Category Archives: funny things

A Doctor Who Listens

I read a post yesterday written by a pathologist who was recounting his most alarming discovery ever. He told of a woman who went to many doctors over many years, complaining of a bloated, painful abdomen. The doctors seem all to have focused on the word “complaining” and dismissed her as mistaken, not that sick, or a “hypochondriac,” which is another way of calling her crazy. (Which happens disproportionately to women and to fat people, I believe.)

When the pathologist performed the autopsy, however, the found that the woman’s entire abdomen was virtually destroyed by endometriosis, a not uncommon “complaint” among women and one that can be detected by a simple test and then treated. It certainly need not expand to the point of death.

Fortunately, I have a doctor who listens to me. Two weeks ago, when I had an appointment with him, I started the conversation with, “I know you’re going to tell me that I’m just getting old and have to live with it.”

“You’re not getting old,” he replied. “You’re getting older.”

“But I think I’m getting older faster than I ought to,” I said. “Other people my age don’t have all these problems.” He asked me to tell him my symptoms.

“My arms and legs are weak. You know I fall sometimes. Well, sometimes I can get back up, but sometimes I can’t. My husband calls me three times a day from work to make sure I’m not on the floor with my head bashed in. If I don’t answer the phone, sometimes he rushes home from work just to see if I’m all right. I love it that he cares that much, but I wish he didn’t have to do it.

“I use a cane to walk – not around the house, but whenever I go out. Can I get a handicapped sticker for the car? My back hurts a lot, too. In addition, my knees hurt all the time. In fact, if there weren’t a vanity there to lever myself up, I most likely couldn’t get off the toilet.” (Damn it, I should have led with this. Doctor: Why are we seeing you today? Me: I can’t get off the toilet. Imaginary doctor: Then how did you get here? But I digress. )

“And my hair is thinning. I look like an old granny-woman. And I always feel cold.” He listened patiently, even to the part about the thinning hair.

“I’d like a bone scan to see if my osteopenia is getting worse, and I know I should get a colon test too,” I said. “Make it one of the poop-in-the-box kind. Colonoscopy prep is the sickest I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

“You need a mammogram, too,” he commented. Then he put me in touch with scheduling for all the tests and had my blood collected. He even gave me a prescription for the handicapped sticker. (And the nurse gave me a cool bandaid for the needle-stick, after I requested it. I guess not all of me is old.)

All the blood test came back with fine results, I thought. Then the doctor said something I hadn’t expected. “I’m going to double your thyroid medication.”

Of course, I Googled the Mayo Clinic website, which I consider pretty darn trustworthy. I was shocked to find all my symptoms listed there – muscle weakness, joint pain, sensitivity to cold. Plus fatigue, weight gain (which I had also mentioned), thinning hair, and depression. Check, check, check, check, check, check, check.

The Mayo clinic also noted that many people attributed all the symptoms to age. Mega-check.

I’m so glad that I have a doctor who listened to my “complaints” and didn’t fob me off with some lame-ass excuse. I’ve been taking the jacked-up thyroid med for a bit over a week now. I can’t swear that it’s having the effects I hope for, but I like to think there’s a little more pep in my step and that getting off the toilet is no longer the obstacle it was.

My husband still calls three times a day, but it’s my hope that, before long, he won’t have to.

Train-Wreck TV

Two trains collided head on

It’s pretty common knowledge that I get depressed from time to time. (Just read my other blog, Bipolar Me, if you don’t believe me.) But there’s one thing I’ve found that I, well, not enjoy, but am drawn to when depressed, and that is what I call train-wreck TV.

What do I mean by that? To me, train-wreck TV is a reminder that there are people whose lives suck worse than mine does. I don’t mean shows like Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, or Mama June: Not to Hot. Those I dismiss as being the let’s-all-make-fun-of -the-hillbillies genre. Being from Kentucky myself, I object to the idea that all Southerners are stupid (or inbred, or racist, or other stereotypes). And just forget about shows like Seeking Sister Wife. I won’t watch that until there’s Seeking Brother Husband.

No, what I like are shows best described as People Behaving Badly. The last time I had a real bout of depression, I watched shows like Supernanny and even Wife Swap. The lives depicted there were worse than mine because at least I didn’t have screaming, disobedient children or a controlling or clueless spouse.

But this time around, I’m drawn to competition and “reality” shows, which have lots of People Behaving Badly.

