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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pet Peeve: gum popping

Everyone has a sound or two that they just can't stand. One of mine is popping gum.

Frankly, if you're over 13, you should begin to break this bad habit. If you're over 21 and still popping your gum, everyone will think you're thirteen. If you're very obviously well over 13, you just look like a moron.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Holidays and Peace on Earth

There are people, and you know who you are, who seem to want to use the Christmas season to get bent out of shape. When I was a kid, the Big Bugbear was using Xmas for Christmas. I can still hear my Sunday School teacher intoning, "X means unknown, and you don't want to say Christ is unknown, do you?" We all solemnly shook our little heads.

A few decades later people remembered that X was the Greek letter Chi, the first letter of Christ, which is why people used it in the first place. You don't see Xmas very much these days, but no one seems bothered by it anymore when it does pop up.

For the last few years the Big Bugbear has been Happy Holidays. "It's a Plot! Leave the Christ in Christmas!" the bent-out-of-shapers are screaming, vowing to get in the face of anyone who says Happy Holidays to them instead of Merry Christmas. What on earth brought this on?

Happy Holidays has always been shorthand for Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, sometimes including Happy Thanksgiving. It's appeared on Christmas cards since their beginning in the 1890s, along with Season's Greetings. It has been most popular after the Irving Berlin song "Happy Holidays," which was released in 1942 and included in the film Holiday Inn. In the business realm, Happy Holidays (spoken or written) or Season's Greetings (usually written) have been considered a polite version when you don't know what religion the person you're addressing is. In a country with over 308 million people and freedom of religion, you've got a lot of different practices. While Protestant Christianity is in the majority, there are upwards of 200 different denominations in that alone, some of which don't observe Christmas. Plus you've got Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, and a lot of atheists. So in a non-religious setting, a generic greeting is used to not offend.

But people being people, some get offended anyway. Frankly, I don't see the point in getting angry at someone wishing me well because I don't like the words used. You can wish me a Happy Thor's Day and I'll say "Thanks! You too!" even though I don't celebrate that. Happy Hanukkah? No problem! Right back at you, and please invite me for latkes. I'll bring chocolate gelt, if I can find it, and get down to play the dreidel with the kiddies. It's a fun game.

Me, I wish everyone Merry Christmas unless I know they celebrate something else. If someone pops back with "I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm a ____", I'll wish them a happy whatever their holiday is, or just "Then have a great day," if I don't know. And smile, because this is the season when Peace on Earth took human form, and getting offended over nothing just isn't Christian. Or human. Or Peaceful, for that matter.

Just my humble opinion.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tobacco is for fools

People who started smoking/chewing tobacco before we learned how bad it was for us are addicted, and I feel for them. People who started since then are idiots. Period.

This is a habit that does nothing positive for the person indulging in it. It's expensive, it looks ugly, and it makes you, your clothes, your hair, your home, your car all stink. This is before we get to the health aspects.

90% of all lung cancer occurs in smokers. Yes, some nonsmokers get it, frequently from secondhand smoke. Yes, some people live to be 90 while smoking daily. Trouble is, you don't know which you'll be: one of the lucky ones or die young from a useless habit.

Lung cancer kills more women than breast cancer.

1/3 of all cancer deaths worldwide are from tobacco. There are 4 million tobacco-caused deaths per year worldwide.

Besides lung cancer, this stupid habit causes: bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer, laryngeal cancer, oral cancer, esophageal cancer.

Besides cancer, it can give you heart disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and emphysema.

Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to miscarry, more likely to have an undersized baby that grows slowly and is prone to dying before its first birthday, and have assorted lung problems such as asthma and emphysema. If you smoke while you're pregnant, your baby is smoking too. Thanks, mom.

Parents who smoke at home have children who smoke, from birth, even if that child never picks up a cigarette. Secondhand smoke is just as toxic as if your child was puffing away. By smoking around your children, you're giving them all the assorted health risks above. Have you poisoned your children today?

