The Nicest People In The (My) World

Well, so far, 2020 has been an e-ticket ride in the worst possible way, hasn’t it, Gentle Reader?

To keep from curling up and crying for the rest of the year, I decided to take inventory of the people in my life whose goodwill is inspiring, and a good reminder that not everybody in this world has been broken by this year.  The folks who never fail to share a cup of the milk of human kindness when I’m all out and need to borrow some.

     Mizz Katz.

Before she retired, Mizz Katz used to run the hot bar at my local Carlie C’s.  She always had a minute to chat, and always answered my cooking questions.

She knew I loved her slow-cooked Italian green beans.  She also knew that I usually didn’t make it in on time the days she served them.  So, when she made them, she’d set aside some for me and stash them in the cooler.  Those delicious beans always tasted even better because of her thoughtfulness.


The entire Matthews Family Band goes to the same doctor.  At the office, they have a liaison person to facilitate communication between patient and office.

This remarkable person is Angela. 

If you’ve ever been married or even spent any time around a man, you know that guys are not the best when it comes to medical matters.  And when Petey forgets to let me know his medicine needs a refill, and now he’s out, I call Angela.  When our doctor is out of town, and we have a question, I call Angela.

And, far from ducking my calls, or having no patience, the woman’s a ray of sunshine.  She is always sweet, friendly, and actually seems happy to hear from me. 

If you’re having any kind of trouble in your own life, call Angela.  She’ll happily fix you right up.

Jose and Becky.

I’ve known this couple for five or six years and just adore them.  They are masters of Puerto Rican cooking, and like my Italian mother, food is love.  They share lessons, recipes, and food, food, food. 

Also, like my parents, they are ridiculously generous.  One day, I was in their kitchen and admired a funny fork/tool.  About a week later they called and asked if I could come over to see Jose at work—they had bought one for me!  I mentioned that we, but especially The Kid adore pernil; a slow-cooked pork butt full of garlic and citrus.  So, for my child’s birthday, they made one.  And made sure we got it when it was still hot from the oven.

In the before times, we would meet for smoothies and conversation.  To occasionally pay, I had to physically wrestle Jose to the cashier. 

This adorable couple has retired and spends time taking classes together.  They’ve taken a painting class and love showing me the art they’ve come up with. 

One day they showed me their latest subject—a nature scene with a bear.

I absolutely adore bears.  I think they are the cutest squidgy faces ever.  So what did that wonderful couple do? 

They framed and gifted me with Becky’s painting. 

Thinking about the nicest people I know makes me so happy. 

So, two things.

I know way more than four kind folks.  Every once in a while, I will tell you about a few more that are just the best.  And second, I want you, Gentle Reader, to think about the people in your own world that continue to be a ray of sunshine in what has been a pretty gloomy year.

Then tell them.

Thanks for your time.

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Getting Thrifty With It

I can’t not go into a second-hand shop—you never know what you’ll find.

And in the past two weeks, I’ve found some historic finds.

The first one happened in a thrift store in Chapel Hill. 

In the locked case at the register was a black leather tote that looked brand new.


I love Kate Spade.  Her stuff is fun and oh so preppy.  It’s also well constructed and long-lasting.

All of this wonderfulness, unfortunately, comes at a price.  I’d looked at this bag online, and knew that new, it sold for around 400 dollars.  So, I figured it would be at least $100, but I asked anyway.

It was only thirty-five dollars!  I whipped out my plastic.

I love, love, love it.  Every time I see it, it makes me so happy.  Whoever owned it took very good care of it and I’m very grateful that they were generous enough to donate it, and the thrift store chose to price it the way they did.

Thrifting lesson #1: You never know what you’ll find, but when you do find something you love, buy it immediately, because it won’t stick around.

When we got married, Petey suggested we invest in This End Up living room furniture.  Although we have to occasionally purchase new cushions for it, our couch and chair will be strong and usable until well after our future descendants are but a memory in a hellscape ruled by sentient armadillos.

Also, like fine leather, it only looks better with age and use.

Recently, a Good Will store opened near our house.  After Petey and I voted on Tuesday, we stopped in. 

I happened to see a This End Up Desk out of the corner of my eye, but we weren’t in the market for furniture, so I didn’t pay it any mind.  I gave the store a once over but didn’t see anything.

Lesson #2: Sometimes there won’t be anything, but that’s okay, come back another day.

When I asked Petey if he was ready, he asked me if I’d seen the desk.  I went over and really looked at it.

This huge desk and hutch, in very good, almost new condition, was twenty dollars which we knew was an exceptional deal. 

We bought it and wrestled it home. 

