Look at this Shirt…but Not this Jacket…or My Neck…Does My Neck Need Work?

I once overheard in a dress shop dressing room, “What do you think?”
Since I didn’t know of anyone else being in the area, I peeked out my flimsy curtain and saw a lady in a pair of shorts, white socks, and a blazer over a white blouse standing in front of a chair full of her husband, obviously lulled by Hypnotic Somnolence.
Hubby roused for a second, then glanced up at his wife, who asked again.
“What do you think of this shirt? But only the collar. Don’t look at anything else. And I’ll have a different color jacket, probably navy, maybe black. And a necklace…”
No response.
“What do you think?”
One more beat, a quick shrug, and hubby said, “Yes.”
Ah, I thought to myself as I tucked myself back into the dressing room. He’s a pro. Well done, sir.
Why do I tell you this story? Because I have friends coming from Wyoming, to a house not Spring Ready or Spring Cleaned — or maybe even Winter Cleaned, but too late for that, I guess.
Having given up on the inside, I’ve been working in the yard. And the parts that are pretty are really, really pretty! I truly considered calling an emergency meeting of the Garden Club so that they could see I can actually garden for five minutes every spring.
For my poor friends, I’m hoping that after four back breaking days of labor in the front yard, the collar of the shirt will dazzle them to the point that they won’t notice the awfulness of the interior. (Ooo, better yet, maybe they’ll want to live outside for the duration of their stay! I have a couple of comfy chairs, surely. Well, one needs to be re-webbed…and the other has a wonky leg; it rocks; but that can be soothing, right?)
Except, like that half-dressed woman’s request, I need my friends to look at one half of the front bed, the west side…and don’t look around the corner of the house…or the back yard…or even the east side of the same flower bed.
Don’t do it, it’s ugly.

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Ah, the First Day of Lawn Season

The first day I had available to work in the yard for the first time in the first day of the Spring season: ninety-five degrees with thirty mile-per-hour wind gusts.
Did I let that stop me? But should I have?
Plus, my Wyoming Woodsmen are visiting this weekend. People shouldn’t see my yard the way it was.
End result: after four and one half arduous hours, I can proudly show off this one tiny quadrant of flower bed, as it’s the only part photo-worthy.
Day Two of Spring brought three hours of push-mowing, as the tractor is down for the time. I learned how to service my push mower — quite proud of that — and got her going, then ran her horizontally for-seeming-ever, thought I’d mowed for miles; all the while I thought of “Cool Hand Luke,” moving the hole from one side to the other and back again.
“Luke did it,” I coached myself. “He wouldn’t let a manic Pekingese running across his hard work bother him; he wouldn’t worry about the tornadic wind gusts; he wouldn’t worry that he’s lost feeling in his toes and stopped sweating a half hour ago! Mow, woman, mow!”
Halfway across my industrious efforts, I wondered, “Did Newman have a stunt guy dig that hole? Yes. And even if he didn’t, was he in better condition than I’ve ever been in my life? Yes. And do I have Newman’s icy blue eyes with which to wheedle another schmuck into doing this laborious task? No.”
And at that moment, I released the mower to the wild. “You’re free! Run! Go, Mr Mower!”
He sat idly staring at me with his giant back wheels as though he wasn’t the one to give in.
The Pekignese peed on it.
I went for a beer.
And Advil.
This morning, I considered burning the lawn.

