My Life A Bit South of Normal

Monday, November 14, 2016

All that is left is the Big Red Bow and the Trees

I have opined about the Season Noel creeping in before Halloween. However now that Halloween is in the rear view mirror, we are about to enter full Holiday Mode. We haven't yet reached warp speed but we are definitely in second gear.

Here is my check list of things that once checked off, it's all over but the arrival of the Big man himself.

  • The middle of the Costco store is full of toys
  • One can find Egg Nog in their local dairy case
  • The Hallmark Channel goes to Holiday Movies 24/7
  • Sirius/FM starts their Holiday music stations
  • There are those car commercials that show cars in the snow with a Big Red bow on top.
  • Christmas Trees arrive at Lowe's (the local stands come much later with fresher trees)
  • There is a display of Claxton fruit cakes in the grocery store.
  • You see colorful lights on that one house in the neighborhood that is always decorated first
  • You cannot watch TV with seeing a Toy-r-Us commercial.
  • And the tree arrives at Rockefeller Center.
By my count I am at 8 out of 10. The engine is revving and we just hit 3rd gear.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Newest Chapter in the Saga of the Trees

As many of you know one the ongoing feuds in our humble household has been over the color (or not) of the Christmas Tree lights. The girls and I favor white, while my DH thinks they should be multi-colored. If you have followed me through the years you no doubt remember The history of the Light Issue. And just when I thought it could get no worse, my DH found lights that twinkled and blinked and it became The Nightmare of Lights.

But just like Ground Hog Day all over again, each year we seem to repeat the same scenario. It always starts on the Friday after Thanksgiving with the annual Christmas Tree hunt. Agreeing on the type of tree we want is the first hurdle. Over the years most have been been Leland Cypress. One year we had a Blue Ice Pine. Then there was the year my DH decided we had to have a Noble Fir - the "It" tree that year, only to be bested by our daughter in Texas.

After the variety is settled we move onto the discussion of  our different opinions of size - I generally think it makes sense to have one that is lower than our ceilings - just saying. But eventually, we agree on a tree that has enough trunk at the bottom to fit into a stand, no "holes" in the side of it, is well shaped, and fits in the den.

That is the easy part. This is where the counseling and therapy comes in. First there is the annual debate over colored vs. white lights. Then there is the question of the number of strings. My DH has never met a string of Christmas Tree lights he did not like.

After we have survived the lights there is the matter of the balls and decorations. Even though we have copious quantities of lovely blown glass ornaments (that are always safely wrapped and stored each year so they will survive to see another tree) each year my DH always seems to add to the collection.  It may be a new star or he may replace the angel on top. Or there was the one year he went all out and I came home to find real glass icicles on each branch and a Geo Synchronous Orbital Satellite (Star) atop our Holiday tree.

This year we will add yet another change. Many years ago I got irritated at the rest of the family and got my own tree. I proudly placed it in the dining room and carefully selected the ornaments I wanted on it. That year I only used celestial ornaments, a few other glass balls, and then I added light colored organza that I wrapped loosely around the tree threading it through the branches. The effect was magical I must say. The rest of the family accused me of breaking rank and causing angst and discord. That was the last time I had my own tree. Well, it was until this year.

I have 10 foot ceilings. There are plenty of white lights for me to borrow from the treasure trove of decorations in the attic. Once again I can carefully go through and select ornaments I want to use. We have collected so many over the years, we never use them all on any one tree. I may even be able to pull the Peacock feathers I used one year or the organza (if I can still find it). 

So there will be two Christmas trees. This should bring peace to the world and joy to the family. When I go back home, I can enjoy the tree however my DH has chosen to decorate it - icicles and all. I will have mine. And, as a peace offering I will not even ask for the Geo Synchronous Orbital Satellite (Star) he so dearly loves. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

American has Spoken

America has spoken, well at least those who exercised their civic right to vote. I hope those who wanted to see a President Trump are at ease. Remember this is someone who did not know how many amendments there were to the Constitution (27). Or how to pronounce the name of a Book in the Bible "Second Corinthians" not "Corinthians Two".  As my Daddy said, "'Tis best to be quite and thought dumb than speak and leave no doubt." But then many people who know him, including several biographers, commented that he doesn't read, he gets all his news from television ,

But, as history shows, men change when the mantle of the office is lowered on their shoulders. Even with the House and the Senate on his side, he has to play in the sandbox, something he doesn't do very well. He ran on promises to repeal Ombamacare, yet many of the unemployed (or underemployed) white middle class voters that put him in office are insured only because of this program and government subsidies that go with it. He promised to build a wall between us and Mexico, something that is reminiscent of the middle ages. 

For someone who last night spoke soberly about wanting to reunite America, Muslins are in fear since he talked about making them register. He made it very clear what he thought of Latinos. As a woman, I have become a second class citizen. After all in his eyes, I am part of a gender who is rated on a scale of 1-10, can be "grabbed" at any time, and best not eat too much.

But the following are a few of his characters traits that scare me personally:

  • He thrives on attention and media coverage
  • He wasn't honest enough to release his tax returns 
  • When threatened or challenged (like in debates) he lashed out as an adolescent, using terms like "nasty women", "crooked", and criminal" 
  • He has no filter and is quick to say anything, even comments he knows are blatantly wrong but knows once they are in-bedded in his people's minds - the Genie doesn't go back into the bottle
  • He does not listen when offered advice or seek the wisdom of those with experience
  • He only speaks calmly and sanely when he is restrained by a written speech on a teleprompter
We can always hope (and pray) that he will rise to the office and serve all Americans. That he will find his win sobering. And, most of all, he will realize this is so much larger that just Donald Trump.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Happy as a Church Mouse in the Holy City

Did I ever mention that I love living in Charleston? As in downtown, well, on the peninsula at least. Now that North King, an area that was totally off limits to any decent soul when I was in college (in the "olden days") is the hot area, I am living just two blocks away from the "place to be" these days. Albeit on the dodgy side on Meeting, but still a mere two blocks from some of the some best restaurants and bars in the gastronomic world. But I digress.

There is an ongoing discussion/ debate at work over the best place to live. No doubt rents are much less, often half, if one chooses to live in North Charleston, a ways out West Ashley, or past the connector in Mt Pleasant. The only issue is the commute. Coming from Mt. Pleasant can take as much as hour with heavy traffic (often stop and go) through Mt. Pleasant then on the bridge. Driving in from North Charleston, I-26 is a parking lot, often taking 30-45 minutes IF there is no accident. West Ashley is no better given the traffic on Hwy 17.

So coming in those folks have to leave 45 minutes to hour early to make sure they are not late to work and then dread the commute home. While, I have a 5 minute commute - against traffic, 7 minutes if I hit the lights. I go home most days at lunch to walk the pups.

