Friday, December 01, 2006

My God, I've Turned Into My Grandmother

Growing up in a small town in Illinois, with all my cousins and aunts and uncles firmly rooted to the same spot, too, was, as I look back on it now, a wonderful era. However, being in the midst of it, especially during that awesome, wonderful, incredible (someone else's words, not mine) period of new-womanhood, I would be restless and bored and unhappy, thinking the grass most certainly WAS greener on the other side, and if someone told me once more that it was not, I was going to come unglued!

We were all spread out in the area, as I reflect back, sort of in a circle surrounding my grandmother's apartment building, and again, as I reflect on it, that was probably part of the Grand Plan.

Grandma was incredible. If someone needed a baby-sitter, she was there. If someone needed a few extra bucks, she was there. I didn't appreciate her then.

Being in the middle of her children really is a snapshot of what she meant to them, but she had one habit that pretty much drove everyone over the edge: Ambulance run phone calls.

From where she sat, perched high above the city, she had a bird's eye view of the comings and goings of every ambulance. My family lived east of the city, so the second she knew an ambulance had left the hospital and was headed toward our house, she would call to make sure it was not coming to rescue one of US. If we were okay, she would then call the relatives that lived a little farther east to establish nobody was dying there, and on and on, until she had touched base with every eastward relative. The next ambulance run was similar. But one thing was for sure, she had raised her children under very harsh, sometimes penniless conditions, and it was only fitting that she spent a lot of her life perched up there in the crow's nest of her ship with her binoculars, keeping watch over us all. Those were good days.

I think that, after she passed away, we all expected to find some elaborate tracking system hidden in her closet with dials and compasses and those voice-enhancing satellite-looking systems that you point toward someone and can hear what they are saying from several feet away. There were no tracking devices, however, of course, and I had to just accept the fact that she loved us so much that she had developed her own radar for keeping track of us.

Everyone needs a grandmother with that radar, so I seem to, unknowingly, have taken that on with my crew here. I hear the ambulance, I immediately want to call to make sure it is not going to pick up a child or grandchild or stepchild or boyfriend. The difference is, I stifle the urge.

Land of the Shrunken Heads

During our getting-to-know-you period, you remember that, right? The time when you had so much to talk about that there was never any silence between you? The time that, after ten years or so, became marked by saying, "Shhhhhh, I want to hear what penalty the ref is calling!" Anyway, during that period in the first ten years of our relationship, Don and I learned that we had both always been fascinated by the idea of going to Mt. Rushmore. Every year when we received our new geography books, we learned that we would both thumb through and find the Mt. Rushmore picture.

So, now having a partner in crime to visit South Dakota with, off we went.

We saw some amazing sites during our trip to South Dakota: Huge rock formations that would take anyone's breath away, and we saved Mt. Rushmore for last, knowing it was going to be the highlight of our trip.

After running to the hotel to drop our bags and get checked in, I drove to the parking lot, which in and of itself was massive and very enticing, and we started the trek to the mountain carving that had intrigued us since our youth. The walk to the seating area was impressive. They had a huge walkway with a flag of each state hanging above it, and that was breathtaking. Don said, "Oh, my God, this is going to be soooo awesome!!"

Suddenly in front of us, there it was. The object of our affections. And it was very, very neat. Just listening to the history of it, learning about the carving process, was amazing. We sat there with a couple of hundred other people and listened and waited, and at dark, the lights were turned on to illuminate the presidents and show them in all their majestic glory!!

We were pretty quiet heading back to the hotel. The conversation was a little lulled by what we had just seen. About the only thing we said was, "Was that not just cool?" And "Yeah, that was cool."

Months passed. We were back in our respective routines of working, eating and sleeping, and then one day, as we were watching a show on TV describing the wonders of the world and they came to Mt. Rushmore, I could not keep it in anymore. I said, rather quickly, "I wasn't as impressed with Mt. Rushmore as I thought I would be...I was lying."

Don let out his breath and said, "Oh, GOOD! I thought I was missing something! The whole thing was cool, but the heads...they were...I don't shrunken or something, just not as big as I was expecting."

So forever more, Mt. Rushmore will, at least in our household, be known as The Shrunken Heads.

And there is a moral here: The things you think are so huge when you are young, really ARE just anthills. Take it from me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Scottish Terrier Next Door

Yesterday morning I got up early and shuffled to the kitchen counter, poured my ritualistic cup of hot coffee and then raised the blinds and surveyed the small area visible to me, of my neighbor's side and back yards, also ritualistic as I've been standing in that same place every morning, pretty much, for the last twenty-two years. They have a hot tub I can see, a garden and a garage I can see from that vantage point, and a beautiful golden retriever named Rikki, who is, by that time of the day, wandering around the side yard surveying HER surroundings, too.

I never realized the neighbors owned a Scottish terrier, but there it was, standing quietly near the garden at the back of the house, apparently happy, staring off into space at something my human limitations would not allow me to see. I blinked and rubbed my eyes and looked again, and it was still there, standing perfectly still, it's little pointy ears straight up, it's little bobbed tail not wagging.

Rikki just ignored the intruder, as a matter of fact walked right to it and through it, like it was not even there.

Recently I have been watching a lot more TV, since it's cold and I am cooped up inside a lot, and one thing I always seem to tune to are the ghost shows. The haunting investigations. So when Rikki passed through the terrier in her back yard, I became excited and ran for the camera!

Quietly I propped the side door open with my right foot and balanced precariously on the step with my left foot, squatted to get the perfect angle, decided to change the setting on the camera to the "close-up" mode, to insure the picture was as awesome on paper as it was in my head.

Rikki passed back through the apparition doggy and disappeared into the garage, leaving me a perfect shot.

You can see the Ghost Dog in the photo. It really IS there! It really IS there! I probably am the first person in my neighborhood to see it, much less photograph it!

Boy, it sure stood still.

I continued to watch, sipping my coffee, and soon noticed that the little dog was changing shape as the sun began to travel across the sky.

Sighing, I rinsed my coffee cup and headed for the shower, very pleased with myself. I had taken a picture of a shadow in my neighbor's back yard. If I am lucky, the media will never find out about this. We all know how they would pounce on this on a slow news day.

Tomorrow I am going to start photographing UFOs.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Arm Flab and Skin Tags

My paternal grandmother, may she rest in peace and God bless her soul, was a fun-loving and energetic woman well into her nineties, even when that ultimate trick of dementia was played on her. She never lost her sense of humor. And when she was a fun-loving, energetic woman, I was a young stupid one.

After spending an entire Christmas Day viewing Grandma's arm flab unashamedly exposed by a sleeveless house dress, I remember saying to my boyfriend: "If I ever get flabby arm fat like that, shoot me."

At the age of fifty, being her one and only beloved granddaughter, I've realized I am destined to share traits with my grandmother. One, of course, is the sudden appearance of the beginnings of that arm fat. Not only that, but God has played an added bonus joke on me and has blessed me with a couple of skin tags under my boobs.

I can almost see Grandma and God in Heaven sharing a Budweiser and a high five as we speak.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


This is a bit of a change from my usual blogging, but I just had to say this...

There are so many people on the Internet, at some of these community sites, who have so frickin' much time on their hands! I just joined a community called StumbleUpon. You rate websites, basically, and whenever you like one, you give it the thumbs up and it connects you with a group of people who liked the same one.

Today I was humming through websites and ran across one about making chihuahua shaped snowflakes. The guy was on there apologizing, "Oh, I'm sorry that it's not BLUE like all the normal snowflakes, but I lost this program and that color scheme and had to download all sorts of potentially virus-laden crap to get it to look just the way I wanted it..."

I thought, dude, the only thing sadder than hanging around a website making Internet snowflakes and getting that involved in it is...well, sitting here reading about your damned Internet snowflakes and enjoying it.

Well, I'll go stumble around a little bit more and see what else catches my eye. I don't think I'll be adding myself to this guy's little community of Snowflake Makers, though. I really DO have work to do.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Academy Award

This year's nominees for best dying act are: The kid on "House" that saw aliens and the wasp in my kitchen window. And the winner is...THE WASP IN MY KITCHEN WINDOW!!! Applause!! Cheers!

"Oh, man, what a surprise! How thrilled The Wasp will be! Unfortunately, he couldn't be here tonight so accepting the award in his honor is the Academy Award winning actress...ME!"

I have never seen such a poignant death-grip scene in my entire life as the one I experienced this morning. My Dachshund, Annie, was doing her prairie dog act in the kitchen, sitting on her very generous-sized butt, staring first at the window then slowly, so as not to get off balance and fall over on her generous side and not be able to get up, turning her head to look at me to make sure I understood her gesturing, then turning back slowly to the window.

On one of Annie's head-turns in my direction, The Wasp she was pointing swooped out of the window and toward my head. Annie yelped and quickly abandoned the pointing position and just concentrated on getting her little short Dachshund legs and fat little Dachshund ass into the living room, leaving me behind to spray wildly in the direction of the flying Wasp with wasp and hornet foaming spray.

I knew I had won when The Wasp took to the blinds and started stumbling down the plastic rungs one by laborious one, but I covered him with the foam, just to be on the safe side, expecting instantaneous death, which did not come.





The Wasp began stumbling around on about the seventh rung up. At one point he was hanging on with his front legs, his back legs and thorax dangling, madly rubbing his little waspy eyes with his antennae. Thunk. He landed on the next rung down, on his back, his legs pumping in the air, and he rolled toward the side and thunk. Onto the next rung. He got up, shakily walked toward the edge and thunk. Down to the next rung, this time landing on the edge and rolling immediately off onto the next one.

