Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Black-Tie Optional Event

Now, if you were going to a black-tie optional event, what would that mean to you?

Black tie, right? At the very least, a dark suit? Fancy dress?

Tuxedo, check. Fancy dress--plus fancy hair (styled by a professional), check. I married a man who bought his tux for the wedding--and seven and a half years later, he still fits in it. (Disgusting, I know. But I love him anyway.) See?

We were good to go.

What? What black-tie optional event did we go to?

My adoring husband managed to snag up us two (corporate-purchased) tickets to a "Signature Chef's Auction and Culinary Sampling," which turned out to be a fundraiser for the March of Dimes.

Okay, sure. We had to scramble for a sitter (also known as my friend Leah H., her patient husband, and two entertaining young children), but the March of Dimes. We could go and support the March of Dimes and consume Culinary Samples prepared by Signature Chefs. Not a problem.

We live in a Midwest town of 45,000. We were a little unsure who would be the 'chefs' in this case. But hey--a free, black-tie optional date. Ready to go.

Because I love you, I will include the picture our son took:

Oy. But I take comfort in the other picture he took that night:

See? He took better pictures of me and my husband than he did of Gater. Cold comfort.

Anyway, so we go. And immediately, there was a problem. A problem in the form of polo/golf shirts.

Yes. We were at a black-tie optional event, and there were men (plural) wearing polo shirts. Anyone want to hazard a guess about the number of men who were wearing black ties?

Yup. Just my man. We could see polo shirts from the car. "Wear it like you own it," I said. And he did.

I did better. The women took 'black-tie' much more seriously. I was good. Even in those shoes.

So we go in, where one of Jason's coworkers immediately said, "Waiter? Waiter!" Yeah, that was the crowd we were in.

Okay! Not a problem! We own it! Bring on the Culinary Samples by Signature Chefs!

Ooh, problem number two. Just as 'black-tie optional' turned out to be open to interpretation, so did the word 'chef.' 'Chef,' in this case, applied to the following establishments:

1. Panera Bread Co. (also known as St. Louis Bread Co for those of you in MO.)
2. Pop's Pizza
3. Terrible's Mark Twain Casino (although, to be fair, these people were ACTUAL CHEFS--but the shock of the local casino set me back)
and my favorite: 4. County Market Catering (a regional grocery store chain)

Other 'chefs' included a Greek restaurant, a Thai restaurant, and a fudge shop. Not that I minded the fudge. Bring on the fudge!

So, it turns out that words that we thought had 'meaning' were open to 'interpretation.' 'Black-tie optional' means you shouldn't focus on the black-tie part, but the optional part. 'Chef' means not Cordon Bleu trained, but person who cooks food.

Whatever. We had a damn fun time. We sampled everything. (Well, I sampled everything. The vegetarian I married sampled a much smaller selection.) The food was great, especially the pizza. We sat with three other couples from work, including Diana, who took the good picture of us (HI DIANA!) and made a variety of snarky comments. At least everyone at our table had on a tie.

And we brought home a souvenir! We didn't win the dog basket for Gater in the silent auction. But in the live auction, we bought this.

Yup. We bought a printer. A big printer. Some might even call it whomping huge. A four color laser printer that fills up a significant corner of my newly enlarged office with its "stylish details, including a soft curve design and two-tone gray coloring that complements the modern look of today's PCs." Really. I didn't make that up. Someone else did, poor sap. Thank goodness I scored a filing cabinet capable of holding it up at a yard sale last weekend, because otherwise, it'd be on the floor.

So the evening was a success. The kid had fun playing with friends, we got out of our normal routine while looking fabulous, and office equipment was purchased.

Anything for a good cause!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I did something this weekend that I've never done before.

I hosted a make-up party.

No, I'm not thirteen. At the age of thirteen, I believed, deep in my heart, that the height of make-up glamor was blue eyeshadow up to my eyelids. Memorialized in my seventh grade picture with a wicked mullet and a bright purple polo top.

No, I don't have a copy to show you. My mother, in one of her more kind and magnanimous moments, actually let me burn the damn things. Really. So you have to take me at my word. It was hideous.

It was so bad that I didn't even attempt make-up for another three years, and when I did, my sisters had to beat it in to me. The result has been a love-hate relationship with the feminine art of beauty products. Mostly hate.

But I covet. I covet the pretty shades and I covet the promises for beautiful, clear skin--or at least the illusion of beautiful, clear skin.

So I started using Bare Escentuals, willfully overlooking the gross abuse of the English language for marketing purposes. And I like it. Not enough to put it on every day. I only wear make-up three days a week, when I teach and go to work. But still, it's not bad. And I don't look like I'm so clueless that the negatives must be burned. So it's a win-win.

So the last time I was in St. Louis, shopping for the perfect win-a-writing-award-reception-outfit with my personal stylist, aka my sister Leah, I stopped by the Bare Escentuals store to stock up. And I put my business card in the bin for a free make-up party.

And I 'won.' Really.

