Monday, March 27, 2017

Adventures in Girl Scout Cookies Sales

Adventures in Girl Scout Cookies Sales

Jennifer E. Miller

It’s that time of year again. That wonderful time of the year that brings cheer and joy and smiling happy faces. That’s right; it’s GIRL SCOUT COOKIE SEASON! Customers are excited to receive their cookies and are giddy when a cute little Girl Scout explains all the yummy flavors. Everyone has their favorites. People everywhere love Girl Scout cookies. Personally, I enjoy the funny quirks about the customers.

One of the first customers we delivered to, were friends that live nearby. The wife placed the original order. We happened to have the cookies in the car and noticed their garage door open, so we stopped. He teased us that his wife placed the order, yet left him to foot the bill. G handed him a box of Trefoils and a box of Thin Mints and informed him of the total amount due. “What?! No Samoas!” he exclaimed. “I need a box of those, please.” (Notice the “need” part, rather than a want.) The customer was happy, and she got an extra sale.

G sold to a couple businesses, one of which was her doctor’s office. For her delivery, I thought ahead and took extra cookies; it always seems that people want more. The personnel who share the opposite side of the office quickly saw her carrying Girl Scout cookies. Like vultures, waiting to devour prey, they swarmed the cute little Girl Scout. Multiple hands reached in the box, removing the bits of flesh from the carcass—I mean the boxes of cookies form the cardboard case. Waiting in line were the scavengers, a pair of patients waiting to get their hands on the leftovers.

The next business for deliveries was another office building. She sold quite a few at this location. We sorted the boxes at the front of the office, going down each line on the order form. One by one, people gathered around. Sneaking up on us, we weren’t aware of their presence until we said their name and BAM! Like gulls, they snatched up boxes crooning “Mine! Mine! Mine!” The clamor attracted other individuals who wanted a bite from her cookie stock, too. More boxes disappeared.

Over the weekend she tried the door-to-door method. She pulled her red plastic wagon containing her cookie boxes. Every home who answered the door bought from her. One said her timing was impeccable because his wife was not there to tell him he couldn’t buy cookies. Next house the lady heard the wagon, which was rather noisy, coming up her driveway. She popped out of her front door, money in hand, exclaiming, “Are you here to sell me Girl Scout cookies?!” People can be quite enthusiastic about Girl Scout cookies.

Later, the same day, she participated in cookie booth sales. G and another Girl Scout set up a table in front of grocery store and entice customers to purchase. I noticed this last year, too, but it is painful for men to say no. The girls ask as they exited the store: “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?” The man would look at their neatly arranged table of cookie boxes and long to take one home. They would slow the cart, and one could see their legs aching, ready to buckle with sorrow, as he’d admit: “I’m sorry. My wife already purchase some. I’m not allowed to bring anymore home.” He would continue mumbling “sorry, so sorry,” as the grocery cart squeaked across the parking lot.

Other times, the girls approach customers about cookies and they would come to the table, listen to them talk about all the wonderful flavors, price per box, etc. etc. Even if the person didn’t seem too interested in the cookies, they saw the hard work the girls put in trying and would purchase a box. Little do they know; this is how it works. Unsuspecting customers buy a box of Thin Mints or Samoas, thinking I’ll just buy one box to show my support. Then they arrive home. They open the box by lifting the glued flap on the top. Sliding the tray out, they open the crinkling cellophane wrapper. After reaching in to grab the first cookie, they crunch into it. It’s a delicious cookie. A crazy delicious, tantalizing their taste buds, cookie. In a few short minutes, there are no more cookies for fingers to grab onto. A crisis ensues, causing the person to jump back into their vehicle and return to the store where the Girl Scouts are more than happy to sell him a case of their new favorite flavor.

Ahhhhh. Girl Scout cookie season!

Friday, March 17, 2017

St. Paddy's Day

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller

St. Paddy's Day
Jennifer E. Miller

Happy St. Paddy's Day! St. Patrick's Day is my second favorite holiday after Halloween. I don't have an exact reason. I'm not Irish; or if I am I'm unaware. Simply put, I like the "fun-ness" of this holiday: parades, leprechauns, shamrocks, and pot o' gold at rainbows' ends.

Halloween has been getting a bad rap lately because it's falsely viewed as Satanic or Pagan. While it's modern secular celebration does include gory death, underworld icons, and witchcraft, it's historical significance is a precursor to All Saint's Day on November 1st. Children dress up as someone/thing other than themselves to confuse the evil spirits and keep the Saints, and other wholesome souls, from falling prey to malevolent apparitions. The costumes don't need to be scary; a princess, crayon, or animal will do. It's too bad the origins of Halloween have become lost with society's obsession with gore and death. To me, it's never been a day to worship the devil or evil; it's a day to keep it away.

Unfortunately, I've heard people dis St. Patrick's Day, too. It's an excuse for people to get drunk. Some feel forced to wear green when they don't want to (hint: then don't!). I've even heard of people say since that this day should hold no importance if one isn't Irish. The amount of negativity floating around is depressing.

Being festive on this day is enjoyable. I don't care if I'm Italian, rather than Irish; St. Patrick's Day is fun. Green isn't my color, but one day out of the year I can wear it without worrying how it tarnishes my complexion. Shamrock decor sprouts in various nooks and crannies. The leprechaun leaves chocolate coins at our house, presumable scattered from a pot o' gold. 

The pot o' gold got me thinking why my Italian self likes the Irish-dominated St. Patrick's Day. Take a look at the flags of Ireland (left) and Italy (right).

Flag of Ireland.svg      Flag of Italy.svg
Public Domain,
The flags are strikingly similar. Three stripes containing the same order of colors, lest the ones on the far right. The red stripe of Italy is a primary color. Ireland surely liked the flag so much they needed to put their own spin on it. In order to make the orange for their flag, yellow must be added to the red. Gold is yellow-ish. Gold from a pot o' gold. This proves the likeness of Italians and Irish. There, that must be why I like St. Patrick's Day. It's Italian at heart. 

And not to be forgotten: St. Patrick himself was Italian.

Enough with the logic talk. We can all be a little Irish today. 

Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller


Friday, March 10, 2017

A Parallel Universe

Photo: Pixabay. Used under Creative Commons CC0 license.

A Parallel Universe

Jennifer E. Miller

The parallel universe. It exists here on Earth when we maneuver and twist vehicles into tight narrow spaces. What did you think I was talking about?

To teenagers, parallel parking is the dreaded step of the driver’s license test. Reverse, got it. Red light, green light, psssssssh! gimme somethin’ hard! Turn signal, yep. Change lanes, like a boss! Imaginary emergency vehicle, no worries, just pull to the right. Park between two cars, say what?! The testee suggests skipping that as it could put them and the evaluator in serious danger. Bad news. The testee won’t pass.

Of course, we have all been there and vow never to find a need to actually parallel park in real life. Venture in town and your passenger will point out various vacant spaces to squeeze into. Each one is too tight, too dirty, or deemed unsafe by the parallelparkaphobian driver. There isn’t a spot in sight with minimum two car lengths where the vehicle can simply be pulled forward into place. After driving around aimlessly for an undetermined amount of time, the passenger relinquishes cash from his or her wallet, and offers to pay for parking by yelling at you to find a parking lot already.

