I’m dreaming of a Gandalf the White Christmas.

Today, after another bout of house-hunting, my husband and I stopped in at the Goodwill to unwind and I saw this:


Yes! Gandalf and Boromir. But not just Gandalf and Boromir. There were two Boromirs, two Aragorns, a Legolas and a facially deformed fellow that I can only  guess, thanks to the process of elimination, is Faramir. There were also a knee-high Aragorn and a knee-high Legolas, complete with fake flaming torch and fake bow. So the way I see it, my husband should have been impressed by my restraint when I picked up only Gandalf.

Me: Oh my god. We need this. This is our new Christmas tree topper.

Husband: If you get that, it’s coming out of your own money.

Me: It’s $4. We need a tree topper. It’s an investment.

Husband: (sighs) He’s too heavy for the tree.

Me: (shaking Gandalf) YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Husband: I’m going to go look at the jeans.

He’s PERFECT for the tree, really. He’s like the British version of Santa Claus, only with a sword instead of presents.

My husband is not getting into the spirit of this. He didn’t support my suggestion that Aragorn should come home with us, too, which would have only made sense.
And the first thing he said when Gandalf came out of the bag at home was “Time for Gandalf to go into the dishwasher.” Which is just rude.

But seriously, Gandalf is a great find. We lost a ton of our ornaments in the flood a few weeks ago, including our tree topper, so we do need a new one. And since The Hobbit is coming out next month, Gandalf is totally appropriate. And if other nerds have the TARDIS on their trees, I see nothing wrong with putting Gandalf on ours.

Later, I was telling Tom that we should get an LED light and put it in the top of Gandalf’s staff and he said “I need to make a Balrog whip out of LED lights.”


My husband would not be talking like that if Aragorn were here.


There is a kind of poetry in living without power. All the blankets in the house on one bed. Invigorating cold showers. A fire crackling in the grate all day. Tea lights  in mason jars stationed all over the house. No Internet. No television. The company of good friends who play some cut-throat games of UNO and extend hospitality to those who need shelter. Communal meals. Guitars instead of radio.

There is no poetry whatsoever in being in a neighborhood that’s been flooded by seawater. The streets in my neighborhood are littered with debris. The stuff from the ocean is slimy but not so bad. The garbage from the trash cans that weren’t tied down and taped shut is pretty gross. The National Guard is standing sentinel at all the entrances to our neighborhood. Residents wander around, looking a little lost, cadging cigarettes and stepping over piles of detritus.

I suppose there was a wild beauty to the storm itself. One neighbor, describing the high tide that she watched swirl into her basement, told us that the water “was so happy.” She said that the water came in so fast that cars were moved. I don’t have any photos for you this year. We evacuated to the home of some generous friends and stayed there for days.

This is the second time in as many years that we’ve been flooded by a storm surge that coincided with a full moon. We were lucky – the flood stayed in the basement.

I’ve seen some people online criticize us and the people who live in our neighborhood for living near the shore. But the house we’re in is the home we’ve inherited. Until last year, it never flooded. This is the second 30-year storm in two years, who knows what will happen next year. So maybe we will move.  Or maybe we will move the boiler and the fuse box up to the first floor and prepare to weather the climate change for as long as we can.

Esther gets an “H.”

My dog is no longer Ester. She’s now Esther.

Who cares, you say? I do. I care a lot. Because Esther is spelled with an h. And because I’m kind of a weirdo about names.

I’m a synesthete (this is my excuse for everything) and the way people’s names are spelled makes an irrationally big difference to me.

For example, in second grade, I was deeply disturbed when I discovered that the principal, Sister Eileen, was actually Sister Aileen. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that one. I mean, she looks like an Eileen, not an Aileen! And Aileen and Eileen are two different sounds. Plus, the shapes of the names are completely different. I mean, come on.

No one was with me on this. I remember complaining about it to someone, but I didn’t get much of a reaction. It was probably my mother, because at the time I learned how Sister Aileen’s name was spelled, I was sitting in the principal’s office, waiting for my mother to come and collect me.

