Friday, December 26, 2014

Bees and Bushes

I realize that, as a former English major, no one expects me to be able to count, but I am very much aware that I skipped book number five on the list. I accidentally bought the large print version.  The combination of the overlarge type and the slim margins makes me feel like the book is yelling at me. I don’t like books that yell at me. So I had to skip it until the regular size version shows up at my door.  

#4 – A Book of Bees – Sue Hubbell
Recommended by: MC

This is a lovely, soothing book, best read in the heat of summer while the bees buzz past your glass of lemonade. Reading it is like soaking in a warm bath – it is calm and luxurious and comforting. The author details her experiences keeping bees throughout an entire season and while it doesn’t make me want to keep bees, it does certainly make me appreciate them far more. The author takes such a loving tone with them, and explains their behavior so carefully, that you can’t help but come to understand them. The tone of the book is quiet and respectful, with a gentle drop of humor and good spirits. The author isn’t trying to convince the reader to do anything more than just sit back and enjoy the process of beekeeping and that restful and respectful tone does much to make this book so pleasurable.

#6 – American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld
Recommended by: MS

I read this book a few years ago with my book club. It is a thinly fictionalized look at Laura Bush and her life. The first time around, I was more sympathetic to Alice/Laura. She seemed like a quietly moral person who kept finding herself in situations that tested her moral fiber. The second time around, I was less inclined to like her because I felt that she didn’t fall so much as stop herself from falling. Time and time again, she could have made a choice, but seemed to prefer to let others make the choices for her. When she finally did find her voice, it was so far past the point of reason that I found it infuriating. Now you are going to speak out? Now? However, I did love her rendition of the Bush family, and Charlie/George is particularly well written. He leaps off the page, as does his entire family, and they totally make the book worth reading. Excluding the name changes, I think it would be very easy to forget that you are reading fiction and that this isn’t Laura’s own memoir, which is another reason this book is a worthwhile read. Any author who can create such solid characters, not caricatures, of such well-known people gets a solid stamp of approval (even if I did absolutely hate her first book, Prep.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Family Matters

My sister-in-law is always trying to better herself. She has two masters’ degrees, a plethora of initials after her hyphenated name, and is always taking new classes or learning new things. She once took opera singing lessons, just because. She is currently running marathons – for fun. So when she recommended what I consider to be a self-help book, I wasn’t surprised. My brother-in-law is the same way. (Good thing they are married, eh?) He also recommended a self-help book. This week, I read them both.

#2 – The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin
Recommended by: CRR

The author spent a year trying to become happier even though the basics were already covers, i.e., she was already happily married, doing a job she loved, in a city she loved, with two kids who were both healthy. I believe starting from a general sense of happiness is more realistic. A new job, a baby, a romance – all are considered easy paths to happiness. But what does happen if you already have those things? Can you be happier? What makes you happy?

The book tells you to figure out what makes you happy, what makes you sad, or frustrated, where you want to grow as a person, and what do you want to change. From those answers, you can start to create a list of resolutions that will help make you happier. What I found to be the most useful is starting small – say one resolution in January, and gradually increasing to 12 resolutions in December and then breaking down those resolutions into pieces. (Resolutions, not goals, because resolutions are daily reminders and goals, once hit, are forgotten.) For example, come January, everyone wants to lose weight. But by breaking that goal down, it can be easier to manage. Maybe in January, only focus on exercising every other day. Identify ways that you can rearrange your life and schedule to get to the gym, or arrange your workouts to better suit your moods or your time constraints. Perhaps don’t go to the gym at all, find other activities, or different places. Then in February, start a food log. Maybe in March, eliminate certain foods and so on until December, when you have incorporated 12 different approaches to healthy diet and exercise that have changed your life and make you happier. Or focus on something different every month, as the author did. One month she focused on money. A different month, she focused on parenting. The point is not to do what others do, the point is to determine what you want to do and what you can do to make yourself happier.

I would go nuts trying to fill in a Resolution star chart every day, or spending so much time navel gazing, but I think the concept is sound. I do plan on making a short list of resolutions that will grow monthly to test out the theory. What do I have to lose from trying to make myself happy? I’ll let you know how it goes. If any of you are trying to change your life this upcoming year, even in a small way, this wouldn’t be a bad book to read before you start.

#3 – Verbal Judo – George Thompson
Recommended by: MR

I can see how this book appealed to my beloved brother-in-law. (I’m lucky, I have three BILs and I adore all of them. In this case, I’m referring to the Eldest.) This book explains how to be a better communicator in easy to understand ways, using a plethora of examples, mostly from the authors’ years in law enforcement. It’s like it was written for Eldest! I found it to be a bit of information overload, but a few simple things stood out – always treat others with respect, always come from a place of empathy, always use first names, and always personalize your encounter with someone. Obviously, there is a lot more to the book, including mnemonic reminders, lists, and lots and lots of ways in which to put those concepts into practice. I was surprised, however, by how many of these concepts Eldest already practiced. When my daughter was born, she was put into NICU very suddenly. (She was fine, we panicked.) All I heard for 24 hours was “How’s the baby?” Eldest was the only person who asked, “How is Insert Name Here?” I have never forgotten that. It made her real. It made me less scared. She wasn’t just a general baby, she was my little girl, his niece, and by God she was going to be all right. I was really struck by how such a simple switch from baby to name made such a huge different and this book is filled to the brim with examples of how to make other, just as simple changes to your communication habits.

So, if you know someone who communicates only through yelling, or intimidation, or doesn’t listen to a word you say, slip this book into his or her stocking this Christmas. Or better yet, buy yourself a copy and teach them through example. Just like trying to make yourself happier, you can’t go wrong by trying to become a better speaker and a better listener.

Programming Note: I will be reading all books in the order in which they were given to me. If you are reading along at home, the list is on the blog. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

And We’re Off!

A few years ago, I treated myself to a designer purse. Not a knock-off, not a “as made for Target by”, not off a folding table at a craft fair or a street corner – a real purse by a real designer. (Though not, sadly, Burberry. I’ll never be that good to myself.) I was on the annual Sister-in-Law Shopathon and just fell in love with a Kate Spade purse that had all the embellishments of Paddington Bear coat. It was glorious. It was on sale. It was all mine and as an added bonus, free, because my mom paid for it as a belated birthday present. That purse has sat on a shelf, in its protective bag, for years. YEARS. Why? Because it was so nice that I didn’t want to “waste it.” However, when I started this project, I realized that the only way to finish in 12 months (and shoehorn in a variety of my own reading choices), would be to carry a book with me at all times. The second book on the list (review to come next week because I am not finished it yet) talked about not saving the good china for a special occasion. Who knows if or when that occasion will ever occur and why should the good dishes go to waste? So, out came the purse. For the next few months (or until the season changes and wool is too warm to carry), I will proudly be carrying my actual, honest-to-God, designer purse with me, with a book neatly tucked away inside. I’m now well-read and well-accessorized!

