Lise M

Idle threats and a new book

There’s an obvious problem with idle threats and that is – they don’t work.  The threatenee (Craig) soon realizes you’re spitting in the wind and the threatenor (me) just gets increasingly frustrated.  Yes, I’m talking about the “divorce” threat and it has long lost its ability to shock and awe.

“If you don’t take out the garbage you can look for a letter from my attorney,” I have been known to say.

“I am your attorney,” Craig has been known to answer.  Boom!  Not a threat.

Or, I could mention that if he doesn’t clean up the garage, run a bubble bath for me or pick up the pile of dog poop in the yard, he might find me heading out the door to singlehood.
 
“Don’t forget the kids,” he’d call out, “and take that crazy dog, too.”  Snap!  Not a threat.

I can hear many of you armchair psychologists calling plays from the bench.   “If you have to threaten you have bigger fish to fry than the garbage” could be one of them.  Well, don’t think for one minute you have me fooled.  Anyone who says they haven’t used threats or bribes or blackmail or any form of coercion with their husband or children is still listing their weight as 125 pounds on their driver’s license.  As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Africa.

If I had a nickel for every complaint . . .

So anyway, back to my complaining and my threats to Craig.  If you don’t already know, I wrote a book last year called “Falling from the Moon”.  I could go on and on and on about how hard I worked and the hours sacrificed late at night writing or the TV shows I gave up to spend the time toiling in front of my computer, but I won’t.  I’m just not that kind of a person. 

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The front cover!

What I will tell you is that I read only that one book in two years and I read it about a hundred times!  I still did a crappy job at self-editing, but that is not my area of expertise.  It is actually something my husband is very good at.  I had hoped he might take one tinsy iota of interest in my accomplishment and do me a solid by reading through it and pointing out any typos or grammatical errors that I had overlooked.

Can’t pull the wool over my eyes

 But I’m sure you can already read the writing on the wall.  He protested that he had already put in eighty hours at work or that he read contracts all day or blah blah blah.  He falsely promised that as soon as he could catch his breath he would, that he was interested.  He just had a regular job, that by the way, paid the bills.  The excuses were staggering and it wasn’t long before I went from “when you get time” to “I’ll divorce you so fast it will make your head spin!”    One can only take so much heartache and abuse.

I think it was when two of his best friends found themselves in divorce court that he saw the light and did what was in his best interest.  Almost one year to the day that I finished the novel, he proudly announced to me that he had read “Falling” and proclaimed that “it was just like a real book”.  
 

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The back cover from "Falling"

At this point, I had a choice.  I could hold out and pout for a while (which has its advantages) or I could cave and discuss it with him.  My excitement at having a conversation about something other than American Idol or the upcoming Cleveland Brown’s football season won out and my heart raced as I blubbered, “Really?  What did you think?”

“It’s not funny,” he replied.

“It’s not supposed to be.  It’s historical fiction.”

“Well, then it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

My heart sank a little knowing that the last book he probably read was “Where the Wild Things Are” . . . to the children a few years ago.

“No really, Honey, it was great.”  He gave me a little hug and continued, “I couldn’t put it down and even got teary-eyed in a few places.  And the story was very engaging and I found myself caring about the characters and you didn’t leave any loose ends.   “Actually,” he looked at me with a renewed respect, “I’m impressed.  It was a really good book.”

“You think?” I asked.  The image I had of me sitting on some barstool, vodka in one hand, cigarette in the other, faded away.  I wouldn’t have to go back to serial dating!

“Yeah, I really mean it.”  I know him well enough that he is honest to the point of obnoxiousness.  He really did mean it.  “It would be a great movie,” he added.

All my dreams were coming true.  I would be the next Margaret Mitchell and “Falling” would be my “Gone with the Wind”.  It would be made into a blockbuster movie and I would buy a small island in the Caribbean, next to Johnny Depp.  Life was good.

“Have you sold any?”  Craig had the nerve to ask, always the kill-joy.

“Not yet.” I stated indignantly.  “But no one knows that the book’s for sale.  I haven’t announced it.”  My words own words rang out loud and clear as my island get-away slowly slipped into the sea.  It was apparent I needed a way to let a large number of people know that they could buy my book on Amazon or through our website bookstore.   I’m not the brightest knife in the drawer, but I’m sure something will come to me.
 
Hmmm . . .

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High School Reunion, here I come!

