If the shrew fits

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home

I always grin when Jim Finley refers to his real newsman office as “The Bat Cave”.  But I’ve got him beat! (And he has me befuddled. I was specifically instructed NOT to address him as “Mr. Finley”. His column last Tuesday, inspired by Senator Barbara Boxer D-California, invited us all to address him in a more dignified way –Mr. Finley would suffice. Yes, sir.) 

The Whatley Estate has been transformed, and all I knew about traversing its interior has to be re-learned using sound waves to locate objects. Scientific folks call that echolocation.

A shrew is a small mouse-like mammal with poor eyesight that emits a series of ultrasonic squeaks to navigate its habitat, or a woman who finds fault and has a nagging temperament.  Feel free to form your own opinion on which one I’m mimicking.

Recall last summer when I complained about my electric bill that more than tripled (our usage didn’t) and how I dumped my former electricity provider for playing games with the rates. Once I got settled in with my new provider and a locked-in rate, I began looking for other ways to beat the summer heat.

First order of business was turning up the thermostat a few degrees.  Those not responsible for paying the bills commenced with the “it’s hot” whining.  I explained how “hot” was relative and asked if they’d also like to be hungry; if only man could live on air-conditioning alone. 

Jeff installed solar screens on the area receiving the most complaints (the upper east wing) with commendable results –so much that I had the brilliant idea of covering all 33 windows! 

This spring, before the sweltering heat made its early arrival, Jeff complied with my request. The Whatley Estate, with its rooms once bathed in sunlight, went dark. I caught window-cover man measuring the last sources of natural light.

“Don’t worry about the north side,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t ask why all of the sudden I was eager to have him stop seven windows shy of completion. Trying not to rouse his suspicions I added, “Really, it’s fine. The north side is shady anyway. It’d just be extra work. Here’s something cold to drink. Take a load off, and I’ll put everything away.”  I may give up writing for acting.

Now, the flick of a light switch causes me to wince. My eyes no longer want to adjust from dark to light. Daylight burns. My lateral incisors seem to be lengthening. And people are starting to wear garlic necklaces around me.

With the solar screens, blinds, and curtains, I wake not having a clue what time it is. When I get up, I bump into things. KABAM! My shins will never be the same. Living in constant darkness has made my vision less keen, but my hearing –incredible! Jeff, I can hear you snickering. Gosh, Batman, that’s not very polite.  When I find you . . . BAM!  BIFF! SOCK!

I don’t know if we’re saving any money, or not. Seems like in lieu of the air-conditioner running we’re turning on lights. I’d compare last summer’s usage if I could, but right now I’m hanging upside down by my feet. All the blood is rushing to my head, and I can’t see worth a darn.

Keep laughing . . . I’ll use the sound waves to find you!

 © 2009 Natalie Whatley

Fathers: You’re impressive

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays

I’m a people watcher.  It’s a practice that has gotten me into trouble at various points in my life (some people don’t like being watched), but I can’t help fading to the back of a crowd and taking in all that swirls around me. Fascinating!  I’m telling you this as a demonstration of my credentials; I’ve been studying people my entire 38.5 years, and there’s a sub-group of our population I find amazing. It’s fitting to shower them with a little adoration here on their special day. 

The occasion usually calls for fancy meals, relaxation, and gifts. While fathers enjoy receiving those things, years of research has yielded a gem I’m happy to share: What they really want is appreciation. If you want to make Father’s Day extra special, give him specific examples of what is/was appreciated over the years followed by a big hug. Right before the blissful moment he realizes you were paying attention to his steady contribution, he’ll likely be struck by how the most mundane things (he thought they were no big deal) left an impression.  

I’m grateful to have had two fathers who took great interest in me and worked hard to make sure I had everything I needed along with most of what I wanted. I had no idea the magnitude of what they’d given until I had children of my own.

