The Condiment Conundrum

November 8th, 2013

One benefit I’ve noticed of living alone is that, little by little, all of the various spices and sauces and boxes and cans of foods that I don’t like are disappearing from my pantry and refrigerator. I have a cleaning lady once a month (cue ugly comments here,) and now when she leaves, I open the door to a fridge out of a TV commercial. It’s light and shiny and the few things within look almost spotlit. Fewer things fall off the pantry shelves when I search for a spice or bottle. I can imagine a time when I’ll be able to read all the labels without moving 10 things. I go to the store and buy what I want for a day or two—I feel very French somehow doing this.
But today I went to the pantry for ketchup to add to baked beans, and the cupboard was bare.
This might not seem odd to most people, but when the children were younger I always bought ketchup two bottles at a time, and there never fewer than three or four bottles.
I went to the refrigerator and looked in the door. My husband and I were raised in different denominations. I came from a refrigerated ketchup home, while he was from the pantry sect. We argued about this until one day he pointed out that I had worked as a waitress in a place where ketchup was kept on a shelf near the counter with the full knowledge of the health department.
But I went to the fridge, thinking maybe I’d reverted to my childhood ways and chilled the ketchup. Alas, none there, either.
I looked for packets from McDonald’s, but I cleaned out the packet drawer a few months back, and there was none to be found.
While I miss having my house full of my family, the advantage has been that, little by little, the clutter of multiple people sharing living space has begun to clear, and I’m enjoying the cleaner spaces. I’m just waiting for them to gain permanent addresses so that I can send rooms full of furniture and bedding and dishware and VHS movies to their new homes.
Maybe they’ll send back a bottle of ketchup.

The Burglar Who Stole My Heart

November 5th, 2013

Did I mention that I like to read? And that my favorite genre is mystery?
I have 16 shelves of books devoted to various mysteries, most being books in series, some single examples. I think there are more in the basement. And in my bedroom. And on my Kindle.

This love of mysteries started in grade school with Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Three Investigators. In junior high I moved up to Barbara Michaels and Mary Stewart, and was glad that the ladies were prolific writers. When I was 19, I joined The Mystery Guild and branched out.

And then one day, I fell in love with a burglar.

Bernie Rhodenbarr began letting himself into houses without a key a year or two before I graduated from high-school. When I met him, he’d already pulled a couple of jobs, nearly gone down for murder, and dealt justice to a few scoundrels. I immediately ordered the rest of the series and waited impatiently for more.

Bernie is a pretty unassuming guy to be the hero of a whole series. He’s a quiet bachelor who’s kind to his elderly neighbor, appreciates the art he steals, and loves to read. He’s a little of a renaissance man, appreciating fine cognac, attending the occasional play or concert, dining at a private club, dressing correctly for every occasion. A decent, steady kind of fellow. And then he’s also a dashing rogue, who just occasionally opens locked doors, helps himself to a few choice morsels, and thoughtfully locks up behind himself when he leaves.

Alas, Bernie’s creator, Lawrence Block, was enjoying the adventures of Matt Scudder and Evan Tanner, and he ignored Bernie for years at a time. After The Burglar in the Rye, back at the turn of the century (this one,) I’d not heard from Bernie again except when a sleepless night sent me on a visit to a familiar adventure. My copies of the Burglar books are well worn and showing their age now, a little like me.

BUT HE’S BACK! This year for Christmas, Block is treating us to another adventure with the gentleman burglar, and if you haven’t fallen in love with Bernie in the past, here’s your chance. We find our rogue hero doing what he does best—selling books in his book store, that is. Can he help it that people look him up there and offer tempting challenges? Soon he’s deeply involved in rounding up early American silver, solving a murder for his old friend Ray, and enjoying his popularity with the ladies. With his henchperson to help and some unofficial investigating along the way, Bernie soon puts things to right. Well, maybe not right, but at least all the guilty pay.

Through the years, as I and my books got older, Bernie didn’t age much, but he kept up with the times. When we started off together, he didn’t even have a cell phone. These days, he’s using burner phones, googling bad guys and lamenting the popularity of Kindle.

