Kick the bucket — May 14, 2019

Kick the bucket

for blog“Murder at the Dinner Bucket Diner,” the fifth book in my cozy mystery series, is now available for purchase at Amazon.

Those of you who have been following the exploits of amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan might be saying to yourself, “Self, somebody’s been killed at the Dinner Bucket? Was a pork chop the murder weapon?”

Of course, those of you who haven’t read the other books might be saying to yourself, “Self, did she set a murder mystery in a bucket?”

Don’t be ridiculous. And, not to sound like Captain Obvious, but if you’d read the books, you wouldn’t have to ask such a question. The Dinner Bucket, as it’s known to locals of Jasper, the county seat of the fictional Geneva County, is a diner that serves home cooking like potato salad and the aforementioned pork chops. The diner’s original owner named it in honor of her dad, a coal miner. The black lunch bucket he carried into the mines remains on display in the diner.

My dad also carried a black lunch bucket, which he called a dinner bucket, into the mines. So, whilst writing the first book, I had the idea, which some have described as brilliant, to bestow the name Dinner Bucket Diner on the eatery.

Due to the catchy name, I had always planned to set a mystery at the diner. The particulars evolved over time, but here’s a synopsis of the finished product:

When Gypsy Hill collapses during her shift at the Dinner Bucket Diner, customers attribute her death to a virus. But with doctors unable to point to the cause of Gypsy’s sudden illness and police unresponsive to investigating her death, reporter and amateur sleuth Maggie Morgan takes up the case. She soon learns that the temperamental young woman was engaged in various feuds. She also learns that the suspects in the case, including a chatty waitress, a thrice-widowed bookworm, and a man who looks like a goat, harbor secrets of their own. And just as Maggie inches closer to discovering the answers to Gypsy’s secrets, another resident of her small Kentucky town collapses at work.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

To a tea — May 8, 2019

To a tea

Except for when I’m sick or in a celebratory mood, I break my fast every morning with a warm bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a cold cup of sweet lemon tea.

Depending on which study you read, oatmeal is either a heart-healthy, fiber- and protein-rich super food or a saboteur of diets. I’d hazard a guess that it’s healthier than an ice cream sandwich or a cupcake, though, so I guess I could do worse.

No matter how hard I look, however, I doubt I’ll find a study that describes sugar-laden tea as healthy. Indeed, all the sweet stuff probably cancels out whatever nutritional value the tea leaves once contained.

Still, I’ve grown accustomed – some might say addicted – to starting my days with a generous shot of caffeine and sugar. And since I scoop a little extra mix into the water, I’d say it’s more generous than not.

But in my constant effort at self-improvement, I bought a bottle of unsweetened tea. I had tried the brand’s sweetened product during a tea emergency and enjoyed the experience, so I expected tasty results.

In hindsight, the words “zero calories,” which appeared on the bottle’s label, should have alerted me to the fact that the bottle’s contents contained zero taste.

Well, that’s not entirely fair because it certainly had a taste. A really bad taste, that is. I am not here to judge, but I don’t understand how anybody can drink tea that hasn’t been heavily altered by sugar and/or flavor. In fact, after taking one sip of the unsweetened and unflavored tea, I remembered that I’m not into self-punishment and immediately returned it to the refrigerator.

I had bought a bottle, though. And if you’ve learned nothing else about me, dear readers, it’s that I don’t like to waste. Yet, in my enthusiasm, I had taken a sip from the bottle, so I could forget about unloading it on a taste-deficient tea drinker.

Luckily, I had actually paid attention one day during a college science class. I’m not sure why I chose that day to listen to the lecture, but I am sure the professor told us that adding sugar to unsweetened iced tea was futile because the sugar won’t properly dissolve. (What did this have to do with geoscience? Beats me.)

After the flashback to a younger and bigger-haired version of myself, I heated the tea. Then, I added a generous amount of sugar to the hot tea and gave it a good stir.

The result was more than satisfactory, but I suspect it contained more than zero calories.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of character — May 1, 2019

Out of character

For the most part, I believe we are who we are. Oh, I think we evolve a little bit here and a little bit there, but I don’t think we act that much out of character.

