Shaky Ground

As Edward told his story, Marlene thought sadly about how if they could just find the rest of the spoons, she could finish her cake.

As Edward told his story, Marlene thought sadly about how if they could just find the rest of the spoons, she could finish her cake.

I once read a quote that said, “Good order is the foundation of all things.”

If that’s true, then I’m pretty sure the foundation of my house is made of Jell-O.

I’d like to be organized. I really would. I read home magazines and peruse Pinterest hoping the well-kept laundry rooms, immaculate basements, and shipshape storage spaces will someday be mine. Show me a picture of an orderly linen closet and my heart skips a beat. The farmhouse baskets sing their siren songs to me from the shelves of Target. And yet, organization eludes me.

“I want open shelving in our kitchen,” I whine to my husband, as I page through the latest issue of “You’re Inadequate” magazine, drooling over the kitchens of people whose possessions appear to consist of only four rustic soup bowls and a smattering of antique glasses hand-blown in Narnia. “Sounds great, Hon,” he says while absentmindedly stacking some of the kids’ school papers on top of the dinner plates.

I narrow my eyes at him and continue. “I think if everyone helped keep them neat, we could pull it off, right?”

“Absolutely,” he says as he tosses a phone charger into the silverware drawer. Then I watch in horror as he puts a library book, a package of hair bands, and a couple of used batteries in the cupboard, next to the bread.

It’s exhausting, being the only one in the family that cares about organization.

I recently read about a method of de-cluttering called KonMari, which is Japanese for “Get your life together, you Cheeto-covered American slob.” To do it, you must eliminate anything that doesn’t spark joy.  Please. Realistically if I tried KonMari I’d be throwing out bills, all my non-stretchy pants, and, depending on the day, either one of my teenagers.

That’s not to say I don’t try, though. In my attempt at a Martha Stewart-worthy pantry, I put everything in matching containers, festooning each with a chalk-inked label. Two days later I opened the door to find newly purchased groceries stuffed hither and yon, packages ripped open and contents spilling out all over the shelves. It was the Exxon Valdez of snack food.

So, I’m embracing a new concept, called “scruffy hospitality”. The idea is that your house doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to wait until your kitchen looks like a magazine spread to invite people in.  I haven’t dusted, my pantry looks like a cafeteria after a food fight, and I’m fairly certain I saw a toothbrush in the vegetable crisper. But you’re still invited to my house for dinner.

I hope you like Jell-O.

Baby, It’s Cold In Here

http://notesfromtheshallowend.com

“Darling, I love you to the depths of my soul. But if your freezing cold witch feet touch me one more time I’m going to smother you with your own pillow.”

Happy Thursday, everyone!

How is your winter going? We’re enjoying spring-like temperatures of 78 degrees and sunny here in Ohio. Just kidding. It’s 18 degrees and until today we haven’t seen the sun in like two weeks. Not that anyone was actually concerned.  

Actual conversation overheard at NASA:

Scientist 1: Hmm. that’s weird.

Scientist 2: What’s weird?

Scientist 1: It’s just that, I haven’t seen the sun in a while. You?

Scientist 2: Come to think of it, I haven’t seen it around lately either.

Scientist 1: That seems bad.

Scientist 2: Right? We kind of need it. For, like, planetary survival and whatnot.

Scientist 1: I think… it might have finally fizzled out. I mean, is that a thing?  

Scientist 2: I’m trying to remember if they covered that in training.

Scientist 1: Huh.

Scientist 2: Huh.

Scientist 1: Welp, good thing I bought that new goose down parka! Ha ha ha!

Scientist 2: Ha ha ha!  

But our trusty furnace kept chugging along, trying to stay one step ahead of the cold, and keeping us toasty while we performed important tasks*. Until it didn’t.

(*“important tasks”  include binge watching Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee because we’re too lazy to reach for the remote and hit “exit”.)  

Saturday morning found the VP and me checking the thermostat and frantically waving our hands in front of the vents as if we could summon the heat back to life through the skillful use of jazz hands. Because there was air coming out, but no heat, I made an educated guess.

“I think the pilot light is out,” I said. To which the VP,  an educated man and experienced homeowner, responded with the following question:

“We have a pilot light?”

FYI, when you have to figure out how to re-light a pilot light, it’s best when you have at least one person who knows what they are doing so you don’t get blown sky high like Wile E. Coyote.  

So, our efforts to re-light the pilot light went something like this:

“It says to switch off the thingy. Did we switch off the thingy?”

“Do you smell gas? Make sure we don’t smell any gas.”

“Are you sure you switched off the thingy?

“Maybe we need a flashlight.”

“Wait, is that gas?”

“Yeah. I’m just gonna let you take care of this. You’ve lived a full life.”

In the end,we had to call an HVAC guy and explained that the pilot light on or furnace was out.  And the HVAC guy,  being an expert in these matters, asked the following question:

“You have a pilot light?”

Bottom line, it turns out we needed a part. A part we couldn’t get until Monday. So we were looking at 48 hours of no heat in our house. Which didn’t start out too bad, as it was still (relatively) warm outside (well, for Ohio in February, anyhow).  But then the temperature outside started to drop. And then we had a snowstorm. And then I started Googling “how to make a trash barrel fire”, searching the house for furniture I could burn, and praying for the sweet, sweet release of death.

Thank goodness for a Superbowl party, which allowed us to huddle around our friends’ heat vents for about 8 hours and ingest unholy amounts of seven layer dip while we pretended to care who won. And on Monday morning, my kids skipped out the door for school, happy to be going to a place where they wouldn’t resemble Jack’s last scene in Titanic by lunchtime.

Shortly after that, the HVAC guy, aka my new hero, showed up, popped the new part in the furnace, and had our heat running again within 10 minutes. I thought about how not having heat made me really appreciate having heat. And when the kids got from home from school, they immediately let me know their feelings on the matter.

