Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Those Who Can't, Blog.

I've decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year.  Considering my abysmal record of consistency in blog-production, I expect to stink and fail, but I intend to give it a go.  After all, stinkage and failure are nothing new for me.  Both daughters are taking the challenge, too, so we are approaching it as a lazy yet meaningful family activity.

Older daughter Mary has been involved in this national creative writing effort for the last two years.  When she first began telling us about it, I thought it was a ploy her English teacher cooked up to trick the class into experimental writing.  Turns out, it really is a growing, coordinated movement intended to connect novice, struggling or insecure novel-writers and create a supportive, encouraging atmosphere that will allow anyone to produce a 50,000 word novel, or fraction of one, in 30 days. (Note how my list-heavy, adjective-laden prose and run-on sentences are just bursting onto the page already!)   Check out the detailed NaNoWriMo event webpage at http://www.nanowrimo.org/.

Now, since I never seem to start anything on time, I'm sitting down this morning, November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo, to begin reading a book that tells how to best succeed at this effort.  In typical illogical fashion, I've decided to write a blog about starting to write a novel, right after I read the book about writing a novel in 30 days.  To add to the irony, it's been about 30 days since I posted a blog entry.  I've almost talked myself out of it already.  I'll make this a short post so I can get on with my reading about writing so I can get on with writing.  Should I write about reading?  Write about writing?  Ugh!

Mary's first year's effort was a disappointment to her - she didn't quite make the 50,000 word mark by November 30th.  I was impressed by her determination and hours of labor.  She says she tried to change her plot in mid-stream and bumped into a dead-end from which she couldn't escape.  I think they call this writer's block in the trade.

However, last year, she read the book No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, which is designed to prepare the fledgling NaNoWriMo participant for the experience of grinding out approximately 1,600 words per day.

Mary took the lessons in the book to heart, to the point that she can give official-sounding lectures about the book and its principles of draft writing.  She completed the challenge last year and has been editing her novel off and on since then.  When she's done, we will order a few bound copies of her story about good and evil in a feline alternative dimension. She hasn't let me read much yet, but the few parts I've read are very promising.  She has a wonderful, evocative vocabulary and more imagination than anyone I know.  I envy her her early recognition and dedicated use of her creative and artistic gifts.

She convinced Camille and I to pursue the NaNoWriMo challenge this year.  Camille actually wrote a few paragraphs before school this morning.  She has a plot idea that seems to stem from a combination of teenage angst and a fascination with super-powers.  Mary is not working in the cat universe this year, but I still think talking animals figure into her plot idea.  Updates to follow.

And me, well, I'm practicing my considerable skill of avoiding starting something. (What a terrible sentence!)  So after I dig up some suitable pictures to round out this anemic entry, I'll cuddle up with No Plot? No Problem! (click here for an amazon link) and see if I can read 172 pages and write 1,600 words before the girls get home from school.  Because the only thing I like better than impressing my kids is embarrassing them:
Anyway, with kids this cute, do I really need any more accomplishments?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ten Commandments of a Failed Domestic Diva

Looking around at my house on this peaceful Sunday morning, I'm stunned that I would ever refer to myself as a Domestic Diva, even in jest. From the mushy comforts of my favorite chair, seated twenty feet from my kitchen, I can see piles of some sort of debris on the counter that may actually be bacterial colonies at this point.  My October calendar workpile is leaning precipitously toward sliding off the breakfast table and onto a sticky floor that is insulated with a heavy layer of dog fur. Since I can't work up the moral or hygenic indignation to do anything about this state of affairs, I feel the need to convert my laziness into a haphazard philosophy that can benefit others.  Draw near, Gentle Reader, and learn from my practical strategies and attitude of contentedness:

1.  When there are several unfinished projects taking up needed space around the house, go see a good movie.  (I saw "The Debt" yesterday, leaving behind a house full of cluttered horizontal surfaces.)  A quick procrastinatory dose of escapism makes the mundane seem more manageable.

2.  Never ask your spouse if they need help doing a job you desperately don't want to do.  Examples of this mistake generally involve the yard, basement and/or the garage.  If they ask you, plead "Weaker Sex" status or lack of certified training.  If all else fails, make a vague reference to your "cycle."  That should send them running to a male neighbor for help,

3. When carpet stains reappear, or you notice that a room needs touch-up painting, or your windows are too dirty to see out of, rearrange your furniture.  It takes several days for the novelty to wear off and for you to remember what you were trying to hide.  And once it's hidden, it may as well have disappeared.

4.  Do not waste time or energy trying to train dogs to stay off furniture, or stop barking at other dogs or jumping on people they like.  Find a professional and get a quote for the service.  Then laugh hysterically as you watch your spouse turn blue at the cost of the estimate.  If years of effort have failed, accept that both you and your dogs are stupid and/or lazy, and just give up.

5.  Feel free to leave things out on counters and tables to provide reminders (wink) or "visual cues" (wink wink), but don't pretend those cues hasten the speed those items get attended to and put away.

6.  Cook what you like to eat, and don't spend time trying to get people to eat healthy stuff they hate.  Like you, they'll just sneak the bad stuff the first chance they get.

7.  Corollary to #6:  Cleaning the kitchen after a meal no one liked is 10 times more unpleasant than cleaning a kitchen full of clean plates and empty pots and pans, and much more likely to involve profanity.

8.  Calling friends to talk about how much you dread all the jobs on your to-do list only magnifies the unpleasantness and delays the inevitable.  Try calling a friend to celebrate a completed task.  They'll resent you for it, but it makes more sense.  And write the annoying call on your to-do list so you can check it off too - a win/win!

9.  Basements, upstairs bedrooms and attics are out of sight of visitors for a reason.  Don't ruin it for the rest of us by keeping them clean for anyone but the most important, discerning guests, like your mother-in-law.

10.  If you want to decorate like Martha Stewart, cook like Rachel Ray or exercise like Jillan (what's her last name?), be my guest.  I admire your dedication to excellence.  At one time, I felt that way too, but visible evidence proves it was a fleeting aspiration.  I can finally admit that I like my hodge-podge furniture, slap-dash meals and leisurely strolls on my treadmill.

If you closely follow these Ten Commandments, as I have, you are clearly headed for Housework Hell, or some variation thereof.  However, you are welcome to help me think of a new, more suitable nickname for myself, since "Domestic Diva" has outlived its ironic usefulness.  Right now, I'm leaning toward "Malingering Matron" or "Contented Cow."

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thoughts from the Cave, Installment One

I'm the female equivalent of a curmudgeon when it comes to electronics.  Relative to my friends, at least, I see the cutting edge of technology and immediately head in the opposite direction.  I'm not against technology, or advancement, per se, but the pace of change is much too swift for my feeble mind to grasp.  I'm such a cavedweller, I actually only use my cell phone to make calls.

That said, there are some pretty nifty gadgets out in the big, wide world.  As I illustrated in a previous blog, some of these gadgets are so darn cute, they are virtually indistinguishable from other cute gadgets. (If you didn't see my ground-breaking investigative piece on this vital issue, click here.)

By far the most ubiquitous piece of modern gadgetry is the cell phone.  We are fast approaching the day when the term "cell" in "cell phone " is an unnecessary modifier. I racked my brain for a full 15 seconds, and I cannot think of one person over the age of 18 who doesn't have a cell phone.  I suppose you could argue the case that these devices are considered a necessity by today's standards.

