Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The tree stands alone

I am a procrastinator.
I wait until the last possible moment to do things then get caught up in the stress of “why did I wait until the last minute to do this?”
I like to consider myself as deadline driven (which sounds so much nicer) so when I was at a retail store recently and saw a sign announcing that Christmas was just a few weeks away I realized I needed to put up the tree.
You see, the tree and I do not get along.
It's not that I hadn't planned on putting the tree up the day after Thanksgiving, Heavens no. The thought did cross my mind. Then I thought, what the heck I'll wait until I have some days off from work to do a really fine job.
I tend to forget that in my world things don't happen as planned.
I went up to the attic and got sidetracked when I found some really old dishes and glassware. Then I found a box of books and photos of the kids when they were little. Of course I had to look up the value of the old dishes and glassware then reminiscence though the books and the photos.
I ended up sitting in my mother's old rocking chair, feet propped on a footstool, flipping through the many books I've read and collected, the old yearbooks and oh, the photos. I think I even heard some sappy theme music playing in the background as I saw our three beautiful babies grow through the years.
By the time I made my way back downstairs I was way too tired to think about the tree and decorations.
But I did organize the Christmas section of the attic so I could easily grab those boxes and the artificial tree when I was ready to tackle that project.
The days went by as I made more excuses to myself — too tired, long day at work and I'll just wait until the weekend were the best ones I could concoct to keep from facing the tree. One problem is that I didn't allow a contingency plan for illness. I should have known to pad my schedule to figure in a day or two of "I just don't feel good" or "my sinuses are acting up again and I don't feel like moving."
That meant more time passed, Christmas was closer and the dining room where the tree is traditionally placed was bare of twinkling lights and tinsel and garland and all of the little pretty things I wanted to show off.
With Christmas around the corner and the flashing sign from the retail store embedded in my head, I enlisted the help of the youngest son, who's 21, and pointed out which boxes I wanted brought down from the attic.
I was pretty giddy with excitement as I peeked in the boxes and made a mental note of which decoration would go where. Then I saw my nemesis — the 7 foot artificial tree — sitting innocently in a long box.
In the past, when the kids were younger, we'd put up real trees. Some were flocked with a light dusting of "snow" while others were heavily flocked. They were beautiful. But when the kids reached adulthood we switched to the fake tree. Easy to put up and easy to take down, or at least that's how it's supposed to be.
The current tree is coded with tiny pieces of colored tape that corresponded to a map of sorts showing where to place the six different coded branches. That part is relatively easy.
My family knows that when I get something in my head, even though I procrastinate, do not get in my way. It's best to just let me do it my own hard-headed way even if it means my way takes longer and is more complicated. I put up the tree and the family fades into the background so as not to cross my path — at least until I need help. And I always end up needing help.
With the floor swept and mopped and furniture moved around, I began placing the coded branches into the coordinating spots on the tree base. That part went pretty fast and soon I was looking at my nemesis at its full height. The branches needed adjusting and there were bare areas but that was ok because I knew the lights would help make the tree whole.
I opened a box and found the lights, tossing aside the tinsel and colored bulbs for later.
I looked over at my nemesis and thought, "not this year big boy. You're getting decorated in one afternoon." And with a bundle of lights in hand and the thought that I had beaten the tree at his own game, I realized I forgot where the extension cords were.
The hulking, 7-foot nemesis, with limbs yet to be shaped into anything resembling a tree, stood there bare.
My husband chanced my anger by asking me if I looked in the bottom of the boxes for extension cords before I started putting the tree up, and with a growl I answered "no." There were no cords tucked all nice and tidy in the box, or any of the boxes.
The tree and I eyed each other in silence for a long time before I admitted defeat. The lights and decorations would have to wait one more day.
I think the tree actually chuckled.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Battle of the dressings

