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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Great Barrette Chase

I was cruising through the mall this morning, checking off errands like, er, er, well I don't know what checking off errands could be like, but I was getting them all done.  I had only one task left:  to find a couple of long barrettes. 

You see, aseveral months ago, I decided to grow out my hair, and now it's grown out.  I know that for someone like me who can't do anything with her hair, that seems counter-intuitive.  It seems like short hair would be easier and more consistant to maintain, but if you have short hair, you have to do things like blow it dry and keep it cut.  These are beyond my state of motivation.  I've been very happy letting the tresses get long, and it's currently brushing my shoulders.  For a while I worried that it was unsuitable for a woman of my, well, let's face it, of my years.  You can say what you like about not caring what other people think, but I don't think any of us wants to look stupid.  At least, I don't.  Then on our way to Disney World, I saw a woman with snow white hair who had tucked up in back with a flat, red double bow.  It looked like a barrette, and I stopped to talk to her to make sure it was.  Even I can twist up my hair and snap on a barrette.  She had her hair up neatly, and it looked perfectly appropriate.

Shortly after that, I was at the mall and stopped at the hair accessory kiosk.  I think I wrote about how the nice woman there showed me elegant things I could do with my hair.  If I didn't, I should have.  She spent a lot of time with me, and I ended up with two ways that I could ("could" being the operative word here) fix it.  I bought a beautiful Swarovsky crysal barrette from her to wear with my blue suit to David's wedding.  It is quite sparkly and gorgeous, but her barrettes aren't for everyday use.  When I was at the grocery store, I bought gel to tame the wisps, but there were no barettes big enough there.  That leaves me with one faux tortoishell barrette and one with a gray fabric bow on it. 

Do you have any idea how difficult barrettes are to find?  Claire's didn't have any.  Icing had the gray fabric one, and the drugstores have the tortoishell ones -- these are the same ones I used 40 years ago.  That's it.  How boring is that?  Somehow in my head I had the image of a silver-tone filigree one and, maybe, a gray one with a black line desing on it.  Where do these ideas come from?

From now on you can think of my, like Diogenes with his lantern, searching, searching through the stores for for intersting barrettes.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Buffy Saves Retiree

Those of you who know me know that I am a big Sci. Fi. freak. Yes, I like my reading and viewing to be as far divorced from reality as possible. Christmas night  Steve was flipping through the channels when he came across a Buffy the Vampire Slayer marathon.  We hit record and settled in to watch a couple of the episodes. The rest we are meeting out to last at least until the new TV season begins.
Tonight was Graduation. Buffy has put Faith in the hospital with a coma, Angel has survived poisoning by feasting on Buffy's blood, and the mayor (who is germaphobic, drinks milk and doesn't swear) gives a good bit of his speech at high school graduation before transforming into an enormous, flesh-eating monster. Best of all is Buffy and Giles blow up the mayor/monster by blowing up Sunnyvale high. Ye who are not devotees, mock not – this is High Art.
Yes, Buffy, you saved us, not from blood-sucking vampires and immortal fiends but from our boredom, our lethargy (well, we're still sitting like blobs in front of the TV, but we're enthusiastic about it), our ennui. This is equal to Greek drama at its best: the pathos, the cultural references, the sly humor.
In my mind, will I ever be older (read "more mature") than 18, empowered and strong, slaying monsters with a flick of a spike-filled hand? No, I don't suppose I will.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And the Filk Goes On

Because I always include my furry friends in my Christmas celebrations:

Deck the halls with little 'Lanie,
       Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Time to be a little zany,
       Fa la la la la, la la la la,

           CHORUS
Don we now our lace and satin,
       Fa la la, La la la, La, La, La,
Time to let the Christmas Cat(s) in,
       Fa la la la la, La la la la.


Deck the halls with Merl and Smedly,
       Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Time to sing our Christmas medly
       Fa la la la la, la la la la
          CHORUS

Deck the halls with Merl and Baby,         (Yes, there have been many cats.)
       Fa la la la la, la la la la,
Time to go a little crazy,
       Fa la la la la, la la la la,


Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, December 20, 2010

My Perfect Date

Everyone was pretty exhausted by our last evening at Disney. There were few ambitions left to fulfill. Suzie still wanted to ride Thunder Mountain; Alan had been asking for the Winnie the Pooh ride for three days. Steve and I agreed that one child was easy whereas coordinating two children on divergent developmental levels was, well, disastrous, so after clearing it with their Mom and Dad (you can guess how much arm-twisting that took since it meant they got the night to themselves), off Steve and Suzie went for an evening of stomach-turning fun. I spent half an hour waking Alan up from his nap, and then we outlined our big evening.
A still groggy little boy waited pretty patiently with me for a bus that took 15 minutes to come, and we were off to the Magic Kingdom. He walked into the park, asking to be carried but not fussing when I said no.  Once there, he climbed in the Disney stroller, and it was comfortable fun to be able to stop without losing an entire party so I could hear what he had to say or to look at Cinderella's castle, lavender lit with silver tinsel lights adorning the spires, whatever he wanted to do.
I nabbed fast passes for the Pooh ride, and we shared some ice cream – his preference, chocolate swirl. The Dumbo ride had a long wait, but all Alan really wanted to do was play with the matching three-part clowns that cornered the line. We simply let people pass us by as we made funny combinations and then climbed out over the chain and rode on the carousel. Some people (okay, one little girl next to us) are disappointed when they have to ride the small, center horse, but guess what? When you ride inside of the ring, you can see yourself in the central mirror! We watched ourselves laugh as we circled.
Next we headed over to Pooh, but the attendant said we had to wait out the five minutes until our fast pass was good. She was nice enough, however, point out that in the regular line there were several play items, and we spent our time happily making Pooh's vegetables squeak, drumming on watermelons and turning a wheel that made red balls go poppity-pop.
Unfortunately, the ride itself wasn't as much fun as the pre-ride play. We climbed into our honey pots with happy anticipation, but the focus was Pooh's nightmare about heffalumps. It involved sharp turns and jiggly bumpswhich would have been okay by themselves, but which were accompanied by large, close bright graphics that burst up in front of you and swirled and turned. On the whole, it scared Alan and assaulted my eyes.

Back into the night, the park was jammed, and lots of lights and music jabbed through the dark. I felt both of us had had about as much as we could stand. There were two important elements of our evening left, though. We stopped at the Disney Emporium to pick out a present. Nothing matches seeing a little boy's eyes light up as he tightly clasps his first light saber! From there, we hiked to the bus for which, luckily, we had to wait only five minutes.
For the final item on the agenda, we returned to the resort, stopping at the restaurant for take-out. We walked back to the room where we had a picnic (hot dog and fries in a sand bucket for him; roast beef/blue cheese chiabatta for me) ON THE BED (oooh!) while we watched Toy Story on TV.

I had a grand time.  It was exactly my idea of a wonderful evening (well, except for that damned Winnie the Pooh ride).  However, it is a bit disquieting that, on reflection, I find that my perfect date is a three-year-old.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Days

Here is my idea for a scientific experiment.  Take everyone's blood pressure as they deplane and get on the bus for Disney World.  Take it again, inside the park, after two days.  My hyposthesis is that the average (not the mean) blood pressure will have gone down by 10 points.  Sure, there'll be the grouch or two who spends the days alternately controlling and yelling at their children, but I bet that on the whole, people are just relaxed and happier than usual.  I'm telling ya, Walt was a genius.

PS  Would you cave and guy a granddaugter a two zillion piece "Polly Pockets" set of Jasmine with fifteen outfits?  If it included four pairs of teeny-tiny shoes?  I hope she decides something else is as good, but if not, well, I suppose cave I will.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Something to Crow About?

I guess crows don't migrate for the winter, or maybe there's a small flock that is particularly attached to our area. They are big, fine fellows with shiny, ebony feathers showing iridescent blue in the sunlight. They arrive every morning looking for worms (or truffles, who knows?) around the dogwood trees in our front yard. They are extremely polite and caw good morning to me.  I ask them how they are, and we have a little conversation as I go to pick up the newspaper at the curb.
Two summers ago, there was a raucous cawing outside our dining room.  It went on and on – for so long that I eventually walked over to peek out the window. There must have been 50 crows in one tree in the copse next to our house, screaming away for a good half hour. When they finally flew away, I went out to take a look. There was a dead crow under the tree. They had been mourning their comrade. Okay, I know that sounds unrealistic, but dozens of crows; little, dead crow body; loud, persistent calling? Shamanism teaches that Crow is the gateway to the supernatural, and that scene makes you wonder, doesn't it?  In any case, I am always careful to greet the crows politely. I think we can agree that this shows that not only will I be a crazy old woman with many cats, I will be a crazy old woman who talks to birds.
Not that I have multiple cats now. Elaine won't put up with that, plus, once she departs for that warm fireside in the sky, I will take a few years off from cat-owning to travel without worrying about pet care. I've owned a cat since I was three (the dear, departed Tawny). That's 60 years of cat ownership, and I believe I'm due to take a few years off until my major travel days are over. However, at 15 1/2, Elaine doesn't show any signs of slowing down. A temperamental calico, she goes in and out as she pleases, bullies my husband into feeding her too often and generally gets what her own way.  (Hmmm, that sounds suspiciously like my mother.) In order to keep Elaine content, I give her catnip, pet her and filk her songs like the following.