Years go by, avoiding the bumper to bumper parking situation. Until one day. One fateful day. That day the devil shows his rotten face. You drive around looking for a parking spot at a crowded outdoor venue. All the parking lots display signs with the words “lot full, you’re S.O.L.” There is nothing available unless you count the spaces approximately 8.12 miles away, by which time the said event will be over when you finally reach it on foot, dry heaving of exhaustion. Then, an unknown force steers your wheel in its direction. Your heart pounds as you arrive at…a damned spot nestled between two cars.

Easing the car next to the gaping hole in the road, you let the engine chug as you stare at it, wondering why the world has turned on you. The excitement of attending the (insert chosen event) are beginning to fade. Being this is the sole spot to park, you have no other choice but to face your fear.

To psyche yourself up, you remind yourself that if all your friends can do it, you can too! A confident voice in your head is cheering you on; it’s just parking the car. There’s not need to worry about getting sucked into a black hole into a parallel universe. Well, not that kind of parallel universe.

The decision is made. You attempt your first real parallel parking feat! Now to remember what the hell to do.

Pull car forward so back end is slightly in front of parking spot. Shift to reverse and glide vehicle backwards, turning wheel to angle into parking spot. Bounce shoulders with glee because you are living on the edge and you like it! Hit the car located in the front. Edge-living feeling shuts down. Let out a few expletives while pulling car forward again to the beginning position. Shift to park and remove self from car to inspect damage. Utter another set of expletives as you realize the car is a Porsche. Damage includes a quarter sized dent in the gilded sports car’s bumper. Nothing a rich owner can’t fix themselves. They are probably used to it. Reenter vehicle. On to parking attempt number two.

This time a collision course with another metal contraption is successfully avoided. Once the vehicle is angled properly crank wheel in the opposite direction. To a newbie, this is done after the car is brought to a halt, so the tires are heard scraping against the pavement as they swivel. Remove foot from brake and continue easing vehicle in reverse, taking caution to line up with the sidewalk. It is helpful to use the side mirror. Finally, you’ve fit yourself into the grey area of Universe de Parallel! As you commend yourself for successfully defeating your worse fear, you feel a bump from behind you. Note to self: don’t forget to press on the brake as you sing I am the Champion…of the Woooorld because it’s possible to forget there is a second parked car behind you.

More cursing ensues as you inch the vehicle forward, exit vehicle, and inspect damage to the rear car. It’s an old large farm pickup with multiple dents. The owners won’t notice another one. You, however, notice a new scratch on your bumper. Practice more French.

Mentally set mishap(s) aside, turn off engine, and examine the parking area. Within eighteen inches from curb. Check. Two to three feet between front and back cars. Mmmm….close enough. Blinking red parking meter…check. Oh wait, better insert some coins.

As the coins rattle their way down the meter paying chute, you take a step backwards with hands on hips, and admire your newly acquired skills. Shuffle a little happy dance and move along towards (insert chosen event again).

You are now an expert parallel parker. An unstoppable automotive superhero. Next time you go into a crowded parking world you take a friend, who hasn’t ridden with you before, intending to impress them with your skills. Casually tell your new friend to watch you in action. Effortlessly, you park without a hitch and brag just a tiny bit. Then, as if daunting your handiwork, your friend says, “Nice. I just look for a space large enough to pull into.”

Copyright 2017, Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, March 3, 2017

Quivers of Thought

Quivers of Thought

Jennifer E. Miller

If my oven cleans itself, why isn’t my house self-cleaning?

Flocks of dove come to my backyard feeder daily. Where is my bar soap?

Exercise is a luxury. Therefore, giving up exercise for lent would be an appropriate sacrifice.

If my car does not tally mileage while in reverse, does that mean I can drive backwards and never age?

It’s possible to identify someone’s age by their check number. If the check number is 102, they are a teenager with their first checking account. A check donning the number 15,493 is an elderly person who has written checks since the beginning of banking time.

I want to know what happened to the use of the cents sign; the letter C with a vertical line down the center. It used to be readily available on keyboards and has disappeared as mysteriously as the continent of Atlantis. There’s no cents sense, in using the dollar sign to signify fifty cents. $0.50 reads as half a dollar. Half a dollar is a $0.50 fifty cent piece. Hardly anyone passes around JFK anymore. The fifty cent piece is dead just like you know who. Two quarters is fifty cents. Resurrect the cent sign please, keyboard manufactures. 

Copyrighted 2017 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, February 24, 2017

Currently Reading: "Road to Valor"

By Fulgur Photo-Press. Fotograaf onbekend/Unknown photographer. Collectie SPAARNESTAD PHOTO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Currently Reading: Road to Valor

Jennifer E. Miller

Writing is a struggle these days. I'm at 28,000 words or so in a story, but I am frequently running into writers block. I feel as though I am simply telling a story rather than taking the reader on a journey. In order to jazz up my brain cells, I decided to pick up a book. (I find reading stimulates my creativity.) I choose Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation. 

Somewhere in the internet world, I came across a short video about Gino Bartali, a famous Italian cyclist who used his athletic skills and celebrity to secretly transfer forged identity documents to save his Jewish friends from the Nazis. I'd never heard of Gino Bartali, but then again the only cyclist I'm familiar with is Lance Armstrong. His story sounded interesting and I wanted to learn more.

I'm about a third of the way through the book. Much of the first part discusses Gino Bartali's cycling career and upbringing. As it's a book written based off research, I will admit there were a few confusing parts; but not many. The authors do a good job weaving in the effect of the Fascist Nazi regime as he moves on with everyday life. I bring this up because I hear that word, fascist, thrown around a lot lately. Too loosely, in fact. I understand that many people do not like our new president, but calling our government fascist is far from what the word means. And judging by what Europeans went through coming in to WWII, it's a distant distant cry. 

Mussolini and his government controlled everything in Italy. The government only allowed what they approved in newspapers. Anyone outspoken against the regime was arrested. Sports became political. Cyclists had to show their patronage to the regime by wearing racing jerseys with the Nazi symbol on it. By the time Hilter became involved with Italy, professional cycling dwindled. Very few races were organized. Partly because athletes were drafted into the military, including Gino Bartali, but also because race winners were forced to give up their prize money to the military. Food was scarce as it was rationed for soldiers. 

We do not live in a such a fascist environment today. People are free to speak against our leaders, if they so choose. When was the last time an American was forced to hand over all of their earnings to the government? Food is not scarce; obesity is endemic. And in no way is any ethnic group being rounded up for extermination. While not its central focus, stories, such as Road to Valor, are an important reminder to what harsh words like "fascism" and "racism" actually mean. Are there places in the world where these still happen? Sure. But not via the US government, as some people lead us to believe. 

Other than Anne Frank's story, I don't hear about many WWII Jewish rescue efforts. I look forward to how the rest of Road to Valor unfolds, and if Gino Bartali successfully saves his friends. When I last left off, he cycled into a Italian village with a main train station littered with Nazi soldiers. His celebrity status caused a diversion. Citizens wanted his autograph; so did the soldiers. They left their posts at the station, buying the Jews a few precious minutes to switch trains unnoticed. Hooks you in, huh? 

