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29 posts from January 2008

January 31, 2008

Stubborn Man Syndrome

by Nancy

You've heard of PMS, of course.  Well, TLC readers, today we're talking about SMS--that well-known, but rarely discussed and no-apologies sexist condition known as as Stubborn Man Syndrome.

I present these week's case: My neighbor, Chris, thought he was  having a heart attack.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a nasty case of shingles. How did he discover the real diagnosis, you ask? By going to the emergency room to get a cardiologist's opinion on the possible heart attack? No, he waited TWO MORE DAYS until the rash really broke out, and then he went to the nurse practitioner at the local pharmacy who confirmed the shingles and gave him appropriate meds.  BUT HE NEVER SAW A DOCTOR ABOUT THE POSSIBLE HEART ATTACK.

Therefore, I submit for your approval, the foremost symptom of Stubborn Man Syndrome: (1.) the unshakable belief in his own immortality. The Stubborn Man is indestructible.

A sub-symptom is (1b.) the refusal to seek medical attention.  Last week's case?  My contractor, Rick, returned to my home to attend to a few items on the kitchen rehab punchlist.  Except Rick was essentially unable to do the work because he'd earlier shot himself in the hand with a nail gun. Was he rendered helpless because his hand was bandaged, splinted, slathered with antibiotics? No, silly reader, he was unable to use his hand BECAUSE HE REFUSED TO GO TO THE DOCTOR AND WAS WAITING FOR HIS HAND TO REPAIR ITSELF.

Another common symptom of SMS is (2.) the reluctance to take advice from any female, particularly a spouse.  Example: On a typical Sunday evening at 7pm, when the thermometer still reads a balmy 28 degrees, do you say to my--er--your husband, "Honey, why don't you take the trash to the curb before the blizzard starts?" The answer:  "No.  No, no, no, no and NO."  Why? Because taking care of the trash early goes against the husband's Sunday routine.  It would require him getting up from the sofa three  hours earlier than necessary. But you, wise reader, can write the scene that takes place at 11pm:  With the wind blasting needles of snow and the driveway freezing into an urban ice rink, he skates the trash can to the curb, cussing and swearing, then returns to the back porch to discover he's locked himself out of the house.  And guess who must climb out of bed, scramble downstairs to the sound of door pounding to let in the Stubborn Man?

(3.)  Possession-related stubbornness is our next symptom:  You say your father wore the same bathrobe for 50 years?  Your brother refuses to give up the beer mug he received as a fraternity pledge in 1979? Bingo--SMS.

Yes, Alexander the Great is one of the earliest documented cases of SMS. He conquered the world for reasons not entirely understood except by Alex himself and maybe his court-appointed therapist, and he died at the age of 32.  (I'm guessing his cause of death was a heart attack that he figured would cure itself.) But I'm thinking maybe he also presented with one of the primary manifestations of the syndrome---(4.) the refusal to ask directions. I'm sure each and every one of you has many, many examples of this symptom, so I won't bother to list further cases.

Christopher Columbus is another early-known Stubborn Man.  He exhibited one of the primary symptoms---(5.) the firm belief that he is absolutely right despite generally accepted thinking to the contrary.

"Christopher, baby, the world is flat!" cried all his friends.

"I think I'll go take a look anyway," he replied, stocking a few barrels with salt pork, some stale biscuits and a couple of live chickens before setting off in a very small boat in lousy weather. Do you think he had really studied the stars? Done the math? Scribbled a bunch of planetary algorithms on a napkin? Of course not. He simply had a really bad case of SMS.

Henry Hudson, Sir Walter Raleigh, Magellan, Marco Polo? All Stubborn Men. Likewise, the various leaders of those crazy Crusades to the Holy Lands. Wouldn't sane men have stayed home, maybe learned to brew some mead and chase a few wenches? Perhaps trained a falcon or a couple of nice hunting dogs? Learned to upholster a tapestry?  Not if under the influence of SMS. Likewise, Sir Edmund Hillary was surely suffering from SMS, but at least he had Tenzing Norgay along to keep him alive on that mountain. Or did Tenzing have a suppressed case, too?

