Cutting edge

Tonight marks the start of the traditional pre-Christmas “Where did I put the scissors?” season.

It starts each year just a few days after I buy enough Christmas presents to decide it’s a good time to start wrapping some. It ends with my next visit to Dollar General.

There was a time when scissors played an important role in my life.

One of my biggest memories of Hurricane Betsy, aside from peeing in the back yard during the eye of the hurricane (a tradition that I have upheld over the decades), was the destruction of my third-grade classroom along with my school box, and special dispensation from the principal that we could have pointed scissors.

Pointed scissors made me feel almost grown up. That is until I grew up and found I rarely had need for scissors.

I remember carefully wielding scissors when I was 13 so I could put a “Home Is Where the Miller Is” beer ad from a magazine onto the homemade waste paper basket I made at Vacation Bible School.

Who knew that just a few years later, scissors would be so unimportant to me that I’d end up buying a new pair almost every year, especially these last few years.

I’m sure they’re around here somewhere, but they’re not where I think I would usually put them. I checked all the drawers, and looked under the piles of paper on my desk and dresser.

I’ll look again in the morning. But at $1 a pair at Dollar General, my time is better spent on just buying a new pair than trying to find the old ones. They’ll resurface at some point during the next year. And I’ll make a mental note to put them in  a place where I will find them later on. But I rarely find them again.

With new scissors, I’ll be able to sit on the floor and wrap presents tomorrow night. And when I’m done, I’ll put the scissors where I think they belong. And over the next week, I’ll go to that spot whenever I need to wrap more gifts. But as the Christmas season fades, so does my recollection of where I put the scissors.

One of these years, I’ll put them in the same place as the tape, which I usually find three rolls of when I’m looking for the scissors.

Cabin in the woods

“What’s in a name,” Mr. Shakespeare once asked. “Good question,” I reply.

I’ve been calling the building on my property a shed or a barn interchangeably since I bought the land in June. As of Friday night, it’s a cabin.

I slept there Friday night.

A shed is a place to store things. A barn has much the same role. But a cabin is a dwelling, where people eat, drink and sleep. And I have done all three there.

It’s my cabin. In the woods.

It’s not pretty. And it’s pretty drafty and got too cold for me to comfortably stay there Saturday night, but that’s all fixable. It will be replaced over the next year. But for now, I have a place of my own once again. I could stay there if I had to.

I’ll never forget the feeling in 1993, when, at the age of 35, I bought my first house. Mine. Not the landlord’s. That’s when I discovered that cutting grass isn’t as much a chore when it’s your own grass.

That feeling is back now.  It only gets better from here.

Happy Thanksgiving

With this being the first holiday since my mom died, I decided a simple Thanksgiving at home alone would do me some good.

Mom’s been gone for a little more than two months. Not being able to call her and talk has been the hardest adjustment since then, especially when it comes to cooking. My mom gave me the confidence to cook when I was young and served as a sounding board whenever I tried cooking something new.

And she made the best homemade noodles you’ll ever eat. I don’t like kneading dough, so I never tried to make her noodles, though when I told her about the Amish store near my property in Charlotte, Tenn., she told me that her family’s noodle recipe came from the Amish and I could probably buy dried noodles there and just cook them in chicken broth to get the same result.

Next time.

This year, I opted for a simple dish I first had when Carolyn’s aunt made it for us one Sunday. Technically, it’s chicken casserole, but it uses stuffing on top, so it smells like Thanksgiving, which is what we always called it.

Here’s the recipe, which came off of a box of Stove Top stuffing about 15 years ago:

  • 1-1/4 cups  hot water
  • 1 pkg.  (6 oz.) Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken
  • 1-1/2 lb.  boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 can  (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 to 2/3 of the empty soup can filled with milk

Heat oven to 400ºF.

Bring water to boil in a medium sauce pan, add stuffing mix, stir just until moistened, remove from heat and set aside covered for 5 minutes.

Place chicken pieces in 13×9-inch baking dish.

Mix soup and milk in a bowl until blended; pour over chicken.

Top with stuffing.

Bake 30 min. or until chicken is done.

This makes enough to feed 6 people. I haven’t figured out yet how to half the soup, so I have plenty of leftovers.

My candied yams recipe for 2 was adapted from the recipe on the can:

  • 1 15 oz can of Bruce’s yams in syrup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup of syrup from the yams
  • half a stick of butter (1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 pound of crushed toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Open the can of yams and pour 1/3 of a cup of the syrup into a measuring cup, discard the rest

Mix the syrup, sugar and butter in a small sauce pan and heat until blended

Put the yams in the bottom of a shallow baking dish and pour the syrup mixture over the yams.

