Stand up Ladies!

I’ve always considered myself something of a feminist, but I have to admit there is one area where women are at a distinct disadvantage.  The great outdoors is not so great when you risk peeing on your leg because you can’t spread your legs far enough when you squat. I’ve never been envious of a penis except when Andrew and I go hiking. We’ve got a trip coming up where we will be spending five or six hours on trails at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and I’ll be carrying a little over three liters of water.  Luckily, I found a nifty little item on Amazon.

Klean Go

When I ordered them I told Andrew “Look! It’s like a detachable penis!” He was both skeptical and relieved when they arrived and he saw that they were little wax paper funnels. The cover of the Klean Go package has the phrase “A lady’s way to stand up for herself!”  I guess the phrase “Next best thing to actually having a penis” was either taken or too risqué.

The reviewers on Amazon recommend practicing at home before you attempt to use them out in public. I did, and I have to say I never realized the toilet was so far away when you’re standing up to pee. I’ll never criticize Andrew’s aim again.

 

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Come on Baby Light my Tick

I started following Guadalupe Mountains National Park on Facebook because Andrew and I are headed there on our vacation, and I hoped to see some photos of beautiful scenery and maybe some suggestions for hiking. However, they began posting photos of snakes. The other day they shared an article about ticks.

Right after I read about the dangers of tick borne illnesses I logged in to Amazon and began searching for tick removal devices.  After viewing about 2,000 different ways to remove ticks, and reading some 146 reviews, I ordered this item, the TickEase Tick Removal Tweezers.

Tick Ease

It comes with a little magnifier, so I can get a close look at any disgusting creatures feasting on my blood. The device description on the back of the package includes the words embedded, demons, engorgement, and pleasure. It almost sounds like I’ve bought some really kinky pornography.

I showed the tweezers to Andrew, and he expressed doubt that they would work.

“I’ve always just used matches, or kerosene” he explained. Upon hearing this I imagined him pouring flammable liquid on my extremities and lighting them on fire. Yes, the ticks would probably release, along with the outer layer of my skin. He explained that he doesn’t use a flaming match, he lights it and then blows it out so he can press the smoldering tip against the tick. I was not comforted by the difference between flaming and merely hot enough to produce blisters. After all, a branding iron isn’t actually on fire, but it’s not exactly comforting if someone tries to touch you with it. 

“The kerosene is only if you have a lot of ticks at once,” he continued. This description was not helpful either, as I was overtaken by a strong desire to search my body for ticks, even though the closest I’d gotten to the outdoors that day was parking under a tree.

“I’ll use the tweezers, you can set yourself on fire.” I told him.

I took the TickEase out of the package to show him the sharp points on the end, and promptly poked a hole in my thumb. While I wrapped a bandage around my finger to stop the bleeding, I read the customer comments on the back of the package. One of them mentioned that the TickEase worked great, but that they wished it would also set the ticks on fire. Absolutely I am not showing that comment to Andrew.

 

 

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Something to Look Forward To

 

Every time I go in for a checkup, my doctor warns me about my cholesterol levels as though they were the rising consumer price index.  And if there is some sort of connection, soon I won’t be able to afford bread. I’ve been in a cold war with my arteries for some time now. I don’t feel clogged, so my strategy has been to pretty much ignore the doctor’s warnings.

When I read an article that suggested that red wine would help lower your cholesterol levels, I thought “Now there is a solution I can get behind!” so I headed over to Total Wine, the Grand Canyon of liquor stores. I looked around and finally found an employee/tour guide/Wine Ranger, and I asked for a recommendation for a sweet red wine.

Wine Ranger: “Do you mind bubbles in your wine?”

Me: “Actually, I prefer wine with bubbles.”

When he suggested a bottle that cost less than $10, and came with a twist top instead of a cork, I considered that a win. These are my two most important qualifications for selecting a wine.  I’ve had that bottle about a month, and I don’t know if it’s lowering my cholesterol. I do know that it’s giving me a better attitude about the evening news.

I’m also trying to lose some weight. The diet I’m trying is called the 5:2 diet. Basically it’s a modified fast where you eat regularly five days a week and two days a week you drastically reduce the calories you consume. For me that means I can only have 500 calories a day on my fast days.  What can you eat and still come in under 500 calories for the entire day? Here’s a list:

  1. Cauliflower
  2. Broccoli
  3. Foam packing peanuts

 

Just kidding.  A diet of nothing but cauliflower and broccoli should only be undertaken if you work alone, and have no friends or family. Also, my boyfriend Andrew says the foam packing peanuts are actually called rice cakes.