Some of my friends know the features and specs of smart phones in the same way as previous generations knew about cars. They don't just know about their phone, they know phones.  And many people are not just dependent or attached, they are downright affectionate toward their device.  I know a grown man who names his phones, and routinely refers to them by their moniker.  As in, "Has anyone seen Bridgette?  I thought I left her on the charging station, but she's not here!"

When I was a little girl, my granddaddy had a 1959 yellow Chevy Impala that we called "Old Yeller," which doesn't seem silly at all to me.  After all, naming a 4000 pound piece of machinery, or a yacht, or a mansion seems acceptable; but giving a name to a 4.8 ounce device that becomes obsolete 15 minutes after you leave the mall?  Silly.  Ounce for ounce, it seems like a cell phone couldn't measure up to a muscle car for inspiring adoration and pampering.  But what does a cavewoman like me know about such things?

When I was young, I remember my dad and uncles holding car conversations that went something like this:

Daddy:  Did you see Bubba Junior's got a new Plymouth Fury Rally Sport QE2 with the Dorsalfin package and separate tailpipes for black and white smoke?

Uncle:  Yup.  Did you get a look at the wingspan on those tires?  And he got the over-and under shifter with the clutch in the glove compartment.  Those 14 V-8 cylinders hum like a beehive.

Daddy:   That 7000 BTU engine has major pickup for a small car.  He outran a Fish & Game Warden at the State Park and made it across the Causeway in 8 minutes flat.  And he gets damn near 10 miles to the gallon!  Damn fine car.

Uncle:  He said the trunk holds 2 deer carcasses, 7 tackle boxes and a full keg.  Guess that makes it a true multi-purpose vehicle, too.

Daddy:  Damn straight.

The glazed-over eyes, the dreamy, wistful look, the poetic phraseology: every age/generation has that one special item to worship.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm living in the age of cell phone worship.


Recently, I was sitting in a restaurant with a large group of women, and a similar discussion arose regarding someone's new phone.  Unlike our cars, which were scattered around the parking lot and fairly difficult to compare, most phones were either sitting out on the table or held in hand, like a fashion necessity.
Again, here are some genuine, made-up conversational highlights:

Desperate Housewife #1:  Did you see Prissypants Hotshot's new phone?  The new LGAT&TG&Y Canteloupe with the built-in teleporter?  It's nice, but why did she put it in that tartan plaid sleeve then plug in fuchsia earbuds?  Gag.

Desperate Housewife #2:  I saw it, but it hurt my eyes so I pretended I didn't.  Why didn't she wait for the new Blueberry with the Eartooth?  It comes pre-loaded with 10 million apps, including one that warns you when your botox is wearing off.  She needs that feature.

DH1:  I told her to wait for the new generation of the HI-Phone, the one that reads your mind so that all you have to do is say "hi" to activate the psychic chip, then it carries the conversation for you.  So you can something useful while you drive, like a manicure touch-up.  But she said she couldn't possibly wait 2 weeks for it to hit the stores.  Her last phone was, like, 6 months old, and she felt like it was on borrowed time.

DH2: Look at poor Esther Cavedweller...she's too ashamed to even put her old phone on the table.  It has a visible antenna!  I think it was handed down by some relative who came over on the Mayflower!  Once, we were having lunch at The Snooty Soup & Bread Emporium and it started making a noise in her purse.  The ringtone was like, so Wilma Flintstone.  She pretended not to hear it, but people stopped slurping just stared and snickered at the odd, blipping noise.  It was so awkward.

DH1:  I know, bless her heart.  You just want to hug her and say, "Here, you can hold mine for a minute, until you feel better."

DH2:  I did that once, but she screwed up my turn on Words with Friends, so I locked her out with the retina scanner.  I mean, I'm sympathetic up to a point, but don't go messin' with my phone!

My humble little phone has a special pocket in the Red Bag of Splurge.  It's safe and protected in there, and I almost never lose it, but it's hard to hear through the excellent sound-dampening qualities of Vera Bradley quilting.  Fortunately, I get few calls, because, as a non-texter, you have to TALK to me on my phone.  It's an old-fashioned custom, difficult for some to master, a quaint holdover from those bygone days of land-lines and home phones.

So I enjoy making life difficult for my tech-savvy friends, like purposely misusing tech terms to get on their nerves.  I've learned that people don't like it when you call their iPhone a Blackberry, or vice-versa.  But a few months ago I acquired my own device that turned me into one of those geeky gadget-worshippers:  I got a Kindle e-reader.  It's possible I may love it too much.  In fact, the next installment of blog is dedicated to my sweet little Kindle, Jane.

 Until then, I'm crawling back in my cave for a little light reading...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Return of the Intermittent Blogger

Back in the spring, I made the rash, definitive statement that I was going to quit goofing off and become a serious, disciplined writer.  I even got my husband's blessing to put concerns of earnings aside and just concentrate on learning to write as an earnest, daily habit rather than a hobby.

I put that statement out there in my blog and got many warm, positive comments.  I was feeling pretty smug about finally figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I even applied for freelance jobs to help me develop my technical abilities and to benefit from professional editing.

My 50th birthday, complete with the bustle and activity of visitors, travel and parties, occurred in early June.  Immediately after my visitors left, Eric, the girls and I went on vacation.  While relaxing, I worked on some of my unpublished essays and even got a job with one of the online sites I'd applied to (that's a story for another day).  I felt I must be in Harmony with the Universe.  Ever since I'd had that burst of inspiration to just pursue writing to the exclusion of my other half-hearted job efforts, things seemed to be falling into place.  I was on a roll.

Then my mother died.  After a few days of nursing a painful but (we thought) not life-threatening condition, she died very suddenly at the end of June.  This news was a terrible shock, made even harder by the fact that my family is 900 miles away.  Suddenly, Eric, the girls and I were traveling to Alabama to bury my mother and grieve with my many relatives back home.  The other-worldly-ness of that week was like a fog that still hasn't lifted for me.  A return trip a few weeks later also took a toll on me mentally, and I've been unable to write very much since then.

Each time I sit down to compose a post for "Polite Ravings," I start with the full intention of finishing and publishing that idea as soon as I can.  I've always had a self-defeating hesitation to click on the "publish" button, which I've described in a previous blog, but I don't start writing with that hesitation in mind.  It generally develops as I'm trying to neatly summarize my various ideas, points of logic, lesson for the day, or whatever blather I'm trying to recap.

But since my mother's death, and in the confusing aftermath, I've been unable to conclude any of my blogs.  Finishing my thoughts, tying them up with a bow and presenting them as complete and coherent ideas eludes me more than ever.  And I'm not even struggling with my self-imposed "thesis statement/supporting information/conclusion" format.  It's more basic than that.

Writing make me cry.  Writing makes me sad.  Writing makes me miss my mother.  Because if anyone on this planet wanted to see me succeed at my writing efforts, it was Momma.  And, unbeknownst to me until recently, I've been writing my blog to her and for her all along. 

