While I Was Out …

Remember that TV show on TLC called “While You Were Out“? Folks would send their unsuspecting loved ones out of town for a couple of days and then have a designer and crew (and TV cameras, of course) come in to redo a room. It aired from 2002 to 2006, and my two then high-school- and college-age daughters and I watched every episode. (Side note No. 1: We three got to meet the ultimate  WYWO cast of cutie-pie Evan Farmer, super-hunk Andrew Dan-Jumbo and empowered-funny-woman Leslie Segrete when they filmed an episode in Birmingham, Ala., and I covered it for my newspaper.)  The combination of designing, redecorating, renovating, keeping a secret and sneaking around, all in front of millions of TV viewers, was irresistible. (Side note No. 2: My daughters, along with Older Daughter’s now-husband, even did a WYWO on husband JP and me. While we were honeymooning after our 2004 wedding, they redid my bedroom from “divorced single mom” to “sophisticated power couple.” Using a gorgeously colored wine theme, they repainted, repositioned furniture, brought in wine accents and even replaced my grungy nightstands with super-cute wine-rack tables that we still use.) And even though he wasn’t nearly as huge a fan as we were, my husband pulled a WYWO on me while I was enjoying some cat-free mornings spending a few days out-of-town. First, when I got home, I immediately noticed that the house was clean — probably much cleaner than when I’d left. And since we have four cats, a clean house takes some work. When I complimented my husband, he admitted he’d discovered the secret of housecleaning:  Do some every day so it doesn’t pile up into one big mess. I was so proud! Second, I noticed he’d replenished my supply of my favorite gum — adorable! Then, he proudly showed me our mailbox, which now sported our house number. “I thought it was about time,” he said, “since we’ve lived here for almost two years and sometimes the mail folks still can’t find us.” A clean house, my favorite gum and a properly identified address would have been enough, but toward the end of the evening, he finally couldn’t take it anymore and said in exasperation, “Aren’t you going to go in the guest bathroom tonight?” Turns out he’d put up my birthday present from this past year — a funky and wonderful blue-painted mirror made from recycled wood that we’d left leaning against the wall for months while we wondered if it were too heavy to hang. So far, it’s not. Also: I have the best husband in the world.

Random Thoughts …

… from a cluttered mind:

  • This TV season is so full of gems that our DVR can’t catch a break. If you’re not watching “Community,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Rec,” “Castle” and “Prime Suspect,” then you are missing out. Not to mention perennial favorites such as “The Office,” “Survivor” and “Amazing Race.” And this is even before “Cougar Town” and “30 Rock” come back. On the other hand, perhaps this is why I never can find the time to finish start the great American novel.
  • Saving money doesn’t always save money. For instance, my debit-card-pinching Scrooge-like sensible and financially-savvy husband instituted a crazy and unworkable spending ban thought that we should perhaps maybe reign in the spending for a while. “I’ll show him,” I snarled to myself. Fair enough. However, saving money is relative. Take Worcestershire sauce. In our house, fall signals the arrival of Chex-Mix Season and it was time to make that all-important first test batch. Mindful of my husband’s Draconian desire to save money the budget, I carefully collected the necessary ingredients. And since you can’t scrimp on the stars of the show — you know you always can tell when somebody uses generics — I made up the difference on the supporting cast. That’s how I ended up with a huge bottle of store-brand Worcestershire sauce that was 2.3 cents cheaper per serving than the small bottle big-name brand I usually buy — until I got home and dropped the bottle on the kitchen floor and tons of watery salty fishy liquid went everywhere and the bargain buy turned out to cost me $9.46 to make up for the lost first bottle, the small-but-expensive replacement bottle, the half-roll of paper towels used in clean-up and the emotional toll on our four cats who spent the remainder of the evening frantically trying to find the anchovies they knew had been there.
  • A Grove-going Ole Miss fan confirmed my suspicions that most Grove-going Ole Miss fans are more interested in the Grove-going than the actual football game. And given their season so far this year, you can’t really blame them.
  • Do people actually wear this stuff? In a T.J. Maxx checkout line,  (Note to Husband: I was there to return things. Really. That is all. Promise. Could I help it if that black Kenneth Cole jacket literally jumped into my cart and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer?), I noticed  posters of outfits that were supposed, I guess, to inspire us style-wise. One look was a pair of bright pink tights, a black satin ruffled micro-mini skirt and an off-the-shoulder gray jersey sweatshirt. The other look was short red-plaid shorts, a patterned sleeveless blouse and a big furry vest — reminiscent of what got Anthony Ryan booted from “Project Runway.” What I really think happened is that the editors and marketing folks got together and said, “Let’s test our power by convincing our customers to buy and wear the most god-awful things we can think of.” (Maniacal evil laugh.) But guess what, people? IT DIDN’T WORK!!!! I thwarted your dastardly plan by buying the Kenneth Cole jacket instead, plus two dresses, a pair of shoes and this really great saucepan I think I probably will need sometime. See???? You cannot influence my spending at all. Take that!!!!!!!
  • My husband and I failed our house’s intelligence test the other day when we had to call the builder for instructions on how to access the windows so we could clean them. Which means I’m embarrassed about not being able to figure out how our windows work as well as living in the house for almost a year before getting around to washing them.


