Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bunny Butts

            This is not a post about how to get kicked out of WinCo Supermarket, so keep reading.  First, I think we can all agree that traditions are a good thing in life, bind families together, and even keep society from coming apart at the seams, right?  These are the things that confirm our values, give us hope for the future, and tell us who we are.
And I, my friend, am bunny butts.  Every Easter I not only make Italian Easter Egg Bread (Google it—it’s so cool—the colored eggs cook while they bake, tucked into a braided wreath of dough), but I also make not one, but TWO bunny cakes.  Okay, the reason I make two is that this is what you get when you slice a frosted cake in half.
Here’s the deal: You make two circular cakes using any recipe you like.  Carrot cake seems especially rabbity.  But instead of stacking them and frosting them like a standard round cake, you cut each cake crosswise, in half, to make two semi-circles.  You frost the bottom sides together, place them cut-side-down on two plates, and voila! Bunny bodies.  I usually scatter green-tinted coconut around them for the grass, give them pink card stock ears, jellybean eyes and noses, and then (wait for it) a pink Hostess Snowball for the tail. 
Here is a picture of a similar bunny cake I found online, on  Except it doesn’t show the tail, and this is where the bunny—and the plot—thickens.  Maybe you’ve noticed the recent news that Hostess, an American institution and the maker of Twinkies and Cupcakes, is shutting down.  As in NO MORE SNOWBALLS.  Which means NO MORE BUNNY CAKES.  Which means NO MORE HILTON FAMILY EASTER TRADITIONS.  Which mean JONI GOES BALLISTIC IN WINCO.
Okay, not entirely ballistic.  But I did shout, “You mean the government can step in to save Chrysler but not Hostess?  What kind of country is this?” when I learned they had no Hostess Snowballs.  I went on a teensy bit more about this essential part of our Easter dinner and maybe some things about Communism, I can’t really remember,  then I marched over to the muffin section of their bakery to try to improvise, thinking maybe I could slice off a muffin top, cover it with frosting and coconut, and make do.  But what a sorry selection of fluffy tails those were!  Knobby little mounds of nuts and bran?  Are you kidding?
And I was standing there with my lower lip sticking out enough to be a bunny tail itself, trying to wrap my brain around the loss of Pluto as a planet, phones you could work without an instruction book, and now Hostess!—when the kind clerk I had just accost—uh, enlightened—came up to me with a veritable treasure trove of bunny tails!  Did I hear a heavenly choir, singing?  (Well, probably rolling their eyes at my completely ignoring the real meaning of Easter, but back to my story).  Here was a box of knock-off snowballs!   They’re called BOMBOLINS and they’re even pink—look!
Across the top it says, “El Mexicano,” so Thank You, Mexico for saving the day.  And if the photo on the box is any indication, this box must hold about 16 tails—why, I could make bunny cakes for the whole neighborhood, right?  I’m not going to, but I could.
My heart lightened, I eagerly bought the Bombolins and brought them home.  But then I opened the box.  Uh oh.  These cookies are nowhere near the size of the photo.  They’re the size of Susan B. Anthony dollars!  WHICH YOU CAN’T FIND ANYMORE, EITHER. I know people with bigger thumb prints than this.
To make bunnies the right size for these tails, I’ll have to use cupcakes and cut them in half.  Hey—stay with me here—this means I could have a whole litter of baby bunnies!  Be still my heart-- I think I’ve launched a new tradition.

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Friday, March 22, 2013

What's in a Name?

            I haven’t always liked my name.  For one thing, it isn’t really Joni; it’s Joan.  As in Joan Fontaine born in 1917, Joan Crawford born in 1904, and Joan of Arc born in 1412.  My parents were in their 40s when I came along, so I have an older generation’s name.  Needless to say I did not have many other Joans in my classrooms growing up. 

            Also, to my ear, Joan sounds stuffy and serious.  If you’ve been reading this blog you know that Joni fits a whole lot better.  So in grade school I informally changed it and have liked it ever since.  But there aren’t too many Joni’s around, either, and I was recently very unamused by a conversation I had with Bob, wherein I complained about this very observation.  After all, his name is everywhere—there are bobby pins, bobolinks, haircuts called bobs, and kebabs which are pronounced ka-bobs.
            Me: How come there are kebabs but no Ke-Joni’s?
            Bob: Actually there are Ka-Joni’s, but they’re Spanish and they’re called Cajones.
            And now he’s grinning like a chimpanzee and I am frowning and we look like the comedy-tragedy drama masks.  I do not want my name to feature in Spanish slang for a part of the male anatomy.
            And then THAT SAME AFTERNOON I get an email of trivia that includes the happy little factoid that of all the minerals and goodies in the periodic table of elements, not one of them has the letter J in it.  There is no Jonium, even though it virtually flows from the tongue and cries to be included.  If any kindhearted scientists are reading this, I would like it to be something sparkly, not necessarily a gas.

