Category Archives: Stuff Worth Pondering

DIY Uses For Vodka-Besides the Obvious

I saw this recipe for a DIY natural spray for eliminating odors. Haven’t tried it yet, you know, because everything in my life already smells like skittles and rainbows. And I’d have to make a special trip to find vodka — okay, I could barely type that with a straight face.


1C water

2t vodka or witch hazel

1t cornstarch

5 drops essential oil (choose your favorite flavor)

Stir everything until cornstarch dissolves then pour it into a clean spray bottle. Spray 6-8 inches from whatever you need to freshen. Shake between applications.

Here’s another idea, this one for facial astringent … Mix 8oz cooled green tea with 1/4t vodka. Blot as necessary.

You can de-frizz your hair with it. Add a shot to your 12-oz bottle of conditioner. Shake it up and use it every week or so.

Vodka is a great household cleaner too. Wipe counters with it and anywhere there’s mold or mildew. It makes chrome and glass shiny again, and does wonders for your windows. Mix 1C water with 1t vodka in a spray bottle. Spritz your windows, wipe off. Voilá!

Here’s another good one, for those of us who cling to our outdated but favorite blouses. When the armpits get stinky despite careful washing, spritz them with vodka. It neutralizes the odor but won’t stain. (Same reason to drink it, methinks.)

And the last use for what I like to call Household Vodka … add it to your pie crust dough! It keeps dough from forming too much gluten which can make your crust tough instead of flaky. Substitute 1T vodka for every 3rd tablespoon of water.

anything vodka can't do

Have you tried any of these? Will you? Can you spare vodka for non-drinking activities?

The Faster I Go, The Behinder I Get — Time Management Tips and Tricks

To Do Lists and Schedules

• To figure out how long something takes, time yourself 3x doing it as you normally do to get an average, including any interruptions.

• Decide tonight what your most pressing task is tomorrow and do it first.

• A TO DO without a WHEN doesn’t get done.

• Consider — deleting (what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t do it?); delaying (rescheduling for a better time); delegating (is there someone who can do it better, faster, cheaper, or good enough?); diminishing (shortcuts or shaving down)

• One system in one place — don’t use a kitchen calendar + electronic calendars for you and your spouse + kid’s soccer schedule posted on the refrigerator. One calendar for everything.

 Dots and Dashes

• Think of tasks as either quick dots or longer dashes

• Learn to concentrate for an hour

• A timer is your best friend

• Focus on completion

• Physical movement improves concentration

• Fuel yourself properly. Eat protein and carbs for breakfast. Drink plenty of water during the day. Move around and stretch every hour.


• Never check your email first thing in the morning. If you do, you’re letting other people manage your time.

• If you MUST check email first thing, give yourself a short time limit. Delete. Skim for emergencies. Don’t get sucked in.

• Respond immediately to emails that will take you less than 2 minutes. If it requires more time, then schedule it for later.

• If you are overwhelmed by your inbox, declare Email Bankruptcy and delete it all. If it was important you’ll see it again. If you don’t, then it wasn’t too important after all, eh?

• Set yahoo groups or google alerts to weekly digest

• Most email isn’t critical. Say it with me. Say it until you believe it.

• Never feel guilty about your email inbox. It’s a tool for you to use; not the other way around.


• Only check your phone messages at designated times and make sure your kids/spouse/parents/friends know when that is. If they have a phone, they have lots of people they can call in an emergency. It doesn’t always have to be you.

• Get rid of your call-waiting

• Unplug during mealtimes, in the car, when your kids are around, at the theater, when you’re with friends. Don’t be That Guy.

• Again, your phone is for you; not the other way around.


• Don’t play games

• Take shortcuts. Skim.

• Delete or hide boring people and/or people who post too much.

• Set timer


• Bribe yourself

• Focus on the task for 5 minutes. Then 5 more. It’s the same way we get on the treadmill.

• Keep a log for a week. Did you avoid all tasks or just some? See if you can find a pattern.