So: to all those young smokers out there: You don't look like a rebel, or a risk-taker. You don't look hot or cool, sexy or dangerous. YOU LOOK STUPID.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


I am a color junkie. I love it, crave it, am entranced by it. My color sense is so finely attuned that I can glance at a pair of shoes, go shopping for hours, and buy a purse that exactly matches - or very close, because I can see the tiniest variations in color that no one else notices.

My favorite thing to play with when I was little was my box of 64 Crayola crayons. I went through a lot of boxes. Back then, before they got creative with the color names, most of them were called what they were. For example, you had Yellow, Yellow Green, Green Yellow, Green, Green Blue, Blue Green, and so on. The browns had names like Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Mahogany, and plain old Brown. Later I found out the siennas and umbers were the same as artists' paint colors. The fancy names were for the pastels: Carnation Pink, Salmon, Thistle, Periwinkle, Lemon, Lavender, Orchid, Sky Blue, Sea Green.

I used to love to take plain paper and color random patches, trying out colors next to each other to see what looked pretty and what didn't. I'd lay down patches in the order of the colors to see how they shaded into each other, though I hadn't yet heard of a color wheel. It didn't take long until I noticed that Thistle was a pastel Red Violet and Periwinkle was a pastel Blue Violet. To this day I think with those color names. I'm wearing a Thistle colored sweater right now.

Why am I not an artist? I almost was. As a child and teen I drew constantly. When I got to college - a small liberal arts college with no evening classes - I wanted do double-major in English and Art. I was told I couldn't. So I flopped a coin to decide between them and it came up English. I should have just changed colleges. After school, the time constraints of earning a living weeded out most of my hobbies. What small talent I may have had in drawing and painting is gone. My color fixation these days expresses itself in my knitting, my wardrobe, my makeup, and my home.

My color fascination extends to people. The endless variations of browns the human race comes in is delicious. Literally, because most of them remind me of food. I see caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, toast, coffee with and without cream. The only skin tones I don't associate with food are the assorted pinky-beiges that Caucasians tend to come in. Hair, also, is variations of brown. Look down in the mosh pit at a rock concert. Yellow-brown, red-brown, browns all the way from sienna to deepest umber. We're all brown. Only the tone varies, really, and all are luscious.

I know people who are afraid of color. Their entire house is painted white, all their furniture and carpeting is beige. I know people who wear nothing but black. I couldn't do it. Living without color would be to me half a life.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas cards

I really miss Christmas cards. I can tell by the stores that most people are still sending and receiving them. Not my friends and family. I used to send out 40-50 cards, now only the Moms get them. I get one from my Mom and a couple from aunts and uncles. Frankly, I get more advertising-type cards (ie. from my dentist) than real ones!

I used to send and receive cards from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Now the grandparents are deceased, as are many of the aunts and uncles, and the cousins drifted away as we've moved and don't know each others' new addresses. I have cousins I only "talk" to on Facebook, and cousins I haven't heard from in 20 years or more. The annual Christmas card and newsletter from some of them was the only contact we seemed to have, and now even that's gone.

None of my friends send cards. Some don't "do Christmas." Others are of other faiths - this is understandable, though I get (and appreciate) a newsletter at this time of year from some Jewish friends in another state. Others just don't bother. "Oh, cards are a waste of money." It makes me sad. It used to be such a thrill to get a card or letter in the mail, and these days we only get bills and ads.

The last year I sent out a lot of cards, I sent out 35, and received 3. Of the 35, no fewer than 10 came back "moved, no forwarding." It made me want to cry.

I have saved every Christmas card I ever received, in a plastic bin under the bed. I keep thinking I'll use them for crafts, but when I pull them out and look at them I can't bear to cut them up. So back they go. I'm probably too sentimental, and have definite pack rat (these days it's hoarder, but I'm not that bad) tendencies. But just looking at the handwriting of people I love seems to bring them closer.

