Monday, December 27, 2010

Old Dogs, New Chicks

While working on my latest article for the magazine Caribbean Belle, titled "Old Dogs, New Tricks? The Art of Aging Creatively.", I found myself in search of  inspirational accomplishments by people generally considered to be past their prime.  As I added athletes, musicians and artists to my list, a friend asked, "How about Hugh Hefner?" The pajama-clad mogul's business savvy and apparent staying power aside, I laughed off the suggestion and decided not to go down that particular bunny trail.

A few days after I had finished and submitted my article, I fired up my computer, navigated to my home page, and found among Optimum Online's newsworthy items a beaming Hugh Hefner alongside a (surprise!) beautiful young blond. "Playboy's Hefner gets engaged to a Playmate again" headlined the Associated Press blurb. In a Twitter message the day after Christmas, he said that he had given a ring to girlfriend and Playmate Crystal Harris and that she had burst into tears. "This is the happiest Christmas weekend in memory," he wrote. Now if  he could only remember what he did with the last Playmate.

Largely regarded as the father of the sexual revolution, Hefner founded Playboy magazine in 1953 and over the course of the following half century built an empire with one of the most recognizable brands in history. He championed the "Good Life" and outlined his philosophy in an editorial of the first issue of Playboy.

"We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d'oeurve or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex... If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion from the anxieties of the Atomic Age, we'll feel we've justified our existence."

Bring on the nuclear warheads, Hugh.

As the Internet blogs and tweets its disapproval of the May-December liaison, the 24 year old Harris has no problem with the disparity in their ages. "A lot of people talk about the age difference between Hef and I, but I don't see the age difference at all. If anything, I feel like I'm the adult and Hef's the kid," she said.

She'll get no argument from me on that one, but I would advise her to supervise his play dates and keep a close eye on his BB gun.

Up until about a month ago, Hefner had been dating twins Karissa and Kristina Shannon at the same time as his involvement with Harris. In an interview with Fox News, he described monogamy as "something that has been invented along the way to take care of children." Whether he recognizes his own need for daycare or he is simply a hopeless romantic underneath the bathrobe, "Hef" is offering an ironic stamp of approval to the institution of marriage for the third time. May I offer my sincere wish that this will indeed be the charm and that the happy couple will enjoy many loving years together. However, should paradise find itself in trouble, I'd like to direct Mr. Hefner's eye to the available leggy blond in the photo above.

Photo- "Is that a biscuit or are you just glad to see me?" Gracie lives out her boudoir fantasy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dream On

In a recent installment of "Green Monkey Tales", my friend and fellow blogger Shannon Kennedy laments her loss of the "Past Love Story" writing contest. Disappointment and denial of recognition have delivered a powerful blow; go to self-doubt, go directly to self-doubt. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.00.

 Grantland Rice, the great sportswriter once said, 'It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.' Well Grantland Rice can go to hell as far as I'm concerned.
-Gene Autry

I'm with the Singing Cowboy on this one. Losing didn't launch his career, keep him on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, or pen "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Yep, pardner, it's fun to win and it sure as shootin' pays more.

Contests are a double-edged sword; preparation and practice can lead to the exhilaration of victory or the embarrassment of holding an empty bag. Unfortunately there are a lot of empty bags out there. I'm pleased to report that by the end of her post, Shannon had come to terms with her defeat and decided that it wouldn't stop her from writing. Here's to looking at that bag as half full.

As competitive as I am, I'm not a great competitor. I can be totally undone by nerves and I'm not terribly receptive to criticism. My mother used to tell me, "You're thin-skinned, just like your grandmother." Apparently, "Ma'am" used to talk through television shows while remaining quiet during the commercials. No matter how gentle the reprimand, her beautiful blue eyes would fill with tears and she would clam up for hours. I guess you could say she was "Good to the Last Drop."

Genetic hyper-sensitivity coursing through my veins, I search for signs of validation as I now stand on the far side of the half century mark. Music and art have remained a constant thread throughout much of my life, though I haven't pushed either pursuit to its limit. Little victories aside, I, like Ralph Kramden,  have yet to "hit the high note". But I'm not dead yet and I'd like to think that the drill team competition I won in high school was not the apex of my creative accomplishments. Outside of reality TV, you can only go so far with white boots and a pair of pom-poms. Now there's a thought...

So while I prepare to take on the Kardashians as a banjo picking, dog loving, pom-pom waving mid life maniac, I'll keep reaching for the ring, brass or otherwise.

I know that Shannon will do the same.

Shannon Kennedy is the colorful force behind "Green Monkey Tales". Her writing is exuberant, poignant and hopeful. Please visit http://greenmonkeytales.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dear John

Your daughter Jenny called me yesterday. Memories and anticipation rode shotgun as she drove to the airport a day earlier than planned. After nearly two weeks in the hospital, the doctors are sending you home to end your eight year battle with Alzheimer's. In the arms of a remarkable and loving family, you are quietly slipping away as you say goodbye. I am brought to tears.

Imposing and brusque, you scared the hell out of me as a kid. Your wife Donna once described you as "a complicated man."; I accepted that explanation and played by its rules. Your opinions were iron-clad and your respect was hard won. You weren't easy.

I grew up alongside Jenny and, over time, became a member of your extended family. During your oldest daughter Holly's graduation party in the backyard, a contingency of underaged revelers sampled some Sloe Gin on the front porch. Bounding down the steps to dispose of the evidence, I found myself locked in combat with the fire of your steel blue eyes.  I don't remember the exchange of words as you took the bottle out of my hands; for that matter, I don't recall any major repercussions resulting from our antics. I do remember, however, looking for toilet paper in your bathroom many years later. As I searched through the cabinet under the sink, I found the empty bottle of Sloe Gin. Why you kept it, I'll never know, but I felt an odd sense of honor wash over me that day.