This is a luxury that cost me dearly but one I am willing to pay for. Every time I question the amount I pay in rent, I think about my co-workers who arrive in the morning complaining about the traffic and dread their commutes home. Then I no longer second guess my decision.

When I first moved down here my thought was - if I was going to live in Charleston, I wanted to LIVE in Charleston. I like being able to walk downtown. And going out to dinner at night is just a matter of blocks. And if it gets late, I am just a $5 Uber ride home.

So I am poor but living a rich life. After all it is where your priorities are and mine are in the quality of my life. I may change my mind, or the cost of rent down here may change it for me, but for now I am happy with a short, stress free commute and living downtown.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Our Choice Tomorrow Effects More Than Just US

I'm generally not a religious person and I cannot decide whether this year's presidential election has justified my conviction or will drive me to promise my soul to save our nation. I grew up in a Republican home, as in Goldwater Republican, but as I have grown older and watched our government change, my personal views have changed. 

Yes, all three choices are flawed. Gov. Johnson is not ready for prime time, but I would vote for Gov Bill Weld any day. Please explain to me why he is second on the ticket? - truly one of the great mysteries of the world. Hillary cannot get past her reputation but she has more experience on the national stage that anyone I know. She is a known quantity. 

Then we come to Mr. Trump. I don't even know where to start. How could I even start to support someone who demeans women, minorities, and those with disabilities. (And we have videos of him making the statements to those effects, most on TV.)  He is so thin skinned he lashes out on Twitter like a petulant six year old. Someone who touts he is going to change the economy yet his businesses are a house of cards. He touts he is worth much more than he is and is not honest enough to release his tax returns for fear that the truth will be shown.

He runs on the plank he will create jobs and boost the economy, yet closer look at his history shows that he is known for hiring foreign workers for his resorts in Florida (when there is a suitable local workforce available) because he can pay them less. He has a trail of 100's of small businesses that he hired as contractors but never paid. 

Even his party, the GOP, have stayed away from him as if he had some disease. Think about it, of all the living Presidents, Democrat and Republican, not one has come out to support him. No well known Republicans are ever seen on stage with him. Ted Cruz may mention his support but he is never seen holding hands with the  man. If his own party cannot support him, doesn't that say something.

Then let's look at the Foundations. Trump's Foundation is under Federal investigation (but this investigation has not garnered very much press at all) for mis-use of funds. Basically he used funds from the foundation for personal needs - like paying fines for his businesses, etc. But very little has been  paid out to charities or for good. Then there is the Clinton Foundation. Yes, they have been accused of "Pay for Play" but somehow no one can connect the dots they so badly want to. And the good that Foundation has done across the Globe is incredible.

Yes, Clinton was either incredibly stupid or ignorant to use a personal server. However, being cleared by an FBI investigation is not enough. So in the last weeks before the election the FBI releases a letter that there may have been some emails that they have not seen that may be related to Clinton. This is despite the practice of the Justice Department that they never do anything within 90 days of the election that could be seen as influencing the vote. Only to release a second letter 72 hours before election day saying nothing was there. 

I listen to the BBC and foreign leaders are both befuddled that America is seriously considering someone like Trump, and even worse, he may be elected leader of the free world. (If he is, I seriously doubt the Presidency of the United States will be known as the "Leader of the Free World" any longer.) This is a somber thing to take into consideration when making our choice tomorrow.

There is a movement to "Throw the Bums Out" and I can fully understand that and am beginning to think the US Constitution needs to be amended to add term limits for Congress. However, throwing "the bums out" by electing a bigot narcissistic embarrassing ill prepared stooge is not going to help move our country forward. Personally that is a knee jerk reaction. 

If our alternative is a well prepared candidate, albeit flawed and not well liked, but someone who already has established relations on the world stage, consider the options. The rest of the world is not saying, "Oh lord look at their choices, neither are qualified." It is more like, "The Americans seriously cannot be considering electing that man."

All this said, America is great because we have our constitution.  I am a firm believer that it is every American's right to vote their conscious - as long as they vote. However if you do not vote, as far as I am concerned, you have no right to make a comment, a snipe, a complaint about the President for the next four years. If you were so complacent you could not make it to the polls, then keep your mouth shut keep your feelings to yourself after the votes of those who did exercise their rights are counted. 

But just remember it is not just the good of our country that is at stake tomorrow. Our choice could effect the entire world. After all only one candidate has said that he is not scared to use nuclear weapons and would allow even more countries to have them.  

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Our Winning Season at The Citadel

I grew up in a big football family. My uncle played for Swanee (The University of the South). My grandparents did not miss a home game. Now one must understand that this was in the late 1950's. The University of the South is located on the edge of the mountains in the middle of Tennessee. The Domain (as the campus is known) is one of the prettiest places I have ever been, all 10,000 or something acres of it. My grandparents lived in the country between Bennettsville and Bleheim, SC. That trip was 475 miles, a 10 hour drive back then. 

At home my grandparents followed college and pro-football weekly until they passed away. My parents graduated from Wake Forest and would go to Winston-Salem for games. Finally my father adopted the University of South Carolina as his "team" since it was only a 45 minute drive. He had a parking place and 6 seats on the front row of the upper deck. And for years through rain, sleet, the cold, and the heat we went to the Carolina games to watch the team lose and come home defeated only to pack-up the following Saturday and try again. It is pretty bad when the team's slogan was "Wait Until Next Year".  

Two things my father always wanted was a grandson (the IVth) and to see Carolina have a winning season. My nephew Will was born in the fall of 2000, the year Carolina had their shining season. Daddy passed away in December 'nough said.

So I was brought up in the world of Division I Football - the big leagues of the SEC and ACC. Where ESPN would host Sports Center in the parking lot. It was not unusual for the games to be televised nationally and everyone was waiting for the weekly national rankings to come out and scrambling for a major Bowl invitation. But it was also the world of big money, huge crowds, players who were going pro, and the "us" and "thems". Yes, everyone had fun tailgating and watching the game but one got lost in the huge crowds moving like large herds of wilder beasts to and from the stadium The traffic just getting out of the incredibly large parking lots could take hours. 

Then I came to work for the Citadel and found a breath of fresh air. The Citadel is a Division 1-AA school and a member of the Southern Conference. Last year the school tied for the Southern Conference Championship. Naturally another college came and offered our coach a better deal and he moved on. After interviewing many coaches, the college decided to move one of the assistant coaches up to the Head role. Well, it was a wise decision.

Yesterday afternoon The Citadel clenched the Southern Conference Championship, albeit in overtime, beating Samford at homecoming. So we are headed to the playoffs with a 9-0 season, something the school has never had. But it is not the winning team that thrills me. It is the feeling of being a part of "real" football. My being in the President's Office has nothing to do with it. 

