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My Writing Process Blog Tour

Molly Dugger Brennan


A very special post today for y'all.   I was invited to participate in the "My Writing Process" blog tour and today is my day to shine.   Jody, better known as The Medicare Mom, asked me to join the fun.  

If you don't know Jody, she blogs at  The Medicare Mom  and is worth following.   Jody is one of the true angels on this planet, having adopted six children over the course of her marriage.   Then at age 61, she adopted two of her grandchildren, a three-year-old and a newborn.

If you're over the age of 55 and think you've had an grueling day, flip over to Jody's blog and learn how to beat crushing exhaustion with humor.   Jody says she's retired, which simply means that she's tired again.

I'm also pleased to announce that on Monday the 21st, my friend Man Martin will be joining the blog tour.   Man has been twice-named Georgia Author of the Year by the Georgia Writers' Association for his novels, Days of the Endless Corvette and Paradise Dogs.   I read Paradise Dogs and absolutely loved it.   He's so motivated, he blogs daily at  Man Martin's Blog.   Visit his site soon or read it on the 21st to learn what kind of writing process makes an Author of the Year.

There are four questions posed by the "Writing Process" tour and I'm about to lay my answers down.   Here goes.

1.   What are you working on?

You mean aside from becoming tall, thin, and blonde while polishing off that pan of brownies?  I am working on a collection of short stories about my childhood in an almost stereotypical Southern law enforcement family.   Think of it as Mayberry, RFD as told from Opie's perspective, only the mom was still alive and she too was in law enforcement.   Or if Aunt Bea packed heat.  

It is as of yet untitled because I'm having trouble finding something that conveys the humor of it all.   My ...

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The Porch Cat

Molly Dugger Brennan


Out here in the country, no one buys a cat.
  No one purposefully chooses a cat.  Don't have to.   Here, cats choose you.  

Cats just appear.   First they start hanging around the edges of the property.   Then they make themselves comfortable in the shed.   Next, you notice them moseying across the front porch.   By the time they've laid a dead mouse on your welcome mat, they've had their mail forwarded to your address.

The cat introduces himself with a gift of a slaughtered rodent and you praise him mightily for it.   You may even express your gratitude by putting out a few crumbs, a bit of milk, nothing really at all.   You didn't do anything of note except to the cat, your small gesture is exactly the same as if you had signed a forty-page contract in blood.   He owns you now.   He'll appear at your kitchen door every day at the same time expecting a saucer of something yummy.   You have just become the indentured servant of a feline and you poor pitiful slob, you never saw it coming.

My friend Emily had a cat appear one day on her front porch.   She came home from work to find a scruffy calico cat stretched across her porch swing, soaking up the  afternoon sun.   Her dogs were all at the picture window, foaming at the mouth because a cat had dared to trespass on their turf.   The cat took no notice of their frenzied barking except to yawn and stretch a paw towards the dogs.   If cats had middle fingers, one would have been lazily extended.

Emily went into the house and did not acknowledge the cat.   For days, she did not admit there was a cat there at all.   She started referring to the intruder as Ga.   Ga is not really a name so much as it's a wish.   It stands for "Go Away."  The cat had other plans.

The cat took to walking across ...

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Bossy and Proud of It

Molly Dugger Brennan

I am bossy.   There, I said it.   Bossy from birth, as a matter of fact.   So when I heard that my beloved Girl Scouts had hooked up with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, to ban the word "bossy" I was confused.   Sheryl Sandberg, her eyes glistening from the painful memory, said that she was labeled bossy as a little girl and how hurtful that was to her.

Hurtful?  You are the chief operating officer of a multi-billion dollar company and the best selling author of the alpha-business-female bible, Lean In.   Hurtful?  We should tattoo all little girls with the word "bossy" if that's the end result.

With all your clout Sheryl, the best you can come up with is to tell everyone to ban a word from their vocabulary?  Talk about being bossy.   I'm a writer so I think every word has its place, no matter how vile.   I'm not one for censoring any word.   Limiting one's vocabulary is a no go in my world.  

You could use your considerable fame to make progress on real issues affecting women today.   May I suggest the gender wage gap, domestic violence, science and math education for girls, the attacks on the food stamp program, or women's health care?  Surely it is far more damaging to tell a little girl that she's not getting a hot lunch at school because of program cuts than to call her bossy.

In fact, it was in the Girl Scouts that I was encouraged to be bossy.   I was taught to dream big, formulate plans, lead others to implement them, overcome obstacles through persuasion and determination, and succeed like only a truly confident, bossy girl can.   I will forever love the Girl Scouts for that lesson.

I think the Girl Scouts should start handing out Bossy badges.   Bossy has passion, leadership, and drive.   Bossy makes the world a better place.   Case in point:  Ms. Sheryl Sandberg.   Let's not pull that bossy ladder up behind you Sheryl, just because you've achieved your ...

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Paula Deen: The Perpetual Victim

Molly Dugger Brennan
 

I should not react.   I should not vent.   I should just take a nap with the dogs.   That would be the appropriate response.   Civilized, controlled, non-controversial, and will result in absolutely no hate mail being lobbed my way.   That would be smart.   Problem is, I'm not smart, certainly not in a keeping-my-mouth-shut kind of way.

Arrrgh!  I can't.   I don't have any impulse control.   I have a small but frightfully loud Scotty (the engineer, not the dog) in my brain screaming, "It can't be done, Jim!  I've given her all she can take.   She's breaking up!" 

Yeah sorry, but I can't resist.   I have to comment on the latest in the Paula Deen saga.   Paula Deen is my column kryptonite.  She is the dead pony I love to thrash.   She fascinates me. You see, I have a fondness for all things Southern and try to represent the region at its very best.   Therefore, I have a keen interest in other people who purport to represent the region as well.   I take particular note when they do or say boneheaded things that promote unflattering stereotypes.   (Duck Dynasty casting people, I am looking at you.)

I know I'm playing Dixie Don Quixote here.   I have an average of 4,000 readers a week at this blog and bless every one of y'all, I truly love you.   Miss Paula, on the other hand, has a following numbering in the gazillions.   Even with her fall from Food Network grace, she still gets the attention of a boat load of people.   Seriously, a real boat load as she hawks space on Paula Deen-themed cruises which sell out years in advance.   She gets magazine and TV coverage whenever she leaves her house.   She is an official "celebrity" who can still motivate people to crack open their wallets on her behalf.   She's big, fat, skyscraper stacks of  money.   I aspire to be the change you dig out of your sofa cushions by comparison.

Paula Deen Ventures has received a whopping ...

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Roller Derby Writer

Molly Dugger Brennan

(Note to my Kind and Patient Readers:  If any of the story embryos in this post pushes your buttons, let me know in the Comments Section and I'll flesh it out into a real story for this column. In case of multiple ideas, the one with the most mentions will be tackled first and so on down the line. )
  ***************************************************

Ideas are constantly rumbling, racing on the rickety oval track inside my head, jamming to become the story that gets told.   I tell you, it's the writer's roller derby from hell.  

I may look absent-minded to you, but I am really concentrating on keeping my jammers and blockers from slamming into some messy pile of bruised plot lines.   I need to maintain order, else solid stories get beat up by loud, obnoxious ideas and fade into the floorboards.   It's chaos, I tell you.

"Hey, why don't you write about the time your boss pulled a gun on you?"

"No, no, tell everybody about the time your roommate pulled a gun on you."

"Say what?  People should know about the time your own mother pulled a gun on you, that's your story."

How about I not tell anyone about any of those times and take my ass to a good therapist instead?  I mean, the common denominator to all those situations was little ole me.   What is it about my personality that encourages the Dirty Harry vibe in so many people?  Why do people who know me well point guns at me?  What is wrong with me? 

It has me wondering.   Why hasn't a boyfriend ever pulled a gun on me?  I've certainly pissed off enough guys in my life and several of them had easy access to weapons.   You'd think if my boss, my roommate, and my very own mother saw fit to point a pistol at my head, one of the men I'd slept with would have been provoked to do so.   Huh.   I guess a "thanks, guys" is in order for everyone I've ever dated showing some restraint in the ...

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The Free Market System

Molly Dugger Brennan

 

 Dumbass, dumbass, spit, spit, spit, stupid wanker idiot.

For two days now, that's all I could write.   I'm so pissed off about the situation I want to tell you about.   Snappy dialogue if you have Tourette's syndrome, but the average reader deserves a little more depth than that.

Let me start over.   I visited western Massachusetts this past weekend.   There are four, no five, colleges in the vicinity.   There are music venues, libraries, boutiques, clubs, coffee houses, and everything you'd expect in a locale with that much higher learning going on.   Oh the restaurants, so many good restaurants!  You can't swing a stick without hitting a wonderful mom-and-pop cafe.   So much choice.   So much competition.   So many reasons for a restaurateur to do everything possible to encourage customer loyalty and happiness.

And then there's Zoe's Fish House, a restaurant which seems to be busy without knowing anything at all about being gracious and welcoming.    Normally I would not identify the players in my posts but I have no problem doing so for this Hadley, Massachusetts establishment, their attitude was just that hateful.

We met our friend there, she having made the reservations in her name which is Kennedy.   The name Kennedy not only gets you a reservation, but in Massachusetts it also usually gets you flying cherubs as waiters, Bacchus himself as your sommelier, and the gods' own ambrosia as a complimentary appetizer.   Massachusetts has not forgotten, nor will they ever disregard, the family name Kennedy.

