Spare some change?

I have finally been released from U.R. Tookwyet blogger’s prison, after serving my full sentence for blog neglect and reckless endangerment of the English language.

I got no time off for good behavior, which won’t surprise any of you.

So, I’m back to the written world. I believe my neglect started when D began wondering why I wasn’t writing things that might make us rich, instead of this string of bloviation that merely amuses me. But I found that when I stopped playing on here, my creativity dried up in that area, too. Lucky you.

Besides, there hasn’t been all that much going on in our lives since last August. Kinda boring. Just a few little things, like moving D’s mom back to Tennessee, selling her house, selling our house, selling a bunch o’ crap, moving to an apartment in downtown Dallas, visiting family in Chicago, crazy holi-daze at Children’s Medical Center, buying two new cars and going to Vegas for a wedding.

D’s mom just never got her groove on here in Texas. “Hated it” wouldn’t be too strong of a description. She’s much happier now. Because her house was in a good school district, it sold quickly, which is a good thing, It took two moves to get all of her stuff back to Tennessee, and more than a few curses, given that we had just moved all of that stuff here a year earlier. But did I mention that she’s much happier now?

Our move was much more fun. We realized after last year’s Welcome to Hell Sizzlepalooza that the absolute last thing we wanted was a house and pool to keep up when the devil was dancing at 187 degrees for three months straight.

I think it was when our shingles melted that we gave up. Or it might have been when the bricks spontaneously combusted and wafted away in clouds of amber ash. Can’t remember.

But given my neck issues caused by a car wreck last year, most of the upkeep fell to D. And given that she works very hard in the daytime at her job, she has less than zero interest in spending her evenings and weekends repairing stuff, painting, pulling super-aggressive Texas weeds out of the air-conditioner vents, scrubbing a pool that is too hot to swim in, watering the foundation so the house doesn’t tumble down the hill, that kind of thing.

Besides, it was crazy for two people to rattle around in a 3,400-square-foot house. It seemed like a good idea when we bought it, because we loved the house and it was close to D’s lab. But we haven’t had as much company as we thought. And we figured we could find better places to spend the $600 to $850 we laid out each month on the power bill.

After years in the suburbs, we felt the itch to be urban dwellers, too. I work near downtown Dallas, and hated driving away from all of the fun nightlife places and shiny neon buildings each night. Our suburb, while really nice, wasn’t conducive to bonding with neighbors. Everyone had an eight-foot fence, driveways are off of alleys in the back, that kind of thing.

So we put the house on the market, and D became a craigslist whirlwind. Over the course of a couple of months, she sold a few things: a couch. A loveseat. Our end tables and coffee table. Our eight-person formal dining room set. My Harley helmet and jacket. My office desk (from the home office, not the hospital. The hospital would frown on that). Our barbecue grill. Our upstairs stereo system.

Pretty much, if it wasn’t bolted down, she snapped photos and had it up on craigslist. And she took any close offers.

One day I came home and someone was there to pick up me and Chase. She had agreed to $20 for me and $3,456,123 for him. Had to put my foot down on that one.

Soon our house looked like we’d moved out. I felt particularly spiffy sitting on the empty living room floor on a blanket, watching a little TV propped up on a cardboard box.

We listed the house after Thanksgiving, which is a slow time of year for house sales. But once we decided to go, we were en fuego. Packing, selling, looking for a new home. We picked a midrise apartment building just 4 miles from the hospital, in a hip, happenin’ place called Uptown. It’s where young, thin, rich, freshly minted SMU graduates choose to live and park their BMWs until they get married and move to Preston Hollow.

Yeah, we’re not sure why they let us in, either.

But we’re within walking distance of  3,491 restaurants, a movie theater, hundreds of bars and acres of parks. We can throw a baseball  to Turtle Creek, a stunningly gorgeous chunk of land that seriously you would never expect to find in the heart of Dallas. It’s like a winding oasis, full of huge trees, turtles, ducks, swans and an occasional beer can or condom wrapper. (So far, no actual condoms. Thanks heavens for small favors.)

We took a walk the other day with Chase and wandered by Troy Aikman’s house. It’s for sale. We didn’t look at it, being freshly enamored of apartment life. It had nothing to do with the $24 million price tag. Really.

We hadn’t been there long when one of Texas’ patented, apocalyptic summer thunderstorms rolled through. It sounded like our apartment had been tossed into a huge metal blender with big volcanic rocks and set on “liquefy.” About halfway through, I looked at D and yelled over the roar, “HEY, GUESS WHAT?? WE DON’T OWN THIS ROOF!” Then we laughed maniacally.

We also don’t own the dishwasher, or the frig, or the range. The other day, I was roasting veggies for dinner, and the oven caught on fire. Not the veggies, the actual oven. Big roiling coils of smoke, pungent melted-wire smell, the whole shebang. I called down to the office and they sent a guy up, who after a close examination uttered the opinion that the oven had caught on fire. The next morning, they brought up a brand-new one and popped it in. It was fabulous. I didn’t have to spend hours comparing, researching and buying a new one, then obsessing about whether I got the right one. D really likes that last part.

The best part, though, is having a kicky little Billy Joel song running through our heads 24/7: “Uptownnn giiiirls….”

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Hot flashes

Sometime next week, we’ll set a record here in Dallas: the longest consecutive streak of days over 100 degrees.

It’s been 35 days. In a row. Over 100 degrees. There’s no relief in sight predicted for the next 10 days, meaning we’ll almost certainly surpass the record of 42 straight days. And not just barely. We’re talking 106, 107.

I realize it’s been hot everywhere. Nashville saw 102 degrees  last week, and that’s quite toasty. And it’s Texas, it’s supposed to be hot. I get it.

But seriously, we’re taking the Hottest. Streak. EVER.

It’s the perfect new addition to our year and a half of “you’re kidding” moments since our move to Dallas.

