Doing Good, Doing Bad

It’s Sunday morning and I’m sitting here enjoying a little peace and quiet and a whole bunch of coffee. Saturday is typically the day when I rest and relax and enjoy my coffee but my Saturday this week was rather more eventful than not.  Because of this, I’m postponing church until the 6 p.m. service and enjoying my Saturday morning routine on Sunday. Since I haven’t blogged in a while, I thought it best if I caught everyone up on my doings as well.

Thus far, it’s been a pretty busy weekend.  Friday started things off with a group gathering at some guy’s house to meet the founder of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization. The story of this young lady is quite amazing. At the age of 19, after her sophomore year in college, she and several friends decided to go to Africa for the summer.

You might well imagine that a young sorority girl might not care for the African heat, the mosquitos or the poverty and, it’s true, the young lady in question did not. But through a series of circumstances, she came in contact with a Ugandan woman overwhelmed by trying to care for a group of young orphans and decided she needed to help her in some way.

I won’t recount the story here but her intention to simply leave a little money and go her own way turned into a crusade to build a house for the orphans. That snowballed into the building of an orphange to house 180 kids and that grew into a non-profit responsible for five orphanages in Uganda.

The whole story is pretty impressive and certainly bears all the hallmarks of a tale in which God is at work in a big way. The thing that struck me is that she really didn’t want to do it, much as you and I don’t want to do things that might interfere with our own selfish wants and desires. But, because she said yes rather than no, God has wrought an amazing work from her efforts. It makes me wonder what opportunities I’ve turned down simply by saying no instead of yes. I encourage you to visit the site and watch some of the videos. I know we’re all inundated with images of Sally Strother and starving children in Africa but I think you’ll be struck by the founder’s tale.

And, if you are touched by the story and want to help, you can get a great deal at Tom’s Shoes. If you buy a pair of shoes through the website, Tom’s will donate $8.00 dollars and a pair of shoes to the cause. I am now eagerly awaiting the pair I purchased this morning. I got the “Brown Leaves”. Not sure I’ll wear them but, what the heck. It’s for a good cause.

So, that was Friday. Saturday was more self-centered. I didn’t get to hang in and drink coffee but did have a lot of fun. My friend Pepper invited me to accompany her and her beau to the Inman Park Festival and parade. I’d heard the parade was a lot of fun but have not had the chance previously to attend. The morning started with a bruncheon at her friend’s house and then we walked over to the parade route.

What with the large crowd, it was pretty difficult to find a good spot to watch the parade go by.  It was hot and we were being jostled and bumped and pushed and just generally having a disagreeable time.  As we made our way through the crowd, we spotted this beautiful mansion fronting the parade route. The house had a lovely rooftop patio and we thought it would be a great place from which to watch the parade, especially seeing as how there was a group of people gathered upon it to watch the parade.

What a great place to watch a parade!
What a great place to watch a parade!

We were definitely covetous of their view and their roost safely out of reach of the crowd.

We decided that, were we to loiter around the gate long enough, we could meet people as they were going in and score some kind of invitation to the gathering. So we loitered.

Much to our chagrin, many of the attendees failed to acknowledge our presence as they were climbing the stairs and passing within. It was at this time that we decided to do something bold. We simply invited ourselves.

Now, this is not something I would normally do.  Abiding by the rules is something deeply ingrained in my nature. When I’m out hiking and a sign says “don’t climb on the rocks”, I typically don’t climb on the rocks, even if no one is looking. And when someone puts up an eight-foot iron and brick wall around their beautifully manicured lawn, I tend to stay outside of it. Especially when someone is looking.

But not today. Pepper and Pete (her beau) led the way and I, sucking up my inhibitions, followed. I did tarry briefly before crossing the threshold of the gate. Apparently I’m much like a vampire. If you don’t invite me in, I have a hard time inviting myself.

