Sunday, November 16, 2014

What a Difference A Year Makes (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

Before I get back to work on the latest novel, My Ideal Life, my #NaNoWriMo2014 endeavor, I couldn't resist comparing my progress so far this year with the place I was at this time last year. You may recall my post from that time detailing the challenges of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and if so, you probably remember the handy graph I supplied that provided grim proof of how quickly this writing challenge can get away from a person.
It's a straight slope to reach the goal. Alas, for me, the gap is widening.

But the graph looks like this today! (You guys! Don't tell anyone, but I think my writing habit is now a real thing.)
Halfway there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thoughts on October Ending: the Month of Death (In the category of Want What You Have.)

I’m watching the Boys of Summer play a game. It’s the next to last game of the year, and I like to be informed at the water cooler about who won (Royals over the Giants 10-0 – sheesh!). As I watch, it occurs to me that I dislike baseball partly because I never understand what the officials are signaling. In football, the calls are exaggerated motions: hands clapped over head as if preparing for the Sun Salutation yoga pose, hands chopping at knees, fist drawn down across the face from forehead to chin, two arms held aloft, straight overhead, an obvious sign of victory. In baseball, the umpire makes a secret wrist move that might mean ball, might mean strike, or might just be a fist bump of encouragement.

I realize I reveal my ignorance of such things with this confession.

My father tried to teach me baseball – a love of watching it, not playing it. For Dad, baseball represented warm summer evenings at the ballpark of the Tidewater Tides (now the Norfolk Tides) from the box seat on the first base line. He filled in crossword puzzles between cracks of the bat (few and far between if you know anything about baseball). He knew the beer guys by name and chatted up the other season ticket holders in his section like he had known them all his life, even if the people in the seats had only just been given tickets for the night.

I spent every home game in July from 1978 to 1981 watching the Tidewater Tides play in Met Park, which was once situated, literally, in the middle of Military Highway in Norfolk, Virginia. The Tides are the farm team for the New York Mets to this day, and they now play in newer, larger, and more logically located Harbor Park. In my early adolescence, I spent most games fantasizing that the Tides’ second baseman (Kevin Something) spotted me forlorn in the box seats between home plate and first base and fell instantly in love with me. Other nights, not even the halide lit double header could keep my nose out of a book. Darryl Strawberry kept things fun for a season, but then he got called up and we went back to slow nights at the ballpark.

Tonight, I’m really watching baseball to bide time until Master Chef – Canada begins. So is my husband, who played little league when he was nine and got screamed at by the coach for being distracted by fresh wild blue berries in the outfield. No one had ever hit the ball that far…until that day when he was picking and munching sweet, warm, blue orbs of sugar and flesh instead of watching the progress of the game. The ball landed inches from the blueberry bush. Oops.

We don’t love baseball, but at the end of the season, we are drawn to the ballpark to see…to know.


Many things end in October – not just baseball. All the leaves are dying. Dumb squirrels, greedy in their survival quest for one more acorn, get squished in the road. Dumb skunks too. (And I live in suburbia. I shudder to think what my rural neighbors are scraping up.)

All Hallows Eve approaches, Samhain, if you prefer. The sacred night marks the lifting of the veil between those of us who walk in the illusion of life and those of us who float in the misperceptions of what comes after. Some families will dress up, stroll around, and collect free candy. Others will simply distribute candy. Some will light bonfires. Many will spend the evening preparing for the next day, Dia de los Muertos, the day of the dead. They build small altars, ofrendas, to ancestors, decorating them with marigolds and sugar skulls. They prepare food to take to the cemetery, a picnic with the dead to honor life.

Anne would be 70 on All Saint’s Day, if fate had allowed her to live beyond 57. Perhaps I will shape a sugar skull, festoon it with marigolds, and pack a picnic to remember her. It would have been a major event, her 70th birthday party, made all the more festive by falling on a Saturday night. Live music, I feel certain, and a catered buffet would have been the highlights. Gifts with cat themes that Anne and I could poke gentle fun at later, when the party was over -- so many cat-themed gifts.


I pulled up the stakes in the tomato garden yesterday. Most of the plants had died, and weeds had overrun my once pristine plot. The sweet brown bunny that has been living in the garden this summer apparently preferred to eat the dropped tomatoes, and not the tomatillos. The ratio was 6:1 as I cleaned the fallen fruit. I’m sure I missed a few, but I like to see which plants “volunteer” the following spring. Gardens are amazing that way. Even if you don’t deliberately plant the seed, they grow anyway. I, like Thoreau, can sometimes find my faith in a seed. In the month of death, they form and mature, holding a promise that, one day, life will return.

The Boys of Summer are almost done. One more game. Frosts get harder. The garden yellows, shrivels, and shrinks back into the ground. Days are short and nights long. I listen for the reassuring click-whoosh as the gas furnace fires up and the temperature falls. Already, I miss evenings on the back deck – the sunshine leaves my deck at the autumnal equinox and will not return until its spring counterpart occurs in late March. I will be a year older then, if fate allows me to be. Life is a thin thread that snaps easily, and let’s face it, no one gets out alive. The dead are laughing at us, but I don’t care. I’m going live each second like the thread might snap, show the ones I love that I love them, and dance at the still point of the turning world. I will blessed be.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Museum Worthy (In the category of Be Where You Are.)

It’s been a summer for reconnecting with old friends – for all the wrong reasons – our mutual peers are dying, but seeing familiar faces after so many years has uplifted me. I walked on air for a week after the amazing send off we gave to Ronny Clifford, bon vivant, musician, and all-around awesome guy. For years, Ronny was the front man for the Smalltown Coalition of Unemployed Musicians, better known as S.C.U.M., a wildly talented collection of local musicians who liked to jam and cover the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, and Lou Reed, just to name a few. Their Halloween and New Year’s Eve gigs are now the stuff of Blacksburg legend. All proceeds from the door went to Ronny’s favorite charity, the Women’s Resource Center in Radford, Virginia.

For Ronny’s memorial service, they put the band back together. Ronny’s wife, Lana, secured the place that was once Daddy’s Money and Buddy’s Restaurant, now-closed Blacksburg venues where Ronny both worked and played. We filled the space with musical instruments, music stands, food, and friends. The sound guy cranked the speakers, guitars blended, drums beat, keyboards shook, singers sang, Wendy wailed her amazing voice. Herb stood by the amplifier in headphones and swayed to the music. Videos of Ronny’s past performances played on a large screen above and behind the stage. Without audio, it often looked like Ronny was joining in with the live performance. Dancing on the hard red tile floor that I had shimmied on (and mopped) so many times, I was transported back to 1989, a good place for me: 23 years old and fresh out of college (I went with the five-year plan); I had a semester to kill before graduate school, I was romantically unattached, happy hour highballs were $1.50, and I had loads of fun.