It’s funny.  When I was growing up in Michigan, I couldn’t wait to get out of the state and what I considered the blue-collared city of Battle Creek.  The cereal factories, the non-descript row homes, the downtown that could hardly be considered a hub of culture and it all embodied a background that I didn’t want to be associated with.

Battle Creek - Cereal Capital of the world!

Battle Creek - Cereal Capital of the world!

I certainly saw myself as more of a sophisticated kind of gal – one who enjoyed the enhanced opportunities that a metropolitan city would provide.  Like Dim sum on Sunday mornings in Chinatown, a downtown that boasted a skyline comparable to none, renowned universities and museums a cab ride away – the cultural diversity that Chicago could offer.

It wasn’t that I was used to these things.  There were no European trips or sports cars wrapped in a red ribbon sitting in my driveway on my sixteenth birthday.  My parents weren’t successful entrepreneurs or trust-fund babies, they were teachers and we lived a middle-class existence where, when you could start working, you did.  We drove American made cars, ate at Red-Lobster on special occasions and vacationed in northern Michigan during the summers

The Chicago skyline - it is pretty cool!
The Chicago skyline – it is pretty cool!

When I left for Illinois, I hardly looked back.  When people asked me where I was from, I laughingly said Michigan as though it were common knowledge that anyone who could get out, would.  I loved my new life, even though I was living in a two-bedroom apartment in Schaumburg and driving my Saturn into the city to work.  I wasn’t necessarily living the good-life, but I was awful close to people who were and that sort of thing rubs off.  We all shared the unspoken knowledge that, yes, we had arrived.  To where, I couldn’t tell you, but it was somewhere other than Battle Creek.

My life went through another change when I met Craig and the apartment turned into a house and the Saturn to a mini-van.  It was an effortless transition into a new life, one that I had not actively sought out, but rather expected would happen and I settled in, totally comfortable in my newest role.

You can run, but you can’t hide

But, as anyone wise will say, you can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl.  It took a couple years, but I did begin to miss trees, and crickets and the stars that light pollution didn’t hide. I missed leisurely drives in the country where you lick your vanilla cone and watch the horses or the late evening farmer finish his plowing.   Ice cream in the suburbs means traffic and lines and a three dollar baby cone.
  

Craig and the boys at Fort Mackinaw

Craig and the boys at Fort Mackinaw

I looked forward to family visits where we took long walks through the woods or on the beach or just sat on the porch with lemonade, gossiping about the latest small-town scandal. It wasn’t hard to convince Craig to vacation on Mackinac Island where walking through horse manure seems charming and fudge is the official hors d’oeuvre, served before every meal.
 
Even Battle Creek was different than what I remembered.  It wasn’t smoke you smelled from the factories, but the sweet aroma of Frosted Flakes and Rice Crispies drifting through the city.  The row houses reminded me of the days when my best friend, Tala, and I would sneak into her older sister Sherree’s bedroom to look at her Led Zeppelin album covers when she wasn’t there.  I recalled riding the bus downtown to shop at Robinson’s department store and eating hand-pressed burgers and shakes at Speed’s Coffee Shop.  Was my childhood far enough behind me that all things once evil had magically become nostalgic?

Returning to the scene of the crime

This weekend I’ll return again for my class reunion.  It’s a bit easier as FaceBook has allowed me the opportunity to pre-connect before meeting up with the classmates from Lakeview High School Class of 1979.  At one time I may have turned up my nose at the chance to see faces that may or may not have been friends, but I view things differently these days.  I’ve grown up now and it doesn’t matter to me how much money you make or how big your house is.  I want to hear how your brother is doing or what happened to your sister, the swimmer.  I want to tell you how sad I was to hear your mother passed away and how glad I am that your dad made it through his by-pass surgery with little complication.  I want to see pictures of your kids, hell, your grandkids, and hear about your life and what you’ve been doing for the past thirty years.

Sure, I’d have liked to have lost the twenty pounds that have found their way home and you betcha I have a hair appointment scheduled this week for a “touch-up” but frankly, I feel pretty comfortable with what and who I am these days.  This is not a claim I make lightly or have even made much in the past, but I have lost much of the baggage that I had dragged around and I don’t feel the need to be anything other than what I am.  Trust me, I still have my issues, but they’re not as life-threatening as I once thought they were.

