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30 posts from July 2008

July 31, 2008

Self-Medicating

Self-Medicating

by Nancy          Go to fullsize image

I'm in post-surgical pain and self-medicating with the All Clooney Channel.

One of my favorite non-Clooney movies, though, is Rear Window. An adventuring photographer (Jimmy Stewart) is trapped in his apartment by a broken leg. He must watch through his apartment's rear window as his glamorous girlfriend (Grace Kelly at her sexiest) hot-foots her way into the conveniently large-windowed apartment of a killer to gather evidence in a murder. Jimmy Stewart is powerless to rescue plucky Grace when the bad guy (Raymond Burr at his most threatening--those eyebrows!) comes home early and grabs her.

Well, that's me this week---trapped in my room by a broken leg---er, no, nothing that dramatic. I had an inflamed nerve surgically removed from my foot yesterday, so I'm laid up for a little while.  And while I'm not observing my neighbors for clues to a murder, I've got just as much suspense happening. 

See, we gave up looking for an electrician ($35 an hour!) to fix our broken doorbell and decided to get one of those new-fangled ones that you just screw to your front door, and then you plug the receiver into a wall socket and the whole thing works on radio waves.  Trouble is, our frequency is the same as the Mary Kay lady across the street who gets a kajillion deliveries every day.  So here I am trapped in bed with my foot on a pillow, listening to my doorbell chime over and over and wondering if it's Mary Kay or maybe Ed McMahon finally decided to make me rich. Or is it the police trying to evacuate the neighborhood because of an imminent meteor hit?

Yeesh.

For my surgery, I was sent to a "satellite location" of my local hospital.  As a Star Trek fan from 'way back and a big When-Will-Scully-And-Mulder-Finally-Do-It-And-Mean-It aficionado (has anyone paid to see the new movie yet?) I was thrilled to see the sparkling alien starship lights as we pulled into the parking lot!  Imagine my disappointment in discovering that the decorative lights were not attached to the hospital satellite, but are actually part of the cosmic bowling lane next door, darnit.  The satellite is not decorated like an intergalactic exploration vessel, but actually just a big, boring office building located between the bowling alley and a Bob Evans restaurant. (What is so delicious at Bob Evans that the parking lot is completely jammed at 3pm? I have a feeling it's not the salad bar.)

I decided to schedule the surgery now, because we're still in the midst of trying to sell a book proposal.  This process always takes longer than you think it's going to.  Months longer.  I'm not getting any constructive writing done these days, so why not have my foot cut open? (I was going to insert a photo of a foot here, but I Googled "foot surgery" and clicked on "Images," and the most gruesome pictures turned up.  Considering some of you are sitting at your computers with your breakfast beverage, I decided to forgo the picture here.  But under normal circumstances, I have a very pretty foot, honest. So imagine that in the space below.)

I needed a Responsible Adult to deliver me to the satellite, to wait in the waiting room during my surgery and to drive me home.  We decided my daughter Sarah was the appropriate choice--not because she's an RN, but because my dear husband doesn't handle hospitals very well.  (I put this down to his early training as a Christian Scientist.)  Have I told you about the Lamaze class we took back when I was pregnant?  While the mothers-to-be watched The Movie, the fathers-to-be toured the delivery room. And when the fathers came back to join the ladies, Jeff was not among the others.  He'd fainted in the delivery room. Before I was even in labor. Since then, I've had various friends take care of my transportation after my many D&Cs and finally my hysterectomy. My daughter did the honors yesterday.

As for anesthesia, the doctor decided I didn't need to be totally knocked out, which I was happy about. (Doesn't everybody throw up after anesthesia?) A local, shot into my leg, would do the trick, he assured me.  In fact, I was invited to observe the operation. While I watched, the doctor poked my numb foot with a really sharp little Exacto knife and pulled out a gruesome looking worm-like thing that if I'd known how ugly it was in there, I'd have had removed long ago.  Nobody wants to look that unattractive, even on the inside. For the rest of the day, my leg felt like a big numb water balloon, which made negotiating the stairs hilarious.  Not for me, but for my audience. And who knew crutches were so complicated to maneuver?

As for post-surgical painkillers, I'm not a big fan.  I'd rather have a little pain and keep my wits sharp for enjoying Mr. Clooney.  Painkillers tend to make me dizzy and rambling.  Come to think of it, maybe George has the same affect on me.  This blog is proof of the rambling, huh?

                            Go to fullsize image

One of my favorite characters in Rear Window is Thelma Ritter, in the role of the wise-cracking visiting nurse who drops in on Jimmy Stewart to check on his leg and give him massages. I love Thelma Ritter. (Nominated 6 times for the Oscar!)  She tended to play the same role in Doris Day movies and in All About Eve. (Take a look at All About Eve.  It might be my pick for best movie of all time. You can keep your Godfathers and your Citizen Kane. Give me Bette Davis and George Sanders and Thelma Ritter with their sophistication and snappy dialogue any day.  Watch this video of various clips.  The bit with the candy dish! That dress! With pockets!)  Anyway, after a day of sitting in my bed, I'm ready for a massage and some repartee from Thelma, all right.

