Thursday, May 09, 2013

A Woman of Grit and Grace

Yes, this is a photo of me and my mama.  All I can say is those pants were in style at the time, and being young and skinny is truly wasted on the young and skinny.  {sigh}  But on with the story . . . 

I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never let you forget you’re a man, cause I’m a woman – W-O-M-A-N!  
For those of you of recent birth, this was a jingle for a perfume named “Enjoli” back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  The end tag line was "the 8-hour perfume for your 24-hour woman.”  

Also heard at the end of the commercial was a man’s voice saying, “Tonight I’m gonna cook for the kids.” 

Yeah.  Right.  {snort}  (That was my snort, not the guy in the commercial.)   Just in case you haven’t seen it or want to do the hustle down memory lane, I actually found it over at YouTube.

Honestly, though, I never had any illusions that I would marry a man who would actually cook.  After all, my mama had brought home the bacon and fried it up every night since 1965.  She was a woman before her time, but she never made a big deal out of it.  So, I truly didn't know it was a very big deal that she worked a full-time job and took care of us too.  

My mama never marched on Capitol Hill, worked for the ERA committee, participated in a sit-in, or burned her bra.  Of course, in the 60's, I was a mere babe and much too young to have a bra to burn or even much of a clue why women were doing that in the first place.  It looked pretty silly to me.  I always thought if my mama suddenly went berserk and decided to burn something, it would be my daddy's ratty old recliner he refused to give up.  And most likely the saddle blanket he had draped over it to hide the holes and splits in the upholstery too.  Now, that would've been newsworthy.

No, my mama simply had a vision of building a better life for herself and her family and the determination to make it a reality.  She and I never had deep, dark discussions about the changing roles of women or equal pay for equal work.  Somehow, she gracefully and fluidly moved through this otherwise turbulent time by combining the best she had seen of the 50's and 60's with the new attitudes of the 70's.  Maybe she had doubts about where this new road was taking her, and I know she must have struggled with the decisions she made, but I never knew it.  So, through some sort of magic mother-daughter osmosis, I adopted the same take-on-the-world attitude.  Proving, once again, that actions speak louder than words.    

I have learned, and continue to learn, so many things from my mama.  Although there is no doubt she was the major instigator of my big mouth, one of the most important things she taught me was, if you want to be taken seriously, choose your words carefully.  If my mama says, "H-E-Double-Toothpicks!" you know the situation is fairly serious.  If she actually says the word, you know it's critical. And, if she ever uses my middle name, I know it's time to find cover.  She taught me that I have a voice and should make full use of it if someone is trampling on my rights or just plain doin' me or mine wrong, but you don't necessarily have to be a bulldozer to get results.

Of course, my mama holds a place of honor in the Southern Belle Hall of Fame for her exemplary usage of the Bless Your Heart, I Put You in Your Place and Made You Like It tactic.  Also known as The Big Stick That Talks Softly, this is the Southern Belle way of charming someone and telling them off at the same time.  When done correctly, people will be so charmed they will not realize until much later they were KO’ed.  Delayed reactions are quite common.  People have been known to yell “Ouch!” and fall to their knees up to 14 days after being on the receiving end of one of these mint-julep zingers. Unfortunately, I have never been able to completely master that skill. 

I have no idea when the terms "superwoman" and "supermom" came into being, but I know my mama was both.  After putting in a 10-hour day, she came home to make dinner, do laundry, clean bathrooms, sew my cheerleading uniforms and formal dresses, take me to piano lessons, and all the other kazillion things women do.

It wasn't until I got married, had a family and was trying to follow in my mama's footsteps that I realized how difficult having it all and keeping all your duck butts in one pond really was.  Sometimes it seemed downright impossible.  I don't know how many times I looked up at the sky and said, "How on God's green earth did my mother do all this?!"  And then I would just keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward because I knew it could be done.  I had seen it firsthand.

To sum it up, my mama is fearless.  Okay, two words - fearless and fabulous, because she is always fashionably dressed and accessorized, no matter what.  And I am not kidding.  I have old photos of family camping trips, when we would routinely spend one or two weeks in the mountains and, even casually dressed, she looks like she belongs on a movie set.  How does she do that?!  The rest of us look like we rolled down the mountain, landed in a rushing river and were hung over a smoky campfire to dry.  Which, come to think of it, actually happened once or twice. 

