Friday, June 29, 2007

Where The Guys Are

Creepy in The House

One of the problems with moving is that you have to find all New Guys. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, you’ll need a good mechanic, plumber, physician. You’ve got to keep all the machinery working smoothly.

Since we are moving--again-- I’ve got to resurrect my criteria for dealing with breakdowns. Good training, a fine reputation, and a code of ethics are critical.

Then there is a quirk of mine.

I’ve got this wee case of prejudice, it seems. People who don’t have pets make me suspicious. I can’t help feeling this way and there are no listings for support groups or associations or twelve step programs to help me deal with this narrow minded set of thinking that I’m carrying around.

I see meetings for Parents Without Partners but not People Without Pets. People want to work on not having a partner, but they don’t see the problem if they are Petless.

When an HMO assigned me a doctor, I interviewed him. Credentials? Attitudes about this? That? The Other? Then he noted that he had no pets, no, uh-uh, didn’t want them. Creepy in the house. I tried to forgive him because he was from Tanzania, and he said that pets and livestock were synonymous. But I found another animal loving, warm, people person, who often patted me on the arm when she was explaining something.

At a New Faculty Orientation we all went around the room introducing ourselves. It’s still a requirement when new groups get together for any reason, I guess, even if it’s to be told where and when to get ID pictures done and what the deadline is for handing in a syllabus. Every person in the room included in their families their respective cats and dogs. The odd bird. An iguana. Until we got to The Dean. The Dean was petless. By choice. Not in mourning for a late Lab. No, no. Hated pets. Creepy in the house. Were he my department chair I would probably have had to resign.

One of my best friends and her husband are childless AND petless. They work long hours and travel when they aren’t working. They have lovely things, pristine rugs, and cannot keep a plant alive. When this best friend, Arlene, and I were growing up, she got a spaniel she named Lucky. Within 48 hours it was crushed by a car. For these reasons, I forgive them for not having an animal. These are the reminders they give me, but honestly? I think THEY think pets are creepy in the house.

The literature is loaded with articles about Pet Therapy. Pooches are taken to nursing homes; suddenly there is hope and love in that world. Petting a dog or cat lowers our blood pressure. Having a dog or cat around means there is always a beating heart to listen to. Right now we have our big standard poodle, Lillian, and a little rescue poodle, Zoe. The house is way too quiet and humorless when they are at the groomer. In fact, we had two standard poodles, but Miss Bessie died of a vicious anemia, and we got Zoe because all three of us--husband, wife, and Lillian--felt an empty space in our hearts.

A French poet in the last century insisted on walking a leashed lobster in the Tuileries gardens. He said he liked having a lobster for a pet because, “They don’t bark, and they know the secrets of the deep.”

OK. Another prejudice. Dogs and cats and birds are wonderful. Perhaps a ferret, if one likes weasels. But a lobster? Creepy in the house.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rugs, Carpets, and Coping

What IS That on Your Floor?

When we were house hunting due to our move to Georgia, I learned a terrible decorating truth. That truth was not nullified across state lines into Arkansas.

Apparently, a Meeting of UberRug Makers, in league with Rabid Sub-Division Developers, decided that All Carpet Is Good Carpet, as long as it is beige.

I lie.

It could also be eggshell, ash, antique caramel, a light nutmeg, tan, taupe, or tawny. Which means --beige.

No matter which subdivision: Trelawny Lakeside Estates, Purvis Plantation, Loch Interloch Fjord on the Fairways.....beige and its inbred cousins ruled.

Therefore, the house we bought has “Natural” wall-to-wall carpeting where it doesn’t have lovely, much easier to take care of, wood flooring.


Not being the most pristine of domestic engineers, even after all these years of marriage, things happened.

Some of them were gross things, involving a new puppy that I insisted on adopting the first week we moved in, to help with the loneliness factor. After all, we were now living a thousand miles away from our grown children. Also, mysterious unnamable things had happened before we took ownership that resulted in spots or stains that could not be blamed on the dog. Latent, hastily steam cleaned circles emerged thanks to the previous owners. Who knows?

My tendency, after no success with a few of the usual suspects—products available from the supermarket shelves—was to hustle out in search of new scatter rugs. These rugs would be placed over various discolorations in hallways or centered in the den, or in front of a chair.

Because I learn great things from watching the Home and Garden Channel, I constructed “definition,” “a burst of color” that would “create interest” and, of course, “A Focal Point.”


A day came when a glance around my house looked like a giant tag sale of throw rugs.


I had nightmares that Early Birds would get the word, then start to ring my door bell and make offers.

“Would you take $3.50 for the little Chinese one?”

“I could maybe give you ten for the woolen Peruvian, if you throw in this ceramic clock.”