Talk amongst yourselves while I cue up Out of Sight--another great movie with a sexy undercurrent.  If you have more movie suggestions, let me know. I'm supposed to stay off my foot for a few more days. 

July 30, 2008

Raising the Dead

Raising the Dead

By Elaine Viets

I’ve loved newspapers since I was a kid in the 1950s. I’d wait for my father to bring home the evening paper. Our German-American household maintained a strict hierarchy. Dad read the paper first. Mom read it next. Then I battled my brothers for the best parts. The feature section was the real prize.

The old St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a superb feature staff. Around the section’s edges were advice from Ann Landers, Hints from Heloise, and doctors’opinions. And finally, there were the funnies.

My love affair with newspapers turned into cohabitation. I went to work for the Post-Dispatch after I graduated from journalism school in 1972, and stayed there until the mid-1990s. Then our relationship fell apart. I said it was their fault. The paper said it was mine. The upshot was I was out on my ear. Now reporters are being laid off at the rate of 1,000 a week, according to Variety. Getting canned years ago was a blessing for me. I am far more at home in the mystery writing world.

But I miss the excitement of newspapers from the old days. I wish they would come back powerful and healthy. In fact, I have five ways to fix newspapers, which I offer free of charge to editors and publishers.

(1) Believe what you write.

Do you think George Bush is a moron? Is Obama a lightweight? Do you honestly feel the fate of this nation – nay, the world – rests with this election?

Then say so. Use the candidates’ actual words to prove your point. Keep asking such rude questions as, "Why are we still in Iraq when the country’s own leaders want us to leave?" "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?"

Readers may get angry, but they’ll respect you.

(2) Meet your readers.

The legendary editors used to ride the streetcars and sit in barbershops, listening to conversations. Woe betide the reporting staff if people weren’t discussing that day’s paper.

Today’s editors and publishers are walled away from their readers. Hang out at the local McDonalds or Burger King, sir. Listen to your potential readers, ma’am. Go to a Wal-Mart or Kmart. And most important, fire those expensive consultants and focus groups. Focus group opinions can be cleverly manipulated so you hear what you want.

(3) Protect your readers.

Does your town have a crooked police chief? Is your Congressman taking money from fat-cat corporations? Is a child going to die because a health insurance company won’t approve her therapy? People used to go to the newspapers for help. Now they turn to television or the powerful blogs to fight corruption and injustice.

(4) Quit redesigning the paper.

It’s expensive and it upsets readers. We have enough change in our lives. We’re getting laid off at work, the mortgage companies want to repossess our homes, and we can’t pay our credit cards. We want to open our paper and find the news, our favorite features, and the funnies in their familiar spots. Constant change is not good for readers.

(5) Report the news.

Jesse Jackson didn’t want to "emasculate" Obama. He wanted to cut the man’s nuts off. You can say that. Hell, my grandmother used it. Papers in the last century were outrageously tasteless. An opera diva’s drunken performance was headlined "Full as a Tick" in a Pulitzer paper. When a rich older tycoon tried to "adopt" a young blonde, the paper fearlessly reported her courtroom testimony. She said, "I always called him Daddy."

Where did that courage go? I remember the panic in the newsrooms in 1976 when former secretary of agriculture Earl Butz said he knew what "the coloreds" were looking for: "First, a tight pussy, second, loose shoes, and third, a warm place to shit." Butz was known in political circles for his vulgarity and bigotry. But the press rarely reported his gaffes.

Rolling Stone was one publication that had the courage to print the truth, and Butz’s head rolled. Newspaper editors nearly got hernias trying to find euphemisms for his unspeakable remark. Many settled for something like "good sex, comfortable shoes and a warm place to defecate," which left readers scratching their heads.

I’d say newspaper editors flee like old women when it comes to avoiding controversy, but that’s an insult. Most older women I know are tough and outspoken. If only newspapers were, too.

July 29, 2008

We Need to Talk about Britney...

We Need to Talk About Britney....

By Sarah

So, the other day I was standing in the supermarket line when I looked over to OK! Ok_mag Magazine and there on the cover, beaming blissful and serene, was 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, mother to newborn Maddie Briann, (somebody please buy these people a dictionary) next to the subhead - "Being a mom is the best feeling in the world!" Inside were glossy photos (reportedly achieved through a payment of $1 million) showing the madonna Jamie relaxing among numerous candles (baby fire hazard) and plumped up cushions (baby suffocation risk). Like motherhood is nothing more than an excuse to kick off the slippers and lounge around.

Really - this is not what America's teenagers need right now.