I won in August. I could bring up to twelve friends. Now, here is the sad fact of the matter. I do not have twelve friends (facebook statuses notwithstanding). The fact of the matter is that I have about four women I count as close, personal friends (relatives not included) who I try to talk to at least once a month. Only two of them live in my town. And you know what? That's all I need. I'm that kind of woman.

But I could bring twelve. So I started emailing. I cast a wide net. Sisters, mother, in-laws, friends of my sisters who I know, friends of my sisters I don't know. Really. I'm not above borrowing friends on special occasions.

This is why Napoleon lost at Waterloo. Have you ever tried to round up more than two other grown women with children? Good Lord, it's IMPOSSIBLE. Throw in football season and a sister with season tickets? Infinity is easier to define than set a date. I negotiated with the various factions of possible attendees for two months.

Last Sunday, it all came together. My sister Leah, my friend Leah H. (not to be confused with each other, although for the first time ever, I was able to yell "LEAHS" across a crowded room and get results), my friend/coworker/Grammar Goddess Mary, Lucy (who is technically my sister's Hannah's best friend, but they've been best friends for so long that Lucy has, in fact, attended family reunions and been mistaken for a relative, so I get to count her as one of my own) and me. That's five. That's all I could get.

We had a darned good time anyway.

Being that there were five of us, someone had to be the odd-woman-out. And, to quote my sister Leah, "Girl, I'm single. I'm used to it."

The final result? Loveliness. (No, I'm not just sucking up.)

I was informed that, to post any picture of Lucy, I needed express written consent from a baseball commissioner. Or was it basketball? Either way, I think this is a nice shot of her.

Lucy was sitting with Mary. I took a lot of pictures, but this is the best picture I have of both of them. I don't think the baseball commissioner would approve of any others.

This is my friend (not sister) Leah. I have more shots of her, but they involve this weird store-provided 'headband' that was closer to a garter belt, and since I'd prefer not to alienate her, we'll leave it at this.

This is the only picture of me on my camera. Lucy took lots of pictures, but I don't have them yet. Actually, I kind of like it. I look 'thoughtful.' Without looking overtly 'dumb.' A rare trick.

And you know what? I got a hostess gift! FREE STUFF! Mascara and three eyeshadows and all sorts of free goodness. Mary and the Leahs and I spent the rest of the day shopping. It was a complete and total Girls Day Out. I had a blast.

And while I was gone?

Yeah. Jake hasn't played with that toy in two years. Now Gater has it. And Jake wants it back. Jake has a lower center of gravity--but Gater has all those legs for more traction. It's a toss up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


So, you know, we don't have enough going on. Remodels, newish jobs, fall garden harvests, kids, new books. Not enough going on.

Yup. That's right. The perfect time to get a new dog!

This is Gater. Or Gates. But not Obama.

Really. Not Obama. The Quincy Humane Society said he was named Obama when he was surrendered, but they didn't think that would help get him adopted, so they started calling him Gates. I didn't know that wasn't his name, so I decided he looked like a Gater.

This is a problem. My husband does not want to call him Gater. He calls him Gates. Why? Oh, you'll love this. Because he thinks the name Gater makes it sound like we are supporting a Florida college football team. Really.

Anyway, remember this guy? Jake, the Three Legged Wonder Wiener?

Not a huge fan.

So, Gater.

Is he adorable or what? He's part Beagle, part something-terrier. Maybe rat terrier? Don't know. He's probably a year and a half old, so not a puppy. Only weighs about twelve pounds--and half of that is leg. He was an outdoor dog, the Humane Society says, so we went out and bought a crate.

I don't want to make Jake sound bad or anything, but I think Gater's smarter. He's already figured out that Jake does not have a crate. And he does. Only took three days. I've tried explaining to Gater that as soon as he stops pooping in the house and eating stuffed animals and puzzle pieces, he won't have to stay in the crate. So far, we've made progress on the pooping part. Not the stuffed animal parts. One day at a time is a good motto right now.

I don't want to make Jake feel bad or anything, but wow. The new puppy (even though he's technically fully grown and all that) is either going to tone him up until he's buff or kill him. Poor Jake can't keep up with all those legs on walks. Gater lets him win at most of their play fights, but when he gets fed up, he literally just sits on Jake. They play fight for hours, and when Jake gets tired, he gets mean and goes for the tendons. He keeps looking at me like, "Okay, this was great, when does he leave?" Sorry, boy. Not happening.

And the kid? Loves Gater. LOVES HIM. This is really his dog. I love Jake, lots and lots, but a 7 1/2 year old wiener dog with three legs who had major back surgery is not really the best pet for a four-year-old boy. Gater? Bounces--and bounces back. They run together, play fetch, and roll around in the grass. Gater even comes to the kid when he calls. Jake doesn't do that. Jake is best first thing in the morning, when the kid is just waking up. Gater is good the rest of the day. And, judging by his energy level, well into the evening.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you are looking for a puppy, please go check out your local Humane Society or shelter or even the pound. Puppies are cute and all, but there are thousands of dogs (and cats, but we aren't cat people) out there that need a home and have a lot to offer. Plus, they are usually easier to potty train and believe me when I say that they will LOVE you for giving them a home.

