A Walk on the Wild Side

To steampunk, or not to steampunk?

For the uninitiated, Wikipedia says: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery,[1] especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.

Think of Will Smith’s movie “Wild, Wild West” and you’re there.

At the Pikes Peak Writers Conference next month, one of our keynote speakers is Gail Carriger, who writes a delightful series in the steampunk genre. At the Friday night dinner, when she will be speaking, we are having an optional steampunk costume contest.

This is a really long-winded way to get to the point: for women, steampunk usually means wearing a corset. Usually over a white blouse.  I feel that, having attained the sagacious age of 50, if I was corset sort of woman, I’d have one by now. Heck, I’d have half a dozen, in various styles and colors, from black leather to purple brocade.

From what I can tell, the main function of a corset is to keep your posture bloody perfect, and to cinch in your waist. If you’ve anything extra at your waistline, as most of us do, the corsets pushes it out both ends. Think of grabbing a toothpaste tube in the middle and giving it a good, hard squeeze. Since I am sufficiently supplied at both the bosom and the backside, I’m not sure why I’d want to either increase the padding on my hips OR push my boobs up to my chin.

Do you see where this is going?

Sure you do.

Some of the women of PPW were talking about corsets for the costumes. So I decided that instead of going out with a group of women who are predominantly younger and thinner than I am, I would slip into a local store that sells all sorts of boudoir accessories. For the sake of anonymity, let’s call the place Seductions.

I cross the threshold. The music is loud. Okay, I’m not THAT old. But it’s loud enough that the female sales clerk and the male customer she is assisting need to shout at each other to be heard. While they were busy with a lengthy discussion of his purchase, I perused the stock at the front of the store, ears quietly bleeding.

I was trying not to pay attention to what they were doing/discussing. Really, your sex secrets? Your little kinks and peccadilloes? I do not want to know. That’s not a judgement call–you have to understand that I truly, madly, deeply do not care what you do in the bedroom, as long as nobody is being coerced.

The man left the counter, came back. Left, came back. Packages were opened. Batteries were inserted. He want to what I imagine was the changing room for men. He came back out, said, “Oh, yeah, that feels really comfortable.” The sales clerk said, “Walk around, see how you like it.”

He walked around the store with a springy step. I confess, I looked at his feet. He was not wearing new shoes. But he had something battery-operated either attached to or inserted into some part of him covered by his clothing.

And I still couldn’t find a corset that looked like you could wear it over a poofy white blouse, OR one that looked like it would span my thigh, let alone my waist.

The man finally wanders off to the back of the store to examine more battery-powered accessories, and I approach the sales lady. Her lips were moving and she was smiling at me, so I yelled “What?” After another couple of shouted exchanges, I was able to explain that I was looking for a corset that could be worn on the outside of a blouse, and I need one that wasn’t Barbie pink or Barbie sized.

The sales lady stepped out from behind the counter. She was the smallest human being I’ve ever met. The top of her head didn’t even reach my shoulder. She led me to the single bustier in the store that was my size and not covered in cheap and itchy red lace. She smiled when she held it out and told me I could try it on.

I looked her in the eye, and said, “You want to explain to me exactly how that works?” I had images of needing an Nascar pit crew. But it turns out that these garments often lace on one side, and have hook and eye closures on the other side. Roughly a hundred hook and eye closures, so it’s like fastening your bra except that it takes a whole lot longer. You loosen the laces in the front and wrap it around you so the hooks are on your side, rather than in the back. You fasten them. You keep fastening them. After an hour or so, you’re all in. Then you have to yank and pull the corset into place, so the laces are properly in the front and the hooks are at the back.

For a moment, I considered buying the damn thing just so I wouldn’t have to wrestle it off. No matter the fit was off, the material cheap and the construction shoddy, to the tune of $59.99.

That’s a whole lot of effort for a garment that has been (successfully) replaced by Spanx. (Not that Spanx don’t have their own foibles, but that’s a different post.)

I left the store with two options. One, I could skip the costume and just enjoy watching other people wear them. I like that option. It suits two of my sterling qualities: laziness and frugality.  Two, I could look for a steampunk inspiration that didn’t involve a corset.

