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.)


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…


(Tappity taps on the computer)


(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…


(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…


(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…


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


(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…


Me: Right. Maybe I’ll…


(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.


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.


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!


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?”


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 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 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?”


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.


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



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


“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!

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.






Buy This Face Cream (And Don’t Trip Over Baby Jesus)

"My darling, that Crisco regimen is absolutely doing wonders for your complexion."

“My darling, that Crisco regimen is absolutely doing wonders for your complexion!”

Truth: I hate the mall. I realize by admitting that I risk having my Girl Card revoked.  But it needs to be said. Now, there are many reasons I hate the mall, and near the top of the list is cosmetics counters.

But then the teen comes to me and asks if I can take her to get some new “face stuff”, as she puts it. Determined to get her on the path to good skin care and happy that she is taking an interest, I grab my keys and we drive to the fancy local mall.

The first saleswoman we approach looks like she applied her makeup that morning with a garden trowel. Ironically, she’s hawking beauty products out of a “natural” set up resembling a barn or some kind of organic feed store.  Overturned apple crates, lots of burlap and twine and hand carved bowls with sheep’s milk soap and things written on chalkboards. You know, kind of like the stable Jesus was born in meets Pinterest.  And who doesn’t want to buy cosmetics from Jesus?

I tell the saleswoman my daughter needs a non-foaming face wash, due to her dry skin. “Ah”, she says. “I have just the thing.” She picks up a bottle and presents it with a flourish. I read the label. It says:  Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash.

I try again. “Um, she needs a non-foaming cleanser. Because she has dry skin. “

“Well, this doesn’t foam very much.   It just has a little foam,” Says Cruella De Cleanser, clearly bent on selling us a product that will give my daughter’s skin the texture of Betty Crocker Potato Buds. Hmmmppphh. She’s beginning to seem not worthy of being in Jesus’ Pinterest stable.

I’m getting frustrated, and I realize that they probably don’t have what she needs. Foolishly, I ask my next question. “What about a reasonably priced moisturizer?”

Behind the layers of spackle, I see Cruella’s eyes light up. She simpers over to a shelf and hoists a tiny jar aloft. “This is our Bright ‘n Lovely Botanical Boost with Bovine Extract and Essence of Sea Kelp. No young girl should be without it. Oh, and she definitely needs a toner…” and with that she grabs a wee bottle of liquid that looked like it would have no problem meeting FAA travel restrictions but cost as much as a monthly  car payment .

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, those apple crates must be expensive.

Uh-oh. She must sense my hesitation, because she narrows her eyes and peers at me a little too closely for my comfort. Too late I realize I have accidentally handed her a cold-cream sized jar of whoop-ass. “What are you using, if I may I ask?” she said, as she purses her lips and circles an accusing finger in the direction of my face.

I tell her the name of the perfectly good skin care line I’ve been using for years.

But it is as if I just said, “Wellll, me ‘n the other womenfolk down in the holler just go in on a big pot o’ Crisco ‘bout once every couple o’ months. Does the trick right nice, ya’ know?” Because she frowns. “Oooohhhh. Um, I seeeee….” She says, in a tone that implies my that my complete ignorance of skin care has left me crone-like.

Great. I am not only a terrible mother who won’t buy her daughter the pricey skin cream, I am also a terrible mother who apparently looks like the Crypt Keeper.

She continues, “Are you using an eye cream, dear?  My 14 year old son uses this eye cream, and he swears by it.”

As my daughter ponders the existence of a 14 year old boy who uses eye cream, and I ponder putting a bag over my head or perhaps sleeping with a chin strap,  Cruella tries again. She slithers over to another small pot of moisturizer, plucks it off of the shelf, and begins to stroke it lovingly. “Now this girl,” she purrs, “is one of our best sellers.”

I assume I must have misheard, but Cruella continues. “She has grapefruit and kumquat extract. You just put her on once a day, lightly, and she reeeaaaally likes it when you blend her together in your palm first.”

Good heavens. The poor woman had cracked under the pressure of selling overpriced cosmetics and was now anthropomorphizing face creams.  We back away, telling her we need to think it over.

We beeline to another cosmetics counter, one with a  faux-French name where women in white lab coats are waiting to pounce. A heavily made-up elderly woman toddles up to us. “Can I help you?”