This is something else. Day after day after day. You walk outside, and it’s like walking into a huge oven. In the shade, it’s merely oppressive. In the direct sun, it’s annihilating. Any little breeze only feels like someone’s blasting you with a giant blow dryer set on high.

On short trips — say, less than 150 miles — your car never cools off. It’s just a small mobile sauna.

Previous blogs have mentioned my splendid unhappiness with the state of our poor low-profile car tires, three of which we’d already shredded on the rough Dallas roads. Now they’ve simply given up. If they had little rubber hands, they’d toss them against their little rubber foreheads, swooning and crying out, “I simply can’t take it anymore,” just before they melted into small puddles of rubber gunk. We had to replace two more today, because they get so hot that when they hit these ridiculous bumps in the road, they just kind of fall apart.

If you’re keeping score, that’s five tires — on the same car — in 14 months.

The roads are exploding, too, because the concrete’s expanding too much. Over the course of a day, a large hole will appear in the highway, surrounded by piles of small concrete debris. This used to happen in Louisiana when I was a kid occasionally, but it’s pretty common here these days.

It would be cool to actually see one of those explosions, though. Boom! Concrete a’flyin.’

Our electric bill last month was $520. $520?? Holy crap. I’m beginning to regret paying that extra rate for wind power. Saving the earth’s kind of expensive. The state’s power grid is bordering on collapse again, with rolling blackouts possible. (That was SO much fun back in September, when it was so bloody cold that the Super Bowl almost got cancelled. I can only imagine what it’ll be like with no A/C.)

We’re doing our part. We’ve shut off the upstairs and turned the air up to 90 up there. We’re not doing laundry or using the dishwasher until late at night. (Good thing I can’t sleep.) We’ve cut back the hours our pool pump runs.

We’ve shut all of the blinds, closing them upward, which keeps the most heat out. It’s kind of like living in a giant clamshell. I try not to use any more lights than necessary, although I’m not as fond of that lately since I slammed my foot into the side of the couch the other day in our tomblike living room.

By my reckoning, utilizing my extensive math skills, I believe these measures will help our light bill plummet next month to approximately $519.

I burned my hand on our mailbox the other day. I put my right hand on the brick as I leaned over to check it. I quickly realized that sizzling sound wasn’t a good thing, so I jerked my hand off. Unfortunately, I did this at the same time that I reached with my left hand to pull open the little metal door. That door, facing kind of westerly, had attained the same temperature as the surface of the sun.

So I ended up yanking both hands off the mailbox. This would have been the best thing to do, if I hadn’t been leaning over to reach it in the first place.

I kind of tumbled right off the curb and into the street. Seems my brain has been fried a bit by the heat. I’m sure my neighbor would have rushed to my aid, if he hadn’t been left slack-jawed and red-faced in his yard by the massive exertion of looking at his watch. It’s just too hot to do crazy stuff like that.

The pool is so hot, it feels kind of like you’re in a soup pot, slowly being simmered to be served with some nice wheat crackers. Or maybe like you’re the marshmallow bobbing in a steaming cup of cocoa. I dropped one of those long, skinny, brightly colored frozen popsicle thingies in the pool tonight, where it promptly sank. In the 4 seconds it took me to dive down and get it, it melted. The whole thing! Completely vaporized the entire ice tube, leaving just a squishy bag of bright blue sugar water.

The spray nozzle on our hose melted. Its DNA is now completely merged with the metal end of the hose, forming a congealed mess that sprays only in 359-degree circle.

A local TV station went around with a digital thermometer gun the other day, shooting metal stuff to see how how it got. Playground equipment: 165 degrees. Now that’ll make for some loud little kiddie shrieks.

I met a really nice young teenager at the hospital this week. He was practicing football on Monday, no pads or helmet, just in a T-shirt and shorts. He collapsed with a heat stroke. When EMTs got to him, his body temp was over 108 degrees. He was in our ICU for four days, and is really lucky to be alive. It’s really dangerous out there. I worry about people with no A/C or money to run it, especially elderly folks or people with little babies.

We wait until late at night to walk Chase, and it’s still too damn hot to go more than a block. It was 100 degrees at 11:15 p.m. last night. I moved the hose around the side of the house, and almost passed out. Your head starts pounding and everything starts looking like a photo negative.

The heat’s been joined by the worst drought in Texas history, too. More than 90 percent of the state is in the two highest levels of drought warnings. Since May 24, we’ve only had rain once. I’ve only seen seven clouds since then.

I remember the May 24 date, because that’s the night I watched a tornado come roaring across the top of our house. I sat with Chase in the closet, wearing my wakeboard helmet and tweeting non-stop, warning my still-journalist friends that my last words had better make the wire. “Woman tweets as she’s blown away by tornado!”

That’s the same storm that brought the huge hailballs that apparently destroyed our roof. Yes, we’ll be getting a new one soon, after finding out from our insurance company that we are smack-dab in the middle of a “catastrophic damage zone.” That didn’t sound like somewhere good to be, so we had several roofers come by. I knew it wasn’t going to be good news when their eyes lit up like Augustus Gloop seeing the Fudge Room for the first time.

Sure enough, those rocket-like hailballs have riddled our roof, gutters and awning canopy with hole after hole after hole. I guess it’s a good thing we haven’t had any rain in nearly three months, come to think of it.

I thought that high power bills and hot soupy pools and staying alive by avoiding heat stroke were all we had to worry about with the blazing Texas sun. At least, I did until I had dinner recently with some old friends from my previous stint in Dallas, back in 1990. It was a lovely evening, until one of them mentioned that she was worried about her house foundation.

Say what?

Yes, it turns out that during extreme droughts in Texas, the clay in the ground contracts. This can cause your house foundation to crack, a very costly proposition to fix. And one thing I had never thought to worry about. Until now. Yay.