You walked your daughter Holly down a lovely makeshift aisle as she was married in your backyard. The spirit and warmth of that day so impressed me that I could think of no other place to have my own wedding. My own parents were surprised and somewhat concerned by my decision and didn't know you all that well at the time. Who in their right mind would want to host someone else's daughter's wedding? What will our friends think? Well, their friends wound up having such a wonderful time that they asked my folks if they had another daughter to marry off the next weekend. Your hard work and generosity resulted in one hell of a party and the beginning of a wonderful relationship with my parents. They loved you and made several trips to visit you when you moved south of Pittsburgh, to your beautiful "Booth Hill" in 1991. I have heard many fond recountings and will always be grateful that they were treated to the luxury of your friendship.

A farmer at heart, you approached life with a no-nonsense attitude. After giving many years of compassionate and intelligent service to the Pennsylvania State Game Commission, the farmboy from Mansfield, Pennsylvania has come full circle. "Booth Hill" fits you like a glove; you've taken good care of each other. I carry with me the memories of my own visits and a lifetime of love from you and Donna.

I texted Jenny today, asking for an update on your condition. She answered, "I am not gonna lie...this is rough, but there is a strange beauty to it..." Less than a year after my own father's death, it is not surprising that I should remember the nights I spent by his bed, with Gracie asleep at my feet. I watched as he stirred and sputtered in his sleep, his hands at times reaching in the air to capture morphine-induced hallucinations. There was a great deal of sadness among the suspense, yet I felt a singular sense of purpose and peace. All I had to do was be by my father's side; nothing else mattered. Nothing else was needed.

You are now surrounded by your family as they do their best to let you go. You won't be forgotten; your hand has touched them in ways that they have only begun to know. If there is an afterlife, I'd like to imagine it as a large sun-drenched porch complete with bottomless glasses of mint-laced iced tea. You are needling my mother as she bursts into one of her trademark giggles; my father and you enter into a lengthy mechanical conversation about tractors. Please tell them that I said hello and that I love them.

Thanks,
Joan

Photo:  John Booth  at "Booth Hill". Unidentified cat and  faithful pickup "Roger" are in the background.

John Ainsworth Booth, September 1, 1929 - September 1, 2010.
    

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Better Late Than Never

I had every intention of publishing this post on July 25, the day my mother would have turned 86. Unable to pull it together in time, I came to the realization that a delayed posting was, in fact, the perfect tribute. My mother was always late.

She never caught the beginning of a movie. Accustomed to the out-of- breath whirlwind digging through her purse for money, the ticket vendor always allowed her to come back to watch the start of the next showing.

Dinner at 5:30 was out of the question, and the plates reached the table later with each passing year. While a moonlit meal in Paris brings to romance to mind, the same scenario in Trucksville, Pennsylvania brought only an empty stomach and gas pains. We knew she meant well and did our best to enjoy leathery steak sentenced to death by one of her many distractions. I often tried to rescue the meat while Mom bustled about the kitchen; my efforts were at best 50/50  as she chastised me for being impatient. So much for my career as an EMT.

The concept of an early start was elusive and seldom realized. A trip to the mall never began any earlier than 1:00 and ended with her Chevy Caprice flying up the hill  just in time to be late for dinner. "There's Dan Gurney," my father would say, making reference to the famous Formula One driver. "Do you know that she can back out of a driveway faster than most people pull in?"

Though governed by a skewed time zone, she managed our lives and schedules and was a loving hands-on mom. I may have gotten my behind into the dentist chair nanoseconds before the Novocaine hit, but I got there. She had all the time in the world while I agonized over the latest fashions in a fitting room. I didn't return the favor, fidgeting and whining before she could get one finger in a glove. She chauffeured my friends and I to the mall, where we would go our separate ways after determining when and where we would later meet. Manning our post well past the appointed time, we would eventually hear the screech of heel clatter as a five foot two inch bullet barrelled towards us like a bat out of hell.

While I can't lay claim to my mother's good nature and sweet disposition, genetics' sense of humor has kept this apple pretty close to the tree. I carry on my mother's tradition of dysfunctional time management while making a mad dash for the finish line. She recognized my gift and often told me, "You'll be late for your own funeral." God, I hope so.

Happy Birthday, Mom.


Photo- Rosemary Devine Harrison and unidentified beau.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Out Standing In My Field

Okay, so it's not my field. But it is a field, and a mighty big one at that. Packed to the tree lines with pickers, grinners and listeners, the Walsh farm in Oak Hill, New York becomes the home of the Greyfox Bluegrass Festival every third weekend in July. Named the International Bluegrass Music Association's Bluegrass Event of the year in 2009, Greyfox has assembled the finest talent and steadfast fans for over thirty years. Neither rain nor sleet ( hmmm...) nor gloom of night keeps the legions of devotees from lining up in anticipation of the opening of the Greyfox gates. While at its former location in Ancramdale, New York ( the festival moved in 2008 to Oak Hill ), a pre-festival tradition of camping  at the bottom of the hill began in order to secure prime camping real estate. Dubbed "The Foxhole", it is now held about 4 miles from the current festival site on the Allan farm. Bluegrass enthusiasts Elsie and Jim Allan welcome the not yet tired and weary as they pick and party their way through the week before the actual event. "Gumbo Night" serves up a grand finale to the Foxhole and the masses move on to the "Really Big Shoe".

Born in 1976 and christened the Berkshire Mountains Bluegrass Festival, the gathering was eventually named "Winterhawk" and spent its first 30 years in Ancramdale, NY on a beautiful sunset-blessed hillside belonging to the Rothvoss family. Ten years ago, Winterhawk became Grey Fox when one of the founding partners decided to part ways with the administration.  In January 2008, the Rothvoss farm was sold and an intense search ended at the Walsh farm in time for that year's festival. Renamed and relocated, the spirit of Grey Fox lives on and flourishes as more fans discover its magic.

