Monthly Archives: July 2013

The New 30

Forty’s the new thirty, they say. I think it’s supposed to make us feel better, but really it’s just pressure. If you don’t have the money or the desire to color your hair and get plastic surgery, you’re not going to keep up with the “new thirty” crowd. And beyond looking young and fresh as a rosebud, are we really supposed to work and/or take care of the kids all week and still have the energy to go out for drinks on Friday night like we did when we were thirty?

Here’s a secret. I don’t want to pass for thirty. I just want to unhook my bra and watch Downton Abbey.

What ever happened to “act your age,” anyway? Suddenly we have to act ten years younger? If I’m going to act younger I’m going all the way back to 13, eating salt and vinegar chips and watching Anne of Green Gables all day. Unhook my bra and watch Anne of Green Gables and pretend Gilbert Blythe is my boyfriend.

And am I just supposed to erase an entire decade’s worth of cynicism? Forget one quarter of the fraud and greed I’ve seen in my lifetime? Steroids in baseball, drivers cutting me off, politicians caught with mistresses? Am I just supposed to train for a triathlon and pretend that my knees don’t hurt and that humans stand a chance of attaining some la-di-da world-wide brotherly love? Here’s what I have to say to that: You kids get off my lawn.

I’m forty. I have gray hair, an achy back, and I’ll probably need dentures before I’m fifty. Thirty was fine when I was thirty, but after millennia of forty being forty, I think it’s probably going to stay that way. I know it is for me. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for (ahhhhhh) Downton Abbey.

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High Heals: A Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Google, dasher of dreams.
Every time I think of a clever name for a company, I get so excited that I practically take out a small business loan. “Catering? Sounds like a nightmare, but I simply must use the name Party Flavors.” Then I check Google to make sure no one’s already using it. Party Flavors. There it is, darn it. Probably for the best, seeing as how I hate cooking for people so much I can never sleep the night before we have company for dinner.

It’s not just business names. Something in me is desperate to be the first person to think of an idea. Any idea. Just one! For example, I wanted to coin the word ‘matriot,’ for a patriotic female. Too late. Checked Google. Before that, I wanted to be the first to bless online readers around the world with my epiphany that Phineas and Ferb is exactly like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, except they’re not cutting school, and there’s a platypus/spy. They’re good-naturedly looking for exciting adventures to fill their day while their sister unsuccessfully tries to get Mom to see what’s going on. Think about it. Oh, someone already did! Darn you, Google.

But wait. The other day I ran across the misspelling, “Don’t wear high heals,” and everything changed. High heals? High? Heals? The perfect play on words for a marijuana dispensary! Surely the phrase has been used somewhere on the internet.
Nope. Not even in trace amounts.

Seriously? I finally have sole ownership (I wonder if there’s a seafood restaurant called Sole Proprietor – yep, Googled it) of an idea and it’s pot related? Not only do I have to start a small business (I’ve heard that’s, well, hard) but I have extra legal issues. Who do I buy it from? Do I get to write prescriptions? No, probably not. Will I have to deny patients who have obviously forged their prescription? That could get scary. If I encourage women employees to wear high heels for company branding, will I be liable for their back pain? Am I a gateway store to legalized meth? Wait, maybe I should call my place Gateway!

Oh dear, I haven’t even gotten started and I’m already in over my head shop. I guess tonight it’s back to the drawing board for a different original idea. Alas, if I’m using phrases like “back to the drawing board,” maybe I’d better go to sleep and try originality again tomorrow.

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Littlefoot (part 4)

