Sunday, November 26, 2006


Quiet. Be quiet.

They're gone. The laundry is dry and folded. The hair dryers and kool-aid scented shampoos are packed. The laptops and cell phones and assorted cords are tucked away. Shoes, jackets, hats. All packed up and loaded in the car. The long round trip to school and back has been completed, the girls returned to their respective dorms.

It was a good visit, one of the best, but now it's done.


The boys are still here somewhere, they're not leaving until morning and they’ll be back later to shoot pool, but now they're off doing other things and for the moment the house is quiet.

Resting. Until next time.


The TV is off, the radios and CD players are silent. I know that is not the phone ringing. Who would dare? Whatever it was, that noise has stopped now as well.

The dog is snuffling gently in his sleep, exhausted from keeping track of so many people. The cat is making soft little mewling noises, burrowed deep into a stray blanket left on the couch.

The only other sound is the clicking of the keyboard and soon that too will cease.


Listen to that.


At last.

Until next time.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tis the Season . . . for Company

I’m probably not the only one who has ever rolled her eyes and groaned at the thought of having out-of-town company, but it’s not always a bad thing. For instance, I'm convinced the only time my house is really clean is just before overnight guests arrive. But why do they always want to talk to you? Isn't it enough that you've supplied clean towels and fresh fruit? Apparently not. They invariably turn on the TV at top volume and settle in for a long chat. Why don't they ever want to just sit quietly and read for a while?

Of course, there are the horror stories. My mother-in-law was a lovely person, but nothing could summon a sense of dread quite like hearing her say, "Don't worry about me while you're at work, I'll find something to do." Like the time she did laundry and down-sized three pair of pants and a favorite sweater. Or when she threw away my potato peeler and bought a new one that "worked." Ahem. I'm left-handed, that peeler worked great. And the time she informed me -- after I shopped for all her favorite meat-and-potato meals and had a roast in the oven -- that she and my father-in-law had switched to a low-fat, low-cholesterol, no carb diet.

There are those too infrequent visits from my mom, which summon not dread but gratitude -- with just a smidgen of guilt. Like the time I came home from work and she said, "I noticed you had a few apples on the bottom shelf of the fridge so I made a batch of apple-cinnamon muffins." Delicious. Thanks, mom. Or, "Well, I was a little bored, here alone all day, so I washed all the inside window panes." Above and beyond, mom. Thank you. Or, "Your daughter and I had the best time after school today with her homework project, constructing a scale model of the Coliseum out of toothpicks." There truly aren't enough words. Thank you for saving me from that agony.

There's the sister who visited recently and we had a great time and she managed to leave while we both still wanted her to stay. Incredible timing. It doesn't always work that way with sisters.

There are the old college friends in town for one night, with whom you talk awkwardly about old times, painfully conscious of how much you've all changed and how seldom you ever think about old times.

There's the company who makes you want to count the dishes after they leave -- not because you think they stole anything, but because you need to know how many dirty plates and cups they left sitting in various odd locations throughout the house.

And then there is the company that comes out of nowhere, with no warning. Last week I got a call from my daughter the day I was to pick her up from college for Thanksgiving break.

"Mom, can you give Susie [not her name] a ride home, too?"

"Sure." It was 38 degrees and raining. I was sure her mom would appreciate not having to go out in that.

"And can she maybe spend the night?"

"Yeah, that's fine." After all, Susie's mom lives 15 minutes away from my house and the less time spent driving that cold rainy night, the better.

"And, um, maybe would it be ok if she spent the weekend, too?"


"It's a long story. I'll tell you later, ok? But can she? Spend the weekend? If she needs to?"

"Well, of course, but--" What?

Incredibly, Susie's mom had told her it would be best if she found another place to stay Thanksgiving weekend. Let me clarify something here. Susie and my daughter have been friends for more than six years. Susie is smart, cheerful, funny and loving. She has a smile that could light up three square city blocks. I've helped her get ready for prom, told her when she went overboard with makeup and even curled her hair, for godsakes. This is not a bad kid. I can not imagine her doing anything that would make her mother ban her from home.

