Armchair Critic


Lately I have become addicted to cooking shows on the Food Network. I have learned a lot about food that I didn’t know, and I have become the armchair critic about how I would make a dish out of the contents of a basket or the crazy items from Guy’s Grocery Games. And, yes, I have made some of the recipes from various shows. They were pretty darned good too.
I have learned other things too:

For instance, never try to bake a cake of any kind in 30 minutes. The majority will not bake in time.
Never, EVER try to bake a bread pudding. You WILL NOT get it done 99.9% of the time and you will lose the game.
Do not make the mistake of using oils like Sesame oil or Truffle oil as a garnish or last minute sauce, it will over power the entire dish and you will lose the game.
Don’t get in front of the camera and brag that you KNOW your dish will win the game because nine times out of ten, the braggart ends up being the one chopped from the game. It happens all the time.
Do NOT be the cocky smart ass chef with a holier than thou attitude. The judges don’t like that at all, neither do the other contestants, get ready to lose the game in one or two rounds.
Learn to be humble and listen to the judges comments on your cooking without getting defensive and copping an attitude. It annoys everyone, including the audience. It makes me shout at the television to tell off the contestant even if it makes me look silly.
Work hard, or at least make it look that way, right up to the last second. Don’t get done early and stand there with nothing to do, you can always make an improvement. Just don’t use fancy oil to do it.
Learn plating techniques. Choosing the right plate is vital to serving a perfect dish.
Learn to make your plate or bowl pretty. The contents need to look like a magazine photo. The kind that makes a person drool and want to make your recipe.

Learn time management under pressure. Focus, focus, focus.
And most of all, don’t be a poor loser. After all it wasn’t the judges who cooked and plated the food, it was you. No pouting or bad mouthing the judges, it makes you look childish and petty.
Many people will watch you. They will know where you work and many will vote not to go there because you want to be a star and you are simply nothing more than a moon.
There are more things I learned about people who are in a cooking contest, some good, some make me want to reach through the television and smack the contestant cross eyed. But, at the end of the day, I learn more about cooking in every episode and that benefits my family because I have new and better ways to cook things that they like. Works for me, the armchair critic.

Looking At The Past


As I was packing up the bookshelves, I found several Junior High and High School year books. I started looking through them, boy did we have ugly hair styles and uncomfortable clothes in Junior High, but by the time we were in High school, the hippie look of long hair, peasant blouses, and jeans were in style. It was definitely a solid change in how one style changed the way we dressed. In fact, I know many people my age who still live in jeans and peasant blouses. Guys still wear long hair and jeans and T-shirts too. Although I think any guy over forty needs to rethink the long hair and bald spot look.

One think that was clear in the yearbooks was who the popular crowd was. Their faces were plastered all over the books. Cheerleaders, class president, football players, all were involved in every sort of club and activity. Well, there were the nerdy groups like chess club and the motor heads (aka greasers) who were big in things like shop and band. But it was always the popular kids, those that were the favorites of the teachers and administration who were front and center, even in crowd photos.

I remember that there was one table in the cafeteria where they gathered and spent lunch putting down the rest of us pathetic losers who simply didn’t measure up to their beauty and power. And they did have power. One hint from them that someone in their group no longer belonged and that person was immediately personae non grata. The girls were much more vicious in this behavior than the boys. It was a sad thing to observe.

I wasn’t part of that group, I was a nerdy kid who stayed in the background and simply observed the world around me. I didn’t exist in their world, I was a total non person to them. Fine with me, I didn’t have to deal with their behavior and attitude. I wondered, as I flipped though the pages of the yearbook, what happened to the school leaders and popular crowd.

The internet is an amazing thing when it comes to finding people. A few stokes of the keyboard keys and low and behold, they are found on various sites. Interestingly enough, most of them had their glory days in High School and haven’t really done a great deal since then. Thye mostly still live in the same area, working regular jobs, married with kids. Some went to college and hold white collar jobs doing the mundane white collar things. Not a one of them has burst out of the shell around them and become an outstanding policeman or woman, a military hero, or a political leader in their home town or state. What a waste of potential and ability. Not that I am all that different.

However, I have met most of my dreams and items on my bucket list. A college education, living abroad, traveling the world, raising children, and staying married to the love of my life. I’ve written two books and published them on Amazon (under the name Jo Calhoun). I have lived every day to the fullest, and in my aging days I am still trying to learn, grow, and make a difference in my world. When I look at folks who never tried to fulfill their potential, it makes me sad and a bit frustrated.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with staying home and raising kids, I did that for years. Not that there is anything wrong with being a hands on kind of guy or woman who stays at the same job for years. It is a comfortable way of life. But there is so much more to see and experience in the world. Sometimes, all it takes is one step out of the comfort zone and the power of discovery takes over.

