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28 posts from June 2007

June 28, 2007

A Blue Ribbon Event

A Blue Ribbon Event

Forget the Westminster Dog Show and other prestigious events. I’m not impressed. I have a blue ribbon for showing my pet.

When I was growing up in St. Ann, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, the neighborhood parks department had summer programs for kids. I learned to make lopsided popsicle-stick jewelry boxes, tea towels and other useless items.

The highlight of the summer was the big pet show. My friends had cuddly puppies and cute kittens. I had a little brother with severe allergies, so we couldn’t have cats, dogs or birds in our home.

My pet was a turtle. A big old box turtle with red-orange spots all over his scaly hide, like a bad rash. He showed up one day in our yard. I named him Spot.

Spot lived on bugs and lettuce and slept in the shade near the patio, except when he debuted at the pet show. I took him in a crepe-paper decorated cardboard box. I admit he was no match for a pedigreed dog or even a pound hound. But he had a certain style. In fact, Spot was the only red-orange pet at the show.

We all lined up with our pets by the picnic tables. The judges, four high school seniors known as "the big kids," listened to our spiel and rated our entries. Spot was pretty nervous (for a turtle) since Goldie the retriever kept sniffing and drooling on him. The turtle retreated into his shell and slammed the door.

Great. I was now exhibiting a legless, headless rock.

We were preceded by unprecedented kitten and canine cuteness. Dogs rolled over, sat up, begged, barked on command, and peed on the taxpayers’ tender young trees. Cats meowed and batted yarn balls.

Then it was my turn with good old Spot.

I faced the judges.

"This is my pet, Spot," I said. My voice quavered. I knew this was stupid. Spot wasn’t even a real pet. My heart was pounding. I was embarrassing myself before the whole neighborhood.

I held up the turtle, still locked in his shell. The judges looked unimpressed. The kids laughed derisively. I was losing my audience.

"He does tricks," I said.

I stood with my feet slightly apart. I put the turtle on the thin, summer-dry grass between my tennis shoes. "Go, Spot," I said.

The turtle poked out his prehistoric head and crawled slowly, ponderously, between my feet.

"See?" I said.

The judges saw. The judges laughed so hard, they could hardly sit up. Even at age nine, I knew they weren’t laughing with me. A few more dogs and cats later, and the judges retired to the concession stand for their deliberations.

Then they announced the winners in the various categories: Cutest pet (a dog). Most talented (another dog). Fluffiest pet (a cat).

"And we have a blue ribbon for a very special pet," said a female judge with perfect blond hair. "Spot wins first prize for the ugliest pet."

We didn’t win best in show. It was more like worst in show. But it was still a blue ribbon.

Spot didn’t wear a collar to display his ribbon, so it was taped to his shell.

"We won, Spot," I said to my officially ugly pet.

I wasn’t sure how a turtle would celebrate, but I gave him an extra lettuce leaf and a fresh-caught cricket.

I still have Spot’s blue ribbon in a scrapbook, along with the awful memory of the sniggering judges and smirking kids.

When I face a particularly tough audience, I’m back in St. Ann, holding up my turtle and saying, "This is my pet, Spot" and hoping for a miracle.

Sometimes, it happens.

By Elaine Viets

June 27, 2007

I Want to Punch Minnie Mouse

I Want to Punch Minnie Mouse

by Nancy                             

We went to Canada a couple of weeks ago, and the hotel rejected our credit card. The credit company won't let us charge anything in a foreign country because they're afraid the card has been stolen. This policy pisses me off no end. Stopping my credit is not protecting me. It's protecting them. But that's not the subject of today's rant---er, blog.

Upon our return, the phone rang.  When I answered, Minnie Mouse said to me, "Mrs. Martin? This is Melissa? From Bank Services? Calling about the recent activity on your Visa card?"

Melissa sounded as if she were eight years old, and every sentence ended with a question mark. I had to ask her to repeat herself because I kept thinking I was getting a collection call from the girl who didn't make the junior high cheerleading squad.    

My husband says one of the biggest faults he sees among women in the business world is the Judy Holiday voice. Female executives already have a tough time breaking the glass ceiling. But if you sound like a little girl with a lollipop when you negotiate a multi-million dollar deal, you're not helping yourself.

So the latest thing in makeovers is not getting a facial or a wardrobe change or even a new haircut. It's changing the way you speak. For example, here's a voice coach who says he can change your voice in three telephone sessions.