I think I'll buy a box of Christmas cards, and send out a few - to people who still send me one, and to people whose addresses I'm sure of. I think I'll even write a newsletter. I haven't done that for a while because life got pretty grim the last few years, but it's looking up. Maybe I'll spark someone to send one to me. I hope so. It was always part of Christmas magic.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Autumn leaves
In brilliant colors
Release their trees
And dance on the wind,
One last flush of bright
Before forever dust.
When I am ninety
I will dye my hair
The color of autumn leaves
And dance.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving past

Every Thanksgiving I remember a long time ago, when Grandma and Granddad Smith were alive, and before all the cousins began to marry off. We'd have Thanksgiving in Reece, Kansas at the grandparents' place. They had a gigantic dining room table that could seat most of us. Mom and Dad, Mom's three brothers and their wives, me and nine more cousins, if the California Smiths could come; they couldn't every year. Each family would bring food, and Grandma would cook up a storm. The table would be covered. Turkey and ham, two kinds of stuffing, countless cooked vegetables and salads, dinner rolls and corn bread. Out in the kitchen would be at least three kinds of pie and cake for the people who didn't like pie.

Every single year, just as we sat down - Grandma at the short end nearest the kitchen and Granddad at the other end - Grandma would gasp, and in a horrified voice, say, "We don't have enough food!" And she'd be deadly serious. We ate all day and I swear everyone took home more food than they brought.

After dinner, all the women would head for the kitchen to clean and divvy up the food. All the men would park in front of The Game. The cousins would divide up. The older ones would go off and do teenager things, and even though I was only 3 years younger, I'd go play with the three youngest ones. We'd go out in the big yard, close to the woods near the creek, and we'd play. Cowboys and Indians, pirates, in the sandbox, with a ball, on the swing, whatever. I played with them even though I was a teenager too. I'd rather have still been a kid. Being a teenager never seemed like much fun.

The years passed. The older cousins began to marry and go elsewhere for Thanksgiving. Granddad died, Dad died, Grandma sold the house and moved to a retirement home, and the old family Thanksgiving was over forever. But never, never forgotten. Mom's still alive, thank God, and two aunts and one uncle. The cousins now have grandkids. Thanksgiving now is just Mom, my husband, and me.

And a lot of memories.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


What am I thankful for this year? Many things.

That my husband and I are still alive. We both had life-threatening illnesses this year. I'm fully recovered, but with some challenges that will be with me forever. My husband has recovered from the worst of it but has lingering problems that still need medical assistance. Considering what we went through, we're both in pretty good condition.

That I was able to find another part-time job. It's not big money but it's enough to scrape by on.

That my Mom is not only still alive, but still bright and active.

For all my friends, who have been terrific during this hard year, giving love and support, as well as car rides, grocery pickup, and cat care.

I am grateful for thrift shops. I dropped 40 pounds with this illness, going from a size 20 to a 16, and had to buy a work wardrobe with very little money. Being able to buy slacks and blazers for $4-$6 each saved me.

I am grateful for electronic publishing, which is permitting me to self-publish my novels without a) having so pay megabucks and b) having to store hundreds of copies somewhere in my tiny place. I won't make any money off them but at least they're out there.

That I was able to keep my front teeth, and didn't have to do chemo.

That I live in Albuquerque.

That I have five wonderful, sweet, snuggly cats that are all in good health though two are quite elderly.

That Terry Pratchett has written all those books, and can probably write at least a few more before his disease takes over.

Monday, November 5, 2012

That's not friendship

When you're breaking up with someone, for pity's sake just break up with them. To grind someone's heart into powder and then want to "stay friends" is cruel and shows you have no capability of feeling for anyone but yourself.

I have a friend who was just walked out on by her husband of 10 years, who told her he never loved her. Then he had the incredible assholiness to say, "You're my best friend." Well, I would hate to see how he treats his worst enemy. This is callousness to the nth degree.

Once I had my heart broken by someone who insisted after the breakup we should stay friends. All that did was prove he didn't understand anything about what it feels like to love someone wholeheartedly, and have that person tell you he doesn't love you. We'd been together over two years. I threw his offer of friendship back in his face, just as hard as I could. (Later I tore up every picture I had of him, sprinkled the bits into the toilet, peed on them, and flushed. It was very therapeutic.)