Now that most of the folks my age are retiring, it is a great opportunity to step out of that zone and step into discovery of a whole new world. Maybe I will see you there, Mr. or Miss Popularity, and this nerdy girl will be able to enhance your life too.

Moving


In the first thirty-six years we were married, we moved, on average, every two years. We lived in Arkansas, Oklahoma (multiple times), California (also multiple times), Nottingham and Debden in the UK, Hong Kong, Karori and Pukekohe in New Zealand, Virginia, Missouri, and the last twelve years in Mississippi so it doesn’t count in the averages. Now we are retiring and moving one last time to our final home. We are moving to a small town (read that, blink and you miss it) in Oklahoma. Our home backs on to a golf course, which means a small yard to care for but a great view of rolling hills, grass, and trees. It is ironic we will live next to a golf course because neither the Mr. nor I care at all for the game. But the house is exactly what we want, so we are off on a new adventure.

After all the years of moving, I had it down to a science and lists of how to do it. Now, I have to start all over because it is shocking how much stuff, read that junk, a family can collect in twelve years living in one place. Over the past few weeks, I have said over and over, “What is this? Where did we get it? Who bought it? Why do we have it? Keep it, dump it, or sell it?” Honestly, we have stuff that we have no clue concerning any of that. On the other hand, I have things that mean the world to me, things that mean little in monetary value, but I simply can’t part with them. Baby blankets for kids who are now in their 40’s. Art, music, books, and trinkets that my children and grandchildren have given me, easily replaceable, but not if they gave it to me. And I collected things, from all over the world, not giving those up either. Decisions, decisions, a royal pain in the backside.

In all the years we have lived here, I have made very few friends. I could count them on one hand, but they are the kind of friends who will still be friends in twenty years from now. The new term for this kind of friendship is bonded. I just call it true friendship. I made many of those kinds of friends over the years and all over the world. I will miss my friends here, even though we will keep in touch. But, I will get to see my forever friends in Oklahoma, some of whom I have known since junior high school. (For you youngsters, that means middle school.) And that is a good thing. I will also be closer to grandchildren and my mother.

On the one hand, I am not upset about moving since it will bring us closer to family. On the other, I am still not excited about all the work involved. I have no idea how long we have left to live our lives, I have to wonder if we will get bored living in the same place for years like we did here in Mississippi. The only way to know is to suck it up and do what has to be done. Back to sorting and packing. Grumble.

Was It Really Worth It?


There was a shooting at the local Walmart this week. Two men were killed, a police officer was wounded, and the killer was shot by the police and is in the hospital. Last I heard he was expected to survive.

Since I live just south of Memphis, Tennessee, one of the most violent cities in the country, I hear about shootings all the time. The news reports anywhere from one to five shootings a week, or more. But there aren’t many in Southaven, Mississippi, so the shooting was big news. It is still big news, days later, because the Walmart still isn’t open for business.

The reason for the shooting was based on revenge. The shooter was placed on suspension from his job at Walmart because he had an altercation with a customer that resulted in him pulling a knife. He had not been fired from his job, as yet. He stopped the manager outside the store and shot him, then he shot and killed another employee who was simply going in to work. When the police showed up, he exchanged gunfire with the police and wounded one of them before he was shot. So, this guy does something totally unacceptable in the work place, refuses to take responsibility for his behavior, and decided it was the manager’s fault he was without a job. In the vernacular of the young men today, he was “disrespected” by the manager, and to regain his man card, he had to kill him. How utterly immature and ignorant can a grown man be?

What he doesn’t seem to understand is that what he has done will effect the families of the people involved for generations. Let’s start with his family. He has a wife and three small children. He will go to prison, and Mississippi has the death penalty. For a cold blooded, premeditated murder, it is most likely he will get the ultimate penalty. His children, if they ever see him again, will have to do so in the prison. They will grow up knowing their father was a killer, who shot three men in a fit of rage. They will grow up knowing that their dad had no respect for human life, and he allowed his immature feelings to dictate his actions causing unending pain to the families of his victims. And, they will worry about being as violent and emotionally immature as he was for most of their lives.

