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.”

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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!

 

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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…

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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.

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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:

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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…

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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

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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.

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Always Take A Wingwoman or The Things He Doesn’t Say Are Important

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Last September one of my best friends and I went to a department store because she needed to buy a dress for a formal occasion.  It just so happened I would not be attending that particular function due to an out-of-town trip, but it was one of the few I missed in the last several years.  Consequently, I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of formal dresses.

I’m a girlie-girl-rhinestone-loving-bling-freak, so I love these dress-up military-ball-type occasions.  However, for this shopping excursion, I only went for moral support.  I was my friend Liz’s wingwoman.  We both agreed that trying on eveningwear and swimsuits should NEVER be done alone.  Always take someone with you who will tell you the cold, hard truth.  Another friend once said you need someone who will tell you that the bikini with the itty-bitty flowers isn’t a good choice because “the tiny periwinkles elongated into full-bloom hibiscus when stretched across your backside.”  Now that is a good wingwoman!

Liz and I picked out some dresses for her to try-on and we were on our way to the dressing room with our arms full.  Since I wasn’t there to buy anything, helping her was like playing dress-up.  Shopping for formalwear is always fun when you’re not under the gun to find a dress.

And then I saw it.

It.

The dress of my dreams.  My soul-dress.  I was drawn to its magnificence like magnet to steal.

“Where are you going?” Liz asked as I took a sharp right turn instead of walking straight into the dressing rooms.  I continued onward as though pulled by a trajectory beam.

Liz followed me.  “Are you okay?”

I might’ve drooled just a bit.

“Is…is…look.”  I couldn’t speak coherently so I whimpered and pointed before continuing to where the gown hung against the wall displaying all its glorious fabulousness.  I touched its sensual, deep-purple satin.  I ran my fingertips across the tiny sequins on the collar.  The ebony rhinestones around the edges dazzled my eyes.

Only one word came out of my mouth at that moment. “Mine.”

Liz laughed.  “You’re right.  That totally looks like you.”

And then, she said the words.

“You should try that on.”

I shivered.  “No, I can’t.  I don’t need another dress.  I’m not going to this ball, so I can’t.”  My eyes gazed longingly at the dress.  I couldn’t turn away.  The gown sparkled like a forbidden treasure gleaming under the pot-lights of the formalwear department in Dillards.  “No.  I better not.  I’m not looking for a dress.  I don’t need another one.”  I clutched the hanger to my chest, curled the long, soft hem over my arm and started walking toward the dressing room.  “No.  I shouldn’t.  I’m just here to help you find something to wear.  I’ll just sit in a chair and wait for you.  I can’t try anything on.”

I closed the dressing room door behind me.  “I really don’t have an excuse to buy a new dress.  I shouldn’t even look at it. Yeah, I’m going to put it back.”  I undressed.  The gown slid over my head and conformed to my body like a glove.  “Oh, Liz!  The fabric is so soft!  You should feel it!  Ohhhh!”

“Come out.  Let me see.”

“No.  I really shouldn’t.  Where would I wear it?”

“The Robert Burns dinner!”

Harps played, cherubs sang, a rainbow led me out of the dressing room stall.  She was right!

I stood in front of a three-way mirror surrounded by racks of never-going-to-be-as-good-as-the-thing-I-have-on-dresses. Fairy-dust cascaded around in multicolored showers, a spot-light warmed me from above.  Bluebirds flew overhead.

My beautiful gown purred with satisfaction as its purple silk curves gave me a gentle hug.  “I have found you at last.  We belong together,” the dress whispered in my ear.

Both Liz and the sales lady stood behind me making noises which drive women to buy things they don’t need.  “Ohh.” “Ahhh.”

“It fits you perfectly,” my friend said as cute woodland creatures surrounded her; a dove landed on her shoulder and cooed softly.

“Like it was made for you,” the saleslady added.  The forest animals’ eyes widened with wonder at the dress.

“I am.  I am made for you, Kristine.  Only you,” the dress whispered.

My eyes watered; heart pounded.  We loved each other, this dress and I.  “Yes, but I don’t have anywhere to wear you.  You’d hang in my closet and be so sad.”

“No, no, I would never be sad as long as we have each other.  Buy me.  Take me away from here before someone else buys me.  Do not abandon me to someone else’s closet.  You and I…we must be together.”

Did I mention my dress had a sexy French accent?  And a male voice?

The jeweled collar winked at me provocatively.  “Buy me.  You must.  Turn around.  See!  I make your butt look good.  How many other dresses can say that?  None, but me.  I am a magic dress.”

A stranger pushing a stroller did a double-take.  “Looks great on you.”  A random customer said, “Gorgeous.”

That’s all I needed.  Some unknown shopper pushed me past the point-of-no-return.  And because there is a no-return policy on evening gowns, it really was the point-of-no-return.  If I took the dress home and accidentally removed the tag, the dress was un-returnable!  In other words…mine, forever!

“I really shouldn’t…”

I took my prize home and hung it in my closet with a heavy sigh.  “I’ll see you again in March,” I said as I zipped up the garment bag.  “Only six months and we’ll be reunited.”  I pushed the plastic bag to the back of my closet.

Six months was forever.  It was like waiting for Christmas!

March finally arrived and I wore my soul-dress to the formal Robert Burns Day dinner.  The timing couldn’t be better for a writer to wear a magic butt-enhancing dress since Burns was a poet-extraordinaire and a huge womanizer.  I’m sure he would’ve written ‘Ode to Kristine’s Dress’ if he were still alive.

Taking off the dress made me sad.  I held off as long as I could, but eventually zipped it back into its protective covering.  “Goodbye, Dress.”

My husband stood behind me.  “Don’t worry, Berg, you’ll wear it again.”

“When?”

“Maybe next September at the Air Force Ball.”

I smiled.  “Yes, of course!  We’ll be at a different base by then and no one will have seen it.  You’re right!  My dress will be like new!”  I took off all the accessories and carefully stored them away.  Only six more months until me and my soul-dress could be reunited in all our purple, silky glory.

