Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Going Bananas

          Guess what sells more than apples and oranges combined?  The most popular fruit in America is the humble banana.  Worldwide, one hundred billion are consumed every year.  And here's how I buy them:  I separate bunches and select two green ones, two pale yellows, and two nearly-ripe ones.  That way they don't all ripen at once, and you don't end up with black bananas.  I show this in one of my YouTube Mom videos here.  
          My only other banana tip is to peel them from the end opposite the stem, to avoid the stringy pieces. Monkeys taught us this trick and here is that Youtube Mom video. This, my friends, was the totality of my banana expertise until recently.

          Coming to my rescue are two sisters with environmental horticulture degrees, who were recently guests in my home.  They gave me the true lowdown on bananas. Clare and Ruth Williams saw a bunch of bananas on my counter (technically not  a bunch at  all, but a “hand”—the individual bananas are “fingers”) and instantly my kitchen became a clearing house for banana information.
          Chimps and humans alike, listen up:  Every banana we’ve eaten since the 1960s is a clone!  Yessir, all grown from the Cavendish banana plant.  So whether you live in Europe or South America, you are eating bananas that look and taste exactly alike.  (By the way, navel oranges are all clones, too.)
Before that, we had “Big Mike,” a much sweeter and easy to store banana.  Ask someone who’s old if bananas used to be better and they’ll nod wistfully.  
          But Panama Disease, a fungus that cannot be killed, nearly wiped it out, so scientists intervened to save bananakind, and introduced the Cavendish. 
(Cue Beethoven’s 5th Symphony) There’s just one problem.  Whatever can kill one Cavendish can kill them all, and we’re careening toward another global banana wipeout.  In 1992 a new strain that can kill the Cavendish banana sprang up.  And, like the little Dutch boy sticking his finger into the leaky dike, agriculture folks are trying desperately to keep “Race 4” from spreading from Asia to the banana fields of Central America and Africa.
          The difference this time, is that no one has discovered a replacement banana, should the Cavendish become extinct. So unless a substitute can be engineered, your kids may grow up without ever biting into a banana,  having a slice of banana cream pie, or enjoying a banana split.
          It will also impact the world’s economy, since bananas are the fourth largest  agricultural product in the world—surpassed only by wheat, rice, and corn.  Bananas are used for tons of other products as well, including cloth, and even glue. You can imagine the millions and millions of people whose lives would be impacted if a hybrid is not developed soon.
And so, sad to say, the next time you hear the song, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” they might be right.

Check out my Youtube Mom videos here, for some pie recipes before it’s too late!  And you simply must view AND SHARE the new music video I wrote with Jerry Williams here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Spinning the Story

            I have never been a big fan of exercise.  Even in junior high I could see that Phys. Ed. was a lot of fizz and not much ed.  And we’ve had this conversation about my klutziness (click here for a blog blaming it on my vision.  Click here for a blog blaming it on my hypermobility.  Click here for a blog blaming it on my ADD.)
            But one of the main reasons I don’t like standard exercise is because it’s not productive.  Oh, I know you’re building muscles and endurance, blah, blah, blah, but when you’re finished and you step back, there’s nothing there.  You wipe your sweaty face, you blink, and you see absolutely nothing.
            I like to see concrete evidence, a visual accomplishment.  This is why I like the idea of building something or gardening.  You still work hard, but when you’re done—ta-da!   You have something to show for it.
            So it’s only every five or ten years that I forget this policy, and agree to join a gym or attend some ridiculous exercise class with a friend.  I am not beyond being persuaded and apparently I have very persuasive associates.
            I also thought spinning class involved actual spinning.  Yes, I honestly thought that.  I figured some brainiac had invented a bicycle that actually spins—maybe with a gyroscope inside it-- thus injecting some fun into the experience.  Thus, when I walked in and saw stationary bicycles, my heart dropped.  Why don’t they call this Stationery Bike Class?  I mean, of course the wheels spin.  But you don’t.  Not one centimeter.
            And let me ask you this.  DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD THOSE SEATS ARE?  Within ten minutes I had bruised my entire crotch beyond recognition.  Not that anyone in particular would be called in to do the recognizing.  I couldn’t believe there was an entire class, pedaling away, oblivious to what had to be dozens of RUINED CROTCHES.  This was nothing but birth control put to a catchy beat.
          “You have to get used to it,” the instructor said, when I staggered away from the bike, wincing in pain.
          Why are people doing something they have to get used to?  I guess you could get used to hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, too, but why would you do that?  It’s like drinking or eating something people say has “an acquired taste.” If it can’t taste good right away, why continue ingesting it?
          On top of everything else, the instructor kept yelling “Push!” into the microphone which only served to remind me of being in hard labor, so that was just lovely.  Obviously that woman had never had kids.
          “You can bring a soft seat to use,” someone said as they saw me limping away from the bike.  Well, too late, now—why didn’t someone say this before?  Soon the coach was shouting, “Come on, come on—you’ve almost burned the calories of a slice of pizza!  Come on!”
          Are you kidding me?  So don’t eat the pizza!  If this is the consequence, you should stick to salads and live pain-free, in peace and harmony with the world.  There’s no pizza in this universe—including my favorite Chicago deep dish pizza—that’s worth this amount of torture.
          There was really nothing more I could do.  Okay, there was one thing, and I did it.  I drove straight home, sat on an ice pack, and ordered a pizza.  I told you, I’m easy to persuade.  
Have you visited my website, lately? You can get there without any sort of bike at all!  Just click here and check out the new music video, WHAT MAKES A WOMAN from my new musical, THE BEST MEDICINE. (Portions of this blog appear in my book, Funeral Potatoes-the Novel.)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Makes a Woman