I first experienced Winterhawk in the mid-eighties as a fledgling banjo player. Lacking the confidence to insert myself into a jam, I stood on the sidelines and watched as musicians traded solos and sang in harmony. While I may have been under equipped to join in the music making at the campsites, I was able to bask in the talent flowing from the main stage. The best of the best in bluegrass took to the floorboards year after year, from the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe to the progressive heat of the powerhouse New Grass Revival. Doc Watson's brilliant guitar stylings were served with the warmth and humor of his front porch demeanor. A young Alison Krauss celebrated a birthday during a set, going on to win 27 Grammys during the course of a career that continues to spread the bluegrass word. In 1989, I watched as Pete Wernick of Hot Rize took the stage after surviving the crash of United Airlines flight 232 in an Iowa corn field. There are eight million stories in the Naked Bluegrass City; this has been one of them.

Twenty years later, I'm setting up a tent on a patch of grass thoughtfully reserved for me by my friends. It's hot. Sweat pours from my face as I put together the poles and bid farewell to my vanity. My hair will be flat, my feet will be dirty and my hygienic routine will be compromised. I could very easily forgo camping these days- my home is situated on a wooded lot and offers daily access to Mother Nature and her wonders. As I question the sanity of signing up for three days of blistering sun and steaming Porta-potties, I hear the answer.

A novice fiddler practices intently alongside her parents' camper, while a spirited jam session kicks up a few sites away. Young, dreadlocked, and decidedly bohemian, the folks on the other side of our temporary road pay homage to Jerry Garcia. A cluster of old timers play it like Jimmy Martin; a young man on jazz keyboards plays it nothing like Jimmy. Music. It's all here and it's all good.

We arrive with our instruments and our arsenals of material in hopes of sharing our musical thoughts and enthusiasm with fellow pickers. Although the main stage line-up is top notch, I am drawn to Grey Fox by the promise of finding that special jam session, that moment where it all comes together. Even if it never happens or if I come up against material I don't know or can't execute, I pack up my shortcomings and head home to prepare for the next festival. Move 'em out, Rawhide!

Music as an art form is organic and ever changing.  Bluegrass traditions are preserved while new ideas emerge and evolve. Having spent his lifetime pioneering and creating the "high lonesome sound", Bill Monroe considered himself the father and caretaker of bluegrass. When a new band didn't perform to his standards, he would say, "That ain't no part of nothing." With all due respect, I disagree. It's all part of something; something which draws thousands of people to festivals across the country. We step out of our lives, into our cars and campers, and settle down in the middle of  a musical encampment that will disappear in a few days. It is our Brigadoon, if you will, but we don't have to wait a hundred years for the gates to open again. See you next year.


Photo by Dan Tressler. Thanks, shmerrr.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Walk On

I let my feelings get the best of me today, which in turn brought out the worst in me. Mindless chore completion and a trip to the gym did nothing to soothe the savage beast. Nonsense spewed from her foaming mouth and when it became clear that she would remain until day's end, I decided it might be prudent to leave her to her own devices. Why not take a walk? Why, it's right up there with the daily apple or prune juice to combat attitude malaise. Add a dog to the prescription and you're on the road to recovery.

I packed up the canine and drove to Poughkeepsie. Hardly the Disneyland of the northeast, it does boast of a marvelous new attraction- the Walkway Over the Hudson. The longest pedestrian bridge in the world, its 1.28 mile span offers unobstructed views of the river set to the heartbeat of scores of walkers, joggers and cyclists. From the moment our feet and paws hit the pavement, I could feel my inner monster loosen her grasp. Just what the witch doctor ordered.

Walking with Gracie makes me laugh. She is a fur-covered dose of Prosac without the side effects. Her goofy grin set to full power, she scores head pats, butt rubs, and at the very least, charmed smiles from our fellow walkers. A party waiting to happen, she issues countless invitations to her festivities and receives few refusals. Her guest list grows exponentially as I follow in her four footsteps. "It's okay-I'm with the dog."

The realization of 20 years of reclamation efforts, the Walkway Over the Hudson is the rebirth of an abandoned railroad bridge damaged by fire on May 8, 1974. Failed attempts to save it led to popular opinion that it would eventually be torn down. Bill Sepe, a local handyman obsessed with the idea of a pedestrian walkway, formed Walkway Over the Hudson in 1992. While his original plan to restore the bridge with volunteer labor and funds didn't work, the organization took over ownership of the bridge in 1998. In 2004, a new board with a greater vision was in place, and in 2007 joined forces with the Dyson Foundation to raise the necessary funds. The project took 16 months and $38.8 million dollars to complete. Managed by the state as an historic park, the handyman's obsession stands as a glorious tribute to the tenacity of its supporters.

In our precarious economic times, even the most successful projects face the pressures of downsizing. New York State is considering the closing of 41 state parks and 14 historic sites, and the Walkway may feel the sting of that decision. A charge for parking may be in place by summer and the winter may find the Walkway closed on certain days. One trip across this masterpiece will prove that these problems are well worth tackling.

As we finished our stroll, I realized I no longer carried the weight of my miserable mood. Unable to stand the euphoria brought on by clear air and spectacular views, she must have hurled herself into the river. A glass of Cabernet and a salad at one of my local haunts would keep her there.

Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz", I had found what I needed in my own backyard, or more specifically, in Gracie. Sweet and short-sighted, she offers immediate relief to anxiety and access to the simplest of pleasures. When in doubt, listen to the dog.

For more information on the Walkway Over the Hudson, visit www.walkway.org.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Please Don't Eat the Daisies

I sat in my father's kitchen and stared at the wallpaper. Daisies. Crazy daisies. Avocado and harvest gold crazy daisies. Elvis may have left the building, but the building never left the seventies.

Classic fodder for an HGTV episode of "House Hunters", I hear the paper-hating moans of prospective buyers. Were it another house on another show, I'd be right there with them. I found my present home nestled in a time warp and diligently brought it up to date, unencumbered by the memories of former owners. The family manse, however, is another matter. While I question how much work I want to do to stage the home for sale, I wonder if I'd rather keep the museum intact as long as I can. I have the luxury of visiting with these artifacts and listening to their stories. Call me crazy, but those daisies sure can talk.

