Just scratching the surface

I didn’t think it was a big deal: a couple scratches on my bumper and a barely-visible dent on the rear hatch. Five years ago, I decided I wanted a badass car, so I bought a Jeep that can withstand direct hits from anti-aircraft missiles. Unfortunately, it’s not trail-rated, so the undercarriage is susceptible to damage from rocks, roots, and small fluffy woodland animals.

Naturally, I wanted to make sure that the rear-ender hadn’t turned my axles into twisted heaps of rusting metal. The online accident report form for my insurance company didn’t include a box for “I don’t know a U joint from a drive train, so I just want someone professional to crawl around under my car with a flashlight.”

Instead, the other driver’s insurance company contacted me, and shoved their amazing friendly customer service down my throat. (The jerks!) So my car is in the body shop and I’m driving around in a rented SUV with a home entertainment system, GPS, and free mini-bar. I was surprised the first time I threw it in reverse. There on the dashboard was a panoramic view of every crack in the pavement behind my car. I felt a wave of nausea as I started backing up and saw the world moving behind me.

How lazy do we have to be that we can no longer turn our heads? Where’s the sense of adventure if we don’t have multiple giant blind spots when we’re backing up? Don’t you hate it when people keep asking rhetorical questions?

Maybe I should be having fun with it, but I don’t want to count the seemingly infinite number of cup holders. I don’t feel like crank-calling Onstar to ask if they have Prince Albert in a can. And mostly, I don’t want my friends to see me driving something that looks like I should be taking my kids to Lacrosse practice. People have been shunned from the neighborhood barbecue and paintball tournament for less.

It will be nice to have my car looking pristine and new, but a couple scratches and the odd dent are badges of honor. After all, the car that rear-ended me was at least eight inches shorter after the accident, the radiator was at a 45 degree angle, and the hood looked like an accordion. Pit my car against any sedan, and my badass Jeep is going to come out the winner, as long as there are no fluffy woodland animals around.

Double down

My friend has been on the hunt for Knorrs Leek Soup for several months now. Very few people (not in rehab) would pursue an activity to the gates of hell or insanity, but for the perfect clam dip, my friend would. She called Knorrs’ headquarters IN GERMANY, to find out why they don’t stock the soup mix in the U.S. anymore. There was no small amount of rejoicing when we found it at a local Piggly Wiggly.

This gives rise to the delicate issue of double-dipping. My mama told me horror stories about how when saliva is introduced into the dip, it starts to break down. This could turn a perfectly good thick paste into a slightly thinner paste. *Shudder* Since then I’ve taken great care not to be the cause of a sour cream state of emergency. I can only hope that others sharing the bowl are equally vigilant.

My distaste for separation of dairy products seems rather odd in light of the fact that I have a cat, ergo my kitchen counters are crawling with e coli. Fortunately, I know this, and knowledge is power. I have carefully choreographed food preparation routines to avoid serving litter box juice to the ones I love. It’s the least I can do.

People are not going to fess up to double dipping, so it’s the not knowing that makes a communal bowl of dip a thrill-seeker’s paradise. “Hey guys, let’s go base jumping then share some clam dip.” When I finally get up the courage and scoop, inevitably there’s breakage from somebody else’s chip. A half-soggy chip crumb is now hitching a ride on my chip. Gaaah!

I grew up playing with snakes and eating dirt (long story). I’m a staunch supporter of the five second rule. I’ve swapped sweat at the gym, grown up with the community bathhouse, shared bottles of soda, and have been known to French kiss. I don’t know why throwing dairy products into the mix puts saliva on a par with weasel snot.

Fortunately, God has genetically engineered clam dip to taste good enough that it’s worth the risk. I may not go base jumping anytime soon, but break out the chips and dip, and I can feel the adrenaline pumping.

This is a courtesy notice

I live in a community, which is to say that my every breath is scrutinized by the HOA police. The homeowners’ association sent us a courtesy notice, indicating that they take offense at the green slime growing on the front of our house. This could be easily remedied by hiring a power washing service. Easy is not the way we roll.

We searched the yellow pages for someplace that rents pressure washers, and found that they are all located in North Carolina. This would explain why so many of the houses in South Carolina look like they’re molting. Not wanting to be caught crossing the border with contraband cleaning tools, we opted for a somewhat more primitive solution.

