Stages of Love

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I’ll pinch you on the playground.
I’ll give you the prettiest valentine out of my box of cards for the class.
I’ll pick you for my kickball team.
I’ll gift you an Itunes song.
I’ll wear lipstick on days we have chemistry lab together.
I’ll “happen” to visit a friend who also attends your same college.
I’ll break-up with you, just to get back together.
I’ll wonder when the question will pop.
I’ll say YES.
I’ll find myself buying beef jerky at the grocery store.
I’ll watch you paint the baby’s room.
I’ll use the potty to tinkle…with the door open.
I’ll watch you coach a girls soccer team.
I’ll make you spend the night on the couch.
I’ll hold your hand as we mourn a loved one together.
I’ll refuse to throw away your old love letters during our big move.
I’ll start developing a taste for beef jerky.
I’ll watch you walk our baby down the aisle.
I’ll throw your retirement party, and then try to find you a full time hobby.
I’ll escort you to that old timers reunion.
I’ll watch you hold your first grandchild.
I’ll remind you to take your medication.
I’ll push your wheelchair.
We’ll wonder where the time went.

Photo: Norman Rockwell

 

 

Ski Soundtrack

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Growing up, I never considered my father to have a hip music sense. However, he knew how to get our family excited for a day on the slopes. Right before we pulled into the Sugarbush parking lot, he would blast Crazy by Seal into the speakers of our Saab 900.   The song stuck in our head as the perfect anthem for bombing down the hill: “And you’re never gonna survive, unless you get a little crazy.”

My mother, on the other hand, had a more gentle ski anthem. Time after time, my mother would sing The Sound of Music aloud while floating down groomed corduroy.  She’d sing to herself, indifferent if anyone could hear her. The hills were alive, and that’s all that mattered to her.

I’ll admit that I have my own personal ski soundtrack as well. My car is filled with old CDs with titles such as “Mad River Tunes” and “Belleayre or Bust” but all of the CDs have one song in common: Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith. For me, Sweet Emotion is the perfect tempo for imagining myself in wide turns in good, fluffy, snow. I listen to it in the car, and then hum it to myself on the slopes all day.

The other day, I was watching an old ski movie featuring little more than twenty-something men ripping down glacier walls. Yet, when my husband hopped on the phone in our living room, he muted the sound to the movie. The skiing looked great, but it didn’t “feel” great. Watching skiers fly down back bowls to silence just wasn’t the same. It needed a little reggae. Or a little punk. Or a little Sweet Emotion.

Girl Scout Cookies

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Many moons ago, I was a Girl Scout who sold cookies.

It was my first experience peddling products. And although I recognize folks might have different perspectives on their own scouting experience, I really loved selling cookies to raise money for my troop. It was fun to describe the crunch of a Thin Mint to a stranger… and then watch them fork over cash.

Girl Scout cookies were my gateway drug to business. Simply by peddling Trefoils, I learned how to market, account, and close the deal on cookies. And as I grew older, I continued to sell products for various organizations. We sold candy bars for cheerleading camp. We washed cars for new soccer uniforms. Heck, we even sold frozen pepperoni pizzas for a high school senior trip to Virginia Beach. And while I never got incredibly comfortable forcing a sale, I did get comfortable with money.

Yet, as an adult on the flip side of the occasion, it’s easy to roll your eyes every time a kid asks for a dollar. Every time I see a perky twelve year old girl at a table outside a supermarket, I know I’m doomed. A dollar for a daffodil? Sure. A ten for animal cruelty? Great. A t-shirt for tiger preservation? I just can’t say no.

Yet, every time I fork over petty cash, I feel good. And, I feel especially good when I walk away with a box of Thin Mints. If buying chocolate covered cookies is the way to make a small difference in a community, I’m happy to oblige.

 

Taking It Down A Notch

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A few weeks ago, I blew out my left eye. My doctor said I had high blood pressure in my eyeball, caused by stress, which forced a cell behind my retina to explode. Everything was blurry, and I was in shock. And when Doc told me that I needed to de-stress, I became stressed.

Everyone I know is stressed. Everyone is wondering where the time goes while they’re running around wasting it. Everyone is “crazy busy” running to the thing, and then getting to the next thing, and cooking the thing to bring to the thing.  We’re all out of our minds.

And yet, I’ve been told to take it down a notch. But I don’t want to take it down a notch. I like being a princess of productivity. Yet, I realize, for my own health, I have to cool it.

After all, I’m too young and unimportant to be popping out eyeballs. Nobody’s life depends on me. Nobody in my immediate family is in pain. My bills are being paid, and my mouth is being fed.  Everything is okay.  If my office plants die and I forget a friend’s birthday, life will go on.

But it’s awfully hard to let go of that “go-go-go-and then go some more” drive.  So, I’m committing to small changes. Instead of running my typically four miles at the gym, I’m walking two on an incline. Instead of leaving my laptop on until 9:00pm, it’s powered down no later than 8:00pm. Instead of walking my dog for 45 minutes at lunch every day, I’m allowing other people to take care of her.

And to be honest, I feel a little lazy. I should be writing more. I could be sweating more. I should, I could, I want, I will.  The phrase drums through my head whenever I’m feeling less productive.

And yet, to slow things down, I simply tell myself that I am. I am getting exercise. I am treating my dog well. I am writing great things. (After all, It doesn’t matter if I’m running four miles a day or walking two. I’m still doing thirty minutes of cardio a day, which deserves a pat on the back.)

Yes, I’m taking it down a notch this winter. And by doing so, I remembering how good it can be to exhale. I’m spending more time enjoying the view from where I already am, and less time climbing the unending ladder. And frankly, my vision has never been more clear.

Power Necklaces

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There’s something about a blinged-out necklace which makes it okay to wear sweatpants to work.

Everywhere I look, ladies are hanging jeweled ribbons around their necks in an effort to draw attention away from the rest of their outfits. Ugly gray sweater and pleated 90’s khakis? Through on a bejeweled rhinestone necklace, and you’re good-to-go to the bridal shower! Mom jeans and dollar-store flats? A ruby statement necklace will get you in the door of any Michelin-stared restaurant! A trash bag and stockings? You’ll be the belle of the ball with a sapphire bib!

In fact, power necklaces are for women what “alligator” Lacoste-patched polo shirts are for men. They both allow you to enter the golf club, even if you’re dressed like a slob from the chest down.

I bought my own “power peacock” necklace after a flight cancellation in Salt Lake City last February. While wasting time at a local mall,  I was blinded by shiny purple stones in a Macy’s showcase. I wasn’t looking for a bling necklace, but that particular necklace was 70% off (which meant that they were giving it to me). I carried the heavy souvenir all the way back to Vermont with severe buyer’s remorse.

Yet, the first time I wore the power peacock, I was flooded with compliments. Nobody noticed the coffee stain on my pants… or the toothpaste on my sweater… or the spinach on my teeth (my usual wardrobe). Instead, I was a fashionista. So, I started wearing the power peacock more often. Brown sweater, brown corduroys and brown boots for work? Not cool. Brown sweater, brown corduroys, brown boots and my power peacock? Executive ready! In fact, the power peacock slowly became my favorite accessory.  On days when I can’t bear to wear fancy pants, I have my secret weapon.

Unfortunately though, I’m not sure how long this trend will last. (People thought the Lacoste ‘gator wouldn’t last through the 90s, and yet crocs are still popping up at power meetings everywhere.) Will corporate executives ever realize that their administrative assistants wear Hanes Her Way undershirts under their blinding cubic zirconia leashes? Will women tire of shining their collarbones with fake jewels just to wear Birkenstocks to parent-teacher conferences?  Will J. Crew declare 2017 the year of the understated gold chain?  Time will tell.  But, for now, I’ll ride the trend which gives me the freedom to wear t-shirts to staff meetings.

Bring on the bling!

 

Chipmunk Hotel

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I put one chunk of tomato-basil bread into the small nook in the dead ash tree.  Then, I reach on my tippy toes to place another chunk into another nook.  I continued to circle the tree, filling other nooks with bread pieces.  When every nook is filled, I move forward with my hike, leaving nothing more than an accidental trail of crumbs from the bread bag, as if I were Hansel and Gretel.

This time of year, I get a kick out of leaving bread in the woods for wild animals. Silly, perhaps, but there’s something Cinderella-esque about imaging a bunch of robins and squirrels delighting in a thumb-sized buffet.  (That is, until you realize Cinderella is an orphan who is abused by her stepmother, but that’s another story.)

So, on the weekend, I put on my snow boots. I wrap my chilled ears in a wool hat. And I call for Mabel, my canine companion (who loves eating stray crumbs). We disappear into the forest, following the snow tracks of tiny critters.

It’s quiet in the woods. The only sound in my backyard is the occasional creaking of an old spruce, and the pitter-pat of Mabel’s paws. It’s peaceful and pretty and downright lovely. I’ll spend an hour trekking up the mountain, looking for tree stumps (taller than  Mabel’s reach) to leave the end of a bread loaf for a lucky chipmunk. I’ll peek into a hole under a dead tree to drop a few slices for a hungry squirrel.  And then, of course, I’ll seek out the perfectly wood-pecked dead tree for the ultimate room-service.

The menu changes, of course. Today, it was failed pretzels which never really rose in my oven.  Last week, it was Panera sandwich bread.  A few weeks ago, it was a moldy loaf of whole wheat.

