Puzzle Me This

My grandmother, Ann Muniz, was beautiful. And she took care of herself—obsessively so. She would put on fresh lipstick for the walk to the curb to the get the mail from the mailbox. Her daughter, my mother, is the same way. It wasn’t until I took driver’s ed that I found out what the rear view mirror was actually for. I grew up thinking it was for lipstick reapplication before getting out of the car.

I cannot call up a single image where ‘Granny Ann’ wasn’t dressed nicely, didn’t have her hair done—and her purse always coordinated with her shoes. I never saw her without nail polish. From my earliest memories, I have always associated her with Jackie Kennedy. I don’t know why.

To the family’s knowledge, the only magazine my grandmother ever subscribed to was the TV Guide. She also had the morning paper delivered, but no one remembers seeing a single issue of TIME Magazine on her coffee table or anywhere else in her always-neat-and-tidy house. My cousin, Nadine, and I used to draw devil horns and fangs on the models in the Ladies Home Journals that she’d occasionally buy on a whim at the grocery store. But, TIME Magazine? Nope.

I lived in Virginia when my pretty grandmother passed away in 2004. By then, my mother and father had already retired and moved to Florida. But, we all went back to New Mexico for Granny Ann’s funeral. My parents and I had returned to our perspective states long before my cousin, Marisa, and Granny Ann’s faithful ‘gentleman companion’ dispersed, distributed, or donated her personal belongings.

Fast forward ten years to 2014. My mom and dad are in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in Lady Lake, Florida. My dad peruses a pile of magazines on an end table.

Something caught his eye: Jackie Kennedy on the cover of a magazine.

Intrigued, he pulled the TIME Magazine from the pile of recent periodicals.

His eyes skimmed over the cover. The word Albuquerque on the mailing label jumped out at him. Amused, he was about to show my mother that he’d found a magazine from their hometown—a place where they’d lived from birth to 2002 (except for a short stay in California in the ’60’s). Wearing a grin, he sat down and scanned the entire address.

He read the label again just to make sure.

In the waiting room of a doctor’s office (that neither of my parents had ever been to before) my dad had picked up a magazine belonging to my mother’s mom.

Shaking his head with disbelief, he handed my mom the magazine. “Take a look at the name and address on this.”

A chill ran up my mother’s spine. Her mind tried to come up with a rational explanation for a very old magazine with her mother’s name and her New Mexico address on it showing up in a random doctor’s office in central Florida.

My parents tried to brainstorm on how that could have possibly happened. My dad asked my mom if she had brought some paperwork or magazines from Albuquerque when they returned after the funeral ten years previous.

“No. I didn’t bring anything back except a few small sentimental items. We left before they’d gone through her personal papers and photos. I did not bring this with me. Why would I keep it for ten years only to get rid of it? That makes no sense. And besides, who donates magazines that are decades old? Have you ever seen a magazine in any other doctor’s office as old as that one?”

Stunned, my mom and dad approached the receptionist and asked where they got the magazines in their waiting room. My dad indicated the TIME in his hand. She said she didn’t know where that particular magazine came from.

“Sometimes people bring in magazines after they’re done reading them. We’ll find them on the table—or they’ll drop them off with me. But that one? I don’t know how that got here. Most people cut out the mailing label on front or at least mark through it with a Sharpie pen. I’ve worked here six years and no one has ever left a magazine that old.”

My mother explained, “Well, believe it or not…this particular magazine belonged to my deceased mother who lived in Albuquerque and died in 2004. In her entire life, she never visited Florida.”

The receptionist told the doctor about the mysterious magazine. He told my parents that he didn’t have any idea how the old periodical found its way to his waiting room.

He graciously let my parents take the TIME Magazine home.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you exhibit A:

IMG_1118IMG_1135

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why I Dedicated This Book To My Father

Tags

, , , , ,

Amazon TOT Cover A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that my sixth book, The Other Twin had been released. As it turns out, The Other Twin is my seventh novel. I don’t know how I managed to mix up the number of my novels because I love each of them in their own right. I feel like a mother who is asked, “How many kids do you have?” Only to answer the wrong number through sheer force of habit. I mean, give her a break, she just had the seventh baby and she’s used to answering that question with a quick, no-thought answer, “Six.” Alright, I admit it. I am a bad book mom.

I’ve had a couple of people ask where I came up with the idea for The Other Twin. First, I must explain that the subject matter of this book is the same for a book I wrote a few years back called, The Tributary. Both books deal with what happens to young people after they either runaway from or age-out of the foster care system. My characters end up on the street just like the statistics predict. Fifty percent of foster children find themselves homeless and jobless six months after leaving the system. The characters in each novel briefly meet each other and then go their separate ways. While writing The Tributary, I realized that two background characters in The Tributary deserved to have their own stories told. Hence, The Other Twin became a reality.

I am very sensitive to the plight of the people who find themselves on the streets—whether by circumstances they could not help or disastrous decisions that led them to their current situation. However, that was not always the case…

I dedicated this book to my father because a child will learn more from what she sees her parent do than from any long-winded sermon at the dinner table or from the pulpit on Sunday morning .

I witnessed my father’s compassion for those less fortunate many times growing up, but one instance will always epitomize his selflessness because it brought about a new awareness in me.

I’d like to premise this story with the fact that we were not wealthy–we were not anywhere near upper middle class. Both my parents worked hard to give us what we had. We lived in a working-class neighborhood in a small three-bedroom house. My sister and I had birthday parties with lots of presents, and Santa always brought us what we asked for, but I also wore plenty of horrid hand-me-downs. I was a typical 1970’s ‘latch-key kid.’ We weren’t poor. We never went hungry. My parents even managed to send my sister and me to a good Catholic school, but we didn’t have much ‘disposable income.’

I was with my dad one afternoon; I think he’d picked me up from a dentist appointment or something. Instead of dropping me off at home as planned, he told me that he needed to stop by his office to pick something up or turn something in…I can’t remember. What I do remember is not being happy about the detour. I turned toward the passenger window and rolled my eyes, sighing softly. Contrary to today’s less strict parenting standards, we did not outright roll our eyes at my father unless you felt like listening to him reprimand you about your attitude the entire twenty-minute ride home and perhaps that talking-to might even continue at dinnertime. Trust me, you did NOT want to be on the receiving end of one of my dad’s lectures! I learned years before that it was better to have the surly teenage attitude and dialogue in my mind just to avoid such a fate. Besides, I had a vivid imagination so my tirades were dramatic and sometimes downright funny.

That day was particularly cold. Passers-by on the sidewalk had foggy mist coming from their noses and mouths as they hurried to their destinations, bundled up in coats, scarves, and hats.

My dad worked downtown, in the heart of the city. He pulled to the curb across the street from his office building in one of the only available parking places at that busy time of day. He looked over at me. “Do you want to come in?”

“No, I’ll wait here.”

“Why don’t you come in? It’s too cold out here to wait.”

“I’ll be fine. Just leave the keys. I’ll keep the heater on.”

Reluctantly, he agreed. “Lock the door after I leave.”

I watched him cross the street. He stopped in the middle of the island waiting for a break in traffic to continue across. As my dad stood there, a homeless man sat on the ground, leaning on a street sign. Bedraggled, wearing gloves with the fingertips cut out and a filthy knit cap on his head, he kept his chin down and eyes on the cold concrete below him. My father continued on his way as soon as he could dash between the cars whizzing by him. You might assume it was probably too cold to walk to the corner and wait for the light, but my bet is he rarely crossed at the light, regardless of the weather.

A few minutes later, my father emerged from the building. I recognized his beige coat with the brown fleece collar. He rushed to the middle of the island again. I wished he’d hurry because I couldn’t wait to get home. After all, this detour wasn’t supposed to be on the agenda and his sojourn into work took longer than I’d expected. I slumped in the front seat with my arms crossed like the crabby, impatient teenager I was.

As I watched, there was a break in the traffic, but my dad didn’t cross. “What the hell…?” I mumbled. “What is he waiting for?”

He seemed to be conversing with the homeless man. “Hurry up!” I mumbled. “Just give him a dollar and keep walking!”

As I watched in complete disbelief, my dad unzipped his coat, took it off and handed it to the man.

Is he crazy? What’s he doing? It’s freezing outside! I sat in the warm car, shaking my head with utter bewilderment. A moment later, my dad rushed across the street and rapped on the window so I could unlock the door.

As soon as he sat down, I asked, “Dad! What did you do that for? Why did you give your coat away? Now you don’t have one!”

He put the car in gear as though nothing unusual had happened.

“Dad?”

Seemingly embarrassed by my questioning of him, I sensed that he wished I hadn’t seen what he’d done.

“Mom is going to wonder where your coat is. Why did you give it away?”

He briefly looked at me and then back at the road. “Because I can go home and get my old coat. I have both. A home and a coat. He had neither.”

At that moment, I realized I hadn’t given the homeless man much thought at all. I had only concentrated on what my father had ‘lost’ rather than what the man had gained.

With this realization, I suddenly became aware of my own self-centered nature. Why hadn’t I even considered the man’s plight? Why didn’t I even notice that he didn’t have a coat? Why did I only worry about my dad not having his coat anymore? Was it because I knew my father and I didn’t know the other man? So, the other man was somehow less real to me? Less human?

I swear to you—it was at that moment, I stopped being blind to the homeless. I no longer just assumed they were vagrants, alcoholics, and drug addicts. They were people who were cold when we were cold. Hot when we were hot. Hungry when we had full bellies. And all alone when we had each other.

I could tell my dad didn’t want to talk about what he’d done, so I didn’t ask anything more.

Years later, after I’d gained a little perspective (and had watched my dad do other selfless things) I understood that the day I’d witnessed him giving away his coat, he was uncomfortable with my questioning him because he felt the exchange had been between him and another man—and no one else needed to concern themselves with their interaction. To him, acts of charity were to be done without calling attention to oneself. Giving was personal. Man to man. Person to person. Human to human.

When I was an adult, I told my mother this story. She nodded slowly. “Your father would give the shirt off his back if someone needed it. Why wouldn’t he give away his coat? Come to think of it, he was always ‘losing’ coats. I wonder if that’s where they went.”

Of course, that’s where they went.

IMG_1045

Dad circa 1980

And that is why my seventh novel is dedicated to the man who taught me to look within to find humanity—to not only see the person who needs help, but to see myself reflected in the faces of those who have nothing.

 

 

 

Synopsis of The Other Twin: 

Twin brothers, Matt and Luke Ramsey, aged out of the foster care system a few years back. Since then, they’ve survived on the streets. Being homeless is hard enough, but Luke has the added obligation of taking care of his mute, learning-disabled brother. He tries to make a “home” for him and a few of their friends in an abandoned leather factory. One night, a fire rips through the warehouse. Several young people lose their lives—including Luke. The tragedy leaves Matt alone in a threatening world that he struggles to understand. Matt is devastated by losing the brother who’d interpreted for him, spoke for him, and helped him navigate a very confusing street culture. He thinks about giving up and killing himself in order to be reunited with the only person he’s ever loved—until he meets Cassie Boden. Immediately, Matt is drawn to the young social worker. He quickly falls in love with her. When Cassie tries to rescue Matt from the street life, she learns Matthew is not the man he appears to be at all.

