275 posts categorized "Nancy Martin"

December 07, 2011

Cheap Christmas

Cheap--But Meaningful--Christmas

by Nancy Martin            

As the Christmas season approached, it became clear that our garage was falling down. It's 90 years old, built of brick and had a slate roof. (I live in Pittsburgh. During the steel era, nobody built anything that might catch on fire. Consequently, buildings are astronomically expensive to repair unless you replace the good stuff with vinyl and duct tape.)  We invited a few contractors to give us bids, and despite the staggering estimates, we decided we didn't want several tons of brick and slate crashing down our cars on Christmas morn, so we settled on a very nice guy who said he'd tear off the whole roof (including trusses, which were the problem to begin with) and the back wall and start all over again, which was................a catastrophe in our bank account. But necessary. 

THE DAY HE FINISHED THE JOB, the roof of the house began to leak, and I'm not talking about a little drip either. Also, the mysterious water that sometimes oozes up along one wall in the basement suddenly turned into a tributary of the Ohio River. And remember, it's Christmas shopping season.   

Here's a great book (which you should be able to find at your local bookstore, so please forgive the Amazon link!) for us all to contemplate this Christmas:  Product Details

In his book SHINY OBJECTS, James Roberts feels consumerism drives America now, and we're all the worse for it. We don't just keep up with the Joneses anymore---we want to keep up with the Kardashians and anyone else we see on TV, since we're too busy to have neighborly/competitive conversations over the back fence with people of our own socio-economic groups anymore.

Good thing my extended family decided years ago that giving lavish Christmas gifts was not only crazy expensive, but also.......crazy.  So we stopped.  It's no fun getting together on the holiday, though, without a few presents to open, so we started exchanging names. And the rule is, we give one book.  Everybody gets a book! Beautifully wrapped, of course. (I like ribbons and bows, but also other little accessories on packages---tree ornaments or a clump of acorns glue-gunned together or a pretty pine cone. It makes a small gift look well-considered and festive.)  The book exchange has turned into a wonderful family tradition.  Everybody loves books, and who doesn't want a good one? (Really, if you don't have a Calvin and Hobbes, you'd have the best Christmas afternoon leafing through a new copy.) And we devote all our Christmas shopping hormones to finding that perfect book for the person whose name you have.

In case anybody needs an idea for me:

  100 Unforgettable Dresses Product Details      Death Comes to Pemberley     Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

Mind you, we still give presents to anyone under 21, so I get to do the grandmother thing, although we've kinda figured out that nobody needs more toys if you already have one entire room devoted to plaything storage, so giving the registration fee for a class (arts and crafts, kiddie yoga, swimming lessons) or an activity (child choir) is just the ticket. Finding the perfect grandchild activity is a fun thing, too. Tickets to events, trips to the zoo--definitely worth the price.

So we're not Scrooge-y. Not totally adverse to spending a little cash on the holiday, but we're leaning toward thoughtful instead of Kardashian quantity.

At Christmas dinner with my family, everybody also gets what we call a "table gift."  It's a small package that serves as your placecard, and the gift inside is always something a.) under $10 and b.) thoughtful and c.) hilarious.   Last year, my mother was in charge, and she gave everyone pepper spray. Really, who wouldn't want a little cannister of pepper spray for Christmas?  In the home of a crime writer (where the dinner took place) this was above and beyond in the hilarious department.

Sometimes it's gadgets. (Another hit was the flashlight that requires no battery, you just crank it for a minute or two and it stays illuminated for a while. Good for emergencies. Or keep it in your glove box.) Table gifts require creativity, ingenuity, a sense of humor, and a sense of the absurb doesn't hurt. Nothing crude, though. Lottery tickets will do in a pinch, but unless somebody scratches off a winner, they can dampen the mood.

Needless to say, if you feel like springing for the bargain hi def televisions or the latest e-reader, go for it!  And if you're a gift card giver?  Sure, why not.  But how about sharing some good, thoughtful, unique--but not wildly expensive--gift ideas today?


I gave these to several friends.    They're cute, right? And who doesn't need a meat thermometer?  In barbecue season, having a set is fabulous.

What about a new handbag.....made out of . . . a book? Dracula Book Purse

Feeling really cheap?  Go for magnetic picture frames, the kind you stick on your refrigerator.  Put a nice photo in it. I fond these at my local drug store for $2.

Fingerless gloves. For those of us who are texting in cold weather, what could be better? Also for plugging parking meters in cold climates. Target carries them, but Kohl's had some nice knitted ones ($18, but maybe they're on sale now?)

Have a cook in the family?  I swear by these mixing bowls that are lined with some magic material that makes them super easy to clean. Honestly, these will change your life in the kitchen, and they're under $20 lots of places.  Different colors, too. Add a muffin mix, and you're good to go.

Do you use a laptop?  I gotta say, a lap desk makes things much easier, cooler, more balanced.  Check out the cute colored lapdesks at Office Depot for under $13.

I have one of these jewelry trees, and I love it. sculpted jewelry tree But I bought it cheap at TJ Maxx, not for $70 from Red Envelope. I really like it and sometimes buy it for friends.

Now, if you usually receive a Christmas gift from my daughter Cassie (you know who you are) skip this paragraph, because this is the gizmo she's giving everybody on her list: A butter mill.  She loves this thing. LOVES IT.  She's giving it with a corn bread mix and a spatula.  Cute, right? Also, I must admit, I used it when I visited her, and it's really slick.  (That's a butter joke.)

Butter Mill™

If you must give a gift card, I'm partial to specific gifts, not the basic Mastercard for $25.  Spa gift certificates show you care a little more. Or movie ticket coupons.  (My husband gives these to his office assistants. Except the one who doesn't like movies, and he gets a case of beer!)

For the mystery writer on your gift list, Dead Fred:

Here's his cousin, Splat Stan. Splat Stan - Silicone Drink Coaster

Can I also say that one of my favorite gifts of all time was the small, elegant but not astronomically expensive evening bag my sister gave to me---I dunno--twenty years ago?  It's still my fave. Thoughtfully chosen, much appreciated.

A trip to the hardware store is always worthwhile at Christmas.  Bird feeders, bird baths, garden gloves, handy flashlights, little toolkits.  (Or why not a sewing kit?)  Or a rain gauge.  Maybe I'm weird, but I love having a rain gauge.  And those little thermometers that you hang outside, but the digital read-out is a little gizmo you keep inside on the windowsill? Useful. Seed packets. A bag of tulip bulbs. A nice trowel.  (Every gardener needs a spare trowel.  Don't buy a cheap one, though.)

