Sunday, December 4, 2011

Finding joy in the season

I have survived another term as "Princess" of the Portsmouth Holiday Parade with a minimum of problems and a maximum of gratitude that my desire to add a food drive benefiting three local food pantries yielded approximately 5,000 pounds of non-perishable goods for their shelves.

Students from the local high school volunteered to push grocery carts lent by Hannaford along the 1.5-mile parade route to collect the food and transfer it into trucks in the parade and along the roadway on a night that was mild for our December and also magical because it was the largest illuminated parade I've coordinated to date. The more than 1,000 people IN the parade also contributed food in large numbers.

There was great joy in knowing so many people recognized this great need in our community and responded. One pantry has seen a 78% jump in clientele from last year. Not only are the homeless and unemployed seeking assistance, but also the underemployed and seniors whose budgets are stretched beyond their limits. Times are tough everywhere.

I urge you to consider helping your local food pantry help others. You might be surprised to know your donations may help your pocketbook, as well. In NH, for example, towns are required by law to provide assistance to the poor. If non-profit pantries supported by food donations from generous citizens and businesses are available, local Welfare Departments refer clients to them. This often reduces the amount the town must raise in local property taxes to pay for feeding the impoverished. Your donations help everyone.

More joy
I also cannot adequately express the joy and hope I felt on Thanksgiving day as I watched my brother slowly walk up the driveway just 2 ½ months after being paralyzed from the chest down in a horrific tragedy that killed his wife, my beloved sister-in-law.

Although we continue to grieve the loss of Jennifer, and the first holiday without her was as difficult as you might expect, we were able to celebrate how much progress Mike has made from his compression chord injury.

His gait remains somewhat unsteady and he would be unable to use his hands to break a fall, but he can walk and climb some stairs! He no longer has to wear a neck collar and he can feed himself and perform many other tasks again, thanks to hours of physical and occupational therapy. And he is back at work. He cannot drive or be alone in case he falls, but he has advanced more quickly and much further than we could have dreamed after the accident.

To everyone's great delight, Mike continued his tradition of organizing a hike up a 4,000-foot mountain the day after Thanksgiving. Although he could not make the climb, he accompanied the group to breakfast and to the base of the mountain, where he impatiently awaited their descent through snowy terrain. (This is a photo from a pre-accident hike.)

When I walked into the after-party slideshow held in the large room that has become his bedroom while he recuperates, he and his children were surrounded by about 40 friends and family.

Next to Mike was someone I did not know but I instantly recognized his name as the man who first came upon my severely injured brother and sister-in-law, stayed with them until medical help arrived and used my brother's cell phone to alert me and other members of the family to the terrible accident. He also took custody of their gear and later visited Mike in the hospital.

After only a brief conversation, it was clear this man and my brother shared in common even before their random encounter. Now they also share an undeniably unique bond that I hope will provide both of them -- and our family -- much joy and comfort in the years to come.

And as this holiday season begins, I wish you and yours great joy and comfort, as well.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unfathomable Loss

More than once, my sister and I told the woman who married our brother that we got the best end of the deal. And for 33 years, we were reminded how fortunate we all were that she chose him and became part of our lives, too.

We spent nearly every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving together. We celebrated births and birthdays, First Communions and Confirmations, graduations and anniversaries, and showers and weddings (including my niece Kate's a year ago Saturday). And while there also were sad times shared over those three decades, we are blessed that so many of our interactions involved joyful occasions.

Neither my sister Judy nor I can recall even a single instance when our beloved sister-in-law said anything negative about another person. Jennifer Remick was a woman who personified grace and compassion in everything she did. Tall and thin, she was almost regal as she moved through life with a dignity I admired. Kind and thoughtful, she also was a woman of strong convictions that did not waver.

Jennifer possessed a delightful sense of humor and when I recall the occasions when she giggled so much that she could barely speak, I cannot help but smile. I also will never forget the Thanksgiving we played a truth vs. lies game and were all shocked to learn that the movie character she most would like to be was “Lara Craft, Tomb Raider,” partially because of the great outfits but mostly because of her adventures.
Jessica, Jen, Kate and Amy
Known alternately as Jennifer, Jen and sometimes Jenny, she loved flowers and her gardening skills were almost intimidating. She enjoyed long walks, and admired good books, music, movies, theater and art. And she adored her four children -- Jessica, Ben, Kate and Amy; the people they loved; her two beautiful grandchildren; and her large extended family. She had many close friends and was a woman of great faith. And she and Mike were truly partners in business and in life.

It still seems inconceivable that such a life could end at the age of 55 as a result of a bicycle ride on a paved path in a beautiful setting on a gorgeous September day just a week ago today.

Riding down a steep hill, she braked for an unknown reason and flew over the handlebars, suffering a traumatic brain injury and then a stroke. My brother swerved to avoid her and also went over the handlebars, resulting in a central chord syndrome injury that initially left him paralyzed at her feet. We don’t know how long they lay on that path, Jen unconscious and Mike crying out to her and unable to reach her, before they were found.

As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he was able to tell the stranger who found them where to find his cell phone and wallet. He stayed with them until she was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Mike was transported to a local hospital before also being airlifted there.

We joined other family members in rushing the two hours north but it was too late for Jen. The next day she was declared brain-dead and because she was an organ donor, her final gift will help many others.

I was privileged to be present when three members of the organ removal team visited my brother's hospital room afterward to thank him and the family for her lungs, kidneys, liver and skin tissue. They were so sensitive and compassionate, and wanted to see her photo to know more about Jen. They told us how they have a moment of silence in the operating room before surgery begins, how she was treated with love and respect, and how much of a contribution she and the family had made to others. In a few weeks, we will be advised where the organs went and if the transplants were successful.

So if you have not made the decision on whether to be an organ donor, please, please consider this. Although my brother faces an extremely long road ahead in recovering the use of his limbs, and he and his children continue to struggle to mend their hearts, knowing how much Jennifer’s life will continue to help others offers a bit of hope and much solace even in our great grief.

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, visit

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spidey Sense

"Spidey sense: Derived from the "Spidey sense" of the comic book superhero Spiderman, it is generally used to mean a vague but strong sense of something being wrong, dangerous, suspicious, a security situation."

No. 1 son and his partner were on patrol recently when they spotted a car that caused their spines to tingle. It was, my child said, the "Spidey sense" that prompted them to pull the vehicle over on grounds of something illegally hanging from the rear view mirror (a legitimate reason to stop a car in DC).

The driver jumped out of the car and my son and his partner smelled gasoline on him and his passenger. When they sought permission to search the car, the driver agreed. Lo and behold,they discovered a gun hidden beneath the seat and it was off to jail. It was not long before No. 1 and his partner learned the men had killed a man and tried to burn his body in the adjoining county just 30 minutes prior to the traffic stop.