So, this weekend should be fun.  Kelly comes in on Wednesday and the kids are at camp, so we’ll have plenty of time to reminisce of days gone by and old war stories.  I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of the “kids” I went to school with and remembering the few that didn’t make it to see this reunion.  All in all, I’d say it ain’t so bad.

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Children of the Corn

Little Max and Sam are a bit of a challenge.  Now, I know boys will be boys, but our sweet angels have been known to push the envelope and our biggest challenge is to figure out which household items can be easily converted to weapons.

I’m not talking obvious – sure knives and scissors are considered dangerous by some.  But it’s the every-day candle or can of soup that can throw a parent off.   Did you realize that a dismantled Lego, when thrown with the right velocity and at the perfect angle, can take out a tooth?  Who knew?

Who’s the Boss?

But Craig and I are responsible parents and after a long debate with Max, and to his bitter disappointment, we have decided firearms are off-limits, though the jury’s still out on explosives.  I’m not saying that giving a shot-gun to an angry nine year-old with a vendetta is a bad choice, it’s just our choice.
 
Besides, who needs weapons when good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat can be just as effective?  And the bonus is it can be done anywhere.   My little guys love to fight at parties, at weddings, on the bus (a favorite), at concerts and movies – really, in just about any public venue you can think of (I think it’s the excitement of having a captive audience).   Why, just the other day I broke up an all-out brawl in the meat department at Costco.  And I only became involved when the manager had the nerve to ask us to leave.

Just another day. . .

Just another day. . .

The best thing about the physical abusive Max and Sam inflict on each other is the colorful language that accompanies the beatings.  For an eight and nine year-old, I’ll admit that  they  have a fairly sophisticated vocabulary. 

Though it’s kind of funny, and I don’t know how  they  got it mixed up, but  both my boys are under the  impression that  the phrase is “damn-god” not the other way around (as in “I’m going to knock his damn-god head off”).  How cute is that?

Now Max is my strategic planner.  Even when he was two, he knew exactly when to push his just-walking one year-old brother down the steps.  He picked on Sam brutally until we showed Sam how effective biting can be.  That seemed to even the playing board a bit.

It’s hard to squelch Sam’s fierce determination to retaliate after an unfair business practice by his brother.  I’m totally astonished at how long he can sit-in-wait for the perfect opportunity to kick Max in the groin.  I have seen him hold out for days before he finds just the right moment.  You have to admit it’s a virtue, that kind of patience.

Weapons training for children – are they ever too young?

Sam is considered by some, an expert in managing the staff, or spear as we sometimes refer to it.  Our “Sweetie-peetie-pumpkin-pie-Sammer” (my pet name!) is becoming so adept at handling this unique weapon, I’m thinking he could be a contender for the javelin in the 2016 Olympics.  Last week I found him working diligently to remove the handle base from my house broom.
 
“There!” he cried as he stood and began twirling.  That five-foot broom handle was turning so fast it was making my head spin.
 
“Light the ends on fire,” he shouted.

“That seems awfully dangerous,” I yelled back through the wind tunnel.  “Can’t we just tape some knives on the end?”

“I want the fire!” he screamed, tossing the stick high into the air.  It landed on the roof, between the rake and Craig’s new putter.

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

We try not to get involved as we have been advised by the “kid whisperer” that it’s best if children learn to negotiate and solve their own problems without the aid of an adult.  This strategy does tend to throw people off as it can appear that the parent is ignoring the children’s bickering.  This was definitely the case last summer when my good friend, Stacie, came to visit and we took the boys to the beach.

All was going well until Max looked at Sam and smiled.  Apparently it was the “ha ha” smile and Sam wasn’t having any.  I paid no attention to the threats of drowning or even the slaps that turned to punches.  I turned a blind eye to the handfuls of sand that blew our way and only when a rock almost hit Stacie, did I step in and advise her to move her chair.
 
Of course, I explained our strategy and the theory behind it.

“How’s that working out for you?” she asked, in somewhat of a snotty tone (I thought).  But she doesn’t have children so she hasn’t a clue as to what she’s talking about.

Good help is hard to find

It has been difficult to hold on to sitters.  There has been more than one teenager that has gone home in tears and never returned.  We’re lucky that our current adult sitter, Maria, is an admitted masochist and enjoys the “suffering” the boys impose on her.  Though, she was a teensy upset when they locked her in the basement for an hour when they were just three and four.  Of course, now it’s a favorite story and almost always gets a laugh at social gatherings.  And, Maria’s eye tick has finally disappeared so it’s a win- win for everyone.