Copyright 2017 by Jennifer E. Miller

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Skills By Association

Skills By Association
Jennifer E. Miller

"I have a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you." -Liam Nieson, Taken

Recently, I was informed I have skills by association. Our cat, let’s call her Dasher, unfortunately, has kidney issues. While she is already on special kidney food, she lost weight over the holidays. Upon taking her to the veterinarian's office, he decided to place her on medication. He also suggested giving her subcutaneous fluids to maintain hydration and to keep her little organs functioning longer.

"Subcutaneous means injection, right?" I asked.

"Yes. But if I remember correctly, you said your sister-in-law is a veterinarian?"


"You can handle it, then."

There. I have been awarded skills by association. My sister-in-law is a veterinarian; therefore, I am qualified to stick my cat with needles. Mind you my sister-in-law lives three hundred miles away.

Dasher's vet seems confident I can do this. "Lots of other pet owners do it, too. It's a breeze!"

[Vets] have a very particular set of skills. Skills [they] have acquired over a very long career...

He scribbles something, probably illegible, in Dasher's chart and says a tech will be in shortly to show me the ropes. Barking and yipping is heard as he opens the exam room door and shuts it behind him. The room is quiet again except for Dasher's faint little meow as her beady green eyes stare up at me.

...Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. 
A nightmare. A nightmare. A nightmare.

The trance is broken by the click of the door. The technician, a short blonde-haired girl, walks in with an armful of supplies. She sets them down on the counter and begins speaking rapidly.

"Ok, so the doctor says Dasher is to get fluids. You'll give her..." she checks the chart that had been tucked under her arm. "...two cc's of fluids twice per week."

She whips out one of those bags full of clear liquid that looks like it should hang from an IV rack.

"See this tube? It connects to the bag like so." Blondey proceeds to demonstrate.

"It opens and shuts like this." She moves a wheel-type clamp over the tube.

"Now the needle goes on." Out of the jumble of supplies is a roughly two-inch plastic green and white tube. She removes the white bottom section and shows me how to attach it to the end of the IV tube. The green portion is the needle cover and she pops it off. What I see resembles the sharpened lead to a pencil without all the wood around it.

"Ok, so what you do is pull the scruff of the cat up a little and--"

"Whoa! I'm supposed to jab her with that thing?!" I exclaim.

"Yeah," she answers nonchalantly. "So you insert it--"

"Wait. I was thinking this was going to be more like inject her with a skinny little syringe."

"No. As I said, you insert it like this under the scruff." She stabs poor Dasher who was unaware an encounter with a fat needle was coming. She didn't like it. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.

"Now you open the flow by pushing the wheel clamp back." Blondey said.

The fluids seeped through the tube and under Dasher's skin. Pretty soon a bubble formed under her skin, which is normal, I am told.

Blondey had me try poking Dasher a couple of times to get the knack of it. She said this is a two-person job and make sure to have a helper, and reminded me to use a new needle each time. I was out the door officially crown as the family feline needle stabber. A.k.a. the most dreaded person of the household.

In a few days, it was time to administer fluids to Dasher again. I set up the station by hanging the IV bag on a Christmas stocking nail above the fireplace. T assists me by holding the feline. I can do this! I can do this! I can do this! I tell myself.

I get everything ready as Blondey showed me. Now for the moment of truth. I’m ready to stab Dasher with the needle. I pull up her scruff with my left hand. With my right, I gently insert it under her skin. She tenses up a bit and gives a low growl. I hold the needle in place with my left hand now, and use my right to open the wheel and let the flow down the tube. As soon as it hits her, she yelps and wiggles free. The needle goes flying and spews fluid in a tiny river that goes everywhere except into Dasher. I quickly clamp the wheel back to the close position. The carpet, myself, and T are wet.

"Why did you let her go?!" I demanded.

"What am I supposed to do?" T said.

Your job wasn’t that difficult, I thought to myself.

After an FBI manhunt, er cathunt, we locate Dasher and bring her back to the needle station. This time, we place a towel down on the carpet. I grab cat treats from the pantry and present Dasher with a couple as a peace offering.

On to round two. I repeat the process. She stays put but the fluids are leaking from the injection site; I don’t know why. The liquids are getting the cat wet and saturating the towel. I clamp off the fluids, pull out the needle, and try one last time. Better, but I only get part of the liquids administered. Calling it good for the day, I put the supplies away until next time.

Next time goes worse. Dasher tries to bite us and bounces around like a psychotic squirrel overdosing on a special type of mushroom. She escapes again and the needle spews liquids. Frantic, T tries to grab Dasher while I grab the spraying needle. We meet and by accident T is stabbed. He is not happy. Dasher is pissed. I am frustrated. I decide it’s time to head back to the veterinarian’s office and enlist help because I do not have a very particular set of skills acquired over a very long career. And Dasher made things nightmarish!

The following afternoon Dasher and I are back in the vet’s office. It’s a different technician than Blondey. I explain what I am having trouble with.

"Show me what happens," New Tech says.

I place Dasher on the exam room table, set up the bag, and insert the needle. As I get ready to open up the line and I say, "About now is when Dasher growls and tries to skidaddle."

But she makes me a liar by being a perfect little angel. Cats are never perfect little angels at the vet’s office. Why is she choosing now?

"This isn’t how she acts at home," I say.

The injection site begins to leak again and I ask for some assistance to avoid this. New Tech explains I need to have the needle in all the way under the skin, rather than just halfway. After the practice session is complete and Dasher has her fluids for this go around, we head home, hoping that the next needle jabbing session will be smooth.

A few days pass and it’s that time again. We throw on our rain coats because we’re tired of changing of clothes every time this fluid business day comes around. We set Dasher down and give her a treat first thing, petting her, and lying that she’s a good kitty. I pull up her scruff. I insert the needle. I open the wheel clamp. The flow of fluids begins. It doesn’t leak! Dasher is staying put! The fluid level gradually lowers and reaches the necessary mark on the bag. Success!

I do, in fact, have a very particular set of skills after all.

Friday, February 10, 2017

This Week's Family Outtake

This Week's Family Outtake

Jennifer E. Miller

T and I have been introducing G to 1980s movies we grew up with. I’m sure that decade is considered old and outdated by now. But we are having fun rewatching all these fabulous films.

So far, the watchlist includes: Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Harry and the Hendersons, Back to the Future 1, 2, and 3, The Princess Bride, and Flight of the Navigator. Coming up next is Overboard and Field of Dreams. Yes, I’m aware of Indiana Jones, E.T., and Goonies. We currently feel these are a bit scary. She has previously seen The Great Outdoors and Annie, but those might make another living room comeback.

It took some convincing for her agree to watch most of these, but she really enjoyed the stories, crazy hair styles, and weird looking phones. You know, the ones with a cord that hang on the wall. Or the blue box with a folding door, otherwise known as a payphone. It struck me as interesting, that she didn’t pay too much attention to fashion quirks of the decade. She saw the characters for what they were; families, kids, etc. I found that sincere and sweet.

I jumped out of the decade, by mistake, this week when I borrowed Cool Runnings from the library. (I thought it was 1989ish but it debuted in 1993.) It’s a comedy film about the triumph of achievement, loosely based off the first Jamaican bobsled team at the Calgary Olympics. I loved John Candy’s statement to Derice during the Olympics: “If you’re not good enough without [the gold medal], you won’t be good enough with it.”

