Spitting image of a southern girl

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

It’s watermelon season and that makes my mouth very happy.

On average, each American consumes 15 pounds of the juicy fruit annually. Only 15 pounds?  I can triple that without even picking up a fork.

I know you’d expect someone as dainty as myself to politely slide the seeds off the fruit and onto the plate prior to consumption and cut bite-sized pieces, but it doesn’t go down like that. More along the lines of a sumo wrestler bellying up to a stack of hot dogs in an eating contest.

And seed spitting . . . I’m a pro.

It’s every bit as attractive as you imagine. Feel free to add the sound effects you’d expect hear to your mental image.

Watermelon is known as a special kind of fruit among the folks who’ve made studying plants their life’s work. Who knew this food that easily makes my must-have list is—to give the proper botanical term—a “pepo”, which is a berry that has a thick rind and fruit? It’s only loosely considered a melon.

And you know I had to be kidding about the seeds above, because who can find a seeded melon anymore?

 I swallow those scrawny white ones. They don’t look like they could do much harm. And I never believed any of those goofy old tales about swallowing watermelon seeds anyway. I’m smarter than that. Plus, my stork subscription was canceled years ago.

Anyway, speaking of seeded melons, or the lack thereof, I wonder and worry that this favorite food of mine will become extinct. I suppose somewhere, somehow we’re still growing melons with seeds for reproductive purposes. If not, I stand here today sounding the alarm.

Now you know what kinds of high-order issues keep me awake at night.

Folks who have been around a good, long while tell me that since we started tinkering with genetics to remove those “pesky” black seeds the melons don’t taste as good.  Since the popularity of the seedless breed has steadily increased during the course of my lifetime—I do recall a more potent flavor—I think they’re probably right.

And all this melon talk reminds me: Many years ago and before I became fashion forward, I used to make an outward show of my love and appreciation for the fine produce with a watermelon outfit. You know, the kind once sold at craft shows . . . painted shirt that donned my upper half with a likeness of a big slice complete with the seeds AND matching watermelon earrings. Oh, and I bought the pants, too.

I thought I looked pretty darn cute in that get-up. Wore it proudly here around town and received many compliments. Maybe people were saying, “bless her heart” when I moved out of earshot.

But one fateful day as I was boarding a flight wearing my melon pride, a woman (I won’t call her a lady) —obviously not from the South— asked where I was from. After my reply she repugnantly looked down her nose and said, “I knew you were from the South” as she made a show of scanning up and down my attire. I was ashamed. Never wore the red, green, and black display again. It has been 20 years.

Funny because if I were to run into her again, today, I’d stand up a little taller, and answer where I was from a little louder. And before she had the chance to look down that snooty nose, with laser-sharp accuracy I’d spit a big black seed in her eye! Why, yes. I am from the South.

© 2011 Natalie Whatley

Not relishing the hot dog

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

I imagine we can all agree the extreme heat usually reserved for August arrived ahead of schedule this year. In short: The heat is oppressive.  And it looks like we’re in for a longer than usual spell of it.

Curious like a cat (yeah, I realize it could lead to an untimely demise, but I’ve got 2 lives left), I had to dig up what was behind the phrase “dog days of summer”.

It all started back in ancient times when Sirius, considered the “dog star” because it’s the brightest in the Canis Major (large dog) constellation, would rise just before or at the same time as the sun. This movement was associated with hotter weather as the dog “seemed to be chasing the sun.”

 Sirius no longer rises that way due to changes in the equinoxes (starts to spring and fall), but the phrase that was born of its old ways hung around . . . obviously for a very long time. And of course it still gets very hot. For convenience, we’ll blame that dog.

In 1813, John Henry Brady’s Clavis Calendarium— an analysis of the calendar as we know it illustrated with ecclesiastical, historical, and classical anecdotes—described the dog days as, “when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, Quinto raged in anger, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing to man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies.”

Wow. Makes it sound like we humans get a tad cranky and/or crazy when it gets this hot.

And like a canine chasing its tail, I spent precious time trying to figure out to what or who “Quinto” refers to in that quote. Never found an answer.  If you know, I’d be eternally grateful if you’d educate me.

And “phrensies”. . .  just an archaic spelling of frenzies. Same violent agitation and delirious excitement we know in modern times.

But back to my point: It’s hot.

The “dog days” are known to be the hottest, most sultry (love that word as no other can make hot and moist sound so sophisticated) of summer and usually fall between early July and early September. These are also historically days when rainfall is at its lowest. Could we be any lower in rainfall? I think so.

As I attempt watering my yard and watch the very droplets intended to sustain the one blade of grass I have left evaporate into the atmosphere . . . I’m thinking that takes us into negative rainfall numbers. The atmosphere is taking back what it has not giveth away!

OK, I realize it’s water and it came from somewhere, sometime, (I paid attention to my kids’ water cycle homework) but it’s alarming to know the supply is trending low. How’s that for poetic?

All I know is that a trip outside acquaints me with the feeling of a frankfurter in a frying pan. I can hear the juicy sizzle, see and smell smoke. It would be sweet if some kind soul doused me in cucumber-cool pickle relish. Sweet, not dill.

Siriusly, I wish that “dog star” wouldn’t hunt. That would be cool.