Because I have always conducted business in my home, it was important that my children learn how to use the phone properly. That plan didn't always work out well. Cassie, at the age of five, answered the phone when I was busy outdoors helping with the neighborhood garage sale. In a very adult voice, she told my Harlequin editor I'd pick up the phone momentarily, and then she promptly wandered off to play My Little Ponies on the swing set. My editor, who thought the phone had been answered by my secretary--hahahahahahahah!--waited for twenty minutes (long distance from Toronto) before finally hanging up.

Despite the occasional glitch, we drilled our young daughters until they lost their Minnie Mouse voices. Now, my daughter Sarah is a nurse, and one of her early observations on the job was that too many nurses use baby voices--especially with elderly patients who have a hard time haring high-pitched voices to begin with. So she's on a mission to get everyone on her unit to lower their tones, speak clearly and slow down.

Most of the time, I figure my speaking voice doesn't matter because I spend my days alone in my office composing witty dialogue that will probably never be spoken, only read on the page. But for a couple of months a year now, I must go on the road to tour my latest book. I do dozens of radio interviews (mostly on the phone, wearing my pajamas) and several television appearances, too. The way I talk matters after all.  Some media training has been helpful. Lowering my pitch, making sure all the consonants are enunciated, condensing my talking points to three important pieces of information--those have been my most important lessons.

My sister's boyfriend is an author, too (non-fiction) and his publisher suggested a whirlwind of media training before his book tour. There was a great deal of information to absorb, but he feels the best tip was this one: Try to sound like Bing Crosby.

What does that mean?

I'm thinking, "mellifluous."  I'm thinking "easy listening." To train your voice to sound as rich, relaxed, warm and trustworthy as Der Bingle's isn't a bad goal for anyone, is it? But if you've got an important message to convey, you really want to make your voice sound as pleasing as possible. That is, unless your message is,  "Move that f**king garbage truck off my BMW right now!"  In which case, disregard Bing.

I have a good ear for voices, for some reason, and I've made a sport of identifying the celebrities who do voiceovers for commercials: Lauren Bacall for cat food. Gene Hackman for Home Depot. Julia Roberts for AOL. It took hearing them a couple of times before I figured out Kevin Spacey and Gary Sinise were pitching cars.

Airlines, credit card companies, hotel chains are all trying to find the perfect spokesperson. Matching the product with the right voice is an art. The proverbial Voice of God has got to be James Earl Jones.  But today's baby boomer consumers don't necessarily want Darth Vadar telling them what to buy. We boomers are much more responsive to Jeff Bridges, who lends his laidback Dude voice for a couple of different products nowadays.  George Clooney does voiceovers, too, but I forget the product because I hear his voice and my brain goes--well, nevermind, but it's south of my larynx.

If you want to learn more about commericals with voiceovers, go here and be sure to scroll down to learn more amusing opinions on Mr. Clooney.

Next year, before we go to Canada, I'm going to telephone the credit card company. And in my best Bing voice, I'm going to tell them not to shut off our credit once we pass Niagara Falls. And if they give me a hard time, I'm going to try Lauren Bacall. And if I don't get the results I want, it's definitely going to be Clint Eastwood.                               


June 26, 2007

Thank You, Thank You!

By Sarah

Handcufs_2 The day I got back from Pittsburgh, I turned over in bed, looked at my wrists and thought, "Huh. Now how did those handcuffs get there?"

And then I remembered: Pittsburgh + Margie + Tequila = physical restraint.

Of course!

Though, aside from that proven scientific equation and a fabulous Power Shower we threw for Courtney Patross - sister of Pittsburgh Starlight Lindsay Patross - that's about all I remember.

Wait, that's not true. I also remember a bunch of Very Generous Lipstick Chronicles readers buying tons of The Sleeping Beauty Proposal at Mystery Lovers Bookshop via orders. Listen, if Margie made you call those in, I'm so, so sorry. I swear she doesn't have pictures of you doing "that" with "you know who." Honest. I searched her drawers and everything, including the big bottom one where she keeps her Lotto tickets, the handgun and a set of Extra Big Trojans. Sleeping_beauty_cover_judy_4

But let me tell you, I was so touched to see familiar name after familiar name ask for my book. Are we Tarts lucky or what? William, I'll say it right now: I am in love with you. Madly in love. And not just for your drink recipes either. (Well, maybe for your drink recipes.) My only regret is that you all were not with me for the most fun a middle-aged woman can have in Pittsburgh without a naked man.