Then there are the families of the victims. The parents, spouse, children, siblings, and friends of those innocent men will be in shock, pain, and then have to go through all the stages of grief, and I can guarantee that getting past the anger with be the longest and hardest battle they will have. The funerals will come and go, sympathy will come and go, and then the wives will be left widows with children to raise on their own. And that is when the deepest sorrow and loneliness will hit the family. The emptiness in the lives of the families will never really go away. All the suffering was brought upon them by the purposeful actions of a man who refused to accept responsibility for his behavior. Like a two year old throwing a tantrum, he acted out in violence without an ounce of self control. The results of that may have given him back his self respect for all of two minutes, because he then tried to commit suicide by cop through forcing the officers to return fire. Was it really worth it?

Three families destroyed, a police officer left to deal with having to draw his gun and shoot at another human being, and the killer ends up in prison for life, if he doesn’t get the death penalty. The community has to deal with yet another senseless act of violence, creating even more issues around public safety. All because a male didn’t bother to grow up enough to take accept the consequences for his actions. Why. you may ask is this so important to me? Because I am a parent of a murdered child, and friend to the family of the man who died with my son. I know what the families will suffer, what the children will suffer, and that it will go on for generations, because I have seen it in my own family. May God bless the survivors, and may the killer obtain his just punishment – the death penalty.

Ever Wonder?


Ever have one of those days when you have a list of things to do, but by the time the day is over, nothing has been accomplished on the list?

Ever wish that things in your household chores acted like cartoon characters and did things like dishes jump in the dishwasher on their own, and books would pack themselves into the boxes, tape would run around the box with abandoned joy, and the pen would dance across the box and write on it for you? Then, just to top off the moment, the clothing would wash, dry, hang up and fold then put themselves away all the while singing and dancing in happiness.

Ever wonder why the pets just have to walk right where you need to be, or simply stand in front of you then get all huffy and offended when you tell them to move in an exasperated voice?

Ever wonder why you have to tell a kid the same thing, five times in a row with an even louder voice to get them to respond while they are watching television or on their phone– oh and that goes for the husband too?

Ever wonder why you can cook the same dish a million times and no one says a word about it, but you make it for the million and one time and everyone has a complaint?

Ever wonder why your favorite pair of jeans changes sizes on a regular basis even if you haven’t?

Ever wonder why your shoes move themselves in the night, just so you have to get on your hands and knees to look under the bed for them, then you find them sitting in the middle of the bathroom floor. (I know mine laugh at me every time I look under the bed.)

Ever wonder why you can see the last close in parking spot from across the entire parking lot, but in the twenty seconds it takes you to get there, five other cars are there first and the drivers are fighting for the spot?

Ever wonder why you can see an empty check out lane, but by the time you get there five seconds later, there is a line of ten other people with baskets filled to the brim and the only other check out lane has the slowest checker on earth with the most gossipy customers in their line?

Ever wonder why you always end up at the gas pump that always, always, ALWAYS takes the longest to fill up the car when it is either raining like mad, the wind is freezing cold, or it is so hot your shoes start sticking to the pavement?

Ever wonder why you always get the last of the ice cream and it has ice in it, but the person in front of you gets the good stuff?

Ever wonder why, when you have a complaint at the store, or want to return something, you always get the worker who doesn’t give a rat’s pattootie about it and makes you jump through hoops to do it. Then when you ask for the manager, they get all huffy and snarky?

Ever have those days when it is better just to go back to bed and say to heck with everything and find it better just to read a book instead?

Yeah, me too. Later people, the bed is calling my name.

New Normal


The newest adventure in my crazy life is Kidney dialysis. I am supposed to be in Italy, but a case of bronchitis led me to kidney failure bad enough to need emergency dialysis. That mean the insertion of a catheter into my heart and a week in the hospital as they pulled over seen liters of water from my body. That was two weeks ago.

Now I am booked at a dialysis center three days a week for four hours or more a day. It is an out patient center, and we all have turn up for therapy. The center has a few offices up front, but the room for dialysis patents is one huge room. There are around sixty recliners, each with its own dialysis machine next to it. I usually get either number 48, 49, or 50. I call my machine of the day Kevin. They do the hard work, so I figure they need to be acknowledged and greeted every day. The nurses think it is funny. I take it seriously.

Once in the room, we are weighed for water gain. Then the nurse takes you to the chair. While they are getting set up with our Kevin, we are allowed to take out our gear. I take a blanket, because they keep it COLD in there. I take my Kindle, my coloring book and pens, Mp3 player and headphones-and a small snack since I get out after 8:30 in the evening. They have a TV screen above each station with limited stations, so I can watch that if I get bored. I generally don’t bother to turn it on.

