Family Movie Night

wreck 

Oh boy, family movie night.  I remember the excitement so well.  Let’s fire up the Jiffy Pop and get ready to enjoy an educational, cautionary tale.  Why cautionary?  All movies have a moral, don’t they?  All movies educate in some way, don’t they?

They certainly do if they’re entitled “The Bottle and the Throttle” or “The Last Prom.”  As a police officer, Dad screened vehicular snuff films to driver’s education students.  Not wanting to endure technical difficulties in the class room, he would dry run his presentation in our living room the night before.  No matter how young we were, this was family entertainment of the highest order and we all looked forward to it.  Only Christmas elicited more anticipation.

Movie night is where I learned that when people bleed out, they turn a beautiful, delicate gray-blue color.  Movie night is where I was fascinated that the force of a crash can remove the shoes from your feet while they are still tightly tied, complete with neat, symmetrical bow.  Movie night taught me that brains are slippery things, and the only way to remove them from the asphalt is with a spatula.  Movie night suggested that perhaps the back window is not the safest place for an infant to ride.  Movie night revealed that windshields are unusually cruel to faces, whether they are exiting or returning.

Yes indeed, movie night was exciting.  After watching, there would be a question-and-answer period until Mom deemed it was all too creepy and sent us to bed.  As if we were going to drop peacefully into la-la land after the potent images of destruction that we’d just absorbed.  Violence is truly primal and difficult to forget.  The images invaded our little lizard brains and fermented.  As a youngster, one does not just drift into butter cream dreams after staring slack-jawed at twisting metal and blood spatter.  I wanted more; much, much more.

My favorite scenes were the ones where the car was wrapped around something, front bumper kissing the rear.  I found it remarkable that the stoic tree or telephone pole didn’t snap, didn’t give, forcing the speeding car to accommodate.  Truth be told, I always rooted for the tree.  The tree was just minding its own business, not a care in the world, when — BLAM — some drunken young stud in his mother’s sedan hits it at full force.  How rude!  As penance, the driver endured a vehicle with considerably less interior room than before, often fatally so.

And then there were the questions.  I couldn’t stop questioning what I’d just witnessed.  Why would anyone ride on the hood of a car when a comfortable seat was available?  What idiot invented the game of chicken and why did anyone go along with it?  Why would you ever get into a car driven by someone so drunk they couldn’t walk?  When a drunk driver says “I’m fine, really, I’m fine.” does that phrase magically banish critical thought from everyone else’s mind?  “Oh well, if you say you’re fine let’s go for a drive.”

I had even more questions about drinking.  No one in my family imbibed, so I had no practical knowledge of how alcohol worked. Just how much do you have to ingest before your eyeballs turn pink?  How much alcohol does it take to push you past fun into fundamentally moronic?  Is this threshold the same for everyone or is it different?  Why would you drink something that smells like cough medicine?  I thought Kool-aid was quite tasty, why not just stick with Kool-aid and avoid trouble?  No one ever got pulled over for drinking Kool-aid.  No one’s mama collapsed into racking sobs because they crashed the car while high on Kool-aid.

Another stumper I posed to my parents was this one.  If you’re drunk and crash your car, why does it seem that your chances for survival are better than if you’re sober?  Is it because you don’t realize what’s happening so you don’t brace yourself, locking your arms and legs into stiff twigs to be snapped?  Does being drunk make you bounce like Tigger, and being sober makes you crack like Humpty-Dumpty?  What’s up with some drunks just walking away from massive crashes?  What law of physics makes it possible for them to emerge from a crushed and flaming carcass of a car completely unscathed?

Why is it that the beauty queen is always the one that dies?  I learned early on from these films that being named prom or homecoming queen was the kiss of death.  By third grade, I had made the mental note to avoid all pageants.  According to these films, winning a pageant was a quick road to an early, ugly demise.  Better to be the long-lived drama club geek, than the tragically dead Snow Ball princess.

Straight A students didn’t die in these movies.  The football star and the Junior Miss County Fair ruptured and bled out like slaughtered livestock every single time.  Their death was even more assured if they had (a) just won a scholarship, (b) were scouted for professional sports, or (c) had recently gotten engaged.  Oh, the tragedy!  Obvious message:  don’t get into a car with someone who is too sloppy drunk to talk, no matter how cute he may be or how long you’ve been crushing on him or how much it will impress your girlfriends.  Hidden message:  study hard, get good grades, and be way too geeky for the sports stud to ever want to drive you home guaranteeing your continued health.  It’s the better way to go.

Lesson learned?  Don’t drink to the point where embarrassing YouTube videos can be posted of you.  Don’t drink to the point that people can write on your face with permanent marker and you not realize that it’s happening.  Don’t drink to the point where you think you can really sing and that American Idol should just hear your rendition of Purple Rain.  For God’s sake, don’t ride with anyone who has.