They remind me of the Tuesday night I stood in the kitchen with my Mom as we finished doing the dishes. "Marcus Welby, M.D." was on TV ( The television is also still in the house and would willingly corroborate the daisies' story.) and I noticed the ceiling light flicker. "Mom! It's a bat!" She channelled her inner shortstop and snagged the creature with her dishtowel. It lay in a ball on the floor and Mom grabbed its edges and ran through the living room. She threw open the front door, snapped the towel and released the invader onto the porch. As I caught my breath, I turned and looked up the stairs to our second floor. Bats swooped back and forth like barn swallows. I sounded the alarm for the second parent. "Dad!"

He ran into the living room to find two clearly distressed damsels and a growing formation of bats. They had begun to descend down the stairs and one had attached himself to the dining room wall. Armed with a tennis racket, Dad decided against its use. "Too messy.", he said. He ran to the hall closet and returned with the vacuum cleaner. Before we could read the animal its rights, Dad had sucked it into the canister, his eyes fixed on his next victim. The Nightmare on Vonderheid Street had just begun.

About a half an hour into the skirmish, I went down to the basement in search of a sweater to cover my halter top. The thought of a scantily clad pubescent Barbarella might be titillating, but I felt underexposed. I opened the door and was horrified to find another airborne visitor. If Chicken Little thought his sky was falling, then this was the end of my world. My brother and father responded to my screams, manned the vacuum cleaner and motioned me upstairs to guard the second floor.

Holding two tennis rackets, I nervously stood at the bottom of the stairs. Within seconds, I had trapped a bat on one of the treads and stared at his beady eyes through the grid of the strings. Another circled my head as I kept it at bay with the other racket. Just as I began to review my life, my Dad and brother relieved me of my duty. Batman and Robin were going to save Gotham City.

Well after midnight, the battle appeared to be over. Nineteen bats, an exhausted family of four, and one hardworking Electrolux. We concluded that the bats had come in through the ceiling of the unfinished second floor bathroom. Workers had finished putting up our aluminum siding that day and covered up the hole that had allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Two stragglers surfaced over the next few days and the official total stands at twenty-one. Months would pass before I could open my closet without fear, but I had survived "The Trucksville Horror".

My thanks go to the craziest of daisies for their retelling of this tale. I'm dying to hear what the shag rug has to say.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cloud 8

As Dad and I approached the buffet at a Mother's Day brunch, he pointed at a little girl all decked out in lacy white tights.

"Y' know, Joan- they shed those in the spring."

Well into my teens and equipped with a fully-functioning adolescent attitude, I did my best to dismiss his comment as ignorant and inappropriate. Stifling the laughter swirling inside my chest, I moved along the steam table, filled my plate and walked past the corn chowder. I knew I'd never make it back to the table with both the thought of his remark and a bowl of soup intact.

What the teenager chose to ignore is what fills this adult with the warmth of humor. No doubt about it, my father was one funny son of a bitch.

His delivery was direct and dry. Governed by common sense, he made no apologies for uncompromising opinions or close-minded commentaries. "If someone has a problem with it, they can shit in their hat." I never understood how that would benefit either party, but it did put and end to more than one blossoming argument.

Dad's culinary tastes were basic; he rarely strayed from his comfort zone. The mention of garlic brought a curl to his lip and an exaggerated shiver to his spine. Although he generally stuck to his script when dining out, my mother might convince him to try something new once or twice a year. "Y'know- I like that French Onion soup with the Maserati cheese on top." His review may have been more Grand Prix than Food Network, but at least the old man gave it a shot.

My father had a low tolerance for upper-crust affectations and the putting on of airs. He had no interest in elevating his social standing or mixing with the society page crowd. "They think their shit's ice cream."

One scoop or two?

Fashion placed no pressure on Dad during his retirement years; the suited executive became the "regular guy" in a plaid shirt, tan pants and slip on loafers. No alligators, no pleats, none of those crazy "moon shoe" soles. Keep it simple, stupid, and top it off with a bucket-shaped "Go to Hell Hat". I have no idea where he came up with that one, but I'm sure you wouldn't find any shit in it.

He may not have shared my obsession with fitness, but he understood its' importance. "I saw on TV that Tina Turner takes pierogie classes." Proud Mary, keep on rollin' that dough and filling it with potatoes.

My mother loved Dad's description of the end of one his youthful romances. "She sent me a John Deere letter." What a pain in the grass.

When one of my father's employees received a promotion, he told us "He was so happy he was on Cloud 8". I joked and said, "Well, I guess he wasn't really THAT happy." Now I know better.

See you on Cloud 8.


Dad would have been 84 years old on April 17. He left behind a tired pair of loafers and a "Go to Hell" hatful of memories.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

If I Had a Hammer

My mother loved Easter. As a matter of fact, she was on the front line of any holiday celebration. An Olympian in the shopping arena, her ear was finely tuned to the desires of her loved ones; a passing thought about a lovely blouse could propel my mom towards the mall in search of it. She was relentless in her pursuit and rarely came up short.

Once she had her prize, she spared no details in its presentation. Our gifts were impeccably wrapped; I have yet to achieve the perfectly folded corners that were a trademark of her packages. For that matter, my bed making skills are not up to her standards and I may never iron a T shirt- certain practices are best left to the masters.

"That Joan- she's always into something..."


At times my mother may have uttered that phrase with a hint of exasperation, but she used my "cyclical obsessions" to her advantage. Her shopping expeditions were fueled by a purpose and the results of her hunt were creative and often humorous.

I was fortunate to grow up in an era unbound by the overwhelming fear of abduction and Amber alerts. A three hour bike ride or an afternoon hiking expedition gave our parents little cause for concern. No eyelashes were batted when I announced that my friends Laurie, Jennifer and I would be building a fort in the woods; dolls and dresses had long ago given way to more unconventional interests. We were told to be careful and were off on another adventure.

