Thursday, July 10, 2014

Morning Visitor

Give me the treat already!
The last 24 hours have been pretty exciting here at the Riley homestead. First, Daisy got her first-ever haircut! Isn’t she cute? It only took us twelve years to make her appointment…and the groomer walked away with all ten fingers and completely unbroken skin!

It looks like the carpet is 6 inches tall and has swallowed her legs.

Back fat roll!!! We never knew it existed...


Maybe this is the place ...
 This morning I was doing my usual plant-watering routine when I saw a very elderly man park in front of my house. He was driving a beige four-door sedan. (What, you were expecting a bright orange Charger?) My front door was wide open to let some fresh air & sunshine in, and I peeked out to see what was happening. He shuffled up to my front steps and appeared to be admiring my flowers up-close…I went out the back door to continue watering and looked up just in time to catch him opening my screen door to walk right in my kitchen.

I hustled right back in. “Can I help you?” Crap. This was the second time an elderly person had gotten lost and tried walking into my kitchen.  And what if he’d gotten in? He would have made himself comfortable on the couch, turned on the Xbox, and the next thing you know we have a new roommate leaving Cheeto stains on the furniture and hanging the toilet paper roll upside-down.

The scene of the B & E, minus the B.
The poor guy looked confused; he had to be ninety, maybe 264. He had an impressive hearing aid situation in place, with external ports and docks and gizmos and antennae. “Do you know Isabelle Somethingorother? I’m looking for 808 Eleventh.”

Well, he was in the neighborhood, so to speak. But I shook my head. “Let’s go out on the porch so I can take a look at some of the street numbers a few houses down.”

“The back porch?”

“No,” I clarified loudly, “right here.” I peered down the street and gave a rough estimate of where I thought his friend lived, while he took a seat on the bench.

“Where’d you get all these flowers?”

"Stein's, Stuart's, Hrnak's, all over, I guess."

"Ever go to Allenville? Buy some sweet corn?" Turned out his son still runs the farm, selling sweet corn and strawberries at local stands and the city farmers’ market. I promised I’d pick some up when it was ready. We talked about the weather, and how much Oshkosh had changed in the last 80 years (I was using my imagination here), and about how he lived at Bella Vista senior retirement community. He apologized for his confusion.

“Things are so different today. I just get mixed up.”

“It happens,” I said, thinking that one day it would probably happen to me, too. 

“I forgot to bring the directions, so I’ll have to go back and get them, I guess.”

The idea of him driving through the busy city roundabouts to get back to the "home" gave me heartburn, but he'd made it this far, right? I helped him back down the stairs and told him to DRIVE SAFELY (with emphasis). Later I saw him still tooling around, doing a wide U-turn at my intersection and holding up traffic while he looked for house numbers.

Sometimes you don't even have to leave the house to find the story. Sometimes it comes right to you.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Peeking from the Grant Weeds

After one of the most unpredictable grant seasons ever, I am busier than ever at work--hence the silence on this trusty old blog. I am making serious hay while the sun shines. I do miss the novel I started last summer, but I've been adding to the tidbit folder. Ideas are percolating. Other developments:
  • We're considering remodeling our kitchen and downstairs bathroom this summer, after which we will have fully renovated our entire house. A human being can only take so much toilet so close to the kitchen for so long. Developing story, stay tuned ...
  • I've started my seedlings! Far too early, it seems. Every so often you can hear a soft, wistful sigh coming from beneath the grow lights ... it can only be the kale, looking longingly out the window.

  • We have something new to yell at in the house! It has one eye and watches us whenever we enter the living room. "XBox, turn! On!" "Xbox, go home!" "Xbox, choose this person! Off. TURN OFF!" We've named it Hal (because 2001 and utter lack of imagination), and it's only a matter of time before it develops self-awareness and kills us in our sleep.
  • I met with my Dad's freshman comp students two weeks ago after they read Driving Sideways as part of their required coursework (Teehee! Nepotism!) I also got a sneak peek at their response papers after my visit. Here are three of my favorite excerpts:
"After finishing up Driving Sideways, I thought it was an overall good book. It is a book more on the ladies side, but once you start reading there's no turning back (and it's required)."

"When Jess walked in the classroom, she was nothing as I pictured her to be. She was so pretty, nice and open about everything.* I thought she was going to be a little stuck up because she was an author but I was completely wrong" ... "I already told my mom she needs to read this book over the summer."