To purchase or get a free preview, click below

 

 

 

My First Valentine

IMG_8218I was a funny looking kid. I had enormous eyes, a small mouth and (later) a classic overbite. Throughout my childhood, I looked very much like a mouse. Consequently, people often gave me mouse-related toys, stuffed animals, play-jewelry, and books. Me, being me, I especially loved the mice books.

Even as a preschooler, before I could read, there were a few books that captured my overactive imagination and sucked me into the pages. I could disappear into the story with ease. I loved these books so much, I still remember some of their names: Moonie Mouse, I Am A Mouse and my all-time favorite, The Mice Who Loved Words.

IMG_8219

My love of books followed me to kindergarten…and elementary school. It only grew to be an obsession later.

But first…kindergarten. During this phase of life, I had no front teeth thanks to a jumping-on-the-bed incident that included being catapulted by my sister into the corner of a headboard. I was skinny—a consummate picky eater who hated everything but cheese and candy. (Not much has changed.) Back then my head was small, but my eyes were huge and I had a lot of long, thick hair that my mother would brush into a cute flip whenever picture day rolled around—otherwise I went to school with uneven ponytails and crooked home-cut bangs. I didn’t think I was pretty. However, I knew what pretty looked like. I thought my neighbor Julie (three years older) was the most glamorous and lucky girl in the world. She had Tinkerbell lip gloss, a small container of Hyacinth-scented lotion, and a compact mirror that she kept in her very own purse! She was blonde, had blue eyes, and her bangs were never crooked. Compared to her, I thought I was as plain as…well, a church mouse.IMG_8214

One day in kindergarten, a boy named Jay Ray sauntered up to me on the playground and asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?” I honestly thought he was joking. My cousin, Nadine and I exchanged looks before I answered no. He said, “Good. I’ll be your boyfriend.” With that, he turned sharply and walked away. My cousin and I broke out into fits of giggles. In my heart, I really thought he was teasing—there had to be a joke at my expense in his question somewhere. But, alas, he was serious. Well, at least as serious as one can be at five years old. In kindergarten having a boyfriend meant sitting next to each other at circle time, standing in line together to get a drink out of the fountain, or walking out to the play-yard together. However, once we hit the playground, he’d run off with the boys and I’d play with the girls. Well, that was fine by me.

So, at five years old, purposefully being in close proximity to someone while standing in line or listening to a story was my complete definition of ‘having a boyfriend.’  In fact, the only time I’d ever heard the word before was when Marlo Thomas introduced Donald as her ‘boyfriend, Donald’ on the 1960’s television program called That Girl. (Ironically, when I was a teenager, I was told on numerous occasions that I looked like Marlo Thomas.) But, aside from hearing the term boyfriend on TV, it was not a word that was batted around in my world. So, although I never truly knew what Donald and ‘That Girl’ (I thought that was her name!) did as boyfriend-girlfriend, I imagined they sat together in movies and then went their separate ways.

One day, my dad picked me up from kindergarten. That had NEVER happened before. But, for whatever reason, there he was waiting for me after we sang our “goodbye” song and walked out the door. I don’t remember much about that day except getting into his truck. I waved at Jay Ray who was walking by my window. My little boyfriend scowled at me, but waved back. Now that I think about it—Jay Ray never smiled. Weird. Maybe it was his attempt at looking ‘tough.’ Who knows? Anyway, my dad asked, “Who is that?” To which I replied in all honestly, “My boyfriend.”

My dad’s face changed from passive to confused. “Your what?” He didn’t look happy so I tried to back-pedal. “My friend…that is a boy?” He said, “You’re too young to be thinking about boys!” The way he said it made me realize that whatever a boyfriend was…my dad didn’t want me to have one. So, I never mentioned Jay Ray again. I thought the whole Jay Ray incident was forgotten.

It was not.

At the end of the year, we had an actual kindergarten graduation that included paper caps and gowns and rolled up diplomas. At the pre-reception, my dad pointed at Jay Ray and asked, “Isn’t that your friend—that’s a boy?” I wanted to crawl under the folding table. “Uh, yeah. I think so.” As I watched in horror, my dad walked over to him and said something. In my burgeoning writer’s imagination, I honestly thought he was saying, “You ever see my daughter again, I’ll rip off your head and feed it to wild dogs.” My heart pounded. I clung to my mother’s hand, ready for anything.

As I stood there with my owl-size eyes fearing for Jay Ray’s life, he and my dad walked towards us. I wanted to throw-up all over my Mary-Jane shoes. Jay Ray wouldn’t even meet my eyes. I wondered if my dad had arranged a marriage or something because Jay Ray looked pale and massively uncomfortable. “Krissy, you two stand there. I’ll take your picture.” I wanted to die. I truly thought I could not have been more embarrassed. My dad arranged us side by side and then looked through the viewfinder in the camera.  He looked up and then demolished the thought that I couldn’t be more embarrassed—because he said, “Hey, boy, don’t be shy. You can hold her hand for the picture.”  Jay Ray was horrified. He turned bright red. He clasped my hand for a nano-second, my dad took the picture, and Jay Ray stormed off without ever looking at me.

IMG_8215

Me and my first boyfriend, Jay Ray

The rest of the graduation ceremony took my mind off the embarrassment of having my parents snicker at Jay Ray’s quick departure. The teachers had us entertain our parents by dancing to two different songs. My dance partner’s name (as I recall) was PeeWee. He was not my boyfriend, but he had to hold my hand and dance with me. The mortification of the Jay Ray incident was soon forgotten; the ceremony continued and we were called up to receive our diplomas.

Looking back, I wonder if my dad was some kind of genius. He certainly figured out how to get rid of a kindergarten boyfriend rather effectively–and make it look as if it were the stupid boyfriend’s fault!

IMG_8215

Left to Right: Me33 and my Romeo, Me and my cousin, Nadine, Getting my sheepskin, and last, but not least, my FIRST dance partner, PeeWee

I was nervous when I first started elementary school. I was an observer. I liked to take note of the playing field before I joined-in. However, once I got my bearings, I became friendlier and a lot more outgoing. By the second month of first grade, I felt confident enough to be myself—my talkative, always-ready-with-a-story-or-a-joke self. This change from shy to extrovert came as a surprise to my first grade teacher, Mrs. Stamm. One day, she called me aside and reprimanded me. She said that she’d told my parents how quiet and polite I was and now she was forever having to tell me to stop talking to my neighbor. Even moving my desk didn’t work. She threatened to write a note home if I didn’t stop the chatter. I don’t think I ever stopped chitchatting and to my knowledge, she never sent that note.  At recess, I became Jacks, jump rope, and hopscotch proficient and then I went on to become a champ. Unfortunately, that was the extent of my athletic ability. If there had been a Jacks team or a hopscotch crew in high school, I might have been a jock, but, I digress. Bottom line, I was never interested in talking to adults so I was quiet and reserved around them, but get me around a group of kids and I was extremely social.

My next non-book romance came in the second grade. I’d like to say that I had blossomed into a beauty by then, but I’d be lying. Although, I now had teeth…they were too big for my face. I had a classic overbite which changed me from looking like a mouse to more closely resembling a deranged rabbit. Or so I thought anyway. A boy in Mrs. Deshe’s class called Rusty James must’ve thought differently…or perhaps he had a predilection for bunnies. I’m not sure if Rusty James was his real name, or a nickname, or if that was a nickname and a last name, or a nickname and a first name. When you’re seven, I guess you just don’t think to ask those kinds of questions about your significant other.

By a couple of weeks into the new school year, Rusty had chased me around the playground during every recess. I hated it. Not because I was being chased by a boy, but because I hated to run. Despised it. So, one day instead of running from him, I just let him catch me. He grabbed my arm. “You’re it,” he said and took off running. When I didn’t chase him, he looked wounded by my non-pursuit. “You’re it!” he demanded. To which I replied, “So?” He informed me it was now my job to chase him around the dusty playground. Well, that wasn’t going to happen for two reasons. One…as I stated before, I despised running. Two…by the ripe old age of seven, I’d played the ‘you’re it’ game dozens of times. One day, as I was chasing my cousins around my grandmother’s back yard in a never-ending game of TV-Tag—and hating every minute, something occurred to me. I didn’t care if I were ‘it.’  I remember thinking that no one had ever defined what ‘it’ was, so why should I be compelled to chase someone just because they tagged me ‘it.’ I remember thinking, ‘It’ could mean powerful queen, or beautiful magician, or a just nice person. After all, who said being ‘it’ made chasing whoever tagged you obligatory? If you ask me, that’s some pretty mature logic for someone with a 7:45 bedtime. Bottom line…I hated to run!

When I informed Rusty James that I would not chase him, he informed me that if I didn’t chase him, we would have to get married because it was Wednesday and everyone knows if you’re in elementary school and touch someone of the opposite sex on a Wednesday (otherwise known as Weddings-day) you had to marry that person.

I contemplated this for a microsecond. Marriage or running? I shrugged. “Fine by me. We can get married. Just leave me alone.” Rusty’s eyes lit up. He looked happy and I couldn’t figure out why. I swear. After recess, during Music class, Rusty declared himself my ‘husband’ in front of everybody. I didn’t care—just so long as my recesses were free from any running whatsoever. In the end, Rusty and I became pretty good friends. We always sat next to each other in class and sometimes in the cafeteria. He was rather bold for a second grader. He told me that in order to make our marriage official, I needed to kiss him before the end of the year. I agreed. The end of the year sounded like an eternity…by then, he might have touched some other girl on a Wednesday. Problem solved.

Presentation1On Valentine’s Day, the class passed out little cards to each other. Mailboxes made from shoe boxes (with our names clearly marked on top) were lined-up on the low bookshelf by the windows. During the class party, we would find the recipient’s name and stick the card inside. In those days, you didn’t have to give a Valentine’s Day card to everyone. There was no such thing as politically-correct-card-giving and as heathen Lord-of-the-Flies-type schoolchildren, we used this to our full advantage. It was mean, but the 70’s were a horrible dog-eat-dog kind of era. Your popularity was determined by how stuffed your little mailbox was by the end of the party. Anyway…Rusty’s and my relationship almost came to a screeching halt when he presented me with a heart shaped, cellophane-wrapped box of conversation hearts IN FRONT OF EVERYBODY INCLUDING THE TEACHER. Our classmates made kissing noises and began to tease us relentlessly. I gotta hand it to Rusty, he was freakin’ BOLD for a second grader. He decided to take this opportunity to try to kiss me. I adamantly refused and may have broken his heart by running away and hiding in the cloak room.  I wonder what Rusty James is doing nowadays? International playboy, I’d assume. Anyway, I hid that box of candy from my dad because Rusty had affixed a sticker on the front with his name and a big heart around it. I was savvy enough to know my dad would either not like it, make me return it, tell me I was too young for a boyfriend—or worse, break out his camera and chase this boy away, too. That afternoon, my mom found the candy and told my father that I had an admirer. But, oddly, he didn’t say a word.