Yes, there's a lot to be said for the courage and determination of great exploreres.  Take those early pioneers who drove their Connestoga wagons across a continent.  Would we have, say, California, if not for them?  And they are no doubt relatives of our first nutcases---er, scientists at NASA who wanted to get a closer look at the moon, right?

Of course, other manifestations of the syndrome include The Candidate Who Will Not Quit Despite No Chance Of Winning The Election.  Not to mention The Politician Who Will Not Read A Newspaper or Watch Any TV But Fox News.

I know, I know. Wise asses among you are asking: But, Nancy, would our glorious civilization be where we are today without SMS? Well, here's an expert who theorizes that women had a lot to do with progress, too, at least when it came to military efforts. (I always thought camp followers were making a living turning sexual favors, but it seems I was poorly informed.)

Is SMS always a bad thing?

Not always.  My dad bought INTEL before anybody know what a personal computer was.  He refused to sell.  Thank heavens.

Is there a cure for this affliction? Have you discovered a way to turn your obstinate mate away from the path he's chosen? If you've found a way to get the bulldog to loosen his jaw, please share.

But for today, I welcome all further manifestations of Stubborn Man Syndrome.  Gimme your best examples, please. What symptoms have I neglected to list?

January 30, 2008

The Gospel Truth

The Gospel Truth

By Elaine Viets

You’re stuck at a family dinner, listening to your brother-in-law Bob blather about the virtues of Politician Rich. At least, that’s what I’ll call the guy, since we don’t name names at The Lipstick Chronicles.

"Rich is a real man," Bob said. "A standup guy. He’s not soft on terrorism or welfare. He’s not an over-educated snob."

Well, on that last point, you agree with Bob. Politician Rich did graduate from college, but you suspect it’s because his family donated a new campus gym. You are thrilled to have common ground at last.

"I agree he’s not over-educated, Bob," you say. "In fact, Rich is dumber than a box of rocks. His political career is lackluster. His main achievement is cashing in on his family connections."

At this point, your spouse delivers a hearty kick to your shin and gives you a glare that could laser the skin off your face. But you persist, hoping to convert this poor slob.

For ten minutes, you detail the failures of the Rich administration and the reasons why he needs to be voted into early retirement. Your spouse is now encased in a layer of frost. You know you are in for a chilly ride home. But you are sure once Bob hears the facts, he’ll change his mind. You will offer up your personal suffering for the greater good of the country.

You deliver your Rich catalogue of failure, then sit back and wait for Bob to say, "Darn, you’re right."

Instead, there is only silence. The loud silence of doom.

"Uh, we have to go," your wife finally says. "I have work in the morning."

That’s when you know that 2008 will be a long election year.

After the frosty reception at the family dinner, you have plenty of time to contemplate your failure. What went wrong? Why didn’t your well-reasoned facts work?

My friend Karen has the best explanation. In fact, it’s the only one that makes sense. It may help you save your job and your marriage.

Like most Americans, Karen and I were discussing politics. "I can’t understand why any working person would vote for that man," I said. "Look at his record. He’s never done anything for workers."

"You don’t get it," Karen said. "Politics is like religion. It’s not based on cold fact. It’s about what you believe. You grew up Catholic. But what if I said to you, ‘Elaine, it would make more sense for you to become an Episcopalian. You’d get in the best country clubs, hired by the best firms, and always know which fork to use. Besides, there isn’t much difference between High Church and Roman Catholic. So join the winning religion.’ Would that convert you?"

"Of course not," I said. "That’s insulting. It’s ridiculous."

"It’s also logical," she said. "But logic has nothing to do with religion – or politics. You can present logical arguments for why Americans should vote for a candidate, but if someone doesn’t believe, the arguments won’t work."


That was the sound of everything falling into place.

Suddenly, politics made sense.

If someone said, "Elaine, you don’t dance, drink or gamble, but you adore a good choir. You should be a Baptist," I’d laugh that person out of the room. That’s not how I choose my religion.

There are practical reasons for joining many religions. But if you don’t have the faith, those arguments are worthless.

Saddest of all are the nonbelievers, who say there is no difference between the political parties. They are truly lost souls.

As this election year grinds on, and nothing seems to make sense, remind yourself that it’s probably hopeless to try to argue someone into abandoning their political party. Use those arguments on voters inside your own party. Help them choose a candidate they can believe in.

