Technophobe

Admittedly, I am not tech-adept. I have considered looking for a 12-step group to help me with my problem: I am powerless over technology and my life has become unmanageable. You may think I exaggerate. To illustrate my point I will tell you a few things that happened to me over the holidays.

Every December my husband and I take the kids downtown for a night to celebrate his birthday. We stayed at the W Hotel. If you’ve ever been inside a W you know the style is modern–extremely modern. In our room, I was getting ready for the evening, my husband had gone out for a walk since getting ready for him takes less than five minutes. It was getting dark, so I attempted to turn on the lights. Seriously, I could not find anything resembling a light switch. After several minutes I located the switch for the bathroom. I then picked up the remote for the TV to listen to the news. Denied. The remote was nothing I’d ever used. I looked around for an instruction booklet, no luck. I gave up and went into the bathroom. The sink was a flat, shallow rectangle with an odd faucet; I turned the faucet every which way with no result: back and forth, up and down, no water. I brushed my teeth using my bottled water and then spit. The toothpaste sat in a puddle a foot from the drain. Who designs a shallow sink that does not allow rinsing? I used all of my bottled water rinsing the toothpaste from the bottom of the sink basin. Now I was out of water–and you know how much they charge for the bottled water in the room!

After dinner, my husband and I went back to the room, eager to go to bed. He had turned on the lights, so we could see. He promptly fell asleep as soon as head hit the pillow. I on the other hand love to read. The only light left on was my nightstand light, a long, glowing tube. After about an hour I put down my iPad and reached over to switch off the light. I could not locate a switch. I got out of bed and felt along the cord, finding nothing resembling a switch. I went to the wall looking for a wall switch, turned on and off all the lights except the one on my nightstand. I reached down into the fixture feeling for a light bulb to unscrew. No light bulb. This thing must run on solar power from another planet. After twenty minutes, I gave up and got back into bed with the light still burning bright. It took an hour or so but I finally fell asleep. Sometime in the the night I heard my husband get up and use the bathroom, he then turned off my light…

I was relieved when we arrived home from our night downtown. My husband took me by the hand saying, “I have an early Christmas present for you, and lead me into our bathroom. He spread his hand wide presenting our new toilet seat: the seat was plugged into the wall, it had buttons, green and red lights, even a remote. He proudly explained its functions: the seat is heated, it has a bidet feature, using the remote you can wash and dry your bum, it even has a turbo setting.

Great, I thought, now I can’t even use the toilet.

If you know of any 12–step technophobe programs currently available, please let me know.

Olives

This is a dangerous time of year. Even the simple things we do can become hazardous. The holidays produce a surge of stress, which leads to an overreaction of every detail no matter how insignificant. A case in point: A week ago I was making dinner. I had Thanksgiving on my mind; with thirty guests arriving in a few days, my mind buzzed with seating arrangements, flowers, wine choices, on top of that, all the food. Periodically the imminent tasks of Christmas would seize my attention, sending a rip current of anxiety through my body. I believe this is called mental multitasking, I just call it mental. Dinner that night was a family favorite dish; chicken breasts topped with Kalamata olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese. Earlier in the day I had been to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients for this coveted dish; I had a jar of Kalamata olives in my hand, but then remembered I had a jar in the cupboard at home, so I put it back.

So there I was perched on the step stool in my kitchen with my arm deep in the cupboard searching for the olives.  No olives to be found. I emptied the contents of the cupboard onto the counter top–still no olives. I then opened the refrigerator and searched through the shelves and side doors with no luck. They had to be there, frustration was rapidly building as I removed every last jar and bottle from the fucking fridge. The thought of having the damn olives in my hand at the store, infuriated me. The dish is tasteless without Kalamata olives! I slammed the door to the fridge and kicked the step stool toward the other side of the kitchen, and proceeded to dig through every shelf, barking expletives. Cans of vegetables smacked the counter top, bags of rice hurtled to the floor, boxes of pasta broke open.