My dad left the house for a while. When he came back, he had a bouquet of roses for my mother. He also set two vases of pink and blue carnations on the counter. One of the vases was a ceramic kitten and the other a was puppy. He handed me the kitten vase and gave my sister the puppy vase. My sister asked, “Why are you giving us flowers, dad?”

I will never forget what he said.

“Because I love you. And I wanted to be the first man in your life to ever give you flowers.”

I was flabbergasted. I had never been given such a heartfelt gift before. Flowers! Just like my mother! And the grown-up women on TV! In that moment, I felt special—and very loved.

Throughout my school years, I continued to have ‘boyfriends’ and my dad continued to scare them away. When I was a young teenager, I wasn’t allowed to be alone with a boy. I could go to an after-school dance at Kennedy Middle School with my girlfriends, but could not ‘go’ with a boy. My sister and I weren’t allowed to date until we were fifteen and a half. I used to get so angry because if my dad answered the phone and it was a boy, he’d say, “She’s busy!” and hang up.

In Middle School, if any boys were brave enough to come to the door, my dad would glower at them as though they had horns and cloven hooves. He’d say, “She can come out to the porch, but she can’t leave of the yard. And I’ll be right there in the living room.” He’d point to the large window that had a perfect view of the porch. At the time, I thought my dad was being unreasonable, perverse, and overprotective. I was utterly embarrassed to be treated like such a baby. After all, some of my friends were allowed to listen to records IN THEIR ROOMS with boys. In our household? Any boy brave enough to cross our threshold—even when I came home from college—wasn’t allowed in the hallway leading to our bedrooms. My father’s rules used to rankle me to my core. I once asked him why he didn’t trust me. He said he trusted me…but he’d never trust any hairy, bow-legged boy. He told me, “Any boy who has good intentions toward you won’t question the rules I set down. Remember that.” Oh, I remembered that all right! At the time, I rolled my eyes with righteous indignation at my dad’s old fashioned ideas.

Looking back, I think it must have taken a lot energy to, at first, keep scaring off little boys, and then eventually scaring teen boys into respecting his rules—or else risk his wrath. Now, I realize he wasn’t doing it to make me angry or make my life hard. He was doing it because he was protecting something he thought was worth protecting. That’s an incredible message for a girl. I was worth protecting. I never let a boy treat me poorly because my dad had instilled in me the feeling that I was worth more. I was a treasure that must be protected. I internalized that message without even realizing it.

I wish I would have told him ‘thank you’ for that while he was alive. I wish I would’ve told him how I remembered the kitten vase with pink and blue carnations every Valentines Day—and how precious that memory has always been.

In the end…my dad won. He was the first man to ever give his girl flowers. No boy could ever take that away from him. He was the first man in my life that would have walked through fire for me. He was the first man whoever thought I was worth defending and protecting. He was the first man whoever loved me. Because of his insistence, I chose wisely when deciding who to date and later…who to marry. As I grew into a young woman, I made sure the young men I dated treated me with respect because my dad had the forethought to demand it from boys when I was too young to know how.

My husband gained my father’s approval from the first time they met. Maybe because they were so much alike in their ability to truly love me for the woman I was—and sometimes despite who I was. They were two men who made me want to do my best—two men who have helped me to become the woman I am. Aside from being a mean, scary guy to unsuspecting potential boyfriends, my dad was a happy, fun-loving man. My father treated others with respect and he garnered the upmost respect from those who were lucky enough to be in his life. I’ve been doubly blessed with a husband who has the same gift of selfless love. Both men were born with a light that comes from within—a light that other people gravitate towards. Having such men in my life? That is the best gift  ever!

My dad made me feel special. I was mi hita–his girl. Yes, I was his baby girl. I always will be. And he will always be my first Valentine.

IMG_8220

Cookies not Kale

IMG_7544I’m an easy-going person…unless you mess with three things in my life:

  1. My kids
  2. My husband
  3. My access to sugar

So, perhaps the following can be explained by a panic caused by number three. Let me explain…

I look forward to Christmas with enthusiasm much like Buddy, the Elf. We also have similar tastes in food, but I digress.

Sugar cookies are my favorite, but holiday sugar cookies are my ULTIMATE favorite. I love two different brands of Christmas cookies. Archway and Voortman. I look for them the day after Thanksgiving and buy several of each brand. The Archway cookies are sweet, buttery, and soft. They’re really little, so it doesn’t feel like you’re going to hell if you eat half a bag. (It makes sense in my head, don’t judge.) And Voortman’s are traditional, crunchy, sugar-sprinkled, giant cookies.

THEY’RE BOTH AWESOME in their own way. And both must be consumed to reach the highest level of Sugar-Nirvana.

But, this year I could not find either brand. Anywhere. ANYWHERE!

When I came up empty after a long exhaustive search, I did what any 21st century consumer would do…

I wrote two emails (One to Voortmans Bakery and the other to Archway Cookies).

Here is the Voortman email:

Screenshot (1).png

Just in case you can’t read that it says:

Hello,

I buy the Holiday Assorted Festive Cookies every year. In fact, I look forward to the day when I see them on the shelf. I actually break into a little dance–completely disregarding the strange looks of fellow shoppers. I buy a dozen packages at a time so I can stock pile them and enjoy the best cookies in the world well into the New Year. This year, for reasons I do not understand, I cannot find them anywhere. ANYWHERE! If I don’t find some Assorted Festive Cookies, I’m thinking of cancelling all holiday celebrations! That would be a horrible thing to do, but I’m desperate. I have gone to five different stores (seven if you count the online stores) and they are either out of stock or don’t sell the Assorted Festive Cookies. C’mon! Not cool. Perhaps there Is an Assorted Festive Cookie shortage this year???? It’s not like the Voortman didn’t know the holiday season was coming up—like December appeared without any warning at all. However, it certainly seems (from all the LACK of product on shelves) that the season took  your company by surprise. Perhaps there wasn’t enough time to make cookies for EVERYONE–not enough cookies for people like ME who are perfectly willing to do a little happy-happy-joy-joy dance in the cookie aisle (while being judged by other cookie buyers who just don’t get the magic of Assorted Festive deliciousness)! But, alas…here it is mid-December and my cookie jar remains empty! Take a moment and seriously contemplate the sadness of an empty cookie jar. That is my reality right now. So…PLEASE, please, just tell me where I can obtain these delicious holiday cookies. Is there a black market for this sort of thing? *wink wink* Just wondering…and perhaps, considering… However, if you can tell me where I can legitimately purchase these little pieces of sugared heaven, I’d certainly appreciate it.  Thank you for your time.   Kristine

To my great surprise, they answered my email the next day:

Hello Kristine,  Thank you for contacting us at Voortman Bakery! Please let me know where you are located, either your zip code or postal code so I can have a district manager contact you directly with information on where you can find these cookies you dance for!

If you send me your entire mailing address, I will send you a coupon when they come out in the New Year for a free package of any of our cookies! Thank you and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Shari
Consumer Relations Administrator

Well, she wanted to hear back from me, so…

Hello Shari, I honestly didn’t expect a response, so it was a pleasant surprise to see your email.  Thank you for taking the time to answer my inquiry.   My address is: 1000 Court, Anywhere, VA 22222. Feel free to send a truck full of highly-anticipated, much sought-after (and ever elusive) Assorted Festive Cookies to the above address. Just kidding. Although…it might create some great publicity (a human interest story) told by local Washington, DC-area news; therefore, boosting Voortman’s visibility by highlighting the company’s generosity during this season of giving. Hmm…now that I’m thinking about this…such an event would be marketing genius and would have some serious online-viral potential. This is especially true since I live on an Army base and there are hundreds of young soldiers in dorms who won’t be able to go home to their families for the holidays—and who, I suspect, would love such rare and fine treats like Assorted Festive Cookies which I would gladly donate to them.  LOL   But seriously, thanks again for responding. I really would love to hear where I can find the cookies. If the district manager wants to call me to expedite the process, my number is XXX-XXX-XXXX.  Warm Regards, Kristine

She responded:

Hello Kristine!  I loved your email, and I have added you to our list for coupons in the New Year!  I have contacted a Regional Manager (who may have someone else contact you) to help you locate those cookies you are looking for.  I have two boys who both are in the Army, and I appreciate everyone’s help who works in this field!    Shari

And true to her word, a regional manager contacted me!

Kristine, Thanks for contacting us about our Christmas Cookies.  We have them close at a Target north of the base on Route 1.  You can also request to have them sold at the commissary.  Just ask for the grocery manager at the Commissary.  If you have any other questions, please free to call me on my cell tomorrow. Thank you, Darrell, Regional Manager-Southeast  Voortman Cookies  757-XXX-XXXX

He didn’t have to tell me twice!

Although the Target in question is in a very heavily congested area of town, I drove with a smile on my face. The extra-horrible traffic due to the Christmas rush combined with normal rush hour madness, didn’t even faze me. I was going to get my cookies!

I dutifully looked for the Voortman cookie display while filling my cart with things I didn’t even know I needed until I saw them. Forty-five minutes later, I still had not found my cookies. I circled the store again, and thus, found even MORE things I didn’t know I needed. Damn you, Target!

My optimism began to fade, but then I found the Voortman display…

And all my hopes were dashed. 

With a heavy heart, I did what any 21st century consumer would do.

I texted Darrell, the Regional Manager.

I know it’s weird. But, he gave me his number. And I was desperate. I had counted on those cookies for dessert that night. Okay, to be honest, I knew on my way home I’d have one…or two…most likely three, but I definitely would also have them for dessert.

Here is the exchange between me and Darrell.

IMG_7622THIS IS WHAT i WAS LOOKIGN FORIMG_7624i THOUGHT THESE WERE THEMIMG_7631YOU ARE MY HERO

OHHHH, JOY!! I was going to get the real cookies, not those horrible healthy holiday “treats.” Right after I purchased those minis—I mean, right there in the Target parking lot, I bit into one of those so-called treats. I was perfectly willing to give them a chance. Really, I was.

They were bad.

They had a funky, sort-of-garlic-y/chemical taste. My son said it tasted like an onion farted Windex. I think that’s clear enough. No need to expand.

But none of that mattered.  I was going to get the real McCoys at the commissary!

