Friday, June 27, 2014

Yet Another Career I’ll Never Have

          I think we can all agree that some jobs take more than training; they take innate ability.  For example, you could train to be a surgeon, but if you’re squeamish, you’ll faint and bomb out of that career.
          If you like to sing, but you simply don’t have the pipes, you will probably not become a recording artist.  (You might, however, get your 15 minutes of fame on a TV talent show.)
          Hence, someone with ADD should probably reconsider burglary as a profession. 
          Yesterday I read in the news that a burglar was caught after he broke into someone’s house, used their computer to visit his Facebook page, and then forgot to log out.  Ah, yes—no one ever said this was a job for geniuses only.
          I would imagine burglary might require a skill set I do not possess, not least of which is remembering to log out, should I suddenly decide to scroll through social media postings while I am at work (can’t you get fired for that?)  Picking locks and carrying heavy loot are also talents I lack, not to mention being willing to climb through spidery bushes.
         I would also have a tough time briskly walking past a kitchen table with a domed cake plate in the center of it.  What could be under there?  Could it be chocolate? And where do they keep the forks?
          I would also be a terrible police detective.  A stakeout in a parked car after about 10 pm would be out of the question—I’d fall asleep.  And I would no more walk down a dark alley after midnight than hit myself in the head with a hammer.  Criminals hang out in scary places where I have absolutely no interest in going.
          Unless I’m solving a crime in somebody’s home.  And then, of course, I’d check their computer and their cake plate.  Those are magnets for people who can’t stay on task.  Trust me.

Even if you’re “borrowing” someone else’s computer, you can subscribe to this bi-weekly blog of brilliance.  Do it today, and don’t miss a single post!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Where Tortilla Roll-Ups Originated

           You’ve seen them, you’ve eaten them.  They’re practically a staple at every potluck and wingding, right?  Layers of meat, cheese, and lettuce rolled up tightly in a tortilla, then cut to reveal a pretty pinwheel design.  But do you remember when these burst onto the culinary scene?
          I shall tell you. It was a cold and rainy day.  I take that back.  It was a hot and sultry day. We were living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the wasps were out.  But these were not the wasps I was used to, that build nests high up under the eaves.  These were sneakier ones.  Digger wasps.  They had built nests in the ground by our sidewalk!  Every evening, just as neighbors were strolling by, they would come zooming out in their yellow-and-black bomber jackets and terrorize the public. We tried every safe method we could think of to eradicate them.
          And then the phone rang.  When I answered, I thought I heard a woman say, “Hello, this is Shirley Pennington from the Iowa Bee Council.”
          Oh, no!  We’re being sued!  And fined!  Someone got stung and reported us!
          It took a few minutes of “Who’s on First” conversation for me to learn that Shirley wasn’t from the Bee Council; she was from the BEEF Council.  Well, that’s a cow of a different color entirely.
          Turns out I was a finalist in the state’s Beef Cookoff!  And my creation?  Savory Beef and Cheese Rollups.  
           I had just started entering cooking contests and was thrilled.  My buddy, Deniece Schofield, drove with me to Des Moines where I won, then I was selected to go to Arkansas for the National Beef Cookoff.
           This time St. Bob was available to come along. 
           Neither of us expected my little sandwich to do very well, since it isn’t the same as cooking an elaborate entry.  But I took 3rd place!  And, I dare say, my little sandwich stepped into history that day.  Here's an article about it.
          You can see the recipe here. It was 1995, and I’ll betcha you never had a tortilla roll-up before then. 
          This is just infinitely better than getting sued for wasp stings.   
Although I can even help you with bug bites, if you check out my short YouTube Mom videos here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

People Training 101

            I am a dog person.  I am also a cat person, a horse person, and an everything-but-spiders person.  This means I am a sucker for big eyes and cave in on the rules when it comes to cuteness.
            But I have lately decided to teach tricks to my Taco Terrier.  Mickey (so named because she has a Mickey Mouse–shaped spot on her back) is half Chihuahua and half miniature Fox Terrier.  Her brain is the size of a grape, so I am not expecting much.