So in this case, “Spidey sense” helped solve a murder. This type of intuition could be extremely beneficial to all of us, don't you think? I am hoping it's helping No. 2 son to be careful in the swamp, which was important when a rattlesnake appeared at his archaeology dig site last week.

Imagine what would not have happened had former New York Congressman Andrew Weiner had a “Spidey sense” that sending photos of his bulging underwear (and more) could lead to a different reaction than he was seeking.

Surely I'm not the only one becoming weary of learning the sexual proclivities of politicians. I also worry that these kinds of news events cause men to imitate this unsavory behavior, thinking they're smarter and won't get caught. Someone recently asked me why anyone would think a woman would want to receive such a photo. I noted that it's not unlike some women believing men want photos of them in their underwear (or less). Equal rights and all that, you know?

What really, really irritated me about this sordid incident was hearing people ask why a man with such a beautiful and exceptionally intelligent wife would do something like that.

Do people really believe this kind of behavior is more understandable if a wife has average looks and intelligence, or that it might be acceptable if she's stupid and ugly? Is being beautiful and smart all it takes to be an ideal marriage partner? If that's the case, there are a lot of less-than-ideal spouses out there.

But I don't think the Weiner jerk's juvenile and creepy behavior had anything to do with his wife. I believe it everything to do with his ego, arrogance and sexual fantasies. My Spidey sense indicates this isn't the last of the salacious stories we're going to hear about this guy, either.

Do you believe in Spidey sense? Did you have a Spidey sense there was a dire reason this blog hasn't been updated recently? I assure you no scandals are involved.

But seeing as how only one person has asked why it hasn't been updated, perhaps not everyone is interested in my thoughts as I am in sharing them. For that reason, but mostly because I would like to finish a novel before I die, I'm taking a summer vacation from the blogosphere -- unless something so outrageous or exciting occurs that I feel compelled to share it, Spidey sense or not!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"I probably shouldn't tell you...."

No. 2 son's check-in call at the beginning of his Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge archaeology adventure began with, "I probably shouldn't tell you this...."

And here is where I began thinking, "Seriously? Are we really going to have ANOTHER one of these conversations that were not included in the Mom Handbook*?" (*This would be that Motherhood How-To book no one shared with me, as addressed in my previous blog entry.)

"I probably shouldn't tell you that the swamp is home to the largest concentration of black bears on the East Coast," he continued. "But don't worry. We've been given a lot of safety instructions."

I struggled to remain calm and offer my standard response in stressful situations (the ones where I am screaming inside): "That's nice, dear."

But the screams in my head were getting louder, so I added, "Such as?"

He then read this: "If you hear loud noises in the underbrush, be prepared to make loud noises in response."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Then he offered: "And I probably shouldn't tell you this either, but I may be trained in using a machete."

My response was stunned silence, but Husband No. 1 cheerfully noted from the extension phone that No. 2's brother-the-cop wasn't even trained in machetes. "Maybe they'll even give you a certificate, too," my spouse said in his best fatherly voice.

Seriously? The screams were now in danger of escaping into the atmosphere. There was no hope of restraining myself now. "Will you be able to use the machete against the three types of poisonous snakes that inhabit the swamp? Because I'm really worried about the snakes."

"Ah, I'm not sure. But don't worry, Mom. We've had lots of safety instructions," he repeated.

Don't worry? Are you kidding me? I didn't scream this out loud, although I wanted to but I believe that elusive Mom Handbook probably advises against showing too much fear (I'm not sure because I don't own the book). Instead, I offered this desperate response:

"Maybe you should ask your brother if you can borrow one of his guns."

Now it was Husband No. 1 and No. 2 son who were stunned. And this was truly the moment when I realized I'd gone over the edge. Here I was, a woman who hates guns and wouldn't allow her children to play with the toy versions, suggesting that one son get a firearm from the other.

"I don't think they'll allow that, Mom. This is a university course," No. 2 son said, enunciating each word carefully as though he clearly recognized his mother had become a crazy woman again.

Fortunately, there was an open bottle of red wine nearby. Once I'd finished that and calmed down somewhat, I developed a new fear: He has to hike 45 minutes from the park entrance in his insecticide-soaked clothing and new expensive wader boots through the swamp to the island site of the archaeological dig. What if he's too tired by the time he gets there to make noise in the underbrush or swing a machete against the wildlife?

I probably shouldn't tell you this.... but I'm ordering No. 1 son to get his gun and climb on that motorcycle I didn't want him to buy -- and travel the 3 1/2 hours south from Washington, DC, to retrieve his brother immediately.

And you better believe I'm demanding someone give me a copy of that Mom Handbook for my birthday next month.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

I recently read about an English guy whose self-published book is topping Amazon's UK charts. It consists of 200 blank pages beneath the cover entitled: "What Every Man Thinks About Apart from Sex."

On this Mother's Day 2011, I wonder if I could also publish a blank book, although my cover would say: "What I Knew About Motherhood Before I Became a Mother."

Although I've since learned some Mom lessons the hard way, I wish someone had warned me about the conversations I'd be having with my children, including some unusual exchanges in just the past week.

But first, here are the two most valuable lessons I've learned from being a mother:

  • Never say never. This includes promising to NEVER say to your children "Because I said so."
  • And "Because I said so" is an extremely valuable, all-purpose response if you don't have a legitimate argument, don't know the answer or you're too tired to explain the argument or the answer.

    However, neither lesson seems to apply to the recent conversations that have me thinking--25 years after I first became introduced to it--that perhaps Motherhood isn't such a great gig. Being a Mom has forced me to do and say things I never anticipated. For example, I've threatened for years to cut off all financial support should my children: 1) Buy a motorcycle 2) Get a tattoo and/or 3) Pierce any portion of their bodies.

    Last week, No. 1 son telephoned with the announcement that at the age of 25, he had fulfilled his longtime dream of purchasing a motorcycle. When this news was met with stunned silence from his Angel Mother, he proceeded to detail the tattoos he'll be getting. Again, stunned silence. "Mom, Mom, are you still there?" he finally said.

    "I think your mother just fainted," advised Husband No. 1, who was listening on the extension.

    "Just kidding about the tattoos, Mom," he laughed.

    I'm not so sure he's joking, but I am certain of this: Motherhood takes on a whole new complexion when you don't have anything to hold over your children's heads anymore. But after you've adjusted to the reality that your child carries a gun to work every day, a motorcycle doesn't seem so bad.

    Last night, he called to report the motorcycle is "really great" and he also may be receiving AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle training soon. When I gasped, he said, “Which would you rather have, Mom – me going into an Active Shooter situation with a handgun or a rifle?”