The Permission Pixie

(It is that time of year again.  Ho-ho-holidays!  So I’m running one of my most popular posts again as a reminder for all y’all.  Remember to take a well-deserved holiday nap or two.)

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‘Tis the season. Fa la freaking la.   I got your jingle bells right here, mister. This is the time of year when multitudes of people run around like chicken missing heads, worked into a frothy frenzy over what absolutely has to be done, oh my God, like now. NOW!

Stop it. The timeline from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is full of food and the people you love. That’s all that’s necessary. So I’m going to give you a huge pass this year. I am secretly the Permission Pixie. Shhh, don’t tell. It’s my super power.

I, the Permission Pixie, grant you permission to ignore the urge to put up eight trillion blinking lights on your house. I don’t even put up a wreath anymore. In fact, I decorate so little these days my neighborhood thinks I’m Jewish.  Shalom, y’all.

I, the Permission Pixie, hereby give you permission to ignore all invitations that require you to make something. No cookie exchanges ever again. The pressure to show up with something other than a package of Oreos is too stressful. Cookie exchanges bring out latent Martha Stewart perfectionist tendencies and all of a sudden, it’s a world championship beat-down for who made the most elaborate cookies. Knock it off. You don’t need to graze through eighty kinds of cookies in a month. You’ve got to leave room for the really good stuff, like pie.

I, the Permission Pixie, give you permission to stop wrapping gifts like you are set decorating The Nutcracker Suite.   I have two words for you: gift bags. Easy-peasy, life is breezy gift bags. I have taken this to the extreme and use brown paper lunch bags with a bright ribbon. I am a sucker for anything industrial-chic that is also industrial-cheap, and brown kraft paper is a favorite of mine.

While we’re on the subject of gifts, I give you permission to stop giving non-consumable, (fruitcake will still damn you to Hell’s sticky spots) store-bought gifts to any person who is over the age of twelve. I say twelve because there are just different rules for little ones during the holidays, but you do get permission to cut back on gifts for them, too. There is only so much plastic crap one child needs, so don’t lose your mind, okay?

Black Friday is a day dedicated to showing the world everything that is embarrassing about America. It is commerce without care, it is greed without good, it is frenzy without friendship. Black Friday makes us all look like excitable, dim-witted sheep, bleating and trampling our way to a 20% discount on stuff made elsewhere. Stop it.

Special note to men. Do not buy your woman any gift with a plug. The exception is the Hitachi Magic Wand neck massager (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in which case go right ahead, you scamp you. If not the Hitachi, things with plugs are appliances. Appliances mean housework. Housework sucks a big bag of sourballs. Enough said.

I don’t know anyone who wants another “dustable” around the house, no matter how adorable or commemorative it may be. I know lots of people who crave time. Time with friends, time with children, time away from children, time to sit down and drink a whole cup of coffee in peace. Time to talk and to listen. Give time. Give people what they need and want.

If a friend would stab a hobo to get five hours without her kids, give her a coupon for babysitting. If a friend complains about her lack of organization, gift her with a certificate to help sort out her closet or her office. If a loved one arrives home from work exhausted every day, give them a homemade dinner all frozen and ready-to-go, complete with reheating instructions. If your friend loves to garden but is unable to keep up with it then give an offer to pull weeds for a morning or make potted gardens together in the spring. A gift of your time is more splendid than anything you could buy. This extends to teenagers, too. Give them a gift of an afternoon at the movies, or the water park, or something they just don’t get to do. They’d much rather get that than a Christmas sweater, believe you me.

Why am I so anti-commerce during the season? Well, it’s not that I don’t like things. It’s that I despise the pressure to provide them. This season pokes an emotional blister of mine from my starter marriage. Every year, dear old Starter would wait until Christmas Eve, grab his car keys and grumble his way to the mall. He’d stop at whatever jewelry counter was closest to his parking spot and grab something. Then he’d grumble his way home, complaining that his work day had been interrupted. After dinner I’d get the gift, complete with the agonizing details of how difficult and tedious it had been to go get this thing for me, you’re welcome.

Why even bother? Every year I’d get some sparkling item that was extravagantly expensive, but so loaded down with bitterness that I hardly ever touched it. What was the point? So if anyone asked, he could tell them that he spent $5,000 on a bracelet or ring, or earrings, because he was such a magnificent provider. Inevitably, they’d ask to see it. Nope, it’s in a drawer. I need to get a HAZMAT team to scrub all the animosity off before I can safely wear it. That’s not a gift. That’s a reminder that you married the wrong person. That’s evidence that it’s not getting better. That’s your invitation to hit the road. Ho ho hot tail it outta there.

