To Wash or Not To Wash: No Question!

(Warning: This post may be dangerous to your gag reflex!)

The other day I was at my daughter’s home, and she commented that “Puppy” (a full-grown, 80-pound Husky) was in need of  “a spa day pretty soon; she smells like a dog”.

Now, I lost much of my sense of smell to a sinus disorder many years ago, so I could not comment on the problem, despite the fact that my granddog was dancing in front of me, performing her “I have not seen you in at least two days and you’re my favorite person on the planet” act. She might not have smelled like roses, but Puppy’s doggy-odor hadn’t reached offensive levels, I thought.  However, the comment on smell jogged my memory regarding an article I’d read a few months earlier.

The author of the article was a proponent of infrequent bathing. His essay discussed the natural biome of the skin which was, he claimed, destroyed by too-frequent bathing (which, he seemed to indicate, was basically any form of bathing at all).  The author explained that he no longer showered or bathed, contenting himself with occasionally rinsing off excess sweat, something made easy in the summer months by merely standing beneath the garden hose—especially to rinse off his genital area.

After I finished retching (and wondering just how active this joker’s sex life wasn’t!), I continued reading to his conclusion that, instead of soap, he “smelled like people”.

As I clicked off the article, I wondered to myself if smelling like people might be equivalent to smelling like a dog—especially after the garden hose trick. Despite my weak sense of smell, wet dog is not one of my favorite scents.  I’m pretty certain that wet, unwashed people smell pretty similar to that.  And I was absolutely certain that the male author of the “don’t wash” essay had never been a menstruating woman on a hot summer day.

I’ve always equated not bathing with, oh, say, body lice and bubonic plague. I’ll take the sheer, unmatched pleasure of soaking in a hot bath with lavender salts, or a steamy shower with scented soap on a body puff—yeah, I’ll take that any day over any amount of “natural biome”.  And don’t even get me started on the “no-poo” non-hair-washing crusaders.  No-poo-schmoo-poo—my hair gets washed every other day, and on the rare occasions that I must wait to wash it until the third day, it feels gross and looks dull and anyone trying to restrain me from the hot water and shampoo had best be armed!  I use a nail brush to scrub beneath my fingernails every morning, too, all the while wondering to myself just what frightening “natural biome” lurks beneath those lovely gel-manicured fake nails I see on every second pair of female hands.

I still wonder how the author of the “don’t bathe” article felt about the CDCs recommendations for handwashing during the flu season. And that causes me to recall another article that I read, this one long before the marvels of instantly available knowledge on the Web.  That article discussed the age-old scourge of the disease trachoma, a bacterial eye inflammation that causes granulations to form beneath the eyelids. The disease is progressive, eventually causing the eyeball itself to harden and blinding the sufferers. Trachoma is a common cause of blindness in third-world countries.  But the researchers had discovered a simple way to reduce the spread of trachoma and prevent re-infection of those receiving treatment.

They simply had the people, either infected or at risk, wash their faces every day.

Natural biomes are not necessarily benign. Queen Elizabeth the First may have bathed monthly “whether she needed it or not”, but I’ll stick to my daily schedule, thank you very much. And enjoy every blessed minute of rearranging the natural biome of my skin.

Hook, Line and Sinker

Two years ago I discovered an app for my Kindle that allows me to scroll through a list of free books on the topics of my choice and decide which, if any, are those I’d like to read. Many of these novels are the initial efforts of a brand-new author; others are first books in what is to be a series.  A few are older books that the author chooses to promote in hopes of garnering new readership.

For someone who reads constantly, as I do, this should be (and often is) a great boon. It provides me the opportunity to discover authors whom I’ve never before encountered, and to enjoy reading without the worry and hassle of returning books on time to the library.  I am able to satisfy my voracious reading habits without incurring the national debt to satisfy my addiction.  In theory, then, this app provides me wonderful benefits.

In practice…not so much.

