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31 posts from January 2010

January 21, 2010

The Falls of Chagrin

The Falls of Chagrin

by Nancy    Go to fullsize image


A month ago, a friend of mine blogged about her memories of growing up in Chagrin Falls, and I must admit I skimmed her winter memories of sledding and skating and whatnot because I got stuck on the name: Chagrin Falls.  Who named that town?  And why?  The watery falls of whose chagrin, I wonder?


How do towns get their names?


Where I grew up, we had places like Falls Creek, Big Run, Pine Creek, and Slippery Rock—so named because there are lots of little streams in that neck of the woods.  (They’re also why my brother grew up to be a trout fisherman.) Cool Spring, Boiling Spring, Roaring Spring. Specifically, I grew up in a town called Brookville—not because it was the confluence of our two creeks (the bucolically named Sandy Lick and more pedestrian Mill Creek) but because of all their little feeder streams--the brooks. In fact, if you live anywhere west of the Delaware watershed and east of the Mississippi, you are likely drinking the water that springs up around my hometown.  


I played in many of those Brookville streams as a child. Catching minnows, crawfish and frogs was big fun until we discovered hellbenders.  After that horrifying experience—Jurassic Park could have used hellbenders to make the movie even scarier--I stopped playing in creeks.

Go to fullsize image


Sugar Hill and Beechwoods are charming names for nearby towns. Brandy Camp was named because it was a place where immigrants lived so they could be near the coal mines where they worked.  I wonder if they named it for the liquor they drank?  Or if nearby, high-minded townsfolk assumed there was a lot of drinking going on in the coal camps and named the community appropriately?


Here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of Native American names that hung on long past the time when indigenous people left.  Punxsutawney. Kittanning.  Sinnamahoning. Monongahela. We’re amused when strangers can’t pronounce them.


I wondered about the community of Blanket Hill so long that I finally stopped the minivan one day to read the historical marker.  Turns out, Blanket Hill was a place where settlers traded blankets with the Native Americans.  (The historical marker still calls them “white settlers” and “Indians.”  Budget restraints in the historical department, I think.)  And we have lots of towns named after their physical attributes: Cherry Tree, Brick Church, Bear Lake. And our early industry: Coal Run, Coal Port, Coal Valley. And I always been curious about three little towns:  Distant, Desire and Echo.  And what poor soul named Little Hope?


My county has a lot of villages and boroughs named after the people who first lived there and started their businesses. The Sprankle family’s grinding mill became Sprankle Mill. Cook Forest was named after the lumbering Cook family.


Names fascinate me.  Probably because I must choose them so carefully in my fiction.  A name establishes a character or a setting very quickly.  Readers bring along their own prejudices and experiences when they read names. I like that.--It brings an extra level of understanding and even visual appeal. 


    I try to be historically correct, too. (Which is why so many Blackbird characters had German and Quaker names—that’s who settled Philadelphia)  Lately I’ve been researching the names of Italian families that immigrated to Pittsburgh to work in the steel mills and to build our many beautiful stone bridges and churches. All those stonemasons came from the same region in Italy, so they tend to share only a few common names. You’d not likely find a person living in Pittsburgh, for example, who has the distinctive Venetian nose. Venice isn’t where Pittsburghers came from.


Readers bring certain pre-conceived ideas when they read the names of places.  You get a mental picture if you pick up a book set in London or Dallas or LA or New York.  Detroit comes with a reputation that’s hard to dispel.  You could practically taste Spenser’s Boston, couldn’t you? And Janet Evanovich does an equally vivid job conjuring up Trenton, New Jersey.


Pittsburgh has been a tricky sort of setting for me. I’ve avoided using it for years because I wasn’t sure how to portray it.  Readers tend to think of Pittsburgh as being an old city with a thick, low-hanging smog from the steel mills.  Thing is, most of the mills have been gone since 1972, so the reality is very different from the general perception. We are no longer "hell with the lid off." But I finally took the plunge.  My new book is set here in my adopted city.  I hope I’ve done it justice.


Where are you from?  How did that place get its name? I’ll bet there’s a story. 

January 20, 2010

Uncovering an Undercover Boss

By Elaine Viets

Reality TV has hit the toilet. For real.

The new CBS series, "Undercover Boss," follows "high-level chief executives as they slip anonymously into the rank and file of their companies.

"Each week a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company," CBS.com says. Undercover-boss

Watch the video: http://tinyurl.com/yeqb8xm

The companies include Waste Management, 7-Eleven, White Castle, and lest we get too real, Hooters. (Hey, it’s television. The network needs boobs for the boob tube.)

I’ll enjoy watching a highly paid executive cleaning a Porta-Potty. It may be one job a boss is qualified to do. Or not. CBS says Waste Management's undercover boss, Larry O’Donnell, got fired "for the first time in his life." The employee didn’t know he was firing the company president.