So, I started the project by reading a book not on the list. There are just too many good books in the world for me to ignore. I spent a lot of time in front of my fireplace instead of in front of my television and I am pretty sure I didn’t miss anything significant. I do feel the clock ticking as I’m sure I’ll blow through some books and plod through others, but at least I’ve started.

#1 - The Boy Who Said No – Patti Sheehy
Recommended by: KR

The book tells the tale of Frank Menderos, a young man who tries to escape from Cuba in 1967.  
I liked it, but I didn’t love it. As a rip-roaring yarn told over drinks, this story would be fantastic. You wouldn’t notice the glossing over of details and how whole sections of his life are reduced to an “and then this happened” storytelling device. This book is classified as historical fiction, but if that is the case then I want a lot more history. If this is a true-life story of Frank, as told in the prologue, then it needed a lot less fiction. I can pinpoint the moment the entire book flew off the rails for me, and it was with this sentence: “I can only surmise what transpired.” I wish he hadn’t. His story would have had legs as a memoir and I really wish I was able to read that book instead of this one. All it did was leave me wanting more: more details, more history, and more culture. There were lots and lots of sections about his relationship with his girlfriend, and while that was necessary to inform the choices he made, they tended to drag. I wanted less kissing and more Communism. (That is a sentence that has probably never been said before.)  Overall, I think the fault is mine. Like with the Wicked series by Gregory Maguire, where the story he told about Oz was not the story I wanted to read, this story about Cuba was not, unfortunately, the one I wanted to read.   

As a side note, I also wish they had given this book a different title.  Ugh.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Call Me Ishmael

You magnificent bastards.

I asked for 40 books and you gave me 60 (and counting!)  True, many of you gave me multiple books, but each pick counted. Some of you sent me private messages, warning me about content, or sharing why you want me to read a particular book. Others wrote me lovely letters. One of you even got me a copy of the book, personally inscribed by both the author and the person about whom the book was written. That person gets a double gold star.

Out of the 60 books on the list, I already own 22. Out of those 22, I have only read 16. One book showed up via Amazon (thanks beloved BIL). One showed up mysteriously in the back of my car and three need to be returned to their owner when I’m done. Thanks to a wicked pre-Christmas sale, another 17 are on their way via Better World Books, an online used book store that donates one book for every book bought. (I haven’t told my husband about that box yet. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t notice it among all the other deliveries this time of year. In my defense, each book was only $2.50.) I’ll pick up the rest as the months roll along.   

Many of you worried that I was too well read to have missed your favorite tome, but I assure you that the breadth and depth of my reading have been greatly exaggerated. I don’t read half as much as I’d like to nor half as much as you would expect me to. All of that is about to change.

I have to applaud you all on your choices. I will be reading Russian lit for the first time, after successfully avoiding it my entire life. I will be enjoying the history of the flu epidemic, after which I will need a chemical bath and a treatise on bee keeping, after which I’ll need some tea with honey.  I will get to learn about, in depth and in great detail, the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Ozzy Osborne, and Anthony Kiedis, an odd mix of individuals I wouldn’t think to invite to a dinner party. I’ll delve into fiction, non-fiction, history and self-help, children’s books and comic books, sci-fi and fantasy, and go both into thin air and into the wild. I’m almost dizzy with the thought of all the places I’ll go and all the people I’ll meet.

I am, however, a bit concerned about all the Cormac McCarthy I’m going to read. I’m also concerned that life growing up in the Pine Barrens was a whole lot darker than I ever imagined based on the book choices of those who grew up there.  

Anyway, join me on this journey through the reading lives of my friends and family. I’ll post a new blog every Friday with an update on what I have read, what I have thought, and what I plan to read next. Maybe you’ll read along, returning to lost loves or finding new ones along the way. Maybe you’ll ignore me entirely, going on about your own life, reading your own books. That’s fine too.

Either way, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need a bigger bookshelf. 

Here is a copy of the list as it currently stands.

  1. The Boy Who Said No - Patti Sheehy
  2. The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin
  3. Verbal Judo by George Thompson
  4. A Book of Bees - Sue Hubbell
  5. The Burgess Boys - Elizabeth Strout.
  6. American Wife – Curtis Sittenfeld
  7. The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  9. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendek
  10. Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult
  11. The Paris Wife – Paula McLain
  12. House of Sand and Fog – Andre Dubos
  13. The Little Prince – Autoine de Saint-Exupery
  14. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  15. The Family – Mario Puzo
  16. I am Ozzy – Ozzy Osbourne
  17. Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen-
  18. Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa
  19. Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
  20. Time Traveler's Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
  21. A Question of Attraction  - David Nichols
  22. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
  23. The Book Thief  - Marcus Zusak
  24. A Prayer for Owen Meaney
  25. A Dirty Job – Christopher Moore
  26. Lamb – Christopher Moore
  27. Running Man – Richard Bachman          
  28. The Walking Dead – R Kirkman
  29. Dragon’s of Autumn’s Twilight – Weis/Hickman
  30. American Pastoral – Phillip Roth
  31. The Charm School – Nelson DeMille
  32. A Widow for One Year – John Irving
  33. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
  34. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  35. Dune – Frank Herbert
  36. Angels of Repose – Wallace Stagner
  37. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakaour
  38. The Stand – Stephen King
  39. The Big Influenza – John M. Barry
  40. Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
  41. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town – Charles Bukowski
  42. My Dark Places
  43. After Camelot – J. Randy Taraborrelli
  44. What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty
  45. Wifey – Judy Blume
  46. Scar Tissue – Anthony Kiedis
  47. High Fidelity – Nick Hornsby
  48. Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling
  49. Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
  50. The Post-Birthday World
  51. Despair – Vladimir Nobokov
  52. The Help – Kathryn Stockett
  53. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
  54. The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  55. No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy
  56. The Plot Against America – Phillip Roth
  57. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
  58. Founding Brothers – Joseph Ellis
  59. What is the What – Dave Eggers
  60. The Boys of Winter – Wayne Coffey
  61. Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  62. Guardians of the West – David Eddings 
  63. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
  64. Wizard's First Rule - Terry Goodkind
  65. Blindside - Robin Cook 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

No Two Persons Ever Read the Same Book

So this week, I am going to turn 40. Yikes.

On Tuesday, lots and lots of you are going to wish me a happy birthday. I will be grateful for each and every one of them. Truly.