My husband loves little tools and gadgets.  The stud finder was a big hit with him.  (And a delightful source of old jokes when we have to hang a picture together.) Electric screwdrivers--the perfect gift for just about anyone. (Yes, I hear you laughing, Margie!) If I'm desperate for a gift for him, I got to Home Depot, fill a bucket with gadgets and duct tape and little stuff that you always need when you need it, but don't have it on hand. Put a bow on it---done!

Also? Let's face it: Wine is a almost always a good gift. But do you have one of these handy bottle openers? They come in all price ranges, and the cork doesn't break off at the wrong moment.

Those of us who are writers usually send gifts to our agents and editors--sometimes enough to share with the rest of the office.  I used to send quirky, memorable and lavish dessert baskets, but people seem to resent the sugar now, so maybe the box of fruit isn't a bad idea. (I just resent Harry & David, though, because I feel as if I'm paying a fortune for the boxes and packaging.)  I'd like to find a company that does nuts, though. Don't you think nuts would be a nice holiday gift? I don't want to have to make them myself, though. Gifts should not come with food poisoning.

Of course, a great gift is a donation to a charity.  Delightful. After 9/11 my agent's agency began donating to the nearest NYC firehouse, and when I opened that card, I burst into grateful tears.  Who needs another gift basket, really, when you can be giving money to a worthy cause? I like literacy groups.  My husband likes giving to charities that provide loans to women in other countries.

If you're looking for a great--er--stocking stuffer, here's my new favorite product:  Band-Aid Active Friction Block Stick It's a roll-on for your feet that blocks blisters!  Ideal for summer sandals or holiday heel-wearing.  Okay, not exactly festive, but I guarantee this stuff is faboo and will be appreciated. But then, Santa always brings socks and toothbrushes in stockings at my house, so I--er--we---I mean, Santa has a practical side.

Office supplies! Really, who doesn't love office supplies? Post-It notes in fun shapes--Yay! Over the weekend, I found some great pink-for-breast-cancer-awareness pens at Target for $2. Or these screw pushpins for $4?

Okay, your turn.  Please send your best gift ideas! I need a few more suggestions before Santa starts hitching up the reindeer.


November 30, 2011

Butch? Or Sundance?

Butch? Or Sundance?

by Nancy Martin

The first movie that made me bawl BUCKETS of tears was not Bambi or Dumbo (because we lived in a small town too small for a movie theater, I didn't see those movies until I was way, way too cool to cry at stories)  but the movie Becket.

Becket stars Peter O'Toole as King Henry II of England and Richard Burton as his (at first) lusty drinking buddy Thomas Becket. These two happy-go-lucky ne'er-do-wells have some fun, romping adventures until Henry gets the idea that he can solve all his kingly problems with the Pope by appointing Thomas as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Things go awry when Thomas decides to give up good times for religion, and the two buddies become sworn enemies until Henry--in a drunken rage---hints that somebody ought to kill the "meddlesome priest," so some henchmen go murder Thomas, and that's the end. 


Yeah, okay, we could talk about all the big religious themes and meaty subject matter of statesmanship wrapped up in this story. To me, though, the story was the tragedy of two buddies--men who share some common qualities and reflect the best (strength?) and worst (ego?) back at each other-- who ended up at odds with each other, and that just broke my pre-teen heart.  I hid from my famiy in the bathroom and wept.

But, in retrospect, this is also the first movie where I became aware of the Kirk vs. Spock conundrum.

Ladies, if you needed a fictional boyfriend, would you choose Captain Kirk, the lusty, chatty, party boy, man of action? Or the cool, cerebral Mr. Spock who undoubtedly hides a complex heart and a prodigious sexual appetite beneath his quiet exterior? 


Let me put it another way. Butch or Sundance?



Mel Gibson or Danny Glover? Turner or Hooch?  How about some more current examples, Nancy?  Well, I must rely on the backbloggers for that. Suggestions?

In romance writing parlance, this question might come down to: Do you prefer thrusters? Or sliders?

Which character deserves love and self-actualization?

Here's a wonderful video by the AV Club that examines some characters who don't deserve love because they're just not fully-fleshed by the writer(s). (Those of you who adore Bridget Jones should brace yourselves) :


As NaNoWriMo winds down, all the writers who've been slugging coffee and banging out pages for a month now face the even greater challenge: The re-write.  How to shape 50,000 frantically typed words into an 80,000 word novel?

The question up for today's discussion is: Too shallow to be loved? Can you develop a thruster into a character with enough depth worthy of the reader's attention? Can you give a slider enough personality to make him remotely interesting beneath the strong and silent routine?  Can you make your reader bawl buckets the way Becket turned me into a quivering mess of emotion, hiding in the bathroom? How do you shape a caricature into a character with complex goals, and complex past, a hole-in-the-heart worthy of reader interest and---oh, yeah---all without resorting to a dump of backstory in the first 50 pages?

Or, if you prefer the pass/fail question: What the hell makes either of these archetypes so damn sexy??



November 16, 2011

Hoping for the Best Doesn't Cut It Anymore

Hoping for the Best Doesn't Cut It Anymore

by Nancy Martin

A few weeks ago, I pulled into a parking space at my local supermarket. When I unsnapped my seatbelt and got out of my truck, I immediately noticed the car in the adjacent spot was empty, engine running.  Well, the front seat was empty, but the back seat had one passenger—a sleeping infant in a car seat.  The child had been left alone in the car.

            What did I do? I could have called the police.  I could have ignored the situation and gone into the store. I could have started shouting.  But what I did was wait in my car (about four minutes) until the driver returned—a harried young man carrying a prescription from the pharmacy. He got into the car and drove away.

            Did I confront him? No.  Should I have intervened? Probably so.  But I didn’t. Why not? Because I’m not that kind of person. I’m mostly polite. I mind my own business. I’m not confrontational. Yeah, maybe I was intimidated, too. Maybe I didn’t want to face hostility. I was chicken.

           My bad.

            If we have learned anything from the horrific stories that came to light at Penn State last week, it should be that we all have a moral obligation to intervene when we see something bad happening. Lemme tell you: This goes against my upbringing. And I've got to get over this.

