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31 posts from August 2008

August 31, 2008

Ghost Hunting, Part 2

Ghost Hunting, Part 2

By Guest Blogger Cynthia D'Alba aka Arkansas Cyndi

If you missed Part 1 yesterday, just click on the link in the right margin to get caught up.

Thanks for coming back for Part Two of Ghost Hunting in Arkansas. If you missed part one, it was yesterday. Be aware that the names of the individuals involved and the ghost hunter organization have been changed. Thanks also to The Tarts for trusting me with the key to the office and for sending Margie away on vacation. Special salute to Maureen Child for donating appropriate paranormal books from her Demon Busters Series for me to give away as prizes – A Fiend in Need and More than Fiends .

To bring new arrivals up-to-date, in July, my local RWA chapter (Diamond State Romance Authors) went on a “ghost hunt” in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We teamed up with a regional group of “semi-professional” paranormal researchers. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll call them “Arkansas Researchers for Ghost Hunting”, or “ARGH”. When we left the intrepid DSRA members yesterday, they were finishing up at a local cemetery. Now, Part Two.

After our fight with bugs, rocks, dust, and unbearable heat and humidity in the local cemetery, we were all glad to head back to the air conditioning of our hotel. If you’ve ever been in Arkansas in July, you know about the heat and humidity (think “sauna”.) Our evening trek through the local graveyard was much like walking around in a sauna for 30 minutes, only with nibbling bugs.

Blog_cyndi_6Imagine our surprise at arriving back at The Velda Rose Hotel and finding the Arkansas Researchers for Ghost Hunting. i.e. “ARGH” drinking and dancing the bar. Did I mention that our chapter paid for their room so they could set up EVP and video equipment to film for spirit activity? The ladies told us that the bar had a ghost (George) and they would be setting up there to film later. I guess they were there scouting camera locations. Never one to miss a good party, DSRA member (and our outstanding web mistress) Elle James joined the ghost hunters on the dance floor.

The Velda Rose Hotel (where we were staying) is known for it’s share of strange stories and sightings. The hotel has numerous murders and suicides in its long history, and many of these spirits supposedly hang around, not that you would know that from our experience. But one hotel manager reported a woman in period clothing standing behind a locked glass door and watching her. When the manager went to confront the “person” she believed had illegally entered the closed restaurant, the woman/ghost disappeared. No such luck for us.

Blog_cyndi_7Once we got our fearless ARGH leader (and many of our chapter members!) out of the bar, the group gathered in the lobby, and trooped from floor to floor, tuning our fine senses to detect paranormal phenomenon. Some of our members swore they “felt” things, such as a tightening of their throats near a room where a man hung, etc. Me? I noted one cold spot and I’m thinking, Hey! Cool. Ghost air... until it was pointed out to me that Mike had just opened and closed his door, letting cold air escape from his room into the hall, which apparently didn’t share the air conditioning ductwork because it was hot, hot, hot in the hallways. Sigh. That was the closest I got to “feeling” anything.

Blog_cyndi_8We gathered in room 917, reported to be one of the most active rooms for spirit activity, although no one knows why. There are no reports of murders, suicides or deaths in this room. The hotel has had numerous complaints from guests about the door leading out to the balcony opening and closing on its own. I’m thinking a smoking ghost. What do you think?

We housed our “semi-professional” ghost hunters there to do their research. When we entered, one of the researchers was holding a pair of divining rods. The idea being that you hold one in each hand and ask the spirits questions.

Blog_cyndi_9I wanted to experience something, (as my paranormal encounters thus far had been a bust), so I took the rods, held them “properly” and started asking questions of the spirits. I asked if the room I was staying in at the Velda Rose was haunted and told the spirits to cross the rods for yes. They crossed. I asked a number of questions and “got answers”. I really have no idea how these work. I did get a chuckle when Shada Royce tried to use them, but the rods would not move. I leaned over and asked if the spirits liked me better than her...they crossed! All hail my connection to the spirit world!

The ARGH team had set up video here, so we killed the lights to watch for a flash of white, supposedly a spirit moving across the room. Strangely, we did see this. The orb shot over my head and out of frame. That was strange. But again, I felt nothing. No cold. No hair-raising. No goosebumps. Nothing.

Blog_cyndi_10We moved to the Spa next. I will say, it smelled great! The Spa is supposed to be one of the most haunted spots in the hotel. On a dare, I wandered into a pitch black hallway in the spa area and snapped a picture. That rattled me a little, but I’m thinking it was my imagination more than a spiritual encounter. During our tromp through the Spa, we looked in every room, snapped pictures in hopes of “capturing” a ghost on film (digital, actually), and strained our ears to hear netherworld voices. We saw nothing, heard nothing, except a dripping bathtub faucet.

