Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Don't Let Getting a Goat Get Your Goat

            When I read the article in the paper, all those videos I’ve seen recently on Facebook  began to make sense. Videos of imp-faced baby goats frolicking in a pen, tumbling over each other, playing clever goat versions of Leap Frog or King of the Mountain. Videos that made me want to run out and buy one of those comical little critters for myself. Videos like this one.
            Cuteness like that is hard to resist. But, thankfully, I did. For one of the few times in my life, reason prevailed as I realized a goat—even a small, cuddly one—is really a strip mining project on four legs. In no time at all, one of those endearing creatures would transform my yard into a setting for an apocalypse movie.
            Apparently, I’m not the only one to be lured by that clownish star of petting zoos everywhere. Goat mania is rampant. Articles about them are popping up in major publications, goat videos have gone viral, and goats are proving to be effective marketing tools in commercials (although I personally find those goats creepy). Goat Simulator, a new video game, has been a rainmaker for its creators at Coffee Stain Studios. (Btw, doesn’t that name say it all about video game companies?)
            I’m glad goats are finally getting some recognition because not only are they entertaining, they’re also quite useful. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/15/15) reports that in Germany, goats have long been used as therapy animals and are increasingly being used in business courses to teach leadership skills. (To borrow Dave Barry’s line, I am not making this up.) In the movie Cold Mountain—based on Charles Frazier’s bestselling novel—there is a scene in which an old mountain woman claims that for survival purposes, a person can’t do better than owning a few goats. When alive, she says, a goat provides nourishment, clothing, companionship. When it dies, it provides meat, and its skin provides shelter and warmth. She says all this while gazing lovingly into a little goat’s trusting eyes. Then she kills it. (I don’t want to know what it says about my psyche that this scene stuck with me. But the goat’s death is quick and painless, and its blood is used for medicinal purposes, so maybe I’m not too messed up—nothing a little goat therapy couldn’t cure.)
            Yes, it seems that right now the multi-talented goat is all the rage. In the trend of barnyard- animals-as-pets, goat is the new chicken. The WSJ article claims “goats hit it big in 2013” and goes on to state, “Goats have become part of our culture.” Like I said, I’m happy for the goats, but, as with all fads concerning animals, I have concerns.
            With goat popularity on the rise, it is tempting join the ranks of goat owners. If you feel yourself yielding to that temptation, keep these absolute requisites in mind. First, make sure you can afford to feed your goat well and often. Otherwise, you’ll find it consuming everything from your car’s bumpers to the family dog. (Even though goats are not normally carnivores, in a feeding frenzy they sometimes forget that fact.) Second, get a goat only if you have the space for it—space as in a ranch roughly the size of Montana. If you live in a residential neighborhood with a postage-stamp yard or even on a ranchette, please resist the urge to get a playful kid for your kids. That charming little goat will grow up. When the postman won’t deliver your mail for fear of being butted into the next county or when you’re down to your last blade of grass and your shrubs are no more than spiked nubs protruding from the ground, that goat will look more satanic than cute. You’ll be carting him off to an animal shelter which most likely has already reached its quota of gamboling goats. Either that, or your children’s beloved pet might wind up as a meal you insist is beef stew.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 - A Balancing Act

            I’m writing this blog post seven days into the New Year and three weeks since my last post. Those facts should serve as evidence enough that “blogging on a timely and regular basis” is not among my New Year’s resolutions. Neither is “losing ten pounds” nor “exercising daily" nor “getting organized.” That’s because I have no New Year’s resolutions. I gave up that exercise in futility long ago. But it seems as if several blogs I follow on a regular basis (here and here) have something to say about resolutions, so I feel “oblogated” to pitch in my two cents.