If asked, Mama will give you her best advice, but she rarely offers unsolicited advice.  In fact, I can only think of one time she has done so in recent years.  I was cooking dinner and decided to bake some potatoes.  As I normally do, I skewered them all with a fork before putting them in the oven.  All of a sudden I heard my mama say, “You do know you don’t have to poke holes in those potatoes, right?  They’ll cook just fine if you don’t.”  Ooooookay.  I could’ve sworn I learned to do that from watching her but, the next time I baked potatoes, I didn’t poke holes in them.  And, guess what?  Yep, they exploded.  

Naturally, I immediately called her, told her what had happened, and said, “You knew eventually I was going to have exploding potatoes, and you were just waiting for this call, weren’t you?”  Her response?  She laughed.  Yep, she pulled a fast one on me.  And, this time, I was the one with my hands on my hips. 

I’ll leave you with a final word of wisdom, and I think the best advice my mama has ever given me ~ Half of knowing what you want is knowing what you have to give up to get it. ~  Wise woman, my mama, huh?   

Yes, she’s a woman of grit and grace, and I love her more than I can ever properly express.  


Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!  I love you! 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Southern Belle in the Garden of Good and Evil Part 1

Depending on how you feel about playing in the dirt, this could either be a cautionary tale or a how-to. Or how-not-to.

First things first ~ I have ugly gardens. Well, here, judge for yourself. This is what my garden looked like midway through last summer.

No, my garden will not ever be on the cover of Southern Living. Of course, a garden's beauty being in the eye of the veggie lover, birds, bees, butterflies, lady bugs, lizards and horny toads, it is beautiful but, by most everyone else’s standards, that is one ugly garden.

In my defense (and I can hear you saying, “She needs one!”), this is the patch of ground I started with a couple of years ago.

As you can see, I had more rocks than soil in my soil. It took me almost two months to excavate a 10 X 12 patch of ground, a lot of which I spent muttering to myself and looking up at the sky saying, “Seriously?! Are you sure I’m supposed to plant a garden. Or am I taking this whole 'grow where you're planted' thing too literally?" The neighbors didn’t seem nearly as alarmed by my garden monologues as they were by this: (Shades of "The Burbs" ?) 

Long story mercifully shorter, for those of you with short attention spans, I eventually got this contrary spot of Fred Flintstone rubble whipped into shape for planting. (And l’m still lamenting the fact that not a single ounce was lost while performing this Warrior Princess feat.) But, before I could put one seed in the ground, I discovered arsenic. Well, not me personally, but there it was in a water quality report that was tucked inside my monthly utility bill from the city. It said not to worry, but arsenic levels in our drinking water have been above EPA standards for a few years.

Well, you know me, I did a quick search and found more than enough to worry about. Organic arsenic it may be, but it’s still not something I want in my organic garden. So, before I could do anything else, I had to go on a search for a filter that would take arsenic out of the water. If there was such a thing. And, for the kazillionth time, I caught myself saying, “How did we even survive without the interwebs?!” The filter was located and ordered, and I made another check mark on my grime-encrusted, mud-spattered list.

A few more clicks of the mouse, and I had prepared my garden grid, carefully plotting and scheming what would be planted where, according to which plants play well together and which ones annoy each other – all the while thinking how great it would be if we could do that with people. Anyway, about 16 bags of garden soil later, and my garden was actually looking like a garden. I tossed some organic fertilizer around, worked it into the soil, and decided to let it marinate for a couple of days before planting.

The very next day I was standing at the kitchen window gazing lovingly at my little garden plot and was beyond horrified to see a black and white cat casually stroll over to it and, well, you know. Organic though that may be, it’s also not something I want in my organic garden. Ewwwwwww.

Over the next few days, other cats started showing up. Of course. This is not a single-cat household, much less a multiple-cat household, except during gardening season. I have yet to figure out how every cat within a half-mile radius zeroes in on my garden as the tropical toilet spot.

Anyway, I nicknamed the ring leader D.C. (Darned Cat). Not very original, but it was the second name that popped into my head, and it’s infinitely more socially acceptable than the first. Now, D.C. was thoroughly convinced he was a good hider, and I was the clueless one. Hey, Dummy, you’re doin’ it wrong!

