You Gotta Laugh

Dixie unfinished project low resIn addition to Life’s Loose Threads, I also write a regular column for 4 Houston area newspapers. The column is called You Gotta Laugh. Can’t believe I’ve had the privilege of writing it for the past 21 years!

Check back here frequently for the lastest columns that I have written for Tribune Newspaper Group.  Here are the most recent:

March 25, 2014

Celebrating the number 400

Today I Googled the significance of the number 400. Did you know the Roman numeral for 400 is CD … and also CCCC? The article mentioned they work interchangeably well. Who knew? My engineer/husband says don’t believe everything you read on the Internet. He says CD is the correct Roman numeral for 400. CCCC is not. The Count on Sesame Street would be proud.

For me the large number is also a personal milestone. Cue the colorful streamers, annoying noisemakers and pointy party hats! This is my 400th “You Gotta Laugh” column published. I know … I can’t believe it either. It just kinda snuck up on me.

It all started late during the last century. I was taking classes at the local community college as a non-traditional (code word for older and enthusiastic) student during the 90’s. After taking a Reporting class, I started working part-time at our hometown newspaper. My teacher, and also the local newspaper editor back then, was the lovely Cynthia Calvert. She taught several communications classes at the college. The class required writing a variety of assigned newspaper stories such as hard news, feature (my personal favorite) and sports. Student name and title of “contributing writer” appeared right under the headline. It was pretty exciting stuff with which to build a portfolio and I was hooked like a bass through the right cheek.

The most difficult and dreaded newspaper story I had to write for the class was the sports one. I was assigned a girl softball pitcher from our local high school. She was not a talker, as in try squeezing a whole watermelon through a key hole. Couple that with my not knowing a thing about high school softball. It was a very short article.

After the class was over, I stayed on working part-time at the newspaper. I answered telephones, typed up stories and wrote a lot! Perched on a shelf at the house are actually a couple of binders full of stuff I wrote that has nothing to do with the column. I so enjoyed the honor of meeting and writing about interesting people and events in our community.

It was in early 1996 that Cynthia asked me a question as I was getting ready to leave for the day.

“Can you write ‘funny?’” Cynthia asked with a twinkle in her eye.

“I don’t know,” was my honest reply.

In a peanut shell, she needed someone to write a personal narrative-type humorous column every other week … right around 750 words. Since I’ve never said the word “no” to Cynthia in my life, of course I said “yes.” Coming up with a column title on the fly was a tad daunting. I know … “You Gotta Laugh” obviously did not require much in the imagination department. I just figured if readers were already predisposed to laughing, they might cut me some slack if I failed to deliver nothing more than a giggle once in a while.

That was just over 18 years ago. I’ve written mostly about life in the burbs, raising three wacky kids, the funny husband and family dog. My first column was about our youngest child. Ricky was trying to sweet talk his mom into bringing his Gameboy to school. It didn’t happen. The column was about the process of outsmarting a nine-year-old. You know what I mean if you have been there. It’s not that easy.

I’ve also tackled life issues like raising a wheelchair-bound daughter, hopefully uplifting and even today a loving challenge. There have been stories of short skirts in middle school, interesting proms, college kids traveling abroad, and the privilege of feeding my dad a Popsicle as he lay dying. There were stories about how my kids/hubby helped tutor me through college, funny travel mishaps, family meals and holiday traditions. You get the picture … string all those stories together like beads on a very long necklace and you get something that looks remarkably like just plain old life with lots of laughter along the way.

There have been lots of lovely uplifting emails and letters received from folks over the years. Just two of them were most unkind. But I learned that is OK. I cried buckets when I read the first one. The second one … not a drop. I write what I feel and no one is required to like my perspective. I thank Cynthia for helping me learn that painful and necessary lesson.

So today I celebrate the number 400! Tomorrow begins the sprint toward 500 columns. I dare say it will be a lot like driving around the track at the Daytona 500, only in tennis shoes. Let’s toast to meeting at the finish line in a few years!

February 19, 2014

‘Hey Dude” … it is ‘Dennis the Menace’

A bunch of years ago we purchased a little television for the kitchen counter. For months it mostly just sat there with a blank look on its screen. Then every once in a while I’d turn it on while preparing dinner to catch the latest “breaking news” that was so three or four hours ago.

It wasn’t long before we noticed our special needs daughter seemed to be lots more interested in eating her meals with the television on. One day “Wheel of Fortune” happened to spinning and Mimi slowly, but methodically, ate all her dinner. It was somewhere between buying a vowel and losing a turn that Mimi picked up her spoon and put the contents into her mouth. Before Vanna White came on the scene, Mimi tended to piddle at mealtime and had to be encouraged on most every bite. I really gotta remember to write Vanna a thank you note.

That meant dinner was now a snap. It wasn’t long before Mimi got picky about what she wanted to watch. I mean … Vanna is adorable but some days even I cringe at the sound of that noisy wheel turning. Obviously, this was way before streaming and Tivo was invented.

Then one Christmas a couple years back, Mimi received from Santa her own little personal DVD player to play while she ate her meals. Her current favorite DVDs are classic “Lassie,” an old teen series “Hey Dude” and “The Muppet Show.” For a little variety, we have recently returned to classic “Dennis the Menace” that aired from 1959 to 1963. We have all 5 seasons, and with about thirty episodes per season, there is little chance of boredom on my part. Hey, I gotta watch this stuff with her.

My absolute favorite episode is from Season Three entitled “The Fifty-Thousandth Customer.” In a peanut shell, cranky Mr. Finch owns the neighborhood drugstore. He is having his annual fall contest in which his store’s 50,000th customer of the year will win five minutes of free shopping.

The show starts with Dennis’ parents daydreaming around the breakfast table reflecting on a newspaper article about Mr. Finch’s contest. The parents comment about what they would pick if they won the contest … perfume for mom and a new pipe for dad. Dennis is present in every scene watching and listening and slamming every door he shuts. The likeable lad with the sling-shot in his back pocket has stage presence.

Of course, there is a difference between dreaming about winning and Dennis’ next door neighbor, Mr. Wilson’s approach. With clipboard in hand and a 10-key adding machine on his desk, Mr. Wilson touts his sophisticated mathematical scheme. Determined to be the winner, Mr. Wilson has even mapped out the drugstore in his backyard so he can make the most of his five minutes. On his wish list is an expensive movie camera, binoculars, some perfume for Mrs. Wilson, a new pipe and cigars. You get the picture. On a trip to drugstore with Dennis, Mr. Wilson notices some skullduggery has been committed. Mr. Finch has rearranged his store with the good stuff high up on the store shelves. The tension mounts.

Then the moment we have been waiting for finally arrives. Mr. Wilson tells Dennis he is about to win but needs one person to walk in the store before him. He asks Dennis and yep … Mr. Wilson’s calculations are off by one. Bells go off. Dennis has won the shopping spree. A dejected Mr. Wilson is so upset he can’t stay to see the little tornado run through the drug store.

The last two scenes are what make that show so beloved. Mr. Finch tells Dennis that he can have everything he can carry out of the store. He casually remarks a little kid certainly won’t make a dent in HIS store. Then cranky Mr. Finch turns Dennis loose. With a store full of customers to cheer Dennis on, the lad starts throwing things into a large hammock. Climbing like a monkey high on caffeine, he throws gifts for his family as well as most of the items on Mr. Wilson’s list, getting a football for himself.

Later, good-natured Dennis returns to Mr. Wilson’s house. He urges Mr. Wilson to check out what he left for his best friend on the porch. You can guess the rest. Makes me smile just thinkin’ about it. Mealtimes are never boring watching what is going on in the world of Dennis Mitchell. The 6 o’clock news should take a lesson.

January 22, 2014

The broccoli casserole lady

Most everyone I know has at least one or two signature dishes they lovingly create and bring to a pot luck-ish type of event. When dinner or lunch is officially being served, it is usually one of those timeless crowd pleasers where the family dog even sneaks in line hoping for a little nibble.

One of mine is a spinach-artichoke casserole. The recipe came from hubby’s Aunt Marion. I inhaled my first portion over 40 years ago. Let’s face it … you know you have tasted magic when your taste buds explode like a big wad of lit firecrackers. Fortunately the detonation didn’t take out any of my teeth.