I mean, haven't we already mythologized the errant and strangely fertile SpearsBrit_parents sisters before? Didn't we cringe when "Brit and Kev" appeared with poor Sean Preston? BABY LOVE! The cover screamed, as if that was all it took to be loving parents, resting on a pillow with a creepy husband who'd fathered two other children out of wedlock and forgot about them and looked as though he was Jonesing for the photographer to be done so he could step outside and light up...something.

Four years later, after battles with substance abuse and psychosis, last week Britney gave FULL custody of both her children (whose cherubic faces have spawned huge profits for a whole section of the media) to Federline, no father of the year he.

If there is one positive result of her decision, it's the gleeful realization that after buzzing from woman to woman like an industrious bee, the loser rap dancer will have to stay at the hive and nurture the pupae while the queen gets her body and career in shape. As one of his spokesmen implied, that's not quite what Kev had in mind when he was going for more custody (payments). Cutting bananas in the cereal and schlepping the boys to the playground every morning apparently not as much fun as partying all night with his homeboys in Vegas.

Okay, so maybe Kevin Federline could serve as a cautionary tale for all those teenage Lotharios who pride themselves on their wick sticking. But what about the teenage girls? Are any of them connecting the dots from Jamie Lynn's stress-free, candle-lighting life as a teenage single mother to her sister Britney locking herself in the bathroom and crying hysterically as paramedics broke down the door?

I put this question to the clerk waving my Fruity Pebbles and Pepperidge Farm bread over the scanner. She took one look at the Jamie Lynn cover and rolled her eyes before embarking on how the life of her own sister - also a teenage mother - was a nightmare and a half. One that did not include million-dollar payments to act serene. One that was more like always being broke and trapped.

Crying_baby "I can't wait to get out of there with all that screaming," she said, shaking her head. "All I know is it's nothing like what you see in that magazine." Pointing to the shot of Jamie Lynn in her pretty green dress.

But motherhood must be a temptation to lovelorn girls, no? Especially when you've got Jamie Lynn gushing it's"so much fun" and how she'd love to be a soccer mom if it weren't for the niggling fact that, uh, they don't play soccer in the South. (Football, girlfriend!) Geesh, it almost makes me want to give birth again and see what I missed.

Okay, let's consider the opposite point of view. Maybe this kind of coverage could  boost the self esteem of other teenage mothers who in not-so-distant memory were once sent away to birth their babies in secret shame. Perhaps Jamie Lynn's a role model of sorts on how to accept one's childhood pregnancy with grace - and not abortion. Granted, that's a lot easier when you've got a million or two to spend on housing/food/childcare. But still....

Such are not the economic dynamics of Gloucester, Massachusetts, a depressed fishing village where seventeen girls are pregnant, possibly as a pact, possibly in emulation of the younger Spears.Gloucester  Unfortunately, the town has laid the blame at the high school's on-campus daycare center. Though, last I checked, you can NOT get pregnant from going to school with one of those on the premises. I'm almost sure it's biologically impossible.

So what's the answer here? Should OK! have crossed its glossy fingers and exclaimed, "Oyy!" (A Pennsylvania Dutch curse, far different from the playful Yiddish Oi!). Or did it do the right thing by glamorizing a very unglamorous accident.

After all, Maddie Briann (I can hardly type it) will have the clippings to look back on and realize though her young mother's pregnancy was blasted across the tabloids as a sin and an outrage at the beginning, somehow she ended up on the cover as a golden baby bathed in approving candlelight. This is what so many young teenage mothers hope and plan will happen to them - along with the other myth, that the baby's father, upon seeing his cherubic offspring, will get on bended knee and, with a diamond in hand, make her the center of his new family.

Then again, the real father of Jamie Lynn's baby? That's a whole different matter entirely ....

Sarah

July 28, 2008

Pick Your Own

Pick Your Own [Corn, Vice President, Fill in the Blank]

                    

by Michele

There are a lot of reasons to love summer, but one of my favorite reasons by far is that it's "pick your own" time at the local farms.  I know, I know -- plenty of people do the "pick your own" thing in their actual own backyard.  They have the time, energy and knowledge to plant a real actual honest-to-goodness vegetable garden.  (The only way I'm getting a vegetable garden is if I make like these lazy locavores and hire some Ph.D. organic farmer type to custom-plant one for me.  Oh, and he'd have to show up and weed, fertilize and water it, too.) These real-life gardener types can just wander out back round about six o'clock, decide what looks ripe that day, and figure out what to make for dinner.  If you're one of those people with a basketload of fresh veggies growing in your own backyard, I'm officially jealous and looking to live vicariously.  C'mon, tell us --  what's in your garden today?

Picking the stuff, on the other hand, I can manage.  It doesn't take very long, or require any special skill except knowing when a berry is ripe.  And if you have a question about that, just pop it into your mouth and do the taste-test.  There are no surveillance cameras out in the strawberry fields, not the last time I checked anyway.

