Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Redneck Solutions

In my last post, I told you about my little thumbnail drive’s misadventure in clean living—a three-time tour of my front-loader’s wash cycle. Today I got the courage to give the flash drive a try, and everything is still there. I can open files and work with them and all. I’m amazed. It didn’t even need duct tape.

I’ve not had such good fortune in the past. My first breadmaker, for example. In our last house, the inside corner of the countertop had a bad buckle. Stupid me didn’t realize you could reject that kind of sloppy work in a new house; we lived with it until just before we moved out 20 years later, when we replaced it in a desperate frenzy to make the house attractive in a terrible market. Anyway, I was in the habit of setting the breadmaker to do its thing overnight, and one night I must have set it too close to the bump in the counter. The breadmaker (I’m assuming, since I didn’t actually witness this part) “walked” itself to the edge of the counter and jumped off. Breadmaker suicide. I’d always thought it was happy.

My husband, whose fixit skills are mostly limited to duct taping, shooting with WD-40, or smacking with a hammer, duct-taped the lid back together. Suddenly the electrical connections lit up again. Instant redneck breadmaker. Whenever I remind him of that, he reminds me of the house I grew up in. The hot water handle in the basement shower broke off, and Dad replaced it with a vise grip. Thirty years later when the vise grip rusted, Dad replaced it—with another vise grip. One year I gave my dad one of those 365 days of duct tape calendars, which gave a new use on each day’s sheet. He called me, triumphant: “I discovered use number 366! The calendar fell apart and I duct-taped it back together!”
Any redneck solutions in your life?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Flash-drive Fiction

I'm kind of obsessive, in an absent-minded way.

I write, and I keep copies of what I write. Back in the dark ages, I made actual carbon copies of my typewritten manuscripts (shut up--it was not stone tablets). I'd read that a fire will usually spare a freezer so I stored the carbons in there. Then we got a fair-sized safe, and I transferred my carbons into that. Soon my scribblings hogged much of the safe's interior, and my husband was thrilled when computers and floppy disks were invented. Usually I kept back-up disks at work, but right now I don't work outside the home, so what to do?

These days I save my files on a little thumbnail/flash drive stored in my purse. The drive is attached to a lanyard so I can find the drive quickly in the scary depths of my shoulder bag. That way I have my files on hand if someone requests a recipe, or if I want to work on my laptop instead of on my home computer. (A daughter's friend said, "I can't imagine my mother knowing what a flash drive is, much less keeping one in her purse." He thinks I'm weird? My grandmother carried a jar of yeast in hers.)

Okay, here's where the obsessive part comes in. (Refer to my first line if I've lost you. It happens.) Recently I realized that I spend a good amount of time away from my purse and computer. So I stuck the drive in my pocket as I went on a walk. And here's where the absent-mindedness comes to play. A day later I found the flash drive in my washing machine. Since I was finishing up the towels, the drive had gone through three complete loads, hiding in the front loader's rubber seals.


I should have known better. After I confessed that during a walk I had to stop at a neighbor's for a tissue for my runny nose (imagine such a person knocking at your door), a friend advised me to keep tissues in my pockets. Tried it. Picked soggy tissues out of laundry load after laundry load, so I knew my memory couldn't be trusted. That's the trouble with a bad memory. You forget you have one.

Why didn't I just slip the drive's lanyard around my neck, you ask? Well, because I already had one lanyard around my neck, an audio book on a little MP3 player, with earphone wires hanging down. Another lanyard just seemed--excessive, like three necklaces. Better obsessive than excessive, right?

Are you obsessive? To what lengths would you go to protect things that are important to you? In case of fire/flood/tornado, what would you save first?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tune Wedgy

I suffered a tune wedgy the other day.

You know, when a song gets stuck in your head? Earworm? Repitunitis? Humsickness? Daniel Levitin, PhD, author of “This is Your Brain on Music,” says it happens to all of us, so don’t be making the crazy-lady finger swirl at me.

Usually I take a book on a little MP3 player and listen while I trudge through my walk. Makes me less likely to throw myself on the ground and demand rescue. But I’d finished one book, and the next one I’d ordered from the library (what a lovely system!) hadn’t arrived, so I borrowed my husband’s iPod. (Random thought: All this random capitalization in iPods and iTunes and such is really annoying.)

Anyway, one of the songs played was “A Bad Goodbye,” by Clint Black and Wynonna Judd. It’s a sad song with haunting words and melody, and I hit the replay button to listen twice. Bad idea. Two days later I’m still mentally harmonizing with Clint. (Who needs Wynonna? I can rock her part, no problem; “Goooodbye. Easier said than done. Gooooodbyyyye…”)

I shouldn’t complain. I’ve had some really bad songs stuck in my head: “Happy Together” by the Turtles, or Harpers Bizarre “Feeling Groovy,” or just annoying ones, like the Doofenschmirtz Evil Incorporated jingle from Phineas and Ferb, a cartoon my grandkids love. Oh, no, tune wedgy again: “Ba da da da da, feelin groovy…”

What about you? Any earworms you want to confess to? Meanwhile, I’m all “Life I love you, all is groovy…”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why I Couldn't Be Homeless or in Prison

As I was brushing my teeth I realized something. I couldn’t go to prison or be a homeless person. It just wouldn’t work—I have too many special needs.