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Wild Duck Chase

I’m deep in the midst of a community-wide Scavenger Hunt, one I am largely responsible for creating, implementing, monitoring, and critiquing, in case we do this insanity again next year.
This is a charitable event. We charge a cool ten bucks for each participant so that we may give it all to an annual prairie event called DUCK Week. Originated at the high school, the monies go toward needing folks, mainly those with horrendous illnesses and a need for optimism.
This year the recipients are the cutest three boys illness was ever cruel enough to afflict.
Thus, our Scavenger Hunt, affectionately known as MASHPEAS: the Most Awesome Scavenger Hunt Piedmont Ever Attempted (Seriously).
One of the tasks, one I instigated, is to dress a duck and snap the photo for others to ogle.
With this task in mind, I recruited my Bubs to help me round up Brown Duck, the beloved sole survivor of one coyote attack, one frozen night, and one overly zealous Moose Dog who  summarily took out all of Brown Duck’s tribe with eight gigantic and surprisingly quick paw slaps.
Now, Brown Duck has survived a half-hour onslaught of my yelling, “Corner him! Corner him!” and my maneuvering around a John Deere that Brown Duck wisely, infuriatingly, ducked — pun intended — behind.
Fortunately, Brown Duck’s reptilian brain kept him alive during previous trauma, because he’s not too bright when it comes to critical thinking. A few shakes of a food cup and he freed himself from his own Deere trap. (See what I did there? So clever.)
Of course, once he was running again, it took another ten minutes to build up the requisite frustration to make a run at him — fear be danged — and pin him to the ground like I was going to eat him.
All so I could put a cobbled fur wrap around his neck and take a picture for the Scavenger Hunt feed.
And 10 points.
Ten points?? Are you kidding? We traumatized already stricken Brown Duck for ten tiny, miniscule points?? Who determined that this kind of battle was worthy of ten measly points? I’m gonna write a letter, I’m gonna…oh, yeah. That was me.
I guess I’m grateful for my own reptilian brain.


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Me on Yousician

For Christmas, I wished for a mandolin.
I have no experience with it, I just love their sound and thought I would like to learn to play.
I’ve tinkered with an ukulele for months, to no true progress. I could play some chords, but I dislike the plastic sound of the strings.
Anyway, for Christmas, I got a mandolin! …and a guitar…
And still I couldn’t play the uke well enough to justify owning anything other than a set of tablespoons — I can play those all day long, easy peasy.
In my deliberate attempt to learn about at least one of the stringed instruments I now currently owned, I went to the Source for All My Info…Google.
And Google told me about an app called Yousician.
After playing along with the bouncing Yousician ball for several weeks now– following its progressive teaching and video method — I can officially tell you  that you, too, can use this app to have a ton of fun and build proficiency with a musical instrument.
I’ve improved by Uking, if that’s a verb, and I’ve managed to wrangle the guitar to let me play some chords until my fingers cry Uncle for the day — steel strings are intolerable for my fingertips, but I’m building up my immunity, because I really like to play.
So–to sum up: I got a mandolin for Christmas; I’ve been laying some sweet riffs (not verbiage I use in public, don’t worry) across both the uke and the guitar (I’m at level 5, I’ll have you know); I have yet to touch the mandolin.

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Marching Forth

“Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink, and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it, not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?”               —   Pat Conroy

A year ago today, March 4th, my favorite author passed away due to cruel, diligent, incessant illness.
I’m a librarian and every time a new release calendar arrives in my email, I cannot help but skim the lines for Mr. Conroy’s name. I cannot help but wish so fervently for a new word from this author. If it’s an “I’m Dead and Here’s What I See,” that’s fine. I’ll take that. He’ll describe it beautifully. If the words were new pages of manuscript pulled from beneath a pile of old receipts and cupcake wrappers, I’d take that, too. Dust them off. Or don’t. I can handle dust. I just want to read what he writes.
But so far, no new words.
Recent literary offerings are writ in broadly painted strokes. Today’s attention span is ephemeral, a four-pica width, so tightly packed as to disallow for character development or description. Writers offer nuance, a shade, and leave intricacies to the reader.
And that’s what our general reading population wants. Quick story, fun plot, hopefully a dead body by page three, then let’s move on because I have things to do.
I respect that. I, myself, need to read many books weekly in order to stay on top of trends.
But. BUT.
When I need a real read, a story, an immersive tale, I adore a detail brush. And coffee. And a squooshy blanket.
It’s my Conroy Trifecta.
I had the joy of meeting Mr. Conroy once, and to this day, I squirm at my own geekiness. I didn’t ask what I wanted to ask, I didn’t apply enough Fandom to the situation, but I swam, denuded in nerd-dom, too briefly into Mr. Conroy’s ice-blue eyes and have pictures to prove it.
I guess that must work.
And I’ll still wish for his name on every New Release list.