I, the Wasp Condemner and Murderer, stared with horror as The Wasp gasped for air, his thorax thumping during what I was certain were his last few seconds of life, but no! He buzzed a little, fell to the cabinet, righted himself and started walking toward me. Armed with the hornet and wasp spray, all I could do was watch in total awe as this damned thing clung to life.

He tumbled into the sink where I knew the end was near, then got up and climbed onto the dishcloth, slowly dragging himself back to the cabinet. He fell off again into the sink, and this time I was prepared. I knocked him into the garbage disposal with an apple core, certain that I had finally won the war.


As I turned to the cabinet to find a cloth to start wiping all the leftover death foam from the window, the blinds and the cabinets, I noticed a slight movement in the sink drain and stood, appalled, staring as the battered little insect struggled to the rim of the disposal, at last lying down to die.

I shook my head and washed him down the drain, totally aware that the stinger that was going to be aimed at me while I slept some dark and stormy night was about an inch long and protruding like a medieval jousting sword as he finally went down the drain for the last time.

Looking at the directions on the killer foam can, I read, "Instantaneous death..." I tossed the can in the trash and dug out an old shoe to keep handy for the next attack.

The Robin on the Wire

See that speck there? It's right in the middle of that picture of wires and clouds. That is a robin.

This morning I stood up from my desk and stretched and looked out the window into my back yard and was surprised to see probably one of every bird species that exists in my yard. It was probably my imagination that they were all in orderly rows on the lawn, staring intently at the house, waiting for food to appear. That really is not too far off the mark, though.

The winter birds are back. They do not forget which houses are notoriously generous with the food supply all winter long. They might have very tiny heads, but they must have big brains crammed into that little space.

It took years to give up the old film cameras and move on up there with everyone else and purchase a digital camera. I now have what I refer to as my "practice camera," and while the neighbors all suspected I was a little strange all along, now that they see me taking a hundred pictures of the same tree at different times of the day, in different kinds of light, with the sun shining, during a thunderstorm or even just against that dark blue sky, stopping and changing the setting from "landscape" to "sunset" to "dusk/dawn" to "fireworks" to the "night landscape" exposure, they are scratching their heads and moving the children inside. There is absolutely no doubt that this house will be considered the Strange Old Woman's House at some point soon, the house that the children take dares to walk in front of.

By the time I had gotten the camera and turned it on and selected the setting I wanted to try to photograph those birds, they were all gone. They got tired of waiting, most likely, or maybe they decided to just play a trick on me, but it has been two hours now, and despite the fact that I have put out piles of bird seed in strategic places all over the yard, they have not so much as landed to take a crap in the yard. That, in and of itself, is bizarre, since usually they hit my blue chair from 500 feet, several times a day, just in the process of flying over the house.

Anyway, I might go steal all the food away soon to show them who is boss, but in the meantime, that photo in the upper right hand corner is the closest anyone is going to get of a bird today, so enjoy that!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

How Things are Changing

Last weekend I had two of my grandchildren visiting. David is a year-and-a-half old and Kaylee will be five in just a few short days. In the living room, pushed back in a corner to try to maintain some semblance of this being a grown-up home and not a daycare center, is a plastic box full of toys. Several of them are things my own children played with growing up, and nine times out of ten, those twenty-five-year-old toys are the first ones dragged out of the box and into the living room. What a joy to realize that some things will always stay the same.

But don't get too comfortable with that idyllic scene, because in my office sits the five-year-old computer whiz. I used to think that she was playing secretary back there. She would have her cell phone wedged between ear and shoulder, her fingers flying on the keys of the keyboard while she carried on a very detailed fantasy conversation with the person connected somewhere by satellite, explaining why she could not accommodate their requests, usually. Kaylee is Little Miss Control Freak. We all know it. We just are a little wary of what she might be like at the age of, well, six or seven, much less the attitude she will exhibit when she hits puberty. The thoughts of Kaylee having PMS are frightening, to say the least!

Anyway, I used to think she was playing secretary, now I realize she was the President of the United States during all those hours of multitasking.

To my right, I was watching my little grandson play spaceman with a 25-year-old plastic rocket that belonged to his uncle, and on my left was my granddaughter saying, "Hold on a sec, will you? I'll look that number up for you."

Wanting to play, too, I went to my desk drawer and pulled out the big old phone book and told her I would look up the number for her. She spent a few seconds looking at me, then the phone book, then back at me, sighed a sigh of tolerance and began to frantically key something into the computer. Then, watching me like she was concerned I might explode any moment she said into the phone, "Uh, oKAY, I have that number for you, sir. It's 555-5555." Then she clicked Delete, terminated her call and ignored me.

I am perfectly aware that things are changing but when did THIS happen?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Break in the Clouds

Just when you think you'll never see the sun again, THIS happens! HELLO SUN!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Trees and Churches

Profile of a Chinese Throwing Star Smuggler

Would you like to know what a Chinese Throwing Star is? Evidently it is one of those star-shaped sharp Kung-Fu contraptions that superior martial artists can zing through the air at lightning speeds, piercing an enemy's heart from a hundred yards. You have probably seen those used in movies. The scene is usually about the same: A dark alley in a very unsavory section of some large city, graffiti on the walls in the background, a single streetlight shining a yellow glow in the rainy darkness. There are always gang members forming an unbreakable line of defense against a rival gang, and just when it looks as if World War III is going to commence in that alley, someone dressed in black leaps from the roof of a building and throws those Chinese Throwing Stars into one and then another of the bad guys' chests. When the scene ends, we see a
business office in China where men dressed in high-priced business suits are given the news that the deed is done.

Would you like to know what a Chinese Throwing Star smuggler looks like? According to the TSA, she might look quite a bit like the woman pictured above.

My cousin and I were leaving Phoenix to make the short 45-minute flight to Burbank, California, a couple of weeks ago. We had two goals in mind after a wait in a two-hundred person line to check our luggage: Drink a beer.

Being the avid reader and rather compulsive person I am, I had packed my little one-quart zip-lock bag of carry-on toothpaste, make-up and perfume in less than four-ounce bottles for inspection by the security folks, had remembered to remove the bag from my backpack and place it in a bin by itself for x-raying and was very proud that they complimented me on getting that right, so imagine my surprise when, after heaping the praise on, they asked to see me in the secure secure area.

"Something in your backpack is upsetting the screeners," the rather large man with the weapons attached to him said.

"Well, you can go through it," I said in my most confident big girl voice.

"Stand against that wall and don't touch your bag," he said, smiling a terse smile. I could almost hear him thinking, "We've got you now."

Tracy had zipped right through security and was partway to the gate before she realized I was no longer with her. She wandered back into the security area to find me standing with my hands in my pockets, trying not to grab the backpack and empty it out and go through it myself.

"What happened, Cousin?" She smirked at me.

The TSA official said, "Do you wear jewelry? Maybe a broach?"

I said, "The ring on my finger is the only jewelry I ever wear. No, there's no broach in there.

"Well," he repeated, "Something in your backpack caught the attention of the screeners. Are you sure there's not a broach in there?"

Finally, after it was already too late to get that beer that I REALLY needed now, I remembered what was in that bag that was making the "screeners nervous." The proverbial light bulb probably popped on over my head. I giggled, the officer still did not find anything funny about the fact that he had a five-foot tall, one-hundred-twenty-nine pound grandmother of three under suspicion for trying to smuggle a weapon onto the plane.

"I know what it is. It's in that birthday card, sealed up. It's a pewter flower-shaped rear view mirror ornament. It's a gift for my friend's fiftieth birthday. Go ahead, you can open the card if you need to." I was not sure if I preferred he open the card or if I prefer he not, since the card not only contained the pewter ornament but also a picture of a nude man.

He said, "Okay, no, I don't need to open your card. I'll just take it and x-ray it."

As I was preparing the bag to go again, being released from the grips of the TSA at last, I quipped, "I'm sure glad I didn't ask if I could bring my cross-stitch onboard with my little sewing scissors." I laughed a condescending little laugh and the security officer said, "Well, that would have been okay. You can bring scissors onboard."

My cousin smirked and said, "Well, isn't that special? You couldn't take your Chinese Throwing Star on there but you could take a pair of scissors. What a joke."

Out of the side of my mouth I was whispering things like, "Shut UP, please."

Mr. Security now seemed to see the humor in this, though, as he explained to me that yes, a pair of scissors no more than four inches long from the pivot point, would have been allowed.

Does anyone else see the stupidity in this?

The mystery was solved, but the rest of the time spent at Sky Harbor Airport was a fantasy for me. I had always wanted to be the bad guy. I had always wanted to smuggle Chinese Throwing Stars into Burbank, California. I was bad. Everyone knew I was bad. Screw the airline, they could wait for us to board the plane because we were really bad characters and in the movies, they always wait for the criminals.

I corralled Tracy into the nearest bar, slapped down my money and ordered us drinks. Then I took a long swallow of my Corona to wash down my Xanax. It was proving to be a long memorable ride to The City of Angels.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

Relaxing Hobby

My daughter is a huge dolphin fan...the animals, not the football team. It really is important to make that distinction because if you happen to mention the football team, she gets agitated and starts to mutter things about the Tennessee Titans.

She has loved dolphins for as long as I can remember. School shopping was simple: Every notebook, binder, pencil bag, shirt, towel and watch had to have a picture of a dolphin. If she had to settle for just a plain-jane ring binder because we waited too long to go shopping and all the good pre-decorated ones were sold out, she would draw her own dolphins on the cover. Christmas shopping for her was simple, too, until she had a houseful of kids and pets and ran out of room for cute dolphin sculptures and make believe aquariums. Now I am back to square one on that one.