A few days after his memorial service, word reached us through the Facebook group created to remember Ronny, that the new Alexander Black House and Cultural Museum in Blacksburg was putting together an exhibit about the Blacksburg music scene in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The timing felt serendipitous. Ronny's service had reconnected members from every band who had been part of that vibrant local music scene. Musicians and groupies alike (I was the latter) had all just spent weeks remembering those days and digging out old photos to share on Facebook. (For the record, young’uns may have started Facebook, but we old farts have completely co-opted it.) We also posted and watched old videos of local performances at Steppin’ Out or South Main Cafe that have found their way to YouTube. 

The curator’s call for exhibit objects could not have come at a better moment. The memories and mementoes we had unearthed for ourselves were now, suddenly, also museum worthy. 

In the brief period since I sent the museum my LifeFest CD (an album of local Blacksburg bands who got together to raise awareness about the growing AIDS epidemic in the late-1980’s), LifeFest button, and signed consent form, two more friends from that time in my life have died. Both of them were fixtures in the Blacksburg music scene. Joe Willson (yes, I spelled his name correctly), former bass player for the Yams from Outer Space succumbed, like Ronny, to cancer. Just last night I learned that Henry Kelley, who produced music videos of the music scene in Blacksburg and ran psychedelic light shows for many of the bands' live performances at South Main Cafe, also died. I had last seen Henry four years ago at Steppin’ Out. He was in town for a visit, having moved to Hawaii in the 1990’s. When I wished him goodnight, he was dancing his ass off at the Cafe at Champs, rocking out to the Kind, and smiling from ear to ear. Heaven is having a hell of a jam session right now. 

For me, this makes Saturday’s exhibit opening bittersweet. If I make it (and I hope to, but I need to survive the Hokie football game first) I expect to see all of their faces in the photos that have been donated. I won’t be surprised if I hear their voices as well. The museum exhibit opening will include live music, as is only appropriate, featuring the Kind and the Electric Woodshed, two bands who formed in the 1980’s and continue to play today. It will be another trip down memory lane, to a happy time and place, but it will be tinged with sadness. 

Those of us who were immersed in the music scene back then, we knew we had something special. The energy was palpable, and musical futures were bright. But things changed. Venues closed, and the town killed the spring block parties that were actually day-long rock concerts featuring all the local bands. They chucked the Tau Sig fraternity out of Virginia Tech, ending those fabulous Friday and Saturday night basement dance parties with Nervous Romance. The other frats turned to DJs for their music — or maybe their iPods. The allure of live music diminished, and Blacksburg’s culture lost something valuable.

Maybe this new exhibit will rekindle the desire in the younger generation to form bands. Maybe the good stewards of the town of Blacksburg are ready to re-embrace the crazy chaos of live music, of dancing in the streets, of losing oneself in a perfect guitar chord. We never expected to be museum worthy. It was always just about the music.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Smitty's Tale (In the Category of Want What You Have...Had.)

Attention comrades of the #wlf and all anipals. It is with the leakiest eyes that I must tell you that our sweet Smitty Kitty (@IAmSmittyKitty) has gone over the rainbow bridge. If you are reading this, Smitty was a pal to you, and this must be a shock. It all seems very sudden; hopefully this blog post will make things more clear. If you tweeted with Smitty, you know he was all heart. This was true in more ways than one.

At the beginning of May of 2013, Smitty developed a little cough. We were concerned that he may have had a chest cold or allergies so we took him to our regular vet for a check up and chest x-ray. The x-ray revealed that Smitty actually suffered from cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that results in an enlarged heart. It’s a genetic condition that can strike a cat at any age from 3 months to 10 years, although it is far more common in older cats. Smitty had just turned two. Our vet referred us to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia, or as we call it around here, the Vet Med College. We are blessed to live in the area; many devoted anipal staff drive for hours to bring their pets here.

An echocardiogram confirmed what the chest x-ray showed. Smitty’s heart had an advanced case of heart disease. The entire left side of his heart wasn’t working at all. Quantity of life was no longer an option. Quality of life was all we could shoot for. The note they sent us home with concluded that Smitty could die at any moment. Needless to say, it was a very dark day.

Please forgive us if we decided not to tell the pals on Twitter what was going on. Smitty didn’t realize he was sick, you see. We didn’t have the heart to tell him. We just let him be sweet, happy, silly Smitty.

Smitty was born to a mama cat that was either feral or homeless. Blacksburg, Virginia is a college town, and as such, it has a problem with irresponsible college students who adopt cats that they cannot afford to spay or neuter and then graduate or return home for the summer and abandon their “college” pet. Smitty’s mama cat taught him how to eat from a trash dumpster, weaned him, and then shunned him at around 12 weeks old. Smitty, ever a willful lad, decided he didn’t like to be alone, so he sat beside the dumpster mewing loudly for days until the girlfriend of the new tenant whose bedroom window was below the dumpster scooped him up and brought him in. (Thanks to Smitty’s song, they had not slept for two nights.) The boyfriend’s apartment did not allow pets, so she took the kitten to her apartment, snapped some adorable pictures of the little guy, and posted them on Facebook: Kitten Needs a Home.

That’s how we met Smitty. His rescuer was a friend of a friend, and that friend shared the photos on her Facebook timeline. I saw them there, and I knew at first sight that I had to play with the kitten. Had. To. I also knew what that meant, so I asked my husband if I could have him. We have an older cat, and I felt a companion kitten would put a bit more spring in her step. Plus, I had to play with the kitten. Had. To.

Admit it! You would have to play with this kitten too. Have. To.

My husband made me promise to take him straight to the vet for shots and a checkup, which I did. In addition to ear mites, Smitty had bad diarrhea, not uncommon, but in his case it was a serious overrun of Clostridium Difficile. The “C-Diff” bacteria can be found in rotten meat and rotten vegetable matter, the sort you would find at the bottom of a trash dumpster. He passed his feline leukemia test though (after a tense 30 minutes...I was already smitten with Smitty, but a positive test result would have ended his life that day). We put him on antibiotics to straighten out the tummy troubles and little Smitty thrived.

His tummy trouble did not immediately stop, though. The weeks of eating dumpster trash had wrecked his GI tract, and he had chronic IBS. We put him on a daily antibiotic. This need for a once-a-day pill resulted in Smitty, at a young age, becoming comfortable with being handled and pilled. His heart condition required more pills to be given, every 12 hours, and this allowed us to keep him medicated and comfortable for much longer than might be expected.

