274 posts categorized "Elaine Viets"

December 30, 2011

Movin' Forward

By Elaine VietsBlue_radio

Writing is my true love, but I’ve flirted with television and radio.

Starting in February, I’m taking up with radio again. I’ll host the "Dead End Jobs Show" on Radio Ear Network. The show, named for my mystery series, is a half-hour talk show about the extraordinary secrets of ordinary jobs, along with offbeat, unusual jobs.

We start taping the radio shows January 18-20.


My first guests include a career server who’ll talk about "the Boca cocktail." An urban farmer who grows veggies on blighted land in Fort Lauderdale. His city farms employ local low-income residents.

A historian will talk about a week most people have forgotten – or can’t remember. She’ll discuss the history of Spring Break, going back to the days when Grandpa got trashed.

The "Dead End Jobs Show" will have a new guest each week. Some guests will sound like old friends, because they are. Big Al the Pizza Dude will tell you about the Dirty Dollar and more insider tips about pizza delivery. He’ll be anonymous, but you’ll recognize the wit and worldly wisdom of a popular back blogger.

TLC’s own Harley Jane Kozak will talk about the ultimate Dead-End Job – how she was killed in a soap opera and became an international sensation.

Radio Ear Network (REN) brings innovative talk and independent music to 6 million listeners around the globe. This is Internet radio, which is even more fun than terrestrial radio.

Talk about easy listening. You can listen to my shows on your computer at radioearnetwork.comLaptops


You can click on this link for a podcast. http://www.mixcloud.com/tag/elaine-viets/

I won’t be "in the cloud" until the show starts in February. But Doc in CA is right. Podcasts are a blast.

Listen to REN on iTunes Radio, iPod, iPhone, as well as your Nook, Kindle, iPad and other media devices. http://www.encountersouthbeach.com/Cell1.htm

I love the times for my "Dead End Jobs Show." Each week, it’s on Mondays at 1 p.m. EST / 6 p.m. GMT. Then it repeats Tuesdays at 10 a.m. GMT / 5 a.m. EST and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. EST / 12 a.m. GMT

GMT is Greenwich Mean Time in England. Is that cool or what?

I have a producer, a luxury in radio. Joseph Dobzynski is more than my show’s producer – he’s the network CEO and has his own show, "A Cup of Joe." I’m looking forward to learning from a real pro. Joseph asks questions that make his guests want to talk.


You’ll find his show, and REN’s European and North American schedules, here: http://www.encountersouthbeach.com/

REN isn’t garage radio. It’s part of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, a network with members in 115 countries including many NPR, AIR and public broadcast stations.

Besides the "Dead End Jobs Show" I’ll keep writing my two mystery series, the Dead-End Job and the Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper novels.

And I’m still blogging. I was as stunned as you when I got an e-mail from Sarah that she and Nancy M. were pulling the plug on TLC. I didn’t want TLC to end. I offered to keep it going.

But Sarah had more reasons for ending TLC, including, "Nancy is pretty firm about this. She wants it over. She wants TLC retired – for now. And that's another thing. Should Nancy sometime in the future decide to restart TLC again, she should have that option, right? I mean, she was the one who came up with this almost a decade ago and so it's hers to do with as she likes. If she wanted anyone else to run it under the name TLC or TLC2 I think she would. But she really doesn't and I think we have to respect that. After all, she put a hell of a lot of work into it in the beginning. It's her baby.

"Lastly," Sarah said, "it seems to me that if you already have a steady base of readers who return to read your blogs that you can either direct them to one of your existing blogs or start a new one, right? In fact, this might open up a whole new opportunity to bring in new eyes."

Sarah is right. I already blog for the Femmes Fatales. You’ve heard of Charlaine Harris, creator of Sookie Stackhouse. If you read the Femmes Fatales blog, you’ll get to know her as the superstar next door.

Femmes Dana Cameron, Donna Andrews and Toni L. P. Kelner have guest-blogged for TLC. I don’t have to tell you about Hank Phillippi Ryan. If you don’t know Femmes authors Mary Saums or Kris Neri, you’re missing a treat.

So come on over to the Femmes Fatales at http://www.femmesfatales.typepad.com/

Turn on your computer and catch me on radioearnetwork.com. If you know a lively radio show guest email me at eviets@aol.com.

Follow me on Facebook as "Elaine Viets" and on Twitter @elaineviets.