This past weekend, though, the two of us made the journey to what I lovingly refer to as Hell, what most people probably call Wal-Mart, to do our weekly shopping. For some reason it is simpler with two than alone. With two hormonal women on the loose in the store, one of them most likely is not going to take that stopping in the aisle and visiting with your sister-in-law you see at least three times a week at work, Sunday dinner and next door behavior for long and will get a hot flash and ram into the crowd with their cart, effectively opening a passing space for the other one.

While we jockeyed for space in the crafts aisle, I heard my daughter's breathing quicken and she grabbed for a cross-stitch sampler kit with, you guessed it, beautiful dolphins playing in moonlit waves, handed it to me and said, "You are so good at doing these! Could you please make this for me?"

After all these years, she can still look at me with those big eyes and long lashes and pouty mouth and get whatever she wants.

"Well, gee, sweetheart. I've not really done any cross-stitch for years."


"I work 45 hours a week and that really doesn't leave a lot of time for hobbies like this."

"Pretty please?"

"Sigh...okay, yes, give it to me."

I have to admit, it was rather exciting to me, the thought of having my old hobby back. I started recalling cold evenings in front of the fire, cross-stitching the night away; remembering the satisfaction of completing a project, framing it and hanging it in my guest room.

When I got home with the little kit, the little "fast, easy cross-stitch project," I ripped it open, excited to relearn. They had enclosed a "handy thread color sorter" and a tangle of threads, all blues. I thought, "Okay, minor setback, no problem. I'll just take my time and sort the thread."

About an hour later, I was cussing. All the blues were looking alike. I was supposed to have five strands of light blue purple and three strands of pale blue purple and eventually decided NOBODY CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE!

Finally, the stitching could begin. I opened the other little envelope to remove the fabric to find that it was black. Before even attempting the first stitch, I went to my closet and dug out the handy little magnifier that hangs around your neck I purchased when my eyes first started failing me, for projects like this one, hung it around my neck and sat down to count the squares to the middle. By now two hours had passed and I had yet to make the first stitch. One, two, three, four, doorbell. One, two, three, four, five, the phone. One, two, three, the dog jumped up and knocked all the sorted threads into the floor.

I turned on the football game and had a beer and contemplated the fact that my eyes were really, really getting bad.

When finally a stitch had been made with the very dark blue, and yes, there was also a dark blue and blue and light blue and pale blue), I discovered that I could not even see the stitches in the natural sunlight, with a sunlamp bulb directly on the fabric and with a magnifying glass so sexily poised around my neck and resting its little legs against my belly or my boobs.

Calculating my losses, I tossed the entire project in the trash. I will take up another hobby that is not quite as stressful as this one, get a little relaxation going in my life for my after work hours, like manufacturing a hydrogen-driven automobile for GM. She wants dolphins? I am pretty sure I can find that little picture premade somewhere on the Internet, order it, have it delivered gift-wrapped to my front porch, give it to her for Christmas and take credit for it. Trust me here. The hydrogen-fueled car will be a piece of cake compared to that cross-stitch project!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Microwave or the Smoke Detector?

I never really believed that as people aged they became more forgetful. It seemed pretty apparent to me that what happens there is that people get older, get sick and tired of playing stupid petty games and just simply choose more often to toss the information out instead of cluttering up their brains with it. Seems I have been wrong about that, in a way.

Last week was a pretty long week. The work just kept piling up, I had to put in a fifty-hour week and my daughter kept needing "days off so I can have a whole day to myself without having to go to work or worry about the baby," which translates into, "I know you're tired because you work fifty hours a week and keep your house and cook for yourself and sometimes for us, but my life is so much more difficult than yours, could you please take the baby for a few hours?"

After one of those phone calls, I shuffled out of my office, still in my blue bunny slippers and the red, white and black polka dot PJs a friend had given me for Christmas the year before (comfort clothes; and do not look at me like all know you would love to have a job where you could wear your jammies all day if you wanted - jealousy does not become you), I shuffled out of my office and into my kitchen, poured a half-day old cup of cold coffee and stuck it in the microwave. I set it for one minute and shuffled back to my office, yawning, and settled in to type a couple of more reports.

After the first report was finished, I kept hearing a beeping noise in the house. It was annoying because it seemed perfectly timed to beep just about every half-minute or so. Now please keep in mind that a whole three minutes had passed since I put the coffee in the microwave, not to mention a ton of medical information had gone in my ears, through my brain and out my fingers in that three minutes.


I stopped typing, turned my good ear toward the door and listened...BEEP!

A report later, I could still hear the beeping off in the distance and then, laughing at myself, I finally realized what it was: The battery probably needed changed in the hallway smoke detector.

"I'll do that as soon as I do this next report. Ha-ha, what a relief to have figured THAT one out!" BEEP!

Finally, the workday ended. BEEP!

I stood up, stretched and started digging through the office drawer where all the batteries are kept. BEEP!

There was not one nine-volt battery in the drawer and it dawned on me that I was going to have to wander out in the rain and go buy a battery for the incessantly beeping smoke detector. It is just bad karma to take the battery out to stop the beeping and vow to replace it the next day. If there is one thing my mother taught me well it is that fire is just lurking around in the walls of the house waiting for the moment when the smoke detectors are malfunctioning, and I did not want to take that chance.


One of my rituals daily is to grab my cup of coffee, even if it is cold, and walk out the back door and onto the patio with my dog, to survey the back yard, especially at the end of the day. If it is raining, we scurry into the Beach House and listen to the rain thumping on the tin roof. It is relaxing for us both.


"That's funny," I thought. "My cup of coffee is missing! My cup of coffee is NEVER missing!"


I stood, then, underneath the smoke detector in the hallway, watching it, daring it to beep, when I heard it: BEEP! The insane beeping was not coming from the smoke detector at all. It was coming from the kitchen. It was coming from the microwave oven. It was, of course, the alarm on the microwave, which I had set three hours earlier, reminding me my coffee was hot and ready to be consumed.

Sighing, and looking around hoping there were no hidden cameras in my house with tapes of these escapades that could launch me to stardom on some home video show, I punched the thirty-second button on the microwave and went back into my office to put away my reference books. One caught my eye, and I sat back down in my chair and began to read an interesting article about DNA and in the distance heard BEEP!

My feet propped up on my desk, reading glasses employed, I kept reading and heard BEEP!

About a half-hour later I thought, "Wow, the battery must be dead in the smoke detector. I better change that."

And so it goes.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Dead Guy's Fridge

A month or so ago, Don's Uncle Lawrence, also Don's Godfather, passed away. There was a lot of family involved, of course, so like all deaths, it was sad and emotional. I paid my respects to Uncle Lawrence alongside my boyfriend, but I have to tell you, having been in the medical field my entire adult life, death is not a big deal to me. It is the next step of life, and believing that, I do not have a horrible emotional response to an old person passing away when his time has come, instead choosing to realize that life will go on for him in some form. Death has never really bothered me much within those parameters. At least, it never did until the old dead guy's refrigerator took up residence in the middle of my kitchen.

My old refrigerator, also a hand-me-down, is pretty much at the end of its term. All the food in the bottom freezes solid, which can be very annoying, and when it kicks on in the middle of the night, it wakes me up with its protesting whining. I knew it was about to blink out. It was fun going to Home Depot and shopping for a new fridge! And I picked one out. Unfortunately, my bank account groaned and moaned and refused to multiply by five overnight so I could afford the bright, shiny new refrigerator with ice and water in the door. At almost fifty years old, I had never had an automatic icemaker of any kind, and that became a big selling point.

Miraculously, as I returned home from one of these wishing trips, my phone rang and Don asked, "Hey, would you want Uncle Lawrence's old refrigerator out of his house? It's almost new and makes the little tiny one you're using now look like a midget."

I thought it through for about one second before asking, "Does it have an icemaker?"

Don said, "I don't know. I can go over and look, though."

Again there was a short pause from my end, "Okay, if it doesn't have an icemaker, don't bring it home."

An hour later Don called back and said, "It has an icemaker but just in the freezer, not in the door."

The important fact that I had demanded my next fridge have an icemaker and ice water dispenser in the door, flew right out the window with the next comment from Don, "It's free."

The next day Don's brother told him he could help bring Uncle Lawrence's huge, practically new Whirlpool fridge to my house, and when they offered that I said, "Oh, GREAT! I'll get in there right now and clean out the old one so you can take it away at the same time!"

Deafening silence emanated through the phone, and then Don informed me that they were just bringing the new one over, not taking the old one away. They would take the old one away in a week, on Saturday, when they weren't so tired from working.

"No, then, don't bring that over here because I..." Click. "Don't have room in the kitchen for it."

Within thirty minutes, the dead guy's refrigerator was planted in the middle of my small kitchen, and it IS big, trust me on this one, still full of whatever the dead guy was eating before he kicked the bucket. I could not believe that people actually eat Banquet TV dinners. Totally. I mean, as their complete diet. No wonder the guy passed away.

At least a dozen times a day I am forced into the kitchen with that monstrous box. Honestly, I have to turn sideways to get the coffee started, and it is necesary to step over a chair and onto the linoleum breakfast nook floor to get to my nightlight to turn it off and on. After two days of that I learned my lesson and just left it on. How much electricity can that little tiny bulb use, anyway?

I have that refrigerator plugged in and have transferred my meager contents from the other one into it and have learned that one of the biggest advantages to having it in there is that the grown children, who usually head for the kitchen and the food in the refrigerator like they have bungee cords attached between them, the second they show up, are a little put off by the comment, "Sure, go help yourselves to anything you'd like to eat out o the Dead Guy's Fridge." My grocery bill just dropped by about half!

