In The South, we spend a lot of time talking about our Mamas. They are very important, after all. They love us, guide us, nudge us, nag us & drive us crazy from time to time, but are always there to reinforce the strength of the maternal bond. Today though, it’s appropriate to focus on the often unsung heroes in our lives: our fathers.

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My great-grandfather, S.O. Hill, my grandfather, Herman (aka Papa Hill), Uncle Ed & last, but never least, my Daddy, JM Hill.

Fathers, or Daddies (pronounced deh-deez) as we call them in the South, are equally as important but are very comfortable letting Mamas shine. They do all of the things that Mamas do, in more subtle ways. My Daddy has always been there for me, even when I was difficult to be there for. He has shown unconditional love & acceptance, even when I’m sure I tried his last nerve. He is a man of few, but important, words & through his actions taught me how to be a man in this world. He taught me how to be strong, how to show love, what is truly important & what is just noise. Although I can’t recall the conversation word-for-word, when I came out I remember him saying, “you’re my son & I love you”. As anyone that has ever been terrified to reveal their true self to another can tell you, those are simple & extremely powerful words. In that moment, he talked about acceptance of a son that he didn’t understand, but that he loved & would spend the rest of his life protecting if necessary, with six little words. And while I may not need him to protect me anymore, I still remember how incredible that felt.

So, here’s to all of the fathers that love, accept, laugh, teach & protect. You’re great men, but you’ll never be as great as my Daddy.

I believe that what we become depends on

what our fathers teach us at odd moments,

when they aren’t trying to teach us.

We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.

-Umberto Eco

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My Daddy, Mama & Me. 1974.

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It’s been two weeks since your Dandy last updated you on the goings-on in his head.  I knew things were getting bad when the paparazzi stopped blinding me with their flashes & screaming questions like, “Is it true that you’re romantically involved with James Franco?!” as I tried to dart into Trader Joe’s for a value-sized chunk of brie & crackers.  Ok, not crackers…those almonds that are dipped in dark chocolate & rolled in turbinado sugar & sea salt.  Don’t judge me.  If you’ve ever had them, you realize perfectly well what I’m talking about.  At $3.99 a pop, I could easily deplete my 401K by buying them in bulk (pallets).

Again, I digress.  I’m sorry that I’ve been absent for so long & that you have had to suffer through the cancellation of Smash sans my southern comfort.  Or, Southern Comfort. Life is funny sometimes.  It can throw you curve balls that, as a former fat kid, have no way to prepare for, so you just stand in front of them.  Your Dandy is not immune.  I tell you this to (a) explain my absence and (b) get to the point of this installment before you move on to the next Lady Gaga cover on YouTube.  When these types of things happen to me, I process my feelings as any good Dandy would:

  1. I eat my feelings.  They are delicious; they taste like almonds dipped in dark chocolate & rolled in raw sugar & sea salt.
  2. I watch a LOT of Charmed on Netflix.  I have always felt that I was the Piper in my coven.  Ok, not so much a coven as a loosely-connected group of queens that I can count on for martinis & karaoke.  You know who you are.  (Side note: I would really like to be able to blow things up with my hands.  But, I suppose I’ll have to settle for throwing things instead.)
  3. I shop online for a sports car.  I waiver between a 350Z & a Boxster.  Then, I talk myself out of it, after considering the amount of money I have spent on almonds.  One has to be practical.
  4. I channel all of my thoughts in the most productive way possible: by obsessing about my lack of control in hurtful situations.  Or over The Situation.  And focus on what I can control.  Then shit gets really real.  And I start planning projects for the house.
  5. With my OCD raging at this point, I obsess over seemingly minor details that wouldn’t bother most people.  I fixate on things like the medicine cabinet being messy.  Who cares?  Your Dandy does.  It’s not Martha-Effing-Stewart organized, so I end up turning off Charmed at 2AM when I’m already exhausted & get to work.  By 3AM, the medicine cabinet has been re-organized & three other small projects have been accomplished.

So, here is what I have learned in the process (and what almost led to be call this post “OCD & Me”): that I can leverage this (hopefully) mild hang-up to my advantage.  Let’s be serious, I’m not having to count how many times I flip on & off a lightswitch or obsessively washing my hands until they bleed.  For me, this manifests as a need to organize & clean.  Great! I can finally make headway on projects that I have put off, like finishing painting in the kitchen, reorganizing medicine cabinets, linen closets, closets & dresser drawers.  I can make this house the home I have envisioned (I even considered chanting for the dream house, as Edina Monsoon teaches, but I have such a problem with our society’s extreme tolerance of yoga pants as casual wear, that I decided it would drive me too crazy).

