July 17

What Can’t Be Imagined.

God always punishes us for what we can't imagine. Stephen King

I’ve had a quote running through my head for a couple of weeks now:

God always punishes us for what we can't imagine. Stephen King

 

 

While there are lots of reasons I don’t believe that’s literally true, it does seem like the universe is trying to test us at all times, doesn’t it?

A tiny example: it’s hard to imagine it’s been a couple of months since I swore to get back on the writing horse.

The much bigger example can be exemplified by this photo, which came up in Facebook’s “On This Day” :

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Like all social media, it is a bit of a selective portrait of this July day in 2013. It was hot, because: New Orleans in summer. QED.  We were watching the Running of the Bulls (NOLA style), and although it was hugely fun as always, he was tired and his knee was hurting.

Still, I look at that grinning face from only 4 years ago and all I can think of is that King quote:

  • With that bright smile full of life in the sunshine, who could have imagined his own light would have receded so far into his own personal darkness?
  • On a day where he was standing tall, who could have imagined that he’d be spending the last many weeks flat on his back in excruciating pain?
  • When making him feel better meant encouraging him with the simple promise of a good beer and po-boy sandwich, who could have imagined a time where nothing I can do helps in any way?
  • In a time where we thought funds were tight because we weren’t going to be able to drive to Florida that summer, who could have imagined that “tight” really means a zillion sacrifices and constant fear?
  • On a gorgeous day spent with so many friends, who could have imagined we’d be so isolated so soon?

I feel like there’s too damn much I can imagine now. I hope that’s enough to keep all the monsters of King’s imagination at bay.

 

April 19

Suddenly, I’m Paulette Prudhomme

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For my whole marriage, I have been the secondary cook. So secondary it’s really more like the relief cook. I did the Italian, and he did pretty much everything else. He’s always been very kind about it, heaping embarrassing amounts of praise on my efforts, to the point where I’ve wondered if he was poking fun at dishes that amount to “various items breaded, fried and smothered.” But he swears he’s sincere.

However, given my druthers, my idea of dinner 9 times out of 10 is “what’s quickest and easiest to clean up?” The first time I had to feed him, I took out a frozen, dump-it-in-the-skillet meat/veggies/starch all in one bag. He was a good sport about it, and only much later on did it occur to me that it’s amazing he wanted another date after that.

Now that time and circumstances have changed, I’m responsible for more of the food procurement. While a LOT of it remains the quick and easy variety, there’s one area where things have suddenly reversed: work.  Also: Crock Pots.

There are many times where work has a “food thing.” Most of the time it’s a fund raiser for the employee charity fund, or the party fund or whatnot. Occasionally it’s something else, but it’s turned into a command performance, and that’s a very new thing for me.

First came the roast beef debris for po-boys for a sandwich day fundraiser. I thought this would be a safe bet, and a little outside of the norm. It was, and it smells amazing…but it was also expensive to make, and set the bar a bit high.

roast beef parts 20160426_131257

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yeah. That was pricey. It went over very well, tho, so that the next time I was asked if I wanted to make it again, I said that I’d think of something else. People acted disappointed, so I swore it would be just as awesome. Then I came up with a New Orleans’ style chicken and rice. It was cold, winter, and hey, it was a comfort dish that didn’t cost too much.

The problem was that it went from this:

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To this:

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In about half an hour. It was long gone before I even got to my lunch break- and I got no sympathy whatsoever. “Get a bigger crock pot” was the advice given, although someone else commented that “we’ll eat that, too, of course…”

By that time, Mardi Gras was coming, and I’d been a bit (okay, a lot) mopey because I wasn’t able to go home for carnival, and my social media was chock full of friends having fun. Asked what I was going to do about it, I threw my own little Fat Tuesday celebration with King Cake and Jambalaya. It went over a little too well, given that I put a freaking SIGN on the pot in the morning saying “NOT DONE COOKING. DO NOT EAT. RAW CHICKEN AND PORK!” and when I went back to stir the pot, it was already half gone.

Seriously, people? Does no one ever cook for you, that you’d be willing to risk salmonella?

I do have to admit that the food since the move has been seriously on the bland side, so maybe this is all just a cry for help.

