Meg Livergood Gerrish – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 17 Feb 2019 15:51:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Meg Livergood Gerrish – 32 32 Wrapping It Up Wed, 10 Nov 2010 00:01:04 +0000 What does wrapping paper go for these days? Not the flimsy stuff from the discount shop, but the good stuff that doesn’t rip when you look at it. Five, nine, twelve bucks for a roll of paper that maybe covers a board game and a book? And that doesn’t include the matchy-matchy ribbon or tags. Or the cute, stick-on package accessories, which aren’t cheap, I can tell you.

Back in the day, in the two week window before Christmas, you couldn’t drag me out of the shop known for greeting cards, but which also offers maybe the most deluxe, readily available wrapping paper sets around. I’ll bet half our Christmas shopping budget was spent on the wrappings. I wanted my children to experience awe when they came into the living room on Christmas morning. And they did! The vision of a sparkling tree amidst an abundance of beautifully wrapped gifts took their breath away. Mine, too.


A Simple WrapWhat does wrapping paper go for these days? Not the flimsy stuff from the discount shop, but the good stuff that doesn’t rip when you look at it. Five, nine, twelve bucks for a roll of paper that maybe covers a board game and a book*? And that doesn’t include the matchy-matchy ribbon or tags. Or the cute, stick-on package accessories, which aren’t cheap, I can tell you.

Back in the day, in the two week window before Christmas, you couldn’t drag me out of the shop known for greeting cards, but which also offers maybe the most deluxe, readily available wrapping paper sets around. I’ll bet half our Christmas shopping budget was spent on the wrappings. I wanted my children to experience awe when they came into the living room on Christmas morning. And they did! The vision of a sparkling tree amidst an abundance of beautifully wrapped gifts took their breath away. Mine, too.

Then they tore in and by lunchtime, as the sounds of carols, giggling and whining dressed the day, wrappings were collected and crumpled for the landfill. Even before I was conscious of “green,” the moment of throwing out the bags full of trash kinda made me gag. It was all too much. Too much money and too much money deliberately thrown away.

So although I believe that a thoughtful gift should be thoughtfully presented, I made a change that generally saves money and definitely saves space on the garbage truck. I quit paying for very expensive wrapping paper to throw away. These are a few of the approaches I use instead.

Packaging, Part I: Whenever possible and as the budget allows, I make the container part of the gift. There are some beautiful boxes out there, the kind that would be pridefully repurposed in a bookshelf, on the vanity or in the office. There are leather boxes, bamboo boxes, silk covered hard-board boxes, cigar boxes that scream for a happy crafter’s special touch, even boxes that are meant for storing sweaters out of season. Tie the box up with a satin or grosgrain ribbon and you’ve made a lovely presentation that won’t end up on the next run to the dump.

Packaging, Part II: We accumulate metal containers, maybe you do, too. Loose leaf tea and other specialty foods are often packaged in metal containers. Buy Scottish oatmeal. Eat Scottish oatmeal. Good for the heart, good for the soul. Save the tin for later. Gifts are now whimsically presented in containers, maybe with a bit of colorful tissue for fill and are then finished off with complementary ribbons (silver or gold go with darned near any metal container). Repurposing again! Love it. Those tins might eventually end up in the recycling bin, but at least they got a couple of shots at usefulness.

Packaging, Part III: Gift bags sold as gift bags and meant as gift bags. I’m done buying those. On the other hand, if a gift arrives in one I certainly save that lovely bag to reuse when the next holiday rolls around.

Packaging, Part IV: Sometimes a gift needs to be wrapped. I once bought a collection of cloth dinner napkins that were on sale for a silly-low price. A beautiful cloth and ribbon makes a beautiful presentation.  A nice cloth screams for repurposing.

Packaging, Part V: As we see, I’ve minimized the use of paper. But sometimes an occasion arises unexpectedly and I’m not prepared with boxes or tins or a proper sized-cloth. I keep large rolls of inexpensive brown kraft-style mailing paper and white banner paper (available at office supply stores, the post office or The Container Store) on hand. Really inexpensive, and many, many gifts are wrapped before reaching the end of the rolls. I’m not an artist, but I can imagine a clever person drawing something lovely on the plain-wrapper or maybe running a cut sheet through the ink jet to give it a little zip. But I don’t do those things. I just finish the wrapping by using the most beautiful ribbon on hand, oftentimes something that has been rescued from other occasions.

Tags, Baubles and Ribbon: I am done with the expense of coordinating paper-and-tag sets. Every few years I buy a 100-count package of white marking tags from the office supply store for about three bucks. Plain tags match any package presentation, and at the flourish of a pen, identifies recipient and giver.

And somehow — I don’t exactly know how — but bits and bobs appear in our worlds that have no particular purpose. It isn’t mandatory to add anything to further adorn a package, but a piece of broken costume jewelry, the decorative attachment from an old key chain, maybe even an old key if it’s fine! All those sparkling bits and bobs around the house can be collected over the course of time and used as decorations for your presentations. No bits and bobs? A fresh sprig of something from the garden works, too.

Finally? Ribbon. I buy yards of it from the fabric store for much less money than anything on sale in the wrapping aisle of a department store. Ribbon should be bountiful (I love lots and lots of curling ribbon) or exceptional (I love silk toile or gold satin tied into simple bows). And as shown in the photo, even a piece of twine can set off a beautiful box.

Presentation isn’t everything, but it is the first thing. I like to make it count.

*I know. It should say “…that maybe covers an X-Box with Kinect and a Kindle…”

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Chop Shop Thu, 26 Aug 2010 02:27:54 +0000 I live in a big city. Plenty of shopping options. Access to anything we need. Access to internet shopping if I’m feeling too poorly to drag around through hot parking lots (it’s a health thing, not part of this story). I usually choose small stores before big box or supermarkets because it’s just easier than having to walk eighty miles (even if it is indoors and air-conditioned) to pick up toilet paper. I don’t shop for entertainment, but I like being entertained when I shop. I enjoy personal service. I like seeing, sometimes buying, the unique or interesting items from hither and yon that appear on the shelves. I like handing money to the owner or to the long-time store employee as the owner visits with customers and straightens items on the shelves.

Which brings me to Walmart.


I live in a big city. Plenty of shopping options. Access to anything we need. Access to internet shopping if I’m feeling too poorly to drag around through hot parking lots (it’s a health thing, not part of this story). I usually choose small stores before big box or supermarkets because it’s just easier than having to walk eighty miles (even if it is indoors and air-conditioned) to pick up toilet paper. I don’t shop for entertainment, but I like being entertained when I shop. I enjoy personal service. I like seeing, sometimes buying, the unique or interesting items from hither and yon that appear on the shelves. I like handing money to the owner or to the long-time store employee as the owner visits with customers and straightens items on the shelves.

Which brings me to Walmart.