• Find something fun about the task

• Break job down into smaller bites

• When writing, make it easy to pick up where you left off — stop writing mid-sentence when you stop for the day/lunch

• Start anywhere. Lots of writers start with a scene or with the ending. Just start.

• If you don’t want to paint the bookcase, don’t. Either live with the old paint or get someone else to do it.

• Reframe your thinking about the task. Yes, it’s difficult to write a novel, but not TOO difficult; people do it every day.

• We’re grown ups – we do things we don’t want to


• Declutter everything — all the rooms of your house, all your drawers, car, desk, computer desktop, shelves, cabinets, closets

• Find a place for everything and keep everything in its place. Never waste time searching for stuff again.

• Declutter your brain too. Write things down instead of trying to remember it all. Keep a notebook with you.

• Don’t save stuff because you think it might be worth something someday. Visit eBay and find out.

• Go for a Trial Separation from your stuff. Box it up, tape it, write the date on the box. If it’s still taped shut in 6 months, toss it.

• Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and … Refuse. As in refuse to buy any more stuff. Like Grandma said, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

• Ask these questions: Do I want this? Do I need this? Do I have room for this? Do I want to pay to store it?

• Don’t focus on your stuff … focus on your space.

• Keep only clothing that fits, makes you look fabulous, and that people compliment you on. Don’t keep outfits that mock you.

• Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you need to fill it.


• Determine your top priority for the day – the one thing you’d sacrifice everything else to achieve. Then do it.

• Tackle your hardest job first and save your favorite tasks till the end so you look forward to them. Helps with procrastination too.

• Prioritize like they do in business — which task makes you money?

• If the tasks seem equal, ask: How long will it take? What’s the return on my time investment? When’s the deadline?


• Learn selective perspective. Which things really need to be perfect (query, manuscript, math) and which can be good enough (housecleaning, store-bought cupcakes for bake sale)?

• Figure out who belongs to that voice in your head telling you stuff isn’t good enough. Then get them to shut up.

• Back away if you’ve worked on it too long. There’s a law of diminishing returns.

• Impose deadlines on yourself. Something done imperfectly on time is usually better than something late.

• Allow yourself the opportunity to do it poorly. Just do it.

• Recognize degrees of excellence. On a scale of 1-10, a 7 doesn’t look much different from a 10 to most people.

• What’s the worst that can happen? If you fail, you never have to do it again and/or you learn something that helps you succeed.


• Multi-tasking is a myth; nobody can do it.

• Don’t confuse multi-tasking with doing a lot of stuff. Multi-tasking is trying to do all those things at the same time.

• Your brain simply can’t focus on two separate things unless one of them is completely mindless. Like breathing. Or pumping blood.

• People multi-task because they’re worried. Seems better to work on everything so 100% of your tasks are 50% done. But you’d feel much more in control if 50% of your tasks were 100% done and you know you have a plan to finish the other 50%.

• Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment

• Focus on one job till it’s done or your time is up. Then focus on another one.


• Identify your problem areas – Desktop? Filing system? Emails? Reading material? Piles of stuff?

• Then prioritize – which is the biggest problem? Which is costing you the most money?

• Every day put things away, write that debit transaction in your check register, add that contact to your database, file that receipt.

• Don’t let your filing pile up. It makes it that much harder to find stuff.

• If you don’t have a file cabinet, go buy one. But set a limit on how many files you’ll keep. When you go over, one has to go. Same with paperwork within each file. Weed those files regularly. When you file this month’s water bill, shred last month’s.

• Put all your papers in one pile then sort into categories. Which category is most important? Put it on your To Do list then tackle the next most important pile.


• Insourcing and Outsourcing. It might be more cost-effective to hire someone to do certain tasks.

• Make a list of stuff you hate to do. Can anyone do those things better? What is your time worth?

• Enlist your kids and spouse

• Remember to monitor and mentor; don’t nag and micromanage. Set expectations/parameters then let it go.

• Celebrate their success to breed more success

• Don’t fall for the old trick of pretending a crappy job is the best they can do. Make them do it over as many times as necessary until they hit the mark of the expectations you agreed on previously. Stand firm.

