A Spring Trip To TeeJays

With overpriced iced latte in hand, and faux leather purse on shoulder, it feels like my duty to shop aimlessly on a spring afternoon at TJ Maxx.

As I open the glass doors, I am immediately bombarded by travel accessories. Hats and sunglasses and luggage, oh my! With no trips in the future, I head to the first aisle: beauty products.

Ninety-nine cent nail polish. I’ll take seven for my girlfriends. There names are almost as good as their colors. Poppy. Flamingo. Too Pink To Party. My Cherry Amore. Dial 9-1-1. Pomegranate Passion. Conch. On second thought, maybe I should trade a Poppy for two Conchs. The understated pink will look better on my Vermont-pale footsies. Terrific.

What’s that I see on Aisle Two? A set of glass cocktail tumblers with light blue rims?  Sold. But wait! A larger set of pink-rimmed tumblers for larger cocktails. I need both! Pink rims for peach sangria and blue rims for gin and tonics. I’ll be the hit of the barbecue circuit.

Onwards!  Past aisles three and four filled with turkey basters, pans, and kitchen aprons. Bor-ing.

Then to Aisle Five. Notecards and wrapping paper and books by authors with bright white teeth. I’ll start with the notecards. Gold foil monogrammed initial thank-you notes are so last year. But the gold foil peacock thank-you notes are delightful. And the puppy notecards? Cute, but cheap looking. Wait, are those peony notecards? Gorge. I think I’ll buy two. And I must have the birthday wrapping paper with the large fushia-colored balloon print. But perhaps a more masculine wrapping paper as well?  Straight black and white lines?  Done.

Aisle Six, chairs, rugs and nightstands. None of which would fit in my car.

Aisle Seven, towels of every size and softness. Bought four last month.

Aisle Eight, children’s clothes and toys. Unneeded, but worth a quick fly-by through the aisle.

Aisle Nine, party dresses. My home, sweet home. I grab seven sequined dresses and head to the try-on room.  After none fit correctly, I decided to buy the one which fits the least worst. (I convince myself that good shapewear from home will help the situation.)

I skip the workout clothes and the pants (since I have shapewear to help my, uh-hum, “softer” places) and head straight to the last aisle, shoes! I browse through the size ten pumps and heels, and slip on a fabulous pair of navy wedges. I add them to my cart, and browse the clearance rack before adding one pair of affordable plastic forest-green flip flops.

Then, I’m off to the checkout. The kind clerk spreads my items before me on the counter. My joy starts to fade when she beeps their prices with the scanner. Yes, everything is affordable. But do I really need striped wrapping paper, and seven nail polishes and another sequin dress?

“Um,” I smile sweetly. “Maybe just the flip flops and the My Cherry Amore nail polish?”

She smiles and starts to delete items from the register. It was fun while it lasted, and I’ll be back next month for more…

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photocredit: lemonsalt.wordpress.com

 

Up, Up, and Away

Currently, I am miles above the sky in the air.  And I’m a writing machine.

I do my best work on airplanes. Perhaps it is the lack of distractions. Perhaps it is the effect of alcohol and dehydration. Perhaps it is the inspiration of going somewhere besides my kitchen. Perhaps it is the egocentric belief that the person in the seat next to me is spying on my manuscript, so I better make it darn good.

In fact, the first piece I ever published was written in flight. On the way home from a ski trip in 2002, I scribbled an article about my father’s love of skiing in the corners of a Sky Mall magazine. When I got home, I typed it up, and submitted it to SKI. Ten days later, I received an email from the editor telling me that he would pay me $500 for the piece. It was beginner’s luck, and it was awesome.

Since that time, I’ve always made the most of my air-borne captivity by writing. The hum of the jet engine blocks out the loudness of other projects, and allows me to focus on a singular page. I’ve written whole chapters on single flights, accomplishing in hours what sometimes takes me days. And when I land, there’s an excitement of accomplishment which sustains me for the following jet-lagged week when I can’t even write my name on checks, never mind write a column.

Right now, I am on a seven hour daytime flight from London to Boston. The folks around me are watching movies or working on excel spreadsheets. There’s nothing on air that I want to watch. (I’ve seen The Imitation Game thrice already. Great movie, but there is nothing I could watch four times.) I could care less about excel spreadsheets. And I can’t sleep considering I don’t want to miss the beverage cart. (A transatlantic flight means a free cocktail! Bring on the cranberry and vodka!)

My battery on this computer will wear out before landing. So, I’m up against the clock, making most of the minutes to finger dance on the keyboard.  Hopefully I write something brilliant, something save-worthy, something publishable.

But if all else fails, at least my writing will pass the time.

Breaking news: Mabel is NOT a human.

I get it. My dog is not a person.

But if you spend time with me, you’ll know that I treat her like one.

Mabel has a voice. It’s a cross between Kristen Chenowith and Smurfette.

Mabel has a bed. And it’s called mine.

Mabel has a wardrobe. Pink collar for spring. Purple for fall. Hearts for valentine’s day.

Mabel has a favorite toy. Patriotic chicken, but NOT the one missing its beak.

Mabel has favorite word. “Triscuit.”

Mabel has a crush. She tinkles on Winston’s yard to let him know she’s around.

And Mabel has a personality. A BIG one. She’ll flash those stink eyes anytime you ignore her tennis ball in the yard.

Friends have told me that dogs are fairly insignificant once you have kids. And since I don’t have kids, it is hard to argue. But doggone it, I love my pooch. If she’s not family, then I don’t know who is.

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How to ALWAYS get a free Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkin

  1. Order something else. (You’re going to need something to wash down that munchkin, anyway.)
  2. While the clerk prepares your Latte/Frozen Hot Chocolate/Coolatta, gaze longingly at the donuts.
  3. Tilt your head and appear to “ponder” the flavors of munchkins. Jelly filled? Chocolate? Glazed? Decisions, decisions. 
  4. Look down and mutter to yourself (loudly enough for the clerk to hear), “Oh, I shouldn’t… I just shouldn’t.”
  5. When the clerk hands you your drink, smile and tell him, “Those munchkins look delicious.” (Turn on the charm here, folks! Eye on the prize! FREE MUNCHKIN!)
  6. Hand him a few dollars. Let him make change.
  7. Smile at the clerk as you take back your coins and say, “I could really go for one, but I wouldn’t want to trouble you for just one little munchkin.”

You can thank me later.

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photocredit: dunkindonuts.com

The Little Things

The world lost a good man last Monday. A really good man. And whenever I drink a gin and tonic, I will remember him.

Legacy sometimes is as much about the little things. It’s funny what reminds you of your loved ones. Random pennies on the ground remind me of my grandfather who had a habit of always looking for (and handing out) lucky pennies. Orange soda reminds me of my grandmother who would allow us to drink soda at her house as a treat. Mamba fruit chews remind me of a high school friend who we lost years too early.

Mr. S. always celebrated life with a smile and a cocktail.  He was a stylish man, and a kind man (which don’t always go hand in hand.) He raised a lovely family, and always clinked his glass with a smile to his beloved wife.  He was, in short, a class act.  And the man loved a gin and tonic. Every time I squeeze a lime into the cold cocktail, I’ll smile with a fondness for a life well lived.

Someday we, too, will be remembered by our loved ones. If we are lucky, they will remember our character, our kindness, and the shape of our smile. And chances are, they will remember something incredibly specific about our habits. That particular thing/habit/trademark will forever imprint on their lives.  Maybe it is our hatred for black licorice. Maybe it is our love for french braids. Maybe it is the way that we pronounce the word “Worcestershire” when ordering a steak.

Some of our signature habits might have been revealed to us. Maybe we have already trademarked our signature cocktail of orange juice and Malibu spiced rum. Maybe we know that our grandkids will always remember the way that we fold napkins to look like bunnies at the dinner table.  Maybe our husbands have told us that they will forever think of us when they smell lilac-scented soap.

Yet, others of us might be blind to our habits. Perhaps you don’t realize that people associate artichoke dip with you, because you don’t realize how often you order it.  Maybe you have no idea that other people will always remember you as the person who never wanted fruit in their spa water.  Maybe you don’t know that your grandkids will always think of you when they pass a beaver dam, and remember your affinity for the animals.

The bottom line is that whether or not you know what will remind others of you, the important thing is that you are remembered.

Cheers, Mr. S.  We’ll think of you often.

 

 

Unexpected Item in Bagging Area!

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.

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

 

Bye Bye Miss American Pie… C’Mon Sing It!

I’m not usually wooed by men whose names are displayed on wobbly chalkboards near the entrance to pubs. But, there is something fabulous about a good cover band singer after a few pints of tap beer.

Recently, a particularly memorable cover band singer caught my attention. It was a rainy day during a particularly rainy vacation.  When I walked in the brew pub with a friend, haddock and Guinness were the only things on my mind.  But there he was, warming up his guitar and drinking a bottle of beer from the stool behind a microphone.

He started strumming the opening chords of “Mustang Sally.” The motley crowd of après-work salesman and chatty singles turned their heads in his direction. In no time, he had the complete attention of the audience as they bobbed their heads along to the tune of “Ride, Sally, Ride.”  Frankly, he wasn’t bad. He even hit a few notes which were impressive.

After many rounds of applause, the CS announced that he was willing to take requests. A few women in the crowd went abuzz. The lady sitting next to me announced to her husband that she was going to request their wedding song. (She didn’t disclose her wedding song, but from the look of her beer-gutted husband, it was probably “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”) But another patron of the bar beat her to a request by yelling out “Margaritaville.” The CS smiled and started strumming.

“You know you want to make a request,” my friend urged me on. She knew my weaknesses.

The problem was that making a request is tricky business. I didn’t want to request a song that nobody knew, nor did I want to ask for something that he couldn’t play. I wanted to request something the crowd and more importantly, the CS, would enjoy. And I knew from previous experience that there were a few songs which were guaranteed hits with the cover band crowd:

  1. Songs that have the word “sweet” in their titles (i.e. Sweet Home Alabama, Sweet Caroline).
  2. Springsteen songs
  3. Songs about America (American Girl, American Pie, American Woman).

After a few minutes of deliberation, I decided to go with another slam-dunk request: “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel.

I took a deep breath and waited for the end of “Margaritaville.” I approached his makeshift stage, stuck a carefully folded dollar bill into his beer stein and flashed my most charming smile. In close proximity, Mr. CS was even more handsome than I imagined. For a second, I was under the spell of a rock star.

“Something you wanna hear?” he asked, flaunting a dimple in his right cheek.