The Citadel has an alumni following like no other. Johnson Hagood Stadium is relatively new with terraces and suites. Unlike Williams Bryce (USC's stadium) that holds 80,000 screaming fans, Johnson Hagood has total seating for 20,000. (This year only 16,000 due to some issues with part of the stands.) On game day, yes there is traffic but cars are parked in campus parking lots, on the neighborhood streets, in designated spots for those who pay for or merit them. Locals arrive in golf carts or walk from their homes. Tailgating is everywhere, all about. There is a true feeling of community. 

The corps marching in and sitting together brings out a sentimental feeling for many. The band with its drum and bag pipes is hard to miss. One can easily make their way around the stadium grounds to find any party they are looking for. Some would say it is "small time". I would beg to differ. To me this is true football. Citadel students, alumni, and fans are not lost in the many tens of thousands attending an event. They are a community that come to enjoy the game and cheer their team. 

This is not a commercial enterprise. Oh, sure we need to make money any way we can. The alumni are not just loyal they are generous. No doubt one reason is that they are part of it. Unlike the big leagues where one needs to cough up $25,000 or more to garner a parking place in some lot within walking distance and a promise of seats, and those who can "only" give $5,000 are promised tickets to "several" of the home games, the Citadel is only so big. Therefore, everything is much more accessible to everyone.

Yes one can purchase a nice suite located on the 6th level of the stadium with limited access, catered food, and open bar (in most). I'm sure the Brigadier Foundation offers memberships that gives one better access, parking, and seats. But with a stadium that only seats 20,000, everyone is closer to the field. You know these cadets are playing for the love of the game. Oh, over the years several have gone to the pros. But this is football for the game itself. 

So yesterday's victory was more special because the community of The Citadel can revel in it together. It is just a better experience when it is a smaller enterprise. One really feels a part of it. The win is more heartfelt. 

So we are off to the play-offs with a new coach, a winning team, and an elated alumni. Perhaps the Holidays have started early after all.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Just a week ago I was lamenting about the early onslaught of  Christmas when Halloween had yet to be over. But I have rethought that. After all a woman is free to change her mind (and her hair color) at any time she wishes. 

This week Sirius started one of their many Holiday music channels. A few holiday commercials are beginning to peak through the loathsome campaign ads we are all so tired of being berated with every time we turn on the TV. Store shelves are decked with holiday decorations as orange and black morph into red and green. 

The Hallmark channel is now running Christmas movies 24/7. I find it interesting that they call them "Christmas Movies" and have "Countdown to Christmas" with no apologies. Apparently they do not feel bound by PC restrictions.  Not that I wish to tread on anyone's feelings but I find this refreshing. After all the Christians are celebrating the birth of Christ and, although I will not get into my personal thoughts on religion, it should be a free world for everyone to worship as they please and respect our friends and neighbors who may be different. I never criticize my Jewish friends when they celebrate their holy days or the Hindu or Muslims, etc.  But I digress.

I find myself watching these kitschy Christmas movies over and over. No, they are not award winning. And the plot is usually the same - girl meets boy, girl likes boy, somehow there is a disagreement but in the last 15 minutes all will be settled and love will conquer all. There is always snow. There is never sex (I assume all the children arrived via United Parcel.)

My DH told me once if I watched enough of these movies all my brains would be turned to mush. Even worse, my daughter walked in the other night and said, "Oh, God, seriously Mama? You are definitely turning into your mother. She used to watch that 'stuff' all the time."

The sounds of Christmas (aka the Holidays) bring a certain joy to my heart. As I found myself singing along to my first Christmas song on the radio, it dawned on me - why I am fighting this? Why not embrace it and enjoy the spirit longer than just the 28 or so days between Thanksgiving and Christmas? After all how many Christmas seasons do I have left? A sad thought, but in middle age I must face the truth and revel in the memories of Christmases past, appreciate every Christmas present I have, and anticipate with the excitement of a young child Christmas future. 

No, I have not forgotten Thanksgiving, the red headed step child of the holidays. It fits nicely in there, still one of my favorite days of the year. Now instead of "waiting" until Thanksgiving to start celebrating, I can embrace the joy of Thanksgiving as part of the Grand Holiday Season. 

So as of today I am in the holiday spirit. I feel free to play holiday songs in my car and on my iPad. I have already started buying Christmas gifts, planning where the tree will go, and watching that "stuff" on TV.  Say what you want to, it's a free world (at least until Wednesday morning). I plan to embrace the holiday season and get the most out of it. Why should I wait until November 25th to enjoy that magical feeling of all the little things that bring back so many wonderful memories of Christmases past? 

Friday, November 4, 2016

The age of Madeline

As one can imagine, a rental housing office has a regular cast of characters coming in and out. And Q.G. Hampton Rentals and Housing Co. was no exception. The characters included an 80 year old widow, "Miss" Ella, who is still living in the house that she and her late husband, Howard, raised their family. Wade promised her he would never tear it down or make her move out. He keeps it livable and comfortable for her, biding his time knowing that the valuable piece of real estate will be available at some time in the future.


There is Terse (as is Reginald Beauregard Jackson III) who drives a late model BMW, dresses as if he is out of GQ, and lives in the penthouse of one of Wade's newer fancy high rises. He is a regular visitor to the office around the 2nd of the month to pay his rent that is usually in arrears. Even though he lives on a trust account funded by his Dad (ie Reginald Beauregard Jackson, Jr.), obviously it is not enough to get him to the end of the month to pay his rent.


On this particular morning, being the beginning of the month the office was fairly busy. Buzz and Larry, the two maintenance men, had stopped by to get the daily list of work and issues that need to be tended to. 


The Eldridge twins were in to pay their rent, which they always paid in cash - in ten dollar bills - $450. These ladies Flora and Cora were identical twin sisters who still dressed alike. They had lived together every day of their 70 years, never marrying. Rumor was, they never dated. Quite a curious pair.


"Miss" Ella walked in thrilled to see that Buzz and Larry were still there. "Boys, the screens in my front windows have fallen out once again. Do you think you can find time to drop by? Maybe around noon?" Buzz and Larry quickly assured her they would be there, knowing she would have plates of her famous chicken salad sandwiches and tomatoes from her garden waiting for them on the kitchen table. "Miss" Ella always got good service from the maintenance crew.


As "Miss" Ella walked out, a blond haired slight thing of a young girl entered, no more than 25 years old. Everyone in the office, stopped and turned toward the door. "Hi," she started in a very southern accent, "I'm Maisy Ruth Jackson and I'm looking for an apartment. My brother Terse recommended you. I hope you have something." Naturally, Bunny stepped forward, introduced herself and offered her a chair in her office.


Buzz looked over at Della, the lady who handled the front desk. "Lordly, Wade only has one Penthouse, where is Bunny going to put her?"


Della replied, "No sweat, you know Bunny always comes through."


