Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Randomness of Life

Monday, Scotty came home with the news that a classmate’s mother had died from a massive heart attack over the weekend. The mother had seen her son, a theatre magnet student, perform in a play the night before she died.

I thought back to that day in early 2004 when I had to tell my freshman son that I had cancer. It was a horrific time for him. For us all. We got through it though, and if Fortuna allows, I’ll be here to see him graduate from high school on May 22. I have got to say, back then on that cold January day that seems eons ago, I didn’t know if I’d make it.

And I come back my son’s classmate. I can barely hold back the tears because I know what anguish that family must be experiencing. No time to say, “I love you.” No time to steady yourself. Out of the blue.

Last night as I watched the ABC News story about Bob Woodruff’s battle back from the devastating brain injury, I let the tears flow. I understand him when he says he feels guilt for what his family had to go through during this last year of recovery. Guilt that some soldiers aren’t doing as well as he is. Guilt that his care was somehow better than theirs and them no less deserving of a “miracle” to equal his.

No one wants to hurt those we love, but the randomness of life intrudes.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Outsider Art and My Home Town

I grew up in the country outside of Prattville, Alabama. Back then Prattville was a little town of around 6,000. Today, it’s a fast-growing bedroom community for the white flight from Montgomery. In the past, the town was noted for its founding industrialist father, Daniel Pratt, and his cotton business. These days more people come to play golf on the nationally praised golf courses that are a part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail.

Prattville, or rather Pink Lily, is also home to outsider artist Charlie Lucas. Lucas, known for his metal sculptures, lives in this little community north of town. It’s just down the road from where I grew up, right near Bridge Creek. As a kid, I rode the school bus through Pink Lily, but no one got off or on since it was before school desegregation and Pink Lily was a “black” community. Who would have thought that this odd mixture of typical rural Southern houses would one day be home to someone famous?

Just driving by the sculptures randomly occupying a field in front of the Lucas home, you’d never know Lucas’s work can go for big bucks or that Prattville named a special day for him. Neither would you think that the house was home to a man who had lectured at Yale and traveled to France as an artist-in-residence but who could not read because of dyslexia.

I thought the nickname Lucas gave himself, the Tin Man, was because he works in metal. However, he says, it was because he only had ten dollars in his pocket. In an interview with Miriam Fowler in 1991, Lucas said of himself,
My career is at the point that I want it to be. I don't care if my name is in lights. My art is my family and friends. Through the Kind Spirit the pieces that I don't sell talk to me and teach me. I'm real happy about myself. I'm teaching myself to read. In school I just wanted to study art. My teacher said 'No! You need to learn a trade. Art is for white people.' Now I can do anything I want to do. . . Now people recognize me and say 'there goes Charlie Lucas.'

If you ever find yourself driving down Interstate 65 from Birmingham to Montgomery, pull off at the Pine Level exit and see Charlie's sculpture garden for yourself. I think it's the exit right after the giant Confederate flag and it would only take a few minutes of your time. E-mail me for directions or else you might get lost and run into Prattville's other roadside attraction, the Cross Garden.

A couple of local galleries feature Charlie's work, and it’s available online at Alabama Live Arts. He’s branching out into painting too. New York Woman featured above goes for $5,000. Not too shabby for Pink Lily’s most famous resident.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hey You Guys

I never thought we Southerners were ahead of the curve, but I think our use of “y’all” definitely fits the bill. Over at In These Times I noticed an article entitled “A Politically Correct Lexicon, Your ‘how-to’ guide to avoid offending anyone.” In the piece, Joel Bleifuss gives readers an up-to-date lowdown on the ever-changing world of what you can safely call various groups and categories of folks. Don’t you like how generic “folks” is?

I latched onto “guys” because if folks would adopt the non-sexist Southern “y’all,” we wouldn’t have to think much about it. Bleifuss says,

Guys: Very controversial. Used, especially in the Midwest, when referring to a group of people. “In Chicago that word gets used a lot,” says Hill. And Baim says, “I use it all of the time.” Some feminists, like Andi Zeisler, the editor of Bitch, find “guys” problematic. “We assume the descriptor ‘guys’ denotes a quality of universality,” she says. “It would be hard to imagine a group of men being addressed by their server as ‘hey you gals’ and not taking offense, but the reverse happens all the time.”

