Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Hiatus

I'm taking the next month away from the blog, to focus on holiday cheer, family and friends, and finishing a book rewrite.

Hope your holidays are filled with a few of your favorite things.

See you all back here in January!



Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Open Letter to the AARP

Dear AARP,

I am overcome with gratitude at your kind offer--thank you! I've not been guaranteed admission into any organization since the Girl Scouts, which ended badly when my sixth grade troop leader revoked my membership.

Just a few things I'd like to clarify:

I understand your formal name is no longer the American Association of Retired Persons. This is good to know since I am not now--nor will I likely ever be--retired. According to my financial calculations, I shall be working until the day someone gleefully pries my cold, stiff fingers from my computer keyboard.

(Which reminds me: Is there any organization for people whose retirement or permanent leave, in any form, is among their coworkers' daily prayers? If not, you should seriously consider establishing something called the AAIP--American Association for Irritating Persons. Membership would be by nomination only, and would likely number in the millions. Trust me on this.)

But if retirement is no longer an AARP prerequisite, is your new admission criteria based solely on age? Or is actual maturity a consideration? If so, would I be precluded by the fact that I recently spent an entire evening giggling at fart jokes?

And pray tell, if not for "retired," what does the "R" in AARP now stand for? Responsible, refined and resplendent? Or more along the lines of ragged, rickety and rambling? I can't say I have ever been labeled "refined," but I am told (especially after leaving voicemails for my children) that I do ramble. On and on and on. Please confirm this requirement before I mail my $16 check.

Finally, your invitation claims an AARP membership will help me "make the most of life over 50." This promise is quite appealing. I can only assume it to mean my benefits will include a weekly housecleaning service, copious amounts of liquor and a hot pool boy. If not, I suggest you hire a new membership director who better understands your target market.

In closing, I thank you once again for your generous offer. I await your prompt response, before you have any chance to reconsider.



Is retirement in your near or far-off future? Are you refined, resplendent, rickety or rambling? Anyone you care to nominate for the AAIP?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Giving Thanks to My Children

An early post tonight, in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday. Hope all of you, too, find much for which to be thankful.

As both my young adult sons return home for the holiday, I've promised myself to bite my tongue about sleepless nights and randomly scattered piles of "stuff." Instead, I will focus on counting my blessings. I'm fortunate to have many, although sometimes it takes a holiday to serve as a reminder.

My two children have taught me much. I am especially thankful for both of them, because:

They tell me 50 is still young, that I look good for my age, and they say this with conviction.

They devour the whole package of Little Debbies before I manage to get my hands on it.

They prove to me that good music has indeed been recorded after 1983.

They know how to work the universal remote and the router.

They help me acknowledge and understand my mistakes.

They laugh at my good jokes and fake a smile at my bad ones.

They occasionally nod and agree that one more cat or dog won't necessarily make me a crazy lady.

They may someday provide me with grandchildren.

They pursue their dreams and are willing to take me along for the ride.

They end every phone conversation with the words, "Love you."

And that makes every dirty dish and every stress-filled moment worthwhile.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One Siri-ously Funny Conversation

We all need someone in our life who makes us convulse with such laughter that we squirt adult beverages out our nose and practically pee our pants. (Yes, I am five going on eighty.)

Lucky for me, my friend Mike has a Ph.D. in adolescent behavior, with a specialty in potty humor.

Before my recent Milwaukee visit with him and his wife Peggy (one of my oldest and dearest friends), Mike bought a new iPhone 4S. Infatuated with his toy--as grown men tend to be--he began to show off the phone's new voice-command feature.

"Text Scott Johnson," Mike instructed Siri, the voice-recognition assistant.

Siri seemed a bit slow on the uptake."I don't know who your father is," she replied. "In fact, I don't know who you are."

"What the hell?" Mike said. "OK, text Sherry Stanfa."

"Sorry," she answered. "I can't find places in the Falkland Islands."

"What an effin moron," Mike said.

Poor Siri. I was willing to give her another chance. So far, she didn't make me feel anywhere near as stabby as GPS Wench, who constantly likes to remind me how my screw-ups have forced her into "recalculating."

But Mike had his fill of serious queries. He was ready to move on. "Siri, why do farts smell?"

I giggled. Fart jokes: Not just for kindergarten anymore.

"I have no answer," said Siri. "How about a Web search for 'Why do farts smell?' "

"No," Mike yelled. "I said, 'My wife farts a lot. Why do they smell so bad?' "

"What's your location?" asked Siri.

We howled. Apparently, Siri wished to steer clear of our particularly unpleasant smelling location.

"Forget that," Mike said to Siri. "Where is my underwear?"

She hesitated just briefly before responding. "You sound disoriented," she told him.

And that's when my drink found its way out of my nostrils. It seemed Siri could give it as good as she could take it.

The saintly tolerant Peggy glared at her husband. "Mike, ENOUGH. You're going to make her mad."

"Peg, it's a computer," he said.

"I don't care. You're going to piss her off and break the phone," said Peggy. "Besides, don't you think there are ten million people asking her these same stupid questions?"

I crossed my legs, still laughing. "He asked where his underwear is," I said. "I sincerely doubt ten million people have asked that."

"OK, but he bought this phone and is paying hundreds of dollars for something he has no idea how to properly use," Peg said. "Mike, do you even know how to send a text message?"

"Sure," said Mike. He squinted at the phone. "You just have to push something."

Peggy rolled her eyes and refilled her drink.

"I'm paying hundreds of dollars for this phone," Mike demanded of Siri. "So I want to know, where is the nearest whorehouse?"

"Jesus," Peggy said, with a palm to her forehead. "You're going to get a phone call any minute from a customer asking, 'Why did you just text me and ask where the nearest whorehouse is?' "

Mike ignored her, still intent on his nonsensical phone conversation. "Siri, can you explain poop soup?"

And so it went for the rest of the night. Mike berated Siri with juvenile and inappropriate questions, and I giggled until the wee hours of the morning.

We had lunch the next day with my youngest son, a Marquette student majoring in techno-geekology. I relayed Mike's encounters with the new iPhone and Siri.

He nodded. "Yeah, Siri, she's a sassy one. Let me see the phone."

"Siri, why are you such a bitch?" he asked.

After the previous night's altercations, Siri apparently had grown weary of such talk. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that," she answered.

"Really?" he countered. "I don't believe you."

And right on cue, Siri said, "You are certainly entitled to your opinion."

"See?" Son #2 said, passing back the phone. "The computer understands almost everything you say, and it's recorded and saved forever."

"Forever?" Peggy's chin dropped. "Oh Mike, you are so screwed."

But it seems to me Mike has found his match in Siri. I'm guessing they'll become fast friends.

I just pray she doesn't short-circuit when she squirts her margarita out her little electronic nose.

Are you hot for the new iPhone? Do you have a friend who makes you squirt margaritas out your nose? What's the stupidest question you've ever been asked? And do you know where your underwear is?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Friends Indeed

Sometimes you have no idea where a road will lead you until you've been wandering it a while.

I had no real expectations when I began this blog over two years ago. I figured it to be a short-term device to keep my creative juices flowing while I took a break from writing a novel. Any actual readers, outside of obliging family members and a few close friends, would simply be an unexpected bonus.

What I never fathomed were the friends with whom I'd reconnect, nor the new ones I'd make, along the way.

Through this little internet writing gig, I've rekindled friendships with people I haven't seen in thirty years. And I've struck up electronic relationships with dozens of readers whom I've never met and likely never will encounter in person.

But the greatest phenomenon of all has been developing a community of fellow writers and bloggers. And eventually meeting some of them face-to-face.

Who'd have thought writers are real people? That the words appearing each day on my computer monitor were typed by hands I would one day shake? That the personal stories shared with me grew from the creative minds--and warm hearts--of people whose arms might eventually wrap around me in a mutual bear hug?

First, I met the fabulous Amanda. Except little did I know when I read her comment on another blog and followed it back to her own website, that I'd actually seen her around and said hello in passing because she worked in my own office building? (Seriously, what are the odds?)

Then, I spent a weekend this past June with Betsy. Including Betsy as part of my own writing community is either a clear understatement or a vast overstatement, since she is the queen. An award-winning author and kick-ass literary agent, her two books (especially the one with the warm and wonderful personal inscription) hold prominent places on my bookshelf. Her blog is the first I ever read--and it's still the best. So is she.

I met Bluzdude in August. He's originally from these parts, and if we'd known each other when we were teenagers, we surely would have been great friends then, too.

This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago for the biggest meet-up of all. Four of us--a group of women writers who met through Betsy's blog and have become fast friends in a circle of more than a dozen--spent the day together.

AmyG, Lyra, Teri and I talked for hours. We shared our thoughts about writing, about our day jobs, about our mothers and our children, about our successes and our struggles.

We discovered how different we are from each other, yet how very much alike. We talked. We listened. We nodded. We hugged.

If we'd had a full week to spend together instead of a single afternoon, I doubt the conversation would have ever run dry.

Some relationships, even ones forged through printed words on a computer monitor, end up meaning so much more.

I never dreamed, when I typed my first story on this blog in April 2009, that people like you might see it. That you'd find anything I said worth reading. That you might take the time to comment and then come back the next week, and the next.

Writing, so often, seems a solitary and lonely effort.

Until it's not.