Now, as I attempt to craft witty sentences, I think how she'll laugh.  I wonder if she'll notice a sneaky double entendre, referencing a subject she'd consider indecent.  I often grab the phone to call her and ask help remembering forgotten names or details for retelling a story.  I utterly failed to realize how much of my life is referential to my mother and her potential reactions.  And nowhere do I process my life and experiences more intensely than in writing about them.

But I've discovered that the key to my inability to complete a post is the fact that, in grieving my mother's death, I'm dealing with an unexpected, unplanned ending.  Momma's ending was not well thought out; she didn't tie things up neatly with a bow; she didn't get to summarize everything she thought and conclude with a nice clean ending.  Her ending was abrupt and hurried, with no chance to make everything tidy and understandable.  For some reason, this knowledge has become an obstacle to my writing process.

So I write, then I cry, then I write some more, then I break down again, then I give up and find something productive to do.  I have no idea when I'll be able to finish the entries called "Just Crown Me Now," or "The -ogs Have It," or "The Wisdom of the Queens," since they all involve Momma's deep influence on my thinking.  Interestingly, I started working on all three of those blogs before she even came to visit in June.

And I can't possibly publish some of the drivel I wrote in the early weeks after she died.  I may as well have been composing in Swahili, for all the sense those entries make today.  But I have to publish something, just to get back into the swing of things.

So I guess I'll just end abruptly and publish this.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

My Mother's Last Gift

My mother died.  There...I said it.  My 70-year old mother died, suddenly, shockingly, without a satisfactory explanation, on June 29.  The obituary told the facts, but not the story.  She left behind four devastated daughters and a husband who'd never loved another.  The pain of not being able to say "good-bye" is more haunting than I could have ever imagined.

I haven't been able to blog, or even talk, about her death with any feeling.  Things have been very bottled up inside me and I've avoided dealing with my emotions, to a great extent, since her funeral.  But grief will not be ignored.  Feelings will have their out.  I want to share something that my mother gave to me.  To write about it means to process the feelings I have about it, which means an emotional thawing is about to take place within me...I hope.  Because I desperately want to find my feelings for her again.  They've seemed just out of reach, right around a corner, for several weeks.  I hope that writing will help me find them again.

My mother considered me a much more well-informed person than I consider myself.  She enjoyed my silly blogs about day-to-day minutiae, but she often asked me, "Why not write about something other than being a housewife?" 

The simple answer is that I have no desire to spend my time defending my beliefs.  If I need to, if I'm called upon, I can and I will, but I'm not a reformer or a proselytizer.  I'd rather share my observations than my opinions.  The opinions are buried in the observations anyway, ready to be mined by the sharp-eyed reader (whoever you are).

But my decades as the self-appointed family know-it-all don't disappear because I'm too chicken or lazy to draw fire for my views on politics, religion, social justice, ethics or philosophy.  Momma often encouraged me to write about more serious causes.  In fact, her words conveyed something to this effect:  "You should really blog about your opinions on important issues.  Of course, I would never do it, but you should."  Is it any wonder I didn't immediately accept her challenge?

My mother, Carole Jones, posed this question when she was here for my 50th birthday in early June.  "You have such talent; you express yourself beautifully - why not do something more with your writing?"  If I recall, I brushed off that amazing compliment with a dumb, self-effacing comment.  After all, what could be more un-cool than to be admired by your own mother?

As it turns out, there's nothing un-cool about it at all.  In fact, every time someone you love says something nice to you, you should say "thank you" and give them a hug.  Better yet, say something kind to them in return.

Because 3 weeks after I hugged her good-bye at the airport, she died at home after just a few days' illness.  I'd written her a thank-you note, itemizing all the things I was grateful for related to her special birthday visit.  I sent her some pretty stakes for her exploding vegetable garden, and a few other silly gifts in addition to the note.  It was the least I could do for the person responsible for bringing all my sisters here for my birthday, as well as giving birth to me.

The gift arrived in the mail the day after my mother died.  She never saw the note.  She didn't get to pick her tomatoes, peppers, pole beans and squash.  She didn't get to finish restoring her adorable little house, or travel to Vietnam, or learn to snow ski.  Like most people who die, she wasn't done living yet.

But she did accomplish a great deal in her life, as was so beautifully articulated by the people who spoke at her funeral.  I didn't intend to write a eulogy, so I'm not going to itemize her accomplishments, but I do know of one wish she left undone that I can help her accomplish...even now.

Years ago, I told my mother a plot idea I had for a novel.  It was truly pathetic, but she was very supportive, asked lots of questions, and helped me to see how I could build on my idea.  During that conversation, she confessed that she'd written several chapters in a attempt at novel-writing, back in the 1960s.  A few days later, she sent me a copy of her effort.  I read it and called her to talk about what she could do with it.  My mother was not interested in working on it again; she simply wanted me to see that she, at one time, shared my desire to write creatively.

My mother once had a letter published in TVGuide (in praise of Barbara Walters, as I recall), and I think she had a few letters to the editor published.  But as far as I know, none of my mother's creative writing ever saw publication.  Since I know she once had dreams of writing, I'd like to use my blog to publish something she penned.

This poem was actually written recently.  The yellow legal-pad sheet is dated in my mother's neat hand:  6/1/11.  It was included with several other gifts she gave me for my birthday.  The writing is in pencil, the cursive is uniform and slanted with several scratch-throughs and corrections.  Here is what my mother wrote for me:

A Birthday Poem for Michele

When you were just a little thing
You jabbered quite a lot
No one could understand you for
You had your own "word pot."
You'd pull one out and say it and
Expect a prompt reply.
We'd look at one another
And try to reason, "what" or "why"??

Making sense of all your words
Came easier in time, but...
As you grew, your bucket grew
And your mouth rarely shut.

Today you talk as much as then
And details are your game.
However, words mean power
And you use them well for fame.

The narrative of your online blog
Is mastery in humor.
I laugh so much my stomach aches,
And I marvel at you more.

Your grown-up jabber serves you well
I'm proud of your keen talent.
Now I know those baby words
Were truly heaven-sent.

Love, Momma

Dear Momma, wherever you are, you are about to become a published author.  I'll always be your loving daughter, and I'll keep trying to make you proud.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Righting Eras Eye Halve Scene

Now that I've decided to be a professional writer when I grow up, I'm more terrified than ever of publishing stupid mistakes of spelling, grammar and syntax (whatever that is).  I proofread my blog posts so often that I almost hate them by the time I click the "publish" button.  I dread the day when someone I don't know posts a comment about one of my errors.

Why should that be?  We're all human, anyone can make a mistake or overlook an error.  Why am I so sensitive to the idea of having my writing critiqued or corrected?

Well, it's because no one laughs louder, longer or harder than I do at the spelling and writing errors of others.  I'm brutal - just ask any friend who has sent me a message on their IPhone, only to have their "auto-correct" function override their own writing skill and good sense.  I love to exploit the errors of others.   But it seems that I'm opening myself up to the same treatment from total strangers by trying to write for a living.  There's a good chance that The Golden Rule is about to kick in for me  That could be disastrous for my self-confidence.

But, I'm going to have to get thick-skinned and just get on with writing, knowing that I'll probably get caught making a few mistakes.  I just hope they aren't as pathetic as this one:

From a street in Kalamazoo, MI

As sad as that very public typo is, this next one, advertising a spelling contest, truly cracks me up:

It seems that the job of putting announcements on a large, lighted sign in front of a school would be assigned to someone who is known for attention to detail, as well as spelling accuracy.  Maybe that Sand Creek employee was on vacation that week in January.