I recently complained to the dentist (hey, he regularly hurts me, so he has to listen to my whining) that toothpaste burned my tongue long after I’d quit brushing, that I was like a small child crying, “Too spicy! Too spicy!” Were there any toothpastes that wouldn’t make my tongue feel as if I’d built a bonfire on it and roasted a couple hot dogs?

“You want a boring toothpaste,” he said.

“A boring toothpaste?”

“Yes. In the old days we had plain old boring Crest paste. Then manufacturers started adding a foaming ingredient. Look for SLS-free toothpaste.”

He was right—no mad-dog foaming. Kind of boring. And I had to add mouthwash (diluted, of course) to my routine because after brushing with my health-food-store toothpaste, my mouth feels like I’ve just brushed with Crisco.

I also need special body soap and laundry detergents that don’t make me itch. They used to make colored toilet paper and I had to ask a boss’ wife to switch to white or I would have to bring my own. Don’t ask why.

Even though I think of myself as low maintenance, I started adding up all the little specialty items I use, and I realized I’d have a terrible time in prison or homeless. You can’t be picky about what you get when you’re taking handouts. Is the homeless shelter going to buy my special shoe inserts that keep me from crying with each step? (Arthritis. I’m sure I’ve whined about it before.) Are prison guards going to care that my thin fingernails need a special nail hardener?

I was telling my daughter Amber about my worries, and added, “Toothpicks! I bet they wouldn’t even allow toothpicks in prison, and with all my dental work I have to pick food out of my back teeth all the time!”

For a moment she stared at me with that “I hope my sisters plan to take care of her when she’s old” expression. I see it far too often. Then she said, “I guess I have a similar problem. My legs are so sensitive I have to use a non-alcohol lotion, and can’t use it until the day after I shave.”

“Are you crazy?” I said. “What prison is going to give you a razor in the first place?”

Some people have no sense of reality.

How about you? Would you be a good prisoner or homeless person? How “special” are you?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Somewhere Else

I asked my husband a question the other day, and by his expression, realized I’d stumbled onto another of those “Uh-oh, maybe I’m not normal” moments. You know those moments, when you’re telling someone a hope or a thought, and they look at you like you’re babbling in Ancient Hebrew.

Or is it just me?

I was telling John about my wishes to live, umm, somewhere else for a time. I’d like to live in a big city for awhile, or in a small town, right downtown, long enough to get to know all the characters there. I’d like to live on a houseboat or on a lake—for awhile. I quit naming places (yes, there are more) and asked if he’d ever thought about doing something like that. And that’s when I got the deer-in-the-headlights look. Oh, he’d love to live on the ocean, to walk the beach every morning, but since he lives in reality, he is content to live where we live, and not entertain fantasies about unlikely occurrences.

And then there’s me.

Since I was in over my head, anyway, I also said I wish I had a friend in real estate who wouldn’t mind showing me properties once in a while. Not to buy, but to use as locations in novels. I saw an amazing Victorian-looking home and checked it out online, but want to see it in person. I’d want to buy it if I didn’t have to give up my neighbors, and, oh yeah, if our money wasn’t all earmarked for things like insurance and my teeth. (Another crown this morning. My dentist looooves me but doesn’t want to marry me because then he’d have to provide free dental work.) Then there’s this terrible house-like dump in the middle of an industrial zone—you just gotta see the inside of something that sad. And my brain was coming up with all sorts of characters who might end up in such a desperate place.

What about you? Do you have these odd wishes? What are yours? And if you have a real estate license and love little adventures, call me. I’ll buy your lunch.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Not a Morning Person

I am not grouchy in the mornings.

My husband, a morning person, will disagree, but since we seldom take his word for anything, let’s move on.

Okay, I’ll admit, I used to be grouchy in the mornings. That was because people did not respect my need for quiet. Nowadays with just the two of us in the house, my morning-world is quieter, as God intended. If you try to converse with me, you’ll get my blank stare. I’m not crabby; it’s just that the words are deflecting off the sleep-shield surrounding my brain, and the only way to lower the shield is to prime me with coffee.

Not-morning-personitis is a generational thing. The morning after their wedding day, my father greeted my mother with, “Good morning!” She opened one eye and growled, “What’s good about it?” I’ve been known to say that if I knew I was never going to feel better than I do when I first wake up, I’d never wake up. One of my daughters told me, “I don’t care if it’s a list of things you’re giving me for Christmas, I don’t want to hear it in the morning.”