It wasn't anytime before Maisy Ruth and Bunny walked out of the office. "Della will you pull out a rental packet, the keys, and a map for that unit on Spring Street. Maisy Ruth says that is where she would like to live."


Knowing they had Terse's habits in mind, Bunny just smiled before anyone could say anything, "We looked at everything available."

Maisy Ruth thanked Bunny, said good bye, and left the office on her way to the unit on Spring Street. Larry went to the window. "I've seen everything now. That there Jackson is driving what looks like a 7 or 8 year old Accord. What's wrong with this picture?" 

"Now y'all behave yourselves. You know families are made up of all sorts. I'm sure she will be a lovely tenant."

"Speaking of lovely tenants," Della said as the door opened and a gentlemen who only lacked a horse to look like the Marlboro man sauntered in. At the same time, Bunny and Della, both looking star struck said, "Why, what can I do for you sir?" 

"Well ladies, seems I need a place to live. And I was told this was the place to come."

"Yes sir we try our best to serve. Come in my office and let's find out what we might have that will suit your needs," Bunny said as she led the way. "Oh and I'm Bunny, I'm sorry where are my manners."

"Sam, mam, Sam Peters." Suddenly things were looking up. Why nothing this good ever came up as a match on her eHarmony.com profile.

"Well Mr. Peters. . ."

"Oh, its just Sam."

"Well then Sam, what are you looking for in particular?"

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Advantage of Being Frumpy in the Age of Gentrification

I have spent the past several weeks searching (in vain) for that perfect place south of Broad Street for just a pittance. People in Hell want ice water and I can always dream. For years as a child I heard my mother tell us, as her misty eyes looked far away, (she always did have a flair for the dramatic) that one of the happiest times of her life was when she and my father lived in a quaint carriage house behind one of the larger homes on Broad Street. This was while he was in pharmacy school. You would have thought from her recollections that they enjoyed the SOB lifestyle of never ending garden parties, white glove teas, and formal dinners. I doubt it, however, I did look up the address and it is indeed a quaint carriage house. But I digress.

Of course everyone in Charleston is looking for this ideal address so if and when this unicorn of a property should appear - its availability usually vanishes into the mist before one can even contact the owner. After all, according to the CDRA, 41 people move to Charleston every day. Granted many of them want the super deluxe (very expensive) high end apartments that have recently been developed in large new buildings downtown. But I want to live in an older property with high ceilings, hardwood floors, excessive coats of paint on the trim, doors that are not flush, and all the other unique features that are the charm of old Charleston. 

The peninsula of Charleston is divided into different neighborhoods, each with their own character. Currently I live in South Eastside, the area originally planned as Hampstead Village in 1789. It was known as an early Charleston suburb, although these days it is squarely in the middle of the peninsula south of Hampton Park and Wagener Terrace. It was home of one of Charleston's most noted artisans, wrought iron mastersmith Philip Simmons. It also home to the Cigar Factory, an 1882 cotton mill that was later used to produce and export tobacco products and today has been restored to a lovely multi-use building of restaurants, event venues, and businesses (including the home the well known magazine "Garden and Gun").
As I walk the pups I am always looking at the different houses - some that have recently been redone and restored - some not so much. There are many places that are not in good shape and are on city blocks that I find sketchy. So I was most surprised when I found several apartments in some of these "sketchy" areas, in buildings not well kept, being advertised for rents well over what I was paying. This scared me, if this was the rent they were getting, how much was my rent going to rise? After all as gentrification moves in, rents always go up. 

I live in an old iron work factory circa 1880 called "The Foundry". In the 1940s it was turned into apartments. By 2015, when an investment company bought the building, the units were old, not well kept, and pretty much trashed. As each lease ended they went in and gutted the unit and redid it. There are only 12 units in the old 2 story brick building. All are 1 bedroom units except for 2 - 2 bedroom units, 1 of which is mine. And my unit was the last one redone and I was the first tenant to move it. With exposed brick, granite counters, wood floors, and tile in the bath it makes for a right nice place. 

The idea of leaving did not thrill me but I was not going to pay some absorbent rate to live in this neighborhood and I knew my very reasonable rent was going to be raised exponentially.  But try as I might I could not find another place. It looked as if I may end up in 1 bedroom or pay more for a smaller (not nearly as nice) 2 bedroom. Finally I asked for the new lease to see what the 2017 rent was going to be. At least I would know what money I was talking about.

Much to my chagrin the increase was extremely reasonable. Nope, I am not going anywhere this year. It was such a pleasant surprise.  Maybe being a responsible frumpy middle age lady does have its advantages. Funny when they have investors, insurance people, etc. they always ask if they can show my unit. I should be the ideal tenant, not that they take that into consideration. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Pagan Princesses and a Lost November

When I was younger, in the "Olden Days", Halloween was a time of ghosts and ghouls, witches and skeletons, basically all those scary things that hid in the dark, lurked in our closets, and went 'bump" in the night. After all, when one asks "Trick or Treat" it should not be an idle threat. 

These days the "holiday" has morphed into a time of costumes of super heroes, fairy tale princesses, and cute animals. The great irony is that now some evangelical churches are opposed to the celebration of Halloween ( which started as all hallow's eve, the last night the evil ones could out before all saint's day) saying it is a pagan holiday. Pagan when the children run amuck as Disney Princesses and cuddly animals? But I digress.

So here we are at the end of October, smack dab in the middle of autumn. The leaves have just started to turn their bright reds and yellows as the air finally turns cool and crisp. And what do I find in the local market - Halloween candy? Oh, no. The shelves are chocked full of red and green boxes and bags of sweets and sugarplums. Instead of candy corn and wonderful "Autumn Mix", there are candy canes, gum drops, and ginger bread. 

And Sirius radio is advertising that on Tuesday they start their first Holiday Channel. So the air will be filled with the sounds of Christmas before the pumpkins come off the porch. And once again Thanksgiving is treated like the red headed stepchild - totally overlooked. St Valentine best look out, he may soon be usurped by the Easter Bunny. 


Saturday, October 29, 2016

I'm Back

For those of you faithful followers, I am back. It has been a busy time now that I have returned to the work world. I have decided to take another bent at my Blog. In the past, I have only written about things I found profoundly funny or what I thought my readers would find humorous. However, sometimes. . . often times lately my life is just not that interesting or humorous (or at least what I can write about). Given there are topics I am restricted from touching - mentioning certain family members who are still alive and may be reading the Blog, my work- which would be terribly entertaining but also totally unprofessional, etc. I have decided just to write about something that happens in my life each day. I figured that may be hum drum but we would see. This was yesterday.

So, let's start with today. It is our MO to rise around 5:30 am and take our morning constitutional. Given it is Saturday when the pups started rumbling around at 5:00, I was able to negotiate another hour or two of sleep. We had just settled down for a long morning's nap when out on the street suddenly I was awoke by red lights and sirens. This is not unusual. However, when they started gathering outside my window, they got my attention. (My apartment is on the ground floor on a street corner.)