I sheepishly made my request and scurried back to my seat like a shy schoolgirl. (My friend rolled her eyes at me.) The CBS started strumming my tune, and the crowd clapped with enthusiasm  My song was a hit (whew!), so I ordered another beer and bobbed my head along to the music.

Two sets, two pieces of greasy haddock, and one more beer later, the CS was at the end of his gig. His closing song was a dead-on version of “Southern Cross.” We all clapped with enthusiasm, as he tipped his head to the crowd. Then, he was gone. He didn’t even hang around for a free meal.The CS had officially left the building, guitar and all.

Upon my own departure, I noticed a chalkboard on the sidewalk near the entrance to the pub. I glared closely at the print carefully, but the rain had spread the scribble into long, while chalk smears, disguising the true identity of the CS.

I knew I would never hear him play again. But for one night, I had the best seat in the house, and had fallen under the spell of a (somewhat) rock star.

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Bruce also had to start somewhere, right?

Photo Credit: Matt Kent/Getty Images

The one word I hate to use

I’ll be truthful, I have never introduced myself in person as a blogger. I’ve introduced myself as both a writer and an author, but the negative connotation of the b-word always soured my mouth.

I understand why people hate bloggers. Blogging is arrogant. Super arrogant. Bloggers have one-sided conversations with themselves. They think that they have something important to say (even if they don’t), and you are the captive audience.

But to be fair, some blogs can make you a more productive human being.  (Hobby blogs, anyone?) And, since nobody is forcing you to read blogs, it’s your own fault if you read a crummy blog. (And don’t pretend like you don’t know a crummy blog at first glance.  Everyone knows that a blog written in Comic Sans is a crummy blog.) Personally, there are three types of blogs that I avoid:

  1. Blogs which use swear words liberally to sound cooler. (I’m no prude, but people who swear on paper are just wasting good adjectives.)
  2. Blogs which make me feel badly about my own life. (i.e. Here’s a photo of Sasha and I at a gluten-free pastry cafe in Gstaad right before Angelina Jolie joined us for a discussion about season three of House of Cards.)
  3. Fashion blogs (Have you seen me? #obviously)

Yet behind each of these blogs is someone who is putting time into his/her craft. As someone who has been writing a blog for a live audience for three years, I know how difficult it is to keep momentum. (How many blogs simply end on a random day in 2011?) It is difficult to do ANYTHING on a regular basis, never-mind doing something for a live audience with high expectations.

Having a successful blog is like owning a pet. You just can’t ignore your commitment. Even on the days when the “t” on your keyboard is stuck because of a melting Snickers bar. You still need to blog.

Plus, blogging is a very public act. (Private blogging is called diarying, folks. And unless you are Jack Nicholson, nobody wants to read your diary.) You will have an audience, whether it is two people or a million and two people. And some people will love you blog. And some people will hate your blog. And if you’re going to take the good, you have to take the bad. People will review your words. Your words. People will edit your mistakes and question your intentions and drag your name through the comment section of your very own website.  And the more personal the writing, the more bravery it requires to press the “publish” button.

For as many reasons that bloggers can be narcissistic crazies, the reality is that the majority of bloggers truly care about their craft. I care about this blog. So, for the sake of all of the other bloggers who are too embarrassed to use the “b” word at cocktail parties, I think I need to be honest about who I am.

My name is Becky Munsterer, and I am a blogger. Now, pass the cheese plate.

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photocredit:clipartpanda

Pizza Night Vermont

Year ago, I went on a date with a man who picked at his pizza. He used his fork and knife to take a few bites, and then he ripped bird-size pieces from the crust.

Needless to say, there was no second date.

I’m intolerant of people who can’t just eat a slice of pizza. Go ahead and order whatever pizza suits your dietary restrictions, but for gosh sake, eat it. Stuff that slice in your mouth like a letter in an envelope, and finish every crumb of the crust.  It’s PIZZA, after all, the most adaptable and delicious food on the planet.

Recently, I saw a commercial featuring Monica Seles for B.E.D. (Binge Eating Disorder). Now, I know B.E.D. is serious, and I know that Monica is doing good work. But the commercial warns about eating an entire pizza in one sitting. I don’t have B.E.D. but I can eat an entire pizza in commercial break of Seinfeld.

My love for pizza is in my DNA. Team pizza parties were the reason to play soccer as a kid. (I certainly wasn’t playing it for the exercise.)  Pizza Fridays were an excuse to actually eat school lunches. And who didn’t love the feeling of a warm pizza on your lap in the passenger seat of your mother’s car?

So, I was thrilled to find out about Pizza Night Vermont. Pizza Night Vermont is written by an old friend, and peppered with drool-worthy pictures. Truth be told, their recipe for good ol’ Margherita Pizza is my favorite, since I’m a red sauce, few toppings, and doughy goodness type of girl. But, let’s be honest, if you put any of their slices in front of me, they’ll be gone before I have time to order a complimentary cocktail. And if you don’t finish every bite on your plate, there won’t be a second date. (No pressure!)

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Photocredit: pizzanightvermont.com

Would you recognize your husband’s handwriting?

When I was little, I could recognize my friends’ salutations in my yearbook just by looking at their handwriting. Heather’s handwriting was incredibly feminine and loopy. Donna’s handwriting was textbook-esque and tiny. Christine’s handwriting was rigid at the corners, but curlier in the middle.

Now, I have close friends whose handwriting I’m sure I couldn’t recognize. I know their email addresses, but I have no idea how they write the word “Sincerely.”

I have to admit, I love handwriting. There is something intimate about recognizing the way your loved ones make their mark. Since handwriting doesn’t change throughout the years, knowing the way someone holds their pen is a stamp of a long-lasting friendship.

Plus, there is something artistic about handwriting. My friend Dana has incredibly slanted handwriting which  looks like it belongs in a calligraphy magazine. My dad’s handwriting is nearly illegible, but incredibly masculine and deliberate. My sister’s handwriting is similar to mine, except tidier on the page and without as many exclamations.

So, naturally, when I got married, it was important to me to recognize my husband’s handwriting.  Thankfully, he’s a letter writer, so I have bountiful evidence of his block letters (evenly spaced).  His handwriting is so… him.  Cool, calm, collected.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I worry for the day that partners can’t recognize the tilt of a loved one’s signature. Perhaps we should all make sure to step away from the email now and again, just so our kids can learn our signatures.  (How else will they forge “sick day” letters to the principal?) :)

Just for fun, here are the coolest celebrity signatures (courtesy of Funsterz.com)

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Great Kids Gifts for Easter

My high school friend, Lisa, was the type of girl who brought her knitting project on spring break. Her hands were always busy with crafts. She would weave rugs and baskets, and give them to her friends as birthday gifts.

The girl was talented. Much more talented than most of the baseball players and marching band members at my school. (And certainly more talented than me. Duh.)

I haven’t seen Lisa since graduation. But I was thrilled to see that she has kept up her creative work with an Etsy site. The Children’s Tree House sells the cutest “toys and treasures made with love.” (She also does dog portraits.) I bought a bunch of carrots for my nephews and niece for Easter. (Pictured below.) And I’m in love with the felt donuts.

I don’t have kids, but if I did, I think I’d prefer them to play with felt “artic animals” than video games.

Kudos, Lisa. Wherever you are.

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Duck Boots

Let me be honest, I know NOTHING about fashion. People sometimes assume my blog is fashion/style, until they meet me in person. My designer of choice is Target, and my style is whatever is warm from the dryer.

But a few weeks ago, I realized that I’m an accidental fashionista. I was having a conversation with a co-ed undergraduate who loved my old brown L.L. Bean Duck Boots. (My boots have a chocolate brown color near the top of the foot, as opposed to most which are tan.)

“Where did you get them?”

“L.L. Bean.  I’ve had them for years!”

“Vintage!”

You can imagine my eye roll. But at the same time, I realized that for once in my life, I was on trend. My brown little duck boots had a little more pep in their step as I walked away.

Now, if someone could just admire my turtleneck, I’d be on the cover of Vogue. .

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I Went Viral and I’m Still Recovering!

A few weeks ago, minutes before I packed my bags for a weekend trip to Vegas, I wrote “Honest Slogans for Ski Areas.”  It was inspired by a recent trip to Stowe where I was enraged to pay $92 for a half day lift ticket.

I wrote the post in ten minutes. Then, I hopped on a plane and spent the weekend playing the penny slots and sitting by the pool.  On Sunday evening when I returned home, I was too tired to turn on my computer, never-mind check the analytics of the post. (I rarely check analytics because it’s usually too depressing. It’s like working all weekend on a love letter that you give your crush seconds before he tells you he’s moving to Singapore with a girl named Claire Bear.)

So you could imagine my surprise on Monday morning when I opened my email account and found fan email from strangers.  It took me a few seconds to realize that they were writing me because of my “Honest Slogans” post. I quickly clicked over to my original post. And when I checked the analytics, I nearly fell out of my chair. Between Friday and Monday, the post had received over 13,000 individual visitors from over thirty countries. Seven of those people were from Japan, and one was from Barbuda. (I can’t point to Barbuda on a map.) It had been shared over 2000 times on facebook, and Killington.com even picked it up.  Yobeat.com, a snowboarding site I had never heard of, even took my post and designed actual logos to go with the slogans.

I was completely overwhelmed. Going viral was something I had always hoped for as a blogger. But after all of this activity, I had mixed emotions. I had spent days on other posts (i.e. my favorite post- “Writing  to Harry Styles”), when writing “Honest Slogans” was more of an afterthought. Should I try to write viral posts, or can I stick with writing what I love? Plus, it was strange to have achieved so much “blog success” without any way to monetize it. While I had a lot of web traffic, I didn’t have a lot of new followers. Only four people actually took the time to sign up for my website mailing list.

Yes, “Honest Slogans” went viral.  And it was awesome. And making people laugh is what makes me happy. But the next day, when I posted my new post, I received little more than 70 visitors. I was back to basics with nothing more than the memory of fame.

Yet, I learned something incredibly valuable from this experience. Sometimes, it’s better to power down and go to Vegas. A watched post never goes viral.

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Psy starred in the most viral video of 2012. Where is he now?

 

Pass This Word

I’m going to hire a hacker. I’ve been locked out of my bank account since I’ve attempted too many passwords and I need some help.

I have sympathy for people whose identities have been stolen. But I can’t even steal my own identity these days. I have so many passwords that I can’t begin to remember them. One with a capital letter. One with a number. One with a special character. (What is a special character, anyway? Does anyone even know what ^ is called? How can it be special if nobody knows what it is called?) One with a letter between K and M, but not L, unless it is lowercase and followed by a prime number.