The film integrated actual footage of the bobsled’s crash into the Hollywood takes, and G became curious about it. Since there is this awesome find-a-video-about-anything site, called YouTube, I found the aforementioned 'actual footage' quickly. We cringed quite a bit as we watched it. G commented that it seemed much more real than the movie. Well, go figure.

Then she asked if bobsledding was the only sport Jamaica participated in. I’ll wait until you stop laughing, too.

“Don’t you remember the runners we watched in the Olympics last year?” I asked.

I got a confused look in return.

“Does Usain Bolt ring a bell?”

“Oh yeahhhhh! He was super fast, but I think I can run faster than him.”

In your dreams, kid.

Next she requested to watch Usain Bolt’s 2016 Olympic sprints on YouTube followed by the women sprinters; also notably from Jamaica. A switch to women's gymnastic concluded our Olympic flashback and I shuffled her off to bed for the night.

The following morning, I needed to chat with Microsoft customer service. Out of politeness, the agent asked how my day was going. I said if it stopped snowing, things would improve. She got excited about snow because she was from, none other than, Jamaica! Obviously, they don’t experience the true charm of winter. She seemed jipped not knowing what snow is like. I told her that, while it looks pretty, it can make driving difficult, causing schools to make parents’ worst nightmare come true by cancelling classes for the entire day. I would gladly trade my frosty white winter wonderland for a breezy tropical island right about now.

A friend of mine said that Jamaicans don’t leave the island much because it's simply too costly to do so. I wondered why that is. This led my thoughts to those lizards that can run over water. Since Jamaica produces such good athletes, the residents should be able to run like Usain Bolt and sprint their way to a vacation. That’s certainly more cost effective.

See what watching all these classic films leads to?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Make Groundhog Day Great Again

Photo: Pixabay under the Creative Commons license CC0 Public Domain

Make Groundhog Day Great Again

Jennifer E. Miller

This Groundhog Day business is a sham. Punxsutawney Phil showed his shadow on February 2nd, condemning us to six more agonizing weeks of winter. At first I just set aside the prediction since Groundhog Day is simply a fun superstition. Then the next morning arrived--with snow. On the snowy drive to school, my second grader responded to my superstition comment with, "Have you LOOKED outside, Mom! It's all Phil's fault!" Since the snow fell all day long, I'm incline to agree with her. By the time school was out, there was four inches on the ground. 

What is the big deal, you ask. Isn't it obvious? Six more weeks of winter jeopardizes future holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Easter. Paddy the Leprechaun and the Easter Bunny need all the snow gone, not beginning to melt away. The shamrocks need time to sprout. Paddy needs to place the pot of gold and paint the blue sky with rainbows. In addition, he prepares the city for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. Snow and grey skies do not help. Six weeks from now is cutting it way too close and is completely unacceptable, Mr. Groundhog.

When Spring is delayed, how is the Easter Bunny supposed to get all the cute little chicks, baby bunnies, and new birds comfortable? Huh? And what about our egg hunts? The Easter Bunny can't hop around in snow to hide them; his tracks would show and kids would know exactly where to find the eggs. There would be no searching involved. See how lousy this Phil character is making our lives?

In response to this malarkey, and show support toward other holidays, I began protesting immediately. I marched around angrily picketing with signs telling the snow to go pound sand. When it continued falling even harder, I rioted instead. As it turned out, my bottle rockets and Molotov cocktails were quickly snuffed out after coming in contact with the snow. The snow that stupid groundhog brought. Thanks a lot, Punxsutawney Phil. Next year, you are obligated to Make Groundhog Day Great Again!

Copyright 2017 by Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, January 27, 2017

Liars and Lawyers

Liars and Lawyers
Jennifer E. Miller

G’s class has been assigned a school project. They are to decorate their Valentines card boxes in an unusual way by adorning them with a 3D model of a community building of their choice. At the dinner table we throw around ideas. She isn’t interested in stores or coffee shops because many of her classmates have already decided to use those. She wants something original. We talk about the hospital or the library. She sets her sights on the fire station.

Say what? Obviously, we suggest the police station instead. That’s not interesting, she tells us. Finally, I propose the courthouse. “It looks like a castle,” I say.

“Really? Lemme see,” G demands.

I promptly pull up an internet photo on my iPhone.

“Ooooo! It does look like a castle!” Her eyes are big and wide.

“One side can be the front of the courthouse. The other side can show the inside with the courtrooms and the people working in them like the liars, I mean lawyers,” I say.

“What?” G asks.

“Liar, lawyer, they sound alike.”

G looks at her dad. “What’s mom talking about?”

“Mom just misspoke.” T shoots me an evil eye.

“Ok ok. I’ll rephrase. Defense attorney and liar sound the same.”

T throws his hands on top of his head.

“What’s a defense attorney?” G asks.

T answers before I do anymore damage. “It’s a lawyer hired to defend a bad guy when he or she goes to trial. They want the bad guy to be found not guilty.”

“But what if the bad guy is guilty? How could they say he’s not guilty when he is?”

“They try to prove the bad guy isn’t guilty by keeping certain information, or evidence, out of court.”

“If the information is important, isn’t that truth? Everyone is supposed to tell the truth in court!” exclaims G.

“Yes, but sometimes the court has wrong information and the liar’s—defense attorney’s—job is to fix it. They aren’t all truth twisters,” T explains.

“What’s a truth twister?” G asks confused.

“When someone doesn’t tell all the truth, or only part of their story is truthful, we sometimes say they bend, or twist, the truth. And once in a while, lawyers do this to win cases,” I say. I thought this to be a rational explanation.

“That’s not very nice,” she says.

“Not all lawyers are liars. Not all defense attorneys are truth twisters. Some are respectful and do their job fairly,” T says.

T’s work involves a fair amount of trials and courtroom time with prosecutors. Sometimes they are up against private defense attorneys, other times public defenders. I thought of the countless cases he’s complained about, where the public defender has concocted some ridiculous notion and presented it as ‘reasonable doubt.’ This becomes frustrating because they twist the truth or take things out of context in order to get their client off the hook, or even mock the prosecution side. However, that's the legal game; it’s no secret it works this way.

“Public defender and liar sound similar; don’t you think?” I say blankly.

“No, they sound noth—” T pauses in thought for a moment. Then he turns to G. “Mom’s right. Public defender and liar do sound alike.”

Copyright 2017 by Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, January 20, 2017

January Deep Thought: Listening to the Inauguration

Listening to the Inauguration

Jennifer E. Miller

Today we have a new president. A big change for sure. Whether or not it is believed Donald Trump is suited for the job is no longer of concern, because he is the president now. There is no other option but move forward.

I chose to listen to the inauguration via the radio. To report: experiencing it in this fashion felt refreshing. Listening to a radio broadcast, versus watching it on my television screen, allowed me to only focus on the words spoken. I tuned in just as our new president began his speech. There were no distractions filling the sides of the frame. Reading additional snippets of mindless information scrolling across my screen was no bother to me. I didn’t feel compelled to interpret body language since I was unable to see it. That goes for the speaker’s body language as well as the audience’s. I had no idea if it was sunny or cloudy day; pleasant or frigid temperatures. Removing the live picture brought forth the raw words where I applied their effect on myself; without reporters, supporters, protestors, or other personal agendas attempting to sway my thoughts on the inaugural address.