I know what you’re thinking and believe me, I feel the same way. . . it’s pretty obvious that the boys get their temperament from my husband and his side of the family.  He has admitted as much to me in our family therapy sessions.  Craig grew up the oldest of three boys, all two years apart, and there was more than one wall in their house that took an undeserved punch.
  
But those were the days when children didn’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of the adults that could spank them.  We don’t believe in corporal punishment (before nine in the morning), so we are forced to be much more creative.  Bribing and begging almost always seem to do the trick.

Click the picture to watch a short vidio of my talented children

Click the picture to watch a short video of my talented children

Jumping on the Michael Jackson bandwagon

What’s so funny about the death of Michael Jackson?  These were the thoughts that raced through my head after receiving several requests to blog about the untimely passing of the “King of Pop”.  I write irreverent and humorous stories about moi, not someone else.  Not write about me?  Why would I do that?

“Because he’s an icon. Because it’s so weird,” said my husband, who apparently doesn’t think I’m serious about the divorce thing.  “Does everything always have to be funny?  Or about you?”
 
Well, yeah, I thought as I accidentally threw my sandal at him.  He did the George Bush duck as I called out “Sorry!  Slipped!”  But his words stuck with me as I sat in front of my laptop, ignoring the muffled cries for “help” coming from the other room (it’s strange, but I have an uncanny ability to tune out the boys when I’m writing).

Not a believer

the-good

The Good

I am not particularly a fan of Michael Jackson.  I was raised with his music and I admit I sang along, as a child, when “Ben” was played on the radio, but I’m not a die-hard.  I jumped on the “Wacko Jacko” bandwagon when it rolled through town and helped dissect him in the press when the pedophilia charges came out.  I rolled my eyes when he claimed to have vitiligo, the condition that turned his skin white, and wagged my tongue when it hit the papers that he had married the just-as-odd, Lisa Marie Presley.   He weirdness made him such an easy target, it was hard not to gossip about him. 
  
I was still in shock from the announcement of another iconic passing, Farrah Fawcett, when the texts about MJ’s death started coming through.  I figured it was just another media-hype, like the hyperbaric oxygen chamber he claimed to have slept in, or of his friendship with Bubbles the Chimp.  When I found out it was true, I reacted the same way as when John Lennon was killed or JFK, Jr. died, I couldn’t make sense of it.  It seemed too surreal – he was of my generation and too young to die.

Michael Jackson did not know me, but I knew him.  I knew of his marriages, his divorces, his successes and failures.  I knew his children, the Jackson family and the famous friends.  I knew when he was arrested and when he went to trial.  I knew his shame and embarrassment.  I knew his secrets. 

No matter how strange someone is, it’s still sad when they die.  The running movie that was Michael Jackson’s life ended abruptly and with an unsatisfactory conclusion.  Like Princess Diana,  their unexpected death took me by surprise; I wasn’t prepared for the emotional jolt, the fact that we wouldn’t grow old together.  What would their senior years have brought?  Would Elvis ever have faded away?  Would Heath Ledger’s star have continued to rise?  It speaks to your own life and possible untimely death.  It makes me wonder when I will die.

His life and times

When I started looking back on Michael Jackson’s life, I discovered much about him that I either didn’t know or had simply forgotten.  I found out that he holds eight records in the Guinness Book of  World Records, mostly for his musical achievements, but also one for his support of 39 charities, more than any other entertainer.  Through his foundations, he has donated millions of dollars to the poor, the hungry, the sick.  I was also reminded that, as a child, he was continually abused by his father, a claim supported not only by the senior Jackson, but by his eight brothers and sisters as well.  Even as an adult he was afraid of the dark and slept with the lights on.

The "Bad"

The "Bad"

The issue that bothers me most is that of the pedophilia, but even then, does that mean he deserved to die?  Or that somehow he got what was coming to him?  I don’t know and I can’t speak for those who have experienced the agony of abuse.  Does his support of so many charities somehow offset the horrific charges against him?  Does what he gave outweigh what he took?  Was he a sick man who let the sycophants pander to him, like Belushi or Marilyn?  Somewhere along the way, he dropped the reins – was it his fault that he wasn’t in charge of his life?  Maybe.

I wonder what will happen to his children.  Will they be as strange as their father?  How does being raised with a veil covering your face, (or a burqa for that matter) shape your life?  Will genetics or fate step in and save them from circumstance or is it too late?  Will they forever be known as “the children of Michael Jackson” or can they ever break away and make their own future?

