Monthly Archives: June 2009

Tanner and Me (he’s no Marley)

“Mom. . . Tanner pooped in the laundry room.”  Max shook me gently as I opened my eyes and squinted at the clock.  Six am.  “It’s diarrhea,” he added. 

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

Isn't our wittle Tanner just the sweetest wittle baby!

I looked over at Craig who was holding his hand over his mouth and gagging.  I shook my head in disgust and  wondered how he would feel if I told him Tanner used his toilet as a water dish.  Some things are better left unsaid.

We weren’t looking to get a dog.  Craig and I had decided long ago we were not “dog” people (we weren’t even sure we were “children” people).  So you can imagine my confusion when three years ago, an unknown man called and told me he’d received a message from me about adopting his dog.
 
“I didn’t leave you a message.” I explained.

“Someone named Gracie emailed me that she was interested in adopting a dog.” 

“She did, did she.  Hold for a moment, please.”  I put my hand over the phone and screamed in that crazed-mother voice that  Kate Gosselin  would appreciate.  “Gracie!  Get down here!”

Why some animals eat their young

My daughter had always wanted a pet and apparently the thirteen year-old cat she’d had for two months didn’t count.  Come to find out, behind my back my only girl had been emailing shelters all over the Chicago area just to “ask” about the dogs available for adoption.
 
“If you don’t take him we’ll have to put him down,” the very bad man threatened. He had shown up at our house, Tanner by his side.  “We’re moving to Europe tomorrow and he can’t come.”

I thought the circumstances somewhat suspect, but that red flag got lost in the desperate cries to save him and the whispers that good mothers do allow their children pets.  I was also going through a vulnerable phase in my life (the “Protein Diet”) and by instinct, my children found the crack in my armor and exploited my weakness.

Chow? Shepherd? Mutt???

Tanner was an interesting looking dog.  He had the face and upper body of a Shepherd, and the tail, tongue and coat of a Chow.  He was colored as his name suggested, and his owner must have warned him of his future because he sat there obediently as though he knew of the consequences if he didn’t.
  
I questioned him up and down about Tanner’s manners, his temperament, and his ability to use an outside bathroom. I was assured by the man-that-told-many-lies, that Tanner was a model citizen, was perfectly potty-trained, and got along well with anyone – man or animal.  Against my better judgment I gave into offspring pressure and Tanner came to live with us.

Our three boys!

Our three boys!

Tanner started out on good terms.  He stayed near the house, came when called and did his business in the business section of our yard.  But soon his instincts crept back in and the craziness of a Chow combined with the protectiveness of a Shepherd made for an unpredictable mix. 

He was not, I repeat not, friendly with other dogs.  As a matter of fact he was diagnosed dog-aggressive by our vet after he jumped through our electric fence, attacked one of our neighbor’s Shelties (requiring stitches in the dog’s paw that cost us a couple hundred dollars) and jumped back through the fence taking the shock for the second time.  My neighbor has just recently started speaking to me.

The vet recommended that we either put Tanner down or get the dog therapy.   (I forgot to mention, Tanner also bit a hole in one of my mother’s dogs’ head, chased and almost bit a play-date as well as biting my nephew’s leg.  Oh, he also got into a number of fights with any dogs he met while on his walks, chased cars as they drove by and stood in our door and growled fiercely at anyone who dared ring the doorbell)

But by this time, my husband was having a love affair with the dog.  He would call and in a baby voice ask me how our little pumpkin was or if Tanner had had his morning poop.  When he came home from work, he’d brush by me as I stood there mouth puckered, calling out “Tanner” and rolling on the floor and wrestling with the dog that he initially did not want.

Maybe he still has issues with his parents?

We decided to spend the $450 for an hour with the “behaviorist” as we just couldn’t bear the thought of a death-row dog.  This is what we got for our money.

“How do you verbally respond when Tanner misbehaves?” The doctor held his clipboard, pen in hand.

“We usually say something along the lines of ‘Tanner, no, no, no.  Bad doggie.’” Craig spoke up in his baby-voice.

The doctor raised his eyes at us as he scribbled furiously.  “Do you ever hit him?”

“What?” Craig whispered, horrified.
 
The doctor shrugged.  “I’m just asking.”

I couldn’t hold back.  “I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t compare him to other dogs, but last week after he chased the Fed-Ex man, I told him, in a very stern voice, that he was no Bo Obama, and I was sure that Bo didn’t act that way.”  There I’d said it!

The doctor couldn’t write fast enough.  “What was the situation when he attacked the Sheltie.”

I started to explain before Craig cut me off.  “Those dogs are stuck-up.  The prance by Tanner every day and they tease him.  They’re like ‘Our dog dodo doesn’t stink’.  When they bark it sounds like ‘ha ha ha ha’.”  I looked over at Tanner, sitting nicely beside the vet and I swore he winked at me.