Except, of course, when we do.

In the past month, I’ve twice behaved in a manner that surprised me, and I’m not even talking about when I ate an entire chocolate funnel cake in less than 15 minutes.

The first incident occurred when I happened upon my mom’s and my favorite Easter candy. I hadn’t been able to find it all season so when I did, I grabbed several bags and threw them into my cart.

Here’s the surprising part – I didn’t even look at the price. Here’s the unsurprising part – I ate so much of the candy that it made my teeth hurt.

Anyway, I didn’t have to sell a non-vital organ to pay for the candy. What’s more, Easter only comes around once a year and – teeth pain notwithstanding – my mom and I enjoyed the candy. So, I guess it’s okay if I decide once every year or so that the price doesn’t matter. Well, as long as the price doesn’t result in me having an attack when the cashier rings up my purchases.

I’m not sure where the second incident occurred. Apparently, my actions startled the particulars out of my memory. All I can say for sure is that when I paid for something somewhere, I was owed two cents in change.

And I told the cashier to keep the change.

My penchant for going to great lengths to pick up change has been well documented in this-here space. So, as soon as the words, “You can keep the two cents,” escaped my mouth, I questioned my decision. After all, what has all this been for if I’m going to turn around and casually refuse change as if I can’t find room in my life for two pennies?

I immediately considered telling the cashier I was joking about keeping the change, but that seemed weird, even for me. Still, the incident haunted me and caused a great deal of introspection. I wondered if I’d fallen victim to a mind-controlling experiment or developed another personality.

The two incidents remained on my mind as I walked to my car one evening. Suddenly, a shiny object distracted me and, before I knew what was happening, I had squatted to pick up a dime.

It’s good to know I’m still me.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It’s just the way I am — April 24, 2019

It’s just the way I am

During a recent visit at our mom’s, my sister told us about an older lady she knows who hates waste so much that she eats outdated food. She then speculated that this lady’s attitude toward waste probably stems from her age as well as the era in which she was raised.

At that point, my beloved niece nodded toward me and asked, “How do you explain this one?”

The fact that I consider best buy dates to be recommendations has long been a source of contention between my family members and me. As long as food doesn’t taste, smell or look too bad, I’ll eat it. What’s more, I’m not going to let a little mold prevent me from enjoying cheese or bread. I simply pinch off the moldy part and proceed. My niece jokes – at least I think she’s joking – that I buy moldy food so I can get it cheaper. (By the way, I don’t do that.)

I’m aware that most folks don’t share my enthusiasm for outdated food, so I make sure I don’t serve dishes or baked goods made from ancient ingredients. But if it’s just for me, almost anything goes. And since I’m not dead yet, I guess it can’t be that bad for me.

Regardless, I’ve long asked myself a version of the question my niece asked my sister. Although my parents and siblings can’t be described as wasteful, my outlook on out-of-date food usually leaves them flabbergasted. You should have seen them a few months ago when I found and claimed a bag of candy in my mom’s cupboards that had been there for years.

While I don’t know how I became the way I am, I do know that I’ve been compared to my maternal grandmother, the late great Edith May. I’m not sure if Mommaw May ate outdated food, but it would disappoint me if she didn’t.

But the best example of her non-wasteful ways doesn’t involve food. It involves dishwater. When she was well into her 70s – and maybe into her 80s – she carried dishwater to the bathroom and used it to flush the toilet.

She did this even though she paid a set amount for water usage.

We always allowed that surviving the Depression had made her sensitive to wastefulness. But I didn’t grow up during the Depression.

Of course, I don’t carry dishwater to the bathroom to flush the toilet, but only because I’m certain I would spill it whilst tripping over my cat army. But I do use my mop water to flush the toilet. After all, it’s already in the bathroom.

Anyway, I’ve exceeded my designated water usage only once in 14 years. In other words, just like with Mommaw May, getting two uses out of the mop water doesn’t save me any money.

Yet, I still do it. I’m not sure this answers my niece’s question, but I hope it helps explain “this one” to her.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of order — April 3, 2019

Out of order

I’ve been on Facebook since 2008. In other words, I joined when it was fun.

