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31 posts from May 2008

May 21, 2008

Comfort Videos

Comfort Videos

Elaine Viets

The weather is lousy. You have a summer cold. You want to stay home on a Saturday night and veg out.

These are the times that call for comfort videos – DVDs that make you feel better.

You can rent them, or if you have a library system with a first-rate video collection, like we do in Fort Lauderdale, you can check them out for free.

Here’s my six-pack of comfort videos.

(1) Foyle’s War

British TV series are not all intelligible accents and dark interiors. "Foyle’s War," a detective program (or is that programme?) with Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle is beautifully photographed. It’s set in Hastings during World War II. Inspector Foyle fights to maintain domestic law and order while the world is coming apart. Foyle believes common murderers must be caught and punished, even when thousands are killed by the war. Honeysuckle Weeks is Sam Stewart, Foyle’s female driver. Don has a permanent crush on her.

(2) Crime Story

This series is set in early 1960s Las Vegas. Michael Mann was the executive producer, and it has a distinctive look: the old-time neon and "modern" interiors are gorgeous. A younger, thinner Dennis Farina plays Lt. Mike Torello, back in the days when cops could beat up suspects (but only the guilty ones). Torello was pitted against the pompadored mobster Ray Luca (Anthony John Denison) and Luca’s crazy-evil sidekick, Pauli Taglia (John Santucci).

(3) Miami Vice

This TV series changed the way men looked, even the police. Detectives started dressing like Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs. If you’re wearing a T-shirt under your jacket, sir, you can thank those two. Crockett and Tubbs also made beard stubble socially acceptable. The women’s clothes included a lot of expensive, ugly dresses with shoulder pads and sequins. I’d say these clothes were hilarious – except I wore them in the 1980s.

The acting by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas varies from amateur to first-rate. Edward James Olmos, the lanky actor who played Lt. Martin Castillo, made acne scars look sexy. And there’s always Jan Hammer’s music.


The Simpsons

Matt Groening created a sitcom for "The Tracey Ullman Show" featuring a disfunctional family. The characters were named after his own family, except young Matt was replaced with Bart Simpson. Bart is an anagram for "brat."

Hold your own Simpson fest, starting with the first season, back in 1989. Watch how the characters evolved in 18 years. The series began as a sort of "Honeymooners" with kids, and has become deliciously meaner. The sentences Bart has to write on the blackboard after school had a surreal edge: "I will not bring sheep to school."

Cool celebrity guests lend their faces and/or voices to the show. "The Simpsons" bagged Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as Michelle Pfeiffer. Elton John was imprisoned in a dog crate in one episode. In fact, "The Simpsons" currently holds the Guinness World Record for "most celebrities in an animated series." If you don’t want to rent or borrow the DVDs, watch your favorite episodes free on www.hulu.com

(5 ) The Vicar of Dibley

Our own Book Tart Sarah Strohmeyer suggested this BBC series, and I am eternally grateful. Dawn French plays a female vicar, who is assigned to the imaginary Oxfordshire village of Dibley, after the Church of England changed its rules about ordaining women in 1994.

The Dibley parish meetings are a parody of every bad board meeting you’ve ever endured. Check out this "Comic Relief" episode at www.youtube.com/watch?v=_a1WzIjjCg4

(6) Wiseguy

Ken Wahl plays the ex-con turned deep cover FBI agent Vinnie Terranova in this series with murder, madness and incest. Jonathan Brooks is Vinnie’s dislikeable boss, McPike. Kevin Spacey was the whacko crime boss Mel Profitt, who would whisper "only the toes knows" while his sister shot drugs into his feet. The dark series died too young in 1990. Wahl was justly branded "prime time’s top hunk," and female fans mourned when he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.

Please give me your favorite videos. It’s going to be a long, hot summer in Florida, and I’ll be hibernating by the cool TV.

May 19, 2008

Home Improvement Take 2

Home Improvement Take 2

By Sarah

At some point during our last house renovation, I told a friend that should I ever be insane enough to agree to another such project they would be free and clear to shoot me.

Well, get your gun.

For reasons beyond me, I - not Charlie - actually suggested we connect our house to the garage. And now we're doing it. That's right. While the rest of the world is downsizing and tidying up their debt, Home_construction we're actually adding space and increasing our credit line. Smart, huh? Well, we do have a kid about to enter college and either the college takes all our money or we have a proper place to hang our coats and damn if we didn't start itching for a hall closet.

