Prank calls

I loved making prank phone calls when I was a pre-teen.   When my mother would leave the house, I’d frantically call Linda and tell her to come over.  “Come over and play Kooky Calls”, I’d say.  She’d do the same for me, of course.  We had hours of fun at the expense of teachers, schoolmates and random strangers.

What with caller ID and well, being somewhat of a mature adult, I don’t have the opportunity for Kooky Calls any longer.  The only outlet I have for my phone creativity is to mess with solicitors.  I didn’t answer calls from unknown numbers for a long time, but they will call and call forever.  Maybe I should waste their time for a while and they will leave me alone, I think.

Unfortunately for my pranking instincts, most of the harassing calls I get are robocalls.  They’ve perfected the art of annoyance by hiring actors to record a reasonable facsimile of an actual call. There are spots for you, the victim, to respond and even leave a credit card number.

“Hi, this is Steve from the customer service department! Can you hear me okay?”

I say nothing.

“That’s great!, RoboSteve continues, breathless, like he can’t wait to give me some wonderful news.  “I wanted to let you know about an incredible deal you’re qualified for.  FREE airfare, all food and drink covered, hotel, FREE tickets to DisneyWorld and other attractions.  First, we need to get a couple of things from you.”

Of course.  I say nothing.

“You need to be over 18 to receive your FREE trip”, — here he gives a knowing chuckle — “and we’ll need to get a valid credit or debit card number from you to secure your place.”

Naturally, Steve.

“Are you over 18?”

Now’s the time for me to enter the game.  “I’m twelve”, I say.



“Now we’ll need that credit or debit card number”.

I’m tempted to give RoboSteve the number of a gift card that has $2.53 on it, but decide I’d rather use it for a cup of Caribou Coffee.

Instead, “Can I give it to you after I get my allowance?”, I wonder.

“Well, thanks for your time.  Sorry to bother you!” Click.

Getting the bum’s rush from a thief.  Kooky Calls aren’t as much fun as they used to be.


NaNoWriMo, an update. Day 3. On the path.

Writing this year’s story has been so easy.  The words flow from my fingers and I find myself thinking of the next installment between writing sessions.  I think the problem for me in the past is that I would pick a random idea out of the ether on the morning of November 1.  After a short while (1 hour to 10 days) I would get bored with the concept I’d chosen.  And quit.  I couldn’t make myself push through it.  To be truthful, I didn’t try.  But you get the idea.  I stopped writing.

This year, I started thinking about my NaNoWriMo story ahead of time, in mid-October.  I tossed a few ideas around until the idea I am working with jumped into my head.  It gave me the first line and told me to run with it.  To put it in more graphic terms, the opening line came to me while I was soaking in the tub.  I wasn’t  thinking of NaNoWriMo right at that moment.  My mind was blank except for noticing how lovely the hot, scented water felt on my skin.  Maybe that’s the key: being open and receptive to whatever ideas come, not trying to manipulate thoughts with my Monkey Mind.

This year, I’m loving my story, am enjoying the process of writing it.   Words rush out and I type them.  The occasional roadblock that pops up – I go around it. Pfft, I say.  You can’t stop me!

The content of the story is deeply personal, so much so that I can’t predict that anyone but me will ever read  it. It’s probably why it is flowing so easily.  Just change a couple of names and bang! Fiction!   I may be able to use parts of it in other work; maybe after I’m done, I can do a fine tooth comb edit and let it out into the world.

We’re only three days into the process, my story and me.  It’s a new relationship and we’re in the giddy “Oh, but we have so much in common!” phase.   Later it may degenerate to the point we can barely stand one other, merely tolerating one another’s presence in our respective corners.  For now, though,  we’re off to an exhilarating start.  We’ll enjoy our  honeymoon period while it lasts.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep walking the path and see where it takes us.



What’s Next?

October’s almost over.  Packing for my eventual move and starting up a new volunteer gig with FaerieLand Rescue has filled these late October days. This past weekend, I attended a three-day restorative yoga teacher training.      In every other year of my life, Halloween has been a Big Deal.  I pull out some items from my extensive Halloween collection to decorate the house, buy a few of pumpkins to carve into jack o’lanterns.  This year, it’s only the fake or super easy stuff. Two electrically lit jack o’lanterns, plastic but realistic looking if you don’t touch them, a couple of folk art wooden ghosts at the door.   I don’t need to get anything out that I’m going to have to repack.   No energy, no time.