He took a pill to reduce his blood pressure, giving his half-heart a break from having to work so hard. And he took two doses of a diuretic, furosemide, every day, to relieve the build-up of fluid from around his not-so-spunky heart. The coughing stopped, and Smitty seemed to be doing well at first. He winded easily, though, and he quit being able to run for more than a few feet before he had to lie down and catch his breath.

Cats, like humans, can develop tolerances to medicine. Smitty needed to have the furosemide dose increased about every two weeks in order to keep it working properly. By the beginning of August 2013 he had maxed out the dosage he could handle, his breathing rate shot up to 65 breaths per minute, (18-20 is normal) and things looked bad. But then an anipal, @KendallKatz, suggested a different diuretic, torsemide. Kenny’s staff was able to provide a scholarly paper about its use in cats with cardiomyopathy that we sent to Dr. W., Smitty’s cardiologist. She agreed that we should try it, and after only two days, Smitty’s breathing was back to normal; he was running again! He even managed to take out a few birds – one he snatched out of mid-air with both paws! His form was truly restored.

Dr. W. found a pharmaceutical compounding company that would put the torsemide in a liquid suspension with a fish flavor. This allowed us to step up the dosage in very small increments. (And Smitty loved the taste! Meds were now a treat he requested!) But we were all in uncharted waters now. None of us knew how much a little ten pound kitty could tolerate before this new medicine quit working or his kidneys failed. We agreed that kidney failure was a less horrible mode of death than congestive heart failure. Kidney failure allows toxins to build up in the bloodstream, causing lethargy and eventually a coma. Congestive heart failure feels like drowning. One gasps and gasps until the heart quits. (This is true for humans as well as cats.)

Smitty developed a tolerance to torsemide less quickly, and he handled it well. We did not know for how long though, so we set out on a deliberate course to treat each day with Smitty as a gift. Smitty taught us not only to love unconditionally, but to savor literally every second of that love. Feel it, have it, for each precious moment, wallow in it. No eye blink should be taken for granted. Every breath, every sweet sigh can last a lifetime if we let them. Like magic, we made time stand still, for a little while.

We worried for his kidneys. His were young, strong, and healthy, but spending months pissing gallons, and I mean gallons of urine, takes their toll on even the youngest and the strongest. At the beginning of December 2013 we noticed that the amount of urine Smitty produced was starting to flag. Two days later, he stopped eating. He wouldn’t drink voluntarily anymore, either, and Dr. W. told us that was the sign. From there, his condition would deteriorate quickly. We scheduled the appointment to send him over the rainbow bridge (it’s a pretty euphemism). That night, Smitty began to drink again. Two days later, when we thought we would be taking him to be put to sleep, we gleefully cancelled the appointment. We called it a Christmas miracle. Smitty marched on.

In May 2014, we celebrated Smitty’s one-year-diagnosis-iversary with lobster (Smitty loved lobster). The torsemide had changed the game. Smitty’s heart still beat. The sense of sand slipping through an hourglass magnified. Every second of every minute of every day with Smitty became keen and precious. We stayed mindful of the moments. We wanted what we had.

Today, with a heavy heart, I finally finish this post to tell you he has gone. Sweet Smitty Kitty has gone away to a place where he doesn’t hurt anymore. A place where he can run as far and as fast as he wants to without losing his breath. Sadly, it is a place where we cannot follow.

In the true spirit of the comrades of the #wlf, Smitty has a new mission in the 10th Battalion. Smitty will go on to help other kitties with this same heart condition. You see, this heart condition is rarely diagnosed in living cats. Usually, the owners don’t know the cat has an enlarged heart until it just dies suddenly. Smitty’s cough was an unusual side effect of cardiomyopathy, one that vets rarely see in cats (it is relatively common in dogs with this condition). In many ways, we got “lucky” that Smitty coughed. It allowed us to treat the condition, and we got fifteen really great months that we otherwise would not have gotten.

It also allowed Smitty to become a member of an important collaboration that the Vet Med college has with another university in Italy. We have donated his heart to the Vet Med college so that more can be learned about the causes and course of this disease. We have also given them the extensive notes we kept after putting him on torsemide. We hope it will help veterinarians to better treat the condition using torsemide and increase the quality of life for cats with it. In the end, his kidneys did not kill him. We can’t be certain which, but either he threw a clot or his sweet little heart just stopped. We found him at his favorite napping spot in our bedroom. He did not suffer.

As for you, Smitty’s Twitter pals, I am so sorry to have broken your hearts with this news. Please know how much your Twitter friendship means to us. We do not yet know if Smitty will Tweet from OTRB or if Smitty’s Diddy will take up the account and the challenge to help anipals find forever homes and retweet to get help for Smitty’s friends, Lucy Liberte, the elephant and Tony the Tiger, who both need to find better homes than the ones they currently endure. For now, we are just going to try and make it without our “Boo Boo.”

Here are links to some memories of Smitty: (specifically the compilation at the top, and then the vidoes and pictures as you scroll further down).

*pawhugs* from Smitty’s Mama and Diddy.

31 August 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Simple Pleasures (Stream of Consciousness) (In the Category of Be Where You Are)

As I write this, I’m sitting on my deck at a table with my husband. Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” is on Pandora,” and I’ve given it a thumbs up. Pandora is still learning me, and maybe I led her astray when I added Floyd Cramer. Once in a while, his melodious piano playing soothes, but it’s a sunny Saturday, I live in suburbia, and we need something to drown out the sound of weed whackers. It allows us to pretend we’re the only ones here.

The neighbor dogs must be in because I don’t hear them. They bark shrilly if they see us sitting on our deck. Sometimes, if I say, “Hush Hoppy, hush Snowball, they will quiet down -- at least until Smitty Kitty appears. He likes to enrage the yip yaps by sitting at the corner of the yard, just inside our fence in their full view. Slowly, he’ll groom, washing ears and face, tail swishing in rhythm with their canine protests.

It’s a rare August day in the Blue Ridge Mountains – low humidity, a light breeze, sky as blue as the ridge line that surrounds my house. This is good tomato growing weather, and the garden has been bountiful. From inside my house, the scent of my fresh picked San Marzano tomatoes drying slowly in a low oven wafts out. It’s sweet and savory at the same time. I will pack them in extra virgin olive oil for future salads and pizzas. I’ve already put up a jar to take to my dear friend, Carol, tomorrow. These, now drying, I will keep.

Later today, we’ll fill the air with the scent of steak teriyaki, grilled to perfection on a bright blue Weber. Sauté the fresh wild mushroom mix we bought at this morning’s farmer’s market, roast corn shared from a co-worker’s garden. Simple pleasures – we want what we have.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Call May Be Monitored (In the category of Say What You Mean.)