'Lanie you're a big girl, funny girl, furry girl,
You're gonna be a nice cat one day.
You got milk on your face!
A big disgrace!
No one ever put you back into your place.
We will, we will, rock you, *ow!* rock you *ow!*          <-- gasp resulting from being scratche
We will, we will, rock you!                                                    while trying to rock the cat

You may think that I feel breast-swelling pride at such poetic splendor, but I assure you,  *hangs head modestly*  it's nothing to crow about.

Friday, December 10, 2010

(A Small Percentage of) My Kingdom For a Dress

My son is getting married.  Great happiness and joy!  Yes, there's a young woman out there willing to take on my son.  This means I need something to wear to the wedding.  I've got three months to go, so this seemed like a good time to begin the torment, um, to begin looking. It's going to be a morning wedding at the end of March in North Carolina. This defines the choices nicely: not a long gown, something with a jacket to because the weather will be absolutely unpredictable. Dana's colors are light blue and, well, light blue. (She talked about having daffodils on the tables, too, but have you SEEN me in yellow? No, you haven't, and with good reason.) So I'm looking for something in blue or, if needs be, purple because I know that if I'm looking for something in blue, there will be nothing in blue.
I went to the spiffy stores first because this is an important occasion, and I am not going to be afraid to spend some money on it. Neiman Markus was a bust: there were long gowns for fancy soirees and short (very, very short – although, hmmm, not as short as I wore in the early 70s)) gowns for the young. There was one sleeveless dress that the saleswoman tried to pretend would coordinate with a bulky, dark blue, spangly jacket-- yuck -- and some severe suits -- bleh.
On to Sax Fifth Avenue. Most of their gowns were strapless or one shouldered so even shortened, they wouldn't work. There were two nice Kay Unger jacket dresses, the right length and, well, with jackets, but the colors were all wrong. It's still before Christmas, and the saleswoman told me to try again in January when the spring line came in with lighter hues. One possibility.
On my way out, I walked through the designer section. Glowing at me from a hanger was a Lila Rose V-neck silk in watercolor blues with an inverted pleat in the front. Lovely. Perfect. $1,295. Are you kidding me? $1,295? I know it's not everyone, but personally I would far rather (if this were the choice, which it's not) give Dana and David $1,100 or contribute $1,100 to the wedding and have a nice $200 dress. Hey, folks, a $200 dress is not chicken feed; it's not chopped liver, you know what I'm sayin'? It's a DRESS! Not only that, it's a dress I'M going to wear which means the possibility – no, the likelihood -- of tearing and staining. I'm not afraid to spend a little money on this dress, but there's no way I'm going to spend $1,295, not while I'm in my right mind.
I was going to try Nordstroms, but that would mean navigating Tyson's during the business lunch hour. I have to be far more desperate than I am here in December to face that. Instead I drove through Vienna and stopped at White Swan Bridal. I have a soft spot in my heart for the White Swan because when theat crummy and here-to-remain-nameless bridal store took the money for my daughter's wedding gown and then forgot about us, the White Swan did the alterations quickly and beautifully, working around the beading and even having the idea of putting two of the beautiful appliqués on her shoes. They had a wide selection of mother-of-the-bride (which I assume were also of-the-groom) dresses. All of them were floor length but could be shortened, and several had jackets. One was a dark blue sheath with a jacket that sported a low, ruffled neckline. It looked great on me, even smoothed out my tummy, but I'd be obligated to pay for it before ordering it, have it shortened and then hope it lived up to expectations. I wouldn't mind spending $500 on a dress (although alterations on top of that would hurt), but I'm leery of ordering one somewhat blind. Then, dresses from a bridal shop take from four to six months to com ein, although the girl assured me this one would come faster. Think about that: there are people who decide on and order their dress SIX MONTHS in advance? Who are these people? And what universe do they live in?
In one final splurge of energy, I drove over to Fair Oaks Mall and went to Lord and Taylor. Good old Lord and Taylor, where, ten years ago, in the last moments of panic I found an ensemble (I want to say "outfit," but, really, "ensemble" sound far chic-er, don't you think?) for Stephanie's wedding. I tried on a deep, pale blue (if that makes sense) faux-silk suit. It has a slight sheen to it, an A-line, knee length skirt. The jacket had a scooped neckline with panels rather like ruffles that aren't ruffles around the neck. Half price sale! Three months out, and dress anxiety is gone. I am free!

Oof, now I need a pair of heels.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

3D: Don't Don the Device

Steve and I took Suzannah and Alan to see Megamind over Thanksgiving. only showing available between nap and dinner was in 3D. The result is that Steve and Stephanie wore cool black glasses and saw it in 3D. Alan and I saw it blurry.
I hate 3D. It's okay when the figures are in perspective on the surface of the screen and recede into the background, but when they are hanging in the air in front of my face, it makes me nauseous. I know many people love 3D, but many others feel as I do. It doesn't seem to have to do with age (thank goodness. One less thing to chalk up to that.). My guess is that it has something to do with depth perception.
A young friend of mine said that it was like the establishment of color in TV and movies. That people will grow to love it. Balderdash, I say. Bah! I remember when color was new in both the movies and on TV, and everyone was delighted and enthralled. This is less about seeing things realistically and more about having them occur hanging mid-air with no floor and no gravity. There is nothing realistic about having a huge space ship (say from Avatar) poking you in the face.
Alan, also, does not like 3D. He believes it is too scary for him. I ask, "Is it too scary for little Alan?"
"No! I a big boy! It is too scary for big Alan," he declares. Yet those black glasses belonged to him, and he wasn't giving them over.
""Do you want to try putting them on?"
No, his head shakes emphatically.
"Do you want me to take care of them?"
"No! They mine." They stayed gripped in his sticky little hands for an hour and a half.

Of course, I resent paying $4 more for a device I don't want to see an effect I don't like.  But to have Alan sing along with the songs ("It's Beiber!"), and to see he and Suzie run to the front of the theater to dance wildly through the closing music, that's priceless

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Austin and -- Well, Just Austin

My friend Austin Comacho was of invaluable help to me in writing my own book, showing me how to manage my time which, as you know, is an entirely slippery thing. Austin is the successful author of the Hannibal Jones mystery series and the Morgan Stark action series. Some of his books are commercially published, and some are self published. I wondered why he continues self publishing, why he finds it so gratifying. His response was as interesting and upbeat as Austin himself, so I thought I'd share it with you on today's Blog. You can find all his book on his web site:   http://www.ascamacho.com/ Thank you, Austin!

The Joy (?) of Self Publishing

I am fortunate to have broader publishing experience than most authors. I’ve had novels published by Print On Demand companies, and published my own work. I am also published by a mainstream small press. People often ask me why, if I’ve managed to snag a main-stream publisher, I continue to self publish. What, they ask, could the benefits be?

Well for me the advantages are financial and emotional. When you self publish you don’t share the profits with a publisher so you can make a real profit on even a small number of books sold. Also, you own all the rights to your books and can sell them to anyone who wants to publish you in print, electronically, overseas or in audio.

Just as important to me is the total control I have. I choose the cover, the back cover copy, the interior design, the font… everything about the physical product. I like the feel of really owning my books.

Of course I face all the obstacles every author faces: getting my book noticed in the crowded field of genre fiction, getting booksellers to stock them, getting reviewed and building my name.

But I face some barriers that mainstream authors don’t. It is very hard for self-published and POD authors to get distribution, one thing that’s a given for mainstream authors. It is also much harder for us to get reviews in major papers and magazines. And we’re shut out of many of the most prestigious awards. For example, I’m not eligible for the Edgar awards, regardless of the quality of my writing, because the Mystery Writers of America don’t recognize me as a published author. Only books published by a short list of publishers qualify. My small press publisher, Echelon Press, has more than 100 authors, pays an advance and works with several distributors, but it’s not on the MWA’s list.

And no one else is trying to get my books into readers’ hands. I spend a good deal of my free time marketing my fiction. Most weekends I’m someplace signing books. That’s because I’ve learned that people want to take away a piece of the author with them when they leave and, for me, personal appearances are fun and profitable.