Make no mistake: I use care in selecting the books I download.  After finding a novel listed on the app, I thoroughly investigate it. I glance swiftly through the plot description, deciding if the story even sounds like something that interests me.  This can be tricky, as anyone who wants to select a good book knows.  In any case, I am persnickety. I enjoy light mysteries, but I don’t want too much blood and gore; “thriller” is not, to me, a leisure-time activity.  I’m a nervous person by nature, so I don’t need highly suspenseful novels to provoke an anxiety attack!  I also prefer that my books not be drenched in romance; heaving chests and tight buttocks and kissable lips are irritating, not titillating, and I find the romance-novel style names (Chance, Promise, Lark, Wolfe…) utterly laughable.  Nor do I want blow-by-blow descriptions of the sex act.  In my view, sex is something best done, not described.

Should a novel pass the sniff test in all these areas, I then read both the best review (the gushingly-favorable 5-Star review that was probably written by a family member or best friend) and at least two or more of the worst reviews. Those are usually the deciding factor.  If the poor reviews contain any complaints about the writing—grammar, spelling, punctuation or editing—the book is a no-go. (Disclaimer: Never doubt that I realize my own writing is hardly error-free; of that I’m  all too sadly aware.  But I am not asking a weary public to pay hard-earned money for what I’ve written.)

If a novel that I’m considering passes all my onerous qualifications, I finally take the plunge and download it.

Despite my care in selecting each book, though, I’m often disappointed. And so it is that, all too frequently, I’m reminded of the time my mother had chosen a novel at the library on one of her favorite subjects, the early American settlers.  Using just as careful a selection process as I, she nevertheless found one book to be so bad–so utterly, terribly, reprehensibly, abysmally awful–that the only thing she could possibly do was read some of the more unintentionally-hilarious passages aloud to us kids.  My mother read aloud very well: expressively, and with perfect diction.  Delivered in her faultless and precise voice, the dreadful passages of that appalling book were so unbearably funny that we literally collapsed on the floor, clutching our sides as we laughed until we hurt.

I still laugh just remembering it.  Such a comically cruel thing to do to the minds of young people!  Some of the more painfully bad sentences from that book are burned into my memory to this day.

Too late, Mom and I discovered the words “Vanity Publisher?!” penciled lightly on the flyleaf of that appalling novel. It is notable that the librarians had not erased the words.

In the world of e-books, half the novels today are essentially vanity publishing specimens. Many of these so-called authors should have their keyboards smashed and their fingers broken for the atrocities they commit in the name of literature.  More terrifying yet is the fact that a reading public swallows these works, hook, line, and sinker.

Writing a book is hard work, and those unequipped to undertake the job should not be doing it (and I include myself in that assessment). But if they insist on doing so, those authors should at the very least have the intelligence and grace to haunt the halls of their local college, find some starving graduate student aiming for a Masters in literature, and offer her or him a few paltry bucks to edit their “masterpieces”.

The rest of us might have fewer laughs that way, but we’d sure as hell burns be hitting the “Delete!” button less.

The Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog

I am owned by a big orange tomcat who somehow missed that memo about cats having staff. He approaches his contact with humans using a very different mindset.  I think perhaps he believes he is a dog.  Although he hasn’t yet learned to wag his tail, he has totally perfected the doglike stance of sitting in front of people and staring up at them adoringly.  Added to this is his propensity for licking.  Fingers, hands, cheeks, noses—he literally rains kisses upon any human who will sit still for his affectionately rough tongue.  When a friend sat in my home crying one day, he climbed up her lap and licked a few tears from her cheeks.  Finding that it wasn’t helping, he began to kiss her nose repeatedly until she finally collapsed into helpless giggles, exclaiming “I think he’s trying to turn off the tap!”

Puff (full name, Puffy Socks Dragon, Esquire) is a “porch rescue”. Regal Puff 5Thrown out at the tender age of one year by a despicable owner who moved away and left him to fend for himself, he survived four years on his own in a harsh environment that included the second hottest summer on record in the state of Indiana, and one of the worst snowstorms ever to grace a January landscape.  I honestly don’t know how he did it.  If anything, I attribute Puff’s survival during those harsh four years to his ability to sweet-talk and manipulate strangers into caring for him by worshipping them.