So my friend with the magic name made the reservations at Zoe's, a restaurant she has patronized for thirteen years.   We walked in and the hostess, who claimed to be an owner but behaved more like a poorly-trained junior hostess, starts with negative attitude.   It seems that the hostess did not like the fact that my friend has a service dog.   I wish she didn't need a service dog, ...

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Share the Love

Molly Dugger Brennan

It's
St. Valentine's Day again.   I know this because there's a truckload of chocolate on sale at the drug store.   There's stuffed bears, cheap cologne, and whatever else is considered even remotely romantic all shoved up front near the cash register for that impulsive oh-my-god-is-it-really-valentine's-day-again-this-will-have-to-do purchase.   ON SALE NOW!  10-W 40 just in time for Valentine's Day!  YOUR GAL WILL LOVE IT!                             

Anyone who's read this column for any length of time knows that I have a recurring theme every Valentine's Day.   It's my personal campaign and I'm proselytizing once again.   It's my "Let's Make Valentine's Day Redundant" effort.

I know I'm hard to live with.   If you have any self-awareness at all, you'll admit that you're hard to live with, too.   I mean come on, we're human and all humans can be real pills, falling well within the "pain-in-the-ass" range on a weekly if not daily basis.   So imagine my surprise that somebody decided that they wanted to live with me for the rest of their life.   My reaction?  What, are you nuts?  The rest of your life?  Dude, you'd better think about this.

I have trouble committing to a brand of beer, much less a person for — horrendous thunderclap —THE REST OF MY LIFE.   Every day when I wake up, I'm surprised that another human is still here.   Then I think, maybe he has to do laundry before he packs.   Then I think well, do I need to pack?  My laundry's all ready done.   Naaaaah, this is still a pretty sweet deal.   Then I think, I guess he feels the same way.   Huh.   Go figure.

So if you find yourself living with a human who either likes you enough to stay or hasn't washed their underwear yet, please make sure they know you appreciate their stamina.   Show them love not once a year but on any Tuesday.   Tell them.   Be kind.   Be patient.   Treat them with tenderness.   Keep ...

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Listen to the Rodent

Molly Dugger Brennan

I sit here at my desk, a strong cup of coffee at hand, dogs curled into body heat-conserving positions nearby, writing this during an ice storm.
  It's the first week of February during what has been an annoyingly long winter, fiercely unfriendly, and I'm soooo over it.

I am Southern.   My idea of winter is a picturesque snowfall during Christmas week.   Something all Currier & Ives, postcard pretty, then go away.   By New Year's day, I'd like to see jonquils and bluebells popping up in the yard.  Winter done, let's get on with our lives.  I've got fresh resolutions to attend to.   Can't be confined to the house, I'm busy.

But no, it's been cold, cold, earlobe losing cold this year.   It's been discouragingly frigid.   I live in Virginia, home of the capital of the Confederacy, a true Southern state, and I am freezing my funny right off.   This just ain't right.  I have worn long underwear inside my house, that's how cold it's been.

So just imagine my tolerance level for Punxsutawney Phil, the chubby woodchuck from Pennsylvania, forecasting another six weeks of winter.   Fetch me my gun, I'll fix his wagon.   Damn rodent.   Yes, groundhogs are of the Family Sciuridae which falls under the Order Rodentia.   Phil is a fat rat with a Madison Avenue public relations machine.   As far as rodents go, Punxsutawney Phil is the Coca-Cola of his people.

Although, there's still hope.   Phil's track record is not that good.   In fact, he's only been right 39 percent of the time.   Thirty-nine percent accuracy still beats our local weather girl's record, but there's a good chance spring is just around the corner, Phil's opinion be damned.   Did you know that Punxsutawney Phil is not the only groundhog meteorologist working today?  You just don't hear about the others that much, but they're out there.

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Potty-Mouth Princess

Molly Dugger Brennan
 

Attention kind readers:  If you are delicate in nature, you should be warned that I use the word "Fuck" in this column.   I  use it a lot.   If that curdles your buttermilk, perhaps you should go find old Dave Barry columns to read this week instead.   Dave's a nice boy.   I'm sure he'd never say anything offensive.

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 I have been notified that I have been unfriended on Facebook by someone because I used the word "fuck."  Let me be clear.   I have been unfriended by a person whom I have it on very good authority has used the word "fuck" himself on many occasions.

It is your prerogative to unfriend me, unfollow me, unwhatever me all you want.   Don't care.   It is only when you feel you must explain why, and the reason displays some sort of double standard or irony that I take notice.

First of all, not everyone has the same F-word.   Comedian Louie Anderson wrote a brilliant piece about this very subject.   The F-word that triggers disgust in me is "Fundamentalist."  It sends waves of revulsion through my core.   My grandmother's F-word was "Freeloader."  She couldn't abide someone who wasn't willing to work, but expected others to make great effort on their behalf.   She practically spit the word out.   Freeloader.

I've known people whose F-word was "Father."  Others whose F-word was "Family."  Not everyone was raised lovingly by Ward and June Cleaver.   Some barely made it out of childhood alive and are not looking back at their personal bogeymen ever again.

"Fuhrer" certainly must be a far worse F-word than "fuck."  Any word associated with systemic national genocide surely outranks a synonym for sex on the handy dandy disgust-o-meter.

I don't use the word "fuck" often, but I do use it sometimes for emphasis.   I place it where it will serve my message well, where it will underscore my point succinctly.   I'm not throwing it around like some Tourette's Syndrome chicken, cluckity, ...

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Real Estate: Not the Place to Fly Your Freak Flag

Molly Dugger Brennan

I loved being a realtor.
  Basically, I'm a snoop and there's nothing like selling residential real estate to scratch the rashy snoop itch.    And here's where the public service announcement comes in.   People if you are selling your house, you need to get your embarrassing personal shit out of there.   Rent a storage locker, box it and take it to mama's attic, whatever you need to do but do not leave it on display.   It will kill your sale.

If you can't tell whether your prized possessions are outside the comfort zone, ask a friend.   Ask your mother.   Ask your realtor.   Things that you may be very fond of might just turn someone else off.   That someone could have been your most lucrative offer.   So don't get uppity about your hunting trophies.   Don't be all proud about your gun collection.   Don't showcase your Nazi memorabilia.   Just don't.

I used to tell my listing clients that once their home was on the market, it was no longer their house.   They were now guests in their buyer's house.   The house had to look like it already belonged to their buyer.   They had to treat it as if they were just borrowing it for the weekend.   Buyers have a great deal of trouble visualizing potential when they are being smacked in the face with your reality.  

Don't get all defensive.   Yes, a whole lotta home buyers are freaks but they are only comfortable with their own flavor of freakiness.   They find your brand of freaky downright disturbing.   If your house meets their needs perfectly in every way possible but has an idiosyncratic "souvenir" laying about, they will either run away from the sale or offer you thousands less than your asking price because eeeewwww.

I know what you're thinking, you rabid bunch of sex monkeys.   No, I'm not just talking about the errant pleasure toy.   I've come across several showing houses and yes, you should definitely slide the lube and the magic wands into a storage box under ...

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2014: Don't Hurt Me

Molly Dugger Brennan

I'm not much for introspection.
  Not a regrets kind of girl.   Whatever I've done, it all seemed like a good idea at the time so however shaky my logic might have been, I had a rationale for my actions when I was in the thick of it.   There are a couple of hair styles in the early 80s that I just can not explain, and since I don't remember losing a bet I must have had a plausible reason for paying someone to cut my hair that way.   Wish I could remember what it was, but I can't.

I'm not a resolutions type of girl, either.   I'm old enough to understand probabilities.   Odds are, whatever I promise myself that I will accomplish during the new year will fall by the wayside no later than March 1st as life asserts its reality-based self.

If I were into resolutions, they'd be pretty damn vague at this point.   Like, be a better person.   Enjoy life more.   Totally unquantifiable.   My kind of goal.   No arguing about the results because they're just that subjective.   Were you a better person last year?  Well, let's try to define "better."  I tell you, I'm almost ready to testify before congress.   Define "is."

I am always, if nothing else, a hopeful kind of girl.   I happily anticipate the new year.   2013 was for me, the psycho ex-boyfriend of a year, all stabby and mean.   2014 has got to be better, right?  All I'm looking for is a post-rehab boyfriend kind of year.   Not too many superlatives, just a more functional and enjoyable time.   I don't think that's too much to ask.

So let's ease into 2014 with nary an ambition in sight.   No hardcore promises.   No beat-ourselves-up weight loss goals, organizational goals, or financial  goals.   If anything, let's start with being kind to ourselves.   Give yourself 15 "get out of jail free" cards for 2014.

Me?  In 2014 I will attempt — every single day — to put on pants and not ...

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African or European Swallow?

Molly Dugger Brennan

I'm an eavesdropper.
  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Shame on me.   I think I should tell you, I have no plans to quit either.   Eavesdropping has provided tremendous source material for my writing.   You know, the word "eavesdropping" may not be accurate.   Technically, in order to eavesdrop on someone you must make an effort to listen to their private conversation without their knowledge or consent.   I don't know that it's still considered eavesdropping if you can not avoid hearing the conversation.  