Just Say No

• Decide if a project makes your heart SING or SINK. Even if it makes you sing, say no if it will crack your full loaded plate.

• Acknowledge their request by not laughing in their face; address your own limitations; offer an alternative.

Thank you so much for asking, but I’m unavailable then.

It sounds like a terrific opportunity that I’m going to miss.

I know it will be a wonderful party. I’m disappointed to miss out on the fun but I have a conflict on that date.


• First defense is education. If my door is closed, I’m working.

• Set aside time when people have unconditional access to you, but be consistent and firm. Set timer.

• Give them a head’s up —”I’m going to shut my door and start writing in 10 minutes. Do you need anything?”

• Practice your catchphrases: I’m in the middle of something. How’s 2:00?This week is impossible, but next Tuesday works.

• Ask how much time they need from you. If you can spare it, set your timer. Otherwise make appointment.

• Keep a log over the next week. Jot down who interrupted, how they interrupted, how long the interruption was, and how important it was. Then, schedule an intervention for them.

• Making yourself unavailable teaches others to think for themselves, solve problems, and make decisions. Empower your loved ones.

• Don’t interrupt yourself either. When writing, never stop to look something up. Don’t give up momentum. Insert a placeholder.


• Cousins to interruptions, but instead of being caused by other people, we create our own distractions.

• Focus and prioritize. What’s the one thing you need to get done this month/week/day/hour?

• Keep a log for a week. Note all the times you caved in to the siren call of your distractions, whatever they are. (I don’t use this but it might be helpful to download and try out for a few weeks to track where your time goes … )

• Then make a plan. If you can’t work because your desk is messy, clean it the night before. If your computer pings every time you get an email, shut it off. If you find yourself listening to your background music, shut it off. You get the idea. Take control.

A Metaphor Obscured By Smoke

You see signs like this all over Colorado.

colorful CO

But because it’s already wildfire season here in Colorado, I’d like to point out to Mother Nature, while black is certainly a color, it’s not the one we want covering the landscape.

As I write this, there are four wildfires raging (do fires do anything else?) around the state. One is in a remote area of Rocky Mountain National Park, one is near Canon City threatening the historic Royal Gorge Bridge, one is contained and almost out near La Veta.

But the one that concerns me most is in Black Forest, just north of Colorado Springs. (The irony of the name breaks my heart.) The weather is not cooperating — too dry, too hot, too windy. It’s only about 10% contained and has already destroyed almost 16,000 acres and 379 homes. It threatens thousands more.

Some of them belong to my friends, many of whom have been evacuated for days.

The Colorado Springs area is still reeling from the huge Waldo Canyon fire of last summer, until a few days ago the most destructive in Colorado history. In fact, Barb, a writer friend of mine who lost her house last year was moving into their new house just as the inferno in Black Forest got started. Everyone is having stressful flashbacks, some more so than others.

Barb spoke eloquently at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference about her journey from fire victim to survivor, reducing most of us to tears. She talked about not being able to get off the floor for days after her husband and kids resumed their normal lives. They returned to work and school. But Barb’s ‘normal life’ — like many writers — is spent at home. She had nothing normal in her life any longer.

People often say, “It’s just stuff.” And it is. Kinda.

But you have it because you need it: eyeglasses, prescriptions, clothes, phone chargers, shoes, file folders of writing ideas.

And because you want it: photographs, piano music, your Dad’s pipes, signed copies of books, the carved roadrunner wearing sneakers you got in Santa Fe that Christmas.

George Carlin has a funny stand-up routine about ‘stuff.’

Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by our stuff, think “Hoarders” and clearing the paperwork from our desks. Sometimes we get tired of our stuff and haul it to Goodwill. Sometimes we’re forced to get new stuff because we’ve used it up, worn it out, or made it do for too long.

I’ve been thinking about ‘stuff’ more than usual, even before these new fires, because I was involved a bit in the cleaning out of my father-in-law’s house after he died. It made me wonder about the, ahem, legacy I was leaving for my kids. Most of my treasures will be their junk. And that’s fine.