That is the Gospel truth.

January 29, 2008

Love At Last

Love At Last

By Sarah

Driving Last weekend, a friend of mine and the guy she's been dating took the long drive to her hometown so he could ask her father for her hand in marriage. Old fashioned, yes, but also sweet. Especially since my friend is in her early fifties and the guy she's been seeing, a church minister, is bearing down on sixty. Both have been married twice before and so you'd think a third engagement would be standard stuff. Not so. She was ebullient.

The joy in her voice echoed the happiness all of us feel for them. If there are two people who ever were meant to be together, it's these two. I'm not sad they didn't find each other sooner; I'm glad they found each other at last. Just goes to show that the idea that we're supposed to settle into our ideal careers and find our true loves by age twenty five is a bunch of hooey.

Have you talked to someone in their early twenties recently? I mean really sat down and discussed life and plans. They're facocked. Either they're I'll-drift-around-the-world dreamers for whom money and Hitchhiking health insurance are flimsy concepts or they've got it all figured out, right down to whom they'll marry, when they'll marry, what kind of house they'll buy and the date of their retirement. To tell you the truth, I prefer the dreamers by far.

Makes me think of my Aunt Dee, a gloriously blonde alcoholic, who was married to a steel executive. It was an okay marriage until he dropped - boom! - dead on the floor of a massive heart attack. A few years later she went on a cruise and came back married to a gracious gentleman who doted on her every whim. Her drinking subsided and she smiled more. Perfect union. And somewhere in England a seventy-something woman I know is romping with her boyfriend of many years in their Cotswolds house, a deserved ending considering her first husband cheated and dumped her during a classic mid-life crisis.

See, good things do come to women who suffer.

Charles_and_camilla Then there are these two, Charles and Camilla, the poster couple for late-in-life love. Though that's not exactly accurate since they fell in love when they were young but the military and a mother got in the way. Sorry about the loss of Diana (as Eddie Izzard says, "I was watching that!") but bravo for correcting the mistake they made when they were young.

Now that I've been married twenty years, I've got some perspective on the institution and this is what I've come up with: 1) I was very lucky to find a guy with a commitment to commitment who stayed handsome and, thanks to my repeated nagging, was willing to shed most of his faults. 2) I had no idea, no idea, whom I was marrying or what I was getting into. It's true. I was freaking clueless.

You hear people constantly say that about their spouses - "They're not the person I married!" Of course not! When I was twenty five my world revolved around my day job as a newspaper reporter, going out andMs_dos partying - none of which I do now. (Okay, maybe a little partying - but not nearly as much as I used to.) To stay the same after twenty years would be stultifying. That's like buying a computer and working with the original software. Think about trying to turn on Microsoft OS 2.1 every night.

So what's a girl to do? If you want kids and you want them to have a father, you better get started in your twenties when you don't really know who you are much less who he is. Or, you could wait for men to cycle through a couple of relationships and weddings until they're adequately house trained - but then the kid issue might be dicey.

Maybe the answer is an arranged marriage. I knew an Indian woman who followed her husband to Arranged_marriage Cleveland so he could attend graduate school there. It made sense for parents to arrange marriages, she told me once. The parents' love for their children insures that they'll plan a happy union. And yet here's a story about a couple who went against their parents plans and secretly fell in love. Very romantic.

Before I go, I hope you'll check out Patry Francis's novel THE LIAR'S DIARY, being released today in paperback. Patry would be out plugging it herself except she's been blindsided by an aggressive form of cancer. So a bunch of bloggers are spreading the word about her book with the hope that if you like the pitch below, please BUY IT THIS WEEK so Patry can get the credit for the lists. (You guys know the drill by now.)

Here's the pitch:

How would you react if your only child were arrested for murder.When Jeanne Cross, a reserved high school secretary is befriended by Ali Mather, the stunning, talented and sexy new music teacher, sheBetter_liars_diary   slowly begins to recognize the hidden fractures in her own carefully constructed life. But when Ali is found murdered, and Jeanne's son is accused of the crime, that life is completely, and perhaps irreparably, shattered.

In addition to writing fiction, Patry blogs about her life at Simply Wait, where she inspires readers with beautifully observed slices of the life around her. (I read it ....it's really good!)