It's true. Spending a weekend driving around with Margie (shotgun, natch), Rebecca the Bookseller, the lovely and oh-so-talented Nancy Martin and Kathy Sweeney, lawyer and should-be standup comedienne, was the best vacation I've had since forever. We signed books and dined on roasted scallops wrapped in bacon, sipped a very fine pinot noir, hung out at Mystery Lovers (Hi, Janet!) and, after battling Pittsburgh construction, brunched some more. When was the last time I had a Bloody Mary in the middle of the day? When was the last time I laughed so hard I got a stitch in my side?

The best part? Dutton PAID FOR EVERYTHING. Well, they paid for the deluxe suite and they paid for the Bloody_mary airfare and the cabs. Let's just hope they don't find out I was hanging around these dames. Let's just hope that cop doesn't follow through with his threat to....Hmm, best to leave that for the lawyers.

It was all the more fun knowing that back home all hell was breaking loose and I could not possibly help. Twenty four hours. That's all I was gone folks - TWENTY FOUR HOURS - and in that time the following occurred:

* Puppy. Once nearly housebroken turned into an indoor pooping, peeing machine in my absence. Hey, I didn't have to clean it up. Though I did have to go back to square one. The dining room rug will never be the same.

* Shoes. Came home and found several pairs on the kitchen table. Many were covered with mud. (See above.)

* Nephew. Twenty-one-year-old University of Vermont student who's painting our house came down with the flu and was suddenly bed ridden. Thank god there were video games, Sandra Bullock's sister's pastry and beer to cure him.

* Olives. Daughter couldn't find them while making olive pesto. Called me from 435 miles away to askOlives  where they might be in the refrigerator.

* Scaffolding. My eleven-year-old son was on it, three floors up from the ground to "keep Dad company" while Charlie painted trim boards by the roof (See above "Nephew"). Out of consideration, Sam called from a cell phone to let me know that, one wrong step, and he could easily fall to his death and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Ha, ha.

Flying home, the domestic nightmare I envisioned was of a house littered with dog feces, my son in a body cast and the remnants of olive pesto still clinging to the dishes piled in the sink. Plus beer bottles.

Fortunately, what I found was a relatively spotless kitchen (aside from the shoes on the table) a pot of wild rice on the stove along with the last of the raspberry chicken Charlie made for everyone. Sam, all limbs working, was running around in a field with a flashlight. My nephew was on the couch with the puppy and Anna was in her bedroom, avoiding the boys.

Whew! Another catastrophe avoided.

Thank you, thank you. You guys are the best! Sales are sure to be stupendous.



June 25, 2007

Dinner on the Porch

Dinner on the Porch

by Michele                                             

In New York City where I used to live, everybody had a Sub-Zero and double wall ovens but nobody cooked.  They didn't know how.  One woman of my acquaintance had made it to her fourth decade not only without ever having made herself a salad, but without ever having witnessed a salad being made, despite the fact that she ate salad every day.  I'm certain of this because she visited me once at a summer rental in the Hamptons (the only place New Yorkers ever set foot in their kitchens), and actually screamed when I sliced open an avocado.  "What's that?!" she demanded, pointing in horror at the pit.  I suppose it is rather shocking if you've never seen one before.  (Forgive me if I've already told that story.  Years later I still cannot get over it.)

In New York, entertaining went something like this: "We're free six weeks from Saturday if Dirk doesn't have to be in Hong Kong.  What about that new haute Greek place?  It was just reviewed in the Times, but if we start dialing now we might have a shot at a table."  If children were involved, it went more like this: "Why don't you have Clarice bring Dirk Junior by around five, and I'll have Blanca order those free-range chicken nuggets from Eli's?"  Your most intimate friends might invite you over for brunch, but that was all about having Sable's or H&H Bagels on speed dial.  Or better yet, nabbing a table at Sarabeth's.  The point is, while there was a fair bit of eating going on, and a huge amount of reading and talking about eating, there was virtually no planning, preparing, cooking or serving being done, at least, not by the eaters themselves.   

Admittedly, I moved to America partly to get away from this overly precious lifestyle.  I like to cook.  I wanted my family to sit down to dinner together.  And I dreamed of the day I would casually say to friends, "How about coming over to dinner on Monday night and bringing the kids?  We'll throw something on the grill and drink margaritas while the little rascals run through the sprinkler and shoot each other with water guns."