So, now it is September.  Time for The Air Force Ball.  The Biggie.  The most formal event of the year.  All new people.  A brand new base.  It’s Texas, so the pressure to bling-it-up is high.  Oh, sweet joy!  I can put on my enchanted dress and feel like a princess, a princess with a good butt…

Except–

For reasons I won’t go into here…my beloved garment is hidden away in some mysterious military storage facility under lock and key. (Along with everything else I own.)  No purple loveliness, no amethyst earrings, no rhinestone bracelet, no silver shoes with the little bit of bling on the strap.  No purple velvet clutch bag with the rhinestone clasp.  All of it.  Far from the safety of my closet, my dress lays in captivity within a cardboard ‘wardrobe box’ marked unceremoniously ‘Master Bedroom’ within a wooden crate, within a storage room, within a giant storage facility…somewhere, not here.

***

I set the invitation to the Air Force Ball down on the kitchen table and sighed.  I shrugged into a seat across from my husband and crossed my arms.  He read the invitation and placed the card back down on the placemat.  No expression.

“I thought we’d be in our house by now.  All my formals are in storage.”

“You didn’t pack a formal?”

I stared at him, mouth agape.  “What?”

“Didn’t you bring a formal dress with you?”

“How shortsighted of me.  I’ll remember to pack one from now on every time we move…just in case.  Never mind how we’ve moved fifteen times and I’ve never once needed a ball gown.  Fear not!  From now on, formalwear will be on my essentials list.”

“You brought a thousand dresses.  Won’t any of those do?”

My breath hitched.  It unnerved me when he knew I was about to have a meltdown and he stayed so annoyingly calm.  My cheeks turned warm, but I controlled myself.  “Umm…dearest…I brought sundresses and church dresses, things to wear to ‘official’ daytime functions.  Why on earth would I bring a formal gown?  I packed for this move in mid-May.”

“So?”

I clenched my jaw, gritted my teeth.  “There are no formals in May, June, July or August!  Why would I even think to bring one?”

“To be on the safe side?”

“Tell me you are joking! There’s a safe-side to packing a ball gown in May because I might need it at the end of September?”

His eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out why my voice was getting all pitchy and why his simple question set me on edge.  “So, what you’re saying is none of those dresses in your closet will work?”

“No! No! No!  Those are not formal dresses.  There’s a difference.  A formal dress is like my purple dress, the Robert Burns dress!”

He nodded, sat back in his chair and picked up his coffee cup.  “Ahh, I get it now.  This is about you not having your favorite dress.”

“No!…well, yes…but, no.  The fact is still the same.  I have nothing to wear.”

I uttered the phrase.  The one phrase which will make my husband’s eyes roll back in his head so fast it looks like he’s having a seizure.  I admit it’s one of those easy-to-push buttons a wife learns not to push unless her husband is sitting across from her analyzing her panic and assuming it’s over a favorite dress and she’s so angry because he’s right, it is over not having her favorite dress and therefore, he’s so wrong to point that out to her.

“I have nothing to wear,” I repeated.

So, yeah.  I brought out the nukes.  I leaned back and sipped my coffee waiting for his inevitable combustion.  I counted down in my mind and waited for his eyes to come back from the back of his skull.  10, 9, 8,…

“You have a whole closet full of dresses!  How can you possibly have nothing to wear?  You packed the car with 200 pounds of clothes!  You have more dresses than any woman on the planet!”

Now it was my turn to sit back, stay calm and watch his reaction.  “Now how would you know that?  Have you met every woman on the planet and peeked into her closet?”  I smiled, remaining perfectly logical in the midst of his hyperbole storm.

He knew he’d been played.  He shook his head.  And then his Kennedy called my Khrushchev’s bluff.  He grinned his crooked grin at me.  “Whatever.  If you need a dress, go buy one.”

“I don’t have shoes either.”  Okay, I admit it.  I launched a mean ‘I-don’t-have-any-shoes’ grenade during peace negotiations, but sometimes a girl just can’t help herself in heat of the battle and she doesn’t have her purple dress.

My strategy didn’t work.  Obviously, I’ve never taught Military Strategy or held seminars on Critical Thinking.  Playing mind-chess with my husband is unfair.  He has a slight advantage over me.  I rather play checkers.

A smile lit up his face.  “I’m not going to take your bait…”  He peered into my eyes.  “…about the shoe situation.”

I hate his logic and resent his clear thinking when I’m trying to make a point.

“Will you go with me this weekend?”  Surprise Attack!

“What?”

“To buy a dress?  Pleeease.”

And this is how I know my husband loves me example #1:  He said, “Sure.  I’ll take you to buy a dress.”  He did not say, “Have you lost your mind?  I despise shopping.  No way.”

“You will go with me?”

They sell those at Target, right?”  I did not take the bait.

***

Things I Learned While Shopping for a Formal with my Husband:

There are four types of formal dresses.  They are as follows:

1        This dress says:   I’m a beauty queen going to prom with my quarterback boyfriend.  I love pink!  I love baby blue!  I love lace and ruffles and shiny things.  Big, huge crinolines are back!  Hurray!

2        This dress says:  I’m young, vibrant!  I’m a confident woman.  I like my cleavage.  I like 24-inch slits on the side of my skirt like Angelina Jolie.  I can wear eight inch stilettos with ease.  And any color goes great with my tan, fit body.  Everything is just perky and tight.  What are foundation garments for anyway?

3        This dress says:  I must attract some attention.  Some male attention!  I love tight spandex and glitter from shoulder to hem.  Hot pink, geometric print, sequins and straps with buckles.  The shorter the better–as long as it covers most of my lumps, it’s all good.

4       This dress says:  I am the Mother of the Bride.  I want to be covered from head to toe in mauve or gray or perhaps navy or black.  I love bolero jackets with rhinestone closures.  I have no cleavage anymore.  I want no attention drawn to my butt.  In fact, I don’t want anyone to know I have one.  I must have long sleeves—long, shiny sleeves, perhaps with ruffled cuffs.

So where does that leave me?  And most of my friends?  In the black hole of we’re-not-going-to-the-prom, but not-ready-for-the-rocker, either.  A fashion abyss.  One is lucky to find a magical dress under such conditions.  Very lucky.