The latest was last Friday, when I made a Cajun Porky-Mac to thank a vendor to coming in and helping me when I was slammed. Turns out word has gotten around, and even though I made special arrangements to hide the Crock Pot in a locked office, AND we were having a seperate fund raiser where you got a baked potato bar with all the fixins’ for $2, the locusts found the pot, much to my boss’ annoyance. It was only supposed to be for our department, and she’d been looking forward to leftovers the next day, but whoops! All gone. She held a small interrogation, but no one copped to it and she stayed hangry. Thankfully pork loin is cheap, so I can do that one again pretty easily.

This rather minor bit of food fame has been a little strange- not one bit of it has been Italian, my usual domain. All of it has been made up to one extent or another, and I live in fear, knowing that at some point the law of averages tells me I’ll strike out. I’ve been wondering what these Yankees would make of crawfish, but I think that might be my undoing. Also: expensive.

Truth be told, Mr. P is getting anxious about this, and is starting to want to reclaim his mantle. I once wrote up one of his recipes for Squidoo (R.I.P.), and I’ll have to see if we can convert it to a crock pot-friendly version so the cooking balance can be restored.

Until then, I’ll try to enjoy it and wield my Slap ya Mama cannister with abandon but wisdom as long as I can.

 

April 8

The Youngest Assistant

Stain & Paint Key

I looked down into the eyes of a miffed young lady as she tugged on my apron. “Well, hello there.” I said cheerfully.

“He,” she said, stabbing a finger toward a coworker who was pointedly avoiding her glare, “won’t let me make paint. He says it’s not allowed, but I don’t believe him because you’ve already let me!”

That got my attention and I examined her more closely. She didn’t seem familiar in her pink corduroy overalls, close cropped hair and deadly serious expression, but it was true that if we weren’t too hectic, I’d invite kids to come back behind the paint  counter and “make” their parents’ paint. Looking around, I didn’t see a grownup who seemed to belong to her, so I asked where they were and what paint they needed today.

She explained that they didn’t need paint of their own, but while her mother was looking at carpets she’d decided she would come over to help at the paint desk because it was a busy day and we had a lot of customers. Trying to contain a grin I told her that I was sorry, but the store would only allow me to make her own paint and no one else’s.

She scowled. “I’ll be right back,” she said, striding off.

A few minutes later she’d returned, a quart of tintable wood stain clutched in her hands, towing her mother in her wake. “I read the sign,” she said, “and we want to make Rosewood color.” Her mother shrugged,mumbling that they kind of needed it anyway, then nodded as I stepped up to the computer and her daughter came around behind the counter.

As I started to type, the girlie cleared her throat. “I want to do it all,” she said, politely but firmly.

“This part you can’t,” I said, unaware that this would be the only battle I’d win against the world’s cutest bulldozer. I entered the data and sent the label to the printer- it was in her hands before my fingers had even left the keyboard.

She tore it oh-so-carefully, peeling it away from the backing and saying, “I’m putting it on the can where it doesn’t block the instructions, see?” I praised her forethought while automatically moving on to the next step, but gasped loudly when a small hand grabbed my boob as it reached for the tool to open the can, which dangled from a leash on my apron.

“I know how to use this,” she said, not registering my surprised chest rubbing. “I made my dad show me. I can be careful.”

“Um, here’s the problem,” I said with genuine nervousness. “Stain is very different from paint- it’s super thin, for one thing. It’ll splash everywhere if we don’t pay close attention.”

Her little face was staring so intently at the can it wouldn’t have surprised me if the lid popped off through sheer force of will, but she asked no questions and made no comment, only bent to her task, carefully prying the lid with the key and spilling not a drop. She looked up and said, “Now it’s the dots, right?” I nodded, impressed, as she maneuvered the can under the tint dispenser, trying to get all three laser pointers to reflect off the tint so she’d know it was properly aligned. The quart sized cans have almost no room for error, and I’d never allowed a kid to even try one, but I stayed quiet and watched her work at it until she’d found the sweet spot.

She exuded determination, and had a slightly odd, clipped way of explaining out loud what she was doing. It could have been offputting, but somehow it wasn’t. She had a piece of work to do, and she was going to do it.

And so she did, shooting the gun at the UPC symbol to start the tint flowing, accepting minimal help to hammer the lid on, working the shaker and taking it out. I congratulated her on a job well done which she took as her due before heading off with her mom.

I looked up to see that the line had gotten backed up and headed toward the next customer but a tap on my shoulder turned me around to find her mom looking furtive.