Littlefoot tossed a blackberry into her basket and wandered toward a ripe patch nearer the old treehouse. A smile snuck up on her cheeks. There where the treehouse ladder used to be were five completely ordinary beanstalks.
“Asher,” she said aloud to no one.
She picked a few beans, threw them on top of the blackberries and walked back to the house.
Kindra was sitting at the kitchen table while Benedella kneaded bread dough. “Littlefoot, have you heard? A man is sneaking into houses while people are asleep, kissing women, and running away when they wake up.”
“No,” Littlefoot said, getting out a second basket for the green beans. “I hadn’t heard.”
“It’s a good thing you built a lock for our door,” Benedella said to Littlefoot, still kneading.
Littlefoot separated the beans into the other basket. “I don’t know why no one else locks their doors. It’s idiotic.”
“Well, they’ll put locks on now,” said Benedella.
Littlefoot slipped the handle of the bean basket over the crook of her arm. “I’m running to Asher’s. Be back soon.”
“Ugh,” said Kindra. “Just to take him beans? Why don’t you wait til he comes here so you don’t have to see his mother?”
“It’s a long story,” Littlefoot said.
Benedella sighed. “True love, Kindra. She can’t wait for him to drop by later. It could be hours!”
“Oh, shut up. I’m going so I can prove he’s an idiot.” Littlefoot held up the bean basket, although her sisters didn’t know about Asher and the “magic” beans. They just looked at her like she was crazy.
“Littlefoot,” Kindra said. “Men don’t like women to make them look like idiots. Asher’s not going to wait for you forever if you keep treating him like this.”
“I don’t want him to wait for me. He’s just a friend.”
Kindra only raised her eyebrows.
Benedella put her dough in the oven. “Even a friend doesn’t want to hear that you think his mother’s a witch, Littlefoot. Remember when you did that?”
“But she put that little boy in a cage!”
“Only to scare him,” Kindra said.
“Well that’s still horrible,” Littlefoot argued. “And who knows if she’d have let him out if Asher and I hadn’t shown up. And there was that prince from Grimmston who disappeared on her property.”
“Coincidence,” Kindra said assuredly.
“But the frog with the tiny crown showing up right after? That’s a pretty weird coincidence.” Littlefoot was almost shouting.
“Stop it you two,” Benedella said. “I agree with you, Littlefoot. I think she probably is a witch, but Asher’s never going to believe it of his own mother. It’s lucky he’s so forgiving. You shouldn’t have said it.”
“Well I believe in saying the truth,” Littlefoot yelled, knowing full well that it wasn’t so much that she believed in always saying the truth as that she couldn’t stop herself. She left them and followed the path to Asher’s, furious with her sisters and herself.

Asher’s house was inarguably strange. His mother, a famed candy baker, had decorated the outer walls and roof with hard candies of every color. When Littlefoot and her sisters were little, they’d thought it wonderful. But the more Littlefoot got to know Asher’s mother, the more the candy creeped her out.
Asher opened the door, and Littlefoot shoved the basket at him, laughing. “You planted the beans.”
He smiled. “They grew! What do they look like?”
“Perfectly ordinary knee-high stalks.”
“Oh,” he said, clearly disappointed. He looked over his shoulder. “Mom, I’m going to Littlefoot’s for a while.”
“Wait, wait,” his mother said, shuffling into the room in her wide, floral dress. “I have something for you, Littlefoot, dear.” She made a stop at the kitchen counter and brought Littlefoot a chocolate truffle with a pink candy flower on top.
“Oh, thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“Asher’s grown so fond of you, I thought I’d make you something extra special.”
Littlefoot didn’t like the way she stretched out the word “extra.”
“Eat it, dear.”
“I, uh, I think I’ll eat it while I walk. Thanks again.” She and Asher walked back down the path, Asher munching on beans.
“Tell me what the chocolate tastes like,” he said. “Mother spent a really long time, and she only made the one.”
“Actually, I think I’ll save it for after dinner, so it’s the last thing on my palate.”
Asher smiled and nodded in agreement. When they got back to her house she put the chocolate in a far corner of the kitchen counter to be thrown away later and took Asher out to the treehouse to show him the beanstalks.
While Asher stood staring sadly down at the beans, Benedella’s voice rang out across the gardens from the back porch.
“Littlefoot! Come here! Hurry!”
They rushed to the house.
Benedella grabbed Littlefoot’s hand and pulled her toward Kindra’s room, stumbling over her words. “Kindra said she needed to lie down, and she barely made it to her bed before she passed out. I can’t wake her!”
And there she was, sprawled out with one leg hanging off the bed. On the floor nearby was half a chocolate truffle.
Littlefoot lunged and picked it up. “Asher!” She showed him the candy.
“What?”
“The candy!”
“What about it?”
“Your mother must have -” Littlefoot stopped when she saw the incredulous, angry expression on his face. She looked to Benedella. “Della she said she made it extra special for me.”
Benedella spent a long time looking from Littlefoot’s face to Asher’s before saying, “Asher why don’t you tell your mother what happened and see if she -”
“Fesses up,” thought Littlefoot.
“Has any ideas,” Benedella said diplomatically.
With a glare at Littlefoot, Asher snatched the chocolate and stomped away home.