            I talked about the Penn State situation with a woman (my husband's aunt, technically, who's younger than he is) who’s the former dean of women at a small college and now the person charged with overseeing whether or not her college complies with various regulations concerning the health and safety of students.  I’m going to call her DeeDee, although that’s not her name.  I thought DeeDee was the ideal person to shed some light on the events at Penn State, and boy, did she give me an earful. 

            Did you know that one in four women is sexually assaulted in college? This stat blew me away.

    Perhaps worse? Only 10% of women under the age of 18 report sexual asault. That astonished me.

    And 90% of rapes are committed by rapists who have either done it before or will do it again.  (Rarely is a rape committed by a guy who once just got a little drunk and carried away.)

    I remember knowing a woman who was raped when I was in college. (Okay, this happend 30 years ago--a different era, so bear with me.)  Within hours of her assault, all the female students on campus knew what had happened to her, but we kept quiet for the sake of her privacy and dignity. She left college, never to return.  The guy stayed, graduated, went on to do……well, I’m trying not to imagine what he did, but considering DeeDee’s statistics, I can assume.  The college hushed up the incident, because what college wants the world to know such things can happen on campus? (I bet you all have similar stories.) Fortunately, that particular angle of the story has been fixed.   Colleges are now required to report incidents that jeopardize student safety. Colleges are also required to create mandatory education for employees and students, too, to tell them what their moral obligations are. 

    Most workplaces annually require all employees to take an online test on the subject of sexual harassment.  But rumor has it that the people whose names appear high on the executive flow charts (at, say, big associations of, say, restaurant owners)  are more likely to skip the test or “have their secretaries take it for them” than others.  Which means, big surprise, they’re more likely to ignore the lessons.

            We live in an era when we feel obligated to take the car keys away from someone who’s had too much to drink, but apparently when it comes to sex and violence we’re still a little squeamish about intervening. I know I am.

            Have you ever intervened? Or do you walk away and hope for the best?

            Obviously, we have to stop minding our own business when somebody is in trouble. I need to get over my polite lady thing.

            We’d like to think we’d intervene if we saw a grown man raping an eight-year-old. But if that man is someone we’ve known and respected all our lives, someone who can control our employment and/or has the respect of even more powerful people in our world…….well, I guess some of us would slip away without saying a word. Or we’d wait until the next day to speak up—but not calling the police, just alerting a “higher authority” and hoping for the best.

            This has got to stop. We’re all going to have to get bolder.

            DeeDee gave me three “D” options:

  1. Make Direct contact.  In other words, if you see something bad happening, you confront the bad guy yourself.  A lot of us don’t feel capable of being direct, or we fear repercussions, though, so the next option is:
  2. Delegate.  Call a cop. Dial 911 or summon mall security or go around the corner and call your resident assistant—anyone who will step in. (I guess the important thing to remember here is to make sure the person who contact actually follows up!)
  3. Distract.  If you see a young woman, say, being accosted by a drunk in a bar, spill your drink on him.

    Now, I gotta say, this distraction thing sounds right up my alley. Sure, it might not deter the evil doer for long, but hey, it would give me a minute to screw up my courage to go a step farther.  Or it would give the police time to arrive.

So I figure distractions are what TLC could excell at.

"Excuse me, sir, I see you're attacking that young lady, but could you tell me how to get to the post office?

I need some other ideas.  Suggestions, anyone? 

Because turning a blind eye and hoping for the best just isn’t an option anymore.


November 02, 2011

Am I Writing For Smurfette?




Am I Writing For Smurfette?

by Nancy Martin   316695_2432729174255_1132421449_2818176_1054475861_n




Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong kind of books lately, but I wonder if it’s time to institute a kind of Bechdel Test for novels? 

If you don’t already know, the Bechdel Test was created by Allison Bechdel (creator of a comic strip) with the idea of determining whether or not female characters had any remotely significant role in movies.  Sure, women appear in lots of movies, but just because they’re wearing little more than a G-string and carrying an automatic weapon doesn’t mean they are “empowered” women who affect a story in any significant way. Allison came up with some simple criteria to decide if women were depicted as characters or . . . scenery.



Three questions make up the Bechdel Test:

  1. Do two or more women appear in the movie, and do they have names?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

Simple, right?

Not really.  A vast number of movies have a character we can generically call The Girl, who stands in for the rest of her sex. Even movies that seems like they’re going to give women a fair shake---well, give it the Bechdel Test, and—oops. Not so much.

I'm starting to think a lot of novels could use a breath of Bechdel, too.

Lately, I can’t help noticing that television (gasp!) has developed some really great stories with women characters.  Are you watching Homeland?  Weeds? The Big C? Nurse Jackie? In all these stories, we’re seeing complex women characters with independent, multi-faceted lives. And they pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. (Pick your favorite TV show.  Does it pass the test?) 

Then I ran across Lisa Dodge, who’s into feminist awareness and studying women in various media, and here she’s particularly wondering if the females in a story are “portrayed exclusively in their relation to men.”  She came up with some questions for students, but I think they apply to those of us who write about female protagonists in popular fiction.  Here are a few of Lisa’s questions:

  • What is most important to this character?
  • What role do other female characters play in her story? Male characters?
  • Is the story driven by her wishes and decisions? If not, who is in charge?
  • How do other characters react to this character? What guides her interactions with other characters?
  • Is the main character’s gender or sexuality important to the story? How might this story be different if the main character was male or of a different gender expression? How might it be different if the main character remained female but adhered to different standards of beauty?
  • What stereotypes of gender are present or absent in the portrayal of this character? How realistic are her world and relationships?
  • How similar are we to the characters in the story? What might our lives look like if we lived in their world? Do they accurately represent anyone we know?

Lisa asks:  Is it possible to create an entertaining female character without relying on damaging stereotypes?

Good question. 

In the mystery genre, I think we have an edge because we know our readers are interested in more than whether or not our heroine can find true love (although that’s always a nice subplot) and because of the plots we write, our characters are inherently more Buffy than Bella, if you know what I mean.


Can you tell I’m at the beginning of a new book? I’m casting around, getting to know a new protagonist. She has me thinking about issues that concern women today---not the usual stuff I’ve explored before.  (Will Nora Blackbird ever settle down with Mick? Will she get the child she yearns for? Can she keep her family legacy intact? Will she ever heal after enabling her husband’s drug addiction?  And—oh, yeah---can she solve the latest mystery in her world?) I’ve been thinking about my adult daughters and their contemporaries and stories appeal to them right now, in the world we live in. I’m thinking they’re not all watching Kim Kardashian’s wedding/non-wedding/whatever.