As Thanksgiving Day drew near our office talk turned to food.
“What’s your favorite Thanksgiving Day food?” was the question posed to staffers.
We soon had a winner — dressing.
Everybody loves dressing.
Then I posed an innocent question — “what kind of dressing, rice or cornbread?”
I’m still shocked by the response — “rice?”
It seems I was in the minority that serves rice dressing, or dirty rice as I call it.
Thanksgiving without both dressings, to me, is weird. I grew up with a hefty helping of dirty rice right alongside the cornbread dressing on my plate. My dad was Cajun and my mom was a Scotch-Irish-Dutch mix and living in Southeast Texas meant dirty rice was staple dish.
All of our family served dirty rice while I was growing up and I serve dirty rice. My kids (who are grown) still eat dirty rice. We even make dirty rice on non-holiday occasions.
Dirty rice has become an easy dish to make, thank God.
When I was growing up there wasn’t any Savoie’s Dirty Rice Mix in the grocery store. My dad began early by cooking a pork roast and a beef roast and other meats I wasn’t aware of at that time. These meats slow cooked, their savory scent wafting through the house and jabbing at my hunger.
My mom would loads of chop onions, bell peppers and celery and place the vegetables in a big pot with chicken or turkey broth and simmer.
My dad would break out the meat grinder and mince out the two roasts and other meats. With a dash here and there of seasonings and some kitchen magic passed down through generations, the ingredients were mixed and we had the best dirty rice I’ve ever tasted.
As a kid I didn’t like onions but I was able to bypass my prejudice against the pungent vegetable and woof down some dirty rice.
I’m glad I don’t have to put as much work in my dirty rice as my parents did but I sure miss the real thing.
So, which is your favorite — cornbread dressing or rice dressing?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hanging out the laundry

I can remember my mom hanging clothes out on the line to dry.
We had a clothes dryer but she sometimes decided to place the nicer clothes out on the clothes line instead of tossing them in the dryer.
Our neighbor did the same. She even had two "T" shaped metal posts with the lines strung in between. Another neighbor had a post with a contraption on top where multiple lines circled one another.
Heck, I hang clothes out to dry sometimes too.
I just read a story about a Pennsylvania woman who has received warnings from her housing association asking her to stop drying her clothes outside. She also received two anonymous letters saying they didn't want to see her "underwear flapping about."

U.S. residents fight for the right to hang laundry

For the record, she hangs her unmentionables inside, according to the Reuters story published Nov. 18.
"They said it made the place look like trailer trash," she said, in her yard across the street from a row of neat, suburban houses. "They said they didn't want to look at my 'unmentionables.'"
There's now a group called the Project Laundry List who argues "people can save money and reduce carbon emissions by not using their electric or gas dryers."
The main opponents of the group are housing associations such as condominiums and townhouse communities.
The opponents say the no-hanging rules are an aesthetic issue since people in those type of communities don't want to see other people's laundry hanging on the line.
Good grief. With all the hoopla about "going green" and saving the planet what's up with the "thou shall not hang" people? Hybrid cars good, using the power of the sun and wind to dry clothes bad.
Let me know what you think. Let's grind.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bad day times two