Not going to bother with any trite questions here. Just two words: Thank you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Key Signs of Disease: One Sufferer's Story

For years, I blamed my symptoms on my children. Or my housecleaning service (that long-lost luxury--sigh). I even went so far as faulting some malicious demon that apparently lurked in small places such as pockets and purses.

But now, I realize what's truly responsible is a progressive and debilitating disease.

I have, what's known in layman's terms, as "Chronic Lost Keys Syndrome."

The diagnosis comes as a relief, really. At least I know my own actions, in no way, can be blamed.

My mother--bless her heart--has been plagued by the condition for years. Not comprehending that what we were witnessing signaled a serious hereditary disorder, my sisters and I offered her little compassion. We rolled our eyes, exchanging knowing glances behind her back.

Until we started suffering the same symptoms.

After I began losing my keys two or three times a week, I knew it was more than simple carelessness. I am the Queen of Organization. I make beaucoup lists. I know what's buried in every pile of papers on my desk. And I carry a purse in which each important item has its own special compartment.

Alas, there are no preventive measures one can take, nor any available cure, for sufferers of Chronic Lost Keys Syndrome. The most we can hope is to manage our disease, through wall-mounted key hooks and extra sets of keys hidden in safe places--locations we can only pray to recall in times of key emergencies.

And now this horrific disease has struck our own young adult children. My sisters and I have begun preparing them for what lies ahead. We try to help them cope. We attempt to show compassion.

"Have you seen my keys? I've looked everywhere!" The 22-year-old appears frantic as he searches the house. "I left them right here, I'm sure of it, but now they're gone!"

I pat his hand while fighting back a tear.

"I know, honey," I whisper. "I know."

Oh, the long and frightening road he faces.

I'm already dreading the day I have to explain he's inherited the awful "Chronic Lost Credit Card Syndrome" as well.

Are you or any of your loved ones afflicted with "Chronic Lost Keys Syndrome"? Are you famous for making beaucoup lists, or do you wing it? Are you turning into your mother, too?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Birthday to Truly Celebrate--Reprise

Battling a bout of The Crud, as well as seeing Son #1 off to his new digs in South Carolina, left me no time or energy for a new blog post this week. With yesterday being my birthday, I'm sharing a a post from last year, updated to reflect my new--and debatably improved--age.

I had a birthday yesterday. Well-meaning friends and family refer to ones like this as "special" or "big." People actually in the midst of hitting such an age call it a "Holy shit, how could this be when just yesterday I still needed a fake ID" kind of birthday.

Although my family offered to throw me a party, I declined. Some birthdays are made to be celebrated and others, simply to be had. I told them I'd rather take a raincheck, one that could be used, say, fifty years from now. Because that, my friends, will be a birthday to truly celebrate.

So, let me take this moment to cordially invite all of you--to my 100th birthday party!

Please save the date: October 25, 2061.

No need to RSVP. It's quite likely I'll have no clue if you're there or not. I may not know where I am either, but I plan to have one bodacious good time.

If you don't recognize me, just look for the four-foot-tall, prune-faced biddy wearing a strapless red dress and eff-me heels. Or else a floral shift and bunny slippers. I'm 100. I'll wear whatever I damn well want, thank you.

No gifts, please. Instead, I ask that all guests purchase Xeroxed copies of one of my unpublished novel manuscripts. These will be personally signed by the author, of course, although I may need some assistance with the inscriptions. ("What was your name again, honey? Oh, you say you're one of my children? Uh-huh. And what is my name?")

I can't spend my entire evening signing autographs though. I will be too busy doing tequila shots. At 100, I figure I can rekindle all those bad behaviors I left long behind in my wayward youth. If someone passes a doobie, I'll probably take a hit or two.

For dinner, I will eat an entire bowl of dill pickle potato chips and three pieces of chocolate cake. No one will blink an eye. If anyone dares, I will growl, "What the hell's wrong with you, sonny? Quit gawking and go get me another tequila shot!"

We will play loads of games and my guests will declare me the winner of every one, even if I nod off in the middle.

I will kiss all the babies and all the good-looking men in the crowd. I may invite the hottest guy there back to my private room, in the nursing home.

Who knew there was so much to look forward to, in our golden years?

If you want in on the festivities, please leave your name in the comments section. My mom is already compiling the invitation list; Glo does like to plan ahead. She promises to bring enough tequila for everyone. But the dill pickle potato chips? Those are mine. I'll be 100, and I shouldn't be expected to share with anyone.

Bring your own damn chips.

Wow, turning 100 is so liberating. I can barely wait.

I'm buying the bunny slippers tomorrow.

Do you want to celebrate or commiserate about your next big birthday? What's on your gift wish list? And I lied--I totally want presents too--so, what will you bring me?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Miles on the Minivan

I stared at the blank page for twenty minutes. Little chance of any thoughts forming into articulate sentences, not with the pulsating music from the next room where Son #1 sat working on a new song.

He'd been at it for hours. Sigh. At least one of us was a writing wiz tonight.

He hasn't been a devoted musician all his life. He flirted with piano and guitar lessons when he was very young, but he soon grew tired of practicing and I grew tired of nagging. He abandoned the interest in music and moved on to other things, one after the other.

And so it goes with so many childhood activities.

Between my two sons, we dabbled in nearly every kind of lesson and organized activity on God's green and synthetic-floored earth. We tried music: piano, guitar, clarinet and choir. We played sport after sport: gymnastics, swimming, soccer, baseball, basketball, football, weightlifting and rowing. We ran through the endless gamut of school clubs, from Power of the Pen to Quizbowl. We gave art lessons a shot and took part in a dozen plays. We enrolled in weeks and weeks of summer camps, ranging from glass-blowing to horseback riding (which resulted in lots and lots of envy from their office-dwelling mother).

We exhausted every available creative, academic and athletic opportunity in which our children took a trifling interest--and exhausted the family minivan and its driver along the way. We filled our children's days with sidelines and structure, yet ensured they still found time to play with Legos, read Harry Potter and watch Star Wars.

We wanted them to learn the meaning of discipline and teamwork. We wanted them to exercise their body and their brains. We wanted them to grow up well-rounded.

But mostly we hoped, through their exploring the world around them, they would find something--that one special thing--that struck them straight in the heart. And we were compelled to help them discover it.

What if Beethoven never touched a piano? Or if Steve Jobs never sat down to a computer?

Even so, as we exposed our children to all these opportunities, we never knew what might stick for good. Who could really guess what might be a passing fancy, become a lifelong hobby or lead to a fruitful career?

It's difficult to categorize these two young adult sons of mine. At 20 and 22, they both have an interest in history and the Beatles (thank God). They each love a pick-up football game but enjoy an occasional theatrical production, as well. They did indeed grow up to be well-rounded.

But as far as that one special thing? That much is still proving to be a surprise.

My son who once far preferred making music to playing sports now rows in college; he talks of coaching. The son who spent most of his youth on the ballfield has recaptured a brief childhood interest in music and sits right now in the next room, perfecting a song on his keyboard.

Who knows where their lives will truly take them. Maybe further along these same tracks, or maybe down another. What's for certain is, if we'd labeled them and limited them early on, they wouldn't be enjoying the lives they have now.

And the beautiful strains of music from the next room tonight? Maybe not such a terrible distraction after all, for either of us.

Perhaps all those miles on that minivan, long since retired, were well worth it.

Did you follow your early childhood dreams or go another route? Are you raising the next Beethoven or Steve Jobs? Is your minivan worn out too?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Of Pawns and Cat Kings

Searching for a new pastime to stimulate your mind and raise your heart rate? Look no further than an exhilarating game I call "Medicating Your Cat."

If you don't own a cat, run out and get one. If you've no time to cat shop, feel free to take one of mine. (Send me your address; I'll be right over.)

Once your cat is procured, choose teams and positions. Simply explained: A cat's role is always king or queen, while you must play pawn. For a more challenging version, include multiple cats, particularly those with anxiety and social disorders. (This encompasses most of the feline population.) Regardless of how many cats you own, all will play for the opposing team.

The rules are as follows: A cat exhibits some inappropriate, unhealthy and likely unhygienic behavior, e.g., peeing in the bathtub or puking wherever your bare foot happens to step. To win, you must discover the cause, treat any underlying conditions and finish the game relatively unscathed.

A typical game transpires much like this, recently played out in my own household:

One of my cats begins by attacking members of his own team (much like politicians in a primary election). This particular player is named "Lennon," in honor of the man who penned "Give Peace a Chance." The irony does not escape the snickering crowd which nicknames him, more suitably, "Demon Cat."

I attempt to stop Demon Cat through a variety of maneuvers, most notably the popular Squirt Bottle Play. But, oh, he's a clever competitor! In one match-winning strategy, he stalks the squirt bottle from across the room and smacks it clean off the table.

As the game progresses, the other players succumb to Demon Cat's bad sportsmanship. When the cat known as NUTS (Neurotic, Unbelievably Timid and Stupid) begins puking blood on the arena's new carpet, I consult the team physician.

Herein lie my most challenging game duties, as pawn.

First, I must capture NUTS and transport him to the doctor. After three days of failed tackles, I finally manage to corner him. As I shove the snarling and lashing creature into the cat carrier, I question my sympathy for this downed player.

