Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Improper Poll: In a Word

Recently at work I read parts of Life’s Greatest Lessons. In it, the author, Hal Urban, discussed the idea of constantly being reminded by the words “think” and “thank.”

That got me thinking: if you could have one word posted where you would see it every day as a reminder, what word would you choose? I think mine might be the word, “grateful.” The more I see what can go wrong in life, the more grateful I am for the things that are right.

In fact, a friend and I were talking about this the other day. Why is it that the people we know who have it easiest in life are those who seem to think they are perpetually suffering? They have a talent for getting people to rally around them and do things for them while they sit back and complain. These people are invariably masters of the double standard. They don’t seem to return the things they ask for. When asked why, they say it’s because they are more sensitive than others. So sensitive that they will beat people to a bloody pulp with their “I’m Sensitive” signs and then tell them they are mean for running away.

I’m convinced that the happiest people in life are not those who have it easiest. The people who have the things that look like they should be happy struggle so hard to look better than others that I can’t help but wonder if they feel worse.

My friend and I concluded that it’s really the grateful who are the most happy in life. If you could have any one word posted as a reminder where you would see it every day, what would that word be?

Here’s to a happy—and grateful—2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Signing and Christmas and Stuff

I know—I’ve been remiss in my blogging, much too bogged to blog. I must nonetheless report that the “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body” book signing was wonderful, and we even got to meet the elusive Val Thevictorian along with some male members of the Thevictorian family.

We collected lots of food for charity and sold an average of 4 books each. Many, many thanks to our friends and family who came out to support us, not to mention to my dear and talented writer friend Theresa Sanders, for doing the work of setting it all up. She begins the preparations at least six months beforehand and did even more work this year to add the extra bookstores.

The above is video footage accidentally shot by my friend Jeffry. None of us knew the camera was on “movie” setting. I thought Jeffry was just one of those people who make you wait forever before he snaps the picture.

Shown left to right are Nina Miller, Theresa Sanders, Dennis Tidwell (co-owner of All on the Same Page bookstore), me, and Patt Hollinger Pickett. 

Friends, family, chocolate, books, laughter…does it get any better?

Which brings me to Christmas, and:

Ten Wonderful Themes of Christmas, No Matter What Your Religion
  1. Give.
  2. Celebrate babies.
  3. Let there be chocolate.
  4. Spend time with family.
  5. Spend time with friends.
  6. Embrace traditions, because we never outgrow them.
  7. Make children feel special.
  8. Create magic. Believe in magic. Be magical.
  9. Decorate. Sing. Get in touch with your spiritual side. One of life’s many paradoxes is that the greatest of people are the ones who know they are not the greatest thing out there.
  10. I am now going to reveal what I find is the greatest miracle of Christianity. It’s the miracle that for over 2000 years, so many people worship, as the greatest king who ever lived, a man who was born in a barn. A poor “nobody” who taught that the most valuable riches are found within. Now that’s something.

May Christmas find you with exactly what you value most in life. May it be light in darkness and comfort in need. May it raise humanity to new heights and cause your soul to sing with angels.

"Better joy in a cottage than sorrow in a palace..."    ~ Proverbs

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Improper Poll: Death by Christmas Décor

When I was growing up, my mother used to decorate with nostalgia. I don’t mean decorations with a nostalgic feel, either. She had to have every ornament and light that had survived her own childhood—even if her entire childhood would have been outlawed by today’s EPA. I still consider it a miracle that her tree had once been lighted by seriously frayed 1940s bubble lights rather than actual flaming candles.

Then there was the wreath. In life it had been made of real holly, but that holly hadn't seen life since at least two wars earlier. In death it had atrophied and mummified into a vicious, gnarled business I still think of as The Wreath of Wrath. It was a cruel crown of thorns that lived in the bowels of the scary-crawl-space during the rest of the year and drew blood even through the most heavy duty pair of mittens. It was always below zero in Nebraska at that time of year, so the unfortunate Christmas decorator was besieged by all sorts of peril. And guess who was always voted Noel Ostentatious Ornamentation Operator (N.O.O.O.)?

So when my daughter and I decorated, I tried to get an honest look at what I was putting up. Some is trying to be pretty, and some is a little nostalgic, and some is blatantly tacky…or what the children liked to call “fun.” Not only does baby Jesus slumber in front of a strobe-lighted manger of pine garland, but a quilted Rudolf-trophy head presides over the room just because I enjoy its satirical feel.

So tell me: Do you have dangerous décor? Or do you do pretty, tacky or nostalgic? Or all of the above? Or nothing at all?

P.S.-Many, many thanks to those of you who came out to see us for the Fourth Annual "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body" event!!! I will be posting more about this later!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fourth Annual "Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body" Book Signing

Next Saturday is the fourth annual “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Canned Soup for the Body” book signing! This combination book signing and canned food drive has now expanded citywide in honor of Chicken Soup's upcoming twentieth anniversary.

Bring a canned good and receive 20% off your entire purchase. There are three stores this year:

From 10 am to 12 noon: All on the Same Page, 11052 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur, MO. Picture a cozy and unexpected little reading oasis featuring books from lots of local authors. Featured will be Nina Miller, Theresa Sanders, and me, T'Mara Goodsell.

From 1-3 pm: Main Street Books, 307 South Main Street, St. Charles, MO. Imagine a Thomas Kincaid painting complete with brick streets and horse-drawn carriages, and you will have a pretty good idea of Main Street. Signing books will be Cathi LaMarche, Linda O'Connell , Lynn Cahoon, and Pat Wahler.

From 4-6 PM: The Book House, 9719 Manchester Rd., St. Louis, MO. This charmer looks just like it belongs in a Dickens Christmas Village (both inside and out). Featured writers will be Beth M. Wood, Donna Duly Volkenannt, and Sioux Roslawski.

This is a great day to do your book shopping if you live in the Saint Louis area. If you don't, it's a great day for a road trip! Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thankful for The A-Muse-ments

When I had a birthday not too long ago, my WWWPs (Wild Women Wielding Pens) had my back. Literally—they had made my backside in effigy. Except this one is considerably more skinny and uplifted than the real thing. Even the legs might be a tad less lumpy. I have it propped up near my desk where it alternately entertains, motivates, and startles me (due to its resemblance to a small torso).

It even has the cutest little accordion-bundle of words coming out. But flattering though it is, the A**-Muse—A-Muse for short—is a lie.

This whole thing came from a few times when I went to the critique group with something I’d pulled out of a file of old stuff, and Sioux mistakenly thought I’d just written it that day. Sad to say I’m really a slow and plodding writer, who stashes everything having to do with my love of words into computer files. The Computer Guy tactfully refers to it as my “uh…files, and…stuff” because it’s the virtual equivalent of a Hoarders episode.

What I really do is dump large, steaming piles of stinky stuff into that compost heap of files and then give it a stir from time to time with the fervent hope that, given long enough, something will someday actually grow from it.