I have deliberately avoided the company because I don’t like the way they market themselves as gung-ho pro American while studiously working to bring middle class shopkeepers and owners on Main Street to financial ruin, killing the hearts of communities across the very America they so claim to love.

But three years ago, I entered a Walmart. We were on an extended vacation in the mountains of North Carolina and beyond. My laptop had broken down dead and for reasons that didn’t exist a generation ago, we couldn’t just say, “Oh well too bad” and carry on with our vacation. We needed a laptop. In retrospect we probably could have made other arrangements, but we ended up in Walmart because there wasn’t another place to buy a computer for 75 miles in either the right or wrong directions.

The greeters and checkout clerks at the front of the store were full of smiles and helpful in their guidance. That was nice. But once within, deep within, yikes! The chaos of the aisles, the crap crap and more crap filling the aisles, the slovenly presentation and total disrespect for customers and employees alike were mind boggling. I got the laptop off the shelf — no help from the greasy-dirty, slovenly, gum-snapping employees nearby — made my purchase and fled, then shuddered and showered away the experience with a sense of assurance that I would never enter a Walmart again.

Until this week when I did. Twice.

We are currently in another part of the country building a small house and camping inside of the house as we work. Literally, camping. Our bedroom is a tent in the corner. Our working toilet area has cardboard walls which are super-stapled to the studs (no dry-wall, yet), the cardboard coming from the box that held the new toilet. We tote water to the sink for washing, which drains into buckets, which we then tote to the toilet, which, you may be relieved to know, drains away to the actual, functioning septic tank.

There are other adventurous features to our temporary living condition, but needless to say, we’re operating for a few weeks under circumstances that we didn’t adequately visualize. There was stuff we needed.

Several collapsible jugs to hold water, which we collect at the town well (ours is contaminated); many terry-cloth bar towels – the striped set for drying our hands, the plain ones for drying the cooking and dining items; a fire extinguisher (you don’t just set a Kitchen Aid 6-burner stove top onto saw horses without an emergency action plan); a multi-outlet junction box to power everything because oddly, we do have electricity, so I refer once again to the fire extinguisher. Walking shoes. I brought flats from home and really? I should have brought sneakers.

Anyway, we needed stuff. A variety of stuff and where better than Walmart that had already encamped in spite of my protestations against corporate ugly, and besides, don’t they enjoy a reputation for providing all the stuff anyone could possibly need? We needed stuff.

I grimaced on my way into the store only to be surprised that not only were the greeters friendly, but throughout, everything was clean and shiny. Kind of a new store, as it happens, but the items on the shelves (crap crap and more crap) were displayed with care. The employees within were crisp, starched and smiling. There was a seeming innate respect for both customers and personnel. I thought to myself, “Okay, this is acceptable retailing.” I collected the items on our list, made payment to a smiling clerk and left with a smile on my own face. Later I told my husband, “That didn’t suck.”

The next day I returned for additional provisions. This time there were a few more customers; many, actually. I stood in the checkout line and had a chance to look around. Only one word came to mind:


I’ve stood in many lines — airports, movie theatres and supermarkets – that all moved too slowly, but I never before had that impression. Herd. I was reminded of the characters waiting in line for soylent green, nutritious chips in a story that introduced many thriller fans to a unique form of recycling.

Forgetting about the crap crap and more crap in the surrounding carts – and there is no justifying the purchase of anything in the majority of those carts unless you’re all for supporting Chinese manufacturing and their plastics industry – it was the people themselves. Staring off into space and moving inches at a time for a turn at checkout, I felt like we were playing zombie drones in a horror movie.

I was herded, too, and eventually went on my way. Sadly, that for the indignity of being treated like cattle, the products I bought at Walmart were comparably available at the family owned hardware, camping supply and small markets in the same area for no more money than what Walmart charged. Where were the savings? There were no savings. We’ve been had.

And the corporate tactics! If it was an irritating curiosity before, I am now fully alert that money is over-all wild-wasted when shopping in Target, Walmart, or any of the warehouse price clubs. This is the sort of corporate tactic I mean — when I have to wait twenty minutes for the prescription at my local Target every single time I pre-order a refill, they know I’m going to wander around and collect crap that I don’t need while I wait. They didn’t stick that pharmacy in the back of the store for nothing.

My lack of control is my problem, not theirs. And I quit shopping at Target a long time ago for that very reason. But it’s crystal clear to me now, that the mega-mart corporations aren’t in business to give you the best deal, so they don’t. They’re in business to make money and mostly they’re successful for the effort.

Not by me, they won’t be. Not anymore.

The town with the Walmart I entered twice has an aged and existing Main Street that thrives with much concerted effort in spite of Walmart thanks to a healthy tourist industry (even in this economy). The street is filled with busy galleries, restaurants and shops, many filled with locally-crafted, museum-quality products to appeal to visitors who come from around the country and Europe. But like old-time USA, there are also shops up and down the block offering anything one would need to make a home. There is nothing in the charming kitchen shop priced outside of normal, nothing Walmart offers that isn’t smack in the middle of town, where the parking is also free and the service is dignified while friendly. The fire extinguisher available at the family-owned hardware store the next block over comes at the same price as the one from Walmart. I’m sorry we didn’t go to the family-owned hardware store. I won’t make that mistake again.

I know that some towns no longer have many shopping choices thanks to the Big Box Monuments To Community Ruination, but I encourage people who do have a choice to frequent stores owned by your neighbors, who will appreciate the business.

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The Collision Sun, 25 Jul 2010 19:31:56 +0000 During the past week, two stories in Like The Dew collided smack into me and dredged up family history that I could never forget, would not want to forget, but had compartmentalized to take advantage of life's forward motion.

Alex Kearns shared wrenching heartbreak about her sister's unexpected death (My Sister, My Self). Her personal loss triggered for me feelings about the loss of my own sister, Trisha, who also died unexpectedly and who, like Ms Kearns' sister, was also was a person with schizophrenia. Lots of feelings arise in me when the subject is schizophrenia, my personal shame chief among them.


During the past week, two stories in Like The Dew collided smack into me and dredged up family history that I could never forget, would not want to forget, but had compartmentalized to take advantage of life’s forward motion.

Alex Kearns shared wrenching heartbreak about her sister’s unexpected death (My Sister, My Self). Her personal loss triggered for me feelings about the loss of my own sister, Trisha, who also died unexpectedly and who, like Ms Kearns’ sister, was also was a person with schizophrenia. Lots of feelings arise in me when the subject is schizophrenia, my personal shame chief among them.

The other story was Remembering The Heyday Of The Miami Herald by Chris Wohlwend. I contributed my annoyance that The Herald dropped the award-winning, Sunday supplement magazine Tropic for the nothingness of Parade just to save a few dollars.

Where does the collision come in? I can’t fathom how my family’s history would look from today, if not for an intervention by Tropic magazine, their writers and editors. The former newspaper magazine and issue of schizophrenia are intertwined in my mind and for now, I am again immersed in my family’s history.

