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.

3.28.2007

Cat Stats

Let's tally up the last week and a half, shall we?

5: number of packets of cat food involved in the Menu Foods recall that the kits ate last month

1.5: number of hours it took to get a vet appointment for the kits last Tuesday

24: number of hours Gatwick "The Steel Bladder" Catwick held off peeing because he didn't like the idea of using an empty litter box

10: number of minutes it took the kits to pee after I put some shredded glossy newspaper inserts in their litterless litter boxes

36: total number of hours it took to get those two urine samples

12: approximate number of times I marveled at how obsessed I'd become with cat pee

7: number of trips to the vet in last 10 days

5: number of times each kit needs to receive subcutaneous fluids via IV

2: number of times I jabbed Cheska in a supervised attempt to administer said fluids

5: number of minutes it took to agree that I'd rather drive to the vet's office every other day rather than play Nurse McGuiggan at home

3: number of bite and scratch wounds my hands have suffered at the teeth and claws of scared little kits who only wanted to get away from the poking and prodding

1: number of additional vet trips required by end of the week

16 and 14: total number of days that I have to force feed tuna-flavored liquid antibiotics to Gatwick and Cheska, respectively (their response: "Tuna? You're not foolin' me, lady!")

Welcome to my reality, people.

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add to kirtsy | 12:38 PM | 1 comments

3.25.2007

Free-form


[Note: Jen Lemen's lovely musings inspired this post. ]

When life feels difficult, I try to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes the things that are right up in your face are out of focus and distorted. Your thoughts feel blurry and the situation feels muddled. But if you can just look beyond that, you can gain clarity and see the beauty surrounding you.

When I feel restrained by the decisions, commitments, and relationships of my life, I remember the concept of freedom within structure. Consider the traditional sonnet: it has serious parameters. Fourteen lines. Defined rhyme scheme. There are certain rules you have to follow when writing a sonnet. But apart from those rules, you can write what you like. Choosing the structure frees you up to focus on the content, not the form.

After spending a year abroad following some of my dreams, I came home to the tedium of everyday domestic life. I fell into a serious depression. "How do people stand it?" I wondered. I had a job that I didn't really like, a commute that was sucking the life out of me, and not much else to make it all feel worthwhile. The everdayness of life suffocated me. The routine was mind-numbingly mundane. I longed to live a life full of joy and wonder, but couldn't get beyond the limitations of daily life.

After a year of being home, I got engaged to the man who kept me sane when I was homesick overseas and during that difficult first year back. He says that if it weren't for him, I would have gone back to live in England. He's probably right. I'd begun to establish a life there. I liked England and had a good group of friends. Back home, all of my friends from college were strewn about the U.S. But I decided to stay here and get married. I said that this was the right decision for me because I had already done everything I wanted to do by myself.

I knew that marriage would require some sacrifices. I realized that I couldn't follow my whims without taking my partner into consideration. And I was okay with that. Having him by my side was more important to me than having the freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever and however I wanted. Besides, he's an easygoing guy and I wasn't really worried about him cramping my style.

But sometimes the everydayness of life still gets to me. Not like it did eight years ago, but it's not as easy to live a life full of joy and wonder as I'd like. And marriage, even to an easygoing guy, can be hard work. James and I don't see eye-to-eye on things like where to live (city vs. suburbs) and what kind of house we want (historic vs. brand-spankin'-new). Activities that energize me drain him, and vice versa. In other words, there are serious parameters within our relationship.

Occasionally the limitations get to me and I wonder what life would have been like if I'd moved back to Europe. Or maybe to New York City to live in a loft and work for a magazine or publishing house. What if I was free to pursue my travel and artistic dreams on my own?

When I feel boxed in, I remember the freedom that being married to James has given me. Because he has a good job with good benefits, and because he is full of encouragement and generosity, I can pursue my dream of being a freelance writer with very little worry. Being married allowed me to quit a job where I felt like a square peg in round hole and become my own boss.