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is, I’m OCD about the spelling of names. My name, your name, anyone’s names. This extends to fictional people (you can’t imagine how long it takes me to name my characters.) It also extends to pets.

For the record, the dog would much rather have a tennis ball than an “H.”

When we adopted our dog, I was irritated to see that her name on Petfinder was Ester. Not Esther. Not Easter. Not even Hester. It was Ester, like Ester-C.

Every time I looked at her name, (which was a lot, as we exchanged emails with the shelter that brought her from West Virginia and filled out paperwork) it looked like a typo. It was like looking at “yea” when someone means to type “yeah.” Or “pacific” when you know that a person means “specific.”

The idea that a name  – even the name of a pet – could be a typo really bothered me. Surely, this dog’s name was not a mistake. Someone must have meant to name her Ester. So, I looked up “Ester” online to see if it meant anything. It does. According to Wikipedia, “esters are chemical compounds consisting of a carbonyl adjacent to an ether linkage.”

That settled it. The dog’s name was definitely a typo. I’ve got some theories about the sort of people who owned the dog before we got her, and I don’t think they’re chemists. Not even the illegal kind.

Now, before I take this any further, I am aware that there are women named Ester. I’m sorry Esters of the world; like Anne of Green Gables, who famously dissed the rest of us Anns by saying that an Anne without an e was too plain,* I am a snob about the name Esther. I feel Esther needs an h. Otherwise the name just looks like the tail end of “molester.”

We decided to keep the name, but there was no chance to change the spelling. We simply handed the shelter’s paperwork over to the vet and the vet gave us paperwork to hand to the city and she remained Ester. I’ve been calling her Esther, and the tag on her collar says Esther, but really, legally,  she’s been Ester.  I’ve tried to be cool with it. I’ve tried to tell myself that it doesn’t really matter, because Ester and Esther sound alike. Anyway, the dog can’t read, and certainly doesn’t care, but I’ve got to be honest: It’s been eating my lunch.

That was until yesterday, when my husband renewed the dog’s license and requested that the name be changed to Esther. When we bring the dog to the vet this month we’ll make the change there. And Esther will no longer be Ester on any paperwork. She’ll be Esther.

They named him Richard. They also told us that he never makes any noise and that he plays well with other cats.

This will continue to matter very little to her. Her major concern in life is that Goober the cat does not steal her beloved Nylabone.

Goober. There‘s an animal who’s had an irritating parade of names. At the shelter, his name was Richard. Richard. Really? Who names a cat Richard? That’s a late-1970s/early-1980s name for a guy with a moustache, or a name for an older British gentleman, who also possesses a title. Not that I’ve given it much thought.

I’m glad we didn’t keep it for the cat. Good thing my husband came through in the clutch with a princely name like “Goober.”

*That chapter soured me on the little brat and all her little Prince Edwardian friends. Harrrumph.

Evite is Dead, or, Why My Husband Should Join Facebook.

My husband refuses to join Facebook.

That’s his choice, and I’ve been supportive, but man,  I wish he would join. Not because I think he needs to bond with Internet friends, or because I think he should communicate with long-lost buddies and ex-girlfriends, or even because I think the online world should be exposed to his unique brand of humor.*

It’s because Facebook has eclipsed Evite as a way of inviting people to events.
There was a time when my email inbox was cluttered with Evites. Evites for parties. Evites for work events. Evites for things I needed to cover for work. A long time ago, I got one Evite a week.

Alas, the golden age of Evite is over. An informal survey of my inbox reveals that in 2009, I got nine or 10 Evites. In 2010 I got three. Last year I got six – which is so many that I’m afraid I’ve miscounted.

You know how many Evites I’ve gotten in 2012? One. That’s because everyone is sending Facebook event invites instead. And that is why my husband really needs to join Facebook.

Let’s take this week for example. One of my husband’s friends is hosting a Depends-themed party.