I can’t really get my jolt of “Man, these people are really messed up” from the competition shows I normally watch. The contestants on Food Network competitions may get worked up enough to say, “I think the judges made the wrong decision,” but that’s not really behaving all that badly, merely having a snit. And the Forged in Fire people, even when they lose, generally talk about how much they’ve learned and the friends they’ve made. For people who spend their time hammering things, they’re remarkably personable.

I also haven’t been drawn to Gordon Ramsey cooking shows. Although he definitely behaves badly, I don’t really care to see people being degraded and abused. I feel too much sympathy for his aspiring-chef victims to truly enjoy his rants. Admittedly, their lives do suck worse than mine. At least I don’t have an obnoxious bully screaming at me when I’m trying to make my bologna sandwich for lunch.

Lately, the shows I’ve been drawn to are Bar Rescue and Inkmaster.

Bar Rescue is a lot like Restaurant Impossible, except with more yelling. A bar business is failing and host Jon Taffer shows up to straighten them out and make the place a success again. But unlike Robert Irvine, who does basically the same sort of thing for restaurants, Taffer shouts a lot and tells people to their face that they’re failures or losers or drunks or thieves or lazy or assholes (he doesn’t spare the swearing) or generally rotten people who shouldn’t be trusted with a lemonade stand, let alone a business like a bar.

And indeed, he is right. The bars they have featured have included one where a horse was allowed into the bar (it shat on the floor) and another where a porn video was shot in the bar while it was open to customers. Next to these, the over-pouring bartenders, demented relatives, and absentee owners seem like mere pikers.

Taffer straightens them out with what could be called tough love – a lot tougher than the family therapy that Irvine offers, though often with the same results. Then he remakes and rebrands the bar, which doesn’t always stick. Some of the clueless owners go back to their old ways, names, and decors, including a pirate bar in a corporate business district. (It might have done fine in Key West.) In one memorable instance, Taffer even helped an owner close down and sell the bar.

Inkmaster is altogether different. It’s a competition show where contestants vie to win $100,000 plus other goodies for doing tattoos. The lives-suck-worse-than-mine element comes in the behavior of the contestants. There’s a lot of X-rated language (thoughtfully bleeped but still identifiable). But the real attraction is the infighting, feuds, psychological warfare, and blatant manipulative behavior of the potential celebrity tattooists. Pronouncements like “I eat the weak” are mild.

The people who receive the tattoos (called “canvases”) are no prize either. They bicker with the tattooists over what their tat should be. They bitch about the results. They make impossible demands. (One canvas wanted a tattoo of a phoenix shooting fire out of her vagina. (The canvas’s vagina. I don’t know if phoenixes have vaginas. The judges’ critique was that the phoenix was poorly drawn.) Their lives suck worse than mine because they have to live with these creations for the rest of their lives, unless they are on a “cover-up” episode, which still doesn’t ensure good results.

I must admit that this show appeals to me because I also have some tasteful tattoos of marks of punctuation, and narrowly avoided getting semicolons where there should have been periods. Not that compares with a bad phoenix-and-fire vagina tattoo.

I suppose that by the time I hit another major depressive episode, there will be plenty of other, newer train-wreck TV to watch. It seems that there’s no end to people behaving badly or people whose lives suck worse than mine. Thank goodness.

Say What?

athalete Sh! Cherokees!

When I was a college student (approximately 100 years ago), I was an English major who also dabbled in linguistics. I can’t say that my liberal arts education left me with many skills that led to high-paying, prestigious jobs, though I never ended up flipping burgers. (I was a cashier in a restaurant, but that was while working my way through school).

But my education has left me with a few things that I treasure: a compulsion to read, a desire to write, skills for editing, and a nearly uncontrollable desire to correct people. I gave up on being a Grammar Nazi a while back, because I sensed it wasn’t conducive to making friends, and a lot of the old “rules” (like not splitting infinitives) make no sense anymore.

What I haven’t been able to shake, though, is a cringe when someone mispronounces a word. Ath-a-lete. Nuc-yul-ar. Foil-age. I’ve corrected my husband on that one so many times, when he’s reading seed catalogues to me, that I swear by now he’s doing it on purpose.

Once I even called up a radio station because the news announcer said Bo-GOH-ta instead of BO-ga-ta. Aside from my husband, though, I’ve given up correcting people’s pronunciation unless they ask me to.