Cheers, Uncle Lawrence! Come visit your kitchen appliance anytime you'd like! After all, it is yours. Grab yourself a beer and visit for awhile. Just don't get any ideas about taking the fridge back anytime soon. If it goes missing, I will definitely know there's a party going on somewhere and as soon as I get invited, I WILL find my refrigerator!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Define "Social Group"

Once a year my employer encourages that each of us attends "Wellness Week." They kicked this off when it became apparent that hospital employees, faced daily with the stress of tending to the needs of physically and mentally ill patients as well as the more stressful stress of dealing with their concerned, frightened and sometimes just rude, family members, might be, themselves, becoming mentally ill.

Ten years ago, the Wellness Week took a couple of hours out of one of our days and consisted of going to five different booths where we were weighed and educated about weight loss and offered a ton of brochures as well as the support of the dieticians on-staff to help us maintain a healthy weight in a setting where the only entertainment one gets is stuffing one's mouth with candy bars and Little Debbie snack cakes from a vending machine and washing it down with a can of Diet Coke on our massive ten-minute break. We looked then, and still do now, like addicts, huddled together in the break room, our eyes showing the strain of some tragedy or other that has befallen us that day, eating massive amounts of sugar and consuming gigantic amounts of caffeine to insure that we can head back into the battlefield for another four or six hours.

Another booth taught us stress management. That one was always the one with the line. Frazzled-looking healthcare workers dressed in scrubs with beepers attached to their pockets. More often than not, three of those would be going off at the same time and almost always while we were in the stress management line. It was almost like they were watching and finding the perfect time to page us, like an experiment using people instead of rats or monkeys. As the paged person shuffled out of the line and toward the door, the entire stressed out line would turn and watch him go with looks of empathy and sympathy on their tense faces. It was usually the most depressing part of my day, just watching those people leave accompanied by, "Beep, beep, beep, beep..." You could hear it even as they went out the door at the end of the hallway and approached their hell. But, if you were ever able to get to the head of that stress line, there was a social worker, looking well rested and happy, who would sweep you into the solitude of her cubby and reward you with cartoons and a quick five-minute counseling session before shuttling you out and into the next line.

That next line was usually a smoking cessation line. It, too, was pretty long. Nothing like having the nurse taking care of a nauseated, vomiting sick person while saturated with cigarette smoke. It did not take long for the hospital to realize there just was something not right about treating lung cancer patients who have smoked for fifty years, when your healthcare workers stunk like Camels (the cigarettes, not the animals...although there WAS a personal hygiene line for the people who tended to smell like the animals).

By the time I would make it to the smokers line, I needed a cigarette. Never having so much as taken the first puff from a cigarette myself in my entire life, I fully understood it's calming properties just the same. I would stand in that line for five minutes and just take deep breaths to give myself the motivation to move on to the blood pressure booth.

Blood pressure BEFORE the needles. That always made sense. By the time people had spent an hour in lines worrying about the final one, which was the vampire line, they really were stressed, blood pressures were high, emotions were boiling over. There were times I thought they should probably reverse the order; get the pain out of the way, take care of the fainting and needle phobics, then send us out to those other lines so we could relax and get something out of them. Yes, healthcare workers are big babies.

Now, the Wellness Week takes ten minutes out of the day. Most of the work is done as a preliminary packet of information that takes a month of investigation. Make a note of this: Always know what your LDL and HDL values were at your last physical exam. We hand this packet in as we go in the door, they give us a keychain for participating, and like a blur...weight and weight counseling two minutes; blood pressure check times three three minutes; Count Dracula one minute, two if you have bad veins.

But the paperwork you do before even entering the room...priceless. One of the questions that gave me the most trouble was, "Do you have a social group?"

I called the Wellness Wagon: "Would you define 'social group,' please?"

She said, "Do you have a group of people you hang out with on at least a weekly basis?"

I answered, "Yes, do they have to be real or is an Internet group okay?"

The lady answered, "These are the times we live in, an Internet group is fine. Do you like the people?"

"Some of them."

"Most of them?"

"No, just some of them."

"Well, do they like you?"

"Not much."

The interested woman asked me, "Does it make you happy to communicate with this group?"

And I had to be honest, "Usually."

"Does this group of people make you laugh?"

"Oh, yeah, all the time."

Then she threw out the bombshell: "Do you feel less stress when you talk to them?"

I sat there quietly and reassessed all the information Ms. Wellness Person had given me concerning the meaning of "social group." Okay, they have to like me, I have to like them, they have to make me laugh, I have to make them laugh, I have to be able to communicate with them and not need a Xanax at the end of the conversation to calm me down.

Quietly I hit the big red X and closed the messageboard down and popped a Xanax.

Back to Yahoo. There has to be a social group out there for me somewhere, and I am going to stay up all night and drink caffeine and find it, dammit! My Wellness papers are due tomorrow!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Canceled Trip to Pluto

Everyone needs a hobby. Some people play music or grow flowers or buy clothes...I travel.

There was a time, when I was much younger and had not learned how to tap into my brain and make wise decisions, that I traveled constantly, which sometimes interfered with that other hobby, eating. It was nothing to book four round-trip tickets to Los Angeles a year, a couple to Phoenix to visit my cousin, a couple to Texas to visit the same cousin, another one to Phoenix to visit the SAME cousin (she finally decided on Phoenix and has stayed there, thank God, well, so far, but the year is young - I hated Texas with a passion), one to Rhode Island to visit with my friend, one to New Mexico to visit with the SAME friend (see a pattern?) and one to Boston to visit the stable friend in my life, who has stayed far, but then something happened. One day I woke up and the passion for cramming everything I own into a suitcase and heaving it in and out of the trunk of my car, off the baggage carousel and past fifty whining kids, five barking dogs and three hundred rude adults at an airport, not to mention the four huge, camouflage-clad men carrying assault weapons, the whole time sweating and pushing my glasses back up on my nose and my hair out of my eyes and dragging my ass out of bed at two o'clock AM to drive 90 miles into the later time zone to make a seven AM flight, was undeniably gone. The very things I embraced about traveling became more my idea of visiting Hell, so I stayed put for several months, content to make a trip to Wal-Mart the most harrowing, crowded and longest trip into the bowels of rudeness I was willing to make. Everyone knows there are two places in the United States that rival one another for jerks of any kind: Wal-Mart and any major airport.

Then, I began to miss the whole idea of packing and that feeling of excitement the day of a long-awaited vacation, and dipped my big toe in to test the water by flying off on a vacation to the mountains with my boyfriend. Prior to the mountains, though, we visited Roswell, New Mexico, and learned all there was to know about alien abductions, alien visitations and UFOs. The study of space escalated for Don and me and probably the one statement I will forever be known for among my circle was, "I can't wait to book a trip to Pluto someday!"

Well, guess what happened next. They took Pluto away. That's correct. Scientists have now decided that Pluto is not part of our Solar System. There are a lot of ramifications to that declaration: First, they will be able to charge more for the flight since it is to a foreign solar system, and the little phrase that has been drilled endlessly into Baby Boomer's heads: My very educated mother just served me nine pickles, is totally obsolete. What now? My very educated mother just served me nine, just does not make any sense.

So I am putting away my solar suitcase and rethinking my Star Gazer's Weekend to Pluto. I am pretty sure I will not be able to afford it now, and I'm sure the language will change and they will no longer speak English there, adopting their own Plutonian gibberish, Plenglish, that only Generation ZZZ will be able to understand.

Goodbye, Pluto, it sure has been nice having you as the pickle! I wonder what I could wear to Neptune.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Dachshund Chronicles

I challenge anyone to live with a Dachshund and not smile at her constantly or go insane. There is no in-between emotion with these dogs. They are little leaping frenetic tubes of pure, unbridled energy who want to start their days at six o'clock every morning even if their "masters" (that would be me, by the's just that none of us know it, least of all the dog) had to baby-sit another nonstop but taller tube of frenetic energy (from here on out referred to as a "grandchild") until midnight the night before.

The routine is always the same:

Me: Sleeping soundly.

Dog: Pouncing all over the bed at five-forty-five Sunday morning, putting her nose on my nose, climbing onto my pillow like she's dragging herself up a fourteen-hundred foot peak in the Rocky Mountains, using those little front, short badger-digging legs to claw at my scalp, winding her little nicely-pedicured toenails in my hair then removing them in one strong tug, burrowing under the covers and touching that wet, cold nose against my back, then running the last five feet of the Boston Marathon back up onto the pillow to plop her twenty-five-pound miniature Daschshund body onto the top of my head until, at six o'clock, I cry uncle and extract myself and get up.

Those are our roles and we have rehearsed them for the past four years, everyday, and are now just waiting for our big Hollywood break.

There is one rule that is mine, that Annie has to respect, only because she cannot reach the doorknobs...I WILL have a cup of coffee before we head to the back yard to chase birds.

Mother Nature provides a virtual Pandora's Box of creatures right in my own back yard, who can keep Annie amused for five minutes, or until her attention span wanes, whichever comes first. Birds are her challenges. Ever since a cat allowed her to play with a bird that he had caught and dragged into The Beach House a year ago, which Annie immediately took proud credit for, which is probably why she has no friends, she has had the idea that she will catch a bird to play with.

Every time we go outside, the first thing she does is attempt to sneak up on whatever birds are eating bugs in the grass. Now, I have watched this sport of hers for years, and believe me, so have the birds. They have impeccable timing. Just before Annie reaches them, the flutter off unceremoniously and say to their pals in the tree, "That stupid dog." I can almost speak the language well enough to understand that now.