I have trouble with that particular reality. Putting on a uniform and growing a beard like undercover boss O’Donnell did for this photo won’t make him look like one of the guys. Big bosses have as much chance of blending in as my six-foot self at a Little People convention.

I say this as the daughter and niece of blue collar workers. My father and uncle carried lunchboxes to work at the electric company. My cousin works for the phone company.

Here are ways working stiffs can spot a high-level undercover boss.

(1) The hands

Most high-level bosses have manicures. Many wear clear nail polish. Ordinary workers do not get manicures, except maybe the Hooters servers. Workers would be laughed out of the locker room if they had manicured nails or smooth, uncallused hands.

(2) The bodies

The bosses have lightly bronzed skin, if they get any sun at all.

Real workers are not evenly browned, like a roast turkey. Outdoor workers get severely sunburned on their necks and arms. They have "farmers’ tans." The burned skin is below the sleeve and above the shirt neck. Their chests and upper arms stay fishbelly pale. At least the white workers. And yes, brown-skinned people get sunburned.

Most workers do not have sculpted gym muscles. They have arms like braided rope from heavy lifting. As they age, they may have beer bellies from their favorite beverage. Tailoring won’t hide the fat.

(3) The smiles

Look at those boss teeth: pearly white and even. Perfect for employee ass-chewing. Unless the company has a good dental plan or the workers are blessed by Mother Nature, employees do not have perfect teeth. As they age, they may have missing teeth. My dad had a gap in his smile after he broke a tooth. He wouldn’t spend the money for a crown.

(4) The posture

Hard labor is back-breaking. When I worked as a hotel maid for "Murder with Reservations" I hobbled around and popped Motrim like M&Ms. A working person, especially one who’s thirty-plus, feels the aches and pains, the stress on their joints. The job literally wears them down.

Bosses stand tall and confident. Executives have stress, but it doesn’t take the same physical and financial toll. When O’Donnell got "fired" from his undercover job, he went back to his cushy office and high salary. If he’s booted from THAT job, his golden parachute will ensure a soft landing.

I do have a question about the Hooters boss, Coby G. Brooks. Will this knocker nabob serve food while he wears skimpy clothes? Get his CEO ass grabbed instead of kissed?

Please, please put some reality in this reality show.

January 18, 2010

Making an Entrance

by Hank Phillippi Ryan


It was almost a DISASTER.  I just about klonked myself, and by that I mean crashing into a glass door face first, the other day at Marty's liquor store. And before you all sneer and make assumptions, I was going in. And it was like two in the afternoon. All I'd had to drink was maybe a latte. Or two.



Anyway. It was the door's fault. Or maybe it was  techonology's fault. Or both. But it wasn’t my fault.  And the episode of the door made me realize how technology is making us –lazy?



Problem was, I was walking briskly and purposefully into the store to get wine and Illy coffee and their very good artichoke pesto and a pack of sugar-free gummi bears (yes, Jackie Kennedy would eat them) and I just walked smack into the glass door. Instead of through it.



Why? I wasn’t distracted or listening to my ipod (don't have one) or talking on the

phone. I just—expected that the door would open automatically.  It didn't.

Why? Because everything is automatic now. Isn't it? You go into the bathroom at a restaurant or someplace like that, and its almost terrifying when the toilet's brain decides its time to flush. I mean, how does it know? And its not always correct.



That situation survived, then you have to wash your hands. How? Stick your hands under the faucet, and the water automatically comes out. Need soap?Stick your hands under the soap dispenser and the soap automatically comes out.  Drying?Stick your hands under …well, you get the picture.



(Although, digression, I love the motion activated hand towel dispensers. Really, they're fun. I pretend I'm shooting it, the towel comes out.  I do it with my elbow, the towel comes out. I pretend I'm doing presto-chango magic, the towel comes out. You have to take your fun where you can, and this is one place I can.)




But back to the door. So is it any wonder that  I expected it to open for me? My paycheck gets automatically put into the bank,so I no longer race to my local branch on Friday afternoons to make a deposit and make sure my already-written checks are covered.  (Money comes from the ATM. *Automatic* teller machine.  I'm so used to automatic money, when my wallet was stolen recently, I was bewildered about how I could get cash. What am I going to do without my ATMcard?, I wailed to my husand.  Uh, go to the bank? Jonathan suggested.)



 My car's doors automatically lock, the headlights automatically come on. Unless the guy at the parking garage turns them off, which we NEVER notice til we’re halfway home and baffled about why we can't see.



Our one-cup coffee things automatically arrive every month so we’re never out of them. Netflix automatically provides movies. Tivo tapes Project Runway and Glee and Modern Family and 24, so I don't even have to know when they’re actually on.