But, instead of just a message, can you tell me your favorite book? The one that you never want to read again because it was so good or the one you read over and over again because it was so good. Tell me the one book that changed your life, your mind, or your heart. Which one made you laugh until you cried, or helped you cry it out so that you were ready to laugh again? Which book do you quote endlessly? Did you name your pets or your kids after a character in a book? Which one? Do you have fond memories of reading this book, or reading it to someone? Let me know.

My goal for this, my 40th year, is to read all the books you recommend. I’ll keep track and comment along the way. It will be a neat way to reconnect with many of you and to get a little insight into what makes you tick. Tell me the title and author. You can tell me why you love it in great detail, or you can remain silent and let me try to figure it out. I don’t need to know why this book sings to you above all others, and hopefully, you won’t be too upset if it doesn’t sing to me.

I just feel like going into such an important year that I should have a project. I want to connect with all of my friends, both near and far, in a meaningful way. Tell me your favorite book and I promise I will read it (if I haven’t already). As I finish each book, I’ll blog about it. It will be my way of saying thanks for your friendship, for your thoughts, and for sharing something you loved.

Take a few days and think about it. Then, on Tuesday, post on my wall, send me a message, e-mail me, leave me a voice mail, e-mail, or text message. Send me a card. Hell, send me a copy of the book (used, new, borrowed, blue, I’m not picky) if you are really feeling generous. I’m hoping to collect 40 recommendations to read during my 40th year.

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” 
Oscar Wilde

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Boycott the Boycott

I saw a news story today about the number of stores and malls that will remain open on Thanksgiving to cater to shoppers. Many of them are no longer waiting until the butt-crack of dawn on Friday morning, or even the dark of midnight on Thursday. Nope, now you can start shopping as early as 6pm on Thursday at many malls, outlets, and retailers near you.


The comments on the article basically cry out in agony for those poor retail workers ripped from the bosom of their family to stand behind a register and ring up the unwashed masses buying things they don’t need with money they don’t have. I have been there, done that, and worn the corporate-issued apron. It sucked, sure, but it was a sacrifice I had to make for a paycheck I needed. I could have quit. But then I wouldn’t have had a job or a paycheck. No one who gets into retail does so blindly. If you don’t realize that it may mean working on a holiday, then shame on you.

I’ve seen other articles applauding certain retail stores for refusing to open on Thanksgiving. Those stores publicly declared that they would remain closed so that their employees could enjoy the day with family. Well isn’t that nice. It is a noble statement, but if you follow the money you will see that the stores that are staying closed are doing so because they don’t benefit from the bump of midnight shopping. They may be unwilling or unable to offer a discount on their items, or their overhead costs are higher than their sales, or their target demographic prefers other incentives to entice them into the store. Business is business. Target is open because Wal-Mart is open because Best Buy is open.

Along those lines, the Internet is ALWAYS open. This is a brave new world and Amazon is always ready for business.  Do you think those retailers who are closed on Thanksgiving aren’t open online? Please. Free Shipping! Online Only Deals! Bonus Gift Cards! Triple Reward Points! You can shop all day long on Thanksgiving without ever leaving the comfort of your living room.

And let’s follow that thread a little further down the line. What are millions upon millions of Americans doing on Thanksgiving (besides shopping)? They are watching football. Do you think the concession stand guy wants to be away from his family? Are the security staff, the maintenance crew, the cameramen, or the parking lot attendants  thrilled to be standing out in the cold watching the pigskin fly? If you work for the Detroit Lions or the Dallas Cowboys (or in their stadiums), then you know you are working. If you work for any number of sports-related TV shows, then you are working. Sure, the above the line guys are well-compensated for missing the holiday and probably have an awesome spread set out in crafts services, but the make-up team who keeps Jimmy Johnson’s hair so poofy? Do you think anyone asked them if they want to work? I don’t. The quarterback is making his millions, but there are literally dozens of people on that field who aren’t. Yet we don’t weep over them being kept from family dinners because we are too busy enjoying the fruits of their labors. 

Lots of people have to work on Thanksgiving. Those in the armed services usually get commercials reminding us of their sacrifice and rightly so. But no one laments the fate of the doctors, nurses, cops, pilots, and countless other professionals that are also stuck working on Thanksgiving. I’ve never heard anyone complain about the Thanksgiving Day parades that take place all over our country, even though they surely require people to be away from family on the holiday. Al Roker needs to eat turkey too, you know. However, somewhere in our collective heads, there is a distinction between the people who work due to honor versus those who work for money. Well you know what? There is no distinction. It sucks for everyone, equally. You can do your job with a smile or with a sulk, you can hold a gun with bullets or one loaded with SKU numbers, but we the people shouldn’t feel sorry for you. I will empathize and I will sympathize, but I will not patronize.    

So with all of this in mind, I think it is ridiculous to call for a boycott. You don’t want to shop, stay home. But you should also stay off the Internet and if you are a Nielson family, turn off your television. Don’t buy gas, or milk, or a newspaper from the corner store. Don’t call 911. Don’t go to the hospital or the airport.  But try to remember when you do finally hit the stores to actually smile at the cashier, thank the clerk who helped you find something, and keep your patience when the lines get too long and the stores get too hot. Make eye contact with those behind the counter. Smile. When you say thank you, mean it.  Those same retail workers who you wept about on Thursday are the same ones behind the register on Friday, or Tuesday, and every other day of the week.     

Friday, July 18, 2014

Splish Splash

I moved my chair at the pool today.

This may sound like a relatively minor accomplishment. Pool chairs aren’t known for being heavy. Moving it isn't a crime. I didn’t steal it. It is still in the shade – an absolute requirement to keep the goats at bay, but I moved it nonetheless.

Why is this a blog worthy? Simple. It means my kids have grown up again.

When I joined the town pool, it was during the month of August. My little guy was potty trained so I avoided baby pool jail entirely. Our pool is shaped like the letter L. The short part of the letter never gets deeper than three and a half feet. For the entire month of August, my little guy played on the stairs, splashing in two feet of water, happy as a clam. He brought in toys, played well with others, but he never, ever got off of those steps. I set up my chair directly in front of him and neither of us moved for a month. The pool is empty at that time of year as everyone is finally free of swim team obligations and rushes off to vacations and the shore. We were very happy in our little corner of the world. My daughter, always more adventurous and a far better swimmer, happily frolicked in the rest of that section, never once crossing the rope lines into the longer part of the el, where the pool water deepens to eight feet.

The following year we joined the pool for the entire summer. My daughter earned the ability to cross the barrier and even venture into the diving well. While she still had to tell me when she left one pool to go to the other, she was free to swim by herself. My son moved off the steps, but stayed firmly in the three foot section. Only once did he venture into three and a half foot territory and it scared the bejesus out of him. So that was another summer where I could be found firmly planted in the same chair, under the same tree, enjoying the same shade.