            Of all the advice I’ve read concerning resolutions, I think the suggestion to condense them into one word works best for me—to have not so much a “to do” list as an underlying principle, an all-encompassing directive. I considered some such words that might guide my actions and thoughts in this new year. Fellow blogger Mari suggests the chosen word be in the form of a verb, so I considered move or do (as in “Do it now” or “Just do it”) to remind myself to keep active and healthy. But then I thought of other areas of my life that could stand a bit of shaping up. Words to improve my mental fitness came to mind. Words such as read or study or learn. And what about my spiritual life? I considered pray and meditate and reflect. My social life? How about serve, connect, communicate?
Achieving perfect balance might
be impossible, but even the attempt
can bring satisfaction.
            All of these are good words, but I couldn’t get past the notion that to choose just one concentrated on a single aspect of my life, ignoring others. After much deliberation—at least fifteen minutes’ worth—I finally settled on a word: balance. (It can be a verb, right?)
            It didn’t take me long to decide on balance because it’s pretty much been my motto—either consciously or subconsciously—for most of my life. I’ve never really had an overriding passion to pursue one particular endeavor to the exclusion of everything else. I enjoy doing or at least trying my hand at lots of things. There has never been nor is there now a solitary cause to which I want to devote all my waking hours. In the past, I’ve experienced guilt over this because I interpreted my lack of passion as lack of self-discipline or commitment. And forget about achieving success. That’s all about focus and drive, isn’t it?
            But success carries different definitions for different people. For some individuals, it does mean achieving that singular, long-sought-after goal—that prize-winning novel, that gold medal, that prestigious job title. For me, it means enjoying a variety of experiences that enrich all aspects of my life. And while keeping them balanced can sometimes be a challenge, that’s my “directive” for this year.
            Here’s to 2015—A year in perfect balance!


Friday, December 19, 2014

In Defense of Elf on the Shelf

                Something has been bothering me this holiday season, and while I can’t right all the injustices in the world, I can take a stand on at least one. Quit picking on Elf on the Shelf. 
            I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, I used to find Elf-boy annoying. He seemed a bit Eddie Haskell-ish to me. (If you don’t know who Eddie Haskell is, this blog is probably not age-appropriate for you, but here's a link to help.) When I first saw Elf-boy on a Facebook post a couple of years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief—not for the first time—that there were no longer youngsters in my household. I looked on the elf as just one more self-inflicted pressure for mothers to add to their already over-taxed lives. As if the holidays aren’t hectic enough, now—along with shopping, baking, decorating, party-hosting...—mothers must think of original locations to place Elf-boy, clever ways to pose him, and entertaining stories of how he got in said place and position. For proof, go here. If that doesn't convince you, try here.
            Don’t think for a minute I’m judging today’s moms. My sympathy is real. We had our own version of Mommy Olympics back in the ‘80s, and I threw myself headlong into the competition. I still shudder to think of the guilt participants faced if we failed to acquire the must-have Christmas toy of the year (think waaay over-priced Cabbage Patch doll), to throw the most unique birthday party (think backyard beach “ball” in the middle of Oklahoma), or to “assist” with the best Thanksgiving project (think 6,000 assorted beans glued on a giant turkey poster). The saving grace for mothers of my generation, however, was we didn’t have the added responsibility of sharing our accomplishments—or failures—with half the world on Facebook or Pinterest. And we didn’t have Elf-boy.
            This year I’ve noticed Elf-boy’s fame turning to infamy. All of a sudden, it is popular to tag him with labels such as “creepy” and “tattle-tale” and to insist you’re glad you never bought into the whole elf frenzy in the first place. (Like I’d believe that.)  Some so-called experts have even accused him of traumatizing innocent little darlings and turning them into compliant victims of a “panoptic surveillance” society. Huh?
            Frankly, I think these mean-spirited accusations are a bit over the top and this name-calling borders on bullying. Furthermore, the piling-on is unwarranted. Sure, Elf-boy is annoying, but really, what has he done that’s so terrible? Unlike certain celebrities whose defrockings are the result of their own bad behavior, Elf-boy is simply a victim of his own popularity and, I suspect, frazzled mothers pushed to their limit. His intentions are honorable. All he wants to do is remind children to be on their best behavior and to make a few million bucks in the process. But as often happens with climbs to fame that are meteoric, they fizzle just as fast. Elf-boy's decline will be quick, and soon he will be as obsolete as a Rubik’s Cube Christmas tree ornament. For that reason, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for him. I hope he’s taking consolation in laughing all the way to the bank.
From the expression on his face, I don't think Elf-boy is taking 
recent criticism too hard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Scones