But I find my customers to be fairly open to new cuisines. They’ve never sent back an order.

Photocredit: wunderground.com bkade

Likeable Character= Carla

Carla von Trapp Hunter

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What was your first job, and what did you learn?  My first job was working the sales floor at a specialty food shop in Stowe, VT. I learned how important friendly and knowledgeable customer service is. I also learned how challenging it can be to deliver it while being treated the way people often are in such roles. Pretty humbling experience.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? The north shore of Kauai. There’s such magic everywhere on that island, but the waters off of the north shore offer incredible snorkeling, and the beaches are prime for strolling and looking for shells.

What’s a necessary indulgence? Iced coffee and Cara-Mallows from Daily Chocolate. I justify them as being high in antioxidants.

If you’re in a department store, which section/thing do you gravitate towards?  The nearest exit. I actually find department stores completely overwhelming and avoid them as much as possible.

Your first celebrity crush?  If John Smith in Pocahontas doesn’t quite count, I’d have to say Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet. Seventh grade flashbacks, anyone?

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?  Fondue at an on-mountain restaurant named Cloud Nine in Aspen, Colorado. I don’t think it was food itself, but rather the overall experience. Hard to top the spectacular views from Aspen Highlands or the enhanced efficacy of champagne at that altitude. The combined effect was quite spellbinding.

Something most people don’t know about you? I still try to avoid standing on the floor alongside the edges of my bed out of fear of monsters lurking below.

What would people be surprised to find out about your daily routine? I prefer to sleep with my bedroom window opened a crack, regardless of the season.

How do you order your eggs? Scrambled or sunny-side up are my usual go-to’s.

Who was the first concert you saw live?  How was it?  Shania Twain. She was an amazing performer. It was late elementary school and I remember feeling pretty enthralled by the whole experience. Much to my parents chagrin, her ballads definitely expanded my shower-singing repertoire.

What’s one thing you know for sure? How little I know in the greater scheme of things.

 

Poli-Tic-Tacs

indexWhenever a stranger wants to discuss politics with me, I hand them a Tic- Tac and change the subject.

It’s not that I don’t have opinions. I have things I care about. I have things I don’t care about. And at the right time in the right place with the right person, I am happy to have this discussion.

But I don’t want to talk politics with the lady sitting next to me at Jiffy Lube. She’s clearly not changing her mind about her choice for President, and she’s clearly not changing my mind about my choice.

So, I hand her a Tic-Tac and smile in silence as I pop one in my own mouth. Then, I chalk up a friendly mint exchange towards the first step to bipartisan fresh breath.

By the way, for all of your voters, here’s a pretty interesting website to choose your flavor of Tic-Tacs, I mean, presidential candidate. :)

https://www.isidewith.com/

Every day I’m puzzling…

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On a cold winter’s night, my idea of a good time is a Merlot bottle and a thousand piece puzzle. However, telling someone that you’re a puzzler is like telling them that you collect limited edition Elvis plates. It’s puzzling…unless you’re eighty.

So, I don’t talk about it. I don’t tell my colleagues that I can’t wait to go home from work so I can find that darn corner piece. I hide my puzzle tray in the guest room when friends drop by for dinner. And I limit myself to puzzles ONLY during the winter months.

I live in the same town where the world famous Stave Puzzles are cut. So, it’s natural that I love a good jig-saw. (I am not a puzzle snob though, since I also love a plain ol’ drugstore puzzle in a box.) And during the winter when the weather outside is frightful, but red wine is so delightful, puzzling is a decent way to spend time while I wait for the outdoors to defrost.

My husband and I have even snuck away to The Rabbit Hill Inn for a fun weekend of skiing by day and puzzling by night. The Rabbit Hill Inn is a fabulous Vermont bed and breakfast known for its lobby-full-of-puzzles. (But I already live in Vermont, and I already have a bed and box of Thomas’ English Muffins in my fridge, so let’s be honest. I only go there for the puzzles.) I even started puzzle smack talking last year when another couple (who were completely jerky) boasted that they were half-finished with a particularly difficult puzzle of the city of Boston. “Good for you,” I smirked. “We finished that one in an hour, but it’s cute that you’re still trying.” (Trust me, they were horrible people.)

Yet, as soon as the snow starts to melt, I box up my puzzles. I crush them back to their original pile of chaotic pieces and stack them in storage. When the wind turns warm, it’s time to open the windows, step away from my living room, and move on to yet another hobby beloved by the elderly: metal detecting.  I’ll spend my spring hours secretly walking around my woods with a detector… looking for treasures of coins and jewelry the same way I previously looked for corner pieces.

Clearly, I’m eighty at heart.  And it’s darn good fun. Now, pass the edge piece with the speck of green…

Happy Non-Holiday Birthday!

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Not in my house.

Many of the people I love were born in December. The month is scattered with birthday celebrations of every age. We celebrate my husband, my father, my aunt, and many close friends. (Thirteen of my facebook friends all celebrate a birthday in the next four days!) And in order to successfully celebrate a “holiday season birthday,” we do our best to get rid of the red and green. Even though Christmas is actually a religious birthday celebration, I can’t help but allow my hubby to pick his own theme colors for his Dec. 22 party.

My husband, in particular, is celebrating a big milestone birthday tomorrow.  And so,  we’ll turn off our Mariah Carey Christmas album, and turn up Coldplay. We’ll skip the red and green cookies, and instead eat bright pink strawberry cake (his favorite). We’ll leave the Christmas tree lights off, and instead cuddle by the dim television light of a movie-on-demand (his choice, of course, The Thomas Crown Affair.)

Yep, in my family, we do our best to separate birthday and holiday. Over the weekend, we celebrated my father’s  birthday with a margarita party and a trip to a local indoor swimming pool.  We dined out with spicy stirfry at a local hibachi restaurant, and didn’t complete a single Christmas chore all day.  It could as well have been any summer day.

We all know that we can’t change a birthday. And my loved ones all agree that they don’t mind their holiday-timed birth dates. However, I simply can’t allow red and green to be the theme of any of my friends’ late- December birthday parties. They deserve their own thunder.

Happy birthday, December babies!  Sending kisses to all (without the mistletoe.)

photo credit: happybirthdaycakeimages.com

 

I’m Dreaming Of A Brown Christmas

Oh, the weather outside is frightful.

I wore a skirt to work today, without tights. My poor colleagues were forced to deal with my pale, pasty legs, but I couldn’t help it. It was nearly fifty degrees in December in Vermont, and this girl needed to make the most of the sun during the ugly season.

This New England December resembles a Pacific Northwest April. It’s been balmy, warm, and windy. I spent Sunday in a t-shirt, hiking in the woods with my dog, avoiding ticks rather than icicles. My neighbor pulled a carrot, an edible, bright orange carrot, from his garden this week.  And our poor local ski area remains closed…and muddy.

And yet, Christmas, is less than ten days away. The forecast for Christmas day in my hometown of Norwich, Vermont is 50 degrees and rainy. Everyone dreams of snow in Vermont on Christmas morning, and yet, we’ll probably be sitting on the back porch, wondering what to do with our shiny new toboggans in all this mud.

People have all sorts of opinions about what’s causing these weather shifts. All I know is that I hope brown Christmases in Vermont don’t become the norm. In my heart, I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. But it seems Mother Nature has other plans.

So, I’m planning on making the most of this brown Christmas. I’m hoping that someday we’ll remember the Christmas of ’15 when we played football in shorts in the backyard.  Perhaps we’ll laugh about eating Grandma Susie’s apple pie on the porch.  Hopefully, the tiny tots will someday become nostalgic for the Christmas when Uncle Norm opened up his swimming pool for one more plunge.  We’ll do the best with what we have. We’ll hold each other tightly.  We’ll be kind to Mother Nature. And we’ll be a little more thankful for those past white Christmases, just like the ones Bing used to know.

And hopefully, next year, and the following year, and the year after that…our beloved white Christmases will return.  Hopefully, brown, muddy, balmy Christmases don’t become the backdrop for Vermont holiday movies. But for now, this brown Christmas will still hold magic…even in flip flops.

Rock It.

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When I was little, I wanted to be a Radio City Hall Rockette.  Other girls I knew wanted to be dolphin trainers or school teachers or astronauts, but I was more interested in being on a stage, in a shiny costume, kicking sky-high in ridiculous silver pumps.

My mother would take us to New York City to see the Christmas Spectacular every year. We’d sit in the nosebleed section, leaning in toward the stage, squinting to watch the Rockettes “collapse” on each other during a perfectly choreographed wooden soldier scene. We’d gasp at the perfect precision of their tap dancing routines, as they scattered around in red and white Santa suits. And then there was the kickline. Oh, the kickline. My sister and I would go home, and immediately start practicing our own kickline: arms around waists, bumbling around, trying to get our feet in unison.

My mother signed us up for dance classes. However, after eight years of tap classes, I realized I was never going to be a Rockette. I wasn’t even going to be a soloist in my tiny studio dance recital. Heck, I wasn’t even going to be in the front row of my class.