Pete and Pepper surely thought I would blow their cover. The way to invite yourself to someone elses’ party is to act like you belong there. If you act like you belong, no one questions your presence. If you hesitate and look like you’re out of place, people notice and question whether or not you should be there. Knowing this, I sucked it up, kicked the rules in the stomach and passed within.

We strode boldly across the lawn to the front steps. We climbed the front steps to the porch. We crossed the porch in through the open doors, up two flights of stairs and into the line of people waiting to get on the roof. No one said a thing. We got several smiles and greetings that we returned, climbed onto the roof, found a good perch for viewing and proceeded to enjoy ourselves. It was awesome.

This was our view:

The crowd of peasants below.
The crowd of peasants below.

As you might gather from the photo, the view was not quite as grand as we imagined from the street. You really couldn’t see the parade. All you could see was the mass of people lining the route.

It was also just as hot on the roof and perhaps even more so since the sunlight was reflected off tarred shingles. There was a pleasant breeze but, after half-an-hour of mixing and mingling, we missed the vibrancy of the milling humanity. The thrill of naked and willful tresspassing faded and we descended from our perch, having conquered the castle of the bourgeoisie.

Plus, we were never able to successfully locate the keg. We were pretty sure there was one in the house somewhere.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on porches and patios, drinking and dining and whiling away the hours. It was a pleasant way to spend a day.

Now I have to get cleaned up to do it all again. Friend Kim is coming over and we’re traipsing down to the park. It’ll be good to get in some exercise but, at this point, the last thing I need is more sun. I missed a spot with the sunscreen yesterday and I look like someone tried to press the wrinkles out of my forehead with an actual iron. Either that or I’ve been suffering from spousal abuse. I look forward to the liver spots and cancerous growths of my age.

Until then, I’ll slather on more sunscreen and wear a hat. Maybe somebody will come up with a cure for all these things in the interim period. Sure hope so.

Anyway, I’m signing off. See you all soon. Thanks for stopping in. Even if you weren’t invited.

The Calm Before the Storm

It’s 11:43 a.m. I have, I think, roughly forty-five minutes before the Rug Rats return. Forty-five minutes of peace and calm before the madness begins again. Forty-five minutes until the shouting, screaming, hitting, kicking, climbing, jumping, crying, begging, laughing, dancing, candy-consuming little bundles of joy burst through the door screaming for Uncle Chawee. From that point on, I will be under assault by children.

Olin will come running to pounce on my peaceful rest and composure. He’ll climb onto it’s shoulders and beat it away with a tattoo of drumming hands, relentless in his desire to display his violent affection.  He’ll screech and whine and beg and plead until either he is allowed to play video games or until I play a video game whilst he watches, offering a non-stop stream of loud and repetitive advice.  I generally try to encourage him to play but he insists that I watch, ensuring my inability to concentrate on anything by constantly demanding that I “watch this!” “Watch this, Uncle Chawee! Watch! Are you watching? Watch me! You’re not watching. Look at me!”

Competing for my attention will be big sister Tato. (Tato used to be Toto but the littliest indian now refers to her as Tato. So will I.) Tato will be right behind little brother. As soon as his attention is split between me and the game, she’ll charge. “Will you play a game with me? Can we play cards? Will you come up to my room? You want to play “Scrabble”? Come with me! Come with me!”

This will, of course, infuriate Olin. “Chawee is watching me! Chawee! Look what I can do! Watch me! Watch me!”

And then the fight will start. Olin will insist I watch. Tato will insist I play with her. And the Littlest Indian, rapidly becoming my favorite of the three, will watch or do his own thing. He is the only one that does not appear to need me as a source of entertainment.  He’s pretty self-contained.

Occasionally he’ll join the fray, generally as an unwilling participant or pawn. He’s pushed aside, picked up and moved, commanded to act, commanded to stop acting or wielded as weapon or king-maker.  Our usual interaction involves him making a series of indistinguishable noises that approximate speech, mumbled around the shield of his pacifier.  I have no idea what he’s saying most of the time. His preferred method of communication is a whining grunt and a pointing finger.  “Uh! Uh!” <Finger point>. I generally nod and verbalize my agreement. This typically satisfies him and he goes about his business. We get along well.

