Thanks for the Memories

file0001510816847I’m thrilled that this year we’re celebrating Thanksgiving with thirty-some friends and family. I’m especially thrilled that my sister is hosting. (Yeah! No mopping or dusting for me.) I’m not thrilled—in fact, I’m terrified—that I volunteered to cook the turkey. Two weeks ago, when we were drinking wine and divvying up the menu, it seemed like a worthy challenge. But now, as I wrestle a 25 lb. turkey that is still frozen (dinner to be served in 31 hours), I’m wondering why the hell I thought this was a doable option. And better yet, I’m wondering why my mom and sister, who both know my culinary talents consist of doing the dishes, allowed me to take on the center piece of the Thanksgiving feast.

But this morning at 5 am, while I lay in bed, worrying over the fowl beast, I had an epiphany. I thought back to the Thanksgivings of my past and realized I don’t remember the turkeys. I do remember the fellowship.

The years my mom’s family gathered were the definition of bounty. Four sisters and my file000541128033
grandmother, all great southern cooks, would bring homemade dishes, somehow preserved, from Tennessee to Illinois. Those holidays were spent around the table, morning and night. When we weren’t eating, we were playing cards. Tripoley.

When my dad’s family gathered, it was always at my grandmother’s. She often stored extra dishes on her back porch, yet we never got sick. There was only one TV, and that was in the living room where the adults gathered (and smoked). The kids would hang on her front porch. No iPads. Not even checkers. We’d use our imagination, granted it was tough. Playing house consisted of “cooking,” with our dishes being ashtrays and our food being berries (probably poisonous) picked off the bushes. Strange, but these memories warm my heart.

I’ll never forget Thanksgiving 1985. My dad was in the hospital losing his battle with cancer. We all got the call to come immediately, “it was happening.” Miraculously, it didn’t. Not then. But each of us, his mom and siblings included, had a chance to spend time with him and say our goodbyes. And for whatever weird reason, we put on a play. Yes, a Pilgrims and Indians play, with costumes, right in the middle of the oncology ward of Decatur Memorial Hospital. We took poetic license and my very pregnant aunt wore an “A” on her chest. In the midst of sorrow, we laughed.

emxuwn6eSo my turkey may suck. I’m not even sure it will fit in the Reynold’s baking bag everyone swears by. But it’ll be okay. We’ll break bread with friends and family and there will be love. And for that, I am thankful.

Wooden Turkey Photo by taliesin

Cards Photo by chelle

Turkey Photo by Seemann

A Chair Is Just A Chair

Unless It’s An Addiction

When I cook, it's not this pretty.

When I cook, it’s never this pretty.

My extended family gathers most Sunday evenings for delicious food, much vino and many laughs. At this time, the whole gang totals twelve. When we host the celebration, we add table leaves and even a card table to make room for the celebration. Fortunately, I have enough real chairs (no folding) for everyone, as we spend the whole evening at the table.

I share this to lessen your judgement of my condition. See, I’m a junk collector. Specifically, I’m addicted to collecting old, wooden chairs off the side of the road. Now I don’t go for just any old chair. Nothing upholstered. Nothing laminated. I like the older seats, ones with character. Though some consider them trash, these wooden souls still hold value.

Unfortunately, when you shop at Boutique Le Curb, character can include some 1409207276ych27challenges. Like missing seats, missing legs, and okay, sometimes missing backs. But the craftsmanship on what remains is beautiful. Truly.

I currently have twenty-four wooden chairs. I only paid for eight. And that was at the Salvation Army. I haven’t shopped there for a long time, because, come on, after you get free stuff off the side of the road, $6 a chair seems pretty steep.

Thirteen are inside my home, used in various rooms. They’ve been refinished, the seats recovered, some painted and aged.  Three are stored in the garage, pulled out for events. Eight are stacked in the back of the garage awaiting their transformation. They’ve been waiting a few years.

So why am I sharing this today? Today is neighborhood bulk trash day, the wonderful holiday for us collectors that comes once a year. Treasures and junk decorate every other home on the street. As I was driving my son to school this morning, I saw the first pile. FOUR dining room chairs! (Okay, really three and a fourth comprised of broken pieces). But they were straight out of the seventies – Spanish style gone wild. If I had a room with red velvet wall paper and a bronze sword and shield, they would be perfect.

Thankfully, my son is aware of my struggle. As we approached the collection, my pulse racing, he blocked his window and yelled, “Look away, Mom! Look away!” And I did. But after I dropped him off, I drove by three more times. I never stopped. I’m waiting until night, when I can sneak them into the garage under cover of darkness. Help me.