I peaked out of the blinds to see an ambulance and a fire truck. I had not heard the crashing of metal or any gun shots so I was curious. Then I saw the Fire Battalion Chief backing his large SUV up my one way street. Long story short before it was all over with, there were 5 fire trucks parked on our small block (a narrow tree lined one way street). Soon the smell of smoke was every where.



I learned from a (very handsome young) fireman that the house next to our building had burned, but no one was hurt. I thanked him for his service and returned home. As I walked back in my door, I thought, wait, my car is parked back there. Oh, this is not good.....

Monday, August 29, 2016

This is not Board Walk or St. James Place

There is an old saying, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes". I think this is credited to Benjamin Franklin who was known for his witty (and true) statements. He is also on my list of "Guests I would Invite to My Ideal Dinner Party". But I digress.

I can name other certainties to that list of certanties. The one that comes to mind today is - the cable company will try your patience, raise your blood pressure, and make you Google "anti trust and monopolies".

My Story- When I moved down to Charleston I contacted the cable company to get my service connected. I selected the cable package that contained the basic cable channels without paying for all the sports channels, HBO, Starz, etc. And although my building has its own WIFI network, the package also contained internet.

Two nice techs arrived on time on the correct day, installed the cable box and set everything up for me. I explained that I was going to buy my own internet router/modem. They said that was no problem and showed me what I needed to do to install it.

That afternoon I purchased a highly recommended router/modem. While I was installing it I had to call the cable company to get the IP address and finalize the set-up. I gave my WIFI network a unique name "Norwhat" and a password that was secure but one I could remember. This gave me my own personal secure network that I knew was safe to use for banking, ordering online etc. 

For five months I used this WIFI network. Every time I logged into my laptop, my mobile phone, my iPad, even my TV, a list of available WIFI networks would be listed. Among these "Norwhat" was always included, along with its signal strength, which was always strong given it was in my apartment and no one else was using it.

Stay with me, there is a story here.

My mobile phone has never worked very well in the apartment. Maybe the brick walls have something to do with it, I'm not sure. T-Mobile, my provider, offers a special modem type device that one sets up in addition to their internet modem. This gives one their own personal cell spot that greatly strengthens the cell service in their home. I called T-Mobile, ordered one, and in two days it arrived.

Set-up was easy - just connect the T-mobile box to your internet modem with an Ethernet cable. When I tried to do this - it did not work. I attempted several configurations to no avail. After a call to T- Mobile I was assured that the issue was my internet connection. So I turned to my cable company.

I reached out to the technical department, after ten minutes of trouble shooting, being put on hold, then "escalated" to a manager, I was informed the issue was that my account did not have internet. I was only on a cable TV package. I protested to no avail. The manager happily offered a "discounted" package that would include internet for only 35% more than what I was currently paying. I said no thanks and hung up in total frustration.

The next day I called back, convinced if I got someone else they would see my situation as it truly was, and offer whatever technical support I needed. But no, after talking with a tech and again being escalated I was told once again I was mistaken that I did not have internet but for 40% more I could get it added to my account. In total frustration I told them that this was customer dis-service and why cable companies had the reputation they had. 

Did they realize I was calling them from my mobile phone that was on the WIFI network they said did not exist. And that this customer support "call" had started on a "Chat" that had been initiated online on the WIFI network that did not exist. They explained I must be mistaken and have the WIFI networks confused. Sure. How many other  "Norwhat" networks would one find in my neighborhood? Uhm . . . . NONE!

After I hung up in total frustration, I went online (using the "Norwhat" WIFI network) and logged into the cable company website to see if I was losing my mind.  I went to the "My Account" page, then to "My Services". This is a screen shot of what I saw.




I'm not sure if this company is dealing in smoke and mirrors or monkey dust but to call itself a "Service Company" is insane. Thinking back on my calls, I can only surmise that, in best case, they are offering a "deal" to pay 35% (or 40% in the second case) more to get what I already have.

As far as I am concerned they can "Go Straight to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Do not Collect $200". This is truly a Monopoly if there ever was one. It's not like I can role the dice and take my little "Norwhat" Ellie a few spaces and sign up with another cable company.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Loulou is Two

My Daddy famously said, "If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I would have had them first." No doubt one of the most excited moments I remembered about my father was telling him he was going to be a grandfather. And to "Sweeten the pie" ( another Docism) the baby was due on his birthday. Well as it turned out our oldest daughter arrived at 4:30 am the morning after Daddy's birthday. No doubt he would never have forgiven me except for the fact that her birth trumped everything and the rest of us.

Oh how he doted on her. When he went to pick her up from day care and found they would not let him take her because he did not have a car seat - not an issue, within an hour he had a car seat. Together they were tootling around in his 65 Oldsmobile Cutless convertible with the top down no less. They were quite the sight.

By this time Mom and Dad had gone through their rather unpleasant separation. His apartment was not the bachelor pad. No, walking in it one would think Hasbro and Mattel had exploded - toys were everywhere. He would keep our daughter any time for as long as we would let him. Dirty diapers - not an issue. A sick child - no problem. It was his granddaughter, she was perfect and could do no wrong.

My DH and I laughed at him. We were very appreciative of his help, happy to have him spending time with her, but a little surprised that he wrapped his world as tightly around her as she had him wrapped around her little finger.

Then 29 years later we found ourselves smitten by a special little girl who, in our eyes, is the smartest, prettiest, and most precocious child ever. (Now those qualities have been matched by her little sister who arrived 7 weeks ago- but I digress.) And, once again I will say my Daddy was right , a Grandchild is just that - grand!

So to little Loulou, these two years have been magical to us as we have watched you grow. You have opened an echanted world of wonder we forgot about. Suddenly everything is better while sitting on the floor, re-reading books is a favorite past time, having conversations with "Pupup" and "Hop", and Mom really doesn't need know everything. Happy Birthday Loulou, you have made our world so much better.    





Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Back to the Future Without an E-Ticket

39 years ago, in the summer of 1977, I had the privilege of traveling around Europe with a good friend of mine. 

My father believed that my brother deserved a larger allowance and a new car given he would be dating and he would need the resources. While I was on a reduced allowance and drove a used AMC Gremlin because, after all in his mind - I would be dating and therefore, someone else would be paying for my dining and entertainment. Ah, but the days of southern chivalry were long gone before the 70's. However trying to explain that to my father was hopeless. Ironically he did not think twice about funding a trip to Europe. That, he saw (thankfully) as an experience everyone could learn from. But, I digress.