So one of things I am really thankful for this year is the WWWPs, who are the ones who ironically have wit and wisdom and heart and soul and humor and beauty spewing out of them in abundance. Beth sits down and daintily deposits nearly flawless final drafts on her lunch hour. Linda drops heaping loads of warm, clever published work everywhere. Lynn squirts out almost finished NaNo novels that have us all spellbound (then acts like it’s no big deal). And Sioux releases the written equivalent of a soul-purging frolic on a page…and even shares pictures of (oh la la!) hunky Frenchmen aussi.

Ladies, your tales are the inspirational ones.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Thankfulness does wonders for the soul. ~Hal Urban

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Improper Poll: Travels with Guillaume

In all fairness, I was still a child when it first came out. I thought “getting it on” was like getting on with it—running along, moving on. So when that T. Rex song came out, I thought the refrain was, “Get it on, vagabond Guillaume.”

I had no idea who this Guillaume was, but I always wanted to picture hippies wandering around France. Even then I knew Guillaume was a boy’s name, but everyone knew those hippies were weird and gave their children monikers such as “Rainbow Fescue” and “Sunshine Albatross Beef Jerky.”

Lately there’s been a television commercial that uses a few lines from that song, which causes it to get stuck in my head, forcing me to dance around a bit and—horrors—sing. This is bad enough when I actually know the words, but this time I got to wondering if it really was Guillaume getting on with things.

So although my computer is still ailing, I managed to squeeze in some valuable research to find out what the heck those words really are. It was like that time I realized Madonna was singing, “Last night I dreamt of San Pedro,” and not “Last night I dreamt of some bagels.” I’m glad no one ever plays 80s music, because I bet that one would still make me hungry.

So here we are: the real lyrics.

I might just keep singing about Guillaume the vagabond. And P.S.: Have you ever been a wee bit confused about song lyrics?

Well you're dirty and sweet, clad in black don't look back and I love you
You're dirty and sweet, oh yeah
Well you're slim and you're weak, you've got the teeth of the hydra upon you
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on

Well you're built like a car, you've got a hub cap diamond star halo
You're built like a car, oh yeah
Well you're an untamed youth, that's the truth with your cloak full of eagles
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on

Well you're windy and wild, you've got the blues in your shoes and your stockings
You're windy and wild, oh yeah
Well you're built like a car, you've got a hub cap diamond star halo
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on

Well you're dirty and sweet, clad in black, don't look back and I love you
You're dirty and sweet, oh yeah
Well you dance when you walk, so let's dance, take a chance, understand me
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on

Get it on, bang a gong, get it on get it on....

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Improper Poll: 10 New NaNoWriMo Terms

I’ve never participated before in National Novel Writers’ Month, or NaNoWriMo. This year I had better intentions—I really did—but it’s already clear I’m not going to make it. This is a shame, because the WWWPs had a logo and everything (see above).

Still, NaNo is such a wonderful exercise for writers, I’d like to try to do something. So while sitting around with writer’s block, I came up with:

10 New NaNoWriMo Terms and Their Definitions: 

1. Not getting your novel started, after all: Na NoGo 
2. Participating in NaNo in a very small way: Nano NaNo 
3. NaNo rule-breaking: NaNo No-no 
4. A NaNo novel about Mork from Ork: Nanoo Nanoo NaNo 
5. Having your word count come up short at the end of the month: NaNoWriTooSlo 
6. Going over your word count at the end of the month: NaNoWriWayMo 
7. Grown woman who sits around writing silly NaNo words instead of writing novels: NaNoDohdoh
8. Snack for late-night novel writing: NaNoHoHo 
9. Failure to make that daily word limit no matter what you do: NaNoWriNoMo 
10. A NaNo book designed to be a guide for prostitutes: NaNoWriMoFoHos 

How about you? Are you a NaNo…or a NaYes? And if you’ve done it in the past, do you have any tips for the rest of us?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Haunted Memories

I used to live on the edge of a forest just outside of Savannah, Georgia. On Halloween, especially, I miss the eerie beauty of the place, where acorns falling from monster Live Oaks sounded like Sasquatch crashing through the woods.

I still cling to the Spanish moss, tillandsia usenioides. It drapes my sunroom—my own way of remembering the way it dripped from those sprawling southern trees like the cobwebs of an ancient and ghostly past.

We had what Southerners called “Black Widdahs,” beautiful spiders, shiny black and leggy and delicate. I watched one once. She folded herself over that lipstick-red-hourglass almost protectively.

But my favorite thrill was watching the migrating blackbirds descend every fall. There were so many thousands that they darkened the trees just like a scene from The Birds. The sound was deafening and the air itself felt electrified. It was eerie and exciting and awe inspiring all at once, like National Geographic-gone-Goth. But the real magic came when they suddenly rose as one to leave. Every single one suddenly fell silent, as if someone had flipped off the volume switch, and they lifted in a hushed, magnificent cloud so thick and black that it momentarily blocked out the sun.

Happy Halloween wherever you are!

Conversation between two trick-or-treaters (as I opened the door while they were walking away): 
Trick-or-Treater 1: Told you that’s not what ‘No Soliciting’ means.
Trick-or-Treater 2: Then what does it mean?
Trick-or-Treater 1: It means hanging around and stuff.
Me: It means I don’t want people trying to get me to buy stuff.
Trick-or-Treater 2: Oh, we don’t want you to buy stuff! We want to take stuff. Your candy.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Improper Poll: Adventures in Reading

I grew up in an old, 2 ½ story colonial that was known among the neighborhood children for “The Attic Man,” the ghost who stomped and slammed around our third floor. My copy of Amityville Horror came with floor plans of the house in which the tale took place. Except for the fact that we had a second-story sunroom addition, it was the mirror image of my house.

But my favorite adventure with scary books was when I read ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.

I was in high school, and I had the good luck to be reading the book during a violent thunderstorm. My house was groaning under the assault of the driving wind and rain just as the vampires in the book were sneaking into the main character’s house. I seem to remember the vampires couldn’t go upstairs because the lights were on. So they cut the power.

At the exact moment I finished reading about the lights going off, there was a loud crash of thunder outside my window and the lights went out, leaving it so black you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

It was the most perfect timing ever. I’ve read a lot of scary books, but that one will forever stand out to me because of that freak incident. What’s your favorite scary book?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Improper Poll: Let Us Pause for A Word from Our Past

It seems there’s been an influx of lime green hatchbacks in my area lately. What this means, of course, is many opportunities for me to quote from one of my all-time favorite commercials advertising Car.com: “Oh, sweet mercy! A lime green hatchback!!! It’s a thing of beauty!”

Unfortunately the YouTube seems to be unavailable, but the following one is. This was my first favorite commercial. The line, “Madam, how do you do?” definitely helped spur my love of quotes:

What is/was your favorite commercial?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ten Good Things About Having All of Your Computer Equipment Fried in a Lightning Storm!