. I view my writing as my hobby and I don’t think I spend more time on it than a lot of other fellows spend on fishing, bowling, golf or role-playing games.

But authors often say to me, “I want to spend my time telling stories, not selling books.” Hey, me too. But I’ve spoken to a number of commercially published writers and what I learned from them has changed my view of this business. Most mystery authors are expected to “drop” a novel a year. This all makes good marketing sense. Nothing drives the sales of a first book as much as the publication of a second or third novel. Publishers give these authors a set schedule that only leaves four months for writing and another four months for the editing process.

What I find most interesting is that these writers are expected to spend the same amount of time, four months out of the year, on a circuit of book signings, conference appearances, and television/radio interviews. In other words, they are expected to spend as much time marketing their books as writing them. I looked at that model and decided that if it’s so popular among the big publishers, there must be something to it. I now spend roughly as much time on marketing as I do on writing. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding. And I’ve found a lot of it to be great fun.

Most of what I’ve learned is compiles in my book “Successfully Marketing Your Fiction in the 21st Century” - http://www.amazon.com/Successfully-Marketing-Your-Novel-Century/dp/0976218186/ref=sr_1_14?ie=UTF8&qid=1290786461&sr=8-14

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Private Nutcracker

I went to my dance school's Nutcracker on Saturday. They did a very terrific job. I've watched a couple of the 11-year-olds at the studio since they were 7 and measured 23-23-23. Now their legs are growing long and their tummies suck in instead of pouching out. When there's a school holiday, they drop in to the adult classes, not in their baby blue uniform leotards but in bright red or sophisticated black with daring low or keyhole backs. Their dancing has grown so strong, deliberate and graceful.  It was a joy to watch them.

Almost, but not quite, as joyful as the Nutcracker that was danced in my own house. I played the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker (my very, very favorite) for Alan and Suzannah, and halfway through, they jumped up and danced. Alan concentrated hard on his plie's, turning out his dimpled knees, costumed only in Spiderman underware. Suzannah was draped in one of my T-shirts (she forgot to pack her pamamas), her arms floating in beautiful, extended port de bras. She swayed and turned and then knelt on one knee and extended her hand to Alan. He graciously accepted it, and they twirled and jumped and laughed. That was a Nutcracker to remember!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Danger Days

When we returned from France, I had gained one pound, one (1) little pound. In a day, the pound was gone. I was so proud!  But now, the week before Thanksgiving, this is the danger zone. These are the days – more than my birthday, more than Christmas – when I pack it on.
A week ago Tuesday, in anticipation of my daughter's family's arrival and when I knew I had the time, I made Millie Kilmartin's gingerbread cookies. (butter cookies for Christmas; gingerbread for Thanksgiving) Millie was a wonderful friend from when we were both sentenced to live in Corning, N.Y. She made them for Christmas (no, no, Millie, butter cookies for Christmas), decorated them beautifully, hung them on their tree and gave them to friends and neighbors as gifts. They've contributed to my undoing, or more accurately, my expanding, even since. (I'm not mentioning dinner at the Brazilian steak house or lunch at Fudruckers or . . . well, never mind.) The cookies are damned addictive, and they disappear faster than a kiss on the wind.
In two days, the cookies were half gone. It's true that Steve helped me in decimating (or would it be halif-inating) them, but *hangs head in shame* I ate more than my share. I made a second batch on Friday. Stephanie, Scott, Pumpkin and Pie Boy (who now informs me he is NOT Pie Boy), arrived Saturday. Three days after that, there wasn't a crumb left for a mouse. (Not that we have mice. Elaine Cat takes care of that.) This is not a one-time occurrence, folks. It happens every year, year after year, constant as the sunrise. So, yes, I can anticipate the phenomenon, and, no, it doesn't seem to prevent the behavior. Or even slow it down. Fortunately, these gingerbread cookies are kind of a pain to make, so I won't have any more for a year.
You may ask, if you always eat so many and, furthermore, you don't seem to care to show any signs of self-control *my head droops in shame*, why don't you just double the recipe? Ahh, there's the rub (as in rub my bulging tummy with sugary yumminess).  It is the only recipe I've ever made that cannot be doubled.  Double it, and something goes wrong. It doesn't taste right. No, you have to make it 2 1/2 dozen at a time. *sighs* Just as well I suppose.
The cookies are gone.  All that's left is tomorrow's turkey and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce and pie. To heck with shame. Face the danger, I say; face it and plow through it.

Millie Kilmartin's Gingerbread Cookies
(I've tweaked it a little; make it at your peril)
(in general, I don't get a big thrill out of cooking, so don't go expecting any more recipes from me.)

1 C sugar
1 Tbs ginger
1 tsp each cloves, cinnamon
1/4 C light corn syrup
1/4 C dark corn syrup
1/2 C water
1 C butter
Bring to a boil (in microwave is fine). Cool to room temperature.

Add (mixing can easily be done by hand with a big wooden spoon:
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
4 C flour
Chill. Then I set on counter for 45 min. Dough is VERY stiff.

Roll out (not too thick, not too thin) and cut into shapes. (We like gingerbread boys and girls, dinosaurs, hearts, cars, circles, turkeys, etc. We like to be able to choose.)

Bake in preheated 375 oven for 12 – 13 minutes.  They're really good iced, but they never last long enough at our house to decorate.

Now you'll have to excuse me. We have to have a birthday party for our new doll.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Thing at Once

I had a Blog entry in mind about being able to do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not for me. (I'd argue it's not for anyone, but it's definitely not for me.)  Anyway, I had this topic in mind, and I even jotted it down, but then I got busy doing something else, and, well, while I was doing the second thing, I forgot everything I was going to say about the one thing.  *sighs*
Instead I'll write about my hair. (Didn't see that one ocming, did you?)  I'm growing my hair. It's easy for me because it means NOT doing something (making an appointment and going to get it cut) as opposed to actually doing something. Over the course of my life, I have grown and cut off my hair in a fairly steady rhythm. I had lovely curls as a little girl, all little girls did back in the day. Then I grew into an extreme tomboy. I insisted my hair be cut very short, and I dressed for play in my brother's out-grown clothes. (I wore dresses to school, of course; girls had to wear dresses to school. With snow pants in the winter. Remember snow pants?)
Then, as a teen, my hair tumbled to my shoulders. Curly hair was out, out, out, and I was among those who laid my tresses on the ironing board and ironed them straight. I wore them spilling over my face (oh, Joan Baez, how did you do it – the sheen of that wall of hair) or, occasionally, in a pony tail on top of my head. That pony tail was the extent of my abilities to work with my hair.
In college (it was the late 60s), it grew longer, and I wore it clasped in the back with a barrette. Hairdo done. After I had my first child and dealt with sticky fingers and mucus being twined in it, I cut it off again. And so it went.

I wasn't really happy with the variety of short cuts I've had since we returned from Russia. (They really know how to cut hair in Russia.), and I thought I would grow it out and wear it in a sophisticated French twist for my son's wedding in March.
Unfortunately, it's a morning wedding, and I can't see finding a hair dresser in a strange city to fix my hair at the crack of dawn. I have to learn to do it myself. I knew it would take time to acquire the skill, so I've been practicing. With the extra inch it's grown in the past month and the constant practice over the past two months (with four month to go to perfect my mad skilz), I can pretty much get it twisted and pinned. The internet advisors will tell you that it is easier to put hair up (and keep it up – keeping it up is the trick) if it is a little dirty. My interpretation of of "a little dirty" is to goop my hair up entirely with thick, cheap mousse and then twist and pin it up. The mousse hardens and there it is: a French twist that stays up!

It will be fine as long as no one tries to stroke or, say, dent my hair. And as long as I don't get distracted while I'm putting it up or try to do anything else at the same time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

Some time ago, I wrote a novel.  Like me, it's unusual.  Like any first-time author, I submitted it to several agents and publishers.  While widely complemented, it was still, sadly, turned down (cross-genre works being notoriously difficult to find an agent for – that's my story, and I'm sticking to it).  The book, the characters, the idea of being published have not left me alone to die a graceful death. No, they have been repeatedly (and, yes, metaphorically) slapping me in the face for several months now. In order to get them to keep their hands to themselves, I have decided to publish on the Amazon Kindle store.


I thought, in my innocence that this would be a simple task. Find a font I like for the cover and print it over a pattern of jaguar fur, maybe superimpose a photo of a lacquer box (not that I know how to do that, but
still . . .).  Upload the entire deal and voila.  *sighs*
It's not that it's difficult to publish on the Kindle store; it's just that my computer skills – once so up-to-date and showy-offy – have become sadly elementary. I'm sure that if I could understand the directions Amazon offers, I could follow them. Unfortunately, I find them less understandable than Russian.

