Saturday, June 28, 2014

Obvious Child - A Movie Review

Jenny Slate plays the role of  Donna Stern in this independent film (actually billed as a romantic comedy) about a young stand up comedian (Stern) who loses her boyfriend, her day job, and learns she is pregnant all within a matter of weeks. And her worst Valentine's Day is not so bad after all. The film deals with abortion, but unlike something produced by a major studio that would have to pass muster of focus groups and the wrath of financiers this low budget film is able to give a refreshing look at the subject without getting bogged down in the politics and mess of political correctness. 

Instead, the Obvious Child deals with relationships and their true meaning; which ones are important and which ones in clear light really are toxic. Donna's profession as a comedian carries through in her personality and how she handles every day. Until she hits the wall, she is moving through life like many twenty somethings not really ready to grow up and figure out what they want to do as an adult.

There are some hilarious scenes in the film she plays with great aplomb. One of my favorites involves a litany of calls to her x-boyfriend's voice mail one night where as she continues to drink many glasses of wine she pours out her feelings, vents her anger, then apologizes with each call making less sense as she tries to explain the previous call. 

It is unfortunate that this film will not get much attention or be distributed in wide release. The opening weekend was only $77,000. However, this is a prime example of how a refreshing look at a touchy subject can be made into an excellent film without all of the magic of Hollywood. It only takes a good screen play, good direction, and a strong cast. The Obvious Child pulls all this together for 84 minutes of pure enjoyment. Unfortunately most of the public will not even be aware that this gem exists.

Friday, June 27, 2014

No Where to be Found

Have you ever tried to find something but realize it is to no avail? ie it is not going to happen? Well last week I ran into the quandary, it felt like a frustration dream but I had all my clothes on and when I tried to walk I moved forward - but I digress. I decided I would buy a jar of olive tapenade. Don't get me wrong I wasn't going to be picky and ask for garlic flavored tapenade with sun dried tomatoes. No, I just wanted a small jar of olive tapenade.

I went into our local grocer - the only one we have left. It was not to be found. I searched in the pickle section. Not there, although I felt sure that was the obvious location where it should have been. Then I went to the "gourmet" food aisle (such as it is). Was not to be. I stretched my mind and checked the snack and chip aisle, then the wine aisle, the cheese section. I found a young man stocking shelves. He went and asked and was no told, "No, indeed, we have no tapenade."

So I checked the other location - Walmart. Now don't laugh, yeah of little faith. One can now find such delicacies as prosciutto and pancetta, so there was hope. Once again after scouring all the areas I thought it could be I came up empty handed. While looking on the shelf with the pickles I noticed an older gentleman standing there with a look of total bewilderment on his face.

He looked at his friend, "I can tell you exactly what it is and what it looks like, but damn it if I can find it anywhere!"

A kindred spirit, although I felt certain he was not referring to olive tapenade. Is life so complicated or am I on the wrong aisle?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Feathered Friends and Finicky Men

Nothing is more temperamental, finicky, or delicate than a bird, especially a finch. Let me rephrase that, the only thing more temperamental, finicky, or delicate than a finch is a husband, but I digress.

They cannot be in a draft, direct sun, or too chilly a environment. Their water needs to be changed daily - at least once. And they require a fresh bath water every morning. They tend to eat the seeds off the top of their feeder and drop the chafe back in, so you need to stir or replenish their seeds daily to prevent them from dying of starvation because they do not know to go deeper than the top seeds to find more to eat.

They need full spectrum light but do best when it is on a timer so they are on a regular schedule. If you do not want them to breed do not provide nest boxes for them. And make sure you have the correct type of seeds, eggs, fruit and vegetable food, alfalfa, and millet for them in fresh supplies. 

It doesn't take much to keep them happy and singing. 

Well that is until you walk in the room to realize that one of your dear birds is sitting on the bottom of the cage no longer singing, no longer looking merry. Oh, and did I mention that according to the books and the breeder once you realize they are sick, it is most likely too late to save them. Joy!

Long story short, I quickly removed the bird and placed him in a hospital cage where I could provide him with additional heat and watch him closely. In less than 2 hours, my little Cordon Blue that I so dearly loved had gone to the big bird nest in the sky.

I called the breeder to make sure I was doing all I could do to in order to prevent this from happening again. After a long discussion about my care taking practices, which he said were exactly what they needed to be, he suggested the bird may have been stressed from the travel and change in of environment. 

"Well if that is the case, how I am supposed to ever purchase a bird and expect it to live?"

"Well one thing will help - a sports drinl."

"Excuse me, like Gatorade/"

"Yes, a little in their drinking water every day will provide additional vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes that will aid a stressed out bird." I thanked him and after asking a few other questions, hung up the phone, and left in search of a bottle of Gatorade, Powerade, or some other sports drink. Who knew?