Last year, my daughter earned her green band the first day the pool opened and I pretty much set her free to roam the grounds at will. She checked in from time to time to ask for money for the snack stand or to find out which friends were on their way, but otherwise, she was on her own. My son’s friends were starting to earn the ability to swim in the big pool, but he still needed to be accompanied by an adult. I sent my husband in whenever possible. Nothing amused me more than to see him being attacked by multiple small children at once. On hot days, I even deigned to go in and play with the kids myself. But for the most part, my little guy was still pretty happy in his own little fiefdom in the short el.

Oh, how things have changed. This year, my daughter started sunning herself on a towel on the grassy hill “just like the big girls” and I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack. She has started bringing her own money to the pool and disappears for hours. (Truthfully, I can stand up and see her from anywhere since I make damn sure she has the brightest suits there. She enjoys the illusion of freedom; I enjoy the illusion of proper parenting. It works out well for both of us.) My son decided that it was time to earn his band and move into the longer part of the el. All of his buddies can swim in that section and since I prefer reading and gossiping to actually swimming, his patience has run out. No longer does he want to beg for me to come in with him, or hope that one of the big kids is willing to stay with him while he plays. Oh no. His time is now. So he took the test, swimming two laps and then treading water for a minute. Viola! No child was happier to slip a yellow cord around their ankle than mine. (He still isn’t ready for the diving well, thank God.)

So now, I have to move my chair. No longer can I sit in my corner by the steps and watch him splash happily. No longer can I watch him play in the short section, happy among his peers. Nope, now I have to face the long el, the big pool, the one filled with teenagers taking selfies underwater, and tweens doing cannonballs, and the older folks gamely doing laps. He still isn’t the strongest swimmer and until he gets more comfortable in the deep end, I am going to be keeping a well-trained eye on him because that yellow band doesn’t make him invincible, no matter what he thinks. So if you are looking for me, I’m now facing an entirely different direction. I’ve moved my chair. Care to join me?  

Monday, June 30, 2014


Day One: In which I unpacked an entire house and solved a minor medical crisis.

My parents moved this weekend. I swear to God, there are more boxes in my house than in theirs. College kids moving into their first apartment armed with little more than Salvation Army finds and some cast-offs from the family moved in with more boxes. Homeless people have more stuff. It was baffling. They had a big house. It was filled with crap. Liberally. And yet, here we were and there were barely enough boxes to fill one room, let alone one house.

However, since my mom seemed content to sit on the couch and do nothing, and my dad needed to keep taking frequent breaks due to age, I was pretty pleased to have fewer boxes to open. That is right up until I got out the scissors, the box cutter, the Swiss Army Knife, and Grindelwald’s wand to open the damn things. Secret organizations sending ancient artifacts to underground vaults put less tape on boxes than my dad. They also probably wash the relics before they wrap them, and possibly use materials other than gift bags, cardboard cutouts, and oven mitts to wrap breakables in, but maybe that’s why they have the big bucks. As I gingerly handled the various kitchen items, found places for them on the shelves, and tried to put order to chaos, it suddenly occurred to me that this was far too easy. One set of glasses and two mugs after a lifetime of living together? Where were the plates, bowls, and serving items? Where was the cutlery? For God’s sake, why couldn’t I find a spoon?

My mother threw them out, of course. She didn’t want to pack too much stuff.

Meanwhile, I was opening entire boxes filled with paper plates, anther filled with dozens of packets of cheese and crackers, and others filled with, no lie, empty bags. Not just the plastic ones you get at the grocery store, but actual empty dog food bags, and rice bags, etc. When I tossed them onto the garbage pile, I was told that they needed to be saved and used for picking up dog poop. I found a box of Tupperware all jumbled together and a box filled with nothing but plastic wrap and aluminum foil.

My dad literally just shoved everything not nailed down into a box and triple-taped it before my mother could get to it.

As I unpacked, I noticed a trend. My mom would wander by and try to unpack the exact box in which I was already elbow deep. She would move in alongside me, reach in, hand me an item, tell me what the item was, and then watch me put the item away. Yes, I know what a wine glass is, thank you. I would kindly point her toward another box, since many hands make light work, and she would immediately lose interest and drift out again. Over and over and over again.
At one point, I walked her into the master bedroom, told her that I refused to put away her clothes, pointed at the stack of boxes and told her to have at it. Every ten minutes for the next hour, I found her sitting in the living room again, studiously not unpacking. Her excuse – she couldn’t find the box of hangers.

Record scratch.

Wait, what? Why wouldn’t you just put the clothes, WITH hangers, into the boxes? Why would you take the time to take every single item off the hanger, pack the clothes, unpack the clothes, then put everything BACK on the hanger? Do you know how difficult it is to untangle an entire box filled with wire hangers? Jesus!

I spent quite a while unpacking books. I like to unpack books. I like to put them away by genre, in alphabetical order. That is actually fun for me. This was not fun. My mom was really helpful in that room too. She kept interrupting me to tell me that books were on the wrong shelf. I kept telling her that I was simply taking them all out first, and then organizing them after as it was far easier that way. She would nod and then tell me that something was on the wrong shelf again. I unpacked three full shelves of dog training books, one entire shelf of Harlequin romance-esque books, one shelf of books for my dad, and a shelf that had nothing on it except Good in Bed, Memoirs of a Geisha, and the Fifty Shades Trilogy. That one shelf alone might have scarred me for life. Oh, there were also multiple shelves of actual VHS and cassette tapes. If you ever need the soundtrack to Top Gun on cassette, I’m your girl.

Finally, I too, sat down on the couch. My mother turns to me and said, well, I guess your dad isn’t getting his oxygen.

Record scratch, part deux.

My dad has lung issues and needs oxygen to sleep lest he never wake up. He had been without it for a few days during the move and the new tanks had not been delivered. My mom decided to drop this little nugget of information after 5 p.m. on a Saturday, in the summer, in a house with no Internet. When I finally picked my jaw up off the floor, I immediately asked for the paperwork so I could make some calls.

My dad looked at my mom.

My mom looked at me.

“I threw that out too.”


Thankfully, (and after an emergency call to a doctor friend who is always willing to hand out free advice, much to my eternal thanks), with the help of my husband, an excellent customer service center rep, and a game technician who happily popped into her car long after hours to deliver his needed oxygen, the crisis was resolved. After feeding them the third meal of the day, and successfully managing to keep both of them alive one more day, I sent them home.