In the beginning, I had different versions of the same password theme: Beverly Hills 90210 characters. But things got complicated when “Dylan” and “Brenda” didn’t have at least eight characters. So, then I had “Brandon!” and “Brandon4ever” and “$BrAnDoN123$.” And that just seemed ridiculous, so I decided to give up on the 90’s television series and come up with more appropriate, serious passwords.

The problem is that appropriate, serious passwords are impossible to remember.

I do have a list of *some* of my passwords. I keep it on my bulletin board (which defeats the purpose of having passwords). Any custodian or candy-bowl-visiting colleague (the only people who visit my office) have full view of the password document. The only problem is that this list only contains passwords for things that you don’t care about. A photo account which only has pictures of my dog. (No credit card on file, thank you very much.) Logins for defunct writing websites which have already expired. The login password for my old computer which broke in half two years after college. So, as far as I’m concerned, if the custodians and colleagues want to take a peek, they can go for it.

One of these days, we’ll all be able to use our fingerprints to access our online accounts. Until then, we’re stuck with special symbols and capitalized vowels. So, if you have some time on your hands and you want to help me out, you could try to hack one of my photo sharing accounts. I know that I used the password Munster$21 for one of them. But I’ve lost the login.

If you can find the login, you can see the pictures I took of Stonehenge four years ago. Knock yourself out.

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Hey Pine-Sol Sister

Anyone who tells you that they don’t like cleaning out the kitchen pantry is lying.

I look forward to spring cleaning in a way that I look forward to Christmas. I love having an excuse to wear sweatpants and spend all day in my house. It’s an excuse to turn on Real Housewives of Everywhere and forage for quarters in my couch cushions. It’s terrific exercise both physically and financially as I stretch around my closets, figuring out which never-worn sweaters I can consign. It’s an inspiration as I flip through my spice rack and pledge to finally make the paprika-seasoned skirt steak.

Sure, certain cleaning tasks are more fun than others. I’m not big on scrubbing floors. And I certainly don’t like finding spiders in the corners of my laundry room. (I relocate all of them outside to a wood pile.) But give me a tub of Lysol wipes, and I’ll have a dance party wiping my bookcases clean. And there’s something calming about actually taking inventory of the clutter on my work desk. And my junk drawer? Don’t even get me started. I could spend all day reorganizing the tidbits in that “everything goes” drawer. It’s a surprise shopping spree, since I never know what I’ll find: chapstick, birthday candles, playing cards.

This morning, on my daily dog walk, a friend and I bonded over our secret love of purging a refrigerator. There’s hope in throwing out expired yellow mustard, and making room for a fancier Dijon blend. We love “shopping our closets” for spring, after we forget about the pink Capri pants we bought last August.  We love how a new duvet cover can make a bedroom feel like Pottery Barn. There’s just something incredibly productive about a good spring cleaning which wipes the slate clean for the promise of summer.

Plus, I can’t help but fall in love with my husband all over again when we open up the windows, crank up the radio, and rearrange furniture. As silly as it might sound, I’d rather spend a night ordering new carpet online than ordering lobster at a restaurant.  And, there is nothing hotter than a man holding a toilet wand. Trust me.

Yep, when it comes to spring cleaning, I’m a fan. And the best part is the final result. Bring on the Scrubbin’ Bubbles. It’s about to get seriously clean around here.

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Photo credit: goodhousekeeping.com

 

 

 

 

Now Boarding… Group F

If one more person stuffs their bag into the overhead compartment of 14C, even though they are sitting in 24B, I might lose it.

On a flight from Vegas to Boston on Virgin Atlantic on Sunday, a man seated eight rows behind me stuck his bag in the overhead compartment above my seat.  And the dead horse he must have been smuggling in that bag hung from the side of the bin into the aisle. Clearly, the flight attendant would not be able to shut the overhead compartment. But man in the back didn’t care. He was already three games of Candy Crush ahead on his Ipad.

There’s a special place in the afterlife for people who dump their luggage in compartments in the front of the plane.  There’s an even more special place for people who carry-on oversized luggage.

Flight attendants must have the patience of ripening pears to deal with these nincompoops. I have a hard time biting my tongue when all of the overhead compartments are full in rows 5-10 with luggage from folks in rows 20-25. Each plane should have a designated luggage compartment for each row, and when people try to pre-dump their luggage, they should lose bathroom privileges for the flight. I also think there should be a law that anyone bringing oversized luggage on a plane should be forced to carry it on their own laps.

Maybe I’m just a cranky traveler. But the overhead bin should hold my luggage over my head. Not your smuggled dead horse.

Virgin Atlantic, United, American, anyone?  If you’re listening, let’s make like pistachios and crack it down.

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Photocredit: USA TODAY

How to Saber Champagne

One of the best party tricks I have ever learned was how to saber a champagne bottle.

It’s so ridiculously easy. In fact, I’m thrilled that most people don’t know how to do it since it makes me look much more talented than I am.

Obviously, sabering the glass top off a bottle of bubbly makes little sense. Clean-up is frustrating, and you typically lose a few swallows of champagne in the process. But gosh darn it, it sure makes for a cool trick.

(Below is a picture of one of my first champagne sabers. Clearly, the first rule of sabering is to wear a one-shouldered glittered prom dress.)

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Here’s a YouTube link from Wine Folly which will help you become a saber expert.

Don’t Swedish My Meatballs

I know it is un-American to dislike a table full of crockpots. And I understand that people *think* they are appeasing the diverse tastes of their guests when they allow folks to bring their own food. But lately, potluck dinners have become a mix of Top Chef and Survivor, where nobody wins.

In my community, potluck dinner parties have quickly become the housewife/househusband Hunger Games. I used to LOVE potlucks as a kid when they were more of an affordable buffet meal and less of an adult cooking tournament. Today, a potluck is a dog-eat-dog competition, which not only requires impressive food, but impressive serving utensils. (Mangowood serving tongs shaped like tulips, anyone?)

Sure, potluck parties sometimes make sense. Potluck work events. Potluck post-season soccer picnics. Potluck family reunions. But, even in the most appropriate setting, potlucks become cutthroat. Who can make the better salad course (complete with at least two non-traditional toppings like cranberries and feta)?  Whose peanut butter and M&M brownies can actually appease the sugar-obsessed kids?  Who can spend the most on a pre-made gourmet, gluten-free, specialty store side dish?

Once the guests arrive, they plop their contributions on a table full of mismatched courses. Potato salad and fruit skewers. Wild rice and English muffin pizzas.  Bacon wrapped asparagus and cinnamon muffins. It’s impossible to know who baked what, which can be a problem when you are trying to avoid anything from ol’ Uncle Jim’s kitchen.  However, there are a few guarantees at a potluck:

Someone always brings the less popular artichoke dip.

Someone always brings plastic forks smuggled from the break room at work.

Someone always brings a bag of cheap chips and canned salsa.

Someone always brings a homemade cinnamon crumb cake with apple topping and a side of vanilla bean ice cream.  (Overachiever, eh?)

And someone always brings sweet and sour meatballs, which are fought over until guests realize they were made by Chuckie, the mechanic with less than manicured fingernails.

Sure, hostesses *think* that potlucks are fun.  But that’s because hostesses don’t have to do anything for a potluck except pour themselves martinis and taste-test food while their friends sweat over the competition.  It’s a brilliant move, really, as long as the guests take home their dirty dishes and mushy leftovers.

Yep, attending a potluck dinner is about as fun as attending a Blue Man Group show. They are both inevitable, frustrating, and make you wish you had spent your evening elsewhere.  But you’ll never beat ’em, so you might as well join ’em.

Pass the deviled eggs.

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photo from outcamping.org

 

 

 

If Ski Areas Had Honest Slogans

Sugarbush, VT:  “Waffle House North.”
Big Sky, MT: “Four Flights from Anywhere.”
Killington, Vermont: “Voted Boston’s Best Bar.”
Tahoe, CA: “There’s an App for That.”
Deer Valley, UT: “Lifestyles of the Rich and Slow.”
Jay Peak, VT: “We Lost a Bet, and Built a Waterpark for French-Canadians.”
Jackson, WY: “Beards Gone Wild.”
Stratton, VT: “The Best Lift Lines Money Can Buy.”
Snowshoe, WV: “Fingers Crossed for Snow.”
Okemo, VT: “More Corduroy Than J. Crew.”
Sugarloaf, ME: “You Can’t Get There From Here.”
Mad River Glen, VT: “Tele Shaming since 1948.”
Mount Bachelor, OR: “Bend Versus the Volcano.”
Hunter, NY: “Long Island Playground.”
Stowe, VT: “Ben and Jerry Can’t Afford Us.”
Aspen, CO: “What’s in your wallet? It won’t be for long.”
Vail, CO: “Ski and Be Seen.”
Whiteface, NY: “Just Try to Stay Warm.”
Alta, UT: “Snowboard Intolerant.”
Sun Valley, ID: “No Small Potatoes.”
Snowbird, UT: “Where ACLs go to Tear.”
Powder, UT: “Dude Tested, Mother Disapproved.”
Mountain Creek, NJ: “Mallrats Unleashed.”
Taos, NM: “Someone is always bigger and better than you in the backcountry.”

By the way, I love ALL of these mountains, so no hard feelings, please :)

Credit: wafflecabin.com

Photo Credit: wafflecabin

Seesters

I look a lot like my sister. And if you’ve ever been introduced to the two of us, you know that I’ll always tell you that “I’m the prettier one.” Because that’s the sort of person I am.

And if you’ve met us, you will also know the truth that my sister is the prettier one. Which makes it annoying to have a sister in the first place.

I have a lot of friends, but I only have one sister. And she makes me crazy, happy, insane, punch-drunk, peppy, jealous, emotional, competitive, tired, joyful, frustrated, silly, overwhelmed, and proud. If you have a sister, you know what I mean. Friends are for forever, but sisters are since birth ’til death and every day in between.

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Sisters never need to state their names on voicemail.

Sisters have photo evidence of your pre-brace face.

Sisters will tell you what they really of your boyfriend, “the walking beer keg.”

Sisters wear matching outfits through childhood…

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Sisters know which jeans best fit your body type.

Sisters kick you under the table at Thanksgiving when Dad tells that story for the umpteenth time.

Sisters know which 80’s song still makes you cry.

Sisters help you make bad decisions onstage…

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Sisters are both your biggest competition, and your biggest support.

Sisters help get you out of that little legal thing.