All the books tell you that finches cannot live alone and will mourn themselves to death. Like all birds, they cannot go any length of time without food and water.  They need a large cage with unimpeded flight space. But no one ever mentioned that the would thrive on the official sports drink of FIFA. 

Perhaps I would have done better with a Chia pet or better yet a Pet Rock. But neither can sing or chortle or chirp. 

As for men, they do better when they have control of the TV remote and thermostat. They require fresh bath water every morning. They tend to eat whatever is in the fridge or on the counter and leave the dishes in the sink. You need to replenish the pantry and fridge daily to prevent them from dying of starvation because they do not know to go deeper than the top shelf to find more to eat.

They need day light and thrive when they are on a regular schedule. They do best when kept on their diet, and you don't vary it by adding super foods like kale, Brussell sprouts, or quinoa. And I guess if you find him sitting on the sofa no longer singing or looking merry, a sports drink cannot hurt. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Chapter 58 "No, No, Not the Blue One"

As I input the changes from the editor I came upon this part of Chapter 58  "No, No, Not the Blue One!"

Thank goodness for good friends and bridesmaids. The dress shop called me two days before I left for Edisto so I did not have enough time to pick up my dress. One of the bridesmaids was picking up my daughter's dress, which also had just had its final alterations, and volunteered to pick mine up as well.
    We were unpacking boxes of liquor, coolers of beer, Tiki torches and gallons of fuel, table cloths, and the other odds and ends we had brought for the rehearsal dinner. In all the commotion I had forgotten about my dress. My daughter reminded me that my dress was upstairs in one of the bedrooms.
    When I got a moment I went and got it out of the closet.
      "You are going to try it on?" she asked.
     "I guess so." I took it off of the hanger. "Damn this thing looks small."
      I slipped into it. Well let me correct that - I tried to slip into it. The dress was even smaller than 
before when I went to pick it up and the zipper ripped out. Needless to say I was not a happy camper.
    Luckily being prepared like a girl scout or the eternal pessimist, I had packed another dress just in case I needed a "back up". That was the good news.  The bad news was that I had worn the “back up” dress to the weddings of several of my daughter's bridesmaids. And of all things it was the dreaded mother of the bride blue color.
    I did not take this sitting down. I did not take it well. In fact the term my husband used later was "hissy fit". I was not happy. For four months I had worried about the details for this event and of all things I was going to show up in a frumpy blue dress that most of the guests had seen. So much for being stylish; the dress was not even comfortable.
    “Oh you better get your money back,” said a friend of mine who happened to be in the room.
       My daughter added, “I’d ask for more than my 
money back. I’d make sure I got reimbursed for the dress and the alterations.”

   “No I want the shop keeper’s mobile number and home address. I am going for actual and punitive damages as well as pain and mental anguish.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Shopping Purgatory for Middle age Women

Watching women shop in the clothing department of a store is a fascinating study in feminine psychology. The younger women, ie the teens and those in their early twenties go straight for the cute clothes that are featured as the new trends. Usually they are excited to try on new frocks. Sounds of joy and mirth can be heard from the dressing room as they ooh and ah over how well the garments look on each other.

Middle age women however, are circling the racks like cars in a full parking lot. Up and down each aisle, slowly looking for a space, as if the clothes on some rack will part like the Red Sea revealing that perfect outfit, in the ideal size, that happens to be on sale.  Some will stop, pull an item off the rack, look at it, shake their head, return it, and resume their search up the aisle. 

Every once in awhile a lady will be sighted with an arm load of clothes heading for the fitting room. Those not so lucky will mumble to themselves, "Where did she find all those?" They have now reached that time of decision, do they move into the more expensive area of the store, hoping to find something trendy, in their size? Of course doing so is going to cost them. Is the satisfaction of finding clothes worth the additional expense? Or do they move to the back of the store toward the reasonable fashions where the more moderately priced clothes are, knowing doing so is sacrificing any chance of finding a garment that is up-to-date, much less well made. 

As the young women who share the joy of shopping with their friends and those few middle age women (most likely the trophy wives who only play tennis and "do' lunch with their friends) find suitable clothing in fashionable styles, the rest of us are left in purgatory. We are standing there or rather still circling the racks slowly, almost like a lethargic synchronized walk of the zombies. The inevitable is upon us and we are in denial. 

Fashion designers are a cruel sort, a group of people totally unconnected with the real women of this world. I suppose they would see humor in seeing helpless women with designer bags and shoes (because those two accessories do not discriminate) aimlessly moving among aisles of clothing racks just behind the tall lean mannequins. 

In the more expensive part of the store, women with means easily shop with the help of clerks. They are able to find clothing that fits comfortably, makes them look divine no matter what their size, and select among many colors and choices. While most of the rest of us are relegated to the part of the women's section they often refer to as "Moderate", "Everyday", "Today's Woman", or worst case "Budget" or "Bargain". Don't get me wrong, I have no desire to pay outlandish prices for clothes, especially when I can find the exact same outfits online or at an outlet mall for significant savings. However, these areas may as well be akin to the Island of Unwanted Clothes.

