Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pho, Pho, Pho! Merry Christmas!

This year, instead of baking cookies and scones and whipping myself into a flour-dusted, sugar-crusted frenzy, I decided to take a cue from my globe-trotting colleague L, who is in Mexico for the holidays. Why not do something a little different? Edgy? Unexpected? Thus, I decided to make a warm, fragrant Vietnamese Pho for dinner on the Eve of Christmas Eve.

What’s a Pho? Well, a pho is a traditional Vietnamese soup with noodles, sprouts, basil, baked tofu, and a spicy broth flavored with ginger, garlic, mushrooms, and spices aplenty. Since it was featured on the cover of Vegetarian Times this month, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Mr. Riley, despite his skepticism, was a good sport. He ate a whole bowl of Pho, making his “I dream of a wife who enjoys beef” face the entire time. (Uh, ignore the innuendo there.) “It tastes like cinnamon-flavored water,” he concluded. “Can I make a pizza?”

So, this will be my phirst and last time making pho. It’s not very phlavorful OR philling. Here’s a photo of my pho:

What the Phuck is This?

Uh, yes. Pink Human Who Distributes Food Items, I’ve got just one question: Why does it smell like napalm in the morning?

Before I could make my pho, I ran to the local grocery store in the middle of a blizzard to stock up on the necessary ingredients. And as I carried my canvas sacks loaded with foodstuffs from the trunk of my car to the house, I slipped on a patch of the slipperiest ice formed since water first met 32 degrees Fahrenheit, fell in love, and changed it’s previously familiar way. This ice was sprayed in Pam cooking spray, Teflon, and WD-40. Naturally, my sensible hiking boots were no match for such a slippery-ass surface, and I pitched forward onto my sacks. (Alright, who’s giggling? Get your mind out of the gutter!) Luckily, my fall was cushioned by a plastic carton of arugula and a bag of rice noodles—for the PHO!

My heroes.

So I took one of my annual winter spills, and ended up with a bruised hand, hip and knee. But I didn’t cry this time! This can only be a sign that I’ve finally reached adulthood.

And finally, as promised, a selection of Student Journal Entries from Everyone’s Favorite Professor. This is my Christmas gift to you. Enjoy!

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

--"Mom picked me up and on the way to the 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."

--"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 easy."

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

--"Studying seems to pay off."

PS: I’m at the Debs again on Friday, writing about holiday traditions. Just in case you’re wondering where I am on Friday.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Red Tag Sale

Susan has tagged me. I don’t know how I’m going to top the other time I did the Seven Random Things MEME (which actually turned into thirteen random things the first time I wrote it), because how do you top dino-turd ass bling?

You don’t, that’s how. But I guess if I squint really hard and imagine a world in which it’s possible for me to feel creative a week before Christmas, I would come up with these seven random things about me:

  1. Whenever a digital clock reads 11:11 or 12:34, I make a wish. And then somewhere in Toronto, a kitten dies.
  2. Fake banana flavor anything should not only be outlawed, it should be driven from the farthest reaches of the universe by an angry, shouting mob bearing pitchforks and flaming torches. (Clarence: “I would like … a flaming rum punch!”)
  3. My funny little OCD twitch: I count the edges of things...shapes in rooms, traffic signs, you name it, I’ve probably tried to mentally catalogue and organize it. I usually am unaware that I’m doing it.
  4. Oh! A variant on my OCD. OCD Part Deux: if someone (read: a cruel, cruel life partner) intentionally messes up my eyebrows (to torture me), I must smooth them back to some semblance of order. It is a compulsion. If someone (read: that same cruel, cruel life partner) holds my arms at my sides to prevent me from returning my eyebrows to a state of order, I will turn red and smoke will begin to curl from my ears because if I am unable to smooth my wayward brows back into place, my face might melt and a nuclear warhead in Kansas will become armed. This same compulsion can be applied to straightening pictures that hang slightly askew on the wall, fixing the dog’s hair when ‘someone’ has given her a Mohawk, and arranging a cheese tray for a buffet.
  5. The three wooden reindeer nestled amidst my pre-lit pine swag atop the bookcase to my left were hand-carved by inmates in the prison I used to work at. And yes, Virginia, I got them for cost.
  6. I am a compulsive hangnail puller, picker, and chewer. Scary movie? Terrifying meeting on deck for the day? Contemplation of a world without artisinal cheese? Just go ahead and call me meatball fingers.
  7. When I was seven, what I wanted more than anything in the world was a black and white pinto named … ‘Tip-Tip.’ Later, I would desire a tabby kitten named “Bottom-Bottom,” and a Golden Retriever puppy named “Side-Side.” ... This is actually a bad joke.

Next week, a special holiday treat for you: fall semester student journal entries from Everyone’s Favorite Professor! I can hardly stand it, I’m so excited. In the meantime, I will be figuring out how to use my new iPod and digital camera. (Whee! New-fangled architectural fancy machines!) Also, there are uncorrected galleys of Driving Sideways awaiting proofing on my kitchen table. (I know what some-body will be doing the day after Christmas!)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Well, They're Not Letters to Santa...

Dear WTCX: Poison’s “Unskinny Bop” is not a song. It is a handful of knitting needles perforating my eardrums UNTIL THEY BLEED.

Dear Family Member Who Shall Remain Nameless: I love you, but I’m sorry, this year the obscure penny that costs NINE HUNDRED DOLLARS will not be under the tree.

Dear elderly woman walking out of Copps with a sad little Walgreens bag over the cast on her left foot: Aww!! You kind of broke my heart, just a bit, with your scrappy ingenuity.

Dear 1938 version of A Christmas Carol: you never fail to crack me up when over-eager Tiny Tim has this to say about the shiny, plump Christmas goose: “I’d like to stroke it!!!”

Dear drivers on the commute home: Why are you braking. Why are you braking?! WHY ARE YOU BRAKING!?!?!?!!?!?!

Dear Maddie: that adorable nephew of mine can prank call me anytime he wants.

Dear highly attractive salesman in the Verizon mall kiosk: I saw you digging that pinkie finger in your left ear, and I saw you smell it immediately afterwards. You’re not fooling anyone in that suit, Mister Hot-n-Disgusting.

Dear “Bags” arcade game at a certain tavern in northern Wisconsin: I give up—how does one play a virtual game of beanbags? I suppose it helps to be drunk on battery acid and lighter fluid, but…virtual beanbags? Does anyone play this? Does anyone really say to his friends, “Hey, how about a rousing game of BAGS?” (For future reference, the correct answer to this question is, “Hey, how would you like to be shoved down a flight of stairs in a pair of burning rollerskates?”)

Dear stack of still-unwritten Christmas cards on my kitchen table: You’re a pain in the ass I’ve been putting off for weeks, but without you, how would I have discovered this old gem among my address labels?

This is the top of my note, left on the counter one morning
to indicate my desire that Mr. Riley eat a slightly overripe banana (to which the arrow points).

Mr. Riley's response, at the bottom of the note. The banana was not eaten.

PS: The recipe for the Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies can be found at the Food Network website. Yes, they are worth the effort. All hail the mighty Alton Brown!!!

I’m at the Debs this Friday writing about my number one hero. And no, it isn’t Ferris Bueller.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Squeeeeee! Like a Pig

Yesterday I turned another year older, and one of the best birthday gifts came as a complete surprise to me in the form of an email from my good friend Mary. Subject line: “OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!” Turned out that she discovered I now have my own Amazon page! Please excuse me if I Squeeeeee! just a bit here. Now, I am not the squeeing type: I am less the cheerleader, more sit in the back of the class and make like Tom Servo during lectures. (Speaking of Toms: Tom Schrauth? Wherever you are? They just don’t make in-class snarkmates like you anymore.) I am less Debbie Boone, more Weezer. Especially when I go running in winter. I am far, far less Sorority Girl, and far, far more Hey look, a riot on campus! Let’s join it. That seems like a responsible thing to do, doesn’t it?

Anyway, after skipping and leaping down my office hallways like a leprechaun, I had to show each of my colleagues my brand-spanking new Amazon page. And then I “Squeeeed!” some more for good measure, and then the intensity and pitch of that Squee made my head explode into thousands of tiny rainbows.

I have this habit of not really investigating myself online, because I’m terrified of what I’ll find. I attribute this to my discovery that a hooker in Las Vegas has beaten me to the web domain for my full name. So once in awhile people will say to me, “Hey, did you know Jen Lancaster mentioned you on her blog today?” Or “Hey, you’re on Books-a-Million!” Or any other exciting tidbits, and my reaction is, WOWEE! Zipedeedodah! And I very nearly become a cartoon caricature of myself: Obtuse Girl, and Her Little Dog Shitzalot!

Anyway, that’s the exciting news. Here’s something else: after much (tardy) deliberation, I have selected two of Mrs. Chicky’s awesome inmate name suggestions for the next book: Lincoln Kennedy and Leslie Johnson. My mother contributed two more, but they’re top secret. Shhhhhhhh….