1. No way to access the internet means more time to read books!
2. Many valuable opportunities to learn lots of new things about computer equipment. Even if that sort of thing makes you want to hurl.
3. Bonding time holed up at children’s colleges stealing internet and borrowing equipment.
4. Experience with other cultures while spending hours and hours (and hours) on the phone with outsourced techs in Pakistan.
5. Many opportunities to remember about writing in longhand.
6. Learn valuable lesson that surge protectors apparently do not work.
7. After much thought about how to pay bills, remember that there used to be such a thing as paying bills by mail, using stamps. Bonus: remember to buy stamps!
8. Unaccustomed trips to basement reveal need to spray for spiders.
9. Frequent trips to basement reveal whereabouts of diminishing pen collection.
10. Frequent frustrations necessitate need for “mental health outings,” such as hanging out with friends in a beer garden at Oktoberfest and relearning to polka.

I'm borrowing a tiny laptop for emergencies but am hoping to be back next week!

 …life's like an hourglass, glued to the table /No one can find the rewind button, girl. So cradle your head in your hands/ And breathe... just breathe, Oh breathe, just breathe… ~Anna Nalick, “Breathe (2 A.M.)”

Monday, September 24, 2012

Improper Poll: Another Season of Hoarding

 I was recently flipping through channels when my attention was captured by an episode of “Hoarding.” A mental health professional was holding up a pen and looking gravely at his patient. “How many pens do you have to have before it’s enough?” he was asking her.

For a minute I was pretty sure he was talking to me, too.

I’ve already mentioned that I cleaned out my purse and counted 15. That is how many I must have, I’ve found, before I can consistently find one.

In my house, too, I have pens everywhere because so many of them don’t write. And I hate to throw out brand new pens that don’t write well, so I let them sit around for months before I will throw them out—I guess in case they change their minds. The brand that claims it writes “first time, every time” doesn’t seem to write at any time for me.

Papermate, with its little double heart logo, is the brand I call The Precious, but my beloved blue is usually sold out. I recently found out why. I subbed for several Language Arts teachers in a row, and they all had their own drawer full of The Precious.

The psychologist on TV explained that his method of treating hoarders was to take the pen and see how long they could live without it. Whew! I must not be nuts, because I’d let him take it. I’d just go out and buy a whole bunch more. How many pens must I have before I have enough? So many that when I reach for a blue pen, I can find one. And it actually writes.

Do you find yourself stockpiling anything?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Improper Poll: Headlines of Horror

Ten MSN News Headlines that Really, Really Annoy Me: 

1. Anything at all about that little Twilight girl who supposedly cheated on her boyfriend with the married guy who looked way too old for her, how sad the boyfriend is, or what she is wearing that may or may not belong to him or speculation on whether or not they will get back together

2. How—OMG!—other celebrities are super mad at her!

3. Anything whatsoever with the phrase, “baby bump” in it

4. Headlines about celebrity girls and their “wardrobe malfunctions”

5. Headlines that ask people to speculate on who should be a celebrity’s new boyfriend or girlfriend

6. Headlines about girls who apparently have no occupation on earth other than sitting around sporting silicone and obnoxiousness and inspiring inane headlines

7. Three words: Honey Boo Boo.

8. One word: Suri. Or any update having to do with a child or play-by-plays on her custody visitations, bike rides, schools, or what she ate for lunch

9. All news about the exposed naughty bits of British royals. Okay, I have to admit, I’m always initially curious about that one because when I read about royalty exposing themselves, I want to picture them resurrecting the streak or maybe begging for beads at Mardi Gras. But when it turns out that voyeuristic members of the media are capturing sneak shots of them in private, it makes me so disgusted with those publications that I would boycott them if I ever read them in the first place. As an American, I may not be loyal to the British monarchy, but as a human being, I am loyal to basic human rights, such as the right to be naked in private without worry of creepy stalkers and peeping Toms. Ewww.

10. Anything else that would cause Walter Cronkite to roll over in his grave

Are there any headlines that disgust you?

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Hard to believe it’s been an entire year since our beloved dog, Buddy, died. The new Chicken Soup for the Soul dog book, called I Can’t Believe My Dog Did That, is coincidentally due out next Tuesday.

A few months ago, I had a dream. I don’t remember my dreams much anymore, so I’ve taken to writing them down. This was a particularly vivid one, so I wrote it right away. Here is what I wrote:

I dreamed I saw Buddy. We were in a pretty, shady park that was lined with hydrangeas, and Buddy was just sitting in front of me, staring at me. Which is what he used to do when he was alive, come to think of it. I knew he was dead, but it was possible for him to come back for a visit. In fact, he somehow let me know that he was back due to a special occasion. I have no idea what the special occasion was—it wasn’t his birthday, which was back in March or April, but I didn't want to ask him because he seemed to think I should know.

Later that day, I looked up the meaning of hydrangeas: friendship, understanding, devotion, gratitude.

Still later that day, I received the message that my story about Buddy, “Happy Holi-dog,” was accepted for publication in the aforementioned book.

Friendship, understanding, devotion, gratitude. I will always feel those things for Buddy. And for Chicken Soup for the Soul, come to think of it.

 Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. ~Edna Buchanan

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Improper Poll: NOW I Get It

When I was a little kid, I noticed—since I’m so sharp and all—that all calendars had the same name across the top: SMTWTFS. I thought that SMTWTF’S was a company that had a monopoly on calendars. Then one day in school I was daydreaming—which is pretty much how I spent grade school—and noticed that the teacher had made her own calendar. Weirdly enough, it still claimed to be owned by SMTWTF’S! That was when I finally went, “Ohhhhhh.”

Did you have something you believed when you were a little kid?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It Hinges on Decency

It started with a hinge that broke on a cabinet door. I contacted Home Depot, who gave me the number of the company that made them (called R.S.I.),  and ordered new hinges. They came almost immediately in a little envelope, free of charge. I took them out…and they were the wrong ones. That’s when I realized with horror that my cabinets had come from a different store. Different cabinet company entirely.

How embarrassing.

 I hate dishonesty. If the lack of empathy is the devil—and I believe it is—then dishonesty is the car (s)he rode in on. I’ve known some of the most honest people in the world as well as some of the most dishonest. I’ve always admired the former tremendously. The latter inspire nothing but pity and contempt.

So I mailed the hinges back with postage. I included a note explaining what had happened and apologized. If it had been their mistake, I would have expected them to make it right. But this was mine, so I tried.

A few days later, along came my check for postage. It included a little note thanking me and explaining that they try to help when they can. The note even had a smiley face on it. That note really made me feel good. I smiled all day…about that smiley face.

Two days later, along came a package in the mail, express delivery, from R.S.I. It was a bigger envelope…filled with hinges. No kidding—there was every possible kind of hinge that my door could need. And it did, in fact, contain the very hinges that worked for my cabinet door. Even though I didn’t purchase the doors through their company.

