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31 posts from October 2011

October 11, 2011

Bad Dog

By Sarah

When it comes to the behavior of our own dogs, I think many of us lead with our hearts over our heads. But now that my own head almost got bitten off the other day, I'm rethinking this whole Dogs Rule thing, especially when that dog's known as a Chinese Fighter.

This is what happened: I got out of my car on busy State Street this weekend - a lovely, Indian Summer day - and stepped on the sidewalk where a really interesting looking dog was resting, feet first ON THE SIDEWALK - this is important.

.....Here is a picture of the breed in resting formation.Chinese Shar Pei Girl

Sam was with me and I said, "Hey, what a cool looking dog. I'm going to ask the owner what kind it is." Since, you know, we've been on the lookout for a new big dog now that Ben, our gentle mutt, has gone to the great hunting ground in the sky. 

The owner was a young woman, late 20s, eating outside at a restaurant here in Montpelier - jeans, flannel shirt, just a little past college stage. She was at the table near the sidewalk, a pink leash connecting the dog to a wrought iron fence. As I passed over the dog to ask her what kind, I said to the dog, "What a beautiful pooch you are...."

Instantly, the dog was in my face. It was like something out of a cartoon. One minute it was looking up at me with blinking brown eyes, the next minute it was leaping toward my throat and gnashing its teeth, the metal choke collar being the only thing holding it back. Holy shit!

"You startled her,"  the woman said. Not, oh, I'm sorry. Or, down Sheila. But..."You startled her. She is, after all, a Shar Pei."

 She IS after all a Shar Pei? What does that even mean? In 1978 the Shar Pei was voted the rarest dog on Earth so pardon me for not possessing working knowledge of a Shar Pei's quirks. Retrievers wander and like water and tennis balls. Labs are dumb but loyal. Basset hounds (like mine) even dumber and far less loyal though funny. Jack Russell terriers, smart. Greyhounds, fast. Bulldogs, hard to breed. Newfs, noble. These traits I understand.

But a Shar Pei will bite your head off if you say hello on a street?

Also, may I just say Montpelier has a lot of dogs tied up here and there. It's that kind of hippie place. I have yet to meet an unfriendly one and do you know why? Because people with unfriendly dogs LEAVE THEIR DOGS AT HOME. 

So, back to the scene. All conversation at the restaurant has stopped. I, of course, feel like a fool because I didn't know a) what a Shar Pei looked like or b) that they're easily startled and that c) I have broken some sort of unspoken ettiquette about dog introduction.

"She's never bitten anyone," the woman continued. "She's really a nice dog."

Again...do I care? No. I now do not want a Shar Pei. I am not interested in one as a pet. Nor, do I want to hear the whole history of the Shar Pei evolution as my eyes twinkle in admiration. What I want to do is tell this woman that she should be damn glad I wasn't stupid enough to try to pet this dog on the sidewalk. Or that I wasn't a little kid intrigued by a genuinely cool wrinkly dog face. 

By the way, this is the story of the Shar Pei. They are considered dangerous breeds more likely to attack, such as pit bulls. (Pit bull owners will also tell you their dogs are lovely and I sure they are --- to their owners.) Shar Peis were bred for fighting, though the Shar Pei industry claims modern ones are more for "guarding." They are also really, really expensive.

Frankly, it's hard to believe that a dog that starts off this cute could be nasty:  Shar pei puppy

But to tell you the truth, I'm kind of sick of mean dogs, even if they are wrinkly or beautiful.

For example, there was a dog in our neighborhood that used to terrorize Fred. I'd be taking him for a walk - on a leash - and this dog would patrol his own property in the woods. We'd cross the road and keep to ourselves and still this akita would dash out and pounce. Once, it got Fred on his back with its jaw on Fred's throat. (Fortunately, there's a lot of skin there.) After this happened twice, I actually waited for the owners to pull out of the driveway, stood in front of their pickup truck and said, "Look. I should be able to walk down a street without being attacked by your dog."

They laughed. As did the woman who owned the Shar Pei after I walked away, hands up in disgust. (Perhaps that burned me more than anything.)

Finally - and, yes, I know this is a rant - why do people own mean dogs like this? If it's for protection, shouldn't they be behind electric fences? How horrible would you feel if your dog ran out and hurt someone, especially a child or an elderly person?

Okay...so that's where I stand on the issue. How about you? I am open to any and all enlightenment. Cute Still, when it comes to dogs, I say let's stick to nice ones like these...there are so many.



October 10, 2011

"Dream Date"

by Heather

Dolphin_dream_date--amazing_leap_by_Santini Two years ago I attended Founder's Day with my friend, author Mary Stella, who’s also head of marketing and media for Dolphin Research Center, down on Grassy Key, in the Marathon, the Florida Keys. I love the place. I love the affection they have for their animals, I love the research they do--and I love the way they do their research. . . and so, I wound up bidding on (and winning) the "Dream Date," not really sure what a "dream date" might be.

Well, life has a tendency to intrude on . . . life. The DRC pinned me down to a date, and so I put aside work and headed off to the Keys with friend (and author) Kathy Pickering. 

I am not a Pisces for nothing--I dive, I swim, I love boats, reefs, sea creatures, and, most of all, sea mammals. I love the feeling I get when we start on the eighteen mile "stretch" that crosses Lake Surprise (seriously, I don't know why they were surprised there was lake) and the signs that warn you of Gator Crossings and the feel of breeze and the beauty of the water, just as you drive down. I love reaching Key Largo, which is built up, has lots of boating and diving opportunities and is the opiate of choice for many Floridians--you can be there from central Miami-Dade in an hour. I love the more lonely middle Keys, and the total insanity and history of Key West.

I may never love anything as much as the Dolphin Research Center.