Radio is how people received news before there were a dozen televisions in every home. I think it is possible that the introduction of TV has depleted the crucial communication skill of listening, by providing our brains with visual reactions before our own thoughtful consideration can take place. Any picture presents the tempting option to pass judgement; think of first impressions. Of course, this theory can go the other way, too. I can’t see what is happening in the background when I tune in to the radio. For all I know, the Obama administration could’ve been sticking their tongues out as Trump spoke of promises and visions. I doubt that was the case, but physically possible, nonetheless. A message without a picture is certainly a different, although traditional, way to absorb it.

Before the widespread use of cameras (or ability to print images), newspapers entirely consisted of words. Now, it’s near impossible to find a page in the local paper without a photograph. Image is tricky. It’s possible to print facts only using words, but present something entirely different when a photo is introduced. A picture can be photo-shopped, altered, or the frame simply doesn’t include all of the scene. Or someone can say one thing while a photograph shows differently; assuming the photograph is the truthful instance this time. A former employer once said to me, “A photograph never lies; but lies are often photographed.” Take Sasquatch photographs. The picture isn’t lying, per se, but it's possible a hoax was caught on camera. Image use has the possibility to sway a reader’s view towards truth or untruths.

Imagery is helpful to prove or deny statements or claims. I could falsely tell people over the telephone I have blonde hair. When they see a photograph of me (assuming the image is of me) it is clear I have brown hair. But what if I had colored my hair blonde? Is that photo a lie? If I have naturally brown hair, colored blonde, the hair follicles underneath the blonde sections are still brown. Which is true? I suppose I could state that yesterday I had brown hair and today it’s blonde. I changed my “truth.” That would be the epitome of a politician’s standpoint on nearly anything; it’s rarely constant, and constantly changing. In any case, truthfulness should be of utmost importance, and an image should accurately portray that. It can be relentlessly argued whether any person’s image matches their intents. This element will be questioned forever.

I hope I have thoughtfully presented, by way of the 2017 inauguration, that while images are useful, they can also easily influence opinions. The same goes for writing words, of course, but that’s a topic for another day. I thought it was interesting how differently I reacted to a subject when listening to a broadcast versus watching a TV news broadcast. It confirmed my suspicion: “read” images with caution. Cheers to a new presidency.

Friday, January 13, 2017

January Deep Thought: My (short story) eBook

Raccoon Ransack by [Miller, Jennifer E.]

This week, I'm excite to announce I self-published my first short story as an eBook on Amazon,com. It's titled "Raccoon Ransack." There are five main character raccoons: Mitch, Willis, Chloe, Trixie, and Madge. They must avoid obstacles, distractions, and perhaps even predators to get what they want. But will they be successful? You must read to find out; no plot spoilers here!

It is based on our most recent camping trip at Heyburn State Park, Idaho. We left food out (yes, yes Camping 101 fail, I know) and during the night raccoons woke us as they snatched our food. I wrote this from the critters' point of view so it is fiction, but based on actual events. Isn't that how stories emerge anyway? For me, it is. I gave the animals there own personalities, mannerisms, and attitudes. It was actually a lot of fun to write and I may write a couple more Raccoon Ransack adventures.

I supposed some of you are wondering how and why I decided to venture into the self-publishing market. That is a good question and the answer is simply this: peer pressure. I attended two different writers group, and at one I met a successful self-published author, Erik Schubach. (Check out his stuff on Amazon, too.) He began hosting his own workshops to help others learn about the realm of self-publishing. He encouraged his "students" to write a short story to publish on Amazon in order to get a sense of the process. Okay, it really wasn't peer pressure but more like peer encouragement, but most of you know how much I enjoy sarcasm.

There's a lot more to self publishing than I thought. First thing's first: write something. Second thing: what now? Erik explained that the document (usually a Word file) should be formatted with special indentations and spacing, headers, no page number, etc. etc. I won't bore you with the details, unless you're interested. Make a copyright page, create cover art, story summary/description, and choosing keywords are all things to consider. Selecting keywords was not what I expected. Keywords place the story in specific categories. It's important to choose carefully. I had help setting up all of these extra factors; otherwise, I would've been lost. There are many little things, some not listed here, that must be accomplished based on what the author wishes to achieve through self-publishing.

Traditional publication operates similarly, but with people doing much of the grunt work for you. The author not only requires a publisher, but usually an agent. The author writes their book then spends a large amount of time hunting down an agent who pitches the story to a publishing agency. From what I understand, finding an agent is the biggest struggle, unless you have connections. (I heard from one local author who was turned down around 50 times before she found an agent.)  Once the agent finds a publisher, the author has little say in the cover art, layout content, and possibly even editing. As you can probably imagine, the process can take a very long time. It gets even more complicated with you start talking about royalties, advances, agent cuts, price points, etc. Self-publishing is a bit more straight forward as far as pricing goes. There's a trade-off here: DIY with self-publishing quickly, or take more time to get someone to professionally do it for you. There are pros and cons to both.

Aggressive marketing is needed in both tradition and self-publishing. This is an area I haven't learned enough about. (Perhaps I will in another workshop.) I'm just happy to get my story(ies) out to people. I'm not expecting widespread stardom or notoriety anytime soon. If I write stuff that even just my friends and family enjoy that's good enough for me. Writing anything takes time. A lot of time. Editing feels like it can go to the 100th degree, and it never seems to end. So if a reader takes their time to read my stuff, that makes me feel good. Bonus points if the story struck an emotional chord for them.

I'm glad I took a risk and learned how self-publishing worked. Not sure what this means for the future, but I'll keep writing. Hopefully, a few people keep reading.

Friday, January 6, 2017

January Deep Thought

I admit I've been busy with other things and have been neglecting to find proper themes for my blog. For this week I'd simply like to share a quote that has been sticking to by brain lately:

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. ~Michelangelo

(This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

(Please note, I am unsure the angel depicted above is the sculpture in reference to the quote.) 

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. What did Michelangelo mean by this, and how can it be applied to the present day? Anyone can certainly imagine the artist staring, at what would otherwise be a block of stone, and envisioning something else. Something nagged his creative mind and he worked until the angel was "set free." In present day, this artistic mindset can easily be applied. I set characters, emotions, and events free when I write stories. A sketch artist frees their vision on paper. Architects design buildings. A marketing employee puts together a power point presentation. Film, music, toy manufacturing, medical research: the possibilities go on an on. Michelangelo saw something in the marble and didn't give up until he found it. I think this quote is an artistic approach to say go after something that calls to you. Carving stone must've been extremely time consuming. Apply this to present day: take your time; don't rush. Work little by little and your angel(s), whatever they may be, will also be set free.

Friday, December 30, 2016

December Thoughts: End of Year

End of Year
Jennifer E. Miller

Oi. The week between Christmas and New Year's is a crazy jungle of me losing my mind. Goes a little something like this: Christmas Eve with Mom and sister; Christmas morning, of course; Christmas at aunt at uncle's; Christmas at in-laws; Dad arrives day after Christmas; G's birthday and Dad's birthday the following day; G's birthday party with friends. I possess the approximate tolerance of the Princess and the Pea princess. 