The dish is a deadly and delicious combination of unassuming chopped spinach with generous chunks of artichokes … from a tin can no less … and a few other key ingredients gently stirred … not shaken.

No one knows where Aunt Marion discovered the recipe. I’ve never run across it in a cookbook. It’s just one of those Frantz family classics that expertly complement a massive ham or portly turkey. Oh, and did I forget to mention the dish is topped with bread crumbs? I always suspected it was so no one could tell what was underneath … an allusion to further the delectable mystery of what might lay beyond the crumbs.

Rick’s aunt always made a double batch for every family gathering. That casserole was so popular, family members used to cut in line when it finally made it from warming in the oven to the serving line. Never mind all the extra napkins required for excessive drooling.

The secret ingredient in the rich dish, which includes lots of heart-stopping cream cheese, is … wait for it … the water chestnuts. Betcha you never saw that one coming. No one sees or expects the crunch, crunch when they take that first bite. But there it is.

I conjured up the dish during the holidays for hubby to bring to work. Hubby mentioned he caught someone licking the empty dish clean in the office kitchen right after lunch.

My other go-to dish is a broccoli-rice casserole. Made that one lots of times. I suspect even a few of them in my sleep. It is another one of those dishes that happens to contain … you guessed it … a can of drained and chopped water chestnuts. Found it in a “Texas” cookbook about 30 years back. Again, people always wonder where that sneaky crunch-crunch comes from when they taste it for the first time.

I made the casserole over the holidays for a ladies’ luncheon at our church. Yep … I remember getting up early that morning to put it all together so it would be perfect for lunchtime. Somewhere between draining the defrosted frozen broccoli and chopping the celery and onion, I managed to get Mimi out the door to catch her bus to the day center. I remember popping it into the oven so there would be no extra heating required upon arriving at the luncheon. Just plop the warm and toasty casserole dish down on the table and serve it with a spoon. Easy peesy.

It wasn’t till everyone was finished chowing down later that afternoon that Angela remarked in my direction how much she enjoyed my dish. Then she asked a question that perked up my eyebrows.

“I thought this was a broccoli-rice casserole?” Angela said.

“It is,” I said.

“Oh, I didn’t see any rice,” said Angela.

I think I uttered an “oops” under my breath.

“Looks like I forgot the rice,” I laughed.

First time that has happened. I forgot the sugar in a pumpkin pie once. Never rice in a casserole. Everyone agreed the dish was still very tasty … and without the rice probably a tad more healthy. Weeks later, my friend, Pat, even asked me for the recipe … with the rice. Apparently, she had dreams about it.

Forgetting the rice is probably why I will forevermore be known among a certain circle of fun ladies as the “broccoli casserole lady.” It looks like now I have three signature pot luck dishes!

December 18, 2013

A twist on ‘Sharing Sunday’

Our church has a lovely “Sharing Sunday” tradition during the season of Christmas. Not exactly sure what year it started. But in the 30+ years we’ve lived in the area, I can’t recall a year there wasn’t one. Parishioners bring brightly wrapped gifts already tagged with age and gender. The hundreds of gifts are then distributed to about a dozen needy parishes in the Houston area and then to the young, old and everyone in-between. The Mt. Everest of gifts is a jaw-dropping, guaranteed misty-eyed sight that will melt even the hardest of Grinch hearts like a bag of flame-torched dark chocolate chips.

For about the past ten years, the Frantz family has been saving all their loose change in an old glass milk bottle. The bottle is camped out for easy collection purposes near the microwave all year especially for the annual Christmas event. Anyone caught swiping a quarter has to get down and do 30 pushups right there on the kitchen floor. Yeah, and a nickel will get you nailed for 25 sit-ups!

Last week, after converting the jingly cash at the CoinStar machine, hubby and I headed over to the local toy store. On the way, I had an idea.

“How about we put a little twist on this year’s ‘Sharing Sunday’ gifts?” I casually said to hubby, as the family truckster moseyed on down the boulevard toward our shopping destination.

I reminded Rick how it had been about five or six Sharing Sundays now that we have purchased nothing but cute little baby dolls. Heck, there was a rather good reason. I loved one in particular as a child. Betsy was my constant comforting companion. When she wore out after a few years there were others … Baby Kissy comes to mind. There was also one whose hair grew when you pushed a button on her tummy, and then much later there were lots of Barbie dolls. You get the picture. But that first doll had special memories attached to it. I recall my grandmother always asked me to bring Betsy when I visited so she could make another outfit. You never forget those moments.

In my mind, I could just imagine the delighted faces of all those little girls as they tore open the wrappings. These particular baby dolls were the right size for little girl hands, sturdy, adorable and reasonably priced. In other words, there was more bang-bang for our bucks. Heck, I’d rather have six or seven little girls receive cute baby dolls than just two.

Do you wanna know the bonus? The dolls were all packaged in rectangular boxes. OK, I’ll admit it. I am a horrible wrapper. Everyone in my family can spot a package wrapped by me. Let’s just say my packages all turn into a big mess of crinkles, wrinkles, dimples and way too much Scotch tape. Rectangle and square box-shapes are awesome in my book. I’m still working on really crisp creases.

Yep … purchasing baby dolls was a fun phase … but it was time to move on down the long and winding road.

“I think we should purchase toys this year that an eight-month-old baby would love to play with,” I said.

Although we weren’t grandparents yet … and wouldn’t even be grandparents by this Christmas … WE WOULD be by NEXT Christmas! My reasoning … a little practice would certainly be beneficial don’t ya think? It is why we purchased lots of baby gifts this year for “Sharing Sunday.” It was so fun!

Not knowing the gender of our grandchild-to-be was a bit of an issue. Thankfully, from what I remember, boy and girl babies that age love to basically chew on things. That is why a collection of colorful squishy tub toys went first into the shopping bucket. After that anything that screamed shaking, rattling, grasping, clicking, or teethe me went into the bucket. Another bonus … our local toy store wraps!

Whatever your charity gift-giving tradition … may the tears gently flow … and your heart melt shamelessly like high-quality chocolate.

November 13, 2013

Cloudy with a chance of potato rolls

It was like a category one tornado, with very little wind damage thank goodness, as a stack of cookbooks flew around the kitchen table. It started out with the usual serious banter that soon turned into belly laughs about past disasters mimicking sustained winds of twenty-five miles per hour. Yep, it’s amazing how the wind shifts from calm to drifting snow when the propane runs out.

The question on the table was would we go traditional with an oven-baked turkey this year … or perhaps nice and sweet with a spiral-sliced ham? It was briefly discussed that we might consider a flash-flood type of feast, namely a Turducken. That is basically when somebody … I wouldn’t want that job … stuffs a chicken in a duck in a turkey kind of combo. We’ve had one before, but it has been probably a decade. My thought was if a Turducken was our main dish, we’d have to hurry to locate one of those bad boys.

It’s always a fun and breezy adventure coming up with a new menu for the Frantz family Thanksgiving feast. Yep, and you know the winds have calmed down nicely if everyone gets up from the table with their smiley faces intact with one of their favorite dishes on the menu. I like to think of a successful menu like a weather forecast of stable air with a light dusting of sourdough dressing. On the big day, everything just somehow works when you get it on the plate.

Our usual start to the menu planning is a quick look back at past menus just to keep things interesting and evolving. About 5 or 6 years ago, I purchased a varied collection of seasonal pretty paper from our local Hallmark shop. They have all kinds normally used to computer print invitations for parties and events. I always try to have on-hand several blank options for Turkey Day, Christmas and Easter. Did I mention the hired help at Hallmark always looks at me kinda funny at the check-out register? I’m used to it.

Since our Katie has lovely cursive handwriting, she is the one charged with chronicling the menu on the card. Actually, hubby has an awesome script from his dinosaur drafting days, but it is just plain old block printing. It looks quite nice when we are working on a crossword puzzle. Not so much on adorable card stock.

I was concentrating on feeding Mimi her applesauce and pudding while the menu planning was evolving this year. Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and watch things unfold, always ready to be on the lookout for freeze warnings. Everyone knows my most perfect storm of a menu. Heck, I’ve voiced it often enough. It must have a combo of interesting dishes. Give me a few items that resemble a soft drizzle of not so time-consuming dishes, with a couple of complicated ones that could go one of two ways … from a light frost advisory … right into a “lake effect” snow storm in a heartbeat.