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Twelve years ago my son was stillborn.
His things are packed into an ancient Samsonite suitcase my grandmother used. Inside are his urn, a blanket, and I believe a crocheted hat and booties he wore. Clothing for premies is handmade and donated to the hospital. After my son’s birth I made many hats myself and gave them to the labor and delivery ward for future babies.
Every February I tell myself, “This is the year to open the suitcase.”
And this year was no exception. I was ready. I was good. I was telling myself a hundred times to move toward the case, to open the case, but I found a hundred ways to circumvent the case.
So Tuesday, his birthday, I went to work to stay busy.
And all morning, I was fine.
At noon, I sneaked away to buy Subway sandwiches and rescue my fifth-grader from the confines of gym so that he could hunker with me on the pickup tailgate in the school parking lot to eat lunch under a gorgeous, crystal-blue sky blanketing a breezy 75-degree day.
It was the perfect meal.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in complete normalcy, then endured the hated car line to gather my boy and head back to work until 8:00.
Long day, I was tired, but Tuesday television evenings offer my favorite show. I caught the last forty minutes, but that was okay, because it’s my favorite show. I’ll take forty minutes “live” and then Hulu the first twenty next day, no problem.
Except that my favorite character on my favorite show was killed off on Tuesday night.
All of the “okay” I’d had all day was gone in a wash and for two hours I mourned the loss of my boy, the video of that day twelve years ago playing over and over in my brain.
I needed that two hours, I know I did, and though I was weepy all of Wednesday, I was fine again; survivor’s guilt and a deep longing for things to be different, but still: Fine.
Then Thursday came along and I felt the need to Hulu, but instead of my favorite show, my second favorite had a new episode I hadn’t seen.
Whew! I thought, knowing I was delaying the inevitable repeat of maudlin behavior I’d exhibited Tuesday and yet now way to divert away from it because, dang it, I wanted to see the first twenty minutes!
So I blissfully pushed play on Second Favorite Show and do you know what the writers did? KILLED one of my OTHER favorite characters!
Then, no Friday, the cow in the next pasture birthed a beautiful calf, wobbly, confused, leaning at the side of his mama until he found footing.
It was the perfect ending to five tortuous days.
I tell you, people, the week tried to take me out, but I persevered.
And as for my son’s suitcase, well, it’s just fine as it it. Closed until next year.
“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Genesis 6:8

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New Sheets

I got new sheets! And a new blanket! And ooooo, I’m not the best sleeper but I was gonna sleep RIGHT on that night.
First came the prep. Changed the bed into its new sheets, fluffed the pillows within their new cases, and lay the new blanket ever so lovingly across the top of the whole shebang, then covered the newness with the old comforter just so the moose-dog wouldn’t ruin that New Sheet Smell.
Then, I showered. And, people, I shaved my legs. Yup, four months of hard work at growing all that hair and it was gone with only twelve hundred strokes of a Lady Gillette.
I shaved my KNEES, people, this New Sheet Things is momentous, I tell you.
After the shower, I put on my newest, softest, most sleepy-best pants and top and my squooshiest, comfy-est-est-ever socks, and slid under my new sheet.
Aaaaaah, the luxury…
Nope. I did NOT feel that luxury. By the time I hit the bed I was EXHAUSTED and fell asleep before I got any luxuriating in! No “oh, ah” moment, not even a true appreciation for the way new sheets feel on newly hair-stripped legs, none of that! I was OUT.
PLUS my winter coat is gone! And the next day, when I went to feed the chickens, I tell you I could TELL my winter coat was gone. No sock in the world can make up for the missing half inch insulation I’d conserved since September.
It’s not fair, I tell you.
Stupid new sheets.