So in order to avoid the oohs and ahs of the young women, the outlandish expensive designer departments, as well as the aisles of the walking wounded, I spare myself the agony of shopping in retail clothing stores. I was reminded of all of this earlier today when I dashed in a department store to pick up a item. It took a moment for me to recognize the traffic pattern, but there it was. Middle age women circling the racks with that hollow look in their eyes. Ah, what a cruel world we live in.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Status of the Wedding Book

The book is back from the editor. Now I just need to make the corrections. After that I'll read through it again to make whatever changes to the text I think need to be made to tighten the story up. Next I'll send it to some poor soul to read through it for "fresh eyes" to find whatever errors we have overlooked. 

In the mean time I am trying to remember why I wanted to write this book in the first place. I wake up at night asking myself, Does it flow? Does it make sense? Does it really matter?

Whatever the case, the initial draft has been read and corrected by the editor. The cover has been created. The ISBN has been assigned. It has sat and fermented on my desk for several additional months now. I feel certain any enthusiasm anyone may have had over this book at one time has long since gone. 

So the purpose of all this was . . .?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Belle, a Movie Review

The story for the film Belle started with a portrait found in an English manor home of two young ladies, obviously both of the upper class. However one was a fair English lady with blond hair and the other was a young African lady. A curious writer sought to learn just who was this upper class young African lady was in the painting. 

No spoiler here, the young African lady, Dido Elizabeth Belle, was the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who claimed her and wanted to raise her. He left her in the care of his uncle to raise while he was at sea. The Uncle happened to be the Lord Chief Justice of England. 

The movie is a great story of family and society norms in England in the late 1700's. As Dido grows up she must thread the English upper crust ways of love, marriage, dowries, and race. And in the midst of it all, Lord Mansfield, her great uncle has before him the case that could decide the fate of slavery in England. 

Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays the role of Belle with the grace of a true lady carrying no bitterness of the parts of Society cut off from her simply due to her color. Tom Wilkinson as Lord Mansfield, accepts Dido into the family and never questions her place there although there are times he worries about the consequences for her as a black girl in the white aristocracy. 

I was concerned that this would be a movie about a head strong belligerent young lady who was bitter at her lot in life and determined to change the social norms. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the story to be that of a young lady who is brought up with enough love and confidence who is well aware she is the heir of her father's estate and a member of the aristocracy, whether or not some of those around her are willing to accept it or not. Although she must endure the thoughtless remarks of many ignorant people. Instead of rubbing it their faces, she simply stays above the fray and lets them wallow in their ignorance.

The costumes, English scenery, strong supportive cast, and well written screen play make this an enjoyable film. I fear it did not get the publicity it needed. However, when the Academy makes its nominations later this year, there may be some nods here and the movie will most likely be re-released for those who overlooked it initially.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, a Movie Review

Oh, sure it is a movie about cancer, about young people dying from cancer. It is a story about twenty somethings dealing with things we would wish on no one. It is gritty. It is real. It does not gloss over anything. And, yes you will need your Kleenxes - lots of them. (Guys be prepared you, too, will "have things in your eyes" that will require wiping.)

The Fault in Our Stars is also a funny, uplifting love story. Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Ansel Elgort as Gus play their roles so well that you are along for the ride. Even though you are there for the ups and downs, the screen play is so well written you appreciate the story and the acting so much that you are not jumping ahead or even have time to wonder what is ahead. You live in the now with them.

I found much more to the story line than I thought would be there. It moved along at a steady pace introducing all the characters in due time. Although you have an idea how the story will unfold, there are many pleasant surprises that give this story a breadth and depth only a film of this caliber can carry off.

Laura Dern plays Frannie, Hazel's mother, Frannie, who is trying hard to make the best of her daughter's life without stepping on it and manages to do a good job and Dern does as excellent job portraying the upbeat very supportive mother. Willem Defoe plays Van Houten, the bitter author of Hazel's favorite book.

Woodley manages to make Hazel a bright young lady who has accepted her fate but who still has a twinkle in her eye. Elgort keeps the character of Gus always positive without being hokey. And when he needs to be serious, he easily slips into that role as if it were a comfortble sweater he had on a shelf. Every time I thought Elgort was not serious enough for the role, a close up showed (even with his dimpled grin) he was indeed taking life very seriously, painfully aware of the cards they had been dealt.

The Fault in Our Stars is just right - believable, truthful, romantic, sad, and funny. But it has been a long time since I cried this much through a movie. 

Barbie Gowns

My Mama may have tried to kill me with ric rac, but my Grandmother made the most incredible clothes for my Barbie dolls. I had an entire Barbie closet full of ball gowns, a wedding dress, and cocktail dresses, and Grandmama had all made  all these by hand.