And now, if I may be serious for a minute (pausing to clean glasses on shirt, lost in thought, before putting them on while I frown slightly). It is now December 4. I have exactly 20 days to purchase and wrap gifts for everyone on my list; mail gifts to my Fairy Book Godmothers in New York; make Christmas cookies (chocolate peppermint pinwheels and almond star-thingies); write out and mail cards; select, install, and decorate a tree; write a grant proposal; participate in an office White Elephant gift exchange; learn to spin plates while hula-hooping on a giant ball; and sell my soul on eBay to the person who will do all of these chores for me.

Is it weird that I remember what was on TV when I made my pinwheels last year? (Some sort of bizarre sci fi time travel movie about plants taking over New York City. Poor choice, Ed Burns. I also remember thinking, ‘How is it possible that I’m actually watching this right now? What feat of nature has kept my eyes trained to my television screen for two hours of such sheer crapitude?’) A marathon of Reno 911 was on while I decorated the tree, and if you’ve stuck around here since Christmas 2006 (bless your little hearts), you already know I’m still scarred from watching Deliverance while decorating our family tree back in 1980-mumbletysomething. Hmmm…maybe I should rent A Clockwork Orange to set the mood for this year's tree shenanigans.

I am NOT making scones again, and I am NOT buying Tom & Jerry mix. If I start making noises like I have a hankering for a Tom & Jerry, like I really want nothing more than hot water mixed with ersatz eggnog-flavored frozen goo and booze, please wave an open bottle of nail polish remover beneath my nose until I come to my senses.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Heya there, Lips!

I can’t even believe Thanksgiving is over already. Um, Father Time? Could you please stop SPRINTING into the future? I’m missing all the good stuff! For example, I missed some of the best conversations before I even got to my parents’ house.

Despite now having an adorable new grandchild to dote on, a source of continued dismay for my mother remains the fact that my younger brother now lives in Chicago. He is not going to move back to Wisconsin ever, not even if extended a personal invitation by the mayor of Kewaskum, not even for a complimentary auto air freshener shaped like the Burger King’s crown. Yet this doesn’t stop my mom from trying to finagle his long-awaited and triumphant return to Beerbratistan. But deep down, even she knows that her only son would rather live in a nest made entirely from Dog the Bounty Hunter’s hair than move back to Wisconsin. Thus, she also actively campaigns for the simpler and more attainable goal of increased visits from him. Which leads us to the first memorable weekend conversation:

My mother, perfectly healthy and still-looks-only-forty-she’s-so-young, to my brother: “Well, at least you’re home now. I don’t know how many more Thanksgivings we’ll have together, because I’ll probably be DEAD soon.”

Jake: “You could always come visit me, too. Do you know that you and Dad only visited me twice since I moved to Illinois?”

Mom: “Yes, but the time we helped you move counts as two visits.”

Jake: “No, it doesn’t! I still think you should come visit me more.”

Mom: “But Jake, we don’t know how to FIND you down there!”

The second memorable conversation occurred between my darling husband and me, after I caught him staring at me with a goofy grin on his face while parked in the Culver’s drive-through lane:


“Do you know you have the thinnest upper lip? You have like, no upper lip!”

“No, I’ve never noticed that in my entire life! Thank you so much for pointing that out.”

He began to laugh.

“Cut it out!” I vainly attempted to puff-up my skinny lip, which is difficult to do without punching yourself in the face.

J continued to laugh while ordering his turtle sundae at the magi-techno-tinny-talkie box. We pulled ahead and he flipped the dome light on to count out the change. I spotted a worker staring at us from the cashier station and became suddenly paranoid about my unshowered, slovenly state. I was wearing an outfit that could have easily been accessorized with a stolen shopping cart full of garbage. My hair looked like it had been regurgitated by a cat and then combed with a tree branch. It was so filthy it had its own listing on for tiny pigs. In fact, my hair was so thoroughly grubby I wouldn't have been surprised to find a small matchbox car up on blocks near my bangs.

“Look,” I said, “That guy is totally staring at us.”

J continued to count change for his sundae ($4.19 plus tax).

“Oh my God!” I hissed, “He hasn’t looked away for like, thirty seconds.”

J looked up and nodded toward the staring cashier. “Oh him! He’s just wondering what happened to your upper lip.’”

This was a take-off from a conversation we'd had earlier in the week, in which I overheard Jason laughing—shaking in silent, hysterical laughter, really—at me while I wrote out bills. When he wiped away the tears and could breathe normally again, he explained: “Did you know you make funny shapes with your mouth when you concentrate? You smile, and then you purse your lips. You smile, and then you purse your lips. Like this.” He proceeded to demonstrate. I proceeded to put a bag on my head.

So, from me and my weird lips to you and yours, Happy Post-Thanksgiving.

"A wise guy, eh?"

Edited to add: I'm at the Debs this Friday the 30th, blogging about family pets. Stop by and say 'hi' if you're so inclined!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Thanks for Mortification

I am still recovering from my weekend, which was spent in the company of two great friends (and talented writers in their own right): Manic Mom and Swishygirl. They recap the night better than I could, so for the nitty-gritty scoop, click on over.

I rolled into my parents’ place three hours after leaving Chicagoland to be greeted by the clean, refreshing scent of pig manure, which a local farmer had just freshly spread on some nearby fields. What an excellent remedy for my hangover!

The whole fam-damily had arrived for dinner, including my brother, my sister, my new nephew (he’s smiling now! *sigh*), my sister’s boyfriend, and his parents. My mother outdid herself with dinner, as she always does: white chicken chili, spicy butternut squash soup, garlic breadsticks, a romaine salad with homemade cranberry vinaigrette, and a cranberry fudge pudding cake. I’m starting to think she’s showing off, really.

The dinnertime conversation covered a range of topics, but eventually, it migrated to a perennial favorite: how ‘bad’ each person had been as a teenager. As soon as the conversation evolved in this ugly direction, I knew what was coming, and my father didn’t fail to deliver:

“We caught Jess sneaking out of the house one night when she was sixteen—”


“I heard the floorboards creaking and said, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ And she said, ‘To the bathroom.’”


“I said, ‘Hurry right back then!’”

At that point, Mom chimed in. “There was an ice storm that night, and we heard this car driving back and forth in front of the house: crackle, crackle, crackle.”

The whole table was laughing by then, and I was covering my eyes with my hands, saying things like, “Okay, end of discussion. Story’s over.”

Oh, but Dad hadn’t reached the pinnacle of the tale yet. “But first, Mom caught her blow-drying her underwear in her bedroom!!”

As this sentence hung in the air, I began to look around for a hole in the space time continuum that I could evaporate into. Maybe do a little time-traveling to Ye Olde England. I also wondered how expensive it would be to change my identity and move to Sweden.

My sister’s boyfriend’s father, recovering nicely from a head injury sustained in a bicycle accident a year ago, looked perplexed. He furrowed his brow and asked, “Why were you blow-drying your underwear?”

What could I say? Here was one possible response: “Well Duncan, I’m so glad you asked. See, I had one really cute pair of underwear, but they happened to be dirty. And when you’re planning to sneak out of the house at age sixteen to meet your boyfriend, you want to be prepared for any possible underwear-revealing situations that might arise. So I quietly washed them in the bathroom sink and then tried to dry them in my room with a hairdryer. My bad, because who knew hairdryers were so loud?”

I didn’t say that, of course. Instead I covered my face with my hands some more and said, “Oh my GOD. You will NEVER stop telling this story, will you?” Then I smacked my Dad, who was laughing like a crazy person, in the arm. My sister’s boyfriend saved the day by shifting the conversation to his own terrible youth with a story about how he kicked a girl in the stomach in grade school and subsequently got suspended, and how his older brother deflected his negative parental attention by urinating publicly in a gymnasium during a school sporting event.

So this Thanksgiving, I will give thanks that one of my worst youthful indiscretions did not involve public urination or suspension from school. Just some dirty underwear, an ice storm, and a hair dryer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Three Blogs for the Price of One

First, thanks to everyone who played along last week--some of your inmate name suggestions were the picture of hilarity. I'll be announcing the winners soon. Until then, here are three blogs for the price of one:

Blog #1: A conversation.

My mom, sighing: “I can’t wait to retire. I’m just so tired of working with people.”

My sister and me: *Nodding our heads in agreement.*

Mom: “I mean, what I’d like to do after I retire is just work with plants all day. In a nursery, or a greenhouse. Just pot up the seedlings and work with plants.”

My sister: “But mom, just because you work in a nursery doesn’t mean you won’t be working with people. Remember when I worked at that greenhouse in (that wealthy suburb)? And I had to deal with all those richy-rich snobs?”

Mom, losing heart, getting insistent: “But all I’d be doing is the planting part!”

My sister, shaking her head and making a Tough Love face: “Nope. You’d still probably have to work with people.”

My mom, frowning and dispirited: “Thanks, Maddie. Way to crush my dreams.”

Blog #2: The most exciting dream ever, a play in one act.

Monday morning I woke up from the most exciting dream ever. I dreamed I was vacuuming my office at work, for a very long time.

Blog #3: Where are they now?

