Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Book giveaway. And free book reports. Because I miss 4th grade.

Woo hoo! Thanks for all the fun haikus in the mad competition to win a copy of Melissa Westemeier's latest, Kicks Like a Girl. It was tough, but our winner is ... Heather Nelson of To Thine Own Self Be Food.

Heather's haiku:
It’s a common fact
that every girl wants her own
Fitzwilliam Darcy.

How could you compete with a haiku that brings to mind Colin Firth?

You couldn't, OK? You just couldn't.

So, because I like the book learnin' so much, here are some books I've enjoyed lately. Writing book reports in 4th grade was supposed to be this huge, scary thing, but I actually liked them. Maybe that's why I ended up an English major ... college was a series of book reports and beer, and it was good.

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel
My book club picked this book last fall and it sat on my nightstand for roughly forever. But I devoured it on a recent trip, and it's lovely. Jess Walters' prose is gorgeous, and the tale itself puts "Days of Our Lives" to shame. Intrigue! Movie stars! Italy! Plus, the novel revolves around the filming of "Cleopatra," so anyone with any interest in Old Hollywood or the hot mess that was Liz and Dick will especially love it.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune
When Huguette Clark died at almost 104, she had something like $300 million to her name. And she'd lived in a modest hospital room for the last 20 years, not because she was sick, but because she liked it. She was obsessed with doll houses, but had redonkulous real estate - including a mansion she'd never seen, and another she hadn't seen for 50 years. Was she crazy? Eccentric? Or just her own person? I loved this book, which tells a great tale and also has respect for its subject.

It's All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir)
In this book of essays, Wade Rouse covers everything from gay pride to chemotherapy. He's a small-town Midwestern boy and it's difficult for me to write about his writing without sounding like a total fangirl. I'm from a small town in the Midwest, too! Wade sounds like someone I could have grown up with! He is funny and honest and an amazing storyteller and I totally want to be his friend! But not in a stalkerish kind of way! I literally laughed out loud and ugly cried while reading this collection. Highly recommended.

And what have you enjoyed reading lately?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book giveaway! An autographed book!

Happy World Book Night! It's the official day to share a book and encourage nonreaders to pick up the best bad habit.

Truthfully? I don't know any nonreaders. I'm blessed to be surrounded by books, sturdy bookshelves, and friends who start conversations with, "Ohmigod, I have to tell you about this book I'm reading."

Life is good.

And life is especially good when you can share something you love. Case in point: I'm giving away the latest book by my fabulous friend Melissa Westemeier! You probably know her as Green Girl in Wisconsin. And you should totally know her as the author of smart, funny chick lit.

I devoured Melissa's first book, Whipped, Not Beaten. And now I'm in the midst of enjoying her latest, Kicks Like a Girl.

You guys. It's lovely. It's a treat to enjoy a book where the protagonist a) doesn't live in New York; b) doesn't work in publishing or marketing; and c) is a strong, kick-ass woman. Just sayin'.

I'm pumped to give away an autographed copy of Kicks Like a Girl. Yeah, I said autographed. Because this is a classy joint. Also, it's a new copy - not the one I'm reading. You don't have to worry about my cooties all over your book.

To enter, write a haiku about the awesomeness of reading, or your favorite book, or a book you'd recommend. You know, like this:

Beautiful Ruins
I just read you, so graceful
All my friends love you


My favorite book
From the library my mom
Bought me a copy

Not to be nice, but
Because she was sick and tired
Of checking it out

I was 3 and not
Happy with the "return" part
Of book borrowing

Leave your haiku(s) in the comments by midnight, Monday, April 28. Entries will be judged for creativity and general awesomeness. Ready, set, go!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Self-awareness is awesome.

Today, a 7-year-old pal informed me of some news. Big news.

Over the weekend, he switched favorite animals.

Penguins were his favorite animal, but he was at the haircutter place, and they had a snake toy, so he switched his favorite animal to snakes. But then he switched it back to penguins. Also, his favorite foods are still tacos and pizza.

You gotta be you, man. You gotta be you.