***

I think there’s more to be said in this post but I hear a car door. At least I think it’s a car door. My peace is about to be shattered and time for blogging is coming to an end.  Maybe there will be more tonight when they finally drift away to bed.  One can only hope.

My fight or flight instinct is kicking in. Maybe I should hide. But where? The only place I’m safe is…ah, yes…the bathroom.  It’s the one private place for which they have a smidgin of respect.  I still have to lock the door and they hover outside the door waiting impatiently for me to emerge. They shout and bang on the door and shove little fingers underneath it, begging me to come out, but they can’t physically get to me while I’m in there.

But that won’t stop them from trying.

Too late. Tato is here. “Peaceful time is over!”,  she says.

Don’t I know it.

Going Home

Good evening! Not sure what I’m here to post but I figured I shouldn’t let another evening go by without putting something in this space. Do I have anything to say? Not really. I can’t say that ever stopped me from speaking in the past. Why should it stop me now?

Let’s deal with the minutia of the day, shall we? First off, and apropos of nothing, I forgot my belt this morning. It used to be that wearing a belt was not  a requirement in my daily dress. Now I find that I feel naked without it. I was self-conscious about my lack of accoutrement all day long. Kinda’ threw me off my game. Not quite as badly as wearing my underpants backwards all day but definitely in the same vein. Maybe I should start a checklist in the mornings to make sure I have everything I need and it’s all right-side forward before I leave the house every day.  Probably not a bad idea.

Song of the morning was “Berlin” by Intercept. I’ve blogged the lyrics to this song once already but it hasn’t made the morning mind rotation until now. It was rapidly overwhelmed upon wakefulness by an old camp favorite, “Rejoice in the Lord Always”. That’s a happy tune for a morning. It didn’t help me remember my belt but it was cheerful.

Heading home to North Carolina this weekend and looking forward to that in the extreme. In case you’ve been living under a rock or outside the United States, UNC is in the Final Four this weekend. The last time they won the championship, big brother Bigwig, niece Toto and I were in the Dean Dome watching the game on the big screen.

Toto was about four at the time and, with two minutes remaining in the game, had had enough. She was whining and ready to go home. With one minute to go in the game, the partisan crowd started to awaken to the fact that we were going to win and began to vocalize the same. Toto woke up immediately and did her best sorority girl impersonation all the way to Franklin Street. It was good times. Hopefully we can repeat the experience for the benefit of her little brother.

There are also others to see whilst I’m in NC.  I’m heading the beach for a few days with Tiger and Bee for our sorta’ annual outing.  I couldn’t make last year but we spent a lot of quality time the year previous MySpacing at one another from across the room. I hope Bee has a laptop this time because I’m certain we’ll Facebook the hell out of beach other this time.

Besides Tiger and Bee, I’ve got to see if I can’t make time for a few other friends while I’m traveling. Pooh for one. Haven’t seen her in some years and it’ll be good to catch up.

Jeffrey for another. Haven’t seen him in even more years. I don’t think I’ve seen him since our graduation from high school, really.  Jeffrey is one of my first, and oldest, friends.  I’ve been chatting some with him on Facebook and it’s really taken me back. I’ve been trying to think of a time when Jeffrey wasn’t my friend and I don’t seem to be able to remember that far back.  He just always seems to have been there. Since Kindgergarten at least. It seems like whatever I think about from my youth, Jeffrey was part of it. He was part of school, part of the swimming pool…just part of life.

And he always seems to have had a moustache, at least if my memory is correct. Jeffrey is one of those guys that, even when he’s clean shaven, you’d swear he had a moustache. It’ s like a moustache of the soul. It’s just part of who he is. I’m pretty sure it’s always been there, though not always visibly. Even when we were five. I’m pretty sure.