Sometimes I look back on the people I’ve worked substandard part-time jobs with and wonder what they’re up to now. Sometimes I don’t even have to look back, I just have to look to the left a little, or right in front of me, because hey! There they are again! The people I earned minimum wage with in high school!

My first gig: Hostessing at Bonanza.

One of the Bonanza coworkers I most idolized was a redheaded Molly Ringwald clone. She didn’t say much to me (in fact, I don’t think she ever deigned to speak to me), but that didn’t stop me from developing a detailed fantasy friendship with her. A few years after I quit, I went to an adult bookstore with some friends. And guess who was working behind the counter, with a slab-like pit bull chained to her chair? Yep! Molly Ringwald from Bonanza! So she ended up working at an adult bookstore. (Speaking of which, do they even sell books there?) In case you’re wondering, I was there to purchase a classy confirmation gift for a dear friend.

Another of my former Bonanza coworkers ended up attending the same college as me. I’d run into him at parties, and we’d always salute one another with an enthusiastic, “Bonanza!” Only over time, it became apparent that the social circles in which we traveled had one too many intersections. So our hale and hearty cheers eventually deteriorated into lackluster nods, and years later, we’d run into each other at a bar, drunk, and think, Wow, that person really looks familiar… “Hey, didn’t you used to work at Bonanza?!”

My second gig: Selling lead-infused toys at KB

I had a whole slew of fun coworkers at KB Toys. How could I not? We earned a paycheck playing video games and shooting one another with water guns. It’s easy to have fun in that environment, even when your boss rushes up to you and pinches your upper arm hard enough to leave a bruise when he thinks you’ve been chatting with your friends for too long and need to instead push the Bumbleballs on customers because they have a terrific profit margin.

One particular coworker I will always remember, mostly because I still run into him at parties hosted by a mutual friend. Back then, he was dating a girl who (in his words) looked like Wonder Woman. She cheated on him, which he related to me one night while we straightened the game aisle. I offered some mature advice: “Well, why don’t you just cheat on her right back?”

“Oh that’s real mature,” he answered.

Years later he got married and went to Hedonism with his wife, entertaining us at parties with spicy tales from their wild adventures. Then they bought a house and had a baby and now when we get together at parties, they talk about mortgage rates and property values like the rest of us.

This Friday I'm at The Debs again, writing about my Worst Vacation Ever. Stop by and share the joy.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cover and a Contest

First, it’s time for the Unveiling of The Cover. Here it is, kids, hot off the press, from my grubby little mouse-clicking hands to your round little eyeballs! I smile every time I see it.

That cover quote is from the amazing, sharply witty Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass. Here’s the full text:

"Jess Riley's writing grabbed me in the very first paragraph with a Bay City Rollers reference and never let me go. Driving Sideways is a hopeful and hilarious debut and Jess Riley may well be my new favorite author."

*sigh* I love that woman. (Thank you, Jen!!!)

Also, it’s time for a contest. What kind of contest, you ask? Let’s see if you can guess. Is it:

a) a salami eating contest?
b) an eighties dance-off?
c) a staring contest?
d) Name that Inmate?

If you guessed ‘D,’ you’re correct! I’m nearing the finish line for the next novel, but I am still in need of three MALE inmate names. Yes, inmate as in ‘sentenced-to-a-medium-security-men’s-penitentiary inmate. (Trust me, it’s HILARIOUS. As in ‘Laughing with me, not at me,’ but probably at me in some cases, or maybe not laughing at all because you can’t please all the people all the time, and you can rest assured you’ll annoy at least one person in any large group, and I’m still coming to terms with this, it’s a daily struggle, really.)

So give me your best, most creative inmate name ideas! If I use them (and my publisher, uh, likes the next book enough to offer a contract), I’ll thank you in the acknowledgments and send you an advanced readers edition.

I’m going to wrap things up with a classy non-book item. From Statcounter. A Google search that led one unsuspecting individual to this site. What was he or she looking for? Why, it’s a:

"Gag gift for hemroid surgery"

Isn’t ‘hemroid’ surgery itself enough of a gag gift? What gift could possibly say, “Because your inflamed anus, so inflamed as to require surgical attention, wasn’t humiliating enough”?

If you can’t think of any inmate names, maybe you could help me out by answering THAT little question. Because truly, it has me scratching my head.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

But Enough About Me, Let’s Talk About Me!

This weekend I ran into not one, not two, but nearly a dozen Allaboutme’s. You know the type: you ask them question after question, not because you’re trying to hit on them or pick them up, not because you’re interviewing them or building a dossier on them, but simply because you want them to feel comfortable during a social gathering, as complete silence can, at times, be a tad awkward.

Note: I’m referring to the instances where Allaboutme’s pals are already engaged in conversation with others, and Allaboutme is the odd man or woman out. Or perhaps they are a new client, and you want to establish a rapport. Perhaps they are the significant other of a relative, overwhelmed by their first visit during a holiday event. You may have even felt sorry for them, so you reached out, and now you wish you had been born with your mouth fused shut, because they turned out to have the social skills of a Soviet-era taxicab built in 1972.

After you’ve learned all about Allaboutme, you wait for the reciprocal questions to be asked. But no, Allaboutme is not interested in you. Not in the least. Allaboutme could give a ferret’s anus what you do for a living, what your family is like, what your hobbies are, or what books, movies, vacations, or interesting anecdotes have recently migrated into your life. (Disclaimer: Unless they want something from you. Then, Allaboutme will only ask the pertinent questions to achieve exactly that.)

After one or two encounters with an Allaboutme you want to give up and live in a yurt in Montana, but we humans are social animals. So you resign yourself to the fact that into every life, a couple hundred Allaboutme’s must fall.

Now, I don’t want this post to be Allaboutme. But that’s kind of hard with a blog, isn’t it? It’s a one-sided conversation. So here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to ask you three questions. If you feel like participating, please answer them in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be frantically finishing my copyediting and carving a pumpkin or two.

(I should add that a worse variant on the Allaboutme is the One-Upper, famous for steering every conversation back to him or herself with lines like, “You think YOU’RE depressed, wait ‘til you hear about MY day!” Or “Yeah, sorry about your uncle. But at least he didn’t have cancer of the personality, which runs in my family and has already stricken both of my parents. Oh, you haven’t SEEN pain until you’ve struggled with cancer of the personality, which causes awful things to come out of your mouth as well as uncontrolled extension of the middle finger.”)

Okay. Enough. On with the interactive questions.
  1. What’s your weirdest or most embarrassing Halloween memory? Mine is of inadvertently trick-or-treating at the home of an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease. She didn’t know it was Halloween and gave us a bunch of money.
  2. What’s the most creative Halloween costume you’ve ever worn? (Alternately, what’s the cleverest one you’ve seen on someone else?)
  3. On pumpkin-carving: patterns or freehand? Save and roast the seeds or dump ‘em?

This Friday I’m at the Debs, blogging about Halloween mammaries...I mean MEMORIES. (I guess I still have the image in my mind of this guy wearing a bra stuffed with cumin and pepper and cinnamon--he was a "Spice Rack." Get it?) Stop by if you're not too sick of the holiday yet.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Detailed Foray Down Memory Lane

I was thinking about writing a blog on my weekend again, but then the clouds parted over my head and I heard this giant raspberry followed by a booming voice: “WHO CARES?”

And right away I thought, great, even God is bored by my life. Well, it was either God or I was having a flashback to a creative writing professor I had in college.

So instead I’ll tell you about the J. Geils Band. I heard them on the radio the other day. Remember them? Angel is a centerfold and all that poppycock? Well, I remember them. Because when I was eight, life blessed me in a way that it never had before. I received a buttload of first communion money. After I spent most of it on angel dust and absinthe, I took a little side-trip to Kmart to purchase the Holy Grail (which you could buy back then) of childhood: a portable black cassette recorder.

For a mere $34 dollars, you could purchase bliss. You could purchase the ability to be cool for the thirty-eight minutes your school bus traveled from your doorstep to your elementary school doors. You could sit in the back seat and entertain every tapioca-scented, chubby-cheeked passenger with taped-from-the-radio gems like Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” and The Pretenders’ “Chain Gang” and “Come on Eileen” by Dexy’s Midnight Runners and yes, “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band.

You would sit by the radio (and if you were lucky, it actually had detached speakers next to which you could perch), waiting for the DJ to play your favorite song. And then: NIRVANA! There it WAS! The Pointer Sisters' “So Excited!” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria!” Toni Basil! Rick Springfield! But the jerky DJ would keep chit-chatting right through the opening riffs, so you’d get your song, but some assclown DJ’s inane intro as well: “And now, Survivor with ‘Eye of the Tiger!’ Only on WSTD, your source for today’s hottest hits and smoothest licks! Keep listening for your chance to win tickets to the Hall and Oates show at the Blabbity Center. Have you ever seen them live? I have, and let me tell you: those tickets were worth every cent. But not when you can win 'em before you can buy 'em! Only on your station with the megaty-most fun, WSTD. What's that again? WSTD!” And that dude’s voice would stretch long into that kickass drumbeat, right up to the actual singing, and you’d be silently and frantically praying near the speaker: “Just shut up! Just play the song! This is no good, this is just NO GOOD!!!”

