Transformation Complete

Welcome one and all to my new blog site! Although I was happy to continue using the original, this one offers features and functions that should make your experience more interactive and satisfying.

The first difference you’ll notice–apart from the layout and color scheme–is that visitors can now leave comments. I’m not sure if that will be good or bad for me, but I hope you will exercise that option and use it to your full advantage.

You will also notice that I have moved all my previous posts over from the old site. Feel free to check them out, leave a comment–or two, or three–and hit the like button as many times as you, well, like!

If you’re so inclined, you can also share this link ( ) with your friends and anyone else you know who might enjoy a laugh every week or so.

Meanwhile you can still visit to see what’s going on with my novels and short stories. It, too, has changed a bit, with the BLOG button having been replaced with one that reads “THE UNCOMMON BLONDE,” which will lead you right back here!

Well, that’s all for now. Once again I welcome you to the site, and hope you will like what you read.

Buon Appetito!


Laws and Order

(Originally posted Friday, May 31st, 2013)

Dearly Beloved: We are gathered here today to talk about laws. By that I don’t mean statutes, codes, ordinance or other legislation. Nor do I refer to anything relating to physics or engineering—although an essay on either of those topics would probably make this post more amusing for some readers given my tenuous grasp of their core concepts and my lack of facility with higher math.

As much fun as that sounds, we’re going to talk about another kind of law—the type to which most everyone is subject regardless of race, religion, age, occupation, or locality, and by which some of us are routinely and mercilessly plagued.

The first of these is Murphy’s Law, which holds–essentially–if anything can go wrong, it will. For you lucky individuals who are unfamiliar with the concept, Murphy’s is the law that applies when a retired marine decides to go outside to the mailbox ten minutes before guests are to arrive for a dinner party, and then walks back through the house unwittingly tracking doggie doo all over the entire main floor.

Murphy’s Law is also the force at work when a fifteen year-old boy-crazy girl is sitting in the stands at a hockey game gushing animatedly to her friends about the talent, beauty, and wonder of a certain 9th grade forward, when a woman seated nearby taps her on the shoulder and announces proudly that she’s Vince’s mother. Now that El Noble is old enough for young ladies to gush about him, I fully understand Mrs. Bianconi’s eagerness to reveal her identity, but in 1982, I could have crawled into a hole or signed myself up for the witness protection program.

These days, Murphy strikes around the dinner hour, when there are big decisions to be made and annoying consequences to be faced if you make the wrong call. Do I lovingly prepare something wholesome and delicious knowing I may wind up spending the evening staring at a beautifully set table while the Jarhead slaves away at the salt mines? Or do I skip cooking in favor of something more fun, productive, or interesting, knowing that as soon as I’m up to my armpits in mulch or knee deep in hyperbole, the Jarhead will suddenly walk through the door with an appetite for whatever he saw on the meal plan that morning. Whenever I find myself at such a crossroads, I like to jinx the situation by choosing the activity that will lead to the most desirable of the least desirable outcomes, but sometimes even that backfires, which I mention only to illustrate why no one should be taking advice from me.

Closely related to Murphy’s Law is the Law of Unintended Consequences. This is the force at work when unexpected events or issues arise after one attempts to adjust, improve, or otherwise change something else–like when some brilliant individual decides to drive all the birds out of his yard only to wind up with an overabundance of flies and mosquitoes. It’s also at work pretty much whenever a pharmaceutical company puts out a new drug, which is why it takes longer for the dude who narrates their commercials to rattle off the side effects than it does to describe its benefits.

Unlike Murphy’s Law, the Law of Unintended Consequences doesn’t always produce unpleasant results. For example, we can credit this force with making it possible to cook a batch of light buttery goodness in three minutes and without booting up the stove or building a campfire since it was quite by accident that an engineer realized that magnetron technology would have applications in the kitchen. Likewise for the case of the woman who, a decade or so ago learned she was losing her vision and decided to go skydiving before she went totally blind, and instead found herself with two working eyes after experiencing a strange popping sensation as she made her descent back to earth.