So I was stunned.

Wednesday night I found myself sitting on the couch watching football with Susie while my daughter escaped to her room for a private phone conversation with her sort-of boyfriend. And Susie turned to me and said, "I just don't know what to do about my mom." And I heard her side of the story.

I’ll be the first to tell you, my kids are far from perfect. They have on occasion caused me to feel extremes of anger, sadness, hurt and disappointment. But I know, way down deep in that unconditional place where mothers know these things, that there is nothing they could do or say that would ever make me tell them they could not come home. So it doesn't even matter to me what Susie might have done, there is just no excuse for this banishment. Do I sound judgmental and full of condemnation? Imagine that.

Seeing the hurt and confusion on that sweet face, hearing the vulnerability in her voice just broke my heart. And hearing her thank me repeatedly while in the same breath she apologizes for the "inconvenience" of me having to take her in this weekend makes me see red.

Unfortunately, I know her mom well enough to make conversation, but not well enough to call and ask what the hell she thinks she's doing. Plus I've learned that the best intentions are usually the worst reason for doing anything.

When there is nothing you can do, you need to do something else. So today the kids will rake some leaves. If that isn't penance enough for imagined sins, on Sunday they will help me bake Christmas cookies. I'll probably force them to eat a few, maybe even insist they take some back to school. That should erase any lingering guilt about accepting impromptu hospitality.

Company. The good, the bad and the can't wait till they leave. I thought I’d seen it all. Until this weekend brought a new kind, one not previously encountered. The kind you want to hold close and comfort and yet, at the same time, the kind you hope you never need to entertain, ever again.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Still sick, still whining

Thanks everyone, for all the well wishes and [lack of] sympathy. . . and phone calls and emails and more phone calls and still more emails. Geez.

Yes, I'm still sick. Yes, I went to the doctor. She said I have a virus and should get some rest. She gave me medicine, including something called lidocaine -- you gargle with it and it numbs your throat so you can swallow. Wonderful stuff. It's one thing to lose weight because you've cut down on calories, it's quite another to lose weight because you can't even swallow your own spit, let alone nourishment.

No, mom, I do not have strep. Yes, they did a test. No, I do not have a fever anymore. I have it from an authoritative source that my tonsils are not red and swollen -- which is a damn good thing since I vividly remember having them removed when I was six. For those keeping track (incredibly, some of you are), even after repeated attempts to cough up a lung my blood pressure is 120/80, which is not bad. Stop worrying.

But to tell the truth, I'm cranky as all hell. I hate being sick and this has gone on long enough. I've run out of chipper pleasantries to offer those who ask how I'm feeling, so here’s the truth:

My head hurts and my coughing muscles are sore. I wake up during the night, engage in crud removal (yes, I can be more descriptive, be careful what you ask for), and can't get back to sleep. The bags under my eyes have baggage. I've gone through three boxes of Kleenex and my nose is raw. I try not to look in the mirror. I can't rest because I have things to do. I have to concentrate to swallow. And the dog is back from Charlotte (I don't know why, probably it's a conspiracy) so I can't even sleep late on the weekend because he can't be trained to use the litter box for anything other than a snack tray.

Don't ask.

Oh, you think THIS is bad-tempered, self-indulgent whining? This is nothing. You should read the other stuff I've written this week. I was going to delete it all but then decided to keep it as a cautionary reminder. Of what not to do when you're sick.

But I have lost five pounds.

So it could be worse.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Get Some Rest

You know how when you’re sick and go to the doctor hoping for a miracle drug or call your mom hoping for chicken soup via long distance but really you’d settle for a sympathetic “poor baby” and instead they both say: Sounds like a virus. Get some rest.