We set off from Lyon (after a Maymester class in France) armed with our Eurail Pass. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with a Eurail Pass, in those days this was the equivalent to a Disney E-ticket. (Showing my age, the original "E-ticket" was the ultimate ride ticket at Disney world on a scale that started with "A" - being the Mad Hatter Tea Cups to "E" that got you on Space  Mountain.) This magical pass allowed one to travel first class on any train, anywhere in Europe. And, at that time, the price for the pass was very reasonable. Better yet, unlike the US, most of Europe is accessible by train.

The trains were mostly new, well run, comfortable, reliable, fast, and always on time. Our pass not only gave us First Class seats but if we were on a night train, we had access to sleeper accommodations (that afforded us breakfast service of tea, jam, and croissants served in our "room"). This came in handy when we were unable to find a place to stay (due to lack of suitable or affordable hotels). If all else failed, we could take an overnight train to Amsterdam, usually the furthermost destination from wherever we found ourselves. Then the next morning we would take a short train ride to another destination we had yet to visit.

All this reminiscence comes forward to America's train service, or lack there of today. Amtrak has struggled for years to break even and serve the country. My experience a week ago was an example. Where as in Europe, there is a train system from small towns to the major cities that crisscrosses the continent, in the States a few lines go up the Eastern Seaboard, across the country east to west, and up and down the west coast. Only the northeast has a decent train system, but even that is lacking.

Notification that our train was delayed was made in red pen on a small white board propped up at the ticket window. Unfortunately that notification was updated often given the delay ended up being almost 90 minutes. I will admit that Amtrak has a text messaging system that notifies passengers who had registered their cell phone numbers of the delays - however it lags behind the white board.

Instead of having a ticket with a seat number and designation as you board the train, your paper or phone is swiped electronically - new age! Then your seat is assigned (is some mysterious system) by an Amtrak employee crossing your name off a piece of paper  as you step on the train. After you are seated (in your assigned seat) another employee comes and sticks a torn piece of paper with your destination handwritten on the luggage rack above your row. (Something akin to "Paddington" pinned to the Bear).

No doubt as one makes their way up the north east corridor and boards the Acela (the high speed upscale train that runs from Boston to DC) they will find themselves on board a modern train, that travels at high speeds offering amenities and comforts professional travelers expect. Customers can enjoy the Acela Cafe with fresh salads and craft beers. So I can say in this case after 39 years we have gone back to the future. 

Comparing my experience riding the train last week, as pleasant as it was, to the many train rides I enjoyed across Europe in 1977, I may as well have been  running through a pillar at King's Cross Station in London to find Platform 9¾ and catch the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade Station. It was hard to fathom that this was a mode of transportation, a quasi-government funded entity, of one of the most powerful nations in the world. 

Yes, we can send a man to the moon, develop nano technology (that only Michael Crichton can explain in his novel "Prey"),  design phones that are smarter than their users, yet we cannot make our trains run on time. Where is that DeLorean when we need it?

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fried Chicken and a Friendly Face

You know you are in the south when after settling into your seat on a north bound train the older lady sitting next to pulls out her supper of fried chicken, deviled eggs, and a jar of tea. Naturally she offered to share. I was surprised she did not have a linen napkin, but to be practical, it may have gotten wrinkled in transport.

She explained that she was on her way to Virginia Beach to meet her "girl friends" for their annual long weekend. They had made this trip for years. Given she was in her late sixties - probably seventies but had aged well - I can only imagine the stories she had to tell. Her gray tightly curled hair was cut short. Her dark complexion showed the beauty of age and her brown eyes sparkled with youth. When she finally finished her supper, she carefully wiped her hands, wrapped up all the remains and trash into her Tupperware container and stored it in her travel bag that she had under her feet.

She could tell I was having an issue with the foot rest on the back of the seat in front on me. "Oh, honey," she said with a smile,"Just touch this lever." She pointed with her toe, "And push." I thanked her.

She just smiled, "I've been riding the trains for years." She went on to talk about how this particular train named "The Palmetto", which on its way up the Eastern Seaboard ran through South Carolina at night, was notoriously late. "And don't ask me why," she said in her soft southern lilt. "Makes no sense to me. The other trains are on time, why this one never is beats me."

We talked about children and grandchildren, travel, and life in general. I took the opportunity to ask her about the train, her travel experiences, and other trains that run up and down the Eastern Seaboard. As we sped past stations in the night, she commented that usually the train would stop but there must not be any passengers scheduled to get off or board, and the train was trying to make up time.

We spoke quietly as most of the other passengers were sleeping on the dark train. Soon we both dozed off. I awoke when I heard the announcement that we were leaving Petersburg and the next station would be Richmond. 

As I stepped off the train in Richmond, I found myself on a long platform between a northbound and a southbound train that happened to be in the station at the same time. There was no sign of the station nor sign pointing the way to such. My seatmate, who was walking in front of me, turned and politely said, "We go this way." I was glad she was there to guide me because I would have most likely walked the other way and God only knows where I would have ended up.

I was surprised how long the train was as we walked the platform beside it. Finally we came to the end and could cross the tracks to find the elusive station. She smiled and as if she could read my mind and said, "If you checked your luggage, you will find it out in front of the station."

I thanked her and told her how much I enjoyed meeting her. She wished me well and walked spritely into the station. I only hope I can age like that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Away on the Silver Meteor

Always being the adventurous (aka foolish) one, I decided to take the train to Richmond last week. The idea being not only was it less expensive than flying, but I could save a day. If I took the overnight train on Wednesday, I would have Thursday with my friends versus spending Thursday fighting the traffic on I-95. And, I had no desire to drive by myself all night Wednesday on I-95. 

The reviews on Amtrak have been mixed at best. But, I’m always willing to give something at least one shot.  That “willing to give something at least one shot” was seriously questioned when I entered the train station in Charleston. Crossing the threshold put me into the 1960’s and I am not talking about anything nostalgic. It was old (and not in a Charleston way), it was derelict, and depressing. It was hard to tell if some of the people there were waiting for trains that never came or if they simply lived there.

On the wall was an architectural rendering of the “New” structure that (I assumed) was planned to replace the current one. I noticed there were no dates of when the drawing was done, when the construction was to begin, or if this was just a pipe dream. I will say the employees were friendly and most helpful. Of course when I checked my bags I was told that my train was running 20 minutes late - something to do with a switch problem in Florida. Suddenly the words "mixed at best" and "Amtrak" usually being linked together in any given description ran through my mind.

A well to do couple walked in and I thought the lady was not going to make it to the ticket window. I could tell she was reaching into her Gucci bag for her anti-germ wipes. (I expected her to pull a medical mask and can of Lysol out at any minute.) Watching her was at least entertaining. I so wanted to tell her that I doubted anyone here had anything communicable, Ebola was under control and, contrary to the her first impression, she had not been transported to a station in India filled with untouchables. Her husband seemed nonplussed. As he took a seat, she insisted on standing.

