Theory of Dollhouses

PLAYHOUSE

Here’s my latest “dollhouse,” almost ready for departure to a local school raffle, an annual project for me.

Technically, this house is a PLAYHOUSE, not an official DOLLHOUSE, the difference being that one couldn’t really live in a house with a partial roof and rooms not fully enclosed by walls. Not that you could live in a dollhouse, but it looks like you could!

1/12 scale DOLLHOUSE (1 INCH TO 1 FOOT)

The rooms in a playhouse are easily accessible to young hands, to toddlers who might want to move things around. A dollhouse is more of a showpiece, meant to draw you in so that you feel you have entered a different world. You can imagine yourself sitting at the miniature table, taking a nap on the bed.

The play house pictured came ready-to-assemble, and accompanied by dolls. Ugh, dolls. Here’s why dolls are ugh-ly – they ruin the fantasy. You can tell by looking at these dolls that they’re not real. They can’t comfortably sit in the tub (middle right of the playhouse); their stiff hands can’t pick up the can of soda on the table (lower right of the playhouse). They don’t bend for the rocker or the couch. Never mind that they are simply painted wood.

So here’s what I do with the dolls – I steal their clothing, which does happen to be “real” – real fabric. Yes, I strip them and fling their clothing around the houses, as real people might do. You can see a sample in the bunk-bed bedroom of the playhouse, where a pink jacket from a girl doll has been thrown on the floor. Now the house looks lived in, but more important it looks like you live there.

COLUMBUS DAY

Columbus Breaking the Egg, by William Hogarth.*

October 12 used to be a fun holiday. Christopher Columbus Day! Parades! A reason to celebrate in my Italian-American neighborhood.

Today, not so much.

Many years ago, before most towns, Berkeley, California changed the text for its parking meter holidays from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous People Day.”

It’s been hard for me to adjust.

One of the first passages we had to memorize in Italian class as 6th graders was Cristoforo Colombo nacque a Genova nel mille quattrocento cinquanto due (his birthdate 1452, now disputed by a year or two). . . followed by accounts of his successful excursions and discoveries and feats of valor. No one ever mentioned his arrest for abuse of power, his presiding over a massive slave trade, or even that the Vikings may have gotten here before him.

A statue of Columbus stands outside St. Anthony’s Church in Revere, Massachusetts, where I was born (nacque in Revere nel mille novecento ??) My childhood friends and I always thought he was a saint, of equal stature with St. Anthony of Padua, who stood on the other side of the entrance.

In Revere, the tradition continues to this year, with a Columbus Day parade. If I can find a photo, I’ll add it! If you have one, please add it!

* Read the apocryphal story of Columbus breaking the egg.

My Dog is Friendly

First, a caveat: I didn’t do this research, nor did I sponsor it in any way. I’m really just passing it on.

The RAND study found no evidence that children from pet-owning families were better off in terms of their mental well-being or their physical health. (Click on the image to read the article.)

I could quit here, but this is only one of my points. The rest have to do with other myths:

1. Pets give children a chance to take responsibility caring for the animal.

Well, yes, but I’ve yet to see a kid actually assume responsibility for the animal more than ~5% of the time.  In one case, a cat owner I know left her cat with her mother when she went off to college, with instructions on what to do with it.

2. Pets provide unconditional love.

True, but how is that a good thing once you pass the age of 2? How does this teach a kid reciprocation, the idea that it’s as important to give as well as receive? And not just on the kid’s terms.

And I’m disturbed by memes claiming that pets are “part of the family” or even “more caring than people.” Do we really need that in today’s world? Shouldn’t we be sure every human is taken care of before we put pets out in front? Another study found that half of all American pet owners consider their pets as much a part of the family as any other person in the household. That study was 8 years old; I’ll bet the number is higher now.

3. Pets are loyal.

Only as long as you feed them.

I cringe when I see photos of small children, even infants next to an animal three or more times their weight. All it would take would be one innocent move by the child to aggravate the pet and there would be sorrow in that household. And yes, I’ve seen that happen—an unfair competition between an up-to-then beloved family doberman and a two-year-old. For another, more famous example, recall the story of the silverback gorilla and the toddler in the Cincinnati Zoo last year—even granting the gorilla’s best intentions of taking care of the child, the protective arm of a 400-lb animal can be lethal to the child. Who was to blame for this? I say: the zoo. Why do we have them? But maybe that’s another blog.

