difference between the movie and the series. The movie is much more realistic in general. I love The Waltons, but as much as they carry on about never having any money, I don’t buy what they’re selling. Maybe it’s because, in the depths of their struggles, they invariably find an antique in the attic or a job with some stranger who happens to wander into Ike’s store.

But, in The Homecoming, when Olivia explains to John Boy that the scarves she’s knitted represent the only Santie Claus they’re going to have this year, I buy her every word.

Of course, it turns out that multiple variations of Santie Claus visit the Waltons that Christmas. The most disturbing is a missionary who hands out presents to children gathered at Ike’s store. This part both infuriates and confuses me. Although the missionary insists the children recite a quote from the Bible and also tells them their Sunday school teachers must be proud, she still refers to them as infidels. She comes across as a mixture of ignorance, stupidity, and condescension.

Although it’s clearly spelled out in the opening credits, I didn’t know The Homecoming was based on a separate Hamner novel until last month. I had always assumed the movie, like the series, was based on his book, Spencer’s Mountain. Thankfully, our awesome library district had a copy of The Homecoming, which is now in my possession.

I’ve never read any of Hamner’s work. On the other hand, I read the entire Little House series as a child. Maybe I’ll enjoy The Homecoming. Maybe I won’t. But at least I know I can keep coming home to the movie every Christmas.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Life is just a party

Being an adult has its advantages. For instance, with the exception of a judgmental pet army, no one cares if you eat chocolate fudge for breakfast or wear your pajamas for 41 consecutive hours.

Adulthood also has its disadvantages. For instance, it’s your responsibility to investigate the odor emanating from the garage.

But no occasion represents the inequities of being a grown up more so than Christmas. When you’re a kid, it’s a magical season highlighted by the appearance of a jolly elf who grants your wishes. When you’re an adult, you’re responsible for granting and wrapping the wishes and baking the cookies and decorating the house and washing the mountain of dishes that somehow materialized in the kitchen. To make matters worse, you don’t even get to enjoy school parties any more.

Other than the last day of school and our spring “field trip” to the baseball field, the Christmas party represented the best day of the school year. Even if the partying didn’t start until late morning or – gasp! – early afternoon, we knew we weren’t going to do anything all day.

And we didn’t. Instead of practicing our multiplication tables or building our vocabulary, we listened to the sounds of the season and watched the clock. It’s a miracle we didn’t spontaneously combust. After all, we were getting cupcakes and presents and treat bags and/or stockings stuffed with walnuts, candy canes and oranges. If that weren’t enough to make us bounce off the walls, the jolly elf was also giving us a couple weeks off from school. Even thinking about it now makes me light headed.

Everybody was on their best behavior on Christmas party day. Nobody received a whipping with a wooden paddle. Nobody was sent to the office. Nobody had a care in the world.

Although grade school parties were the best, the fun didn’t stop when we moved to the high school. In either seventh or eighth grade, our class pitched in for pizza. Pizza, that is, topped with Canadian bacon. It was my first experience dining on international fare. I felt so worldly. For weeks I casually mentioned this life-changing event. We would be sitting around the parlor, debating if Santa had finished preparations at the North Pole, and I would say, “The North Pole. That’s, like, close to Canada, right? You know, Canadian bacon doesn’t taste anything like American bacon. We had Canadian bacon on our pizza at school. It was very Canadian-tasting.”

A few weeks ago, I considered bringing back school parties. I deliberated suggesting to my co-workers that we throw ourselves a work-day party. I thought we could pitch in for pizza. Somebody could stuff stockings with oranges and nuts and somebody else could bring cupcakes.

Then I remembered I was an adult and that Canadian bacon actually tastes a lot like American ham, so I had some more fudge for breakfast and wore my pjs all day.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A brand new world

Back in the early ’80s, there was a popular commercial on the TV that featured Madge the Manicurist. In the commercial, Madge extols the virtues of Palmolive dishwashing detergent. In what would become the ad’s tagline, Madge informs an incredulous patron that she’s “soaking (her hands) in it (Palmolive).”

As the commercial ends, the grateful patron returns to the shop to let Madge know she’s now a believer in the power of Palmolive.

Although the ad stood out, it didn’t mean anything to me. After all, I grew up in a Dawn household. Once I started keeping apartment and then house for myself, I remained loyal to Dawn.

I’m something of a generic fanatic, so you might be surprised to learn that I possess loyalty to anything other than store brands such as Great Value and Equate. While that’s true, I’ve learned from experience that when it comes to cleaning supplies, shampoo, and garbage bags, the brand does matter.

Thus, I continued to buy Dawn. At least I did until I came into possession of a coupon for Gain. I had heard some good things about that brand of dishwashing detergent, so after much deliberation, I bought a bottle.

Gain served me well, so I said to myself, “Self, you can go back and forth between Gain and Dawn, depending on which one offers a more reasonable price.”

And that’s what I would have done, had I not come into possession of a 25 cent coupon for Palmolive. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to save a quarter, so I bought a bottle of Palmolive.

What’s my opinion of the detergent that’s marketed as “Tough on grease. Soft on hands?”

Let’s just say I wish Madge was still living so I could go to her shop and let her know I’m a believer in the power of Palmolive.

After washing the dishes with Palmolive, my hands only looked moderately like the Crypt Keeper’s. In other words, the chore didn’t render my hands more shriveled than usual. What’s more, I think I could have washed every dish in the neighborhood using only a drop of the detergent. Ultra strength indeed.

And there was another benefit I didn’t see (or smell) coming – it smells like bubble gum.

The detergent is green, so I’m not sure how that’s possible. Nonetheless, I’m going to have to be on the lookout for additional Palmolive coupons, because I’m developing loyalty to another brand.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.