I try really hard to separate G's birthday and Dad's birthday from Christmas. They do have to suck it up and withstand celebrating together. We go out to eat on one day (usually G's) and activities are thrown together to be for both of them. Otherwise I would spontaneously combust. And if I spontaneously combusted, who would feed them? This year we crammed a little of what each of them wanted to do. It was a busy but fun day. 

First, we headed out for the east end of Lake Coeur d'Alene. But, but it's winter, you say. Yes, yes it is. See, there are very special visitors this time of year: bald eagles. They gather near Wolf Lodge Bay to snag the spawning kokanee fish. As most people know, this bird was somewhat recently removed from the endangered species list. We do see pairs nesting at our fishing holes during the spring and summer months, too. However, we have never ventured to Wolf Lodge Bay during "Eagle Watch Week" to see the large number of birds this time of year. Idaho Fish and Game had checkpoints set up with spotting scopes to view the birds up close. The weather was frigid, but I'm glad we made it out there. We watched several birds dive to the surface of the lake to catch fish. It was like observing a National Geographic film in the making. Naturally, I brought my camera and snapped some photos. I uploaded a few to which you can view here. I have since made further adjustments to exposures and colors, but you see my foundation work. 

Next we went to the movie theater because this was what G really wanted to do on her birthday. We saw "Sing" which was actually pretty cute. G is really into music and singing shows like Disney's Austin and Ally and this was right along those lines. She loves to get the huge bottomless popcorn tub, which Grandpa (my dad) and T enjoy as well. I'm not a popcorn enthusiast. I can't stand the kernel shells stuck in my gums. 

After the movie we planned to meet Auntie M at Applebee's for dinner. Since Auntie wasn't able to make it to the movie, G got a whole refill of popcorn to take to her. An entire buttery tub of popcorn, whose aroma filled the car, which no one was allowed to eat because it was going to be Auntie's treat. Can you imagine how the drive went? If not, allow me to enlighten you:

"Let me have some more popcorn," said Grandpa.
"NOOOOOOO!" say G as she slaps his hand away. "This popcorn is for Auntie! You already ate a ton during the movie."
"Please? Just a little? I don't think Auntie will mind."
"Yes she will. YES SHE WILL! I am going to tell on you."

This goes on back and forth until we reach Applebee's. Thank goodness it's only a few minutes from the theater. We eat dinner and Auntie doesn't even complain. She is not an Applebee's fan and will pretty much argue about where to eat until you are ready to gouge your eyeballs out with the nearest pencil. Mark my words. This is the first time she relented and ate at the restaurant everybody else wanted, even though it was at an establishment she dislikes. 

For dessert we wandered over to Krispy Kreme doughnuts. G wanted to ride in Auntie's car and, of course, give her the popcorn. Dad, T, and I all laughed on the way over: we wondered if the popcorn was going to spill all over Auntie's car. She planned ahead, however. She took a photo and showed us that the popcorn got buckled into the seat. Ha ha ha!

Finally we all get to go home and rest. What a day! You would think that would be enough celebrating, but now tomorrow is G's party for her friends. In fact, I think I should go to bed now. I cannot wait until I can ship her off to school on Monday. Good night.

Copyright 2016 Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, December 23, 2016

December Thoughts: This Week

This Week

Jennifer E. Miller

This week as been rather disappointing. A few unfortunate and annoying events happened one after the other. 

First, I had to restore a few household electronic gizmos. I noticed the wi-fi was intermittently disconnecting from our devices. I was able to successfully get onto the internet via a hardwired device even when the wi-fi was interrupted, so I determined it was a router problem. We also needed a new PC, so I hopped in the car and headed to the store for both. (Our credit card company is doing away with the gift card rewards, and we had to cash out our points quickly. Too bad we didn't know before we purchased our Christmas gifts!) Luckily, I remembered our ISP provider had recently sent us a new modem (which of course, I had to install). A quick call home to my other half confirmed some good news: a built-in router in the new modem. Thank goodness! One less thing to plug in and connect. I got the computer home and spent most of the day setting it up and restoring the wi-fi problem. The wireless printer connection was more difficult than I remember. It took about three or four tries, but I finally got it. Why can't I just touch the computer and the printer at the same time, say "abracadabra," and poof! they are speaking to each other? Geez, if I had a 3D printer I could make a dove fly out afterwards, too.

A new PC is fine and dandy, but the set up process is such a chore. T is lucky I know an iota about computers because he is completely lost in this department. I have a husband who can build sheds, finish basements, fix electrical problems, and work on boat motors. When a computer goes kaput he hands it off to me! Really, why can't a woman have a man who does it all! :)

Second, as I took a break from all this computer setup, I noticed an issue with our pet betta fish, Blueberry Jewel. His stomach was very swollen. He also wasn't eating his food; quite unusual for a little guy who always gobbles it up. He spent most of the day resting at the bottom of the tank. The condition worsened overnight. He was even plumper, and his scales were sticking out. Kinda like how a pine cone slowly opens. He couldn't swim to the top of the tank easily; and if he did, he sank right down often head first. I did an internet search and found his condition, dropsy, was not something he would recover from. I broke the news to G, who was devastated. Blueberry Jewel made it through another night. In the morning, I couldn't believe he was still alive. G had an appointment that afternoon. Sadly, when we returned home we found he had gone to fishy heaven.

G had apparently become quite attached to Blueberry Jewel. She cried and cried. She had already placed a stocking over the fireplace for him and now he was missing Christmas. She remembered the employee at the pet store saying that a betta's lifespan is approximately three years. We only had him for one and a half. This kid has watched hundreds of fish get gutted and filleted in our front yard. And then eats them for dinner! But the tiny two inch finned creature living happily in a five gallon tank sent her emotions over the edge. She wanted to bury him the yard. Which would be fine except for the tundra-like conditions brought by ole Jack Frost. We found one small soft spot near a window well that became his tiny grave site. G placed Blueberry Jewel in the hole with more tears flowing as she said her final goodbye. 

I know her heartbroken state is good sign. It tells me she has a conscious and feelings that run deep. She loves with a big heart. 

Third, a short story I submitted to a contest was not selected as a winner. I realize my chances of winning were quite slim, but I had high hopes for this story. It's one of my best/favorites. Losing means relatively nothing. I'm no worse off that before. It doesn't mean my story sucks because I KNOW IT'S FREAKING AWESOME. Just, for some reason, it hit me hard. I was feeling good vibes about it, but they were wrong. Imagination, love, and commitment went into that story. Rejection came crashing down like meteor destroying my sowed garden. I guess I put so much love into my work, like G does with her pets, that I was a teensy bit devastated. But you know what? Other writers, and ordinary folks, I have shared it all gave favorable feedback. My story gave joy to other readers. That's really all writers want.

With each mishap, I have learned something. A dying router pushed me to finally get a new computer. Our old one was operating Windows Vista. The new one is faster and more secure. And it's pretty darn cool to have it at no cost with those gift cards! The death of our fish helped me see how big and wide open my child's love is for the world around her. When I see her cry now, I know a little piece of her heart has been taken away. I realized how sensitive she really is; and that I need to be more sensitive to this fact. Lastly, losing a contest is not a measurement of my ability or self worth. I will continue to work towards new chances at being awesome. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

December Thoughts: One Year Post-op

I didn't really know what to write about this week. It's bitter freezing cold outside, but everyone already knows that. I decide to discuss something else that's crossed my mind a lot lately.