As the self-appointed project manager, I went over the plans with my friends; we could outdo ourselves on this one. We would find four trees to use as our corners and layer about two feet of field stone to connect their bases. Walls finished with pine trees horizontally nailed into the corners supported a sturdy roof doubling as the perfect hi-rise patio, complete with safety railings. Of course, our project should be kept under wraps to avoid sabotage by the neighborhood boys. We quietly crept into the woods after school and went to work.


Pooling our financial resources, we were able to buy enough nails to begin construction, but the tools were another matter. I knew that I couldn't casually borrow from my father's arsenal without consequence; his was a territorial tribe that frowned upon lending. We could make do with one saw, but we each needed our own hammer to make any serious headway. While grocery shopping with my mom, I saw the answer to my fort-building prayers.


"The Ladies' Hammer" caught my eye as we made our way down one of the aisles. It had a dainty head and the handle grip was a soft shade of red. Hanging from a card decorated with a goofy 70's cartoon of an aproned housewife brandishing her very own cartoon hammer, it was perfect. I pointed it out to my mother, who responded with minimal interest while moving on to the Tastykakes. Her apparent indifference threw me for a loop; she was generally an easy mark. Deciding against my usual display of theatrics, I quietly headed toward the checkout, sans hammer.

Stumbling down the stairs on Easter morning, I couldn't wait to see my basket. Overflowing with sparkling green grass and adorned with a big shiny bow, it was filled with coconut nests, jellybeans, speckled malted eggs, marshmallow peeps and an over-the-top assortment of solid white, pink and milk chocolate bunnies and chicks. As I emptied the contents and prepared to bite the head off my first victim, a silver glimmer shone through the grass. Delighted and surprised, I reached in and pulled out "The Ladies' Hammer".

Wait until Laurie and Jennifer see this.


The hammer in Grace's basket is indeed "The Ladies' Hammer". Its chipped face and bent neck give testimony to many years of use, reminding me of childhood dreams and one very cool mom.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bringing Up The Rear

The ass is where it's at.

I set my sights on the glowing golden buttocks as they swoop and sway down the road in front of me. Brazenly strutting her showgirl stuff with the confidence of a drum major, Gracie brings a smile to my ordinary day. She may be going nowhere in particular, but she'll have a good time getting there. The hostess with the mostess makes no discrimination and invites everyone to her party. Throwing Cesar Millan's pack-leading advice directly into the wind, I follow the dog.

I've often said that I'd like to have a room in Gracie's head. Sunny and spacious, complete with singing birds, I imagine it to be a place with no agendas, no malice and very few rules. Disagreeable feelings are easily pushed out the door by a biscuit or a butt massage; you're not even guaranteed that level of service in a five star hotel. Assuming that said room is perpetually sold out, I console myself by traveling in her good-natured wake.

Our road quietly cuts through the woods and offers little in the way of entertainment; traffic is light and we rarely encounter other pedestrians. When we do run into the occasional road crew, Gracie throws herself at the workers like a bubbly tween at a Jonas Brothers concert. Living in the moment leaves no room for the maintenance of decorum and "Her Heineyness" does not apologize for her enthusiasm. A master of the head butt and posterior press, she demands attention, preferably in the form of heavy petting. She rarely walks away empty-pawed.

While I may draw the line at rubbing up against strangers, I'd like to join in Grace's appreciation of the simplest of pleasures. Galumphing along with purpose and conviction, she always takes time to stop and smell the roses. Although her roses may come in the form of a dead squirrel, I remind myself to do the same.


"Dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?" - Jerry Seinfeld

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Snow Way!

I really thought I had it figured out. After a productive installment of cleaning my parents' house in Pennsylvania, I'd pack up the dog and head back to New York. Sure, the weather was threatening, but I gathered enough information from the 3 channels on my father's 13 inch television to convince myself that I could sneak home between the episodic snowstorms set to pummel the Northeast. I went about the prolonged business of securing the homestead, and got on the road at 5:30 p.m. Tiny snowflakes had begun to fall among intermittent raindrops, but I didn't consider them a cause for concern. After all, I'd have the storm at my back and would be home well before the snow hit the fan. Or would I?

Passing Scranton on Route 81, I reveled in the absence of rush hour traffic I had anticipated. Mistaking my relief for arrogance, the gods put me in my place about 10 minutes later as I turned onto Route 84. Someone shook the snow globe and I was in the middle of one nasty whiteout. Tightening my fingers around the wheel, I set my mind to the task and my eyes on the tail lights of the car ahead of me. Fast asleep beside me, Gracie had a first class seat in blissful ignorance as Amelia Earhart prepared to cross the Pacific.

Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains may not be on par with the Idaho Panhandle or an icy switchback in Montana, but I'd think twice about passing through in a blizzard. Exits separated by dark and lonely stretches of woodlands offer little in the way of respite; I decided to forgo my usual pit stop in favor of continuing in the wake of a Honda Accord traveling at a comfortable rate. Traffic was light and I was at least spared the anxiety of tail gaiters and Indy wannabes passing at inappropriate speeds. My back straight and my knuckles white, I fixed my gaze on my new best friend in the Honda and crept along at an excruciating 35 miles per hour.

Our two car caravan continued until my guide grew a set of cojones and left me in the slush. On my own and suddenly surrounded by eighteen-wheelers, I fishtailed as I made the descent into the Delaware River town of Matamoras. Unnerved by the performance of my all wheel drive, I felt Dumbo's feather slip from my grasp. Regrouping by reminding myself that I had made it to the halfway point of my trip, I regained enough confidence to pass up the chance to make a rest stop and carried on. Within minutes, the gods were at it again. The parade came to a dead stop on the bridge and my overfull bladder woke up with an attitude.