(This actually does happen. A former boss of mine was talking about an article he read and was talking about a sarcophagus. He must have seen me wince, though I tried not to show it. “Is that how you pronounce it?” he asked, and I then enlightened him. (This incident indicates not ignorance on his part, but the fact that he had only ever seen the word written and was guessing at the pronunciation. But I digress.))

One of the common words that still makes me cringe is how people pronounce “chipotle.” Almost invariably, they say chi-pol-tay instead of chi-poat-lay. This is actually an understandable mistake, as there are few words in English that include the sounds tl together in that order. To get it, you have to smash two words together, like “hot links.” That’s easy enough to pronounce, but when the combo shows up in the middle of a single word it seems baffling.

I also dabbled in Russian in college. Among the peculiarities of the Russian language – and there are many, including the Cyrillic alphabet – is that there are letters that stand for more than one sound at a time. It’s like in English, where the letter z can stand for regular z (as in zip) or zh (as in azure). But Russian carries it to the extreme. They have one letter that stands for the sound ch, and another one for sh, and yet another one for zh.

But they don’t stop at that. There is even a Cyrillic letter that stands for four different letters in English: shch. (It looks kind of like a small w with a tail on the end.) The letter is useful (for Russians, anyway), as it occurs in the word for cabbage soup and the name of the Soviet Union’s former head, Nikita Krushchev.

When my Russian instructor was trying to teach us this sound, he had us repeat the phrase “fresh cheese.” That was about the only place in English where the sounds occur together naturally. (You can think of others, like “fish chips” or “harsh chimps,” of course, but those are harder to remember.)

One day I was explaining this to my husband, rather pedantically, I expect, and I said that there were no English words that had the shch sound at the beginning of a word or a phrase. He looked pensive for a moment, then got a smile.

“Sh! Cherokees!” he said. I surrendered. I was defeated. By a man who still says “foilage.”

Bacon, Eggs, and Salt

Once upon a time, bacon, eggs, and salt were thought to be bad for a person’s health. Now they’re all the rage in cooking. They come in all sizes and shapes and colors, and they go with everything from hash to steak to pizza.

Bacon, I think we all agree, is bad for us, but we love it anyway, and any way. And there are so many kinds of bacon to love, in addition to the regular kind that Mom used to make for breakfast. There is thick-cut bacon, slab bacon, turkey bacon, and varieties that sound like bacon but aren’t (Canadian bacon, which is really ham, and pork belly, which is bacon on steroids). Then there are the foreign kinds like pancetta and guanciale, which may not technically be bacon as they come from different parts of the pig, but serve much the same purpose in many recipes.

So, what do you do with your bacon? Make a sandwich of it (with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, please, on whole-wheat toast). Put it on a different sandwich such as a hamburger. Put it on pizza. Make it into jam. Candy it (or if you have Canadian bacon, pour maple syrup on it). Put it on a salad. Put it in an omelet. Drape an egg lovingly atop the crispy (not flabby, please) strips. Or go full Elvis and serve your bacon with peanut butter and bananas, on fried white bread.

There’s been some debate about eggs. For a long time, everyone ate as many as they wanted. Then suddenly they were bad for you. Then, no they weren’t. You didn’t have to avoid eggs anymore. What happened? Did the egg change? Did the human body change? No, apparently some dietary health commission somewhere changed.

Now the debate is how to use the egg, and the answer is as a sauce. No, not in a sauce, as the sauce. This is why you now see hamburgers and all manner of other sandwiches served with a fried egg – mostly sunny side up, but occasionally over easy – resting just under the top bun.

But, wait! (I hear you cry.) The minute you bite the sandwich, the egg will explode and run everywhere! Well, yes, that’s the idea. The egg yolk is the new ketchup or mayo for a burger. Voilà! It has become the sauce. Now you can use words like “unctuous” to describe it, if you want to be taken for a foodie.

Perfectly poached eggs (meaning runny) are used in this way too, or to top steaks, hash, stew, shakshuka, etc. Apparently, if they are sufficiently runny, they improve anything they touch. There is some debate on sunny-side-up eggs. Should they be served au naturel? Or cut out with little round cutters so that they fit more attractively on a biscuit (or whatever)? Personally, I don’t have an opinion, as long as the egg is cooked long enough that the white doesn’t look like snot. That’s ick, not unctuous.