   Okay, well, I went and did it.  And  -- yikes! -- now a bunch of people are coming to my house for dinner tonight.  How to cope?

Step one is to learn to hear and understand the question, "What can I bring?"  "What can I bring" was never asked in New York.  It was not in the New Yorker's vocabulary.  Or if it was, it was meant to elicit one of the following responses: "Nothing, don't be silly!" "Only yourself," or, on rare occasions, "How about some wine?"  A true New Yorker would have blanched and, certainly, cancelled the date if actually called upon to bring something in response to a "What can I bring?"  But from what I hear, in other locales, "What can I bring" is not an empty gesture.  The woman who asks it is ready, willing and able to kick in real food.  Anywhay, I gave it a whirl, and whaddaya know -- salad and dessert are taken care of!  Which still leaves everything else.

I'm trying to nail down the basic steps required to pull this thing off.  And I'm not talking about anything fancy.  No tablescapes or glue guns for this girl.    So far, here's what I got:

  • Buy some ice.  I'm not sure what this is for, but I see people doing it, so it must serve some purpose.
  • Figure out a summer cocktail.  Damn, mimosas at dinner time doesn't sound right.  Too bad, because that's one cocktail I know how to make.  But wine and beer seem insufficient.  What about rose?  Rose is in.  Maybe if I serve rose, people will think it's a cocktail because it's pink.  I'll say it's an unsweetened Cosmo.
  • Flowers.  Are you freakin' kidding me?  Those pots I planted better be good enough.
  • Candles.  This I can handle --  I have some votives from Pier 1.  Plus, I hear they keep the bugs away.
  • Food.  This is the hard part.  I'm hoping for some really ripe avocadoes at the food co-op tomorrow so I can make guacamole.  Mashing I know I can handle.
  • Grill some shrimp.  This is not much more effort than threading them onto skewers, but everybody will be impressed.
  • Put the kids at a separate table, serve them on plastic, give them kid food and ignore them.

Hmm.  I got nothin' here, people.  Any suggestions?  I have until 5:30.  (We eat early up in these parts!)

June 24, 2007

Summer Fun

Nothing to do on this beautiful day in June?  Well, you could start by turning off your computer and going outside into the sunshine, numbnuts!

Or you could click here for a TLC Summer Fun Link.

                        Go to fullsize image

June 23, 2007

On Sale Now!


Sarah at last night's Power Shower!


  Courtney (in pink) opening her Power Shower presents!


Power Shower guests (including TLC regular Cassie on the left.)


"This has been my problem. I'd like a husband in theory, but I don't want to have to work for one in practice. You know, keep my legs shaved and my figure trim.  Dress well for all ocassions. Learn how to grill a steak, twice bake a potato and check my teeth for spinach, say no to desserts, look stunning in a bikini, bat my eyes, suck in my stomach, never burp, fetch beer, giggle at his every joke, wear thongs that ride up my butt, make nice to his sister and play those games."

Want to read more?  Go here for a longer excerpt from Sarah Strohmeyer's The Sleeping Beauty Proposal, on sale now.


Want an autographed copy?  Click here to buy the book!  (And if you mention the blog, Rebecca says she'll pay the postage!)


June 22, 2007

The Sleeping Beauty Interview

The Sleeping Beauty Interview

By Me, Margie

Big Day here at TLC!  Tonight is the Power Shower for Sarah Strohmeyer's fabulous new stand-alone, The Sleeping Beauty Proposal. Order it - RIGHT NOW - from that link right there, and Rebecca the Bookseller will make sure Sarah signs it just for you and she'll even spot you the shipping if you mention you ordered it from TLC.  Go - I mean it - do it now, I'll wait.

OK, good.  Today is also a big day because it's our first live interview.  It's me, Margie, interviewing Patty Pugliese from The Sleeping Beauty Proposal.  Everybody say Hi Patty.

Patty: Hi everybody.  Hi, Margie.  Thanks for having me.

Me, Margie: Thanks for being here.  Wow.  You look different than I expected.

Patty: (laughing) - yeah, I look different.  They have to read the book to find out why.  You know, Margie, you remind me of myself.

Me, Margie:  Sure I do. Hah!   That's a good one.  Oh - you mean like before you were old?  Yeah, I can see that.  We're both part Italian.  Hell, we're probably related.