Fortunately my soon-to-be daughter-in-law is a programmer and is going to save me! WOOT! She can convert to the necessary HTML format to give me an active Table of Contents. She can work with graphics to get an up-loadable JPG file. Not only that, she has agreed to marry my son. Dana, I love you!

Ahem, back to my topic.  Have no fears that this event will slip by unnoticed. I promise to announce on all possible venues when my thriller (nuclear smuggling in Russia) with paranormal overtones (Shamanic spirit animals) is released. You're gonna love it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Miles on Disc

You already know how enamored I am of my Kindle, so I was disappointed to learn that two new science fiction books I had a desperate need to read were not available at the Kindle store. Taking a research view, though, I figured going back to hard cover would be a test; is this true love or merely a first impressions crush?
Which book to read first? I dithered a while but in the end selected Lois McMaster Bujold's Cryoburn. This is a new story – after a long hiatus -- in the Miles Vorkosigan series, and I anticipated with delight sinking deep into the story. Unhappily, I did not sink as deep as I'd like because I had to keep moving my book mark and turn pages (don't let them stick) and, when I read in bed, I had to shift from one side of the book to the other. Then the book fell closed and I saw the bonus CD that had been included (since I'd received these books before we went on vacation, I'd forgotten about it). I figured it was extra material, artwork, fan material, things of that nature. I popped it into my computer and, low and behold, it was the entire book just waiting to be copied to my Kindle! Not only that, but the gods bless Bujold, it seems to include (I haven't compared feature by feature yet) the entire Miles collection plus extra essays of hers and art. Okay, I couldn't care less about the art, but the other stuff? JACKPOT!
I'll still be stuck reading Connie Willis' All Clear in hard copy, and while I must admit that I like having the hard copy of both these books around – just to complete my sets, you know – I really DO prefer an e-reader. Never thought it would happen, but there you are.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Well Worth a Pound

We were two weeks in France, and I never described food. I ask you, how is one supposed to say anything new about French food?  Not that that will stop me.  I mean, butter, cream, eggs:  the holy triumvirate!
Sunday morning in Lyon, my friend Jan and I skipped out on the included tour of an art market and headed for the daily grocery market. The smell of the freshly baked breads and pastries, cheeses, vegetables and chickens made us jealous of the French.  Well, except for the roasted chickens we saw with the heads left on, little roasted crests and eyes facing us mournfully as we walked by. We imagined rolling out of bed, strolling down the market, picking up bread, cheese, roast chicken (sans head) and wine and then retiring to a tastefully decorated apartment to leisurely enjoy our newspaper, eating our way through the day.

All the food was so fresh and beautiful, but, of course, it meant we couldn't buy any to bring home until . . . UNTIL we came to a cheese and pate counter. There in little tureens were jars of pates, two for five Euros. The only thing I understood on the labels was that they were made in cognac.  Cognac had to be good, right?  I blindly picked  two. Back at the ship, the local guide translated for me: one is pate of poultry and the other pate of reindeer. I do wonder if she meant it was venison, but either way, we opened the reindeer last night, and it was good! Bound to be – it's French.
In Tournus (At least, I think it was in Tournus. I didn't keep notes and the some of the ports blend), we had lunch at a little café where we ordered escargot as an entrée (an appetizer in English). I would like to say that snails are entirely superfluous to this dish . You may as well toss the little snail bodies in the garbage and fill their shells with the garlic saturated butter, and drink up. 
The coup de gras (like my French?) came our last night in Paris when we were walking up and down the Rue de Rennes. We enjoyed the window shopping but had walked almost to the Seine and back and were pretty beat. We examined brasserie (bar) after brasserie looking for a menu with more than hamburgers and French fries and an ambience more delicate than smoke. We rounded the corner onto boulevard du Montparnasse and found it. The restaurant Le Montparnasse 1900 was not quite opened at 6:50, but they seated us 10 minutes early and paid lavish attention to us. For my entrée I downed green salad with sautéed scallops ('cause I wanted to be healthy with a salad, don't you know) followed by my plat (main dish) of duck breast (fat, fat duck breast, still tinged pink) with au pauve sauce (or whatever the spelling is for pepper sauce). I can tell you right now that you could eat that sauce over cardboard, and it would still be delicious, delicately filling the back or your mouth with creamy yumminess, its flavors blending with the duck juices just as they hit the tongue. The manager suggested a medoc with it, and its higher edge was the right counterbalance for the duck. There was one point in the meal when I sat with my eyes closed and lost awareness of everything except what was happening in my mouth. Steve spoke to me, and I came to with a jolt.  Food doesn't get any better than that.
For dessert, we decided to order crepes suzette, but the manager suggested a dessert off the menu of fresh strawberries slightly sweetened with sugar (slightly, my foot) and lightly whipped in egg yolk. It was a good thing we shared one order because It came in a pasta plate.  We kept telling each other we didn't have to eat it all, but, of course, we did.  Iff you're in Paris on the left bank, head over to 58, boulevard du Montparnasse.  And do you know, I got on the scale this morning and had only gained one pound?
PS We explored Versailles on Wednesday and were able to stop in the Lauderee there and come out with a lovely little green shopping bag of macaroons. All hopes fulfilled.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Back, encore

Last night, France set its clocks back one hour.  We got an extra hour's sleep!  Next week when we get home, we'll set our clocks back another hour.  If you think about this in the right way, I am getting two extra hours sleep while you are getting only one.  Ha, ha I say to you! 

Today a friend and I skipped out on the tour to another medieval church and roamed a street marked with beautiful fresh breads, cheeses and meats.  I bought two little pots of pate.  When I got back to the ship, I enlisted the help of the staff to read what I'd bought.  One, as I'd suspected, was pate of poultry.  The other is pate of reindeer.  That's what she said!  When we get home, we'll see how it tastes.  I suspect, having been made in France, it will be delicious.

Friday, October 29, 2010

French Chic

Everywhere one goes in France, one sees how beautiful the French people are.  Perhaps a certain je ne se quois?  (Okay, I don't know how to spell in English much less in French, and I'm on the ship with a SLOW internet connection so am not doing all the spell checking.  Please bear with me.)  I don't really believe in je ne se quois, however, so I tried to analyze why this is so.


First, the French have -- to a person -- good haircuts..   Secondly, they have small noses.  (Yes, they really do.)  Thirdly, men, women, children wear beautiful shoes.  (Boots are in this year, by the way.)  Now, I have a pretty good haircut, especially considering that my idea of dealing with my hair is to put a dryer to the bangs.  Voila, that's it.  There's not much I can do about the nose.  I can see, however, that a trip to DSW is in my future.  Gotta have the footwear!  Then it will be tres belle!  Fantastique!  Tres chic!

PS  I have been told that someone wanted to comment on the Blog but was confused by the sign in procedure.  You do not need to join anything.  When the screen asks for your account, it means your e-mail address.  :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin Surprise

The oldest patisserie in Nice (oops, I forget it's name) has a Halloween display in the window.  Yes, this is an example of American culture around the world.  The display is tasteful as only the French could construct it.  Among the little marzipan pumpkins with jack-o-lantern faces nestled in beautiful boxes are larger pumpkins perhaps four inches 'round.  The outsides look as real as real can be, the orange tint as if just picked from a garden, the tops sliced off, sitting next to the gourd.  However, as the French say, vive las difference!  (Yes, I know they were talking about gender, but just wait.)   The pumpkins are lined with chocolate and -- oh. la! -- filled with white, sugar-dusted Turkish Delight. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Betting Against the Rain

On Sunday, we are going to France. I know what you're thinking, but, look, someone has to do it. Steve and I are willing to take the bullet for the rest of you. I've finished the laundry from the shore and, in my mind's eye, I'm thinking about what to pack, what combinations will be most versatile, what clothes will wash out in the sink. I've decided on my long, felted sweater instead of a raincoat. It looks nice with a wider range of outfits, and I'll bring my broad-brimmed rain hat. I'll check the weather Saturday , and if the forecast is especially wet, I'll switch out, but mostly I'm betting against the rain.
It's a hardship tour, too. We spend a couple of days in Nice, bus over to Arles and cruise up the Rhone for a week, right through the wine districts. The cruise line brings chefs from the districts on board and features the local wines. Yeah, yeah, there are historic tours, too, but who are we kidding? When we're all as stuffed and happy as we can be, they bus us over to Paris for 24 hours.
Paris. The tours offered in Paris cover what we saw when we were there four years ago. That was on our "free" trip to Paris, compliments of Steve's emergency medical evacuation out of Moscow to have his gall bladder removed. On the direction that, when sufficiently recovered, it was good for him to get fresh air and exercise, we took a short excursion each day, metro-ing to sites in central Paris. Unfortunately, at that time, he couldn't walk enough to see Versailles. That is my goal this time.
As the best of good luck would have it, our very favorite patisserie (thanks to a recommendation from Steve's nurse – he's still a little in love with her) has a branch right on the grounds of Versailles. Lauderee, oh, my sweet Lauderee, of the pale green and pink china, napkins and boxes. How much dare I spend on macaroons? How many can I bring home without crushing the box? Without their going stale? What flavors will I enjoy this time? Raspberry, pistachio, lemon? (Remarkably, the chocolate aren't as good as some of the other flavors.) Dare we try Jasmine Mango, added in 2008? Should we deviate altogether and have a napoleon with our coffee?
I know for many people, Paris means fashion, Paris means art, Paris means love. For us, Paris means macaroons from Lauderee.  Without rain, please.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Conversations with a Dead Parent