Sure enough, I came home and examined every inch of the house. We have lawn sprinklers and landscaping around the house, so we’re probably OK. But there are still gaps of 1-2 inches between the dirt and the edge of the house, and even along both sides of the bottom of our fence.

This, of course, has just given my tiny little OCD-addled brain something else upon which to fixate. This worry usually manifests itself about 1 a.m., when I can’t sleep and every tiny noise becomes the ominous creaking of the house fixing to fall down about my ears. This usually prompts me to get up, go outside and haul the hose around until I’ve watered the foundation of the house. I usually end up soaking wet, covered in mud and dusted with half-inch pieces of grass that cling to my legs like bright green knee socks.

One night I didn’t realize until I’d finished that I wasn’t wearing any shorts, just a T-shirt. I’m only hoping my neighbors don’t have insomnia.

Seriously… why do people live where you have to water your house??

Texas, you are indeed a state of extremes. Extreme storms, extreme cold, extreme heat, extreme drought. Not to mention extremely whiny blogs, too.

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Gustatory heaven and hell

Here in sizzling Big D, the Great Dallas Restaurants hunt continues. We’ve been so busy lately, with stuff like graduations, vacations and surgeries, that we haven’t been cooking much at home.

Oh, and there’s the little fact that it’s now been over 100 degrees for 24 straight days now. At night it’s much better, dropped to a positively bone-chilling 91 or so.

I’m beginning to seriously consider that we may have slid sideways off of Texas and straight into the Ninth Circle of Hell. Or that some giant is sitting way, way above us with a big magnifying glass, focusing an intergalactic sun ray onto the Dallas area until our edges curl and a wisp of smoke shimmies up from the city.

I mean, our electric bill we got Friday started with a “5.” Unfortunately, I don’t mean $50, either. So while I have some notes on some recent restaurants, I don’t expect to have many more for a while, because we’ll be splitting a cornflake or two for dinner throughout the month of August.

One place to definitely take off the list: Nate’s Seafood & Steakhouse, in Addison. What a huge bummer, too. We’d been saving it since the move, because we’d heard from a couple of people that it was good, authentic Cajun food. Let me just say, that is not the case. If you are unfamiliar with good Cajun food and have dined at Nate’s, you must get up right now, run to the phone, call them and demand an apology. And your money back. Then delete it from your GPS and block it from your iPhone maps app.

It’s pretty tough to screw up boiled crawfish. Really. You season the water with a lot of pungent spices, toss in the corn, potatoes and mudbugs, boil everything for a bit, then you dump it all out on a big pile of brown paper and commence eating.

Or you can do it Nate’s way, where you drop a few crawfish, corn and potatoes half-heartedly into plain water, then wave them languidly at a nearby can of Old Bay as you take them out of the pot.

While you’re waiting for them to grow stone-cold so they can be served, you can roll a few little odd-sized balls of cornmeal into the deep fryer, where they will immediately congeal into small greasy marbles that are somehow gummy on the inside, despite the extra-thick, over-browned shell. When these are served, sitting in a tin tray of melted butter, everyone at your table can laugh gaily, pretending to be eating hush puppies and wondering, “What the hell are these balls of ick on which I’m wasting my calories?”

Seriously, a good hush puppy is a thing of beauty — light and corny on the inside, with a thin brown crust just crunchy enough to parlez-vous perfectly with the hint of green onion and sweetness in the meal. They aren’t greasy, because if the oil’s just the right temperature, the hush puppy won’t absorb it. And who in their right mind would pop them into a standing pool of butter? It’s one thing to smear some butter onto a hot pup that you’ve just broken in half, but another thing entirely to drown one that way.

Nate’s hush puppies weren’t things of beauty. Neither were the broiled shrimp, five tiny little overcooked half-moons, again with dry seasoning dumped on top. And the red beans and rice…. ohhh, the red beans and rice. They really made me heartsick.

What a disappointment. For Cajun, I’ll take Fish City Grill any day, or even Dodie’s, with its overdependence on all things fried and its rather forced swamp bonhomie. For seafood, we’re going to stick with one of the others I’ve already raved about.

There are so many great restaurants here, I find myself getting ticked off when we waste a dinner slot on something that’s just not worth the time or money.

Just wait ’til I open my restaurant. Harrrummph.

Although we’ve sworn off chain restaurants because of those great local choices here, we did slip recently. We were both tired and not in the mood to explore, so we just said to hell with it, and stopped at Romano’s for a bowl of something pasta-y. Again, not so hard to do serviceably well.

They didn’t get the memo. Clumpy, hard pasta with tasteless sauce. The service would have had to improve to become half-hearted. Serves us right for eating at a chain, I guess. With that lackluster experience in hand, we set off one night to a new pizza place, Ciao’s. It promised to be real Chicago stuffed pizza, the kind we know and love from Giordano’s. We couldn’t wait! Our friends from Chicago were going to be so surprised next time they visited!

The first bad sign was that we were the only people in the place. We’d called ahead to get them started, since a real stuffed pizza takes 45 minutes or so to bake. The pizza came out right after we got there. For a second, it actually looked like a Chicago stuffed pizza. It was an inch or so thick, with lovely browned cheese on top.

Wait? Cheese on top? That should be sauce on top… Uh, oh.

It turns out they had to put cheese on top because it it was the only thing forming a seal to keep the pink-colored water — their idea of sauce — from running out of the pizza. The minute we cut a piece, it was as a levee had burst. The soupy sauce-like stuff poured right out of the pizza in a tidal wave.

The cheese on top used as spackling was a giveaway, but confirmation that this had been an ongoing problem came when we realized they had placed the pizza on top of a big, puffy piece of cardboard. Underneath. To sop up the pink-water flood, obviously. Of course, chemistry being what it is and all, these two elements quickly combined to create a thick, pasty, pink paper-dough mass on the plate. I swear it was alive.