But to this day, I’m still enamored by the Rockettes. When they make an occasional holiday television appearance, I’ll still drop everything to watch that kickline. And I’d be lying to say that I still don’t try to perfect that kick at home. And, five, six, seven, eight, KICK!

photocredit: about-face.org

The Best Early Gift

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I don’t remember a single gift I received last Christmas. I know they all were lovely, and I know I put them all to good use. But I can’t name one. This year, though, I received the best early Christmas present of the past decade. (Nothing will ever beat the Joe McIntyre -of New Kids on the Block fame- autographed photo that my grandmother gave me when I was a tween.)

My father surprised me with an unexpected, and very much appreciated advertisement for my children’s book, The Little Rippers, in the latest December 2015 issue of SKI magazine.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have the budget for mass marketing of my books.  I drive my friends and family crazy with Facebook posts.  I hate self-promotion, and so usually I don’t talk about the book unless someone asks me.  I’ve thought about promoting the book in SKI, but I never took the plunge.

Yet, with the help of my husband and my mother-in-law, my father made it happen.  When I opened this month’s issue, I was shocked to see The Little Rippers book cover in one of the back squares of the magazine.  It’s hard to surprise me, but for a few moments, I was speechless.

Kudos, Dad.  I’ll remember this one for years to come.  Apparently, I should think of a better gift for you than sweatpants.

The Ugly Season

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  The last day of November! New Englanders officially don’t have to shave until spring!*

Jealous, Floridians?  Envious Californians?  You can have your San Diego, but don’t take my Schenectady.  Schenectady and I won’t see the sun until April!  Whoop whoop!

Yes, any last ditch hope of wearing three quarter length skirts and high boots is over!  No inch of skin can go uncovered until Easter. It’s time for stockings, thick, wool stockings, which drape three inches lower than our nether regions (and who put up a fight every time we use the lavatory).  C’mon ladies, who doesn’t want to pay twelve dollars for a single pair of tights which are guaranteed to develop a gaping hole after one wear?

And it’s also time to exchange our adorable ballet flats for snow boots. Those adorable boots that look SO good in the store?  Nope, they won’t do. We need traction. Suction-cup traction for those slippery sidewalks. We need thick, ugly, big-laced boots to trudge around the snow, ice, sleet, and freezing rain.  The uglier, the better!

Yep, it’s time for our most hideous clothing! Fleece-lined pants and down-stuffed vests and long johns and hat-head caps. Get them out of our mothball-smelling sweater chests, and onto our dry, itchy skin!  It’s time to get ugly and comfortable. See you later, necks and wrists! Farewell knees and ankles! Adios, razors and shaving cream!

It’s officially the ugly season! And my turtlenecks and I are going to have a heck of a winter.

* I, for one, still shave.  But then again, you’ll never know if I don’t.

 

Only ONE Gift Guide

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I only have one gift suggestion: give the gift of reading together (even if you’re apart).

Simply buy/find a book your loved one would enjoy.  Read it (or re-read it), and as you go, write little notes with your own thoughts in the margin.  Ta-da. You’ve just created a fabulous and thoughtful gift!

A few sample comments from margins of gifted books:

  • “Really, Sherlock?  You didn’t notice the thumbtack back in Chapter Two? Sheesh.”
  • “This restaurant sounds like that crazy dive-bar we went to in Saratoga.”
  •  “I’m bored, and skipping this page, but wait until you see page 45.”
  • “I find that this sololiquoy is more enjoyable with a margarita in hand.”
  • “Jack Black would be perfect to play ‘Henry’ in the movie version.”
  • “Call me when you read this part!”

Skip the Black Friday shopping, and settle in with a heavy quilt and a glass of Malbec. Then,  start scribbling all over All The Light We Cannot See.  Your sister is going to love it.

 

 

Saying Grace

Things for which I’m Thankful
Ice cubes
Children’s books
A heavy quilted blanket, and a dog and hubby with whom to share it
Stovetop popcorn
The lad I met in a Scotland cab who will soon be joining the British Armed Forces
The smell of a match lighting an unscented candle
Coldplay
Two persnickety nephews, and one sassy niece
Steady, healthy heartbeats
Good ol’ fashioned black and white print newspapers
The “Norwich Turkey Trot” 5k
Fleece lined clothing
Hometown Heroes
Nat King Cole’s voice
The evergreen tree which toppled away from the house
Hot tub soaks
Astronauts, Anesthesiologists, and Animal Shelter Attendants
The Splendid Table on NPR
Watermelon, with or without seeds
The Radio City Rockettes, in the Macy’s Parade, kicking ’em high
All those crazy friends and relatives with stuffing in their teeth and bad jokes and heavy pours and long-distance calls and cheating card-players and screaming kids.

And a holiday which truly requires no other gift than simply just being there.

Spot of Tea?

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I’m not much of a warm-drink consumer. I prefer iced coffee to hot, cold apple cider to warm, and believe it or not, I love a glass of “cold cocoa.” (I make regular ol’ hot chocolate and then let it chill before adding ice cubes and whipped cream.) Yet, there’s something about a hot cup of tea which exudes comfort, especially during flu season.

But for me, I think part of the allure is simply getting to choose a “type” of tea.  And truth be told, I’m really only interested in the pretty colors of the teabags.  At a restaurant recently, after I had ordered iced tea, I was jealous that a friend, who had ordered hot tea, had the choice of all of the pretty little squares in a wooden box provided by the server. Would she choose the emerald-green square for jasmine tea, or the pink square for raspberry tea? Would she go with the bright red cinnamon tea square, or the bright, citrus yellow square for lemon tea? (You can imagine my disappointment when she chose the boring smoky Earl Grey square. It was like choosing vanilla ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins.)

When a British friend of mine recently visited, she was appalled at my selection of teas at home. Apparently, chamomile and orange spice tea weren’t going to work for her. In her prim British accent, she said, “Every proper home needs English Breakfast tea.”  I didn’t know the difference between English Breakfast tea and Sunny-Delight orange drink, but I certainly wanted to have proper home. (The truth is that my home is FAR from proper, considering I masquerade old ski posters  as “framed art.”) So, we went to the general store,  stocked up on English Breakfast tea, and drank up. The tea tasted fine, but the ugly packaging was a real disappointment.

The following Sunday, after my friend had left, I pondered the many types of tea at my grocery store. Perhaps it was time to care a little more about the taste of the tea leaves, and a little less about the marketing scheme of the tea company. But old habits die hard, especially when old taste buds don’t really care. (Triangular tea packets, oh my!) I eventually decided on a box of “exotic coconut” tea, complete with colorful swirl packaging. The box of tea bags looked like a Hawaiian souvenir, which of course, meant I had to have it.

I brought the tea home, and the following morning, I soaked a tea bag in boiling water in my favorite “Becky’s of Portland, Maine” mug.  I took a sip. The tea tasted like sunscreen.  But gosh darn it, that ripped tea bag was pretty in my trash.

Preview Review

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This past weekend, I went to see Spectre with a group of family and friends.  Bond, James, Bond was perfectly entertaining… however, before the movie even started, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. (And it wasn’t the expired Swedish Fish. Although I don’t think Swedish Fish ever really expire.)

Spectre is rated PG-13, primarily for violence. Yet, the previews before Spectre were unbelievably graphic and disgusting. In particular, a preview for the Ryan Reynolds movie, Deadpool, was particularly vulgar. Someone at the theater clearly had mistakenly mixed up the previews, and had shown the R-rated previews at a PG-13 rated movie.  It was a mistake that haunted me for the next two days.

I usually start out my complaints about R rated material with “I’m sorry to be a prude, but…” but the truth is that I’m not sorry to be a prude, especially when it is SO unexpected. If I were viewing any stupid Seth Rogan movie, I would expect juvenile, disgusting, and typically less-than-funny sex and swear-induced profanity.  But this was Bond, James, Bond.  While there’s plenty of violence in a Bond movie, there’s no explicit gore.  While there are lots of sexy women, they keep their clothes on.  And the bottom line is that a Bond movie is a movie that I can watch with my family.

Call me a prude, but sometimes you just want a movie you can watch without blushing.

What Your Holiday Card Says About You

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“Perfect Family Portrait”- We’re pretending like the twins always wear matching cashmere sweaters and keep their fingers out of their nostrils.

“Fabulous Vacation Photo”Jack cashed in our retirement fund to go to Costa Rica, and gosh darn it, we want you to know.

Baby Announcement/Christmas Greeting–  Get ready for intimate sonogram pictures on facebook for the next six months.

Marriage Announcement/Christmas Greeting – It’s not too late to send a gift.

Cat/Dog Dressed Up Like Rudolph PhotoI’m single.

Seven Page, Glossy Shine, Family Album CardLOOK! AT! US! No really, LOOK AT US!

Unsigned, pre-printed foil-stamped cards- You didn’t really think I had time for writing cards, did you?

“Peace on Earth” Card- Our gingerbread cookies are vegan.

Cards Accompanied By A Family Letter Update- Aunt Gladys has the measles. Jim was laid off. Terry flunked out of State U. Joy to the World!

UNICEF Christmas CardsWe’re judging your Black Friday spending habits.

“Happy New Year”- We’re perpetually late to parties.

The E- Card- You’re not worth the stamp.

Better than a Birthday Mimosa

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My 30th birthday carousel…which was (achoo) years ago.

Sunday is my birthday.  I’ll be turning (cough, cough) years old.  And I’ll be celebrating with brunch at a local favorite Inn, dipping my home fries in globs of ketchup and sipping on a mimosa (or four).