            And then I recall a scene I have repressed from my memory, but which comes flooding back, now.  It’s a Latina friend of mine helping her young daughter into her underwear and saying, “Pull up your Joni’s.”  Excuse me?  Now my name is Spanish for underwear?
So I am working up a good pout over this rejection of my name and my letter (it’s also the letter you don’t want if you’re playing Scrabble), and Bob is texting someone and chuckling.  He has that swipe feature where you brush your hand over the keyboard and occasionally—no; frequently— it incorrectly guesses which word you want.
“Hey,” he says, “When I swipe your name on my keyboard, guess what comes up?”
I feel my eyes narrowing because I know it’s not going to be “genius” or “joyous” and I am right.  It’s Hobbit. I do not ask if this Hobbit has cajones.  I do not want to know.
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Friday, March 15, 2013

Finally-- Proof that TV Kills

I ask you:  Isn’t it enough that my eldest son, Richie, exploded purple chemicals onto my kitchen ceiling when he was nine, nearly blew his hand off in high school, makes his own black powder fire crackers and tried to install a jet engine in a Mustang?  Now he wants my big screen TV so he can make a Death Ray.  Yes, you heard me: A DEATH RAY.  Did I mention this child is now 31 years old?
Last night he calls and asks if he can have our TV, should it ever conk out and require more money to fix than it’s worth.  Sure, I say, the ever agreeable, kind, generous mother.  Once again, I walk right into it.
Good, he says, because he’s going to make a death ray and see if it generates enough energy to power his home.  
Some troublemaker with a Ph.D in physics (his poor mother) has posted a youtube video of this ridiculous idea, where you extract a gigantic magnifying glass from the TV screen, angle it so the sun hits it just so, and then whammo!  You annihilate anything in its 2,000-degree path.  Wood ignites instantly, pennies melt like bits of wax, eggs fry, and hot dogs turn into charcoal briquettes.  You think I’m kidding?  Watch the video.
Clearly this gizmo would pose risk to life and limb for anyone daring enough to reach into its path at the wrong moment.  And, should it accidentally ignite a dry patch of lawn, I can see whole neighborhoods going up in flames.  Naturally the brainiac in the video puts it in a WOODEN frame. 

I tell Richie I never should have taken him to that science supply store where they have a cat named Rhymes-With-Orange.  And his also grown brother, Brandon, would be right in league with this if he weren’t living in San Diego, a relatively safe distance from Sacramento.  Brandon once created a mushroom cloud in our street, made all the windows rattle, and scared a Lebanese airport shuttle driver out of his wits.  
          These two geniuses are the reason I wrote the play, “GIFTED,” which is being performed next month at the American Globe Theatre in Manhattan.  The synopsis is, “Dan and Julie discover that having gifted children isn’t much of a gift.”  These are the kinds of kids who become notorious criminals like the Unabomber.  Or computer hackers.  Or lawyers.  These are kids who disassemble their cribs as babies, and remove all the childproof locks from the cabinets.  Later they ask for things like thermite powder and pyrodex for Christmas.  Which they do not get.   

In the fifth grade, they pull you into their bedrooms to show you an arc and some numbers on their white board, and offer this as an explanation as to why they shouldn’t have to clean their room anymore.    Then they graduate from high school early, but come back for auto shop just to work on their Mustang, and cause their high school to rewrite the school’s rule book about tardies.  These are kids whose teachers write an unsolvable equation on the board, and then get mad when the kids solve it.  I could go on all day with this.
Did I mention giving their mothers gray hair?  And then saying, “Too late” when you tell them you’re going to die an early death?
And now Richie wants to create something Lex Luthor would use to vanquish Superman.  It’s solar-powered, he says, environmentally safe.  Yes, unless your environment is the target of the death ray.   To say, “You can have my TV over my dead body” would be playing right into his hands, wouldn’t it?
He says he also wants to melt basalt rocks with it to separate the minerals, research the earth’s mantle, blah, blah, blah, something scientific, which I question in the first place as something that needs to be done at all.  But it could probably be done in a laboratory while wearing goggles and gloves, and does not need to be done in one’s back yard where it isn’t even legal to build a fire for s’mores, much less a death ray. 
The only thing I will admit is that, at least, it’s aptly named.  And that only a very tiny, small part of me wishes I’d thought of it first.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How Do You Mean That?

