Hold the vampires, please

I like my fiction without fangs.

But lately, even my favorite authors seem incapable of resisting the lure of blood lust, supernatural powers and other worldly investigative agencies.

It’s as if Anne Rice sank her teeth into all the writers gathered at a writing convention and they went home and started conjuring crime-fighting vampires and vampires in love.

I find it disgusting.

When I am perusing the new fiction shelves at my local library, I grab hold of a mystery in excitement only to learn that the hero has supernatural powers which allow him to see the evil that men do in their minds.

No thanks.

The same for romances. It’s hard enough for young lovelies to sort the bad guys from the good guys. Now they’ve got to watch out for vampires.

I partially blame that dang Stephenie Meyer and her “Twilight” Series. Even though it’s been recommended to me by adults, I absolutely refuse to read about teenage vampires and werewolves in love. Please. Aren’t the teenage years bad enough without choosing between a wispy looking vampire and a hunky werewolf?

So I won’t read the books and I won’t watch the movies. I’ll stick with Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Patricia Cornwell. Frankly, real life gore is bad enough. I don’t need vampires when there are double agents in the Middle East and corruption to expose in Washington, D.C.

It’s enough to scare a vampire.

Goodbye, Pete

Goodbye, Pete Seeger.

I can’t say we hardly knew you, because of anyone who could be labeled a celebrity, you were the closest to ordinary folks any of us ever met.

That’s because you were just plain folks. You carried a banjo and a song in your heart — but the song didn’t stay there very long. If you were within hearing distance of an audience, you invited them to join in the song and you wouldn’t take no for an answer.

You sang to support labor, you sang to support clean rivers, and you sang for and about the common man and woman.

We were lucky, here in La Crosse, to actually have Pete visit our town for the annual folk festival.

That was one of the neat things about Pete. The size of the audience didn’t matter. He was just as dedicated and charming and unstoppable here in La Crosse as he was when I saw him from far, far away on the main Summerfest stage in Milwaukee.

Audience small or large didn’t matter because it was all one big campfire to Pete Seeger.

Pete truly made the world a better place in which to live and along the way he helped many of us appreciate our surroundings a bit more.

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, just like Pete Seeger sang so many times. Well, I do have a hammer and I got it out and pounded a piece of horseshoe molding back into place in the dining room. I think Pete would have liked that.  But even more, he’d want all of us to wield the hammer of justice.

So let’s keep working on the environment, working to keep jobs in America, and working to feed and house the hungry and homeless. Pete Seeger would do no less.


Chita, we almost saw you

I was supposed to see Chita Rivera perform tonight, but a blizzard stranded her band in New York so she’s not performing tonight even though she’s already here in town.

I feel sorry for Viterbo, where she was to perform, and for the people holding tickets to this special night of theater.

But I am luckier than most of those ticket holders because I got to see Chita Rivera on Broadway.

It was 1984 and the show was Kander and Ebb’s “The Rink.”

I admit I was going mostly to see Liza Minnelli. Even though Minnelli wasn’t a particular favorite of mine, she seemed like someone I should see if I got the chance simply because of her star power — kind of like seeing Tina Turner, Prince,The Rolling Stones or The Beatles if that opportunity came my way. (Two out of four isn’t bad — I did see Tina and the Stones.)

I still feel I haven’t seen Liza Minnelli even though I was sitting fifth row center. Liza’s performance was so lackluster that I could barely hear her.

There’s a good reason for that. Liza went into rehab a week after I saw her in “The Rink.”

But Chita was a blast of fabulousness and it’s no surprise she won the Tony that year, even though she was up against her co-star and some pretty impressive competition that included Bernadette Peters.

I don’t know what she would have been like in a one-woman show at the age of 80, but I’m guessing I would have had no trouble hearing her.

I wish her good luck on the rest of her tour. Now I’m going to go watch videos of her on YouTube.



Stay-at-home retiree

One of the best things about being retired is getting up in the morning, looking out at the wind-driven snow, and deciding to go nowhere today.

Of course, the next best thing is that my first glimpse of the snowy day was at 8:30 a.m., two hours later than when I was slogging to work through the snow. I had to build in time to shovel before I left for work, an extremely rude way to begin a day. Now, I can shovel at any time and finally did convince myself outside around 10:30 a.m.