And after a good meal, I’ll retreat home to participate in my favorite birthday ritual: writing in my “birthday diary.”  Ever since I was fourteen years old, I have written a single journal entry on my birthday. This all started when I was young and dramatic, and I began a diary, mostly to write about boys.  But eventually, I realized that in order to meet boys I needed to spend less time with my diary and more time out of my room.  However, I kept up with the once-a-year-habit, and now, writing in my journal on November 8 is more of a tradition than blowing out candles.

And on that day, I write about my life in the past year. I consider my blessings and my goals. I write down accomplishments and let-downs. I write about celebrations and friendships and deaths and travels and family and even sometimes…the color of my hair.  And at the end of every entry, I conclude with a comment on my favorite song of the year.  It’s my own little Grammy award. (This year? Uptown Funk. Duh.)

Then, after I write my two pages of scribble, I read my entire birthday journal from 1992 to present.  I giggle at the same entries which make me laugh year after year. (Specifically, the year when I profess my love for an old ex, only to curse him out the following year.)  I mourn the entries about heartbreaking losses, yet I smile at the entries about new nephews.  It’s like watching my life in a movie, and it gives perspective as to what really matters in a lifetime.

So, on Sunday, I will be drinking champagne and eating carrot cake and treating myself to an entire day in old sweatpants.  But, I’ll also be recording my past year of life on this planet… Uptown Funk and all.  Bring on the bubbly!

Trick, Treat, and Carry On

Trick or treaters on the porch

Personally, I don’t like dressing up for Halloween. The stress of finding a costume to look like a California Raisin overwhelms me.  And I can’t stand all of those seasonal pop-up Halloween costume stores which infest our mini-malls. But there is one thing I love about Halloween: trick or treaters.

In a day when we barely let our kids go to school without being accompanied by a trio of nannies, peer mediators, and life coaches, I love that we still let our kids roam dark streets at night on Halloween. They knock on the doors at the homes of people whom we don’t even say hello to on the sidewalk. For one night a year, we let our kindergartners roam the neighborhood, dressed up like creatures of the night, just to demand candy from strangers.

It’s such a strange, strange custom for such a protective country. It seems like we have done our best to rid our kids of anything remotely fun, and yet, Halloween still rules. These days, we can’t even bring cupcakes to school unless they are gluten-free, nut-free, calorie-free, and vegan. Yet, we’ll let little Jack dress up like a zombie and eat that candy apple that weird Mr. Huston cooked. It’s bizarre, really. Yet, it is wonderful.

I fear the day that Halloween is considered too dangerous. I hope that all kids and neighborhoods take the appropriate steps to keep Halloween safe for all, so that this particular holiday never becomes a relic of the past.  (Put the glow sticks on, kiddos, and keep your parents at a safe distance!)

After all, it would be sad if my grandkids never knew the satisfaction of being just a little bit scared of the house with the howling gravestones in the front yard.  And, it would be tragic if my nephews didn’t know the joy of dressing up with friends to create the entire Gilligan’s Island crew. I hope that when I’m an 85 year old woman, I can still enjoy a parade of kiddos dressed up like ducks and ninjas and princesses, and scare the heck out of them with an eerie soundtrack of howling wolves coming from the inside of a goblin-carved pumpkin. Boo-yeah!

Long live trick or treating. And long live that one house which gives away WHOLE Snickers bars. Bless you, Thirteen Oak Street. I don’t care what anyone else thinks about your generosity with sugar. I still think you’re pretty darn howl-tastic!

Photocredit: newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org

The First Snow

We had our first real snow flurry last week. And when people experience the first snow of the year, they have one of two reactions:

“YYYYYYYYYYYYYYESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” (This is the same reaction my nephew has over his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle birthday cake.)

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”  (This is the reaction I have when the lady in the window seat needs to use the restroom for the fifth time during our redeye flight.)

For me, the first snow always brings a moment of excitement, and I’ll admit, I’m usually in the prior category. That is, until I look down and notice the calendar.

In Vermont, the first snow usually flies in October.  And snow doesn’t belong in October. The ski areas aren’t open. It’s not beginning to look a lot like Christmas. It’s not cool to need a Halloween costume which goes with snow boots.

But, I wouldn’t be human if I couldn’t appreciate the beauty of the first dotted sky of the year. There’s joy in those few moments of big flakes which melt when they hit the overgrown grass.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. But certainly not a white Halloween.  And so, I’ll scream on the inside with joy at the first snowflakes of the year.  And then, I’ll hope the next flurry waits until the stockings are hung.  I’m not ready to shovel my porch for trick or treaters.

Guilty Pennies

10 year old holding charity donations in a jar

I’m a terrible person. I keep the pennies I receive from those charity mailings which   are trying to save the world’s people/planet/penguins. I know that the pennies are supposed to guilt me into sending a big check to the Save the Spotted West Nebraskan Cougar fund, but I find the scheme so aggravating that I don’t respond.

I feel awful for a nanosecond until l remind myself that I’m a person who regularly gives to charity.  And those glued pennies which clink in my mailbox every day will all eventually go back to a good cause -albeit probably not the charity which gave them to me in the first place.  (By the way, how many of these mailed pennies do you think are tossed in the trash every year?)

I certainly sympathize with non-profits, trying to raise money for their cause.  And for a while, my ASPCA address labels were a welcome gift in my mailbox.  But these days, it seems that I get all sorts of “stuff” from these charities, from notepads to holiday cards to posters of chimpanzees.  (What, exactly, was I supposed to do with this poster?  I’m still not sure, but I turned into it wrapping paper for my nephew.)  I don’t want/need any of this stuff, but I understand that the Save the Spotted West Nebraskan Cougar charities are only trying to get my attention.

But perhaps a better way to get someone’s attention is to air a sad commercial, complete with Sarah McLachlan’s “Arms of an Angel” ballad.  Oh wait…

Let’s just all agree to keep the pennies in the charity cycle…and wherever they land, they land.  Guilt dissolved, as long as the pennies don’t end up in your ice cream fund.

Photocredit: Peter Dazeley

Being There

It’s rare that I insist that you read something.  (I hate being bossed around unless someone is FORCING me to have another piece of Key Lime Pie!)

However, this column from Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) has influenced my thinking every day this month.

You can’t win the contest without entering, and entering again, and entering again…

gallery-1440173878-county-fairphotocredit: goodhousekeeping.com

Win an Inn

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I love entering contests, specifically short-answer, creative writing contests. Give me a 250 word essay contest answering the question“What you would you do with a lifetime supply of meatballs?” and I’m a happy camper.

Yet, it’s hard to find old-fashioned writing contests these days. With Facebook and Instagram, contests are much more public, and the judging is often crowd-sourced.  (Do you really want your exes and colleagues to know what you’d do with those meatballs?) In the good old days,  I’d scour magazines and newspapers for contests, and then fill out paper forms with a good old pencil. I’d win the prize without having to share the answer.

Yet, today, you need to post your best selfie in your gold-extension eyelashes and then ask your eight-hundred besties to vote for you on  Facebook.  Then, if you are one of the top three finalists, strangers from across the continent will re-post your picture on Twitter and the person with the most Twitter shares wins.  I’m tired and embarrassed just thinking about it.

Yep, I prefer simple writing contests with fabulous prizes.  And one of the most simple writing contests I’ve seen recently involved giving away an inn.  An actual INN!  (I didn’t enter since I’m not sure what I would do with an Inn. Meatballs, yes!  An inn?  Probably not.)

I’ve seen another “Win the Inn” contest earlier this year. People had to submit essays on why they wanted to win the inn, and the innkeeper chose the winner.  These innkeepers get gold stars from me.  I can’t imagine a better way to pass on a beloved business.  There was are no facebook likes involved, no re-tweets, and no posts to  social media accounts.  They are good ol’ fashioned writing contests.

And a contest involving nothing more than words on a page is a contest I’d like to keep around.  I’m all for creativity when using adjectives.  But creative uses for eyelash extensions are simply not my forte.

GOOD PEOPLE (and not those unmentionable jerks)

There’s a lady out there who didn’t play nice with me today. And, it could have ruined my day. I could have let her get the best of me.

But I’m not going to let her. Want to know why? Because she’s a jerk.  And we can’t let jerks rule the world.

There are too many good folks who are willing to hold the door open, willing to give you the extra penny you’re missing, willing to write a complimentary note to your boss, willing to let you take the last seat on the bus, willing to make a difference… to let the jerks get all of the limelight.

So, instead of complaining about that not-so-lovely lady, I’m going to turn it around and talk about the good people.

Here is a list of good people:

Kid’s Baseball Catch Saves Toddler
Math Teachers Matter
Boy helps blind deer find food every morning.
University President takes pay cut to pay others
Run, Run, Runner
The Unstoppable Book Author
And my recent favorite… a train conductor worth noting.

An Apple A Day

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I’ve never been a big fan of apples. For me, they’re a five on a scale of one to ten in the fruit department.  (Not as fabulous as watermelon- nine,  but not as horrible as kiwi-two.)

But this time of year, I can’t help but eat apples.  They’re everywhere.  I can’t brush my teeth without stumbling over a MacIntosh.

They’re on the ground outside. They’re in barrels at the grocery store.  They’re in buckets at my neighbor’s house. They’re perfectly piled in a Simon Pearce glass bowl for decoration at my girlfriend’s perfect Pottery Barn home.