My favorite animals have always been dogs, although I did go through a brief duck phase in 1986. And my favorite foods are cooked carrots and no-bake cookies. Because they are delicious.

I love this simplicity. It's like college, when people would ask where you were from and what your major was - but to the nth degree. You can really learn a lot about a person by asking about their favorite animals and favorite foods.

So. What's your favorite animal? What's your favorite food? Tell all!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Praise dog from whom all blessings flow.

Today's religious insight is courtesy of my 90-pound labradoodle.
Everything is so good. I love you.
I'm trying to work. Big Doodle keeps putting his Volkswagon-sized head on my arm, or in my lap. He just wants to be close. I try to type and pet him at the same time, and manage to poke him in the eye. It doesn't even faze him.

Big Doodle looooooves me. Big Doodle wants to be with me all the time. Big Doodle forgives my imperfections.

Dogs are God in physical form.

When you get a dog, you initially think of what they are going to bring to your life - love, someone to talk to, a reason to exercise. But you end up serving the dog - providing for its physical needs, finding toys or activities for enrichment, lavishing attention and time. But instead of being thankless work, this service just makes your relationship with the dog better and better. The more you give, the more you get.

It's not all sunshine and roses. I'm pretty sure dachshunds are Old Testament God, all full of vengeance and wrath.
Wrath. Wrath!
Doxies are 10% love, 90% demands, and some of those demands don't exactly seem rational. They haven't asked me to build an ark (yet), but sometimes, the requests to go in and out and in and out and then come in again feel close. I'm trying to be of service, but I don't understand what they want.
You have displeased me.
Sometimes I realize the method in the madness. I'm supposed to get up from my desk so I can have a quick brainstorm. Or, all the in and out reminds me that it's a beautiful day, and I should take time to enjoy it. These dogs provide my own personal doxology, a cadence of life and energy and love.

This is my ministry. Or my Sisyphean struggle. But mostly, my blessing.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

There are no adults. It's just us!

It's a Thursday night, and our neighbors are having A Grown-Up Party.

Luxury sedans line the street, and a gaggle of folks are enjoying their hosts' lovely brick patio and brand-new outdoor fireplace. There's scrumptious food and music that's fun but not too much. They probably even have some sort of signature cocktail.

I'm trying not to be the weird neighbor who looks out the window and watches. This is actually not that hard, seeing as how I'm busy cleaning up dog pee. Inside my house.

At least my dogs had the good sense to run outside, do their business (or not), then come back in with no fuss or barking. It's like they realized that we, as a pack, aren't classy enough to mix with the gentry next door. We should just cower in our house. You know, the house where a bunch of the front bushes died over the winter, so the whole place looks slightly "crazy cat lady meets 'Sanford and Son?'" That house?

Clearly, I am faking being a grown up.

I've always felt like I was faking being a writer, too. Because, you know, writing professionally for 15 years and blogging for 7 years don't count. Clearly, I was just pulling a fast one.

My recent writing workshop adventures made me rethink that. At some point during the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, between sessions and explaining that "I write about dogs and boobs?" Somewhere in there, I had an epiphany.

I'm a real writer.

I texted BFF and admitted this discovery to her. Because she's brilliant, her response was, "Jeez, YOU THINK?"

And my book club girls, upon hearing this same discovery? They were all like, "No shit." But then I asked, "Don't you guys ever feel like impostors, like you're going to be found out at any moment and outed for not knowing what you're doing?"

Ohhh. They all had that going for them in 1 area or another. Being a "real writer" just happens to be my personal sweet spot.

And yet we all drudge along, sure that everyone is smarter, more talented, more together, and just plain better.

We are so dumb.

We're all faking it 'til we make it. There are no grown ups. It's just us, over-grown kids that we are, trying to figure it all out, and still amazed that we can buy beer. None of us know what we're doing.

But we do know. If we're honest and willing to toot our own horns, we have areas of expertise. Mine are putting words together and making grilled-cheese sandwiches. I'm pretty happy with 2 solid life skills. I need to become more comfortable owning these mad skillz. You need a cheese-based meal or some web copy? I am your woman.

