Monday, February 14, 2011

Cactus: A Love Story

Last Saturday morning I was talking by phone to my father. It was the weekend before Valentine's day, and I had called to thank him for the lovely card he sent to me. We were both missing my mom, historical sender of valentines, this first Day of Love since she left us.

As I hung up, I heard a beep, signaling an incoming message. It was from my dear friend, mentor and one-time high school science teacher, Judy. There was no text, just the photo above. Well, I got a little teary; Judy's Christmas cactus has been a topic of conversation between us for forty years. You see, my mom gave Judy a piece of her own Christmas cactus somewhere around 1971...and it is now this beautiful plant.

I emailed Judy, to thank her for forwarding the pic at exactly the right time. And she sent me, in Paul Harvey fashion, the rest of the story.

It seems the normally cheery Christmas cactus was depressed this past holiday; the generally prolific bloomer had only one bud. Now, Judy is a biology teacher; so, of course, she had a little heart-to-heart with the sorrowful succulent:

"...I know you must be sad that Nancy's mom has passed away but I know she would like for you to continue to bloom as you have for the past 39 years..."

And, just in time for Valentine's Day, love blossomed.

Happy February 14th, family and friends. I love you. BLOOM!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Just Another New Year's Eve...

My newest design. And its tortured path to production.

So, I didn't sleep too well New Year's Eve night. My Muse, as some of you know, has a bit of a problem with margaritas. Did she show up for my birthday, or Christmas? Of course not. But the neighbors had a New Year's Eve party, with firecrackers and a margarita she rang in the New Year with them; and came over here to crash afterward.

Being a Muse, however, she couldn't just sleep it off. No, she kept bothering - I mean, trying to inspire - me. And in her altered state, that involved wandering around the house, shouting "Boom! Boom! Boom!" I finally convinced her that I was indeed inspired, and I would make some firecracker jewelry in the morning. Fifteen minutes later, she was passed out on the sofa; with a cat asleep on her head.

I woke early on New Year's Day; and got right to work, twisting copper, brass and multicolored wire into "Firecrackers". Hammering chain. Crimping, clamping, and occasionally spewing colorful language when I smashed a finger. Muse just snored on the sofa. I finished this loud-n-cheery 7 1/2" adornment with the most gorgeous brass is exactly the right size for an average 6" to 6 1/2" wrist. Poured myself another cup of coffee, and regarded my creation with pride.

And just then, a groan from the sofa. My Muse regarded me with one open eye - the one that didn't have a cat over it. I held up "Firecracker, Firecracker" and smiled. "Look, you really inspired me! Isn't this AWESOME?" She winced in pain; and said, "What are you talking about?"

"You know...Boom! Boom! Boom! I did just what you suggested!" I really wanted to start off the New Year right, and being in my Muse's good graces seemed important.

"You're talking crazy." She adjusted the cat over the open eye; and was snoring away again in less than a minute.

Can I get a Muse Do-Over?

"Firecracker, Firecracker" is here:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

People who know me know that I hate my birthday. Not that I'm-another-year-older-look-at-those-wrinkles kind of hate; but rather a deep and abiding hatred for the physical date. I could change my name, I could lie about my age...but I can't change the fact that I was born on November 12th.

Born, in fact, on the day my grandfather died. Growing up, I was frequently reminded that I was "the only good thing" to come of that terrible time. And I know the family meant that as an affirmation...but occasionally my eight-year-old self or my ten-year-old self felt, well, marked. And, perhaps, a little guilty.

As I got older, my family began to share my dread of the day. If the dog was past her expiration date, you could pretty much mark her demise ahead of time on the calendar. A family member would need emergency gallbladder surgery, IV antibiotics for pneumonia, or a colon resection the first week of the eleventh month...and we would "celebrate" my birthday in a hospital room. Or the unhospitalized family members would gather at the Fancy Sushi Restaurant after our hospital visit, to choke down some California roll and pretend it was a party.

People who didn't know me well would hear my tales and brand me a Cry Baby Drama Queen. I didn't blame them.

One year I decided to hide from the dark date, and fled to the other side of the world. I was sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia - trying not to exert any negative influence over anyone in my immediate vicinity - when the desk clerk came to find me.

"Miss Nancy, Miss Nancy! Telephone for you!" Clearly not good fact, my cousin had passed away. There was no hiding.

As I approached the Big Five-O, I decided to change my mindset. Rather than dreading the day, I would embrace it. Yes! I would greet it with joy!! I rallied the troops around me, made reservations for a fabulous family getaway in New York City; and, for the first time in a very long time, truly anticipated the date.