On a house-rental vacation with a sister, we got up the first morning, got our coffee, and my husband, she and I all retreated to comfy chairs in silence to read, watch TV, sit with a blank stare until the gears began to turn. After an hour or so, we began to speak. The next morning was the same. When her husband arrived that day, she greeted him with, “It’s been wonderful. We get up and nobody talks!” Guess who’s a morning person?

Do you live with your opposite? How does that happen, anyway? How about you? Morning person? Night person? I’d love to know—after I’ve had my coffee.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Never Mind

I love avoiding potentially humiliating situations.

The other day the nearly-new washer began making a terrible death-rattle. Our old front-loader sounded like a rocket lifting off in our laundry room. Guests would duck and yell, “What’s that?” But the new washer was advertised as quiet—we made sure of it. I would nip this right in the bud, call service and get someone out here pronto to turn the washer back into a non-conversation piece.

I went to see exactly at what point in the cycle the washer was going into spasms—and realized that a handful of hangers were bumping against a jumbo bottle of Tide on top of the hi-rise washer. And rattling.

Last month I received a postcard from the dentist reminding me of my appointment on the 26th. My husband was going to the dentist on the 25th, and I said, “I’m going the next day.” On the 25th when he got home he said, “I checked your postcard. Your appointment is the 26th of next month, not tomorrow.” (Why the dentist sends out reminders six weeks before an appointment, I cannot imagine. Gives you time to forget all over again. Or misread the month.) John said, “I screwed up and went in a day early. If you went in a month early they’d think we were both losing it.” Thanks for taking one for the team, honey.

And then there was the time the grocery bagger pushed the cart out to my car and the back hatch wouldn’t unlock, either with the button or the key. I was getting upset when I realized the car had an out-of-state license plate. And a Sarah Palin bumper sticker.

How about you? Any near-miss humiliation moments? Leave your humbling story. I promised I won’t repeat it. Much.

Monday, August 2, 2010

I Gotta Be Me

Got up feeling all domestic and homey today, maybe because for the past couple of days the temperature hasn’t soared into the mid-90s or above. After the usual tidying up I decided to make bread.

I love homemade bread, and make all different kinds. (How many people do you know who keep millet and rye flour and two kinds of flaxseed in the freezer?) This particular bread, Four-Seed Bread, is mixed in the bread maker, then shaped into a ring, left to rise, and then baked in the oven. As long as I was making bread, I decided I should make chicken noodle soup, too. I took out my Cook’s Illustrated The Quick Recipe book and started chopping vegetables and skinning chicken thighs. (To the dedicated folks at Cook’s Illustrated, anything under an hour is a quick recipe..)

So now the house smells like somebody’s grandma lives here. And I don’t mean the litter box/BenGay/need a shower kind of old person smell. The good grandma smell, like someone just spent awhile chopping, sautéing, and simmering, just for you.

I know, a lot of you are crying, “I don’t have time to be all homey and domestic!” Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. I’ve always been this way. When I worked 40+ hours a week, with three teenagers and all their activities directing the other hours of my life, I still made suppers (often started the night before) and bread.

Why did I bother, when there were restaurants and frozen foods all over the place? Well, I’ll tell you, I spent a lot of years being a square peg in a round hole, so to keep my sanity I did the things that made me, me.

What do you do?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Projecting Happiness

Just finished “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. Good book! And, oddly enough, I found out that a lot of it could be summed up in my basic philosophy—clean up your messes, act like you’re happy and in a good mood, and most importantly, do what makes you happy. And conversely, try not to do things that make you unhappy.

Lots of things make me happy. We moved to South Carolina when the last of my little birdies flew the Georgia nest; my husband and I both knew we wouldn’t be happy seeing our daughters and their families just once in awhile. I write, even though I’ve had relatively little publishing success over the years, because I don’t know who I’d be without writing. I love to cook, be near water, read, spend time with friends and extended family, celebrate holidays… There are lots more, but I’m sure your list of likes is far more interesting to you than mine is.

Things I don’t do, or don’t do often, because I don’t enjoy them? Go to the mall. Golf. Watch TV sports. Read non-fiction except from a short-list of interests. Work in the yard. Listen to operas. Watch reality TV. (Reality isn’t my favorite subject.)

I used to be moody, but for some years now I wake up happy and content every day. Not sure what made the difference—maturity, wisdom, surviving cancer, possibly hormones or a lack thereof.

Maybe it’s the practice of happiness?

What about you? Do you think you could be happier if you did something different? What makes you happy/unhappy?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lousy First Drafts

Several years back I wrote 45,000 words of a novel and then tossed the white flag in the air. I’d written myself into a ditch and had no idea of how to fix it. So I put the manuscript away and worked on easier ones until life calmed down.