Sometimes when you hear about someone else's bad day, your own bad day seems more tolerable.
I have a great life that I wouldn't trade for anything and as a writer I can jot down those 'good grief' moments for my readers' amusement.
My story actually begins the week of Halloween. I had scheduled some time off with plans of organizing the attic. Not exactly thrilling but a task that needed to be done. As the days crept closer to my vacation, my dreams of a clean attic, sleeping late and not paying attention to the news (for once) were becoming more vivid — at least until I started feeling sick.
I ended up sick during the week of Halloween and after a few miserable days I raced to the doctor the following Monday.
That was the day of heavy rains and flash flooding in the area. Oh, I forgot to mention, I have a little radiator problem and have to add water before I leave to go anywhere.
Well I made it to the doctor and with prescription in hand I headed to my van. Of course my umbrella was inside the van so I ended up soaking wet. I decided to ignore the radiator problem and just drive to the nearby pharmacy to get my medicine.
Heavy rain was still coming down as I left the pharmacy and my fever was starting to spike so I just headed home without taking care of the radiator. I was just happy to have my five horse sized antibiotics that cost $68 (with insurance).
Of course my van was overheated by the time I got home and I was even more wet from the rain than before.
After a quick change of clothes I downed the medicine, ignoring the directions of ‘take with food.’
Soon I was back in the bathroom throwing up a pill that cost an arm and a leg and shivering from the fever.
Now fast forward a few days — I think I slept through a day or two — and I'm feeling much better.
Then my dog died.
Seriously. I'm not making this up. Our beloved family Chihuahua, Taka, that we'd raised from a tiny pup, had died at the age of 12.
Of course there was no way I was in any shape emotionally to clean the attic that day.
So on my last day of vacation I managed to take care of the attic, finally.
You might think my story of bad luck would end here but it doesn't. It actually skips a few days.
I went back to work, then the weekend rolled around again. I went to Houston on Sunday and saw AC/DC in concert and had a blast. I had so much fun I almost lost my voice but I was able to see the band I had wanted to see since I was in high school long ago.
Well, it seems the "crud" had hit the newsroom while I was out and we were missing a reporter. I had scheduled a few more days off but ended up cutting the mini-vacation short to help out at work on Tuesday.
I had a busy day scheduled, both personal and work wise. You see, dear readers, my husband lost his cell phone while hunting in East Texas over the weekend. It really was an accident because his cell phone was in a clip-on holder that snapped off from the bottom. This has never happened before and since this is, or was, his work phone as well, it had to be replaced immediately.
I spent 30 minutes on the phone filing a claim for the lost phone and was happy to hear the replacement phone would be delivered the next day.
All we had to do was have someone sign for the package when UPS came. I asked one of my (adult) sons to keep an eye out for the mail and headed out for more personal business before work.
With no petty cash on hand and knowing I would need gas for work, I grabbed a jar of pennies/spare change and headed to the bank. With money in hand I rushed to the closest gas station where I spent my last bit of money on gas, a pack of cigarettes and a coffee and headed to work.
I was only about a mile from work when the van started acting strange. I pulled over to add water to the radiator and was on the third gallon when I realized the water was shooting out someone underneath. Not a good sign, so I carefully drove home hoping I wouldn’t damage the motor.
As I pulled into the driveway I see a bright sticky note on the front door telling me I had missed the UPS truck.
By this time I am so mad I wanted to scream. There I was, broke with a broken down van, late for work and I had missed the delivery.
I borrowed a friend's car and went to work in a really bad mood. I had used the last of my cash for gas in a vehicle that, I learned later, had lost a freeze plug. This meant my husband will have to drop the transmission and fly wheel to make the repairs in between his busy life as the owner of a small home repair business.
I was finally able to get hold of the local UPS people who were great to work with. They told me I could pick-up the phone at 7:30 p.m. So I went through my normal day as a reporter and was able to meet TV's Glenda Hatchett.
With the clock ticking away the minutes until deadline and the closure of the UPS office and another vehicle that needed gas, I rushed home for some gas money from my husband and headed to the gas station once again.
I think the final straw that broke my mental state was when the gas cap fell apart in my hand.
There I was holding the top of the cap and looking at the rest of the contraption stuck in the hole where the gas goes. Time literally stopped as I took a deep breath to refrain from screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs.
After a brief freak-out moment I snapped back to reality and remembered my friend warning me about the broken gas cap.
I was able to get the phone, go back to work, write the story about the judge, and make it home.
Then I spent another 30 minutes on the phone activating my husband's new cell phone.
So that's the end of the story.
Feel any better?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Uncle Larry fed Motiva family
Anyone who meets Larry Roussel becomes his new best friend.
I was walking past the Hampton Inn a week after Hurricane Ike and found a tent with a whole lotta cookin’ goin’ on.
I knew I wanted to write about whatever was happening and met the Louisiana cook who likes to be called Uncle Larry. He and a willing crew fed gourmet dinners to Motiva workers who had flooded homes thanks to Ike. Larry showed them love through jambalaya, chicken smothered in gravy, gumbo, tasso and rich desserts. The parking-lot camp must have lasted about a month and Larry kept everyone fed morning, noon and night.
He e-mailed me an update for the good people of Port Arthur saying he’d been busy with major cooking events and had cooked on TV a few times to “promote our unique South Louisiana Christmas Festival of the Bonfires.” He’s coordinated a hog crackling cookoff and Children's Miracle Network jambalaya - pastalaya cook off.
He hasn’t put his spoons down yet.
Coffee weather
Just a year ago I considered coffee a cold-weather treat. I’m closer to an every-day drinker now
“Uncommonly Smooth” is the trademark for Seattle’s Best Coffee and Seattle’s Best Blend is its “smooth, captivating” and “most popular brew.” I’m enjoying this light roast, but I’ve already sneaked a taste at Henry’s Blend, a medium roast that’s about as dark as “take-it-black” drinkers like me are likely to request. I’m saving the rest for when it gets really cold and rainy down here. I’m sure that cold and rainy in Seattle has Southeast Texas beat. Visit the Washington area for a cup, or visit
You can take away the eggs, dairy and tree nuts to a cookie, and bulk it up with whole grain, but HomeFree knows that if you throw in some chocolate chips, it’ll all come out fine. Mini cookies made in a dedicated bakery are more than fine. I love them, and so will kids with allergies and grownups looking for an organic snacking option. Jill Robbins founded the line with cookies and cakes so kids with allergies can have treats along with everyone else.
If I intrigued you with my black garlic review, here’s a heads up: H-E-B Central Market, Kroger and is said to have “the stuff.” I’m down to my final few nubbins and I’m planning one final dinner soiree to show it off.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My backyard looks like "Life Without People"