Now I can look forward to a summer of contractors showing up at 6 a.m. and making noise, of electricity suddenly going off, of major excavation threatening our lovely apple tree and carefully planted perennial garden. And, of course, the pain of writing huge checks.

Thirteen years ago, we bought this house for about a hundred grand. It was a shitbox with some nice views and all we could afford since Charlie had just graduated from law school, Anna was four and Sam was born three days after we moved in. (Try bending over to pick up coat hangers when you're 9 + months pregnant. Go on, try it.)

Everything in the ugly blue gray house was three quarters the size of what it should have been - the downstairs powder room was smaller than a chicken coop, the upstairs bathrooms boasted gray molded plastic showers and every room was cramped by tiny windows that didn't do justice to our mountain views. There was also T-11 siding, wall-to-wall carpeting throughout and - I love this part - used toilets. Think trailer on its end.

None of it exists now.

During Phase I of our renovation, Charlie built the first addition himself while working a full-time job. Ah, youth. He added a living room with a fireplace (built by an octogenarian) and a dining room with four big windows and a glass door. Above that is our semi-circular bedroom, walk-in closet and Anna's room. Below all that is a basement that's been transformed to a TV room/gym.

Then we took a sledgehammer to the rest of the house for Phase II. Gone went the molded showers. Two bathrooms were combined for one master bath (yes!) with a glass shower and deep tub and Sledgehammer windows looking out to the mountains. Anna's old room was turned into a bathroom and downstairs we knocked through a wall and built a great room/kitchen with nice wide pine floors. Every single window was replaced. (Talk about cost!) The last remaining part of the old house - the powder room you couldn't turn around in - was expanded and plastered with kind of Moroccan colors. Very cool.

We also built a garage with a workshop above. And last summer Charlie expanded and redid the deck.

However, for Phase II we used a cast of characters that made the Three Stooges look like geniuses in comparison including:

A) A confused carpenter who didn't know how to work with spindles for the stairs and cut them at ridiculous incongruous edges. He would collapse his shoulders in a heap at the idea of more work.

b) A drug- addicted tile man who lived on pain killers after years of working on his knees. (Actually, a very nice guy for whom I felt very sorry.) Unfortunately, painkillers don't help when you're trying to install a glassed-in shower. Let's just say there were leaks.

c) Larry the plumber. Words do not express my loathing of Larry the Plumber. He never showed and Three_stooges every day I bit my nails wondering - would this be the day? I became obsessed. Bathrooms were shared. We were cramped and getting on one another's nerves. Finally, finally he showed to put in the all-important toilet in the kids bathroom. Surprise! The big day turned out to be - Christmas Eve. That's right. There I was rolling out cookies, my relatives at the kitchen table and - knock, knock - it's Larry. First thing he says?

"Gotta turn the water off."

d) And last but not least, the electricians. Two individuals who actually lived in my house for months calling to each other from the basement to the third floor, erratically and - I felt - maliciously turning off electricity at will. I think that was the year I wrote two books, both of which were lost repeatedly thanks to the sudden extinguishing of power. My computer never was the same.

They did give us a cherished family expression, however. "I forgot to put it on the truck." As in, "Hey, Gary, what about the canned lighting that was supposed to go over the stove?" Gary, smacking forehead, says, "Shoot. I forgot to put it on the truck."

e) The one bright light in the experience was an electrician named Jesus. Half Chinese, half Mexican. He was so booked, he could only do the garage. But when he arrived, he was like a rock star. Breezed in and got it done in one day. Ate a sandwich with one hand while he worked with the other.

I loved him.

So wish us well and share your renovation stories. Lord knows Charlie and I aren't alone.

Yours in future bankruptcy,


Power Failures and Other Freaks of Nature

Power Failures and Other Freaks of Nature

by Michele

Last night the lights went out in my little town.  It was a warm, wet, blustery evening, so you can imagine the scenario.  Power line.  Wayward tree branch.  Everything goes dark.  The only surprise is that it doesn't happen more often.