Here’s a photo: 

It was horrible. The Supreme Court would step in if this “pizza” were served in prisons. It was so bad that D — not even me! — filled out the comment card. She did it sweetly, kindly, gently and good-heartededly, of course, because that’s how she’s wired. But she did say something about it being the worst pizza she’d ever had, and that she’d really recommend that they find another line of work.

I would have added some choice comments — and warned them that the wrath of my blog was about to be visited upon them — if I’d been able to stand up. But despite my eating only one “slice” of the concoction, I immediately got really, really sick. Like, I almost didn’t make it home before someone dropped an M80 into my stomach. I haven’t been that nauseated since chemo, no lie. It was B-A-D. I threw up my liver and a kidney, I think.

A week or so later, we drove by again, and I was quite happy to see that it was closed. Sayonaro to Ciao’s. Thank goodness. I still have nightmares about the end of that evening. Shudder.

I did find a lovely little spot called Alma, though, thanks to some old friends who I’d worked with back at the Dallas Times Herald. Maybe it was just seeing a couple of funny, smart and incredibly witty peeps again after many years, but it was a wonderful evening. Alma has a signature green frothy drink with creme de coconut and a serrano pepper. Yowza! Loved it. And there’s this creamed corn in little corn-husk bowls, made with crema and lime and cheese and chile powder. Mmmmmm.

So on it goes, the search for perfection among Dallas’ gazillion restaurants… Or at least it will go on after we re-mortgage the house and pay the light bill…

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Dog days

My trekking pole has been vindicated. Validated. Honored.

It is sweet.

You’ll remember my lovely, candy-apple-red pole from earlier posts. The one I chunked into the tree to knock out the Frisbee. The one that kept me from tumping over as I tottered around last fall after my surgery from hell. The one with the diamond-cut steel ice tip that’s glacier-tested after our recent Alaska trip.

The one which D greets with derision, snorts and a big old eye roll.

She calls it my “cane,” implying without further words that I’m old and creaky.

OK, that’s true. But it’s still not a cane. It’s a lightweight, shock-absorbing, ergonomically correct trekking assist device. And did I mention that it’s candy-apple red?

Through the past few months, I’ve stoically absorbed the insults, the digs, the slights. I’ve marched down the street proudly clasping my little red friend.

Here’s the vindication tale. A few weeks ago, we met some of our neighbors. I’d like to say it was to share a nice glass of wine and get to know each other. Unfortunately, I’d be lying.

There’s a nice park about half a mile away from our house, with a stream and ducks and stuff. Chase loves it, because it has a stream and ducks and stuff. But the other day, as we were strolling toward the park, we saw a couple of dogs roaming loose. One looked like an Akita; the other was a pit bull. We weren’t too worried, until they spotted Chase.

Now, Chase is a pretty small boy, about 32 pounds, and he somehow attracts the attention of other bigger dogs who want to jump him, beat him up and then chew on him for lunch. So, I fully admit to being a nervous nelly about him. I’m always on guard at the dog park, yipping like a Sheltie whenever any dog gets too close to him.

This is new for me. I never worried about my other dog, Bailey, a 100-pound Rottweiler. She was sweet as molasses, but certainly able to take care of herself if needed.

Chase, not so much.

So the Akita and pit begin streaking toward us, eyes locked on our little boy. D scooped him up and began backing away, while I looked around for a weapon. The only thing I saw was a twig, about five inches long and weighing maybe an ounce. I grabbed it and brandished it like it was King Arthur’s Excalibur. “Go home! Go HOME!” I screamed at the dogs, waving my tiny little pretzel at them menacingly.

The Akita must be afraid of pretzels, because she turned and ran back toward her house. The pit just stopped and stared at me. D and Chase were a block or so away by this time. The bulldog’s tattooed owner came running out of his house, yelling at the dog until it finally noticed him, then turned away and ran, his owner in hot pursuit. We headed toward home, but I did walk the next few blocks backwards, clutching my little wand o’ power.

A couple of weeks later, we were in the same area when I’ll be damned if the same pit didn’t come flying toward us from the same house. This time, she got closer before we saw her.

D again grabbed Chase and retreated. (It’s not that I’m braver or anything — it’s just that she’s got 9 inches on me, and in her arms, he’s 9 inches further away from snapping dog teeth. If Chase weren’t with us, make no mistake, I’d be climbing onto her head.)

Several people came out of their houses, drawn from their peaceful evenings by my shrieks. “Get BACK! GET BACK!!!! DAMN IT, WOULD SOMEONE COME GET THIS DOG????” This time, the only weapon I could find was a piece of a small metal rod, like a tent pole, that had been bent several times into a “V” until it broke. Believe me, I was happy to have it, although it was only about a foot long.

This time, the dog realized Chase was out of range, and decided I was the closest tasty snack. I whipped my rod back and forth really fast, so it made a swooshing sound: Swwzzing! Swwzzing! Swwzzing! I don’t know whether it was that terrifying noise or my continued screams, which shattered four nearby window panes, but the dog finally backed off again.

I started to catch up with D and Chase, but the further away I got, the madder I got. Soon I found myself back at that house, where I banged on the door until the woman who lived there answered the door. Then I politely, if firmly, told her that I was tired of being chased down the street by her dog, and that I would appreciate it if she would not allow it to escape. She blamed her kids, at which point I politely, if firmly, told her that I didn’t really give a rat’s patootie whose fault it was, I still didn’t want to be chased down the street by her dog.

I think it might have helped make my point that I was still swinging my little metal rod.

With these two events fresh in our minds, I realized I couldn’t depend on the street to provide my weapons. I began carrying my trusty red trekking pole on our walks, despite D’s sideways glances and snide comments.

So the other night, we left our house for a stroll at dusk. We’d just stepped off our front walkway and onto the sidewalk when we heard a rustling noise, like leaves blowing in the wind. But it was a rare windless day here in Big D. D and I both turned at the same time, only to see a dark brown clump streaking toward us like a soundless F-16 from our neighbor’s house across the street.