In my continuing quest for knowledge, I had an 80 minute massage to question one of their part-time Blog_cyndi_11
masseurs. Mike (who had the hands of a masseur god!) said that while he’d never experienced anything personally, the women reported an abundance of odd noises in the morning while they were preparing the spa to open for the day...things like footsteps, voices, items being moved, etc., but these only occurred when the woman was alone. Never did any two (or more) people report hearing or seeing the same thing at the same time. During our tour of the spa, we were told one of the workers had reported hearing a deep growl in one of the massage rooms. Heck, if the growl came during a good massage, I’d probably just moan back. Mike said the ghosts were probably afraid of all of us women demanding that they show themselves! (Would that massage be a tax write-off?)

After the walk around, we sat in a circle (and with my bad knees, that was no small feat), joined hands, and called the spirits. Now, picture sitting in a dark room, on a rug, holding hands, calling spirits, and your “leader” says something like, “Satan, come forth.” Then she laughs and says, “I’m kidding.” Not funny. THEN, believe it or not, she does it again! Laughs and says, “Just kidding.” And these folks want us to take them seriously? Hard to do given my experience with them.

Blog_cyndi_13Shortly there after, my two roomies and I headed for our room and the stash of wine. We needed it. Heck, we deserved it.

So, after this, do I believe in ghosts or spirits? Yeah, I do. I’m not sure if it’s “ghosts” or “spirits” or if there are other worldly realms or different dimensions of time and space (cue The Twilight theme song). I just believe there are things in our world we do not understand.

Okay, I’ve told you my story. What about you? Ever had a paranormal experience? Talk to a dead relative? Had an out of body experience? Have a vampire or werewolf as a friend? Now is the time to spill all! You’re among friends.

Once again I have a book from the delightful Maureen Child for someone who leaves a comment. Thank you for visiting. And thanks again to The Lovely Tarts.

August 30, 2008

Ghost Hunting, Part 1

Ghost Hunting, Part 1

By Special Guest Blogger and TLC Regular, Cyndi D'Alba

A BIG Thank You to The Tarts for having me back as a guest blogger. This is a special community and I feel privileged to be a part of it. My blogs today and tomorrow are about my recent trip into the paranormal world of ghosts. Be aware that the names of the individuals involved and the ghost hunter organization have been changed...mostly to protect me! To “sweeten” the pot for the backbloggers, I have books to give away! No, not mine (a little hard to do when I don’t have one!) Maureen Child stepped in to give me a hand with that problem. In keeping with the paranormal genre, she has graciously provided me with copies of two books from her Demon Buster Series...A Fiend in Need and More than Fiends. Hopefully she’ll stop by while I’m here, so a GREAT BIG THANK YOU shout out to Maureen for the books and to The Tarts for leaving town and loaning me the blog!

Blog_cyndi_3Do you believe in ghosts? I do, and I don’t. Great answer, huh? Earlier this summer, my local RWA chapter went on a “ghost hunt” here in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (The gals with Diamond State Romance Authors really rock!) Honestly, looking back, I’m not sure what was more interesting, the ghosts we hunted or the “semi-professional” ghost hunters leading the chase. I suspect any contacts between these hunters and ghostly spirits are because the spirits feel sorry for the bungling ghost hunters. Picture Inspector Clouseau in the ghost hunting business.

Blog_cyndi_1Friday afternoon opened with a presentation by the association we’ll call “Arkansas Researchers for Ghost Hunting”, known privately to me as “ARGH”. It didn’t go exactly as planned. They were an hour late, the equipment for showing pictures on a disk didn’t work (we blamed the haunted hotel), and one of the women retired to her hotel room because she was not feeling well. (However, she was dancing in the bar later that night. Hmmm) After trying everything to get the DVD player running, we finally put the disk into a computer and brought the pictures up on its screen. Unfortunately, there were too many of us to allow everyone to view the small screen, so we had to pass the computer from person to person every time the picture changed. After all that effort, you’re probably thinking there were some really cool ghostly orbs or something on those pictures—but if so, you’d be dead wrong. They were pictures of Hot Springs from the early 1900’s. But they were pretty cool photos!

The first two speakers, whom we’ll call Erica and Janice, told us about the haunted places they’d visited, but had no cool example stories or pictures to offer. Neither had ever seen a spirit. Erica thinks she had a picture of one in the window of an abandoned building once, but frankly, with a little imagination, I can see ghostly patterns in the water drops on my shower wall.

I guess the strangest story Erica told was about a building here in Arkansas where the room changes...meaning you’re standing there, surrounded by green walls and a picture of a waterfall, and then suddenly, the walls are blue and there are gas lamps adorning them. She believes it’s a portal to another dimension. I couldn’t say for sure, and she wouldn’t reveal the location so we could check out the story. Not sure I would have gone even if I knew it! With my luck, the room would change and I’d find myself sharing it with Al Capone, who was not known for his sense of humor.

That evening, the ARGH researchers were to lead us on a ghost hunt in a local cemetery. Unfortunately, when the meeting was arranged, Erica didn’t realize she had play practice that night and had to go to the theater. Seems she writes murder mystery plays on the side and was staging a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater. She’s sure there’s money to be made in that venue. One of my chapter mates (a former actress from LA) got quite a chuckle out of that idea.