When I get something second hand, I try to find out the original price.  New, the desk and hutch costs $920.

Lesson #3: If nice furniture is 98% off, buy it.  You’ll figure it out later.

Every once in awhile, I get a $30 off coupon at a second-hand designer website called The Real Real.  There’s no minimum, and you can use it for shopping, tax, and shipping.  The first time I shopped there, I kept waiting for an expensive caveat—it never came.

I spent less than $20 for almost $1000 of designer clothing.

Last night I got a $400 Magaschoni blazer for $4.53—four dollars, fifty-three cents.  Last winter, I got a pair of Kate Spade slacks with tags (meaning unworn) for nine dollars.  They originally sold for $280.  I also got a brand-new Derek Lamb skirt for five dollars—original price: $325.

Lesson #4: Sometimes that unbelievable deal is just that—an honest, unbelievable deal.  But it’s on you to do the research and make sure it’s a legit unbelievable deal.

And finally, the most important thing you must remember, Gentle Reader is this: Don’t buy it just because it’s cheap. 

But if you know you’ll forever regret leaving something on the shelf, then buy it.  And if you find any Kate Spade at a miraculous price, please, let me know.

Thanks for your time.

My new desk and new bag.

Contact me about Kate Spade, or anything else, at

The Mayo Caper

If, Gentle Reader, you call North Carolina home, I promise you are familiar with the subject of this week’s essay. 

I guarantee it.

You might not know her name (although you probably do), but I’m absolutely certain you know her face.  She is the woman who never fails to lift you up.  But, as she will confess, she also lets you down.

Her name is Cherie Berry, and she is the friendly face you see in every public elevator in the state.

After seven years serving the 45th district in the North Carolina House of Representatives, in 2001 she became the first female Commissioner of Labor.  The department is responsible for safety inspections of public elevators.

Each one has to display its Certification of Operation.  And since her second term, the photo of Ms. Berry AKA, the “Elevator Queen” has been on every one of them.

It has made her something of a state mascot; the sweet Southern aunt that looks out for the safety of every one of us.

Two years ago I asked her to participate in an annual holiday article that I write for another publication.  She agreed, and I discovered something.

 The woman is a certified, card-carrying hoot. 

The hoot herself, Cherie Berry.

Last year while speaking about mashed potatoes, she told me that she puts mayonnaise in them (actually not as strange as it may sound, it makes them creamy and rich.  Many restaurants do the same.).

Like many Southern folk, her mayo of choice is Duke’s (even though all sensible people are team Hellmann’s).

Them Duke’s folks ain’t right.

This led to her recounting of a hilarious story about the depth of her Duke’s devotion.

Ms. Berry and her sister used to have a little holiday place in Mexico.  When they visited, they would cook.  Like me, she loves potato salad.  But Duke’s in not sold south of the border, and the mayo that was available just didn’t taste right in her dishes.

So, one year, she decided to purchase some Duke’s to take with her.

She wanted it near her to keep it safe during the trip.  But this was post-9/11 and even the NC Commissioner of Labor can’t carry a big old jar of mayonnaise onto an airplane.

So, the determined woman contacted the Duke’s parent company, Sauer Brands in Richmond.  She purchased a box of 200 individual packets, like the kind you get at a drive-through when you ask for “Extra mayo.”

They were small, but even small, 200 packets take up space.

She had a brilliant idea.  For the flight, she’d wear her late husband’s fishing vest and divide the packets up into its many, many pockets.

Picture it, if you will: a genteel Southern lady dressed for traveling with not a hair out of place, and probably a string of pearls, sporting an old-school fishing vest with pockets full of packets full of Duke’s.

Security gave her the furry eyeball, but she wasn’t breaking any rules, so they let her board.  Ms. Berry thought she was home free.

Until the plane took off.

Then, when the pilot pressurized the cabin, the sealed packs reacted and began to swell. 

And swell.

And swell.

The NC Commissioner of Labor sat, looking like the Michelin man on summer vacation, with the vest pockets getting tighter and tighter.  She waited for the explosion while imagining the humiliating headlines that would be generated by this mortifying experience (“NC official tries to hijack plane with condiment”, “Mayonnaise Mishap at 20,000 feet”, “Airplane forced to make extremely greasy landing”…).  She wondered what airplane jail would be like.

Luckily, the blast never occurred.  The cabin pressurization ended just in time, and Ms. Berry spent her Mexican vacation opening packet after packet of Duke’s to make her NC-style tater salad and other tasty mayo-based treats.

Thanks for your time.

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Like Totally Tubular, Dudettes!