Sure, love and family are still worthy topcis.  Career, too. But there's a lot of material to explore. (My children were raised in the latchkey era.  Many of their friends went home to empty houses. What does that do to young teens? Especially in the age of terrorism?)

Here’s the Smurfette Principle, also worthy discussion material:


So, what do we think, dear readers?  Do our most beloved characters pass the Bechtel Test?



October 19, 2011

Sneaking Out

Sneaking Out

by Nancy Martin

Two weeks ago, alert citizens caught Michelle Obama shopping incognito at Target.  Thumbnail  Girlfriend, can I just say that I'm so in your corner?

OKay, I'm a writer who doesn't get out much.  Success in my career depends upon how efficiently I can keep my butt in this chair, hands on keyboard. I stock up on supplies so I don't have to leave the house until I run out of every atom of turkey and swiss, lettuce and my favorite rye-pumpernickel swirl bread. When at last I must admit defeat and go to the grocery store, I sometimes feel like Rumplestiltskin.  Last week I was astonished to discover that the seasons had changed without my noticing. Hey, wha--?? The leaves are suddenly a different color!

I can't remember the last time I went to the mall. (Although, Jackie, from Lands End? Thanks so much for taking my order so cheerfully! I've been wearing my old bathrobe foe 17 years, and it really needs to hit the rag bag.) But some mornings, I do slip into my yoga pants, zip up my anonymous black jacket, put on my sunglasses and hope nobody notices my hair.  I ease into Target, too, just like the First Lady.

Can I insert a commercial here? There's no place like Target for retail therapy.  I don't mean spending money. I mean just looking. Just cruising around to admire their latest design items is fun. (I did manage to see some of the Missoni ThumbnailCA2JTFHUknitwear that crashed their website.  I gotta say, it wasn't anything I couldn't live without.) I love their back-to-school office supplies the best. (Really, can any writer pass the display of writing pens and not stop? And for me, of course, it's Post-It notes in funny shapes.) Halloween decor is fun.  They've already got Christmas stuff in the back!

So I completely understand Michelle's choice in shopping destinations.  If you want to see fun stuff, pick up a few essentials while you're at it (Revlon eyeliner, where would I be without you?) Target is the place to go.

There's one big difference between Michelle and me.

Michelle doesn't shop for toilet paper or paper towels.  "It's one of the perks," she says.

Boy, I would give a lot for somebody to buy the toilet paper and paper towels for my house. (Would your spouse pick up a four-pack of TP without being asked? No, my husband would use every Kleenx in the house before it would occur to him that we need to be re-supplied. He believes in the Toilet Paper Fairy.)

I think "sneaking out" to do some window shopping is kinda like taking a mental health day.

Michelle says sneaking out once in a while gives her daughters a feeling of "a normal life."  Well, I think I disagree there.  Times have probably changed since I was Malia's age, but back then "sneaking out" meant popping the screen out of your bedroom window and slipping out at 2am to run the streets with your best girlfriends. Why did we do such a thing? I have no idea. We never met any boys, which seemed to be the plan. And we spent most of our time giggling in other people's backyards while the single police officer in our town cruised around looking for lost kittens or whatever he was looking for in those days. Come to think of it, shopping at Target is probably a lot more "normal."

I grew up in a small town--so small that there was no shopping to be done on Main Street except the 5&10. We had to drive 2 and a half hours to Pittsburgh once a year to do our "school shopping." But I spent a lot of hours mooning over the 45 records at the 5&10. Thumbnail  (I saved my allowance to buy my first Beatles album there.)

Can I admit to you, my friends, that I love Michelle Obama? She's a breath of fresh air among First Ladies, don't you think? I like that she's leading kids in jumping jacks on the White House lawn. I like that she usually wears clothes that come "off the rack" instead of accepting designer duds, and she wears the same stuff over and over like a normal person. I like that she gets caught visiting Target, not Saks. I like that she's smart and supported her family while her husband went around asking people to vote for him. I have a feeling she's going back to work when his term is over, too. (New Secretary of State, maybe?)

Meanwhile, I have sneaked out this week.  In fact, I have made the ultimate sneak-out trip.  I am in Texas, visiting my daughter and my grandchildren. (Bobby is now three.  Edie is eight months--and talking!  Her mom was a chatty Cassie---could recite the Pledge of Allegience at 18 months, but Edie can say "Mama" and "Bye" and her own name!)  Like Michelle Obama, my daughter is a lawyer (now teaching part time at a law school) and raising her kids while making occasional theraputic trips to Target. I remember packing Cassie and her sister into a stroller on snowy days and walking them around the tiny mall in the town where we lived when they were little. I never bought anything. Just walked and looked and felt glad to be out of the house. The change of scenery felt good. 

I think "sneaking out" to visit stores just to look around is a long-standing tradition, don't you? Good for your mental health.


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?

September 21, 2011

We Had a Blast

We Had a Blast

By Nancy Martin    DSC01462

My husband fusses that he never wins anything.  I think he reached that conclusion after entering the Publisher’s Clearinghouse three times---without winning so much as a wink from Ed McMahon.  A month ago, though, he attended a charity auction. (I declined to go.  To be honest? As soon as he announces there’s a charity event he wants to attend, I start to worry about what the hell I’m going to wear.  I am not a size 4.  I don’t fit into “cocktail attire” anymore, and the thought of putting on heels just gives me a headache.) Anyway, Jeff went stag, and while he was enjoying his Manhattan with the other men whose wives refused—er, declined to attend, the lady in charge drew his raffle number!  He was a giddily astonished winner of the grand prize. (He works like a fiend for this particular organization, so I’d say the karma was on his side.)  Anyway, the prize?

A free weekend at a very spiffy resort within driving distance of our home.  So we went.

A free, very plush room for two nights (oooh, the bathtub!) and free meals plus a free “activity.”  The resort is famous for its golf courses, so I guess they assumed we’d golf.  Lemme tell you, friends, I’d rather poke myself in the eye with a hot marshmallow stick than chase a tiny ball around in the sunshine.  So when my husband gave me the list of other activities from which we could choose, I think he figured I’d pick something relaxing at the spa.

But my eye traveled down the menu of activities and hit this tasty item:

Shooting academy.

My husband was astonished that I wanted to shoot skeet.

