Monthly Archives: September 2011

It’s That Time of Year Again

I almost threw a small box away this evening…and then realized I shouldn’t do that.  It’s almost October and I need to start stocking up again.

Why, you might ask?

Because Christmas is less than three months away, of course.

Now that my kids are older, gifts tend to be smaller (though not cheaper by a long shot!).  But CD’s, DVD’s, players, video games, jewelry, and the like, don’t take up a whole lot of space under the tree.  And that’s where my box collection comes in.

Sure I could use commercial gift boxes, but where’s the fun in that?  They’re all basically the same shape and that’s kind of boring.  But you throw in cracker boxes, cereal boxes, and boxes from things like cookies and vitamins…now there’s a really nice variety.  Plus, with all those different sizes, you have the opportunity to wrap the same gift a few times over.  You know, make the kid work for it.

So far I’ve been a nice mom and not done what another family I heard about does.  That is to put a small gift in a small box…then wrap it with a roll of duct tape.  I imagine it would drag the whole gift unwrapping moment out.

Anyway, I didn’t throw the box away.  Time to start breaking them down (they take up less space that way), and holding on to as many as I can between now and December.   It’s always better to have too many than too few.

I did learn a lesson when my oldest daughter was about two though.  You want to be careful, with young kids, that the box you choose isn’t more appealing than the gift itself.  In other words, no matter how cute the stuffed animal, if you put it in a Little Debbie Swiss Rolls snack cake box, said kid is probably going to be really disappointed with the stuffed animal.

On the other hand, I think you could have a lot of fun with the choice of boxes, too.  Until I was about sixteen, our family would head over to my grandparent’s house, along with all of my mother’s siblings and their families.  It was, without question, the most crowded house you ever care to see (she has seven brothers and sisters!).  It was also the best night of the year.

Because there were so many of us, we’d have drawings.  Each adult would buy a gift for another adult, and same with the kids.  Since the kid limit was $5.00, there weren’t a lot of options, though you sure could get more for the money back then than you can now.

One year I drew the name of a teenage male cousin, and came up with the perfect gift.  Just give him the $5.00.  Wrapped in a tampon box.  Well, technically, wrapped around a tampon, then put it back in the box.

Mom wouldn’t let me do it…

So now that I’m a grown up, I have to look at other opportunities to have fun with gifts.  For example, getting people things like laxatives and enemas for milestone birthdays (i.e. any birthday where the age ends in a zero).

I have mentioned the fact that I’m a little weird, haven’t I?

Okay…..

On a different note, my aunt found a strange plant thing laying in the parking lot of a grocery store, took it home, put it in water…and the thing grew.  Personally I think it’s Jack’s beanstalk and, by this time next year the family will be filthy rich…after we con one of the guys into climbing up and grabbing that goose.

On the off chance it isn’t, and since I’ve had no luck Googling it, I’m posting a picture on my WordPress blog (https://kristykjames.wordpress.com/), and if anyone recognizes it, please let me know.   We’re all just a little curious.  

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Back To The Drawing Board

Looking at the ten day forecast, I have to say that I’m very glad that autumn seems to be here to stay.  And hopefully we’ll avoid Indian summer altogether.  Why?  Because I need to start spending some quality time in the kitchen.  With my oven and bread machine.

Almost two months after giving up foods that contain gluten, I find that I’m really missing toast.  I’ve come up with a great substitute for pizza crust.  Not take-out quality, but very similar to Chef-Boyrdee, Appian Way and Martha White mixes.  I can live with it.  But I’m not having as much luck – yet – with biscuits, crackers or bread.  And bread is pretty much a necessity for toast.

So my hopes were very high this afternoon when, after finally getting my car back from the mechanic (yay!), I traveled to a city about fifteen miles from where I live.  I’d heard rave reviews about gluten-free bread that you could find at one particular business there, and I couldn’t wait another second to try it out.  I anticipated an end to my search for a bread that looked, felt and tasted like real bread.

So…

This turned out to be a six-inch long, sort of lumpy, not very thick, and kind of hard (like it was a couple of weeks old)…sub bun.  Based on what I’ve learned from my own efforts, I’m guessing the main ingredients are rice flour and eggs (they make for a funky texture).  It took four dollars for that glob of baked dough to make me realize I’m not going to be a fan.