            About the only recipes I ever post on this blog are ones from my fellow book club members. There’s a good reason for that. I’m not a cook. Not really. I mean, I can follow a recipe pretty well, and occasionally I whip up a decent meal. But as far as my getting fancy or adventurous with food, it’s just not a passion of mine. I’d much rather be writing or reading.
Christmas is the perfect season
to indulge in melt-in-your-mouth
scones, accompanied by your
favorite tea.
            A few years ago, however, I found a delicious—and almost fail proof—recipe for scones. I call them Christmas Scones because that’s the only time of year I make them. They’re hard to resist  and, let’s be honest, not exactly health food. But for the holidays, we can splurge, right?
Holiday Scones – Basic Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½  cup cold butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup whipping cream, divided
wax paper
1. Preheat oven to 450°. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Freeze 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. cream, stirring just until ingredients are crumbly. (If mixture seems too dry, add more cream a tsp. at a time. Mixture should not be too wet or sticky.)
2. Turn dough out onto wax paper; gently press it into a flat, round shape about an inch thick. (A hint from my high school home ec days: Handle the dough as little as possible for lighter, flakier scones.) Depending on how big you want your scones, you can make one round and cut it into 8 wedges, or you can make smaller ones by forming two smaller rounds (about 5 inches) and cutting those into 8 wedges. Place wedges about an inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet. (I use PAM.) Brush tops of wedges with remaining cream, just until moistened.
3. Bake at 450° for 13 to 15 minutes or until golden.
            Wait! Before you rush out to buy the ingredients, let me make a suggestion. While the basic scones are delicious spread with butter and/or jelly, they are also easy to play around and get creative with. So let me share some of my variations. 
            For all variations below, add the extra ingredients to the flour mixture before adding the cream. Then add the flavoring to the cream before stirring it in. The amount of flavoring should be according to your taste, usually ¼ to 1 tsp.
            Cranberry-Orange Scones: Orange extract, chopped dried cranberries and small bits of candy orange slices. (A trick for cutting up the orange slices is to do it with kitchen scissors sprayed with PAM.)
            Cinnamon-Pecan Scones: Toasted pecan pieces and mini cinnamon chips.
            Cherry-Chocolate-Almond Scones: Almond flavoring, chopped dried cherries, and mini, semi-sweet chocolate chips.
            Lemon-Poppy Seed Scones: Lemon flavoring and poppy seeds. Serve with lemon curd.
            The possibilities are endless. If you like, add a glaze by whisking together powdered sugar, cream or milk, and whatever flavoring you want to a desired consistency. Drizzle it over scones. You can even go savory, adding ingredients such as grated cheese, bacon, ham, or herbs.
            One final hint. I always divide one batch in half when I remove it from the freezer and before I add the cream. (Be sure you add only half the cream to half the mixture.) Then I make half of it as one variation, and another variation with the other half. That way I get two kinds of scones from one batch.
            Give this recipe a try. You won’t be disappointed. These scones are heavenly right out of the oven, but they’re also very tasty warmed up in the microwave. If you come up with an especially yummy variation, please share!
I got these four variations from two batches of the recipe.
Starting at top and going clockwise: Cinnamon-Pecan,
Cranberry-Orange, Cherry-Chocolate-Almond, Lemon-Poppy Seed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Role-Model Barbie

            As a recipient of one of the first Barbies to strut off the Matel assembly line, I take personally any criticism directed toward the diva of dolls. I never quite understood all the feminist hoopla about the unrealistic expectations her body communicated to young girls. As far as I’m concerned, the takeaway from Barbie isn’t her shapely physique but her composure. We could all learn lessons about ladylike conduct from this icon of elegance.
When I first saw my
Barbie, I wasn't quite sure
what I had. I would soon
find out.
            I received my Barbie as a Christmas gift from cousins back East, who obviously were more in the loop than we Texans. I didn’t even know who or what Barbie was when I opened the box. In fact, I thought she was a little strange in her black and white zebra-striped swimsuit and her severe ponytail and frizzy bangs. But when I showed her to a friend—who was more in the loop than I, so maybe this was less Texan than Dee Dee cluelessness—I was quickly informed of Barbie’s royalty status in the doll kingdom. And I was also informed that there were certain expectations to be met when it came to Barbie’s upkeep.