Each of these pieces were incredibly detailed. The gowns would be made of satin with a coordinating chiffon or netting over the skirt. The cocktail dresses would be made of silk edged with sequins or some other fancy trim.  For every long gown for my Barbie, she made a coordinating one for my Skipper. One year, she presented me with a full length wool coat, with such details like pockets and a coordinating collar. 

When I look back on the small bodices and tiny waists she had to work with to produce these clothes, I am in awe. There was usually a small snap or tiny hook and eye in the back to hold up the skirt or fasten the back of the dress. The hems of the dresses were always perfectly even and turned under.

Even as a little girl I loved the Barbie clothes she made. When I went to play with my friends I had the loveliest Barbie clothes by far. If we were producing a Barbie wedding I was always fast to share my ball gowns and bridesmaid dresses. My friends were welcome to dress their dolls in the beautiful cocktail dresses my Grandmama had made for me.

But the grass is always greener. Out of all the gorgeous clothes I had, I did not have any "every day" clothes. My Barbie and Skipper could only dress for balls and dances and weddings and parties. I did not have any "real" Barbie clothes, the kind that came from the store with the Barbie label in them. I had to borrow those from my friends.

One afternoon I can remember a friend of mine having this Barbie suit made out of pink faux fur trimmed in white vinyl. It had a top, a skirt, and a coordinating hat. I had played with that outfit so much that she asked me if I wanted it. Seems she had been eyeing one of my ball gowns. When she suggested a trade I had to think about it. After much angst and guilt I made the trade.

Even though I can remember enjoying that pink outfit as long as I played with my Barbies, I still to this day feel pangs of guilt over that trade. How could I have given something my Grandmama spent so much time making for an outfit anyone could buy from the dime store? Now I am sure if my Grandmother knew about it she would chuckle. One gown would not have upset her. She would been happy that some other little girl was enjoying the gown she made. She probably would have been hurt though that I never asked to her to make my Barbie some everyday clothes.

Whatever the case, I look back on the two generations of talent. My mother who made my clothes and although I did not appreciate them at the time, she was an excellent seamstress and spent a great amount of time sewing each one. And my Grandmother who spent hours crafting those Barbie clothes. 

Unfortunately, while I once had an interest in sewing and learned the basics, like many things this is a lost art with me. However, the time and talent they put into it is not lost on me. All this came to mind when I found one of the lovely Barbie gowns my Grandmother made for me in the attic. And yesterday I came across a red plaid dress in a size 4 with two pockets and ric rac on it that my mother had saved in a box of other memorabilia we had unearthed while cleaning out her house. 

It is amazing how pieces of cloth hold so many memories. Well, pieces of cloth that have been carefully cut, folded, sized, stitched, edged, trimmed, and hemmed. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Simplicity and the End of a Six Year Old

I found an old Simplicity pattern recently and it brought back all kinds of memories. 

My Mama sewed and was an extremely talented seamstress when she put her mind to it. My Grandmother was also very talented and obviously taught my mother how to sew. Mama made some beautiful clothes for herself. She also made drapes for our house as well as some for my dear Aunt Kat's new house. She made throw pillow of every type and description. 

During the centennial of the war, she made Daddy an exact replica of the uniform those in Hampton's Legion wore so he would be correctly dressed for his reenactments down to the grey wool, red felt, and gold braiding.

Mama was practical - sometimes to a fault. When I started kindergarten, she made five little dresses for me. They were all from the same simplicity pattern. Each was of a different fabric. One was plaid, two were solid (in different colors), and two were of fabrics of different patterns. And each little dress was a bit unique. One may have one pocket, while another would two pockets, and a third would not have any pockets. But each and everyone one was decorated with a coordinating color of Ric Rac. (I went on to call that year and the next - "Death by Ric Rac".)

When it got chilly I would be dressed with tights and a blouse under the dresses. If was very cold, she would  put me in a matching pair of corduroy pants under the dress - which even at five I thought was a hideous idea and shared my opinion with her each time that occurred.

In the spring there would be five more in bright spring colors. It never got as bad as having the days of the week labeled on them, but it was damn close. 

Mama was being thrifty and looking back on it, it made perfectly good sense. She was very talented. The clothes were well made. The dresses, although fairly plain, were in fashion for the time - whatever fashion was in the early 1960's for a five year old. 

Other mothers would ask me if my mother made my dress. I would answer "yes" with pride. All went well until first grade. For some reason the fashion rules change between kindergarten and first grade, something Mama never quite caught onto. 

That fall she made my five dresses. About 4 or 5 weeks into school I went into revolt. My clothes were different from those of my classmates. I wanted store bought clothes just like they had. Mama would have none of that. And so started the clothes war that continued until I left for college. 

In high school one year a certain style of top came into vogue. Everyone was wearing them. I had bought 2 or 3. One day I came home from school to find that Mama had decided to make several for me from a pattern she had found.