    My first thought was: “With a slide rule as an engineer” because that was his original college major. My second was: "With your words" because philosophy was his second. Instead I said, “I would prefer you not be going into an Active Shooter situation at all, but if you must, I suppose a rifle is better.”

    This was offered through clenched teeth (which is not all that easy when you have braces) after my heart stopped pounding. It also prompted me to wonder: "Why didn't anyone warn me I'd be having these conversations?"

    Meanwhile, No. 2 son has sent home a list of things he must obtain (like YESTERDAY) for his 6-week archaeology expedition to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia-North Carolina border, including thigh-high wader boots.

    "You'll have to take up fly fishing then," I calmly advised him.

    "Huh?" said the boy who won't even eat fish because it might possibly be good for him.

    Although I was tempted to reply with "because I said so," I said,"If we're going to invest in those boots you better get more than six weeks use out of them."

    "How about I use them on my next dig, instead?"

    Although I'd never say never, that's as likely as him eating fish. Apparently he doesn't realize that the expedition's requirement that he soak his clothing in the insecticide Permethrin beforehand means this won't resemble his usual summer activities. I predict by the end of this course (yes, we get to pay extra for him to play in the mud), he'll be so sick of bugs and ticks that he'll avoid swamps -- and waders -- for the rest of his life.

    Meanwhile, I need to inform him this lovely synthetic chemical also is highly flammable, which means he better stay away from campfires, cigarettes and possibly static electricity. Another conversation I never anticipated.

    When I was bemoaning these unexpected Mom moments today, Husband No. 1 offered his own truth about parenting that I wish I'd known beforehand:

    "When they're born, you think they could be president. When they become teenagers, you just hope you can keep them alive and out of jail until they're 21."

    Only two more months to go and my job is done. Still, I doubt my unusual conversations with my children will ever end. Instead of being on the receiving end of these exchanges, however, perhaps I should take the offensive and ask what they think about the British guy's book. I believe I'd rather be discussing that than motorcycles, assault rifles or toxic chemicals to avoid ticks.

    What valuable lessons have you learned about motherhood?

    (Previous Mother's Day musings can be found by clicking here to read what I've learned from humiliation or here on being a "good enough" mother.)

  • Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Mystery World Stars

    I've never been ashamed to admit I relish celebrity encounters, which is why I'm sharing this rather goofy-looking photo of me to accompany my gushing about meeting some of the rock stars of the mystery world last week, including these two gentlemen:
    New York Times best-selling authors Nelson DeMille (16 novels) and Michael Connelly (23 books including the Lincoln Lawyer, also the subject of a new movie by the same name).

    I was at New York City's Mysterious Bookshop (owned by Otto Pennzler, co-editor of a number of the annual "Best American Mystery Stories" anthologies) with a number of mega-mystery writers including Laura Lippman (18 novels) and SJ Rozan (12 novels ), for the launch party for "The Rich and the Dead" edited by DeMille. It's this year's Mystery Writers of America anthology, which is being officially released today.

    It also features the fabulous story "The Gift" by Husband No. 1.

    When I pointed this out to Michael Connelly as he was autographing my book, noting the name Frank Cook was near his in alphabetical order, he replied: "Then I'll write small so there's more room for his name." (That's Michael with Frank.)

    The other anthology authors are: Ted Bell, Peter Blauner, K. Catalona, Tim Chapman, Lee Child, David DeLee, Joseph Goodrich, Daniel J. Hale, Roberta Isleib, Harley Jane Kozak, David Morrell, Caroli Mullen, Twist Phelan, S.J. Rozan, Jonathan Santlofer, Elaine Togneri and Angela Zeman. In all, 15 of the 20 authors attended the launch party (including SJ Rozan shown here) and signed books until they were sold out.

    Here's what DeMille's web site says about the collection: "Editor and Contributor Nelson DeMille has collected short stories from twenty of the most outstanding mystery writers in the country, himself included, for a superb collection of new and original stories."

    The Publishers Weekly review of the collection even named Frank's story as one of the standouts!

    These Mystery Writers of America anthologies are published annually and edited by a well-known mystery author (DeMille this year) who asks nine colleagues to contribute stories. One of the nine was David Morell (the man on the left here), who wrote the story that created "Rambo."

    The remaining 10 slots are filled with tales selected by a panel of judges from a pool of “blind submissions” by MWA members. Frank and I both sent in stories for consideration. As you might imagine, there was great rejoicing when his story was chosen, but I'll admit to a tinge of regret that mine was not. Frank explained it this way: "This just shows I know more about being rich and dead than you do."

    Although I laughed, I'm determined to find out more about his "rich" knowledge as he obviously hasn't shared it with me, but I'm not so sure I want to hear about the "dead" part.

    However, I did get to make another trip to New York City because of him and the next day we attended the Mystery Writers of America daylong symposium on mysteries and the state of the industry. That meant more celebrity encounters (me and SJ Rozan to the left) and chatting with Mystery Writers of America President and New York Times best-selling thriller writer Lisa Scottoline, who has written 18 novels and whose latest "Save Me" is being called "a white-hot crossover book about the perils of mother love." One photo I did not get, but wish I had, was with Sara Paretsky, author of 16 best-selling novels and credited with transforming the mystery world with the first female private eye character. Sara also is a founder of the Sisters in Crime mystery organization

    And because writers cannot give enough of books, this trip also included our first pilgrimage to The Strand, the nation's second-largest independent bookstore with 18 miles of books! Other than Frank Cook, there were no celebrities there, although I'm told it's not unusual to spot one among the stacks. Maybe next time.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Is the light still on?

    Do you think appliances talk to each other?

    Is it possible that one might somehow communicate to another: "Hey, she's not treating us very good so let's teach her a lesson and stop working two hours before 20 people arrive for Easter brunch"?

    This might explain why the vacuum cleaner wasn't cleaning, the dishwasher seemed to be smoking, and a heating element was disintegrating shortly after we put the ham in the oven today.

    The holiday appliance breakdown was so massive, coming on top of a last-minute realization that we did not have enough matching plates or chairs for the imminent onslaught, that all I could do was laugh (hysterically) in between frequent inquiries to Husband No. 1 in the nature of: "Is the preheating light still on or is the $#@^& thing finally hot?"

    I wasn't too worried about the vacuum problem because I figured the house would be so crowded no one could see the floor anyway and if they did, the smoking dishwasher might distract them. (OK, I'm exaggerating a little because the smoke was only steam, but you get the point.)

    However, an oven working at 50% capacity was a real challenge. The casserole dishes were too large for the microwave and it's pretty difficult to cook a quiche in a skillet.