Money and happiness, not always compatible

For all the fame and fortune that Michael had, it seems his personal demons nestled in and never left him.  They didn’t care who he was, but he was good eatin’ and they made a meal.  We’re all familiar with demons and how they operate – ignore ‘em and they grow.  Soon they’re giving advice and before long they’re running the show.  Over time and with proper nourishment, some demons get so big that there’s no fighting them, they’re  too powerful.  Their hold is strong – all they have to do is remind you of your insecurities and how you’re not fooling anyone.  Then it’s over.

I have so many mixed thoughts and questions about the life and death of Michael Jackson.  Whether you like him or not, it’s hard to dispute the fact that he was an icon, that five decades of his music will influence generations to come, and that his personal story will be forever clouded with doubt and shame.   He lived a life that was so bizarre, I can’t even imagine it. 

The "Ugly"

and the "Ugly"

No one likes to speak ill of the dead.  We search for the nice things so say in a eulogy, the person’s strengths, what a good cook they were or what a green thumb they had.  Their peccadilloes are brushed over or not mentioned at all.  Even in death-row inmates, we elaborate on how they found God or of the fine rehab work they have done with other inmates.   The nasty and the mean must have something positive that can be said about them.  Right?

I am not fond of quoting from scripture but the passage “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” comes to mind.  How quickly would we forgive the wrongdoings of a Dick Cheney or a Bill Clinton if they were to pass away?  Does someone have to die before they can truly be absolved of their sins?
 
I can hear your quick reply “of course not” but I’m not so sure it is a question that is easily answered.  Do we ever forgive the truly heinous (Hitler)?  The horrible (OJ)?  The despicable (Bernie Madoff)?  Where do you draw the line? Or do you turn that decision over to a higher power?

You tell me.

How do yo get here?

How do you get from the beginning to the end?

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.

We Got Us Some Game!

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Jay, Craig and the smartest, most talented, atheletically gifted kids in the whole wide world!

I may have mentioned I am not a fan of balls (footballs, baseballs, etc.) but I am a fan of my children.  At least that’s what I tell people.
 
Because I raised my two older kids as a single parent, I got away with whispering in their ear that team sports were only for the “weird” kids.  And there was no one to tell them otherwise.  Not so this time around.  Max and Sam have kicked and thrown and run their way from the hospital, in which they were born, all the way to this year’s basketball league champions of the Inverness Park District.  All with the overwhelming support of their father.

This is what I get for thinking

I originally thought the basketball thing would be a good idea because the boys would be gone for practices and games.  The added bonus was that as their coach, Craig would too.  Now, if I give you the impression that I don’t care to spend quality sports time with my family, then I have hit the mark.  It’s true.  After 28 years of raising kids and another 11 to go, I value the little privacy I have.  If I can steal an hour or two to catch up on Rock of Love Bus Tour (with Brett Michaels – no less), I unabashedly take it.

Our community is fairly small so most of the kids on our “Turquoise” basketball team were either classmates or friends, and Roger and Jay, the other two coaches, are neighbors.  But, what started out as a friendly instructional league, (think wiping away tears and kissing boo boo’s) turned into an all out gladiator battle complete with a fight to the death.  Worse, I wholeheartedly admit that I became part of the mob scene rooting for the lion to tear the limbs from the nine-year old boys on the opposing “Fuchsia” team.

2-4-6-8 Shout!  Chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out!

This is somewhat surprising as I usually could give a rat’s fig as to who wins any game.  But I think I smelled blood and this stirred some primal instinct, hidden under layers of latte’s and biscotti, that rose to the surface and spurred me on to places I’ve only imagined.
 
This didn’t happen overnight.  During most of the season, I held court with Sue and Liz in the coveted “coaches wives” section, not paying a whole lot of attention.  We shouted out the obligatory “atta boy” every now but spent most of the time catching up on the latest gossip.  But as the season progressed and the “turquoise” team rose in the ranks, we couldn’t help but be drawn into the web of excitement that surrounded our athletically gifted young boys.