If you have trouble finding the "Dead End Jobs Show," if you want to get my infrequent e-newsletter, or my email blasts, email me at eviets@aol.com.           Vintage_mic1

You’ll be hearing from me – and I hope I’ll hear from you.

December 15, 2011

My Shot at Chic


By Elaine Viets

I was not going to spend another Friday night parked in front of the TV watching a DVD from the library. Not when I could do something chic.

Don and I were invited to the opening of EVOO Market in downtown Fort Lauderdale. EVOO stands for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and the market at 1239 East Las Olas sells fine olive oils, balsamic vinegars and fashionable sea salts.

At the store’s grand opening, singer Laura Parker and guitarist Jaime Guiscafre serenaded us while we sipped vinegars and tasted olive oil.

That word "sip" is important. I don’t come from olive oil sippers and balsamic vinegar tasters. My family used white vinegar on their salads and on their floors. It also made a dandy spot remover and toilet bowl cleaner.Heinzvinegar

So I felt incredibly sophisticated standing around tasting balsamic vinegar. Thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I knew that aged balsamic vinegars were made from Trebbiano and maybe other grapes from the Italian provinces of Reggio-Emilia and Modena and aged in oak, chestnut, juniper, cherry and mulberry casks. A good 18-year-old balsamic can run 40 bucks a bottle. A 25-year-old balsamic can cost more than $100 for two ounces.Balsamicvinegar

The balsamic vinegars from the supermarket might look like the upscale balsamics, but they have all the signs of poor relations. They are thin, sour and pretending to be something better.

"Tasted straight from the bottle, there was no contest between supermarket and traditional balsamic vinegars," Cooks magazine said. "Even the best of the commercial bunch - while similarly sweet, brown, and viscous - couldn't compete with the complex, rich flavor of true balsamic vinegar. With notes of honey, fig, raisin, caramel, and wood; a smooth, lingering taste; and an aroma like fine port, traditional balsamic is good enough to sip like liqueur."

I focused on that "liqueur." I was about to have the Baileys Irish Cream of the balsamic world.

Again, I missed the word "sip."

I started tasting the oils first, to lay down a base, dipping cubes of crusty Italian bread into olive oil with shallots, then garlic, then sun-dried tomatoes. Butter-flavored olive oil and bacon olive oil beckoned as healthy alternatives to real bacon and butter, but I resisted.


Instead, I checked out the balsamic vinegars infused with cranberry, with black currants and with oranges. Yum!

Next I tried strawberries sprinkled with chocolate balsamic vinegar.


Fifteen calories an ounce and a rich chocolate flavor. I could feed my chocolate addiction without the fat.

I hung out scarfing up chocolate vinegar strawberries and making low moaning sounds, which attracted a helpful saleswoman.

"Would you like to taste our 18-year-old balsamic vinegar?" she asked.

I nodded. I couldn’t talk. I was distracted by the chocolate balsamic vinegar strawberries and didn’t focus on that word – taste.

The saleswoman filled a tiny paper tasting cup – about the size of a pill cup – with the thick rich balsamic vinegar. It was dark as Hershey’s syrup.

I slammed back the whole cupful.

My throat snapped shut, my eyes watered and then bugged out. The balsamic vinegar streaked straight down my throat and socked me in the gut.

"What do you think?" the saleswoman asked.

I didn’t think anything. I couldn’t. My brain shut down. I’d just tossed back a shot of balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t even talk.

"Hhhhhhhhh," I wheezed.

That’s when Don reappeared. "I can’t take you anywhere," he said. "I turn my back and you’re knocking back shots. Do you want to stay longer?"

At last I could talk again. "I’m ready to go. I’ve had my shot at being chic."


December 10, 2011

Scrooge Was Right


Elaine Viets

Poor Scrooge. For 168 years, he’s been reviled. Why, his very name means "a miserly person" in the dictionary.

But times change, and so do attitudes. We need to take another look at old Ebenezer.

If you read Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" again, you can see Scrooge is a victim of press persecution.

Dickens was biased from the start, introducing Scrooge as a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous old sinner." After that, you’re naturally going to think the worst.

But examine Scrooge’s statements on their own, and you’ll see 724PX-~1the man was ahead of his time.

Look at the famous "Bah humbug" lines that get him in so much trouble.

Scrooge says, "What’s Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer, a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em a round dozen of months presented dead against you."