I'd never imagined how wonderful our day would be. On a standard dolphin swim, you learn about Dolphin dream date--Jane, me, Kathy, Mandy and Santini dolphins and you share your experience with other people--most swims accommodate six. You get your chance to touch, and dance with or perhaps hug or kiss a dolphin, 30 to 45 minutes in the water. 

But a whole day . . . 

We worked first with Linda Erb, VP of Animal Care and Training. We learned the dolphins are given water, because the fish they’re fed don't contain the amount of water found in live fish. (They do catch fish themselves, but their diet comes mostly from their trainers.) We saw how willing they were to accept their water tubes, and also how they seemed to appreciate the care they received for cuts they received from just swimming around or rough-housing with each other. 

Dolphin_tow_with_the_babies We started with the babies. We learned how the mothers watch over their young ones, swimming by to check us out. At any time, the dolphins are free to swim away from their trainers. Yes, they work for fish -- but for attention and affection from their trainers as well. Linda has been there 27 years, and they greet her as warmly as my pups greet me when I come into the house. With Linda giving us instructions, we learned the signals the "babies," Flagler and Gambit, are learning at the same time. 

Next, we worked with slightly older "children," Delta and Luna, who are almost two. Kathy and I got to be the first non-real trainers the "children" have ever taken on dorsal tows, and there were false starts, but we all learned together, and it was amazing. 

We exited the water, and I was sad, thinking my time was over . . .

But, then--there's more!

Next we worked with the "boys," Kibby and Tanner. I'm particularly fond of Tanner. I was there right after he was born several years ago. Tanner pretends that he remembers me, and we work on signals, and feed them fish and ice (they love ice!) and I'm thinking once again, this has been wonderful . . .

But it's only beginning. Mandy Rodriguez, co-founder and COO, is there to work with us, too. The Dolphin dream date--the babies flying high dolphins are his children; long ago, the place had been Flipper's school; several of the dolphins today are movie stars as well. Mandy wanted to learn about dolphins and teach the world. He didn't want circus tricks; he wanted a real research center, where, yes, they entertain guests, but so much more. There’s an autistic boy there on our dream date day, as the dolphins work with those who need their therapeutic presence. Soldiers, back from trauma, swim with the dolphins, along with other special needs individuals. They've published their findings, and done some of the first "recognition" research, and proven numerous theories regarding the remarkable intelligence of the animals. 

This is a most unusual place; many of the trainers stay forever. It's a family, dolphins included. They are never sold; Mandy would not split up old friends. Dolphins come and dolphins stay. I asked Mandy about hurricanes. When storms come, all the gates are open. The dolphins are free to protect themselves at sea. Every single dolphin has always returned to the center when the danger has passed.

Dolphin dream date--me and a hug from Santini Santini is an extraordinary dolphin. She enjoys people as much as people enjoy her. As a group, Kathy, Mandy, Linda, and I went in with Santini. A dream date? I definitely fell in love. Santini was happy to play, do dorsal tows, backward tows, foot-push tows. She loved to hang around for kisses, and she was even fond of hugs. She's ticklish, and loved to be scratched right on the upper chest. When Kathy and I made mistakes, Santini was training us how to train. 

Dolphin Research Center takes in dolphins and other creatures that can no longer be kept at their original homes, or have been so injured that they can’t return to the wild. Louis breaks my heart, rescued from New Orleans, a victim of the oil spill. Only the diligent care and patience of those who helped in the crisis saved Louis's life. If you've seen what the spill did to birds, fish, and sea mammals, you can well imagine.

Ajax . . . Ajax will never really be whole. He was bitten several times by a bull shark. Students at a Florida University research center studied his injuries along with the jaws and bite precision of many sharks to make that determination. He was young when he was rescued, and they believe his mother was killed in her attempts to save him--a mother dolphin is an excellent mom.

Dolphin dream date--Kathy, Heather, and karen, the blind seal Another creature that needed a bit of saving? Karen, the blind sea lion. I'm in awe as I watch the way Mandy’s daughter Kelly works with Karen. Her voice is soft and filled with humor and affection. Karen came from a facility where she had outgrown her usefulness, but she had been trained for many tricks. Re-training her so that she doesn't perform at the slightest touch has kept Kelly busy. Karen has received surgery on their eyes, and they believe they can restore some of her sight. She is fun--and obviously loves Karen so much that she's even happy to have Kathy and me.

If you're ever in the Florida Keys, come by. You don't have to swim; you can watch, you can learn. There are beautiful birds here, friendly neighborhood cats, a "splash" zone for children. It's totally nonprofit--you can also find the little square memorials or honorary plaques in the trail that I have there for my mom, dad, stepfather, brother-in-law, and sister. 

Most of all, you'll find an experience with dolphins that's amazingly human. 

I want to do it all again, and again, and again . . . . 

If only all dream dates could be so wonderful! Dolphin dream date--smooch with santini


October 09, 2011

The Great Playboy Scandal

By Elaine Viets

Buny photo The furor over the "Playboy Club" TV series reminded me of another scandal involving the cottontailed menace.

I’m not sure how you say Playboy in Latin, but I may be one of the few people outside the priesthood who studied that language in high school.

Latin, they said, would build character and discipline. I was a character, all right, but I had no more discipline than any other fifteen year old.

Latin, they said, give me a base to learn other Romance languages.Also wrong. After Latin, I floundered around in Spanish class. Today, I can barely order a taco in a Mexican restaurant.

I have no ear for languages. I took Latin for Mr. Henderson’s right eyebrow.

Mr. Henderson taught Latin at our Catholic high school in Florissant, Mo. In a desert of neutered nuns and priests, he was unbearably handsome. He was tall and well-muscled and looked like Sean Connery as James Bond – not that I could see one of those movies. They were banned by the Church.Sean-connery8

He had a way of cocking his right eyebrow that was positively wicked. Amo, amas, amat that eyebrow.

The curl that hung down his forehead like a question mark wasn’t bad, either.

Best of all, Mr. Henderson didn’t do any phony flirting. He just talked about his great love, Latin. He sincerely loved that language. I sincerely loved his eyebrow.