I can’t make it to this event. I will be hanging out at the other end of the maturity scale that day, dispensing spatulas and marital advice at a bridal shower. So no Depends for me.** My husband, however, is going. (To the party. Not at the party. Although you never know, the invitation promises that anyone not in a diaper by dusk will be voted off the island.) The problem? I am the one who has all the details about where and when and who’s providing the pack of Depends, because I’m the one on Facebook.

This has happened with other events. I believe I once got a bachelor party invitation on Facebook. I’ve occasionally gotten communication for him through Facebook, because apparently Facebook’s sneaky tactics are working and FB  messages are also eclipsing traditional email.

You may think that my objections to my husband’s Facebook boycott stem from the fact that I don’t like being his secretary. That’s only 20 percent true. Yeah, the part of me that’s a hairy-legged overalls-weraring 1970s second-wave feminist objects to taking messages for my husband. But that’s not the real problem.

The real issue goes a little something like this: I don’t even look at my event invitations on Facebook.

I get so many random invites from bands and local organizations I covered when I was a local arts journalist, that I don’t register events anymore. When I see I have event invites, my brain blocks them from view as it does with junk mail and spam. They are invisible, and I wouldn’t have even noticed the Depends party invitation if the host hadn’t accosted me in person last week:

“Are you guys coming to my party?”

Uh-oh. “Party?”

“I sent you an invite.”

I panicked  and racked my brain. What invitations have come through my inbox? Have I looked? It must be on my phone, right? Luckily, his party has a pretty distinctive title.

“Was the word ‘poop’ in the event title?”

He grinned. Another Facebook event crisis averted.

So what’s the moral of this story? That Facebook is taking over all kinds of Internet services, from email to evite to the sort of social networking once provided by Friendster, I guess. Or maybe the moral is that if you’re married to someone who refuses to Facebook, you might end up being his Facebook receptionist. Or maybe it’s that you should always insert words that stand out in the titles of your Facebook invites. Like “poop.”

*It should.

** At least not yet.

Confessions of an American stereotype.

When my husband and I went to Texas to visit his family last month, I teased him constantly about the stereotype of Texans liking everything – from their breakfasts to their vehicles – big. What I ignored at the time is that the rest of the world thinks this about all Americans, and there might be something to it.  At least, the stereotype might apply to me.

The smaller tent, just before a tropical storm with a name hit the national park we were sleeping in.

Let me give you some background.

We like to go camping. But the last time we camped, our trusty 6-person tent ended up in a campside dumpster in Shenandoah National Park before we were even able to sleep in it. So although we purchased an emergency replacement that evening, it was very small and my husband argued that we needed a bigger one before we could camp again. And although I at first thought we should stick to the smaller tent, I reluctantly admitted that I’d like a bigger tent.

This tent:

Please note: Those outdoorsy, capable-looking people are not us. I don’t even know if they really know how to assemble the tent. Likely, they are just there for scale.

It’s the Coleman 9-person instant tent. The photo above doesn’t really do it justice.  It is about the size and shape of one of the shuttlecraft on Star Trek: Next Generation. When it’s set up, I keep expecting  Riker, Data and an away team to disembark from it, waving tricorders.

I only realized how huge it is when we set it up in the yard last night and its footprint swallowed half of our lawn. That’s when I began to feel extremely American in that way I’d been joking about in Texas. This feeling was quintupled when a neighbor came outside.

I should mention that the appearance of any of the neighbors would have embarrassed me at that point. We live in a very international neighborhood. The tenants who live next door are Chinese. The landlord across the street is German. The family next to him is from Vietnam. The families behind us are from Latin American countries. This neighbor, who is also a good friend, is Russian.

When our neighbor emerged from her house to feed her cats and caught sight of what appeared to be a VW bus parked in our backyard, she came over to investigate.

I went over to say hi and was suddenly aware of myself: my big, tall sunburned American self, with my big, yellow American dog, barking big, loud, greetings, while behind me towered a tent which would shame the permanent residences in some second world countries. I would love to know what  went through her head in Russian, but the first word that escaped her lips in English was “wow.”

My thoughts exactly.