Right on, Scrooge. You must have been checking my checking account. In the midst of the season’s runaway consumerism, Scrooge is warning us against the dangers of overspending.

"If I had my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."

GhostchristmaspresentA bit harsh there, Eb. But I know how you feel. I’m so sick of watching TV ads with crazed consumers waving shopping bags, I may stake them myself.

Scrooge needs understanding during this season of peace and love. You can guess what it’s like at his office the whole month of December: It’s impossible to get any work done. Everyone Scrooge calls is either on vacation or gone for the rest of the day – at one o’clock. The fake Christmas tree on the office file cabinet falls over every time he shuts a drawer.

Even worse, Scrooge’s coworkers have been bringing in Christmas food. Like many successful executives, Scrooge is weight conscious. But to be polite, he’s had "just a taste" of fruitcake, eggnog, gingerbread cookies, homemade wine, peppermint sticks and a punch made from lime sherbet, Jell-O and ginger ale. The guy must be living on antacids.

Dickens starts his story on Christmas Eve, and doesn’t take any of this into account. Scrooge has to run a business, even if it is a holiday. He’s trying to get some work done when his nephew Fred barges into the office. He wants Scrooge to come to Christmas dinner. Scrooge refuses. A bachelor is not used to a noisy meal at someone else's house.

Fred cannot take a hint. He keeps insisting. At last, Scrooge says flat out that he can’t stand Fred's wife.

OK, that was a little abrupt. But it marks Scrooge as a man of rare courage. Many of us long to say how we really feel about our relatives: We can't stand them. If we do like them, we don’t like their spouse. But do we say so? Heck no. We go to one dreary family dinner after another and keep our mouths shut.

Scrooge also has to endure his perpetually cheerful employee, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge grumps at him, too. By this time in December, I've usually had my fill of holiday cheer, too. But I try to keep peace and paste on a smile.

Scrooge has also been criticized for refusing to subscribe to a charity. Let’s look at that scene again. Two "portly gentlemen" show up at the office. From the heft of them, Scrooge probably figures this well-fed pair is from a charity that squanders donations on executive limos and staff parties.

"What shall I put you down for?" the one asks boldly.

"Nothing!" says Scrooge, just as bold. The charity looks like an operation that deducts your donation from your paycheck, and your promotion is based on how much you give.

Finally, poor Scrooge goes home and tries to get some rest. Instead, the spirits of Christmas drag him around all night, ordering him to shape up and enjoy himself.

Scrooge wakes up scared. He sends the usual turkey bonus to his employee, Cratchit, then goes to his nephew's place for dinner after he already told the family no. Naturally, they had to find him a place.

According to Dickens, Scrooge is a reformed man.422px-Tiny-tim-dickens

If you ask me, he sold out.


December 04, 2011

Real Christmas Weather

By Elaine Viets

Christmas lights reflected in the pool. Twinkle lights on the palm trees. Shoppers in T-shirts battling for bargains at the mall.

It’s Christmas in Florida.

Do I miss the cold weather Christmas in my hometown in St. Louis?

Heck, no. Snow is pretty in photographs, not in my boots. I don’t celebrate the season of freezing and shivering. Electric blankets and cozy stoves don’t keep me warm. I like the sun.

Anyway, warm weather Christmases are more authentic.

The first Christmas took place in Bethlehem – the one in Israel, not Pennsylvania. In December, PalmtreesandtwinklelightsIsrael is only slightly cooler than Florida. The temperatures are about 40 to 65 degrees. Jesus would need swaddling clothes. Santa Claus would be sweating in his fur-trimmed getup.

Besides, there were palm trees at that first Christmas, just like in Florida. Fir trees were a much later addition, imported from Germany.

You can still celebrate your old-fashioned American Christmas. Just remember many early Americans disapproved of the celebration. Bostonians outlawed it for more than two decades starting in 1659. And it isn’t that old a tradition, either.

What we think of as Christmas is a fairly recent American invention. The move toward a family-oriented Christmas started around 1828, when unemployed New Yorkers held a good old-fashioned Christmas riot. Think Occupy Wall Street without the videos. The city government reacted the same way it did now. They brought in crowd busters with badges and created the New York police force.