Frankly I’ve turned out better GF loaves of bread from recipes I’ve found online.  Not that any of those were fantastic, but they didn’t feel like they were scratching my throat on the way down either.  And right now it feels like I sat on the wrong side of a bonfire for too long.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Gluten free isn’t a horrible diet.  There are many things I could eat before that are still safe to eat.  But the whole bread/biscuit/cracker thing is getting a little harder to deal with.

I hope the recipe for saltines works out.  I miss those a lot, too.  And rice ‘crackers’ are never going to work for me-yuck!  The gluten-free version of Bisquick makes fairly good biscuits.  Certainly nothing like ‘real’ ones, but close enough.  They work for breakfast sandwiches and some gravies.  If I can’t solve the toast issue, I suppose I’ll just have to suck it up and use those with eggs.

However…my go-to food when I was hungry, and didn’t want to cook, was a couple of slices of toast.  I need toast!

But you know what?  If I have to take that off the table, even permanently, oh well.  If I can never have another roast beef or grilled cheese sandwich, if I can never have another slice of cinnamon toast, or French toast (I may cry about this), I can live with it.  The trade-off is worth it.

What might that be?  An end to constant fatigue.  Because the longer I’m off gluten, the better I feel.  At this rate I may wind up with my sixteen year old energy levels in a few months.  Okay.  So maybe not quite that much improvement.  But you never know.

For now, though, I’m going to continue trying, and tweaking, recipes.  You never know about that either.  I might just find something that works.  🙂

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Just checking out MSN

I don’t really mean to laugh here but, reading the latest update on the ‘space junk,’ I kind of have to.  NASA estimates that the odds that somebody on Earth getting hurt from this debris at 1 in 3,200, and any one person’s odds at 1 in 22 trillion.

Okay, I admit that math wasn’t one of my better subjects in school, so I don’t have a clue how they came up with 22 trillion when there are only 7 billion people on the planet.  Whatever.  I don’t even care how they came up with the 1 in 3,200 guesstimate.

What I find incredibly funny is the part of the sentence that talks about the chances of someone getting ‘hurt.’

Seriously?

I’m fairly certain that if one were to be hit by a falling piece of space junk, they would be a little beyond hurt.  In fact, I’d hazard a guess that they might even be obliterated.

This sounds suspiciously like ads for prescription medication that you see on television now.  You know, the ones with the cheerful voice talking about the benefits of the drug.  Along with a mile long list of side-effects.  Side-effects that often mimic the very symptoms a patient would be taking it for.  And many also include my favorite term, ‘a fatal event.’

Hmm.  Are the manufacturers trying to make us believe that a fatal event isn’t nearly as bad as dying?  After all, an event is generally something people look forward to.

Frankly I have doubts that a lot of people even understand what ‘fatal’ means.   And I’m going to refer to an earlier blog of mine.  The one about a prescription for my youngest daughter.

For those who haven’t read it, in a nutshell, my daughter was sick and I took her prescription to the pharmacy.  The technician who entered it into the computer explained that, since she had an allergy to another medication, she could have some pretty serious reactions to this one.   Not particularly comfortable with what I was hearing I asked, “Do you mean like a fatal reaction?”  The woman answered, quite enthusiastically, “Oh yes!  And if she does, she needs to stop taking it immediately!

I kind of wanted to smack her on the back of the head to see if we could get the hamster moving again, but managed to restrain myself.

It probably has something to do with the way the media presents, and downplays, the information they allow us to receive.  Say it in a cheerful enough tone and ‘fatal’ isn’t really a bad thing.  And let’s just use the term ‘hurt’ rather than kill or obliterate when discussing falling space junk.  I seriously love that phrase, but I think someone came up with it to put a humorous spin on the situation.  Make it sound amusing enough and people aren’t going to panic when they think of 300 pound pieces of debris falling to the Earth.

That said, it would be nice to know the general area this junk is going to be heading for.   If we might be in the 500 mile ‘swath,’ I think I might like the option of heading to a different swath.

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YES!!!