Sprinkle the pecans over the top

Cook for 25-30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Since I had two dished to bake today, I set the thermostat at 375, pulled the yams out after 25 minutes and upped the temperature to 400 for the last 5 minutes for the chicken.

They came out well. I heated up a small can of green beans in chicken broth and made deviled eggs while the other stuff was in the oven. Store bought bread and a slice of pumpkin pie I baked last night made a meal my mom would be proud of.

Happy Thanksgiving

Doing a little jig

When I was a kid, one of the best ways to tell if my dad was in a fun mood was if he was singing a nonsensical song. He had several, but second to his favorite “chicken in the bread pan pecking out dough” was “do a little jig and zig a little zag, come on down for the Sugar Foot Rag.”

They made sense to him because he’d heard someone else sing them before. We didn’t have the internet back in the day and WTIX didn’t play them on the AM radio. We just thought he made them up.

And he kind of did, because he would change the words to fit his mood or whatever he found funny at the time and they rarely had the exact same lyrics each time he sang them. He still sings them today. But I digress.

I was singing one of my dad’s versions of Sugar Foot Rag this afternoon. I bought a little jig, a Kreg jig, to be exact.

Kreg makes lots of jigs. I first saw them on TV 10 or 15 years ago and thought it would be a great tool for someone like me.

When they were divvying up the DNA, I got my dad’s metalworking gene, but the woodworking gene went to my brother (who also got the metalworking gene. Hey, wait a minute.)

My brother has helped me learn, though. Once he suggested I buy a long 1×4 and two c-clamps to use with my circular saw, rather than spend all kinds of money on a table saw. In a day, I was ripping the straightest cuts ever.

I picked up a little Kreg jig at Lowe’s (Model R3) and used it to attach a base to my homemade TV antenna.

I’ve been wanting to add a base to my antenna for five years. But while my brother’s advice on straight-edges empowered me to install attic flooring several years ago, his advice on attaching a base to the long wooden pole I use for my antenna wasn’t as empowering.

“Just drill some holes through the base and countersink some screws,” didn’t have the same effect. I had a vision of the 7-foot plus thing toppling over because I didn’t countersink enough. So it has sat on a back burner for a while.

I saw the Kreg jigs gain more popularity on DIY TV shows over the past few years, but their $100 plus cost always kept them on the “neat to have” list rather than the list for “need to have.”

Watching the Woodsmith’s Shop yesterday reminded me that the Kreg jigs could help me. And I discovered that I could do it with a smaller, portable jig that didn’t cost $100. If you want the generic name, it’s called a pocket-hole jig.

Portable comes in handy when you live in an apartment and your workshop is 50 miles away, like mine is up on the ridge. So on the way home after a rainy-day visit to the ridge today, I stopped at Lowe’s to look at things I need for this coming weekend on the property and picked up the R3 jig and a 2-foot long piece of oak 1×12.

As soon as I got home, I did a little jig and zigged a little zag, and within 5 minutes I had a nice looking 90-degree connection between the antenna post and the base.

It’s not finished. I want to add some stiffeners at the base and then seal the wood and drill some holes to permanently attach the antenna top. But it’s operational and ready for the next Saturday that I decide to just lay on the couch and watch the Saturday DIY home improvement and cooking shows on PBS and the TV signal acts up.

One foot, two foot, slew foot drag, build your own antenna with the Sugar Foot Rag ….

Just in case …

The call came as I was helping my dad get ready for my mom’s funeral.

“Can you find the angel that Darren gave momma? I want to put it in the casket with her.”

It was my sister Angie. Her husband Darren bought little stone angels for each of us before he succumbed to cancer three years ago. The  inscription on it says, “I will never leave you …” Mine is on my dresser at home, right next to my change dish.

“No problem,” I answered. “Do you know where she kept it?”

“It’s either in her purse or in her jewelry box.”

“I’ll find it,” I said before hanging up.

We had to leave for the funeral in a little more than an hour. Plenty of time to find the angel and help daddy.

Mom’s purse was where she always kept it, next to the end table that sat between her chair and daddy’s. There was just an empty space where her chair had been, a casualty of moving a hospital bed into the living room as her cancer worsened. The hospital bed was gone now.

Mom always kept her purse nearby, just in case something happened. One of my favorite pictures from my wedding is of my parents dancing. You can see momma’s purse strap on her shoulder.

