Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Library, the Car Wash and Traffic Jams

Today I emerged from my virus-induced, winter-funk exile. After sequestering myself away for much of the last 10 days, I broke out to rejoin the real world. First stop? The library. I couldn't pull in the fire zone for a quick ditch of what I needed to return because two other people were already defying the posted "no stopping or unloading sign," so I resigned myself and headed for the parking lot where I was delighted to find a mini traffic jam.

The only place it would be better to find a traffic jam would be church. I love that enough people are coming to the library that we have to wait our turn to park. Despite the extreme temperatures over the last few weeks, the library parking lot is always well-occupied, which speaks volumes about the importance of the library to our community. Job seekers using the computers, preschoolers enjoying story time, friends meeting over books, the lady in the wheelchair with her therapy dog browsing the DVDs ... there really is something for everyone at the library. And our library is well-used and well-loved.

But back to the traffic jam. Usually, I would be annoyed by having to wait for the little old man in the pick-up trying for the second (third?) time to pull into his space. His efforts were challenged by the family in the van next to him trying to get out of their vehicle and he was preventing the vehicle across the aisle from backing out. Today, though, I wasn't annoyed. I think I was happy to be out in the sunshine, glad there was traffic in the library lot and smiling because the little old man reminded me of my grandfather in his little pick-up (who likely caused a traffic jam or two in his time). I just cranked up Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and enjoyed the interruption.

My last stop today was the car wash, which was where I ran into my second traffic jam. Vehicles were lined up for the automatic car wash. There were some brave souls using the self-serve bays, but I prefer waiting in the warmth of my car with my book. So I inched my way toward the goal and 29 minutes later, I had a clean vehicle. Time well-spent. And time enough to ponder this sign:

How comforting to read such a sign when you're trapped in a car wash bay with heavy, automated machinery beating all around you and you have a vivid imagination that can easily envision possible malfunctions and ensuing disaster. When I think "trouble" in the car wash, I'm not sure it's going to be helpful (or quick) to call an 800 number if there's a real emergency.

Being a "safety first" kind of girl, I looked for those emergency buttons. As I looked, I wondered how I would dodge the machinery to get to the buttons and if they would even work and if I could figure them out if I did find them. (My stream of consciousness is something to behold.) All that wondering was for naught, because I never did see those emergency buttons. But you can be sure the next time I sit in the car wash traffic jam, I'll keep looking. Or maybe I'll just hope "Brave" is on the radio and crank it up.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What's In A Name?

Names are such interesting devices. Growing up, I thought it would be cool to have a name like Marcia or Cindy. They seemed like much hipper options than my name, the more traditional, classic Elizabeth. I recall my mother saying other name options for me included Hannah, Isabelle and Bronwyn. Hmm, hard to imagine any of those as my name now. I wonder if or how I would be different had I been given one of those names. I am glad I bear the name of two great-grandmothers, but I didn't - and still don't - like the fact that my name has 30-some derivatives.

The only nickname I've ever been comfortable with is Beth. My dad called me Beth, though my mother never did - she wanted my nickname to be Betsy. In fourth grade, there were two Elizabeths and the teacher suggested it would be easier (for her) if one of us could be called by a different name. She probably thought with 30-some derivatives, chances were pretty good one of us had a nickname. Elizabeth Henry didn't seem interested in being called anything other than her full name (I wonder if that ever changed), so I volunteered to be called Beth, and Beth it became for the rest of my educational career. When I finished college and went to work, I assumed Elizabeth as my professional moniker.

The one nickname I've never liked is Liz or Lizzie, most likely because of the Lizzie Borden childhood rhyme and because that's the name most people seem to automatically default to without asking. I used to adamantly correct their assumptions, but have become better at just rolling with it. For some people, Liz is a good fit ... short, chic, classy. It's just never worked for me.