That said, I am starting something new tomorrow, November 1.  Sit down, if you need to.  I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  Yes, participating in something.  I’ve come to be something of an expert in avoidance and non-participation.  Earlier this month, though, I went to a full day writer’s conference and stayed for most of it.  This is a change.  Usually, I sign up for things, pay the fees and everything and then don’t attend.  Most of the time, anything involving groups or assemblages of people brings out the claustrophobia monsters. Especially where writing is concerned.  I mean, it’s a solitary activity, right?

NaNoWriMo takes place every November and has done so since 2000.  Writers are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel (or beginning of a novel, if you are, say, Diana Gabaldon) in the 30 days.  Writing daily, that’s 1666 words a day.  Easily doable.  I’ve done it, just not in November.

There’s a website, Twitter page, Facebook page for it.  There are many ways writers can interact electronically; I suppose there are in-person support groups as well.  I have no intention of that level of participation.  My locus of control resides firmly within myself and cheering on by well-meaning helpers just makes me sad.  Knowing they are trying to be nice, I realize they probably really really really enjoy receiving encouragement from others.  But I just can’t play that way.  Mis-wiring at birth, what can I say?

Anyway.  Back to me and NaNoWriMo.  I have started writing a novel at the beginning of several Novembers.  Once I made it to November 10 before abandoning the story (it’s around here somewhere, still). Three or four times, I had ten excellent pages the first couple of days, then zilch.  A memorable year left me with an Amazing Title and nothing else.  This year, since I have so much else on my mind and plate, I figure that I will use my expert-level work-avoidance techniques to start and finish my novel within the prescribed dates.  Writing is a great way to avoid messy things like packing and sorting your accumulated junk.  Take it from me.

Say, here’s an idea

Pretty much any story idea you come up with will be more compelling than this one.

From The News of the Weird,

Minneapolis Star Tribune, 10/22/16


The 1,496-page German novel “Bottom’s Dream,” translated into (broken) English and more than twice as long as “War and Peace,” recently reached U.S. bookstores as a 13-pound behemoth, bound with a 14-inch spine that, based on a September Wall Street Journal description, will almost surely go unread. The story follows two translators and their teenage daughter over a single day as they try to interpret the works of Edgar Allan Poe.






Out with the old, on to the new

I can’t stand this any more, I grumble.  The water heater has sprouted a leak, just the latest in a long line of things that have gone wrong in my house in the past several months.  Air conditioner?  Replaced.  Dishwasher? Repaired.  And now this.  My future buyer will get a much better house than I’ve had, that’s for sure.

I stand back and watch myself.  Why do you tolerate living with faulty equipment but shell out thousands of dollars to prepare a house for sale?

My secret hope was that the house would be deemed a tear-down and I could just clear out my possessions and skip away, leaving it to the wrecking crew to have their fun.  The acre lot my house sits on is filled with mature trees.  Although it’s a corner lot, it offers a wonderful degree of privacy.  I envision a charming cottage sitting here rather than the mid-60’s ranch house that I’ve called home for the past 11 years.

But, no such luck.  My realtor laughed and said the house is perfectly sellable.  It just needs some work.  Darn it.  I had been on the verge of calling “We Buy Ugly Houses”.

As I go about the process of sorting and packing, the donation pile grows.  Several car trips to Goodwill, my SUV packed to the gills.  Why do I have so much stuff, things I rid myself of with a big sigh of relief?   I mentally add up the money spent on the discards.  It could easily have paid for the air conditioner, a new kitchen and probably a new roof, too.  And maybe made a substantial contribution to paying down the national debt.  From here on out, I vow only to purchase things I will love forever.

As I carry a full box out of the office, I accidentally kick a doorstop from its position.  The door slowly goes half shut, the doorknob poking me in the back.   I am so sick of this!  There’s always something here that isn’t right.