The next morning, I went straight to the commissary and bought ten packages. I wanted to make the joy last through the holidays!

IMG_7621

I brought them home–resisting the urge to devour them on the way. No, I wanted to wait for the perfect moment to unwrap my personal taste of heaven. I was going to pop open a Diet Coke, put on my favorite Christmas music, and snuggle under my fuzzy, holiday blanket while eating delicious once-a-year confections.  I’d planned a perfect combination of Christmas-y indulgence.

And then…I bit into one. They, just like their little minion counterparts called ‘treats’ were free from high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and artificial flavors!

What happened next is best described in my review on Amazon:

Screenshot (3)

In case you can’t read it:

<One Star>

I bought ten packages because I look forward to the Assorted Festive cookies every year. But the second I bit into one, I knew something was wrong. Then I looked at the package. YOU CHANGED THE RECIPE?? Wait a second, let this compute in my brain for a minute…you changed a recipe that people loved??? Did the board meeting go something like this: “We need to do something about those delicious best-selling holiday cookies! Too many people love them and look forward to them every year! Anyone have a suggestion on how to stop this travesty? You! You there, drinking your kale, beet smoothie!! Any ideas?” Oh, Voortman bakery..why????? Nine of the packages will go back to the store. If I wanted health food, I wouldn’t be buying SUGAR cookies! Can you please, please, please, make two varieties? One for joyous people with a sense of taste and the other for those who crave a healthy-soulless cookie? I’m so disappointed. But, your customer service people are great! They really are. Now change the cookies back!

I am not the only one who had this visceral, angry experience. There were FIFTY people who commented on their Facebook page with almost the exact same sentiments.  Below is my review of their miniature Assorted Festive “TREATS.”  

I’m 99% sure the people who gave this product five stars thought they were reviewing the actual old-style Voortman Festive Holiday cookies. And that would be what I would give those cookies…five stars. They were the BEST!  But THESE ARE NOT THEM. This bears repeating. These are not the same! These “holiday treats” (notice they don’t dare call them cookies!) don’t have any of the good stuff–they are free from high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, and artificial flavors and, therefore, they are also free of flavor.  In other words, they have tried to fool us into being health-conscious with little weird shaped cracker-like concoctions. ICK!  It’s Christmas and it is as though Voortman said, “Bah humbug! No sugar-plums for you!” If we can only get the Voortman Holiday Festive cookies (the real ones) during the holiday season, why why why would they package these as “miniature holiday cookies?” I bought two bags of these “treats.”  Immediately, I knew I’d been had. This is the precise time of year where we can indulge in the bad stuff. Take these dog treats away, Voortman bakers! We are onto you! I will henceforth ALWAYS check the packaging for any “healthful change” in the ingredients. I want some REAL Assorted Festive Holiday Cookies not these health-nut-pandering, bland, tasteless, counterfeit mock-ups. Cookie aficionados, and sugar-addicts, you have been warned. READ THE LABELS! I have been fooled. Learn from my mistake. Save yourself disappointment. I will, however, give Voortman’s customer service five-stars. I think Voortman made a mistake changing the recipe, but the people who helped me find the cookies were awesome. 

Bottom Line:  I still don’t have my cookies.

Update:  Something AWESOME happened.  I didn’t receive an email from Archway Cookies until after the Voortman debacle.  Just when I’d given up my search, this pops up in my email.

Dear Kristine:

Thank you for contacting us about Archway – limited edition holiday cookies. We did make them, they are out in stores now. However, unfortunately our product locator only updates every 30-60 days, so we are unable to locate a specific store that has them in stock.

Some of the holiday cookies can be ordered direct from us by calling  1-877-309-6361 or 800-233-7125 ext 28592. You will have to order a case, but I believe you can mix and match the flavors. You may look at Walmart.com or Target.com to order. We appreciate your interest in our products.
Erika
Specialist
Consumer Affairs

 

Well, as it turns out that the stores she mentioned were out of stock and so was Amazon.

So, I did what any 20th century consumer would do in such a situation. I called the 1-877 number!

Tammy, the customer rep, said, “Yes, you can order them directly from us, and yes, you can get them before Christmas…but unfortunately you must buy them by the case.”

I FAILED TO SEE THE PROBLEM!

I ordered a case. But, not before I asked if they’d changed the recipe. She assured me they had not. And she said they freeze beautifully.

SIGN ME UP ALREADY!

Two days later, UPS dropped off two big boxes to my house. I was confused. I had only ordered one case. Had there been a (fortunate) mistake?

Inside the second package, I found this letter:

IMG_7659

Just in case you can’t read it:

Dear Kristine, I received your note about not being able to find your  beloved Bells and Stars. I sincerely apologize that you have been unable to find them. The market where you live either had a limited quantity of Bells and Stars or the stores ran out earlier than previous years. We will work on getting this righ tint he future. In the meantime, please find enclosed a few packages of Bells and Stars. Hopefully this will enable you to do your happy-happy-joy-joy dance and will tie you over until next year. Sincerely, Corey

Inside that second box was another case of  Stars and Bells Cookies! (Gratis!)

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa, and he works at Archway!

Archway now has a loyal customer for life! (Just so long as they don’t make them healthy!)

download

Illusions of an Idyllic Childhood

Just in case you haven’t heard, the newest fad is decluttering your life. If you’re curious, check out the following website, but beware of certain unintended complications that might occur if you choose to go this route. http://tidyingup.com/

The de-cluttering guru, Marie Kondo, says you will get joy from decluttering your life. I’ve also heard from a couple of friends who have followed Marie Kondo’s rules, that  decluttering gives you a ‘high.’ As a bonus, Kondo implies something like ‘you’ll never have to clean again if you follow my instructions.’  Sounds great, right?

I jumped on the bandwagon! And by jumping on the bandwagon, I mean I sat in my living room and looked around for something to declutter. I’m a total neat freak and I am definitely not a knick-knack type person. There was no clutter anywhere in the living room—not a forgotten magazine, a stray newspaper, a misplaced book or a pair of shoes. Bummer! I want some of that decluttering joy! I want some high!

Next, I checked out dining room. Nope. No clutter. However…I contemplated the china cabinet. There was a full set of china in there (minus a few casualties from moving 14 times in 28 years). But it wasn’t exactly clutter. I’m certain she didn’t mean I should split up the china!

I wasn’t going to get a high from the dining room, or my bedroom, or the guest rooms. BUT…the answer was right in front of me! Well, actually, the answer was under my feet—literally. We have a basement full of cluttery-type stuff.

So, I chased that high right into the mouth of the beast. I spent the next four and half days bingeing and purging—not brownies and ice cream, but boxes, plastic containers, and Rubbermaid bins full of items we had not used (and in some cases had not even seen) in years.

I was stunned with how much stuff we’d accumulated over the years. For example, I found a bin with an assortment of candle holders—candle holders! Votives, hurricanes, pillars, plates, and trays of every shape, color, and style. I had candle holders to go with every holiday and every décor I’d ever had over the last three decades. I will admit right here that I almost closed the bin and stacked it back on the shelf. But, then it occurred to me.  I DON’T EVEN USE CANDLES ANYMORE. I hadn’t used candles around the house for years. I’d started using the wax melts and never looked back. Why did I keep all these? I asked myself. Then, like most slightly neurotic people, I answered myself.  Because they are perfectly good, really pretty candle holders, of course. And then, like all seriously neurotic people, I argued with myself. Nope! I refuse to fall prey to the ‘I may need these someday’ philosophy. Annnd…just like that, the box was in the donate pile.

After the first kill…the culling of the herd became much easier. I quickly got rid of several boxes of the ‘I may need this someday’ variety.

Four days later, I had taken four carloads of donations to three different charities in this area. And damn if that Kondo woman wasn’t right. It was like lifting a huge weight off my shoulders.

I won’t lie to you though. Some of the decisions were difficult because on the same shelves with the ‘I may need this someday’ items, I found bins of sentimental things. On the last day, I opened Pandora’s Box labeled ‘Baby Clothes.’

Just the sight of these sweet garments brought tears to my eyes. I held up each little pair of jeans, fuzzy feet-pajamas, tiny t-shirts, a pullover with a little white pom-pom for a tail on the sweetest fleece bunny, a cardigan with appliqued yellow ducks circling the collar, itty-bitty sandals worn on trips to the zoo and the beach, and impossibly tiny crocheted booties. Most of clothing was usable, practical, really cute baby clothes. Right before I replaced the lid to put it back on the shelf, I asked myself: how would I have felt if after I had my first baby, my mother-in-law handed me a bin full of my husband’s baby clothes. One or two special things would have been cool, but an entire bin full of used baby clothes? Not so much. Just like most young mothers, I wanted to dress my babies in outfits that I’d picked out, or new clothes that had been given to me at baby showers by people that I loved. Putting myself in my future daughter-in-law’s shoes made me come to reason.

After a big sigh, I began to make two piles. I folded all the regular everyday clothes to give to charity. The other pile had sweet and sentimental memories woven right in the fabric. I saved each of my sons’ baptismal outfits, and two embroidered special-occasion bibs (even if Greg’s had a yellowish stain of some sort. He was my throw-up baby—we all have one, right?). I also saved a striped hand-knitted sweater given to me by my sister-in-law which both boys wore. I saved their dressy first Christmas and Easter church-outfits and one favorite playsuit for each of them. I held back tears putting the other items in a bag to be given away, but as soon as I handed that bag to the volunteer at the donation site, something told me I had done the right thing. Some other child would be wearing those adorable outfits…perhaps some child who really needs them. Kondo was right again. That act of decluttering gave me joy.

I used the same process for the bins of the boy’s favorite toys. Almost everything was donated except their most ‘precious’ items. I also kept the Brio trainset and the Playschool knights and castle for future grandchildren. There were a few things I wasn’t sure whether the kids (now 23 and 26) would want to donate, so I put these in a bin and labeled it “Temporary Storage.” The next time they visit, they can either take whatever they want or donate the item. Their choice. But, I refuse for my house to be their personal storage unit because if I allowed that…they’d simply say they wanted to save everything. I know this because I did it to my parents. Then they had deal with all my stuff in their attic when they moved to Florida.

On the last day of this chore, I found a gray Rubbermaid marked Toys. I rolled my eyes. Seriously! What was I thinking saving all the kids’ crap? By then, I was sweaty, tired, and just plain annoyed. The sheer amount of their childhood things overshadowed any sentimentality I had when I began. I opened the bin.

It was toys. My toys. My favorite toys.

The decluttering master, Kondo, says is you should not go down Memory Lane in the middle of a purge. She claims it will only hold you back from the eradication of clutter and it will vastly increase the time needed for the task at hand. You must NEVER sit down and reminisce. NEVER!

So, I sat down and willfully (and rebelliously) fell down the rabbit-hole of childhood memories.