Finally, here is my point: embrace your quirks.  They make you special & beautiful.  Where this journey will take me or what I will learn from it, I have no idea.  But, I’m open to it.  And, by the end of it, I will have a home that would make Martha Stewart jealous.  If she were open to buying homes in transitional neighborhoods…

Some of my latest obsessions:

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It was incredibly important that night that the products be rearranged & faced out…

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It was also of paramount concern that shelves be adjusted for uniformity & that the MOP Mixed Greens shampoo I bought online be easily accessible…

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The Herman Miller chair got moved to the bedroom. It belongs here…

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I had to hit up the new TJ Maxx in Midtown for new pillows & West Elm for a throw to protect the sofa since the dogs can’t seem to stay off of it. I think I understand what parents feel like when they reach their threshold & decide to send their disobedient children to military school. (Please pay special attention to how this throw echoes the color palette of the white walls & black Nate Berkus curtains. That was, of course, no accident).

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I had to find a use for this crate. So,now it stores towels that I totally realize the kittens will probably just sleep on.

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The silver tray on top of the dresser had to be reorganized to provide a landing zone for the things that random homes, like the shoehorn that I think is so cool (but never use), the mercury glass candle holder, the glass milk jug that I keep change in & the glass rooster that I picked up in Key West.

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A closeup for your viewing pleasure…

I once heard the phrase, “she’s so OCD that she can pick fly shit out of pepper”.  Y’all stay tuned to see if I spiral down that path.  It’s bound to make for good blogging.

Lately, your favorite Dandy has become an enthusiastic list-maker.  Most likely, this started with my use of my iPhone’s reminder app.  It seemed so innocent at first: make a note that could be location or calendar-based.  The iPhone would remind me, I’d never forget anything, would always look like I’m incredibly-organized (not a natural towering strength) & all the world would love me. Slippery slope, y’all…

I live & die by a quality checklist.  And, I feel compelled to guide & mentor the future Dandies of this world that may not know when they are venturing into dangerous territory.  Defining your personal style of decor is all trial & error & I’d like to help the next generation avoid some pitfalls.  No doubt, this will prove exceedingly helpful & will be discussed with the same glassy-eyed zeal that Oprah has when discussing The Secret.  Also, I recently watched Cider House Rules & fell in love with Tobey Maguire again.  It’s a vicious cycle…

Ten Things I Hate & You Should Never, Ever Do In Your Home:

  1. Themes Rooms: Nothing makes me cringe more than when I walk into someone’s home & I hear, “This is the Bicentennial Room” or, “my living room is done in Asian Traditional, my kitchen in Rustic Mediterranean, my bathroom in Danish Modern & my bedroom in Modern Southern American Folk Art pieces”. My shoulder blades constrict & I have to choke down the urge to scream, “Christ on crutches! Is choosing a central theme so difficult?! I mean, it’s taught to elementary school children for God’s sake!”.  To some, this reaction sounds extreme.  Others understand how blindly enraged excessive theme rooms can make a person.  So, for the good of all, exercise restraint.  A simple nod to a new style is all you need.
  2. Plastic on the lampshades: For women of my grandmother’s generation, plastic on the lampshades was not uncommon at all.  Then again, Velveeta, shaving your eyebrows & home perm kits were also not uncommon.  I don’t know about y’all, but I wouldn’t allow any of those things in my home either.
  3. Kitty Condos in your living room: Nothing says, “I have no idea how to create a room in which my friends & family want to spend their time” like plopping a one of these monstrosities down next to the chair in which I am supposed to sit, relax & drink my mint juleps.  Don’t misread me, your Dandy loves animals.  I rescued more strays as a child than anyone else I can think of.  I still do. However, I don’t feel it necessary to renovate my home so that Kitty can climb to the ceiling.  Cats, like children, should be taught to sit on a sofa & look cute.
  4. Matching sets of furniture: Let me say that I get it.  It’s easy to walk into a Rooms To Go, pick out a set of furniture, get a complimentary TV or whatever they’re giving away at the time, go home, accept delivery, arrange it once & go on with the rest of your life.  I wish I were that easy for me, y’all.  The thing I dislike about sets of furniture is that they’re too easy.  The style of your home should say something about YOU.  And, I’m not sure “I’m willing to take a package deal if I don’t have to be creative” is the message that you want to send.  Mix it up!  Buy a sofa at one store, chairs at another.  Find some cool old tables on Craigslist.  Stay away from the personal ads.  They’re sketchy. Put a little effort into it.  Not only will everyone think you’re so stylish & clever, you won’t ever have that embarrassing moment of walking into someone else’s house & realizing that y’all have the same ugly RTG living room set.
  5. Loose, Exposed power cables: I live in an old house.  I understand the advantages like wood floors, original moldings & plaster walls that you could hang a body from.  I also understand that, prior to the 1980s, contractors deemed it seemingly excessive to put more than one outlet in an entire room.  Yours truly has had to run wires across rooms before just to do basic things like have a lamp where it needed to be.  That doesn’t mean your HOME should look like a sad, depressing office space.  Cable-management is not rocket science.  Go to a home supply store, buy a bag of zip ties & commence to crawling around on the floor & under furniture to do your best to combine all cables & wires & hide them.  Will your posture be shot for a few days afterwards? Most probably.  But, here is the frightening truth: marriage equality isn’t the downfall of our society; visual clutter is.
  6. Bright Overhead Lighting: Like being reminded how much older you’re getting?  Like counting the lines forming around your eyes? How about seeing every pet hair or speck of dust that has accumulated on your chinoiserie coffee table since you dusted 5 minutes ago?  If y’all answered yes to any of these, then you’re a bad person & there may be no hope for you.  I too have a light kit on pretty much every ceiling fan.  But those are for  emergencies.  Real emergencies like in I Am Legend when that virus started turning people into dark-seeking monsters. (Little know fact: if more people had emergency overhead lighting, that movie would have never happened.  They would have turned on the OHL, the monsters would have died & Will Smith would have spent the next hour & a half of his screen time doing pull-ups.  And, that, would have been a damn good movie.)
  7. Excessive amount of pillows: Look, I love pillows as much as the next Dandy.  But, seriously, you’re not in a harem.  Cool it on the throw pillows.  Especially on your bed.  Moderation, y’all…
  8. Living Rooms without surfaces: This is very similar to the living room with a kitty condo next to the chair that I’m supposed to sit in.  I need an end table, coffee table, somewhere to put my cocktail.  So, don’t be that person that has nothing but a sofa in your living room (yes ma’am, I have been in these houses before.  They’re willing to spend a small fortune on shoes at Bloomingdale’s and have three pieces of furniture in their entire house).  Also, don’t be the person that has so much stuff on every table that there is literally not even room for me to sit my iPhone on it.  That’s just annoying.  Everyone knows your iPhone has to be visible & accessible at all times.
  9. Accent Walls:  OK, OK, calm down.  Hear me out.  The reason accent walls made the list is simple.  They’re difficult to pull off.  I actually love a good accent wall.  My personal preference is that they are done in a color closely matched to the other walls.  I’ve done the whole khaki-colored walls with red accent wall thing.  I’ve also done creamy white walls with a dark chocolate accent.  Learn from my mistakes y’all. Even I’m not perfect (collective gasp).
  10. Fake Flowers: They’re pointless.  Dried flowers are cool.  Live flowers & plants are even better.  Do a little research.  There are a ton of options out there for even the blackest thumbed among us.  “ZZ plants” will live in almost any situation.  I think they’d even live in The Situation’s bedroom.  Seriously, I’ve seen them in restaurants tucked in corners that not only didn’t get any natural light, but that were illuminated with a couple of weak accent lights.  Also, orchids live a really long time if you select them properly. (Side note: learn how to select orchids).  Do your homework.  It really isn’t that difficult, y’all.  And, if a plant or two dies, it’s ok.  No one thinks you’re a bad person.  Except some obscure plants rights activist groups.  Don’t even get me started.

One of the most wonderful things about vacationing is that you have time to step away from your daily life, pause, reflect, stare at your reflection, obsess over the way sunburn accentuates the imperfections in your face (granted, they are extremely small imperfections; see previous post on planning this vacation) and examine what you’ve learned during this very-rare, very-coveted downtime. I truly believe that there is an unspoken golden rule for those, like your favorite Dandy, that are thinking of starting or continuing a weakly-received account of their lives: Every good blogger should share their rawest, most un-edited truths with their readers. They should also have an enthusiasm for list-making. With that in mind, I bring you this week’s installment of SouthernDandy from Key West, Florida.

Here is a sloppy & informal list created as I listen to Madonna’s Vogue being pumped through the outdoor speakers around the pool. No joke. These old queens are clamoring to pull their dance uniforms out of their bags & Vogue their way around the pool. They’re old enough that someone may slip & break a hip but also old enough to remember when Madonna was edgy, cool & relevant. That’s when it gets real.

