Friday, April 29, 2022

I Once Was Lost ...

Last weekend my college roommates and I rented a house in Door County—I hadn’t seen two of them in over two years, and it was such a lovely reunion. I haven’t laughed that hard in months…maybe years. I love these amazing women, and I’m so grateful we met (nearly 30 years ago!) 

We're down one due to Covid--boo!

We parted on Sunday, and the weather was mild enough that I decided to take a hike at Peninsula State Park. Get some exercise, get my nature fix; I had a state park sticker on the car and it was on my way, so why not? The first leg of the journey was uneventful—sunny skies, smooth trails, no other hikers whatsoever. Just me, a few chatty woodpeckers, and the crisp cedar forest.  Bliss. 

The view from the top of the tower. ("I'm flying! Jack!")


Things are getting interesting.

After 30 minutes I hit a fork in the trail and rather than continue on the “easy” leg back to the parking lot, I decided to take a longer route down to the shoreline, Robert Frosting it all the way.

First mistake.

The trail narrowed and nearly disappeared. And now I'm hurdling and ducking fallen trees--whee! The flat trail dropped into a near-vertical descent, and I picked my way down a damp and rocky staircase, dodging gnarly-ass roots, slipping on wet rocks, and grabbing nearby tree trunks and branches to avoid tumbling ass over teakettle down the cliff.

I got a rock.

Yeah yeah, cool tree but where TF am I?

Down by the water, the trail became an ankle-twisting sequence of slick, jagged rocks and roots and black mud interspersed with rushing streams and vernal pools. I was now on a Ninja Warrior obstacle course I did not sign up for.  I began to encounter “Dial # for Emergency” signs at regular intervals. Clearly, this trail had a history of snappy ankle comebacks.

Hello! Do you like wet socks?

Awesome! Trolls and shit.

I checked Google Maps on my phone—I was somewhere pale green. I dropped a pin to help a future search team find my decomposing body. I had visions of Burt Reynolds’ sharp, pink protruding femur and listened for the distant strains of banjo-pickin'. I’d been so focused on leapfrogging from rock to rock to forge more than 67 brackish puddles that I’d missed my turn. Sure, the scenery was gorgeous and I was accompanied by early spring butterflies and chickadees and it all smelled much nicer than Highway 41, but I wanted OUT NOW GODDAMMIT. The trail was gone, baby gone. I was completely off-roading it. The wind had gone from gentle breeze to ominous gale and the sun had been devoured by a black-hearted, slobbering forest beast.

Definitely a gaping maw.

After the fourth emergency signpost I thought about turning around to retrace my steps; but I’d had to actually crabwalk over some big rocks back there, and my knees sent up a flare: hey numbskull, we’re middle-aged, remember? Anyway, the path had to end somewhere. Right? Maybe Iowa? Just then I saw some trail markers—and other hikers! I nearly sobbed with relief and hugged them but I was still too busy trying to avoid a compound shin fracture. Back in my car (up at the top of the cliff), my hips informed me that they would be filing a formal complaint. My Fitbit registered 60 flights of stairs and 101 minutes of panicked hiking.

Ha, wet toes are fun!

So, to summarize: stay out of the woods alone and fuck Robert Frost; take the road that's positively littered with candy wrappers.

Friday, December 12, 2014

We are DONE Remodeling!!

Some of you who know me may recall that we've been remodeling our house since before any of us were born. We've poured a driveway, torn down a shed, built a garage, sided, roofed, re-windowed, gutted the second floor, gutted the living room, and installed a pleasant little patio on which I have a semblance of privacy in which to drink my morning coffee.