At the time, my husband and I were in a restaurant the next town over having dinner with our neighbors.  My older son was out at a concert.  And my younger one, who's eight, was home with a babysitter.  He'd just gotten out of the shower and was trying to stick his wet legs into his pajama bottoms.  He lost his balance, fell over and bumped into the wall pretty hard, and the next thing he knew, the lights went out.  He actually thought it was his fault.  He called out to the babysitter, and by the light of her cell phone, they found the closet where we keep our camping equipment.  Pretty soon they were reading by lantern light and having a grand old time.  A while later the rest of us got home, and we all ate cookies in the kitchen, surrounded by candles.  There was nothing I wanted to do that I couldn't accomplish, including reading for half an hour before bed.  (I used a flashlight.)  It was all a lovely adventure, and when I woke up in the morning, the power was back on.   

Life without electricity can be cozy and romantic . . . as long as you're prepared, and you know it'll end soon.  I enjoy camping.  We've spent as much as two days in cabins with no electricity or running water, cooking on a wood stove and eating by candlelight.  I love it for a while, but two days of that once every six months is plenty for me.


Some people are looking for utopia, god bless 'em, and they genuinely prefer life like it was lived two hundred years ago, close to the land, with no modern amenities.  Me -- I've never had to go without electricity and all that it brings (toilets that flush, refrigerated food, working telephones, my computer, this blog) for long, and I'd like to keep it that way.  But what if I had no choice in the matter?

No question, the world is rife with disasters on a grand scale.  The tsunami.  Hurricane Katrina.  Wildfires in California.  The cyclone in Myanmar.  The earthquake in China.  For a long time, my personal belief was that such things would happen in far-off lands.  This expectation seemed to be borne out by the facts, until eventually disasters visited places that I lived, because, well, it was time.  Even then, I was lucky, and my personal belief morphed into: disasters may strike close to home, but they won't affect me.  That big earthquake the year I lived in San Francisco?  I was in Alabama on a business trip.  9/11?  I lived uptown.

9/11 affected me psychologically, of course.  Being trapped on an island with millions of terrified people (all the bridges and tunnels were sealed so we couldn't leave) while buildings burned and food supplies dwindled will give rise to a certain level of paranoia.  For a while I had tape around my windows in case of a chemical attack.  (Don't laugh -- an anthrax letter came through the mailroom of the building where my husband worked.)  Eventually we took the tape off, but we still kept one of those escape bags.  You know, medical supplies, important documents, contact lens solution.  You wouldn't want to have to wear your glasses while fleeing a mass disaster.  Even years later, I had a habit of keeping non-perishable food around past the expiration date.  An old bag of Pepperidge Farm stuffing?  It might come in handy in the event of nuclear attack. 

Lately, though, I got nothing.  I'm complacent, I'm unprepared.  The batteries in the flashlights are old, and the only emergency supplies in my basement are a couple of cases of wine that need to be stored in a cool place.  I have no idea how I would react if I had to contend with true hardship.  But then, who does?  In light of all that, the best thing I can think of to do is say a prayer for those poor people in Myanmar and China.   

May 18, 2008

You Know Summer's Coming When . . . .

You Know Summer's Coming When . . . .

by Michele


Our seasons up here in the northland are a little bit behind everybody else's.  (I've almost come to think of you guys as the lower 48).  Right now, we're in the midst of the most glorious spring I have ever seen in my life, and I don't think that's just because the winter was so awful.  This spring is truly perfect.  Daffodils and tulips are everywhere.  Flowering trees perfume the cool air, and everybody's yards are full of that delightful, innocent shade of pale green that turns much darker as summer comes on.  So I can't say I'm not enjoying myself.

But for me, there's nothing like summer.  I've started my vigil -- now I keep my eyes peeled for signs that summer is on the way.  Well, what do you know?  The other day I happened to be driving with my family past our favorite seasonal ice cream shack, and lo and behold, it was open!  You know the sort of place I mean.  It operates out of the side of a building, or a roadside shed, or even a trailer.  It's only open when the weather is fine, and the only place to sit is a grungy old picnic table or the fender of your car.  But the ice cream there tastes sweeter than anywhere else.  And you'll go miles out of your way on a summer night to get to it.

  Aaah, sublime.  I had a vanilla soft-serve cone dipped in chocolate!