Indeed, back then, folks concentrated on sharing random facts about themselves and creating something called Flair, which was basically buttons you made that represented people, places, and things you liked and/or loved. I devoted serious time and attention to choosing just the right pieces of Flair that represented my personality and interests.

Of course, I can’t remember specifics about those buttons because one day circa 2009, Facebook decided to rid the world of Flair boards. Soon after, people started using Facebook to try to sell me on commerce and/or ideas.

Oh, yeah, and to try to teach me math.

If you’re on Facebook, then you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not on there, here’s a synopsis: A wiseguy friend will share a long-expletive math problem that contains addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and parentheses. Said wiseguy will also share the answer to said problem whilst simultaneously mocking anyone who doesn’t know the answer. The wiseguy will be joined by a chorus of other wiseguys who will belittle anyone who doesn’t follow the order of operations to arrive at the right answer.

Spoiler alert: I never know the answer. I don’t even guess because I also don’t know what the order of operations is. What’s more, I’m not sure why people of an advanced age are bragging about remembering this order of operations. If they want to impress me, they can share scenes from Duran Duran videos or dialogue from “Family Ties.”

Of course, if these wiseguys were posting quizzes that asked us to determine whether to use their, there, or they’re, I wouldn’t be complaining. On the other hand, everyone speaks and, thanks to social media, email, and texts, most everyone writes on a daily basis. So, people need to know when to use their, there, or they’re.

But who’s doing math that requires them to reminisce about order of operations? I’m not talking about balancing a checkbook or handing out change. I’m talking about figuring out the answer to eight plus four divided by two subtracted by one (in parenthesis) multiplied by zero?

I’m bringing this to everyone’s attention because I need to know which occupations and activities require multiplying anything by zero or inserting random parenthesis into math problems so I can avoid these occupations and activities. After all, if working these math problems was a requirement of my employment, I would have already died in poverty. And if the bank had asked me to solve such a problem before giving me a mortgage, I would be homeless.

But if they ever ask me to create some snazzy Flair, I’ll be all over that.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Just like riding a bike — March 27, 2019

Just like riding a bike

As you might remember, last month I wrote about my obsession with my Fitbit, Esmerelda (or Esme for short). I detailed my dedication to checking my steps, heart rate and sleep and to logging my water and food intake. I also speculated that Esme might not continue to hold my attention.

Although my obsession has waned a bit, I’m happy to report that I still jump up and walk when she reminds me that I need to move. In fact, I’ve annoyed family, friends and coworkers by walking during meetings and visits. I’ve also annoyed them by sending screenshots of workouts, but only when I reach and maintain my peak heart rate for a significant amount of time.

During our time together, I’ve become familiar with Esme’s idiosyncrasies. For example, sometimes she doesn’t track my steps. But sometimes she tracks inactivity as steps, so I guess we’re even.

Anyway, when I set up my goals, I requested that she automatically recognize certain activities such as walking and aerobics. From the start, she tracked my walks and gave me credit for those exercises.

Yet, in spite of the fact that I do aerobics four times a week, Esme did not automatically recognize those workouts for what they were. She, instead, tracked them as walks. She did track my steps taken, so in an uncharacteristic move, I didn’t worry about the misunderstanding. So, imagine my surprise when she notified me Friday that she had auto recognized my aerobic workout.

She seemed proud of herself, so I didn’t ask what had taken so long. Instead, I checked to see if I had reached my peak heart rate (I had) and said to myself, “Self, better late than never.”

That brings me to Sunday. When I opened my app to log my water intake that afternoon, I saw a notification from Esme. Ever helpful, she was letting me know she had auto recognized my outdoor bike ride.

I do not own an outdoor bike. I have not ridden an outdoor bike in approximately 20 years. I do own an inside bike, but I hadn’t been on it Sunday. Indeed, at that point in the day, I hadn’t exercised at all.

So, what activity did she incorrectly identify? What was I doing that she misinterpreted as riding a bike?

Making a cake.