The decision? You’ll have to wait until conference to find out.


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March 8 Horoscope

I don’t know exactly where the Gazette gets their horoscope column. But here is what mine says today.

Hold court. Your inner circle of friends will be fascinated by anything you care to share with them today.

When you’re done rolling on the floor laughing and you’ve got your asthmatic wheezing laugh under control, read on.

So I burned my fingers taking my (delicious, homemade) soup out of the microwave at lunchtime. I’m 50 freaking years old. When am I going to stop getting really stupid steam burns? I’d really like to know, because I’m terribly afraid that my cognitive abilities may have peaked already, so it’s all down hill from here. Maybe I’ll have to stop using the microwave and stop hardboiling eggs. I can generally heat water for tea without harming myself. Probably because without tea, I would start harming others.

Yesterday I found a ball of cat hair on my floor so enormous, I thought it was a kitten. Both of the felines are incapable of producing offsprings. I was afraid that perhaps Pogo had started shearing off bits of himself, like an amoeba, creating an army of orange furry beasts. But no. Just a dust bunny. The kind that looks like it would nip at your ankles in the dark.

The writers retreat last weekend ruined me. I can’t have hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time at home. Even if I can clear my schedule, I always hear the siren song of dirty dishes, dirty laundry, unswept floors or stale sheets that need changing. I’ve tried earplugs and headphones–I can still hear the call of wild housework. And there is always, always a book or three or twenty that is begging to be read.

Speaking of books, I just read “The Tao of Martha” by Jen Lancaster. I think it might have changed my life. I think I’m ready to give up on being a disorganized slob and let the sunshine that is Martha Stewart into my life. How much do I love Jen Lancaster? So many. (That’s an obscure Misha Collins reference.) She (Jen) always makes me laugh out loud, regardless of whether or not I’m in the privacy of my own home. Although this time around, when she talked about losing her beloved dog, I was fighting back tears.

Because that’s how I roll. I laugh long and loud and hard, and I don’t care who sees me or hears me. It’s a big laugh, not petite and cute, but it’s honest. Tears, on the  other hand? No, thank you, I’d rather do that in private. They’re also very honest, but I’d rather not have to explain that I’m in the middle of a giant estrogen flux and a commercial for snow tires set me off, rather than the imminent destruction of the earth that you suspected based on how hard I was sobbing.

Is Harry Connick, Jr. really making a difference on American Idol? I only watched a couple of seasons, and I don’t know that even Harry can lure me back. Any thoughts?

My sister, who I love and adore, told Thing 2 this week that she didn’t have to wear her retainer all the time, because Aunt Nancy said so. Nancy, don’t make me get out the potato peeler, that’s all I’m saying.

My mother, who is 84, has a live-in boyfriend who was recently hospitalized. I’m still not sure why, unless being a gigantic, thundering pain in the butt is something that can be treated with IV drugs now. (Wouldn’t that be great?) While said boyfriend was in the hospital, one of his adult sons took it upon himself to YELL at my (84-year-old, 105-pounds-with-sensible-shoes-on) mother. Twice. In front of a room full of people. Once because she had the audacity to mention that the doctor suggested the boyfriend should go to a nursing home for 2-3 weeks of rehab before going back to the apartment. Go on, shake your head, you know you want to.

For those of you who get to hear about this family dynamic on a regular basis, the answer is: Yes, this is the same son that called my sister a “fu**ing bitch.” I’m sure that one day I will meet this man, and I will waste no time in demonstrating that Nancy is, in fact, the nice sister, and this cretin has no idea what a bitch really is. I look forward to educating him on the matter.

I’m both happy and sad that my time as a food writer is drawing to a close. I’ve really enjoyed doing restaurant reviews for the Gazette, but I need to reclaim that time for other purposes. For Rob Molumby, I’d like to say, “I went there. I had some food. It was good.” (That’s also for everyone who thinks the job is easy as falling off a log. I’ve fallen off plenty of things. Writing is much, much harder.)

