Monday, February 29, 2016

Mini Bit of Minnie

I’m coming around the corner on some tough edits for mystery #3, The White Pizza Caper, and thought I’d share part of a chapter with you this morning. Minnie and Rashawna are doing mystery shops in Pets ‘N More. They’ve just encountered a sales rep whose back is to them as he’s bent over a display for dog shampoo. Rashawna is rather upset by the exchange and Minnie gets the inside scoop on goldfish. (Blogger is giving me grief this morning - thus the large print and a few wonky indents - hope you don't mind). 

From Chapter 14

      “He’s not getting good marks here, Minnie,” said Rashawna.
      “You wait for him. I’m going to check out the rest of the store.” I took off for reptiles. For the most part the various methods of keeping the animals housed looked clean. I wandered into Fish and a young employee smiled and asked if she could help me. I decided to be creative. “I’d like to get another goldfish,” I said.
      “Very good,” she said. “What would you like to keep it in?”
     “Oh, I’ll just plop it in with the other one.” I inclined my head like a proud fish owner.
     This got me a long look down her nose. “We don’t recommend that,” she said.
     “Oh, really, why is that?”
     “Goldfish prefer solitude.”
     “Since when?” I snorted. How ridiculous was this idea?
     This time I got an indulgent smile that surely meant she was about to educate me to the best of her ability. Fortunately, I didn’t have to endure it. Rashawna came up beside me and whispered, “Let’s go.”
     I said a swift thanks to the employee and followed Rashawna who made a beeline for the door.
     “What’s up?” I asked as we slid into the car. Her face was a mask of fury.
     “That man back there, the one setting up the displays? Big butt crack?”
      “Yes, what about him?”
     “He is not a good pet parent. He leaves his dog home alone. He gives him table scraps and the dog’s name is . . . oh, I can’t even say it.”
      Good grief. First, I couldn’t believe she found all that out while I was in Fish. And then I couldn’t imagine a name so offensive that Rashawna would be bristling like this.
     “Go ahead, tell me,” I said. “It’s better than letting it fester.”
     “That’s it.”
    “The dog’s name.” Her voice was patient but  her nostrils flared.
    “The dog’s name is?” I swear, we could do a stand up routine and it would go viral.
      “Fester. That poor dog’s name is Fester.”
      I had a sudden flash of a pop-eyed, bald, lovable monk-like character from the old television sitcom. “Well, he was very nice,” I said.
       “Nice? Nice? I don’t think so, Minnie. To fester is to . . .”
    “I know what it means. But perhaps the guy at the pet store was thinking of Uncle Fester from the old television show, The Addams Family.”   
      She groaned.
     “He was a very lovable character in the show. Maybe Fester the dog is that way, too.”
     “Maybe,” she said with a resigned air. “I don’t think I’ll be much good for anything until Yappy is okay.”
      I thought better of even mentioning Cousin It. 

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Monday, February 22, 2016

Memory Lane

This is a piece I wrote for Prairie Times a few years ago. I hope you enjoy it on this sunny February Monday. It’s titled . . .

Memories at the Ironing Board

One gloomy Saturday I found myself in the laundry room facing several items that needed a touch of ironing. As I stood at the board listening to the steam hiss from the dimpled face of the iron, I thought back to the days when women had to iron all the time. There’s almost no such thing now, but I have to tell you, a sense of contentment washed over me as I ran the hot appliance over my favorite denim shirt. I was doing something useful and productive. And I had to stand still to do it. 

There’s a distinct scent that rises from freshly ironed clothes. It’s fleeting but floats up from cloth and hot metal coming together to smooth out wrinkles. As each piece is finished there’s a great sense of satisfaction in seeing a line of wrinkle free shirts lined up in the closet. As a kind of bonus, while that task was being performed, I was able to let my mind happily wander; right there, doing such an old fashioned thing.

