The Stories I Tell ~ from The Word Cellar

Stories. Anecdotes. A free round of words for everyone!

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I love stories. I'm the one at social functions with a dozen new anecdotes. But I worry about hogging the conversation. Sometimes I tell myself that I'll be quiet and let others do the talking. But no matter how hard I try, my stories insist on bursting out! Here I can let my stories (the classics that I tell again and again, as well as new ones that unfold along the way) run free. I'm a professional writer and editor, and sole proprietor of The Word Cellar. I write for a variety of publications and clients on everything from green buildings and nuclear reactors to entrepreneurship and the arts. If you need words written, edited, or enlivened, I can help. Contact me.


NaBloPoMo: All (Good) Things Must Come to an End

Oh the pressure.

This is the last day of the National Blog Posting Marathon Madness. (Would that be NaBloPoMaMa instead of NaBloPoMo?) I feel compelled to do something fabulous with this post, like dress it up in high heels, a little black dress, and maybe sweep its hair up into a Breakfast-at-Tiffany's-esque 'do.

Because really, aren't you all tired of hearing about my struggle to post every single day in November? I certainly am. As a reward, I'd like to write a post that astounds you, or makes you chuckle, or leaves you with a nice warm feeling in your tummy, like a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a nice glass of milk.

But it's Friday night and I have to get ready to go to this Rave in the warehouse down the street and I still have to find my glowstick. Okay, I'm really just waiting for my husband to come home so we can make popcorn on the stove and watch a movie. I'll leave you guessing as to what kind of movie it will be. Perhaps a quiet British film like "A Room with a View." Or maybe something more American, like "Live Free or Die Hard." Whichever it is will determine how I eat my popcorn, according to Eddie Izzard. Don't know him? Check him out:

[warning: strong language in this video]

And as Eddie once said at the end of a show, he likes to leave people feeling "ehhh." And so I leave you.

Not with a bang but a whimper.

(C'mon! It's not like I won't be back. Will you be back?)

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add to kirtsy | 8:04 PM | 2 comments


Haiku Cop-out

Up early today.
Email makes my eyes so tired.
Turn off computer!

For more haikus, head on over to Mommy Needs a Cocktail's NaBloPoMo page where it's been all haiku all month. Today's poem sums things up nicely:

Put me out of my misery Haiku

It's almost over.
NaBloPoMo killing me.
What was I thinking?

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add to kirtsy | 10:33 PM | 1 comments


The Practice of Choosing Well

If National Blog Posting Month has taught me anything, it's something I already knew: Being intentional can be very hard work.

I've recently made changes in my life so that I can live more fully, be more aware of who I am and what I want and pursue those things diligently. The weird thing is that sometimes it's hard to do the things we want to do, not because other commitments get in the way, but because we get in our own way.

How much time can I waste mindlessly surfing the Internet or watching bad TV instead of reading quality online content or watching a really good movie? How much crappy convenience food can I eat because I didn't take the time to go shopping or plan my meals, even though I love the grocery store and like to cook? How many books can I not read because I'm too busy looking through catalogues for stuff I don't need and won't buy? A lot, that's how much.

It's easy to forget what we like to do and how we want to spend our time. And when we remember, sometimes it's still easier to do the lame, lazy thing than to be intentional and focused. It should be easy to choose the things we love, but even that takes practice.

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add to kirtsy | 11:00 PM | 2 comments


Goodly Eats

I love food. I think it's one of God's greatest gifts to us. Unfortunately, it's also a source of constant frustration for me. I won't lament my weight issues here, but suffice it to say that I have more than one Thanksgiving turkey worth of extra meat to lose, accumulated over a lifetime of relative inactivity and some poor food choices along the way. (I'm working on that.)

But the great thing about food is that you HAVE to eat. I guess that can also be a source of frustration, since it's easy to make bad choices when you're faced with eating at least three times a day. But I choose to look at it as a joy. I like food and I get to eat! Every day! How great is that?

Fortunately, I also like to cook, which is a big part of creating a healthy lifestyle and making good food choices. I'm all about eating real food whenever possible. So today I share with you a few food blogs that I intend to check out in more detail, including one that is dedicated to cupcakes. (A girl's gotta have a few sweets, right? And homemade cupcakes are way better than store bought logs of trans fat!) I'd like to list a few more food blogs here, but Bloglines is currently down for maintenance, so I can't see my list of feeds. (Get it? Food feeds!)

  • Simply Recipes: Vast archive of recipes, tons of categories, and lovely food photography ~ a feast in itself!
  • Smitten Kitchen: More tempting photography, interesting recipes, and some fun commentary
  • Cupcake Bakeshope by Chokylit: Where else are you going to find a recipe for Adzuki Bean Paste Filled Chocolate Cupcakes with Matcha Green Tea Frosting? Seriously.

What are some of your fave food sites?

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add to kirtsy | 11:35 PM | 3 comments


Yoga: A blind date

Dear Yoga,

I'd heard about you for years. The way women – and even some men – go crazy for you, falling head over heels in love. They swear by your ability to make them feel young and sexy. I have to say, I was certainly intrigued. I even tried to get to know you through a few video tapes from a friend. Those tapes feel cheap now. Because just like sign language, knitting, and the Kama Sutra, you are definitely an enigma that one must experience in person.

Oh, the promises you make. They sound so delightful. "Follow me, and you will become bendy and strong," you say. "I will give you good posture, a lean body, and a peaceful mind."

I fell for your sweet-talk, you rascal, you! Oh, yes, Yoga, I'm calling you a rascal. On the surface you're all patchouli oil and soothing music with wooden flutes and chirping birds. But I've seen your real face tonight: a cold, cruel face, like that of a Drill Sergeant. This evening, on our very first date, you humiliated me, demanding that I hold poses I couldn't even attain. "Now look back at your thighs," cooed the instructor (your little slut). And I thought, "Look back at my thighs? I can't even find my thighs!"