And then, way back in the corner of the top shelf, I saw the olive jar. My hand dove for the prize, I shouted, “Fucking olives!”. At the same moment the step stool slid out from under me.  The olive jar went flying over my head as my back hit the counter top and I landed on my butt on the kitchen floor. When I came to, my husband was standing over me asking me if I was all right. “Where are the olives?” I mumbled. “All over the floor,” he said, “along with everything else.” I did a quick check of my back and limbs, nothing seemed broken, so I hobbled to my feet. We argued momentarily about dinner, but then, he slowly backed away with a look of horror on his face. “What?” I slurred. “Your eyes, they’re like glowing red.” I grinned, snapping my teeth, then proceeded to pick up each and everyone of the bewitching olives, rinsed them off, and finished making dinner.

Wishing olive of you a calm holiday season!

Flawed Characters

I’m often questioned about the disparity in the type of books I write. I don’t see a disparity in the books at all. Magel’s Daughter and Magel’s Ghost address familial dysfunction that spins out of control into the realm of evil. While Island Adrift and Ithaka address dysfunction that spins toward healing, or the good. The two forces of good and evil equally fascinate me since human beings encounter these energies daily. And it is the choices we make that determine our destinies.

The common thread in all of the books is of course, flawed characters. Aren’t we all flawed? And don’t we all at one time or another spin toward either end of the spectrum of good and evil. It is the psyche of the character and the choices they make that determines the direction of the book. And always it is fascinating to see what unfolds.

Karin in Magel’s Daughter is really not that different from Christine in Island Adrift. Karin hallucinates and then listens to the counsel of said hallucinations while Christine seeks her personal security in men–its all insanity isn’t it!

So its up to you, dear reader, to choose what is most interesting to read. Do you enjoy a book about redemption or a book about destruction? Or are you like me and flip back and forth?

 

DUI

We’ve all been there: out with friends for dinner, a few glasses of wine, and then the drive home. The drive home has become akin to riding the gauntlet. Will I get stopped? I had two glasses of wine, is it enough to put me over the edge on the breathalyzer? Calculating my blood alcohol level is enough to make me insane. Thus I’ve renamed the DUI: Driving Under Insanity.

Last summer I experienced such an evening. I was on my way home, about 8:30 p.m. traveling down Main Street in Excelsior, when a police car flashed his spotlight on me. I don’t know if my reaction to patrol cars is a left over from childhood or not. When I was about twelve years old, my friends and I thought it was great fun to raid gardens. Looking back on this sport is appalling to me now, but pulling out stalks of sweet corn and carrots put me into fits of laughter. Typically a patrol car would spot us and chase us down. The excitement and hilarity of being chased while clutching my hoard of vegetables to my chest was intoxicating. Unfortunately this behavior stayed with me.

Years later I’m driving my daughter home from Bible Study when I flew through a speed trap. At this time my daughter was in driver’s ed. and I was coaching her on the correct practice of driving skills. In my rear view mirror I spot an officer holding up his radar gun and motioning to the officer in the car to follow me. I quickly turned down a side street, parked in a driveway, shut off my car, and told my daughter to duck. The patrol car passed right on by. My daughter then asked me what I was doing and I said, well that was a cop chasing us and we just out ran him. “Mother!” she exclaimed. Later I thought about her repeating this story to her Bible study group and I was duly chagrined.