I love spending an hour on a hot day out in a field full of strwberries and coming home with more than I know what to do with.  I eat them with cereal, ice cream, yogurt, you name it.  And I love strawberry shortcake.  The best kind is made on melt-in-your-mouth biscuits -- here's a great recipe from Epicurious -- but in a pinch, Sara Lee pound cake with a squirt of Redi-Whip doesn't suck either.  Blueberries -- now those are for pie!  I go with the good old-fashioned pie recipe in Joy of Cooking.  Well, recipe is a misnomer.  They wrote up the zen of pie-making, applicable to any fruit.  In the fall, you can use the same recipe for apples.  Pie recipes, anyone?

Now, the other pick-your-own I've been indulging in this summer is the Pick Your Own V.P. game on Slate.  I wish I could say it's as much fun as picking strawberries in the hot sun, but unfortunately it just keeps pissing me off.  Why?  Because I try to pick a female VP, and I keep getting no matches.  You know why, right?  There are virtually no women out there who are qualified.  Let's say we rule out Condi because the left hates her, rule out Nancy Pelosi because the right hates her, and rule out Hillary because everybody who works for Obama hates her.  Who's left?  Those consolation-prize mentionees like Sarah Palin and Kathleen Sebelius?  No wonder they don't come up in my search.  I pick the boxes that say "has a friggin clue about Washington" and "I've actually heard of her," and those women are automatically disqualified.  I bet you didn't even recognize Sarah Palin's picture up there next to the strawberries, did you? 

Please Mr. Nominees, do not consolation-prize me!

Here's my recipe for a fun Monday -- let's make our own pick-your-own-V.P. game.  The rules won't be as rigid as the game on Slate.  For instance, no need to pick a politican.  All you need is someone with a brain who's actually accomplished something in his/her life.  (That rules out a lot of politicians right there.)

Let's see -- female, 35-60, reasonably well known, understands the ways of Washington.  Tina Fey for Veep! 

July 27, 2008

Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy!

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J.B. Stanley’s latest release, Chili Con Corpses, was called "heavy on fun" by Publisher’s Weekly, and we liked it, too. The fourth book in her supper club series, Stiffs and Swine, will be out in October. Please welcome J.B. Stanley to The Lipstick Chronicles.A few weeks back, when I was about midway into the first draft of the fifth book in my supper club series, The Battered Body, I found myself in search of a villain. Literally. I wanted to drive around until I found someone malicious enough to fit the bill of a deceitful, vengeful, plotting, and malicious individual.

Tinker, Tailor, Writer, Spy!

By J.B. Stanley

Is there a shortage of bad guys/gals in the world? I think not. One just has to look for them, but at the moment I didn’t want to leave Barnes & Noble.

"Writer’s block?" one of the booksellers asked teasingly, gesturing at my screensaver.

I smiled and tried to show her what a nice person I was by carefully putting away copies of Wine Spectator, Maxim, Sports Illustrated (the swimsuit edition, of course), and GQ. "Can I ask you an odd question?"

"Those are the best kind," she replied (to my delight).

"Can you think back to high school or junior high and tell me if there was someone who was especially mean to you?" I plowed on. "A bully?"

Slightly suspicious, she nodded. "Yeah, I knew someone like that. Why do you want to know?"

"Well, I’ve already based characters on people who have wronged me, my third cousins, or my cat. At the moment, I’m fresh out of villains. But you knew someone who had an extra supply of cruelty?"

She nodded immediately. "In high school. His name was Russ."

Russ? My antagonist had a first name. I’d make up his last name later. "What did he look like?"

"He was your average blue-eyed blond, but he was too mean to be cute. He only smiled when he thought he was hurting someone." She paused in the middle of straightening a row of Seventeen magazines. "His face was always bunched up in a smirk. Like a little frog."

I could picture him already, but as a grown man in his mid-twenties. "What kind of things did he tease you about?"

The bookseller’s face clouded over. I could see that Russ’s words still haunted her and she was in her mid-forties. "He told me that no one would ever ask me out. He said that I looked like a fat boy. He called me fat boy all the time. I hated him." She gazed out the window and then turned back to me. "You know what? I still hate him."

I moved closer to her, my heart already hardened against this brute. "How would you like a little payback?" I inquired. "I need a bad guy for my next book and I think Russ would make a terrific scoundrel."

Her eyes lit up. "Are you going to kill him?"

I laughed nervously at her eagerness. "I don’t think so. But he’ll get his comeuppance."

"Thanks," she said, smiling shyly. "He was mean to lot of kids. He was really good at making people feel small."

"For the record," I told her before returning to my laptop, "You’re not overweight, you don’t look like a boy, and I think you’re cool."

