Monday, January 31, 2011

Day 6 of the 17 Day Diet

Let's see...where do I begin?  Shall I first tell you my opinion of the diet itself, confess my transgressions, or boast of my weight loss.  I suppose that you are sitting on the edge of your computer desk chair saying, "Get to the results, woman!!" so I'll begin there.  As of 7AM this morning, I am down 3 pounds.  Considering that my weight seems to vacillate a pound or two every night between the time I lay my head on the pillow and the next morning when I shuck my jammies for my morning shower, I should probably claim only 2 of those pounds.

The diet itself is very easy.  There is no weighing.  No measuring.  No weird ingredients like agave nectar or tahini.  As you can see by my grocery list, most of my shopping was done in the produce department.  Fresh, fresh, fresh.  Fortunately, I'm the type that gets all excited when I see that Brussels sprouts, collard greens, and asparagus are on the "cleansing" vegetable list.  And, I assure you, they do not disappoint in the whole "cleansing" department.

As for the 17 Minute Workout, the jury is still out.  I did it twice last week then took the weekend off.  I take my weekend leisure very, very seriously.  As you may recall, the first time I did the video, I used clenched fists in lieu of hand weights.  On Friday I added hand weights.  I borrowed them from my 85 year old mother.  They are one-pounders.  Those of you who enjoy working out as little as I do will be happy to know that though the weights were minimal, I felt that I got a "better" workout while using them.

Now, for my transgressions.  Alan and I attended a couple's shower on Friday night.  There was a huge spread of Mexican food.  I skipped over the chips, tortillas, tamales, and queso.  I didn't want to be rude, so I took a small spoonful of the homemade enchiladas.  I focused on the chicken fajita meat and grilled vegetables.  Oh, and guacamole.  Then, there was the 1.5 inch square of a Blonde Brownie that I savored on my taste buds for several minutes.  To onlookers, I probably looked like I had just been voted off Survivor Vanuatu and was enjoying my first real meal.  I tried to keep my this-is-soooooo-delicious moans to a minimum.  These Friday Night Diet Improprieties were followed by Saturday Night Diet Improprieties during dinner at O'Hana where Alan and I bellied up to the sushi bar.  

Garden Salad with Roast Turkey
and Blueberry Basalmic Vinaigrette
On Sunday, I ate like a choir girl taking communion.  I consumed only what was suggested for Day 5 of the Accelerate cycle of diet.  Come to think of it, the bread that I consumed during the actual 10:30 communion service was not a part of the plan.  However, I counted the grape juice as red grapes which are on the "low sugar fruits" list.  I spent most of the afternoon cozied up on the couch watching "The Parking Lot Movie," a very interesting documentary about a parking lot.  Pictured on the left is the salad I ate during the movie.  I figured out that basalmic vinegar, olive oil and about a tablespoon of sugar-free blueberry jam makes a pretty amazing salad dressing.  Or, maybe I'm flavor-desperate.

This morning as I was wagging my one-pound weights around while lunging and marching in place, I became totally distracted by the 17-Minute Workout leader's legs.  Either she doesn't shave them, or she has zillions of tiny spider veins.  I spent the whole 17 minutes trying to catch close up glimpses of her calves.  It appears that my friend, Modified Workout Model Joanne, and the other girl in the video have smooth shaven legs.  The time passed much more quickly as I made a game out of trying to figure out whether or not the video was "high def" and did it come in Blu-ray.  According to my TV, the lady has very hairy legs.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Day 3 of the 17 Day Diet

I am freezing to death.  I've been drinking gallons and gallons of water.  My urine could pass for Dasani right now.  Other than that, I really like the 17 Day Diet.  After all of the calories that I consumed over the holidays, simple meals like grilled chicken and steamed broccoli are tasting pretty good.  On Wednesday afternoon, I went to the store and filled my cart with leafy greens, lean proteins, probiotic yogurt and fruit.  My refrigerator is bulging with healthy, fresh meal choices.  I haven't had a tall glass of iced tea for days.  So far, so good.

When I ordered the 17 Day Diet book, I went all in by also purchasing the 17 Minute Workout DVD.  How easy can it be?!  A quick 17 minutes a day!  That works perfectly for a person who prefers a high return on low effort.  So, I popped the video in yesterday morning for a quick workout.  There were choices:  1) 17 minute cardio abs (Nahhhh.), 2) 17 minute cardio buns (I think not.), 3) 17 minute total body conditioning (Hmmmm.  A possibility.).  I chose the 3rd option because it didn't mention the word "cardio."  It began with a simple march in place.  "Oh, yeah.  I can do this!" I beamed.  Then, the lady mentioned that we should have our hand weights close by.  I forgave myself for not having any weights on hand.  They had long since been wagged to the Goodwill collection truck that parks in the grocery store parking lot.  Soon, we were lunging and my onscreen workout buddies were reaching for their weights.  Having no weights, I settled on using my clenched fists to represent the added "resistance."

We bent, we stretched, we lunged, we sidestepped and marched.  Every few minutes, the leader would call out something like "Now add the arms!" or "Add a hop!" or "Step-step-step!!"  Stumbling to keep up with her, I tried to remember how I ever managed to be in a drill team or serve as a XO Sing Chairman back in the day.  I wanted to run up the attic stairs to retrieve the tap shoes of my youth as proof that I once was the queen of the shuffle step.  All of the coordination of my youth has leaked out of my bones.  I have become "that lady" you see in exercises classes who is 3 beats behind thrusting her arms up when everyone else's are down.  It wasn't long before I began to pant.  "This is a great workout!  And, my how quickly it has gone by!"  Those words had no sooner floated through my brain when in the corner of the TV screen "10 Minutes Remaining!" popped up to mock me.  Apparently, the 17 Minute people live in some sort of parallel universe where the exchange rate for seconds and minutes is far different than in my world.

I forged on.  It wasn't pretty, but I was moving.  I kept encouraging myself, "Even kind of marching and flailing my arms without weights beats sitting on the couch watching 'Toddlers and Tiaras!'"  I began to get a tad thirsty, so I set down my imaginary weights and strolled across the room to take a long draught of my tall glass of iced water.  Sauntering back to my exercise zone, I clenched my fists ready to join back in.  "Now, THREE!... TWO!...ONE!...COME ON!"  I decided to focus on the lady just behind the instructor.  She was modeling the "modified" version of the exercises.  She and I became friends.  She was not pencil thin, and if you looked really close, it appeared that she was beginning to discreetly pant.  I like her.

I totally went "off program" at lunch yesterday.  Oh, and at dinner.  At 11:30, I met a friend for sushi to celebrate her birthday.  She and I then met our CASA kids for dinner.  I couldn't have possibly expected any of them to accompany me to Souper Salad so that I could fill a trough with leafy greens topped with a boiled egg.  I guess that actually makes today Day One all over again.  A 17 Hour Diet would work much better for me.  Oh, wait.  I was on that diet at the first of the year.  It is also commonly called the stomach virus.