"Jokes like this are exactly my type of humor. The other day I was gibing a man for his hair style. I looked at my friends and said, 'Look, it's ChangesoneBowie.' I swear he looked exactly like David Bowie, but no one understood the reference. Leigh and I would have shared a laugh at that one."

"I just never knew of anyone that was an author ... and Jess seemed almost too human, too regular to be writing a book."

"Instead of selling this novel back to the school at the end of the semester, I plan on keeping it to offer to others for a fantastic read."**

~~~~~
So that's the news from Yawn City. Back to the Grant Cave for me. Got to chase the million-dollar donuts...see you in June, kids!

*I love that student!!!

**I have signed the same book multiple times, because some students sell their inscribed books back at the end of the semester. Yeah.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Gifts for Writers. (Hint: They're Not Books This Year)

Posting with the Girlfriends today, on gifts for writers and cutting-edge technologies. (Note: this no longer includes the Neo Alphasmart. Sounds like a fun learning toy for intelligent kids, right?) Stop by and tell us what you write on, what you want for Christmas, what you're giving the writers on your list: Skin-thickening cream, a unique little personal crisis (for inspiration), Famous for a Day treatment (it's like a spa day but far more entertaining).

"My name ... is Neo."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Cat in a Cold Stone Cistern

(Which is really the opposite of a Hot Tin Roof.)

My parents live in an old farmhouse they bought at a real estate auction in the early eighties for a song. What song, I don't know--maybe it was that old favorite, "You Will Never Stop Remodeling This House (and one day your son's friends will Saran Wrap a dead possum to the porch)."

Anyway, it's a farmstead, which means it came with a garage, outbuildings, and an actual barn with hay and Official Farm StinkTM in the actual barn. At the time, a local farmer still housed his cows there and pastured them in adjacent fields; the fence that ran the eastern length of our front lawn was electrified. An electric fence, oh what fun! I still have an eye twitch from that game.

Because it's a farm, there are lots of cats roaming around. This is just how it is. They're not pampered indoor cats with immunizations, sterilizations, toys, and fully functional limbs. Nope. It's a rough life for a farm cat--at least it used to be. I can't tell you how many abandoned litters I tried to hand-raise when I was a kid, only to have most of them ultimately crawl behind major appliances to die, which is a memorable day in any eleven-year-old's life.

"This kitty smells funny!"
Anyway, there is now a fairly stable herd of cats at my parents' homestead. (I don't know what you call a large group of cats--a flock? Gang? Audience?) And most of them get along just fine. My mother nurses the sick ones as best she can, taking them to the local vet as needed. The latest to need such treatment was an adorable kitten named Molly, who was originally named "Malcolm McDowell," after the actor in A Clockwork Orange. I'll let you digest that for a moment.

After Molly's visit to the vet, she was allowed to recuperate in the basement. Recently, my mother went down to feed Molly, but the kitten was nowhere to be found; beyond some disembodied meowing, she could have vanished into thin air. Turned out Molly had gone exploring and gotten trapped in the old cistern adjacent to the basement. (What's a cistern? A kind of well where old timey folks stored rain water. A good place to bury the bodies in modern times.) My mother cobbled together a kind of stick/fishing line device to try and rescue the kitten, but the entire contraption fell into the cistern.

(Hang on ... I'm having a Baby Jessica flashback ...)

"I was so heartbroken," my mother continued. "I was ready to crawl into the hole to rescue her, but I wouldn't fit. You could hear the kitty just meowing and meowing, and it was so sad. Dad said it would probably take four days to die of thirst down there. I was too depressed to even listen to Garden Talk on Saturday morning."

Well, there's no way my mother was going to endure four days of progressively sadder / softer meowing and another week without Garden Talk, so my parents called A Guy (we all know A Guy, right?) who helped secure their barn's foundation and is good at "lifting rocks and things." The plan was to strategically remove a few of the rocks cemented into the wall between the old cistern and the basement so my mother could crawl in and retrieve the lost kitty, but it turned out that would put the entire house's foundation at risk.

Plan B: cut a hole in the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen, which covers the cistern. So The Guy strategically cut into the tile floor, and there was the kitty! My mother lowered an old sheet into the hole, hoping the kitten would claw its way up, but instead it just rubbed its head on the end of the sheet. So, The Guy made a tiny ladder from some wood scraps, and the kitten eventually clambered up.

"The bad news is, there's a hole in the kitchen floor," my mother added. "The good news is, Dad's going to make the hole bigger--"

(I interrupted here with an outburst of laughter.)

"--and turn the old cistern into a root cellar, with a trap door in the floor to get in."

Jesus, this is getting long. I don't really have a good way to end this story, other than to say: a) the cat made it--yaay!; and b) let's hope a small child doesn't fall down the hole before the trap door is installed.

THE END.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Is Your Husband Trying to Tell You Something?



From time to time, J comes home from work with a box of “product.” It’s a perk of the job. These freebies have included cases of paper towels, toilet paper, dinner napkins, full-sized boxed tissues, travel-sized tissues, disposable hand towels, and pre-moistened “cleansing wipes” when you have a sticky poo. 

It’s a little like Christmas any time he comes home with a giant bag o’goodies. What will it be today? What’s in the box? Will it be anti-viral tissues in Hanukah-themed boxes? Paper towels that smell like cinnamon and pork? Now, I don’t mean to humble-brag, but last night J brought home 24 bottles of feminine wash.
 #feelingblessed! #Parabenfree!

He introduced the day’s haul by eloquently saying, “I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but it’s wash for your coochie. I guess you squirt it in your hand and just kind of wipe it on?”

#soromantic! #justkindof!

Ladies, has your husband ever come home from work with 24 bottles of feminine wash? I know I let personal hygiene slide from time to time when I work from home, but this is more than a hint.  This is like signing your scurvy-riddled cousin up for the citrus fruit of the month club. This is like mailing your ex-boyfriend a case of extra-small condoms and a tube of Abreva. Or like offering a coworker with severe halitosis a stick of gum, bottle of Scope, package of floss, sample-sized toothpaste, gift certificate for a SonicCare toothbrush, and full-color, framed caricature of him or her walking through a car wash with his or her mouth wide open.

I started to make a list of things a person might do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, but this is all I could come up with:

1) Offend every woman on my Christmas gift list.
2) Start a hilarious new chain letter.

I guess I’ll have to research the ingredients. Can I wash dishes with this stuff? Do laundry? Give my dog a bath with it? (She’s already endured many indignities as a pet in the Riley household, what’s one more?)   

While I’m figuring out what to do with 24 bottles of cooch cleanser, I have a grant proposal to finish. Also, All the Lonely People will be re-launched NEXT WEEK with a new cover, special sale, and a giveaway. 

And if you would like to give an autographed paperback copy of any of my three novels to a reader on your holiday gift list, please email me. Ten bucks for each signed book, including postage (Sorry, U.S. addresses only.) I'll get the signed copies to you ASAP!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Pearls of Wit and Wisdom from Our Nation's Future

The other day I was digging through some old files and I stumbled across some old anonymous journal excerpts from my Dad's college students. They're freshmen, and one of their assignments is to maintain a journal about their first year in college. Some of the things they write are hilarious, insightful, sometimes heartbreaking, cringe-inducing, and utterly (and perhaps unfortunately) relatable. I picked a few gems to share below. Enjoy!