Thanks for reading,


January 28, 2008

Two For One Sale

Two for One Sale at The Lipstick Chronicles Today!


Click here to read Michele's blog on fashion and beauty in the frozen northland in today's Huffington Post.  Michele would love to hear from some Lipstick backbloggers over there!

The Halfsie Blog

At Long Last, the Halfsie Blog

by Michele

A long,long time ago, so long that I can't remember exactly when, I posted a picture of this man:


(who's quite pleasant to look at) and noted, that, like him, I'm half one ethnicity and half another.  He's half Kenyan and half white Kansan.  I'm half Puerto Rican and half Eastern European Jewish.  But on the way to delving into the psychodrama of halfsie-ness, I took a detour and started talking about gingerbread houses instead.  That was no accident.  The older I get, the more I prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. If something is painful to think about -- which ethnicity is for a halfsie of my generation -- why not just ignore it and build a gingerbread house? 

I would've happily continued to bury my head in the sand on the halfsie question, but this damned election keeps bringing it up.  How can I decide whether to vote my race or vote my gender, how can I sympathize when others vote theirs, how can I know if it's possible for us all to come together and put the B.S. behind us, when I'm not entirely sure which tribe I belong to and what it all means? 

See, back when I was a kid, intermarriage wasn't common, bi-racial children weren't common, and none of it was cool the way it is now.  (Interesting, because I'm pretty much the same age as Barack Obama.)  Ethnic identity was both embarrassing and all-important.  You didn't acknowledge the barriers, but you didn't cross them either.  There was no concept yet of the beautiful mosaic.  The ideal was the melting pot.  You jumped into it and magically combined with everybody else, emerging cleansed of your nasty foreign languages and weird customs.  Emerging American.  If your parents or grandparents still spoke Spanish or Yiddish, the best thing to do about that was not tell anybody.

In the age of Lou Dobbs, that may be becoming true all over again.  But God I hope not.

Growing up, the only person I knew besides myself and my brother who was half Latino and half Jewish was Juan Epstein from Welcome Back Kotter.    And Juan Epstein was a walking joke.  His very name was a joke -- meant to show how ridiculous New York was compared to other, saner places where no ethnic people lived.  (No wonder I love New York so much.) At a time when everybody was still expected to Anglicize their names, here was a guy whose name shouted two ethnic identities.  As if that wasn't bad enough, I knew his ugly secret.  Juan was a halfsie.  He didn't fit in either tribe. 

(Click here for the halfsie anthem!)

As a kid, I envied my full-blooded friends because, even though they weren't WASPs, at least they knew where they belonged.  In public school in New Haven, the other kids in the gifted classes came from working class Irish, Polish or Italian backgrounds.  (It was years before I figured out that in a heavily black city, this meant that the gifted classes were racially segregated.)  They all went to catechism class at their own special churches.  They all knew what they'd be eating for Sunday dinner.  They all had that deep consolation that the food and music and accent of your heritage confer.  Me -- I couldn't relax with it because I was too worried that I didn't speak enough Spanish, or that I didn't know any Hebrew prayers. 

Even in college and law school -- and by then we'd entered an era that celebrated ethnicity --I didn't feel pure enough to join the student identity groups.  That hesitancy might've been my own insecurity talking, but honestly, I don't think so.  The identity groups were cries of resistance, and it mattered to be truly, deeply ethnic.  To be really Latino, or really Jewish.  Or really black.  You had to choose one. 

I think Barack Obama had to choose.  He couldn't just be who he was, which was half-black and half-white.  He was forced to pick a side.  And I think that's still happening to him.  Without getting into a big debate over whether that's the media's fault, or the Clintons', you know -- I think we're all buying into it.  How can he be expected to heal racial divides when we insist on pigeon-holing him as one thing or the other?  He's both.

A lot of healing has happened over the years.  Times have changed.  Our wonderful former babysitter Johanna is half-Korean, and when she was in college, she was able to join something called the Half-Asian Students' Association.  Imagine that.  For myself, I've realized how lucky I am to feel deeply connected to two such beautiful cultures.  I listen to Mana and eat arroz con pollo and remember my father.  I think of Sabbath dinners with my Bubby and Zady, the candles and the prayers and the food.  I finally accept that I'm both things, and it makes me realize -- the divisions don't matter so much.  Wouldn't it be better if we could put them behind us and move on?  