Barbie and I had our hearts
set on this Evening Splendor
            My poor Barbie must have thought she’d been banished to fashion hell when she took up residence at our house. No matter how much I requested, argued, begged, whined, my Barbie never possessed more than three outfits—and that was counting the swimsuit. When I pleaded Barbie’s case to Mama, she unreasonably insisted she wasn’t about to spend more on a doll’s dress than she did on one of her own. So, for the time being, Barbie and I had to give up on the little gold and white brocade ensemble with the mink cuffs and matching mink hat. At the time, I think it retailed for around $15, which translates to roughly $15,000 in today’s economy. But my eleventh birthday was coming up, so I told Barbie not to disparage. 
We had to settle for
Satin Flame.
        I discreetly hinted to all my friends that being it was late January, Barbie was getting cold in her swimsuit and not having anything warm to wear (like a jacket with mink cuffs and matching hat) was endangering her health. My friends’ mothers were apparently as selfish as mine. They were no more willing than my mom to shell out big bucks for a killer outfit so that Barbie could have a fun night on the town. Only one friend’s mother came through. Thanks to her, my Barbie could add a red velvet and white satin strapless cocktail dress to her attire. Through research, I happened to know that was the chea least expensive of the Barbie ensembles, but Barbie and I weren’t in a position to quibble. I thanked my friend profusely, and we quickly adorned Barbie in her new “appropriate-for-any-occasion” outfit. While accessorizing her, we discovered that when we tucked the gold vinyl clutch under her arm, the gold finish rubbed off in her armpit. We labeled that residue “purse”peration, and laughed uncontrollably. Never one to take herself too seriously, Barbie didn’t resent our little joke at her expense. And her demure smile told us she appreciated our razor-sharp wit.
            Barbie never complained, but in my heart I knew she was growing weary of her sparse wardrobe. I mean, there’s a limit to how many swimming and cocktail parties a doll can attend. Once again I encouraged Barbie to take heart. My grandmother was coming for a visit. I was sure she’d be happy to whip up a few items for her.
            I had no doubt my grandmother would come to Barbie's and my aid. And I must say, she was willing. But she, like me just a few months before, had no earthly idea who or what a Barbie was. I think when she agreed to help me make some “doll clothes,” she envisioned stitching up a couple of baby doll gowns out of my old flannel pajamas. When she saw the curvaceous Barbie and the scrap of green taffeta I produced for the first outfit, she was at a loss for both words and ideas. But being the loving woman she was, she doggedly tackled the task. With her stubby, arthritic fingers, she took needle and thread in hand and, with teeny-tiny stitches, fashioned yet another lovely strapless cocktail dress for Barbie. When she finished, Barbie truly had a bespoke garment. The problem was it was not only sewn specifically for her, it was also sewn on her and could be removed only with scissors. The frock would be worn either one time or permanently.
            At that point, Barbie and I had a heart-to-heart.
            “Babs, ol’ girl,” I said. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to spend some time in this dress. Either that or go back to the red-and-white number until next Christmas when I can make another pitch for you a decent wardrobe.” 
            This is where I want those of you who think Barbie an unfit role model to read carefully. She never flinched. Her plump, ruby-red lips never quivered. Her eyes glistened, but not so much as one tear smudged her blue eye shadow and heavy mascara. She simply raised her right hand in that elegant beauty-pageant wave and without a scene slipped into her special shoe box still wearing that green taffeta dress. She wasn’t giving up, but she knew how to accept defeat gracefully and return to fight another day. What a doll. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Miss Lillie's Bed and Breakfast - Heavy on Charm, Light on "Fustiness"

           To her parents, older relatives, and friends, my mother’s oldest sibling was known as Lillie. Her younger brothers and sisters and, later, nieces and nephews simply called her “Sister.” Then she became “MeeMaw” to grandchildren, great grandchildren, and a horde of great nephews and nieces. But whatever name they called her, folks knew Sister’s door was always open and they were always welcomed at her table. So it is only fitting that some fifty years after she built her little ranch-style cottage, her granddaughter Janet and husband Ray would open it as Miss Lillie’s Bed and Breakfast, reviving the warmth and hospitality for which Sister’s home was so well known.
            Every time I visit Miss Lillie’s, the writer in me sees the perfect spot for a writing retreat. Nestled among stately oak and pecan trees, the delightful bed and breakfast provides many restful spots for reflection and inspiration. Miss Lillie’s is also popular with guests who enjoy getting away for a few days of scrapbooking. Antiquers find Miss Lillie’s to be the perfect home base for their shopping expeditions. Located in the heart of East Texas, it is only forty miles from Canton with its famous First Monday Trades Day. But Canton doesn’t hold a monopoly on the antiques/collectibles market. The countryside surrounding Miss Lillie’s teems with all things vintage (and, yes, a fair amount of junk). The near-by Lindy Antique Mall, Janet and Ray’s other thriving enterprise, offers over 10,000 square feet of beautifully displayed reminders of days gone by.   
            This past weekend, as she often does, Janet offered Miss Lillie’s as a gathering place for a family mini-reunion. I’m always impressed by my cousin’s flair for decorating and her ability to evoke pleasant memories of or quiet longings for the past. After this last visit, I just had to share examples of her creativity. With her permission, I’m using twenty-first century technology to take readers on a virtual tour of “kinder, gentler” times. I hope you enjoy it. If you feel inspired, you might consider a retreat of your own at Miss Lillie’s          
          While some bed and breakfasts can be a bit overpowering with their nod to nostalgia, Miss Lillie's keeps things light and uncluttered. For scrapbookers, the furniture in this "parlor" is replaced with functional tables, allowing scrappers to pursue their craft, unencumbered and uninterrupted.