I became aware of Puff’s existence when, as I babysat my then-four-year-old twin great niece and nephew, he began to come visiting. It was they who graced him with his unusual name, deciding that he resembled cats owned by their grandparents (Puff) and great aunt (Socks).  “Dragon” was tacked on as a caveat to their favorite song, Puff the Magic Dragon, while I, feeling that “a little more made no never mind”, added the Esquire (in British form) to indicate his status as a gentleman cat.  In any case, every Wednesday that summer the twins would arrive at my home and we’d head out to the back porch, since they (unlike so many of their counterparts) could not get enough of the great outdoors.  And Puff would hear them and come running. I mean running! At that time, he’d made a den beneath the minibarn of the neighbor whose backyard abutted mine.  I would hear the telltale rattle of lumber that the neighbors kept stored outside the mini-barn, and then Puff would appear, dramatically leaping their stockade fence, Superman-style.  All he lacked was a little red cape.  He would then rush to the twins and twine around and about them as they held and petted him in a mutual display of affection and admiration.

When summer ended and the twins went home, I caved. After an abortive attempt to find Big Orange another home, I brought him inside and commenced the frustrating challenge of introducing him to my already-overcatted household.  “The Girls”—Zoe, Bella and Lilith Cats–did not take kindly to the male interloper in their midst. There followed a number of interesting months, but with patience (and a lot of yelling) Puffy Socks finally became a member of the household.

I would say that I have never regretted it for a moment, but there are times when, looking at the tatters of my formerly favorite curtains, I threaten Puff the Claw with a return to his friendless open-air existence. But then I sit down, and the big old orange guy climbs up my chest and, purring like a little engine, begins to kiss my nose. And I crumble.

As a child, my family always owned dogs. Dachshunds, beagles—we were dog people.  I still adore dogs.  I constantly buy new toys for my daughter’s Husky.

But, I have to admit, a Cat Who Thinks He Is a Dog, while he may not win a blue ribbon in the Dog of the Year contest, places pretty close—especially in my heart.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad, from The Big Puff,
who adores you!

The Great Battle of the Shower Curtain

A few years ago I expressed (for the second time) a laconic interest in buying a gun and learning to shoot. My brother, who had done firearms training for a good portion of his career in law enforcement, was not letting me off the hook this time.  He bought me the gun, ammunition, and countless other accoutrements, gave me two hours of personal instruction using his standard gun-safety course, and then took me to the range and taught me to shoot the darned thing with reasonable accuracy.

I took the gun safety training to heart and immediately purchased a fingerprint touch gun safe to store the weapon securely beside my bed. And later that year I had good reason to put all my training to use as someone attempted to break in my front door in the small hours of the morning.  Standing in my entryway in approved stance, phone beside me where I had called for help, I rehearsed every minute of my instruction in my head as I pointed the weapon and shouted, “I’ve called 911!  I have a gun!  I will shoot you!”.  As determined by the police who arrived a few minutes later, my intruder turned out to be nothing more than my drunken sot of a neighbor, yanking and pulling at my security door, as he tried to gain entry into what he believed was his own home.  Nevertheless, rattled as I was, I knew I was very glad I had the gun to handle the situation.

The gun has come out of the safe on a few other occasions, as well, most notably the light of early morning when a squirrel, having discovered the cache of pine cones for my fireplace stored in a copper tub on my porch, again rattled the front security door. When I crept up, gun at ready, and flung the main door open, the startled little fellow scampered off to the tree in the front yard, leaving behind the cache of acorns he’d been burying in the tub.  I’m sure we were both equally upset.

But nothing will ever equal the Great Battle of the Shower Curtain.

I was roused from a (rare) sound sleep, startled awake by an inexplicable noise. As I thought to myself, “Did I really hear that?” I realized that the three cats who were sharing the bed with me were all poised in approved “Cat At Alert” stance, one of them even perched like a meerkat sentry.  I quickly removed my gun from the safe and crept carefully to the balcony rail outside my bedroom door, where the landing overlooked the cathedral ceiling.

From that space, with faint exterior light spilling from the stairwell clerestory window, I could look down on the French doors at the back of my lower floor. They were undisturbed, the glass unbroken, the curtains in place.