It occurs to me that I might be afraid to finish my book because then I have to edit the damn thing. That’s both exciting and scary. Exciting, because I get to make it better. Scary, because I have to face up to the less-than-fabulous bits that either need to be reworked or mercilessly cut.

A warning to everyone on the planet: You do know that everyone else on the planet can read your Facebook posts, right? If you portray yourself in a certain way in one setting, but display a completely different personality on FB? We know. We see it.

People, please stop diagnosing your friends and relatives with all varieties of mental illnesses. Mental illness is a huge deal, and frankly, most of you aren’t qualified as diagnosticians. Just because someone is having a spectacularly bad (or good, or both) day does not make them bipolar. Or schizophrenic. A kid with questionable grades does not automatically have ADD or ADHD. Be supportive and let a professional make the call.

I just saw the funniest clip of Family Feud. Two handsome men, probably mid-20s, stood on either side of the podium, leaning forward, anxious to be the first to hit the buzzer. The host (could have been Steve Harvey, but I’m not sure) asked a question that was something like “What piece of furniture is your wife most like in the bedroom?” Something just mind-boggling in its level of inanity. The guys looked at each other. One shook his head. The other shook his head. And they stood there and refused to answer the question as the clock ran down. Good for them, I say, refusing to make fun of their wives for the amusement of a faceless television audience.

I fear that if my metabolism gets any slower, I’ll be declared legally dead.

I’m getting the itch to let my hair grow long again one more time. But I’m afraid I’m too old. And just to cranky to be bothered with it.

Does anyone know where I can find a pair of women’s dress shoes for a man who wears mens size 13 shoes? I don’t want to buy a pair, I’d just like to borrow them. And no, they aren’t for Joe. Really? You had to ask?

I think I’m done holding court for now.

You’re welcome.


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Take Advantage of Me!

Well, not me, personally. I have teenagers for that, thanks.

The “me” I speak of is the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference. In particular, there are four different opportunities that offer a way to get some professional feedback on your work.

The first three are for those who haven’t quite completed that manuscript.

For the absolute lowest stress possible, we offer R&C Author. This is a closed session, meaning the only people in the room are: the moderator, the published author giving feedback, and eight lucky attendees. You bring three (3) copies of the first two pages of your manuscript. You may give the title and logline at the beginning. Example: “Bullwinkle Must Die is a noir mystery set in cyberspace. When someone threatens Bullwinkle’s life, it’s up to Boris and Natasha to save the day and prove their innocence.” You read it aloud, seated at the table, and the author gives you immediate feedback and helpful comments. Because this is a smaller, more intimate setting, there’s more interaction between you and the author in your session.

Our time-tested favorite is called R&C X. Why X? Why not? In this session, everyone who has signed up in advance will give two copies of their first page to the moderator. When your name is called, you stand up and state your title. It’s acceptable to give your genre, perhaps word length, and a brief logline. Example: “Life Among the Frogs” is a 90,000 word romance. When a girl has kissed all the frogs in her home town, where does she look for love?” Then you read that first page aloud. You may sit or continue to stand (your choice) while the agent or editor faculty gives you their immediate feedback. This session is open, meaning anyone can attend. It’s a great way to suss out an agent or editor you’re going to be pitching to, even if you aren’t participating. The agent or editor may ask you a question or two, but there’s not really time for lengthy questions.

The latest and greatest is R&C 123. Similar to the X version, you hand over four (4!) copies of your first page to the moderator. It’s perfectly acceptable to have the genre and logline at the top. Something like “The Litterbox Conundrum is Science Fiction. When all the cats on Earth reveal their hidden opposable thumbs, who will be left holding the business end of the pooper scooper?” Then our extremely talented designated reader will read the submissions, one by one, to a panel consisting of one agent, one editor and one published author. The panel will give feedback on their first impressions. No questions and no stress for the writer, because nobody knows who it is. You don’t have to worry about your knees knocking or your voice cracking.