“I think I see the problem,” the vet answered as he put the clipboard down.  His recommendation was eight hours of behavior modification, every day.  We could put Tanner on medication and work with him but there were no guarantees.  As a matter of fact, he told us, it may be too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and we couldn’t, in good conscious, give him to anyone.  Most shelters did not take aggressive dogs and we may be better off, well you can guess what he told us he would do.

We left in a bit of a huff, wondering why no one saw our dog in the same light we did.  We would just have to keep him, literally, on a short leash.  Now, when someone comes to the door, I ask them if they are afraid of dogs that bite.  If they answer affirmatively, I put Tanner in another room.
 
He is getting older, we guess he may be around ten, and his bark has lost some of the vicious gusto it used to have, but he is our dog and we love him.  We’ve been lucky to avoid a lawsuit so far, but we do we have an attorney in the family so in case of an incident, we got that goin’ for us.  Which is nice.

Let’s Make a Deal

‘Tis the season and either you do or you don’t.  I, of course, do.  My husband does not.  To garage sale or not to garage sale, that is the question.
 
I come from a long line of sturdy salers (no pun intended) and we take our craft seriously.  Any of you in this exclusive club know exactly what I mean.  Timing, appearance, and even tone, play crucial roles in negotiations and can mean the difference between going home empty-handed or with a car full of treasures.

It dosen’t get any better than this

This past Saturday was a red-letter day for our household.   First, my daughter had borrowed my minivan to move her school furniture and I was fortunate to have her car, a 1995 Toyota Corolla.  Second, my husband was working and third, Max and Sam had saved a few bucks and were pumped and ready to roll. The stars had aligned and our antennas were up and searching for the universal neon signs that would guide us to our destiny.

My boys and I can spend hours searching for bargains and I have taught them well. Not to brag, but for children still under ten, they can spot a “good” sale from the slow drive-by.  “Baby stuff, furniture, large dish table,” Max, my nine-year-old, might comment.  “Keep it moving.”

Max and our haul!

Notice the FREE toboggan (his head is fine), the pink skates (I told the boys all professional players start out with these-it was good luck) and the fancy wheelchair and walker!

Many of the life lessons that I have taught my children come from the experiences I have had with the “sellers” that I have met along my journey.  Example, they know how to play the “I’m only a kid” hand in the way that gives the biggest bang for their buck.  They understand the “long face” and how that can mess with an adult’s decision.  Most important, they have seen the power of a “walk-away” and the critical timing involved with the “over-the-shoulder last chance glance”.

You have to know when to hold ‘em

As I mentioned, Saturday we hit the motherload.  It started slow but picked up after we discovered the free (yes, FREE) toboggan from 1965.  It took us a sale or two to get into the groove, but by noon we could do no wrong.  A harried mom in a stained sweatshirt, a damaged beater for a car, kids wearing Crocs that are two sizes too small, blue frosting still on their mouths from the last garage/bake sale . . . we were working it.

“How much for the hockey stick?” Sam, my eight-year-old, asked his first mark that morning.

“Five bucks.”

“It’s a lefty; I’ll give you a dollar.”  Sam reached into his Spiderman wallet and pulled out one of the carefully folded bills and waved it slowly in front of the man’s face.  The “hard-cold-cash” ploy worked and the seller took it.

 “Will you take 25 cents for this?”  Max held up the electric bug zapper shaped like a tennis racquet to the woman at our next stop.

“I paid ten bucks for it,” she said as if insulted.

Max shrugged his shoulders and slowly set the zapper down.  The woman knew that she either had to take the hit or keep the zapper.  “Fifty cents,” she countered.

“Sold,” Max replied cheerfully.

And know when to fold ‘em

This shrewd bargaining is all because of the practice and the training they have received.  Our special time is not only good mommy/me time, but it’s also an opportunity to teach them the value of money and the psychology of the deal.

“Now boys, watch, listen and learn.” I whispered to my little students.  I picked up a stack of used DVD’s, each marked six dollars.  “This seems a bit high,” I mentioned to the woman running the show.  “They sell new ones at Blockbuster for five.

“Well those are my neighbors and that’s what they’re priced at.”

Now this kind of logic is the perfect segue into a life lesson for the children. I waited until we returned to the car and squeezed in, carefully avoiding the pogo stick and the stilts.
 
“This sale is going to end soon and that poor inexperienced woman will still have her DVD’s.  No one will buy them for six dollars.  Not even five or four.  See, we don’t even know they work and you can buy new ones for not much more.”

“What’s a fair price,” my little bargainers asked.

“Well, DVD’s can be rented for a dollar at the red box at Walgreens and how many times can you realistically watch the same one.”  I thought about it.  “I’d offer a dollar for one, five for the whole lot.”