I’m still smiling. I may not have purchased my cabinets from RSI, but I sure would next time. Who wouldn’t want to buy from such a pleasant and helpful place? I would show you the note, which made me feel so good that I saved it, but it fell off my bulletin board and landed behind the filing cabinet. Which is okay. I imagine someday I’ll move that filing cabinet and find it. And then I’ll smile all over again.

From the rocking horse to the rocking chair, friendship keeps teaching us about being human. ~Letty Cottin Pogrebin (whose name alone should be a quote.)

Monday, September 3, 2012

Improper Poll: Tiny Poof of Magic

I have a theory that there are wine people and coffee people. I wish I were a wine person. Wine people are cool. They are calm. I imagine when not sipping wine, they go to gyms. I picture them celebrating relaxation by inviting small groups of people to eat gourmet health food and discuss…what? I have no idea, but I bet it’s cool. I bet it makes them all laugh softly and toast one another.

Like it or not, I am a coffee person. I walk too fast, eat at my desk, and have been known to laugh until I have to run to the bathroom because all that caffeine is a diuretic. Gourmet health food, to me, is buying the GOOD TV dinners.

Usually I drink it black, but this summer I developed yet another vice when I discovered that the little parking lot shack a few miles away makes a mean iced coffee. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself driving miles out of my way. Then I started making it at home.

The easy version doesn’t taste as good as shack-bought, but I secretly get a little thrill pouring the fat-free half and half into the glass. It’s a moving work of art that’s gone in the blink of an eye. It’s so quick, I couldn’t even get a decent picture. That tiny, magical poof was almost done by the time I picked up my camera.

Gone in an instant.  Goodbye, summer. Farewell, iced coffee.

Do you have a weird little thing that gives you thrills every time?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Improper Poll: Feed a Cold

I haven’t blogged lately because I recently took one of those colds that makes you feel like someone stuffed steel wool into all of the orifices in your head, and then cemented it in there with super glue and maybe some of that expandable foam insulation. And then they unscrewed the head and baked it at 350° for twenty minutes in a toaster oven, eyeballs up.

The good news is that I can now eat the off-brand chips I bought on impulse from a Walmart display that have been sitting in my pantry all summer possibly emitting radiation. Although the brand sounds like an island in the South Pacific, they are “Fuego” flavored and make my eyes water just by opening the bag. They are fire engine red and rolled up like little Cuban cigars, and they might be making my throat bleed, but who cares? I can sort of taste them and they are delicious.

What is the nastiest snack food you’ve ever eaten?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Don’t Eat Rubber Grapes and Other Vital Warnings

When I was about ten years old, my mother bought some rubber grapes and put them in a bowl on the dining room table as a decoration. Then she delivered the very dire warning: Don’t eat the grapes! They are rubber. Don’t eat them! They may look real, but they are not. Not real! They will poison you or lodge in your throat and choke you to death!

I was ten—why on earth did she seem to think I’d want to eat rubber grapes? To me, the implication was that I went around indiscriminately vacuuming up objects into my mouth, like a giant goldfish, in case they might remotely resemble food. Worse than a goldfish, even, to inhale with such force that they would lodge in my windpipe.

Besides, this was in our formal dining room, which was not a place I associated with eating, anyway. It was for homework and jigsaw puzzles and class projects. But the main thing was, the grapes were rubber. They looked rubber. And even if they had looked that real, wouldn’t I have figured it out when I tried to pick one? And even if a rubber grape made it to my mouth, would I swallow it for lack of knowing what else to do with it?

So I was pretty insulted by that warning.

But then came the time I was grown and trying to germinate poisonous Morning Glory seeds in a little container in my kitchen. Being apparently more passive aggressive than my mother, I made a little Post It note that said, “Don’t eat! Poisonous seeds!” And I drew a little skull and crossbones for good measure. My daughter was then about twelve. She looked into the little cup at the brownish water with a few little black things floating in it, looked up at me, and said merely, “yum.”

She was right—they didn’t appear very appetizing. But still, I was a mother and couldn’t take any chances.

Then the other day I discovered a jar in the kitchen that looked like a science experiment. Both of my children are into science, so I wasn’t surprised. It was a jar of water with colorful chunks in it. Turned out she’d found some old “Magic Rocks” in the basement that she’d missed as a child, and she and her friends had mixed them up. Under the jar was a note: DO NOT DRINK GROWING ROCKS!

I am so proud.

Also, our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has asked me to remind you that the third-floor corridor on the right-hand side is out of bounds to everyone who does not wish to die a most painful death. ~Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter and the Socerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Improper poll: Those First Apartments

It’s that time of year when college students everywhere head back to dorms…and those really bad apartments. My very first apartment was one I shared with two other girls. The living room had a beanbag chair and little else. The carpet looked like the fur from a stuffed animal that’s been hugged way too much and washed way too little.

I moved in after the rules had been established, and the others had decided to split the chores. Problem was, there was that inevitable roommate who never did hers. You could always tell when it was her turn because garbage and dishes would become ridiculously tall sculptures. It was a game to see how high we could get them before they either fell over or she noticed that it was her turn. The garbage always fell over.

She also cooked huge meals for herself when it wasn’t her turn to do the dishes. It was torture for me to have to wash them, because we didn’t share food. My grocery store had specials on five yogurts for a dollar and five cans of soup for a dollar, so that was what I lived on during the work week. On weekends I’d eat at my future mother-in-law’s and listen to her exclaim to everyone within earshot what a mystery it was that I could be so skinny and eat like such an enormous pig. I just smiled and ate.

What was your first apartment like?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rain, Rain Don’t Go Away. Again.

It’s raining right now. Ordinarily I wouldn’t consider that an earth-shattering enough statement to post on my blog, but at the moment it really is.

It rained only once in my area through June and July, but for some reason it skipped my yard. A few blocks away it poured for a short time, but all my house got was what felt like a little warm spittle. It was like the joke about having the storm cloud following over your head, but the opposite, when—irony of ironies—that storm cloud would make you so very happy.

The lawn hasn’t been mown all summer. My grass is as brown as an African savanna. When I just thought it was dormant, I was perfectly okay with that.  Now I think it's just truly dead.  More irony:  my grass may have gone to greener pastures. The lush plantain lilies, usually cool-elegant as a southern belle this time of year, have curled into fried pork rinds.

For a while I turned my blog blue. The color of Arctic ice. Of shadows on snow. Of cold, predawn light. Of the breeze I imagine runs a hand over lavender fields in Provence. But then it got even hotter and drier, and blue started to look hot again. It was the color of that ceaseless sky that sizzles clouds off like a blue flame. It’s the distant lightning, blue and electric and ominous, that tormented us all summer with distant growls and threatened to burn us all to cinder, but rolled on.

This free water that falls from the sky from shivery-silver clouds is now an exotic thing. Guess that’s one of the true gifts of aging. I've learned to take nothing for granted, ever.

