Family · Life · Memories

The Lasagna Incident

My mother was an English teacher in rural north-central Alabama. She taught at the same school in the same town her entire 30-plus year career which meant she taught two successive generations of Blount County teenagers.

She was an exceptional teacher, and she loved teaching and loved her students. Over the years, she taught every grade, but her favorites were the seventh graders. She thought they were the best combination of wild and sweet.

Like every teacher does, she had a million stories, some hilarious and some horrifying, about her students and their lives. No one who knew Mother has not heard the story about Rose and the homecoming confetti.

But that story was not my favorite. I always preferred The Lasagna Incident.

Mother was a talented seamstress, and she made all her own clothes. In the early 70’s, she had a very chic, white wrap-around skirt that she had made. A teacher wearing white to school was a pretty daring move, but I guess Mom though she could carry it off.

It happened that lasagna was served in the school lunchroom that day, and of course she accidentally dropped a big blob of it, full of bright orange grease, right in her lap. The thin little lunchroom napkins did nothing to protect her white skirt. Nothing was removing that stain, so she spent the rest of the day with a big orange Rorschach blot across the front of her thighs. By next class period, she had explained the blob about fifty times to curious 12 year olds. It became so tiresome and distracting that she finally took off her cardigan sweater and tied it around her waist like an apron, so that the spot was covered.

The last class period of the day, Mother was standing outside her open classroom door, waiting for the “late” bell to hurry the last stragglers into the classroom. One of the stragglers was a perennially late, bright-eyed little motor mouth named Joey.

Joey came tearing down the hall and skidded to a stop in front of Mother, words tumbling out of his mouth.

“Mrs. Patterson,” (in his native tongue it was pronounced Miz PAIR-sun) “Miz Pairsun, what happened?”

Mother sighed and launched into the explanation of the lasagna incident, lifting her cardigan apron to show Joey the stain.  When she finished, she saw that Joey’s eyebrows were drawn together in puzzlement.

“Oh.” he said. “But, Miz Pairsun, I meant what happened to yer hair?”

Family · Food, if we must · Memories

Coffee

I drink exactly one cup of coffee a day. I even write it in my planner, right under “feed Zoey.” It says COFFEE. I love my coffee. It’s here beside me right now, while the house is quiet and there’s still an hour or so before daylight.

Coffee was a forbidden adult beverage of my childhood. It would stunt your growth! Of course, now I know that it wouldn’t affect our growth, but the caffeine and sugar would make us even wilder little creatures than we were, and our parents were smart.

But when my brothers and I spent the night with our grandparents, Mama Bea and John Da, we were allowed to have coffee at breakfast. Everybody pretended it was a secret that we got it, and of course we didn’t really like it, but it was special. I actually thought for years that my grandparents’ pastel melamine cups were magic, because my grandparents used instant coffee, and from my viewpoint, John Da poured clear water from the kettle into the cups, but what rose up and filled the cups was coffee! I was a shy child, and for a long time I wondered how that sorcery worked.

Nana, my mother’s mother, did NOT use instant coffee. She also didn’t let us have any. It’s probably for the best, because she drank her coffee black, jet fuel strong, and scalding hot. No modern drip coffee maker could make the coffee hot enough for her. She used a percolator (with the bubble on top) that boiled the coffee ferociously and kept it that way. You didn’t mess with Nana’s coffee. It could hurt you.

She didn’t use a mug. Coffee cooled off too much if it took too long to drink. She drank it one cup at a time from her Franciscan Apple cups, using a pinch of salt “to remove the bitterness.”

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I though of Nana’s coffee this morning. Mine tasted bitter, more than usual, so I tried the pinch of salt trick. It actually sort of works, although I don’t know how. The Google says that some think it tricks your brain into tasting the salt instead of the bitterness, but I couldn’t really taste salt. The coffee just tasted better. And made me think of my grandparents.

I have finished my cup now. It’s getting light. Time to start the day. Enjoy your coffee.

 

Inspiration · Making things · Memories

Buttons

Last fall, thanks to my friend Cindy, I went to Christmas Village at the BJCC. It was my first time ever. We hit the door at 9:00 am, and covered every inch of the HUGE arts, crafts, food, and gift show. Thank goodness Cindy is a veteran, and knew the best system to get around and see everything.

It is a mind-boggling event. Craftspeople and vendors from all over the southeast are there. I heard there were over 700 booths. We saw them all.

