High school class reunion, or why doesn’t anybody listen to John Denver anymore?

This is what 1975 looks like today. Pretty damn good, I think.

class pic         Thanks to the patience and perseverance of a few dedicated folks, the Coffee County Central High School (Manchester, Tennessee) class of ’75 gathers for an official reunion weekend every five years. Saturday night we gathered at the fanciest place in town to eat, to spill my glass of red wine all over my purse to drink, to catch up and to lose at to play charades. We had a blast — as long as we studiously ignored the fact that we all are way older now than our own parents were when we graduated. That’s a little scary. And it made me remember that the whole time we were going through school, people kept telling us that we were the future of our country and America’s success and welfare were up to us. I’ll just let that thought sit there for contemplation.

But here are some other, more cheerful thoughts:

  • BFF Debbie Stepp Ball was my date since husband John Lewis Pitt
    , sports editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, had this little thing called THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND going on. usAs usual, Debbie Stepp and I both wore pretty much the same thing, both worried about our shoes and both could barely stay awake past 9 p.m. Because that’s how we roll. Also please ignore the senior picture on my name tag. I have no knowledge of who that person is. None at all. Nope, it’s not me. Debbie Stepp, also as usual, got tons of compliments and people said things to her such as “Oh, Debbie, you haven’t aged a bit!” People said things to me such as “Uh, hello? Were you in my Spanish class?” But it is true that she has not aged a bit and is a beautiful person inside and out and I’m just glad she still lets me hang out with her.
  • The much-anticipated charades team made up of the class Cathys/Kathys — we think there were eight of us at one time — lost because WE FOLLOWED THE RULES and didn’t talk. The Cathys/Kathys ALWAYS follow the rules. It’s what makes us who we are. Fingers pointing at you, team of Gordon Smith. Fingers pointing at you.
  • The generation that graduated in 1975 got kind of stuck, history-wise. We missed out on the Beatles, the Sixties and Elvis. In the months before
    we graduated, Watergate conspirators were convicted and the Vietnam War ended. Our male teachers were a mix of World War II veterans and young guys with bell-bottom pants and hair touching their collars. Our female teachers were a mix of ruler-slapping take-no-prisoners ladies who’d been teaching for about a hundred years and young women trying out this new idea that they could have careers AND have families at the same time. Is it any wonder we were confused?     10888636_10156002401545626_5285635509432103484_nIs it any wonder that when the photographer at the reunion told us we could do anything we wanted for a “silly” picture, we couldn’t handle it? We panicked. We froze. This picture is as silly and free as we could get. But it’s not our fault. We were raised to do what we’re told. We need rules and regulations! Parameters and limitations! It’s how we do our best work.
  • And one final thought — these folks are all fun and friendly and delightful to talk to. Why didn’t I know that 40 years ago? Why was I so insecure that I didn’t venture beyond my own circle of friends? Wish I’d embraced all the quirks and differences and strengths that made us our wonderful different selves. But maybe that’s what reunions are for … that, and getting to hear your mother tell you, as you head out the door, “You’ll knock all those boys off their feet!” (my mom) and “Don’t drink and drive!” (Debbie’s mom). So glad some things never change.

New post at South by South Style!

Click here to read the first post in the South by South Style series on buying clothes online. First up: StitchFix. Coming soon in post no. 2: Golden Tote.

Also, husband John Pitts, I don’t know why all of those packages keep coming to our house. With my name on them. Have no idea. And, oh, you’re asking about this dress? This one? You haven’t seen me wear it before? Hmmm … well …

Cold-y Toddy!

Get it — Cold-y Toddy? See, we live in Mississippi where most people — unless they wear Mississippi State‘s maroon and white — go around saying “Hotty Toddy” instead of “Hello! How are you today? Fine? Great! Me, too.” You also know we live in Mississippi because everything I write about begins with football and because I know — doesn’t everybody? — that it’s 58 days until the first SEC football game of fall 2015 , which non-coincidentally also is Nick Saban‘s first 2015 effort To Take Over the World. He won’t rest until it’s done.