Fast forward to the future, this patrol car sitting on Excelsior Boulevard triggered my flight response.  I quickly turned off on a side street, hoping to lose him. (Never do this!) He did, however, catch me. I had a mantra repeating in my head: two glasses of wine over the course of three hours. I had dinner. I had two glasses of water. I’ll be fine. I’ll be over the limit. I’m screwed. I’m going to jail. The first thing the officer asked me why had I turned off onto this side street? He said that all he was trying to do was alert me that my lights were off. Digesting that information, I couldn’t speak. He told me to turn my lights on, which I did, but being completely out of sorts, I turned on the wipers instead, front and back. I couldn’t find the light switch. The officer then asked for my license and insurance. While he was checking out my record inside the patrol car, I obsessed over the headlines in the morning paper: Mother of four arrested for DUI. He came back to the car and asked me to step outside, at which time I melted down and started to whimper about how this was all his fault for getting me so completely flustered. He opened the door and waited patiently for me to exit the car. On shaking legs (high heels, no less) I stood before him. He put a pen light up to my eyes and asked me to follow the light. He asked me how much I’d had to drink. “Two glasses of wine.” (the truth). He asked me why then did I turn off onto the side street. “I realized I’d left my sunglasses at the restaurant.” (big fat lie).

Then he said. Get your sunglasses and go straight home.  He followed me back to the restaurant and waited until I so called retrieved the sunglasses. Needless to say I had a big fat glass of wine when I got home!

Reviews

The end of this month I will be releasing my two books, Magel’s Daughter and Magel’s Ghost. I am already gearing up for the reviews. To quote Jeff Goldblum in The Lost World, “Oh yeah, Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

Having been down this road before, I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned. First of all, the good reviews are so welcome. There’s nothing like approval. Then there are the bad reviews: here is where I start running and screaming. I find it interesting that in the past, when I’ve read my reviews on Goodreads, they post some self help which goes something like this: don’t take this personally, every author experiences a bad review. And please do not contact the reviewer to find out why they wrote what they did. Clearly, Goodreads understands and tries to talk the author down from the ledge. The advice is sound and helpful, but so is a large glass of wine with chocolate cake.

That said, when the dust settles, the bad reviews are the ones I learn from, and, like going to the dentist and having my teeth drilled or a colonoscopy, they are necessary. So I’m girding myself for the inevitable: a case of Pinot Noir, and Duncan Hines cake mix in hand.

The Wife Swap

There’s an old saying, “A man’s car is an extension of his…” You know how it goes. But this is all wrong, a man’s relationship with his car is more than that, much more. A car, especially a new one, becomes the love of his life. It’s as if he swapped his wife for a car. Let me tell you a little story:

My husband was in the market for a new SUV. For over a month he combed through the reviews of every SUV available, compared statistics, referred to the blue book re-sale, checked price differences on 2014 vs 2015. On the way home from work, while his dinner grew cold, he’d drive-by-shop the car lots. At night in bed he’d read through the ever growing stack of brochures on his nightstand. Our conversations were all about the color of the exterior/interior, leather quality, style differences, gas mileage, warranty, the endless list of accouterments. Somebody save me, I silently pleaded. Finally he narrowed down the list to four possibilities.

He managed to lure me into car shopping by promising dinner out, and being the supportive (and lazy) wife that I am I happily agreed. A funny thing happened to my sweet, well-mannered husband when we were approached by the salesmen–he’d turn from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. A barrage of disparaging comments about the SUV under consideration would fly from his mouth, and they went something like this: 

The wheels look small and cheap. Replace them with the wheels I saw on the other model. There’s a scratch on the door. (I couldn’t see it) What’s with the cargo space it looks smaller? Inside the truck he wiggled his butt on the seat, motioned for me to get into the passenger seat and coerced me to wiggle. Are the seats leather? It looks like vinyl. Is that real wood on the dash? It looks like plastic. (wrapped his knuckles on said dash)There’s a funny smell in here. New car, I offered. No its a strong chemical smell. I could only smell new car.

Toward the end of our fun-filled evening we were at the fourth car lot. After my husband had thoroughly trash-talked the truck, he wanted to test drive it. When the salesman got into the backseat, my little sweetie told him to get out. The salesman awkwardly apologized and got out. I shrank into the seat. On the drive he turned every knob (and there are several) blasting the air conditioning, testing the radio, he punched the gas, slammed the brakes, turned sharp corners, and then asked me what I thought of the ride. What was I suppose to say? I felt like I’d been strapped into a roller coaster. Finally we return and I’m thinking he hates it and we’ll never make our dinner reservation. The salesman is waiting for us. “Would you like to come inside and I’ll write it up?” My husband says, “Nope. You know what I want. Give me your best price and email it to me tomorrow.” He turned on his heel and walked away. I stood there awkwardly, held out my hand and felt like apologizing for my husband’s behavior.