Speaking of attention to detail, one website where I was trolling for funny errors had these sentences taken from actual resumes:

13. “I am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details.”

19. “Strong Work Ethic, Attention to Detail, Team Player,  Attention to Detail

I don't know about you, but if I was preparing a document aimed at promoting my accuracy, I might let someone else look it over for these kind of minor errors. (If you like these, go here for more of the same.)

It's easy to search out the errors of strangers.  But some of the mistakes I've seen have been so memorable, they have stayed with me for decades. In 5th grade, I tattled on a girl who shoved another girl down in the bathroom.  I told on the bully, even though I knew she might shove me too, or flush my lunch or beat me up on the playground.  But you know how she exacted her revenge?  She wrote me a note.  I didn't save it, but I remember the text like it was yesterday:


You are a ball-faced lyar.

I was scared, but that sad note gave me a mental picture that took the edge off my fear:

I feel sure that her limited understanding of slang phrases and her poor spelling skills weren't major contributing factors when she went to juvie the same year rest of us started high school.  If she's still around, I hope she gets to spot one of my mistakes.

In the late 1980s, I worked in sales for a business in Mobile, AL.  I once solicited secretarial help (as we innocently called it back then) and was appalled at the spelling errors on the resumes and applications I reviewed.  Of course, back then the average job-seeker didn't have access to a word processor - an IBM Selectric with the backspace/erase key was state-of-the-art in offices at that time.  Typing mistakes were very time-consuming and troublesome to correct, especially if not found until you'd pulled the paper out of the carriage.  Still, I was critical of mistakes and wouldn't even call an applicant if I caught any errors in spelling or grammar.  One resume was very memorable; there were too many errors to recall, but I've never forgotten the applicant's sign-off on her cover letter:

Last but not list, I am a not afraid of hand work.

Sinserally and truly,

Betty A. Applicant (not her real name).

I realize that if I wanted to write a book or column about notable misspellings or poor English usage, I'm about 20 years too late for the mass market.  Google the term "spelling errors" and you may spend the next hour choking on your Cheetos and snorting beer through your nostrils.  There is no shortage of compilations of hilarious and unfortunate spelling mistakes.  Besides, sometimes it's not the spelling that's the problem, it's the word choice or missing punctuation that turns an innocent comment into a funny or misunderstood one.  One need only peruse Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss to get hours of entertainment and a light dose of education about proper sentence structure and punctuation (click here to find it on amazon.com).

So I probably won't attempt to write a compilation of the world's funniest misspellings, since that has been done many times over.  Maybe one day I'll locate my missing list of repetitive redundancies that I started in the 1980s and added to religiously for years, before I lost it. Until I find it, here is an example:

“Along with your exciting guided tour of “Condominiums of Dead Possum Hollow, Phase III”  you are guaranteed at least one extra bonus free surprise gift!”

Wow, when a gift is not only free, but is also an extra bonus, you know it will be good, once it's no longer a surprise.

I'd also love to compile some of the all-time worst phrases from radio and TV ads of my youth, such as:

Save up to 50%, or more!

Get your Venn diagrams ready: as you all remember, the set that includes "up to" a number and "more" than that number is empty!  You cannot have it both ways!  If you get to save 50% on something, like a $5 shirt, you save half the cost, right?  That's $2.50.  If you save in excess of $2.50, then you exceed the "up to" part of the statement.  Here is what I mean:

Where A = "up to 50%" and B = "more than 50%," you cannot use the conjunction "and" and be accurate.  Set AB is an empty set!  You cannot have it both ways!  Did I already say that?

 Okay, I'm not only ranting, but I'm getting way off topic.  This rant is about writing, not math.  But I'll bet you are silently saying to yourself, "Thanks, Michele, for the lesson on set theory - I'd almost forgotten how fun that is."  You are very welcome.  

One last spelling mistake, then it's time to start the painful task of proofreading my own writing.

You may have seen this excerpt from a thank you note that circulated a few years ago:

 ‘Dear Sir. Thank you for your kind hospitality at Wimbledon last week. My friend and I had such a fantastic time and it was great to be able to enjoy the day knowing that we could have a little peace and quite if things got a little too hectic.'

You or I could probably recover from such a small error, but when it's made by the future Duchess of Cambridge (nee Kate Middleton), it's front page news.

Last but not least, I'll never know who to ridicule (or thank) for the punctuation-less sign I saw at a local restaurant, which inspired me to compose this rambling installment:


Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Fire Pit that Wasn't Meant To Be

As a person who considers herself extremely blessed, I try not to covet the possessions or experiences of others.  Compared to 95% of the inhabitants of this planet, I've got it pretty good.  But because I'm just a empty-headed consumer who can be made to feel envy by the most innocent-looking advertisement, I found something totally impractical that I long for with every fiber of my being, mostly because I know I can't have one.

Allow me to explain by going back to the beginning, if there is such a thing in these stories.

We have a fire bowl.  A dear friend who knew I wanted one gave it to my husband for his 50th birthday.  Neat trick, eh?  It looks pretty much like this:
except that it's not clean or new and rarely had fires in it.

Of course, we've used it for parties, sleepovers and special outdoor evening events, but not nearly as often as we should have.  It takes planning to remember to have dry wood, fresh marshmallows and graham crackers on hand, to say nothing of the effort involved in keeping Hershey bars in the house for any length of time.  So when the night is right for a fire, we usually have wet logs or no s'more ingredients on hand, meaning the fire bowl sits leaned against the house, cold and dry, passed over instead for family movie night with popcorn and Snuggies.  Sad, isn't it?

Last year, a friend undertook a complete backyard remodel.  It was amazing to watch the progress as her deck was removed and a whole new patio and walkway, complete with multiple sunning and conversation areas, were added to her lovely pool area.  But the addition that captured my fancy was the propane fire pit.  Edged with a tile tabletop and surrounded by extremely comfortable furniture, to me this represented the ultimate in family comfort and decadence.  Here's the kind of cozy scene I'm talking about:

Does anyone know how to Photoshop a picture of me curled up on that loveseat with a cup of coffee?  Because this picture just has "property of Michele Arnett" written all over it.

Instead I just contented myself with hanging out at my friend's pool all summer.  Better to mooch than to covet, right?

Then, about a month ago, I was garage-sale-hopping with a friend, when I stumbled on a barely used propane fire pit for sale for $50.  I was a passenger in my friend's van, which gave her first dibs on trunk space, so after she bought a fabulous overstuffed chair and ottoman, there was no room left.  Also, clinging to my many years of training, I'd called to consult with Eric on the advisability of purchasing such an item.  The price tag was unquestionably not the problem, (although I usually let him know if I'm planning to spend $50 in unbudgeted funds), but the fact that it was large and would need manly attention, like maintenance, refills, storage, valves, etc. made me hesitate to buy it on the spot.  Eric, however, didn't answer his phone, so we left to drop off the chair and ottoman.  I was sure he'd return my call soon, then I could go back, pay for it and let him pick it up later in his SUV.