Of course, I don’t advise anyone to leap out of a perfectly good airplane in the hope that doing so will inadvertently restore their failing faculties or cure whatever else ails them. Nor do I advocate devoting oneself to the development of weaponized bubblegum with the aim of inventing some new gadget for the home or office. I’m merely pointing out that life abounds with happy accidents and sometimes Murphy takes a vacation. If he didn’t, then Mr. Percy’s experiments with dielectric heating would have cooked his internal organs instead of melting the chocolate bar in his pocket, and the skydiver wouldn’t have seen much but the underside of a faulty parachute after the rapid increase in air pressure restored the circulation to her optic nerve.

And on that happy note, I’m gonna get moving, cuz you’ll never guess who just walked through the door.

Unreasonable Precautions

(Originally posted Thursday, May 16th, 2013)

For the members of the audience who were concerned for my safety after reading some of my earlier posts—and for those whose concerns have been exacerbated by the gaps between posts—rest assured, I am alive and well. That said, recent news reports have me thinking about my future and the need to take some unusual–if not bizarre—steps in the interest of my continued existence.

For starters, there is the case of Steven Johnson of St. Paul, Minnesota. According to CBS affiliate WCCO, Mr. Johnson confessed in January of 2013 to shooting his wife, dismembering her body with a saw in the shower, placing her body parts in storage bins, and hiding them in a friend’s garage.

Since reading this article, I have decided to establish new rules pertaining to the purchase of storage bins by members of my household and determined that all bins, regardless of size, must be transparent. That way there is a reasonable chance the neighbors will notice my bloody/mutilated body parts as they are being loaded onto a vehicle or sitting on a shelf in their own garage. Meanwhile, friends and neighbors are asked to be on the lookout for any container coming out of my house that you cannot see though—including bottles and jars. Coolers are exempt from this advisory since the Jarhead likes his Yuengling® too much to let it get warm and he’s a tad too thrifty to replace his trusty Coleman®. Small bins, on the other hand, should be met with extra suspicion since, let’s face it, the only way anyone could carry my corpse anywhere would be in pieces or with the help of a forklift.

Next, I direct your attention to John Warren Gibson, Jr., who in February of 2013, led police to the body of his girlfriend, Amanda Foster. According to the report posted on 2/1/2013 by Southern Maryland Newspapers Online, Gibson admitted to stabbing Foster, placing her body in a trash can, loading it into her own truck, and hiding it in the woods in St. Mary’s County.

From this story I learned that outlawing opaque bins and warning my neighbors to watch out for violators may not be going far enough. With that in mind, I have decided to petition township officials to replace our solid brown and blue trash and recycling receptacles with clear or translucent ones. This may not prevent the Jarhead from putting my body in a trashcan, loading it onto a truck, and driving it out to the woods, but it should make it harder for him to conceal it and, therefore, make the idea seem less attractive.

And finally we have David Viens, the Los Angeles chef who on 3/22/13 was sentenced to 15 years in prison for killing his wife, Dawn.  According to several reports, Viens admitted in 2011 to using a slow cooker to get rid of his wife’s body after he found her dead of unknown causes at home in 2009. In that confession Viens said they had fought, and that she had tried to leave, but that she was under the influence and he did not think she should leave home in that condition, so he tied her to a chair and left the house, only to return later to find her dead.

From this report, I have decided that our house will never be home to more than one crock pot, stock pot, or roasting pan. Moreover, any pot, pan, or roaster that enters our home will hold no more than three pounds of meat. That way, the Jarhead can expect it to take several weeks to cook me down, which will, again, make the task more challenging, thereby rendering the idea less attractive. (Bonus points for the reader who emails me to complain about the bad pun.)

Meanwhile, I caution folks to be on the alert for anything else that may appear suspicious, by which I mean anything of a cloth or plastic construction that could be used to wrap a body and prevent it from being seen through transparent bins or trash receptacles. Also, if you witness someone buying a bunch of slow cookers but no meat—or if someone you know suddenly develops an interest in crock pot cookery—you may want to mention it to someone who has the legal authority to find out why. Likewise if you witness someone buying a gigantic, solid color plastic bin or several smaller ones.