Simplify, simplify…We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without. ~Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Improper Poll: Ten Alternate Signs for Discouraging Salespeople

1. I ♥ My Rottweiler…and My Rottweiler ♥s Attacking Door-to-Door Salespeople.
2. Welcome to the center for the communicable diseases halfway house. If latex glove and mask receptacles are missing, please ring doorbell and step back ten paces. We suggest you wash your hands real well as soon as you can, too.
3. Welcome salespeople! Please ring doorbell so I can tell you all about my religion! Two hour time frames are required, so please bring your own beverage and a light snack. Doors lock from the outside.
4. Smile—you’re on hidden camera. Okay, now dance a little. Swing your hips more. That’s nice. And can you unbutton your shirt just a few buttons? Good….
5. Dear salespeople, please come right in and leave your literature and tools in the pile with all the other ones. Come and find ♪ me in the root ♫ cellar!
6. Dear salespeople, please deposit pants in the receptacle on your left, enter, turn to your right, and state your name clearly into the microphone.
7. This home is guarded by head lice.  Slide the medication under the door and back away.
8. Please be advised that the ringer of this doorbell or pounder on this door, hereafter referred to as “Guest,” hereby agrees to pay Door Access Fee of $100 (one hundred and no/100 dollars) before obtaining ingress to this residence. (a.) The following actions shall be collectively considered as attempts to gain entrance, including and without limitation: ringing doorbell or touching doorbell in such a way as to create audible noise; knocking; pounding; scratching; thumping; tapping, and/or kicking with any body part and/or object or creating any sound with the express purpose of obtaining attention of doorbell owner, hereafter referred to as “Queen Spiffy.” Deposit cash (correct change only) under door before ringing. Personal checks or debit cards not accepted, but expensive gifts will be considered. Standing on doorstep reading this sign will be considered the legal equivalent of binding agreement. If Guest is unable or unwilling to remit heretofore stated door fees, wages will automatically be garnisheed and fines of not less than $5000 (five thousand dollars) will be imposed. Queen Spiffy might not answer as per Doorbell Act (D.A.) 78-39550.   
9. This home is Clowns Only. Please don either the “Nerdoux” or “Mr. Puffypants” costumes (located in shrubbery bin) before ringing bell. Note that all parts are required, including noses, hats, wigs, and blinking suspenders. You must have Queen Spiffy’s prior written approval should you wish to bring your own costume.
10. Our house is protected by the Good Lord and a gun. Also a bent nine iron, a virulent case of scabies, some roman candles, some pretty smelly garbage, a potato shooter, a rather amorous, ankle-humping Chihuahua with a bad case of fleas, some especially icky spit wads, a guy wearing camouflage and goggles nicknamed “Bean Dip,” an awesome homemade slingshot made with those really big rubber bands like the kind that come on broccoli, and some expired eggs that’s mighty good for throwin’.

Do you have any suggestions for new signage that might discourage door-to-door salespeople?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Signs Vs. Zombies

Here is a confession: Today I slammed a door in a man’s face. I hate that I’ve become one of those people, but I just don’t know what more I can do.

I’ve already posted about how much I hate people who ignore my “No Soliciting” sign. This year we had a huge hail storm that damaged enough roofs in my area that the salespeople and/or insurance scammers are out in droves. I don’t know if it’s because I’m on a main corner or what, but they come to my door several times a day.

This particular one came early in the morning when my daughter was still asleep. I can see out the front window from my office, so I watched him position himself directly in front of my “No Soliciting” sign and ring my doorbell.

I didn’t go to the door. I figured I’d just let the sign do the talking. But when I didn’t materialize at the door right away, he began pounding so loudly it scared me. What if he wasn’t a salesperson! What if he was from the gas company, and he was there to warn us that we had to evacuate our house in seconds because a gas line was leaking and my house was getting ready to blow?! He was pounding with that much urgency.

So I answered. Know what he had the gall to say? The words out of his mouth were, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see your sign, but let me just tell you….”

Didn’t see it? Seriously? I am not a door-decorating kind of gal.  It's literally right there in black and white.  In fact, here is an actual photograph of my front door: 

 So far I’ve had them claim they were doing a customer service update. Or they were there to introduce themselves. Or they want to ask me something. Or just tell me a little about their company. I’ve had them scare the heck out of me—several times—by wandering around to my back yard (presumably to avoid the sign) in order to pound on a side door. They are getting to be like those rabid, pasty creatures in I Am Legend. Or the zombies in “Plants Vs. Zombies.” Except I only wish my plants would attack them before they reach my door.

So when the guy claimed not to have seen the sign on my door, I slammed. And then I added a sign to the side door and another sign to the sign:
 Later I heard a timid tapping coming from somewhere. I had no idea where until I went out and discovered that the substitute mailman had left packages at my garage door. I don’t even know how he got in there, but it was the only door that didn’t have a hostile sign.

Good people don't rip other people's arms off. -Spongebob Squarepants

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Improper Poll: Water to Water

I recently mentioned that my daughter’s fish died. This was an especially sad thing, because this female beta named Rory (named after a Gilmore Girl, I believe) was my daughter’s first pet for which she was solely responsible. It was her “college fish.” Even sadder, Rory had developed a tumor that she’d been struggling with for quite a while. To quote from her eulogy, Rory really was a fighting fish.

When the children were little, we had hamsters. They are cute, easy to care for, and I honestly think they are perfectly happy living their whole lives in a little plastic cage as long as they’re well cared for. But they live about a nanosecond, so it felt like we were always doing hamster funerals. I got pretty good at those.  I even made little hamster headstones out of a mini muffin tin and plaster of Paris.

I had my last dog cremated and we buried the ashes under a marble headstone.  Then we moved, so it seemed almost pointless. When Buddy passed away, I did have him cremated, but I didn't retrieve the remains this time. I was going to bury one of his toys, but in the end, I wanted to keep it.

I told my daughter I’d respect her choice of funerals. When she was a little girl, she got upset with me for giving one of our fish the “water burial." But a land burial for a water creature just didn’t feel right. This time she agreed, and it was a nice service—though our funeral party of three was a little crowded in the bathroom we chose.

Do you have a special way of remembering your late pets?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012



It wasn’t the “Mom” part—it was the preceding “uh.” It’s something he says when he has bad news. And in this case, there was a tone to his voice that was worrisome indeed. Then he added, “Don’t freak out or anything, ‘kay?”

This ranks right up there under THINGS YOU DON’T WANT YOUR CHILD TO SAY TO YOU. Even if said child is old enough to attend college and vote and fight in armies and legally drink. In fact, maybe especially if he’s that old.

I looked up from my computer and stared at him. In retrospect, I bet I know what my face looked like, because my dad used to give me that same blank stare whenever I dropped a bombshell on him. He’d look up from his reading, his face completely impassive, and then his eyes would go: Blink. And then: Blink.