It led me through Caesar’s long, dull campaigns. "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres . . . All Gaul is divided into three parts," he translated, raising that eyebrow like a bridge.

I crossed over it to slog through innumerable accounts of the Romans and their booty. They didn’t shake it, they took it.

It didn’t matter. I would follow that eyebrow anywhere.

And so went the most curious Latin class in history – row after row of lovesick schoolgirls and a couple of guys who were going to be priests.

It was a situation ripe for trouble. Sure enough, Mr. Henderson got himself into the great Playboy bunny scandal. Bunny logo

It started when we heard Mr. Henderson was engaged. We were shocked. It couldn’t be true. That eyebrow couldn’t belong to another woman.

Then the rumor spread through the school: Mr. Henderson was engaged to marry a Playboy bunny. With blond hair.

If it was true, it was really scandalous. It was a sin just to read Playboy magazine. God knows what would happen if you married a real, live bunny. I tried to imagine that eyebrow next to a blond bombshell in a cantilevered bunny suit with a fluffy tail. My eyes crossed.

The debate raged among the students at school. Was Mr. Henderson committing a sin? Would that eyebrow be twitching in hellfire?

Finally, someone was brave enough to bring it up in religion class, where we debated many great issues. We settled the question of what to do if we were adrift on the ocean in a lifeboat with three people. Could we eat one to save our own life?

The answer was no. All four had to die.

Personally, I planned to eat the weakest passenger and go to confession later. But I felt the chances of this happening in the Midwest were slim. So far, I hadn’t seen a lifeboat, much less an ocean.

Anyway, one brave student asked the teacher if it was OK for Mr. Henderson to marry a Playboy bunny. Without actually saying it, the young inquisitor gave the impression the woman was a walking occasion of sin.

The teacher raised both eyebrows at once, something even Mr. Henderson never did. Her eyes bulged. Her lips wiggled like worms on a hook. She struggled not to laugh.

Finally, she said something like what Mr. Henderson did in Holy Matrimony had the blessings of the Church. I can’t remember her exact words. They were too painful.

But I knew this for sure: Latin was a dead language.


October 08, 2011

The Fifty-Dollar Tomato

The Fifty-Dollar Tomato

By Brunonia Barry

50 Dollar Tomato

Okay, so we’re city folk. Or were. But then we bought a house in Salem, MA and it came with a back yard. A big one. The kind of yard that stretches from one street to another, and the kind you have to do something with like actually mowing the grass once in a while, or, failing that, at least trying to grow some grass. So this was our year for landscaping, and we decided to do it ourselves. There was one challenge. While are beautiful big old trees in our back yard, there is no sunlight except on our deck. So we planted hostas and lace cap hydrangeas, tons of them, and, thankfully, they’re all still alive.

But then I had this bright idea.  We should have a kitchen garden, in containers, on our deck. We bought herbs and planted them in window boxes: Basil, sage, rosemary, mint, more basil. We watered. They grew. And everything was fine, until I had another brainstorm: “Let’s grow tomatoes.”

It sounded like a good idea at the time. It would be a container garden. We had some huge pots we could use. We bought heirloom tomato plants. We added fertilizer. They started to grow. We bought wire things to support them. They grew again. We bought bigger wire things to support them. By the end of the summer, the plants were taller than my husband, who is 6’6”.

The plants were strong and healthy, but there were no tomatoes. I take that back. Out of three, seven-foot plants, there were exactly two tomatoes. One of them was hopelessly deformed and rotting from the bottom up. The other, we harvested this morning. It’s a pretty nice tomato. It had better be. When we did our cost-benefit analysis, we figured that one tomato was worth about fifty dollars.  

Now, I make a mean tomato pie. It takes basil (we have a heck of a lot of basil) and chives (have those too) and a ton of tomatoes (which, of course we don’t have). But I was determined to make that pie, so my husband and I set out for the farmer’s market in downtown Salem to buy our lone tomato some companions. Just a quick trip… or so we thought. I was so enthusiastic about the prospect of tomato pie that I hadn’t remembered one important detail. It’s October!

It’s that time of year again in Salem, the Halloween capital of the world. Witches, pirates, goblins and (God help us) anyone sporting bloody body parts rule the road. You can’t get a parking space to save your life. On a normal day in Salem (is there any such a thing, you ask?) our population is about 40,000. On any given day in October, it could be as high as 350,000.

Of course, we needed a parking space right in the middle of things, and, of course that was going to be impossible. Halfway downtown, we realized it would have been easier and faster to walk, but we were already stuck in traffic, surrounded by road raging residents, a few zombies, and a grandmother driving a Mini and wearing a costume that, from my vantage point, looked like the chest of drawers from Beauty and the Beast. She fought us for the one available space on the street, and won.  When she got out of her car, I realized that she was dressed as a grilled cheese sandwich.

We ended up parking half a mile away on the other side of the Common and walking back on Essex Street. The pedestrian walkway starts at the Peabody Essex Museum and is lined with multiple witch shops. It's interesting any time of year, but October adds a dramatic street theater / costume party element. We didn’t see the usual Bridget Bishop re-enactor being dragged through the streets (Bridget was the first of Salem’s accused witches back in 1692, and they reenact her trial several times a day for the tourists). We did see several witches, a proselytizing minister trying to save some souls, and this gentleman:  

Putting the Bite on Brunonia Barry

As we approached the farmer’s market, we passed an old dog, wandering by, dragging his leash. He was moving so slowly that, at first, I thought it was someone in a dog costume, but no, this was a real dog, and his owner was nowhere to be found.  We have a sixteen-year-old Golden Retriever we treasure, so we’re suckers for an old dog, or a lost dog, or any dog actually, so we had to stop. We looked around for his owner. We waited. Guessing that the dog had come from the Farmer’s Market, we finally led him in that direction. He stopped at every tree along the way.