(And it was kind of cool that MIRA just sent DRIVE TIME automatically to its suspense book club subscribers. I'm all for that kind of  automatic.)


So. A modest proposal.  Instead of complaining, which is rarely effective and most often just a waste of time, can we think of a way to make more things automatic?



Like milk in the fridge. I don't like to sniff it to see  if it's past its use by date. Maybe there would be a way it could just buzz, or flash, or something? Milk



 How about automatically refilling ice cube trays so that when Jonathan puts them back with just ONE cube, they automatically get full of water? (Oh, I know they have ice makers. But not in my prehistoric fridge.) 



Dinner menu? Someone or something would decided what we're having for dinner every night, so there would be no more "I don't know, what would you like to make?" To which the response is, "ANYTHING, just tell me what you'd like to have." To which the response is, "Honey, really, everything you make is wonderful." To which the response is: "Just TELL me something." So if the automatic dinner-menu-maker existed, all that would be solved.What to wear to work? Love to know that automatically. Maybe--automatic nametags on people so there would be no more name-forgetting?


Are we too coddled by having everything automatic? Or are we not coddled ENOUGH? What would you like to see made automatic?  And, fine, how do you feel about the automatic toilet flushers? 




January 17, 2010

Rod's Rules

It’s a studly Sunday, with a return engagement from our recent Manly Monday man, Rod Pennington (www.rodpennington.net) . . . but first, please note that you can see the following Tarts up close and personal this week -- and all 3, if you’re the nomadic type:

ELAINE VIETS: Jan. 22 from 5:30-8pm at Bookmania! ~ the beautiful Blake Library in Stuart, FL ~ for more info, go to www.library.martin.fl.us

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jan. 17-18 signing Drive Time at the ALA-Midwinter at the Boston Convention Center: TODAY! from 3-5:30 and Monday from 9:30-11 a.m.

HANK again: Jan.21 at 7 pm at the Framingham Public Library in Framingham, Massachusetts www.framinghamlibrary.org

HARLEY JANE KOZAK at the Pacific Palisades Library (that’s in LA) on Wed. Jan. 20 at 6:30 pm

Okay, Rod -- back to you.


I’ve been married 34 of the happiest years of my life and by most measures 34 out of 40 isn’t so bad.   With a milestone anniversary fast approaching, here are a few hard earned nuggets of wisdom I’ve acquired in the past four decades of living in a female dominated household.

If you are caught glancing at another woman while in the presence of your significant other, immediately make a sour face and say something like this: “I think she has more silicone in her lips than I have in my laptop computer.” “Spandex at her age; what was she thinking?” “Where do you even buy trashy outfits like that?” “I wonder who did her plastic surgery.”

All of this brings us to the two very simple “Rod’s Rules” for dealing with the opposite sex.

If you can subtract a woman’s age from your age and you would still be too old to date her, you cannot flirt with her.

            If you can triple a woman’s age and she is still younger than you; you cannot even look at her.

E    Every man should know if they consider dating/marrying a woman younger than one of their kids that they’d better be stinking rich. Instead of a “Trophy Wife” they’ll end up looking at worst like a creepy old fart with a bad combover and at worse a child molester.  Viagra, Grecian Formula and Rogaine will only carry you so far. Play with people your own age and keep your sweaty paws off of their children.   

It is a middle-aged man’s fantasies that all college-aged women think older men are sexy.  This is true. The problem is that to the average college-aged woman, an older man is 25, not 55.

If a teen-aged daughter asks your thoughts on her clothes, make-up or boy friend there is only one correct answer. “What do you think, dear?”  Don’t fall into the rookie trap of actually believing they care about your opinion. They are looking for affirmation and NOT honesty. The longer you can answer a question with a question the better.           

If you are an excitable, large, loud male married to a calm, quiet female, everyone is always going to cast you as the villain in every domestic melodrama. Once, my spouse backed my brand new car into a massive, day-glow orange barrier the size of the average small Midwestern town at, wait for it, the eye doctor’s office. When it was clear that I was less than pleased and she got pouty, all I heard from friends and family was, “What did you do to her?”

If you want your children to respect your work, they will occasionally actually have to see you do some. While playing Mr. Mom for nearly 2 decades, I discovered having two high strung daughters underfoot sucked the creative juices right out of me.  Therefore, I tended to work when they were at school or late at night or in the morning before they rolled out of bed.  I once overheard my eldest daughter, who was 10 at the time, having a chat with her friends about the career paths of their parents. When it was Carrie’s turn, she said, and I quote, “My daddy doesn’t work for a living. He’s a writer.”

Men and women are very different. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot.

Raising girls is very different from raising boys. Anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot. 

Anyone who tells you small children never lie is an idiot AND has never had a small child.

Never take childrearing advice from a childless couple.