 ~~~~~

"I went tanning today and burned the shit out of my skin. Gotta love it. Go skin cancer!"

"I think my roommate hates me. Almost everyone hates me. At least my boyfriend kind of likes me at times."

"God, I feel so fat. Damn the fucking freshman 15. What is that shit all about? I still need to lose about 10 pounds. I want to be either a 7 or a 9. I haven't been that since the 7th grade."

"The Brewers are in the playoffs. Yay! I had a good/terrible weekend. I dumped Dustin early Sat. morning. I have never cried so hard in my life."

"To his credit, he was completely hammered."

"Maybe it's me, but I can't stand it sometimes."

"To make a long story short, we started kissing, kissing turned to touching, and touching turned to penetration. I regret that night, but regrets are just reminders of our mistakes. I don't think anything like that will ever happen again. I was a thief. She was a virgin."

"I really want to be either an author, interior designer, coach, wedding planner, or a photographer, it's hard to tell."

"I'm starting to realize that a lot of college girls are quite slutty. Not that I'm complaining, but yes, even I get sick of the one night stands. I really hope I can find just one decent girl on campus."

"Can someone tell me why I attract the ugly girls. I was at this party this weekend and I was talking to this group of girls, most of them very good looking, when a girl comes up and starts grabbing my nuts. I don't know her at all. I was scared and she wasn't good looking at all."