I tried everything to discourage this cat. Neighbors were treated to displays of me chasing D.C. with a Super Soaker, while fashionably dressed in a purple robe and fuschia flip-flops, and most likely shot out of their Lazy Boys on a few occasions when I honked an air horn out the kitchen window.

So, putting off the actual planting yet again, I roamed the gardening aisles at Wally World trying to figure out what I could do to keep the fuzz butts out of the garden. Bingo! Biodegradable week-blocker fabric! Hey, this’ll work! 1) It keeps weeds down, obviously; 2) keeps bugs down; 3) holds moisture in, which is doubly important in the High Desert and last, but certainly not the least of my garden gripes; 4) keeps my garden from becoming a 5-star feline latrine. At this point, my dream of following in my grandma's footsteps and having a lush, fabulous, take-your-breath-away garden went completely up in smoke. Poof! *heavy sigh*

So, I know you're probably saying, "Why didn't she use those garden staples instead of rocks to hold the fabric down? THAT would've looked better!" Yeah, right. I thought the same thing UNTIL we had one of our infamous 60mph wind/dust storms. Those garden staples didn't stand a chance. Next thing I knew, I was battling wind, dust devils, and pieces of biodegradable fabric slapping me in the face while lugging some of those boulders I had just dug up back over to the garden to throw on the fabric. Whatever works, right? And it did work.

That first year, I had bumper crops of yellow squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, carrots, green beans, wild flowers and, much to my surprise, New Mexico whiptail lizards and horny toads. There were so many veggies coming out of that garden, I was able to give away plenty and still have enough left over that we had to buy another freezer. Over the last couple of years, smoke from out-of-control wildfires to the west of us and hot, dry, drought conditions have taken their toll on my garden.

This smoke monster hung over us for weeks in the summer of 2011, and my garden soldiered on, more or less.

I got a tad bit crazy last year, after reading reports about GMO foods and all the horrendous things they are probably doing to our bodies, and I expanded the garden by another eight feet. I also added a raised garden bed, which I later realized looks like a giant litter box. *face palm*

The last couple of years have been a little more miss than hit, but the good still far outweighs the evil, even taking into consideration the fires, extreme weather, cats, squash bugs, aphids, and occasional fungus among us. Oh, yeah. *rubs hands together* I can't wait to play in the dirt. I highly recommend it. And, this year, I'm finally going to get all of that hummingbird in the photo ~

If you're looking for non-GMO seeds, I have found a great place to buy them. They have quality products and really good prices. Click here to check out their web site.

To be continued ~ 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What To Serve With Your Armadillo

When I first decided to do this blog thing, I said I would never do recipes.  Yeah, like I haven't learned that never-say-never lesson about a brazillion times.  But this one is different, so it doesn't count.  I promise you have never seen a recipe like this one.  Well, unless you were hanging out with a certain crowd in West Texas in the mid 1980's, that is.  And when was the last time you saw a recipe accompanied by a photo of Clint Eastwood holding an armadillo?  Uh huh.  That's what I thought.

So, coming straight at you from my I Can't Believe I Saved That file:

Texas B&B Breakfast (Biscuits & Beer) served with Armadillo


1 cup of flour
A dab of salt
A pinch of baking powder
About that much shortening
1 National Texas Beer (32 oz. bottle of Lone Star)
1 Armadillo

Take your flour, your salt, and your baking powder and mix it up real good in a bowl.  Add the shortening in slowly along with about 3 oz. of beer.  When the dough starts to roll up in a ball and is just barely sticking to the bowl, you're about ready to cook.  Roll up some biscuits, put them on a pan greased with hog fat, and toss them in the oven, already hot, around 350 degrees.

Now, just sit down with that other 29 oz. and your pet armadillo (they love Lone Star Beer) and set your clock for about 15 minutes, and be ready to pull them puppies out.  When eating your biscuits don't hesitate to dunk one in your Lone Star for added flavor.

Disclaimer:  I have never actually cuddled with an armadillo.  Come to think of it, I've never even seen a live one.  I can, however, attest to the fact that beer does something pretty darned special to ordinary biscuit dough.