“Hmm,” they replied, and I could tell they took my advice seriously.  Not only was I proud, but I realized these are the times that warm a mother’s heart.
 

Our "special" vehicle

Our "special" vehicle

I can’t help myself but I need to share some of the items we purchased that day.  I guess part of the joy that comes, alongside the value, is being able to let others know that you now own something they don’t.  My best buy came at the end of the day as the sellers were closing up.
 
We were packed into the car, lifejackets and books piled on laps, and the joy from earlier had turned to ugliness.  There had been an out-and-out fistfight over the pogo stick and the woman at the last house had been unwilling to bargain over the four-foot tall armored Knight.  No one was happy.

I left the boys in the car and walked up the drive.  I found a bunch of books for my dad (no big deal) but when I spied the new wheelchair in the corner, I just couldn’t help myself.  I asked how much.

“I was asking fifty,” she told me, “but I’ll take twenty-five.”

I have no need for a wheelchair and I don’t know of anyone who is presently sick, but I hesitated.  Twenty-five bucks was a pretty good deal.

The hesitation did it.

“Okay, ten.  Give me ten dollars and I’ll throw in the walker.  I just want to get rid of it.”  I glanced over and sitting against the wall was a shiny new walker.  It even had the split tennis balls already attached to the front legs.  I couldn’t believe my luck!  Ten bucks for a new wheelchair and a walker!  I accepted and we shook hands to seal the deal.
 
Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.  My parents would be so proud.

Local Chicago publisher hits the big time!

“That’s a horrible picture of you.”  The woman with the frizzy hair pointed up to the large banner with the caricature of me sitting in my Coffee Blog cup.  “It’s really bad.”

“Do you think so?” I replied, taken aback.  Not only was her manner brusque, but I actually thought the picture was somewhat flattering and  I’ve had worse.  (First photo after giving birth – not good)

“Terrible.  Not good at all.  Your hair looks like a wig and your face looks fat.”  She looked around.  “Are you giving anything away for free?”

I handed her a pair of cotton gardening gloves with the word “MOM” stenciled on them.  “Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled sweetly.  “It has been a pleasure.”

She looked disappointedly at the gloves as she dropped them in her bag.  “My advice – get a new photographer.”

“A real pleasure,” I repeated as I glanced over at Dawn, who was gently peeling a man’s very hairy hand from her arm. “Dawn,” I called out, “can I talk to you?”  She looked at me gratefully as she made her way out of the corner in which she had been backed in to.  We needed a code word.

Here’s the dealio . . .

Situation analysis . . . BEA – BookExpo America, the largest publishing conference in the U.S., New York City, May 2009.  Windy City Publishers was making its debut and I, along with partners Dawn and Kristyn, was manning our booth on the convention floor.  The lines to get in were long and we were crazy busy from the moment the doors opened and a brave librarian threw herself across the entrance threshold, determined to be the first to get Fabio’s autograph.  No one had the heart to tell her the Harlequin icon hadn’t been there since 1995.             

windycity

Lise, Kristyn and Dawn - before the storm hit!

My friend, Debbie, who helps run the show, was kind enough to garner us a booth in the middle of the action, a stone’s throw from Random House and Simon and Schuster.  This gesture was testament to her willingness to let bygones be bygones as earlier this year my husband had gotten into a heated discussion with her.  The debate had concerned some ridiculous provision in the contract for the booth space, and we almost didn’t go as he told me, “You can’t sign this, it’s too one-sided.”  But the threat of divorce can be a serious one and he quickly changed his tune and made nice with Debbie. “I understand,” she told me apologetically, “he’s a lawyer.”

Don’t judge us by our junk!

Authors, publishers, book sellers, book buyers, librarians and anyone who was willing to pay the piper roamed the two floors of the large convention center.  Our goal: to get as many of these fine folk to stop by our small 10 x 10 booth and listen to our pitch.  The hook?  Junk.
 
Last January a local warehouse outlet store was going out of business and I struck a deal with the manager to take cases of the cheesy merchandise off her hands for, literally, pennies.  The thought at the time was to hand out the Speed Racer tire gauges, rulers that said “girls rule”,  gardening gloves (see above), Rubik’s cube erasers and a number of other “gifts” as bait to lure the folks hustling by into the WCP booth.

But Dawn and Kristyn did not share in my excitement.  They didn’t find the charm in the golf balls that said “dear dad” or the lighted magnifying glass shaped like a dog.  “I’m not sure how to tie that in with publishing.” Kristyn, ever the marketer, told me diplomatically.  “They don’t even say Windy City Publishers.”

“It’s just the fact that they’re free,” I said.  Thoughts of my cheap relatives passed quickly through my head – had I unknowingly become my father?  “Everyone likes something for free.”