“Farm-fresh” eggs are preferred if you want to get culinary. There are also quail eggs, if you want to get dainty, and emu eggs, which are dark teal and look like they’re going to hatch a dinosaur. “Scotch eggs” are soft-boiled eggs with sausage wrapped all around them and deep-fried. There’s some sort of trick to keeping the yolk unctuous and the sausage crisp, but I don’t know what it is.

And salt? I think we all know by now that salt intake is related to high blood pressure, which is a Bad Thing. But the problem with salt generally only comes up when you eat already-prepared foods like potato chips or cans of soup. Those are loaded with salt. Some ingredients, like cheese, also contain salt, but I think we can all agree that every food should come with too much cheese on it. If you avoid processed foods that contain salt, there is really no need to fear. No one adds enough salt to unprocessed food to be dangerous. Or at least we hope not.

There are, perhaps surprisingly, a number of different kinds of salt to experiment with. In addition to good ol’ table salt, there are salt substitutes (which taste metallic because guess what? There’s potassium in it); kosher salt, sea salt, finishing salt, flake salt, THC salt (in CA anyway), and even Himalayan pink salt. (I own a lamp made of a giant pink Himalayan salt nodule with a light inside. No, I don’t lick it. I will, however, lick salted caramel, enthusiastically. But I digress.)

If you watch as much foodie TV as I do, you quickly learn that when someone says, “Needs seasoning,” they mean, “Needs salt.” Seems everyone puts in enough pepper. And they never mean rosemary or chervil or cumin or garlic, which are also seasonings. No, they mean salt.

My husband used to be of the “Never put salt on anything” school of thought. Every night when he cooked dinner and asked how I liked it, I would invariably reply, “Needs salt.” He at last grudgingly admitted that some things, like mashed potatoes, really do need salt to taste the way they should. But usually, he uses Mrs. Dash as he tries to wean me off salt. It doesn’t always work. Some dishes just need seasoning.

To Do Or Not To Do

Most of you are likely familiar with the game “Never Have I Ever.” Versions of it have been floating around Facebook, with certain categories highlighted (Score 1 point for everything you haven’t eaten/farm activities you’ve never done/dodgy things you’ve never engaged in, et endless cetera.) Most of them only require that you report your number of points, but many people respond with which things they have/haven’t done, and often why.

I never play those games except mentally, but I am somehow intrigued by them. So, since no one asked, here are my answers to some of these categories and activities, plus a few things I’d like to do but just haven’t yet.

Food. I’ve eaten a lot of “gross” foods in my life, including sushi, snails, octopus, and curried goat, which tasted like curried pot roast. Other things I have eaten but regretted, including liver and onions, olives, and Pop-Tarts.

My mother tried to make me eat liver, but stopped when I literally gagged on it. I think it was a texture thing, not the flavor. Olives make my feet swell, probably because of the salt content. The very smell of Pop-Tarts make me wheeze. I have no idea why, but there you have it.

I have been expanding my dining repertoire. I still don’t really like onions, but I’ve found I can tolerate them if they’re almost invisible – finely diced and in something like spaghetti sauce, where they’re cooked through and not the main ingredient. And onion soup, for some reason (I think it’s the cheese). A slab of onion on a burger, though, makes me cry, even if I didn’t cut it myself.

Some seafoods I’ve been trying to acclimate myself to, through a process called fried, soup, sauce. That’s how I addressed clams, for instance – first fried clam strips, then clam chowder, then clams with bean sauce. I haven’t yet tried the theory out on oysters, but I intend to. I don’t know if I’ll make it all the way to raw oysters, but I’m betting I can make it from fried to oyster stew.

I’ve drunk any number of dubious beverages, the most dubious of which was called Swamp Water – one part green chartreuse and six parts pineapple juice. If you want to know why it’s called Swamp Water, mix yourself up a batch. It you want to know why it’s dubious, drink some green chartreuse straight.

There are also beverages I’ve never tried, but intend to. Not every new variety of candy-ass girlie drinks that bars and restaurants are always inventing. No I want to try a martini (with a twist – see olives and onions, above). And I want to try absinthe, but it’s way expensive, especially if you get the peculiar silver spoon that you’re supposed to use to melt a sugar cube into it. Maybe someone will give me some for my birthday or Christmas.

