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A Fitting Tale

To distract from the consistent incorrect use of tense in my last post, which I’m hoping you won’t realize took me a full day to get around to fixing, I’m going to talk about coffee and its accessories.

 

I didn’t drink coffee until I turned 30. With company over one night and me, pregnant with my third and last child, I percolated a pot for our guests just as I’d done a million times before. But this time, as I set out the cream and sugar, the spoons and the mugs, I added one for myself without thinking. I poured the dark and steamy liquid, filling each one, including my own. My friends and my husband looked on, somewhat shocked.

 

And then, as natural as can be, I drank it.

 

I imagined it was a one-off, but from then on, my baby begged for beans. By the time she was out of the womb and a walking, talking two year old she was pleading for teaspoons full of my sweet and milky caffeine. (You may want to fault me for this, but I’m British and was raised on tea—let’s face it, we have since discovered that that is just as caffeine-infused as coffee and I turned out fine. No really, I did.)

 

It’s been a long few years since that first cup and it took me some time to figure out what it is about Starbucks that makes it the apparent all that.

 

It’s the lid.

 

I can’t even drink the regular coffee at Starbucks. It’s too stark, too bitter for me, so I tend to go for a milky Cappuccino, but sometimes, you just want a cuppa, you know? And I do love a good Double Double.

 

But. That. Lid.

 

I am aware this is the quintessence of first world problems but this is the world in which we live. With the knowledge available and the ‘perfect’ sample ripe for the copying, why oh why, would Tim Hortons manufacture such a horrendous lid?

 

It’s flimsy. It’s loose. It’s weak. Once you open that hatch it’ll never be on lock-down again—you’re left babysitting your beverage until the last drop. And, could the opening be any bigger? Who thought having to pause mid-walk for every sip would be convenient, or that your car would have to be motionless to take a swig. And your coffee is of course cold by then by the way, due to that gaping hole in the top of your cup.

 

I thought I’d finally found my genius when I ordered my Double Double and asked for their ‘latte lid’ instead which actually does resemble Starbucks’ style, but I knew I’d made a big mistake when I looked down to find my scarf covered in large fervently fragrant dribbles.

 

Details matter. People notice. They rely on us to get them right, to make it easy…to feel effortless. The structure, the tense, the flavor, the finishing touch…all of it counts.

 

It has to be charming. It has to be tight.

 

Readers will always choose a good fit. After all, the content is subjective.

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Two is the Answer

I try to eat. I really do. But the numbers keep jumbling around in my tummy—making their way up my throat and filling my mouth, leaving no room for food. I can barely stomach the math test I’m about to endure, never mind the syrupy oatmeal my mom has been simmering on the stove top for the last half hour.

 

The sweet smell is what woke me. A deep inhale, one eye open, then the other. What normally would have made me snuggle deeper into the mattress and relish what a lucky kid I was instead made my stomach twist and turn on this particular morning.

 

I’d stayed up most of the night meaning to study, the flashlight casting a warm glow beneath the covers, right down to my toes. Though it had shed enough light over the pages of my textbook, concentrating had been impossible. The equations consumed me. Each symbol became a joint and each line, a top or bottom jaw. They’d snapped at me amongst the shadows and the sharp edges of their difficulty had left imprints upon the worried creases in my mind.

 

“Breakfast!” My mother had cheerily called, oblivious to my grief.

 

Sitting now at the table, trying to not look as miserable as I am, I toy with a small spoonful of thick oats.

 

“Cream’s on the table,” my mother sing-songs. “You might want to thin it out.”

 

Her head is buried in the fridge, pen poised over a notepad as she makes a grocery list for her morning shop, but I can tell she’s picking up on something. She’s slowly raising her head and sniffing the air, honing in on my turmoil as only a mother can do.

 

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Grandpa mutters as he shuffles into the kitchen. He’s dressed for his walk in running shoes and track pants, but his sweatshirt is crumpled in his hands in a ball of frustration.

 

“What’s up, Gramps?” I ask, quite frankly happy for the distraction as my mother’s head ducks back into the fridge.

 

“The Goddamn string,” he snarls. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” He holds up the long cord that has come loose from inside the seam of his hood. It dangles freely, no longer attached to his sweatshirt in any way.

 

My mother, clearly wanting to avoid any Grampa drama, turns her back and hums a loud, happy tune and as she opens and closes cupboard drawers, scribbling away.

 

“Let me see it,” I offer, holding out my hand.

 

He shoves the soft, grey material at me and sits down in a pout.

 

“You stay and eat your fruit,” I tell him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

 

When I return, he’s concentrating on his getting flimsy pieces of mandarin and slippery chunks of pear from his bowl into his mouth without letting them slip off the fork.