Two things to bear in mind about R&C sessions. First, when you hand over your precious manuscript pages, they’d better be in standard manuscript format. You know the drill: 1-inch margins, 12-pt Times New Roman or Courier font, double spaced. The moderator makes sure that everyone involved gets their fair share of time, so you aren’t going to slip in single-space 7-point font and get away with it. (Note: on the copy that will be read aloud, feel free to make the font as large as you want.) Second, we aren’t able to match you with specific authors, editors and agents. We ask you to specify what genre you’re interested in, and we match you up from there.

Wait. I said R&C was open to finished or unfinished manuscripts. What about Pitching?

Pitch is for those with completed manuscripts. You show up at the Pitch sign-in desk 5-10 minutes before your designated pitch time, so you have time for a breath mint and wiping your clammy palms on your jacket. You will be ushered into the pitch room in an orderly manner, where you’ll find your designated editor or agent, introduce yourself and tell them about your book. At the end of your designated time, you will be ushered out in an orderly manner. (We’re on a tight schedule, so please don’t make us get out the cattle prods to remove you from your seat.)

Before you dismiss the entire concept of traditional publishing and roles of agents and editors, think again. These are industry professionals. These are the people who work every single day with new authors. They know what’s out there. They know the marketplace. They know what’s been done a million times and, like it or not, they know if your storyline sounds unique and interesting or not. This is a great opportunity to practice speaking in a professional manner about your book. Just because an agent or editor says, “Send me your first 50 pages” doesn’t mean you’re committing yourself to that agent or that editor. But isn’t it nice to have options? And get some skilled, experienced feedback?

There is a beauty to each of these approaches. In R&C Author, you get advice from a fellow author, someone who has been in your shoes and is rooting for you to succeed. In X, there is something terrifying and yet exhilarating about reading your work out loud to others. It gives you an ownership of your words like nothing else can. In 123, you will hear your words through someone else, and there is nothing more eye-opening. You will have an immediate sense of what you did right and what you can improve, because the words aren’t filtered through the voice inside your own head. And preparing for Pitch will make sure you understand your work backward and forward.

If you’ve never tried a Pitch appointment or an R&C session, consider signing up for one or both on your registration form. You can find all the details at pikespeakwriters.com about format and formalities. You’ll have fun, you’ll step outside of your comfort zone, and you’ll come out of it with a better handle on your work. All that, and we don’t charge extra for it!

This bit is also posted today on the Pikes Peak Writers Blog. Two-fer!

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My Miserable Existance

In response to my post about why my conference (Pikes Peak Writers Conference) is the best conference, I got the following comment:

“Is your life so empty that you live in the fantasy world of fiction? Does your family mean so little to you that replace them with books?”

The person’s name was listed as “The Thing With Feathers.”

So, three cheers for me! I’m being criticized by an anonymous stranger!

But just in case ol’ Feathers is still paying attention, I thought I’d address his or her concerns.

Is my life so empty. Hm. Let me think about that. I have a husband who can still make me giggle. I have two teenagers with outrageous senses of humor. I’ve got family and friends. I freelance a weekly column for the daily paper in town. I’m the Programming Director for a fairly large writers conference, and I’m on the board of that same writing organization. (Hi, PPW! I’m waving!) I belong to a book group and a critique group. I just signed on to be part of the committee selecting a new principal for my daughters’ high school. Just had a big birthday bash to celebrate turning 50. I’ve devoted a portion of my life to the care and feeding of two cats. I’ve served as a local election judge. My involvement with Girl Scouts lasted ten years, as a leader. And I play Bunko once a month with a group of women I met when I belonged to the Rocky Mountain Moms Club. So no, I can’t say my life is empty.

Live in the fantasy world of fiction. Well, yes. Every chance I get. I don’t see any other way I’m going to visit other planets or get inside the head of a 1920s gangster or a Scottish warlord or an Orthodox Jew. Every time I read a book, I learn something. Maybe about the world, maybe about myself. My soul is a piano and books are the players. I’ve explored the many facets of so many different emotions while reading. Reading is relaxing, energizing, edifying, inspiring, amusing and educating for me, all at the same time.

Granted, I could take up drinking or drugs to relieve stress. Reading fiction just seems less messy. I could go to bars and pick fights. I could leave anonymous snarky posts of the blogs of people I don’t know.