“Ugh, it’s too warm in here, can we turn the heat down?” they said in unison as they stripped off  their coats and dropped them on the floor.

If you need me, I’ll be huddled around a trash barrel fire.    

 

  

 

Am I back? I think I’m back.

Slowly it began to dawn on Loretta that the saying "The tinier the cap, the bigger the ideas" was not, in fact, a real thing.

Slowly it began to dawn on Loretta that the saying “The tinier the cap, the bigger the ideas” was not, in fact, a real thing.

 

Writing used to be easier.

Once upon a time, my children were small. So very small. Any parent who says parenting tiny humans doesn’t come with a side of stress is lying like a politician caught at a Motel 6. But you find ways to cope. Some do yoga. Some knit. Some go on multi-state crime sprees. Anyway, my point is that you get through it. I got through it by rediscovering my love for humor writers, reading  memoirs and stumbling across amazing talent online. And then I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I had something to say as well.

I started this blog the day my youngest went to kindergarten. Never one to  fit in with the PTA moms (honestly, Jane, did you have to scrunch up your nose like you smelled poop when I suggested that the committee meetings might be improved with the addition of margaritas?) I chronicled my own misadventures in parenting and life. I threw myself into “finding the funny”, and through my writing found a community to which I felt I belonged. Incredible people, those humor writers. But little did I know the best was yet to come.

I stumbled across a blog post that  mentioned a writing workshop in Dayton Ohio. I remember my heart thumping, my breath quickening. How could I have not known about it? Better still, it was the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, dedicated to one of my humor-writing idols. But my heart sank as I realized I had just missed the workshop by a couple of weeks… and the next one was two long years away.

Yet I persisted. I submitted to humor contests, with successful results. I kept writing, finding my voice along the way. And I waited. With trembling hands, I signed up for the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. And readers? In Dayton I not only found a community, I found a tribe. A tribe of people who understood. Understood the desire to make people laugh. To find the humor in everyday life. The 2014 workshop was such an amazing experience that I signed up again for the 2016 workshop. After a lifetime of being the odd puzzle piece that just didn’t fit, I had finally found where I belonged.  

Looking  back, I realize that I was in the sweet spot of life when I started my blog. All of my children were small, and anyone who is on the other side of that period of time in life knows that parenting, and life, doesn’t necessarily get easier. You might not be changing diapers and tying shoes any more, but kids’ problems get more complex. Writing about poop, spit up, and your abiding love for yoga pants seems like low-hanging fruit once you have suffered through teaching a kid to drive, seen your aging parents through medical crises, and dealt with enough teen angst fill up three whole seasons of a CW show.  Life just wasn’t funny any more. Or at least, I couldn’t see it.

As I said, writing used to be easier.

So, cut to last December. The 2018 registration loomed. Did I deserve to attend this year’s workshop? I haven’t been able to write a funny word in two years. Financially, this isn’t the best time for us. I have nothing to offer, and nothing to show. I’ll have nothing to contribute to the conversation at cocktail hour. The excuses tumbled around in my head like a roomful of toddlers hopped up on Pixie Stix and Red Bull.

And then, perusing the workshop sessions, one in particular caught my eye. “It’s Okay to Laugh: How to Use Humor in the Dark Places”. And I realized that my inner funny person is still there, she just needs some coaxing out. Kind of like the raccoon under the porch, except not as likely to bite your face off.

So on December 5th, once again with trembling hands, I filled out the workshop registration and hit submit.

Dayton, here I come. Margaritas are on me.  

Frozen

Though the news wasn't good, Gwendolyn was grateful that the computer repair shop at least provided silk pillows on which to rest after she fainted.

Gwendolyn was grateful that the computer repair shop at least provided silk pillows on which to rest after she fainted, and a silk cravat to dry her tears.

His voice is tense. His instructions decisive. He wants to make sure there is no misunderstanding regarding what needs to occur.

“Listen to me carefully. I want you to pack it in a cooler with ice. Be very careful not to jostle it around. Put the cooler in the car and drive straight here. Whatever you do, don’t stop anywhere else. We don’t have much time.”

Am I transporting an organ for transplant? Vital plasma needed for a transfusion? An accidently amputated finger? Nope. Just my hard drive. Which happens to be in the freezer at the time of this conversation.

Let me back up. A few months ago. My hard drive crashed. I’m not talking a regular crash, I’m talking a full on plummeting to earth from 20,000 feet without a parachute crash. One that took my laptop and its operating system with it. Now, I’m no dope. I had backed up my data to an external hard drive. Yay for me, right? Not so fast. It turns out that I did the backup wrong.

See, I plugged in the whatchamahoozit and it asked me whether I wanted to make a copy. So of course I said yes. Because that is what you are supposed to do, right? Make a copy? Nope again. It turns out I should have clicked “no”, because doing so would have brought forth a whole ‘nother hidden list of options that I should have selected from instead. But I never saw those because they were hidden behind the “no”, sort of like the new car is hidden door behind number three on Let’s Make a Deal. So instead I ended up with a mule and buggy and the “womp womp” sound.

So I have the data, but my old laptop is the only machine that will ever ever be able to read it. What does that mean? It means if I ever want to see my data again, I have to somehow give the old hard drive one last shock to the heart to get it going again. Even if it works for only the five minutes it would take to pull off one vital document, it would be worth it.

Not gonna lie, it feels like hauling the defibrillator out to give Grandpa one last jolt so he can wake up and sign the will. (“CLEAR! Oh, great. Anyone have a pen?”)

Which brings me to why my hard drive-sicle is currently nestled among the pot pies and bags of carrots in my GE Profile freezer drawer. Don’t laugh. See, I read on the internet… HEY! What did I say about not laughing?… that if you freeze a crashed hard drive there is a possibility that you could retrieve at least some of the data.