I told you she was weird.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Just add water — March 21, 2019

Just add water

To help reach their weight loss goals, many people count the calories (or in the case of Weight Watchers, the points) that comprise the food they eat. On a personal note, doing this has proven helpful to me, especially when I take the effort to log said calories or points into a food journal or app. For me, it’s a way to hold myself accountable. After all, once I confess to having eaten a couple (or more) cups of brownie batter, I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.

With that said (or written), I’ve seen some strange things on food labels. For example, according to the nutrition facts, one-twentieth dry mix of a box of brownies contains 110 calories.

As aforementioned, I enjoy brownie batter. Indeed, I’d rather eat the batter than the brownies. (This is also true for most cookies and cakes.) But even a weirdo such as myself has never eaten dry brownie mix. I’ve never even considered opening a box, grabbing a spoon, and digging into the mix. Can you imagine how much water you’d have to drink to keep from suffocating on that stuff?

Speaking of dry ingredients, if you look on a box of pasta, you will find that the nutritional info is for uncooked noodles. When she was a child, my niece stuck a macaroni noodle up her nose. I’m also familiar with people who have fashioned art from macaroni. But I have never known anyone who (admitted to) having eaten uncooked pasta. Again, there is not enough water in the world to make that appetizing.

Speaking of water, if you look on a can of green beans, you will find that the nutritional label contains information for both drained and undrained beans. While I appreciate the green bean company for trying to be helpful, they’ve actually made calorie counting more confusing.

For starters, the serving sizes are different. That means I’m left to my own devices to figure out how many calories are in one-third of a cup of drained beans when the serving size is one-half cup. I’m assuming the company has an abacus and a food scale in their kitchen, so couldn’t they have done some more measuring and done the math for me?

What’s more, does anybody actually eat undrained beans? Granted, dining on beans that are swimming in water doesn’t sound as unappealing as snacking on dry brownie mix and uncooked pasta, but it’s close.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out of the rag bag — March 12, 2019

Out of the rag bag

As I placed a bag onto the kitchen table, my mom asked, “What do you have there?”

“Well,” I explained to her and my sisters, “I was hoping you could offer me some advice, but you can’t laugh.” I then pulled out the contents of the bag – two knit sweaters – and said, “I’ve tried repeatedly, but I can’t get the stains out of these sweaters. Do you think we could turn them into rags?”

In spite of my request that they not laugh, guffaws filled the room. “What’s so funny?” asked I.

“They’re sweaters,” answered one of the hyenas. “You can’t clean with sweaters.”

Although I considered asking just where this rule was written, I instead said, “I don’t like throwing something away if I can still get use from it.”

“You’ve had those sweaters for 10 or 15 years,” my mom said, “you’ve gotten your use out of them.”

Although I considered correcting her and explaining that it had been more like 10 or 12 years, I instead said, “I guess you’re right.”

So, I took her advice and threw the sweaters into the garbage. But it pained me to do so. Just at it had pained me a couple months earlier to throw away a gray knit sweater that featured a huge hole in the front. And just as it had pained me to throw away a pair of pajama bottoms that featured huge holes in the backside.

Actually, saying goodbye to the pajama bottoms inflicted the most pain because they comprised one-half of my favorite pair of pjs. What’s more, I had gotten only five or six years out of them. But one morning a week or so before Christmas, I discovered a hole in said pajama bottoms.

Although I considered tossing them in the trash, I realized the folly in that plan. After all, they were clean and the hole wasn’t that big. So, I wore them a few more days. Of course, by that point, the small hole had morphed into three larger holes on the portion of the pajama bottoms that once covered my bottom.

Nonetheless, it was hard to part with the pj bottoms. In fact, I’ve held onto the pajama top out of nostalgia and because I don’t like throwing something away if I can still get use from it.

Hmm. Wonder if we could turn the pajama top into rags?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Jumping the shark — February 27, 2019

Jumping the shark

I recently-ish watched “Jaws” for the first time.

That admission might make you ask yourself, “Self, what took her so long?” Well, you know what, smarty pants? Once you’ve seen every movie released during the past 40 years, you can judge me for missing a few.