Yes, I could have pursued this dream on my own. But it would have been so much harder and would have included so many more parameters. Europe and NYC sound romantic and exciting until homesickness and starving-artist, vermin-infested apartments set in. And besides, James has never tried to stifle my artistic impulses or travel bug. Just last month he asked if I wanted to visit friends in England or take a little artistic retreat for myself. I was the one who hemmed and hawed about it. He's also the one who talked me into going to the American Society of Journalists and Authors’ conference in NYC next month. And when I said I was considering going to the Blogher conference in Chicago in July, he said, "Sounds cool."

So I rejoice in the freedom within this form. My hope is that you find your very own free-form.

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add to kirtsy | 4:03 PM | 0 comments

3.15.2007

Update on Sponsored Child

If you read the last post, you'll know that I've been concerned about Li, the Chinese boy I sponsored through World Vision. I called WV today and asked if I can do anything to get Li back in school. They are looking into it and will get back to me.

The WV representative also told me that Li is 15 years old, not 10 as I'd thought. I need to find my original information about him, from six years ago, to see if this is correct. The most current update that I have in front of me doesn't list his age. Still, even 15 is too young to leave school for work, at least in my book. Yes, 15 is better than 10, but Li needs much more education if he hopes to fulfill his dream of being a doctor. And let's face it, 15-year-olds are still kids. I didn't consider myself a kid at that age, but now, at more than twice that age, I know differently.

It could take weeks or months to get an update on Li's situation, if an update is available at all. I'll pass along any new information as it is available.

In the meantime, if you're interested in sponsoring a child, please visit World Vision's website. A monthly sponsorship is very affordable for many people and it can make a world of difference. You can also give one-time gifts or buy things such as clothing, educational supplies, and livestock for needy families through the gift catalog. And if you have questions, feel free to call them. I'm telling you, they have the nicest people in the world answering the phones.

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add to kirtsy | 4:43 PM | 0 comments

3.12.2007

How Can I Help You?

The Blackbird's Migration by Laura E. Horning

Six years ago I "met" Li, a boy from Jingyuan County in China. We've never seen each other face to face or spoken on the phone, but we exchanged letters and cards from time to time. My little pen pal was a sponsored child through World Vision.

About two months ago I received a letter from World Vision explaining that Li wasn't my sponsored child anymore because he now has a job and no longer qualifies for the sponsor program.

He's 10 15 years old. (see update)

I called World Vision (which, by the way, has the absolute best customer service and nicest phone reps I've ever encountered) to ask if there was any way to send Li one last letter to say goodbye. The kindly phone rep said that he'd moved to "the city" (I didn't ask which one) and gotten a job. She said that the local World Vision workers in China will get my letter to him if they know where he is. There's a 50-50 chance that Li will get the letter, she said.

So this little boy left his village home to work in the city. Did his parents go with him? Did he go alone? With relatives? What kind of work is he doing? Is it dangerous? Is he scared? Does he still have dreams for the future? Does he miss his friends? Will he ever go back to school?

He's 1015.

I feel like I failed him. Maybe my sponsorship made his life better for awhile, but now he's a little kid working in a city. I regret not writing to him more often. But what difference would that have made? My love and letters alone would not have changed his dire situation. Would more money have kept him in school? I thought I was doing enough. If I'd known that his family was contemplating sending him to work, I would have sent more than my standard monthly donation. World Vision allows you to make an extra donation to cover a special financial need, such as buying a bike for transportation or a new roof for the family's house. Could I have given enough to keep Li from being pulled out of school and sent to work? Maybe if I had written more letters he would have written to me more, and I might have known what he needed.

World Vision sent me a progress report and a new photo of Li every year. Until this year, each picture featured a tiny boy in worn, dusty clothes standing on a dirt road with large mountains in the background. He never smiled, but his eyes were squinted shut. Maybe the sun was in them.