Food photo by MaxStraeten. Chair photo by Dogerton Skillhause

A Writer’s Journey

My Weekend Head Trip

Last weekend I attended
Micheal Hauge’s Advanced Story Mastery Seminar. It was an intense, two-day program studying plot structure that he’s broken into six stages, looking at both the external and internal journey of the hero. Great information. I definitely recommend it for anyone with even the slightest interest in writing a novel or screenplay.

While taking copious notes and soaking in the lesson, the strangest thing happened. I took my own journey. It too consisted of six stages, or in my case, emotional check points.


1. Confidence


I’m going to learn so much and take my writing to the next level.

2. Hope


Yes! This makes sense. My story’s on track.

3. Angst

cat yawning

Oh, hell. My story is so eff’d up. I’m going to have to rewrite the whole thing. (Writer’s worst nightmare, second only to having your work ridiculed.)

4. Depression


Why did I ever think I could write? I should have taken up candle making.

5. Acceptance


Dear God, help me to accept that even if I’m not meant to be a writer, I can still put this information to use.

6. Peace


I am a writer. I may never follow the perfect structure, but I will write. And I will publish because I want my story out there. This is a personal goal, and I will achieve it.


Turned out to be an amazing weekend. I learned a lot about story structure. I came up with some specific ideas which will vastly improve my book. But my head trip may have helped me the most. Greatest lesson learned? Avoid Angst and Depression. If you see them approaching, lock your doors and hit the gas. Even if you only spend a few moments at these pit stops, it’s wasted time and horrible on your engine. Seven days later, I’m still receiving post cards from these dreaded cities, but I’m working hard to ignore them and stay in Peace – Best Destination EVER.

I Could Do That!

(How Crafting Ruined Christmas)

Scream Cartoon PaintingAs Julie Andrews would sing, “Let’s start at the very beginning.” About a year ago, I discovered HGTV’s Fixer Upper. I was inspired by the decorations Jo Jo created with junk she’d found on the side of the road. So like any good woman who needed to clean the house, I decided to put that energy into making fabulous art out of trash. In my case, it involved hot-gluing funky letters on a termite-destroyed fence post. Because everyone knows it makes sense to hang such a carrier inside your home.

I liked it. My husband said he liked it. And just recently, my nephew and his new bride shared they liked it . . . without even being prompted. So of course, I’m going to make them one for Christmas.

Fortunately, I was smart enough to keep several of the termite-infested posts (leaning against my new cedar fence), so I just needed the letters. I stopped at the closest craft store for a quick excursion to the letter aisle. My estimated ten minutes became three hours. I had forgotten the intoxicating wonder of this magical land.

Cabinet knobs shaped like owls, yards of burlap with French script, shelves and mirrors in distressed, robin-egg blue paint. They even had a leather-engraving kit that tempted me until I remembered I hadn’t worn a belt since 2007. My heart raced with the need to create, and I had the perfect opportunity: Christmas gifts!!!!

Paint BrushNow that I’ve started and my kitchen and clothes are covered in craft paint and hot glue (btw, it should be called freakin’-hot glue), I’m remembering I’m more of a performing arts kind of gal. Not so much the visual arts. Case in point, Halloween 2002. In fairness, my kids wouldn’t commit to a costume until the night before. My daughter chose Aerial the Mermaid. I ingeniously stapled silk scarves to the calves of her aqua-green Lycra leggings. Son wanted to be a bat. I put him in his sister’s old dance tights and leotard and stapled Hefty trash bags to the arms. To be honest, I’m not sure which was worse: placing two plastic bags inches from a three-year-old’s head or putting my son in a velour leotard.

But I’m not going to worry, because everyone knows that a gift made with love (no matter what the quality) will always be more appreciated than a certificate to a luxurious spa.Smiling Sock Snowman






Ornaments by ladyheart. Scream-cartoon-painting by Prawny.

Paint brush by dhester. Sock snowman by ladyheart.

Coffee And Cat Litter

Precious Gifts of Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the early years of our relationship, my husband overwhelmed me with romantic gestures. Like the time he convinced my apartment manager to let him in my building (supposedly, a secure facility) and filled the lobby and stairwell with balloons. And it wasn’t even my birthday. The week before our wedding, he sent me a bouquet every day with a special note. The man loved to make me themed dinners, including cocktails tailored to match the meal – always delicious, always potent. Hey, wait a minute….

Some twenty years later, he’s still got the moves. He gives me a special piece of jewelry every anniversary. On Valentine’s Day, I always receive a heart-shaped box of candy along with a card that helps me forget all the fights from the previous year. Yes, all you young things, that’s part of the happily ever after.

But over the years, he’s expanded his repertoire of love gifts. Setting up the coffee maker before bed every night. Scooping the cat litter when my son’s forgotten. Screening calls and hushing the kids so I can enjoy a Saturday nap.