One point two miles away from mine. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

My parents are moving in a few weeks. It is like being smothered to death, one cardboard box at a time. They believe that certain things should not be put on a moving truck and instead, should be brought to my house for safekeeping. Their biggest concern is theft. Why anyone would steal some of this stuff is anyone’s guess. They also are taking the opportunity to clean out all the junk accumulated over almost 15 years of living in their current house. Things they always meant for me to have, but somehow never gave to me. Or things they think I should have, no matter whether or not I want them. Or things they bought a million years ago and are now “worth something.” My dad is a true believer that if you paid X for an item 10 years ago, then that item will automatically increase in price instead of decrease. This is doubly true if said item is “collectible.” Let’s be frank, nothing they collect is worth collecting. My husband and I agreed that we would take whatever they bring and either store it, keep it, or dump it. What follows is a list of the completely random items that have made the way from their house to mine.

Things I am storing:
  • The past seven years of taxes
  • Christmas wrapping paper – My mother didn’t realized that the rectangular storage box in which she already keeps all the damn paper is a perfectly acceptable moving container. She honestly thought everything had to be in a square box.
  • Two complete sets of wedding silver – neither of which are from either of her weddings
  •  Random tools, tool boxes, and tool sets - that are so laced with rust, they require thick gloves and a tetanus shot
  • Family albums – filled with people I have never met, in photos that are all unlabeled
  • “Art” – and yes, while I realize that art is subjective, this stuff is just beyond ugly.
  •  A white chest freezer – which, I must say, looks mighty white trashy sitting smack dab in the middle of my goddamn living room

Things I am keeping:
  • An antique liquor cabinet – which will house first edition and/or signed books
  • A steamer trunk – which must be fully refinished to chip away the fossilized cat hair 
  •  A giant toy box – It is a standard issue craft fair item, but they insist it is worth a small fortune. It’s not, but they will throw a hissy fit if I dump it.
  • 24 rolls of paper towels 
  • 12 boxes of mac & cheese
  •  A Blair Witch angel – yes, an angel that looks like it came right out of the prop department of your basic low-budget horror movie is taking up permanent residence on my lawn because, sometimes, you need that little jolt of terror to get through your day

Things I am dumping:
  • Several pounds of meat so old and freezer-burned they may actually be from a wooly mammoth
  • Five pounds of frozen corn and two quarts of fake maple syrup
  • A set of champagne glasses – My mom insisted that I needed wine glasses. I don’t. And even if I did, the ones she brought are clearly champagne glasses. Says it right on the package.
  • A cornucopia  - because nothing says let’s give thanks for bountiful food than neon red plastic apples
  • Multiple Christmas decorations that were broken, bizarre, or just plain terrifying. Carolers should not be screaming in terror.

Things I have killed:
  • The mouse that joined the exodus of boxes met death by peanut butter, which, to be fair, isn’t the worst way to go

I can’t wait to see what their truck looks like when it opens up its bounty at the new house. After dumping endless piles of nonsense at my house, basement, and shed, they have also sold or donated at least three rooms worth of furniture. I fully expect a half empty truck to pull up and unload a dozen boxes of dog food and cat litter, a box of bedding, and a teapot. Then my mother will ask where the closest Boscov’s is so that she can go out and buy all the stuff she threw out. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Neil Says “Hi” By The Way

As always, I blame Rorey for starting this.

A few months ago, she sent me a picture of a little building filled with books in a yard. She pointed out that it would be perfect for me and I should have my husband build one. As I am in the habit of doing exactly what Rorey tells me to do, I am proud to say that my official Little Free Library is now open for business. Let’s get to the specifics.

Who runs it?
I am the official steward of my library. This means that I am completely in charge of stocking it, maintaining it, and spreading the word about it. If that sounds like too much work, then you can always get a whole group of people to rally. But I love books and cultivating my own little patch of reading is heaven on a two-by-four. However, I am always, always, always, looking for donations of books: adult, kids, fiction, non-fiction, board books, comic books, and everything in between.

What is a Little Free Library?
Well, a few years ago, a guy in Wisconsin thought it would be a great idea to build a miniature one room school house (in honor of his mother), fill it with books, put a big sign on it that said FREE, and put it on his lawn. His neighbors loved it. He loved it and started building them and giving them away as gifts. Five years later, there are roughly 15,000 teeny tiny libraries all over the United States. (They are also popular in other countries.) Check out for more information.

Where is it?
You can find it right in my own front yard. My brother-in-law would disown me if I put my actual address out into the ether for this, but locals know how to find me. I live on a jogging, dog-walking, bike-riding street, so hopefully I’ll get lots of foot traffic and through social media, lots of word of mouth.

When is it open? 
All the time!

How do you build one? 
Any way you want! I’ve seen birdhouses, lighthouses, magazine racks, newspaper stands, doll houses, miniature houses of all shapes and sizes, and dozens upon dozens of Tardis replicas. Make it sturdy, make it durable, make it water-resistant, but make it accessible. It has to be visible, easy to reach, and not require people to really trespass on your property to get to it. My husband is installing a little spotlight on ours. If you don’t want to build one, you can buy one right off the Little Free website.

Why did I do this?
Because Rorey told me to? Actually, it is because I love books. I am constantly putting books in my mailbox for people to borrow. I love nothing more than talking about books, reading books, and buying books. If you know me at all, you know that I am a bibliophile and a bookworm. I am not precious about it. I haven’t read Proust, or all of Shakespeare’s plays, or every book on the top 100 books of all time. I love comic books, hate the term “chick lit”, and think that if you love it, you should read it. Period. It makes me weep that the year E.L James raked in millions for 50 Shades, there was no Pulitzer given for fiction, but I do realize that 50 brought a lot of people back to reading whereas The Pale King didn’t.

But do your really, really, really want to know why I did it? I did it because books are cool. Last night, I tweeted three authors about my library, telling them that their books were inside. All three responded. Let me be clear – Neil Gaiman, Jennifer Weiner, and Joe Hill all personally responded to tell me that they loved the library. Neil F'ing Gaiman tweeted me. Then retweeted it. So did Joe Hill and Jennifer Weiner. I told them I was giving away their books, for free. I was not buying them as gifts and handing them out. I was not in any way putting a dime in their pocket for their work. And still they loved it. Why? Because they want books to be shared, loved, and discussed. (Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus tweeted that she thinks the library is fantastic. I may just die happy now.)

Books are a great equalizer. When the Apocalypse comes and knocks out all the power, you can still read books. When the zombies come and start eating people, there are lots of books on how to survive. You can get books in prison, on a cruise ship, and everyplace in between. Don’t want to buy a book – borrow one from the millions of free libraries (big or small) throughout the world. All you need is the ability to read or listen. Books can take you anywhere, to any place or time. You can read about anyone, doing anything, anywhere. Books are the gifts that keep on giving. And my husband built me a library so I can share my love of books with you. Don’t let all his work go to waste.

Please, stop on by and pick one up for yourself.
Take a book, leave a book.
Always a gift, never for sale.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mommy Dearest

A good friend gave me an excellent piece of advice today. 

She said, “Treat your mother the way you want your kids to treat you.”

Well shit.

