Tag Archives: women

The Christmas Greenery Thief


Here’s a chuckle for your first week in December. I didn’t make up one word. I swear. I didn’t have to. Humor writing is a rich well in the South, let me tell you.

Today is pick-up day for holiday greenery at the Botanical Gardens in the city where I live. When I arrived, the usual hustle and bustle was in full swing. In no time, my arms were too full to see over my foliage, so I placed my selections in a pile and began scoping out the rest of the aisle.

Imagine how shocked I was when a fellow shopper whisked my pile of bodacious greenery into her arms and headed for the checkout counter at a gallop, leaving me standing in her wake with my mouth hanging open.

“I’m so sorry,” I called out to her (because I’m a Southern woman, and we often begin our sentences that way whether we’re taking responsibility for monsoon rains a continent away or starving children in North Korea) “I think you’ve mistakenly nabbed my greenery!” I smiled warmly at her in a we-are-the-world-peace-love-and-joy way.

“Oh, I know, honey,” she responded with a teeth-whitened-to-blinding-smile thrown over her shoulder, “you’ve picked out some really good stuff here, but I am in a big hurry. You can get some more!”

As often happens when confronted with bad manners, I was temporarily immobilized. I blinked in confusion in an effort to process the hard-to-believe display of bad manners unfolding before my very eyes.

I began a number of responses, none of which actually made it out of my mouth:

“Of all the nerve. . . ”
“Did that woman just steal my greenery?”
“Where was that woman raised?”
“Who does that?”

I was at a loss for words. That almost never happens. Luckily, I was surrounded by a group of women, none of whom I knew, who were riled in my stead in a rather touching demonstration of sisterhood, I think. Yes, indeed, there were witnesses who found plenty of words to describe the Christmas greenery thief. It’s quite possible that the woman next to me got a good photo of the naughty one with her cell phone camera.

It took about two seconds for me to break down into one giggling hot mess. There was something about the sheer nerve of her move that cracked me up. I had to sit down and gather myself among the Poinsettias for a few minutes before beginning my second session of hunting and gathering.


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Goldilocks and the Three Chairs


I’ve never owned a decent office chair, but I never lost any sleep over it either. In fact, I had no idea how many chair options there are out there. My goodness! Desk chairs are an industry unto themselves! Who knew?

I’ll tell you who knew: Mr. Bob Lindsey. He owns Lindsey Office Furnishings in Birmingham, AL, where I spent hours poking around for treasures this week. You should, too. I did my chair shopping with the big cheese himself, Mr. Lindsey. The result: My fanny is sitting pretty today!

My last office chair cost me ten bucks at a yard sale. That seemed about right since I don’t have a real office—with walls, a door, privacy, no screaming children, no pets, and, most importantly, QUIET—which would justify a big, imposing, throne-like chair, but I never worried about it. I’m a mom. Compromise, making-do, and lowering expectations are the norm. My office is a corner in my bedroom.

Now that I know what’s out there, however, I’m rethinking my lot in life. Those high-tech thrones look pretty good—like they could launch a cruise missile with the touch of a button. Just between you and me, I’ve always thought I’d look pretty good perched on a throne wearing a tiara.

Southern women like me have an innate fondness for tiaras. I wouldn’t mind adding a scepter to that office throne package, which would be handy for whacking those in my life who need a come-to-Jesus-and-mind-your-mama tap on the shoulder.

These days, I value comfort and practicality over my long-time love affair with antiques, so I was up for a chair adventure, and I planned to upgrade.

My husband went with me to pick out a chair. We found one quickly, which is often the case when my husband accompanies me on a shopping trip. He’s not an ambler. Sadly, once I got home with my purchase, the chair I chose refused to move up and down as promised, so I had to return it and start over.

More shopping is not a hardship for me. I met Mr. Lindsey with my return just as he was crossing the street to return to his office with takeout. Since I am a well-mannered Southern woman, I encouraged him to go ahead and eat. I was happy to wait. Of course, Mr. Lindsey, being old school and rather well-mannered himself, merely rolled his eyes and went to work to find me another chair that would “make me happy.”