Being that Hot Springs is my hometown, I led the group to an old (1800’s) cemetery that all the high school kids say is haunted. I figure the high school boys have decided this is a great place to take a date to make-out. You know, get the girl scared so she’ll sit close and cling to him.

So, at 9 p.m., off we went toting bug spray, flashlights, and digital cameras. Before we could do a “proper” hunt, we stood in a circle, held hands, and begged the spirits to show themselves, swearing we were there for research and not to cause harm. OF COURSE we weren’t nervous after that jewel of a lead-in.

Most of us started out wandering around together. Nothing is paved, the road and paths are rocky, so it took a little while for various individuals to venture off alone. There were lots of digital flashes going off. I personally tried to find a grave that looked haunted. I have no idea what that would look like, so I started with one that had collapsed. Blog_cyndi_4See the two round, white orbs above the stone? [Ed. Note - click on the picture - there are two of them there, no kidding!]


Blog_cyndi_5The next picture taken immediately after that. No orbs! Spirits, right? I don’t know. It may have been just dust in the air, although there really wasn’t any dust floating that I could tell and there wasn’t a breeze to be had.

Blog_cyndi_2That’s pretty much how all my pictures look. According to internet sites (which all seem to know more than I do about this subject), a “true” spirit orb looks like this.. So did I see a true spirit orb? Your guess is as good as mine.

The best story however is told by Delilah Devlin and Elle James. They were looking at headstones using the beam of a single flashlight. The name on one headstone was “GHOST”. The two sisters sort of laughed and said, “Isn’t that an odd last name?” Then Elle moved her light to the next headstone in the family section which read “ROBERTSON”. She flipped back to the other headstone which now read “ROBERTSON” and not “GHOST”. Scared the heck out of both of them! Delilah and Elle swear by their story. I wasn’t there, but I can tell you both of them were more than a little spooked and ready to get out of there!

Come back tomorrow when we move back to The Velda Rose Hotel for more ghostly fun in part two. In the meantime, visit my other blog sites: Cynderella's Castle or The Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers.

I’ll select a winner from today’s comments to receive one of Maureen Child’s Demon Buster books.

August 29, 2008

Where Do You Get Your News?

Where Do You Get Your News?

By Kathy Sweeney f/k/a Rebecca the Bookseller

Blog_wsj
Let's assume that I had access to about fifty 18-22 year olds. Let's say they were a captive audience. Hypothetically, of course. And let's further assume that we got into a discussion on where they get their news. The answers surprised me.

About 10% of them actually read newspapers - the local press, and the Wall Street Journal, mostly. I'm talking newsprint, in the hands, turning pages. Hell, I don't even do that any more.

About 30% get their news online - most admitted they read 'Whatever comes up on the Yahoo home page.' Rarely do they go beyond the headlines. This was the answer I expected.

But 60% get their news on TV, not online. And not The Daily Show, either. They love Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, but they watch them for laughs, not information. Hope for the future of the species abounds.

Blog_cnnlarge
Then I asked which TV Stations. A few watch the local news (Channel 11 - Peggy Finegan and Co), some watch PBS, and the rest were pretty evenly split between CNN and Fox.

A couple of kids said they also listen to talk radio. One listens to NPR and another to Rush Limbaugh.

Then I asked the next question - how many are registered to vote? I was happily surprised to find that nearly all of them have already registered. The rest are going to do it in the next two weeks if they want to pass the class. You can assume I'm kidding if you want.

I can't tell them how to vote, but this is a law class, so I can make sure they are part of the process. I feel pretty comfortable that this is a reasonable requirement. And if not, well anyone who spent any time around RCs or Catholic Schools knows it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It wouldn't be the first time I did something unorthodox.

It has been a couple of years since I taught a college class, and I'm finding, at least so far, that these students are much more informed and involved than in prior years. Although, these are all upper classmen and women, on the verge of looking for real jobs to pay their student loans. Still, regardless of the motivation, I was very happy to find them to be a well-informed group. My only regret is that I won't have as many funny stories this time around.

I can't remember if I already blogged about this, so forgive me if you've heard the story - and if you know me in real life, you undoubtedly have. Two years ago, I asked my college Business Law students, on the first day, about the three branches of government. Imagine my complete shock when it became apparent that in a class of 55, only three students could name them. And one of the three students was Canadian. The Constitution? What? I was left with no choice other than to bring out the Big Guns. That's right. The School House Rock DVDs.

Blog_schoolhouserockSomehow, that generation missed School House Rock. They loved it. And even during the final exam, I could hear some of them humming..."third ring, Judiciary" and "I'm just a Bill..." It was a great day for teachers everywhere.

