I Need to Learn Russian

February 29, 2008

Well, I’m on the cusp of submitting my first short story in my fiction writing class.  And, as with all good classes, I’m learning multiple things, some about myself.

I know you’ll be as surprised as I was when I realized that I am a little bit wordy!  Big shock here.  Do you mean that most people who blog don’t routinely have posts that are over 1,000 words?  How do they say what they’re thinking?  I have to tell you, I think, and speak, in long, rambling, multiple-subject sentences.  So, of course, I write like that too.

Well, this fiction writing class is trying to break me of that!  Let me tell you my sorry little saga of this first story, as an example.

I had the idea for the story, and had started working on it, but now we’re in the home stretch (rough drafts due next week), so a few days ago I sat down and just did marathon typing.  I didn’t pay any attention to word count because I just wanted to get a complete draft on paper.  So, when I finally had a beginning, middle and end, I looked at the word count.  It was 3,500 words.  I then went to find the instructions for the assignment, so that I could know where I stood in comparison to how many words my story needed (I certainly didn’t want it to be too short.  But, what are the chances of that.  Right?). 

Ahh, there were the rules for the contest our stories would be entered in.  Fiction — maximum 3,000 words.  Oh. Oh. I was going to have to do a little “pruning.”  But then the deadline for that contest caught my eye — January 30.  Hmmm. That was past.  That must not be the contest our professor meant.  I looked down the list — Romance, Horror/Ghost, Science Fiction/Fantasy — ahh, this would be the one — Short Story, deadline May 30.  And, let’s see, how many words — 2,000!  Wow.  That must be the reason they call them SHORT stories — I have grocery lists longer than that. 

So, for the last two days, Hubby and I have been doing major surgery on that story.  In fact we’ve done so much cutting, I feel we are now perfectly qualified to do any upcoming brain surgery you may need.  And, I’m sure our rates will be very attractive when you compare them to those of the guys with all the degrees.

So, this is the reason I need to learn Russian.  I don’t think I’m cut out to write little skinny, concise books like, The Ten Minute Manager or Who Moved My Cheese.  No, I’ve decided that Dr. Zhivago is more my style.  Looooong, rambling sentences, that you might have to read several times to grasp all the complex ideas, all clustered in never-ending, verbose paragraphs.

So, I think this morning I’ll have to call around and see when the next Russian class starts at one of the local colleges.  But, in the meantime, essen gut.  Oh, wait a minute — that’s German.  Well I guess that would work just as well.  I remember a time when I met a German man . . . .

Things I Learned at the Jail!

February 28, 2008

I was the Matron at the Jail for four years.  It was one of the most unique, interesting experiences of my life.  And Marie was the most important reason why I enjoyed it. 

My main responsibility was to run the Commissary, which sells things like snacks, candy, underwear, gym shoes, toiletries, writing supplies and games, like playing cards and find-a-word,  to the prisoners.  The profit from those sales (a significant amount of money) was then used by the Sheriff’s Department for expenses that would otherwise have to be paid for with tax dollars.  I always said that it was a great example of a win/win — the prisoners got to spice up and supplement the very bland jail food with Commissary foods and to purchase other things to help pass their time, and, in turn, the profits helped relieve some of the taxpayers’ burden associated with law enforcement.

Many people have the misconception that the Commissary makes the prisoners’ meals.  Not so.  The actual jail kitchen, along with the preparation of all the meals served in the jail, is contracted out to one of several companies that do inmate meal preparation in jails all over the country.

I became the Matron because Marie didn’t want the job.  Marie had been working in the Commissary for almost 20 years and was, hands down, the most qualified for the job.  She had started filling the prisoners’ Commissary orders 20 years earlier when she was the only Commissary employee and filled the orders (for only a couple hundred prisoners, then) out of a room not much bigger than a closet, with a Trusty (a trustworthy prisoner status) helping her.  At that time, she  just sold candy bars and cigarettes, long before the jail went smoke-free.  In comparison, the Commissary is now a huge room, employs about a dozen people, and sells hundreds of products.

The reason I had the opportunity to be Matron was because Marie was a salaried employee, who wanted to continue working in a job where she could build toward her retirement.  The Matron, being an appointed position, would have taken her out of that loop.    Because I had already retired from my long-time employer, that wasn’t a concern for me.  So, I had the unique chance to go in as the boss, but to work with Marie, who I liked to refer to as the Queen of Commissary.  I always said, “If Marie doesn’t know something about the Commissary, it’s not worth knowing.”  So, in truth, we co-managed.