I didn't expect you to be easy. I'd heard you make people work for it. But still, I didn't expect to sweat so damn much. I have Mr. Treadmill for that.

But you are a sly downward dog, Yoga. After 40 minutes of torture, you spoke to me in honeyed tones. You asked me to lie on my mat in the darkened room, just breathing. "Doesn't your body feel stretched and relaxed?" you asked. "Feel how the tension has left you. Let it all go, and invite in calm and peace. There, now. How do you feel?"

How do I feel, Yoga? How do I feel?!

I'll tell you after next week's class.

Until then, namaste.

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add to kirtsy | 11:50 PM | 2 comments


Thanksgiving Table Talk

Husband: I heard that Monday is National Toupee Forgiveness Day.

Me: How do you forgive a toupee?


Mom: So your brother finally told me that he got another tattoo. Did you know about this?

Me: Wow this stuffing is good! Can I have some more?


9-year-old to adult, while asking the adult quiz-game questions:

These quiz questions are for 10- and 11-year-olds. How old are you

Oh my gosh! What is with Europe? [after a question about geography]

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add to kirtsy | 10:09 PM | 0 comments


True Blue: My First Talent Show (6th 1st)

Way back in May, before anyone was thinking about the holidays, before farmer's markets sprouted up and gave us the joyful fruits of summer, even before I went on and on about that conference I went to in Chicago, a few of you participated in the First Official Readers' Poll and voted for the final installment in my mini-series of Firsts. As you may recall, there was a tie between my first night as a sorority girl and my first talent show. So now, without any further ado, (although I love ado, don't you?), I bring you: My First Talent Show!

I think the elementary school talent show started out as an idea in our classroom's suggestion box. Our teacher, who was in her early 20s, was pretty much the coolest adult I'd ever met. We were her first teaching job and she treated us like real people. For our school play, in which I played the role of the Forget-Me-Not Lady, she gave me one of her old prom gowns to wear. (I later wore it to a Halloween party and ruined it during the egg toss.) She once invited our whole class to her house for a cook-out. She lived just a few blocks from me, and didn't seem to mind if my best friend and I stopped by on the weekends or during the summer, even after we'd graduated from elementary school.

For the talent show, my best friend and I decided that we'd do a dance routine, set to Madonna's song, True Blue. We went to Claire's Accessories and bought one pair of electric-blue lace gloves, one glove for each of us. I can't picture the rest of our outfits, but I'm sure they matched and suspect they involved leggings.

I'd been tap dancing since the age of 4, but we decided to do a jazz/contemporary routine because it seemed more appropriate to our stature as cool fifth graders who ruled the school. We choreographed the whole song, pantomiming lines like "Your heart fits me like a glove," and "No-whoa more sadness, I kiss it goodbye!" and stealing bits of a routine that I saw in a jazz class at my dance studio. There may also have been some lip-syncing involved.

What happened next is foggy (as these things often are). I seem to recall that each student could only be in one act. And some adult in my life, not understanding the current popularity of lip-syncing, dance routines, may have mentioned that perhaps I'd have more success in the talent show by playing a song with my band friends. (More success? How do you define success in a school talent show? Were their prizes? Maybe a free book or a pack of pencils?) This is where it gets cloudy, because my best friend was also in the band. But I think I abandoned her. And somehow or other, a group of us budding band geeks formed our own mini-band for the talent show.

We held rehearsals at each other's houses, which I'm sure our parents just loved. When it was my turn to host practice, we moved the dining room table off to the side to create a studio space. I had my flute, Brian was there with his saxophone, and Tawnya had her trumpet. When our drummer showed up for practice, he forgot to bring his snare drum with him. I think my dad gave him a bucket and some spoons to use instead. Despite this, we were a well-oiled band machine.

Looking back, I can't remember what song we played, if we won a prize, or even what my best friend said when I backed out on our act. But I remember wishing I was up there with her as she twirled around to the hottest Pop music of our time. I even remember some of those sweet dance moves. Most of all, I remember this when I weigh two options or consider two paths: It's better to be true blue to your heart than to seek out the approval of others, even when they mean well or sound sensible.

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add to kirtsy | 9:13 PM | 1 comments


Pride Cometh Before the Shopping

I'm not overly keen on shopping. I'm even less keen on crowds. So I was more than happy to stay home today, doing a little bit of freelance work and a lot of housework. It was a nice day for nesting. Then I realized that today is Buy Nothing Day, a 24-hour moratorium on consumer spending. I thought, "Hey, no problem! I'm not even going to leave the house today!" I have to admit that I felt a little smug at my enlightened ways. I would not be a victim or proponent of over-consumption.

And then I found myself on Etsy, just looking at some of my favorite artists. The next thing I knew, my virtual shopping cart held a small Christmas gift I'd been meaning to buy, along with a few little things for myself. I didn't realize the irony until after I'd paid.

Oh well. At least I bought handmade stuff. That's worth something, right?

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add to kirtsy | 10:43 PM | 1 comments


Not as good as the original, but still fun

Are you stuffed to the gills with mashed potatoes, turkey/tofurkey/turducken, and pie? Sit back and enjoy some mindless fun at Qbesq. It's like this, but online. Now all I need is a virtual Lite Brite. Oh wait: there's one of those, too.

(link to Qbesq via Anna Pieka Valentine)

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add to kirtsy | 7:04 PM | 1 comments


The Ghost of Thanksgivings Past

Thanksgiving was the one holiday that my parents hosted and celebrated at our house every year. In its heyday, we'd borrow long folding tables and extra chairs from the church to accommodate up to 18 people.

Many of the guests were my great aunts and uncles. Sadly, most of them are gone now. This year, I'll celebrate with my parents and my husband, in the same dining room as those childhood feasts. But we'll fit around the small dining room table, with no need for extra chairs or handmade place cards. It's still a lovely holiday, but sometimes I miss the way it used to be.

Here's a tiny tribute to those relatives, and all their wonderfully eccentric ways...