I will always appreciate a romantic night on the town or a thoughtful gift. But I feel his love the most when I’m climbing into bed, wearing a ratty, granny gown and a face full of retinol repair cream and he says, “You are one sexy lady.” No, I’m one lucky lady. Have I mentioned he’s legally blind without his glasses?

Thor: What I Did For Love

Well, really for the pizza and beer.

ThorWhen my husband offered to take the family to a movie last weekend, I was all for it. See, when my husband suggests a movie, it’s an evening event. Thanks to Alamo Drafthouse and Flix Brewhouse, a movie comes with craft beers and tavern food. Beats the hell out of Diet Coke and Raisinets.

As we gathered around the computer to select a movie – which usually leads to an argument that would send lesser families to Camp David – my daughter reminded us that she already had plans. She made us promise we wouldn’t see anything “good” without her. That was an easy promise, and not because I’m a thoughtful, selfless mother. No, I knew the “good” movie option was off the table as soon as I lost my romantic comedy ally. There was no hope for compromise when two violence-loving dudes (a.k.a. hubby and son) held the majority. I was stuck. But hey, I’d get to hang with my guys, I wouldn’t have to cook, and I knew there’d be Firemen’s #4.

As the lights went down for Thor: The Dark World, I ordered an amber ale and psychedsuperman myself for an entertaining show. After all, I’d really enjoyed Man of Steel. Granted, I would’ve cut forty minutes of fighting, but the story was interesting, there was romance, and Henry Cavill – a man I’ve loved/lusted after since The Tudors – headed up an all-star cast.

But back to Thor. The movie starts in a far-off galaxy, with some all-powerful rock that will determine whether good triumphs over evil. Blah, blah, blah. Your basic story, but Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, has the fine-looking superhero factor in his favor. HannibalAdd Sir Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father, and you’re really upping the score. I’ve adored this actor since he introduced Hannibal Lecter and a new food pairing with Chianti. Despite this talent, I’m still not mesmerized. I turn to my husband. “Another beer, please.”

Thirty minutes later – even with a buzz and a much-too-short shot of Thor’s bare chest – I’m still not feeling it. I need something more. “Honey, please order me a pizza. Make it a supreme.”


Battles are still raging. I can’t tell the good guys from the bad. They all wear horns. (My husband later reminded me that Thor was a Viking.) The only clue is the color of their eyes. And I mean funky colors. Ninety percent of the cast wear contacts. I’m guessing Bausch and Lomb paid dearly for that product placement.

I try sleeping, but it’s too loud. Notice I didn’t say too bright. The whole movie is set in space. My dark-day depression has maxed out. I’ve got to get help. “Chicken wings, please.”


Guess what? They’re still fighting. I’m biting my buffalo-wing-burning lips to keep from yelling in exasperation. I order a giant cookie. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m trying to suppress my anger or punish my husband by running up a huge bill. I just want it to end.

FINALLY, it’s over. Bloated and miserable, I roll out of my seat to find my guys high-fiving (their version of two thumbs up). I point at them. “You owe me four chick-flicks.”

My son shakes his head. “No. He took his shirt off once. We only owe you three.”

The kid’s taste in movies may stink, but he is a clever, clever boy.

School Days, School Forms

I pulled this one out from last year. You can’t praise the first day packet enough.

Chris Campillo

The beginning of the school year is full of traditions. Buying new pens and folders. Waking up the kids at 5 am instead of noon. Establishing after-school routines that will end all homework stresses. Throwing those out after day one, when you learn your son had a book project he was supposed to complete over the summer but hasn’t started.

But my favorite tradition is the “First Day Packet.” Maybe it’s called something else in your town, but I guarantee, if you’re child attends a public school, you will receive the large envelope of forms that are so vital, they must be completed before your child will be assigned a locker or even allowed in the cafeteria.

There are the basics – immunization records, emergency contacts, the fifty-page district policy book that you’re required to read and sign, acknowledging you’ve done so. Right.

And then there are the guilt forms. The ones that…

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Date Night – Then and Now

file2731266152771On August 15, 1991, my husband and I went on our first date. This August, we’ll celebrate twenty-one years of marriage. What can I say? The guy took me on some great dates.

He still does, but not nearly as often. And it’s not like he’s dropped the ball. It’s just the reality of time, finances, and kids. So when the opportunity arises, he pulls out the big dogs. But our outings these days are different than those of yore.

Remember how it used to be? Two days before, I’d have planned the outfit. I mean everything – from the jewelry to my pedicure. These days, I think about what I have that will go with shoes that are sexy, yet comfortable. Yeah, it’s a limited choice. The night of, when I’m already an hour behind in my planned beauty prep, I discover nothing fits. This results in me calling off the whole night because, “I’m too gross to go out in public!” Thankfully, my husband, who’s still a charmer, can talk me down from the ledge.