When my husband drove the new truck home the following week, I didn’t know if he’d be sleeping in the bedroom or the garage.

The Manic Cleanse

Every August for the past five years, I am reminded of the burglary of our cabin. We had built the cabin the previous year, and it had soon become our happy place. The break-in happened in the wee hours of the morning on a Wednesday, and was discovered by our tech who was there to work on the internet. We had a call from the County Sheriff at about 11 a.m. My husband was leaving on a business trip, so I decided to go up north and assess the damage.

The sheriff met me at the cabin, clearly shaken. He had the looks and mannerisms of Barney Fife from the The Andy Griffith Show. His voice quavered as he explained the burglar had cut the line to the alarm, the internet, and the phone line. (At that time we were unable to get cell phone service.) The thief had thrown a rock through the glass door in the porch that lead to the kitchen. Once airborne the rock bounced across our new wood floor. Barney the Sheriff, put a hand on my shoulder, assuming I was trembling with tears; it was rage not tears. Tiny shards of broken glass were embedded in our beautiful, new wood flooring, the rock had gouged the kitchen cabinetry as well. Our television was ripped from its brackets. The stereo wiring hung sadly from the wall. The computer was gone. As I walked around the cabin I began to notice that my favorite accent pieces were also missing. What would a guy want with my Qtip holder, my jewelry bowl, my new bedside clock, and several knickknacks? By the time I finished my tour of the destruction, I was boiling mad.

The Sheriff had boarded up the glass door and said he’d keep an eye on the place, assuming I was about to leave. When I told him I was staying the night to clean up the broken glass and the purple finger-print ink that he had so generously applied to every surface, he was aghast. I assured him I’d be fine, I had the dogs with me. He glanced doubtfully at Ole, my Golden Retriever and Lucy, my Yorkie; I could read his mind: stuffed animals. “And really, what was left to steal if the motherfucker wanted to return?” I said,”In fact, I’d really like to meet the motherfucker, and strangle his motherfucking neck. How dare he break in here and steal my fucking shit! Motherfucker!” Reluctantly, the Sheriff left. I think my lavish use of the word motherfucker put him off, either that or it reassured him I wasn’t afraid. 

I set to work on my hands and knees with a hand brush and broom; vigorously thrusting the weapons of mass perfection (my pet term for cleaning tools) under the stove, fridge, and sink. Every surface was covered with broken glass and every item on those surfaces needed to be thoroughly washed. Cleaning up all the the glass shards was like a bad joke: the more I collected, the more I found. Tiny shards of glass wedged into my knees and the soles of my feet. I didn’t care. I filled a bucket with water and Murphy’s Oil Soap and attacked the woodwork with a sponge. Cleaning can be cathartic, especially when you’re angry. Scrubbing and mopping never felt so good!

With sweat pouring from the roots of my hair and my T-shirt soaked through, I finally got to my feet and felt somewhat relieved. Upstairs I showered and then took a tweezers to the embedded glass in my knees and feet. By now it was getting dark. I walked outside with my dogs for their nightly potty break, making my way around the cabin. Two plastic chairs from our garage were set out front overlooking the lake. This was odd since we never use those chairs anymore. As I approached the chairs I noticed several empty beer cans (not our brand) strewn about in the grass. Shit! Two motherfuckers! There were two thieves who had a party after they stole our stuff. Motherfuckers! I was angry all over again. Then I saw the shotgun shells. For the first time I was worried…

I’ve often thought that in a previous life I must have been a big burly man since my reaction to conflict is always to fight back. Here I am, a hundred and twenty-five pounds of thunder, some threat to a motherfucker with a shotgun. I called the dogs and went back into the cabin to go to bed. Needless to say I couldn’t sleep, the shotgun shells played with my mind. What if the motherfucker came back? I still had plenty of knickknacks he hadn’t taken. Within minutes, Ole was sprawled out on the floor snoring. Lucy was curled up next to me on the bed. Every sound the cabin made was amplified; water running in the pipes was a truck coming down our road, the wind chattering the windows became someone breaking in. Why had I stayed? What a fool!