After last week’s walk down a very preppy lane, someone requested I keep tripping down eighties street and talk about what happened we put down our boat shoes, found a tin of hair gel, and listened to Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

We lost our cotton-picking minds.

It seemed like overnight the pastels of earlier had been struck by lightning and were now electrified neon.

The hair that was worn in prim ponytails and demure page boys exploded into giant halos of teased and shellacked hair.  The boys’ hair soon followed suit.  If the higher the hair, the closer to God is true, we were all lounging on clouds, dancing to hard-rock celestial choirs.

On purpose, Gentle Reader. We did this to ourselves ON.PURPOSE.

Tank tops, which before “the ’80s” had been worn mainly by Italian grandpas were now required wearing, in multiple layers and shocking colors.  Torn sleaves, ripped edges, and deconstructed layers replaced grosgrain trim and hemmed cuffs.

To emulate Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, one only had to pull the first fourteen items from a rag bag and put them on.

Oh; and add some shredded lace gloves.

There also was a polished new aesthetic for dressier or professional situations.  The colors were still luridly bright and the hair was still colossal. 

But so were our shoulders.

Women’s shoulder pads were so large you could land an airplane on them, and sharper than a Ginsu knife.  I put shoulder pads in my t-shirts—no lie.

Men’s suits came in two designs.  One was the mate to women’s oversized, gargantuan-shouldered attire.  Big and broad.

The other style was inspired by revelatory ratings juggernaught, Miami Vice.  Very unstructured, Caribbean-hued jackets and pleated trousers.  Underneath jacket were either collared shirts with twig thin ties, or t-shirts.

It wasn’t only big hair bands and fierce women that influenced fashion. 

New Wave and Rap music were hits on newly launched MTV.  This meant even kids in tiny little towns in the very Northeastern corner of North Carolina had access to a 24-hour-a-day fashion show.  My hair was big, my skirts were little, and my socks were slouchy.

Yes, folks, that’s me…

It was around this time that I got into retail, working at a store in the mall selling uber-fashionable clothing to my peers.

I sold shirts so colorful that sunglasses were required.  Another popular item was genie pants in which no self-respecting genie would be caught dead.

Doesn’t everybody want a coat that looks like it has the mange?

Also a big seller in those over-the-top eighties were fur coats.  In Elizabeth City the dead animals of choice were rabbit, at about 60 dollars, and red or silver fox at around 100.

One day we received a shipment of a new type of fur jacket.  It was a familiar shade of gray, with long coarse hair.  I was afraid I knew what creature it was, but couldn’t imagine that someone would actually make a coat from it.

It looked almost exactly like this possum coat.

Reading the tag, my worst fears were confirmed.  The coats were made from the skin of…possums!

I called my boss and asked why.  I was informed that the fur of the Didelphis virginiana was lush and beautiful.

I informed my boss that in this agrerian region, one did not wear possums.  One swerved to avoid hitting them on dark country lanes.  A small percentage of young men I knew sometimes swerved in order to hit them.  Possums were not coats, they were road kill.  I didn’t think they would be a big seller.

My boss responded that with my defeatist attitude they probably wouldn’t.  So, I gave it the old college try.  If someone came in looking for a dead animal jacket I would urge the purchase of possum.

I got plenty of laughs, quite a few odd looks, but not one sale.

Thanks for your time.

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Clothes Pony

She sat me down for a serious talk.

“This is Elizabeth City, not San Diego.  You can’t wear those disco jeans to school.”

The “disco” jeans to which she referred were my favorite jeans with a satin rainbow on the back pocket.  But they were much, much flashier than the Levis 501’s that Kitty and every other kid in our class wore.

So, she took me to the mall to buy my very first pair of 501’s.

Today you can go to a retailer and easily purchase a pair to fit.  If, like me, you have much longer legs than the norm (thanks to my 6’4”, all legs father), you can always go online and order a well-fitting pair on the interwebs.

But back in the day (1979), it didn’t work that way. 

One had to go big—four inches to be exact.  Raw, 100% cotton denim is eminently shrinkable.  Like a cashmere sweater washed in hot water and thrown into a dryer shrinkable.  For 501’s, the jeans weren’t pre-shrunk, the buyer was responsible for that part.

Just throw them into a washer on hot, and dry them until the desired size is reached, correct?


We were high schoolers, with a love of ritual and all things complex and convoluted.  Arcane procedure is a bonding experience.

And the procedure to shrink these Levi’s?

You had to fill the bathtub with the hottest tolerable water, don the duds and get in.  Then sit in the tub, wearing heavy, saturated pants.  For an hour or so, long enough to dye both legs and tub indigo.

The purpose for this lunacy was for the jeans to draw up to perfectly fit one’s own body. 