It was a different pit bull, eyes locked laser-like on Chase, who was at the end of his 16-foot leash. This time, we had much less warning. Heck, we didn’t even know our neighbor had a dog, much less a 50-pound bundle of aggressive pit.

D started reeling Chase back in and I stepped up between the rocket dog and them. But this time, I had Big Red with me. I whipped that trekking pole around so fast it made a little sonic boom.


I even thought to pull off the rubber cap over the ice tip, foolishly thinking that two grams of steel would make a difference against that charging bundle of muscle and rage.

The dog stopped for a split second, probably wondering how such a small person could make such a horrible noise. Out of the corner of my eye I saw other neighbors’ doors opening, wondering the same thing.

Then she accelerated. Man, that dog was fast, and quiet, too. I turned my pole around and began wielding it like a fencing foil, poking it out in front of me toward the dog’s face. D by this point had Chase in her arms again. “Get back in the house,” I yelled, at the same time she had the same idea.

And it was a great idea … except that we’d locked the door behind us, and I had the key in my pocket. Yay.

The dog kept advancing, crouched like a panther waiting to spring. It got closer and closer, and I kept parrying with my trekking sword. Uh, I mean pole. Finally, a guy comes out of the garage and toward the pit. So I quit screaming at the dog, and began screaming at him. “Get this dog! NOW! I am so sick of this CRAP!!”

That dog simply would not be deterred. I think it looked at Chase and saw a little golden pile of hairy bacon. Then it looked at me and saw a little chubby pile of shrieking bacon. It came at us at least six times, and only my much-belittled pole kept us from a trip to the emergency vet and the ER, in that order, of course.

The dog ignored the guy, too, until he finally kicked it in the side, knocking it over. Even then, it just rolled, got up and came at us again. It was like that T1000 cyborg played by Robert Patrick in the Terminator 2 movie — eerily malevolent and implacable at the same time.

Between the guy kicking at it and me jabbing it with my frighteningly menacing red pole, we got it back into its own yard, and it finally went back into the garage.

I was shaking with adrenalin and anger, not the best time to have a rational conversation. So it went something like this:

Guy: “So, are we all good? Everything all good?”

Me: “All good? No! No, we’re not all good. We were in our own yard, for chrissakes. Is that your dog??”

Guy: “No, she lives here. I just stopped by to help my friend. He’s not here now, and I guess she got out.”

Me: “You guess? Thank you, Captain Obvious. What’s her name?”

Guy: “Uh… uh… I think they call her Little Mama.”

Now, this made me chortle, which was a good thing at that moment. We often say Chase has two parents: Big Mama and Little Mama (D and me, respectively, in another Captain Obvious moment). So Little Mama (human) stepping in front of Little Mama (canine) has given us several bouts of the giggles since then, and probably also kept me from marching over to that yard that night and shooting that dog. While that and my resulting arrest and prosecution would provide excellent blog fodder, it isn’t really something I need right now.

Let me be clear: I don’t believe in breed-specific laws or stereotypes. I had a beloved Rottie for 13 years, back when that was the breed always used for the snarly, frothing “Dog Attack” graphics on overly dramatic news reports.

But it’s also a fact that we have been menaced now three times in a few weeks, all by pits. And I’m really, really tired of it. I don’t blame the dog, I blame its parents. But it’s still the dog that’s looking to sink its teeth into our necks.

However, the Little Mama/Little Mama incident has brought D to her knees about my trekking pole, which I now modestly call my “Canine Attack Neutralizer Equipment.”

Or CANE, for short.

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Fruit salad

Am recovering from yet another surgery to remove yet another “mass” from my abdomen. I think that maybe medical revenues are down, so every UT Southwestern doc is passing me around to their friends. “Hey, I’ve got a cancer patient who’s up for surgery! Just tell her she’s got a mass! She’s a gamer! Loves to hear that it’s kind of odd! That’ll hook her for sure!”

I will say, though, that I’m pretty sure I’m done. Finished. No mas. I’ve been poked and prodded and scanned and MRI’d and CT’d and X-rayed. I’ve had invasive tests, non-invasive tests, old tests, new tests, and even got signed up for the ACT test again last week before I caught them. (I’d do really poorly on it now, I think. There have been so many changes in life since I took it, like electric lights and powered flight.)

Mine do seem to spring forth quickly, though, so I probably shouldn’t tempt the gods. I think that’s maybe because things are bigger here in Texas. Or that we’re closer to the equator. Or that I’m kind of small, so things just look like they’re springing forth quickly.

Besides, I don’t think there’s any way any more “masses” can be hiding anywhere in my body. Unless it’s a mass of $1,000 bills … that’d be cool. Or a mass of solid gold, weighing a couple of pounds. But that never happens.

I’m genuinely puzzled by the medical establishment’s propensity to use fruit to describe all things growing where they shouldn’t. It’s probably a convenient frame of reference for Americans who are metric-system-challenged, and don’t know that 4 centimeters equal 1.5748031 of an inch.

Give or take.

My breast tumor was “lime-sized,” a designation I find troublingly inaccurate because limes come in all shapes and sizes. (Once an editor, always an editor.) I mean, they have those 10-for-$1 key limes, then they have giant honking limes that can barely fit inside a Corona even if you slice ’em thinly. I think those grow near the nuclear plants.

My mass last fall, plucked out during my outstandingly fun hysterectomy, was first deemed a “grapefruit,” which wasn’t all that scary, given that you have lots of extra room in your trunk area. My friends who’ve had children spring forth from their loins will attest to this. Besides, grapefruit are so happy. All pink and shiny and nutritious. Mmmm.

Then again, it’s a little less appetizing when placed in the same sentence as the word “mass.”