***

My husband and I walked into the first dress shop.  I began sliding dresses across the rack to see if I might find anything suitable.  Hubby did the unthinkable.  He started looking through the dresses, with me.

“What about this one?”  My wonderful, ever-helpful husband held his large Chik-fil-A lemonade in one hand and a very unique dress in the other.  Clearly, the garment was in the #3 category.

“Um…”  How shall I say this without hurting his feelings?  “I’m really not liking the whole feathers-and-animal-print-together-in-one-dress-thing.  It’s like there was a weird hook up at the zoo between the cheetah and the ostrich and you’re holding the pelt of their offspring.”  My subtly needs work.

He took a long sip of lemonade and shrugged his shoulders before he hung up the leopard-chicken hybrid dress.

I pushed another reject past me on the bar.  “There is no way any woman could wear spanx under that with all those cutouts.”

“What’s Spanx?”

I shook my head.  “That dress is…um…not right.”

I slid a few more dresses down the rack as he watched over my shoulder.  He stopped my hand mid-swipe, clutched the hanger and pulled out a puffy dress.  “What about this?”

He’d found one from the #1 category.  I didn’t want to crush his indomitable spirit.  He was actually trying to help me.  Bless that man.

“Well, it is pretty, but I think I may be a bit…too…old for it.”

“You’re not old!”  Example #2 of why I love this man.  He didn’t say, “Yeah. Okay.”

“Thanks, Berg. But, what I mean is, well, it’s…a bit…‘young’ for me.  It’s for a high school girl.”

He checked the label.  “There’s ages on these things?”  He hung up the prom princess gown.

“I like this one.”  I held a navy blue dress against me.  “What do you think?”

“Um…well…”

“You don’t like it?”

“I like it okay.”

That means he hates it.

I hung the reject back on the rack.  A few minutes, later he pulled out a dusty-rose dress with a square neck, three quarter sleeves and a lace collar straight out of group #4.  “This is nice.”

“Uh huh.  Years from now, if you are looking to bury me in something horrific to get even with me for dragging you shopping on a holiday weekend, remember that one.”

“It’s too old lady?”

“Yep.  Now you understand.”

Next, he pulled out an elegant royal blue dress.  I was very impressed.

“This is a good one, right?” he asked.

“It is.”

He smiled, quite pleased with himself.  Until I burst his bubble.  “But, it’s a cocktail dress.”

“Isn’t that what we’re looking for?”  He held the dress at arm’s length and then checked the tag as if it might be marked, “Cocktail, ages 30-50.”

“I need a long dress.  Not a short cocktail dress.”

“Are you kidding?”

He hung the dress back on the rack.  “All right.  You pick one.  You’ve never worn a dress I don’t like.  You don’t need my help.  Just try something on and I’ll give you my opinion.”  Reason #3 for loving this man.  He didn’t say, “Are we ever going to get out of here?  Pick something already!”

Several stores later, I realized I was drawn to every single purple dress I saw.  It wasn’t very hard to figure out why.  I wasn’t going to find anything that compared.  I’m very loyal.  Now that I had found my soul-dress, everything else would always be  just a substitute.

I pulled a ‘uniform’ from the rack.  You know, the dress everyone either has or has seen or will buy one day. It’s a black chiffon sheath dress with spaghetti straps.  Nothing wrong with it.  It’s a formal. It’s long. It’s black.

“Oh, that’s sexy.”  I heard from behind me.  Reason #4 for loving that man.  He didn’t say, “I’m tired.  Let’s go.”  A few seconds later he said, “And you’re going to be the best looking one there anyway.  Who cares what you wear?”

With those sweet words, I quit torturing him with my doomed shopping trip.  He’d earned his stripes.  Or his eagles.  But, what’d I do to earn him?  I’ll never know.

“You think it’s sexy?  Really?”  I held it against my body.

“Sure.  It looks like a sexy, black nightgown.”

Ugh.  Back to not having a dress.

P.S. I’ll be adding pictures later.

The Intricacies of Establishing and Maintaining Well-Being or You May As Well Join Them and Laugh At Yourself

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I met a friend at Starbucks today and enjoyed a wonderful morning visiting with her while partaking in my caffeine addiction.  Ahh, life can be good.  Yesterday, I met a different friend for lunch and we sat outside another java-haven in town while I indulged in my caffeine habit.  I love my friends who ‘feed my need.’

I’ve been trying to meet up with friends as much as possible because our time here is winding down.  We are on the verge of yet another move.  Two years ago we moved to Abilene.  I made some remarkable friends and reunited with good friends from the past.  Texas is friendly.  It’s also dusty and windy and I’m sure my patio furniture and BBQ will never recover.  Anyway…

We are going to miss this assignment far too much to express.  We were blessed by getting to do some awesome things.  Just the other day I actually “marshaled in” a giant C-130 with those orange-cone-flashlight things.  Yep, I stood outside on the flightline and told the pilot where to “park” the plane in front of a crowd of onlookers.  I’ll never forget it.  Of course, the airman standing next to me “helping” probably won’t forget it either.

The young airman instructed me how to get the plane to turn left on the runway.  “Make an “L” with your arms.”

I did.

“No, Ma’am.  The other way.  You’re telling him to turn straight into the crowd.  Make an ‘L’.”

“Oh, you mean a backward L?”

“No, Ma’am, an L.”  He showed me.

I switched my arms.  Now, don’t judge me.  Seriously, think about it.  If you were standing in front of me, it would be a normal “L”  but I’m NOT standing in front of me, so therefore, from my perspective, it’s a backward L.

I decided not to espouse my “L” logic to the young man at that point.  Also, on a side note, don’t ever ask me which side of the bed I sleep on, as it, too, is a trick question.  I mean, are you talking about my right if I’m on my back lying on the bed?  Or are you talking about my right as if I were standing at the foot of the bed looking at it?  And because I sleep on my stomach, do you mean my ‘sleeping’ right?  Or my ‘sitting in bed watching TV’ right because they are different.  Oh forget it.  It’s all so confusing for me since I rarely know right from left without thinking about it—or as in the case of the “L” over-thinking it.