Open the door, out runs Annie at six-fifteen in the morning. The first two or three birds are chased to the fence or the tree by a black and brown, overweight, floppy-eared imitator of Sneaky Snake; Annie acts indifferent and tries to not look embarrassed, then rushes the fence to see if possibly, this time, she might be able to somehow persuade the big red male cardinal to lose his mind and land at her feet so she may claim victory at last!

This morning was no different as far as the routine, right up to the point when Annie caught her first bird (here on out known as a large butterfly). She was so excited! She was barking and telling the entire neighborhood that she had CAUGHT A BIRD!!

I can imagine her telling the story to her grandchildren, her hair gray, toothless gums withering with age, " Yeah, children, I caught a bird once! It was just teasing me, making fun of my short, stubby front legs and my long, lithe, perfectly toned body and I chased it around and around and around! I wouldn't give up, I would NOT give up! I chased and swiped my tail at it, growled ferociously, barked, drove it INSANE, I tell you! Then, after an hour of playing its game, I went in for the kill!"

This is where the grandchildren would gasp and jump back a little, then move back in, hungry to hear the rest of the story.

"With all the energy I could muster, I made one final leap and took...him...down! So the moral of this story is, don't you EVER give up on your dreams!"

I glanced up from my cup of coffee, still in my early morning stupor, to see Annie taunting the poor unsuspecting prey, then gobbling it up wing by wing to prevent me taking it away from her, like there was any chance I was going to touch a wet-with-dog-slobber, half-mauled butterfly. I started to say, "Hey, Annie, sorry to disappoint you, girl, but that's just a butterfly you've captured." But then I smiled, patted her on the head and shuffled back to my chair.

If she wants to believe she finally, after four years caught a bird, who am I to kill the mood?

For Susan - Writing Crap

Note for my friend, Susan: I was writing this whole thing in third person because the constant use of "I" seems so self-serving. Then I realized, "Hey, it's MY book. What can be more self-serving than writing a piece of literature (or crap, as my Aunt Helen will lovingly call it) with my name plastered on the cover?" So I'm changing the format. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some crap to write...

Monday, July 17, 2006


The day started a little blandly. At eight o'clock in the morning, the white hot heat was already an issue. The thermometer hanging on the outside of her Beach House read 84 degrees, but with that all-important heat index needle buried way at the right side of 100%, the term coined by the local News and Weather Geniuses in the Midwest, the "feels-like" temperature, was reading 99 degrees.

She was feeling a little sluggish. The window unit air conditioner was running in the dining room, to at least try to thwart the "feel-like" temperature inside the house somewhat, keeping it at a crisp, cool 83 degrees, but when she walked out the back door, onto the patio, and peeked at the electricity meter spinning wildly out of control, she ran screaming back inside and turned it off, hoping to reap the benefits of at least the lower humidity level inside for twenty minutes, long enough to save herself about five bucks on the utility bill.

Work was going rather slowly, her fingers sticking to the keys, when she remembered her stash in the fridge. Her eyes lit up, her heart raced a little. Her addiction awaited her in the kitchen, and she made a point of putting off retrieving her little reward, trying to make it seem even more exciting after the hour-long anticipation.

When she could no longer stand it, she jumped up and sauntered to the refrigerator, slowly pulled the door open. She nearly had to put on sunglasses to protect her eyes from the glow she perceived there, the bright sun-like light causing the kitchen to seem absolutely heavenly from its rays! Slowly, she reached in, wrapped her hand around a cold, shapely bottle of Coca-Cola Blak, caressed it against her cheek, was within seconds of making love to it on the kitchen floor before finally unscrewing the cap and pouring it ceremoniously into a large mug full of ice.

Music was playing all around her as she hurried back to her office and tipped the cold glass to her lips. The first sip was, she was certain, like stepping into the Kingdom of Heaven. Her eyes lit up, a smile formed on her lips, her heat-reddened face cooled instantly, and then she gulped, only slightly aware of the fact that these little six-ounce bottles of pure carbonated caffeine were going to finally eat up her paychecks, that she was going to need more and more to keep her alive.

After consuming one, she almost went for a second, but at the last minute, her heart rate increased to about 120, her pupils became huge! She could see the light! She could type twice her normal rate, could hear sounds she never heard! She could hear the ching-ching of the cash register ringing up this little beauty at a whopping $2.00 a bottle! And when she realized that the sounds were her ears ringing, she closed the refrigerator door and made the decision that a conscious effort to consume only one Coca-Cola Blak per day would be her goal.

A toast to fusion drinks. A toast to caffeine. Feeling like this, she headed to her employer to ask for a raise to cover her new habit.

Everything worth being addicted to is expensive. GOOD MORNING WORLD!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Marriage Script

They have never been the type of people to hurry anything along; never jumping in with both feet. Both have been burned way too many times to make harsh, quick decisions.

An example of this would be the patio that they finally built. They have planned on doing it for three summers in a row and finally it is done.

Marriage fits into that category of not rushing into anything, too. The fact that they have been officially engaged for eight years proves that as a couple they can find absolutely no reason to hurry it along. They both own houses so are securely rooted into place, approximately one block apart. She has her cave and he has his, and they find that comforting, quiet, secure, and sometimes a little bit lonely. He has his way of doing things, she has hers, and they have found that they are quite happy with that setup. He has the rim of his bathtub free of products, she has hers stacked full. He has shelves in impecable order, hers are stacked to the ceiling. He pays the bills ahead of time, she sometimes does not pay hers at all. She nurtures the weeds in her yard, he kills his. She catches the bugs that get into the house and releases them to the outside, he stomps them to death. He is bald, she has more hair than she knows what to do with...opposites attract.

Knowing all that, it is not the least bit suprising that they would have a script they follow at least one weekend a month concerning the possibility of marriage or co-habitation, recited from memory like the lines of a play. They pull up chairs onto the new patio or into the Beach House if it happens to be raining or cool, start drinking a little beer on a Saturday afternoon. He drinks his from the can, she has to have a glass. The curtains open and their script reads something like this:

Him: If I ever would happen to move in here, I'd want to put a two-car garage right out there.

Her: That's okay. Just be sure that you put a cot out there and heat in the winter in case you piss me off and need somewhere to sleep.

Him: I guess things are okay the way they are.

Her: I guess so.

They improvise now and then. Sometimes she is a little lonely and wanting a little more companionship in her life from him, so she starts the conversation, but the last line is always the same.

No, they are not the kind of people to rush into anything. Why mess up a good thing?

Friday, May 26, 2006

How Many Bath Products Does a Girl Need?

This morning she trekked into the bathroom to clean, hoping to get that job out of the way before the Holiday Weekend. Memorial Day Weekend was destined to be hot and muggy, and the last thing she wanted to be doing was cleaning the bathroom.

When she finished the sink and toilet and turned to the bath tub, she just stood there looking at it as if some stranger lived there. Removing the products from the side of the tub to clean it took longer than cleaning it. Two different shampoo brands, calling, of course, for two different conditioner brands; two tubes of Oil of Olay face wash; a bottle of St. Ives Apricot Scrub exfoliant; a bottle of Oil of Olay Ribbons body wash; two bottles of different scents of shower lotions; a bottle of K-Y massage oil; a can of ocean-scented shave gel; one Venus razor; and last but not least, two large bottles of bubble bath, one sandalwood scented and the other mango and orange.

She thought, "I've got to get rid of some of these things!" and retrieved a plastic Wal-Mart bag. She tossed in one of the shower lotion bottles, the nearly-empty-but-not-quite shampoo and conditioner and the almost-empty-but-not-completely mango and orange bubble bath. She took the massage oil, which she decided probably really had no purpose on the tub, and put it in the cabinet.

After scrubbing the tub clean and replacing the seashell bath mat, she lovingly replaced the saved-from-the-dumpster products and walked out of the bathroom, tossing the bag of disposed of items into the trash bag on her way out the door to take the trash to the curb for pick-up later in the day.

Back to work, her mind kept wandering. She was remembering that only two days ago she used the tossed shampoo and conditioner, and her hair felt so soft all day. She was remembering that a few nights earlier, her skin needing extra moisturizing, she rubbed the massage oil on her arms and legs in the tub. Her breathing quickened. She strolled back to the bathroom from behind her desk and prided herself on the organization on the side of her tub, but once back to work, she could not let go of the little voice in her head, telling her that she was going to need the things she threw away, probably within the next half-hour.

In her PJs, hair pulled up in a long ponytail, barefoot, muttering to herself, she rushed to the curb, and barely noticing the passing cars, the people staring openly at her, probably discussing with their children on the way to school that they should feel sorry for people like her, she opened the bags until she found the Wal-Mart Bag of Discarded Bath Products. Hugging them to her chest, she rushed inside and replaced them on the bath tub, her withdrawal symptoms fading, thinking, "Tomorrow I need to go buy more bath stuff before I run out!"

The life of a Bath Product Addict. There is no Twelve-Step Program for her but probably should be.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Battle of the Bees

About three weeks ago, the wood bees, who obviously also love the idea of having a beach house, made their annual pilgrimage back to the beams of HER beach house. They started by just showing up one day while she was grilling burgers, casing the joint, finding all their old holes from last year and merrily buzzing away to collect their friends and little pieces of bee furniture, returning the following day with a crew of carpenters and movers and their families of ten.

She listened, not as much annoyed as amazed by the sounds of munching and drilling going on overhead, but when sawdust began to shower down on her, she called Don.

For two years he has complained about the families moving in above their heads, the parties going on in the beams. When they read on the Internet that those little creatures dig entire tunnel networks in the wood structures, he vowed to eliminate the problem.

This eviction process never quite got off the ground. She wanted to net them and remove them and spray them with nerve gas, and Don just wanted to knock them to the ground with the net and stomp them to death. In the end, they did nothing but sit and complain.