            I begin with the world’s tiniest treats, to reward her for piddling outside.  This has escalated into a ticker tape parade with her racing around the coffee table every time she comes back in, to get multiple treats as if she has invented a time machine or something.  She has not.  She is, in fact, getting paid for breathing.  Okay, breathing and piddling.  Here she is, hiding under a blanket and giving a raspberry to the family:
            From housebreaking I have moved up to costume wearing.  Here she is at Christmas:

            And this is her Halloween costume:  
She was not cooperative in either instance and is the canine equivalent of Mr. Scrooge, actually.  She is also unable to catch a ball, and hides from it.
So I am taking a tip from the animal trainers at Sea World, and using behaviors she already exhibits, to make it look like I have trained her to do something amazing.  For example, she stretches out on the carpet every morning at which point I say, “Do your yoga, Mickey!”  And then I reward her. But she doesn’t fall down and stretch when I say it any other time of day.  So she has basically trained me to reward her for waking up and stretching. 
My latest plan is to shout, “Do nothing, Mickey!  ‘Atta girl, just ignore me!  Pay no attention to what I’m saying!”  She has this one down, already.  I just need to be quicker with the treats.
Dog training is not one of my YouTube videos, but tons of other life skills are—check them out here, and amaze your friends.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Two Guys, One Surprise

            It started out to be a lovely weekend.  Not only was it Father’s Day, but on Saturday our son, Richie (yes, the one you’ve read about here who blew up the kitchen and is making a death ray out of our TV) graduated from UC Davis with a B.S. in Geology and a B.A. in Philosophy.  This means he can argue about rocks all day long.
            Turns out there’s a new custom—the grads are all decorating their mortar board caps.  It probably started a few years ago when a student put a star or something on his cap, so his parents could find him from their seats in the bleachers.  Like everything else, it escalated and today some of them put sparkles around the edges, and one had lettering that said, “I don’t even go here.”
            So all the geology graduates decided to follow suit.  But Richie didn’t just scatter some rocks on there.  He made an ACTIVE VOLCANO.  First he sculpted the cone from papier mache, then painted it, then filled it with flashing red lights and dry ice that poured smoke over the top. The whole thing was held on the cap with super strong magnets. You couldn’t miss him, and it was the unqualified hit of the entire assemblage.
            Afterwards his friends, including Clare, Kayla, Derek, Mara, and others threw him a fabulous barbecue party, and then the very next day we motored back out to Davis for a delicious Father’s Day dinner he made for St. Bob.  In all, a joyous weekend of celebration, right up until we were saying goodbye.
            And then, for no reason any sane person can think of, Richie happens to say, “You know our society is selectively breeding rattle snakes that don’t rattle.”
            What?  I pictured mad scientists in a lab creating future mayhem for the entire population of the world.  “Who’s doing this?”
            “We are.  Because we’re killing the ones that rattle,” he said.
            And now I’m scared to walk to the car, scared to get in it, scared out of my wits.  So now anywhere we go there could be a silent rattle snake, coiled up and ready to strike.
            My eyes are the size of fried eggs the entire way home.  And then St. Bob says, “Hey, did you see that dead snake in the road?”  and I laugh because I am 100 per cent certain he is just kidding.  Only he’s not. 
            He makes a U-Turn and there is a THREE FOOT SNAKE in the street right by our house!!!  One exclamation point for every foot of snake. 
            I don’t know if it’s a rattler—it’s not a diamond back, at least—but there has never been a dead snake in the road in all the 11 years we’ve lived here.  I hate creepy coincidences.
            So how was your weekend?

All the more reason to stay inside with a nice, quiet book.  I recommend the literary novel, Pinholes Into Heaven, or the hilarious chick-lit novel, Sisters in the Mix, or the romantic adventure, Jungle.  Although there is a snake in that last one.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Thinking ON the Box

            To quote the Music Man, “Ya got trouble, folks!  Right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for Packaging!”
            Okay, I took some liberties with that last word.  But stay with me.  There’s a whole sub culture swirling around us that most of us don’t even notice. It’s the world of packaging. 
Everything we buy is presented to us in some way that makes us want to grab it and shell out money for it.  People study this in college, people work at it in full time careers, and we fall victim to it every day.

   Like commercials, colorful packages beckon to us.  Buy me, buy me! they say.  There are even conventions and award ceremonies to celebrate innovative holders for things innovative people convince us to buy.