The new house will be better, of course.  Clean and new, everything made to order and just how I like it.  I won’t be around long enough for it to hit its fourth decade, when windows become hard to open, appliances fail and garage door tracks are bent, making the door hard to work when the power goes out for days as it does at least annually.  Once, this house was new and someone was eagerly looking forward to living in their dream house.  That family knew it at its best.  I have just been here for the portly middle age, the time when things start to fall apart.

There are things I will miss when I move away.  Friends.  The yoga studio that is saving my back.  My caring, trusted vet.  The shopping and restaurants and the resort aura that flows around Lake Minnetonka.  Living in suburbia but only being a quick car ride from Minneapolis.

But there is a lot I won’t miss.  The rusty orange water that even a pricey whole-house water filter and high powered water softener doesn’t abate.  I haven’t had a white stay white for years, despite trying every whitening-brightening laundry product available.  I won’t miss having to prop every single door in the place open.  I won’t miss the kitchen that was likely here before the house was, or the groovy avocado green tiles in the master bath.  I shall not miss the humidity and dampness that makes me keep the the air conditioning running on perfectly beautiful days.

Still, I know that one day I will look back on this house, this place in the world, with nostalgia.  I will miss my trees. The ones I planted have grown so much in a decade.  The ones that were already here provide a thick screen from prying eyes and a lovely backdrop year ‘round. I will miss the burgeoning patch of lily of the valley that has grown from one lonely, depressed plant that struggled to live in the middle of a sunbaked wildflower garden to a delightfully fragrant patch growing in the shade of two large maple trees.  I’ll wonder if the luscious bleeding heart plant just outside the back door still thrives, and if the tiger lily is as studded with blooms as it has been in recent years.  Maybe the new owners will tear it all out, start over, do their own thing.  I’ll never know.  In my heart, the place will be the same as it always has been, only better.

Guest Blogger: Monty

Since I’m solid busy this weekend, I’ve rounded up a guest blogger.  Monty, who has taken to billing himself “The MontySattva” is writing today about his favorite topic: himself.  So, without further ado (I’ve always wanted to say that about something) here is my Little Man.

Hi everybody! I’m super excited that Momma is letting me write an actual blog today.  Usually, she just tells me to sit down and watch but I’m here to tell you that you don’t need opposable thumbs or a human brain to write a blog.  I mean, have you read some of them? Anyway, I’m glad to be here and to get a chance to talk to you all.

Take time to smell the roses. Then eat them. Tulips are good, too.


I don’t think my chance to write today is an accident.  You see, today is my five year anniversary of being rescued!  It was a lucky day for me, that’s for sure.  My human mom came and got me out of a cold, dark, and dirty place and brought me to her house.   I was supposed to be a foster kitten and get adopted out to someone else but I am just so darn cute and engaging, not to mention smart.  After she had watched me grow from a scrawny four week-old baby with blue eyes and sparse fur who the cat doctor said might not make it to a solid, active boy with green eyes and thick black fur how could she let me go?   She says, and this is a direct quote, “Oh, Monty, every day you make me laugh!”.  So there’s her reason.


In my first week, I’d already learned to sit on the table. So smart!


In the dishwasher, a Place of Danger. Those prongs are sharp!

Actually, (and I’m not sure if she knows this or not) I decided the moment I was let out of the travel carrier that I wasn’t leaving.  Not ever.  No way.  The food here is ample and delicious.  There are plenty of other animals here, so I never get bored.  Lots of ledges and cat beds and counters to observe my world from.

I am pretty sure that eventually the old girl cats will start to like me.  I try to get them interested by jumping on them and swatting them, but they just aren’t very friendly.  Their loss, right?


Me and Big Kitty. Such a quiet, accepting big brother. I miss him!




Ahhh. Me and Samantha. She was the cat-mother I needed. The best snuggler in the world, except for me.






















The dogs are okay.  Buster the pit bull is calm and quiet and I like to rub my face against him.  Luna the German shepherd is sometimes okay but man, does she make a racket when someone comes to the door, or there’s a squirrel in the yard, or maybe a leaf falls from a tree.  Can’t believe that Momma calls her ‘Baby’ or ‘Momma’s Loon’ in that cooing, irritating voice and then Luna gets all wiggly and pants and tilts her fool head and gets a cookie.

I’m not going to let it bother me, though.  I’ve got a good life and by the way, there’s a rumor that cats live longer than big dogs.  Who’ll get the last laugh, I ask you?