A year ago I had lots of time and an entire house to myself all day long, so I hauled out the pages. I made piles, shuffled pages, made new piles, discarded some scenes and characters, and then made an outline. Well, not an outline, more a summary of each finished chapter, and notes for future ones. I’m more of a seat-of-the-pants than a plotting writer. Fits with my life; I know what I’m fixing for dinner tonight, but I have no idea of what’s coming up next week, even if it’s my anniversary. Which now that I think about it…

So I finished that manuscript, and pulled another one from the cupboard. Another 45,000 words written two years ago in longhand on notebook paper, waiting to be keyboarded and finished. It doesn’t have the huge cast of characters the other book has, and I was sure my first-draft writing had improved over the years so I would have an easier time with this one.

But what did I find? Two different opening scenes. Many spots where I’d left a blank for a word that escaped me. Notes: Could this door rattle on its hinges? Were hinges even in use then?

Apparently first drafts don’t get easier. Good thing I love to write.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Too Dang Hot!

This heat is brutal, with mid- to upper 90s day after day after livelong day. Although I water them obsessively, my hanging baskets of flowers wouldn’t look out of place surrounded by sand, cacti, and dried longhorn cattle skulls. The short walk over black parking lot to the grocery store feels like a stroll through the fires of hell. Health-walking is best done prior to 8 A.M., lest you dehydrate.

It’s too dang hot!

Yes, I know I live in South Carolina. And I know it’s summer. And yeah, yeah, if I hate heat so much, why did I ever leave Michigan? Oh, stop. You’re getting on my last nerve, which means you’re too dang close, especially in this heat. No one should have to suffer this heat day after day, especially the girl who used to get heat rashes in Michigan.

If you’re sitting in the bow of a fast-moving boat, cutting across a beautiful lake, an ice-cold bottle of water in hand, with huge dollops of sun screen rubbed into your exposed parts, the heat can be tolerated. If, however, you’re grilling over hardwood charcoal on your South-facing patio, or taking a walk, or experiencing the 3:30 P.M. Farmer’s Market in town, it’s too hot. I can’t imagine how the workers building a house down the street manage. I should go over and turn the water hose on them—they’d probably erect a shrine in my honor.

Maybe I’ll go turn the hose on myself. The shrine-erecting can come after. Possibly in October.

Monday, June 14, 2010


If you walked into my house, you would think I was obsessively tidy. You would be wrong. There are pockets of chaos in my life—mostly to do with the written word. Too many books, too many articles torn out of magazines, too many recipes clipped or printed from the internet… Periodically I have to go through and sort, file and purge so that I can breathe again.

I have a lot of stuff. Every kitchen drawer and cabinet—except the one above the fridge, now that I think about it—is stuffed. I use most of my kitchen items regularly. But I realized recently that I even hang on to stuff I don’t like and don’t have a need for.

An example? Tarragon, an herb. I can’t stand the stuff. But brilliant me kept it in an overcrowded spice cabinet until I forgot how much I hated it, and last week I ruined some chicken salad (new recipe) with it.

So the tarragon is gone now, and the sesame seeds and thyme sit a little closer together in the turntable. (Shut up. It’s not obsessive to alphabetize spices. It’s practical.) And I am eyeing a few other things in my house that are no longer needed and I don’t even like. No, John, I’m not talking about you.

My brain gets cluttered, too. I’m an emotional person and have many loved ones in my life. Sometimes I get caught up in their pain and chaos, and I worry too much. So then I need to sort, file and purge. And breathe.

The next time you walk into my house you probably won’t notice a difference, but underneath I may have made a bit of a difference. In my house clutter, too.
What about you? Are you a clutterer? Ready to purge?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vacation Brain

Recently I went on a vacation, a true vacation, not the annual grueling trip to our birthplaces, where we stay in other people’s homes whether they have room for us or not, and spend half of the trip in the car. No, this was a vacation. Beautiful rental house two blocks from the ocean beach, next to the pool, two blocks from restaurants, shops, free music nightly and an ice cream shop.


My life consisted of reading, hanging out on the beach, going to the pool, and usually going out to dinner. The hardest decision was when to shower; were we going to the pool or ocean in a minute? Shower before or after?

Before we left for Hilton Head Island, SC, I had visions of spending hours writing. I would have nothing but time, right? And I did write, some. But if I wasn’t in or near the water, I wanted to relax and read.

Vacation brain. I’ve only “suffered” from it a few times. As I mentioned, many of our vacations are spent driving 700+ miles to Michigan, then driving all over the state to visit family and friends and attend a reunion, then driving back home. It’s a blast, if exhausting, but there’s not much time to fully relax or to write. One summer I was so determined to keep writing, I wrote on a yellow legal pad in the car. And no, I wasn’t driving.