The latest photo featured a noticeably taller boy, still in worn clothing, standing in front a painted wall mural. He's not exactly smiling, but his lips are parted slightly and the corners of his mouth seem to point up just a little bit. His eyes are wide open. It doesn't look like the same kid. I compared it to previous photos and seriously wondered if they sent me the wrong picture. According to the latest update, Li was in Grade 3 of Secondary School. His favorite subject was language and he wanted to be a doctor when he grows up. Does he still want to be a doctor?

I sent him one last letter and am praying that it finds him. What can I do now but pray for him and wonder if I'll ever know the rest of the story? It's not a rhetorical question. I'm really wondering if there's something more that I can do. I hardly know where to start, though.

We hear so much about China being the new economic superpower. But mothers and fathers are sending their children off to work because they are that poor. I try to fully comprehend this, but I can't. My intellect grasps the socioeconomic factors of it. My heart swells with compassion. But I have no real understanding of such a reality.

World Vision gave me the option to choose a new sponsor child by certain criteria, such as gender and location. Alternately, I could let them send me the next child in line with the greatest need. I thought about my preferences and realized that I couldn't narrow the field that way. So I let the powers that be choose my new child.

Romy is a six-year-old girl from Lebanon. She has shoulder-length, dark brown hair, thick, perfectly arched eyebrows, and the brown eyes of a world-weary adult. She is not smiling in her picture. Still, she's a beautiful little girl. She wears a periwinkle sweatshirt with a small picture of a clown on it. Her hair is held back by a colorful headband. She's dressed like a child, but she looks so much older. Maybe she was nervous the day the picture was taken. Or maybe she was instructed not to smile. I hope she smiles in real life.

Her father is a shopkeeper and her mother is a housewife. They have trouble making ends meet. They live about 1.5 hours by car from Beirut, and Romy goes to school in her village. We just exchanged our first letters. I sent her some Disney stickers.

I'm determined to write more often and be more involved this time around. I know that my letters and trinkets won’t erase her family's financial struggle. But maybe if I establish a closer relationship with Romy, I'll find out if she needs something else. And perhaps I simply need to ask, "How can I help you?" now and then.

We hear that question, or some variation, in retail stores all the time. My husband says, "Is there something that I can help you with today?" hundreds of times a week. The words roll off of his tongue like a lilting song lyric. But how often do we ask each other that? How often do we ask strangers, co-workers, friends, and family: "How can I help you?"

Wouldn't you love to have someone ask you that question and know that they really wanted to know the answer?

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add to kirtsy | 1:19 AM | 1 comments

3.08.2007

She is not dead but sleeping...

I'm reading a book called Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. (Don't judge me. It was on The New York Times' bestseller list. Which I didn't realize when I bought it, even though it says so at the top of the front cover. I randomly picked it up at the bookstore and thought, "Hm. This might be an interesting example of creative nonfiction.") It's surprisingly funny and definitely interesting.

I had a doctor appointment today to see about my head, which feels like it's stuffed full of heavy, soggy cotton that leaks out my nose and eyes. I wondered if taking Stiff with me to a medical appointment was just too macabre. I decided: No.

But then I saw my makeshift bookmark, one of those annoying perforated ads stuck in magazines. I always seem to have a few lounging around, waiting to be made useful as impromptu drink coasters, notepads, or bookmarks. This one just happened to be for The Sleep Number Bed.


Even more disturbing is what happened when I ran a search for the book's subtitle in The Times' book archives. The results page included an eBay ad for "Human Cadavers." Apparently you can get more than the image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast nowadays. (Not really. When I clicked on the link, eBay found 0 items matching my search.)

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add to kirtsy | 7:41 PM | 1 comments

3.06.2007

Pink, Fluffy, and Hilarious

photo taken with Verizon Wireless cell phone

Behold the Six Penn Circus, a dessert comprised of childhood favorites, all grown up! The little dish to the right holds "cracker jacks" made fresh in the restaurant. In the foreground are four delicate cinnamon donut puffs, and two decadent "gobs" or "whoopie pies" made from dark chocolate mocha cake stuffed with a mascarpone-like filling. And the pièce de résistance: the giant pink wig of cotton candy!