So, I give in to the apples.  I can’t turn away a juicy Empire that my nephew hands me after his apple-picking school trip.  I’d be rude not to accept the apple my colleague hands me during our lunch break. And it feels wasteful not to pick the gorgeous red apple hanging in front of me during my walk with my dog.  And I drink the cider, and eat the pie, and taste the crumble, and throw my hands up into the air and, gosh darn it, just EAT EVERY SINGLE APPLE PRODUCT IN THE WHOLE WIDE CRAZY WORLD.

And to be honest, they don’t taste bad. And as long as a lost worm doesn’t find his way into my mouth, I won’t mind eating the millions of apple products.  I actually might even have a second slice of your homemade apple pie.

But,  when I get the chance… I’ll wash it down with orange juice :)

 

 

Go West, Little Rippers

I can’t help but share my new book!  Go West, Little Rippers was released today!

I finished writing the book in April. Then, the illustrator went to work. Finally, the editing…and the editing… and more editing…and some more editing.

But now, it’s here, and it’s fabulous (if I do say so myself!)  :)

Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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Animal Crossing

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Last week, I was driving on a fairly busy New Jersey road when the traffic slowed to a halt.  However, as we started slowly moving, the reason for the hold-up brought a smile to my face. A flock of geese (complete with a line of goslings) were making their way across the street. The Police K-9 unit stopped both sides of oncoming traffic while they waited for the geese to cross the road safely to a nearby pond.

I’m happy to be held up in traffic for the safety of webbed ones. In fact, I’m happy to be held up in traffic for the sake of any animal. (On rainy nights, I slow to 5 mph in my driveway just to avoid the bullfrogs from my frontyard marsh.) Yet, we all know that roadkill happens. And when it does, it breaks my heart. (This comes from someone who sheds a tear when I step on a slug during an early morning run.)

But, recently, a family member shared some brilliant advice about roadkill (if there is such a thing). He told me that people should pay a fee to an animal shelter when they accidentally take an animal’s life. When someone hits a mouse with his Chevy Equinox, he needs to pay up.  When someone can’t swerve to miss a frog, she needs to open her wallet to the ASPCA. Whether it is death by car, lawn mower, bicycle, or foot, it all adds up to a donation.

Roadkill will always break my heart.  But giving a donation in lieu of an accident is  certainly a silver lining.

photocredit: roadsafety.co.za

 

 

Electric Youth

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I’m a fan of Tay Sway. She seems like a talented enough young woman with a decent head on her shoulders. Yet, in my eyes, she’ll never be Debbie Gibson.

To this day, I know every Debbie Gibson lyric by heart. Even the last word to the last song on the B-side of her first album.  (Between the Lines was actually one of her better songs, in my opinion.) To say that I was a fan was an understatement.  I wanted to be Debbie. I wore black felt hats to look like Debbie. I even bought her “Electric Youth” perfume, which resembled a battery-powered deodorant stick.

The first (and only) time I saw Debbie in concert at Madison Square Garden, I was speechless.  From the nose-bleed section, Debbie was as itty-bitty as a crumb.  But it was her. And her voice was echoing directly from her lips to my ears.  Somehow, she knew how I felt about boys and life and youth and love. And to this day, it was still the most memorable concert of my life.  (With John Mayer as a close second, and Color Me Badd in dead last.)

It’s easy to make light of today’s tween pop music or simply shake it off.  (See what I did there?)  But the truth is that each of these young performers is shaping lives (for better or worse) for only a few short critical years. I stopped listening to Debbie as soon as I became old enough to hang out with boys who listened to Dave Matthews. I replaced my Debbie tapes with Dave CDs. I threw away my felt hats. And our relationship came to an end.

But deep down, her songs still fill my heart in ways that sometimes surprise me. I’d be lying to say that “Out of the Blue” isn’t the most played song on my Ipod. And when I’m in the shower, I’ve been known to belt out a few of her lyrics I can’t believe I still remember. Yep, Debbie Gibson’s music is tattooed on my soul forever. While most folks today are shaking it off, I’m still shaking your love.

 

 

This film has been rated Animal Friendly. Viewer discretion unnecessary.

Tom Hardy and the dog Rocco from the film pose for photos at "The Drop" premiere on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Last year, my husband and I went to the movies to see an action/thriller flick starring the late James Gandolfini entitled The Drop. I knew it was going to be violent. And I knew that there were going to be moments when I had to close my eyes.

However, before buying a ticket and committing to the movie, I asked the ticket salesman the question I always ask before seeing a movie. “Is there any violence against animals in the film?”

He looked at me with a smug smile. “It’s a violent movie, ma’am.”

First of all, he called me ma’am, which annoyed me since I was wearing my Forever 21 wrap sweater which should have made me look fifteen years younger than I am. (And certainly not old enough to be a ma’am.)

Second, he didn’t understand the question. I took a deep breath. “Yes, I know it is a violent movie, but I would like to know if there is violence against animals.”

“There’s an abused dog who has a happy ending.”

“Do you actually witness the abuse?”

“I don’t really remember, ma’am,” he said, both disinterested and impatient.

At this point, I could sense the folks behind me getting perturbed. My husband stepped up to the counter to appease the situation. He leaned into the ticket salesman. “Listen, I really want to see this movie tonight, but my wife’s not going to be able to handle dog violence. So, if you could just try to remember the scene, you can whisper it to me, and I’ll make sure she takes a bathroom break during that part of the movie.”

The ticket salesman rolled his eyes and spoke in a quick, monotone voice. “You don’t see any on-screen abuse, okay?”

I smiled happily. “Thank you. Two tickets, please.”

I think Television Parental Guidelines should include “F” to stand for “Fido Abuse.” Although there is a rating for violence (V), it doesn’t tell you specifically what type of violence that you might have to endure. While I’m already numb to human-on-human contact on the big screen (which is a WHOLE other sad column in itself), I can’t handle animal cruelty in the movies or television. Even cartoon movies with tragic animal mother deaths (i.e. Bambi and ALL Disney movies) make me weep.

Heck, I don’t even like to see animals die in movies, even when it is a pleasant, end-of life, storyline. (Forget, Marley and Me.) Basically, I can’t handle a movie unless the pet pooch lives a long happy life… full of treats and L.L. Bean flannel, monogrammed, dogbeds.

Come to think if it, there are other ratings I would also like to see in the Television Parental Guidelines.

“W” – excessive Will Ferrell nudity

“C” –  Cliffhanger endings beyond frustration

“H” –  Health-related outbreaks which will give you hypochondria

“B” – Brooklyn Decker swimsuit cameos which cause guilt about eating Peanut M&Ms with your buttered popcorn.

I’m all for surprises in movies as long as they don’t include animal cruelty, Inception-esque frustration, or excessive supermodels in swimsuits. As far as I’m concerned, warnings about the aforementioned events would help me keep my sanity in the movie theater.

Put as many karate chops as you want on screen. Just keep them away from that Shitzu.

photocredit: (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

The Love We Live

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Love is cooking each half of the flank steak to a different tenderness.
Love is having a side of the bed.
Love is deciding who deals with the garter snake, and who deals with bathroom spiders.
Love is compromising with 2% milk.
Love is shower-less road trips and toothpaste-free nights.
Love is choosing seats 42A and B next to the airplane bathroom, just to sit together.
Love is sharing the big popcorn.
Love is clearing the hair out of the shower drain without being asked.
Love is sleeping with cold feet because someone is hogging the comforter.
Love is agreeing to never shop at that store again.
Love is screaming until you make up.
Love is sitting through “Casino Royale” over and over and over again because it’s the only movie you agree upon.
Love is picking up the phone to say you’re running late.
Love is agreeing to like Jon Oliver a little more than Conan O’Brien but not as much as Aziz Ansari.
Love is having a system for the dishes.
Love is knowing when to just let it go.
Love is recognizing the one look which means: “I can’t believe what she just said but I’m going to pretend everything is normal until you and I can gossip on our way home.”
Love is really not noticing the few extra pounds.
Love is not having to worry about flirty waitresses or hunky pool boys.
Love is having a library of kisses with special meanings.
Love is allowing the other to take the ice cream bite with the most chocolate chip cookie dough chunks.
Love is finding silver linings in laughable hospital food.
Love is holding hands when nobody is looking.
Love is what we live… sun-up, sun-down, Sundays to Saturdays, around and upside down and back around again.
Love was, love is, and love will be.

P.S.  Love is leaving your name off this post, because you wouldn’t want it here. xoxo

photocredit: Little Shop of Elle See

Unexpected Item in Bagging Area!

By Rebecca Munsterer Sabky

Last night, after eating Triscuits for dinner for the second night in a row, I decided to go on a grocery run. I closed the fridge, put on my “fancy” sweatpants, and left the house. After an hour of perusing the various types of shredded wheat cereals, I had a sufficient cart of edibles for the week.

As I pushed my cart towards the exit of the store, I was faced with the soccer mom’s conundrum. Do I take my fifteen items (give or take an item or two) to the Ten Items or Less checkout, or do I wait on the massive line for the regular check out?  As a seemingly law-abiding citizen (I won’t admit otherwise), I decided to not violate the Ten Items or Less code. Instead, I decided to attempt the greatest game in the history of the 21st century:  Check! Your! Self! Out!