 

“Good as new!” I announce, knowing this will make his day.

 

“How did you do this?” He asks, astonished. “I tried for so long…it seemed impossible.”

 

I take the large safety pin out of my pocket and show him how I’d pierced the string with it and fed it through the long tunnel of fabric, grabbing the pin and pulling it, and the string, further down the line as more fabric bunched up around it and until it popped out at the other end.

 

My Grandfather’s eyes widened as my mother’s rolled behind him.

 

“Amazing, just amazing.” But his pleasure is somewhat short-lived as his brain kicks into gear.

 

“What’s to stop this from happening again? I don’t want to have to do this every time I go for a walk.” His brow furrows as he brings his palms up to his face.

 

“You won’t have to, Grampa. Look.” I tie a small knot into each side of the drawstring, just at the base of the opening into the hood. “See? It’s not going anywhere now!”

 

“You’re a genius, my darling! A true genius!” The last part is muffled as he pulls the hoodie over his head, excited to be able to tug it tight.

 

I finally begin to smile as I watch my Grandfather head off to meet his pals at the park.

 

And why wouldn’t I? Geniuses after all, don’t fail math tests.

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Count On It

This is a post from almost a year ago, that I decided to revamp. Much to my delight, I didn’t end up feeling like I needed to change all that much. Most times I read my old posts and end up buried under the covers, shivering for the rest of the day.

Have a safe and happy Friday folks, and thanks for reading!

 

I have this old adding machine and for about ten years, the battery cover has been missing. It’s because of this I feel a profound sadness every time I pull it out of the drawer. Without the support, I know it will only be a matter of time before those little coils relax and let the batteries fall to the floor. But it would hurt my heart to replace a perfectly good thing due simply to the fact that it’s missing a piece. After all, it still works faultlessly and if anyone appreciates a bit of help in the calculating department, it’s me. You see, I can’t add worth a damn. I still count out on my fingers and have to write anything more than a three-digit sum down on paper or the numbers start climbing, tripping and toppling over one another in my head.

Many years ago, I waitressed and always kept a tiny calculator tucked into my billfold, never wanting to expose my tricky little secret. My fellow servers let bills flail from their pockets or flap from their cleavage and somehow still managed to finish their closes ahead of me and my tightly organized stash of cash.

I also worked in retail and strived to move up through the ranks. But moving up meant making manager and making manager meant numbers, which was, as you can guess, intimidating for someone like me. Eventually I learned to make my fingers fly over the chunky buttons without even looking. I earned a sense of control I’d never felt before, being able to ‘rule’ math that way. Granted, the bookwork to be done was very formulaic and the risk of something going seriously wrong was low. The numbers either balanced or they didn’t and if it turned out they wouldn’t, the mistake was usually very easy to find. It got so that I could do the hour-long nightly paperwork in twenty minutes—fifteen if I had somewhere more enticing to be.

Much to my dismay, long after being paid to fret over it, math continues to linger in my life and it seems the only time I’m able to call it rewarding is when I’m gauging the tip for a sly pub lunch. Things like balancing checkbooks, crunching numbers, logging endless expenses and estimating interests do not bring me joy.

What. So. Ever.

But the other day I decided it was time to clean out my junk drawers—oh shush, yes I have more than one—and you can probably guess what I came across. That’s right. Lo and behold, there, on the drawer’s gritty bottom, lay the battery cover for my old adding machine. I have to say my heart skipped a beat and I did experience what could be considered a teensy jab of joy.

Don’t give up on something because it’s disjointed or incomplete. You never know when you’ll find that very thing you weren’t even aware you were searching for. And sometimes, that little piece is all it takes.

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In Writing

Nope. No ink on me.

 

Not because I don’t like tattoos or even that I have much of an opinion about them either way. Admittedly, there have been times when they’ve piqued my interest and times when I’ve been awkwardly surprised. There are some people I can’t imagine without them and some who have shocked me by uncovering that discreet little place and exposing their clandestine art.

 

I don’t have tattoos for the same reasons naming characters in my stories stops me cold. How can I be sure I’ve picked the right one? How do I know I’ll like it forever? What if, at the half way mark, my character turns around and tells me they hate it? Where is the guarantee I won’t regret it the minute ten thousand copies have been printed? What if the name I’ve chosen doesn’t translate well to the big screen? Yes, I’m in an optimistic mood. So, sue me.

 

There is something to a name. A name can change who we are and shape who we would have become. If we’d been called something else, none of the conversations or interactions we’ve had because of our name would’ve happened, ultimately altering our very being. A name influences the way people relate to us—change your name and the personality you know so well is gone.