Patty:  You're a funny girl.  Come back and see me in twenty years and we'll talk about who looks good (laughing).  Do you have questions for me, or do you just want me to talk about how great the book is?

Me, Margie:  I have questions, so just chill it on taking over, okay?  Do you have to be somewhere?  Because we're going to need to call ahead to arrange for one of those trucks with the red flags to go out ahead of you -- hah!  Just kidding.  You look great, you know, considering.  How many are there?

Patty: Shut it, Margie - they have to read the book.

Me, Margie:  Actually, they just need to read some of the great reviews - the bun's already out of the oven, if you get my drift.

Patty:  Yeah. I get it.  Subtle is not your strong suit - mine either, so we're good.

Me, Margie:  So I loved the book and you were my favorite.

Patty:  That's great. Lots of people say that.  But do you see my name in any of the reviews?  No.  It's Genie Michaels or Sarah Strohmeyer.  I guess I'll just have to have my own book.

Me, Margie:  That is a great idea!  Did you tell Sarah?

Patty:  I'm waiting to catch her at the right moment. 

Me, Margie:  Good plan.  Speaking of plans, you were the real brains behind the whole Power Shower and fake engagement thing, right?

Patty:  Yes.  Genie was a freakin' mess and at first it was just one of those things to get her family off her back, but then it kinda took on a life of its own.  Plus, the Power Shower thing is inspired, if I do say so myself.  I mean, there is no such thing as coincidence - look how it all worked out.

Me Margie: So tell everybody what a Power Shower is all about.

Patty:  Sure.  A Power Shower is like a regular shower except you don't need to wait for some man to ask you to marry him, or get you pregnant first.  What the hell is with that kind of antiquated concept?  We need to celebrate our independence, not our decision to link up with some guy who might turn out to be a total putz.  So you have a Power Shower for friends who graduate, or get their first house, or whatever.  Why should they have to wait for towels and toasters?


Me, Margie:  That is so totally true.  And you're a genius. So how come you don't get to have more sex in the book?  You got short-changed there. 

Patty:  Who says I got short-changed?  Does Sarah know you're doing this interview?  Because I thought Rebecca the Bookseller was going to do it.

Me, Margie:  Yeah, they know.  Rebecca is having a hot flash or something.  She's too moody lately.  They'd better have all that figured out before I get to The Change, you know?  Some of my aunts went totally batshit.  The Uncles were ready to send them all to a camp somewhere.  Like they do with teens in trouble.  The Aunts said "Go ahead.  Try it, you jackasses."  And that was the end of that.

Patty: I have aunts and uncles like that too. Thank heaven I met someone from the outside.  Maybe my kids will have a shot at normal.

Me, Margie:  Normal, my ass.  I'm sticking with my own kind.  Geez, I hope you didn't screw up your whole life or something.  But if you did?  We can blame Sarah.  I like blaming the bosses for stuff.  They blame me for everything.

Patty:  Really?  That sucks.  Hey - I'm a lawyer - maybe we can sue them for something.  How about sexual harassment?

Me, Margie:  Y'know, I mentioned that once and they laughed so hard stuff came out somebody's eye sockets.  It was gross.  They said there sure as hell was sexual harassment going on but I was the culprit, not the victim.

Patty:  That's impossible.  You're the subordinate.

Me, Margie:  Who told you that?  No way, man.  Plus,we're not supposed to talk about that stuff on the blog.  I mentioned leather one day in the same blog as silk scarves and almost got canned on the spot.

Patty (she is trying not to laugh, but I'm not dumb, I can tell):  No, Margie.  Subordinate in the workplace.

Me, Margie:  Whoa.  That stuff in this office?  No freakin' way - they walked in on me once in the supply room, and it wasn't even out there, and I thought Nancy was going to crap a bird.  A big one, like an eagle or something.

Patty (totally laughing out loud now):  MARGIE.  Listen.  Subordinate has a legal meaning.  It means you are not the boss.

Me, Margie:  Duh.  I know that.  The boss is called a---

Sarah:  Hello, there.  Any one want to tell me what the hell's going on here? 

Patty:  Hey Sarah!  Nice to see you.  Margie thinks you screwed my life up.  So you might want to keep that in mind.

Sarah:  Good lord, Margie.  This is supposed to be about the book.

Me, Margie: Don't blame me.  Your friend Patty over here keeps bringing up subs.