And you’d tape it, and then play it on the bus, turning the volume way down during the DJ, then cranking it up. Halfway through the song you’d hear your mom yelling at the dog to get off the sofa, and then a clatter when you dropped your tape recorder to give her the what-not stare: Mo-om, I'm taping Air Supply!!! Sometimes you’d miss the first half of the song altogether, but what the hell: you got the second half! And the kids on the bus loved you for it. Oh, and just think of the possibilities at RECESS! Recess with a soundtrack. Songs to chase the boys to. Could there be anything more divine?

You were on top of the world. You had a portable black cassette player and hits taped right from the Weekly Top Forty. You had the J. Geils Band, on demand, and life had never been sweeter.

Well, at least until you got your first Walkman and Purple Rain in your Easter basket.

(Don’t even get me started on my first Rubik’s Cube, which was a mail-in offer from the Chex Cereal company. Instead of bright colors, you had to line up bananas and strawberries and little Chex cereal pieces. I didn’t care, just as long as the little stickers peeled-off and re-stuck easily.)
Yeah, I was a dorky eight year old. Were you?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Wow, look at all the links!

Sometimes you have the kind of weekend where so much happens that it’s nearly impossible to condense into a bloggable, bite-sized nugget without it sounding like play-by-play commentary on ESPN. And then you think, Maybe I’ll just blog about how my husband nearly burned the house down today by accidentally nuking a shitty microwave burrito for ELEVEN MINUTES and the stink will never wash off you, not even after 35,495 showers in purified water and bleach, and the dog was sneezing and rubbing her nose all over the carpet and your furniture will now and forever smell like a charcoal sphincter and your nose hairs have petitioned the Body at Large for a change of address, they are so wounded.

But then, you have a change of heart. You should write about the weekend, because you had FUN. You want to capture the moment for posterity.

So Friday night I hung out with my fellow Deb, the all-around lovely, gracious, and amazing Gail Konop Baker. We attended the Wisconsin Book Festival to see T.C. Boyle read on Friday, and then all sorts of martini-fueled hijinks ensued, which Gail very eloquently wrote about here.

(Okay, I’m making it sound more exciting than it was. But to me? Curl-up-with-a-good-book-and-tea-on-a-Friday-night Girl? Who will use her prosaic powers only for beige-colored good? It was like being strapped to the most dangerous, condemned ride in the history of amusement parks, and the carnie just broke the lever off in “Neck-snapping whiplash” position. It rocked.)

Note to all drunken young people: YES! People have in fact told me I look exactly like Tina Fey. But, now listen—and this is important: I am not her, or I’d be in New York, rolling around on a bed of money, tossing off jokes to my entourage of laughing, sycophantic, bare-chested young men/errand boys as they scurry behind me from party to party. *sigh* I love her...

Saturday Gail and I got to see Alan Weisman’s talk on his book The World Without Us, and THEN (this is the exciting part) Gail and I got to have lunch with him! He was so truly cool and down-to-earth. And SMART. I was a bit goggle-eyed in his presence. I have only recently begun to actually email my favorite authors to tell them how much I adore their books, so having lunch with such a talented, amazing writer … (well, see the part above about the carnie and the broken lever).

And then today? I saw my first potential cover design for Driving Sideways. I can’t share it yet, because it may be tweaked here and there, but…I’m happy.

More to come...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Don't Let Age Make You Her Bitch

Today I had lunch with an old friend of mine—my roommate from Artsworld. (If you’d like to learn more about Artsworld, this magical gathering of nerds from around the state, I wrote about it on May 17, 2006. Yeah, I couldn’t make a functional link to the exact entry. You have to scroll down.)

Anyway, lunch was fantastic, and a nice break from my existential weekend, particularly Sunday, a portion of which was spent with my family at my grandmother’s assisted living facility. My Grandma Dot is a vibrant, spunky 88, and it pains her a great deal to be stuck with a herd of deaf, forgetful, cataract-ridden old farts. My grandma still loves to flirt and dance and crack jokes, but most of her fellow residents…don’t. As we visited in the sunroom, a hunched-over man named Glenn cautiously pushed past with his walker, and Grandma Dot said, “Glenn. GLENN! This is my family. My family came to visit me.”

Glenn turned his head two degrees to the left in the time it might take a talented construction crew to erect a skyscraper. He was non-plussed, to say the least, sparking Grandma’s ire. Her good mood collapsed and she frowned. “Oh, you don’t hear me.” She adopted a mocking, sing-song tone and started snapping and shaking her fingers at him. She nearly stuck her tongue out at him; in fact, I think she did a little. “You old coot, you don’t hear, you’re all blah-blah-blah. Put your hearing aid in.”

Glenn seemed to know he was being made fun of and shook his head (in the time it might take for a civilization to rise, thrive, and fall), resuming his glacial trek to his room. Grandma was frustrated. If she could have punched Glenn in an age spot, she would have. “He has hearing aids, but he won’t wear them!” she vented to us, completely perplexed that her peers have allowed Age to make them her bitches. She crossed her arms, put them on her hips, refolded them across her body. And at this point, her eyes filled with tears.

The image of some of the more rutabaga-like residents slumped in chairs in the dayroom still fresh in my mind’s eye, I leaned over and whispered to my mother, “Good lord, this place is depressing as hell.”

My mother whispered back, “This is why your father and I are driving over a cliff.”

“Yeah right, you’ll be aimlessly tooling around in your beige Buick, looking for a cliff, unable to find anything but a gently sloping hill. And you’ll coast slowly down it and collide gently with a child’s backyard playset.”

Grandma shed more tears when we got ready to leave, and there was an endless waving good-bye from the sidewalk until our car disappeared beyond the horizon. We all remarked at how hard it was to see Grandma so sad.

I remember thinking, Christ, I don’t want to get old.

I’ve been on a major health-kick lately (even shunning onion rings and a turtle sundae on Saturday), working out, taking my vitamins, eating right. As we visited with Grandma Dot, still healthy, an orphan and a widow watching more friends and children and siblings die than anyone should ever have to, it occurred to me: why the hell am I taking such good care of myself? I don’t want to be the last one standing, wondering who will fill my dance card, holding conversations with turnips that don’t remember what I said five minutes ago, missing my long-dead loved ones, feeling alternately despondent and annoyed by forced group activities facilitated by an activity director named “Tuba Dan.”

I sometimes hear people say, “I only want to live ‘til ninety (or beyond) if I have my health and I’m still mentally sharp.”

Well, most things sound great in theory.
But gosh, look at this:

There are things that can make almost anything bearable.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

To the grubby-fingered, thoughtless jerk who stole three cases of my CDs last week:

First, I must say that I am partly to blame for the music-free situation I am now in. My garage door was unlocked. My car door was unlocked. I all but spraypainted my driveway with “Thieves Welcome!” I had practically arranged my mums and mini-pumpkins in a hieroglyphic with an unmistakable message: “Na├»ve rube lives here!”

And with such obvious invitation, the opportunity to steal a collection of fairly mundane CDs from a woman who uses Oil of Olay and hasn’t purchased an impractical pair of shoes since 2001 was just too hard to pass up. I get it, truly. You saw the birdfeeders in the yard and the muddy gardening clogs near the back door and what other thought could you have had than, “Wow, a really cool person must live here! I’m SURE she listens to Master P and Obi Trice. C’mon, let’s rummage through the glove box!”

So now it’s good-bye Modest Mouse--may you float on well. Farewell Death Cab for Cutie; I’m afraid I won’t be following you into the light. Adios all three Radiohead discs, including the so-aptly titled, Hail to the Thief. Adieu Aimee Mann, Keane, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Weezer, Kings of Leon, Coldplay, White Stripes, Madonna, Men at Work, Tears for Fears, Eagles Greatest Hits, Perfect Circle, John Lennon, Moby, ELO, Incubus, Perfect Circle, so many, many dozens of others…

But hey, Kleptomania Karl? Here’s what I don’t get. Will you sing along with John Denver’s "Calypso" on a buoyant Sunday afternoon? Will you groove out to Steely Dan and Willie Nelson during a basement sock hop with your friends? Will you blast The Indigo Girls while doing pushups in your bedroom? Will you swoon to the smooth, operatic stylings of Jeff Buckley when you’re home with your little punk friends watching Ultimate Fighting Champion on Homecoming night? On Fridays after work, when you want to let you hair down after a long week, will you pop in Duran Duran or ABBA and do a little car-dancing? Oh wait. You don’t work. What am I thinking?

My only consolation is that my most treasured CDs were indoors, safely nestled next to my computer: all three Trampled by Turtles discs, Sufjan Stevens, Muse, Andrew Bird, Feist, The Shins, Guster, and Wilco’s newest. (Shhhh my babies, mamma will protect you from the grubby-fingered little thief...)

I guess now I’ll have to step into the 21st century and get an iPod or satellite radio.

In totally unrelated news, they ARE changing the title of my novel after all. Farewell, Riding with Larry Resnick. Hello, Driving Sideways. (Named for an Aimee Mann song and indicative of the non-linear journey of the characters.) This is it folks. My masthead will change next week. No ifs, ands, or buts. No BS. No take-backs. I'm throwing Larry a going-away party this weekend.