Later appointments mean there aren’t a lot of people in the room. Most people nap, so it is very quiet. Most people don’t talk to each other, just with their nurse and aide. The later it gets, the more the medical people talk to each other. I find it interesting to listen to their stories, gossip, and frustrations with difficult patients. It is easy to see who likes whom, whose personalities clash, and those who simply avoid each other. It is even easier to see who is there because they love their work and who is there just marking time until they can move on. Fortunately, my team – always the same people, love their work and it shows.

What makes me sad are the patients. Some are so fragile, and it is clear they are getting near the end of their lives, versus people like me who are just starting out on this journey. I have a good chance for reversal of issues, and if not, a transplant. While they don’t talk in the dialysis room, they too greet each other and talk in the waiting room. They all come on the same day and see each other every time, so they share information, hints, tips, and ideas. They even make sure to greet me and welcome me every time I get there. They haven’t become super friendly yet, but this is the south and it is only a matter of time.

Most of the patients are elderly, the youngest is probably in h is forties. Some are very fragile, and most are brought in by family. But what you won’t see is a pity party or whinging. You will hear them laughing, talking about family, and sharing about their religious beliefs. Being forced to use dialysis as a way of survival brings our lives into a new normal that causes a whole new way of balancing everything, No matter if we go through outpatient dialysis or do the at home program, that means being positive, accepting that it is what it is, and that the machine keeps us alive one more day.

It is exhausting and leaves me tired. I can hardly walk at the end of a session, but it will get better as I adjust to the new normal for my body. Meanwhile, I am sure to greet Keven, 48, 49, or 50 each time, follow the rules, and learn to live this new normal of my crazy life, and keep moving forward. Italy will still be there in a few years, and so will I.

Childhood Memory


One winter, when I was about six years old, every kid in my family came down with a series of diseases. Measles, followed by chicken pox, followed by mumps. For three months my mother was stuck in the house with four little girls covered by some sort of bumps and dealing with a fever. We were hot, itchy, cooped up, and miserable. We all fell ill, like dominoes, one after the other. How my mother kept her sanity is beyond me. And to make things even more stressful, my dad was out in the field with the US Army and we were stationed in Germany with no family to help. I don’t remember a lot about that winter, except for one shining moment.

I got well first. I cannot tell you how great it was to not itch, and to be able to go outside. For Christmas, my older sister and I got our first bicycles. We were too sick to ride them for weeks after Christmas. I got to ride my bike before my sister got to be outdoors. I remember riding it up and down the sidewalk outside our flat, looking up at the third floor window where my sisters all stood watching me. As the second child, I rarely got to do anything first. I was chuffed beyond words. All three stood scowling at me, and I have to admit I was feeling pretty cocky that I was out and they were still in itchy hell. I was six, give me a break and don’t judge. As an adult, I know it was cheeky and rude, but as a child, I just felt empowered.

It wasn’t long before all four of us were well and back to running in and out of the house like we usually did. The memories of being miserable faded, and my special moment did too. We were finally back in school, and I know my mother was happy beyond words to have survived the winter of illness. Spring came and we were outside more than inside the house. In fact, we didn’t want to be indoors if we could avoid it. With spring came our usual battles with the Jones kids. We hated the Jones kids, they were bullies and meaner than a ticked off snake. Debra was the only girl, and she decided she was going to make my little sister’s life hell. Her closest sibling was Billy, he was twelve, my older sister was seven, and I was six. It was our job to look after the two younger girls. Billy would pick on us every time his sister started being rude or hateful and we put her in her place. I have always been, and will always be, a sarcastic smart mouth.

One afternoon on the playground, I got into it with Debra again. Billy started in on my sister, and I jumped in with a bowling pin. I have no idea where the wooden pin came from, but it was perfect to beat the snot out of Billy. So I set to, and he went home to whine to his mother. About that time, my mother turned up on the playground, (my next younger sister was always a tattle tale) to see what was going on. Mrs. Jones started shouting out her window at my mother. Mrs. Jones was probably close to six feet tall and weighed in at well over 200 pounds. My mother was five feet four inches tall and weighed about 110 pounds. Mom told Mrs. Jones that if she wanted a fight to get her fat @$$ down stairs and she would be happy to oblige her. She wouldn’t come down, and Mom was more than ready to go up and drag her out by her hair. But the other moms got her to calm down. No one insulted her girls. Now you know where I get my bad attitude and willingness to take on anyone. My sister and I got a reputation for fighting. Most people left us alone, except for the Jones brats and a girl called Rita.