Meanwhile, bestselling authors were molding public opinion about Christmas. Washington Irving wrote "The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent." – sentimental stories where a rich titled dude invited the peasants into his home for the holidays. Irving’s peasants were cute, well-scrubbed types, sort of like walking Hummel figurines. They did not pick their teeth or put their muddy feet on the coffee table. They got along just fine with the rich squire. In short, Irving created an amazing piece of fiction. Such was the power of the season – and Irving’s writing – that Americans felt his stories illustrated the true spirit of Christmas.

On the other side of the pond, international bestseller Charles Dickens wrote "A Christmas Carol," a truly barf-worthy tale. Oops. I mean, a classic which has endured for nearly 180 years, provoking guilt-ridden parents to overspend on their offspring and overeat with relatives they’d rather avoid.

After that, the traditions started piling up. German-Americans made Christmas trees popular and by 1853, Franklin Pierce had one at the White House.


But before you get all misty-eye about ritual fir killing, Sears Roebuck sold the first artificial Christmas tree in 1883. The deluxe version had 55 limbs for a buck. So that artificial tree isn’t a new invention. It goes back 123 years.

In fact a Florida Christmas is probably more traditional than a "deck the halls with holly" celebration with snow and ice.

Besides, we have ice in Florida. Lots of it.                        Floridachristmas

In the drinks at the outdoor Christmas parties.






December 01, 2011

Member of the Family

By Elaine Viets
In the last ten days, our cat Mystery has been to the hospital twice.
She was unable to keep down her food.
On the first visit, the vet gave our ten-pound cat fluids for dehydration, blood tests and x-rays, and sent her home with metronidazole to settle her stomach. She seemed to improve for about a week, and then she got sick again. She put up a half-hearted fight and we took her back to the vet. He shaved her belly and gave her an abdominal ultrasound. She was injected with Vitamin B12, given antibiotics and more medication for her upset stomach.
Don and I brought her home last night. Mystery is a Chartreux, a show cat who was forced into retirement after she bit a judge. She’s used to making an entrance. Now she seems mortified by her shaved belly. She crawled under the dining room table and sulked.
I understood. I felt the same way after I left the hospital, but Don wouldn’t let me crawl under the table. I stayed in bed and sulked.
After all the tests, Mystery remains a mystery. We still don’t know exactly what ails her. We’ll get the results for her last blood test in about five days. The vet said she could have a number of things, many treatable. The worst possibility is cancer, but he said that could also be treated. She may need chemotherapy.
Yes, chemo. He also told us cats and dogs don’t get sick from it the way people do. So far, we’ve spent a healthy four figures on our eight-year-old cat. If you’re not an animal lover, we must sound like a pair of loonies. Even if you are, you must wonder.
My grandparents loved animals. Grandma Viets had a dog named Bing that could sing on command. I never met Bing, but I could tell by the stories Grandma was crazy about that mutt.
If she were alive, she’d think we were crazy about Mystery the cat. But not in a good way.
Sometime between my grandparents’ generation and mine, a line was crossed. Pets went from being "the animal in the house" to becoming "the member of the family."
I don’t think Mystery is human, or even equal to one.
I don’t roll her about in a stroller like a feline child substitute. I don’t buy her clothes. As you can see, she already has a fine fur coat.
But Mystery is a member of our household. I like her better than many people. She never disses the politicians I admire, gets drunk and tells me the truth about myself, or asks why I don’t learn to cook.
She is kind to Harry, our younger striped cat, and grooms him. Okay, she’s a lousy groomer. He looks like a punk rocker by the time she finishes making his fur stand up in every direction. But he adores her. He paced our condo and howled when she was in the clinic.
She’s a diversion. Whenever I have a heavy deadline, I can distract myself by playing with the cat.
She’s good exercise. I get to bend and stretch, picking cat hair off the couch and rugs.
She’s an inspiration: I write better when she sleeps by my computer.
This morning, Mystery refused to take her medicine. Don and I tricked her into swallowing her two pills, and she wasn’t happy. She’s spent the rest of the day hiding.
And we’ve spent the day thinking. So far, we can afford the luxury of cat companionship – and it is a luxury. If I had kids, I wouldn’t spend that money on a cat.
Another Missouri writer, Mark Twain, was a notorious cat lover. He wrote: "A home without a cat—and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat—may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?"Mark twain
We are now facing the possibility of a house that may be short a much-loved cat. How far will we go to keep Mystery alive? How far will she want us to go? How will she let us know?
These are questions with no easy answers.