People will say the strangest things in public.   Particularly now that our country seems to be suffering a nation-wide resistance to personal humiliation.   Embarrassing pronouncements aren't whispered discreetly, no siree.   They are spoken in a loud, clearly enunciated voice that would've made Ethel Merman proud.   Now that I think about it, it's not so much eavesdropping on my part as it is ear assault on their part.

I've become a connoisseur of conversational snippets.   I rank medical information low on the scale of usability for humor writing.   I rank first date dialogue right up there at the tippy-top of the scale.   Nothing beats two people, meeting for the first time, taming their own weirdness for a brief period and trying to determine if the person they're with is really okay/willing/an ax murderer.  

I start rooting for the couple.   I want them to find common ground, intellectual compatibility, similar values, physical attraction.   I form opinions about each of them, telepathically coaching them to respond in ways that will push the other's buttons.   I get involved in their story and want them to live happily ever after.  

I've dated enough to know that happily ever after is a low probability.   If you're paying attention to reality and not just projecting your own fantasy, very few people are so perfectly meshed with you that happily ever after is guaranteed.   Yes, they're out there and there are a lot more potential mates where pleasantly surprised is assured for you, so look for that.   Truly, happily ever after requires a ...

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Don't Make Your Mama Cry

Molly Dugger Brennan

Dear Friends:  My travel schedule this month has been heavier than expected and I am truly behind my time.   Presents still not purchased or mailed, groceries not procured, hair so out of shape I'm referring to my gray roots as hair tinsel.   I am re-running my most popular holiday story and hope you enjoy it.   Again.

 

 

DON'T MAKE YOUR MAMA CRY

 

My standards for a jolly Christmas holiday are relatively low.   I love a holiday where there’s lots of food and gifts, precious little small talk and visitors, and several official holiday naps.

I have come to realize that not all families share this idea of holiday heaven.   I have just heard of families that organize annual holiday talent shows, charade competitions, sledding outings, and neighborhood caroling.   These are regular families, not the Osmonds filming a Christmas special.   There is nary a camera crew in sight and these families are smiling and playing and here’s the really bizarre part, actually enjoying each other’s company.

I have no reference point for this type of behavior.   I am agog with wonder.   How do they do it?  Why do they do it?  Did the parents see a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney film one year and think to themselves, “What a great idea!  We’ll put on a show.   You can make costumes.   This will be fun for the whole family!” 

I must testify here and now that my family has never ever put on a talent show.   The closest we’ve ever come is to throw a group hissy fit in public, specifically the bread aisle of the Piggley-Wiggley grocery store.   The only constant in our family celebration that I can remember is my father telling ...

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Malibu Barbie Buzz Kill

Molly Dugger Brennan


Barbie's Malibu Beach House broke my spirit.   I was 15 years old when I learned from that Pepto-Bismol pink, poorly constructed pile of plastic that Christmas was not just a season of cookies and hope.   Christmas could also be a grinding, thankless, sleep-eating chore.  

All my little sister Lynn talked about in the weeks before that Christmas was Malibu Barbie, Malibu Barbie Beach House, and the Malibu Barbie Beach Buggy.   She was obsessed.   Every sentence began with "When I get my Malibu Barbie. . . ."  Life without Malibu Barbie wasn't worth consideration.   Life with Malibu Barbie was all sunshine and kittens.

Lynn got all the girly genes in our family.   I hated Barbies.   Every one I got was given a harsh haircut — like Turkish prison severe — and then I snapped the head completely off.   The bodies were used as bats and the heads were ersatz baseballs until they got lost in the weedy grass.   Sometimes you'd find them and sometimes the lawn mower found them for you.

Didn't take long for my parents to stop wasting money on dolls for me.   I didn't ask for them, I didn't want them, I didn't play with them unless you count brutal mutilation, Sharpie mustaches, and Barbie-head baseball as playing with dolls.   I was a books and bikes kind of girl.   But Lynn, she was a full-on princess.   If something was neon pink, sparkly, or had to do with personal grooming, she was on it like white on snow.

That's how we came to the Malibu Barbie Christmas.   With all the usual pre-planning, my mother pulled the Barbie stuff out of her trunk at 11:00 on Christmas Eve.   Daddy wasn't home, he was working the night shift.   Wouldn't have been much help anyway.   Daddy was a "call the man" kind of guy whenever anything needed fixing.   There's no Toy Assembly Man to call and this was a real problem for ...

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Holidaze

Molly Dugger Brennan

This is Thanksgiving week.
  That means that it's time to write my annual gratitude column.   Really, no matter what your circumstances if you were born in the United States after World War II, you won life's freaking lottery.   Take a moment and whisper a sincere, heartfelt thank you to the universe.   As far as access to all that is good, you were born way ahead of a whole squirming heap of the world's population.   So, maybe quit whining about your iPhone 5c and show a little appreciation.  

What am I grateful for other than the golden ticket citizenship?  Baskin-Robbins and Spanx, the ultimate symbiotic duo, I'm looking at you.   I've been working our excellent health care system pretty hard this year, so thanks for that.   My loving husband's gainfully employed, my nieces are happy and healthy, my dogs are content, so my life's pretty good.  Gratitude's great and all, but I've been thinking about this holiday and I've come up with a different angle this year.   Americans and their holidays, what's the common denominator across the board?

It's excess.   As a country, we celebrate large.   We go crazy.    We super-size.   You doubt me?  Walk into any Party City store.   As much as we envy other countries their work schedules, I think our heads would explode if we added more holidays.  

Don't get me started on Sri Lanka, with 24 holidays, not counting all the Hindu and Buddhist holidays of which there are many.   This is why the Sri Lankan GDP is roughly equivalent to that of an epileptic house cat.   (It's about 3/10ths of one percent of the US GDP, so really, maybe go to work a couple of extra days there why don't ya?)

For purposes of making my point here, I'm not really counting Martin Luther King's birthday or Veteran's Day because I never got those off ...

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Vocabulary

Molly Dugger Brennan


Honesty is the best policy.   Except when it's not.   That's the crux of Southern-speak, right there.   You'll find yourself wandering into the "except when it's not" territory more than you ever thought possible.   You might even end up forwarding your mail there, you're in it so often.

This goes far beyond the old comic line, "Do these pants make my butt look big?"  Really?  People, unless you need to quickly assess whether or not your partner is experiencing suicidal tendencies, why would you ever ask a question like that?  Baiting your partner with land mine questions is not cool.   And for those of you who are stuck in the remedial relationship class, the answer to that question is always, "Why no, Honey.   In fact, I was just thinking that you look very pretty today."

No, Southern-speak can be far more subtle.   We learned it watching our parents and our grandparents, so we can spot it and drop it without thinking.   For those of you who were not raised Southern, well, you obviously need some assistance.   Here I am, a public service peach, ready to help.

 "I'm just being ugly."

This phrase has nothing to do with physical attractiveness.   All Southern women are beautiful and we know it.   This phrase refers to behavior, speech, or attitude.   The speaker is announcing that they have slipped into some serious hatefulness.   It's a half-hearted apology and/or acknowledgement that yes, we are indeed being a world-class bitch but we're not quite finished yet.   Recognizing you have a problem is the first step back towards "nice lady" behavior.

"You'd best be getting to it." or "You'd best not do that."

Other regions might use the "You'd better. . . ." but in the South, we have ramped up our seriousness on the good-better-best scale.   When we say you'd best, we are quite earnest that you should or should not do whatever we are discussing.   This also implies a certain amount of ...

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Dances with Biscuits

Molly Dugger Brennan


With the recent cold snap, my thoughts have turned to comfort food.
  Cozy bowls of gravy-soaked goodness occupy my mind.   I am waxing nostalgic for my grandma's cooking.   Haunted by the memories of food I'll never have again, I've been on a biscuit binge.  My grandmother Grace cooked with a wood stove and it was her secret ingredient, imparting a flavor that just can't be replicated.

I am doing my best to reproduce Grandma Grace's recipes, though I can only hope to come close to what I've idolized in my memory.   I have conquered her sister Ruby's fried chicken recipe, and her sister Nikki's peanut pie but my own grandmother's biscuits have eluded me, having developed into mythical morsels through recollection.

Whether they are baked by my grandmother or anyone else, I am a sucker for homemade biscuits.   Were I Native American, my name would be Dances With Biscuits.   I speak about biscuits like other people talk about wine.   "I detect a light crumb, a soupcon of butter, a pleasant base note of lard, and the impudence of buttermilk." 

Nostalgia aside, were Grandma's biscuits really that good?  Yeah, they were truly magnificent.   They were ethereal, topped by a crispy, buttery crust that gave under the tooth.   They were the perfect ratio of crisp (top) to cloud-like (middle) to crisp again (bottom).   They appeared at both breakfast and dinner, always served aside churned butter and homemade peach preserves.   At dinner the biscuits were for sopping gravy and filling the corners of your stomach, but you always saved one to have with butter and preserves, kind of a smallish dessert.

My grandmother Grace was a philosopher of sorts, particularly when it came to food.   She said that the lumps in mashed potatoes gave the love a place to hide.   Biscuits with fresh butter and peach preserves were to remind you that no matter what, life was rich and sweet.   A big pot of stew on the stove was the cook's way of saying "Home Sweet Home."  As long as you can smell ...