We ran with the exhilaration that our husbands emoted.  During the week, emails flew back and forth between the coaches, twenty, thirty, forty, a day, discussing the various pros and cons of the “picks”  the boys could set (I have since learned that “pick” is a fancy name for a rehearsed “play”) .  To throw off the other team, Jay and Roger cleverly decide to name the picks after animals and more than twice, I would hear Craig saying something like “Let’s do the Capuchin monkey after the Bengal tiger.  I really like the monkey.”  They would meet at the local watering hole to discuss in-depth, the strengths of the various third-graders who could best execute the orangutan or the snow leopard.

You don’t win the silver, you lose the gold!

Their hard work paid off and the boys finished in second place.  But hold on to your hats gang – the best is yet to come.  And that would be the playoffs.  I am usually morally opposed to any playoffs because I hate them, but not this time.  I found myself grilling my exhausted boys at bedtime, pushing them to recite the moluccan cockatoo parrot pick just one more time.

The day of the big game was cold but sunny.  Anxiety hung in the air and I found myself snapping at Craig and the boys for no reason other than the joy I felt at their discomfort.  The nervous energy exuded from my pores and I cleaned the refrigerator in record time while the cookies baked in the oven.  I realized, in my own special way, I was putting on my game face.

I knew we had a good chance at winning the semi-final game, but it was the championship against the dreaded “Taupe” team that had me eating Oreos two at a time.  They were good, but it was their coach that really burned my basket balls.  All the parents disliked the loud obnoxious dad that had the nerve to scout the other teams, which by the way, is clearly against the rules.  When Roger and Craig and Jay went to see teams with none of their sons on them, it was always out of pure love for the game.

Get in there and win, damnit!

The boys easily won their first game due to the fact that the other team’s best player was in the parking lot, vomiting.  Liz, Sue and I expressed our sympathies to our friends from the other team whose sons just couldn’t keep up without their star, but silently and gleefully jumped for joy at the good fortune that had fallen our way.
 
The championship game was a close one.  The lead went back and forth but at half-time we found ourselves down by eight points – unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination.  Liz and I decided that this wouldn’t be the case if we were coaching and we criticized our husband’s ability to do even the simplest of tasks correctly.  Meanwhile, Roger and Sue were on the sidelines engaged in a heated discussion and when she returned to the stands she commented that there was going to be hell to pay that night.  Things were not going well.

The second half was a nail biter – I literally chewed off two of my acrylics while our boys amazingly made the four baskets needed to tie the game.  The din of the cheering parents grew increasing louder as the tension sky-rocketed and I barely managed to utter a few words of advice to the ref before he looked at me, put his finger to his mouth and pointed to the door.  But we were not to be deterred and I firmly believe that it was our incessant screaming that drove the boys to victory that cold spring day.

Pain is only temporary, but victory is forever

Then there were the parties, the ice cream, the trophies, and the trip to the emergency room for Sue and Roger.  Apparently their son had broken a bone in his foot, but like any gladiator worth his salt – he carried on.  My husband repeated every play of the game to anyone who glanced in his general direction and after hearing it myself four times, I reminded him I was there.
 
We still cherish the memories but I’m back to generally despising balls and any game in which they are used.  Until next year’s championship.  Then I’m in for the kill.

Fear of Flying

So I’m flying back from LA and I end up sitting next to a real live hippy.  A throw back from the seventies, complete with a bushy salt and pepper beard, small round glasses, a Grateful Dead shirt and yes, there is a story here.

This is Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead

This is Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead - the original hippy!

If you don’t already know this about me, I despise flying and only do so when a number of conditions have been met.  First, I must have a gun to my head.  Second, I must be fully medicated and lastly, I must do so alone – as a general rule,  Craig and I don’t fly together.  I have passed on weddings in Hawaii, bar mitzvahs in Cleveland and spring breaks anywhere we can’t drive.  I’m lucky my husband has more phobias than me or I might find myself on eharmony once again.

My seat-mate is starring straight ahead, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he will soon be puting his life into the hands of complete strangers.  I notice he orders his first drink before we even begin the safety instructions and it is crystal clear to me that I will not be able to count on him should I need oxygen or help with my seat cushion/water vest.  When he throws that drink back and orders another, I make a bold decision, one I have not made in years, but one I know is the right one – I decide to not take my medication.  Not only might I be called upon to assist in a search and rescue mission and need to have a clear head, but I am taking a big step, one that my therapists (yes plural) would be proud of.  I reluctantly put the valium away.

Could I fly this plane?