The solution: leave animals to other animals. Nature will take care of them. It’s hard to carry out this philosophy. Even though I don’t linger outside (that’s “their” domain), it’s difficult to avoid pets. It’s my theory that animals would prefer this. I know of 2 large dogs that are in cages all day while their owners work. One parent told me the dogs like the cages. Oh, and is the horse that’s sailing down the freeway also happy? In many ways, non pet owners are kinder to the animal kingdom.

When one is outside my local coffee shop for example, essentially taking up the whole sidewalk, I step off the curb and cut a wide swath around it, preferring a sideswipe from a vehicle to contact with a dog.

Often the owner senses the reason for my maneuver and says, “He’s very friendly.”

“That’s the problem,” I say.

I’m not sure the owner understands this — it’s not that I’m afraid of getting bitten by an animal (though, that too), I don’t want it to touch me. To nuzzle, to drool, to pee on me, or to run its fur anywhere near me. Who knows what normal reflex on my part will send the pet into untamed mode?

And now for a PET PEEVE. (groan) Why do authors feel the need to tell you what pets they have? You know what I mean: ” . . . lives in Vermont with her husband and large pit bull.” If this to keep aggressive fans away, I get it. But what about “lives in Iowa with his wife, two children, and a tiny purse dog?” Do they think we’ll like them better if they not only write excellent books, but also rub noses with the lesser species? Why not something like “lives in Brooklyn with his partner, with whom he shares a couch.” Oh, never mind.

I know I risk losing friends, but it’s not my fault. It’s the fault of that RAND study. And as always, I’m happy to hear counter arguments.

Male or Female?

Teaching an international student body in two online science courses, I often don’t know the gender of some of my students. At first this was disconcerting. How could I know how to respond to a posting if I didn’t know whether it came from a man or a woman?

Girl or Boy?

I’ve had students with first names such as Xjigme, Myint-San, Widya, Lieu, and many more that are unpronounceable and unidentifiable as to gender. I can only do so much to encourage them to post a photo. In the past, I’d study the postings to see if he or she would refer to a wife or husband. But that’s no longer a clue.

Many “American” names are gender-neutral also. Was the Sean I had last term a girl, like the actress Sean Young, or a guy, like the actor Sean Penn? How about Lee? Female Lee Harris or male Lee Marvin? What about Alex? Casey? And fuggedabout Chris and Dana.

Every year that I’ve taught these classes in cyberspace, there’s at least one student whose gender I never learn, not even as I assign the final grade.

The Implorer by Camille Claudel, sculptor (1856–1943)

I had my own name trauma when I was 5 or 6. My family was on a trip up by the East Coast Canadian border. Some French-ish guy named Camille had the nerve to tease me by claiming I had a man’s name. Wah! He ignored my cries and pointed out Camille Henry, Camille Saint-Saens, Camille Pissaro, Camille Corot. Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to match him with Camille Claudel, Camille Paglia, Camille Guaty, or Greta Garbo (OK, that was a fictional role, but still.)

Back to my class rosters, eventually, I realized that it shouldn’t matter whether I’m reading the postings or the quiz answers supplied by a man or a woman. How does it help to know the gender perspective of a person if the issue is nuclear power or gene therapy or bitcoins or the Higgs boson?

Maybe it doesn’t.

One-offs

Another repost from LadyKillers — they do come up with the best topics!

One-off: done, made, or happening only once and not repeated.

Possibly the story of my life. Once I’ve “done” something, I don’t want to do it again. There are so many other things to do that first time.

This can be good, when it comes to a marriage, for example. But for other projects, results vary.

I blame my Gemini beginnings—by some readings, we’re “restless and distracted.” Not the kind of person who can do the same thing twice.

In my knitting days, this was borne out by the fact that if I wanted to make a pair of mittens, I had to do it with both mittens on the needles at the same time. Otherwise, there was a good chance the second would never get made. The same with socks. My best products were one-offs: ponchos (yes, it was the sixties); hats; scarves. Especially scarves, since I could quit whenever I wanted to.

My husband, an engineer whose favorite thing to do is something he’s already done over and over, says I’m not a finisher, thus compounding my one-off personality trait. (It’s also said that Geminis can’t do the same thing once.)