    So when the preheating light went off, we cheered. When it lit back up seconds later, our optimism faded just as fast. To make a long story short, I can report that some brunch foods don't taste quite as good at a few degrees above frigid BUT it is possible to glaze a ham in a microwave oven!

    The Easter breakdown reminded me of a Thanksgiving years ago when we discovered 15 minutes before the arrival of another large crowd that the oven had apparently quit working mid-turkey. Let's just say a lot of wine was served that year and we learned a traditional green bean casserole (yes, the kind with Durkee onion things on top) made in a saucepan is not a pretty sight.

    Ironically (or perhaps suspiciously), a guest from the first disaster was here for this one, as well as another infamous Thanksgiving where I forgot to remove the plastic bag inside the turkey. This year, Diane brought the ingredients for Mimosas. Do you think she was expecting another holiday disaster? Or maybe she's the catastrophe connection...

    Husband No. 1 had another explanation: "God said, 'No, you don't have to come to church today because you'll be too busy dealing with all the curses I'm putting upon you.'"

    I prefer to believe in a more Earth-bound and electronics-based conspiracy of revenge. I acknowledge that I am NOT kind to appliances, but really -- having an appliance revolution on an Easter Sunday with a sizable crowd expected is a bit of overkill, don't you think?

    I will admit that I am so rough with vacuum cleaners that it's easier to buy the cheapest one possible and consider it a "disposable" because the life expectancy with me is less than two years whether I spend a lot -- or a little. I once had a repairman ask if I employed a housekeeper and when I replied in the negative, he said my vacuum cleaner was so banged up he figured it couldn't possibly have been damaged that way by the person who paid for it. Walmart gets my business now instead of him.

    I suppose I shouldn't be upset about the heating element of a 25-year-old oven quitting either, although I am a little perturbed about the timing. Fortunately, the dishwasher is working again.

    Maybe the appliances will forgive me. But just in case I'm wrong, does anyone know if it's possible to cook a quiche in a dishwasher?

    If you've ever had a holiday catastrophe, I hope you'll share. And maybe it will help me figure out a way to teach my appliances a lesson.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Lighting Up a Room

    Although I've always wanted a smile that lights up a room and teeth that sparkle, I didn't mean literally.

    But that's what I'm getting for at least the next eight months, thanks to some very expensive metal installed on my teeth last week. And while I cannot adequately describe the way light reflects so brilliantly off my braces, I can tell you I'm beginning to wonder if there exists a purse large enough for all the equipment I'm now carrying in the name of vanity.

    My last experience with pain and suffering connected to a similar pursuit involved
    getting contacts, which requires me to now travel with eyeglasses, saline solution and a contact lens holder in case there's a contacts disaster, of which I have had more than a few.

    But they pale in comparison to my latest adventure, which was prompted by a lifetime of loathing for my less-than-perfect teeth and trying to hide them in photos like this one.

    When I recently learned about a local orthodontist with many adult patients, I signed up for a free consultation. And when he told me I possessed a youthful smile that could be improved without extractions and in less than a year, I was sold. He also says the change in the shape of my mouth will make me look younger. "Will I get Angelina Jolie lips, too?" I asked hopefully. He looked appalled. "Those aren't even attractive," he said, although I think he's the only man in America who believes that.

    Our next discussion involved whether to choose full metal, partial metal with white ceramic brackets or clear Invisalign braces. Invisalign takes longer and they must be removed for each sip of coffee, so they were out. Full metal jacket seemed the antithesis of the vanity that got me to this point. That left ceramic brackets with a piece of silver metal threaded through them. But then I learned the plastic ties necessary to move the teeth can stain easily. Suffering may be necessary for beauty, but giving up coffee and red wine would be excruciating. I opted for metal ties. As a result, I don't think my mouth will ever make it through another metal detector.

    I was advised after installation that I might be slightly "uncomfortable." I don't want to accuse anyone of lying, but I'm not sure "uncomfortable" accurately describes having the edges of your teeth hurt so much that you can't eat or the feeling of metal cutting into your mouth. There's a reason they say to always carry wax to use as a protective barrier. However, it's also pretty painful to see those ugly globs of white stuff on the ugly metal you're wearing to fix your ugly teeth.

    "You're not smiling the way you used to," Husband No. 1 observed. "Why aren't you showing teeth when you smile?"

    "Do you have any idea what it feels like to scrape your lips over a mouthful of metal?" I snapped, although it probably sounded more like a mumble. "Get used to it."

    He looked a little frightened, but he did offer to go buy me some baby food. I declined, but I do believe food is going to be a major issue in my pursuit of the perfect smile. Not only does it hurt to eat, I'm still trying to find a food that won't get stuck in my braces. I'll spare you the details, but I'm giving up blueberries and spinach.

    I'm supposed to brush my teeth immediately after eating. This means I have to carry a toothbrush and toothpaste along with Alleve, wax, and a pocket mirror to check for stray food. These items, combined with the contacts paraphernalia, are severely straining the space limits of my purse.

    I believe the pocket mirror is going to be an especially important tool, especially with all my metal attracting so much light and so many curious stares. I'll need it to make sure people are gawking at my braces, not debris hanging from them.

    Yesterday I thought I also might need to carry a first-aid kit to treat bleeding gums. Turned out the bright red was only a piece of lobster. This means my purse still has room for any equipment necessary for future pursuits in the name of vanity!

    Sunday, April 3, 2011


    As I was leafing today through one of those freebie please-use-our-hospital newsletters sent out under the guise of genuine interest in my health, I noticed the headline "Eco-exercise."

    Say what??

    According to the article, eco-exercise means that with your physical activity, "you also collect litter you find along the way." Apparently you only need your usual workout clothes, environmental awareness, motivation and "a trash bag (perhaps a biodegradable one)."

    Huh? They want me to exercise with a trash bag? Are you kidding me? I don't even exercise with an i-Pod.

    And won't I also need plastic gloves and one of those litter pick-up pole things if I'm retrieving garbage covered with disgusting substances and germs?

    However, in the interest of saving the planet, I thought I ought to give the "eco-exercise" concept promoted by Eco-Runner Sam Huber more thought. After all, I do take pride in my environmental awareness, occasionally I can muster some motivation and I do own workout clothes.

    But I still find the idea of exercising with a trash bag a little troubling, especially since much of the physical activity in my household involves walking the dog. Visualize this -- Husband No. 1 takes Buddy out for a walk and fills a trash bag with litter along the route. Don't you think people would talk? I imagine someone would say: "What the heck are they feeding that dog? That's an awfully big poop bag for an 18-pound animal."