I once approached a television news producer about doing a segment on schizophrenia and how it had torn our family to bits, and when he said, “Tell me about your experience,” I talked non-stop for two hours without scratching the surface of our anger, pain and confusion. He was kindly attentive, asked relevant questions and at the end of my purge, thoughtfully suggested that this clearly was a story needing more than a two minute sound byte. He directed me to Tropic.

What follows is my plea to Tropic written in 1987, hoping it would interest them enough to bring the family shame of schizophrenia out of the closet, to bring the torment and lack of treatment into the light. Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author Madeleine Blais (Uphill Walkers) took up the cause, interviewed us for months and then shared our family’s story about schizophrenia and how we did and didn’t deal with such a tragic disease. This was my plea:

One Schizophrenic

You go to a party and meet somebody new. Perhaps you get involved in a long conversation about life. Sometime during the talk you begin discussing family and the person you’re speaking with refers to a brother, cousin or parent who is “difficult.”

“You have one, too?”

First they stare, then they begin reliving the horrors of having a schizophrenic in the family. And they can’t believe they’re speaking with someone who understands what they’re talking about.

Here’s what they’re talking about:

You go with your schizophrenic to a crisis clinic at a major city hospital to have her admitted, once again, for evaluation. Probably you have a court order to have her admitted against her will because she won’t seek treatment on her own. While you’re waiting you can’t help but notice that every few minutes new patients are arriving. People who are strung out, drooling or babbling incoherently. People who are laughing in a way that is singular to schizophrenics. And family members whose eyes are utterly desperate.

You know that if you didn’t have the court order, your schizophrenic would be evaluated in less than five minutes, and then be sent back home. You’ve been there before. So has your schizophrenic. And she knows that being quiet and cooperative will speed her release.

Your schizophrenic finally hits the depths. She’s forced into psychiatric care and is taking medication. After being released from the hospital she comes home to family members who want to believe that this is the last time. The schizophrenic gets a job, saves money, buys a car. She continues taking medication. The family begins to breath. Then the schizophrenic feels so good she quits taking her medication. But she doesn’t tell you. You don’t need to be told.

Her appearance deteriorates. She quits sleeping or eating, and loses her job. She parks her car somewhere and never goes back for it. She spends all night on a front porch talking to army recruiters, but there’s no recruiter there. She spends an entire day reading the newspaper, but never turns the page. She burns her arms with cigarettes and walks the streets naked.

After ten years of trying to find some help, a cure, or some permanent solution, it’s apparent that there is no answer. You realize you have to look out for yourself and the rest of your family. You have to look out for an eighty-five year old grandmother who is being tormented by your schizophrenic. And the day she pulls the chair out from under your grandmother is the day you get a restraining order barring her from the family and her home.

You get a call late at night from your mother. Your schizophrenic is home, and she’s irrational and violent. Because your mother is so full of guilt and confusion she can’t bear calling the police on her own daughter. So you have to. You go home, call the police and watch them drag her away from the house knowing you will be back tomorrow doing the same thing. And before they leave, the police suggest you buy your schizophrenic a one-way ticket to anywhere or pack up, move and leave no forwarding address.

So now your schizophrenic has nowhere to live except on the streets and in bus station bathrooms. She hasn’t eaten or slept in weeks. Your schizophrenic calls home after being beaten and raped, and you give her money. She gets a room in a filthy downtown hotel and lays in bed for a week suffering from contusions, swollen, infected legs, malnutrition and broken teeth.

It takes some time, but you get another court order. The police and an ambulance meet you at the hotel and take your schizophrenic to the crisis center for admission. You plead with the doctors to do a thorough evaluation, not only mentally, but physically as well, because you’re certain she’s dying. And while you wish she’d go away, you still believe that human beings don’t deserve to live or die like this.

And you can’t believe in your wildest dreams that within hours of admission, the patient is released. Back to the street.

A note is sent by the schizophrenic to the family. It says that if she isn’t sent money that afternoon, your grandmother will be killed. It’s an act of desperation, but because you’ve come so far down with your schizophrenic, you’re deliriously happy at this sudden turn of events. Because now the schizophrenic goes to jail. A protected environment with three meals a day. Medical care. And at least some kind of companionship.

After spending three months in county jail she is transferred on her 37th birthday to a state facility for the criminally insane. After nine months, your schizophrenic is sent to a halfway house. And for the first time in 18 years, she doesn’t depend on you. She finally understands that you can’t help her.

She now relies on the system and has a full time job just dealing with government bureaucracy for Social Security, food stamps and Medicaid. She has her teeth repaired because, as she puts it, “Even if you’re perfectly normal, without teeth there’s no job for you.” And she’d like a job.

With careful supervision she continues taking her medication, her only option for stability. She begins learning about her disease and so do you.

You discover that schizophrenia is a physical and chemical brain disorder, the cause of which is unknown. You learn that you can’t emotionally traumatize someone into schizophrenia any more than you can psychoanalyze them out of it.

You learn that schizophrenia is an ancient disease that feels new because of a well-intentioned policy called de-institutionalization which has failed miserably to consider the needs of the schizophrenic.

You learn that community programs exist to stabilize and resocialize schizophrenics, but that they are few and far between.

You learn that our government spends as much money researching schizophrenia as they do researching tooth and gum disease; and that for every person with muscular dystrophy there are ten with schizophrenia who have no poster child or telethon.

You learn that one-third of the homeless on our streets are schizophrenics; none have cerebral palsy. And you learn that cancer patients are never jailed as a treatment of last resort.

What you’ve really learned is that your schizophrenic’s life has been wasted because of misconception and society’s lack of care. This knowledge affects you with a pain so deep it’s inexpressible. Because she’s not really, no matter how you try to steel yourself against this pain, just your schizophrenic.

She’s your sister.

My sister, Trisha, continued on a path to good health until she died in an accident in the mid-1990s. The Tropic article turned into a three-part series of articles because so many people over the years wrote, wanting to know how Trisha was doing. There were some ups and downs, mostly ups. Her story — and her brave, willing participation in the story — helped other families to stand up and demand better care and treatment. Twenty-three years later we can say there are improvements in the system, but there is a long way to go.

For the record, my sister had an aggressive personality, which probably would have served her well in life if she’d been mentally healthy. In her case, while psychotic she did become violent on occasion, not with the intent to harm, necessarily, but without any self-regulation, she was capable of harm. But like the vast majority of society, most people with schizophrenia are not violent and are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.

The idea of people who have minds that are ill being left to fend for themselves on the streets is unconscionable.

National Alliance On Mental Illness:  Schizophrenia
Available at Amazon: Surviving Schizophrenia by Dr E Fuller Torrey
Please Help Find Adam Kellner
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Money Saving Skin Care: Hold The Garlic Mon, 07 Jun 2010 23:50:33 +0000 You know what I got tired of throwing away? Beauty creams.