So far, so good.  Now that I have shared the above, you have become my "accountability partner."  You will have your work cut out for you.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Bryce was an easy child.  A man of few words, he learned by watching his older brother, Jonathan, who was often in time-out for an attitude adjustment or to pay penance for a transgression.  Bryce discerned at an early age how to either avoid the no-nos or totally fly under his mother's radar while Jonathan continued to barrel his way through boundaries hoping we wouldn't notice.  We noticed.  A lot.

On fine summer afternoon, Bryce managed to behave in a way that merited some "think" time in his room.  While Jonathan generally scoffed at punishments trying to make them seem ineffective, Bryce visibly dreaded the "Isolation Chamber."  Teary-eyed, he stood in the middle of his room while I set the timer for the assigned amount of minutes.  "Brycie, stay in here until the timer dings!  Then, we will talk," I said as I breezed back to the kitchen.

A minute or two went by before I stepped away from the sink to peer across the living room down the hall to Bryce's bedroom door.  There he stood with his body in the doorway and one foot in the hall.  "Brycie, put both feet in your room!" I warned.  He stared at me as he pulled his foot slowly into place.  His eyes were sending subliminal messages to my brain.  "You can send me to my room, but you cannot control my will to be free!" sang loud and clear in my head.  Trying to look unfazed by his passive agressive mind control, I spun on my heels and headed back to the sink.

A few more minutes passed.  I turned off the water to listen carefully.  I thought I heard some kind of rustling in front of the island where I was washing dishes.  My eyes caught a flash of color crawling on the floor just in front of the counter.  Hmmm.  That commando looked like Bryce.  Could he possibly be that brave?  Suddenly, up he popped square in front of me.  "I guess you've never even read the Bill of Rights!" he blurted before continuing on his way around the island in route to his jail cell.  "Bryce!  Get back to your room!  I'm going to reset the timer!"

Timer reset, I returned to my dishes.  A few minutes passed  before the commando once again made his stealthy approach.  This time I was interested to see what the warrior had in mind.  Up he popped exclaiming, "You probably don't even believe in the Statue of 'Liverty!'"  Touche, my little grasshopper.  I had, indeed, neglected to recall my "beliefs" in Lady Liberty before the great exile.  Mayhaps I acted rashly in such a way that totally contradicted all that she represents.  Yeah, right.  "Bryce, let's reset the timer!" I volleyed  as I followed him back to his room.  I left him staring at my back with his hands on his hips.  He was determined to show me the error of my ways.

Back at the sink, I waited without picking up a single dish.  I was actually anxious to see which icon of democracy he would flail at me next.  The freedom fighter did not disappoint.  This time he boldly marched past like a dignitary in a 4th of July parade.  "You've probably never even heard of the Constitution!" he fired.  Good one, my child, good one.  "Follow me," I said as I escorted him to the living room couch.  Once there, I explained how the law works in America.  You break one.  You go to jail.  You bust out of jail.  You get more time in jail.  Simple as that.

I followed him back to his room and reset the timer.  "Feel free to break out of jail.  This timer has lots of time on it," I said as I confidently headed back to my dishwater.  He was a smart boy.  He served out the rest of his sentence without even rattling the bars.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Alone At Last

The only sound in my house right now is the rumbling of the drier.  I'm digging my way out of the piles of sheets and towels left limp and crumpled in the wake of our college sons.  Because they go to different schools, our Christmas holiday was spread from mid-December through last Saturday when we dropped Jonathan off near the "Departure" door at the Lubbock airport.

For several weeks, I have been starving for several contiguous hours on the clock free from interruption during which I could bang out blogs on my keyboard.  I tried my best not to bristle when asked, "Mom, have you washed my new jeans yet?" or "Are we outta that cheese I like?"  My computer was overtaken by my three sons who gathered around the screen to watch webisodes of online sitcoms and viral youtube videos.  I found myself anxiously waiting for them to scurry out the door to lunch with friends or to make a run to Best Buy to "look at stuff."  Like a young mother racing towards a sink full of dirty dishes when her baby finally closes its eyes for a nap, I raced to my computer with my head full of words to tap out on my keyboard.

I've heard it said that the best way to attract your children's attention is to lay down on the couch and take a nap.  That was true when my boys were in elementary school.  Now, sitting down for a satisfying hour of blogging does the trick.  Like the buzzards that float just above country highways, the boys slowly begin to gather near.  Sitting on the bed just across from my desk, they begin with innocent idle prattle.  "Hey, Mom.  Do you think there will be good snow in Telluride."  From my focused reverie, I surface to reply, "Probably."  "Are you going to make that good recipe with that meat and that crust while we're skiing?"  "Mm.  Hm."  "What time do you think Dad will be home?"  "The usual."  Slowly and methodically, they begin to chip away my deep concentration.  Then, the lay up shot.  "Say, Mom.  We were kind of wanting to watch a movie on the computer.  Will you be on much longer?"

I click on "Save Now" and push the chair back from the desk.  There sitting in a row on the bed are my three man-boys - as big as men, yet not men.  They are grinning sweetly at me as in and effort to seal the deal.  A tiny part of me wants to scream, "Go!  Right now!  Go find something quiet to do for at least an hour while I enjoy myself for a moment!"  Then, I soak in the power of their presence in our home.  After weeks of separation, there they are all together just like the "good old days."  I squint my eyes and imagine that they are little boys again dressed and ready for a baseball game.  I remember the times when peaceful play with a treasured toy like Buzz Lightyear snowballed into a rolling ball of fisticuffs.  "Will you boys please treat each other with respect?!"

At ages 18, 22, and 23, they have become good friends.  Seeing them standing together in my kitchen gives me a simple joy that is so complete.  I gladly turned over my spot at the computer many times over the past weeks.  Now, I have it all to myself once more.  The house is quiet.  Hello, Blog!  I've been missing you.  The drier is buzzing.  I must push away from the keyboard to answer the call of the clean sheets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cheese Grits

I've been trying to figure out a way to explain my sister, Kathy, to you.  Words like "effervescent," "hilarious," and "wise" seem to be eclipsed by my technicolor memories of her.  She dances through my mind from time to time sprinkling happy memories over my heart.

She passed away on January 19, 1998, at the age of 38.  Diagnosed with acute monocytic leukemia, her days were numbered from the start - 18 months of days to be exact.  She underwent several rounds of chemo and radiation.  In August 1997, she had a bone marrow transplant from a non-familial donor.  As summer turned to fall, she slowly began to regain her strength.  We declared victory over AML. 

It snowed in West Texas that Christmas Eve.  Kathy was determined to make the trip from Allen, TX to Lubbock on Christmas Day to be with my family.  She ended up flying home a day or so early with my mom by her side because she wasn't feeling well.  Lee loaded up their car with Christmas gifts and 3 year old Kelly to slowly make the drive back to Allen on slick and slushy Texas highways.  It was Sunday, December 28th.

On Monday, Kathy was checked back into Baylor Medical Center's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.  The angry cancer had come back with a vengeance.  Its cells were doubling, tripling, and quadrupling.  Generally considered a "childhood cancer," AML is a very aggressive and deadly cancer for adults.  The doctors at Baylor Hospital fought hard until the very end.  They began another round of chemo on her already fragile body.  There was talk of getting stem cells from her original marrow donor.  Those talks became whispers as the cancer cells marched in growing ranks throughout her body.