Yes, her heart was in the right place. However, the fabrics she selected were hideous. The calico prints were something so God awful I feel certain the Mennonite women who shopped locally had passed on those bolts of cloth in the fabric store deeming them too homely. I thanked her for them, tried them on, and put them in my closet. I think she took the hint because that was her last attempt to surprise me with a piece of clothing she had made.

My senior year, I could not find a formal gown for one of our spring dances and came home with the fabric and the pattern (a Vogue pattern). She produced a lovely simple gown that I enjoyed wearing and actually wore to a dance in college.

Now I had another friend whose mother made all her clothes and they were gorgeous and trendy. Mama had the talent, she just never got the memo that perhaps things would go more swimmingly if I had some input into the fabric and pattern. But generally there was a failure to communicate between my mother and me until I was in my late 30's and had two children.

To keep the peace Daddy decided when I was in high school that perhaps I needed to learn how to sew and bought me my own sewing machine. I took lessons and learned the basics. Several attempts showed me that it takes a great deal of patience and talent to produce a garment from scratch using a pattern, fabric, the necessary notions, and a sewing machine. I gained respect for her talent and the time she dedicated to making my clothes. 

However kindergarten was fine for calico, gingham, plaid and ric rac, but after that peer pressure prevailed. Even as a 6 year old I did not know what "fashion" was. But I knew what wasn't and "Simplicity" was not going to be the end of me. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Big Move to a Small Town

Shortly after we got married, we decided to leave the big city of Atlanta and move to my husband's hometown. Now this meant going from Atlanta, capitol of the south, population 1.2 million (at that time - yes I am that old) to his home town - population 423. No culture shock there. In total disclosure, the town is located in the same county I grew up in. However, being reared in the county seat (population 12,000), this small town was still worlds away.

I can remember one evening before we moved, we were standing on the steps of the Arts Center in Atlanta, dressed in our finery, waiting for our friends to meet us for the opening night of "Swan Lake" and thinking to myself, "Well, I never really cared for ballet anyway - right?" So moving far away from civilization wouldn't be so bad.

And it wasn't that bad - at all. We settled into his old family home - I think he was the 4th generation to live there. Life was good. The slow pace was a respite from the traffic and bustle of the big city. But it took some getting used to. There are no secrets in a little town. Sometimes I felt like I didn't even have to tell my husband what was for supper - he already knew. Someone had seen me at the small grocer downtown shopping, surveyed my buggy, and mentioned to him, "Well, it looks like pork chops tonight." Maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the picture.

There was a bit of a culture shock. Even though I had grown up just 23 miles down the road, having lived in Charleston and Atlanta, I had picked up a few things in the big city. The family was really good at introducing me to everyone in town - especially the ones we were not kin to. One family member kept telling me I needed to meet Trish - I'd like her. She had moved there from Miami. (I guess she thought all "outsiders" could relate.) 

Finally, I asked her how I would recognize Trish if I ran into her. "Oh that's easy," she said, "she's the one who drives this funny looking car and wears a man's watch - you can't miss her." When I finally did meet Trish, I did like her - however, I knew the witch was dead and everything was in color - Trish drove a Volvo station wagon and wore a Rolex watch. Toto, we were not in Kansas anymore.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

If it tastes like a duck.

Now as I have mentioned before, I enjoy cooking and like to think that I am pretty good at it. At least my friends and family compliment me. Either I am accomplished - and they are sincere or I am so pitiful that they offer positive accolades to make feel better. Whatever the case, the family keeps assigning me dishes for the family reunion as opposed to paper products. (Cousin Helen should take a hint - her "prized" beef and eggplant casserole should be retired.)

We have some friends who share our affection for good food and the husband has prepared some of the best meals I have ever experienced. His dishes are usually Cajun but can vary. Although I have never watched him cook I would love to spend time with him to learn all the little details that make his meals so special. I am sure I could pick up much from his methods of preparation, his choice of seasonings, even the way he cuts his vegetables and meats. Whatever he prepares is always an unbelievable gastronomical feat. 

Needless to say, when they come to dinner, it is a nerve racking experience for me. The bar has been raised. Being of a competitive nature, I start early researching recipes for something different, a little exotic but not too "out there". After all, I wouldn't want anyone to think I put any effort into it, you know, just a little dish I do every once in a while. (And for this occasion I do use a recipe and mind you, I follow every step - for I fear failure.)

This particular night was going to be one of those occasions. We were going to have duck. I started early in the morning. I washed the duck in cold water and then steamed it over black tea for an hour in an oven. Ok, I could do this, I told myself. The remaining preparation involved carefully rubbing the bird with a special herb butter blend, roasting, basting, resting the canard, (praying to the gods of all fowl), tenting it, then collecting the juices, and reducing them with the juice of freshly squeezed blood oranges. Then I carefully prepared the bird for presentation.

The dinner was most enjoyable and I basked in my success, modestly accepting the compliments from all of my guests. Over dessert, I remarked that even though, I had to admit, I was pleased with my duck, I had always loved the unique flavor of his duck and hoped one day he would show me how he prepared his dish. 