November 17, 2011

Snooty Barbecue


Elaine Viets

Just holding an Economist magazine makes me feel smarter. Inside, along with serious articles about finance, I found a juicy tidbit about my hometown of St. Louis, tucked into a story called "Fire in the Hole":

The snoot sandwich is St. Louis’ contribution to barbecue.

Danny Meyer, the chef who runs Blue Smoke barbecue restaurant in Manhattan, said that.

Mr. Meyer is a St. Louis native, so he may be biased.

If most barbecue lovers knew mac and cheese cost $7.95 in Manhattan, they’d think I was blowing smoke – and not Blue Smoke, either.

As a St. Louis native, I was proud to see our pig parts get international recognition. Our city not only has pig snoots, we serve pig ear sandwiches. I had Josie eat a pig ear sandwich from the fabled C&K Barbecue Restaurant in North St. Louis County in my new mystery shopper mystery, "Death on a Platter." C&K attracts savvy locals as well as visiting celebrities. You can savor the experience second-hand in this scene:

Josie stared at the massive pig ear sandwich in front of her, a mound of food nearly five inches high. She was grateful the pig ear did not look like it had once been part of a porker – it was simply a deep-fat fried hunk of something.

But what? Were pig ears like rubber? Gristle? They sure didn’t look meaty.Pig_ear

Focus on the potato salad, she told herself. And the barbecue sauce. The red sauce smells delicious. The bread is plain old white. I like both of those. If I close my eyes, I can do this. Josie wished she could enjoy their picnic at Deer Creek Park. The sky was a blue china bowl and the trees were blazing with fiery color. But Josie didn’t notice the fall beauty. She didn’t even see Ted, who looked absurdly handsome with his square jaw and broad chest.

All she saw was that pig ear sandwich. It seemed to get bigger by the second, throbbing, morphing into a red-spattered monster. Josie had to eat it. She had a duty as a mystery shopper. Maybe she should just take Ted’s word that the sandwich was good. No, Josie wouldn’t chicken out. She would pork out or else. She lived by her code, and her code said she had to taste the sandwich. One small bite for the honor of St. Louis.

"What’s the matter?" Ted asked. They sat side by side at the picnic table. Ted was ready for his snoot.

"I’m trying to get up the nerve to eat a pig ear," Josie said.

"Just take a bite. You’ll love it. I promise. Doesn’t that barbecue sauce make your mouth water?"


"And the potato salad is amazing. Here, try that. We’ll approach the wild sandwich one step at a time." He scooped some potato salad with a plastic fork.

Josie allowed herself to be fed like a toddler. "That is good," she said. "I’m trying to get up the nerve to bite a pig ear."

"Please don’t keep me waiting. I want my snoot. We’ll dig in on a count of three. Come on. One."

Josie picked up the huge sandwich with both hands. Bright sauce dripped on the newspapers she and Ted had spread on the table. A clump of potato salad plopped out on her paper plate.

"Two," Ted said. "Three!"

Josie bit. Yum! She took another bite. It was even better. By the third bite, she was painted with barbecue sauce and splashed with potato salad, but she didn’t care.

"Fabulous," she said. "You were right. I thought a pig ear would taste rubbery, but it’s crunchy. Kind of like those pork rind snacks, only better."

"I told you." Ted chomped his sandwich with a resounding crunch. "Wanna try some of my snoot?"

"No, thanks," Josie said. "But you have barbecue sauce on your snoot."

"Before I finish, I’ll be basted in barbecue sauce," Ted said. "That’s why I wore this red shirt."

"Plaid shirts are chic," Josie said.

"So is barbecue," Ted said. "New York is finally discovering the joys of this American art form. Barbecue experts say the snoot sandwich is St. Louis’s contribution to barbecue."

"I thought it was our sweet spicy sauce," Josie said, licking her fingers.

"That actually comes here by way of Kansas City," Ted said. "Sweet tomato barbecue sauce is served throughout most of the Midwest. Barbecue is different in other parts of the country. North Carolina ’cue is mostly pork. They wait and add the sauce when they sit down to eat. They may use a vinegar sauce with pepper flakes. Or it might have some tomato. Some eat the barbecue plain.

"Memphis likes its barbecue with a rub of spices but no sauce. Texas goes for thick spicy tomato sauce and beef brisket. That’s cattle country."

"And this is based on your hands-on knowledge," Josie said.