I tried to cover.  “I thought you meant the pilot’s left. Heh. Heh.”

“Really?”  He looked at me, tilted his head and wrinkled his brow, not buying it.  Maybe the “cover” was worse than the mistake.

The plane turned left and headed down the strip towards us.  It was surreal standing there with this humongous plane coming straight at me.  I was shaking in my shoes with excitement.  Soon, I could see the pilots; they were that close!  How cool is that?  At this point, I would like to take you on a little journey through the workings of my caffeinated/ADD mind as I marshaled that plane in:

I thought, “Wow!  That’s interesting.  I’ve never seen a plane from this angle.  I always see them in profile or on a ramp connected to those stairs-on-wheels things at the airport, but never on the ground looking straight onto its nose.  This sort of reminds me of the guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square…which reminds me, I need to go to Walmart to buy soy sauce if I make stir-fry tonight…Greg loves Chinese.  Stephen loves Thai.  I miss my boys.  Which reminds me, I still need to make airline reservations for Greg to…Oh, crap!  I’m supposed to be doing something.”

“Wave them in.  Wave them in,” the airmen said emphatically.

As I’ve just recreated my normal thought-process for your edification, you now understand that my mind was rather pre-occupied.  So when he said, ‘wave them in’ my first thought was:  How do I wave at them with these flashlight devices in my hands?  But, before I put one of them down to wave, he demonstrated what he meant.

I moved my arms back and forth like he showed me.  Somehow I managed (with the help of a slightly jumpy airman) to get the wheels near the target.

So, as I stood with my arms straight up above my head and waving the lights to and fro exactly like he told me, the airman says, “Okay, stop!”

I obeyed.  I stopped.  I did not wave them in anymore.  I kept my arms perfectly still in the air.

His voice got louder. “Stop!”

What’s he want?  I am stopped.  I’m not moving at all.

“No, no, stop!”  Now he sounded alarmed.

The plane continued to roll right over the square wheel indicator box painted on the runway.

He took hold of my wrists and made a giant X with my flashy-sticks.  Ahhh…that means stopOf course, I’ve seen that in movies before.  Speaking of movies…I really want to see one this weekend…the one with the guy from that TV show we always watch…which reminds me, we need microwave popcorn, so when I go to Walmart for soy sauce…but…maybe I don’t want stir-fry…Oh wait…

I shook my head.  All right.  Now, I’m totally focused.

The wheels were not exactly on the black square anymore, but they were generally in the right vicinity.  Hmmm…I wonder if airplanes have a reverse gear. Motorcycles don’t.  I remember once when we went to Sturgis motorcycle rally and the guy told us that he…

FOCUS!

I turned to the airman.  “They stopped.  Now what?” Relief spread over the young serviceman’s face.

“We’re done.  Thanks, Ma’am.”  Perspiration lined his forehead and top lip.  He quickly took the flashlight-coney-things away from me and led me off the flightline to join the rest of the group.  I’m sure he couldn’t wait to tell the other ‘guide-with-the-cones’ guys the story of one really dorky wife.

I would have never been able to do something so awesome if not for the blessing of our assignment here.  Shout out to the Mighty 317th.

We will miss this place!

One of the ‘rites of passage’ for aviators in the military is something known as a fini-flight.  This is the last flight on a plane before the person goes to a job that doesn’t involve flying or (as in this case) will no longer be flying that particular plane.  (The incredibly powerful, sexy B-1.)

Customarily, the pilot or weapon systems operator gets greeted on the runway after his flight by a crowd of family, friends and colleagues.

The ‘aviator of honor’ is welcomed back by the spray of a fire hose.  He is then ceremoniously doused with champagne followed by a toast with a chug of booze.  The beauty of a fini-flight is that usually the spouse gets to hold the fire hose.  Now how many spouses have wanted to spray their beloved with a blast of water like that?  Here’s to always leaving your black socks next to the hamper!

My man had his last flight the Sunday before last.  A group of us gathered outside Base Ops  on a beautiful (but windy) West Texas day.  A tiny black dot in the brilliant blue sky suddenly appeared.  A moment later it took the shape of a B-1 and then VROOOM!  It zoomed right over our heads in a spine-tingling thunder of power.  It’s that fast!  It’s impressive no matter how many times you see it.  Trust me.  (You can Google B1 flyover and see for yourself.)  They circled around and touched down with a perfect ‘wheels to concrete’ landing.  It was amazing.

The firemen are always on the runway for landings.  On this special occasion they summoned me closer and I got to stand right next to the fire truck.  And really close to the plane.  Yay!  A young fireman (with muscles of steel and a Superman chest) handed me the giant hose.  (I swear that wasn’t meant as a euphemism!)  Literally—he handed me the hose.

The cockpit door opened and a white metal ladder came down from the belly of the plane.  This is it.

The Wing King (the big boss) stood a few feet from me with a bottle of champaign ready to shake and uncork it all over his next-in-command.  A group of honoraries (dignitaries from town) and friends stood behind the two of us as we waited for our quarry.

Yes, I see the tips of his boots.  We were all in place, knew our parts and awaited the recipient to descend the steps.

Young Airman Muscles says, “Okay, Mrs. Goodfellow, make sure his feet are planted before you get him.  Just pull this lever back and let him have it.”

“Sure,” I say.  Heh heh heh.  I’m so going to get him good.  What could possibly go wrong, right?

Wait for his feet to hit the pavementGot it.  Oh, yeah, I’m so ready.

Pretty soon, I see the familiar combat boots descend, then the green legs of a flight suit. Oh yeah!  It’s him.  I thought the clever man might send one of the captains down first.  I was ready for anything, even some trickery.  It became obvious that it was my man because he was coming down slowly, haltingly, knowing exactly what was about to take place.  My heart sped up and I smiled from ear to ear.

I had never seen him come down a ladder so slowly.   Next, I see his hands on the handrails, then his chest, complete with harness.  Realizing he’s going to have to face the music, he rushes down the rest of the way.  Both boots on the ground.  You’re mine!