Of course, just like today’s so-called “miracle” life hacks on Facebook and the like, the hype is different than reality.  The jeans shrunk to size, but were no better fitting than the 501s purchased in one’s own size today.

As for shoes, Kitty informed me there was only one very specific type that was acceptable among our classmates.

They had to be white Nikes, with a blue swoosh.  And canvas—not leather.  Evidently, the leather version automatically declared the wearer was a parvenue.  Upperclassmen were allowed to own an additional type of shoe; Sperry (Lord help the child who wore no-name knock-offs) Topsiders, or as we called them, “boat shoes”.

For shirts, there were a plethora of options—as long as it was a 100% cotton, button-down, Oxford cloth shirt or a polo.

Ralph Lauren, from whom all preppy flows.

And the variety didn’t end there.  The button-downs could be in a rainbow of white, blue, pink (both boys and girls), and yellow.  Either solid or striped—the mind boggles.

An Oxford cloth-clad man can be hot.

As for the polos, a Lacoste pique cotton was the ideal.  But that little alligator came at a steep price—usually more than thirty dollars.  And most parents balked at paying the price, which was enough for a family to eat out, see a movie and buy some milk duds and popcorn.  Most kids only had a few, highly treasured Lacoste’s.

So, there was a concession to the realities of the economy.

If there wasn’t enough bank for a reptile to decorate your chest, a tiny little tiger was acceptable.  The Le Tigre shirt, which sold for about twelve bucks was, in every other respect, identical.

But regardless the animal on your shirt; collars popped, please.  It didn’t become the move of the obnoxious rich kid until Tom Cruise did it in Risky Business.  Add that pop to a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers and you had the rich, entitled villain of every single teen movie until 1990.

Thanks for your time.

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Riding In Cars With The Kid

Last Saturday afternoon, Petey and I took a nice long car ride.  We were making a trip to Scrap Exchange, in Durham.  The Matthews Family Band has opened an Etsy shop, and I’ve been haunting all the art and craft stores in the area for supplies.  We’d heard that the Exchange had a shop with a terrific, unusual inventory.

Even though we’ve lived in the area for many years, I still only knew one route to get to its location.  That meant we had to go through town to get to our starting place.

We got a little off-track and ended up driving through Duke Forest.  It was a gloomy day, but the leaves were turning, and the color was glorious adjacent.  Petey and I enjoyed the ride had a very sweet, very meaningful conversation.

That enforced togetherness is such a wonderful catalyst to talk.  Even now, it’s where The Kid and I have our very best chats.  Well, not right now; The Kid, on immunosuppressants for rheumatoid arthritis, is self-isolating.  It’s been seven months since we went for a coffee together, or even shared a hug.

 As the years go by, our very first car ride seems ever more recent.  Sometimes it feels like only days ago.

Imagine it: A young couple with a brand-new human.  Petey and I spent the ride home in abject terror.  By the time we pulled into the driveway, I was ready to beg my husband to turn the car around and throw ourselves upon the mercy of the Duke maternity ward.

Instead, we screwed our courage to the sticking place and went into the house and became parents.

The first clearly enunciated word The Kid ever uttered that wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada” happened in the car.  Our child was teetering on the edge between baby and toddler, and the Matthews Family Band was going out to dinner and discussing what we felt like eating.

All of a sudden a little voice piped up from the back seat, “Cheeseburger!”.  That night, we dined on cheeseburgers almost as big as our heads.

A few months later The almost two-year-old Kid and I were in the car together.  The radio was on, and music was playing, as it almost always is and I was singing along.

Over my voice and the infinitely better voices of the professionals, I heard the voice of my child, in the back seat, yell.

“Rock and roll, baby!”

I laughed so hard I had to pull the car over.

I grew up watching afternoon soap operas with my mom.  It was a daily dose of familiarity and stability in our nomadic military life.

So after The Kid came along, I kept watching.  Many times I would watch my soaps while nursing my infant.  Sometimes, I would have a sandwich and we’d do lunch together. 

As the baby grew into toddler and then preschooler, I continued to watch, with The Kid playing close at hand.  One night we were in the car and our little one was in the car seat in the back, playing with a Barbie and Ken.

I wasn’t paying attention at first.  Then I heard the names of two characters from As The World Turns.  As I continued to listen, The Kid recited the dialog from a scene in the show, almost word perfect.

From that night on, I recorded the shows and watched after putting The Kid to bed.

Which brings me back to the drive Petey and I took.

After the scenic drive, we finally arrived at the Scrap Exchange at about 4:10.

The shop closes daily at 4.

Thanks for your time.

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