But..the IT guy doesn’t laugh, and anyone knows that if the IT guy doesn’t laugh at you then you have done something right. Because if given the opportunity, they will wield their revengy-smugness like a light saber. Of which they happen to have 14 at home.

I drive quickly to the computer repair place, and present my frozen hard drive to Randall, a hulk of a man with an Abe Lincoln beard and what appears to be a tenuous grasp of social skills. Despite his difficulty making eye contact, he accepts it gingerly and whisks it off to what I imagine is a waiting team of experts. I picture them standing around a table with tools poised, headlamps blazing, ready to perform the miracle for which they have been trained. For an hour, I pace. I check my e-mails, then pace some more. Why hasn’t anyone come out yet? What could be happening back there?

Finally, Randall appears from the mysterious netherworld of computer repair land to offer his expert diagnosis.

“It’s toast.”

Geez, Randall, try not to be so technical, will ya?

I’m familiar with the five stages of grief, and fortunately I have moved through all of them by the time I reach the parking lot. Since you don’t just throw a hard drive away, or at least I don’t, all that remains is to decide upon a final resting place.

And I know the perfect spot for it to spend eternity. I’ll just have to eat some of that ice cream to make room for it first.

Just the pants, Ma’am.

"So, you just HAD to have a pair of Men's Linen Blend Super Soft Capri Pants, did you? Well NOW look where we are!"

“So, you just HAD to have a pair of Men’s Linen Blend Super Soft Capri Pants, did you? Well NOW look where we are!”

 

Most of the time my visits to large stores end with me wandering the aisles in search of help, but encountering , well, no one. It’s like the zombie apocalypse happened and no one told me and now I’m the only one left in Target  the very large store full of awesome. When I do find help  it’s usually in the form of a  twenty-something who isn’t at all interested in helping, but has perfected the “shrug and point in the general direction and then go back to t-shirt folding” move. Let me be clear though: Help is good, but too much help makes me all squirmy.  You know that thing that happens where someone is just bound and determined to solve your problem, even if it means making ridiculous suggestions? It triggers my flight instinct every time.

Which brings me to this particular salesperson, on this particular day.  I’ve gone to a different store looking for uniform pants for my son. There’s bad weather coming, and the store is otherwise empty. She is maybe about 60, and elfin, with a gray pixie cut  and a flowy top. She doesn’t look like the typical employee of this particular store, but rather your eccentric aunt who disappears for long periods of time, and you could swear you heard whispers of what sounded suspiciously like “Malaysian prison”.  When she does reappear, a smudging ceremony is usually on the agenda at some point.  Also she has a common law husband named Grasshopper and has probably spent some measure of time in something called a yurt. It’s called character development, people. Go with me here.

Her: HI! WHAT CAN I HELP YOU WITH TODAY? (note: caps are intentional, as they imply volume. Very, very, perky volume.)       

Me: I’m looking for boys’ blue uniform pants,   size 7.  My son has gone through the knees of all of his. There aren’t any on the shelf, would you happen to have any in the back?

Her: I’D BE HAPPY TO HELP YOU WITH THAT!  (beelines for shelf, where no size 7 pants exist, which I have just told her. Shockingly, she also finds no pants.)

Her: OHHHH, NOOOOO! WE’RE ALL OUT OF THAT SIZE!

Me: Er, yes. I see that. Maybe in the back…?

Her, snapping fingers: I’VE GOT IT! HOW ABOUT SHORTS?

(I glance outside and see that snow is starting to fall. Also it’s 20 degrees. ) 

Me: Uh, it’s, a bit cold for that. Also they’re not allowed to wear shorts until April, sooo…

Her: LET ME CHECK THE IN SYSTEM TO SEE IF OTHER STORES HAVE ANY!

(Tappity taps on the computer)

Her: OH. WELL, THERE ARE TWO PAIRS IN COLUMBUS, AND THREE PAIRS IN, LETS SEE… KENTUCKY. I’D BE HAPPY TO GIVE YOU DIRECTIONS TO THOSE STORES!

(Note: those stores are both 1 to 2 hours away. I could have  a pair of pants faster if I fashioned a crude loom and wove the cloth myself.)

Me: Uh, those are a bit far. Well, thanks for your help, I’m just going to…

Her: WELL, WHAT ABOUT THE “SLIM SKINNY FIT?” WOULD THAT WORK?

(Note: No, that would not work, as he’s not currently auditioning for the role of Tony Manero in the remake of Saturday Night Fever.)

Me: No, he’s just a regular size. So, thanks, have a great…

Her: WELL, WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO PUT HIM IN GIRLS’ PANTS?

(Okay, either she has never met any second grade boys or all that time in the sweat lodge has loosened her grip on reality.) 

Me: I don’t think that’s a good idea…

Her, waving hands and nodding: OH, RIGHT.YEP, I TOTALLY GET THAT VIBE FROM YOU. SAY NO MORE.

(What vibe exactly would that be? The unwillingness to humiliate my son and make him a laughingstock of his second grade class? Then yes, you are totally getting that vibe. And speaking of vibes, I am starting to get a whole “Annie Wilkes/Misery” vibe. I need to get out of here before I find myself lashed to an artfully folded display of Ultra Soft Cotton Boyfriend V-Neck Tees.)

Me, inching toward the door: Okay, it’s snowing pretty hard now, so I’m just going to…

Her: WELL, DO YOU HAVE A SEWING MACHINE ? YOU COULD ALWAYS SEW UP THE KNEES. YOU KNOW, JUST SORT OF BUNCH UP THE FABRIC AND, YA KNOW, SEW IT… (makes pinching motions)

Me, ignoring my instinct not to engage her any further:  The knees are  pretty shredded, so, no…

Her: HOW ABOUT TARGET? HAVE YOU TRIED THERE?