However, Nick Saban did not enjoy a shot of freshly made Toddy this morning, as I did. I’m assuming he didn’t, anyway. At least I can safely suppose that he didn’t drink a shot of fresh Toddy this morning that was made by ME.

Coffee on Windowsill

Toddy is the name of a company, brewing process and also the coffee itself. In 1964, a chemical engineering graduate named Todd Simpson discovered the age-old technique of cold-brewing coffee to produce a liquid coffee concentrate. He developed and patented a convenient way to make the concentrate, and the family-owned and -run business is still in Fort Collins, Colorado, 51 years later. While potent and silky strong, liquid coffee concentrate is less acidic than coffee brewed with hot-water methods. You can reconstitute the concentrate with hot water at a ratio of 1:2-3 for a steaming cup of morning wake-up, but that’s only for wimps who are afraid of the real thing folks who don’t like their coffee bold and complex. No, don’t waste your Toddy trying to recreate … you know … actual coffee, because Toddy’s true genius reveals itself in cold coffee drinks. That’s when its smooth richness combines with creamy milky sweetness over ice cubes for one perfect summer-afternoon refresher.

Toddy is easy to make at home. For about $40, you get a clear glass carafe with white plastic lid, a white plastic brewing container with removable handle, a 412hSp3lRXLrubber stopper, two reusable filters and the instruction guide/recipe booklet. Put the stopper in the hole that’s in the bottom of the brewing container, dampen a filter and put it over the stopper, place the container over the decanter, layer coarsely ground coffee with fresh cold water in the container (measurements in instruction guide) and let sit for 12 hours. Pull the stopper out, and when the concentrate stops dripping in the decanter (usually only a minute or two), remove the container, top the decanter with the lid and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. But it won’t stay there that long.

Here are a few Toddy hints I’ve learned over the years:

  • Make it at night to enjoy a fresh shot in the morning.
  • Buy inexpensive whole beans and grind them/have them ground at the store on the coarsest setting possible. You’ll wear out your nice at-home burr grinder by doing a pound of beans at one time.
  • Don’t use flavored beans. The added oils will gum up the filter.
  • Lay in a supply of filters and stoppers by ordering a bunch at once.
  • Either clean the decanter, lid and brewing container in the dishwasher or simply rinse and scrub with hot water to avoid soap residue.
  • The cold-brew concentrate makes an impressive gift. Pour some into a wide-mouthed glass canning jar with a two-part metal screw-on lid (trying to avoid using the patented “Mason jar”) and add a burlap bow. I’ve actually never done this because I only thought of it just now, but it sure sounds like a nice idea.

So the next time you’re in Mississippi and somebody yells “Are you ready?” at you, reply with “Coldy Toddy, gosh almighty!” and see what happens. No, really, don’t do that. Just say “Roll Tide.”

Spelling and other lessons

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, that annual competition where focused & determined youngsters prove yet again that they are way smarter than the rest of us, was held recently. For the second consecutive year, two spellers tied for first place. Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, spelled “scherenschnitte” and Vanya Shivashankar, 13, spelled “nunatak” for the win. They outlasted almost 300 opponents who got eliminated after heartbreaking misspellings.

I can’t even spell “misspellings.”

However, I do have a connection to this year’s contest — popular national contestant and Mississippi first-place champion Dev Jaiswal was one of the spellers in my disastrous first-and-only attempt at being a spelling-bee pronouncer. And before you say “Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that bad” & “You’re being too hard on yourself,” please note that I have never ever ever been asked back. The truth is that, unlike the young spellers, I was unprepared & thought I could muddle through without much effort. To anyone else who’s asked to pronounce at a spelling bee: YOU CAN’T MUDDLE THROUGH. When the organizers gave me the words I’d have to pronounce and use in sentences a couple of weeks before the bee, I glanced through it and didn’t notice anything too intimidating. I should have looked harder. It was obvious, though, that unlike me, Dev and his co-contestants had approached the bee properly since we quickly zipped through the list — despite my increasingly stumbling pronunciations because WHERE THE HELL DID THESE WORDS COME FROM & WHY HAVEN’T I SEEN THEM BEFORE? — and had to call The Office Spelling Bee Folks for new words. After my failure was complete and avoiding the kind yet sorrowful eyes of the judges, I slipped out quietly and vowed to immediately counteract my poor performance with fried sugary doughnut goodness prepare better in the future.