Looking back, I appreciate trips camping and to amusement parks (exhausting for adults), searching for and identifying seashells at the beach, wise counsel , waiting up to make sure I was home safely, and having the patience of a saint when it came to me and the clothes dryer. 

My daddy takes great pleasure in reminding me how I dried one undergarment at a time when he hears me blame my rising electric bill on his precious grandchildren. And Dad . . . well, he allowed me to live after I threw some previously-worn clothes complete with a tube of dark-colored lipstick in with a load of whites. I left for work; he spent hours removing L’oreal’s Copper something-or-other from the load he was drying. I can still see him standing in the laundry room mumbling as he scrubbed individual spots with a toothbrush. He kept the harsh words to himself . . . a lesson I can’t say I’ve fully learned, and I’ve had plenty of practice.

My children’s father:  astounding in so many ways. From the attic to zippers, he handles it all with comedic flair. The fact that he can make us all laugh when we’d rather cry makes the not-so-fun moments of life tolerable. Plus he’s pretty good at setting things straight again, and does it after putting in the long hours that have given me the greatest gift ever: being home with my kiddos and the freedom to pursue my dreams. Gratitude seems way too small a price.

It doesn’t end with the fathers in my life.  Guys just like mine are all over –remember, I’ve been watching.  I couldn’t be more impressed.

While motherhood’s nurturing role remains a constant, the lines of fatherhood blur and change with societal evolution.  A few get lost in the confusion, but most strive to hit the moving target and in a form true to the male gender end up going above and beyond. I’ve seen it clearly every day for the past 38.5 years. Fathers, you’re a sight to behold.  Happy Father’s Day!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

To be, or not to be . . . bored

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Given the season and that kids are out of school until August 24 (those of you with school-aged children have 71 days to ponder today’s riveting topic) there’s a “malady” that needs discussing. I’m not convinced it’s a disordered “condition”, but there’s research and supposed evidence “out there”. No matter, I still found a way to deal with the incessant whining that is the most common symptom.

There’s a phrase akin to profanity banned at The Whatley Estate. I considered making it a get-your-mouth-washed-out-with-soap offense, but decided I could get more creative than that.  What gets me so riled up? “I’m bored.”  Boredom: the state of being wearied or annoyed by tedious repetition; lack of interest or satiety, which means the state of being satisfied. Satisfied? Is that possible? 

I welcome the opportunity to be bored in the sense modern children use it, i.e. “I don’t have anything to do at the moment.” Spending some time sitting idle with the sole purpose of daydreaming is the stuff childhood summers should be made of. That doesn’t fit well with today’s got-to-have-non-stop-activities-scheduled ways. And for the record, as a mom of three, I do understand keeping young hands and minds busy to avoid mischief; I disagree with how society tends to go about that task. 

Have we really reached a point where we have to be occupied or entertained every second of every day? Don’t answer that. I’m not sure I can handle a reality that scares me far more than spending a summer with some white space on the calendar.

I once heard someone say that people who get bored are boring. Sounds a little harsh, but I’m a firm believer there is truth in that statement. Scientists fascinated by tedium say boredom is an “affliction” and that our brains are wired up in ways that make some of us more susceptible than others.

Extroverts are more easily bored than introverts and need far more external stimuli to make them feel engaged. People who have a hard time focusing on any given thing endure frequent feelings of boredom as well; they can’t pay attention long enough to know whether or not what’s going on in front of them is interesting, or not. Emotionally detached people also fall prey because they can’t quite put their finger on what would make them happy in the moment or for the long term.

The good news:  Scientists also claim being bored is a choice, much like deciding to be unhappy. That brings me to how I’ve cured those in my charge of voicing the boredom complaint. If someone dares utter “I’m bored” I will find a most unpleasant task to occupy them or assign something from my long to-do list. It’s amazing how whatever they were not doing suddenly becomes fascinating when held up next to scrubbing the grout in the showers with a toothbrush or folding their sibling’s underwear.