I now know that those two blinks represent a sort of slip into Matrix mode, where time slows so much that hundreds of possible kinds of bad news flit through the brain like bullets that can be plucked out of the air, Neo-style.

Then he said, “It’s my laundry.”

At first I was relieved. Laundry! And then those bullets again: My son’s laundry…! My son’s laundry. Oh. And…oh. It could be pretty bad, after all.

And it was. At least, in a sort of curious, almost scientific way. Neither of which should ever be said about laundry.

Turned out he’d bought a new pair of shorts and worn them jogging. I know you’re supposed to wash new clothes before wearing them, and I bet he knows this too. But. He does, in fact, do his own laundry, so I am not about to rock that boat by offering helpful laundering suggestions. So he had dumped the shorts along with a shirt on the floor of his old room as if the room is a big empty laundry basket.

His “new” room is the entire basement, which he’s staked claim upon little by little, squatter-style, until he’s converted it into his own apartment that he takes over when he’s home from college along with the garage and the pantry. He tries to take over the kitchen too by marking it with his flip flops the way astronauts leave their footprints on the moon—and to be left there about as long—but my daughter and I throw them down the basement steps lest we get home one day and find the whole house littered with video games and cereal bowls with blue milk in the bottom and Dorito bags and a stray sock or two.

So sitting on top of the shorts (along with a shirt) in the middle of his upstairs room was—urk—a pile of ant eggs, along with some adults running around and apparently trying to bury them down in the pockets and folds of my son’s laundry.

I hesitated telling you this because I don’t want you to think I have bugs. I really don’t get ants in this house much. Used to see a few every spring when it rained, but since the exterminator who was clearly the Walter Mitty of exterminators—the one with a personal vendetta against bugs who I think fantasized that he was more terminator than exterminator—there’s been nothing but the occasional basement spider. Even the crickets we used to get every fall have been noticeably scarce. But there was no ant trail whatsoever and no sign of ants anywhere but in that one spot perched on top of the shorts.

How did that happen? We don’t know. We’ve been Googling ants to see if it’s possible that a stray queen just flew into his shorts while he was jogging, or if she could have set up housekeeping before he bought the shorts, or what. And we still don’t know. The good thing was that they were very easy to scoop up and flush, sitting in a neat little pile like that.

Come to think of it, was it a ploy to get me to do his laundry? Because I did wash the heck out of those shorts. I don’t think so, honestly. He knows my payoff is that I will forever get to tease him about the time he had ants in the pants.

My daughter: Elizabeth will be here soon for the “service.” 
Me: Everyone should have a best friend who is willing to drop everything and come over to help you have a funeral over your toilet. Am I dressed appropriately for a fish memorial? 
Daughter (assessing my shorts): I think she would have wanted us to be comfortable.
 ~Conversation this morning after my daughter’s beta died

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Improper Poll: Gone with the Whim

Ahner's Greenhouse in its Former Glory
It’s been a summer of disappointments. The heat and lack of rain meant it was hard to go to festivals and outdoor concerts. Most of the Fourth of July fireworks were cancelled.

Then I found out two of my favorite summer products have been discontinued. The horror! Harry and David’s Strawberry Green tea is absolutely delightful iced. Why would they get rid of it? Especially when no one else I know of has a strawberry green tea?

And Clean Sweet Layer was my absolute favorite of all the Clean fragrances by D’lish and one of my favorite summer perfumes. Sure, I can still get it online, but someday those supplies too will dwindle. Besides, fragrances don’t have the shelf lives that companies pretend they do. Stale is stale.

But one of the worst is that I keep finding out more beloved places around town have closed. The one that absolutely broke my heart was Ahner’s greenhouse and gift shop. I had no idea it had closed until I drove by it. What a shock! It was not only closed, but going through some kind of deconstruction process that had it all hollowed out like a monstrous carcass on the side of the road. Brought tears to my eyes.

Have you lost a beloved product or store recently?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hooray for Awards for Weirdness!

Many, many thanks to Linda O’Connell—very talented and oft-published writer, fellow WWWP, truly gracious and fun human being, editor of Not Your Mother’s Book…on Family, and blogger at Write from the Heart—for the honor of a blog award! It’s my understanding that I am supposed to tell you three weird things I do, so here they are:

1. I have an interest in perfumes and have been known to sniff out strangers—literally—and ask what fragrance they’re wearing. Most people are wonderful about it and often tell interesting little stories about how they discovered the scent themselves. One lovely older woman from the frozen food section of the grocery store couldn’t remember the name, so she took my name and number and later called to tell me. (“Hello? Uh…this is…uh…Gloria? From the grocery store?”). Turned out to be Clinique’s “Aromatics Elixir,” which is funny because, even though I love the “Happys,” I’ve long thought of Aromatics as smelling weird and chemically on me. On Gloria it smelled like a spa in the south of France after a rain.

2. I took tap, ballet and jazz for years, not because I was a good dancer (like my sister who used to dance until her feet bled), but because I love it. Still dance around the house every chance I get.

3. Since August of 2010, I’ve been taking a virtual trip around the United States via the internet, computer wallpaper and Google Earth. I am currently in my last continental state and only have Hawaii and Alaska left. I’ve learned some interesting things, such as the fact that Minnesota has a Spam Museum. I am extremely sad to report that the equally interesting-sounding Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, also located in Minnesota, has closed. At least according to my tour guide, Google. But please don’t change your Minnesota plans just because Wally World is closed! It looks like the Spam Museum is still going strong. Seriously, though, I’ve learned that every state in this amazing nation has its own beauty and history and interest. Will probably go to Canada next. Life is an adventure.

Please consider yourself chosen if you’d like to participate and pass this along!

If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right. ~Bob Basso

Monday, July 16, 2012

Improper Poll: Summer on a Shelf

Val the Victorian recently mentioned the books we read every summer. This, and Ray Bradbury’s recent death, reminded me I haven’t recently read the book that is to me the consummate book of summer, Dandelion Wine. In fact, it’s quite possibly my all-time favorite book. What’s odd is that I can never remember exactly what it’s about—just the feeling it gives me, the taste of it. Each time, I get something new. To me that book is as magical as summer itself.

I had no idea there was a film in the making until I looked for pictures. A movie could be wonderful, but the true beauty of this book is in the poetic writing.

The dandelion wine is truly a taste of bottled summer, “…the balm of sun and idle August afternoons, the faintly heard sounds of ice wagons passing on brick avenues, the rush of silver skyrockets and the fountaining of lawn mowers moving through ant countries, all these, all these in a glass.”

The yearly dandelion wine is “summer caught and stoppered” to be put on shelves “…row upon row, with the soft gleam of flowers opened at morning, with the light of this June sun glowing through a faint skin of dust” so that in the winter, “…snow melted to grass, the trees were reinhabitated with bird, leaf, and blossoms like a continent of butterflies breathing on the wind.”