Rita was bigger than my sister and I, since we tended to be on the shrimpy side. One day walking home from school she ambushed us. It wasn’t a long fight, my sister pretty much ended it before it got started, darn it. Rita’s problem was her dirty mouth and the way she thought she could talk to anyone that way. In our family, if we had sworn like that, my mother would have made us eat a bar of soap. The problem was that we wouldn’t put up with it from anyone else either. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well when my parents found out we had been fighting again. We followed the house rule of never starting a fight, but we sure as hell finished one. I guess my attitude was built into my genes. My dad and mother were scrappers in school, my sons were also willing to take on a fight anytime, and at least one of my grandchildren is a scrapper too. Thinking back on those days it is a wonder my dad didn’t get into trouble due to our fighting. Of course, one look at my tiny sister and the almost as tiny me, and every boy we fought with had a very embarrassed Dad since two skinny girls beat the stuffing out of their big brave boy.

I fought less as I grew older, but the years between six and eight were the banner years for my hot temper. I learned to control it better, but I never managed to curb the smart mouth and sarcastic comments that fell out of it regularly. Looking back, I was a bit of a bad ass. It tends to make me smile when I think back on those days.

Your Attitude Makes or Breaks the Vacation.


While on the cruise recently, I was amazed at the number of children on board. Over seven hundred in all. They came in ages from tiny babies (Why anyone would do that is beyond me) to teenagers. The thing I found interesting, is that with all those kids, there were very few meltdown tantrums among them. Generally, when kids get over tired, over stimulated, out of their normal routine, or in a strange place, tantrums, tears, meltdowns, and stubborn acting out ensues among them. We didn’t see that in the smallest kids, nor in the kids between five and twelve. However, teenagers of all ages and adults were absolutely invested in tantrums and meltdowns from the first moment we were at sea.

Couples were arguing with each other, parents were telling off children for no apparent reason, and teenagers, well, you know teenagers, everything that wasn’t on their phone or tablet was a reason for meltdowns and irritation. Shocking. Annoying. Hilarious. Immature. Generally undeserved by the person whom the tantrum was directed at and embarrassing to watch an adult act like a tired two year old on too much sugar. I don’t get it, really, I thought a family vacation was supposed to be relaxing and fun. Apparently not for anyone between thirteen and fifty, according to the melt down count down.

I expected frowny faces and bad attitudes in children, but it was the parents who had the, “I hate the world” faces. Unless, of course, they were eating, drinking alcohol, or hanging out in the smoking areas. It was easy to tell that most of the parents couldn’t wait for the Kid’s Clubs to open so they could park their progeny there until meal times and escape to do adult stuff. Teenagers clumped together in pools of dissatisfied texting groups as long as they had access to the ship’s texting program, and when they didn’t they sat in glum silence playing games on their phones, ignoring the swimming pools, mini golf, and other activities available for them from dawn to dusk. It was as if they wanted to be bored and dissatisfied with everything. I don’t get that either.

We had a great time from playing with Addie in the pools to mini golf, to talking to the server in the buffet room who chatted with us about Philippine food for a good half hour. Addie loved the Kid’s Club, and while she was making friends there, we had a good time relaxing and wandering around the ship. We laughed a lot, held hands, teased each other, chatted with other passengers, and simply allowed ourselves to enjoy the moment. When the three of us were together, it was clear that I was the odd one out since Addie is in the “I Adore My Papa” stage of her life, so I read a book and let them rush about doing things like water slides and such. And the bonus was that Addie didn’t have one single moment dedicated to being in a rotten mood. She was dog tired by bedtime, but there were no complaints. She would climb into her top bunk, roll over and go to sleep in moments. She did get up one night to go have pizza and ice cream in the “middle of the night” around ten p.m. She got a huge kick out of that. Even after pizza and ice cream, she climbed right back into bed and went to sleep in five minutes.

Meanwhile, every time we took her to the Kid’s Club, there would be a parent there ranting about something, embarrassing their child who couldn’t wait to escape mom or dad and go play somewhere stress free. The last time we picked Addie up, the ladies who worked in the Club gave us a note telling us how much they enjoyed time with Addie. She was polite, kind, sharing, and friendly to everyone and she was very respectful to the adults working in the Club. Everywhere we engaged with crew, they always complimented us on Addie’s behavior. Our server in the restaurant made her origami dinosaurs and the steward for our room went out of his way to make her adorable towel animals on the bed everyday. I know they must miss their children terribly since they are at sea for nine months at a time. Addie was unfailingly polite to all the adults with whom she interacted. We raised her to be polite and kind, and to always use her manners. The rest is all her doing.