I, too, lament the Kindle, even as I have decided I like reading with it. Yes, I love the feel and weight and smell and appearance of real books. In my fondest dream, I own a store like Bernie’s and sit among good friends and new aquaintences, surrounded by reading for every mood and need, sharing these treasures with customers and aquiring new ones. But unless I take up burglary, I’m as unlikely to be able to do that as I am to turn a corner in New York, wander into a bookstore and toss some wadded paper for Raffles while lunching with Bernie and Carolyn on Juneau Lock.

What does the future hold for Bernie? I don’t know if he’ll be back for another adventure. I always hope. But if this was the last time we hear from him, it was worth the wait, and so much fun that I might just start my second reading tonight.

When Did You Begin to Read?

November 3rd, 2013

When did you begin to read?

Do you remember? Can you remember the first words you read on your own, your first book, the first time you read with no pictures?

Most people who love reading don’t remember beginning to read. It’s just something that has always been there. Part of who you are. You don’t even think about it. You just do it.

Some of my earliest memories involve reading. When I think of my mother, it’s often of her voice as she read to us. I remember reading to my baby sister, being bored to distraction by Dick and Jane, waiting eagerly for the Scholastic Book Club flier each month, reading to my newborn babies, and the pride of knowing that my son had stayed up all night to finish one of the Harry Potter books the day it came. Most of my education comes from reading. Even my faith in God is intertwined with a book.

When I was 19, I found out that if you joined a book club, they would send half a dozen books FREE as long as you agreed to buy a few more over a couple of years. WHAT A DEAL! Soon I belonged to four clubs, but the Mystery Guild was my favorite. Raised on Reader’s Digest Condensed Books selections of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels, I love mysteries. I’m not like most mystery readers. I seldom try to figure out “whodunnit.” I just turn pages faster and faster as the writer reveals delightful twists and turns, with the reward of a neat wrap-up at the end.

When my children were young, I read the classics of childhood aloud to them, even after they were able to read alone. We read Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, the Bible, Robinson Crusoe, nursery rhymes, short stories, Eddie books, Alfred Hitchcock mysteries, the Hobbit…so many more.

When the children began reading longer books, I started reading some of what they read, and found delightful things like Hoot, and Harry Potter, and Holes (why do all the new books begin with H?)

For a couple of recent years, life somehow got in the way, and I found I could no longer read. The words were there, but the attention span wasn’t. I began reading mostly short articles on the internet and in magazines. I missed books, but couldn’t concentrate. It nearly drove me nuts—all my life, I didn’t worry about being a lonely old person, because I would just read. How would I deal with old age if I couldn’t spend it reading??

Thankfully, the concentration problem finally went away, and while I’m too busy to read as much as I’d like, I have a Kindle packed full of things to choose from. These days, I bribe myself to go to the gym by allowing myself to read without guilt as long as I’m walking on the treadmill. See? Reading is good for you.

When did you begin to read?

After Christmas Cards

January 10th, 2012

I got a Christmas card from my dad yesterday.* It made me think about how sad it was that I didn’t get many cards this year, which isn’t surprising because I didn’t send many, either. But the thing I miss most about not getting cards is that thing which people love to complain about, the family Christmas letter.

My dad writes a Christmas letter every year, and signs it the same way no matter what he’s said in the letter. Some years it’s long, some years short. I have a cousin* who sends one detailing so much vacation time that if it were spread out among the family, we’d each have had two weeks! I love to read about where he’s been. My brother sends a letter that is thoughtful and spiritual and which makes me feel very shallow in comparison. That’s okay, there’s always something meaningful in his letter which makes me reflect on how I can be better. I don’t care what people put in their Christmas letters. I love getting them. And I missed some this year.

Now and then I write a letter. The main theme of my letters tends to be that Christmas isn’t a one day holiday, and that we don’t have to quit celebrating when December 25th has passed. I started using that theme to excuse the lateness of my cards, which have been mailed as late as a week after Christmas. I like to buy cards with the Three Kings on them, as a nod to Epiphany, and I usually write “Christmas is a twelve day season—Celebrate all twelve days!” I often include how much I enjoy thinking about the person to whom I’m addressing the card, and how much I enjoy my friendship or family connection with them. I just like to remind people that even when I’m not a good friend, I have appreciated their friendship.

