Oh, Christmas tree — November 30, 2022

Oh, Christmas tree

I have a public admission to make. When I hear friends talking about the multiple Christmas trees in their homes or see the photos of said trees, I say to myself, “Self, what is wrong with these people?”

And, no, this has nothing to do with my inherent thriftiness.

I’ve heard some mothers – note the use of the word some – joke that they forgot the pain of childbirth, which is the reason they had subsequent children.

That’s the way I feel after decorating a Christmas tree. Every year I’m so mentally and physically exhausted that I have to recuperate in a bacta tank. I cannot imagine being so energized by the process that, after finishing a tree, I say, “The living room tree is up. Let’s move on to the kitchen tree so we can decorate the bathroom trees.”

It’s not so much the stringing of the lights or the hanging of the ornaments. It’s the shaping of the branches. I’m always surprised when I assemble the sections of the tree and they don’t magically take shape. We have phones that can take photos. We can, if we choose, tell someone named Alexis to turn off our electronics. We can watch our front doors from anywhere in the galaxy. A self-shaping Christmas tree is not too much to ask for.

This year was especially exhausting because I bought a new tree. No, I did not pull off a heist. At my advanced age, I had purchased one full-sized tree. When the branches on that tree legit fell off, I inherited a hand-me-down tree. This year, I agonized over the decision to buy a tree. Then I remembered one day several years ago when I took my mom shopping. As she agonized over whether to buy a tree, I encouraged her to do so, telling her that she and my dad had worked hard. You deserve that fancy-adjacent new tree, I said to her.

With those words echoing in my memory, I decided to buy a fancy-adjacent new tree.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I didn’t want a pre-lit tree, which limited my options. I found a couple trees online that met my eligibility requirements, but I couldn’t really tell anything about them because they were, you know, online. I made several trips to five local stores before I finally said, “Expletive it!” and bought a fancy-adjacent tree whose price was drastically reduced. That last part made the process a tad easier.

And it is a good-looking tree. A good-looking tall tree. It’s so tall it could be the National Christmas Tree. It’s so tall I have to stand in the back yard to get all of it in a photo. It’s so tall I considered renting a cherry picker so I could decorate the top branches.

Okay, maybe it’s not that tall. But I did have to drag out the step ladder to reach those top branches. The good news is that decorating the tree qualified as my daily workout.

Now that I’ve made this admission, I’m going to forget all about climbing the ladder and shaping the branches. That way, I’ll want to decorate that tall tree again next year.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

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Swarp meet — November 23, 2022

Swarp meet

I recently made a glorious discovery – a Waylon station on the radio music streaming service that I utilize for free. And by Waylon I mean Jennings. After all, there is but one Waylon.

I grew up listening to Waylon and other stars of outlaw country. Indeed, Waylon was a favorite of my dad’s. (By the way, Daddy pronounced his name Wayling.) When I was a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, at Daddy’s instruction, my oldest sister played Waylon’s greatest hits on her record player after everyone went to bed. Waylon serenaded us as we met Mr. Sandman. Well, everyone but me. Even as a wee lass, I couldn’t sleep with distractions like Waylon’s deep voice wafting through the house.

Before I made my glorious discovery, I had already been listening to Waylon’s songs and those by other musicians from my youth. In fact, I did so on the daily. Still, once I started listening to Waylon radio, I did hear songs, his and others’, I hadn’t heard in dozens of years. As these tunes, both familiar and unfamiliar, worked their way into my consciousness, I detected themes. Actually, I noticed one theme in particular – swarping.

Swarping, for those of you who don’t know, basically means to party. In other words, to raise some expletive. It’s not that I was surprised singers featured on the station, including Waylon, Willie, and Merle, sang about swarping. But I was surprised by the volume of these swarping songs.

And when Willie and Merle’s Reasons To Quit came on, I said to myself, “Self, they might be listing all the reasons to quit swarping, but they sure make it sound like a lot of fun.”

By the way, Waylon’s Lonesome, On’ry and Mean, which depicts a dark tale of swarping gone wrong, makes swarping sound like anything but fun. The song, one of my all-time favorites, speaks to me.

Although Conway Twitty wasn’t part of the outlaw genre, his songs provide a different aspect of swarping. Why are his tunes on Waylon radio, you ask? Because one song leads to another on these streaming services and the next thing you know, you’re hearing Conway croon about yet another conquest. During Tight Fitting Jeans, I said to myself, “Self, is he saying what I think he’s saying? Did I know what that song meant when I was a wee lass?”