Activities. Dodgy or dangerous category: Yes, I have skipped school, whenever my father wanted to take a three-day weekend with his relatives in Kentucky. He’d write a note, but it was still counted as an unexcused absence. Yes, I’ve ridden a motorcycle, though only as a passenger. (I wanted a motorcycle of my own, but had a fear that as soon as I got one, I would get pregnant and be unable to ride. But I digress.)

Farm activities category: Yes, I’ve milked a cow and a goat. Surprisingly, the cow is easier. More to hold onto. I also rode a mule. I advise against this, at least bareback, because mules have the boniest spines this side of a stegosaurus. I’ve used an outhouse, despite the fact that I’m terrified of bees. I’ve also peed outdoors while camping or hiking. (I know, TMI.)

Amusement park category: I have a rule about amusement parks: I will not ride anything that turns you upside down or the floor drops out from under you. Yes, I know the physics of why it’s perfectly safe. I’m afraid I might throw up, likely on someone below me. (For years my mother wouldn’t let me ride Ferris Wheels on the theory that I’d get a nosebleed. This despite the fact that every nosebleed I ever had occurred when I was in my bed, at ground level. But I digress. Again.)

My friends got me to ride the Tower of Terror at DisneyWorld by A) telling me that the floor doesn’t actually drop; it’s pulled down by a cable, so no free fall, and B) they instilled in me the mantra “Disney isn’t going to kill me. They want me to spend more money.”

I’m sure that there are lots of other things that I haven’t tried, but should; things I haven’t tried, but won’t; things I’ve done once but will never do again; and, quite possibly, things I’ve never thought about that I will or won’t do. And I’m sure plenty of you have suggestions for those categories, or to do/not to do stories of your own. Feel free to share them here.

There’s a Redbud in My Shower!

I love plants and flowers. I really do. As long as they stay outdoors, where they belong, as nature intended. Or sit politely on windowsills, if indoors.

What I object to are plants and flowers that refuse to know their place.

I really shouldn’t blame the botanical specimens for this. What I object to is my husband putting them where they don’t belong. My husband brings home rescue plants.

(Both of us believe in adopting rescue animals. Adopt, don’t shop is our motto. We have adopted dogs and cats (mostly cats), all the way from Dumpster divers to pets that adopted us. But I digress.)

Dan gets these wayward plant specimens from work. No, he doesn’t work at a nursery, but a big box store. They do have a gardening section, though, and in it they have plants. And when the plants look the least bit discouraged or haven’t bloomed in a while, that’s when my husband swoops in and carries them off. Occasionally they make him pay a buck or two, but usually they were destined for the Dumpster (making Dan a Dumpster diver, too, I guess).

Sometimes the plants he brings home have little ceramic pots – often chipped or cracked. Other times, he brings home plants with tiny bare roots or ones with potting soil clinging to them. Fortunately, Dan has a robust collection of dark green plastic containers that he uses for the pot-less orphans.

It’s not the actual plants I object to. Dan has brought home some truly gorgeous ones – orchids and African violets and night-blooming jasmine and leafy green things that threaten to take over wherever they’re planted.

And unfortunately, where they’re planted is often the bathroom. When we had a regular tub, Dan used it as a potting table (or trough, really). He thereby acquired the chore of scrubbing out the tub.

Now, however, we have walk-in showers with lots of little ledges designed to hold soaps and shampoos and exfoliants and loofahs and such. They are instead filled – you guessed it – with plants, from the flourishing to the bedraggled to the defunct. (He claims he was experimenting to see whether plants would grow under the bathroom’s LED lighting. They won’t.) He waters them by the simple expedient of showering with them. (We have two walk-in showers, and so far the greenery hasn’t invaded the second one.)

They also show up in other places – in the sink or hanging from the towel bar, for instance. I swear I once almost wiped my ass with a philodendron leaf from a plant that was completely obscuring the toilet paper roll.

Nor has Dan stopped with taking over the shower and the windowsills. (I grudgingly allowed him to place one small, easily-cared-for plant on the windowsill in my study.) A number of his botanical friends seem to have taken root on the coffee table. Well, not taken root, actually, but you get the idea. This is his temporary repotting station. He claims he’s going to set up a real one in the basement. (I’ll believe it when I see it and I haven’t seen it yet.)

I shouldn’t complain too much about the rescue plants, I suppose. The seed catalogs have started to arrive and Dan will most assuredly negotiate his orders with me.

Can I spend $200?

Can you keep it down to $75?