Long story short, my 9:17 train arrived at the station around 10:50. Unlike airports, train depots (at least ones in the south) do not have bars offering the comfort of adult beverages, which is unfortunate. We boarded, found our seats, and were off. 

The seats on the train are nicer than those I have had on any recent plane trip. They are probably 50% wider. There is enough leg room in front of each seat to put a small carry on on the floor and still have room for your feet and to stand and easily reach the aisle without crawling over your seat mate. The seats recline far back and there is an extension that one can raise from beneath the front of the seat to support your legs - making it fairly comfortable to sleep.

Best part - when the patron in the seat in front of you decides to recline their seat, it is hardly noticeable. Electrical outlets are available at every seat. And, yes, this is coach.

 I did notice with each stop as we moved north, the quality and class of the patrons improved. It wasn’t like I had problems with anyone I was traveling with. Everyone was friendly and very polite. By the time we reached Richmond it was day break and there was a lovely sun rise in the east. The station was clean and more of what I imagined a train station to be – unlike the one in Charleston that I found reminiscent to a Grey Hound Station in a back woods town in Alabama. I felt as if I had emerged from the underworld and had crossed the river Styx. 

For $77 dollars and 7 seven hours (scheduled), I was quite pleased and will definitely consider this again. Having traveled on trains in Europe, we are far behind the curve, but it was much better than I expected. A positive is that there are no TSA security lines. A negative is that there are no TSA security lines. Your ticket includes 2 checked bags. There is a “Lounge” car you can walk to where you can purchase snacks, sandwiches, drinks, beer, and wine. On the longer rides there is a “Dining Car” where sit down “A la cart” meals are served. 

Yes, I will do this again. It sure beats the traffic and stress of I-95. Of course there are more stories to tell.

Friday, July 29, 2016

God's Plan

God blessed the south with many things - good food, friendly people, beautiful land. OK, so the rest of the world questions why we put 4 syllables in the words "hound dog" and are amazed at our chemical wizardry of being able to dissolve 1 pound of sugar in 1 gallon of iced tea.  

Folks not from here find it odd that we continue names for generations (William Pinckney Gadsen, William Pinckney Gadsen, Jr, the third, fourth, etc), but yet call them, Pinky, Bo, Trey, and Bub. It is not unusual for young ladies to have double names: Mary Grace, Sarah Kay, Ann Stuart. And, in the more "remote" regions: Bobby Jean, Billy Sue, Johnny Beth.

Children from good southern families (not necessarily always wealthy) have good manners, respect their elders, know how to dance, understand that socks and collards are best only after the first frost, seersucker suits are acceptable for any occasion before six in the evening, and a string of pearls makes any outfit (except a swimsuit). 

There is no such thing as a "grit", bacon and gravy are staples of the food pyramid, and a good pound cake can cure many ills and make amends for many wrongs. One doesn't make fun of someone who doesn't know how to eat an oyster, wears white shoes after Labor Day, brings store bought potato salad to a church picnic, or wears polyester - they just don't know any better. 

Given all these idiosyncrasies of our culture, we find ourselves under assault by others. Whether they are coming to visit, or God forbid, relocating down here, the Yankees are invading. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting one. But the old man upstairs foresaw this. In his grand plan he had a 3 part strategy in mind for protecting us - no see-ums (gnats), mosquitoes, and August. 

So as we move into the Hades part of our year, fighting the gnats and mosquitoes, I realize it is all God's plan to keep the Yankees away. Unfortunately, it is not working.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fried Chicken - It ain't Broke

Full disclosure, even as southern born and bred as I am, I cannot fry chicken, Now that we have that behind us....

It never ceases to amaze me how folks want to mess up something good. If ain't broke, don't fix it. My theory is that it is like buying a wedding dress - they are all white, when you find one you really like, stop the madness and buy it.  But. I digress.

The Gray Lady (aka The New York Times) has done it again. There was an article in there today entitled "How to Make Good Fried Chicken."  The first sign was "making" fried chicken. My Mama said, "Don't be late for supper, we're having fried chicken." or "I'm frying chicken." My mama never said she was "making" chicken. In my house you could "make" a pie, "make" a cake, or "make" a mess.

First, they got into the chemistry of the dish -how the starch must coat the bird, then oil must be just the right temperature. I got right tickled when they suggested two or three pieces per person would leave you plenty for left overs. At our house there was never any left over fried chicken. Miraculously,  we would find some the next morning in the 'fridge but that was only because Mama, in her great wisdom, would put aside some extra pieces before supper.

Then they went on about "brining" your chicken in a buttermilk, pickle, cola, or cider brine and waiting a few hours. Next, they got into gluten free flours. This is where the the train jumped the track. I never had one of my friends or kin folks drop dead over dosing on gluten from the flour in fried chicken (or anything else for that matter).  They also suggested to cook the chicken outside if you don't want to "mess up" your kitchen.

Why not just call up KFC and order a bucket? By now everyone in your household must be starving. They already have had to wait several hours while you brined your chicken and it is going to get ugly when they realize there is a limit to their servings.

Next, the article went into the "Various flavors" of fried chicken. I never had flavored fried chicken, unless you counted "Burnt" as an alternate taste. Please tell me who as a child came home at dark for supper on a summer night or waited patiently in the food line at the church homecoming dinner or feasted on the comfort food brought by friends and neighbors when a loved one passed away only to find a platter of chicken flavored with Adobo, Korean, Nashville, or Persian spices? I think not. I can only imagine the countenance on the church ladies' faces should someone show up at a bereaved family's home with a platter of Korean flavored fried chicken. That would be worst than having dark meat in their chicken salad.

I stopped reading the article before they went as far as to say they frowned upon eating fried chicken with your hands. Please dear God, say it is not so.

Even though I am cursed and cannot create this simple southern dish, part of the southern trinity together with biscuits and collards, I cannot help but think that Clemmie, my DH's family cook, said it best when she said, "Cook 'til done, season to taste."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Have I Been There and Done That?

On any given nice Saturday morning, I try to get out and walk around the streets of Charleston in search of interesting doors for my "Charleston Door of the Day- Photo" project. Yesterday was no exception. I drove down Meeting, turned right onto George Street. "Today was going to be Ansonborough", I said to myself. I parked in a nice shady place and started down the side walk. I continued east until I came to Anson Street. Then I turned right. Suddenly everything was familiar. I had already photographed this street. The next block was Society Street which I knew I had already done.

I went down to Society, turned right and made my way to Meeting and then back to my car. No problem, I'll go south below Broad on Church. As I drove around I continued to see houses in one block I recognized (because they were very unique), yet in the next were doors I had never seen. Was there any method to my madness.

A month or so ago, I feared I may post the same door twice. So I started organizing the doors in a system that ensured that did not happen, This also helped me make sure when I added new door photos to my collection, I did not add duplicates.