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Racing in Pearls

Molly Dugger Brennan


I was a real challenge for my finishing school teacher, Miss Lillian Beatrice Clarkson, or simply Miss Lilly Bea.   Too southern, right?  I mean that's a grits level of southern, and indeed she was.   Miss Lilly Bea was the personification of southern gentility.  She never left her house without pearls, she never broke a sweat, and she was gracious to all.   She was the keeper of the etiquette flame, the manners whisperer, and there was not a wedding, funeral, or public event in our village that did not have Miss Lilly Bea's imprint on it somewhere, somehow.

I coveted Miss Lilly Bea's quiet confidence and grace.   She was my opposite, perfectly groomed, totally unflappable, and able to hold her tongue.   So not me.    I did my best to follow her example.   I quickly memorized proper table settings, grasping which fork went with which dish and why fish knives have a notch in them.   Got it.   I excelled at bread-and-butter note writing: the thank you note, the sympathy note, the congratulatory note, the regrets note, and the simple thinking-of-you note.   I could spin these out by the dozens, each a masterpiece of personalization.   Double got it.

I even learned a rudimentary waltz, but I was just plain awful at it.   I have never looked so demonically possessed as in dance class.   Finally, Miss Lilly Bea said to me, "Darling, if you can not hear the beat just follow your partner.   Don't try to lead if you're tone deaf."

My problems finding the rhythm were tiny compared to my trouble following someone's lead.   I could not trust a boy I'd seen pick his nose on the school bus to deftly guide me on the dance floor.   I didn't want to hold his hand, and I most certainly did not want his booger fingers placed in the small of my back to sway me through the waltz.   My guarded approach — ick, don't touch me — was counterproductive to a successful dance partnership.

That was all awkward with a fat, capital ...

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The Third Option

Molly Dugger Brennan


"You don't want to get old.   It's ghastly business."

My neighbor and dear friend Polly was inching towards her 99th birthday.   She attributed her longevity to champagne and raking leaves.   Her house was circled by stately oak trees, so raking was a serious undertaking, most definitely aerobic.

She might have made a long life because she never married, never had children.   Polly was engaged to be married once, and wore a ginormous diamond ring every day even while gardening.   Wore it as a reminder.   Her betrothed, supposedly a fine young man from a well-to-do family, impregnated a girl while engaged to Polly.   Polly terminated the engagement and insisted he marry the other girl.   She never dated again.   What was the point?  She didn't trust anyone not to be just another well-pedigreed, weasel-trousered cad, so why bother? 

"Polly, what are my options?" I asked.

"I don't know, but you don't want to die young and you don't want to get old, and that's the truth.   You figure something out."

"Okay, I'm on it."

I guess I could talk someone into making me a vampire but then I'd stay exactly as I am today for eternity.   I really want to lose another fifty pounds before I get locked into anything.   Oh wait, and I need to grow my hair out because this cut isn't flattering.   It looked good on Reese Witherspoon in the magazine.   Imagine my surprise that it did not translate well to me, a chubby, middle-aged red head.   Who am I kidding?  I'm not sure I could ever be satisfied enough with my appearance to make it permanent.  

Zombies are undead, but they are not pretty.   A Southern girl like me could never be happy as a zombie.   Our shoes would always need polishing, what with the foot-dragging scuffing them up.   How do you apply pink gloss when your lip just fell off?  For God's sake, run a brush through that hair.  

Zombies are hungry ...

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Holiday Been

Molly Dugger Brennan


I inherited some serious clutter issues.   Everyday is a fight to keep my home from being declared a disaster area, every flat surface overrun with papers, jackets, coffee cups, and general mayhem.  

Did you know that clutter mates and multiples like mice in the night?  You can go to bed, the dining room table top proudly gleaming, and wake up to a swarm of squirming bills, junk mail, business cards, and dry cleaning claiming the table.   The plastic newspaper wrapper is clutter's flag, hoisted on a sauce-soaked, carry-out chopstick, declaring the table as territory won.   How does it do that?

I am determined not to suffer a homemaking Waterloo, so I Swiffer and swipe, Pledge and parry.    I am barely hanging on here, and it's just the two of us in the house.   Well, two humans and four dogs, but I'm pretty sure the dogs aren't the ones dropping sneakers, dirty plates, and magazines in odd places.   Not to say that they wouldn't if they could, but until they all sprout thumbs they're off the hook.

Still, I take comfort in the knowledge that my house is not as bad as my mother's was.   She was a hardcore packrat.   Opening any closet or cabinet door would unleash an avalanche of stuff, more than she realized she had, more than she could ever use.   If two sauce pans are great, five are fabulous and nine are spectacular.   The laundry room was carpeted with clothing to a depth of 8 inches or more.   The basement was a no-man's land of her steals and deals.

My mother went to town every Saturday to have lunch, maybe take in a movie, and shop.   This was her therapy.   As long as she had her Saturdays to look forward to, she could slog her way through the week.   Richmond was her "happy place" and woe be to anyone who blocked her path Saturday morning.

One Saturday Mama returned early from her Richmond

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All Cheffed Up

Molly Dugger Brennan

I am a true blue barbecue hound.   I have planned vacations around barbecue festivals.   I have trekked miles out of my way to pay respects to the South's legendary pits.   I know barbecue, I am particular about barbecue, and I will spend some serious cash getting my hands on decent barbecue.

Imagine how excited I was about a new barbecue place opening within two hours of my house.   Heck, I drove fifteen hours to Memphis to wallow my way from one end of  the Memphis in May competition to the other, so what's 75 miles to me?

Gruff and I headed there for dinner.   The place looked appropriately rough.   I'm not comfortable eating barbecue someplace "precious."  Don't get me wrong, I insist that any eatery be clean but barbecue does not taste right surrounded by frills.   The more the joint reminds me of a converted shack, the better.

The first clue that this place was a sham is that there was no smoke.   No visible woodpile, no aroma to draw you in off the highway.   My grandpa taught me not to eat barbecue anywhere you can't smell smoke and find a woodpile.   I forgot this in my rush to try a new barbecue joint.   I owe Grandpa an apology.

The second clue was the menu.   There was lots of talk about sauces, less about the meat and the smoking process.   The hardcore barbecue nuts I know are proud of the hours they've logged tending just the right cuts of meat over just the right type of wood or charcoal.   Sauces aren't the star.   If meat is smoked correctly sauce is just a supporting player to the dish, hardly necessary at all.

The final nail in the coffin was the food itself.   Lawsy lawd, the food.   Don't get me wrong, I have an adventurous palate.   I giggle with glee at molecular gastronomy.   I adore trying the new, the weird, the surprising takes on food, just as ...

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Now Appearing

Molly Dugger Brennan

Well if it rains, it pours. I am in two publications this week. The first is my "Fortune Cookie Philosophy" piece which appears on the Opinion Page (page 4) of The Wiregrass Farmer newspaper 2 October 2013. A big, fat hey y'all to my new friends in Georgia!  The link is:
The Wiregrass Farmer newspaper

The second publication is a hold-in-your-hands magazine, Smoky Mountain Living. I'm particularly jazzed about this one because (1) I got the back page all to myself, and (2) they made me into a skinny, gorgeous cartoon. I've always wanted to be a cartoon!  The link to my piece entitled "The Art of the Deal" and my cartoon is: 
Smoky Mountain Living magazine

Thanks to everyone who has been supportive, encouraging, or written me a check. I love you all.

...
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Fortune Cookie Philosophy

Molly Dugger Brennan


I adore pithy little sayings.   I am a sucker for cute bromides.   Most are totally useless, and certainly don't stand up to any real scrutiny but I still love them.   I have all kinds of observations taped to my desk like, "The secret to getting ahead is getting started."

"There are seven days in the week and someday isn't one of them."

"It is never too late to be what you might have been."

"I write when I'm inspired and I see to it that I'm inspired at 9:00 every morning."

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."

"You're looking particularly good today."

"Talent is cheaper than table salt.   What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work."

"We are all each other's angels."

"Writing is just another business.   Get over yourself."

"Not every person knows how to love a dog, but every dog knows how to love a person."

So there you have it.   By reading the slips of paper taped to my desk and monitor, you know everything there is to know about me.   You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure me out.   I am just this simple.

I am a writer.   I have a serious procrastination issue.   I love dogs, very much.   I believe we owe each other kindness.  I worry that my Daddy's eyebrows and my Mama's chin are merging into a not-so-pretty union on my aging face.   Ta da.   Me, the Cliffs Notes version.

Which got me to thinking, what if everyone had their essence distilled into a few fortune cookie-sized philosophies?  What if we had to make them part of our introductions?  "Hi, I'm Maria.   The only disability in life is a bad attitude."

"Well it's a ...

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Down in the Dumps

Molly Dugger Brennan

I have a momentous birthday coming up.   It's significant if you believe that birthdays ending in a "5" or a "0" are more special than others.   I'm pretty sure Hallmark thinks they are.   Although, Hallmark is the king of manufactured hoopla so if they thought for a minute that people would buy cards for a birthday ending in a "7" as super special, then that's what they'd market.   For me, this one ends in a "5" so it is justifiably cause for celebration.

I've been thinking about what I'd like for a present this year.   I mean birthday pie is a given, an essential part of my celebrations, but what else?  I don't want flowers.   I do love balloons because they're forever cheerful, but that's not necessary either.   This is why you don't see bouquets of funeral balloons.   You just can't observe a somber occasion with balloons.   Well, neither balloons nor banjo music.   Those two things are incapable of being respectfully dismal.   Can you imagine? 