And you think: Yeah right, if I had time to rest I probably wouldn’t be sick to begin with.

I’m so familiar with this exchange I no longer even need to go through the motions. I can shrug off advice without even having received any.

So when I woke up Saturday morning, besieged by what were clearly professional-strength germs, I thought: I should get some rest. So I did not go to the all-day writer’s workshop I had been so looking forward to. Damn it. But I did have to go to the grocery store. And I returned a couple library books, as long as I was out. I even raked a few leaves, which was a truly bad idea considering how much I was coughing.

Sunday it was raining and I thought: I need to get some rest. So I did a few loads of laundry. Made some soup. Put sheets on the guest bed. Did stuff around the house. But nothing strenuous. Because I was resting.

Monday morning my throat was so sore I could barely swallow, but I had to go to work. Except I felt awful. Those germs had adopted a “take no prisoners” strategy and they were winning. I was starting to sound like Marlo Thomas. Drastic measures were needed. So I called my boss, ignored the “you sound, um, different” commentary (give me a break), told him I was sick (nope, not coming in at noon), endured the infliction of guilt (why do bosses do that?), and went back to bed.

And slept. All day. Woke up twice and ate soup. Went back to bed and slept. All night.

And I feel so much better now (cough). Really. I’m fine (sniffle). A couple naps under my desk at work today (like that’s going to happen), I should be back to normal in no time (right).

Ok, gimme a week, tops.

It’s just amazing what a little good advice can do, once you decide to take it. Really.

TUE PM: Ok, in defense of my boss (clearly, the fever has caused delirium), I had only been at work about two hours today when he said: Maybe you should go home. And get some rest.

Gee, SO glad to know I looked as bad as I felt, because who the hell wants to look better than she feels? Of course this also means I may have been mistaken all this time and he does indeed have a mother.

Nah. More likely he believed me earlier when he said: So, you sound pretty bad, what do you think you have? And I replied, deadpan: I’m pretty sure it’s the plague which, as you know, is quite contagious.

I’m going back to bed now.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Memory Lane

Back in the early 1990's, when I lived in south Florida, I wrote several dozen Op Ed type articles of various lengths for a local newspaper. Last night, for reasons unknown, I took a little walk down memory lane and re-read those articles. All of them, God help me.

Most of them were so-so, some were truly awful, and a handful were pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. At least half of them were extremely political and I am somewhat in awe of the woman who wrote them with no apparent fear of reprisal. There were even a couple that generated letters of thanks from various members of the community, which I had saved as well.

But all of the articles, good and bad, made me smile just a little. There is just something about the remembered feeling of seeing your name and picture in the local paper, accompanied by your very own words. It did make me wonder, though, whether in a dozen years I will look back on these blog entries and say: most of them were so-so, some were truly awful, and a handful were pretty damn good.

Since I'm currently suffering miserably from the feverish, aching, coughing, congested head cold from hell and feeling more than a little uninspired [read: lazy], here is one of the articles, published 12-4-93, that still makes me smile. I did not write the headline.

I should note that the then-teenaged daughter of the friend about whom I wrote was outraged by the article, and vehemently defended her mother's culinary choices. Just so you know, I've already been raked over those coals. My dear friend, who also wore the hats of talented writer and merciless mentor, thought it was outrageously funny and told her daughter to lighten up. Even though we exchange cards and family news once a year, I miss her. And I think about her every Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving's not the same without turkey

I have a friend who is a vegetarian, which was the cause of speculation this past week. What does she eat at Thanksgiving? No turkey means there's no gravy and, therefore, not much point in mashed potatoes or dressing. What is left of the traditional feast? Rolls and cranberries?

I thought of her while making room in my fridge for my own turkey, which thawed as slowly as April snow in Minnesota.

And while I cleaned it, a process more difficult than bathing the dog.

And while explaining to my curious children its various internal parts.

And again, when I needed help removing the thing from my oven, as it weighed more than the combined birth weights of both my children.

