Monday, February 23, 2009


I know I've been remiss in my blogging, but things got a little exciting around here, what with Youngest Daughter developing an allergy to school and all. Well, actually, the allergy is to homework, but she seems to be doing better, so I'm ready to settle back into my life.

We've had a breakthrough. It involves the dog, Roxy, and the cat, Ami - short for Amelie. Ami was already an adult cat when Roxy arrived, and she completely rejected her new housemate. For the last three-and-a-half years, she has refused to come into the house when the dog was home. This has made some things, like getting Ami fed and sheltered at night, fairly complicated.

For a long time, we had to shut Roxy in a room away from the family room so we could open the French doors to the balcony, usher the cat in, and take her to her little home in the garage where we keep her food and water and bed. After a while, Ami began to trust us enough that as long as a human being was holding on to Roxy, she would saunter through, tossing malicious glances over her shoulder until she reached the garage door. Roxy would watch her, positively quivering with curiosity, now and then bouncing up a little until one of us said, NO!

When Roxy wasn't home, as when she went with Eldest Daughter to Lake Arrowhead, Ami had the run of the house. This was okay, but not optimal - she was always a little ticked off when the dog showed up again. A couple of weeks ago, however, ED and Roxy got snowed in at the lake for twelve days. Ami was very pleased, assuming, I'm sure, that her nemesis was dead and good riddance. But early this morning, ED and Roxy came back.

I knew there'd be trouble. Ami had reclaimed her domain, but Roxy had not relinquished it. Somebody was going to get hurt, and I was pretty sure that person would be four-legged, furry, and possessed of a tail.

At breakfast time, while Roxy napped under the table, Ami scratched at the door to be let in. I opened the door and she spotted the dog. She gave me one of those soul-withering looks - How could you? - and walked off to sulk on the roof. An hour later, with Roxy sacked out downstairs in my room, Ami came back and scratched again. I opened the door again. Ami came in very cautiously, looked around, sniffed at things, and finally settled in her favorite spot on the chair in front of YD's computer. She had a nice bath and a little nap, and then we both heard Roxy's tags jingle. Ami streaked outside through the balcony door.

For a while, she disappeared. Then she turned up again, peeking through the pane in the French door. Roxy was lying on the other side of that door, so she sat up and looked interested. Ami gave her the back of her tail -!- and settled under the glider for some thoughtful crotch-licking. Having no idea what would happen, but feeling hopeful, I opened the balcony door. Ami ignored me. Roxy edged over to the door and sniffed a little, and then lay back down. This appeared to be our usual standoff.

I got out my yoga mat, put a yoga tape in the DVD-player, and proceeded to work out for forty-five minutes, undisturbed by cats or dogs. When I finished, I stood up and rolled up my mat. Roxy was sprawled in the roadkill position in front of the door, snoozing. I said, So, you won, did you? She opened one eye, twitched her nose, and went back to sleep.

Poor Ami, I thought. Oh, well, I guess I'll go get the mail. I closed the balcony door, which had stood open all this time, and headed to the front door. In the living room, on the sofa, I found Ami, curled up in a ball, sound asleep! She had walked right past the dog and made herself comfy in the other room; the dog had stayed still and remembered not to chase her without any human intervention whatsoever.

Yowser. It all happened right behind my back! Peace broke out!

Now, if something like this could happen in the Congress, and in the Mideast, we'd have real progress.

Update: Ami continues to assert her ownership rights to the house, and Roxy continues to be a very good girl about the whole thing. She's intrigued, though, and sometimes has to be persuaded to stay away from the cat. She seems more curious than antagonistic - in fact, more than curious. The dog is fascinated with the cat.

ED took Roxy back to the lake on Wednesday morning. Yesterday, when I woke YD up, she said, "Where's my dog?" I said, "Up on the mountain." She said, "I bet she misses the cat." I said, "I bet she does. And I bet the cat hopes she dies up there and never comes back." YD said, "That is definitely some unrequited love."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I just addressed a couple of get-well cards, one to my father who had surgery on Sunday, and one to a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy right now. I like get-well cards that make you laugh, because I am a firm believer in the healing power of laughter. But as I applied the stamps to these cards, it occurred to me that they might not reach their destinations for several days, because the post office is operating at a deficit, and is looking for ways to cut costs. Have they laid off any employees yet? Maybe they've reduced hours for the employees they have, or they're reducing the amount of mail they air-freight across the country each day. Any of those actions will slow down mail delivery, and if they haven't taken them yet, I'm pretty sure they will. Sooner or later.