I found lots of rug cleaning products available on the web. Websites enumerated all the possible disgusting things that might confront someone and demand attention for cleaning rugs.

These graphic words could offend.

They grossed me out.

It was like being in the middle of a gastric and sewer explosion combined. But since none of the things I’d bought at the supermarket worked, I dared to order some kind of Wonder Warp Stuff (not its real name; I’m not peddling anything) It pretty much worked, and the rugs looked respectable.

Last Saturday I made a lovely Shepherd’s Pie with a red gravy sauce. I served it to my husband in the den. The den is Sports Central, and I rarely go in there unless it’s a delivery.

An Event occurred that we’ll just refer to as A BIG Whoopsidaisy. My understanding is, the side of the dish that he was holding became surprisingly hot, very quickly. In addition to the cursing, this meant that the entire hillock of Shepherd’s Pie took a header onto the carpet. Corn, carrots, peas, hamburg, fluffy buttery potatoes, the aforementioned very reddish sauce.

All soft, all hot, all soaking the carpet.

Today? The crime scene is gone. Nothing was going to get that smirch out of our line of vision.
We found a large enough square of extra carpeting in the attic to replace the ruined reminder.

My husband, of course, I will never replace.

But no one in this particular household should be allowed near beige carpet. Not me, not the husband, and definitely not the dogs. We have two black poodles. A little one and an enormous one. I’d never have a white one. It would bear the results of a merlot spill, blueberry pie raids, and purple permanent marker before two weeks had passed.

The new house will have multi-colored tweeds in every carpeted room. I get lightheaded at the thought. Hiding a multitude of sins might be my housekeeping mantra.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Anti-Organization Rationale

Take Good Care of Your Junk Drawer

A neighbor of mine, ordinarily a fine yet impulsive person, has done something very, very wrong.

She cleaned out her junk drawer.

For some reason she thought it was a good idea. And she’s proud of herself. She invited me over to see it. “Everything in its place,” she noted.

In case any of you get the notion, some day after you’ve seen one too many HGTV inspirational shows about organizing your life, that you too should engage in such an activity, I would urge you to eat a Ring Ding instead. Keep noshing until the mood passes.

I’ve been brooding about this urge to get organized due to our upcoming move across half the country . I’ve been standing in front of my junk drawer for long minutes, trying to imagine going through it, trying to imagine breaking it down and hauling it away.

There is a reason for junk drawers.

I’m convinced they exist to block the passageway to other dimensions in the time/space continuum. And I’m not even one of those people who wear aluminum hats. It is our duty as American citizens to maintain a strong line of defense. Forget about color coded terror warnings, those impractical, empty rainbows of threats from the Department of Homeland Security. You already know that we can only respond after the fact to disaster. Oklahoma bombing? Olympic explosion in Atlanta? Katrina? Tornadoes bearing down every which way in the Midwest?

Here's my theory: for unknown reasons the contents of junk drawers are Alien Entity Repellents. No matter what those folks in Roswell say, alien abductions are a crock. And it’s because of our ever vigilant construction of house hold junk drawers. You know, like clapping to keep the zebras away.

If you have been maintaining a household without a junk drawer, it’s only a matter of time before the balance of power tips.

Please. I urge you. Create a junk drawer today.

Include the following:

• broken pencils preferably with half eaten erasers

• at least four fortune cookies from Chinese take-out.

• a package of birthday candles (half full is fine)

• a couple of jingle bells

• unwrapped hard candies that will stick to the bottom of the drawer

• five boxes of matches. Not match books. Boxes.

• three marbles

• unasked for address labels from two organizations that are stuck together and therefore, unusable

• two metal skewers

• a yellow highlighter (excellent for its chemical properties, it interacts synergistically with fortune cookies to form an impenetrable wall)

• at least one figurine from a popular movie. Toy Story is best. Reports of success with Donkey, from Shreks I, II, and III, are coming in.

If you don't have a junk drawer then you have an empty drawer.

An empty drawer will result in a small passageway to an alternative universe where alien junk will seep into your pristine space unbidden.

One day you will find "frazmits" and "gurf" and "kildies" in there.

After that, you’ll only have a 48 hour envelope of time to stop the invasion.

Please heed this consumer warning now.

Go. Get unorganized.

A nation’s freedom is at stake.

Thank you.

* the following essay is written due to my wonderful husband’s despair at my lack of organizational skills. “How can you live this way? You don’t know where anything is!” he protests. He is a man who arranges his wallet with all the bills facing the same way and in value order. That thought would never ever occur to me.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The New Age Is Aging

Just Where Do I Fit In

The trouble with not being “New Age” is that the opposite feels like “Old Age.” Since not too many of us want to be “Middle Aged,” what’s a person to do?

I need a category. It’s lonely flying solo, and I want so much to find my niche.

