“2018”: How are we saying this?

It’s been more than eighteen years since the year 2000 hit and we all started writing really wrong dates on our checks. I think I’ve waited long enough to ask the question we’ve been anxiously asking ourselves for nearly two decades. (And, by the way, how has it been nearly two decades since Y2K? That seems to be the really frightening question.)

So, tell me, do you call this year “two thousand eighteen” or do you say “twenty eighteen”? Or are you drunk or high and don’t know what year it is? (Okay, that last question is really off the subject. Let’s act like I didn’t ask that one.)

I find that I’ve been using the “two thousand” version of the year when I speak. In fact, most people I’ve heard say the year out loud have been saying it that way. A few folks say “twenty eighteen,” and frankly, they still throw me off when they do it. For a nanosecond I have to see the “2018” in my mind and realize they’re talking about the year we’re in. It happens seldom enough to feel jarring, even now.

Strangely enough, most of the times I hear “twenty eighteen” are on car commercials. So, someone’s selling a “twenty eighteen Kia Soul” or is begging me to come on in to get a trade-in for a “twenty eighteen Ford F-150 pickup truck.” (For what it’s worth, I’m not interested in a pickup truck, but thanks for asking.)

Now that this new millennium is old enough to vote, let’s ask the question we’re all dying to ask: do you prefer “twenty eighteen” or “two thousand eighteen” when you speak?

Also, was it a conscious decision or did it just happen organically?

Also also, do you think you’re going to change your mind?

Also also also, this is about as controversial as I get. Try to rein in your excitement.

All hail, King Arthur!

Okay, so, right up front, I have to repent of my “Granny to a Weasel” bit in the previous post. Turns out that, a week ago, I became granny to a li’l string bean, NOT a weasel.

And he’s perfection in the flesh. He’s the most awesome human being in the entire history of human beings. This isn’t bias or opinion. It’s scientific fact.

Yes, watch out, world. I’m now a grandmother. Let the ridiculously obnoxious string of photos commence (and continue for the next several decades).

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Meet Arthur. Or, as I will henceforth be calling him, King Arthur. (He’s already ruling over the entire extended family on all sides. Might as well claim the title, too.)

I’m supposed to be writing right now. I’m also supposed to be proofreading. And let’s not forget that I’m behind on laundry and housework and there’s not enough food in the house. Forgive me. I keep scrolling through photos and sighing like a fool in love.

Because, well, I am.

I’m going to have to keep this post short. I gotta go grab a hanky and cry some more. Because apparently that’s part of my job description now, too.

And I’m okay with that.

Granny to a Weasel

If you’ve endured any amount of time around me, you know I’ve whined about wanting grandchildren for the past few years. Between us, Wayne and I have six grown kids. Three of them are married. You do the math. (It involves multiplying, of course.)

I was starting to wonder how many more of our kids we’d have to marry off before we started to see grandchildren. I mean, honestly, kids, what’s your rush? You’re only in your thirties! By the time I was your age, I was wrapping up the whole childbearing-years thing … and I had four of you by then! FOUR.

Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Who does a gal have to sleep with around here to get herself some grandchildren? (That was rhetorical. I know exactly who I had to sleep with to get myself some grandchildren.)

Okay, for now I’ll stop whining. Because this is all going in the book and I don’t want to spoil it too much. I’ll save the spoiling for the grandchild.

Yes, in a few weeks, dear reader, I’m going to be a grandma! My son and his wife are expecting, and she’s positively glowing. (And we’re the ones who live near the nuclear power plant, go figure.) I haven’t noticed if my son’s glowing or not. He’s a bit of an introvert and sometimes I’ve gone years without noticing him. Just ask him.

I think about my impending grandmahood all the time now. As for my beautiful grandchild’s parents, I’m trying to stay out of their way and not hover (and it helps that they live about fifty miles away), but boy, do I want to hover. I’m coining the phrase “helicopter grandma” now, before the baby’s even here. Because clearly it’s all about me.

My son sends me a text every week: a picture from some app that tells them what size their little offspring is this week, compared to some other animal. This week Li’l B’s the size of a Pomeranian. (Probably without the fur.) Last week I got a comparison picture of a skunk.

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Before that, a chihuahua. Before that, a ferret.

Most of these were cute and funny. Around the middle of the pregnancy, though, they were just weird. The naked-tailed armadillo was a particularly troubling choice at the end of April.

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Not to mention the slow loris in mid-March or the least weasel. (What the heck is a “least weasel”? I suppose it’s a compliment to say, “You’re the least weasel you can be.”)

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Naturally, I found guinea pig week (in mid-February) kinda cute. Of all the animal pictures, this was the only animal that was eating something. Clearly the artist has owned guinea pigs.

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There were never any squirrels, though, which was a little disappointing.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the book.

It didn’t take long after hearing about the pregnancy last November for me to develop the urge to push. No, I don’t mean THAT. I mean, to push my opinions and wisdom on this poor kid. So, I started taking notes. Keeping a journal. Stuff like that. And what do writers do with a whole bunch of words when they think they’ve got ’em in the right order? They publish ’em.