(I look outside again and it’s now verging on whiteout conditions. If I stay any longer I’m going to be trapped in the store with this lunatic and one of us isn’t going to make it out alive.  Glancing around for supplies,  I think I can MacGyver a weapon from a couple of name tag pins and that pole they use to reach the high shelves.)

Me: I really…

Her: WELL, YOU KNOW, IT’S JUST RIGHT DOWN AT THE END OF THE SHOPPING CENTER!

Me: Right. Maybe I’ll…

Her: IT WOULD BE A REALLY GREAT WALK! SO BRISK! YOU COULD GET SOME FRESH AIR!

(Whoa. Is Retail Annie Wilkes suggesting that I could use the exercise? That’s low.)

Me, about 5 feet from the door. My escape is imminent. : Yeah, uh, I’ll probably just order some online… French Toast  always has them in stock.

Her: OOOH, FRENCH TOAST! YOU KNOW WHAT’S GREAT? FRENCH TOAST WITH SAUSAGE… YUMMY! NOW I’M IN THE MOOD FOR FRENCH TOAST… OR PANCAKES! I LOVE PANCAKES. DID YOU KNOW YESTERDAY WAS INTERNATIONAL PANCAKE DAY? I HEARD THEY WERE GIVING AWAY FREE PANCAKES AT IHOP AND I REALLY SHOULD HAVE…

Now is my chance. While she’s lost in her fantasy breakfast reverie, I sprint through the door, muttering a hasty goodbye over my shoulder before I run to my car.  She will not be ignored, though, leaning out the door to shout after me one last time.

“DON’T FORGET, YOU CAN CUT THE OLD PANTS OFF AND TURN THEM INTO SHORTS!”

And then, while I can’t be sure, I can swear I hear her whisper, “I’m your biggest fan!” Probably just the wind, though.

 

 

 

Downton Abbey Recap: Season 5, Episode 2

Look who’s back! Me! And also Downton Abbey is back!  For the first time ever, I’m attempting a recap of last week’s episode.  Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s almost time for next week’s episode. But life gets in the way, and also holy hell did someone sign me up for a demolition derby  without my consent because why do people keep crashing into my car?  Seriously, this is getting ridiculous. Also I have holes in my car now. Not a great look for a car, but I digress.

But back to the guilty pleasure that is Downton Abbey. If anyone could use the distraction of those uptight Brits and their tepid but oddly pleasing drama, it’s me right now. I’ll be tuning in tomorrow night for Episode 3, but meanwhile if you missed it last week  and need to catch up? I’m here to help. If you haven’t seen last week’s episode, fair warning: stop reading now. Spoilers  are ahead.  Also, this is kind of long, so if you choose to continue on might I suggest you grab provisions first? Perhaps a beverage, or a protein bar. What? Okay fine then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. See you on the other side.

Also, I’ve decided to break it down by character. Less back and forth and hopping from the dinner table to downstairs and to the village and back that way.  I might not keep it this way. Or, I might.  Stop pressuring me!

Edith

We open at the scene of last week’s fire which was dramatic and scary. We know that because of all the coughing. So much coughing!  Anna and Mrs. Hughes are tasked with cleaning up Edith’s room after the fire and seeing what they can salvage and Hey Edith here’s a tip: Maybe if you’re trying to keep your love child a secret maybe don’t stick a picture of the baby under your pillow and then set fire to the room. Just saying.

At lunch, Lady Mary calls Edith an idiot. And so Edith makes this face:

Downton Abbey Season 5 episode 2

,

But wait. Can we just pause a minute and look at Cora’s face in that screen grab? It’s somewhere between a scold and a smirk. It’s a scuh-mirk. Proper British manners of the time, of course, dictated that this is the face one must make when someone insults your least favorite daughter during the pudding course of your meal. Now, if it was the soup course, that would be an entirely different matter. It’s all quite complicated. Try to keep up.

Later, Edith pays a visit to the Drewe farm. Edith and Mr. Drewe have hatched a plot to get Edith involved in Marigold’s life, and it mostly involves the two of them talking and ignoring Mrs. Drewe whenever she tries to say something. Kind of like this:

Edith: Maybe I could take her up to the house with me!

Mrs. Drewe: If I could just…

Mr. Drewe, interrupting: What a great idea!

Mrs. Drewe: But I…

Mr. Drewe, interrupting: What a lucky girl she’ll be!

Mrs. Drewe: Can I just…

Edith, interrupting: I can be her Godmother!

Mrs. Drewe: She already has a…

Mr. Drewe, interrupting: Yes, let’s get started on that right away!

Mrs. Drewe is getting more pissed off by the day, and has had it with Edith sniffing around Marigold. She makes a lot of this face:

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2

She seriously can’t even pretend to be polite any more.  In a later exchange, she snatches Marigold off of Edith’s lap all grumpy-like and says something like, “Don’t go filling her head with dreams! “ But it’s okay because no one is really listening to her anyway.

Later Edith presents her idea about being “involved” in Marigolds life to Cora and Robert, but it’s okay because no one is really listening to her anyway.

The War Memorial

Carson and Lord Grantham are accompanying a delegation to scout a location for the war memorial, and they propose using … gasp…the cricket field! There’s talk of honoring the dead and sanctity and such but Lord Grantham just keeps saying “But… what about the cricket?” And the rest of the people, even Carson, are thinking this is the perfect spot and he’s still all, “But…. The cricket?” and he wants the memorial in town instead because, you know, cricket.   Mrs. Wigan, who obviously is all, “You think you’re all fancy with your fish forks and your guy that helps you button your pants but Imma tell you something, Son!”  delivers a sucker punch of a line that makes Lord Grantham look like a gigantic horses’ ass.