            I don’t want this to be a blog about misspelled signs or poor wording, but I just got an annual policyholder brochure from New York Life, and it BEGS to be shared.  Now here’s a bazillion-dollar company, right? And they paid a design team a half a bazillion dollars to design this thing (I'm willing to rewrite it for half that; I'm just saying).  

             The first five pages are allegedly written by Ted Mathas, the Chairman of the Board, President and CEO.  He’s the head mucky muck, you might say.  Only this time he has mucked it up royally, because check out the cover he sent:
            What, exactly, does this mean?  Here’s where he tries to explain it:
            In case you can’t read it, he says, “And at New York Life, we made a promise we will help you keep that good going in your life.”
            Do they want you to keep goodness going?  Then why leave out the “ness”?  Maybe he means, Keep doing good deeds, pay it forward, keep those good gestures going.  You know, help others to follow your kind example, the ripple effect.  But I don’t think that’s what an insurance company usually promotes. 
Do they want to say “Good Stuff” but realized that “Keep Good Stuff Going” sounds stupid?  How about “Keep Good Things Happening?”  Was that too many letters for their slogan?  What are they—a TV network that chooses yearly slogans like “We Know Drama” or “Characters Welcome” and it has to be short enough for imbeciles to remember?
Maybe they’re trying to say, “Keep the good work going, such as buying insurance policies from us.”  Maybe it’s a slap on the back, with a hearty “Good going—keep that up!”  Maybe they should have appealed to all the Australians out there, and simply said, “Good on ya!”
These are all reasonable possibilities, but which one do we choose when we see the three words, KEEP GOOD GOING?  Would a dyslexic person see this as KEEP GOING GOOD in which case it should say KEEP GOING WELL?  How about WELL, KEEP GOING?
Further into his letter, he says, “… we are here for good…” and now I’m thinking, aha—he means permanence.  Keep permanence going?  Isn’t that already implied in the word permanence itself?  Keep permanence permanent?
Finally, at the end of his nearly endless letter, he uses the phrase that should have been on the cover in the first place:  “The Company You Keep.”  Now that says it all— first the clever turn of phrase about how we’re all known by the company we keep (and hopefully we choose quality associates), but it also conveys permanence and excellence—here’s a company so good you want to keep it.
Now that would be good going.  At least, sort of.  
            (At first, when considering this topic, I thought New York Life might send a hit man.  But then I’d be dead and they’d have to pay up, so I think I’m relatively safe.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Death by Marshmallow?

           For four days now Bob has been complaining of weird aurora borealis symptoms in his left eye.  As we wives do, I kept insisting he see an eye doctor until he finally got on the phone and made an appointment.  He told the gal he thought it could be a cataract, so she made him an appointment for late April.  But then she (wisely) asked him what he was seeing.  And when she realized it was not blurry vision, the symptom of a cataract, she said they had a few appointments set aside for emergencies and could get him in at 3:30 this afternoon.
            Well, of course I burst into tears.  My husband has a brain tumor mixed with eye cancer and is going blind, probably has to get right into surgery and may die.  Why else give him an emergency appointment?
            Bob hugs me and, in the comforting way only he can exhibit, says, “You know this is probably because of the time you hit me in the eye with that marshmallow.”
            Yes!  That’s right!  Three years ago we were playing a board game with the kids, and when he infuriatingly won yet again, something I cannot seem to train out of him, I grabbed one of our fancy snacks in the middle of the table (an open bag of large marshmallows) and flung it in his direction.  Incredibly, it hit him right in the eye with a satisfying thwok sound.  I couldn’t repeat this again if I tried a hundred times.  Even the kids were amazed at my marksmanship.  It was as if angels themselves had carried my missile directly to its target.
            Except that now I am responsible for his eye malfunction and must turn myself in for a delayed homicide (do they have that?).  Well, of course, I am wracked with guilt and must go along to the eye appointment because he will undoubtedly be rushed by ambulance to the hospital and I’ll need to drive the car.  Three hours and several tests later we learn that the gel in his eye is simply shrinking, but that his retina is fine.  The symptoms should go away in a few days. Bob asks the doctor if he can find bits of marshmallow in there, but he cannot.  I glare at both of them.
            Bob and I are relieved at the good news, and decide to celebrate by going out to dinner.  And thus we see that it’s a win-win for Joni and all I have to do is remember not to order anything with marshmallows on it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Different Strokes for Different Folks