This is a true story, folks. I do oddball stuff like this all the time. Sure, many of the ideas appearing in my books come from my own experiences, but not all. I’ve overheard snippets of gossip in eateries that I knew could plump up the dialogue of one of my ongoing scenes, I’ve seen how rude people can be when talking on their cell phones and have planned on teaching one of my characters a lesson about etiquette as a result, and I’ve studied the quirks and mannerisms of people at work.

In short, I spy on people all the time and I borrow upon these real-time observations to color my narrative. Sometimes I’m just shopping for a physical description. If I cast my eyes around the bank or the grocery store or the gym, my gaze will alight on someone whose unique appearance will transfer into fiction in a few, succinct sentences. My job is the most rewarding form of people watching.

I’m also always on the lookout for exhibitions of warmth, generosity, courtesy, and public displays of affection. I revel in the pure happiness folks illustrate at bakeries or ice cream parlors. Have you ever seen a person sitting at a patio table shaded by a yellow and white striped umbrella, licking a chocolate-dipped soft serve cone? Do they look unhappy? Never! They look so content that you want to pull into the nearest parking space and get yourself some of what they’ve got!

Bottom line: If you’re stuck on your current project, get out there and mingle with humanity. Spy a little. Eavesdrop. You never know how a stranger can propel your plot forward.

Confession time: Was there a bully in your past? Did you ever place someone who did you wrong in one of your writing projects?

July 26, 2008

What's on Your Key Ring?

Gardening is a mystery to many of us, but in Heather Webber’s Nina Quinn mysteries, a lot more dies than the pachysandra. We hope you’ll dig her guest blog.

Quincy_2 Weeding_cover

What’s on Your Key Ring?

By Heather Webber

On my key ring I have two house keys, the garage door key, my little-used YMCA membership card, my car key and remote unlocky-thingy, an unidentified key that I can’t bear to part with because I might need it someday (even though it’s been on there for years, and I still have no clue what lock it fits), and a Jack Klugman keychain.

You read that right.

A Jack Klugman keychain.

It’s a picture of him in character as Quincy M.E. pressed into a flattened bottle cap with a cute dangly star swaying from the bottom.

A very nice woman I met at a Magna Cum Murder conference made it for me after she learned how much I adore Quincy M.E.

You see, I grew up wanting to be a medical examiner just like Quincy.

When I was younger I’d rush home from school every day to watch two shows: General Hospital at three (Was it fate I married a Webber? There are so many in that soap.) and Quincy M.E. at four.

Quincy is my favorite fictional TV detective. A medical detective, yes, but you knew, just knew, that by the end of the episode he’d find the source of the botulism, salmonella, Ebola, and save the country from certain (excruciating) death. He let no murderer go unpunished, let no rare poison go uncovered. He was clever, cranky, and oddly loveable.

I was so convinced I wanted to be just like Quincy that I entered college as pre-med.

As it’s wont to do, life interrupted and I dropped out of college. With age came wisdom—I finally realized that I loved the mysteries in Quincy more than the medical aspects of the show and eventually started my writing career.

But lately that old medical pull has been drawing me back in…

All because of Dr. Garavaglia, or as she’s better known, Dr. G, Medical Examiner.

Her show every Friday night on Discovery Health is on my current can’t-miss TV list. Real people. Real cases. Real mysteries. (Insert voice over: "Will this finally be the case Dr. G can’t solve?")

There’s something intrinsically mysterious about why people die, and I’m utterly fascinated. It helps that Dr. G is so great. She throws around words like vitreous, thrombus, and malodorous stomach contents as though she’s having a mundane discussion about weather.

I love it.

And I feel the lure. The lure to go back to college, to pursue the medical career I dreamed of when I was little.

Then I come to my senses and realize I can just write about a medical examiner. That way I wouldn’t have to deal with Chemistry 101, massive student loans, anything malodorous, or wield those chest-cracking loppers (shudder). It’s win-win all around.

The only thing is … does anyone know where I can find a Dr. G keychain?

July 25, 2008

How many days until 888?

How Many days until 888?

By Kathy Sweeney, still loaded for bear and sick of idiots

Blog_olympics1Here is today's main source of digust: television. Have you even tried to watch television lately? One show is dumber than the next. I mean, sure, I laughed myself sick the first couple of times I saw people on "Wipeout" doing the Big Balls, but after that, it's just pathetic. Even the Comics seem exhausted. And when did morbidly obese people become stock contestants on these competition shows? Look, I know fat when I see it - every day in the mirror - but I do NOT want to see someone mostly naked with so many rolls that you don't even know where the actual parts are hiding any more. I'm talking to you, New Gong Show.

Even the fluff shows have gone down the crapper. You think you can flip through Entertainment Tonight, or one of those shows and at least see some famous person looking good or looking like a jackass. But the last couple of times I've popped in, there is some gruesome story about someone who murdered people, or kept a collection of teeth or some other morbid freak show.