Carson and Mrs. Hughes disagree on where to put the memorial. Carson is vexed, but Mrs. Hughes simply says, “Every relationship has its ups and downs,” and walks away and wait in the truck, Sissy! Are they in a relationship?  Welp, I guess you don’t just hold hands with just anyone and go frisking into the ocean like a common trollop, so maybe they are a couple after all.

But in the end everything works out and it is decided the memorial will be in town and even Carson seems to be happy but it’s hard to tell because he looks like Sam the Eagle from the Muppets and never ever smiles.  Ever.

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2

Look at you, Carson, all starchy and full of grump. Tune in next season for the answer to the question, “Does Carson Have Teeth?”

Jimmy

Oh, Jimmy. Step into my office! You’re fired! Out the back door with you Jimmy, and even though it’s 1924 and cars are everywhere you get to be driven away in a kidney-rattling horse drawn cart because that’s what you get for doing the nasty with Lady Anstruther. Thomas sees him off and wait, is that a flash of emotion I see in Thomas? Right there. No? Anyone else want to see them bro-hug? No? Okay, just me then.

Daisy

Daisy is whining that school is hard and then straight out of  Foreshadowing 101  she says “What’s the answer, then?” and you can practically hear the ,”PING!” sound effect and all that’s missing is the lightbulb graphic over Mrs. Patmore’s head and we know what’s coming.  Oh no.  Mrs. Patmore, nooooo! Anything but that, please. But yep, she goes there, and asks Rose if Rabble Rouser Miss Bunting will take on Daisy as a student. Which means we’ll have to see more of Miss Bunting and her stupid floppy hats.

Of course Miss Bunting gives Daisy one math  lesson with nonsense about “clues” and “figures are your friends” and “just like a painting!” and suddenly Daisy’s all, “Oh! I get it!” like math is that just that easy. If I had a nickel for anytime someone said math was easy I’d have… well I don’t know how much I’d have because math is hard and Miss Bunting’s a lying liar mouth. But I’m not bitter. Sorry, where was I? Right. After Miss Bunting’s Miraculous Five Minute Math Lesson After Which Daisy is Totally Ready For Quantum Physics, she starts in on Daisy with her ominous ways. She plants Ideas in Daisy’s head, saying things like, “You’d like to have some choices in your life… and why shouldn’t you?” only the way she says it sounds like she’s trying to convince Daisy to just come to one teensy weensy Scientology meeting. (Careful Daisy. That’s how they get you!)

Molesley/Baxter/Thomas

Molesley is still scrabbling for dignity after last week’s unfortunate attempt to join the Hair Club for Men and practically begs Carson to be declared First Footman. Carson’s all, “Dude, you’re like, the only footman! Congrats. Now take the damn tray upstairs ‘cause now you get to do the work of three people.” And Molesley’s all “Yay!” and off he trots with his pudding that smells like victory.

Thomas ramps up the evil and rats out Baxter to Molesley. Molesley tells Baxter that Thomas ratted her out. So Moseley knows, and now Baxter knows that he knows.

Mean Thomas! Bad Thomas! Picking on poor , sweet, bumbling Molesley.  Molesley is crushed. We are crushed for him. Sweet Jesus, can this guy not catch a break?

Cora is still leaving Baxter hanging about whether she’s going to fire her or not. Every night she’s letting Baxter tuck her in, then telling her in her angsty, mildly annoyed way that she’s just not sure what she’s going to do yet, and I all I can think of is ,“Good night, Wesley. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning!” And Baxter’s all, “Oh for God’s sake! Would you just fire me and get it over with?”

Tom

Dumb Rose wants to invite Miss Bunting for dinner, despite the train wreck that ensued the last time. Tom says no. Cora says go ahead. Tom says okay. Really Tom, if one of the women in the house told you to jump off of a bridge, would you?   Wait, don’t answer that.

This episode consists entirely of: Weak Tom being lead around by the nose by various women. Seriously, five minutes of yammering from Miss Bunting and suddenly Tom is ready to throw down with Lord Grantham at dinner. He keeps saying things to remind us that really, underneath the white tie and tails, he is a Rebellious Person because Miss Bunting said he was and don’t you forget it and by the way can you make my pillow extra fluffy tonight thanks very much oh wait! Communism! Revolution! Awkward dinner conversation!  Ergh.

Lady Mary

Isobel makes a comment about how baby George is growing up, and Lady Mary’s all, “Oh, yes. He is rather sweet, isn’t he?” (which is her version of warmth) and that’s enough of that because her mind is on the impending naughty business with Lord Gillingham. The naughty business that she’s trying to pretend is a “sketching trip” with a girlfriend.

Mary shoves a leather bound book at Anna (we know it is naughty because she keeps it in her bedside table!) asks Anna to buy her “one of these” for her upcoming tryst with Gillingham, to be sure there are no, ahem, “consequences”, and Anna is shocked.

Cue awkwardly placed conversation about reproductive choice.

After Charles Blake arrives with the very Tanned and Oily Simon Bricker, Ice Queen Mary apologizes to him in advance for probably, sorta, giving her, um, “heart” to Tony Gillingham. ‘Kay, first let’s establish that Mary has no heart. At least one not made of human parts. Her heart is made of, I don’t know, something akin to tungsten.  And even if she did have a living, breathing, feeling heart, that’s not exactly what she’s giving to him, know what I’m saying?

Later the awkwardness between Lady Mary and Charles Blake leads to an encounter in the library where they cast glances at each other and talk around the real issue until finally Mary is all, “Are we talking about sex… or love?” Leading Charles Blake to respond awesomely, “That is the question mankind has been wrestling with since the dawn of time. Good night!” (Drops mic, sprints from library) leaving Lady Mary making a gaspy, stammery face.

Mary can sense Anna judging her, but Anna just says, “Good luck!” when you know she really wants to add under her breath, “…Floozy McTrampypants!”  And how great would that be? But instead she just gives her this look:

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2

That’s the face of someone who’s been an unwilling accomplice to shenanigans.