Until my uncle's passing, just three days before my birthday. Trip canceled, I was sad for our whole family, sad for me...then I learned that a friend's father had also just passed away. More sad.

And then, horror of absolute horrors, on the eve of my fiftieth beloved friend Tina committed suicide. Tina, who could talk me off of any ledge; who could make me laugh until I cried.

I spent my fiftieth at my uncle's funeral, talking to the folks at my friend's dad's funeral via cellphone; and writing a eulogy for Tina's memorial service.

That was five years ago.

Four November 12ths passed. I begged friends and family to ignore them. Mercifully, they weren't devastating; nor were they remarkable. I tried to stifle it, but the remnants of my optimistic nature peeked through; and I promised myself that if I got through those four unscathed, I would plan a do-over for my 55th...a REAL celebration of November 12th. A trip? A party?

Couldn't decide, couldn't commit...

And then it was upon me. I spent November 12th by myself, Christmas shopping and making jewelry. Quiet; until Son Two called...

To wish me "Happy Birthday". And to share this story. When my daughter-in-law and precious, precious granddaughter returned home the night before, they found the house full of gas...and the pilot light still lit on the heater. They got the pets out and fled...the gas company emergency tech pronounced it "a miracle" that there had not been an explosion. The plumber who replaced all the pipe work the morning of my birthday said the same thing.

And the moral of the story is:

Sometimes it is not what happens on your birthday that matters. It is what doesn't happen. My 55th birthday was my best birthday, ever.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Go For A Flu Shot And Land in the ER

I have always had a gift for making life more exciting than it needs to be. Call it "embellishing", "embroidering", or just plain coloring outside of the lines. Everything has to be an adventure.

Take getting a flu shot for example:

Through a fluke of nature - a weather pattern deemed an "inland hurricane", full of tornadoes and hail and other nastiness that prevented my usual Wednesday drive from Alabama to Georgia - I found myself in Birmingham rather than Atlanta on Thursday, the day I had planned to get my flu shot. In Georgia, you can walk into a Walgreens or CVS at your whim, and a friendly nurse practitioner will dispense wit and wisdom along with your vaccination. How conveeeeeenient.

But Alabama has a different medical model. Here, we have no in-store clinics. Instead, we have mini-emergency facilities, designed to serve a walk-in population; and to reduce the strain on the major hospitals. They also offer flu shots.

I had this mundane list of chores for the morning: buy leaf blower, get cat litter, buy groceries, and get flu shot.

I also had one less-than-mundane chore: Pick up urn containing remains of dear Violet, which had been delivered to the animal emergency clinic where our sweet old kitty was euthanized. That was my first stop. I knew it would be difficult, and I wanted to get it off my plate.

Of course, as I drove up to the horrible, horrible building, all of the horrible, horrible emotions of the horrible, horrible day returned...and I felt just horrible. The young lady behind the counter retrieved the pretty little white urn, bearing Violet's name; and I felt even more horrible. I took it to the car, where I opened the beautiful sympathy card from the pet crematory; and I cried for Violet, and I cried for my mother, and I cried because I missed both of them...and I am crying as I type.

I couldn't stop. I sat in front of the clinic blubbering; then I tried to drive away but had to pull into a shopping center lot to blubber some more.

Finally, the sobs receded to sniffles. And I drove, puffy-eyed, to get my flu shot.

I arrived at the medical center during a lull, and I was the only person in the waiting room. (Good thing, too...since I looked like I had just escaped The Nice Young Men in Their Clean White Coats.) Hmmm...since there was no one else there and there wasn't a wait, I asked Kay, the receptionist, if the doctor could see me for the pesky sinus infection that had been plaguing me for weeks. She agreed, probably thinking that would be a good way to have this mad woman re-committed. She handed me four forms to fill out.

Even though I was wearing my reading glasses, my eyes were still pretty squinty. I filled out just about everything wrong. Kay spent a good ten minutes fixing my mistakes. She also asked me some hard questions, like "Do you have a co-pay?" I dunno. "Does your insurance pay for your flu shot?" I dunno. This woman was doing absolutely nothing for my self esteem.

I heard my name called, and was directed to the vital statistics station, where a tech took my pulse, and then my blood pressure, and then looked panic-stricken, grabbed my hand and shouted, "Come with me!!!" Not very professional. But I followed her...