She has never been afraid of the bees, allowing them to hover at eye level and share her space, but he is terrified of them. Their buzzing and hovering intimidates him. Just how frightened he is of them she never realized, however, until she purchased a bottle of spray to rid of the pests that were destroying The Beach House.

She said, "Don, come here! Look! There's one drilling right there and he has his ass sticking out of the hole! Quick, spray him, spray him!"

And Don said, "I'll get that little fucker! I'll get him...if he's still there after we eat, you better believe I'll get his ass!"

She stopped turning the steaks, mid-turn and glanced over at Don and realized at that moment that he had no intentions of declaring war on those bees. She laughed at him and he said, "What?"

She said, "You're scared."

Don replied, as everyone would expect him to with, "I'm not SCARED! I just want to eat dinner first."

Again she laughed, and he asked, "Well, what if they get pissed and don't die and just all come swarming out of their little forts and attack me? Look, I said I'll get them right after we eat, okay? If he's still sticking out like that."

Dinner lasted awhile. Don cut his steak in unusually small bites and kept spooning seconds and thirds of vegetables he normally never cared for.

After dinner, she went straight to The Beach House, thinking he had followed her, but when she turned around, Don was nowhere in sight and she found him in the recliner in front of the TV.

"Don?" she said. "He's not sticking out of the hole anymore, but I can hear a swarm of them drilling and chewing and there is sawdust falling like crazy!"

With the remote in-hand, flipping distractedly through the channels he replied, "I knew the stupid bees would hide. No need to mess with them now, it's almost dark. I'll get them next weekend, though, for sure!"

She went into her office and added to her list, "Get a ladder," finally realizing that she was going to have to climb up there and wage war on the wood bees alone.

Sighing she sat down next to her boyfriend and grabbed the remote from his hand. "Hey, the person braving the Battle of the Bees gets to decide what we watch on television."

There was no argument from him, but three weeks later the bees are still in residence and have put out blinking neon signs advertising hotels and restaurants in The City Above The Beach House, and every Sunday for the past three, she has marked everything off of her to-do list except carrying out the bee elimination process. Somehow that just never gets to the top of the list.

Well, there is always next weekend...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

There are going to be times, she has discovered, when things just do not go well. Life is zipping along in mindless mode when all of a sudden something a little menacing steps into the path and brings us up short. We bounce around like one of those balls tethered to a paddle by a rubber band, losing our way, finding our way, being scared, being pissed, being fine. Life has a way of making us have to stop and take a deep breath, recollect our spirits and our souls, pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and start again.

To make a long story short, she has learned that when receiving iodine contrast dye in order to have imaging of the kidneys done, some women experience "warmness and tingling in the genital area." For all of us not quite so quietly old-school modest, that means that it can cause an orgasm.

How can you find anything wrong with the chance to lay on a table naked with doctors around while experiencing orgasms? AND NOT EVEN HAVE TO DO ANY OF THE WORK??

She thinks that you can find absolutely nothing wrong with that. True, the dye could kill her because of her seafood allergy, but at least she would be going out with a big old smile on her face and her carbon footprint would be deep and her aura like a rainbow!

If you have to cope with a medical issue, she can think of no better way to cope than this. Who knows? She might start trying to find ways of getting a stash of that dye for home use. Imagine the friends she would have!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Relationship with the Sentinel Tree

Anyone who knows her understands her love/hate relationship with the tree in her back yard. Her house was built in 1937, so that tree was probably residing right there for many years prior to the construction, if it's height and circumference are any indication.

Southern Indiana is the storm mecca of the United States, especially in the early Spring. A day without a storm is like a day of frickin' peace, and those do not come around often in her vicinity. To make the unnerving tornado sirens blasting every other day even worse, after the weather imps unleash their fury by sending wind and hail and deadly lightning (lightning is always described by the local pseudometerologists as deadly before, during and after a tornado-spawning storm from Hell rumbles and growls and roars through) she has to go into the back yard and pick up the large branches and numerous smaller sticks and stack them by the alley for the City to dispose of.

The tree has taken on a personality of its own now, having lived with her in-residence for the past twenty years, and stands there regally just begging for another storm so he can drop a few hundred limbs in the yard and watch her break her back picking them up, quietly, its top gently swaying in the higher-level breezes gently meandering through, an innocent looking, gentle giant guarding and shading her back yard, providing a cool place to sit in the summer to enjoy outdoor meals and cold beer. The Sentinel Tree.

She piles limbs up, admiring the blue sky, taking a deep breath of fresh air, then goes inside and stands by the sink in the kitchen, enjoying a cold glass of lemonade. Glancing absently to the west out the window above the sink, she squints, squats down a little to get a better look and mutters, "I'll be damned." Sure enough, a new bank of dark clouds is rolling onto the horizon. Within the hour, she finds herself living in her basement once more as the tornado sirens blast and the storm blows in and blows out to the east, leaving a perfectly cloudless sky.

This time out to collect the sticks and limbs she kicks at the tree and says, "Dammit! Stop throwing all your trash down here! Stupid tree!"

Another monster storm cuts through her city that night and another limb gathering session is necessary in the morning. The pile by the alley has grown in two days, three times the original size. On the last pass, with arms full of wood, extended to drop the latest tree trash, she pulls it back toward her chest and turns slowly, head back in order to see the top of that old tree and smiles.

The tree stops swaying for a moment, the smart-ass little smirk wiped off his face, studying her. She can feel how perplexed he is when she carries her load up close to the back of her house and drops it there. With determination, she stomps to the stack by the alley, gathers an armful of sticks and purposefully marches to the back of the house and adds those to the new pile.

There is a change in the personality of the tree as he watches her make one trip and then another and another, recollecting the trash he so mirthfully dropped on her lawn everyday for the mere pleasure of watching her gather it all up.

When she has converted the branches from the Alley Pile to the Just-Behind-The-House-Pile, she gathers up four bricks and makes a little wall, pulls up a lawn chair and settles in, taking the time to deliberately break the pieces into nearly identical lengths, stacking them between the self-made brick walls. The tree watches with curiosity, then feigns indifference, then watches some more.

She stands up and admires her little kindling pile. That evening she goes shopping and comes home with a chimenea. She settles it into place in the bare spot in the back yard. The tree drops an errant stick, obviously as a test and this time she says, "Thank you, beautiful, Tree."

Breaking the stick and putting the pieces on her impressive woodpile, she mutters her new motto: "If life keeps giving you sticks, go buy a chimenea."

Saturday, May 06, 2006


The art of cooking was totally lost on her. She spent many years growing up in the shadow of a grandmother and mother, both excellent cooks but, unfortunately, who were quite short on patience, so they cooked, and she ate. They discouraged questions about the methods that caused previously unappetizing, uncooked foods to become masterpieces on the dinner table on Sunday afternoons. Because of this lack of their willingness to share their knowledge, cooking by adding a little of this and a little of that, until a beautiful, delicious meal materialized magically on the kitchen table, her own children grew up believing that the Kraft Italian Spaghetti in a box kit was a gourmet meal. She really never mentioned, and her son, who grew up to be a cook in an upscale restaurant once moving into his own home, called her on it many years later, that it really was not all that difficult to boil water and open two cans of tomato sauce. When she stepped out of that kitchen looking totally exhausted and put that spaghetti dinner on the table, her kids were ready to nominate her for the Mother of the Year award for her culinary expertise. They were naive and she liked it that way. She did remind her son that at some point she read that the best way to cook pasta was to boil it for a minute, turn off the flame, the most important part of the instructions, and then cover the pan with a dish towel for five minutes, allowing just enough ventilation for the steam to rise, causing more even cooking. He told her that really did not constitute being Italian from birth, a story this German-gened woman told them many times, so she also pointed out that there was the time she started pouring a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the water which did make her feel she was cooking in true Italian fashion. She was pleased when Prego began to manufacture sauce in jars, secretly, which eliminated the necessity of even using the can opener.

Once the kids started school and began spending a little more time with friends, or, let's face it, even in the school cafeteria, she was forced to admit that she probably was not the best cook and did learn to put a chicken in the oven. Many chicken and mashed potato and green bean meals later, her daughter came home raving about the culinary attributes of a friend's mother, heaping adoring praises on her like, "Mom, you should have been there to TASTE it!! She's the best cook in the whole world!" Imagine her dismay upon learning that the heavenly meal consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. And not even homemade tomato soup, just the stuff in the cans.

It was about this time that she discovered the cooking bag kits with the premixed spices, and pot roast. There was no way of messing that up, and her cooking skills increased. Pot roast, baked chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and Kraft macaroni and cheese and the occasional Banquet chicken pot pie became her rotating menu; pure delicacies!

The kids were born, lived and left, and survived nicely, apparently. There was certainly no weight loss going on in that house, and imagine her total surprise when she realized that at the end of a pay period, she had cash remaining in her checking account once they had gone. And, imagine the sun breaking out from behind black storm clouds creating a beautiful golden hue over the city as she stood before her first gas grill!

It would take three years for her to break down and purchase an inexpensive gas grill at Wal-Mart. Her children were a little perturbed about the purchase as they had not been consulted, nor had anyone waited for them to send their approval reports to Mother Freedom Board of Directors, and let's face it, they felt a little slighted and hurt, especially upon learning that Boyfriend was being treated to such things as New York Strip steaks and gorgeous sauted vegetables several times a week. They certainly were remembering the lean Kraft spaghetti days as they sat uncomfortably in the dining room, where they had shown up uninvited, and watched her consume the biggest part of a T-bone steak...for breakfast.

She felt badly for them all the way to the store to purchase salmon filets for dinner.