Later Mary arrives at a hotel. That’s right; nothing says “sexy time” like Liverpool, ladies and gentlemen.  Lord Gillingham surprises her by (gasp) getting adjoining rooms! Oh, Lord Gillingham, you devil you. He’s trying to be all seductive but then he goes and uses the word “scrumptious” and ruins the moment suddenly I cannot take him seriously.  There is a kiss, but really it’s not even worth talking about because it has all the passion and spice of flan. So it’s a flan-kiss. Yech. Thank God it’s over in about 2 seconds.

Miss Bunting

After Bunting teaches Daisy all there is to know about math in five minutes,  Rose invites Bunting to dinner. Ah-gain. (Seriously, Rose?) It’s as if she doesn’t remember that the last time she invited Bunting to dinner it was a complete train wreck. Lord Grantham is peeved that Miss Bunting has once again been invited to dinner, but fortunately she declines the offer. She does, however continue her pot-stirring ways all the way out the door and for the love of God Miss Bunting would you just shut up and get in the damn car!  I can’t be the only one hoping that Bunting is the next one Bates pushes under a bus.

Rose

This episode consists entirely of Rose making not so subtle ploys to get a wireless at Downton. And delighted expressions.  We get it. Rose is delighted about something. And also about as deep as a puddle. An aside: Anyone else think they should really replace Roses’ dialog with the same sound they use for Tinker Bell in Peter Pan? Just think of it: when she opened her mouth to speak and all you would hear would be a tiny bell:  ting-a-ling-a-ling. Aaaaand scene.

(Sound of bells tinkling.) Oops, sorry, Rose has decided to give clothing to Russian refugees. Something about shopping and going to parties. Have decided Rose is dumb as a box of hair.

(Sound of bells tinkling.) Oh, sorry, poor simple Rose is talking about that damn radio again. Box. Of. Hair.

Then surprise, they end up getting a wireless at Downton. Rose makes another delighted face, kind of like I did the year I got the Sunset Malibu PJ for Christmas. Carson is having none of it. Everyone gathers around to listen to the King’s voice come out of the Mysterious Magical Box of Sorcery.

Isobel Crawley/Dowager Countess

What’s up with these two? Are they joined at the hip? First they have lunch with Doctor Carson. Then they have lunch with Lord Merton. They are constantly together and bickering like two housecats.  My advice: Take some time apart, ladies.

To the writers of Downton abbey: More clever dialogue, fewer dagger stares, please.

Anna and Bates

Anna skulks to the village and buys “the thing” for Lady Mary, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one thinking Mr. Bates is going to come waltzing in the door of the pharmacy, see her purchase, and get all ominous and murder-ey. But he doesn’t. So we’ll have to wait for him to get murder-ey until another time. Prolly next week.

Later Bates is questioning Anna about Lady Mary’s mystery trip, and Anna  covers for her. Is it me or does something seem to have shifted in Anna and Mr. Bates’ relationship? Come on, Anna, give the guy a break! I mean, isn’t there something a bit attractive about a guy who’s willing to push another guy into traffic to defend your honor? Oh, er, wait. Okay I see it now. Moving on….

Simon Bricker.

Simon Bricker arrives. Ogles a painting. Ogles Cora. Hopefully he’s just a conduit to get Charles Blake back in the house, because if the direction this is going is some kind of an affair between Bricker and Cora then I’m out. Although the flirting and innuendo did lead to one of the best lines of the night, with clueless Lord Grantham shouting, “And tell your friend Bricker to stop flirting with Isis! There is nothing more ill bred than trying to steal the affections of someone else’s dog!”  And Cora gives this look:

Downton Abbey Season 5, Episode 2

Which is kind of like, “Seriously? The guy practically had his tongue down my throat and you’re worried about him flirting with the dog?”

In the end, there is a kind of adorable flirting moment between Carson and Mrs. Hughes, but the moment is interrupted by a policeman visiting with an inquiry into the death of Mr. Greene. Apparently a witness has turned up! Shocked look from Mrs. Hughes. Ominous music.  The end.  Stupid policeman.

In summary: Birth control! Freedom! Choices! Awkwardness! Education for the servants!  Wireless radios! Communism! We get it, Downton abbey. Changes are a-comin.  But  I’m with Lord Grantham; Let’s all stick our heads in the sand and pretend none of it is happening. ‘Cause as long we still have The Pudding, and a servant to lug it three floors, all is right with the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Kidding Me? Book Review

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Last spring, I had the good fortune to meet Stacey Gustafson and get to see her do stand-up comedy. This is one funny lady. So when her publisher contacted me and asked if I would be willing to review her new book, I jumped at the chance.

Stacey’s new book Are You Kidding Me? My Life with an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives had me hooked from the start, and by the second chapter I was both laughing out loud and nodding my head in agreement, wondering how Stacey Gustafson had managed to get into my house and spy on my family.  Both riotously funny and relatable, this gem of a book should be [Read more…]

The Typhoid Taxi

Mouse

“I want her DEAD! I want her family DEAD! I want her house burned to the GROUND! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna… Oh crap! Is that an owl?”

 

October always brings uninvited guests to our house. They’re terribly rude, these guests. They don’t even bring a bottle of wine as an apology for showing up unannounced,  and they tend to poop in unpleasant places.

Nope, not the in-laws, though that’s a good guess. We have mice.