Now both of these examples are men dumping women, but it's not limited to that. Women will use this same line when dumping men, same-gender couples use it too. Obviously the people mouthing that garbage have never had it used on them. It doesn't ease the breakup, which is what I hope they're trying to do. What it does is rub salt into the fresh wound. What it translates into is "I don't love you, but I want to hang around so you can still see what you can never have."

This isn't friendship, and I hope anyone who gets this line handed to them gives a piece of their mind rather than accepting the 'friendship.' I can think of a couple obvious replies:
"No, we can't."
"My friends treat me much better than this."

Anyone care to comment with their own reply to that line?

Sunday, November 4, 2012


A woman died the other day,
Starved to death for beauty’s sake.
Dead is worse than fat, I’d say,
And I’ve been fat since I was eight.

Step up on that magic box,
Step into a paradox.
If the number’s up your heart is down;
Hey, we can’t all weigh a hundred pounds.

There’s compact cars and Cadillacs,
Siberian tigers and domestic cats.
Even flowers come dainty or bold,
Why must women be of one mold?

Self-image by the numbers,
Even now the myth endures:
You’ll never be too rich or thin,
And only beauties are allowed to win.

                    Old poem, written when anorexia claimed the life of Karen Carpenter, one of my favorite singers. With the current War on Fat People I think it's relevant again. I support Health at Every Size, and am against body snarking - though I'll admit it's a hard habit to break. I'm inspired by Ragen Chastain's blog Dances With Fat. Check it out.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ah, knitting

I have always been a crafts nut. Over the course of my life I’ve done sewing, quilting, decoupage, embroidery, decorative chocolates, oil painting, tole painting, needlepoint, T-shirt decorating, beading, jewelry making, lapidary, ceramics, mosaics, glass painting, doll-making, picture framing, model making, latch-hook and punch rugs. I built a doll house and furniture for it.

While I still dabble in a few of these, the one that I’ve always gone back to is knitting. It’s only in recent years that I’ve branched out into more adventurous knitting. In the past I’ve always knitted plain things so I could do it while I watched television.

I learned how to knit at the age of eight. My Mother and her Mother were both crocheters, and tried many times to teach me. I could not get the hang of it. Then my Mom’s church group took on the project of knitting bandages for a leper colony. (This was around 1962. They still had leper colonies.) These had to be done about two inches wide and as long as possible, out of special thread, on thin needles in garter stitch. I was fascinated. Mom, on the other hand, hated knitting. She told me she could show me how to knit, purl, cast on, and bind off, and that was it. Anything else I’d have to learn on my own.

I wound up knitting half her quota.

Mom took me shopping, and we bought a little booklet of beginner patterns, some Red Heart acrylic yarn in luscious colors (for me, the fiber content has always played second fiddle to the colors), and a pair of 14 inch size 7 straight aluminum needles colored a frightful chartreuse. I still have them.

For the next few years, everyone I knew got garter-stitch scarves for Christmas. I think my Dad was the only one who ever wore his.

I didn’t learn much else for many years. I tried out many more crafts, and even had a part-time job in a crafts store after college. During college, I embroidered more than anything, even doing a tablecloth and matching napkins for my Mom for Christmas one year. I still embroider a bit – it’s my second favorite craft. For the first time in my life, I ran into other girls who knitted. And they did sweaters.

The thing that kept me from trying more complicated knitting was always the patterns. They’re so hard to read! I did my first sweater in the 1980s, a T-shirt type. That broke the ice, and I started knitting sweaters. I began to find and buy knitting books. Mind you, this was long before all those lovely how-to-knit videos on the internet – even before the internet! I didn’t know a soul who knitted, and if there were any yarn shops in the area that gave classes, I never heard of them. I bought my supplies at fabric stores or the precursors to Wal-Mart. Red Heart was the only yarn I ever saw, and only in worsted weight except for the baby-pastel sport yarns. In my life I have never taken a single knitting class.

Just in the last decade, I’ve started to attempt more complicated knitting. I learned to knit mittens and socks in the round on double-pointed needles. I attempted simple lace. I designed a few basic sweaters.