Second, after the team physician flips a coin to announce any sort of diagnosis, I must open my wallet and allow it to bleed dry. (Sideline action: As I drive away, the doctor chortles and books a week in the Caribbean.)

Third, I must administer the ordered treatment. NUTS is prescribed twice-daily antibiotics and anti-nausea medicine for ten days. In addition, the physician also recommends a daily pill for Demon Cat--to be administered indefinitely.

This medication is best described as Kitty Prozac.

I spend a week chasing down one neurotic feline and another one clinically diagnosed as "aggressive." Throughout my repeated attempts to capture NUTS and Demon Cat and pry open their jaws, the crowd roars. Ringo, the amiable golden retriever mix, watches my moves from the bleachers with a desperate, salivating hope that I'll drop a pill. If only I were trying to medicate the damn dog--then this game might be as simple as his tiny brain.

By day seven, I manage only three doses in each cat. And in an arena where I once couldn't walk without tripping over three or four lounging players, not one cat can now be found. The entire team has virtually disappeared from the playing field. Well-played, you friggin' felines! Far more impressive than your seven lives is your apparent sixth sense.

Demon Cat gradually begins approaching me again-- preening and purring--but only when I neglect to close the bathroom door. I briefly consider carrying Kitty Prozac with me when I pee. But wrangling a cat while sitting bare-assed on the toilet seems vaguely wrong. (And the crowd mutters a collective "Eww.")

Meanwhile, the team physician calls to say the bloodwork he did on NUTS also indicates a thyroid issue. NUTS will require two more daily pills, FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.

In addition, the hit-or-miss doses of Kitty Prozac will do Demon Cat no good; his medication is reliant upon a cumulative effect. The by-far-second-best medical tactic, the doctor notes, is something called a "Nurture Collar." This is a contraption infused with maternal hormones which theoretically calm aggressive and anxious cats.

I frown. I am merely a not-so-bright pawn, but I know my own middle-age experience with female hormones is not such a favorable one. Regardless, I hand over my credit card to the team physician. I leave with a vial of likely never-to-be-ingested pills and a plastic purple collar.

As expected, NUTS will have nothing to do with the thyroid pills, even when crushed and hidden in canned catfood or tuna. Beaten, I again consult the doctor, whose final suggestion is a liquid compound. It's chicken-flavored! And it is available, by special order, for only $50 per vial! I hyperventilate just for a moment before agreeing. Because this is sure to be the game-winning play!

Apparently NUTS has grown street-smart with his recent excursion into the outside world. He isn't fooled by my mixing the medicine in dry catfood, in wet catfood or even in canned tuna. But just as I'm ready to forfeit, I finally score! I dribble .5 ml of this Liquid Gold into a pile of fresh roasted turkey--which NUTS promptly devours!

I accept my win with mixed enthusiasm. It seems this cat will be eating better than I do, for the rest of his life. (As will the rest of the menagerie, all of whom circle my feet every night when I prepare NUTS this post-game feast.)

As for the Nurture Collar, Demon Cat wriggles out of it within two days. I head to the doctor's office to buy another. I sigh. I hand over my credit card once again.

I figure it's not really a useless investment.

If I can't keep the damn thing around Demon Cat's neck this time, I'll wear the magic soothing collar myself.

Because I'm clearly the one in need of medication.

Who wins the game between Pawn and King in your house? Is it just my vague recollection, or is attempting to medicate your cat much like coercing your husband to go to the doctor? And all you non-cat owners--call me for a special delivery, please?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hair Today, Goon Tomorrow

"So," she asks, dipping your head under the faucet, "are we just trimming it up tonight?"

You've obsessed over this for weeks: Whenever you've spied a college student with a thick flowing mane, a model with a cute pixie or an actress on a TV legal drama with a fabulous bob. Every time you saw an attractive woman with great hair, you thought, "Wow, if only I had hair like that, I'll bet I'd look just as hot!"

You gaze up at your stylist. "No, I'm thinking something different this time," you finally answer. You attempt to explain what you have in mind, biting your bottom lip as you consider how this monumental decision could potentially ruin the next eight weeks of your life.

But she simply cocks her head, glances at your hair and nods. And you realize this woman with your head--with practically your entire life--in her hands, is a paid professional. She makes her living by making women beautiful. Surely you will live to have no regrets.

Forty-five minutes later, she brushes the clippings off your shoulders and removes your apron. You gather the type of courage generally reserved for a job interview or a root canal, and you peer into the mirror. You look... gorgeous!

Well, not all of you, perhaps, but at least your hair. Yes, that looks amazing.

You beam. "I like it!"

"Yeah? Good," she says, with not an ounce of the desperate relief you are experiencing. Whatever calming and confidence-building drugs that hair stylists must be required to consume, you definitely want in on that shit before your next appointment.

You hesitate as you grab your checkbook. "So, you think I can do it just like this myself, right?"

"Oh, sure," she says over her shoulder, as she motions to her next client. "Just make sure you use plenty of Product."

You contemplate the word "plenty." Hmm. Is that a tablespoon or a quarter-cup? You'd prefer an exact measurement. Using your own judgment in the care of your hair has never proved entirely successful.

"And when you're blow-drying," she continues, "be sure you hold the dryer nozzle underneath the roots of each section of hair as you lift it up, like I did."

"Uh-huh." Your mind races to recall that particular step of tonight's appointment. This memory is fuzzy, since you spent much of the hair-drying segment shouting about the injustices of parenthood. Or the injustices of your job. Or both. Who needs a therapist when you have a hair stylist?

"And then, don't forget," she adds, "to spray it again."

Again? Wait. Were you supposed to spray once already before this step? You bite at the cuticles of your newly painted nails.

"That's it, really," she says as she begins to shampoo her current client's hair. "Except you'll probably need to scrunch it a bit. Just a tiny piece at a time. Then, take a look and decide whether or not you want to use a curling iron on any section. But with the right amount of Product and drying and scrunching, you should be all set. Unless you need to spray it again."

On the drive home, you repeat this set of instructions to yourself, over and over. It is an all-consuming lesson. You nearly run a stop sign, stopping just short of t-boning a minivan as you murmur the mantra, "Product, dry, lift, spray, scrunch, curl, spray again."

After a sleepless night, you rise early. You run methodically through every step of the process. Your fingers begin to ache from scrunching.

You finally step back and survey yourself in the mirror. You squint. Huh. Is this how it looked last night? Perhaps you're simply not objective enough. You scrunch and spray one last time, shrug and continue getting ready for work.

Just as you're headed out the door, your son--who for twenty years has appeared oblivious to a single one of your outfits or hairstyles--stops in the hallway to stare at you.

"Um, hey, Mom, your hair looks a little, well, funny."

You fight a swirling stomach of despair, as you realize even this most lowbrow of opinions is likely on-target. You glare at him and mutter how he'll need to fend for himself for dinner tonight.

But you have no time for further reflection; you are already late for work. You shuffle to your car. You spend your drive-time peeking in the rearview mirror, scrunching some more. For the next eight hours, you hide inside your office, with the door closed.

Before going to bed that night, you shower and wash out the copious quantities of Product and hairspray. You collapse in bed with a wet head.

In the morning, you peek in the mirror. At the sight of your Bed Head, you sigh.

Yet maybe it's not so bad, just like this, you consider after another look. A little flat in one area, but a tousled, carefree kind of look. Sort of like Meg Ryan in whatever-the-hell that one movie was.

She and her son probably both loved her hair like that.

And if they didn't, you can bet neither one of them spoke a word about it that night, over their bowls of SpaghettiO's.

So, did your last haircut turn out just like that photo in the magazine? Are you hair-challenged, too? What kind of gossip do you confide in your hair stylist?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'm Fixing to Fix That

So you know how you invite someone for dinner and you want everything to be perfect, even though your dinner guest is just a long-time friend or perhaps your mother, who you know would never think of judging you?


After a busy workweek, I'd spent the always-too-short weekend cleaning. On Sunday, I whipped up a batch of meals for the week and to save in the freezer. I so deserved the Suzi Homemaker Award, and I figured I'd win it that night through my Grand Finale of inviting a dinner guest.

It started off well. The Homemaker Trophy was practically in my hands.

Dinner Guest: "Wow, you've been busy! I thought you were just making shish kabobs. Gosh, it looks like every seasoning you own is on the counter!"

Me: "Oh, those. You're right. Those are all the spices I own. The Lazy Susan door is broken, so I've been keeping everything inside it out here on the counter until it's fixed. It's actually kind of convenient, having all of them right here. You never know when you'll need a teaspoon of mustard seed or maybe some saffron, right? Can I get you something to drink?"

Guest (following me to the refrigerator): "Sure. Uh-oh." She points to the hardwood floor in front of the fridge, where a puddle of water has pooled. "Looks like you have a problem with your refrigerator."

Me: "Yeah, I really need to get that fixed." I mop up the floor with a wad of paper towels. I grab our drinks, and we head to the back deck. "Beautiful night, huh? Glad you kept your shoes on when you came in the house though. I tried to powerwash the deck last year and it ended up in splinters instead. They really should warn you about getting that nozzle too close to the wood. I'll bet lots of people have that problem. I need to get it sanded and water-protected again. It's on my list to do. Maybe next year."

Guest (staring at the ripped-up wood deck and then turning toward the yard): "No problem. Boy, that rose bush is really beautiful."