The trick and the challenge is finding the real jewels in the truly amazing amount of things for sale. I had in mind some things I wanted to look for, and for the most part, I found them. I wanted some unique Christmas tree ornaments for my sons. Found those. I wanted a “W” initial to hang on the wall in my kitchen. Found it and it’s lovely and unique and handmade.

I wanted a wooden tray to sit on my kitchen counter to hold the salt and pepper, olive oil and other things that are frequently used. I did not find that, but I found a beautiful, hand-carved bread bowl that will display on my open shelves in the kitchen. It is EXACTLY the style I love.

But the best finds of all were the people. It would not seem plausible that in that crowd of thousands, you could strike up conversations with busy vendors and laugh so much and have so much fun! I love that they live this life making things with their hands – pottery, wood, silver, paint, clay, fabric, ribbons, sauces, and dips and soups. My favorite booths were the ones where some individual person designed and created truly unique beautiful things that you couldn’t get anywhere else.

That is why the buttons are my favorite purchase. The are handmade glazed and fired knitters’ buttons. The artist made them especially for knitters, every one different, with large holes for the yarn to go through. She is truly an artist. Her pieces are beautiful and obviously made with care and love as well as talent. She was so friendly and adorable that as Cindy and I walked away, we agreed that she should be our friend.

I admire the creators of beautiful things. Today’s world needs more beautiful things made by loving hands and creative minds. Whether practical, decorative, or edible, things made by hand add a richness to our lives. A loaf of banana bread, a hand-knit sweater, a crocheted baby blanket, a monogrammed bag – I believe that they carry within them some of the crafter’s or cook’s joy.

Many thanks, makers. See you soon.

Christmas Village Festival is 2017 is November 1-5. Tickets go on sale October 2.

The quilt pictured above is a pinwheel crib quilt I made when my children were babies. It is machine pieced, and machine and hand quilted.

Beach · Family · Inspiration · Memories · travel

Vacation

I have spent the last few days slathered in sunscreen, dozing under an umbrella with this as my view and soundtrack.

Gulf of Mexico, Aug 2017

For 25 years, one week each summer, we have gone to the same beach, eaten at the same restaurants, shopped at the same grocery store, enjoyed the same delicious seafood. It is truly a relaxing vacation. We read, we nap, we walk, we cook if we feel like it. And when it is over, we come back home, more calm and more tan, and ready to fit ourselves back into our “real” lives and responsibilities.

Memories · travel

I rode in a helicopter

DSC01035In Alaska. Over mountains and lakes and snow and many a rocky precipice until we landed on a massive glacier.

I have a fear of heights, but I love mountains. I know I should have a little fear of flying, because that is very high, but I don’t. During the safety briefing before we boarded the helicopter, there were many instructions about how to walk out on the helipad: stay between the yellow lines, stay with your guide, if your hat blows off DO NOT run after it. Don’t deviate from the instructions, and load in the order the guide tells you. It was all about not getting chopped up by the rotors, which I was definitely pro that.

But, instructions about what to do in case something happens to those (very flimsy) rotors that are holding us up in the air and we start to go down? Not so much. In fact, nothing. Because, I realize now, what would be the point? If you fall out of the sky onto a mountain in a thing roughly the size of a Volkswagen, emergency exits and flotation devices are not really going to figure in. But I didn’t think about any of that at all while we were flying. I think my whole thought process during the 30 minute flight over the mountains consisted of, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh. Wowwwwwwwww. Ohhhhhhhhh.”

I’ve seen movies and National Geographic specials about the glaciers, but to fly over one is stunning. There is no sense of scale because there are no roads or buildings to compare. You just know it’s huge. It is blindingly white because new snow was still falling regularly in late May, and the mountain peaks threw dark blue shadows across the vast whiteness.

As we continued up the glacier (it was the Mendenhall, not far from Juneau), we spotted a faint grid of black dots on the snow far up ahead. It had to be manmade, and as we got closer, we realized it was the dog camp where we were going to learn about dog sledding and meet the dogs and finally ride a dogsled. Each tiny dot was a doghouse. There were probably 200 of them, flat-topped, and on many of them, the occupant was happily standing or sitting on top, barking and howling as if welcoming us.

Our guide explained to us that sled dogs are not the blue-eyed Huskies that you see on commercials that are bred for their beauty. These dogs are small, strong and amazingly eager to do one thing, and that is pull the sled. They don’t mind the cold. In fact, the May weather was a little warm for them. They prefer the frigid air, and hard-packed, icy snow. Running is what they do, and they each burn more calories on a race day than an adult male human.