But now I have the opportunity to choose a new name. Cindy and Marcia are no longer favorites and not really appropriate in this instance. You see, I'm going to become a grandmother in several months (you have no idea how weird it is to type those words) and I get to select what I'd like to be called. I realize spending too much time debating this could be fruitless as the little one may create his or her own name for me, which would be delightful. As long as it's not Liz.

The baby will have three grandmothers. The other grandmothers have selected Nana and Grandma. Of course, it's perfectly fine to have more than one Nana or Grandma (I had two Grandmas), but I'm leaning toward something different. I read somewhere once about grandparents who were called Lolly and Pop. I still kind of like that combo, but I may like it more in theory than in reality. It may be borderline too cute. So one afternoon last week, I Googled - because how did we ever make decisions before Google? - "names for grandmother." Oh, really, you should do it just for fun. The scope of results is quite entertaining. The award for oddest goes to "Peaches" or "Banana." The unusual "Grammar" caught my eye," in light of my love of language. And I'm not really a Memaw or Mom-maw, because they wear floppy straw hats, live in the south and go to garden club, right?

So after I finished chuckling my way through the Google results, I clicked through to a quiz that would tell me what grandmother name is perfect for me. I answered the series of questions and eagerly anticipated the results. What should my name be? Without further ado, the results said:

You Are Definitely Glamma!
You're always perfectly turned out, never dowdy. Your grandchildren will never be embarrassed to be seen with you, and they'll appreciate your well-chosen gifts. As they get older, they'll seek your advice about fashion and grooming. Although you have a stunning exterior, there's more substance to you than your critics could imagine. Glamma is the perfect grandmother name for you, but Mimi, Bella and Gigi are other apt choices.
Hmm. I think the quiz may be a bit flawed, specifically because my answers to the "what clothing are you most likely to wear" questions were "a plain t-shirt" and "yoga pants." No self-respecting Glamma who is "perfectly turned out" would be seen in plain t-shirts and yoga pants in public (or cozy, heavy duty sweats during arctic temps, as the case may be). And my advice about fashion and grooming could easily be summed up with, "Be clean and keep your hair out of your eyes." Well, and for girls, my mother's "wear lipstick and earrings in public" advice, which I usually try to follow.

I'm pretty sure Glamma is headed for the slush pile along with Grammar, Peaches and Banana. I actually think Mimi, Bella and Gigi could be contenders. And I'll keep Lolly in the mix, along with Gram. So many choices. There's a lot of potential, self-inflicted pressure in this name game. And so the quest continues ...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Arctic Concotion

We're in the midst of another arctic blast with temps that make it more than reasonable to stay inside if you can. (And I can; sorry to all those who must head out for work and school and the like.) It's been quite a winter as evidenced by the fact that yesterday I saw my neighbor knock down an icicle with a baseball bat so it wouldn't impale the dog when she went outside.

I'm all about being warm 365 days a year; it's just a little more challenging than usual right now. This morning, I thought I'd treat myself to my favorite cold-weather drink, a chai latte. Lucky for me, this doesn't require a trip to the nearest coffee shop, as I had a carton of mix waiting for me in the fridge. I knew I only had one serving left but today was the day. So I reached into the fridge for the carton.

I poured it into my mug, surprised that I had more mix left than I thought I did. Bonus: A chai tomorrow without a trip to the grocery store. I added milk and stirred well. I set the milk container aside to recycle and reached for the carton to put it back in the fridge. And this is what I picked up:

Hmm. Yes. Well. A beef broth latte was not exactly what I was after. Apparently, that carton looks eerily similar to this carton when stored on its side:

Thankfully, I picked up the carton before heating up my concoction. Fortunately, I had enough milk left to make the intended latte. I'm just glad I didn't grab the carton of tomato soup.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Generating Article Topics