I pulled the lever as instructed hitting him square in the chest as if there was a target painted on his uniform.  BLAM!  Before I had time to comprehend what happened, I jolted back about two feet from the water pressure; my legs came out from under me and being that I gripped the hose, I didn’t have time to put my hands down to cushion the fall.  I landed solidly on my backside, legs splayed out in front of me.

The hose was still firing water, but I lost my grip on it.  The thing stood up like a cobra and sprayed into the crowd behind me.  Now there were plenty of strong, healthy, buff (including Airman Muscles) military personnel, several young, nimble spouses and able-bodied friends in this crowd. They moved the hell out of the way quick as a flash.

The water took a direct trajectory and hit the only person not able to move at the speed of water.  Also, the only person wearing an expensive, three piece suit and his favorite fedora.  A man old enough to be my grandfather.  That’s right.  Out of all those people, it drenched one of the community honoraries who’d come out to witness my husband getting sprayed with a fire hose.  He witnessed it all right.

As I sat on the tarmac, dazed and not quite sure exactly what just happened, Airman Muscles cuts the water and the hose goes slack in my hands.  (Again, no euphemism here.) Behind me, the motley group of our closest military friends is guffawing like a pack of hyenas.

Poor, old, Jack stood, shocked (and wet)—he may have been the only one not laughing.  So, what did this wily bunch of patriotic, loyal, dependable, trustworthy, steadfast friends do?  They captured the whole incident on film, of course.

I looked around from my spot on the asphalt and saw nothing but cell phones pointing in my direction; laughter all around me.  I sat sprawled out on hot concrete and realized no one helped me up because no one’s hands were free of iPhones. There is a partial video of the event.  If you watch it, please note:  everyone scattered so they didn’t get wet and someone actually rushes behind me to pick up the bottle of booze lest I knock it over. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to the booze!  But, the boss’s wife knocked on her butt?  Yeah, that’s funny, where’s my phone?

The official photographer DID NOT snap any pictures of said incident, or if he did, he DID NOT include them on the CD he sent me.  Either way…smart man.

I looked up still stunned, and caught the eye of my wet knight in shining armor.  Surely, he’ll come to my rescue.  Well, maybe when he stops laughing.  He was practically doubled over.

And so, thanks to the wonder of technology there exists a video and numerous cell phone captures of my embarrassing moment.   To be honest, I was laughing, too.  What can one do in a moment of utter humiliation besides join the fun?  One thing is for sure.  We won’t ever forget that fini-flight.  In fact, I’m sure the firemen went back to the station and relived it over and over, probably in slow motion on their phones.

After I was back on my feet, one of the other colonels told me, “I thought they usually had a fireman holding it behind you.”  You think?  Really?  She meant well when she informed me of this.

For days afterward, people made remarks about me taking a “ride” on the fire hose.  (Okay, enough with the non-euphemisms!  What is it about this story that drips with sexuality?)

I purposefully did not tell my sons what happened.  They’d never let me forget it.  We raised them to have great senses of humor.  Sometimes that can backfire.

My oldest son, a sophomore in college, said this to me yesterday.  “Mom, I was officially inaugurated President of the RGA for 2012-2013.”

“Really?  That’s fantastic!”

“Yeah.  And my first act as president will be to change the title.”

“The title?  To what?”

“To Supreme Overlord and Ultimate High Commander.”  He laughed an evil ‘villain’ laugh. “Bwaahaahaa.”

I chuckled, but for a split second, I wondered if he might do it.

“Stephen? You’re just kidding, right?”  I had a visual flashback.

Stephen stood in the playroom with rows of his and his brother’s Beanie Babies in front of him.  I stopped and watched for a moment before I quietly headed back upstairs to get the video camera.  When I returned unnoticed, he shook his fist in the air and looked into the ranks of stuffed animals.   “To me only, you shall remain true, and we shall put an end to the rebellion.”  He slammed his fist into his palm.

Not to date myself, but the ginormous video camera contained a big huge light in the front to use as a flash.  I turned it on and it caught his attention.  He stopped.

“Go ahead, Stephen.  Keep going.”

I only captured a snippet of what he said.  It went something like this.

“Together we can regain our objective and reign supreme.”  He paced in front of his captive audience with his hands behind his back.  He gave those little critters a stern glare, turned on his heel and paced the other way, hands still clasped behind him.   “Storm troopers you shall be.  Together we shall rule the universe!”  At this point he glanced up and pointed at me.  “Look!  A spy!  Seize her!  Don’t just sit there!  Your ruler has given you an order.”

He rushed toward me wearing a scowl, but then smiled sweetly into the camera, all big eyes and innocence.  He gestured to his troops with a toss of his head.  “What do you expect?  They are full of beans!”

My son is hilarious.  And brilliant.  Or scary.  I choose hilarious and brilliant.

Once on a road trip, my husband asked Stephen, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Like he was prone to do, he gave it some thought before he answered.  “I don’t think there is a title for it.”  He shrugged.

“Well, tell me what it is that person does and I’ll tell you what the title is.”

Stephen was silent for a moment.

“All right.  I want to…”

For the next few minutes he explained exactly what he wanted to do when he grew up.  After his monologue ended he said, “Dad?  Does this have a title?”

Hubby glanced at me, raised his eyebrows and gave me his crooked, incredulous smile.  He then looked in the rearview mirror to catch our son’s eyes.  “Yes, Stephen.  It does have a title.  From what you just described…I’d say it’s called The Emperor of China.  I’m thinking that job is already taken.”

His father and I chuckled.

Stephen, completely undeterred replied, “No, I think you’re wrong, dad. I do not want to be the Emperor of China.”

“Well, that’s a relief, son.”

“No.”  He bit his lip.  “The Chinese are communists.  I am a firm proponent of capitalism.  I’d rather be The Emporer of The Western World.”

Did I mention he was nine?

He’ll be twenty-one years old in a few weeks.  Wow.  Probably the same age as the kid helping me marshal in the C-130.

You know, somewhere in the base dorms I’m thinking this conversation might’ve taken place.

“Hey, you guys…you will not believe the wife I had with me on the flightline the other day.”  He’ll proceed to tell the story.  The others will laugh and slap him on the back.  “You poor dude.”  Someone else will pull out his iPhone and say, “Oh, yeah?  You think that’s bad?  Check out this genius spraying her husband on his fini-flight.”