Southern Dandy’s Key West Vacation Truths

  1. If you romanticize a Golden Era road trip from Atlanta to Key West (or anywhere more than 30 minutes from home), the best way to travel is to pack your bag, help load the car and wrap up any last minute details. Next, put on your favorite kimono (frankly, any old robe will suffice) and swallow a generous handful of Ambien. When you wake up two days later, you’re in Key West & you haven’t had to listen to Cher sing the entire 1980s pop canon or contemplate how much more awesome the drive would be if the two lane highway between Key West & the rest of the world were modeled after the Autobahn (complete with scruffy, slightly-scary, kinda-hot German drivers). Pee breaks become optional. For answers on this question, I encourage you to Google it. I can’t do everything for you.
  2. Don’t waste your time asking the front desk attendant what you should do while you’re here. He is twenty-two at best & probably a little high. He has nothing good to give you.
  3. Ditto for asking what you should avoid doing. Let’s be honest, his decision quality is at an all time low.
  4. Snorkeling sounds fun. Saying you snorkeled makes you sound cool. Actually doing snorkeling is really hard. Again, a twenty-two year old will give you instruction on how to fit your mask & breathe through the tube. He will warn that if you have facial hair, which this Dandy has a LOT of (stupid German/Irish heritage…), the mask will not make a tight seal around your nose & that your brain doesn’t naturally understand being underwater & breathing through your mouth. What he fails to warn you is that the minute you try to breathe through the tube (which is REALLY hard to do) and have water introduced into your mask around your nose, you will freak out. Bad. You will be embarrassed, demand a refund & beg the Captain to turn the boat around kind of bad. In turn, the Captain will tell you to ignore the instructions given, to just hold your breath & come up for a air at your own pace. This works & makes snorkeling enjoyable. Was this your Dandy’s experience? Yes ma’am. Stupid twenty-two year old.
  5. It is very chic to have backyard chickens right now. Judging from the amount of free roaming chickens in Key West, the trend started here. Blame the old white hippies with Rastafarian hair. They always take life a step too far. There are chickens everywhere in Old Town. At first it’s adorable seeing a Mama Hen & her babies crossing the street or pecking for insects in the flowerbed. But then you find that the rooster that perches directly across from your room only sleeps five hours a day & that he finds all of his self-worth in waking you at 5 a.m.. You will be hard pressed to find this adorable. Y’all will more than likely wonder if you can pay the fine for killing them with the money set aside for snorkeling. It’s natural & doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It may, however, make you realize that you better off buying free-range eggs at Trader Joe’s at a reasonable mark-up.
  6. Anyone that tells you to just take your shirt off & get some sun is a monster. They know that your Dandy has the skin of a delicate flower & that if he’s in the sun more than three minutes without SPF 100 and a sippy cup of water that he may spontaneously combust (scientifically unproven, but no less an accepted fact). Do they care? No ma’am. Their skin is the leathery-soft brown that you’ve been searching for as you shop for a new Mitchell Gold-Bob Williams sofa. Don’t listen to them. Channel Powder or True Blood as you walk the streets of this city wrapped in gauzy white chiffon, large hats & Jackie O sunglasses. Will people stare/point/laugh/throw bottles? Yes ma’am, it’s all possible. But, the jokes on them when you’re facing forty & still get ID’ed in low-light bars.
  7. Along with this, everyone has a sunburn remedy that has been handed down through the generations of their family. They include, but are not limited to: aloe gel (which makes your stick to everything), tomato juice (ditto), linen shirts to protect your skin (especially popular with the heirs to some esoteric linen fortune), cold showers (no ma’am) & continued exposure to the sun (again, no ma’am). I find what really helps is a little miracle spray called Solar Recover and a painkiller. You’ll sleep all night, never realizing when you turn over on the burnt area & when you awake, most, if not all, of the redness is gone. (Disclaimer: I am by no means a pill popper…it’s a joke, Mama & my boss…)
  8. Everyone in Key West is cruisy. Even straight boys in Key West are cruisy. Most likely, this is because the straight girl to gay guy ratios are at a tipping point & they don’t know where to rest their eyes. If you think one is cruising you, you have two options: give him a look that says don’t even try it, Mister, which leads to more awkwardness OR lean in & smell his cologne. You can always tag straight guys by their bad choices in cologne. So far on this vacation, I have smelled Fahrenheit for the first time since college, Curve, Drakkar Noir, A&F Fierce & enough Axe body spray to turn one sterile. All in all, bad cologne is preferable to those stupid shirts that say things like, “Amateur Gynecologist” or “Orgasm Donor”. Honestly, if you’re a straight guy in Key West looking for love, the odds are stacked in your favor. But, don’t be an asshole. Be cool. Take her to a drag show (trust me, she wants to go). Buy her a drink that she selects (no ma’am, she does not drink Natty Light or PBR). When the drag queen heckles you, go along with it (laugh, don’t get all macho, take your shirt off ; otherwise, you may live to regret it). Generously tip your drag queen in her cleavage (yes ma’am) and not in her panties (no ma’am). If you’re lucky, you have just scored major points with a cute, smart & funny girl that enjoys traveling. Your life will be more than HGTV & Whole Foods on weekends.
  9. Happy Hour by the pool sounds awesome. You think you’re getting open bar with bottom to middle shelf liquor? No ma’am. You’re getting wine, beer, popcorn & peanuts. Maybe sangria. Maybe. That’s it. So, it behooves you to bring snacks. You’ll not only thank yourself later, you’ll also be the most popular person at the pool with the other former-fat-kids that are dying for some Famous Amos cookies & a gin & tonic. Yes ma’am, that’s how I roll during Key West Happy Hour. Deal with it. I’m very popular here.
  10. Don’t be the guy at the resort that talks to everyone. You know that guy; he greets everyone with direct eye contact and a smile, asks them how they slept (because he is genuinely overly-concerned about your sleep cycle) & offers to fetch you coffee. You fear he may rufi you, but, in all honesty he is just a people pleaser. If you’re lucky, you’ll be befriended by an amiable couple from out of the country that just wants another couple to tag along with. If you’re this lucky (and we have been), be gracious & funny. Buy them dinner for their honeymoon. In turn, they’ll buy you dinner later. Don’t sweat it if the dinner they buy costs more. They’re from England & are obviously rich because the sterling pound is rock solid (despite what Huffington Post would have you believe). You’ll end up having a better time than if you had to sit across the hot tub & stare at your other half in the face until one of you blinks. There is no alpha in this group. So, go with flow & enjoy yourself. You are, after all, a Southern Dandy by proxy. Show them why, despite bad politics & religious quarrels, living in the American South is grossly underestimated. They’ll love you for being you & for sharing stories that your other half is already heard a million times. Literally. They’ll talk about their lives, which you will find very interesting & oddly similar. You’ll hope that you can stay in touch after vacation. You may or may not; it’s difficult to tell. It just depends on how charming & eloquent you are. Don’t try too hard (see #8). Definitely wear lip gloss.

