Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leftie on the fly...

I am a “rightie” as are the majority (70-90%) of people on the planet. I eat, write, and wave with my right hand. I can’t think of anything I do well with my left hand, other than type, which requires dexterity in both hands. Then again, typing is a learned behavior.
When I broke my wrist, not quite two weeks ago, I never imagined how difficult doing ordinary things could be. I seem to be able to eat with the splint in place, but I can’t seem to butter a piece of bread. I can wash my face and hands (with the splint off), but the motion of brushing my teeth is too painful, thereby forcing me to brush left-handed.

I have finger freedom to type, but I have to remove the splint to sign a check or a credit card receipt…otherwise my signature looks as illegible as most doctors. I can pick up a bottle of pop, but not a gallon of milk. Forget peeling potatoes. The motion is excruciating and the left hand is out on that score…delegation is the most practical solution.

But the things that are most difficult for me are bathroom and hygiene duties. I urge everyone who reads this to start practicing ambidexterity now. Cleaning and wiping with the non-dominant hand are very difficult and stressful and take twice as long to accomplish than under normal circumstances. 

Like the learned behavior of typing, practice makes perfect…so start switching up hands now while you have the chance. Don’t wait until fate befalls you, because being a leftie on the fly is most definitely for the birds!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penn State and Joe Paterno

Here are my thoughts on the matter. I don’t particularly care whether the state of Pennsylvania, or any state for that matter, doesn’t consider it a crime that you don’t report child abuse. For my money, if you see a crime being perpetrated on another human being, it is your moral duty to report it to the proper authorities, i.e., the police. Even if the terms of your employment state that you report it to your superiors, I would be making that call while on the way to the police station. If the employer tells you it will be handled internally, tell them that if they demand that you not report the crime, you will see to it that every newspaper in the country gets the story, and that they will be held complicit in the crime.

No decent human being should tolerate the covering up of such heinous behavior. Reporting to your superiors does not absolve you of moral responsibility. I think of that poor child, being raped in that Penn State locker room. He should have been immediately taken to the hospital for treatment, counseling, and collection of evidence. Instead, he has had to live with the mental anguish of that and other incidents perpetrated on him by Jerry Sandusky…for years! It will be a miracle if the boy is ever mentally “right” again. How many more boys were similarly abused because Sandusky was free to abuse. That would not have happened if he was in jail.
Everyone at Penn State that saw or was told must therefore be considered complicit. It is a shame that Joe Paterno was as reluctant to become involved as everyone else. They all deserve punishment, but no punishment will be as physically or mentally painful as the abuse those little boys endured. 

Shame on all of you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Elections: Don't be a Sheep. Educate Yourself before Voting!

It is that time of year again. The kids tripped over all the election signs as they made their Halloween rounds. What the heck, kids are durable. So what is frustrating me…the endless phone calls from individuals, and agencies, and organizations all telling me how and why I need to vote for them or their issue.
I suppose this is a good way to sway those who otherwise just don’t give a damn, but I do give a damn. I read, I watch the news, I weigh the pros and cons, I make up my mind. I don’t vote the “party line” either. I vote for what makes sense to me.

Don’t just listen to one side. Go read about the issue. Each side has a vested interest in having it their way. You need to figure out which way is most beneficial to the community and then vote your conscience. Issue 1, Issue 2 and Issue 3 are incredibly important. Don’t take someone else’s word for what’s best. Go the Ballot Board website, read the issues and the arguments for and against.  Then make up your own mind.  Don't let some lobbyist or neighbor or acquaintance make it up for you.

I really do not want someone else’s ideas, or ideals, or beliefs shoved down my throat. Calling my home to tell me how to vote is quite akin to that. I can choose not to read, I can turn off the TV, I can toss those political ads and flyers in the trash, but turning off my phone in my own home denies me the right to receive those calls I actually wish to have invading my personal time and space.

It is too bad that we don't have an Issue 4, a constitutional amendment that forbids campaigning by phone in Ohio. Perhaps next election.  Count me in for a “YES” vote on that one!

Friday, November 4, 2011

I tied with Jesus for 3rd Place!

The annual Halloween bash “officially named Scary Okee” at Your Vine or Mine was held last Saturday.  A grand time was had by all.  Nothing unusual about that, mind you.  The costumes were great!  Joe and Linda (who won first place) came as a Zanesville cop and a lion with a monkey on her shoulder.  It really was quite creative.  Second place went to Jacky Gilbert for his “Bad Santa” outfit.  Third place went to me and Jesus!  I was wonderfully outfitted in full scrubs, including booties, gloves, mask and headgear, a stethoscope and a lovely jar with a partial “brain” called “Abby Normal,” all necessary for Dr. Betsy, the brain surgeon.  I have to say I was truly honored to be recognized as the equal of Jesus, a giant of a man with full robes, hair and beard.  I am quite sure that I'll never manage to be his equal again. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Will the real Alice Cooper please stand up?

The very first concert I attended was at Blossom Music Center, the year it opened. I won tickets to Judy Collins, so my older sister drove us to Blossom. It was a terrific show. The second concert I attended was Alice Cooper at the Akron Rubber Bowl. My friend Patty called and asked if I would go with her. I told my parents we were going to see some singer named Alice. At the time, I had no clue that Alice Cooper was a bizarre rock band. Color me oh-so-amazed when the performance began!

Of course, my opinion of some idiot prancing around on stage looking like a Halloween freak and calling himself Alice put him in the same category as Tiny Tim. The music was just not my cup of tea.

So when I attended a charity event and had the opportunity to have my picture taken with “Alice Cooper” I quite naturally jumped at the chance. Anyone who has lasted as long as he has in the business can’t be all bad!

Then I decided I should do a little research on the real “Alice Cooper” since I knew little or nothing about the man himself. I discovered a number of truly interesting facts about this long playing musician.
  • His real name is Vincent Damon Furnier. He was born in 1948 in Detroit.
  • The band took on the name Alice Cooper in 1968.
  • He started performing as a solo Alice Cooper in 1975
  • He still pays royalties to the members of the original band for use of the name…enough so that they all live comfortably.
  • He had a run of acute alcoholism but has been rehabilitated and sober for years. He mentors and counsels other addicted musicians who need help.
  • He’s been married since 1976 to a ballerina instructor and choreographer named Sheryl Goddard with whom he has 3 children.
  • He tends to be non-political, but he is a born again Christian.
  • Outside of music, Alice Cooper is an actor, an accomplished golfer, a restaurateur, and a radio DJ.
  • He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • He hosts an annual charity golf event, the Alice Cooper Celebrity AM Golf Tournament, from which all proceeds go the Solid Rock Foundation, a Christian non-profit organization that helps troubled teens and children. It was formed by Alice Cooper and Chuck Savale in 1995.
And there you have it! The real Alice Cooper isn’t so bad after all. Guess I’ll keep the photo, and maybe even flaunt it a bit!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A week until Halloween...any costume ideas?

It is that time of year again…the time when sanity hides in the closet while I try to figure out what I can wear to the annual Halloween party this time around. Some of my more memorable outfits I’d rather not don again. One year I went to a party dressed as a can of Pepsi. I won’t go into too many details, but it did involve a bed sheet tacked to my living room wall while I hand painted a Pepsi Logo.

In more recent years, I have gone to parties as a Geisha, a Jawa, and Maleficent (the wonderfully evil queen from Sleeping Beauty). This year I wanted to go as Medusa, but my size sold out quickly and now I actually have to use my imagination to come up with something suitable (and darn if that snake headpiece wasn’t a show stopper!)

Right now, I am open to suggestions. Just remember that in spite of the obvious differences in the aforementioned costumes, they all have one thing in common…body camouflage. I pass on anything sleeveless, backless or showing leg above the knee. This will be subject to change AFTER the circumferential body lift, wing removal, breast reduction, thigh-plasty and neck lift! All those buxom serving wench and French maid costumes will just have to wait until well after all the surgery!