I may just be heading for an early death smothered under a pillow if that’s the case. 
So long and thanks for all the fish.

In truth, I work very hard to keep my kids in the dark about my feelings toward my parents. All venting is done in private, to my husband, after the kids are in bed. Unfortunately, my eldest has the aural acuity of a bat. Though she tends to ignore us when we use words like clean, laundry, or shower, say the word “cookie” under your breath, in the basement, with your head in a dryer and I assure you, she will, from two floors away and the depths of sleep, come barreling down the stairs in search of the aforementioned treat. She has probably heard more than I want or realize, but I think it is the little ticks that occur whenever my mother calls that might possibly give more away than the occasional “AND THEN” echoing off the walls. Things like not answering the phone, for one. Or the fact that I often have to take a deep breath, close my eyes, count to 10 (“in Greek” quotes my inner Sean Connery), and then answer it, for another. When a visit occurs, I tend to be a bit tightly wound both before and after and as much as I try to hide it, I’m sure they notice. They notice when I change my earrings or my toenail polish, surely they notice the days when I tend to snap at them without reason.

So how can I teach my children to respect and revere me while at the same time, actively disrespecting my mother at every opportunity? It’s a stumper. You may all shake your head at me, upset at the language I use and the tone I take, thinking of how awful it would be to speak of your own beloved mothers in such a voice. I get that. I really do. But you have to give me one vice. I don’t cry. I don’t scream or shout. I tend to calmly describe my emotions instead of actually acting them out. (This has led to some truly odd conversations with my husband.) I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I’m currently “on a break” from Ben & Jerry. The one thing I do, and I do it really, really well, is make fun of my mother.

And let’s be honest, if you all had such rich material, you would do the same. I have dined out on stories about my mother for years, possibly decades. She is legendary among my friends and acquaintances. She is not abusive, she is not harmful (in large doses), and she is not dangerous. However, she is, completely and utterly batshit crazy. I share her stories in a sane, rational voice to help others enjoy and appreciate their own mothers. I have never exaggerated a story. I have never lied about something she has said or done. I don’t need to. In all instances, the truth is strange than fiction.

As my parents get older, I will take care of them. It’s the right thing to do and I am the only person to do it. I’m okay with that. While I don’t necessarily want them living on my block, living in the next town is perfectly acceptable. I don’t mind being the parent in the relationship; I just wish the actual parent did not dress like a toddler run amok in the Disney store. While it would be nice if my advice was taken as Gospel, I’d be fine with it at least being the Book of Mormon. I don’t mind listening to a seemingly endless play-by-play of last week’s episode of The Amazing Race as long as the same conversation includes an equally detailed accounting of my dad’s last doctor visit. It’s all about moderation. I will help them in their life, but I will not let them take over mine.

So, how will I teach my children to do as I say but not as I do? Simple – by showing them that a sense of humor can get you through just about anything in life - even a visit with my mother. For the time being, I’ll still work blue, but I’ll at least try to stay pastel. Because, let’s be real, when the midden hits the windmill, it will be an important life lesson for them to learn that even when you can’t keep your cool, you can always keep your wit. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

And the Oscar Goes To . . .

This year’s Oscars were as bad as this year’s Super Bowl. Lots of excitement leading up to the big show, but almost immediate and total crushing disappointment once it got started. I’m talking about Ellen.

Look, she seems like a lovely woman. Obviously, with a talk show that survives on celebrity guests, she wasn’t going to make fun of them on a Sunday and then try to book them on a Monday. I get it. However, she was so far from biting wit that she was nothing more than a toothless mutt gorming wetly onto a blanket. Give me a song and dance number, or some mean-spirited jokes, or anything that shows the host prepared, even a tiny bit, for the evening. Instead, we got selfies and pizza. That is comedy?

Other lowlights included the gallery of dead people montage. I believe this section is officially called In Memoriam and while those in attendance have finally figured out that they should not clap when their favorite person is shown on the screen – as this is essentially a wake, not a popularity contest – it still leaves the audience at home scratching their heads trying to remember if they knew such and such was dead. It is the perfect time for a potty break, refills, etc. This year, they did the entire bloody thing and THEN had Bette Midler stride out in all her glory and belt out Wind Beneath My Wings. Um. What? Couldn’t she have sung during the montage and killed two birds with one warbling stone? Did the slowest, most boring part of the evening have to be TWICE as long?

This was an especially bizarre choice because they also let Pink sing the entirely of Over the Rainbow in appreciation of Judy Garland. Let’s parse this problem out slowly. Judy Garland’s own children were in the audience. One of those children is Liza Freaking Minnelli. This is a woman who already owns an Oscar for singing in a musical. She has pipes (and an EGOT, but I’ll get back to that.) So why, exactly was she sitting in the audience watching someone else salute her own mother? It’s a mystery.

There were just so many strange choices. They brought out big name celebrities to rush through three best picture choices at a time, barely showing scenes or moments or even title cards. The best song choices got to sing at best, half of their songs. That left plenty of time for a montage of heroes (conspicuously free of any heroines) another one of animated characters, and the aforementioned shout out to the very dead Judy Garland. This type of producing drives me crazy. Focus on the essentials – the actual shit actually nominated. Then, if you have time, throw in some bonus stuff, but make it relevant and make it entertaining.

The presenters were also problematic. It felt as if someone wanted old Hollywood represented so they raided the closest old folk’s home to see who they could dig up and throw onstage. I am not disparaging the acting ability of Kim Novak or Sidney Poitier. However, she was an advertisement for The Joker’s makeup line and he was the textbook definition of doddering. While it was nice to see how gently Matthew McConaughey and Angelina Jolie dealt with these poor souls, I honestly felt they both should have been left wrapped in blankets, with a nice cup of tea back in their own homes. 

And then there was John Travolta. Jesus Mary and the oft-forgotten Joseph. I don’t know if he was channeling the Crypt Keeper, dead Elvis, or Castor Troy, but dear God, whatever they stuck on top of his head was terrifying. He had one job to do – introduce Idina Menzel. Now I realize that is an unusual name. However, I know they ask the actors to show up the day before to practice. For those who announce nominees, they actually pre-tape the names so that they don’t mess them up (which is why they always cut away from the actors on stage to show clips.) What John Travolta did to her name was a travesty. He got up on stage, seconds before she had to belt out the frontrunner for best song, a song beloved by millions of children, a song many people had spent the entire show waiting for – and he called her Adele Dazeem.
Uh-deen-a          does not equal                  Adele.
Men-zell              does not equal                  Dazeem.