After the blustery winds died down, it was all settled there would be a smoked turkey on the table this year. Then we snowplowed right on through to the side dishes and very important dessert course. Among other items, there will be Katie’s tried and truly delicious tipsy cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s recipe for thick-as-mud fabulous chocolate pie. No surprise, my little sister’s potato rolls made it to the top of the list again this year. And then the few first-timers, like the bourbon pumpkin tart with streusel topping and the apple spice layer cake with caramel swirl icing. Can you tell the Frantz family is passionate about their desserts? It is all about priorities … and the power nap during college half-time football.

From the looks of the food items we’ve gathered, it is a tad too early to tell what the weather will be like. My prediction is it will be cloudy … with a good chance of golden mashed potatoes with leeks and sour cream. As always, we have lots to be thankful for again this year … family, friends and a grandbaby in the “oven!” Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!

October 16, 2013

Ninja swords and a bloody lip

So next week is Halloween. I am delighted to report that our little block has certainly stepped up this year in the outdoor Halloween decoration department. There are friendly wooden pumpkins, a couple of scary tombstones, colorful Halloween banners and some flowing cobwebs that really spruce up the block. My personal favorite is a skeleton with what looks like some of its boney parts buried halfway in and out of the lawn. No bones about it, I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to mow that yard! Way too scary for my blood.

I can hardly wait till the trick-or-treaters start ringing our doorbell! I just love seeing how parents dress up their little ones. Poor hubby and I are in “tweener mode.” Our kids are way too old to go door-to-door for candy and presently not a single grandchild has made an appearance in our family. Not that I am complaining you understand … too much … well maybe just a little. Heck, I have an entire Pinterest board entitled “Potential Grandkid Ideas.” Someday it is going to come in REAL handy.

So I was asking my grownup kids the other day about their most memorable Halloween costume and got an interesting response from Ricky, our Air Force son.

“For me, it was obviously the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume, despite the battle wounds I suffered while donning it,” said Ricky.

I recall his dad made him a Ninja sword out of wood which Ricky carried around everywhere in the neighborhood. It was a struggle, but we did get him to stow it safely at home on Halloween. On one side of the wooden blade his dad wrote his name. The other side had one of the turtles’ names. I can’t recall which one. When he needed both hands, Ricky regularly “parked” the sword down the back of his shirt or his pants. A formidable super hero has to be on guard at all times.

“That outfit, complete with mask/headband and foam shell, was by far the most superior costume ever made, which still may be an understatement. I distinctly remember being Donatello, the turtle with the bow staff who had a purple head band, only because he was the best character to play on the Nintendo video game,” Ricky gushed.

And that brings us to Halloween night. I’ll never forget the bloody drama right after the very first doorbell was rung. Ding, dong. But first let us set the scene. Darkness had finally fallen. Dad was back at our house handing out our candy. I was in charge of Ricky and Mimi, in her pumpkin costume riding in her wheelchair stroller, on the trick-or-treat trek that only happens once a year.

The accident happened as he turned to make his way back down the sidewalk to the street. Ricky fell face-first off the curb and split his lip. It was a gusher. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go far for first aid. I was sure the mask/headband from the boxed costume had a lot to do with his spill. My first thought when I heard the scream was the mask musta slipped. Ricky loved that mask and there was no talkin’ the little guy outta wearing it. But accidents like that also happen when you are looking down into the bag to see what kind of candy just landed there when you should be looking where your feet are walking. After a little lip repair back at the house, which took way too long for Ricky’s liking, we continued our candy quest … without the mask.

This year while dad is handing out candy, Mimi and I have plans to just stroll around the block on Halloween night. We’ll remember old times and admire the spooky neighborhood décor. It will be fun to see all the excited little kids in their costumes. Maybe there will even be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in the crowd.

September 25, 2013

Life is like a box of pralines

I spent a few days in New Orleans last week hangin’ out in the French Quarter. Hubby had a seminar to attend during the day. Me … I happily strolled about an inch off the soles of my shoes snapping photographs and wandering through all manner of shops and crumbling alleyways. I have to say, no matter how many times over the years I’ve roamed down historic pathways like Royal or Chartres or Decatur Street, there is always something interesting to discover.

The French Quarter reminds me of the bacon peanut brittle we sampled in a quaint praline shop. It has a most interesting texture of crunchy because you think the place is going to fall down around your ears any moment. And yet, there is the sugar and bacon. Like the Quarter, taking a bite is so unexpectedly awesome you gotta be careful not to snap a part of your tooth right off. And yes … I had a dental appointment right after I got home.

This trip we pretty much steered clear of notorious Bourbon Street which is sprinkled with lots of restaurants and hotels for people who party, but don’t sleep. Oh, and let us not forget all the bars. When we were walking down Bourbon Street during a trip in May, a dude standing in front of one sketchy establishment asked if I wanted a free pole dancing lesson. And this was during the day! I know … he was obviously havin’ one of those slim pickins’ kinda days!

This trip during my French Quarter ramblings, I passed by at least three shops that sold old vinyl records. I noticed CD’s were also on the storefront’s “menu,” but it was the word “vinyl” that made my eyebrows rise skyward. We still have a turntable and a stack of old vinyl, so I put it at the top of my list of most interesting things to do when Rick and I met up in the afternoon.

“Have to remember to take Rick into one of these stores for a walk down memory lane,” I mumbled out loud making a mental note of the address.

The sign indicated the Louisiana Music Factory specialized in Jazz, Cajun, Blues, Zydeco and more. It was the “more” type of music, Rock ‘n Roll, that we were particularly interested in checking out. All prepared to knock cobwebs down, we carefully headed up the creaky wooden stairs to the second floor to browse through the hundreds of old, guaranteed-to-be well preserved records. Each LP, with album cover, was encased in a slightly dusty plastic jacket adding to the antiqueness of the product. We chattered amongst ourselves about our experiences with vinyl and grabbed a Paul Simon album. “Graceland” would be among the six albums going home with us.

“I mostly bought 45’s with my babysitting money when I was a kid. Wonder what happened to them,” I mused.

“Heck, I’ll never forget when the Beatles first came out. My dad forbade me ever from bringing any of their records into the house. He didn’t like their haircuts. Frankly, I always thought he should have been more afraid of the Rolling Stones,” I said, thumbing through the “B” section hoping to find a Beatles album.

Rick’s experiences with records revolved around his four older sisters.

“My sisters babysat so they had cash to buy lots of records. I remember by sister Cynthia used to drive me nuts playing ‘The Bird’ and ‘The Monster Mash’ over and over,” Rick laughed.

Rick and his little brother used to commandeer any duplicate vinyl records and sail them across the backyard as Frisbees.

We managed to accumulate a nice little stack of vinyl memories and headed downstairs. The dude at the check-out counter indicated all the albums were from just a couple of guys that collected and never played them. We both nodded and smiled. Did we have the word “gullible” stamped across our foreheads or what?

I’d say that visiting the French Quarter is a lot like a ginormous sampler box of pralines … you never know what you are gonna get … but going there is always an adventure.

August 28, 2013

Tennis balls and fashion statements

Our grown-up kids remind their mom and dad a lot that we hold onto furniture until the stuff is WAY past its prime. I will be the first to admit we certainly are not huge consumers in the large home furnishings arena. In just over forty years of marriage we’ve only had a couple of lumpy couches grace our family room. And I can’t even remember where, or when, we purchased the crusty table and chairs in the breakfast-lunch-and-dinner room. Obviously, we are talkin’ pre-Cambrian era when trilobites ruled the earth.

I knew there would definitely be a new table, and a bunch of chairs, in our future after a telephone conversation with our son. I was commenting how the ends of the chair legs have gotten a tad worn down from dragging them across the floor for the past several decades.

“By the time you and Kate make it back to Texas for a visit we’ll all be sitting so low to the ground in our chairs we won’t be able to see what is on our dinner plates,” I laughed.

Yep, it was obviously way past, figuratively speaking, the hour of midnight to do some serious furniture shopping. Ever the problem solver, Ricky had a viable alternative to ditching the worn-out and used-up furniture.