Salem Farmer's Market

The market was crowded. We scanned the area. Finally, we spotted a booth that was selling dog biscuits. We figured it was a good place to start. At least they were dog lovers, They’d help figure things out.

They knew the dog immediately. He belonged to one the farmers. He was evidently a great escape artist. As a reward, the woman selling the dog biscuits gave us an assortment of every flavor for our Golden Retriever. The runaway dog would get his biscuits later, so as not to reward his truancy. He didn’t want to have his picture taken. He wasn’t in the mood.

Our good deed done, we did a bit of shopping. We came home with seven pears, six ears of corn, amd a pumpkin. We had become so involved in finding the dog’s owner that we forgot what we had come for, the tomatoes.

We considered going back, but decided against it. The Haunted Happenings Parade was about to start and there was a 5PM ban on street parking. People were already lining the sidewalks. After that, it would be the candlelight vampire hearse tour, followed by a zombie pub crawl . We figure we probably won’t see downtown again until early November.

Do you have any fall traditions in your town? Do you celebrate any Halloween rituals? Have you ever tried to grow your own tomatoes?

Obviously we’re not having tomato pie tonight. I’m looking for a recipe that features corn and pears. Our fifty-dollar tomato will be sliced and served au natural, with just a little olive oil and some of our bumper crop of basil. Our sixteen year old Golden Retriever, who is normally up and begging for any dinner dish we’re preparing, is ignoring our fruit and veggie entrée. He’s in the corner of the kitchen, happily chomping on his biscuits.


October 07, 2011

In Which Something Odd Happens


SO! As the title intimates: Something odd happened.

Ftk electrical thing

See this thing? It is a big node-y box of electrical wire hook ups and mysterious magicness, like a HUB, or something. Okay fine. I tried to front like an electrical playa, but I don’t know what this little cluster of stuffs is. There are a LOT OF THEM in the world, and the electricity and cable and maybe phone things and all matter of magical modern-life wires and whatnot goes through them.

The signs all over them probably say, but I have never yet whipped up sufficient interest to read them. I don’t even know what it is called....Mysterious Energy Knobbit? What-ev. We have one in our neighborhood.

Heck, we probably have a buncha; it is a piece of generic scenery, and so I tend to look riiiiight through it, unless it is doing something at that very moment to call my attention, like, say exploding, or perhaps rising up in front of my child’s heedless bicycle as she yells over one shoulder and wobbles off the road, causing her to fall and scrape up her knees.

This one I have pictured above about has never set itself in the path of my personal child’s personal pink bicycle, nor has it exploded, so I had no idea it was THERE. I habitually looked right through it. Kinda like it was squirrels.

You know how you do that? Look through squirrels? Because the yard is full of them, and probably also full of bushes and weeds and rocks and whatnot, but who can pause and look with their eyes with such intensity that they notice every freakin’ squirrel? Sherlock Holmes, maybe, and he was a cokehead. So. Me? I am not Holmes. I am not a cokehead. Put a LLAMA out there. I promise to notice that.

Ftk yard llama

DIGRESSION: There is ONE squirrel I notice because he has a brain disorder; he likes to come up onto our porch and LICK THE BRICKS.

Then the dogs go BUH-ZERK, barking these hysterical high pitched frenzy yarps (Ansley) or these low wooooooooobling tornado warning bays (Bagel).

Both dogs, multiple times a day, become desperate to inform me that EITHER the armies of the damned have indeed risen and are coming across our lawn to crack my open my skull and snarfle out the delicate meat of my brainses, OR that same squirrel is licking the bricks again. One of those.

Ftk zombie squirrel

It is usually the squirrel.

You better believe I notice HIM, the brick-licking, dog-maddening little freak.

Anyway, I did not notice that power box either, until it went and did something extraordinary, which was, “Be attacked by a crazy person with a machete who desired to hack down into its tasty innards and yoink out all the copper wiring to sell.”

I hear this, I IMMEDIATELY think “Meth head.” I think Meth Head for two reasons.

First because this is SO not a good idea for a crime. A person who was NOT on Meth would have better ideas about how to steal. I am not on meth, and I had ten better ideas about how to steal as I TYPED THAT SENTENCE.

SECOND because the ODD THING that happened. I know, right? Copper wire-stealing meth head with a machete AND a brick-addicted squirrel with an oral fixation, and we are JUST NOW getting to the odd thing! Welcome to Friday.

So anyway, SECONDLY, I think METH HEAD because...wait for it... Wait for it... THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REP AT COMCAST TOLD ME IT WAS A METHHEAD.

Let us pause here to give my fellow Comcast customers time to recover from that information. Go on. Breathe into a bag. Pour yourself a stiff and fortifying drink. Fall prostate on your fainting couch and take a big whiff of smelling salts. Whatever you need. We will wait.

Ftk pearls

Ready? No? I can see you are not able to fathom this.

I cannot blame you, really. Let me say it again: I called Comcast to find out why I had no phone, tv, or internet, AND THE CUSTOMER SERVICE REP ACTUALLY TOLD ME WHY I HAD NO SERVICE.

Granted, it was TERRIBLY disturbing to know a meth head WITH A MACHETE was trolling around my generally bland and woodsy and peaceful little neighborhood looking to crack open things that might contain valuable things. Like, say, boxes full of wiring. Or, say, people full of healthy, transplantable kidneys.

But that was not the thing that put the most strain on my credulity.

It was that she responded in a complete sentence with actual information while using a POLITE---even CHEERFUL---tone. While I was still reeling from THAT, she gave me an estimated time when my service would be RESTORED.

Ftk boggle

Those of you who are NOT Comcast customers probably are not getting why the rest of us are so stunned that actual drool strings are falling onto our pants from our unhinged mouths, so let me explain how we feel about Comcast.