The busy-ness of life has taken over in the last few years, and I’ve sent fewer cards and no letters. Of all of the things that I didn’t get done during the Christmas season, that’s the one I missed the most. I missed taking that time out to think about my friends and family, say a prayer for them, wonder about them. I missed including a letter that said how much they’ve meant to me, and I missed reminding them that Christmas can last longer than December 25th.

And now that I think of it, Christmas is not just a 12 day feast. Christmas is the reminder that Love was born into the world, and that Grace is a gift. Any day in which you share love and grace with others, Christmas is celebrated. There is no time limit on acknowledging God’s gift. Christmas is a 365 day season! Celebrate every day, until He returns!
You just might get a Christmas card at Easter this year.

(*NOTE—relationships, places, names, etc. in this blog may be changed for artistic purposes, such as today, when the card was really from both of my parents, and it’s actually from my mom and step-dad, since some people who know me, reading this, would say “why are her mom and dad sending a card together since they’ve been divorced for 40 years?” but my step-dad does the writing and mailing, so it’s really more from him for the purposes here. )

(*Note—exaggeration is permissible in blogs, and family members may not object, as they are now artistic purposes themselves.)

Christmas Presence

December 23rd, 2011

It’s Christmas time, and everyone is frantic to finish last minute shopping, wrapping, decorating…creating perfection where none exists. Hopefully in the back of our minds, we strive to create a perfect atmosphere into which the Perfect Gift may come. Or maybe we just want to outdo the neighbors.

I’m no different. Having been a little more financially blessed this year, I bought a few more presents. Since I have a new job and less free time, I shopped early. I was doing pretty well, but then someone tore a bunch of pages out of my calendar when I wasn’t looking, and suddenly Christmas is almost here, and I’m not ready.

Now it’s two days before Christmas. My tree is undecorated. My gifts are not wrapped. There are no gaily colored Christmas cookies for Santa, and I have nothing festive to wear to church. So last night, I went to a party.

I was invited to two parties, and I really wanted to go to both. On the other hand, my house is a mess, my kids are sick, and I had things to do. Going to either party required time that I couldn’t afford to spend. But I chose a party and I went.

Sitting on the hearth in my friend’s living room with a plate of good food and a glass of wine, enjoying the company of people I love, I was relaxing for the first time in a week. Suddenly I remembered that I should be home getting things done. Instead, I was laughing and talking and eating as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I started to feel guilty about having fun.

I stayed at the party. Sometimes spending time with people is more important than hanging ornaments on a tree. Giving the gift of time and presence is more important than perfect bows on presents.

I have a friend whose mother is ill. She has spent most of her time with her mom over the last few weeks, and she is not “ready” for Christmas. Yet she is giving her mother the gift of her presence. Yesterday, her mother had an hour or two of clarity, when they shared memories. If she’d been home baking perfect cookies, would she have missed that gift?

My gift to you who are reading this is a share in the wisdom I have gained. It doesn’t matter if your house is decorated. It matters that you decorate Jesus’ house. Decorate your hearts with love and kindness, and then the King of Glory can come in.

Farewell Boneyfiddle

October 15th, 2010
Boneyfiddle Garden Shop

Boneyfiddle Garden Shop

Sometimes I really wish I was rich.  I know, everyone wishes that, but today I have an actual good reason for wishing it.  One of my favorite stores is closing

The town I live in has dried up and almost ceased to exist over the last 30 years or so. When I was a child, the downtown area had several major department stores, several shoe stores, men’s and women’s specialty stores, banks, diners, jewelry stores…it was a vibrant area with plenty to do. During that time, the town’s original business district had given way to bars, junk shops and warehouse space. Few downtown shoppers found their way to that part of town. But as industry moved overseas and jobs were lost, the department stores closed one by one, and all of the other businesses followed along. Despite efforts to revive it, our downtown is on life support and is barely clinging to a few restaurants and some shops that come and go.

Surprisingly, in the old business district, located along the river just inside the floodwall, townspeople came together and began to shine up the historic buildings, opening cute little touristy shops and restaurants. Antiques became a focus, and other unique stores filled in around them. Murals were painted on the floodwall depicting the town’s history. Flowers and trees and benches made walking the area inviting. When I friend opened a sandwich shop, I ventured down there to look around. What I found was a thriving small business community, full of unique gifts and hidden gardens, wonderful food and interesting folks.