Just like these guys.

Our dogs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The End is Near

Oh, stop being such a fatalist. I'm talking about home improvement projects.


During (phase one):

During (phase two):


We've never done wallpaper--and yes, I'm counting border in that category--before. I think it turned out well.

It's not done. Any experienced home remodeled knows that the project is never, ever done. There's this:

Note the baseboard--it's still in the garage. Also, note the shocking lack of bookcases. And, of course, the pictures. See all these:

Some part or whole of all those pictures in all those frames have to be decoratively applied to walls.

Like this original work I bought at an auction:

I thought over here would be nice, between the window and the tall case, right over the chair:

But you know what my four-year-old son said when I asked if he liked it there? And I quote: "Not so much." This is the problem with raising a boy with taste. Everyone's a critic.

Still, this week, I sat in my office, finished the Vegetarian book, and started Redeeming Vicky.

For every ending, there's a new beginning. Even with home improvement projects.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


This blog is dedicated to My Gram, God love the woman. She's 94, and the highlight of her social life these days is me (and my kid) coming down to go out for lunch, where she hopes she will run into people she knows so she can prove that her grand (and great-grand) kids love her more. Seriously, you can almost see her going, "Neener, neener!" Of course, this gets harder every day--she's outlived just about everyone who would care.

But, back to the point, which is Work. In a completely undisguised attempt to guilt-trip me into coming down, Gram has taken to saying, "I know you're busy with (enter list of things she thinks we think are more important than she is), but maybe one day when you're not working, you can come down for lunch."

And my response? "Gram, I'm always working." She didn't believe me--I only go to an office outside my home three days a week. Plenty of time to come down for lunch! So, recently, I've been spelling it out a little more for her.

I have two and one half jobs. That's 2 1/2 for the word-challenged. Let's review:

1. Writer, Editor, and Phone Answer-er: Also known as the Day Job these days, I edit, re-write, graphically design and place art in supplemental educational workbooks for grades three through eight, three days a week. And when I'm there, I also answer the phone, take messages, etc. It's a family business, run by a father and his two sons, and they're a little, um, concerned with the business image, so I'll omit the company name here. Nice guys, though. The main (just about only) benefit I get from this job is The Lovely Mary, who is technically my managing boss, super good friend, Grammar Goddess, and all around Idea Sounding Board. Even if I become rich and famous (or at least rich), I will still have to go to work so that I can talk to The Lovely Mary. Plot development does not happen without her. Often, whole novels do not happen without her. No Man's Land, aka the bull riding book, was entirely her inspiration.

2. Instructor, English as a Second Language: Also known as the Night Job these days, I am into week four now of teaching ESL at our local community college. I won't lie, it's been a challenge. It's at night on Mondays and Wednesdays, after I've already put in seven hours at the Day Job. This was not a good idea. Next semester it will be on Tuesday/Thursday so that I can space out all my talking. Really. I only have so much talking in me in any given day. Ask my husband. Still, I like it, challenging students and all. I taught ESL for five years in Chicago when we lived there. It's nice to get back to it.

Those are the two careers I have. Editor and teacher. Both perfectly respectable jobs for a woman with two degrees in English and a four-year-old son.

But then there's the half. The Authorial part of being the Authorial Mom. Writing romance novels. New Western romance novels, to boot. As soon as I sell a book, I will upgrade that 'half' to a 'whole' career. Getting an agent moved it from 'hobby' to 'half' career. Major progress, in technically less than two years.

Really, I know you knew that. But here's the update on the half. As you may (or may not) recall, my agent got four editors to look at the Noseless Cowboy book, AKA (currently) Even Good Guys Wear Masks (subject to change). Well, the Major Editor, the Top Dog of that small pile, passed on the book because of, well, the noseless part.

Which leads directly to an Authorial Existential Crisis. If I give Jacob a nose, does that sell a book at the cost of Authorial Integrity? If I never sell a noseless cowboy, have I put a price tag on Authorial Integrity? If I give him a nose and still don't sell, what does that say about Authorial Integrity to begin with? How much is Authorial Integrity worth these days, anyway?

Heavy thinking. The kind that comes with late nights and red wine. Forgive me.

Back to the topic, which was, if I recall correctly, Work. So, on Labor Day, I will get the day off from my Day Job. I will get the night off from my Night Job. But I will get no break from the half. The vegetarian book--somewhat officially known as Vegetarians Have More Fun--is almost done. The next book, roughly titled Redeeming Vicky, is itching to get on the page.

And, of course, let's not forget the other aspect of my professional life: Mom and Chief Home Remodeller. That will be most of my weekend. What do you think?

(The name of that color is "Princess of Windsor Pink." Is it just me, or did that come out a lot more orange?)

(Pretend with me that three years have passed. Betcha we can't see that hearse anymore!)

Yeah, me too. Bring on the wallpaper border, furniture, and mulch!

Going to be a fun weekend.

Happy Labor Day!