Sisters share your love for putting too much salt (or pepper or hot sauce or ketchup) on everything.

Sisters help you pick out undergarments…

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Sisters can’t stand the friend who doesn’t treat you like a sister.

Sisters know how you order your salad. (Dressing on the side, no feta.)

Sisters mispronounce the same words. (Perishables?)

Sisters get revenge on your wedding day…

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Sisters don’t care who pays for lunch.

Sisters call at 2am without having to apologize.

Sisters could guess your computer passwords, if need be.

Sisters insist that you hold their kids in pictures…

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Sisters won’t let you wear that in public.

Sisters attend both your Girl Scout Gold Award ceremony and your retirement dinner.

Sisters know how you got your nickname.

 Sisters share that one weird thing. Post-wine squinty left eye…

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And sisters know that they’re lucky to have a sister. 

Cheers to the Seesterhood!

Frostbitten and fabulous, darling!

I admit it.  I’ve been really loving my hat head this season.  All the girls are wearing this look.  I think it’s the new pixie cut.

And my biceps are the bomb.  Forget Cross Fit, folks.  Have you tried “Raking The Roof?”  It’s a blend of cardio, core, and shoulder toning exercise.  Follow it up with a solid hour of “Shoveling Places for Your Pet to Poop” and you’ll be bikini ready by June.

Yes, this winter has been the ultimate season for self-progress.  I’ve saved money due to cancelled flights.  I’ve perfected the long-johns-under-the-work-slacks look. And my skin?  Well, let’s just say that there hasn’t been a sunburn in six months.  SIX MONTHS, people!  And I haven’t needed makeup since fall, since I’m perpetually wearing the latest blush must-have: a hint of frostbite.

I know that winter has been great for many of you as well.  All those facebook pictures featuring the negative temps on your car’s temperature gauge.  I’ve watched with bated breath, hoping that you’ll hit -23!  And who could forget your Youtube clips of neighbors landing their third-story backflips on snowbanks?  Not me.  And even some of you are still wearing your lucky Patriots sweatshirts since you haven’t left your house since the Superbowl. The celebration continues!  Lucky you!

Plus, we have reached major milestones in communities up and down the eastern seaboard:

 Record Sales of Vicks Vapor Rub in Connecticut

School Cancellations Prompt Impressive “Call-of-Duty” Scores.

Maine Extends Pond Hockey Tournaments Through July

Nantucket Home Sales on the Rise, Credited to Plow Drivers’ Salary Bulge

Also in breaking news this winter?  Pantone retracts the color of the year. “Marsala” was recently overthrown by this year’s clear winner: “Whitish.”  In addition to being Meryl Streep’s haircolor in the blockbuster film The Devil Wears Prada,  Whitish originated on snowbanks on the New Jersey Turnpike. A mix of snow and gravel dust,  it’s not as white as its big sister, Polar, nor is it as gray as its dirty sister, Fog.  It’s somewhere in between, and it’s everywhere you look from Boston Common to Rockefeller Center.  (Pssst… I hear that Tom Ford’s 2015 spring break collection will feature “whitish” tankinis with faux fur-trimmed overlay. His inspiration? A Poughkeepsie January.)

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“Whitish”

As Lieutenant Dan famously said as he hung over the side of his shrimping boat in a hurricane, “You call this a storm?”   Well, tomorrow, I’m going to stand on my snowbanks as I hold my my fist to the sky and scream “You call this a winter?”

C’mon Mother Earth, I can still see out my window from the second floor. Try a little harder next time. It should be illegal to have this much fun.

The most beautiful celebrity… according to my husband

Last night, I had an Oprah “a-ha moment.”  There we were, watching the Academy Awards. Dozens of beautiful celebrities graced the screen. Reese Witherspoon. Julianne Moore. And the perfect Jennifer Aniston herself.

I was in awe of these beauties as I sat on my couch pushing fists of popcorn into my mouth.  I was wearing tight-ankled sweatpants. They were in floor-length gowns.  I wore my un-shampooed hair in a bun with a rubber band which was previously wrapped around the Doritos bag. They wore updos and chignons. I was flawed and in awe. They were flawless.

My husband however was less amused. Our banter was effortless but surprising.

“Look at her!”  “She looks like a turtle.”  “What about her? That skin!”  “Meh.”  “Oh my gosh, could she be more gorgeous?”  “Yep, she could.”

It amazes me how my definition beauty differs from my husband. I would trade places with Rachel McAdams in a heartbeat.  My husband could take her or leave her.  I gush over Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara.  Jamal doesn’t even know her name. In my next life, I’d like to be Jennifer Garner.  Jamal would rather hang out with her husband.

But there is one “celebrity” he does love. But she’s as far from the Academy Awards as you could imagine. My husband is in love with Rebecca Romney, the “rare books” expert on the reality television series, Pawn Stars.

Don’t get me wrong, I also think Rebecca is a pretty girl.  But she’s no Charlize Theron.  And she certainly doesn’t have a million dollar contract with Revlon, nor a Glamour Magazine cover.  Rebecca is, well, the pretty girl next store.  Or rather, the pretty girl next bookstore.

Yet, Jamal drools over Rebecca.  He loves the way she paws through an old book.  He loves the way that she inspects a book binding as if she were a CSI. He loves her blazers, her bobbed hair, and her funny little laugh.  To Jamal, Rebecca is the epitome of beauty.  As far as he’s concerned, Charlize can simply hold her books.

A funny thing happens when you learn the taste of your husband.  You realize that for all of these years, as you tried to have the perfect haircut and the flawless skin and perfect waist, all you needed to do was pick up a book.

Kudos, Rebecca.  For keeping beauty real.

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Photocredit: ABC news

Bad Girl At The Bookstore

I did something horrible yesterday.  I moved my children’s book, The Little Rippers, to the front display of the bookstore. (Previously, The Little Rippers was sideways on a shelf with hundreds of children’s chapter books. It didn’t stand a chance.)

I was sneaky about the move. I scouted out the area before making the swap. Yet, I still committed a violation of bookstore order. I felt like a criminal, and it was even worse since it occurred in the children’s section.

I heard one of The Real Housewives admit that all authors move their books to the front display of bookstores. (Real Housewives are the epitome of “authors,” of course.) It makes sense for authors to want their books to sell. When your book is alphabetized on a back shelf in the corner of a bookstore, it makes it difficult for a customer to stumble upon your novel.  So, it’s only natural to move your book babies towards the front displays.  I’m sure Stephen King and James Patterson began their careers shuffling around their own books to the “best-seller” tables.

Yet, I’m still terribly ashamed.  I know that some bookstore employee probably hates me.  I know that it’s a pitiful thing to do.

But I can’t promise I won’t do it again.  I’m a bookstore anarchist when it comes to The Little Rippers. I just can’t help myself.

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Carded and Thrilled

I got carded at the supermarket today. The cashier seemed incredibly apologetic for asking for my license. Meanwhile, my heart jumped with joy.

I’ve always loved getting carded.  I have no problem handing over my license and believing that my wrinkle cream is working. And I especially love getting carded with my husband.  Since I’m (cough, cough) years older than him, it’s always flattering to be mistaken for younger.

Today, my husband was not with me at the supermarket. But the thrill was still real.  “I’m sorry, did you say that you need my license to buy this beer?” I asked loudly while looking for an audience. The woman behind me didn’t even look up from her cell phone.

“Yes, ma’am,” the cashier said again. “I’m sorry but we card everyone.”

“Well, I’m sure you don’t card everyone,” I smiled sweetly. I put my head towards my purse before she could respond. I fumbled through my wallet looking for my license among the various coffee shop gift cards, fitness passes and hotel rewards identifications.

When I found the card, I handed it over with a brave smile. She scanned for the birthdate and nodded.  “Yep, that’s how old I thought you were.”

Humph.

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Photo credit: digitaltrends.com

My Funny Valentine

My Top Ten Moments of Love

1. When I saw Joey McIntyre sing “Please Don’t Go, Girl” on my wooden television console. I sat three inches from the screen, mouth gaping open, wondering how I could marry this pop-tart.

2. When my first real boyfriend bought me gummy frogs for Valentine’s Day.  I refused to eat them since I didn’t want to destroy my cherished present. When we broke up, I finally ate them as break-up comfort food. They were stale and sour, which was ironic and perfect.

3. When my first nephew was born and he looked less like a wrinkled monkey than I had imagined.

4. When I picked up my puppy for the first time, and held her to the sky like the Lion King.

5. When I saw the conclusion of 13 Going On 30. Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner sit on the couch in their front lawn, and everything is as it should be.

6. When my now-husband bought me an ice cream cake on our second date. He quickly realized that it didn’t have a fudge layer. It wasn’t good enough for him to gift me, so he went out and bought another one. Ever since, he’s never been second rate.

7. When Val Halen sings the line, “I Ain’t The Worst That You’ve Seen.”  Perhaps the most romantic lyric in history.

8. When I receive cards for every holiday from my parents, signed by both my mother and my father. I’m grateful to know that they mean every word in each card.

9. When I had my first kiss with the boy in the sling.  A terrible kiss. A wonderful moment.

10. When I danced in the rain on my wedding day.  Surrounded by girls in pink, and men in suits, and waffle cones, and baby’s breath, and trombones, and shrimp skewers, and love letters, and a camel… of course.

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A proper ice cream cake, fudge layer included.

Valentines for Veterans

Every year around Valentine’s Day, my girlfriends and I make handcrafted valentines for the hottest people we know:  VETERANS.

I started this Valentine’s for Veterans tradition after reading about the trend in a Dear Abbey column. Apparently, thousands of groups from Girl Scouts to book clubs were crafting valentines for veteran’s groups. Considering that my community has an active VA hospital, it was the perfect match for my local ladies group. For ten years, we have been making valentines for the veterans at our hospital.  And for ten years, it has been a heck of a good time.

Last night was no exception. My lady friends and I gathered at a local restaurant, carrying bags of supplies (from glue sticks to stickers) to the back nook of the bar.  We spent hours crafting, coloring, and cocktailing. As the cocktails flowed, the valentines became more creative. The basic heart card turned into a paper airplane covered with real kiss prints from my cranberry-colored lipstick. Some of the valentines were silly. Some were true works of arts. But all were made with love. After a few glasses of wine and endless french fries, we had a pile of seventy-five valentines sealed with a kiss..

This morning, I delivered the cards to the hospital. The volunteer coordinator told me that they typically received 2500 valentines annually, mostly from children. Yet, she assured me that our adult valentines were just as appreciated. The valentines were added to the veterans’ lunch trays and many of the veterans keep them as decorations in their room.

