Monday, December 14, 2009

Nana goes to college

My Nana died a week ago today. She was 92 years old and lived, at least as far as I knew, a full, wonderful life, though she certainly had her share of hardship. She left behind three daughters (my mother included), eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. We were all at the burial and memorial service in Charlotte, NC, this past Friday. Five of the eight grandchildren spoke about Nana at the service. And I learned that she apparently thought we were all as special as I know I was to her. That was the theme that ran through all five of our stories. Here's what I said about her.

I knew from early on that Nana loved me, not in some abstract, send me a card with money in it for Christmas kind of way, but in a concrete way that made me know she wanted me around. She introduced me to her friends. She wanted to know mine. She was a part of my life.

I took all of that for granted until my freshman year of college. I was at Emory, living in a dorm that had been built in the 1920s. It had no air conditioning (in Atlanta, Georgia). I shared a tiny room, just big enough for two desks, two twin beds and two dressers, with a roommate, and a bathroom with 20 other girls on my hall.

One day Nana called. She was planning to drive through Atlanta and wanted to see me. Could she stop and spend the night? I said yes without giving it a second thought. My first realization that this might be unusual behavior--for a grandmother to spend the night in a girls' dorm--came when I mentioned it to my roommate. She didn't seem to mind about Nana spending the night. She just seemed shocked that Nana would want to.

"Does she know where you live?" Nancy asked.

"Does she know where the bathroom is?"

"You're not going to make her sleep on the floor, are you?"

Word spread throughout the dorm of the impending overnight visit by a grandmother. You'd have thought the queen was coming. Was Nana spying on me for my parents? Did I really want her to come? they asked.

And I began to wonder what was wrong with my friends. They couldn't imagine wanting their own grandmothers to spend the night. Or their grandmothers wanting to.

After getting a unanimous verdict that this was weird behavior, I started to wonder what was wrong with us. Should I have outgrown wanting to see my grandmother? Maybe she was checking up on me.

When she showed up, a parade of people from the hall trooped through the room to get a look at her, like she was some strange species from another planet. She was nice and funny and agreed that none of her grandmother friends had spent the night in their granddaughters' dorm rooms, before smiling and saying, "Weren't they missing out?"

As I lay awake that night on the hard linoleum floor, I agreed with Nana. Her friends and mine were missing out, not just on a one night stand that would make a good story for years to come, but also on the kind of relationship that can have fun together, even in a hot, crowded dorm room.

A photo from my last visit with Nana, May 2009.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The cats who killed Christmas

Free to BAD home, three cats who killed our Christmas tree!

The crime:

Close-up of the victim:

The carnage:

Last gasp of pink Christmas lights:

Death of the flamingos-pulling-Santa's-sleigh ornament. My very favorite one, hand painted by my cousin Tina.

The suspects:
Dusty, the ringleader

Stewie, the muscle

Miss Kitty, the brains behind the operation

Approach these felines carefully. They are considered clawed and dangerous!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cabinet door disaster

My plan had been to enter the story of this remodeling disaster in a contest, but I missed the deadline. So, I’ll just post it here. This is a story about our old house, so it happened more years ago than I want to think about.

Before I married Chris I had never held a paintbrush and barely knew which was the business end of a screwdriver.

But Chris was a remodeling contractor and out of economic necessity, I became his assistant. It turns out that one of the things I’m good at is painting—and I like it. I slip into a sort of mindless, meditative state, while I’m working. And then I get to see big changes in a hurry—painting satisfies the contemplative side of me and the short-attention span side as well.

Little did I know how important my new-found painting skills would be. We bought a house with a kitchen with lots of dark brown cabinets. We avoided the kitchen at night because the dark cabinets soaked up all attempts at lighting the room, and we stumbled around nearly blind no matter how many fixtures we turned on.

Those are Chris's legs on the ladder between the island and the upper cabinets.

After knocking around in the dark for several months, we removed all the cabinet doors and drawers and took them to the basement, where I set to work sanding and prepping them for painting.

Me sanding cabinet doors--before disaster struck!