The new year dawned as  Kathy began to slowly wither away.  Then came the ventilator.  Then came the morning of January 19th.  Then silence followed by the commotion that surrounds interment.  Then even deeper, deafening silence.

Just two weeks earlier, Kathy looked up at me from her hospital bed and softly said, "Let's play a little game."  Knowing that her condition was very, very serious, she managed to find humor in the varied reactions of her numerous visitors.  "I can tell who thinks I'm about to kick the bucket and who is certain that God is going to  spontaneously heal me.  Watch 'em when they come through the door."  There were the "Exuberants" who entered smiling and happy.  There were the "Sympathetics" who came in with their heads tilted and eyebrows raised with sympathetic smiles painted on their faces.  Kathy and I exchanged discreet, knowing glances as the parade of people passed in and out of her room.  She had a gift for finding the funny in the saddest of situations.

With taste buds bereft of their senses, Kathy's diet was narrowed down to a few favorite comfort foods.  Cheese grits became her mainstay.  She and I had been raised on cheese grits and gravy and fried everything.  Slowly guiding a tiny bite of cheese grits to her mouth one morning, she met my gaze and with a tiny voice said, "Wouldn't it be weird if they found out that cheese grits cause cancer?"  We both laughed half-heartedly.  There was no known cause for AML.  A lifetime of consuming buttery, cheesy grits seemed to be a viable option. 

Kathy filled a room with humorous banter and generous laughter.  She was one of the funniest people I've ever known.  The two of us at the Thanksgiving table created a comedic force of nature.  We performed in perfect synchronization as we dealt out funny family memories and imitations of good-natured mother.  Careful not to spew turkey and dressing from our mouths, we laughed until we cried.  We were each other's best audience.

I will tell you more about my sister as time goes by.  I greatly enjoy my memories of her.  Cheese grits never fail to put a smile on my face.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Throwing Mama From the Train

During the summer after my sophomore year at Baylor, Mom, Kathy and I embarked on the adventure of our lifetimes.  Our journey began in Germany at my Uncle Bob's house.  For a week, he, Aunt Ernestina and our cousins, Lucian and Shawn, showed us the sites near their home in Kaiserslautern.  When our time with them came to an end, they tucked us into a train bound for Paris where we were to meet up with a tour group that originated in Texas.  Since we flew to Europe separately, the plan for our meeting up with them was simple.  We were to be standing in front of the Paris Opera House at 4:00PM on a particular day in June.  The tour bus would pull up, and we would jump on.  How hard can that be?

An engineer, Uncle Bob arranged our train trip to Paris down to the millisecond.  We began our journey in the late evening.  We had to change trains in some German town at about midnight that night.  From there, we were booked on a sleeper car where we would pass the night comfortably dreaming of la Tour Eiffel and la Louvre.  Ernestina packed up a bag of snacks and breakfast foods for the trip.  Bob wrote out a couple of pages of intricate detailed directions for Mom who is a detail girl.  She liked to know what lane she needed to be in when she left Waco headed for NorthPark mall in Dallas.  Uncle Bob assured us that the trip would be simple and non-eventful.  Apparently, he over-estimated our ability to stay on the simple, non-eventful path.

We felt very proud and worldly as we waved goodbye from the train in Kaiserslautern.  Even though our travels up to that time had been stateside and via automobile, Kathy and I felt like we could handle just about anything that European travel could dish out.  Mother, on the other hand, was the nervous type.  She kept Uncle Bob's instructions clutched in her hand and read over them ever 5 minutes.  "Mom.  We're still on the train.  We won't need to change trains for about 2 hours.  You can probably relax for at least 15 minutes!"  We rolled our eyes and made "can you believe this scaredy cat" faces as she bowed her head to pour over his instructions.

Uncle Bob told us that when we were nearing our stops, we needed to be ready to gather up our belongings so that we could hop off the train quickly.  "You'll have about 5 minutes to get off the train before it starts rolling again."  So, at about 11:30, we began gathering up our magazines, purses, makeup cases (now known as "carry-ons"), and huge soft sided suitcases purchased new for the trip.  This trip predated luggage with wheels as well as foldable luggage carts.  We were each responsible for toting our own bags - the hard way - leaning over 45 degrees to the left to counterbalance the incredible weight of our suitcases clutched in our right hands.  Around midnight when we reached the station where we were to change trains, the platforms were pretty much deserted.  Uncle Bob's instructions noted that we would be able to find a bathroom in the station as well as a place to purchase Cokes and snacks.  

This particular station doubled as a good old German beer hall.  Clutching our purses up under our left arm pits while leaning far to the left we limped into the hall toting our heavy bags.  There were long tables about 1/2 filled with a lingering crowd many of whom were resting their heads on their tables.  We minced our way through the hall to find the bathroom where an attendent sat slumped asleep in a chair.  One look at the filthy and mostly unflushed toilets sent us running (with me gagging) through the hall and out into the fresh air of the night where we stood waiting for our train all the while talking about how much we really needed to go to the bathroom.  We were delirious with fatigue, and our tickle boxes were turned totally upside down.  The train approached the station to find us standing there laughing like hyenas with our legs tightly crossed to prevent any unfortunate accidents.

As we lugged our suitcases up the steps of the train, a young porter glanced at our tickets and directed us to our compact sleeping compartment.  The sofa on the right side of the compartment served as one bed.  On the left side, bunk beds folded down from the walls.  The toilet and sink were located at one end of the train car.  Working up a sweat, the porter helped us stow our  heavy luggage onto a shelf located just above the doorway of our compartment before he slipped away to assist other passengers.  A little while later as we were trying to comfortably bed down fully dressed, a knock came at the door.  The porter peeked his head in and rambled out some sort of instructions in French.  We stared at him.  "English?" we queried.  "Avez-vous parler fran├žais?" he cheerfully countered.    With no common language between us, he began to pantomime his instructions.

He pointed at each one of us.  "Vous, vous, vous!"  Then, he proceeded to cock his head to one side resting it on his clasped hands, closed his eyes, and made snoring sounds.  "I think he's telling us something about sleeping," Mom said.  Next, he drew an imaginary line in the air and said something that sounded vaguely like "border" and "passport."  We were clueless.  After a few more minutes of playing Charades, we pieced together that since we would be crossing from Germany into France in the middle of the night, he would need to take our passports so that they could be presented to someone at the crossing.  Or, something like that.