I’m a girl. I like to look nice. And nothing is nice about irritated skin, the kind of skin that I possess. Fussy. Flaky. Downright petulant when blusher and eye shadow are applied.

For decades I’ve used everything recommended by doctors to make my skin behave. I’ve used everything hawked in television ads, the ones with models and moms who all glow with gorgeous skin. I’ve used everything from expensive salves to cheap grocery store gunk. Nothing purchased for the purpose has held my sad skin intact.

A Magic Potion

You know what I got tired of throwing away? Beauty creams.

I’m a girl. I like to look nice. And nothing is nice about irritated skin, the kind of skin that I possess. Fussy. Flaky. Downright petulant when blusher and eye shadow are applied.

For decades I’ve used everything recommended by doctors to make my skin behave. I’ve used everything hawked in television ads, the ones with models and moms who all glow with gorgeous skin. I’ve used everything from expensive salves to cheap grocery store gunk. Nothing purchased for the purpose has held my sad skin intact.

Oh sure. The products work great the first few times out of the jar-tube-packet. Truth be told, so would Elmer’s Glue. But soon the irritation returns, then the product (or collection of products including cleanser, toner, finisher, daytime moisturizing sunblock, night time repair, etc, etc) gets pushed to the back of the cabinet, the necessary holding area before finally entering the trash bin. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars! Probably thousands, all thrown into the trash bin. Wildly irritating.

My wallet and brain cells grew weary. So let me just share the inspiration provided by my sister who, after preparing a meal, idly rubbed her hands together and then admired the luster on her fingernails. She lit a bulb in my brain with that simple action many months ago, and I’ve been doing the following ever since. If you also missed the genetic gold ring for simply lovely skin, maybe this will help you as it has surely helped me.

Just guess. Two words: Olive oil. (Talk to your dermatologist unless you’re completely sick of sitting in the waiting room.)

I keep a small dark bottle of organic olive oil tucked away in a cool bathroom-area cabinet. First, I wash my face with an inexpensive bar of glycerin-based non-soap bought at the supermarket. Then I moisturize with a few drops of the olive oil. Just drops. Organic olive oil may not be cheap, but it’s already in the house and I only use drops! If this moisturizing regimen, after the expense of the eye dropper, costs four bucks a year, I’d be shocked.

Sure, sure. My husband greets me in the evening with a hug and a kiss, and immediately wonders, “Where’s the balsamic vinegar?” But it works. I wear makeup without pain! People tell me that I look great! They’re so sweet. And they’re so right because I do!

It’s as if the salad days have returned.

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‘Tis The Season Tue, 25 May 2010 22:02:56 +0000
Pretty, right?

What we loved most about our new home was that nothing had ever been done to it. And by that I mean, it had been a remodeling virgin for over 50 years. Once the original owners moved in, they were done.

When we took ownership in the late 1990s it was apparent that the house had never received a fresh coat of paint, not inside or out. There were no ceiling fans, and just one small window air conditioning unit in a bathroom. That’s right, a bathroom. The house had never been wired for cable and there was only a single telephone outlet of the actual wire-it, non-modular sort. Electricity passed through a fuse box. I was transported to childhood the first time a fuse blew. Kinda blew me away. The aqua and black counter top tiles matched beautifully with the original (and at the time, still functioning) aqua-finish Frigidaire appliances, weekly de-frosting required.

Say, kids, do you know what de-frosting means? Here’s a hint: cake is not involved.

As we considered the update and upgrade possibilities, my husband Tom spent a very long weekend in the surrounding acre clearing the overgrown and exotic plants, giving the natural hammocks and foliage a chance to shine. The yard, like the house, had been seriously neglected.

Except for mowing a patch of grass, the previous owners must have been disinclined to tamper with nature (if we’re being kind in our observation). We learned that when they were done with something – a carburetor, a broken mixing bowl, an empty whiskey bottle – the trash was as carelessly thrown to the ground as thoughtfully placed in the bin. We know this because ficus trees swallow whatever snuggles too long at the base. It’s an archeologist’s dream tree. Those items mentioned and more could be seen through the bars of thick, hanging ficus roots, pushed higher and deeper into the tree. We didn’t find skeletal remains, fortunately, but that didn’t make the tree’s grabby habits any less creepy.

We cleared what we could from the ficus. Some of that stuff is never coming out.

Tom removed a lot of foliage. Ixoras? Pretty, but not really appropriate for a South Florida rock land environment. So, big pile of ixoras. Oyster plants, guinea and cogon grass, some sort of persistent, thorny vine with potato-like roots. Big pile. Ground covering weeds pulled, so letting the native flora breathe. Big pile. Plenty of trimming and cutting to make sure the ficus trees, beautiful oaks, a mahogany, gumbo limbos, seagrapes and a large sausage tree could withstand big wind. Big ol’pile.

Some wood was cut and saved for a future in the fireplace. Some limbs went into a chipper. Plants and smaller clippings (big pile) were burned.

Turns out, some of those clippings were poison ivy.

After Tom returned from the emergency room, his lungs thankfully spared, but his skin blistered and sore from ankles and hands to forehead, he soaked for hours in an oatmeal bath in the deep maroon tub in the maroon and gray-tiled bathroom. That our new home had well water at the time, which occasionally emerged from faucets as blopping, black goop, well, Tom’s eyelids were bubbled and sealed shut anyway, so what he didn’t see, he wouldn’t have to worry about.

As he soaked, I searched the internet to learn all about poison ivy. I’d never seen it, had never broken out in a blistering rash, so probably hadn’t touched it. Or maybe I’m one of the lucky few who isn’t allergic. One of the very few.

When the plants re-emerged (which happened fairly quickly, this being sultry South Florida), I was ready with a plan. As it is now Poison Plant season in most parts of the country, I share with you a list of my tools:

  • Extra large plastic bag (for all my rants on the subject, this project affords excellent use for plastic bags);
  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves, as this is not the time for wimpy-thin latex gloves;
  • Disposable paper suit, available at hardware stores in the painter’s aisle along with booties if they’ve got them;
  • Marinade syringe from the kitchen supply shop loaded with Round Up because if spritzing is good, injecting is way better. And for crying out loud, don’t stick yourself!
Dressed for success

Looking and behaving like a CSI technician, I covered the entire yard in a grid, making sure not to miss a single evil plant under any rock, around any shrub (“They hurt my Tommy!”). I slowly pulled the vines from the ground, exposing the roots from the soil, exposing as much plant as possible, and disposing of each in the black bag. I injected broken vine ends still in the ground with Round Up. If the broken ends were too slim for the syringe, I went with the spritz.

I never wiped a single drop of sweat from my brow, by the way. That would have been madness.

At the end of each purging session, I carefully removed a rubber glove and placed it in the trash bag, along with my paper bio-hazard gear and syringe. With the still-gloved hand, I carried the urushiol-coated bag to the trash bin, used my clean, ungloved hand to lift the lid and dropped the bag inside, peeling off the remaining glove from the inside-out in the process.