Disclaimer to the disclaimer:  Sources tell me that amadillos can sometimes carry leprosy.  So, if you get leprosy and your nose falls off, don't say you weren't warned.  Besides, I have nothing worth suing me for anyway.

Shameless plug:  Just in case you're in the mood for some more conventional recipes and cookbooks, I have some of those in my shop.  Sorry, I'm fresh out of Roadkill Cafe Cookbooks, but I do have a couple of vintage, collectible cookbooks you might like. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Duck Butts!

Inquiring minds have asked me why I have a thing for ducks and, specifically, duck butts.  I think it can best be explained by letting you have a preview of something I've been writing off and on.  So this, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.  Sort of.


“It’s still my damned house!”  The disembodied words coming from the answering machine hit me right in the middle of my solar plexis and propelled me straight up off the couch.  Even in a fever-induced, half-asleep haze, this unprovoked attack from the landlady had the power to get my blood pumping.  Normally, I would be able to take a deep breath, consider my options and arrive at a reasonably calm response.  Today, however, was not one of those days.  Sleep deprivation, a hacking cough, and a 101 fever had lowered my civility bar.  Substantially.

It could have been the fever, but there was a strange feeling of euphoria as I gave myself permission to throw off the tenets of my Southern Belle upbringing and let it fly this time.  That whole Miss Goody Two-Shoes persona was getting old.  Besides, I couldn’t take deep breaths to calm myself without coughing up a lung.  To bolster my sense of outrage, I listened to the message one more time, as I stabbed the buttons on the phone and pulled up the weather forecast online.

“Good morning, Miss Willadean.  What can I do for you this morning?”

“I’m sending someone over to winterize the cooler.  There’s a storm coming in, and I’m not taking a chance on the pipes freezing up!  You are always thwarting my workmen, and I’m not standing for it anymore.  If you don’t let this one in this morning, I’m giving you notice!” she snapped.

“First of all, Miss Willadean, the predicted overnight low is 48 degrees, according to the weather report I’m looking at online.  I hardly think we have to worry about pipes freezing.  Second, there is only a plastic water line running to the cooler.  No pipes.  Third, I have sat here for days waiting for workmen to show up and they never did.  Finally, I am running a fever, and I do not want to deal with this today.  Besides, I’m pretty sure any workman you send over will not appreciate being exposed to whatever creeping crud I have.”

“Can you at least unlock the gate, so he can get up on the roof?!” she barked.

“Sure, I can drag myself out of my sick bed, get dressed, go out, unlock the gate, and dig the cooler cover out from under 20 boxes in the garage.”  I calmly replied, following up with some impressive coughing.  I might be willing to cooperate to a certain extent, but I was definitely making the point that I was doing so at great personal inconvenience.

Without giving her the opportunity to respond, I continued “And, next time, I would appreciate reasonable notice and a civilized conversation before you call and leave nasty messages on my answering machine.  Thank you.”  With that, I hung up.

Almost immediately, my imaginary, pesky, Pez-sized Southern Belle conscience swooped down, landed on my shoulder and started scolding me.  In a move guaranteed to get me carted off to a rubber room if anyone else ever witnessed it, I flicked the invisible, tiny tiara-wearer off my shoulder.

“Enough already,” I muttered to myself.  “I don’t know who she thinks she is, but you just don’t talk to people like that.”  Then, I snarkily added, “I’m not even gonna give her a ‘bless her heart’ this time!”

By now, any prospect of trying to take a healing nap was gone, but I was definitely not going anywhere today.  Even if I had felt like going through the exhausting motions of showering, blow-drying, make-upping, and dressing, the rest of the world was not gonna welcome me with open arms.  At least not without spraying me down with Lysol first.

“I want my mama.”  I whined aloud to the empty house.  Empty because my husband, Josh, was out of town attending another seminar of some kind.  Seemed like he was always working.  Nights, weekends, holidays.

“Oh, wah, pull up your Big Girl Panties and get with the program already.”

I was trying to decide how to get on with the day and do something halfway constructive, between coughs, taking my temperature, and trying not trip over the trailing end of the blanket I was wrapped up in, when the phone rang again.  “That had better not be Willadean throwing her weight around again,” I growled to myself as I snatched the phone up.