Never take childrearing advice from your mother – unless, of course, you are delighted with the job she did with you.

Never let a child under 14 eat dinner alone or in front of a TV set.

Listen to your kids. If you ignore them, someone else may exploit them.

Be your child’s parent and not her friend. That is why God will give you grandchildren. They are fun to spoil and it will annoy the daylights out of your daughters. 

Tell your teenagers if they are not comfortable driving or riding with someone, they should call you and you will come and get them no matter where they are and no matter what time it is, no questions asked.  And mean it. They will know they screwed up and don’t need to be reminded.  

When dealing with your spouse, you don’t have to always be right or have the last word. This, of course, works best when it’s a two-way street.

If you’ve been an idiot, admit it and move on.

If your spouse has been an idiot and apologizes, accept it and move on.

Sometimes a quiet walk together will say more than hours of talking.

You’ll know you’ve hit middle age when given the choice of a good night’s sleep or a late night of wild sex, you take the sleep.

You’ll know you’re a successful parent when the neighbors complain about all the laughter coming from your house.

Rod Pennington






January 16, 2010


TLC welcomes Misa Ramirez, author of the Lola Cruz mystery series: Living the Vida Lola and Hasta la Vista,HastalaVistalola   Lola!. A former middle and high school teacher, and current CEO and CFO for La Familia Ramirez, this blonde-haired, green-eyed, proud to be Latina-by-Marriage girl loves following Lola on her many adventures, from contemplating belly button piercings to visiting nudist resorts. Misa is hard at work on a new women’s fiction novel, has developed a middle grade series for girls, is published in Woman’s World Magazine and Romance Writers Report, and has a children’s book out.  Visit Misa at http://chasingheroes.com



By Misa Ramirez

Fairy Wishes aren’t something to be done often.  Or taken lightly.  I know this because I’ve made Fairy Wishes, and well, they’re kind of magical.  In a The Secret kind of way.

Now I don’t know how many of you tartletts are believers in The Secret, but Fairy Wishes are just as powerful.  The difference between Fairy Wishes and The Secret is the magic in the believing.  They’re both about putting your wishes out into the universe.  Kind of like an alcoholic who can’t get help until he admits he has a problem.  Unless you know what you want, how can you achieve it?

A few years ago, I was an unpublished writer.  I had drive, ambition, talent, and dreams.  Now it’s impossible to say what would have happened had I not made my Fairy Wishes, but I like to believe that putting my dreams out there in a tangible (via an abstract means) way made a difference.

Maybe it didn’t, but since we can’t prove it either way, I’ll stick to believing  in magic.

I made my first Fairy Wishes quite a few years ago.  There was a truckload of family drama going on in my life at the moment, so I drew stick figures of all my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law and encircled them with peace signs. My son was two months into his type 1 diabetes diagnosis, so I drew a syringe and insulin bottle, dollar signs, and the word CURE. I drew something for each of my children, my husband, and then focused on what I wanted: for Lola Cruz Mysteries to sell, and for people across the globe to read them and fall in love with Lola.

I drew books, scribbled stars, wrote “Great Reveiws”, and then drew a smiley face to show my happiness with the book deals I was going to get.  I drew happy readers reading my books.  And I drew myself at a computer, happily writing.

Finally, when I was done with my artistic endeavors, I sprinkled the Fairy Wishes with Fairy Dust, said a little incantation http://www.fairyreadings.com/incantations.htm from the card on the Fairy Dust bottle, and took my wish paper home (I did this with my critique group). The clincher is burning the paper, which I did in our outdoor fireplace.

I did get that book deal a short time later (still waiting on the cure for diabetes, though we’re hopeful a cure or a better treatment will happen soon).  Lola Cruz Mysteries sold to Thomas Dunne Books / Minotaur Books, St. Martin’s Press. http://misaramirez.com/  There are two, so far.  The first, Living the Vida Lola, came out last January and got GREAT reviews.  The second, Hasta la Vista, Lola!, comes out on February 2nd, got 4 1/2 stars from RT Book Reviews, and a killer review from Publisher’s Weekly.  http://misaramirez.com/the-countdown-is-on/

Do I believe it was the Fairy Wishes that did the trick?

Not entirely, but I  definitely believe in the power of positive thinking. I believe in making my own destiny. I believe in luck. And I believe in hard work. Mainly hard work, which I do, everyday, and in everything I attempt.

Here’s what you need to make your own Fairy Wishes:

Large sheets of blank white paper (one for each person making wishes)

New box of color crayons

Fairy Dust: if you don’t have access to the real thing, or a fair approximation via a novelty store, glitter will do                           

A Fairy Wand

Spend some time drawing pictures and writing words of things you want in your life in the near future. Though my mother and brother are artists, my artistic skills are mediocre, at best, but I was very specific and crammed a lot of wants onto my paper, stick figures and all.  Say some sort of incantation aloud (this can be like writing and saying your own wedding vows...just make it come from the heart!).  Then burn the paper, sending the wishes into the fairy realm, the universe, or whatever you want to call it.