Any signs of summer down your way?

May 17, 2008

Dispatches from the Suburbs

The Tarts are delighted to welcome back guest blogger Jennifer Vido, whose "Jen's Jewels" column at FreshFiction.com is one of our favorite places to read about books.  Jen's here to tell us what's up with life in the suburbs lately.  No surprise as the school year winds to a close, it has a lot to do with those kidlets!  You can also visit Jen at her website.


Dispatches from the Suburbs -- The Mom Lifestyle

The majority of Americans look forward to Daylight Savings time for the simple fact that it brings the countdown to summer.  Those days when you skip work due to that supposed cold which can only be remedied by spending an afternoon on the golf course rather than in the boardroom.  Yes, you know exactly what I am talking about.  Of course all of this is well and good unless you happen to be in that special category that is marked with three simple letters -- M-O-M.  Then, I'm sorry to say, you're totally exempt from this sickness.  For us moms, Daylight Savings Time signifies one thing and one thing only . . . .the dreaded end of the school year.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not lamenting over the prospect of having our sons at home with me 24/7, all summer, every day, rain or shine.  (That's a topic for another blog, my friends.)  No, I'm talking about all of the obligatory school functions that never seem to end.  I don't know about you, but I'm finding that I hardly have enough time to get things done.  And if that's not bad enough, the teachers feel the need to assign twice the amount of homework in an attempt to complete their curriculum by June.

Take for instance my son's middle school social studies class.  I am sure that many of you can remember (with agony) your child's first research project.  You know -- the one that requires a zillion note cards, a complete sentence outline, and my all-time favorite, the tri-fold display board.  Honestly, by the time it was completed, I swear Julius Caesar wound up becoming the fifth member of our family.  This project was a valuable learning tool, but quite frankly it was also a painful lesson in time management for the entire family.


Besides schoolwork, springtime also brings many other obligations.  This is what the past month looked like at our house.  We had two first communions, a baptism, three family birthday parties, the required spring school concert, lacrosse practice and games, the social studies fair, a walk-a-thon for the Arthritis Foundation, scouts, and sign-ups for summer camps.  That's just a sampling of what's been happening.  Whew!  I'm exhausted just writing about it!

But then on Friday, it finally dawned on me.  As I was sitting in my son's first grade classroom enjoying the Mother's Day Tea, I realized that it would be my last.  Next year, he'll be in second grade, where Mother's Day Teas are no longer celebrated. My older son will be in seventh grade, a step closer to high school, where hugs will no longer be readily accepted.  And I stopped and asked myself this question . . What's the hurry?  Even though I'm tired and I have ugly bags under my eyes, this is my life.  And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

So now, as I prepare for my Herculean work, I listen to that little voice in my head reminding me that this too shall pass, and all too soon.  Within a blink of an eye, I'll be reminiscing with my husband about these crazy days when it was such a struggle to keep my head above water.  And yes, a lonely tear will run down my cheek as I wish that I could have it all back.

May 16, 2008

Another C Word

Another C Word

By Rebecca the Bookseller aka Kathy Sweeney

Some people waive it off, as if it were nothing. Some people cringe just hearing it. Some people are vigilant - preparing defensive tactics. I'm talking, of course, about Cramps.

Blog_pms_comicCramps are a great medical mystery (please - do NOT get me started). Some people never have so much as cramp one - they breeze through life, their reproductive system sloughing itself once every lunar cycle, like clockwork, with nary a care. I hate those people. OK, maybe hate is too strong a word. But I do envy them. Envy, as in one of the Seven Deadlies.

Some people have mid-level cramps - they take the painkiller/anti-inflammatory of choice, grit their teeth for a day or so and carry on. Periodically they ask themselves - why in the hell can't someone figure this out?

Then there are the people like me. Cramps are part of an irregular, Cursed cycle that may or may not begin today, tomorrow or the next day. It may, in turn, end today, tomorrow or the next day. It's like living with a big Roulette Wheel in your body. There are days when I can't leave the house. There are hours when I can't leave my room. It sucks. Big Time. And other than the most helpful - "Let's knock you out, cut you open and take out all that stuff", there isn't much to be done. Hormone therapy? I don't think so. Fool me once, kind of thing.