Also, I’m at The Debs this Friday dishing about secrets.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On Maintaining Workplace Sanity

So I promised I’d post some recipes this week, but wouldn’t you know, I went ahead and screwed up the salsa I made in a major way. So I decided not to post that loser of a recipe. But if you have about 50 Roma tomatoes and you’re looking for a quick way to turn your tongue inside-out and mummify your kidneys, let me know. I think I can help.

Today events conspired that made me want to write a post dedicated to workplace harmony. So without further ado (because who needs all that ado? ---Somewhere in Kentucky a young man raises his hand and drawls, “A’do”----)

But I’m not ready to be fired yet, so I probably shouldn’t write about it. What do you think? Should I write about it? No? Alright, you always had such good sense. What's that? I should? No. Yes? Really? Okay, I will.

So I had one of those “less-fun-than-mono” interactions with an individual I met with as a result of the fact that I need to earn a paycheck to eat and live in a heated abode and keep that heated abode stocked in boxed wine and Spam. And by “less-fun-than-mono,” I mean that I left our interaction feeling that I had just spent an hour with a creature that crawled from a pore on Satan’s butt.

For some reason, this person really took a disliking to me. And it wasn’t because I asked if she had crawled from Satan’s left cheek. I didn’t! I practically offered her a million dollars. A million chocolate-covered dollars. I complimented her hair. I asked how her weekend was. But the ice queen was having none of it. She nearly punched me out with her frostiness. If ‘unfriendliness’ became personified and developed skills, hers would be able to karate-chop the hearts of orphans in half. And it would do so with gusto.

I think we can all relate. Once in awhile, we will just have to deal with someone who was born hating us. And I am less able to be successful unless I establish a rapport with whatever individual I must work with to complete the task at hand. We don’t have to be best friends. But there has to be a basic level of trust, friendliness, and politeness. To that end, here is a helpful list of ways to make the most of a workplace relationship:
  1. Do not be a creature birthed in a pore on Satan’s butt.
  2. Do not take other calls and do not chew your lunch loudly when you have a phone conference. If your conversation partner can tell that you’re eating a Taco Bell Cheesy Tendon Melt from 75 miles away, you might consider brushing up on your etiquette skills. There are several books in the first grade library that could help with this, such as Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners. (I was shocked that it's spelled "Berenstain," too!)
  3. Please refrain from complaining. I realize this is an attractive hobby, but everyone is dealing with the same BS at work. Your complaints are not new. Here’s a neat-o, keen-o idea: how about developing a sense of humor about those pesky, bothersome issues we all have to deal with? I know, it’s kind of crazy. Revolutionary, one might say. But it might make you more palatable as a human being. In general, anyway.
  4. Don’t be insane. This is a skill that could apply to many areas of your life beyond the worksite, as well.
  5. Tangents are not your friend. They may act the part, remembering your birthday and taking you shopping when you’re sad, but don’t trust them. Tangents will let you down repeatedly. They will confuse you and leave you stranded on the side of the road, and then you’ll never get a ride back to whatever your point was to begin with.
  6. Again, because this bears repeating: if you are a creature birthed from a pore on Satan’s butt, you might want to take a night class on phone etiquette, developing a sense of humor, maintaining good mental health, and staying on track in a conversation.

And if you must deal with such a creature in the course of your daily work, remember: you’ve got a box of wine, a can of Spam, and good people and pets at home. You’ll be alright.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The kind of post I write when I’m feeling surly

On Saturday we attended the Great Lakes Brewfest with some good friends. And if I take anything away from the day, it is this: when the temperature is below sixty degrees, it may not be a good idea to wrap a satin table runner into a tube and wear it as a jazzy skirt with tap shoes. If you do, I’ve-Seen-Dental-Tape-Wider-Than-That-Skirt Girl, it’s a good idea to continue shaving up past your knees. Remember, this is Wisconsin in September. We will clearly see how far that razor jogged north before getting winded and turning back in defeat. And put some socks on, while you’re at it. Those shoes look terribly painful. No, really. They have both heels and laces, so I really think socks would be appropriate. Why stop now?

Here’s something else! Say there, fellow standing in line to urinate. Why the red contacts? You are scaring me and our fellow festival-goers! This is not Halloween. It is not a gathering for Druids with severe hay fever. It is a celebration of artisinal beers and fried cheese! Of merriment and mirth! Look there, young people wielding humorous back scratchers featuring tiny hands! Amusing giant hats! But not you, Mister Red Eye. Are you that much a fan of raspberry hued daily living? Do you like your humanity in shades of scarlet? Are you really a minion of Satan who is simply not above humble human activities like standing in line with the rest of the herd to break the seal in a public urinal? Those are things to work on, Red Eyed Underling to Beelzebub. Maybe you should send your boss some candy for Boss’s Day and he’ll give you amazing Bottomless Bladder and Instant Line-Jumping abilities. I hear he likes red hots.

And you there—girl in the “Beer Chick” shirt. It’s pink, and I appreciate a nice pink t-shirt. Pink is girly, pink is fun, pink is the Best Of Red and White, the Atlantic Years. But really, your presence at an event dubbed “Brewfest” is more an indicator that you are indeed a fan of the malted barley and hops than your “Beer Chick” t-shirt. What’s next? A black shirt reading “Funeral Chick” when a beloved great aunt dies? “Grocery Store Chick” stretched over your bosom when you run out of toilet paper, kitty litter, bologna, and capers? Maybe you could layer shirts, depending on your day’s itinerary. You could start with “Breakfast Chick,” peel it off at ten a.m. for “Playing Solitaire at Work Chick,” pull that one over your head to reveal “Drives like an Idiot Chick” for the commute home, and end the day with “Lean Cuisine and Scrubs Chick.”

So those were the things I took away from Brewfest, plus some delicious cheese curds that have already made a new home on my thighs. (I try to be accommodating to my snack foods. Help them move, provide transportation, sit very still so as not to jostle the metamorphosis from delicious foodstuff to bouncy little mustard-colored fat cell.)

Whew. I feel better now. Next week I’ll have some recipes and maybe even a special taste-testing photo essay. You’ve been warned.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Time for Something Classy

Has a friend ever said something, a simple little line, or maybe they shared an innocent yet amusing anecdote, and it became completely embedded in your head to the point that you started using that comment or anecdote with other friends and family? And then they adopted the line or story and started telling it to their friends, and soon enough the whole thing spread across the nation like a bad taste sensation? It’s sort of like a chain letter, but you don’t get five dishtowels in the mail or your wish granted at 3:14 p.m. by angels if you pass it on to ten of your BFFs.

I’ll give you an example. In college, my friends and I regularly ate dinner together after class. One of my friends always dined at a more languorous pace than the rest of us and once rebuked us when we attempted to leave too soon with a defiant yet sing-song, “I’d LIKE to finish my WATER!” For some reason I shared this with my family, so now whenever one of us is taking our sweet time at a restaurant and the rest of us are antsy to leave, someone says this exact phrase in the same irritated intonation. My dad says it, my brother says it, and with a little persistence, we’ll have my grandma saying it by Christmas.

The best part is that usually the person behind the incident has no idea how popular it’s gotten. And now it’s my turn in the hot seat.

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend, and suddenly she started laughing. “You know," she said, "I thought about you the other day when I was talking with A (her son).”

“Oh god,” I said, grimacing, “I already know what it is.”

I knew because a few years earlier I'd made the mistake of telling her that I'd boarded the (insanely slow) elevator on the seventh floor of my office building and absentmindedly let one rip, only to have another rider board the elevator immediately afterwards, on the sixth floor. It was the classic Fart in the Elevator For Unexpected Company gag.

So my friend told my story to her son, who happened to be at the age where farts are the pinnacle of humor. He was between 1 and 99. My little (sneaker) anecdote latched itself to their shared history, and every time they’ve boarded an elevator in the seven years since, they look at one another and giggle over me and my friendly little fart in the elevator.

I know this because she told me.

So as this boy grows up, he will always think of me as the Person Who Farted in the Elevator (And Then Another Person Boarded the Stink Box and Probably Gagged). I will be thought of this way even if I single-handedly rescue every resident of a four-story burning nursing home or develop the ability to summon marshmallow unicorns with a clap of my hands.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored to share the first ever blurb for Riding with Larry Resnick, graciously penned by the very talented Kristy Kiernan, author of Catching Genius:

"Jessica Riley's Riding With Larry Resnick is a brilliant and hilarious debut. With the knowing humor of Emily Giffin and the poignant vulnerability of Lolly Winston, Riley proves herself a huge new talent who will break your heart even while you're laughing out loud. If I ever need a funny bone transplant, I want Jess Riley's."

Kristy? Thank you from the bottom of my once-almost-gave-up-writing-for-good heart. The check’s in the mail. Kidding! It’s actually a Candygram from Armando and His Magic Wando.