And while I had already noticed, it’s now okay to call Indians “Indians” instead of Native Americans. Bleifuss has this to say about the use of Native American:

Native American: Some Indians object to the term, seeing it as a way to linguistically eradicate “Indian” and thus the history of their oppression by whites. “I almost always hear Native American, and in the more enlightened conversations there is usually ‘indigenous’ thrown in there somewhere,” says Lott. Sen says, “Native American seems to be a more distant construction, developed by academics.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

For those out of the children's books loop, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is the first of a series of wonderful books. We came across it the other day as Scotty was packing away some books to save. The plot is simple: if you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk to wash it down. If you give a mouse a glass of milk, he going to want . . . Surely you get the picture.

Well, this idea can also be applied to other areas of life, and right now I'm in the midst of my "if you give a mouse a cookie" scenario. A real estate agent friend came by the other day, and as we looked around the house with me pointing out what I was doing and what I wanted to do, she said, "You know it reminds me of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Once you paint the walls, you notice the baseboards need paint too. Then the doors and you just keep going."

TTFN. I'm off to Lowe's for more paint.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sometimes I Feel Like Emily Litella

I can’t tell you how many times I see the word “loose” misused for the word “lose” (loos). From
“Price too low, sells fast and you loose money.”

Loose means not tight or relaxed when used as an adjective. As a verb, it means set free. The proper word these realtors needed was “lose,” which means to be deprived of or fail to keep. It’s pronounced “looz.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

The New Garden Fence

You most likely do it without thinking twice. Despite their protestations to the contrary, men do it at least as much as women, although women are better at it. It can help some overcome awkwardness and develop social skills. Your immune system benefits from the endorphins stimulated and stress is relieved. And here’s the kicker, cell phones are the conduit.

Did you guess? I’m talking about gossip and “mobile” gossip in particular. I came across this article entitled, “Evolution, Alienation and Gossip, The role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st century over on the Social Issues Research Centre web site.

With the advert of cell phones, we can gossip anytime or anywhere. Now, I have to question this “benefit” to relieving stress a bit. What about the innocent bystanders who must endure a certain degree of stress when subjected to the cell conversations of others?

But I’ll accept that this technology allows us to maintain closer relationships and connections. So go ahead and whip out that cell phone. It’s good for you.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stop the World I Want to Get Off

While I’m not taking a hiatus from blogging, I am taking one from watching TV news—both cable and the networks. What pushed me over the brink was catching the latest on Britney Spears and her decision to shave her head. This is the mother of two children. For God’s sake, Britney act like an adult or you are going to end up another Anna Nichole Smith.

I’m going to stick to HGTV, PBS, C-Span and a few shows like Friday Night Lights which I want Scotty to TIVO so I can miss the commercials. This way I’ll avoid the endless commercials for prescription drugs for restless leg syndrome, which must be a much bigger problem than I once thought judging from the number of ads I see. And I’ll also miss the ads for sleeping pills and urinary problems. Gone will be the anxiety from worrying that I will have a heart attack.

I can avoid thinking about those poor people struggling in “you fill in the blank.” The War in Iraq will continue without me. AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and countless other diseases will vanish from my mind. Oh, I still care. It’s just that I don’t want to be constantly bombarded by the reality. Let me escape and be the ostrich for a while.

Of course, if anything big happens like a cure for cancer, just e-mail me.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Next Y2 Scare

Maybe this one will be the Big One. You know the one where the experts really do get it right in their dire predictions of turmoil and consternation. I’m talking about of all things Daylight Saving Time (DST). If you’ve been living your life and not paying much attention to the news lately, you might have missed this threat. Or maybe you were watching Anna Nichol Smith TV.

Anyway, DST will change this year. It starts on March 11, the day before my husband’s birthday. Meetings, calendars, travel arrival and departure times, bank transactions, cell phone peak hours, and other various and sundry time sensitive matters could be in trouble. CNET News has a good article to fill you in on the details. Me, I’m not going to sweat this one either.