I don’t know that there is one thing on earth a Southern man can do that is better than saying he is going to “make me happy.”

Guess what? He did. I dragged him down every aisle, room after room. I sat in every chair that was remotely appealing. It was Goldilocks and the three (hundred) chairs day. Nothing seemed right. Every chair was too tall, too short, too modern, too old, too office-y, too hard, too soft, too ugly, too clinical, or too something-or-other I couldn’t quite articulate.

Did Mr. Lindsey get impatient with me? No, he did not! I’m sure he felt like showing me the door, but he didn’t. He didn’t look to the Heavens for help or pressure me to JUST PICK ONE ALREADY!

I admire him for that.

Finally, I squished myself into a tiny bit of leathery heaven. Chair nirvana. I found the perfect chair. Angels sang. Cathedral bells rang. This chair has all the bells and whistles. It could have been tailor-made for me.

“This is THE ONE!” I screeched with glee, “Is this chair in my price range?” I asked Mr. Lindsey.

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s load it up,” he replied instantly, as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

I’m fairly certain that Mr. Lindsey gave me a whopping good deal on my office chair. I don’t know for sure because he never showed me the price. He spent at least two hours with me, so I may have actually been a losing-money sale for him. I was in no hurry at all to conclude our purchase. Mr. Lindsey is a fun guy. He tells great stories. He actually met Clint Eastwood and ended up spending the afternoon and evening with him. He’s that kind of guy. Likable. Also, he drove me around in a golf cart to look at chairs. How fun is that???

I love my new chair, and I’m pretty fond of Bob Lindsey now, too. Like most women I know, I’m a big fan of good service, business executives who stand behind their merchandise, and people whose word is their bond.

Thanks, Mr. Lindsey!

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One-Time-Only Speaking Offer!


One-time-only offer!!! I need a videotaped recording of one of my speeches. For some reason, I can’t find one online from past events,etc., and media clips won’t do. Here’s the deal: I will WAIVE my speaker’s fee for an event (you’d still have to pay expenses like airfare, hotel, whatever) ENTIRELY in exchange for a recording, so this could be a win-win for any of you out there putting together a gala, banquet, luncheon, fundraiser, whatever. I love what I do! Put me to work for you for FREE!  Just this once, of course. . . .

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10 Things I Wish People Wouldn’t Share With Me


Don’t get me wrong. Sharing is good. Generally. If you open a tin of mints next to me, I want one. If you crack open a bottle of bubbly, top off my glass. If you find a way to turn on your television without using two remotes, seven button-pushing steps, reading glasses, and profanity, I want you to share that miracle with me like it’s the next coming of the Lord. Most of all, if you figure out how I can eat anything I want without gaining weight, I want you to share that like breaking news on CNN. Although there are innumerable examples of sharing that I approve of whole-heartedly, the list is equally long for things I wish you’d keep to yourself. For example:

  1. Unless you are movie star beautiful, I don’t want to hear the nitty-gritty about your sex life. I don’t care if you’re straight, gay, or something in between. Unless this is a story I can enjoy vicariously, I do not want the intimate details describing your fun. There’s nothing in that for me. Make expressive faces to get your point across. Use euphemisms like Yowza! Boy, howdy! or Yummy! Trust me. I can keep up. I have a stellar imagination. You don’t have to spell it out. I prefer romance to straight-up porn, which is just icky.
  2. The same goes for your labor and delivery stories. Been there. Done that. Three times. I know how the plumbing works. Luckily, those memories fade over time, which explains how some of us got suckered into doing that more than once. It’s not a walk in the park, for sure. It’s true that some experiences are worse than others, but, generally speaking, it’s doable. Otherwise, we’d all quit doing it. (Pun intended.)
  3. Please, please, quit sharing horror stories about your ex. He or she may actually be The Spawn of Satan, but surely there was a time when you felt differently, right? For the sake of those perfect 45 minutes or 25 years, give it a rest. Share his or her fatal flaws on a need-to-know basis after the first anniversary of your divorce. A year is enough time to vent; isn’t it? Three years? Five? Pick a number, whine at will for that period of time, and then move the heck on. Don’t let your ex ruin another minute of your post-ex life!
  4. Limit the photo sharing extravaganzas starring your children, grandchildren, and pets. This is such a common problem it is a cultural cliché. I think the advent of smart phones has tripled the temptation. There is nothing worse than been trapped next to someone who is determined to share—not one or two—but NUMEROUS iPhone albums.
  5. Be stingy with details about your recent surgery or medical ailment unless it’s something truly horrific or unusual—like you were struck by lightning or bitten by a shark. Those stories I’d pay to hear. I don’t need a blow-by-blow account of your gall bladder surgery. I just want to know how you’re doing right now, and if I can help you in any way. I don’t enjoy fighting off waves of nausea as we discuss your bodily functions.
  6. Please don’t share your little children with me when I’ve paid to participate in an adult activity—like eating in a nice restaurant, taking an exercise class, or getting a haircut that’s going to cost me an arm and a leg. I’ve lived through my baby years, and I made my children behave in public. You should, too. (If you don’t know how to go about this, ask me or another bossy mother. We are here to help.) If you can’t or aren’t willing to reign in your little terrors, please stay home with them or get a sitter. However, if you have a really cute lap baby with you, please let me hold him or her for a few minutes before you leave because that would be fun for me.
  7. Please don’t share your germs with me. Duh. It seems like a common-sense call. If you are sick, stay away from the rest of us! You may think you are indispensable, but I assure you that you are not. Take a break and be sick. I’m constantly amazed that we don’t allow anyone to be sick anymore in this country—either because of finances, convenience, ego, or the fear of losing a job. That’s just wrong.
  8. Please don’t share your political views, religious views, or other strongly held opinions unless you are really interested in an open-minded exchange. If you genuinely seek that, I’m open to a lively debate upon occasion, but if that’s not you, I will undoubtedly find you tiresome and exhausting and make up an excuse to move my fat fanny elsewhere.
  9. Even if I genuinely adore you and am proud of every accomplishment your brilliant, gifted, exceptionally talented children have chalked up this week, please bear in mind that my own may be serving up just the opposite sort of week, so keep the bragging to a minimum. I want to be happy for you all the time. I really do. Alas, I am only human. I have lovely manners, but sometimes I slip up. Don’t tempt me.

Finally, and this one is unique to writers like me, I think: Please don’t share your book proposals with me. I’m begging you. I’m a writer, not a publisher, and there isn’t one thing I can do for you. When you ask, I feel compelled to read and encourage you, and I will either love your book, so someone will undoubtedly publish it, so you don’t need my input, or I’ll realize it’s a terrible book, and I have to find a way to tell you that without hurting your feelings. I don’t want to do either of these things!


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Wedding Thank-You Notes, Loaded Pistols, and The Good Silver


Some stories just beg to be written down by me. I know it the instant I hear them. This is one of those. I’ve been pestering a friend to let me write this since I first heard the story a week ago. Usually, my stories only involve my adventures, but I didn’t have one thing to do with this one. I didn’t even know this woman back then. She was like this when I met her!

She took some persuading. She’s formidable, one of my favorite people in the world, highly intelligent, fearless, and fun. Without heels, she swears she’s 5’ 2” tall. At least two inches of that is a bold-faced lie. She’s a devotee of mystery novels and crime shows, and if I ever decide to really take somebody out, rather than merely threatening it, I’m hiring her. She’s a plotter. In fact, she often speaks in code when we talk on the phone because she’s convinced someone “out there” is listening. I’m confident no one cares enough about us to do that. Otherwise, someone would have already knocked on my door and dragged me away for an “interview” long ago.

I read recently that women are more likely than men to kill someone (usually a man) with poison. That didn’t surprise me. And, apparently, if the victim has been poisoned with arsenic, guess who the profilers look for? A Southern woman! That statistic set me back on my heels a little bit. I admit it. Still, I can’t say I’m shocked, exactly. If anyone deserves a slow and agonizing death, I know a few Southern women who could serve it up in a sweet potato soufflé so mouth-watering it would make death-by-arsenic a not-so-bad way to hit the pearly gates.