Using the scratcher, like a good kitty should.


So I guess the point I want to make is that it’s really good to rescue little hungry kittens, especially if they are me, because we make wonderful companions.  If you don’t have a cat or you don’t have enough cats, check out your local shelter or rescue group.  You’re sure to find the cat of your dreams there.  My momma did!

There’s no Newton like an Isaac Newton

Mom’s family lore was that we were descended on her mother’s side from Sir Isaac Newton.  The genius who discovered the laws of motion and universal gravitation,  who helped to develop calculus was supposed to have generated a tribe of women who counted change out on their fingers.  Reportedly, my grandfather had on several occasions commented that he couldn’t believe someone, that is, my grandmother, who was descended from Sir Isaac Newton would have so much trouble doing simple arithmetic.

I took the story of our illustrious ancestor at face value.  I mean, why would Nana lie?  She’d even seen Sir Isaac’s tomb in Westminster Abbey when she toured England in the late 1960’s.

I innocently inquired,  “Did you tell everyone on the tour that he’s your relative?”

“Heavens, no!” was Nana’s response.  It wasn’t nice to draw attention to oneself in that way.

Why not, I wondered.  I would have said something.   I was 11 and things like this were interesting and important.

Turns out, Nana’s uncharacteristic diffidence was justified.   Sort of.

Since I am eternally curious and found a sliver of time that is not otherwise occupied, I have embarked on a panoramically vast journey through time.  I have been sucked into family genealogy.  Blame it on those cute ads where a man recounts how he switched his attire from lederhosen to kilts after taking a DNA test and discovering his heritage was Scottish, not German.

Or perhaps I am just old enough now to appreciate family ties.  The miracle of computers and the instant connection provided by the internet has made it easy to explore one’s heritage without leaving the house, or in my case, without even moving my chubby little derriere from the couch.

I went mad on the site.  Starting with the people I knew, basically my parents, and their parents, I was able to find records of the generation before them.  And so on and so on.  I spent, quite literally, hours clicking from record to record.

It’s a good thing I enjoyed talking with adults when I was a child, and have an excellent memory for minor details, because I was able to piece together fleeting bits of family information with the online records.  I was able to find the 102 year old lady whose photograph scared the soup out of me as a seven year old, because she was just so, well, old.   She was Margaret Register Highsmith, my 3rd great-grandmother.  Finding Margaret made solid another piece of family history:  a cotton quilt that was supposed to have been woven on an antebellum North Carolina cotton plantation.    An appraiser confirmed that the quilt was made pre-1850, and its simple pattern is a common one that would have been woven by slaves.    Margaret was born in North Carolina in 1808 and migrated to Missouri with her husband, James Highsmith, in the late 1840s.  Presumably, the quilt was hers.    Although it was made under circumstances that are distasteful and disheartening to 21st century Americans, this piece is historical and a precious part of our family’s history.

Back to Isaac.  After some early and easy successes I began hitting roadblocks.  Records weren’t available.  Information was either faulty or miraculous, like those of the female on an Ancestry member’s family tree who gave birth to three children two, three and five years after her own death.    Individuals seemed to have dropped into the wilds of West Viriginia with no recorded antecedents, making further excursions to the past impossible.   In search of alien ancestors…now there’s a topic!

When I could no longer proceed painlessly, as usual I made every effort to avoid hard work.  Skating around painstaking labor is impossible in genealogy unless you are prepared to shell out volumes of money to experts.  So, I nibbled at the edges of some onerous, tedious tasks.

Finding information on a famous person is much easier, though, than for the farmers and shopkeepers that populate most of my family tree.  Sir Isaac Newton had several websites devote to him.  The fact that Isaac (I can call him just plain Isaac, can’t I, because we’re kin?) had never married and had no known offspring was a troubling detail.  Aside from the fact that he probably worried his poor mother sick (“Isaac, dear, why don’t you find a nice girl and settle down?”), it appeared that my genius forebear was perhaps a great uncle many times removed.   That would still count.   A genealogy showing his family tree listed a couple of siblings who had done their mother proud and reproduced, but that trail ran cold and so did my interest.  Maybe something would turn up, maybe not.

