Snuggle Up With A Good Book

Last week I made another visit to the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s Disneyland for crafters and thrift shop junkies.

I struck gold.

In their huge book section, I picked up a green hardcover book that had the telltale color, texture, size, and aroma of an old school library book.  It still had the little pocket pasted onto the inside of the back cover.  And, tucked into that pocket was the original card.

The book originally came from Tom’s River High School.  Coincidentally, Tom’s River is very close to where my mom grew up.  The first time it was checked out, it was due November 20, 1962.  The last time it was returned to the high school library was January 8, 1979.   

The book is Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Her Betsy series was one of the written joys of my life.  I read and reread these books whenever I felt lonely; and for a kid in a military family, it was more often than you might think.

The books go from early readers to Betsy’s marriage and the beginnings of WWI.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were my closest friends, and B’s family was my second family, always there for a singalong and an onion sandwich at Sunday night lunch. 

To honor the books that I loved so much, I thought that I’d tell you about my all-time favorite books; the ones that I stayed up late reading and the ones, like Betsy, that I’d pull off the shelf when I needed its comfort.

Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly.  Written in 1942, it’s the story of Angie Morrow, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.  I read it in the sixth grade, and it set me up for all kinds of disappointment when I was going through my own 17th summer.

Hey, not all of us can be willowy, self-possessed, blond cheerleaders.  I adore the book and whole mood and energy I get when I read it.

Chesapeake, by James Michener.  I read this in the 9th grade on a two-week class trip to Mexico.  It was my first Michener. I love all of his books, but this multi-generational novel about families on the Eastern shore of Virginia is my flannel pajamas, cozy Michener.

This is my own copy.

The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, and Hotel New Hampshire, all by John Irving.  In one page of this author’s work, he can make you cry, laugh, and want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

His work is easy to read, but hard to digest.  All of his characters seem like real people, full of quirks, nobility, and faults.  I have never read a book with odder, yet more believable characters. 

John Irving

John Irving will challenge you and your whole world.

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  This is the nonfiction account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer, HH Holmes, who used it as his personal hunting ground.  Larson writes history that reads like fiction.  I read everything he writes, and not only because reading nonfiction makes me feel smart.

During this apocalypse that is our lives, I’ve been reading lots of thrillers; it makes me appreciate that at least I’m not being stalked by a crazed killer, and I love a good twist.  Recently I read, Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris.

It’s astonishing.

So, if I may suggest, Gentle Reader, put down the remote and pick up a book.  You can take a trip without a mask that will change you forever.

Thanks for your time.

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My Massive Motherhood Fails

First, a few things.

I was in labor for 39 ½ hours.

The Kid graduated from a private college without student loans.

And, our child is a kind, compassionate, creative, productive member of society.

I tell you these things, Gentle Reader, not to brag, but so that you may look kindly upon me when I reveal to you what a hash I’ve made of mothering, time and again.

When The Kid was in elementary school, the Matthews Family Band made a day trip to Wrightsville Beach.  At one point, we decided it was time for something cold and refreshing.

Petey and I got sodas, and The Kid chose a snow cone.

That snow cone.

That damned snow cone.

Snow cones have never appealed to me, so I wasn’t familiar with their mechanics and practices.  Which partly, possibly, explains what happened next.

When I saw that it was melting and pooling in the bottom of the paper cone, I took it and ripped a hole in it so the fluid gathered at the bottom would dribble out.

The look on that child’s face would break a heart of stone.  Petey looked shocked and appalled, as well.

The Kid wailed, “Why did you do that?  You ruined it!”

It was at this point that I realized I had made a huge frozen faux pas.

It’s been twenty years, but Petey and The Kid love to talk about it to watch me squirm.  The episode is known as, “The Snow Cone.”

A couple of years earlier, The Kid had a cold with an earache.  My mother, who has multiple gold medals in the worrywart Olympics, kept urging me to take the patient to the doctor.  The Kid didn’t seem to be getting worse, wasn’t running a fever, so I demurred.