How A Wicked Marshmallow Chick Reduced Me to Thievery or How I Became A Slave to Peeps

As you know, it is Peeps Season and that just happens to be my favorite time of the year.  Although they now make the sugar-coated marshmallows for every holiday, there is something about those bright yellow chicks that makes me smile.

I’m a student of psychology and often try to figure out what makes other people tick so I can understand that tricky thing called “motivation” to use in my writing.  I decided to point my psychological spotlight onto myself to see if I might figure out why I have this weird compulsion to eat marshmallow chickens until my stomach hurts.  It didn’t take long before I discovered the root of my sugar-fixation and Peep Obsession.

Do you remember your first piece of candy?  I don’t, but I distinctly remember the first time I bit into a yellow chick.  It was Easter and we were at my grandmother’s house.  I recall it with crystal clear clarity.  I’m not kidding you.  I have witnesses.  And photographs.

 

The three eldest grandchildren, my sister Tamara, my cousin Nadine and I had just finished hunting for dyed eggs in my grandmother’s backyard.  I’m not sure why, but we used brown bags instead of baskets, but whatever.  The adults waited on the porch with cameras–the “Instamatic” kind that used those giant stacks of flashcubes.  Remember those?  So, I have pictures of this event somewhere and if I can find them, I’ll post them.

Eventually, we exhausted the colorful egg supply.  The flat, fenced-in backyard was free of the very-obviously-placed eggs, so we walked back toward our parents.  My cousin Nadine is like a sister to me; we’re the same age and grew up as best friends.  She’s a wonderful, kind-hearted person with a fabulous sense of humor, but she’s always had a bit of an issue with everything being completely unfair—especially unfair to her.

On our way back to the house, we all opened our bags and compared what was inside.  Nadine noticed the huge disparity in what her bag held and what mine and my sister’s contained.  Her eyes widened and met mine.  It was quiet for a second until—

Her mouth opened and out came a blood-curdling cry that stopped both my sister and me in our tracks.  I’m sure birds abandoned trees and took flight; the glass in the sliding door shook.

Nadine bawled, tears ran down her red cheeks as language became just an unintelligible string of vowels between a few words of…not fair…they ….eggs…more…me.”

My parents, aunts, uncles and my grandmother gathered around and tried to remedy the situation and stop any permanent damage to eardrums everywhere.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” my Aunt Carmen crouched down near her daughter.  Nadine, now in the height of hysteria, merely pointed at my bag.  Everyone realized her bag contained a whopping three eggs.  I have no idea how she didn’t find more.  The yard was a square patch of grass with no bushes or shrubs, surrounded by a wooden privacy fence.  The eggs were just scattered randomly on the grass, but in true Nadine-form, she had managed not to fill her bag.

The situation completely unraveled when my father reached down and took one of my eggs and plopped it into Nadine’s near-empty bag.  “There!  Krissy will share with you.”

Excuse me?  Krissy will?  I think not! 

I dramatically threw myself into my mother’s arms as Nadine and I battled for the loudest tantrum award.  Since she and I competed for just about everything, this became a huge cry-fest.

My mom, the eternal peacemaker, took an egg out of my sister’s heavy, egg-laden bag and put it in mine.  “There.  Tamara will share.”

It was a green egg.

I did not want a freakin’ green egg.  Green egg?  I did not want it in a box.  I did not want it with a fox.  I did not want it here or there.  I did not want it anywhere.  No, Ma’am!

Nadine had pilfered my pretty, shiny, purple egg—the one that rightfully belonged to the one who found it.  Me.  Upon losing one of her eggs to her snot-nosed little sister, Tamara didn’t cry like Nadine and me.  No, my sister simply dropped her bag and said, “They can have them all!” and stormed inside.  Somehow the men had crept back into the house unnoticed.

My mother went after my sister and Nadine’s mother gathered the toddlers back into the house leaving my grandmother to calm Nadine who was on the point of hyperventilating.  I had stopped crying and backed out of my grandmother’s eyeshot.  I had a plan.

Nadine started to calm down and my grandmother wiped away her tears.  Putting out her bottom lip, she rubbed her eyes with fists.   I took advantage of the most opportune time and her obvious distraction and took my purple egg out of her bag.  I tossed Tamara’s lame green one in.  It dropped to the bottom.  I heard it crack when it hit the cement porch.  Take that, Sam-I-Am!

Apparently, I didn’t do this very smoothly.  Or she was not as distracted as I thought because she howled like a banshee and my poor clueless grandmother had no idea why the waterworks started again with new vigor.

My mother stepped through the patio door with my sister in tow.  Tamara pouted, arms crossed over her chest and scowling, but she picked up her bag—which by the way, held twice as many eggs as mine and vastly more than Nadine’s three—now four if you counted the lame green one.

“All right.  That’s enough.”  My aunt stepped through the sliding door.  “Everyone needs to stop fighting.  If you don’t, the Easter Bunny won’t leave you candy and toys.”  All three of us shut up.

In our family, the Easter Bunny hid the eggs outside while we were at church and then while we hunted for them, he would hide plastic, candy-filled eggs inside the house.  We’d come in from our egg hunt and the grown-ups would say, “You guys just missed him.”

“You girls need to stay outside until you make up with each other and there are no more fights,” my grandmother said leaving the three of us to work it out on our own.  C’mon.  Really?  Methinks someone had watched too many episodes of the Walton’s or Little House on the Prairie because anyone knows that’s not going to work, right?

Here’s the kicker.  The stupid eggs we fought over were hard boiled and none of us particularly liked boiled eggs, but that is hardly the point.  I wanted my purple egg, damnit!

So, we sat on the porch.  And sat.  And sat.  Eventually, Tamara placated both Nadine and me by sharing her eggs.

OMG!  I just put together something that never occurred to me until right now.  I know exactly why they left us there in the blazing New Mexico sun, wearing our stiff Sunday dresses and patent leather Mary Jane shoes.  It wasn’t because they’d lost their minds or were victims of hokey, family-friendly TV show plots.  No!