“You’re in favor of gun control!”

For me, gun control is needed for automatic weapons.  Sporting firearms are something else entirely—especially the kind that are used in controlled circumstances like gun ranges, and I’m even in favor of hunting animals. (There are too many white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania, not to mention hungry families who live in rural areas.)

Plus? Has Jeff not noticed what I’ve been writing for the last ten years? Of course I wanted to try a shotgun!

So we went to the gun club. It was a lovely September afternoon, and we were assigned an instructor who was very informative and safety-minded and downright sweet.  First, he gave us safety goggles and ear protection and showed me how to carry an unloaded weapon. Then he drove us in a golf cart to a stand and showed us how to shoot at incoming and outgoing “birds”—clay pigeons that are really disks of clay that break apart when hit with even a single BB—which is what’s loaded into the shell that you fire from a shotgun.


My husband, who hasn’t hunted in fifteen years and who gave away his rifle and shotgun before we moved here in the city, hadn’t lost his skills.  He was given a 12 gauge automatic “over and under” (as opposed to the horizontally mounted “double-barreled shotgun” you see in the movies)  and he looks pretty great, right? And he managed to hit a respectable number of birds right off the bat.

My eyesight isn’t great, so I figured I’d have some trouble. I was given a 28 gauge shotgun—much lighter than my husband’s gun and with a shorter barrel. (It had some very pretty engraving on the stock, too, but apparently that’s not what you’re supposed to say about a gun.)  I put the gun to my shoulder and said, “Pull!”—the signal to launch the clay pigeon. Now, I must admit I wasn’t a total rookie.  I’d shot at clay pigeons back when I was a teenager and my parents used to hang out with a group of outdoorsy friends. They spent weekends on a farm, shooting, grilling steaks, watching the kids chase kittens—that kind of thing.  But that was a long time ago. Lonnng time.

Well, dear reader, darned if I didn’t hit the first six birds—bangbangbangbangbangbang—most of them obliterated.  DSC01467   Our instructor thought I’d been teasing him about my bad eyes.  But my accuracy was only good on the range.  When we rode the golf cart out to the stations in the woods, I was no Annie Oakley.  I even tried wearing an eyepatch, but I just couldn’t discern the play pigeon from the trees and terrain.  I hit a few, but it wasn’t until we tried the “rabbit range”—where the clay disks are launched sideways, hit the ground and skitter along like a frightened bunny—that I got my mojo back.  Bye, bye bunnies.

Needless to say, we had a blast. A couple of wonderful dinners, swimming at the spa, strolling around the art museum, an evening cuddled up at the firepit (s’mores!) and some quality time with the love of my life---a pretty great prize.

Do you win things?

September 11, 2011

This Day to Remember.

Where were you on September 11th? What do you remember?

From Margaret:

  I was awakened earlier than usual to be told that a close relative was in the hospital with a broken hip, so when I flipped on NPR to catch the morning headlines and heard that a plane had crashed into the Trade Center, I immediately turned on the television and was shocked to watch as that second plane went in.  The first could have been a weird accident; the second was clearly deliberate, but who?  why? The horror continued as I flashed on the few times I'd taken an elevator up to one of the towers' high floors.  How long it took even on the express.  To think of trying to walk down through smoke and fire . . .? Ghastly. In addition to all the people who died that day, there were even more deaths to come.  Of the two close friends who lived in lower Manhattan, I'm convinced that  breathing those contaminants for months caused the death of one and hastened the end of the other even though neither was in the building itself.

From Nancy Martin: 

 I was living on a mountaintop in rural Virgina--alone because my husband had already moved back to Pennsylvania for a job. Between writing the last chapter of my first mystery, I was packing boxes that morning and watching the Today show.  With packing tape in my hand, I heard Katie Couric's incredulous voice saying,  "We don't want to alarm anyone, but it looks as if a small plane may have crashed into the World Trade Center." And while I watched, the second plane hit.  I thought, "My daughter is in New York," and you know that expression "my blood ran cold?"  Well, that's how I felt---as if a terrible block of ice hit my chest and spread through my veins all the way to my fingertips. 

An instant later, the phone rang, and the voice of my great friend (and backblogger!) cried, "Are you seeing this?"  It was just like our mothers telling us about Pearl Harbor.  We couldn't believe it.  The sky was so blue and perfect. For hours, I kept trying my daughter's phone, but of course it was out. Thank God for Ethernet.  When she got back from class, we emailed, and she begged me to phone her boyfriend's mother in DC.  Her boyfriend had been on a plane from New York that morning, but I couldn't make the call. I kept thinking he'd been in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.  I couldn't call a mother whose son had died.  But he was already on the subway in DC when the plane went down, and he reached my daughter by email within a few hours. 

My mother called from Pennsylvania.  Her voice shook.  "An airliner flew over the golf course.  It was so low, we thought we could reach up and touch it." That was minutes before it crashed. When I phoned my husband--already at his new banking job--he said in amazement that the guys he'd been doing business with the previous day weren't answering their phones.  They worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. My sister, in Brooklyn, said her front steps were covered in burned bits of paper with the Cantor Fitzgerald letterhead.

That night, alone in the house on the mountain, I heard a tremendous roar of powerful engines down in the valley.  It went on for hours, and the concussion rattled the windows of the house.  I was afraid to go outside to listen by myself, so I took the dog, and Dolly and I stood on the lawn, listening in the dark. Dolly leaned against my leg. I remember how warm she felt, and comforting. Turns out, all the east coast railroad companies had sent their locomotives to hide in the old coal yard in the town below. To be safe from terrorists. Terrorists!  What was a terrorist?

I remember how we all felt in the weeks that followed--joined in a common spirit.  Makes the current Congress look so self-absorbed and petty. If nothing else, I'm glad we have so many stories of heroism and patriotism and unity from that terrible day.

From Barbara O'Neal:  

I had been on a very challenging hiking trip in Provence, and made it home on September 11 at 3 am Colorado time.  I awakened to the phone ringing, and it was my grandmother calling to be sure I was home. She said, "Oh, thank God you are not on a plane. I didn't know when you were coming in. They've bombed the Pentagon."  I thought she was being alarmist, but turned on the television to see the towers smoking after the first plane hit.  The calls continued all morning--my family calling to make sure I was actually home and not on one of those planes.  I have a lot of friends in NYC, but my thoughts that morning were for the friend I'd gone hiking with.  She was stranded in Paris, alone, because she'd taken a later flight than I did, and didn't get home for two weeks.  