I was attracted to the diet because there have been medical studies done on mice that show that intermittent fasting can decrease chances of getting Alzheimer’s, lower cholesterol, and reduce joint pain. If I’m ever reincarnated as a mouse this will certainly come in handy. The magazine article where I first read about the 5:2 diet used the phrase “Quality of life”, words that trigger me now in my 50’s the same way “All you can eat buffet” and “75% off shoes” triggered me when I was in my 20’s.

A typical fasting day for me consists of either a hard-boiled egg or one cup of oatmeal in the morning, a salad with tuna for lunch, and some wishful thinking for dinner. Or I can have 4 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken along with the aforementioned cauliflower and broccoli. I also drink lots of water, and get my exercise running back and forth to the restroom.

This diet obviously is not for everyone, if you are diabetic or hypoglycemic it just won’t work cutting out your calories this drastically.  On fast days I end up REALLY hungry by dinner time. Cartoon cat hungry, where I hallucinate images of roast chicken while I’m looking at Andrew sitting on the couch. And I find myself resorting to food porn, binge watching old episodes of The Great British Bake Off and tearing out impossible recipes from magazines. I look at those torn out pages the next day like I’ve had some sort of blackout. Why did I think I would ever be able to or want to make a Towering Seven Layer Salmon Mousse? I’m also disappointed that you can’t lick the pictures of food on magazine pages and get a taste of the dish. Why can’t they do this? They can create those annoying fragrance inserts that stink up my mailbox.

I’ll keep going, though. So far I’m losing about a pound a week, and I don’t gain it back when I eat regularly the rest of the week. Regularly being the recommended 2000 calorie a day diet, not Cheesecake Factory regular. I have to skip the wine on fast days, but I find that it gives me something to look forward to the rest of the week. Even if I’m watching the evening news.

 

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The Thick Grey Line

I stopped coloring my hair about six months ago, and let the grey slowly (very slowly) take over. It had grown out to a sort of “ombre” look with blonde ends, and people were asking me “Are you letting your grey grow out?”

I was always tempted to reply “No. Why do you ask?” and then look horrified. However, I managed to keep a straight face and tell them yes, I actually meant for my hair to have this weird grey stripe down the middle.

At first it was easy to give up the coloring, I just stopped. But as the grey advanced I worried what I would look like when it was finally completely grey.  On the plus side, I noticed that the teen age cashier at KFC automatically gave me the senior discount without asking my age.

I’d been on intimate terms with Miss Clairol for almost thirty years. You don’t walk out on that sort of relationship without a few regrets. Finally, like an alcoholic dumping out that last bottle of booze, I stopped at Supercuts and basically asked the hairdresser to cut off anything that wasn’t grey.

I thought the final hairdo came out okay, if much shorter than I have had in a long time. Actually, once people started complimenting me and saying that the hairstyle made me look younger, I realized that this was the same haircut that I had when I graduated from high school in the seventies.

Another coworker came up and said I reminded him of a celebrity, and I asked “Helen Mirren?” but sadly he said no, that wasn’t it.

I forgot about this conversation until I walked outside to my car later that day, and caught sight of my reflection in the glass windows on our office building. I had on pants and a tunic top, and with the grey hair I realized that I looked like, not Helen Mirren, but Bea Arthur in her Golden Girls days.

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Oh well, Bea was a pretty classy lady so I’m okay with that. Now that the grey has taken over, I’m hoping that all the cashiers at retail establishments will be too embarrassed to ask me how old I am, and give me that free cup of coffee or taco at 10% off.

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The Queens of Summer Camp

Queens of Summer Camp

There were two groups of people in the small town I grew up in, those who went to church and those who didn’t. The church goers were overwhelmingly either Southern Baptist or Methodist. There were some Catholics over on the east side of town, but they mostly kept to themselves except for their annual Christmas tamale sale. I joined the Southern Baptist delegation at the Lake Lavon Baptist Encampment the summer after sixth grade. I remember gathering around a camp fire on one of the first evenings in camp, listening to a chorus of pre-teen girls singing hymns. I found myself walking forward when the counselor encouraged any who were lost to come and be found. After the twelfth or thirteenth verse of “Kumbya, My Lord”, I doubt if even Carl Sagan could have resisted the call of that sweet fellowship.