Anyway, Jeffrey was my first best friend. I remember this very clearly. David S., Steve Y., Jeffrey and I were…well, best friends, but once, when we were playing kickball, David turns to Steve and claimed him as his “best” friend. I remember feeling very territorial and, much as Britain and France raced one another to colonize the globe, I felt that I needed to call dibs on a best friend.  I turned to Jeffrey and asked if he wanted to be best friends, he said yes and that was that. We were best friends.

All four of us. But in pairs.

For a while there, it seems like we did everything together. We hung out at the pool in the summers, playing “Black Magic” or ping pong or whatever. We’d have sleepovers at somebodies house, doing stupid things like eating chili and then taking a laxative, just for “shits and giggles”. That was at David’s. At Jeffrey’s…well. I remember breaking into his father’s liquor cabinet once. That might’ve been the same night we spent mooning cars on the highway.

Yeah. That sounds plausible.

Funny thing is, I remember breaking into his father’s liquor cabinet but I don’t remember actually drinking. I’m pretty sure we didn’t. At least, I’m pretty sure I didn’t. I dunno. Maybe I did.

I’m one-hundred percent certain that we spent a good hour mooning cars on the highway, however. That was good times.

Sorry, Ma.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to some time in NC. I miss my folks and I miss my friends and I have to say that, for the first time in my 38 years, I’m a little homesick. Maybe I’ve been spending too much time in the past lately, remembering way back when. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe everybody else is getting old. Whatever it is, it’ll be good to go home again, if just for a while.

I think that’s it for me, folk. Bedtime beckons. Good night to all and, to those in NC, see you soon.

My Father, My Self

Do you ever have those days when you wake up just knowing it’s not going to be the best day in the world. That was how I woke up this morning. I was pissed off at the world as soon as I opened my eyes. Mainly I was aggravated that I had to open my eyes.

Maybe I was annoyed that my landlady was going to swing by to spray for bugs and my home was a complete and utter disaster. In addition to getting myself ready for work, I had to rush around stuffing things into hampers, closests, trash cans and dish washers. My landlady knows that I’m not the greatest house keeper in the world, and she doesn’t care, but I feel that the apartment must be at least presentable when she comes every month. She gives me a little less than 12 hours notice, typically, so I don’t have a great deal of time to prepare.

If I’m a poor housekeeper, and I am, it’s largely because I am the son of my father. My father, as I have noted previously, is the world’s worst house keeper. He is the perfect combination of unmotivated and blind. I’m sure it’s one of my mother’s great frustrations in life.

My father is also absent minded and given to doing things like searching the house for his reading glasses whilst they are perched atop his head. It was a great game for us. He’d ask if we’d seen his glasses and then we’d send him all over the house with places we had seen them last. We’d have him tearing the house apart for half-an-hour before he realized he was wearing them the entire time.

I’m sometimes like my father in this respect. I’m not nearly as bad as he is at misplacing things. My oldest brother and sister are much more like him in that respect. Each of them has lost their keys, wallet, drivers license more times than I care to count. I am still prone to goofiness though. I can’t help it. It’s genetic.

Like this morning.

I wake up annoyed and, therefore, somewhat distracted. I get myself together, get the apartment somewhat presentable and get out the door for work. I get to work and everyone wants to talk to me. This only makes me more annoyed. All I want to do is put on my headphones, drink my coffee and get my work done.

Along about 11:30, after my coffee has had a chance to do its work, I head into the mens room. I’m sitting there, enjoying my quality time, when I note the tag in the front of my underwear. “That’s strange”, I think. “The tag is usually in the back. Must be because I’m wearing the fancy Calvin Klein underpants.”

Notice anything wrong with this picture?
Notice anything wrong with this picture?

Then I noted the crotch flap in the “rear” of my boxers. “Son of a…” Yes, in my rush to get myself and my home in order, I’d put my underpants on backwards. And here I was just assuming they were the kind that didn’t have the easy access crotch flap.

The rest of the day got little better. It’s hard to have a good day when your underpants are on backwards. Everything is just a little off all day. Especially when you have a tiny metal snap digging into your posterior every time you sit down.