    Husband No. 1 and I also exercise frequently at our local Planet Fitness. I am NOT going to pick up litter while I'm on the treadmill, elliptical machine or the recumbent bike because, well, they pay people to do that and give them those cute Planet Fitness shirts, too.

    I also do Zumba (think Latin aerobics) for exercise, but there's no trash in the dance studio and even if there were, I wouldn't want to risk clocking one of my classmates with a half-filled trash bag during our Zumba moves.

    Although the article specifically cited eco-runners, that won't work for me because my 2010 goal of running a 5K quickly dissipated when I discovered I HATE running. However, I have a difficult time imagining my friend Janet-the-runner scooping up trash while training for a marathon. While white goes with everything, I don't think a woman who looks fashionable even after she's run 26 miles would be seen carrying a tacky white trash bag. Also, I'm betting that stopping for debris would add considerably to her training time. Not going to happen. Plus, look at the guy in the photo. Does he look like he's having fun?

    I have been considering kayaking to my exercise repertoire but if I have to pick up sodden litter and debris from the waterways, would that be enough extra weight to sink the kayak? Also, experience indicates I'll need both hands and every bit of concentration to keep from tipping over. And if I fail, you better believe that retrieving a trash bag isn't going to be my highest priority (unless it could double as a life preserver).

    When it comes to my exercise activities, that leaves only mountain hiking -- an activity that we flirted with last year and I'm still not sure I really enjoyed. But again, if I have to use every bit of concentration to keep from slipping down a mountain trail or being murdered by a wild animal or psycho killer, I doubt I'll have much time to be on the lookout for litter.

    On the other hand, maybe a partially filled plastic trash bag would make a good weapon to protect myself. Or better yet, it might make a great cushion the next time my butt kisses a mountain. So even if my bottom and dignity take a hit, I still can be proud of my contribution to the environment.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    Happy St. Patrick's Day -- 10 days late

    Did you know that the nation's second-largest St. Patrick's Day parade takes place in Manchester, NH -- and 10 days after most people celebrate the holiday?

    Observing holidays on days other than the actual date is not unusual in our "Live Free or Die" state, where we are practical and frugal to a fault. For example, the Fourth of July fireworks in Portsmouth are on July 3 because it's cheaper. (I cannot explain why trick or treating is the night before Halloween, but I'm sure there's a good reason. However, I'm considering proposing it be moved to the day after -- when the candy is cheaper.)

    Manchester, possibly known more for its French-Canadian culture spawned by the largest ethnic group to work in its mills years ago than for being the center of any Irish universe, discovered it could attract a larger number of traditional Irish entries if it holds its St. Patrick's Day parade more than a weekend after the holiday (and by then everyone has sobered up, too).

    Speaking as a Parade Princess who knows a good parade when she sees one, I can tell you after standing for over two hours in the 36-degree weather (wind chill 18) that New Hampshire's largest city does indeed give a great parade.

    There were 140 units marching along the one-mile route lined with an estimated 70,000 people. The musical entries included 5 bagpipe bands, 2 fife and drum bands, 2 drum and bugle corps and an assortment of other musical groups such as the Amoskeag Strummers Banjo Band and the Sixties Invasion.

    In the less-traditionally-Irish categories were lots of beauty queens, baton twirlers and baton twirlers doing Irish step dancing, the Manch-Vegas Roller Derby team, students from two unicycle schools, a hurling team (their odd-looking sticks indicated they were not connected to a sport that might follow imbibing too many Guinness beers), and reenactors from the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II. (All of which also prompts me to wonder about the kinds of hobbies other people have -- and why mine are so boring in comparison.)

    I was especially fond of this float from Ironworkers Local 7, which was warmly received despite all the anti-union sentiment occurring these days. Notice the green girders -- very festive, don't you think?

    The Christmas parade I organize each December concludes with Santa Claus atop a fire truck. What unit do you think ended a St. Patrick's Parade in Manchester, a community with large populations of French-Canadians, those of Irish descent and one that also noted the celebration of Greek Independence Day in its parade ad?

    The Sons of Italy Drum & Bugle Corps. If I hadn't felt as frozen as a popsicle by then, I think I would have laughed all the way back to the car.

    To guarantee an even larger parade crowd, this year the organizers added the "Shamrock Shuffle" beforehand. Since Husband No. 1 and I arrived at the parade route on the early side after consuming our first French-Canadian breakfast at Chez Vachon (think crepes larger than a plate although we did decide against poutine -- french fries covered with cheese curd topped with spicy chicken gravy -- before noon), we got the opportunity to see the 1,000-plus runners take off from the starting point for the two-mile race and begin returning less than 10 minutes later.

    We were delighted when our friend Janet Parkinson snagged a prize for her (actually our) age group but when we asked why she hadn't donned any St. Pat's attire like many of the runners (green wigs, funny hats, fake beards, etc.), she informed us that serious runners know those things slow them down. Oh.

    That's Janet with me in the photo -- I think you can easily figure out which one of us runs marathons and which one knows how to dress for a parade in New Hampshire in March.

    Actually, it's pretty near April, which seems like a stretch for celebrating St. Patrick's Day, don't you think? Do you believe holidays ought to be celebrated on, well, the actual holiday?

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Spring: Right/Left and Holiday Lights, Too

    According to the calendar, it’s officially spring, although these photos taken today might seem to indicate otherwise. I do hope it was a lovely spring day wherever you are.

    Here in NH, Husband No. 1 observed the new season by attempting to remove some of the Christmas lights from the bushes and trees now that enough snow has melted to extricate some of the extension cords from the ice.

    But as you can see from these photos, we still have far too much of the white stuff on the ground to remove all the strings of lights, thanks to the second-largest snow total in NH history. (If you look carefully, you can see a string still hanging from the branch in the foreground. I'm planning to shape it into an Easter bunny if necessary.)

    Ain’t global warming grand? Experts say climate disruption is sending excess amounts of moisture into the atmosphere (think glaciers melting and water going up into the air just like in those water cycle charts we all had learn in school) and therefore, extreme weather is going to continue.

    And now we’re mixing in some Japanese nuclear radiation, too. Can it get any worse?

    I realize these aren’t very positive, hopeful thoughts in line with a spring-like attitude of reawakening and rebirth and for that I apologize, but I’m writing this from the hospital emergency room where my mother was taken by ambulance after suffering chest pain along with a nasty flu bug, which also has now afflicted my father whose family birthday brunch was canceled today as a result of this lovely virus.

    Fortunately, both are improving and the Code Blue going off elsewhere in the ER appears to be a technical glitch. So there is some good news on this first day of spring.