After they actually sliced it out, though, it turned out to be less of a happy little grapefruit than a “cantaloupe.” That’s not as much fun. Cantaloupes kind of look like they could be tumors, all wrinkly and gross and tough on the outside. And again, with the size… there are cantaloupes that are much bigger than those little round watermelons these days. How am I supposed to know whether it was a huge cantaloupe, or a tiny watermelon-sized cantaloupe? Lord knows no one wants to have a watermelon-sized “mass” removed, unless it’s going to get you onto one of those weird TLC shows.

As long as it wasn’t one of those sharp-edged starfruit thingies, I guess I should be happy.

So this latest one was suspected of being an orange… specifically, a navel orange, which are apparently bigger than regular oranges. (I’m not an orange-eater, so I don’t know these things.) But the shape actually was  oval, and deeper than they thought. (What good ARE those damn MRIs, anyway?) So it’s more of a mango.

No wonder I always leave the doctor’s office hungry.

I’ve had male friends whose doctors seem to describe their masses in sports terms. In these days of Title IX and Baylor’s Brittany Griner, I want mine defined that way, too. “Golf ball,” or “ping-pong ball,” or “baseball” or “softball.” My grapefruit/cantaloupe could be a handball, a sport with which I fell head over heels in love at the Sydney Olympics. I watched every game I could, even though I was covering other sports. I’d be OK describing my masses as “handballs.”

As long as we avoid basketballs or soccer balls.

This one resulted in my first-ever drain, called a “JP” by those in the know. That wasn’t me, until I actually got one. Now I’m going to whip it out at parties. (The term, not the actual drain. That would be gross.) It’s a tube that runs out of your incision, connected to a silicone ball. You squeeze the ball up, then close it up so it creates a vacuum that sucks out blood and other fluids, which collect in the ball so you can measure them. They put enough tubing between the incision and the ball that I could have stood in Dallas and had a friend in Louisiana squeeze the ball, actually. I could’ve jumped rope with the tubing, or tied it into a Gordian knot.

I have a friend named JP. We won’t tell her about this little post.

It sounds disgusting, but it’s really a pretty neat device. Although I don’t ever want one again. A friend who just had breast cancer surgery described them as little grenades. That’s perfect, because that’s just what the ball looks like. Apparently they don’t explode, though, at least not if you empty them every few hours like you’re supposed to.

We religiously emptied mine, if only because D and I both like that icky kind of stuff. I think she actually said “Cool!” the first time, bless her little forensic scientist heart.

Which reminds me that last week, as I checked our credit-card statement, I saw a $210 charge from a place called The Bone Room. I haven’t heard of a ribs place named that here in Dallas, so I called D.

Me: “Hey, I think there’s a wrong charge on the credit-card bill… some place called The Bone Room.”

D: “Oh, that’s mine. I had to get some stuff for work.”

Me: “What kind of stuff?”

D: “Just stuff. A humerus. And a jawbone.”

Me: “Humorous? What’s humorous?”

D: “No, really. A humerus. An arm bone. And a jawbone.”

Me: “Ewwww. No, wait… cool!”

Apparently The Bone Room is an online shopping place where you can order pieces of a human body, to be delivered directly to your home or office, for the low, low price of just $210, billed to your credit card so you can collect frequent-flyer miles off of them. (They’re not $105 each, if you’re wondering. The costs vary, depending on how old and how big the bones are. The jawbones, for instance, rise in price depending on how many teeth remain attached. Now aren’t you glad you read my blog?)

Anyway, back to my surgeries. In addition to contributing to the greater good by keeping various medical people employed, they also have resulted in a lovely latticework of scars. All of you friends with your tattoos, I don’t want to hear how tough you are anymore! Ha. I spit on your little subcutaneous ink injections via tiny little needles you can barely see. Give me a big old 10-blade scar any day. It’s just a tattoo with a story, right?

So now I have a couple of 2-inch tattoos with a story, a 9-inch tattoo with a story, and a new 6-inch tattoo with a story. Unfortunately, it’s the same story. Bo-ring.

So I’m trying to decide what kind of tattoo I should get to link all of my scars together. A spider web? Kinda cliched. A twisty, scary dragon? That’s a possibility. A big colorful koi, Eastern symbol of courage? Not really me. Feel free to suggest something. Winner gets a Starbucks card.

Or maybe a humerus…

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My vortex of bizarre happenings continues, 14 months after my arrival in Big D. It’s the strangest thing, really. But lovely blog fodder.

We had a beautiful day recently, tucked in somehow among all of the tornados. It was sunny and warm, and I sat outside reading for a bit. No phone, no watch, just relaxation time. D came out to say bye, because she was heading off to her mother’s house. I had a massage a appointment a couple of hours later, to work on my creaky back and neck from the wreck in March.

D left, and I enjoyed the sunshine for a while longer before heading in to change. Well, that was my plan. But the back door into the house seemed to be stuck. After several tries, it becomes obvious that it’s not stuck… It’s locked.

It’s so easy to do; we’re both in the habit of locking the door behind us when we go inside. We just don’t usually do it when the other one’s in the back yard. And in all our years in Nashville, it never happened. I’m just sayin’.

No worries, I’ll just call D back. Except remember that relaxation thing? No phone. Right.

Our fence gate is always locked on the outside, because of our pool. But once in a while… we leave it off when we’re working in the yard. Maybe this was one of those rare times?

Nope. The gate doesn’t budge.

So I try the windows. All eight of them.


It’s possible at this point that I said an unladylike word or two. They looked something like this: %$^&*@#$%.

I try yelling to my neighbors. “Hello? HELLO? HELLLLLOOOO?” Obviously, they are all video game enthusiasts or agoraphobics, because none appear to be outside enjoying this beautiful day. They’re probably still jumpy from all of the tornadoes. I get that.

So it’s obvious. My only way out is over the fence.