Swiftly I slapped on the light from the switch at the head of the stairwell and rushed down, gun still at ready, to the spot in the entryway where I could see both my front door and the door to the garage. Both were closed, locked, undisturbed; the “screamer” alarm on the garage door certainly had not been activated.

Still stealthy, I crept further down the stairwell and swung rapidly around the corner to the kitchen. No one was there; nor was anyone in the half-bath.  I flung open the coat closet, in case someone had darted within.  Nope.  No burglars hiding in the closet.

Ah ha! I thought.  They’ve gotten the door up and they’re out there in my garage.  With a dramatic flourish, I threw open the door to the garage, pointing the gun. No dice. The main garage door was down, the car undisturbed.  Bewildered, I closed the door and switched off the screamer before it could begin its klaxon.

Defeated and confused, I was slowly wending my way back upstairs when I remembered that the attic space of our three conjoined condo units was accessible to every unit. I dashed into the spare bedroom and flung open the closet door where the attic entrance reposed.  But the attic door was still encased in the unbroken bubble wrap that I’d taped in place to prevent drafts.

Now completely bewildered, I tottered slowly out of the room, finger now carefully removed from the trigger, gun dangling loosely from my fingertips.  What the hell was the noise that I—and the cats—had heard?

By this time, considering the past moments of stress, I needed the bathroom rather badly. Sighing, with dragging steps, I faltered my way into my main bathroom and switched on the lights.

And it was there I discovered that the springform curtain rod which held the shower curtain in place had unsprung itself and crashed  from the wall, loudly hitting the side of the tub in the process.

I am happy to report that I did not shoot the shower curtain.

Who or Whom? That Is The Question!

I bless the easy availability of internet grammar sites whenever I have to decide whether to use who or whom in writing.  That’s because, despite knowing that if the word to is included in my sentence, whom is the form that should follow, well, that’s the only situation in which I can be confident I’m using the correct form of the word.  It doesn’t matter if I rearrange the sentence and substitute the pronouns her or him, she or he, as an aid in figuring out the problem. I’m still unsure about the correct form of the word.

Certainly I can’t be the only person who, despite a passable ability with writing, is confused by the sheer insanity of word forms such as these in the English language. Sit, set and sat.  Lie and lay.  Those verbs confuse almost everyone.  Irregular verbs are even worse; is it dreamt, or dreamed?  Awakened, waked, awoke, woke, awoken?  Shined or shone? Weaved or wove?  Inevitably, reading these words in novels, I find myself arguing with the author’s selection and punching out from my e-book to a grammar site.  (Ah, yes, and for that I also bless e-books.)  Happily, I often find out that I am, yes, I AM CORRECT.  I break my own arm patting myself on the back.  Much less happily, I find that the grammar in most direct-to-e-book novels is execrable. Worse, even edited books contain an astonishing number of grammatical errors these days – subject/verb disagreements seeming to top the charts.  Are students no longer taught that “might” is the past tense of “may”?!

Even worse than books, though, I find, are the voice-overs of TV commercials. I was delighted when the commercial for a large medical center spoke of “a list of insurance programs with which we’ve worked”.  Dear heaven, it’s a miracle.  The prepositional phrase correctly spoken.

Unfortunately, in its next incarnation, the phrase returned to “insurance companies we’ve worked with.” Despite Winston Churchill’s famous (but probably misattributed) declaration that, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put”, most prepositions should not fall at the end of the sentence.  That’s the way it was drilled into my recalcitrant student head, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Period.  End of discussion.

Except that I both speak it and write it incorrectly most of the time.

Even more painful was a commercial for a cleaning product, in which the announcer declared that it “works so good”.  So good?  So good?!  Arrrggghhh. Well. The correct word is WELL.

And then there are songs. I can’t bear listening to Rod Stewart’s voice, which reminds me of a dying frog with laryngitis.  Even if another singer had performed “Tonight’s the Night”, though, I would never have liked the song.  But even had I enjoyed both Stewart’s voice and the song, I would still be driven to violence by the line, “….just let your inhibitions run wild”.  Uh, if one’s inhibitions are running wild, one is EXTREMELY INHIBITED.  Not doing anything.  Inclinations.  The correct word for that line should be inclinations.