   So you would think they would triple check everything on the package, right?  No typos, here, no Sir!  No untrue claims, no silly phrases.
            And a big company like Kellogg’s—you’d think their packages would have the best descriptions of all, right?  Well, it turns out that St. Bob likes to eat their Raisin Bran Crunch for breakfast now and then.  
           This morning I was sitting beside him munching on a breakfast that’s none of your business—okay, FINE!  A LEMON BAR— when I happened to see the back of the box. And there, in tiny white lettering on a red background, it says, “Kellogg’s cereal with ½ Cup  milk plus an 8 oz. glass of milk is a good source of protein and gives you the calcium, Vitamin D and potassium your body needs.”
 Huh?  Read that again.  You need half a cup of milk with the cereal, and then another whole glass of milk to get the right nutrients?  Does the cereal count for nothing?  And who drinks a glass of milk when they’re having cereal with milk?
If it were me, and I couldn’t promise my product met the minimum daily requirements, I wouldn’t even bring it up.  Right?  Just show healthy, energetic people who look like they’ve never had a tastier thing in their life.  Focus on those two amazing scoops of raisins and call it a day.
Does this mean that the glass of milk I had with my lemon bar turned the entire thing into a fitness fiesta?
Not long ago I bought a paint remover that boasted, “Semi-odorless!” on the label.  What?  There’s a smell?  Hey, if you can’t say “odorless,” why bring the matter up?  Something tells me there are two products that won’t be sweeping the packaging awards this year.
No fancy packaging, just fabulous books await you at Kindle and in hard copies at CreateSpace, when you order my latest three novels-- Jungle, Sisters in the Mix, and Pinholes Into Heaven.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cursive Curses

          I guess you’ve heard the earth-shattering information: Kids who don’t learn cursive are cursed.  At least according to Maria Konnikova in the New York Times, who says, “Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how."
          Well, listen up, researchers: I went to laboratory school on a university campus umpty ump years ago, and they didn’t teach cursive!  This was one of the big experiments they chose to run, along with teaching us New Math and Spanish.  Did no one tabulate the results of this policy?  Are they just now guessing at what happens when kids don’t learn cursive?
           Someone should call all the alumni of my Edith Bowen Elementary School and see how they fared.  Today a psychologist from France, Stanislas Dehaene, says we missed adequate mental stimulation (which makes me want to shout, “This explains EVERYTHING!”)
          Apparently you need to do more than get words down on paper; they’ve done brain imaging that shows this cursed business—I mean, this cursive business-- helps your brain in ways that keyboarding does not: You have to pay attention and think about what you’re doing, plus use fine motor skills and then practice.  Or so says William Klemm, a neuroscientist at Texas A&M.
Experts also say today’s technology has wrecked the beautiful penmanship of yesteryear, and that teachers are now teaching to the test, instead of spending a few minutes on loops and ovals.  (Not everyone agrees--  Common Core folks see pen and paper as antiquated.)
And, needless to say, you should see my handwriting.  I did take a summer class in cursive at the local junior high when I was 10 or so, just to lock down that skill, but was I a few years too late?  Am I like those women whose feet were bound in China, only my brain was bound in the U.S.?
My mother grew up in South Carolina and learned The Palmer Method, and to her dying day had “a beautiful hand” when she wrote.  
My own writing is a schizophrenic-looking blend of manuscript and cursive, like those ransom notes from kidnappers that are cut and pasted from various fonts.  And goodness knows what’s going on up there in the Gray Matter Zone.
So I’m going to vote for keeping cursive in our schools.  Those who argue to do away with it say it’s less efficient, meaning it isn’t as fast as printing.  I’m sorry—is there a race I don’t know about?  Must we scribble down our reports faster than our brains can generate thought?  Maybe this is why spelling has taken a tumble, along with clear and coherent  sentences.  Maybe it would be good thing if we all just took a breath and slowed down.  And maybe put a little upswing on the tail of that T.
It's a good thing to listen to your mother, right?  So check out my Youtube Mom videos and, while I won't show you how to write in cursive, you'll learn wonderful life skills you can write home about.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Something Fishy in Third Grade