This year, my news-watching group is going to be a different challenge. I can tell already that we are going to have some great dialog about the role of government in business. Lots of different views. Some students are already good at the talking points method of making a point. Others are still ramblers. It's all good. Real advocacy and meaningful discussion includes blending all of them - you can't defend a position if all you have are talking points, and you can explain all the alternatives, but lose your audience if you ramble.

I can already hear some of the sources of their information reflected in the way they answer questions. Next week, they are bringing in something from the news about business law, and I'm guessing we're going to have one hell of a range of articles. I mean - Rush to Fresh Air and everything in between. It'll be great.

So - the students surprised me; I'm wondering if our TLC community will too. Tell us, where do you get your news?

P.S. I am writing this on Thursday evening, and I anticipate I will be up into the wee hours tonight watching - of course - the news coverage. Regardless of your politics, we can all be proud, as Americans, that we have made history this year. And even though I can't make you do it, please do register to vote in the November elections - the deadline is early October, so don't put it off. And please start the discussion today without me. If it's the morning of August 29th, I'm probably half asleep.

August 28, 2008

Blow-up Sheep & Selection of Whips

Blow-up Sheep & Selection of Whips
by Hannah Dennison

[if there's one thing we at TLC love, it's a British accent. We're also fond of eccentrics. So give a warm welcome to Hannah, author of the extremely charming VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE! Hannah has gamely stepped up today so that Nancy can take a nap. That grandmothering can be exhausting.]

I’m often asked how I come up with ideas for my Vicky Hill mysteries. I suspect it is because my characters tend to be somewhat quirky and the situations they find themselves in, often bizarre. Of course, I am British and therefore, possibly eccentric, which might have something to do with it.
As most writers will tell you, truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.
Take the little-known sport of hedge jumping, which first appears in A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE!

The idea began when I overheard a couple in a pub arguing furiously over “Charlie’s ridiculous habit.” It transpired that Charlie held an unusual, obsessive fascination for our beautiful British hedgerows. Rather than simply admiring them—or even taking up topiary as a hobby—he preferred to throw himself over the top, preferably using one the high jump techniques he learned in school. Apparently, Charlie soon grew tired of the lame privet, and hankered for a more dangerous species—such as the vast yew that cost him a broken ankle shortly before a proposed skiing trip at Christmas. He was also partial to the lethal blackthorn with barbs so sharp they could pierce a man’s heart.

Then the thought occurred to me—why not make hedge jumping a competitive sport? And so the Olympic dream for these feisty farmers in the fictional town of Gipping-on-Plym began. From that moment on, I decided to hunt for unusual sports to provide a colorful backdrop for my murder plots. There’s plenty to choose from—snail racing, swamp soccer, bog snorkeling, to name just a few—though I’m still weighing up the pros and cons of introducing the naked Luge.

Finding quirky characters is a piece of cake. With forty-five first cousins on my mother’s side of the family alone (she was the youngest of eight), I was recently thrilled to discover an entire branch of the tree were founding members of the very first Hells Angels chapter in London’s East End. There is also the rarely discussed Romany side too—gypsies with the psychic gift of “the sight,” which my sister seems to have inherited. Naturally, there are the usual batty relatives to draw on—the ones we all have to humor at various family gatherings, weddings and funerals. Take old Aunt June’s infamous recycled birthday gifts. Last year I got a pair of jumbo-sized control panel knickers (worn, but clean).

Being a writer is the most wonderful thing. No more cringing about one’s past, everything can be turned into fiction. It’s very liberating.

As for creating the small market town where my reporter heroine works, my mother loves to send me local newspapers from the rural southwest of England. Papers with titles like The Totnes Times, Yeovil Clarion and the Truro Packet. They are filled with gems that range from Morris Dancing marathons, to the ‘Longest Day pub crawl.”

I particularly enjoy the Lost and Found sections in the classifieds. Here’s a juicy example.
“Among $750,000 worth of items left behind at Holiday Inns in 2007: A blow-up sheep, a prosthetic leg, a monk’s habit, a selection of whips, a gas stove, an inflatable sumo wrestler’s outfit and eight posters of Jonathan Ross.”

Now… that just has to find it’s way into a book …

Hannah Dennison
www.hannahdennison.com
A VICKY HILL EXCLUSIVE!
Coming soon, SCOOP! March 2009

August 27, 2008

A Hurricane Guide That Will Blow You Away

A Hurricane Guide That Will Blow You Away

By Elaine Viets

Will she? Won’t she? Will she go away?

Last week, we Floridians wrestled with tropical storm Fay. She was an overrated trickle in this part of south Florida. Still, she cut a path of fear and feverish activity before her arrival. The news painted Fay as Armageddon in the clouds.

Friends from around the country asked, Will you have a hurricane party?

Not on your life. During our first hurricane, Don and I lived in a condo on the beach. We stupidly stayed and watched the show. It was like being trapped in hell. The roads were closed, the surf tossed seaweed on the back fence (a quarter mile from the ocean), and the wind howled like a horror movie. The howling never stopped. For days.