The most recent assignment for my writing class was to generate a list of at least (at least!) 50 article topics that I could write about. I just read them through to Brian (and we laughed and laughed) and, like a good student, posted my "Top 10" on the class discussion board. Just for kicks, I thought I'd share the entire list here. The "Top 10" are bolded. Enjoy ...
  1. The Highway Hostesses of the 1930s
  2. A Wife’s Guide to Surviving Home Renovation
  3. Learning to Drive a Stick Shift
  4. The Benefits of Essential Oils
  5. The Pros and Cons of Home Hair Coloring
  6. Mentoring the Young Women in Your Church
  7. Adopting a New Family Member from a Rescue
  8. Discerning various financial buy-in models at continuing care retirement communities
  9. Helping your parent choose the best continuing care retirement community
  10. Talking to your parent about end-of-life planning (wills, funeral wishes)
  11. How to work together as a couple to survive and thrive during unemployment
  12. Reducing your dog’s travel anxiety
  13. What you need to know about hospice before you need it
  14. Pet-Friendly Beaches on the East Coast
  15. Russia: It’s Not the Same Russia You Grew Up Fearing … or Is It?
  16. Heart Attacks in Women: How to know when you’re having one vs. symptoms due to other causes
  17. Mammograms: What It’s Really Like
  18. What Would Harriet the Spy Be Like Today?
  19. What Would Nancy Drew Be Like Today?
  20. Why You Should Try Reflexology
  21. How to Choose a Good Dog Food`
  22. Ways to Stop Your Dog’s Licking/Itching
  23. Help! I’m Too Young to be a Grandma!
  24. How to Support Your Child’s Marriage
  25. Stepmothering Isn’t for Sissies
  26. Protecting your Marriage in a Blended Family
  27. What You Need to Know Before You Become a Stepparent
  28. The 10 Commandments for Dating Someone With Kids
  29. The Dividends of Investing in Your Stepchildren
  30. Grace for the Prodigal Child
  31. Designing a Great Nursery in a Small Space
  32. All You Really Need to Welcome Your Baby Home (The essentials of a great nursery)
  33. Navigating the Boat Launches at Raystown Lake – parking, fees, locations, crowdedness
  34.  What to do When a Friend is Dying
  35. Why a Small Church May be a Great Fit
  36. Planning a Big Wedding on a Small Budget
  37. Grief: Finding Your Path to Healing
  38. River Cruising: The Real Scoop/What to Expect
  39. Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Options
  40. Carpal Tunnel: Now What?
  41. Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder
  42. A Quick Glance at Curacao
  43. A Quick Glance at Aruba
  44. A Quick Glance at Grand Cayman
  45. Laughter: Laugh Long, Laugh Hard, Laugh Together
  46. The Health Benefits of Gratitude
  47. How Being Intentionally Thankful Can Change Your Life
  48. What to Expect When Your Child is Expecting
  49. Preparing Yourself for Co-Grandparenting
  50. So You’re Going to be a SMOB (SMOG)
  51. Friendship Investment: Couple Dates with your Couple Friends
  52. Why Every Good Girl Should Go to the Roller Derby at Least Once
  53. Confessions of a Homeopathic Skeptic
  54. Buying Souvenirs
  55. Why Buy American
  56. Don’t Take that Email Tone With Me
  57. New in Town? Creative Ways to Plug In
  58. One Dog, Two Dog, Three Dog, More?
  59. Kitchen Design Basics for the Novice
  60. What Should Be In Every Girl’s Toolbox
  61. A Primer on Rhodesian Ridgebacks
  62. What Really Happens to Your Household Recycling?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking a Walk

A guest post by Shelby Anne

Almost every day, I go for a walk. Unless it's snowing or raining or there's some weird thing called a polar vortex. I have no idea what that is, but I do know my mama said we were NOT taking a walk that day and when we went outside, we were supposed to be "fast as lightning" because it was so darn cold.

But anyway, most days we take a walk. Mama likes to walk so she can stay healthy to take care of us (right? That's why she wants to be healthy, I'm pretty sure.). She likes to take me and my big brother Cooper on walks to help keep us in shape and to help us get our crazies out so we don't drive her crazy. Which we do sometimes, anyway, drive her crazy that is. But she loves us even though we make her bonkers sometimes. Who couldn't love this face?