Back home in Texas, we had been warned numerous times about people who would try to con us out of our passports.  "DO NOT LET YOUR PASSPORT LEAVE YOUR SIGHT!"  We began to chat amongst ourselves.  "What if this guy is POSING as a porter taking advantage of us because he can tell we are clueless?!"  "We're not supposed to give our passports to ANYONE!"  Mom moaned, "Bob doesn't say anything about turning over our passports on his list of instructions!"  We huddled up and decided that if we at least wrote down our passport numbers, we would have a leg up when we placed ourselves at the mercy of the American embassy in Paris.  Mom hissed something about how making a side trip to the embassy might make us miss hopping on the tour bus promptly at 4PM.  "If we miss them, they'll go on without us!  Then, what will we do?!"  We gave her haughty glares and assured her that missing the tour bus was the least of our worries.   Kathy and I dug around in our purses and came up with the only piece of paper we could find - a piece of Kleenex.  I scribbled down the numbers with a pencil while Kathy called out the numbers.  Giving the porter our best "you'll never get away with this" glares, we handed over our passports against our better judgement.

Sleep didn't come for a couple of hours because Kathy and I kept making up scenarios of what would happen the next morning when the porter was nowhere to be found.  "How can we pantomime 'American embassy'?" Kathy pondered.  I began to sing "America the Beautiful."  "Embassy" was going to be a problem.  "I know!" Kathy exclaimed, "Let's try saying 'Please-ay tell-ef-phone-o Uncle-lay Roberto!'"  By now, our bunks were shaking from our laughter.  "Girls!  Girls!  You're going to be really tired tomorrow if you don't go to sleep right now!"  More laughter.  Sometime during the night as our train lumbered rhythmically towards the French border, we collapsed into deep, deep sleep.

Morning came with a rap at our door as we were awakened by the porter who came by to return our border-stamped passports.  We took turns shuffling down to the tiny bathroom to brush our teeth and comb our hopeless bedheads.  Gathering around Ernestina's goodie bag, we began to munch on apples as the French countryside raced past our window.  The train slowed to a stop.  Mom jumped up, opened our door and asked, "Paris?!"  No.  It wasn't Paris.  "Mo-om.  Don't you think that we'll be smart enough to recognize Paris, the City of Lights!?  Duh!!  Besides, it's only 8:00!  Look at Uncle Bob's instructions!  It says there plain as day!  We don't get to Paris until 9:00!  

Sitting back snuggly in our seats, we continued to munch on our breakfast as the train slowly pulled out of the station.  An hour or so passed, and the train slowly came to a stop in another town.  Mom began to look nervous.  "Relax, Mom!  Don't you think that they'll yell out 'Paris!' when we get there?!  Lots of people will get off the train in Paris!"  She didn't look convinced as she settled back on her settee.  The train sat there for several minutes.  We noticed that, indeed, many people were getting off of the train.  Kathy and I glanced at each other.  Could it be?  Very cooly, I stuck my head out of our door and asked a passerby, "Pare-ee?"  His reply?  "Oui, Paris!"

Wild-eyed, I spun on my heels and said, "Ya'll, this IS Paris!  We've already been sitting here for several minutes, so this train is about to leave the station any minute!!!"  Mother let out a tiny scream.  Kathy and I jumped onto the settee and began to yank our heavy soft-sided luggage off of the shelf.  As one bag crashed to the floor, we pulled down yet another.  Mom was frantically shoving our unfinished breakfast into the sack.  "Leave it, Mom!!!  Leave it!!  Focus on our makeup bags!!!  Save the necessities!!!"  

Kathy and I lead the way down the narrow corridor of the train pulling and kicking the huge suitcases and dragging the makeup bags.  When we reached the door of the train, we began to throw our bags down the stairs onto the platform screaming, "Hurry!  Hurry!  The train is about to leave!!!!!"  Finally, we leaped down the stairs dragging mother behind us who was clutching Uncle Bob's wrinkled pages of instructions trying to figure out why the train arrived in Paris an hour ahead of schedule.

Once we had all safely landed on the platform, we noticed that a small crowd of people had stopped to witness our exuberant exit from the train.  Turning, we looked down the platform towards the main area of the train station.  The train had reached a dead end.  It was going nowhere soon. 

 As we tried to wrap our brains around what we were seeing, we noticed that the porters were stripping the sheets off of the beds of the sleeping cars and throwing them out of the train's windows.  This wasn't a 5 minute station stop in the middle of the French countryside.  It was the end of the line.  We had all the time in the world to get off that train.  The three of us melted into a laughing heap right there on the platform in the middle of our toppled luggage.  Our spectators smiled suspiciously at us and began to slowly move on.  It was a while before we could gather ourselves up to begin our journey out into the streets of Paris lugging our heavy, unwieldy bags.  Every few minutes, Kathy and I would once again erupt into gales of laughter with tears streaming down our faces.  

As it turned out, Uncle Bob forgot one tiny detail in his long, long list of details.  There was a time change between Germany and France.  We were one hour ahead of ourselves in time, and lightyears behind in the world of European you say...uh...panache. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Crying on the Cat Food Aisle

The reminder cards came in July.  I procrastinated until August.  Then, Mom fell in her kitchen which precipitated her need to move to Lubbock.  The month of August was dedicated to  sorting, packing and/or selling the contents of her house.  While I was in Waco, I got the call from Alan who could barely speak as he delivered the news.  "Pepper didn't make it."  We had chatted the day before.  Pepper, our border collie, had been really slowing down over the past few days and panted heavily as she lay sleeping.  She died at the animal emergency center during the night with Alan by her side.  

I was surprised by the magnitude of my own reaction.  Having never considered myself to be a "dog" person, I realized that I was fully a "Pepper" person.  Once I was back in Lubbock, the reminder cards continued to sit on my desk.  I just couldn't bear the thought of packing up Lily and Dixie, our 2 black and white cats, and making the trek to the vet for check ups and shots.  So, I set the reminder cards aside indefinitely.  I knew that everyone at the vet's office would ask about Pepper.  I couldn't even mouth the words.  I dreaded the thought of sitting in the waiting area with two healthy cats crying my eyes out.

On Saturday, Alan and I ran into PetSmart to load up on cat food and to buy a new cat carrier.  The store was humming with humans and dogs.  There was lots of oohing and ahhing going on.  "How cute!  Can I pet him?"  "We had a dog like that when I was a kid!  What a great breed!"  I felt the tears coming.  My throat grew tight as I hurried to the cat aisles thinking that being surrounded by kitty litter and Purina Cat Chow would serve as a cheerful distraction.  I decided to look at the cat carriers while Alan filled the shopping cart with cat food.  The cat carriers were very, very small.  Not large enough to transport 2 cats the short drive to the vet's office.  With Alan by my side, I ventured to the back wall of the store where the dog carriers were on display.

Standing there trying to decide which carrier was the right size, my eyes began to well with tears.  I grabbed a carrier, handed it to Alan, and said, "I'll be waiting in the car."  I dashed out of the store hoping that no one saw me crying over a shopping cart filled with bags of dry cat food and a medium sized dog carrier.  As I sat in the front seat of the car brushing away my tears, I wondered how long it will take for me to fully grieve the loss of Pepper.  I got all choked up on Christmas Eve thinking about how much she enjoyed sitting in piles of discarded wrapping paper.  It's been 5 months.  I had no idea that I would still miss her so.  I grieved the loss of my sister pretty heavily for 2-3 years.  It was a long, long time before something stupid like seeing a box of Brach's chocolate covered cherries or hearing John Denver sing "Grandma's Feather Bed" no longer made me sob.  In comparison, I'm almost embarrassed that I'm still feeling so emotional about Peppy Doodles.