I readily confess that I am incredibly picky about matters of grammar. For instance, I sat through the entire movie Inception arguing to myself that those little objects the characters used—the ones that were supposed to determine if they were in reality rather than a dream– should have been called talismans, not totems.  I knew that this was a matter of semantics only, but it irked me.

But, returning to the question of who and whom, I have developed a standard three-part rule for dealing with this situation.  First, if the word follows to, it is whom.  Second, I should try rearranging the sentence and substituting pronouns; if the pronoun is she or he, the word is who; if the pronoun is her or him, the word to be used is whom.  And, finally, if I still can’t figure out the darned mess, I will use whom.  For, you see, almost no one else will be certain of the correct word form, either.  But because whom is generally used only by those truly conversant with the complex rules of grammar, my readers will be certain that I’m not only correct, but am really smart!

Just Jeans That Fit!

As an adolescent reading “improving” Catholic youth literature, I recall reading a story about two young women anxiously preparing for a school dance. In this stuffy little tale, the girls confided their worries ( no, of course, not to their mothers) to a kindhearted neighbor.  They discussed their concerns about waistlines too wide, complexion breakouts, and smiles marred by teeth not white enough.  The kindly neighbor gave them such helpful advice as brushing with baking soda and peroxide to whiten their teeth and patting witch hazel onto their zits.  (Trust me on that witch hazel thing: totally worthless advice, but something I kept trying for years, since it was also endorsed by my Grandmother.)  Girl #1 confided that she had been “slipping into my older sister’s girdle” to get her waistline into shape, and was told by Helpful Neighbor to do isometric exercises because, “All a girdle does is push flesh into other places where you don’t want it.”

Darn, I wish today’s manufacturers of women’s jeans had read that article!

If there is one factor that is constant and consistent throughout the entire United States of America, it is that there is no such thing as a pair of women’s jeans that fits correctly. Talk to any woman who wears a size above 2, and you’ll hear kvetching, moaning, and complaints about having to try on thirty pairs of jeans to find just one that fits correctly.  Even two different pairs in supposedly the same size and created by the same manufacturer will fail to fit one’s body in the same way.  How is that even possible?!

If a pair of jeans fits through waist and hip, miles of cloth will be flapping about one’s thigh. If thigh and hip fit correctly, the waist will either be gapping hugely or so snug that the button can’t be closed or the jeans zipped. If the jeans fit through waist, hip and thigh, they will be miles too long, even in the supposedly “petite” length – or will fall across the ankles at the high water mark. Skinny jeans, appropriate only for the aforesaid Size Two (may Audrey Hepburn rot in hell), are still unaccountably manufactured, and finding anything flattering to a more common figure is virtually impossible, even when spending a small fortune for what should be casual wear.

But of all the jeans foisted on a long-suffering female populace, the Spandex-enhanced, “stomach panel” jeans are truly the invention of the Devil. In keeping with the Hollywood ideal of a female body straight out of the rigors of Dachau or Auschwitz, the normal, slightly-rounded stomach of a woman who is of appropriate weight for her height is, for some unknown reason, supposed to be as unrealistically flat as an ironing board, if not concave.  But (as so perfectly described in that decades-ago improving literature for young women), all that darned constricting panel does is push flesh up into other places where it isn’t wanted, creating the notorious muffin top.  Rolls of flesh that puff up under one’s shirt.  Yep, so flattering!

Worse is the dichotomy between men’s pants and women’s. Stroll down the rows of men’s jeans sitting snug on their store shelves, and one will find nicely delineated increments of waist and length. Short and slim?  There’s a pair sized for that.  Tall but chunky?  Ditto.  Long-legged?  There’s a pair of jeans manufactured for guys built like a stork.

And none of them have a stomach panel.

I remember reading the excellent novel The Color Purple, and marveling that the main character, at the conclusion of the novel, had created her own small business called People’s Pants. She knew that women wanted a pair of pants created for their bodies — not for the body of some sub-male.  Not for the body of a “you aren’t a man so you don’t need a good fit”.  I thought at the time that it was one helluva business opportunity and someone who knew a bit about fabric and fits and stitching clothing should actually do it.