Friday, February 16, 2007

With Two Cats in the Yard

Our house, is a very, very, very fine house.
With two cats in the yard,
Life used to be so hard,
Now everything is easy ‘cause of you.

Our House by Crosby, Stills & Nash

For some reason I’ve had several cat visitors to my yard lately. My neighbors probably think I’m nuts. Well, I happen to love black and white animals and this little kitty was too pretty not to photograph. The fat gray with the sweet meow was content to rest under a bush.

Visitor cats love to leave dusty footprints on freshly washed cars, but that’s about all the harm they do. Plus, another less skittish gray will let me pet it. Nice. No litter box or smelly tins of food to open.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Animal Crackers

Monte loves the snow. Good thing. The Chicagoland area has had lots of it lately. Monte's dad says he looks like a hippie dog. Mid-winter isn't the time for your first haircut, but I think he's cute just the way he is.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

English Springer Spaniel Tops at Westminster

As a former owner of an English Springer Spaniel for 13 years and the grandma to a granddog English Springer Spaniel puppy named Monte, I was happy to see that a Springer beat the much-hyped celebrity dog of Bill Cosby’s to become this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Best in Show. James is a drop-dead gorgeous Springer. Springers Rule!

Note: the artwork is available on t-shirts and other items at my CafePress shop, Sheila for Kids.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

HGTV Syndrome

I watch way too much HGTV (Home & Garden Television) for my own good in between the painting marathon I’ve been on the last few days. I fault HGTV for creating this false sense that all things are possible when it comes to home improvement.

Dare I invent a new catchy turn of words with the “syndrome?” If you may recall, I’m on a flurry of home fix up in anticipation of putting the lovely old house I call home on the market soon. As I go from room to room, I think, “What can I do to make her prettier, more apt to turn a potential buyer’s eye?” And I think back to all those episodes on HGTV where a SWAT team swoops down on homeowners transforming their unappealing homes into crown jewels. Only this SWAT team is composed of carpenters, handymen and women, contractors, real estate gurus and designers.

The show Designed to Sell budgets $2,000 to transform an ugly duckling into a prince of a house. But, and here’s the big but, they provide a carpenter, handyman and a Brit named Clive and his designer co-host. Clive starts each show by bringing in a nasty critic who proceeds to pick the poor house apart like a hungry family of eight with a three-piece chicken dinner. After Miss Picky lays down the law, good Fairy Godmother Lisa comes in to say, “That’s all right. We will fix everything and you will sell this house for a great price.” And they do!

This isn’t real. Nothing on television is I’ve told myself. But it seems so possible. And that’s the HGTV Syndrome. Only, it’s just me and a couple cans of paint and this old house.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Exactly. Actually.

Overuse of “exactly” and “actually” is driving me bonkers. They’re everywhere I go and on TV all the time. Can we retire them?

I didn’t see them on Lake Superior State University’s list of banished words. The idea was cooked up years ago by some PR guy who worked for Michigan’s smallest public university.

So, without further ado, here’re my favorites from LSSU’s 2007 Banished Words:

UNDOCUMENTED ALIEN – “If they haven’t followed the law to get here, they are by definition ‘illegal.’ It's like saying a drug dealer is an ‘undocumented pharmacist.’” -- John Varga, Westfield, New Jersey.

WE’RE PREGNANT -- Grounded for nine months.
“Were men feeling left out of the whole morning sickness/huge belly/labor experience? You may both be expecting, but only one of you is pregnant.” -- Sharla Hulsey, Sac City, Iowa.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR -- The chewable vitamin morphine of marketing.
“I don't think my doctor would appreciate my calling him after seeing a TV ad.” -- Peter B. Liveright, Lutherville, Maryland.

SEARCH -- Quasi-anachronism. Placed on one-year moratorium.
“Might as well banish it. The word has been replaced by ‘google.’” -- Michael Raczko, Swanton, Ohio.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Will He Come Today?

Is this a provocative title? Are you at all curious? Am I talking about Jesus or . . .? Actually I’m talking about a repairman who told me he was coming on Monday to do a little work on the house. Then, when I called yesterday, he said, “I had another job to finish and I’m coming in the morning.”

