Monday, December 28, 2009

Is that a Rhinovirus in your Stocking?

That wheezing sound you're hearing? Is me coming up for air after a week I'd spent weeks rushing around preparing for. Also, I am getting over a cold. I wonder what number cold it was in my life. My best guess is that it was my 58th cold (assuming I got more than one head cold in some years). I'm kind of weird that way--I like knowing these strange little bits of trivia, and I like imagining that after I die, St. Peter (or Buddha...or one of their minions) and I are strolling the grounds of some fabulous garden, and St. Peter (or the minion) is telling me exactly how many hours of my life I wasted watching Three's Company reruns or how many feet my hair grew in my lifetime. And I'll be like, "Well THAT was a useless pursuit!" or "I should have taken up knitting. It would have been interesting to know how many cumulative feet of yarn I've turned into booties and blankets."

It's almost 2010, so I feel like doing a run-down of my favorite flicks of 2009.

Animated: Up. If you can get through the first twenty minutes without copious, open weeping, more power to you. Also, you are probably a sociopath.

Science Fiction: District 9. Alright, alright...the aliens look a little weird, and the metaphor couldn't be more obvious (cockroaches much?). BUT: this was one of my favorite films of the year, and if Avatar is any indication, they may release more sci fi movies with a social conscience in the future. Which I like.

Comedy: The Hangover. Pure, gut-busting hilarity. Zack Galifianakis has come a long way since Out Cold.

Dramedy: Up in the Air. This one's in theaters now. 89% fresh according to Rotten Tomatoes. I concur. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Horror: Paranormal Activity / Food, Inc. I wouldn't call Paranormal Activity one of the scariest movies ever made, but it's definitely among the creepiest and most effectively filmed. Also, I was afraid to go to bed after watching it. And I began to really regret playing with Ouija boards at all those slumber parties in my youth.

Food, Inc is scary for another reason altogether. (Ammonia burger, anyone?) It's a movie everyone should see, but only a few hearty souls will. When it comes to what we eat, ignorance may not exactly be bliss, but it's cheap (for now), convenient, comfortable ... and ultimately, very costly on a number of levels.

Quentin Tarantino movie: Inglorious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino has his own category because ... well, how do you define a Tarantino film? I love every campy, violent, gory, hilarious second of his movies, which means I probably should have been on a roller derby team or a drummer in a heavy metal band in my early twenties.

Documentary: Anvil: The Story of Anvil. I've blogged about this before, and I can't recommend this film enough. Heartwarming, heartbreaking, inspiring, funny ... if you have a soft spot in your heart for The Little Engine that Could, if you always root for the underdog, if you take the last wilted, wrinkly pickle on the platter for no other reason than you secretly feel sorry for it, you need to watch this movie.
If I'd seen (500) Days of Summer, there may have been a romantic comedy on the list (I generally can't stomach them). It's in my Netflix queue because I've heard many good things about it. Tonight I'm going to see The Road, which would probably fall under the category of "Best post-apocalyptic movie that makes me want to slit my wrists (But I still loved it)."
I'll give honorable mention to Let the Right One In, which I really can't include here because it was a 2008 release.

I hope it's socks!

I hope it's socks!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Few Things

I've been wondering about a few things. First, have you seen the commercials on TV for a new senior singles dating service? NOT ONE of the actors portraying a "senior" is a senior citizen. One woman appears to be twenty-six, with gray paint sprayed onto her blond ponytail. This makes me feel really great about aging.

Second, what's with the SHELLAC in a certain brand of high-fiber bars? Are people demanding that their day begin with a shiny breakfast? I don't typically varnish my waffles, but perhaps this is a delicious new trend I'm missing out on. Every time I'm shopping for breakfast bars I pick up a box to see if the shellac has been omitted from the ingredient list, but nope. It's still there, next to the high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated palm oil. Just thinking of it makes me feel strong, healthy, and disease-free.

On a serious note, what the HELL is up with Uganda? Perhaps I'll have to go to Rwanda for my gorilla safari. Wait...maybe not. What century is it, again?

I hope your holiday preparations are going smoothly...merry Wednesday!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Snow Daze

We have finally gotten the kind of snow that struts around like it owns the place, holding up traffic and demanding a giant bowl of green M&Ms after the show.

The snowbanks are pretty, but I have been housebound now for TWO DAYS. And you know what this means! Personal hygiene? See you Thursday! My teeth are kind of furry at this point. In college we used to say, "My teeth are wearing little yellow sweaters!"

God, when did I get so gross? And why do I find this acceptable? Maybe A&E needs to do a show about women who get really lax about shaving their legs in winter. (I can't remember where I was, because I had another birthday last week and I'm now OLD AS FUCK, but I was recently talking with three women and we all stated that winter means long leg hair. So long it gets SOFT. And waves around like sea anemone tentacles in bathwater.)

So yes. The A&E Network. Have you seen their show about hoarding? It makes me want to bust a cap in my spare bedroom's ass. Pull it together. Rent a POD and start seriously tossing shit.

Ripped-up pillows I thought might one day be useful as...oh, giant ugly kneepads perhaps? GONE.

Ugly lamp, strange giant cat sculpture, shopping bag full of old CDs (Tupac's on top...Whaa??): all GONE.

I want to take it a step further and defenestrate everything in the spare room closet, but J might throw a minor fit over that, because it's all his crap.

Bottom line? We have too much stuff for our small house, and after watching the show Hoarders, I am much more inclined to rent a dumpster and pour half of our household belongings through the upstairs window. Even if said belongings are on the first floor...I will carry them upstairs and THEN through them out the second floor windows, because that's much more dramatic.