And the next day, during painstaking hours spent removing leftover meat from the bones.

I thought of her all weekend, while eating countless turkey sandwiches, and found I had discovered two new reasons to give thanks.

First, that the pilgrims did not have a side of beef for their celebration. And second, for this one day, in spite of the mess, I am thankful that I am NOT a vegetarian. At least not yet.

Ok, I have to admit this is not a verbatim copy of what was published. I added back in five words that were deleted from the final copy due to word limit constraints. Hey, it’s my blog, I set the limits here. The article as posted above is 195 words. That's hard to do. Don't believe me? You try it. Really.

Write an article and post it in the comments, 200 words or less, telling me something about your Thanksgiving celebration -- the best, the worst, the one you’re planning for this year. Who knows? In a dozen years or so, you might look back, read it and decide it was pretty damn good. Or it might just make you smile.

And no cheating. I will count.

Ahem. I heard that. I'll have you know I am much more proficient at counting words than heads.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The One Time I Couldn't

There are a lot of things you need to do when you move from one state to another. There are all the obvious things like connect the utilities, forward your mail, give your mom the new phone number. And the not so obvious things. Like registering to vote. Ah, you already know where this is going, don't you?

Ten years ago, during a presidential election year no less, I was not registered to vote. Oh, I was old enough, and had a clean criminal record and proof of citizenship. But we had just moved. Ok, so we had moved eleven months and three weeks prior to the election, but it seemed like just yesterday. I was working full-time, the kids were little and had to be driven everywhere, and life was hectic. And I didn't really forget, exactly, I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. The election was still weeks away and I took for granted there was plenty of time. No problem.

Until one day, someone on the radio said they hoped everyone had remembered to register to vote because it was now officially too late.

Too late? And I had not registered. I went that very day, hoping maybe I'd heard wrong and it wasn't too late. Maybe they'd make an exception. Nope. No mistake, no exceptions. Oh, I registered all right. Just too late.

I spent weeks kicking myself and feeling horrible. Like a criminal. Disenfranchised. I never thought I'd use that word, it sounds so corny, but it is very accurate. Until then, I had voted in every election since the day I turned eighteen. Sometimes my votes were misguided -- driven solely by party loyalty or influenced by factors other than the issues -- and sometimes they were pitifully uninformed or cynically apathetic. But I had never before failed to exercise my right to vote.

Election day rolled around and it seemed everyone I saw, even complete strangers in the elevator, asked me whether I had voted. Unable to admit my own stupidity and unwilling to lie, I told everyone I usually voted on the way home from work. Which was true. Just not that year.

So, go ahead and ask me today. I will answer: "Hell yes, I voted. Did you?"

Because I remember all too clearly the one time I couldn't.

Post Script

POST SCRIPT: This is a separate entry because I’m not sure I can figure out how to add it to the last post without screwing it up.

Ahem. It has been brought to my attention that more than six people, maybe as many as nine, read this blog. Frankly, I am staggered by the concept. Geez. Just because I make a living in the world of finance does not mean I can count heads with any degree of accuracy. Especially when some of you are practically invisible and never deign to comment and the rest of you refuse to hold still so I can get an accurate tally. Not to mention the fact that some of you have more than one head and that just throws everything off kilter. Damn aliens.

So when I said that all SIX of you who read this blog had been pestering me with stupid, albeit charming, questions . . . well, you have to take into account that whole "thirty to fifty percent margin of error" thing you're always hearing about.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

So, now it’s my turn to ask

This is multiple choice, short essay. Pick a question and answer it. Or, for extra credit,* answer them all. Feel free to write several comments, you won’t break anything. Probably.

1) Think about the last book you didn’t finish reading and, without telling me what it was or who wrote it (hey, it might be one of my friends), tell me what about the book made you put it down.

2) Or, if you’d rather, tell me the same thing about the last movie you couldn’t finish watching.