Me: "Thanks! I probably do need to get the lawn mowed though. Pretty soon, I guess."

Guest: "Yeah, I did notice it's a bit, uh, long."

Me: "Well, my mower's still broken. My neighbor thinks the grass is too tall to cut even with her rider mower. I'll probably have to hire a service with some type of tractor. They don't ask you to pick up the dog poop first, do they? Because I tried today, but with the grass this tall I couldn't really find it. Shoot--I better make sure I tell them to use the fence gate on the left. The one on the right broke last year. Or was that two years ago?"

Guest: "Two years ago? Doesn't that drive you crazy?"

Me: "Nah. The other gate still works. As long as you push the bottom pole up with your foot and twist the handle really, really hard."

Guest: "Uh-huh."

Me: "Guess I should start the grill." I turn on the gas and the burners, roll up a piece of newspaper and light the end. The paper flares and then dies out.

Guest: "Is your grill igniter not working?"

Me: "No, it broke right after I bought the grill. And I never could find the warranty. It's really no big deal to light it manually."

Guest: "Wouldn't it be easier to use one of those long fireplace and grill lighters?"

Me: "Yeah, I had one but it stopped working last week." I relight the newspaper and point the flaming coil into the grill. With a boom, the grill burners flare. I blow hard on the burning paper, but instead of extinguishing the flames, it appears to feed them. I run in the house and throw the paper into the sink, just as the edges of my fingernails turn black.

We move on to dinner, which is fabulous. *Of course.* My dinner guest utters words of admiration and appreciation and then offers to help clean up.

"Can I put these dirty dishes in the dishwasher?"

"Sure--but just the plates and silverware, into the bottom rack. I'll have to get the glasses because the top rack has been way off-kilter. It takes a special touch to pull it out and move it back. It's on my list to get fixed."

Guest (hesitating): "Oh. OK. Why don't I just take care of these cans and bottles then? Can I take them out to your recycling bin in the garage?"

Me: "That would be great, thanks. It's probably pretty full though; I forgot to put it out at the curb last week."

Guest: (nearly inaudible sigh.)

Me (calling after her): "Probably because I haven't been using that door to the garage. Oh, don't let that door close behind you. I'm having a bit of a problem with the handle. The door can only be opened from the inside. I've locked myself out twice already." I laugh. "Funny story, about that. Last month..."

Guest: (Interrupts me by knocking at the closed door.)

The funny thing is, after I played around with the door handle and let her back in the house, my dinner guest seemed to leave in a hurry. She didn't appear to be in the mood to hear any funny stories at all.

That's fine though. I'll just add telling that story to my list of things-to-do.

I have a few of those.

Any annoying little household problems you've been putting off? Any chance you know the difference between a screwdriver and a butter knife? If so, can I borrow you for a few weeks?

And the Envelope, Please...

I'm pleased to report the winners of the random drawing for last week's blog contest:

- The $10 Barnes and Noble gift card goes to... Averil, or The Artist Previously Known as Averil.
- The $25 gift card goes to... BG, also known as Barb.

If each of you will email me your postal addresses, I will drop your prizes in the mail. And Averil, please let me know how to address the envelope, because that has me the tiniest bit stumped. ;-)

Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to answer the survey. I enjoyed hearing about your reading experiences, and I'm sure everyone's to-be-read list just grew a bit longer...

So, does this count as this week's blog post? No, you say? OK, that's next...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Read 'Em and Reap

Books. Remember those? As the new TV season begins, I hope you are fitting in a few minutes to read a good book, too.

I'm curious about each of your reading experiences and your opinions about books. In my quest to learn more about my readers, to encourage reluctant commenters to finally chime in (it's painless, really), and to keep my local Barnes and Noble in business, I offer the following short quiz.

You'll be glad to know there are no right or wrong answers, and you won't be evaluated on being creative or witty. (Although wit and creativity aren't discouraged either.) Simply answer the following questions, and you may win a gift certificate for B&N in a random drawing.
  1. What's the best book you've read in the past couple years?
  2. What book didn't live up to its hype?
  3. What book kept you awake at night (for any reason)?
  4. What book have you read over the years again and again?
  5. What writer (dead or alive) would you most like to have dinner and drinks with?
  6. If you were a character in a novel, what would the genre be (romance, mystery, etc.)?
  7. What's the next book on your reading list?

I will assign each comment a number and choose two winners in a random drawing, one for a $25 gift certificate and the second for a $10 certificate.

Note: If you post your comment as anonymous, you may have to click "Post Comment" a couple of times for it to publish (according to some commenters). BE SURE TO WRITE YOUR NAME (at least first name and last initial) at the bottom of your comment. If you continue to have difficulty posting, email me your answers at sherry @ (no spaces) and I will post them for you.

The deadline is midnight, Wednesday, Sept. 28. I will post the winners here on Sept. 29.

Ready? Set? Go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

To Have and to Hold

Traditional wedding vows spell out what is expected of us in marriage: "To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part."

Parenthood requires no such verbal agreement. Yet these same vows surely apply to having a child. Most of us who sign on acknowledge this, understanding this is one irrevocable deal.

The To Have part generally proves unpleasant, especially for the mother. We endure nine months of anxiety, emerging stretch marks and intrusive medical instruments. The incubation period culminates in a formidable event purported to be part of the cycle of life, but which seems to indicate God has a rather sick sense of humor.

But the To Hold component wipes the slate clean. As soon as we hold that infant in our arms, we've already--in our minds--ushered in the For Better part.

Oh, the For Better! It's the stuff parental dreams are made of. The first smile and first steps, the soccer goals and dance recitals, and that march across the stage for the happy hand-off of a diploma. We cling forever to the moments--and the memories--of the For Better.

Yet, in between, lurk those For Worse times. Lord, we struggle with those. The grocery store tantrums, the turmoil of that first broken heart, the wild arcs of teenage rebellion or withdrawal. Sure, we've been warned, but nothing truly prepares us for them. If we've ever considered backing out of the deal, it's during the For Worse.

And For Richer? Well, that's a misnomer. From the cost of diapers to college tuition, parenthood sucks us dry. Once children enter the picture, it's always, always For Poorer. We can only sigh at our pile of bills and write another damn check.

We welcome In Health with a different sort of sigh--one of relief and gratitude. As we look around and view children who are the victims of fatal genetic diseases, cancer or life-altering accidents, we reconsider the possibilities of what we once believed to be For Worse. Nothing puts our own In Sickness experiences--the middle-of-the-night ER visits and basketball injuries--more in perspective than a child with a brain tumor.

None of us chooses to dwell on the idea of Until Death Do Us Part. We can endure almost anything. Except that.

We strive to keep our unspoken vows to our children as they grow up. And even as they grow--or move--away.

We'd like to be by their side for everything they experience: for the agony and the ecstasy. But from that first slumber party to their first night in a new apartment eight hundred miles away, we realize we must allow them to inch away from our arms. To become self-assured, self-motivated and self-sufficient.

We take a forever-vow to Hold them, yet we can't hold our children in our grasp forever.

All we can do, ultimately, is hold them close in our heart.

And have them promise to call us, frequently. They can keep that one little vow, right?

Any trouble letting go? What's the For Better or the For Worse you've experienced?

Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Party Time!

Lots of little things suggest we're not as young as we used to be: Spying ourselves in some clearly malicious mirror. Deciding that sleeping until noon is more a waste of a precious day off than a constitutional right. Scheduling that colonoscopy.

But the signs aren't obvious only in how we look or what we do. They're also apparent in what we say--or more accurately--what we don't say.

For example, it seems I rarely find occasion these days to use the words "mosh pit." (Oh, I love that term, and I still dig a great concert; yet surprisingly few people dove into the mosh pit the last time I saw James Taylor.)

And I have never, not once, uttered the words "fo sho." (True Story: Stymied while trying to conjure up words people my age don't use, I queried my twenty-year-old son, without telling him why. After his suggestion, I wrote back, "Thx. That's perfect. Fo sho." Because that's the kind of hip and aware mother I am. He texted back, "God help us all.")

But most noticeably of all, the word "party" has practically disappeared from my vocabulary.

At one time--roughly age 14 to 24--"party" was a mainstay of my vernacular.

It showed up liberally in everyday conversation, particularly in the form of a plaintive plea: "Anyone having a party this weekend?" And "party" was an equal opportunity word. We were also fond of using it as a verb, as in "Hey, we have an algebra test next period. Want to go out to the parking lot and party instead?" We employed various derivatives, too, the most popular being the noun describing a person, such as "Yeah, man, he's a cool teacher. I heard he's a partier."

Oh Lord, the parties where we partied in my youth. From the one which the local news station came to cover (my ex-boyfriend's) to the one at which the front door was broken in (my sisters' fiasco) and the repair fund raised from helpful party-goers was stolen just before my parents arrived home.

I was totally an innocent bystander at those. But later, when I was voted Best Party Giver in our school newspaper just before graduation, my perplexed mother asked, "When did you have parties?"

Figuring I had little to lose anymore, I shrugged and replied, "Every night you were gone."

(This was the SEVENTIES, people. Have you ever watched That Seventies Show? Even the good kids partied around the table in their basement, while their parents were home! I was thoughtful enough to wait for mine to leave, which practically makes me a saint.)

But those crazy years are just a memory. A foggy one, at that.

And few people my age have parties anymore.