I am not saying she was the best kid, there were lots of kids who were good. There were also rude and mouthy kids who talked back to adults, didn’t listen to the crew when they were told not to do something or to do something, and who ran wild because their parents didn’t care what they did as long as they didn’t bother them or get into trouble with the crew who would then bother them. That I really don’t get. As a parent, grandparent or guardian, I want to know what my kid is up to every second of the day. They don’t have to be under my feet, and I don’t hover, but I keep an eye on them. It is very easy to injure themselves on a ship filled with stairs, heavy doors, and over three thousand people on board.

I suppose people brought their daily issues to the ship with them. We try to leave all that on the shore and have a new and exciting experience. This was Addie’s first cruse, we wanted it to be positive, fun, and something she would want to do again. I guess we did it right. She can’t wait to go on another one as soon as possible. As for the grumpy folks who turned their holiday into a whine fest, I’m sorry they were such a miserable group. They missed an opportunity to have a great time. Especially the teenagers who were determined to hate everything from not having internet connections to having to be around their parents and siblings for more than five minutes a day. Oh well, what goes around comes around. Next time they want to have a good holiday, Mom and Dad have an excuse to make it as miserable as they possibly can just because they want to.

Meanwhile, the Combs Family will be the three people trying to catch the wind while walking on the deck or eating ice cream and pizza at ten at night just because we can.

The Seasons of Mississippi


We live in Mississippi right at the top of the state. We get four seasons, only not as distinctly divided as folks up north. We have spring, sort of. Meaning it will warm up to the mid 70’s, trees and flowers will bloom, then it will rain and rain and rain making the world a mud pit, followed by heat. Lots and lots and lots of heat, which, with the rain, makes everything humid, sticky, and the mosquitoes are very happy.

The summer has arrived. So spring lasted all of four weeks between the middle of March until the middle of April, and sometimes a bonus week just to confuse things even more. With summer, nature is a bit more accommodating. It stays hot, from mid April right on through until the end of October. Sometimes we even get a bonus week or two into November. Because, well, it is Mississippi and she does what she wants to do.

Along comes fall. It is still hot, cooling down to all of 80 degrees or so, at night. This last for about two weeks. The leaves turn yellowish, then brown, then they all fall down (rumor has it that is why it is called fall). This happens within a week of cooler weather, sometimes it all happens within a day, if the wind blows. The leaves around here are not used to wind, it scares them right off the trees. Within two weeks, the trees are bare, the grass is brown, and all the flowers, except for the vastly confused azalea in the corner of yards, die. The wind blows harder, and it rains and rains and rains until the cold gets here from up north or back west. Then it is winter.

It stays cold, it keeps raining leaving everything floating in a pit of mud until a miracle happens. It ices over and it snows. For one day, maybe two or three on a bad winter. All the natives freak out, rush around buying out the grocery stores and filling all their extra fuel cans while driving like completely out of control children. By the time they get home and put everything away, the snow is melting and it starts to rain again. If the sun comes out, people act like they have no clue what the big yellow ball floating in the sky is supposed to do or why it is there. Everyone becomes hermits except between six and nine AM. and four and six PM. when they rush between home and work or work and home. It is winter, and it might, gasp, get down to freezing by dark.

Then we are back to spring and rain. The whole process starts all over again. This is in Mississippi, where everything but summer is pretty mild compared to most of the country. Summer is our own special version of hell on earth. I don’t know why we get punished, but we do. Every. Single. Year. I can only imagine how folks from here would cope in places like Minnesota where there are two seasons, winter and June. Or how they would cope with some place like Florida where the climate is pretty much the same all year long – only with bugs the size of Volkswagen Beatles, and mosquitoes the size of B52 bombers. I say we are spoiled, and some folks have lived here so long they actually love the summer heat.

If you must come to Mississippi, do it in the two weeks of spring before the rain and after the winter mud. It is a beautiful place for those few days. Really. Just watch out for the tornadoes.

How Do You Do It?


My friend asked me, “How do you do it?” “Do what?” I replied. “Keep your marriage growing.” “Ah, well, its different for everyone. I can tell you what works for us, but it might not work for you.” She thought about it for a minute, “So tell me anyway. I want to know, maybe it will give me inspiration so we can make it as a couple for 47 years too.” I asked her to give me a few days to think about it. I am not a marriage counselor, I am certainly not a shrink. I’m just a quickly aging female who isn’t willing to sit down and shut up when others don’t want to hear my opinion. And, as my dear friend Bryan said, patience is not one of my attributes. He knows me far too well.