Well, I thought. Expecting rapid mail delivery is just a socialistic impulse, right? I mean, why shouldn't I just take care of my mail delivery myself? Why depend on the government?

My youngest daughter is struggling in school right now. This is not because she's impaired; it's because she's a teenager, and being a teenager means sometimes you're going to get yourself into trouble. Being her mother, I'm trying to get her back out of trouble as soon as possible, and for this I need to deal with the counselors at her high school. Today I've called - twice - and sent an email, but no one's gotten back to me yet.

Wow, what a lousy school district, right?

Uh, or maybe it's a school district operating on the shoestring which is all our state has offered it for the last seven years. We've had to cut staff - and when we say staff, we mean administrators and counselors and custodians. We are trying hard not to cut teachers, although with my state's solvency all but gone, teachers are next. This will make it harder to pull my daughter out of the tailspin she's put herself into.

Socialistic impulse again. What right do I have to expect free public schools? I could teach her myself, and if I don't feel up to the task, I have the right to scrape up enough money to put her in a private school. Maybe it won't be a fancy, high-falutin' school, but she could go to one of the cheapies. The teachers in those won't be any more accredited than I am, but at least they're willing to do the job. And surely some of them will know the difference beween a scientific theory and a wild-ass guess.

Last night there was some kind of major emergency. I could hear sirens howling for over an hour, and when we drove over to a friend's for dinner, we saw that several streets were blocked off by emergency vehicles, and we moved aside to let an ambulance pass. I'm still not sure what happened, but I'm really (secretly) happy about our socialistic fire- and police departments. Don't tell anybody, but I wouldn't want to do without them, even though they are totally financed by taxpayer dollars.

If the government can't find a way to remain solvent, my husband could lose his job. He's a NASA employee, after all, which means he depends on the largesse of the taxpayers. His job has, in the recent past, produced a lot of good solid data which helps in weather prediction. But who really needs to know where droughts or floods are likely to strike next, or where hurricanes are heading, or now many supercells have formed in tornado alley this season? Weather prediction is just a nicety, right?

Of course, if he does lose his job, we'll lose our healthcare, because we won't be able to afford COBRA coverage without an income, and private health insurance doesn't really exist for people our age. But that's the most socialistic impulse of all - government-sponsored health care. Yikes. No way do the voters of this country want to have to pay taxes towards health coverage, even if it means they spend fewer total dollars for better, more comprehensive health care, because...

Well, just because.

So. Goodbye, services. Hello, freedom. And hello, isolation, ignorance, suffering, and death - we welcome you because socialism - in the form of pooling our tax dollars to provide services we can't otherwise provide for ourselves - is just too great an evil to be borne.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

and all that hooey. Valentine's Day has never been a big deal to me. Heck, you get a card, maybe some chocolates you don't need, occasionally some flowers which are nice. And that's about it. I'm not one of those people who ever counted Valentine's Days when I was single - I really didn't care. Of course, I've been married most of my adult life, but still. It's more a pain in the ass than a holiday.

Where exactly did this feeling come from? Maybe years and years of scrambling around to buy those boxes of Valentine's cards at the grocery store so my kids - who were all born in different decades - could take them to school. Argh, I hated that.

Or maybe it's from being in a marriage which can best be described as 'bedrock.' Not bubbly, not zesty. Bedrock. And that's how I like it. Much more solid and dependable than wind beneath my wings - this is my foundation and it's good and strong and stable. Candy and flowers seem superfluous. (Especially since I tend to buy flowers whenever I want some, and I really, really don't need any more chocolate in this house.)

Or maybe it's a leftover from being a kid in a school where there was no rule about having to bring enough to go around. The teachers would set up decorated boxes, and kids would drop their cards in, and before we went home the box would be opened and everybody's Valentines would be presented right then and there. And there'd be kids who didn't get any. Not one. It would make me feel bad not just because I'd feel sorry for whoever it was, but because I'd also realize that I hadn't given that kid a card, either.