All this reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend weeks ago. Whilst at lunch, a Rod Stewart song came on the restaurant’s jukebox. (Yes, you read that right.) We agreed we’re not fans of his, but I said I do like a couple of his songs. I couldn’t remember the name of one of them, so I looked it up. When I told said friend it was Do Ya Think I’m Sexy, she laughed and said, “I knew it” and joked about me liking pornography.

As I countered, that song represents the music I grew up listening to. If I had thought about it, I could have mentioned to her that I also listened to Donna Summer moaning on the radio, Conway crooning about making out with strangers, and Waylon and the other outlaws singing the praises of swarping.

Gosh. It was a glorious time to be a wee lass.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Fair game — November 16, 2022

Fair game

On Halloween night, as we hid from tricks and/or treaters, my sisters and I reminisced about days of yore when we feasted on squirrel.

For those of you who are aware of my legendary status as a picky eater, yes, I willingly and knowingly ate squirrel. I can’t recall how it tasted, but, unlike meat loaf or sausage or beef stew, I didn’t refuse to eat it. So, it must have sated my discriminating taste buds.

Anyway, my youngest niece had oodles of questions for us. For example, she wanted to know where we got the squirrels.

“Your Poppaw hunted them,” her mom aka my second oldest sister explained. “These hills are full of squirrels.”

They weren’t as full of them when our dad, the late great Burton Goff, was still hunting them. I can remember him walking down the road on chilly autumn mornings with freshly-hunted squirrels affixed to what looked to me like a huge safety pin. Then, he’d sit on the back porch and skin the squirrels.

After that task was completed, Mom either cooked the freshly-skinned squirrels in gravy or put them in the freezer so we could feast on a rainy day.

My niece asked why, if we considered squirrel the epitome of gourmet dining, we’d ceased eating them.

Her mom and I couldn’t give her a satisfactory answer. Tastes change. That’s the best I could offer.

My oldest sister, however, had a more definitive answer. When she overheard Daddy saying that a squirrel had a wool in it, she tapped out. Later, I asked her what “wool” meant. She said, “I don’t know, but it didn’t sound good.”

Needing to know more, I asked a friend whose dad was also a squirrel hunter. He wasn’t sure about the definition of wool, so he looked into it. He sent me an explanation that I felt sure would make me gag, so I asked for an overview. Here’s the gist: Some sort of fly gestates under a squirrel’s skin and then the larvae burrow out –

I’m going to stop there.

I guess the fly goes by the alias of wool, but I’m not sure about that, so don’t quote me. I am sure my parents didn’t serve us wooly squirrel, but I’m not sure how they disposed of said squirrels.

Although we hadn’t satisfied my niece’s curiosity vis-à-vis squirrels, she swerved slightly off course and asked about other small wild game like rabbit and groundhog, neither of which I can remember eating.

My oldest sister can remember eating them. Indeed, she recalled that, as a child, our parents rewarded her after a minor surgical procedure with a baked groundhog. That’s what I call positive reinforcement.

My niece asked her what part of the groundhog – or the squirrel or rabbit for that matter – she ate.

Giving her a puzzled look, my sister said, “The meat.”

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s a mystery — November 9, 2022

It’s a mystery

As you might recall, a few years ago I penned a cozy mystery series. I decided to take a break from that and focus on a new series and a new set of characters.

Characters like these … A thrice-married aging bombshell. Her respectable sworn enemy. A scheming young executive. A long-absent father. A bored daughter with a secret romance.

These characters and others populate A Fatal Reception, An Ashton Arbor Mystery. As the first installment in the serialized saga begins, the beautiful Jenna and handsome Greg are preparing for their wedding, unaware a murder will mar their special day. With elements of a soap opera, the mystery features blackmail, double crossings, affairs, decades-long grudges, corporate espionage, and a whodunnit cliffhanger.

The book blends elements of two of my favorite genres – mysteries and soaps. In fact, I wrote the mystery because, like one of the characters in the book, I miss soap operas of my youth. Alas, unlike the character, no one could ever describe me as a bombshell.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, if this book contains elements of soaps, does this mean it will include an amnesiac evil twin who returns from the dead?”

Spoiler alert: There are no amnesiacs as well as no twins, evil or otherwise, in this book. I also don’t plan to raise characters from the dead in the series. Instead of focusing on those types of tropes, I want to celebrate the soapy goodness of betrayal, secrets, and lies.

A couple times whilst writing, I had ideas for character motivation or plot movement and said to myself, “Self, this is so soapy. Dare you include it?”

Spoiler alert: I absolutely did.

A Fatal Reception is different from my previous cozy mystery series in a few ways. For starters, it’s not set in Eastern Kentucky. Also, it’s not a cozy. But it’s cozy-adjacent. It’s certainly not a hardboiled mystery. After all, the murder occurs off stage. And while there are a few four-letter words here and there, it’s nothing I wouldn’t have heard on a soap when I was a wee lass.