Anyway, back to my laziness. Maybe A&E needs to do a show featuring people with REALLY bad personal hygiene to scare me straight. Like, put that wad of belly button lint under a microscope and show us what's in it! Show a lady who finds a booklet of stamps and some movie ticket stubs from 1997 under her breasts! Show a man who smells so bad milk goes sour around him! And they bring in cleanliness intervention specialists and everyone is so happy and squeaky-clean at the end of each episode that they cry. I don't know what they might call it. YOU STINK! seems a little severe.

Okay, I'm exaggerating some of this (I'm really not that dirty. Maybe.), but the bottom line is this: I'm still not as dirty as Viggo Mortensen in The Road. Which is the Feel Good Holiday Movie of the season, and I'm really annoyed that it's not playing anywhere near me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Welcome, Dick Gobbler

Yesterday J's best friend left us a present on our front door:

It's always nice to begin these things with a touch of class, don't you agree?

General updates: if you'd like to do a good deed for the day, vote for the Antigo City Farm "Urban Tree Program" HERE. The proposed project with the most votes wins. (You have to register, but you can vote three times. I always vote three times, so this was right up my alley.)

Next, if you want to watch something quirky and have a soft-spot in your heart for underdogs, check out Anvil! The Story of Anvil. We watched it last night, and I adored this movie. Go rent it. It kind of reminded me of American Movie, which contains some of my favorite lines ever. I've never been one for the pre-packaged Hollywood "Feel Good" movies, and both of these films are so much more honest and raw and hilarious (often unintentionally so)...AND they make you feel good. Go little human spirit, go! You too can triumph in the face of adversity! Or at least make a really good movie about your efforts!

I will return on Friday with one of my delinquent GCC posts. In the meantime, there are good deeds to do and movies to watch!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Non-stop Glam

This weekend I got to hang out with my adorable nephew, which meant we spent about 40 minutes watching Spongebob Squarepants, half an hour eating peanuts and spinning around (which led to puking for some of us), an hour running up and down the driveway, and about half an hour encouraging the parroting of humorous, non-age-appropriate phrases.

I particularly enjoyed the commercials on Nickelodeon. Since we usually watch the Food Network (which, if their commercials are any indicator, caters to childless old people with dogs), I'm not hip to the cool toys these days.

Here's one I was really excited to see: the Barbie Glamour Camper. Well, I wasn't so much excited to about the product as I was about its pitch, which entailed shots of Barbie and her sisters enjoying the perks of 'camping' while the chipper song playing in the background exclaimed, "Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam!!"

Several times.


Barbie, Mattel, ad whizzes hired by Mattel, let me break it to you gently. Camping is not about non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam. Camping is about washing your hands with moist towelettes for three days. Camping is about hammering stakes into the ground and clipping vinyl tablecloths to dusty, wobbly picnic tables and dogs that won't stop barking in every campsite next to yours.
Camping has nothing to do with flushing toilets (unless you ride your bike two miles there and back, wearing a headlamp).
Camping has so much more to do with you pooping in some shrubs behind the tent at the inconvenient hour of 11 pm because you're too afraid to make the trek to the pit toilet (or you're simply too afraid of the pit toilet, period), and then your boyfriend discovers the turd and makes you impale it with a stick and throw it farther into the woods.
And then you are forced to wash your hands with a moist towelette.
Non-stop, non-stop, non-stop glam!
Camping is not about flat-panel TVs on swivel arms.
Camping is about drinking cheap beer, throwing the empty cans into the campfire, and watching them melt. That's your entertainment right there, folks. And if you breathe deeply, probably a secondary source of inebriation.
Camping is not about functional kitchens with garbage disposals and sanitary practices.

Camping is about picking charred hot dogs out of your alumi-fire and eating them with hands so filthy they'd make a chimney sweep blush.
Camping is not about actual beds and pillows and blankets.

Camping is about damp sleeping bags on air mattresses that will never remain consistently inflated, but will instead deflate beneath your buttocks until you are folded in half, in which position you shall remain until four a.m., when the first birds start singing and/or it begins to storm.
If your idea of camping involves a television set, microwave, electricity, comfort, or a chandelier in the screen tent, you are not camping. Also, you should be swiftly kicked in the ass.
Anyway, in this economy, it's more likely that Barbie and Ken will be stuck with the hand-me-down Barbie Country Camper when they go to Jellystone.

(PS: my favorite comments about this commercial from YouTube: "I have this camper! My uncle found it in a dump!" and "My older sister had this and I rode it like a car and broke it.")

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GCC Presents: Marilyn Brant

I am so, so behind on my GCC posts! I have three new books to tell you about, and I'll kick things off with Marilyn Brant, whose debut novel ACCORDING TO JANE was released last month to great fanfare. A Family Circle reviewer called it "charming," and Barnes & Noble Review selected ACCORDING TO JANE for "The Long List" in mid-October, dubbing book "Fresh, original, and lots of fun." (And what a gorgeous cover!)

About the book: It begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From nowhere comes a quiet "tsk" of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there.

Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go--sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham.
Still, everyone has something to learn about love--perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. . .

About the author: As a former teacher, library staff member, freelance magazine writer and national book reviewer for Romantic Times, Marilyn has spent much of her life lost in literature. She received her M.A. in educational psychology from Loyola University Chicago, dabbled in both fiction and art at Northwestern University, studied the works of Austen at Oxford University and is an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. Her debut novel According to Jane won RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award® in 2007.

The interview:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine? I have far less time to actually write! That has been one of the biggest challenges for me. I now have to split my true writing time with promotion and publicity. In some ways, it’s helped me use the real writing time more efficiently--I don’t have a half hour to web surf for just the perfect name for some character’s pet, I need to get to the heart of the narrative much faster and save some of the detail hunting for later.