All said though, boredom gets a bad rap. It can be a positive motivator when one doesn’t concede to the negatives.  Boredom drives creativity, inspires innovation, provides opportunity for thought and reflection, and can also be a signal that a task is not worth continuing.

If it weren’t for some shades of gray, how would we know purple, or red? If we never experience dullness, how could we appreciate pure joy, passion, and excitement?

Most of the time, I choose not to be bored.  Sometimes I revel in it. But I don’t tell anyone; scrubbing grout is not fun, and my brother and sister-in-law probably have the folding of his underwear covered.

© 2009 Natalie Whatley




Birthday request was not a piece of cake

Author: natalie  //  Category: Home sweet home, Wedded bliss

There’s a long-standing tradition at The Whatley Estate regarding birthdays. The honoree gets the home-cooked meal and dessert of his or her choice. Up until a couple of weeks ago when Jeff celebrated another turn through the calendar, the cuisine requested has been well within my culinary abilities. I guess he decided to take advantage of the fact that I’ve been in a mood to challenge myself lately.

I knew I was in trouble when he got a cookbook and started thumbing through it. For 18 years the man asked for cheesecake; the toppings varied, and there was a “turtle” rendition thrown in at some point, but it doesn’t get much easier than no-bake cheesecake. (Some people don’t do windows; I don’t do cheesecake that has to be cooked in a spring-form pan.)  “Oooh, this looks GOOD”, he said pointing to “Italian Cream Cake”.  “If that’s what you want,” I said having no idea what I’d just committed to.

I didn’t give it another thought until the next day when I read the recipe and made a list of what to buy at the store. I recognized all of the ingredients, but started worrying about the long and winding road that led to the finished product. It was quite possible I was in over my head.

The dear man in my life, who on a whim one day whipped up a lemon meringue pie fit to grace any magazine cover, broke out in a fit of hysterical laughter when I told him I needed an “egg separator”. (I wasn’t home when he made that pie, and I questioned witnesses to confirm it wasn’t store-bought.  When those witnesses started explaining how to make meringue, I accepted my inferior dessert-making rank.) “You don’t need a gadget to separate eggs”, the man who has a tool for everything snickered. Hmmpphh!  He stopped laughing long enough to give gadget-less egg-separating lessons. I wanted to crack the practice eggs on his head.  

The big day arrived, and I was confident in my new skill. Everything was creaming together quite nicely until I got to the part of beating five egg whites stiff. Fork in hand I whipped them for several minutes to the point of a blister on my middle finger and quivering muscles. Stopping for a needed break, I realized I didn’t know what stiff egg whites looked like. I searched images online and found plenty of examples. Mine weren’t nearly there yet, and I also noticed an electric appliance in many of the pictures.  I glanced at my blister, chuckled, and got the electric beater out. Wow! Stiff egg whites in seconds.

Things went well from there; three cake pans full of sweet goodness went in the oven. I should have taken a picture of the aftermath. Have you ever seen a kitchen where a three and five year-old “made breakfast for mommy”? Multiply that by 1,000, and you’ll be close to what my kitchen looked like. Unlike Mr. Meringue, I don’t clean as I cook. It looked like two bombs went off, and I was spattered with gooey shrapnel. 

Nearing Jeff’s arrival time, I pushed through fatigue and the wound on my finger to clear a small spot for icing. Butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, and chopped nuts: the tastiest concoction known to man.  Putting the fourth spoon-full in my mouth, I realized I needed to save some for the cake.

The three layers came out of the oven smelling divine; they cooled while I continued cleaning. With the kitchen down to a one-bomb-went-off level of cleanliness, I centered everything on the cake plate and finished my masterpiece. It looked pretty good! And in time we learned it tasted great.

Of course the real icing on my cake adventure was the birthday boy’s face coupled with a big smile. It seems I can keep those two inseparable by separating eggs.

Italian Cream Cake

Italian Cream Cake



 © 2009 Natalie Whatley