There is also such an obvious cool kids vs non-cool kids vibe during the telecast that I thought things got weird. The first three rows are the cool kids. They get the pizzas. They get to dance with Pharrell. They are the ones who get to walk onstage. The rest of the audience, even those up for awards? Relegated to the cheap seats. A man won an EGOT last night. I yelled so loud in triumph that my husband, sound asleep on a nearby chair, almost fell off it in shock. An EGOT! Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony! One guy, all those awards! That is something worth shouting about. But did it get any more than a passing mention on the telecast? Nope. Because he is a songwriter, so no one gives a shit. There are only 12 EGOT winners in existence. If Bette Midler had won an Oscar and earned her EGOT, balloons would have poured down from the ceiling and a marching band would have come out. But it was just a song writer (even if he is the youngest person in history, at 38 years of age, to have accomplished this) so the show just went on.

I am not going to discuss the awards. I haven’t seen most of the movies, so my opinion is invalid at best. I did like the general bitchy vibe of Cate Blanchett’s speech and the goofy earnestness presented in Matthew McConaughey’s. He managed to throw out both a “Just Keep Livin’” and an “alright, alright, alright” so he’s still aces in my book. I still wish Channing Tatum didn’t insist on wearing clothes and wish some of the actresses wore more of them (bras, for starters), but overall, they were all no doubt deserving and hopefully were gracious in defeat.

One day, I am going to throw my own Oscar party. But until I have some skin in the game and it is a race for Matt vs. Ben, or a project I loved, or actors I can actively root against, I’ll just have to keep bitching on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cleanin' Out My Closet

My parents are considering moving. Right before I got married, they moved into a new home in a new state. Their new home was twice the size of their old one for half the number of people and they immediately filled it with a menagerie of dying and decrepit animals. It is basically a nursing home for dogs and my daughter weeps in fear and breaks out in allergic hives every single time we go visit.  

Many years and a major health scare later, they want to move. They have finally realized that the house is too big and that, in case of emergency, my being an hour away (without traffic) is a problem for them. The fact that they decided to move onto the same BLOCK as my family is sort of a problem for me, but one that I may never actually have to solve because long before my parents will pack the last cardboard box, they are going to put each other into matching pine ones.  

Neither one is able to handle change well. Both are pack rats, though of widely disparate items. What this means is that every time she throws out one of his items, he hunts through the trash for it and returns it to its proper place in the garage or basement. He is convinced that every car part, tool, lamp, and piece of furniture is “worth something.” Every time he convinces her to give away a candle, beach bag, or garage-sale toy, she immediately buys something new to replace it, convinced that she will need it as a gift for someone at a later point in time. The best part is that they both call me to yell about the other one. It is a cycle of insanity that cannot be broken.

This weekend, after discovering that they have started dismantling and moving random pieces of furniture for absolutely no reason, we went to visit. As always, my daughter cried then swelled. My son wandered, bored out of his mind, desperate to find the one pet in the house with the normal amount of fur, teeth, and body parts. My poor husband, practically high on the amount of allergy medication required to get through a house liberally covered in dust, cat, and dog fur, simply lugged whatever he was told and tried to stay out of the way.

I prepared for battle. My first war zone was the liquor cabinet. My parents have a beautiful one that came from my great-grandmother. There may not be quite enough liquor in it for the average gathering at my children’s school, but it would be enough for an average wedding. I decided it was high time to clear out the shelves. Obviously, we all know I don’t drink. However, I know of many a beer-n-beer, bazaar, and family fun night that could use a basket of booze to raffle off for a good cause. As I emptied shelf after shelf of top-shelf liquor, my dad stood next to me, like a grumpy old troll guarding his bridge, eyeing every bottle. My dad, the Irish cop, never drinks more than the occasional Coors Light while at home. Thus, it was a mystery why he had both Jameson and Johnny Walker (red and black label), Baileys, Beefeater, and Bacardi, and not one, but two bottles EACH of Absolute and Courvoisier. My parents, neither of whom have ever once had a glass of wine, possess a dozen bottles in a variety of shades. They had mini-bottles of wine from weddings so long ago, the kids produced from those unions are of drinking age. When I was little, I was fascinated by a little bottle that looked exactly like a grenade. This weekend, I convinced my dad to detonate it and the “white dessert wine” that issued forth was a toxic, clumpy brown. I did eventually liberate all but the wine and the Jameson, but I kept an eye on my dad as he packed up the bottles lest he try to pull a fast one and take half of them back.

During this battle over alcohol neither party would actually drink, my mother was gleeful. She was less so when I decided that the second battleground was going to be her “crap closet,” so named by me years ago because nothing in it is worth greater than ten dollars. I have spent years going through this closet every birthday and holiday, as she parcels out one precious, discount item at a time. This weekend, I took it all. No more board games “for the poor kids,” or board books “for when someone has a baby shower.” No more puzzles “in case I need to throw one in with a gift” and no more craft sets “for when the kids come to visit.” My town pool needs new games, my town library needs books, and my town summer rec program needs crafts. And while she hemmed and hawed over every single item, she did eventually give up everything including the ugly umbrella-shaped lamp shade, which strangely enough, turned out to be an ugly umbrella-shaped bird feeder.  

Once they realized I was not taking no for an answer when it came to taking the good stuff, they started bringing out the boxes of bad stuff. Did I want a mini-crepe maker? No. How ‘bought a cast iron griddle so encrusted that it might actually have been used as a murder weapon? No. A giant princess piggy bank with a missing crown? No. The miniature version, but with feathers? No. If the crap closet was the backroom at a Boscov’s, this was the discount section of the same, where everything is half off and broken. Eventually, I just started saying yes to everything. In the end, it is far better that this stuff winds up in my trash cans than their moving boxes.

So, while a few battles have been won, the war is far from over. Realtors still need to be procured in their state and heavily bribed in mine. There are still many closets, rooms, and drawers filled to the brim with things that are both worthless and priceless and two people who don’t know the difference. Plus, the ultimate showdown, the epic battle of wills between mother and father has yet to happen. This will be the deciding factor between good and evil and will be an apoplectic Apocalyptic war unlike any other. Oh yes my friends, the final death match is still to come ---- the garage.

Monday, February 3, 2014

50 Shades: The Musical!

I recently received an e-mail from my friend “Rorey” telling me about something absurd called Fifty Shades! The Musical. Within minutes, I had bought tickets for both of us. You see, Rorey and I have already watched soft-core porn together by, as we thought of it at the time, supporting local theater. Last year, she took me to see The Full Monty at a local playhouse filled with local actors. What this meant, in the context of this play, is that I saw the crab cake guy from the supermarket in all of his, um, glory. For the record, shellfish is officially off the menu.