Usually, when something is surly, or hateful, or smells particular corpse-like, or is ruining our good time, or causes a violent allergic reaction that almost ends in death, or makes one suicidal, we call that thing, “Comcastic.”

Sample dialog ---

Person 1: Wow, I see what looks like a tidal wave of RAW SEWAGE bearing down on us, so within thirty seconds, we are literally going to drown and die in poop-infested waters. Also, in case we survive, and PS I really I meant to tell you this BEFORE we had all that sex, sorry; I may have Chlamydia.

Person 2: Comcastic!

I am so bedazzled by the light of a polite and helpful Comcast customer service rep that I do not think I have yet fully processed the part about the METH HEAD wandering my neighborhood. WITH. A. MACHETE.

Anyone else have COMCAST? Anyone noticed a SEA CHANGE? Or was this girl an anomaly? Should I buy more guns? Yes? What should I shoot? The squirrel or the dogs or meth heads WITH MACHETES? Do you think the Comcast girl was LYING? How would she know that about the meth head ANYWAY? Was SHE a cokehead? A CHEERY, POLITE cokehead? I am all aflutter.

October 06, 2011

What Part of No . . .

By Elaine Viets   Scarlet Letter                          

"Wanna go up to my room?" Jack asked.

"Huh?" I said.

We were waiting for the doors to open for a hotel banquet. More than a hundred people were packed into the cocktail party before the meal. The room was hot, noisy and uncomfortable.

I was sure I heard wrong. Jack was my friend. Okay, he was someone I talked to at conferences. I liked him.

Jack knew I was married. I’d mentioned Don often enough.

He couldn’t be hitting on me.

He was. Jack invited me up to his hotel room for a quickie.

"I’m married," I said. "I’ve been married forty years."

I thought that staggering number would squash any further attempted friskiness.

"Me, too," he said. "Thirty-two." He grinned like he was proud. Of what?

"Excuse me," I said, and elbowed my way through the crowd to get away from him.

I haven’t lived a sheltered life. I worked some thirty years for newspapers, radio and TV stations. The news business is hardly a ladies’ seminary.

Hotel-key I know adults commit adultery. They also smoke, drink, cheat on their spouses and their expense accounts. I may have stretched some mileage figures but I don’t bed hop.

I take marriage seriously. I’d promised to love and honor Don. I made sure the word "obey" wasn’t in my vows. I wouldn’t swear to anything I couldn’t do. We’d agreed to love each other, and if the marriage didn’t work out, then we’d call it quits. But I wouldn’t make a fool out of my husband.

I’d always thought adultery was about revenge: It was a way for angry cheaters to get back at their spouses.

Many offices are like high school: People run in cliques. The drinkers meet at the same watering hole. The druggies have their own secret signs and signals, and mainly sell pot to one another. One of them, a middle manager I didn’t much like, was known to make a profit off his friends. They bought from him anyway.

The office cheaters were a rather dreary bunch who seemed to enjoy sneaking around. They got their kicks coming back to the office with faces flushed and clothes slightly askew. They enjoyed knowing the staff saw their minivan rockin’ in the company parking lot.Minivan

(Yeah, you read that right. A minivan. They were married with children. Stolen sex among the stale french fries. Gets ya hot, doesn’t it?)

The cheaters weren’t the beautiful people, either. The average adulterer was . . .well, average.

I don’t like displaying my vices in public. Like most of the staff, I went home to my family.

Whenever I started work at a new place, some of the cheaters would hit on me. Once I made it clear I wasn’t interested, they went back to their world and I stayed in mine.

That’s why I was so disappointed and angry with Jack. I’m no femmes fatale. I didn’t flirt with him. I wasn’t wearing a provocative dress. I’d known him for years and thought he was one of my "safe" friends. Now our friendship was over. What the heck was he thinking?

I quietly asked a few trusted female friends. They said Jack had never hit on anyone they knew.

Why did he change?

If I had gone up to his hotel room, what next? Would I have to look at him adoringly the whole conference? Would we run to each other’s rooms at the next convention? Or pretend it never happened?

I have no idea.

That’s why I’m asking you, TLC. Why did Jack suddenly go rogue?Disco sin


October 05, 2011

Call the Roller of Big Cigars

Call the Roller of Big Cigars

by Nancy Martin 

It’s been a month of family visits here at chez Martin. Lots of relatives have been using my house as a launching pad to visit elderly Aunt Nancy perhaps “for the last time.” Mind you, every year, family members make this pilgrimage—that is, every year for ten years, so nobody ever really takes that “for the last time” too seriously. After overcoming numerous medical incidents, Aunt Nancy is still quite perky.

But after the hilarious family stories wind down—we enjoy the way my brother Jock tells the tale of his boyhood hike in the woods with a friend that ended in a forest fire (just a teensy one) that he and his buddy completely didn’t see until they wandered out of the woods with the fish they’d caught but my mother still suspects they started (he swears not. I kinda believe him because although he loves the outdoors, he wasn’t exactly the start-a-fire-from-nothing type back then—I mean, c’mon, he was a doofus at the age of ten)---anyway, after the tall tales peter out, the conversation eventually turns to “end of life” plans.

Does your family talk about this stuff? Because what the rest of us are supposed to do with you after you die a big topic when we get together. I think our obsession with this subject is a result of there being only twelve places left in the family plot, but there plenty more than twelve of us vying for the spaces. (Although I suspect there are family members who have no intention of ending up on a hilltop with the rest of us for eternity, but they’re not speaking up yet.)

Cremation or embalming? Which way do you lean? My dad was adamant about embalming, so that what we did when he passed away. My mother, though, wants to be cremated and buried beside him, but . . . does it seem weird to you that they haven’t chosen the same thing? (My mother, by the way, is very firm about wearing her Do Not Resuscitate bracelet. If she has a nice, fast heart attack, that’s the way she wants to go. If she wakes up after having a stroke, I do not want to be at the bedside for the tongue-lashing, lemme tell you.)