I sanded at least a million drawer fronts and doors, then laid them on sawhorses to prime and paint. After painting a batch, I’d hang them with a screw (I had learned how to use a screwdriver by this time) and wire to another wire stretched across the basement to dry.

This project took several days, with Chris working upstairs on other things all the while. I had just put the final coat of glossy white paint on the last set of doors and had decided to leave them on the sawhorses to dry rather than hang them up.

As I surveyed my work, making sure I hadn’t missed any spots, rain began to pour on my head and on the freshly painted doors—an unusual occurrence because I was in the basement. I wasn’t so worried about myself, I needed a shower after all. But the paint on the doors wasn’t dry, and I saw my hours of work rippling and bunching up as the water hit it. I’d have to start all over with sanding, priming, and painting.

I screamed up through the floor at Chris. “Turn the water off. Turn the water off. It’s ruining my doors.”

But there was no answer from the kitchen, which was right above my head. By the time I ran upstairs, Chris was headed out the front door to the water meter to turn the water off. He had taken the kitchen sink supply lines loose in order to replace them, then gone to the store to buy new ones. When he got back, he went to do some work in the bathroom and turned the water back on to test that work without finishing up in the kitchen. Because we had no floor covering in the kitchen, the water poured through the cracks between the pieces of subflooring and straight down on my cabinet doors.

While I did all of the necessary repainting, Chris re-did all of the sanding—a job I hate.

Eventually, the cabinets and the rest of the kitchen came out great—nice and bright.


And, yes, after living through the winter with the snow-like look, we scraped the paint off the upper window panes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Love Houseblogs

Chris and I are home remodelers from way back. We've lived in three works-in-progress (still do) and fixed up and sold several other houses, back when the market would let you do that.

When we're not actually in the throes of some remodeling project, we read about other projects, we look at magazines for inspiration--we wouldn't want to run out of things to do to our house, after all--and we visit Web sites, sometimes for inspiration and sometimes to remind ourselves that we're not the only ones crazy enough to live without flooring for seven years or without an oven for five years or even crazy enough to keep thinking this is fun!

Houseblogs is a collection of people who blog about remodeling projects. You can find helpful hints, hilarious predicaments, and celebrations of a job well done--or at least finished.

And if you're lucky--like I was last week--you can win one of their contests--this one for stories of home-remodeling drama. Thanks Houseblogs and True Value Hardware!

I can't wait to stock up on supplies for the next project--if only I can decide which one to tackle first.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's a miracle!

This weekend, I learned that miracles do still happen. One swooped down and landed on our garage on Saturday. While I didn't witness the actual miracle occurring, the aftermath is still visible--and will remain so for a long time, I hope!

We moved into our house, with its detached two-car garage, 15 years ago. In that time we have NEVER parked two cars in it. Most of the time we haven't been able to park one car in it.

Chris is a Grand Poobah in the Distinguished Order of the Packrat. But this weekend he shed his packrat robes, threw off the grand poobah fez and cleaned out the garage. For the first time EVER we have both cars parked in it.


Poobah or no, I think he's pretty grand!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sharpies: A remodeler’s best friend

Fifteen years ago we spent all of our money (and all the bank would lend us) on two acres, a pool and a house that was dark as a cave and nearly as dirty—especially the ancient gold-brown carpet. We knew as we moved in that we’d have to live in the dark for a long while as we saved our money to begin renovations. But when after about six months the washing machine overflowed (during the disgusting-water wash cycle) into the carpeted hall, living room and two bedrooms, I thought I could move our new-floor covering schedule up a bit.

Chris came home to find me sitting on the living room floor with a box cutter and a screwdriver, cutting the carpet apart, pulling it and the padding up, and popping staples out of the sub-flooring. “Insurance is going to cover the new floor covering for us. Isn’t that great?”

It was partially great. We got new carpet and padding put down in the two bedrooms quick like a bunny, thanks to the insurance money. But we wanted to knock some walls down in the living room, dining room and kitchen areas, build new kitchen cabinets in new places, put in a new back door and add a pantry and powder room. “We can’t put the hardwood floors down just yet. But we’ll get started. It won’t take long,” Chris said.

