Do You Hear What I Hear?

“She is such a good listener,” Barbara said at dinner Tuesday night where the group of friends shared a bottle of wine.

Donna, across the table, replied, “Yes, she remembers everything you tell her.”

“I wonder where she is,” mused Rhonda.

“She never complains.  I tell her how to do something and then she does it better than me.  And this is the first time she has missed work in months,” said her boss on Thursday morning.

The president of the charity organization announced the Volunteer of the Year award winner Thursday night at the fundraiser.  Everyone applauded loudly, but there was no acceptance speech because she wasn’t there.

It was thundering when the funeral service was over on Saturday as they all filed out in silence.  No one had heard her.

Ode to Our Western River Guides

We have just returned from a great adventure: rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon for six days.  This is the first post of many to document that unique event on which we were accompanied by oh-so-interesting people.  The trip coincided with my birthday…a celebration I will never forget!

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Ode to Our Western River Guides

There once were four great guides in a gorge

All down the Colorado they forged

Over the rapids we pitched

On every fire line we bitched

But each of them joked and encouraged

 

The leader of the pack was called Mark

To his every word we all did hark

He was tall and stoic

His grilling heroic

He led us through the national park

 

And on J6 was Scott the singer

He was the entertainment ringer

After all the chicken shells

Set up, break down, dinner bells

Someday in Nashville he will linger

 

The captain of nineteen was the Shad

Many tales both true and ‘un’ he had

A few words were bologna

But he knew schist from tuna

And all his stories made us so glad

 

The first mate on nineteen was Travis

He’s back on the river, no novice

He had to carry our crap

Both to the bushes and back

But his jokes delighted all of us

 

For a vacation Jason had hope

But the rest of the crew said, “Oh, nope”

Driving boats he was not able

He sat up and broke down tables

Still he ran rocks like a mountain goat

 

The crew treated us as queens and kings

They told us of rocks and other things

Riding the waves like demons wild

Cooking our meals like Julia Child

WR boys show all the canyon brings

 

There once were four guys in a canyon

Rafting along as close companions

They worked from day break to night

To ensure our trip was right

And we salute them as our champions

 

True Confessions of an Unnatural Southern Cook

True confession:  I am not a natural Southern cook, though technically, I live in the South now and I can cook.  Arkansas was the ninth state to secede from the Union, so it ranks right up there as a Southern state.  But, I am not from Arkansas.  I am from Oklahoma.  Oklahoma did not exist as a state during the Civil War, so I am not a true Southerner.  Oklahoma is Red People’s land.  The U.S. government “gave” it to the Native Americans long after the Civil War.  Despite the family lore, I have learned I am not a Native American either according to my genealogical DNA.

I learned to cook while living in Oklahoma, but the state is probably No Man’s land when it comes to culinary feats.  Yes, I know the many tribes who inhabit the state (however involuntarily at first) have their own unique fare, but I didn’t master any tribal cooking.  The closest I have come was eating the Indian Fry Bread at Mayfest.  I never prepared it myself.  One simply must be able to fry food to qualify as a Southern cook or apparently also as a Native American cook.

Truer confession:  I have never fried anything.  The ability to batter and fry food of any sort (think fish, pickles, Snickers) is a staple of Southern femininity.  The one time I tried to fry chicken was a miserable, inedible failure.  The defeat was overwhelming and so was the clean up.  The stovetop was never the same, nor was my ego.  I never attempted to fry anything again.

I should be able to fry chicken, potatoes, whatever.  I had good role models.  My mom made great pan-fried chicken.  My aunt made delicious fried catfish.  My grandmother in Dallas made great food period.  Fried, baked, boiled, whatever.  Genetics apparently does not influence cooking.  I can cook.  I can make a mean pecan pie.  I just can’t fry.

Truest confession:  I can only make half a pecan pie.  My pie filling is beyond compare….not too sweet, not too gooey, and not too nutty.  However, not only can I not fry, I cannot make pie crust — that other culinary staple of Southern womanhood.  Southern cooking is apparently beyond my ken.  Fiddle de dee.

I tried making pie crust several times.  I even got a sure-fire recipe from a college professor.  She has a PhD, so she should know what she’s talking about, right?  She told me not to use water in my pie crust, but rather chilled vodka.  She said something about the alcohol evaporating during cooking produced flakiness?  The pie crust was so-so.  The martinis were nice.  I was a bit flaky before the pies were done.

Last confession:  When I retired, my goal was to learn to make pie crust.  That was some years ago and my failure to make an edible crust has reaffirmed I am not the goal-setting type.  Once a year, usually in January, every newspaper and woman’s magazine has an article on setting goals.  I don’t read those articles.  I still recall those team-building exercises at work where you wrote down your goals and gave them to someone else so that person could help you meet them.  I lied; I did not write down my real goals.  Written goals can be used against you.

Yes, I have written these confessions about frying, pie crust, and goal-setting.  They have no power to be used against me because I have long since admitted to these particular failures.  But, you could pull out my fire-engine-red painted toenails and I will confess to nothing else.