One of things I’d found in this bin was a Little People Parking Garage/Gas Station. I think my parents bought it at a yard sale. I remember it was practically brand-new. Apparently, some kid out there just didn’t appreciate the sheer excitement this toy could bring! I loved it! (Note: I imagine the new idea pitch meeting at Fischer-Price went something like this: “Yes, Boss, I have a terrific idea for a new toy. Sure. Uh…yeah…it’s…well…uh…I think we…” *Glances out window trying to come up with something. Anything!* “…how about…a parking garage! Yeah, that’s it. A car park/gas station combo!”) FullSizeRender (3)

Anyway, in my possession, this toy was never a gas station or parking garage. It was a mansion so big that the people who lived there needed to use an elevator. They also had a five-car garage on the roof right next to the helicopter pad. If it wasn’t a mansion, it was a castle where talking animals ruled the land, or a haunted house where a dragon was kept as a pet….it was anything I imagined—but it was never a parking garage that I can remember.

Against Marie Kondo’s wise advice of not handling the item unnecessarily, I immediately cranked the elevator. It worked! The bell rang on every floor exactly like I remembered! That sound brought back so many memories. It was weird.

Next, I opened the cardboard box underneath ‘the mansion.’ Inside was my Barbie carrying case/wardrobe box. Seeing the design on the front of that plastic case made nostalgia hit my stomach and take my breath away. For a second I was eight years old.

I opened the Barbie carrying case. In a flash, I remembered each and every outfit inside. The ‘mink’ mini-coat, the shorts, the midriff top, the halter-top dresses, tube tops, miniskirts, and the shiny lamé bell-bottom hip-hugger pants with the matching velvet-trimmed top. At that moment, I quickly wondered if my Barbies were really pole-dancers. And poor Ken! He was butt-naked, wearing one combat boot and one flipper. I’m sure there was a story there. I just don’t remember what it was.

Inside a man’s Timex wrist-watch box, I found several of Barbies’ tiny shoes and a white pair and a red pair of plastic go-go boots. I laughed because I had forgotten how OCD I was about not losing any of their shoes. It was a thing with me.

Beneath the wardrobe box I found my beloved Barbies.

At this time, my husband came home from work and found me sitting on a child’s piano bench with tiny hooker clothes on my lap—completely lost somewhere in 1974.

“Oh there you are,” he said. “I called you. I guess you didn’t hear me.”

“I’m so glad your home! Look what I found!” I held my Barbies out as though they were a sacred treasure that I’d found buried in the basement. (They kinda were.)

He smiled, but knitted his brow in confusion over my enthusiasm. “Oh, good. Are you donating those, too?”

My heart dropped. How could he even contemplate such a travesty! I almost sent him packing for insulting my dear old friends like that.FullSizeRender (4) These girls (and Ken) were were important influencers in my young life for heavensakes! Thanks to their obsession with consumerism, I turned into a clotheshorse with an incessant desire to live in a mansion. And I never, ever lose my shoes. Luckily, however, I never acquired their taste in fashion. I don’t own anything as flashy as lamé bell bottom hip-huggers, but still…

“No, I’m not donating them! Absolutely not. I love these gals.”

He blinked, not sure if I were joking—or had lost my mind due to the asbestos and/or lead paint that I had surely been breathing for the last four days. “Really? The gals?”

“Yes.” I pulled one from the bunch and whispered, “She was my favorite.”

He half-grinned and whispered back, “And…the others don’t know?”

“No, of course they don’t. And judging by their attire, they obviously already have some self-esteem issues so don’t tell them.”

“But, didn’t you pick out their clothes?”

“Yes, but in my defense The Sonny and Cher show was really big back then and I thought she was glamorous. And then there was Tony Orlando and Dawn. I liked shiny things.”

Inspiration GOW“Okay. That explains it somewhat.”

“Anyway, her name is Malibu Barbie, this other one is Mod Barbie and this one is Suntan Barbie and—”

“You mean they don’t have names like Candy or Bambi…or Chastity?”

I suddenly realized I’d neglected that area of their lives. No wonder they have low self-esteem. All my baby dolls had names, but these four young women did not have names as far as I remember anyway. One was Malibu Barbie, the other was Mod Barbie and then there was Suntan Barbie. The other one was just The Other One! Poor thing.

“She has a name. It’s Malibu, okay?”

“Yikes. I’m glad you didn’t name our kids Abilene and Sacramento.”

“Not funny. I loved them—despite my negligence!”

He snickered. “The boys or the dolls?”

I narrowed my eyes. “They aren’t dolls. They’re Barbies. There’s a difference.” I smiled. “I remember being so proud of Malibu. She was the coolest…and I had a Barbie Corvette.” I pulled the yellow car from the bin and showed him. “See? Can’t get much cooler than Malibu Barbie in a bad-ass Corvette. She rode down Rodeo Drive in her halter, mini skirt, and go-go boots waving to all the fakers and posers on the sidewalk. Yep. She was the envy of Hollywood. Trust me.”

“Umm, she drove that in Hollywood?”

I folded Barbie into the Corvette. I put one of her arms up in a regal wave. “Look at her! Her hair is still shiny. She has the perfect pre-sunscreen and fear-of-melanoma tan. Check out her cool 1970’s makeup. She’d be all the rage right now—in a retro-cool kind of way. She was the Taylor Swift of her—”

“I have news for you…and her.”

“Really? What?”

“That’s not a Corvette.”

“Sure it is. I asked for a Barbie Corvette and they got me one.”

“Well, they got you something, but not a Corvette.

Now he was making me (and Malibu) mad. “Of course it is. It looks just like one to me.”

“Umm…why is there a hitch on your ‘Corvette’ anyway?”

“Ohh! Is that what’s confusing you? I understand now. Let me show you what that’s for.”  I pulled a collapsible tent/camper from the bin and attached it to her awesome Corvette.

 

 

He snickered.

“What’s so funny?” I shrugged. “They liked to camp. To be honest, I think I invented glamping way back in the 70’s.”

“Glamping?”

“Yeah, it’s glamorous camping.  Think 4-star hotel with concierge service, but in a cabin in the woods.”

“Ohhh kay…but back to what I was telling you. Kristine, that’s not a Corvette.”

A chill ran down my spine. “Quit saying that. It’s a Cor—”

He flipped the car over; Barbie fell out onto her flaxen noggin. “I think it’s a dune buggy!”

My dreamlike childhood memories seized up—complete with the sound of a needle being yanked up from a 1970’s record player. ZZZZZZZZZZZWWWWWPPPP

“What did you say?”

“I said Malibu Barbie has been doing the Homecoming-Queen wave…from a dune buggy.”

I seriously thought he was making stuff up to mess with me. “Dune buggy? What the hell is a dune buggy?”

“Come on. Remember? They were popular in the 60’s, I think. They had big wheels and wide tires. Sat low to the ground.” He turned the car right side up and plopped poor Malibu back into her driver’s seat. “I think they were also called beach buggies. They had one on Scooby Do.” He smirked. “Your Barbie has been thinking she’s all that while she’s cruising the Hollywood Hills in a recreational vehicle designed to drive on sand dunes. Look at it. See? It even has an open chassis.”

“B-but…it’s a convertible Corvette.” I wondered how it could be possible that after all these years, I was embarrassed for something as stupid as thinking I had the coolest combination of Barbie and car any girl could ask for. Instantaneously, I had the ridiculous thought of who else knew this wasn’t a Corvette?

The truth could no longer be ignored. My precious Malibu wasn’t a 1970’s beauty queen cruising around Hollywood’s Golden Triangle in a sports car, but a dork driving around in a freakin’ go-cart.  A GO-CART! Probably not even street legal!

He hugged me. “Aww, don’t look so sad. If you say it’s a Corvette, it’s a Corvette.”

FullSizeRender (3

I suddenly felt a little cheated—and a whole lot mislead! “But, my parents let me carry-on believing that I had the car every little girl dreams about. What kind of parent does that?”

“The kind that let Stephen think Disney had decorated the Cinderella Castle like a cake– not for their 25th anniversary, but for his seventh birthday. download

Or the kind of parent that let Greg believe those seeds he’d planted grew overnight into the watermelons we put out there after he went to bed…you mean that kind of parent?”

He’s right. Exactly like that.

I have a feeling that the whole incident—of which I shall now refer to as “The Dune Buggy Ruse” was unintentional. I was probably so excited when I opened up my present that I screamed, “A CORVETTE! Just what I always wanted!” I bet I went into some sort of melodramatic performance of sheer glee. (I admit I was a theatrical kid). There was probably no way they could break the news to me that Barbie was not a cool girl wearing designer clothes in an awesome sports car, but a Wannabe tooling around in go-cart wearing stripper garb. I guess if I were my parents, I would not have burst the glamorous-Barbie-life-fantasy bubble either. They probably figured I’d find out someday.

FullSizeRender (2)

Well, it looked like a Corvette to us!

But, I’m sure they didn’t think it would be when I was almost fifty-two. And they wouldn’t have dreamed that I had to BE TOLD it wasn’t a corvette.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited to add: OMG! He’s right!

 

So, You Want To Be A Writer…

shining

Whenever someone asks me about writing, my heart flutters. I can’t help but smile. If the person I’m talking to happens to be a fellow writer, I practically throw my arms around him or her and ask, “You get it, don’t you? You understand.” I get giddy when I find another soul who shares my passion. Finding what makes you come alive feels good.

I often get asked how long I’ve been writing. Well, I was a storyteller long before I was a writer. I began keeping a diary in sixth grade. From that time on, I got in the habit of writing down my thoughts, feelings, and wild flights of imagination. Although, I call it a ‘journal’ now instead of using the much more juvenile term ‘diary.’ Somehow that makes it okay.

Eventually, the storyteller and journal-keeper became an amalgamation. I’d written several short stories, but in 2001 I decided to try writing a full-fledged novel. Was it like the movies where the author types THE END and then he/she pops a tall stack of papers into an envelope and sends the manuscript off to a random publisher? Of course, in the next scene, the writer is signing copies at a bookstore where fans are lined-up out the door. That is a common fantasy, but far, far from reality. A successful writing career is much harder to attain than Hollywood would have us believe.

My husband is a remarkable man with a successful career. He has a sign in his office that says: Fail Early. Fail Often. Fail Forward. I love the premise. My first novel (the one I wrote in 2001) might never see the light of day. I was a newbie and didn’t know what I was doing. There are a few plot holes, some character issues, passive voice problems, etc. So, in effect, I failed at writing a publishable book, but I failed forward. I joined writers’ groups and submitted my work to brutally honest critique circles. I took classes, went to seminars and attended writing conferences. Through the years, I continued to grow as a writer. I will never be finished learning because I will always be a student of the craft.