Some folks will wonder why I’m writing something that seems so down on Americans, especially today, on the eve of the Fourth of July, that celebration of all that is American.

I’m writing for a couple of reasons.

The first is personal – We all have conceits, and one of mine is that I like to think of myself of being above stereotypically American things: I don’t eat fast food. We don’t watch TV. I hate baseball. I try to buy used, not new.

But  that’s silly, because I am American, and I do American things. I eat more than I should. I drive everywhere. I buy new things despite my best efforts.  I like big tents.*

The second reason I’m writing is, believe it or not, patriotic  –  I love my country, and I believe that we should be able to love our country like we love our families: warts and all. If we can’t look in the mirror and laugh at our big, American flaws, that would be pretty durn sad, y’all.


*And I cannot lie.

Putting away the iPhone and stepping away from the laptop.

In my book,  I wrote a main character who is addicted to her iPhone. The character’s cell phone addiction was meant to be a commentary on all the people I saw hunched over their iPhone displays, gabbing about apps and texting their ways through life, rather than living it. I wrote the book before I actually had an iPhone, * but this may or may not have been hypocritical on my part anyhow, since at the time I rewrote Beware the Hawk, I possessed what my husband referred to as a Crackberry.

Smartphones have been making me dumber for years.

But I hardly used the browser. I didn’t play Blackberry games. I only communicated with one person (my editor, actually) over the messenger. Then my Blackberry died, and I got an iPhone.

All of a sudden, I understood. There were no tiny keys to wrestle with! The camera was not as good as the Blackberry camera, but I could have more fun with the photos! The touchscreen was so big that tweeting and Facebooking from my phone were a pleasure! I could play Words with Friends! I suddenly had GPS! Now I could see what all the Angry Birds fuss was about!

I know. That’s a lot of exclamation points, but I think that’s what the i in iPhone is. Turn it upside down and flip it around and what you get it is “Phone!” And that’s the iPhone. It’s not a phone. It’s a Phone! And it’s addictive.

Now I’m trying to break myself of the cycle of obsessively checking my phone, which is as rude as it is worthless. I’m pretty sure that having a smartphone is making me dumber. Here are some examples:

  • Having email on my phone has actually made me worse at correspondence. (“Oh, I’ll just email that person back when I’m at my laptop.”)
  • Having the calendar on it has made me worse at scheduling. (“Oh no, an event I’m supposed to be at is happening a state away in five minutes!”)
  • I can’t remember phone numbers anymore because they’re all programmed into my phone. (“Sure, Officer, let me just grab my phone and look up my husband’s phone number for you.”)

So, I’m stepping away from the phone and, to some extent the Internet, this summer. I’m not “quitting Facebook” or giving up my phone or anything dramatic, but I am going to set some limits.

Right now, my iPhone is hidden under a pillow in another room so I won’t hear it buzzing. I have disabled all Push notifications for my social networks. I will not pick it up until I have written a required number of words. I am checking email only a few times a day. I’ve put all my appointments onto an actual desk calendar that I can see. Who knows? Later I may make myself write my husband’s phone number on a piece of paper 50 times the way my fourth grade teacher made me do with multiplication tables when I was being punished for something.

*In all honesty, I wrote the first drafts before iPhones were invented. The original phones were just regular 2001 phones. I was all kinds of excited to add iPhones last year and write the scenes as an indictment of iPhone users. I think this is called Karma.

My sorta-secret side job.

I like to claim that I have no secrets.

About a month ago, I was talking to my mother on the phone about how open I am about certain things. In fact we were probably talking about this blog.

“Mom,” I said, proudly. “I have no secrets.”

Maybe it’s my background in journalism that makes me not want to have secrets. I’ve seen secretive people suffer for hiding parts of their lives. As a sort of defense, I’ve tried to be open about just about everything. But of course, that’s impossible, even for a big-mouth with Internet access. Everyone keeps some secrets. I knew I must have some.

I just couldn’t think what they could be.