This week will be noted in history books as a very stressful week for me.  Okay, so maybe it will only be my personal, mental history books, but it will never be forgotten.  For a couple of hours anyway.

At the top of the list is the never-ending formatting issues with A Fine Mess.  Three separate PDF converters, the correct template, about two dozen conversions, and the paperback version is no closer to being available than it was three weeks ago.   You know that ‘mouse through the monitor’ thing I sometimes joke about?  No, I didn’t actually do it this time…but it was a closer call than normal.

Then there has been the intermittent issue with my car.  As in the ignition doesn’t always ‘recognize’ the computer chip in my key.  And the battery keeps dying.  Even though, in less than a year’s time, I’ve replaced the alternator and battery….twice.

Only that seems to be coming to an end.  The new mechanic called me, within half an hour of the tow truck dropping it off, wanting to know if the car had ever had a remote starter.  Yup.  Sure did.  But I haven’t been able to use it in awhile.  The tiny little remote that was powerful enough to control a car that probably weighs a ton was pretty darned wimpy when it came to the wash and rinse cycle in a much smaller household appliance.

Apparently the remote thing that was still in the car missed its little buddy though.  Because it appears that this thing, hidden in the steering column, continued to try and start the car.  For about a year.   It never actually succeeded…except in killing batteries and alternators.

Needless to say I’m very happy that I’ll be getting the car back today, free of starting and ignition problems.

These two things, however, don’t hold a candle to the most stressful event of the week.  And I’m probably begging for more trouble by writing about this, yet here I go. (A word of advice to other bloggers out there.  Evidently it is a really bad idea to use the word homicidal and stalker in the same blog.  At least as far as Avast! Antivirus is concerned.)

My website has always had green bars (their rating system), indicating that it’s a good and safe site.  Until about two hours after I posted the blog that contained the two words I just mentioned.  And not just those two words, but those two words together as a phrase.

I’d gotten a notification about some activity on my Facebook fan page and went to respond, but instead of doing that, my eyes were immediately drawn to a link for my website.  Hard not to notice that formerly green bars were now a brilliant red.   Yup.  My website had been deemed bad and unsafe.  I refreshed the page a few times, thinking it had to be a glitch.  Or that my eyes were playing tricks on me.  But nope.  The bars remained red.

I probably overreacted, but I was shocked and horrified to find that my website was now something people would avoid.  Red bars mean it’s likely you’ll wind up with a computer virus.

So anyway, long story short, I wound up emailing Avast (twice in about thirty minutes).  I explained what the website was, and that there was nothing, to my knowledge, that could possibly be harmful or offensive to other users.  I also explained about the blog I’d posted that evening.

Why did I use the words homicidal and stalker?  Because the five-book series I’m working on now includes a mystery involving a stalker.  And since I’m a coward and don’t watch crime dramas, halfway through the third book, I began to run out of things for my stalker to do.  So I made an appeal to writers who read my blog…for ideas.

The next day the bars for my website were gray, meaning no rating.  Not great, but at least they were no longer a bright red warning flag.  I could live with that.  But it seems that Avast actually checked into things because they’re back to green today!

I love Avast.  Yes, I was pretty upset over what happened, but I realize that it was simply the antivirus looking out for other users.  The system that caused my chin to bruise when it hit the floor over the red bars is the reason I use it.  If Avast green-lights a website, I feel safe in visiting it.

I’m also impressed with the way they wasted no time in resolving the issue.  And I have every confidence that if the same thing happens today, because I used those two words again, they will continue to impress me.

That said, if anyone has any suggestions to make my stalker a little scarier, please feel free to drop me a note.  Which reminds me…thank you, Laura, for all the information you’ve shared with me.  My non-stalker characters are going to be in for some nasty surprises based on what you’ve told me.  🙂

***Update.  Darn.  Looks like there’s still a micro drain on the battery so I’m not getting the car back today after all…   Guess I’ll have to spend the time I won’t be driving anywhere admiring my green bars.  🙂

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I Could Sure Use Some Help Here

Okay, I admit it.  I’m not a really big fan of crime dramas.  They literally can give me nightmares.   Maybe because they’re often based on reality.  Real cases that made the news.  And that kind of stuff really bothers me.    Unfortunately it also leaves me in a bit of a quandary.