As I left the VA hospital, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I walked passed dozens of veterans with various medical needs. Some were waiting for appointments. Some were wheelchair bound. Some were only visible through the crack of the door to their permanent rooms.

Our little love notes weren’t fancy. But they were heartfelt. And I can’t imagine a group of folks who deserve them more.

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You’re Just A Buffet

One of my favorite Michael Jackson songs is “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.”  I can’t listen to that song without boppin’ my hips back and forth as if I have rhythm.  (The only rhythm I have is a heart beat.)

However, recently, while attempting to sing along, I realized that I really don’t know the lyrics to the song.  So I googled them. According to AZLyrics.com, these are the words:

It’s Too High To Get Over (Yeah, Yeah)
Too Low To Get Under (Yeah, Yeah)
You’re Stuck In The Middle (Yeah, Yeah)
And The Pain Is Thunder (Yeah, Yeah)
You’re A Vegetable, You’re A Vegetable
Still They Hate You, You’re A Vegetable
You’re Just A Buffet, You’re A Vegetable
They Eat Off Of You, You’re A Vegetable

Say what? You’re just a buffet. You’re a vegetable. And the pain is thunder. Last time I checked, the pain is weakness leaving the body. (Enter dramatic personal trainer head nod.)

I’m not sure that rocking out to a song about being a vegetable feels good.  But it’s Michael.  Michael Jackson, the mysterious child star with shady past and a pet chimpanzee. Of course singing about a buffet makes sense.

Help me sing it!  Ma Ma Say, Ma Ma Saw, Ma Ma Ca Saw.

Conference Caller

He’s barefoot and he hasn’t showered in two days.  But they don’t know the status of his cleanliness.  He sounds good.

He doesn’t speak much during the call.  There are plenty of other people talking.  He combs the ESPN website while they babble.

But when they ask his opinion, he doesn’t hesitate.  “I think it will be fine,” he says as he brushes donut crumbs from the corners of his mouth.

To his delight, they agree. He’s not quite sure what he just agreed to.  But he does know that it will be fine.

 

Candy coated

I really like the taste of Advil.  The candy coating is delightfully sweet, but not overbearing.  In fact, if you gave me the choice of Tic-Tacs, M&Ms, or Advil, I’d probably take the ibuprofen.

Shouldn’t it be illegal to make medicine taste good?  Isn’t the point to make it difficult to overdose?  Shouldn’t over-the-counter drugs NOT taste like something your five year old nephew might prefer to ice cream?

There are other non-food items that I actually enjoy. I love my gummy vitamin.  It’s basically dessert before bed. I’m not even sure why I suffered through the non-chewable vitamins for all of these years when I can get all my essentials through an orange flavored gelatin.  And don’t even get me started on chapstick.  Cherry chapstick  should be qualified as a gateway drug.

I even enjoy licking envelopes for goodness sake. (You know that you agree with me, and as soon as you read those words you immediately knew exactly how an envelope tastes.)  I would certainly prefer licking an envelope to eating a spoonful of mustard.  (For those of you who know me, you know my dislike of anything mustard-flavored.) They even MAKE fruit-flavored envelopes these days, in case you want to develop your palette.

I’m not sure how I feel about all of these non-food items tasting delicious.  But I do know that tomorrow morning when I’m recovering from Superbowl celebrations, I’ll look forward to tasting that sweet Advil coating.   I heat it goes perfect with a side of scrambled eggs.

 

Supersweats Sunday

I don’t care about the Superbowl. But I love any activity which encourages the wearing of sweatpants. Supersweats Sunday allows us all to eat whatever we like in pants which won’t punish us for the extra helping of beef nachos.

Not that I need a reason to wear sweatpants. Sweatpants are my in-house uniform. When I return home from work, I immediately change from work clothes to sweatpants. (I don’t think my husband has seen me in anything but sweatpants for the past week.) In fact, I go through sweatpant wardrobe changes depending on my agenda for the evening.

So, in celebration of upcoming Supersweats Sunday, here is a guide to drawstring-waisted cotton trousers.

A GIRL’S GUIDE TO SWEATPANTS

      1. The “HOLES IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES” (but most comfortable) sweatpants. USES: sleeping and hangovers.

2. The “WALK AROUND TOWN WITH MY GIRLFRIEND AND A LATTE” fitted and adorable sweatpants. USES: social activities which require more drinking than sweating. *Not to be confused with yoga pants, their skinny and more promiscuous sister.

3. The “GONNA SWEAT OUT THE WINE ON THE TREADMILL IF IT KILLS ME” sweatpants. USES: non-social activities which require more sweating than drinking. *Not to be confused with running shorts, which are much more appropriate for gym activity but unavailable due to laundry shortages.

4. The “FRESH ENOUGH TO WEAR ACROSS TOWN” basic black sweatpants. USES: public parties where loungewear is accepted (i.e. the Superbowl.) *Note- only the Superbowl.

5. The “MY COLLEGE LOGO MAKES ME FEEL YOUNGER AND MORE RELEVANT”  USES: bad-hair days. TV binge-a-thons. Boyfriend break-up recovery.  

6. The “DON’T MIND THE STAINS” sweatpants. USES: cooking pasta sauce from scratch on a Sunday.

7. The “TIGHT ANKLE BANDS TO STUFF INTO UGGS” sweatpants. USES: fetching the newspaper on a snowy morning while dodging onlookers in cars.

8. The “IT SAYS JUICY ACROSS MY BUM” sweatpants. USES: working retail in Victoria’s Secret.

9. The “LET’S DO PULL UPS IN PUBLIC” light gray sweatpants. USES: ROTC.

10.  The “I DON’T GIVE A DARN BUT I REALLY DO” cheap-looking but expensively-priced and designer-made sweatpants. USES: music videos, pedicure days with J. Lo.

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My 757 Besties

According to facebook, I have 757 friends. Yet, if you asked me to recognize them at a local bar, I’d probably identify only about 70%.  In fact, sometimes I look at my feed and think “who are these people?” I’m sure they are thinking the same thing about me. Actually, they are probably thinking, “Who is that person, and why on earth doesn’t she do something about those split ends?”

On the scale of facebook relationships, I’m Miranda. I’m not promiscuous with my friend requests like Samantha, nor as prudish as Charlotte. I’ll accept your request only if I know you, and if you’re someone who I don’t suspect of DATELINE mischief.

So, somewhere along the line, in order to have “friended” someone, I must have thought he/she was a decent human being. The problem is that somewhere along the line I forgot him/her. And now the sonogram of his girlfriend’s uterus is staring me in the face. (I’ll reserve comment but…really?)

Some of my friends have over a thousand friends. Others have less than a hundred. If you asked me to count how many good friends I have, I would probably say about fifty. Then, if you asked me how many of these friends could give directions to my home, I would say about forty.  Frankly, I’ve only talked on the phone in the last month with another ten. Yet, I don’t define my friendships by who calls me regularly. Some of my closest friends are people whom I haven’t seen in years, but they live in my heart.

Then, of course, are the people I don’t remember with the sonogram pictures I’d rather not see.

There’s no point in unfriending these folks, since stalking people whom you really don’t know is the point of facebook. Even though I don’t remember “Lady Madonna Perry,” it is sort of fun checking out her photos from a recent trip to Italy with some guy who looks like he could sharpen pencils in his dimples. I don’t remember LMP but I sure would like to remember dimple face.

Plus, Lady Madonna Perry is probably peeking at my honeymoon photos and judging me for wearing polarized fishing glasses at a champagne dinner.  I’m sure she has no idea who I am, but I’m sure that she’s cringing at my choice of evening eyewear. So, we can mutually peek into each other’s lives, knowing that at some point we both decided that the other was not a serial killer.

“Serious” science websites say that people can remember over one thousand faces.  But facebook is tricky.  Sometimes your face doesn’t look the same as I remember. And for most of you, I have no chance of recognizing your offspring, your golden retriever or your generic “Wonder Woman” avatar. (Nevermind your new married surname.) And we all know that you won’t recognize my dog, my split ends, or my nephews either.

Yet online, we’re good to go.  Best friends forever.

The DOG IQ test

Duke, the super dog.

Duke, the super-sweet (but not super smart) dog.

A few months ago, my husband and I watched a segment on 60 Minutes about dog intelligence. The piece centered around a particular Dog IQ test which gives a sense of your pup’s natural intelligence. (To give your dog the test, click here.)

While we watched the segment, I had two dogs in the house. While they were the same breed of dog, they couldn’t have been more different. My dog, Mabel, the six-year-old black Labrador, had used her charm to convince my husband to cuddle her on the leather couch. On the other hand, my parents’ dog, Duke, the ten-year-old yellow Labrador whom we were dog sitting, lay two inches from the wood stove, dangerously close to self-combusting.

After the segment concluded, we decided to give the dogs the test for our own entertainment.  We popped open a bottle of wine, grabbed a stopwatch and some treats, and let the games begin. (Let’s just say it was a slow Sunday night.)

The test included many basic exercises. For example, it tested long-term memory.  (Show the dog a treat, remove him from the room, and see if he can find the treat minutes later.)   It tested basic problem-solving skills. (Hide a snack under a low table and see if he can get it out with their paw.)  It tested language recognition. (Say a standard word like “BICYCLE” while calling for him, and see if he waits to come until his proper name is called.)

Mabel took the test first. I’m biased, but I believe that Mabel might be the world’s smartest dog. She knows how to hide her toys when other dogs visit. She can hike for miles without a leash and never leave my side. And she knows how to give kisses right when you need them.

As we gave Mabel the test, she easily completed all of the exercises. I was happy to be proven right.  Mabel scored 31 out of 35 points, which the quiz key labeled a “genius.”

Next up was Duke.  Duke is a special dog. He’s sweet. He loves people. But he runs in circles aimlessly with bugged-out eyes and straight legs. Let’s just say that we didn’t expect much.

At first, Duke didn’t fail miserably. He just failed. In tests where he could score five points, he would score one. But we were happy with one.  When he was unsuccessful finding a treat under a soup can, we still celebrated the fact that he tried.

However, one particular exercise really perplexed Duke. The dog intelligence test requires you to throw a towel over your dog’s head and count how long it takes for the dog to shake it off.  Mabel had shaken the towel off in a matter of seconds.  Duke, on the other hand, seemed content under the towel.  After two minutes of wearing the towel, Duke had no chance of getting any points.  However, we let him sit with the towel, hoping that eventually he would shake it off like Taylor Swift. After four minutes, we couldn’t take it anymore.  We removed the towel, and Duke just smiled at us, completely unaffected.