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Tough Week for Wildlife…

Staying within a 30-minute run for a cheetah from the animal compound in Zanesville gives one pause. I was happily ensconced in my rental for the night when the local news came on warning of the major exotic animal release. Law enforcement reacted quickly. It was necessary for them to do so. The farther afield these animals roamed from their habitat, the more danger existed for the public. It was very close to nightfall, and they needed to act before they were unable to see the animals. Tranquilizing was not an option, since animals often run for a bit before dropping, and if they happened to run into brush or woods, might have eluded the officials until the sedation was no longer effective.

I am not in favor of shooting animals, but in this case it was an absolute necessity. The entire blame for this exotic animal slaughter rests on the head of the man who released them. Did he really think that those animals would not be put down the minute the release was noticed? If he loved those animals as much as he claimed, he would have donated them to a zoo, where they could be cared for properly. If he had money issues, as was reported in today’s news, he could have sold them to pay his debts. But releasing dangerous animals on an unsuspecting public was definitely not in the animals’ best interests. I don’t rejoice in this man’s death, but it appears there is one less maniac for the world to tolerate.

Make that two. I certainly don’t rejoice in the death of any human being, but one can only hope that the world will be a better place without Moammar Gadhafi. I do think it is sickening to see video of the final moments, and the absolute celebration of his demise. I am grateful to live in a country where I hope to never see a level of repression so extreme as to incite my fellow Americans to celebrate the death of our former leaders, whether we personally liked or disliked them.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Vitamins are bad for me? Really?

The latest and greatest in research studies, announced this week, is that multivitamins may be dangerous for women. This pronouncement is based on a study of approximately 39,000 women who, since 1989, have taken a multivitamin every day. This observational study found a slightly higher risk of death among women taking dietary supplements, including multivitamins, folic acid, iron and copper.

Let’s hang an overlooked fact out there. The average age of a participant at the beginning of this study was 60. Fast forward…20 years. The average life expectancy in the United States is between 78.5 and 80.2 years. I consider any person who makes it to 80 to be defying the odds. Now explain to me how a slightly elevated risk of death in a group of women whose average age at the end of the study was 80 can be blamed on the vitamins. Maybe we should be blaming advanced age?

I don’t know about you, but I will continue taking my vitamins!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I am an American....

My heritage is Irish, but I was born here. My parents were born here. My grandparents were born here. I was also born and raised Catholic. I am now on the record.
When I vote, I do not vote for someone based on their heritage or their religious beliefs. As I watched the news today, I saw where some supposed Christian preacher called Mitt Romney’s religion a cult. This is obviously a political tactic designed to scare the good Christian voting public.

I am old enough to remember the naysayers loudly warning the public that if John F. Kennedy was elected, the United States would be ruled by the Pope. I have heard some say that if a woman is elected president, the country will be subjected to hormonal swings. I also heard people say that if Obama was elected, the government would be run by everyone from Louis Farrakhan and the NAACP to Islamic Jihadists.
I was too young to vote for Kennedy. Since then, I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans for president, depending on what I perceived as the intelligence and agenda of the candidate and with no thought of ethnicity, gender, or religion. When will people put aside their prejudices and try to take a wider, more objective view of the candidates, leaving religion and ethnicity out of the mix and basing their decisions on what makes sense, rather than on their prejudices?

In a related note, it seems that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to demonstrate at the funeral of Steve Jobs. Evidently they felt he was a horrible sinner because he had a “huge platform” but he “gave God no glory and taught sin” to those using his inventions…which of course he did not really invent, according to the Westboro leadership. Kudos to the Jobs family for having a small private service. I saw no news about a demonstration taking place.

Today on CNN, I watched as someone from Syria went on and on about Steve Jobs being Syrian. Yes his father was Syrian. His mother was American and of Swiss-German heritage. But Steve Jobs, like me, was born an American. It doesn’t matter what his heritage is. He was born here. His mother was born here. Millions of Apple computer users and owners of iPads, iPhones, and every other i-gadget on the market don’t care if his father was Syrian. Steve Jobs was an American in every sense of the word.

What I am wondering is, how many of those who don’t give a damn about Steve Jobs’ father being Syrian, still ascribe to the theory that President Obama is not an American because his father was Muslim and he spent some of his childhood in Indonesia? I say, get over it. The President is as American as you, I, or Steve Jobs. He was born here, his mother was born here.
To those who still hang on to that ridiculous theory, maybe you should be more worried about Steve Jobs’ parentage. It is quite possible that when all is said and done, Steve Jobs’ influence on America and the world may be more far-reaching than President Obama or any other American president in recent history. 

Let that one sink in and swirl around for a while. I’m sure someone out there will be quick to theorize that our whole culture is going down the drain due to Steve’s inventions, and it is surely all part of a Syrian conspiracy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9-11…the unanswered phone

I was running a few minutes late for work that fateful Tuesday morning, and I pulled into the parking lot just as the announcement came over the air that a passenger liner had stuck the first tower. I grabbed my purse, hurried into the building, and raced to my office. I announced to all who would listen that a plane had hit the Trade Center and everyone started searching the web for information…everyone but me. I was dialing my phone, desperate to reach my son. When the second tower was struck, I dialed faster. And so began the worst five hours of my life.
Chris was in New York City on job interviews. We had talked before he left, and he had told me that he was very excited to have an interview at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning in the World Trade Center. He thought it would be a neat place to work. But as we watched film of the towers collapsing, mortified at the thought of the massive loss of life, I tried to stay calm as Chris’ cell phone remained unanswered.

Soon the stories were coming in from the Pentagon and about the missing airliner that had come so close to Cleveland before heading toward the White House. I watched in horror, but I kept dialing. My husband got through to me around 11, wanting to know if I had spoken to Chris. By that time, I was on the verge of hysteria. Needless to say, no work was getting done in our office as we all took in the horror that was unfolding in our virtual backyard.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I dialed for the thousandth time, and he answered.
“Oh my God, Chris, where have you been? I’ve been calling you for five hours!”

“What’s up, Mom?”

“What’s up? The world is ending! Can’t you look out the windows in Newark and see the smoke?”

“I’m not in Newark.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m in Perry. What’s going on?”

“Then you don’t know?  Terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers around 9 this morning. They both collapsed, killing thousands. The towers are gone. The Pentagon was hit, too. And a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. I thought YOU were in one of those towers. You had a job interview this morning, didn’t you?”

There was long moment of silence.

“Yes, I did have an interview, but I finished my Monday interviews early, so I called the guy at the Trade Center and asked if I could come in Monday afternoon instead. He said yes.  I interviewed early and headed back to Ohio. I got in around 2:30 a.m. and didn’t want to wake you or Dad, so I went to Brian’s and crashed there. I just woke up.”

Chris was profoundly affected by that massive tragedy, and I am sure that he still wonders about the twist of fate that kept him far away from that place where he was scheduled to be at that moment.

Though eternally grateful that my son was spared on that horrible day, I experienced five hours of the most intense fear I have ever known waiting for Chris to answer his phone. And I am haunted still by thoughts of the thousands of mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and friends who spent hour after agonizing hour dialing phones that were never answered.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More important than ever...

I know I made light of my bucket list in my last post.  Let me amend that right now.  My friend Gloria passed away today.  A month ago, this was something no one saw coming.  She was from a family where longevity reigned supreme.  She was vivacious and gregarious and always involved, be it theater, community, work, or friends.  Gloria had life...a lot of people just exist.  I always envisioned her acting and directing and getting on with it until she was a cute little 90-year-old star. 
But that was not to be.  A nagging backache, at first ignored, then not immediately diagnosed, turned out to be a cancerous death sentence.  Those who knew and loved her will have a large space in their lives that will be quite difficult to fill.  Although Gloria led a full and rich life, I'm sure there were many things she still wanted to do, be they small or large, simple or unique.  She was not one to be satisfied with the status quo.

And in that, we should all take heed.  Don't stop learning; try new things; expand your mind and your life; because you never know when it might end.  I know I will be taking my bucket list quite seriously from now on. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jack Nicholson has nothing on me!