So, here's what I've decided I really, really crave for my birthday.   I want a dumpster.   That's not a typo.   I want a full-length dumpster parked here for a month.   Happy, happy birthday to me.   Look, I am not sentimental.   I am only interested in things that make my life easier, more comfortable, or more pleasurable.   Don't give me the precious, the dustable, or the commemorative.  

I want to jettison everything in this house that I do not use.   I sold my sterling silver.   I touched it once a year when I took it out of the drawer to polish it. If something requires my enduring a chore to keep it, it had better be either spectacularly useful or beautiful.   The silver didn't make the cut.

I can't hold a yard sale because the dogs go wild when strangers step onto the property.   Ditto for people dropping by from a Craigslist ad.   I've put stuff up on eBay with some success but now I'm ...

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It's Twerking Time!

Molly Dugger Brennan

This is what happens when I wander away from the safety of kitty videos on the internet into the untamed thickets of pop culture.   I find myself slack-jawed, staring at video of little Miley Cyrus twerking against Robin Thicke's wedding vegetables at the VMA awards.   That's right.   Hannah Montana has become one hoochie hussy and it's all on tape.   Now I am fighting the compulsion to spritz my eyeballs with Lysol.

Honestly, I just don't know where to begin or which path to take with this story.   I think this might have to be a list to incorporate everything that needs to be said.

1.   This performance had Miley sticking her tongue out at bizarre angles on cue.  Shuffle, shuffle, quick-step, stick out tongue.  Stop it.   Gene Simmons is the mack-daddy of exposed tongues.   In comparison, you look like a pygmy-tongued amateur.

2.   White child stars like Miley and Justin Beiber often believe that the quickest path to adult career success cuts right through the ghetto.   If you really had the life experience, skill, and deftness necessary to properly represent hip-hop and rap, you wouldn't look like a pale poser.   (Reference the career of Vanilla Ice.)  Your efforts are just plain awkward.   Tiny white people trying to be badass make me sad.

3.   On twerking itself.   If white people never appropriated any black music or dance moves, we'd be stuck listening to Herman's Hermits and still doing the Pony.   For you younguns, that's a dance move from the '60s that a South Korean, Psy, stole from us for Gangnam Style so circle of life and all that.   The truth is that twerking is simply not effective when performed by a chick bearing a flat board in place of an ass.   The key to booty-popping?  First, get yourself a booty.

4.   Often child stars, particularly girls, think they can assert their independence and adulthood by becoming hyper-sexualized.  I'd footnote Britney Spears career here, but it's too obvious an example.   Anyway, promoting your own ... << MORE >>

The Wiregrass Farmer Column


My recent blog post entitled "Soul Mate Stalemate" has appeared in The Wiregrass Farmer, 28 Aug 2013, a newspaper in Ashburn, Georgia. Go ahead, Google it. It's a real newspaper. Honest. The link is: 

My thanks to editor Ben Baker for foolishly granting me access to an audience in Georgia. They'll never know what hit 'em!

Molly Dugger Brennan

P.S. In keeping with the farmer theme, here's a photo from our county fair. Enjoy.


...
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Soul Mate Stalemate

Molly Dugger Brennan

I am officially declaring shenanigans on dating service commercials.   Happy, thin, white people meeting in upscale restaurants, trembling with possibilities, the soft candlelight making everyone look romantic and fresh.   Knock it off!  Shenanigans!  It's not real, although advertising is never supposed to be.   Anyway, enough all ready.   It's too much.   I've started yelling at the television and it's upsetting the dogs.

What's setting me off?  eHarmony has bought a metric butt-ton of ad time promising — for a fee — to help you find your soul mate.   Your soul mate.   Not soul mates.   Singular, lonely, sealed-in-a-jar-waiting-for-you-to-find-them soul mate.   As if there's just one solitary person hidden out there on a planet crawling with 7.2 billion people that is perfect for you.   Well, no wonder you need the scientifically slick algorithms of eHarmony to help filter through all the riff-raff chaff standing between you and your lone true love.   How else could you possibly hope to knock all those ne'er-do-well imposters out of the way?

If 50.24% of the world's population is male and the total population is 7.2 billion, that gives you 3,602,880,000 guys.   For various reasons, a sub-set of these gentlemen are not available to you at the moment.   Fine.  Even when you subtract the people who are in a relationship already, in prison, or enjoy the musical stylings of Nickelback, there's still plenty of candy in your bowl.

In your time here, you will cross paths with dozens of people with whom you could enjoy a lovely life.   There is no "the One."  There are "the Hundreds."  Maybe even "the Thousands."  In truth, you have options.  You really are a kid in a candy store.   Isn't that liberating?  Don't you feel better now? 

"The One" is just a smarmy marketing ploy used to sell dating services, diet plans, and breath mints.   It is a fairy tale, mythology, an out-and-out bald-faced Madison Avenue lie and it sells squezillions of dollars worth of products because we believe it.

Speaking of fairy tales, remember the "one day my prince ...

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In the Mother 'Hood

Molly Dugger Brennan

My two nieces just left to head home to Tennessee.   They were here visiting me for ten days.   Truly, I deserve my post-niece visit coma.   I don't want to imply that my nieces are disobedient terrors, they most certainly are not.   I am just not accustomed to being "on" for 18 hours a day, answering questions like I'm competing on Jeopardy, feeding, organizing, chauffeuring, cleaning, managing, protecting, listening, et al.  

I started calling my younger niece by a Japanese-sounding nickname, Ken-i, because every sentence she uttered for ten days, all two million of them, began with the words, "Can I?"  Holy crap, how do parents do this full-time?  Are parents  given extra-strength, military-grade vitamins the rest of us don't have access to just so they can keep up with their kids?  Are they getting regular intravenous injections of super-strength Red Bull?  Does the childbirth process give you some sort of motherhood gene mutation so you can hear things whispered five rooms away, cover a quarter mile in three steps, and parse out food for two into seven satisfying portions?  If you are parenting and doing it well, you deserve a freaking medal.   I mean that.   A freaking gold medal.

I am not a parent.   I did not get the "mommy chip" embedded in my brain at the factory.   The concept just never appealed to me.  I have never once asked to hold someone's baby.   If you've got a puppy, I'm all over you like crispy on Southern fried chicken, but babies?  Not so much.   I have never goo-gooed baby talk.   I don't get it.   Never did.   Still don't.  

I must make an announcement.   To all those people I met during my life who, even without knowing me very well, declared it an absolute certainty that I would change my mind about becoming a parent:  You were wrong.   You were presumptuous, boorish, and most importantly, you were wrong.

My mom never really sold the job as desirable.   Being a mother, according to my own mother, was difficult, ...

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Calvin's Hobby

Molly Dugger Brennan

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Walsh, had her hands full with my large class of twenty-one girls and nineteen boys.   We were all country ruffians, a feral bunch.   First grade was just story time and finger paints, so it didn't do much to smooth our edges.   We hit second grade with feet callused from going barefoot, itchy for something exciting, expecting Mrs. Walsh to entertain and educate us, in that order.  

If amusement were not forthcoming, we'd provide it ourselves and rarely in an approved manner.   We pushed Mrs. Walsh to her limits and bless her heart, she responded calmly to most of what we threw at her.   She'd been teaching for more than twenty years, so I guess she was immune to shock.   Until Calvin.  

None of us worked her nerves more than little Calvin Anthony Westfall.   Calvin was the son of the circuit court judge and was whip smart but he was also the only child of two older parents, being a surprise menopause baby.    I don't think Calvin's parents had the energy to keep up with him.   They barely monitored him.   I think that's how he found his hobby.   It was an awkward hobby, but Calvin was passionate about it.  

Calvin had discovered his winkus.   He took inventory frequently.   If he weren't pulling his waistband out to visually check on things, he'd be patting it casually like it was a Shih Tzu sitting in his lap.   Calvin was sure proud of that winkus.  

The trouble is, we were farm kids.   We'd seen winkuses (or is the plural winki?) from the time we'd toddled out into the barnyard.   Rams, bulls, dogs, stallions, pigs, all waltzing around proudly displaying what God gave them.   Calvin lived in the village near the courthouse, not a farm animal within five miles, except for a backyard chicken or two.   So little Calvin hadn't learned the ways of the winkus.   As far as Calvin knew, he was the only one on the planet ...

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Home Sweet Home

Molly Dugger Brennan


Writers are natural introverts.
  It goes with the territory of clamping your butt cheeks to a chair and pounding on a keyboard for hours, even days, until the printer spits out an acceptable story.

The publishing industry, either because of diminished interest or smaller marketing budgets, now requires writers to be accessible, visible, maybe even happily interactive with their readers, or more accurately, consumers.   We have definitely wandered into "be careful what you wish for" territory here.  

Some authors are decidedly awkward around normal folk, myself included, and experience great anxiety that they'll say or do the wrong thing in public.   This anxiety guarantees that the writer will in fact, say or do the wrong thing.   Even David Sedaris, as polished as he is, has uttered some boneheaded comments in interviews.   It happens.

Yet the publishing industry forces hapless authors on the community with nary a To Do list for public appearances.   Oh yeah!  What could possibly go wrong?  You never get a second chance to make a first impression, they say.   They're right, of course.   No longer can an author just show up, read a selection, and sign books.   Nope.   You've got to perform.   (Insert Jazz hands here.)  I'm not saying that's an unreasonable request, I'm just saying that it is miles outside of writers' wheelhouse.  