"I sit there, literally sit there with my thumb up my ass."

"Today is Nate and I's one year and nine month anniversary."

"I called my teacher for alcohol class. Wow, does he seem like an asshole! What do you expect, though, he's there to punish us for what we've done and 'educate' us about our 'problem.' How about this: I don't have a 'problem.' I drink for fun!"

"I have a 5-7 page research paper coming up. I'm doing it on Charles Manson and his awesomely fucked-up life. Hope it goes well."

"I had breakfast for the second time since I've been here. Then I had gay as fuck Biology."

"I have no idea who I am even. Oh yeah, I got my belly pierced today!"

"Studying seems to pay off."

"Mom picked me up and on the way to Clarks she told me she might have lung cancer...She's not trying hard enough to quit smoking....Anyway Halloween was good. I was a cereal killer."

"So I met this girl the other day. She's alright, nothing really spectacular, kind of just someone to fuck around with until something better comes along."

"I was just thinking today about one way that I changed since I've been in college. I don't hate gay people anymore. Most women like gay guys so they can hook you up fairly easily."

"As of right now I have a boyfriend. I HATE that word & I hate the fact that I do have one. It seems once I get what I want, I want something else. I just like the chase, I think. I just don't know what to do about all of this."

"College would be much better if an education wasn't involved."

"This is going to be my first weekend not drinking since I've been here, and I'm more excited for the weekend than I've ever been."

"Journal assignment: What am I passionate about? I am passionate about sex. I have had sex with 33 girls now and I just love it."

"I feel like I have to be the mom in this situation. My own mother is being childish and ridiculous. She is only thinking about herself. Why would she find someone else to bring into this fucked up family? Part of me wants to warn the guy and run a million miles the opposite way of my mom. I don't even know this guy and I'm trying to protect him."

"Today I just felt like getting in a fight with my boyfriend Justin, so I did."

"My roommate found her phone. THANK GOD!!!!!"

"It's amazing how much we don't know."

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Gnomes, Fairies, and General Mayhem

We had such a fabulous response to Samantha Stroh Bailey's giveaway! Congrats to Ananda. When I say "Check's in the mail!" it means "Ebook's in your inbox!" Let's make that a thing, k? This will be a regular feature on the blog, so stay tuned for more cringetastic author teen memories and giveaways in the future.

In other news, OnMilwaukee gave me one of my favorite interviews ever, and you can read it here. There are still ten days to win one of FIVE signed copies of Mandatory Release: just "like" my Facebook author page here. I don't post that often, usually to highlight a friend's book release, link to an interesting article now and then, the odd excerpt or recipe, that sort of thing. Nothing too spammy.  Zero photos of politician peen, guaranteed. Random drawing from all the "likers" on August 11.

Also, if there are two things I've learned in life, it's that my nose will run any time I jog on a treadmill, and also that my dad will wear a T-shirt completely at odds with his activity du jour. Case in point, last weekend he wore a tee featuring a screenprinted picture of Charles Bukowski above the quote, "It's not that I hate people. I just feel better when they're not around." to the crowded Fairy and Gnome Festival at Bookworm Children's Garden in Sheboygan.

Truly, it was a festive day, as evidenced by this photo of my niece and nephew.

The happiest children on earth.
Auntie Jess nearly derailed the day when, like a total idiot, she removed the straw from a juice box before her niece could do it herself. Luckily, ingenious Grandma stuck the straw back on the box with some chewed gum, restoring darling niece's desired DIY opportunity for straw/juice box detachment, and calm again pervaded the universe.

Happy ten-year anniversary to my patient, supportive, best-sport-ever husband; I still can't believe you've put up with me for this long.
Showing off my non-manicure and weirdly highlighting the Nike swoosh.

 I *am* working on a new book, but at my current rate, it won't be out until 2023. Not to mention that reading other books outside is much more fun than writing them in my dumb house. Here Daisy joins me, looking in my direction only because there's a squirrel on the fence behind me. She typically has her back to me, which is Terrier for "I Show You My B-Hole Because You Can't Tell Me What to Do...also, I'm still ashamed from when you clipped dingleberries from my hinder."
It's hard to look you in the eye...

And here's some good news: one of our goldfish has survived in the pond for more than a month! Let's go celebrate by getting ice cream and later listening to me complain about how the older I get, the more lactose intolerant I become. Ciao!