After several minutes of fanning Kindra and calling her name, the sisters sat down on her bed to wait for Asher. Littlefoot was sure that his mother was to blame, but not sure whether she’d help when she heard that her potion had found the wrong victim. A tear rolled down Littlefoot’s cheek.
“Don’t worry,” said a worried Benedella. “We’ll find out how to wake her.”
Littlefoot didn’t want Benedella to know how selfish she was, so she didn’t say anything, but her tears were not for Kindra.
Sooner than they expected, Asher pounded on the door. Littlefoot ran to unlock it.
But it wasn’t Asher. “Bron!” Littlefoot exclaimed. “I’m afraid we’re rather busy. Kindra can’t go for a walk right now.”
Benedella came out to see that it was indeed one of Kindra’s suitors. One all three sisters deemed too pompous to be given serious consideration.
“I just ran into Asher,” Bron said, pushing his way into the kitchen. “I came as fast as I could. May I see her?”
“I suppose,” said Benedella before Littlefoot could object.
Bron jogged to Kindra’s room and shut the door behind him. Littlefoot had only time for the briefest glance at Benedella’s surprised face before she heard Kindra’s voice. “Oh Bron.”
The two sisters ran to Kindra’s room and flung open her door. And there she sat, holding Bron’s hand and smiling a very different smile than Littlefoot had ever seen on her before. Kindra usually had a small smile and a gleam in her eye, totally in control of her feelings for a man, and generally in fair control of the man himself.
“What happened?” Littlefoot asked Kindra.
“Bron’s kiss woke me.” Kindra gazed up at Bron.
“I knew something was wrong about you showing up here,” Littlefoot said. “You’re the one. The one who’s been kissing women while they sleep at night. That’s why you came.”
Bron’s jaw went slack. “No, I -”
Just then, Asher came charging in. “A kiss! That’s what will cure her – a kiss!”
“Exactly,” said Bron. “This happened to my cousin’s brother’s mother’s sister once, and I remembered what cured her.”
“Wouldn’t your cousin’s brother be your cousin too?” Littlefoot said. “And his mother be your aunt?”
“Yes exactly. My aunt’s sister. My aunt by marriage that is.”
“Then why didn’t you just say that?”
“Who cares, Littlefoot?” Kindra said. “The important thing is, somehow he knew. He saved me. We were fated to be together forever.”
“Kindra! He’s the guy, don’t you get it? He didn’t know it would cure you til it happened, and Asher came in with the answer.” When Kindra didn’t respond, Littlefoot looked to Benedella, who didn’t say anything either.
Littlefoot rounded on Asher. “And you! How did you know about the kiss?”
“Mother had heard of something like this before.”
“I bet she had.”
Asher looked hurt. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Littlefoot fled before she started to cry again in front of everyone. She sat on the back porch step and put her face on her knees. Why was everyone so stupid? Why couldn’t they see?
After a long time, Benedella came and sat next to her.
“Asher left,” she said. “Kindra and Bron, too.”
“You know Bron’s the guy, right?”
“No, I don’t know it,” Benedella said gently. “But I think he probably is.”
“So why didn’t you say anything?”
“Kindra wouldn’t have believed it anyway. She has to see it herself. Same with Asher and his mother.”
“Spinach and chard, people are stupid.”
“They’re complicated, Littlefoot, especially where love is concerned.”
I’m not complicated.”
Benedella gave her a hug. “True. You’re very straightforward and sensible, and I love you just the way you are.” She got up to go in, and as she opened the back door, she paused. “But it’s not very sensible to fall in love with someone whose mother is a witch.”
She left the door open behind her, and Littlefoot drew purposelessly in the dirt with her finger. She realized that she had drawn a beanstalk climbing up through the clouds, and she crisscrossed through the drawing savagely until it was unrecognizable. She would not be the one to go to Asher’s next. He could very well come to her house if he wanted to see her, and that was that.