Rorey and I did not know exactly what to expect from our second foray into dubious musical theater. I knew the premise was supposed to be a book club that discusses the novel in song. I expected a bit racy, and maybe even slightly off-color dialogue, but I did not expect an entire song titled, “Fill My Hole” that was stuffed with so many double entendres, they went right into triples. Sure, the lobby had a kiosk filled with pink puffy handcuffs, a grey tie (not the one from the cover) and lipstick that you would could not apply in public without being arrested for indecent exposure, but I thought it was all in jest. Or I thought that until two actors simulated sex on top of a member of the audience. I have never, ever in my life been so excited to be in the cheap seats and far away from the stage as at the very moment in my life.

Basically, the show went back and forth between the women discussing the book, and scenes from the book itself. The show was not subtle, but it was smart. Ana was dressed all in beige. She addressed her roommate by her full name, every single time. Jose was a flamenco dancer who never stopped taking her picture and hit on her piteously. There were hot guys wearing very little clothing and a woman in little more than a corset and garters who acted as Ana’s Inner Goddess. And let me tell you, when the first hot guy came out shirtless, I was really looking forward to meeting Christian. And that is where the show was brilliant.

Christian Grey, the supposed hottest guy on the planet was played by a man who could have been Chris Farley’s long-lost twin brother. He belly hung ponderously over his pants, his shirt was too tight, his line readings were a marvel of Shatner-esque proportions, and he didn’t dance so much as flit and flitter about the stage. During one song, he donned a Borat-like swimsuit in ruby red and proceeded to prance and pounce around the stage like a drunken uncle at a wedding. It brought to mind the infamous Chris Farley/Patrick Swayze SNL sketch from the 80s where the two played Chippendales dancers. He was gloriously absurd, so anti-Christian that you were helpless to do anything but laugh. A lot. The show also threw in fantastic tributes to The Phantom of the Opera, The Mikado, Les Miserables, and in moment so bizarre that I will never, ever be able to look at light sabers the same way again, Star Wars. It also managed to skewer the basic premise of the novel over and over with Ana endlessly taking about freedom and Christian endlessly talking about fisting. Fisting. Fisting. Fisting. They used that word so much, it actually ceased to have any meaning at all.  

The show is a touring production (I included the link) and I highly suggest that you go see it. Grab your best girlfriends, specifically the ones you can talk dirty with (because the other ones may actually die of shame) and make it a girl’s night out. There is one section of the show that is customized by region and while my Christian sang “I could eat you like a cheesesteak,” yours will probably sing about something different that manages to be both wildly inappropriate but also completely hysterical at the exact same time – exactly like the book!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Buying Alaska

When it is this cold outside, the only thing you can really do is settle in with a blanket and a good book. As I am currently forcing myself through my to-be-read shelf of books and am faced with two dozen books I really am not interested in reading, I have turned on the TV instead. What am I watching? I’m so glad you asked.

Destination America is one of the random channels in my cable arsenal to which I have become addicted. My absolute new favorite show, one that I can watch without an ounce of guilt, is Buying Alaska. In each episode a person or couple looks at three homes in Alaska, frequently in remote locations and decides which one will best suit their needs. It sounds basic, right? House Hunters and all its offshoots have been doing this since God cut off his curls. However, Alaska, being the only final frontier that does not require Gene Roddenberry, is a very different beast.

For example, most of the homes showcased on these episodes do not have electricity or running water. This is called living “off the grid.” Those that have electricity, but no running water are called dry cabins. Those that have both usually also have something called an arctic entry. Are you intrigued yet? 

What I find enthralling is that people willingly move to a home that does not have what I consider essentials. If I wanted to pee in a chamber pot while sleeping in the rafters of a shack out in the middle of nowhere, you’d call me crazy. In Alaska, they call that cozy. I’ve seen episodes that require people to memorize the latitude and longitude of their homes because the closest street address is 10 miles away. When you are in trouble, you don’t call 911, you call the Coast Guard. I’ve seen episodes that require people to use a boat, a four-wheeler, an ATV, a fat-bike, and/or a snowmobile to access their homes. Cars are for pussies.

Don’t even get me started on the bathroom arrangements. It was stupid cold in the Northeast today. I bundled my kids up to walk to our car, then walk from the car to the doorway of their school – probably 10 yards total. Now imagine having to do that, but multiply the distance by 10, drop the temp by 30, and your destination at the end – an outhouse. (If you are lucky, it has a door. Surprisingly, not all of them do.) The cheeks on my face felt like they were going to freeze off today, I can’t imagine if I had to drop trou and get the other end drafty. Throw in bears, other assorted wild animals, a ridiculous amount of bugs in their six-week summer, and you have a recipe for kidney failure and severe constipation because I would NOT be going outside to pee. Ever. Hence what is known as the “honey bucket.” Still no. (How do you even wash your hands after?)

Now imagine taking a shower. I saw a young newlywed couple buy a home with no indoor plumbing. In order to shower, you had to walk across the yard, start the generator, wait for it to heat the water (carried in by ATV), take the three-minute shower available due to water supply, dry off in what is essentially a shed, and then hike back across the yard. Remember, this is Alaska in winter, where is snows eight months out of the year. You are not throwing on a hat with your slippers to run out and get the mail. This is a full-on, multi-layer approach to walk through land that has not been plowed or shoveled, in snow that could reach your knees, in temperatures that can cause frostbite almost instantly. Can you imagine doing all that just to shower? It sounds exhausting.

What kills me is that people live this way willingly! One guy said he felt like he hadn’t “earned” electricity. Dude, really? Guys in federal prisons doing time for the worst crimes get lights and toilets, what the hell do you think you have done in life that you haven’t earned either? Others want to get back to nature and live off the land. While I find that a lovely sentiment and I applaud their ability to hunt and fish enough to feed themselves and their family, where are the fruits and veggies coming from? The chocolate? The copious amounts of whiskey I imagine are required to warm your belly and toes? Can you imagine a life where the closest Target is the one in your long-range rifle and is pointed at the back of a moose?

However, after years of watching the aforementioned House Hunters and screaming at the TV when the home owners say they want a fixer upper, then complain about having to repaint, it is refreshing to see people buy homes with bare, insulated walls, no sinks, and nothing even resembling a bathroom and think they have found their dream house. In the lower 48, we talk about mud rooms to keep the clutter of kids and all their crap at bay. In Alaska, they need an arctic entry as a way to store their assorted gear without opening an interior door into their home and automatically losing half of its heat. They don’t need a garage so they can fill it with junk and keep their car in the driveway. They need a garage so that it doesn’t take them an hour every day to clean off their cars and start their engines. They don’t worry about traffic on their morning commute. They worry about trails being washed away. It truly is another way of life and while I am happy to watch it, I would not be happy to live it.

So instead, I’ll sit and use my DVR to tape the show on my HDTV player, beamed in through cable, with the heat on and maybe a fire going, then run the tap to put water in my Keurig to make myself a cup of hot chocolate, all while I sit in my well-insulated home, on the grid.