Feeling the bridge quiver as I waited among the idling cars, I looked over at Gracie who had heaved herself up from her nap. She calmly surveyed the situation while I imagined the structure collapsing under our weight. To hell with the camera, to hell with the banjo, to hell with my new boots; I would hold onto Grace's collar and swim us both to safety. As I struggled to reach an onshore rock, my grip loosened and my beloved best friend was swept away by the icy foam. My cries went unheard and as my eyes closed in desperation, I was pulled from my fantasy by the flash of red brake lights; the traffic had begun to move. Gracie let out a low whine as she was summoned by her own needy bladder. "Knock it off, Grace- I tried to save you, really I did..."

She whined again.

Moving at a respectable crawl, we finally reached a rest area. I went inside, checked each stall for axe murderers and relieved myself. Upon returning to the car, I grabbed Gracie's leash, brought her outside and waited for her to do the same. Through the veil of huge falling flakes I could see the lights of a truck pulling into the parking lot. I couldn't stop my mind from racing to the scene in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" where Pee Wee accepts a ride from a mysterious lady trucker on a lonely, foggy night. Her name was Large Marge...


On this very night, ten years ago...
Along the same stretch of road, in a dense fog just like this...
I saw the worst accident I ever seen.
There was this sound, like a garbage truck dropped off the Empire State Building.
And when they finally pulled the body from the twisted, burning wreck,
It looked like... THIS! ( Marge's eyes pop out of their sockets.)
Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo haaah!
Yes sir, that was the worst accident I ever seen.


The instant Grace raised her haunches, I hoisted her into the car and pressed the automatic door lock. A raging river, an insane trucker's ghost and then what? The flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz? I threw my overactive imagination on the back seat and pulled on to the interstate faster than you could say, "I'll get you, my pretty!"


Slowly negotiating the remaining miles of Route 84, I managed to keep calm in spite of the occasional rodeo cowboy at the wheel of a tandem Fed-Ex truck. I decided to head north on Route 9 instead of the dark, shoulderless Taconic Parkway. Dehydrated by the window defroster, Grace's tongue flapped in a continuous pant. We stopped at a Dunkin Donuts where I grabbed a coffee for myself and an ice water for my co-pilot. Refueled but bedraggled and heading east through Poughkeepsie on Route 44, I was finally on the last leg of our journey.


Doing the math as I turned north onto Route 82, I realized that my usual sub-3 hour trip had taken over 5 1/2 hours to complete. I supposed that it could have been worse; we were safe and the vehicle was intact. Only eight miles from home, I noticed the snow-covered trees drooping a la Dr. Seuss and considered the possibility of an outage. Five minutes later, my husband called to tell me that the power had gone down.


"How did it get so late so late so soon?
It's night before it's afternoon.
December is here before it's June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

-Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka "Dr Seuss"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Doing It With Brace

If you have been drawn to this post in search of a steamy tale of sexual escapades or advice on shoveling with a back injury, I'm afraid you've been misled by its title. The "Brace" in question is my friend Greg and he's about to roll with life's punches in an unexpected and dangerous adventure. Still looking for sex or medical advice? You may leave the classroom now if you'd like. The rest of you, please take your seats.


While most people consider themselves lucky to have one loving family, I have been blessed with two. Many years ago, I gained honorary entry into the clan of my best friend, Jenny Booth. (see "Calamity Jen", posted 11/24/09) Holiday gatherings were celebrations of warmth and laughter and I cherished my inclusion in this extended troupe of characters. The sumptuous scent of spiced "Family Recipe" filled the air as we raised our glasses at Christmas. Memorial Day and Labor Day brought the tribe together on the side of a hill in Mansfield, Pennsylvania that was, and is, the remaining parcel of the once-sprawling Booth farm. Tents were pitched and thus began the cycles of food, drink, laughter and conversation that would culminate in a late night game of high-low jack. The faint of heart or overly sensitive needn't have applied to this family; the sound of busting balls could be heard for miles. I loved that sound.


Fun was the order of the weekend and Jenny's cousin Greg Brace was no slouch at bringing it to the table. His wit was sharp and he had inherited his mother Myra's gift of storytelling. He could be found rocking out on a guitar or taking off on his bicycle and was never far from a good time. Having relocated to Beaufort, South Carolina, his presence wasn't always a given, so we made sure to rack up the laughs when we got together. Goodbyes brought with them an open invitation to continue the party in Beaufort, but I have yet to redeem that offer.


Although I remain close with Jenny, I'm afraid my contact with the rest of the family has been limited to Christmas cards and Facebook postings. Caring for my elderly parents took precedence over holiday celebrations, so it's been some time since I've made the annual Mansfield pilgrimage. News does travel my way on occasion, and this week I received an e-mail update about Greg. A life altered by divorce and the loss of his job in construction management had led him to accept an out of state offer - in Afghanistan.


Building had come to a screeching halt. His search for work lasted nearly a year and a half and came up dry. A former associate suggested he join him overseas, as there was a great need for construction professionals. Faced with crippled finances and little hope for industry recovery, he applied for a position, put his life in some form of order and is now in the middle of intensive training in Florida. He ships out to Bagram Airforce Base at the end of the week.


Life is unpredictable at best, but few of us could imagine ourselves up to our 52 year old asses in the sand of a country at war. "They told me to expect 30 meetings a week traveling between the FOB's and the main bases... It is also my understanding that the traveling is the sketchiest part of the job, so I am thinking there will be a fair amount of "sketchy". Some of the travel will be by convoy, some by Blackhawk helicopter, all with a military escort."


An excerpt from an e-mail Greg sent out to family and friends is proof that his strength and humor are in tact and will serve him well on his journey.


"By no means do I have a sense of doom about this; but... Should fate induce me with the "big dirt nap", you guys are in for it. Giving free reign to eccentricity I have requested the largest wake possible. There should be a New Orleans style "Second Line" procession to the wake. If you've never seen one, "YouTube" it. A Dixieland band leads a procession of mourners/celebrants dressed to the teeth carrying outlandish parasols. The music switches between dirges, where the procession solemnly walks heads down, then suddenly kicks into Dixieland jazz, the parasols pop up and wild dancing ensues..."