One of the reasons I had never watched the blockbuster is because I’m not intrigued by sharks. Sure, I previously devote a column to a hypothetical fight between a shark and a lion, but that had more to do with my love for cats, both big and small, than an interest in fish, big or small.

But after watching “Jaws,” I devoted a minimal amount of time to thinking about sharks, specifically their sleep patterns and eyes. For instance, I had always heard that if a shark stops moving, it dies. So, when the movie ended, I researched the topic and it turns out this is sort of true.

The explanation involves too much science for me, but basically, some sharks depend on water flowing over their gills to keep them alive. If they stop moving, the water stops flowing and they stop breathing. Other shark species, however, breathe through their mouths, which doesn’t sound much better than using the gill method.

My mind immediately made the jump from (some) sharks can’t stop moving to sharks don’t sleep. It turns out this is also sort of true. Indeed, sharks don’t sleep the way humans do. According to my limited Internet research, they don’t enjoy deep sleep. Instead, part of their brains remain active while they “sleep swim.”

As someone who’s plagued by bouts of insomnia, I can empathize with sharks. It’s no wonder they always seem to be in a bad mood and looking for a fight. They’re sleep-deprived. I get cranky if I miss a night’s worth of sleep. If I had to miss a lifetime’s worth, I’d bite a swimmers head off, too.

Of course, sharks must contend with other anatomical issues. In fact, they don’t have eyelids. All that saltwater has to damage their eyes. I bet a few cases of that dry eye medicine Jennifer Aniston hawks on the TV would benefit them greatly.

Anyway, all this makes me feel bad for sharks. Think about it. Everyone’s afraid of them, but they can’t sleep and they can’t close their creepy, dead-looking eyes. I’ll take resting my eyes and brain over instilling fear into mankind any day.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A track record — February 13, 2019

A track record

In spite of their popularity, until recently-ish I harbored skepticism for fitness trackers. I couldn’t understand why people chose to spend what I viewed as outrageous sums of money to track their fitness when much-less expensive pedometers would do just as well.

But as my exercise routine evolved, so did fitness trackers. The more I heard about their improvements, the more I asked myself, “Self, in addition to monitoring your sleep patterns and accurately-ish recording your steps, wouldn’t it be great if you could compare and contrast your resting heart rate with your active heart rate? If only there existed a tool that would allow you to do this.”

Of course, such a tool existed, but I wasn’t ready to commit to buying one. I was, however, ready to commit to researching said tool, reading online reviews, checking prices, and harassing friends and acquaintances who made the mistake of wearing trackers in my presence.

Months, if not years, of this research revealed that the acquisition of a tracker wouldn’t require an outrageous sum of money, that my friends and acquaintances were satisfied with their purchases, and that I really wanted one.

So, I ordered one.

According to my retailer of choice, my tracker of choice wasn’t supposed to arrive until Thursday. So, imagine my surprise when I spied a box on my porch Wednesday. My reaction was similar to that of Ralphie’s dad’s in “A Christmas Story” when his major award arrives. Indeed, I stopped my car and announced in a serious yet hopeful tone, “It’s here.”

Although I needed to use my facilities, I rushed into the house, grabbed the scissors, and tore open the box containing my major award. I didn’t wait to use the facilities, to feed the cat army, or to change into my exercise apparel before setting up and charging my tracker, who I named Esmerelda, or Esme for short.

I started using my tracker that night and I have not been disappointed. In fact, some might categorize my behavior as obsessive. Upon waking in the mornings, I check the app to see how I slept. (By the way, Esme even knows when I’m dreaming.) I loyally log my water and food intake, and when Esme reminds me that I haven’t achieved my hourly step goal, I jump up and start walking.

I also check my stats constantly. I’m happy to report that my average resting heart rate is 62 beats per minute and that once whilst exercising I entered my peak heart zone.

As with any tool or toy, I’m sure the new will wear off. I’m sure there will come a day in the near future when I’ll be awake for minutes or hours before I check to see how I slept. I’ll probably start forgetting to log my water and food intake. I might even lose interest in my heart rate.

But that’s not happening today.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.