I will never puzzle out why women’s clothing is based on the tradition of “one-size fits all even if it doesn’t and you’ve just got to live with it”, but it’s tiresome and frustrating, and long past due for a change.

But I would genuinely settle for just being able to find one lousy pair of jeans that fit.

I Really Hate Brussels Sprouts

I confess it: I do not like watermelon. I realize there is something almost un-American about this prejudice.  Tell this to my fellow citizens around the 4th of July, and I’ll probably be looking at a visit from Homeland Security.  But, there you have it: I simply can’t stand watermelon.  It isn’t just the flavor but the texture which repels me, for I don’t actually enjoy any type of melon: musk melon, honeydew, cantaloupe…you name it, I can’t bring myself to eat it, despite having tried each of them many times.  Just the smell of cantaloupe makes me want to yak.  I can’t even imagine eating one.

This continuing distaste flies in the face of my enduring belief that our tastes alter over a lifetime and that we should keep trying foods that we find unpalatable, since we may one day surprise ourselves by actually enjoying them. As a child, I wouldn’t have eaten a lima bean to save my soul, but as an adult, reintroduced to them in my Grandmother’s incredible vegetable soup, I found that I not only enjoyed them, but preferred them to most beans (which I also usually dislike solely due to texture.)  Nevertheless, decades after I first began doing so, I still pick the red beans out of my bowl of chili.  They disgust me.  They smush in my mouth.

And then there’s my arch nemesis: Brussels sprouts. My parents loved Brussels sprouts and they were constantly on our table as I grew up.  I vividly remember the absolute torture of trying to ingest just one single Brussels sprout so that I could be excused from the table.  “Think of the starving children in the world,” I was told anytime I disliked a food that I’d been served, and, trust me: I would gladly, joyously, generously have found a starving kid anywhere and handed over my whole plateful of food if it had meant that I didn’t have to eat that damned Brussels sprout.

As an adult, though, I found that (although I was never going to go out of my way to ingest one) I could endure the dreaded sprouts if I prepared them by halving them, basting the halves with olive oil, generously spreading them with garlic and pepper before finally broiling them until crispy. I still knew, overall, that this was a Brussels sprout, but I could eat them, if not enjoy them.  Some of their essential Brussels-sproutiness still crept through, nonetheless.

When cranberries became the latest entry in the healthful foods array, I was horrified. My only acquaintance with cranberries was that awful jell in a can, which was served by opening both ends of the tin and pushing the jell out, whole, to lie on a bed of lettuce and be sliced.  That was how it had been served at holidays throughout my childhood, and I don’t think I quite realized that cranberries were actually berries.  Reintroduced to them, dried or in muffins and as a side dish blended with other ingredients, I found them tangy and interesting.  If hardly my favorite berry (give me blackberry any day), cranberries made me realize that how a food was prepared made a great difference in whether I enjoyed it.  Don’t like it cooked?  Try it raw.  Don’t like it boiled?  Broil it instead.

I put my “your tastes change” philosophy fully into action when raising my own daughter. We followed the Three Bites rule.  If I served a food she did not like, she had to eat only three bites of it.  Of course, as she so often did, the kid outsmarted me at my own game.  Told to eat her green peas, and barred from sneaking them down to our cat, Rerun, who (god knows why) adored them, she would carefully place one pea on her tongue at a time and swig it down with her glass of milk, like a pill. She did the same thing with lima beans. I suspect that even now, as an adult, green peas and lima beans are never seen on the table in her household.

Nevertheless, she who once shared my own dislike of the red beans in chili now delights in them.

Case proven: Just keep on trying to eat the foods that you simply can’t stand. Our tastes do change.

Strawberries, Blackberries

Most people think the strawberry the pinnacle of fruit, an epicurean delight.

I’m not that crazy about them myself.