Kinda left a bad taste in my mouth.

But have a happy one anyway. I'm fixing dinner for the family and I bought cupcakes to thrill my granddaughter. My husband said, Why are we buying these cupcakes? And I said, for Valentine's Day. And he said, Oh. I see.

Monday, February 9, 2009


Last night my daughter gave me an essay written by her aunt, my ex-sister-in-law. It was about the foods of her childhood, and it was wonderfully written. It brought back memories of my former-mother-in-law and her prodigious cooking skills: the Christmas goose she prepared one year, and the goose-fat cookies we ate in January; the sauerkraut soup I tried so hard not to be invited over for, only to discover that it was simply delicious; the home-made hamburger buns which were my favorite of all her home-baked breads.

The essay got me to thinking about my childhood foods, so I'm going to piggyback (shamelessly) on Linda's idea and write my own essay on food. With apologies and love to my sweet friend, here's what I remember best:

Potato scones. These were small, rather flat biscuits made of mashed potatoes and flour, cooked in a hot, dry, cast-iron skillet and served with butter and jam. We kids loved them, and rejoiced whenever we found my mother rolling them out. A few years ago I told my mother that all I remembered about those meals were the scones. "What did we have with them?" I asked. "Nothing," she answered. "Scones were what we had when the groceries and the money ran out at the same time."

Oh. Sometimes I suspect that the childhood I remember and the childhood I lived are two different things.

Applesauce. My mother made the best applesauce in the world. She cooked the apples down with cranberries and lots of cinnamon, and used a food mill to remove the peels and puree the sauce. One year she had a serious insulin reaction while we were in the process of making the applesauce and had to be carted off to spend the night in the hospital. While she was gone, my sisters and I - aged ten, eleven, and twelve - finished canning the applesauce. I still remember the look on her face when she saw the jars lined up on the kitchen table. "Did they seal? Did you count the pops?" she asked. "We did, Mom. They all sealed," we assured her.

Autumn soup. This was a soup she made with ground beef, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes. It was delicious and very satisfying. We liked to line the bottoms of our bowls with saltines and ladle the soup on top, turning the crackers into a delicious mush which still makes my mouth water. I wonder if I have any ground beef in the freezer?

Minced meat. Another ground beef dish, made by browning the meat with onions and then adding water and salt and pepper, and letting the resulting mixture simmer until the water had become a rich broth. It was always served with mashed potatoes and green peas. We stacked the potatoes and peas and spooned the minced meat over the top. My kids love this dish as much as I do, and if I should happen to find ground beef in my freezer, they would expect me to make minced meat and not waste my efforts on autumn soup!

Meat loaf. She made it with ground beef and soda crackers and onions and eggs and lots of catsup, and she always served it with acorn squash and baked potatoes. It was my favorite cold-night supper.

Poached eggs. This was something we got when we were sick with a cold. She poached the eggs in milk, and then poured the eggs and milk over toast, and seasoned the resulting mishmash with salt and lots of black pepper. I've never warmed up to eggs poached in water, but I must have my poached eggs in milk whenever I'm feeling under the weather.

Banana bread. It was moist and dark and sweet as cake. She used to make several loaves, wrap them in foil, and mail them to us when we were away at college. Banana bread was the ultimate cure for homesickness.

I guess the best part of remembering the meals of childhood is remembering the faces and smells and the Saturday-Evening-Post quality of our dinner table. Thanks for sending me on this journey, Linda.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I got nuthin'

So that's what you're getting, too. A big fat nuthin'. Have a nice weekend, get some sleep, read a book, see a movie. That's what I'm planning.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Time to do some whittling