Now, we "have people over" or we have a "get-together." When we do use the term "party," it's generally to describe a fully different event than those of our late teens and twenties. Most of the parties I hosted after my late twenties included a pinata, a case of juice boxes and a bunch of rugrats. Wild, yes, but nothing in which the local news seemed to take an interest.

And we seldom party in the same active verb tense anymore. Many of us haven't touched the wacky weed or anything in the under-the-counter drug family in years. Oh sure, we still imbibe in more than moderate amounts of alcohol from time-to-time. (When I say "we," I mean "you" not "me." Of course.) But we seldom say we partied too much. In my crowd, we prefer to use more sophisticated terminology, vaguely suggestive of our being victims of circumstance. We say we were "overserved."

We're still a fun bunch, post-thirty (or post-forty). We enjoy a good get-together, a few laughs, a few drinks. We just don't break down doors or draw nightly news coverage anymore. We may not say the P-word much, but damn it, we still know how to have a good time.

I'll bet we could party with the best of them, at any crazy party, if we tried.

That's fo sho.

What words have disappeared from your aging vocabulary? Been to any good parties lately? Do you still party like you're nineteen, or like you're forty-nine?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's the Real Thing

My friends and family have grown greatly troubled. They see the hold this stuff has on me. They've heard my cries of denial. They've witnessed my half-hearted attempts to quit.

They tell me addiction is its own form of hell. But they don't understand.

Because my Diet Coke--oh, it's such a lovely little taste of heaven.

How bad is my habit? Some questions a lady prefers not to answer. If pressed, I'll admit to a few cans a day. Maybe a six-pack. Possibly more. OK, damn it, I mainline the shit.

I started young. "Tab" was my gateway drug. Through the years I experimented with Diet Pepsi (subtle hints of bug repellent) and Diet Mountain Dew (undertones of bumblebee pee). None offered the not-too-bitter, not-too-sweet taste of my long-standing drug of choice. And DietRite, with zero caffeine? Clearly a marketing practical joke, much like the Snuggie.

I lived blissfully for years within my Diet Coke-cloaked little world. But then, scientific researchers and the always buzz-killing media reared their ugly heads.

My children and co-workers began emailing me horrific stories about the health risks. I sneered at these. Weight gain? As if switching to sugar-infused drinks might reduce me to a size two? Hardly. Headaches? No better over-the-counter headache meds than a couple tall glasses of Diet Coke. Hypertension? I wouldn't have a freaking pulse if it weren't for my daily Diet Coke intake.

Yet the warnings kept rolling in: Alzheimer's, cancer, depression, stroke, bone loss, tooth enamel loss, ulcers and PMS.

I'm awaiting the rest of the research results, which are sure to include random chin hairs. And garden slugs. And writing rejections.

But I jest. (Health risk #4,327: pitiful attempts at humor.) The growing barrage of health hazards finally prompted me to reflect on my addiction. Son #2, who runs and rows and hasn't sipped a soda pop in seven years, capitalized on my recent weak moment of admission. He began pushing me to simply replace my Diet Coke--with water.

Oh, my sweet naive son. Water? Really? How could pure water win over Diet Coke's irresistible formula of aspartame, caramel coloring, citric acid, formeldehyde and cocaine? (What? Cocaine's been omitted from the ingredients? I don't think so.) Beside, water lacks that one essential attribute: caffeine.

I would not make it through my first waking hour without copious quantities of caffeine. My colleagues would find me flat-lined on my office floor by 9 a.m.

Surely you coffee drinkers understand this dilemma. (Most of you need your own intervention. And I'm taking names.)

My concerned offspring's answer to this issue? Caffeinated water. This, just as it sounds, is pure water tainted only by a shot of caffeine. Believing this to be the methadone for my heroin, my son bought me a package. And in the name of family harmony, I gave it a try. The necessary kick? Maybe. But the taste? *Sigh* This stuff tasted like... water.

Yet I promised him I wouldn't give up. I'd beat this addiction somehow. Plus, I'd remind him that as his mother, it's my role to be the nag in the family.

Weeks later, I spied an iced tea maker on a store shelf. Tea? Hmm. A bit of taste--check. A healthy dose of caffeine--check. A (mostly) lack of debilitating and deadly chemicals--check.

I tossed the machine into my shopping cart (on top of the two cases of Diet Coke). The very next day, I carried it into my workplace, nodding to my coworkers as I strutted toward my office. I immediately called my son to proclaim my Diet Coke Cure lay only inches away, on top of my filing cabinet.

And there the contraption sits, and dreams of glory. Unused. Four months later. After the sixteen cases of Diet Coke I've since consumed.

Perhaps I am a hopeless addict. Maybe I need a twelve-step program. Or intensive inpatient treatment.

It's bad, my addiction, and I do plan to beat it. Unless that means truly giving it up.

Because that would be hell. And I do love me a little taste of heaven.

It's well worth an ulcer.

And the occasional chin hair or two.

Coffee, tea or Diet Coke? Do you justify your addictions? Who's been nagging you, and about what?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Take a Sad Song and Make It Better

When I was a teenager, my life was defined by music and words. And these two forces culminated in a special sort of ecstasy every time I bought a new record album.

Each step of the ritual remains as engrained in my memory as the grooves in the now dusty and warped vinyl disks.

I cradled my new record between both hands. Gently placed it on the turntable. Dropped the needle. Rushed to sprawl across my twin bed in the room I shared with my older sister, and picked up the stiff cardboard album jacket.

Only then, once the music began, did I allow myself the magic of studying the album's back cover and--if I was particularly fortunate--the lyrics printed on the liner. A song never hits its mark, never fully transported me from my parochial world, until I read the lyrics.

My friends and I listened to all the popular rockers. My first concerts included Aerosmith and the Stones. We all had our favorite Party Music and later, our favorite Cruising Music, enjoyed on tape by the lucky few with an eight-track or cassette deck in their car.

But at fifteen, I envisioned myself a poet. And, especially when I was home--alone in my room--I gravitated toward the musical poets: the brooding deep-thinkers, the songwriters who wrote of soul-searching, lost love and loneliness.

Not that I personally knew much of those emotions, except a bit of youthful discontent and rebellion. I'd been enveloped within a safe harbor, with loving parents and a secure neighborhood. I was never sexually abused nor truly socially maligned. The worst horror I'd experienced was the betrayal of a teenage boyfriend.

So what drew me to these types of songs? Did I simply want to open my arms to the shower of all human emotions? Was I under the power of hormonal overdrive? Was I suppressing a buried sadness I wasn't willing to acknowledge or admit?

Even at those occasional moments in which I did feel burdened by some teenage angst or weepiness, I immersed myself in it. I listened to my old favorites: The Beatles, Bob Dylan or Neil Young. I'd hear Cat Stevens' Father and Son, and know my feelings were universal. Or read the lyrics to The Needle and the Damage Done, hug myself and hold out hope that my life would end less tragically. I'd drop the needle on the stereo a second time, a third.

I'd listen and sing along, until feeling worse somehow made me feel better.

Later, I'd find myself writing my own poetry. I configured pieces of my emotions into rough words I might decide to submit to my high school paper, but more often than not would just hide in a notebook under my mattress.

I haven't written a poem in thirty years. My writing has changed, as have my reading tastes. Yet nothing still touches me more than a melancholy melody or an introspective tune.

Oh, how I still love a sad song.

It's not the same now, of course. I seldom buy a CD. When I do, I don't sprawl across my bed, pull out the paper insert and attempt to memorize every tiny printed word.

If songs still came embedded in scratchy 33 1/3 rpm disks, with full-size graphics and lyrics, I wonder how music might affect me now. Would it still encourage me to dig deeper within myself? To try to connect with others through their musical words? To live fully--for a few moments--within someone else's soul-searching short story?

Or do we view the world in a whole different way when we're young?

All I know is I never felt so sad, so often, as when I listened to music at fifteen.

Man, did it make me happy.

What kind of music moves you? Does a sad song make you better? Do you still hoard all that vinyl, inside dusty boxes in your basement?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lost and Found: A Tale of Bad Kitties

Once upon a time, there was a cat known as Neurotic, Unbelievably Timid and Stupid (NUTS). He was neurotic, unbelievably timid and stupid. This is his story.

Late one night, NUTS follows his brother, Bold And Delinquent (BAD) cat, into the kitchen. The door to the garage is cracked open, and the outside garage door open as well.

"Holy shit!" cries BAD cat. "We hit the motherlode! Let's run for it! Think of the adventures that await us!"

NUTS cowers. "But who knows what's out there? We could get in big trouble!"

"What are you, a scaredy cat?" growls BAD. "A fraidy cat? A pussy?"

NUTS cat tucks his tail between his legs and follows BAD cat out the door.

Several minutes later, Sucker Animal Person (SAP), snoring in bed, hears a shout. "The cats got outside!"

SAP, who has tossed off her nightshirt after her last hot flash, throws it back on and runs out. She reaches the yard just as BAD cat is caught in the beam of the flashlight. He scurries back to the garage and disappears inside the house.

NUTS cat is nowhere to be found.

SAP roams the neighborhood for days."Here, NUTS cat! Here kitty, kitty, kitty," she yells. She crawls on her belly, peering under trees and neighbors' decks. She plasters flyers on lampposts. She walks the dog through yards and fields, hoping he might catch NUTS' scent. She shakes a can of cat treats as she wanders, chanting, "Treaties, NUTS cat, treaties! Come get some treaties!"