And, finally, if a large and/or solid-color dumpster disappears from your driveway or neighborhood, do NOT go looking for it. Just report it. I may be paranoid, but I think it’s best to leave the discovery of decomposing body parts to the experts.

O Pioneers!

(Originally posted Friday, May 3rd, 2013)

You might think from the title that you were about to encounter something relating to Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy, or something historic and educational. Or at least something about pioneers. But no. As usual, I’m going to talk about myself. I suppose technically I will be talking about pioneers, but I only intend to do so insofar as they relate to me.

As a kid I was fascinated with American pioneers and captivated by tales of their experiences. Traversing across this vast land of ours in search of opportunity, they seemed so strong. So ambitious. So determined. I would gobble up books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and imagine all the adventures I would have if I lived on the frontier. Okay, mostly I imagined how I would murder Nellie Oleson, avoid prosecution, escape from a frontier prison, suck up to Miss Beedle, or devise something better than a bag of straw to sleep on, but sometimes I actually pictured myself sewing, making soap, and finding a way to eat the same thing over and over again–or doing the same thing day after day–without losing my mind. It would not have been an easy life.

Later, after I had read My Antonia and Caddie Woodlawn, seen a few John Wayne films, and watched almost every episode of How the West Was Won, Grizzly Adams, and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, I realized something very important: I am not cut out to be a pioneer. Or a pilgrim. Or a settler. Basically, I’m not cut out for life in any time except the present. To belabor the point: When it comes to centuries, I prefer the 20th and the 21st.

Notwithstanding the fact that the entire continent of Europe would have had to have been on fire or sinking rapidly into the ocean for me to have boarded a boat that would take a month or more to reach its destination. And never mind the mice, fleas, rats, lice, seasickness, and food borne illness that would have passed for entertainment back then. Just imagining myself effectively stranded at sea with no hot shower, no microwave, no Kindle, and no computer to help me while away the days, I know I would never have survived. I know this because I know myself, and although I might have had a Bible, a hymnal, and even a wooden bench to bang my head against, there aren’t enough Bible verses, inspirational songs, or concussive head injuries to keep my mind occupied for three weeks or more. No. In less than fourteen days–I believe they called that period a fortnight–this gal either would have died of boredom, or staged a mutiny or committed suicide just for the sake of amusement.

Now let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I was born in one of the colonies, and did not have to suffer that hellish journey across the Atlantic to settle somewhere in North America. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that I was the wife of someone who wanted to go west. Wanderlust or not, I would have gotten about as far a the foothills of the Appalachians because I would have taken one look at the mountains–and our covered wagon filled with all our worldly possessions, and another two or three looks at the mountains, and four or five more looks at the covered wagon–and decided I was more of an East Coast sort of gal. Because even if I thought I had the mettle to climb those mountains or the time, energy and patience to find a short cut through them, all it would have taken was one glance DOWN the mountain, and I would have been paralyzed with fear. Not of falling, mind you. Of landing. Hard. At which point I likely would have decided I was more of an introvert than an explorer, and would have headed for the nearest cave or hollowed out tree to live on my own until I starved to death.

Now lets say, again for the sake of argument, that I was born in one of the colonies, and was transported through the mountains and across the rivers as, say a child or a fetus in the comfort of a horse-drawn wagon and/or uterus, and arrived safely in the big woods, or a prairie, or Kansas, or any other part of the Great Plains. Under those circumstances–and barring a catastrophic accident or an outbreak of tornadoes, measles, or small pox–I would have had a slightly better chance of surviving the experience since I would have grown up there and, owing to the fact that there were no books, movies, or web articles on the subject, I wouldn’t have known yet just how bad I had it.

Our Aging Brains

(Originally posted Thursday, April 18th, 2013)

As the Jarhead and I get older, I’ve begun to think about age-related illnesses and conditions, and how they may affect us. Words like presbyopia and arthritis have already crept into our vocabulary, just as ibuprofen, antacids, and reading glasses have replaced the Midol, condoms, and tampons in my purse, the medicine cabinet, and the center consoles of the family vehicles. We talk in mostly joking tones about these changes and what other geriatric maladies may befall us, but personally I don’t find this trend the least bit humorous.