Next decision? Is there something you want to be buried with? Like . . . a family heirloom or photos of loved ones or . . . your scuba mask? (I’m not saying who wants his scuba mask, but . . . his name starts with “J” and he might be my sibling.) Personally, I kinda like the idea of taking my chocolate chip cookie recipe to my grave.

A friend of mine went shopping for a suitable outfit for her mother to be buried in.  Seems the daughter never liked Mom's taste in clothes, so she found a tasteful black suit for her to wear.  On sale, too!

Or if you want to be cremated, is there someplace special you want your remains to end up? My sister chose to spread her first husband’s ashes off the beach of the island where they loved to go snorkeling. (Except she couldn’t quite commit to that decision and also kept some of his ashes on the mantel, and I wonder if her second husband regrets all of the first husband isn’t enjoying the Caribbean.) My cousin Maggie wants her ashes mixed with some kind of concrete product and left underwater to create a reef. (I’m not going to worry about the details of her request, since I am absolutely sure she’s going to outlive me. She’s very healthy.)

My husband wants his ashes spread on a football field.

 Now, since I don’t suppose that’s a request the Steelers are going to approve even if he has been a football official for decades, I sometimes amuse myself by picturing my children boosting each other over the fence in the—er—dead of night to honor his last wish.

What about your funeral? Do you want something tasteful or outlandish? A big noisy wake or a nice memorial service with poetry months after your demise? Here’s the poem I had read at my dad’s funeral. He was a pilot. Not long after he slipped the surly bonds of earth, Ronald Reagan also died, and the same poem was read at his funeral. Which I don't understand since Reagan wasn't a pilot, but my dad would have been pleased. 

 Aunt Nancy has already written her obituary, by the way. She doesn't want her cause of death listed in case it's embarrassing like choking on a ham sandwich, which you have to admit would be the last thing you'd want people to remember about you, right? Is there something in particular you want listed in yours? Or not?

Here's our only family scandal where death is concerned: Great Aunt Nelle wanted to be buried with her husband, whose family had a plot in--gasp!--a completely different cemetery! Years after her death, Aunt Nancy—who was very fond of Aunt Nelle--started lobbying to dig up Aunt Nelle and move her over to our family’s plot to be with her sisters. This turned into a big To Do. The whole idea blew my mind, and I must admit I came down hard on Aunt Nelle’s side, so she’s still with her husband.

So? If we find you passed out on the sidewalk, do you want us to call the EMTs to start CPR? Or do you want us to pop a bottle of champagne and talk about the good times? And what's your idea of a great place for your remains--in whatever form you choose--to spend eternity? Do you talk about this kind of thing in your family? Or is it taboo and therefore you take your chance that Uncle Milt might decide to bury you in a clown suit in your beloved Mercury convertible?

About our family plot that’s too small for the remaining family members? I’m voting to build a mausoleum so we can all be together and hear the same stories over and over.  Makes sense, right?

October 04, 2011

Reality Check for Book Lovers

Reality Check for Book Lovers

By Kathy Reschini Sweeney, the Tart who is not a published author and thus can tell you the hard truth

For those with no attention span: BUY BOOKS.

It sounds so simple and so obvious, but apparently it is not sinking in.  Let's infer that everyone reading this blog loves books.  Let's also infer that everyone reading this blog loves at least one of the authors listed up there.  Heaven knows there is a bounty to choose from, no matter what you like to read.

The purpose of today's blog is to clear up some confusion.  If you already know all of this stuff, maybe you could print it out, or link it, or share it on Facebook, or otherwise pass it along to another book lover who is not similarly educated.  

Thus - some great misconceptions about published authors, like our own Book Tarts, whose smiling faces greet you at the top of the blog and whose stories delight, entertain and move you.

1.  They publish books for a living.  Not for fun, and not just to see their names on a shelf.  Many of these women have other jobs - some have full-time jobs - so they don't end up on food stamps while they pursue their career as an author.  I love this analogy: If I painted houses for a living, would you ask me to paint your house for free?  Of course not.  So why would you view their books differently?  Most of these authors are too polite to say no if you ask for a freebie.  Me?  Not so much.  Please don't ask for free books for yourself.  It's rude and frankly, it's cheating.

2.  They don't make big up-front money; they don't make any money unless they sell books.  Unless you are an author with enough juice to merit an initial print run that guarantees a best-seller, don't expect a big advance.  Maybe it used to work that way, but no more.  Plus, no matter how small the advance is, the author has to pay her agent, her expenses and the IRS. The only way these authors make any money is by selling books and earning out on royalties.  These are not trust fund babies who write as an antidote to the crushing ennui of bon-bons and pool boys.  These women write books in the style and form the publishers demand so they can sell them.  (Side note: if you think the best-seller lists are based solely on merit, think again.  But that is a subject for another blog.)

3.  They work hard.  No shit.  I can confirm this because I did write a novel once.  It was fun.  Got an agent and everything.  Then I got into the re-writes and editing.  No fun.  In fact, I wasn't even through the second chapter before I had a headache.  Like I need another source of those.  Since I already have a day job, and I try to avoid pain, rather than exacerbating it, that was the end of that. Writers write because they have to. Published authors edit because it's their work, not their recreation time.  Some of the book tarts have re-written entire books during the editing process. Plus, if I told you how many published authors hate their books by the time they are done, you would gasp.  It's like being in labor with no discernible end in sight.

4.  They don't make any money from borrowed or shared books.  This is a tough one, but since I have the liberty of not giving a shit whether you buy my book, I am going to tell you the unvarnished truth.  When you buy one copy of a book and share it with a dozen friends, that does not help an author unless some of those friends actually buy the next book.  If you buy a book at a used book store, it does not help the author.  Authors are only paid on original sales. If you wait for a book to be donated to your local lending pool, it does not help the author.  Think of the music business.  Remember Napster and how it was shut down because it was criminal - as in theft?  Why would you think books are any different? This is where people can get huffy and point out that books are expensive.  Yeah.  Everyone gets that you can't buy every book.  But at least if you get it from a library, you encourage the library to buy more books by the author.  Libraries actually buy books.