I kind of miss the routine of washing and drying dishes. Really. When my sisters and I were growing up, we’d do the dishes together. After we’d tried every trick in the book to get out of it, we’d usually settle down and get the job done. We’d use this time to sing some of the songs we’d learned in school. We, the three oldest, all had the same elementary school music teacher, Miss Burch, and our voices rang out over the sudsy water and clank of plates. Songs like “White Coral Bells,” and “Shenandoah,” drifted through the kitchen then.

At other times we’d play beat the clock. “Okay,” I’d say. “It’s six thirty. I’ll bet we can get this whole stinking mess cleaned up in twelve minutes.”

“Never happen,” said one sister.

“Come on, let’s try it,” said the other.

“Ready? Set? Go!”

And we were off like an illegal firecracker. We usually made our time and if you watched us you’d have seen quite a ballet. Dipping, reaching past, and dodging each other. At intervals we’d each throw a glance at the clock.

“Three minutes to go! Hurry up.” Then we’d put on the speed and congratulate ourselves when the last dish was dried and the sink was cleaned out. Dad was a real stickler for doing that last bit.

As I ironed my next piece I thought of a conversation I’d had with my daughter-in-law not too long ago. We spoke of the school playground games that were prevalent when we were kids. She, too, had played Four Square and Tetherball. I usually got clobbered at Four Square primarily because the boys were killer shots. I hardly ever made it to square one. But let me tell you about Tether Ball.

I was one of the queens at that game. There were about four of us in the fifth grade who ruled in the tether ball arena. My chief rivals were Cynthia and Donna. If you got off a good first punch you almost always had the advantage. The trick was to keep that ball flying so high over your opponent’s head she couldn’t reach it to send it back at you. If, on the other hand, she got in a couple of whumping pows! herself, well then the game was afoot. I relished the challenge and frequently won. I had a good right arm back then. And the boys? They pretty much stayed out of the way for that game.

There are things we remember from childhood that burn in our memory. They are not always the giddy with excitement times or the horribly embarrassing ones. No, sometimes a simple task like ironing allows the pleasant ones to bubble up, bringing a bit of reverie and sunshine into a gloomy Saturday. Nice.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Time to Review a Few Books

So – whatcha readin’? I’m one of those writers who reads a lot. Always have a book waiting for me and one after that, too. So, I thought you might like it if I shared a few recent reads with you.

A Disgrace to the Profession by Mark Steyn – Well, doesn’t he go after the climate change – aka, global warming – proponents in this one. Not in a way you might think, however. He leaves his own opinions on the sidelines for the most part and lets noted scientists and  climatologists have their say. His target is Michael Mann’s “hockey stick” graph which apparently started the whole kerfuffle way back when. I’ll admit I never heard of the man, but I’ve always loved listening to Mark, who is a very witty Canadian human rights advocate, and this book sheds some interesting light on the subject. The rats are scurrying, too. From the viewpoint of these gathered professionals we’ve been led down the garden path. For my part, I’ve always raised an eyebrow when someone begins to cry “the sky is falling” and this book splays wide a hoax - at least on Mann’s part. It is gluten free, though. There’s that.  

The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes (with forward by Julian Fellowes) – Wowsa. What a lot of research and meticulous story crafting went into this series and the book, too. Not only are we treated to the “way it was back then”, but there are tons of pictures in this lovingly compiled work. I learned so much. Like why the daily newspapers of the late 1800’s had to be ironed before they were taken to Lord Grantham or how the development of the bell-board was so liberating to the servant classes. Fascinating. And the clothes! My dear, let me tell you. Anyway.  My daughter-in-law, Kate, gave this book to me a few years ago for Christmas. She knows I’m a DA junkie. If you’re not a fan of the BBC program, I feel so sorry for you. Just kidding, but this is a treasure of a book. I’ll thumb through it from time to time for at least the next five years. Until Julian Fellowes gifts us with something else, that is.