There are also no explicit love scenes, so imagine my surprise when a friend who’s read the book described it as racy. Spoiler alert: It’s not racy. Maybe a little suggestive, but not racy.

Said friend redeemed himself when he told me that the story reminded him of soaps he watched with his mom. Huh. What do you know? That’s exactly the mood I wanted to create.

The ebook version of A Fatal Reception can be purchased at www.amazon.com/dp/B0BL43ZVYX and the paperback at www.amazon.com/dp/B0BL9V455Y

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Finding your voice — November 2, 2022

Finding your voice

I’ve always been soft spoken. Throughout the years, folks have frequently encouraged me to speak up, telling me they couldn’t hear my delicate little voice.

What makes this weird is that I grew up surrounded by the loudest people in the galaxy. When my dad, the late, great Burton Goff, whispered it sounded like a normal speaking voice. For reals. You could hear him whispering two rooms away.

Almost every day, my mom implored him and my siblings to quieten down. She would use the names of neighbors who lived a mile or so away to remind them that everyone didn’t need to know our business. When I was a wee lass, before I grasped an understanding of sarcasm, I’d say to myself, “Self, I know my family is loud, but those people down the road must have Bionic Woman hearing.”

By the way, it’s not just my immediate family. I’m not going to mention names, but if you know, you know. One of my cousins told me he’d discussed our family’s loudness with his dad, who attributed it to the fact that the men worked around heavy machinery. They had to talk loudly so others could hear them over the roar of the machines. My cousin then asked him why the women in the family were so loud.

He could also have asked about the younger generation. Again, I’m not going to mention names, but a year or so ago at a family gathering, as I walked inside the building, I told a cousin I heard her in the parking lot. She said something like, “Not you, too? Why does everyone say I’m loud?”

For what it’s worth, my nieces and great-nephew (emphasis on great) are soft-spoken. My great-niece (emphasis on great) is not. Her great-grandfather would be so proud of her for not being able to whisper.

Anyway, I bring this up because, of late, I’ve started to suspect that I am no longer soft-spoken. When my besties and I got together for a girls’ weekend, one of said friends admonished me for being loud. Me? Being loud?

I chalked that up to my excitement on hanging out with my besties. But since then, I have twice – once in a meeting and once in a restaurant – said to myself, “Self, who is that person talking so loudly?”

Both times, it’s been me.

I’m still not as loud as certain members of my immediate family – if you know, you know – but except during extenuating circumstances, no one has encouraged me to speak up in quite a while.

I guess they haven’t needed to do so. Or they have Bionic Woman hearing.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Funny is in the eye of the beholder — October 26, 2022

Funny is in the eye of the beholder

Last week during the call of an NFL game, legendary announcer Al Michaels shared that he doesn’t like horror movies. In case you’re wondering, Al prefers musicals.

I felt a kinship with Al because, as I’ve mentioned here and there, I also am not a fan of the horror genre. It’s not that I think I’m too good for horror movies or that they’re bad films. It’s just that I find real life horrifying enough. Besides, most of the so-called scary movies I’ve seen have had the opposite effect on me.

Take the vampire genre, for example.

If I’m not mistaken, my introduction to the genre occurred in high school when a teacher showed us the classic 1931 version of Dracula. I love old movies, but I was not impressed in part because of those squeaking expletive bats.

Unlike so many others in my generation – and my circle – I haven’t read one word written by Anne Rice. When friends urged me to read her books, I’m fairly certain I politely explained that I didn’t want to spend my time reading about the undead. I’m fairly certain I politely explained.

Nonetheless, it was with great enthusiasm that, back in the day, I rented the 1994 film adaptation of her novel, Interview with the Vampire. Why? Because it starred Brad Pitt as one of the sulking vampires.

Surprisingly, the film entertained me. I thought it was funny. When I shared that last thought with folks, they told me the film wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Oh.

Nonetheless, they encouraged me to watch the 1992 film adaptation, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’m open-minded and the film starred a few of my favorite performers, so I rented the movie from the video store.

It was so over-the-top and the way Gary Oldman, as the title character, enunciated his dialogue had me in stitches. When I shared this with folks, they told me the film wasn’t supposed to be funny.

Oh.

For the most part, I called it quits with vampires. At some point, I found the old, campy vampire-themed soap opera, Dark Shadows, on the TV. I watched a few seasons and, much later, the film adaptation. Both made me laugh, but I’m fairly certain they were supposed to be funny. I’m fairly certain of this.