The cats went nuts. Our twelve-pound semi-Siamese spent the hurricane Velcroed to my chest. The windows bowed in and out, as if they were going to shatter – and that was with the hurricane shutters down. Don and I and the Velcroed cat hunkered down in the shower, the only area without windows. I was sure soap scum would be my last sight.

This was only a measly Category 1. Next hurricane, we fled.

But not to a shelter. On TV, plucky oldsters and brave moms with twelve children are crammed into shelters. I’d rather get blown out to sea. Hurricane shelters are mostly for the poor, the old, and the unlucky. Sadly, many shelters cannot take pets. Some hurricane refugees refuse to abandon the four-legged members of the family. In truth, many cats and dogs are better behaved than Cousin Merle, who gets high-spirited when he’s liquored up and off the leash. Loyal animal lovers risk all to stay in the path of the hurricane with their pets

Those of us who are luckier – or spendthrift – head for an inland hotel and sneak our pets into our rooms. Last major hurricane, Don put both cats in a pet carrier, threw a coat over it, and carried the cats up five flights. When’s the last time you heard a raincoat meow?

Hurricane hotels have a don’t ask, don’t tell rule: If your pets don’t disturb guests or chew the furniture, they’re overlooked. Our cats figured this out quickly. They started yowling for food about midnight. It sounded like we were holding a black mass.

We caved. "You’ll get your food, you furry blackmailers," I told them. "But you won’t eat for a week when we’re home."

Other hurricane refugees move in with friends or relatives. The dogs are stashed in the garage and the cats in a storage room. The kids run wild. It’s similar to a shelter, except the beds are better and you can drink yourself blotto. The hangover may hurt more than the hurricane.

About six hours into Hurricane Wilma, the electricity went out in our condo building – and stayed out for 12 days. We kept the freezer shut to save the steaks and fish. By day three, the condo dwellers lined up to cook the rapidly defrosting food on the lone gas grill. We gorged on meat for two days, then ate canned food. It was months before I could look at tuna or peanut butter.

Candles are supposed to be romantic, but they can cause dangerous fires. Our neighbor, author Barbara Parker, raided a hardware store for flashlights. My favorite was the miner’s lamp that I wore on a band around my head. I could read in bed with it.

Old habits die hard during a hurricane. Seven days into no electricity, I still flipped on the nonexistent bathroom light.

As the storm comes in, it’s fun to sit on your balcony watching barbecue grills fly by. But you have to lower the electric shutters before the lights go out. Once your electricity dies, so does any hope of storm shutter protection. Until it comes back, you can’t raise the shutters. Our condo was as cheery as a mausoleum for twelve days.

Hurricane entertainment includes watching TV reporters do live standups, dodging coconuts the size of cannonballs. These desperate news hounds risk their lives in the hope of jumping to a larger TV market.

The day after the hurricane, the sun will shine, the survivors will smile, and the world will seem fresh and sweet. You will love all humanity.

Until some jerk tries to take the last bag of ice at the mini-mart.

August 26, 2008

Writing to the Allentown Fair

Writing to the Allentown Fair

By Sarah

So for the last four months, we've been building an addition that connects our house to the garage. I Wood_beam know, that's a long time for a basement mudroom plus a great room/den and entranceway on top. But we had a lot of rain and, having received no heads up from God ahead of time, did not build the ark first. Plus, there was a boulder - a fourteen ton boulder as a matter of fact - lots of excavation and heavy walls to be poured. That's the excuse, anyway.

Now, though, we're at the exciting part. The shingles and clapboards are up, the insulation has been blown in, the wiring and heat are complete and we've got groovy 150-year-old beams in our vaulted ceilings. We've been ordered to pick out carpet for the den. (Okay, TV room. But I wanted it carpeted to give it a cozy feeling and so people could walk in it barefoot.) Also, tile for the entrance way. The main room will have a pine floor and a bead board wood ceiling when it's done, ideally around Halloween.

The question is, can my writing take it?

Not that I'm a weenie when it comes to writing amidst chaos. As a former newspaper reporter, I learned how to block out the shouting (insane) editors and squawking police scanner, the constantly ringing phones and other reporters' telephone conversations. I do not need - as one fellow panelist once described - to write on a back porch facing south east with a morning humidity above 70%. (I kid you not.) And it's not the sawing or the hammering that are that bad, really.

It's the music.

Let me give you the run down because these guys listen to a Frank FM station so the format's pretty standard. Billy Joel (Piano Man/My Life) at 9:00 David Bowie (Under Pressure/Young Americans) at 9:15.Frankfm The FIRST Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Wall) at 9:30. The Eagles. (Life in the Fast Lane/Hotel California) at 9:45. And, blessed relief, the Charlie Daniels Band at 10 - the cue for the guys to knock off. In between and after that it's a collection of Journey, Bruce Springsteen, David Lee Roth, Boston, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, AC/DC, Jimmy Buffet (definitely post-lunch joint along with the SECOND Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb), ZZ Top, and that old stalwart, Rod Stewart.