“Yes!” Convinced we’re about to get somewhere, because lab coats, I tell her, “My daughter needs a non-foaming, non-soap facial cleanser, because she has dry skin.”

“Oh, of course! I have just the thing.” Then she picks up a tube and gestures, Price Is Right style, to the label.

It says: Liquid Facial Soap.

I turn on my heel and start to walk away.

“Where are you going mom?” My daughter asks.

“Back to the Jesus/Pinterest stable. I left a jar of whoop-ass there that I think I’m gonna need.”


Buy This Face Cream!


Are You Kidding Me? A Surprise Cover Reveal

Greetings from the Northern satellite office of Notes from the Shallow End. I hope your summer is going swimmingly. Get it? Swimmingly? Hehe.  Speaking of swimming, it may be warm where you are, but here it’s so cold I had to chisel through ice on my cereal bowl this morning. It’s so cold last night a bear climbed into my bed to snuggle.

I know we’re only partway through summer but it’s going fast. If you’re the type to start making your fall reading lists ahead of time (because I know you’re just that organized) I have a book for you to put on your must-read list.

Stacey Gustafson is a writer whom I was lucky enough to meet at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop back in April. I also got to see her bravely do stand-up. (Spoiler alert: she nailed it!) She also lives in California where it’s probably very warm right now. But I’m not bitter. Okay, yes I am. But despite the fact that I’m currently swaddled in layers of fleece and Stacey  is probably lolling about on a beach like some kind of, um….beach loll-er,  I’m happy to help with the surprise cover reveal for her new book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With An Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives, due to be released in fall 2014.

Are You Kidding Me?

Laugh-out- loud funny, Stacey is the person you wish was your BFF or at least your neighbor. A talented humorist, blogger, and mother of two teens (which alone should qualify her to win all the things her work has also appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, several Not Your Mother’s BooksMidlife BoulevardErma Bombeck Writers’ WorkshopGeneration FabulousZestNowMore MagazinePleasanton Patch, Lost in Suburbia, and Better After 50.  Her new book will be available in print and eBook on Amazon, B&, and other retailers. Here’s a sneak peek from the publisher:

Hop into your minivan and get ready to cruise through the crazies of Suburbia! Humorist Stacey Gustafson makes an entertaining tour guide in Are You Kidding Me?, a brash, voyeuristic peek inside the topsy-turvy world of suburban motherhood, midlife madness, and all points in between. If you’ve ever called SWAT on a neighbor, faked a heart attack in church, or pulled your hair out while questioning the sanity of your family, Stacey’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor will resonate with you. Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.

Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect fall book? Nothing better curling up with a hilarious read with plenty of laughs to keep you warm when there’s a chill in the air. Now, I’ve got to go put on another layer of fleece, because the bear isn’t returning my calls.  Happy Wednesday, everyone!


The Mean Streets of Miami

The Mean Streets of Miami


As the song so eloquently goes:

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah
Miami, uh, uh
Southbeach, bringin’ the heat, uh
Haha, can y’all feel that
Can y’all feel that
Jig it out, uh

Okaaaay, so Will Smith isn’t exactly Chaucer.  But we’ve decided to tack a couple of days onto Spring break and head for Miami, where VP has some meetings scheduled. I’m excited to visit a city with such a rich history.

That is, I assume it has a rich history. I have not researched Miami. My knowledge is limited to the one Will Smith song, plus Bugs Bunny popping out of his hole with a beach chair and umbrella, yelling, “Miami Beach at last!” Also that to get there you are supposed to turn left at Albuquerque.   Note: I probably should have researched it.

Take traffic, for example. A bit of research would have yielded the fact that every single driver in Miami is not at the pool or beach and is therefore angry and wants you dead. 

Water so clear you can see to the bottom
Hundred thousand dollar cars, e’ybody got ‘em

Well, not e’body,  Will Smith. After escaping the jaws of death on the highway, we arrive at the hotel. It is oceanside. It is fancy.  The cars in front are shiny and foreign. We, on the other hand are driving a ten year old mini-van that spills leftover Easter candy out the back the minute I open the trunk for the bellhop.  Jelly beans and chocolate eggs ping all over the driveway like a sticky pastel hailstorm. As I attempt to scoop up the errant candy, I see the bellhop’s gaze drift to the trash bags into which VP had stuffed the last load of clean laundry as we went out the door.