That’s all there is to it. 

Here’s my question to all of you: Do you make Fairy Wishes?  Leave me a comment to be entered into a drawing to win a a Lola Cruz t-shirt.  (Just a side note: you really MUST do Fairy Wishes with a group--in fact, I’m dying to know if the Tarts have gotten together and done them!) 


Weird Crimes

Weird Crime

by Nancy   Go to fullsize image

On the crime blotter this morning, there's a headline that somebody broke into a local high school and stole . . . a meat slicer.

Perhaps the oddest part of this story is that somebody felt the need to alert the media, and local television stations are reporting it.

As a mystery writer, I'm of course delighted to hear about this kind of crime. It provides fodder for amusing subplots and character background.  Really, who steals a meat slicer?  And why?  What news producer felt this story should be a big lead?  The imagination just takes off like a rocket, doesn't it?

Also this week is the story of the hairdresser who shot her dissatisfied customer in the "rear upper thigh" during a scuffle because the customer was going ballistic about an unflattering hair weave.  At her sentencing, the hairdresser was astonished to learn that her .38 is considered a "deadly weapon."  The local newspaper quoted her as saying about her customer:  "That 38 caliber didn't even take her down."

So today, let's share small town crime.  I, for one, need inspiration for my book in progress.  Anyone?

January 15, 2010

A New Decade and the World Looks to -- New Jersey?

A New Decade, and the World Looks to -- New Jersey?

 Alternative title:  Sex, Dope, and Rockin' Robots? Gotta Be Jersey.

By Kathy Sweeney, a southerner

Blog stone-harbor-njLet me begin by saying I have spent many happy days in New Jersey, at the beaches, and many frustrating minutes in New Jersey, at the toll booths.  When The Sopranos took a trip to the Pine Barrens, I knew exactly where they were.  [Note:  That Russian is still out there.  Just sayin']. My family has been vacationing in Stone Harbor, New Jersey since I was a kid.  I have the T-shirts to prove it.  Stone Harbor is at the southern tip of New Jersey, between Ocean City and Cape May. Nothing exciting is happening down there, which is fine with me.  

Blog NJ mapBut let's look north - yes, I know it's a small state, but as you will see, north Jersey is a different world.  We'll start in Hoboken, the site of our first stop - Carlo's Bakery - home of the TLC show "Cake Boss".  TLC used to be "The Learning Channel".  Now it's more like the Side Show Channel.  Hey - I am a very, very short person.  I think it's great that little people are finding more work in show biz.  But really - if a person can get her own show just from being a short candy maker, then I should be in their fall line up.  Pick any or all of the following for the title: "My Short Fat Loud Cake-Addicted Smartass Life".  But I digress.  

Blog cake boss Cake Boss is the manic cousin to The Food Network hit, Ace of Cakes.  It's a bakery run by a big Italian family. They make amazing cakes, and they are very loud about it.  There is yelling and cake-in-the-birthday-face hijinks.  They throw stuff, including cake.  Then Mama Valastro swoops in, smacks people upside the head, tells them to hug, and then sends them back to work.  We love this show.

Next stop, Trenton, the state capitol, where they recently denied gays the right to marry but made medical marijuana legal.  This news will get mixed reviews in Hoboken, where the Valastro family includes much-loved openly gay cousins, and the risk of weed to the boisterous pranks could break the show.  I mean, we already have Geoff at Charm City Cakes, man.

Blog roxxyLincoln Park is next on our tour.  Never heard of it?  I'm surprised, because the sounds coming from the "lab" there had to have been pretty entertaining the last couple of years.  It's the home of the first Sex Robot, Roxxxy. Roxxxy was unsheathed last week in Las Vegas, where two mighty powers collided:  The Porn Show - oops - The Adult Entertainment Expo - and the Consumer Electronics Show.  Coincidence or marketing genius?  Ask a geek, and you'll have your answer.  It was the perfect place to introduce Roxxxy, a combination of high tech and down low.  I am not a man, so bear with me - the 'best thing' about Roxxy is that she will talk to her companion.  Uh huh.  Because if I am going to shell out $9K for a sex toy, I'm really concerned about her vocabulary.  This was almost a whole separate blog - can you imagine writing the script for this project? The mind reels.