To be honest, I still struggle with the fear of failure. Believe it or not, I can pinpoint my problems with both hating math and fearing failure. It was 1974. Catholic School. Third Grade. The nun teaching us math loved giving timed tests. She wanted us to stop making so many mist3f4a5eb57a3caea5384202bb71323b7eakes while being timed. Some of us (I’m sure I was one of these) did fine on the worksheets, but made mistakes on the multiplication tables during timed tests. She came up with a “solution” to stop us from writing answers in order to beat the clock. Her batshit crazy idea? She had us hold up our pencils and then she went down the rows with a giant pair of scissors and snipped off the erasers. When she handed out the quiz, I froze. Any confidence I had in my math ability collapsed. I couldn’t concentrate due to the anxiety of not being able to erase should I make an error. From that point on, I dreaded math class. I also, to this day, refuse to use a pencil without an eraser. When I come across an eraser-less pencil, I throw it in the trash. So, mini-golf is a no-go…unless I bring my own pencil. As an adult, I realize that at a very vulnerable point in my life, I developed an irrational fear making a mistake. I have to work hard to overcome it.

I know I’m kind of odd. For example, one Saturday morning, my husband asked, “What would you like to do today? I’ll take you anywhere, do anything.” Well, it was a cloudy, gloomy, October day. It was perfect! I smiled. “Let’s go to the graveyard!”

I like old graveyards. The older the better. We spent the afternoon and early evening grave-hunting in Montgomery, Alabama. I love to take pictures of interesting and elaborate headstones and monuments. Some people might find that morbid. It probably is strange, but to me, graveyards are full of art—beautiful sculptures. A graveyard is like a museum dedicated to the dead ones. I like to contemplate that every person buried there had a story, a life—whether happy or sad, rich or poor, loved or lonely.

Every once in a while, a headstone will give you just a snippet of that person’s fate or personality. There is an epitaph that reads, “I was somebody. Who is no business of yours.” Wow. I wanted to know more about that person! I immediately started conjuring up a backstory. In Marietta, Georgia, one headstone reads. “Here lies a girl who died. Nobody mourned, nobody cried. How she fared? Nobody knew. Nobody cared.” Heartbreaking, but what was the story there? Who was she? Why didn’t anyone care? Again, I began making up a backstory. I filed it away to possibly use in the future. Graveyards fire up my imagination.

There’s a slightly dark-side to me that sometimes needs to be unleashed. I love ghost tours, after-hours haunted history tours, and I adore sitting around campfires scaring people with ghost stories. Growing up, I was the girl at the slumber party with the flashlight pointed under her chin, making up macabre tales about the people who lived in the house before the present owner. If I could make everyone scream, I deemed it a success. I must admit that moms weren’t always thrilled with ten overly-dramatic preteen girls screaming and yelling at midnight, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m a storyteller. That’s who I am.

I’m quirky and have hidden disabilities just like everyone. I am okay with being a little weird. I gravitate towards unusual people. I have found that the unusual people are often the most creative ones.

Whether you’re still seeking your passion or if you are actively working on it, remember it is imperative to surround yourself with supportive people. Never let the naysayers throw cold water on your dreams. I have no time or energy for mean-spirited or ill-tempered people. I live in the real world, so I can’t get rid of them. They are out there sabotaging someone’s dream right now. However, as soon as I deduce that someone is ultimately negative, I do not allow them more than a passing acknowledgement in my life. AND THEN I KILL THEM OFF IN ONE OF MY BOOKS. No. Just kidding. I haven’t done that to anyone except Ken Homlier–but that was justified. He deserved it. So, don’t worry if I look at you with a strange expression on my face. Although, you might worry if I’m looking at you with a strange expression AND I’m taking notes.

Magic happens when you’ve discovered your purpose.

My purpose is to become a writer–the best writer I can be. I will never stop pursuing my dream. It’s funny that being a writer is rumored to be one of the most isolating careers. There’s a reason when you think of a writer, you might conjure up the image of someone wearing a bathrobe, messy hair, and unkempt appearance, hunched over a typewriter; a lit cigarette balances on the edge of an ashtray full of butts. Perhaps there is a bottle of whiskey and a half full glass on the corner of the desk. I must admit part of that stereotype is true. MR-writers-block-guyWhen I’m in the middle of writing a novel (not editing but writing), I will forego anything that takes me away from my new imaginary friends. The real world falls away. I get lost in a place where much more interesting people than me do fascinating things. During this phase of writing, my life becomes a series of questions. Should I get in the shower now? Maybe tomorrow. Get dressed? Why? I need to be comfortable and what’s more comfortable than yoga pants and an oversized hoodie? Should I eat some real food? No. Not unless a well-balanced meal makes itself, serves itself, and cleans-up the kitchen afterwards.

Now take the visual of the stereotypical writer with cigarettes and a dirty ashtray on his/her desk and swap it for a pile of candy corn and a bowl of M&M’s and you have…me. Two things keep me going when I’m on a roll: Candy and Caffeine. So, replace the whiskey bottle with a can of Diet Coke and I become that stereotypical, mostly unsocial, self-absorbed, obsessed, and neurotic writer. It’s just who we are…or who most of us are. I have plenty of writer friends who would back me up on this one.

me-at-desk

circa 2008 (Notice power food)

It’s interesting to note that the often-described isolating vocation of writing has the goal of communication. I’d be happy in a remote cabin in the woods working on my laptop with only the people who populate my head for company. Yet, I couldn’t stand it if I wrote a story–tried to convey an idea, make an impression, or invoke a certain visual scene, but didn’t have any readers. Communication. That’s why I love to write. (Just don’t ring my doorbell while I’m doing it.)

Something I hear over and over again is: I have an idea for a novel I’ve always wanted to write. According to publishing prospectives.com, 200 million Americans claim they want to write and publish a book before they die. I find myself asking, “Why don’t they write it?” Imagine the undiscovered talent out there, the untold stories, and unknown characters. I’m pretty sure books don’t get written and/or finished because life gets in the way. The war between art and reality is waged every day of my life. A lot of the time reality wins. But, not every day and not all the time. I wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t write. Don’t let reality triumph over your passion without an epic battle.

Last year, I received a private message from a friend from high school. She sent me a synopsis of a book she wanted to write, but she felt overwhelmed. Writing a whole book? That’s at least 70,000 words! She didn’t know how to start! Remember how everyone used to cringe when the teacher assigned a seven-page paper? There is a reason the class groaned in unison. I believe it’s the ‘abstract task’ that causes people to get stuck in a stranglehold of fear. They feel overwhelmed by the mere thought of filling all those pages with words–rather than feel excited by the ideas they can present using words.

I gave my friend advice. It’s the same advice I’ve given to a lot of people in her situation. I told her writing is a two-step process. No more, no less. Step 1: Put your butt in the chair Step 2. Start writing. HERE IS THE SHOCKING TRUTH: It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be the title, prologue, the first sentence. Just write. Watch the ideas appear on the screen safe in the knowledge that there is a delete key. Chances are (after a while) you’ll hit your stride. You will figure out where you want to begin. Remember, when you are finished you can (and will) go back (several times!) and rearrange, polish, and edit. Or, perhaps you will delete several sections. No one will ever know how horrible that scene was! Whatever you do…keep writing! Your next paragraph may be brilliant. However, if you stop at your first (or second, or third, or fourth) attempt, you will never get to the brilliance.

Get your butt in the chair. Write.

I’m not sure who said this, but it sums up the act of beginning to write a novel. Perfection is the enemy of productivity. Sometimes it’s the first sentence that trips people up. They want it to be perfect. They know they have to hook the reader so they obsess about that first paragraph. DO NOT OBSESS. Move on. Tell the story and come back to it.

Some people want to write ‘The Great American Novel’ on the first try.  Sure, it can happen, but maybe you’ll end up writing a cozy mystery or Harlequin romance instead. That’s wonderful! Be proud of it!  Writing a novel is something that most people will never accomplish. Just remember there will be critics. Never let them discourage you. Confucius said, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”

Writing is a vocation that never takes a break. The story-collector in my head is “on” while I’m driving, waiting at the pharmacy, and even on vacation. I mean, c’mon, is there any better place to sit and collect characters than where people are moving from one place to another like an airport, a subway train, or Grand Central Station. One day, we rode the city bus all over London when people were going to and coming from work. It was AWESOME! Thank God my husband understands my inner voyeur—or in the very least doesn’t judge me about it. He’ll sit next to me as my character-collector mentally takes notes and imagines backstories for everyone she sees.

If you are a writer and you can’t find your story. Forget the story. Go find your character and build from there. As I said, I collect imaginary friends everywhere. But, do I use all of them? No. However, I promise you, if you do this long enough, there will be at least one character who will grab you and refuse to let you go. Happens to me all the time. My mind will continually go back to that person. When this happens to you–create a backstory in your head and then…

Sit down. Write.
bach-professional-writer-amateur-didnt-quit

It’s Like They Knew…

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

There are several articles floating around the Internet and Facebook that have a title like: What Women Over Forty Should Never Wear. If you click on the post, you might find a tirade about women being able to wear whatever they hell they want for as long as they want.

I am all for that kind of freedom of expression. I want women to feel their best and be comfortable in their own skin—or to wear whatever they want. Some of my friends in their late 40’s and early 50’s still dress as if they’re sharing closets with their teenage daughters. I don’t judge them. Well, maybe I do—a little. But, I’m not saying they SHOULDN’T dress like a sixteen-year-old if they choose to do so. But this got me thinking…

I don’t think shopping at Forever 21
is a sin after a certain age, but maybe, just maybe, you might be fooling yourself into thinking that if you still fit into a size two, then by-god, you can rock a mini-dress with side cutouts just like a Kardashian. And technically, you might still fit into such attire. But, what is it you’re trying to convey? Do you hope everyone will mistake you for someone much younger? I have never seen this technique work. Let’s be realistic. Everyone will still see you as a forty-something wearing a dress made for a much younger person.

youth culture

teenage girls pic courtesty of Jason Stitt via dreamstime.com/free

At a certain point, you almost accentuate your age by dressing too young.

Newsflash: the teenage girls wearing the same clothes you are wearing are not impressed. They will not invite you into their club.

I remember being at a wedding when I was in my twenties. A friend and I were standing in line for a drink at the bar. A model-thin woman was in front of us wearing a black, short, backless mini-dress, and stiletto high heels. She had long, blond hair (in the days of big hair and hairspray) that hung down her back in platinum Farrah Fawcett-feathers. I remember thinking how pretty she looked from behind. BUT THEN…

She got her drink from the bar and turned around. I’m sure my eyes popped open in disbelief. I tried to cover up my surprise, but I was kinda stunned. When she turned around—the woman’s face did not match her hair or her clothing. It was jarring.  I might have stood there with my mouth open for a second or two before my friend elbowed me and I realized it was our turn to order drinks.