No, I’ll stick with reading.

Does my family mean so little. All I can say is, I didn’t spend ten years as a Girl Scout leader for my own edification. Ditto volunteering at elementary, middle and high schools. I wouldn’t have married my husband if he wasn’t a reader, too. In fact, he introduced me to the works of Lois McMasters Bujold, Orson Scott Card and Michael Connolly, to name a few. (To be fair, I introduced him to Robert Crais, Terry Pratchett and Joe R. Lansdale, so I think we’re even.)

I’ve replaced them with books. ??? Well, books have never peed, pooped or vomited on me, and my children have done all three. My family (and here I extend past my immediate household and reach out for all the glorious, brilliant goofballs I’m related to) has made me laugh louder and longer than any book ever has. Books don’t hug me. Books don’t hold my hair back when I’m vomiting up my toenails because of the stomach flu. Books never need a tissue, a tampon or a towel when I’m otherwise engaged. Although books don’t interrupt me when I’m finishing other books, or use the last sheet of toilet paper and not replenish the supply.

No, I’d have to say I haven’t replaced my family with books. Or manbots. Or life-size cut-outs of the crew of the Enterprise. Or stuffed animals, overgrown zucchini, or inflatable dolls.

There is no “family or books.” Around here, it’s family AND books. And we like it that way.


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Why My Conference is the Best Conference

(This blog post is appearing simultaneously on the PPW blog: http://pikespeakwriters.blogspot.com/2013/12/countdown-to-conference-why-my.html)
When I attended my first Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I didn’t know any writers. I hadn’t written a word since college. I felt like a giant fraud, certain someone would stand in a workshop, point at me and declare, “J’accuse!” And shy? It was all I could do to muster the intestinal fortitude to ask “Is this seat taken?” at lunch.
This is where I’d like to tell you I met the agent of my dreams at that conference, who saw my hidden potential and gave me a billion dollar advance to write the novel of my dreams.
Ha! Even then, agents weren’t tossing money at unknown wannabes. And self-publishing was reserved for anarchists and pornographers, neither of which was an aspiration of mine.
Instead, I met people who were deeply, passionately interested in the craft and the business of writing. People who read as deeply and widely as I did, dreamers from every walk of life. People who wanted to tell stories. People who wanted to tell lies and get paid for it.
In other words, it felt like coming home. As though my entire life, I’d been just a half-step out of focus with everyone around me, speaking a language that was just a little different. But at conference? At conference I was surrounded by writers.
It was just like that moment when The Wizard of Oz goes from black and white to color. Or the moment in high school when all of a sudden either algebra or geometry (never both) clicks and makes sense.
We work really hard to make the Pikes Peak Writers Conference a successful event for everyone who attends, from the best selling keynote speakers to the most shy attendee hiding behind his or her laptop.
How do we do that?
Would you believe me if I said magic?
No? How about a ton of hard work, a legion of dedicated volunteers, and occasional copious amounts of wine? (Maybe I meant whine. Maybe I didn’t.)
We review every single conference survey our attendees fill out. We read every session evaluation. We look at what worked in the past and challenge ourselves to find ways to make it even better. We make every attempt to stay current with the rapidly changing industry of publishing, which is something like tap dancing on an active fault line–you never know when the whole foundation is going to shift.
Not only that, we encourage all of our volunteers (and they are legion) to go out of their way to  extend a smile, answer a question, make anyone and everyone feel welcome.
This year, we’re trying something completely new and different for us. We’ve broken the conference fee (still $395!) down into five payments of $79. And you can make those payments any time you like, as long as you finish by April 15th. We all know what it’s like to live on a budget, and we hope this new option will make the conference a possibility for even more aspiring writers who want to attend.
(You do know what you get for your money, right? Our keynotes this year are so fabulous, I could weep. Jim C. Hines, Chuck Wendig, Gail Carriger and Hank Phillippi Ryan. Five sit-down meals plus two continental breakfasts. A book signing with all published faculty. Agents and editors from across the country, representing a wide variety of genres. A faculty specifically chosen to inform, amuse and inspire. On-site contests. A bookstore. An awards banquet. And all this takes place at the Colorado Springs Marriott, where the staff goes above and beyond to ensure our safety, comfort and well-being.)
If you’re thinking about attending, take the plunge. Before you know it, you’ll go from being a new face to an old friend. A published friend. One who spells my name right on the dedication page of their first novel.
 About the Author: MB Partlow, 2014 Programming Director for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, is hard at work getting fantastic speakers and participants for the conference.  You can reach her at programming@pikespeakwriters.com or find more information on the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference at pikespeakwriters.com.