Last week, a man named Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast service, a Herculean task, as the recording he made illustrates. I and my husband listened to the conversation, marveling that Mr. Block had wasted so much precious time arguing with this fool of a customer service representative (CSR). His reasons for enduring the aggressive Comcast employee are his own, and certainly the audio recording, painful as it is to hear, has garnered a good bit of attention to Mr. Block. It has also created the opportunity to begin the dialog on the pitfalls of today's telephone customer service.

I have some knowledge in this area. You see, my husband once endured a brief stint between jobs as an electronics technician (his chosen field) answering customer calls for the #2 satellite television provider in the United States. (We then, and still, use the #1 provider ourselves.) He already had a knack for dealing with CSRs before he took the job. Periodically, if the need arose, he'd call the #1 satellite television provider, or  our credit card company, or the phone company, and ask some question about our service. Nearly always, before the call concluded on a cheerful note, he would have managed to finagle some perk or other -- free HBO for a few months, a lower interest rate, free call forwarding -- you name it.

When my husband went through customer service training from the other side of the phone, his insight into how to manipulate these people began to transcend simple freebies. He learned how to work the system -- the triggers that cause the computer to take you to a human -- the keywords that will convince the human to transfer you to someone who can actually help. The handbook of Crap Customer Service (I assume Comcast and the #2 satellite television provider use the same one) actually has rules that must be obeyed on pain of firing, because, your call is being monitored -- no "may be" about it. Some of those rules are designed to screw you, the customer, who, despite all common sense (as Mr. Block will vouch) is not always right. Other rules, if you know them, can be real timesavers that will spare you from enduring what must have been an excruciating 18+ minutes for Mr. Block. (He didn't begin to record until ten minutes in.)

In the interest of public service, here are a few tricks to employ the next time you have to call any customer service line. These come from a former insider, I've used them all, and they work.

Trick 1: How to get past the automated voice menus and talk to a Real Human Being. (Note: this method does not guarantee the human is located on the same continent or speaks the same language.)

This is surprisingly simple. If the menu is voice-activated, just say "I want to speak to a representative"  over and over and over. You must be more patient than the machine as it will try to tell you that you are inarticulate. It's a stall tactic; don't fall for it. 

You can also just hit the zero (0) button repeatedly, in fast succession on your touchtone telephone. In either case, you will annoy the computer to the point that it makes a human deal with it. 

Trick 2: What to do if you get connected to a thug like the one Mr. Block encountered.

This only happens once you have made your way past the computer, and it can be handled two ways. If you are early into the verbal abuse, you can simply tell your CSR that he is being unhelpful (because your call is being monitored), hang up, and try your luck by calling back. The odds of getting the same CSR are very low. You will, of course, have to re-run the computer's automated menu gauntlet.

A more forward approach is to simply tell the CSR that you wish to speak to his "next in command" ("superior", "boss"... whichever one suits you). If he refuses ask again, two more times, in rapid succession. Some companies actually fire CSRs that fail to meet this customer request three times or more. If Mr. Block had known this, he could have saved himself much time and anonymity.

Trick 3: How to navigate the "hard sell."

Of course, since Mr. Block wished to cancel his service, had his CSR acted properly, he would have immediately transferred Mr. Block to a member of the "win back" team, a group of elite (i.e., have managed to not quit after ~six months) CSRs whose job it is to entice you with trinkets and baubles -- three free months of HBO or Cinemax, ten free pay-per-view movies, 20% off your bill for the next six months. The "win back" team has a tiered structure, so the first one you speak to will only be good for so much bling (assuming they can actually win you back with this). The more of them you speak to, the deeper the discounts you will receive. The last one is grim death. They will finally cancel your service.

Trick 4: Kindness matters.

For my husband, the mean people he encountered were the bad part...the worst part (and there were many bad parts...friends don't let friends work for the #2 satellite television provider...a lesson I learned late). These folks started the conversation angry, didn't actually want help, and just wanted to rant. Sometimes, the rain in Laredo, Texas disrupted satellite television in Illinois. There are reasons that the company thought were good, technical reasons for it, and none of them can be controlled by the CSR. Try telling that to a drunk asshole who is pissed because this week's Duck Dynasty won't tune in. And while he couldn't just tell someone to f*ck off (because your call is being monitored, and it would cost him his shitty-but-much-needed-job) he felt much more inclined to help those who approached this as a human-to-human encounter rather than as servant-to-master. In Mr. Block's case, the CSR seemed deeply confused with who should serve whom. (I believe it cost him his job, and that is probably for the best.)

In an angry world full of angry people who either want to take your money or scream at you for taking theirs, it's good to know options exist. Your call is being monitored -- tell them what you need them to hear.

(Got any strategies of your own for dealing with customer service representatives? I'd love to hear them.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence Day in the Land of the "I'm Free, You Are Not." (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

Ah, Independence Day! This July 4th the United States of America celebrates 238 years as a sovereign nation founded by plucky immigrants looking for opportunities to get rich (they called themselves colonists back then) and Puritans who sought a new world in which their dogmatic, strict religious beliefs could be practiced without retribution from the Church of England, which allowed more pomp and fornication than they deemed prudent. The promise of freedom, tolerance, opportunity, and wealth attracted people from all over the world, and America became a "great melting pot" of diversity. 

"Melting pot" is a terrible way to describe this country. Heaven knows, we didn't all deliquesce into one homogeneous blob -- had we done so, the problems that embroil us today would not exist. I like the salad bowl metaphor myself. But I digress.

Our founding fathers came to America from whatever place they left, for whatever reason they left, and set out to create "a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Given that the founding fathers were all privileged white men, one should not be surprised at the current state of our union, but the self-evident ideals of equality, liberty and justice for all still tantalize. At some level we believe our nation embodies these ideals as a fervent champion of human rights, but we are delusional. Let's take stock of a few recent events.

1) This week, the current Supreme Court went out of its way to remind women of all races and nationalities that we are second class citizens with lesser standing than men. (Because after all, only men are created equal.) While male forms of birth control remain legally protected medical procedures paid in full by most insurance companies, female forms of birth control have been ruled slutty, murderous aberrations to society that must be purged. Paying for a woman's birth control would signal permissiveness, and then we sexually active women who don't want to get pregnant at the moment, would run amok. Unacceptable! Should a woman choose to end an unwanted pregnancy (even if a rapist is the baby-daddy), she must now run a gauntlet of hateful pseudo-Christians (thank the Puritans) attacking her verbally or physically. Some may even go so far as to murder her (because, pro-life). That, of course, assumes she is able to find a medical facility to perform the procedure. So much for protection from the highest court in our land. 