Well, guess what? We FINALLY tackled the last two rooms: the kitchen and first floor bathroom / laundry. This was a massive project, and we hired a real-life design & reno company to manage it all. (Mosquito Creek in Appleton--they seriously rock, y'all.) It all cost more than J paid for the entire house back in 1997, so I've been questioning my decision-making skills and stress-eating way too many baked goods lately. (Hint: carbs only create more anxiety once you're digesting them.) BUT--I no longer have to look at this (apologies in advance for the horrid lighting):

Not overtly gross, but my only counter, which was like three inches long, ran into the window.
More on that later...
Hey, I have an idea! Let's put the fridge in this weird corner, practically in the living room, far away from the sink and stove.
Work triangle, Schmirk Triangle!
Love what you've done with the flooring, renters from 1920 - 1993!
A squishy floor around your toilet is no cause for alarm whatsoever.
Whee! Everything's gone. Including my sanity. Also, see that window? We have to DRYWALL OVER IT, because the city passed an ordinance last spring prohibiting removal of any windows or doors without a variance. So from the street? You'll see a dark window. From my living room? You'll see cabinets. Can't wait to explain this when we try to sell one day!
More scary stuff. This is where the toilet & tub used to be. We considered leaving it like this and just turning the house into a Haunted Dungeon ... could be a real moneymaker each Halloween.
Daisy is confused. And collecting asbestos dust, probably. See that hulking shape behind the plastic? That's our fridge. In the living room. It's like my old dorm room again in there, minus the Yo-J mixers and garbage music. What fun!
So I skipped over a bunch of stuff--including pictures of us weeping, necks permanently twisted at weird angles while we paint all of the walls, ceiling, and trim--to the finish line. Ta-da! 
It's a real, live kitchen! Almost like one from the Hipster Farmhouse home decorating porn I subscribe to.
Your move, Pinterest.
There is an extra hole in the counter near the faucet, but that will soon be filled with a cute lil' soap dispenser. Which is a way better idea than a plug of spackle, don't you think?
Also, farmhouse sink. Perfect for washing large heads of lettuce, cauliflower, fat babies, and Fiats.
Pull up a stool and watch me load the first dishwasher I've ever owned! Also, here's a bowl of fruit. Feel free to pet the counter. It's so shiny. Also, that is a picture of the Green Giant holding a birthday cake. (Ho ho ho!) In case you thought you were losing your mind.
J spent 7 hours refinishing this tub because he's a Super Hero. An extremely anal Super Hero named Never-Half-Asses-It-Like-His-Wife-Does Man. The tub was installed in the house in 1920 and badly neglected since.  He painted the clawfeet with a tiny brush, in two colors. Fancy!
Don't you want to take a bath in it? I do! I also kind of want to lick the chrome. Or play telephone with the handheld shower: "Hello? What's that? Your bathroom no longer makes you want to puke? Hooray!"
We went into Lowe's to buy paint stripper and came out with these. Well, we came out with the receipt. It's important to tell an accurate story.
Why yes, that IS an Edison bulb! Also, do you like the tin of Shinola above the toilet? Just in case you forget the difference between ....? It's little touches like this that make it special. 
I ordered that mirror on Etsy--an antique refurb that was actually my second choice. 
More on that later.
This is where the fridge used to be. Now, Bob Hope carrying a cake!!! And a bird's nest.
(Put a bird on it! Don't have a bird? Put a bird's ovum on it!)
There are two pictures of cakes being carried in my kitchen, I just realized.
Ignore the ancient iPod dock and focus on the sideboard. It used to be yellow. We painted it to look all old and scuffed up and stuck a few felt pads under the left feet, because our floors still make you seasick. A fun game: release marbles at the edge of the kitchen. The person whose marble reaches Daisy's feeding bowls first wins a spoonful of tahini!
Put them together and what do you get?  Sensible flow and space to walk between rooms!
WAY better than a huge refrigerator, amIright?
So there you have it. We have essentially re-built the entire house. Next week some guys are coming to insulate and encapsulate and reinforce the crawl space (yeah, we still have that icky situation going on). And then we just sit back, relax, and enjoy our dream vacation to Botswana and Kenya, otherwise known as our functional, no longer disgusting kitchen & bath.

PS: Does anyone want to buy a BRAND NEW recessed medicine cabinet from Rejuvenation, still in the original box and NEVER USED? We paid $550 for it and are asking $250. Couldn't use it because the plumbing stack from the second floor cut into the space I'd allotted for it above the new vanity. And you can't return medicine cabinets to Rejuvenation and I just learned a painful lesson about patience.

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.


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!