This particular Southern-woman-crime story began when my friend returned to her apartment after her wedding reception to retrieve her suitcase before heading out for a week of honeymoon bliss. That’s when she pushed open the door and walked into a mess of wedding gifts and packing boxes and discovered that thieves had ransacked her jewelry box. She spent her wedding night in tears over the loss of pieces of jewelry from her childhood.

Not being one to dwell on something she couldn’t do anything about, my friend headed off on her honeymoon but returned with a plan. Her husband reluctantly returned to work, which required out-of-town travelling, after making sure she had a good security system, complete with panic button.

My friend went one step further. She planted herself in a chair right in the middle of her dining table with a phone and her panic button. After all, she was recently wed, and she had a mountain of thank-you notes to write. She was not about to let a little thing like being-afraid-for-her-life stand in the way of getting those suckers out on time. So she added one additional security measure to her husband’s plan: she put a loaded pistol—pointed toward the front door—on the dining table, just to the left of her boxes of monogrammed stationery, to the right of her glass of iced tea, within easy reach, in case of another armed robbery. We Southern women pride ourselves on always being prepared for anything.

The moral of this story is: you don’t want to get between a Southern woman and a mountain of sterling silver wedding gifts, and you’d be wise to steer clear of her jewelry. We remember slights like that for generations.

While I was badgering her to let me write this story, I asked why she was reluctant to share, confident I could reassure her enough to get a green light to spill.

“Well . . . ” she finally admitted, “That gun is a family piece. It’s not technically mine. I’d hate for my mama to find out about that.”

She wasn’t afraid of an armed robber. She was, however, scared silly about what her mama might say about this story.

That’s how we roll, y’all.


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The Dangers of an Over-Sharing Public


People confide in me all the time. They tell me secrets that frequently shock me to my core. Strangers tell me their thoughts, beliefs, and dreams. I don’t know why this is true, but it is. As long as I can remember, I’ve been the recipient of over-sharing from perfect strangers. It’s not my fault! Trust me: I’m not asking these people actual questions.

This drives my family and friends crazy. They worry I will invite a serial killer in for a glass of sweet tea. I’d like to say I would never do that, but, unfortunately, I might, in fact, do exactly that. I wish I could change this about myself. I don’t want to be the Statue of Liberty for Lonely Hearts! I’m not educated for it, and it frightens me.

In the D-Day museum in New Orleans, I was the only one on the tour who got cornered by a mentally ill veteran for a heart-to-heart. On park benches, I hear about tales of infidelity from people I’ve never in my life met before that moment. In elevators, I hear about illness and doctor visits from people whose only contact with me is a few seconds descent to basement parking! In stadium seats, I’m treated to office politics and misbehaving teenagers from mere acquaintances. On a prayer bench, I’ve overhead desperate prayers from a stranger kneeling next to me and clasped her hands when she reached out to me.

Why me? Apparently, I have a blinking light over my head that says: If you’re crazy, suicidal, pissed in paisley, or in need of a friend, step right up and take a number!

I’m not a counselor. I’m not even naturally gregarious or people-friendly. Mostly, I find people exhausting. I am loyal to my inner circle, have had the same friends for most of my life, and, honestly, I like it like this. I tend to my friendship gardens. I don’t have enough time for the friends I have, so I’m not looking to recruit for my posse. Still, they keep coming like bodies in a zombie movie.

I can’t navigate the deep waters of the human psyche. Furthermore, I have no desire to do so. Nevertheless, I find myself listening to hair-raising tales of misfortune, woe, and loss a couple of times a week. What’s with that?

I don’t know how to make it stop. I’m Southern. I’m female. Culturally, I’m programmed to be polite, nice, and gracious–no matter the circumstances. I’ve risked my life on many occasions when I couldn’t quite bring myself to slam the door in someone’s face, hang up the telephone on an unsolicited sales call, or refuse to roll my car window down when a panhandler bangs on it demanding money. All three of these things happened this week, just FYI. I’m not kidding.