Patty: I do not!  I was just trying to explain to her the difference--

Sarah:  That's your first mistake. 

Me, Margie: I heard that.

Sarah:  I know.  You were supposed to.  Why do I always get a headache in this office?

Me, Margie:  Probably there's mold in the walls.  Or, you know, radon.  If you guys would spring for a nicer office, it wouldn't happen.  Do you need something for your headache?  Because I have some--

Patty and Sarah:  Shut up Margie.

Me, Margie:  Just trying to help.

Sarah:  I think you've done enough.  Thanks though.

Patty:  Well, it was nice to be here.  I think.  The book is great.  You'll love it.  I'm in there, so that's reason enough to buy it, really.

Me, Margie:  She's right.  It's fantastic.  Patty, you're the best.  Thanks for stopping by.  Do you need, you know, a wheelbarrow or something to get out of here?  Hah.

Sarah:  That's plenty, thanks Margie.

Patty (sotto voce): Good luck with that one.  I thought I was a handful.

Sarah:  You really are a genius.

June 21, 2007

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

by Nancy                          

I'm a half breed. Half Irish, half Scot.  The sound of bagpipes makes me want to sneak off and join a midnight meeting of the IRA. It's genetic.

The Scottish side of the family? Classic stereotypes: They're tall, stern, not exactly cheapskates, but not big spenders by any means. Very witty, but in a dry, Presbyterian kinda way. You may think we're aloof, but we're actually just reserved. Not chatty, not prone to exaggeration.

The Irish half has the twinkle in the eye, the gift of gab, the fondness for a nip once the sun is over the yardarm. Or before, if there's a good reason--like maybe the sun comes up. Weak heads, though. We're big on potatoes, not spicy food. Plus you're our new best friend in five minutes.  And no tale is too tall to tell.

I live in a city that is sharply divided along ethnic lines, too. If you're Polish, chances are good you help out with the pierogi sale at least once a year. If you're Italian, you've got a favorite hole-in-the-wall specialty market where you buy your homemade pasta if Nonna isn't rolling it out for you in her own kitchen. (And have you ever seen the cookie table at an Italian wedding? If you have a sweet tooth, prepare to swoon!) If you're African-American, I'll bet at least one summer weekend you attend a picnic and spend half a day cooking ribs and listening to jazz.  Stereotypes come with a bit of truth to them.

We haven't exactly integrated here in Pittsburgh.  (Except over football, which is bigger than religion or nationality.) We never got the hang of the melting pot concept. In fact, these days I think people everywhere resist climbing into the melting pot more than ever. It's more important to cling to your family identity.

Lately, I've been wondering why we hold onto our ethnic heritages so tenaciously. I mean, really, my Irish relatives hauled themselves out of the bog and came over here long before the potato famine, for crying out loud. That's almost 200 years ago--long before Ellis Island ever existed. Why do we still get misty when we sing those sappy Irish songs? The Scots are just as bad. I've got a cousin who wears his kilt whenever possible, and I'm not sure he even knows who Betty Burke was. (Sure, I'm poking a little fun. But the only time I cried at my daughter's wedding?  When the pianist played Coming Through the Rye.)

Is it our urge to fit in and belong that makes my neighbor keep his leprechaun statue on his front steps? Or is it his desire to be unique in a crowd? Or both at once?

Maybe it's like being a fan of a sports team.  As a society, we're less social than ever.  We seem to find more and more ways of being alone instead of "interacting" with each other. (The average American commute is getting longer and longer.  Just be glad you don't live in Atlanta or you'd spend more time with your car radio than your children.) So maybe having a team shirt to wear or a flag to wave helps us feel as if we're connected?

I'm also wondering if we're all on separate teams anyway, why do we object so much to more teams coming into the country? But this isn't a political blog, so I guess I won't talk about immigration, but go here for a really great, personal story on the subject.  No kidding. Go here. I'll wait.


There are lots of ways to celebrate your heritage. Summer in my neck of the woods is all about festivals. Every little town has at least one. (Only those nimrods in Punxsutawney have their festival in February. I grew up near there, and we rolled our eyes every Groundhog's Day---before anyone figured out the town's only real income is from the tourists.) My town had a festival that celebrated a certain kind of flower that blooms in June, but we  always sneaked over to the next town for their Italian festival because the food was better. (Although not as good as the Grange suppers.)