Sports? Bleh. The Pirates have, do, and will continue to suck. I just can't bring myself to care about another baseball team long enough to watch a three-hour game. And anyone who can sit and watch people play Golf all day is either drinking heavily or needs help. Especially with no Tiger.

I even tried the soaps - but Judas Priest, it's the same story lines that I saw 25 years ago. My kids were in shock that I could tell them the backstory of pretty much every one who crossed the screen.

There are bright spots - Generation Kill is (like all of David Simon's productions) superb. And Mad Men returns this Sunday. I know Mad Men is racist and sexist and anti-Semetic. That's because it's set in 1960. And if you think we've come all that far, get people to talk honestly about their political choices. It'll make you puke.

We don't even have any decent game shows anymore. Where is The Match Game? We have no Charles Nelson Reilly, people. That thing with Howie Mandel isn't even a game. And if you can actually watch "Smarter than a 5-year-old" or whatevertheF they're showing now, I'd like to have a couple of hits of whatever you're toking. Seriously, I feel kinda bad just running the table on the Jeopardy Teen Tournament. If I need match wits with elementary school kids, I'm taking a long walk off a short pier.

Yes, I know, once in a blue moon, someone with real talent will show up on a talent show - like this woman: Emily on America's Got Talent but no way can I wade through the muck of the rest of the applicants. I made the mistake of watching that Hoff show (I do love Sharon Osborne) and I was treated to the sight of a woman with the biggest jugs I've ever seen using them to smash things. Like car batteries, or Waterford crystal or something. It was a proud day for America's talent.

There is, however, a great light at the end of this tunnel - nay, a flame even.

That's right. The Olympics - 08/08/08. I cannot wait. I love the Olympics, and the cornier the backstory of the athletes, the better. In fact, Morgan Freeman's voiceovers on the Visa Commercials already have me tearing up. Here's the main one: The Olympic Spirit. Or this one: Derek Redmond. Or one of my favorites: Kerry Strug

So I'm holding on- only a couple more weeks. How about you? In fact, I'm getting into the spirit by making an Olympic iMix. I need your help. Here's a start, and I look forward to hearing about your favorite Olympic moments or songs.

Olympic Fanfare and Theme: Boston Pops Orchestra & John Williams
Light the Fire Within: LeAnn Rimes
La Copa De La Vida (The Cup Of Life): Ricky Martin
Reach: Gloria Estefan
Clocks: Coldplay
Feels Like Today : Rascal Flatts
Gold: Linda Eder
Time Of Your Life: Green Day
One Moment In Time: Whitney Houston
Jump: Van Halen
The Flame of Youth: Dragonforce

SATURDAY UPDATE -

Congratulations, your iMix "2008 TLC Olympic Mix" has been published in the iTunes Music store at:
http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewIMix?id=286538633

For reasons I never understand, some tunes are missing, but this will get you started, and I think it's cool that we did it together.

July 24, 2008

$5 a Gallon is a Good Thing

$5 a Gallon

by Nancy           Go to fullsize image

There are good things resulting from expensive gasoline.

First of all, there's hardly anybody on the highways this summer.  On our drive home from Michigan last week, we encountered substantially reduced traffic on the interstate and--more importantly--in the rest stop bathrooms. (I'm thinking of taking a poll. Should children be allowed to wear ill-fitting flip flops in public bathrooms cleaned by women who look as if they're Central Casting's idea of severely depressed Muscovites standing in line for bread and beets?  And I realize I mention food because I'm trying to shed a few pounds before my husband comes home from his motorcycle trip, and it's not going well.  In fact, I'm experiencing quite a bit of diet stress, so forgive me the food obsession, will you?)

On our trip, we did go blasting past a fair number of Priuses and those square cars that look like Maytag appliances with wheels, so it's clear somebody is making an effort to save gasoline by driving slowly in hybrid cars.  It wasn't me, however, because a day-long trip at 80 mph is a lot shorter than the same trip made at 60 mph, and after five days of family togetherness, I was ready to be alone. (Be honest. No matter how much fun you're having on a vacation, how many days can you continue to be polite to your relatives? Does the "fish and family stink after three days" theory hold for you?) Fewer cars on the road made the return trip much faster.

Expensive gas also means there are fewer gigantic SUVs in the supermarket parking lot. You know the kind--those huuuuuuge trucks that make it impossible to back out of your parking space without endangering slow-moving elderly women pushing their grocery carts filled with Ensure.

Also, I can't help noticing that I'm in better physical shape than when the price of gasoline was a dollar less. Why? No, not my diet. Even in the sweltering summer heat, I'm walking instead of driving the three blocks to the neighborhood convenience store when I run out of necessities like brown sugar (for chocolate chip cookies) or that really delish ciabatta bread (for bruschetta with basil from my garden.) Yesterday I made the trip for a pint of Chubby Hubby and back in 7 minutes, which is a record I totally attribute to the price of gasoline. (As you can probably tell, the diet's not going well at all.)