2) At our Western border, the offspring of long-ago immigrants now stand with recent legal immigrants to block the entrance into their towns of children fleeing horrific violence in their own countries. These "patriotic Americans" hold hateful signage (in addition to Old Glory), hurl epithets at innocents, and consider themselves good people for the deed. Rather than helping these children -- or even trying to empathize -- they block the roads to the "[golden door" that harbors] the homeless, tempest-tost", screaming curses and insults, and demonstrating first hand just how bigoted many of We the People have become. You'd have to be a crazy fool to want to live with a bunch of mean assholes like us, but these children have nowhere else to go. And this is how we greet them.

3) Privileged white men still consider themselves entitled to run the country, even after a majority vote put the first ever man of color in the highest office of the land. In their horror that a diverse, progressive, majority voted for change, the Gents of Privilege (or GOP as they are more commonly known) made a pinky swear to vote against any and all Obama initiatives, no matter the cost to the country. Goaded by a faction of zealots known as the Tea Party, who came to Washington D.C not to fix it but to burn it down, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. All at the expense of middle class America. They have engineered a costly government shutdown, ended unemployment insurance for those still affected by the previous (white male) administration's disastrous economic recession, demonstrated fiscal mismanagement that caused S&P to downgrade the USA's credit rating, denied equal pay to women for equal work, and filibustered gun control (which failed anyway due to bipartisan efforts, because the NRA has deep pockets -- many more will die.) I could go on, but I've made my point. In short, they've acted like a petulant child who didn't get the cookie they wanted, so they smashed the whole cookie jar to the floor.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of "I'll get richer, you stay poor" and a nation full of cowards too scared of the "other" to show compassion to the gender that birthed them, show tolerance to their neighbors, visualize a mile in the torn sneakers of the children knocking at their door.

I love this country, always have, always will. I'd never leave -- otherwise, how could I be a voice for positive change? But I hate the tone of intolerance and bigotry that dominates our national dialog. The rest of the world has noticed, and we have lost our moral high ground -- mostly in the name of morality.

Were I not convinced that the powerful storms of human-manufactured climate change are about to wipe us all out, I'd worry for this nation.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chili Dogs (In the Category of Want What You Have.)

I love chili dogs, and bless the gods, chili dogs still love me (digestionally speaking). I hosted my first #Tweetup cookout last Sunday, Fathers Day. It was a beautiful day for a cookout in the #NRV, and the local Tweeps are really great people. I love that the guests ranged in age from 2 to 55. I love the delicious contributions everyone made. Bacon wrapped jalapeño poppers still warm...amazing! I tried kale chips for the first time, and it made me feel hipster...briefly. Crab dip with pita chips, and coconut cake, corn salad, cookies from Wingdale, brie and crackers -- yum.

I made hot dogs with chili, burgers and BBQ chicken. The chili is my own recipe, l tweaked it for years, and I'm happy with the balance of sweet and heat. I promised I would share my recipe, but it's a handwritten hot mess spattered in ketchup and chili powder. I figured if I publish it here, I can pin this page to my recipe board and not have to deal with the messier original. So here I go.

Berly's Hotdog Chili

1 lb. Ground Beef
1/2 Medium Sweet Onion, diced fine
1/2 c. Ketchup OR 1/4 c. Ketchup and 6 oz. Tomato Paste (whichever you have in your pantry)
1/2c. Water
2 tsp. Chili Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper
1 Teaspoon Ground Cumin

Brown the beef, crumbling until fine. Drain very well and put in medium saucepan. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer covered for at least 30 minutes then uncover and simmer up to four hours until desired thickness. Serve right away, or better, refrigerate overnight. You can lose any congealed grease that has formed on the top before reheating to reduce the fat calories.  Makes about 2 cups.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pop Pop’s Bank Vault (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

I have dim memories of my father’s father, my Pop Pop. I knew my mother’s father well into my adulthood, but Pop Pop died when I was fourteen, so I didn’t get as many years with him, and especially the years where I could hold a reasonable conversation on topics more broad-ranging than Barbie Dolls and the finer moves needed to win a game of Jacks. Pop Pop didn’t interact much with my sister or me when we visited the Victorian style house with the wrap around porch at 155 Euclid Avenue in Hackensack, New Jersey. Mostly I remember him sitting in his armchair surrounded by stacks of the New York Times.

Pop Pop’s chair could have been Archie Bunker’s chair had the producers of that television show known of it and traveled the 14 miles across the Hudson River to see it, sagged, golden, a matching dust ruffle tacked along the bottom. The chair didn’t recline, but years of use had molded Pop Pop’s form into the back and seat until it fit him like a glove whether he napped or watched Lawrence Welk from the 14” black and white television glowing in the corner across the room. Worn, frayed chair arms betrayed decades of hands rubbing, gripping, and pounding. No one other than Pop Pop sat in the chair. No. One. (I had the audacity to try once, and he yelled at me when he caught me. After that, I waited until I was sure he was out of the house.)

Stacks – and I mean stacks – of back issues of the New York Times surrounded the golden armchair, which sat angled feng shui style in the corner of the living room. He had filled the open space behind his chair with newspapers, neatly piled, column-like, and they rose above his head. The sides were also surrounded, the stacks descending as they approached the windowsill so as not to obscure the window, which years of nicotine and dust had grimed into dysfunction. Smaller piles of recent issues lay at Pop Pop’s feet like reticent lapdogs.

Pop Pop once caught me using the newspapers for a jungle gym. I was old enough to like jungle gyms and young enough – lightweight enough – to climb the stacks without toppling them. Pop Pop, livid, screamed incoherently at me, shaking a finger. I scrambled down and fled the room. Mom and Nanny Bob (Dad’s Mom) consoled me later.

“Why does he keep all those newspapers, anyway?” I asked. No one provided a satisfying explanation. Only the vague, “he just likes them” from Nanny Bob. Mom probably answered along some other lines regarding overall cleanliness. Housekeeping did not concern my father’s parents. (Truthfully, Dad never bothered with it either. I get the “clean gene” from my mother, whose father instilled it in her as well as my aunts and uncle.)

While my parents were still married, we usually traveled to Hackensack at Christmastime. Dad would take us into New York City to watch the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center or drive through snowy Central Park. One year, we rode several elevators to the top of the Empire State Building where I discovered I have a fear of heights. When Mom got Christmas in the divorce, Dad, I, Sis, and (eventually) our stepmother visited Nanny Bob and Pop Pop at Easter. On our first spring visit, I was surprised to see the usual Christmas decorations still up (a two-foot, pre-lit tree with ornaments, and two strings of colored lights that crisscrossed the living room ceiling, sagging just below the central light fixture).