We tore all the carpeting out, leaving rough plywood you couldn’t walk barefoot on for fear of getting splinters and cracks between the boards that you could drop into if you weren’t careful. Made it kinda drafty in the winter. And we started tearing out walls, moving along pretty quickly for us. (Chris was working as a remodeling contractor at the time, so like the cobbler’s children, the wife’s remodeling projects always came last.)

Until the appliance gremlins struck. Our oven went out (leaving us with a 1940’s large-microwave sized oven that sucked up so much power it had to be in a room all to itself, but that’s another blog post); our refrigerator died; the dishwasher (and I don’t mean me) quit washing; and the clothes dryer quit drying. Anyone who has done extensive remodeling knows that the only way you can survive in a house that’s torn to pieces is with a full set of functioning labor-saving devices. We managed to live without an oven for five years. But the rest of the appliances had to be replaced. There went our remodeling budget.

Now we had no floor covering, no drywall, and no oven. But we continued to have people visit, thinking, I’m sure, that they’d see progress in the work on our home. We did the only thing we could think of to entertain kids and grown-ups alike. We passed out Sharpie markers and let everyone draw on the floors.

Sub-flooring artwork

More sub-flooring artwork

Seven years after I first pulled up the carpet, we laid the oak flooring in the hall, master bedroom, living room, dining room and kitchen. It was a sad (but not real sad) day when we covered the artwork of our friends and family. But I gotta say, I don’t miss the splinters or as winter approaches, the drafts.

Finally, oak floors are finished!

This post was written for as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by True Value. It’s for their contest.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

7 things I've learned from my dad

Today's my dad's birthday. Rather than wish him the standard Happy Birthday, which I do wish him, I thought I'd honor him with a list of things he's taught me over the years. He was a math teacher after all, way early in his life--before I came along, thank goodness--however, math is NOT one of the things he was able to teach me.

Things I've learned from my dad:

1. Dogs are not only man's best friend, but can be woman's too.

Daddy and Leroy

2. Never buy a new car.

3. It's important to have hobbies, and if the hobby requires a costume, even better.

Daddy in his "assless" motorcycle chaps and Harley vest

4. A sense of humor helps in any situation and hides a multitude of sins.

5. A song can brighten your day, so learn the words and at least the bass part, even if you don't know the melody.

Daddy singing with Lesley and Jim

6. Thessaloniki, Greece, is a great place for a father-daughter trip

Daddy at the church of St. Dimitrios in Thessaloniki
Daddy Agios Dimitrios

7. Showing up may not be the only important part of fatherhood, but it is what I remember when I look back at my childhood. Thank you for always being there when I needed you or wanted you.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, July 24, 2009

I love Trader Joe's!

Trader Joe's stores arrived in the Atlanta area a couple of years ago, much to my delight. I'm not a cook, so anything that makes that job easier or even a little more interesting, gets my vote. Besides, they have really cheap wine!

But this week, the good people at TJ's rose even higher in my estimation. I won the weekly drawing for a bag of groceries--just for bringing in my own shopping bag each time I go. Goodies, most of which I'd never tried, filled a Trader Joe's Atlanta shopping bag. Joe Joe's cookies, the organic tea-lemonade drink, bruschetta, a candy bar, a pasta sauce I had not tried before, fusilli pasta. So far it's all been YUMMY!

Thanks, Trader Joe! I'll be back soon to enter again!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kirkpatrick double wedding extravaganza

Clowns, jugglers, mimes, these were all suggestions from the double-wedding committee (family friends who had been giving opinions our entire lives) 22 years ago when my sister and I were planning our wedding. People look at us funny when Susan and I talk about "our" wedding, but given the outside committee we had to deal with, the grooms didn't get to have a lot of input.

On this anniversary, as I look back at pictures, there are so many things I remember I about that day.

The videographer (and member of the wedding committee), the late, great Harry Watters, rendered almost invisible, just like my mother insisted.


The wedding brunch. Daddy was presented with a trophy by committee chair Judy Watters for surviving (and paying for) the whole ordeal. The trophy reads, "Life's work well done; rest thee now."