The other good result of pricey gas is that people are deciding it might be smarter to live closer to their workplace rather than making a long commute.  (Did you know the average commute in Atlanta is--well, I forget exactly, and I'm in a Chubby Hubby induced stupor at the moment, rendering me too lazy to look it up, but it's enough time to write a Silhouette romance, believe me because I've done it.) I'm against urban sprawl.--There, I said it. If you live in a lovely house on the distant perimeter of your city, I'm sure you have a happy home and a championship Little League team, but really, don't you think you're contributing to everything that's wrong with America? White flight? Dimishing green spaces? Consumption of natural resources by using so many building materials as you construct your McMansion? Air pollution? The dying downtowns of small communities that rely on foot traffic? I can throw around these accusations because my husband and I built our dream house several years ago (we were forced to give it up when my husband was offered a too-good-to-pass-up job in another state or we'd still be there, and to hell with Planet Earth) and I feel very guilty about basically destroying  a pretty forest glen with our huge house, swimming pool and elaborate perennial garden. (I won't even mention the pesticides we used to keep the lawn looking perfect.) Now we live in an older house in the city--a house that needs far more expensive and time-sucking maintenance than our newly built house, but all that upkeep is good exercise, right?  And we're using an existing house in a thriving, walkable urban neighborhood. (Come to visit me, and we'll stroll down to the adorable coffee shop two blocks from my front door.  The blueberry muffins are To Die For. The gelato's homemade, too.)

Time magazine ran an article about all the good things that are resulting from the rising price of gasoline. One of the results might be that American industries are finally realizing it might be more economical to build products right here at home rather than hiring factory workers in China and paying for the transportation of finished goods to the US of A. And local farmers at my Monday farmer's market are doing land office business in locally-grown tomatoes and spicy peppers because people are afraid of contracting salmonella from Mexico.   And who doesn't like the idea of a four-day work week to save commuter gasoline and pollution?

Some people even claim the price of gasoline is causing them to stay home and--yes, you guessed right, TLC regulars!!--have more sex.

So when you slip your credit card through the slot at your gas station, don't despair. Expensive gas is good.

Uh, sort of.

Poll: Should anyone wear flip flops in those interstate highway rest stop bathrooms?  And which is your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor? Because my nearby convenience store is fully stocked.  For the moment.

July 23, 2008

Filthy Rich

Filthy Rich

By Elaine Viets

WARNING: The following blog may be in poor taste – no, that’s a bad choice of words. Due to the slightly creepy content, you may not want to read this blog during meals.

Some of the greatest stories never told are in the newspaper’s police blotter section.

I became a PBA – the Police Blotter Addict -- when I moved to South Florida. The story that hooked me sounded ordinary enough: A man was found dead in his home.

I’ve long since lost the clipping, but I can paraphrase it:

"Mr. Unfortunate Citizen was found dead in his home of a heart attack. Police say his body was partially eaten by his pet monitor lizards."

What?

I read that paragraph several times. The poor guy had died suddenly and became an involuntary dinner donor for his giant lizards. Adult monitor lizards can grow to between six and nine feet long. South Florida is overrun with the things. A dinosaur-sized lizard is not a cute pet and people turn them loose.

If I ran the world – or the newspaper – that headline would have been DEAD MAN EATEN BY GIANT LIZARDS. And that story wouldn’t have stayed buried in the police blotter. I’d run it on the front page, with photos of the man-eating lizards.

Police, paramedics, and others who dispose of the dearly departed know that when people die alone at home and Fluffy runs out of food, the family pooch will eat anything it finds on the floor – including you. So will your cute kitties. I don’t even like the way the goldfish has been eying me lately.

This sad fact is not discussed often, especially not in family newspapers. There’s only one advantage: When your family is staring at your nibbled remains at your wake, they won’t say, "She looks so natural."

Anyway, the giant lizards turned me into a PBA. I saw whole novels in two dry paragraphs. I wondered about other stories behind those untold stories. Like this one:

"Boca Raton police arrested a female juvenile about 9:45 a.m. July 1 and charged her with domestic battery after she kicked her father in the left shin, police said."

Now there’s a family drama. What were they fighting about that could have led to dad abuse? Who called the cops – the father, the mother, or a neighbor? Was the family rich or poor? Will the kickee have to pay the legal fees for the kicker?

How about this police blotter item, which appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Eastside Forum?

The item started as a routine break-in: "A thief removed the screen, then used a rock to smash open the kitchen window . . ."

Then it builds in excitement:

"From the master bedroom he took 30 empty purses, a laptop computer . . ."

Whoa. Back up there. Thirty empty purses in the master bedroom? What kind of purses? Flashy designer purses? Practical grandma purses?