My argument did not convince them and we struck a deal.  I had one hour after the show opened to make my case.  If the gifts did not perform as I expected, the Ice Age II bouncy balls and Harry Potter stickers, along with the other treasures, would be pulled and stored behind closed doors.  We could then join the ranks of the sophisticated other vendors who were above such nonsense and hopefully Windy City Publishers would have enough time to earn back the respectability that such a stunt might damage.

The Big Bet

Dawn was so confident they were right, she offered to kiss a certain large part of my anatomy for a year if I was proved wrong, and Kristyn joined in the bet, both women convinced that I had relapsed and the bizarre voices in my head had returned.

It could have been the fact that I stood in the aisles shouting “free stuff” or that I practically stalked the patrons walking by, but within minutes it became obvious that the pink lava pens were a hit.  Say it with me, friends . . . we like free junk!  I know I’ll take anything (two if it’s small) of whatever you want to give me, even if I have no need for it, no place to store it or don’t even know what it is.  I actually bought 1500 of the Rubik’s erasers, knowing that I would have at least one item for birthday gift bags for all the foreseeable future.
 
But people pushed into our booth, jockeying for position.  We overheard librarians claiming that we gave out the best chotchkies and they would pass on our location to their friends.  The booth was busting at the seams, folks spilled out into the asles and we couldn’t keep up with the crowds.  We did manage to spread the good word of our company and collected hundreds of business cards in addition to talking non-stop for three days.  We met some really great people (hi to Ray, Barbara and Peter) and some really interesting people (translation: strange).

lise_christine

Check out one of our BEA featured authors, Christine Sandor (This is Not Goodbye). She gives a glowing review of WCP in her brief video - and we didn't have to pay or threaten her to do it. Bonus!

Click here for Christine’s video

I’m not one to rub it in, but WCP was the buzz of BEA, partially because of our swag, partially because of the scantily dressed models we had hanging out (I’m just pulling your leg – Kelly and Leslie aren’t models).  I may slightly exaggerate, but we were very popular.  The “gifts” proved to be excellent bait, and I’m happy to report I have a year of special lovin’ coming my way from two of my very favorite people (That would be you, Dawn and Kristyn).
 
Now if anyone is interested in a Rubik’s cube eraser – have I got a deal for you! 

A special thanks to our good friend and design expert, Jeff Comeau, (IntuitDesign) for all his hard work, on both his design work and his manual labor at the show.  P.S.  Jeff, my leg is fine, the bruises have healed nicely!

 

The Trouble with Tami

A Short Story

(This means I made it up, Craig)

Rumor had it that Tami Winslow drank Drano when she was a young child. The acid ate through her mouth and upper lip giving her the look and voice of a soft-spoken hare-lip. She wasn’t a friend of mine – we ran in different circles, but she was somewhat of a freakish attraction in our first year of junior high school, to be whispered about and discussed behind her back.

Tami was in my English class and sat in the last seat in my row. As I passed back the less-than-remarkable graded papers, I couldn’t help but notice the sad and pathetic fact that she always dotted the “i” in her name with a little heart. I wasn’t cruel to her as some of the other children were, but I pitied Tami for her handicap, her home in the trailer-park and her tacky clothes from K-Mart.

Tami and I also shared 5th period gym class and the masochistic charms of one Miss Kotel, obviously nicknamed, Miss Kotex. Everyone hated Miss Kotex as she never failed to go to great lengths to embarrass the teenage girls that were her charge. It wasn’t uncommon to find some scorned young lady had taken out her revenge and written obscenities involving Miss Kotex on the crumbling walls of our basement locker room. This was the case one morning when I rounded the corner behind the showers and discovered Tami Winslow writing her opinion of the hateful teacher with a black marker. Apparently, Miss Kotex had humiliated Tami by referencing her scarred mouth during calisthenics and had provoked the timid girl into action that was not usually in her nature.

“Don’t tell” she pleaded in her soft lisp. I shook my head and hurried out of the locker room and up the stairs to the gym.

What I did next is a mystery to this very day and haunts me during the times I feel the need to self-flagellate in my adult life. I did tell Miss Kotex of Tami’s stunt, though ironically I had done the same the week before. Tami and her mother were called into the principal’s office and “appropriate actions” were taken. Tami was made an example for any student wishing to deface the walls of our dilapidated locker room walls.

We all watched for weeks as she was forced, during 5th period gym, to paint the entire wall of the graffiti-filled locker room. The vulgar slogans of the disenchanted slowly disappeared beneath the strokes of the gray paint, including the one Tami had written, “Miss Kotex has penis envy.” Tami painted the whole wall with the exception of one small heart. The heart that dotted the eye in her “penis” had defiantly been left untouched.