Aunt Martha sometimes brought presents for us kids. She meant well, but didn't seem to have a clue about what kids liked. The one that stands out the most was the coloring book -- of botanical drawings. I can't remember what Aunt Martha used to wear, but I always think of her when I see gingham or green and white checked cloth.

Aunt Martha was married to Uncle Walt, who had one wooden leg, a crew cut, and glasses a bit like Drew Carey's. He didn't say much, and I can't remember ever having a conversation with him. He seemed so shy, which may be why he married Martha, who was anything but shy.

By the time I was in fifth grade, I was taller than my Aunt Mid. She reminded me of a sweet, plump country mouse. One year at Thanksgiving she didn't bring her signature apple cake and there was a big outcry. She said that no one ever seemed to eat much of it, so she thought we didn't like it. We explained that we all eat it the day after Thanksgiving, which was completely true. We all expected to have it with our leftovers. Her cake showed up every year after that.

Uncle Harry, brother to Walt and husband to Mid, was another quiet one. He always seemed like he was in on some sort of joke, making him quietly jolly. In his later years, he had a condition that made his head shake, like Parkinson's disease.

Grandpap looked a lot like his brother Walt, but definitely wasn't quiet like him. If he had an opinion on something, or just thought he might have an opinion on it, he'd let you know. At the Thanksgiving table, long after everyone else was winding down, Grandpap could be seen spooning a dab of this and a dollop more of that onto his plate. And then he'd say, "I don't know what's wrong with me. I just can't eat like I used to."

Uncle Ken, who married into the family, taught me that getting old didn't mean you had to be out of touch with modern society. He was a smart guy and something of a tinkerer, always making clocks or painting birdhouses or asking us kids something about computers. He also taught me #8 on this list.

Uncle Ken’s wife, Aunt Ann, is the only one of the bunch who is still living. She's always been a fashionable lady, with her hair done up just so and her clothes carefully chosen. She is soft and kind, and as bright as her husband was. Even into her 80s (90s?), she has a better social calendar than I do. I haven’t seen her in awhile. I think it’s time I gave her a call.

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add to kirtsy | 11:25 PM | 2 comments


Will Write for Prizes

If this is your first visit here, I suggest reading this and this. And maybe this. Because this post? Let's just be honest: It's not my best work.

Man, NaBloPoMo is really killing my street cred. You know, my street cred as a crazy-good writer-blogger. 'Coz I knows all-y'all come here for my mad writin' skillz! And here I am, about to post a cat video because it's late and I don't have time to write a good post. In any other month, I'd just not post on a day like this. But there are prizes involved in this National Blog Posting Month. Prizes, people! And to win, I have to post every stinkin' day. Besides, it's looking like I won't "win" NaNoWriMo by finishing my novel in the next 10 days. So I'm trying to save face by posting every day and sticking to NaBloPoMo.

...Actually, it's not about saving face at this point. It's about the prizes. If it were about saving face, I wouldn't be about to post not one, but two cat videos.

Wait! Don't go. The cats -- they are funny. They are worth it. Watch these videos in order to get the full effect. (They aren't duplicates.)

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add to kirtsy | 11:31 PM | 3 comments


We're Gonna Have Roast Rabbit!

Day 19. I'm stuck here on this NaBloPoMo island, surrounded by a sea of language. Words, words everywhere and not a drop to write. Sometimes I think I can see other blogs and even commenters from here, but then realize it's all just a mirage. I've started to dream of writing beautiful, long paragraphs, full of nuance and meaning. It's a sad shock when I wake up and find out that it wasn't real.

Our rations are running dangerously low. Words and punctuation are in such short supply that I think we're starting to hallucinate. Earlier today I looked at James and thought he was a big fat apostrophe. I told him this, trying to make light of our dire situation. But he's cranky and became indignant, saying, "If I was going to be anything, I'd be a semicolon!"

Yesterday we went into the forest to forage for verbs, but all we found were a few measly pronouns, hardly worth building a story around. Still, in our desperation, we tried. But it was all "he" and "she" and then "he" again, not making a bit of sense. I threw in a few verbs and adjectives from our dwindling supply, but that didn't make it much better: "pretty she coughed." We soon gave up in frustration. What I wouldn't give for a juicy noun-verb combo with a nice slice of descriptive commentary on the side.

James tells me to keep the faith, to just hold on, to keep hope alive. I tell him that if we needed cliches, those would be just fine. But we need interesting stories if we're going to last another 11 days in this God-forsaken wilderness. And to do that we're going to need more words. He promised me he'll try fishing again tomorrow, but I'm not holding my breath. The last time he went out, all he brought back were a few italics and hyperlinks. The links were good, but they're not substantial enough to keep us going. He swears he saw an essay swim by, but I told him: "Good luck hooking one of those!"

(Thank you to James for this idea!)

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add to kirtsy | 10:09 PM | 2 comments


The Persistence of Memory

Good photography was one of the priorities for our wedding, and I think we spent about double for the photographer than we did for my dress. We met with several people who claimed to understand what we were looking for, but none of them truly did. Then we met Melinda. She understood that we wanted a photo-journalistic approach, something more artsy than staged. As a result, we have two huge albums filled with honest and poignant shots of the day.

But one of my very favorite photos was taken by a guest with an average camera. It's blurred, overexposed, out-of-focus, and off-kilter. And I love it so much. It captures something that I have been trying to put into words for the last six years. I think it's what memories look like. It reminds me of a photo you'd find in an old attic, and then marvel at how these people -- alive years ago -- look so young. It looks like a photograph taken through glass, and reminds me of "Nightswimming" by R.E.M. It's somehow melancholy and comforting all at once.

I love photographs in general and want to know more about taking them. I want to learn how to take better photos, and I know that a minimum level of technical knowledge goes with that. (Even if, like this lovely lady, I just want to play.) I tend to have a general impatience for learning technical things, even though I'm proficient at them once I've pushed through my desire for instant gratification. I should probably learn how to use the settings on my digital camera, or even figure out what different types of film are and why they're used.