When I turned 40, the FIRST time, I decided to make some major changes in my life. I took stock and realized that I was turning into my mother, so I made a bold decision not to go gently into that good night. My first project was to not get older, so I concocted the “Betsy McMillan Quantum Theory of Aging.” It goes something like this. When you turn 40, you automatically subtract 10 years. Then you only age 1 year for every two chronological years. It works like a charm, but eventually you get back to 40 for a second or even a third time, so you start the process all over again.

The second change was my health. I was severely obese, so I proceeded to do everything humanly possible to lose weight and keep it off. This actually included becoming a dual-certified personal trainer. Granted I don’t LOOK like a personal trainer, but I am pleased to say that today, I weigh 220 pounds less than I did when I was 40. I still have a little way to go.
Another thing I created during this process was the Betsy McMillan version of the Death March. I discovered that if I left the house with all good intentions and started walking, I was prone to stop short due to tiredness, rain, cold, wind, snow…you name it. But if I got in the car with my other half and had him drop me 2 miles from home, I was totally motivated to get back to the house. Neither rain, nor wind, nor snow, nor exhaustion prevented me from finishing the two miles because there was no other choice AND because I was walking toward home the whole way (a wonderfully positive psychological component for one as chronically lazy as myself).

The third change was that I wanted to travel. I had literally never been anywhere. Once I made that decision, I called my friend Bonnie and talked her into running away from home for several days. We headed out for parts unknown, namely Savannah GA, and had a fabulous time. It didn’t matter that we were staying at Motel 6 and Tom Bodett had the light on for us…it wasn’t Ohio. Six months later, we headed for Vermont for a week. Six months after that, New Smyrna Beach - Orlando FL was our destination. After that I began braving the travel by myself. My solo destinations include Vermont, Seattle and Bellingham WA, Las Vegas, Chattanooga and Nashville TN, Huntsville AL, Greensboro NC, Detroit MI, St. Louis MO area and on and on. I love to travel.

I also began writing books. Since my “first” 40th birthday, I have managed to get multiple non-fiction books on the market. I knew I would have to make appearances, and since I was nervous about speaking in public, I began singing with a guitar player (the incredible Forest Ratliff in a duo gig that lasted 9 years), and I joined Toastmasters International to hone my skills. I have since used those skills in radio and TV interviews, no less.

I’ve ridden in a hot air balloon. I drove to NJ with my future (now actual) son-in-law and tried out for the X-Factor Auditions. I sang the National Anthem solo at the Captain’s stadium before a game.

So what comes next? I am compiling a bucket list of sorts…things I want to achieve before I hit 40 for the “second” time. The list includes many things, from losing the balance of the weight to get to my original goal, eating healthier, completing three novels that are already well on their way, putting a series of kiddie books on Kindle and Nook for download (already in the works), and finding a way to get that niggling postcard book, now renamed “Secret Angel” out to the appropriate audience. The “list” has been on my mind for several days now, and I keep adding to it as new and more wonderful things occur to me. I am open to any and all suggestions. I am completely convinced that when I am really old (when I hit 40 for the “third” time), I will be able to write one hell of memoir of my after-40 adventures!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Orchard House...not your typical B&B

On my way back from the excursion to Chattanooga, I had occasion to stay at a very different B & B.

I mean that in the absolute best of ways. Orchard House is a wonderful retreat from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The rooms were charming, clean, and tastefully decorated. I tend to avoid B & B stays because I find that most have overwhelming Victorian décor…much too busy for my tastes, and Orchard House was just what the décor doctor ordered. I chose the Whitman room for my stay, which I found to be incredibly comfortable. The bed wrapped it’s arms around me like a cloud. The linens were soft yet crisp. The bathroom was immaculately clean and modern, complete with Gilchrist and Soames products.
Interesting conversation was at the top of the order during wine and cheese hour with the wonderful proprietors, Don and Andrew. And talk about a fabulous breakfast? Try hot corn cakes served with hot pure maple syrup, perfectly done brown sugar bacon, a heaping bowl of fresh strawberries, cold fresh orange juice and hot coffee. The food is heavy on natural locally and on-site grown products, and the quality shows. Andrew also makes some killer jams in his kitchen, and I managed to take away a jar of what is sure to be a blue ribbon winner at the Ohio State Fair this year…Carrot Cake Jam. My elderly mother has managed to down the whole jar…she thinks it is just this side of heaven!

Orchard House is located on a working farm, with everything from chickens and rabbits to pigs and llamas.  So you can take a walk through the farmland, meet all the animals, even gather eggs if you so desire.  Don and Andrew will be happy to show you around and answer your questions. 

My only regret was that I had to check out early when a possible appointment in Columbus became a reality and I had to quickly pack and be on my way. You can be assured that I will be visiting Don and Andrew at Orchard House again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I have been lax, I must admit it...

It has been an entire month since I posted. That is bad even for me. Admittedly, I spent two and a half of those weeks transporting my daughter back and forth to work daily and to the grocery store while her van was temporarily “out of commission.” Since this was on top of my own work schedule and daily commutes, and since Jim wasn’t available to help, I got little else done. Transportation runs ended last Tuesday night.
This was followed by the push to get everything packed and ready for the annual trip to Chattanooga, or more correctly East Ridge, for Liberty Con 24. For those of you that are uninformed about such doings, Liberty Con is a sci-fi convention. Yes, I said sci-fi convention. No, I don’t put on Klingon makeup or masks. No, I don’t dress up like Princess Leia or Obi-Wan Kenobi. No, I don’t adorn myself with pounds of chain maille or wear tight skimpy items of clothing, or tape, or Saran Wrap designed to shock the observer.

I am what is known as a mundane to those who do dress up for the occasion. Truth be told, I have a group of friends, also “mundanes” who love sci-fi books and attend several conventions each year. I’d like to say we get actively involved in the scheduled activities, but other than attending an occasional panel discussion with authors we like, we tend to spend our time visit with each other in a venue most people have never experienced.
One of the highlights of the convention is the Baen Publishing slide show. Toni Weisskopf, the head of Baen Publishing, gathers the minions and we all sit around as she does a power point presentation of all the cover art for the upcoming book releases. Cover art is quite popular with sci-fi fans, and there are some truly talented artists producing work for Baen books.
This year, we were particularly bold in that we ventured out to a restaurant we had previously avoided due to the somewhat shabby appearance. Turns out, the restaurant is owned by the sister of a restaurant owner down Atlanta way that some of my mundane friends frequent. So we bravely entered the doors of Portofino. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food. They served both Greek and Italian. I had a really tasty lasagna. We will definitely make a return appearance next year…if the con is held there.
Seems there are a few difficulties with the hotel and upcoming renovations. When we left the convention, no contract had been signed for next year. Normally we have our rooms reserved before we leave. I guess we’ll have to keep an eye on the Liberty Con site to see if any information is forthcoming.
All things considered, we had a great time!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

More Undie Woes!

Is it all underwear in general, or just mine, that doesn’t seem to make it to its destination? Every time I order some, it seems to go astray.

First it was the great Spanx debacle. Fed Ex lost my undies and I had to go lumpy to my daughter’s wedding. To make matters worse, since the lovely black Spanx did not arrive, I wore what I had, which happened to be white. I didn’t think it would show through the black dress, but in every photo where the sun was bright or the flash was right I look like I have two blazing headlights! Today, a month after the fact, I get a call from Fed Ex wanting to know if my package ever arrived and if my issues had been resolved. You really don’t want to know how I responded to that question.

Not yet having my fill of delivery woes, I ordered a couple shirts and bras a week ago. They shipped UPS on the 16th. When I got the e-mail notification of shipping, I checked the UPS tracking for the package. It stated that the destination was closed when they attempted to deliver on Friday. So I just thought it was because no one was home, but didn’t quite understand why they didn’t leave the package on the front porch as usual. After all, it was shirts and bras, not gold bars. I was also surprised that they didn’t leave an info-note…telling me to expect another attempt.

I had Mom keep an eye out on Monday, but there was no delivery activity. When I got home, I checked the tracking. It said a second attempt was made, but was unsuccessful. Now I was really concerned. So I called UPS. I was told that the sender had specified that the package be delivered to the post office for delivery. Evidently, they are saving money by making a single post office drop for an area or some such thing. I asked for a USPS tracking number, and they gave me one.