Today, Jonathan kindly loaded up Lily and Dixie into the new cat carrier and carted them off to the vet for their long overdue shots.  Alan and I had to help him wrangle Dixie into the carrier.  She is a fighter, that one.  We finally cornered her under our bed.  With all three of us wallowing on our bellies reaching and a broom "guiding" her towards outstretched arms, Alan finally managed to clasp enough of the scruff of her neck to drag her from her hideout.  Before Jonathan headed out the door lugging the plastic carrier that had become a growling, howling boom box, I had to swallow hard before I could even whisper, "Make sure and tell them about Pepper."  "Tell them what about Pepper?" he asked looking a bit confused.  "Tell them that she's no longer their patient because she's in heaven."  Unfazed he answered, "Oh, OK, Mom.  I'll let them know."

Perhaps next week I'll put myself through a PetSmart Desensitization regimen.  I'll park in the parking lot, walk in the door, stroll through the store, and then, get back in my car.  In and out I'll go until I am able to casually amble up and down each aisle with a smile on my face.  Once that is done, I'll tackle walking into the vet's office.  When I make my first run into their office, I will pass a note across the counter which reads, "This is a desensitization exercise.  Do not utter the words 'Pepper' or 'Border Collie' until I give you a hearty thumbs up."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Play! Playlist! Broadway!

The instructions are written on a notepad with Sharpie marker in large letters and read like this:
Push button and HOLD.
Blue screen = let go!
"Beep Beep"= talk!
Say "Play playlist..."

  • Broadway
  • Praise
  • Classical
  • World*
To stop say "Pause."

Last week, I took Mom to Best Buy to shop for her birthday gift.  At 85, she was dead set on getting a new MP3 player.  About 8 years ago, a sweet friend in Waco helped her purchase a reconditioned MP3 player and loaded about 1000 songs on it from his collection.  The "John Willome MP3 Player" played its last tune a few weeks ago.  It was time to put the 6.6 oz. Dell  player that was the size of a transistor radio to rest.  Mom was in the market for another one "just like it" because it operated by turning little wheel bars that clicked.  "I push this button, then turn this 4 clicks for jazz music.  Three clicks for Christian!"  I tried to explain to her that "clicking" was a thing of the past.  She was not convinced.

The trip to Best Buy was interesting, to say the least.  I explained to the Best Buy associate that we were looking for some sort of MP3 player that could be operated by an 85 year old who is visually impaired.  Mother is legally blind due to macular degeneration.  "Hmmm.  Let me think..." he said wrinkling his 20-something year old brow.  I'm sure that he was loaded with answers that your run-of-the-mill teenager might ask about MP3 technology.  Options for the visually impaired...not so much.  

"She could just use an iPod Shuffle.  All she would have to do is push a button," he ventured. No, a Shuffle would not do.  Mom wanted to be able to play her music in categories.  A Shuffle might indiscriminately dole out "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-flat," "Blessed Assurance," and "No One Mourns the Wicked" on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in July.  Miss Helen needed to be able to choose the musical genre befitting her mood.  Shuffling was definitely not an option.  Also, the 1.11"X1.24" device would certainly be able to hide in plain sight from a woman who cannot seem to keep up with her purse.

The Best Buy associate looked a bit flummoxed.  "Hmmmm. So. she can't read the little screens, and she wants to be able to choose the playlists?"  "Exactly!  What do you have that would work for her?!" I asked.  Actually, I already had an idea in my head because Jonathan and I had googled and scrutinized the options the day before.  I just wanted to see what the Best Buy guy would come up with.  "Can't the iPod Touch be operated with voice command?" I hinted.  "Oh, yeah!  Do you think that she could figure out how to work it?" he asked skeptically.  "All we can do is try!" I said with all the hope I could muster.

In the few minutes during which the guy showed me how to activate the voice command feature of the iPod Touch, Mom did not show much promise in the voice command department.  Assuring us that we could return the iPod within 30 days, the sales associate happily darted away to assist a more techno-savvy customer.  We proceeded to the checkout line, and soon Mom was the proud owner of a 4th Gen Apple iPod Touch 8 GB MP3 Player.

This 3.56 oz, 4.4"X2.3" bit of technology has the ability surf the internet in its entirety, send emails to Buddhist monks in Nepal, and make face to face phone calls to a goatherd in the Swiss Alps.  It seemed as though Mom was adopting a lively puppy that would be confined to a shoebox for the rest of its born days.  This iPod will never know the joy of showing off its many gifts and talents.  It will live on my mom's living room credenza resting on a lace doily next to a collection of brass and glass candlesticks just waiting for the sound of it's master's voice.  "Play...playlist...Broadway!"

Teaching Mother to operate the voice command feature of the iPod was like a comedy routine.  
Me:  "OK, Mom!  Just push the button, wait for the 'beep-beep,' and say the command!  

Mom:  "Like this?"

Me:  No, you have to push it and HOLD it!" 

Mom [her thumb was turning white from her vice grip pinch on the button]:  "Like this?!"

Me:  "Not too hard!  Just press!  Remember to let go of the button when the blue screen comes up!"  

Mom [yelling while crushing the button]:  "Classical!!" 

Me [gritting my teeth]:  "No, Mom!  You've got to wait for the 'beep-beep,' THEN, say 'play, playlist, classical!'"

Mom [bellowing]:  "Play classical!"

Me:  "Try again!  Just forget the 'beep-beep.'  Say, 'Play, playlist, classical!'"  

Mom [while pushing the button]:  "Is that the blue screen?  Do I let go now!?"  

Me:  "Yes.  Let go now.  But, you have to start over because the iPod doesn't understand the command, 'is that the blue I let go now..."  

Mom:  "Oh.  Should I push the button again?"

After about 10 minutes of practice, she finally had the hang of it.  We practiced about 10 more times.  "Mom, tell it to play 'Praise!'"  "Play!  Playlist!  Praise!"  At the sound of Amy Grant's voice, we both cheered and gave each other an enthusiastic high five.  I felt like I had just taught my granddaughter to ride a bicycle.  "Keep peddling!  You can do it!"

In 1927, the aerosol can came into being, the first cinema "talkie" (The Jazz Singer) made its debute, the tuberculosis vaccine was created, and Helen Katherine Williams Kinzbach was born.  She has enjoyed music on the radio, the phonograph, an 8-track player, a cassette tape, a CD, and, as of last Thursday, the 4th Gen Apple iPod Touch 8GB MP3 player.  She's the techo-wizard of her generation.  Play!  Playlist!  Praise!

*"World" is the category for my collection of artists like Joanne Shenandoah, Jesse Cook, Babak Afshar, and Monte Montgomery.  It's kind of a catch-all for those sounds.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Few, The Proud, The Followers

First and foremost, I do not like the term "followers" as it applies to blogs.  The word conjures up visions of Jim Jones and large buckets sloshing with Koolaide.  There seems to be the implication the "followed" is to be revered in some way. 