    In the midst of this medical adventure, I received a call from my brother who was attempting to negotiate my parents’ washing machine and he and my father could not figure out why it wasn’t working after attempting to turn on the cold water going into the appliance. Turns out the wrong faucet handle was used. This surprised my mother, who observed from her hospital bed that, of course, everyone knows which temperature of water comes from the faucet handle on the left and which pours forth when you turn the handle on the right.

    Is that true? Without looking, can you quickly state which one delivers hot water and which one provides cold?

    I admitted that I would have to think about this, prompting my mother to respond that anyone who is observant would know this. She laughed when she said it, so at least I knew she was feeling much better. Nonetheless, as someone whose former profession relied heavily on observation skills, I took offense to this. But then I realized that faucet handles just aren’t important to me. I suppose I either turn both to produce a lovely blend of lukewarm, or maybe I choose hot or cold instinctively.

    Suffice it to say faucet handles are NOT something I spend a great deal of time thinking about, especially when I’m preoccupied by more important subjects – like the rate of snow melt and the shame that comes from still having Christmas lights up in mid-March.

    In the hope of proving I do indeed possess some powers of observation, I will note here that there are an unexpectedly large number of homes in my city that still have Christmas wreaths on their front doors even though the owners would merely have to open said doors to remove the now brown and ugly decorations, not shovel through a snowbank of historic proportions, as most front doors seem to open to the inside. (I have at least observed that.)

    But perhaps my fellow citizens are preoccupied with other things, too. Maybe global warming and radiation drifting over from Japan, for example.

    So, what do you think: does "everyone" automatically know which faucet handle delivers hot water and is it a major faux pas to have your Christmas decorations still on display in spring?

    Inquiring minds want to know. (And I'd rather be thinking about snow melting than nuclear melting, wouldn't you?)

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    Why I Write Mysteries

    When a writer friend recently asked why I write mysteries rather than other types of fiction, I realized for the first time that the reason has more to do with a young murder victim named Deborah Sue Williamson than the fictional girl detective Nancy Drew.

    Like many, my initial encounter with the mystery genre occurred at a young age when I discovered the adventures of Nancy Drew and the thrill of being able to solve challenging puzzles along with her.

    But after carefully contemplating my writer friend's question, I know now that it was my first real murder mystery that had a far greater impact.

    I was a young police beat reporter at a newspaper in Lubbock, Texas, when beautiful blonde newlywed Deborah Sue Williamson was brutally stabbed 17 times on Aug. 24, 1975, and left to die in the carport of her new home. Her husband found her body when he returned from working at the pizza restaurant he managed. Her wedding dress lay on the guestroom bed and her purse was missing, along with their wedding album.

    She was only 18 years old.

    The murder, which remains unsolved today, shocked the West Texas city of 225,000. My editor proclaimed that the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal would carry a front-page story every day until her killer was found. By the time he gave up almost four months later, I knew more about Deborah Sue Williamson than anyone had a right to beyond her immediate family.

    For more than 35 years, her murder has haunted me. When a crazy drifter named Henry Lee Lucas confessed in the 1980s to her slaying and over 500 more – crimes he later recanted – I knew it wasn’t him. Her parents did, too, and even sold their home to finance an investigation to prove it so police would continue looking for the real killer.

    And it is a grave injustice and an unspeakable tragedy that her murderer still walks free today.

    I think about this whenever I write a mystery story or work on my novel. I’ve used pieces of Deborah Sue’s story in my fiction. I imagine the terror she felt and remember how desperate her parents were to see the crime solved, sharing everything possible with the police and a reporter in the hope it would lead to her killer.

    Journalists must steel themselves against emotional involvement in order to try to report the news in an unbiased manner and as a police beat reporter, this was sometimes especially necessary to maintain my sanity because I saw the worst of humanity like law enforcement officers do every day.

    I have been a far too frequent witness, professionally and personally, to the devastating aftermath of crime, including the murders of Deborah Sue and other people dying in horrible ways. These tragedies never leave me. Incorporating them into my writing sometimes makes it easier to try to understand and deal with them.

    Fiction also offers a wonderful opportunity to right great wrongs. There, I can make sure the killer is caught and there is justice for the victim.

    I only wish someone had been able to do the same for Deborah Sue Williamson and her family.

    Sunday, February 27, 2011

    The Art of the Book

    I love books.

    I love to read them, hold them, touch their spines and pages, smell them, admire their covers, collect them, discuss them and even write them. There are hundreds of books already in this house, but I still can't resist adding more or searching for new ones in bookstores.

    I consider myself a true bibliophile and as such, I'm becoming concerned that this whole e-book phenomena means it won't be long before books as most of us know them will be found only in libraries, yard sales and antique shops. Or in expensive homes, all with color-coordinated redone covers, as I read about in a recent New York Times article about using books in decorating.

    But over the weekend, when there was no escaping to fantasy land with two snowstorms barrelling toward NH and a last-minute trip out of town seemed the only way to preserve my sanity, I was delighted to stumble upon a "Temporium" selling handicrafts that included books recycled into new uses and works of art. Even if e-books are taking over the world, it's clear there are those who still appreciate that art can be found in a book in its traditional form.

    Instead of thinking about the craft of writing books, it was fascinating to find books being used in crafts. These purses made from book covers were selling at over $100 each but many female mystery fans would die to own a Nancy Drew handbag like these.
    Another crafter turned book covers into small and large wallets, such as the Robin Hood one to the left.

    There also were garlands made from creative cutouts of book pages. And an artist who appreciated the nuances of the phrases used in the Romance novel genre turned some of them into pins called "Naughty Bits" such as "He Wanted to Punish." (I am reluctant to relate most of the others, but suffice it to say they were titillating enough to make a woman my age blush.)

    But my favorite reuse of books involved the creations of a woman identifying herself as "The Naughty Librarian" who "lives out every librarian's evil fantasy; taking paint, glue and even (gasp) A KNIFE to the precious books."

    Artist and librarian Robn Delaloyle rescues and recycles unwanted books, sculpting them "into beautiful and unusual works of art" such as the three on the shelves to the right (one of which is now on my own bookshelf) and the crazy one below.
    It had never occurred to me that a literary work of art could become a visual one, as well. Can anyone say the same about an e-book?

    To see more examples of the creative recycling of touchable books, visit

    Sunday, February 13, 2011

    Valentine's Day and Chocolate

    Given that Valentine's Day is this week, I've been thinking a lot about chocolate, which in my view has always qualified as a major food group. There's a reason the Aztecs called it the "food of the gods," you know.

    There are estimates that over $1 billion worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine's Day and while 75% of chocolate purchases are made by women during most of the year, in the days and minutes before Valentine's Day, 75% of the chocolate buying is done by men. Yes, chocolate and Valentine's Day have become synonymous for many.

    But I don't mind. Do you?