The neighbors sigh and shut their windows. SAP envisions the terrified, starving cat--lost and lonely--and sadly sniffs.

Finally, SAP spies eyes glowing in the darkness under a neighbor's deck. "Oh, NUTS cat, it's me, Momma! Come here, baby!" she cries.

Apparently paralyzed with fear, NUTS cat doesn't budge.

SAP convinces Friendly Neighbor Lady to help scare NUTS out with a garden hose. They corner him into a spot where SAP can just barely reach him. She yanks him out by his paws. NUTS cat thrashes in her arms. He chomps down on her hand. Repeatedly. SAP loses her grip and drops him. NUTS cat escapes into the night.

SAP bandages her bloodied hand. Cursing but persistent, she sets a live trap baited with catfood. She keeps station outside, watching across the yard and awaiting the prodigal cat.

Soon after, the trap snaps shut! SAP rushes to claim her prize but discovers she has caught--the neighborhood stray. She is greatly displeased. Stray Kitty, who hisses as she opens the trap, is equally pissed-off.

An hour later, SAP finds the same friggin' stray inside the trap. She admonishes him as he sulks away. Clearly, more than one stupid cat roams the neighborhood tonight. She resets the trap.

But stupid cats aren't the only animals drawn to catfood, SAP quickly discovers. Big, frightfully mean raccoons are, too.

The trap is carefully released and relocated to SAP's front porch. NUTS must still be nearby. SAP hopes his brain is larger than it appears.

At four a.m., the dog--a failure as a bloodhound but still a loyal watchdog--barks once.

The AWOL cat is captured.

NUTS goes nuts in the trap. He flails and foams at the mouth. Once the cage is carried inside and opened, he flees up the stairs.

Relieved but exhausted by the eight-day ordeal, SAP collapses in bed. Minutes later, NUTS peers through the doorway.

"NUTS," she calls lovingly to him. "Come here, little NUTS."

He saunters across the room, hops on the bed and plops beside her. He purrs.

"You neurotic, unbelievably timid and stupid cat," she mutters. "Sure. Now you come when I call you."

Any bad dog or bad cat stories to share? Anyone want a neurotic and wayward kitty? Do your neighbors think you're nuts, too?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to Write a Book

Remember me? I hope so, because I missed you all terribly. *sniff*

I learned oodles during the month-long blog hiatus spent concentrating on my book, and I'm pleased to share my newfound wisdom (pro bono even) with each of you. So, here for everyone who ever wondered how to pen a masterpiece, is How to Write a Book 101:

First, announce to everyone you know that you are writing a book, so six years and two unsold manuscripts later they can ask you, "Hey, did you publish your book yet?"

Buy a new wardrobe two sizes up, so you have something to fit your ballooning ass after all the time you spent sitting on it.

Ignore everyday distractions such as scrubbing your toilets or paying your bills. You can hire an accountant and a live-in maid in a few months, after you receive that six-figure advance check. If not, none of it will matter after the foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Alienate your family and friends; how important can they be if they're not editing or selling your book? (If you're writing a memoir, half of them will someday hate you anyway.) Surround yourself instead with a houseful of pets who will purr or lick your hand after you read them an especially brilliant passage.

Don't worry about your writing getting sloppy as your alcohol consumption soars. Stephen King doesn't even remember writing "The Tommyknockers." Surely your drunken scrawl will be just as genius.

Take great pride--after 336 drafts--in finally getting that single paragraph on page 117 perfectly worded, just before everyone in your writing group suggests you delete the entire scene.

Refrain from checking your email every fifteen minutes after you submit a query. Wait--was that an email notification?

Never hate the agents or editors who send you rejection letters. Save your animosity for clearly talented published authors. Like Snooki and Bristol Palin.

Don't quit your day job. Once your boss catches you writing erotica on company time, you're likely to be fired anyway.

And finally, never ever give up.

Unless you have a real hankering to clean those dirty toilets.

What's the best or worst career advice you've ever gotten? Writers: Did I forget any other pearls of wisdom? And hey, did you publish your book yet?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

To Be or Not to Be--Guest Post by Gloria Stanfa

After my month-long hiatus, I'll be back on the blog-wagon next week. Meanwhile, I'm pleased to share a guest post by none other than Gloria Stanfa, AKA my mother. (Her first-ever attempt at writing something like this. Don't hate her for being naturally talented.)

I had an interesting daydream the other day, nothing mind-bending but it was thought-provoking. Come along with me as I share my would've, should've, could've world!

What do I wish I did in my life? Had the big wedding? No, not particularly. Got a degree at The University of Toledo where I was employed? No, my few credits and our girls graduating is sufficient. Learned to swim? A small maybe. Lost at least 20 pounds? Yes, still!

I was a loved, overprotected only child, who in grade school wrote stories, poems, and took art classes at the museum. In high school I majored in art and was in the drama club, appearing in one-act plays. In our junior play, Men Are Like Streetcars, I waltzed across the stage with an imaginary partner as the curtain opened. I was hooked!

Several years later as a young mother of three girls ages 6, 5 and 3, we made our way into a local production of Gypsy as walkons, with my oldest daughter Lori getting the role of Baby June. Naturally, our daughters discovered their own niches as time passed.

Their mom dabbled in a couple local art classes for fun and one for college credit with Sherry. I took creative writing at UT and yoga classes with DC.

Ah yes, the belly dancing lessons.

After one home demonstration, my husband Denny asked me, "What was that?" My response: "It was a hip roll."

He replied with our Stanfa sarcasm, "Oh, I thought you were having a seizure."

Not long after, Sherry, my friend Barb and I took acting at the Toledo Rep from a wonderful actress/instructor. I found it more intriguing than my oil painting or writing. Our acting teacher saw potential in me, complimented what I did and said I'd be a great Auntie Mame (the famous Rosalind Russell role).

Life and perhaps a lack of confidence in remembering some lines led me away.

Several years flew by and sadly Denny passed on, yet four wonderful grandchildren entered my life. I enjoyed delightful travels and times with family and friends. I wrote several eulogies and poems, but my daughters are the writers and story-tellers now.

Eventually, Sherry and her two boys (then in grade school) and I took acting classes one summer. Wow, I was still smitten!

I've seen many singers, such as Elton, Tony, Rod, Paul, Jimmy Buffet, even Frank back in his day! But the plays and stage productions are where my heart lies. The Phantom in London, Cats in Toronto, Mama Mia in Vegas, The Producers in New York (even Gypsy for my 70th in NYC) were some of my big ones. Florida, Michigan and Ohio have also given me great productions. Our local playhouses are to be remembered as well. In fact, we just saw Denny's cousin, Martin Boyer, locally in Bye Bye Birdie.

Would've, could've, should've... I still have the acting bug in my heart. Does this one dream that stands out above the others make me feel sad after all these years?

No. I'm smiling as I write this, and I feel quite confident and content.

I see the audience through the bright lights, as I walk out slowly and dramatically, entering stage right. I clearly look it, I feel it, I own it and I don't forget one line!

I am Auntie Mame, just as I always knew I could be.

Any dreams you still ponder or wish to fulfill? Any regrets of doing or not doing so? Better yet, in line with my theatrical thoughts, who do you think could play you--or whom would you like to portray--in a stage production or movie?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This Bird Has Flown (for a Bit)

Oh, you're here?


Probably expecting a nonsensical musing or some attempt at a poignant story?

Sorry. Better luck next month.

This month, I am avoiding such distractions and am gluing myself to a book rewrite. Yes, another. *sigh*

So, carry on, people. If you find yourself bored, scroll through my two years of archives. Talk amongst yourselves. Write your own damn book.

See you back here in August.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lalalalala... I Can't Hear You!

Wednesday, 1:45 P.M:
Sensible Sherry: "So, that's that. If this spring's financial fiascos weren't a wake-up call, this week's fiscal emergencies surely were. The broken rider lawnmower (irrepairable), the car air conditioning (estimated fix of $600-$1,200) and the house's central air (replacement totaling $2,500)? You need to make some significant changes in your life."

Stupid Sherry:
"Yes, yes, you're right. I will change my lifestyle right now. I will start by playing the lottery every day and by switching to Natural Light beer."

Sensible Sherry (glaring):
"What I mean is truly tightening your pursestrings. No more eating out, no more vacations and no more spending a fourth of your weekly grocery bill on adult beverages."

Stupid Sherry:
"Wow. You are a tough taskmaster."

Sensible Sherry:
"I am. And from now on, you shall be my bitch."

2:15 P.M.
Sensible Sherry: "Um, excuse me? Is that you, clicking around on"

Stupid Sherry (glancing around):
"Who, me?"

Sensible Sherry
: "It's like I don't even know you."

Stupid Sherry:
"I know, but remember back in early April, when I found that unbelievable deal for taking the Megabus to New York City? A round-trip ticket from Toledo for $4.50? Four dollars and fifty cents! I booked it right then, just in case I could make it work."

Sensible Sherry:
"It won't work. Walk away from the computer."

Stupid Sherry:
"But I managed to change my reservation! Instead of spending three nights in Manhattan, I'll only spend one! Look at the money I've saved already!"