Of course, I know it’s dangerous to put myself—and kids in my car—out there like that. I can see all that clearly after the fact, but if somebody tells me, “I’m hungry,” I believe deep down that my job is to feed ‘em. Literally. Figuratively. Whatever.


Where are the lines between busybody, enabler, potential crime victim, and regular people? To me, they’re blurry. I can’t see them clearly. Can you? Am I my sister’s keeper or a naïve idiot?

I can’t decide. Until I do, I guess I’ll continue to keep dollar bills in the outside pocket of my purse so I can get to them quickly, and I’ll keep telling my daughter not to do what she sees me do when I walk out of the grocery store and hand the homeless man on the bench a Gatorade on the way to my car with $300 worth of groceries in my buggy.

Sometimes, I can’t figure out my role in the world.

How about you?

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Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher


Below is an excerpt from my first book, SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully. It was written about my son, Warner, now a sophomore in college. Some of it is still true! I’m posting in honor of my favorite day of the year: The first day of school! Mimosas for breakfast! Happy fall, y’all!

I am entrusting my oldest child to your care. He has a tender heart. I think you are lucky to spend the better part of every day with him. His siblings and I will miss him. Here are some of the things you should know.

  1. He is sad when it is not a school day.
  2. He would rather read books than eat candy.
  3. He has the negotiating skills of a Middle Eastern diplomat.
  4. He is kind.
  5. He loves babies.
  6. He can hack his way into NASA on the computer.
  7. He will be close to death before he will admit being injured.
  8. He has the verbal skills of an Ivy League graduate, but he has just learned to tie his shoes.
  9. When he is invited to a party, he saves part of the candy from his treat bag for his little brother.
  10. He loves knights, pirates, and cowboys.
  11. His feelings are easily hurt.
  12. Don’t debate theology with him. He has humbled priests far and wide.
  13. He has a broad musical repertoire, which includes the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Hallelujah chorus.
  14. He is very patriotic and will correct you if you miss any words to “The Star Spangled Banner.” He is the only 5 year old    who knows what “ramparts” are.
  15. He can sound out any word, so if you wouldn’t say it, don’t spell it.
  16. He has an Old Testament sense of justice.
  17. He is excited to try new things.
  18. He has hair untamed by any brush.
  19. He responds well to praise.
  20. He has friends of all ages.
  21. He has an unfettered imagination
  22. He thinks fine dining involves macaroni and cheese.
  23. He loves museums, concerts, and movies.
  24. He believe anything is possible and is impressed Santa knows his size.
  25. He was loved before he was born.
  26. He will remember you for the rest of his life.


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Swept Off My Feet


I want to be swept off my feet. Literally. Figuratively, too, of course. For those of you who don’t already know this, especially those of you with a Y chromosome on your double helix, this little fantasy is not unique to me. Almost every woman I know wants to be swept off her Jimmy Choos, too. It’s a girlie thing.

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have had a conversation like this:

“Pick me up!” I demand.

“Why?” my husband asks. He is genuinely baffled to receive such a request from a perfectly healthy, fiercely independent, grown-up woman.

“Because I want you to! It’s romantic and fun!” I respond in my most commanding, I’m-not-fooling-around voice.

“What for?” he quizzes me further, trying to read my mood. “It’s not like you’re injured or anything. I could pick you up if I had to–if the house caught on fire or a bookshelf fell on you or something like that, but otherwise, what’s the point?”

I am momentarily distracted from my pick-me-up crusade by the word “could.”

“What do you mean you ‘could’ pick me up? Of course, you could pick me up! Are you implying that I’m fat?” I inquire in a dangerously quiet voice.

NO! Absolutely not,” he responds instantly. “I said I COULD pick you up if I had to, but there isn’t anything wrong with you. You don’t need me to pick you up. It’s ridiculous.”

“I DO need you to!” I affirm dramatically, arms stretched wide open in a gesture to the Heavens to demonstrate my dire need of a swept-off-my-feet moment.