Before we jump back into posts on the progress of painting & other miscellaneous projects chez moi, let’s ponder for a moment what it truly means to embrace the Glamorous Life.  For those of you that are too young to remember (and those of you that are white-knuckling your youth & claiming that you are too young to remember…), Sheila E sang the 80’s anthem to this idea: that leading the Glamorous Life might seem like the most important & exciting thing, but that “without love, it ain’t much…”

Where am I going with this?  What I’m saying is that life is all about balance.  Do I want nice things, a nice home, pretty little objet d’arts that are fawned over? Yes ma’am, I am a Southern Dandy at heart after all.  But, having someone that also loves those things & loves to share them with you is as important.  Making time for each other outside of the confines of work, social life & familial obligations can be challenging.  Last year we took a week off and completely unplugged by glamping on the beach on the gulf of Florida.  It was fantastic–literally falling asleep listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the shore in campgrounds tucked far enough into a state park that all cellphone signal was lost.  There were no worries, no connections to anything except the beach…Unless you count the few times that we drove into the towns near the park.  During those times, we were so FaceBook-starved that we were glued to our iPhones.  After a week of disconnecting, I felt that I could conquer the world (and kill someone for a long, hot shower in my own bathroom & not in a stall in a public bathhouse).

This year we decided to vacation in Key West.  When I think of Key West, I think of Cuban-inspired charm, Ernest Hemingway & cats with extra toes (that one creeps me out a little bit; I’ll just try to avoid eye contact with them).  We also decided that we would drive instead of fly.  If I had a dollar for every person that cut their eyes to the side when I said that, I’d probably have a real blog by now.  Does it sound a little crazy?  Yes ma’am, it does.  But think of this: airports are a nightmare anymore, jammed full of people that think putting on a pair of elastic-waist track pants is “dressy”.  The days of glamorous flight attendants, exceptional customer service & well-dressed & well-mannered flyers is over.  Welcome, flying Hooters restaurants & screaming children spreading pink eye to every surface they can touch.

