Friday, September 25, 2015

The Mountain Pass - My Answer to The Writer's Circle Story Prompt

“It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.” 

If she continued forward on the road, the car would strike an enormous flock of geese settled on the highway. Turning the wheels right, she would careen off the cliff, a vertical drop nearly two thousand feet straight down. To the left would mean an impact with the rocky cliffs of Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Either choice would bring instant death to her and the two children who slept soundly in the back seat. Her eyes traveled to the rear view mirror in a microsecond, wishing for once she hadn’t insisted on driving. Her husband slumbered in the passenger seat, his muffled snores rhythmically in sequence with the classical music drifting from the stereo.

There was no way she would intentionally hurt these elegant creatures meandering about the asphalt feasting on grain scattered from a transport truck. Her childhood pet bird was considered a member of the family, celebrating holidays, birthdays and meals with the children. 

In the span of less than a second, her life flashed like a PowerPoint presentation on amphetamines. She thought about the breakfast they’d shared this morning after checking out of their economy motel. The children feasted on fruity “O” cereal and enjoyed a cinnamon roll from the pastry bar. She and Brad chose the flavored coffee with shaved chocolate and a dash of cinnamon.

A bead of sweat trickled down her neck as her foot moved in an instant with a mind of its own from the gas pedal to the brake. She knew the car would never stop in time no matter how much she willed it. The front of the minivan dipped radically in response as it slowed, still moving closer too fast for her to calculate in her mind the distance and velocity. What a time to think of math and her ineptness in that subject. She pictured the aging professor who tried patiently to explain the formula in a tutoring session she failed to grasp. At sixty miles per hour she would travel how many feet per second? The answer wouldn't matter.

A second glance in the mirror revealed the children’s bodies shifting forward, straining hard against the seat belts that held the car seat for little Janie and the strap holding Johnny in place. Their bodies slumped forward as the tires gained traction against the inertia. Still, the vehicle barreled onward toward the unsuspecting birds, little space remaining before the impact of two tons of metal in motion would decimate the creatures. She had no choice in the matter. Her destiny was ahead as she pressed all her weight against the pedal and whispered the most pleading, intense conversation with God in her life.

“Please save us Lord and protect your creatures from my careless haste.”

Her words were no quicker spoken than a shotgun blast sounded somewhere off on the distant wooded mountain top. Without hesitation, the flock took wing and flew away, safely out of the range of her bumper as it crossed the spot they just vacated.

“Everything OK?” her tired husband asked roused by the sudden change in motion.

“Better than ever,” she responded whispering a prayer of thanks and wiping a tear from her cheek as his snores resumed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Beach Scenes - Florida Gulf Coast

Vacationing on the Gulf Coast of Florida has become a tradition for me over the past two decades.

Every year, during the same week in September, my long time friend and I set out for the beach where we spend seven wonderful days together at her timeshare right on the coast.

We start the week off with a trip to the store to pick up our groceries and ingredients for our bottomless pitcher of sangria.



Back at the efficiency apartment, I begin by measuring out sugar and cinnamon into a large pitcher.


Then I cut up the oranges and apples and add them to the sugar mixture along with a cup of brandy.



The fruit infusion pitcher is my newest online purchase and I'm delighted with the shape and quality of it. It arrived promptly and in perfect shape to put it to use.

We like to garnish our glasses with the brandied fruit and after the first batch, we found it easier to not use the plastic insert.

Afterward, we made our way down to the water's edge to put a toe into the Gulf. The water was warm, but rough. The temperature was pleasant with a light breeze to combat the humidity.


Flocks of birds were there to greet us and share their view of the water.


Day one ended with our customary viewing of the spectacular sunset on the beach.


More beach photos from the week will follow soon.


Taking a stroll down the beach, I found a couple of birds fishing underneath the pier.

This one was determined to catch a fish and while he was busy, he let me approach to within about five feet.


The water was really rough as the tide came in right after the rain and thunderstorm. The pelican in the background was taking a break from fishing.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Skinny on Weight Loss and Diets

Aunt Inez and friend, 1925

Dropping a few pounds is tough, even for skinny girls.

Recently I discovered, to my dismay, that fifteen pounds found their way onto my normally thin frame. In terms of weight gain, I couldn't believe I put on over ten percent of my body weight.

Anyone who has lost a substantial amount of weight, like my BFF who has taken off nearly one hundred pounds, can tell you it is no easy task. However, I had no idea just how hard it was to shed even a few pounds of unwanted weight.