Before anyone accuses me of being jealous of this older woman, I could’ve stepped into her entire outfit with no problem. AND that was part of the problem.  I remember feeling sort of cheated. I fully expected a beautiful, young woman to turn around and instead I got a face that had seen many decades in the sun—in the days before sunscreen. Looking back as an older woman, I must admit that I admire her confidence. But, at the time, I was stunned.

That image stayed with me for years. I asked myself why the encounter bothered me so much. I realized it was because her obvious display of wanting to be young made me sort of pity her. She seemed to try too hard to be ‘cool’ and it came off as tragically sad.  I honestly believe a middle-aged woman can be sexy without dressing like a twenty-something. I swear it’s possible.

So I ask you. Why do some women want to be cool  after a certain age? Shouldn’t the need to be ‘cool’ eventually wear off? I’m not talking about being confident here. Confidence is something altogether different.

I’ve spent my entire adult life surrounded by confident women. I’ve had many mentors who were self-possessed, classy ladies. I have seen older women look sexy and beautiful—but they were not trying to look like the girls on the cover of Cosmo or Vogue. The girls on the cover of fashion magazines are YOUNG. Very young. That magazine is selling the idea of youth.  But, let’s face it. Buying super trendy clothes isn’t going to buy back your youth.

I’m not saying that at a certain age we should breakout the beige granny panties and polyester pants. No way!! However, wearing black leather skinny jeans with holes sliced down the front (see pic at bottom) just because you can fit into them does not magically transport you back into your twenties. A word of caution:  The other women in your reading group/PTA/booster club might tell you how they wish they could fit into the skinny jeans and tight sweater you’re wearing, but that does not mean they think you look younger.

When I was in high school (waaay back in the 1980’s) a mom came to pick up her daughter from an after school drama club. This girl’s mom walked in wearing stonewashed jeans tucked into tall boots and had a red bandanna for a belt. A shiny gold Let’s-Get-Physical type headband was across her forehead. After she and her daughter left, the girls snickeredphyslivv. Why? Because teenage girls can be mean. Yeah, I giggled right along with them and hate myself for it. But, to make my point, we were never going to call her ‘cool.’ We would never think of her as ‘one of us.’

Perhaps we girls felt superior because a  (non-celebrity) adult was trying to emulate our fashion trends—and it seemed sort of pathetic to us. Looking back, I really do hate myself for being so shallow. But, what teenager isn’t the center of their own universe?

So back to what I was saying…

It seems that middle-age women sometimes will try to recapture their youth by dressing decades younger. But, the middle-age men (and even beyond middle age)…well, it seems a lot of them just stop trying altogether.

This weekend, my twenty-something son, my fifty-year-old husband, and I went to lunch downtown. My husband dropped us off at the door of the restaurant and then drove off to find parking. When my husband entered the restaurant, my son whispered to me, “Did you know he was wearing sweatpants?”

No. I. Did. Not.

“Is he, really?”

“Yes. He wears them everywhere, Mom. You should burn them.”

“I’d love to. But, he says they’re comfortable.”

“So, what? Just ‘lose’ them one day.”

And then it hit me. Wait a minute. My flannel pajama bottoms featuring skulls wearing pink hairbows are the most comfortable item of clothing on the planet—but I don’t wear them out in public. Why does he get a comfort-pass?

 AND thus began The Great Clothing Dispute of 2017.

bad-cat3[1]

After lunch, we got into the car and began to drive home. This is what transpired:

ME:  Your son thinks I ought to burn those sweatpants.

HIM:  No he doesn’t. Did you say that, Stephen?

SON: Thanks for throwing me under the bus, Mom. But, yeah, Dad. You really need to get rid of those. How long have you had them?

ME: They’re older than you are.

HIM: Sweatpants never go out of style.

ME and SON:  WHAT?!?

HIM: Their classics. Like jeans.

ME: They are nothing like jeans!

SON: Yeah, you’re right. They’re like classic acid-washed jeans. Just like that, Dad.

HIM: (Having no clue what acid-washed is and not sensing the sarcasm) Yeah. Exactly. Your mother doesn’t understand. They’re comfortable. And warm. They’re fleece-lined! That’s a sign of a good pair of sweats.

ME: You’re too old to be wearing sweatpants.

HIM: You’re never too old to wear sweatpants.

ME: Okay, fine. Then you’re too old to wear them out in public—or too young to wear them in the retirement home Day Room.

HIM: You’re being dramatic. Lots of men wear sweatpants.

ME: Not men who are over 45 but under 70.

HIM: Since when does age matter? Movie stars wear them.

ME: I don’t remember seeing George Clooney or Alec Baldwin wearing sweatpants. Let’s settle this argument. How about I Google it?

HIM: Are you kidding me?

Me:  No. (I pulled out my phone and Googled Men Wearing Sweatpants) Okay. Here’s an article in GQ Magazine. Let’s see what they have to say about it.

HIM: *Rolling his eyes*  Fine let the Internet decide whose right.

I quickly scrolled the GQ article and realized I was in trouble. The article was, in fact, in favor of classic gray sweatpants. I hadn’t thought about the youthful demographic of GQ when I had clicked on the article.

So, refusing to have my hubby’s beliefs validated by a well-known men’s’ fashion magazine, I decided right then and there that I’d have to change the article to suit my purpose. Since we were in the car, I’d have to do it off the cuff or lose the argument altogether—which would have meant he’d wear those hideous sweatpants everywhere just to prove a point.

ME:  Here’s the article from GQ. I’ll read it to you.

WHAT GQ ACTUALLY SAID:  Sweatpants are dangerous territory. The wrong cut, context or styling choices can give you an air of “I’ve given up completely” which is never something a man wants to project with his clothing.

I read that part verbatim. *Yay me!* I continued with the article.

GQ ARTICLE ACTUALLY SAID:   For photo evidence on how to avoid that connotation, look to 27-year-old trendsetter Zac Efron, who was photographed wearing the modern-guy staple at Heathrow Airport yesterday. Do you want to trick the world into thinking your incredibly comfortable pants are a stroke of fashion genius all while holding hands with a ridiculously good-looking person like Emily Ratajkowski?

WHAT I SAID:  Unless you are 27-year-old Zac Efron, STAY AWAY from sweatpants altogether. Sweatpants will NEVER be a stroke of fashion genius—not even if you’re walking through Heathrow airport holding hands with a ridiculously good-looking person like Emily Ratajkowski.

HIM:  Who’s Emily Ratatouille?

Me: That’s not important. Did you hear what GQ said?

HIM:  Whatever.

Me:  Let me continue.

WHAT GQ ARTICLE ACTUALLY SAID:  Do not go to Costco and pick up any ol’ pair of gray, elastic-waist sweats and think that’s going to cut it. Your best bet is to look to a retailer that’s known for its sartorial curation like Mr Porter, Barneys, Matches, or one of those stores. You can pretty much guarantee that those sweats will be stylish sweats. We’re partial to athletic styling and darker-than-heather-grey colors but we’ll leave that part up to you.

WHAT I SAID:  Do not wear your Costco blue, elastic-waist sweatpants EVER. That’s never going to cut it. Sweats will NEVER be stylish. NEVER—no matter if they are athletic cut or darker than heather gray. If you own a pair and are over the age of 27, take them out to the garage, find lighter fluid, matches, and a big metal bin. Douse said sweats with fluid and light a match. Bury the ashes in the yard along with any photographic evidence of you wearing such a heinous fashion choice.

WHAT GQ ARTICLE ACTUALLY SAID: Once you own these magic pants, you’re going to want to wear them all the time. Limit yourself to the most casual settings and occasions. Running errands on a Sunday morning, heading out to the gym in the evening, hopping on a plane with your significant other—you get the idea. (Note: If you live in Los Angeles, you can wear them pretty much all the time.)

Me: (Thinking) C’mon GQ!! You are not helping here!

WHAT I SAID:  These are NOT magic pants. There is no way they will ever look good–no matter how comfortable they are. Running errands on a Sunday morning, heading out in the evening, hopping a plane with your significant other is NO EXCUSE to be caught wearing a wretched excuse for pants. No one in Los Angeles would be caught dead wearing these. They might actually laugh you out of California–so do not try it.

WHAT GQ ARTICLE ACTUALLY SAID:  Don’t be the guy at the bodega on Saturday morning in sweats and shearling-lined house slippers, ordering an egg sandwich like no one else in the world exists. Take a cue from Zac Efron. Style the sweats with likeminded day-off staples—a carefully chosen vintage t-shirt and a well-fitting hoodie or pullover—and a pair of top-shelf sneakers.

WHAT I SAID:  Don’t be the guy at the bodega on Saturday morning in sweats—even if they are shear-lined with the warmest fleece. Come on. Why are you ordering an egg sandwich like no one else in the world exists? The people you are with are mortified. Trust us. We are the fashion experts. We would never say it if it weren’t true. So, unless you are Zac Efron, (or any twenty-seven-year old with washboard abs who would look good in absolutely anything even a pair of footy-pajamas) lose the baggy, saggy, noisy-when-you-walk, Oh-So-Sad sweatpants–no matter how comfortable they are. Remember: They are devil-pants. The first chance you get, take the pair of despicable pajama-wannabes and discard them. While you’re at it, take those holey t-shirts that you call ‘vintage’ and that faded NFL pullover sweatshirt with the frayed and out-of-shape-collar from your closet and toss them into a fire pit. Invite your neighbors over for a drink and s’mores. Watch the repugnant clothing burn. If you are over fifty…it’s way overdue. Act today. Note: You can keep your top-shelf sneakers.

HIM: That’s so weird. It’s like they knew you hated my Broncos sweatshirt, too!

ME: Yeah, that is so weird. It is like they knew or something…

 

 

Reference: For entire GQ Article click link below:

zac-efron-style-sweatpants

http://www.gq.com/story/mens-sweatpants-styling-tips-zac-efron

When your seat is upright and your tray table is closed, take a look at this….

I Should be Writing!

I will preface this blog by saying that I really hate to fly. All right, just so long as we’re clear on that, I’ll get started…

Recently, my husband and I went to see my son in Pennsylvania for Parents Weekend. We had already completed the first leg of our trip by leaving the house at 4:30 am and taking the 6:30 flight to Dallas. Luckily, I was still half asleep on that journey and it was a short hour-long flight. After a two and half hour layover, we boarded a flight from Dallas to Chicago. After we’d all settled in and the flight attendant finished his safety briefing, the Captain told the attendants to “Prepare for Takeoff.” I was glad to hear that because the sooner we started, the sooner I could get off the flying-capsule-of-germs-dirt-and-diseased air. But…

We sat at the gate for what felt like an eternity…

View original post 2,587 more words

The Detour

photo by Neil Lockhart From Dreamstime.com

photo by Neil Lockhart from Dreamstime.com

In the spirit of Halloween and all things dark and creepy, I give you a 1000-word story. Ya’ll know I’m all about Halloween and I’m loving Alabama, too. So, nothing personal here. Now sit back and imagine the dueling banjos from Deliverance….