Here in northwest Alabama, we seem to really be getting winter this year. Usually we can count on mild and sunny with only a couple of freezing wet and dreary days here and there to remind us what winter is. But this year I’m starting to understand terms such as “winter blues” and “cabin fever” — we’ve had several runs of bitterly cold temps and wintery mix precipitation and looks as if that’s continuing. Ugh. The good news is that it doesn’t take much to amuse us — when my ugly winter raincoat is the most-worn item in my closet, I’m up for any bit of fun that comes my way. Luckily, Younger Daughter is hanging out at home before grad school starts. She’s taught me to play two-person Nertz (I even win every once in awhile), convinced me to take a tap-dance class with her (and has the grace not to laugh) and joined me in unhealthy addictions to “reality” TV (we think Jake the Jerk Bachelor deserves to end up with Vienna the Car-Wrecking Daddy’s Girl). Plus, she’s always up for a batch of chocolate-chip cookie dough — the perfect antidote for too much winter. And go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nertz to find out about Nertz. I think it goes by many other names and many variations, but we play fast and simply: Get rid of your stack first and you’re the winner. Because we need more time to eat that cookie dough.


Kate Gosselin Dear Kate Gosselin,

Listen, girlfriend, I know we cannot get enough of you lately, but, seriously, you are taking up way too prime celebrity space and I would like you to stop it. Please? Like, immediately? I cannot pick up any gossip magazine without you being on it and frankly it’s starting to bug me. I mean, I’m spending good money because I want to read about Jennifer’s attempts to get Brad back or Angelina’s attempts to get Brad back or how Elizabeth Banks really is not very nice or how Sandra Bullock really is. I don’t want to read about you. And let’s be clear: I’m not being critical of you. In fact, I’m sort of envious. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a famous multi-millionaire with nannies, bodyguards and Emeril  as a personal chef? Sign me up, and I’ll take the hair stylist, personal trainer and free tummy tuck, too. I do not begrudge you fame and fortune. I say good for you. It shows initiative and determination on your part and really, if I’d known having eight children was a key to success I’d have rethought stopping at two. The thing is, however, you are not a celebrity. You are just a regular person who yells at her husband and yells at her kids and makes bad choices. You are, sad to say, just like us. We don’t want our celebrities to be just like us. Oh, it’s true we want our celebrities to pretend they’re just like us. We want to see them buying toliet paper at Costco and slurping down frapps at Starbucks and playing with their kids at the park, but we know and they know and they know we know that they aren’t like us at all. You, however, are just like us but you don’t know it. You are — and I say this with all due respect — sort of boring. We don’t care about your free trips and your free vacations and the TV “stars” who keep popping up in your driveway to install solar panels or take you on motorcycle rides. It’s just … oh, I don’t know … uninteresting. And this whole marriage breakup thing? Please! I can get five women together at a moment’s notice who have marriage-breakup stories that would curl … uh, straighten … your hair. I’m sorry you have problems, but put your big-girl panties on and deal with it. In private, please. I look forward to the day when — just like the rest of us — the only connection you have to gossip magazines is picking one up at the grocery and reading it in the express lane while the person in front of you has 37 items and doesn’t know how to use the debit-card machine. Thank you.