“Mac’s Mule Barn, head jackass speaking!”

From the other end of the phone, I heard, “What?!”  Followed by a snort and the unmistakable belly-laugh of my best friend, Paula.

“Yes, Girlfriend, you heard it here first.  According to Miss Willadean, apparently, I am a jackass,” I replied.

“Ooookay, Jackie, what did you do now?” Paula asked, with a note of wariness in her voice.

“Why does it have to be me that did something?  I’m a good person.  I don’t go around cursing at people’s answering machines,” I snapped.  And then I laughed, realizing how bizarre that sounded.

“Okay, okay.  Let me get some coffee, and you can fill me in on the latest happenings in Redneckville,” she said.

Paula and I have been friends for more than 20 years, since we both ended up at the same air base in England.  We were introduced by a mutual friend, Shelly, whom I had known in Sardinia, Italy, when my husband was stationed there.  From the outside, we are an unlikely duo.  Paula was a cop in the Air Force for 18 years, she doesn’t do dresses, she’s a champion bowler, and she hates American cheese.  On the other hand, all of my jobs have been in offices and required professional dress – heels, hose, make-up – I can’t bowl to save my life, and I put American cheese on everything.  I love the outdoors and being in the wilderness.  Her idea of the wilderness is an out-of-order ice machine at the hotel.  We do, however, both love books, animals, cappuccino, disco music, and road trips.  Somehow it works.

I quickly filled her in on the dust-up with the landlady and followed that up with a little self-indulgent whining about how crappy I was feeling, and how I was home alone, again.  As usual, Paula had me laughing in no time, and I wished for the gazillioneth time that there weren’t several hundred miles separating us – with her in Alabama and me in New Mexico.  But, that’s what happens when you’re in the military.  You make friends, you get to spend maybe a couple of years together, and then everyone gets sent somewhere else.  But, even 13 years after my husband’s retirement, there are a few people I stay in touch with on a regular basis.

After about an hour, I said, “I guess I’d better get off this phone and do some research for the birdfest at the wildlife refuge next month.  I’m supposed to be helping out with the “How to Identify Duck Butts” class, and the instructor still hasn’t called me or shown up.  With my great luck, I’ll end up leading the class, and I’m pretty sure this won’t be a “fake it till you make it” kinda thing.  I can’t wait to see what pops up when I do a search for ‘duck butts.’”

Paula cried, “Duck butts?!”

“Yes, duck butts.  When ducks are in the water, they spend a lot of time with their heads under the water and their butts sticking up in the air.  A good duck watcher can tell one duck butt from another one.  It’s a whole thing,” I explained.

“The things you get yourself into.  And, yeah, you might wanna brace yourself.  A search for “duck butts” could bring up some seriously disturbing images that will be stuck in your head.  Forever.  Some things you can’t unsee,” Paula said.  “Good luck, Sweetie!  Bye!”

As I put down the phone, I distinctly heard Paula snicker and then snort again.  Like I said, Paula is just not that into anything to do with the outdoors, and she is sometimes barely able to hide the fact that she thinks I’m crazy for cavorting about in the woods.  I’m not even sure she’s ever been all the way to the back of her own back yard.

The next couple of hours were taken up with the duck butt search and printing out everything I could find.  No way was any of this going to stick to my over-heated brain cells today, but at least I now had a file folder full of info and full-color pics of duck butts.  Hopefully, at least some of these butts would actually show up at the wildlife refuge.  I thought maybe my fever was up again, because suddenly “duck butts” struck me as hilarious.  Not necessarily a good thing, because every time I tried to laugh, I ended up coughing and choking.

“That’s enough of that.  You need some food,” I said to myself.  “Yipes.  This whole talking to myself thing could actually be a problem.”  Stifling a chuckle, I put the file folder aside for later and went in search of chicken noodle soup.

So, now you know.  Since moving here, one of my favorite places is the wildlife refuge, where I was first introduced to the art and science of ID'ing duck butts.  Besides, saying "Duck butts!" (especially at weird times and places) never fails to either make someone's eyebrows shoot up on their forehead or make them chuckle.  Try it!  I Triple-Dog, er, Duck dare ya.  Duck butts!  Duck butts!  Duck butts!  ;)