When Hubby and I go somewhere, sometimes he drops me off at the door and then goes to park the car.  When we come out, without thinking, I will lead the way out into the parking lot, and then realize I don’t know where the car is.  Sometimes when this happens, I will turn around and Hubby is still standing on the curb,  smiling, waiting for me to realize I’m leading, without a clue where I’m going.

I have told Marie that story, and told her that I felt she used the same technique on me when we worked in the Commissary.  She was such a wonderful mentor.  Because I was supposedly the boss (but she was the experience and the brains), there were lots of decisions I had to make that she could have made much more easily because of her experience.  And, if I asked her, she was always willing to share her experience and help me make the right decision.  But, sometimes I would wander off into the “parking lot of  Decision-Mart,” without knowing where I was going.  In those cases, she would just wait on the proverbial curb and let me wander around looking for the right answer, until I realized I didn’t have a clue where I was going, and asked for help.  What a wonderful teacher.  I learned alot from my wanderings that I might not have learned if she had immediately volunteered to help me every time.  And, of course, she was always willing to help when I realized I needed it.  God gave me a wonderful opportunity to be the Matron, but He knew I couldn’t do it on my own, so He also gave me Marie.

I usually answered the written correspondence we received from inmates.  And when I would answer a question, I tended to go into great detail and explain not only the answer, but why it had to be that way, and that I was sorry that we couldn’t do it the way they had requested . . . etc . . . etc.  But, sometimes Marie would answer and I immediately saw a difference in our style.  She would just write “No” or “We’ll check.” or “Adjustment made.” or some equally short answer across the form.  And, if the inmate decided an answer wasn’t the one he or she wanted and wrote back again, she would just write “Answered previously” across that form and send it back.  A woman of few words.  When I mentioned the difference is our “technique,” Marie gave me one of her great pieces of advice, “Don’t become an inmate’s pen pal.  They have nothing better to do than write to us, as long as we will answer.”

She also told me to think before writing a pithy reply to an inmate who started his request to us with (and it happened frequently), “The law says you have to . . . . .”   When the inmates wrote things like that in a snotty way, it was very tempting to write back in the same vein.  But, another piece of excellent advice from Marie was, “Don’t write anything to an inmate that you would be embarrassed to have read by a judge, out loud, in a courtroom.”  I always had that in the back of my mind, and it kept me from writing alot of things that were the first “snappy comeback” to pop into my head (like, “Yeah, and people in hell want ice water too!” — soooo not PC).

Every morning we would receive stacks of order forms from each block, that then those of us who were auditing, usually Marie, Linda and I, would audit, i.e., check their math and that they hadn’t ordered more of something than they were allowed, and then subtract the money from their account.  Or, reduce their order to fit the amount they had in their account.  They regularly “over-estimated” how much they had. The forms were then given to the fillers who filled bags with the orders and put them in rolling bins that were then used by the officers to take them to the blocks.

Anyway, who knew where those forms had been while in the blocks and the cells.  So, we had several rules in regard to them.  To the prisoners: “We will not deal with any form that is damp, or sticky.” and  to ourselves: “Don’t E.V.E.R lick your fingers to aid you in going through a stack of forms.”  We had bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere.  It gives you renewed zeal for cleanliness when you work in a jail.

That was the most interesting job I have ever had.  And, I could never, ever have done it, or enjoyed it as much as I did, without the help and support and wisdom of Marie.

Thank you, Marie, for not just being my mentor but also becoming my friend.

You can find new friends in some of the strangest places — like jail!

When Your Hair Turns On You, It Can Get Ugly!

February 25, 2008


My hair and I have had a love/hate relationship most of my life.

When I was very little, Mama braided my hair most of the time.  So, my hair was controlled, knew its place, and all was well.

Then, when I started school, Mama “unleased the beast.”  She took it upon herself to “torture” my hair with the home permanents of the day, and from that day on my hair “tortured” me, I believe, in retaliation for that barbaric treatment. 

I truly believe the permanents of that day were probably made of chemicals that would be considered toxic waste today.  They stung the skin wherever they were allowed to touch, and smelled to high heaven. 