Eric didn't call back until quite a bit later, and though he gave the green-light to the fire pit purchase, the people having the sale had already closed for the day.  I rode back the next morning, but there was no activity and no one answered the door.  Same story that afternoon as well as Sunday morning.  Boy, was I feeling like an idiot for passing up that deal.

Sunday afternoon I made one more trip, and this time I found the owners at home.  It seems that late that Friday afternoon, their 2 year-old slipped on the wet garage floor and broke his collarbone.  Poor baby!  This accident occurred only minutes after some fast-acting, decisive man with a pickup truck and extra help bought that fire pit and begrudgingly won my title of "Best Deal of the Day Not Made by Me."

For several days after, that missed opportunity was like an itch in the back of my mind - I couldn't get past the idea that I'd hesitated and lost such an excellent bargain.  When I look back, I'm not sure what bothered me most:  the fact that I missed out on something I didn't need and wasn't even shopping for, at a ridiculously low price; or that someone else benefited from my hesitation.  But I'd almost gotten over it, until...

The following weekend found me mysteriously out at another neighborhood garage sale - who keeps making me go to those things? - and I stopped at a sale at the home of a friend.  I purchased several small items from her, and as I was paying for these, I noticed a poster on the wall behind her.  This poster was a simple white board, covered with photos of quite a few high-end pieces of furniture, and I realized that I recognized a few of the pieces.

Turns out, a neighbor who was having a moving sale several weeks before had not sold everything, and took advantage of this other big neighborhood sale to advertise the items she had left.  I stopped by when she was having her sale several weeks prior, and she showed me her antique pieces, since that was all I was really interested in.  I recognized those pieces on the poster, as well as several others I saw in her house and garage that day.  One item on the poster that I hadn't seen at her home was...you guessed it...a propane fire pit!

I called the phone number on the poster and reached the lady who was moving and trying to sell all her remaining stuff.  She remembered me and our antique discussion, so I launched into questions about her fire pit.  She had to interrupt me to break the news that it had sold earlier that very afternoon.   ARRGGHH!

How could that happen?  How could I let something I had absolutely no need for slip through my fingers a second time?  And she wouldn't say what she sold it for, just that she took less than $100.  What a travesty!  That highway robbery should have been committed by ME!

People who were witness to the great injustice I suffered - not once, but twice - shook their heads sympathetically and said completely unhelpful things, like, "It obviously just wasn't meant to be."  Well, chocolate-covered cockroaches aren't mean to be, but they exist...where's the logic in the "meant to be" statement?  But I gave little thought to the well-meaning comments of friends; I was busy stalking propane fire pits online.

Yes, after checking locally and finding that the moderately-priced propane fire pits look like something from a daycare playground, I became a little bit preoccupied with locating anonymous fire pit owners who were just trying to unload their high-end, mint-condition, in-the-way fire pit on ebay or craigslist.  For cheap.  It became a bit of an obsession.

I actually sat up very late one night reading every customer review of every moderately-priced fire pit on BizRate and Nextag.  Not technical specs, mind you - that would be useless.  I just wanted to know what others thought about theirs.  When Eric asked me how many BTUs I thought we needed on our small deck, I didn't have an informed answer for him.  But I knew I didn't want fake brick sides or an all-black unit.   Those were poorly reviewed.

Not too long after, I received a nice chunk of birthday money from a couple of people (you know who you are).  My first thought was that I was going to run right out and get a gas fire pit from the local DIY store.  No more chasing used crap on Internet classifieds - I'd just go get a brand-new one and commence sitting next to a cozy fire, sipping Bailey's and coffee, reading and napping, looking for all the world like a photo shoot from "House Beautiful."  That's how these things work, right?

But then my small, normally dormant rational side emerged from wherever it usually hides, and I was forced to think about the purchase logically.  My rational side sounds a lot like Eric, and my immature side doesn't appreciate the questions that my rational side asks.  My inner conversation went something like this:

Rational Me: Why do you want to buy a propane fire pit?

Immature Me:  I just want it.  I will use it.  I have the money. You're not the boss of me.

RM: Why do you want it?

IM:  It's pretty; it's trendy; my friend has one; I could have the coolest marshmallow roasts on the block with it.   

RM:  Do you often roast marshmallows?

IM:  Not very often...

RM:  But you would if you had a fire pit -?

IM:  I already have a fire pit, but if I had an automatic fire pit, I'd use it more.

RM:  To roast marshmallows?

IM:  No, silly!  I don't even like roasted marshmallows, unless they are disguised between two graham crackers and an oversized chunk of a Hershey bar.  My kids would have marshmallow roasts, though.  And I'd use it on cool nights to stay warm while I sit on the deck reading.

RM:  Do you often sit on the deck reading?

IM:  No, but I sit on the screened porch reading all the time.

RM:  But you can't use a fire pit on the screened porch.  Will you stop using your screened porch when you have a beautiful new fire pit?

IM:  Unthinkable!  I would never give up falling asleep at 11pm in my wicker chair, with a cold cup of decaf and Baileys and an open book on my chest for all the fire pits on the Internet!  How dare you suggest such a thing!

RM:  So, are you still planning to spend all that money on a propane fire pit?

IM:  Oh, go crawl under a fat roll and leave me alone.

So I didn't get a propane fire pit.  Once I had time to think it over, I don't even know where we'd put one.  Our small deck has two grills, a dining table and 6 chairs; there's no extra space. We'd have to cultivate a new area out in the yard somewhere, and put down stone or pour concrete, then we'd have to plant a couple of trees and shrubs for some privacy and do some other landscaping, plus we'd need a walkway and some edging to make it easy to mow around...


Yoo-hoo, Eric!  Grab some graph paper and come here, please, my sweet, brilliant, creative husband...I have a design challenge for you!

Readers Wanted; Apply Within

In the past few years, I've tried several different ways to earn some income.  Staying home when the girls were young made sense, but once they were both in school all day, it seemed that I needed to be contributing to household expenses rather than just creating more costs.  I've felt as if it is my duty, as an educated, experienced adult, to add something to the bank account on a semi-regular basis.

Over the years I've been a teacher's aide, worked in special education, taught remedial writing and math to adults returning to college, tutored algebra, substituted in elementary and middle school classrooms and even had a stint as a cafeteria lady.  I've explored school-based career possibilities pretty thoroughly.

I tried my hand at having an antique booth, which mostly gave me a place to store my personal surplus of furniture and bric-a-brac.  I'm glad I gave it a shot, but I'm no businesswoman and I really can't afford the pieces I truly appreciate.  Evidently, I'm just meant to browse, not to buy and sell. 

I came to the conclusion that I needed to get a job somewhere that I already liked to go, so I applied for a position at Kohl's.  I worked there for 8 months or so, and was able to retire that "never say never..." saying about working in retail.  I've done it.  It's like waitressing to me.  It's something I can do, and am pretty good at, but I devoutly hope I'm never called upon to do it again.

Which brings me to last fall, when I took a job babysitting for a neighbor's school-aged kids.  I loved the idea of regular hours, nights, weekends and holidays off, and the chance to work one-on-one with kids on their schoolwork.  It was a great experience and I think we all got something out of it (the kids found out what a really mean nanny is like), but they needed more than I could provide and now have a young, sweet, chipper nanny to replace my tired old self.