Thankfully, Dev apparently wasn’t as scarred by that experience as I was. He’s overcome the disadvantage of having me pronounce his words and gone on to become a spelling-bee celebrity. CNN even called him “The inDEVatigable Jaswal” and reported that although he didn’t win, his smile and graciousness earned him a standing ovation. And autograph requests. Autograph requests!

So, to conclude, this young man now has taught me 1) to do your best and 2) to be OK with whatever your “best” is. T-H-A-N-K-S, Dev. (“Thanks:” — plural of Middle English thank, from Old English thanc thought, gratitude; meaning “kindly or grateful thoughts;” used in a sentence as “Thanks, all of you spellers, for showing us what’s really important.”

Running with the family, or “Why is there purple stuff in your ear?”

There is a way to make your family and friends think you are the coolest person ever AND reap other priceless benefits along the way.


1 oucWait! Don’t stop reading yet. Those inspiring stories about people whose idea of exercise is walking to the fridge but then they start running and they realize they love it and months later they’re competing in marathons?

Yeah, this isn’t one of those stories.

I strongly dislike running. I mean, it hurts. A lot. And makes your mascara run. I asked a running-fanatic co-worker once why she enjoyed the sport and she got a dreamy look in her eyes and smiled and said, “You know that feeling when you can’t breathe and your legs won’t work and you have to stop by the side of the road to throw up? Gosh, I love that feeling.”

Um, no, thank you.

Besides, have you been at the start line of a race? All those toned abs are intimidating.

This is a story, however, about a kind of running – the fun kind, where you get out with your family on a Saturday morning and spend some time together and get some exercise and end up feeling as if you’ve accomplished something important while still keeping your mascara intact.

2 picI’m talking about fun runs, those one-mile races with more emphasis on “fun” than “run.”

This spring, our daughters and our 7- and 3-year-old grandsons have hit the fun-run circuit. We’ve been pelted with confetti, dug colored cornstarch out of our ears and had a blast.

We none of us are runners (except the 3-year-old, who runs the whole mile without stopping or even breathing hard — I see Olympic medals in his future) and I was apprehensive about our non-athletic status before we signed up for our first race.

But I was being silly. Everybody is encouraging and enthusiastic, and the grins on the kids’ faces as they cross the finish line to cheers and ecstatic high fives are priceless. They may even have learned something about reaching goals and trying your best and helping each other.

And as a bonus, you get say this to your friends: “Sorry I can’t go shopping with you Saturday morning. That’s a race day, you know.”

It’s not a Southern party unless you’ve got …

Here in the South, we are in the middle of that lovely season when every day week DSCN3432there’s a tea or reception or shower or some other similar gathering where you show up and bless everybody’s hearts profusely and come away with 1) a new egg salad recipe, 2) details from Person A on where she bought those adorable shoes and 3) details from Person B on what Person A did after she bought those adorable shoes and who she did it with. And there are at least two food items that MUST be present to make it an official DSCN3435Southern party. Both of those items are in this photo. Southerners were raised on
these two items; non-Southerners have never heard of them and don’t really understand them. Can you spot them in this photo? Bonus points if you can name the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, party classic that is not present in this photo but no Muscle Shoals tea/shower/reception is complete without. The flower arrangement is essential Southerness, too. Sadly, my mother did not bestow upon me the love-of-gardening gene and all I know is that this arrangement has some green leaves and pretty flowers and looks really nice? On the other hand, I can tell you every single detail about every single food item on that table. Priorities! But also possibly the reason my jeans seem to have a little trouble zipping up lately. Sigh.