Alright, but that’s not what we’re all here for, is it? We’re here for the goods. The promised pixilated perfection. Photographic evidence that I’m not just blowing smoke up your hineys that my nephew is the most adorable little dude since George Burns.

I know, George Burns…is she smoking crack? No, she’s just remembering that she watched Oh God! on the oldies movie channel two weeks ago.

Look at that face! And that pudgy, ready-to-crush-you arm—he’s definitely related to me, as my upper arm has a part-time gig demolishing condemned buildings. (This was actually the camera angle. His arms are really tiny and tender. I’m sure this is exactly how he’ll want everyone to describe them when he’s 16, too.)

Since I’m so thrilled with my first-ever blurb, I decided to write a blurb too, for my new nephew. I call him Corby:

"Madeline M’s debut project sparkles with life! I was smitten by Corby from the beginning, and then he got the hiccups. Could there be anything more swoon-inducing? Watch out preemie girls—this one will break your hearts someday. With her sense of humor and seemingly effortless grace, Madeline is a natural-born parent. I can’t wait for the sequels from this new mom to watch."

--Jess Riley, Godmother Who Will Spoil the Kid Rotten

This baby is a fun-sized nugget of cuteness.

I’m over at the Debs this Friday. Stop by and say "howdy." If you’re like, bored at work or something. I’m just sayin’.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You can now call me Aunt Jess

Guess who has a new nephew to corrupt? That’s right! ME! I’m only kidding about the corrupt part, because he is sweet and perfect and wonderful. And while some may argue that those traits can make for the most entertaining corruptions, I simply love this little boy too much to buy him a synthesizer and drum kit for his sixth birthday or feed him nothing but Skittles and let him stay up late to watch Weekend at Bernie’s and Caddyshack II and set off firecrackers when he comes to visit.

My sister did such a fantastic job in the delivery room. No drugs! No screaming! (Well, mostly. But I only did it that one time.) She almost made labor look easy, like a Dr. Suess poem: Give birth while you sleep! Give birth in a Jeep! Give birth lying down, give birth with no frown! (Well, easy except for that one part that caused me, her childless sister, to curl into a numb ball of terror in the corner. Kidding again!)

I’d never witnessed a real, live birth before. And it was amazing. I freakin’ CRIED, alright. And then I drove home at three in the morning, so dog-tired and sentimental that I actually listened to The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change”* in its entirety (remember, I was overtired), smiling goofily nearly the whole way and thinking things like, “my new nephew makes me want to be a better person” and “if we work together, we can change the world.” Babies are just such hope-inspiring little people. They make me want to join a commune and give up my place in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Well, after today they do.)

He is eight pounds / eight ounces, twenty inches long, alert, strong, and his back is kind of hairy. I just love him. The trick will be figuring out how to wrestle him away from my parents, who have already begun to spoil their first grandchild like it’s a competitive event.

And do you know what else? I’m his only aunt! And I’m the Godmother! Do I sound like I’m kind of bragging? I guess I am…this is all so very exciting.

I promise I won’t turn this blog into the New Nephew Photo Gallery. Unless you want me to. Do you? Have I mentioned his cute little mango-shaped head tucked into that snug little knit cap? And his adorable button nose and wide, wondering eyes? He already has many hobbies, such as sucking on his teeny-tiny fist and winning hearts and minds. He’s very talented and brilliant. I will post a picture or four-hundred when I have some.

Sidenote: my mother told me that when she was in labor with me, the doctor brought in six student interns to observe my birth. Isn’t that something? And I’ve been an attention-hog ever since.

So tell me some birth stories. How were you born? How were your children born? How was the universe born? How about the concept of the spelling bee?

I’ll start: when my younger brother was born, he came out peeing and the doctor said, “It’s the fountain of youth!” Okay, your turn!

*This was playing on the radio. If you ever find this in my CD collection, please schedule an intervention and restrict my access to things like checking accounts, flammable materials, and microphones at public events.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'll take my corn creamed, thank you

So Saturday we went to a friend’s wedding reception, which was lovely. Everything about it was lovely, except my hair, because India’s monsoons were blown off course this weekend and made landfall on my head, and also in a multi-county area in southwestern Wisconsin. The Governor declared a state of emergency, and now I’ll never get these flashing orange highway barrels out of my hair.

Here’s another thing that wasn’t so lovely about it: I ate corn on the cob in public. Yes! Voraciously, too. Because at one point I happened to look down at my chest (which, I’m not really all that prone to do at random intervals, as it’s pretty much a straight view to the ground; my sister was born with all the interesting topography in the family) so anyway, I glance down at my chest and am HORRIFIED to discover that my corn-on-the-cob ingestion has been so enthusiastic that I actually sprayed starchy juice all over the area where a bib or nice medallion should have gone. Just call me Typewriter Teeth.

Oh, but that wasn’t the least lovely part of all. Later that evening, droplets of corn juice still glistening on my chest, tidbits of kernel likely lodged in my molars, I stepped up to a live microphone with two pals (one new, one old, both likely annoyed) to sing every word from Don McLean’s “American Pie” to a hapless crowd of strangers who are now probably in line at the audiologist, still openly weeping. Later, I launched into a toneless rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” I should have taken her advice before publicly shaming myself in such fashion.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the evening’s details; let’s just say they involved Burger King, hydroplaning, a wrong turn or two, and yes, multiple colors of wine, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear.

But my goal today is to share a cherished childhood memory with you, as captured by the magic of Kodachrome. May I introduce to you 3-D Night--1982?
Please don’t adjust your monitors; that spectral glow truly is the color of my forehead. My mom, brother, and I are about to watch The Creature from the Black Lagoon scissor-kick into our living room courtesy of these stylish, cutting-edge cardboard spectacles I brutally forced upon my family in a fit of second grade despotism. (The side-effects of vertigo and blindness were only temporary.) I especially like the wacky yellow rolling high-chair that I seem to be wearing as a hat.

This Friday I’ll be posting at The Debs. Could be a great kick-off to the last full weekend in August, but I’m not making any promises.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Girl Who Cried Title Change

Well, well, well. Now I come to you, somewhat sheepishly, to say that after further consideration, the folks at Random House have decided that the original title of Riding with Larry Resnick is the best fit for the story.

Here were some alternates I came up with, just in case:
  • Not Quite a Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
  • A Million Little Reeses Pieces
  • A Mechanical Bull and an Inflatable Jesus Walk Into a Bar…
  • Ice Water for Women Who Feel Like Elephants
  • There May be a Reference to a Vagina (Somewhere Around Page 182)
  • Stuff your Piehole, Worship, Feel Affection for Many Things
  • The Threatening Book for Women in a Certain Demographic

In other news, I’m making progress on the next novel. I have one—maybe two—weeks left to crank out as many pages as possible before I return to work. (Doesn’t the phrase “cranking out pages” really exemplify the care one gives to the literary craft?) I’m at the 54,000 word mark, which is just over the halfway point. This is the place in the journey where little imaginary cheerleaders are lined up along the route, dispensing refreshing Dixie cups of water and clapping as sweaty writers plod past, their faces etched in desperation. I’m the one gasping and wheezing towards the back of the pack, waiting for my muse to break (second) wind.

I am also mere days away from being an aunt, and I have a front row seat in the delivery room. My sister has authorized us to speak to the medical community on her behalf should an issue arise and she’s too busy, oh, I don’t know, screaming in agony to reply. (By “medical community” I mean whoever earns a paycheck to catch the baby when he skedaddles into the world.)

At our house, we don’t have to worry about little people traipsing out of hoohas, or things like breast milk storage bags. (Speaking of, did you know that the breast milk of vegetarians has a slightly greenish tint? It’s true! This is certainly not knowledge gleaned personally, but you can rest assured that I'm not lying.)

The most urgent issue at our house is a surplus of monarch butterfly eggs in the milkweed patch, which led to the insect version of a scene from Schindler’s List in the yard the other day. I simply don’t have room for them all—painful decisions had to be made.

It also led to me asking my mom last Sunday, “Hey, do you want me to send some eggs home with you?” Which cracked me up, because over the years, my mother has asked me the very same question, only in reference to eggs laid by their chickens.

Mom declined the eggs, but I can’t blame her. They would have made a very teeny-tiny omelette.

Butterfly release count so far: 9
Chrysalides on deck: 6
Caterpillars still chew-chomping away: 9
Eggs yet to hatch: 4

Cute video of a monarch release from Sharon the Birdchick in Minnesota, who captures the grand finale much better than I could have. (Love her background music.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Seventy-six Tan-gents in the Big Parade

The big news on my end is that Random House is considering a possible title change for Riding with Larry Resnick. At first I was dismayed; I’d grown used to Larry, and the thought of bidding him farewell made my stomach shimmy and shake. But here’s the thing: I am a teeny, weeny fish—a shrimp really, maybe even more like a krill or phytoplankton—in a vast ocean of authors, just trying not to be swallowed up by the James Patterson whale sharks of the world. Not only that: three years ago, I was nurturing a nice collection of rejection letters. Change the name of my novel that’s actually going to be published? Go for it! Heck, I’m just happy to be here!