“What is this really about?” my husband queries. “Were you not picked up enough as a child or what? This is weird. Where does this come from?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m sure I was picked up as much as any other little girl—which is completely beside the point. Being swept off one’s fee is romantic. Think about the scene in Gone With the Wind where Rhett Butler sweeps Scarlett up in his arms and charges up that grand staircase,” I reply, trying to inspire my husband with a classic cinematic visual.

“I read somewhere that Clark Gable had terrible breath,” my husband digresses. “I doubt Vivien Leigh enjoyed that little ride very much. I could probably carry you over my shoulder in a firefighters’ lift or something, if you want me to, but I’m definitely not charging up any stairs. Do you want me to have a heart attack?”

“I have no desire to be tossed over your shoulder like a giant bag of potting soil!” I reply, stamping my foot for emphasis. “I want to be swept up like a bride crossing a threshold for the first time in the arms of her husband! How can you not get this?”

“You haven’t been a bride in 26 years!” he points out with that obnoxious logic and keen eye for detail that makes him good at being an appellate court judge and bad at arguing about romantic gestures with his wife.

“For better or worse, remember?” I remind him.

“I don’t remember one thing in the marriage vows about carrying you around anywhere,” he observes, rather rudely, in my opinion.

“Maybe you didn’t read the fine print. I think some carrying around is called for in every marriage. Wouldn’t YOU like to be picked up?” I ask, trying to get him to empathize.

“Good grief, no! I’m a foot taller, and I have over 100 pounds on you. You carrying me defies the laws of physics. I’d crush you like a bug,” he announces, gazing at me in open-mouth horror.

“It’s a grand gesture, honey. Romance. Hearts and flowers. Don’t you see?” I implore him. By this point, I am practically begging the big lug to understand and respond to my emotional needs. The least he can do is fake it politely.

Ignoring my heartfelt plea for chocolate-hoarding, bubble bath-loving female clichés like me the world over, my husband falls back into his comfort zone: logical analysis—like that ever got him anywhere with me.

“You know what your problem is?” my husband asks me rhetorically.

I close my eyes in anguish. I hate when my husband gets all uber-calm and reasonable. It gets on my last nerve and makes me want to throw things just for the heck of it.

“I have a feeling you’re about to tell me, sweetie. My advice: Pick your words carefully,” I caution him, ready to launch myself right into a full-blown, you-hurt-my-feelings snit.

“You’re high maintenance,” he declares, like this is a pronouncement God Almighty whispered personally right in his ear, “But you think you’re low maintenance. Worst combo ever.”

“I am not!” I defend myself indignantly.

“You absolutely are, but it’s okay. You’re worth it–most of the time,” he adds as a caveat. “How about a piggy-back ride? Would that do it for you? You can climb on a chair and get right up. I’m pretty sure I can handle that,” he offers as a compromise.

Frankly, I feel it is beneath me to respond to such a childish counter-offer, so I merely roll my eyes and make a scoffing sound with my throat to signal my flat-out rejection of that idea.

Leaning contemplatively back on the kitchen counter, one foot propped up on a bar stool, my husband crosses his arms in front of him and prepares for serious negotiating while I watch. I know this body language.

“What do I get if I sweep you off your feet?” he asks.

“I think there’s an emergency Toblerone bar in my underwear drawer,” I throw out half-heartedly, not overly concerned with rewarding such a reluctant hero.

“Toblerones do it for you–not me. What else you got?” he asks with that head tilt I’ve always loved.

“What do you want?” I demand, in no mood to be charmed.

“Get creative,” he responds.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I promise.