I believe there will be a parade, but it won't end with a wake. Instead, it will lead to the wildest of blowouts, where Greg's son Nash, his stepson Shay, his parents Myra and Fred, and the rest of the Brace/Booth circus will welcome him home.

Dress casual- parasols required.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Clean Slate

My dog ate a bar of soap the other day. Dial Gold. 'Round the clock odor protection. I imagined foul smelling intestinal flora running for their lives as it barrelled down the pike. I thought about cleansing, renewal and resolutions. I thought about the New Year.

You may marvel at the disturbingly short distance I've drawn between January 1 and a dog's ass. I welcome you to my world of disparate associations, sometimes amusing and often as claustrophobic as a carnival sideshow in August. This is not easy territory for one as black and white as myself; lines are crossed, boundaries blurred and it can be one mell of a hess.

A New Year's tune-up is an exhilarating exercise in drama-the first day of the rest of your life. Buoyed by the optimism of fellow resolutioners, we set out on the path to self-improvement. We will extinguish cigarettes, shed pounds and reduce clutter. Our teeth will be whiter, our finances will be in check and we will be on time. Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho, ho, and a couple of tra-la-las. That's how we laugh the day away in the Merry Old Land of Oz.

Soon the holiday lights grow dim, the confetti is swept away and we find ourselves in the clutches of mid-winter's icy grip. Even the noblest of intentions may not have a fighting chance against cabin fever and chilly winds. Let's see- couch or cardio? Hot chocolate or hatha yoga? A short tumble off the wagon and we're right where we started with an extra helping of guilt on top.

I'd like to propel my life in a positive direction, but I think I'll refrain from making grand declarations, proclamations or predictions.  Spouting off about my great expecations may provoke the gods into sending a reality-filled meteorite my way. In the meantime, I'll just watch for those sparkling bubbles to pour out of my dog's derriere, a la Lawrence Welk. A one an a two...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Trouble With The Grey

"This will never work out. You're black and white and I'm all shades of grey."

Great breakup line, eh? Handed to me by a fellow artist in my senior year of college, the colorless phrase was perhaps a bit too perfect but said it all. I've always had difficulty navigating life's muddy waters.

Monday morning wakes me up to yet another dreary week.
It'll come and go like every one before.
There's enough to keep me busy but my interest isn't piqued.
Frankly dear, it's all become a crashing bore.


I wrote those words several years ago for the first verse of a song called "Trouble With the Grey". The chorus continues:

No one calls me on the telephone.
If they did, what would I say?
The highs and lows don't get you down,
It's what happens every day.
I'm having some trouble with the grey.

Ain't it the truth, ain't it the truth. We rise to the occasion in the most extraordinary situations, but can be unraveled by a Monday. I rode my parents' waves of dementia, macular degeneration, spinal stenosis and cancer for nearly six years and now I'm beached. "What's wrong with the beach you ask?" As tranquil as any place on earth, it's a nightmare if you're stuck there with sand in your pants. I'm stuck and I'm afraid to check my pants.

Momma told me I'd be someone,
But she didn't mention who.
Said there wasn't any place I couldn't go.
I could climb the highest mountain,
Sail across the ocean blue.
But instead, I'm sitting here on my plateau.

My mother did tell me I'd be someone. Her exact words, delivered during one of my frequent scream fests, were, "You know Joan, you should be on the stage." Perhaps my interpretation of that phrase is a bit loose, but she was always in my corner and, if not supportive, tolerant of the wackiest of my endeavors. I suppose I should "get my ass in gear", as she would say, and pick a passion and have at it. Said ass does not slip into gear as easily as the younger version, but I will remind myself that I'm not dead yet.

Gonna roll out my red carpet
Chase away these sorry blues
With the brightest palate you have ever seen.
Won't my friends be tickled pink
By all the colors that I choose
If they haven't turned a lovely shade of green?

Shortly after Dad passed away, I said to a friend,"Shit, now with my parents gone, I'm going to have to make an effort to get some sort of life." Hardly an epiphany worthy of Oprah (or even Judge Judy), but it's one I'd like to remember.

You can try me on the telephone
But I might be on my way.                                                                                                               
The highs and lows don't get you down
It's what happens every day.
I'm having some trouble with the grey.


"Too Blue" is currently in the studio, recording their latest CD which includes "Trouble With the Grey" by Joan Harrison. Details on the release will be posted here and on http://www.toobluemusic.com/

Monday, January 4, 2010

WOOF!






I am honored to kick off the 2010 Blog Tour to promote "WOOF- Women Only Over Fifty", a delightful book geared toward those women of a certain age who refuse to go down without a fight. Please enjoy this guest posting provided by the "Woofers" and take time to visit their site via the links provided below. You'll also find a link to Amazon.com where you can purchase your own copy of "WOOF", a great post-holiday treat for fiesty Fidettes and Fidos alike. Here's barkin' at ya."













Chocolate-"Nuff Said

"...an explosion of cocoa science that has the potential to change the lives of people in terms of their health."

"...flavanols have the potential to inhibit biochemical pathways that can cause inflammation, which is a process that can contribute to cardiovascular disease and other health issues."

Flavanols, Schmavanols! Who cares? The only thing smart WOOFers know is that chocolate, especially the dark kind, improves our moods and gives us reasons to woof down dinner to get to dessert...a creamy Dove Chocolate or Hershey's Extra Dark. What the hey? Gimme a full-size bar!

Now, before you go jumping on me about ignoring my health, I'm thrilled knowing these small bites of heaven really do have medicinal benefits. But I can tell you right here...right now, that the only biochemical pathways I care about are the ones from my hand to my mouth.

Unfortunately, chowing down on a five-pound box of truffles usually coincides with my expanding waistline. Guess that's why I only bake 2 chocolate cakes a year...for birthdays. There's just the two of us. Still, a full-size layer cake disappears in less 3 days. Not good.