One Year Post-Op

As of Dec 10, it's been one year since my shoulder surgery. The surgeon cleaned up bursitis, bone spurs, and minor rotator cuff tears (debridement, I think it's called). I won't say my shoulder is completely back to its pre-boo-boo days. However, I am thankful for the many activities I can once again do which no longer cause pain: reach up to get a dish from the top shelf; push down on the faucet handle; hold my arm out to the side; turn the steering wheel; buckle the seat belt; rest my elbow on the table; lift a gallon of milk from the shopping cart; put on a coat; wash and brush my hair; hang from a bar. I can also shovel snow from the driveway again which I refuse to put on my "happy to do again" list, but I'm sure T is enjoying my regained strength to accomplish this chore. The year has proven to test my patience, but I'm thankful to have toughed it out.

I was told my surgical procedure was the easiest to recover from; however, the recovery process has been far from easy. Of course the few days after surgery were difficult and painful. Anesthesia made me horrendously nauseous. I despised the prescribed narcotics. And I couldn't sleep lying down for a month; recliner sleeping it was. Physical therapy and gentle stretches were all I managed for the first several weeks. After very slow healing, my shoulder still had stiffness and I opted for another cortisone injection (I already had three in the months leading up to surgery). The doctor and physical therapist reminded me that I dealt with my bum shoulder on and off for two years, so expect some extra time to regain full strength.

A large adjustment was electing not to return to CrossFit. Due to loose joints that contributed to my injury, it was best to cease activities that could exasperate this condition. I decided to obtain a gym membership at MUV fitness instead. I started attending the group fitness classes such as P90X and Pump. These incorporate weights but at a less intense level. I will not lie: beginning these exercise classes with even a three pound weight was tough! I couldn't use any weight for some movements and my shoulder was sore after many of the sessions. Little by little, as I gained strength and stamina, I increased load. In fact, I have gain enough confidence in my shoulder to return to CrossFit for the occasional Saturday class. I can now hang from a bar and do pull-ups! I can't do twenty-five unbroken like before; more like six. Wooot!

As difficult as it's been to be patient, I'm glad I got the surgery. I was lucky to have wonderful, caring medical professionals helping me along the way. Here's to recovery year number two!

Friday, December 9, 2016

An Old Fashioned Christmas

An Old Fashioned Christmas

Jennifer E. Miller

An old fashioned Christmas. The term generally conjures up images from Little Women. Civil War-aged women in wool petticoats and hooded cloaks, shivering in horse drawn carriages with harness bells jingling. They'd thaw near the hearth eating freshly roasted chestnuts. Homemade Christmas presents lay wrapped in brown paper secured with twine. For lucky recipients, an orange could be found in a knitted stocking on Christmas morning. Speaking of Christmas morning, would children find evidence of Santa? Since they had authentic fireplaces, would there be ashy footprints left behind by The Big Guy? How simple Christmas probably was back then. 

Flash forward about 100 years. What was a Christmas like in 1960? Homemade pumpkin and apple pies perhaps? Locally made chocolate bars and candy canes in stockings? Maybe space toys and baby dolls waited under the tree. Stuff like doll furniture and toy cars were probably still made of wood; and handmade by a family member.

But what is an old fashioned Christmas anymore anyways? It's 2016 after all. Kids want iPods and Xboxes. An old fashioned Christmas nowadays probably dates back to 1986 when children ripped opened packages to find the original Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with the games Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt. And a plastic gun for shooting down those on-screen birds. Digital watches and cassette tapes filled stockings; we could get oranges anytime at the supermarket.

What would be your ideal old fashioned Christmas?

Friday, December 2, 2016

December Thoughts

Noticeable November is over. Did anyone else keep an account of things they noticed? I'd love to read about it. Email it to me or post a comment. Moving onto December. I don't have anything in mind...well, actually I do. My thoughts are my mind. So here we go for December Thoughts.

Going Green?

There is a lot of concentration to "go green" these days. Reducing carbon footprint. Being environmentally friendly. Tree hugging hippies. Save trees, water, energy, rain forests. I laugh to myself about this because it seems to go out the window for the holidays.

We drive hundreds, if not thousands of miles in our cars, using gasoline to get us to our loved ones. Or pay higher jet fuel prices to get us there quicker.

We use millions of wrapping paper rolls to conceal the millions of toys, gadgets, and doo-dads that emerge for the holiday season. Not to mention there's the fancy packaging they are sold in.

We print who knows how many Christmas cards, send with stamps, to be flown to their destinations, and placed in postal vehicles. Paper, paper, jet fuel, gasoline.

Then there's the Christmas tree. For Greenies who erect a live tree; the joke's on you. How is cutting down a real tree saving Earth? Yes, I know there are tree farms and such, but that also takes space. Clear-cutted space to plant specialized trees that grow quickly and requires water and fertilizer to thrive. Only to cut them down, drag them into an unnatural habitat (homes), adorn with shiny trinkets, and cram those wrapped boxes under. The boxes whose wrapping will be shredded on Christmas morning and tossed away. Well, recycled hopefully.

I know, it's all in the name of fun and spirit. Our home sports a pretend tree. I have come to recognize this is better for the environment, but we have an artificial tree is for health reasons. Growing up we always had a real tree. Every season my sinuses blew up like permanently inflated balloons.

With a fake tree, I don't have to worry about an insect infestation. Or poking an eye out when I crouch down to water it. There's less of a fire hazard as a fake doesn't dry out like a real one. And that piney smell! That can be saved for outside.

So there you go. An artificial tree is not only better for my health, but green wise, too. I guess I still have the un-environmentally friendly problem of Christmas cards and wrapping paper, though.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Noticeable November: River Rain

Okay, I forgot to write something specific for my blog this week. This was a class assignment that fit the Noticeable November theme.

River Rain
Jennifer E. Miller

The river calls to many for fishing, but sometimes I think I’m here for the rain. Clouds hang low, bringing the weather. Birds glide inches over the river’s winding glassy surface in search of food. If I'm lucky, the steelhead will get hungry for the bait. There’s more here than I came for; like watching the river dance.

Inside the cover of the boat, I open my Stanley thermos. The cap unscrews to serve as the cup. I twist the valve slightly to open the pouring mechanism. The suction releases, telling me it’s ready. As I pour my coffee, the hot beverage meets the cool air and stream crawls out my cup in wispy vapors. I wrap my hands around it and soak up the warmth, enjoying it while I wait for the coffee to cool off before taking that first sip.

Pitter-patter of rain starts. Soon drops dribble down the side curtains and catches my attention. Looking out the side, I notice the river has become misty with haze of precipitation. There is not embankment on this section of the river. The rolling hills fold into the landscape. They make long earthy striations. Like fingers of a giant they jut down directly to the water, as though combing in the current.

As the coffee bean aroma fills my nostrils, I gaze out onto the water. I always liked the rain while fishing. The fresh clean air revitalizes the otherwise stale stank of the dark murkiness. Driftwood, white cap foam, and occasionally trash lap against the shoreline. Trapped, it’s all let to wither and rot with the sands of time.