Every summer after that my best friend, Ann, and I traveled by church van the fifteen or twenty miles or so to the Lake Lavon camp, where, if we were lucky, we were assigned a dorm with air conditioning. By the end of the week the sleeping quarters would smell of a mixture of wet bathing suits, hair spray, and mildew, but we didn’t mind, as this was our week of freedom. We spent the days attending mission classes and crafts sessions, and each afternoon we were allowed one hour of swimming in the camp pool, where I was a weak swimmer but a champion dog paddler.

It was this lack of swimming skill, combined with an overwhelming fear of being singled out for attention that ultimately made me doubt my salvation. After my march down to the fireside that summer I thought my Christian duty was done, but one of the camp counselors informed me that, in order to seal the deal I would have to be baptized.

Oh, I thought regretfully, if only we were Methodists, those Christians who made their profession by merely becoming slightly dampened. But no, I had gone and hooked up with the Southern Baptists, those believers in full immersion. I might as well invest in a snorkel and wet suit, in order to establish my place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Do you think I could be saved without being baptized?” I asked Ann.

“I think so”, she replied, “but you should probably go ahead and do it just to be sure.”

“What if I choke on the water when the preacher dips me under?” I wasn’t so much afraid of drowning, but that I might start coughing and embarrass myself. I’d seen those awful white robes they made you wear, and I imagined water dripping down my face while the preacher called for others to come down and be saved. My luck no one else would be moved and we would have to float there through eight or nine choruses of “Just as I Am.”

Eventually I was able to forget about my lack of baptism, except once a quarter, when the Baptists would extend the Sunday morning worship to include communion. I would agonize on whether I should accept the tiny, flat cracker they passed around, but since it was so close to lunch time I would give in, washing down the inadequate snack with a swallow of unsweetened grape juice that represented the blood of Christ. Even though we were symbolically consuming his flesh, I felt that surely Jesus would have approved a larger portion.

To prove myself a loyal church member I devoted myself to bible study and Sunday School attendance. Our church hosted a twelve week session on the disciples, and each week they gave out a prize, a small charm with the image of each of the twelve apostles. I was home with strep throat the week they gave out James, and despite trying to convince my mother that a 102 degree fever was no big deal, I missed collecting the entire set.

Along with Ann, I joined Acteens, the young girls’ mission study group. We met once a week to learn about missions, and this program included an opportunity to advance to “Queen of Mission Studies”, or some such other title that I can’t remember. Besides earning a nifty scepter and tiara; any young lady who reached the title of “Queen” would be invited to a special missionary tea at summer camp, and, most importantly, the Queens would be allowed an extra hour of swimming at midnight on the last day of camp.

Ann and I threw ourselves into this competition that was not meant to be a competition. We cooked special recipes from foreign lands and walked the three miles to church carrying a large cooler filled with curried rice the week we were studying India. We organized and put on a splendid Christmas pageant, refusing to allow the boy’s mission study group – the Royal Ambassadors, to participate. They spent too much time playing basketball, in our opinion, to be of any help. We progressed through the steps, I can’t remember now what they were, but something like maid, handmaiden, duchess, princess, and finally – Queen. There was a ceremony that surely was more embarrassing than any baptism would have been, except there was no water and I got to wear a long dress and makeup, and put my hair up under the crown.

We made it to Queen status just in time, as that summer would be our final trip to the Lake Lavon Baptist encampment. When our special day arrived at last, Ann and I dressed in our long gowns and put on our tiaras, and walked across the campgrounds to the place where the missionary tea was to be held. Unfortunately for us it was unusually hot that summer, and the meeting room was not air conditioned. I sat there and drank lukewarm Kool Aid while the sweat dripped off my face and the long dress stuck to the back of my legs. I don’t remember much more of the event, except feeling a great disappointment that the missionaries did not share stories of life threatening danger. They were stationed in Canada as school teachers, and the greatest threat they faced was a shortage of chalk.

When the midnight swimming hour arrived Ann and I dressed in our damp swim suits, gathered up our towels, and made our way with the other lucky girls to the swimming pool. We carried flashlights that looked like fireflies twinkling across grass. When we got there my summer friends jumped into the dark blue water, and I stood there on the edge, watching their heads bob up and down, drops sparkling on their brows like jewels.

“Come on in, jump!” Ann encouraged, and I curled my toes under the rough cement ledge and pushed off, jumping off into the deep end of the pool. Down, down I went until my toes barely scraped the slick tile on the bottom, and then I kicked my legs and shot up toward the surface, bursting up and spreading my hands out above into the cool night air. I looked up and saw the face of the Man in the Moon, soft and bright as God’s love, shining down on us, the Queens of Summer Camp.

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Redneck Heaven

redneck heave $

There was a story on the local news recently that was a perfect example of how local governments can act quickly on important issues, as opposed to the slow grind toward democracy in their state and federal counterparts. The coverage centered on Redneck Heaven, a restaurant in Lewisville, Texas. The controversy began with complaints to the police department that the waitresses there were topless. Apparently the line that distinguished a sexually oriented business from a food service establishment was one drawn in brush strokes across a nipple. This breast-staking event was covered by every local channel. The news stories went on to describe how the police had visited Redneck Heaven and reported back to the city council that the women were in fact, covered by body paint; and they wanted a ruling on whether the paint counted as clothing. The news reports did not mention how many trips the cops had to make to the place in order to observe these servers.

I was amused by the interviews of customers at a nearby dining establishment. One woman described how her family had wandered in there “by accident” and discovered the scantily clad servers. I for one, when faced by a choice between Olive Garden, Chili’s, or a place called Redneck Heaven, would never chose the latter. Not because I am a prude or offended by nearly naked women, but because I would expect the menu to consist of fried bologna and Velveeta cheese sandwiches, served with a side of cheesy puffs, with maybe a free side of bait and ammo to go.

The news stories went on for two or three days, following the event to its logical conclusion when the council met for a special session where they voted on an ordinance that stated that body paint and tattoos were not clothing. Whew! I was glad to hear this, just when I was bracing myself for casual day at work. Redneck Heaven’s version of casual day includes something called “Anything but Clothes”, or ABC days. On these occasions the women wear their standard skimpy bikini bottoms, garter belts to hold dollar bills, and an assortment of strategically placed items to cover (or not), their top parts. There are pictures on the restaurant’s website of typical costumes worn on these days, and I was amazed at the creativity on display. One woman covered her breasts in what looked like whipped cream, with a couple of cherries placed on top. I spent a good five or ten minutes trying to figure out how she got those cherries to stay there, as I can barely get a barrette to stay in place on my hair without plastering it in with hair spray. Other non-edible coverings included artificial flowers, condom wrappers, and the controversial body paint.

Like most of the male patrons interviewed for the story, I don’t see anything wrong with women walking around nude, or nearly nude, or mostly naked.  I’ve always limited myself to accidental nudity, like the time I went down the water slide at Hawaiian Falls, or the morning I forgot to close the living room blinds. But I was concerned because they were working in a restaurant and not someplace where the décor consisted of dim lighting and metal poles. Food service can be a dangerous business, and I hoped for the sake of the waitresses and customers, that they were serving mostly cold beer and sandwiches wrapped safely in plastic.

I know firsthand of the dangers. I was once a waitress myself, and one time I set a basket of chips on fire at the Mexican restaurant where I worked. I extinguished the blaze by throwing the basket into the fountain in the center of the dining room, along with three cocktail napkins, the crepe paper flowers hanging over the booth, and a cardboard take out menu my customers had thoughtlessly left lying on the center on the table. I think I was only partly at fault for this accident, and the person who thought it was a good idea to add flaming cheese to the menu should have shared in the blame.

Luckily I was wearing a shirt and pants when this event happened. Had I been clothed in just a necklace of paper condom wrappers, that thing would have gone up like a string of Chinese fire crackers. While I sympathize with the reluctance on the part of many of the customers of Redneck Heaven to see the end of body painted boobies, surely they understand that city ordinances are put in place to keep a strict separation between places that are serving food and places that are serving up something that only occasionally is covered in whipped cream. I applaud the Lewisville city council for their quick action to protect the public and tighten up the definition of clothing, especially for those of us who might be confused on casual Fridays.