“So mom, if you do decide to keep the chairs … (pregnant pause) … you could always get a bunch of bright yellow tennis balls and put one on the end of each table leg,” Ricky advised.

“That would be quite a fashion forward statement. Maybe I should call Pottery Barn and see if they are ready to announce a new furniture trend?” I suggested.

While the tennis ball idea would definitely raise the level of our chairs and protect our flooring, I suggested there might be a little issue with Lulu. Our dog loves to chew the yellow fuzz right off of tennis balls. I never imagined the fuzz had much to offer in the area of doggie nutrition, so we highly discourage this activity. Unfortunately, from time-to-time a long lost tennis ball will mysteriously appear from under a table or couch. And before we catch Lulu with it, the fuzz is but a happy memory … and some interesting looking piles in the backyard.

That reminds me, Lulu has her yearly checkup coming up in October. I gotta remember to ask the vet if yellow fuzz has any harmful side effects on a dog’s digestive system.

A couple of weeks ago I did some pre-shopping with my oldest to see what was “out there” in the world of dining room tables and chairs. With camera, tape measure and notepad in hand, Katie and I traveled around Houston gathering dimensions, prices and commenting on the virtues of pedestal bases versus the four-legged ones. Most of the discussion with sales staff revolved on functionality since we need just a smidge over 28 inches between the floor and underside of the table to get Mimi and her wheelchair up to the table. We soon discovered, short of getting a table custom made and letting the air out of Mimi’s tires, not an option, we were back on the street and down on our luck.

Years ago hubby took off the part of the table leaf that extends down so we could snuggle up Mimi to our table for six. Since the Frantz family has happily added a couple of new married-in family members, our table needs to turn into seating for eight. That means rotating the table in a different direction where Mimi would sit on one end instead of the middle. Dejected, I returned home with the discouraging news. No table … and no furniture establishment willing to accommodate a change.

Hubby could tell by the look on my face I shoulda stopped by the sporting goods store for a crate of tennis balls. At least Lulu would have been a happy camper.

My mood quickly changed as I had forgotten I was married to the supreme problem solver.

“How about we have custom-made a narrow table that meets Mimi’s clearance requirements. We can then place it on the end of a new table?” hubby suggested.

It’s great to have grown-up kids that point out when our pre-Cambrian furniture needs serious replacing and take you shopping. And how about those husbands who step up and help us wives throw all the tennis balls out the window? I am so blessed!

July 31, 2013

It is a lot like eating liver

Did you ever meet a person that REALLY LOVES what they do for a living? I have. Well, I don’t literally high-five one every day, but it does happen a lot. For me, this time of year it occurs way more than a light blue, hot pink or even a lightly yellow-tinted moon made entirely out of Swiss cheese.

I’ll never forget the day I had the epiphany. It came from a simple comment via a classroom aide when our special needs daughter was in high school. About ten years ago I was helping out with a classroom party. There was some downtime between serving cake and cleaning up. Yep, and when that happens it is a sure thing my motor mouth will start running like a Corvette Stingray lap car, flat out, pedal to the metal in first gear. Obviously, I am not especially shy.

I don’t recall how the two of us got on the subject of jobs. Probably started out with me commenting how much I admired her and what a difficult one she had helping the teacher with all the various needs in the classroom. Some of the students in this particular special needs class were a handful … my daughter included. What the aide said next has obviously stuck to one of my especially large brain cells all these years.

“You know … working in special education is a lot like eating liver. The first time you eat it … (pregnant pause) … you either love it … or you hate it. There is no in between,” she said with a big smile.

Obviously she was a lover of liver in all its forms: chopped, deep-fried, pate, foie gras and my husband’s personal fave when he was a kid … just plain old liver and onions!

It’s like that with any profession really. You know it when you meet someone passionate about what they do. That little “liver comment” has made me smile many times over the years. I’m talkin’ about all the awesome people that have touched Mimi’s life: an amazing pediatrician that still has lunch with us once a year, physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, teachers, bus drivers, one particular diagnostician and a pretty amazing principal that actually knew all the names of his special needs students in high school.

While liver is definitely not on the menu at the Frantz house, my thoughts travel there today and I smile. At present I am gearing up for packing Mimi’s stuff before heading off for five fun-filled days at summer camp near Brenham. It usually takes me a whole Saturday to get everything just right. Stuff like marking any new item with permanent marker and locating the rain poncho that has never been used. This just could be the year when it rains in buckets! Oh, and the hot pink twin sheets. I bought them for Mimi a few years back to make a summer camp fashion statement. They are in a closet somewhere. And I’ll be in major trouble if I forget the long pants for Mimi’s favorite camp activity … horseback riding.

It is during days like packing for camp that I reflect on all the awesome staff it takes to put on a camp for those with special needs. People who probably won’t get but a few hours sleep a night and yet so jazzed about getting a camper ready for the zip line. I always worry if Mimi will get that right buddy to do the little things like brush her teeth and coax her to eat that last bite of a meal. Mimi would rather socialize then eat.

Yep, every year I am so humbled that I can be replaced so adequately for 5 days with passionate people that obviously love their liver!

July 3, 2013

A ‘Frosty’ history

It is summer … I’m melting … how about you? Seems like a great reason to write about something frightfully frigid that can give your sweltering brain and taste buds a most refreshing freeze. It’s Frosty time! NOT as in snowman. That would require a very large snow cone machine.

So I was reading Ken Hoffman’s piece in the daily rag a week or so back. He writes a column entitled the “Drive-Thru Gourmet.” Basically, it is all about the latest fads in mostly fast food, although he does throw in a donut shop every now and then. I like that he puts in the calorie count and nutrition facts such as fat grams and dietary fiber. His column keeps me on the straight and narrow. Haven’t had an actual French fry in eons. Sweet potato fry … yes. But then that is an entirely different vegetable. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t actually like a French fry though. Light on the salt if you please.

Hoffman is a pretty entertaining and witty dude. This week he wrote about Wendy’s new twist on their Chocolate Frosty which has always been served in a cup with the special straw that doubles as a spoon on one end. Bypassing the whole straw/spoon combo, my son-in-law, Chad, told me he used to love to dip his French fries into his Frosty.

Introduced in 1969, Wendy’s finally decided it might be cool to put their Frosty in a waffle cone! I hope the person who went to bat for that brilliant idea got a gold or platinum star on the Wendy’s Walk of Fame! What a perfect fit and, according to Mr. Hoffman, only 300 calories!

While I can truthfully say I’ve never actually had a Frosty all to myself, I’ve purchased LOTS over the years! Our oldest child has a very long history with the icy Wendy’s menu item. Katie’s love of the cold treat started when she was a little girl. We pulled through Wendy’s drive-thru after every single one of her dental appointments. It started out as a guilt-ridden mom making a promise one time to goad her into the car and turned into a ritual.

Unfortunately, Katie inherited my small palate and her dad’s large teeth. I had to frequently remind our daughter that while the large teeth weren’t ideal, at least she got her dad’s big baby blue eyes. The whole palate/teeth thing was an interesting combination that would involve several years of colorful and glittered palate spreaders. Since you couldn’t eat with them in your month, sometimes they would even wind up in the elementary school cafeteria trash can after lunch. Fortunately, I never had to retrieve one myself. I heard it happened a lot.

After we survived the palate spreader era, there was pulling of permanent teeth and lots of years in braces with colored rubber bands for every season. Katie never had a chance. Yep, we passed through that drive-thru a lot over the years.

“I would have to say the best thing ever about going to the dentist was waiting in the Wendy’s drive-thru afterwards. It almost made the drilling, yucky tasting impressions, and teeth pulling worth it,” sighed Katie.

But her dental work didn’t stop there. If my memory serves me correctly Katie spent an extra year in braces. I think we got a six-pack of Frosty’s after Dr. Richards broke that news. A year later her perfect smile hung proudly on Dr. Richard’s smile of fame. Yep, it was worth every single Frosty when she got them off!

A couple of years ago we even re-lived the Wendy’s pilgrimage when she had her wisdom teeth pulled. It was just like old times pulling up to the drive-thru and asking for Katie’s usual Frosty.

Now I’m off to try one of those new Frosty cones!