For those of you new to this particular game show, the object is simple. Scan your items and place them in a shopping bag  without needing the assistance of a grocery clerk.  Sounds easy, right?  Wrong!  Check! Your! Self! Out! is a sly combination of Jeopardy and Press Your Luck. 

The contestant must first successfully locate and scan the UPC code on a particular item. Then, the item must be placed in a plastic grocery bag on a scale which is programmed to predetermine the weight of that project.  Once a bag is full, the contestant must remove the bag from the scale without aggravating the system.

I’ve been a contestant on this show for about five years now. But, I’ve yet to win. Yesterday, I once again gave it my best shot.

First, I picked items which were easy to scan.The box of cereal with the clear UPC code on the bottom. The bar of soap. The instant rice box. So far, so good. The items matched their predetermined weight on the scale. Once they were safely bagged, I used a careful maneuver to remove the first full bag from the scale and back into my shopping cart.  I had survived the first round of competition. Moving on!

The second round was a bit trickier. I successfully navigated the scanning of a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream pint. (I had previously made a rookie mistake in another game when I forgot to swipe the ice crystals from the UPC code.)  I also performed scanner gymnastics to correctly align the UPC code on corner of a carton of seltzer. (Who says sweatpants at the grocery store aren’t appropriate?)  And lastly, I was able to squash a tube of moisturizer just enough as to flatten the code for the scanner without popping open the cap.  With the finesse of a pickpocket, I swiped the second bag from the scale and to my cart. Success! It was a close call, but I had made it on to the final round.

The final round of Check! Your! Self! Out! is notoriously impossible. It is the dreaded produce checkout. To win the game, I needed to successfully weigh, identify, and bag my tomatoes. I started by placing the tomatoes on the scanner for the weigh-in. The machine informed me that I was purchasing 1.23 pounds of misunderstood fruits. (You, too, thought they were a vegetables, right?) Then, I was required to identify the variety of tomatoes. My options were bountiful. There were beefsteak tomatoes.Tomatoes from the vine. Roma tomatoes. I looked at my purchased tomatoes. They were red and round and generic. In fact, they resembled all of the tomatoes on the screen.

Other customers were now lined up behind me. The ticking of my Swatch watch added to the drama of not knowing the correct answer to the tomato question. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.   I considered using a lifeline and phoning a friend.  I considered asking the audience on line.  I even considered running back to the tomato display (à la the old 90’s game show Supermarket Sweep) to identify where I first picked up these buggers.  But as my Swatch tick-tocked, I knew I needed  be a big girl and make my best guess. I closed my eyes and chose beefsteak. To my delight, the scanner accepted my answer. I was home free.

But as we all know, no good game is over until it’s over. (Vanna doesn’t change out of her ballgown until the final puzzle is solved.)  As I leaned over to place the “beefsteak” tomatoes in their appropriate grocery bag, my wallet accidentally fell out of my pocket.  It landed with a thump in the plastic bag, and the weight of the wallet jammed the machine.

Unexpected item in bagging area!!!

The lights above the checkout flashed and the customers in line sighed with disappointment. They knew I would have to wait for a supermarket clerk to come reset the machine.

I looked down at the ground with disgust. I had lost yet another round of Check! Your! Self! Out!  There would be no prize but to get out of the supermarket alive.

unexpected-item

Photocredit: Andy Ward, Andyward.com/Michael O’Mara books .

 

LIKEABLE CHARACTER= Clark Moore

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What was your first job, and what did you learn? My first job was a regional radio commercial for Coke and I learned how gratifying it was to get paid to do something you love.

Where is your favorite vacation spot? Any beach house in Hilton Head, South Carolina! There’s nothing more relaxing than a southern beach town.

What’s a necessary indulgence? I could never say “no” to anything wrapped in (or that incorporates) bacon, or a great sale!

If you’re in a department store, which section/thing do you gravitate towards?  The fragrance section. I have a very strong sense of smell that is directly connected to many fond memories.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? “The Southern Benedict” (fried chicken on a biscuit, covered in a black-peppered, sausage hollandaise gravy) at Folk Art in Atlanta.

Something most people don’t know about you? I’ve seen every episode of Battlestar Gallactica.

Do you sing in the shower?  What’s your go-to tune? I do a full broadway show in my shower every single day! This morning I was singing a playlist that included Beyonce, Britney Spears, and Robyn.

What’s one thing on your Bucket List you’d like to see/do/experience? I want to live in Ireland for at least a year.

What would people be surprised to find out about your daily routine?  People are usually surprised when they find out I don’t iron my clothes. I don’t even own an iron!

How do you order your eggs? Always over-medium with salt and pepper.

What was the first concert your saw live?  *NSYNC No Strings Attached. It was life changing. They came down from the top of the stage suspended by strings like puppets.

Finish this sentence: I’m likeable because… my glass is always half full.

Slim Phil and other strangers in my phone

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On average, three people call me each week.

Sure, I get texts from girlfriends to go on lunch walks and messages from Comcast reminding me that my bill is ready for payment.  But, as far as good ol’ fashioned phone calls are concerned, my phone typically only rings if my husband, my sister, or my mother is on the line.

That’s why I’m amused to have so many phone numbers in my phone. Considering that it takes effort to enter ten digits into my flip phone, I must have cared about every one of my contacts long enough to devote time to their information.  Yet, I have many people in my phone whom I don’t even know. For example, Slim Phil?  Who the heck is Slim Phil?  (I have a feeling I didn’t meet him at a work conference.) John at Chappy’s?  Chappy’s is a bar, but God only knows if John was a bartender or a barfly.  Gumbo?  Sounds like a character in an upcoming True Detective episode. And my favorite… Bottom Feeders. Bottom Feeders?

Then, there are the numbers that make me smile. Dave’s Island Taxi was clearly entered on a night I was planning on having a lot of fun. Frank’s Pizza is my emergency contact for Italian subs when I’m hungry in New Jersey.  And Matt Damon is a fake contact which only exists to make people wonder…

Yep, I don’t bother to clean out these numbers, since they provide entertainment and whimsy. Sure, I don’t remember who “Cricket” is, but it’s fun to wonder who I would have met with a 641 area code (Iowa, apparently.) And, what if someday a guy named Bottom Feeders becomes the next American Idol?  I’d have direct access to backstage tickets from his ol’ pal Becky.

Yet, out of all of the names and numbers in my phone, my favorite contact is “Nobody Relevant.” I don’t recognize the phone number for Nobody Relevant, but apparently it was someone I wanted to forget.  He/She probably had a real name many moons ago, but for whatever reason, I assume I decided to rename the contact.  Why I wouldn’t just delete Nobody Relevant, I’ll never know.  But for now, Nobody Relevant is in my phone, just waiting for the phone to ring.

photocredit: lifehacker.com

Musical Zucchini

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There are zucchini all over my kitchen. They sit in glass bowls, in wooden bowls, in cupboards, and in the refrigerator. August 8 was National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neighbor’s Porch Day (and yes, that’s a real thing) and apparently my neighbors got the best of me.

I can’t go anywhere without someone trying to give me a zucchini. I get them at work. I get them from friends. I’ve even seen folks handing them out in the gym locker room. (Luckily, they haven’t snuck any into my gym bag yet.) There’s a saying around my neck of the woods that the only reason to lock your car is to keep people from leaving zucchini.

And I’m not complaining. I like free food. And to be honest, I still haven’t been able to grow my own zucchini in my backyard garden. (Darn you, little critters!) Yet, there’s only so much grilled zucchini I can handle in a week.  So, I’ve found a creative use for the extra zucchini: giving it away.

Paying the zucchini forward might be my favorite late summer hobby. It’s like  a game of musical chairs: the last person holding the zucchini has to saute it. When a friend gives me a zucchini, I give it to a relative. When a relative gives me a zucchini, I give it to a friend.  And the bigger and more awkward the zucchini, the more fun it is to pass it along. I’m officially involved in this big ol’ zucchini brigade. And it’s a lot more fun than paying forward the oysters.

So, if you see me this summer, lock your car door. And if you decide to keep your zucchini, here’s a great recipe for crispy zucchini chips.

Ina, Ina, You’re Divine-Ya!

ina gartenThere are few people on this planet I could watch grill anchovies. Ina (pronounced Ein-ya to rhyme with divine-ya) Garten is one of them. If she’s cooking, I’m infatuated with whatever is in her hands. I once watched her puree peaches for nearly an hour, even though I have little personal interest in stone fruit.

As the Barefoot Contessa, I think Ina is one of the most beautiful people on the planet. Yet, Ina isn’t exactly runway model material. She’s overweight. She’s freckled.  And her 67 year old face is far from ageless.

But, I still find her to be incredibly attractive. (My husband agrees, and he’s usually more the Kate Middleton type.) Ina is a real woman with sparkly eyes, perfectly pink cheeks and a clean, wide smile. She’s well manicured, well preserved, and well dressed.

In a day and age when women are botoxing and blinging, Ina is rarely seen in much more than a button down shirt and lip gloss. Her hair is simple and shoulder-length.  And her jewelry is minimal. When she cooks, she doesn’t even wear her wedding ring.   (Excuse me, Trisha Yearwood… is that an boiling onion stuck to your ring finger? Oh wait, that’s just your engagement diamond. Don’t drop it in the beef stew.)