2) Do you listen to music while you write? No. I wish I could. I LOVE music, but it’s wildly distracting to me while I’m writing. (Probably because I love it so much and am too often inspired to sing along. :) I reference songs quite a bit, however, in the narrative itself, so I listen to a lot of music while I’m working on a story--just not when I’m actually sitting at the computer and typing. My favorite way is to go on walks with my iPod and think about scenes, testing out different songs to see if they provide the right musical subtext. For According to Jane I have an entire soundtrack of ‘80s tunes amassed. (I put a bunch of these song titles on the “Extras” page of my website.)

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and storytelling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' Sure. I think this is a natural result of studying any craft deeply. I remember reading the book Ice Castles as a kid, not long after the movie came out, and there was this one scene where the teen ice skater was trying to recapture her feeling of freedom on the ice. She used to skate with her eyes closed, just dancing across the frozen pond. But, after her strict training, she’d forgotten how to skate naturally. Though she was now blind, she could no longer just close her eyes and skate. She was too aware of her posture and her positioning; she couldn’t forget her lessons... I’ve felt that way about all aspects of storytelling. When I reread books I used to enjoy, I find myself pointing out flaws in the structure, noting sloppy characterizations or being annoyed by certain writer tics that I’d simply skimmed over before back when I used to be able to read just for “story.” On the one hand, that’s a loss. I was able to LOVE a lot more books back then! On the other hand, these craft skills were hard won, and the awareness they’ve given me is necessary if I want my writing to keep improving.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer? A grand European tour. I’ve done that with my husband, but it was before I became a novelist. Now, I think I’d appreciate the whirlwind sightseeing, the different regional dishes and the quirky characters a traveler encounters on a long trip even more than I did then…and I enjoyed them all quite a lot at the time!

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences? Well, I’m a debut author so--for good or bad--I haven’t had too many strange or quirky author experiences yet. I’ve been “found” online by a few people from my past, and that’s surprised me. But, so far, these haven’t been unwelcome reunions. Oh, wait! There was one thing. Someone from high school sent me a letter (and this was a couple of years before I sold my first novel) saying she wanted me to help her publish a children’s book she and I had jointly written as sophomores. She figured my “connections” in publishing would make that easy. When I wrote her back and gently explained that, while I remembered doing that project when we were 16, it probably would be difficult to have something that we dashed off in an evening or two hold up to the rigorous standards of today’s children’s book market (plus my writing area was contemporary women’s fiction not children’s lit), she never responded. So, yeah, okay--THAT was strange.
Thanks Marilyn! Best of luck with your debut. Next up, Jessica Brody and Melissa Senate.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

One of Those Truly Weird Nights

Is it the cooler fall weather that's making me a sluggish blogger? Is my attention span that short? (Hey, look! A squirrel!) Well, I finally have some new blogworthy material to share with you.

Last night J and I (and my parents) attended a stimulating debate hosted by UW-Oshkosh as part of their ongoing speaker series: The Great Porn Debate...Horny vs. Holy. Ron Jeremy vs. Craig Gross.

I know.

Turnout was incredible, with 200 kids stuffed into an overflow room to watch online. Now, if just the thought of attending such an event with your parents makes you break out in a cold sweat, imagine if your mother, polite to a fault, tried making small talk with you prior to the event by asking, " you watch a lot of porn?"

You know, it just occurred to me that I never did answer her! Let's leave it at: "None. None at all."

The debate was spirited, and each side made some valid and thoughtful points. It was a colorful and interesting change of pace.

But let me back up a bit...

Earlier in the evening an elderly woman knocked on my front door by mistake. She was looking for her friend Bea's party: "I'm sorry I'm late!" Then, as her predicament began to dawn on her: "Where is everybody?" I felt absolutely horrible for her when I responded with a gentle, "May I ask who you're looking for?" I invited her in while I looked her friend up in the phone book...apparently, this poor, confused, very lost 84 year-old had been driving around for an hour trying to find her friend's place, and she landed on my porch, just ONE BLOCK from her destination. J came home to find this unfamiliar old lady sitting at our kitchen table, chatting away with Bea on her cell phone, her giant boat of a Cadillac parked in our driveway.

While I walked Helen out she told me that getting old was no picnic. "Would you believe I used to be a professional ice skater?"

"It's a good thing we wrapped this up now," I replied. "We've got to go see a porn star speak on campus."

I'm totally kidding about that. I actually replied, "Are you fucking kidding me?"

No, no, of course I didn't say that. I smiled and laughed and listened to her talk about growing up a few blocks from me and moving to Florida. It kind of broke my heart that she told me the bit about ice was important to her that I didn't just see her as a confused older woman who came to my house by mistake, but that I know she too was once vibrant and young. I don't look forward to that. To the feeling that you have to prove your value, justify your continued worth as you lose your independence, health, and even dignity in dribs and drabs every day.

I'll say this--she may have been confused, she may have been a bit shaky on the stairs, but if I'm still in good spirits, resilient in the face of adversity, tooling around going to parties with my friends fifty years from now, I'll consider myself unfathomably lucky.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tick or Teat!

I threw a smallish Halloween party this weekend, which is partially why I have been so quiet lately. I had decorating! I had pumpkin carving! I had savory autumn leaf pies to make, bishes! And let me tell you. Those bastards sucked a chunk from my life that shall never be returned. (They were delicious, but their wee, sassy leaf shapes shall never grace my kitchen again. Because of the time suckage factor.)

An hour before trick-or-treating (and three hours before the first guests were to arrive), Daisy peed on the back rug for the second time in 24 hours, so I had to make an emergency run to Target to buy a new one. And more candy (because we kept eating it) and pint glasses (because we kept breaking them) and ice (because…well, because we wanted to get all fancy with beverages in a galvanized metal tub). The melted water from said cubes would later lead to a toilet overflow emergency at 1 in the morning. But what’s a Halloween party without the toilet overflowing at least once??