The story I think about the most is one from an editor I was working with at the time. She lived in the village and couldn't get to her apartment for quite some time. When she finally got back, she said the smell was awful in the neighborhood and she commented to her boyfriend that it smelled like rotten garbage all the time. He said gently, "Honey, that's not garbage."   


From Hank Phillippi Ryan:

It was a beautiful, beautful day on the East Coast, as you remember, too, Nancy.  And chillingly, as it turned out, that's one of the reasons the plot could work--because it was so clear that it allowed the terrorists to see the towers.

I was--crazily--at the hairdresser, getting a hair cut. That night was my station's preview party for the upcoming TV season, and we were all sprucing up.  Someone came running in, saying something incomprehensible, and then the news came flooding in. I had wet hair.

I knew I had to get to work, GET TO WORK as  soon as possible. As a reporter, this was...well, it was work. Separating the journalists from everyone else. I called Jonathan, yelling over the sound of the blowdryer. Yes, he knew.  Are the kids okay, in Park Slope? Our step-son works in the city...yes they're okay. I don't know when I'll be home, I said. (And I will admit, what I really wanted to do was go home.)

I walked to work, maybe 4 blocks, in that beautiful day. The bars were all open on Congress Street, all the glass fronts wide open, all the televisions on. I remember, so clearly, deliberately walking slowly. Thinking, so clearly, so clearly, "this is the moment our lives are all changing. When I get to work, our lives will never be the same."

(Ridiculously: I'm the investigative reporter, you know? And my boss came racing into my office. "How did this happen?" he yelled. "You and Mary (my producer) have to find out how this happened!"  As if we could do that. I think we stayed in the office for the next--three days? And every time we started to   complain, we'd look at each other and say: "We're not dead. Not dead." And then go back to work.)


From Sarah Strohmeyer:

Yes, it was a beautiful September morning and I'd just sent the kids off to school and sat down to write. We'd recently redone our computer system and installed a New York Times news alert. So many ways to procrastinate! Oddly enough, the first message that popped up was from my childhood friend, Connie Jordan, whom I hadn't spoken to in, gosh, ten or more years.

Connie is a smart, beautiful woman, a Swarthmore/Harvard grad and Presbyterian minister whose husband survived a nasty bout of cancer early in their marriage. I've often thought of Connie as being deeply spiritual - though we occasionally butted heads over different interpretations of Christianity. Anyway, I'm still moved by the randomness - or not - of hearing from this woman of God just as my New York Times news ticker started firing bulletins about a plane crashing into the twin towers.

The bulletins were confusing. First it was a small plane. Then it was a jet. Wait, something was going on in D.C.? Was that another plane in New York? Or the same one? I remember thinking that it was probably a joker pilot. About a month before, a single-prop plane had flown precariously close to high rises in Manhattan and in flying from Manchester to New York, our little commuter flight often followed 5th Avenue. You could even see people working in their offices. 

But this was different.

Finally, I wrote Connie this: "Something's going on."

Connie wrote back. "I know. But what?"

"It's bad," I wrote back, getting chills as the bulletins became more alarming. A missing plane in Pennsylvania. Reports of a small plane flying into the Pentagon. More planes missing.

"I have to pray," Connie said. And that was it. I've never heard from her since.

I called Charlie at work and he was just getting the news. I flipped on the TV and there was Peter Jennings, smoke swirling from the twin towers in another frame. I told Charlie to come home immediately, that the towers were on fire. I thought of all my friends in New York, of the husband of my daughter's godmother who worked at Merrill Lynch. Like Connie, I prayed.

And then the unthinkable. The first tower fell, just crumbled like a house of cards. Peter Jennings went dead silent as Charlie came through the door and I looked at him and said, "We'll never be the same."

All those people. Gone.


From Elaine Viets:


That’s what I remember most after 9-11. Don and I lived in a beach condo in Hollywood, Florida. After the attack, the airport was closed for weeks, silencing the constant drone of commercial flights.

Instead, the skies were patrolled by sinister black helicopters. Warships cruised offshore, some with the ominous bulge of nuclear weapons.

Three of the terrorist leaders moved to Florida in 2000, near our home. South Florida is an international community, and they blended in. They used our local library, where the computers are free to all. They made one of their last appearances at Shuckums Oyster Bar in Hollywood, where at least two "holy warriors" drank forbidden alcohol – screwdrivers and rum and Coke. You can make what you want of this: They ate chicken wings.

Twelve hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the FBI flashed their photos around the bar. The Shuckums’ server remembered them – and their lousy tip.


From Heather Graham:


The very words will, for everyone old enough on the day, be horrible and poignant. And no matter how much time passes, we all know where we were and what we were doing on that date. 

For me, I was mourning, and cleaning out mother's house with my sister; we had lost her just weeks before. And one of the things that kept running through my mind was at least she doesn't have to see this.

But my mom's passing became back-burner; I hadn't seen a TV. I was driving to a store to buy cleaners when a friend called me and frantically told me not to go to downtown Miami. At the time, I never went downtown, and I thought she'd spiked her morning diet coke. Of course, when she told me that two planes had hit the towers, I immediately started trying to reach my third son--he was going to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at the time, and the kids there were always on the Path train to reach the store where they bought their art supplies. I was frantic, trying to reach him. His cell went straight to a dull tone. 
I rushed back and got on my computer and I was amazed when I got an instant message. He was on the roof at Pratt and miraculously, his Internet was up. He was alright; he was feeling his gut wrench as he and fellow students watched the towers burn. Suddenly he wrote, "OMG! It fell, it fell!" And I didn't know what he was talking about, until he explained, "It went down; the whole damned tower went down. Oh, God, oh God."
The day that travel was allowed again, Dennis and I got on a plane and flew to New York; I had to see him, and friends in the city who had lost loved ones. If I didn't get on a plane, I could never suggest that anyone else ever do so again. I was terrified getting on that plane. It turned out to be Dennis and I, a few scattered people, and about ten pilots heading up to start commercial travel again. I'll never forget flying by the place where the towers had been--and the ground was still smoldering. 
I'd considered myself a student of history, and I had thought I'd known something about terrorism; my mom and her family left Dublin because they were "mixed" and the "troubles" continued. But I had never understood the kind of hatred that could make anyone massacre so many people so blindly. I'd been to Egypt, I had friends who were Muslim. And I had to make myself realize that while their was a culture of hatred--quite possibly the result of poverty and misery as so much hatred was--was not the culture of everyone. 
Today, I know that we often wonder what our men and women in the service are accomplishing because it's true that you can't kill and ideal. But I was with a young serviceman the other day who told me, "You don't get to see the good very often on TV. I was there when we opened a new school, and the parents and the children were grateful and wonderful. Building and giving, yes, we can make a change."
So what do we do in our world today? We defend ourselves. We learn how to do that through intelligence. We suffer, because we can't stop everything. We keep trying to be the country we began to be after the Civil War, seeing all people as equals. It's so easy to hate. And I hate fanatics of any kind who would do harm to others; I pray that I never do so blindly, and I always judge a person for the person they are. And because I really have no control, I pray for our men and women in the service, and I pray for all who are caught in the violence brought upon them by others. Most of all, I pray that we stop being such a party-determined society, and that our law makers can stop following party lines, and work hard to defend and strengthen out country, and show others, through our united front and efforts to benefit all mankind, that we should be emulated, and not alienated, assaulted, and attacked.