This wouldn’t be a problem, if it were a tiny picket fence, or a chain-link one made of all of the neat little squarish toeholds. It isn’t. It’s one of the Dallas signature wooden fences, 8 feet tall. Yes, 8 feet, as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs. Everything’s bigger in Texas, and they spit upon those 6-foot fences popular in the other 49 states.

OK. I’ve got lawn chairs. I’ll just stack one up here against the fence and hop over… uh-oh.

It appears that the seat of a typical lawn chair is just about 15 inches high, give or take a piece of mulch. I, of course, am not 6 feet, 9 inches tall. This isn’t going to work.

I take the chair over to the corner of the yard by the pool pump, where we have a plastic deck box. The lawn chair doesn’t quite fit on top of it; the legs are a smidge wider than the deck box. Who needs four legs? Three are perfectly sufficient.

I put the lawn chair on top of the deck box, then clamber up onto it. It rocks a bit — OK, more than a bit — but I think it’ll hold. I reach up toward the top of the fence, ready to pull myself right up. My fingers caress the top of the fence, but that’s it.

Are you kidding me? A 15-inch lawn chair on top of a 2-foot-high deck box, and I still can’t reach the top with more than my fingers?

OK, I can do the math. Maybe, just maybe, when I was 18 and playing softball every day, I could’ve pulled myself up in a killer reverse chin-up. But that SO isn’t happening anymore.

I climb down. I have no watch, but my massage appointment is coming up soon, I’m quite sure. So I’m pretty motivated. I grab a blue floaty noodle, then an orange one for good measure. I climb back up and stack them on top the lawn chair, on top of the deck box. Those extra four inches are nice, but still inadequate.

Back down again, this time to grab a blue inflatable lounge chair. You know, one of the cheap plastic ones that sticks to the back of your thighs for the entire five minutes that it remains inflated after you give yourself a hernia blowing it up.

Back up again, where I add it to the tottering pile, on top of the blue and orange pool noodles, on top of the lawn chair, on top of the deck box, in the house that Jack built.

(I really don’t know who built this house. It just felt right.)

This time, it’s going to work. I climb up, surviving one perilous moment where the entire stack threatens to drop right to the ground like a Tennessee fainting goat. At the pinnacle I discover that if I bounce once or twice or thrice, I should be able to vault myself up onto the top of the fence, thereby rescuing myself with grace, style and ingenuity.

The hazards of this are clearly revealed upon my first attempted catapult. In addition to the threat of my bouncing right off of the Tower of Death and onto the concrete pavers below me, the fence is wood. I am wearing just a swimsuit.

I’ve got one four-letter word for you: Splinters.

Yeowwwch. Before my second successful attempt, I throw my towel over the fence. Wish I’d thought of that a few minutes earlier.

But I am, at last, atop the fence. Splintered, maybe, but atop. This is when I notice that the back side of our yard, on the other side of the fence, drops off sharply to the alleyway behind our house, with just a thin strip of grass, maybe four blades wide. The concrete alleyway is now probably 10 feet below me. Crap. I had planned to dangle down the fence by my fully extended arms, dropping 18 inches or so to a gentle landing.

While pondering this new wrinkle, I wonder idly if any of my agoraphobic neighbors are looking out of their windows, wondering why there’s a chubby little middle-aged, red-faced, besplintered woman in a swimsuit straddling our fence.

My Tower of Death has collapsed when I pushed off of it, so there’s nothing left to do but drop, at this point. That 3.5-foot drop felt like 35 feet, especially when I crumpled right past the four blades of grass and rolled into the alleyway.

This would be the moment, of course, when one of my non-existent neighbors would choose to drive around the corner of the alleyway. Her mouth made a perfect little “O” as she took in the chubby little middle-aged, red-faced, besplintered woman in a swimsuit. I smiled gamely as I hobbled up and darted toward our garage, which thankfully has a keypad to open it.

When I finally get into the house, it’s just 15 minutes ’til my appointment. I throw on a T-shirt and shorts and somehow make it, but the drive wasn’t exactly restful.

I’m hiding a key in the back yard this weekend. Just so you know.

Then just a couple of nights later, I was working late with a colleague (hi, Jim!) when a storm hit — imagine that — and the lights went out at work. We decide to leave, since we have no lights or computers.

What we DON’T realize is that our parking garage arms and gates are electric, too. I’m trapped. Again. Despite our best efforts to push and pull and overwhelm and rewire the gates, they don’t budge until the lights come on a while later.

At least Jim and I didn’t freak out like someone else who drove down from above. She began screaming at us to call the Fire Department to rescue us, then squealed off in her car toward the top of the garage. Wonder where she was going? I thought she might pull a Thelma and Louise and drive off the top, but I didn’t see any wreckage.

At least that would’ve made a great YouTube video.

So I’ve decided that as long as this trapped thing goes on, I’m keeping my cell phone with me. Feel free to call!

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Oh, hail

I’ve noticed a very subtle shift in my blog traffic. After careful consideration and much intensive research involving theories and algorithms and moon phases, I have discovered that my readership diminishes when I don’t write.


OK, I’m chastened. Yes, it’s been a long time. Yes, I’ve let you down. Yes, I deserve those names I’ve been called (except that for one, the really nasty one. That went a little far.) I’ve been really busy lately will all kinds of stuff. None of it more important than my blog, of course. But things have just conspired to get in the way. I’ve been writing them in my head… does that count?

Oh. Sorry.

I blame D, who keeps making snide comments about how I ought to finish one of my unfinished best-sellers, which might allow us both to quit our jobs and move to an island next to Kenny Chesney’s place in the Caribbean, instead of writing this blog to entertain all four of you who read it.

I could have blogged the other night when the big storm hit, with its tornadoes and waves of hail and 60-mph winds and  sirens. There were 6 square inches of space left in the closet under the stairs, where D and Chase had the good sense to hide. I’m sure they’d have given it to me and my laptop, and might even have shoved the vacuum out to provide safe haven to the left side of my body, as well.