Yes, Ina Garten is fabulous. She’s the opposite of a Real Housewife, and yet, she’s the ultimate “real” housewife. She loves her husband. (Oh, Jeffrey, we love you too!) She loves grating cheese. And she seems to really, really love her job.

There are other women whom I think are beautiful, even though they never grace the cover of Vogue: Daphne Oz, Tamron Hall, and Damaris Phillips.  All three of these women seem approachable, realistic, and a bit softer than some of the other overprocessed celebrities. While Daphne is the daughter of Dr. Oz (who I find irritating), she is a Princeton graduate and a blushing new-mom  on The Chew.  Tamron is a pixie-haired beauty whose giggle is contagious, even when I’m on the other side of the The Today Show television screen. And Damaris is the Food Network queen who seems like she’d be game for a few Budweisers at a dive bar.

Yet, Ina is still my #1 girl crush. She makes me want to drink lemonade at her kitchen counter while we gossip about her day over potato croquettes. She makes me want to wear less makeup and more bangs.  And she makes me want to learn how to properly prepare anchovies.  Anchovies!  Clearly, the woman is nothing less than divine.

Photocredit: www.jsonline.com

 

LIKEABLE CHARACTER= Kate Starrett

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Kate and her husband Nikolai.

What’s one thing you know for sure?
I try not to wear cheap shoes, buy cheap tires, or eat junk food.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?
The Hilton in Barbados has a great beach with waves and lovely rum punch drinks served beachside.

Cocktail of choice?
A dark-n-stormy with block ice and lots of lemon.

If you’re in a department store, which section/thing do you gravitate towards?
Shoes, kitchens stuff and jeans. Very expensive jeans.

What was your first job, and what did you learn?
My first job was working at a tennis club on Nantucket as court maintenance crew. I had to get up at 5:45am and be at work at 6:30am. I was the only girl on a four person crew.  I learned that I was not a morning person.

What’s your favorite song?
You’re My First, My Last, My Everything by Barry White. It’s our wedding song.

Something most people don’t know about you?
I got married in a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. It’s not as easy as they make it out in the movies. I wrote my vows in the bathroom of the private airport terminal, we hopped on a plane to Vegas, and when we got there- my bags didn’t show up. I was dressed in clogs, jeans and a cashmere sweater. Forty dollars and fifteen minutes later, we got married in a Kia Rio orange rental car at a chapel drive-in.

What’s your strangest pet peeve?
It gets me when people call my cell trying to sell me something and call me “sir” cause I have a deep voice.

How do you order your eggs?
Poached medium over crispy bacon on crispy toast with a ton of salt and pepper.

What would people be surprised to find out about your daily routine?
I spend countless hours perfecting my green smoothie recipe. My sons love them.

What’s the one song which will get you out on the dance floor?
Any song with a fun beat gets me dancing but my son is currently obsessed with Queen. “We Are The Champions” is demanded multiple times a day.

Finish this sentence: I’m likeable because…
I’m so not perfect and I really like that about myself. I think more people can relate to the funny, quirky, unique, do-what-works-for-you, kind of person.

Giving Credit

I rarely wear makeup, but when I do, I put eyeliner on BEFORE taking a shower. It’s a make-up trick which makes my eyes look a little more smoky, but a bit less skanky. It’s more Audrey Hepburn than Avril Lavigne, as only a faint trace of eyeliner remains after a steamy washing.

I claim to have learned this trick from an old college friend. But the truth is, I didn’t learn this trick from anyone. I made it up by myself.

I don’t know why I never own up to my own makeup tip. I have a habit of claiming “old college friends” have taught me many other things as well. But most things I credit to them are false  I invented turbinado popcorn, and the couch flip, and “rum-pum-pum-punch.” But I’ll tell you that they did.

I also have a habit of citing people who never spoke the quotes. “Like my dad always said, if they’re not worth a nickel, don’t give them a quarter.” But my father has never uttered these words. I came up with that saying.

“My mom always says that a bottle of wine makes friends, two bottles makes enemies.”  Nope, she didn’t. I did.

“My husband always says to start with a smile and the rest with follow.” Never happened. This is my motto.

It’s funny that most people steal quotes from other people. But I give them away.  Yet, I imagine I’m not alone in wrongly crediting friends. Sometimes, you just want a partner in crime for support, and when an idea is your own, it can be scary to admit it.

So, when I tell you that an old friend from college taught me this ah-mazing tip for making cocktails, just be kind.  And if you ever meet that old friend, you can give her credit.

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Photocredit: Chocolate Covered Katie

Blood, Sweat, and Tears

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The Big Red Blood Drop stood on the corner of Main and Wheelock street, waving his short arms at passing cars. It was a jillion degrees, and the poor sap in that costume must have been close to needing his own healthcare from heatstroke. As I crossed the street, the Drop waved at me.  As someone who has donated blood many times before, I figured that it was once again time to roll back my sleeves. I waved back at the Drop, and entered the blood drive.

When I entered the all purpose room-turned-makeshift hospital, I was greeted by two women who were too young to donate blood themselves. They gave me a “Kiss Me, I Gave Blood” sticker and a questionnaire to complete before going under the needle. The questionnaire was ridiculous, as always. I felt like the most boring person on Earth for not having any “Yes” answers.

No, I haven’t vacationed on “Beach #3” in Danger City, west of Reflux Island.
No, I haven’t had intimate relations with monkeys in Botswana.

No, I haven’t injected myself with cocaine or Diet Coke.
No, I haven’t traveled underseas for longer than three years.

After handing the questionnaire back, I waited. And I waited. And I waited. Then a man in need of a nose hair clipping asked me to join him for my personal history check-up. He asked me to confirm my questionnaire answers. He noted down a laundry list of countries I have traveled to in the past five years. Then finally, he took my vitals, and pricked my finger with a needle to test my iron count.

My drop of blood never dropped. I was iron-deficient. I was a blood drive failure.

I collected my belongings and plotted my escape. I quietly walked towards the exit, while an audience of do-gooders watched me from the wait room. They looked at me with knowing smiles. They probably assumed that I had spent a little too much time in Danger City.

I turned redder than my own failed blood.  As I passed the Drop on my way out, I put my head down and vowed to take iron supplements until the next drive.  I’ll make Iron Man look anemic next time around… ;)

Photocredit: http://www.dartmouth.edu

Customer Service

I rarely ever get manicures. (I have a hard time sitting still, nevermind sitting still while someone pampers me.)

But last Friday, I treated myself to a “Dutch Tulips” color on my short, garden-blistered nails. I went to a fairly non-descript nail salon, and expected a fairly straightforward mani.

My manicurist was pretty silent throughout the treatment. I could tell that her English was limited, and she seems more interested in her Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee than chatting with me. (This was A-OKAY with me since I actually enjoy a little quiet time during any sort of massage, pedicures, or manicures.) However, as she finished polishing my final pinkie, she looked up and smiled. “Have you been here before?”

“Twice last year,” I responded.

“Well, we appreciate your business.” Her comment was genuine, accompanied with a smile. “Thank you very much.”

Appreciation is appreciated. And lately, I’ve been paying a little more attention to businesses who pay attention to the customer. I don’t need a handwritten thank you, simply for buying a book. However, it’s nice to be recognized for where you spend your money.

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Photocredit: https://www.nailsalongreensboro.com

LIKEABLE CHARACTER= Willie Geist

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The book I hope to read soon is David McCullough’s “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”

My most memorable English teacher was Abby Brown in 7th grade.  Mr. Brown was young and passionate. He once yelled at me for throwing a book to a friend because it disrespected the book. That, I must say, was a little over the top.

The most common grammar/spelling mistake I still make is putting the period or the comma outside that damned closed quotation. Still looks better to me on the outside, but what do I know?

If I could read an autobiography about anyone, it would be Jesus. We’ve heard everyone else’s version of the story. He definitely would debut high on the New York Times bestseller list — just after Bill O’Reilly.

The most beautiful word in the English language is “Chateaubriand.” Wait, that’s French. How about “effervescent”?

The ugliest word in the English language is “Buttafuoco.”

The most romantic love scene in the word would have to take place in Provence, maybe during a walk up Mont St. Victoire as it looked to Cezanne.

If someone wrote a book about my life, they would be surprised to learn that for the better part of the early 1990′s,  I tried to dress like a rapper. It didn’t work.

The book which I continue to re-read is “City Slickers” by William E. Geist. It’s a collection of my dad’s best columns during his time at The New York Times. Man, they’re good.

The book I tend to gift to loved ones is “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” It gets very awkward when it turns out the loved one is not pregnant — they’ve just put on a few pounds. Always ask a third party before giving that book. Lesson learned.

My favorite children’s book is “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus.” We’re big on the Mo Willems collection in our house.

My favorite library/bookstore in the whole world is Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey. It was my hometown store growing up, and a small bookseller that is thriving.

When I read, I love to snack on Twizzlers. Industrial-sized bags of them.

photocredit: NBC.com

Red Velvet Cake

Quick!  What does Red Velvet Cake actually taste like?

I don’t know either. It’s not exactly chocolatey, but It’s not vanilla-esque either.

Yet, red velvet cake has a following. Brides and fancy Southern folk go bananas for the stuff. I’ve mostly had red velvet cake at events where the hostesses want to fancy up the shindig. And it tastes fine. I don’t think it’s as good as a regular old chocolate cake, nor as savory as carrot.