What I really want is to create photo-art that evokes emotion and meaning. So I'm thinking about buying a Diana or Holga camera. Are you familiar with either of these? From what I understand, the Holga is a newer version of the Diana, but they're made by different manufacturers. They're both cheap, poorly made, middle format (what is that?) cameras that let in light and distort pictures. They create some beautiful art effects like vignetting and blur.

The playfulness and surprise results of such a camera excite me. Part of the reason I love the image above is that it was a fluke. I guess I'm looking to create intentional flukes, as ironic as that seems.

Can anyone recommend which to get: the Diana or Holga? What else should I know about them? Homemade modifications to the cameras seem to be a big part of the sub-culture. Are they necessary to get interesting photos? Please share in the comments.

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add to kirtsy | 10:35 PM | 3 comments


The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs

I saw a flock of little brown birds today. There were hundreds them: flying, gliding, flapping, swirling, chirping, landing. The rose up in a choreographed flight from the bank in front of me, and then landed in two small fields separated by a road. I heard hundreds of birds peeping at once; hundreds and hundreds of wings beating the air as I walked a little closer and they took off, again in unison, swooping through an intricate pattern. When they flew, it was a graceful dance, each bird flapping in rhythm and then all at once skimming on unseen air currents, all at the same time. Flap-flap-flap-flap-gliiiiiiiiiiiiiide.

The group of birds in the field nearest me joined the group across the road, and then little batches of birds came flying in, trailing the larger mass that had arrived a minute or two earlier. Here were another ten; a dozen; three; solo birds in between these little groupings. All flying to catch up with the others.

And then from behind them all, a lone, larger bird, probably a hawk. I wondered if it was preying on the smaller birds (do hawks eat birds?); if this was the reason they seemed so unified and slightly agitated. (Or is that just the way of birds?) I heard the hawk let out a solitary squawk (although I think I imagined it), and then it banked right, flying high above and away from me and the birds.

I watched the hawk sail into the distance, strong, confident, fearless. The flock of small birds on the ground flapped and hopped, talking to each other, crowded close together.

And I could not decide which I'd rather be.

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add to kirtsy | 7:49 PM | 2 comments


New and Improved Stereotypes

As one-half of an interracial marriage, and as someone with an innate sense of justice and equality, I'm interested in how and why we develop and perpetuate stereotypes. Well, here's a website full of "new and improved stereotypes to teach your kids." And might I just say, they got these so right...

    • Black People Can Extinguish A Fire Just by Dissing It (During the great Chicago fire of 1871, it took nearly 100 men implying the inferno's mother was promiscuous to smother the blaze.)
    • White People Secretly Know How to Breathe Underwater (But they won't teach anyone else.)

There's a new and improved stereotype for everyone: the Irish, Germans, Belgians, Jews, Asian men, New Yorkers, and left-handed people, just to name a few. Go have a laugh.

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add to kirtsy | 10:02 PM | 2 comments


Paranoia Cha-Cha-Cha

While some people pretended to be the aliens from V, I feared them. And I feared that everyone around me, including my parents, would simultaneously reveal themselves to be lizard-like creatures masquerading as humans. And that I would be the only human left in the world, or at least in my neighborhood.

I lie in bed at night, imagining this bone-chilling scenario. I planned my escape, visualizing my emergency evacuation route. I'd slip out of bed and creep to the door of my bedroom. If it was late enough and my reptilian parents were asleep in the room across the hall, I would stealthily sneak past the door and flee toward the front of our ranch house. But if it was still early, which was when I usually had this frightening fantasy, I'd have to be more careful. In order to get out of the house, I'd have to be either very fast or very quiet.

The living room, where my parents were watching TV and pretending to be normal human beings, was adjacent to both the kitchen and dining room -- the only two rooms with doors leading directly to the outside world. Could I run fast enough to evade their flicking lizard tongues and quick lizard legs? I doubted my speed.

The alternative was to sneak out of bed and open the cellar door, which was just outside of my bedroom. But the door was creaky. They would be sure to hear and catch me before I made it down the steep steps and out into the backyard! Besides, the door had a lock at the top, and I was too short to reach it.

So out the kitchen door it would have to be! I ran - nay! I flew! - down the hall, into the kitchen, out the door! Into the dark night! I crossed the alley next to our house and raced up the street! But where would I go? What would I do? In this scenario all adults were potential flesh-eating lizard aliens. I could trust no one. And being in just the third grade, my knowledge of the neighborhood was as limited as my resources. How would I survive in this hostile world?

Better to stay quietly in bed and pretend I didn't know the truth about their identities. Maybe then they'd let me live to go to middle school.

In the meantime, I made sure to sleep under the covers, no matter how hot it was. Even if it was just a thin bedsheet, I felt safer. Because otherwise, a monkey would lower himself down from the ceiling by his tail and stick a hypodermic needle in my bum cheek. (This one had nothing to do with lizard aliens. It was just one of my quirks.)

I don't think I'll be reading this book when it comes out in a few months.

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add to kirtsy | 8:55 PM | 1 comments


NaBloPoMo: Day 14

Oh my gosh. The writing. The writing. The writing. Every day with the writing. That's what I get for signing up for National Blog Posting Month and publicly declaring my intention to write a blog post every day. It's only Day 14 and I'm stumped, folks. I asked The Husband what I should write about today, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: What should I write about? What are some of the stories I always tell?

Hubs: Hm... How about the time you dressed your brother up like Baby New Year?

Me: That's a good one.* Maybe I'll save it for New Year's.

Hubs: Or how you used to put makeup on him.

Me: I didn't do that. He just says I did. least, I don't think I did.... I think he wanted to try some on.

Hubs: That goes a long way in explaining a lot of things.

Me: Didn't you ever want to try on makeup as a kid?

Hubs: No. Although, my mom did have this face cream that formed a mask and you could peel it off in one piece. I used to put it on my face so I could pretend I was one of those aliens on that TV show "V" and then peel my face off.

I didn't say it to him, but that goes a long way in explaining a lot of things, too.