Oh, I enjoy them dipped in chocolate or even just lightly sugared. I confess to adoring them topping a shortcake, too, especially if smothered in whipped cream and vanilla ice cream – but that has more to do with the additional toppings than the strawberries.  But when others swoon over a strawberry pie, I just shrug.

If I were to pick a favorite berry, it would probably be the black raspberry.   Or possibly the blackberry.  Or a red raspberry.  Or a blueberry.  Or a boysenberry. Or…well, you get the point.

Obviously, with the exception of strawberries, berries are high on my list of favored fruit. That is probably a little odd, because when I was growing up, berries were barely regarded as a viable fare, and certainly not a staple.  The cooks of my childhood used berries for pies and cobblers, but rarely for anything else.  Fruit in the households of my childhood consisted of apples and bananas, peaches or nectarines and oranges, perhaps some grapefruit or tangerines.  Pineapple was seen only on an upside down cake, and cherries were mostly baked into pies. Cranberries appeared on the table only at the holidays, and then in the form of  disgusting canned, jelled sauce. Kiwi or star fruit were unknown, and I really can’t recall papaya or mango being in the grocery bins, either.

Perhaps I came to enjoy berries because, when I was 10, my parents moved to a house in a neighborhood still under construction. Our new home, one of only three houses on that street, was surrounded by empty fields, full of milkweed and wild onion, but most of all growing wild with blackberry bramble.  I quickly discovered the berries.  I began going out the back door in the early mornings, clad only in my nightgown, to pick fresh berries from the bush at the end of our yard and add them to my bowl of cereal.  I was devastated when the builders arrived to clear the brush from the surrounding fields and begin building houses.

A few years ago, when I stumbled across the first few articles illustrating the amazing health benefits of berries, it was like discovering those fields of blackberry bramble all over again. My childhood love affair with berries was validated at last.  Not only were they the most delicious of all fruit, but they were good for you. It was exactly like hearing the first announcements that dark chocolate was good for you.  Delicious and good for you, full of polysyllabic nutrients that do wonderful things for the human body.  What more could one ask?

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry,” Dr. Butler famously said of the strawberry, “but doubtless God never did.”

Well, I may not have doctor as an honorific before my name, but I beg to differ. Give me a black raspberry any day.

Things in Movies That Drive Me Nuts!

I loved the original Star Wars movie.  I saw it at the theater the second weekend of its release.

But I spent the entire movie wishing that Luke Skywalker would just comb his damned hair.

This is just one minor chapter in a long, long list of movies, TV shows, books and songs in which one niggling little thing pretty much drives me over the edge and nearly ruins the entire experience for me. Hair issues in movies seem to comprise a surprising number of these irritants, for I felt exactly the same way about Meg Ryan’s hair in You’ve Got Mail.  “For the love of heaven, comb your hair, woman!” I longed to shout at the screen.  Fortunately for the other moviegoers, I kept my peace and just seethed in silence.  Weeks later, reading a magazine article by a hairstylist,  I almost choked when she referred to “Meg Ryan’s adorably tousled hair”.  My eyes rolled upward so hard they almost lodged there permanently. Adorably tousled?  Adorably tousled is a toddler’s hair after a long day.  This was a grown woman who just needed a comb and a mirror.

Despite my griping, let me point out that all of these were movies that I really liked. That fact in itself may be the key to my irritation.  Had I seen people wearing these ridiculous hairstyles in a movie I didn’t actually enjoy, I would probably just have shrugged.

Hair issues aside, there are the moments in movie plots that just seem so completely unrealistic or totally wrong that they simply set my teeth on edge.  For instance, I’ve watched My Best Friend’s Wedding a number of times,  which only goes to prove that I’m a complete masochist, because the ending always infuriates me.  Why? Because he marries the wrong woman. As the newly-wedded characters drive off into the night betwixt the romantic sparklers, I always think, “Well, there’s a marriage that’s not going to last six months past the honeymoon.”

I felt the same way about the characters in Sleepless in Seattle, although hardly anyone agrees with me, being blinded by the romantic “I just knew!” nonsense that comprises the heart of the script.  I myself got over that “I just knew!” rubbish at the age of 17, but apparently many grown people are still suckered in by it.  This may explain the national divorce rate.