We only had 55 trick-or-treaters this year. I almost typed “tick,” and wouldn’t it be funny if you had a kid actually come to the door and ask,“tick or teat?” Because what kind of choice would THAT be? Anyway, that’s kind of a poor turnout, so we have lots of candy left. My FUPA is happy about this, but I most certainly am not.

On Sunday I hit my Halloween wall and did a major tear-down of all the seasonal holiday crap festooning our house: spider webs, lights, wall décor, even black poster board bats we cut out while watching NBC all night last Thursday.

I learned a few new things at our party. For example, I learned that my friend L is also a vegetarian. And that only one of the party attendees was a parent. And that cheese really does have magical powers, especially if it’s infused with the flavor of buffalo wings.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Curiosity Killed The Annoying Bar Patron

I have some bad habits. For example, if someone shows the remotest interest (or if they make the mistake of being a polite listener), I will hold forth on subjects like:
  • Farm subsidies
  • GM Corn
  • Confined Animal Feeding Operations
  • What a carbon analysis of our hair might reveal
Wait, wait, wait. I need to set the stage for you. Did I mention we've been drinking? And we're at a cheerful bar on Saturday night--a birthday party, more specifically--while I'm delivering a sermon on what too much conventionally-produced dairy did to the participants in a controlled study in Sweden?

Meanwhile, my husband is looking at me like, Why can't you just do too many shots and jump out of a giant cake in a bikini like Jeff's wife just did?

Anyway, I decided to switch conversational gears later in the evening to avoid traumatizing anyone else. First, I was introduced to the singer of a local band and his adorable new girlfriend. Turned out it was her birthday, too. Unfortunately, the singer in question was spectacularly drunk--so drunk you could nearly see his liver glowing through his shirt--which made him quite the Flirty Gertie, all handsy and stinky and stumbly. So I decided to switch to Interviewer Mode to divert his attention back to Lucky Girlfriend, where it belonged. Here's what happened:

Me, to the happy couple: "So how long have you two been together?"

Drunk singer: "Oh, I don't know. Four months?"

Lucky Girlfriend: "We started dating on June 21st."

Me: "So how did you meet?"

Singer: "She was at one of my shows."

Me: "What first attracted you to her?"

Singer: "Oh, her Dad was hilarious. Her family is great. I just love them."

Girlfriend: *Smile beginning to fade*

Me: "But you saw her and thought she was the prettiest girl in the room, right?"

Singer, after a long pause: "Well, not really. You know, as I get older, I'm so much more interested in what's INSIDE a woman, as opposed to the OUTSIDE."

Girlfriend: *Dirty look*

Me, laughing out loud: "But she's adorable! I'm sure you thought she was beautiful."

Singer, leaning in to cup his girlfriend's face: "But it's what's on the INSIDE that matters, right?"

Girlfriend: *Glaring at boyfriend now*

Singer: "I just..I don't know...her family...they're GREAT!"

Me: *Backing silently away while their fight broke out.*

Well that was a disaster. So I decided to switch conversational approaches again. May I just say that attempting to act as Life Coach to a burly, recovering drug addict at 2 in the morning is only going to lead to tears? For him? The good thing is, you'll walk away thinking, Well, my family may not be perfect, but at least my mother never locked me in a cage when I was a kid.

Maybe I should just keep it simple, I thought. Make people laugh. Get back to my roots.

Me, after eating 6 Bloody Mary garlic pickles, to a girl I've only met once before: "Hey, doesn't my breath smell kind of like a casserole?"

So if anyone would like to learn more about factory farming or the giant mass of plastic floating in the Pacific Ocean, I'll be at my cousin's wedding in Appleton this Saturday night. Dinner will be served at 5, annoying lecture to follow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Giants Win the Penance!

When I was a young girl, I attended Saturday morning CCD classes, all of which were punctuated by mass, and some of which were punctuated by confession. And in that musty, confined space, a sweaty me usually confessed the same laundry list of sins (fighting with my brother and sister, talking back to Mom & Dad, lying about something, putting a recyclable in the general refuse bin, murdering a homeless man and burying his body in the crawl space ...). And was assessed the same penance, nearly every time. One "Our Father," and a "Hail Mary" or two, depending on how honest / bored I was feeling before the moment of semi-truth.

It occurred to me the other day that if I were to attend confession NOW, nearly twenty years since my last one, my penance would probably be to say the rosary over and over again while running the Chicago marathon barefoot, with a sack of ceramic garden gnomes on my back.

But the more you read the paper or simply mingle with the general public, the more you realize your own sins are probably pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. Of course, it helps to live across the street from The Jerry Springer Show, but not everyone has that luxury. I truly feel blessed. Every day I can look out the window and say, "Thank GOD I'm not keeping up with the Joneses."

Also, from the weekend: "Thank goodness I've never been called a Butter Face, especially now that I know what it means!"

And: "Thank heavens my doctor has never pulled a jalapeno seed from my urethra!"

(Oh, there's a long story behind that one, and it's going in a book one day, for sure.)

So, there really is a lot to be thankful for. Including the fact that you can grow up and never go to confession again, if you don't want to.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ghost hunting old-school style

First, a correction...that was an eight-pound kohlrabi in my last post. So if you're looking for an eight-pound rutabaga at the local grocery store, you may be shit out of luck.

Mike Birbiglia was hilarious, and I so enjoyed myself that I immediately bought tickets for another upcoming show: David Cross at the Riverside this Saturday. This has all the makings of a comedian bender, so it's a good thing future weekends will be reserved for weddings and other activities.