In women’s magazines, there always seems to be a quiz. Taking the quiz will let you know the following:

• Have You Outgrown Your Marriage? Take the quiz to find out!!!

• Are You Addicted to Dairy? See our survey to discover if that’s your problem!!!

• Should You Change Careers? Our handy dandy check list will tell you!!!

• Are You a Beer Broad or A Champagne Chic-ster? Find out inside!!!!

I’m pretty sure that if I were hiding in my closet crying about my husband and my job, with an eight pack of yoghurt and a six pack of wine coolers, I could figure I had a problem on my own without turning the page of a magazine to find the answers.

But what “Age” do I belong to? How do you know you are New Age or.....Not?


1. You read articles about feng shui, but never bother to move your furniture around. Plus, your front door doesn’t face south, so you are already in trouble, and can’t afford to move. And the indoor fountain you bought on impulse just makes you go to the bathroom more often.

2. You buy aromaeopathy candles with names like Harmony, Wisdom, Peace, and Acceptance. You think your house smells better but you don’t feel:
in tune with your biorhythms
less tense
or more kindly toward telemarketers.

3. Whenever you try to get in touch with your inner child, you wind up eating dumb things: Fluffernutters, marshmallow Easter chickens, Spaghetti-Os, and tri-colored cereal. You lose your taste for vegetables. You start saying things like, “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t,” and, “You’re not the boss of me,” and, “I’m telling.”

4. You try to meditate but you can never clear your mind of thoughts. When you make an “Ommmmm” sound, it tickles your inner lips. You decide you like your thoughts and clearing your mind causes you to fall asleep out of boredom. You worry that you are not spiritual at all.

5. You go out of your way to buy food at The Farmer’s Market, get good crusty breads, all kinds of fresh fruits, make smoothies in the blender, eat a lot of fish.

But you have one drawer dedicated to Oreos, Big Cheezits, Frito Big Dip Chips, and Butterfingers (the Fun!!! size) You worry you will be found out by the New Age Community who will come and hug you and leave pamphlets recommending yet more kinds of herbals in addition to the seven you already take. You will buy them, just in case there is something to homeopathic cures.

So? What does it all mean? Am I quasi-New Age? A big fat phony? A wannabe?

Most I alone?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Rounding up the Wayward Words

Word Choice and Finding Your Voice

Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.
-- Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner

Man, do I love words. Words have such power.

I’ve been known to complain bitterly about punctuation, but for now, I’ll leave comma faults and exclamation point addiction for The Punctuation Police, and concentrate on what word choices do to people.

I think about words and sounds. A lot.

Take “despot” for example. I don’t mean take a despot home with you for a BLT and lemonade. But doesn’t the word “despot” sound like someone who would try to lord it all over the premises? The word hisses and spits. More than a dictator, martinet, or warlord does.

But the “esses” in these lines of Poe below don’t hit you over the head or leave a gob of phlegm on your face like the horking despot above.

Listen. Say these out loud:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me--filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before
(from The Raven)

Listen some more: Silken. Sad. Uncertain. Rustling.

It’s the words that are moving, just out of vision. It could be a soft summer breeze or an evil spirit sneaking, sidling, snaking our way.

Naming Characters

Even people’s names evoke reaction. The character heroes in romance novels are not named Elmer, or Dwight, or Archibald. More likely they are Lance, or Paolo, or Dirk. Also, they are tall. Stumpy is not a word seen in romance novels. The bosomy heroines, with flowing tresses are not Ethel, or Gladys, or Velma. They are Destiny, Franchesca, or Rain.

A Seattle reporter for NPR has the BEST, most mellifluous name I’ve ever heard. Get this: Ruby DiLuna. Oooh. That is magical. I want it for my very own. Or at least for a character in a story. Sigh. If my name were Ruby DiLuna I would have had a very different life. And better hair.

Above I was concentrating on the part sound lends when conveying meaning.

Word Sounds

Turning to the coincidence of words that rhyme, we find something mighty peculiar about a sound.

His face turned ashen when receiving the news.

Uh, oh. That can’t be good. Whatever the news might be, ashen signals disaster ahead.

In fact, when you consider all the words that rhyme with “ash”, you’ve got a violent situation on your hands just thinking about the possibilities:

smash, thrash, mash, crash, lash, clash, bash, gnash, trash, gash, slash—even rash isn’t too pleasant, whether it’s hasty or itchy. Hash is all chopped up. No, no. An ashen reaction is clearly not boding well.

Be Particular

You cannot be too particular when choosing your words. You shouldn’t settle for the first familiar phrase that comes to mind. Likely it’s stale, it’s been laying around so long.

I used to worry that I might have a...wee problem. An obsession of sorts. I wondered if I should join a Twelve Step Program.