With all that said, I must admit that lately I have been analyzing blogs that people tend to follow.  Some blogs have received a jumpstart in numbers because Blogspot has featured them in "Blogs of Note."  A fellow blogger noted that he averaged about 25 pageviews per day with about 120 followers.  I have 13 followers and average 50-100 pageviews per day.  Go figure.

I'm not a triskaidekaphobe.  In fact, the number 13 is nice because it's a very easy number to remember.  Having a low number of followers keeps me both grounded and humbled, believe you me.  God gave me a love for writing and lots of words to spew.  So, writing is my hobby.  My sport.

I have to admit that I have analyzed the situation from many angles.  I've come to the conclusion that while many people have viewed my posts, my "demographic" is made up of...let's you say...uh...middle-aged women who are just now figuring out how to friend people on facebook.  Blogging is a whole other universe in the cyber galaxy.  Clicking on the "follow" icon brings up a pop-up window that asks too many questions.  "Sign in using an account you've already created."  Huh?!  The choices are:  Google, twitter, Yahoo, Aim, Netlog, and OpenID.  For most people my age, none of those accounts mean anything.  So, we shrug and click the "close window" button.

Let's say that there is a brave person that reads below the "account you've already created" choices given and sees "Create a new Google Account."  That is one scary button to click.  "Account" for what?  We watch Dr. Phil.  We know the evils of cyberspace and identity theft.  There must be a catch.  We don't want a bunch more junk mail showing up in our mailboxes.  No, sir.  We do not.

Hold my hand.  We're about to jump into the great big abyss of "create an account."  I want you to see what happens.  Go ahead.  Click on "Create a new Google Account."  The required info is your email address and a password.  I'm guessing that if you up and start making lewd and rude comments on Blogspot blogs, they will want to be able to encourage you to watch your language privately via your email account.  I think that "United States" is enough for your location.  Unless, of course, you are one of the people from Denmark, the Netherlands, France, United Kingdom, Russia, Slovenia, Germany or Japan who stop by my blog from time to time.  I don't think that you have to enter in your birthdate.  You can always make one up.  Here's your chance to be forever 21.

What do you get for your Google account?  Well, let me just tell you!  You get to leave comments on blogs.  Comments are welcomed!!  Once you start, you'll be surprised how often you end up commenting on a variety of blogs.  Just today, I left a comment on a Chicago artist's blog because he has a really cool idea about Art Mail.  Now, he knows that a housewife in Lubbock thinks he's really smart.  See how rewarding commenting can be?!

There you have it.  All you need to know about following a blog.  I'll still be posting on facebook every time I have a new blog for you to read.  That dog will still hunt.  I just wanted to encourage you to jump out there and try something new and hip.  Just think about it.  Most of you saw the Beatles the first time they were on the Ed Sullivan Show.  You remember the first time you saw a color TV.  Like me, there was a time when you didn't think that "home computing" would ever catch on.  Well, look at us.  Look how far we've come!  The question is:  how far will we go?!

BTW:  The guy who averaged about 25 pageviews a day jumped to about 100 pageviews PER HOUR when his blog was selected as a Blog of Note.  He had 3000 views in one 24 hour period.  That's pretty cool!  Even cooler than that?  He's a retired school teacher.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese

Here is the recipe many of you requested!!  It's our variation of the mac and cheese recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cookbook that I received as a wedding gift in 1979.  It's really bad for your arteries and fat cells, but once a year?  I mean...come on!  It's cold outside!  You need your strength!

The Lackeys' White Cheddar 
Macaroni and Cheese
  • Cook 1 1/2 c. elbow macaroni til tender.  Drain.
  • In saucepan, melt 3 T. butter.
  • Blend in 2 T. flour, 1/2 t. salt, and a dash of pepper.
  • Add 2 cups milk & stir until thick and bubbly.  You are making a think white sauce which should coat a wooden spoon.
  • Add 1 T. grated onion (we "hide" the onion from Bryce) and 10 oz. grated Cracker Barrel Vermont Sharp White Cheddar Cheese.
  • Mix cheese sauce with macaroni.  (This is the point where Alan and I get into a big discussion about the ratio of cheese sauce to pasta.  Alan thinks that the pasta should almost float in the sauce.  I tend to want to cram in as many noodles as possible to feed hungry boys.  I'm sure you'll find your personal ratio.)
  • Sometimes I add in some diced potatoes (boiled or baked) if I have some on hand.  We also like to add diced ham.
  • Pour into a 1 1/2 quart casserole.
  • Top with fresh grated Parmesan.  (We use the bagged grated Parmesan that's with the cheeses.)
  • Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.  You may need to "tent" the casserole dish with foil if it browns before it gets bubbly near the center.
Alan did the math because we generally quadruple the recipe so that the boys can nosh on it for a couple of days.  (See blue Post It note on cookbook page above.)  This is one of Bryce's favorite breakfast foods.

Mac & Cheese X 4:
6 c. macaroni
1 1/2 sticks of butter
8 T. flour
2 t. salt
8 c. milk
4 bricks of Cracker Barrel Vermont Sharp White Cheddar
grate more onion (I'm not one to measure...which is one of Alan's pet peeves...)


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Farmer Talk

Conversation hear this morning at the eye doctor's office regarding the cold front that blew through yesterday leaving us in the teens this morning:

Farmer 1:  Sure is cold out there.

Farmer 2:  Yep.

Farmer 1:  I had to go out and break the ice on the hog trough before we left out to come here.

Farmer 2:  Zat right?  I'm sure glad that I don't have 300 head o' cattle like my brother does.  Where he lives got 7" of snow last night.  I bet he's out in it right now kicking the ice in his troughs.

Ahhhhh.  The simple life.  I wanted to hop into the truck with Farmer 1 and ride home to see what Irene was cookin' up for breakfast.  His bacon must be fresher than fresh.  I'd have been willing to run out to the coop to fetch a mess of fresh eggs.  Thank God there are country boys.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Never Did See Telluride

This you should know about me - I have a very weak stomach.  Smells, sounds and the tiniest of grotesque innuendoes can trigger my gag reflex within 2.5 seconds.  I don't do cat boxes.  I avoid dog walking in fear that there might be a pooping incident in a public place where judging eyes would burn with disdain as I gagged and scurried away from the crime scene.  I've never tenderly held a wet cloth on the forehead of a vomiting child.  During my school teacher years, I always sent one of my students trotting to the restroom to check on the wild-eyed child that ran out of the room clutching his mouth.  

Years ago, Oprah had the cast of CSI on her show.  At 3:00 in the afternoon as I was peeling potatoes for dinner, I threw up in the kitchen sink during a clip of an episode in which one of the investigator guys poured some sort of slimy gunk from the boot of a rotting corpse.  From time to time when the boys were in elementary school, my carpool posse would get their kicks by describing in detail the contents of a classmate's upchuck just to see how quick they could register a gag reflex on my nausea meter.  It usually began with a whispered "Watch this!" and  scored the goal with "Ooooh, Dude!  That had to be some of that taco from his plate lunch!"  On more than one occasion, I slammed on my brakes and threatened to make them walk home if they didn't change to a more appropriate topic of discussion.