“Thank you for that,” she said quietly. “I can’t even guess how many times she’s watched that video – totally obsessed.”

“Video?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“It’s silly, I know, but I recorded it with the phone when she helped you the first time because it was so unusual for her to want to talk to a stranger – she’s mildly autistic of course – and you talked to her the whole time, so she knew why you were doing what you were doing. A hundred times, minimum, she’s watched it. Are you a teacher? Because you should be a teacher,” she said before rushing back to her daughter who was carefully examining the lollipop display at the checkout line.

I started to take the next customer’s order but after a few seconds excused myself and darted toward the cashier. It suddenly seemed very important that I find out her name, this little girl whose first visit I didn’t even remember, and whose autism I hadn’t registered, but she was already gone.

September 21

The Mysterious Pentacle on Esplanade Ave

A friend asked what I knew about the mansion on Esplanade that features a stained glass five pointed star at its apex. I was embarrassed to say I’d never noticed this rather unusual detail on the tony Avenue: The property the house stands on was originally part of a Spanish land grant in 1800, and although it was meant to be farmed, the entire block was held by land speculators until after the Civil War, when it was broken into smaller lots. In 1873 steamboat captain J.W. Tobin purchased one of those parcels and built the mansion that still stands today. Born in Alabama, Tobin made his fortune sailing up the Mississippi River to the Ouachita River and into Arkansas- a voyage he undertook every Friday at 5 pm.
Continue reading

September 2

Invasion of the Slime Monsters

This was something I posted on Squidoo for yet another contest, this one about a “memorable” photo you took. I suppose it says something about me that when I read the rules I knew exactly what I was going to use…


 

Not the average photo

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This lens was written for a Squidoo contest about a photo you took, presumably about what makes it unique and interesting. Most people, surely, selected photos of loved ones, pets, glorious sunsets and sunrises…Mine, too, is one that’s very meaningful for me. It still evokes more of an emotional reaction than just about any of the many thousands of pictures I’ve taken.And it is foul beyond foul. You have been warned: read and scroll down at your own risk

Prologue to a massacre

“She seemed like such a nice lady,” the neighbors said. “Quiet. Kept to herself…”

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I was minding my own business, truly. I’d been working on a database project for my website, and had gotten caught up in my nerdishness until 2am when my eyelids would no longer function in the upright and locked position. I saved everything and fell into bed, looking forward to getting up early and making the website functional by evening.(cue ominous music)Seven AM found me with a cup of caffeinated motivation in hand, ready to get to it, but my computer wouldn’t wake up. Rebooting only made it scream in pain, beeping shrilly, leaving only a blank black screen with a flashing cursor in the upper left hand corner. It was as if the Ghost of Computers Past had paid a visit and dropped me back into the long-gone era of MSDos. Phone Googling told me that it was hard drive failure.“Okay, no panicking,” I told myself. “There’s a backup drive, so it’ll be okay.” Feeling pretty good about my self control, I was at the tech store before they opened and back home with my new (bigger & better than the original!) hard drive. Things were looking up!Or were they?

The Autopsy Results

“Murder,” she said.

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By the afternoon, I was practically hyperventilating, on the phone with a friend. “They totally laughed at me, Jen! Right in my face!”
To be fair, she was doing the same thing, but at least she wasn’t charging me $75 an hour to do it.
“I told you- Mercury retrograde,” my astrology-minded friend said. “It makes everything technological go haywire. I told you to watch out, didn’t I?”“How am I supposed to watch out for SLUGS, Jen? Besides, they are NOT high-tech! They are foul little demons that are going to cost me a LOT of money!”It was definitely time to panic. When I’d cracked the computer case to install the new hard drive I’d been greeted with slick silver slime trails inside the machine… over the motherboard, the fan, the sound and graphics cards- everywhere. The computer remained completely unresponsive, and things did not look hopeful.Like any concerned parent, I bundled the sick patient into the car and took it to the ER- in this case a neighborhood repair shop, where I proceeded to give the guys a huge belly laugh. They’d never seen anything quite like it.“When they took the board out, the little nasty dried up corpse fell out,” I told her, the image burned into my mind. “It was vile.”The slug had apparently come in under the office side door and decided to explore the first thing it came across- my computer tower. It slithered up inside the vent and got stuck, smootching across everything in circles until its slime short circuited the machine, frying itself in the process. It turns out – who knew?- slug trails are electrically conducive, so everything was wiped out in one fell swoop.

As I described the murder, I went from anxious to angry.

And started to plan revenge.

It was Mrs. Peacock in the garden with the poison…

I took myself down to the garden center with murder in my heart. It was too late for me to exact revenge on the miscreant who’d inflicted this on me, but my anger was for all slugkind and knew no bounds.“Gimme the big guns,” I said.“Lady, are you sure you want to go through with this?” The clerk asked, his voice shaking slightly. My steely gaze told him I was a woman with a mission, and he nervously passed the box over the counter. The Ortho Bug-Geta was tucked in the bag and spirited away to my house, where I poured some on the patio to see how it worked. Now I just had to wait for my trap to be sprung.

It was kinda like this…

Sorta.

Warning: mild, war-film type profanity.

The next thing you see will be…memorable.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

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Aftermath

In the morning I went outside to see what I hath wrought.

Apparently my house was club-med for slugs! Where did they all COME from? The bait must’ve called them from miles around because they couldn’t have all been hiding out nearby…could they?

I decided I was going to ignore the killing field until my husband came home from his business trip the following day. He could clean up the battlefield. After all, hadn’t I done the hard work? Hadn’t I suffered enough?

No, apparently not, because as the day heated up the smell was enough to knock your shoes off at thirty paces. I had to get a shovel and get to work. I’d counted 250 dead bodies before deciding I just didn’t want to know.

I had thought the one dried dead slug was revolting? So naive. Hundreds of semi-liquified slugs? Now that redefined vile.

As I dropped the garbage bag in the bin with a shudder, a worrisome thought occurred. They’d sent a single slug in to scout. I’d retaliated with brutal efficiency. What if- please God, no- what if they escalated? What if they launched a full-scale invasion? “Perhaps,” I thought, “a protective salt circle around the bed tonight might be a good idea.”

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So here we are, finally at the picture that inspired the contest lens. Hope you got a laugh!

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August 25

Squidoo is no more.

I had a bunch of content on Squidoo, which has announced they’re folding. I’m moving most of my stuff over to Hubpages, but there are a few things I did for contests or challenges that don’t really have a wider audience, and I’ll bring those over here. Until the process is done, links may be wonky, but I’m taking care of things as quickly as possible, and intend to get back to writing asap.

It’s been a crazy year, with going back to work in a traditional office-type setting and forgetting just how exhausting it can be, but I’m all adjusted and back on the case. Notes are sketched out for a dozen more hauntings around town and with Halloween around the corner I can’t wait to write ‘em up!

September 3

Nailed it?

First off, I need to point out that I can bake- and I mean from scratch. Need a cake? Brownies? Cookies or cupcakes? I got that. And my rum balls will put you right on your butt.

Based on that experience, I decided to take on one of the Squidoo challenges- to make a lens on Halloween cupcakes. Starting with the assumption that most people were going to  focus on the decorations, I went a different way: I’d make the centerpiece of the project a game.

Off I went to the craft store to get little trinkets to put inside the cupcakes, and figured on making each like a door prize. If you got an eyeball, you’d get  toy#1, a bat would get toy#2, etc.

Even as I started to try to pull things together, Bianca knew that this was not going to end well:

 

Bianca

Give it up, you sad, sad human.

   I’ll admit that  I went overboard – surprise! Michaels is a dangerous place. I even bought a mold to make skeleton body parts and filled them with the green and orange chocolate (front and center of the photo). Did I mention I’d never worked with that stuff before? Yeah. Harder than it looks.

setting up

All photogenic and ready to be included in a triumphant lens!

I cheated and used a box mix so I could focus on the ‘fun’ stuff. Got fancy, divided it up into batches and used food dye in Halloween-y colors, and based on my Pinterest research decided to use ice cream cones instead of standard paper cups. After wrapping the toys in mini baking cups and carefully pushing them to the bottom of the cones I was ready to fill ‘em up and go!

  They looked a little different coming out of the oven than they did going in:mess

Let us count the ways that this went wrong. First off, the orange batter cooked up brown, so the cones with the overflowing brown looks like…well…like it needed a plunger. The cones sort of melted under the lava-like heat of cake batter, collapsing in, and forming those lovely goiter-like protrusions. Oh, and the batter just oozed inside the toys, rendering them revolting.

I was ready to throw in the towel when a friend pointed out that “anything can be fixed with frosting!” Yup!

NailedIt