I don’t blame the mice, really. They have it pretty good once they get here. The amount of crumbs my kids drop could feed an emerging nation for months. Plus my kids have been indoctrinated by Disney movies and don’t care that the little critters are carriers of plague, pestilence, and seven different types of hemmorhagic fever. They freak out at the thought of killing them.  Can’t make the little ones sad. Kindness to animals and all that. So we plunked down our money for live traps.*

*Once a confused  mouse crawled into one after we had cleaned it and stored it for the off-season. We discovered him too late, and by then he was in a full state of rigor-mousis. But we felt so bad that neither VP  or I could bring ourselves to lift the lid and dispose of the poor little guy, so he’s still there. Perfectly preserved under the glass,  like a little Mouse Pope. I suggested making him a little pointy hat and a scepter but my husband obviously has no sense of humor. So weird.)

So last week  I woke up to yet another temporary guest of the  Rodent Ritz Carlton. I did what I always do:  I picked up the  trap with its  occupant and drove it to a local park.  Once there, I gingerly opened the lid  to set him  free to A) create a happy new life in a bucolic setting or   B) get eaten by an owl. Ahem. Circle of life and all that.

Only this  mouse didn’t play by the rules. As soon as I opened the lid he ducked into the entrance tunnel, and there he stayed. Guess he heard about the owls?

“Off you go, little guy,” I said, and waited. Nothing. I jiggled the trap a bit. No dice. I peeked into the hole, and he stared back at me, whiskers quivering.

I tilted the trap this way and that. He didn’t budge. It was as if he had teeny suction cups on his little mouse paws. I picked up a stick and banged on the trap, hoping to frighten him out. Still nothing.

We had ourselves a good old-fashioned Mexican ,er, Mouse-ican Standoff.  He’d lawyered up. Claimed squatter’s  rights. And he wasn’t going anywhere. I glanced behind me and saw a  woman in sitting her car eating her lunch , watching me with interest and no doubt mentally filing this away under the “crazy shit white people do” tab. Meanwhile, back in the hole, the mouse shook his whiskers at me, as if to say, “I know my rights, lady! It’s cold and damp out there, and in here it’s warm, and dry, and besides there’s peanut butter.” And then I think he gave me the finger.

Ergh. I tried again. “Listen pal, this isn’t Shawshank. You can’t just decide you prefer life on the inside. You really need to go.” I grimaced as I shook the trap, but not too hard. “Kind to animals” doesn’t include giving them a coronary.

I begged. I pleaded.  I … was the crazy lady in a park talking to a mouse. Twenty minutes went by, and he was still in there. It started to rain, and I was getting desperate. Leaving  the trap there wasn’t an option,  and neither was taking him back home. I pondered my situation. He pondered ordering the cheese plate from room service.

I picked up the stick again, and stuck it in one end of the trap hoping to drive him out. He ran out of the tunnel, and straight into the tunnel on the other side. At which point I stuck the stick into that tunnel, and he ran back into the first tunnel. Back and forth, back and forth, Boop. Boop. Boop. Like Pong, except with Hantavirus.  After a few minutes , I put the trap down in defeat. I had been bested by a mouse. I was beginning to wonder if  Tom and Jerry was, in fact, a documentary, and  I just hoped the mouse’s next move wouldn’t be lighting a wee stick of dynamite.

But… just then he stuck his head out of the hole and stared at me.   And then? He just walked out. He didn’t run, he just… ambled.   Cool, like the Danny Zuko of mice. He gave me a parting glance over his shoulder, though, as if to say, “This isn’t over, lady. See you in Hell!”

I  just read they can find their way back to their original nest from miles away so now I’ve got that to look forward to…. A mouse marching back towards my house bent on revenge.  Like a furry little Max Cady.

Either that or he’s somewhere plotting to hold up a tiny convenience store so he’ll get sent back. ‘Cause for a mouse, life on the inside is pretty sweet.

Happy  Wednesday, everyone!

 

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All The Leaves Are Brown

 

"Don't come any closer. After I finish lolling in this hay I'm gonna make it into a lovely fall centerpiece."

“Don’t come any closer. After I finish lolling in this hay I’m gonna make it into a lovely fall centerpiece.”

 

I’m just going to throw this out there, and don’t hate me. Fall is not my favorite season. (Ducks as you guys pelt me with gourds.)

Now, before all of you Autumn-philes get your plaid flannel undies in a bunch, let me explain. I don’t hate fall, but it comes in third place out of the four seasons.

I used to love fall. There was just something about wood smoke, apple picking, firepits, and a nip in the air that was enticing. When I was young, I could romanticize it. But lately I’m having trouble finding the romance, folks. Now that I’m a parent, fall is “back-to-school, homework, sports, write another check, you need a what by tomorrow morning?” season. This fall my oldest daughter has started the high school application process, which adds another ten items to the “to do” list”  and shoves those Pinterest-y fall pleasures right off the page. I’ve become a fall grumpy-pants, and those pants aren’t Super Skinny Stretch Cords in Cinnamon Spice Latte.

Pinterest is a big fat lying liar mouth anyway. Who has time right now to throw together a “hearty fall stew”? Or a slow roasted apple cider pork loin? No one? Me either. Actually I did have some time, but that was back in July.  We did manage to go apple picking once, but it turns out you have to go in August instead of October. No chill in the air or  snappy jeans, boots, and scarf ensemble here, folks. Now you have to battle 90 degree heat and swarms of bees when you’re picking apples, and it feels… off. ‘Cause by mid-September, apple picking is over. Call one of the local apple farms in October, you’ll hear a sympathetic chuckle and be told that you are SOL until next year.

I don’t even like pumpkin spice lattes. There, I said it. Yep, my fall is the farthest thing from a pretty Pinterest picture you can get.

And to the disappointment of my kids, our house is usually the least “Halloween-y” one on the block.  Halloween is one night. One. Night. You’re supposed to carve a pumpkin with triangle eyes and a toothy mouth, toss it onto your front porch, and shove your kids  out the door dressed as  witches, clowns, or ghosts. Now those creepy Costume Express pop-up places start showing up in decrepit strip malls in August, and people start putting up decorations in September. I’m just not on board.  Weeks ago, my neighbors across the street decorated their yard with giant inflatable monsters, which by now are  slumped over in a pathetic tableau of half-inflated misery. “Pssssssshhhhhhhhttttt”, You can hear them whisper sadly as the air leaks out. Holy patch kit, Batman. There  went $59.99.