We have a couple of regular paths we go on, mostly in and around our neighborhood, but sometimes we get to walk on the walking path and go to the library, or walk on the rails to trails path. When we're at the cabin, we get to walk without our leashes and that's the most fun, running into the woods, smelling the deer and bear and whatever else there is to smell. Me and Coop like to chase each other, too. Well, really I just chase him because he doesn't like to be the chaser very often. On the very best days, our dad comes along on our walks. He has to be there when we are off our leashes because Mama doesn't trust us one hundred percent to come back when she calls us. But we would. Probably.

What I like most about taking a walk isn't the exercise or the fresh air; what I like most is exploring. Every walk is like a treasure hunt. I don't look straight ahead ... I keep my nose to the ground and sniff the good smells and keep my eyes pealed for something new. Most of the time I find a piece of wood or a branch or a stray piece of mulch. Today I found some little kid's sock with trains on it. I was marching proudly along until Mama spotted it hanging out of my mouth. And then she tried to take it. She pulled and pulled, and kept walking while she was pulling. Now, I have a monster jaw. Seriously. I have a super strong jaw. And I can be stubborn. So getting something out of my mouth is no small feat. Today, though, I eventually let Mama win. It was just a sock. It wasn't worth fighting too hard for, although I didn't give in easily.

But the best thing I ever found? The body of a dead squirrel! It was the best find ever. Mama just about gagged when she saw what I had in my mouth. It had been on the road for a while, and every day Mama steered us to the other side of the road so we wouldn't have a chance to get it. Well, me, really. Coop isn't as much of an explorer as I am on walks. He has other issues he can tell you about sometime. Sometimes walking us wears Mama flat out. But back to my squirrel carcass. Mama wasn't paying close attention and I scooped that squirrel right into my mouth without missing a step. Mama had to wrestle the carcass away from me and I gave the fight of my life. She says we created quite a spectacle for the neighborhood to watch. Coop was really embarrassed. Wouldn't you be if your mama was wrestling a petrified squirrel carcass out of your sister's mouth? I was kind of mad that Mama took the squirrel away, but I love her anyway.

So that's a little glimpse in taking a walk with me. I like to explore my world and see what treasures I can find. There's usually something good out there waiting just for me.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Clue of the Dancing Puppet

The first lesson of my online writing course was posted today. I achieved a perfect score on the pretest, so I'm off to a good start. Today's lesson was basically reading about the fundamentals of writing articles and how story ideas are everywhere. Truth or cliché? I landed on the side of truth.

The instructor recommended that we write a brief paragraph introducing ourselves to our fellow cyber classmates and as I was thinking about what to write - how do you sum up who you are in a few brief sentences? - I realized that every descriptor I was going to include had stories behind it: wife, stepmom, empty nester, reader, traveler, dog walker, convertible rider, home renovator ... Not that every story is or should be publishable, but what a broad range of topics to draw from.

Another instructor recommendation was to keep a journal where we can write down ideas as they come to us. The good student in me was pleased that I already have one. (This is where The Clue of the Dancing Puppet comes in, in case you were wondering when I was going to reference this post's title.)

My journal was a gift from my brother and fellow bibliophile. It comes from and is a lovely reminder of my favorite set of books from my childhood, even though I don't remember this particular book. I read and re-read my set of Nancy Drews over and over again. I read them while partaking of my typical after-school snack of chocolate milk and graham crackers, in the bathtub, in the car, in the doctor's waiting room. I remember tucking a Nancy Drew inside my Bible and reading it once during church. I never would dared to have tried that with my parents present, but Grandma was staying with us and had taken us to church. I thought I was so slick, but she was on to me.

I thought Nancy was smart, George was courageous and Bess was a bit ditzy. And I couldn't imagine tooling around my neighborhood in a convertible with a boy named Ned or having a housekeeper. (I didn't marry a boy named Ned, have never and will probably never have a housekeeper, but the convertible? Got that.)

My set of Nancy Drews came from my father's business partner's daughter who was at least a good decade older than I was. It was a pretty complete set at the time, but I did add new books when they came out until I aged past Nancy Drew. I still have my set somewhere in the basement or the attic. I should dig them out and see if I can find the clue left by the dancing puppet. Or maybe the dancing puppet is the clue.

Back to the idea journal. Last year about this time I was on one of my "I'm going to write" streaks and starting writing ideas in the journal, which also contained to-do lists and shopping lists. I think I was trying to generate topics for blog posts. And now, thanks to my online class, the idea journal is back out in the daylight and ready to be filled with the plethora of ideas that I know are rambling around somewhere in my subconscious and in my day-to-day life.

Just beware. This blog is called Harriet's Notebook, so I may put on my Harriet glasses and write about you in my idea journal. But only good ideas. Promise.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


It's been a little more than month since I wrapped up my 2013 resolution to write every week for Five Minute Friday. And then the holidays came and went, and voila! Soon January will be half over without a single word written here in my little corner of the Internet.
I've been finding every reason, including blatant procrastination, to not write, which is completely ridiculous since I fully enjoy writing and know I need to do more of it, if only as a tool to process my thoughts and stories.
I don't make many resolutions because I don't like to set myself up for failure. Last year, I set two goals/resolutions and achieved them both. I learned that, for me, it's much healthier to set reasonable goals, versus more suffocating resolutions that allow no room for grace.(Exercise every day. Read the Bible in a year ... which really shouldn't mean breathlessly zipping through Revelation in the final hours of December 31.)
So this year, I've set a few more broad goals for myself. I've centered my goals around the word focus. Too often I allow myself to be distracted, to flit from one thing or another, to follow one rabbit trail on the Internet after another which leads me far away from my original intent and results in much wasted time. Focus. I need more of it.
One of the primary areas I'm going to be focusing on this year is my writing. There will still be the writing/editing/proofreading I do for income and on a volunteer basis, but there are also the stories I have inside that need to be written. Thus, my focus on writing this year will be a combination of professional and personal:

  • Figure out what to do with blogging. Is this something I want to do more seriously or is it just here for whoever stumbles upon it? If I pursue it, I need to set up a better template with links and tags and other bells and whistles.
  • Consider setting up a website. Should its focus be my professional writing services? Examples of essays? A combination? What is the cost/benefit ratio? I have no idea how to do this, so another new horizon to conquer. It's ironic to me to be a writer who doesn't have a website, but I've managed thus far without one. Perhaps it's time.
  • Update my LinkedIn page. If nothing else, use this as a mini-website to promote professional services. A good start would be to log on and figure out how to even use the site beyond the basic name, education and occupation information. Oh, and a photo. That would be good. 
  • Make a list of topics and write regularly. I have several essay ideas, so I need to make a list and start writing. I know if I write consistently, the procrastination will wane and I'll find my voice and improve my craft.
  • Use fewer exclamation points. This is harder than you think (join me in trying to reduce their usage?). Originally, I set out to eliminate them from my writing completely, but that seemed like one of those suffocating, graceless type of goals and sometimes I think exuberance is warranted. But, progress: I believe you'll only find two exclamation points in this post.  
  • Take at least one writing course. Woohoo! I can check this off my list. I signed up for a Writing for Magazines online course and it starts tomorrow. I don't know where it will lead, if anywhere, but it's a start. I've always wanted to be published in a magazine. Technically, I have been published in several local/regional publications, but perhaps there's a place for my words in other publications. We'll see how this course goes; I think the next one will be writing for the Internet.
  • Write Pam's story. This is the hardest goal I've set for myself, but honestly, it's the most important one I have. I shared this goal with a friend and she affirmed me, but said she thinks it will be an emotional ordeal. She's absolutely right. Just talking about delving into Pam's story scares me and brings me to tears and causes fear of emotional pain to well up inside, but it is time. Now is the time. Every life is a story and I am so blessed to have been part of hers.
So here's to the 11.5 months left in 2014 and my intention to focus. Let's see where the journey goes.