Thanks to the recent rains and my lack of motivation to cut the grass my yard resembles something out of the History Channel show "Life Without People."
If you're not familiar with the show, it chronicles what the earth would be like after humans are gone. Buildings crumble, bridges fall and trees and foliage take back over their turf.
That's what happened to this one area of my backyard. I say "one area" because it's near a fence, out of the way and ignored by me.
Don't get me wrong, we have all the tools to do the job: riding mower, push mower, access to a weedeater and lots of other gadgets.
A few days ago a decided to do some real yard work in that spot. Pulls weeds, pick up sticks or limbs, that kind of stuff.

I headed to the dreaded spot and began pulling weeds when I noticed the beginnings of a tallow tree. I took out my little hatchet and chopped. And chopped and chopped and chopped. Then I had to dig to find the roots which were everywhere intertwined in the weeds and long grass.
My husband, who knows that when I get an idea in my head there's no use arguing, suggested to use the weedeater or just wait and he'd tackle the project.
No way. This was my project and I was not going to be beat by some weeds and grass.
As I inched my way through the mess it seemed as if time stopped or slowed to a crawl. Sounds became a distant noise, a few birds flew overhead, the flapping of their wings seemed at a snail's pace.
I was getting tired but refused to give up.
Then something happened.
I got to the worst spot of all, maybe about 4 foot by 4 foot in size. I noticed a bright hose on the ground and decided to pull it. That's when I discovered grass and weeds had grown around the hose and would have covered the item if I hadn't rescued it.
I tugged and pulled and felt muscles I didn't know I had - no luck. I had to get back on my hands and knees and pull the stupid weeds from around the hose.
After the hose was recovered I found a thin, lightweight piece of vinyl siding next to the house. This too was nearly overgrown.
I pulled once again and the vinyl moved a bit. Proud of my tenacity, I gave it one big tug. The piece came loose causing the short end near my arm to move violently upwards and slap the tender part under my arm. I still don't know exactly how it happened but I have a lovely black and purple bruise to prove it.
There's a lesson in this story; either do your yard work when it's needed or wait for someone else to do it.
I may wait next time.
Mary Meaux

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Time waits for no one

Sheryl Vidrine Cude
July 6, 1962 to July 27, 2009

How often have you ran into a relative or friend you haven't seen in a long time and promise to "stay in touch?"
But sometimes that promise gets shoved to the bottom of your "must-do" list. Months pass, then years. Your daily life continues, you go to work, come home, pay bills, watch TV, whatever.
Then a name might pop up and you remember, "wow, I really should call so-and-so," but you never find the time to call.
That happened last night, July 27. An unfamiliar number popped up on my phone about 9:30 p.m. and I almost didn't answer. Then I thought maybe one of my kids, who are now adults, might be calling from a friends number so I flipped open my phone.
It wasn't from someone I expected to hear from. Actually I hadn't spoke with this person in about three years.
Tina, my niece, was calling to tell me that her sister, Sheryl, had died the night before.
While choking back tears, Tina told me Sheryl, who is just two years older than me, had died of sleep apnea.
I was thinking that I had just seen Sheryl about a year ago or a little longer when my brother, her father, Al Vidrine, had died.
I think I only caught part of the conversation with Tina because in the back of my mind was the guilt of not keeping in touch.
Still shocked, I flipped around online and found my brothers obituary. He died in December 2006. That meant I hadn't seen or spoken to Sheryl or Tina since then.
That fact got me thinking back a little further to when Al became terminally ill and family gathered at the hospital. I had called Al through the years off and on. So when the family dispersed after the funeral we parted with the usual promise of staying in touch.
But we'd all drifted back into our own lives, all of us.
Now I'm planning to attend the funeral of yet another person I had promised I'd stay in touch with.
Mary Meaux