Then for a program at the library I used to work at, I started a knitting group. People, find yourself a group! Hang out in yarn stores! I learned more from those ladies in six months than I learned in my entire life up to then. Magic loop. Kitchener stitch. How to read a knitting pattern CHART – so much clearer than knitting code! Having someone show you is so much easier than getting it from a book. I’m now adept at cables, and getting there in complicated lace. What I’d give to have learned all this in my 20s! Life isn’t long enough for all I want to try. Endless patterns! Endless colors and color combinations! There’s no way to get bored with knitting. No one could ever learn everything.

The grim reaper will arrive, and I’ll probably give him the interrupted knitter’s mantra: “Just let me finish this row.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Work, jobs, and time

Finally got a second part-time job. 28 hours per week, 3 days of split-shift. So now I'm not working full-time even between the two of them, but I'm working six days a week. No wonder I've skipped church 2 Sundays in a row - just too tired to get up one more day. It's rather a dull job so far, and the pay is low, but I think we can get by on it. The biggest blessing is my supervisor. She's terrific, and easy to work with. That alone can make or break working conditions.

I've been formatting the rest of my finished books for e-book processing, and have begun formatting the two published so far for print on demand. The latter is harder, but I'm getting the hang of it. I hope they look good when finished. I can order the cover for one immediately, thanks to an uncle who gave me the money because he really wants a print copy. The other covers will have to wait until my pay catches up with our bills. I had planned originally to have all five out this year, at least as e-books. It doesn't look like I'm going to make it. I haven't yet made back what I spent on the covers, and the artist was very reasonable. On Amazon, I activated the "look inside" feature, and now you can read the beginnings of both books. Maybe it'll increase sales. I've got a business card now too, with the websites to order my books from.

Plus, it's only a couple months now until Christmas. I've got to knit like a madwoman to get all the presents I'd planned finished. Spare time is hard to come by. Spare time without cats on my lap is even harder, and I love the cats too much to shoo them off. So far I've knitted a stuffed animal, 5 scarves, and 1 hat. I did a vest but wound up giving it for her birthday, so I've got to knit something else for Christmas. 5 more hats, some Barbie clothes, and a lace shawl are the remainder. Since I can't surprise my husband with anything knitted, he might get a box of yarn, a pattern, and a promise! Plus, for after Christmas, I want to knit two shells for myself, and finish some socks and a vest I started ages ago. They can wait.

I feel close to back to normal, though my taste and my appetite have changed drastically. My mouth is incredibly sensitive to heat, cold, and Mexican spices. Some foods I've always loved just don't taste good now. I drink a lot of milk, as it helps me swallow better than water. My weight is hovering around 170, and I'm in a size 16, and so far - 3 months now - I haven't gained any back. Dieting never worked that well. Of course now eating's more of a chore than a pleasure. Even when I'm enjoying something, I can barely eat half, even though I'm still hungry.

My husband is still in a lot of pain and can barely do anything. I'm so worried about him. He's lost so much strength and range of motion in his arms, and since he's in a wheelchair both are vital. But now that I'm employed again, maybe we've turned a corner.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

February Midnight

Sometimes it’s nice to just let go your life
And let someone else’s words take over.
I think now I see how nice it could be
To be drunk or drugged rather than sober.
When there’s no escape from emotional rape
And the weight of the world has you kneeling,
Why pretend that your mind doesn’t bend
And your senses and soul aren’t all reeling?
Deep in the night let logic take flight,
Let your subconscious loose from his cage.
Slip out of the noose and turn it all loose –
You’ve got nothing to lose but your rage.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing poetry