Such as having the snot scared out of me. Two weekends ago I heard a story about a haunted section of woods in southern Wisconsin, and since I am an avid Ghost Hunters fan, of course I want to go experience it myself to see if it's real.

There is a back service road in the southern Kettle Moraine Forest that is supposedly haunted. You drive down the road at night, park, kill the engine, shut off the lights, roll the windows down, and wait. Within minutes, you hear the voices and laughter of small children running through the woods. Soon, you also hear shuffling on the gravel road. The footsteps and laughter grow louder and louder until you have the strong sensation of being watched. But as your eyes grow used to the darkness, you see nothing but small puffs of dust kicking up from the gravel with every footstep.

Or something like that.

(Spooky Count Laugh: "Ah-ah-ah-ah-aaaahhh!")

True? Maybe. I know people who have gone there and will never return because they stained their skivvies just a wee bit. So, with our freewheeling attitude toward fear-based fluid leakage, my friend and I are thinking about doing it. Hey, if nothing else, it could be good blog fodder. Or we could try to sit on the haunted mausoleum in nearby Dartford Cemetery. (Supposedly a ghost pushes you off.) With Halloween approaching, I suspect this could be a popular spot with the local teen Ouija board / Light-as-a-feather-Stiff-as-a-board crowd. There could be a line..."You must be *this* tall to ride the mausoleum!" And souvenir tees and hats.

If we go, maybe we'll take some video and post something on YouTube. Because my life won't be complete until a pasty kid with a KFC stain on his shirt leaves a comment like, "this would have been more interesting if y'all girls got naked," or, "GGGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" or "you two are stupid the video sucks. try not smoking a bunch of weed before you go."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is that Sputnik?

I have been so thrilled with my first experience participating in a CSA this summer. (No, that isn't shorthand for "Can't Stomach (men named) Allen.") Look at the goodies in our HALF-SHARE box two weeks ago:

I imagine I'd need a dolly to get the full-share box home.

In case you're wondering what that giant, nubby green ball is on the right, it's an eight-pound rutabaga. And it wasn't WOODY! It was jicama-like, sweet, crunchy, and mild. Our CSA (Olden Produce) is fabulous, and I highly recommend them. The variety of fruits and veggies in the weekly boxes forces you to get creative in the kitchen and vary your diet. This is a positive lifestyle change your colon AND your tastebuds can get behind. And convenient! Especially if you're like me and tell everyone, "Oh, I just go to the farmers' market when I want fresh produce," and then you sleep in each Saturday morning and totally miss it. And okay. I hear you: "But I don't know HOW to cook an eight-pound rutabaga, Jess!"

That's fine! Neither do I! So the green beast ended up in stir-fries and mostly straight to my stomach in raw stick form. And's can also play kickball with it if you want, 'k? But if you want to cook those potatoes in a form other than mashed, here is one of my all-time favorite recipe resources. Galettes galore, folks. Check it out.

We've only got a few weeks to go on produce this season, and I am already experiencing CSA withdrawal symptoms. But I recently learned of a NEW CSA I can join: the Enlightened Kitchen in Fond du Lac. They offer a bread share featuring organic, artisan sourdough, whole wheat, and rye breads ... and! AND! The possibility of a new vegetarian soup share, featuring:
  • Curried butternut bisque with coconut cream
  • Tomato and bread soup
  • Black bean with roasted peppers
  • Chick pea stew with creamy peanut sesame broth
  • Hearty winter root vegetable with brown rice
  • Italian potato gnocchi and pesto with asiago
  • Indian lentil with quinoa and tomatoes
Love it, love it, love it all. And this would mean one less night of cooking each week. I am so down with that. So if this looks appealing and you live in the area, sign up! I hear they need 30 people in the Appleton area to offer the soup share, so the more the merrier. The fall season runs from October 7 through December 23rd.

I'm seeing Mike Birbiglia tonight, prefaced by dinner at Cafe Coquette. *swoon!* It's like I'm a real grown-up, and everything! Will have more on these developments next week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Getting up After Falling Down. It's an Inexact Science.

Many people have asked about my next novel, and I finally—FINALLY—have a new idea I’m excited about. I pursued a few bad ideas down the wrong rabbit holes this summer, when I had time to focus on fiction, but now that I’m back at work, Great New Idea is pulsing at my temples. Demanding my full attention when it’s been diverted to tasks that result in an actual paycheck (minus standard deductions).

Murphy’s Law. It’s applied to me since birth.

Now, lest you think I’m a lazy novelist, let me clear a few things up. I have been hemming and hawing about addressing this, because people love to back a winning horse and you’re supposed to give the illusion of SuccessSuccessSuccess! when you put yourself out there, I guess. But screw it.

Last summer as I was wrapping up promotion for Driving Sideways, I did finish a second novel. Quieter, darker, more character-driven...but still snarky. After some final polishing on this end, my agent pitched it to my editor last fall.

Remember what else happened last fall? Yeah! The economy took a giant dirt nap! And then publishing imploded for awhile. My book, featuring characters that became very real and dear to me and a storyline that I ached over, was ultimately rejected. Hammer? Meet heart.

Let me set the scene for you:

It’s mid-October. I am in Madison with author friends, attending the Wisconsin Book Festival. I’d heard through the grapevine that my editor was “loving the book so far,” hoping to “make it hers very soon.” Me? Relieved! Still, I am a bundle of nerves, because did I mention the economy taking a digger and clawing at its neck in the universal sign of “I’m dyin’ ovah heah!”? Anything could happen.

I am out to lunch with my author pal Danielle Younge-Ullman and her dad, expecting The Call. Just as we sit down to our sandwiches, my cell phone rings. My heart leaps into my throat and sticks there. Danielle locks eyes with me, excited. “Is this it?”

I nod and leave the restaurant to take the call on the street. My legs are rubbery. I answer. I listen.