So, sometime toward the end of this year, be on the lookout for my book of grandmotherly wisdom for this first grandchild (and any subsequent grandchildren we have … I HOPE YOU OTHER KIDS ARE LISTENING! Tick-tock, tick-tock). I’m fiddling with titles, and I already have my cartoonist, Mike Ferrin, on board for the cover art. The tentative working title right now is something like: Dress in Layers at the Casino … and Other Wisdom for My Grandchildren.

Because I’m nothing but classy all the time.

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(photo: Slot Machine Queen, from Photobucket [@SatuS_albumi]

Eclectic (read: weird) Reading Tastes

Whenever I publish a new blog post, I spend inordinate amounts of time clicking back on the post, just to make sure nothing exploded, or to make sure I didn’t misspell the word “public” without the “l.” (Note to everyone: Never misspell “public.” Your spell-checker won’t catch it, and you will never live it down.)

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So naturally, this morning I clicked onto my own site yet again and glanced at it yet again. Then I saw it: my “Currently Reading” section on the right-hand side of the screen. What kind of freak reads Lake of Destiny, The Last Word, Not That I Could Tell, and Haunted at the same time? (Oh, and toss in Daily Rituals since I just started that one too.)

That’s largely a rhetorical question. Obviously I am that kind of freak.

Then I felt defensive that I had just called myself a freak, and my first thought was that I really oughtta cuff myself upside the head for calling myself a name. (Clearly people who work alone from home for too long must miss workplace bullying and start making up their own versions to compensate.)

But I got over the urge to beat myself up for calling myself names, and instead I made a trip to Home Depot to buy lumber and a nail gun to build myself a cry closet. Wayne won’t notice if I put it in the middle of his home office since nobody can see half the room anymore due to the boxes of ancient tech gadgets he never unpacked when we moved in … in 2012.

Anyway, one or two back-and-forth motions with a handsaw and I gave up on the cry closet (because the project itself was making me cry and because I already cry every time I go in that office) and sat down to take a coffee break. While I was sitting in the middle of the stuff I’d just bought, wondering how long it would take Wayne to notice large pieces of wood behind his desk chair, it dawned on me that I wasn’t really a freak after all.

No! In fact, I was a genius! I never read those sorts of books literally at the same time. I read them concurrently but not simultaneously. Well, okay, I just checked in the dictionary and it uses each of these terms to define the other, so maybe I’m not the wordsmith I thought I was. Anyway, my point is that I never quite know what mood I’ll be in when I read each day. Sometimes a fun Spellman novel is the right choice. Other days I want the creepy Palahniuk story. Still other nights, a love story set in the Scottish Highlands is the way to go. Or, that Strawser story that’s firing on all cylinders for me.

So, really, instead of being freaky for reading such disparate stories simulcurrently (ha ha, dictionary! I win!)… I’m brilliant for always having the right story to match my mood.

Do you do this? Do you juggle a Currently Reading pile of different genres? Are we all freaks, or are we all brilliant? Feel free to confess here. Besides, I really need the personal validation.

Unpacking and Repacking

legs-window-car-dirt-road-51397.jpegIn late March, I stayed overnight in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, so I could meet-and-greet “Weird Al” Yankovic at his concert appearance there. I packed a quick overnight bag, and off I went.

A week and a half later, I packed a larger suitcase to attend the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. That trip included a cooler full of snacks and a messenger bag full of tech gadgets, cords, cables, books, medications, toiletries, and supplements—everything I’d need for four nights away from home.

A week after getting home from that trip, I’m now repacking that suitcase and messenger bag for yet another jaunt, this time to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for two days of publication board meetings. Tomorrow I’ll replenish the meds and the shampoos, put the newly washed clothes back into the suitcase, and download all the new maps to my phone.

After this trip, I get to stay home for about two months, till late June, when I’ll head off to Grove City, Pennsylvania, for the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference.

Frankly, I don’t know how some people travel for a living. Sure, I love each little jaunt for its own sake, but I really don’t like when they start ganging up on me like this. I prefer long stretches of time at home (and long walks on the beach… no, wait, that’s from somebody’s Tinder profile)… so I can concentrate on a book project or consider long-term goals like mopping the kitchen floor. (That sort of goal requires too much brain space to be accomplished in the short time in between road trips. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

In the two-month gap between Michigan and Grove City, I hope to birth two novels that have been teetering on the edge of publication for far too long. Let’s just hope no more urgent trips spring up in that gap… because I’m liable to curl up in a fetal position and weep uncontrollably. And I really hate when I do that. It’s awkward.

Although every road trip has its marvelous moments, I’ll be glad when they’re over for a while. I’ll leave the globetrotting and the gallivanting and the meandering to those of you who enjoy it a lot more than I do. Or who get paid to do it. I’d totally enjoy lots of road trips if I got paid to take them.