So there may be a title change, but my stomach is no longer doing the Jane Fonda over it. And what will the new title be? I have an inkling, but I hesitate to even hint about it until things are firmed up. I do believe I like it. As always, more to come…

And now, queue up the Parade of Tangents!

First, check out this baby shower cake. Is this not the most adorable thing ever? Look at those cute little Wallace & Gromit faces! And they’re completely edible!!!

Alas, our digital camera died one week after this shot was taken. Can anyone recommend a sensibly-priced, user-friendly digital camera with just enough features to take fantastic photos? I know, it’s kind of a tall order. Here’s one of the last photos I took before the camera clutched its chest and keeled over. This one might even be in my book, because we got permission to print black and white photos at the beginning of each chapter. (Yay!) And the coolest thing ever: I took most of the photos during my road trip last year.

Moving on. Now it’s time for the latest installment of Just How Territorial Is My Dog? Today during our daily walk Daisy spotted an old, discarded toothbrush on our neighbor’s lawn. She trotted over to it, sniffed it, and yep—you guessed it—peed right on the mashed bristles. I still don’t know quite what to make of this.

Edited to add: Today, Friday, is my first post over at The Debs. I am honored to join this fabulous group of writers and look forward to sharing the next year with them. My first post is about movies, which I’m a little obsessed about. Just a little. Stop by and say "hi!"

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Oh, I Don't Know What to Title This One. Happy August First, I Guess.

Overheard at My Sister’s Baby Shower:

On a handmade stuffed “Fuggly” doll: “Does that thing come with rolling papers?”

On something his mother did to make him blossom: “Stuff Miracle Gro suppositories up my butt.”

On politics, in mixed political company: “I ran for city council, and I LOST TWICE! Because everyone in my town is a FRIGGIN’ REPUBLICAN!”

On our scintillating assortment of games: “No, I don’t really want to play.”

On the Fuggly doll again, while sitting next to my Grandma: “I used to smoke a LOT of that stuff!”

Grandma, on the range of baby gifts: “Socks, again?”

Later in the evening, at our second event of the day (I know! It’s like the life I always wanted was finally delivered), I saw that another partygoer had brought a black bean and corn salad. Immediately, I grew clammy and agitated. This was not part of the plan. And when we deviate from the plan, things happen in my cranium that are just not pretty. Brain cells start smashing into each other like mini car wrecks, and dials and meters are just spinning wildly like in every movie about a nuclear plant about to melt down. You see, we had all arranged, via email, what each guest would contribute. Marty had the bacon covered in cheese, Ed had the cheese and pea pasta salad, and some people I don’t know brought the dilled cheese curds. (Are you sensing a theme here?) And I, Jess Riley, was slated to bring the black bean and corn salad to tickle palates and alleviate any cheese-related binding.

People, this is my signature dish. Katherine Hepburn had padded shoulder pads. Audrey Hepburn had pearls. I have black bean and corn salad and very regular BMs.

Immediately, I tried the competitor. And I’ll admit no shortage of smugness in my voice when I told my new BFF Michelle (Hi Michelle!) that the non-Jess Riley salad was mealy and bland, whereas mine was crisp, juicy, and swimming in enough garlic to leap from real life to film and kill Gary Oldman in every copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula ever made.

I fielded numerous requests for the recipe, which I fake-modestly agreed to share. So I present to you, dear readers, for the first time ever: Jess Riley’s Secret Signature Summer Salad & Salsa. Delicious with Tostitos Scoops. Dangerous competing with my version.

Serves: Oh, I don’t know, depends how piggish everyone is.

The Players
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cup frozen sweet corn kernels
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ medium red onion, diced
3 green onions, chopped (thought you might be tired of “dicing” by now)
2 ripe but firm avocados, diced (again with the dicing)

The Brine
2/3 cup fresh lime juice
½ cup olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced (smaller than a dice!)
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
dash cumin

In salad bowl, combine beans, corn, tomatoes, avocado, bell pepper, and onions. Toss gently until the mixture resembles a Benetton ad from the eighties.

In a small jar with tight-fitting lid: Mix lime juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and spices. Cover and shake until everyone’s getting along swimmingly.

Introduce the brine to the players. Refrigerate overnight, bring to the party, peel off the cover to release a garlic-scented cloud, sit back, drink a margarita, scratch a mosquito bite, and collect the compliments like trading cards. Pretend to be modest, and tell them Jess Riley sent you.

I have a lot to learn about food photography.

(Jason's comment: "It looks like someone ate a bunch of jellybeans and barfed.")

Meanwhile, back at the monarch ranch:

As of today, I have released 4 fluttery, delicate monarchs into the sunny skies. 3 were girls, and 1 was a boy. And guess what? Now I have empty nest syndrome! Well, it’s not empty nest so much as “Empty Giant Mesh Bag” syndrome. Here’s Darcy, all grown up. I almost hit her with my car a few hours after I released her. She really should fly a little higher. Fly to the light, Darcy! Find Carol Ann! Fly to the light!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Randomness! How it Burns!

Zowie, lots of things have been happening! This is going to be another hodge-podge post, because there are simply too many activities orbiting my head all at once.

We were in Minnesota earlier this week for Jason’s grandmother’s funeral. She was a lovely woman and I’m sad I didn’t get to know her better.

When we stopped to refuel on the way home, I was accosted by an adolescent waving a five dollar bill, loitering outside the service station: “Ascuse me, Ascuse me, ASCUSE ME, I lost my ID. Would you buy me a pack of Newports?”

Come on, kid. I look like a cross between Gidget and a librarian from the 1940s. I was in a 4-H club, Brownies, and the parish youth choir as a child. I wear sensible shoes, carry an insulated lunch cooler to work, and bring my own canvas bags to the grocery store. A pack of Newports for a minor…What do you think, Einstein?

I also left my wallet at a Boston’s restaurant in Minnesota—containing my driver’s license, credit cards, insurance cards, and the all-important discount club card for my grocery store. Luckily our server found it and raced to the parking lot to give it to us before we left.

Alas, not every human does the right thing (shocking, no?). An eleven year-old boy in my city had set up a lemonade stand to raise money for a camping trip with his grandparents. Unfortunately, a bully came along and shoved the young entrepreneur off his chair, punched him in the face, and stole the boy’s lemonade money as well as his wallet, which contained his student ID and library card. You’ll be glad to know police have arrested the 17 year-old perpetrator and charged him with robbery and physical abuse of a child.

I’m not even going to comment on this one, because I’m dying to know what all of you think.

The coming weekend is packed with my sister’s baby shower and a going away party for good friends. I KNOW I’ll have some dishy blogging material next week.

Update on book-related items: Riding with Larry Resnick has officially entered the production pipeline! Next phase: copyediting.

Update on the Monarch Ranching: We have eight lovely chrysalides! My wine rack has been recommissioned as a chrysalis staging platform. Aren’t they purty? They’re like melon jellybeans with gold trim. And from these little alien beans will hatch adult monarch butterflies, probably by Monday.

The ones that look like wedding favors were moved from their original inconvenient locations. Indeed, you CAN move a chrysalis...who knew?

Welcome to the Jungle! This is my backyard.
Learn to live like a chick-adee, and you won't go far.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Think about this the next time you chew a hangnail

So July is almost over already. Can you believe it? And you know what that means…it’s time for the mid-summer caterpillar project report.

This is Steve. He enjoys eating, pooping, and white water rafting. Most summer days you’ll find Steve at the beach, or clinging to the underside of this leaf.

This is Darcy. She’s fond of masticating, defecating, and scrapbooking. Though she’s only a week old, Darcy is already looking forward to being a mom someday, laying over 500 eggs on milkweed across the county—perhaps two of which will actually survive to become monarchs. Ah, it’s rough, the life of a butterfly-in-training.

The highlights reel:

1) Even faced with a bounty of available leaves, three will cluster on one leaf, battling over it like toddlers. (They actually rear up and head butt each other. It’s quite amusing.)

2) Because they are eating machines that quickly outgrow their own skins, they molt five times before forming their chrysalis. After each molt, they lie very still for an hour, then turn around and EAT THEIR OLD SKIN. Apparently, this little crumple of old cuticle is delicious, because I actually saw one little guy sneak up behind another that had just molted to poach the newly-shed skin.

Is that gross or what?

They’ll be butterflies in roughly two weeks. And then I can stop shaking my fist at them, saying, “All this cleaning of poop and disgusting skin eating better be worth it!”

It’s been interesting, but never before has the lack of an eight year-old in my life with whom to share such a project been so apparent. And that’s as good a segue as anything, so here’s the news I’ve been sitting on since January: I’m going to be aunt for the very first time in approximately one month! My younger sister Maddie is expecting a little boy, and we are positively bubbling with excitement here at Casa de Caterpillar. I am already stockpiling gifts for the little guy, who—if he looks anything like his parents—is destined for years of running from girls on the playground. Here’s a picture of Maddie and me on vacation in Bayfield, Wisconsin:

Oh wait! That’s not us. Let me try this again.