$150?

$75 now and $25 more when we get paid again?

At least those will mostly be planted outside, unless he has to store them in the refrigerator till the ground unfreezes. Or unless they need potting in the aforementioned shower, sink, or living room. Then it’s time to offer up fervent prayers for no more freezes.

Freeze is also an issue in the fall, when Dan needs to bring in the potted plants that adorn the front stoop. I gather daily weather reports and hold the door open for him as he brings in banana trees and other large specimens, being vigilant about our rescue cat door-darter. (At least the foliage doesn’t have that bad habit.)

I must admit that the plants and flowers add a certain ambience to the house. Just not to the bathroom.

 

Dressing for Work

Of course, since I now work at home, I wear pajamas. Or maybe scrubs, as my latest pair of pjs looks like I could walk into any doctor’s office and riffle through their files. I wouldn’t be caught unless someone noticed that the cute sheep in hats and scarves were saying Baaa Humbug.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today. Once (or twice) I worked in a regular office where I wore regular clothes – skirts, blouses, sweaters, slacks. If I was lucky or awake that day, they even matched. I was also fond of drop-waist dresses. I had at least four, in solid colors and florals.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today either. Once I was assigned to interview a woman for a temporary job. She answered my questions shyly and monosyllabically. Desperate, I asked her a version of one of my go-to questions, “If you could dress up as anything at all for Halloween, what would you be, and why?”

(This was a version of a question I always swore I’d ask an official giving a press conference. Once I was able to ask my remedial English students to write a paragraph on the topic, and they all wanted to be birds of prey or cats of prey. Once I asked Jenny Lawson this question and she said “a tapeworm,” because she wouldn’t have to walk around and people would feed her, which I guess shows you how her mind works. But I digress. Again.)

Back to the drab woman I was interviewing. When I asked her my Halloween costume question, she instantly lit up. “Oh, Cinderella,” she said with sparkling eyes. “The ball gown and the shoes and the carriage and the whole thing.” She waxed rhapsodic for several minutes. She didn’t get the job, but I learned that it’s sometimes the goofy question that can unlock a person’s personality.

Our office did dress up for Halloween, though. One memorable year, the accounting department wore white sweatsuits with black spots. Then they each put a newspaper outside their doors, colored part of it yellow with highlighter, and deposited a tootsie roll on each one. The 101 Dalmations cosplay was cute, if disgusting.

My costumes were a bit esoteric and usually no one “got them.” One year my mother had made me a floor-length nightgown in a camo pattern (my mother could be whimsical). I asked her to make a matching nightcap, powdered my hair, and went as Rambo’s Granny. No one guessed what I was. I had other notable non-successes. Once I dressed as a pirate and the office guessed I was a motorcycle mama.

One year they understood what I was, but all stepped away from me and didn’t make eye contact. I was “Indiana Jan,” complete with bullwhip. If anyone was brave enough to ask me about the bullwhip, I replied, “Oh, this old thing? We just had it around the house,” which did not detract a bit from my reputation for oddity.

Then, every Halloween, rain or shine, we had a march around the outside of the building, led by an employee who called herself the “Grand Poo-Pah.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it should have been “Grand Poo-Bah.” Those were the days!

Now, of course, I shun Halloween and all its trappings (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Yu). This year, if I answer the door at all, I’ll probably wear the Baaa Humbug scrubs.

 

Mysteries I Love and Hate

Cozy mysteries are a thing, and I do not like them. As all my friends know, I am a mystery lover – I’ve even written one, which is now making the rounds of agents.

But cozy mysteries have gone too far. These are the kinds of mysteries that take place in bed and breakfasts or bookstores, that have chefs or weather forecasters as their sleuths, and exhibit little to no blood, despite the crimes. They are called cozies, I suppose because you can cuddle up with a cup of tea and read them, safe in the knowledge that nothing really bad will happen.

And the titles! Most of them are puns – usually lame – based on whatever setting they have. I just can’t bring myself to read something called Chilled to the Cone (bakeshop), Premeditated Mortar (fixer-upper), Absence of Alice (garage sales), or The Malt in Our Stars (literary pub). The “detectives” are never real police officers, obviously. And most often the (supposed) humor and (artificial) quaintness fall flat.