THE DETOUR

Laurie Woodlaw was ready to begin a new life after a recent divorce. She’d explained her need to start over somewhere without the fear of running into her cheating ex-husband. Her coworkers and neighbors understood. After all, Laurie was a recent transplant and had no relatives in the area. The young couple hadn’t been in town long enough to make any close friends. So, she waved goodbye to her neighbors as she pulled out of the driveway. “God speed!” they yelled before returning their attention to the garden.

She drove through the green, hilly, mountains of the Deep South. Thunder rumbled in the distance and dark clouds gathered overhead. Laurie had hoped the rainstorm would hold off until she found her motel, but she’d managed to miss a turn and found herself winding through a forested, desolate highway.

Giant rain drops began to strike her windshield, slowly at first and then in sheets. Her wipers could not keep up with the downpour. I need to stop and wait for the storm to pass. Is that a gas station up ahead? She leaned forward and peered between quick smears of the wiper. Two gas pumps stood in front of a country store. The structure was set back in a grove between a couple of ancient trees draped with Spanish Moss.

Laurie directed her car towards the dilapidated station. The windows were dark; the front door had been boarded up. Luckily, I don’t need gas. Her tires sloshed through the muddy gravel as she pulled to the side of the  abandoned building.

The radio station faded in and out unable to find a proper frequency so far into the backwoods. Faint chords of a pop song intermingled with increasing static. Manually adjusting the tuner, the only thing that came in clearer was a zealot preacher expounding on eternal damnation for those who refuse to heed all the signs announcing the end of times. Laurie rolled her eyes and snapped off the radio before slumping in her seat to wait for better weather.

The wind picked up and the trees shook with vigor. Gusts thrashed hanging vines and moss, but they stubbornly clung to the trees they strangled. Laurie zipped her sweatshirt due to the rapid drop in temperature.

BAM! BAM!

Laurie jumped; her mouth went dry and pulse sped up. Something had hit the back of her car. She whipped around, but couldn’t see through her foggy back window. A sense of apprehension weighed down her shoulders. I need to get out of here. She whipped around to start the ignition.

Laurie’s heart flung itself at her chest. Fear immobilized her as she stared, mouth agape. A little girl stood at the driver’s side door. Laurie swallowed and used her sleeve to remove the vapor from her window.

Soaking wet, the horribly pale child didn’t move or open her mouth to speak. She glowered, chin downward and eyes unblinking. Where are her parents? Is she lost? The girl’s dark-rimmed eyes bored through her.

Nauseated and shaking, she rolled down the window. “Are you all right? Are you out here all alone?”

The child focused on the rear the car. The fogged window prevented Laurie from seeing if someone stood near the trunk. A crack of thunder preceded a shock of lightning. Laurie’s stomach pitched, bile built up in the back of her throat? “Are you lost? Where are your parents?”

The child pointed behind her car.

Laurie stuck her head out the window to get a better look. “Hello? Is someone there?” she yelled over the storm. Her peripheral vision caught something creeping near her front bumper. Just as she turned to check, a large figure stood upright and rushed at her.

*****

A piercing headache jolted Laurie from sleep. Her eyes snapped open. A trio of people peered down at her. She’d heard of Hill Dwellers before, but had never seen any. No one ever did. They lived deep in the woods and existed without contact from the outside world. She rubbed her eyes trying to wake up from a disturbingly realistic dream. Was I in an accident?

The two men and young girl didn’t vanish when she opened her eyes again. They only came into sharper focus. Laurie’s muddled mind let go of its doubt.

They were real.

She sat upright on a straw pallet. The three onlookers moved back with her sudden movement, but their eyes never left her.

“Pappy…the lady dudn’t talk.”

An older man with a bushy beard scowled. His long, matted hair dripped rain onto his emaciated chest. He pushed the child back using a giant calloused hand. “Shut up, Dissy. Kin’t ya see. She’s not dumb. She’s ascared.”

“She’s sure purdy, aint she pa?”

A younger man wearing coveralls and a stained ball cap smiled revealing a gap between discolored teeth. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of a grungy, checkered flannel shirt.

Laurie scooted back until hitting a rough log wall. Crimson splotches covered the front of her blouse. When she cupped her throbbing forehead, her fingers came away sticky from a bloody gash. “Where am I? Was I in an accident?”

“She talks, pa!” The young girl with crossed eyes touched Laurie’s cheek. “She’s real soft, too.”

“Get outta her, Dissy. You’s always in the way!” The younger man shoved the girl aside so hard she landed on her backside onto the debris-covered dirt floor.

“Who are you?” Laurie swallowed a lump as a vague memory surfaced. “Did you hit me?”

“Now, Miss, don’t git riled-up,” the old man said.

Laurie stood on wobbly legs and took two steps toward the door before he gripped her arm.

“Ain’t no sense in runnin’, Missy. You’ll never get out of the holler by yerself. And yer car’s ‘proly good’n mired in mud at the bottom of Raven Creek by now.” The men chortled.

“Please, let me go.” Laurie’s voice cracked.

The elder spit a stream of tobacco on the floor. “It ain’t all bad. We ain’t plannin’ on hurtin’ nobody—if you’s a clever learner.”

The younger man leaned closer. Laurie drew back and turned her head, but his hot breath still reached her. He cupped her chin, turning her face towards him before pushing a strand of her hair back with his dirty hands. “Yep. You’ll do fine.” He turned to the older man. “I done picked a good ‘un this time.”

“Hope so, Junior.” The old man scratched his head. “You never know.”

Laurie’s heartbeat throbbed in her ears. “I…I…need to go. Please.”

Dissy danced on tiptoes; her sackcloth dress stuck to her bony frame. Her feet were black from the ankle down. She sang, “You’s gonna be my new ma! You’s gonna be my new ma!”

“Now look here, Junior,” the old one said. “Don’t you wear this ‘un out like them others. They’s getting’ a lot harder to hunt fer.”

Laurie’s stomach lurched. “Others?”

“My wives.” Junior smiled.

“There!” Dissy pointed. Between two ten-point antlers, three female human heads were stuffed and mounted.

“They wasn’t up to snuff…but maybe you’ll work out better’n them.”

There’s No Place Like Home

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

This isn’t my normal blog, so forgive any typos or grammatical errors. I don’t have time to edit. I just want to tell you a quick little story. A ghost story. A real ghost story.

We live in a beautiful, historic house and I love it. It’s got character and more than a few strange quirks…like doors that don’t stay shut, blinds that flutter for no reason and lights that come on downstairs after we go to bed. Once, our bedroom lights turned on at 1:15 in the morning. It woke us up. The lights stayed on for a moment, flickered, turned off, turned on again and then remained off.

Now, I’m a very light sleeper. If the kids get up to use the bathroom, I wake up. If the dog starts chewing a bone in her crate, I wake up. If Gerald gets up to get a drink of water, I wake up. Trust me. I hear everything.

We’d been in bed for a couple of hours when Gerald bolted upright and woke me from a dead-sleep. When something jolts me awake, I am completely and immediately wide-awake and alert.

“Who’s there? Who’s there?” Gerald asked.

I immediately thought one of the kids must’ve come into the room and instantly went into mommy-mode. I thought, “Someone must be sick.” But, before I moved, Gerald said even more emphatically, “Who’s there?!”

At that point, I remembered we’d closed and locked our bedroom door, so I knew it was not one of the boys. Before I could remind him the door was locked, he shouts, “What the hell? Answer me!” He switched on the bedside lamp.
“Gerald! What’s wrong?”
“Someone was here.”
“No one was here.”
“Yes, there was!”
“No. You were dreaming. Go back to sleep.”
“I am not dreaming. Someone was just…walking around in here. Walked in front of the bed a couple of times. You didn’t hear footsteps?”
“What? No. You’re dreaming. I would’ve heard footsteps. I hear everything.”
“I was not dreaming. Someone was here. Someone walked back and forth in front of the bed.

“The door is locked, Gerald. No one was in here.” His eyes grew wide; he realized how weird everything had just become. He cleared his throat and tried to act normal. “Umm…I guess…maybe I was dreaming.”

I was totally freaked out, but I convinced myself if there had been any noise whatsoever, I would’ve heard it since I am such an ultra-light sleeper. He had to have been dreaming.
Eventually we went back to sleep.

An hour later, I jumped up and threw back the covers. A jolt of adrenaline shocked my system like a bolt of lightning. “What the hell was that?”
Gerald sat up next to me and groggily asked, “What’s happening?”

“Didn’t you hear that? Something just shattered.”
He switched on the light again and we looked around the room. Nothing was wrong. Nothing had moved or fallen. Door was still closed and locked.
“I didn’t hear anything, Kristine. Now you were dreaming.”
“How could you not hear that? Something shattered in this room.”

 “Everything is fine, Kristine. You’re just scaring yourself.”
“No, I’m not. I heard it. I swear. It was real.”
“You had to be dreaming. Let’s just go back to sleep.”
“Okay. Fine.” Maybe I dreamt the noise.

Except—
After my shower the next morning, I sat down at the vanity table in my bedroom to put on my make-up. The one-inch-thick custom-made glass that covered the antique vanity table had been broken. Not just cracked —half of it had been shattered into several pieces. If you have had those glass protectors made for your furniture, you know they are extremely thick and durable. This particular glass protector made it through four moves across country without a scratch–it’s that sturdy.

After Gerald came home from work that evening, I asked him, “So…still think you heard someone walking in front of our bed?”
My fearless warrior, super-confident, not-afraid-of-that-kind-of-thing, doesn’t-believe-in-any-of-that-stuff, husband mumbled, “Well…I heard something.”
“Yeah? Like what? Still think it sounded like someone walking in our room?”
He wouldn’t even make eye contact with me. He just shook his head indicating he didn’t want to talk about it.

So, naturally, I kept talking about it.
“Well, come take a look at the vanity.”
He stared at it, his brow wrinkled. He scratched his head.
“I told you I heard something shatter.”
“Wow.” He looked up at the ceiling. “Is it under the vent or something? Maybe it got too cold? Too hot?”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right. A mighty blast of a heater set at 69 degrees can do that kind of damage. Admit it. That’s some scary stuff right there.”
He scoffed. “Probably had a chip in it we didn’t notice. House settled…”
“You know as well as I do, there was no chip in that glass yesterday.”

We still do not have any explanation for the events that transpired that night.
Below is a picture of the vanity top. I did not move the glass before I took this picture. The one piece on top of another is exactly like I found it. Not only was it broken…but the big piece ‘landed’ in that strange position.

If you can explain how this happened in the middle of the night–on the same night my husband swore someone was walking in front of our bed, I’d like to hear it. I’m sure he’d like to hear it, too.

20130104-122001.jpg