Having said all that, I might still have fond memories of home permanents if they had made me a Shirley Temple look-alike, with large, loopy gorgeous curls framing my sweet, rosy-cheeked face (as Mama envisioned).  But, I do not have fond memories of them because not only did they sting like acid and smell like sewer gas, but they gave me, rather than large, loopy beautiful curls, dry, brittle frizz

But, Mama was always good at putting a positive spin on things (and saw her baby through rose-colored glasses), so she thought the permed look was “cute” on me.  The pictures of the day tell the tale, though.  I have a picture of me with my second grade teacher, in which my obviously freshly-permed hair has been semi-controlled by an industrial-strength hair barrett on each side just above my ear.  Ronald McDonald wasn’t around then, but if he had been, I’m sure there would have been comparisons made.  (The old Ronald McDonald — the one with the row of frizz that ran all the way around his head — not the new, less radically coiffed version.)

After a couple of those awful home permanents, I convinced Mama that they weren’t making me or my hair happy.  So, she stopped, and let me do whatever I wanted with my hair (mentally throwing her hands in the air in frustration, I’m sure).  My yearly school pictures chronicle the many ways I attempted to make my hair look nice — short, long, parted in the middle, parted on the side, no part, fringe bangs, side-swept bangs, no bangs  — none were particularly attractive, but I must have thought so at least for a short time (or, more likely, was in denial), because I’m smiling in all the pictures.

But, then I hit my teens and discovered — teasing and Aqua-Net!  FINALLY, I had tools that were powerful enough to bend my rebellious hair to my will. 

For those of you too young to remember the Aqua-Net of the 60’s, let me tell you something about it — that name was totally misleading.  “Aqua” draws a picture of a mist of clean, clear water, right?  And, “Net” — that conjures up a vision of a light, gossamer netting, right?  Forget that.  Aqua-Net in the 60’s was concrete in an aerosol can, pure and simple.  If you teased your hair and then used a pick to form it into exactly the shape you wanted,  you could then spray it with Aqua-Net and it would..not..move. 

About this time was probably the beginning of the decline of the head scarf industry because I’m sure their business plummeted with the introduction of Aqua-Net.  In all my teen years, I only remember using one  “head scarf” — it was a little triangle of cotton that I tied around my “Aqua-do” if I was going to ride in a convertible.  Even Aqua-Net couldn’t stand alone against the wind in a speeding convertible!

As a stay-at-home mommy, I didn’t bother with my hair much; just threw it up in a pony tail every morning.  There were way too many other things to think about, like keeping two little kids fed, clean, safe and relatively happy!  And, when it was required that I “dress up” to go somewhere (like the grocery, to get more formula and strained peas), I would just put my hair on top of my head, and pin my ever-faithful wiglet on top.  Voila!  Instant ‘do.

In the 70’s, Dannie my “barber” (He’s a barber who started cutting women’s hair when men stopped wearing their hair in crew cuts that required frequent cuts.  It was a matter of change with the times, or find another line of work!)  Anyway, Dannie convinced me to wear my hair shoulder-length and tightly permed (yes, he convinced me that perms had improved, and smelled better).  He may be “just a barber,” but he’s always had a good take on what style I will like, or that might look good on me.  I loved that style, and it was sooo easy.  And, apparently my hair was happy with it too, because it cooperated.  (And perms had improved alot!)  But, it was definitely a very 70’s “do.”  So, eventually I moved on.

Fast forward to 2008.  Now, because my time is more flexible in retirement, I have what I consider the luxury of being able to wash my short, unpermed hair in the evening, towel dry it, and then let it just air dry the rest of the way, before I go to bed.  In the morning, I can then use hair spray to give it a little body at the roots, comb it into a style — and I’m “good to go.”  I thought my hair and I had finally arrived at an understanding and were going to live out our lives happily together.

Wrong.  My hair was just waiting for me to make one innocent mis-step, so that it could rear it’s ugly head again and show me who was boss.

Saturday night I washed my hair, but it was kind of late and I was really tired, so I convinced myself that I could go to bed, even though my hair was still just a little bit damp.  I told myself it would be fine — I would just put a hand towel on the pillow to absorb any last little bits of moisture.

Well, apparently because of the combination of the little bit of dampness left in my hair, and the fact that when I turned over during the night, rather than sliding on a smooth pillowcase, my hair was meeting resistance on the rough terry towel, there was an unexpected result. 

I got up Sunday morning, and couldn’t believe my hair!  It looked like one of those hair dos some young guys wear now — hair combed to the top of their head, where it stands straight up.  Kind of a mohawk, without the severe cut.  (Sanjaya from American Idol last year, comes to mind.)  And, since it had apparently been that way most of the night, it was SET.  No amount of combing or brushing could make it do anything but stand straight up. (I didn’t have time to even dampen it — I had to leave for church in a half  hour!)  Hubby was out of town, so he wasn’t even available to console me.   My hair had turned on me again.