*There's even a picture!

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add to kirtsy | 10:31 PM | 2 comments


Out of the Mouths of Babes (and Moms)

It's said that kids say the darndest things. Apparently, so do their parents. Check these out for a good laugh .

  • Rachelle at Magpie Girl reports on some good parent one-liners. There's a good one in the comments, too: “Nobody leaves this house without pants!”

  • Even funnier is what a very tired preschooler says over at Dooce. I can't say much more because it would ruin it, but trust me. It is funny. You will laugh.

    • The Boy is screaming "Darn it in the ass." I'm not exactly sure about that combination. Clearly whatever it was, he learned from his dad. (3:35pm November 01, 2007)

    • You never realize before you have kids that the words "stop putting stuff in the ukulele" could possibly come out of your mouth. (4:46pm October 29, 2007)

I know I've caught myself saying odd things to my cats, but none of them are coming to mind right now. Got any parent/kid/pet sayings that you want to share?

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add to kirtsy | 8:54 PM | 2 comments


Free Stuff! Free Stuff!

Do you like contests? Easy contests?

Then get ye over to today and everyday. There's a new giveaway each weekday. And entering is easy: just follow the simple directions in each post, which usually entail checking out that day's prize and then leaving a comment. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy! (as my British friend Claire used to say; whatever that lemon-squeezy part means.)

Recent prizes have included jewelry, custom stationery, and a calendar/planner designed specifically for busy moms. Oh, and you have until Wednesday to enter to win a Kodak Easyshare printer, so hurry up!

Every so often, the site hosts this GIANT bloggy giveaway carnival where you can enter to win stuff from hundreds of participating sites. Check out the last one to see how giant it really is. Then get ready for the next one, which is tentatively scheduled for January or February.

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add to kirtsy | 10:54 PM | 1 comments


Two of my faves: Kelly Rae and Suzi Blu

Continuing yesterday's art theme, today I'd like to introduce you to two mixed media artists that have caught my eye and tickled my fancy. These women inspire me to keep trying my hand at art, even if I feel silly or stupid or completely lost about what I'm doing.

begin today, kelly rae roberts

The first is Kelly Rae Roberts, whom I discovered via the ever-enlightening Jen Lemen when she did an interview with her back in May. (Go read it to find out how Kelly Rae transitioned from being a medical social worker to a working artist.) Then visit Kelly Rae's website, her blog, and most fantastically, her etsy boutique to browse and buy prints (or originals!) of her work. Her art is both soothing and empowering, at once joyous and melancholy. I haven't bought any of her pieces yet because I can't make up my mind which ones I want! But I must stop delaying because some of my favorites have been sold out. So if you see something that you fall in love with, snap it up! (But not before I do...)

Walking with Stars, by Suzi Blu

I stumbled upon the second artist just a few days ago. I think I found a link from another blog, but I'm sad to say that I forget which one. As her website states, Suzi Blu "is a mixed media artist who documents her life through vlogs on youtube and sells artwork on eBay." Her YouTube channel, Suzi Blu Tube, features shorter versions of the videos found on her site. Her videos combine art tutorials with fun inspirational messages that make you want to run out and be an artist, both on the page and in your daily life. Suzi Blu sells her original work on eBay and sells some prints in a CafePress shop. (I like the wall clock.) Of course, she also has a blog. Oh, and a cat named Pooh, which is a good reason to like her, I think.

What artists are inspiring you?

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add to kirtsy | 4:04 PM | 2 comments


Making Art: a beginning

Back in the middle of August, I wrote about the struggle to get my inner artist to come out and play. I was just about to embark on a little art project that felt huge to me. I'd signed up for a Postcard Swap hosted by Karen of Chookooloonks and was both excited and petrified. I wrote:

All I know is that I'm supposed to mail out 11 hand-made postcards in two weeks. And I don't want the recipients to be disappointed. As I fretted over this a few nights ago, a poem came to me, just a few lines long, but perfect and complete. I haven't written poetry in years and was surprised by its appearance. I'm taking it as a gift that I can use to anchor my vision for the postcard. At least I have a starting point now.
I may have had a starting point, but I was still tentative (read: terrified) about this project. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't manage to mail out my postcards until much later than the official mail date. But I'm proud that I overcame my fear, made 11 postcards, and sent all of them. In the end, I think I probably overthought it, as I too often do. I was so worried about what others would think, about whether or not my efforts would be good enough, that I squelched my creativity and paralyzed myself.

I made a few different designs, including one collage and a watercolor sunset, but I mostly stuck with the design that involved the poem I mentioned. This was the simplest of them all, and also my favorite. I'm sheepish about sharing it, especially given how simple it is. After so much handwringing and navel gazing, I feel like I should have something grander, more complicated, or more sophisticated to show for it.

The theme of the postcard swap was "Beginnings," which turned out to be perfect. I'm really just beginning to explore the idea of making visual art. I'm more of a words person. So it's fitting that I incorporated words as the central element of the postcard.

Now, without any more stalling, here are three versions that show the evolution of the same basic design. These scans don't do the color justice, but you get the idea.

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add to kirtsy | 11:11 PM | 1 comments


Bathroom Reading

James: I think I'm in love.

Me: You haven't seen Crate and Barrel before?

James: I've seen Crate and Barrel before, but never like this.

Me: ?

James: I'm on page 28 and I've found at least one thing on each page that I want!

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add to kirtsy | 5:47 PM | 1 comments


The naming of cats is a difficult matter

Warning: This post is about my cats. And a moose named Eli. And a Winnie the Pooh character. But mostly about my cats. If you are a cat hater, or are just looking for something more meaningful, I invite you to read my long-winded thoughts on building community and leave me a comment there. (But if you are a cat hater, you probably won't want to be part of my circle of friends anyway. In that case, I suggest you head on over to Dooce, a more appropriate blog for your dark and twisty ways.) For those of you who are staying, please note that Nikki's post over at Candybuttons inspired this post. We've both turned into crazy cat ladies against our will and both have fathers who insist on calling our pets the "grandcat."