Looking for another part-time position to make up for my babysitting income, I discovered a friend with a successful home-based Internet business was looking for clerical help.  After some discussion about the wisdom of hiring a friend, she decided to give me a try.  I was instantly captivated by her enthusiasm and vision - she has an understanding of the potential for using the Internet that surpasses anyone I've talked to before.  I figured I could probably learn a great deal from her, as well as contribute some of my own old-school experience to her one-woman futuristic enterprise.  Well, at least I was right about one thing.

One day when I was preparing to leave, my friend/employer and I somehow got on the subject of blogging.  When she discovered I enjoy writing, she mentioned that she may need some articles written for her website - was I interested?  What started as a minor question on her part ended up being a pivotal moment for me.  I eventually confessed that I'd rather be a writer than keep doing oddjobs, but that I felt obligated to contribute some income to the household, blah, blah, blah.  My friend challenged my premise:  did Eric actually expect me to work for the sake of a tiny paycheck?  Had I ever asked him point-blank about trying to write for a living?

Ouch.  For months I'd felt a void where my sense of accomplishment should be.  Just doing a job for the sake of a paycheck wasn't very fulfilling.  I mean, I would dig ditches and serve mud soup every day, if my family's well-being required that of me.  But our life is arranged such that the lost time and inconvenience of me holding down a low-wage job usually outweighs the modest financial gain.  I manage the household and get our girls almost everywhere they need to go, with everything they need with them.  Eric supports us with his salary and I try to do my job without adding to his burden.  So when he had to add hours of driving, shopping and cooking to his already full day, just so I could have a job and a paycheck, the imbalance of the situation was obvious.  But how to find fulfillment, creative or financial, without sacrificing the comforts and routines of home and family life that we'd all come to appreciate?

It seemed my inner struggle was being dragged into the open by a woman, an entrepreneur, who had already tackled these arguments in her marriage and family, and found her own path to happiness and fulfillment.  She helped me to see that I had to meet her challenge - I had to confront Eric with my desire to pursue writing as a career.  Never mind that I had no prospects, no recent body of work besides this blog.  I had to go to bat for myself and my belief in my ability to write well and write stuff that people like to read.  How and where to find an audience, a job, a writing assignment, that was a topic for another day.  My fragile ego could only handle one  life-changing question at a time.

Fast forward a few weeks and here I am, parked at the computer, working on my blog for the first time in ages.  In May I was working two part-time jobs, and since the beginning of June I've had family in town and some big events going on.  Right after our guests flew home, we left for family vacation, which is where I am now.  In the ensuing weeks I've applied for writing jobs, submitted articles to websites seeking fresh-sounding stories on pre-selected topics, and I've begun making notes for a story.  Needless to say, Eric gave me his blessing.  It turns out he has always wanted me to pursue a writing career, he just never mentioned it in my hearing.  He ascribes to the theory that if you do something you love, and do it well, you'll probably find a way to get compensated for the effort.  Who knew?

So attention job-seekers:  I'm hiring!  Readers needed for long-term assignment.  Reading opportunities provided with virtually no advance notice and on no particular schedule.  Benefits:  laughter, tears and possibly a deep thought or two.  Compensation:  This is a volunteer position.  Absolute no money will change hands.  To apply, become a follower and encourage others to do the same.  If you or someone you know likes to read, I WANT YOU!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Red Bag of Splurge

When it comes to dressing for the day, there are two kinds of women:  those who like to create a different look every day, with ever-changing hairstyles, make-up to match the demands of the occasion, jewelry to match their outfit. shoes that look fabulous irrespective of practicality or comfort and all the perfect accessories to complement that day's look;
and then there are women who consider showering to be a major accomplishment and matching clothes a gift to the world.
Can you guess which group I fall into?

One thing all the women in the first category seem to have down to a science is the process of constantly changing purses.  This is beyond my comprehension.  I must have been absent on the day Miss Priscilla Wolfwhistle, the headmistress at the Lower Alabama Academy for Charm and Comportment, explained the simple procedure of transferring 9 lbs. of purse contents from one envelope-sized container to another, every single day and for every occasion.

Since I don't need to invent any new ways to lose my checkbook or a very important receipt (for returning those misguided Daisy Fuentes jeans to Kohl's), I tend to use one and only one purse all the time, and keep my purses until they begin to dry-rot, or nesting rodents chew a large hole through the bottom.
And in keeping with my general lack of fashion sense, my purses are usually of the utilitarian persuasion.  Total strangers have been known to walk up to me at the mall and tell me where the purse stores are.  Yes, a purse that does the job I need it to do is generally an ugly purse.  And after several decades of fighting it, I finally decided to own it...just own my hideous taste in purses and stop trying to be purse-fashionable.  I got rid of a large tote full of cute, unworkable purses and resigned myself to being the girl with the embarrassing purse.

Which brings us up to summer 2009.

I was at a flea market in southern Alabama, where I found a huge, Mrs. Howell-sized pair of red-framed, dark-lens sunglasses,  They had a mockup of the D&G logo on the side, and sold for $5/pair or 3 for $10 (gotta love a flea market).  I quickly put them on, found a mirror and ascertained that they made me look like a younger, slimmer Kathleen Turner and verified that they would stay on my head even if I'm rocking out to "We Got the Beat" at 65mph.  That was the only pair in that style in red, and I snatched them up at full price.

Of course, my kids were mortified that I would show up wearing gigantic red sunglasses and acting like I was all that (well, I was), but I was delighted with my purchase.  Camille wasn't fooled by my Grace Kelly act, and asked if the D&G stood for Dollar General, but I was too thrilled with my purchase to do anything but ground her for life.

For once, remembering my proper upbringing, I decided I needed a purse to match my sunglasses, which were still weeks away from breaking.

The next day my mother and I graduated from the flea market to the Waterfront Rescue Mission Salvage Store.  Bargains abounded there!  As I entered this fragrant establishment, I glanced across the store and caught a glimpse of red fibers in a large, rectangular shape hanging with a collection of truly ugly purses; my heart skipped a beat.  Was I about to find the fabled fashionable, functional purse?  What had I done to deserve such a rare gift?

It was lightweight, made of straw, and since it was summer that was socially acceptable.  It had longer shoulder straps, so the purse wouldn't chap my armpit, which was another plus.  And it was the perfect shade of my favorite color - three major selling points.  But beyond that, it was useless.  No outside compartments, no specialty slots for pens, cellphone, lipgloss, nothing but a wide open bag.  I visualized myself digging for hours to find my tape measure or a clean stick of gum.  How would I locate my cellphone if it didn't have it's own little pocket?  Where would I put my collection  of punch cards for various convenience store coffee programs?  How could I justify buying something just because I loved how it looked, without regard to the hours of misery promised by it's sheer impracticality?

Well, it was $3.50, so I figured I couldn't go wrong.  And I didn't; I just reloaded it for its third summer of service.  It's a great purse and I've somehow learned to live with its many limitations   From the day I bought that purse, people have commented about its cuteness.  Even today I received a compliment on this bag:

But like all good wardrobe workhorses, the red bag has seen better days.  I recently noticed some splintered straw near the bottom that will continue to fray with use and wear.  And just tonight, I felt a weak spot on the skinny leather shoulder strap that means it will soon give way under the excessive weight of the load, probably during a downpour in a parking lot when I'm running late for something.