Circling back to random searches that produced lovely nuggets of data, I discovered that despite the lack of Isaac Newton in my pedigree, I had some surprises.  Roosting in my family tree is an accused and acquitted New England witch; a family of Cranes who apparently supplied clergymen and governors to the colony of Connecticut; at least two Mayflower families; someone you might have heard of if you’re into dictionaries (hint: his name is Noah Webster); the Civil War-era governor of Georgia (3rd cousin 5x removed).   Going further back, in England there may have been some minor nobility.  One line I found fascinating because of my deep and enduring love for the Plantagenet family and medieval English history.  It  seemed like the branched trail might actually lead back to them, but the link was spurious. Although there is hope!  If I could only find Reuben Overton’s parents, maybe…

At any rate,  I had an evening of feeling that maybe the reason I loved English history was because it was mine. By the light of day I realized it doesn’t matter who one’s ancestors are but it certainly is amusing fun to dig around in their ashes.  And possibly those of others.  I’m a fairly nosy person.

And Isaac?  Well, the thing is, we are descended from Isaac Newton.  Only it isn’t the Isaac with the brilliant scientific mind, but another Isaac Newton.

Isaac Newton, my 7th great-grandfather.  1709 – 1791 Son of William Newton and Barbara Johnson Newton, was born in Christ Church Parish, Middlesex County, Virginia Colony and died in Duplin County, NC.  His son, also named Isaac Newton (1737 – 1799) was the grandfather of David Alderman, who was Nana’s second great-grandfather.   The first Isaac would have been her 5th great-grandfather.  The Aldermans farmed in North Carolina and intermarried with Highsmiths for a couple of centuries until some of them eventually ended up in Missouri, where my grandmother was born.  Maybe they ran out of space in North Carolina, with the intermarrying and all.

In the end, Nana was right.  After all, she never said it was that Isaac Newton.

Library Danger

I attract weirdos.  A friend told me it’s just because I am an observer, and I notice quirks and oddities more readily than many people, but I still believe I have a Weirdo Magnet buried deep inside me.  When the WM activates, look out.  Some unique person will find me.

So today I am at the Wayzata Public Library reading a book and a woman comes over with a large brown purse, an over-stuffed shopping bag and a tattered, shopworn black stuffed bear.  “Tsk”, she says, “there’s NO privacy around here!”

My silent presence in a window seat must have surprised her as she trudged around the corner.  “Well”, said I, “at least I’m quiet”.  As opposed to the jabbering crowd on the other side of the building.  When did SHHHHH in the library end?  Isn’t there one place where people can STFU???  These were older adults, too, who should know better.

Ms. Privacy-Seeker drops her purse and bag on a stool, and carefully places the bear in a chair, then begins rifling around in her bags.   Plastic clicking, wrappers wrinkling, heavy sighs…obviously, she is not concerned with quiet, either.  Her long and in-need-of-a-touch-up blonde hair is pulled into pigtails that sway limply with each hasty movement.  Sloppy flip-flops on dirty feet, navy sweat pants stretched to the limit and a plain blue sleeveless top complete her look.  Coupled with her hostile personality, I consider her a potential threat but I am stubborn.  I’m not moving so she and Ratty the Bear can be alone.

She moves old Ratty, carefully picking him up and placing him in a chair closer to where she stands, possibly to give him a better view of Lake Minnetonka. (It really is a lovely view.  Worth putting up with the Chatting Seniors Club to see it.)   Ms. Privacy strides off,  peeks around a door labeled Quiet Room.  Apparently, it’s occupied because she stomps back, picks up Ratty and her bags, and with a final glare at me, sticks her face in the bear’s ear, murmuring, “C’mon, baby, we’ll go somewhere else”.

I toyed with the idea of finding her and smirking as I sat nearby, but it’s too humid to be involved with the authorities today.  This one could have been dangerous.

My work in print, for reals.

Now you can buy your very own copy of the anthology that contains my story, “Tuesday Night at the Triangle Bar”.

A paltry $14.25 from, the sale supports the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.  I’m not a member of the Bloc; they were just kind enough to find my story worthy of print.  And, no, I don’t make a dime on the sale.  I just thought you would like to own a copy.

If you buy one and bring it to me, I will autograph it for you.  Now, who would pass up an opportunity such as this?