It took me forty-some years to realize the real reason they let us stew outside for so long. It went like this:

After what felt like forever, my grandmother came out.  “Is everyone friends again?”

We nodded.  “Okay, give each other a hug and you can come back inside.  You just missed the Easter Bunny!”

Everyone complied and we raced inside to start the candy hunt.  But wait…

The Easter bunny decided not to hide the eggs in the house that year.  Instead, he’d saved us the trouble and placed on the dining room table three cellophane-wrapped Easter baskets with three distinct piles of plastic eggs in front of them.

I can’t believe I just had an ‘a-ha’ moment as I wrote this.  Those clever parents realized that the scene outside was about to repeat itself within the confines of my grandmother’s tidy abode, so they’d taken care of it diplomatically while we baked on the porch in our scratchy Easter finery.

Ah!  I see it all now.  It cracks me up to visualize.  Those adults had to scurry around collecting all the eggs they’d already hidden and then divide them by three.  They’d thought of everything.  Except—

Nadine had more purple eggs than me.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  My mother opened a box of Peeps (yellow chicks—I remember it like it was yesterday).  She gave each of us two, setting them in front of us.  Before I let out a squawk about the uneven distribution of purple eggs that would’ve rattled the light fixtures, she put a Peep in my mouth.  I am not kidding you.  My mother stopped my tantrum by jamming a chick in my gaping scream-hole.  Smart woman, my mother.

This is how I remember that first taste:

The clouds parted, the sun streamed through the windows and angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus over my head.  There might have even been a rainbow involved.  My mouth had just experienced the best thing it had ever tasted.  Gastronomic, sweet, gelatinous heaven!
At that moment everyone was happy.  Nadine gathered up her plastic eggs in her dress and carried them to the floor where she counted them to make sure she had exactly the same amount as me and my sister.  I swallowed the Peep and stared at the other neon yellow chick right in front of me.  We met gazes.  His chocolate speckled eyes stared straight into mine.

I put my chin on the table mesmerized by little marshmallow fowl.

“Eat me!” he demanded.

I narrowed my eyes.  “No, I must save you for later.”

“No, eat me right now.  I am pure sugar.  You want me.”

“I can’t.  I want to wait until later.”

“No!  You want me now.  Stop resisting.  You cannot win.  I will own you for the rest of your life.”

He was right.  I was his slave.

I popped that Easter chick in my mouth.  I enjoyed it, savored it, worshipped it.  I closed my eyes and put my forehead on the table, perhaps to keep all my other senses dulled so I could virtually live in the flavor experience that was happening in my mouth.

“Are you all right, Mija?” My mom rushed over.

“Is she choking?” someone asked.

My mom cupped my chin and lifted my head.  I smiled at her, yellow mess coming out of the sides of my mouth.  She laughed.  “No, she’s fine.  I think she likes it.”  If ever there was an understatement…that would be it.

When I finished my Peep, I looked over at the empty place at the table that Nadine had previously occupied.  Her two chicks sat there unsupervised.  My eyes scanned the area.  Now, you must understand, I was a rule-follower extraordinaire.  I was a black-is-black-and-white-is-white sort of child.  Rules were rules.

But, Peeps are Peeps!

The adults stood around talking while our toddler cousins ran around playing with their new stuffed rabbits.  My sister emptied her plastic eggs of their jelly beans and lined them up on the table.

And Nadine’s Peep called my name.

Damn!  It was even staring in my direction.  We eyed each other.

It was my first crime.  It was wrong and I knew it, but I decided to take the consequences.

I snatched that chick and popped it in my mouth.  I experienced sweet Nirvana when suddenly my sister said, “Mom!  Krissy just took one of Nad—” A hand clamped over her mouth.  “Shhhhh…it’s okay.”  She gave us one of her cautionary looks through a forced smile.  You know the one—where the eyes get wider and then narrow in mommy-warning fashion.   Yep, my mother had averted another tantrum of monumental proportions.  And me?  I had survived my criminal act.  I chewed in rapt ecstasy and smiled at my mom who’d saved my life.

“That wasn’t very nice, was it?”  She tossed some guilt my way.

I shook my head, still chewing and tasting that delicious gooey goodness.  No, it wasn’t very nice.  But it was damned delicious.  “Shwowee.” I managed to mumble.

Tamara, with her keen sense of justice, said, “Krissy should give Nadine one of her candy eggs.”  Nadine’s head popped up and she looked over at the table where we sat.

My heart began to pound; my eyes grew huge as she scanned the tabletop.  I quickly swallowed the evidence.  Peep?  What Peep?  Has anyone seen any Peeps?  I smiled guiltily.  My mind quickly came up with several scenarios.  Maybe she’ll think she ate it.  Of course!  Maybe I can convince her that she ate it and just doesn’t remember.  No wait!  Maybe I’ll blame my sister.  The grown-ups might believe me, but then…Tamara will kill me.  Ahhh!  The babies!  I’ll blame one of the toddlers (that were roaming around with their own treats).

“Where’s my…?”  Nadine focused on that lonely Peep still sitting on the table.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was about to crack and confess.  I couldn’t lie to her–ever.

“Nadine!  Diane is taking your eggs!”  My sister pointed behind my cousin.  Nadine whipped around and flew to her little plastic egg pile.  Quickly, she gathered them up in her dress again.  (I’m not sure why she didn’t use her Easter basket for this, but for some reason we kept the cellophane wraps on them while we used bags–go figure. )  After all her eggs were safe and away from her baby sister’s chubby little hands, Nadine returned to the table and scooped up that last chick.

I turned to look at my sister, but she left the table without another word.  I always wondered if she distracted her on purpose to save me or if she really was just pointing out that Nadine was about to be minus one egg filled with jelly beans.

Nadine bit into the remaining chick, made a face and spit it out into her hand.  “Yeeech!”

That is how Peeps became an obsession.  I am weakened by their evil goodness.  Always have been.  Always will be.