This is a process, after all. The goal is to remove all the offending poisonous plants without being poisoned. I did this in 1996 and again in 1997. We have been poison ivy free until this year, 2010. Back to work.

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On Being Trashy Sat, 22 May 2010 02:32:18 +0000
Select the item that could have come from our grandmother's kitchen.
Select the item that could have come from our grandmother's kitchen.

We began drifting from plastic when, even after a thorough scrubbing, our new Tupperware bowl held tight to a spaghetti sauce stain. Something about being reminded of past meals put me off of using plastic in the kitchen so we threw out the new bowl. The remaining plastic storage containers disappeared through attrition. I refused all invitations to Tupperware parties. I walked down the Rubbermaid aisle with blinders on, except when peeking to pick up a new laundry basket.

For the most part, unless a Lego logo was attached, plastic rarely entered our world.

We became a household that daringly served beverages to our children in glass cups. And did you know that shattering a glass once will cause clumsy children to work very hard not to do it again? A universal truth: nobody enjoys stepping on broken glass. For the grandchildren? Well. I’m old and tired. We have a set of stainless steel cups for the grands.

We didn’t have special plastic containers for the microwave because our microwave rarely processed anything messier than a potato. The mixing bowls were stainless, the mixing spoons wooden, the everyday dishware Corelle, and even Bosco The Rott-Lab was served her evening’s meal in a ceramic bowl. Except for retiring Bosco’s bowl after her passing, all of the other items are still in our kitchen and used daily. The grandchildren’s stainless steel cups may be around for serving drinks to their own grandchildren.

But from the start, there was no resisting the offerings from Zip-Loc. Was there any product handier for marinating the protein, storing leftovers, freezing future sauces, corralling collectible bits or protecting valuables from damage? Nothing. Not as far as I knew. Although, since I was uncomfortable about properly cleaning most things plastic, in spite of recommendations ours was a Use Once And Throw Away household when it came to Zip-Loc.

That was then.

I transitioned away from “reusable” plastic storage bags when I got the notion to make chutney using mangoes from the yard and bought a case of Ball glass jars in one-pint and one-quart sizes. I don’t recall ever making the chutney, but delighted that jars can store almost all of the same things a Zip-Loc can (sandwiches : wax paper), except they aren’t thrown away after each use. They emerge from the rinse cycle shiny clean every time.

I’m still impressed that although today a one-quart size Ball jar with lid set costs about $1 and a one-quart Zip-Loc about a quarter, even among those dedicated to reusing zipper bags a few times, the final cost-per-use for a plastic bag is higher. After many years, by now the cost-per-use of our glass containers must equal nano-cents.

But here’s the part about the majority of plastic products that really twisted my braids, which had never before occurred to me: while a jar may break and be swept away, it isn’t bought with the intent to throw it out. Buying something with the deliberate knowledge that it is to be thrown away…

…which naturally presents a discussion of trash can liners. In our neighborhood, just one of several garbage collection rules requires homeowners to: “Bag household garbage before placing it in the cart.” We have to keep our garbage tidy or municipal workers will, what, be annoyed? Penalties aren’t identified with the rules, but I’m sure we don’t want to land on the sanitation workers’ naughty list.

I will say, the rules don’t specify plastic bags, but we all know that in the second decade of the new millennium, to keep the garbage tidy, that’s what they mean. After all, since we bring our own totes to the market (finally), we no longer amass plastic or paper carry-alls. So as we’ve done for years, we buy plastic bags to throw away with the garbage, said garbage top heavy with stuff that was bought in full knowledge of its eventual disposal. Even at our house. Where we’re fairly conscientious about these issues.

The mind boggles. Yet, we’d have a hard time wresting ourselves from Swiffer products.

Think about it: diapers, razors, plastic pencils and pens, all ordinary in our lives, all disposable. Lighters, air system filters, lollipops on plastic whirly stems. Coffee mugs and meal containers and towels. Plastic stick-on toilet bowl cleaners, laundry detergent dispersing balls, dryer balls, and plastic plug-in room fresheners, once used they’re headed to the trash. Must we mention individual bottles of beverage? Those wee plastic pods of coffee and tea? Spice jars with built-in grinders that can’t be refilled. Shake ‘N Pour Pancakes by Bisquick makes 6 to 8 cakes (the monocalcium phosphate monohydrate for the tummy and plastic container for throwing into the bin don’t cost a penny extra)! “Lunchables?” Is that a joke?

I wish I could ask my parents how they ran a household with eight children, while having only one 20-gallon trash bin for the municipal worker to empty each week. And no recycling. I’ll bet that old Tupperware bowl I threw out over thirty years ago is still in shape at the bottom of Mount Trashmore.

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Cutting The Budget: The New Entertainment Thu, 06 May 2010 00:45:15 +0000
The Lime Tree In Bloom
Growing our own food? That's entertaining

Like everyone else in the country, we’ve been finding ways to trim our monthly expenses. Can’t do much about our mortgage, ditto the health insurance and property taxes. We made adjustments to our auto insurance – nothing to leave us dangerously exposed, but since the business and personal cars are owned free-and-clear, we looked at what exactly we were covering and brought the premiums down.

I dropped the internet feature from my cell service. I rarely travel so why have internet on the cell phone? The internet is all over our house! Last year we ported the phone number from our business land line to my husband’s smart phone. That was a money saver and handy, too. Now my husband keeps business in his pocket. And we are canceling the “extra” land line, the one for sending and receiving FAXes (soooooo last millennium). That basic phone line rate has tripled from when it was installed a decade ago. We’ll soon use an on-line service for the rare FAX which, happily, costs much less than that extra phone line. And for a bonus, we’ll no longer be awakened in the middle of the night by the FAX beep signaling an offer for a free vacation at Disney World!

We dropped our television service providers, opting instead to simply grab the free signal out of the air with an outdoor antenna, and to also watch favorite programs over the internet. Since writing about this for Like The Dew a couple of months ago (“For Your Viewing Pleasure”), we’ve not only saved money, but we’ve enjoyed a real preference for the setup. Zero monthly payment. And the images are better! A real example of “less is more.”

We switched from the inexpensive Blockbuster membership to the really cheap Netflix membership, which, as it happens, includes viewing movies over the internet for no extra fee. (Come on, Blockbuster, get with the program!) We used to buy DVDs of the movies we might have enjoyed at the theatre, since it’s cheaper to buy the DVD than go to the movies. But we have raised the savings quotient on movie viewing by just waiting for Netflix to deliver. No hurry.

And speaking of entertainment, we dine out less frequently. When we want to enjoy restaurant service, we pop in for a less expensive lunch at a favorite place. We rarely order out for food anymore. That makes me sad. I like to order out. On the other hand, we’ve both been spared the ingestion of unnecessary extra calories, so with ten less pounds around my hips, this reluctantly-happily falls into the lose-lose category.