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Are You Finding the Time?

Do you make the time in your life for the things you do just for you?

I don’t mean the “you” things listed in glossy magazines. Looking at you, candle-lit bubble bath. And yoga at sunrise. And dinners at fancy restaurants where I hold hands with my husband and gaze all googly-wobbly into his eyes, and we talk about anything but our children.

(For the record: 1. My tub is too short. I guess in 1962, when it was installed in this house, nobody was into lounging about in tubs for any length of time, or everyone was a lot shorter. Also, candles do not provide enough light for me to read by, and a long soak without a book is just torture, not relaxation. 2. Sunrise can just keep happening on its own without me. 3. If he’s holding my hands, it’s so he can get the last jalapeno popper. And who can pass up the chance to discuss the kids without said kids hanging on every word?)

We all have things we Must Do in our daily lives. We work. We clean. We grocery shop, do laundry, prepare meals and clean up after them. We pack lunches and sign permission slips and attend meetings and make to-do lists. We facilitate. We organize. We make events both grand and small come together and blossom. We fret. We occasionally remember that we don’t climb trees for a living and sit down and trim our toe nails.

Last weekend I spent a delightful hour going through my mother’s old recipe box. I didn’t have time for that. People needed transporting, grades needed to be discussed, floors needed mopping and we were perilously close to running out of clean underwear for the entire household.

But I looked through 3×5 recipe cards written by my mother, my grandmother and my Great Aunt Pearl. I ran my fingers over ancient stains. I read that Winnie Chase recommended a recipe. I saw A H As, and finally figured out that these were recipes my mother got from the American Heart Association. I found her recipe for bran muffins, which have a ton of fiber in every muffin and, frankly, taste like it.

I’m not going to reproduce Little Granny’s steamed Christmas pudding any time soon, but could compare her handwriting to that on a more updated version written by my Mom.

Sorry for the segue into nostalgia. My original point (yes, I had one) was that I spent an hour plinking around with old recipes, something I do just because I like to.

I also like to make earrings. And put together scrapbooks. And crochet. And lie on the couch with a cat in my lap and read. I like to listen to George Winston. I have an on-line series of cooking classes that I bought last January, and I’m maybe a quarter of the way through. I don’t expect to make steamed clams, what with living in a landlocked state, but I appreciate learning new techniques. My knife skills seriously suck, to the point where it’s a wonder I haven’t lopped off a finger yet. But I never do sign up for that knife-skills class a local catering company offers.

I don’t buy mani-pedis on the social marketing sites because I know I’ll never make the time to actually go in and have them done. Ditto facials and massages.

None of these things are necessary to my daily life.

But they make me happy.

What brought on this maudlin hand wringing?

Last night, I attended a high school orchestra concert. The chamber orchestra did an abbreviated version of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Richard Meyer. The orchestra director had asked for a parent volunteer to write a brief synopsis of the story that could be read before the performance.

Of course, I volunteered. How hard is it to summarize a short story? And one that everyone is vaguely familiar with, at that.

They had a high school student dressed rather like a Dickens character read the summary before the Chamber played the piece. The audience laughed when they were supposed to. The kid did a good job, although I still haven’t figured out why they made him use a fake British accent, and he called the author Washington Irvine.

But I sat in the audience, in the dark, grinning like a fool as I heard my words read aloud.

It made me remember why I write. Not necessarily to have my words read aloud, but to get my words, my stories, into the hands of other people. To make them laugh. To get a reaction. To know that something I wrote in some way was consumed by another human being who enjoyed it.