One of the most mortifying moments of my childhood happened on the last day of school before Christmas break in 5th grade.  That moment is carved into the planes of my memory as permanently as the Gettysburg Address clings to the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.  We were having a spelling bee just before the room mother set out our meager Christmas party food.  A good speller, I went round after round standing proudly in the line that ran along the windows of our classroom under which stood a couple of good old fashioned radiators.   I was wearing the Christmas green corduroy jumper and plaid red and green blouse that my mother made special for the occasion.  

The longer I stood next to that radiant heat, the hotter the corduroy became.  It felt and smelled  like my jumper was being ironed with me in it.  I began to pull my collar away from my neck.  Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead.  "Carolyn, spell 'diary.'  DIE-uh-REE."  "D-I-A-R-Y."  "That is correct!"  As she moved on to the next contestant, IT began in the pit of my stomach mercilessly sending spasms up my gullet.  I took off running to the bathroom in shame with my hands covering my mouth all the while leaving a lovely trail of upchuck and the echo of "EEEEE-UUUUUUUUUs" in my wake.  I never made it back to the bee.  The nurse mercifully sent me and my stained Christmas corduroy jumper home.    

Thank goodness for Alan.  He has an iron gut and the fortitude to match.  One night when Jonathan about two years old, we had Chinese take-out for dinner.  We sat at the dining table thoroughly enjoying our feast of sweet and sour this and moo goo that.  All of a sudden, in toddled Jonathan.  Just as he reached the table, he got a strange look on his face which was followed by a generous spew of chunky matter.  I ran from the room while Alan cleaned up the child and the floor.  I couldn't reinter the room until the smell of carpet cleaner had vanished.  Upon my return, I saw Alan sitting at his place nonchalantly finishing up his stir fried rice like nothing had happened.  I scraped my plate into the sink and said a fond farewell to my dinner as it chugged down the disposal drain.

Our sons are gifted with strong stomaches like their dad's.  Bryce and Jonathan were preschoolers when I became pregnant with Reed.  My morning sickness was fascinating to them.  One afternoon during my last trimester, I ran to my bathroom and knelt before my throne.  I heard little footsteps pounding towards me.  Then, Jonathan's voice chirping, "Hey, Brycie!  Come see!  Mom's froakin' up again!"  Together they stood watching me hurl as if I were a mother cat giving birth to kittens.  At the conclusion of the "show," they skipped back to their Duplo castle unfazed by my prenatal misery. 

My little mother will tell you that my sister, Kathy, was her funniest child, a comment that chaps me to this day.  Kathy was naturally blonde, trim, and precious with beautiful, white teeth.  All I had was "funny."  My distinction?  According to my mother, "When you get a stomach virus, you get sicker than anybody I know."  Yep.  That's me.  The Queen of the Technicolor Yawn.  From time to time Kathy would try to usurp my infamy by describing in detail the time that she had to pick lettuce out of her nostrils after ingesting an undercooked hamburger not made welcome by her digestive tract.  Despite her dramatic gesturing and demonstrating with make-believe tweezers, she never stole my white porcelain crown.   

Which brings me to last week.  The trip to Telluride.  A stomach virus rounded our family members like Mickey Mantle trotted the bases after hittin' one out of the park.   Trot, trot, trot.  First!  Trot, trot, trot.  Second!  Trot, trot, trot.  Third!  First, there was Bryce who succumbed on New Year's Eve.  Two days later, he declared that he was in the clear and ready for the 12 hour drive to the mountains.  Not so much.  Three times during the trip, Alan pulled the car over, Bryce leaned his head out of the car door, and I began to loudly chant "yang, yang, yang, yang" with my thumbs shoved into my ears to block out the sounds of my retching child.

Then, came Reed.  By this time, we had reached our destination.  In our rented condo, there were plenty of places for me to hide out while I called instructions out to Alan.  "Does he have a cool cloth for his forehead?!"  "Take him a little glass of water!"  "Has he had any Pepto Bismol?"  Or, just plain, "Will you go check on Reed?"  "Tell him I'm thinking of him!"

I attributed Reed's illness to the fact that he tends to be a hygiene slacker.  I had been scrubbing my hands obsessively as well as compulsively.  Clean hands worked for a few days.  Then came Tuesday.  I skied with Alan most of the day.  While taking a break at around 2:30, I was struck by that "old familiar feeling."  There I was at Big Billie's, an on-mountain burger joint, which wasn't that far from our place as the crow flies.  But, when you're not a crow, and you're weighted down with skis and poles and boots, you might as well be at an airport with 42 pieces of luggage trying to buy a last minute one-way ticket to DC.  It gets complicated.  Our discussion sounded something like this:

Alan:  I can take the lift, ski down to our place, get the car, come get you, drive you back, then put my skis back on and meet up with Bryce and Reed.

Me:  No, that would be too much trouble.  I'd hate for you to have to do all that.

Alan:  You could try to take the lift up and slowly ski down.

Me (thinking):   Hm.  Yellow snow = somebody peed.  I wonder what they call barf snow.

Me (saying):  No, I don't think I can ski that far just now.

Alan:  How about this?  You take the chondola (chair lift that also has a few gondolas) up to the gondola, then take the gondola up to that parking lot.  From there, you can walk up to our place.  It's only about a half a block.  I'll keep your skis here and come back for them later with one of the boys.

Me:  I can do the chondola-gondola part.  The walking will be questionable.

After considering several the numerous complicated options, we settled on "Chondola-Gondola-Jondola."  Jonathan would be at the ready with the Suburban to cart me to our condo once I tumbled off the gondola.

So, it was on Tuesday that I broke my 4 or 5 year "No Vomit" record in a big, big way.  Because the master suite of our condo was wonderfully secluded from the rest of the rooms, I didn't see actually see the boys again until Thursday when I drug myself up the stairs using the handrails to steady my shaky, dehydrated carcass.  On Friday, I lay on my  bed until the boys came to tell me that it was time to head to Lubbock.  Due to my frailty, I had to totally relinquish control of the packing and loading process.  As I stared out my window at the clock  tower of the grocery store just across the way from our condo, I played the "Worst Case Scenario" game in an effort to convince myself that life would go on if we got home without a pair of ski gloves or the spices I had brought along for the apres ski turkey chili and King Ranch Chicken.  "Just roll with it," I told myself, "We are all alive.  There's no place like home.  What are gloves and spices in the big scheme of life?  Nothing."  

I repeated all of those things numerous times until the boys, at last, came to escort me to my chariot which had been hastily packed to the ceiling with miscellany.  Taking deep, slow breaths, I reminded myself that well-packed, organized stuff can travel the same distance in time and space as a jumble of junk.  Then, I carefully carved out a spot on the floorboard for my two feet to fit amongst the "just in case items" (one bottle of Pepto, a box of saltines, a bottle of Tums) that one of my men had nestled together with my purse, pillow and blankie.  As we drove out of Mountain Village, I realized that not once during our 5 days in the mountains did I see beautiful, historic downtown Telluride.  