Every year the news reminds me to go through the house photographing everything for the insurance company. But now I’ll do it for my kids too. I’ll tell them the story of where I got my stuff and why it’s important to me. If my stuff is important to them after I die they can add it to their stuff and pass down the story, adding their particular insights.

But if my stuff is not important to them they have my blessing to haul it to Goodwill. As George Carlin says, “Ain’t nobody interested in your 4th grade arithmetic papers.”

There’s a helplessness that has settled over me like so much ash, but I guess if Barb can get up off the floor and start writing again, certainly I can pick up the camera and a trash bag. (If there’s no reason to photograph it, at least I can get rid of it so nobody else has to.)

I’m sure there’s a writerly metaphor hiding in there but right now it’s obscured by the smoke.

Stay safe, peeps, and good luck with your stuff.

The Secret Ingredient

You might have noticed I haven’t been online much for the last few weeks. I told people I was “going dark” partly because it seemed mysterious, partly because I didn’t want to broadcast my life to any bad guys, and partly because it was only two words and I’m just that lazy.

In April I spoke at my favorite writers conference, then a couple of days later hubs and I were off on a two-week vacation to Washington DC and Virginia where our son is stationed and my brother and his family live. Unfortunately, the day I got home from the conference, we found out my father-in-law had suddenly passed away. After conferring with the family, it was decided we should go along with our original vacation plans and then, after a day at home, hop a plane to Los Angeles for the funeral and to attend to details.

As you can imagine, these three trips were all quite disparate but they had a common theme.


The Pikes Peak Writers Conference is a big event with banquet food often shared with a table full of strangers. You only need to have attended one banquet in your entire life to conjure up the memory of variations of bland chicken, fish, beef and pasta dishes. Despite that, I look forward to the meals every year, certainly not for the cuisine, but for the company. Every year at every meal I hang out with fascinating writers creating all kinds of delicious stories. Some folks I’ve just met, some I’ve known for several years. They’re from every spectrum of the journey — those just tasting the possibilities of a career spent writing, all the way up to the well-seasoned pros. I love chatting with all of them during informal bleary-eyed breakfasts and at the lavish banquet dinners.

Vacation food is different. You get to indulge your palate in regional delicacies. In our case we got a lot of seafood and southern cooking, 4-star restaurants and neighborhood dives, all yummy and delightful.

We ate more than once at the Zagat-rated Mitsitam Cafe at the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian which specializes in native cuisine. We played Guess the Spice — Coriander? Anise? Saffron? — which tested our knowledge of geography, history, and ethnicity. Cedar Planked Wild Salmon with Grilled Corn and Cherry Tapenade … Labrador Tea Marinated Grilled Bison Loin with Bing Cherry Infused Pinenut Butter … Sautéed Chard and Spring Onions … Roasted Sunchoke and Nettles … New Potato and Fiddlehead Fern Salad with Green Tomato Vinaigrette … Hominy and Grilled Asparagus Salad … Mesquite Pinon Cookies … Pinenut and Rosemary Tart.  Elegant, award-winning, intriguing food.

But we also ate a couple of times at an intriguing hole-in-the-wall diner. We walked by it twice, deciding both times that perhaps we should come back after we confirmed our vaccinations were up-to-date. The third time we went in for breakfast and I was immediately sorry we didn’t go there every morning. It was run by a large and happy extended family. Most customers were greeted by name and others like long-lost cousins. They did a brisk carry-out business but we sat at an old-fashioned counter, sticky with maple syrup, faded and buffed by countless plates. It turned corners at every third or fourth seat, snaking geometrically around the diner. Each time we were there the conversations were public, everyone welcome to join in. We were asked about our travels and recommendations were offered as to what DC attractions were not to be missed. We were included in the wise-cracking between three manual laborers. The skinny guy didn’t believe that the big guy would eat everything in his overly hearty breakfast. I knew he could. Bets were made and accepted. It’s not a Zagat-rated restaurant, but probably only because Zagat never tasted their waffles and scrapple.