    I am, however, somewhat discriminating when it comes to this delightful food. I don't like all kinds of chocolate, particularly the cheap varieties as I find them too sweet. I tolerate milk chocolate. And white chocolate isn't really chocolate anyway (according to regulations, chocolate must be comprised of at least 19% cocoa solids).

    These days my favorite chocolates are Frango mints. First created in 1918, they were associated with Chicago's Marshall Fields department stores from 1929 on and for years, were produced in large melting pots on the 13th floor of the Midwestern chain's flagship store. When Macy's consumed Marshall Fields a few years ago, it also became the official distributor of Frangos. But these incredible mints are very difficult to find in New England except at Christmas time and even then, the offerings are scarce or in the case of my local Macy's, non-existent.

    Nonetheless, No. 2 son and I are major fans of these chocolate truffles, which we believe only reach optimum flavor following refrigeration. We rely on the kindness of others to import these delicacies and there are some cooling in my fridge right now that will be judiciously parceled out and individually savored on Valentine's Day and beyond.

    I confess that I am such a chocolate fan that I eat it nearly every day, but usually not in candy. I have a favorite low-cal muffin recipe that allows me to have my chocolate fix with minimum guilt. And when I don't care about calories, I turn to a molten chocolate cake recipe that has become a family favorite. And as my Valentine's Day gift to you, I am repeating both recipes below.

    The healthy low-cal recipe
    Chocolate muffins (makes 18)
    1 box of Devil's food chocolate cake mix (any brand)
    1 can pure pumpkin
    1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 350. Mix ingredients. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake for 18 minutes. Makes 18.

    The definitely not low-cal recipe
    Molten Chocolate Cakes (makes 4 or 8, explanation below)
    4 squares Baker's semi-sweet baking chocolate
    1/2 cup butter
    1 cup powdered sugar
    2 eggs
    2 egg yolks
    6 tablespoons flour
    1/2 cup Cool Whip topping, thawed (optional)

    Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter 4 (3/4 cup) custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on a baking sheet. Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 1 min. or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and egg yolks. Stir in flour. Divide batter between prepared custard cups.
    Bake 13 to 14 min. or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 min. Carefully run small knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto dessert dishes. Top with 1 tbsp. of whipped topping and serve immediately.

    Makes 8 servings (ONLY if you plan to divide the cakes in half, but in my experience no one can eat just half of the cake. Better plan for 4 servings instead). Batter can be made a day ahead. Pour into prepared custard cups, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bake as directed.

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    Cruisin' Back from the Caribbean

    I have just returned from a seven-day cruise in the Caribbean with my best friends from high school and while I do feel bad that at least two feet of snow and ice were dumped on New England in my absence, I feel even worse about returning to the mountains of snow piled so high that they're now towering about four feet above the mailbox and halfway up the house.

    Have I mentioned how much I hate New England in February?

    But lest you fail to have any sympathy for me, I will add here that I suffered more than hangovers from this cruise that had the three of us on a first-name basis with the wine steward and earned us a reputation in the piano bar. Apparently someone was wishing revenge on me because I came home with sun poisoning, as well as a few other unpleasant skin eruptions that I'd like to blame on swimming with the stingrays (except honestly -- they, the shark and piranhas freaked me out too much to spend much time in the water with them).

    In any case, if you think some sun-drenched photos from the Caribbean might cheer you up amid this unpleasant winter weather, or you'd just like to see what I look like after scoring three free pina coladas in Puerto Rico, click on this link: and then click on the first photo to see the album. If you click on "next" at the upper right of the photo, you'll be able to see all of them and their captions. (You don't have to be a Facebook member to view them.)

    I'd like to write more about this great adventure but now I have to go try to treat my physical reaction to cruising -- and it ain't nearly as pretty as these photos!

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Cruisin' toward Cruisin'

    I hate February in New England. And right now, I hate the end of January, too.

    It's bitterly cold, there's so much snow piled up outside that it's nearly reached the bottom of the light pole in the front yard, and the ice is a constant source of treachery. I find myself in despair over winter and without much hope that spring, never mind summer, will ever return to New Hampshire.

    But in less than a week, this melancholy will hopefully be at least briefly interrupted because I will be embarking upon a Carribbean cruise with my two best friends from high school. These are women with whom I have shared many an adventure over the decades so much fun is guaranteed.I am already warning people that I may not return from the islands until June, or perhaps July. I only hope the City of Portsmouth does not mind me telecommuting for a few months.

    When the kernels of this great cruise adventure began, I was quite impressed when the unofficial tour director of our group (the one on the far right) snagged us a seven-day trip aboard a Holland America ship for just $666 each. Who would pass that up?

    But what I didn't figure on was all the cost and effort required in preparation for this one-week vacation.

    First, there was the matter of summer clothing. My two traveling companions currently reside in two very warm Texas cities so they have lots of it. I, of course, live in New England where one rarely needs warm weather attire (see Paragraph 2, grumble, grumble). In addition, my fitness regime has resulted in the discovery that what little summer wear I do possess is now too large. So task No. 1 was finding clothing for this trip. However, in New England we are still buying sweaters, hats and gloves, not cruise wear! That has led to untold hours of shopping on the Internet for bathing suits and other necessary apparel. As Husband No. 1 noted, the UPS trucks have been lining up outside the house for weeks.

    However, as most women are all too aware, clothing worn by a model never looks like it does on a real woman. This has led to numerous trips to return merchandise to the local outlets of the online shopping venues, led by the exchange of bathing suits. (But kudos to JCPenney for offering both the model view of a bathing suit and also a photo of a normal, or even plump, woman wearing that same suit.) I thought about not getting a suit at all, given the reports of nude beaches on some of the islands, but decided that might send me well beyond my comfort zone and the people aboard the cruise ship might find this, ah, unusual. (I'm not sure cruising freestyle means naked). Therefore, my credit card is now so hot that it could melt the three feet of snow outside my window.

    Not only did I need bathing suits and clothing, my sneakers were way too beat up for an excercise class with Holland America and some tropical excursions suggested the need for a raincoat. The credit card continues to smoke.

    And of course, my hair must be in adequate shape to accent my new clothing. And if I'm wearing sandals, I will need a pedicure and must consider other beauty treatments, as well. Cha-ching.

    Because my friends are traveling from Texas, they have no concerns about weather interrupting or delaying their plans. However, as New England is facing down yet another major snowstorm this week, I have taken precautions and scheduled myself to fly into Fort Lauderdale a day before the cruise just in case. Since I am reluctant to spend the night sitting in the airport or waiting with my suitcase at the dock, this also means renting a hotel room for the night. Cha-ching.