And that was Day One.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Preview of Imagination

She has worked since she was seventeen. And now she is forty-nine, edging eerily close to fifty...half a century old, five decades living for work and working to live.

Her forty-nine-year-old back stopped cooperating with her twenty-five-year-old brain this year and protested every move, every moment seated, every moment laying down, every moment walking, so in a desperate move she saw a doctor, took some medication, begged off work for five full days, this time not to travel to Venice Beach, California, or Dallas, Texas, or Albuquerque or Boston or Newport, Rhode Island, but to do the one thing she has dreaded, to rest.

The very thought that she was needing to relax, not fight airports and delays and smart-ass taxi drivers, frightened her a little. By day five, though, she had become content to be home, happy with herself, comfortable.

There was the usual self-examination day when she used her chair-side psychoanalysis techniques on herself to discover where her center was. There was the day she reconciled being nearly fifty. There was the day she learned she was really okay; no, more than okay; that she was just fine. And finally, after all that psychobabble was over, the sleep caught up on and her back better, she rediscovered her imagination.

This morning she ventured outside early. Her iced coffee was rich and thick and strong as she sipped it. The sun was filtering through the leaves of the big old tree in her back yard, making broken glass-like patterns in the thick grass and ground cover. She sat at her picnic table awhile and finished her coffee, rubbing sleep from her eyes. The next few moments were ticked off by wandering around, picking up twigs and limbs that littered the yard, a product of the storm that rumbled through the night before.

The next few moments she squatted in the grass to hunt for four-leafed clovers, a pleasure her mother taught her many years prior, one that she had given up for her nine-to-five, for raising her two children alone, for hiding out from any number of evils and demons chasing her down.
In the next few minutes, the girl understood she was finally a woman and that the demons had thankfully been put to rest. It only took forty-nine years to learn that lesson.

The next few moments turned into two hours, and she knew then that time meant nothing.

She stood up, brushed the dirt from her hands. It was an amazing morning of realizations and calmness and letting go and grabbing on. Imagine her surprise when she realized that all along her center had been in her own back yard and she simply needed to take the moment to find it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Story About Windchimes

There is really nothing quite as relaxing as a set of windchimes, tuned to A#. The sound is rich and thick and earthy and she has always loved that octave, has always felt a sense of peace when hearing them play in the breeze.

Her neighbor has two sets of chimes, but both are tuned to a much higher octave which becomes increasingly annoying when the wind is gusting.

Last weekend her boyfriend asked her if she remembered the set of chimes she had given him for Christmas one year. She tilted her head to one side, remembering and then said, "Those cost me sixty bucks! You've never even hung them up!"

Guilty as charged, he offered them to her with the explanation that he is always at her house and just never would have enjoyed them at his.

That afternoon they moved the shepherd's crook from the back yard to the west end of her front porch, taking a lot of time to position it just perfectly so the chimes would sway just above the floor of the porch but far enough away from the white aluminum guttering that the wooden clapper would not swing into it, causing nicks and cuts in the beautiful diamond-shaped walnut wood.

Later in the day, with a steady breeze effecting their music, the two sat in the Beach House and relaxed, drank beer, ate the food she prepared on the grill, and talked of love and music while the chimes swung and sang.

When a storm blew in that evening, they paced and worried inside the house. "Should we take them down?" "I don't know the neighbor never takes hers down, and besides, aren't they made for WIND? After all, they ARE windchimes."

The wind started picking up at ten o'clock that night, and the chimes were not playing music but screaming for redemption at the west end of her porch. Twice she opened the door and looked out, once nearly losing an arm when the wind, now gusting at about fifty miles per hour caught the storm door and ripped it out of her hand, the second time actually braving stepping out onto the porch but being chased quickly inside by a huge bolt of lightning.

Resigned to leaving the windchimes outside, they went to bed. The next morning, with the wind still gusting hard, they vowed to ignore the music of death outside and leave those chimes hanging right where they were. That was their job, and that was that.

All day long on Saturday, she listened to them blowing, could occasionally hear the neighbor's lighter, higher-octave chimes tinkling in the mix, but convinced herself that she enjoyed the thick, dark tones given off continuously by her A#-tuned windchimes.

Saturday night they went to bed with the wind still blowing steadily, gusts so strong they were taking limbs out of her big oak tree out back with ease. Several times in the night she awoke, and even upstairs, tucked away in an attic bedroom, under the eaves, she heard the continuous chiming.

On Sunday morning she awoke, stretched and was greeted by a steady wind and the music from outside. She nudged her boyfriend and said, "You think the neighbors are hating our new windchimes yet?" And he replied with, "I heard a gunshot at about eleven o'clock, did you?"

Alarmed by the jogged memory she said, "I did! I heard that, too, really close. What do you think happened?"

Don sat up and rubbed his eyes and said, "I think someone was shooting at our new windchimes."

She trudged down the stairs and started the coffee, threw her rain slicker on over her pajamas and ventured out onto the porch to retrieve the chimes which were by now, weeping in desperation, took them into the house and settled them ceremoniously on a hook near the front door to regain their composure before taking their sentinel post at the west end of the porch after the hurricane-force winds eased. Taking two cups of coffee upstairs, she settled back into The King, noticing Boyfriend sound asleep again, took two sips of her coffee and fell into a merciful, music-free sleep for two more hours.

Windchimes have their place and their time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Welcoming Elsworth

He has two plants in his yard that sort of just appeared from nowhere, he tells her, but they are conveniently and beautifully thriving in two exactly parallel beds on each side of the sidewalk leading to his garage.

One fine Spring afternoon, a Sunday when the sky was dotted with those beautiful cotton candy-like white fluffy clouds, she just happened to mention Myrtle in an off-handed way; something like, "Myrtle could really use a bath."

He looked at her and said, "Who is Myrtle?"

"Oh," she answered, totally unaware of just how insane it was going to sound to say, "The know? Green Ford Focus? Rounded back? Myrtle. As in Myrtle of Myrtle the Turtle fame. Get it?"

She shielded her hand over her eyes to shade the sun, winked her left eye closed and glanced up at him and he laughed at her.

After a little playful punch-throwing and slapping and rock throwing and wrestling until she was finally cussing and angry and he was using the pin-her-to-the-ground-to-keep-from-being-severely-injured tactic, they climbed into Myrtle and drove the half-block to his house, dragged out all the car washing tools, including the Turtle Wax, which they giggled about, and set out to bathe their baby.

When he pointed the hose at her and she was sprayed with cold water, she backed up and he suddenly yelled, "My God, don't step on Helen!!"

She stopped dead in her tracks and turned slowly to look behind herself, and nobody was there.

"What are you talking about?" she screamed! "You scared me half to death!"

"Helen, down there."

She looked down and all she saw was a nice-sized hens-in-a-basket plant, resembling the ones her grandmother grew. She became engrossed in the memories that plant brought to mind then, squatting down and cooing at it and said, "My grandmother used to grow these! I loved them! They remind me of her! Uh, wait a minute...THIS is Helen? It's a PLANT."

He smiled and said, with ceremony and pride, "And meet Louise."

Louise was growing with fervor on the other side of the walk, very proud and every bit as large as Helen.

Then he pointed to Helen's side and practically swooned with pride, "That's their baby! When he gets big enough, you can take him home if you want."

She contemplated that and then asked, "I thought you said their names were Helen and Louise. How did they have a baby?"

"Yeah," he shrugged. "They're lesbians but they did the artificial insemination thing."

They laughed and went about the day, and a couple of weeks later, she returned to check on the growth of her baby plant, and he came out of the house with a little pot and a trowel and handed them to her. "He's ready," he told her. "Go ahead and break up the little family while Helen and Louise aren't paying attention."

She dug the little start up and headed home, walking, down the alley behind his house, while he kept the two gay hens-in-a-basket plants distracted, to her own house where she had already prepared a bed by the Beach House.

After setting the little plant into his place she said, "Chloe, Dandy, welcome Elsworth."

She marked his territory with decorative stones with such peaceful words on them as Peace, Beauty, Sunshine, and left Elsworth to bond with his new friends and family in the quietness of her back yard, impatiently awaiting the day when Helen and Louise would produce another offspring, already named Mary, for her to bring home to keep little Elsworth company and hopefully produce many little grandchildren for their parents down the road.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The One that got Away

The day had been just about as close to perfect as a day can get. The temperature, the humidity, the sun, the wind and the setting came together to create an ambience that she searches for, hunts almost endlessly for, the entire rest of the year. In Southern Indiana, a day that is not too cold, not too hot, not too humid, not too cloudy and not too sunny, only happens about three days out of a three-hundred-sixty-five-day year.

All day she had fished. Cast, reel, cast, reel, cast, reel. The monotony of fishing is the beauty of fishing. Her mind wanders, she becomes drowsy with the sound of whir, plunk, whir...whir, plunk, the line is cast out, the bait hits the calm water and she slowly reels the fishing line back onto the reel, removes the moss from the hook and bait and starts all over.

At the end of this particular Saturday, her body sun-logged, her skin slightly burnt, she overheard Don and his brother, Bob, discussing possible ways to retrieve a barrel that had broken loose from an old pontoon boat that had been constructed over many years, by everyone in the family, which was floating aimlessly about in the water.

She and Bob stood up on the dam and observed Don as he beat at it with a large stick, which, on that day, seemed like a totally sane thing to do, when she said, "I bet I could cast out, hook the lip of that barrel with the hook and at least tease it in close enough to the bank that you and Don could figure out a way to drag it in."

It was silent for a few minutes. Don continued to beat the water with a large branch off a fallen tree and Bob said, "Betcha can't."

Another couple of minutes passed, and she asked, "Are you challenging me, Bob?"