3) Think about the book you re-read the most often and tell me what emotion it evokes in you -- that is, what do you feel as you’re reading, what makes you keep coming back to the same book, time after time. And go ahead and tell me what book it is, this is a good thing.

4) If you had to recommend one book for your mom to read, what would it be? Would it be the same for your dad? Why?

5) Has reading a book ever made you extremely angry? Why? (Again, please don’t identify it; we don’t want hurt feelings here.)

6) What do you feel when you think about a long winter weekend spent downhill skiing? Is there anything you’d rather spend a long winter weekend doing?

7) How many blogs do you read on a daily basis? Why?

8) How many books do you read in an average week? Why?

9) Compare your answers to 7) and 8) above and tell me something significant about that.

10) Make up your own question, something no one has asked you yet but the answer to which you’d really like to share with the rest of us. Extra points for creativity.

There. That ought to keep you all busy for a while so I can get some stuff done. I’ve got company coming later in the week and the house is a mess.

*Extra credit can be used to purchase merchandise on the BCB Merchandise page. You can’t find the link? Really? Keep looking. Take your time.

Since you asked, and asked, and asked . . .

First of all, knock it off. Do you know how many of you people sent this email questionnaire to me? Too many.

Second, I do not reply to nonsense like this because it often carries germs that can wreak havoc with computers that don’t have the latest anti-virus software.

And third-- well hell, if you really want to know, and since the six of you who sent it to me are pretty much the only ones reading this blog. . . but I’m deleting the questions I don’t feel like answering. C’mon, there were more than thirty of them and I’m busy here.

About Me: (this really should be changed to something more accurate)

What time is it: Is this a trick question? Do you not have a watch?

Full name: If you know me well enough to ask all these stupid damn questions, then you’d better know the answer to this one at least.

What are you most afraid of? Success beyond my wildest dreams.

Place of birth: Minneapolis, MN. There was a fire at the hospital the day after I went home, but I had nothing to do with that. Really. Something about faulty wiring on the holiday decorations.

Loved someone so much it made you cry: Of course I have. Geez, I’m a daughter and a sister and an ex-wife and a mom and a friend. Besides, everything makes me cry. Just ask my kids, who claim a bad weather report can make me cry.

Favorite Flower: Purple irises and yellow tea roses, together. Why, are you sending some? How nice. Thank you.

Favorite Drink: Ice water and unsweetened tea, hot or iced.

How many times you failed your driver's license? Who says I have one? I’ve never failed any test, as far as I can remember.

Before this one, from whom did you get your last e-mail? You mean before ALL SIX of these? I think there was a really long one from Bob Mayer -- it was a million-word history of the US Special Forces [from an online class of his I'm taking]. I should be reading that instead of answering all these questions. And there was one from the library, saying some books were due in a couple days -- I should be reading those, too.

What do you do most often when you are bored? I’m rarely bored -- the voices in my head are quite entertaining.

What time is Bedtime: It varies, but it’s usually way too close to the time I have to wake up again.

Last person you went to dinner with: Why? Did they become suddenly and violently ill?

Ford or Chevy: Among other things, my grandpa had a garage. My dad used to tell a story about how, when Ford first came out with a V-8 engine, it was really difficult for mechanics to work on it without special tools and after that grandpa hated Ford cars. My grandpa could swear fluently in Norwegian. I do a passable imitation. Dad said he’d never buy a Ford, even though he freely admitted it was a stupid reason not to. So, family tradition says Chevy. In two languages.

What are you listening to right now: I believe that sound is crickets.

What are your favorite colors: My daughter says it’s black; a direct quote: “I’ll only go clothes shopping with you if you promise not to buy anything black.” But I also like deep jewel tones.

How many Tattoos do you have: Wouldn’t you rather know what and where they are? Sorry, don’t have any. They expand and turn green.