Besides, I remember the car trips we took as children very fondly.  I used to love to drive through strange towns, wonder about the people that live there, see their homes, schools & Piggly Wigglys.  And I have always loved packing a suitcase.  I mean I REALLY love it.  To the point where I think I may have been a traveling salesman or a slightly-better-off-than-most-hobo in a former life.  My friends can attest that in my twenties I would show up for a weekend visit with a bag packed to its fullest capacity (in addition to a “Buddy Basket” full of  shower & bath accessories.  I have since pared down to mostly just the essentials.).  Now, decades later (which I know shocks so many of you because of my fantastically youthful skin; it’s all good genes & clean livin’), I get so excited that I start packing days in advance. Yes ma’am, days.

I should mention that my suitcase is technically a weekend bag.  So, there is a fine art to making it work for a whole week.  First, everything gets ironed.  Not just because I don’t want a bunch of wrinkled clothes.  It helps things lay better & therefore makes them easier to pack.  Next, I go through & make sure that everything can be worn with more than one thing.  Then, the real fun begins.  Before you read on, yes, I do realize how anal-retentive what you’re about to experience makes me sound.  I’m alright with it.  After all, I’m the one that feels comfortable in virtually every situation I’m in on vacation.  You’ll never catch me saying, “oh, I didn’t think that I’d need that…”

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Shorts are ironed & then rolled so that they don’t wrinkle & take up less room

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All T shirts have to coordinate; they get rolled too

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Ditto for polos. So, you’re seeing a theme…I roll as much as possible. It takes up a LOT less space.

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Ironed & ready to be folded. Am I so anal about this step that I can freestyle fold them to almost perfect uniformity? Yes ma’am.

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This is my handiwork. And my College Advisor thought my retail experience would never come in handy…

A few other essentials for your Dandy’s vacation suitcase…

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A good pair of sleep pants for coffee on the balcony of the room or running to the ice machine. You guessed it, they get rolled in the bag.

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Multiple swim trucks for a week by the pool & in the water. Damp trunks are cold trucks. Cold trunks are the WORST, am I right guys?

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A lightweight sweater. Yes, I know I’m going to Key West. But, here’s the deal: I’ll get sunburned. I always do. I’m like a mushroom: I thrive in low light, high-moisture environments. So, when I’m beat red even a 70 degree evening feels cool. Roll it up!

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Two pairs of broken-in sneakers. One gets worn on the drive down. The other gets packed. No, smart-ass, I don’t roll them.

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Flip-flops. Before you say anything: yes, I did give myself a very good pedicure before the vacation. During the winter my feet may protect me from predators, but I doubt I’ll need to climb any trees or fight off any wild animals.  Except maybe those cats with the extra toes.Two leather pairs & one for the pool. They’re acceptable footwear on vacation. Deal with it.

You get the point, I obsess over a suitcase.  But, more importantly I obsess over a suitcase because of what it means: a glorious vacation with my better-half.  No worries, no schedule, no obligations.  Just the two of us. The car is packed, the dogs & house have a sitter & we are ready to go!  I even made cookies & playlists for the drive.  After all, a glamorous life has to have a soundtrack.

So, stay tuned for photos.  I probably should apologize in advance for how many will be my well pedicured feet in either sand or water.  Do I feel even a shred of regret? No ma’am.

If you’re like your favorite Dandy, many, if not the majority of your days off are filled with errands & chores, most of which make for very, very boring blog updates. So, I spare y’all the details of my trips to the Farmers Market where I spend hours (literally, hours, I’m not making this up) reading labels on every item I buy to determine if it’s a better alternative to similar product that I could pick up in a fraction of the time at Killer Kroger (on Ponce, you know the one I mean…the one that you always think, “Oh, it’s not THAT bad” when you pull in & by the time you leave you’re wishing you’d picked up a Kevlar vest). Or bathing pups, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, washing the car, getting an oil change (literally, perverts), the list could go on & on & on. Come to think of it, there must be some good material in there somewhere. I’ll circle back on that…

Since we ditched cable, I have found that I am much more productive. Instead of getting up & watching TV for sometimes hours before running errands (which, between the two, took up the majority of my day off), I now get up & DO things. I read, write this spiffy little blog that y’all love so much, get all of my errands done & don’t feel quite as rushed. So, when I had the opportunity to have lunch with a friend yesterday that I haven’t seen in quite a long time, I jumped on it. There is something about sitting down for a lunch date with a friend. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good dinner & conversation, but sometimes lunch dates are better for catching up. And, they’re a good reason to ditch the chores & errands now & then.