Sensible Sherry:
"So, you will sit on a bus for twelve hours, stay in New York for a single night and then turn around and spend another twelve hours on a bus?"

Stupid Sherry:
"Yes! What an adventure it will be!"

Sensible Sherry (sighing):
"That's what the Donner Party said."

2:38 P.M.
Sensible Sherry: "Tell me you didn't."

Stupid Sherry:
"Can you believe my good luck? A hotel room for only $100, on Manhattan's lower east side!"

Sensible Sherry:
"Did you notice the fine print, about the 'shared bathroom'?"

Stupid Sherry:
"I won't shower. And I'll cross my legs."

Sensible Sherry:
"What about bed bugs?"

Stupid Sherry:
"Bed bugs? The hotel amenities didn't list those."

Sensible Sherry:
"Right. And what will you do in New York, with no money?"

Stupid Sherry:
"I will engage in several hours of fun and free things! I'll visit the public library and walk through Central Park. I will pass by homeless people and feel really good about myself."

Sensible Sherry:
"Mm-hmm. How will you eat?"

Stupid Sherry:
"I'm planning to pack a bag of peanuts and six PB and J sandwiches in my duffle bag. And I'll drink from public water fountains."

Sensible Sherry
(closing eyes and shaking head): "You are so full of shit."

Stupid Sherry:
"OK. I will pack a bottle of cheap vodka and eat $2 hot dogs from street vendors. And I will ask for extra mustard packets and make an entire meal out of them."

Sensible Sherry:
"You need professional help. Although you can't afford that either."

Stupid Sherry:
"Come on! How could anyone let a practically free trip to New York go unused? That's like telling Ed McMahon to go away when he shows up at your door."

Sensible Sherry (checking
"Ed McMahon died in 2009. If he happens to show up at your door, promise me you'll tell him to go away."

Stupid Sherry:
"OK. But I am definitely going to New York."

Sensible Sherry (rolling her eyes):
"Fine. Spend three days of your life with twenty-five hours squeezed into a bus seat and another eight hours sleeping in a frightfully cheap hotel."

Stupid Sherry:
"Yes. Yes, I will. Sounds delightful. Jeez, you're such a worrier. I mean, with a great plan like this, what could possibly go wrong?"

To be continued...

So how are you spending your summer vacation? What would you do in New York City on a dime? Do you listen to the angel or the devil on your shoulders?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lambchop, We Hardly Knew Ye

Am taking a cue here from a character in my current novel-in-progress, who contemplates how her obituary might read. Feel free to add your own comments and memories. Special bonus: As of tonight, I'm still here to read the Guestbook!

Sherry Stanfa-Stanley passed away peacefully last night, an ancient bitch who lived far longer than she deserved.

She was born in Toledo, Ohio, a city immortalized by John Denver and a mayor who proposed relocating deaf people to the airport.

Her parents already used up their favorite girls' names. So they entrusted their youngest daughter's lifelong personal identity to her two- and three-year-old sisters. They named her after puppeteer Shari Lewis. She forever regretted not being dubbed "Lambchop."

In her youth, Sherry possessed a great sense of adventure. Tragically, this quality managed to escape the Girl Scouts of America, the St. Patrick's seventh grade basketball team and Junior Achievement, all which booted her before she made her sure-to-be landmark contributions.

An alumna of Toledo's E.L. Bowsher High School, she anticipated the day a statue--presumably entitled The Truant Student--would be erected in her honor. Instead, the school board voted to raze the building.

Redeeming herself at The University of Toledo, she somehow graduated with honors. She later took pride in the fact that she was never technically fired from a job.

Sherry excelled at editing, due to her love of pointing out other people's mistakes. She also wrote several books, masterpieces which would have topped the New York Times Bestsellers List and won the Pulitzer, if only she'd received an effin' publishing contract.

She was indulged by a few and whispered about behind her back by the rest. Those who knew Sherry well said she never met a margarita she didn't like.

She is survived by family members who wish to remain anonymous, as well as 213 dogs and cats.

In lieu of flowers, Sherry requested memorial contributions be made to Hoarders Anonymous or the International Movement to Ban Bad Speling.

Services will be held at her own bedside on Monday at 2 p.m., since Sherry despised getting out of bed, and nothing pissed her off more than being nudged from a dead sleep before noon.

Son #1 tells me I have a sick sense of humor and this post is bad karma. So, what are the odds I'll be hit by a bus tomorrow? Any details or memories you care to add? How do you envision your own obituary?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bruno: A Bear of a Man, Reprise

Seem to be thinking quite a bit about my grandparents these days. With Father's Day approaching, I wanted to once again share a story about my grandfather.

His name was Bruno, German for "brown bear." A fitting name for a man tough as a grizzly, soft as a child's teddy.

Emigrating to the United States at age 12, Bruno found himself plunged into a new world and a different culture. Without knowing a single word of his new country's language, he managed to achieve all A's in school--except in his English class. He spoke of this years later, in now perfect English, with pride at his accomplishment and a twinge of disappointment at that one failure.

But education was a luxury for many families, especially immigrants, in the 1920s. He left school after the eighth grade, his carpenter father insisting boys his age must learn a trade. Bright and good with his hands, Bruno trained to be a machinist. A humble occupation, it didn't bring great wealth but ensured a decent enough living, and of that he remained proud. Decency--in a person's character and their work ethic--mattered much to Bruno.

If he'd been born wealthier and a half-century later, his calling would have been an engineer or a computer scientist. At a holiday gathering when he was about eighty, he quizzed my computer salesman brother-in-law.

"How are things at your shop?" (Every workplace was a "shop," whether the person worked in a factory, an office or out of their home.) He leaned forward, listening, as my brother-in-law fumbled through an explanation of the computer network sales business. Bruno nodded, his bushy gray eyebrows knitted together and his ever-alert blue eyes particularly intense.

"But now explain this to me," he said, in his legendary line of questioning of everything in life. "How exactly does a computer work?"

No one could satisfy his insatiable curiosity.

It was even more impossible to deter the man's determination.

A heart attack, when he was only in his forties, fortified his will to live. Damned if he'd let a bad heart get the best of him. That heart attack was Bruno's first and his last. He survived another forty years.

While he was in his sixties, the company for whom he worked more than thirty years folded. He lost not only his job but his entire pension. Self-pity or despair were never an option. Bruno simply persevered and found another job.

Years later, a horrific car crash left him with injuries that included several broken ribs and a pulverized face. (His jaw would be wired shut, rendering him unable to speak and on a liquid diet for weeks.) The day after the accident, he ignored the hospital staff's heeding and plodded down the hallway to the ICU to be by the side of my grandmother, who suffered a broken neck.

Bruno didn't believe in giving up on giving his all. That's what I remember most about my grandfather. Plus his exuberant bear hugs. And his misty-eyed, frequently repeated words, "I'm so proud of you kids."

I wish I would have, just once, said I was proud of him, too.

Bruno outlived his wife of sixty-two years, who never fully bounced back from that accident. He also outlived my father, whom he never called his son-in-law but always his son.

My dad died from cancer, at age 53, only four months after the car crash. (Ironically, while already scheduled for chemotherapy, he was the only one uninjured out of the vehicle's six passengers.) My father-in-law died just two years later--also at age 53--when my two sons were just babies.

Although he was their great-grandfather, Bruno is the only grandpa either of my now grown boys remember.

Bruno lived to a more-than-decent age of 89. He'd be 100 next month. He's been gone for more than ten years, yet I see his warmth and his fortitude alive still in my mother. I'd like to believe that I possess just a bit of both of those qualities, too. And when I look at my two sons, I'm certain I see fragments of their great-grandfather.

Yes, he was a Great Grandfather.

Happy Father's Day, Grandpa.

Any characteristics you wish a parent or grandparent passed down? What would you say to your grandparents now, if you had the chance? Can you please explain to us all how computers actually work?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Will You Take a Quarter for This Blog Post?

With temperatures in the nineties, accompanied by a heat advisory warning by the National Weather Service, I spent the last few days as any practical and precautious person would: doubled-over and wheezing while producing gallons of sweat within my unairconditioned garage.

Oh sure, there are some folks who probably sought a safe and comfortable refuge from the hazardous heat. They retreated to their home's central air or cooled off in a neighborhood swimming pool. Pfft. I decided nothing could delight me more than spending Every Freaking Day of my one-week summer vacation inside my attached two-car sauna.

Nobody knows how to have a better time than I do. So, for the hottest week of the summer, I scheduled a garage sale. And because I enjoy a seriously good challenge, I did nothing to prepare for it until just days before the event.

For those of you who have held a garage sale, you know that if there's anything even more fun-filled than actually hosting the sale, it's the cleaning, organizing and tagging that comes first. For the average person, this results in a somewhat tiring project. For people like me, who have not touched most of their household belongings for nearly twenty years, it is as wearisome as the Republican Party's search for a decent 2012 presidential candidate.

Some people scrap-book; others play tennis. I like to consider "collecting loads of shit" a bit of a hobby.

Astute readers might recall my kitchen cupboard purging escapade of this past February. Although I had high hopes for offers from TV game show producers, I've been forced, sadly, to move on with my life.

Specifically, I moved on to cleaning my basement. And I'm fairly certain that this time, the producers of Hoarders will not let me down.