Ahh, food. A lot has changed in our kitchen. Our pantry was never crazy-loaded anyway. We always felt that the grocery store should store food for us. Why would we fill our costly Miami square footage with food?

So as usual, the majority of our grocery items fit into two, deep kitchen drawers. But what’s in those drawers has changed. For example, we have quit buying salad dressing. Everything you need to make salad dressing is already in the kitchen. Oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, relish, mayonnaise, French or dry mustard, honey, some yogurt, maybe ketchup, maybe fresh lemon, a few herbs from the garden – those items can be combined to create hundreds of dressings. If we find that we must we have something outside of that range, well, that’s what restaurants are for.

We are converts to any Buy One Get One Free campaign and are now fairly attentive to coupons — two categories of the grocery budget we had always ignored for reasons unknown even to ourselves. Seriously lazy about groceries, I suppose. We still opt for an organic label when possible, but select either what’s on sale or the store’s budget-friendly, generic-organic version, whichever costs less.

We have quit buying boxed cereal. Never a budget-buster anyway, but four bucks is four bucks. What do we eat for breakfast? In the winter months I bake hearty bread. Not because of the savings, but because we like homemade bread. At the same time, I think it’s a savings. As the summer temperatures have arrived, I’m more inclined to prepare hearty Oat & Yogurt or Charged-Up Cornmeal Pancakes (below). Each is enjoyed more at our house when prepared using a waffle iron, by the way, so maybe at yours, too. Sometimes we have eggs on the side (really cheap protein). Leftover pancake-waffles are refrigerated, then toasted on those bleary mornings. Convenient, right? Everyone appreciates convenience, but we have drastically reduced our “convenience consumption.” We would never, ever buy pre-cooked bacon, cartons of already scrambled eggs or freezer-muffin-pancakey products. They just aren’t worth it.

We buy fancy steel-cut oats grown in a country across the sea. It makes many servings and satisfies for less money than anything from Kelloggs. Rather than filling the ice box with plastic containers of prepared, flavored, adulterated yogurt, we buy a large, less expensive, plain, whole milk yogurt and dress it up with tired bananas, a dollop of jelly, a few chopped nuts, a sprinkling of flax meal and often, some berries from the garden.

Which brings us to the garden: we have quit buying bagged lettuce, which piled onto the grocery bill (and often rotted in the bin), and have instead been growing several varieties of leaf vegetables. Spinach, romaine, arugula and bibb lettuce have dressed our dinners, improved with just a bit of inexpensive iceberg from the market (I like the “crisp”). Our growing season in South Florida is coming to an end, but this year our hearts and pockets benefited from growing tomatoes, green peppers, strawberries, broccoli, sweet peas and green beans. Our yard is landscaped with coconut, mulberry, avocado, mango, allspice, pomegranate and lime trees, all doing their parts throughout the year. This year my son and his wife presented me with an early Mother’s Day gift — a South Florida friendly blueberry plant! I’m delirious!

We will never again spend energy planting something on the property that doesn’t have a food purpose. The butterflies will just have to fend for themselves.

We’ve paired down flavoring purchases to salt, pepper, real ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and Spice Islands Chili Powder. It’s the chili powder of my childhood, and no taco or beans and rice recipe works without it. Other herbs and spices? If it isn’t from the garden, then it won’t be in the stew.

See the onion that sat too long and is starting to sprout? We put those in the garden, and they actually grow! Into usable onions! Same with potatoes.  Some weeks back we stuck one fingerling potato fresh from the market into the soil, just for a laugh. This week we grilled a pound of fingerling potatoes pulled fresh from the garden. We laughed ourselves silly over a delicious addition to the dinner menu that didn’t cost us more than the cost of one little potato.

Scallions? We use them a lot. Did you know that the rooted bottom inch of scallion that is often thrown into the disposal, if set it into a little water, will grow new greens? We didn’t until recently. We now have a field of them growing in pots and soon they will be ready for stir fry. Buy once, plant again and again? Maybe!

Mmmm, stir fry. That ancient cooking style allows a little protein to go a long way. And just like pasta, stir fry is compatible with creating something great while only using whatever is available. Perfect even if your garden is small and squashed onto a patio. A few green beans, a few small tomatoes, a bit of onion and garlic, some nuts, an otherwise sad and lonely bit of broccoli, toss it all in there. Why not? It’s the spices that bring it home.

Love pasta? We do. But really? Gourmet? There may be a difference, but not enough to justify the expense, and gourmet pasta can be very expensive. In our world, there are only two necessary varieties for the pantry – spaghetti and farfalle (bow tie). And only that which was bought Two-For-One.

We’ve learned that anchovies are nutritious, and add a ton of great flavor to pasta dishes, all while being inexpensive and pantry-safe. We’ve learned that the unused tomato paste from a can can be put into ice cube trays, covered with wax paper and used at a later date (no more expensive tubes of tomato paste for us). We’ve learned that shopping at over-sized stores like Target or Cosco cost us more than shopping in small markets. We’ve added way too many unnecessary products into the cart while warehouse shopping. We’ve learned to look carefully at what we’re putting into the cart, therefore our bodies.

We are learning what our grandparents would have told us if we’d been listening. We’re learning. And it’s been pretty entertaining.

Charged-Up Cornmeal Pancakes (or waffles!)

A Charged Up Cornmeal Waffle, and strawberry
A Charged Up Cornmeal Waffle, and strawberry

Into a medium bowl place:


1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup rolled oats, ground

¾ cups fine yellow corn meal

¼ cup sugar

1 heaping TB flax meal (optional)

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt (we use Kosher salt)

Combine the above with a whisk.


Into a small bowl beat:

¾ cup whole milk style, plain yogurt

¼ cup whole milk

¼ cup olive oil

1 egg, beaten


Mix the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until combined (avoid over-mixing). Use batter to make pancakes or waffles, your preference. Makes about eight to ten.


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A to Z 2007 Chardonnay, Oregon Tue, 20 Apr 2010 23:22:34 +0000 hear it (I can hear it, anyway, Tom's carpenter-damaged ears not quite so attuned as in days gone by), but just can't find the darned thing. If the wind would slow, the leaves would settle and maybe...]]>

That was fun. Okay, what we think is fun on a cool, weekend afternoon might be quite different from what you would enjoy. But trying to find the hummingbird is fun. We can hear it (I can hear it, anyway, Tom’s carpenter-damaged ears not quite so attuned as in days gone by), but just can’t find the darned thing. If the wind would slow, the leaves would settle and maybe…

Waiting to see where the Monarch caterpillars stop to transform to the next level. Checking the tomato, lettuce and bean plants. Figuring out how to adjust the front gate so Auggie the Doggy doesn’t flee into the roadway. Done! Now she has a whole new yard, the front yard, for romping. Let’s watch!