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Mondays and Getting Stuff Done

Mondays are my days off of work.
I send the boy to school, then compile a list of To Do’s, like: fix the duck fence, repair the chicken coop, replace the heat bulb.
Then I list the house tasks: light bulb maintenance, get the window repaired, clean something, and list things to fix because things need fixing.
It’s a good list, week after week. I pour my brain onto the paper and revel at the beauty of the List.
And just before I get started completing the List, I punt the List.
I lounge. I lounge all day on Mondays. It’s fabulous.
But TODAY, THIS Monday, while I was deep into the heat of doing virtually nothing, my Dog Who Lived (another story) brought a treat to leave at my feet.
Weeks ago I found a clearance on dog toys, and knowing how much DWL (actually named Pug, in the interest of disclosure) enjoys chewing on things — he brings a rock or a bit of mulch inside the house with each and every potty trip he takes; no kidding, I have a mound of Things to Return to the Yard every evening — I bought one of the blue pigs (no squeaker — score!) for my beloved pup.
I guess once I gifted DWL with the pig, he took it and literally ran to bury it in a pile of something vile and rotted to sit for the two weeks since purchase.
What choice did I have but to spring like a gazelle to the List to see that indeed Laundry played a magnificent part on my “Accomplishments for Today — Woot!” notepad, the one I confer repeatedly each day as I check off each achievement.
Thus, against every Monday impulse, I have finished the laundry. The overly loved blue clearance sale pig is tumbling his warm way back to resale value.
Stupid dog, making me do stuff…ruining my lounge fest.
Worse, because I got started on the housecleaning junk, I’ve cleaned two more things.
Ruined my whole afternoon.
But one good thing: I actually get to check an item or three off of my Monday list and it’s not a lie!

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The Southern Writer Challenge

I set myself up to read 18 books from Southern US writers this year. That’s 18 titles on top of the other 60 or so that I usually read because, hey, I want to be the librarian “in the know,” because I’m a geek and just that competitive and hate to be out of “the know.”
Plus, reading helps with my Compulsive Procrastination Disorder.
Need to clean? Oh, but there’s this book…
Need to work on my own “novel”? Oh, but the best research is reading other writers!
I can do put-stuff-off all day. And I do.

And today, at this moment, here and now, I was going to tell you about the first book I read from my self-imposed list, but here’s the deal…
In my internet meanderings — as part of my job, of course — I discovered there’s a new Backman book called “Bear Town” or “Beartown” — I can’t discern correctly if the title is one word or two, as though that matters, but it does because of course I want to get everything just right when it comes to a Backman book — coming in April! The 25th, to be exact, and the publishers better not let me down because doggone it, I’ve spread the word to 800 people that this book will be in stores on that date and there’s going to be a line at book sellers everywhere and holy crow the disappointment river will run deep if it doesn’t happen.
And I will be the one crying the river.
Since my favoritest author ever, ever, ever, Mr. Pat Conroy, passed away, I have put my displaced adoration for brilliant writing onto Mr. Fredrik Backman, who is Swedish. He’s lucky in that regard, because stalking in English is my only capability. I cannot speak Swedish and I’m too afraid of what Google Translate would do to my well-meaning words of exaltation for his characters and story lines.
So to update my Southern reading challenge: I’m on the third book of my list.
Maybe Backman is from Southern Sweden?

Until the 25th of two-and-a-half months from now, I’m begging for advanced reading copies from every source I can find.