So, I went back to “my roots” — I brought out the big guns.    I don’t use Aqua-Net any more, but Redken, in its own more subtle way, can be just as persuasive when it comes to rebellious hair.  So, I teased my hair, used a comb and pick to shape it, and sprayed it with my trusty Redken.  Thankfully, because my hair is short now, I didn’t end up with the 60’s look you might envision.  Actually, it looked surprisingly good to me.  And, it must not have looked tooo bad to others either, because no one at church stared at my hair and said, “New ‘do?” as DD famously did to a high school boyfriend when he had suddenly decided to slick his hair straight back.

Sometimes “the way we used to do it” can come in handy, when you get up in the morning with hair that looks like Rod Stewart’s!

Lesson learned:  Never turn your back on your hair.  It’s always just waiting for you to make one bad decision, so that it can exert it’s power over you once again.

A Pair To Remember

February 23, 2008

Fran, a friend of ours, had gone to a week-long business conference in a major city.  When she got there, she realized that she hadn’t packed her navy pumps — a key component of several outfits she had brought to wear.

At the end of the first day of meetings, she went to the mall attached to her hotel to buy some navy pumps.  She tried on several pair, but kept going back to a really attractive pair that were way more than she wanted to spend ($200) and were way “sexier” than she usually wore, with their stiletto heels.

Fran was walking back and forth in the “cool” shoes to see how they felt (they were surprisingly comfortable; that must be what $200 buys you — sexy and comfortable), then walking over to the mirror to comfirm again how great they looked, all the while debating the purchase.  As she was doing her “parading and debating,” two men walked by and the very tall black man said to her, “Lady, those are great looking shoes.  You ought to buy them.”  They then walked on, before she had time to do more than catch a glimpse of the speaker and grunt an acknowledgement to his comment. 

A couple minutes later, she was still trying to decide, and the men walked by again.  This time the tall man stopped long enough to say again, with more emphasis, “LADY, those shoes are great!  You’re crazy if you don’t buy them!”  She responded with something like, “Yeah, but they’re also $200, so I’m trying to decide if they’re that great.”  All the while looking at the shoes, and not at the guy.  He confirmed his opinion that they definitely were and walked on.

Well, she’d debated long enough, and the unsolicited opinion from the stranger, had influenced her decision.  If that guy thought they were that great looking, her husband would probably like them too, even with the somewhat salty price tag.  So she bought them and headed back to the hotel.

She got on the escalator and immediately noticed a group of people clustered around the bottom of it.  What were they doing?  They were all looking up her way — were they looking at her?  No, they were looking past her.  As she got further down the escalator the murmur from the group at the bottom got louder and she could hear that they were talking about  “autographs” and “picture with him,” and now it was obvious that they were looking at someone behind her on the escalator. 

Fran glanced over her shoulder and there further up the escalator were the two men she had seen when she was buying her shoes.  And the very tall black man, who had encouraged her to buy the shoes, was acknowledging the fans at the bottom of the escalator — it was Shaquille O’Neil.

When Fran told us this story, she said she calls those shoes her “Shaq shoes” — definitely  “A Pair to Remember.”

Memories From Divine Daughter’s Childhood

February 21, 2008

I got a little “nudge” from DD this morning, asking when I was going to write a new post.  Hmmm.  Why does the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black” come to mind?  Any of you who read her blog know that she doesn’t always post daily herself, but, of course, her “sainted” mother would never mention that — unless provoked.

Soooo, because I am busy writing a short story for my writing class and  haven’t had time to come up with an idea for a post, and in order to appease my “fan,” I’m just going to do some free-form thinking about my Daughter Divine, and see what we get.  Ready?

*  She was always a verbal person.  She had an early love of words, not necessarily pronounced correctly.  When she was excited about going to school, she would say, “I can’t wait until I get to go to Sk-U-ool!”  She called spagetti “pissgetti” and, for some reason, she loved the sound of the word lasagna.  She would go around saying, “I want la-ZAAAA-n-ya.”  So, because she kept saying that, I finally made some lasagna (not one of my routine meals — too labor intensive).  Guess what?  She didn’t like it.  More fun to say than eat, apparently.  Of course, that did change when she got older; she did eventually come to love lasagna.  And, it’s a good thing since she’s married to an Italian.