And my little world collapses into a gray, mucky puddle. People are still going about their lives all around me, driving their kids to soccer games or plugging parking meters, and I have to remind myself to keep it together. I don’t want to be the crazy woman openly weeping on the street that they tell their friends about later. I return to the table bereft. I feel like someone’s stolen my dog. Dani (always the sweetheart) optimistically asks, “So what did they offer?!”

There was crying, weepy rehashing and speculating, and an empty, forlorn little cloud that seemed to follow me around wherever I went. I put my writing ambitions on ice for a good, long time.

In other words, I took it way too personally.

My husband, who is such a large-hearted, wonderful cheerleader, says my sophomore novel was simply a casualty of the shitty economy and the fact that I don’t have a long publishing history (sales record, really) to keep me in the pipeline in the face of tightening budgets. Bad timing all around. But maybe the book was just a stinker. Or maybe it was a little of both.

So, you can write a book. You can be amazed that anyone wants to publish it. You can collapse in fits of joy when you learn it’s gone into four printings, with over 80% of all copies in print sold—to actual readers, who sometimes even email you to tell you how much they liked your story! (I still can’t believe that part. I have to stop myself from asking, almost every time, “Who, me? Are you sure?”) And still, there is no guarantee that your second book will be picked up and you will ever be able to pay the bills from your writing alone.

I have since learned that this happens to writers more often than you think, and the M.O. is basically shut up, suck it up, and keep writing your ass off. Except I had no stomach for writing in the months after that experience. It was even difficult for me to read novels for a long time, so I’ve been reading way more Michael Pollan and Dr. Christiane Northrup than any human being should have to ingest. And I've been canning my ass off. (Procrastination as therapy?)

I still have days when the keyboard and blank page make me break into a cold sweat.

I’m lucky, and I am grateful. I got to ride the publishing pony once in my life. Will it happen again? I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve got that beautiful new bouncing baby idea, after all. We’ll see what it grows into.

I guess I'll wrap this up with two totally unrelated links I can’t help but share. (Of course the "drinking rodents" are from a bar in Wisconsin.) I’ll see you next week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Questions. I Have so Many.

What caused my 24-hour flu-like symptoms on Monday? A virus? Some gross, squiggly bacteria? A family of small dwarves who live in my stomach? (If you get that reference, bless your darling little heart.)

Speaking of hearts, why am I having these crazy-ass heart palpitations all the time? Is it anxiety? Is it hormones? Did my heart try to get on So You Think you Can Dance! and we’re only now discovering that it has the rhythm of Navin Johnson?

Now that Weekly Reader and Reading Rainbow are kaputsky, will childhood be cancelled as well? Rainbows and puppy dogs and imagination itself banned? My God, who wants to be a kid these days? You have to wear a helmet to play in the front yard, the prizes in Cracker Jack boxes totally suck, and they have to run ADS on TV to remind you to go PLAY OUTSIDE. (But don’t forget the sunscreen! And your helmet.)

Why did my neighbors think a “Pure Romance” open house on their front lawn was a good idea? And why did they think it would be okay to not only attempt to sell marital aids to the general public on a lovely Tuesday afternoon, but puppies as well? Yes, there was signage, and no, sadly, I did not take a picture of it. “Puppies for sale! Also, dildos! Get your puppies and dildos right here, folks!”

I would like to thank Jacque for thinking enough of my ramblings to honor me with a “lovely blogger award.” Which she may want to rescind at this point.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I'm from the 1800s

Last week we spent 23 hours without landline phone or DSL Internet connectivity, which felt a little bit like shrinking down to a very small size and living in the pocket of a pair of dress slacks hanging in the back of a closet since 1998.

So I'm late in telling you that the monarch project is in full-swing again. See those groovy little green jelly beans? After they hang out for about a dozen days, this is what you get:

I think this one looks like a Sheila, don't you?

I am now back at work, which brings its own unique kinds of trauma (have you ever had to share, on a daily basis, a public bathroom near a Family Resource Center?)

To cheer myself up, I put this kid's mug on my computer desktop. He's either saying "Cheese," pinching a loaf, or baring his teeth in a display of aggression I fail to recognize because at this point in my life, I have still only borrowed these small people from time to time and returned them to their parents when their diaper was full or tears were imminent.

In a related story, yesterday our four year-old neighbor decided to have a chat with me while I read a magazine in the back yard. Somewhat randomly in the middle of our conversation he said, "Do you have a son?"

Me: "No. I don't have a son."

Neighbor kid: "Where is he?"

Me: "Still in my ovaries?"

Just kidding about that last part. I was tempted, though.

My backyard enjoyed about two days of organization and visual appeal, and then a downpour flattened the hell out of everything. Because I am lazy, the purple coneflowers are now growing horizontally right over the lawn, their faces turned to the sun.

When I'm not bemoaning my lack of flower supports, I have been indulging my inner homesteader. Boy howdy, does she like to can! (Or prepare for the zombie apocalypse by maintaining a fully-stocked panic room ... whatever.)

Cannery Row

I don't mean to brag, but I made this jelly from elderberries we planted ourselves. Bareroot. Uphill both ways, in a blizzard. On one leg. And we wiped our asses with pages from the Sears catalog.

See these golden beauties? They're "Aunt Molly's Ground Cherries." I started them from seed and planted them for the first time this year. They taste like a clean, mild pineapple. Throw them in a kettle over low heat with some sugar, lemon zest and vanilla, and you get heaven in a jar:

I intended to give these to loved ones for the holidays, but I am feeling a sudden urge to hoard them. Syrup is so 1989; the only thing I want drizzled over my pancakes from now on is ground cherry compote. I found the recipe on another lovely blog (thank you, LyB!)