Picture it.

Hello. My name is Beverly. And I am a ‘tweaker’.

I've been tweaking for a long time now.

Hi, Beverly!

For you late comers, the other kind of Tweaker 12 Step meets down the hall. Sorry about the meth problem. Can’t help you here.

My tweaking problem started when I realized that nothing having to do with words is ever finished. It might be done, it might be turned in, but it's not finished. So....whenever I can...I grab the chance to make it better. When you have your own blog, it’s even harder to control. The Internet understands the need, the hunger, of a True Tweaker way more than print outlets can manage.

Tweakers sneak into their home offices after everyone is asleep. We don't want them to know. The dogs know. But they keep close counsel. And they’re biscuit sluts.

What would those who love me think of me? Tweaking in the dark, turning the computer screen to a corner so no one can see what I’m doing. Not downloading porn or having a simultaneous cyber affair with eight guys strewn all over the country who all seem to be named Dylan or Ed.

Nope. I’ve come forward, because I know there are others like me. We Tweak. We love words. We want to improve our work. A new day brings a new perspective and a chance to make things better.

Sometimes righting a wrong or a bad move is a hard thing to do when we’ve really mucked up in our every day lives...ignored someone...made a remark that hurt and we didn’t even know it. But our vision and the way we say it is up on the screen available for reaction. Often it’s our own.

Are we supposed to sit there and just watch a limp phrase dangle in the wind? Can’t we go in and get our verbs to agree? Surely we have to take pity on on the apostrophe that doesn’t know where it’s supposed to be. How about a better analogy that wandered over and bit me on the knee? Got to get it off my person and into an argument slot where it can do some good and not pester me, with “Woulda, shoulda, coulda.”


We are working on our craft. Say it loud, say it proud. Repeat after me, “I TWEAK and I don’t care who knows it.”

Thank you very much. This meeting is over.

Hot cookies await in the vestibule. There’s punch, and a special Long Island Tea you might like to try.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

When Moving Forward, Think About the Past

Arlene's Mother's Blueberry Cake

Because we are moving back to New England after ten years living in the Deep South (5 years) and Mid-South (5 years) I keep thinking about what it means to go home, in my head and for real.

Because my mother hated to cook, I became a good one. I’m ornery that way.

Mom was a great seamstress. Therefore, I do not sew. Mom could knit Fair Isle patterned sweaters that would make another woman nuts with frustration. I can knit a scarf. A long straight scarf. Let me know if you need one.

Mom thought dessert meant Jell-O. Or something from the pastry shop around the corner.

I didn’t know Other Mothers baked.

When I was seven we moved two towns over, to a different factory town. There I met my new best friend and her mother Alice, The Baking Queen.

Officially, she was known as Arlene’s mother. Maybe not on the voting roster, or on her Filene’s charge card, but to me she was Arlene’s mother, the woman who bakes.

Going over to Arlene’s to play always meant we got to come in the house “so we wouldn’t get over heated, or dehydrated, or God Forbid, get sunstroke” whenever Arlene’s mother said so. She would pour us a glass of the Special Concoction Arlene’s father made (which I now suspect was a lemonade, grape juice, pineapple juice, ginger ale punch). Anyway, it was called The Concoction. And it was delicious.

On some days it would be our other favorite—diluted Lime Zarex sryup. We would have to make about two gallons of it at a time. Then, Arlene’s mother would offer us whatever she had baked that day. Zarex and other regional foods are hard to find but Home Town Favorites is a good place to look for the foods you remember that are not on store shelves now.

Back to the cake.

Arlene and I have a tendency toward chubby thighs. I maintain it was all worth it. Arlene says otherwise.

Arlene’s mother lives in Florida now, and bakes for her condo association. My loss. But before she packed up and moved to her place in the sun, I managed to wrest the recipes of all my favorites. The deal was, I would send her copies of my short stories when I wrote them, and I would name all her recipes after her when I made them.

In the spirit of generosity, I would like to present:

Arlene’s Mother’s Beautiful Blueberry Cake

*you can double this recipe for a larger pan or crowd. You can make two at a time and freeze one.

1/4 cup real butter (softened)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. real vanilla
1 cup FRESH blueberries

Blend butter, sugar, egg with electric mixer on slow speed.
Add dry ingredients in three alternating steps using the milk each time.
Add vanilla until batter is smooth and light.

Wash blueberries in a strainer and sprinkle with Wondra flour.*

*This way they won’t sink to the bottom.

Add to batter.

Bake in a greased/floured 8” square pan

Sprinkle top with sugar and cinnamon if desired.

350 degrees for 45-55 minutes (test until the toothpick comes out clean)

When serving, be sure to say, “It’s Arlene’s Mother’s Blueberry Cake.”