By contrast, the Cable Guy, as I call my husband (he who will not be named on social media), is an obsessive finisher. Case in point: We both do crossword/crostic puzzles. Once I know what the theme of the puzzle is and I know I could finish it, I’m done (see definition of One-off, above). The Cable Guy on the other hand, is not finished until he puts that final letter in place, even though he crinkles it up and tosses it away immediately after.

The same goes for jigsaw puzzles, even though—hello? the picture is on the cover!

The Cable Guy never tires of asking me, “Aren’t you going to finish that?”

“I’m done,” I say, but not every time.

Multitasking

Topic of the week: Who doesn’t multitask?

There are a few ways to do it.

1. How to multitask a movie.

For example, say you think you’ve earned a couple of hours for a movie. Before you sit down with a cup of coffee, you

• put in a load of clothes

• start a soup in the crock pot

• set the timer for a pan of hard boiled eggs

• make sure a pad of paper and pen are handy for notes for:

– to do list

– critique of movie for:

— blog

— writing class

• set timers for laundry, soup, eggs

• have pile of magazines handy for sorting

and during the movie

• watch for useful tips for:

– writing class or

– your next short story

• grab a dust cloth and clean up the small table next to you, including:

• pull the odds and ends container onto your lap and

– sort out the nailclippers from the vitamins, etc.

• whisk off the cloth and arrange a clean one on the table

then

relax with cold coffee during the last 10 minutes of the movie

Not an uplifting news segment

2. Watching the news.

It’s harder to multitask on your own while watching the news, because they do it for you. Here’s a typical screen from CNN.

In the one second that this frame is showing, I’m getting 15 pieces of information:

• the voice of the anchor woman

• an image of the guest

• audio from the guest

• the name and affiliation of the guest

• the time zone the guest is in

• the time zone the anchor is in

• separate image of the content of the interview, which includes:

– a video connected to the content

— ID of video provider

• a video and captions of separate news item (Irma in FL)

• a thick banner with a summary statement from the AMB

• a scroll along the bottom with information on donations

• a small box with Dow Jones info toggling with time

A few seconds later I saw

• a pop up with COMING SOON (documentary on Reagan)

• news of a royal pregnancy

3. Computer Multitasking

I have 2 monitors in front of me.

Monitor #1 has

• list of writing students and status of submissions

• record and schedule of blogs

• handy addresses/phone #s

• Word doc for science students needing attention

Monitor #2 has

• docs being worked on

• folders with open projects

• email open

• FB open (in case of emergency)

I’m exhausted just writing this. I’m going to relax and fold a pile of clothes while I stir the soup and finish a chapter for tomorrow’s book club.

New Release!

Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas was released on September 5.


Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas is a collection of ten mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten different authors. Each novella is a tie-in to an established multi-book series—a total of nearly 700 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, cozy, and female P.I. mysteries.

Here’s a list of the novellas, in order of appearance:

Frosted, A Moreno & Hart Novella by Allison Brennan & Laura Griffin—Three years ago LAPD Detective Scarlet Moreno and rookie cop Krista Hart were nearly killed during a botched sting operation. Now, they’re best friends and partners in the Orange County private investigation firm of Moreno & Hart. But their routine assignments are anything but safe.

Crewel Intentions, An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Novella by Lois Winston—Craft editor Anastasia Pollack receives a desperate call for help from former fashion editor Erica Milano, now in Witness Protection. Erica is being stalked and is afraid to notify the authorities. She once saved Anastasia’s life. Will Anastasia be able to return the favor before the stalker strikes?

No Quarter, A Cleopatra Jones Novella by Maggie Toussaint—Amnesia, the doctor says when accountant Cleopatra Jones wakes in a distant hospital. Hours later most of her memory returns. Detective Jack Martinez visits Cleo’s nearby wealthy client, only she’s dead and broke. To Cleo’s horror, she’s a murder suspect. Will she totally recover her memory before the killer returns?

What the Widow Knew, A Kali-O’Brien Novella by Jonnie Jacobs—Attorney Kali O’Brien takes on the case of a young woman accused of murdering her much older, very rich husband. As evidence mounts and other possible suspects are eliminated, Kali’s doubts about her client’s innocence grow. Meanwhile, Kali is also grappling with her feelings for longtime boyfriend Detective Bryce Keating.

