Friday, March 28, 2014

COLD WEATHER, HOT BATHS

The one thing I enjoy the most about cold weather is taking long, hot baths. In the warm weather, I prefer cool showers, but in the winter, I practically live in the bathtub.

To me, a hot bath is one of the most relaxing things on earth. The minute I feel stressed, I’m in the bathroom running the water for my bath. And after shoveling snow, when my back is crying out in protest, nothing beats a nice long soak.

The first ten years of my marriage, I was stuck with a bathtub that was so shallow, my navel never even got wet. I had to lie flat on my back if I wanted to soak.

The next tub we had was a much deeper garden tub with two built-in steps leading into it. It also was made of some kind of cheap plastic. Within only a few years, the tub had more cracks in it than an old sidewalk. And I can’t count the number of times I, with my feet soaking-wet, climbed out of that tub and ended up looking like some bad naked acrobat going down those two steps.

My husband always hated baths. He thought nothing was more boring than sitting in a tub of water. He also thought baths were disgusting.

“You’re sitting in your own dirt when you take a bath!” he’d say. “How can that be considered cleanly? The dirt has nowhere to go – you’re trapped in the tub with it. At least when you take a shower, the dirt goes down the drain and away from your body. Now, that’s clean!”

He made it sound as if I’d spent the day jumping into mud pits.

One night, however, when my husband was feeling achy all over, I managed to convince him to try taking a nice long soak. I even ran the bathwater for him. I’m the type who likes really hot baths – the kind that turn my skin pink. So when I drew the bath for him, I put mostly hot water into the tub.

When he stepped into it, I think the people two streets over could hear him screaming, “Aaaaagggghhh!  What are you trying to do, boil me alive?”

So when our current house was being built, I vowed to make the master bathroom my own personal and private retreat.  I not only bought a really deep, up-to-my-neck soaking tub, I installed a small, flat-screen TV on the wall facing it. I was fully prepared to live in that tub.

I knew, however, that before I could enjoy the ultimate bathing experience, I had to find some way to solve the problem of running out of hot water when filling such a big tub. The solution was one of those hot-water-on-demand systems. It flash heats water in only seconds, and then continues to heat as much water as needed without any interruption, even if it’s 100 gallons. The system is amazing. I can take baths so hot, I can see the steam rising from my skin.

I hate to say it, but having the bathroom of my dreams these past five years has had a few negative effects. For one, soaking isn’t a spontaneous thing – it involves a complicated process of getting prepared. I first have to gather my necessities, like my moisturizing soap, razor, washcloth, bath towel, something to drink (hot baths make me thirsty), two remote controls (one for the TV and the other for the satellite box), my telephone, bath pillow, a snack, my exfoliating sponge and a rubber band to tie my hair in a ponytail.

By the time I have everything ready for my bath, I’m so tired, I usually doze off the minute I hit the water.

“Aren’t you afraid you might drown?” my aunt asked me. “Falling asleep in the tub is dangerous.”

“Nah,” I assured her. “If it came to the point where my face actually went underwater, I’m sure I’d wake up.”

She didn’t seem at all convinced. In fact, the look on her face told me she thought I should hire a bathroom lifeguard.

And phone calls always are a little awkward when I’m soaking.

“Hi!” the caller, usually one of my friends, will say. “What’re you doing?”

“Oh, I’m just soaking in the tub right now,” I answer.

A period of silence usually follows. I’m not sure if it’s because the caller is surprised to hear I’m talking on the phone while in the tub, or if the vision that my statement brings to mind is so shocking and disturbing, it renders the person speechless.

It’s not uncommon for me to watch an entire two-hour movie while soaking. It’s also not uncommon for my skin to look as white and wrinkly as cheesecloth by the time the movie is over.

But now that spring and warmer weather rapidly are approaching, I realize my long, hot baths are numbered. So I’m going to try to squeeze in as many as I possibly can before the inevitable heat and humidity arrive.

In fact, I’m writing this while soaking.

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I'M TOO OLD TO BE BUYING BABY GIFTS


My niece had a baby shower a couple weeks ago, and all I can say is things certainly have changed since the last time I shopped for baby items.

For one thing, I hadn’t been to a baby shower since Nixon was president. Back then, expectant mothers didn’t know the sex of their babies in advance, so most newborn babies started their lives wearing either pastel yellow or green clothing.

My niece is having a girl, so I set out to buy lots of cute little girly things for the baby. Everything for baby girls, I soon discovered, was pink – pale pink, neon pink, dark pink, flamingo pink – pink as far as the eye could see.  I felt as if I had been swallowed by a bottle of Pepto Bismol. After a while, I actually found myself searching for pastel yellow or green, just to break up the monotony. I didn’t, however, find anything. So I decided to buy something practical instead, something non-pink – like diapers.

“Is she going to use disposables or go the organic, eco-friendly route and use cloth diapers?” the sales clerk asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said, shrugging.

“Cloth diapers are making a big comeback,” she said, “they don’t harm the environment. I heard that a thousand years from now, today’s disposable diapers still will be completely intact in landfills.”