What we've gotten out of mega-corporations:
  • Lower prices - unless you're talking about petroleum. Not that I think gas should be cheaper. Just sayin'.
  • Shrinking newspapers.
  • Lousy reporting.
  • A whole host of mindless talking heads, spewing mindless talking points.
  • The auctioning off of the formerly public airwaves to media conglomerates.
  • Giant gas-hogs with rotten repair records.
  • Out-of-control medical costs.
  • The end of pensions. The rise of 401K plans which depend on the stock market.
  • Stock market crashes, minimum of one per decade. See bullet point above.
  • Failed banks.
  • Sub-prime mortgages and home foreclosures.
  • Endless war for the sake of a) oil, and b) defense contractor profits.
  • (Crappy) blockbuster books in lieu of literature.
  • Air, water, and soil pollution resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, unsustainable agri-business farming methods, and mega-tons of waste resulting from an economy based on overconsumption.
  • Obesity at astronomical levels.
  • Unsafe food and drugs.
  • More stuff I'm sure I'm forgetting at the moment.
Aren't you glad we've loosened the regulations regarding monopolies? Isn't our world just so much better this way?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Where I've been, and notes on being an unpublished author

Last week I disappeared into the black hole of editing a novel I was entering in a writing contest. Each morning I told myself that by the end of the day I'd post a note here, explaining why I wasn't blogging. Each night I shut down the computer, vowing to post the note in the morning.

Last night I completed the entry process, and now I'll be in limbo until March 16th. So here's your note. And here's a shiny new blog post.

I've been an unpublished author for a decade now. I have a funny feeling that this is and will always be my reality: brown hair, blue eyes, size 6 1/2 M shoes, unpublished author. I have no idea whether this is ok with me or not. I used to think it was a temporary state, like carrying around ten extra pounds. Now I know that my hair color is more temporary than my authorial status. And the ten extra pounds? We're not even going to go there.

So what's it like? Embarrassing. That's the first word that leaps to my mind. It's just damn embarrassing to be hawking your life's work like some kind of snake oil salesman. Writing query letters, wondering which tone to strike: blustery confidence, or abject humility? Straightforward has proved useless, and the old businesslike model I used to print up on expensive paper and send out via snail-mail now strikes me as heartbreakingly naive.

But writing queries is easy compared to the task of summarizing a four-hundred page novel in four paragraphs, while trying to obey the standard exhortations: use your very best writing! If you can't write a compelling synopsis, who's going to read your book? Make it shine!

Probably the hardest thing of all is the pitch: define your audience and explain why your story is relevant. Generally, an audience is defined this way: "Readers of Famous Bestselling Author will be interested in this book."

Me and Margaret Atwood, man. We're peas in a pod. (As to relevance, my question is: Why? Can't it just be fun?)

And how about that bio? They assure you that it's fine to write about your life, but at writers' conferences, they admit that all they really care about are your publishing credits. If you've got some, they'll give you a second look. If you don't, be prepared to wax poetic on the great handicaps you've overcome to produce this life-changing novel.

See? Embarrassing.

Then there's the constant rejection. I'm a connoisseur of rejection letters. There are the form letters: Due to the volume of requests we receive, we are unable to answer your query personally. We have read your submission with interest, but we feel that it does not meet our needs at this time. Blah blah blah ba-blah. There are the nice ones with the handwritten notes at the bottom: I really think you're almost there! Keep working! There are the unintentionally cruel ones: Have you considered self-publishing? There are agents who don't bother to respond at all, and some whose response is incomprehensible: the rejection letter received in reply to a request for submission guidelines, for example. That was a good one. (Huh? You won't even tell me how to submit?)

Some things I've been spared. I knew a writer who received, in lieu of a letter, the first page of his manuscript back with the word NO! written in red ink, and little red holes where the reader had stabbed the page with his pen. That hasn't happened to me. Yet.

Would I like to be published? Sure. I'd like to feel validated. I'd like to think those hours of midnight oil weren't wasted. I'd like to cash a check.

But then again, maybe not. Setting up book-signings sounds like a whole new ball-park in the experience of humiliation. (Hello, I'm Local Author, and I'd like to sign copies of my book at your store. Yes, Local Author. Yes, that's my name. What do you mean, you aren't stocking my book? Oh, I see. Well, thanks for your time.) And what if the reviews are horrible? Or worse - what if no one is interested in writing a review? What if it's reviewed as humor? Lord, that last one gives me palpitations.

Still. I entered the contest. I'll let you know how well I do. Don't expect good news, though. I'm the unpublished author, and I'm guessing I'll be lugging that label around for a long time. It weighs about ten pounds.