Vacation brain is the absence of worries, a calm, orderly, beautiful life, doing only what you want to do. In real life I don’t have a job to rush back to anymore, but I have a house, laundry, groceries to buy, children and grandchildren to cook for and spend time with, volunteer work, extended family concerns, friends, church, and writing. The first day back, I felt overwhelmed.

Ah, well, life is life and vacation is vacation. Time to get back to my real world and the fictional world of my novel, and neither of them are bad places to be. But oh, vacation brain—it’s a wonderful place.

Where is your wonderful place? Where do you go to experience “vacation brain?”

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sidetracked Again

I make these wonderful plans, these elaborate schedules of tasks and goals I want to accomplish. And then life throws its curves, and I’m sidetracked again.

Last month an illness (my mother’s) knocked my writing plans aside as I dealt with her, my siblings, nurses, therapists, doctors and everyone else who cares for my mom. Each time something like this happens, I’m determined to keep writing through it all. I’ll be disciplined and faithful, and not lose sight of the novel’s twists and turns as I go through life’s twists and turns. Each time, I fail. I tell myself it was a legitimate sidetracking! I shouldn’t feel guilty! But I do.

I’ve realized that part of the reason I write is to keep myself balanced; I’m happier when I write regularly. Recently I told a daughter I think I use writing to distance myself from the world. Life doesn’t seem to have the power to hurt or disturb me much when I’m in my writing zone. This coping system might be very unhealthy, but I’m not going to twelve-step my way free of it. La-la-la, life is good, I’m happy, don’t kill my buzz, don’t suck my joy.

Things seem to be settling down again, at least for today. So today, I write. La-la-la, life is good!

How do you cope with the world?

Monday, April 12, 2010


Picture a cross between the Web site and your grandmother. That’s me, on a healthful, bracing (cursed, painful) walk. I wear whatever is hanging on the closet door (too clean to put in the laundry), a hat, big old walking shoes, crew socks (the little ones slip off my heel), and usually have a tissue in hand, due to the cold or to allergies making my nose run. Excited yet?

I’ve never been fashion-conscious. When I worked, I wished for a uniform I could throw on each day, instead of having to fuss about getting ready. Never got the shoe bug. Or the purse bug. Or the shopping bug. When I need something (i.e., when my favorite black Capri pants begin to fray in awkward places) I go shopping—for another pair of black Capri pants that will go with most of my tops. Now that I think about it, it’s almost a uniform. Hmm.

How about you? Mad for shopping? Love new styles and trends? Or happy just to find a pair of pants that fit?

By the way, check out Pretty funny stuff, like the picture above. But you might not want to read some of the T-shirts or side ads. I don’t dare wear my “I’ve been to Hell (Michigan) and back” T-shirt down here in the Bible belt for fear of offending someone. Apparently others have a, shall we say, broader view of what’s acceptable. Vulgarity aside, it’s a funny Web site.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Did I Tell You This Already?

I hate when I shower, including leg shaving, and then stand there wondering if I’ve washed my hair. It’s wet—is it clean?

My memory problems are not age-related; I’ve always had a terrible memory. Performing my job required checklists and reminders for everything but starting up the computer—that I could remember. The rest, iffy.

My husband understands this. For the first few years of our marriage we fought about things I’d forgotten: “Did you call about the ___?” “Did you remember to _____?” Eventually we worked out a system; he either did it himself, or gently reminded me (code for nagged) until whatever it was got done.

A college-aged daughter, working a summer job at my husband’s place of work, came to me saying, “Mom! Dad is driving me crazy! He reminds me of things constantly! I’m twenty years old—why does he keep treating me like I’m four?”

I thought about it and said, “He’s lived with me a very long time.”

A minute later he walked in and said to her, “Honey, don’t forget, you have a dentist appointment tomorrow so you’re going to have to drive separately to work.”

She rolled her eyes at me and told him, “I know I have a dentist appointment! I made the appointment! Why do you remind me of things over and over?”

He considered the question for a moment, then said, “I’ve lived with your mother a very long time…”

I’ve told everyone who’ll listen my dream is to publish (no, not self-publish) novels. Hand-in-hand with that is the fear that I’ll have a book signing and forget names: “Umm, how did you want me to make that out? Oh, sorry, Mom!”

Like I said, I’ve always been this way. I rehearsed and rehearsed before introducing my entire eighth-grade class to my cousin, who was joining us for a party. Somehow I made it around the entire room—all fourteen kids—and then said, “This is my cousin…” I’d forgotten her name. Only for the moment, but it was a horrible moment.

In the usual way of things, I married a man who seldom forgot anything, who seemed to have a “tickler” file in his brain that kept things forefront until they were completed and he could file them away. But now he’s experiencing senior moments and seems to have forgotten that I forget everything. He’ll say, “Remind me to put out the garbage tonight,” and I just laugh. “Sure. Hold your breath.”