June 5, 2013

Life of Pie

I made a lemon icebox pie with a graham cracker crust this past weekend. That was a television first. For some strange reason, I’ve always steered clear of the “squeezed fruit” variety of pies which tend to be heavy on the artery-clogging egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk.I suppose apple, cherry or peach filling-type versions are probably equally as artery clogging. Mine come with your typical flaky pie crust ala Pillsbury refrigerated pre-made. They are more in my Twilight Zone of comfort. Actually, if the truth be told, I really love playing with the pie crust templates accumulated over the years that punch out cute shapes like hearts, apples and little squares simulating lattice work in the top crust. It takes me back to kindergarten play dough center time.

Oh, and I have to mention the chocolate pie that is my grandmother’s recipe on my dad’s side of the family. I’ve made that one a lot for special occasions. It used to be every year for about ten years I’d misplace the handwritten-down recipe and have to call my little sister Gretchen for it. It’s pretty bad when your sister answers the phone with “Do you have a pen to write this done” instead of “Hello.” Finally, I took the hint and typed it up on my computer to print it out whenever I needed it. Now I call Gretchen for other reasons having nothing to do with baking.

My grandmother’s chocolate pie is legendary. It’s so positively rich it is usually reserved exclusively for Thanksgiving, Christmas and sometimes Easter. The chocolate pie filling requires standing at the stove stirring for so long, I usually ask for a show of hands on who wants to volunteer for the marathon stir-fest. If stirred long enough, it’s the consistency of the densest Mississippi mud. The filling is so thick just imagine walking through it with your cowboy boots on. Your feet are going to come right outta the boots after the first two steps. That’s right … you are in mud almost up to your knees. And your socks, well, no doubt about it, they are definitely headed for the nearest trash bin because we all know where you are going to step next. I mean … we’ve all dreamed of being up to our neck in something delicious. Why not a thick, dense chocolate pie?

Oh, did I mention the lemon icebox pie recipe came out of a southern-style cookbook I received for my birthday? Hubby and I were flipping through the book when the photo of the delicious-looking lemon pie caught his left eyeball. My initial thought was good food photography is an art and this one obviously hit the bulls-eye.

“This pie looks so good I could eat the glossary right out of the back of the cookbook,” Rick drooled.

I remember thinkin’ THAT was quite a recommendation. Note to self …. I’m puttin’ the pie on my to-do list for my dude this weekend. But come on … could it really taste as good as it looked? That little question required a definitive answer. This pie would be the third recipe I’d attempted from the same book in the last two weeks. Two out of three of them garnered five out of five stars. That is how we rate anything new that we cook. A culinary experience with four stars or less we will probably never make again. The new book is actually a collection of recipes from 100 restaurants in the south. At the moment I’m cooking my way through Louisiana with great success. Oh, and Rick gave the slice of lemon pie ten out of 5 stars. I know … a mathematical impossibility. It is possibly a Frantz family legend in the making. Like with grandma’s chocolate pie, only the test of time will tell.

My next squeezed fruit pie-making adventure … definitely key lime! There are two different key lime recipes in my southern foodie book. Different southern states … both with no photograph to drool over … and lots more egg yolks than the lemon icebox pie. Of course Rick will have to wait for Father’s Day. His arteries should be clear from the lemon pie by then.

May 8, 2013

Chinch bugs, fungus and brown patch … oh my!

Our front yard is scheduled for a much-needed major facelift. I suspect our neighbors will be clapping and exchanging high-fives when the landscaping truck drives up in front of our house. Our front yard is pretty much starting to resemble the place Dorothy lived right before the tornado deposited her in Oz … dry, dusty and in need of a transformation.We’d be the first to admit over the years the flowerbeds have gotten away from us. The spiky monkey grass (do I detect a reference to grumpy flying monkeys?) no longer rests all tidy in narrow clumps acting as an orderly bed border. Nope! They have divided and sub-divided many times collectively encroaching on some of the bushes and threatening one of the trees. I hate when that happens.

Then there are the weeds which compete with the monkey grass. Like the push and pull between the good and bad witch, it’s a regular battle for world domination playing out right in our own front yard.

Several weeks back hubby and I got out our trusty garden gloves all ready to tackle some of the choking culprits. Rick started by pulling on a vine that had climbed partway up the brick wall. Ten seconds later he yelled, “I just brushed up against poison ivy.” A king cobra, or even sleep-inducing poppies, would have been more welcome. My hubby is severely allergic to poison ivy and ran into the house to scrub with some medicinal soap we keep on hand for such events. Well, that ended that weeding project. And he got a mild case of poison ivy anyway.

As if the flowerbeds weren’t enough of a mess, did I mention our grass seems to have been affected by last year’s drought? That was the preliminary diagnosis from the landscape dude. We do have our share of large bare spots. No telling what the problem is. I was thinking about composing a little song entitled, “Chinch Bugs, Fungus, Brown Patch and Grubs … Oh My!” But just like in “The Wizard of Oz,” we decided to focus on skipping down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to see what the wizard could do for us.

And the landscape wizard … I had to admit he was way too polite to shake and hang his head in dismay. He just indicated we could just start over with new sod and perform some much-needed grading at the same time. We were hoping he’d make that recommendation rather than pin medals on our chests.

There will also be concrete work involved in the transformation. Over the years tree roots have pushed and prodded upward on our own yellow brick road from the front door to the street. That made it a prime candidate for replacement. My worst nightmare is always the same. Some cute little trick-or-treater trips and splits their lip before they getting to our front door. We are also putting in a new sidewalk connecting the front walkway with the driveway. When it is finished it will be the first time ever that Mimi and her wheelchair will have traveled out the front door. We were thinking a ribbon-cutting ceremony might be in order. Any thoughts?

We ARE keeping a few treasured front yard flora items. When our youngest was a tot we planted a magnolia tree in his honor. Much to my dismay, it wasn’t but a couple of years before Ricky discovered tree climbing. I’d often find him at the tippy top. It’s why my heart is strong like an ox.

Along with a couple of other large trees, there is also an azalea bush that blooms with a million pink blossoms every spring. It doesn’t look very pretty at the moment but that bush is definitely staying.

Yep … so we’ll just click our ruby slippers together and then open our eyes. After all there really is no place like home.

April 10, 2013

‘Ball ping hammers and other cross words’

I love working crossword puzzles. Not the download-me-with-an-app kinda crossword puzzle. I played one on my computer once and it just didn’t feel right. It coulda been the “ticking” clock feature that announced how long it was taking to solve the darn thing. For me it definitely added a layer of teeth-gnashing tenseness to the whole crossword experience.I started working crosswords seriously in high school with my best friend Kathy. She and I used to turn the puzzles into a competition during study hall. One of us had a red pen and the other a blue. We’d use the two colors to fill in the same puzzle. Since I am a lefty, and Kathy a righty, we complemented each other perfectly. There was little chance of an elbow to the other’s chin, or the possibility of a bloody nose, if we were jockeying to fill in the same word. There were a few occasions when, during a particularly brutal crossword battle, we had both walked out when the bell rang with opposing ink marks all over each other’s hands. But hey, that was to be expected. We were high school crossword nerds.

Did I mention you had to be quiet, except for the snoozing snorers, during study hall? We had a silent “go” signal before proceeding to fill in the blanks of the puzzle at warp speed. Once the crossword was finished, the red and blue filled-in words were added up and the victor got to put their name at the top of the puzzle. Back then it felt just like winning the state championship in football. Well … sort of.

So fast forward bunches of years and noodling on crossword puzzles is still interesting. Only now hubby and I are the ones filling in the blanks in “together mode.” We are currently about halfway through a puzzle book with over 400 crosswords. I mean … where else can you get so many hours of fun for just six bucks?

One of us fills in the blanks and the other reads the clues. My specialty is the fill-in-the-blank type clues like “The ____ Earth” or “____ of Green Gables.” Both are obviously book titles, which I’ve not read, but some useless information you just know.

Sometimes the puzzles makers get all tricky on us. Recently, we did a couple of puzzles with way too many French word clues to our way of thinkin’. Got us stuck in one corner so bad we were forced to look up the answer in the back. We hate to have to do that too often. Frustration levels sometimes escalate and by the end of the puzzle we draw stuff across the top of the page like grumpy faces. I know … we are rebels.