I’m not sure we learned anything from the test that we didn’t know already.  Mabel is incredibly underutilized as our pet, and should be working as a guide dog or an avalanche dog rather than just living with us.  And Duke.  Well, Duke is special.  He’s happy just being there.  And that makes for a darn good animal.

Skinny Jeans

J wears skinny jeans every day. He prefers them black and rarely washed. (When they are fresh out of the washing machine, they stick too closely to his legs, which of course is the point of skinny jeans but not necessarily the desire.) His mother gets angry with J since he’ll wear skinny jeans to formal events.  His neighbor’s funeral. His little brother’s middle school graduation. The annual Easter dinner at her employer’s fancy home where she works as the housekeeper.

But J doesn’t care what his mother thinks.  He cares about her deeply, and purposefully scares off any new boyfriends who aren’t worthy. But he doesn’t care what she thinks. She’s always thought he would make a good mechanic, since he’s good at fixing things around the house. She’s always thought he’d look better if he stopped biting his nails. She’s always thought that he could do better than Penelope, his on-again/off-again girlfriend who spends her days swearing and illegally downloading horror movies. But J doesn’t care about his mom’s thoughts on any of those topics. He knows that he has the right to do what he wants to do.

In fact, he’s the one who decided to change his name. He goes by “J” the initial, rather than his given name Jayson. He was teased as a child for having such an uncommon spelling of such a common name. Plus, his father, Jay, was nothing but an alcoholic who couldn’t even keep a job, never mind a wife and two kids.  So, Jayson goes by “J” to forget it all.

J works at Comic Kazee, the novelty shop in town. When people from high school enter the shop, he’ll pretend to get new inventory from the back room.  He tries to avoid them at the register.  Most of them don’t recognize him, since he’s lost twenty pounds in the three years since graduation. But they might recognize his smell of cigarettes and watermelon gum.

If he does see someone he knows, he has a habit of proactively telling them that he only works at Comic Kazee since he’s working on a novel.  He carefully slips it in to conversation.  (“I’m exhausted since I was up ’til three editing the fourth chapter.”)  When they ask him what the book is about, he acts sheepish as if he’s keeping a big secret. The more coy he plays, the more realistic his lie feels. Little do they know that his book is nothing more than a bunch of run-on sentences in a journal next to his ashtray.

 

There’s No Class In Business

Arnold Stone won’t make eye contact when you board the plane. He’s pretending to read something highly important on his phone, but he’s really just thinking about the fact that you are thinking about the fact that he won’t make eye contact with you. He knows you are wondering how he can afford business class. Is he a finance guru?  A corporate lawyer for a cigarette company?  A CEO of a multi-billion dollar hotel chain?

You’ll never know, since you are in seat 27C.  He’s in seat 1B.  Not only is he in business class, but he is also in the first row aisle seat of business class.  It doesn’t get any better.  Even the pilot wishes he was in seat 1B.  First on, first off, and no need to climb over a stranger to use the business class restroom (which, of course, has the $5.99 hand soap as opposed to the dollar store special in the back of the plane.)

He’s wearing a suit, even though he’ll have plenty of time to check into the hotel before his business meeting.  But you don’t know that.  You also don’t know that his designer watch is actually a hand-me-down from his uncle who passed away from being a stress heart attack.  You can’t see the initials on the back of the watch which of course, don’t match Arnold’s initials. (He is still angry at his mother for choosing an “S” initial (Simon) for his middle name. He believes that she clearly knew what she was doing.)

The stewardess offers him a hot towel.  He puts down his phone, and wipes his hands as if he were polishing an Oscar.  He swipes every nook and cranny of his fingers, then plops the used, sweaty towel back in the hands of the stewardess.  “And a glass of champagne, please?”  he requests before it is offers.

“We have prosecco,” she answers. “But I’d be happy to bring it to you.”

He sneers as he realizes the other passengers are listening.  “I only drink champagne.”

The Taylor Swift of Fiction

I know she’s out there. I know that she’s just waiting to be plucked from the masses like Kelly Clarkson at a karaoke contest. The problem is… I’m not sure if anyone is looking for her.

Sure, it takes talent to be a vocalist, musician or actor. And hundreds of these artists grace the covers of magazines every month. It also takes real talent to be a writer. Yet, I have never seen a writer on the cover of Glamour Magazine. Never.

Writing is sexy, or at least they say. But, they are referring to an imagined “mystique” of writers. They are referring to men with black rimmed glasses and gray turtlenecks who drink espresso while typing on their laptops in Starbucks. Those people are not sexy. Those people are taking up space at tables where others could be sitting.

Sexy writers are duking it out with their keyboards at home on the couch. They are guzzling Mountain Dew while they organize their chicken-scratched plot notes. They rely on word count, spellcheck and aspirin. They are fascinating storytellers with imaginations to admire. They have personalities and biases and opinions and talent.

Yet, we know very little about many of them.

On book covers, authors rarely are pictured, and if they are, they usually look constipated or angry. (Recently, I went to the local bookstore, and flipped over all of the featured best-sellers on a nearby table. Alice Munro was the ONLY author smiling in her picture. Thank you, Alice!) And author bylines often read like resumes, listing off publications but avoiding personal details. (Every so often, we’ll learn one vague fact about the author, i.e. “Art Author lives in Connecticut with his wife and two sons.” La-de-da.) In magazines and periodicals, it is rare for us to see much more than an author’s name.

After a quick flip through facebook (which of course, is the highest form of research), it seems as if the living author with the most likes is Stephen King with four million fans. (J.K. Rowling is a close second.)  Yet, most “well-known” authors have fewer than one million likes. Young author Veronica Roth of the Divergent series hasn’t even topped 500,000 yet. (Geez, even most of the “Real Housewives” have more than half a million likes.) Most well-known singers, musicians, and actors have at least a couple million fans on facebook. (For example, Taylor Swift has over 73 million likes. 73 million!)

This isn’t necessarily Veronica Roth’s fault, nor should she necessarily want to be the Taylor Swift of Fiction. Every author has the right to care more about contributing to the art of literature than gaining facebook popularity. However, I’m just making the argument that we don’t give authors the same opportunities as other “artists.”

Ever since Oprah retired her original book club, authors have retreated even further away from the media… either by choice or by neglect. On my last count of Wikipedia’s recent list of guests on the Ellen DeGeneres television show, only 4 of the 740 guests were known primarily as authors. Four out of 740. (For the record, Lewis Blackwell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Alec Greven, and Stephanie Meyer were the lucky authors in the past few years. I eventually stopped counting after I hit 740 guests.) And in the American reality television world, there are dozens of “talent” competitions (i.e. drag queens, pastry chefs, platform divers, fashion designers, makeup artists, and entrepreneurs), yet there are none about writing. (Apparently, Italy launched a reality writing show last year, but received less than flattering reviews.) High-brow newspapers and National Public Radio certainly grace us with carefully constructed and unobtrusive interviews from a very select fraternity of authors (Tartt, Grisham, Kingsolver) regarding the “craft” of their work.  And C-SPAN does its best to educate us with textbook-esque interviews from “authors” who are already esteemed professionals (i.e. actors who write their own autobiographies or politicians releasing new books just in time for re-election). But, in all of these examples, it seems as if mainstream media doesn’t allow authors to be much more than their work of art. They are rarely celebrated as well… people.

For better and for worse, we make it easy for authors to separate their celebrity from their work. Historically, only a few select male authors have had their turn in the limelight (i.e. Hemingway, Kerouac, and Mailer), while most female authors never achieved much more than a nod and a tip of the hat. (Even J.K. Rowling’s celebrity felt hushed compared to the celebrity of Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe. While most could recognize Radcliffe on the street, it seemed as if fewer could recognize Rowling.) Our disinterest is apparent. And so, the beastly stereotype of nameless hipster authors dwelling in Starbucks thrives.

I don’t have many answers, as I don’t believe it is an author’s responsibility to be in the public eye. However, I imagine that there must be young authors who would be happy to sit down and chat with Ellen. (Who wouldn’t?!) Would it kill us to make writing, dare I say it, look fun?  I’m sure that some of these writers appreciate their anonymity from the masses. And I respect the right of an artist to choose separation from his work. Certainly, I’m not making the argument that a writer needs to be as pretty as her manuscript.  Instead, I’m arguing that writers already are equally pretty, but we don’t bother to care.

Let’s ask them about their inspirations. Let’s post their pictures on the covers of mainstream magazines. Let’s interview them on mainstream television. Let’s allow them to step out from behind the curtain of fiction. Let’s find that hunky brunette who actually is the perfect balance of brains and brawn. Let’s post his picture on middle school lockers next to pin-ups of One Direction.

Recently, I published two children’s chapter books. Apparently, neither book had room for an author photo on the back cover. So, I uploaded a big, smiling, photo of myself (and stone-faced Labrador retriever) on my author page on Amazon.  For a moment, I felt incredibly self-conscious. Should I really post a picture of myself where I look so darn happy? Or, should I pay money for a professional black and white headshot, complete with a disinterested pout?  The latter seemed ridiculous to me, so I stuck with my overjoyed shiny, smiley self-portrait. I might not be a pinup, but at least I look like I’m a happy, unconstipated person.

Now is the time for authors to inspire our youth.  Now is the time for writers to be role models.  Now is the time for lipsticked, well-poised, twenty something fiction writers to be featured on daytime television. Now is the time for children to want to grow up to be authors and not just pop stars. Other people are on the hunt for the next Taylor Swift or Emma Stone. Well, I’m on the hunt for the FIRST supergirl of fiction. I’d like to introduce her to a generation in desperate need of her autograph.

Writing to Harry Styles

Girls, get your pens out. Writing will change your professional life, your love life, and your financial life. And if nothing else, it might just get you a date with Harry Styles.

Let me explain.

My name is Becky Munsterer, and I have a day job that has nothing to do with writing. I’ve made very little money off the writing I have published, and I’ve had hundreds of literary pieces rejected by editors worldwide. In fact, I am posting this column on my own personal Word Press blog since it has been shunned over a dozen times by major publications. Regardless, I feel strongly that it needs to be printed. Writing can change your life. Take it from me.

Let me start with how writing has changed my professional life. As I mentioned, writing is not my primary source of income. Yet, my ability to manipulate the written word has catapulted my career.  For example, a thoughtful and well-crafted thank you note scored me an invitation to a very exclusive networking event. A well-organized report propelled me to a chair position on an important professional committee.  And I don’t embarrass myself with poorly written email correspondence, most of the time. (I once signed off an email to a colleague with “Breast wishes, Becky.” Whoopsie.)