What about you? An elephant’s memory? Or like me, each day is a new adventure because you can’t remember yesterday?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Spring Cleaning

My favorite appliance is my double oven. Not because of the convection cooking option, or the built-in temperature probe, or even because there are two of them. No, it’s my favorite because it’s self-cleaning. Cherry cobbler spills over, and burns on like charcoal, and all you do is push a button. In the morning you wipe out a little white ash and you’re done. It’s a miracle!

It’s also an idea that could catch on. In the past I’ve eagerly anticipated the delivery of new appliances, but within a week was sadly wondering where the shiny glow went. You used to be able to count on the washing machine, at least, taking care of its interior, but even the new front-loading washers have to be cleaned or they stink of mildew. Nasty! Self-cleaning could help in lots of areas: When the girls were small I used to wish I had a big floor drain in the kitchen so I could simply hose down the room—maybe the babies, too—after the pureed peas hit the walls. And don’t get me started on soap-scummy shower walls. Thank God and “As Seen on TV” for microfiber cloths.

Someone after my own heart invented the little floor-cleaning robots, Scooba and Roomba. Do they work? Would it be worth it to hock my diamond and buy them, or would they ultimately be as disappointing as the automatic sprayer that promised chubby, rubber-gloved ladies to descend on the bathroom each time we exited?

What’s your favorite cleaning aid? (Mine is my friend Chris who used to clean my house faster than I could do the kitchen. She gave up scrubbing other people’s toilets a few years back; can’t imagine why.) What’s your grand, affordable idea/discovery for streamlining housecleaning? Share, please! I can hear the tiny screams of the dust settling even now. Or is that me?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pajama Pants in Public

Yesterday at Chick-fil-A I saw a young man dressed in a bathrobe, his bare knees and hairy legs sticking out. He didn’t appear sick or weak, so I don’t know why he wore a bathrobe to a restaurant. To shock people? Laziness?

My response? I laughed, thought, “He’s an idiot,” and went on with my lunch.

I know people get freaked out about how others dress in public. The pajama-pants in public craze is one I don’t understand, but I’m not going to lose my joy over someone else’s low standards. Bathrobe-boy didn’t spoil my chicken nugget experience. I just didn’t care.

Okay, I must admit, I do have some standards. I’ve never liked underwear-exposing styles. Or young women dressed like hookers. Or bare shoulders in church. But pajamas are just—silly. If people are brave or crazy or lazy enough to dress like that, that’s their dignity dragging its ragged hem along the floor. Why should it ruin my day?

A male friend of mine hated those long banana clips women used (and still may) to clip their hair into a fluffy, cascading tail. He fretted and stewed and complained that it showed their total lack of care about their looks. The clips didn’t bother me—I thought they were kind of cute. But I hated those short, curly perms briefly popular in the 80s, a wash-and-go style that I thought made a woman look like she’d simply given up on a hairdo and now was going for something that stayed out of her eyes. I used to have a boss who hated sandals and open-toed shoes, and wanted to ban them from the very-casual workplace so he wouldn’t have to see toes.

You never know what’s going to bother people.

So, what about you? What styles bug you? If you had the power to eliminate a style/look/hairdo from the world, what would you choose?

As for me, sandal season officially began yesterday. You toe-haters out there stand warned.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Good Sports

Truth-time. I’ve never bungee-jumped, snow-skied, snow-mobiled, skateboarded, hang-glided or even slid down the length of a Slip-n-Slide. I rode on the back of a motorcycle once, in the sidecar of a motorcycle once, and on a horse without someone else leading it once. As a teen I did learn to water ski—sort of—but my family still taunts me about the plume of water as I was boat-dragged, facedown, halfway across the lake.

I’m not good at sports. In fact, I’m so not-good at sports I knocked out my own front tooth playing softball. Tried golf, tennis, trampolines and gymnastics, the latter resulting in a Funniest Home Videos moment as I dangled in a highly inappropriate position on that stupid vaulting horse thing in my high school gym. It’s possible I’m a great dancer but we’ll never know, because during our second week of lessons my husband randomly threw out his back, and blamed the Swing.

Outdoor activities are just not as fun to me as writing, reading and cooking. I would love to live on the water, but not for the speed boating, skiing and Ski-dooing, another thing I haven’t tried. A poky old pontoon boat or a houseboat is more my speed—on which I could write or read or even cook! See how it all works out in Valerie-world?

What about you? Natural athlete or klutz extraordinaire? Tell me the truth. And if you have pictures—of anything but my vault on that horse thing—send those!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Squirrel Dreams

My daughter’s family brought me a gift bag, a thank you for all I’ve done lately. And what was in the lovely gift bag with fresh, crisp tissue paper? A squirrel figurine.