Bob said, "Yes."

So off she hiked toward Don, her rod and reel balanced on her shoulder. Bob had taken a seat on the grass at the top of the dam and was shaking his head. She cast out, missed the barrel on the reel-in, cast out, got a little closer. With the saying, "The third time is the charm," chanting through her head, she hooked the lip of the barrel and carefully and slowly began reeling that three-quarters-full-of-water huge plastic barrel toward the bank.

Don now had a good use for the stick as he could reach the barrel and bang on it, and she distinctly heard, on the breeze, Bob saying, "I'll be damned."

He joined them at the site of the wayward barrel, and while Don banged on it with a big stick, Bob used a board to effect a wave-like motion toward the bank, and she reeled.

"I have a rope here," Bob said.

"Okay," replied Don.

"What are you going to do with a rope?" she asked.

"Well, if we could figure out a way to get it thrown around the barrel and tie it, we could pull it in."

She said, "How you going to tie it around the barrel, Bob?"

The frogs sang, the sun continued to set, the fish started feeding on the far end of the lake, in the shallow water, woodpeckers pecked. The wind blew. The two men began batting at the barrel and the water with the stick and the board and promptly pushed it out where it caught the little bit of current that can be caught in a lake that size, and floated out into the center.

"Well," she said, "that's that."

She calmly tied up her rod and reel and began the hike up the dam. When she looked back, they were still standing there, looking at that barrel, wondering where they had gone wrong.

She laughed, and her laughter drifted off with the evening breeze, into the woods, and all just seemed right with the world.

The one that got away that day was white and weighed about two hundred pounds.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Several natural phenomena occurred to birth Friday night, April 14, 2006. The day was unusually warm with heat advisories posted early in the afternoon, the wind was wild all day long, ushering in a feeling of living in another dimension. Her hair was in her face all day, the branches of the trees dancing for her entertainment, and the storms tracked north, leaving a washed shimmering atmospheric dark blue to the sky, white clouds skirting the perimeter of her world, leaving an opening of nothing but blue.

The sound of aluminum bats on baseballs at the stadium a few blocks over, was carried like musical notes across the streets and through her open windows, a sure mark of summer fast approaching.

Birdsongs were loud and clear; courting songs that will eventually give way to the deeper, throatier, thirsty chirps of a heat-infested, dry summer.

She worked all day, listening, waiting, hurrying the day, so they could take their McDonald's picnic dinner to the lake, relax there surrounded by water and woods.

They arrived there at about five o'clock that evening, were the only people visiting the beautiful, serene gated members-only environment. April in Indiana is not usually so amenable, and the sudden transition from winter to summer took many people by surprise and they were not yet ready to embrace the season. All the better for the two of them who can sniff out a warm evening coming even in December and have learned to take full advantage of that.

The two of them walked and walked, skipped stones on the water, wiggled their toes in the damp sand at the beach, laughed and occasionally walked in perfect silence, traversing the fallen limbs, picking up interesting rocks or sticks.

Once around the Upper Lake, they ran like kids to the swings at the park. The swings there were the wooden seats, not the plastic slings that someone decided would be better; not the plastic slings that squeeze your thighs together so that you are knock-kneed; not the plastic slings that you cannot jump out of mid-swing; but the nice, wooden, straight seats with real chains that you can twist and twist and twist and then spin madly around in when it is released. They swung, they twisted.

He was ready to leave and she said, "Please? Can we just stay until the stars come out?"

And she pouted just a little until he gave in, and they walked again, around the Lower Lake this time. They played hide-and-seek in the woods, darting in and out behind huge old pines and fallen logs, easily concealed in the quickly coming dusk. She was watching her watch, calculating when the stars would start appearing, anticipating the canopy overhead, so brilliant out here in the darkness of the woods with no houses, no noise, no light. And as the moment drew closer, her heart began to race.

Back up at the shelter house and park, they positioned themselves on the teeter-totter. He teeter-tottered and she sat on the other end with her feet propped up on the board in front of her, not teetering or tottering, just watching the sky.

He said, "Did you know that it takes so long for the light of the stars to reach the earth so we can see them, that those stars might not even be there anymore? That they might have burned out a thousand years ago but their light is just now visible to us?"

And she said, "Did you know the stars are there all day but we just can't see them because of the brilliance of the light of the sun?"

They teetered and tottered on in silence, then, in awe of the gravity and the enormity of those observations.

She laid down, then, on the ground, the darkness wrapping around her like a quilt, and watched the sky.

Pop. The first star became visible to her and she wondered if it was really the star or if it was just the residual light from a star long gone. Pop. Pop pop pop pop. The stars were popping out and she listened to hear if they sounded like a bag of microwave popcorn heating up, exploding. Suddenly, with him laying beside her, the skyscape offered up its light show, and they held their breaths together when the wind, almost on cue, gusted. From their pine-needle cots they watched the thin, tall pine trees sway like hundreds of couples slow-dancing to a windsong, while the stars popped. They reached over and grasped hands, contemplating their place, their tiny, tiny, very unimportant place, in the Universe.

Then, they quietly stood up and drove home in silence, neither willing to break the magic spell by speaking.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Butterfly Wall

If you ever need to get away
For a year or for a day,
Give me a call and meet me
Behind the Butterfly Wall.

We'll bury our troubles in the sand,
Become little girls skipping hand in hand,
Swim naked in the lake, catch our dinner
And make white clover bracelets woven
Stem to stem and swing on the grapevine
Limb to limb.

Hear the wildlife settle in for the night,
Huddle by the fire, the moon for our light.
We'll kneel at the edge of the universe,
Chant a prayer to the stars
Saying thank you Mother for getting us this far.

Close our eyes, chase the years and try to find where they went,
Fall peacefully asleep in our Barbie doll tent.

So if you ever need to get away for a year or a day,
Give me a call,
I'll find you behind the Butterfly Wall.

The Thing About Dogs

Today is a maintenance day for Annie, her loyal little Dachshund. Time for summer preparations.

You know, nobody gives HER flea medicine or chigger or tick prevention medicine, or even mosquito preventative. What's up with that?

Annie gets a pedicure today. She gets a heartworm test and a new prescription for rather expensive pills that "taste like liver," she will take their word for it, knowing only that the dog scarfs it up like she would scarf up a handful of M&Ms, to make sure those pesky, mosquito-bite-introduced three-foot long parasites do not get the opportunity to invade her little heart. Her loyal and loving owner will also purchase from her quickly diminishing checking account, a six-month supply of super-duper flea and tick formula. Maybe a one-year supply, half to use on her own self before going out four-wheeling in the tick-infested woods?

"Don, excuse me...will you please put this little tube of Advantix between my shoulder blades? No, no, don't rub it IN!!!"

Having a dog is like having a child except the dog can and WILL walk on its own from birth and will also listen to her. Never mind, it is not like having a child at all.

What's On TV?

Cable TV is awesome...overly priced but awesome. She has a TV in almost every room of the house, and usually at least three of them have different channels playing at one time. She calls this ADD, but she hears an echo in the back of her mind, "Add the 'H.'" "H" for hyperactive. Maybe she is, maybe she isn't, but she does know that cable TV was invented for her.

The channel lineup is approximately 90 channels, four local networks, the remainder everything from 24-hour science fiction and psychics and aliens from other planets to the top ten hotels in the world to a geography lesson on the Middle East. Everything from Baby Boomer favorites on TV Land, like "I Love Lucy" and "Mayberry RFD" to constant streaming music videos and world weather reports. She had the choice last night, of crawling into The King and tuning into a debate on one of about five world news stations she receives for paying her bill of sixty bucks a month, watching an overdone cop show where the suspects always spill the beans without benefit of an attorney, even when there is no evidence against them, or "Family Guy," a sort of out-of-the-mainstream animated show where the characters are so believable that you forget you're watching cartoons, right down to the talking dog, Brian, who lives within the family unit as a slightly odd-looking human member, complete with a vocabulary that Webster would envy, and a truly frightening looking infant child in diapers whose vocabulary Brian envies.

"Family Guy" won out, really without much contest at all, and she settled in for a couple of laughs, which she definitely got, and maybe in a bizarre way, a little nudging lesson in life.

Stuey ran away from home with the express purpose of finding the BBC studios where his favorite show, a Snow White-like production with a colorful green hill and plush grass and loveable characters, was filmed, thinking in his childish mind that the setting for the show was absolutely real.

Brian ran after him, of course, to save him, and they both found themselves landing in the Middle East instead of Great Britain. From a vendor there, they stole a camel and rode into the middle of the desert. Keep in mind they could not buy a camel because Brian only had fifty dollars in cash on him and Stuey, well, Stuey wears a diaper and nothing else.

The two quickly became lost in the desert, the camel died, it was getting late and cold out there. After a conversation regarding the necessity of staying warm, Brian convinced the baby that he had to cut the camel open while it was still warm and crawl inside, to provide shelter from the freezing desert that night.

The slaughter was gruesome, and baby Stuey held his breath and crawled in, promptly shouting out, "Oh, I've puked in his lung!"

Standing outside the camel, Brian looked up and said, with no ceremony at all, "Oh, a Comfort Inn." About 50 yards away was a luxury hotel, teeming with life, in the middle of the barren desert.

The life lesson? Do not, under any circumstances, crawl inside an eviscerated camel for shelter in the desert until you have done a 360-degree survey of your surroundings.

Oh, and Stuey found the BBC studios and was crushed to learn that the people were only regular folks with pissed off attitudes playing parts they hated and the plush green hill was made of painted cardboard. He learned the grass really is not greener on the other side.

Laughs and lessons. She thinks she might have done better in school if "Family Guy" was the teaching film strip.