When this project first started I was just walking around and would chose random doors. Then I started photographing all the doors I passed unless they were plain generic and had no character whatsoever. There was no plan. Now that I had a library of so many doors, where did they come from?  I never bothered to list where I had been. Noting the address of each door was way to cumbersome. Suddenly what started as an enjoyable venture was becoming a onerous task. 

After some thought, I realized the only way to corral this project before it spun completely out of control was to map where I had been. Why did I not think about that earlier? This was rhetorical. In my mind the answer: Because it was too obvious. I don't do "obvious" well. But I digress. 

I got a map of Charleston that went from the Murray Boulevard  (South of Broad) to Sunny Side Avenue which bordered the north of the North Central and Wagener Terrace Neighborhoods. Yes, I had photographed doors from one end of the peninsula to the other - randomly, My plan was to take a highlighter, sit down and mark the streets I had covered. And, most importantly, keep up with my trail as I moved along.

Looking at the map, I could mark Society, Anson, George, Tradd . . . Wait, which part of Tradd had I photographed, it was a long street?  And when I was on Church had I turned right and walked down Lamboll? This was not helping. The only solution was to take the map and drive through the streets of the peninsula in the areas I knew I had been and note what I had photographed.

This may take some time. Lesson here, bread crumbs don't work, I should have learned that in kindergarten when Miss Nancy read Little Red Riding Hood to my class. No one told me that not marking trail on the streets of Charleston was akin to loosing your way in the forest. But, then I have had issues seeing the forest for the trees before.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Live Large or Stay on the Porch

A co worker of mine who comes from North of the Mason Dixon line is still getting used to being among-st us. She appreciates southern culture - that of the refined gentile lifestyle, where our tables are set with sterling silver, all the children know their manners, and (most) everyone is friendly and helpful. She was a little taken aback when while walking her dogs one evening she noticed that her neighbors carried glasses of wine while walking their canines (the men carrying bottles of beer).

If that did not set her back, a visit to her hair dresser may have. She goes to an upscale salon on King Street that offers their clientele a glass of white wine during their visit. She saw that as hospitable. It was the gentlemen who walked in carrying highballs of bourbon to get their hair cut, that threw her. (Seems a well known bar is next door and the men would stop there first to pick up a bit of refreshment before coming in for their appointments.)

She asked me if this was the norm or the exception. I explained this was pretty much the norm in Charleston, the southern culture even with its manners, civility, breeding, and good taste, was much more relaxed when it came to our social ways. Basically we enjoy entertaining and having a good time. Not that we approach life with reckless abandon, but we go large or go home. (For example, where else do men think nothing of wearing kelly green ties with pink flamingos on them, bright plaid madras pants, or seersucker suits of any color - in public.)

Then I told her about our girls trip last summer where the five of us commandeered a table by the pool for a week at the small boutique hotel where we were staying in the Keys. We needed it to accommodate our half gallons of vodka and scotch and  cooler of beer, wine, and champagne, as well as the mixers and garnishes. Early every morning we would start with Bloody Marys and Mimosas, move on to beer and by the late afternoon be into the liquor or wine. At the beginning of the week, we were getting odd looks from the other guests. However by mid week, we could tell those looks of mild objection had turned to more than slight envy.

When I  finished my tale I realized the expression on my friend's face indicated she would never look at me in the same light. I'm not sure if my story confirmed what she thought she knew or revealed a side of me that scared her. It was what it was.

Later she asked a gentleman in our office (who is from Pennsylvania), "Do you notice they drink down here a lot?"

The conversation among the three of us continued about the social norms in Charleston and how strong one's constitution had to be to keep up. I made it clear that I was an old dog and knew when it was time to climb back on the porch.

The conversation ended with my comment,"And, we haven't even gotten to football season yet."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cured or Not

cure
kyo͝or/

- to preserve (meat, fish, tobacco, or an animal skin) by various methods such as salting, drying, or smoking.

Call me behind the times, but I am always amazed by what I don't know, and worse, yet, how long it takes me to find out what I am missing.

In the grocery store yesterday I notice "Uncured" bacon. Now for those of you already enlightened about this, stay with me here. Like many of us, I was raised reared in a world of "Cured" meats. The salty and smoky flavor of cured ham is unmistakable. When you are cooking collards, do your throw pieces of sandwich ham from your Oscar Mayer package into the pot?  Oh, no. You want that a piece of ham hock from a cured ham to give that unique salty smoky flavor.

This brings us to the types of curing: salting, sugaring, and smoking. There is hot smoking, cold smoking, and smoke roasting. 

All this is based on chemistry, a subject  I avoided like the plaque once I got to college after surviving Mr. Allen's Advanced Chemistry class in high school. Centuries ago, man, in all his wisdom, concluded that spoiled meat contained something very bad (botulism) that would lead to death.  The idea of vegetarianism not being appealing, through trial and error (thanks to Harold's camp fire and Eric's salt seller) they found that by "curing" their meats they could both enjoy their kill and avoid botulism. 

All this brings me back to the meat counter in the market and the "Uncured" bacon. If bacon by definition is "cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig (ie pork belly)", does not that make the term "Uncured Bacon" an oxymoron? 

The official definition of “Uncured” bacon is "bacon that hasn't been cured with general sodium nitrites (salts), flavorings, and other things." Even as we delve into the belly of the issue, the semantics of  it gets murky. While "Cured" bacon is soaked in a brine of flavorings and salt - which contain nitrites, the definition of "Uncured" bacon continues as "[usually] cured with a form of celery juice, which contains natural nitrites, and plain old sea salt, as well as other flavorings like parsley and beet extracts". 

This all begs to ask the obvious - if it is still "cured" with sea salt..... 

I'll spare you an opus on nitrites and nitrates. The long story short - both "Cured" and "Uncured" bacon are cured (yes cured) with these "chemicals". The "Uncured" version can say that their process uses natural nitrites from celery juice and beets. But we live in a world of nitrites and nitrates. Many green leafy vegetables have more nitrates per serving than bacon (of any kind). Heck, nitrites are part of the powerful antimicrobial agent in our saliva. 

So much for all the hullabaloo about the nitrites/ nitrates in bacon. This new "Uncured" epithet looks to be just lipstick on a pig. Whether "Cured" or "Uncured", neither makes bacon more healthy. All this mess about curing aside, just start talking to the health nuts concerned about fat. Suddenly nitrites look like super complex mega vitamins. 

In defense of the real thing (not that I would take sides here), I did read a recommendation to buy and eat "Cured" bacon due to the rare chance of contracting trichinosis from the pork in "Uncured" bacon. But I would not worry about. After all, there are folks injecting botulism in their face daily. Who knows, in the future the rage could be capsules containing yersinia pestis (Bubonic Plaque) to ensure eternal youth. And, I don't think that can be cured.

Why mess with a sacred food, especially one of the southern trinity: Bacon, butter, and gravy?