All like this wine — fun, calm, capable. Mysterious? No. Exotic? No. Relaxing and friendly after a stroll through the yard? You bet. We paid $17 at a high-end wine shop in a fancy-shmancy neighborhood, but it’s probably often available for less.

Additional reviews for your browsing amusement are available at Enjoy!

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Tom’s Fried Shrimp Fri, 09 Apr 2010 06:08:17 +0000
Tom's Fried Shrimp: quick and delicious

I’m a fried shrimp fan. My husband Tom generally doesn’t order it in a restaurant, but when we buy frozen raw shrimp on sale at the market, he becomes a fan very quickly. And he has a quick recipe for a delicious Fried Shrimp dinner. Goes like this:

Thaw between 12 to 16 oz of large raw shrimp (for two people…too much? Not enough…?) and peel if necessary, leaving the tail on. Pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Set aside.

Pour about two cups of Japanese Panko Bread Crumbs into a medium bowl and mix in a healthy sprinkling of seasoned salt. Set aside.

Place about 1/4-inch of peanut or corn oil into a cast iron or heavy skillet and begin heating over medium high. Please don’t leave the stove unattended.

Mix two large eggs, 1 cup grated Parmesan, a splash of Tabasco and a healthy pinch of seasoned (or ordinary table) salt into a bowl.

Add shrimp to egg mixture and stir, making sure all the shrimp are well coated. Add coated shrimp to panko mix and shake, making sure shrimp are well coated. Fry coated shrimp for a few minutes on one side, turn and fry for a couple of minutes on the other side, until crumbs are golden and shrimp are pink.

Serve with a tossed green salad and too true, our favorite social beverage — a chilled unoaked Chardonnay — goes beautifully with this quick-cook meal. Enjoy!

(Other recipes and random thoughts about food can be found at this food page on Unoaked Chardonnay.)

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Chardonnay de Chardonnay 2007, France Thu, 08 Apr 2010 14:50:39 +0000 Chablis, maybe wine from France that is fermented in stainless steel doesn't receive the same loving caress received by other French wines. Maybe French wine from stainless strays too far from tradition. Maybe it's trying to be something it isn't, something (egads) new world.]]>
Comme ci, comme ca

Maybe Chardonnay from France should be fermented in oak barrels, is what we came away thinking at the end of this bottle. Old oak, to be sure, but setting aside issues of some Chablis, maybe wine from France that is fermented in stainless steel doesn’t receive the same loving caress received by other French wines. Maybe French wine from stainless strays too far from tradition. Maybe it’s trying to be something it isn’t, something (egads) new world.

Here’s what we didn’t enjoy … (click through to Unoaked Chardonnay to read the rest)

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Melville 2008 Clone 76 Chardonnay Inox, California Thu, 01 Apr 2010 21:41:00 +0000

This was a fight, but only because we weren’t paying attention. I wish we had taken a video of the struggle to remove the wax sealer because our frustration was comic. The bottle makes such a beautiful presentation, and somehow we just thought the wax would peel away. But no. It definitely did not. We chip, chip, chipped at it, cluttering the tabletop, while entertaining Auggie The Doggy who chased flying chunklets of wax around the room.

And. Ridiculous. We only had to ignore the wax and just use our ordinary wine bottle opener. Plunge through the wax and cork, et voilá! Bottle opened.

Now this is the important part … (click through to Unoaked Chardonnay to read the rest)

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For Your Viewing Pleasure Sun, 28 Mar 2010 00:52:08 +0000

While setting up our first color television with remote control, my husband made an irrevocable, tactical error. He mumbled, “I don’t really like television.”

It was more of a reaction to the money just spent than declaring an actual aversion to television. But he uttered those words while adjusting the rabbit ears, so although we shared equal dibs on what to watch, I would forever control the remote because I have always loved watching television.

Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Bewitched. I learned from Lucy that lying always comes to a bad end. Alfred Hitchcock, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 77 Sunset Strip. The Beatles visited our home thanks to Ed Sullivan. The Red Skelton Show. The Garry Moore Show. Father Knows Best. Every year my parents, seven brothers and sisters and I surrounded the Zenith for annual presentations of The Wizard Of Oz.

Once grown and with my own children, daytime television brought Sesame Street and ABC After School Specials for the kids, soap operas for me. Donahue set up friendly debates with neighboring moms. Dramas, comedies and movies-of-the-week filled prime time. By now the Miami Dolphins were in the living room, too. My husband still didn’t get to hold the remote control, though. Too late for that.

Eventually cable came to the neighborhood. We all loved the comedy that came with it: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Wanda Sykes, Robin Harris, Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone, Chris Rock; a stream of smart, funny people who broadened our minds and had us rolling off the couch at the same time. In the early days there was a provocative exercise series on Showtime, graphically tasteful, but weren’t those women just an inch away from pole dancing? By then my husband enjoyed television quite a lot. He still didn’t get to hold the remote control, though.

And movies had arrived on tape! We no longer had to wait for the yearly airing of The Wizard Of Oz. By now I was employed full time, so we often taped programs to watch at our leisure because I actually knew how to set up the VCR!

Eventually the children grew up and moved out. I took medical retirement from work and spent two years on the couch while recovering. No soap operas; the stories had finally revealed themselves as ridiculous. No game shows; what a time waster! For two years I learned all about decorating, crafts, and international cuisine. And “thank you” Lynette Jennings. You really can’t make the walls matchy-match with the furnishings and accessories because as the room light changes, so does the color. Wise words.

When I was finally able to get off of the couch, I postponed daytime TV until late afternoon. That’s when Oprah airs from our local affiliate. Besides, we had something new.

We were among the first in the neighborhood to own a DVD player. I am a movie-repeater — You’ve Got Mail, Braveheart, Moulin Rouge, Tombstone (“I’m your huckleberry…”), Bye Bye Birdie, Signs, Toy Story, Silence of the Lambs and Independence Day (“Welcome to earth…”). To be clear, I don’t actually sit and watch movie-repeats. They run as background to suit my mood. I was raised in a noisy household and appreciate activity even where there is none.

Over the years, opportunities changed, offerings emerged.

Forget cable. Terrible service. Let’s install satellite!

Forget satellite. Cable doesn’t disappear in a storm!

Forget cable. The satellite company has high-def!

Our entertainment system in this second decade of the new millennium opened with high-definition satellite service to our main house for a plasma TV connected to a DVD player and basic cable in a garage apartment for an LCD TV. An analog television with built-in DVD player only plays movies in the grandchildren’s playroom. By this second decade we were already on our third TIVO. We had evolved from video store membership that had cost us a fortune in late fees, to DVD rentals via mail order for one low monthly fee. Music was presented via bookshelf speakers and Zune (we’re the one). Not an extravagant system to some, but enough for us.