5.  A special note on author events and book signings.  I am just going to say it, so brace yourself.  If an author and a book store go to the expense of traveling and setting up an event - at their own expense - because publishers don't pay for tours any more - it is great if you go.  But you at least have to buy a paperback.  I mean it.  

In addition, if you do go to an event, keep in mind that the author is there to sell books.  She may be kind enough to indulge you while you ask questions about how to get published, or to even critique your book pitch, but have some common courtesy and don't do it while there are others waiting to meet her and to BUY HER BOOKS.  Every person that gets tired of waiting in line while you chatter is money out of the author's pocket.  Seriously.

And I've seen this a hundred times - if you have the stones to ask a professional to critique your work-in-progress, or share her hard-earned wisdom, and you don't even buy her book, there is a special place in hell for you.  Get a clue and some class.  

I have to throw in a pet peeve here.  I think it is really gauche to have an author sign a book just so you can sell it at a premium online.  That hurts both the author and the book store.There may not be anything illegal about it, but come on, these are good women.  Don't be greedy. 


Buy Books.  I mean it.  If you like books, you have to buy some.  The industry is in a damn mess right now, through no fault of most authors.  They only way to be sure we'll continue to have good books is to make sure people buy them.

No one has an unlimited budget (Oprah, if you are reading this week, no offense, girlfriend) so ask for books as gifts.  As Mary Alice says, a candle never changed anyone's life.  Many men and women are tough to buy for - do your family and friends a favor and make a wish list of books. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mothers' Day, Groundhog Day (hey, if you live near Punxsy, this is big) and - oh look at the calendar - the holidays are just around the corner!  Do you really want another sweater or a pair of slippers with squeaky clown noses?  

Buy books as gifts. Duh.  Just about everyone loves to read a good book.  If you're not sure what book to buy, get a gift certificate from your local book store.  Want to get something for a teacher, or hair stylist or delivery person or cleaning crew?  Paper back books cost less than half the gimcrack you've probably purchased in the past.  Also - just because you think some tchotchke is cute doesn't mean everyone else does.  But that is also a blog for another day unless you are someone who likes to buy trolls.  Those things are just plain creepy.  Ditto for grown men and ponies with pastel, comb-able manes.  Right, another blog.  Moving on.

Buy books as donations.  Want to support your local library AND your favorite author?  Buy a hardcover book and donate it to your library.  I would tell you it's tax deductible, but then I'd have to put a disclaimer to check with your own tax professional.  Who would probably love a book, by the way.

Use your words.  Talk about it.  Encourage your friends to support author events and your favorite authors.  Lend a favorite book to a friend in return for the promise that they will buy the next one.  Support your local bookstores.  And if you don't have one, you are always welcome at my favorite: Mystery Lovers Bookshop where the recommendations are priceless and the shipping is free!  

I'd ask the other Book Tarts to elaborate, but I don't want anyone to be offended.  So don't worry if they don't comment today.

As for the rest of the TLC community - what else can we do to help?





October 03, 2011

Boo! (Did that Scare You?) A pre-Halloween Contemplation


by Hank Phillippi Ryan

When I saw one dead squirrel on the highway, it was sad. Two dead squirrels, it was kind of...odd. But after seeing–and I’m not kidding—dozens and dozens of dead squirrels on the Massachusetts Turnpike, I knew there was something ver-ry weird going on. (This photo is of a plush animal.)

 I tried to take a photo, but it was too difficult. "What’re you doing?" Jonathan said.

 “Trying to take a picture of all the dead squirrels,” I said, window down, leaning out. “Can you maybe stop?”

 “We’re on the highway! Going 70 miles an hour!”  (ed. note: she means 55.)

 “I know. Just thought I’d try it.”   But it didn’t work. I just got blur.

 Anyway, it’s probably for the best that I can’t get photos. I tried to Google photos of dead squirrels, just to –illustrate. But trust me, you don’t wanna start trolling for  “dead animal” photos. I stopped after about two seconds. So, no photos of  real squirrels. (You’re welcome.)

 But I immediately started thinking of reasons why this squirrel carnage would happen.  (Why did the squrrel cross the....er, try to cross the...)

(Other than that the squirrels are daring each other to get across the highway. Boastful squirrel says—“That guy’s an idiot. I bet I can make it!” And on and on.)

 Anyway.  I thought: maybe it means  the plague is coming, or someone is doing experiments with some new psychedelic drugs and trying them out on the poor squirrels. Or a squirrel serial killer is on the loose. At Bouchercon, one author was saying that squirrels are incredibly homicidal—that if one person were killed for every murdered squirrel, the population of Cincinnati would be wiped out. In like, a month, or something.

 I stopped listening to the squirrel-murder stuff.  (Which you are probably now considering doing, too.)

 But the point is—whew, I hear you saying—it was scary. Really really scary. And I immediately started making up all the truly scary stuff that it could mean. If squirrels are throwing themselves like wacked-out lemmings across four lanes of treacherous highway, is this something that could happen to people?

 I mean, unlikely.  But why do we scare ourselves? Life is scary enough anyway, if your brain is wired that way. And I know some people’s aren’t. For instance:

 When Jonathan leaves the house to go do an errand or something, I always say: “Be careful!”

 And he’s always baffled. “Of what?” he says.

 But the world seems threatening to me. (It might be because of working in TV news, when I see every bad thing that happens.)


 I remember the first really scary thing I ever saw: a movie called The Incredible Shrinking Man. I was maybe—ten years old. And I completely freaked. Do you remember that movie? Some sort of radiation (ooh, is that what happened to the squirrels?) washed over this guy, and it started making him smaller. And smaller. At one point, he was fighting a spider with a needle as a sword. SO SCARY.