So you won’t have to …

You’re probably like me and have stood at Wal-Mart’s self-checkout registers of doom & wondered how much rotisserie-chicken juice you’d have to spill on the scanner  to short it out and bring Wal-Mart commerce to a greasy halt.  Well, stop wondering because I have the answer: More than you think. Aren’t you relieved? I’ll retrace my steps so you can replicate this experiment to test for consistent results, although I discourage tempting Wal-Mart karma.

Here’s what happened: Recently I offered to bring supper to Older Daughter & my three grandsons. By “bring,” I mean “choose from various takeout options” because sadly I am not the sort of mom/grandma who has tasty dinner items in her kitchen unless you count half-empty -full bottles of wine. Older Daughter had a sinus headache and wasn’t hungry so no vegetarian option needed. This pointed to a run to Little Wal-Mart* for the rotisserie chicken that the 7-year-old & 3-year-old grandsons like and the 8-month-old grandson eyes with increasing optimism. Also a good choice because son-in-law was working late and he could eat when he got home. A vital detail here is that I was wearing my new long pendant necklace that has had several charms dangling from the bottom, such as an elephant & an old-fashioned long and skinny key**.

So I go to Little Wal-Mart, feeling cute & stylish in my elephant-and-key necklace PLUS feeling pat-myself-on-the-back good for helping Older Daughter. I grab the warm chicken, packaged in one of those two-part plastic containers, as well as King’s Hawaiian rolls, chocolate soy milk and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. As I put the container of warm & juicy chicken in my cart, I notice the plastic lid seems precarious. This is when any normal non-cute-necklace-wearing person would Take Some Action. Not me. Instead, I was thinking about how much I liked my new necklace & maybe I should get the one with penguins, too. There wasn’t room for, you know, logical & productive thoughts.

And then next, like a blurry slow-motion explosion that cannot be stopped, comes my arrival at the self-checkout register, my one-handed removal of the chicken from my cart, the unwieldiness of the plastic container, my instinctive reaction to set it down quickly and the inevitable upside-down dropage of said container. Then chicken juice. Everywhere. The mist cleared and time returned to normal and I expected alarms & flashing red lights, but nothing happened. Nothing. Crickets chirping. Nobody was in line behind me and the employee at the self-checkout desk was staring intently at nothing or maybe at the produce section to her right. Difficult to tell. After a minute or so of considering options — Leave quietly? Pretend chicken juice was covering the register when I arrived? — I got her attention. “I dropped something,” I said as she walked over. “Hmm,” she said. “Yes. I see.” She brought paper towels & a spray bottle and began expertly dismantling the now-chickeny register. This was when my Southerness kicked in because of course you’re not going to stand there while somebody else is cleaning up a mess YOU made. That’s akin to putting grapes in your chicken salad — not going to happen. So I leaned over with a paper towel and started wiping my side of the register, stretching to reach the far corners, at the exact moment she dropped the scanner’s glass cover back into place and caught the long skinny key of my adorable new necklace underneath. Thoughts of Isadora Duncan‘s demise via a similar fashion mistake briefly put me in panic mode — although greasy chicken juice and a Wal-Mart register isn’t as glamorous as a long silk scarf and sports car — but she quickly raised the cover and freed me. The key charm was slightly mangled and the elephant slightly dented but the chicken miraculously was fine except for significantly less juice. Which probably was a good thing. You’re welcome.

* Little Wal-Mart — This is what Middle Grandson calls Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets.

** Elephant-and-key necklace — Why are elephant and key charms together on a necklace? All I can think of is “The Secret Garden,” one of my favorite childhood books because who among us doesn’t believe she has a rich & mysterious uncle on an English estate with a long-hidden secret? The fact that my only uncle was a high-school teacher in California did not dampen my dreams.