All-in-all, I’ll be happy to have this day behind me. I did finally make it home to turn my underpants but the damage to the day had been done. There was no salvaging it.

Hopefully, tomorrow will have a better beginning. If not, I have only myself, and my father, to blame.

I Made Butter

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about the importance of setting goals in life. Setting goals and trying to reach them is how we grow in life and how we keep from stagnating. We talked about how important it is to continue to learn things just so we can keep moving forward.

One of my goals for this year is to learn how to make things. Mostly the things I want to learn to make are food or kitchen related.  I don’t know why, exactly. I’ve never been the picture of the domestic in the kitchen. I can cook if pressed and will do so if I have someone for whom I can cook. If it’s just me feeding myself, my philosophy has largely been to put it in a bowl, pour milk over it and consume. It’s quick, it’s easy and I’m perfectly happy with it. My roots in the kitchen run deep, though.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have always been at home in the kitchen.  My family has never been rich but recipes and cooking skills have been handed down with pride from one generation to the next. To hear the stories told, the matriarch of the previous generation was always more accomplished when it came to cooking. I regret that I can’t have Grandmamma (that’s “grand maw maw”) Harris’ biscuits. Apparently they were heavenly. My grandmother, Mamma (“maw maw”), made great biscuits but always claimed her mother’s were better. She herself made great meringue pies that my mother claims she can’t duplicate. Mom makes things like peanut brittle and pear honey and has written a cookbook with all the “family” recipes. I think she’s gotten more active in the kitchen since her retirement.

My father also isn’t too bad in the kitchen. He tells stories of his Grandmother Holloway and her icebox rolls and talks of how he would compete with his cousin to see who could eat more of them in one sitting. His own cooking is always a bit of an experiment, however. You never really know what you are going to end up with when he fires up a burner.  We like to tell the tale of when my father took canned tuna and married it to canned fruit cocktail and presented it as a meal. I personally don’t remember it but the story is told on a fairly regular basis whenever the family gathers. Rumor has it that it was as gross as it sounds.

I do remember muffins made with pistachio pudding mix and a particularly patriotic red, white and blue cake.  There was fresh made snow cream and grape syrup made from melted Smuckers.  He made us milkshakes that were basically colored milk with a little sugar in it. Most of Pop’s magic was accomplished with a generous dash of food coloring, now that I think of it.  But he was always cooking up something new.

Given that history, I feel like I’ve been letting down the side when it comes to the kitchen. I feel that it’s incumbent upon me to learn what I can in the kitchen in order to preserve the heritage and so that I can leave the same to my own children one day, God willing that I ever have any of my own. So I set a goal to learn how to make things

Tonight, I made butter. I have always had an appreciation for homemade foods, whether it be beer or bread or whatever. They seem to satisfy the palette as well as the soul. There’s little better than real butter on a fresh piece of bread and I know my brother has made butter in the the past. I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. Certainly the instructions for making butter make it seem relatively straightforward. “Put whipping cream in a jar. Shake like mad.”

Shake like mad? This I can do.

I made a run to Trader Joe’s today in preparation for the assault on Mt. Butter. Two half-pints of whipping cream, a strainer and  a Mason jar. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, there were no Mason jars to be had at either of the two locations I tried. I settled on a plastic bottle that doubles as a measuring cup and bore a “shaker” label.

This becomes a crucial piece of information a little later in the story. A plastic shaker is not the equivalent of a Mason jar.

Anyway, I get home and launch into a full scale cleaning of the kitchen. It seems improper to make anything in a disorganized kitchen. Maybe this was my OCD coming out or maybe it was just a delay tactic. I don’t know. I had to wait for the whipping cream to reach room temperature so I couldn’t get an immediate start anyway.

I cleaned my refrigerator, washing all the shelves and organizing my condiments by size and type.  I reorganized my pots and pans.  I unloaded the dishwasher. I took out the garbage. Twice.  I threw out no less then 7 two year-old bottles of salad dressing.