Let me be your Jacob Marley.   Listen up, dears. Whatever you give this season, give it with an open and tender heart. Do not give a gift because you “have to.” Give a gift only if you truly want to. Give of yourself, not of the mall, as much as possible. Tell people you love them. Act like you love them. Spend some time treating yourself kindly, too.   Take a nap and eat some pie.

All Kinds of Happy

I have not posted here in a while.  I’ve been on deadline for another project.  But that project is going really well so I thought I’d post a representation of my mood.

As an introvert who works from home and overthinks every stinking word she puts on paper, these good days are to be celebrated.  I hope you’re happy and healthy today, too.

happy tulip pug

Punctuation Matters

typewriter Andre Govia

This clever Dear John letter perfectly illustrates why punctuation matters.  Exact same words, only the punctuation has changed from one version to the next.

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Gloria

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

The Mailbox

mailbox

Those of you that have read me for any length of time must surely remember me talking about the “Motive Mailbox.”  If I ever kill my husband, this damn mailbox will be the motive.  If not, here’s the short version of the story.

I bought a brand new, beautiful, sturdy mailbox in 2003 and the installation thereof went onto Gruff’s To Do list.  The mailbox has resided on the floor of the living room, next to the television, taunting me ever since.  No longer.

My mailbox has been properly installed (in March 2015) and is the most gorgeous mailbox the post office has ever approved or seen.  I am absolutely giddy about it and have already been outside to clean it with Windex and soft cloths.

So take heart, those of you waiting on Honey-Do list items to be accomplished.  It can happen. Even after a dozen years, it can happen.  Well, it happened because we had a house fire and contractors were here anyway fixing stuff and they tackled the mailbox, but let’s not quibble.  My mailbox is up and I love, love, love it.  Now I have no motive.  Life is good.

 

Zombie Apocalypse

thriller_michael-jackson

 

I was supposed to be folding towels. I was actually flipping TV channels and procrastinating. What do we have here? It’s a show called Doomsday Preppers. It was news to me that there’s a subset of the American population spending buckets of cash to hoard supplies for some impending very bad thing. Not sure why, but I suspect that the people who manufacture canned Spam started this whole movement. Brilliant marketing if they did. I didn’t give it a second thought until months later.

“Our government is going to collapse within six months. What have you done to get ready?”

What? I was just the “plus one” attending my husband’s company picnic. No one told me there was going to be a pop quiz.

“The name’s Bob. Bad things are about to happen. Have you stocked your basement with food and water?”

“Um, I don’t have a basement.”

“When it all goes down, you’ll die if you haven’t prepared. I’ve got an entire room filled with first aid supplies, water, ammo, and canned goods. You’ve got to be ready or you’ll starve!”

Oh, I get it. Bob here is a doomsday prepper, just like on TV. Worse, he’s an urban prepper. He lives in Washington, D.C. Bless his heart.

“Bob, you’re operating under a false assumption. Let’s just say there’s a Martian invasion. Food does not disappear. Distribution does. All that food that you’re used to seeing in your grocery store? It gets stuck in my backyard with nowhere to go.

You see, I live in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. We are Ground Zero for all that is tasty. It is rich with farms and food. We don’t starve. We don’t die of thirst. I have three working springs and a creek on my property. Even if you don’t count all the backyard chickens, pigs, and goats, there is an abundance of goodness within easy walking distance of my house.”

Poor Bob looked confused. I elaborated.

“Within roughly four miles of my front door there is: a hydroponic tomato greenhouse, an ostrich farm, a deer farm, a trout farm, an organic beef, pork, and lamb farm, two vineyards, five apple orchards, three dairy farms, at least six beef cattle operations, several corn and soybean farms, silos full of feed corn and grain, a couple of moonshine operations, and here’s the biggie, Bob. There are at least thirty commercial poultry houses chock full of chickens and turkeys.”

Bob’s bottom lip was trembling. He needed me to suffer so all the time and money he’s invested in his expensive end-of-days hobby would be validated. Bob was all kinds of sad that maybe, just maybe, I was going to be fine without a case or two of Spam squirreled away. It looked like Bob would be happier if I did not survive. This was beginning to hurt my feelings. Even so I decided to throw him a bone, cheer him up a bit.

“You just never know, Bob. I can see a situation where the Shenandoah Valley runs out of food. We’ll probably waste all our feed corn by converting it to ethanol, letting our animals starve. Then we’d wipe out a huge portion of farm land by putting in an oval track and bleachers. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’m sure they won’t be broadcasting NASCAR races so we’ll use up all our precious resources just to have a little fun.”