Of course there have been times we both learn stuff from each other too. I recently found out something about a particular kind of hammer that I never knew. Did you ever hear a word so many times you were certain you knew how it was spelled? That was how I was about the ball ping hammer. It was a clue in a recent crossword. Rick filled in the little boxes with “p-e-e-n.”

“You’ve not filled in that last one correctly dear. It’s spelled ‘p-i-n-g,”” I corrected.

“No way … I believe I know my hammers,” Rick answered.

I frowned and thought a long moment.

“Well, you got me there! Ball p-e-e-n hammer it is,” I said.

All these years I thought they called it a ball ping hammer because I imagined it made a pinging noise when you hit something with that side of the hammer. Where they came up with “peen” makes absolutely no sense to me.

But then neither does the word “alee.” It’s a nautical word. It means “on the side of the ship away from the wind.” And yes, I stink at nautical word clues.

Some weeks later there was a puzzle clue that caused Rick to have an epiphany. Yep, I actually saw the light bulb appear right above his head after I explained it.

It had to do with knitting. The crossword clue was something like “a knitting stitch.” I was the designated filling-in-the-blank person and wrote the letters “p-u-r-l” in the blanks.

“You filled in that last clue wrong. It is p-e-a-r-l,” said Rick.

“No way … I believe I know my knits from my purls,” I said.

He frowned and thought a long moment.

“I always thought it was spelled p-e-a-r-l,” Rick said.

I guess whether you work your crossword puzzles on an electronic device … or with blue and red ink … some of us are always going to have issues with words like “ping” and “pearl.”

March 14, 2013

‘Downtown Abbey’ and train wrecks

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to discover “Downton Abbey,” the British period piece on PBS’s Masterpiece Theater. It’s probably because we rarely have the television set to the “on” position on Sunday night. I suspect it was all the recent hub-bub on the news about Season three’s molar and bicuspid-shattering season finale that finally got my attention. I don’t want to know what happened … yet … but I can’t wait to find out.

Oh, and then there are several of my friends that have recently remarked they really, really love the show.

“Yes … but does your husband also love the show?” I asked.

I knew for certain investing in three whole seasons of any series wasn’t going to be easy if “the hubby” didn’t buy into it. If it smelled like a chick flick there was no way I was talkin’ him into watching it with me. Shoot ‘em up bang-bang, spy shows, dude comedies and war stories are at the top of Rick’s list. Over the past 40 years, I’ve watched “Caddyshack” more times than I have fingers and toes.

But I detected a sliver of hope in what my friends said next.

“We have watched every episode together. My husband loves the show,” my friends all assured me with one voice.

My informal poll found four husbands that were fully invested in what happened next in “Downton Abbey” with not a “nay” in the lot. However, I did forget to ask how many episodes it took to get their dudes to ante up and, like in poker, go all in. I’m certain it has got to be more than the three episodes we watched this past weekend. Yup, I did not see a smiley face from my better half after he turned the television off.

I mean … the series seems to have something for everyone … intrigue, scandal, a conniving maid, a sinister butler-type and who wouldn’t want to watch veteran actress Maggie Smith in action? Personally, I’m waiting for Thomas to get in major trouble. Who knew one character could be such a stinker after just three episodes?

I had to admit my ears played a funny trick on me. It wasn’t till we watched the first episode on NetFlix the other night I noticed they were spelling the title of the show wrong. I mean … all this time I thought it was “Downtown Abbey.” Felt like a tot that thought he heard their grandma was taking him for a breakfast “cake.” Actually she said they were going for a breakfast “date.” I got that from one of my friends on Facebook.

Rick has a similar issue, but with British accents. He paused “Downton Abbey” more than once to ask me to explain what someone just said. Wasn’t surprised. It was the same as we watched “The King’s Speech” when it came out in video a while back. It’s a great movie about a British king who overcame his stuttering. Could it get any worse for Rick? I mean … a British accent and stuttering? We had to watch the movie twice before he agreed it was indeed Oscar worthy. Good thing Rick does not have voting rights to the Academy Awards. A “Brit flick” would never win.

We were chatting with our son on Sunday morning via FaceTime about husbands and wives watching television shows together. Ricky is stationed in the Middle East for a couple more months and was sporting the start of a mustache. Turns out the morale booster this month on his Air Force base includes “Mustache March” and “Biggest Loser” competitions. Sorry for getting off topic … I miss the guy. Ricky also told his dad that he and Kate compromise on the shows they watch together.

“Kate talked me into watching ‘The Bachelor.’ It’s one of those shows that is a lot like a train wreck. A bunch of hot girls madly in love with one guy they don’t even know. And oh, you know what’s coming, but you can’t turn your head. You have to keep watching,” Ricky said with a smile.

This week Rick and I watched another “Downton Abbey” episode together. It seems four was the magical number. He didn’t even look like he was bracing for a root canal.

February 13, 2013

Van Gogh woulda loved Joe-Joe’s

Four days a week I pack our special needs daughter a lunch in her Van Gogh-inspired lunch box before the bus heads over to the day center. Mimi’s big sister, Katie, brought the lunch box back from a trip to Holland several years ago. I usually pack a peanut butter sandwich cut in quarters with a package of cheddar-flavored gold fish crackers. It is easy for Mimi to eat all by herself. I try to get a little creative with the dessert course. Like her dad, the girl does have a sweet tooth the size of a watermelon.

Speaking of dessert …that brings up the reason Joe-Joe’s have finally made a huge splash at the Frantz house. Raise your hand if you don’t have a clue what the heck I’m talkin’ about. Before last weekend I’d never heard of a Joe-Joe either. Hint … you can only get them at Trader Joe’s. It was Katie and her new husband that brought a couple of boxes up to the house for Mimi last weekend.

“My favorite is the chocolate crème version so that is what I brought for Mimi,” Katie said with the widest grin.

Chad brought Mimi his most favorite … the vanilla bean cream-filled with real vanilla bean speckles. Are you drooling yet? Yeah and I understand during the season of Christmas that Trader Joe’s has a peppermint AND a chocolate-covered version of Joe-Joe’s. Darn … just missed that experience by a few weeks. What can I say? I’ve entered their arrival date later this year to my Outlook Program.

So if you were wondering just a little … both kinds of cookies on the outside pretty much resemble your average Oreo cookie. I don’t know how many Joe-Joe’s are in a box … but dude … it’s a lot of cookies. The box weighs like five pounds.

It is no surprise to me that an Oreo-type cookie would be Katie’s favorite. I remember when she was a little girl. I loved watching her sit on the kitchen counter with an Oreo and a glass of milk. Back then Katie turned eating one into a play-off football game that went into double overtime.

Katie would carefully twist the two halves of her Oreo apart being ever so careful not to break either chocolate cookie … or she’d have to start all over again with a fresh one. Then she would lick the cream filling a bunch of times till it was history. It was her “paw-paw,” on her father’s side of the family, who taught her to dunk the halves into her glass of milk. Some things about your kids you never want to forget.

We chatted about Trader Joe’s during their visit so naturally this week I had to see what the hubbub was all about. Katie and Chad warned me during their first visit they wandered around about an hour before they figured what to purchase. Just so you know … the white bean and basil hummus … and the cheesecake in the blue box … should be at the top of your Trader Joe’s grocery list. Just saying!

I went to the location in the old Alabama Theater building on South Shepherd. I can still remember my first visit to the historic building when Rick and I were dating. We sat on the front row when “The Poseidon Adventure” came out in the ‘70’s. Memories. Did I mention there is also a Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands? But I wanted to see with my own eyeballs what they had done to the building since the Bookstop Bookstore left town. It was pretty impressive. Oh, and the bright red grocery carts are a nice touch.

Yep … we love Joe-Joe’s. Of course, they might have to take a back seat for a week or two when the cute little Girl Scouts on our block make their deliveries. We’ve ordered a couple of boxes for Mimi. She really is partial to the Thanks-A-Lot cookies. It’s the shortbread cookie with the “thank you” message embossed in several different languages with chocolate fudge on the back.

I am pretty sure Van Gogh would be impressed with whatever version of cookies winds up in Mimi’s lunch box. But Joe-Joe’s … I’m certain they would have been Van Gogh’s favorite.