DeathonaPlatterTed chewed thoughtfully, then said, "Some. The rest comes from The Economist. It’s important to have an intellectual foundation for personal experience. I’m prejudiced, but I like St. Louis barbecue best. We’ve been undiscovered and unappreciated for decades. You’d think there would be a shortage of food this good. Pigs only have two ears."

"Do you really think anyone in a rich neighborhood is going to demand pig ear sandwiches?" Josie asked.

"Why not?" Ted said. "Too snooty?"

Josie groaned. "I can’t see McDonald’s serving a McSnoot."

So what’s your favorite ’cue: beef, pork, chicken? Which state has the best barbecue? And have you ever eaten a pig snoot?


November 06, 2011

The Sweetest Mistake

Elaine Viets  Gooey butter cake
Gooey butter cake supposedly started as a mistake, but no one knows which baker created this delicious deviation. At least three St. Louis bakeries lay claim to discovering gooey butter cake.
Paula Deen even tried poaching gooey butter cake, but St. Louisans know butter. Er, better. We’ve been eating it for generations.
Where did my hometown’s treat come from?
The best guess is this delicious mistake happened during the Depression, when an ordinary yellow cake was overloaded with butter or sugar, or both. Either way, the baker overdid it and ended up with a gooey mess. In those days, people didn’t waste good food. They also weren’t obsessed with calories. The bungling baker doused it with drifts of powdered sugar and the confection sold. Boy, did it sell.
Soon St. Louisans were making their own versions of gooey butter cake, like this recipe: http://gooeybuttercakerecipe.com
Note the vast amounts of butter and sugar in that recipe. A true St. Louis gooey butter cake has at least a stick of butter and a box of confectioner’s sugar. Some people bypass the baking and apply the delicious mixture directly to their thighs.
Today, there are endless artery-clogging versions of gooey butter cake, including cherry, pineapple, brownie and chocolate chip. Most St. Louis cooks have their own recipes. My Grandma made fabulous gooey butter cake. If food is love, her cake plates were heaped with it. I only wish she’d written down that recipe.
I heard the most delicious gossip when relatives sat down over coffee and gooey butter cake: Cousin Mildred had an eight-pound premature baby seven months after her big church wedding. Aunt Marie had a tumor the size of a grapefruit. And that no good Sandy greeted the mailman wearing her bathing suit -- in December.
For years, it was believed that only St. Louisans loved this caloric miscalculation. Gooey butter cakes didn’t travel outside the city. Then Kirk and Debbie Stieferman turned a recipe from Debbie’s grandma into a family business – Gooey Louie’s and started shipping its wickedly sinful creations all over the country.
Gooey louie
Martha Stewart Living drooled (genteelly) over those cakes. Gooey Louie was featured on Road Trips for Foodies.
Gooey Louie has about a dozen flavors, from key lime to "Hog Wyld." That’s gooey butter cake with bacon. Can you hear those arteries clogging?
Speaking of clogging, when Highway 40-I-64, a major St. Louis traffic artery, was clogged by construction, Gooey Louie soothed frustrations sweetly with "Hwy 40: Driving Me Nuts." The road work is over, but the flavor survives.
If you insist on health food, there’s blueberry gooey butter cake.
Why am I going on about gooey butter cake?
Because it has a starring role in my new Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper mystery, "Death on a Platter."
Because I’m homesick for fall, a season we don’t have here in Florida. 012
Because I’m coming to St. Louis this week, Nov. 10 to 13. That's Thursday through Sunday, and I’ll be serving sweet treats at five St. Louis signings. Get the details here at www.elaineviets.com
Then tell me about your favorite cake: Is it homemade or store bought?

November 03, 2011

Naming Yourself

Elaine Viets

DonaGelsinger-AngelsCareMy grandfather called me Angel.
Spend five minutes with me, and you’ll know that nickname doesn’t fit. No one ever called me Angel after Grandpa passed away.
In fact, I’ve never had a nickname. One friend tried Lainie, but that didn’t stick, either.
When Catholic children are confirmed – about age 11 – we get to choose another new name. Did I choose a then-cool name like Kathleen, Susan, Linda?









Nope, I picked Agnes, the patron saint of young girls who was martyred for refusing to marry the emperor’s son. At age 11, I embraced my inner dork and became Elaine Frances Agnes Viets.