Some background: I have dreams. I have strange, awful, threatening, embarrassing dreams. There are the recurring public toilet dreams, the driving-a-train-that-has-jumped-its-track dream, and the squirrel dream. I dreamed I woke up only to find my double cheerfully making breakfast, none of the family realizing the Stepford Wife wasn’t me. Then, still dreaming, I glanced outside and saw a half-dozen squirrels staring in the windows. I knew immediately the evil, nasty rodents had plotted this to phase me out for nefarious reasons of their own.

Finally I woke up for real, and later that morning sat down with coffee. On the picnic table not six feet away sat a squirrel, staring at me with his beady little eyes. It was true! The dream was true! The squirrels were evil, cunning little rodents plotting my takeover!

Okay, so it wasn’t true. But for a moment I freaked out and the feeling hasn’t gone away. I hate squirrels. I tell people squirrels are wicked, cunning and not trustworthy. I will proclaim the truth!

So when I opened the gift bag (still with me after the dream/flashback sequence?) and found a squirrel figurine, my first reaction was horror. My second was caution—don’t want to hurt feelings, you know. I said to my granddaughter, “Did you pick this out, Ella?” Behind her, her parents were cracking up. “We saw it and thought of you! We couldn’t resist! And we thought it would stimulate ideas for your writing.”

Yeah. That or more freaking dreams.

So. Now I have a squirrel added to my small collection of writing totems, which includes a miniature typewriter/pencil sharpener, a computer/tape holder, an ugly ceramic frog, a fireplace candleholder, rocks and angels. Any weird little items in your possession? Or, any weird dreams you want to admit to?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Kitchen Disasters

Okay, the "indoor electric turkey fryer" may not have been my best buy.

I love to cook, to chop, dice, simmer, stew and all that fussy stuff, but I also love small appliances and the convenience and versatility they add to cooking. So when a local store put the formerly $130 indoor electric turkey fryer on sale for under $35, I caved. Lugged the thing home, filled it with $20 of peanut oil and proceeded to fry chicken for the family. Except fry isn’t quite accurate—how about petrify?

The coating was ugly—dark, crusty and nothing like the heavenly stuff the Colonel turns out daily in his restaurants. Once we tore off the skin and coating, the meat was tasty, but the experiment was not a huge success. And the house smelled like a fast food joint, not the “grandma’s cooking” ambiance I was going for. One wonderful thing happened, though—my husband, Mr. “She Cooks and I Eat,” helped me with the frying. Yes, his willingness to help cook was fueled by the fear that I would burn down the house, but still, we cooked together. In 37 years of marriage, that may be a first.

But back to the fryer. I don’t give up easily. I remain hopeful that a turkey—no batter coating, just a bird, maybe some injected flavor—will showcase the fryer’s true greatness. And next time, despite its being called an indoor fryer, I’m cooking outside. It’s harder to stink up a whole neighborhood. Although I’ve had neighbors who tried.

What about you? Are you a small-appliance junkie? Are your cabinets filled with bread makers, food processors, hand-held blenders? Which do you like best? Least? Are there any appliance “turkeys” in your house?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Loved This Book!

Just finished a book, “Velva Jean Learns to Drive,” by Jennifer Niven. I loved this book! At first I thought it was a humorous novel—the title is the reason I picked it up. A glance at the back cover dispelled that notion but didn’t put me off; I’m always up for a good 1930s Appalachian Mountains story that begins, “I was ten years old when I was saved for the first time. Even though Jesus himself never had much to do with religion before he was twelve, I had prayed and prayed to be saved so that I wouldn’t go to hell.”

Some books are very put-downable. Not this one. The author creates a wonderful main character, an entire town, a world, and I was wrapped up in it. When the book ended I looked up the author to see what else she’s written. Sadly, no other fiction, although she is writing a sequel—but she’s written a few non-fiction books about female adventurers. I’ll try those even though I’m not a fan of true stories. (Reading them or telling them, right?)

I don’t know how to categorize the novel; it’s not a thriller, not a murder mystery, not a romance, not literary genius of the sort I find incomprehensible. It doesn’t fit in any category I can define. For those of you who’ve asked me what kind of book I like best, this is it—a great story.

So, what’s your favorite story? What book grabbed you and didn’t let you go, kept you thinking about that world long after you put the book away and started another? Do you have a “Velva Jean” in your fave list?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Ladle It On!

You know the romance is gone when your sweetheart asks you to postpone vacuuming so he can clip his toenails first. Eeyew!

I’m not a big romance reader. I had a brief affair with “bodice rippers” in the late 70s/early 80s, when my days were spent diapering and wiping slobber, but that can be understood, right? I kind of wanted a hero to come and drag me off to his love nest. But as a rule, I don’t read romances. I wish I could write them, as they’re the biggest market share of novels being published these days. But I just can’t write those scenes. I’m afraid my eye-rolling would be evident in the writing.