Blog mtv-jersey-shore  Which brings us to our final destination - the finest jewel in north Jersey's crown (I'm telling you this stuff writes itself): Jersey Shore.  It's a reality show on MTV.  Which seems confusing, since it's not a talent show. Apparently there is no more Music in Music TeleVision.  It's set in Seaside Heights, a north Jersey beach town.  They brought in self-identified "guidos and guidettes" from a multi-state area and put them in a beach house.  As a proud Italian American, I am not offended by this show.  Why?  Because these kids don't act out because they are part Italian - they do it because they are (cough-stupid-cough) kids getting a free ride at a beach house in North Jersey plus they get to be on TV.  Duh.  

Blog jersey shore 4The show is a rear window to a segment of society many of us have never seen.  The boys primp more than the girls.  I've never met any guy in real life who's schedule revolved around GTL (gym, tan, laundry). One of the guys is in the process of trade-marking his nickname, "The Situation".  The Situation is all about looking good and hooking up, but only if the girl is pretty enough - and thin enough, to suit.  In my town, a guy likes this gets smacked down by the first girl he tries to pick up.  Then her friends mock him until he cries.

The girls slouch around in their sweat pants until it's time to go out.  They refuse to clean up after the boys. In one infamous episode, one of the girls (code name: Snooki aka Snickers aka "I felt like making out and the girl was closer to me than the guy, so I made out with her") got punched in the face by some random jag in a bar.  She was traumatized.  But not so much that she didn't want to get in on a girl fight in a bar the next time they went out.  Reason for the fight?  The F Word.  That's right, Fat.  Drop the F Word towards one of these babes, and you best hang on to your hair extensions.

It's a train wreck, and I dare you to look away.  They scream, they fight, they kiss and make up.  They drink, they fool around in the roof-top hot tub (no chemistry majors in that crew - can you imagine the petri dish of that thing? - It gives me a rash just thinking about it.) Unlike our robot friend Roxxxy, their means of communication seems to require that they drop the F-bomb at least once per phrase. (Words of comfort to Snooki after she got punched: "You know we f#@*'n love you, right?  This guy will never f*@&'n walk in this town again.  F*&#"n hit a F*@#'n girl?  You godda be F@#*'n kiddin' me here.") They pick up people at clubs, then sort them out when they get back to the house.  Sometimes this sorting process involves local law enforcement.  They live on the beach but they go to tanning salons (no real readers in the bunch, either, since tanning booths are like a sign-up sheet for cancer).  Come to think of it, I don't think I've seen so much as a magazine, let alone a book, on that show.  Hmmmm.  

I could go on - and indeed I have.  Because sometimes you need to focus on the ridiculous. This week, our fellow men, women and children in Haiti are suffering.  To the extent you can, please find a way to help. Then count your blessings, and include the fact that you didn't vacation in North Jersey last summer.

January 14, 2010

The Art Lover

The Art Lover


by Nancy    Go to fullsize image


   President Obama has “made the Oval Office is own” by finally removing the knickknacks and art that reflected his predecessor’s taste.  He has okayed a few items that show his own style:  A bust of Martin Luther King, some Native American pottery, a couple of Impressionist paintings.


   At our house, I’m just glad the Christmas decorations are put away. Does the house reflect my taste?  Maybe not as much as my state of mind as the new year gets started. I like a clean, stream-lined house in January, perhaps because that’s always the month when I really bear down on my March deadline.  I don’t want to be dusting knickknacks or cleaning up leaves dropped from poinsettia plants or otherwise busying myself taking care of high maintenance decorating when I really need to be concentrating on getting this d%*@! book under control.


   Although I don’t have access to the collection at the National Gallery, I do like to rotate the art work in my house, too.  I have a modest collection of paintings—stuff that’s mostly landscapes because that’s what I like. (Cliché that annoys artists more than anything: “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”) (Come to think of it, do you suppose I like landscapes because I spend most of my time indoors now?  At a computer?) 


 One of my favorites, an oil painting of a Virginia barn, hangs by the front door because it’s small (the painting, not the door) and it gets dwarfed anywhere else. 



   I also love an oil painting of our local park, which my daughter bought from a local artist for me for my birthday a couple of years ago.  DSC00637


  The painting that I own that makes me smile the most, though, is perhaps doesn't have the most artistic value. It's a watercolor of an Amish farm auction painted by an amateur artist friend, who included herself in the foreground.  “I made myself taller and thinner,” she told me when I bought the painting.  No kidding.  I recognize her in her favorite blue polyester pantsuit among all those Amish men bidding on a pitchfork, and I get a big smile on my face every time I look at her there on the farm. I can't provide a photo because my camera conked out at the wrong moment. Sorry.


  Here’s the most valuable piece we own. It's an old Audubon print of a turkey. 