Throwing Grown-Up Parties isn't in my skill set, and that's OK. My skills are valuable, and my story is valuable, and I need to own them.

What's in your skill set?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Inspiration and vomit.

I just returned from the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. It was ... amazing.

I'd never been to a writers' conference before, and in the days leading up to the conference, I was all stressed out. I worried about having to pretend to be extroverted for, like, 3 whole days.

What if everybody was cooler/prettier/a gajillion times more talented than me? What if no one would sit next to me? It was like the first day of junior high all over again, except now I worried not about my locker, but about those pesky electronic hotel keys.

The first day of junior high was kind of terrible. Erma? Erma was wonderful.

I got to shack up with Green Girl, my blog friend of 6 or 7 years. We'd never actually met in person, but now I'm pretty sure she's my soul mate. And I met so many honest, supportive, wonderful people. I enjoyed a weekend of talking about writing with like-minded folk. And I got to see Phil Donahue, who is basically the coolest human ever.

Laura writes about her take-aways from the conference, and learning to maintain a little perspective. Yes. That. I think the trick now is to take the energy we got from the workshop and keep it going. It's tough when you're surrounded not by like-minded folk, but - sigh! - the real world.

I was very excited to see my sweet husband. He picked me up from the airport, and took me out to dinner on the way home. We chatted over salads and he wanted to hear every last detail about the workshop. I am blessed to have such support.

He mentioned that he had vacuumed "every surface I could find." I about fell out of the restaurant booth. Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Considering the 3 dogs / recently reseeded yard combo we've got kickin' right now? Best husband ever! Between dinner and the prospect of a clean house, I was a pampered woman, indeed.

A few minutes later, he casually mentioned that the previous night, he'd been so tired. Exhausted. And when he went to bed, he discovered that 1 of the dogs had either puked of peed on the bed. But it was on my side, and he was too tired to deal with it, so he left it.

And he left it that morning.

And it was waiting for us (read: me) when we got home.

And, well, it wasn't on my pillow, but near the pillow region of my side of the bed.

I sat back in my seat. I folded my napkin. I placed my knife at 1 end.

"Pretend this is my side of the bed," I said. "The knife is my pillow. Where is the dried bodily fluid located?"

My Guy took a draw on his beer and considered. "Well, it's in this region," he said, waving his hand right where my shoulders would go. "But, ehh, you know, it's probably dried by now." He laughed.

I examined my knife and wondered why restaurants that serve booze generally don't provide sharp cutlery. 

I sucked down my mojito and thought lovingly back to the Erma conference. Everyone was so nice, and we had daily housekeeping service in our room. One of the housekeepers even stopped me in the hallway to tell me how much she liked my hair. She made me feel like Miss America, minus the painful waxing.

You know what doesn't make you feel like Miss America? Sniffing your bed to determine what flavor of stain is on your sheets. No Miss America contestant in the history of ever has performed this particular trick as her talent. Trust me - I know my pageants.

If you must know, it was vomit. I consider that to be a win.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An open letter to my husband on our third anniversary.

My love,

Two nights ago, I walked into the family room to find you watching my least favorite sport ever, baseball (strike 1). You had thrown your socks across the room (strike 2). And you weren't wearing any pants.

Strike 3, obviously.

You immediately acknowledged your pantless state, confiding that you found pants to be too restrictive during intense sports-watching times. And the socks? Well, you felt a fool for wearing dress socks with no pants. They had to go.

You were wearing undies of a non-tighty-whitey nature, and I noted no discernible stains. My only option was to laugh and laugh and laugh.

Then, you read me the restaurant health inspection violations from the paper.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that acceptance, laughter, and shared interests are key to our marriage. Sure, I don't give 2 shits about baseball, but who doesn't love a good restaurant health violation?

You surprise and delight me. I still can't believe my good fortune. I think we should stay married.

Much like Paula Abdul, I'm forever your girl.


Monday, April 7, 2014

There's got to be a morning after.