“At their age, it’s easier,” Dad explained. “Safer, too. No ladders.”

Years passed, but little changed at the house on Euclid Avenue. Like my sister and I, the stacks of newspapers grew taller, archives of wars ending and beginning, the deaths of presidents, and marches for equality that, from what I can surmise, my Pop Pop did not support. I suspect his bigotry created conflict with my father (my Dad held no prejudices that I know of – if he did, he never articulated them to me). No visit to Hackensack that I recall omits a shouting match between the two men. Pop Pop could be charming when dining out, though. He donned a tie and jacket, Nanny Bob put on her wig of carefully coiffed curls and a slinky satin dress, and we all piled into the blue 4-door sedan (some American make, I don’t recall which). The waitstaff at Pop Pop’s favorite steakhouse knew my grandparents by name, and I always felt like a VIP when they ushered us to “the usual table.”

On casual outings, we headed to Packard-Bambergers, the grocery store with wooden floors, which seemed like a destination adventure compared to the boring A&P my family shopped at in Virginia Beach. Pop Pop preferred to use the liquor department entrance, which had a green carpeted ramp that passed through a faux wine cellar – stacks of open barrels piled with dark green bottles of wine from every country lined both sides as it inclined into the store. Dad insisted we stop by the snack counter at least once each visit for what he called a “proper hotdog.” The smell of grilled sausage made our mouths water, and the dog casings had a perfect snap. Served on a poppy seed roll with mustard, onions, and sauerkraut, Dad relished every bite. I loved the unusual dining arrangements, standing at a counter, eating with just napkins and a thin paper tray for a plate.

I was in the midst of a highly charged, emotional teenage drama when I learned that Pop Pop had died. My sister found me pounding on the front door of my junior high school BFF’s house, begging her insane mother to return my tape player. The witch refused to answer the door even though we made eye contact through the window – I never got the tape player back, and I really don’t like the woman to this day. Thirty-four years later, I can recall my anguish at the loss of both; Pop Pop’s death was my first, and it terrified me.

When the time came to clean out the old house and sell it (Nanny Bob had dementia, and she moved to Virginia Beach so Dad could take care of her) the stacks of newspapers lost their sanctity and became trash in need of hauling off. I was not present at the time, so I don’t know how many column inches Dad and my stepmother had stuffed into Hefty bags before the first twenty dollar bill fluttered out onto the floor. I only know all the bags had to be upended and sorted carefully; they extracted around $3,000 from between the pages of decades worth of the New York Times. We marveled at the nuttiness of it, and it became one of my “family stories.” (In fact, I wrote a story about that house two decades ago so that I would never forget. I published it here, in tandem with this non-fiction piece, to console myself for not having to buy a Father’s Day card again this year.)

Only in the process of cogitating on this blog piece for the past month or so have I realized the significance of my grandfather’s newsprint stacks. They were not the product of a lazy slob or a hoarder with mental problems. They were not something Pop Pop “just liked.” They were his piggy bank.

A young man during the Great Depression (his only child was born in 1938) I can easily believe my grandfather distrusted banks. From there, I understand how he might be unwilling to lose his money in another crash, so my Pop Pop built a bank vault using stacks of the New York Times. All those hours spent forming that old golden chair to his posterior had, in reality, been hours spent guarding his fortune. No wonder he screamed at us children whenever we got near them. Had we toppled a stack and money fell out, his cash stash would have been revealed. He couldn’t risk it.

After all these years, I feel grateful for this insight. I can forgive the grumpiness he showed me as a child. I can easily access the happier memories – his rare flash of humor and the unexpected warm smile, my amazement that he created the lovely, if overgrown, backyard flower garden, and not my grandmother. I can visualize the calmness that overtook his face as he napped in his chair, surrounded by the New York Times.

A photo of my father (left) and my mother's father (right), and a wooden bear with two paws broken off.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What did we do to the children? (In the category of Want What You Have.)

Soul-searing news out of Wisconsin this Tuesday morning – two twelve-year-old girls lure a third girl, their best friend, into the woods with a game of hide-and-seek. Pouncing on her from behind, one girl holds her to the ground while the other girl stabs her 19 times in the arms, legs and torso. Her attackers then walk away, leaving their BFF to seek help from strangers, bloodied and terrified. I can only imagine the vision that greeted the bicyclist who finally rendered assistance. The assailants, fans of a horror Internet character named Slenderman, had been planning the crime for months, working through various scenarios before settling on the park and a friendly childhood game to carry out their attack. Apparently, the girls had concerns about blood clean up that drove their decision.

Another day, another horrific act of violence committed by a child in America – gun advocates everywhere breathe a collective sigh of relief. “It was a knife! See, we told you guns aren’t dangerous,” as if the conversation was a contest about which weapon is deadlier. (It isn’t. If it was, guns would win, though, but I digress.) Another opportunity for media pundits to blame cartoons, video games, and the parents for leading children down the path of destruction, but let’s remember that the media exists solely to perpetuate its own salary and has decided that babbling incoherently, regardless of facts, best achieves that goal.

Another day to ask the question: What did we do to the children?

I am most terrified by the seeming lack of empathy, not just in these two girls, but in so many of the children that murder their peers. I don’t believe poor parenting is completely to blame for creating “soulless monsters.” No doubt abusive parents contribute to socially ill-adjusted children, but in many cases, parental abuse plays no role in the child’s desire to kill. In many cases, the kid has had a long history of problems coping with peers and societal norms, as if they had been born that way. Born that way...what did we do to the children?

I fear we poisoned them, with the food, with the water, with the air, that we polluted in our haste to grow more crops faster with fewer weeds and bugs, and apparently I am not the only person who worries about this. A handful of large corporations, intent on controlling the global food production market, have dictated a paradigm for mass production that includes a long list of nasty chemicals (most of which they, themselves, manufacture) being sprayed in our air and on our food; it then flows into our water. We and our children ingest them all. Perhaps these chemicals alter us fundamentally, change how our brains develop and how they work, the same way they interfere with bee colonies. We didn’t think it mattered how we grew our food and treated our water, but it does.

Take autism for example, a disorder that science now believes begins in the womb, which explains why the movement to prevent autism by shunning childhood vaccinations has not reduced the incidence of autism, merely created a resurgence in long-cured diseases such as measles and whooping cough. At the same time, studies show that the rise of autism can be linked to pesticide use. (Here’s a second study for good measure.) I don’t mean to suggest that autistic children are violent, although aggression is certainly prevalent in many cases. But I am curious about the connection between the use of toxic chemicals EVERYWHERE and how it might impact brain development in our children in and out of the womb. Because best I can tell, the children aren’t the same. They are scarier, meaner, less feeling, more violent.