Around the corner, to where the doctor was sipping coffee in a break room. The tech shouted, "Two forty over one twenty!" and the doc spit her coffee; someone else grabbed me and stuffed me into a room, shoved some pills and a cup of water in my face and shouted, "Take these, RIGHT NOW!"

At this point, I was wondering which of us really belonged on the Funny Farm...these people had clearly ingested too much caffeine, and I was at their mercy. I had no idea what I had just swallowed, or why. Just then, Ashlee the Nurse Practitioner stepped in. She asked, "Has your blood pressure ever been this high before?" Huh? Wait...240/120...that was my BLOOD PRESSURE? I eat right, I exercise, and I take my blood pressure medicine. Surely, someone has made a big mistake.

Ashlee took a reading again. Still high, but lower...and then she made a grave error, because she is Alabamian. She asked, "Are you OK, honey?" and I erupted again into tears and blubbering. Ashlee handed me tissues and listened (while intermittently checking my pressure) as I recounted losing Violet and retrieving the urn and missing my mother and having a sinus infection. Ashlee listened to my chest, which was pronounced "clear", said "bless your heart..." which is the required Alabamian response to any outpouring of ills, and stepped out of the room.

She returned with orders and some very strange explanations for them. First, they were going to run some blood work, to see "what kind of bug" I had. The results would take about 20 minutes. Although I am not a doctor, I have spent a lot of time in the medical community. I didn't protest, but I wanted to tell her that a culture would not be back in 20 minutes; it would take a couple of days to grow. Then she said they wanted to take a chest X-ray. Clearly a plan to make money at my expense, she had just pronounced my chest "clear"; and I knew I didn't have any chest congestion. Finally, they were going to run an EKG...just because it, um, "comes with the X-ray". Whatever. I really didn't feel like shopping for a leaf blower anyway. So I was poked, prodded, photographed, and wired up. Did you know that now they can run an EKG on a laptop?

And then I waited. Eventually, the lovely young doctor who spewed her coffee and was ultimately responsible for all of this intervention, joined me in my cubicle. Dr. B., also Alabamian, had been filled in on my tribulations by the nurse practitioner. The first words out of her mouth were, "Bless your heart..." and then she told me that - although they didn't want to tell me while my BP was so high - the tests were all to see if I was having a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, my results were "as normal as normal can be". Then she asked, "Do you hurt anywhere?" Geez, these people asked weird questions. I explained that I had head and neck pain from the sinus infection; and that I have fibromyalgia. Dr. B. explained that chronic pain can raise blood pressure significantly. Hmmm. So I mentioned that I also have a ruptured hamstring; my orthopedist recommended surgery because physical therapy hasn't worked. And I have a Baker's cyst behind my knee, but I have an appointment to have it evaluated in two weeks.

Dr. B. was starting to look very strange. Her jaw was slack, her eyes were big. She swallowed. She spoke..."So you recently lost your mom, today you picked up your kitty's urn, you've been fighting a sinus infection for weeks, you have fibromyalgia and you are limping around on a leg with a torn hamstring and a Baker's cyst?" Yeah; and your point would be??? "Nancy, it's time for you to take care of yourself." Do you have any idea how busy I've been lately? Really busy. Super busy...busy, busy, busy...but, hey you kinda have a point...I said, "You're right. I think that's why I'm here today." And I meant it. Dr. B. asked me to make an appointment for a re-check in two weeks, gave me a hug and another "Bless your heart..." and left.

Ashlee returned, checked my blood pressure one last time (it was finally low enough that they could "legally release" me) handed me an assortment of medications to take home, injected me with a megadose of antibiotics; oh, and...gave me a flu shot.

Then I went home - with a stop at Lowe's, to buy a leaf blower.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From the Ridiculous, to The Sublime

It's difficult to see the "Funny" in life when you've just lost your mom. Forget finding the "Ridiculous", which often inspires me to write. It's kind of like eating when you have a cold. You know the flavor is there, but it is masked by rivers of snot. Or, in my case now, rivers of tears.

Still, Ridiculous is all around me. I hear it. I feel it. And, if I could just rip these teary scales from my eyes...

I could see that I have been blessed with a legacy of Ridiculous.

You had to know my mother. But you didn't, so I will fill you in. "Meem", as she was known to the grandkids, and eventually many others who loved her, entertained early, entertained often, and entertained with a purpose. Every event had a THEME.

There were By-the-Sea dinners, preceded by By-the-Sea hors d'oeuvres served on real scallop shells, and wine served in antique nautilus goblets. Thanksgiving feasts for thirty with hand-carved turkey napkin rings. Swedish meatballs and glogg presented in Orrefors crystal on glorious antique Swedish tablecloths. And. She saved. Every. Single. Prop. Just in case, I guess, that theme rolled around again in the Theme Rotation.