It’s pressure, I tell you. My children look at me with sad eyes, wondering how it was their lot in life to be born to a mother with no desire to decorate her yard with giant blow-up ghosts , vampires, or Frankensteins. I just don’t do Halloween. It’s one night, second only to New Year’s Eve in the build up of expectation and pressure to have fun and then the let down the next morning and the feeling that you spent a truckload of money and then it’s just…over.

But I don’t want to be the sucky, stressed, no-fun mom, so I’m trying to be more festive for the sake of my kids. I won’t decorate for “Halloween”, per se, but I decided this year I’ll decorate for “fall”. In an effort to pretty up my front porch  I tried to buy some mums, but it’s October and they’re sold out at the garden center. Whoops, I’ve missed the hayride once again. What to do?

Well, I did some informal research, and it turns out fall is the only season in which we are allowed to decorate with Things That Are Dead. We can pay a small fortune to decorate with hay bales, dried leaves, and cornstalks.  Brown and shriveled is the name of the game. (Motto for fall: In your face, chlorophyll!)  There is an advantage to being a fall decorating slacker all these years, because all I have to do is throw some dried up vegetation on my porch and my kids will be thrilled to pieces. If I  throw in some bats and a ghost or two , my one small concession to Halloween festivity, I’ll practically be a damn hero. I may find the romance in fall once again. No inflatables required.  (And I just realized I typed “romance ” and inflatables” in one post. Attracting every creep on the planet in 3,2,1…)

Oh well. Happy Friday, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Daughter and The Boss

 

My Daughter and The Boss

When I hear my brother-in-law is taking us to see Bruce Springsteen, I have one thought:  “Meh.”

See, I’ve never been a fan. I don’t dislike Springsteen, but I don’t know a lot of his music. I was a teen when Born in the U.S.A. came out, and after buying that one cassette tape, I realized the blue collar working class rock and roll just didn’t give me all the feels.   Journey singing “Open Arms” at the dance in the gym? Yep. Music that went along with mooning over my latest crush? Sure. Springsteen? Not so much. Face it; it’s only the most enlightened fourteen year old who’s weeping in her room over a song about a closed textile mill. Sadly, about the deepest thing I did at that age was switch to veggie cream cheese on my bagel.

So it will be my first Springsteen concert, and my tween daughter’s first “grown up” concert. Then I find out our tickets are for the pit.

Wait, no seats?

When I was younger, being in the pit meant being getting pushed, shoved,  knocked down, and losing your shoes. Possibly worse.   Sure, I was in the pit at Lollapalooza, but that was then.  Now I channel my aggression into trying to find a salesperson at the Nordstrom shoe sale.  What was I getting myself into? What was I getting my daughter into? At this age I want a designated chair space and a craft beer, not a raucous, festival seating free-for- all.

I know, it’s Springsteen, not Slayer.  But being a parent comes with irrational fears. They’re in the gift bag the hospital sends home with you, along with the formula samples, baby wipes, and pilfered hospital baby blankets. (Oh, don’t judge. You know you did it too.)

But, since  I’m an experienced concert-goer, or at least I was,  I’m  determined  to show my daughter the ropes, as well as keep her safe. As we head for the concert,  I’m wearing arch supports and toting a protective Mama Bear streak the size of, well, New Jersey.

Arriving as the last strains of “High Hopes” are playing, we linger in the dark on the fringes of the pit crowd. To my relief, I discover it is a polite, respectful audience, and people seem more interested in capturing the concert on their iPhones than in pushing or shoving. I am perhaps overly solicitous of my daughter, though, repeatedly asking, “Are you okay?” over the music, and glaring at anyone who dares to step in front of her, jostle her, or smoke near her.

It turns out crowd participation is a huge part of Springsteen shows, as he often takes to the auxiliary stage in the middle of the arena and  wades through the crowd to get there. He poses for pictures, crowd surfs, and brings audience members on stage by the dozens.  He even takes a birthday request, inviting the birthday boy himself (actually a grown man) on stage to sing with him. It is a poignant moment for me, as I watch my almost teenage daughter singing along to “Growin’ Up”.

All the feels, right there.

I arrive thinking I don’t know much of Springsteen’s music, but as the show goes on I realize actually know a lot.  And I’m enjoying the show.  I mean really enjoying it.   Among the songs I don’t know, I find new favorites in “Shackled and Drawn” and “Waitin’ On a Sunny Day”, the latter of which he invites a teenager onstage to sing. I find myself in awe of being in the presence of a living legend.

Bruce Springsteen has an undeniable magnetism, and I am drawn, to paraphrase Bruce, to the light of the oncoming train. As he puts it, it’s coming down the tracks. He’s sixty five years old, and despite his jaw-dropping vitality,  this may be the last time I get to see him play live.  I am suddenly overtaken with the need to be up front.

So we push forward. “Hungry Heart”. Push forward. “American Skin”. Push forward. “Darlington County”.  We can see the rivulets of sweat running down Bruce’s weathered but still handsome face, the forged steel muscles, and the emanating vibrancy that belies his age.

I sense the end of the concert end is near. “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” is coming, and we still aren’t close enough.  The farther forward we get, the more closely people guard their space.

“We have to be aggressive if we want to get closer,” I whisper to my daughter. “You’re going to have to take the lead. They won’t let me through, but they’ll let you through. “ She looks apprehensive.

“Are you sure?” She asks.

I nod. “Are you ready?  Okay… go!”

And then she takes my hand and pulls me forward into the swaying crowd.

 

This piece orginally ran on Lefty Pop.