I must admit to reading several cozy series many years ago. These were usually ones that had a setting I was interested in or characters that were well-rounded and well-drawn, or contained cats (sometimes as the sleuth). Susan Wittig Albert did a series based on an herbalist. Diane Mott Davidson did a cooking series, complete with recipes that I never tried. There was a series, the Amanda Pepper mysteries, that was set in a Philadelphia prep school, and the Kate Fansler series, set in the English Department of a college.

One that I used to read devotedly, but finally gave up on in disgust, was Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who mysteries starring retired newspaperman Jim Qwilleran and his two cats, Koko and Yum Yum. (I also like Mikado references.) The first three came out in the 60s, but there was an extensive hiatus until 1987, when the series reappeared and continued yearly until 2008, with The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers. I gave up in 1991, with The Cat Who Moved a Mountain, a dreary, supposedly amusing book set in the Potato Mountains, concerning a conflict between two clans known as the Spuds and the Taters. It was just too cozy for words.

Some writers are able to switch gears and write both cozies and grittier novels. Linda Barnes, for example, started with the Michael Spraggue mysteries set backstage at a theater but switched to the much more robust Carlotta Carlisle series when, as she said, Spraggue ran out of friends and relatives to be killed off. Carlisle, a former police officer, drives a cab in her off-hours but encounters plenty of hardened criminals and deaths. These I read whenever Barnes writes a new one.

The other cozy mysteries I read are the Mrs. Pollifax series by Dorothy Gilman. They are typical in that when you read them you know that nothing terrible will happen to any of the main or even subordinate characters (who are colorful, if unbelievable). The thing that attracts me about the Mrs. Pollifax books, other than the goofy premise that she is a grandmother who works for the CIA, is the extensive travelogues of wherever her handler sends her: Mexico, Albania, Turkey, China, Zambia, Hong Kong, etc. I find her novels soothing rather than irritating, the sort of thing I read when I’m stuck in bed with a really nasty flu.

Cozy mysteries no doubt have their place in the pantheon of mystery novels. They’re certainly popular, at least. But for the most part, I’ll take Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski over Reel Murder any day. I want believable plots; well-drawn, interesting characters; crimes that make you care what happens; and real danger. Give me early Robert Parker (before he started phoning them in) or John Sandford or Laura Lippman or even the original Nero Wolfe series, for when I want vintage mystery fiction.

Of course, I read other kinds of fiction (Gregory Maguire and Handmaid’s Tale come to mind), but mystery novels hold a special place in my to-be-read list. Let’s not mess up the genre with The Good, the Bad, and the Lemon Tart.

 

New Year’s Sweaters I Have Known

Christmas sweaters, both ugly and pretty, have come and gone for this year. But for me, sweaters are inevitably evocative of New Year’s. Let me explain.

Once upon a time, I worked in an office that didn’t go in for Christmas sweaters. The telemarketing department wore Christmas sweatshirts, mostly handcrafted. My department, fortunately, left the exercise to them. I’m not at my best with hot glue, sequins, and ribbon. Not to say I end up wearing the appliques, but let’s just say they adhere to something other than the sweatshirt.

Later, I did work in an office where Christmas sweaters were a Thing. (Ugly sweaters were not a Thing. Yet.) Everyone, it seemed had a closet- or drawer-full of festive holiday wear.

I had exactly one handed-down-from-a-friend Christmas vest. That was fine, as far as it went, but it didn’t go very far. Everyone else had complete wardrobes of Christmas sweaters, perhaps not one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas, but enough for the entire week before. I had a hard enough time fitting in with the work crowd, so I decided I would play the sweater game too.

Being frugal (that is to say cheap), I saw no point in paying good money for a sweater or multiple sweaters that I could wear only once a year. I had a dilemma. The answer soon came to me. I would shop on New Year’s Day, when the Christmas sweaters had all been put on the clearance sale table. I scooped up about five, including one I particularly liked. Instead of being red or green, it was dark blue, a night scene with Santa and his sleigh flying over rooftops and across the moon. I tucked them away in a drawer, anticipating how I would wow the office the next year.

Inevitably, and given my luck, I was let go before the next Christmas season. I went freelance, which meant that my usual work clothes were pajamas. My beautiful sweaters languished in a drawer and so did my snowflake and wrapped presents earrings (I picked up some of those too at the sales). One year I tried to be festive and dressed up for Christmas, but no one at the Chinese restaurant was impressed.