My dress, which had been my aunt's when she got married in 1956, hanging from the ceiling fan while guests milled around in Mom and Dad's living room because it was too long to fit anywhere else.


Committee members and wedding director Sallie Estes and preacher Joe Estes, without whom the wedding wouldn't have come off at all. I'm sure we're still together because of the good work they did.


So many hands getting us ready. I've never looked so good and always wished for a gaggle of handlers who'd dress me and make me up every morning.


Lesley buttoning the hundreds of buttons up the back of the dress Mom made for Susan.


Sending Mrs. DiPlacido, the mother of bridesmaid Lesley, out for falsies. I'd lost almost 20 pounds in the month leading up to the wedding--nerves--and my dress didn't fit any more. She was the only one in the room with money and car keys.


Mom walking me down the aisle.


Daddy walking Susan down the aisle.


How handsome Chris (and his groomsmen) looked in his tux.


The beautiful music. Thanks in part to Harry Watters (son of the invisible man).


Exhaustion setting in as the after-ceremony pictures were taken. You know how long it takes for photos with one bride and one groom. Imagine how long it takes with two entire wedding parties.


Following a family tradition and cutting the cake (there was only one) with a saber. Made it taste especially good!


The wedding party


It's been a great 22 years. How could it not have been, with a start like that? Chris, I'd do it all again. Happy Anniversary!

Karen and Chris


Susan and Gregory


Daylilies and a rehearsal dinner

Twenty-two years ago today was wedding eve. The day before an event the likes of which Huntsville, Ala., still has not seen duplicated. But the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner also stick in my mind, not only because they were a lot of fun, but because the dinner marked my introduction to daylilies.

The wedding was double, my sister and I got married together. Here we are at the rehearsal dinner, (Chris, Karen, Susan, Gregory) with the spectacular daylily centerpiece that my in-laws and their friends created.


We inherited those daylilies, which are blooming profusely this year thanks to a fair amount of spring rain. These are photos I took this week.






I wrote the following piece about our daylilies several years ago as public radio commentary. But the sentiment still holds true on this day when I find myself thinking about them and that very special time 22 years ago.

When I'm in a good mood, I look out at the thousands of daylilies blooming in our yard and think about our wedding. I remember the tables at the rehearsal dinner covered in gorgeous yellow and orange daylilies. I can almost see the arrangements at the wedding reception. Everyone says they were beautiful, but I remember those only from photos. I still hear the excitement in my then eight-year-old cousin's voice as she proudly showed me the daylilies she'd helped dig out of my new in-law's garden; daylilies she promised to plant in her own yard as soon as she got back home.

When my mood's not so good, I think of the many times we've moved the daylilies. After Chris' parents sold their garden property and moved to Florida, we transplanted 400 plants to our house near Five Points in Huntsville, Ala. Two years later, the daylilies needed dividing, so we moved 600 to our new place in Marietta, Ga. Our last move saw an increase in plants to more than 900. When I think about these moves, I have to get a glass of water and sit down.

This time of year, when the lilies are blooming so beautifully, in colors you never see planted along the ditch banks, I realize they are worth moving. They are so much more than the armloads of burgundy, pink, yellow, purple and orange blossoms that I gather every day for six weeks to decorate the fixer-upper. They are Chris' past.

Chris' mom and dad hybridized some of the daylilies and gave them names like Richmond and Salt Lake City. I can't look at their blossoms without thinking of the Kennedy's and what they passed on to Chris--a love of the outdoors and a concern for nature that shows in Chris' enthusiasm for recycling, growing vegetables and planting flowers, that's apparent in his willingness to move to the Atlanta area to please me, but only if I'll live on acreage in the suburbs.

It's morning now, the best time to cut flowers whose blossoms last only one day. Armed with scissors, I head up the hill to the garden. I guess I married the daylilies shortly after I married Chris. They're a lot alike, Chris and the lilies. Both quiet, hearty, good to look at and happy to be growing on our plot of ground in the shadow of the big city.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The practically perfect mini-vacation

For the past few years when we've been to the beach, we've hit uncrowded, uncommercialized, less developed places like Jekyll Island, Ga., and St. George Island, Fla. But this year we went back if not to the heart of kitschy Florida, which is probably Weeki Wachee and the mermaids, then at least to its liver.