   Sorry, again--you'll have to squinch your head sideways, because I'm having trouble with Mr. Typepad.  It’s a picture of a really, really ugly bird, and it used to hang on the wall in our TV room.  But we got a flat screen TV for Christmas (See it?  Huge, huh?) and the only place to hang the set is where the turkey was.  The turkey is so big, he really doesn’t fit anywhere else in the house.  Funny story about the turkey:  It was given to my father and mother upon their engagement, by my father’s ex-girlfriend.  My mother kept the print in its folio in the attic for 40 years, so it’s really crispy now.  She gave it to me eventually, because she didn’t want it in her house. Because it’s ugly?  Or because it came from the ex-girlfriend?  The story is part of the reason I keep an ugly, non-landscape picture around.


   When I was a kid, my dad redecorated his office by buying some pictures.  He was a lawyer, and interior of the brick, Federal-style townhouse where he practiced reflected lawyerly stuff like fox hunting.  (The closest he ever came to killing a fox was nearly running one over with his car one night coming home from a Chamber of Commerce meeting.)  In addition to all those horses and hounds, he bought an oil painting (a copy, of course) of a famous Dutch still life depicting fruit and a pipe.  I'm sure you've seen this picture. It features an ember that has fallen out of the pipe, and it smolders on a piece of parchment paper.  I remember this painting very clearly because I just knew that paper was going to burst into flame any minute! (I bet this is what art experts call "tension" in a painting, right?) So much for a peaceful still life!  It was the first time a piece of art stimulated a gut reaction in me.


   Also when I was a child, there was a large fruit market in my town, and we passed it regularly on the route from our house on the edge of the borough to Main Street.  In addition to fruit, for reasons I still don’t understand, the market sold velvet paintings, which they hung from the ceiling with ropes and pulleys.  Elvis and JFK were the most popular subjects.  I was fascinated by these paintings, hanging over the bananas, mostly because they made my mother furious. “So tacky!” she’d mutter as she paid for apples.  At age 8, I didn’t understand tacky.  Elvis and JFK had soulful eyes, though.  Memorable.


   Now, when we visit art museums, my family plays the game of “If you were allowed to take one item home from this museum, what would it be?”  This game is a way of getting people (like my husband) to enjoy themselves when they really don’t want to spend several hours standing around looking at pictures during football season.  The last time we were in the Metropolitan in NYC, I picked a Gauguin painting of nearly naked women in Tahiti, because we were there (New York, not Tahiti) during a blizzard. The painting looks like hot weather, doesn't it?


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Also, I liked the dog.


   For my new book, I was inspired by a NYTimes story of how an ancient Greek statue went from standing poolside at a family’s Palm Beach house (how it got there in the first place is the real story) to the hall of sculpture at the Met.  Only in my book, I moved the statue from Florida to Pittsburgh, and made it a naked man, not a woman swathed in a toga.  (I’m sorry when stories about art are reduced to how much things are worth, but that’s how it works in detective fiction sometimes.  Also, the naked element was thrown in for fun.  So sue me.)  Here's a photo I was hoping the art department would use for the cover, but no luck:

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  It would've sold books, right? 


  Meanwhile, like President Obama, I enjoy having art around me.  When I retire (hahahahhahaha!) I hope to take some classes and actually learn something about it.  I took the usual Art in the Dark courses in college, but mostly I remember falling asleep as soon as the lights went out.  That’s the way college is supposed to be, right?


  Do you have real art in your house?  I'm not above using fakes.  (Because I like Impressionists, I have a poster in my dining room that advertises a Manet exhibit we visited long ago.  It's not real, but it's pretty.)  Whenever I can, though, I like something that's been actually created by the hands of an artist.  It seems more personal that way.  I envy President Obama.  Imagine working in an office with the real stuff hanging on your walls, standing on your tables.  Pretty cool.

January 13, 2010

Frigid Florida Kilt My Good Time

By Elaine Viets    Ice 

I want my property tax money back. I’ve been scammed by the state of Florida. I expected the hurricanes, the crooked politicians, the crime and the crazy drivers.


That is the implied contract we have with Florida. As I write this, it’s 35 degrees and I had to dig out a sweater. It itches. My fingers are numb. This is an unnatural state, even in an unnatural state like Florida.

I can hear those of you who live in really cold climates with two or three feet of snow laughing your wool socks off. Thirty-five is a spring day for you.

It used to feel warm to me, too, when I lived in St. Louis. I never liked the cold. It wasn’t invigorating. Sitting in a freezer doesn’t invigorate. Then Don and I discovered Florida. It was warm all year long. The summers were contenders for the Hinges of Hell contest. At worst, we had maybe one or two chilly days. But we didn’t have week-long cold snaps.

This winter is the coldest in more than 80 years. It's so cold the media reports iguanas are dropping out of the trees. (Their blood doesn’t circulate when the temperature is under 40 degrees.) Farmers are struggling to save their crops. Manatees are huddling together around the power plant water outlets to stay warm.