In this modern world, television providers offer choice. And even while less extravagant, we chose plenty. Not the reality programs. No Bachelorettey Dancing programs. We watch our football team, yes, but other sports don’t interest either of us. And no nature programs, as I am still traumatized by the Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom programs of my youth. With exceptions to every rule, the cinematic and spectacular Planet Earth is always welcome.

We also don’t choose pretend journalism. Whether Olbermann or Beck, divisive pundits are not permitted to pollute our air space. And we have loose guidelines about the pollution of our air space.

Rescue Me, Lost, Desperate Housewives, The New Adventures Of Old Christine, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dirty Jobs, How I Met Your Mother, Diners Drive-Ins & Dives (be still, my gall bladder). 60 Minutes, House, Glee, all things Law & Order, and Modern Family. We keep up with American Idol by watching Access Hollywood. Of course it’s pabulum. But it amuses us.

Then the TIVO broke and for once we chose not to replace it.

I had found myself sitting down earlier and earlier in the day to watch whatever had been recorded. And even a television-lover like me has to have limits. Leaving TIVO did create an uncomfortable period of adjustment because although a digital video recorder is useful technology that we had grown accustomed to using, it’s just not necessary.

Time passed and Mad Men notwithstanding, we noticed that most of what we watched came over over-the-air – CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, and a little PBS. We noticed that most of the non-airwave programs we followed, such as The Closer, are available on the internet.

The hook-up at our house:

  • ClearStream 2 Outdoor Antenna by Antennas Direct ($75) which connects to the following tuner with an ordinary coaxial cable, and let me add that we live on flat land in a residential neighborhood with a lot of space, so while the transmission towers are over 30 miles away, we receive a clear signal (check with to find out what you can expect to receive and the direction you’ll need to point an antenna for the best reception in your neighborhood);
  • AVerMedia Hybrid Volar Max TV Tuner with 1080i support ($80) which connects to the computer through a USB port – the computer connects to the television with an HDMI cord;
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD (customized) with Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), a wireless keyboard and mouse (about $620 including shipping), but maybe you already have a rarely used PC hanging around the house that can manage this new demand;
  • Windows Media Center Remote Control (we already owned one, but these are commonly available for about $20 to $30), which has a companion “reader” that connects to the PC through a USB port;
  • A Zune 80gb that we already owned (current models are HD version and retail for $150 to $250) has software that we downloaded into the new computer and customized with our existing account. It isn’t necessary to own any portable media player for the system described. Just load or download your favorite music and let Windows Media Center manage the rest;
  • “Bookshelf” style speakers designed to use with any iPod or portable media player. Many to choose from and it isn’t necessary to spend more than $25. Connect to the PC through the color-coded RCA media port.

So with little thought we canceled the television service providers and installed an outdoor antenna. I was surprised that reducing the flood of options has felt like emerging from a pile of rubble.

The obvious first benefit is the free, high-definition access to the programs we watch most. The second benefit? The picture quality is better than what came from providers who charge extra for a premium signal.

It makes me giddy!

Our system is now All Things Entertaining in one convenient location.

We attached the antenna to a small desktop PC, which then connects to the living room television. We watch over-the-air stations through Windows Media Center, which provides a beautifully functional and accurate program guide (try that, Comcast).

The computer is a DVD player (the former removed to the garage apartment). After loading our digital music collection, it is now our “stereo system.” With the wireless internet connection, we view many programs through network sites, receive movies from Netflix, and collect eMail.

We are officially among the growing number of consumers who are downgrading without actually losing anything. Will internet providers start charging based on bandwidth use? Will television networks begin placing the advertiser’s message right on the screen as they do for programs run on the internet? Will we eventually subscribe to individual networks and programs? Maybe. Who knows?

By the way, have you seen the ads for the new Sony Vizio? The one with wireless access built right into the TV? More of that engineering is on the way.

Things are changing.

Is the new arrangement as convenient or bountiful as having cable or satellite? No. But that’s part of the point. When we watch something it’s because we want to, not because we landed there after mindlessly click, click, clicking our way through the stations. It takes thought and time to open the internet browser and get to, say, TNT, and then find the latest episode of Southland. Once there, you may set pause to answer the phone, but you’re not mindlessly clicking away from the show.

We occasionally record a program from one of the over-the-air networks using Windows Media Center if we want to turn in early. The ability to record a program is a useful technology, after all, although even I can’t be convinced there is a pressing need to record four programs at once. We have reduced our monthly expenses while actually improving our quality of service. The primary set in our house operates with one remote control, and a wireless keyboard with mouse.

Yes, things have changed. Although I still hold the remote. But now my husband holds the keyboard and mouse.

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Rex Hill Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2007, Oregon Thu, 25 Mar 2010 20:41:34 +0000
Rex Hill Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2007, Oregon

We moved into our home fifteen years ago. It was a plain, concrete box on a flat piece of rock. Nothing special. Well made, but utterly ordinary. Over the years (mostly) Tom (with a few ideas from me) turned it into something special. Unique. Textured and full of dimension. That’s like this wine. Just grapes, after all. Turned into something special, unique, textured and full of dimension.

The (beautiful) label says the wine is fermented in stainless, the website claims “neutral oak” and the tasting sheet at the website says “5% oak, 95% stainless fermentation.”

So we go by the label information because maybe the website isn’t in order at the time we make this review. We completely understand the aggravation of keeping all the pieces of a website in place and up-to-date. But whatever the website problems, we’re pleased to report that the wine ($21 at our local wine shop) represents a completely delicious attention to detail.

Additional reviews for your browsing amusement are available at Enjoy!

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Ledson Tres Frais Chardonnay 2008, California Tue, 09 Mar 2010 19:21:20 +0000
Ledson Tres Frais Chardonnay 2008, California
Comme ci, comme ca

The way our home is arranged required both satellite and cable to provide a television signal to the main house and garage apartment. A configuration problem. Very basic cable in the apartment (guests would just have to make do), satellite service in the house. And don’t get started on the evils of television. We enjoy it around here. Reality television? No. Game shows? No. Punditry? No. Almost anything else? Sure, why not? Go ‘phins!

But while drinking this wine we decided to cut all the cords. Why? Because we were drowning in television. We had allowed ourselves to drift into the bad habit of click, click, clicking without appreciating anything on the screen. Ten minutes of this cooking program, five minutes of a movie we’d already seen, watching an auto auction because the program we were waiting for hadn’t started yet. Yikes!

No apologies. We love TV. But after cutting the cords and installing outdoor antennas, we now either enjoy something the four networks are showing or leave the room. What an enormous relief! And we wouldn’t have believed it six months ago, that we would appreciate a simple television set-up. Currently, the video quality is improved, the offerings are free, we plan what we’re going to watch (or not), and [sigh] we are relaxed.

What does this have to do with a $32 bottle of wine (ordered from the vineyard, not including shipping)? Click through to to read the rest.

(Editor’s note: Meg is a regular Dew reader/commenter and we coaxed her into letting us run some of her unorthodox wine reviews in exchange for a link to her site.)

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