Now I'm not going to throw red in the trash just yet, but I am starting to browse for a replacement.  As I thought about that possibility. I got to thinking about what a treat it would be to own a real grown-up purse.  An investment-grade purse that would become a family heirloom.  Reaching the half-century mark should be good for something...maybe I should treat myself to something like this:

Pretty but practical, made by Coach to last forever.  Unfortunately, the price tag caused every organ in my torso to try to leave my body through a nearby portal, so I kept shopping.  Unfortunately, since my definition of a grown-up purse seems to only include fine leather products, I quickly discovered that I don't consider myself worth the price.

Ebay was better.  Hours of browsing other people's castoffs reassured me that I can find something well-made and serviceable if I am willing to trust a picture, a paragraph and a 98.7% feedback rating.  This lovely bag had a $0.99 starting price:

but ended up selling for $131.50 (with free shipping) to someone who didn't think a maximum bid of $35 was a tad extravagant.  Oh, well.  I traipsed upstairs to look at my only good quality purse, a Liz Claiborne leather shoulder bag that Eric bought for me for our first Christmas as married people.

It's still in good shape and has lots of room, but with no compartments, it was usually glutted with random unnecessary crap which obscured the 5 things I always need to find (lip balm, eye drops, an ink pen, tweezers and my Splenda minis dispenser).  Thinking that a handy pouch for those necessities, plus a glasses case and a cellphone wristlet would solve my organization and containment issues, I pulled it down from the closet shelf and slung it over my shoulder.

Jeepers!  I forgot that the nicest purse I own is also heavier empty than my normal full purse.  With a full complement of neck and shoulder complaints (to make sure I feel every day of 50), carrying a heavy purse is a very bad idea for me.  What was I even thinking, wasting time on the computer shopping for a leather purse because I'm getting old?  What made me think I need a serious purse anyway?  I need the lightest bag with a touch of whimsy and pockets everywhere.  And I want it in red.  And to hell with the cost.  I'm worth a splurge now and then.  So where will this purse journey take me next?  I can feel you holding your breath for the following installment...

Fortunately for all involved, I remembered my favorite super-cheapo purse ever - a Vera Bradley ripoff from Dollar General.  When it started to fall apart, I attempted to sew it back together, but really, for $6.95 I wasn't willing to invest much time in repairs.  But that was the lightest, brightest, bag I could remember owning, and it had pockets galore.  I never really liked the Vera Bradley bags during the craze - some of the patterns and color combinations could induce LSD flashbacks.  But now that they are not the trendy purse style, would I be able to find one?  Did I dare to hope that the once-ubiquitous VB bags were still circulating on a secondary market somewhere?

Ebay to the rescue:

Doesn't that just scream "ME!"?  

And, in case you were wondering, an ebay search of "Vera Bradley purse" turned up a 23,786 listings, but only a mere 1,097 when I added "red."  I don't know if that resale quantity means it's SLY (so last year)  to carry VB in public these days (I should pay more attention to fashion).  Or perhaps all those claims of "RARE!" and "RETIRED" mean that supply is drying up and I need to make my move now, to own my piece of purse history.

I don't know, I don't care. It looks like the perfect next purse for me, and at a starting bid of $4.95 plus $5 shipping, I think I'll enjoy the chase.

Now it's time to find some new red shades.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Gift that was Mother's Day

I'm a bit of a cynic when it comes to the recent onslaught of made up days for gift-giving.  Even when I've been on the receiving end, whether it was Secretary's Day, Sweetest Day, Teacher Appreciation Week, Dumb Blonde Month (Wednesday), I didn't like the contrived nature of forced gratitude.  I've always envisioned a dark-paneled, smoke-filled board room, filled with executives from Hallmark, FTD, Russell Stover, Honey-Baked Ham, DeBeers and WalMart, brainstorming about the next invented "special" day to foist on the unsuspecting but ever-willing shopping-obsessed public.  With Mother's and Father's Days a cultural standard, and Grandparent's Day the new guilt-inducing day to "oops" about, it can't be long before we begin celebrating Cousin's Day, Brothers-In-Law Day, Pool-Boy Day. (Note to self:  find a job designing those cards.)

In keeping with the "attitude of gratitude" that inspired this entry, I should refrain from any more sardonic wit concerning our card-and-gift-giving mentality.  Especially since I had an exceptionally lovely Mother's Day.

I love getting gifts, and even I try to think of suggestions for gift-giving occasions  like Mother's Day (mostly to steer my children away from the candy aisle).  My idea of a good gift is very broad, because I like almost anything, the older and tackier the better, and if I don't like it, I'll regift it.  The price of an item is not important, because (for me), a well-chosen cheap gift trumps an expensive ugly sweater  or bottle of perfume any day.

Plus I love used stuff, especially if it comes from an antique store, flea market, garage sale, or some other place where you get to look through other people's castoffs and see what they didn't need but you do.  My taste, so-called, is pretty simple.  Two categories covers it:  I like "stuff" and  I love "things."  If you wrap it in paper or shove it in a gift bag, chances are I'll be charmed.  ("Stuff and Things" is also the name of the new cologne created by noted unicorn artist and late-night talk-show host Greg Gutfeld, but keep that on the down low for now.)

In addition to the gifts, Mother's Day is always pleasant, because the girls make breakfast, people are always refilling my coffee unasked, I usually get to talk on the phone to my mother and sisters, and we ordinarily have my mother-in-law over for dinner, with Eric doing the cooking.  And it always falls on a Sunday...why can't the Calendar Czars arrange that for Dumb Blonde Month?

But seriously, this Mother's Day was special.  I received some very nice gifts, and that was part of what made it so nice.  But from the beautiful sunrise to the goodnight kisses, this Mother's Day gave me joy.

Some of my Mother's Day gifts:

A new flower bed for my scarlet peony, excavated by my wonderful husband after our lovely four-mile walk.  He always does some kind of outdoor project for me on Mother's Day weekend.

A new hummingbird feeder.  Words to live by:  "You can never have too many birdfeeders."

The dvd of   "The King's Speech ."  Colin plays a reluctant king who suffers a terrible stammer whenever he attempts to speak without using profanity.  See it if you haven't already - it's a sublime, intelligent film.

A breakfast of scrambled eggs with ham, a side of yogurt with sliced strawberries and a fresh sprig of garden sage, courtesy of Chef Mary Kathleen.

(I was too busy eating to think of taking a picture.  It looked much tastier than this dish.)

Kitchen shears to replace the kitchen shears which became garden shears:

Dinner at Bonefish Grill.  Bang-Bang Shrimp - need I say more?

Spring concert by the South Bend Youth Symphony, including a fabulous performance of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," featuring a certain bassonist carrying the eerie melody of the enchanted brooms
fetching a bit too much water:

 A Baltimore oriole visited my for the first time that I'm aware of.  It was such a brilliant orange, it almost hurt my eyes: 

What a treat -- but alas, this is just a google image.  Stay tuned - I intend to lure him back with fruit and jelly.

We brought home a gorgeous buffet, which completed my antique furniture wish list for the foreseeable future:

These amazing daughters are irreplaceable gifts:

Camille and Mary Kathleen

I have a wonderful mother-in-law who exemplifies generosity and kindness:

Eve Arnett

And the woman who gave me life, reared me well and is still my biggest cheerleader and fairest critic -  my mother:

Carole Jones
Sometimes, the question of why I am so blessed when others suffer makes me crazy with wonder.