The two lead dogs of our team were veterans of the Iditarod. This team runs only for one particular “musher,” and they respond to his voice. It was amazing to watch them watch him, waiting for his voice signals. They pulled like their lives depended on it. There was joy in every muscle in their bodies.

When we stopped and got off the sled, we went up and petted each dog, telling them they did a good job, and they just about wiggled out of their skins with delight. We got kisses. When we boarded the sled again, they were ready to go, jumping up and down with excitement.

Back at the camp, we thanked the dogs and our musher for the ride and went over to visit the puppy pen. A mom dog had a litter of 9 day old pups and we got to hold them! Incredibly adorable! They fit in our two hands and their eyes weren’t open yet. It is so hard to believe that those little guys will grow up to be strong, eager sled dogs like the ones that pulled us.

After a while, the helicopters returned; three tiny red dots against the blue sky. They landed one by one, a careful and precise distance apart. The dogs howled their good-byes and we boarded to fly back to the heliport. The trip back seemed way too short. I couldn’t look hard enough at everything – the vast glacier, the moraines of ground up stone and dirt pushed up by the pressure of the slowly moving ice, the sharp mountaintops, the light and shadows. I knew I probably would not see these things again, and that this incredible place is undoubtedly thawing away, and someday will be gone entirely.

The Mendenhall Glacier. I was so lucky to see it. I am proud that my children saw it. I hope their children see it.

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Inspiration · Memories · Writing

Who am I?

I am all the regular things.

I am the checkboxes of life: daughter, sister, college graduate, wife, mother, friend. I am a Honda and a modest surburban house. I am PTO, Band Boosters, college dorm rooms and first apartments. I am the empty nest.

I am high cholesterol, and ten or so extra pounds. I am Sertraline for depression, and Clonopin for anxiety.

I am the sixties and seventies. I am a farm in north Alabama. I am a tiny rock schoolhouse and an old yellow bus. I am tomatoes and okra. I am a long line of schoolteachers and others who treasured books and poetry. I am ghost stories and family tales. I am the Johnsons of north Alabama, decended from England and genetically eccentric.

I am Bible school and Sunday School. I am Jesus Loves the Little Children and Just As I Am. I am white patent leather Mary Janes, Easter dresses and baked ham. I am baptism by immersion and I am disillusionment.

Because my mother often quoted, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” I am compassion. Because I always had enough, but saw children every day who didn’t, I am gratitude.

Because bad things sometimes happen to children, I am childhood sexual abuse. I am years of guilt and repression. I am therapy and healing.

I am words, but not math; perfectionism, but mad disorganization; good food, but bad cooking. I am cats, not dogs; chocolate, never coconut, and always, always libraries and book stores.

I am 59 years of houses, apartments, neighborhoods, friends, events, weddings, wars, babies, car repairs, tornadoes, Presidents. I am a young mind.

I am sometimes fear, but more often optimism. I am Liz.

Family · Memories

Isms

I have yoga class in a few minutes. I totally don’t want to go. But I will go, and afterwords I’ll be the most self-satisfied person in all the land for going. I’ll probably mention it to no less than ten people. “Yeah, I worked out today. Just a little yoga class, you know….”

Which reminds me of of family saying we have. The -isms. You know those things someone said one time and it was hilarious, and so it gets repeated over and over through the years, completely out of context, and no one outside the family gets it, but the family laughs hysterically?

My niece, Beth, was an absolutely adorable toddler. She drew the attention of everyone. But she was a little fearful of new experiences, which is really funny, since she’s now the Rockin’ Adventure Mom of three boys. Anyway, when it came time for that rite of toddler passage, the first ride on the train at the zoo, Beth didn’t want to participate. She let everyone at the zoo know this quite loudly. And being our family, we* took her on the train anyway. Screaming. She shrieked the entire 5 mph ride around the park. The monkeys went nuts. I believe they thought one of their own had finally made it to freedom.

Well, when it was over and we thankfully got off, the Child Abuse Family, covered in toddler snot, Beth announced to all the assembled folks waiting to get on the train with their non-screaming kids, “I ride de train.”

So proud of herself. “I ride de train.”

“I ride de train.”

She told everyone at the zoo the rest of the afternoon. The cotton candy vendor heard about it. A guy emptying trash. Everyone. They were all so happy for her.

So for the last thirty years, we brag about our accomplishments, even when we had to be dragged kicking and screaming to get them done… “I ride de train.”

“I ride de train.”

Anyway, I’m off to yoga. I probably won’t scream during class. Hopefully. But I’ll be back to brag about it later, definitely.

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*I wasn’t actually there, but I’ve heard the story so many times, it feels like I was.