Jeff ProbstI mean, if somebody really needs me tonight between 7 and 10, I’d probably maybe possibly pick up the phone. Perhaps. And if the house catches fire, I’d consider at least making sure the cats get out OK. But otherwise, you cannot pry me away from the TV because it is Survivor Finale Night and we get three hours of Jeff Probst and backstabbing, lies, blindsides, tears and Jeff Probst. And this season we even got a Dragon-Slayer/Coach who entertained us with stories of escaping little Amazonian cannibals while on a solo kayak trip yet never once demonstrated fire-making ability. Interesting. We also had two Alabama folks — one of whom, young cattle rancher J.T., is still in it right now and if my younger daughter did not already have a perfectly nice boyfriend I would so get them together. The other Alabamian, Debbie, a middle-school principal from Auburn, is on the jury. There’s also Taj, from Nashville, Tennessee, a former pop star whose husband is former NFL player Eddie George and who is also one of the four finalists. So I feel well represented tonight. The other finalists are Stephen, J.T.’s silent partner in crime, and Erinn, who has no chance whatsoever of winning the million dollars. But I’ve been wrong before, so we’ll see. The sad part is that this means “Survivor” is over for the season, but we get at least two more seasons. And that also means that one of my other favorite reality-competition shows, “So You Think You Can Dance,” will start soon. I’ve never gotten into “Dancing with the Stars” — I really don’t care if Lil’ Kim can do a tango or not — but SYTYCD has talented young dancers who just want a chance to prove themselves and some of the edgiest and most creative choreography you can see on TV.  And I can watch SYTYCD in the summer secure in the knowledge that Jeff Probst is out in a wilderness somewhere, keeping the “Survivor” torches glowing until it’s time for fall and season No. 19.


What could be better than a cozy rainy Sunday evening at home, with everybody accounted for, some of the New York Times still left to read and Amazing Race coming on later. I can’t wait. Will Luke and Margie nice-en up? Will Cara and Jaime finally realize that the whole world does not speak English? Will Tammy and Victor be victorious? And will Kisha and Jen … well, my annoyance at them for escalating the whole Luke and Margie confrontation evaporated during this past episode, when Jen was so valiantly trying to face her body-paralyzing fear of water and Kisha was so bravely supportive of her sister. Seems as if Luke and Margie would understand something about trying to overcome obstacles. I’m just saying.

Reality TV

probstIt’s that time of the TV year when everything else is background and 7-8 p.m. on phil-keoghanThursdays and Sundays becomes sacred. That’s when I lust over watch Jeff Probst preside over the disintegration of carefully molded alliances and then ponder the detached imponderability of Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan. Survivor is my absolutely favorite TV show of all time. I love the backstabbing and lies and conniving and skulduggery — and that’s just the first episode. Amazing Race, for me, is less about the personalities and more about the intriguing idea of racing around the world with only a backpack when it takes me two pieces of luggage just to go to the nearest Big City for a weekend. I watch to learn. And this season on Survivor, we’ve got two Alabama contestants and one from Nashville, Tennessee, so I always root for the hometown folks. I also predict Sandy will be among the first to go and Benjamin will be trouble. In Amazing Race, I’ve got Mark and Michael pegged for an early exit, which is sad because those are my brothers’ names. But if reality TV teaches us anything, it’s that you can’t let sentiment — or honesty or friendship or kindness or any of those other peskily inconvenient values — get in the way. Don’t you love it?