Isn’t she adorable? I must really love her to post this picture, in which my upper arm threatens to hold us all hostage with its ginormitude. I believe this is the shot in which I am about to launch into a vigorous rendition of “I’m a Little Teapot.” And judging by the red in my eyes, I look possessed enough to sing it in Latin, backwards.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

OCD: My Funny Little Lifestyle Choice

When I was a child, I had a fever. No wait, that’s Pink Floyd. Let me start again.

When I was a child, I would watch my mother meticulously plan each week’s menu, and then develop her entire shopping list around the menu’s necessary ingredients. Her weekly meal-planning usually included sensible family-pleasers like tacos, spaghetti, chili, and fish sticks and fries, but occasionally Shit-on-a-Shingle would rear it’s ugly ham-studded head, or once in awhile Sweet and Sour Pork would crash the dance, the bane of my youthful existence.

This past spring, in an effort to improve my diet and become more organized, I adopted my mother’s weekly menu development strategy. Unfortunately, I was unable to sustain this military level of meal-planning precision, and suspended the practice after a few weeks. But lucky for you, I just found an old menu from this era on the desktop of my computer. It is from the week of March 19, 2007. Let’s begin, shall we?

Menu, week of March 19, 2007

Monday: Spanish rice & beans with black bean & mango salad (chips & sour cream)

Oh, ampersand, will you marry me?...I love you almost as much as I love ellipses & parentheses (& that’s no lie!) …Chips & sour cream is in parentheses because while they are not the star players of this dish, they nonetheless serve an important supporting role in this cast of disturbingly detailed characters. OCD? Frequently, and often!

Tuesday: Omelettes with cheese, chicken for J, diced red pepper, green & red onion, broccoli … Side: hash browns, salsa, hot sauce

Don’t you think it’s magnanimous of me to allow J to eat chicken instead of his usual isolated soy protein and MDF meat substitute? I’m rather impressed with myself. And striking a mighty blow for control freaks everywhere, I even had the foresight to identify which specific condiments to place on the table. Next time I’ll make sure to include salt and pepper, because deviations from the menu carry a stiff and brutal penalty that even Russian prison guards speak of only in hushed, fearful voices.

(Author comment: the omelettes turned out like rubbery, parched tortillas cooked by Satan himself on a grill that can vaporize water three continents away, but the hash browns, doused in ketchup and S & P, were edible.)

Wednesday: Italian rice-a-roni with garbanzos…side of broccoli & steamed carrots

Dear Readers, I’d like to introduce you to my impression of an Institutionalized Meal Fit for a Child with an Undeveloped Palate. We have our fiber-rich protein, our starch-from-a-box, and our vegetables--steamed for vitaminy goodness and chock-full of necessary bodybuilding nutrients. Add a glass of milk and what else do you need to enjoy this fully complete and balanced meal, other than a tongue with damaged taste buds?

Thursday: Pasta with pesto, artichoke hearts, peas, teeny red marinated red pepper strips, & pine nuts; side of leftover scones, garlic toast/bagel/bun, Cabbage

Ah, the scones rear their crusty little heads again! What I particularly enjoy about this day’s menu is my specification for “teeny red marinated red pepper strips” (red is listed twice, in case I missed it the first time). Also, there is an opportunity for improv! Granted, the choice offered (toast/bagel/bun) bounces among three carbohydrate-rich members of the Bread Group, but still! Rigid me of the parsimonious sphincter is offering a choice! I marked this event on the calendar.

Cabbage, with a capital C. So cheap. So stinky. So obviously leftover from my St. Patrick’s theme meal it’s a crying shame.

Friday or Saturday: Fettuccini alfredo, peas, garlic “toast”

Toast is in quotation marks because clearly, by “toast” I mean “clown car.” Also, it’s the end of the week. I am no longer even able to commit to a day on which we will sup our alfredo, peas, and garlic “toast.” I have even built room into my plan for what will surely be my disinclination to cook one more day after such a whirlwind of culinary feats. Do you smell the faintest whiff of fecal matter? You should, because this is anal to the tenth power.

Easy dinner/lunch: Pizza or veggie burgers with corn

Look, an EASY dinner/lunch! It’s dunch. It’s linner. Also, another real-live choice! Pizza OR veggie burgers. For two adults who regularly eat like toddlers being raised on a commune in upstate New York. Now, with corn!

There. Wasn’t that delicious?

Moving on, here are some summertime lessons recently learned:

For the men: When standing next to a low table buttering hot corn on the cob, perhaps it’s not the best idea to be wearing only loose-fitting boxers and a T-shirt.

For the ladies: If there is a dead earwig in the bottom of the toilet bowl and you are of a squeamish persuasion, flush before doing your business. Nothing gives you the Heebie-Jeebies like a cold drop of earwig water splashing up on your buns.

And finally, an update on the monarch wrangling: I now have a full baseball team of caterpillars munching away on milkweed in my bathtub. Nine of them. Nine caterpillars!!! Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom has commandeered the tub. Their little jeeps are leaving black tire tracks all over the porcelain, but thankfully, I have Advanage miracle cleaning fluid to remove them.

You wouldn’t believe how much those little caterpillar dudes can poop. Yesterday I was outside rescuing a few more from a predatory wasp eager to make them an easy meal. Last night, I wept for the mangy, paralyzed squirrel that crawled beneath our front porch to die. When will it end, this urge of mine to save all wildlife? I guess that’s what you might expect from a girl who pecked the back of her own neck with an index finger to fertilize the chicken eggs she was perching on. (Sorry. You'll have to scroll down one entry for this story. My technology skills...they are lacking.)

PS: photos of the bebeh butterflies to come. They like to hide beneath the leaves (making photography somewhat challenging); plus, they’re so small right now that every time you jostle the leaves some of them dive off, suspended by a microfilament of bebeh monarch string. But I shall try again as the cuties grow. You’ll just have to take my word for it that 4 of them are in the 95th percentile for height and weight among 72 hour-olds.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Another Fourth of July Blown to Shreds

I must confess, I’m a little hung-over today. Last night a friend took us out on his boat to watch the fireworks, where I battled valiantly against both a swarm of lakeflies and sobriety. I’m pleased to announce that I emerged the victor in both cases! Hurrah!

When I was a kid my family watched the fireworks at Lakeside Park in Fond du Lac. In a portion of the park called “Supple’s Marsh,” to be more precise. Who thought it would be a good idea to lure station wagons loaded with families to a mosquito-infested wetland to watch the fireworks? I suspect the OFF! corporation was behind that decision.

I remember how the traditional sparklers, the color of gold, sparkled in a much more satisfying manner than the colored jobbies, which half-heartedly fizzled for all of three seconds before winking out in a disappointing fuzz of smoke. Buying those sparklers (and if we were lucky, smoke bombs and bottle rockets and those weird expanding snake pellets) was the highlight of the summer.

And halfway into the fireworks, Dad would always make us pack up the car so we could leave early to "Beat the rush." I would peer miserably through the back window of the mini-van, watching the Grand Finale grow smaller and smaller on the horizon, giving pitiful play-by-play updates as long as I could: "That one was like a weeping willow. Oh, wow, you can almost see them over those trees ... they're still going ... " (ten minutes later) ... "Still going. I think this is the Grand Finale ... no wait, they're still going ..."

The other day at Target I saw a boy, maybe around ten, begging his mother to purchase a prepackaged assortment of fireworks. “It’s only $9.99!” he said earnestly, studying the assembly of shrink-wrapped bliss, calculating its thrill per dollar value. At the time I wanted to say, cynically, “Hey kid, how about I just light up a ten dollar bill for you? Would that work?” I was tired of kids lighting smoke bombs in the neighborhood, staining our driveway green and sending our dog into frenzied fits of anxiety. I was tired of the Fourth of July even before it began. In fact, I was tired of it last year, when we stayed home and went to bed as the fireworks were just beginning. Later, we’d heard there had been a stabbing among the crowd assembled to watch the show and I thought, (somewhat smugly), “See what happens when you go to the fireworks? I’m glad we stayed home.”

Now, if the stabbing had been fatal, I would have thought, “Oh, that’s horrible! See what happens when you go to the fireworks? I’m glad we stayed home.” I’m not a heartless monster, after all.

But when I look back at how the Fourth of July used to electrify my inner pyromaniac, I understand. It’s a ritual of childhood. It’s a family-bonding activity, if well-supervised by an adult or guardian. And if you’re lucky, you might end up with a cautionary tale to tell your son Timmy when he begs for the $9.99 fireworks at Target: the one about the reckless kid in the neighborhood who blew his right thumb off lighting an M-80.

And now for something completely different!

Guess who laid a bunch of eggs in my garden? No, not Hilary Duff. A monarch butterfly! In the milkweed patch! And now guess who’s going to try raising them in a caterpillar cage in the house so the birds don’t eat them? No, not David Spade. Me! I am! This will be a fun little experiment, won’t it? I’m already tracking the progress on my calendar, with “Hatch” scribbled on July 7 and “Pupate” scribbled on July 22nd.

(I know, I know. I’ve put my application in, but the wait to Get a Life is like, six months or more.)

This would be a fun activity to do with a kid. Kinda makes me want to rent a preschooler for a few weeks.