Now, I understand there are advantages to taking it all out - but there are disadvantages too. Like most serious medical procedures, there are success stories and there are tragedies. My kids are too young to risk the tragedies - and yes, I know, I could get hit by a bus at any time, but that doesn't mean I'm going to choose to stand in the middle of the bus lane and take my chances, either.

Don't get me wrong - I know things could be much, much worse. I could have a fatal disease. I could be forced, in some kind of psychotic game show world, to spend every second of my life with stone idiots - or even worse - people with no discernible sense of humor. I could have a sick child, or a dying loved one. I get that. More on that in the guidelines below.

I am not even going to waste anyone's time talking about how in the name of all that is righteous it comes to pass that we are on our SIXTH generation of hard-on meds, but we still can't figure out how to stop cramps. I do need to mention, though, that the newer ED drugs have more side effects. As my daughter observed after sitting through a commercial: "Are you telling me that people are now willing to risk two of the five primary senses just for THAT?!" I told her that her grandparents' warnings of blindness and fiery damnation didn't stop any of her aunts or uncles. She just shook her head. She's young. Thank God.

Unfortunately, she's got my genes when it comes to her reproductive physiology. She knows from cramps already. And so the cycle begins again. Yeah, I know, I put it that way on purpose.

Basically, this is just a whiny blog.

Naturally, the whining about it makes me feel guilty, so I am going to try to turn this into a mitzvah - by sharing some advice to the people who share a house or a life with someone like me who suffers at the hands of mother nature.

1. If it's really bad, slide a glass of milk (have to have something in your stomach to take the pain meds) and some warm chocolate chip cookies (hell, any chocolate will do) in the door and stay the hell out of the way.

2. Ask if there is anything you can do. If you happen to be a man, and you think she has a rant coming ("YOU -- YOU go through NOTHING - if YOU had to go through this bullshit, the species would have died out CENTURIES ago") just take it and count yourself lucky there are no real weapons in the house. [Note: remove all weapons from the house.]

3. Join in if there is something to criticize (and be happy it's not you) - for example: If she says: "That stupid Mrs. Beasley up the street stopped earlier today to try to get me to sign a petition for one of her shithead projects. She's a menace." Do NOT say: "Gee, honey, what was the project?" DO say: "I KNOW! That ugly bitch needs to be slapped silly."

4. Do NOT try to one-up her. Unless you spend at least 25% of your life with an open compound fracture, you are not going to do anything but sound like a total wuss - and you'll just piss her off even more. You may have played an entire quarter of championship basketball/football/SuperMario Brothers challenge with a shattered tibia. But unless you do it once a month, every month, you have no idea what we're dealing with here.

5. Do NOT try to tell her 'It could be worse.' No shit Sherlock - funny I never thought of that, ya Dumbass. You want worse? Well, I can make that happen. Uh, sorry. See how bad an idea that is?

Blog_pms_zone6. Finally - do NOT try to initate any funny business while the pain is intense. However, and tread lightly here - there is nothing better to relieve mild PMS cramps than an orgasm. But - and get this one guys - you are going to have to do the work. So if you've never paid attention before to what she likes, now is NOT the time to try something new. See #2 about the weapons. And woe to he who even THINKS about asking her to do any of those things she doesn't do. It won't matter whether you have weapons in the house or not. See that lamp on the nightstand? In the coroner's report, it will simply be referred to as 'a blunt object'.

Hmmmm. OK, I think that's enough.

Anyone on either side of this issue want to share?

May 15, 2008

Chased Around The Desk

Chased Around the Desk    Go to fullsize image

by Nancy

A few months back, famed former basketball player Isiah Thomas, coach of the New York Knicks, found himself in a pickle. A female executive, Anucha Browne Sanders, claimed Mr. Thomas sexually harassed her in the office at Madison Square Garden. She took him to court and--although he maintained his innocence to the bitter end--the jury believed her side of the story and found in her favor. She was awarded $11.6 million. (Yes, that's eleven million dollars.)  But the folks at the Garden settled with her for $11.5, which somehow allowed Mr. Thomas to continue to proclaim he did nothing wrong, but really, may I sell you a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge?

NBC Sports said that Ms. Browne Sanders's testimony " . . . exposed the club's tawdry side, from its dynfunctional clubhouse to its star player's sexual exploits with an intern."