When Gatwick first came to live with us, he was named George. James and I did not like the name George, nor did the cat look like a George. I don't know what the shelter workers were thinking, but I figure they see a lot of cats and probably run out of good names a few times a year. You have to cut them some slack.

So we set about naming the cat. We considered Avery and Chester, both respectable cat names, if our cat was a butler in a tuxedo. I tried to rally support for Lapsang Souchong, after the smokey-flavored tea, because "George" was a smokey grey color. But my husband wouldn't have it. (He pretended he couldn't say it, butchering it to "Lapsang Singsong" and other variations.) We finally decided on Gatwick because it seemed to suit him and it reminded me of England, one of my favorite grey things.

We named the second cat before we even decided to take her. But once James started referring to her by name instead of as "the kitten," I knew it was a done deal. My family likes to pretend that her name, Cheska, is short for Francesca, but it's not. Her full name is Cheska and she's named after an imaginary alligator.

Once upon a time, before James and I were married and before we had any pets, I had stuffed animals. James has the uncanny ability to imbue any inanimate object with a multi-faceted personality. He's made me laugh at the antics of a salt shaker and nearly cry because a pillow shaped like a fish wanted to come home with us. He applied this talent to my stuffed animals, specifically an orange moose named Eli and a pastel pink and green Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. (There were also two hedgehogs who regularly performed vaudevillian skits, but they're not part of this story.)

A side note on Eli: He was one of three sherbet-colored moose(s) that once lived at Target. He had a raspberry-mauve sister and a moss-green brother. I may have carried all three of them around the store, waiting for James to turn around and see me with an armload of moose(s) and offer to take them all home. He did, but I buckled under the pressure of responsible spending and settled on just one: the orange-creamsicle moose. (I've felt guilty about leaving his siblings behind ever since.)

Eli and Piglet became great friends, despite the weird moose-pig dynamic. Piglet had been lonely and was pleased to have a new friend, especially since he hadn't seen Pooh for awhile. (I think this was when Pooh got stuck in a doorway after too much of a little smackeral.) Piglet and Eli had lots to say and do, and all of it was funneled through the magical storytelling and puppetry of James.

That's how I found out about Lars and Cheska, a married couple with whom Piglet and Eli are friends. (I'm getting back to the cats. Hold your whiskers.) The husband Lars is a frog, and his wife Cheska is an alligator. Some people have wondered at the strange relationship and even feared for little Lars' life, but they're a lovely couple. And they loved to hang out with Piglet and Eli while I was gone at work during the day.

But then one day, Lars and Cheska moved to San Francisco. Piglet and Eli were sad, but perked up when they realized that they could go visit them. Neither one had been to California before, so it was extra exciting. They're still friends today, all these years later.

(You can see why we needed to have pets or children. We weren't ready for kids. So kits it was.)

And that's how we named our second cat after an imaginary alligator who is friends with our stuffed animals. It was all James' doing. The name fit perfectly and stuck with the little kitten. But of course, like all cats, ours go by many names. They even have their own theme songs:

Gatwick the Catwick, for all your Catwick needs! Gatwick the Catwick, he does what he pleases! Gatwick the Catwick! He's the greatest Catwick!

Hey Cheska! You're a little kitty! Hey Cheska! You're so pretty. Oh my little Cheska, yes you are my kitty, yeah! (sung to a bastardized chorus of "Mambo Italiano")

But back to those names:

Gatwick is also affectionately known as:

  • Gatarino
  • Gatarino Wam-bam-bino
  • Buddy
  • Big guy
  • Gatwickers
  • G-W
  • G-Dub
  • Bucko
Cheska is also affectionately known as:

  • Sweet Pea
  • Sweetie Peetie
  • Little one
  • Cheskanator
  • Cheskalator (This one has a song too: "Cheska now, Cheska later. Get on the Cheskalator!")
  • Cheska Sue
  • Chickie Cheska
  • Frisky Fresca
  • Chicklet
  • Francesca or Frannie (all by members of my family)

As far as I know, Gatwick and Cheska have never met Lars and Cheska.

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add to kirtsy | 5:39 PM | 5 comments

Wi-Fi Vibes

I am an emotional sponge. You're chipper and happy? Me too! Had a bad day and are throwing off a negative vibe? Then I'm in a foul mood, too. I know that it's normal to be impacted by the people around you. But my reaction often goes beyond the norm. I internalize others' emotions too fully and can get lost in them.

I also pick up accents and dialects without trying. I have to fight the urge to say "ya'll" with a drawl when talking to a Southerner, or sounding like Madonna when talking to the British with their "car parks" and "loos" and "tellies." I don't try to mimic them; it just happens. I try not to let it, for fear of sounding like I'm mocking the other person.

I don't know about the accent thing, but I think I've found a scientific reason for my extreme abilities as an empath: mirror neurons. These interesting creatures are thought to be at the root of human empathy and altruism. An article on Salon explains them this way:

Unlike other kinds of brain cells, such as motor neurons, which control muscles, mirror neurons fire both when a person is in action, and when he or she observes someone else engaged in the same action. Before the discovery of mirror neurons, cognitive scientists assumed that we gained access to the feelings of others by theorizing about them. Now we know that a direct experience is responsible for much of what we thought was computation, speculation, memory or inference.

There is speculation that autism may result from a breakdown or suppression of the mirror system, since people with autism are less empathic and have trouble reading the emotions of those around them. Functional MRIs show they have less mirror neuron activity, as well.

I'm wondering if I'm on the other end of the scale. Could my ability to pick up emotions like my bluetooth headset transmits my cellphone calls be a result of having highly active or an overabundance of mirror neurons?

I don't need a scientific explanation to know that I'm attuned to other people's moods. Whatever science proves, I know what is true about myself. Nonetheless, it's always interesting to connect the dots between the mind and the body.