Yes, sir, nothing says class like using garbage bags for luggage. Cue banjo music.

I’m not sure how you say “Beverly Hillbillies” in Spanish but I have a suspicion that’s what the bellhop is muttering as walks away quickly, taking his cart with him. We are on our own.

Undaunted, we head for the front desk. Due to VP’s business travel he has some sort of Double Secret Plutonium Status, so we can always count on a room upgrade.  Which is important for a family of five, lest someone have to sleep in the bathtub.  But the front desk Nazi didn’t get that memo, and tells VP, “No upgrades.” Ditto when he asks if we can have a rollaway. “No,” she barks.

Something has gone terribly wrong.  First off, we have apparently forgotten to “bring the heat”. I mean, I thought my husband brought the heat, and he was positive I had grabbed it before we left the house, you know how that goes.  Also I’m not sure what “jig” means, except as it relates to cheerful leprechauns. And we definitely hadn’t peppered our room request with enough “Uh, uh’s” and “yeah, yeah’s”.   Or any, for that matter.

But we soldier on. After we stow our mélange of luggage -n- trash bags in our wee li’l room (by the size of it, it looks as if Keebler Elves are a big demographic for this particular hotel chain), it’s time for lunch.

VP decides we should go to a famous hotel he has heard about.  Apparently Frank Sinatra used to stay there. As you do, I make sure my son has on a collared shirt and that all of the children have their hair combed. I’m picturing white linen table cloths, and sipping iced tea with a view of the ocean.  Perhaps some tinkling piano music playing in the background. The hotel is called the Fontainebleau. I’ve never heard of it, but it must be fancy because it has a French name that you have to say with a cheesy French accent. (It’s like a law or something.) On the walk over, I start to worry that we are underdressed.  Again, a bit of research would have helped.

Because I soon discover that we’re overdressed in that we’re wearing clothes. The restaurant is between the pool and the ocean, so to get there we have to wade through six security guards, a record company party, and a sea of white cabanas, poolside beds, thong bikinis and stilettos.  I cannot hear over the pounding techno music. The clientele is more Kim Kardashian than Ava Gardner; plus it looks like someone accidentally fed Justin Bieber and his entourage after midnight, and now they have multiplied and are all bobbing around in the pool like some sort of baggy-pantsed evil mogwai.   In our preppy attire, we stand out like Mennonites at a rave. And my children just look frightened. 

So we sip a little somethin’, lay to rest the spill
Me an’ Charlie at the bar runnin up a high bill

VP goes to get drinks from the bar, and our hostess points us to a white faux-leather banquette where we can sit while we wait for the table. My eyes dart back and forth between the thong bikini clad patrons of the restaurant  and the leather banquette and I wonder if it would be prudent to request a bottle of bleach spray before we sit down.

"Sure, I may have to take out a second mortgage on the house, but this margarita is totally worth it."

“Sure, I may have to take out a second mortgage on the house, but this margarita is totally worth it.”

Right when our table is ready, VP returns with our drinks, a Margarita for me and a Mojito for him.   Then he leans in to me and whispers the words every woman wants to hear.

“You’re not gonna believe how much these drinks cost.”

“Um, how much?” I ask, though I suspect I don’t want to know. He mumbles something that is hard to hear over the ear splitting techno music.

“What’d you say? Fifteen? Well, that doesn’t seem so bad for…”

But he interrupts me. “Fifty! I said Fifty!”

Fifty dollars for two drinks. Who knew Will Smith was practically a prophet? Sure, they are sizable. Sure, at this place Patron is  considered bottom shelf. But even so, sheesh. I make sure to drink every last drop.

But all is not lost. Because it turns out when it’s five hundred degrees out, you know what’s awesome? Taking a loooonnnng afternoon nap in the air conditioning, and who cares about the size of the room after you’ve consumed a Margarita the size of a Big Gulp?

Now that’s more my speed. I like to think Bugs Bunny would be proud.  Bienvenido a Miami, indeed, Mr. Will Smith.