Unfortunately, the USPS website could not find any such number. Likely because they didn’t yet have the package. So on Tuesday morning, I headed to the post office to see if they could locate my stuff. Well, they said. In the infinite wisdom of the US Postal Service, the Perry office has been downgraded to a service station with minimum staff and no mail carriers. All the mail is being shipped in from Cleveland, drives past Perry, gets dropped at Madison, sorted, and then the carriers deliver it back to Perry from there. Because they have no carriers, as of two weeks ago, they can’t accept packages from UPS because there is no one to deliver them. Therefore, they refused the package, once on Friday the 17th, and again on Monday the 20th. In all fairness, they informed the driver of the situation and told him he had to go to the Madison Post Office, both times.

I called UPS back and explained to the nice but not so bright woman who answered the phone that my package had been refused by the post office and why. She said that I should not worry because it would be delivered to my post office. The shipper had said to deliver to my local post office and if the truck got there and they told him to go to another post office he would. I reminded her that they had done that and yet UPS attempted to deliver the package to the Perry P.O. a second time. I was told not to worry, that the driver would take it to the correct P.O. I asked where the package was right now, and was told it was on the truck for delivery to the P.O. I asked which one and she gave me the address of the Perry P.O. So I said, “You make four attempts and then return the package to sender, right? Well when the truck gets to that address, they will be making a third attempt at the same place they refused the package the first two times!” I asked if they could hold the package in Austinburg at the hub and was told no, that she had no way of doing that.
My next call was to Congressman LaTourette’s office to register a complaint that his office had done nothing to prevent this situation with our local post office in spite of a serious phone and e-mail campaign by the residents to stop it from happening. As I told the nice young man who answered the phone, I could understand downsizing a rural post office like Thompson where it is mostly farmland and sparsely populated. But every time I go into the Perry P.O. I have to stand in line and wait. It is a populated and growing area and a constantly used P.O.
When I got home tonight I once again checked the UPS tracking. It stated that my package had been delivered to the P.O. It neglected to inform me which one. USPS tracking confirms that the package is now in Madison. If I am lucky, I will get it tomorrow. If the Perry P.O. had not been downgraded, I would have had it last Saturday.
In all the on-line purchasing I’ve done over the years, these two incidences are the only ones where there have been issues with delivery, and both orders included underwear. I get the feeling God is trying to tell me something. I don’t quite know what it is, but I am pretty darn sure he is not telling me to stop wearing underwear!

Monday, June 13, 2011

R.I.P. Jesse Blount, Friend and Agent

Around the beginning of May, just as the ticking time bomb of wedding preparations was threatening to cause a meltdown, I learned, quite by accident, that my literary agent had died in the middle of March and no one had informed me. I had sent him an e-mail and when he didn’t respond in a week or two, I called. Rather than hearing his booming James Earl Jones voice telling me to leave a message, I was connected to a female voice informing me that the number was no longer in service.

Knowing that Jesse had been suffering some serious health issues in the previous year, I typed his name and “obituary” into Google and was horrified when his obituary popped up on the list.

Talk about rocking a writer’s world. Jesse was a really great guy. We had many long conversations over the two years that he represented my work. He was a deep thinker and a true writer’s agent with a phenomenal grasp of vocabulary and nuance. He also had a terrific sense of humor. He lived in California, but he was a native of Cleveland and often threatened to make the trip home so that I could escort him on a tour of the Northeast Ohio wineries. I miss his keen wit and his illuminating correspondence.

But his passing has left me with unanswered questions and much uncertainty. Jesse was an independent agent, not with an agency. There is no one, not even a secretary, to pick up the standard and carry on. Coupled with the fact that he was gone for six weeks before I found out about it, and two more weeks before I was able to track down and contact his son, too much time and many of his records have been lost.

I was given the name of one of his friends who is mining his computer for information, and we talked several weeks back, but he has yet to get back to me with any information of any kind.

I do not know:
1.) What publishers are in possession of the current manscript
2.) What publishers responded with rejections
3.) Who Jesse was in contact with regarding the manuscript
4.) If Jesse was in negotiations with anyone

It is a bit hard to pick up where he left off or to let another agent know what avenues he was working when I have no information to impart.

The only think I am absolutely certain of is that our contract became void at the time of his death.

I have decisions to make, and I will be making them in a most uninformed fashion, because I need to get the book out there for it to do any good for anyone.

I am loathe to spend another 2-3 years sending queries to agents, hoping to snag one, and then wait for them to send even more years of queries to publishers on my behalf (Jesse had not succeeded in getting a bite in two years, that I know of).

I am also loathe to spend 2-3 years sending my own queries to the limited number of publishers presently accepting unagented material. The state of the industry is such that it seems a particular waste of my time.

I could e-publish on Nook and Kindle but marketing is still a huge issue. The fact is that this book is not going to appeal to the masses. It has to strike a chord with the reader.

I could self-publish, but funds are lacking.

I could forget the whole thing.

I was toying with the idea of commercial publishing…using space in the book to advertise certain products that would be of interest to those buying the book, but I was advised by a very wise businessman that large corporations take almost as long if not longer to make a decision about something like this than the long road to traditional publishing.

A lot of heavy-duty pondering and out-of-the-box thinking is now being done in an effort to decide how to proceed. In the meantime, I am doing some minor rewrites and edits and getting the manuscript polished up for whatever its fate may be.

Darn it, Jesse...I miss you!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spanx Pranks!

AKA The Great Underwear Debacle

We all know how important it is for the M.O.B. to look svelte and decked out for the big occasion. Since I was unsuccessful at my weight loss attempt (stress-eating will derail you in a heartbeat). I decided that the best alternative was a product called Spanx.

It would not be the first time I had donned what I refer to as “a squeezer” in an attempt to achieve a svelte look. But “foundations” have come a long way, even since my son was married only about 8 years ago. Spanx have many items to help women look thinner and smoother. There were two products that interested me, a one-piece with long thigh-covering legs and a super slimming slip, and after researching them online, I went out shopping. Dillard’s had both items, but neither in a size sufficient to cover my physique.

Then I went to Catherines’s. They had plenty of Spanx in my size, but had neither of the items I was interested in purchasing. Frustrated, I went back home, got on line, and ordered one of each in my size. That was on May 10th and I had them shipped with 3-day delivery.
Things got so busy with the wedding preparations that I forgot about the order for over a week. Then I realized it hadn’t arrived. On Wednesday before the wedding, I went on line and tracked the shipment. It had been picked up by FedEx on May 11 in Danville, VA.

It went to Indianapolis, then to Cleveland, then to Bedford (where it should have been placed on a truck for delivery). Unfortunately, it then went back to Indianapolis. It had been scanned in at Cleveland a second time on May 15, but there was nothing after that. I spent some time finding a phone number and called FedEx, registering my complaint and letting the poor man know, in no uncertain terms, that I had to have the package before 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
“You have to understand,” I said. “This is the underwear I’m wearing under my dress for my daughter’s wedding. It should have been delivered last week.” The FedEx guy stammered and apologized. He took my number and said someone would call. A few hours later, I got the first of two calls from FedEx. They wanted more information, which really was all the information I had already given them. A couple hours later, I got a second call. No, they hadn’t found my underwear, yes they would keep looking and get back to me.
I began to check the front porch like a paranoid, waiting for the package to miraculously appear. Mom suggested that I go out and find some other undergarment to wear, but by that time we were down to the day before the wedding. I told her I had already spent 150 bucks on the missing underwear and I wasn’t going to spend another dime. I went back on line and checked the tracking. Nothing had changed. I called FedEx again and got a very non-sympathetic woman who said “Sorry, we can’t find it. Don’t know what else to tell you.”

I went to the computer again, this time getting a number and calling the Spanx Company. I got a very nice young man who listened to my underwear woes. “I ordered these items specifically for my daughter’s wedding. That will occur tomorrow and I am upset and panic stricken. I have called FedEx repeatedly and the package has not been found. Is it possible to ship me something in my size overnight?” He informed me that they could not get me what I needed before 10 a.m., and most likely it would not arrive before Monday. “So what you are telling me is that I have to go to my daughter’s wedding lumpy?”