Meem was the Queen of an ordered and orderly household. The dogs got their heartworm pills on the same day each month, and dinner was always ready at 6:30. There were no piles of "stuff" around the house. Every room was decorated in its own color scheme, and one room flowed to another. But no one knew Meem's secret. She was unwilling to part with a themey find, and she was damn good at finding someplace to store it.

The kitchen cabinets were time capsules of a life well-lived. Meem, in her later years, discovered the joys of plastic cutlery and paper plates, verboten in the days of china and polished silver. These items, in every hue and design, populated the outermost regions of the cabinets. Behind the paper and plastic were layers of exotic spices in exotic jars - vestiges of culinary adventures prompted by The Food Channel and many Junior League cookbooks; and Party City banners proclaiming congratulations to my dad's tennis team. In the very back of the cabinets I discovered boxes of Knox Gelatin Powder. My mother had the most beautiful hands...she could have been a hand model for Palmolive...and here was her secret.

The china cabinets were rife with cups and saucers, collected from here and there, near and far; dozens and dozens of designs that rarely saw the light of day at the same time. My father thought that they would be lovely keepsakes for her closest friends. We started handing them out, and I got nervous around Friend 48 that we would run out. We did not. Like Manna From Heaven, we would open another drawer, another cabinet. And find exactly enough cups and saucers for the friends we just remembered.

Eventually, we will have the Yard Sale of The Millennium...perhaps The Yard Sale To End All Yard Sales. The sheer volume of interesting stuff is ridiculous. The 30 custom-carved turkey napkin rings will find new life at a church serving Thanksgiving supper to 30 recent immigrants to the United States who have never had a turkey dinner. The Authentic Scallop Shells will grace a dorm room dinner, where the main course will be shrimp-flavored Ramen noodles. A newlywed will rejoice in the Junior League cookbooks...and I will know that Meem touched so many more than the folks who attended her theme dinners...sublime...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everybody In The Bathtub!

Nancy and the Kitties are making gin!

A weird thing has happened to me since I moved to the country. OK, a lot of weird things have happened since then, but the one that's applicable here is, to quote Son One in the throes of the Terrible Twos, "I do it MYself!"

Perhaps it's because we are 10 miles from the nearest grocery store, unless you count the convenience store across from the Barber Motorsports complex, where you can buy Red Hots, fried pies, pork rinds and cheap beer at expensive prices. Maybe I've been inspired by my Super-Woman-Farm-Girl friend, Rachel, who grows her own wheat and hollowed out her own mushroom cave. Perhaps it's just because I CAN. Whatever the case, I find myself eschewing "storeboughten" in favor of in-house productions.

A polk plant caused The Great Polk Revolution, and two months of home-grown weed consumption in place of spinach. That led directly to growing vegetables in straw bales, and a devotion to the Dervaes family, and their urban homestead. (Thanks, Valerie!) At that point it was, of course, only a matter of time before I started making gin.

Well, I had all those herbs laying around...

And Megan over at Not Martha posted a link to this story at Gourmet.

The husband drinks gin, I make martinis. I am happiest making martinis when we have that very fancy, very French, very expensive gin in the house. It is made with "19 spices from all over the world". It smells divine, and the bottle is beautiful. Only the price tag is in poor taste.

Imagine my delight! A experiment with homegrown ingredients, and no real fear that I might kill someone (the original Polk Salad Experiment was a bit nerve-wracking until we both woke up the next morning.) I DID have to make a run to Whole Foods, fifteen miles away, for juniper berries - they don't carry them at the convenience store by the racetrack. But they probably have Juniper Berry Chewing Tobacco in a cute pouch. Then I pulled out that bottle of vodka that we keep around just in case someone who drinks vodka decides to stop by unexpectedly. (Since my sister is the only person I know who drinks vodka, and to my knowledge she has never been in the state of Alabama, that bottle has remained intact...for years. I sniffed it, though, and it smelled OK; so I proceeded.)