Much as I have enjoyed the area, I guess I haven’t spent enough time and money there to help those interesting folks. I did share what I’d found with others, taking friends there for dinner or to visit the little stores occasionally. But if you added up all the money I’ve spent there in the past, it might not seem that I liked it that well, as it’s probably not more than a few hundred dollars. Not enough, on my own or with the friends I brought, to keep my favorite shop open.

So the Boneyfiddle Garden Shop will close on Friday. No more unique flower baskets. No more locally crafted pottery. No more garden rugs, birdhouses, local paintings. No more flowers on a whim. No more hidden garden! There will be a hole in the row of shops where no flowers will burst out the door, no birdcage will grace a window, no life will overflow. I won’t know where to find a quick gift. I won’t know where to take an out of town guest to show off our town.

In just a few minutes, I’ll be on my way there to sift through the last of the stock and spend a few dollars. If I were rich, maybe I’d have spent more all along. And then maybe they’d still be open.

Disconnected

October 6th, 2010

I came home from work today to find my electricity is off.  I had noticed that the traffic light a few blocks from home wasn’t working, but didn’t think anything of it until I tried to turn on my dining room light and nothing happened.  Bulbs all out in the chandelier?  Hmmm, probably not.  No lights on the printer, no display on the phone.  I deduced very cleverly that there is a neighborhood power outage.

What a treat!  The power NEVER goes off at my house for more than a minute.  After 19 ½ years in the same location, I can remember only twice when the power was off more than a minute.  Once was when my kids were very small, and a car took out a power pole a couple of blocks away.  The second time was in the middle of an ice storm.  It took over a week to restore power to much of the area.  Mine was off for two or three hours total.  I’ve also never lost water pressure during a water main break.  I live in utility heaven.

So I walked around enjoying the quiet.  You don’t realize how much noise electricity makes until it’s all turned off.  There is a wonderful stillness without that almost unheard hum of appliances and computers and charging batteries.  I made some tea (because my water heater is gas!) and, congratulating myself on having the battery charged in my laptop, I sat down to work at my computer.  I turned it on, signed in, clicked on e-mail….AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!! NO INTERNET!  I looked over at the modem—not one light lit up!  No friendly wink of worldwide information sharing!  No email!  No online Multiple Listing Service!  No bill paying!  NO FACEBOOK!!!

Maybe I could watch a movie?  Nope, TV won’t come on.  I could do laundry.  No, same problem.  I could catch up on my email.  Head shake.  Take a look at my TO DO list….which is in my email.  And my computer battery is running down fast!  WHAT WILL I DO????

I’m pretty sure I know what I WON’T do.  I won’t be moving to anyplace where the electricity goes out very often.  This visit to utility Hell is not quite two hours old, but it’s been long enough to make me sure of where I want to spend eternity.  I’m going to take a nap.  And if I should die before I wake, I hope my Heavenly mansion gets Roadrunner Turbo.

Winning the Financial Aid Lottery

February 1st, 2010

I’ve been home sick for several days, so I took the opportunity to file some of the required college financial aid forms online. This is the third year I’ve done this, so I should know what to do and when to do it, right?

The first part was a breeze. I actually knew the password and log-in names, and the FAFSA pre-filled last year’s information and just asked me to see if it was correct. What a breeze! I had worried because my taxes weren’t done, but I had my W-2 laying right there. No problem! Hmmm, new marital status, what kind of trouble is that going to cause? Just check the box? Great!

Moving along, breezing through the pages, then we come to: Parent(s) income____. Parent(s) other income______. Parent(s) income that you are trying to hide_______. I feel guilty only filling in one box. What if I hid it from myself?

Then we had: Income Tax paid (from line 56.)_____. There is nothing on line 56. But there is an amount owed on line 57. Is that the right amount? Why is it on the wrong line? Why don’t they just sync up with the IRS and get this stuff themselves?

Parent(s) total of cash, savings and checking accounts_____. Sometimes I lie on this one. I figure if I put what it really is, they won’t believe me. So I add a few hundred.

Parent(s) assets____. ZERO! Okay, done.

But now I need to file the CSS Profile. You need to be a CPA to figure that one out. Oh, you’ve never done that? Thank your child for choosing a school that doesn’t need a sample of DNA to hand out financial aid.