When I Found You by Catherine Ryan Hyde – One of the most interesting premises I’ve seen in a long while. Here’s a question for you. If you found a one day old infant in the woods – still alive – what would you do? I know, that’s a tough one. When Hyde’s protagonist, Nathan McCann – out hunting, comes upon the child, and sees life in the little form, he puts down his gun, grabs the baby and high tails it for the local hospital. The child is saved and Nathan wants to adopt him. But his wife puts a big “NO” to that notion and the child’s grandmother steps in, removing the possibility anyway. Nathan nonetheless stays on the edges of the boy’s life and the effect they have on each other makes this one a page turner. It lacks a bit of zing, somehow, but I’d still recommend it.

There you go. Three to ponder. Would love to hear of your latest literary gems.

Happy Presidents Day!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Face in the Mirror

Okay, it’s that time of life again – putting up with politics until we get a new president. In honor of all that’s said and done in that arena, I’m going to share this story with you. You may have read it before, but it bares repeating (Not a typo – I’m baring something here) and I hope it gives you a chuckle. Happy Monday.  

A long, long time ago, in a race for town council, my husband threw his hat into the ring. He’s had strong political opinions all his life and finally decided it was time to act instead of reacting all the time. He won. Needless to say it tossed us both into a realm quite different from our pretty normal and kinda humdrum life, but it was exciting and interesting just the same. Suddenly all kinds of people were calling, inviting us to events and seeking his opinion on any number of subjects. The man who headed up his campaign eventually ran for New York State Comptroller. It was heady stuff.

So the invitation came to attend a fundraiser for a congressman with the event taking place in Saratoga Springs, a city of renown and elegance. Saratoga Race Track is world famous and the city itself is beautiful and noted for its style and active social scene. I was assured that dress was casual but I took care with my appearance nonetheless I didn’t think my town councilman husband had anything to be ashamed of in me. Off we went.

The large hall was lovely. Red, white and blue bunting draped the podium, people milled about drinking good wine and holding small plates of yummy looking treats. I was abandoned pretty quickly by the councilman, but really didn’t mind since my radar was up for the free food. It was okay with me that I knew almost no one. It gave me a chance to hit the food stations with abandon. There were choice offerings like cheese tortellini in cream sauce, spinach dip, little bacon thingys, fruit platters, shrimp Rangoon and so much more.

Soon, though, I was waved over to speak with our campaign manager and a few other political types and I did my charming best to comment on the proceedings. I smiled and laughed in all the right places adopting a cool and elegant demeanor during the congressman’s address. I imagined I was being very Julia Roberts-ish. Then hubby sidled off to offer farewells to his political buddies and I sidled over for bit more spinach dip and cheese tortellini before my own gracious farewells.

I was one contented councilman’s wife as we drove home. Of course I couldn’t wait to get into comfy jammies and my recliner to savor how well the evening had gone. But first I did the bathroom thing including brushing my teeth. Still feeling all bubbly and Julia-ish, I loaded my toothbrush, looked into the mirror and gasped. Staring back at me was a face closely resembling some gap – toothed goober type you see sparring with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in an old black and white cartoon. 

On closer examination I discovered why I seemed to be channeling this goofy character and NOT Julia Roberts. I had a long dark strand of spinach stuck firmly between my two front teeth.

I decided to laugh instead of cry because I just knew that’s what all those influential politicians had done every time I’d grinned back at them all evening.

Imagine the field day the press would have had if the guy I live with had ever wanted to run for president. Oy.

Image: xedos4                                       Free Digital Photos   

Monday, February 1, 2016

One That Didn't Sell

I wrote this some years ago and I can't remember for what publication. Doesn't matter - it never sold. But I always liked it. I have quite a few pieces that I loved writing but never touched a cord in an editor. So, I'm going to inflict it on you. Heh. It's longer than I usually write for a blog post, too. Anyway, I hope you have a fab week!

Beyond Alpha Beta

Okay, I confess, visiting regional grocery stores is one of my traveling passions. If, whenever and wherever we’re visiting, someone says, “I need to run to the grocery store, anyone want to go along?” I’m the first to raise my hand. “Me, pick me!” Here’s why.