Sovereign

Confusion reigns.  She is the queen of muddle.  She rules all she surveys in the twelve by fourteen foot room that is her empire.  To her, there is no distinction between the telephone and the remote, between January and July.  Day is night and night no longer exists.  Sleep at any point brings a scrap of peace, but then the crazy quilt of time starts again.  Hour?  Day?  Date?  Little registers.  Except love.  She still knows love.

 

 

Tighten and Fluff

Two actions that can improve writing are tightening and fluffing, though not necessarily in that order.  If you write like Hemingway, you won’t need to fluff, just tighten.  However, if you write like most, you need to do both.  It really doesn’t make any difference if you are writing the Great American Novel or redoing your résumé, tightening and fluffing will improve the final product.

Start with fluffing which is more pleasurable and straightforward.  Fluffing your writing means adding, intensifying, colorizing.  Beef up adverbs.  Affix adjectives.  Include verbs that hum.  Unearth words you have never used, and then sprinkle them with alacrity throughout your paragraphs.  The best part of fluffing is that there is a tool to do half the job for you.  A thesaurus – online or off – makes finding the right word effortless, assuming you know how to spell.  Leafing through a thesaurus can also be enjoyable, assuming you are a word nerd.  The problem in using a thesaurus is that you can fritter away quite a bit of time just browsing synonyms.

When you start to tighten, the work usually gets harder.  Tightening means clarifying meaning, reducing word weight, and ensuring exact punctuation.  While there are tools to help you tighten your writing, they are more difficult to use.  Even if you did well in high school English, trying to double-check the APA or MLA stylebooks can be daunting.  Heck, even re-reading your high school grammar book can be disheartening.  To semi-colon or not to semi-colon, that is the question.  Once you get past revising punctuation, you can start weighing your words.  You tossed in a few rare ones after surfing the thesaurus.  Do they overload your writing?  Do they even make sense?  Make certain the words you use are not those of a Cambridge don, unless you are.  Finally, make sure your words convey what you want.  Determining if readers understand what you are communicating is the most difficult task an author has.  If you cannot edit your own work for suitability and accuracy, find someone who can.

If you think about it, tightening and fluffing can do a lot more than just improve your writing.  You can tighten and fluff conversation.  When someone gives you an unexpected compliment, most of us slosh around in a verbal mud puddle trying to respond but only succeeding in muddying the vocal waters.  We self-deprecate.  We make excuses.  We splutter (sometimes false) praise in return.  This is where you tighten!  Simply say, “Thank you”.  If the compliment given was genuine, the giver will know you accept it and feel good about saying it in the first place.  If the words were not bona fide, then you haven’t overstepped in replying.  If you know the words were not authentic, then accompany your thanks with a tight half-smile.

Fluffing in conversation must also be authentic.  Use precise and distinctive words.  Avoid the words “fine”, “okay”, and “thing”.  Use some of those gems you found in the thesaurus when praising someone’s efforts.  They may have to go look the word up to see what you meant, but will be delighted to learn that you thought their report was peerless or the meal they fixed was toothsome.  Verbal fluffing can be enjoyable and edifying.

Spring-cleaning is just another variation of tightening and fluffing.  Get rid of bits and pieces you don’t use, then get a new throw pillow or paint a wall to brighten the place.  The same process applies to one’s wardrobe.  Toss out those ugly brown pants you don’t wear and invest in a new jacket.  Voilà!  A successful tighten and fluff.  Now, grab that thesaurus or maybe a broom.

Love and Fear

If you have lost a loved one, you know the heartache that follows.  If you have lost a loved one through sudden misfortune, then you know that heartache compounded by not having the chance to say goodbye.  If the one who left you was taken way too early in life, the tragedy only deepens.  All this is to say, be accepting when someone who loves you tells you to be careful, asks you to call when you arrive at your destination, or wants you simply to keep in touch.  They are not demanding too much.  They are expressing their love and their fear.

A small boy with a large backpack pulls away from his father to get on the school bus by himself.  A nineteen-year-old daughter thinks her mother is prying when she wants a text from a faraway Spring Break locale.  A husband rolls his eyes when his wife tells him to be careful driving to work.  Most people of any age don’t like to be told what to do.  It is annoying at best, usually only because they have been told that same thing before.  Next time this happens to you, be a bit understanding.  The person who is cautioning you – whether parent or spouse or friend – has your best interests at heart.  Perhaps they have lost someone.  Maybe they only fear losing you.  Regardless, turn and smile to let them know it is okay.  You will be careful.  You will look both ways.  You will keep in touch.  You love them, too.

Technology Schmechnology

At one time, I was involved in the latest technology as the marketing director in charge of the company website.  Being on the Worldwide Web was a new requirement for the average corporation back then.  B2B was innovative.  Social media was non-existent.  Cell phones were clunky.  However, being involved in technology meant I was doing what my boss told me to do.  Being aware of technology was something else.  To improve my awareness, I would go to the bowels of company headquarters and talk to the techno-geeks there about our website.  I had a sizeable vocabulary (thanks to my junior high school Latin teacher, Mrs. Box), but they used words I did not know.  Techno-enlightenment came slow for me.