*  When DD was very little she was terrified of people in big funny costumes like Easter Bunnies, Santa Claus or the Hanna Barbera characters at Kings Island where we sometimes vacationed. 

One time right before Easter when she was about two, I took her and her brother to the children’s shoe store to buy them shoes.  The store was pretty much one large, long room and when we got there the whole room was packed with children and their parents.  The front door was at one end of the long room, at the top of a short staircase, and an “Employees Only” door was at the other end of the room.

Just after we walked in the front door and were still standing at the top of the steps while I scanned the room for a place for us to sit, the door at the other end of the room opened and the Easter Bunny walked out and started talking to children.   Because it was a verrrry long room, EB wasn’t reallly in DD’s “space” but that didn’t keep her from FREAKING OUT when she saw him!!!  One minute I was holding a happy little girl in my arms, and the next minute, she was hysterical and clinging to me like a cheap nylon dress with a bad case of static.  And, of course, as soon as she started wailing in pure terror (it was almost like we were on a stage, because we were still at the top of the steps — so, her voice echoed loudly through the room), her screaming seemed like it ignited the other children in the room like a spark igniting dry leaves, and instantly, the whole place became a room full of crying, hysterical children.  We immediately left (just one step ahead of someone who would have asked us to leave, I imagine), and immediately DD calmed down — the “threat” having passed. 

We went back another day and, thank goodness, the “evil” EB wasn’t around, so we actually got to buy shoes that time.   And, they must not have recognized us, because they didn’t throw us out on our “ears!”

*  Mentioning King’s Island characters reminds me that the first time we went there on vacation, and it was the first time DD had stayed in a hotel, she was fascinated by the fact that we would leave our hotel room in the morning, and when we got back it was straightened up and the beds were made! As she would say, in awe, “Like magic.”  Then she became even more fascinated when we told her that it was actually a person who came and did that while we were gone.  So, one day when we were just staying at the hotel to swim in the pool, Hubby specifically took DD back to the room while the cleaning lady was there, so that she could meet the lady who did such a nice thing for us! 

One time our neighbors down about four houses had a garage sale.  In the afternoon, I walked down to browse and chat with Kathy, the home owner.  I asked her how it was going, and she laughed.  (I should have recognized that as a bad sign.)  She said it had been really slow, except she had had ONE verrrry interesting customer who had bought just about every little nickel and dime knick knack she had had displayed.  The reason she had laughed was because her customer had been my daughter!

Naturally, when I got home, I looked for DD.  She was right where I would have expected — up in her room, enjoying her redecorating efforts.  Every flat place in the whole room, including the window ledges, were now “tastefully” decorated with every little knick knack our neighbor had no longer wanted.  My guess is that Kathy must have given DD the “friends and neighbors discount” because DD had a way of leaving her allowance laying around, and then not being able to remember what she did with it, so I can’t imagine that she had tooo much money to spend.  I wish I had taken pictures — her room was very . . . festive, in a garage sale sort of way.  I’m pretty sure alot of that stuff ended up in OUR next garage sale, after DD got tired of it.  (Kathy, if you’re reading this, I’m sure your laughing all over again at this memory too.)

*  One time when DD was about 8 or 9, I was sick and lying on the sofa in the family room. She felt sorry for me because I was sick, so she said she would make supper — what would I like?  Hmmmm. The offer was tempting because I reallly did feel bad, but what could I tell her how to make? She hadn’t had much experience in the kitchen and any she did have had been with me in there with her, supervising.  Then I had an idea — tuna salad.  It was a favorite of the whole family, and it was something simple enough (mostly just assembly) that I thought I could describe how to make to her, without having to get up off my “death bed” and go into the kitchen to actually supervise. 

So, the first thing I told her to do was to get out a sauce pan, fill it half-full with water, carefully put four eggs into the water and put it on a burner to boil.  I couldn’t see her because the sofa I was lying on faced away from the kitchen, but I could hear her in there bustling around and putting the pan on the burner, and she even called in to confirm with me which setting to put the burner on.  It sounded like this was going to work out fine.  But, then she asked a question that told me, we might have to eat cereal for supper.  She said, “What should I do with the egg shells?  Put them in the trash or put them down the garbage disposal?”  

After I had her throw those four eggs away, and start over with four more, still in their shells this time (luckily we had four more), she went ahead and make the tuna salad, and I remember it was very good, and I reallly did appreciate her taking care of making supper for me.  She always did have a caring and helpful heart.