Two other topics that I find decidedly unfunny but which nevertheless feature prominently in our comedic exchanges are presbycusis—aka age related hearing loss—and cognitive decline. And with apologies to those who are currently affected by either of these conditions, I can’t help but wonder: If my beloved Jarhead were to develop dementia, how would I know?

I ask this, in part, because even before we started checking the 41 to 50 box on surveys, questionnaires, and the like, the Jarhead displayed a strong propensity for memory lapses. For example, he forgets where he puts things, forgets to do things, and forgets that he has already done things. He also forgets that he owns things, forgets he’s given or thrown them away, and—odder yet—forgets that he has already replaced them.

At times, he also forgets to say things. I’m not talking about things like apologizing when he offends or upsets me, or wishing me a pleasant birthday or anniversary. Happily, he is a pro at making amends and has plenty of high tech gadgets to remind him of key dates. Instead, he forgets to respond to comments and questions posed to him in the course of an ordinary day, such as, “Did you bring the dumpsters up from the curb?” In such situations he will walk right past me without a word believing he spoke his answer aloud when in fact he only heard it in his head. He has also been known to sit waiting for an answer from me to a question he never spoke except in his head. I won’t even know it’s happening until I notice him staring at me expectantly and am moved to ask, “What?”

Other times, he will give an answer that doesn’t fit the question, and I won’t know if his answer is off topic because he didn’t hear what I said, or if it’s because his brain took a wrong turn and refuses to stop and ask for directions. When this happens, I will have to ponder the possible reasons he is talking about tires when I asked him about apples, and try to determine whether he thought I said something that sounded like tires, or if the word apples made him think about Walmart (where we have bought apples) which reminded him of the auto center (where we have also happen to have bought tires.) Failing that, I’ll have no choice but to interrupt and politely ask, “What exactly do you think I said?”

The issue of whether I will know if and when the Jarhead’s brain stops firing on all cylinders is further complicated by the fact that I change my mind a lot and will, occasionally, forget having done so. Like when I asked him to bring up from the basement freezer a pack of bagels I had planned to have him put there but which I later decided to stash in the crisper in the fridge. All totaled, it took us fifteen minutes to find the bagels, and another fifteen to figure out what went wrong—and how.

Also contributing to the problem is that I sometimes say things I don’t mean. I’m not talking about calling names or flinging accusations (although I’ve done my share of both, nine times out of ten it is intentional) but about my tendency to speak words that are somehow related to or similar in sound to those I intend to say, but which are just different enough to confuse the recipient of my message when I say them. Like when I ask him to put something in the oven when I mean the dishwasher, or to bring me a pair of socks from my desk when I mean my dresser. In addition to supplanting words with terms that sound similar or have a similar purpose, shape, or function, I also have issues with mathematical terms which cause me to say thousands when I mean hundreds or tens of thousands; weeks when I mean months, years, or days; and minutes when I mean hours or seconds—and vice versa.

I don’t know if this is an age thing or not. I don’t recall it happening in my teens or twenties but that doesn’t prove anything. Which leads me to wonder: If I were to develop dementia, how would the Jarhead know?

I heart John Boy

(Originally posted Friday, April 5th, 2013)

I have a confession to make: I love John Boy Walton.

I don’t love him the way I do, say, the Jarhead or hot caramel sauce on chocolate ice cream—but it’s a pretty close race.

One reason I love John Walton, Jr. is that, like me, he was a writer. In fact, right after Erma Bombeck and my high school English teacher Lois Julsrud, Bill Bryson, Jane Austen, and three or four authors whose names I recall from either my freshmen English syllabus or a deck of children’s playing cards, John Boy is perhaps the biggest reason I became a writer.

Now some may infer from this that the reason I’m writing and not engaged in some other more lucrative line of work is that I was too busy watching The Waltons in my younger days to develop any useful skills. But I assure you that my choice of career has less to do with how much time I spent watching TV as a child than how much time I wanted to spend in my pajamas as an adult. Either way, John Boy deserves some of the credit—or blame, depending on your perspective—for the fact that you are reading this column instead of working, exercising, or reading the newspaper. And for that—to quote Daniel Tosh—I thank you.