Eleven seems to be about the time girls try on new names. In my latest Josie Marcus mystery shopper novel, “Death on a Platter,” 11-year-old Amelia is experimenting with her name. She tries first Mel, then M.
“Amelia is a baby name,” she tells her mother, Josie. “Mel is more sophisticated.”
Josie is hurt that her daughter had rejected her given name. Amelia’s late father had been a dashing helicopter pilot. Josie had named her for Amelia Earhart, the woman explorer.



Josie’s own mother, Jane, was amused. Here’s the scene from “Death on a Platter.”

“I love it when chickens come home to roost,” Jane said. “You’ve forgotten how many times you changed your name when you were her age. Remember when you wanted to be called Josephine?”
“I did?” Josie asked.
“And you were quite the little empress. I even made you an empire-waist gown for Halloween.”
Josie had vague memory of a long high-waisted yellow dress with puffed sleeves and a crown with plastic jewels.
“Your Highness left the throne when you couldn’t learn French.”
“I never was good at languages,” Josie said.

220px-Josephine_de_Beauharnais,_Keizerin_der_FransenThe yellow empire dress was the good part of that memory. She hoped her mother wouldn’t recall Josie draping herself languidly on the living room couch like the real Josephine. She’d asked her mother to serve her dinner. Jane had had a few choice words about that stunt.
“After Josephine, you tried on Jo for size,” her mother said. “That was your Little Women phase.”

Josephine-Sarah-Marcus-c1881 “I liked Louise May Alcott,” Josie said. “Jo was the smart sister. Amy was pretty, but a simp.”
Jane continued relentlessly. “That phase lasted a couple of months. Next you were Joey. You said Josie was too girly.”
Josie thought she heard a chicken clucking. She felt embarrassed for her 11-year-old self.
“Then it was Jay-Jay.” Jane was really piling on the guilt.
Josie remembered practicing two versions of that name on a lined tablet. She’d written Jay-Jay and J. J. with blimp-like J’s that she’d thought looked elegant.
“You told me that Josie was old and boring,” Jane said. “Like those were two worst things anyone could be.”
Please stop, Josie begged mentally. “What made me go back to Josie?”
“You read a history of the Wild West that said Josie Marcus was the woman Wyatt Earp loved,” Jane said. “There was some doubt that Josie Marcus had even married the lawman. That’s when you decided your name was romantic, even dangerous.”
Josie felt a hot blush burn her cheeks. Trust me to pick a woman with an uncertain reputation, she thought.
“Amelia is acting like a normal girl her age, Josie.” Jane’s voice was crisp. “She’s trying on identities the way we try on clothes. When she finds a name that fits her, she’ll keep it, just like you did.”
“Thanks, Mom. That’s smart advice.”
“I get smarter as you get older,” Jane said.

Did your given name fit you? Did you try on other names for size until you found one that worked better?

October 23, 2011

The Middle School Blues

By Elaine Viets     

AMiddle school bluesmy, a TLC regular, needs our help. Her daughter has the middle school blues.

"My daughter is 12, just started at the middle school, and is completely miserable," Amy said. "She isn't having much luck making friends because she's gotten so shy recently. She used to be so outgoing and pretty much everyone wanted to be her friend. Now she cries every day. She is involved in out-of-school activities she enjoys, but her school doesn't offer any activities besides volleyball, basketball and track (yuck, to her mind) so she doesn't have any opportunity to get to know kids other than in class. The kids can't even sit with their friends at lunch. They have to sit with their homerooms.

"What do I do for her? What should she do? I feel like the people here have good heads and I need some advice now."

Amy, you’re a good mom for listening to your daughter. You’d be surprised how many mothers still dismiss adolescent angst with, "Cheer up. These are the happiest years of your life."

That’s what my mom told me. Then I was really depressed.

But Mom had adult problems. She was trapped in a four-room house with four noisy kids, too many bills, one bathroom, and no escape. My pre-teen problems must have seemed simple.

252px-Mary_Institute_and_Saint_Louis_Country_Day_School_Shield_1_svgI can’t advise Amy. I don’t have children or the right training. But I do have friends. I asked Jack, who has a young daughter, what he’d do. Jack sent me to Jan Jacobi, former head of the Middle School at MICDS, a top-notch St. Louis school. Read about the school here: www.micds.org.

Jan said, "First of all, this is not unusual in the first weeks in middle school. Painful as it is to hear, it can last well into the first year.