Nonetheless, a few years ago there was a show on one of the premium channels called True Blood. It featured sultry vampires. That’s another thing. Unlike oodles of others, I do not find vampires sultry. (Nope. Not even an undead Brad Pitt.) Anyway, I ran across a scene of these True Blood vampires online. I laughed and laughed.

I was told it wasn’t supposed to be funny. It was supposed to be sultry.

Oh.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Kids watch (and say) the darndest things — October 19, 2022

Kids watch (and say) the darndest things

This weekend, I spent time with my niece and her kids, my great-niece and great-nephew (emphasis on great). With my great-nephew playing his hand-held video game, my great-niece took control of the TV.

“What she watches on TV is just as stupid as what he watches,” my niece warned me.

Oh, no, thought I. My memory returned to a day last spring when I watched my great-nephew watch countless YouTube videos of paint being mixed. And I’m not talking about the way Tony Manero mixes paint in Saturday Night Fever. The video featured mind-numbing clip after mind-numbing clip of paint mixing in cups. This nonsense, however, had transfixed the world’s most adorable boy.

This weekend his sister showed me relaxing videos of slime in various forms. At first, the little voices inside my head howled in pain. But then, I kind of got into the slime videos, in part, because I had questions.

Question: “Why are you watching relaxing videos?”

Answer: “I found them.”

Interpretation: She went looking for slime videos because slime looks like snot.

Question: “The slime you and your brother play with is, well, slimy and looks like snot. How did they turn some of this slime into stuff that looks like frosting or blueberry muffins or a pillow or, oh my, that one looks like a brain. A green brain. How did they do that?”

Answer: “I don’t know.”

Interpretation: Just enjoy the show.

When I returned home, I asked our friend Google for help in answering my questions. It seems these relaxing slime videos may or may not be simulated. As this left me even more confused, I have decided to, indeed, just enjoy the show.

Anyway, whilst still at my niece’s, I told my great-niece I had to run errands later.

My great-niece: “Aaron’s? You’re going to that store? Aaron’s?”

Me: “No, I have to run errands.”

My great-niece: “What are errands?”

My niece: “Like this morning when we went to the store and the library.”

My great-niece: “Why don’t you just say you have plans?”

My niece also told me that she and the children are scheduled to go on a field trip to a pumpkin patch.

Me: “That sounds like fun. May I go?”

My niece: “No. Parents can’t go.”

My great-niece (to me): “Oh, that’s great! You don’t have kids! You can go with us!”

Readers, I think this clear-headedness on behalf of the world’s most adorable girl is a direct result of watching relaxing slime videos.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

That’s comforting — October 12, 2022

That’s comforting

I’ve needed comfort food of late, so I’ve turned to two staples – mashed potatoes and Bewitched.

As my bowl of mashed potatoes and I settled in to spend time with my old friend, Samantha Stephens, I said to myself, “Self, skip ahead to the second season of Bewitched so you can avoid the black and white episodes.”

Before anyone has a virtual breakdown and accuses me of being too uncouth to appreciate black and white media, you can simmer down. I have written before about my appreciation for shows like Leave It to Beaver as well as early seasons of The Andy Griffith Show. What’s more, I love old Hollywood aka classic cinema. In fact, you could describe me as a devotee of black and white movies.

But I didn’t grow up watching black and white episodes of Bewitched. When I think of the show, I see Endora, Samantha’s mom (played to perfection by Agnes Moorehead), resplendent in a green and purple robe as she glares at “Durwood” with eyes made up with bright blue eye shadow. Black and white does not convey Endora’s essence as good as color does.

Anyway, after I watched three episodes of season two on the Roku channel, I consulted our friends at Wikipedia because I had a question about the show. There, I read the following words, which rocked my world: “Later, seasons 1–2 were colorized and made available for syndication.”

As Sam would say, “Oh, my stars!”

As you might have gathered from the aforementioned paragraph, neither season one nor two were filmed in color. But there’s more. My memory of growing up watching only episodes in color was accurate. Once again, I’ll let our friends at Wikipedia explain: “The cable television channel WTBS carried seasons 3–8 throughout the 1980s and 1990s…”

At some point, though, I became aware of the existence of the black and white episodes. Indeed, I remember watching part of the first episode, in which Sam and Darrin wed, probably on TV Land. I didn’t finish watching. If I turned the channel to Bewitched and saw that a black and white episode was airing, I continued flipping the remote.

So, even though I’m a traditionalist when it comes to film and TV and even though I don’t really understand when this colorization took place, I am thrilled to learn that it happened. I don’t care if you accuse of me of being uncouth.