January 16, 2013

Floral, fruity and oriental … who knew?

I’ve been wearing the same fragrance dabbed on each wrist for literally eons. Have you ever heard of Eau de Joy? Probably not. It has been out there for like a million years. I don’t know if it is me, or the perfume, but I’ve been spritzing the same caramel-colored spray on for so long the magic has left the building.

It’s probably why the other day I lingered at the cosmetic counter at the mall amongst some sleek, as well as a few strange-shaped, perfume bottles. Happily, the place was like a ghost town and there was this nice saleslady that looked like she was up for a challenge. Right away Kelli pulled out an enticing excel spreadsheet that had some perfume categories like fruity floral, oriental woody, floral fresh and my personal favorite … just because it sounded so very French … gourmand!

Kelli explained that Juicy Couture was listed in the gourmand, or food category, because it smells like strawberries and cotton candy. I just HAD to sniff a whiff.

“Juicy Couture is more edible than most,” Kelli said with a smile.

Never thought of a fragrance in quite that way, but Kelli was right. Personally, every time I whip up a batch of homemade cookies I always say to anyone listening, if vanilla were a perfume, I’d buy it by the gallon. And nothin’ but pure vanilla extract will do. I have my standards.

Now I had to admit to Kelli that Juicy Couture was certainly interesting, but I didn’t fancy myself smelling like a pint of ripe strawberries all day. Raspberry preserves maybe, but not strawberry jelly. Besides, I figured by the look of the bottle, much like their signature purse and clothing line, Juicy Couture was indeed a scent that was meant for young ladies that still get carded at the grocery store … for purchasing Red Bull.

Since we were still just having fun, I asked what other scent the younger crowd fancies. I noticed a cutout of rapper Nicki Minaj and her Pink Friday fragrance over against the far wall. Nicki’s long fluffy white hair on the poster was a real eye popper. Kelli explained the scent belonged to the fruity floral category and was very hot with the young ladies. The bottle looks like a miniature version of the singer with a pink wig. Cute and destined to be on every teeny bopper’s wish list for Valentine’s Day.

I decided it was time to get serious so Kelli steered me over to the Chanel counter. Now that is what I am talking about! My eye was immediately drawn to the headliner Chanel #5. Just so you know … it’s in the floral soft area on the spreadsheet and great smelling stuff. But by now my nose was getting a little confused. I couldn’t tell a floral from a fruity if my life depended on it. It was probably why Kelli brought out a tall, rectangular box. It was chocolate-colored with little holes drilled in the top. I tentatively placed my nose close to the holes.

“It smells like coffee and cleanses your smelling ‘palate,’” Kelli explained.

We spent the next several minutes sniffing the seven delicious Chanel labels on tap. The shapes of the bottles were elegant, sleek and felt just so darn good in my hand. Chanel has scents with names like Coco, Coco Mademoiselle, Allure and several Chance fragrances. Kelli’s personal favorite was Chance Tender, of the floral variety. After inhaling all seven, I found myself leaning somewhere between an Oriental Soft and an Oriental Woody-type scent. To their credit, those wacky French sure know how to come up with great smelling stuff. I left the store with a spray eau de toilette of Coco Mademoiselle, but I woulda purchased any of the seven. Thankfully, Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Just saying.

December 12, 2012

Ho-Ho and the Grinch

I learned many moons ago the true meaning of Christmas isn’t about what comes wrapped up in large boxes with slick shiny paper and colorful bows. Almost sounds like a line out of “The Grinch that Stole Christmas,” don’t it? What can I say about Dr. Seuss? He had way more going for him than just “Green Eggs and Ham.”

So every morning when I go into my special needs daughter’s room to wake her up, I ask “What were you dreaming about last night?” Since the Christmas decorations went up at our house the day after Thanksgiving, it has been the same two words.

“Ho-Ho,” Mimi says.

She absolutely adores the jolly dude in the red suit and beard. Since 2007, Santa has been taking a few minutes out of his busy schedule to drop by our abode on Christmas Eve. It’s a regular hug-fest between Ho-Ho and Mimi. I’m seriously thinking about adding a chiropractor gift card to the Christmas Eve to-go box meal sent with Santa for his sleigh ride. It is certain Santa will require a major spinal adjustment after Mimi gets her arms wrapped tight around his neck again this year.

I also know if I asked my mother what she wants for Christmas, there would be a similar answer. Although Ho-Ho isn’t even on her short list. Like Mimi … it is also two magical words. She would ask for a replacement “Green Card.” Yep, and Santa doesn’t need to fret about the fancy wrapping paper and bow neither. A plain white envelope with proper postage would do nicely.

Wrote a column about my mom and her Green Card issues almost two years ago. If you aren’t a U.S. Citizen, you really need one for important things like renewing your Texas driver’s license and getting on an airplane. In a peanut shell, my mother was born in Holland and lived through World War II as a child. Up until last week, we thought she wouldn’t survive the stress of dealing with the United States Immigration office.

My Mom came to this country legally in 1948 as a young girl on her father’s passport. She promptly lost her Green Card. And until two years ago no one ever asked to see it.

That is when I started on a journey with her to get it replaced. I didn’t know it would turn into a quest much like Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy fraught with trolls and goblins along the way. Sorry … I just saw the movie trailer for “The Hobbit.” Read the book when I was a teenager. I think it musta prepared me for Mom’s journey. Let’s just say Bilbo Baggins is one of my heros.

Together Mom and I have been to the Office of Immigration five or six times over the past two years. We waited patiently for them to get her information from a dusty box in a basement somewhere in the country and into their computer. We waited for them to give us Mom’s special numbers required for the Green Card. The last time we went, someone in the black hole that is the government decided to “classify” her file. Our local immigration office told us they musta thought someone was trying to steal my mom’s identify. That really messed up the process. We even tried going to the Dutch Consulate for help.

“Grandma needs to check in with ‘her people,’” my daughter Katie suggested.

It was another adventure, and a great try, but it didn’t work. I guess the crate of Gouda cheese we brought them as tribute was a little over-kill.

I shoulda taken my husband’s advice. Rick suggested six months ago our U.S. Congressman might be able to help. Just like a wizard, I learned they have special powers. His office gave us all the information we needed. It was our last option before going the Marvin Zindler-type route. I told my mom, there was one thing about Marvin … he got things done.

Last week my mother got her hair done and put on a really cute outfit. We drove down to another government office that takes the official photographs and fingerprints for Green Cards. I could write a novella about that experience. It was our second trip there and the charm. Just like with Ho-Ho … we wait … for the magic to come in the mail. I’m really hoping the Grinch has learned his lesson this year.

November 14, 2012
Now what do I do?

I’ve been column writing about our youngest since he was 9 years old. Yep, over the past almost 17 years Ricky has given me some great unsolicited material. All the funny stuff I haven’t written about would probably fill our local Houston Public Library.

Years ago, I wrote about the time he buried himself up to his neck in a just-dumped two-story high pile of mulch in the school yard. We’re talkin’ steaming, stinky mulch. Ricky was probably six years old at the time and only ten minutes late walking home from school when I went looking for him. My first clue was his backpack lying on the ground next to the ginormous mulch pile. Yep, I still remember walking behind him pushing Mimi’s wheelchair the two blocks home. Ricky picked at the back of his blue jeans with one hand every few minutes hoping some of the itchy mulch debris would dislodge from his underwear.

Oh, and did I mention he nearly electrocuted the air conditioning repair man? Wrote about that too. In a peanut shell, there is this little box on the side of our house not too far from the condensing unit. Now the repairman had the box open and the switch turned off as he labored on the unit some 15 feet away. At some point our curious and silent little son walked around the corner up to the box and flipped the switch. It sent the fan blade into a loud whirling motion. My guess is every hair on the repairman’s head woulda stood straight up … if he had any hair. Thankfully, his hands were not near the turning blades. All was eventually forgiven. It was just a case of a little boy with a fascination for switches.

As it turned out the repair dude had to come back the next day with a part. I’ll never forget answering the front door.

“Is Ricky home?” the repair dude asked, peering in the doorway.