So, here we go. Stop here if you do not want unsolicited advice from a great grandmother.

I can tell you that there are hundreds of books for sale that will tell you their version of the truth. Most of them, however, will simply add to the confusion. At the end of the day, it is up to the couple, whatever that looks like, to find their own path. But they MUST find it together if they want marriage to work.

The first lesson is to Know Thy Self. No I am not quoting the scriptures to you, I am seriously saying, you have to know yourself before you can learn to love another. What you like, what you need, what you want in a lover, spouse, and the best friend you will ever have. And most of us poor saps haven’t a clue before the age of thirty. By then, of course, most of us are committed, and we love the person we chose to live our lives with. Sometimes deeply, sometimes conveniently, but we are committed.

Lesson Two, Keep your business between the two of you, and/or a professional counselor.

As you grow you change, sometimes in the most profound ways, sometimes superficially, but we all change. With change can come distance between us and the love of our lives. That leads to frustration, miscommunication, downright anger, and feelings of isolation. Now here is where most people, male and female, make a huge mistake. They take it to the gossip mill. Instead of going to their spouse or partner (I will use spouse to make typing easy) and talking things through, they go to their best pal, coworker, or family member if your a guy. A woman goes to her best friend, the ladies at the nail salon, or, heaven help all of them, their mother or sister for advice.

At this point, everything gets confused and every opinion will muddle things up even more. There is nothing that will strain an already difficult situation than for a woman to say to a man (or whomever), “Well My Mother Said…” The immediate response is generally, “You told your MOTHER?” It works the same from the other direction. There is a reason why “mother in law” is a dirty phrase in nearly every culture in the world. Because I can guarantee no one can stick their nose in and stir things up like a mother in law. Sure we all need someone to talk to. I suggest making it a professional who doesn’t have a personal interest in your life. Someone who isn’t going to take sides and pony up excuses instead of practical advice.

Lesson Three, Always put each other first. I can hear the shocked gasps from here.

Before children, before parents, before extended family, before friends, before jobs, before church, before Friday night poker games that have been ongoing since high school, your spouse comes first. Why? Well exactly who do you expect to spend the rest of your life with other than your spouse? One day the kids will grow up and leave home, hopefully. Your friends will drift away, your family will die and leave this mortal coil, and you two will be sitting across from one another, all alone, on your phones, ignoring each other. Okay, maybe not on the phone, but you will still have nothing to talk about if you don’t start building memories and adventures today.

Lesson Four, Kiss the Girl, or Guy. For no reason other than they still ring your bell. Go on, kiss her, in front of the kids, or anyone else standing there. Whisper loving words, or even silly words, in his ear. Make a promise for mind blowing love making, later. Make eye contact across the room, then smile, yes, that smile. Remember what made you want him or her in your arms and hang on to that memory as tight as you can for the times when it seems like one or both of you have lost interest. Take home flowers for her just because, or cook her a special meal, or give him a back rub while he complains about work. Do the little things that require physical contact. Fix his tie, smooth his jacket, hold her jacket for her, smooth a wayward lock of hair into place. Find any excuse to touch. Hold hands, Every. Where. You. Go. If that attraction fades away completely, you are in deep trouble and the further you drift, the harder it is to find each other again. Of course, there are couples that are destined to separate and divorce. It takes two in the endeavor, and if one is unwilling or unable to take part. The marriage will drift into the doldrums of the family court system.

Lesson Five, Dance in the Kitchen. My husband has two left feet, no sense of rhythm, and doesn’t understand the art of dance, At. All. But when I get upset or down, he puts on our favorite slow song, and we dance in the kitchen. Really, he just holds me and we sway to the music, but it is how we dance. I know this is his way of comforting me, he knows after I settle down, I will tell him what is hurting me. We are communicating love, comfort, and compassion without words. Maybe you won’t dance in the kitchen, maybe you will go out and shoot at tin cans, or make pizza together, or go for a walk, but each couple needs to find their comfort mechanism. That one thing they only do together that brings them close to one another, communicating without words. It’s a good thing.

Lesson Six, Take private time for romance. A weekend at the hotel down the road is good enough, if you don’t want to get too far from the kids. Why? Because every couple, admit it or not, need the excitement of a romantic get away. Give the hotel number to the sitter, turn off you phones, better yet, leave them in the car or at home. Spend the time alone, on a honeymoon, or if your having issues, as a marriage get away to talk things through. Romance is vital, VITAL to a lasting marriage. Once, my husband took me to Paris, France (We lived in London at the time.) and he kissed me in the rain, on top of the Eiffel Tower. It wasn’t an all out, I want to bed you right now, kind of kiss, it was a, soft, romantic, I love you, I’m glad I found you, kind of kiss. One that used to make ladies in a movie audience swoon. Now that is romantic. For me. For you, I have no idea what constitutes romantic, but make sure it stays alive between you all your lives.