How many pets do you have? Well, the cat has me, so maybe that doesn’t count. And I sort of have unofficial half-custody of a dog. I no longer have any fish, hamsters, guinea pigs or iguanas.

What would you like to accomplish before you die? To finish living. And to FTDB and see it published. And then another. And travel everywhere and talk to people. Maybe even ask them stupid questions.

What are your favorite movies: I have no idea; I don’t do well with names. Probably the ones that came out before special effects were invented -- the ones with sexy banter and witty dialog that makes you think.

Beach or Forest? I’ve already spent way too much time at the beach with kids -- and then cleaning up the sandy swimsuits, towels and other sunscreen-glazed, brine-encrusted paraphernalia -- but I do enjoy a long walk on an empty beach in the winter months and I love watching the waves and the pelicans. Otherwise, it’s the forest. Or the mountains. And there is nothing quite like the wide open expanse of the plains, where you can see the curve of the earth.

DIRECTIONS: Now, here's what you're supposed to do. . . Wait just a minute here. Do you really believe for one minute that I am going to follow directions?

And maybe I have some questions of my own. But this post is already way too long, so look for them in the next one.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I have noticed a trend lately in my phone conversations: they all get interrupted.

For instance, I’m talking to one of my sisters and she says: "So what are you going to do for -- Did you finish that science homework? Well, go do it. Now. -- your birthday this year?"

Talking to a fellow writer: "And the agent called me back and was really interested and asked -- You should have been in bed ten minutes ago! Turn off that light! -- to see a full."

Talking to my mom: "And I just finished reading a really interesting book that I think you'd -- oh, can you hold on? I've got another call -- click.

Talking to my daughter as she walks across campus: "And yeah, so I was up till like one o'clock studying and I'm so freaking -- Hi, Trey -- hang on, mom -- did you [hand covers phone] mrpffl, brmph, skrfpl, ok, I'll see you then -- mom? I'm back and God, I have so much homework and I'm so freaking tired."

It's not that I consider this behavior to be rude, because I don't. Not really. It's just life. And the funny thing is, not long ago it was my life. I used to create those same interruptions all the time.

Not long ago, picking up the phone and dialing a number, especially a long distance number, was guaranteed to set off some primal urge in my children to engage in activity that required my immediate intervention. Or it would activate some secret call waiting code and cause every person I know to call me at the same time.

Not these days. These days, if another call comes in while I’m on the phone I ignore it, knowing full well it's a computer trying to sell me a satellite dish or a recording of a politician’s wife telling me to vote. And I don't believe the cat has ever engaged in activity requiring my immediate intervention.

What no one seems to realize, though, is that their call has interrupted ME. And my writing. But if I tried to explain, they'd think: Yeah, yeah, big deal, it's just words -- you can get back to it later, right?

Right. After all, it’s not like lives hang in the balance.

And, really, what would my mom think if I suddenly stopped her mid-sentence and said: "Hang on, my heroine is trying to decide why, if she trusts this guy not to kill her, she can’t trust him enough to let him seduce her?"

Or if I said to my daughter: "One minute, my hero is trying to decide whether it might make his life easier to just kill her now rather than keep trying to get her to tell him the truth."

And I'm sure my neighbor would understand if I said: "Let me call you right back about that geranium sale because, over in the back yard, the bad guy has just lit the match that will start the four-alarm fire that will have my hero and heroine putting aside their differences and fighting for their survival when they realize the house is on fire and they have to move the dead body before all the evidence goes up in flames. And I'm trying to remember whether I wrote the scene where the heroine took all those incriminating documents and hid them in a safe place, which is NOT in the house, or whether I just imagined that part."

But no, I don’t do that. Has anyone ever heard me say: "Hold on while I finish writing this kiss." Or "Just a minute, I think I've figured out an important motivation here, give me a second to get it on paper."

No, you have not. But maybe that's all about to change.

Just giving advance notice. From now on, you call me, you run the risk of being interrupted.