    At this point, I believe that one could legitimately conclude that the cruise ship cost is slightly higher than first anticipated. And if I'm going to be visiting places I've never seen before, of course I need to snorkel with the stingrays on the world's third-largest coral reef off the Turk and Caicos Islands and also see volcanic remains by kayak, hiking and snorkeling while in the Virgin Islands. I did save some money when I refused to join my two wild traveling companions on a zip line tour ABOVE the rain forest, but the credit card is still close to melting by now.

    Perhaps I should walk outside with it to see if it helps with clearing the front walkway. Or maybe I should conclude that the damage is now so high that another couple of nights in Fort Lauderdale won't matter.

    I'll get back to you on that -- in about two weeks!

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    Happy New Year (belatedly)

    I may seem a little behind here, but I am still thinking about the New Year and what it might mean for me and everyone else.

    I received one inkling that 2011 might be a bit different when No. 1 son telephoned early on New Year's Eve to announce he would be unavailable for our traditional call just after midnight because he'd be at work, waiting in the shadows, to seize any illegal guns the bad guys might be shooting off to celebrate the new year.

    This news was a bit unnerving on several levels, not the least of which was the realization that he likely would be trying to remove a weapon from a criminal who already had his gun out, loaded and firing. I immediately retreated to the Land of Denial, and said, "OK, thanks for calling and be safe." Then I tried not to think about this news as I returned to my volunteer duties at First Night, which involved checking buttons to make sure no freeloaders attempted to infiltrate the maritime music venue. Buttons vs. illegal guns. Perspective is everything.

    Fortunately, No. 2 son was available and actually answered his cell phone at a party in Philadelphia, so at least there was some tradition left as we entered 2011. And in a far more annoying annual ritual, the amateurs are back at my gym, taking over my favorite exercise machines in their doomed attempts to attain health and fitness. It makes me want to just look them in the eye and say, "You know this won't last, so why not just give it up now -- and give me back my machine?" But I'm just biding my time, secure in the knowledge that all their good intentions will disappear soon and I'll have my routine and a less-crowded gym again.

    But this year I also enjoyed a New Year activity that I wouldn't mind seeing become an annual tradition. I joined six other women last weekend in a fun ritual designed to rid ourselves of negatives from 2010 and replace them with our wishes and hopes for 2011.

    Not only was this a delightful new perspective on New Year's resolutions for me, it was a positive reminder of the power of words. Energized by good food and wine, we each wrote our 2010 negatives on small pieces of colorful paper and then three them into a roaring fire. By writing down these feelings, incidents or names of people --- and then destroying them -- we were able to use words to symbolically bring closure to the past year so we could move freely into the new one. As a writer, I revere words -- and what they can convey, how they are able to inspire us, and the stories they can tell. But I never thought burning them might be an act of hope.

    Next, we listed our wishes and desires for 2011 on lovely notepaper to be carried in "pretty little purses" throughout the year. My colorful Chinese brocade bag now holds 17 wishes for 2011 and yes, "finish my book" is one of them. But I also wrote "live with joy," "imagine the possibilities," and "count my blessings." And I am hopeful that this act of cherishing my 2011 wishes and desires by recording them (and carrying them in a "pretty little purse") will help them come true.

    I did some "Google" searching so I could share a few pithy quotes that were more literary than I am capable of producing about the importance of words in our lives. I liked this one by Charles Capps:

    Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind."

    Do you believe in the power of words? Which ones would be on your list of wishes for 2011? Do you believe that writing them down can help them become reality?

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    Of things medical....

    I think it's entirely possible that there are red warning notes attached to my files in offices throughout the area to alert medical professionals that they are dealing with a difficult patient.

    Consider my dentist's office, which I diligently visit twice annually for a dental cleaning, as does the rest of my family. And nearly every time, the hygienist advises it's time for my annual X-rays and I remind her that I will be declining her lovely offer due to my concern over radiation. I then suggest that perhaps she should repeat her request to me and my children next year, in two years, or maybe not ever again.

    This never goes over well with the perky dental hygienists. But my radiation fears are well-known (weren't the Russians going to kill us with it?) to those who made fun of me during all the years I refused to have a microwave oven in my house or to use a cell phone -- although in the interest of full disclosure, I will confess to having eventually surrendered to the convenience of both.

    But not to to the annual dental X-rays. I mean, think about it: If the dentist sees a cavity developing via these X-rays, nothing can be done about it anyway until the cavity comes to the surface so it can be filled, right? I have no intention of absorbing extra radiation just to give the dentist an early warning system -- and a few extra bucks in his or her bank account. As you might imagine, this attitude is not warmly embraced at my dental office.

    But I was vindicated last week when I heard the former president of the American Cancer Society say on the Dr. Oz show that she won't have dental X-rays either because of radiation concerns.

    She made the comment in the context of a piece on the burgeoning rate of thyroid cancer in this country -- and the fact that 75 percent of the cases involve women. And what is a cause of thyroid cancer? Too much radiation.

    Although the medical professionals on the program were reluctant to point a finger at any one source, it's pretty easy to figure out where women receive more radiation then men --mammograms. The doctors weren't telling women not to get mammograms, noting their ability to reveal cancer, but they did observe that radiation into the breast "scatters" -- as it does from dental X-rays -- into other parts of the body. They recommended requesting lead aprons that include a piece to cover the thyroid any time you undergo any type of X-ray. That seems reasonable, especially if you enjoy getting those dental bite-wing X-rays every year.

    Another place where my medical file has a warning label is the eye doctor's office, the target of numerous telephone calls and visits in my recent quest to replace my glasses with contacts. The adventure continues. A few weeks ago I lost a contact at work so I had to sheepishly call to ask that it be reordered (the eye doctor's office is now on speed dial and I see more of the folks who work there than my children). The lens was on back order so for the following week I returned to my glasses, which did not seem to be working as well as before. In fact, some days I could see better without them.

    Five days after I lost the lens, I rubbed my eye during a musical performance at the local theater. You guessed it -- out came the missing contact. I couldn't stop laughing because I was positive I had taken another contact out of that same eye five days earlier. This meant either I had put two contacts in one eye at the same time OR removed one from my right eye and didn't realize it was still on my finger while I removed the one from my left eye, causing me to leave the right eye contact behind. This also explained why my glasses didn't seem to be working like they should.

    At my next visit to the eye doctor, I could see that his eyebrows were inching progressivley higher as he read the many notes in my chart recorded by his friendly staff after each of my calls. When I told him about the double-contacts experience, he calmly replied that this process takes time for adjustment.

    "But how do you adjust for operator error?" I asked. He laughed, then assured me that the record was held by a guy who put three contacts, each on top of the other, in the same eye. I think he might have been lying but it did make me feel better.

    And, as far as I can tell, there was no radiation involved, either.