So, when I saw a recipe for "chocolate cake-in-a-mug," I thought, problem solved! I don't know what brilliant chef came up with this, but I'd bet a bag of Butterfingers it's a woman, and she's over 50! Be warned, though, it's still very filling and has a *few* calories. (heh-heh)

Recipe:

2 tablespoons flour (I used self-rising. Some recipes call for cake flour)

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (I used Hershey's Dark!)

1 large egg

2 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons chocolate chips (A MUST!)

Small splash of vanilla extract

Preparation:

Add dry ingredients to mug and mix well. Add egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in milk and oil and mix well. Add chocolate chips and vanilla extract and...you got it...mix well.

Microwave on high for 2 minutes. The cake may rise over the top of the mug (I used over-size coffee mug), but don't be alarmed! Allow to cool and tip onto plate if desired. (Hubby added vanilla ice cream to his)

*Note: Prepare and consume this early in the day, or plan to spend the night — wide-awake — watching reruns of The Golden Girls! Or...read WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty

Do you have a favorite chocolate recipe? Whether you do or not, leave a comment and enter a drawing for "Accentuate the Pawsitive," a WOOFers guide to realigning your life!

"Mind spinning? Mood Swinging? Middle sagging? Get used to it! When you reach 50, shift happens. But, you're not alone. WOOFers to the rescue!"

Mary Cunningham (aka - Milkbone)


“Hilarious! Made me laugh out loud!” Blog Critics - Reviewed by Mayra Calvani

WOOFers Club
http://woofersclub.blogspot.com/

WOOFers Club Blog
http://www.woofersclub.blogspot.com/

Amazon Buy Link

http://www.amazon.com/WOOF-Women-Only-Over-Fifty/dp/1590806069/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1219407881&sr=1-1

Echelon Press

http://www.echelonpress.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=9_5_22&products_id=125

Like to laugh? You'll discover more funny women stories, limericks and poems when you...

BUY WOOF!
Melinda Richarz Lyons is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many publications, including True West, Nashville Parent, Cats Magazine, Reminisce, Frontier Times and Cincinnati Family Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love. Lyons is author of Murder at the Oaklands Mansion and co-author of WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty (Echelon Press).

Mary Cunningham is author of the award-winning, four-book ‘tween fantasy/mystery series Cynthia’s Attic (Quake) and two short stories Ghost Light, Christmas with Daisy, a Cynthia’s Attic Christmas story, and is co-author of WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty (Echelon Press). A member of the Georgia Reading Association and the Carrollton Creative Writers Club, she lives in the mountains of west Georgia.

Diana Black is the third author of the humor book WOOF: Women Only Over Fifty (Echelon Press). A published songwriter and cartoonist, her professional work also includes illustrating children’s books as well as graphic and cover design. Her project, Wendel Wordsworth: No Words for Wendel, a picture book, song and educational materials, is designed to encourage young readers. Black is a member of the SCBWI (Southern Breeze Chapter) and the Carrollton Creative Writers Club.

Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Babies are okay. I have been known to hold one, managing to look reasonably comfortable, but I can't say I actively seek out the job. Not one of those women overrun by maternal urges, I don't often find myself nuzzling an infant and drinking in the aroma of baby powder. My sensibilities may have descended from my father. I once asked him if he was sorry that I hadn't provided him with grandchildren and he answered, "What, and have them run up to my car with jelly fingers?"

My mother was enamoured with infants, the smaller the better. At home with the tiniest of subjects, she was undaunted by their size and fragility. She often expressed a desire to have a third child, but Dad was nowhere near the same page. With a brother eight years my senior, I often wondered if even I was in the script. Realizing that my birthday, September 1, was exactly 9 months after New Year's Eve, I asked, "Mom, did you and Dad plan to have me?" She answered slyly, "I did." I still wrestle with the image of my mother in a negligee with a noisemaker.

My own parental instincts have been pretty much limited to puppies. I have been disappointed and delighted by the canines, and occasionally wonder how well I would have fared with a human. Still a work in progress, the jury may be out on the results of my development, but God knows my mother gave 110% during my formative years. She was the "Neighborhood Mom", chauffeuring kids to movies, school picnics and practices. Her tolerance was drawn from a bottomless well; she withstood my screaming tantrums, answering with, "Do you want something to cry about? I'll give you something to cry about." She never did. Maybe she should have.

I think that I might have been a good mother if it hadn't been for that little thing called sacrifice. The thought of passing along a part of myself was intriguing (or bone-chilling), but I never wanted to stop whatever I was doing long enough to seriously consider the task. What was I doing, anyway? Ah, yes- waitressing, painting, playing the banjo, living in New York City, moving upstate, decorating the apartment, decorating the house, mowing the lawn, raking the leaves. As far as Mom was concerned, the list read like the minutes from a session at the U.N. Living vicariously through my life, she could romanticize my most ordinary days and glorify the slightly unusual ones. While working out at the New York Health and Racquet Club, Farrah Fawcett and Tatum O'Neal walked into the room where I was doing an exercise for my butt. Farrah asked if I would show it to her, so I gave her a demonstration which lasted all of three minutes. Of course, my mother bragged to her friends, "Do you know that Joan works out with Farrah Fawcett?" I'll never have a more motivated publicist or a bigger fan.

My lack of maternal desires aside, I really do love little girls and could have been easily swept away in a daughter's world. I would have provided her with memories of swimming pools, shopping trips and Broadway plays. She would have been advised to adjust the price of a new blouse before she modeled it for her father. We would have had our little secrets.

While delivering Christmas gifts to my father's neighbors, I stopped to visit Kim and Dan Natitus, a wonderful young couple who moved in next door to Dad. Nearly a year ago, they were blessed with the smiles and sweetness of a baby named Julia. I sat on the floor and was warmed by her easy acceptance; she rested against my knees as I played with her hair and held her hands. Clearly in love, Kim's eyes widened with every move of her little girl. I like to imagine my mother looking at me that way.