This last bit is odd as I do not eat salad, ever. Why I had 7 bottles of the stuff, I’ll never know. I think it’s because I’m a bachelor and bachelors are required, by law, to have a refrigerator full of condiments and beer.  I have three bottles of mayonnaise, six things of mustard (various types and flavors), two jars of pickles, four things of strawberry jam, four bottles of lime juice, three bottles of lemon juice, two unopened containers of maraschino cherries and two equally pristine containers of salsa. Somehow these things accumulate. I suspect them of multiplying through secret condiment carnality whenever the refrigerator door is closed.

I also have one metric ton of butter. Literally. The last thing I need is butter. The picture below is all the butter that was already in my fridge.

The butter that was already in my refrigerator.
The butter that was already in my refrigerator.

Why do I want to make butter, for crying out loud? I might as well make my own mustard.

***

Having appeased the obsessive compulsive voices in my head, I was ready to proceed. I poured the now lukewarm whipping cream into my shaker, pressed down the lid and started to shake. The instructions I’ve read called for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes of vigorous agitation and, being me, I assumed 45 was more appropriate than 15. I settled in for three-quarters of an hour of vicious and aggressive palsy.

45 minutes is a long time to shake anything. I quickly decided I was going to have to find something I could do with my unoccupied hand…k. Let me stop right there. I know some of you and I know where your minds are right now. Stop it. “Master butterer” jokes are just too easy at this point.

*Ahem*. As I was saying, I quickly decided I was going to have to find an alternate task I could accomplish whilst continuing to churn my butter. Updating my Facebook status happened to be the first thing that came to me,  as I felt it necessary for the entire world to know that, yes, I was following up on my promise to make butter.

This is when I took my eye off the ball. We’ve already established that a plastic shaker does not a Mason jar make. Whereas a Mason jar has a nicely threaded lid that can be screwed on tightly, a plastic shaker has a lid that snaps shut. Given this, it is possible for the lid to be removed by the simple application of repeated vertical force.

I found this out the hard way.

Five minutes later, carpets once again free of whipping cream and string of swear words fading into echos, I resumed my activity with one finger firmly atop the container. For the next half-an-hour, I churned.

Eventually, I began to feel the thumping of something more than whipping cream in the jar.  I opened the container and poured the whole mess into a strainer. I probably got two or three teaspoons of buttermilk but, by and large, the contents of the shaker were solid. I wanted to be sure, however, so I scooped it all back into the jar and shook it for another five minutes. Can’t be to sure about these things, right?

Straining the buttery goodness.
Straining the buttery goodness.

I also drank the buttermilk, by the way. It was a lot sweeter than the buttermilk from the store. The one time I remember being given buttermilk, it was really disgusting. This wasn’t bad at all. I kinda’ wish there’d been more.

Anyway, I strained it all out again, put it all back and started mixing in cold water to wash out the remaining cream. Leaving in the cream causes the butter to turn rancid faster, so I’ve read. Being a tad bit on the cautious side, I repeated this step for something like 15 minutes. There shall be no rancifying cream in my butter if I have anything to do about it.

Lastly, I strained out all the water, created a container from some aluminum foil, packed the butter in and dumped it in the fridge to solidify. I have to say, it turned out really well. I made myself some toast and eggs and the butter tasted really fresh. It actually tasted like butter too. This was something of a relief and a surprise to me. I was pretty sure I’d failed.

Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.
Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.

Except for the minor catastrophe involving the flying lid, it was a fairly satisfying endeavor. I’m sure I’ll repeat the experiment some time in the future. Hopefully this is just the beginning of my activity in the kitchen. One of these days, I’d like to make my own bread to go with the butter. If I ever make that happen, I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

Until then, I raise my glass to those that have gone before me. To my mother and father, to my grandmother and my great-grandmothers, I honor you for the legacy you have passed down to me and I will strive to keep it alive for the next generation of Staffords, Holloways, Harris’ and Wrights.  So help me God.