In typical Dandy fashion, this couldn’t just be meeting for lunch at the food court at the mall. I mean, who wants to hang out in the basement of the mall (literally) while unaccompanied children run screaming around your table. No ma’am. My threshold in this environment is about 2 minutes before I’m white-knuckling it, fighting the urge to discuss manners & etiquette & proper child-care with oblivious parents. So, we set a date for lunch at Prime, one of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. If you haven’t been, I suggest you stop what you’re doing as soon as you finish reading this fascinating blog & go have lunch or dinner there. Randy, I promise that I’ll take you soon. 🙂

As with any date, I like to do something special for the other person. I set out to make Salted Chocolate Chip & Walnut cookies. They are as good as they sound. A mixture of sweet, chewy cookie, crunchy walnuts & a slight saltiness from sea salt sprinkled on top of them. Like all cookies, they are best warm & with an ice-cold glass of good milk (I prefer 2% or whole, none of that skim mess). I know y’all are panting with anticipation; calm down, the recipe is included below…

As the cookies were alternately baking & cooling, I did my some of my chores & picked out my outfit for the lunch date. Now, here is where I’m going with this: it’s time for us to stop the insanity with identifying our personal styles of dress with words like “comfy” or “easy”. No one ever sees a beautiful person walk into a room with a put-together outfit and says, “Wow–look at that hot guy/girl! He/she looks so comfy in those cargo shorts & old T-shirt!”. That NEVER happens. NEVER. So, please, as you contemplating your next date, regardless of who you are meeting, put a little effort into it. I’m not saying you have to show up at the mall in a sequined gown or a full suit. This isn’t the Red Carpet after all. But, it’s also not a Snuggie commercial; put some effort into it. I went for summer casual, Gap style: grey graphic T, navy summer-weight cardigan (yes, there are summer-weight cardigans. They are great for people that work inside a lot & hate the artificial coldness of many HVAC systems), white shorts (always classic & appropriate for spring & summer), blue suede loafers. Yes ma’am! Blue suede shoes! An homage to Elvis & the classics.

I digress, back to this lunch date & why it inspired this update. The food was great, as always. My friend walked in & looked as beautiful as ever. She’s one of those women that can wear a white shirt, patterned pencil-leg capris (channeling her inner-J Crew) and a pair of sandals like the clothes were literally made for her. She never looks overdone but she always looks great in whatever she wears (the power of a put-together outfit). We shared some baked goat cheese crostini (small, baked pieces of goat cheese in a tomato sauce with buttery crostini; delicious) & started talking like we had never left off. It’s been a very busy & eventful year for both of us & I realized how much I missed her & these conversations. All we need is a pocket of time for lunch & we can talk about everything from work to the world & everything in between.

As with every lunch conversation, we talked about our dreams. What had we done, what were we doing, what did we want to do & why…and, as always, agreed that there was usually nothing from stopping us or any other dreamers from realizing their dreams but themselves. This friend has began realizing her dreams by having her cookies sold at a supermarket & is talking about the possibility of expanding to more. And she reaffirmed something for me: we make our own possibilities. We control our lives. You’re thinking, “duh, Dandy, of course we do”. But, seriously, whether you want to open a bakery, start a business, write the next great American novel or be a poet & blogger that touches people’s lives in some way, you can do it. Who cares what anyone else tells you you can or can’t do? Just as the white-winged dove Stevie Nicks said before, “If you don’t have faith in yourself, no one else will have faith in you” (I’m paraphrasing the heck out of that). I walked away from this lunch date with a full belly, smiling, looking forward to the next time I see my friend, inspired by our conversation.

A simple lunch date with a friend. It was fantastic & inspiring & reminded me of living every day with a purpose. I hope you have a friend like this. They’re special.