He smiled and said, "That's easy. I just take the duck, wash it, cut off the breasts, throw the remainder of the bird away, then lightly saute it in a pan with butter." Then he added, "Oh, and I throw a bit of salt and pepper on it to taste." 

So much for the recipe books.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Free for All

If you want to move a lot of books on Amazon - offer it for free. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm happy to offer my book free of charge in this case. However I would appreciate at least SOME of the readers taking the time to write a review of the book. And since they got the book free, perhaps they would consider writing a "friendly" review. Just saying . . .
Seriously, a big part of Amazon's metrics are based on numbers sold as well as reviews. Having your book lost in the bowels of the "Humor" or "Memoir" section is worse than purgatory. Reviews are akin to paying one's way across the River Styx. Without reviews, Amazon can become Dante's Fifth Circle of Hell where your book will drown in the muddy waters for eternity.

I managed to get my book listed on many blogs that highlight free ebooks available on Amazon daily with comments and brief descriptions of each. Given so many folks have taken advantage of this generous offer, it is obvious people read these blogs. 

The book is available free through Saturday June 7th. After then hopefully the sales will continue - for money. Come on folks, $2.99 is less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks, lasts a lot longer, and offers much more satisfaction I may add.   

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Claiming Kin and Kissing Cousins

We are funny down here. You have to be real careful when you say anything ugly about someone, chances are if you are in a group of 12 or more, at least one of those folks is going to be kin to that person you are speaking ill of. That is not to say they do not agree with you. We can pick our friends, but Lord if we could only pick our kin, or better yet, permanently cut any known ties to some of them.

While the rest of the world enjoys six degrees of separation. Down here, we have three - at most. Which brings me to what is on my mind.

My husband is a "Williams". As you can imagine that narrows his family down around here. Not hardly! You cannot swing a dead cat without hitting someone with that sir name. To make it more complicated, his mother was a "Williams" and married a "Williams." Stories like this are what perpetuate the myth we marry our cousins. Believe it or not in a rural town of 382 there were two separate Williams' familys. Go figure.

His mother's father was the first cousin of the late Senator Marshal Williams' father. We all went to the same reunion once a year, but the way I looked at it they were not even "kissing" cousins. However in a town the size of ours, one of the first questions you get asked if someone doesn't know you is, "Now which Williams are you?"  I could easily answer that referring to my husband's family. But there were always those who asked, "Are you kin to the Senator?" 

I had to think about that one, my answer was usually, "My husband's mother is distantly related." Don't get me wrong I loved the Senator dearly, he was a fine gentleman who served his people well. 

Things got more interesting when I went to work for Judge Karen Williams, who was the Senator's daughter-in-law. The first question after she introduced me was usually, "Are y'all related?" I would say something to the tune of, "My husband and Charles [the Judge's husband] are third or fourth cousins." It suited me fine if it was dropped at that. I never wanted anyone to assume that I was claiming kin to such a well known and thought of family.

The Judge of course, being her gracious self, would go on and try to explain the relationship. She wanted to be more inclusive. I wasn't going to argue with her. One of the benefits (among many) of my job with her was getting to know "Miss" Margaret and the Senator very well. Before his death the Senator was often in our chambers for a visit and it was not unusual for him and "Miss" Margaret to join us for lunch. I have spent many hours at their dining room table as the two of them regaled the Judge's law clerks and me with stories.

After the Senator died, "Miss" Margaret was a regular in and out of our chambers. She and the Judge had a very special relationship. And I would like to say that over the many years, I too, developed a relationship with "Miss" Margaret, who is truly one of a kind.

This all brings me to my thought this morning. After being married 32 years and having spent 14 years working for the Judge, one would think this was all old hat to me. But yesterday afternoon someone commented, "Well there is that family connection with the Senator." Yes, there is a connection to the Senator. He was a dear man I thought the world of and had the pleasure of knowing, but I am not going to claim kin. Besides, even if I wanted to, it gets complicated.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Maleficent, a Movie Review

Once upon a time . . . there was a curious little fairy named Maleficent who lived in the magical land of the forest. And the story unfolds from there.  I was unfamiliar with the storyline here so I was following along with everyone else.

This is much more than a fairy tale, after all Angelina Jolie plays the lead role as the adult Maleficent. Disney has managed to wrap Jolie in a fairy tale that has enough good and evil to make the Brothers Grimm proud. The story moves quickly but in a steady manner. No where did the film lag or lose me along the way. There were a few small details that I wanted to know more about, such as why did the "Aunts" let the young Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) run free daily? Why was Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley) in the castle as the king was dying? 

Even though this is a Disney production about a child's fairy tale, this is a film for everyone. The story is engaging. The dialogue is well written. Jolie is as brilliant in her role as her bright yellow eyes. Her emotions are portrayed through her stony strong face and her precise language.  The color is excellent. The effects (in 3D) are spectacular but not overwhelming. 