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Gambling with Grandpa

My grandpa is a bit of a gambler. He doesn’t have the opportunity to get out every day, as he doesn’t drive. He uses a walker for stability. And he has discretionary cash to lose. These three elements — shut-in too often, lack of proper mobility, and the need to push colorful buttons and yell, “Come on, gimme somethin’!” — combine in a perfect storm every weekend. Whomever darkens his door first, ding ding ding…they’re driving.
This Sunday, I was the willing chauffeur. Beautiful  blue skies, nearly cloudless, and a January-balmy sixty-five degrees made for a perfect half-hour drive to the prairie-encased, pretty-on-a-hill casino.
Grandpa filled me in on the newness and goings on of the destination. “They have a new part,” he gushed. “It’s smoke-free.”
Gambling and cigarettes have forever seemed an inseparable duo, but what did I know? I don’t have either habit, though Dr Pepper and I are longtime friends and I’ll likely never write the good doctor off.
Never one to question Grandpa but dwelling firmly in the realms of reality, I downed a Zyrtec, a Sudaphed, and a Chlor-Trimeton. (I’m a bit sensitive to the blue haze of burnt tobacco and not willing to endure anaphylactic shock, flailing on carpet, new or not, of anywhere at all.)
After a chatty, fun drive to the grassy plains of Pretty Much Nowhere, I drove us into a small parking lot shaded by the Big House, the Main Casino, the Smoker’s Haven, according to Grandpa. Plus, the lot where we sat was connected to a gas station, should I have ethanol needs. Convenient.
I tried to ignore the small lemming-like stream of folks entering the convenience store empty-handed and exiting with packs bearing the names Marlboro and Camel as they flowed back in through the front doors of the “new part” of money-making heaven.
“We’re gonna win a million,” Grandpa crowed as we walked through the swishing doors into an impenetrable fog that my elderly grandpa did not notice.
Not one to squash a gambler’s hopes, I followed my gramps into the unknown.
First, he has favorite machines. While I got a Player’s Card — I feel so official — he waved at me from his seat, a perch next to a mysterious slot machine boasting “Big Wins! Extra Wild Cards! Special Bonus Games!” amid a bank of thirty others proclaiming the same.
At last I settled into the seat, ready to make Grandpa proud!
Did I win? Absolutely not. With every slap at the “Play Again!” button, my Grandpa begged the tech wonders of the Temple of Prosperity, “Come on, let her win!”
His positive outlook never changed. He was sure the next push would be the Big One.
Finally, a twenty-dollar bill depleted as Ra, or whomever the main character was in that video game, laughed at my misfortune. He disregarded my sadness at disappointing my grandfather just like Grandpa ignored the wafts of smoke curling across his frustrated pate.
“I’ll try another machine,” I declared, scooting out of the seat so he could claim it. His eyes never left the screen, even as he pulled another twenty out of his pocket and muttered, “It’s just gotta warm up.”
For the next hour, I sat a few seats away — peeking toward Grandpa between plugs to make certain he was still upright, ever at the offending machine — behind the wheels of a slot machine that actually paid me for my time. While the slots hit good things, and noises abounded, embarrassing the crap out of me while I inspected every inch to find a Volume button, I won over a thousand coins a handful of times — never mind that the winnings were in pennies — and managed to win Grandpa’s twenty back. I was quite proud.
So I cashed out and presented Grandpa with the triumphant return of his seed money.
“Oh, good,” he beamed. “You won! You pick the next one!”
And before I knew it, we were off to another bank of equally obnoxious, brightly-lit, Disney-would-be-proud-of-the-animation video machines, all more than willing to take my pennies.
Methodology is key to gamblers of the slot variety. Wipe the screen, push all the buttons, check the pay tables, cash in/cash out, whisper, play two machines at once, bet big/bet low, all sorts of talismans for luck at higher-stakes-than-I’m-accustomed video gamer-y.
My method? Whatever Grandpa wanted.
For three hours we scooted from one chair to the other — only one bathroom break and only one trip to the soda fountain (so dry in a casino; who knew?) — pushing buttons and muttering and ruing all things arcade-like.
At last, we’d had our fill. Allergens had stayed back; I’d run from smokers who sat next to me as quickly as my Cash Out button would allow. We hadn’t “lost,” according to Grandpa, “They just weren’t hitting.” And we strolled back into the sunshine down only about twenty bucks between us. I mentally checked that 20 off as Entertainment Expense. Grandpa called it “Nearly Broke Even” and seemed happy.
Rolling back into The City, clouds appearing, winds cooling, he asked, “When was the last time you did that?”
I reflected. “Hmmm…I think it was the 1900’s.”
He laughed.
I love to hear him laugh.
When do we go again? Whenever Grandpa wants.

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