Pink_floyd_the_wall My office looks right onto the roof where Cliff is laying down shingles and, soon, a standing seam roof. He was blaring Comfortably Numb yesterday at 2:30 (after coming back from a long lunch) and I felt like the mean old lady when I went out to get the mail and turned it down.

It could be worse, I realize that. It could be sledgehammer rap or girlie groups. This music, after all, is the music not only of my generation, but of my people. I'm from Bethlehem, PA, and can proudly point to a number of above "artists" - Billy Joel, AC/DC, Journey, Charlie Daniels Band, the Eagles, ZZ Top, Tom Petty, and maybe even Sprinsteen - who have played at the Allentown Fair. (Starts today!) In fact, Billy Joel wrote the clunker Allentown after his gig at the fair. (Supposedly he wanted to write about Bethlehem, though nothing rhymed with Bethlehem.)

But all this experience has left me with is a vague Jonesing for my youth and my blue collar background. Shove this writing stuff, I wanna say. Get me back into the 9-5 workforce where I can turn off the mind once the whistle blows instead of jotting down notes while making dinner and tossing and turning at 3 a.m. Allentown_fair_2 worrying about my character, Kat, whose husband is making plans to leave her destitute. I want to bum around Manhattan at midnight with Mick Jagger in Miss You. I want to take a road trip down Highway 9 (bumper to bumper traffic) with Bruce and go to the Hotel California (check in, but you can never leave!) with the Eagles.

What I really want is to go to the Allentown Fair and eat Bloomin' Onions and stick my hand in the back pocket of my boyfriend's jeans as he tries to win me a white stuffed bear. Smoke cigarettes at the beer tToby_keithent. Curse out my girlfriend for making a pass at my guy and wear tons of thick black eyeliner. I want to drink in the thickening sweet smells of cotton candy and be pick pocketed by carnies. I do NOT want to go on the Tilt-a-Whirl and die because it hasn't been inspected since a rare flurry of carnival oversight in 1968. I do want to pay $1 to see the Largest Bull on Earth and drool over Toby Keith.

This is what this radio line up has done to me; it's sent me to the Allentown Fair four hundred miles away. Oh, well, maybe I'll go next door and scratch my neighbors' pigs instead.

So what are your county fair memories? And, please, no vomit.

Sarah

August 25, 2008

Putting the Keggers Back into College

Putting the Keggers Back into College

by Michele

Recently, a group of 100 college presidents called on state legislatures to lower the drinking age back to 18 from the current 21.  They believe that the current absolute prohibition on alcohol on college campuses drives drinking underground and leads to binge drinking.

In high school, I was an A-student, editor of the school newspaper and I ran with the smart crowd rather than the jocks or the stoners or the preps.  We liked to think of ourselves as cool nerds.  And while we would never have done anything to jeopardize our college admissions, there were certain rules we routinely broke.  Underage drinking was a big one.  Some of my favorite memories of high school are of getting dressed up and sneaking into this bar called the Russian Lady.  It was a grown-up place with a yuppie singles scene, and it felt so glamorous.  We never had a problem getting in.  Hey, it was Connecticut in the late 70s.  Lifestyles were permissive; nobody carded you.  The drinking age was 18.  At 16, with makeup on, my friends and I could pass with no problem, and the management seemed happy enough to have young girls drinking at the bar.

I was reminded of some of my misadventures recently when I saw the movie Superbad, pretty much the entire plot of which revolves around nerdy high school kids trying to buy alcohol for a party.      Needless to say, they succeed, not only in buying the alcohol, but in getting laid, becoming cool and cementing their friendships along the way.

In college, alcohol continued to play an important role in social life, but it was no longer the grail.  When I went to college, the drinking age was 18, and keggers abounded. From freshman year on, my friends and I would compile lists of parties to go to on the weekends.  We'd turn up our noses at the frat-boy keggers and look for the artsier ones.  Alcohol wasn't the point, or maybe I should say it was beside the point because it was so readily available.  The groovy Eurotrash crowd took it for granted, and went on the prowl for mushrooms or cocaine instead.  Occasionally people had problems with alcohol that were actually acknowledged as problems.  I knew girls who got drunk enough to get date raped.  Occasionally people would throw up, pass out, make fools of themselves. No fatalities or major injuries.  The only student who died of substance abuse when I was in college dropped dead in Harvard Square after a night of heavy cocaine use.  The long and the short of it is, I can't imagine college with no alcohol.  The campus drug dealers would have had a bonanza, I'll tell you that much.

The crusade to raise the drinking age to 21 was led by MADD on the theory that it would lower traffic fatalities.  This report from NIH suggests that there is some real relationship.  Speaking of traffic fatalities -- I was in Italy recently.  The roads suck and people drive like maniacs, weaving in and out of traffic in tiny little cars or on motorcycles with no helmets.  They look like they're having fun.  They also have a lot more traffic fatalities than we do.  Which I guess leads me to wonder about the trade-offs we make.  I live in a state that does not require seat belt use if you're over 18, and you know what -- I like being able to make my own decision about whether to buckle up or not.  I mean, if you really want to reduce traffic fatalities, you'd prohibit driving.