          I don’t always use my real-life stories in my books, but this one appeared in Funeral Potatoes—The Novel  exactly as it happened when Nicole was 8 years old.  Since school here is wrapping up its final week, I thought  it might be a good time to reflect on those unforgettable moments that occur  in elementary school:
The third graders had just finished an eight-week project raising steelhead trout, which are actually salmon.  
Eight weeks, and the little wimps were still only an inch long (the fish, not the students). If this were a hatchery, they’d go broke.  Nevertheless, it was now time for the big ceremonial releasing of these guppy-sized critters into the local river.
   Who got the stinky job of cleaning out the tanks and gravel with betadine?  Me, of course.  
Who stupidly volunteered to be one of the parent drivers, taking a vanload of kids to the river for the big goodbye?  Me again. (Why should I reek alone?)
          So here were 30 kids, all dressed in blue plastic ponchos because it was raining like mad, standing on the banks of the American River, pouring little styrofoam cups of water and one fish, into the river.  Each kid had to give a trout speech, make a diorama, and write a song.  Waaay too much emphasis on fish eggs, if you ask me.
          So now the kids were bidding adieu, calling out, “Goodbye, Wiggly,” “Goodbye, Steelie!  Swim to the ocean!”  Yeah, right.  What these kids haven’t noticed, but which I spotted the second we got there, is that there are four or five species of birds overhead, swooping down and fishing for their breakfast.  
         A block away, at a bend in the river near our house, were at least 200 ducks and geese that I knew of personally, including the three screaming marauders who recently graced our back yard.  These fish didn’t have a chance!  They’d be lucky to make it two blocks.  Tell me: What is the point of taking eight weeks to make a cookie?
          So I hurried the kids along, hoping they wouldn’t notice that they were releasing their pets right into the jaws of death.  
          But they were dawdling, enjoying this touchy-feely ceremony.  Finally I more or less yanked the kids into my minivan before the feeding frenzy began.  A couple of the other parents glared at me, like I was rushing a Kodak moment, and I wondered if maybe I should say something about the value of a project that basically raises bait.
          And I also wondered this: If they’re just going to get gobbled up anyway, why didn’t we fry them ourselves and have a nice lunch?  No wonder people home school.
Have you visited my website, lately?  Time for a look-see at

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Brain Overload

            The brain is a fascinating organ.  Some are more fascinating than others, granted. 
            For example, here’s a flaw in mine (no comments from the peanut gallery, a.k.a. my children, about there being far more than one flaw).  When someone is trying to teach me something I dislike learning, such as computer technology, my brain opens up three files.  No more.  Three.  If you try to squeeze in another weensy piece of information, all three files get tossed into the air, papers flutter everywhere, and the entirety of the information sits on the floor like a pile of confetti.
            St. Bob was recently trying to cram the entire instruction book of my new cell phone into my weary noggin, excited about all the features, apps, and options I could now enjoy.  I told him I could remember three things, but if he tried to add a fourth, I’d forget all of them.
            “It’s like pouring water into a container,” I explained.  “There’s only so much room.” 
            “No, it’s like pouring water into a busted vase,” he said.
            Nevermind that he cannot remember where the pie plates are stored or how much to water each of the plants on the patio.  No amount of explanation can make uninteresting things stick if our brains choose to switch gears to something we like better.
            Which reminds me of the other comparison St. Bob has used, when speaking of my brain.  Have you ever been bicycling, not shifted all the way through, and been caught between gears?  Bob claims this is rare, but it happens to me all the time, and there I am, stuck in neutral with a rattling chain. Bob says it’s just like my brain: Racing, but going nowhere.  

                    He chuckles at these lame comparisons, and excuses them because he believes he is giving me material.  “This gives me permission to say anything, because it’s for your blog,” he says.  “Have you ever put in ‘blond haired vixen?’ Put that in there.”
            “Okay, this is not a forum for every ridiculous thing you can think of saying,” I tell him.  On the other hand, I do keep a pen handy.
            “Put this in,” he says.  “I just ordered you a new cell phone.”
Here are three books you need to buy.  Just three.  My latest novels: Jungle, Pinholes Into Heaven, and Sisters in the Mix.  Also available at Createspace. Something for everyone’s brain.