The purse she had now is a lovely Coach purse that my youngest sister Chuty bought for her last year. I went through all of the compartments.

She kept things in it that she might need one day. There was balled up tissue. Lots of it. No telling what it was used for, but if there was still some use to something, momma held on to it, just in case.

There were pennies and nickles and dimes, a few quarters. Various scraps of paper. A couple of ink pens. Her ID and her wallet.

Momma hadn’t driven in decades, but she kept a set of keys in her purse, just in case. And cough drops. There were a dozen or so cough drops in there. Sugar-free.

Momma never went anywhere without cough drops, even after the nurses told her to quit eating artificial sweeteners after the cancer spread to her liver. We found even more in the compartment of her walker, where she also stashed the chocolate candy the nurses told her she shouldn’t eat, too.

Momma smoked most of her life, only quitting after her heart attack seven years ago. She had COPD and was on oxygen since the heart attack, taking breathing treatments three or four times a day. But she always blamed her cough on allergies. Cough drops made her feel better.

No stone angel from Darren in the purse, though.

My dad pointed me to momma’s jewelry box on the dresser in their bedroom. Sitting on top was the As Seen on TV hearing aid I gave momma for Christmas.

Her hearing was failing her for years but she wouldn’t see about getting a hearing aid because Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aids.

When I had to upgrade from one hearing aid to two about four years ago, she wanted me to give her my old hearing aid. It was a form-fitting, in-the-ear model, built using a wax impression of my ear canal.

“It won’t fit your ear,” I could hear me telling her and wishing now that I had given it to her. (This may come as a shock, but I can be a know-it-all, sometimes.)

“Plus,” I continued in the conversation running through my memory, “it’s programmed for my hearing problems, so it wouldn’t really help you without changing the programming.”

This past Christmas, I picked up an As Seen on TV hearing aid model that she saw on TV and said she wanted. I gave it to her for Christmas. I have never seen her smile that big before. I have a picture of her opening the present. I’ll cherish it forever.

Did it help her hear better? I doubt it, but she kept it on her jewelry box which made me smile and softly cry at the same time.

Darren’s stone angel was just inside her jewelry box. I picked the angel up and put it in my pants pocket. I put the jewelry box back where momma kept it and started to put the hearing aid on top. But in a last-second decision, I pocketed it, too.

I finished helping dad get dressed and just before we left the house, I took some of momma’s cough drops out of her purse and put them in my pocket.

We got to the church with plenty of time to spare. I handed Angie momma’s angel as we entered the church’s side door. The funeral directors brought momma’s casket in and opened it for the family viewing.

Momma was beautiful. She was wearing the dress my sister Wanda gave her when mom and dad renewed their wedding vows in the same church almost four years earlier for their 60th anniversary. Her hair dresser, Lori, did a great job on her hair and momma looked 30 years younger without worry creasing her brow. My mom was a notorious worrier.

Angie put the angel under momma’s clasped fingers and kissed her.

As I leaned over to kiss momma, I tucked the hearing aid and cough drops under the edge of her pillow.

“Just in case,” I whispered as I kissed my mom goodbye.

When I was a kid, this was my favorite time of the year.

All the new car models came out in late September, along with all the new season of TV shows.I think they were timed to coincide and can still hum along to “See the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet.”

Football season started this time of year, followed in a few weeks by the start up of the sugar cane harvest. That always brought Leighton Sugar Mill’s melodious steam whistle. A long, low blast waking us up at 6 a.m. and another calling us home at 6 p.m. every day of the week into the end of the harvest in December.

The Sears Christmas catalog wouldn’t be far off either. It was as thick as the New Orleans phone book, jam-packed with hopes and dreams. I’d read it by flashlight under the covers late into the night.

Fall was in the air and it was exciting.

These days, not so much.

New car models come out with no real rhyme or reason, driven by market studies.

New TV shows come and go. Sure, the new season starts in the fall for some shows. But the shows I really like,  Downton Abbey, Longmire, Big Brother and Under the Dome, debut midseason. Duck Dynasty manages to cram two seasons into a year these days.

The nearest sugar mill is 600 miles away and I haven’t seen a Sears Wishbook in 20 years.

All is not lost, though.

I got the new Harbor Freight Tools sales catalog in the mail today. You can get a welding helmet for under $30, decent sized solar panels for under $50.

I think I’ll grab a flashlight and read it under the covers tonight.

Yeah, though I walk …

This Virginia Tech fan is my new hero …


Virginia Tech wins at Ohio State


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