Of course, the Italians also have very different attitudes about drinking than we do.  My kids, who are 8 and 12, were routinely offered wine when we were there.  Which reminds me that my trainer, who grew up in the West Indies, doesn't drink at all.  He was raised with no rules about alcohol and claims he did all his drinking by the time he was 15.

The higher drinking age has had no effect on me personally, since it went up long after I was legal.  But I now have friends with college-age kids, and I hear them complain.  Good kids getting in big trouble for having a beer at a party on a Saturday night.  These are kids who grew up with parents who drink responsibly.  If I had to write the law, I think I'd put the drinking age at 19, to better keep alcohol out of the high schools, but I wouldn't want my own kids to be forbidden to drink when they're in college.  The key is to raise kids to drink responsibly, and never to drink and drive, or get into a car with anybody who does. My two cents, FWIW.

August 24, 2008

It's a BABY!

by Nancy

My son-in-law called from the hospital, and the tone of his voice told me things weren't great. 

My daughter Cassie, pregnant for the last nine months--minus one day---was induced on Friday.  And her contractions were causing the baby's heartbeat to slow down.  My other daughter, Sarah, a nurse, interpreted all the info.  "That's not good," she said on the phone from her job at an ICU at another city hospital. Something was wrong.  Maybe the cord was wrapped around him somehow.  Or maybe there was something more dangerous happening.

The doctor quickly stopped the hormone that triggered Cassie's labor, and the contractions stopped. The baby's heartbeat returned to normal. A few hours later, they tried again.  With the same result.  In the labor and delivery room, the whole crash team came charging in every time the baby started to fade.  The doctor promised my daughter could get the baby out by c-section in . . . 33 seconds.

I make my living by using my imagination, so you can guess where my thoughts went.   

My daughter Sarah had a rough start.  Several months in the NIC U---months I wouldn't ask anyone to go through.  The last thing I wanted for my own kid was an agonizing experience like the one I had.

My husband and I tried to go to sleep Friday evening while Cassie continued to labor.  We must have finally dozed off, because the phone rang at 2:30am on Saturday, waking us both.

My son-in-law's voice was much different this time.

He sounded euphoric!  And in the background I could hear my daughter--safe and sound--also laughing with pleasure.

Robert Jeffrey Christopher was born weighing nine pounds, four ounces, 21 and 3/4 inches long.  The doctor looked at my daughter, who'd managed to gain only 30 pounds and looked pretty slim except for her belly, and he said, "Where have you been hiding this much baby?"

He's named after his two grandfathers--Jeff being my husband. 

Th_dscn2062

Let me tell you if you don't know already, being the grandmother is much, much different from being the parent.  I got to hold him!  Without worrying about his diaper or his next meal or whether he was going to sleep through the night!  Just the pure pleasure of snuggling with a little chunk of sweet-smelling baby.  He's darling!  And wonderfully healthy, despite the moments of panic during his delivery.  (But doesn't every mother need a good labor and delivery story? All kids want to hear the drama of their birth!)Th_dscn2066

Anyway, this is my grandson! His mother's going to kill me for showing pictures of her just a few hours after delivering, but what's she going to do?  Get mad at her son's grandmother?

Okay, one more: 

And, why not, here's one of Jeff, the grandfather:

August 23, 2008

The Oddest of the Odd


THE ODDEST OF THE ODD
by Harley

Now here’s my kind of contest: there’s something called the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year that’s been going on since 1978.

This year, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this esteemed annual event, they’re awarding the Diagram of Diagrams award. What follows is a list of the winners for the past 30 years, each one of them a contender for the coveted “best of” prize. And there’s not a loser in the bunch.

1978: Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice
1979: The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution
1980: The Joy of Chickens
1981: Last Chance at Love: Terminal Romances
1982: Population and Other Problems
1983: The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling
1984: The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today
1985: Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the Other 90% of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts
1986: Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality
1987: No Award
1988: Versailles: The View From Sweden
1989: How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art 1990: Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual
1991: No Award
1992: How to Avoid Huge Ships
1993: American Bottom Archaeology
1994: Highlights in the History of Concrete
1995: Reusing Old Graves
1996: Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers
1995: The Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition
1998: Development in Dairy Cow Breeding and Management: and New Opportunities to Widen the Uses of Straw
1999: Weeds in a Changing World
2000: High Performance Stiffened Structures
2001: Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service
2002: Living With Crazy Buttocks
2003: The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
2004: Bombproof Your Horse
2005: People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
2006: The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification
2007: If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs

Care to cast your ballot? I’ve narrowed it down to three, but man, it’s hard to pick just one. Oh: and tomorrow, stay tuned for a guest blog from the fabulous Hannah Dennison.