My guess is that people only like red velvet cake just because cream cheese frosting tastes so darn good. The light layer of sweet, but tart, frosting on the cake is what makes it addictive. (Side note: frosting is like cleavage. A little is necessary. But a lot just ruins the taste in your mouth.) I think nine out of ten guests would eat garbage cake if it was covered in cream cheese frosting. And yet, the red velvet gets all the credit.

There are other trendy foods which people go nuts for:

1. Cucumber sandwiches: Tastes like water, expensive as gold.

2. Crab cakes: Fried mayonnaise with a dot of imitation crabmeat.

3. Mini Quesadillas: Grilled cheese’s fancier, yet less substantive stepdaughter.

4. Prosciutto-Wrapped Breadsticks: Pork products with a crunch.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy all of the foods above. I just think it’s funny that sometimes a plain ol’ grilled cheese sandwich and a slice of chocolate cake can taste better than foods we *think* we should love. But bring on the Red Velvet Cake. It’s flavoring is so…red velvety. ;)

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photocredit: instructables.com

Don’t Jersey Vermont

There are people in my town who proudly display bumper stickers reading “Don’t Jersey Vermont.”  While I could be offended because I, as a native New Jersey person, am technically “Jerseying Vermont,” I refuse to get angry. Here’s why:

1.  I’m honored that “Jersey” is a verb! I believe that Jersey is the only state-verb of the 50 states. Jealous, Texas? Peeved, Nebraska? Thought so! Sigh, New Jersey has always been a trendsetter.

2. The “Don’t Jersey Vermont” facebook group has fewer likes (388) than my Novel Nibble page (491). And both of us have fewer followers than the New Hampshire Telephone Museum (a whopping 659!)  Clearly, we’ve all got a long way to go before any of us can influence like the Biebs or Kar-cash-ians.

3. I’m going to create bumper stickers which read “Don’t Vermont Jersey.” Yep, I don’t want you bringing your organic farms and maple syrup and spotted cows and Cabot cheese to the Garden State. Keep ’em out. Jersey’s got their own tomatoes. #theBossdon’teatvermontcheddar

Yep, those “Don’t Jersey Vermont” bumper stickers don’t bother me at all.  As a Jersey-girl-turned-Vermont-resident, I know the value of both the Green Mountain and the Garden states. They have both been home to Phish’s Trey Anastasio.  They both grow darn good corn. And they are both filled with the occasional jerk who gives the state a bad rap.

Now, I just need one of those “Co-Exist” stickers with different state shapes for each letter. :)

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The cold side of the pillow

Who doesn’t stuff their face in their warm laundry when it comes out of the dryer?  I drape pants around my neck and wrap t-shirts around my head to feel the warmth during the cold months of winter. I think there is no better joy than being able to put your underwear on your head to keep warm during January freezes.

The only thing I love more than warm laundry is the cold side of a pillow. It’s bizarre that while I crave blankets in bed, all I really want is that chilly fabric against my skin.  I think we all would admit to loving a flip to the cold side.  Even on the coldest night of the coldest month in the coldest state, a cold pillow can’t be beat.

My ideal night of sleep would be on a cold pillow with a warm blanket, with the sound of peepers quietly echoing throughout my tiny little corner bedroom. My bladder would be empty, my wedding rings safely in my bureau, and my pajama pants perfectly aligned with my ankles (and not awkwardly wrapped sideways somewhere around my mid-calve.)

But in the real world, I lie in a bed with a chunky dog kicking me, my husband elbowing me, and my pajama bottoms hiked up around my knees in a way that makes me feel like I’m stuck in a spider web.  The comforter is cold and the pillow is warm.  My bladder is typically full around three am, and my dog’s internal clock wakes me before my alarm.

But in the middle of the night, when I wake to the howl of some sort of owl outside my window, I flip my pillow to the cold side, and all is well with the world.

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My pillow.

Flawed, and sorry

  • I’m sorry that I placed your dollar store present in a designer box to make it look more expensive.
  • I’m sorry that I wore bikini bottoms to work as underwear instead of doing my laundry.
  • I’m sorry that I displayed that picture in my bathroom where I personally look good, while everyone else looks awful.
  • I’m sorry that I took an extra free donut sample when the clerk turned his back.
  • I’m sorry that I actually don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, but I’m pretending like I do.
  • I’m sorry that I brought my own Swedish Fish to the movie theater.
  • I’m sorry that I left the package of marshmallows I no longer wanted in the milk/cheese aisle.
  • I’m sorry that I stopped at the drugstore to “sample” lipstick before my reunion, instead of just buying a tube.
  • I’m sorry for taking a few too many bites of the kids’ mac and cheese instead of eating the grown-up food.
  • I’m sorry for taking a dip in your town lake, even though I don’t have the correct club sticker.
  • I’m sorry that I have never contributed to a NPR pledge drive, but I listen to it religiously.
  • I’m sorry that I hide the fancy wine before you spend the night at my house.
  • I’m sorry that I was late to your party because I wanted to be.
  • I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I’ll try harder.

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Let Freedom (NOT) Ring!

My house has no cell phone service.*  I say that statement without pity. I say it with pride.

My house has no cell phone service, baby!

People love my house, just for this reason. Sure, I have internet in my home, so if people really need to check their facebook status, they can. But without cell service, they have an excuse for peace and quiet.

Guests have told me that my little Vermont home feels like a retreat. At first, it might feel like rehab as they deal with cell detox. But after a day, they love it. They realize all of the other things that happen in the world, and not just on Instagram.

Also, not having cell phone service at one’s home is also an argument for keeping a simple phone. Below, is a picture of my actual phone. I have no internet service on my cell. No special emoticons. Not even a decent camera. But, I believe that if an alien landed on this planet, it would believe that my simple phone would be the more advanced technology. It’s little. It’s less complicated. And the screen is nearly unbreakable. (Trust me on this one.)

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Tonight, I’m having a fourth of July weekend kick-off celebratory BBQ. There will be music. There will be the hiss of sparklers.  There will be the pop of champagne bottles.

But our phones will be silent as we take the time to celebrate family and this great country.  Our forefathers would be darn proud.

*Technically, if you stand on your right foot while balancing on the end table in my upstairs guest room, you might be able to get a bar’s worth of service. But never two bars. Just enough to possibly receive or send a text message. (Basically, enough to send a late night textaroo to a significant other.)

Jennifer Garner’s Ears

I was sad to hear the news of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s divorce. I don’t know either of them. And, like millions of other Americans,  I could say that they “seem” like good people.  I bet those millions of people are right.

I don’t keep up on celebrity news often but I admit to pausing for a moment for this particular break-up.  Ben will survive. So will Jen. But frankly, she’s the one I’m more interested in.

There aren’t a lot of celebrities whom I would be comfortable babysitting my nephews. But Jennifer Garner strikes me as someone who is competent and interesting.  She’s certainly a beautiful woman, but gorgeous women in Hollywood are a nickel a dozen. Yet, Jennifer actually seems like someone I could spend more than five minutes with at a bookstore.  And she named her daughter Seraphina, which of course, ups her cool factor.

Other reasons to like her?  Her beauty is imperfectly perfect. She has a funny toe-issue. Her ears protrude. She’s not stick skinny.   Her teeth aren’t as white as her husband’s fakes. Frankly, she looks like someone that we all went to high school with.

And speaking of high school, she’s educated. She graduated from Denison, and then went to The National Theater Institute in Connecticut. It seems like she gained her fame the old fashioned way, through hard work and talent.

I’m sure she’s got quirks and interests and funny little sounds she makes when she sneezes. But the bottom line is that in terms of “media relate-ability,” she’s a star.

Yep, Jen will survive this divorce like thousands of other people. Yet, I wish her well.  She seems like someone who has got more going on than just her autograph.

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0136 -- Pictured: Actress Jennifer Garner on October 1, 2014 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

 Photocredit: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC

One man’s junk…

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I found this pig platter at the Norwich Dump, ahem, transfer station. (The term transfer station makes uppity Vermonters sound more proper.)

It was an interesting find, to say the least. (The “free to a good home” pile is typically chock full of glass vases and kiddie toys. I typically don’t even bother to look at that particular section of the dump because I’m usually focused on getting rid of my own junk.) I wasn’t sure why it had two rings near the snout and tail. It technically looked like a platter, but it also looked like something you could hang at the entrance of a farm. I wasn’t sure I would ever use it to serve cheese and crackers, and certainly not any pork products. Regardless, I needed to have it.

When I got home, I hung it proudly in my kitchen above the sink. I nailed it up, and then took a few steps backward, admiring my piggy as if it were the leglamp in a Christmas Story. It looked terrific, and it really added to the casual shabby chic decor (aka, random assortment of accessories, dish towels, planters, and Simon Pearce vases) in my kitchen.

Now, all of my houseguests ask me where I got the porker. I just muster a smile and casually say, “oh, around town somewhere.”  I’m fretful of the day when someone will enter my home and realize that it’s his/her old trash. But I’m hopeful the donor might get a kick out of his/her trash as the focal point of my home. (A few years ago, a friend wore another friend’s old prom dress to a spring party after finding it at a local hand-me-down charity.  Let’s just say that there were a lot of shared giggles.)

After all, one man’s swine… is another girl’s treasure.  And this little piggy finally came home.