James and I went to Six Penn Kitchens after the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's Pops concert of John Williams' music. (James is a big Star Wars and John Williams fan. The concert was enjoyable, but sadly not terribly impressive.)

But our experience at Six Penn was impressive. First of all, the whole place is non-smoking. So we could sit and have drinks and not reek afterwards. Imagine it: a bar that doesn't smell like a bar! After interesting appetizers such as fried cheese done three ways and "poblano stuffed with chorizo, goat cheese, picadillo, gordita; ranchero sauce," we read the description for the Six Penn Circus on the dessert menu. James wasn't sure that we should get it, but it had me at cotton candy. How could we pass that up?

I said to James, "You're going to tell people that this dessert was on the menu. They'll ask you how it was. And you'll have to tell them that you don't know because you didn't get it. And they will be SO DISAPPOINTED. There's no way we CANNOT get this dessert!"

I think he just wanted to hear me make an argument for it. He's a sucker for cotton candy.

I started laughing as soon as our waiter appeared with the plate and kept laughing for the rest of the night. (The laughing may or may not have been related to the bourbon martini/mojitos that the bartender tried out on me.) The amount of cotton candy balanced in that little dish was ridiculous and impressive. The table of people behind us stopped to chat on their way out, apparently relieved that someone had finally ordered The Circus, a dish they'd contemplated getting several times. How could they not?!

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add to kirtsy | 1:19 AM | 5 comments

3.05.2007

These Are a Few of My...

As much as I rail against the evils of a consumerist culture, I must admit that I like stuff as much as the next person. And if that stuff comes from an independent artist, a non-box store, or is just something unusual, so much the better. Here are a few things that I've been grooving on lately. Some of the merchants even incorporate charitable giving into every purchase.

First of all, Etsy.com. Do you know about this site? It's "your place to buy and sell all things handmade." I may be a late bloomer, having just discovered it recently. But you must check it out! I have had the pleasure of two purchases from Etsy merchants.

This ezine by Jen Lemen is short and sweet, but long on inspiration and full of much-needed affirmations.



I've been on the hunt for a good apron and found one by busybyaprons. With its lovely pattern and flirty skirt, this cute little number could almost be a dress. (If you like completely backless dresses, that is.)


In addition to selling very groovy handmade items, Etsy is a remarkable website. You can search for items by color using a fun floating bubble color chart; using a nifty Geolocator to find sellers anywhere in the world (I found five in Iceland); by recently listed items in two different Time Machine formats, one of which lets you drag and "throw" items across your screen; and by traditional Categories. There's even a Connections feature that I haven't fully explored yet.

I'm discovering a whole host of affordable art online these days, too. And my long-bare walls are thankful. These prints from pretty:darn:swell are waiting to find a home on my walls. (These prints are sold out, but check out their ever-rotating stock of cool prints.)















I haven't purchased anything from Pushmepullyou Design yet, but I'm eyeing up two bird prints. I'm not much of a bird person, but I like mourning doves and seem to have a bunch of them around my house. I was also recently amused to learn the obvious: That doves and pigeons are part of the same bird family. I like the symmetry and irony of these prints.














It's too bad that pigeons get such a bad reputation of being dirty city dwellers or rats with wings, while doves are associated with lovely things like weddings, magic shows, and peace on earth. I finally understood the hatred of pigeons after vising Trafalgar Square and being forced to protect my hot dog from the hungry winged beasts.

In other animal news, this reversible necklace by Mark Poulin on Uncommon Goods shows that it's possible to be both a cat- and dog-person at the same time. Or at least at alternating times.

And finally, this Eau de Play-Doh commissioned by Hasbro would drive my hubby wild. In a bad way. He's the only person I've ever met who can't stand the scent of Play-Doh.

Maybe I'll try Demeter's cotton candy scent instead.

(And in good segue way fashion, my next post will include cotton candy, John Williams, and a night at the symphony.)

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add to kirtsy | 6:38 PM | 1 comments