He issued an immediate credit for the full price to my credit card.

I have religiously checked the front porch, I even continue to check FedEx tracking. FedEx never called me again.
I went to the wedding lumpy…what else can I say? The Spanx have still not arrived, and I can’t help but think I could have walked them from Virginia faster.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flash: M.O.B.!

Breathe, Betsy, breathe! The wedding is over. The gorilla I have been carrying on my back for eight months in now gone. It is time for some carburetor cleaner so I can start firing on all eight cylinders again! Now that it is all over, I think we should put this baby to rest!

Anyone who has ever been an M.O.B. (mother of the bride) can probably relate. To say that this was a wedding on a tight budget is to put it mildly. We started the hunt last fall for available reception space that might not bankrupt us. We found a gem with Stanton Park in Madison. Formerly a CYO camp (in ancient times, as in when I was in school), Camp Isaac Jogues offered a chapel and a hall as well as other assets, such as being right on the shores of beautiful Lake Erie.

The chapel was perfect, very rustic, but with seating for 150. Across the parking lot was the dining hall, very clean and airy with a seating capacity of 160. The price was right…but it did require that I talk the bride down from 250 guests (200 of which were her nearest and dearest friends and about 50 immediate relatives between the two families) to a total of 150.

After the Christmas holidays were behind us, we set the dates for the shower, the wedding, and the rehearsal and began the search for a caterer and supplies. In February, we discovered that the Flower Factory in Solon was going out of business and managed to acquire all the silk flowers for the bridal party and supplies for the centerpieces for less than $150.

After pricing caterers, the bride and groom decided that it would be more budget friendly to have the M.O.B. (yours truly) do all the cooking. In spite of my sweat equity, I have to believe that it would have cost less to just have it catered, but that is another story. They settled on a mid-afternoon ceremony with immediate reception of appetizers and pastries.

Since I am not a caterer by profession, and since the guest list was a potential 150 hungry bodies, I obtained a 21-cubic-foot upright freezer and began to cook. The pastries came first. I made massive quantities of kolachies and cream wafers with a little help from my mother, the bride, and a friend. This was followed by a marathon baking day to turn out 225 cupcakes that I froze unfrosted. Every weekend in March and half of April was filled with baking and cooking. Thirty pounds of meatballs became pans of sweet and sour delights and 30# of chicken became barbequed chicken chunks and joined the pastries in the freezer. Then, in April, the wedding shower was suddenly looming.

We held the shower at Your Vine or Mine in Painesville. There was no way I could accommodate the number of guests Meredith wanted to invite at my house. The Vine worked out well. Penny provided the Sangria and soda, Diane provided the coffee, and I made five, 10-inch chicken quiche, a huge bowl of fresh fruit and a mocha torte.

A few weeks later, the wedding week was upon us. Since Gary does not have much family locally, we held the rehearsal dinner at my house. This involved precooking and shredding an 11-pound pork tenderloin to make a massive amount of pulled pork with potato salad, baked beans and the rest of the picnic fixings. Fortunately, there was no rain the day of the rehearsal. Otherwise we would have been eating the rehearsal dinner on the ark Jim is building in the back yard.

The day before the wedding, I frosted 200 cupcakes and made the actual wedding cake, plus six serving pans of tortellini tossed in olive oil, butter, and fresh garlic. I had also obtained some mini quiche, mini eggrolls, and mini stuffed potato skins, as well as shrimp, and those little cream puffs and éclairs they sell at GFS and Sam’s Club.

At 8:30 on Saturday morning, my wonderful friend David came to the house and fixed my hair for the wedding. When he was done, my friend Sue and my cousin Diane came to the house and, with a little male help, we loaded three vehicles with food, flowers, table ware, and everything else that we would need for the reception. I grabbed my dress for the wedding and we were off, leaving the bride’s hairdo and makeup in David’s capable hands.

After we hauled all the food stuff inside the hall, I realized that the tables were all folded up and leaning against the walls. We procrastinated for a bit, assembling the centerpieces in the kitchen, while we waited for able-bodied groomsmen to arrive and put up tables. Eventually, we set up a few serving tables so that we could get started. Once the groomsmen set up the furniture, my sister and nephew arrived and began to pitch in as well. Soon the tables were topped with black tablecloths covered with white lace, the chairs were set up, the centerpieces were on the tables filled with my lovingly frosted cupcakes, and the chafing dishes were set up on the serving tables. Trays of cookies and fruit filled the desert table, while Sue and Diane used the portable bar to stage the liquid refreshments…coffee, wine coolers, and punch.

Around 1 p.m., I carried the wedding cake out and set it in the center of the head table. I assembled the tiers, finished off the decoration, added the cake topper and stood back and admired my first ever wedding cake. Not too bad if I do say so myself!

In addition to the cupcakes that were serving as centerpieces, I had also purchased small cupcake boxes with little inserts to keep the cupcakes from falling over. My friend Terry, my mother, and I assembled all the boxes on Friday afternoon, and later, Mom, Sean, Ann, and I boxed 100 cupcakes that we presented on the take-one-home table. We also set up a table for gifts/signing the register, and a table with place cards so people would know what table they should occupy for the reception.

At 1:15, I raced into the bathroom, changed into the fancy dress, and left the heating of the food in Sue and Diane’s capable hands. I hopped into my car, which contained the runner, the ring pillow, all the flowers and the basket for the petals and drove over to the chapel. I carried the stuff in with an assist from the limo driver, and proceeded to make sure everyone had their bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, pillow, or basket of flowers. The runner was given to the groomsmen to roll out at the appropriate time. Meredith looked beautiful. Her hair was gorgeous and her dress was simply elegant!

Judge Karen Lawson arrived to perform the ceremony. The groom made an emergency run back to his house for the marriage license that had been forgotten in the melee, but by a few minutes after 2 p.m., everyone was ready, and the ceremony began. After the groom and company placed themselves appropriately, Gary’s son walked me up the aisle. The groomsmen laid the runner. I stood up and sang Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” a cappella as the girls marched forward, ending just as Meredith reached the point where her father handed her over. I could not have timed it better if I had planned it.

In a few minutes, the deed was done. The guests made their way to the hall while the bridal party took photos.

After the toasts and other speeches, the bridal party graced the serving tables and the feasting proceeded in a happy, albeit orderly, fashion. The DJ played dinner music, everyone ate and drank, and if anyone left hungry it was not for lack of available food! The dancing and revelry lasted a couple hours, and then it was all over but the clean-up.

A have to give a huge thank you to Sue and Diane, without whom the reception would have been a dismal failure. And thanks to Ann, Sean, Joe, Flo, Chris, all the groomsmen and everyone else who stayed to help with the clean-up and tear down. It went much quicker than I anticipated, and by 8 p.m., we were home with most everything stashed back in the freezer. There was still a lot to clean-up at home, but the wedding was finished.

After we relaxed for an hour or so, Chris, Paula, and I jumped in the car and drove to Bumpers to join the after party for a while. In typical Bumpers’ fashion, there was karaoke and flowing alcohol. I only sang one song before we bid everyone a farewell and headed home to really crash.

We are still dealing with the wedding aftermath, but the stress is gone. I’ve received two requests for my catering services, one to make a wedding cake, and one to sing at a wedding. That would be definitely no, I’ll think about it, and sure, tell me where to sing and I’m yours!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Endeavor Launch Enlightenment

I managed to get to work early today and realized, when I opened my breaking-news e-mail, that the space shuttle Endeavor would be launching live. I have always been a bit of a space-flight buff, watching every lift-off I could in my early days. For me, the moon shot was life-changing, and the shuttle launches were exciting, even though they became more routine over the years.

Like many people, I have a special interest in Endeavor, commanded by Mark Kelly, the husband of the critically wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, so I pulled up a small, live-launch screen on my computer, plugged in a set of ear buds, and got busy on my latest work assignment, knowing I would hear the countdown and could pop the little screen up just in time for lift-off.