          Guess what-- I’ve written a musical about cancer.  And  a comedy, yet.  I know, I know, sounds impossible.  But trust me, The Best Medicine is hilarious as well as poignant.  And the renowned composer, Jerry Williams (currently pianist and arranger for The Donny and Marie Show) wrote the absolutely ingenious music for all 18 songs.  You can see a short music video of one of the songs here.  It’s called What Makes a Woman, and there’s never been a song like it.
This song takes a stand against the pop culture message that our appearances are what define us.  In the musical a woman in a support group sings this song, which salutes and empowers women everywhere.  1 in 8 women will face breast cancer this year, and not one of them will be diminished as a woman.  But in this short video we feature all kinds of women singing, and holding signs that define them better.  Please watch it, share it, and help us spread this vital message.
          How, exactly, does one come to write a musical about cancer?  It began a couple of years ago, when St. Bob got prostate cancer.  And, as many other cancer patients can tell you, humor is often what helps you get through it.
This groundbreaking musical empowers us by getting us to laugh. And then laugh again.  It’s honest and funny, but it’s also packed with heart and healing, and will give strength and hope to everyone who sees it. The love story is compelling and real, and the message of women not being defined by their appearances will make audience members stand up and cheer.  It even includes a tribute song to caregivers. We believe this story will have universal impact. It won’t just entertain—it will change lives and bring audiences to their feet.  
The surprise ending is tender, upbeat, and funny all at once, sending audience members home humming along and eager to tell everyone they’ve got to see this show.  It honestly reminds us what matters most, to celebrate the ride we’ve had, and that the important thing isn’t facing death—it’s facing life. 

Check out The Best Medicine on Facebook here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


          Ah, yes, my little pretties, it’s tax time.  What does this have to do with the word, rigamarole?
          Everything.  Filing taxes could well be the ultimate example of a rigamarole—a tangled, complicated procedure.  Sure, we use it to describe government red tape and bureaucratic nonsense—even “the rigamarole of putting together a wedding reception” or “the rigamarole of getting repair estimates” but none of these truly require that you hire a professional to wade through the malarkey in your behalf.  Nope, only tax time is that convoluted.
          And that’s even one of the theories about where that word came from in the first place!
          One theory says the word came from the Medieval game of chance, Ragman.  But more likely it came from the Scottish Ragman Roll, a document from 1291 listing all the nobles who owed allegiance to Edward I of England, so they could send the correct amount of tax to Rome. Thus a tax man became known as a “rag man,” after the papal legate of Scotland (Rageman, Ragimunde, or Rigman), and his tax list a “ragman roll.” 
          As each dignitary swore allegiance, he would affix his wax seal, and sometimes a ribbon, giving the document a ragged appearance, as well. It’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to the present day intricacies of tax time, and the pages of knotted verbiage and cumbersome mathematics we now endure. 
          So the next time you see a lovely form like this, just remember from whence it came, and why we have this juicy little term for the torturous complexity we all say cannot be avoided.  Just like death.
Not taxing at all, however, are my latest novels—and they’re easy on your depleted wallet, too.  Check ‘em out here.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Open Letter to Techies

          This is an open letter to every app developer and programmer in the world: Not everyone speaks your language, or thinks computers are the equivalent of candy.  Oh, I know—to some people every piece of techie info is exciting, and fits right into a comfy slot in their brain.  But for others of us, it is jagged shrapnel coming in at high speed.   

           Whether we’re trying to burn a CD, download a program, sign up for malware protection, or edit the registry, we feel like a 4-year-old in an Olympic slalom course, waaay out of our comfort zone.

            I know you think your instructions are easy, because you have numbered them.  But numbering them is not enough.  When you say, “Go to all programs,” the novice searches their computer screen and thinks, “Where is that?” Then they stare at their keyboard and it’s not there, either.  The computer geek thinks, “Well, obviously you have to go to ‘start’ and then open the control panel first,” but that is not obvious to everyone.
            It’s like recipes today.  Years ago you could say, “Make a white sauce” or “heat syrup to soft ball stage” or “beat until meringue forms” but today you have to describe very exacting steps because most people don’t cook anymore.  Today, instead of saying, “heat tomato sauce,” you have to say, “Open can and put contents into sauce pan on stove burner over medium heat for five minutes.” But do I sneer at people who can’t cook?  No; I realize this is not everybody’s hobby, and I patiently guide them through the steps for success.
            I saw a set of computer instructions (for release and renew IP address) that said, “Open a command prompt.”  I have no idea what this means.  And in editing a registry, I have no idea what to touch and what not to touch.  I don’t even know that I understand the whole purpose of the registry itself.
            Let’s say a box pops up that says, “Local area connection doesn’t have a valid IP connection.”  You Google that, my friend, and see what various people have tried, and it will look like a plate of spaghetti. Spaghetti made without enough instructions.

            Here’s how I’d like online instructions to look, in a Dick-and-Jane sort of font:
            Can you find the little circle with the multi-colored flag at the bottom of your screen?  Click YES or NO.
          Great.  Hover over that with your mouse and click ONE TIME.  Two boxes will pop up.  Look at the darker box, and find the words, Control Panel.  Click ONE TIME on them.
          Click once on the little overlapping squares on the very top right-hand corner of your screen.  This will make both the box, and this page of instructions, visible at the same time.  Now you can go back and forth from these instructions to the box, without having to close one down.
            You get the idea.

            People who take quickly to computers can’t understand why the rest of us are befuddled, and plow ahead with directions only they and their peers can understand.  So I beg you people to enlist someone such as myself, to help you make your products more user friendly.  I am not a grandma, but I would like to call this the Grandma Test—if a grandma can understand it, then you can go public with it.  
          And here's something everyone can understand and enjoy: My books!  Even grandmas will gobble them up.  You can get them in hard copy or Kindle at this link. Check 'em out!