Several years have passed since I had to pretend I was fluent in techno-babble.  Today, I am not even fluent in phone; I still have a landline.  I do have a teensy, green flip phone that I won’t use in a mall because I would hate to incite a riot as people were jostling for the best gawking position.  And for sure, I won’t use my green-weenie flip phone while driving because other people see it and crack up – laughing, then perhaps wrecking.  Given my current level of phone, any status I had from my days as a corporate web mistress has long since been lost.

My status has been downgraded, but that doesn’t mean I am completely without techno-toys.  Along with my green weenie, I have a laptop, an iPad, and an original Kindle and seven tv remotes.  However, the combination of gadgets is not necessarily a good  thing.  I don’t get to use the remotes and I sometimes can’t remember how to work the rest of my oh-so-necessary techno-toys.  I pound the screen on my old Kindle to no avail because it refuses ‘swipe’ to the next page.  I had to buy a keyboard for my iPad because my fingers will not type on its screen.  Texting on my green flip phone is unimpressive and embarrassing as I frantically press a key countless times to spell out double letters.  Too many words have double letters.  Just look at the previous sentence.

Using technology is easy compared to maintaining it.  Uploads, downloads, phishing, encryption, SSL, viruses, spyware, malware – the list never ends.  If you don’t triple-password protect your every keystroke, you could be the next victim of a Russian or Chinese hacker.  (Don’t worry about North Korean ones though, unless you have celebrity status.  Those NK snobs don’t hack regular people.)  Heaven forbid you should be the one whose device is infected and broadcasts evil to your friends via an innocuous email.  In that case, being de-friended would be the least of your problems.

The value of communicating through technology is readily apparent, even to me.  Technology – specifically, social media – allows you to keep track of just how many friends you have.  Twitter allows people who can’t spell to chat at you.  Email lets you actually communicate with friends who can read or who like getting the same jokes forwarded to them year after year.  You simply have to use some sort of technology nowadays.  Being a Luddite will put you eons behind in social, business, political, and financial awareness…besides, what are you going to do while everyone else is glued to their smart phones?  Talk?

Hot Shower

My sole accomplishment today was taking a hot shower.  That might be acceptable if I had been sick in bed or trekking through the wilderness for days, but such is not the case.  I am thinking that maybe my sights are set a bit low.  I will admit to the winter blahs due to gray skies or stock market volatility or other things I cannot control; perhaps I should try to perk up a bit.

Perking up has its perks.  (Pun intended.)  You smell better because you shower and you are happier.  Being happy is a universal goal or so one would think.  Mark Twain wrote, “Are you so unobservant as not to have found out that sanity and happiness are an impossible combination?”  Apparently, Mr. Twain didn’t think it was possible to be clear-headed and be glad at the same time.

After listening to the nightly news  and reading email, you might concur with Mr. Twain.  The reality of the world we live in and a state of personal happiness often seem at loggerheads.  You have to work at being happy, that much I have learned.  You will not be happy all the time, so you have to accept there will be times when you succumb to other emotions.  Grief is one of the most significant emotions that can devastate your world.  Love is another.  You are not always happy when you are in love.  Get used to it.

Mark Twain also wrote “Our race has only one effective weapon – laughter.”  You can’t laugh all the time either.  You will get the hiccups if you do.  But you can find one little thing every day to focus on that makes you giggle, that make you smile, that makes you feel better.  Even if it is only a hot shower.

Happy Birthday

After a certain age, celebrating birthdays becomes more difficult.  You probably should not eat too much cake (still on that diet, you know) and ice cream is taboo (lactose-intolerance).  Dancing is out of the question (post-knee surgery recuperation), while you can’t even contemplate extreme activities, like bungee jumping or snow skiing.

Getting up early to go to IHop for over-the-top pancakes is also painful, due to both creaky muscles while climbing out of bed and the inevitable onset of indigestion afterward.  Going to bed late after a night out is particularly awful, especially if you have more than one glass of wine, not to mention a steak dinner that sits on your stomach like a stone all night long.  Besides, restaurants are too noisy and you can’t hear anything anyone says to you anyway.  In addition, if it is in one of those restaurants where they bring you a candle stuck in a day-old brownie as a gift while you have to wear a funny hat and the entire wait staff sings to you, then you wish you had never gone in the first place.

You receive only a few cards and phone calls congratulating you on reaching this milestone, because there are fewer people you know who are still around to contact you.  What’s more, you can’t hear people talking on the phone and you always get a paper cut when opening an envelope because you can’t ever remember where the letter opener is.

You’ve already ‘been there, done that’ for roller skating, sleepovers, and movie dates.  Nevertheless, I wish you a very Happy Birthday!!