We have a ladder left by the contractors who painted our house. There’s a reason they didn’t want it anymore. The ladder has notches on it’s side, indicating all the people who died trying to clean out their eaves.

I drew the short straw, so perched precariously atop this demon-possessed ladder, I slopped bleach on the vinyl siding. My brush refused to stay screwed onto the telescoping pole, and I had bleach dripping in my hair and running down my shirtsleeves. My husband stayed safely on terra firma, squirting the hose to rinse my handiwork.

You would think that my medical condition would exempt me from hazardous duty. I’m allergic to sudden death.

All evidence to the contrary, I’m still alive. Even after a shower, I reek of bleach and Febreeze. That’s right, we Febreezed our house. If you’re going to go to all that trouble, you may as well have your siding smell like ocean breeze, or fresh linen. I thought I’d be proactive and head off any complaints from the HOA that my house stinks.

Hopefully, my neck and shoulders will have a chance to recover before our next courtesy notice regarding the placement of our ornamental Chevy. They probably will want us to weed-whack the grass growing around the blocks. The fussbudgets!

What’s that behind you?

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own because, guess what? This is my blog and I do what I want to!)

Magicians rank right up there with clowns for yuck factor. Their carefully guarded secrets still are just sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors, and distraction. Why would I want to see people pulling rabbits, scarves, pigeons, or rutabagas out of a hat?

Still, there’s something to be said for distraction. I’m on day three without a cigarette. (pats her own back) I’m watching Deadliest Catch marathons, knitting matching covers for my washer and dryer, snaking out the sinks, waxing the driveway, teaching myself Swahili, and cleaning the car, air ducts, and random stray dogs.

Yesterday, was the ultimate distraction. I went on a field trip as research for my next book. The Harley dealership was huge and majestic. Hundreds of gleaming motorcycles greeted me with the promise of open roads and cute guys wearing leather chaps. I wanted to get a bike back in another lifetime, but my ex forbade it. Probably one of the reasons why he’s now my ex.

I actually drooled on one of the Softtail Deluxes, and considered a used Sportster as a starter bike. I found the bike I wanted for my roguish character, and checked out everything from leather jackets, to belt buckles, to Harley cribbage boards. I’ve led such a sheltered life. I never knew they had cribbage tournaments in the back rooms of biker bars. That’s definitely going in the book!

Can I afford a bike? No. Would the numbness in my hands be a detriment to riding a bike? Yes. But, for one shining afternoon, I had no desire for a cigarette, and it didn’t even require a magician.

It’s OK … honestly

I’m frustrated that people don’t understand and can’t accept me the way I am. I’ve been taking medication for depression and anxiety for over 20 years, but at the end of the day I’m still mentally ill. Before I started the meds, it could take me five minutes to decide which car to take to the store, and I’d still be second guessing myself, as if the world as we know it would come to a screeching halt if I made the wrong decision.

The meds are there to help stabilize my mood so I can function, but they’re never going to make me “normal.” I go through periods when my sleep patterns are totally crazy, and simple things like brushing my teeth are impossibly hard.

I have pinched nerves in my neck, arthritis, and stiffness from an old injury. The pain is invisible, but I have to deal with it on a daily basis, compounding the problem.

What I really want to say is, that doesn’t make me bad or wrong. Ask me if I’m angry with you, and 99% of the time the answer is a resounding “no.” I just don’t know what to do when people don’t believe me, or read things into my mood. I used to make the excuse, “I guess I’m just tired” when people asked me, what’s wrong?” I’m so tired of making excuses.

Please, please, please understand that sometimes I’ll withdraw into myself. At those times, being sociable is a near impossibility. I express myself better in writing than in conversation, so I’m hoping this open letter to those who care about me will help.

So many people have to deal with mental illness on a daily basis. Many feel that they have to assess and guard their actions and reactions at every moment, so they don’t project their mood, because others just wouldn’t understand. I hope this letter will help others to understand depression a little more. Depression and anxiety are a part of who I am. Please know that I’m OK with you, and I’m OK with myself … honestly.

Farts and crafts

Most young people would rather stick their tongues to a frozen pole than learn to knit, so it came as no surprise that most of the women who showed up yesterday for our knitting group were wearing support hose. I was happy to help the newbie knitters learn this time-honored torture, since I had suffered at the hands of a master, and wanted to pay it forward.