We traveled to Ft. Walton Beach, the home of sugar-sand beaches, emerald-green water, Big Kahuna's water park, the Gulfarium and a main street called the Miracle Strip.

I've loved our low-key beach vacations, but driving past Cash's Liquors and Fudpucker's restaurant on the way to our beachside condo, I found myself getting caught up in the Fun, Fun, Fun that pounds you from all sides before you even see the Gulf.

A high point--two meals in three days at the Back Porch, an open-air beachfront place where shirts and shoes are optional, but the seafood is fresh and fabulous. Their grilled amberjack (a white fish caught off the coast there) sandwiches invade my dreams, both waking and sleeping, on a regular basis, so I was glad to have two of them. Plus great onion rings and something I'd never had room for before, dessert--some ultimate chocolate concoction that will accompany the amberjack dreams for years to come.

Our waitress took this picture of us looking happy even before we'd eaten our meal.


So indulge your inner teenager and visit the commercial side of Florida every now and again. It's worth it, if only for the amberjack.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Boiling pig heads

Nothing says summer in the South like the sight and aroma of boiling pig heads in the backyard.


Okay, so this little adventure had nothing to do with being in the South and everything to do with having a sister with a dead-animal fetish (and I mean that in the most wholesome sense of the word).

A student in one of her anthropology classes bought pig heads from a butcher, shot them with bullets, hacked at them with a machete, then buried them to see what would happen. Susan (the sister) was very pleased at the student's ingenuity. Then, joy of joys, when the class was over, the student told Susan she could keep the pig heads! Rapture!

Unfortunately they still had a little tissue attached. And nobody wants that. So, she brought them over to boil in Chris's outdoor, turkey-frying pot. (Thanksgiving will never be the same.)

The smell of boiling hog fat--it reminded me of the old-timey candle-making smell on steroids--permeated our yard and house for hours, but look at the payoff. Three perfectly clean pig heads preserved for college students for years.


Better sign up early! That class will fill up fast!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother’s Day!

I actually have the world’s greatest mom. Ask anybody who knows her. She’s smart, kind, sweet, loving, fun, interesting, caring. The list goes on and on.

World's best mom!

But one of the best things about her is how good a teacher she is. She taught for a living, and over the years she taught me many important things, like …

1. Food is not the most important part of a dinner party. (Thank goodness, because I am not a cook, but I love having people over.)

2. Love really can be unconditional. She’s been mad at me, disappointed in me, unhappy with me, but I’ve never, ever felt like she didn’t love me.

3. Tolerance is the most important part of any long-term relationship.

4. If you want your children to care for you in your old age, you better be really good to them when you’re young and able and caring for them. (She was. Now we are trying to be especially good to our gaggle of nephews, since they will be stuck with us in our dotage.)

5. Having your nose buried in a good book is a great way to spend the day.

Thank you for everything you taught me, Mom! I love you!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Civil War trench?

We live in Georgia, work in the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain--home of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, site of the Civil War Battle of Kennesaw--learned the story (at the least the white Southern version) of the War of Northern Aggression before we could speak. But a Civil War trench, right in our own backyard? Doesn't seem likely.

We own a of residential lot, left over from Chris's days as a remodeling contractor/builder. We've had it on the market for a while, not really expecting it to sell in this economy, but as our agent says, "it doesn't hurt anything to keep a sign in the yard." Well, we got a contract this week. A very nice surprise.

A bigger surprise was one of the special stipulations on the contract. If a Civil War trench exists on the property, the buyers don't have to close. The picture that jumped into my mind when I read that was of Indiana Jones-type archeologists trooping through the wooded lot, then suddenly dropping into a trench filled with Confederate flags, muskets, and perhaps some long-dead soldier propped against the dirt.

Who is going to tell these buyers whether or not there's a Civil War trench on the property? I don't think the Yellow Pages has a listing for Civil War trench hunters.