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add to kirtsy | 12:19 AM | 0 comments


NaNoWriMo: 2,455 Words

I'm pleased to report that since leaving the 801 word mark, Anna has managed to do more than not get on and then get on a train. Currently, 1,645 words later, she has also avoided a scam artist, looked at a Christmas tree, and met a man named Ian, who apparently sells puppets and marionettes. Who knew? (I certainly didn't when I started this madness.) Things are really starting to pick up -- if you ignore the fact that I'm 7,547 words behind schedule.

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add to kirtsy | 11:38 PM | 0 comments


The Fringe

I navigated a diverse social landscape during college. There was my core group of friends, kind of like my home base, most of whom I met freshman year because we lived with or near each other. Proximity bred familiarity, which bred friendship. During my sophomore year, I bonded with a gal from a different neighborhood (so to speak) when our similar taste in guys (okay, one guy) bred competition, then frustration, and finally kinship.

I scaled a whole new mountain during my junior year when I joined a sorority. I probably wouldn't have hung out with most of my new "sisters" otherwise. In some cases, our social circles just wouldn't have crossed. In others, I don't think we would have given each other much of a chance. But the sorority acted as a link between us, allowing us to find other common ground.

And then there was the alternative crowd, also known around campus as the AlternaHerd. In the social landscape of college, they were my dream destination. These were the artsy, rebellious types, and they were easy to spot on a campus largely comprised of conservative Christians. I was an English major and was involved with theatre, so I knew some of them. And oh how I wanted to be part of that crowd. They oozed coolness. No, not oozed. It's more like coolness wafted into a room with them, like perfume. The girls were like French women: projecting a sense of beauty no matter what they really looked like. To me, they seemed so strong and self-assured. And the guys were gay, grungy, or dark and broody, all without apologies.

I became friends with one of those dark and broody boys, and he was my entrée into that world. I was secretly thrilled, but tried to act nonchalant. He invited me to a Bible study that some of the AlternaHerds were holding. (Yes, even some of these cool, gay, broody kids believed in God.) The Bible study was like no other I attended. (And I attended two others.) We read passages of Scripture as literature, exploring the poetry of the language, the nuances of word choice, the subtleties of what was and wasn't explicitly said. Sometimes our conversations sounded more like literary criticism class than Bible study. The tone was less moralistic and more spiritual. After Bible study we'd smoke clove cigarettes out on the patio. I felt like I was on the cusp of something that never materialized. Beyond broody boy, I made a few vague friendships in that foreign land, but nothing substantial.

A few years after graduation, I saw my broody friend at a concert. I don't remember why, but we talked about how I went to that Bible study for awhile but never really broke into the group. "Oh, yeah," he said. "You were a fringe person!"

I don't think he said this to hurt me, but I felt exposed and humiliated. He'd named my secret shame: I had been a fringe person. And he was absolutely right, at least regarding that social circle. I'd known it back in college and hated it. I was horrified to realize that someone else knew it, too.


I've always wanted to be different. I want people to think I'm unique, interesting, special. And yet I long to be accepted, to be part of a group. I may want to be on the fringe of what I consider the bland norm, but not on the fringe of the fringe.

I know I'm not the only one to wrestle with these opposing forces. At its heart, I think this paradox is driven by insecurity. As I've gotten older, my need to be viewed as different isn't so strong. I'm more rooted in -- and accepting of -- who I am and what I like. I'm learning to let it be enough to be myself, rather than striving to fit an image or ideal of "cool." Besides, I've met enough people to know that "cool" is in the eye of the beholder. I'm learning to use my own eyes as my mirror.

And still, I long to belong. I ache for community; a group of people who inspire, encourage, and support each other. Nine years out of college, my social landscape is still somewhat varied. It's also more geographically spread out. I have friends a few towns over and across the Atlantic. But as my college friends and I have changed from young 20-somethings to young 30-somethings, we haven't always grown in the same direction. The relationships seem to ebb and flow like an unpredictable tide. At times, despite these ties, I feel lost at sea.

I look around and wonder: Where is my tribe? Where are my people?

I haven't found them in my day-to-day life. Are they in my neighborhood? I live in a suburban sea where each house seems to be its own self-sufficient island, populated with people who belong to a different demographic than I do. I work from home, so my tribe is not at my office. (Is it a bad sign if I start counting the kits as part of my social circle?) I don't have kids, so they're not at my kids' school. Where do I go to find my people?

I've found people who could be "my people" online. Like my "real world" friends, they live around the U.S. and around the world. I've met some of them in person and exchanged emails with others. But some of them don't know who I am, or even that I exist. But I visit their blogs regularly, because they share things that speak to me; that make me feel less alone; that show me we're part of the same tribe, even if we don't call each other by name.

I've been trying to write about community and the "real world" since I came back from BlogHer last summer. I'm full of more questions than answers. How does online community differ from physical community? Is one more real or valuable than the other? In a world where people can live hundreds or thousands of miles apart and still stay connected through phone calls, text messages, emails, blogs, Flickr photo streams, Twitter updates, and even good old fashioned snail mail, does it really matter if we can't get together for an impromptu lunch or pop by to say hi?

I think it does. But I don't think it's the only thing that matters. What do you think?

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add to kirtsy | 6:06 PM | 5 comments


How Cats Relax

Just in under the wire tonight for the fourth day of NaBloPoMo. I'll try to do better in the coming days, folks. But here, for your amusement, is a video of a cat getting a "massage." It really looks like the cat digs it. Just wait until you get to 2:02 on the video.

I sometimes give my 14-pound cat a few hearty taps on the hindquarters. My husband is afraid I'm going to hurt him and says, "He's not a dog!" I tell him that Gatwick likes it. Then I found this video which seems to put me in the running for being right!

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add to kirtsy | 11:46 PM | 0 comments



I feel like a nut at the gym. My trainer devised a circuit training routine that has me bouncing back and forth between a treadmill and various weight machines for about 45 minutes. Walk three minutes. Do one set of weights. Walk three minutes. Another set of weights.