Like the conference, food was necessary but not the actual or complete experience. Vacation dining also allowed my husband and I to reconnect. Yes, we were tired and hungry after sightseeing all day so we needed to sit and eat. But we also got to talk. Despite the fact we are empty-nesters, we rarely make time at home to have a cocktail and a long, relaxing meal full of interesting conversation. Perhaps it’s because we don’t do or see as many interesting things in our normal lives. I mean, really, how often can you describe what you ‘did’ today? Yawn. Vacation dining allows deeper thought and discussion.

After vacation we had time to stop at home, do a couple loads of laundry and pay some bills before heading to Los Angeles to deal with Dean’s death. He lived eight decades, a life full of curiosity and adventure, many of them in the Congo in Africa. He died exactly as he wished, quick and mostly painless. He cooked himself Sunday breakfast in his own home, admired his vegetable garden, and by late afternoon he was gone.

Those of us left behind are consoled by the image of Dean eating his last breakfast at the same kitchen table he’d eaten at for 35 years. We gathered there too, without him. We shared food and drink and told funny stories about him. Again, the food nourished us, but it was more than that. It was comforting and ritualistic. It was no surprise to me that so many people wanted to take away kitchen utensils as tangible reminders of Dean and his wife Sarah, who we lost a dozen years earlier. The rolling pin. That set of bowls. The two-pronged fork. The tablecloth.

I guess these last few weeks have made me realize how much more there can be — should be — to the food we eat. We have a joke at our house when I make something with unusual spices. I ask, “Do you know what the secret ingredient is?” Inevitably someone will answer, “Is it love?”

Of course it is. But sometimes it’s also coriander.

May your meals provide nourishment, comfort, and as much adventure as you can handle.




What Color Are Igloos?

I worry about the future of humanity some days more than others. Today is one of those days.

My nephew told me he was helping out in his daughter’s class while they were practicing writing the letter “i”. When they finished the row, their reward was getting to color the igloo at the bottom of the page.

Wait for it ……. the kids all had to color it white because the school demands “realistic depictions” and the only proper color for an igloo is white.

Also, the school doesn’t allow coloring with black crayons because then they can’t see if the budding automatons have colored outside the lines.

As one who has colored my share of purple igloos, this makes me feel a bit hopeless. Why do we think we’re helping our kids when we’re afraid to let them play, quash their individuality, and destroy any crumb of creativity clinging to them?


New Year Blahs or Rahs?

Many of my friends have been admitting to some end-of-the-year blues which is something I don’t really understand. I happen to adore this week between Christmas and New Years, but I am an admitted — and unrepentent — Pollyanna.

Pol·ly·an·na (pä-lē-ˈa-nə) noun a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything

What can I say? I’m perky!

I love that blank calendar, so hopeful and filled with sparkling possibility. I sit down when it’s quiet and glance back through the year, remembering good times and perhaps bad ones, now with the mottled patina that only comes with time and distance.

Then I take a blank piece of paper and start writing down the things I’d like to see on next year’s calendar. Most of them relate in some way to my writing and publishing work, but there are also trips to plan, people to see, parties to host.

I humbly suggest that if you find yourself singing the blues this week instead of a joyful noise, try this little exercise.

Take a peek at your calendar. Where’d you go this year? Who’d you see? Meet anyone new and fascinating? What inspired you? What did you learn? What did you write? What did you sell? What did you promote? What were your challenges? What were your successes?

Now, grab a blank piece of paper and look forward to the coming year. Where do you want to go? Who do you want to see? What opportunities do you want to pounce on? What will you learn? What will you write? What will you sell? What will you promote? How will you grow?

Now make a plan. Take your pristine calendar and add the things you know you want to do. Use a pencil because this is a working document. Do you want to go to the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April? Then block out that time. If you have to save up your pennies then make a plan for that, too.

How many words will you write? How many books will you read? How often will you get together with your friends? How many times will you go skiing/dancing/to the theatre/out to eat/ice skating/to the beach? What will you learn next year? What will you teach? Who will inspire you? Who will you inspire?

Make a plan. Write it on your calendar.