Lesson Seven, Words Mean Things. Don’t say it unless you mean it. Even in the heat of a knock down drag out screaming argument, Don’t Say It unless you mean it. Because you can’t take back the hurt and shock of whatever it is, and once said, it has meaning that can resonate for years. Just don’t do it, words hurt more than a sharp sword. The damage can be fatal to a relationship. Dead and buried isn’t how most people want their marriage to end. Sometimes it is necessary, especially if there is infidelity or violence in the relationship. Being angry does not give a person the right to try to destroy another person with vicious words, lies, and gossip. Anger is not communication. Words mean things, good and bad. Be kind or Don’t say it.

Lesson Eight, Be gracious, be noble. When we first got married the Mr. and I would argue over stupid things. If I turned out right, I would gloat and rub it in that I was right. If I lost, I would pout and resent him. Talk about twisted. Be gracious in apologizing if you are wrong. Be noble in accepting that apology. Even if you insist you are right, be gracious and let it go, unless you love screaming at him or subjecting her to the silent treatment. Be noble, be willing to be wrong, be willing to apologize. Let go of the need to always control things, to always know everything. Men and women see things from a totally different point of view. I am five feet three inches tall. My husband is six feet one inch tall. I do not see the world from his perspective, nor does he see it from mine. Not unless we are willing to trade perspectives. I climb on a ladder, he sits in a chair, but come on, who always has that available? So we accept that each of us sees something differently, and we nobly, with grace, let it go. (Unless I get into a stubborn mode. You would think I would know better by now.)

Lesson Nine, It’s Okay To Cry. Nothing makes me cry faster than seeing a strong man cry. Because, ladies especially, for a strong man to cry, he has to break social expectations and give in to emotions. Men do NOT like that. They want to see a problem, analyze it, and fix it. If it is something they can’t fix, it confuses and frustrates them. It emasculates them in the deepest part of their foundation. We lost our son. It was horrific, sad, shocking to know a 21 year old was dead. Just gone. His life over. My beloved husband couldn’t fix it. He slid into shock, then into rage, then into a deep, long lasting depression. I got angry, got things done, buried our boy, and picked up the pieces of our life because that what a woman does, even while crying her eyes out. It wasn’t until my husband broke down and cried that I knew there would be a chance for our marriage to survive. He couldn’t fix it, he had to learn to accept the pain, the loss, the sorrow, and still go on living. It has made him a more tender, loving man. So, fellas, its okay to cry. The strongest of men are those who will allow themselves to cry in sorrow and in joy.

Lesson Ten, Nobody is perfect. No, you aren’t. Because if you were perfect, you wouldn’t need to be here struggling on earth. (Okay, there was a God pitch there, deal with it.) Both people in a relationship are flawed human beings. We say stupid things, do stupid things, hurt each other unknowingly and make mistakes. It isn’t a mistake to forsake your marriage vows, or try to maim one another, those are choices designed to end a marriage. Period. A mistake is making an inappropriate joke, telling your spouse something that will hurt them, and being so obtuse not to know. Imperfect means forgetting to say I love you when your spouse needs it. Imperfect is missing the cues she sends out that she is in need of a little tender loving care, and imperfect is to expect a man to catch those cues when they need explicit information to know how to act. (Note to females: Most guys only need to be told the parameters once, with an example, and careful instructions. From then on they will only need to be reminded with a code word.) Imperfect is to expect a man to understand female emotions, and imperfect is to expect a woman to understand that a man needs to FIX things instead of simply understanding and listening. But both come close to perfection when they try to see things as they really are and not through a cloud of emotion.

There is a lot more, small things, significant things that make a marriage work. Sometimes it requires judicial use of blinders, and a boat load of forgiveness. Sometimes it requires a huge sense of humor, and sometimes a hard line drawn in the sand. But, give it time, and most things can be sorted out. Two things are unforgivable: Physical or emotional violence, and infidelity. Either one is a deal breaker, and it can and will end a marriage.

To all my friends who are reaching the breaking point, breathe, look at your spouse, some where, deep inside both of you are the two people who fell in love once upon a time. Dig them out, dust them off, and let them rediscover each other in the older, wiser version of you.

And, that my friend, is how the Mr. and I manage to stay married after all these years.