What's new and startling about this story?

Nothing.  It's one of the oldest stories around--men chasing women around the desk and after she cries foul he wonders what all the fuss was about.

Mr. Thomas still doesn't get it, obviously. Maybe that's the story here.  That there's still a man in America who hasn't learned it's politically incorrect to bully someone into doing things she might otherwise not want to do.  Okay, wait, maybe certain Mormons in Texas still haven't figured this out either. And a few coaches of girls' basketball. Oh, and the occasional--well, now that I think of it, the list could get longer than I first thought.

When I was a teenager and working as a waitress in a hotel located along an interstate, I learned how to take an order and deliver the rare or well-done prime rib to the right customers. And I also had to figure out how to dodge the boss who had developed a very successful catch and release technique. He'd wait until a waitress had a tray of glassware, then grab her around the waist and pull her into the break room. Since I was taller and more athletic than he was, I had an advantage that other, smaller, more timid girls (who also didn't have prominent attorneys for fathers) lacked, and eventually he quit trying to feel me up. It was all done with a lot of laughing and teasing, but---well, it was serious groping nonetheless.

I didn't tell my parents. They'd have been shocked and would have done something on my behalf, but it felt like something I needed to handle myself. Sure, by keeping quiet, I enabled him to continue. But also . . . maybe it was a little bit flattering for a teenage girl to imagine an older man found her attractive?

As a culture, we're still doing that--making teenage girls think their sexiness is their best asset. Look at magazines, television, pop music ("Hit me, baby, one more time"???) and perhaps especially at the local shopping mall.

I remember a friend---a sensible, intelligent woman--confiding in me about the time her former boss followed her out to her car late at night and pinned her head against the headrest to kiss her. When she told me the story, she tried to sound horrified (she was the happily married mother of three) but her eyes were glowing. Over the years, the writer in me has thought a lot about her expression.

It takes a certain self-assurance to say no, doesn't it? And many fourteen-year-olds don't have that trait in their makeup yet. (I watched some of the Texas Mormon mothers on television this week.  Their baby voices and passive grief made me think they still don't have the wherewithal to stand up for themselves.) You can drill into a kid's head what exactly "bad touching" is, but it's quite another thing for a kid to work up the courage to stop it when it's happening.

I'd be interested to hear how many of our regulars put up with sexual harassment (perhaps even before it had a name?) either at school or the workplace or even at home.  Was it long ago? Or not?

Oh, by the way, Isiah Thomas was fired from his coaching job for the Knicks.  Not for harassing an employee.  But because his team was losing.

May 14, 2008

Early Man

Early Man

By Elaine Viets

Because love is strange, chances are one partner in a couple wakes up at dawn. The other sleeps till noon. This marriage of late and early risers won’t lie down and go away. It leads to conversations like these:

"Are you awake?" Don asks me.

"Uhh?" I say.

I’m no live wire around the house at any time. But when I’m curled into a ball, my eyes are shut and I’m drooling slightly, that’s usually a sign I’m asleep.

Another sign is that it is 6:30 in the morning.

Unfortunately, Don is a morning person. "If you don’t want to talk, just say so," he says, with irritating cheerfulness.

"I don’t want to talk. I want to get some (bleeping) sleep."

"Okay," he says, "you don’t have to be such a crab."

I do. I do. Our wedding should have told him something. I wanted to get married on a Friday night. If I had my choice, I’d keep vampire hours, rising at sunset and sleeping at sunrise.

The first time I met Don should have given me a hint about him. It was 7:40 in the morning, at a college English course. Not only was he awake, he was teaching the class. (Yes, I was one of those. But I didn’t date my English teacher until after class was over and the grades were in.)

Our story is typical. For some reason, during the two hours they are mutually awake, late sleepers and early risers manage to find each other. Maybe it’s natural selection. Couples stay married longer if they don’t see each other so often.

Don and I have learned to respect our time differences. I don’t play Eric Clapton after midnight and he doesn’t discuss Michael Mann movies before noon.

But I must protest a poll I saw about early birds. It said some 56 percent of the 502 adults polled were early risers. Fine. But then they made more obnoxious claims. They said early risers have more energy and optimism and early birds eat better and exercise more.