But this Mother's Day, I just enjoyed my many, many gifts and offered up a silent prayer of thanks for the people, the love and the great good fortune that fills my life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Am I a Hoarder?

Dictionary.com defines hoard as

2. (v):to accumulate for preservation, future use, etc., in a hidden or carefully guarded place:; as, to hoard food during a shortage

Clearly, the negative connotation attached to the term "hoarder" is not inherent in the definition, but is a more of a cultural judgment in a time of plenty and/or excess.

According to the strict definition, I am, in fact, a hoarder.  But most of my hoarded goods are hidden, or more likely stored, unlike some of those poor folks on the reality show who cannot walk through their own home.

Although I don't watch the show, I've see enough footage in the commercials to get a feel for the level of hoarding necessary to be a candidate for that show.  I'm not there, not even close.  But I've been wondering if I'm more of a hoarder than I need to be.  Because clearly my friends and neighbors don't reuse or save some of the things that I do.  I know, because if I see something I like in their trash, I ask for it.  Creepy, huh?

Today I will probably solidify my status as a slightly addled girl fast on my way to becoming a very addled old lady.

You see, I mentioned in a blog that I am a "waste not, want not" type of person, which resulted in a few questions about that term, and at least one outright challenge to prove it.  So today I commit myself to making a list of the things I save, reuse, up-cycle, re-purpose and otherwise don't waste.  Prepare to be puzzled, amused and possibly horrified.

1.  Plastic and metal canisters.  If you received Christmas candy from me, you already know about this one.  When my children were younger, we'd use these (or oatmeal containers, or coffee cans) for craft projects.  Lots of family members received adorably decorated pencil cups which I am sure they are still using to this day - made with love by the Arnett girls.  I can't in good conscience throw out powdered drink containers that I use at the rate of 1 per week, so I began saving them.  Eric started threatening to throw them out, (the boat was just sitting there empty at the time - geez)...so I had to find a new place to collect them.  Anyway, I spent one tedious November afternoon covering 35 of them in wrapping paper so that they would make suitable candy gift holders.  Add homemade candy and voila! instant Christmas present.  I never wanted to compare the cost of making homemade candy and decorating cans to the cost of buying a similar (nicer) product at a store.  That would mean computing my labor cost, which would be too depressing. 

2.  Zippered plastic bags.  Please, please, please someone -  tell me I'm not alone!  I wash and reuse the gallon and quart sized bags, unless they contained raw meat or something that went nasty on me.  I've endured lectures and ridicule from people who've seen them in my dish drying rack.  The unit cost of those handy bags is too high to just toss them, after holding nothing more sinister than Oreos.

3.  Plastic water bottles.  See explanation above, with similar caveats and not shared outside the family germ pool.

Since it is quickly becoming a time-sucking chore to find nice pictures of the trash I save, I'll just finish this out in list form:

4.  Miscellaneous fasteners and clips.  
5.  Slightly used pieces of aluminum foil.
6.  Cardboard and corrugated boxes.
7.  Nylon strapping.
8.  Sturdy paper and plastic shopping bags.
9.  Miscellaneous office supplies.  
10. Envelopes, bubble wrap, twist ties, rubber bands.
11. Lightly used tissue and wrapping paper and gift bags.
12. Zippered bags that linens, bedding, drapes and tablecloths       are sold in.
13. Cut glass decanters and jars.
14. Scrap fabric, ribbon and sewing notions.
15. Coffee grounds.

I always thought I was being a good steward of the Earth, recycling and upcycling my stuff.  I've been deeply influenced by relatives and friends who were reared during the Great Depression, many of whom have passed on their values as well as their reuse ideas to me.  It would be an insult to my beloved grandmother's memory to throw out an empty Tic-Tac container - they are so convenient for storing excess needles and straight pins!  Paper towel tubes protect artwork that my daughter Mary cannot bear to part with, but I don't wish to frame.  Ribbon and lace scraps make any shabbily wrapped gift look instantly less shabby - let someone else experience a guilt trip after throwing away perfectly good ribbon!

I knew my penchant for reusing had possibly reached the level of unreasonable when we had a plumbing disaster here last fall.  

I dumped some leftover pasta down the garbage disposal and ended up with the clog to end all clogs (warning: root word for pasta means "paste.")  Naturally, Eric was out of town, so after a day of trying all the physical, chemical, mechanical and mystical unclogging strategies the Internet has to offer, I accepted help from a neighbor and her husband.

Tom approached my problem as men are wont to do: he used large tools to make loud noises.  When that didn't work, he started taking things apart.  Gravity being the prevailing physical principle at work, the clog and all the water behind it began rushing toward the center of the earth, first stopping beneath my sink.  There was a bucket nearby, but not close enough, and a goodly quantity of indescribable sludge with chunks of pasta primavera drained onto the cabinet floor before we got the bucket in place.

It was a mess, and cleanup was a pain, but the telling moment came later, when I discovered the only item touched by the foul spillage was an unused strip of twist-ties.  I was halfway done wiping them off with a paper towel laced with hand sanitizer before I realized the utter madness of my actions.

I was trying to rescue twist-ties.  They are a cheap, useful, easily-replaceable commodity, and I was trying to wash and sanitize them!  Perhaps I was going a tad overboard?

Well, I threw out the nasty twist-ties, but I haven't exactly changed my hoarding ways.  In the full throes of cleaning and organizing during school spring break, I kept scouting around for new and better uses for all the empty cardboard shoeboxes I've amassed.  They seem too useful for the recycle bin just yet.

And I got to wondering if other people have as much trouble throwing things out as I do.  I confess, I've never watched the reality show about hoarders.  It's not because I'm afraid I'll see myself in some of those pitiful, ill individuals, but because I'm afraid I'll become inspired by their hoards!  Do any of those sickos ever seem to be onto a good idea?

Which leads me to my newest repurposing venture:  wire clothes hangers.  Some folks hate them, but I dislike the plastic ones, because they are breakable.  If a kid needs something off a hanger, the item gets jerked off the hanger, right?  No child in this house has ever removed the hanger from the closet rod, then removed the garment from the hanger.  It's just too exhausting.  So I'm constantly finding hangers with the top snapped off, or the cross piece broken when a pair of pants got yanked a little too hard.

Why buy more hangers when I have millions of the wire type laying around?  What to do, what to do?

Using a bunch of leftover potholder loops that never got as far as the loom, I make long fabric chains that I wrap around wire hangers to make them cushioned and secure for almost any garment.  They are colorful and tacky and I'm addicted to the process of making them, attractive or not.  I'm looking for a suitably wretched craft fair to try my hand at selling these poor, sad inventions of mine.  My grandmother (and many others) used yarn to knit or crochet hanger covers, but I've yet to master those needle arts, so mine aren't as pretty as some you'll see.

Here's a look at a few of my masterpieces:

Clearly, I have more time on my hands than talent or taste, but hey, I'm saving the planet, right?

If you want a case or two for your home, shoot me an email and we'll cut a deal.

And if no one is interested, well, you can guess what I'll be giving out this Christmas!