Why?  When you don’t watch shows like that, it tends to leave you a bit ignorant regarding the intricacies of crime.  Given the fact that I’m writing a five-book series, and have a mystery woven throughout, it poses a bit of a problem.   Because I’m running out of ideas to carry the storyline through to the end.

So I need to ask a favor.  I’ll even get on my cyber knees and say, ‘Pretty please with sugar on top,’ if you insist.  But for anyone who does watch crime dramas…

What are some things that homicidal stalkers do?  During the period when they just want to play cat and mouse?  When they only want to scare the heck out of them, before doing them in?

Do they keep coming up with fresh ways to frighten their prey?  Do they do repeats of some of their best work?

I’d try Googling this but I’m not sure whether I’d wind up on some kind of FBI watch list or not.  I was just kidding about that.  Mostly.

So anyway…

If you could help me out here, I’d really appreciate it.  Because I’d really like to make the books as realistic as possible…without scaring myself silly in the process.  Thanks!

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Funny Things

Per usual, I checked the weather forecast before I went to bed last night.  If storms are predicted, I’ll unplug my computer (thanks to horror stories about lightening strikes frying motherboards).   Sure enough rain and scattered storms were predicted.  Of course that brought to mind my comical fall a week and a half ago and I lay in bed giggling for awhile (again) before I finally fell asleep.

With me, one funny thought often leads to others, and it can take a significant amount of time before I finally head off to dreamland.   One incident in particular has caused me to lose more sleep than almost anything else through the years.

I almost feel like I have to issue a warning here.  Along the lines of a, ‘kids, don’t try this at home,’ kind of thing.  So maybe I should just say that I was an idiot when I was nineteen and really hope no one else is that stupid.

Why was I an idiot?  Well, because I felt, at the time, that there were priorities in life.  And they didn’t include spending hard earned money on car insurance or repairs.  At one point I was driving around on what amounted to nothing more than an inner tube.  Seriously.  I had to fill the ‘tire’ a couple of times a day, and when it was low I could press lightly on it and push it in with ease.  Yes, it’s a miracle that I’m alive to mention it.

Brakes also weren’t a high priority, and that’s what this blog is about.

When people talk about their brakes being bad I’m fairly sure their definition differs greatly from my nineteen year old definition.  My brakes were so bad I had to choose my routes carefully.  If there was a stop sign ahead, I would have to pump the pedal furiously, starting at least half a block before I got there.  Same thing for red lights.  And if I had to sit there for more than two seconds, I would have to throw the shifter into park….because they wouldn’t hold.

That said, the rest of the story concerns my sister, who owned a truck with a clutch.  I thought she was lucky because I’d always wanted to learn how to drive a vehicle with a clutch.  It was just so much cooler than a standard shift vehicle (still is, actually).  But she didn’t appreciate the coolness of the truck and begged me to let her drive my car one night when we needed to run an errand for our father.  He owned an arcade and needed us to go to a nearby party store to ‘buy’ quarters (trade dollars for coins).  It had been a busy night and we were running low.

Anyway, I explained to her what I just explained to you, and she assured me she understood.  I kept insisting the brakes were too bad, but finally gave in, believing I’d made the situation crystal clear.

It was about a twelve mile drive and she’d done well enough that I stopped paying attention, which turned out to be a big mistake.   As she was wheeling into the parking space at the store I heard a frantic, “Kristy!  Kristy!  The brakes!  The brakes!”

And then it was up over the thick walkway, narrowly missing the electronic sliding glass doors…and an elderly couple.  She didn’t miss the big trash can though.  Nope.  It crumpled like a piece of aluminum foil on impact.  Of course the manager came running out to see what had crashed into his building.

Maybe I should mention here that when something scary happens, something that also strikes me as funny, I’m a goner.   I’ll start laughing and it will be awhile before I can stop.  Sometimes a long while.

As it happens, several scary things occurred in that moment.  One she almost drove through a brick wall.  Two, she almost killed, or seriously injured, that elderly couple.  Three, the trash can was…well, trashed.  And four, I wasn’t covered by car insurance.