The picture below is the FAMOUS Easter Egg Hunt.  Notice the genius that I am (over to the left) looking for Easter eggs at eye-level.  Apparently, I was looking for any levitating eggs.  Nadine is starting to panic–you can see it in her face.  Tamara is rushing in with her stash.  You see how heavy her bag is?  The picture below that shows us standing with my grandmother.  It was taken post egg-finding-trauma.  Can you tell?  And what is that on the couch?  Is it that damned green egg?  Oh, the memories!  And by the way, Nadine…I love you.  I owe you one.

The Meandering Path of A Writing Journey

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As if anyone needed concrete evidence that I’m just slightly right of weird, here’s more proof, I guess.

My wonderful husband should have, “Are you kidding me?” tattooed across his forehead since I seem to bring that sentence to his lips on nearly a daily basis. It might save him some time if when I opened my mouth he just pointed to the tatoo with a raise of his eyebrows and a tilt of his head.

Most of the time something completely rational-sounding in my head escapes my lips and loses something in translation—that is the woman-to-man, husband-to-wife translation.  This weekend was the latest installment of what I like to call, “Things that sound normal to me, but cause small strokes in my husband’s down-to-earth-logical- linear-thinking brain.”

Saturday morning as the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted through our sun-bathed kitchen, we talked about our upcoming move to San Antonio, Texas.  We had been so busy lately, we hardly had any time to sit down and actually talk about little, inconsequential things like…oh, I dunno…where the heck we’re going to live once we get there.  It’s not as dire as it sounds.  We’ll be assigned a house according to my husband’s position.  A week previous, we had made an educated guess about which house would be ours by figuring out where the guy whom my hubby will replace lives.  These are beautiful, historic homes.  A little bit of internet stalking and I had an address and a Google Earth satellite picture.

My husband stood by the coffee pot leaning on the counter while I poured two cups.

“I will feel better once I have some pictures of the interior,” I said.  “I’m dying to know what the house is like on the inside.”

“Oh, yeah.  I meant to tell you.  I talked to Smith (not his real name) about his house.  They aren’t sure of their moving dates and they may be there until late summer.  But, he said there was a house down the street that will come open before his will so we shouldn’t worr–”

“What?” I turned to look at my man.  I handed him a cup of coffee.  “No!  No! No!”

“What’s the matter?” He took the hot beverage out of my hand like I was nervous Private Pyle with a hand grenade.  His expression told me he was girding his loins against a possible pre-move meltdown.  (I’m entitled to one of those every single move—and we’re facing our 13th meltdown.)  He usually talks me down from the ledge in his calm, reassuring manner by reminding me that ‘it all works out’ and I need not stress six months in advance.

That’s generally how it goes anyway.

But, this wasn’t one of those ‘they’re going to ruin our furniture/lose my rugs/break my china’  moments for me.  No, this time, his words about the housing situation set my heart pounding.

“Another house?  We don’t want another house.  We want the Smith’s house!”  I stared at him wide-eyed.

We moved to the table and sat down across from one another.  “Oh, is that what’s wrong?  Well, Bergie, don’t worry about it.  All the houses are basically the same size on that street.  It doesn’t matter which one we get.”

“No, you’re wrong!”

“No, I’m not.  Pull up the floor plans online.  They vary so slightly you would never–”

“Floor plans?  I don’t care about square footage and bedroom placement.  I want the Smith’s house!”

“Why?  Because it’s across from the club pool?  Any one of the houses we’d get assigned surround the pool. It doesn’t really matter.”

“No!  We have to have that one because I think it is the one that comes with a ghost!”

He looked at me blank-faced as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me right.  Or maybe he hoped he hadn’t heard right.  Or maybe he hoped that I was kidding, but subconsciously knew that I wasn’t.  Yeah, that was the look.

“What did you say?”  He smiled his doubtful, slightly crooked, smile at me.

“I want the Smith’s house because it comes with a ghost!”

He chuckled and took a sip of his coffee.  “Yeah, right.”

Silence.

I stared at him dead in the eye.

He tilted his head to the right.  That meant the next thing out of his mouth would be a statement.  “You aren’t serious…”  But, it always turns into a question.  “…are you?”

I smiled.

“Omigod!  You’re not joking.”

“Well, whenever I tell anyone about our new assignment, they say, ‘Oh!  You’ll love it there.  Except, don’t get the Smith’s house.  It’s haunted’.”

“And of course, when you heard that you didn’t take it as a warning, did you?”

“Heck no!  I’ve heard it from three different people who heard it from three different former occupants.  Honey!  We must get that house.”

He scoffed.  “That’s ridiculous.”

“No,” I challenged.  “That’s a story!”

A look of slight fear crossed his face.  It had little to do with the ghost and more to do with the fact that he knows he lives with a pycho.  “Couldn’t you get a story about the ghost without having to actually be roommates with it?”

I shook my head.  “Can you get the taste of strawberry shortcake without having experienced it on your tongue?”

“And I’m guessing you want to taste this ghost.”

“Sure.  Think about it.  Actually living in a haunted house.  Why, the story ideas are endless!”  The words left my mouth fast and full of excitement–and the caffeine hadn’t even kicked in yet.  “I mean, it’s not like it’s killed anybody yet.”  I smiled.

Yet.”  He sipped his coffee, studying me.  “Let me get this straight.  You’d rather wait to move into that house because of some ridiculous rumor?”

“Absolutely.”

“And if it turns out to be untrue?”

I smiled. “It won’t.”

“Not with your imagination it won’t.”

“Don’t look at me like that.”  A blush heated my cheeks.

“If I mention the reasons for your wanting that house, Bergie, I might not be the only one to look at you a little strange.”

“And like I would notice?”

“Good point.  You’d have to get out of your own little world to do that.”

“That’s why I like it up here.”  I tapped my head.

“And I guess that’s the end of that discussion.”  He shrugged.  “Whatever.”  Suddenly his eyes got wide.  “You aren’t going to write another one of those novels that makes me sleep with one eye open, are you?”

One of the greatest compliments my man has ever given me involved a horror novel I wrote two years ago. After he finished reading that book, my sweet, darling husband looked at me before I turned off the lamp to go to sleep.  He set the manuscript on the nightstand and said, “You scare me.”

And he meant it.