The Magnesium Murder, A Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—While freelance embalmer Anastasia Brent prepares the body of a young bride-to-be, she learns the girl’s mother suspects foul play. Once again Anastasia is pressed into service as a sleuth, following a trail of clues in search of a murderer and justice.

Honeymoons Can Be Murder, A Lee Alvarez Novella by Heather Haven— When PI Lee Alvarez goes on her honeymoon with bridegroom, Gurn Hanson, they find a dead woman practically on their doorstep. Kauai breezes may be soft, but there are gale force winds of accusation against Gurn. Will Lee find the real killer before her new hubby gets sent to a Hawaiian hoosegow?

Smoked Meat, A Carol Sabala Novella by Vinnie Hansen—Baker and wannabe sleuth Carol Sabala visits her mother for a family Christmas get-together. It’s murder, in more ways than one.

A Deadly Fundraiser, A Talk Radio Novella by Mary Kennedy—When radio talk show host Dr. Maggie Walsh and her pals start digging up clues in a scavenger hunt at a glitzy fundraiser, the game suddenly turns deadly. Will Maggie and her team be able to crack the case and solve the crime?

The Color of Fear, A Kelly O’Connell Novella by Judy Alter—Kelly receives a written kidnap threat targeting her infant daughter, Gracie. Kelly’s assistant Keisha narrates as Kelly and her family plot their precautions, but as time passes and the threat still looms, fear takes a toll on the family…and on Keisha.

Papa’s Ghost, A Gladdy Gold Mystery Novella by Rita Lakin—Gladdy and her girls accept an assignment iat a famous resort in Key West, thinking it will combine business with pleasure. Once they arrive, Gladdy suspects something is strange. Not only is their client an unexpected shock, but so is the case of murder they are expected to solve. Can they succeed when a whole city is against them?

LABOR DAY

SPECIAL LINK FOR FLOOD RELIEF

Hoping for the best for all affected by the storms in Houston and other towns.


LABOR DAY WEEKEND COMING UP — put away your whites!


Digging a ditch, 1937. Joe Minichino could have been there.

Labor Day always reminds me of a talk I gave at a local business meeting. The group of about fifteen work at various jobs: banking, real estate, small business, and consulting are the ones I know of. It was a breakfast meeting at 7 in the morning, before most work days began.

I’d talked to them before and they were receptive as usual to my topics: the writing process, the state of publishing as I experience it. One woman in particular always asked when my classes were since “some day” she wants to write a book.

On this one particular day, people stayed around after my talk and then, one by one they left, uttering some variation of “I wish I were a writer, but I have to go to work now.”

Can you hear my groan?

To my parents, who had six or seven years of school between them, anyone who dressed up before they left the house in the morning was not really working. I understood that—and I’ve always been able to see the difference between my father’s kind of work—heavy construction labor—and my kind of work.

But I don’t expect to hear remarks like that from professionals. How can an educated person think it’s not some measure of work to write two books a year, for example, or even a half a book a year?

The last woman out the door of that meeting said, “Once I don’t have to work, I’m going to write a book, too.”

“Good luck with that,” I said.

Too wise**s?

Wardrobe Function

Madame X ready for the office

Guilty: I started this discussion on Facebook.

I used to think of myself as a feminist. Not the raving kind, but just doing my bit in small ways, especially in the classroom.

For example:

I read a study showing that science teachers, both male and female, treated girls and boys differently in subtle ways. When students entered the classroom, boys were more likely to be addressed with a challenge—

• Were you able to finish the analysis of yesterday’s lab?

• Did you figure out the answer to that last, tough problem?

Girls, on the other hand, would be greeted with—

• Is that a new sweater? Nice color.

• Are you feeling better after that bad cold?

I immediately examined my own tendencies and made changes.

In the office, as a supervisor in several contexts, similar observations led me to be sure I gave equal time at meetings to soft-voiced women, and treated their ideas with equal respect.

No one was going to accuse me of being sexist!

Until now.

I posted on FB a photo of a network anchor woman who was wearing her cleavage, front and center! It was clear that taping was involved and a wardrobe malfunction was one wrong, twisty movement away. She sat on a high stool in front of a glass desk, her thighs also featured.