The vision of a mountain of old, used, disposable diapers that popped into my mind wasn’t an attractive one. However, I also had a flashback to my high-school days when I used to babysit, and all diapers were made of cloth. I remembered removing the baby’s diaper, dunking it into the toilet a few times to rinse it off, and then putting the sopping-wet diaper into a smelly diaper pail, awaiting laundry day.  I also remembered the diaper pins that were used to secure the diaper – potentially lethal weapons when the baby was squirming.

So I decided to forget about the diapers for my niece’s shower gift. Instead, I thought a case of baby food might be a better idea. I checked the jars and they were dated far enough in advance so the baby probably would have a full set of teeth by the time they expired.

“Are you sure the mother-to-be isn’t planning to make her own baby food?” the clerk asked me. “A lot of mothers are doing that now, to make certain everything is 100-percent fresh and natural.”

Again, I had to say I didn’t know.  Years ago, babies were fed strained peas, strained carrots and strained beef right out of jars. Nothing fancy, and it probably was loaded with salt – which, from what I’d heard, now was taboo (I’ll bet if babies could talk, however, they’d be begging for the salt).

“I thought I’d just buy a case of Gerber baby food,” I said. “I ate it when I was a baby, and I grew up just fine.”

“Well…if you’re certain the mother isn’t intending to make her own baby food,” the clerk said.

I not only was beginning to dislike the clerk, I was beginning to wonder if she worked for a competitor, because she certainly didn’t seem too eager to make a sale.

Even after the clerk stopped “helping” me, I found myself using her method of thinking. I picked up a soft, pink fleece outfit with little lambs on it. Did the baby clothes have to be made from organic materials, I wondered?  Did they have to be made in America?  Did they have to be hypoallergenic?

I hung the outfit back on the rack.

I then noticed a selection of adorable little shoes – sneakers, Mary Janes, even cowboy boots – all so tiny, they looked like dolls’ shoes. I immediately fell in love with all of them.

It took me quite a while to decide, but I finally picked out a pair of tiny white-leather sneakers that had a little swirl of sparkly crystals on each side. They, I felt, were guaranteed to be “ooh-worthy” at the baby shower.

As I was admiring them, a female customer who was looking at baby socks a couple feet away, smiled and said to me, “Those are adorable!”

I smiled back. “Yes, aren’t they the cutest?”

“Too bad they’re such a waste of money,” she said. “I mean, it’s not as if a newborn baby is going to be walking anywhere, not for months, so why does it need shoes? It’s kind of like buying a toothbrush for a goldfish!”

At that moment, I fully understood why gift cards were invented.
 
 

 

 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

BUYING JEANS IS COMPLICATED NOWADAYS


I recently had so much trouble buying a new pair of jeans that fit me comfortably, I honestly began to think there was something wrong with my anatomy.

Years ago, buying jeans was simple. You’d walk into the store, find your size, and seeing that jeans came in only one style - nothing fancy - if they fit, you bought them. And even if they didn’t fit exactly right, you still bought them. If they were too long, you’d wear them cuffed up. If you were a young kid, you’d wear them cuffed up twice, until you grew a couple more inches.

Well, when I walked into the jeans section of a department store a couple weeks ago, my first thought was that I should have brought an interpreter. The jeans were grouped by categories: baggy, skinny fit, relaxed fit, oxygen-required fit, boot cut, flare-leg, western fit, hip huggers, bell bottoms, capris, low rise, high rise, and talk-in-a-higher-voice rise.

I was so confused, I did the only logical thing a woman in my situation could do…I grabbed the first pair of jeans I found in my size. They were black and “relaxed fit.” I figured that with a name like “relaxed,” they had to be comfortable. So I tried them on.  All I can say is they were so relaxed, they looked like an unmade bed. Somehow, the crotch-down-to-the-knees look just wasn’t for me.

And unfortunately, now that my backside has fallen with age and is located somewhere behind my knees, there was nothing to fill up all of the bagginess.

But even if the jeans had fit right, I probably wouldn’t have bought them anyway. I knew from experience that black jeans attract every lint ball and dog hair within a 10-mile radius. Every piece of black clothing I currently own looks as if I wore it while cleaning out the lint trap in my clothes dryer. 

So I continued my search for jeans. I grabbed a pair of hip huggers. I’m high waisted, so I figured hip huggers would make me look as if I had a longer torso. I also figured they’d be perfect for me because the jeans would have plenty of hip to hug.

I tried them on and stared at my reflection in the mirror. The jeans looked pretty good from the front. Then I turned and looked over my shoulder at the back. Two inches of underwear showed above the jeans. I bent over. All of my underwear showed. The only way I’d have felt comfortable wearing those jeans would have been underneath a dress.

I knew not to even bother trying on the skinny jeans because the word “skinny” does not exist in my vocabulary. The thinnest thing on my body is my hair, and I was pretty sure jeans weren’t meant to be worn on my head.

Frustrated, I asked a sales clerk which jeans were the most similar to the ones everyone wore back in the 1960s. She said the classic fit, which made sense.

So I searched for a pair of the classic-fit jeans in my size and tried them on.