But

It also struck me as hilarious because, as she was shouting, “Kristy!  Kristy!  The brakes!  The brakes!” she sounded just like the little guy from Fantasy Island crying out, “The plane!  The plane!”

And I lost it.

By the time the manager got to the car, which she’d quickly moved back to the parking space, I was laughing so hard I was crying.  And I couldn’t stop.  Not while we were discussing it in the office (with me apologizing repeatedly-not for hitting the store, but I couldn’t stop laughing).  Not while the manager was explaining that there was no real harm done and he thought he could pound the dents out of the trash can.  And not when my sister shot me a look that should have ended my life instantly…when I asked if we could buy the quarters from him (we were on a mission, after all).

Needless to say my sister decided she wanted no part of driving my car when we were finally let off the hook.  So, shaking like a leaf I drove us to KFC where we could start to get a grip, and maybe calm down just a bit.  But for the longest time I sat in the booth, still unable to get control of the laughter, while she sat there, head in her hands, moaning over and over, “Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened.”   I was so bad that I got another customer going.  He just kept watching us and laughing, too.

So, all that to tell you that when I lay in bed at night, giggling over something, that memory never fails to come to mind, and all I can do is hope my kids don’t hear me.  They already think I’m a nut most of the time.

I forgot to add that, when we’ve discussed that event through the years, we have a slight difference of opinion.  I believe I made it very clear that the brakes were really bad.  She, on the other hand, believes I didn’t actually have brakes.  So not true!  They were there…you just had to work hard to find them.

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Reminiscing

A little over a week ago the prevailing question of the day seemed to be some version of, “Do you remember what you were doing?”

Of course it was in reference to 9-1-1.

Yes, I remember exactly what I was doing when it happened.  Grocery shopping with my mom.   I had gone with her and, when she brought me home, I started carrying bags inside…only to be interrupted by a ringing telephone.  And a sister demanding to know where I’d been.  She also wanted to know if I’d heard the news.

No, I hadn’t.  While thousands of people died, or murdered, I was shopping and chatting with my mother.  And like most of America, I spent the next days and weeks glued to the television, terrified and saddened beyond belief.

Unlike much of America, I didn’t watch a single program to commemorate the tenth anniversary though.  I did read some articles.  ‘It’ was in my thoughts often in the days before, and almost constantly on the day of.

But I couldn’t immerse myself in it again.  Because I realized quite quickly that if I did, I’d be caught up in the same anger and sadness I’d experienced when the tragedy happened.   I had to honor the victims, the heroes, and the ones left behind, in my thoughts and prayers.

Sometimes it’s just more than I can comprehend, how certain people can hate so much, and hate without any real justification.  Or provication.  How they can do something that heinous without batting an eye.  How they can kiss their own lives goodbye in order to exact vengeance on people who are guilty of nothing, except maybe having been born in the United States.

I’m really not sure why I started thinking about this again tonight.  Perhaps because I’ve felt a bit sad this month.  It still boggles my mind, I guess.  The enormity of it.  All of it.  The horrible part, and then later, the best part.

Watching American’s band together.  Seeing how most of the rest of the world came together to offer their support, much like friends and family do during the death of a loved one.  No, most of us didn’t know any of the victims of 9-11.  We didn’t feel the grief and sense of loss that their spouses, children, or parents did.  But we were affected deeply.  In the early days, I think most of us felt lost.  How could we not?  Our sense of security was shaken to its core.

And yet we came together, maybe for the first time in decades, finally remembering what a great country we have the privilege to live in.  Do you remember the first Christmases afterward?  Red, white and blue became a predominant decorating theme.   Flags lit up alongside inflatable Rudolph’s and Santa’s.  It was an awesome, humbling sight, wasn’t it?

And then, as time passed, the memories and feelings started to fade.  Not that we forgot it happened, but the horror grew faint.  And like a nightmare in the light of day, the events became fuzzy in our minds.  Nothing more than life returning to normal, as it usually does following a tragedy.

So I’m glad that America chose to honor everyone who was affected by the hateful acts that day.  We needed the reminders.  Even if you’re like me, and couldn’t watch the televised memorials, or videos of the events as they unfolded a decade ago, you still remembered.  Your heart still hurt.

And for just a while, just a little while, we could put aside differences and unite once again.

 

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