I keep myself very busy with Sudoku through the takeoff, but it is an extremely nerve-racking time and I’m not happy.  I’m convinced the pilot has violated his vow not to drink during the last 24 hours and I can’t get the picture of him staggering around a strip-club out of my head.  It’s only when we reach 36 thousand feet, well past the threat of geese, that I can even begin to work on my goodbye message, the one I leave my children when the engines quit.

It’s a long flight from LA to Chicago and inevitably you must speak to your neighbor, either as you climb across his lap to use the bathroom or as he leans across yours struggling to see the Grand Canyon.  I broke the ice first.

“So where you from?” I ask my flying partner. 

He’s mumbles he’s from LA and something else, but I can’t make it out.  I nod my head like I agree and wonder if the co-pilot is a dope fiend that has managed to slip through the system, undected.  I mention good-naturedly that I don’t care much for flying and my neighbor says it “don’t bother him a bit, been doing it for years”.  I ask him what he does for a living and when he speaks it’s slow and deliberate. 

Hard to believe they're in their sixties!

Hard to believe they're in their sixties! It's called living la vida loca, baby!

He tells me he’s the tour manager for the  Billy Joel and Elton John  Face2Face concert tour.  This surprises me.  Having been in the “business” for a number of years and met my share of tour managers, he did not fit the stereotype of a sharp, astute administrator, who was generally the only one not drunk or high.

Another Conundrum

But this is good for me.  I have a puzzle to figure out – one that is forcing me not to dwell on the flight attendant’s ditzyness (I can’t belleive she’s qualified to react in an emergency situation,  Where’s Sully and his crew when I need them?) and I dive right in.

“Really,” I say.  “What exactly do you do?”

Well, he mumbles, he’s not the actual tour manager.  He’s the assistant.  He’s the assistant, but really more like a personal assistant to Billy Joel.  He’s been with him for years, been in the business since the late sixties.

Now things are making sense to me.  He’s a glorified gofer.  I can easily see him in this position, picking out scantily dressed women from the audience, running to get more sequins for a costume, directing the caterers to pick out the brown M&M’s from the candy dish.  But as benign as he appears, it’s apparent what living forty years of a rock n’roll life-style have done; he has that detached personality of one who sees the world revolving around aging men not willing to give up wine, women and song.

Sing me a song, Piano Man

Nevertheless, I have nothing against the “Piano Man”,  and his assistant and I share war stories.  He shows me the official tour book and points out when they will be in the Chicago area.  Somehow talk turns to Van Halen’s former lead singer, David Lee Roth, and the “bimbo brigade” he has paraded through his dressing room after his show (three lucky girls get to stay!).  

Billy doesn’t do that, he tells me.  But he does have some hot girls picked from the nose-bleed seats and moved to the reserved area directly in front of the stage.

“Really?” I say encouragingly.

“Well,” he continues,” Billy’s married.  It’s not for him”
 
“Of course not,” I reply.  I do know his current wife is his daughter’s age.

“It’s for the guys in the band.  He does it so they can play to some pretty girls.  You know, they’re on the road for weeks at a time and he just wants them to have something nice to look at.”

“That’s so thoughtful,” I tell him.

“He’s that kind of a guy,” he replies.

“Sounds like a dreamboat.” I wondered how many times he’s been married.  “You should write a book,” I tell him, thinking all kinds of devious publisher thoughts.

“A what?”

“A book.  You  know, share the great stories of all the legends you have worked with.”  My mind was spinning with the possibilities.

“I do have some doozys,” he drawled,  ”I remember this one time, I was working with Joni Mitchell, and we were on a plane…”

I cut him off.  “Is this a scary plane story?”

“Yeah, we almost crashed.”

“Um, we’re going to have to put that on hold until we land,” I said, clenching my teeth.  “I don’t care much for flying.”

“But it has a happy ending,” he added, coughing that scary throaty cough.

“Evidently.  But I’m not interested in hearing it now.  Really.   Maybe when we land.”  I was jerked back to reality and it occurred to me that I could be spending my last few minutes with the roadie next door.  Would we hold hands and pray together?

He was quiet for a bit and it was obvious our relationship had changed.  When lunch was delivered and I asked him a few more questions, he told me point-blank he wanted to eat undisturbed.  Ouch.  I guess that’s one book deal that we’ll never get.

But that’s par for the rock-star course.  I’ll never meet Billy Joel unless I happened to get plucked from the nose-bleed section and I have a feeling, even though I’m a number of years his junior, I’m still too old for him.