Far more minor incongruities annoy me in other movies I love, such as The Holiday. I absolutely adore that show and watch it ever holiday season.  But the entire movie would have been made even better for me if a few improbable scenes had simply been smoothed by careful scriptwriting.  After all — let a total stranger have one’s home for a two weeks, without even a background check?! All that needed to come out of the American character’s mouth was something along the lines of, “I’ve been registered on that home exchange website for a year now….” and the whole scene would have been made realistic.  And being able to obtain a transatlantic plane ticket on less than 24 hour’s notice at the start of the Christmas season?! Why not a cry of protest – “We’ll never get tickets!” from the British character, and a response from the Hollywood American, “Don’t worry about that; I’ve got contacts.”  Simple Realism 101.

I felt even more flabbergasted watching a scene in Steel Magnolias, in which Sally Field’s character, working in the kitchen as she talks with her severely diabetic daughter, takes out a giant bag of sugar to begin cooking.  The first time I watched the movie I lost the next several seconds of the film because my mind couldn’t focus on anything but that five-pound bag of sugar…the five-pound bag of sugar being used by the mother of a diabetic while they discuss the girl’s condition. Yes, the scene was set during the Christmas treat-baking season; so what?  What mother of so seriously ill a diabetic would be cooking a ton of sugar right in front of her?  Had the director been lobotomized, I wondered?

And then there was that moment in the first Indiana Jones movie, in which Karen Carpenter’s character, having been gagged and bound in the heat of an Egyptian desert all day, is untied and served a meal and reaches for the sandwich first.  Say what?!  The water!  She would have chugged that water like a young partier doing Jello shots.

As picky as I undoubtedly am, I’m sure you’re wondering why I ever watch a movie in the first place. I wonder it myself sometimes. Nevertheless, if there’s ever a magic button that lets one change these little problems while home viewing a movie, I’ll certainly wear out my finger poking the darned thing!

The Name of the Goddess: Isis

Surely I cannot be the only individual worldwide who objects to the co-opting (only by an ignorant American press, I must point out) of the name great Mother Goddess of ancient Egypt to signify the Islamic militants. To employ the acronym ISIS, the same letters that compose the name of Isis, Goddess of compassion and enduring love, to signify terrorists who are anything but compassionate and loving – who do not even exemplify the tenets of the faith for which they claim to be waging war – is wrong.  Simply wrong.

During the years when Downtown Abbey was one of the most popular shows on TV,I read all too many reviews containing references to the “unfortunate” name of the fictional Earl of Grantham’s beloved dog.  So I was not surprised when the show’s final season made a carefully contrived reference to the ancient Egyptian origins of the name Isis.  British press, I understand, tends to refer to the militants as IS or ISIL, not ISIS, so obviously it was the American fans who were being coddled with this explanation.  But, I wondered grumpily, why was an explanation even necessary? Did most American viewers fail  to realize the name was that of a goddess of ancient Egypt? Obviously so.  The untutored American audience was, apparently, largely unaware that the name Isis was chosen as a compliment to the setting of the popular series, Highclare Castle, where Downtown Abbey was filmed.  Highclare was the onetime home of Lord Carnarvon, who financed archeologist Howard Carter’s magnificent discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb.  The dog’s name was an historical reference. Surely, I thought, everyone must know that.

Uh, no. It would seem not.  Not everyone, I finally acknowledged, was passionately interested in ancient Egyptian history.  Not everyone was a fan of the inimitable Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series of archeological mysteries.   The subtle compliment to the series’ setting apparently did a complete flyby right over the heads of most of its American fans.

Still, if I were a member of the press, selecting an acronym for Islamic militants and terrorists, I would prefer to call them almost anything else. Probably something very rude. Sadly, I suspect that the acronym ISIS is too firmly entrenched in American minds to make the change.  That saddens me, and makes me long to beg: Please, please, stop using it!  Restore to grace the name of ancient Egypt’s great Goddess, she who was the Protector of Children, Resurrector of the Dead, Patron of Artisans, Protector of Slaves, Friend of Sinners, and Universal Mother: Isis.