As early as 1999, researcher, Robert Hatherill, from University of California, Santa Barbara called for more studies on the connection between increased youth violence and increased pesticide use, ironic given that UCSB was the setting for most recent mass killing. A young man, only 22, whose brain wiring told him violence was the way to handle his anger, stabbed and shot at girls who spurned him and boys who attracted girls. He then killed himself and left a community reeling. The 1999 article concludes with a suggestion from Hatherill. “Rather than directing all our attention to bitter debates on gun control and the violence in the entertainment industry, let’s also consider the pressing need for a cleaner environment and more nutritious food.” Fifteen years later, the debate continues, and the giant food/chemical producers are winning.

And the children kill.

What have we done?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

An Unexpected Anniversary (In the Category of Want What You Have.)

A year ago today, May 8, 2013, my Smitty kitty was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, a terminal, incurable condition that affects many mammals, including cats, dogs and humans. His breathing rate was 78 breaths per minute (14-18 is normal for a cat), and the echo cardiogram showed that only half of his heart pumped blood at all. The condition results in congestive heart failure when left untreated. The inability of his heart to pump correctly allows the fluid to build up around the heart and lungs; in essence, Smitty would drown in his own fluids;

It's more common in older animals but can occur at any age. Smitty had just turned two. With support from the excellent team of cardiologists at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia, my husband and I agreed to put Smitty through the standard regimen of diuretics (furosemide) and blood pressure medicine (enalapril) that wold improve his quality of life, even if nothing could be done to restore the quantity. Medicines change the end game for this condition: kidney failure due to overuse caused by the diuretics was now also a possibility, but if you read up on the two, kidney failure is a much more peaceful way to go than congestive heart failure.

Smitty responded well to the drugs, and his breathing came down to 22bpm, but he needed a dosage increase of the diuretic about every two weeks to maintain that rate. By August 2013, we had maxed out the dosage of furosemide that Smitty could safely handle, and we did not think he had much longer. 

Then a Twitter pal whose cat Tweets with our cats (yes, they Tweet...touchscreens have made thumbs unnecessary), told us about a second diuretic called torsemide. It metabolizes differently from furosemide, and while it had not been tried in cats, researchers had seen good results with humans and dogs. The pal emailed us a scientific paper she had found about the dosaging, and we forwarded it to Smitty's cardiologist, Dr. W. She agreed to try the new drug, and found a compounding pharmacy in Arizona who formulated the drug into a suspension in liquid so we could administer very small amounts. The pharmacy put it in fish flavored liquid. Smitty thinks it is a treat. He tells us when it's time for his meds, because he loves the taste.

We're nine months in using the torsemide. We have never yet had to increase the dosage, and Smitty is breathing a normal 16 breaths per minute. He runs again. He chases butterflies. Sometimes he catches a vole. (He likes to eat them whole.) It's quite disgusting, and we try to rescue what we can, but... Smitty doesn't know he is sick, you see. He's just Smitty, doing Smitty things, and being his adorable Smitty self. I do not know how many more days this kitty has left to play and purr. I try not to think about that. I have today with Smitty, an anniversary I never expected I would get to celebrate. If I am lucky enough to have tomorrow, I will cherish that too.
Smitty this morning, wishing I would let him back outside. A lack of thumbs doesn't hamper his Tweeting, but he still can't open the door for himself. Something to be thankful for.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Mac & Cheese (In the category of Mean What you Say.)

My goal of entering #12Contests, one for each month this year, has provided a greater challenge than I expected. January and February went pretty smoothly; I lost both of those contests (no surprise, and I'll be posting the novel soon...just waiting for one more editor to provide feedback). I haven't lost the March contest yet, but I'm sure I will. I believe the contest sponsors will announce the winners in June. In March I began writing a short story to submit to one of several potential short story contests with April deadlines, figuring I had plenty of time to write and edit a story of 3,000 to 5,000 words in length.

I knew I was in trouble 20 pages in when I had blown the top off the word count cap and still had two-thirds of the story to write. Then the story stalled (ironic, given that the working title is "There They Go"). Like an old Thunderbird, it stopped right where it was and no amount of cursing, pushing, pulling, or kicking provided the momentum needed to get it going again. April began to slide away, and my contest-of-the-month aspirations faded with it.

Thank goodness for Twitter! As my hopes dimmed to meet any sort of April contest deadline, I got wind of a Mac & Cheese Cook Off happening in my community this past Sunday, a fundraiser for a Twitter friend's church. 
Mise En Place
Before I continue, I should note that this #12Contests idea is mine and mine alone. I created the rules, and Rule #1 is (because I'm clever this way) I can change the rules anytime I please. Writing contests? Sure, I guess when I started the hashtag I meant 12 writing contests: poetry, fiction, non-fiction. I really didn't care which. I just wanted to put it out there and see what happened. One can learn much from the process of contests, and I felt ready to learn it. I schooled my ego to hold the lowest of expectations -- my point was entering, not winning. My goal, to create more focused, better edited writing. I didn't expect to have trouble with the deadlines. After all, I was coming off a successful run of #52Weeks of consecutive blog posts and I wrote a novel in 30 days last November because the I liked the challenge of the deadline. I assumed #12Contests would be a breeze after that.

Then the story stalled. I finally got it moving again, but not in time to make the April 30 deadline or edit it down to the 6,000 word count maximum. That's where the Macaroni & Cheese Cook Off saved the day. I had not planned on recipe writing as a means to the #12Contests goal, but desperate times call for desperate measures. By quickly rationalizing that publishing a recipe actually did count as writing something, I decided to enter the cook off, publish the recipe, and blog the results. April's contest -- check.

This is a previously unpublished recipe because I don't use a recipe to make macaroni and cheese. It's the first food I taught myself to cook; I loved it most. These days, I prefer a five-cheese blend, and I've broken away from the elbow macaroni stereotype. I should note that I did not win Mac & Cheese Cook Off with this recipe, but I received much praise nonetheless, and my 10" x 13" Pyrex casserole dish was satisfyingly empty by the time the votes were counted.

Here's a truth I did not expect to learn: I get far more nervous about entering my cooking into a contest than I do about entering my words.

Berly's Contest-Worthy but Not Award-Winning 5-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese.


Pasta and Sauce

  • 1-lb. box of dried pasta (penne, mini penne, rotini, elbow, mini shells...whatever you like) cooked al dente to box's directions and drained.
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 4 cups of 2% milk or half-n-half (they're your calories, you decide which one you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of dry mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon of white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (or to taste)
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese
  • 8 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces of white Vermont cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces of Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 8 ounces of Parmesan cheese, shredded.
  • 1 cup of Parmesan-flavored Goldfish crackers
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon of melted butter
  • 3/4 cup of reserved combined shredded cheeses
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the shredded cheeses. Remove 3/4 cup of combined cheese and set aside for the topping.