As I pack yet again and decide which color Converse All-Stars are going with me on this trip, my inner homebody sighs and anticipates pulling back into the driveway for the last time this year. Till then: Have GPS, will travel. Won’t always like it, but will travel.

Already I’m Confused

I bought a money belt for the big train trip in May. I’m not sure if I already feel safer, or if I’m going to end up in a seedy hostel in California, bleeding in a bathtub with my pancreas harvested for money. (Joke’s on them, though. I’m diabetic. You couldn’t give my pancreas away on Craigslist, even if you tacked on a free Hatchimal.)

The money belt itself is fine, but it came with a little flyer labeled “Useful Travel Safety Tips.” I’m eager to read anything that even tangentially relates to this trip, so I sat down to read through their list of 50 helpful (and not-so-helpful) tips. I’ll elaborate more on these in an early chapter of the book, but here’s a glimpse for the voyeuristic among you:

“If possible, take a self-defense class.”

Great. This hadn’t even occurred to me. Do fistfights routinely break out on Amtrak trains? There’ll be a fight over the good seats in the observation car somewhere around Colorado, won’t there?

“Bring a portable door or window alarm.”

The first time I read that, I saw “Bring a portable door” and panicked that the trains might not have doors. Still, even with the rest of the sentence factored in, I find this suggestion a little disturbing.

“Be on the lookout for anybody who is offering to help you with your bags at a train or bus station.”

Because it would be horrible if a Red Cap actually HELPED me lug that suitcase up to my Roomette! The horrors!

These next four really are back to back on the flyer:

“Trust your instincts and use your intuition and gut feeling when dealing with strangers.”

“Make a local friend.”

“Try to dress like a local.”

“In some places, it helps wearing a fake wedding ring.”

I don’t even know where to start with these four. All I know is that, by the time I finished reading #7, I had so many questions that I was weeping uncontrollably.

  • What if my gut instincts tell me NOT to make a local friend?
  • To dress like a local in Los Angeles, do I have to wear an Ed Hardy shirt and Birkenstocks and grow a hipster beard?
  • Why can’t I just wear my real wedding ring? After all, it looks fake in the right lighting…

“If you get lost, do not look at your phone or a map in the middle of the street.”

… because you’ll get hit by a car. Duh.

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There are 42 more of these gems in this flyer. After reading all these, I may not be able to work up the courage to get to the station, let alone get on the train.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

This entry originally appeared last week on the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference blog here:

St. Davids Writers blog – My Post

But it will remain relevant for at least the next 43 days or so…

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So, I’m sitting in our old, drafty Victorian house, reminding myself that, during the spring and fall, it’s a lovely place to be – not too hot, not too cold, gentle breezes blowing…

But this is January, one of the coldest ones on record here in Western Pennsylvania, and half of the fifty-three windows in our house are missing the outside storm window. The twelve-foot ceilings look stunning on warmer days, but today they’re just taunting me. I know all the heat we’re paying for is hovering somewhere up around that twelve-foot-high mark instead of down here near my five-foot-high head.

I have proofreading to do. I have student papers to grade. I’m behind on my reading. And, I really should be writing.

But all of those activities involve sitting still in the house at these ridiculous “polar vortex” temperatures. That means three or four layers of fleece clothing, two pairs of socks, warm slippers, fingerless gloves (though I may switch to gloves with fingers or mittens if it gets much colder in here), and a space heater under my desk.  And don’t forget the lap blanket.

When I start to see my breath around the computer monitor, I get up and jog downstairs for another hot cup of coffee.  I sail right past the thermostat. I don’t want to see how warm it isn’t in our house. But, if things don’t improve, I may have to use the hot coffee to thaw out my toes. Can you get frostbite inside your own house?

Several Facebook friends keep posting how many days it is until spring … every day. Instead of being an encouragement to my soul, I find it a mocking, deliberate attempt to make me regret buying this house.

And then this morning, I wake to find my husband downstairs with every light in the house on. He’s traipsing up and down the cellar steps with a flashlight, and he’s got out the manual for the thermostat he hurriedly put in last year when the other one went kaput. With temperatures outside hovering around -5 degrees Fahrenheit, I don’t want to hear him say he has to replace the thermostat again. I brace myself for that hot-coffee bath I may have to take today. I put the phone number for the local burn unit near the phone.

He tells me that he missed a setting for two-stage heating when installing the thermostat last year. This house has two (count ‘em, two!) furnaces, and we had assumed that they just weren’t efficient enough to keep up with this cold snap. But no, what has really been happening is that one poor furnace has been on for days at a time with no let-up, because the thermostat was never telling it to use the second furnace when it needed to.

And let me tell you, it needed to.

So now, with the weather forecast now set to hit 41 degrees in the next few days, and with a touch of the thermostat’s touchscreen, we are finally warming up in here. I may be able to sit at my desk and write today without having to worry about my fingertips freezing to the pen like that kid’s tongue to that pole in A Christmas Story. That novel may inch closer to “The End” today after all.

Kinda makes you feel all warm and toasty inside, doesn’t it?

Figuratively speaking, I mean…
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