January 26, 2008

Google Forces Woman To Reinvent Self

The Tarts are delighted to welcome guest blogger Triss Stein, whose latest short fiction is just out in the fab anthology Murder New York Style.  Triss can be found on-line regularly at that great bastion of mystery commentary, DorothyL.


Google Forces Woman To Reinvent Self

by Triss Stein

I have to write a term paper.  Not an opinion piece.  That would be easy.  I have opinions; I can write them down.  No, this is a real academic paper.  Footnotes.  A bibliography.  Annotated, no less.  I am never going to own up to how many years it's been since I was in higher education.  But I'll stipulate that I finished graduate school long before I had children, and that my children are grown up and have careers of their own.

I put the blame for this whole absurd situation directly where it belongs: Google.  I had a long and successful career as a business librarian/researcher.  Now management everywhere believes that advertising executives, business consultants and editors can easily do their own accurate research on the Web.  (Ha.)  The message finally appeared to me in fiery letters in the sky: reinvent your career.

So here I am enrolled in a post-master's degree program in archives and records management.  Just a year ago, I was telling other people what to do at work, and a few years before that I was being consulted for my comprehensive industry expertise by freshly minted Ivy League MBAs.  And now I'm doing homework?  This could be called a cognitive disconnect.

There's a bit more.  My last full time job was all managerial.  I have learned, painfully, that my technical skills grew rusty during a time when technology demands in the working world grew exponentially.  What unwelcome surprises will being back in school bring?

About that paper.  One-third of the take-home midterm was to be an outline of the term paper.  I am not an outliner.  I never have been.  Back in the (college) day, if a professor required an outline before a paper was due, I had to write the whole paper first and then outline it.  I have also written three mystery novels and the first draft of a fourth without a real outline.  I can't recommend it as a way to work.  It's awfully inefficient, but I don't know what I want to say until I've said it.  I think by writing.

That's what hasn't changed since I was a teenager.  Here's what has changed: for that midterm, I wrote a brief paragraph instead of an outline, with full confidence that if I write a good paper the instructor won't care.  I do know how to give a thorough presentation without using notes, and nail it, even if I couldn't do it in PowerPoint.  I do have the confidence and tact to ask challenging questions, even if I had trouble with the electronic reserve system.  And I know how to wrestle with a mountain of research material until it tells a coherent story.

Oh yes, and for the history major I used to be, the issues raised in a course about archives have turned out to be quite fascinating.  The quotes from Jacques Derrida about power and archives forced me to think.  The articles on archivists' roles in turning secret government surveillance files -- think East German Stasi -- into public knowledge read like a spy novel.  And readings on why the past has such powerful meaning, the cultural assumptions inherent in deciding what is valuable enough to keep, and the tricky balance between protecting personal privacy and providing public information, have challenged me to think harder, further, deeper.

Not only can I still do that -- it's reassuring to know! -- but I see that I do it better now because of all the professional and life experience I bring to it.  That knowledge is certainly worth the price of writing a term paper.


January 25, 2008

WTH Happened to High School?

WTH Happened to High School?

By Rebecca the Bookseller, Public High School Graduate

Blog_high_schoolThis week, my daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, has finals and papers and Power Point presentations due. She’s totally stressed out. She’s 16.

What in the hell is going on? Are we collectively raising a generation of kids who are going to be burnt out by college – never mind grad school?

In order to avoid a rant, I’m going to make this a collective effort. Accordingly, here are some things I did and did not learn in high school. Then it’ll be your turn to share.

I did not learn Advanced Calculus.

I did not learn how to write a 40-page term paper with footnotes and exhibits. Hell, I didn’t really learn that until law school.

I did not learn how to conjugate a zillion verbs in any foreign language. Seriously – did any of you learn any real language in high school? The only way to learn a language is to speak it. Donde esta la biblioteca? Does not count.

I did not learn how to present a multi-media presentation with coordinated graphics, text, animated images and a soundtrack. No, the filmstrips with the accompanying tape (beep!) do not count, even if you were in the AV Club.

I did not learn that at a private school in the next neighborhood, half the students were in some kind of therapy for eating disorders, anxiety attacks, or depression.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that these are not good things to learn.