I occasionally carry on conversations with my dead parents. Oh, sure, you can roll your eyes like that, but if you have dead people in your life, you do it, too.  You can't pretend that you don't, but I know better.
Talking to my Dad is accompanied by a distinct sadness. The stab comes when I see a particularly funny Peanuts cartoon, or one of my kids does something he'd be proud of. I wish, oh how I wish, he could hear me till him. He would smile his sweet smile, and beam at me with his kind eyes.  He would completely understand. 
I wasn't close like that to my mother.  We had to work at communicating, which makes it funny how I miss telling her about things.  I would store up information about topics in which we were both interested. She followed the real estate market in general and the house for sale behind us was a particular one. She would have loved Stewart and Colbert's upcoming March to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. My Mom felt wearing hats was important to good health, and, a point of contention, I usually go without.  However, when I was sick, it was rainy and cold, and I wore my blue wool beret:  hey, Mom, aren't you proud of me?
She didn't answer, of course, nor does my Dad. The day they do? Boy, THEN I'll have a Blog entry for you!
An Added Word:
As you know, I'm a Eugene Robinson groupie (and not only because he has the first name is the same as my uncle's, and his last name is the same as my other uncle's).  He hit is out of the park again today in the Washington Post with his editorial, "The Year of the Kooky Candidate."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Half-way there. Really

I've been sick. I've been sick for a week and a half. It's not a sneezing cold, nor a nauseous tummy ache. It's been weird. In the mornings and nights, there's the growly cough  that hurts my lungs and makes my throat horribly sore.  My skin's clammy.  The most interesting symptom has been the detached, airy disjointed thinking. (I can't tell you how many mistakes I've made in the past 10 days.) (No, really, I can't begin to remember.) It's rather like the aftermath of being high. I haven't had the energy to do much.  I finally made it to a dance class yesterday but had to leave early from exhaustion.
Each day when I complete any necessary tasks, I sit.  I sit and watch TV. While waiting at the store today, I watched the pattern of the lights on the ceiling.  I've been very eaily amused.  The other day we joined forces for dinner with the neighborsas we often do. Steve was sautéing scallops and Cynthia was doing something beautiful to chicken thighs after sharing with us the ends of a Julia Child thing involving crab and cream. They were in the kitchen, and I sat in the living room, eyes closed, while the aroma rose as good as the feast itself and listened to the subdued voices of comradery and parenting. In my half-fevered state (I know, I know, I had no business being there), I was filled with an inner sense of well-being, of perfect balance. All the pieces were in place. In a very happy way, I felt like I could dissolve and die. (Don't be silly; I don't want to die. I just felt amazingly right.)
Today I had a scheduled appointment with my doctor for a medications check-up. She looked me over and listened to my lungs and wrote me a prescription for a Z-pack. I took the first dose right in Costco realizing, even in my zoned state, that it would be safest to get back in my right mind since I was driving. I haven't felt the effects yet and am spending one more day in front of the TV, enjoying the buzz.

I look forward to tomorrow. I will like being able to think straight again and having my energy back. But now, excuse me while I half nap in the club chair.

Friday, October 8, 2010

School Lunch

If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, join a first grader for school lunch. Don't worry about whether the chairs will be comfortable (not too bad) or the food will be palatable (it won't). None of that will matter once you undergo your superstar transformation. Grandparents Day came two days after we left Muncie, so we were allowed to lunch at Suzannah's school last Tuesday.
When I looked knocked at the classroom door, Suzie spotted Steve and I through the window. She stretched up tall, waving and waving, about to burst out of her skin. The teacher invited us in and called Suzie to be line leader and, what's more, in our honor, allowed her BFF, Brienna, to stand with her. I mean, how much more power could fame have than that?
The children are supposed to stand quietly in line, but we caused way too much excitement for that. One little boy skipped out to offer his left hand and introduce himself. I told him I was Nana and took his hand with my right. He sweetly shook his head and said, "Nope, wrong hand!" I corrected myself and shook left to left. Then hands were extended to me from all directions as every kid wanted to be recognized. I felt like President Obama working a campaign line.
Do you have any idea how long it's been since I ate in an elementary cafeteria? No more the hard wooden chairs of my youth. One plunks one's bottom down on a seat that grows from a curved up table leg. It was surprisingly comfortable! Steve sat on the end, then Suzannah, then me, then Brienna. I thought I was going to talk to Suzie, but I was mistaken. Between sound bites of Brienna's engaging monologue, an entire table of children told me their names, what their favorite subject was and demonstrated clapping rhymes. I hardly had time to take a bite which was okay because lunch was, well, school lunch.
No one had ordered the "alternate" lunch of barbequed turkey. (Would you?) With one or two home-packed exceptions, hamburgers, milk (white, chocolate or strawberry), French fries and canned pineapple were served on identical trays as far as the eye could see. One bite of my hamburger (cooked elsewhere and reheated at the school) was enough. I passed the rest to Steve (even though, "you're not allowed to share"). The mixed vegetables had been slathered with butter which made them really good! I ate mine up. Unlike most of the children, Suzie is a good eater. She usually brings a lunch box so eating school lunch was a treat. She ate half her hamburger, some fries and her fruit but no veggies. The little boy across from us ate only his French fries. His two best friends (he identified them as such three times) flanked him. One ate only the cup of pineapple and the other ate (are you ready?) nothing. I looked down the double rows of trays at the table. Not one serving of vegetables was touched. I was amazed that these kids buy lunch ($2.40 per day) every day, and their parents don't wonder about what or whether they eat. It was crazy.
Our star status didn't end with lunch. Our royal presence was demanded on the playground to watch four little girls hang run and hang and slide and climb and play Scooby Doo. Our departure was treated with sad faces and sighs. If only we could have cajoled a few six-year-olds into eating a bite of peas and carrots, I would have felt we had used our power for good.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Full of Myself!

Hah!  My letter to the editor appeared in today's Post.  That's two for two -- I'm pretty full of myself. 

The funny thing (not funny ha ha, but, you know . . .) is that I didn't used to be against the death penalty.  There was a great essay I used to teach deduction (The Penalty of Death by H.L. Mencken) about how execution eases grief for victim's relatives and serves the collective catharsis.  Since that time, I have changed my mind.  First, far too many times, innocent people are put to death.  Well, two times would be way too many, and, let's face it, we're waaay over that statistic.  Second, it is SO expensive, appeal after appeal, delay after delay, trial after trial.  Third, really, wouldn't perpetrators suffer more with life imprisonment?  I mean, I know that's a subjective call, but prisons aren't nice places no matter what exercise facilities or libraries they house.  Fourth, isn't time we tried to join the coalition of civilized nations?  Can't we leave the identity of that barbarous, young upstart country?  Other industrialized nations simply shake their heads at a penal code that not only allows execution of criminals but execution of minors. 

Even when I felt all right about the death penalty, however, I would not have thought justice was served by executing  poor, stupid Theresa Lewis [an almost retarded woman convicted with two others in the murder of her husband for (a low amount of) insurance money.  The man who pulled the trigger was sentenced to life imprisonment].  My letter follows to the editor follows. 