I have never understood the adage "Less Is More." Is having $50 to your name truly better than having a million? Is a third-grade education more beneficial than a college degree? Hell no. So why own three kitchen spatulas when you can own twelve? Why pay for food and veterinary bills for one pet when you can have the satisfaction of paying for six? Why drink two margaritas when you can drink... (Wait, is there actually some limit?)

My recent basement purging was not unlike my kitchen cabinet cleansing--except instead of discovering twenty-three beer koozies, I discovered an endless bounty of toy action figures. At best guess, approximately 503 of them lay dropped and discarded across the basement floor.

Among these was every Happy Meal toy made between 1990 and 2000. I'd like to believe this is a sign of a loving and doting mother. In reality, it's the sign of a woman who apparently didn't prepare a homecooked meal for ten years.

I'm told that some of these items are collectibles, garnering big bucks on eBay. I'd like to believe choosing not to do so is the sign of a busy professional person with no spare time. In reality, it's a sign I'm lazy.

On the rare occasion that I've cleaned out closets, cabinets and toy bins, I simply hauled everything off to the Goodwill. This time, I decided I could use the money. (Still paying off bills from my Month of Financial Hell.)

Today was my garage sale premiere. I made a total of $63. At this rate, I should make about $150 over the course of the three-day event. Not a paltry sum. Until you consider the countless hours I spent sorting, washing, organizing and pricing. Given the time invested, I figure I'll net roughly 25 cents an hour.

This garage sale gig is way less lucrative than selling my body on the streets. A middle-age, overweight, unenthusiastic body at that.

I'm thinking of looking for an evening job instead, fit in somewhere between the day job and my extracurricular writing. Maybe McDonald's? After all, Mickey D positions are plentiful and the hours are flexible. In a fully airconditioned environment.

If I'm lucky they also offer an employee discount on Happy Meals. Because by Sunday, after I've finished sweating and wheezing, I expect to develop an ache for some cheap plastic action figures. Damn, those tiny toys are cute. I hear they do well on eBay.

And I'll bet not a single customer will ask, "Are you willing to take a quarter for this cheeseburger?"

Are you a hoarder or a purger? What are you willing to do, legally or illegally, to make a few extra bucks? Any big interest in a twenty-year-old food processor or some plastic Pocahontas toys?

Note to my fellow (and far more talented) bloggers: Between my recent writers workshop and the garage sale hell that followed, I am way behind in my blog reading. I promise to stop by your way this week...)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Cupful of Memories - Reprise

I grasp my grandmother's hand as we wait for the bus. She squeezes back, and I peer up at her. Even at age six, I sense she's the kind of woman who draws admiring looks: dark with high cheekbones and a slightly beaked nose, traces of her Algonquin Indian blood from generations past.

I do not know, until years later, the effort required to maintain that beauty. I don't realize the toll taken by years of factory conditions. I pay little attention to the ointment she applies every night to her face and arms, to soothe wounds from the flying metal fragments embedded in her skin, or to the wigs that cover the thinning hair from similar spots on her scalp.

In 1967, I comprehend none of this.

We climb on the bus. Grandma Stanfa doesn't drive; she is accustomed to this ride from the Old South End to downtown Toledo. The only bus I've ridden is the one to my suburban school, where I'm in the first grade.

"Grandma," I announce with wide eyes, "look at all the chocolate people!"

"Shh." She raises her finger to her lips. "They're called colored people. You know, like Moms Mabley."

I nod, sneaking another look at the woman across the aisle. I've never seen a colored person in my neighborhood or school. But I'm familiar with Moms Mabley, whom Grandma loves to watch on TV. Later, Grandma talks about the importance of respect. She explains that words, even spoken out of innocence, can offend or hurt someone. I'll bet my grandmother has never hurt anyone's feelings. I hope I don't either.

Grandma sits straight. She rides the bus with a quiet dignity. I swing my dangling feet, kicking them against each other, and chatter away. Grandma smiles down at me. Unlike so many other adults I know, she answers my endless questions not just with patience, but with interest.

Although she has six other grandchildren, today is just about Grandma and me. She allowed me to choose our supper menu, bought me my very own can of black olives and even let me pick today's movie: The Jungle Book. I know my sisters and cousins have had their own days like this with Grandma. But today I feel special.

I hesitate when she stops at the concession stand. My family's far from rich, but I know my grandmother is worse off than we are.

My mom says Grandma's first husband died not long after my Uncle Bob was born. She married again and had my dad and my Uncle Sonny. I'm not sure what happened to my grandfather. I guess my dad met him just once, when he was three. I overheard my mom tell that story, too. "You're doing a good job with the boys," he told my grandmother when he visited. Then, he was gone for good.

My Uncle Bob still lives with Grandma though. He was in the Korean War, and he hears voices that nobody else hears. Grandma tells me I don't need to be afraid of him.

Grandma finally convinces me to get something to drink. I chew my bottom lip, considering my choices. I order a grape drink, served in a plastic, purple fruit-shaped cup.

I have never been to an indoor theater before, only to the drive-in movies with my parents and sisters. From my velvet-covered seat in the Pantheon theater, I stare at the movie screen, mesmerized. I accidentally slurp--too loudly--through my straw. Alarmed, I glance up at my grandmother. She winks at me.

When we return to Grandma's house, she pours herself a drink. Whiskey. She lights a cigarette. When she's not looking, I stub it out in the ashtray. When I'm not looking, she lights another.

The next morning, we walk to Mass. I attend a Catholic grade school, but my parents aren't so religious about weekly Sunday services. Grandma's a good Catholic. The kind who goes to Mass every morning, seven days a week. The kind who doesn't remarry after a failed marriage and a long-gone husband, because the Church doesn't believe in divorce.

When my parents pick me up, Grandma kisses me goodbye. I wave as I climb into our car. I leave her behind in her tiny two-bedroom house, with her freshly printed church bulletin, her pack of cigarettes and her schizophrenic son, for whom she will care until she dies in a hospital bed, seven years later.

Some people leave your life too soon. Often, years pass before you fully appreciate them for what you didn't know then--and what you still remember now.

Sometimes, you wish you'd collected every one of those memories and saved them, perhaps in a grape-shaped purple cup.

How well did you really know your grandparents? What is it about a rainy day that makes us remember, with a wistful smile, those we loved and lost?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oh, What a Night! (Middle-Aged Style)

Join me, if you will, on one middle-aged party animal's night on the town.

You primp and you polish, then you glance in the mirror. On a scale of 1-10, you are a *generous* 2.5 You pile on another layer of concealer and decide it will have to do.

Not a parking space to be found for this new hot bar. You cruise around in your minivan for 20 minutes until a decent spot opens up. ("Decent" meaning no more than 50 yards from the door, so as not to render you prone and hyperventilating on the pavement.)

You frown as you size up the crowd. Clearly these must be middle-school students, keeping the Fake ID Industry alive and well. The girl beside you sports a micro-top that reveals most of her as-yet-unsagging cleavage. Her heels measure approximately one-fourth of your full height. You're fairly certain one of your children used to babysit her.

You glance down at your presumably fashionable smock top and hope no one mistakes you as pregnant. It dawns on you that not one person here might imagine you as still of child-bearing age. In between heavy gasps from your 50-yard walk, you sigh.

You shake this off and squeeze through the crowded dance floor because you need a drink. Or six.

When you've made your way to the bar a half-hour later, you order a Miller 64. It's all the calories and alcohol your body can handle. The bartender finishes pouring tequila shots for other customers and sneers at your order. If you were his mother, you'd ground the little bastard.

Finally, you spot your friends in the mob. You attempt to hold a conversation, but you can't hear a word over the music. You nod and smile when anyone appears to say something in your general direction. You make a note to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, right after your mole-check and colonoscopy.

You spend the next couple hours pretending to enjoy the music. The band is playing Oldies, which apparently now consist of songs from the nineties. You don't recognize one. You were too busy during that decade changing diapers and driving to soccer practices to keep up with the latest from Nine Inch Nails.

A couple friends suggest dancing, but you're not entirely sure what type of dance moves this music requires. Besides, your bad knee isn't likely to handle any moves at all.

When Mother Nature calls, you welcome any reprieve from the thump of the bass. You head to the restroom. Pushing and pausing through the endless crowd, you remind yourself to plan ahead for any future bathroom breaks--well before you are once again stooped over and crossing your legs. This wisdom comes in handy tonight the next four or five times you have to pee.

One glance and whiff in the restroom causes you to recoil. You fight back the bile rising in your throat and ransack the room in search of a toilet brush and can of Scrubbing Bubbles. Your quest is futile, since most of the staff here reside blissfully in the questionable hygiene of a college dorm.

As you rush from the restroom one last time, you glance at the clock: Just after midnight. Well past your bedtime!

You shout an apology to your friends and make your way to your minivan. You squint and swear as you crawl down the highway. You need to talk to your optometrist ASAP about this freaking night blindness! But your failing vision is the least of your worries right now. Because, Holy Mother of God, do you need to pee!

The next time your friends call about getting together, you suggest a Saturday luncheon at the art museum cafeteria.

If you're going to feel outdated and ancient, you're going to do so with a hint of class. At a place where no one is likely to flash a fake ID.

But if they ask for your damn AARP card, you're out of there.

Can you still hang with the Wild Ones? What constitutes your big night on the town? What ever happened to cover bands playing the damn Beatles?