A few months ago, I got my first taste of sweet, sweet 70s disaster flicks. I caught the last hour of "Airport 1975," starring Charleton Heston. It was fabulous.

The movie had cameos of pretty much every star from the 30s and 40s, still vying for relevance. Good ol' Chuck had to talk the world's most freaked-out stewardess through flying a plane. He kept calling her "honey" and "sweetie" and acting like breasts immediately mean you're an invalid. Of course, he finally just had to fly up to the airplane, climb in, and land the plane himself. While wearing a yellow turtleneck and saying "Dammit, man" several times. It was horrific and sexist and hilarious.

Sorry for the spoilers, but, well, it's a 40-year-old movie.

So, my enjoyment of "Airport 1975" caused me to DVR "The Poseidon Adventure." This seagoing disaster flick then sat on our DVR forever, until My Guy and I decided to watch it Saturday night.

You guys. This movie is AMAZING. It's the movie "Titanic" wishes it could be. It's the reason why I'm getting a life-sized tattoo of Gene Hackman on my back. "The Poseidon Adventure" is cinematic gold!

Basically, Leslie Nielson is the captain of The Poseidon, an old ocean liner on its last run. Some stuff happens, and the ship flips completely over - right after midnight on New Year's Eve, naturally.

This is bad.

But Gene Hackman is a hip minister who is questioning his faith. And he leads a small, rag-tag group of passengers on a so-crazy-it-just-might-work quest to escape The Poseidon. They are constantly outrunning water and explosions and terror.

You've got Ernest Borgnine. You've got Shelley Winters. You've got Red Buttons. You've got the cool grandpa from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." It's magic that keeps just a millimeter away from camp.

Here's why I like "The Poseidon Adventure:"
  • Gene Hackman shows that you don't have to look like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson to be a plausible action hero.
  • The people in this movie actually take the time to be afraid and upset - you know, like normal humans.
  • The song. Dear God, the song. It's been in my head for 3 days.

Here's the 1 thing I dislike about "The Poseidon Adventure:"
  • This movie is not about an adventure. An adventure is going somewhere and doing some new stuff. Going on a cruise and then having only 6 people on the entire ship survive isn't an adventure - it's the cruise from hell. This movie should have been called, "Poseidon: Never Get on a Boat Again."
That 1 issue aside? Obviously, I loved it. I'm now on a quest to see "The Towering Inferno."

What's your favorite disaster flick?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I've been doing in bed.

Migraines are like being hungover, in a boat, during an electrical storm.

So, that's what I was doing in bed Tuesday night and a good part of Wednesday. My random thoughts included:
  • I can't believe my eye socket hasn't actually, physically exploded.
  • My parents still talk about their 1982 ferry ride across the English Channel and how everybody was puking over the side of the boat. It must have been like this.
  • I understand now why really sick people just get tired of feeling horrible and want to escape their bodies.
  • It's a bummer that I'm going to spend the rest of my life in bed, lying just so to apply pressure to my eye socket. I'm gonna miss some cool stuff.
But then I felt better, and got up, and felt just a tiny bit delicate.

The next night? My Guy woke up all congested at 2:55. He got some Afrin, rearranged his pillows, and promptly fell back asleep.

I did not.

As my husband and 3 dogs snoozed blissfully, my random thoughts included:
  • I'm starving.
  • If I get up and eat a bowl of Rice Krispies, do those calories count toward yesterday or tomorrow?
  • Why is the kitchen so far away?
  • Well, clearly, I'm never going to sleep ever again.
  • I should just get up.
  • There's stuff to make enchiladas. I should just get up and make enchiladas. That way, I'm way ahead of the game for dinner.
  • If you make enchiladas at 4 a.m., that's probably a sign that you are crazy.
I finally fell asleep at 6:15, having never eaten cereal nor prepped dairy-free Mexican food. Instead, I dreamt about antiques and awoke to my cheery, well-rested husband kissing me goodbye at 8.

I'm out of bed. I'm dressed. There are no enchiladas. It's going to be a long day.