I noticed the repair truck motor was running in front of our house. It didn’t take long to figure out it was in case he had to make a fast getaway. When I told him the coast was clear, Ricky was in school, he sighed and casually walked back to the truck and turned the ignition key to the “off” position.

Did I mention to this day there is still a padlock on the little box that powers the condenser unit? You never know when a little boy is going to move in next door.

Another time … again Ricky was a little guy. He left the block without permission. He was supposed to be feeding bits of fruit rollups to his favorite ant pile in the front yard. It was getting close to dinner and a frantic search of the neighborhood turned up no Ricky. The police were finally called. It took another hour for a constable to find him digging in the woods a half-mile from our house. It’s probably why I have such a strong heart. It’s been stress tested a number of times.

Needless to say, it has been the greatest journey and privilege participating in the raising of Ricky. He is now twenty-five, married and an officer in the Air Force. I couldn’t have asked for a more kind, good-natured, laid-back, loving, funny, scary adventurous son. Let’s just say he literally tends to get a little too close to the edge of the cliff for my liking. But hey, it is now Ricky’s lovely wife, Kate, who is up for the challenge of watching out for that “cliff dwelling” part of him.

So, you might ask, what the heck has got me all reflective about Ricky? In just a couple of days our son is being deployed for six months to a scary part of the world. Now what do I do? I’m counting the days till Ricky returns and he hasn’t even left!!! Where do I gather the “Mom” skills necessary so I can do my part in emotionally supporting Ricky while he is off in the desert missing family, friends, his dad’s barbecue and lots of holidays? Any suggestions will be most appreciated!

October 17, 2012
Something Blue

If the truth were told, our daughter, Katie, and her husband, Chad, would probably rather have gone down to the courthouse steps several months ago to get hitched. It was obvious they were totally not “into” the big wedding thing. However, I think when Katie looked into her father’s big baby blues she knew. No pressure, you understand. Oh, there WOULD BE a walk arm-in-arm down an aisle together … either in a courthouse, but most preferably in a church. I like to think of it as the whole father/daughter subliminal relationship at its best.

In a peanut shell, the love birdies are both in their 30s, and last year found love. Yep, and a few days ago everything was tied into a neat little bow.

A small intimate wedding at our church had been in the works since the spring. But from time to time I detected a lack of supreme excitement by the bride-to-be. That “we just want to get married now” vibe occasionally poked through. It was why a couple of months ago I placed a call.

“Your dad and I want to buy you a pair of shoes to go along with that lovely wedding dress. I don’t care if they are fancy cowboy boots or Dorothy’s red ruby slippers. Totally your choice,” I said.

I musta got her attention because the very next day my cell rang. It was our excited number one daughter.

“Mom, you should see the shoes I bought for the wedding! I went to DSW and there were these powder blue Betsey Johnson Shoes that are perfect and they only cost $39.99,” she breathlessly said.

I did recall reading the wacky, trendy designer had recently filed for bankruptcy. Now while this is certainly very sad news in the fashion world, it means that all those delicious platform and pointy shoes are now winding up in discount stores worn in greater numbers. And I’ll betcha $9, podiatrists are jumping up and down about now with delight. Their phones are about to ring off the appointment desk with young ladies booking for tootsie maladies.

Since the wedding dress would be a secret till the big day, Katie posted the shoes on Facebook. In person they were even way cuter. Turn the shoes over and the bottom is covered in a tiger print with a raised gold heart in the center of each shoe. It was totally our daughter, who works at the Houston Zoo for Pete’s sake. And Betsey, thanks … very nice touch.

The night of the wedding there were a few first-time introductions all around between Katie and Chad’s families. Our son, Ricky, was decked out in his Air Force dress blues for the event. It was Chad’s 3-year-old nephew that seemed to notice there was something a little different about Ricky. Not sure how it all unfolded but little Josh confessed he wanted to “fly big planes” when he grew up. Last year Josh wanted to be a pirate. This year it was a pilot. Ricky let Josh wear his Air Force hat and forged an immediate friendship. Kate, our daughter-in-law, snapped the cutest photo of the two holding hands.

Oh, but I forgot to finish my “shoe” story. While Katie was getting ready in the bride’s room at church, little Hannah, Chad’s adorable 2-year niece, came for a visit. Dressed in an empire-waisted white dress, Hannah admired Katie’s blue high-heeled shoes. Katie bent down to show Hannah the tiger print with the hearts on the bottom. Climbing up on one of the chairs in the room, Hannah reached down to look at the bottoms of her tiny black Mary Janes. Darn if she didn’t have a little heart embossed on the bottom of each of her shoes. I predict little Hannah will be a shoe maven by the time she hits kindergarten if her new Aunt Katie has anything to do with it.

Yep, Betsey Johnson’s powder blue platform shoes, an Air Force dress blue uniform and Dad’s big baby blues … just a few sparkles of magic in the air the night Katie and Chad said I do.

Dixie Frantz is a longtime Kingwood resident and newspaper columnist for the past 16 years. You can also subscribe to Dixie’s blog at Email comments to

September 17, 2012
Mud Flat Shoe Blues

This week I learned what my husband of 40 years thinks about Auguste Rodin. He is the French artist dude that created “The Thinker” and “The Kiss.” Rick and I had just gotten back from celebrating our anniversary in Paris when the question was posed. Now going to Paris was totally my idea! I mean, it seemed to me, what could be more fun than standing in front of the actual Eiffel Tower and soaking in the Notre Dame Cathedral? Paris is a regular Disneyland for adults once you master the subway. Did you know there is a Quasimodo Café around the corner from Notre Dame? You can’t make that kinda stuff up.

I got some hints during the planning process that he would probably not have picked Paris as an adventure. Heck, Rick would probably rather have gone fishing. It’s why I added a tour of the Normandy World War II beaches on our itinerary. That poured a gallon of sticky honey on the deal and got a smile. Anyway, we were unpacking clothes from the last green suitcase when out popped, like a cork from a champagne bottle, the question about Rodin.

“Did you enjoy the art museum we visited on the last day of our trip?” I asked.

Rick prefers to be a pull toy on vacations, and me, I’m the one pouring over the travel books and maps for six months. That last day before we boarded the plane to return home, Rick rushed through the Rodin Museum like he was the white rabbit in “Alice in Wonderland” … late for a very important date. It was difficult to tell if he was just ready to get back to an English-speaking nation, or not liking all those beefy naked statues.

“Nope. Didn’t like the Rodin stuff at all. Personally, I would have rather seen a Rodan vs. Godzilla movie, with Mothra thrown in,” said Rick, referring to the creepy 1950s Japanese science-fiction creatures of his youth.

I got the same reaction the day we were to visit the Louvre. I remember chattering on about how exciting it was going to be to see the Mona Lisa, which by the way is totally a small picture. I’m always surprised to see the actual size of a painting is not at all what I expected. Oh, and then there was Venus de Milo. She was also at the top of my Louvre list. When Rick referred to Venus as that marble chick without arms, I knew there was cause for concern. Maybe after 40 years of marriage it was time to cross “art” off the list of things to do together.

Of course turn-about is fair play. There was guy stuff on another of our stops in France. We also went on a day trip to Mont Saint-Michel, which is a couple of hours away from the Normandy Beaches and totally amazing. The abbey is from the 12th century located on an island not far from the shores of France. Even though there is a pedestrian bridge to the abbey, when the tide is low some people still walk across the grey mud to the island. Now strolling through mud is not my idea of fun when there is a perfectly good bridge to get me there. I mean … there were signs posted warning of quicksand in some of those muddy spots for Pete’s sake.

“You just don’t walk where there are footprints leading up to a hat lying in the mud,” said Rick with a snicker.

Our son, Ricky, and his wife, Kate, were touring Europe at the same time and had joined us when we got to the Normandy beaches and the abbey tour. It was the boy’s idea to walk all around the island at low tide after touring the church. Kate and I thought seriously about waiting on the rocks till the boys completed their quest. We quickly decided there might not be sinkage involved if we literally walked in their footsteps. Let’s just say it sounds easier than it actually is. My grey mud-encrusted black shoes may never be the same.

Yep, after 40 years of marriage, I’ve learned that Rick would walk through a Rodin Museum for me. And me … I’d sink up to my ankles in grey mud. However, quicksand is something I’d have to stop and seriously think about.

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