I think any unemployed remotely handy man or woman should consider going into the handyman business. I called one out of the phonebook this week to see if he could switch out a kitchen faucet. Sure, he could do it, but here’s the catch: I would have to commit to a four-hour minimum for $265 and oh, by the way, the wait time would be six weeks. The plumber is coming on Tuesday. Don’t ask me how much, but at least the one I scheduled gave me a price. One company said, “There’s a $65 charge to come out and then we’ll tell you how much it is.” I didn’t just fall off of the turnip truck yesterday.

Many people give up and learn how to do the work themselves. Well, since I’m soon to put this old house on the market, I don’t have time to begin a crash course on home repair--I'm in the middle of a paint marathon this week. And heck, I don’t even have time to be checking my email or writing this; but you see, I’m waiting for a man to come.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bathing in Red Velvet Cake

I’m in danger of becoming known as the “Red Velvet Cake Lady” with this the third blog entry on RVC. However, Sephora’s Philosophy Red Velvet Cake will not add one calorie to your thighs.

Described as:
“A sweetly-scented, ultra-rich, 3-in-1 shampoo, shower gel, and bubble bath. What it is formulated to do: The decadent smell of this quintessential southern treat has been captured in Philosophy's famous, 3-in-1 shampoo, body wash and bubble bath formula that offers you a delectable shower experience for homemade bath-time fun. This 100 percent calorie-free option is the sweetest way to start your day - don't forget the butter cream icing.”

And yes indeedy, the company does sell the Butter Cream Frosting. What will they think up next?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Marketing for the Millennials

I’ve seen a bunch of student view books and recruitment materials over the course of the last year. You regular readers know my high school senior son Scott is in the throes of deciding where to go to college next fall. What sets a school apart? Is it a fancy view book, a family connection, a school that’s affordable or convenient? Who the devil knows!

I’ve been to a college fair where I saw representatives from all over the country trying to build interest for their schools. Yet, to look at their view books, you could hardly distinguish one school from the next. We did recall three schools that stood apart that evening. My son applied at one (Berry College in Rome, Georgia) and was accepted. His dad worked for another one (Auburn University in Montgomery) at the time.

Now, I’ve been connected with colleges and universities one way or the other for nearly 36 years, first as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama and then as a law school student. I even worked for a college before law school. Then my husband made a career out of working for colleges and universities, and our family’s lives have revolved around education in some fashion or the other ever since. Heck, our older son is even working for a community college now in marketing. We believe in higher education.

So, forgive my bragging on my husband, Bill Noblitt. He just found out that the student recruitment campaign he and his staff created while he was at Auburn University in Montgomery (AUM) won a bunch of awards from the Admissions Marketing Report (AMR). There were over 2,100 entries from over 1,200 colleges, universities and secondary schools. Little AUM won seven awards (Auburn's main campus won only one award) plus a Best in Show award that was given to 15 schools including the University of Missouri, Arizona State University and Savannah School of Art and Design. The AMR said, “Each of these entries exhibited the highest production standards, creativity and professionalism. They captured the attention and admiration of our panel of judges.”

And congrats to son #1 too. The school where he works in marketing, Waubonsee Community College, won four awards.

Snickers Ad Pulled

I really didn’t care for the Snickers candy ad that aired during the Super Bowl--you know the one now kicking up yet another “controversy.” My reasons weren’t those of the gay and lesbian groups raising the stink, and they really are irrelevant to my view here. We have gotten to the point where damn near everything created, designed, broadcast, printed, or disseminated over the Internet is dissected with the precision of a surgeon’s knife and examined under a microscope to the nth degree. Let’s face it. If you watch television, listen to music, look at a magazine, go to a museum, pass a billboard, attend a play or movie, read a book, or just crawl out of your hole and explore the world around you, you most likely will be offended by something you see.