This is Disney at its best - a fairy tale with a twist. Colors that are used wisely and special effects that are what they should be - "special" not over done as so many films are today. This movie stood on its story as they all should.

This 97 minutes well spent. I recommend this for children of all ages.

The End of an Era, the death of the Pig

The end of an era has come. Our two home town Piggly Wiggly grocery stores have closed. Yes, there is one more on the outskirts of town, but it is just a Piggly Wiggly in name only.

These two stores in town were owned and operated by a  family seen as a pillar of the community. The father started the stores and the sons ran them until they closed. One store opened the year I was born - older than I wish to admit. The other opened in 1980.  But age aside they were institutions.

Oh, we have had nicer upscale grocery stores that have come and gone during this time, I will admit. And the Pigs (as they were affectionately known by locals) were not the biggest of stores. They didn't always have the newest and greatest items. For instance I doubt you could find Pesto should you need some. There may only be two choices of spaghetti sauce to choose from (yes spaghetti sauce - not pasta or marinara sauce). You may be able to find white rice in every size from a one pound bag to a twenty pound bag (yes twenty pounds right there on the bottom shelf) but don't bother to ask for wild rice, chances are they were not going to have it.

They had a generous supply of fatback, lard, salted pork, and salted herring. You could find locally made sausage, liver pudding, and hog's head cheese. In the poultry area they carried the best small tender whole chickens I could find no where else.

The produce section was marked by signs written in red or black magic marker that told you the particular local farm where the yellow squash or the zucchini or radishes came from that week. There was usually a small sign with the name of the farmer who grew the fresh collards taped on the end of the buggy full of bunches of the greens. The shrimp were marked with what part of the coast they were caught, some noted Charleston, some Edisto Island, some Beaufort. It just depended on the day.

A shopper could find Blenheim Ginger Ale and Nehi soft drinks, in orange and grape flavors, on their shelves long before those products attained national notoriety. On the household cleaning aisle you could still find Twenty Mule Team Borax, cans of real lye, and boxes of Ajax. And on the toiletries aisle I feel certain they still carried bars of Camay, Dove, Ivory, and Dial soap, as well as Ponds Cold Cream. Now the store was stocked with everything a consumer needed, and in up-to-date products, just not the widest or most gourmet selection you may have on your shopping list.

Each year, the day in December the Christmas trees, held up by strings, each in their pans of water, appeared in front of the store told me that the holiday season had officially started. And I knew summer was upon us when I saw the first ears of sweet corn  and Low Country tomatoes in the produce section.

Then there were the conundrums. They had a wine section, by far the best and most sophisticated in town. Many bottles of wine had a hand written index card on the shelf noting the Wine Spectator's rating as well as the particular notes and finish of that specific wine. Who knew? Seriously.

Yes, there was the cracked tile floor. Huge sheets of paper attached to the front glass windows of the stores that listed the day's specials handwritten in thick colorful magic marker (done in an incredibly talented handwriting I might add.) The stores were not lit like newer more modern stores nor was there soft music playing that lulled you into shopping.

The Piggly Wiggly was where you were most likely to run into old friends. My Mama said they had the "Carriage trade", whatever. I just know that chances were I would see at least one or two old family friends or folks I grew up with on each trip. Not to say they did all their shopping there, but they always did some.

The stores served all socioeconomic groups. One would see a cross section of our fair town up and down the aisles on any given day. The asphalt parking lot with its faded lines and occasional potholes was filled with old farm trucks as well as shiny new Mercedes. Moms in their large suburbans were parked next to older women in their Buicks and Oldsmobiles. You were just as likely to see a late model Land Rover as a well a worn Camry. Whether it was the mini-van or sedan, truck or SRV, fancy sports car or station wagon, it did not matter, they all were valued customers.

The Piggly Wiggly was the hometown store. It was the place I went in and never encountered a store employee who did not stop and say "Hello" with a genuine smile. I never had a problem finding someone to assist me when I had a question. They were the last place I know where young men bagged your groceries then insisted on carrying your bags to your car. On the way out the door chances were the two of you would engage in some friendly conversation. Once I noticed a small sign by the door that explained carrying groceries to customers' car was a service of the store and the young men were not doing it for tips.

That was the feeling you got - no one was doing their job for tips. They were doing it because the business was built on customer service - an old idea. The business worked hard to support the local farmers and in doing so provided fresh produce that was usually just a day or two from the fields. One of the son's passion for wine was shared with all the customers when he took the time to hand write the reviews for the wine and tape them to the shelves.

Hoke driving Miss Daisy to the Piggly Wiggly may have brought the brand nationwide recognition, although I had many friends at the time who found it hard to believe I actually grew up with and still shopped at a Piggly Wiggly- for real. Out of town guests often insisted on getting a "I'm Big with the Pig" t-shirt to take home with them.