As I write this, it occurs to me that in addition to influencing my job goals, my admiration for John Boy may have had something to do with how I wound up married to the Jarhead. Especially given their many similarities, the theory has merit. For example, like John Boy, the Jarhead grew up in the country, has a slew of brothers and sisters, served in the military, and—as evidenced by the fact that we’re still together after nearly three decades—has the patience of Job. Granted, the Jarhead grew up on Pig Tail Ridge instead of Walton’s Mountain, and lacks John Boy’s blue eyes, blonde hair, spectacles, and suspenders; but while they differ in terms of geography and their outward appearance, they are practically twins when it comes to temperament and intelligence.

Despite its many Emmy nominations, The Waltons was not without its critics. Some, for example, felt that the show was unrealistic; that its characters were impossibly virtuous people, especially given their circumstances; and that poverty in real life is rarely so sweet or lacking in dysfunction. That all may be true, but what kept me from buying the whole premise of the show is the ease with which John Boy wrote in his journal. The fact that we never saw the man using an eraser, scribbling anything out, angrily ripping a page out of his tablet and crumpling it up, or setting his entire body of work on fire induces me to wonder: Was he really that good of a writer, or just that generous of a critic?

Maybe I’m the outlier here, but I couldn’t write anything publishable—or legible for that matter—in long hand if my life or the future of the human race depended on it. (Those of you who would argue as to my ability to write anything publishable in ANY hand are invited to reread my previous posts—especially those on bullying.) In fact, the previous sentence alone took me three edits to get right, and there will likely be fragments left over from all the cutting and pasting I’ve done when I finish when I finally finish it.

The Limits of Togetherness

(Originally posted Thursday, March 21st, 2013)

I love the Jarhead the pieces and enjoy spending time with him. But there are some things the two of us will never do together. Ever. (For those of you whose mind went right to the gutter, I’m sorry to disappoint, but this is not that kind of column.)

I’m not talking about boring things like competitive bird watching or icky things like traveling to a foreign land to sample latest recipes involving beetles and grubs. Rather, I’m referring to certain sports and outdoor activities that, frankly, I would be more inclined to do with a complete stranger or a mortal enemy than with the man who promised to love me until death do us part.

The first thought that comes to my mind is rock climbing. This is primarily because of that blasted commercial where the woman proudly tells us how she and her significant other spent their credit card reward points on equipment to scale a giant tower of sandstone instead of buying a diamond. I saw that spot and thought, well that would be fun—for the one who comes back to a pile of insurance money.

I feel the same way about activities involving open water. I have no problems with the idea of a trip that involves the two of us cheerily casting our lines from shore at a bustling campground, or dropping a line from the end of a dock surrounded by plenty of witnesses. But there is no way I’m going out on a lake or the ocean—be it on a yacht or a cruise liner—with the man I love when the only thing standing between him and freedom is a railing.

I know what you’re thinking: That woman is paranoid. Although I prefer to call it precautious, I also know what I’m like to live with and that some days, even in the face of hard evidence, a jury might be inclined to acquit.

I am also wise to the fact that if he really wanted to get rid of me there are plenty of ways he could do it right here at home and without breaking a sweat. Things like poison and acid come to mind (well, maybe not to yours; but I’m a fan of Breaking Bad, so, there you have it) as do murder for hire and a seemingly random but ultimately diversionary sniper attacks (thank you, John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo.)

But what’s great about poison, acid, contract killings, and sniper attacks is that they generally look suspicious and, therefore, tend to arouse the curiosity of law enforcement. This, I’m given to understand, is a big deterrent for those wanting to get rid of someone without having to experience any unpleasant consequences like lethal injection or lifetime incarceration. Thus, I feel pretty safe in my own home and going about my daily business.

Things like fishing and rock climbing, on the other hand, are different. Because they already carry the element of danger—and because accidents really DO happen—if you want to get out of a long term relationship without looking like the bad guy, they’re practically doing the work for you.