Then I sat up. The crunch of tires on gravel was unmistakable. Lucy growled, Ole snored uninterrupted. The flash of headlights had me on my feet, running down the stairs, with Lucy on my heels. Downstairs I groped along the wall for the weapons of mass perfection: with broom in hand I waited by the door, out of sight. He got out of his truck. The motherfucker was coming back! I wiped my feet on the rug since, once again, I had stepped on shards of glass. Lucy growled and then barked savagely as I kicked open the door (channeling a Bruce Willis move.) She had her jaws snapped onto his pants leg while I thrust the broom handle into his midsection. Oh, we were a force to be reckoned with. The motherfucker said, “Whoa, what you got there?” I poked his gut with my weapon. “My weapon. You better get back in your truck.” Meanwhile Ole joined our surprise party and was burrowing his nose in the guy’s crotch, Lucy’s jaws were still firmly planted on his pants leg. “Mrs. Baker,” he said. “I’m Deputy Carlson, I just come by to see if you were alright.” I poked him again. “Sure you did. Forget a knickknack or two?” He faked confusion, and said, “Look I have a badge and a uniform.” I shook my head. “So do I. Unless you took it.” Then he laughed. “Have you been drinking?” I gripped the handle of the broom. “You’re the one who’s been drinking! I found all your empty beer cans, loser.” He held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, I’ll leave. Just checking on you.” With that he got back into his car and drove off. I patted my two sidekicks and went inside feeling victorious.

EPILOGUE: The two burglars, a husband and wife, were caught robbing a Spur Station with a sawed off shotgun. The wife was our cleaning lady. I never did get my knickknacks back.

Fillies Race for Hope

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the Fillies Race for Hope at Canterbury Downs, a benefit given for Hope Chest for Breast Cancer. I have never been to a horse race, so it was with great anticipation that my husband and I arrived at the track. I had expected excitement, good food, a glass of wine, but what was unexpected was the event itself. The lead horses and their jockeys were all decked out in pink headdresses and costumes. The stands filled with women in flamboyant pink hats and outfits–what an incredible representation of support.

What struck me the most, however, were the stories. Cancer is not only terrifying, it is costly. Many women lose their jobs since chemotherapy can take from six months to a year to complete. Unable to work they find themselves unemployed and broke, on top of being extremely ill. Some of these women even lost their homes. I had the honor of meeting Barbara Hensley who is the founder of Hope Chest for Breast Cancer. After her two sisters died from cancer, she quit her job and started this organization. They provide help for whatever need arises with this disease, from paying the heating bills to paying the mortgage, bridging the gap for thousands of women and allowing them some peace of mind.

I felt humbled. The strength of these survivors is amazing. The generosity and compassion of those involved in Hope Chest for Breast Cancer is also amazing. My thanks and gratitude goes out to all of them.

Poop in the Shoe

I have recently been picked up by a new publisher, Calumet Editions. It’s been an exciting few weeks preparing my first two books, Magel’s Daughter and Magel’s Ghost, for re-release in September. But also, hectic. I work from the study in my home and typically I’m at my desk writing most of the day. And so are my dogs, Lucy and Ole. Ever loyal and accustomed to my schedule, they curl up and nap while I write. After about an hour I usually become stuck on a phrase or concept. This is a good time to change the laundry or empty the dishwasher; nothing like housework to jog the mind. When I return to the study, the dogs wait expectantly for their treat which I’ve deliberately slid into my pockets. This back and forth continues throughout the day.