Twilight  And Twilight Zone, remember? I was riveted. The one with the zoo? Where it turned out the earthling was in a cage?  And wasn’t there one  which ended with the devil (dressed in a tuxedo) laughing evilly, and intoning  “This IS the other place!”  ? I can still hear that voice.

 Wizard of OZ.  Terrified. I assigned myself the duty of sitting in the wayback of the family station wagon (this is when I was, what, younger  than 10, probably)  and watching the sky for tornadoes. I was very very diligent about this, and  never told my parents I was the one protecting my family. I did a great job, apparently, since we did not die in a tornado. (Hey, it was Indiana. It could happen.)

  Dracula In college, we were assigned to read  Dracula by Bram Stoker. “It’s really intense!” The professor said. “ Pish tush,” I said, or something like that. It’s a BOOK. What could be so scary?

 It was college, so I couldn’t go get garlic or anything, and being Jewish, the wearing of a cross wasn't going to fly. But I admit to you. I had to do something because the book said vampires could come in through closed windows as dust motes on moonlight. Are you kidding me? I decided if I slept with my arms in the shape of a cross, that would do it. I guess it worked. (mwa ha ha.)







 In my twenties? Rosemary’s Baby. The book. YIKES! I read it on an airplane, I remember, on the way from DC to New York, and I almost got on the return flight without getting off.  Eating  “the mouse,’? And seeing where the paintings had been taken down from the wall? And the nice  doctor who turned out to be (spoiler alert) in on the  whole thing?  Then using the scrabble tiles to spell out “All Of Them Witches” from “Roman Castevet.”  Wait, that doesn’t work. What was the anagram again?  I’m too scared to remember.  

 Thinking about  this, as I’ve grown older, made up things are much less frightening  (Blair Witch? Showing me nothing..) and real life things take over.  But it’s almost Halloween, the scary season, and once again we bring out our scariest things--since it’s more fun to be scared by fictional scariness than focus on what’s truly terrifying.

 What’s the scariest thing you’ve even seen or read? Fictional, of course, I mean.

I'm sure we'll be talking about  Halloween costumes later. But word to the wise--maybe don't dress as a squirrel this year. You never know.



October 02, 2011

Tinkering with meals, music and murder, guest blog by Joelle Charbonneau

HANK:  So you know book conventions, right. Panels of authors talking about new ideas and new books and writing and reading and..stuff like: voice. But at Bouchercon in St. Louis a week or so ago, something very strange happened on one of the panels. "Voice" took on a whole new context.

The panelists...wait for it...SANG. SANG!  Would you have the moxie to sing your answers?  Joelle Charbonneau was a star performer..and singing isn't her only talent. She's hilarious, and  multi-talented--and a wonderful new voice in mystery world. Her books are original and wonderful--even reading her unusual and wide-raining bio
 is a treat. (Check it out.)

And we're so happy she's here today...


Author photo I have a major personality flaw.  (Okay, technically I have dozens of astonishingly large personality flaws.  However, for the purpose of this blog post and to keep my therapy and chocolate bill down to a minimum, I’m going to just pretend I have just the one.)  I like to tinker.  Okay – now you’re probably rolling your eyes at me.  Lots of people like to tinker, right?  But, for me, tinkering is a major problem.  I feel the need to tinker with everything.


If I’m making Cambell’s soup out of a can, I add garlic, pepper or sometimes even cream to it.  And if I make dinner from scratch (which more often is the case) I never make a recipe the same way twice.  I have to add a bit of this and a bit of that to see how it tastes. (This drives everyone who knows me nuts because I never have a recipe to hand them if they like what I make.  I can make a good guess, but I’m never totally sure I remember exactly what tinkering I did.)


I’m also a tinkerer around the house.  If my husband cleans the house (kind of a big “if” but it does happen), I always have to go around and fix what didn’t get cleaned exactly right.  Books in bookshelves get rearranged frequently.  Knickknacks and picture frames are moved from place to place.  I’m no the best housekeeper in the world, but when I get into the spirit, I find myself fiddling with just about everything.


And don’t get my students talking about the tinkering I do in voice lessons.  I’m a huge perfectionist with their tone and their dynamics.  During a lesson, I might stop them a dozen times during the course of just one musical phrase adjusting this and that until it sounds just the way I think it should.  And then I do the same thing with the next phrase.  And once the music sounds great I start to fiddle with their acting choices.  There are days I think my students are ready to deck me.  Thankfully, they haven’t succumbed to the temptation – yet.


Yes.  When it comes to tinkering I am an “A” type personality.  Which is probably why it comes as no surprise that I tinker A LOT when I write.  There is always a word (or hundreds) that I can change and adjust and make better no matter what stage of the process I’m in.  This means I tend to fret and worry when a new book comes out that I didn’t do enough tinkering.  Yes, I need professional help.


And I guess it is even less surprising that my characters can’t help but tinker when murder and crime come to their towns.  I mean, who does that?  What person looks at a dead body and says, “I should find the guy who did this?”  Well, Rebecca Robbins did in SKATING AROUND THE LAW.  And now she’s fiddling again in SKATING OVER THE LINE.  This time there are cars exploding around town and a band of scary dudes appearing on darkened street corners.  No matter how hard she tries to stay out of the mix, Rebecca gets sucked into the mystery.  She just can’t help it.  I guess she comes by it honest because neither can I. 


Joelle Charbonneau has performed in a variety of operas and musical theatre productions across the Chicagoland area.  She now teaches private voice lessons and uses her stage experience to create compelling characters in her books.  The first of the Rebecca Robbins mysteries, SKATING AROUND THE LAW (Minotaur Books) was called “Sexy and funny” by Kirkus Reviews.  The second book in the series, SKATING OVER THE LINE, will hit shelves on Sept. 27th, 2011.  The first of her newest series, MURDER FOR CHOIR, will be published by Berkley in July, 2012.