Just get over it and realize that in a free society (and thank God or whomever that we live in a free society) this is reality. Do you have to like it? No. But if it offends you, please don’t decide for me that it will also offend me.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Ads Disappointing

So, I watched about half of the Super Bowl and may have missed some of the ads, but I don’t think I really missed much. Hey, big advertising gurus, where’s your knock-my-socks-off creativity? My favorite ad was Carlos Mencia’s English as a Second Language Class in Beer. Carlos’s advice: if you are asked for a Bud Light, you say, “Me no speak English.”

Then, I’d give a wet noodle or maybe a wet t-shirt would be better to GoDaddy for their dumb ad. It seems to be the favorite “bad” ad; and therefore, I believe it to be successful. We are talking about it and I remember it.

The Snickers candy bar ad with the two grungy mechanics coming together for a “kiss” gets my vote for the grossest ad.

And lastly, does anyone watching the Super Bowl and eating party food really care to be reminded of heart disease? What a killjoy that ad was!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let Them Eat PIE!

A few posts ago I wrote about Red Velvet Cake (RVC), and since then I've noticed a lot of visitors who were finding my blog after seaching for RVC on Google. I don't know why there's such interest. Was there a magazine article or is it because Valentine's Day is approach and people are looking for a pretty red dessert? If it's the latter, I have another recommendation that's a perfect Valentine's dessert.

I'm including my recipe for Strawberry Pie which I happen to think is a great treat especially this time of year. We had some lovely Florida strawberries last week. If you can still get the berries at a reasonable price, this is a tasty treat for your sweeties.

Strawberry Pie

1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon red food color
5 tablespoons cornstarch
7 ounces 7-Up
fresh strawberries (quart)
baked pie crust
whipped cream

Mix the first four ingredients & cook until thick.
Place the strawberries in crust & pour glaze over them.
Garnish with whipped cream & refrigerate.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Kitchen Sink of a Garage Sale

Great fun when the weather’s warm and neighbors come cheerily out to gaze at all of your stuff and chat, garage sales in the winter prove a marketing challenge. When it’s winter and cold (forgive me, you frozen Mid-Westerners, but it was cold for Alabama today), the art of throwing a good garage sale takes some effort.

I placed ads in our local birdcage liner, bulletin and even Craig’s List. I made signs on the computer and slapped them on leftover mounting board, stapled them to stakes and went around sticking the signs into corners in the neighborhood hoping to bring customers.

Today was the big day. After arising at 5 a.m. to start the arduous process of carrying out of our wonderful possessions, I greeted our first customer at 6:30, and by 7 we were busy with a steady stream of customers. Shortly after 11, I was glad to see the last young mother and daughter walk away with armloads full of free goodies. It took nearly two hours to move the items back into the garage, clean up and restore the driveway to a functional status. We happily called it a day.

I’m calling the Salvation Army on Monday for a pickup of the leftovers. Watch out Montgomery—there’s some good stuff left.

The most interesting customer was an old guy from Letochatchee who blows up beaver dams with dynamite for a living. He gave me a card, and I told him I’d be sure to call him if I ever needed a beaver dam blown up. But before that, he asked, “You got any guns?”

Note: A stretch of U.S. Highway 127 in northeast Alabama happens to be part of “The World’s Longest Yard Sale,” which our Governor Bob Riley calls a “Top Ten Event in Alabama.” Put it on your calendars for August 2-5.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Guerilla Marketing Goes Amok

I couldn’t help myself and was drawn back in to blog about Boston’s trouble yesterday with guerilla marketing for the new Aqua Teen Hunger Force (ATHF) movie. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be attending this movie, but I do know one member of my household who will. I’ve even watched a few episodes of the Cartoon Network show with him although I’m nearly always puzzled by it and can barely understand Meatwad.

Apparently the bomb squad folks in Boston don’t watch the show or else they might have realized the “devices” looked strangely like ATHF’s Mooninites. It’s too involved to explain who the Mooninites are. Watch the show if you really care to know.

I’m reminded of the mass hysteria that followed the 1938 Mercury Theatre radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds with its Martian invasion by Orson Welles. Despite disclaimers at the beginning and at the end, many who tuned in midway through the broadcast were convinced we were under attack.

How easily we are whipped into a frenzy and how quickly we respond to possible dangers these days without seeing if the danger is real.