She looked ready for a party, and I would have applauded the choice. But at her job, she was asking us to take her seriously, to accept her reporting.  The combination of “take me seriously” and “here’s my cleavage” doesn’t work for me.

Should women be able to wear anything they want, within the legal limit, anywhere? Of course. But shouldn’t they also be mindful of the message they send when they show up in something that distracts us into wondering: what’s keeping that shirt from popping one more button, or that breast adhesive from melting under the lights?

Need I point out that the male anchors and guests are covered top to bottom, only rarely exposing a bit of neck if they’re reporting from Hawaii.

Commenters on FB have suggested that the networks dictate the wardrobe, but I’ve never seen an article on that. Anyone have one to share? Or experience along those lines?

Other commenters have called me sexist, old-fashioned, and a few other unflattering names.

So, my private poll: cleavage/thighs while delivering serious news, Y or N?

Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m pleased to host MAGGIE KING today. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, or both, you’ll enjoy this post . . .  and maybe never read the news the same way again!

Maggie is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.

Writing Ideas Straight from the Headlines

I’m often asked where I get my ideas. They come from everywhere, especially the headlines. I don’t even need to know the whole story—headlines by themselves are great writing prompts.

My “idea file” is stuffed with newspaper clippings with intriguing headlines. Here’s a peek at a few of my favorites:

FBI: Cruise Ship Passenger Killed Wife Because “She Would Not Stop Laughing at Me”

In July, a Utah man was charged with killing his 39-year old wife aboard an Alaskan cruise ship. When asked by a witness why he had attacked his wife, he responded: “She wouldn’t stop laughing at me.”

I’m bursting with questions after reading this article. What kind of life did this couple lead at home in Utah? Did the wife often laugh at her husband?

Their stunned neighbors described them as the “perfect” couple, celebrating an anniversary at sea. They gave no hints of the horror to come. Really?

The answers to my questions don’t really matter, because I can spin my own story around this tragedy.

People don’t like to be ridiculed and traveling can be fraught with tension. Laughter has been the motive for many a murder. In the story I’m currently writing, the victim was given to freely laughing and may, just may, have laughed at the wrong person.

Consider this headline from the Ask Amy advice column (advice columns are a goldmine of ideas):

Neighbors’ Partying Creates a Disturbance

A couple moves to a beautiful new house in the winter months. Come summer, the neighbors are having raucous parties until the wee hours. What should the couple do? They don’t want to alienate their new neighbors.

In real life, this couple probably would balk at actual murdering the offending neighbors. But in murder mystery land it’s as good a motive as any. Enough sleepless nights will put anyone in a murdering mood.

Also from Ask Amy:

Boyfriend’s Social Scrutiny is Troubling

A woman’s insecure boyfriend was sure she was having an “emotional” affair with a male friend, who happened to be gay. The boyfriend created secret social-media accounts to monitor the woman’s daily activity. He also monitored the friend’s activity. In addition, he even felt threatened by his girlfriend’s female friends.

The woman concludes with “He’s wonderful in so many ways.” Hmm.

Oh my, does this give me ideas. Who will be the victim(s) here?

Clancy Sigal, Novelist Whose Life Was a Tale in Itself, Dies at 90

Novelist Clancy Sigal died last month. He went to jail at age 5. His mother, a Socialist union organizer, had been arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee for violating social and legal norms when she met with black and white female textile workers. Hauled away to the jailhouse, she took Clancy with her.

As an American Army sergeant in Germany, Clancy plotted to assassinate Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. Later, he landed on Hollywood’s blacklist. During a 30-year self-imposed exile in Britain as an antiwar radical, Mr. Sigal was the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Doris Lessing’s lover and often flirted with suicide.

This man’s life could fill several books.

A few more headlines:

Illinois Man Killed by Cyanide Poisoning after Striking It Rich in Lottery

A Woman Ponders Grounds for Divorce

Using Work to Avoid Life after an Act of Infidelity

Virginia Man Pleads Guilty in Conspiracy Case

***

As writers, we can come up with our own headlines, creating a stockpile of ideas. Writing coach Ann Kroeker challenges writers to compose 50 headlines in one week. For more information, see her post at http://annkroeker.com/2016/05/15/50-stop-waiting-last-minute-writing-inspiration.

***

Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.

Website: http://www.maggieking.com

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Buy link for Murder at the Moonshine Inn: http://amzn.to/2dtozWa