You know how you get emails from time to time, telling you the signs of a stroke?  Well, what does it mean if you’ve had those symptoms for 20 years? 
About 10 years ago my friend’s mom had a mild stroke and, though apparently fully recovered, complained that she couldn’t always think of the word she wanted.  Helloo?  I’ve been doing that for years!  Isn’t that why the Thesaurus was invented? And why we all say thingamajig? ALSO… two days ago a dear friend of ours went to the hospital for those TIA mini-strokes, and guess why?  Because she couldn’t think of her friend’s last name! 
“Are you kidding me?” I said to Bob.  “I get Kristin Jeppson’s name wrong half the time.  I mean Kristin Sterri’s.”  Now we both busted up laughing. 
Exactly how confused do you have to be to call an ambulance? I was talking to my nail lady—yes, I have a nail lady—and she was sharing with me how utterly mortified she was when she recently tried to get into the wrong car in a parking lot.  I just stared at her.  I do that two or three times a week.  I drive a little burgundy Altima and every time I park it there are two or three similar-looking cars right by it when I come back out.  Like similar species of birds, all clustered together on a wire.  And I’m supposed to tell them apart?
I have two friends who have excuses for this sort of thing.  One had an aneurism and one had a severe head injury in a car accident.  But I am keeping right up with them and have NO EXCUSE. 
When we lived in Iowa we bought a gigantic 100-year-old house with 100-year-old plumbing.  This meant that if someone wanted to shower, they first told everyone not to run water or flush a toilet because it would plunge them into an icy torrent.  Bob would make just such an announcement and I would vow to remember it for the length of a shower.  But in truth I would only remember for two or three minutes and then begin rinsing vegetables or watering plants.  Finally I was determined not to let him down yet again, so I decided to stay out of the kitchen entirely.  No faucets for me, no sir!  I went downstairs to the laundry room and started a load of laundry.  Now that should occupy me for a good, long, while.  And I couldn’t understand why I soon heard screaming.
Tell me if this would cause you great alarm:  We have a rollover telephone line, which means that if you’re using one line and a call comes through, it rolls over to the other line.  So one day I decide to call my backdoor neighbor, Kathy Ray.  Not only is her address similar to mine, but so is her phone number.  So I dial.  And my other line starts to ring.  Shoot!  So I have to hang up, hope she didn’t even hear one ring, and answer the incoming call.  Only nobody is there!  Whatever.  A wrong number, probably.  So now I try again and dial Kathy.  But darned if the other line doesn’t start ringing again!  And when I hang up and answer that one, once more no one is there.  Who keeps calling me and hanging up?  How irritating!  And only now do I realize I have been dialing my own phone number.  That’s right.  Calling myself. 
Maybe I should keep the hospital on speed-dial.

Friday, March 1, 2013

         We have a winner!  The contest I ran, to name a character in my next book after someone who reviewed one of my 3 new novels (on Kindle and in paperback at has ended. I drew the name of Valerie Steimle, who posted this 5-star review on Goodreads:
This book was such a great read!!!! The story has such drive you want to finish it in a day!!!

With the background in biology and anthropology, Joni Hilton has down a great job in writing such a believable story.

Clean and appropriate for teens to read.

          Thanks, Valerie! I don't know who you are, but I very much appreciate your wonderful review!  For those who haven't seen this one yet, it's about Nina, a girl who goes with her famous uncle on an anthropology expedition to an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean. It's filled with dangerous creatures, cannibals, and natives who wear glistening white crowns that unwrap into deadly whips. Storms, fire, murder, and greed for gold all shake the expedition, and only five of the seven members will return.  The customs and language here are unlike any other.  It’s a history-making opportunity for the the scientists, and for the girl who hopes to follow in her uncle's footsteps.  
But when she's rescued from a wild animal attack by a golden-haired native with brilliant green eyes, the entire plan changes.  Could he really be the infant son of an English scientist who died here 20 years ago?  What does it mean when she alone is allowed into the cemetery, then into the women’s hut?  And why did she wake up covered with orchids?  Will Nina forget about this jungle man and his dangerous island, and go back to her studies, or give it all up for love?