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Independence Day, Refinement, and a Crucible

Once in a while I get a delicious taste of the refined life. For instance, this year I was excited to win tickets to our local symphony’s Fourth of July concert. The first part wasn’t so refined because my husband and I stood sweating in the 97 degree heat while my daughter jumped in bouncy houses and collected balloon animals, but then the sun set, we settled in on the grass, the hall doors opened, the refined season-ticket holders filed into their swanky indoor seats, and the symphony filled the night with beauty in swells of sound and patriotism.

Yes, the next two hours were refined, and I felt myself lifted out of my normal life and floating along in the night sky of a half imaginary world where a life of refinement makes you exempt from pain and irritation. I half thought that those season-ticket holders floated along on symphonies and museums and restaurants without life-size pictures of 12.99 steak and shrimp.

But when the music ended, the first firework whooshed up and popped, and then, nothing. After three or four minutes, two more fireworks made a noble effort, but it was clear that something was amiss. The lights came up and the announcer said that due to technical difficulties and for safety reasons, the fireworks were cancelled.

A few halfhearted boos, and we in the cheap seats mixed together with the well-dressed in the crucible, er, the parking lot. We reached the first crosswalk to our lot, lot “O,” and the traffic was so backed up that a car was stopped right in the crosswalk. We stood waiting for the young lot attendant to raise his stop sign and usher us across. He didn’t. One of the refined old gentlemen said, “Hey champ, put up your sign,” and started walking. The kid thrust his sign up, surprised into action. My husband and I giggled. Little did we know, this was only a harbinger of things to come.

Lot “O” wasn’t moving. We were all lined up in our cars, nice and refined-like. Far to our right lay our exit, but just to our left was an exit that had been blocked with temporary plastic posts stuck in the ground. We sat. And sat. The temperature rose in our crucible, and here’s what I found out. The refined crowd is not used to being put in a parking lot crucible. This place didn’t have a VIP lot. Denied their fireworks, they would not be denied a quick exit. The lady in the passenger seat of an expensive convertible behind us got out and started talking to nobody, throwing her hands in the air. When no one came to listen to her, she got back in her car, leaned over her husband and honked the horn. Another man, tall, white, silver-haired, probably retired from a job where he had been paid three times as much as a teacher to boss people around, got out of his car and walked over to the plastic posts.

“No way,” I said. “He’s not going to -”

But he did. He yanked out one post, and he didn’t just lay it aside. He flung it with all his might like a business casual Highland Games caber tosser. Then he shrugged animatedly, like, “Oh yeah? Who’s going to stop me?” One by one, he flung all six posts in the same manner, got back in his car and made his escape, unrefined by the crucible.

Rule followers, my family stayed put, but several other cars screeched away before a young woman parking attendant came and put the posts back up. She stayed and watched us for about ten minutes, and then we heard her radio to the other attendants. “Lot “O” is not moving. Make sure they’re getting out.” So we moved about two car lengths. Finally we came in view of the boy in charge of letting cars out of lot “O.” He looked completely stupefied by his task. He would let one car through and then let the girl across the way send twenty of her cars through. When the young driver in the car in front of us got to the front of our line, stopping so close to his goal, he let out a primal scream. The young attendant, scared stiff now, waved for him to go, but forgot to stand out of the way.

“GET OUT OF THE ROOOOOOAAD!” the driver yelled and swerved around him.

We carefully passed the stupefied boy still standing in the middle of the road and made our way to the exit. Finally. On our way out of the crucible, my husband leaned out his open window as we passed the final lot attendant and said, “Thank you.”

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So You Want To Write a Novel

Do you have more imaginary friends than real friends? Have a “better” ending for The Great Gatsby? Read Twilight with a red pen? Then writing a novel might be for you! Here are some tips to get you started, and some things I’ve learned along the way.

Books About Writing
There’s nothing more irritating than buying a book about writing a novel and having the whole thing be about getting inspired. You’re already inspired or you wouldn’t have picked up a book about writing a novel! I want something about the nuts and bolts. Aside from grammar books like those of Arlene Miller, my favorite writing books are by Sol Stein and John Gardner. They tell you what kinds of mistakes make you look like an amateur, and how to fix them.