Since April of this year I've been trying a variety of ways to get rid of the baggage: cutting out sweets, ice cream and desserts; eating two rather than three meals; eliminating the sugar from my one cup of coffee in the morning. This didn't solve the issue.

So, I tried eating mostly salads. What could be better for me than a hearty, healthy diet of vegetables?

Well, I may be healthier, but I still have those extra pounds of muffin top blubber. Gasp! I haven't carried this much weight since I was in Flight Attendant Training and there was a free buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My classmates and me right before graduation.

Three days before we were to graduate when we were called in for a weight check, the impossible numbers on the scale told me the bad news: If I didn't lose three pounds in the next two days, I would fail to complete the course.

Naturally, that was unacceptable after six weeks of intense training and studying. Besides, it had been my life's ambition to fly the friendly skies.

I literally starved myself while walking practically non-stop during every free minute during those two days. Someone suggested I take a laxative, which I did, and try spitting rather than swallowing. These methods, although crude, seemed to do the trick and I barely squeezed past the guidelines of weight restrictions.

These four decades later, I discovered the real key to taking off a couple of pounds. If you've struggled with this at all, you know that those last few pounds are the toughest to lose.

I began scrutinizing every little thing that passed between my lips, from a glass of juice, to a fast-food meal. Everything has more calories than you can imagine. I reduced my caloric intake in the most obvious ways:
  • Eating only from a plate
  • Carefully measuring the portions
  • Limiting condiments
  • Drinking lots of water
  • Writing down everything I ate
I was shocked to find out that the Ranch dressing that I loved to glop on my healthy salad had one hundred and thirty calories per two tablespoons! (130 calories per two TBSP). That may not seem like a lot unless you drown your salad in it like I do.
The beauty of a salad is the low caloric count on the greens. Looking at the bag of prepared Iceberg salad mix, I discovered that one and a half cups of greens were only about fifteen calories! (1.5 cups of lettuce mix equals 15 calories). A huge salad of three cups was only thirty calories until I added half a cup of Ranch dressing which added about six hundred calories.


With 6 TBSP of low fat ranch dressing 240 calories plus salad (without ham) 30 calories.

My solution was switching to Fat Free Italian dressing which is only fifteen calories per two tablespoons. (15 calories per 2 TBSP) and cutting out all the added olives, ham, turkey, boiled eggs and extras I was putting on it. "I only had a SALAD!" I used to say...Slowly, over the past two weeks I've taken off two, then three, now five pounds. HOORAY!

With 6 TBSP of fat free Italian dressing 45 calories plus salad 30 calories.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Confessions of a Hair Stylist 2

Halloween at the Salon - I went as Nurse Ratched
During the US Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, my career took a brand new direction. I moved across the state of Florida leaving behind a failed relationship, a foreclosed house and a lot of baggage. A friend told me about a job in the mall where she worked as one of four receptionists in a hair salon.

My friendship with Kathy went back ten years to a previous job where we worked together as bookkeepers at a bank. At the time, we were both in our late teens. We had a lot in common and a friendship developed quickly. Sometime later, we became roommates and celebrated our twenty-first birthdays the same month. As it turns out, we shared a bit more than that. But that's a different story for a different time.


The salon's dress code required their employees to wear red, white or blue in solid colors; no plaids, prints or stripes. The color scheme went along with the red, white and blue theme in the store and the decorations in the mall where the salon was located.A constant stream of seventies music blared from the overhead speakers as stylists worked on patrons scheduled to arrive every half hour. More time was allotted for permanent waves, popular during the  era of big hair.

Our Elton John look-alike, Grant, was a talented stylist who conducted training sessions at the local high schools to share his skills. He liked to use my hair to demonstrate the latest hair cuts and blow drying techniques. After hours, we frequented the disco scene. He was a fabulous dancer and despite my two left feet, we enjoyed dancing to the disco beat. His life-partner didn't seem to mind the time Grant and I spent together having fun.

Twenty stylists downstairs worked on women and children customers. Twelve stylists upstairs worked on male clients sent to barber shop. Men wanted styles like Rod Stewart, while women wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett. Men willingly endured the long process required to get a permanent wave, sitting around in rollers with smelly perm solution on their hair with only a limited degree of privacy.


Hairstyles had catchy names like The Mushroom, the Pyramid or the Wedge, even named after a famous ice skater of the time, The Dorothy Hamill. Perm rods were stacked and pink hair was not considered unusual.