What I did not anticipate was my own intense response. When the rockets lit up, I was overwhelmed with sudden fear and absolute trepidation. My hands balled up in fists so tight that I had indentations in my palms from my fingernails. I was sweating and nauseated. I found myself praying with all my might that nothing would go wrong.

I was momentarily confused over my reaction…until it occurred to me that I had not seen a single launch since the day of the Challenger explosion, 25 long years ago.

Everyone that could find a television was watching on that day, too. We all wanted to see the first non-astronaut woman blast off into space. We never expected that it would end in a devastating explosion that would take the lives of Christa McAuliffe and the dedicated Challenger crew. I was just about to leave for work as I watched Challenger lift off. I stood there, numb with shock and disbelief, as the world watched with me…in horror.

A quarter century has passed, but it was only this morning, as I watched the final lift-off of the shuttle that was built to replace Challenger, that comprehension finally dawned. Somewhere in the back of my brain I had not wanted to witness another mass tragedy, on live television. Without a single conscious thought about it, I had quit watching the launches, and never even noticed.

I am continually amazed at the power of the human psyche to protect us from the things that upset us. It makes me wonder what other things my brain has shut out of my memory in an effort to keep me from suffering from my own thoughts.

But even as I wondered about my own reaction to the Endeavor launch, I felt pain for the families and friends of Christa McAuliffe and the crew of Challenger. I wondered about the extent to which Christa McAuliffe’s students, all sitting there watching the launch on TV, were psychologically damaged by the event. I wonder how many of them ever watched another launch.

In spite of the fact that the last launch in the shuttle program is impending, I am not sure I can voluntarily watch it.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Power of Pinot

I wrote this little article for a neat webzine called Zocalo Public Square. It was posted for 7 days. Their editor took some liberties, but the exposure factor for The Vine was worth letting it go! Enjoy

My relationship to wine falls somewhere between wine snob and wino. No boxed Rosé for me, please, but I have no need for that $150 Burgundy, either. Wine is my simple pleasure, the best way to wind down at the end of a workday or celebrate a special occasion with friends.

An outsider might think I live in exactly the wrong place to satisfy this love: Perry, Ohio has just 1,500 people and sits in the farmland along Lake Erie, about 35 miles east of Cleveland. But, like so many of the misconceptions about my oft-maligned state, the notion of rural Ohio as a backwater a world away from the tasting rooms of Napa is dead wrong. In fact, Northeast Ohio has an aquifer similar to that of the wine-growing regions of France, so we have bottles at least as good as that $150 Burgundy, at probably a tenth of the price. And entrepreneurs have caught on: today, there are probably 30 wineries within 30 miles of my home.

But living in the best wine region for thousands of miles isn’t all good. Even reasonably priced wines cost something, so a couple of years ago I noticed I was becoming wine poor. Markups on wine by the glass make it much more economical to buy whole bottles, which penalizes a writer who spends much of her time alone. And until recently, it was illegal in Ohio to recork a bottle and bring it home. Drinking less wine wasn’t much of an option, so I was on the lookout for a cheaper way to indulge.

Then I stumbled on my first micro-winery, a small wine producer that doesn’t have its own vineyard and doesn’t make everything by the bottle, keeping costs low. The one I visited had no ambience and the wine was truly awful, making me skeptical of the whole concept. Then I found the one that would quite literally change my life.

I was driving down Main Street in Painesville, just five minutes from home, and saw that a new micro-winery called Your Vine or Mine? was almost ready to open. Burned by the first one, I nearly didn’t bother, but I found myself keeping an eye on the place as the opening date neared. That first day, I walked in and sat at the bar. The décor and feel of the little shop were warm and welcoming. There was nothing that felt commercial about the place, with its beautifully accented walls and ceilings, original hardwood floors, antique chairs and wood tables resting on bases made from antique cast iron sewing machines.

With some trepidation, I ordered a glass of blueberry Pinot Noir. A flavored wine probably wouldn’t appeal to a wine snob no matter how good it tastes, but take my word for it: this one was excellent. The berries and grapes danced on my palate. One sip in, and I realized I’d found my spot.

Since then, Your Vine or Mine? has become my home away from home, or perhaps I have become one of the fixtures. I stop almost every afternoon, sipping a glass of Riesling, Amarone or that blueberry Pinot to smooth the transition from my day job to the responsibilities waiting at home. It’s one of the rare places that feels welcoming to people coming in alone; I’m never treated as an incomplete party and I don’t glance enviously at couples, wishing my husband was there. On Thursdays, I bring my laptop along, setting myself up in a corner to work on my latest book or article and enjoying the solitude of my work.

But paradoxically, while the shop has led me to embrace solitude, it’s also given me community. The owners who created this warm atmosphere, Penny and Alex Schebal, have become two of my closest friends. And I don’t get much work done on Thursday evenings anymore because a constant stream of other friends comes through the door. I stash my laptop in favor of catching up on town news and the gossip du jour. We all raise a glass and pass around some appetizers. As a writer, it’s not in my nature to make friends easily or be a social butterfly, but “The Vine,” as we call it, has transformed me. It’s made me a friendlier, more outgoing version of myself. I find myself participating in social events that are miles outside my old comfort zone: donning a Halloween costume, singing bad karaoke, participating in cooking competitions, dressing up for a murder mystery night on New Year’s Eve.

I also make my own wine at The Vine at least twice a year – 300 bottles total. I started with the blueberry Pinot Noir, of course, moving on to the peach-apricot Chardonnay, white cranberry Pinot Grigio, pomegranate Zinfandel and, most recently, blackberry Cabernet and Amarone. People are always very impressed to receive a bottle with my custom label displayed, and I’m always proud to present it as a gift. But it’s funny: although every batch has been excellent, I rarely open a bottle at home. Somehow the grapes just taste better when shared with friends.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

X-Factor Auditions...Day 2!

Another very early arrival at the Prudential Center (5:30 a.m.) prefaced the onset of "activities" that started at 8:00 a.m. and included everyone waving, screaming, and performing in front of every available camera (60 in all). We are talking helicopter skycams, stationary cameras to the right, left, front, and back of the enormous crowds, news cameras from every local station and a Cam Car, with a boom camera that kept driving up and down the line for an hour while the people paid to stir up the excitement did their best to incite a frenzy of dancing, jumping, and screaming in the crowd of 20,000 auditioners. The kids did lots of jumping. The older folks were just trying to stay warm for the second cold morning in a row.

They finally let us inside at 9. It took about an hour to get everyone in and seated. On the main floor, there were 36 booths set up, 12 lines of three. At 10 a.m., they began to audition, section by section. They started in the red section, # 21, then # 20 and on around in a clockwise motion. Six and a half hours later, they got to me in section 10. Gary was in section 9, so I waited for him before heading down, mostly because they were cutting off the wristbands and making everyone exit the building immediately after auditioning, unless you got the Golden Ticket, where you had to register for the next round and THEN exit the building at the opposite end of the arena.

In hindsight, I probably should not have waited. The outcome might have been different. But as it was, we both ended up with the same judge, about 25, spiked hair, skin tight pants...most definitely an EMO fan. He took one look at me and "Oh God, not another old woman" was so clearly written on his face, that I knew I would not get the ticket. I sang beautifully. But even had I danced naked and sung Mariah Carey, I would not have passed. His mind was made up before I opened my mouth. We were told before going in that the judges would ask our name and some personal questions and then tell us to start singing. He asked my name, told me to sing, didn't let me finish, and said, "Sorry, it's a no" and in less than 30 seconds I was gone.

He let Gary finish his song, but I think it was because he was so busy staring at Gary's lower half that he forgot himself. Poor Gary said it was totally disconcerting to have some guy staring at his crotch while he was singing. In the end, he told Gary that "he was good, but sorry, no" and 5 minutes later, Gary joined me outside.

That was 5 p.m. and they still had sections 2-8 on the lower level and ALL the sections of the upper level not blacked out in the picture yet to audition! I can't imagine how long it took to finish up. I wonder if they really did audition everyone or if they cut it off and left people spinning in the wind. I was really glad our experience was only 10 hours long for the day!