And, writing is the reason I got married this past September. You may not believe this, but without an ability to craft a funny email, I would most likely still be sitting on a bar stool, chatting up match.com men. My fiance and I dated long distance for three years. The only thing we had to keep our love alive were love letters. My incredibly educated, horrendously handsome husband fell in love with average ol’ me because of our communication. Not because of a particular outfit. (L.L.Bean boots and middle school sweaters are my uniform.)  Not because of the way I look. (My refusal to go to a salon has caused breakups.) But, instead he fell in love with me because of the way I could make him laugh over daily email. (Dear Jamal, I love you more than land mines. And they’re the bomb.)

And lastly, my love for writing has scored me lots of really nice stuff. A few years ago, I won a short story contest in a travel magazine, and won an all-expense paid trip to Tahiti. Tahiti!  Writing literally paid for me to go snorkeling with sting rays. And, I have won contests for all sorts of beauty products. Last year,  I won a supply of high-end (and very expensive) sunscreen. (I barely touched the stuff because I live in the land of gray skies and freezing temperatures, but it made my Floridan friends happy.)  I’ve also won flower bouquets, gift certificates to fancy restaurants, designer beach towels, a ski trip to Quebec City, and a year’s supply of Special K cereal. Oh, and did I mention Tahiti?  I did. Oh good.

Things weren’t always this way. The first thing I wrote was dreadful. Inspired by a music class in fourth grade, I wrote lyrics to a song which I thought would be Debbie Gibson’s next hit.  It was called “All American Girl” and it made no sense whatsoever. (Looking back, it was somewhat of a rip-off of both Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and David Bowie’s “Young Americans.”) But I had fun writing it. And when my little sister started singing it around the house, I knew I was on to something. (If Molly liked something, then I knew it was valuable.)

From there, I started writing all sorts of things. Poems. Diary entries about teachers I didn’t like. Fan mail to Candace Cameron (D.J. on Full House) who I idolized. Stories about leprechauns. (Yes, I went through a leprechaun phase. It was weird.)

But my writing really developed when I discovered a boy band. The New Kids on the Block were young, good-looking, and everywhere. (You could buy New Kids bedsheets, bath towels, posters, dolls, etc., and I had them all.  My bedroom looked like a museum to hair-sprayed boys.) The youngest member, Joe McIntyre, was the cutest boy I had ever seen in my life.  Naturally, I thought I should write Joe a letter and introduce myself. According to my plan, he would be so taken by my letter, he would come to Jefferson, New Jersey, sweep me off my feet, and marry me. It was a perfect plan. I just needed to write the perfect letter.

So, I went to work. I crafted and re-crafted the perfect note with a flashlight under my sheets after bedtime. I crossed out sentences, and re-wrote full lines, carefully choosing my words. Love, Becky? (Too desperate.) Sincerely, Becky? (Too formal.) Smiles, Becky? (Just right.) And when I finished one letter, I would start writing another.

Out of the hundreds of letters I wrote, I only mailed about a dozen. Considering I sent them to only address I could find (a talent agency in California), I’m pretty sure that Joey never received them. But looking back, those countless letters made me a better writer. I might not have won the heart of a New Kid, but I certainly gained a love for the written word.

So, girls, find your motivation wherever it lives. Write not because you want to write the Great American Novel…but because you want to ask someone special to the prom.  Write because you really, really want to convince your school board to allow foreign exchange programs to Italy just so you can taste real gelato. Write because you want to tell Grandma Mabel how much you love her. Write because someday your diary might be a relic in the National History Museum. Write because you might win a lifetime supply of cheesecake-flavored chapstick. Write because there is a because…whatever it may be. Writing can and will change your life if you stick to it.

And there’s no better way of sticking to it than writing to Harry Styles. By the time you find the perfect words, he’ll be balding and you’ll be a Pulitzer Prize winner. And at that point, you probably won’t have time for him.

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College Graduation Speaker

Nobody is listening. Which is a shame since the speaker, (I mean, his staff), stayed up all night making last-minute changes to his address. Now, he is talking from a podium to a group of hormone-charged, hungover, co-eds, who are only thinking about finding the dorm keys they lost last night at the “Last Chance Dance.”

He believes that parents are at least tuning in to his carefully crafted words. But they’re not. They are too busy playing with their camera shutter settings so they can have proof of where their $50,000 tuition went these past four years.

The President isn’t listening either. She tried, but she tuned out after hearing an acceptable sound bite that she can use in trustee conversations later that evening. Now, she is thinking about her well deserved trip to the Dominican Republic on Sunday morning.

Yet, the speaker preaches on. And he does a good job. Everyone claps, and the college photographer snaps a few pictures of him next to the college seal.

Next year, he’ll receive an honorary degree at yet another University. He won’t get a chance to speak, but he will be seated on the stage next to the Dean of students. This time, he will be someone not listening.

Water logged

Last Thursday, I decided that I was drinking too much.  Specifically, I was drinking too much…

  1. Diet Soda- For those of you who know me, you know that I keep the PepsiCo company in business. 
  1. Coffeemilk- A refreshing blend of cold milk, Almond Joy creamer (aka chemical juice), and a teaspoon of day-old coffee from my husband’s previous morning mug.
  1. Vodka- Dare I admit that I actually drank the cooking vodka a colleague gifted me for Christmas?  Who has ever heard of “cooking vodka” anyway?

So, I decided that I was going to drink nothing but water for seven sunrises. (Seven sunrises sounded more biblical and inspiring than seven days.)  No juice. No tea. No nothing except good old tap water.

The first day was fine. My body needed water. It absorbed the H2O like a daffodil stranded in the desert.

The second day was hell. I wanted a diet Barq’s root beer at work. I wanted a cranberry vodka with dinner.  Heck, I even wanted a seltzer water. (And nobody wants a seltzer water.)

The third day, I cheated. I brought a bottle of cheap girl’s champagne (prosecco) to a friend’s house and sucked down two glasses without guilt.

The fourth day, I added a slice of lemon to my water, hoping that it would taste more like a cocktail. It didn’t.

Day five brought the cranky pants. I was a monster with headaches and missing caffeine.

Day six brought a little bit of pep in my step when I realized that I was almost done with this miserable human test.

And that brings me to today. Today is the last day of my water challenge. As far as I can tell, I haven’t changed physically.  If anything, I have probably gained weight since my lack of a nightcap has reinforced my relationship with my two old boyfriends, Ben and Jerry. The only thing that has changed is that I’m sleeping like a baby. Really good sleep. The type where my eyes start to close as I’m halfway through that article in Martha Stewart Living magazine, and I wake up with Martha still in bed with me.

I’m not sure what will happen tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll stick with water in the morning.  Maybe I’ll pour my husband’s stale coffee leftovers into my plastic travel mug and fill ‘er up with milk.  Maybe I’ll have a diet cherry Pepsi during my afternoon slump at work.

But either way, I’ll pat myself on the back and move forward.  I’ll never give up soda for life. And I’ll never drink only water. I’ll fall somewhere in the middle. And average is okay with me.

Radio Caller

“I can’t believe you took my call.”  It’s the first line they all say. But she means it. She can’t believe they took her call.

“I just wanted to say…”  and then she says the thing she wanted to say. She’s passionate about it. When the morning show hosts agrees with her, she announces that an opposing position is simply nincompoopish. And she uses that word: nincompoopish.  The morning show host laughs, and then he gets off the line quickly.  He announces another caller with a different perspective. She listens to the other caller squeal;, “I can’t believe you took my call.”   At least we have that in common, she thinks to herself.

Free Samples? No, I couldn’t. CHOMP. CHOMP.

Yesterday, while walking through my local corner store, I noticed a woman giving away free bites of pie in the household cleaner section. So, like any normal person, I pretended to buy Lysol even though I had two jugs at home.

When I approached the gray-haired pie queen, she smiled sweetly. “Dear, would you like a Key Lime pie sample?”

I inspected the sample in the plastic mini-cup. It looked delicious, but I didn’t want to look too desperate. “I guess,” I smiled as if I were doing HER a favor. I thanked her, and then I gobbled the pie in one swallow as soon as I was out of her vision.

I’ll go out of my way to get free samples. Partly because I always feel badly for the person trying to sell the product. But mostly because I simply love to eat. At the deli counter, I’ll always get a free slice of smoked turkey while I wait for the attendant to slice the rest of the order. At the bar, I’ll always taste the new lager on tap.  At the farmer’s market, I’ll taste vegetables that I can’t even pronounce.

And then there’s the gold star of sample shopping: Williams-Sonoma. While other friends warn me of the germs which might linger on shared bowls of free samples, I let it go. Even if I am not in the hunt for overpriced soup ladles, I’ll make a pit stop for some free hot cocoa samples. Sweet and Sour Meatballs?  I’ll make my way around the Le Creuset crockware twice if it means I can have a second helping.  Artichoke Dip?  I’ll find the largest cracker to soak up the sauce. Pumpkin Latte?  I don’t even drink coffee, but I’ll still slurp it down. Williams-Sonoma has probably fed me more snacks than the food court.

Occasionally I buy the product I’m sampling.  Chances are if I want a second helping, I’ll buy the whole pie. And even if I don’t like the sample, I’m always polite. I always want to give something back to the hand that feeds me. (And yes, right now, I am eating Key Lime Pie.  That gray-haired lady made at least one sale to a very happy customer.)

The Genius Bagger

He’s an unexpected delight at the grocery store. Usually, you would rather bag your own groceries than deal with the unfriendly, spiritless teenage bagger.

But the Genius Bagger, dressed in a clean white shirt and khakis, greets you warmly. “Paper or plastic,” he asks with a smile. (Gasp!)  He doesn’t even judge you when you choose plastic. (You’ll use them for doggie waste scooping bags of course, but this time you don’t even feel the need to explain.)

The magic begins as the grumpy cashier (with an attitude as poor as her dye job) starts the conveyor belt. The Genius Bagger handles his job like a science project. Delicate glass jars of pickles and peanut butter are separated by a sturdy box of tissues. Heavy eggplants settle on the bottom of another bag, topped with lighter loose arugula. Liquid soap is doubly bagged, then added to the collection of detergent products. And most importantly, he makes sure to isolate the plastic container of raw chicken.

“Marilyn, you missed this coupon,” he says as he peels a sticker from a box of cereal. “I would have missed it too. It’s the same color of the box!” He’s almost too enthusiastic to be true as he hands the miserable cashier the coupon. She scans it without acknowledgment as he continues to bag.