“But the Jarhead doesn’t have reason to get rid of you,” you might be saying to yourself. “And he’s a good guy, so you can trust him.”

Yep. And I’ll just bet that’s about what Scott Peterson was banking on when he invited his wife to get into that boat—assuming she did so of her own accord. And I’m pretty sure all the other men and women who have ever died at the hands of their own ostensibly loving spouses were under the exact same mistaken impression.

And so it goes that I will not be taking any fishing or rock climbing trips with the Jarhead any time soon. Nor will I be joining him on any hunting trips, or caving expeditions—that is, unless we go with a group and I have made absolutely certain he doesn’t have the financial means to have paid them ALL for their silence.

Mad for Ads

(Originally posted Friday, March 15th, 2013)

Like many people—especially the folks at the Clio Awards, which recognize innovation and excellence in advertising—I am a big fan of television commercials. I am particularly fond of television commercials that make me laugh, include an addictively catchy jingle, or feature Betty White or Aretha Franklin.

On the other hand, there are several commercials I simply cannot stand and that will prompt me to change the channel immediately upon hearing their opening lines or background music. These include—but are not limited to—ads that contain images of third world poverty, abused or neglected animals, or military service personnel who surprise their mothers by turning up unexpectedly for Thanksgiving. It may sound heartless—especially for a cat-fancying military spouse with two beautiful children—but the people who come up with such ads are wasting their time and talent because, in my view, they are far too touching, depressing, or conscious-raising to watch.

Maybe things would be different if we lived in a world with only four channels and no remote control, but why would I sit through a guilt-inducing lecture from Alyssa Milano, or look at pictures of half-starved dogs when I can click over to HGTV and gawk at the Property Brothers or Scott McGillivray? Seriously.

If these people want to keep me tuned in long enough to convince me to do something about third world poverty or animal cruelty, or to buy a certain brand of coffee, they should run an ad that will actually hold my attention. I won’t go so far as to say they should be funny, or use addictively catchy jingles, or feature Betty White or Aretha Franklin. All I’m asking is that they not make me want to cry, gag, or open a vein.

The poverty and animal cruelty folks could start by taking a cue from some of the other advocacy groups like those behind the Above the Influence ads and anti-bullying campaigns. They are thought-provoking and impactful but aren’t likely to drive me into the arms of a bar of dark chocolate or put me in the fetal position for two weeks.

The coffee people, meanwhile—and others who are bent on reaching out and touching someone—could learn something from my current Favorite Commercial of All Time, which has held the title for more than six months. Specifically, I refer to one in a series of recent ads for Florida Orange Juice featuring an individual seated at a table surrounded by the people he or she expects to encounter that day, who then take turns describing the perils that will befall him or her over the course thereof.

All of these ads are clever and amusing, but the one that never fails to make me laugh out loud—no matter how many times I see it—involves a man at a diner whose companions include a woman who says, “At eleven I’ll call crying because you haven’t updated your relationship status.” “After one date?” he wonders aloud. “Yeah,” she replied in a scarily serious manner. Later, when the guy utters the tagline, “At least I have my orange juice,” she adds, “And me. You have me.” Hilarious.

My previous favorite was a commercial for GEICO whose narrator asks, in response to the question of whether switching to GEICO can really save you fifteen percent on car insurance, “Does a former drill sergeant make a terrible therapist?” The spot goes on to show the ALWAYS amazing R. Lee Ermey mocking his patient and calling him a crybaby as he throws a box of tissues at him. Hysterical. (To judge for yourself, click )

It bears mention here that the GEICO spot would still be my favorite—or at least a co-favorite—if the powers that be would just air it more often. Or every day. Preferably on HGTV. And, if it’s not too much trouble, during episodes of Property Brothers or Income Property—which is when I’m usually having my coffee.

And speaking of coffee…I have a bone to pick with Maxwell House, whose ads declare it “good to the last drop.” While the phrase may be factual, it does lead me to wonder: Does the coffee industry have a problem with certain products losing their flavor as they are consumed? If so, how severe and widespread is this problem? Does it happen at a specific time after you’ve poured it or vary with temperature? And what, if anything, can be done???

Just curious.