So, we pretend.   Authors assume the role of extrovert for outings.   Sell it to the front row.   Pretend to be on Broadway.  Personally, I try to channel Nathan Lane.   Can't get any more extroverted than good, old Nathan.   People will buy books for the writing, but they become enthusiastic fans of authors they find likeable.   If my history of first dates is an indicator, I don't do very well expressing my likeability in initial encounters.   Maybe I'll just give everybody a dollar.

Some will be surprised that I am so thoroughly an introvert at heart.   As an orchid grower, I've given talks on the flower show circuit for years. ...

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There Be Dragons Here

Molly Dugger Brennan

We live at a crossroads.   Not a magical Robert Johnson kind of crossroads, more of a Gomer Pyle crossroads.   Even though we are way out in the middle of nowhere, and it is not possible for me to overstate our rural-ness, it's still a very busy intersection.   When I visit my friends in the city, I actually sleep better.   It's quieter.   Here at my little country corner, traffic starts rolling through around 3:30 in the morning so everyone gets where they need to be in time for work.  

Just your average, garden-variety car tends to be loud and jiggly here since this county does not have vehicle emission standards.   Air pollution is just not our most pressing problem.   The average income in this county is shamefully low, so car maintenance is regularly postponed.   There are a lot of vehicles on the road here that sound like they're one lug nut away from extinction.

Making it worse, one of the roads running past my house accommodates all the tractor trailers going from the poultry farms to the nugget factory and from the orchards to the juice plant.   The other road handles dump trucks from the quarry and the big rigs hauling roof truss systems.   It's a noisy, rattling junction, you can be sure.

That's where the mastiff comes in.   Joe is our official Security Director and alerts us to all things suspicious in our immediate vicinity.   He's the Top Gun of our thirteen acres and takes his position very seriously.   I mean, drill sergeant seriously.   Unless he's sleeping, then you're on your own.   But other than that, he's a perimeter enforcement beast.

The rest of the pack are fairly casual in their approach to home defense.   The Basset hound couldn't care less.   The bulldog will bark once or twice if the event exceeds a certain time limit.   The boxer will at some point utter a supportive bark, but will never know why since he's deaf and doesn't get it. ...

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Oh Paula: A Mini Update

Molly Dugger Brennan

Oh, Oh Paula. Bless your heart. You seem not to know what an apology is. Allow me to help. The simplest dictionary definition of the word apology is:  a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another.

The simplest public relations definition — and this is the one you really need to pay attention to — of an apology is:  I am sorry.

Bub, bub, bub. No, there's nothing more. Three words you haven't managed to string together yet. Three little words said slowly and honestly, with heartfelt remorse. I. Am. Sorry. No crocodile tears. No begging for forgiveness. No giving interviews afterwords. No being weird on camera. I. Am. Sorry. Fade to black. Unless you're uncomfortable with black. We can fade to white if you prefer.

But you absolutely must never ever, no matter how many times you've sobbed on camera, slip into some Popeye-esque mode and say to Matt Lauer,  "I is what I is, and I'm not changing."  That was your last message to your fans?  Poof, all your hand-wringing and mascara-smearing efforts obliterated in that one dumbass sentence. That one declaration that you don't think there's a problem and the rest of the world can just fuck off as far as you're concerned.

Well, congratulations. The rest of the world looks like they got that last message. Your roughly $18 million per year in endorsement deals are disappearing faster than butter at a Deen family dinner. Way to go, Paula. Don't you go changing.

Paula's appearance on the Today Show to make people understand how upset she is that y'all are upset.
... << MORE >>

The Food Network and Me


23 June 2013

Mr. Brian Lando, Director of Programming
The Food Network

75 9th Avenue

New York
, NY  10011

Dear Mr. Lando:

I understand you have a big hole in your programming line-up that just opened and you need to fill it, ASAP.   Mr. Lando, I am the right plug for your Paula Deen-sized crater.

Like Paula, I am a chubby, sassy, diabetic Southern woman who knows her way around a stick of butter.   I can cook, in the tradition of my grandmothers, the deeply comforting foods for which we Southerners are famous.   I can deliver my cooking advice in a folksy, charming manner tinged with a melodic accent.   My accent isn't nearly as twangy as Paula's, but I assure you that it is truly enchanting.

My hair is red, not white.   If you need it to be white, I just have to cancel all my standing appointments with Brandon at the Magic Mane hair salon.   Give me six months and I'll turn into a skillet-slinging polar bear for you.

Unlike Paula, I have never used the N-word.   Never ever, not even on karaoke night when Ice-T is playing.   Not even when sharing a Paul Mooney joke.   Never, ever, and I would swear to that in a deposition although for obvious reasons, I avoid all depositions.   I am a firm believer in paying out and shutting up when lawyers are present.   I'm sure you agree.

Unlike Paula, I do not yearn for a plantation wedding.   Nor have I ever bragged that my only black friend (really an employee) is as "black as a board."  I promise you that I do not have a brother at all,  particularly not one named Bubba whose formative years were in pre-civil rights era Georgia.  

Unlike Paula, I understand that if you are an public figure relying on consumer adoration, the consequences of letting your asshole flag ...

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Can You Hear Me Now?


"Ms. Brennan, do you know why you're here?"

I was sitting in a windowless primer gray room, furnished with the bare minimum of a metal table and two chairs.   A man, his glasses riding low on his nose while he skimmed a file, was sitting across from me.   He smelled like White-Out and fluorescent lighting, definitely a government employee.

"No, I do not.   Why don't you tell me?"

"Okay, if that's how you want to play it.   You're here because we suspect you of aiding and abetting the enemy, namely al-Qaeda.   What do you have to say for yourself?"

"I'd say you've been sniffing the Elmer's.   That's insane."

"We have transcripts here from NSA, that's right the National Security Agency, that have you purchasing weapons, making bombs, and going to Iraq and Pakistan.   Now what you got to say, Missy?"

"You're high.   It is not possible that you have transcripts of any such conversation because it simply did not take place.   You could pay me all the money in the world and it wouldn't be enough to get me to Iraq.   It's never going to make my bucket list."

"Well, it says right here. . ."

"Give me that."  I grabbed the papers and started reading.   There were a lot of blanks, referenced by the word unintelligible.

"Dude, what kind of low-bid contractor did y'all use?  Over half of the transcript is missing, the other part is misheard.   You can not pull law-abiding citizens off the street based on this malarkey." 

"Ma'am, I assure you that we only use the most qualified technicians possible.   You can trust this transcript."

"Oh horseshit.   I worked for the government and I know low-bid when I see it.   Let me tell you what this conversation was really about and you decide just how qualified your technicians are."

I turned to the page ...

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Little Miss Cranky Pants


Our princess Basset hound, Clara Jack, has an abscessed tooth. She is on antibiotics now to stem the infection and she has a dental appointment bright and early Monday morning to have it removed. We are all looking forward to her feeling better. Get well (and therefore more emotionally stable) soon!  Love you!

Molly Dugger Brennan

...
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It Takes a Village

Molly Dugger Brennan

Nature is your Xbox when you grow up in the country.   I played with tadpoles and the frogs they became.   I knew every chipmunk in the yard.    We were visited by rabbits and raccoons, cranky opossums, deer, and near-sighted skunks.   The groundhogs showed up every year with the spring peas in the garden.   While I adore the furry, I always had a soft spot for the birds and their love stories.   I watched birds flirt, build nests, remodel nests, lay eggs, and raise their families.  

Robins are cheerful, industrious birds and always seem to be around except in the coldest months.   Here in Virginia, they appear ten months out of the year and will winter over if they have a protected roosting place and access to food.   Robins are pot-bellied, jolly creatures warbling a pleasant melody.   What's not to love about a robin?

Want to make friends with a robin?  Dig worms to use as fishing bait and leave the turned soil, still wriggling with escaping earth worms, for the robins to feast upon.   Friend for life, or at least friends when you have the shovel in your hand.

One summer, there was a robin's nest clearly visible from our bathroom window.   At first the robin would fuss every time we'd peek, but robins are accepting of humans.   Once she figured we weren't a threat, she begrudgingly tolerated us.  

We marked the calendar from the day she laid those beautiful blue eggs until they cracked.   Baby birds, louder than you would think possible, emerged and immediately demanded attention and food, chop chop, mama-san.   We followed their progress, watching them develop from their horrid tiny pterodactyl phase into adorable fuzzy fledglings.  

That year the Beatles were huge in the country and in my heart, so naturally I named our little friends John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  No better names for a foursome than that, and the birds were quite a quartet.

One evening as we were sitting down to supper, there was a hullabaloo coming from the bathroom.   We all ...

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Letter to a Young Dumbass

Molly Dugger Brennan

Two of my nieces, Megan and Katie, graduate from high school this month.
  They are both gorgeous redheads, full of potential and possibilities.   They're so young, so fresh, so unaware.   That's not a criticism, that's actually right on schedule.   That big picture perspective only comes with time and experience.   They'll get it.   Life is always willing to teach.   All Megan and Katie have to do is listen.  