I read with great interest about Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s “error of haste and not of heart,” which resulted in changing Confederate History Month to Civil War in Virginia Month. I believe that was a good remedy for a poor decision.
If, in a few months, he regrets allowing Teresa Lewis to be executed, I wonder how he will remedy that poor decision.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Political Love Post

It's happened again. I've fallen in love. Since I've been married to the same man for 40 years, you know that this declaration of love is saying a lot for me. My last great crush lasted for about 20 years and was on that wonderful, sexy intellectual Alistair Cooke. He was on TV once a week narrating the BBC's Masterpiece Theater. It was a sad, sad day when he left the show. He was quite a bit older than me, and I was heartbroken when he died. That won't happen again. Eugene Robinson is a younger man.
I have a crush on him because he is smart, writes beautifully, has the same last name as my cousins (okay, I don't really love him for this, but it's cool anyway) and is cute. Robinson doesn't quite have Cooke's amazing level of sexinessss, but, well, he's alive, and that counts for something, you know. While Robinson does guest on television talk shows, he won my heart through his rational and humorous analysis in his editorial in September 21sts Washington Post.
The editorial reported that a well known figure in the GOP (I refuse to give publicicty to any rabble-rousing individuals – even to my limited readership) "issued a thunderous call against . . . American judges trying [sic] to impose harsh Islamic sharia law." *slaps forehead* There have been exactly no (zero, zip) instances of this ever happening, but if it rouses fear to put and keep the far right in power, then that is their only requirement. Facts have never been a gun in the far right's arsenal.
Another fear-mongering tool is the cry I for State's Rights, but it isn't really a call for States' rights. It is a call for the federal government to control individuals. . These do not include medical rights (right to a peaceful death, right to reproductive choice) or personal rights (equal right to marriage).  Oh, no, those rights cannot be trusted to the states.  For example, a current candidate from Delaware who shall, for the reasons stated above, remain nameless is not only against premarital sex or homosexual activity but is against masturbation. This twit not only wants the federal government in the bedrooms of consenting adults but wants to be in your bedroom when you are BY YOURSELF!

Anyway, Eugene Robinson seems to see the same absurdity in the situations – like instilling a national fear of sharia law -- that I shake my head over. What's more, he has the insight and researches the facts that show them for what they are. And for this, I just love him.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Wedded Bliss?

One medical insurance enrollment season when we were in Russia, we got an ultimatum from Fairfax County. If I wanted to take advantage of their retired teacher's insurance, I had to sign up THAT SEASON. When I had retired, the rule was that you could sign up any open enrollment season, but now that had changed. I called (yes, FROM MOSCOW – sometimes ya just gotta), and the new rule was that you had to join now or never. The only exception was that if you were under a spouse's insurance and later GOT DIVORCED, you could sign up the following open enrollment season. I was astounded, almost speechless: almost but not quite. How, I asked, could divorce be a requirement for insurance? The person with whom I spoke did not know how; she only knew the rules.
As a result, I moved off Steve's more highly supplemented insurance and paid a much higher rate to ensure that – his job being on a limited contract – we would never be without insurance. Were he to lose insurance, he could join during the following season. As anticipated, a year later, his job ended, and we both went on my medical insurance. Its rate is high, but it is excellent insurance, and, needless to say we are happy to have it despite the fact that it cost us an appreciable and unnecessary expenditure that first year.
Now we approach a new insurance season, and the County, in its wisdom, has added a new rule. In January, we will have to produce our marriage certificate to prove we are married.  Because, the past FORTY years notwithstanding, the listing of him on my school papers for the eight years I worked in Fairfax, and the joint tax returns are not good enough. (Actually I believe they are just trying to thin the ranks and so reduce their costs.  I could easily segue into a discussion, nay a yearning, for a one payer medical system, but I will show great discipline and stay on track here.) 

Now here's what I want to know regarding this new rule.  What percentage of people covered hve defrauded the County by falsely claiming marriage ?  And what has that cost the County COMPARED to the estimated cost of collecting and verifying every marriage cedrtificate from emplyees claiming the wedded state?  What's more, I want to know if they're going to check each and every present and past employee claiming to be married to see if the marriage certificate was at any time followed by a divorce degree.  Otherwise, isn't the entire mandate an exercise in futility? 

I have looked for the certificate. It's not as though I haven't. It wasn't among my parents' papers, and there's no way to ask them now. Or, at least, as my sister says, you can call, but the long distance rates are REALLY HIGH. The wedding album has long ago fallen apart. My Mom was never one to "waste money" on such things, so it was simply a rather cheap photo album. Anyway, there wasn't a place for it in the 3 x 5 photo slots in there. I had a memory album, but after 38 years I couldn't remember who that person was who gave me the blender, so it went to the dump many moons ago. I certainly can't remember the certificate's ever being in there among the cards and ribbons and invitations. I looked in our lock box. We have birth certificates and passports, but no wedding certificate. My have my social security card is in there from when I changed my name, but no, not the scrap of paper that's required. What's more, NO ONE has wanted to look at it until now.
Honestly, I don't think we ever had a marriage certificate in our possession. I can't recall seeing it after I signed the license application. The State filed it, or my Mom or Dad took it or something. It was 40 years ago, folks, gimme a break. Oh, oops, the Bureaucracy of Stupid Rules never gives anyone a break.

Wait -- do you think maybe we're not married after all? Perhaps the children are illegitimate! Dare I tell them? Maybe all our joint property isn't. AEIIIiiii (sound fades away as Ann falls down a well of non-reality.)

(Much noise of climbing and grumbling. Her head peaks out over lip of well.) We can only hope that the great State of New Jersey, in its organized and knowledgeable wisdom will be happy to produce a certificate for us (at least, after we give them $30). Organized? Knowledgeable? Oh, drat, I'm doomed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Shouldn't Have, but I Did

An inexpensive travel clock, an ironing board cover, a not outrageously expensive, small tea kettle. I looked for these products; I really did. I guess I've gotten cheap the way the elderly in my stereotypical vision always did, but I just can't stand to spend the big bucks for these simple items.
I got a really nice ironing board cover at a good discount at Home Goods. It was supposed to fit up to a 54" ironing board, but it didn't, and I had to return it. The ones sold at JoAnn Fabrics had pads at the end that allowed you to sit a hot iron face down on them, and they had zippered compartments that hung over the side although I don't know what those were for. They cost over $20.00! To iron on! I mean, I quilt and do rudimentary sewing, but I still don't need a technologically advanced ironing board cover. I just prop my iron up on its end and move on.

Eddie Bauer had a cool travel clock. At $20 it was a tad expensive, but, I rationalized, it doubled as a flashlight. When I got home, I was disappointed to discover that you need to hold the button down to keep the flashlight on. No setting it on the pillow to read in the hotel room. Its clock could be dialed to every time zone around the world, though. That was really cool! And it had a press light to show illuminate the time in the middle of the night which is a necessity if you're an insomniac (and who over 50 isn't?) and an alarm, too. But when I unpacked it at the shore, the clock didn't work  I returned it to the Delaware outlet, although I won't disclose how many T shirts I bought at the same time. Let's just say I more than offset the cost.

The top to my tea kettle has been broken for years. In point of fact, I haven't used it since we got our single cup coffee maker. That and the microwave take care of all my needs, but my daughter and my sister like to make tea the real way at the proper temperature, with the water truly boiling, so I like to keep one on hand.  I was resigned to being disappointed on obtaining the desired size, design and color all in one kettle, but I tried.  I looked in Home Goods; I looked in T.J. Maxx; I looked in Bed, Bath and Beyond.  No luck.

And that brought me to Target. I know, I know. I vowed, after they gave money to that gubernatorial campaign where the candidate was anti-gay, that I would never darken their doors again. My heart softened when I read their response to the boycotts and complaints. They stated that they had contributed on the basis of the candidate's business stance and had no idea he held anti-gay sentiments. I had to believe them, too, because for them to have done otherwise would have been plain stupid. Of course, I already deemed them pretty stupid for not having done due diligence before making the contribution, but I think I hold them innocent of the greater charge. Still, I never shopped there a lot and thought I would try to hold out.

I can't. I tried to stay away. I really did, but it's the small, everyday items that Target does so well at. A travel alarm, an ironing board cover, a tea kettle. All in one stop, all attractive and reasonably priced, and all at the same strip mall where I had other errands. I blush; I am ashamed; I shouldn't have, but I did it. And guess what? Every one of those items works perfectly. I'm hiding my face, but I am so happy.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sun, Sand and the Irresistable at the Seashore

We have a good friend who owns a condo at Sea Colony at the Delaware Shore. We know he's a good friend, because he invites us to use it off season whenever we'd like. We are here now, alternating between resting poolside and meditating seaside.  Anywhere we go, we fall under (or more accurately throw ourselves under) the hypnosis of the sea.  The waves pound in and grab your grievances, sorrows and annoyances and pull them out to be purified in the salty depths.  The mind becomes tranquil.  This naturally leaves you exhausted, and you have to go up and nap on a loungecahir on the balcony.
Our mornings as begin as they do anywhere. We arise and shake out the kinks, stumble to the kitchen and make coffee. You have you have to have coffee, not so much for the caffein as for the opportunity to sit quietly, stare into space and think deep thoughts.  But now that there are no longer toys and diapers to clean up, no teens to stay up late and worry about, no good examples to set, we practice a seashore ritual that we're never involved in at home. 