Just read a book called “The Beach House” by Mary Alice Monroe (Jackie Swanson, thank you so much for sending it to me!). Various plot lines ran through it, including a romance. That’s the kind of romance I like. The hero wasn’t a brooding, misunderstood man, the heroine wasn’t the most beautiful girl in the world, and the romance wasn’t central to the plot. Actually, the romance was a little too understated even for me—at one point she’s throwing herself at him, and then the story skips over weeks when they spend time together, and doesn’t mention anything about the relationship. Hello, isn’t the main character even wondering why he thwarted her moves? And what’s she doing, throwing herself at him like that? Have some dignity, girl!

What’s your romance meter? Ladle it on like marinara on meatballs? A little splash, like white wine in a lemon-butter sauce? (Why do my analogies involve food, hmm?) Let me know your thoughts. Name names (titles, authors) if you wish. And by the way, my sweetheart brought home a dozen roses last night, so I guess I’ll forgive the toenail thing. Again.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Secret Confessions

I’m a pen freak. There, I’ve said it out loud. Yes, I like pens, and have an assortment of colors and styles in a pencil cup on top of my desk. I have my favorites, mostly Pilot G-2 Extra Fine gel ink pens in assorted colors. When I used to write all my stories in longhand (as recently as last year), the gel pens gave me fewer hand cramps than ballpoint pens.

Over the years I’ve dallied with an array of pens. I remember a stick pen called a Lindy, a long, no frills, no curves ballpoint pen in the 70s, I guess. I’d probably still have some—I’m a loyal sort—but they went the way of Ipana toothpaste and 45 records. If fountain pens didn’t dry out so quickly I’d use them—and for awhile, I did. But I spent more time scribbling warm-up loops or running water over dried-out pen nibs than writing.

Upon borrowing an unusual pen from a man, I oohed and aahed and mentioned that I was a pen freak. Quickly I learned that my affection for pens was of the puppy-love variety, while his was full-blown crazy love. Did you know there were pen shows (think boat shows for pen enthusiasts) in LA, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago? Even Arkansas has a pen show. You can get custom made pens, replicas of “famous” pens, special pen holders, etc.

You won’t see me at a pen show. I love pens, but I love to pay my mortgage more.

What are some of your little joys, your little puppy loves in life? Or are you more like the pen freak, with huge love for something most people don’t think twice about? Let me know. I won’t think you’re weird. Unless it’s something really out there, and then all bets are off.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Makes Us Crazy

Recently stumbled on a “rant” about the font used for the titles for the movie “AVATAR.” Apparently the font Papyrus (check your MS Word fonts—it’s there) is held in low esteem by many people. My first reaction was, come on, this is what you’re upset about? This is what you get passionate enough about to devote a blog to it? With all the real issues in the world, this is what you’ve decided makes you crazy? On a scale of one to ten, my concern about the font was zero; it does not affect my life/happiness/comfort level at all.

Okay, I must admit, I hate Courier. When people in my writer’s group bring stories printed in that nearly-unreadable font, I cringe. But there’s a difference between a fleeting, private cringe and a public flogging.

I find it interesting to notice what drives others over the edge. Maybe it’s because I’ve developed a Zen-like calm about most things. Traffic? It’ll clear up. Someone stole my parking space? Oh, well, I need the walk anyway. Someone in the 10-or-fewer grocery line with 15 items? So what? My husband’s company keeps letting people go and restructuring? All right, that one worries me a little.

Do you “go off” about stuff? What drives you crazy? What drives others crazy but doesn’t bother you? If you hate the font I’m using, sorry. It’s automatic with the blog and I can’t change it. And it doesn’t bother me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January (A)Musings

Writing fiction for publication is like throwing pennies in a fountain for wishes. Either one is a long shot. Often, beginning writers think that all they have to do is write it and then sell it. That’s like saying all you have to do to become a major league baseball player is to hit a ball in the backyard and boom—there you’ll be. (Should I be snide here and say you’ve forgotten a necessary component—performance-enhancing drugs? Sorry—cheap shot.)

Even knowing it’s a long shot, I still remain hopeful that I’ll be one of the lucky few, the princess whose fairy godmother shows up and restores her rightful place in the kingdom and ensures her “happily ever after.” I’m not optimistic about winning the lottery or waking up thin or a Nigerian prince giving me a large share of his wealth, but I do hold a spark of hope that someday I will see my novels on the bookshelves of Barnes and Noble and Borders.

I like January. It’s a time of establishing goals, making resolutions, mentally cleaning house. If I were ever going to quit writing, I would probably do it in January, swearing it off like chocolate milkshakes or cigarettes or a joy-sucking relationship, But this year I’m diving headfirst again, wallowing, giving myself permission to be giddily hopeful that this, this might be the year!

So, what about you? Do you feel the need to do some mental housecleaning, to throw out the junk that weighs you down or holds you back? Is it a time of re-defining yourself? Does January fill you with hope?