In the old days, we were eager to learn everything about one another. file9221246822250Nothing the man said was boring. Now, over our first cocktail, we’re usually deciding on the appropriate punishment for the latest stunt our kids have pulled. (For you good parents, that would be consequence.) Once we’ve taken care of business, parent roles are pushed aside, and we talk about ourselves. Granted, we don’t always hang on the other’s every word, but on a good date (with a good bottle of wine), we laugh and enjoy one another sans all the junk that can clutter most days.

Back then, when it was time to head home, he’d open my car door and make sure I was comfortable before he shut it. As he headed to his side, I’d adjust my outfit to display my bod to its best advantage. I’d check my compact, looking for any debris in the teeth or nose, and as he opened his door, I’d toss my hair, trying to pull off fun, when in fact, I was going for a quick fluff. Then I was ready. Ready for that kiss that I knew would curl my toes.

But we’re married now. Intimacy has been established. There’s no wondering how our evening will end. On our last date, after he let me in the car (yes, he’s still a gentleman), I rushed to kick off my heels and yank off my Spanx shorts. By the time he got in the car, I’d reclined my seat and planted my feet on the dashboard.

He cocked his head and gave me a sexy smile. “You know we’re in a public parking garage.”

“I don’t care,” I answered, letting out a deep breath. “I’m freakin’ bloated.”

My husband patted my knee and said the words that prove he’s a hero: “I’ll stop and get some Gas X.”

God, I love that man.

Rose photo by mxruben. Cocktail photo by imelenchon.

Men Don’t Poop

And Other Reasons I Love the Bathroom in Romance

toilet paperRecently, I discovered Jodi Ellen Malpas’ This Man, the first in her This Man Trilogy. Talk about your sexy, tortured, control-freak, alpha hero. Love it! (In fiction, not reality.) The book consumed most of my day. So much so, that I was greatly perturbed when I had to set it aside for the bothersome task of making dinner. (I’ve yet to sway the family to the wonder of Grape Nuts.)

As I was driving to pick up the pizza, my mind could only focus on the story. That’s when a thought occurred to me. Even though the hero, Jesse Ward, lives in a multi-million dollar penthouse, many of the story’s significant scenes take place in his luxurious, master bathroom.

Perhaps this sounds unappealing. But oh, no. You see, the bathroom is one of the most romantic settings in this genre. Authors take this necessary room and create a fairy tale castle that makes a Poconos, heart-shaped Jacuzzi feel like a prison shower.

How can this be? Let’s take a look:

EXHIBIT A – The Toilet. Men don’t poop. Neither do women for that matter. There’s never a pile of Time magazines and Cabela’s catalogues stacked nearby. You never have a character shout out, “Courtesy flush!” Even numero uno is only referred to occasionally, and that’s in the terms of “freshening up.” The grossest thing that happens here is when the woman vomits. But this serves as a perfect opportunity for the hero to show he’s a caring soul. He holds her hair, gets her a cold rag, and no matter how bad it is, he never gags.

EXHIBIT B – The Tub. This tranquil feature is often the spot for gentle love. The hero Bubble Bathpours the heroine a warm, bubble bath after she’s had a stressful day or even a night of strenuous “dancing.” He may be a cold-hearted gazillionaire, but he’ll get in and wash her hair as a way to show his feelings. Note, during this loving exchange, the couple never looks over to find mold on the grout. They never fight over who’s going to be stuck on the faucet side.

EXHIBIT C – The Shower. Ah, the hot, steamy shower. The place of many hot, steamy love scenes. Yes, you may see the gentle bathing of one another, but usually, it’s just good, old “dancing.” There’s plenty of room to try all sorts of moves. Probably because there aren’t fifteen, almost-empty, shampoo bottles covered in soap scum littered across the floor. Words and moans of passion are thrown out, but you never hear, “Quit hogging the water! I’ve got soap in my eyes.”

EXHIBIT D – The Sink. This simple fixture can be used for all sorts of romance – sweet or sexy. A talented author can take something as simple as a couple brushing their teeth and make your heart melt. Then again, they’re never looking into a mirror covered with toothpaste splatters.

This makes me reconsider our bathroom. Tonight, I’ll scrub out our big tub, surround it with all kinds of candles, and create a playlist of romantic classics. As the tub fills with a scented bubble bath, I’ll put on my sexiest robe and go down to find my husband. I’ll wrap my arms around his neck and whisper in his ear, “Honey, will you take the kids to a movie so I can relax and read my new book?”

Toilet Paper Photo by Wax115. Bubble Bath Photo by JDurham