*  One last story.  One time I got a call from the room mother in DD’s class (maybe 4th grade).  She sounded a little miffed — she said that DD and her buddy Brent had apparently taken it upon themselves to collect money from the other kids to buy their teacher a birthday present.  (She knew this because her daughter had come home and asked her for money so that she could contribute.)  Only trouble was, the room mother had already collected money at the beginning of the year that was just for things like that — gifts for the teacher’s birthday, Christmas, etc.  I apologized and told her I would take care of it. 

When DD got home from school, I asked her about her “project,” and she got out the lunch bag that she and Brent had been keeping the money in until they could buy the present, and showed me the money.  They had collected almost twenty dollars — she was so proud!  Well, I told her about the room mother’s call, and told her she would have to return the money.  She was really disappointed, and I was a little disappointed for her too — she thought she had had a great idea, and she was working to do something nice for a teacher she really liked.  But, that was a reality check for my little girl — great ideas don’t always work out the way we would like.  So, the next day she and Brent gave the money they had collected back to their classmates.  Sad, but a little wiser. 

That’s all the memories I can’t think of off-hand.  But, I think the ones I have told tell you alot about my little girl.  She did and still does have a tender heart, especially for someone sick or someone like a favorite teacher.  She wasn’t a “natural” at cooking to start out, but she was willing from an early age, and learned from her mistakes, so she has become an excellent cook.  I think she’s gotten over her fear of the Easter Bunny, or, if she hasn’t, at least she doesn’t cry hysterically when she sees him any more.  And I think her love of a good garage sale knick knack has passed — replaced by a love of all things Target!

I love you, Daughter of Mine.

Sharing A Hospital Room With a Blond Bombshell

February 18, 2008


When I was expecting our second child (who turned out to be our Daughter Divine) and my due date was drawing near, Mama was with me when I was buying some new nightgowns for my hospital stay.  As we were browsing in that department, several times I saw cute ones I thought I  might buy.  But Mama kept pointing out the practicality of the rack of warm and functional flannel gowns.  And she finally convinced me.  I thought, “What the heck.  It’s for the hospital, which might be a little cold, and besides who cares what you look like in the maternity ward where everyone has just had a baby!”  She also talked me out of buying a new robe and slippers when I had perfectly good ones already.  “This is no fashion show.” she said, referring to the maternity ward.  She was right, of course, but I did end up wishing, just this once, that Mama hadn’t been there with her practical advice, and that I had been a little less practical.  

 So, the big day came, and I had our beautiful baby girl, and a little while later she was taken to the nursery (before mothers and babies shared rooms) and I was taken to a room — and met my new roommate who supposedly had just had her baby less than a day earlier.  Wow!  She was an absolutely beautiful blond who was very well endowed and, as I soon found out, had brought a whole wardrobe of beautiful, somewhat revealing nightgowns and robes for her hospital stay (which I’m guessing her mother had not helped her pick out!).  Obviously a woman who wasn’t going to let little post-partem inconveniences like pain, stitches, lactation and gas keep her from looking her best! 

That was the beginning of a very interesting three days as “Blondie’s” roommate. 

It just so happened that some remodeling was being done on the hospital at the time, with scaffolding right outside our windows.  Which meant we could see workmen coming and going outside our window most of the day, unless of course, the curtains were closed because we needed privacy.  But, the curtains were open most of the time.  So, it didn’t take long for the workmen to discover Blondie.  As I remember it, one of them almost fell off the scaffolding while “glancing” in the window when he should have been watching his step instead. Blondie just smiled at all the attention.  It was clear that she was used to attracting it.

Blondie was really a very nice roommate — considerate and friendly, but she, obviously, wasn’t the ideal roommate when it came to my somewhat fragile just-had-a-baby self-esteem. 

She would go into our shared bathroom in the morning and come out in a beautiful nightgown and matching robe, showing her voluptuous figure to best advantage, perfectly made up, and with her long blonde hair done up in gorgeous curls on top of her head.  She completed the look with high heeled slippers, for heaven sake!  (Did they accidently put her on the wrong floor?  Could this woman have possibly just given birth? Maybe the baby they sometimes brought her was rented!)  If you are old enough to remember what Bridget Bardot looked like in her heyday, you can picture how Blondie looked after her morning “assembly.”