Celebrating your ethnic background seems to involve food. Sometimes music.  Occasionally dancing.  Sometimes booze.  (The Slovak club had beer!) Among the Irish, an oral tradition is very big.  Get a few together, and you'll hear some tall tales. By contrast, the Scots toss telephone poles.

The Scots don't exaggerate. Which is big evidence for me that there's something really swimming around Loch Ness. A Scotsman wouldn't mention it if she wasn't really there. In fact, a Scot might have tossed bread crumbs to Nessie for 25 years before thinking to tell anyone about it.

Early in my career, I had an agent who said any good writer could get published simply by telling the tale of how his or her family came to this country. Okay, maybe that particular publishing adage is no longer valid, but when you ask people to share their family story, you're almost guaranteed to hear a blockbuster.

Once upon a time, all our ancestors were among the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I'm just thinking we ought to be a little more generous to people who weren't able to catch the first bus.

That said, nothing gets my blood pumping more than the skirl of bagpipes.


June 20, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh, My!)

Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh, My!)

by Michele                                          

Ah, summertime.  The porch furniture is out.  The flower pots are planted.  The weather is fine.  I should be kicking back and having a margarita.  I should be relaxing and enjoying myself.  Instead I'm paralyzed with fear and dread. I can't sleep at night because my kid is leaving for summer camp.  He's been there before.  I know he'll have a great time.  But I'll suffer every minute he's out of my sight, because this crazy world feels so full of peril for a child that the only way to allay my anxiety would be to lock him in a padded room and never let him out. 

What perils do I imagine during my sleepless nights?  Oh, let's see.  Kidnapping by a crazed stranger.  Mass shootings like Columbine or Virginia Tech.  Strange hazing rituals that leave children dead or injured.  Shark attacks.  Poisonous spiders -- thank you for that one, Sarah, hadn't thought of it before! ;-).  Molestation, of course, especially by the authority figures we entrust our children to.  Drunk drivers.  Tainted food, in particular the green vegetables that we beg our kids to eat.  Meningitis, TB, bird flu.  Blah blah blah.  This is only a partial list.

I am sick and tired of all the things we're supposed to be afraid of, but when it comes to my kids, I can't seem to shut off the obsessive refrain in my head.  Or maybe it's that I don't shut off the t.v. or stop reading the paper.  Wherever I turn, I'm bombarded with images of missing or murdered children.  Most recently, little Madeline McCann disappeared after having been left sleeping in her hotel room in Portugal by her parents, who'd gone to have dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Of course we tell ourselves we'd never be so careless.  But ironically, according to some reports, Madeline's parents chose that route because they were afraid to trust their children to an unfamiliar local babysitter.  Now, that's the kind of paranoia I can understand and sympathize with.  And yet she got kidnapped anyway.  What does that tell us, if not that we should never let our children out of our sight?   

But it turns out that never letting our children leave home isn't enough to keep them safe.  Look at Jessica Lunsford, stolen from her own bed while her family slept around her.  Elizabeth Smart, too, though thankfully she was recovered alive.  Can any moment be truly free of fear?  Do we need to live this way?  How much of this is real?   Do any of us know anybody who this has happened to or is it just a few isolated instances blown way out of proportion?   Statistics are hard to come by.

These fears not only pervade our culture, they shape the way we raise our children.  I want my kids to be able to ride their bikes to the town pool and hang out with their friends.  At what age can I let them do that?  With the level of anxiety I have, I'm thinking maybe sixteen.  But maybe that's too early.  Maybe twenty-five.  Better for them to grow up terrified and constrained than for me to become one of those parents on the t.v. news, begging for the safe return of my child.  Not really, but sometimes I can't help thinking that way.

We've become the Anxiety Society.  How many days of reporting did we get on Virginia Tech?  And how voyeuristic was that?  Paula Zahn literally saying "From where I'm standing, I can hear the sound of students sobbing."  Is that journalism or is it just sick?   What good does it do us?  Does it achieve anything other than making us crazy?

I know, I need to relax.  I need that margarita.  Or to go to the beach.  But of course, being crazy like I am, I'd just be watching the waves for any sign of a fin.



June 19, 2007

Secret Jerks I Have Known (and, in Some Cases, Loved)

By Sarah

Sleeping_beauty_cover_2 In honor of THE SLEEPING BEAUTY PROPOSAL's release this week, I thought I'd share a personal story that inspired the book: my three years with the Secret Jerk. Please feel free to enlighten us with your own experiences since it's a rare woman indeed who can get past twenty five without encountering one of these dingalings.