Overall, I was glad I made the effort to go. I did what I planned to do, go through the process. We had fun, even though we endured cold, wind, rain, sore feet and legs, and exhaustion. I won't ever regret the experience, though there is little doubt that I won't repeat it. I met many interesting characters on this little journey, even made a few contacts that could help with my books. I had the chance to visit my son, which is rare for me. And I had quite the bonding experience with my future son-in-law...we didn't kill each other, the wedding is still on, and I made him into a Clive Cussler convert.

All in all, it was a few days of vacation well spent!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

X-Factor Audition...yes I am that adventurous!

After a long and uneventful drive from Ohio to New Jersey, we (my future son-in-law, Gary and myself) arrived at my son's house without killing each other or cancelling the upcoming nuptuals. We ate a lovely dinner, talked, and crashed early in anticipation of getting to the Prudential Center at 5:30 a.m. All information indicated that no one would be allowed to camp or gather before the 6:00 a.m. line-up. Right! People evidently started showing up at 10:00 p.m. Monday night! When we arrived, 3-5 thousand people were already in line. We stood and waited from 5:30 until 9:30 in rain, wind, and 43 degree temps, until we finally got inside. An additional 4-5 thousand were still waiting behind us as we left. Then we hiked 1.7 miles back to Chris's house. We're both still moving, though a bit more slowly. If we both don't get pneumonia or laryngitis from the wristband experience, it will be a miracle. On the other hand, perhaps the harsh conditions will weed out the less hardy stock and reduce the number of competitors. Plenty of people abandoned their spots in line prior to getting anywhere near the venue. Can't blame them. I wanted to leave too. But I drove 8 hours to take the opportunity, so I am determined to stick it out. Hopefully tomorrow will go better, albeit less painfully! More to come!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And the cooking continues, but now for a good cause!

The funerals ended with 6. I suppose that actually is bad things by three's, just twice. Now I'm cooking for my daughter's wedding. It's cookie time! The count so far is 906 kolachies (red raspberry, blackberry, apricot, and cream cheese filled) and 568 cream wafers (which of course required the rolling, cutting, and baking of 1136 cookie rounds sandwiched together with creamy buttercream centers).

The cupcakes (225) and the wedding cake come next, followed by marathon appetizer preparations. Of course, I'm only doing things that can be frozen ahead and sucessfully thawed and served. Hopefully my feet and legs will hold out long enough to get it all done in time!

Oh, and then there's the shower in two weeks! I'm making quiche, a huge fresh fruit bowl, and a mocha torte. I refused to attempt to host it at home, so we are taking over Your Vine or Mine? in downtown Painesville. I just don't have the facility for ~40 people. So I will cook and bring the food and everyone can have coffee, soda, or Vine-provided sangria. I think it will be a rather fun little event.

I will have a surprise announcement in April! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bad Stuff Happens in Three's?

I've been doing my "cooking for mourning families" thing for the last three weeks. It started mid February when my Uncle Art passed away. He was my Dad's youngest brother and the last surviving sibling of the group of 8. I made enough pasta, sauce, and meatballs to feed an army, as his family consists of 6 daughters, their spouses, their kids and spouses, and their grandkids...more than 40 in total.

Two days after that funeral, I took my Mom to the calling hours of one of her flower club friends. The woman passed at 101.

A few days later, I was making food for the neighbors, who were handling the family luncheon following the funeral of their niece, Betheny Mehall, who had been tragically killed in a shooting in Harpersfield.

This past weekend was marathon cooking. One casserole for a friend whose mother had passed away; the other for old family friends who had lost one parent in a house explosion in Eastlake a couple of years ago, and whose surviving parent passed just before the weekend.

That's five in three weeks! I was always told that bad things happen in three's, so this run of unhappy events seems to be a bit extreme. I'm hoping the run is over!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

While I'm on the topic of food...

I made the decision several weeks ago that I would cook my heart out on the weekends and just do the heat and serve thing during the work week. I figure doing so would accomplish a number of things.

1) I wouldn’t have to think about what to cook every day,

2) I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I actually had the required ingredients on that particular day,

3) I wouldn’t be spending an hour after work preparing a meal, and

4) Simple nuke and serve eliminates all those pots, pans, and prep tools that would have to be cleaned up after dinner.

So far, it’s worked out pretty well. I’ve made large batches of a number of dishes including tuna noodle casserole, chili, black bean soup, lentil soup, navy bean and ham soup, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, hunter’s delight, beef stew, chicken parisienne, etc. It’s been great. So what’s the problem? I’m running out of ideas.

If you have any suggestions, I will readily accept them!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Just Blame it on the Baked Beans!

As the self-proclaimed queen of multi-tasking, I’m often running around like a chicken with its head lopped off while burning a candle at both ends AND in the middle. Today was one of those days, in typical Saturday fashion, as I tried to get a week’s worth of errands stuffed into the one hour I had to run while Mom was at the beauty shop getting her weekly hair-do.

First stop was Sam’s Club, where I stocked up on some essentials to the tune of $120. I was in a bit of a hurry to get in and out, until I ran into the new guy at work, only two weeks here from France, wandering about the place like a lost puppy. His English is not particularly good, but after about 10 minutes, I had explained to him that he had to pay to join Sam’s and the prices were good if you wanted to buy in bulk. I told him smaller quantities were more affordable at Marc’s. Then I realized what he was really looking for was someplace to take his laptop that had been invaded by a virus. I drew him a map from Sam’s to Staples, where they have people who fix those sorts of issues.

I raced out of there, packed the haul in the hatchback, stopped at BP to fill my tank, and then made a quick stop at McDonald’s, not because I was hungry, but because my diuretic kicked in and I was nowhere near anyplace else I could stop. This was followed by a run to the local health food store to see if my order of Yogi Tea had arrived…no such luck.

Then I delayed picking up Mom so that I could stop at Marc’s and get the few items I hadn’t gotten at Sam’s. This was a mistake. I grabbed a cart and raced up one aisle and down the next, only hitting the ones containing items I needed. I found an empty check-out line and started loading the conveyor belt with my purchases, when a 40-ounce can of Bush’s Vegetarian Baked Beans slid out of the cart and landed on my right foot. In spite of the fact that I had on heavy leather shoes, the darn thing broke my little toe.

Now, I’m limping around on a very sensitive foot with a toe that is swollen, bruised, and unable to bend at all without excruciating pain. All because of a can of baked beans! Whoever came up with the saying “Cool Beans” never had a 40-ounce can fall on their foot!

Worse is the fact that they can’t do anything for it. Other than taping it to the next toe for support, you just have to let it alone. Why I continue to break bones that can’t be “fixed” or “casted” is beyond me, but since I have to blame something, Bush’s Beans takes the hit!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mubarak's Billions...Yet we keep supporting these despots?

Someone was arguing with me the other day about how we need to keep Mubarak in power because he is our friend. I think that when the populace of a nation rises up against its leader, heads usually roll; and in this case, justifiably so. Elections should be held in Egypt as planned and should be monitored, but even in our country, those who shout loudest often get their way as the silent majority stays silent.

When our helping a foreign country involves providing them with money, weapons, and tourism and the result is that a small percentage of those in power reap the benefit while the majority of the population suffers from physical and financial deprivation, it is only reasonable to assume that majority will see the U.S. as the same type of oppressor as their own government. We have been guilty of this behavior time and again; Egypt is not the first non-democratic government we have supported in this fashion, only to have things blow up in our face. We have repeatedly made greedy, evil despots rich and powerful when they have agreed to represent our interests in their regions.

This has been borne out once again with the disclosure of Mubarak’s billions. He has amassed a huge fortune with our help, whether witting or unwitting, while the populace of his country became progressively more impoverished and desperate. The people are not stupid. They are acutely aware of their conditions while they watch a small group of government leaders live lavishly, buy extravagant homes, and travel in luxury with impunity. Because we backed Mubarak’s regime, we will have little or no influence in ensuring that a “friendly” government takes over that country. I have to admit, if I was Egyptian, I wouldn’t trust the U.S. any farther than I could toss Mubarak.