© 2011 Natalie Whatley

You’re invited: Summer book reviews

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

In my book, not much tops a warm summer breeze accompanied by a lounge chair and a good read.  But sometimes finding that “good read” becomes a chore.

I’m a modern human, trained to exist on the shortest possible snippets, but I’m happiest when I’m lost in the pages of a hefty tome.  Imagine my displeasure when I haul one home from the library—or worse, pay for it—only to learn that for me and my tastes it’s a dud.

If you’re a reader, I know it happens to you, too. And that’s where Sterling Municipal Library and Jamie Eustace come in.

Jamie holds rock-star status in my little world because she’s read at least a million more books than me. And I swear she remembers each one. Hold up a title, watch the card catalog that is her brain flip through a few files, and faster than you can whip out your library card you’re receiving a well-put-together mini presentation. It’s fascinating, I tell you. And who knew a librarian could be so funny?

Beginning this Tuesday, June 14 at 6 p.m. you can see the wonder that is Jamie for yourself at Sterling Library’s summer program, Red Fox Reviews, at the Red Fox restaurant on recently refurbished Texas Avenue. (If you haven’t seen the improvements to Texas Avenue, I guarantee you’ll be impressed.)

Jamie will review books about daughters, sons, mothers and fathers. The ten titles selected will reveal the complications of family and humanity.  In other words: Come hear how you and your family’s craziness are not at all unique.  It’s always nice to know we’re not alone.  

The Red Fox will have wine, beverages, and specifically prepared appetizers available for purchase in the semi-private area reserved for the event, but readers are welcome to attend even if they choose to skip the refreshments.

 It will be casual and simple, so come as you are.  (OK. If it’s Sunday morning and you’re reading this in a semi state of undress . . . don’t come exactly as you are, but know it’s not a formal dress-up kind of affair.)

If you’re unable to attend, Jamie will be at it again on Tuesday, July 12. Same time, same place. Only July will feature books that are long or short to the extreme. So, we’re talking under 200 pages and over 400. Bound to be a good time . . .  that’s the long and short of that.

Then again on Tuesday, August 9, same place and time, readers will meet to hear about books with eye-catching covers.  According to the flier, “That’s right, we are judging books by their covers and only going for the good ones.”  I’ve always secretly wanted someone to grant me permission to do that. See, Jamie reads minds, too.

And, if the evening book reviews don’t agree with your schedule, Sterling Municipal Library is also hosting Brown Bag Book Reviews at the library each Thursday during June and July from 12-1 p.m.  Readers are asked to bring their own lunch and the library will provide drinks and cookies.

While you enjoy lunch away from your daily grind, library staff will review their favorite titles giving you plenty of suggestions for filling up your summer book bag. For more information on what genres will be presented each week visit www.baytownlibrary.org/staffpicks and select the Brown Bag icon.

I can’t wait. Hope to see you there! 

© 2011 Natalie Whatley

Music to my ears

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Last night was all about the Pomp and Circumstance March. I took in all the sounds and enjoyed the moment mainly through my auditory buds because something went haywire with my eyes. They kept filling with a salty liquid and blurring the experience—not unlike the passage of the past 18 years.

My oldest cherub stood in a sea of Ross S. Sterling Ranger royal blue caps, gowns and tassels and was awarded his high school diploma. I’m sure it was a beautiful sight, and special thanks to my ears for not failing me at such a critical moment.

 Come to think of it, as of late my hearing has stepped up to the plate just when I needed it most. It’s almost as intuitive as Gladys “Granny” Adcox of Highlands, who mails this silly columnist beautiful handkerchiefs that magically arrive on days when I’ve been a tad weepy. My hanky collection has become extensive and that’s a good thing. For those who don’t know, I’m the biggest crybaby on the planet.

Anyway, on recent, late nights as I yearned for sleep while the hamster in my head ran frantically on its wheel —unsure whether it’s coming or going—I heard a beautiful song that I had forgotten and honestly taken for granted.

Initially bothered by the loud, unceasing racket, I discovered the rhythmic sound was a time machine. All I had to do was close my eyes and listen.

My six-year-old bathing-suit clad body is sprawled out on the lush front lawn of my Seabrook, Texas home. Warm, solar rays surely meant just for me beam down (the beginnings of my love affair with Mr. Sun), I stare at the clouds above as they gently shift high in the blue sky above. The water sprinkler I wore myself out running through is still oscillating and providing a sporadic light shower. I spot a rainbow in the shower’s mist and become aware my breath is taken away . . .  until the scent of sweet honeysuckle reminds me I am still breathing.  Is it any wonder I don’t have a care in the world? And furthermore, is it any wonder I want to visit frequently?

The warm temperatures have welcomed back our noisy friend: the love-seeking male cicada. The boys are the noisemakers; the girls quietly flick their wings in admiration.

For my purposes, it really doesn’t matter who or what is performing the “singing”. All I know is that it relaxes me. And I need all of that I can gather as I wrangle a young adult male of the human species onto the path of independence.  He makes his noise, and I wish I could sit idly by and not allow it to cause more than stir of my wings. But I can’t.

And so a group of insects providing a momentary escape from the very natural order of an age-old process is music to my ears, even when the faucet in my wide-open eyes won’t cooperate.

© 2011 Natalie Whatley