I, on the other hand, would go into the bathroom for my morning shower and reappear shortly thereafter, face freshly scrubbed but mostly unadorned, brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and wearing one of my practical little flannel numbers, tastefully accessorized with my comfy chenille robe and fuzzy slippers.  I’m sure when Blondie and I walked down the hall together (fuzzy slippers shuffling and stiletto heels clicking; chenille drooping and satin swishing) we probably looked like the “before” and “after” pictures on one of today’s make-over TV shows. 

Blondie told me that she and her husband had both been married before, and this baby girl was their first child together, and a first daughter for both of them.  I could have guessed that when her husband showed up the first day with so many gifts that he had had to borrow a cart from the gift shop, because he couldn’t carry them all.  He then proceeded to fill her side of the room with pink baby things from the local high-end baby store and two dozen pink roses.

I did have more visitors than Blondie, but even that wasn’t particularly an ego boost because when some of my visitors would walk into the room (and not just those of the male variety) they would be immediately dazzled  — and distracted — and have trouble carrying on a conversation with me, the person they had come to see — not only because of Blondie’s gorgeous presence, but because her side of the room was a wonderland in pink, looking like a combination baby store/flower shop.

Luckily, my husband is not, and never has been, easily dazzled.  So, when he came to visit me, he may not have been carrying arm-loads of presents, but he also didn’t spend his time looking at my roommate.  I have never loved my not-impressed-with-razzle-dazzle man more.

But, apparently Hubby did notice the contrast between Blondie’s side of the room, i.e., the pink wonderland, and my unadorned side of the room, and felt sorry for me, because he obviously decided this required extreme measures to even the odds a bit.  The second day I was there , a dozen of the most beautiful dark red  roses I had ever seen were delivered by a florist — from Hubby!  Now, I have made it clear in previous posts how temporary and therefore extravagant Hubby considers flowers, so this was a huge shock to me — but a wonderful, ego-boosting shock for which I will always be grateful.  His so-out-of-character gesture made me feel beautiful and loved — exactly the result he was hoping for. 

By the way, there was one particularly interesting tidbit I learned from Blondie:  those luscious curls on top of her head? — she confided, it was a wiglet!!  I had never heard of one before, but I went right home and bought one, so that I too could have beautiful curls at any time.  Of course, I didn’t get quite the same result with my wiglet as Blondie did with hers, but it was pretty darn handy to be able to pull all of my hair up on top of my head and plop that little cap of curls right on top — instant hairdo!  A real plus when you have a newborn baby and a two year old.

The maternity ward was an interesting place back in the 60’s when you actually stayed for a few days.  And, sometimes you met verrry interesting people — like my roommate, Blondie.

Welllll, I Guess You Could Call it Getting Well!

February 17, 2008

My friend Mary Margaret told me that when a friend of hers was in the hospital after giving birth to a baby, the friend’s husband sent her a get well card

I think that must be a fun couple to know.

I THINK I Read That Book . . .

February 15, 2008

. . . in the ’60’s!

In my fiction writing class, Dr. H talks for most of the two and a half hours.  That may sound like it would be boring, but that’s certainly not the case with Dr. H.  He is fascinating.  He has read and can recount in detail (and wonderfully acts out scenes from) every book known to Man — or, at least, that’s the way it seems to me.  And, naturally, books and authors, with an occasional movie thrown in, are most of what he talks about — plot, setting, characters, structure, dialogue — what makes the story succeed.

He will name a book and then say, “Who has read that?”  I will immediately start back through my memories, trying to think if I’ve read it.  “Hmmm. Well, maybe I did 40 years ago, or was it that I saw the movie, or did I just hear a lot of talk about it  (OR am I thinking of another book with a similar plot !) . . .”  but by the time I’ve done that, he’s moved on and pointed at someone who did raise their hand and asks them a question about the plot, like how the book ends!  (Certainly not something you can “bluff.”)

So, during the break in Tuesday’s class, I approached Dr H and told him (because I was afraid that by this time he was thinking, “This woman hasn’t read ANYTHING!”) that I was reluctant to raise my hand if I wasn’t absolutely sure I had read the book.  And, what I was thinking but didn’t say was, I feared that if I did raise my hand, he might look at me and say, “describe the ending,” and what if I couldn’t remember the ending, or remembered it wrong!  So, hopefully, I’ve convinced him I have cracked a book or two in my 61 years, it’s just that many of the ones he talks about are classics that if I read them it would have been during my school days, a looooong time ago.  I ended the conversation by saying, “Remember, when you ask about a certain book, the other people in the class probably only have to go back through 5 or 6 years of memory — while I have to go back through 45 years of memory!” (I’m assuming most people start their serious reading at 15 or 16).  I have no idea what he thought of that conversation, but I felt better just having had it.