From the time I was out of diapers, I was shipped off for two weeks each summer to Grandma’s arts and crafts sweat shop. Grandma lived in rural Washington state, where there was little chance of escape, and no time off for good behavior. I fell into line quickly, since there was no TV, and her book selection included a Field Guide to Song Birds, American National Monuments, and the Bible (your choice of King James or Finnish translations).

Grandma bought the cheapest yarn and fabric she could find, so we generally had to work with colors so garish that they hurt the eyes. All knit slippers had to have double yarn in unbelievable color combinations, pom-poms, and ribbing on the toes. Before her death, Grandma sent me a lifetime supply of slippers, to which I say, “not in this lifetime.”

I was talked into joining this knitting group by my friend, who only uses the most expensive yarns to create amazing quality sweaters and afghans. I showed up with my yarn spun from the finest industrial grade burlap. My needles were long enough that I had to sit on the floor in the center of the room to insure that I would not incur a lawsuit after putting somebody’s eye out.

Normally, this would not be a problem, but it was laundry day, so I had on my only clean pair of pants, left over from the Nixon administration. They were low-rise, insuring that everyone behind me would be getting up close and personal with my lily-white butt crack. The women behind me had the good grace not to comment, titter, or vomit into their knitting bags.

I suppose I will continue to attend the group. For better or worse, there is a nostalgia factor, and next week we’re knitting sweaters for toilet paper rolls.

Who emancipated the radicals?

There are only two Fuddruckers in the state of South Carolina. This clearly infringes on my inalienable rights to eat the perfect hamburger without making a day trip of it. Sure, I can go to any fast food joint (over nine gazillion served), where I suspect that they inject free radicals into the meat. (Caution: geeky scientific crap ahead.)

Research has proven that free radicals = bad; antioxidants = good. I could go into a list of foods rich in antioxidants, but is the normal human being going to pick kale when he could have a waffle with strawberries and that whipped cream stuff that squirts out of a can (a biomass of free radicals roughly the size Finland, glued together with fat)? I think not.

The problem is that free radicals break down cells, speeding the aging process. You can combat this process with vitamins, supplements, and some mythical substance called CoQ10, which is nowhere found in nature. Unfortunately, the daily vitamin packs require a sherpa to heft them into the back of your mini-van.

It’s scary to think that processed American cheese food that squirts out of a can might be causing irreparable damage to your major organs as we speak. Do we see a pattern here? Put the squirt can down, back away, and nobody gets hurt. I inadvertently performed a science experiment recently, where I left my milkshake cup in the car. Three days of blistering heat had done nothing to render the whipped cream into liquid. Don’t even get me started on the cherry.

The other day I had lunch at a chain diner that offers breakfast 24 hours a day. Their senior menu started at age 55. I QUALIFIED FOR THE SENIOR MENU!!! The worst part was that nobody carded me. Somehow, while my back was turned I started looking my age. It was a rude awakening to learn that I’ve been forgoing whipped cream for the last several years for nothing.

Their failure to card me prompted me into a retaliatory gesture of self-destruction. I ate the bacon. Take that, friendly waitstaff! Nobody seemed concerned over this obvious cry for help.

I’d like to see a study with people my age who have eaten Boston Crème donuts all their lives, compared to people who have juicers and routinely drink milkshakes made with turnips and grass clippings. I can study the results on my long drive up to Fuddruckers.

I left my hero shoes at home

“What the hell is he doing?” my friend asked. I looked at the little black oncoming car driving slowly across the intersection, jumping the median, and cruising into the left turn lane next to me. I twisted to watch the car as it meandered back into the median, continuing past me.

“Holy crap, there’s no driver! Call 911!” I continued to crane around and watch as the car swerved back and forth across the median, the four way flashers blinking. The car drifted back onto the road, stopping traffic before the moron behind me honked. Was I the only one concerned that an unmanned car was cruising up the highway? Would I incite road rage in said moron if I continued to stare until the light turned red again? Since few people can rock the bullet-wound look, I decided to move along.

At no time did I feel compelled to jump out and chase down the runaway sub-compact. On my last semi-heroic gesture, I bailed out to inform the car in front of me that his lights were out. I managed to jog two steps before my knee locked up. We were waiting for a train to pass, but by the time I staggered to the driver’s side window, the train was a distant memory, and the line was moving again.