Alas, the book was over far too quickly.  I might just take it out again in winter. To be read in little sips. What’s your favorite summer read?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ten Things I’ve Learned from My Critique Group

1. Dickeys belong on more than one body part.
2. Silverware can be beautifully inspiring…or rather bawdy.
3. Critique group members can be beautifully inspiring…or rather bawdy.
4. Washing your hair at work may be hazardous to your health.
5. What happens in critique group…gets written about. So beware!
6. Put five women in a room together, and there will be chocolate. And laughter.
7. WWWPs give the best gifts.  And sometimes they help each other shop.
8. Critique group members are incredibly talented. You never know when one will pull out the life-sized statue of David she papier-mâchéd out of recycled coffee filters while penning her novel with a child or grandchild on her knee (after work, of course). Or she’ll casually mention the replica of the world map that she needlepointed for a charity event just before entering the triathlon. Or she’ll hand you little personalized gifts she whipped up in between speeches and conferences and side-jobs and writing and submitting and receiving awards for said writing….
9. That’s okay, because there is almost nothing better in this world than a group of wise, wicked, witty, warm women. In spite of their many talents, critique group members are incredibly kind, generous and inspiring. Not to mention a whole lot of fun.
10. We adore the art of words, all of us. But I often think these women can have no idea just how precious their words are to me. The ones they’ve written astound and amaze and delight and teach me. The compliments are like an arm extended on a battlefield to rescue me from the endless war with the infamous, art-killing self-doubt. And their criticisms, offered with such honest and wise and tender hands, is in a very real sense the other arm that extends on that same battlefield and lets me know if I grasp hold, they will not release me. They are heroes who help the precious words survive another day. A sincere thank you to the WWWPs—the Wild Women Wielding Pens: Lynn Obermoeller, Linda O’Connell, Sioux Roslawski, and Beth Wood.

Writers do not let friends write crap.~Sioux Roslawski 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Improper Poll: Those Summer Superheroes

 I have loved Spiderman ever since college, when I found a discounted air mattress for under a dollar emblazoned with the word, “Spidey” in a drugstore sale bin. It was sickly yellow and grew on me the way certain hideously ugly things do, and it never seemed to give out—as certain hideously ugly things don’t. I took it to the beach with me for years, and it was always a conversation piece. I could swim for ages and know that it would be there when I returned.

I used to read the newspaper comic and have always loved the way it was drawn. Spiderman is so visual. The thing that makes him a figure drawer’s dream is the same thing that gives any movie about him an automatic appeal: he puts the “A” in “action hero.” Because of course Spidey is acrobat, gymnast...and yogi. Who can resist that contemplative, upside down Buddha-on-a-string look?

I love that he started out as human, but becomes spider-like against his will—and then evolves into defending others as a response to his own tragedy and loss. And he sacrifices his own happiness in order to protect his true love, at least for a whle. Yet she chooses him in spite of the risks. Now that’s love.

Most of all, I am drawn to the recurring theme that if we have the power to do good in the world, we also have the responsibility to do good. What we choose in life, whether good or bad, creates a ripple effect.

So—in spite of the horrifying fact that I have always seemed to attract spiders, Spiderman is my favorite superhero. Who’s yours?

Friday, July 6, 2012

It was a Sign

I owe it all to Sioux. Or should I say, “blame?” Well, Sioux and Mrs. Buffa. Because I did think of Sioux’s endearing story, “Trained by the Best,” that appeared in Sasee magazine a few months ago, when I stopped at the corner stop sign while leaving my subdivision and accidentally made eye contact with the two little boys who were selling something.

 The eye contact, of course, was my first mistake. But it was a hot day, and I was looking around for the lemonade, and there was none. Instead, there was a box. That, and an elaborately decorated cardboard sign I couldn’t read. I positively couldn’t resist wanting to know what two boys—maybe nine years old—were selling out of that box. Animal? Vegetable? Mineral?

I strained so much that they had to bring the sign over to me so I could read it. Then I had to roll down my window so they could tell me what the sign said, because it was really bad handwriting. Then they had to show me, because I still couldn’t understand them.

Sometimes innocence is genius itself. Because by that point, of course, I pretty much had to buy whatever it was. Even if it was hissing cockroaches in that box.

Which thankfully it wasn’t. It was Shrunken Head Dude here, with his unibrow and devil-may-care whiskers, a bargain at $1. Do you know what he is? Because I had no idea. I had to ask them several times. Stress balls. He is delightfully squishy. Is he dead? My daughter surmised that he is sleeping. Whew. I’d hate to think the stress killed him.

Anyway, thanks to Sioux and Mrs. Buffa, I had coincidentally been feeling very stressed indeed. By the way, his face was much clearer when I bought him a few weeks ago. I left him on the center island where my kids and their friends play with him every time they gather. Thanks, Sioux. And thanks, Mrs. Buffa. Some purchases are worth a lot more than their price tag.

Children are our most valuable resource. ~Herbert Hoover

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Improper Poll: Gellin’ Like a One-Legged Felon

The other day I got home and discovered one of my gel insoles, made specifically for sandals, was gone. Just…gone. It was an outsole.

My sole had fled to The Great Yonder. Where did it go? Thanks to the 100°+ weather we’ve been having, I can only assume my sole went to someplace hot as…well, you know.

To solve this mystery, I suppose one must follow the footprint. But right now, the only thing I can say for certain is that it could not have escaped on foot.

So naturally I am not only wondering where it ended up, but how. I had been all over the place. Did it flap considerably beforehand as if to wave bon voyage? Why did I not feel this? And perhaps most important, is my foot displayed on a website somewhere erupting what is sort of the foot equivalent of an incontinence pad? And would a better title for this post have been “Gellin’ Like Mount St. Helen?”

Has someone found my gel insole lying in the street like a gelatinous road kill foot?

And which is worse, the fact that I am going around losing my foot underwear, or the fact that I am taking pictures of the remaining one?

Have you ever lost items of clothing right off your body, or am I the only one who does these things?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Window Opens

I’ve mentioned my smelly car. One reason this is so extra-tragic is that I have a freakishly strong sense of smell. So for the first time in years, I’ve been driving around with my windows down. When did I start keeping them up all the time, anyway, and why? I’m sure it was to keep my hair from being a mess, but lately I’m thinking that messy hair might just be a small price to pay sometimes. I’m almost a little bit grateful to the RBO for reminding me what I’ve been missing.

Years ago, someone gave my family tickets to box seats at the circus. No question it was cool. We had our own little suite with private bathroom and everything. But it made me realize it’s not always so bad to live among the common folk. There were some things I genuinely missed while being hermetically sealed in our little Plexiglas room in the sky. I sort of missed the down-and-dirty earthiness of the experience that is the circus I remembered from my childhood: the smells of elephant musk and popcorn and excitement. The guy with change in his apron hocking “Ice Cold Coke!” from the dark auditorium stairs and people waving sparkling souvenirs-on-a-stick all around us. Breathing and bodies and clapping and peanut shells. That disco ball light thing that showered the audience in stars so that we could look down and see the actual circus lights touching us, just like the magic all around, making us a part of it in one sparkling moment.