I have started a reading list of the books he talks about because, even if I did read them once in the far, far past, he has renewed my interest and I would like to read them now — A Farewell to Arms, Murder on the Orient Express, Grapes of Wrath, The Good Earth, On The Beach . . .

Dr. H, himself, has written over 50 books (and lectures at writing seminars, by the way).  So, he not only uses other writers’ works for examples, but also his own.  This week, he read two descriptions of New York City — one he had written from the viewpoint of a starry-eyed young woman new to the city, and one from the viewpoint of a jaded cop looking for a killer.  His point was that the writer helps set the mood for the scene by how he describes the setting. 

He also gave an example of how an author’s own style influences how they describe something, by reading two descriptions of drought, first by Pearl Buck in The Good Earth and then so differently, but just as eloquently, by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.

I could go on and on, and probably make your eyes cross, but I really am finding all of this very fascinating.

And, now that I’ve had a chance to tell Dr. H that my intentions are “pure” even if my memory is “murky,” I will still not hold up my hand unless I’m absolutely positive that I know how the book ends, because I have a genuine fear of looking foolish to this class of “whipper snappers” to a degree that I am sure I would not have with a class of my peers.  Go figure.

Pre-Sibling Rivalry

February 14, 2008

Heard in the grocery store:

A little boy about 3 or 4 years old to his very pregnant mother, “You know, Mommy, just because we have a baby, doesn’t mean we have to keep it.”

The Subject Is Roses

February 13, 2008

Well, it’s the day before Valentine’s Day, and many women will receive roses tomorrow, but there are some of us who probably won’t.  So, I’m re-printing a post I did in September in hopes that it will help anyone who DOESN’T receive roses to  count the blessings they have.

Roses – How Temporary

September 26, 2007

red-roses.jpgHubby has always had a problem with flowers as a gift.  It’s not that he can’t see how beautiful they are.  It’s just that he finds them so — temporary.  And his solid German Lutheran, farm family background means he was raised to like solid, usable kinds of gifts (thermal underwear or savings bonds come to mind). I learned this before we were even married, in a very memorable way. After high school, I went to work at a large insurance company as a secretary.  Hubby-in-waiting and I became engaged that summer (I was 18, he was 20).  At the insurance company I worked with someone else who was engaged — the beautiful “older” (20) secretary and part-time dance instructor, who glided instead of walked — Loretta.  She was not only tall, graceful and beautiful, she also had a soft well-modulated voice and was one of the nicest people I had ever met (don’t you just hate her type?).  The beautiful Loretta was engaged to the besotted Dick, who always looked at her with adoring eyes that clearly said how lucky he knew he was that she was going to marry HIM. 

One Friday morning beautiful, long-stemmed red roses arrived at the office for Loretta with a card that just said, “Happy Friday, Love, Dick”  That was just about the most romantic thing that my 18 year old self had ever seen!  So, that evening when Hubby-in-waiting and I went out, I told him that romantic story.  He didn’t say much but I found out later he WAS listening.

The next Friday evening when we went out, I found out what Hubby-in-waiting felt he had learned from the story about Loretta and Dick — fiancee’s liked surprise gifts!  So, when we got in his car to go to a movie. he pulled out a little box with a bow on it, and, of course, professed his love.  How exciting!  It was a long box, so maybe a bracelet!  But, I couldn’t really picture him picking something like that out — so I opened the box to find what he HAD lovingly picked out — a beautiful — (drum roll) — pen and pencil set. 

Hmm.  I’d like to say that I ohhhed and ahhhed over said pen and pencil set, but I remember my 18 year old self well enough to be pretty sure Hubby-to-be would have easily read my underwhelmed-ness. 

Over the years I have told this story many, many times — always with lots of laughs at the punch line.  And Hubby has always just smiled and taken the ribbing good naturedly that he always gets about it.  But, I have come to treasure this as a story that says so much about who Hubby is.  He loves me but he tempers that love with practicality — something that I have always been short on myself.  He is a rock not a fluffy cloud. 

Hubby is not perfect.  But, he is the absolutely perfect husband for me.  God knew that when He gave Hubby to imperfect me.  I am so blessed with my thermal underwear, savings bond, pen & pencil set guy.  

God’s blessings are sometimes in pen and pencil sets when we’d rather have roses.  May we all be able to see the love in the gift more than the gift in the box.