My schedule changed when I began editing the Magel manuscripts. I did not leave my desk for long stretches of time since editing requires intense focus. The dogs were not happy about this no treats, no attention schedule. Four hours went by before I remembered an errand I had to run that day. Feeling guilty, I called the dogs to the back entry to come with me. Tongues and tails wagging, they happily jumped into the car. I went back inside to the closet and slipped my bare feet into my Sperry Topsiders. There was something in the right toe, something squishy. I removed my foot, toes oozing poop. I hobbled into the laundry room to wash my reeking foot. I then dug out the poop from my shoe with a paper towel and washed it as well. Back in the car, my feet in flip flops and still reeking of poop, I glared at Lucy. Her tiny black nose twitched, sniffing my foot. She looked up at me and hung her head– guilty as charged.

 

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Personalities

Last week I went in for a minor surgical procedure. I’ll spare you the details. As I was being discharged I received a prescription for Oxycodone, which my husband dutifully filled. I was instructed to take the pain medication and lie low for the next several days.

Arriving home, I obediently took a pill and nestled carefully into bed. An hour or so later I awoke with the most surprising sensation; no pain. And not just the surgical site, that was completely numb, but also my year-long bout with chronic back pain–gone. My achy feet from too many hours on the EFX–no pain, my sore hands and wrists from too much time on the computer–no pain. I felt like I was twenty. Totally pain free–a miracle! I hopped out of bed marveling at my body’s ability to heal.

The first thing I did was call my mother. We had a long sympathetic conversation about the bad press prescription drugs receive. Her drug of choice is Vicodan and has been her daily relief for many years. What had my siblings and I been thinking wanting to get her into re-hab? Drugs are good!

I hung up the phone. Then feeling a surge of creativity rising from the depths of my expanded brain, I went into my study to write. I’m in the midst of a first draft, and honestly quite stuck at the moment. Within an hour I had a new chapter written, and a whole new direction for the novel full of unexpected twists and delicious turns. Oh, I was blessed with provocative insight, and the text was masterful, like a newly polished gem.

All this time my husband was cleaning the garage. The house was so empty. Where were the children? Oh, yes, the eldest is married, and my son? Where was he? I knew the middle daughter lived in the woods by a river, but where was the youngest? What was her name? Whatever, it started with a K.

However, my little dog Lucy, stayed by my side, albeit, a wary distance. I spied her curled up in the laundry basket napping. I thought I should put my feet up and rest. The living room floor looked inviting with the sun streaming through the windows. Lying on my back with my attention focused on the rainbow of colors produced by the sunlight, I watched a moth capriciously balanced on the arm of a chair, flexing its wings. We studied each other for some time and I began to sense communication. It was all so very Kafka-esque, I had to blog about this fascinating discovery. It was brilliant!

When I finished the blog, I thought I’d do laundry to celebrate. The energy I had was invigorating. And then, finally exhausted, I found myself back in my nest, satisfied and content.

I awoke to my husband’s face inches from mine, he held the bottle of Oxycodone in his hand. “How many of these did you take?”

“I don’t remember,” I mumbled. Pain coursed through my body finding all the old weak spots.”I should take one now.”

“I don’t think so,” he said.”There were twelve and now there’s nine.” He shook his head. “I found the dog in the washing machine.”

I bolted upright. “Did I start the machine?”

“Thankfully, no. I could hear her bark from the garage.”

Lucy jumped up on the bed, sniffing cautiously and keeping her distance. I held out my hand to pet her, apologizing, and then a vague memory of writing returned to me and I hobbled into my study. Thank God I hadn’t posted the blog–what drivel! And the new chapter was quickly deleted. So much for drug-induced inspiration.

Lucy followed me to the study, but as I moved to pick her up, she took off like a shot for the safety of her kennel.