But as D tells it, she was calmly sitting in the closet, wearing her motorcycle helmet and whispering quietly to the freaked-out dog, when she heard an odd sound, completely out of place in the midst of nature’s Armageddon.

It was the front door. Opening.

I have always been fascinated by wild weather (among other wild things). So after seeing them safely ensconced in the closet, I ducked back out, grabbed my camera and headed out the door.

I take pictures of stuff. It’s just what I do.

What I don’t always do is think things through. As in, sometimes my thought processes go something like this:

1. Dang, listen to those sharp banging noises! It sounds like someone’s firing ball bearings at the house with an anti-aircraft gun.

2. Wait! That’s hail. Hail! Hailballs! Lots of hailballs! That Texas hail we’ve been hearing about for a year now.

3. Hmmm, I’ve seen hailballs before. How bad can this be? I should go snap a photo for my blog. That’d be cool.

4. (opens door) Jeez, that’s a lot of … (OW! OW!) hailballs! And they’re (OW! OW! OWOWOW!) pretty big! (PING) Oh, no, did that one hit my camera? (BONK) Holy crapola, that hurt! (THUNK, THUNK, THUNKTHUNKTHUNKTHUNK)

5. Aiiiiieeeeeeeee!!!

What I hadn’t realized was that the hailballs weren’t falling gently from the sky. They were being driven horizontally by the 60-mph winds, like the snow in Green Bay used to do. Hailballs, however, are much harder than snowflakes, by a factor of 3568.3422, times 12.

Imagine driving 60mph down the highway, then sticking your head out of the sunroof just when a dumb guy on a road crew dumps a truckload of landscape rock off of an overpass.

A couple of days later, while walking Chase, we noticed evidence of their speed — real evidence, not just my whining about the bruises. All of our wooden fences are polka-dotted now, with hundreds of little white spots where the hailballs smashed into them. Bizarro.

When I managed to drag my seriously wounded body back into the house, D and I had a reasoned and logical — if brief — conversation that went like this:


Me: “Um, just for a sec.”


Me: “Um…”

Hail, piled up against our back door.


Me: “Um…”

But I have to say, it was worth it, even if we now need a new camera. Lookit this pic!

Between bouts of ridiculous weather, we continue our relentless pursuit of fun in Dallas. For D, that means finding more places that sell beer that costs more than my meals.

For me, it means buying strange Groupons and LivingSocial deals. Last Sunday, I used one I was quite excited about. I got to fly a Gulfstream 150 jet! Well, it was a simulator. But it was the real deal, approved by the FAA and used to train real pilots, not one like at Dave & Buster’s. With a real cockpit, and all of the same switches and stuff. And these simulators are in big boxy rooms sitting atop four hydraulic legs, so it really moves the way a plane would. The heads-up display we saw through the cockpit window was really the DFW airport, too.

I drove out to DFW Airport, to a place called Fly-A-Sim, in the Flight Safety building. Pilots of all types practice here on these simulators, which are placed next to each other in a huge hangar-like building.

We had an hourlong briefing before the session, during which our instructor told us which switches do what, and what the pilot does, and what the copilot does.

I, of course, had already read about the cockpit and the basics, because that’s what I do. So when we got to the simulator time, I graciously allowed the other guy to pilot first, while I copiloted. This made me look sweet and generous, but it also let me push a lot of buttons to do the cool copilot duties, like rev the engines, raise/lower the landing gear, set the flaps and start the reverse throttle, that thing after you land where the engines start thrusting backwards to slow the plane.

I think I might’ve freaked him out a bit by repeating the instructor’s commands. What the hell, it felt more official to me. I’m not sure he really got quite as into it as I did.

I confess, one tiny little “Copy that” may have slipped out. And I believe there might’ve been one completely accidental use of the word “niner,” instead of “nine.” (That’s airplane lingo… “nine” and “five” sound too much alike on the radio, so you say “niner.” I love trivia.)

It was also fun to watch him trying to land the plane. (I don’t think he’d read the same flight manual I found online.) I say “trying” because he crashed us three times. The final one might’ve been the last straw for any future friendship between us co-pilots. It’s not my fault, though. I think anyone who saw themselves tilting, tilting, tilting, slowly, toward certain death during a landing approach would scream, “The WING! The WING! OUR RIGHT WING IS GOING TO HIT THE GROUND! STRAIGHTEN UP! STRAIGHTEN UP! AIIIGHH!!!”

Much as I predicted, our right wing slammed into the ground, catapulting us into a somersault, followed by a loud explosion and the cockpit shaking like aspen leaves in a springtime storm. I knew this would happen when our wingtip hit, you see, because I’d read Chapter 11.

As the exposions quieted, the entire cockpit window turned red. No more airport. No more sky. Just red. I’m not sure if that’s simulating blood all over the windshield, or whether the jet people just think the afterlife is red.

Either way, all of our passengers were goners, I’m pretty sure.

Then it was my turn to pilot, while he got to play with the switches. I’m happy to say that I took off very nicely (Chapter 3), with little wing-waggling. And my first landing was almost perfect (Chapter 12), except that we ended up a little off the runway to the right. (OK, yes, in the grass.) But we didn’t crash, and the sim didn’t seem to think there were any injuries.

My other three landings were things of beauty. Sights to behold. Smooth as a baby’s bottom. Any other cliche you can think of. Other than that little too-hard bounce on the second one, that is.

It really was cool. Plus, I got a free hat. I’d recommend it highly to anyone who thinks piloting would be a blast, or who, like me, daydreams that one day I’m going to be on a 737 when both pilots suddenly become incapacitated and no one else on the plane has any flight experience. I’ll step calmly to the cockpit, slide into my five-point harness, execute a gradual turn toward a nearby airport, set the flaps and lock the landing gear. Then I’ll land that puppy on a dime, and give you nine cents’ change.

I’d better keep my eye open for another Groupon from Fly-A-Sim.

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