Happy Saturday!
Harley

August 22, 2008

How Uncle Bubba Saved the South: The Piegasm

How Uncle Bubba Saved the South: The Piegasm

By Kathy Sweeney f/k/a Rebecca the Bookseller

Blog_uncle_bubbas
For those of you who haven't been around the blog for long, I need to tell you that last August's trip to Hilton Head was a nightmare. If you'd like to know more, here is the old blog: Hotter than Hell, Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

So even though I said I'd never go back, family and friends and the need to really get away and relax changed my mind. I was skeptical, to say the least. The south, for me, was, as our friend Stephen Colbert would say, "On Notice". One more bad scene, and it would become "Dead to Me".

So we packed up and drove (waaaaay too long a drive, by the way, but no way were we flying after what happened last year). Boy am I glad. We had a wonderful, relaxing time - the kind of old-fashioned vacation - as opposed to the 'family adventure' - where you can just hang out and talk or relax or whatever. We slept when we were tired, ate when we were hungry, and just played in the water. The weather was amazing - low humidity and blue skies and both the ocean and the pool water were refreshing, rather than tepid. Our friends Susan and Chris - both great cooks, made dinner most nights - fresh seafood - and we all watched Michael Phelps make history.

It was fabulous. But the topper that made it damn near perfect was a double-shot of southern dining. Because there were so many of us (12) we were able to make reservations at Paula Deen's restaurant in Savannah - it's called The Lady and Sons. Normally, one has to stand outside in line just to make reservations for the same day. That's right - in line, outside, in the August heat and humidity that makes Georgia so special - just to sign up for a rez. Wow. And dinner was great.

But not as great as lunch. Lunch was a food-lovers dream. Uncle Bubba is Paula Deen's brother. He has a place on the water just outside Savannah called Uncle Bubba's Oyster House. If I were a cardiologist looking to build a practice, I'd send out UB gift certificates. The meal starts with UB's Hot Corn Bread and honey butter. Heaven help me, but those things were almost as good as it gets. I'm talking if I were presented with a choice of my favorite desert (chocolate souffle with fresh whipped cream) and these, I'd have to take a minute. Chase them with some sweet tea, and there's your last meal.

Blog_shrimp_and_gritsEveryone ordered something different - UB's Grilled Oysters, a crab stew that would knock your socks off, shrimp, and the topper of them all: Shrimp and grits. Baby, if heaven came in a bowl, that would be it. (Paula has the same dish, but Bubba's is better. Sorry, but it's true).

No fake butter in these joints - it's the real deal or nothing. Same with the sugar. I don't know what they do in the south to make their sweet tea so amazing, but I can't duplicate it at home.

Here is the other thing I loved about Uncle Bubbas - and so many other places we visited. They carry real sized clothes. No size zeroes - please - most places had T-shirts that went up to 5X. Now that is what I'm talking about. If you are going to eat big, it's only natural that you need to dress big. I am so sick of these places where size XL is the biggest, and take it from me, a size XL is not what it used to be. Sure, I can get it on, but if I want to take a breath, fughedaboudit. And here's a newsflash - the rounder of the species is in the majority. I'm not talking about people who need to be removed from their houses with a crane - I'm talking about regular people on the street. We're big. As Elvis said - 'maybe too big' - but that's another story. Shirt makers need to wake up and realize that there is no more 'one size fits all'.

I got an apron that says "I'm still hot, it just comes in flashes". Sure, I won't need it until Thanksgiving, but at least it fits.

Blog_bubbas_pieBack to lunch at Uncle Bubbas - the piece de resistance. When it came time for desert, the only people with room left were the males at the table, and they experienced something we now refer to as a 'piegasm'. That's right. The exclamations of joy; the moaning; the swooning. They just couldn't rave enough about the pies:

"This is the best pie ever created - EVER."
"If you look up amazing pie in the dictionary, there is a picture of this pie."
"This is the Pie of Pies."

Our daughter then piped up with: "This pie is so good, it's 3.15."

Susan's husband Mitchell was so taken with the pie, that when she returned from the ladies room he announced: "Sorry, honey - I'm leaving you. For this pie." Bwah!

Blog_pralinesWe rounded out the day with a trip to River Street in Savannah - home of River Street Sweets where they make pralines on big marble slabs. And they sell real Coke made with sugar, not corn syrup. I'd move there, but I'd be in a diabetic coma within a week.

So - I know the South has been worried since I put them 'On Notice' - but rest easy, Dixie. I love ya, darlin'. And y'all can thank Uncle Bubba next time you see him.

And y'all here on TLC can tell the rest of us - if you can't get Uncle Bubba's, what would you love to eat today? Or, if YOCHFTS, tell us about your equivalent of a piegasm. Is it chocolategasm? Lobstergasm? Perhaps fresh white NJ peachgasm? Yum. Or should I say 'Ooooooohhhhhhh'.