Turns out, it was such a bad infection, they at first thought it was flesh-eating bacteria that was working its way toward the brain. 

After a night in the hospital, the docs determined it was only a particularly nasty middle ear infection.  The earache lasted for months.

The last still stings the worst.

The Kid was driving down from college in Vermont for winter break.  We expected the arrival early afternoon.  I’d made plans for us to go out to lunch and do some Christmas shopping.

You should also know, I’m a light sleeper and Petey snores like a malfunctioning freight train, so I sleep with earplugs.

That morning, I was snug in my bed, and half asleep, I heard the dog bark downstairs.  I groggily figured Petey had come in from work, gone into the bathroom, and the dog was trying to hurry him along. 

I rolled over and went back to sleep.

It wasn’t Petey.

Petey woke me later.

“The Kid’s downstairs.”

I assumed he was joking, but our little scholar was home early, to surprise us, but without a house key.  The Kid had actually been home for a couple of hours.  So long, in fact, a trip to the local gas station had been necessary for coffee and the loo. 

My child had been trying and trying to get into the house and I’d slept through it.

As soon as I came downstairs, we went and had multiple keys made.

To this day, just thinking about it makes me feel like the absolute worst mother that ever mothered.

But again, The Kid is a marvelous human who only brings up these horrible, cringe-worthy, guilt-inducing episodes on the occasion of major screw-ups, the desire to tease, or a big favor is being sought.

But I have a trump card.  I just mumble, “Thirty-nine and a half hours.”

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

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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Heart Throb

Hello Gentle Reader,

I recently discovered that this column is very similar to another that I wrote 2 1/2 years ago.

Rather than a re-run, this essay is more of a reboot.

So, without further ado, please enjoy a tale of my elementary school love life.

Take care and stay safe,


This is going to date the heck out of me, but when I was in kindergarten, at Lad & Lassie School in Mobile, Alabama, I was madly in love with Bobby Sherman.

I thought he was dreamy.  I had a Bobby Sherman lunch box.

When he sang “Julie Do You Love Me?”, my besotted brain changed Julie to debbie.  He was also the star of his own short-lived sitcom.  IMDB informs us that the name of the show was “Getting Together”, but until now I always assumed, it was, “The Bobby Sherman Show”.

That’s what I called it in my heart.  My fickle, fickle heart.

By the first grade, I was all about Donny Osmond.  And I loved sister Marie; I couldn’t wait for her to be my sister-in-law.

I’d received a portable cassette player and the Osmond Brothers “Crazy Horses” cassette for Christmas.  Every afternoon, I would grab it and rush down to Cathy Ainge’s house (unlike me, she didn’t have brothers, so it was much more peaceful at her place).

We’d pop in that cassette and proceed to squeal at the sound of our beloved’s voice.  Then, we’d swoon like a Jane Austin heroine seeing her first hairy chest.  How her mother put up with it is anybody’s guess.

I read Teen Beat and Tiger Beat magazines.  But 16 (the fan mag, not to be confused with the fashion mag for older girls, Seventeen), was our absolute fave.  In addition to interviews and layouts with Donny and a host of other cute boys, they printed serials about different celebrities that ran for months.

We were about six months into a Donny serial and deeply immersed.  There were probably at least six more months to go when my dad came home from work one day to announce that our Coast Guard family was being transferred to Puerto Rico.

I was already, at nine-years-old, a veteran of these moves.  And who wouldn’t want to have a three-year vacation in a tropical paradise? 

I refused.

Of course, I would miss my friends.  I would miss the Girl Scouts and my Brownie troop.  I was also shortstop on my t-ball team, which I loved.  The kids that lived in my neighborhood were my cohorts and my squad.  The neighborhood itself was still full of places I hadn’t yet explored.

But I was a Coastie kid, and moving every few years was part of the deal; I knew I’d make new friends, have new clubs and activities, and have many new places to explore. 