Of course they do. Every morning, the early risers wake us late-night types at some hideous hour. We spend the rest of the day in a daze, too tired to eat or move. After awhile, it wears down our natural high spirits.

This biased poll didn’t ask the early risers the crucial question: Do you take a nap later in the day?

That’s their ugly little secret. They all do. Early risers sneak in a little snooze in the afternoon or sack out on the couch after work. They may brag that they’re first out of bed, but they don’t tell you they are also the first back in.

My own informal survey shows that 78 percent of early risers have a sadistic streak, especially if they have a position of authority. Corporations are infested with morning people. These sanctimonious pests like to call 7:30 breakfast meetings for the pleasure of watching the late show stumble in. Then, with all their colleagues backstabbed by 11:30 a.m., they go out for an early lunch and let the late risers do the real work.

You can’t convince an early riser, but there’s no virtue in waking up at the crack of dawn. For all we know, the early birds could be getting up at 5:00 a.m. to go through our wallets. In fact, no morning person has ever explained the advantages of getting up early.

Some mumble about the beauty of the sunrise. Yawn. A sunrise looks like a sunset, only backward. It’s not as much fun, either. If you have a relaxing drink watching the sun rise, it causes talk.

They also say, "If you get up at six, you can have your day’s work done by nine."

That way you can be awakened from your afternoon nap by people making legitimate daytime calls.

Morning people also tell you, "The early bird gets the worm."

Exactly. And the early worm gets the bird.

May 13, 2008

Who Scares Ya, Baby?

Who Scares Ya, Baby?

By Sarah

If you've been calling my home lately and found you're unable to reach me, I apologize. The thing is, I'm in hiding - from my son's piano teacher.

TeacherI know what you're thinking: what kind of doofus is scared of her son's piano teacher? Wait. It gets worse. Not only is she a piano teacher, she's 82 years old and lives in a retirement home, so frail and brittle thin that I could blow her over with a feather.  At least, that's the way she looks on the outside. Deep down she's as tough as forged steel and the very thought of crossing her gives me the shakes.

At the beginning of the last school year, for example, when it became clear Sam was as into the piano (which he'd played with only creeping success since age six) as much as he was into pink Barbies, I summoned my courage and approached Mrs. Nice (we'll call her since outside of the piano world she is nice) to say that while it wasn't working out, I had signed a contract and, therefore, would take the piano lessons instead of Sam this year.

"No!" she said.


There was a contractual obligation on Sam's part...yadda, yadda, yadda, she explained, and she would not accept my offer. All I knew, as my eyes glazed over, was that I was in store for another year of nagging Sam to play and me to pay. In the end, he didn't practice, of course. I decided not to give a hoot and let him suffer the consequences. The upshot was a recital last week that he muddled through. Whew! It was over.

Or was it?

Apparently, it wasn't. So while I was at Sam's baseball game happily watching him walk to first after he got hit by a ball (nice job getting hit, Sam!), Mrs. Nice was frantically calling my home, angry that I'd Baseball missed a class and that I hadn't had the decency or politeness to call ahead of time. (I always call ahead of time AND we never miss classes. Well, almost never.)

Moreover, we were missing a class so Sam could play ball. I don't know if you're aware of the Sports vs. Arts struggle we parents of school-aged children must battle, but it's out there and it's vicious. A few months before, the ski coach had battled the drama teacher over my daughter's schedule. It was not pretty.

Now I'm really, really scared to call her even though - eep! - we might have another lesson during which - eep! eep! - another game has been scheduled.  That makes me three apologies in arrears.

This is why I'm not answering my phone.

Think I'm a weenie? Look, I have been less frightened of a 6-foot-tall convicted murderer with AIDS who tried to contact me at home after he tied several sheets together and escaped from the New Jersey State Penitentiary in Trenton than I am of Mrs. Nice. Don't ask me why because I don't know.

Charlie says it's Mrs. Nice's age - the same as my mother's - but I say my upbringing is to blame. To be raised in a Germanic steel town like Bethlehem, PA, is to respect the wrath of an older generation. These are people who can hurt you, who don't mind flaying you from head to toe so that all your weakness are exposed and then scalded in hot lemon juice.