Here is what I did learn:

I learned that when you get hit with a dodge ball, it stings, but it doesn’t last. I also learned that it was okay to have people laugh at you, because you were all going to be laughing at someone else when they got nailed.

I learned that how you behave when you lose is just as important as how you behave when you win. The quickest way to the bench at my school was to grandstand.

I learned that it’s okay to question authority – even – heaven forbid – the President of the United States – because that’s our right, and that this country was founded on the absolute necessity of civil liberties.

I learned that boys who went off to fight came back as changed men.

I learned that people can be mean as hell, but many times help can come from unexpected sources.

I learned that people have jobs –the vast majority of the kids in my high school, including me, had year-round part-time jobs by sophomore year.

I learned that if you’re driving, you have got to take responsibility for the people in your car. Otherwise, it’s your mess to clean up.

I learned that boys and girls are different. In most ways. I learned that what you think is eternal love might just be hormones, but not without a lot of crying. I learned that getting to first, second and third base are just as exciting and wonderful as heading straight home. Looking back, I shouldn’t have waited so long to take the trip the whole way around the bases, but that’s a story for another day.

Most importantly – I learned how to PLAY. I learned that drinking can be fun, but that drinking too much makes you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. I learned that some people can get high and be fine, and that some people turn into jerks.

And I learned that the book is always better than the movie.

Those things are important too.

This obsession with ‘everybody wins’ troubles me. I mean, some schools have banned the game ‘Tag’ because the person who is ‘It’ feels bad about themselves. Are you kidding me with this shit?

And this obsession – which starts way too early – about GPA and class rank and building resumes for college apps – that scares the hell out of me. Because if kids don’t learn the off-campus stuff in high school, what’s going to happen when they leave home?

Anyway – we’re picking up our daughter after her last exam this morning and going to Florida. Where we are going to focus our collective Type A personalities on fun. And laughing. And screaming on the coasters. And just hanging out without phones or schedules or faxes or e-mails or power point presentations.

So, since I’m not here to keep talking – how about sharing what you did or didn’t learn?

January 24, 2008

I'm Old Enough to Be a----WHAT?

I'm Old Enough to Be a---WHAT?

by Nancy

A terrible thing slid through the mail slot in my front door three weeks ago.  And it lay, untouched, until yesterday because my husband and I simply couldn't acknowledge the horror.

Our first AARP newsletter.

Yes, the depressing publication that advertises cures for Erectile Dysfuntion, strategies to fix  your loss of bladder control and innumerable retirement developments in sunny climes--all located far away from anything approaching popular culture and where all the women seem to wear pastel pants with elastic waistbands. Safety handles for your bathtub. Seminars on how to learn to use a computer in two hours, guaranteed. Articles on reverse mortgages.  Argh.

It took us three weeks to finally pick up the newsletter and read it.  Why so long? Because I'm too young for AARP!

Aren't I?

No.  I'm plenty old enough, it seems. I'm now eligible for AARP discounts (I still haven't had the enthusiasm to look up which ones) and I can now receive all the political advice that steers senior citizens by the bazillion to their polling places.  But I---Good God, did I just call myself a SENIOR CITIZEN??  Excuse me while I go lie down for a moment to recover.  Talk amongst yourselves.

Okay, I'm back. Whew.  That was a blow.

Even though I've decided to be 50 for the next decade, I can't escape the fact that I'm getting older. And it's hellishly depressing. My knees make noise when I use the stairs. My skin absorbs moisturizer faster than a Bounty paper towel. And it's official--I now own more pairs of cheap reading glasses than wine glasses!

What's happening? When I wasn't paying attention, my generation suddenly traded pot for statin drugs! We regularly pop pills like Celebrex and low does aspirin! My husband has started swallowing a fiber pill every morning! And I--well, it's too humiliating to list all the maintenance required by the body of a menopausal woman.

The baby boomers aren't babies anymore.

It's enough to give a girl a whopping case of depression.

But wait!  A glimmer of happiness on my horizon! Look at what just appeared in my email!

Cass930.jpg image by nancymartinmysteries

Yes, that little TicTac on the sonogram, that tiny little jelly bean is . . . TA-DAH!  My first grandchild!