I remember being their age like, yesterday.   I was busting with promise.   I remember being so very proud of myself, full of teenage wisdom.   In other words, a total block head.   Didn't realize it at the time, but I was clueless.   I was a big fish, but didn't know how miniscule my fishbowl was.   If you want to cultivate a healthy ego, grow up in a tiny town.   If you want that ego to get resized by reality, leave that tiny town.  Eventually, you'll have a bigger, better life but first your pride is going to get pummeled.

It's a big world.   What a kick in the teeth to find that you aren't quite the superstar your Mama said you were.   There is always going to be someone smarter, faster, better than you.   You're going to bump into them all the time.   Don't hate the hot shots, hang out with them.   You'll find yourself getting smarter, faster, and more talented to keep up.  

I would not presume to tell my nieces what they may encounter in life and how to deal.   They wouldn't listen anyway. They probably shouldn't listen.   Lessons shared by others don't stick like the lessons life beats into you personally.   You've got to figure stuff out for yourself.   If you're smart, you'll do it quickly.   If you're a dullard like me, life will keep heaving the same lessons in your face until you learn.   I was a member of the National Honor Society but in life, I was as remedial as they come.   So I have decided that the best way to celebrate ...

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Happy Camper


Molly Dugger Brennan

Girl Scouts rock!  I was a Girl Scout.   I was a member of a tiny troop, led by a lovely British woman, Mrs. Eleanora Wembley.   Our troop met in a Presbyterian church basement every Tuesday after school.   It was completely wonderful.   I enjoyed my time in the Scouts listening to Mrs. Wembley so much that still today, I am a sucker for both a melodic British accent and boxes of Thin Mints.

Even though we were few in number, we planned a good, old-fashioned Girl Scout camping trip.   I plotted like it was the Normandy Invasion.   I used all my piggy bank money to buy essential camping gear.   I got a pup tent.   Accurate description, pup tent,  since it was only big enough to hold two puppies.   I practiced setting up and breaking down my itty-bitty green tent until I could knock it out in ten minutes or less.   I was a pup-tenting fool.

I got a cleverly designed cooking kit, which disassembled to reveal a small mug, plate, sauce pan, and frying pan.   I got a collapsible shovel and a small hatchet.   I was primed and prepared.   I was Survival Sally.

I was so excited.   I was going to face down the unknown and emerge victorious.   I saw myself proving my merit, forging my independence, surviving the harshest elements and wildest beasts.   I was the poster child for courage in the dangerous wilderness.   I was eleven.

In reality, our troop of twelve girls scouts and six mothers went to Olansky's Pond, the same place we all took swimming lessons every summer.   We knew this pond and the surrounding area well.   It was in the middle of nowhere, on the way to nothing, a largish pond or a smallish lake depending on recent rainfall and your point of view.   

I was crushed.   This was like camping in your own backyard.   This was no life-changing adventure.   How was I supposed to forge my independence at Olansky's pond?  What ...

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New York Bird Watching


I've just returned from a trip to New York.   I love the city, it's so invigorating.   The people-watching is excellent.   The tolerance for my personal weirdness is practically unlimited.   I've never had a bad experience in New York.   Love it, love it, love it.

On this trip I mixed it up with the locals.   I was invited to my first fancy-shmancy book launch party.   Ooooo doggie, this soiree took people-watching to whole new levels of mesmerizing.   This book launch was not held in a bookstore, but in someone's fancy-shmancy riverside apartment.   You know the type.   The address alone jacks the price of an apartment the size of a shoe box into the stratosphere.   This apartment was the size of three shoe boxes, so you know it was pricey.

The writer in me tried to observe everything, everyone, eavesdrop on every nuanced word, all to mine for story material later.   The bumpkin in me was completely overwhelmed, trying not to spill my red wine (Idiot, why did I choose the red wine?) on the precious furnishings/rugs/original art/esteemed guests/myself.

While everyone was completely gracious, and I met some fascinating people, nothing makes a girl feel more like a grain-fed heifer than being the largest woman in the room.   By a lot.   If I were British it would have been multiple stones worth, almost a boulder.   As a well-nourished American, I was probably close to double the weight of most of the women present.   Yes, I am a big girl but I've never been such an obvious, lonely outlier on the trend line before.   Which made me wonder, have I ballooned that much or are these women freaking tiny?

Those two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.   I am indeed an overfed piglet in spite of having lost a hundred pounds, and these women are truly made of twigs, twine, and coral lip gloss.   Our charming hostess possessed legs the diameter of Dixie straws.   Were I a landscape photographer, I would not have to ask her to move aside.   ...

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The Plea

Molly Dugger Brennan

It's raining so hard. I don't need to go out, I promise. Can we go take a nap, please?

Doughnut, that's a fine idea. For a dog of very little brain, you can be brilliant.

...
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The Gratitude Quilt

I remember the day my little sister and I got brand new quilts.   These weren't ordinary, store-bought quilts, no sirreee.   These weren't hand-me-down quilts, either.   These were custom-made, just-for-us quilts, with our names and birthdays embroidered on the top center square.   They were sunshine yellow with bright, cheerful flowers appliquéd in every square.   It made me feel extra special to have something that was so uniquely mine.

It wasn't until years later that I learned the sad story behind my happy quilt.    Daddy regularly checked on a collection of elderly, independent-living people, just to make sure they were doing okay.   Two of these people were a brother and sister in their 70s.   The brother was nicknamed Penny and the sister was Izzy.   Their mother had been a devoted Gilbert and Sullivan fan and Penny's given name was Stanley Penzance Freitag and Izzy's was Mabel Isabel Freitag, from the Pirates of Penzance.   I can only imagine their relief that The Mikado had not been their mother's favorite Gilbert and Sullivan piece.

Penny owned railroad cars, specifically the kind that haul timber.   He leased them out to the local lumberyards, or hauled his own cuts, always working the best angle.   He had a small crew of men that regularly helped him out, loyal to a fault because Penny paid fairly and on time.   Every Friday at lunch, Penny would hand out that week's pay in cash.   Bad habit maybe, but it was his way and when Penny had decided that something had to be done a certain way, that was how it would be.

One Friday one of his regular workers called Daddy.   He was concerned that Penny had not shown up yet and it was payday.   He didn't want to go check on Penny and Izzy all by himself because Penny kept a sawed-off shotgun by the back door and he didn't trust Penny not to ...

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Choc the Pup, Choc the Slut

Molly Dugger Brennan

"I do it myself!"

That was my first complete sentence.   Kind of set the tone for the rest of my life right there.  

"I want a doggy!"

That was my second complete sentence.   On a roll now, boy.   Both sentences are grandly imperious.   Given the trend line these two statements create, I'm surprised my third sentence was not, "Off with his head!"  Might have been for all I know, because my mother stopped recording my bon mots in my baby book after the second demand.

I routinely declared my need for a dog.   Then one day, a fine and frisky  female beagle puppy appeared.   I was four years old and over the moon.   I had chosen the honest name of Petey for my pup, and I didn't care if it was a boy or a girl.   I wanted to call my ball of fur and ears Petey.   That was not to be. Mama said the pup already had the name of Choc, short for Chocolate.  

Having a puppy was more important to me than naming it Petey, though I was disappointed.   I learned to go with Choc as her call name and she seemed to like it well enough.   It was years and years before I learned that the name Choc was a slap at my Dad.   Mama was a world class, champion grudge-holder. The name Choc was my mother's passive-aggressive way of commenting on another woman mooning over Daddy.   Every time I squealed for Choc, it ripped a band-aid off a festering wound.  

Note to passive-aggressives:  do not use children and puppies to make your point.   It's cowardly.   It's bad juju.   I know hiding your point behind other messages is just your normal operating procedure, but really now.   Children and puppies are off limits.   You may use cats because they're into it, but no kids, no dogs.

My daddy and the other state troopers set up speed traps regularly.   They had their favorite hidey-holes in shady spots, ...

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Boston

Molly Dugger Brennan


As you watch the news this week, you will be shown what will seem to be an infinite loop of tragedy. The fabled Boston Marathon was marred by bomb explosions, death, and terror. It will be very easy for you to slip into a fearful, paranoid place.

All I am asking is that while watching the video, you take notice of all the people rushing towards the mayhem to help. Almost immediately upon detonation, people rushed into the smoke-filled destruction to save others.

There are good people everywhere, in every circumstance. You are not alone. Remember that.

...
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Cows Care

Molly Dugger Brennan

I grew up in a farming community.   It was a good place to be a kid and learn about life.   These weren't factory farms.   Dairy farmers in my county knew each cow by sight, watched over them, fretted when they exhibited signs of stress, and depended on them to support their families.  

The cows knew their people, too.   The cows learned who would take the time to scratch their ears, and who was too rushed to bother.   Do not underestimate the intelligence of your average cow.   Cows are not just standing there, chewing cud.   They're thinking.   Cows figure shit out.

For those of you who haven't connected the Vitamin D dots, milk comes from dairy cows.   Cows lactate after they've given birth to a calf.   Get it?  That means every two years or so, a cow has to give birth in order to keep producing milk.   That's a lot of calves.   Approximately half of them are going to be male.   Boy cows are fine animals but they are worthless for milk production, so they're often classified as veal.   Cue Elton John's The Circle of Life.