No, my relocation veto had nothing to do with any of those things.

It was because of my (current) one true love, Donny Osmond.

I was staying in North Carolina because I had no idea if 16 magazine was available at newsstands in Puerto Rico—and I was taking no chances.

It speaks to my parents’ ability to wisely deal with the upheavals that came with being a Coast Guard family, that they took my objections seriously.  They proposed a plan in which I would earn the money in advance, and my mother’s best friend, Mizz Judy would purchase the magazine each month through the run of the serial, and mail it to our new home in the Caribbean.

Mizz Judy faithfully kept mailing, and I kept reading until Donny’s multi-part adventures had concluded.  And, our dreamlike sojourn in the very Northwestern corner of that little coral outcropping called the Borinquen (bo-rink-can) became one of my very favorite homes.

And, Donny was far from the last crush I had.  And as I grew up and matured, so did my crushes and the motivations for them.

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at

Hot, Cranky Questions

Normally, I am friendly and kind.


But the North Carolina summer is so malevolently awful that it feels personal.  I can’t argue with hot though, because there is no combination of words I can say that will make it cooler and less humid. 

And, standing outside, yelling, and shaking my fist at the sky just confirms suspicions that my neighbors have had about me all along.

So, I walk around all summer, every summer, disgruntled.  Usually, my gruntle returns in early October about the time the State Fair comes to town.  Then that big ole bag of grumpy departs like a hummingbird heading south for the winter.

I strive to stifle my summer-originated rage.  But on especially gross days in which I am forced to spend extended time outside, my animosity bubbles to the surface, like a particularly noxious aquifer in the form of sarcastic, smart-alecky questions.

Some are purely rhetorical, some I know the answers to, and some are actual head-scratchers and are the result of honest, albeit cantankerous curiosity.

Do you know what’s unfair?  Having gray hair, wrinkles, and acne all on the same head.  It’s those infernal masks.  Wearing one is a giant pain.  It’s punishingly hot and moist under here.  I am beyond sick of smelling and breathing my own breath.  I’m always forgetting it and having to run back to the car.  It makes my glasses fog up.

It’s one of the best ways, though, to protect yourself and others from transmission.  But I keep seeing a puzzling phenomenon all over the place and even on the faces of TV reporters.  So I have to ask; why even bother wearing that mask if you’re gonna leave your nose outside?

So, those murder hornets that were supposed to invade our shores and spread a swath of death and destruction everywhere they went.  What happened to them?

I have a theory. They arrived in the US and saw the news and read a few papers.  When they realized what a flaming hot mess 2020 is, they turned around and went back to Mars.

Why can’t I eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  It’s hot!

Madonna: desperately seeking sanity.

Singer Sam Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Drake, Madonna, et al, posting tone-deaf videos and photos from multi-multi-million dollar homes complaining about the boredom/anxiety of quarantining. 

On behalf of all the people out here who aren’t riding around our private islands on a unicorn while wearing gold-plated underclothes; might you please shut the heck up?

There are actually folks who will gaze at you with a slightly manic look and state with a straight face, that they “love the heat”.

What is wrong with them?

Camping.  Leaving one’s comfortable homes full of running water, electricity, and air conditioning for the charms of sleeping on the ground, eating food that’s either half-raw or burned to charcoal, and being feasted upon by any number of insects.

Why would anybody in their right mind do that on purpose?

Would somebody please explain to me why fried dough covered in a honey glaze is so much tastier than a carrot?

Throughout history, different body shapes are in or out of fashion.  During the Italian Renaissance, the style was Rebuenesque; plump and ample.  In the roaring 20s, it was desirable to be slim with straight hips and a boyish figure.  Marilyn Monroe was the ideal in the 1950s with an hourglass figure.

So when are flat butts and big feet going to have a turn?

Finally, somebody, please tell me, I’ve gotta know—how hard is it to actually change a roll of toilet paper?

Thanks for your time.

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