As the groceries roll along the conveyor, his hands work non-stop.  And as the last candy bar is scanned, he already has placed all of the bags in your cart (in appropriate weight order, of course, with the eggs and ice cream in the top tray for gentle handling.)

“Would you like your Snickers bar in a bag, or do you want your deserved treat now?” He smiles behind silver braces.

Did he just say “deserved”?

You take the candy bar with a smile.  “Thank you very much,” you respond.

And this time, you really mean it.

The Loud Sigher

She does it at the supermarket when waiting in line behind someone with coupons.

She does it at the local town hall meeting during the DPW annual update.

She does it when her sister-in-law mentions (for the fourth time) her recent trip to Palm Beach.

She does it when her boss reminds her to remove the shredding from the bin.

She does it when the skinny lady at yoga complains about her post-holiday weight gain.

She does it when she wishes she could just say “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!”

But she can’t. So she just continues to open up her mouth to let out steam.

The Social Foodie

At first, it was harmless. Perhaps he was dieting, and posting a picture of every meal was his way to catalog calories. Harvest vegetable salad with cranberries. Apple cider donut. Salmon on a cedar plank.

But it hasn’t stopped.  Even when the food is less than healthy. Fried chicken from a bucket. Hamburger with pickle slice. Egg and cheese sandwich in a paper bag.

Most frustrating is that people still continue to comment on his posts.

“Finger lickin’ good!” -Barbara

“Breakfast of champions.” -Rob

“Yummm…must be Martinelli’s!” -Poppy

You wonder when it will stop.  And then one day it does. The following day, he starts posting shirtless selfies. You miss the pictures of fried chicken.

Gray Girl

My black lab has her first gray hairs. They frost her chin, leaving her look perpetually snow-covered. While she probably doesn’t notice them, I have taken interest. In my opinion, she couldn’t be more beautiful.

Most people squeal over puppies. I adore tiny fur-balls as well, but there is something about an old dog which captures my heart.

Mabel is middle-aged for a Labrador Retriever at the age of six. (Technically, my half-birthday-conscious nephews would note that she’s six and a half.) She’s incredibly healthy, incredibly spoiled, and incredibly loved. But she’s also at the age where she doesn’t need to learn new tricks. She knows the paths in the woods where we browse around on Saturday mornings. She knows which pieces of furniture she’s allowed to sleep (nearly all). And she knows the best hiding places for her beloved “patriotic chicken” stuffed toy.

But what Mabel doesn’t know is that she’s becoming more beautiful as her face becomes salt-and peppered. (Personally, I’ve always loved gray-haired humans as well. I think Meryl Streep was much more beautiful as a gray-haired woman in The Devil Wears Prada than her typical dirty blonde.) With her graying hair, Mabel looks more regal, more wise, and frankly, more lovable. How could you not give a pat and a “Hiya, Old Girl!” to a gray-faced Labrador with a slow tail wag?

She’s a girl who already knows all of her tricks. But that doesn’t mean she’ll let you in on them.

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The Gym Competitor

The Guy at the Gym Who Is Secretly Challenging You To A Treadmill-Off

He’s old. Not old enough to be harmless and adorable. But old enough to have logged many more miles than you. If he were in an actual race, you know he would win his age group.  But he’s not racing his age group today.  He’s racing you.

His shorts are too short. (His white thighs pop out every time he takes a stride.) His T-shirt reads Shuffle off to Buffalo 5K, 1997. (There are yellow stains in the armpits of the old white tee.)  As he runs, he breathes heavily over a graying mustache. And every time you step on the treadmill next to him, you feel him monitoring your pace.

If you speed up, he speeds up. If you slow down, he slows down. You really want to beat him, so you sprint for a while. But he also sprints for a while. You puff and he huffs.

After thirty minutes of nonchalant racing, you stop the treadmill. As you head to the water fountain, you keep an eye on him. He runs for two more minutes, as if trying to prove that he wasn’t racing you. Then he ends his workout as well.

You vow to beat him tomorrow.  But you know that you won’t.

Good for him.

The Lady Who Opens The Microwave Door Before It Beeps

Her broccoli, olive oil, and couscous lunch is steaming over her glass container. (When she made it at home the previous night, she made sure to quadruple the broccoli in the recipe in order to keep the calorie count down.) It has one minute and twelve seconds left in the microwave, so she knows that it can’t possibly be done. She opens the door to the microwave, and stirs the couscous with the plastic spoon she found in the bottom drawer of her desk earlier that day. She sticks her finger in the middle of her lunch, hoping nobody in the adjoining break room witnessed her germ crime. She touches her finger to the broccoli. She was right; the broccoli is still frosty.

She puts her lunch back in the microwave and watches it twirl in the machine. While she waits, she clenches her abs in intervals of five seconds, just like her personal trainer instructed her to do after she had the baby. With only six seconds left on the microwave, she counts down to herself. Five, four, three, two. With one second left on the clock, she rips open the microwave door to avoid the annoying beep signal. She sticks her finger on the warm broccoli and is pleased with herself.

She closes the door and presses the stop button on the microwave. Then, she picks up her lunch and returns to her desk to shop for yoga pants. She’s not eating broccoli for the fun of it.  She’s going to lose that baby weight even if it means going to evening yoga classes.  She’s going to be a L-O-S-E-R even if she has to eat broccoli every day.

The Goodwill Bunny

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my sister.  She couldn’t find any of the Christmas presents that we gifted her family during the holidays. Apparently, they were all stuffed in a white plastic trash bag that literally got taken to the trash. The handmade Batman monogrammed towel for my nephew, the Thomas the Train puzzle for my other nephew, the winter baby clothes for my niece. Plus, many other holiday toys and goodies.  They were all gone somewhere in a trash compactor.

All night, my family members blamed ourselves. My sister made the mistake of putting the gifts in a trash bag. My father made the mistake of leaving the bag outside with similar bags while packing the car. I made the mistake of actually throwing out the bag. We were all to blame.

Obviously, we recognized that throwing out Christmas gifts was not the worst thing in the world.  Clearly, my nephews and niece didn’t need the toys. And perhaps this was a holiday lesson about abundance that would make us simply be thankful for having each other at the holidays.

Still, it was crummy that the little white bunny suit for my six month old niece (a nod to A Christmas Story movie) was somewhere in a dump, never worn.

So, last night, I decided to contact the company where I bought the bunny suit to ask them if they still had it in stock. I told them I wanted to reorder since I wasn’t sure we would be successful with a town dumpster dive. Then something magical happened.

The customer service rep told me that they would send the onesie directly to my niece, free of charge. They would also send the other red baby dress I had ordered as well.

I was in shock. Generous customer service seemed to be a thing of this past. There was no reason they had to send these items. They were just sympathetic to our situation during the holidays.

The rep asked me not to disclose the name of the company publicly. (They don’t want others to take advantage of this sort of thing.) However, I told them that I would sing their praises to anyone I know who is shopping for children’s clothing. (If I see you in person, I will tell you where to shop!) Plus, I told them that they now have a life-long customer.

Sometimes, I think of the Miracle on 34th Street movie, which included the competition between Macy’s and Gimbels departments stores. In the movie, both department stores realize that it is in the holiday tradition to advertise the other store’s better prices. Practicing this sort of holiday honesty and generosity was good for the customers and it was good for the store.

In this case, the customer service rep at this particular children’s store did more than just ship us a few pieces of baby clothing. She made us want to pay it forward.

May she be granted a little extra goodwill in 2015.

 

New Year’s Resolutions and Last Year’s Restitutions

I have no idea what my New Year’s resolution was last year. I’m sure I made one since it always seems like the thing to do after a third bottle of prosecco in the post-ball drop hours of the night. It is most likely a good thing that I can’t remember my resolution since I’m less inclined to feel depressed about not keeping it.

This year, after another night of alcohol-induced revelry, I announced that my resolution was to wash my hands more often. My family belly laughed and ridiculed my announcement. Then, they refused to pass the shared bowl of popcorn. There’s nothing like a misunderstood resolution about cleanliness to start the year off with a bang.  (For the record, I have incredibly clean hands. I just want to stave off the common cold by pro-actively washing more often.)

New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be hopeful. We’re supposed to imagine ways we can better ourselves. However, 99% of people never keep their New Year’s resolutions. (Okay, I completely made up that statistic, but it feels accurate, right?)

My television is filled with commercials which fuel the resolution craze. Lose weight. Exercise regularly. Save the shelter dogs (cue the guarantee-to-make-you-cry-or-change-the-channel Sarah McLachlan music). Stop smoking. Get your check-ups. Use anti-aging moisturizer daily so that you can look like a Hollywood B lister.

I know that when I go to the gym tomorrow, it will be packed with well-intentioned strangers who take their post-holiday depression out on the treadmill. And that’s a wonderful thing. Some of them might stick to their goals of running marathons. Others might not step foot in the gym until 2016. But the bottom line is that habits are rarely effected without major change. For some people, quitting smoking requires seeing a loved one die of lung cancer. Exercising daily requires the threat of disease. For most of us, a calendar day isn’t enough to change our lives forever.

However, there is hope in the New Year. Instead of making promises we won’t keep in the future, we can take a moment to reflect on the past. Instead of “New Year’s Resolutions,” I think we should make “Last Year’s Restitutions.” We can make in-person apologies for wrongdoings. We can return the cashmere sweater which we accidentally forgot to return to the rightful owner. We can say thank you to someone who never heard the words. Personally, I have a few thank yous to mutter to folks who I trampled on like a bridezilla at my September wedding.

And we can celebrate our 2014 achievements. We can state the one thing we did which we are extremely proud of doing. Whether it is giving birth or giving a few nickels to charity, we can pat ourselves of the back for the little things we have accomplished. This year, I solely bought organic milk. This might not seem like breaking news at first, but for folks who know me, I’ve always been a cheap curmudgeon when it comes to food choices. My husband has been trying to get me to spend more money on better quality food for years. But this year, I’ve budged. I buy expensive, cow-friendly, body-conscious, milk. And as much as I hate to admit it, it goes just as well with my chocolate chip cookies.

A new year is a blank page of history, ready to be written. But as with history, looking back can be just as (if not more) important as looking forward. Next January, I’ll be celebrating whatever 2015 had in store.  It might be buying organic chicken stock. It might be learning how to swim the butterfly.  Heck, it might just be returning that cashmere sweater to the rightful owner.

As for that hand-washing resolution?  Remind me next year.   Until then, pass the popcorn.