When there are other people in the room while I do this, I feel manic. I've never seen anyone else do this type of workout. But I'm trusting that Ms. Trainer knows what she's talking about and isn't secretly submitting the surveillance video to America's Funniest Gym Videos. (And if she is, I want a piece of the winnings!)

A few weeks ago I noticed a new face in the women's workout room. She wore charcoal grey workout pants and a matching jacket over her thin, almost frail, body. Her lined face placed her age somewhere in her 70s. She wore a red scarf wrapped around her head. When I got closer, I could see that she had no eyebrows.

I saw her eyes watch me zoom back and forth between cardio and weights. She was pedaling slow and steady on the recumbent stationary bike, watching TV and listening with her own earphones.

As I neared the end of my routine, she left the bike and came over to a weight machine next to the one I was using. She caught my eye and said, "You are one determined woman."

I knew that I was sweat soaked, probably beet red about the face, and generally looked crazy. For a moment I felt embarrassed. But I soon took her words as I think she meant them: as a compliment.

The mere thought of going to a gym used to make me cringe. I couldn't see myself doing it. I couldn't even imagine myself doing it. Physical fitness was never my strong suit. I wasn't all that keen on sweating or getting my heart rate up to begin with. The idea of doing that in public -- where everyone could see how inept I was -- horrified me. When I accompanied my husband on an orientation tour of the athletic club last spring, it was all I could do not to hit the fetal position and rock back and forth, murmuring incoherently about needing some chocolate and mashed potatoes. Here's how I felt about it: I came. I saw. I fled.

But I was so tired of being overweight and unhealthy. I watched my husband make an appointment with a trainer and start going to the gym, something that was new to him, too. I witnessed this for a few months when something inside of me finally got indignant. "If he can do this, I can do this!" I thought.

So I went and got me my own trainer. She's a thin blond with a southern accent and mascara that doesn't run when she sweats. All good reasons to hate her, to be sure. But she showed me her "before" picture, when she weighed at least as much as I do. Of course, if I'm being completely honest, I have wondered if it's really her in the photo. It didn't look anything like her. Which could be due to all the extra poundage, or because it's just a random photo of some other fat chick. But who cares? It gave me hope.

And I needed hope. The night before my first scheduled gym appointment, I cried like a child frightened of a doctor appointment. I was terrified. Of the gym.

But the trainer was nice. Everyone was nice. Nobody asked me what a fat, clumsy gal like me was doing in a place like that. After just a few sessions, my endurance increased. After a few more I noticed that my upper arms were starting to look less like albino sausages and more like body parts with muscles. The scale moved down a few pounds. This was getting exciting.

I finished my set of trainer appointments and started going on my own. Getting to the gym is still hard for me, but not because I'm afraid. Mostly just because I'm lazy about getting there. But once I'm there, I try to work it for all it's worth.

"You are one determined woman."

The older woman and I chatted a bit. She told me that she's going through chemo and comes to the gym when she can. "They say it helps," she said. "And I think it does."

Here was an elderly woman with cancer, working out at the gym to aid in her recovery, telling me that I'm a determined woman. She may never know what a strength and blessing those words are to me.

I didn't get her name that day, but I think she looks like a Muriel or Kate. I hope I see her again so I can ask.

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add to kirtsy | 5:15 PM | 2 comments

Acronyms Abound!

Ah, November. The beginning of the holiday season. Time to reflect on our blessings and start plotting ways to avoid the mall at all costs for the next 55 days. (Who am I kidding? I try to avoid it the other 310 days of the year, too.)

It's also NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I said I was going to do it, and I'm sticking to it. I still don't have a plot. But I do have one character named Anna and a setting. Yesterday I wrote 801 words. In that time, Anna managed to not get on a train and then get on a train. If it takes her 801 words just to do that, this might be a very long novel indeed. No matter. As long as I reach 50,000 words by the end of the month, I'll be a NaNoWriMo winner! You gotta love any "contest" in which anyone who finishes is called a winner.

November is also NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month). Am I going to do that, too? Come back tomorrow and find out, won't you?

But now I must go write 2,532.32 words to make up my quota for the last two days.

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add to kirtsy | 12:49 AM | 2 comments


How people without kids spend Halloween

We could have embraced our fading youth and dressed up all sexy and silly, hit any one of the local bars holding costume contests, and enjoyed ghoulish cocktails. Or we could have gone all domestic and made a nice corn chowder and some caramel apples. We even could have watched "The Great Pumpkin" while carving a few of our own. Instead, we spent Halloween acting like 78-year-olds. (And we didn't even need costumes!)

James started the afternoon with a trip to the doctor for an annual check-up, where he narrowly escaped a prostate exam after explaining to the nurse that he wasn't there for quite such a comprehensive physical. "Yeah," she said. "We don't usually do them on guys under 40."

I joined him at the hospital to keep him company while he waited to get blood work done. He was in and out in a few minutes, but then we waited for nearly an hour for someone to call him for another test, only to find out that the young, cleavage-showing Cleopatra (complete with headdress) hadn't ordered it.

By the time we were done at the hospital, James was starving, having just fasted for over 12 hours for the blood work. I told him we could go wherever he wanted to eat. We made our way to Bob Evans, where we were at the front-end of the Early Bird crowd. We fit right in with our beef tips and noodles, pot roast sandwich, and coleslaw.

Next we drove across the street to Rite Aid so James could drop off a prescription and I could get a brace for my wrist, which I'd somehow hurt while taking pillow cases off of pillows and then chasing after the cat. (I'm lucky it's just a sprain. Bones get brittle as we age.) While at the pharmacy, I decided to pick up some Preparation-H Medicated Wipes, since I'd noticed earlier in the day that we were running low.

James and I lurked around Rite Aid, waiting for his prescription to be filled. While perusing the wide array of dental floss currently on the market, I turned to him and said, "We've really had a geriatric Halloween."

"Maybe when we get home you can rub some BENGAY on me," he said.

Trick or treat, everybody. Trick or treat.

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add to kirtsy | 4:32 PM | 1 comments