My brother took note of my fun with canning and recently sent me this message on Facebook:

"I hope the fruit-canning is going well. When you're done with that, I have a wagon wheel that needs repairing and a musket that needs cleaning. I'd do it, but Carly's sick, so I have to bleed the illness out of her."

In other news, wish me luck in haggling with my insurance company AND hospital, still hashing out payment from my trip to the emergency room LAST GODDAMN FEBRUARY. This is the second time one of these funster players have billed me for something that was supposed to have been paid for (or not billed for at all), in a game I like to call, "Let's send these suckers a big, cryptically coded, confusing bill for duplicate service or something that should already be paid for and see if they'll pay it!"

Can we have sane healthcare system reform now? Please?

I suppose I'll have to soothe myself by canning more habanero gold jelly, salsa, and pasta sauce this weekend. Bonus: I get to use my new food mill, which I purchased for $50 a month ago and recently found for $35. File under "Ain't that a bitch."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Wedding of Mr. and Mrs. and Their Personable Offspring

My sister got married at my parents' home about a month ago, and it's taken me THIS LONG to post about it, because I am easily distracted by neighborhood penis splittings and stolen baby bunnies. Or maybe because there were so many beautiful photos, I just couldn't decide which to post? Let's go with the latter excuse. So here is a photo essay of the day.

The groom and his father share a moment before the ceremony. The guy sitting to the groom's left is his bodyguard. More on this later.

Guests begin to arrive, and small children in brightly-colored shoes twirl about. They were paid handsomely to do so, as part of the pre-festivities entertainment.

Ah! A familiar little face. Why so contemplative? Perhaps because your hair is askew, just a tiny bit?

Grandpa can help with that. Grandpas are the best hairstylists around.

The ceremony begins, and a small man in linen pants and a straw hat approaches.

Wait a minute....just what the hell is going on here, anyway?

Mom? I'd like you to dismiss these strangers so I can have nursies.

Purple and blue petals rain from the sky as the happy couple walks down the aisle. Small man in straw hat could care less.
In the tent, each guest is delighted to discover they have, at minimum, one bottle of wine each.

Particularly the elderly. Rumor has it they chugged the champagne before, during, and after the toasts.

In a touching moment, I read a selection of the bride's favorite dirty limericks.
Later, the aunts, cousin, and mother of the bride sing the limericks in six-part harmony. Acappella.
Remember how I said the groom needs a bodyguard? It is because he and his father made the desserts: almondy financiers, baklava, flourless chocolate cake, carrot cakes ... with culinary skills like this, kidnapping is a very real threat.

Don't tell my parents I'm stuffing baklava into my pie hole behind the woodshed, 'K? I may need some Benadryl to get to sleep tonight, just so you know.

And they lived happily ever after.

Because they were "Just Mareed."

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Quickie

To quote myself from several summers ago, it is officially hotter than Jabba the Hut's taint. We're off to Indiana tomorrow to meet more fabulous relatives...also, I am still going through photos for a long-delayed post-wedding-post. And I canned for the very first time, in a real-life boiling water bath canner with cute little lids that go "POP!" when they're groovy: 12 jars of elderberry jelly, from berries harvested from shrubs we planted three years ago.


Next week, more canning: ground cherry jam and maybe something tomato-ey. I tell you, I am Martha Stewarting-it UP around here! I am Mother Earth News-ing all around the kitchen. (Hey family...psst....guess what you're getting for Christmas?)

I'll have photos of that, plus monarch ranching in my bathtub, plus garden updates when I return. Also, if there are more penis splittings in the neighborhood, you can rest assured I will share the news.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On All That is Good and Holy, I Swear This is True

Yesterday our neighbor pulled up in his van to chat with J while he mowed our front lawn. This is the neighbor whose family threw me into a panic after they moved into the house across our street, because:
  • Even though the father is in a wheelchair (excuse me: souped-up Hover-round), he and his teenage children regularly have very public, violent, expletive-laced fights on their deck. Lawn chairs fly into the air. Things are shouted--horrible things--that would burn my grandmother's ear drums and make Deepak Chopra slip into a catatonic state.
  • They are always sitting outside on their deck, welcoming a parade of strangers into their yard. Caseworkers? Bible study folks? Drug dealers? N'er do wells? Yes. All of the above, I suspect.
  • The father told us he 'sketches our house' from his deck.
  • Their 16 year-old daughter, who doesn't even know my name, stopped by to invite me to a "Passion Party." The mom nearly threw rocks at me when I declined to come over for a Mary Kay party.
  • They put a floppy green snow fence up around their new pool.
  • All the kids and their friends ride Dad's Hover-round through the streets, sometimes pulling one another on wheeled office chairs, sometimes holding a shovel in front to plow a sidewalk.
  • They have three or four dogs who live on their deck and Never. Stop. Barking. They are wild, unruly mongrels, the Bumpus hounds reincarnate, full of diarrhea and bad manners.
  • The city police, fire department, and/or EMTs are in the neighborhood? Guess whose house.
Here is the conversation between Neighbor and J last evening:

J: "Haven't seen you around much lately!"

Neighbor: "Yeah! I've been in the hospital for the last month. My colostomy bag got caught on something, yanked my catheter, and ripped my penis in half!"

J: *blink* "That had to hurt."

Neighbor: "Good thing I can't feel nothing down there, huh?"

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Good one Gone

I've been procrastinating on writing this post, because I know no matter what I write, it won't do justice to my Grandpa Herb, who just passed away this weekend. I dedicated my book to him for many reasons, and it made me tear up to know that my birth father, who had been reading a chapter per visit from Driving Sideways for my grandfather, continued to read aloud even when Grandpa slipped into his final coma. They still had a few chapters to go, but I like to think that Grandpa Herb knows how it ends now.