And far from being depressed, I am finding this incredibly joyful news! Just about the time old age seems to be crashing over my head like the kind of wave I once dreamed of surfing, a new phase of life comes along to cheer me up!  Grandparenting! Think of all the possibilities!

"Let the shopping begin!" was one friend's rallying cry.

Have you seen the Pottery Barn kids catalog?? And there's an adorable rug at Ikea with a dragon on it! And the onesies at Target! OMG, they are so CUTE!  I found the most adorable baby sneakers, too! And the stuffed animals! The wooden toys! The puzzles!  Saints preserve us---the children's books!!

But where can I find Humpty Dumpty socks? To me, they are the ultimate baby necessity.

And who among you knows about those new diapters at Whole Foods? They have a flushable liner, but you toss the actual diaper into the washing machine.  I hear they're green, but super functional, too.  And cheaper than disposal diapers in the long run.

And the innovations in stroller technology boggle my mind.

Guidance, TLC readers! I need guidance! 

Except my husband just informed me--after reading the pages of the AARP newsletter that I skipped--that we must start packing our extra cash into our 401k or we'll end up doing our grocery shopping only in stores that give double coupons to senior citizens.

I think I need one last hit of pot to get through this.

January 23, 2008

(Don’t) Do It Yourself

(Don’t) Do It Yourself

Elaine Viets

I love fiction. Especially Eric Stromer’s do-it-yourself TV show and videos on AOL.

I’m sure Eric is a capable handyperson who can fix a gurgling toilet, pour concrete and paint a room with one hand tied behind his back.

But something is missing on those shows.

It’s not Eric’s looks. He’s country-boy cute. The handymen I’ve encountered in Florida range from a sweet-natured gentleman who looks like a Hispanic Pillsbury Dough Boy, to a grumpy Russian who resembles a bear with a cigar.

It’s not Eric’s style. He explains each project in steps so simple even I can follow them.

I believe Eric, too. When he says, "It’s very simple to do" I want to break out my pathetic tool kit, which includes a set of freebie screwdrivers from Omaha Steaks, and remodel my condo. I’m finally starting to understand that "it’s very simple" is the DIY version of "I’ll respect you in the morning."

Here’s what bothers me: I’ve never seen Eric Stromer knock over a paint can, whack his thumb with a hammer, cut a tile pattern in the wrong shape, or make any other DIY mistake. Also, he never cusses.

My father was a DIY type. Not a very good one, but he did the household repairs with the help of a few six-packs – and I’m not talking about his abs. While Dad fixed things in the bathroom or the basement, I learned colorful words that were not taught in the Bluebird Reading Group at school.

Did Dad make DIY mistakes? You bet. But he risked life and property to fix the sink and paint the door. It was the manly thing to do.

My husband, Don, has too much sense to engage in home repair projects.

Not me. I grew up with three brothers, and I know I am just as good (or bad) as any man. Therefore, I try to fix things I should leave to the professionals.

Two weeks ago, we had new hurricane windows installed in our condo. The workers did a fine job, but they didn’t do the touch-up painting around the new windows. We could have hired someone, but I decided to paint it myself. Any idiot can wield a brush, right?

Yep, I was the DI – the Designated Idiot. The work had to be done quickly. A German newspaper reporter wanted to interview me. I had to get the touch-up work finished before she arrived. I raced through the house in a frenzy of cleaning and dusting. The dying plants in the ornamental pots were replaced with new victims. The bathrooms were scrubbed. Then I did the touch-up painting.

It was easy. The dark-brown paint went on thick and smooth as melted chocolate. I’d spread newspapers on the floor, to catch any drips. The painting was finished in about half an hour. Quick, easy, simple.

I knew better than to pour the excess paint down the kitchen sink. I did that last time. It ruined the garbage disposal. The plumbing repairs cost more than a professional painter.

Nope, I cleaned the brush in a glass jar, then threw out the jar. I put the lid back on the can and stuck it in the storage closet. Later, when I opened the door, the paint can dropped out and the lid fell off, spreading thick, brown paint on the tile floor.

"#$$%," I said, using a word I learned at Daddy’s knee.

It took two hours and every spare rag in the house to clean up the mess. Then I had to repaint the closet door, the floor and the baseboard trim, this time with white paint, which doesn’t make nearly as much of a mess.