The minute I zipped and buttoned them, I breathed a sigh of relief. They fit exactly the way I wanted them to. The only problem was, when the jeans reached my shins, they abruptly ended. From mid-shin to my ankles, my legs were bare.

I walked out of the dressing room. “What happened to the rest of the legs on these?” I asked the clerk.

“Those are cropped jeans,” she said. “They are all the rage right now.”

“Where? In flood plains?”

She wasn’t amused.

Finally, after I’d tried on so many jeans I was suffering from denim burn on my thighs, I bought a pair of medium-rise, boot-cut, stretch jeans. At least they covered most of my backside and my ankles, and when I bent over, they actually stretched to the full width of my hips without begging for mercy.

The other day, I was telling one of my friends about my shopping experience and she suggested, in a roundabout way, that perhaps I should forego the jeans and T-shirts and start dressing more appropriately for my age.

I’m not exactly sure what she meant by appropriately, but I suspect it might involve polyester stretch-pants pulled all the way up to my bra.
 
 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

WAR OF THE WORDS


My friend Gregg and I currently are at war.  The problem is, I’m not certain if either one of us is going to win.
 
We’ve both entered the same novel-writing contest, the top prize of which is $50,000.
 
He’s the one who told me about the contest, but only about a month before the entry deadline. My first thought was there was no way I could enter because not only didn’t I have a prize-worthy novel completed, I didn’t have any novel at all. So I decided to put the contest out of my mind. My mind, however, had other ideas. It kept saying to me, “Just think of what you could do with $50,000!”
 
Finally, I sat down and wrote a novel – 55,000 words in just 24 days. I wrote it so fast, I’m still wondering if it even makes any sense, mainly because I barely had time to proofread it. But I was determined to make the contest deadline, even if my character’s love interest in the book is 5’9” tall with brown eyes on page 20 and then suddenly is 5’11” with gray eyes on page 52.
 
During those 24 days of intense writing, I neglected things like sleeping, housework, the laundry and my friends. I figured the dust, dog fur and dirty laundry still would be there when my book was finished. I wasn’t so sure about my friends, however, who probably thought I either was ignoring them…or I was dead.
 
When I finally finished my manuscript, I thoroughly read the contest’s entry rules. I got the distinct impression the judges don’t want to do any more reading than is absolutely necessary.
 
I thought I’d just have to send in my manuscript and that would be it, but no, the judges want three things: first, “the pitch” – a description of the book in under 300 words; second, a sample – the first 3,000-5,000 words of the book; and third, the completed manuscript.
 
So, what it all boils down to is the all-important pitch. If the judges don’t like the pitch, they’re not going to bother to read anything else. A contestant could write the equivalent of another “The Wizard of Oz,” but if the pitch isn’t exciting, intriguing and well-written, the book itself never will make it to the judges’ eyeballs.
 
For example, if someone pitched “The Wizard of Oz” as something like: “This is the story of a girl named Dorothy who dreams she takes a flight to a place far from home and then comes back again,” how many judges would want to read the book? It sounds about as exciting as watching grass grow.
 
My friend Gregg’s novel, which, unlike mine, took him over ten years to write, is a fantasy about a young man who leaves home on an adventure and encounters everything from a flying child-stealing giant dog to shape-shifters, witches, a killer hog and a king. However, when he sent me his pitch and asked for my opinion, my first reaction was that it could put even someone who’d overdosed on caffeine to sleep.
 
His entire pitch was, “This is the story of a boy who can’t get along with his father so he leaves home to find his way in life.”
 
“You have to make your pitch sound a lot more exciting than that!” I told him. “How are the judges going to know that your book has all sorts of exciting characters and creatures in it?”
 
“Well, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot in advance,” he said. “I want them to be surprised.”
 
 “They’ll be too busy snoring to be surprised,” I said. “Let me write up something to give you an example of what I think your pitch should be like.”
 
So I wrote him a pitch that made his main character sound like a combination of Harry Potter, James Bond and Indiana Jones all rolled into one.
 
I then went to work on writing the pitch for my own book. It took me hours to come up with something I finally was satisfied with because I knew it was my only chance to impress the judges. My story is a thriller about a woman who, just by looking at a person, can tell exactly when and how he or she will die. So I finally came up with what I thought was an interest-inducing first line for my pitch: “If it were possible to find out the exact date, time and way in which you were going to die, would you want to know?”
 
The problem with the contest is the organizers are anticipating about 10,000 entries. But I’m pretty sure about 9,000 of those will be eliminated on the pitch alone. From there, the contest first will be broken down into finalists, then quarter- finalists, followed by semi-finalists and top-ten finalists. After that, a group of online readers will give their input on the manuscripts. So I figure that by the time the final judging is over, I’ll be about 93 years old and the $50,000 grand prize probably won’t even be enough to pay for the gas to drive to the bank to cash the check.
 
Still, it should be interesting to see whether Gregg or I will make it to the finals.  I think he may have a slight advantage over me, though. He’s 80 and has been writing ever since he was old enough to hold a pencil.
 
But if his book makes it and mine doesn’t, there will be no hard feelings. But I just might kick myself a few times for writing that pitch for him.