The newfound freshness calls to me, reminding me I have cooped myself up indoors far too long. I needed a trek to the outdoors. But now I’m inside a man-made vessel surrounded by more artificial objects. I suddenly become aware of the gassy smell of the propane heater inside the boat. It’s not harming me; I have plenty of ventilation. But I long to breathe the natural surroundings Earth provides. Trapped inside with propane, vinyl, and aluminum, I need escape.

Stepping out of the boat's cover, I allow the fresh rain to fall upon me. It’s not raining hard, but many small drops fall quickly. They tap the water-plunk plunk-each making ripples. The ripples are plentiful and merge into one another. At the centers the raindrops which tap the surface bounce upward in an attempt to escape and return to the sky. They don’t get far. Gravity pulls them back to the river.

Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, November 18, 2016

Noticeable November: Back-Whoa!

Continuing with Noticeable November. A little story developed from something I noticed the other day. 

Jennifer E. Miller

On my way home I have to pass a self-service car wash. You know what I mean, right? The kind with multiple drive stalls where you plunk a few quarters in and use a timed sprayer to rinse off your car. For a little extra you can use warm water; a nice feature when it's cold outside. A few more quarters gets you a soapy wash complete with the use of a spinning brush. Dig into your pockets for another handful of coins because you forgot about the final rinse. You're out of change for the air dryer so you drive home quickly to grab towels. Hopefully you get their soon enough to wipe off the water so it doesn't dry into little chicken pox spots. Yeah, one of those places. 

It's not really a place that is out of the ordinary, but what I saw there recently was. A large white dually truck was backing in. That's weird. Why would anyone need to back-in to a wash stall. Its set up is simple: pull forward. Even the automatic car washes have you do that. As I examined the scene more closely, I noticed that the dually was hitched to a platform trailer. On top of the trailer was a large back hoe. I get it now. The back hoe is being pushed into the stall to wash it off. Don't see that everyday. Of course, that thing sits rather tall when on top of the trailer. I'm not sure how anyone of average height is supposed to reach the top of the back hoe with the sprayer and brush. Perhaps the driver was just interested in spraying off the tires.

This is also strange. Is it normal to wash off equipment? Typically, when I pass construction sites after working hours, the tractors are just sitting there soaking in their own dirt and muck. This has got to be one filthy back hoe if it needs a cleaning.

I started thinking about all the reasons to use a back hoe and came up with only one: digging. Okay, how about places: farms, new construction, digging new cable lines, reaching pipes...oh. It hits me. Back hoes are also used to dig up yards to reach a septic tank. Particularly one that has backed up and overflowed. 


Now I get it. This back hoe was most likely used to scoop up and set aside a bunch of shit and is, likewise, smelly. Alright. Starting to make some sense now. If that tractor was rented, then the rental store most likely doesn't want a piece of unsanitary equipment returned to their location. 

As I continued past the self serve car wash, my mind wanders about the poor soul who had to have their septic tank exhumed. I can imagine a stinky mudslide of a mess. Grass dragged out, flower beds overturned, muddy tire tracks on the road as the back hoe was driven up the ramp onto the flatbed trailer. Neighbors are standing at the end of their driveways or on the sidewalks, plugging their noses in disgust.

Finally I pull up to my house. I notice a note taped to the garage door. It reads: "My septic tank lost it. Did the clean up, but now returning the back hoe to the rental store. The smell should only last over the weekend." It was signed: "Joe, next door." Then I take a breath. And wrinkle my nose in disgust.

Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller

Friday, November 11, 2016

Noticeable November: Squashed Cupcake

Did you write anything for Noticeable November? If you did, keep it up. Share it, if you'd like. Did you discover anything?  

The following piece contains more abstract details. I made some far-reaching connections and I'm interested to know if they make sense. 

Squashed Cupcake
Jennifer E. Miller

As a little girl, I remember wanting a certain kind of dress. Not a style or color, but the way the dress performed. It needed to twirl when I spun around. Watching other girls in fancy dresses, they would pirouette on their tip toes. Their dress would float around their body like a graceful dancer. When they stopped spinning, their dress would continue wrapping around their bodies until gravity and momentum forced it stop. The dresses were always glittery and flowy, with just enough puff netting on an under layer to add elegance without bulk. I noticed how the girls with these dresses walked proudly or skipped enthusiastically, the skirt portion bouncing with each step. They were excited to wear such a fancy gown. And they enjoyed their dress's performance as much as I envied it.

New holiday attire was a usual thing for my family. When I would hone in on a "performance" dress at the store, I was quickly shot down. Too expensive. Too glittery. It doesn't match any of my shoes. You'll only wear it once. But what I could never get across to the purchasing powers that be, is that if I got to wear a dress like that, it was like wearing a recital costume or a prom dress. Even if only worn once, it was going to create fantasies. I could twirl into a fairy maiden with magical powers. Or finally know what it was like to feel a dress come alive. I wanted to know that feeling I saw in other lucky girls who got to spin their way to their church pew. Or in line for Santa and pirouetting their way out of boredom while they waited.

In fourth grade, I finally got my twirl dress. It was soft green velvet on top with long sleeves and a tiny matching bow that rested on the neckline. The skirt was white sheer fabric, gathered at the waist, with a ruffle at the bottom and satin trim. Puffy netting was sewn in, giving my dress that perfect conical fluff. It wasn't glittery or overly showy. It was simple yet elegant. And it twirled! I couldn't wait to get home, throw it on, and spin on my tippy toes. I spun so much it's surprising I didn't wear a hole in the carpet. I felt so beautiful and different in it. Different in a good way. I imagined myself as that maiden fairy twirling, hopping, and flying around with magical pixie dust to make everything merry. When I wore that dress, everything was more lovely. The snow outside looked fluffier, whiter, and brighter. The holiday music was more jolly. Waiting for Santa's presents on Christmas morning didn't seem so far away anymore. I finally understood why those other girls smiled constantly at themselves while doting their fanciest dresses. They felt good; so everything around them felt good, too.

Fast forward a few decades and I have my own daughter who has eyes for fancy things, too. She has a twirly dress she loves to wear. It's sleeveless with white cotton lace on the top half. An empire cut waist gives way to a pleated bright pink skirt. The netting trim underneath is curled which gives the dress a unique shape when she spins. Instead of the entire edges twirling away from her in a straight line, the bottom six inches fold downward. When she spins, she looks like a delicious cupcake. A pink cupcake liner with vanilla frosting. A headband or bow represents a cherry on top. She has the same giddy look on her face as she dances and pirouettes, absorbing all the happiness in life at that very moment. I want to bottle up that innocence. Freeze it in time and release it upon a grim moment.

One day, she got her feelings hurt by a older kid. While passing out Halloween candy, a teenage boy grabbed a handful instead of one piece like she instructed. The incident made her cry because she didn't know what to do. He was bigger than her and she felt so...small. What I saw was a squashed cupcake. All the goodness and love and magic she harnessed from twirling in that dress had been knocked down and stepped on.

It took a few days for the pain to wear off but she managed to bake another cupcake with the help of some pixie dust I loaned her. I'm glad. A baker's dozen is actually thirteen. So when one doesn't come out right, or is dropped--or squashed--the remaining twelve stand; baked with love.

Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller