Don’t Make Me Get My Voodoo Doll

I’ve been volunteering at my daughter’s school since she enrolled there in 2008. It’s a TK-12 school, and she is in tenth grade. It’s a fabulous school, and we are very fortunate to have a large volunteer base…lots of moms, dads, and grandparents who pitch in all the time to help make sure everything runs smoothly.

I’ve volunteered in lots of different ways…helping with art classes in elementary school; helping make costumes in lower school; helping with various events; helping coordinate volunteers for admissions; working with the music department; volunteering in the library; volunteering as room mom or team mom; taking tickets at carnivals; recruiting other volunteers…lots of different things that I have enjoyed. And while I’m doing whatever job I might be doing, I take it seriously.

I take it seriously, but I still have fun, and I always remember we are support for the system. We are supposed to support the school, the administrators, and the teachers in what they want us to do. We don’t run the place. I do things the way I think the people for whom I am working want it done.

Do I think it’s important to volunteer? Yes, for any number of reasons, the first being that I can volunteer. I am able. I have time. Another reason? I feel it’s important for my daughter to see that I think her education is important enough for me to invest my time. And another reason is that I know the school needs volunteers. Many hands make light work! I am one of those 20 percent of the people who do 80 percent of the work.

And even though I feel it’s important, it’s not the most important thing in my life. It’s not even near the top of the list. I enjoy it, and I want to do it, but I don’t place it above everything else I do. Want to know why?

I realized a long time ago that the work I do for free falls in far behind the stuff I need to do for my family and for myself. I have a small immediate family…just me, my husband, and our daughter…but doing for them comes ahead of doing for everyone else. Do I let myself get stressed out about volunteer work? Heck no! It’s supposed to be fun! I’m working for free, for Pete’s sake! And when someone tries to make it stressful for me, I pluck a strand of their hair to take home with me for making a voodoo doll. That’s all it takes…one strand of hair attached to a voodoo doll.

Of course, I’m kidding (or am I?), but seriously, there have been times I’ve wanted to make some voodoo dolls. Not gonna lie. And usually, it’s because someone takes themselves way too seriously. Or maybe someone has a high anxiety personality…something I don’t jibe with. Maybe someone is just downright disagreeable…or thinks they know everything…or they create drama…or can’t smile. Yep…I have actually given up volunteer positions because someone I was working with couldn’t smile. Girl, I’m funny…if you aren’t laughing when you’re with me, you are a hopeless, unhappy creature. As I’ve heard someone say somewhere: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s how I look at it. I volunteer at school when it works for me and my family. I enjoy it, and I take it seriously. Do I think anyone is going to remember what I’ve done ten or twenty years from now? Heck no! They aren’t even going to remember my name! After my daughter goes off to college, I will run into folks in the grocery store who will think I might look familiar from school, but they won’t be sure…and that’s one thing I know for sure. That is not my legacy!

So, I will continue to volunteer at my daughter’s school. And I will continue to laugh and be happy while I do it. And I hope everyone else is too! But don’t make me get my voodoo doll!

***You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.***

To order your own voodoo dolls, you can find them on Amazon.com here.

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Louis Sherry Chocolates

This past weekend, I was in New York, celebrating some upcoming birthdays for family members. I’m funny about where I stay. The crowds in Times Square are a little too much for my brain, so I have always enjoyed staying around Central Park. This past weekend, we opted to stay at The Sherry-Netherland Hotel, a place I had stayed before and loved…and we loved it even more this time! In 2016, it was voted the number one hotel in America by TripAdvisor.

There are lots of reasons we love the hotel: the location, directly across the street from the main entrance to Central Park; great service; warm, friendly staff; large rooms and gigantic suites; gorgeous lobby frescoes; room service from Harry Cipriani; attention to detail; elevator operators; fresh flowers; individually decorated suites and rooms; and last but not least…Louis Sherry Chocolates.media-0002

I research hotels. I don’t just make reservations all willy-nilly, unless I’m traveling for my daughter’s sports team…then it’s all about convenience. But when I’m traveling for “leisure,” I do my homework. I research everything: the reviews on TripAdvisor; the location; the square footage of the rooms; the outdoor spaces; room service; rooms with views; special rates and packages; and any other amenities. I like to enjoy my stay to its fullest, and I’ve found that spending a little extra time checking reviews and specials is time well spent. And when I first researched The Sherry-Netherland, besides the outstanding reviews the hotel had, I noticed they put Louis Sherry Chocolates in every room. Sold! Chocolate waiting for me every day? You don’t have to tell me twice! I booked it right then! In all seriousness…the TripAdvisor reviews were glowing, and after reading more about the hotel’s history in Forbes Magazine (see it here), I was intrigued. I read more about the hotel’s celebrity history at gothamist.com (David Bowie, Diana Ross, Barbra Streissand, and more), and you can see that here. You can see the website for The Sherry-Netherland Hotel here.

So yes, we love The Sherry-Netherland Hotel (it was outside this very hotel where I once ran into one of the original Charlie’s Angels!), but we also love the chocolates.

If you’ve never had Louis Sherry Chocolates, you’re missing a treat. In the rooms at the hotel, they’ve always left small tins of chocolate almonds. They’re fantastic…chocolatey but not too sweet…a perfect treat after coming in from a night out. But since that first stay in 2018, I’ve sent Louis Sherry candies to friends on different occasions. You can order them from Neiman Marcus here, or you can order directly through the Louis Sherry website here.

The chocolates are of excellent quality, no doubt. But you know what I really love? The beautiful tins! They come in tins of 2, 12, or 24, and there are lots of tins from which to choose. Their original tins are offered in various solid with gold edges…beautiful and understated. But they also offer designer tins, with designs by interior designer Miles Redd, painter Harrison Howard, decoupage artist John Derrian, and more. My personal favorites of the designer tins are the Cubist design by Redd (see below), and the pink Orchid design. The original solid-color tins are gorgeous too. They’re all so beautiful, though, that it can be difficult to decide which one is most fitting for a friend when sending a gift. Make sure you have plenty of time to look through all the designs when you sit down to order.

Need a new idea for hostess gifts? The Louis Sherry Chocolates would be loved by any hostess! If you know you have some parties coming up, it might be a good idea to stock up on a few different designs. I’m placing my order now for a few hostesses I know.

And make sure you order one for yourself. I recommend the 12-piece tin.

 

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Would You Eat This?

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

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Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

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Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

Eat Corn Fungus? You Bet!

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

img_9869.jpg

Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

img_9996

Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

The Vultures Are Circling

Today, when I walked out on the back patio with our dogs, I looked up and saw vultures circling overhead. It’s likely we have all seen vultures circling in the sky above us. Until today, I always thought they were circling over something dead. According to a piece from 2017 that I just read in the Huffington Post, that’s not always the case. You can see the piece here. 

Growing up in Alabama, we didn’t even call them vultures. We called them buzzards.

Until I was an adult, I never saw a buzzard actually feasting on a dead animal. Back when I was a kid, they seemed more bashful. These days, it’s not unusual for me to see one enjoying a meal on the side of the road as I drive past, but I think they have become more brave over time. It always seemed they flew away as cars approached when I was younger.

Just because we didn’t see them actively dining, it doesn’t mean we didn’t have an idea of what they did. Maybe we had seen them on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom? I don’t know, but we knew they ate dead stuff.

So on a long, hot, summer afternoon in Brewton, Alabama, we could entertain ourselves when we saw buzzards flying overhead. Keep in mind I was under age seven when we lived there, so I know I was really young. I remember playing with the neighborhood kids and seeing buzzards flying overhead. Back then, of course, we didn’t have video games. We didn’t have smartphones. We had bicycles. And we had each other. We played outside…a lot. Sometimes, at dusk, we played “hit the deck.” We would run all around the front yard, but as a car approached on our street, we would all hide behind trees or fall onto the ground…lying flat so the passing car wouldn’t see us. I don’t know why we found it entertaining, but we did. And sometimes, when we saw buzzards, we played a different game.

I vividly remember playing a game with the buzzards. We thought, as children, that if we could lie perfectly still on the driveway, we would convince the circling buzzards overhead that we were dead. We could lure them to the ground by pretending we were dead. Morbid, I know. Of course, it never worked. I’m sure we smelled rather ripe after playing outside on a hot summer afternoon in south Alabama, but even that ripe, sweaty stench didn’t fool them. They never took the bait, so we never got to see a buzzard up close. It felt like we would lie there forever, but it was likely five or ten minutes before we would get bored.

Every time I see buzzards, I think of trying to lure them to the ground when we were kids.

And today, when I saw the buzzards circling overhead, I called one neighbor and asked if she saw any dead animals around her house. Nope. I texted my next door neighbor and asked him. He jokingly replied, “Maybe they were watching me trim hedges on top of the wall and waiting for me to fall.” And then he texted me again, saying, “Those are actually two hawks.” I felt pretty stupid. Did I even know hawks flew in circles like that?

And now I’m wondering if, when we were kids, were we trying to lure in buzzards that were actually hawks?!? Hawks hunt live prey. I guess it’s a good thing we all weighed more than twenty pounds!

 

People Watching At Its Best

Today, I went to the polls to vote in a City Council primary and a special election for North Carolina Congressional District 9. I stood in line for about 35 minutes.

Honestly, is there any better people watching than there is at a polling place?

You see a little bit of everything…and that’s just on the way in! When I parked today, I had to take the first spot I came to, because the polling place was crowded, but I did some “gerrymandering” of my own to get to the door without having to answer all those folks standing outside trying to hand stuff to voters. The last thing I want to do is stop and talk to somebody on the sidewalk…and fall back one more place in line. I don’t just go to the polls all willy-nilly. I know exactly who I’m voting for before I drive over there. But there’s always somebody asking if I need a Democrat/Republican sample ballot. Nope. Nope. Nope. This is not my first rodeo. I did my homework, and I know how to get in there and get the heck out.

Today, as I waited, I had a handsome young gentleman in front of me and a sweet older lady behind me. Right behind her was another sweet older lady, and behind her was a man who, apparently, has never been to a Chick-Fil-A. The very prissy, power hungry poll worker (Miss Priss) came over and told us to snake our line around, but leave a space (right in front of me) so people could get out. I said, “OK, as long as nobody tries to get in front of me…I’d hate for a fight to break out…because it will.” She just gave me one of those prissy looks. As soon as the guy ahead of me moved up a half step, I crossed that open space and got behind him. I’m always a little agitated when I’m at the polls…maybe because of the wait…maybe because of the people who try to accost you outside.. and I knew I wouldn’t be able to tactfully tell someone where the end of the line was. I also know people get annoyed when they get embarrassed, and if someone found themselves in the wrong place, they might be embarrassed. Later, Miss Priss came back around and said, “See? Nobody tried to get in front of you, did they?” I responded, “I didn’t give them the opportunity.” And I laughed.

And how do I know the gentleman three places back in line has never been to Chick-Fil-A? Well, when Miss Priss came back around another time, she asked us to “double” the line. What the heck? Double the line? The sweet older lady behind me said, “Uh-oh. How are we going to keep up with who is next?” I said, “Oh, I know I’m behind this gentleman, and I know you’re behind me. Trust me…I know.” We laughed. I said, “This double line makes me think of a Chick-Fil-A drive thru.” And that’s when I learned the gentleman had never been to a Chick-Fil-A drive thru. We briefly discussed the double drive-thru concept, and he had no idea both lines merged to pick up at the same window. While I love Chick-Fil-A, and they offer fantastic customer service, I am not a fan of the double drive-thru. I usually just order on my Chick-Fil-A one app and pick it up quickly.

Ok…back on topic…other folks I saw at the polling place: the lady with the well-behaved toddler who sat quietly in the floor while her mother waited in line; the folks in the parking lot getting angry because someone didn’t get out of a parking spot fast enough for them; the very happy lady working at the computer, checking folks in; the little old man who could barely shuffle into the place, but managed to wait in line to cast his ballot; the very sweaty lady who must have run to the polling place…I just hoped she remembered deodorant; the first time voter who looked excited and nervous; the little old lady who had on two different colored shoes; the angry lady who was told she couldn’t vote in the District 9 special election, because she lived just outside the district…after she had stood in line for more than 30 minutes.

Oh, it’s a motley crew at the polling place. The cute little lady behind me said, “I hope my candidate appreciates my vote, since I’m standing in this line so long!” I laughed and said, “Maybe you should call him and tell him you stood in line for a long time just to vote for him.” So she became a new friend…Miss Ann.

Go vote! At least there’s free entertainment while you wait in line…and maybe you’ll make a new friend.