There are six different questions about retirement income. Which one to choose? Is my retirement plan sponsored? Will I get Social Security? Will you give my kid enough college help that she can take care of me in my old age? Is there a line for that?

What is your sister’s name? Where does she go to school? How much is her tuition? Do we get tax exempt interest? Why are Railroad Retirement benefits a separate category from any other? Credits to be received—how do I know? I don’t have them yet. And the best line of all: Cash expected to be received or any money expected to be paid on your behalf_______. Do I need to estimate the amount each aunt or uncle or grandparent is likely to send on her birthday? What about her graduation gifts? If she finds a quarter on the sidewalk, is there a line for that?

Maybe it isn’t really that bad, but getting financial aid for college is not for the faint of heart. I think that these forms are the first place that schools cut students who really don’t need the money. The parents with good college savings plans just close the window and send cash. The rich parents pay their accountants to do it.

For those who persevere, though, you just might win the financial aid lottery. And for the two years of aid my son has already been given, I’d like to say THANKS!

Thanks for the Cold, Lord!

January 28th, 2010

Right now I am sitting in bed with my laptop on my lovely wooden bed tray (thanks, Mom,) a plate of nibbles beside me, a glass of freshly brewed iced tea at hand, toes snug under the covers, and it’s only 4PM. I should feel like the most carefree Princess in the world. However, thanks to carefully spaced doses of Nyquil and Dayquil, I don’t feel anything at all. I can breath, though, and that’s got to be a good thing.

I used to think I led a busy life. That was before I actually got busy. Now I long for the days when I had time to knock out a blog post, catch up on Facebook, tweet my activities, and spend face time with friends and family. I’ve lately been accused of abandoning my friends and quitting activities, not answering my email, and being a slacker in school volunteering. All because I’m trying to get a good start in a new career. So when I cried to a friend a few days ago that I just wanted a day when I didn’t have to do anything, I really meant it. And God, who has a much better sense of humor than most preachers let on, was paying attention. I have a really bad cold.

I feel rotten, but it’s almost worth it. I slept for 14 hours. I got up, ate breakfast (at lunch time) and read my email–all of it! I thought about doing laundry, decided I felt too bad and checked my Facebook instead. Then, feeling guilty about not sweeping the floor where the cat dug in the plant, I made a two minute real estate phone call. I went to Google Wave and check that off my To Do list. I added a couple of items to the To Do list. As a reward for getting some work done, I read all the latest tweets on Twitter.

Three hours later, I felt bad enough to crawl back in bed. My six pillows are cushioning my achy muscles. The Dayquil is pushing the fever down. The Bible says to give thanks to the Lord in all things. I don’t think I’ve ever thanked Him for giving me a cold before, but I’ve never been quite so in need of downtime before. As Princess time goes, it could be worse.

What Women Want

December 14th, 2009

Guys, pay attention. Some of you have asked me this question, and some of you just need to hear this. Before you go out and buy your wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas and then scratch your head when she wears her flannel chastity belt to bed on Christmas night, I’m going to answer that age old question: What do women want?
The #1 complaint about husbands among my friends married for more than 5 years is lack of attention. A man thinks that since he told her he loves her, bought her a ring, married her for heaven’s sake, got her a house, gave her children, mowed the lawn and took out the garbage, she should know he loves her. He wouldn’t do those things if he didn’t.
Sorry, men. DOING LOVE IS NOT ENOUGH. Women need to hear it. Sincerely and often. They need, especially after babies and weight gain and gray hair and cellulite, to feel desired. This is not just i love you and a peck on the cheek on the way out the door, or sleepy sex when you’re both worn out and in a hurry. She needs to feel that you are still turned on by her, that she’s still the only woman you want, even if she’s tired or old or fat, etc. She needs to be touched when you aren’t in bed. She needs whispered promises and longing eye contact.
To feel beautiful if only in your eyes.
Your woman wants to know that you can still see her. Not the mother, not the good wife, but the woman you fell in love with. And in the times when you can’t see her that way anymore, you need to find her again. Date her, leave her notes, court her, and you’ll fall in love again, because the woman you loved is still there behind the wife and mother that hide her. If you keep looking for her all your life, your reward will be a wife who will give you anything you want, whenever you want it, for the rest of your life. Because that’s all she really wants, for Christmas and the whole rest of the year.