A plan without action is simply wishful thinking. Make a plan.

If a year is too overwhelming, focus on the first quarter of the year. Or a month. But focus. And plan to revisit your calendar before the second quarter or the next month. Dream big. Wish. Plan. Revise as necessary. Add your Big Plan to your weekly to-do list.

Revel in your successes and learn from your mistakes.

Here’s hoping your successes are infinite and your challenges surmountable. I won’t wish you smooth sailing with no challenges because mistakes and challenges help you grow into the person you’re destined to become. Besides, no problems would be boring!

Okay, if that’s too perky and irrepressibly optimistic for you, then I will allow some staring into the abyss. But only for a minute.

Hey … I think I see cookies down there!

How To Wrap a Gift Even If You’re All Thumbs

A couple of years ago, I wrote and posted a tutorial about how to gift wrap. I’m positive it wasn’t prompted by certain behaviors on anyone’s part. Positive.

With all the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Buy Me Stuff Sunday, and Cyber Monday events this weekend, it seems it’s time to revisit the science of Wrapology.

If you’re a bit chagrined about your wrapping abilities, here it is again. Consider it my gift to you. Of course, if you want me to check your work, all you need to do is send me your gorgeously wrapped gifts. I will offer constructive criticism in a timely manner. (In case you’re wondering, piles of banded cash fit me perfectly. As do size 7½ kick-ass boots.)

As if to cement my Wrapology blog today, I also ran across a Better Homes and Gardens site teaching how to make nine beautiful bows.

You might have heard I’m a bit lazy. Plus, when I wrap gifts I tend to do a zillion at once. By the time I get around to adding the ribbon or bows to them, I’m pooped. But these videos make it so simple to add just that perfect final show-offy touch.

Learn how to do this and it will be your wrapping zenith. Your pièce de résistance. Your magnum opus. Your masterwork. Your tour de force. A really cool thing that will make everyone fall to their jealous knees, humbling themselves before the throne of your perfection.

So go forth and impress!

Are you a good wrapper or bad? How often do you go the “shove it in a gift bag and call it good” route? Do you save bow, ribbon and paper? Will this be the year you learn to wrap beautiful gifts?

Skinheads, Hipsters, and Me

My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon so I’ve traveled there quite often, most recently a few weeks ago. Every time I’m there I marvel at their public transportation system. Not just because it’s so vast, accessible and easy, but because everyone uses it.

Because I live and work in the suburbs, I tend to see people who are very similar to me. Even when I go into Denver I drive, so I’m still not surrounded by the extremes of humanity.

But I love going to Portland so I can ride public transportation. All the stereotypes I have of people are tossed aside.

Three examples from my recent trip …

• Four rowdy teens rode a long way at the front of our car on the Max train. They weren’t being aggressive or anything, but were loud, clearly out for a good time that night. One of the more punk-looking ones was talking on his phone at one point, a conversation full of laughter and expletives. At the end of it he said, “I love you, buddy.” As they passed my seat when their stop approached, all four of them, single-file, shot me dazzling, happy smiles and the last one said, with great enthusiasm, “Have a great night!” It makes me smile just to think about it.

• A scary über-tattooed-and-pierced guy sat on the train in seats facing us. Earbuds stuck in tight, he had tuned out to his iPod, which was just fine with me. The less eye contact the better, I thought. As the train filled a bit more, the least hip couple in the universe sat next to him. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, this couple made us look like Lady Gaga and Sean Connery.) Next thing I know, they’re chatting like old friends! Scary UTAP guy has pulled out his earbuds and is willingly giving directions and sharing dining and tourist advice with them.

• On the bus one day we had to wait for an elderly man to get his walker up the ramp. I was annoyed (and a bit ashamed to say it didn’t even occur to me to help him) until a hipster in skinny black jeans and a fedora hopped down to lend him a hand and a smile.

As I watch people on the Max and listen to their conversations, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by my fellow man. It’s also true that sometimes I’m surprised by their drastic and conspicuous body odor, but luckily that doesn’t happen much.