My task was made easier by living next door to the best neighbor in La Crosse, who ran the snowblower across my sidewalk and down the shared part of the driveway before he left for work — long before I had left my cozy bed. Thanks, Doug.

The bad thing about being retired and deciding to go nowhere is that I’m caged inside the house with all that needs to be done. So,  yes, I did scrub the stove top and removed all trace evidence of my bad cooking experiments. And, yes, I did wash the dishes that had been sitting in the sink for a couple of days. And, yes, I did fill all the ice cube trays when a trip to the freezer revealed I’d be drinking my Vita Ice without actual ice. Really, it’s unreasonable to drink a product with “Ice” in the name if you’re not going to pour it over ice. And I put away the puzzle I finished two weeks ago, collapsed the card table, and put the sunroom to rights.

Now that I’ve done a full two hours worth of work, this retiree’s work day is done. Snow is falling again, the wind is blowing, and I’m still stuck in the house. But I’ve got John Sandford’s “Silken Prey” with which to scare myself silly on a cold winter’s day.

And that’s one of the best things about being retired.




A new neighborhood

Winter changes everything. At least it does in Wisconsin.

In spring, summer and fall most of us are out in our yards, puttering in the garage, weeding the garden, and mowing the grass. We see our neighbors and comment on the lack of rain and find out they’re having a weekend barbecue or one of the kids has started swimming lessons and is part fish.

In winter, we pass briefly as we wield snow blowers and shovels, soldiers in a battle against the elements. We may tell each other how long we’ll be gone over the holidays, but that’s about it. Winter can be unkind and we would rather be indoors than lingering over a snow pile that is already much too high.

And so a new neighborhood develops around the places we find ourselves in winter.

At the checkout counter, the checker says she’s been meaning to try that frozen dessert. Have you had it before? Is it really good? Or maybe you bond over organics. And pretty soon you’re telling her about your sister who is coming to visit.

At the library, another reader notices the book you’ve just picked up and says it is good, but the ending is disappointing. You  pick up a book from new arrivals section and tell her it’s a must-read.

And at Kwik Trip this morning, the guy in front of me confided he had to buy antifreeze because his car wouldn’t start and it’s only going to get worse.

“My car has been running sluggish,” I tell him.

“Yeah, it will do that until it warms up.”

“Stay warm,” I tell him, “and good luck with your car.”

We may not be geographical neighbors but in this one time and place we are experiencing the same exasperation and we bond. It’s a moving neighborhood but we’re all making connections where we can.


Finding my happy place

This year, I’m determined to find my happy place.

I used to know exactly where that was. Sitting in the darkness of a theater, preparing to write a first night review. Walking through a local home, taking notes so I could share some of the great ideas the homeowner had incorporated. Walking through a garden, jotting notes about herbs and roses and perennials and gasping in delighted wonder when presented with a flower I had never before encountered.

And, yes, at the keyboard, where I brought all those notes together in a story that I shared with thousands of readers.

I can honestly say being a reporter was my happy place.

In retirement, I am still trying to find the perfect happy place, but it takes time to settle into a new rhythm, new enthusiasms, and new places to go to find the same joy that reporting gave me.

The best example I have of someone who has found her happy place is my sister Therese. She spent New Year’s Eve and is spending New Year’s Day and night moving into new booth spaces in a Twin Cities antique shop. Whenever life gets her down, she goes to the shop to fiddle and re-merchandise all of the wonderful antiques she can’t squeeze into her home.

Like most antique dealers, she ended up with a booth in a shop when she had to do something with all the excess merchandise she had acquired over the years. And because we are sisters and best friends and we share one brain, she has pulled me along for the ride.

I don’t know if this is my new happy place, but it comes close. I have always been an auction junkie so I was in much the same position as Therese, but instead of getting a booth at the antique center I just started holding annual sales to clear the garage and basement so I could buy more.

But some of my happiest times are talking on the phone with Therese as we describe our new finds, how we fixed them up, and where we will put them in the house — or, yes, in the next sale.

So this is the year I’m going to fine tune exactly where my happy place is. Maybe it’s a lot of places — the auction, an estate sale, or one of many local garages at a weekend sale.

If you don’t have a happy place, make this the year you find your own. In a mean, nasty world it’s important to have a happy place.