Some call it old, some refer to it as quaint. I think of it as a local institution that cared about their community and their customers. No, chances were you were not going to find everything on your grocery list if you cooked beyond the local church cookbook. But there was more to the store than what was on its shelves.

Things change. Life goes on. Businesses come and go. But with the loss of these Piggly Wiggly stores, life as we once knew it in our hometown is gone with the wind and it is a shame that all we have left is that warm place in our hearts. There was that comforting feeling each of us had as we walked through that door, whether or not they had what we needed, they truly appreciated us being there and would do anything they could to help us and smiled while they did it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stuck in Time in the Piggly Wiggly

(I originally posted this in December of 2009)

In our small town we have 2 Piggly Wiggly grocery stores (made famous in the movie "Driving Miss Daisy"). And yes, there are really grocery stores in business with that name. There is something to be said about small hometown grocery stores with cracked linoleum tile floors and friendly people working in them. If you have more than one bag, I can assure you that they are going to be carried by a nice young man who will discuss the weather as he walks you to your car. There he will carefully place them in your trunk or backseat. It is not up for discussion - more than one bag - someone is going to help you to your car. I have learned how to politely tell them "Thank you, but I'm Ok and I think you have your hands full with other customers", knowing my days as the "other" customer are coming soon.

In a quaint old fashioned way, only young teenage girls are cashiers at the check out counters and the teenage boys are the baggers and stockers. With one exception - in the store downtown, as long as I can remember, there is one older lady, Miss Eleanor (now in her 70s) working as a cashier. She works along side the teenage girls. Except, the young girls come and go, year after year - off to college, to get married, and some just leave town. But she remains, just like the institution.

The camaraderie among the workers is great. The guys pick on the girls, the girls flirt with the boys. You can over hear discussions about upcoming parties or ballgames. And Miss Eleanor is part of it all. While the teenagers wear jeans and t-shirts that say "I'm Big on the Pig", she wears neat navy pants and a navy smock with "Piggly Wiggly" embroidered on it with her sensible navy shoes. Her gray hair is perfectly done every time I see her.

One afternoon I was standing in her line behind a nice looking older gentleman who was buying some cigarettes and a loaf of bread. They chatted. He seemed very animated. She was very reserved but polite. When it was my turn, I smiled and asked her how her day was going. "Well, I was Ok until that gentleman came in." "Oh," I said. "He had the nerve to ask me to go to dinner with him?" "That was nice." "You don't understand, first they ask you to dinner, then the next thing you know they want to come visit you in your home. I'm not a spring chicken, I know what men have on their minds." There wasn't much I could say in response to that.

As I walked out of the store, watching the young men carrying bags for the other women, in a way, I felt like I was walking out of the 1950's. Miss Eleanor was stuck in time - like everything else is moving along and she has managed to stay safely in her 1950's world thanks to the time capsule of Piggly Wiggly. We just come and go, in and out, and she watches the world from her counter, happy for the rest of us but having no desire to move on.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Clearing the Yard

We have a landscape crew in our yard to do a major trimming of hedges and basically getting everything in shape. The last time we did this two years ago, it made the property look as if someone actually lived here.

When I say "trimming" I mean cutting the foundation plantings down so we can see out the windows, removing the small Mimosa saplings that were growing on the front steps (yes - on), and shaping up the River Birches that were ravaged by this past winter's ice storms. God, I just hope in clearing all this they don't discover a car up on concrete blocks or a discarded major appliance hidden in the brush.

This is a serious undertaking. We know it will take several days for the job to be completed. However if the owner of the landscape company shows up in a new truck, we are big trouble.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chef, A Movie Review

See it. The trailer was questionable; a food truck, a down and out chef, clips of a father and son? But Chef is so much more. I kept waiting for some cheesy moment. It did not happen. OK, I kept waiting for a gooey love story - not there. Surely there would be some pivotal life and death scene - literally - nope. 

Instead the story unfolds slowly as if it were a nice souffle rising, not some hum drum lava cake with goo in the center (an inside joke). The characters are well cast. How about a movie that puts Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Sofía Vergara, Dustin Hoffman, Amy Sedaris, and Robert Downey Jr., to name a few, together in a screenplay where these award winning actors do not step on each other or hog the screen. Rather they do what professional actors should do - play their parts well so that the story comes together to produce an excellent movie.

No spoiler here if you have seen the trailer, the storyline is that of a renown chef who is a divorced father who loses his job and ends up with a food truck. But more than that it is a literal journey that brings his life back into perspective. It is true sometimes we need to lose everything before we realize what we had.

No, it is not perfect. And I am not sure the Academy will see this as an award worthy film. But for those of us who pay for tickets to escape our frenetic lives for an hour or two ( in this case 115 minutes) of pure enjoyment, this fit the bill. 

We walked out as several other theaters, showing new releases of other popular films we considered seeing, emptied at the same time. Yes, I will probably see those other films but I was thrilled that we chose Chef last night.