So here is how I made gin. First I put a bunch of juniper berries in the vodka. Some of them sank, and some floated. I let the bottle sit overnight on the counter, with an army of countertop appliances around it so the cats couldn't knock it over. The next morning I sniffed it (oh, OK...I tasted a tiny little bit!) and then added - in no particular order - a few peppercorns, a star anise, a spoonful of fennel seeds, a couple of cloves, a broken bay leaf, too much cracked cardamom (because it is my favorite spice), a sprig from each of my two rosemary plants, two purple basil leaves, the last shoot from my cilantro plant, a twist of grapefruit rind and another of lemon rind. And a cranberry. That was not in the recipe, but I had one, so what the hell. Now, that comes to 13 additives. The very fancy, very French, very expensive gin has 6 more ingredients, but maybe some more things will grow in the straw garden before I make the next batch. And I THOUGHT I had cinnamon sticks, so I really intended to add one of those this time.

By midday, I sniffed again...and yes, I tasted (just a tiny bit, though!) And, like magic, it smelled (and tasted, although I don't LIKE gin) like gin! With too much cardamom! Coffee filter in the funnel, decanted into another bottle. It had a bit of a golden color - true gin would go through another distillation to make it clear - but it looked like sunshine!

So, around 5 PM I chilled the shaker, crushed the ice, poured my homebrew, dribbled in the dry vermouth, and set my creation gently in the freezer to await The Moment of Truth...

Thumbs up! High Five! Passed muster with flying colors! And I'm thinking...Nancy's Herb World and Designer Gins! You Pick 'Em, We Pickle 'Em! Anyone know how to grow star anise?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Down and Dirty in Alabama

Blood sport is nothing new around here; we have cock fighting, for example. And Alabama-Auburn football. But today is the Superbowl of Blood Sport; the Nirvana of Nastiness...beyond the Extreme Rugby Championship, or no-holds barred cage's...The Alabama Primaries!

This is a primer for anyone who wishes to run for office in the Yellowhammer State. First, you will need some funds to play ads every seven minutes on every radio station and every reality TV show broadcast throughout the state. For a solid month. Clearly, that requires a lot of funds; so you might need to meet people who are engaged in illegal activity. They generally have more funds than people who are not engaged in illegal activity. Some recommendations include, but are not limited to, gambling cartels, friends of ex-CEOs and politicians who are currently incarcerated, and teachers' unions. These funds will then need to be properly "washed", because talk show hosts on those radio stations where you are advertising have no gratitude; they insist on "following the money" that you have given them. Bank insiders, PACs with confusing names, and fake websites make the "washing process" a bit easier.

Then you need some name recognition. It's helpful if you already have a moniker like "Young Boozer" or "Twinkle". (These are actual names of actual Alabama candidates, and this writer has no earthly idea if they have followed the recommendations outlined here.) If you are not lucky enough to have a fancy name, but you are a doctor, you can change your name - legally - to "Doctor"; which will instill trust in your constituents when they see it on the ballot. Or you can make billboard-sized signs and put them up on public property, especially along interstate highways. (Notes: Do NOT remove these interstate signs when the election is over. They will be useful when you run again in the future. And while you are "off-roading" in the Ford 150 posting your own signs, you can mow down those of your opponent. Just be sure you don't have one of them stuck in your truck grill when you show up at your next fundraiser.)

Next, you will need a commercial. Here is the text, suitable for radio, along with the action, for your TV ad. " __________________ is YOUR candidate for _________________. (Candidate, smiling, holding important-looking book.) _________________ is just like you. S/he is TIRED of career politicians. _________________ is a small business owner/farmer/hard-working American. (Candidate, smiling, filing/driving tractor/wearing hardhat.) S/he is proud of his/her Alabama values (Candidate pushing child on swing and smiling at spouse.) ___________________ is a conservative Christian (Candidate holds Bible and walks up to church) and has been a Sunday school teacher/lay pastor/acolyte for _____ years. (Candidate shakes hands with folk in front of church.) Vote for ___________________ for _______________. (Closeup of billboard-sized sign with candidate's name and website info. Unless you are running for Agricultural Commissioner. Then it is best to point a rifle at the camera.)

And you will need a "Don't Vote for My Opponent" commercial. If you are creative, this is your opportunity to shine! This is no time to burden yourself with the truth - it is not required under Alabama law. Compare your opponent to livestock! Insist that s/he does not believe in God! Note that his/her money came from illegal sources! (Yes, I realize this miiiiiight be bordering on the truth...) It is also fun - if you are, for example, a Democrat - to make up an uber-Republican PAC name and buy a bunch of air time to accuse your most likely Republican opponent of being a "Liberal". The sky's the limit!

One final strategy: Identify the jurisdictions that typically have 120-130% voter turnout. If they're in your pocket, you're ahead of the game. Go for the Bonus Points!

That should get you through the Primaries. Stay Tuned for "How to Win a Runoff!"