Prepare the pasta to al dente following the directions on the package. Drain and set aside (butter to keep from sticking if desired). Do. Not. Overcook. The. Pasta.

Thoroughly butter the inside of a 10" x 13" casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

For the sauce, over low heat, melt 4 tbsp. of butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in 4 tbps. of flour, combining until smooth. Add the dried mustard, white pepper and 2 tsp. of salt. Whisk continuously until the roux begins to bubble and thicken. Whisk in the milk (or half-n-half, whichever you went with) and stir until smooth. (Congrats! You just made bechamel sauce!) Continue whisking until the sauce begins to simmer and thicken. As soon as the sauce begins to simmer and thicken, add half of the combined cheese (not including the 3/4 c. that you set aside for the topping) and half of the cream cheese and stir until smooth and creamy. Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Add the nutmeg. Set the sauce aside. (Congrats! You just turned your bechamel into mornay sauce...and you thought you didn't know French cooking.)

Drain the pasta and place it in the greased casserole dish. Add the other half of the shredded cheese and the other half of the cream cheese to the hot pasta and stir well. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to combine. Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. While the pasta and sauce bake, prepare the topping.

Combine the Goldfish crackers, bread crumbs, and melted butter in a food processor until... well... crumbly. Empty the crumb mixture into a bowl, and stir in that reserved 3/4 c. of shredded cheese and salt/pepper to taste (start w/ 1/4 tsp. of each and work your way up). Spread the mixture evenly across the top of the pasta and sauce. Bake uncovered for an additional 10-15 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Place under a broiler for a few minutes (and watch it closely) if necessary to get the desired brownness. Serve hot and bubbling.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Studies in Conflict: Part 1 (In the Category of Say What You Mean.)

My latest short story effort, to be submitted (hopefully) for my April #12Contests entry, lacks conflict in my opinion, so I've been exploring the characters, and the conflicts that drive them, in a few prequels. The first one, woman vs. self, is over on WordPress, and I hope you will check it out, as I could really use some feedback. I'm struggling with this topic, probably because I have a pretty peaceful life (knocks wood).

I love this character, Alice Davidson. She runs a restaurant (but does not appreciate any reference to the song). She's been having a tough time, and she's on the hairy edge of big change in her life. I know what she's going to do, but I can't wait to see how she gets there. This vignette gave me in a glimpse into why she's on the path she's on, how she plans to walk it, and what reward she shall reap in the end. In the meantime, Alice is having a bad day...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Decisions Decisions (In the Category of Be Where You Are)

In deciding whether I should move my blog to WordPress or stay with Blogger. I've chosen both! This week's blog post can be found at WordPress. You can check it out here. 

Fun, right?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ode To Spring (In the Category of Want What You Have.)

It’s finally here,
After winter most drear’ --


I’ve a cold in my nose,
Which has hampered my prose.
My deadline is shot,
Due to copious snot.

The vortexes polar
Have been less than solar,
And my Narcissus, it seems,
Bloom less when it’s colder.

The croci are only just
Poking their tops in a
Quest for spring weather
That looks like a bust.

The forecast says sunshine,
Then rain, and then sleet.
As if Old Man Winter thinks
He can beat the power
of Sol at its vernal peak.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Something I Swore I Would Never Do (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

I swore, when I started this blog, I would NOT use it as a tool to whine. Looking back at one or two of the posts borne out of frustration with the 2012 Presidential election cycle, I see that I failed early on. I won’t make a bunch of excuses – if you saw any of that campaign season, perhaps you’ll show me empathy?

Truth: Early on, I vowed to use the phrase, “But I digress,” in every single blogpost. I changed my mind…mostly.

I really don’t care to hear myself whine, so the whining of others can irk me. Whining makes a shitty situation worse. Take driving the Capitol Beltway for example, or I-64E at the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel: traffic at 5mph sucks. Traffic at 5mph with whiney passengers (children, spouses, pets, etc.,) is – after a few short minutes -- unendurable.
Long drive-thru bank lines, dumbasses in grocery stores, and bad drivers on cell phones – I could go there without any display of hypocrisy.

Lately, though… Without going into explicit detail, I must confess that I have found many things about which I could whine. This long, cold winter would make an excellent start, were I to go there. I was born on the last or the next to the last day of winter, depending on the year, and I’m used to daffodils blooming by now, dammit. Thanks to the Polar Vortex (@PolarVortex), all my spring bulbs appear to be actually waiting until spring to do anything -- first time in eleven springs at my house; the yard came pre-planted with no less than six proliferate types of Narcissus pseudonarcissus. This year, at this posting, I have tips of daffodil wanna-be’s protruding through the still frozen earth and two croci. But no blooming daffodils. In the words of QEII, “We are not amused.”

Also, I feel really susceptible to whining right now. I haven’t been sleeping well since January 1 (Happy New Year!). I have my theories why; I’m adjusting the routine, but lack of sleep makes me crabby.

That’s a euphemism.

On top of that, stupid stuff keeps happening everywhere: Syria drowns in blood, Russia invaded Crimea. A plane disappeared. Did I mention the shitty weather? What’s not to whine about? My best friend says there’s a bad moon rising. A Full Worm Moon  (although he had never heard that name before I mentioned it) -- so called because in March, the full moon rises, the earth warms, the worms wake, and the cycle, the dance, the raison d’etre begins again.  It’s beautiful, and yet…

College basketball has taken over the only two CBS TV time slots I bother to remember. I hate basketball. The reasons are complicated. None of them involve being short. My local CBS affiliate will be sorry I learned how not to need them, but I learned how not to need them always, so fuck you, play basketball.

Did I mention I’m crabby?

At one point, I also swore to never resort to lists. It’s Press Release and White Paper 101: make a list; people like lists.

If I were to do what I swore I would never do, the whine list would read like this:
1.     Where are the flowers?
2.     Really? Effing March Madness again?
3.     I need a birthday like I need gray hair! But I respect karma, and so I fear to curse getting old. Anyway, the alternative is so much worse.
4.     Why can’t everyone achieve the posted speed limit on the 460 bypass? Forty-five in the hammer lane should be punishable by law.
5.     I miss being able to digest bell peppers.
6.   I miss Dad. He died in front of me a year ago tomorrow at 2:15 pm.
7.   OMFG can't anyone shut the Tea Party up?

Good thing I never went there. Oh, and “Beware the Ides of March.”