For lunch, Anne, a stylist in the downstairs salon, and I headed out to Mr. Dunderbak's for a salad and glass of wine taking a break from the noise and chaos of the salon.

After the salon closed at nine, we put our well-practiced dance moves to work with the latest disco tunes driving her MGB to a hot dance spot, the nearby Doctor Robiconti's or Fanny's where we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning. We loved the night life; we liked to disco.



There were consequences of our late-night adventures. Every weekday morning, the alarm rang early and I headed to cosmetology school where I worked styling hair and giving perms and coloring on beauty school customers. Customers paid for salon services and students paid for training, making it a win-win for the school. It wasn't always a win for the patron whose fate was left in the hands of beginners. Another story, another time.

After lunch until closing on weekdays and all weekend, I worked at the hair salon as a receptionist. Inside the salon, a Merle Norman Studio provided the option for a total make-over for the customer along with their hair style.

One day as I worked the reception desk, a lady with red hair and a brand new perm came to the counter to pay for her salon services. She was smiling and happy until her husband said, "Can you tell me why I have to pay fifty dollars for my wife to look like Bozo the Clown?" When she started to cry, I reached for the public address system and paged the stylist.

"Shirley, please, report to the front desk, code blue. Shirley, front and center, please." I put down the mic and focused on the messy appointment book averting my eyes and wishing I was invisible.

Looking back, it was an experience in so many areas: design; style; hair shows and workshops; modeling; experience closing the books of a retail operation; using the phone; selling retail products; working with artists and one which I'll remember for as long as I possibly can.



Thursday, September 3, 2015

Confessions of a Hair Stylist 1, A True Story


I often wonder what became of my former best friend. We were closer than sisters, so close that we opened a hair salon together.

Neither of us had any money to spare. We were making ends meet, buying gas and food with our daily tips. But oh, what fun times we shared. It was great until it was over.

A couple of nights a week, the salon stayed open until nine. One of those late evenings, the guy who lived in a trailer behind the shopping center sat in his car in the parking lot and watched our salon. We weren't too worried about it until he stayed there for hours. We could see him through the one way glass window in the reception area. Right around closing time he came into the shop. We were nervous until he asked to schedule appointments for his two young children. That went well with each of us cutting one of the kid's hair. Then he wanted me to cut his hair. During the haircut, he kept looking back over his shoulder and staring intently at me in the mirror.

The week after that, he began stalking me. Tucked into the crack of the door, I would find pages of handwritten letters about his love for me and details of his warped fantasies. My partner and I freaked out but it drew us closer. We looked after one another during the day and as we left the salon at closing time, neither of us would leave until both our cars started.


After the stalker incident, I started bringing my very large dog to the shop to spend the day with us. When a salon inspector showed up unexpectedly, Bucky was there in the supply room. It was a miracle that we weren't cited with a health violation for bringing a dog into the place. She understood our worries and had mercy on us, giving us a half-hearted warning about it.

In my back yard painting the signs for our Business

Right after Christmas we walked in to the shop to find three inches of water covering the floor. A pipe broke during the holiday and water soaked the entire place. We mopped for hours trying to get it all up. We worried that our stalker had done something to our water fountain to cause the flood. Everything was shrouded with concern. We approached our landlord about his creepy son who was stalking us and that took care of him as far as we knew.

Another weird thing happened when the phone rang and it was a coworker of my former fiancée. She told me she knew some disturbing facts about my soon-to-be wedded husband and said she would come in for a haircut and a heart-to-heart talk. We waited all day for her to show up sharing tacky ideas on how we would clip bald patches into her hair for revenge. She never made it, which might have been a blessing in disguise, although, now I wish she had. Things might have turned out differently for me.

Time passed and we grew discouraged with our lack of customers, despite passing out reams of flyers in the neighborhood and making up salon t-shirts for sale.

BFFs


We were located in the same center that housed a Moose Lodge. One of its patrons told us that the lodge had a reputation for domestic disturbances and fights. On all sides, we were struggling with our decision to open a business.

My partner soon started having marital difficulty. She became morbidly depressed and told me of her suicidal thoughts. She asked if I would buy out her half of the business so she could take a real job. We had a legal clinic draw up partnership papers and I agreed to pay her back for her down payment into the business.

Disaster loomed in my future as I carried all three loans. My only other stylist broke her leg and couldn't work. But what I never expected from a friend was to be sued for equity that didn't exist. Understandably, it ended the partnership and our friendship.

I should have listened to my Dad who always said, "Never go into business with family or friends." He was a smart man.