As a kid growing up in California, I loved going to the Alpha Beta grocery store with my dad, the family shopper. Mom’s job was doing up the long, detailed list and planning meals. Dad really liked to shop for the groceries and I’d tag along with him as he fulfilled Mom’s culinary expectations. Each store aisle had its own delights. The fragrant garden of fresh produce varied considerably from the coffee and cereal aisles while the chill of the frozen foods and ice cream section had me hurrying past the glass windows hanging onto Dad’s cart. Sometimes I got a dime to put in the gumball machine, a bonus I always hoped for.

As I got older and life spread out a little, I found myself drawn to further investigating the delights of grocery stores beyond the Alpha Beta. When traveling in Minnesota to visit extended family there is the Red Owl with that big bird staring at you from the parking lot sign. There, the displays of sausages and local cheeses make me gasp with delight. Also available is genuine wild rice, harvested by native tribes, to purchase and take home. I acquired some great recipes from aunts and cousins who know just how to cook the stuff.

When my late in-laws lived in Florida we’d haunt the Winn Dixie. Oh, the fresh fruit! Wonderful citrus-y smells of oranges and limes. Melons and mangoes galore. Seafood all over the place. And that little tingle of being near the ocean and fun times. Break out the pink flamingos and sunglasses!

Last fall it was the Piggly Wiggly on the Isle of Palms connector near Charleston in South Carolina. All five of my sisters and I were together for our first ever ‘sisters away’ trip and since we’d rented a condo with full kitchen privileges we needed supplies. As we waltzed through the big glass doors the first thing I saw was the pumpkins. Oh, I’d seen plenty of pumpkins before – grow them in fact – but these were different. Initially I thought they were fake so I examined the display. In amongst the hay bales and scarecrows sat real pumpkins all right. But these had been polished to a high shine. What a pretty idea.

We picked up some goodies like great barbecue and Whoopie Pies then headed for the checkout. And there I saw – brown Piggly Wiggly grocery bags. Paper. With handles. How fun was that? I was so used to plastic and plastic that was getting thinner with each re-cycling to boot. I made such a clamor about them the amused cashier asked if I’d like a few. I grabbed two extras besides the ones we had for the groceries and guess what? I still have them. I can’t bear to use them for anything – my brown paper bags with handles sporting a cute little pig in a butcher’s hat. No way am I going mess them up by filling them up. Maybe I’ll leave them to my grandchildren or try to sell them on e-Bay.

Our travels last summer took us to the western part of the country to visit number two son, where we ventured into Albertson’s to pick up items for the blueberry pies I’d make with my granddaughters.  In the last aisle before checkout we discovered Umpqua ice cream in dark red cartons with the chief in full headdress on the front. So cool. Marion berry jam and Tillamook cheese were among our other discoveries. There’s sure good eating out that way.

In mentioning regional grocery stores, I can’t leave out the Mom and Pop’s. Did you ever walk into one that you came upon while traveling some back road somewhere? Inside are wooden floors, old fashioned posters on the walls, cramped, narrow aisles, and a penny candy display. And there’s only one cash register. I love them. Somehow all the eras of the past come rushing in as the floor creaks underfoot and you spot the ice cream case that you know has been there for fifty years or more. Yeah, the one where you reach way down inside for a Fudgesicle. Somewhere in the back there’s a small storeroom and a single toilet for employees only. Tucked into the corners are products you either didn’t know existed or haven’t seen in years. There might even be an old pay phone on one wall. I feel akin to the American Pickers when we happen upon one of these quaint and charming establishments. I fear they are a dying breed, but deep down I hope as many of them hang on as possible.

I know this isn’t a glamorous passion and I can’t quite explain why these stores draw me so. But it has enriched my life to be able to explore the places where my fellow Americans shop for daily needs and to imagine how they might live. I applaud the differences in product selections, the enticing displays of local produce, the sometimes quirky cashiers, and the occasional brown paper bag for a souvenir.

These are among the things I’ve found beyond the Alpha Beta and I think Dad would approve. 

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