            Posting that old poem, it occurred to me that I haven’t any new ones. I started writing poetry in high school, as most teens with a literary bent and a lot of excess angst do. I wrote them through college and into my early thirties. The 1980s, when I couldn’t seem to get a novel going, spawned a lot of poetry – some of it meant to be song lyrics. Then, somewhere in the late 1980s, the poetry urge completely dried up. I have no idea why.
            Of the several notebooks filled with poems, I have forty-six I’m not ashamed of. I think I’ll post them one by one on this blog, as poetry doesn’t sell. Only one has ever been published, in an anthology called Light Year back in the 1980s, and I didn’t get paid for it. Had to buy the book. Oh, well, at the time it was worth it to me.
            So what makes a person a poet, as opposed to a prose writer? A lot of people are both, but I’ve always been rather single-minded as far as the creative impulse. I’ve noticed that when I’m writing a lot, I stop knitting, and when I’m knitting a lot, I seem to nearly stop writing. I have never figured out what it was about that particular decade that inspired the type of writing I did then. It was a hard decade. I was working at a well-paying job that I absolutely hated. My father died in 1983, which plunged my dysthymic self deep into the dark flood. In 1984 I got laid off from that job (thank God), and never have earned that much money again, though the stress wasn’t worth it. When you burst into tears every time the alarm goes off and it takes you five minutes to unclench your jaws in the morning, you need a different job, no matter how good the money is. To illustrate the sort of people I worked with, here’s the primo example. My father wasted away from cancer in the first half of 1983, dying the Thursday after Father’s Day. I had been telling people at work who asked how he was that he wasn’t going to recover. When he died I called in to tell them I wouldn’t be in for a week. The person who answered the phone, who I had considered a friend, said, “Oh, he really died? We thought you were just saying that.” 

            I wrote the poem February Midnight at a midnight in February, into a small tape recorder I kept by the bed then. In the morning when I transcribed it, I didn’t change a single word. I still think it’s my best poem. The little tape recorder helped with a lot of inspiration, because by the time I found the light, a pencil, and my glasses, I lost the thought, even when all that was on the nightstand. Just picking up the recorder in the dark and hitting the On button was a lot faster. I’ll post that poem tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Greed, the sin from which come all others.

            The seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the greed that is the dark side of capitalism, and that’s rampant in America today. There’s even a TV show, American Greed. If you look logically at the seven sins, all of them but wrath are aspects of greed.
            Lust is simply greed for more sex. Originally lust simply meant desire, the wanting of things you don’t have, but in modern times it has a specific meaning. So many people these days confuse lust and love. More hop into bed with anyone handy, causing untold heartache, disease, and unwanted children. The last is especially ridiculous because birth control has never been easier.
            Gluttony is greed for food. We Americans aren’t as bad as the old Romans, who had regurgatoriums where they ate until full and threw it up to keep eating, but sometimes I think we’re awfully darn close. Portion sizes have increased exponentially to the point where I’m amazed anyone can finish a meal, but people do. I fill up fast. When I’m in a restaurant, I don’t get an appetizer or a dessert, and the entree makes me two meals. I have seen people polish off appetizer, the whole entree, and dessert. Not all of them are fat, either. I’ve seen people eat until their stomachs hurt. I suspect if it were fashionable to barf and keep eating, many of them would. (Bulimia, or binge and purge, is a mental illness and not actual gluttony.)
            Sloth, also called laziness, is simply greed for more rest. Rest is a good thing, like having enough to eat, but when you get more than you need, then it turns into greed. I am guilty of this one a lot. There’s nothing I like better than a good lie-in, half dozing but mostly awake. Preferably in a nice soft bed with lots of fluffy pillows and a cool breeze coming in the window. Heaven itself.
            Envy is greed for what someone else has. This one’s even in the Ten Commandments as Thou Shalt Not Covet... anything that is thy neighbor’s. This leads to everything from theft to plastic surgery.
            Pride is the greed to be Best, First, Most Important. It is the greed for power. It’s the desire to always be right, to win every argument, and frequently results in putting down anyone you can class as the Other, the Not Like Us. As with the others except for greed and envy, a little is a good thing but too much crosses a line leading to feeling entitled to having more, more, more.
            And that’s the essence of Greed: never being satisfied, always wanting more, no matter how much you already have. No matter if more is good for you. No matter who you have to hurt to get it. No matter the consequences, either for yourself or others. Greed leads to perfect selfishness: I’ll get mine and the hell with the rest of the world. This is the deadliest sin.