 

How I was able to name my children, without once regretting my choices, is a mystery to me. (Must be something to do with that same hormone that keeps us from pegging our kids to the clothesline when they’ve been screaming for twenty-four plus hours.)

 

It’s a big responsibility, naming a being, whether they be breathing or fictional. It takes heart and soul, conviction and commitment. It takes longing, vision and love.

 

I think I’ve just decided what I’m doing for my 90th birthday.

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Ass In

I have created what I believe to be the greatest query letter ever. I’ve been writing it for days, tweaking this and changing that. I’ve spent a lot of time researching what turns an agent off and what can get your painstakingly invoked words ruthlessly chucked into a slush pile.

 

And you know, most of it is common sense.

 

I mean, I may be slightly off my rocker and tilted to one side, but I would like to think that because we’re writers, we would know what to write. “Don’t tell us you’ve just finished a novel—why else would you be writing us?” or “Never say your book is the next Harry Potter—this makes us think it just might be, well, the next Harry Potter and usually, we’re pretty freaking disappointed.” should be obvious things to avoid, but it seems this is not so. Disappointingly, enough of us are sending in malarkey like this to justify experts having to produce Querying for the Dumbass instructions.

 

But my query—my query is clever and quirky. The words run together like butter down the side of a hot mound of mashed potato and come to a cohesive finish at the bottom in a supple pool of slick and creamy amalgamation.

 

You have to admit that even if you don’t like mashed potatoes, you’d read a letter like that, right?

 

And that’s the idea. Whether or not you have creds to list, achievements to boast or stats to rattle, your letter is supposed to sell you—your wits, your worth, your words.

 

So prove you’re a writer and use them wisely.

 

Now, if only I had a novel to go along with my cracker of a query.

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See The Squirrel?

Is it possible to develop ADD later in life? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening to me.

 

I—Cannot—Focus.

 

Sure, I’ve been a putterer for as long as I can remember, skipping from one task to the next, but at the end of the day, my long list was always complete. I accomplished what I set out to do and went to bed each night, content and satisfied.

 

No longer the case.

 

Just to give you an idea, in the past two days, I have opened up six new Word docs with the intention of courting you with six different subjects and currently, each one displays about three sentences. There are twenty-three tabs open in my web browser. I can’t seem to make it to the laundry room because I have to walk through the family room to get there and well, let’s just say there’s always cause for pause in that area. I head towards the kitchen with the intent of baking cupcakes, but notice the granite counter top feels gritty, so I clean the entire kitchen instead. A vacuum out the cutlery drawer and wipe down all twenty-six cupboard doors kind of cleaning where, eventually, I look down to see the folds in my yellow rubber gloves crested in moonlight and I find myself totally alone, wondering why everyone is in bed already.

 

I don’t know what it is. I’ve started four books and can’t read more than a page in any one of them. I stand in front of my outdated pine bookcases and ponder how much better they will look when I finally paint them, only to get lost in the paperwork they house, which is never, ever finished…and thus, neither are the shelves.

 

Anyway, squirrel.

 

I got together with a friend last night. She helped me not only to hunker down and finish something, but to get a little of that Christmas Spirit I find so hard to muster, flowing. Here is the productive result of our focused girl’s night…

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I’ve developed a zealous addiction to ice cream. I can also be persuaded with Gelato or frozen yogurt—anything cold and creamy really, and most any kind. It doesn’t need to be expensive or of a certain name. It doesn’t have to be healthy or organic and I admit, with a coy smile and fluttering lashes, that it doesn’t even have to be particularly good.

 

There’s just something about it. Tiny spoonfuls. Over-sized globs. I don’t discriminate. Textured with nuts, smattered with chunks, smothered in swirling trails of smooth liqueurs—I’ll try them all.

 

Oh yes, I’ve always liked ice cream. As a kid I’d run after the creepy van or sit cross-legged on the sidewalk, scrawling my name in chalky bubbles, waiting for a poor schmuck to come by, pedaling a freezer full. I’d gleefully shell out way too much of my hard-earned pocket change for a Phantom or a Drumstick, and when I lived in the UK, I’d drool over 99’s and Raspberry Ripple. I savored bright afternoons watching Ernie stack his spherical scoops while I lazily traced designs in our blue, sun-warmed, shag rug.

 

But lately, it’s more than that. It’s like someone’s trying to tell me something. I just don’t know what. Maybe it’s that I’m getting too old for ice cream. That my time to enjoy it is running out. That soon it will make my teeth twinge and my stomach ache—that diabetes and high cholesterol are right around the corner and I should slow down. Or it might just be telling me I should go after more of what I enjoy .

Maybe it’s as simple as that.

Ernie-icecream

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