After a few sips of that familiar blend of murky sweetness and milk, we look at each other wistfully, cajole and plead, and one of us (reserving to call in a return favor later)sets down the cup and walks over to the little bakery to get donuts. Donuts, those magical, little fried cakes of sugar and fat. Cakelike sprinkled with sugar, custard filled or chocolate frosted?  The decisions get difficult, especially when one has an eye to pleasing a spouse.  "May I help you?" is answered on my part with, "I'm thinking."  The decision is made more difficult as one chooses a donut or two for breakfast with plans for keeping a third in reserve for dessert after dinner.  Mmmmm.

The call of the waves, the lure of the lard:  I try to mitigate the donut damage by slicing a juicy white peach to eat with breakfast and ordering a salad for lunch.  This makes me less culpable, don't you think?  But the donut itself?  Who could resist?   We don't.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Ego of Glenn Beck

And this weeks contest is to answer this question:  How Big Is Glenn Beck's Ego? 
The winning answer will gain the great satisfaction of knowing that it won. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Rich Women Wear Thongs

A Nordstrom's Rack opened up near us last week. Nordstrom's is an upscale department store, and the Rack is their outlet store. Much excitement.


Of course I went.  While I'm not the Thrift Queen, I can say with conviction that I qualify as a Thrift Princess. There were lots of women's pants suits (good if you work) and nothing fit to wear to a morning wedding (needed for March). What there was, was beautiful underwear. (Faint of heart, cease reading now.) I selected two beautiful bras, the kind with lace and ruching, bows and little jewels. *great sigh of satisfaction* I thought how nice it would be to have pretty underpants that, if they didn't match, at least coordinated with my new under splendor. That's when I made my discovery.

There were racks of lovely, pastel pants, again with ruffles and bow and tucks and lace, but, BUT there were no briefs. I thought surely, surely somewhere, hidden on a bottom rack or hanging against the wall, would be some briefs, beautiful or not. Nope. None, nada. The only conclusion I can draw is that wealthy women, the kind of women who regularly shop at Nordstroms before their clothes make it to the Rack, wealthy women wear only bikinis and thongs.  Their bodies are no slimmer and trimmer than mine, yet the evidence leads me to believe that skimpy, belly-cutting panties are their undgraments of choice.  What's up with that?

If you're retired, you have time to ask such deep, meaningful questions. (See how cleverly I tied this topic in to the theme of my Blog?) And then you drive over to Sears.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reflections on a Bad Egg

In regards to the current recall of a bazillion eggs, can anyone explain to me how the salmonella gets INSIDE them?  We lived in Moscow during the bird flu epidemic, and all we had to do was wash our eggs off before cracking them in order to prevent the bacteria on the shell from entering the insides. With the current recall, it seems that the bacteria is in-born (or in-unborn, poor little yolks). How does it work its way through the hen's system and end up inside the egg? At least, that's what I'm assuming is the problem, or else wouldn't "they" simply advise us to scrub our eggs before cooking and eating?
I heard on NPR not serve eggs with runny whites, but, in fact, they are recalling all those eggs.  Taken together, it seems to me to mean that the eggs are already bad on the inside.  Also, you have to deny yourself raw Toll House Cookie dough. That's terrible!

And what are the implications for humans? Plenty of women eat junk food and smoke and, I dunno, eat dirt until they get pregnant. They may show exemplary behavior once they know they're about to blow up like a blue whale, but not beforehand. This doesn't seem to affect human embryos. Oh, wait, maybe it explains a lot about the human race. No, no, I don't think so.
The eggs seem to be pre-infected.  Can anyone explain it to me?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Hindenburg

One of the dancers took photos at the reception after my mother's funeral. She kindly e-mailed them to me. At least, she thought she was being kind. Now, I have a thin, small face. I have wide shoulders and rather large, um, accoutrements. I wore the skirt to a black suit and a grey, white and pale pink, sleeveless blouse I that goes under the suit jacket although it was waaaay too warm to wear the jacket. Well, those pictures let me see how wrong I was to wear that blouse by itself.

Yes, there I am: a pinheaded blimp. Okay, okay, it's not quite that bad, but, I won't be wearing THAT combination again. Still, it got me thinking how stupid people look with their heads balanced up there on top of the whole shebang. Wouldn't people look more balanced, more elegant with their heads placed somewhere else?
I envision humans with their heads tucked neatly between their shoulder blades. That makes so much more sense. You'd avoid a lot of those nasty concussions that way, you know. The hard knocks would be taken up by all that surrounding bone and tissue. I guess we'd have to have some sort of swivel mechanism, or else we couldn't turn our heads to look over (or under) our shoulders.
So here's my question. Where do YOU think people's heads should be situated? (Oh, and when the comments question asks for "account," all you have to put is your e-mail address. It's your e-mail account, see? Really, what were they thinking?)  (Oh, and if you sign up to be a follower, I think you can get an e-mail informing you when I post.  Isn't that what everyone needs to make their world complete?)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Everything In Its Place

I was in Mom's condo today, continuing some of the clean up. The size of the empty space she used to fill began to hit me. And all this stuff left behind, added together, doesn't approach the size of the woman who lived among it.
I was amazed at the funeral that she fit into such a small pine box, she of the giant personality. Well, the personality wasn't there, of course. Many of her "girls" wrote to us of the image that Mom was teaching the angels to tap. My certainty was that, in one form or another, she is now with my father where she belongs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Big Hole

My mother thought churches and synagogues were wonderful places to build community, find friends and enjoy activities. They were places where a person could be included, and she was very big on  everyone being included. However, she wasn’t much for actual religion.
When my brother visited my Mother a couple of days before she died, he had a question for her. Although he was pretty sure he knew the answer, he felt he should ask it.

“Mom, would you like to see a Rabbi?”
She opened her tired eyes and looked at him with a sardonic expression on her face. He leaned down to hear her soft words. “Dig a hole.”

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Better Sandwich

11 tedious hours
Fast food, heavy
Wheels droning
Scenery passing
Entering Muncie where factories are closed and dollar stores abound, where we are met with enthusiastic shrieks of (all one word), “Nana/ Papa! Nana/Papa!”

And where, early in the morning, watching a TV cartoon of Spiderman’s shooting webs, I am seated between Pumpkin and Pie Boy. I am the filler in a love sandwich.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Even When They Cry

Twenty-four hour nursing care began for my mother this morning. That is how you can tell how ill she really is -- in any state of wellness, she would not accept help. Today she became bed-ridden and drifted in and out of lucidness.

Her two dance demonstrators came to see her one last time, and she was able to carry on a short conversation with them. They came out in tears and told us how much the "girls" (you have to be over 55 to take the class) loved her.

"They love her so much. Even when she yelled at them. Even when she made them cry."

She made them CRY? That didn't stop the flood of cards and letters (I can only describe them as love letters) every birthday and Christmas.  They love her devotedly.

She didn't make anyone cry today. All the tension gone from her face, she was incredibly beautiful.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pumpkin and the Pie Boy

Early tomorrow morning we are headed westward to see our Perfectrr Grnadchildren, aka Pumpkin and the Pie Boy. I have always used the endearment Punkin for Suzannah (6) but was corrected last visit when I asked Alan if he was my Punkin.

He shook his head vigorously. "I no Punkin."

"Are you my Cookie then?" I asked endearingly.

Emphatically, "No! I no Cookie!"

"What are you then?"

A moment's thought. "I Pie Boy." (He's two. How much pie has he ever eaten?

Pumpkin or Pie Boy, they are so declicious, I could eat them up!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Bookends

Bookends: two sides of something in the middle. I am one of the things in the middle. My sister instructs me that I am not truly in the middle of a sandwich because I’m only in between because our mother is soooo old. However, I say that anyone in the middle of generations counts as being in the middle of a sandwich. She posits that, in that case, it must be a club sandwich as our children (not hers and mine together, but hers and mine in separate sandwiches) are between us and their own children. On second thought, there can be more than one item inside a sandwich. It could be that our children are the main sandwich ingredient while I am merely the mayonnaise. I often feel like the mayonnaise.