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Salvation, Fast Cars, and Rock ‘n Roll

I grew nostalgic recently, trying to figure out the dashboard controls of the rental car that I was using. All I wanted to do was listen to the radio on the way to and from Austin, and at first I thought that Avis had given me a small airplane instead of the Ford Focus that I requested. They were located, after all, near the airport, so I believed this was a reasonable suspicion. I yearned for the large silver tabs on my parents’ 1967 Oldsmobile. Back then changing the pre-set stations was a simple task but required a real commitment, as you had to first pull out the locking buttons under the dial – a feat not unlike King Arthur pulling that sword out of the stone – and then push them forcefully back in once you had settled on the station that you were pledging your undying devotion. Back then there was no satellite radio, and I confess that I miss the days when you could judge how close to home you were by the level of static on the local radio stations.

When I was a child, I would stretch out in the rear window of the Oldsmobile as we traveled back to our house at night; my face tilted up to watch the stars pass by overhead in a dizzy parade of pinpoint lights. These were the days before child safety regulations; and it’s a wonder we didn’t all wind up scattered along the sides of the highway like bits of litter. As we drove along, I rested my ear against the speaker in the rear deck, listening for faint whispers of country music blowing across my face like scratchy West Texas tumbleweeds. I would hope for Hank Williams, something I could tap my foot too, not knowing or caring then that Hank was years past a rock star death in the back seat of a limousine.

If we were far from home the music might be interrupted by a late night preacher, fading and weaving through the melodies like a snake rustling through brush. I turned my face away from all that shouting, figuring that someone had done that preacher wrong for sure.  I patiently waited for deliverance from the threatened fires of hell, closing my eyes against the rush of wind through open windows while the firefly sparks from my father’s cigarette settled like bright brimstone on my arms and legs.

My mother’s job was to shake Dad now and then to make sure he didn’t nod off too deeply and run us all into a ditch along those moonlit roads. As soon as we got to the first stop light in town, my father would wake up and slam on the brakes, sending me tumbling from my perch in the window, bouncing across the bench seat in the back, and finally settling limply across the hump in the back floorboard. I would lay there, too stunned to climb back up, and breathe in the dust from the mats while I took hard comfort in the dull road hum beneath me as we moved on closer to home and soft beds.

When I rode with my older brother Ronnie in his Mustang, I was always securely buckled in the front seat. This, I supposed, was my parents’ token gesture toward safety once they decided it was all right for my epileptic brother to take me to the grocery store in a fast car. My brother was twenty-one and I was eight years old that year. Every time we stopped at a red light Ronnie would shift to neutral and press the gas. The engine growled and snarled, and when the light turned green, I wouldn’t  have time to worry about car crashes, or breath to protest how fast we were traveling as my back pressed into the soft leather of the seat.

Our journeys were accompanied not by Hank Williams, nor calls to salvation, but by raw Sixties Rock n’ Roll. It might be Jefferson Airplane asking if we didn’t in fact need someone to love, or it might be the Stones and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, but it was always loud and mostly clear.

Almost twenty years later I would be returning to the mobile home we lived in at that time, driving a car my father-in-law bought for me for $50. My older son Robert was strapped and buckled in a child carrier in the back seat. The car had good brakes and a working radio, but not much else for $50. The rear driver’s side window was a clear plastic drop cloth, held in place with duct tape. Somewhere along the highway the catalytic converter plugged up, and the car grew sluggish while we were still some way from the trailer park. Then, just as we slowed down to a crawl and I thought I would have to hike the five or six miles carrying Robert, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” came blasting out of the speakers. The car surged forward with a loud bang, and we gathered speed as the song played. The rest of the way home flames shot from the exhaust at every chorus of “it’s a gas, gas, gas…”  I was sure that someone along that redneck white rock road would come out with a shotgun and return fire, but we made it safely to our lot just as Keith played the final chorus.

I finally figured out the controls on the rented Ford, and made the trip safely to Austin. On the return trip that evening I drove through Waco, that city of apocalyptic prophets and Baylor Bears. A Christian light rock station filtered through the static on the radio, the cheery chorus far removed from flames of eternal damnation. As I drove over the bridge that spanned the muddy Brazos, I rolled the window down and let the mossy air from the river below wash over me. I punched the tuner and found my favorite local radio station fading in and out from the speakers. The stereo called out stronger with each mile, reminding me that; if not on the road to salvation, I was at least on the road towards home.

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