Until this past weekend, when I had to travel for business, and I found myself reluctant to explain to those who asked where I was going and what I was doing for all of Saturday and Sunday. I never really thought of this sideline as a secret, because plenty of people  – especially people I’ve known for a long time – know that I do this.

I started doing this thing as a teenager. In fact, when I was younger, I was very proud of this job and talked about it often. I advertised it, actually, because it brings with it a certain kind of attention. But as I’ve gotten older and taken more responsible jobs in different fields,  I’ve stopped doing this. I’ve also stopped telling people about it because I’m worried that this job will affect the way they will view me in other areas of my life. More unfortunately, this job also causes people to want or expect certain things from me, and the things that those people want and expect can be draining.

But shame and fear are never a good thing. So last week, when someone asked me if I was going to be around on Saturday, and I began a complicated throat-clearing campaign in an attempt to stall until someone else changed the subject, I knew I was going to have to start being open about my sorta-secret side job once again.

Where better to do this than on the world wide web, where everyone can see? So what is this thing that I do that causes me so much angst?

Continue reading

I’m back!

In case you were wondering where I’ve been* and why I left you with only Legolas the faithless elf for company, we’ve been on vacation. Instead of blogging here, I was writing a traveblog, which you can see here.

While I was away, I shared the blog with a restricted group of Facebook friends, my mom, and some aunts. But now that I’m back, I’m comfortable sharing it with the world.

I didn’t travelblog here because although you all seem very nice, and I know most of you, there are people who end up on this blog because they searched for phrases like “accidents that could have been prevented…”, “evil nun,” and “lady macbeth hugh heffner.” I really don’t want these people knowing where I am.

Anyhow, as I stated previously, I’m back and ready to blog for reals.


*You probably haven’t been, but like most bloggers I feel the need to mention that I wasn’t here and now I am.

It’s a time for evaluation, and letters of recommendation …and other things ending in “ation.”

It’s college finals time, a special time that only comes twice a year and, as the title of this post suggests, has certain traditions associated with it.

As does Hogswatch.*

Maybe that’s the reason I simply cannot concentrate on writing and revisions. The steady pace of the college semester is replaced by two weeks of constant motion for everyone in the college community – be they adjuncts, or students or professors. I’m just an adjunct, but there are still plenty of emails to send, and plans to be made and grades to be given. People who might be employing me over the summer break need to be called and emailed. Letters of all kinds must be sent.

So it could be that’s what’s breaking my stride this week as I try to buckle down and work. Writing has been unreasonably difficult this week. I  find myself staring out the window at weather that’s not so great. Or zoning out in front of my computer with a blank document open in front of me. Or clicking on Yahoo! News items. (“Star’s incredible transformation into Linda Lovelace!” “Kim dates Kanye!” “Mom takes toddler tanning!”) Or typing the same words three times and then deleting it all and cleaning the bathroom instead.

Really? What happened to all that April productivity?

It could be the changed pace of finals that’s throwing me off.

Or it could be my birthday, which falls this month. My mother used to say that as soon as my birthday rolled around every year, summer would begin for me and me alone. In my mind, my birthday heralded the start of a big ol’  Festival of Ann that started in May and stretched into the summer. I thought I’d abandoned that mindset in middle school, but hey, maybe my 34-year-old self is trying to regress.

Whatever it is, I’m going to beat it down with a word count of 500 words a day, even if they are 500 awful words a day. And I plan to do that while writing letters of recommendation. Even if I’m staring out the window between paragraphs.

* See below for the Terry Pratchett clip I’m paraphrasing. Recognize someone from Downton Abbey? You’re welcome.


Audio post: My husband’s truck.

Big Blue is many different shades of rust at this point.

Have you met my husband’s truck? If you live in our neighborhood, you probably have. You’ve at least heard it. It’s loud.

It’s a rusty ’77 Ford F-100, but most of the time we just call it The Truck or Big Blue. Sometimes, if I’m particularly irate with the truck, I just call it “It.” Well, it looks like Big Blue may be coming to the end of her stay with us. This is bittersweet, so below is an audio segment I’ve prepared about Big Blue, the truck. Click on the player to hear it.