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10 Ways Southern Women Are Like Downton Abbey Women


  1. Southern women and Dowton Abbey women know that appearances are often more important than reality. I know plenty of Southern women who would help their friends move bodies in the middle of the night if some foreigner/Yankee had the bad manners to die in the wrong bed. You know the old saying: “Friends help one move. Best friends help one move bodies.”
  2. Southern women, like Downton women, believe that their roots are tied geographically to where their people were born. Southern women are always interested in tying your people to their people, and if they cannot, they are not overly concerned with knowing you. Genealogy is important. Have you ever met a Charlestonian from The Holy City? Enough said.
  3. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are always convinced they know best. They are bossy at a cellular level. It’s part of their God-given DNA, and you can examine generations of Southern women and their Downton counterparts to see evidence of this. I am bossy. My mother is bossy. My grandmother was bossy. We are here to help all those lucky enough to be born within our sphere of influence.
  4. Although the Great Britain of Downton Abbey fame seems to be dominated by men (Consider that pesky entailment of the estate, for example), underneath the surface, you will find a strong matriarchy at work—just like in the South. Ask any child under the age of 12, “Who is the boss of you?” The answer will be mama—not daddy.
  5. Southern women and Downton Abbey women are attractive. If they aren’t born that way, they know how to make themselves appear attractive, which is way more important. Even the sulky sister in Downton Abbey looks attractive after she gets a job. These women know the importance of costume changes, lipstick, a good sense of style, and fine jewelry. I think my fellow writer, Celia Rivenbark, says it best. When speaking of Southern women as compared to women from elsewhere, she says: “We’re just like you, only prettier.”
  6. Both Southern women and Downton Abbey women are able to do whatever has to be done: necessary murders, distasteful marriages, strange bedfellows, difficult politics, trying in-laws, eccentric relatives—whatever it takes to protect their homes and families.
  7. Southern women and Downton women know how to throw a party. Even if one is losing one’s house and fortune, for example, there is no reason not to go out in style with a big wedding. Use the good china; hire a great caterer, and wear a fabulous dress.
  8. Southern women and Downton women believe that good manners are a virtue in any endeavor. It is possible to face any calamity—cheating spouses, feuding sisters, possible jail time, financial ruin, even death—with grace, dignity, wit, and a really good hat.
  9. Southern women and Downton women are strong characters. They weather, endure, and get even more formidable with age. Who is your favorite Downton Abbey character? Violet, the Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith, right?

10. You don’t want to get on the bad side of Southern women or Downton Abbey women. They can hold a grudge for generations. It’s best to give them what they want the first time they ask. In the end, they’ll likely get what they want anyway, but you’ll get a gold star if you’re cooperative from the get-go. Believe me when I tell you: you want a gold star from a Southern woman.


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Pre-dawn Mopping


Is it wrong to mop at 5:30 am? What if it’s the only time I have to mop? Does that make a difference? Is pre-dawn mopping a sign of mental instability? After threatening to do so for years, am I finally, truly, losing my mind?

I hate summer. I do. I don’t care if all the rest of you love it. I dread it. It’s one long, hot, humid slog for me. Sure, I can summon up a vodka-and fruit-juice-induced smile when I have to, but my heart’s not in it. I don’t like to be hot. Even as a kid, I never liked baking in the sun like a beached whale. I like schedules, a bustling routine, and the threat of wind, cold, and the warmth of hearth and home to look forward to when the sun goes down early on winter evenings.

I know I’m in the minority on this, maybe a minority of one. Heard it. Don’t want to hear it again. When all my kids are home for summer, it’s a madhouse here. Nobody gets up at the same time. My kids have camps, activities, and summer jobs with weird hours. My teenagers believe they are entitled to stay out til curfew every night and then come home at midnight, turn on their stereos, shower, chat with friends, and watch movies til the wee hours—never mind that my husband and I still have the same work schedule as always. There are so many seatings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that I feel like the cook on a cruise ship.

I tell you this to explain how I ended up mopping at 5:30 am like it was a perfectly reasonable, sane, smart thing to do.

Every day, my goal is to do a bit of cleaning, about an hour’s worth, whenever I can fit it in. Mondays, I dust and clean glass. Party on! Tuesdays, it’s sweep and vacuum fun. Mopping and cursing on Wednesday. Thursdays are the worst: bathroom atrocities. Fridays are kitchen duty. Fridays are horrendous if I clean the stove and do a major fridge clean out, or they can be a slacker day with a mostly countertop clean. Depends on my mood. I like to keep Fridays flexible. It’s the beginning of the weekend, after all.