At Miss Lillie's you don't get just a "bed" and a "breakfast." You get an entire house with a well-equipped, spotless kitchen.
Both inside and out, comfy spots for reading, writing, and reflecting abound. 
Vintage vignettes call out (unobtrusively) to be photographed. I wish my photography did justice to the details and the mint condition of this clothing.
And for a bit of potty humor ... These lacy bloomers hang in the bathroom. Obviously the woman who wore these wasn't worried about adding "bulk" to her hips and thighs!
The serene charm continues outside. The brick in this pathway was salvaged from a demolished building and is over one hundred years old. 
Sister loved to sit on her back porch and visit with family and friends while she shelled peas or pecans. Today, guests still gather there to talk and laugh. (If you want to shell peas or pecans, you'll have to bring your own.)
Like her MeeMaw, Janet Lindamood, proprietor of Miss Lillie's Bed and Breakfast, spares no effort in making sure her guests feel welcomed.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bird-brained Advice for Writing: Part IV - Finding the "Write" Reason

            In the olden days—those days before the internet and e-readers—publication was the holy grail of writers. With today’s revolutionary changes in the publishing industry, the good news is that with a little self-discipline any writer can achieve that goal. The bad news? For the majority of writers, even if we self- or e-publish, we’ll be lucky to get anyone beyond a few loyal friends and family members to read our work. And yet we persevere.
            Why do we do this? Why—in the face of frustration, failure, futility—do we slave away on our articles, manuscripts ... blogs and pray that a few folks will read what we have to say? The “bird-brains” offer some insight on this seemingly masochistic endeavor.
            In bird by bird ... Anne Lamott shares information about the ultimate reason writers do what they do. Early in her writing journey, she received scathing criticism from an editor and experienced the mortification with which many of us are familiar. But rather than ditch her story, she took his advice and “with great trepidation” sat down to revise. As she wrote, she had an epiphany: the realization that this time “I wasn’t writing the book with my thumb stuck out, trying to hitchhike into history; I just wanted to write a book for my father that might also help someone going through a similar situation.” She also discovered “There is no cosmic importance to your getting something published, but there is in learning to be a giver.”
            In Gooney Bird is Absurd, author Lois Lowry poignantly demonstrates the same message. Throughout the school year, Gooney Bird and her teacher Mrs. Pigeon work tirelessly to share the techniques and joys of storytelling with Gooney’s classmates. Through various programs and activities, the second-graders learn to appreciate the satisfaction and fun that can come from creating their own stories and poems. But not until the class experiences the death of someone dear to them do they learn the true worth of their writing. When they compose "A Goodbye Poem,” they are able to express their sympathy to the family of the departed and alleviate their own sense of loss.
            The common thread of these two stories is that they both get to the root of why we write. We write out of the desire to give and to connect. Whether we write fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a letter to the editor, we write to share our thoughts, observances, successes, and even our failures. We hope that in baring our souls, we can somehow shed a sliver of light on others experiences. We might not be able to solve readers’ problems. But we can offer encouragement and let them know they’re not alone. For confirmation of this, check out Jennifer Cazzola's comments here.
            You might be questioning whether your writing motives are this pure. I mean, what writer among us has never dreamed of making the bestseller list, winning the Pulitzer, or landing a movie deal? Who doesn’t send out each manuscript with the secret expectation that this is the next Harry Potter phenomenon? Who doesn't blog with visions of becoming the next Pioneer Woman or the online answer to Erma Bombeck? But if you're doubting the altruistic reasons behind your writing, ask yourself this: If I had no chance of ever being published, of ever making a dime, of ever having an audience of more than one, would I still write? If your answer is “yes,” then I think you’ve found the “write” reason.            

In this my final post of "bird-brained" writing advice,
I want to introduce you to Brianna. She is my great-niece and
 the instigator behind my introduction to the Gooney Bird series.
Much like the protagonist of this series, Brianna loves stories
and imaginative outfits. And clothing that matches
too closely gives her a feeling of "ennui."