"My daughter, who sounds much like the girl in this situation, came from a public school system where three elementary schools pooled into one middle school. She had a rough first year. At one point we had a report from the school that she was sitting by herself for lunch. It took the first half of her first year for things to settle down, and when they finally did, she had kept many of her old friends (from her school) and made some good friends from the two other schools.

"With the intensity of what this daughter and her mother are feeling, they will not like to hear this--but the best thing may be to give the situation a little more time.

"In addition to waiting this out a bit," Jan said, "the mother should check in with the school to see if there is someone at the school (a counselor, an advisor, or a teacher whom the child likes) who could talk with her daughter. If she has made and kept friends in the past, and it sounds as if that is true, then she doesn't need outside counseling on peer relationships, at least not yet.

"Having the students sit together by homerooms in the first months of school is also not unusual. The cafeteria is one of the most frightening places in the school for the child who has not made friends quickly in a new school. Those friends all get to sit together and sometimes they actually enjoy excluding others from their lunch cliques.

"She might want to read ‘Best Friends, Worst Enemies’ by Michael Thompson. It's the best book I know on middle school peer relationships.Best frends

"If all else fails, she should meet with the principal to discuss what strategies the school can suggest to help her daughter with her adjustment to her new school."

"What this mother and daughter are encountering is not unusual," Jan said again. "The most encouraging piece is that the child was outgoing and made friends easily. If she has these social skills, it's just a matter of time before things get better. She has to keep trying to make friends even though she is discouraged, if not disheartened.

"Middle School is such a tough time, but it can also be a time when children begin to develop confidence. I've always felt that you develop confidence in direct proportion to your struggles. Amy's daughter can get through this---and she'll learn a great deal about herself in the process."


October 20, 2011

Dirty Dancing


By Elaine Viets

Have you seen this French ad? The hot pink male stripper in the video has been viewed by more than 4.6 million people on YouTube. Last time I checked, some 11,000 viewers liked the ripped stripper.

Here’s what puzzled me. Some 200 disliked him.

Why? He’s not even a real person. He's a laser image. The dude doffs his duds in such a lighthearted way. Who could possibly be offended?

Men, that’s who. Okay, some men. This comment from TSLlol was typical. I’ll call him Mr. T.

"Wait a second . . . us males get dissed on for liking anime girls," Mr. T grumped. "But it’s totally normal for women to get wet over a laser silhouette guy?"

Uh, I know it’s a commercial for bottled water, Mr. T, but I wouldn’t describe my reaction as "wet." Amused, maybe. Tingly, possibly. But I require a flash of real flesh for anything stronger. Consider Chris Hemsworth, the star of  "Thor." Chris is beefier than Blond Bond, yet humorous and sensitive. I really admire his quirky eyebrow. You can see it here. 


But I wandered away from this state-of-the-art discussion of sexism. Mr. T doesn’t think it’s fair that women can drool over laser strippers in the streets of Paris while men are branded piggy chauvinists for eyeing a little anime.

Flopcat98 answered him back with this comment: "it’s a commercial," Ms. Flop said. "girls in commercials get wet over a new stain remover. But you have to admit its a lot better than those american commercials with the mid west bible banging censers."

Bible banging censers? I thought it was Bible thumping censors, but I’m not arguing with a freedom-loving sister. I admire her devil-may-care spelling and punctuation. I know Ms. Flop is a female. She appreciates the playful artistry of this virtual stripper.

Personally, I pity the poor TV commercial drudges who get excited over stain removers. Stain removers don’t make the earth move for me – they don’t even cause a teeny shudder in my lint trap.

But Mr. T is correct: There is a double standard for the sexes. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it, dude. YouBlue-martini-the-premier-martini-lounge don’t see me picketing Hooters or the Blue Martini. I think those places are Oink Central. Hooters is a stare-cation for the beer-and-boobs boys. The Blue Martini is aimed at suits who like their martinis dirty and their bartenders busty.

The results are the same, no matter how you look at it. The patrons are prime porkers. But as a true post-feminist, if women want to make their living that way, that's their business.

Mr. T, if there was any justice, the bottled water company would put up a virtual stripper babe for the boys, and we’d get to see Parisian men working their exercise cycles to watch a woman take it off.

I’m in favor of equal exploitation of the sexes. But that’s not what the company is peddling. Or is it pedaling?

Sigh. There’s never a copy editor around when you need one.