Friday, September 19, 2014

25 Years Later

I’m taking a break from packing, cleaning and rubbing in tan-in-a-bottle to post this morning. While the dishwasher and clothes dryer hum away, I’m busy getting ready to go to my husband’s 25th high school reunion.

I also graduated in 1989, but to be quite honest, I don’t remember a dad-blamed thing about my senior year. All I really remember is how high I’d sprayed my bangs, and how it took a gazillion bobby pins to hold that mortarboard on the back of my head (because flat on top–ugh! It would have squashed my hair!)

Do you know what I do remember about 25 years ago?

‘Course not. But I’m gonna tell you.

I remember the footage of the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember the crowds. I remember David Hasselhoff standing on the crumbling wall, singing “You’re the Voice” (which Heart also covered. Or maybe David covered Heart. Hard to say). I may actually be conflating two different events, but I’m not sure…because, you know…25 years!

I remember being a bit sad and resentful. Not six months earlier, I’d been to and through that wall. In my rural Missouri hometown I’d never seen graffiti like the West Berlin side of the wall–such an explosion of color, words and art. And on our day trip to East Berlin, I’d marveled at the contrast. The concrete was clean and bare. The streets were clean and bare. A couple meters of concrete and what seemed to be two completely different cultures. If only they’d gotten to it sooner, I complained. If only I could have been dancing to David Hasselhoff while hundreds of people broke off chunks of concrete.

Because I’d ended up in a direct swap on my exchange program, the German boy who’d stayed with my folks while I was abroad came back to visit some months after the fall of the Wall. He gave Dad a blue/green painted chunk of concrete, which gathers dust in my parents’ basement to this day. At least I have that.

What about you? Have you ever had a near-miss with history? Or were you ever privileged to bear witness to the stories we now print in our children’s textbooks?

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Friday, June 20, 2014

Plotting the Party

I am a one-hundred percent seat-of-the pantser when it comes to drafting stories. If a character starts talking out of turn about something that’s going to happen in chapter 9, when I’m still fighting my way through chapter 5, I’m all,

“Shut! Up!”

But when it comes to dealing with real-world characters, I plot every detail I can. Preferably in spreadsheets.

Next week, 20-some in-laws are coming to visit over an arc of 6 days. On day 1, the first will arrive. On day 2, the next dozen will arrive. On day 3, everyone will be here except one couple. On day 4…you get the idea?

And if you worry that I have my dates/numbers off, never fear: I have The Spreadsheet. It lists who’s coming, when they’re arriving, which rooms they are using, which foods I can and cannot serve and what activities are planned during the duration of their stay.

The Spreadsheet, this year, is hyperlinked to individual emails from each guest which all get filed in a master notebook in Evernote (I am dead-serious here). That way, if Uncle Biff and Aunt Trish show up a day early or a day late, I can sit up in my bedroom and growl at this laptop screen before taking my wine glass in hand and descending–with a smile–to make passive-aggressive commentary for the rest of the evening.

Not, you know, that I would do that.

But before the Spreadsheet and the Evernote notebook come into play, I must clean this house. The One Document Which Rules Them All is called, “Enchilada.” ‘Ware the Stevens child who is within eyesight when Momma cries out,

“It’s time for The Whole Enchilada!”

Run, my little love. Run back into the woods and hide. But don’t forget your bug spray. And don’t touch those lemon cookies. They are for the 3p snack recipe assigned to day 4!

By shrinking the font, setting the doc landscape and making it two columns, I managed to get Enchilada down to 3 single-spaced pages. Want a sample?

Well, you’re getting one anyway:

Prep day:

I. Verify your supplies:

A. Cleaners: Oven cleaner, windex, pledge, bleach, spray bleach, Lysol cleanser, tub/shower scrub, toilet bowl cleaner, leather cleaner, duster heads,mops, mop heads paper towels, laundry detergent, dish soap, garbage disposal cleaner, lime away, wall sponges, canned air, step stools.

B. Guest supplies: mattress toppers, luggage rack, reading lamps, iron/board, one-cup coffee makers, computer desk, towel racks, small hair dryer, extra soaps, lotions, shampoos, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, razor, tissues and toilet paper. Cotton balls and swabs in each bathroom. Baby wipes.

II. Take the boys to town:

A. Drop recycling, paper and donations

B. Replenish cleaning supplies

C. Rent carpet steamer

D. Cut the boys’ hairs.

III. Back home

A. Empty all trash cans and set out recycle bins, bleach and fill to soak.

B. Pre-clean appliances

C. Empty out the drawer beneath the stove.

D. Spray oven cleaner

E. Empty and clean dishwasher gaskets. Run dishwasher cleaner goo cycle.

F. Replace vacuum bag

G. Empty, rinse and set out red vacuum filter to dry.

…and we haven’t even started cleaning yet.

Are you lonely? Are you bored? Do you just want to roll up your sleeves and get dirty? Come on over.

But e-mail me first with your mopping-style preferences, and whether you prefer a bag or canister vacuum. I’ll hyperlink your email to the Enchilada doc in Evernote, and by the time I’m done, if we’re lucky, something might get cleaned around here.

**Oh! And fun fact: Autocorrect seriously wants to change “pantser” to “panther.” I wouldn’t mind being a seat-of-the-pants-panther, frankly.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Birds

It took me over 40 years and one winter to break down and do it.

I joined generations of my ancestors in being a Bird Lady.

I don’t own one in the house—oh, no. That’s a whole bucket of heartbreak and crazy I won’t even begin to consider. My grandmother had parakeets. Some of my best friends have birds. Like fish and other non-mammalian pets that you can’t actually pet, Birds have always meant to me caged creatures whose poop needs to be cleaned up regularly. Since we don’t even take the newspaper any more, I have no means, nor desire to deal with bird poop.

Instead, I’ve become one of those people who buys birdseed and scatters it on her lawn. I am informed by my youngest son, (who, like all my sons, is an Expert In All Things) that this is wrong and irresponsible of me. We should be filling birdhouses and bird feeders. I try explaining that these birds, being wild creatures, are more than capable of getting their food off the ice and snow which finally brought me to break down and buy that first back of seed. He rolls his eyes at me because I know nothing.

Within a few hours, the birds had discovered my seed. My poor cats have spent the last two days sitting in the window, whining at the flock gathering on the back patio. The first cupful I put out there is gone. The second cupful is going. I estimate I have seven days before I have to pick up another bag of the stuff at Kroger.

But I know what’s coming. More birds bring more birds. More birds eat more seed faster.

Before long, that little Kroger bag won’t be enough. I’ll end up driving to the feed store for a 20 pound bag. Or a 50 pound bag. Or maybe I’ll just fill the back end of a pickup with birdseed, like my father and mother do to feed the Hitchcockian horror show that takes up the balcony off their sunroom.

I know the strategy: When you get the truckload, take along a small hatchet. Drive as fast as you can, window wipers beating, to get through the barrage of wings and beaks that surround you. Once the vehicle is stopped, open the rear window of the cab just a wee bit and slice through the bags, spilling your seed on the truck bed (which, I’m pretty sure, the Bible warns us about, by the way).

Then, as the birds dive-bomb the rear you run from the front of the truck to the safety of your back door.

What’s that, you say? Your screen door has a hole in it?

Ah, well. It was nice knowing you.

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