Whenever my kneejerk reactions to people are wrong, I’m reminded about the advice I’ve heard a gazillion times when creating characters in my writing. Nobody is all bad or all good and stereotypes are boring.

Maybe those unhipsters were really double agents on a mission. Or circus lion tamers! Or the inventors of root beer bottle cap candy!

Or what else?

Random Stuff I’m Thankful For As I Go About My Day

We’re all thankful for family and friends and good health, but I tend to overlook the little things in my life that make me happy and grateful each and every day. So here’s my list …

• Kleenex

• people who know how to cut my hair

• air travel

• my car starts every time I ask it to

• paper books, digital books, and the people who write them

• Game Night, especially when we play Scattergories

• Guinness

• readily available food in my particular pyramid – fruits/veggies (with a special shout-out to sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, blueberries and Pink Lady apples), salmon, eggs, avocado, bacon, booze and chocolate

• people who buy my books

• people I don’t even know who say nice things about my books

• clean, tasty tap water

• basement storage for a lifetime of Christmas ornaments and other memorabilia (all with a story to tell), hundreds of boxes of photographic slides and a working projector on which to view them, an extra freezer, and wine by the case(s)

• xeriscape that doubles as zeroscape (I’ll concede this may not be what my neighbors are thankful for)

• plumbing, air conditioning, heat and electricity

• Netflix

• Jon Stewart, Eddie Izzard and Ellen deGeneres

• people I actually know who make me laugh

• libraries

• Nyquil

• newspapers

• newspaper advertisers so said newspapers can stay in business

• YouTube

• touring productions of Broadway musicals

• Facebook

• WordPress so I can proclaim to the world my love of goofy stuff …. like YOU!

Happy Thanksgiving!

What’s on your list?

A Real Dad Can Teach You To Cry

Today, on this so-easy-even-a-blogger-can-remember date of 11-11-11, my dad turns 81 years old.

Even as a child the irony of his birthday falling on Veterans Day wasn’t lost on me. My dad is one of those über-patriotic guys. Not a loud chest-thumper, always bellowing that America is the greatest nation, but a quiet man who stands a bit taller when a parade flag passes by and isn’t ashamed of the tear that threatens to slip out.

He doesn’t believe wearing a flag pin — and demonizing those who don’t — makes you a true American. But he does believe those who enlist in the military are stronger, braver and better Americans than the rest of us.

One of his greatest disappointments — still — is that he was never able to enlist. Being born in 1930 meant he was too young for WWII and by the time Korea came around, he was married with a couple of kids, so I never grew up in a military household. It was with considerable surprise when first one, then the other of my sons joined the Navy. Suddenly we’ve become a military family.

That makes my dad exceedingly proud. My youngest son happened to be home on leave last year at this time when we had a big blow-out for Dad’s 80th birthday. I told my son the best present he could give his grandpa was to show up in his dress whites.

Dad, of course, dons his kilt for all important occasions. You know, weddings, 80th birthdays, Robbie Burns Day, and when he gets his car serviced.

I’m glad Dad didn’t have his kilt when I graduated from college because I doubt I would have looked this happy.

He, on the other hand, would still be beaming because education is something he values. Even though he can’t quite master his computer, he continues to learn oodles of other stuff by attending classes, reading and traveling.

Among the other great joys in Dad’s life are, in no particular order: dogs, coffee, Ireland, poetry, butcher shops, reciting ‘Ode to a Haggis’ in full Scottish burr, his old Royal typewriter, Garrison Keillor stories, chili cookoffs, Western art, the perfect martini, fishing, Toastmasters, and Norman Rockwell.

He used to give Rockwell presentations to elementary school kids. His favorite illustrations to discuss with them were the ones with kids and the ones that told a story. You know, all of them.

So, today I just wanted to take a minute to give a little shout-out to Dad and to my Navy guys on this Veterans Day 2011. None of them are veterans, but they are patriots. And one of them is a really great Dad who taught me to fish … appreciate music, literature and art … try new and exotic foods … and to cry at parades.

Thanks, Dad. And Happy Birthday.