While I scrubbed the mess, half drunk on paint fumes, I told myself, "You’re cute, Eric, but you’re dangerous."

Eric’s blog had a bitter sound now. The man actually said, "Doing it yourself is a courageous act that will always force you to come up against yourself and that is the beauty of it."

There was nothing beautiful about it, or my closet floor, Eric. Got any DIY tips for removing brown paint from my cuticles?

January 22, 2008

Mind the Crash

Mind the Crash

By Sarah

I come from a long line of women who "strain at a gnat, swallow a camel." You know the kind - think Camel nothing of going to the hospital for emergency surgery. ("Come on, darling, they do these heart bypass thingies a thousand times a year and, frankly, I'll appreciate the bed rest.") But should a downpour threaten the family picnic? ("I'll die it if it rains. What about the potato salad? What about the badminton?!")

In fact, it's taken decades for me to learn how to break the habit of unnecessary worry. In the end, I adopted the Bill Clinton approach to get me through the night. Monica Whatever the problem, pack it away in an imaginary box and put it on the imaginary shelf until you can deal with it in the light of day. This technique is so effective that after awhile one begins to question the very nature of reality. If I don't think it, is it not so?

Which brings me, naturally, to flying. It was on this very blog a couple of years ago when one of our backbloggers - may even have been ArkansasCyndi - told me her trick for peaceful takeoffs and landings was to pretend to be in a "magic tube." Forget lift and propulsion and aerodynamics. Fantasize it's magic and somehow - don't know and don't care - you will be transported from point A to point B, hopefully without Detroit in between.

It's embarrassing to admit how well this has worked for me and I'm talking about some seriously questionable flights on small planes over the Adirondacks and bumpy Green Mountains, including one where the pilot - the pilot! - had excused himself to go to the bathroom thereby leaving the flight attendant at the helm. Flying back into Vermont is always an experience.

Unless you're flying into Heathrow on a Boeing 777 and suddenly all the engines fail, as it did last week. Heathrow_crash Miraculously, all 152 passengers and sixteen attendants escaped largely unscathed thanks to a quick-thinking pilot who wasn't, preliminary investigations reveal, in the loo. Fun fact - his name is John Coward.

Coward is credited with "gliding" the plane at 600 feet away from nearby houses so that it landed on the grass and actually bumped along, finally spinning sideways and coming to a standstill.

"I was quite surprised by that," he was quoted as saying afterward.

See, this is why I love the English, why I love their spirit and humor if not their food and class divisions. They are one of the few cultures to lick fear by belittling it so it is more of a nuisance than a concern. This is why my goal for the upcoming year is to take fear out of the box and, well, scoff. Pooh on you, fear. Do get lost.

And this will be a year for fear, oh yes. Fear is on the front page every day, whether it's the plummeting stock market (which, if one were an alien, would appear to rule the world), the rippling mortgage crisis,Amy rising oil prices, burgeoning consumer debt, escalating inflation, caffeine for pregnant mothers, the effects of the Iraq War, Britney Spears's sanity or Amy Winehouses drug addiction. You thought post 911 was bad? This is gonna be nothing. The year 2008 is going to be one crazy nutty fear-a-thon.

To which I say, "Oh, dear, that is a shame."

Because, here's the thing. Maybe it was 911 or how I, like many Americans, was manipulated after 911 to think in color codes of alarm, but I'm a wee bit tired of being afraid. More to the point, I'm really tired of being told to be afraid. Enough already with the flesh-eating bacteria. Bring on more recipes.

Hey, I  don't know who's with me on this. The apathetic? (Whatever.) The procrastinators? (I'll be afraid tomorrow.) The lazy? (Fear? Do I have to?) Or the confused? (What is this thing you call fear?) I'll take anyone I can get in my campaign to turn my back on this bullshit.

The way I'm getting through this year is to pretend I'm in a magic box myself (different from both the imaginary tube - the plane - and the imaginary Tupperware - where I store my worries.) My book might flop. (Oh no it won't!) My thighs might yet expand. (Oh yes they will.) But I am in an impenetrable shell and nothing, not even rain at the family picnic or the UFO Michele saw a couple of months ago, can harm me.

I should be quite surprised by that.