How many pieces of property have the buyers tried to buy that had a Civil War trench on them? Why wouldn't they want it?

Our real estate agent, who has sold real estate in this area for many years, says she's never run across this issue before.

Maybe if there is a trench we can open our own historic site on the lot. But really, I hope there isn't one. Not so much because that means we won't close (though I do want to sell the lot) but because I want to go to the closing and ask the buyers about the stipulation and how they know there is no Civil War trench on their new property.

Anybody out there heard of this? Clue me in. I can't begin to figure this one out.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

A man walks into a ...

... OK, not into a bar. It's not a joke. Chris walked into the alternations shop the other day, wearing a cap because his bald head gets cold, to pick up a pair of pants he'd had hemmed.

He looked quite handsome in his cap, apparently, because Sandy, the owner, said, "You a very handsome man. You need more hats."


So, along with his pants, she handed him a large shopping bag full of a bizarre collection of hats and scarves. I know because he brought them all home. Inside the bag were such treasures as a pink and white baseball cap with an after-market elastic chin strap sewn on, a black straw hat with bright red band, a couple of straw driving caps, two fluffy burgundy hats that you'd have to be really cold to wear out in public. Picture Phyllis Diller-style hats. There were at least a dozen.

As I tried on hat after cap, I noticed that they smelled like little old lady, in a good way. A way that reminds me of my great-grandmother and maybe a little of my grandmother, from years ago. A combination of cedar chest and some floral, old-fashioned perfume or powder.

When I mentioned the happy smell, Chris said, "Oh, yeah, they said we might want to wash them before wearing them."

I yanked the weird fuzzy one off and flung it into the laundry room, where it and several others have continued to smell like little old lady for a couple of weeks. I didn't want to wash them and lose that aroma of childhood. But today I was determined to wash everything in the laundry room, dirty laundry's been breeding in there when I turn out the lights.

To my surprise, washing the washable hats and scarves (wool winter scarves, not decorative, floaty scarves) with my no-dyes, no-perfumes laundry detergent diminished the smell, but didn't completely kill it.

Now, thanks to my very handsome man, I can slip back to my childhood any time I want with a sniff of some little old lady's hats.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Monster Dog

The secret sign in front of our house inviting stray cats in for care and feeding has now apparently been translated into dog.

We took to calling him Monster because of his bizarre shape. He seemed so huge lying down, then when he stood up he was revealed as a rottweiler body and head laid over a bassett hound chassis. He appeared to have been put together by a mad scientist, a sort of veterinary Frankenstein, or a committee that had to work with only the parts of dogs no one else wanted.


But his sunny disposition soon allowed us to overlook his physical oddities--like the front foot that pointed off to the left as if he was constantly signaling for a turn.


Friday morning, after he spent the night in our now barren vegetable patch, I put him in the backyard. Did I mention I was still in my pajamas? He promptly trotted down the few steps to the the pool deck and before I could catch him walked his large, weighty self out onto the center of the pool cover, which is just a heavy-duty tarp. Not designed to hold heavy-duty bassett-weilers. Then he got scared and wouldn't come back to the edge. He was sinking slowly into the disgusting muck on the cover, which was slowly slipping into the pool. With those short legs, drowning wasn't far off.

Carla, our friend and newly arrived tenant, grabbed the pole with the pool brush on the end and pushed at him from one side of the pool, while I took off my slippers and robe in the 40-degree morning chill, and slid down into the green, slimy muck, grabbed Monster's sturdy tail and pulled him to the side. Carla ran around to the edge and helped me lift Monster out. He shook off the slime and looked up at us with sweet brown eyes as if to say, "What next?"


The next couple of days were much less eventful, as he started to become one of the family. Then Sunday afternoon his real family saw one of the signs we had put out about a found dog. They lived just around the corner and were thrilled someone had him. He raced (you know, as fast as his tree-stump legs would allow) to their car, obviously equally thrilled to see his people.

And while I appeared as happy for them all as they were themselves, part of me enjoyed having this very unusual, easy-going dog around and would miss him. But now that the sign out front has been translated into canine, maybe another dog will stop by before too long!