But wait, there’s more.

". . .and a pile of dirty laundry containing a pair of blue jeans with $3,000 in one of the pockets."

Talk about filthy rich. I don’t think I’d forget three grand in my pocket. If I did have that much cash, I’d take the whole dirty pile to the dry cleaners, or the drop-off service at the Laundromat.

The victim’s name was not mentioned, possibly to protect the person from folks asking for a quick loan.

But who has 3,000 bucks around the house? A rich person? A big tipper? An entrepreneur with a cash-only business, such as drugs, prostitution, or purse snatching?

Sounds like dirty dealings to me. Here’s another question the story never answered:

If someone stole three grand from my dirty jeans, would I call the police and report the theft? Wouldn’t even the dimmest officer ask questions about my laundry?

I’ll keep reading the police blotter to see if this story unfolds.

July 22, 2008

The Grass Is Greener Rule

The Grass Is Greener/The Grass is Browner Rule

By Sarah

Our daughter has her first real summer job. I'm not talking about working twelve hours a week at the copy store. I'm talking serious responsibility. Opening and closing. Counting the drawer. Possessing a key. This has had a transformative effect in speeding her into adulthood, especially now that she drives and must chip in for gas. For example, she likes to gripe about how much is taken out of her paycheck for taxes. (Oh, dear.) And then there was her very astute observation that -

Toll_booth Everyone thinks his or her job, no matter what it is, is harder than everyone else's. Also, the corollary, that no one really knows how hard we work.

This brought to mind my friends and relatives who are school teachers and their historical gripe that no one understands how hard it is to be a teacher. The planning, the preparation, the demanding parents, the weekend hours, the lousy pay with no room for advancement, the uncaring administration and the expectation that you are to "perform" everyday. No days when you can nod off at the desk or skip out for coffee. I agree - you couldn't pay me enough to teach. (Again.) Of course, they say this looking tan and fit from spending their summer days in the garden. But I digress....

The point is that whether or not we realize it, we humans naturally create two categories: those who have it better than us and those who have it worse. I call it the Grass is Greener/The Grass is Browner Rule.

Ewf2 For example, the opposite of the Grass is Greener job rule is the Grass is Browner music rule - Bob_dylan Everyone else's taste in music is crap. Ours is far superior. This is especially true as we get older and our internal iTunes library no longer accepts new entries. In my generation, the Dylan fans can barely tolerate the disco fanatics. While those who punked out to the Sex Pistols can't even discuss the issue with either.

Another grass is browner rule - We made right financial decisions; our neighbors spent too much on their cars/houses/vacations. This, of course, is a lie. A lie we tell ourselves so we don't jump off the Empire State Building or bang our heads against a wall for investing so heavily in bank stocks. The thing is, some of us really blew it and some of us blew it a little. But probably we all blew it to some extent. After all, there has been no incentive to save in America lately. Debt WAS way too cheap. Lighten up.

A grass is greener rule - We did not do as good a job of raising our kids as other parents we know. Williamsburg_2 We suck. This, also, is a lie. Could we have done better? You bet. We could have thrown out all the TVs and video games, blared the Beethoven, read the classics aloud each night, spent every vacation at an historical site and brought our children to the soup kitchen to volunteer once a week. But, really, that is sooo exhausting. We're only human and, besides, we had lives, too. Careers that paid for the cable and trips to Disney World. Bottom line: We did the best we could and most often that's enough.

A grass is browner rule - Our dogs are better behaved than the neighbors even if our dogs do occasionally bark at night and wander from door to door begging for food. (Bassett owners, see Bassett_hound me.) This is, naturally, spot on. (Pun intended.) Our dogs ARE better behaved than everyone else's dogs. They don't jump up. They don't yip. They're perfect little gentlemen. Hey, we may have done a lousy job with the kids, but we did just fine with Fido.

A grass is greener rule - Our marriage is worse than everyone else's. Is it? How can Divorce you know, really. Marriage is one of the most secretive institutions next to the CIA and it's stunning how far people will go to give the impression they're the happiest couple on earth. Which explains why, when your neighbors suddenly separate, you're so surprised and say things like, "But I just saw them at the school play holding hands."

A grass is browner rule - Our marriage is better than everyone else's. Is it? May I remind you of last Sunday night when you were this close to declaring divorce. Come on. You know and I know there have been moments where you were pretty sure it wasn't going to last. But it did and now you're here X# of years later. How's your marriage? Answer: what day of the week is it?

The list, of course, is endless and spills over to our opinions about how we decorate our houses, how we celebrate the holidays, what books we read, what kind of cars we drive, etc. But I bet you can add some more.

Just remember the next time whenever you're tempted to think the grass is greener or browner on the side of someone else's fence, chances are they're thinking the same thing about you. So share the manure.

Sarah