Funny thing, though.   Cows don't see their brand new, healthy calves as surplus.   They see them as their babies.   Turns out, cows care.   A lot.   If you misjudged due dates and didn't get the cow confined to the barn in time, cows will give birth in concealed areas to protect their newborns.   Unfortunately, cows can get in real trouble giving birth to something with four spindly broomsticks for legs.   It's safer if birthing is done in the barn, supervised.   Not all cows agree.   They will become decidedly uncooperative about the process.

That's why my friend Anna's brother built a calf cart.   It was a simple wooden farm cart hooked to the back of his ATV.   Whenever a pregnant cow went the clandestine birth route, he'd traverse the property until he found the calf, load it into the cart and take it away to the calf ...

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Literature for Twitter, Twitterature?


Molly Dugger Brennan

Between municipal budget cuts slashing library hours to a minimum and ever more children being diagnosed with ADHD, how is anyone ever going to access great literature or have the time and attention span to enjoy it?  How will citizens learn the moral lessons that unfold within the pages of the classics?  The drama, the pathos, the romance, the swashbuckling adventure, all lost?  That can't be.

Say no more.   I spend countless hours reading.   I would do this anyway, but now I can serve your needs while I enjoy a good book.   I have summarized the plot lines of the true magnum opuses. (Note:  I so wanted the plural of opus to be opie, but it really is opuses which just sounds like the plural of opossum to me.) To fit today's needs, these synopses can fit on Twitter.   You're welcome.

Jane Eyreby Charlotte Bronte: Hungry, cold, class system sucks. Edward's hot, my cousin's not. #orphansupportgroup #workplaceromance

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Drinking & debauchery doesn't fix anybody's problems. It's fun trying though. #barcardi #viagra #seepamplona

On the Road by Jack Kerouac:  Who's got gas money? Who's got condoms? Who's got ideas? Carlo? #californiatourism #aaa

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: The ignorant resort to racism to prop up their self-esteem. If you're black, do not move to Alabama. #NAACP #johnniecochrane

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand:  I got mine. Screw you. #paulryan #kochindustries

Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury:  Books make mighty fine kindling. #teaparty #Borders

Moby Dickby Herman Melville: Call me Ishmael. Do not ...

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Restaurant Wars

Molly Dugger Brennan

Let me tell you about my friend, Leah.   Leah and I are both particular when it comes to food.   Particular is a much nicer word than fussy or unreasonable, don't you think?  In all honesty, we are both fussy to the point of being unreasonable, but I prefer the word particular.   Leah has worked in the food industry for decades and could whip up a Michelin star-quality meal if thrown into a kitchen with nothing more than a rusty spoon and a dead possum.

I spent quite a few years working in restaurants and have dedicated my entire life to eating, so I know my way around a plate or two.   As we've aged, we've both honed our recipes to thoroughly please ourselves.   Anyone else who enjoys our cooking is merely along for the ride because we cook for us.

We are making more of our own food as we become progressively more exacting in our tastes.   For example, we grind our own meats and make our own sausages.   We mix our own dry rubs and spice blends from recipes we have developed through years of refinement.   We don't use frozen or pre-packaged meals.   We marinate and fry our own chicken.   Our macaroni and cheese dishes are divine, mine heavy with gorgonzola and hers flavored with smoked gouda.   Delish.   Leah even cans her own salsas, from her own homegrown vegetables, which she smokes, peels, and chops her very own self.   Yeah, we're precious like that.

So we were lounging in her dining room, enjoying a splash of wine when she makes the pronouncement that she and Cooper went to dinner the other night at a well known chain restaurant and it just wasn't up to snuff.   Wasn't special, wasn't nearly as good as her own cooking, wasn't worth the money or the time.

Oh holy crap.   Now you've done it, Leah.   You've violated a supreme tenet of the Chick Code.   Take it back!  Take ...

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Southern Living


"I think we Southerners have talked a fair amount of malarkey about the mystique of being Southern."

~ Reynolds Price

I have been asked to define what it means to be Southern.   Since I am promoting myself as a native tour guide for all things from the American South, I should be able to answer this question easily, only it's not that simple.   It's messily subjective when you start thinking about it.

My husband Gruff can't wait to read this one, since he thinks my values are more aligned with SouthPark  than with South Carolina.   It's true.   I am more liberal than most of the geographically defined South, but the South is always reconstructing itself and its values.   It must to stay relevant to its growing, shifting population.   It has to reinvent itself every so often so it doesn't become dusty and obsolete, an inherited knick-knack destined for the world's yard sale box.  

I was raised in Virginia which is a very different milieu than Mississippi.   There are dozens of flavors in the Southern stew, each as important as the next.   Different states offer distinct tastes of the South, but there are common spices that bind it all.   So no, I don't have a pithy, bumper sticker definition of what it is to be truly Southern and probably won't be able to produce one.   Damn, I could have made millions selling bumper stickers.  

Let me start by telling you what the South is not.   It is absolutely not whatever the A & E and TLC channels think it is.   A & E stands for Arts and Entertainment, and they have a rather flimsy grip on the Arts part of their name.   TLC stands for The Learning Channel, an ironic moniker if ever there were one.   If there is a TV channel currently on ...

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It All Starts With Hello

Molly Dugger Brennan

Our English mastiff is getting on in years.   His muzzle is peppered with white hair, and his hearing is not quite reliable.   In Joe's massive chest still beats the heart of a Samurai warrior, and he takes his role as chief protector of all that is ours extremely seriously.  

Be warned all that venture near, Joe is on duty and you are suspect.   Even if he has met you a thousand times before, you are merely an unwelcome trespasser until he decides otherwise.   Being deemed a friend at present does not convey those rights automatically in the future.   Acceptability is decided on a case-by-case basis.

Joe's suspicions are triggered by certain events, or even words, that he has decided pose a threat.   Since most people who possess the intestinal fortitude to come to our front door start with a tentative "Hello," this word now triggers a Def Con 5 level response.   Unfortunately, he applies this criteria indiscriminately.   So when Gruff or I answer the phone — Hello — fierce barking erupts.

Intruder alert, intruder alert, unauthorized person attempting entry.   All security personnel to Sector Three.   And by security personnel, I mean an indolent bulldog and a deaf, three-legged boxer who is inept but unfailingly enthusiastic.   The Basset hound does not participate.   The princess hound couldn't care less if we were invaded by a mariachi band and a horde of ninjas as long as one of them stopped and scratched her tummy.

Joe's reaction to the word "hello" has gotten so visceral, I'm thinking of changing the way I answer the phone.   "Hola" did not fool Joe.   Neither did the way my daddy used to answer the phone, "yellow."  "Wazzup?" doesn't seem quite professional enough, and "Dude!" even less so.    I guess I could use "Good morning" or "Good afternoon" but since I am so rarely aware of the time, this might come out wrong.

We've ...

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Venn Diagram

Molly Dugger Brennan

I've been thinking a lot about love recently.   I've been holed up in the house due to frigid weather and when you're locked up with another human being, you'd best be thinking about love.   Otherwise, it could get all stabby.  

Don't act shocked, you know what I mean.   When cabin fever intersects with quirky personal habits to make a Venn diagram of whoop ass, you'd better be concentrating on sweetness and light.   It's a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.   Just saying.

Any adult relationship is a complex dance, passion waxing and waning, irritation peaking and ebbing, human frailty exposing its messy self at every pas de deux.  Were it not so perplexing, we'd have never gotten great blues music.   If love were easy and constant, all songs would sound like they were written by Barney.   Life is messy.   Messy surprises which makes it interesting.   Interesting is appealing, compelling, and fires up our juices.

Please note that I am advocating the authenticity of a messy, true, human bond.   I did not say one word about sticking around for a relationship that is difficult.   Never confuse drama for depth of feeling.  

If your partner tests you, takes without giving, doesn't recognize your needs are just as legitimate as theirs, you have my permission — no, my encouragement — to leave.   We don't reward relentless selfishness.   Weigh your options.   Being alone is a gift if you've spent any time in a bad relationship.   Don't be afraid to do what is best for you.   As I said before, it's a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.

I think I've made it abundantly clear that in comprehending lessons on love, I'm a thick-skulled heifer.   I've been in many substandard relationships.   Hell, I've been engaged what, five times?

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Love, Meet Reality

Molly Dugger Brennan

Saint Valentine's Day has come and gone.   I had written a blog post for the occasion.   In fact, I wrote three different posts.   You might have noticed that I did not publish any of them.   Why?  Because every one of them made me sound like a bitter, pessimistic shrew so I erased them all.  

What can I say?  Sometimes I am just an insufferable bitch.   Ride with me in rush hour traffic sometimes, you'll see.   I don't like to publicize my non-Buddhist moments to the world if I can help it and in this case, I could definitely help it.   It's the literary version of dying my increasingly gray hair.   You don't need to see that and it doesn't do me any good to show it.   It's not pretty, people.

I do want to make a point about Valentine's Day and I want to make it in a non-cynical way, so um, not in my usual style.   I know that I am often the Queen of Cynicism, the High Priestess of Southern-fried Snark, or as Gruff calls me, the Snarkness Monster.   I own that.   I am trying to be tender here, damn it.   Don't judge me.

Here's my point.   Nobody in this world owes you squat.   Period.   Let that roll around in your skull for a while.    I'll wait.   Understand it's the absolute truth.  Sorry, all you Harlequin romance freaks.   There's no guaranteed soul mate waiting on horseback for you.   He's not at the Starbucks or the Jiffy Lube either.  

Now recognize that if someone is ...

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