Someone said to me, “Only the angry people are demonstrating there. Millions more are sitting at home quietly supporting us.” I wonder at the stupidity of that statement. Complacency is common until people are personally affected by events. Unfortunately, they then follow whoever shouts the loudest or makes the boldest promises, and they do it without verifying the facts, doing any research, or questioning the integrity or experience of the person or persons they decide to back. We are easy to blame because in many instances they are correct about the results of our questionable involvement. We cannot control the corruption in other governments, so when we try to help, the people in those countries see us as corrupt government supporters. The Egyptian people will need someone to blame, so don’t be surprised when they follow anyone shouting "down with America." The complacent, silent majority tends to follow blindly, and history is filled with the disasters that resulted when populations did just that. Remember Hitler? If you don’t, go read your history books.

As hard as it may seem, whether here, or in Egypt, or in any other country, we need to remove ourselves from the rhetoric, put aside our anger and our disagreements, and work together toward solutions that will return us to peace and sanity. I know this is not always possible. If we, as a country, are attacked, we need to respond in kind. But until that happens again, we need to be the voice of reason and re-assess our position in the global reality we are confronted with as a nation. The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Since the strategies of the past are not achieving the results we want, we need to rethink our foreign policies until we find ones that work. And we need to rethink those policies with NO influence from special interest groups.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Palin on Obama and the situation in Egypt...

This past weekend, Lisa Ling commented on Sarah Palin’s attack on President Obama’s stance on the wholesale unrest in Egypt by asking on Facebook, “Sarah, do you know where Egypt is?” This was followed by many opinions both for and against Sarah Palin. I listened to her interview, which in typical Palin fashion was mostly unintelligible.

This is a transcript, provided by the network, of Ms. Palin’s response to Mr. Brody’s question about how she believes the president has handled the situation in Egypt:

“And nobody yet has, nobody yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and no, not, not real enthused about what it is that that’s being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt. And, in these areas that are so volatile right now, because obviously it’s not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for so we know who it is that America will stand with. And, we do not have all that information yet.”

I proceeded to join the conversation by posting the following:

“Frankly, I do not believe that the success or failure of our country to pull itself out of our present situation depends on what type of government comes to power in Egypt. As a global leader, we will have to deal with whatever entity takes over in that country, and diplomacy is the name of the game. It is also a word that is not in Palin's vocabulary. Obviously, Sarah Palin has the same right to free speech as the rest of us. The thing that makes her version of free speech dangerous is that there are people out there that actually buy into anything she spouts. She is like a charismatic leader of a cult, feeding her followers the rhetoric they seem to live on. I find it frightening that such a huge number of people seem to think she's brilliant. She has not only never had an original idea, she can't string together an intelligible sentence! She has yet to fulfill a term of office to which she has been elected. When was the last time the governor of any state left office for a reason less serious than illness or a scandal that made it impossible for them to govern? Every time she quits an elected post, she violates the trust of the public that voted her into office. I think her followers should wake up and smell the coffee!

A rabid Palin supporter immediately went into attack mode. This included such gems as:

“Yes of course, you can say what you want that was my point. Even the dumb asses here have a right to respond so immaturely!” and

"But to constantly berate a strong willed woman, who leads, wants to do something for this country and could do a better job than most, not all. Still the fact that anyone would even want to take the challenge on."

"Seriously, she can't string together a intelligent sentence? My GOD your statements are completely ignorant!" and

"Issues! not childish junior high name calling" as well as:

“On the other hand Chris Rock was right. Early in the 2012 campaign, before Palin was in the picture, he joked that Hillary would never be elected president. Nor would any white woman be elected which was sad since white women are the majority in this nation - 52% right? But as Chris pointed out 'Who hates a white woman more than another white woman?' Sad, but that is exactly how you woman take on the issue of Sarah Palin - exactly - you make HER the issue and instead ignore the real solutions and the real issues.” Then there’s:

“If she REALLY WAS stupid, a clown, etc...etc... then she would have faded away by now. The fact is that she had more women rallying for her than any other candidate. She is a REAL mother and career woman.”

I responded to this claptrap with a restatement of my original post, including lengthy explanations of each point, backing the validity of my statements. After a few more exchanges, I posted the following:

"You write that the U.S. stands for freedom and has interests in many parts of the world as though the very idea of it was sprung from Ms. Palin's loins. I have to tell you, that statement or something quite similar has been made by every political figure in this country since WW1. Just because she has stated the obvious, and it is something that every in this country agrees with, doesn't make it a reason for me to consider her to be qualified to be in the political spotlight or to hold national office."

His response to that was:

“She is more qualified than most of us simply because of all the heat she has taken over the past 2 years. The job dictates that.”

I finished off with:

I think that shouldering bad publicity does not qualify anyone for a run for president. Criticism comes with the territory, but having experience with criticism does not automatically qualify a person to make life and death decisions for 300 million Americans."

Then I gave up and went downstairs to watch the Super Bowl. At least there was a clear winner and a clear loser in that argument!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Reprise of the Malinchak Contest Blog

As promised, and for those who didn't zip over to the contest site to read it, the blog entry is below. I didn't win, but the contest was more about who had the largest network to vote for them, not who wrote the best blog. But it was fun to compete!

What's the biggest difference between a truly dynamic and memorable speaker and one who is, well, not? From my seat in the 22nd row, I would say that it is the speaker's ability to engage the audience. The most interesting topic in the world can put you to sleep if the speaker does not engage you in his or her presentation.

Think of the typical conversations you have on any given day. How much of a conversation do you remember when the person you are speaking with is talking at you, rather than engaging you in discourse? We would all prefer having someone talk with us, not at us. Engaging speakers have learned how to speak with their audience. They pull you into their topic, often asking rhetorical questions designed to make you feel that you're a part of a conversation. Even though the question is not answered by you directly, you begin think about what your answer would be, instantly involving you in the presentation.

What other methods can you use to engage your audience? Visual aids are sometimes effective, but you should try large, colorful types of aids and refrain from using boring power point presentations. If you've ever been lulled into la-la-land by a speaker who read from his text-filled power point, you already know why that's not the way to go. Try doing or saying something startling or unexpected. It doesn't have to be loud, but it should be abrupt. I once began singing in the middle of speech, which really inspired the audience to pay attention to what I was saying. Demonstrations are also attention getting, especially if you choose someone from the audience to help you. Humor is a great way to jump start interest in your speech, but you should practice the funny stories or punch lines. Nothing kills your speech faster than a poorly delivered or distasteful joke.

There are numerous ways to encourage your audience to become involved in what you're presenting. For more ideas, watch recorded speeches and pay close attention to the methods those speakers use to keep your attention. If you have a fear of speaking in public, join a speaking group, like Toastmasters International, where you can practice until speaking to a group becomes less frightening. Remember that the ability to present your ideas and products to an audience can be your number one marketing tool. Don't you think it's worth the time and effort to improve your speaking skills and techniques?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl hosts horrid rendition of the National Anthem...

I saw an article the other day about the "10 Worst Renditions of the National Anthem" and was surprised that Macy Gray didn't make the list. Not only was her performance at the Hall of Fame game lousy, but she actually did not know the words! A similar event occurred tonight at the Super Bowl, where Christina Aguilera made it up as she went along. I can only say I'm sorry that the dome wasn't open so that the fly over could have drowned out her sour notes, over-affected style, and lack of the correct lyrics.

And before anyone says "Well, Betsy, singing the anthem is difficult and doing it in a stadium just isn't the same as singing it in your car," I will say that I haven't sung it in the Super Dome, but I have sung it at a stadium. If I can do it, then someone who makes millions singing should be able to do it. And they should darn well know the lyrics. It is disgraceful to get out there and sing our National Anthem incorrectly.

While we're on the subject of the Super Bowl, I give my most hearty congratulations to the Green Bay Packers. You've just become one of my favorite teams. I may be a Browns fan, but I will root my heart out for anyone who can stick it to the Steelers! You gave me a few minutes of worry there at the end, but you prevailed and that is what counts. Way to go, Packers!