I never did see Tell-u-ride.  No Tell-u-ride did I see.  
I saw lots of infomercials on cable TVeeeeeeee!  
But, Tell-u-ride never saw me.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Be Back Soon...

Ohhhh, how I've missed blogging.  Since mid-December, my house has been full of boys, food, Christmas and hoopla.  Then, came New Year's Eve.  Then, a quick trip to Telluride for some skiing.  Which, for me, didn't happen.  As we drove out of Telluride on Friday morning, I made a comment that Alan thought should be the title of my next blog.  Coming soon:  "I Never Did See Telluride."  (There will be NO pictures.)  But, first, I must regain my strength.  Until well.  Wash your hands until they are raw.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mimi Meets Angela Lansbury

Summer before last, Mom, my niece (Kelly), and I ventured to the City That Never Sleeps.  As I studied the Broadway offerings in preparation for the trip, I laughed out loud when I saw that Blythe Spirit was playing.  I squealed when I saw that Angela Lansbury was playing the role of Madame Arcati!  I quickly purchased 3 tickets and, then, settled down to type a letter to Ms. Lansbury to let her know who would be in the audience on June 23, 2009.

Angela Lansbury
c/o The Shubert Theatre
225 West 44th Street
New York, New York 10036

Dear Ms. Lansbury,
As you perform on stage each night, you may, perhaps, gaze out into the audience and wonder about the sea of faces before you.  I'm writing to tell you about the little 83-year-old lady who will be sitting in Row BB-Seat 101 on June 23rd.  What brings this octogenarian all the way from Waco, Texas, to Row BB-Seat 101 in the Shubert Theatre?  Why is she taking up her binoculars from time to time to carefully study all of the faces on stage?  That woman will be Helen Williams Kinzbach, my mother.  I thought that you might enjoy learning about her trek from Central Texas all the way to NYC to see Angela Lansbury play the role of Madame Arcati in Blythe Spirit.

As a little girl, I had no idea what a Blythe Spirit was, but I knew that it was something special.  On numerous occasions, I heard my mother tell of the time that the made her stage debut as Elvira in Blythe Spirit while she was a co-ed at Stephen F. Austin State Teachers College in Nacodogoches, Texas.  The year was 1946 (a time she still fondly refers to as "after the boys came home").  Anyone who has known my mother for even an hour or two will undoubtedly be initiated into the Friend of Helen Kinzbach Club with the tale of the time she spent treading the boards as Elvira.  "was the Blythe Spirit!"  "I was THE Blythe Spirit!"  "I was the BLYTHE SPIRIT!"  "I played the TITLE ROLE!"

It was her grand debut.  It was her swan song.  And yet, it continues to be one of the highlights of the life of this retired school teacher - never to be forgotten due to her frequent enthusiastic reminders of her successful, albeit short-lived, stage career.

For months, we have been planning a trip to NYC.  When I told my mother that Blythe Spirit was playing on Broadway, her face lit up!  When I told her that Angela Lansbury was in the cast, she clasped her hands together and gasped!  Part II of this story is that my mother is a huge fan of yours.  During the mid 80's each Sunday she religiously attended the 8AM church service and then tuned in to channel 3 at 8PM to watch Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote.  "Can I call you back?  Murder, She Wrote is about to come on!"  "I have to be home by 8:00 for Murder, She Wrote!" 

Whether I had or had not seen the week's episode, she dutifully outlined each plot for by play.  Sometimes, she familiarly referred to you as "Jessica."  Other times she reverently called you "Angela Lansbury."  Never "Angela" or "Ms. Lansbury."  Always "Angelalansbury."  As she carefully unfolded each story, she marveled at Jessica's keen ability to solve crimes by noticing the teeniest of tiny clues:  an extra wine glass carelessly abandoned on a mantle, a telltale paw print left by a poisoned dog, or a missing earring found in a potted plant.  "Even the police overlooked that earring!  That Jessica Fletcher is so smart!  She can always solve the crime!"

Row BB was the very front row!!
So, the story began in 1946.  When you and Judy Garland worked together on the set of The Harvey Girls, Helen Williams Kinzbach was wowing the "Lumberjacks" of Stephen F. Austin as Elvira.  (I must mention that the production received rave reviews in the campus newspaper, The Pine Log.)  A short 63 years later there in Row BB - Seat 101 my little mother will be sitting, simply giddy as she awaits your appearance on stage.  Please let Ms. Eversole know that on June 23rd when Elvira appears from beyond, a former Elvira will be in the audience reliving her glorious few nights on the stage so long ago.  Next to her in seat 102 will be her daughter squinting her eyes trying to envision her mother as a pretty, young 20 year old who, even then, was creating memories for her future children and grandchildren. 

"was the Blythe Spirit!"  "I was THE Blythe Spirit!"  "I was the BLYTHE SPIRIT!"  "I played the TITLE ROLE!"

I sent the letter in early May unsure that it would ever reach the hands of Angela Lansbury.  Then, low and behold, I received the following email:
On June 12, 2009, at 5:13 PM, Maevefiona Butler wrote:
Dear Ms. Lackey:
Thank you for your letter.  If you would like to bring your mother backstage for a brief hello with Ms. Lansbury following the performance on June 23rd, I will put your name on the list with the security man at the stage door.  (Forgive the "brief" but as I'm sure you can understand, it's always important for actors to get home early before coming back for the two show day on Wednesdays.)  Directly after the curtain calls, if you come to the stage door located in Shubert Alley just on the side of the theatre, your name will be on the list and the stage door person will direct you backstage.
Have a good trip.
All best,

My response:
Dear Maeve,
I just screamed out loud!  Just today I was wondering if the letter ever actually made its way to Ms. Lansbury.  How wonderful it will be to have this opportunity!  We will, indeed, be brief!  We are keeping this backstage "hello" a secret from Mimi.  She will just D-I-E die!  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

After the curtain call, I suggested that we wander over to the stage door to try to get some autographs.  Kelly and I were grinning like monkeys.  There were probably 50 fans pressed up around the stage door barrier gates.  We waited until a man with a clipboard came out and began to allow a few chosen people in the door.  It was all about having your name on his list.  I turned to Mom and said, I think that I'll just trot over there and tell him that we came to meet Angela Lansbury.  "OK!" she said.  Sure enough, the guy said that we were allowed to come in, and I motioned for Kelly and Mimi to follow.  He took us onto the actual stage back behind the closed curtain where we waited for a few minutes.  Then, a door opened and out came Maeve who escorted us in to meet Ms. Lansbury.  That night will be one of the highlights of my life because it will forever be one of my mother's favorite memories.
So, we re-enacted the meeting...

Afterwards as we wandered across the street to Sardi's still laughing about the surprise meeting with Angela Lansbury, Mom assured us that her portrayal of Elvira was much, much better than Christine Ebersole's.  Mm.  Mm.  Mm.  You might want to keep that to yourself, Mimi.  Yep.  Keep that to yourself.

By the way.  Angela Lansbury has still got it goin' on.  She is one amazing woman!


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...