A Secret Jerk is a man who looks like Prince Charming on the outside and is little more than a snake charmer on the inside. This is Hugh, the boyfriend of my protagonist, Genie Michaels, who fakes her engagement when, after four years of a relationship, he suddenly proposes on national television to a woman he's been dating on the side, his "soul mate" with whom he is madly in love.

Like Hugh, my Secret Jerk was equally polished and academic. He was ten years older than I, then a mere twenty three, and I was dazzled by all his affectations. (Later I would realize why he dated a woman ten years his younger, but back then I was too naive to know about such concepts as Adult Male Inferiority Complex.)

My Secret Jerk wore lots of tweed, listened to Theolnious Monk and - though chronically unemployed - pretended he was superior to me, the gainfully employed, because he was pursuing a PhD whereas I held a useless B.A.

He also boiled coffee the French way, owned a well-seasoned omelet pan Chagalthat, God forbid, he never washed, waxed nostalgically about the Sixties and drove old BMWs he worked on himself. His floor-to-ceiling bookshelves were loaded with every wanker male author, from Freud to Mailer to Cheever, plusthe hippie version of the Joy of Sex. On his walls hung Chagal prints, along with several pictures of his ex girlfriend, the professional ballerina, her legs split suggestively.

See? That's what make them Secret Jerks.They look so good to the general public, so polite and erudite and well read, and yet they display photos of their ex girlfriends splayed like Miss September.

Now, had I been older and wiser, I would have taken one look at the skinny ballerina, not to mention the French press and the Cheever and the hippie Joy of Sex and the oodles of brown leather, and headed for the door. But, like I said, I was twenty three and to me this man was unadulterated sophistication. So sophisticated was he, in fact, that I came off as tres pedestrian when I burst into tears having discovered a pair of black silk lace underwear (not mine, natch) between his sheets.

Black_lace He never said he was committed to me, he explained. What did I want anyway? Marriage? Surely, I couldn't be serious.

He and his black-lace-panty-twinkie finally broke up when I seared off my corneas and called him in desperation from the emergency room. Apparently, the two of them were supposed to go out that night (cult film noir) and I ruined their night of black turtleneckfestivities by temporarily going blind. But she wasn't the first woman he cheated on me with and she certainly wasn't the last. My clearest memory is of him taking phonecalls in the bedroom and then scowling when I had the audacity to ask who "she" was.

The basic problem with me, he said, was actually him: he was not that sexually attracted to me. Sure, I was fun and intelligent and made him laugh. (And I paid for EVERYTHING.) But I did not have that certain....whatever it was, it was French. Like his coffee maker. And his ballerina.

The thing is, no one suspected this sliminess about my Secret Jerk. Everyone thought of him as intelligent and ethical, a real charmer. Yet, when I stop to think about how many times he surprised me with gifts or love trinkets. (Once he bought me a ceramic plate with a scorpion etched at the bottom.) Or how he insisted I go through psychotherapy before even considering whether to commit. (I did and cried non-stop for $210 hours' worth). I am baffled as to why I even stuck it out a month, let alone thirty six.

We finally broke up a year after I moved to Cleveland when we had this discussion: Would you stay committed if I became a quadriplegic?

Yes, it was one of those ridiculously stupid conversations only people with too much time on their handsWheelchair  have, but it fast turned into a heated one. I said that of course I'd stay married to him no matter what his condition. He said he would be within his ethical rights to leave me and I should understand. Had I been closer than the 400 miles that separated us, I would have gladly made him a quadriplegic to test his theory.

The next day, I called up and broke it off. It was hard to do. It was hard like giving up cigarettes is hard (six months since I last sneaked one, by the way.) You know they're killing you, but you're so addicted, envisioning a life without them seems impossible. A week later he called me up and proposed marriage.

I said, "Surely, you can't be serious."

And that was the end of three years of pain and self mortification, all of which taught me what NOT to look for in a man. When I met Charlie shortly thereafter he was everything the Secret Jerk was not. Plus, he had a job and knew how to hold a hammer. There were other BIG differences, too, but considering this is a family forum (as if!) better not to go into detail.

God, that felt good to write. Such a relief!

Ballerina To ex boyfriends and Secret Jerks. May they give us a lifetime of inspiration!

Okay...now who's yours?