Sooper_trooper Who else scares me? Cops. The other day Charlie and I were out tooling around in my BMW M3 with the top down. We'd just taken it out of the garage (sort of) and were enjoying the lovely spring weather when not one but TWO cop cars (a local and Vermont State Police) raced up behind me, lights flashing. Remembering my old boyfriend's advice (always have your paperwork ready!) didn't help. The registration was one month expired. The inspection one - maybe two - years, too. (Hey! I'd been busy!)

Charlie was ready to tear the guy a new one for not addressing me as Ma'am instead of "Sarah." (I thought he was being friendly. But Charlie pointed out that friendly would be giving me a warning, not an $84 ticket for expired inspection.) Me? I was shaking.

Authority figures. Cops. Elderly piano teachers. Ladies from the bank and utility companies reminding me my payments are overdue. These are my bogeymen.

So who's yours?


P.S. Anyone want to make The Call to Mrs. Nice for me? I'll make it worth your while with a free signed copySweetlovephoto  of Sweet Love. All you have to do is come up with a good excuse.

May 12, 2008

Wedding Bell Blues/Blacks/Whites

Wedding Bell Blues/blacks/whites
By Harley

On Friday, I heard on NPR (my primary news source, along with STAR magazine at the grocery checkout line) that Jenna Bush was getting married.

“What?” I thought. “Why wasn’t I told? Why wasn’t I invited?”

Here’s why: I have nothing to wear. As you may remember, I’ve weeded out non-essentials in my life, including truckloads of clothes, stuff I’d kept for some oddball reason (I paid full price for it/had sex in it/wore it the day I encountered Al Pacino on the sidewalk.) Anyhow, what’s left in the dressy department are some loud floral numbers appropriate for Hawaii – and eight little black dresses.

The Hawaiian thing I understand—everyone needs something that looks good with a lei. But what’s with those eight little black dresses?

I have two theories. One: in a parallel universe I am Audrey Hepburn, living in New York, needing eight black frocks because at any given time 3 are at the drycleaners and there is always an impromptu cocktail party requiring my presence.

Two: it’s genetic. I’m Slovak/Scandinavian, with big families on both sides, and some ancient relative always at death’s door. One must be prepared. To illustrate (and stop me if I’ve told you this), my Aunt Viera in Pittsburgh, upon hearing Uncle Johnny cry out “Aaaggh!” one afternoon, was heard to say, “Dear God, there’s Johnny having another heart attack and me without a black dress.” (Uncle Johnny’s outcry, in fact, was from sitting on Aunt Viera’s pinking shears, left on the couch.) If there’s one thing Kozaks admire, it’s a woman who looks good graveside (men don’t count. Men have suits.) Think Jackie Kennedy.

So yes, I’m an excellent choice of guest for your funeral. But your marriage ceremony is another story.

I realized that this week during our own Nancy’s couture crisis. Nancy has to attend a Very Important Wedding, the details of which I am not at liberty to disclose (think Jenna’s friends) but she’s wrestling with Nuptial Dress Code. Is anything more complex? One seeks clues in the style of the invitation (font, of course, but there is also paper to consider: white or ecru? Hand-lettered calligraphy or computer labels?), the venue (Jenna’s non-Texan guests must have been driven mad with that pre-wedding barbecue), and the season, the religious convictions/conventions, and the exact relationship of you to the wedding principle (are you a sibling, a client, an old flame? Will you be in the wedding album photos?) And even if you’re confident you know what ballpark you’re in, you still have to find something that fits, that you can afford, that doesn’t make you feel like Pat Nixon.

And it mustn’t be black. Or white. There are 2 kinds of people in this world, those who consider this the 11th commandment, and those who didn’t get the memo. You don’t wear black to a wedding because it’s bad luck (even if you know the marriage doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell) and you don’t wear white because you’ll upstage the bride. Is this rule outdated? Yes. If you can ignore it, go for it. I can’t, anymore than I can wear white shoes after Labor Day. Legions of Dead Aunts would descend, tut-tutting and raising their ghostly eyebrows. I may as well wear clogs and a macramé poncho.

Nancy, good luck at the mall this week. Jenna, lovely dress—and big thanks for not sending ME down that long road to Macy’s, Neiman Marcus or Saks. Thank you for not inviting me to the wedding. Thank you for not knowing me.

Happy Monday.