Somehow the driver was able to interpret my wild gesticulations and incoherent babbling as, “the lights on your trailer are out.” Either that or “I am a carjacker. Hop out.” He seemed to get the message just before he roared off into the distance, leaving me standing like an idiot in the road.

Clearly, I’m getting too old for Chinese fire drills.

I tried to imagine under what circumstances someone would leave a running car in gear on the highway. Was the driver still in the car and reaching for a CD under the passenger seat when he got his arm stuck? I had no trouble imagining this scenario, since it took me five minutes and several yoga positions to free my arm. Was the driver slumped over after suffering a massive coronary? If so, does a Girl Scout CPR badge expire after forty-two years?

Two hours later, when we were returning home, the rogue vehicle was parked in the median not far from where we reported it. We credit the speedy response of the police to our prompt 911 call. The fact that this occurred right in front of the police station was totally immaterial.

While calling the police doesn’t quite qualify us as heroes, I didn’t aggravate my arthritic knee, or the moron leaning on his horn. I’m sure that if I had my hero shoes on, I could have chased down the car, stopped it, and saved the day. Fortunately, I left me hero shoes at home.

Break out the wide-angle lense

Hi, group. My name is Karla and I’m a closet mocker. I started watching a reality show (which will remain nameless) because the average IQ of the contestants was barely above sea slug level. Even though I didn’t voice my opinions, I’m not proud of my snooty attitude.

What I learned from the show is that in order to take a good portrait, your eyes have to look like there’s actually a thought in your head. That wiped out half the competition. You also need to be aware of angles–bad news for me. I have a body that looks best head on, and a face that doesn’t.

In the unlikely event that the press will think I’m newsworthy, I’m updating my press kit. This means having a photo taken by a real payment-due-in-advance photographer.

This will involve plucking eyebrows, dying gray roots, and applying enough industrial strength concealer to paint the Taj Mahal – twice. More importantly, it means I will be practicing making faces in the mirror. When I smile, it sends my cheeks on a collision course with my eyes. I try to open my eyes wide while smiling, and it looks like I just found out that Sarah Palin is running for President. It’s that moment of shock before your brain registers the situation and you start projectile vomiting.

That's not a squint - it's cheek encroachment

Getting back to the angles, I need to make sure that the light doesn’t emphasize my gut or my nose. I have never been a delicate little thing, and the camera adds about twenty cheeseburgers (give or take a few pickles). Perhaps that’s why the photographer suggested that the light would be best about 9:00 PM for an outdoor shoot.

I guess I owe it to the IQ impaired to go through with this photo thing. They can be proud of their beautiful portraits while they’re pasting my nose all over the internet. Karma’s a bitch!

(That’s my buddy, Barry Parham and me at the Briarpatch for a book signing.)

Run for the snowses

What drives a person to traverse the most inhospitable terrain on the planet with nothing but twelve dogs and a sled? The Iditarod has come to a close for another year, and few other races have excited the imagination like this one. A dog sled race is like crack to my imagination, which gets excited over moldy cheese.

Jerry surveyed his rent-a dog-team. It wasn’t exactly what he was expecting. As he looked around at the other teams gathering near the starting gate, he felt a pang of envy. The dogs, as one were straining in the traces, anxious to be on the trail.

His dogs were either lying quietly, or squeezing each other out for the best spot on the sled. Pugs, why did it have to be pugs?

While you and I may think that it’s less than desirable to drive headlong into a freezing wind behind twelve dogs with full bladders, many will sacrifice everything for the chance to do just that. These people are generally referred to as idiots mushers.

Five minutes in the cold, and the blood cells in my fingers start torching cars, looting, and throwing bottle rockets at the police. I’d be the only musher being treated for frostbite at the starting line. Contestants face over one thousand miles of wind chills of -100 degrees (Fahrenheit), snot freezing in their noses, and hemorrhoids the size of oysters. It takes 9 – 15 days to complete the course. This year race organizers boasted that nobody died. 🙂

If you’re interested in an insider perspective, I’d highly recommend the book Winterdance, by Gary Paulsen. This tale of his adventures is told with wit and passion. My imagination is about the closest I’ll ever get to the Iditarod. I’ll just be over here snuggled up next to the fire with my pugs.