I plan to mash some potatoes and spend more time with my old friend, Samantha, starting with the colorized season one episodes.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Less is more — October 5, 2022

Less is more

In case you haven’t noticed, the portions of certain foods have been drastically reduced. Indeed, have you seen a Mallo Cup recently? It’s the size of a nickel. But there’s one portion I’m glad the powers that be decided to reduce – the size of a box of the Supercenter’s assorted cookies.

As the name suggests, you can expect to find an assortment in a box of said cookies including chocolate chip and shortbread. I particularly enjoy the shortbread as well as one we’ll call a spice cookie.

The cookies are packaged in festive boxes that celebrate that month or season’s approaching holiday. For example, the orange fall box features a pumpkin-shaped spice cookie sprinkled with orange sugar.

A coworker introduced me to the cookies approximately nine years ago and I’ve been enjoying them ever since. I eat my aforementioned favorites and then share the others with friends and family. What can I say? I’m a giver.

In fact, during my short-lived experiment with the Supercenter’s grocery pickup, they once substituted sugar cookies for the assorted cookies without my permission. (This represents one reason the experiment with grocery pickup was short-lived.) I do not eat sugar cookies, so I gave them to my neighbors. I should add I had never met these neighbors until that day, so they might have wondered why this strange woman showed up in their yard bearing a box of cookies.

Anyway, at one point, I thought the assorted box contained butter cookies. Thus, I tried to make butter cookies. They didn’t taste as bad as sugar cookies, but they certainly didn’t taste as yummy as my favorite cookies in those festive boxes. So, I decided I needed a cookie press to whip up a delicious batch of butter cookies. When I shared this plan with my sisters and nieces, they told me the cookies I had identified as butter were actually shortbread.

This perplexed me because the shortbread cookies in those festive boxes, whilst yummy, taste nothing like the shortbread cookies we prepare for the holidays. Nevertheless, I decided my sisters and nieces were right. I didn’t need a cookie press. When I take a hankering for those cookies, I can buy a box of assorted cookies.

That’s what I’ve continued to do. But I found that even with help from others and my love affair with carbs, I have trouble making an entire box of assorted cookies disappear. So, on a trip to the Supercenter, I was happy to see they are now selling somewhat smaller boxes of assorted cookies. After I empty the box of the shortbread and spice cookies, that leaves fewer cookies to share with others.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Know your limits — September 28, 2022

Know your limits

As I’ve noted before in this-here space, I’ve become aware that my tastes have changed.

Indeed, I’ve realized in the past few years that, for the most part, I have trouble getting into a new TV series unless it features stories or characters with whom I’m already familiar. The Crown sheds a light on the British Royal Family, whom I’ve followed since the Diana years. The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi continue the Star Wars saga, which I’ve followed for decades.

Occasionally I find myself enjoying a new show (see last week’s review of Abbott Elementary). Other recent exceptions are Hacks and Only Murders in the Building. But those last two feature actors I grew accustomed to dozens of years ago. Hacks revolves around Jean Smart, aka Designing Women’s Charlene Frazier Stillfield, whilst veteran actors Steven Martin and Martin Short lead the cast of Only Murders.

Anyway, I’ve also noticed that I avoid shows and movies with dark or disturbing themes. I’m not talking about the horror genre. I’ve never been a fan of that.

Here’s an example of a recent show I vetoed watching. Steve Carell, aka The Office’s Michael Scott, can currently be seen in Hulu’s The Patient. When a friend asked if I planned to watch the psychological thriller, in which a therapist is held captive by a patient who wants him to help cure his homicidal urges, I said no.

I’ve seen the ads for the show and it looks amazing. But I can’t watch things like that anymore.

I considered watching Yellowstone, but when I remembered that someone told me there were a lot of killings on the show, I decided to turn to my comfort zone — sports — instead.

Knowing that I watch Dateline and 48 Hours, folks recommend true life documentaries. I also pass on those because there’s only so much murder I can take.

But here’s what stumped me: I can still read books with dark or disturbing themes.

I recently shared the discovery of my aversion to watching shows and movies with dark or disturbing themes with a friend. When I told her that I can still read those kinds of books, she said, “Hmm.” Then, she studied on it and said it probably has something to do with seeing the action presented visually.

I studied on that and came up with a perfect case in point. I previously recommended to you, dear readers, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty. The book delves into the damage wrought by OxyContin. It’s a great book. But you already know that if you followed my recommendation and read the book.

There’s a series on Hulu called Dopesick. Based on another book about the opioid industry, Dopesick fictionalizes the damage wrought by OxyContin. Michael Keaton, aka a Batman and the Beetlejuice, stars in the ensemble cast.

I will not even try to watch the show because I know my limitations.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.