Join a Critique Group
Unless you’re a genius, join a critique group. And listen to what they say. I have gone from spending two hours after our meeting each week deciding which of my group’s changes to implement to fifteen minutes where I just make the darn changes. They are almost always right. I am lucky, though, that everyone in my group is more experienced than me. Find a GOOD group. Here in California, California Writers Club has branches all over the state. I don’t have money for all sorts of conferences, but the fifty bucks a year to join my branch has really paid off. I found my critique group and won a hundred dollars in a contest!

Know What’s Going To Happen At The End
I have 25,000 gripping words about a settlement of humans on another planet. My problem? I can’t think of a way out of their predicament. So there they sit. They have just made a major discovery and I’m on the edge of my seat. The edge of my seat has gotten a little uncomfortable over the last couple years. I have completed another novel and started three more, but part of my brain is still on the edge of its seat. Ouch.

Know How Long Your Book Should Be
Publishers expect certain word counts for certain genres and age groups. At least know what you’re aiming for. It’s easy to find publishers online and find out what they expect. My first attempt was way too short, and therefore unmarketable. The next novel I finished is at least in the ballpark, and an agent is actually interested in reading it again when I’ve made the changes she suggested. While we are on the subject of what publishers want, they make all sorts of suggestions about storylines, but I say write what you want to write. I thought my first book (the too short one) might be a fit for Christian publishers, but 1) some scenes take place in a bar, and 2) no one “gets saved.” Seriously! Those are specified on a major Christian publishing website. No bar scenes, someone must accept Jesus. My story seems too Christian for the mainstream market, so it’s stuck, helpless, somewhere in the middle, but I still wouldn’t change it for anything. Maybe I’ll be rich enough to self publish some day.

Become Writery
This is not so much instruction as it is a warning. You are going to change. In deciding how your characters will react to various situations, you will come to understand people’s motives. And in real life, you will find yourself thinking, “He’s lying,” or “She is hoping that woman will befriend her,” when the old you wouldn’t have noticed anything. You will sometimes have to say, “Sorry, say that again?” to your friends because your brain automatically started working on a plot problem while they were talking. You will read classics and marvel at them more than ever before, because how do they do it?! You will wonder if it sounds pretentious to tell everyone you’re writing a novel, and if you’re like me, you’ll tell them anyway.

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Guide To Using The ‘F’ Word

Merriam-Webster.com describes the ‘F’ word as “usually vulgar.” What’s that? I smell a loophole! But who should decide in what context the ‘F’ word is or is not vulgar? I don’t see any reason that it shouldn’t be me.

Let’s start with the uses I think are vulgar. Sadly, the closest use to its original meaning I must declare vulgar. Sorry, language purists. In the early 1500’s it may have been acceptable for the Dutch to use “fokken” when discussing cattle breeding, but please don’t use its derivative to talk about your physical relationships. No one wants to be talked about like that. Vulgar.

Also in the vulgar category, using the word to insult or threaten. (He’s a bleepin’ idiot, Get the bleep out of my face, or simply Bleep you.) “Now wait just a minute,” the ‘F’ word protests. “Insulting and threatening are inappropriate with or without me.” Good point, ‘F’ word.

Next, excessive use. Get a vocabulary, people. Save it for when it really matters, so that it makes an impact, like when I wrote the Facebook status “How many bleeping times have I hit my bleeping head on the corner of that bleeping shelf?” My church friends thought my account had been hacked. Very enjoyable.

Now, how can we use the ‘F’ word so that it is not vulgar? Well, see my above Facebook status. I used it to describe objects that could not take offense. Also, when I hit my head, I could have yelled out BLEEEEEP. It’s only four letters, after all. Really no different than yelling out FRANKENSTEIIIIIIN! (Note to self, Frankenstein makes a pretty good expletive.)

Unfortunately, since this guide is only now being published, not everyone will have heard that the ‘F’ word is not vulgar in certain instances. Therefore, you might want to avoid using it around children, for instance on a playground. You don’t want to get them in trouble if their teachers haven’t gotten the memo. Or you could carry copies of this guide to hand out to parents and children at the park, and they could pass them on to the teachers. Think of the freedom and joy you’ll be spreading. The kids will welcome an excuse to use the ‘F’ word, and the parents will be relieved that their past ‘F’ word slip-ups maybe weren’t so bleeping vulgar after all.

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