Yes ma’am, the cookie recipe…I don’t recall where I found this, but I modified it slightly anyway, so I guess that doesn’t matter. At least, I hope not. If this was your recipe originally, please consider this an homage & do not seek some kind of royalties. Unless you want a dog or cat, I aint got much for you…

1 1/2 sticks of good butter, softened

3/4 c. brown sugar, pref. dark

1/4 c. sugar

1 large egg (not sure that makes any difference other than I like them a lot)

1 tbsp vanilla extract (I substitute a high-quality maple syrup like the Bourbon Maple Syrup I received as a gift last year; see previous post on Manners & Etiquette)

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cornstarch

2 c flour

1 1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Ghiradhelli)

2/3 c chopped walnuts

1/2 c toffee chips, optional (I rarely include these; the cookies are sweet enough without them)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. Turn on your favorite music. (Yesterday it was Stevie Nicks, In Your Dreams, hence the Stevie reference earlier. Anything with a gritty-voiced woman that doesn’t mind black chiffon & a tambourine will do in a pinch.)

Cream butter & sugars together until fluffy.

Add egg & vanilla & stir.

Add dry ingredients & mix well.

Add nuts & chocolate chips & mix well. (It’s important to add these ingredients in that specific order. If you add the chocolate chips first, some mixers will break the chips if they’re turned on too high a speed & that’s a tragedy).

Make sure the dough stays cool. There is a lot of butter in it. If the butter is too warm, your cookies will fall flat. (If it gets too warm, refrigerate it a while; no big deal. Don’t fall to pieces…). Scoop tbsp sized balls of dough onto the baking sheet, spaced 1″ to 1 1/2″ apart.

Sprinkle with sea salt. Bake 8-10 mins. (I bake mine 10 mins; I like them a little darker on top & bottom).

Cool 5 mins on baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling. This is very important; the cookies are fragile when hot from the oven. Don’t ruin them; you’ll hate yourself for it.

This past weekend your favorite Dandy & crew had the pleasure of a family visit.  I say pleasure, because it really was genuinely nice to see my sister, brother-in-law, niece & nephew again. The kids have a TON of energy–like they’ve eaten an entire cake & downed it with Five Hour Energy–but we don’t mind, they seem to enjoy their visits & the oddities of their uncles’ home, which you would think is like nothing they’ve ever seen before.  Maybe I do have a flair for this…

There are distinct differences between life with kids & life without.  Whereas my sister  has to juggle work, Zumba, book club, etc., with the help of her husband & our parents, I don’t.  If I get a whim to stop typing & go the gym this very minute, (which believe me, that will never happen) I can do it.  I can stay up as late as I want (which thanks to the gift of insomnia, I rarely find challenging).  No repercussions, other than being tired the next morning.  And best of all, when I am with these kids, I get to play Uncle.  I’d like to say I’m the cool one, but alas, that title goes to Randy.  Having 2 kids & a granddaughter of his own, he is better equipped to understand the oddities of children that perplex me to no end.  For example, why would you think that the spices in sausage are peppermint? And why, after you’ve been told what they are, would you refuse to eat it?  It’s sausage after all, the only thing better is bacon. And when the kids are asking if they can have a soda from the bar in the study/guest room, I have to remember to say, “yes but don’t drink any of my vodka”.   I digress, Randy is the Cool Uncle.  He’s fun, makes them laugh, keeps them entertained WAY more than I do.  For some reason, children under 10 do not find little-known lifestyle blogs entertaining.  I guess it’s an acquired taste.

I am the serious uncle.  I’m the one that answers questions & teaches them a few things.  For instance, my nephew Cooper now understands that when saying someone has a monkey on their back it isn’t a literal monkey.  I swear I don’t even remember how the conversation went that direction, but it did…in the same conversation, he learned what sketchy & basic means & is now throwing them around as if he were little Michael Alig at Limelight.  I’m sure my sister loves me for that.

Anyway, this visit reinforced something that I have been thinking about much more over the past couple of years & that is family history.  I am realizing more & more that the bonds between this generation & the past are growing fainter.  What I mean is this: I have trouble remembering things about our family past my grandparents’ generation.  I literally cannot remember sometimes my great-grandparents’ names or how people are related.  And if my generation loses those connections, it will most likely be lost to my niece & nephew’s as well.  I want them to understand the amazing family that they come from & find inspiration for their lives from it.  I come from a long line of people that dealt with life by picking themselves up, dusting themselves off & making it better.  The times in my life that have been the most challenging, frightening, and seemingly overwhelming, I have been able to deal with by thinking about these amazing people that went through times in their lives in which they felt the same way, but persevered, made decisions, moved forward, made mistakes, made them right & learned from them.  My hope is that I can inspire these kids in some way, as others have inspired me.  In the meantime, I will learn as much as I can about our family trees to keep the roots strong & to pass this history down to the next generation.  Is there any greater tragedy than the thought that this voice would be lost to future Dandies? No ma’am.