OF COURSE, I have to skip some days. The price for that: double dip with chores on another day. It’s not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it’s something—a bone to throw to the cleaning gods. I like to say I clean like the maid. In other words, I do a so-so job. I don’t clean like I live here and personally care about how clean things are. I clean like it’s my job to do it, and I do the least I can get away with and still get paid.

I’ve tried all sorts of mind games with house cleaning over the years, like splitting jobs with my husband and kids and hiring outside help when I could afford it, but I’ve never really found anything that worked for our family. The truth is: I’m a neat freak. My husband is neat, too, but only because he’s been married to me for 26 years. He does it to make me happy, but he doesn’t NEED the clean like I do. My kids are messy, filthy, disgusting creatures who feel no natural inclination toward cleanliness at all and who don’t care one bit what I think about that.

Therein lies the inevitable conflict. Although I awoke with joy to Wednesday morning mop day, I knew from experience that my kids would be racked out in bed until noon. I could wait around all day on their rooms to be vacant. I don’t know how this happened, honestly, but I have somehow been reduced to the status of highly educated hotel maid. I wait around every morning for the occupants to check out so I can clean their rooms, gather laundry, pick up trash and half-eaten food items, collect glassware and assorted flotsam and jetsam, and generally wonder how anyone who shares my DNA could leave a dribbling pudding cup in the bathroom.

I sat on the stairs to contemplate my options: Would I get the chair or life if I went in my kids’ rooms and knocked them into next week with my mop? Would it be worth the hassle of rousting them out of bed and getting them to pitch in, which is certainly the lesson a responsible parent would teach? Nope. I’m just too tired for that, I decided. Suffice it to say, even though I probably should have been, as usual, counting my blessings, I was not.

And, yes, I even make myself tired sometimes.

Then I had a mopping epiphany. My three teenagers sleep like the dead. (Which is another thing I blame them for, even though it’s illogical and unfair. They can sleep through anything: a noisy burglar, 4th of July fireworks, and tornado sirens. I battle insomnia on a nightly basis, and I’m convinced I could be a nicer parent if I could just get more sleep.) I knew without a doubt that I could open those bedroom doors, cruise in like a woman with a plan, mop, and the ungrateful wretches WOULD NEVER KNOW I WAS THERE. The floors would be dry before they poked their entitled tootsies from under the covers.

Grabbing my mop and bucket, I decided to go for it. I charged into my son’s bedroom, a woman on a mission with a space-launch-worthy deadline. Sure, it was a little early, but I was up, and I wanted my jobs out of the way. I made it all the way around the bed without waking the 6’3”, 185-pound lump sprawled diagonally across the bed. I finished the bathroom in between my boys’ rooms and was just about to retreat gleefully when I accidently slapped my soaking mop into the side of a long arm dangling over the edge of the bed.

An eye peeled open. I decided to brazen my way through the early morning interaction. I didn’t have a lot of choices.

“Mom?” my son growled.

“Good morning, son! It’s a beautiful day!” I announced.

One hairy eyeball slid from the top of my mismatched exercise clothes down to my hot-pink house slippers, over the mop I held defensively in front of me like a sword from Braveheart, and finally landed with a blink on the bucket of dirty water I clutched tightly to my side like I’d just baptized someone with it in the Jordan River.

“What are you doing in here, Mom?” my teenage son asked.

I decided to go with a cheery response.

“I’m mopping, of course. It’s Wednesday. I’ll be out in two minutes,” I responded.

“Seriously, Mom? It’s 5:30 in the morning. This is totally whacked. You know that, right?” he demanded in a sleepy voice.

“Well . . . yeah. Possibly. I’m doing the best I can, son,” I admitted with a sigh.

Sadly, this is who I am. I’m afraid my well-deserved epitaph is going to be like the ones we chuckle over while standing in line for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World: “Here lies Mel. She did the best she could,” or maybe, “Here lies Mel. She meant well.”


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