Part of the reason I’m feeling so bogged down lately is because I AM taking care of business. But I’m not making the time to write, to work on my fiction, to polish my words and tell my stories.

I have no one to blame but myself. Writing makes me feel just that much more alive. How is that I periodically lose sight of that fact? Why do I periodically neglect the part of me that creates?

Does everyone else have enough hours in the day? Are you finding the time for yourself, all the parts of yourself?


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You Don’t Smell That Bad

Unless you’re piling dead bodies in your basement like wood for the coming winter, your house doesn’t smell that bad.

Even with the biohazard impact of teenage boys or men over 50 on the household.

The advertising industry would like us to think that our houses stink. We have sprays, potpourri (invented by someone who didn’t have cats or small children in the house), scented candles, scented wax confetti (no lie), and scented oil warmers (see comment above about cats and children).

To what end? What exactly are we trying to hide from ourselves?

Room deodorizing sprays. Okay, okay, that one can in the bathroom gets a pass. But what on earth are you doing in your living room that needs to be masked with the chemically created scent of mountain meadows? Why do the commercials only feature women, and why do they all wear the same sweater set and insane smile as they douse the furniture with fake Tahitian Sunset?

Potpourri. An inoffensive idea, but within a day your house will smell like Grandma’s house. Doesn’t matter if you and the potpourri both are young and hip. It smells like Grandma. Until your cat eats it and then throws it up in your shoe, or your dog eats it and gets diarrhea. Upon which event you will note that chemically saturated dried bits of vegetation do not, in fact, smell better the second time around.

Scented candles. Again, not going to argue with anyone keeping one in the bathroom. And one candle with a light fragrance can be nice. (Fresh linen–I can’t quit you.) But you should never, ever light a scented candle if people are going to be dining soon. Nobody wants a mouthful of mac and cheese while their nose is full of Santa’s Feet. Because that’s what some of those holiday candles smell like. I have a cold, dark space in my soul that especially hates food-scented candles. Want your house to smell like sugar cookies? Bake some.

There’s nothing worse, or more offensive to your olfactory senses, than to enter a home with several scented candles, all different, all burning at once in the same room. Sensible nostrils either slam shut or begin violent sneezing. In a former life, when I was a Pampered Chef consultant, I showed up at someone’s house on a Saturday morning to do the requisite cooking demo/show. I counted at least six different candles burning, and I’m pretty sure I missed some. Not only could I not breathe, but the scented air was coating the inside of my mouth with a waxy film that tasted of Gingermagnoliaspringcookierain. When the hostess went upstairs to change before her guests arrived, I quietly blew out a few of the candles with what felt like my last gasp of breath. Just the ones in the kitchen, where the good smells of food cooking were going to emerge.

Didn’t help. She relit them as soon as she came downstairs.

Scented wax confetti. Saw this one at the Women’s Living Expo. Someone is laughing all the way to the bank. Whether you call it confetti or beans or candle poops, the bottom line is you put small bits of scented wax in a heatproof bowl with a flame or heating element under it. The wax melts, the scent is released. It’s just like a candle, only messier. And a bigger fire hazard.

How about the oil warmers and scent sprayers that plug in to a wall socket? So your room can be freshly inundated even when you aren’t home! Or the ones that spray a scented mist into the air at specific intervals? I saw an ad recently for a ridged, cylindrical room freshener that looked like some kind of alien sex toy. The point of the device was that, being round, it would blast scent into the air when it detected motion coming at it from any direction. Sounds like a horror movie or a defense mechanism. What if you don’t like the scent? You’re screwed, because if you make a move toward this thing it’s going to spray more of the scent you don’t like at you. There’s no sneaking up on it to disengage or remove the batteries–it’s got built-in, 360-degree protection.

If your house smells stale, open a window. Wash the moldering laundry. Change your sheets. Clean out your fridge. Sprinkle baking soda in the stinky footwear. Take out the trash and recycling. Stop buying sardines. Change the litter box. Cultivate some houseplants.  It’s a radical thought, addressing the root cause instead of flailing at the symptoms. But it’s so crazy it just  might work.


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