I’m sorry about the crops. We’ll all pay for that loss with higher produce prices. I hope the huddling manatees beat the cold. But I am a firm believer in Cute Animal Rights, so I don’t care if the big lizards all fall down and freeze.  

Besides, I’ve suffered, too. Saturday was the 27th annual Southeast Florida Scottish Festival & Highland Games in Fort Lauderdale. I go every year. I love the sound of the pipes – and the look of men in kilts.

Bag piper Hey, between Hooters and football cheerleaders, I’m entitled to some equal ogling. I don’t embarrass myself by drooling, heckling, or hitting on kilted dudes. I simply stare tastefully behind dark sunglasses and hope I don’t get caught.

Muscular men in kilts are a common female fantasy, a staple of romance novels. Maybe it’s a version of the old idea that women love men in uniforms. And I really do like bagpipe music. Scot romance

Albannach The Fort Lauderdale Festival also brings in offbeat non-traditional bagpipe bands. This year, one was Albannach, http://www.albannachmusic.com/. This Texas-based Celtic hard rock band has wild men and warrior women playing pipes, drums, even an Australian didgeridoo. With their muscles and tatts, the band looks like they’d spend their nights breaking the heads in biker bars, but do they have energy.

The festival had traditional bands, hard-rock pipe bands, Weight Over the Bar and caber-tossing. That’s kilted folk tossing telephone poles and throwing huge metal weights. With a lineup like that, what could go wrong?

It got cold. Thirty-five degrees. Too cold for kilts and muscle shirts. The tattoos were covered with rain slickers. To compound the misery, it rained. Try watching hot men in a cold shower. The caber tossing area was slick with mud. The metal weights were wet and slippery.

Because it was cold, I could see what the guys were wearing under their kilts. And it didn’t have a blue ribbon on it, like the old song claims.

I saw men marching in kilts and long white underwear. Men and women in kilts and jeans. Women in kilts and clam diggers. (Woman up. You’re supposed to be fierce females.) One piper marched in a kilt and pajama bottoms.

I hope his jammies didn’t have feet in them.

January 12, 2010

Fat is the New Black

By Sarah

You know Hard Times are still upon us when you open the New York Times recently and see this:

 These are the models from a special issue - it's always a "special issue" - of V, the "Size" issue featuring - are you ready ladies? - so called "plus size models" wearing size 12 and even 14. Quel scandal?

For most women, the only scandal would be labeling size 12 as "plus," when, as any rack in Macy's proves, Twig  it is the most common size worn. It's not our mothers' size 12, however, because that's when sizes were honest. In our mothers' day, a size 12 was narrower by a long shot, maybe a size 6 today. But back then, in the 1950s and '60s, thin women (think Twiggy) were in because in the 1950s and '60s, as with the late '90s, this country was in a boom.

Hard times ain't a comin'. They're a here. Because in lean times, men love fat women.

Is this true? According to an article last week in Psychology Today, yes and no. Now anyone who's taken a Sociology 101 course is aware that in cultures where resources are scarce, fat women are valued. The odds are in a fat woman's favor to carry a fetus to term and nurture it after it's born. The question has been whether this phenomenon translates to financial hard times. Here. In the land of Sex and the Skinny City.

What researchers found was that ...the study sucks. There, I said it. In some cultures, yes, hard financial times lead to a craving for higher BMI. But when they redid the study by showing men photos of all sorts of women, men still went for the 20 to 21 BMI ratio. Which goes to show you, men who volunteer for psychological studies are idiots.

Frankly, I'm more interested in this V "Size" section and also what Karl Lagerfeld supposedly once said,Karl   that, "no one wants to see curvy women." 

Here's a picture of Karl Lagerfeld. Now you know why curvy women don't want to see him.

My question, and my fantasy, is that women such as those above would be normal everyday models, not just "plus size" for special issues and that they'd wear something a bit more flattering than asymmetrical sweaters that come down to their crotches or leopard-print body suits and high heels.

I have had two relatives, sweet innocent girls, now women, battle bulimia and anorexia each and, from what I understand, that's not a war that's ever completely won. As far as I can tell, all men thirty and younger are under the impression that women are a)hairless b)bleached in places where one would never, ever apply Clorox and c) size 0s. 

These disconnects, between men yearning for skinny women and skinny women starving themselves to death, does not, I fear, bode well for the human race. Neither does the other end of the equation, the huge numbers of morbidly obese people in both genders.

So wouldn't it make sense to strike a "healthy" medium by featuring so-called plus size women 70% of the time? After all, considering the camera adds ten pounds, I doubt the average person would classify the size 12 women featured above as "fat." I bet they'd look, you know, normal. I mean, outside of South Beach.

Barring that, it'd be really fun to get all the fatties together and gang up on Karl. Now THAT would be a photo shoot.