Driving with my windows down is a little like that. I find myself wanting to drive faster just for the exhilaration of it. There are whole new layers of experience coming in those windows. The sounds rush in my ears, and as the visual scenery flashes by in a blur of houses-stores-signs-fields-trees, so flashes the olfactory scenery in a blur of backyard grill-fast food-cut grass-mimosa. And the humid wind is cool-slick on my arms and swirles my hair in a mad summer frenzy.

For a while I am back in my big sister’s orange-and-black 1969 Camaro convertible with the top down. Or even my own first car with the broken air conditioner.

The smell is much, much better, by the way, thanks to your suggestions. The thing that really seemed to do it? The coffee grounds. Was going to try the apple, but it turned out someone had eaten it. Which was okay, because I got a new one at the grocery store and used it to get rid of the coffee ground smell, which it turns out is oddly out of place in a car. It actually smells good in there now. Thank you so much!

Still, I’m going to try to remember to roll down the windows. Just sometimes. I’d forgotten there’s magic out there in the summer air just waiting to swirl in.

All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else but Heaven breaking through the veil of this world, manifesting itself in such a degree and darting forth in such variety so much of its own nature.
– William Law

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Improper Poll: The Beast

I recently discovered a new recipe by accident. It goes like this.  Heat one trunk to 150°.  Add one pound ground beef and cook in a sealed garage all weekend.  This is a recipe for The Beast. This recipe is the pot-potpourri equivalent of manna...from hell.  Because it will serve everyone within about a 12 foot radius.  Indefinitely.

The ground beef was double wrapped, too, so it's not like anything leaked out.  Still, Holy Cow Guts, does my car stink.  So I sprayed everything thoroughly, first with one product and then the other. Both are anti-bacterial air purifiers that promise to kill the source of the odor. But I guess since my ground beef was already dead, it refused to die all over again. Almost two weeks later, it reminds me of my favorite Seinfeld episode about the B.B.O. But this is G.B.O. Or maybe R.B.O., because it’s rotted. Either way, it really is The Beast.

The R.B.O. has sent out airborne molecules to infuse, like microscopic zombies, into everything in my car. Another car parked next to it in the same garage had its windows rolled down, and now IT smells of R.B.O., as does my garbage can (long since emptied) and the garage itself. Should I be washing my hair in tomato sauce? I keep asking random people to do smell-checks.

I went to a car parts store and asked them what they recommend, and now my car smells like chemically-infused-cardboard-jasmine with strong R.B.O. top notes. Gak.  Left my car outside with the windows down in the hot sun. Threw out the cardboard box that the R.B. had fallen into when it first began this invasion of O. molecules. A neighbor (who obligingly performed The Smell Check, and I don't even know her very well)  suggested baking soda.  It sort of amazes me who will smell you if you ask them.

I admit it—I haven’t had my car steam-cleaned yet because I keep thinking surely The Beast will give up the ghost, as it were. Move on to greener pastures. Something. Should I sage my trunk to clear out evil spirits? Call in an exorcist?

Have you ever done battle with a horrifying odor? If so, do you have any suggestions?  Other than driving my car into the city and walking away?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Adventure at Psycho Bell

If the universe is a big drive-through speaker, I lean in and order good stuff on the menu because…well, you know…who doesn’t? I am careful to enunciate, too, just so the universe doesn’t get my order wrong. Again. And then the universe promptly gathers up a bunch of psychos and plops them into my bag. Because that universe sure has a sense of humor, doesn’t it?

It was broad summer daylight just after the dinner rush last Thursday evening, and I was the only car sitting in the Taco Bell drive-thru. It’s one way, just big enough to let an extra large vehicle through. There are curbs and landscaped berms on either side, so you are lower than the surrounding area and very much hemmed in. This is in a pleasant, family-oriented, suburban area just off a main highway.

I was talking into the speaker, which is a little way back from the building. The conversation went something like this:


There was absolutely nowhere for Taco Bell's Ding-Dong-Driver to go but straight into me. Fortunately he did slow a bit, but then it became clear that his plan was to pass me. With his truck. In the space that was only about 3 feet wide. It was if he thought one or both of us would magically accordion into something skinny like that cool Harry Potter bus for stranded witches and wizards. He was literally inches from the magic when I desperately amped up the shouting and gesturing and yelling. “NOOOO!!! Back up! Go back!”

The guy inside—who did look extremely wasted or at least not at all right, pondered the situation like a Taco Bell Buddha for what seemed like an eternity. Then he gave a sage nod; he had given the matter a great deal of thought and concurred. This was the undoubtedly the smartest decision of the day for him.

He threw his truck into reverse and tried to back up at the same speed at which he’d approached, which had to have been about 25 mph, which is surprisingly fast in a drive-thru, not to mention going backward, especially considering the job he was doing going forward.

Here is what my conversation with the Taco Bell Girl over the microphone was like.

Me: “Oh-my-gosh-oh-my-gosh! The crazy man is headed back toward you now! Can you see that??! He’s crashing into the curb! Now he’s in the flower bed!”

Taco Bell Employee: “Yes, ma’am. We apologize for the crazy man, ma’am.”

Me: “He’s turning the corner and I can’t see him. Is he coming back? Will you tell me if he comes back? That was so scary! What’s he doing now?” (This was when I could hear people in the restaurant laughing in nervous horror, because the guy was now threatening to crash into the Taco Bell building while trying to negotiate the turn. Still backwards.) “Where is he?!”

Taco Bell Employee: “He appears to be trying to drive backwards on the highway, ma’am. He’s going to—no, he made it. Now he’s back on the median. Now he’s on the sidewalk—okay, he’s back on the median again. He’s really tearing up his car. I don’t think he’s coming back, ma’am. He’s definitely not coming back. (The giggles behind her were hysterical now.)

Me: “Are you sure?” There was a brief pause.

Taco Bell Employee: “Yes, ma’am. Right now he’s...(at this point her calm voice almost—but not quite—broke, but she immediately recovered her composure).  He’s stuck in a tree.” The outburst of snorting guffaws behind her was positively explosive.

At some point he disengaged his car from the pine tree and drove off. I was so shaken, it was difficult to complete my order. When I got to the window, it was interesting to see the people with whom I had just survived the ordeal. The calmly polite Taco Bell Employee, a cute blond girl who was probably only in high school, continued to complete the order with utter aplomb. One of the employees in the crowd behind her, though, appeared as shaken as I felt. He said it was the most excitement he’d seen since he’d started working there six months earlier. Then he handed me my ”nachos with trees…I mean, cheese.”

It was completely unconscious—a Freudian slip. We all laughed so hard, I was a little afraid I’d be the one who had trouble driving away that time.

We apologize for the crazy man, ma’am. ~Taco Bell Employee