I did have one other adventure involving New Year’s sweaters. One year, some of my friends and I were determined to crash a fancy party in a local hotel. I did have a black sweater with gold and silver beading around the yoke. (I forget why. Maybe my friend, she of the Christmas vest, gave it to me.) At any rate, it was simple enough to buy some shiny gold fabric and ask my mother to sew it into a simple skirt. My friend had a similar outfit, and the guy accompanying us rented a tux, which I thought was overkill. But it was fun to stand next to him in my white faux fur coat and shed all over him.

We had it planned just right. We wandered into the hotel ballroom precisely at 11:30 p.m., when no one else was expected to arrive, and mingled. (We knew one of the band members and decided to claim we were with him if challenged.) Then we indulged in the open bar (this was many years ago, when I sometimes indulged in dodgy behavior) and I spent part of the evening necking with one of the waiters. (He was trying to convince me to take a hotel room. I declined.)

Afterward, we went to a nearby diner in our finery and sobered up on coffee and waffles. We tried to hold down our obnoxious glee, but I suspect we failed. 

This year for Christmas, my husband presented me with an assortment of sweaters – the kind meant to keep one warm. Not a sequin or reindeer in sight. He did also give me a pair of Christmas earrings (cats in stockings), which I made sure to wear when we went to the store to pick up a bottle of champagne for our New Year’s celebration. Maybe next year I can get him to dress up as a waiter.

Getting Into the Movies

While I admit it would be terrific if my mystery novel finds an agent, and then a publisher, and then becomes a wildly popular best-seller, and then gets made into a big Hollywood movie, that’s not what I’m here to write about today.

In one of the Facebook groups I belong to, someone posed the question, what thing in a movie is a deal-breaker for you? There were all kinds of answers. One of the most interesting was someone who said the “10% of your brainpower” film, in which one person suddenly gains the use of all 100% and acquires superpowers. (That whole thing about using only 10% of your brainpower is a crock anyway. Have you ever heard anyone say, “He was shot in the head, but fortunately the bullet only hit the 90% he wasn’t using”? But I digress.)

I had two and a half dealbreakers. The first one was any movie with Sylvester Stallone. At least Arnold Schwarzenegger seems to have a sense of humor about himself. 

Another thing that keeps me from being able to enter into a movie is when the POV (point of view) character is a pre-teen or teenage boy. This puts “A Christmas Story” out of the running, as well as “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.” I understand that both of those movies are wildly popular, but I just can’t get into them the way I can “All That Jazz,” “Contact,” or anything with Kris Kristofferson in it.

The half a deal-breaker was superhero movies or anything based on a comic book. It’s only half a deal-breaker because I have to admit that I like the Deadpool movies. But they’re sort of outside the typical superhero movie. Breaking the fourth wall much?

The other thing that keeps me “outside” a movie, I hate to admit, is my husband. He has a habit of leaning over to me and whispering softly in my ear, “I think I know how those space ships work,” or “Do you know a guy named Elliot?” or “I think I have a pimple on my back. Can you look?” There’s no coming back from a mood-killer like one of those.

I’ve been working on him, though, and I’ve almost convinced him that when I’m staring in rapture at the screen, eyes glazed over, barely breathing, is not the right time to tell or ask me anything other than “The theater (or livingroom) is on fire,” and then only if it really is.

Then he slips. I’m watching an engrossing DVD that I haven’t seen in years, and he sits down beside me and asks, “Did you hear what Trump just did?” And then looks offended when I shush him.

One time when he did get the hint was when we were watching the third “Lord of the Rings” movie in the theater, and when the ending came, I was curled up a ball in my seat, with tears cascading my face. Even if he did have a comment to make about what kinds of swords everyone had used or how much he liked the actress who played Galadriel (who, since he can’t remember the character’s name, he always refers to as “the elf witch,” which is not even close, but by now I know who he means), he restrained himself. 

And he does know not to talk to me when I’m watching a film I sing along with, like “The Mikado” or “Pirates of Penzance” or “The Wizard of Oz” or “Cabaret.”

So what are films I enter into? In addition to the aforementioned, “An American in Paris,” “The Three (and Four) Musketeers,” “The Goodbye Girl,” “The Big Chill,” and “The Commitments,” among others.

I’m sometimes tempted to wait until he’s watching  “My Favorite Year” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” and ask him “Who’s that guy playing Potter? What else have I seen him in?” But I don’t. Because I’m a good wife.