The sole survivor of a plane crash during a training run in WWII, my grandfather was larger than life. He was also a bit eccentric, not one to rigidly adhere to social conventions or even regular family updates. I heard the following story at our get-together in Victoria last month from my Uncle Mike: during his freshman year in college in Arizona, Mike called home before Thanksgiving break to arrange his holiday visit home only to discover that his parents had already sold their house and were moving to Alabama.


(Sidenote: Also in Victoria, I learned that before she was told of my existence, my younger sister Jennifer used to tell her parents she really wanted a sister named Jessica. Preferably an older one. Surprise again! But better than not having a house to return to for Thanksgiving.)

Grandpa loved gardening and history and bad jokes and writing letters. I still have over 100 letters that he sent me over the years, featuring regular updates (in his scribbly, leaning cursive) on his garden, along with the proudly related achievements of family I'd never met. Many times he'd also include some photos of these cousins and aunts and uncles, and I would study these pictures as if there might be a test later: Do these people look like me? Do we have the same sense of humor? What do they know about me? When I was seven, he shipped me an entire set of encyclopedias, and I used to brag to people that I read them all cover-to-cover that same year.

Most of all, he loved my grandmother, who was one of the most generous, compassionate, thoughtful people I've ever met. Right now I'm remembering the story about how she would toss her children's jeans in the dryer to warm them up on sub-zero school mornings when they lived in North Dakota.

The summer after I graduated from high school, Grandpa invited me--by good old-fashioned telegram--to spend the month of August in Alabama caring for my great-aunt Rae so he and my grandmother could take a road trip across the U.S. and Canada to visit their children. I quit my job at a local cheese factory, said good-bye to my friends and the boy I just started dating, and flew to the deep South in the hottest month of the year, becoming more acquainted with loneliness, cankles, roaches, and the rainbow of meds an elderly person could take than I ever dreamed I could be.

I also got to spend some quality time with my grandparents before and after the trip, as well as meet my birth father (not to mention a wonderful brother and sister) for the first time. And now I know more of my fabulous aunts and uncles and cousins, too. All thanks to Grandpa Herb.

I'll stop here for now, because I'm still processing how I feel about this. I'm going to go through those old letters and photographs I've saved and let Grandpa come to life again, just for a little while.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Updates and a Long Overdue GCC Post for Carleen Brice

General Stuff Update: I lost much of the week to The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I started reading on Tuesday and am about to finish. HIGHLY recommended to anyone who eats. I'd read (and geeked out majorly on) Fast Food Nation, which I had signed by Eric Schlosser himself at a reading in Madison a few years I thought I knew a few things about the life cycle of french fries and hamburgers (and how they may not be so conducive to supporting OUR life cycle), but Michael Pollan delves even further, covering so much more territory, in Dilemma. And whoa, can the man turn a phrase.

Cat/Bunny Conundrum Update: Tuesday, the day after the bunny incident, the orange "cat came back...the very next day." Grrrr....This time, I had a pet carrier ready. He readily came to me when I called (friendly little sucker--hard to believe he was such a killer), and I herded him into the carrier. Success! I then called the Humane Society, which dispatched a Community-service Officer to fetch Kitty and return him home with an admonition and citation for absent city cat license.

I haven't seen him in the neighborhood since Tuesday, and my fingers are crossed that his owner keeps him indoors. Because if I wanted a friendly, wildlife-killing cat in my yard all day, I'd get my own. I don't know how the baby bunny is doing, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Okay! On to some long-overdue business. My author pal Carleen Brice is making the GCC rounds to celebrate her second novel, Children of the Waters, and I am excited to showcase her here today.

About Carleen: Carleen Brice’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, was an Essence “Recommended Read” and a Target “Bookmarked Breakout Book.” For this book, she won the 2009 First Novelist Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the 2008 Break Out Author Award at the African American Literary Awards Show. Orange Mint and Honey was optioned by Lifetime Movie Network.

Her second nove
l, Children of the Waters (One World/Ballantine), a book about race, love and family, just came out at the end of June. Booklist Online called it “a compelling read, difficult to put down.” Essence says, “Brice has a new hit.” You can read an excerpt at her website.

Meg Waite Clayton (author of The Wednesday Sisters) had this to say about Children of the Waters: "This moving story of two sisters separated by prejudice will open minds and touch hearts" and Jacquelyn Mitchard said, "I was exhausted and singing the blues the hour I began Carleen Brice’s new novel, CHILDREN OF THE WATERS. Five hours later, I’d finished this fresh, free-rein novel about mothers’ secrets and children’s sorrows and was shouting ‘Hurray!'"

Great teasers!! Let's move on to the interview:

1) Now that you are published, what (if anything) have you changed about your writing routine? Lately, I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like because I’ve been too busy promoting. For me it’s hard to do both, but I’m about to buckle down and get back to it.

2) Do you listen to music while you write? Usually, not while I write, but sometimes before I start I’ll listen to get pumped up.

3) Have you found that as you've developed your writing and story telling skills, you watch movies or read books 'differently?' Definitely! It’s kind of a bummer because it’s hard to just enjoy a book or movie now. I get sucked into how & why the author, screenwriter, director did what they did.

4) What vacation would be most inspiring to you as a writer? ANY real vacation (meaning not going somewhere to sell books) would be great right about now! But I suppose as a writer, going to Paris and writing in a café would be very inspiring.

5) What is one of your strangest / most quirky author experiences? A woman emailed me pictures of herself and her daughter after reading my first novel ORANGE MINT AND HONEY, telling how well we’d get along and how we should be friends. I found it very strange.

Thanks, Carleen! Best of luck with your sophomore sounds fabulous.

I'll be back next week with a few photo essay-ish posts. Have a large time this weekend!