From Joshilyn Jackson:

I went downstairs to get coffee and I turned on a little television I had on the kitchen counter. There was the first tower, with the plane going into it.

I immediately called my friend Lydia Netzer and said, Turn on your television, because I didn’t want to be watching alone. They showed it over and over.  It seemed crazy and impossible. We began coming up with explanations for it, back and forth, two fiction writers constructing implausible scenarios, looking for a way it could have happened. We were like children telling each other fairy tales ---- pilots having strokes and electrical instruments going haywire, anything to keep ourselves from understanding.

The second plane came. We saw it happen.

Then we knew. There wasn’t any way to not know. This is on purpose, we said back and forth to each other, but only because there was no other explanation left. We had tried so hard to make it be Fate---God---Accident---Error, anything at all. Anything except a deliberate, human choice.


From Brunonia Barry:

I worked at the World Trade Center for several years in the mid-seventies, soon after it opened. I was in the accounting department of Toyoda America, Inc. on the fiftieth floor of the North Tower. It was one of my first jobs out of college, and I loved the whole experience. But most of all, I loved the WTC. It was like a small community. I was there when Phillippe Petit walked the tightrope between the towers.

Windows on the World had not yet opened, and, for a short while, we were allowed to take our lunches up there and enjoy the view from the top floor. A small group of us representing many different companies lunched there most days, until the construction crews put an end to our visits. After that, we all continued to meet for lunch at the restaurant on the 44th floor.

I was our company’s fire marshall, and used to lead the employees in monthly evacuation drills, things they sometimes participated in and sometimes refused to take seriously. Thankfully, my friends at Toyoda had relocated their company offices a few years before the towers came down, but there were others I knew there who remained, friends who were lost.

Ten years ago on September 11th, I was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. I remember the television and everyone huddled around staring. I remember hoping that I was hallucinating from the medication, and then realizing that it was not a dream. In the ten years that have passed, I have not visited the site. It’s still difficult for me to think about, as it is for many of us.   


September 07, 2011

Water, water everywhere . . . .

Water, water everywhere

by Nancy Martin        

On the last morning of our visit to Las Vegas, I stepped into the hotel shower and turned the hot water handle to the max.  But nothing came out of the shower head except a whoosh of air.

Okay, I thought. I'm standing here buck naked, sweaty and covered in stinky sun screen on the day Nevada finally runs out of water.

It was bound to happen eventually.  (I've seen Chinatown. Haven't you?) The pipes hissed and rattled and burst out a few pathetic gushes of water before the shower eventually began to flow normally. 

Just a little air in the pipes, the desk clerk assured me upon checkout.

Most people come home from Las Vegas with stories full of sin and debauchery, but we decided to meet our kids and grandchildren there. (Long story, but when you're transporting an infant and a toddler via airplane, you look for the shortest possible flight, and that's why the rest of us ended up in the city that never sleeps.  Wait--that's New York.  So what's Las Vegas? I seem to hear George Clooney's voice saying "America's playground."  Or was that Brad Pitt?) We had a great time--swimming in the hotel pools--there was a wave pool as well as a lazy river--ideal for the kids--and gaping at various Las Vegas spectacles.  The spectacles that are visible in daylight, that is, since we pretty much skipped the casino scene in favor of taking my grandson Bobby, who is obsessed with African animals, to see lions and tigers.  (At the MGM hotel, there are always two lions on display in a big glass-enclosed cage along with their human trainers.  Now.........do you think the tourists hang out there in droves to look at wild beasts or because they expect one of those humans to be eaten some day?  Because that was my take on it.)

There are fountains all over Las Vegas.  The fountain at the Bellagio ought to be one of the man-made wonders of the world.  It's really amazing.  Here's a cool article from The New Yorker about Mark Fuller, the guy who designs spectacular fountains around the world. It's one of the best New Yorker articles of the year, in my view. And here's a video that includes one of my top ten favorite songs:


The fountain is lovely. Or maybe my judgment is colored by the fact that the first few times I saw it was during the movie Ocean's Eleven, and the other scenery in that movie is drool-worthy.

But it's a strange experience to look at the desert landscape from the hotel room windows and think about where all the water comes from to keep the city going. 

I've been thinking a lot about water lately. Who hasn't with all the video footage of Irene's aftermath? And now a new hurricane slowly grinding up from the Gulf of Mexico? I live in a city of three major rivers, and we've had plenty of rain this summer.  Three weeks before the hurricane, we had a terrible flash flood and a street in my neighborhood was so suddenly flooded that cars in traffic were submerged.  Four people died on their way home in what started out as an ordinary rush hour.  Bizarre and tragic. And---in my opinion---an awful example of what happens when an old city's infrastructure isn't maintained.

Also, my brother---who has moved to the Caribbean---survived his first hurricane, although not without storm damage and a  real concern about what might happen if the next one is a Cat 5.

My daughter Cassie moved to Texas last December, where they've been having a terrible drought. It rained for the first time in her town last week. That's almost . . . another planet from Pennsylvania.

My mother lives an hour north of here in the town where I grew up.  That area is the beginning of the watershed for a lot of states, and--oddly enough--while we've had lots of rain here in Pittsburgh and certainly further east where the hurricane dumped so much water that Paterson, New Jersey still looks submerged, my mother's community is under a drought watch. She's not allowed to wash her car or water her lawn, and she saves kitchen rinse water to give her flowers a little drink now and then. She's making a little sacrifice so people downstream can drink.