Anyway, on to the outsides, bookends. My mother has a successful ploy for getting her own way. It involves digging her heels in. Granted that her own way is often a good way, but she attains it through pure stubbornness, with, occasionally, a dollop of guilt and shame thrown in. Well, she’s a mother, after all; we have our ways.
My grandson at two and a half has already learned that charm works better than obstinacy for getting what he wants, better than , say, screeching at the top of his voice or throwing himself on the floor and crying. Instead, he turns on a little half smile, the one that shows off his dimples to such good advantage, and asks sweetly, “Pleeeease?” If that proves unsuccessful, he says whimsically and persuasively, “Hey, don’t say no.” Damn, the kid’s good.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My friend, author Austin Camacho, asked me to write for his blog about beginning a new blog.  (This feels a little like the mirror-in-mirror effect!) I begin a little obliquely, and I’m not sure I got to exactly the final destination, but I have included an anecdote about my Perfect Grandson, so for that alone, you’ll want to read it. Instead of an entry today in my own blog, you’ll find the entry at http://ascamacho.blogspot.com/ Austin write entertaining mysteries and thrillers which you’ll enjoy, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Moo

    Sometimes I have difficulty getting to sleep at night.  I limit myself to Ambien once a week at most as I don't want the habit nor the addiction.  I try to direct my mind away from obsessive looping of disturbing topic to more relaxing ones, like my Perfect Grandchildren.  A couple of nights ago, I just couldn't focus, and it popped into my mind to think about cows. 
     What?
     Cows.  Now, I have no connection to cows whatsover.  Hmmm, not exactly true.  I eat beef, and I love ice cream, but on a personal level?  No.  Wait, wait!  I have one sentimental connection to cows.  When I was a little girl, if we drove through the countryside and saw cows, my Dad would moo.  My Dad had the best, loudest most authentic moo you ever heard outside of an actual cow.  It was wonderful!  Other than that, there is no reason I would think of cows as a relaxing, neutral subject.
     Cows aren't bad tyo think about.  I went to a sort of Ben and Jerry place in my imagination with black and white cows resting in the meadow, following sweet grass and chewing contentedly.  It's not something you can think about for very long, but it did break the more neurotic loop and allowed me to drift off. 
     Do you think there's some commercial application to this?

Friday, July 30, 2010

False Alarm

One hour after my worried post, Elaine came waltzing in, screaming for her Friday Fancy Feast.  (Six days a week she gets vet prescribed kibble.)  Whew!  I'd like her to wait, if she can, until after my mother goes.  One ticket at a time, please.

Coming Home?

Elaine has been gone 20 hours.  We don't remember if she went out, but she is not answering in the house.  (Oh, please, however this ends, let it not be with a small rotting body hidden somewhere in the storage room!)  I keep burbling on about the sandwich generation, but I forgot that you're smushed in their with your pets, too.  :(

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sandwiched

The sandwich generation – I have been a member for a good 25 years now, a tasty tidbit situated between two pieces of bread. Think of a roast beef with mushrooms mixed in sour cream inside a baguette. (I had a sandwich like that once at the Portrait Gallery, and it was amazing!) I am the roast beef. The sour cream and mushrooms are tutoring, dancing, volunteering, reading, lunchin with friend. The bottom half of the baguette is my children, their families and my grandchildren. The top half is my Mom, the only one left of that generation of the sandwich.

I had a call last night from the Hospice social worker. I wasn’t expecting it. Well, I had no expectations. She wanted to set up a meeting with Mom and me next week. I can’t be there: our son, David, and his fiancée (known in the family, but unbeknownst to her, as The Lovely Dana) are flying in from Sacramento to visit our daughter and family in Muncie, and we’re going too. (Woot!)

My sister, however, will be visiting my Mother, and she’ll be at the meeting. The social worker talked to me for a bit, asking about our plan for Mom’s inevitable decline and about funeral arrangements. I was unaware that we had plans, but, little by little, with straightforward and gentle questioning, she pulled the answers from me. Turns out, we do have plans. We are good.

The social worker tell me that the nurses rave about Mom and about how amazing it is she lives on her own. It may be amazing to them, but it’s been a pain in the neck for us. She doesn’t want to hire anyone to do anything, and that leaves the three sibs, the closest of whom lives 45 minutes away. Mom’s a tough cookie, though, and she’s trained us well. The nice way to say it is that she is difficult. Like my cat. (No, I didn’t say the cat part to the social worker.) If there is anyone who is able to survive on will power alone, it is my 98 ¾-year-old mother.

David called his Nanny yesterday. Stephanie is on vacation and couldn’t get a call in. She’s concerned she’ll miss her chance for one last conversation, but she still has some time. No one checked the box labeled “Quick and Easy Death.”
So there we are, pulled in one direction and pushed in another. Being part of the sandwich generation keeps your mind and body running around chasing your, or someone’s tail (okay, that begs the sandwich metaphor, but bear with me.) Up to now, I visited my Mom monthly, and we try to go see the grandchildren three or four times a year. We fly to California once a year to see our son. They come our way a couple of times a year. Steve and I have regular activities; he works. The scheduling can be a nightmare. But it’s only painful when the invisible hand of life grabs the baguette and squeezes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Cat Came Back

When we moved into this house, 18 years ago, we had two cats, Kirk and Spock. (This tells you something about me, doesn't it?) Kirk, a beautiful, tawny long-hair of sanguine temperment, died two years after we moved in, when he was ten years old. I liked having two cats, to keep each other company, so we got an adorable calico kitten. We named her Elaine after my duaghter's first D&D character, an amazon warrior. The plan was to name the next cat Mast after my son's first character, a dwarf. (Now you know a lot about the entire family.) The further plan was that, our male cats regularly dying at ten years old, we would be cat-free by the time our son graduated from college and we were ready for heavy travel. Ah, plans, such lovely, ephemeral things.

Elaine, like many female calicos it turns out, is tempermental. This is a civilized way of saying she has a terrible personality. When Spock, a bunny-soft Himalayan, died two years later, I went through adopting a series of second cats. It wasn't that Elaine fought with them; I could waited that out until she adjusted. Instead, she simply spent more and more time outdoors, coming home less and less frequently for meals. With each cat, she began to go feral. I couldn't take the guilt. I found homes for each in turn until I finally gave up. Elaine wanted to be an only cat.

Not only is Elaine tempermental with other cats (although she does all right with calm dogs), she is tempermental with people. She is not cuddly and scratches with little or no provocation. She's 16 now and a little more pleasant, but not much.

Five years ago -- AFTER ELAINE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD -- we had the opportunity to live in Moscow, Russia for two years. Talk about travel! We couldn't store our belongings and rent out the house because OF THE CAT. We couldn't farm out the cat because she is so mean. We had to make elaborate plans dealing with a succession of house-sitters because of the cat. Yes, we are nuts, but I couldn't put down a perfectly good cat. I love that stupid cat, and she loves me.

Last night I let Elaine out. Her habit is to take long naps on the screened in porch with, perhaps, a short constitutional around the yard via her pet door. It was a pleasant evening, so we left the door ajar for her. We closed and locked it when we went to bed.

This morning, no Elaine on the porch. Had she come in last night? I didn't remember. Steve didn't remember. But she wasn't around to scream, per usual, for her treat (a tablespoon of evaporated milk) with breakfast. She wasn't meowing for it when I came home at lunch. While I have been prepared for her to die any time during the past six years, right now, while we're trying to manage my mother's care, is not a good time for Elaine to take the final dive.

BUT, around 2:00 this afternoon, she emerged from somewhere, some hidden cat-sized cavern in the house, and meandered over for a head rub and cheek scratch. She's OKAY! Hooray!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Big Toe Woe

My mother doesn’t think I’m old enough to have arthritis. Now my mother is 98 3/4 but thinks of herself as about 75. She thinks of me as, well, if not six, then about 30. No matter what she thinks, I do have arthritis. I have it in my big toe. It doesn’t bother me often, but, when it does, let’s just say it’s difficult to avoid your big toe.

I have a friend who is an arthritis expert, and among the advice she has given me, she says to cut out carbonated beverages and to massage the arthritic area to break down the offending crystals.

I say, “No diet root beer? NO DIET ROOT BEER?” It’s not that I don’t already know carbonated beverages are bad for you and that diet drinks are worse, it’s just that I will really be a grumpier person without my diet root beer. Now, however, I am committed to, if not cutting it out altogether, then cutting way back. The only thing I might substitute for rootbeer is wine, and while a glass of wine may be good for me, substituting 2 or 3 glasses for the equal amount of diet root beer will not only leave me not grumpy, it will leave me comatose.

Then there’s the massage part. This is my big toe where it meets the ball of the foot. It’s difficult to get a grip on. And sometimes massaging it hurts. However, I also love, love, love my ballet classes (subject for a whole new blog entry), and so you may picture me in front of The Big Bang Theory, foot torked onto my lap, offending toe trying to escape it's fubdown. We’ll see how this goes.

I should tell you that concurrently with starting this blog, my mother (she of giant personality) has quit teaching tap dancing and entered Hospice care. (Well, my sibs and I always knew these two events would go hand in hand.) This is perhaps not the optimum time to begin a blog, but, then again, maybe it is.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hello and How Do You Do

I am older than I was. Yes, it's true, and, I've noticed, it keeps going that way. It's not enough, though, for me to simply be on the journey. I am compelled to narrate every step along the way. I've started this Blog to observe, reflect upon and laugh about the process of aging. Not always the most pleasant process, but, let's face it, the alternatives aren't that great either. I'll reflect on everything from retirement to grandchildren to retirement.

C'mon, it'll be fun. I know, I know; you don't think it will be fun, but it will be!