Did you know a sixth of the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water?  Isn't that astounding? Estimates say two million children die every year from water-borne diseases.  Considering how much oil we can move around the world, it seems bizarre that we can't put clean water into even the most remote communities, doesn't it?

Summertime is the water season for us here in the USA.  We go to the beach, to the lake, swim in pools and think nothing of taking a quick shower just to cool off. 

If you're still enjoying a summer splash, think about donating a few bucks to the Red Cross.  It takes several clicks, but c'mon, it's only a couple of minutes. They're trying to get water to Somalia and parts of Africa where it's really needed, and you can spare $10.

Meanwhile, tell me if you took a water-based summer trip.  And are you ready to face work again now that we're all back at our desks? Because suddenly it's autumn where I live.

August 17, 2011

The Dress Code

The Dress Code

by Nancy Martin   

In the summertime, newspapers and internet articles abound on the subject of appropriate dress for the workplace.  Since I mostly wear yoga pants and t-shirts to work--always with my bedroom slippers--this subject is beyond the limits of my expertise. Plus, it turns out I live in the 3rd worst dressed city in the nation.  (#1 is Boston. #2 is LA.  # 3 is Da Burgh.) Here in Pittsburgh, you can wear a Steeler jersey into just about any social occasion. (Where do you think the "black" in black tie comes from?) Go to fullsize image

But every summer my husband comes home from the bank at least once remarking upon the summer interns who wear sandals to work.  And I'm not talking about the female interns. (The young ladies wear flipflops!  Only once, of course. Bankers do not--uh--pussyfoot when it comes to wardrobe disapproval. I have predicted here before that if spats make a comeback, the trend will start with bankers.) Guys in sandals?  Can I just say, generally: Ew? Hairy toes with raggedy yellow nails? Double Ew!

Summer shoes are a big workplace problem, I gather. Peep toes and sling backs--iffy choices if you want to be taken seriously.  And the height of a woman's heel is apparently inversely related to how seriously co-workers are supposed to take her.  In your view, how high is too high?  I wear flats most of the time (except in winter, when it's Dansko clogs) so I have no perspective except to say that--like porn--I think know too high when I see it.


But every time I am tempted to criticize footwear, though, I remember the time I went to my job (teaching junior high English, if you can imagine) and shortly after lunch I realized I was wearing two different shoes entirely.  (Long story short:  I couldn't decide which pair went best with my outfit.  And I neglected to make the final decision.)  So I can't be trusted.

The other big summer dress code issue deals with young ladies who show too much skin.  "The more skin you show, the less power you project," said one HR expert recently.  Lawyers, in particular, have to be careful what kind of image they're projecting in court, apparently.  My daughter, recently hired to teach at a law school in Texas, has gone rooting through her closet--digging past her maternity wardrobe and her new mommy shirts--to find the suits she used to wear a few years ago when she was practising law.  She reports all the suits are big in the armpit.  Now.......how can you lose weight in your armpits, we wondered?  Except it probably isn't weight loss as much as a style change, but it's an expensive issue.  Getting a tailor to cut new sleeve holes--and maybe it's impossible to make them smaller?--might be more expensive than simply buying a couple of new suits, right? Seems to me, a good tailor is worth her weight in thread, but I have never successfully sewn a proper sleeve, so I think this could be an expensive fix.

My sister, a former journalist, used to have a hot button when it came to bra straps.  (That was before her paper went kablooey and she became a "freelance writer.") She said any glimpse of bra strap was too much.  Nowadays, it seems bra straps are part of the outfit, so I can't tell.

Another workplace issue is perfume.     Go to fullsize image

Now, I don't wear perfume, and I'm not terribly interested in the subject which makes me a throwback to Neanderthal days, but a few weeks ago, my husband and I went to the movie theater and sat behind two couples who were clearly out for a good time. Except one of the women was wearing so much perfume that my husband and I had to get up and move.  It was overpowering! From two rows away, it smelled very nice, but how did her companions stand sitting next to her?  I can't imagine trying to work in an office where somebody doused themselves in perfume. What's your opinion on this? Do you think years of wearing heavy perfume just renders your nose incapable of sniffing what everyone else smells from across the parking lot?

Not long ago, my husband and I attended one of those depressing workshops where an investment expert spends four hours explaining how much money you need to retire and how many more decades you'll need to work like dogs to acquire that much dough.  I got so depressed that---okay, I'll admit it---I gave up mourning our 401K and started studying the other poor smucks---er, lovely people in the workshop.  A single lady in the front row--she had planted herself as close to our (handsome and presumably well-invested) speaker as she could get without climbing into his lap---had a habit of fluffing her hair.  It was amusing for the first half hour, but eventually I began to wonder if she had lice.  Maybe she was unconsciously trying to call attention to herself, but, really, it got to be kinda disgusting. Keep your hands off your hair unless you're trying to make people think about Head n'Shoulders--that was my contribution to the investment workshop, but my husband didn't feel that was the kind of thing anybody wanted to hear that night, so I waited out in the hall while he asked an investment question I can't even spell, let alone explain, which is why he has the responsible job in our household and I left teaching long, long ago.  (My7 mother reminds me that I'd be retired with a pension by now, but I told her no, instead I'd probably be in jail for murdering somebody.)

All in all, I'm glad I work alone. But lately I've heard a snarky opinion that yoga pants don't qualify as real pants.  Now--hold on!  What does that mean, exactly?  I hesitate to ask, of course.  I suspect Tim Gunn will disapprove of my daily wardrobe.  (I am a big fan of Tim.  But when he started to snark about my girl Hillary--well, I Am Not Amused.) But....if yoga pants aren't really pants, can I just go straight to plaid pajamas and forget the whole thing?  I mean, college campuses all over the country seem to have decided pajamas are suitable classroom attire, so maybe the UPS man won't be horrified if he catches me in giant pink tartan?

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Today, however, I am---of all places--in Vegas.  (Yes, in August. Another long story, but I hope it will make an amusing blog in a couple of weeks.) If I can tear myself away from the poker tables---Hey, there's more than one way to beef up that 401K, right?--I hope to be able to share some insight into appropriate casino wear.  Meanwhile, TLC fashionistas, please share your opinions.  I can't wait to hear a little hot summer venting.

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