March 31, 2010

The unfortunate limits to my powers

I have a recurring problem that you may have noticed, Blog: I’m forever discovering things I want to do and am perfectly willing to attempt them in an untrained, unskilled manner on the off chance I can do them anyway. This approach to life has worked pretty well for me.

The results are not always worthy of ovations; see the response to my attempt at doing a cartoon—or lack thereof. Similarly, back in the 80’s I taught myself a couple of years of piano and composed a theme and variations for pipe organ that I was personally unable to play. It was performed at our church because (a) my husband at the time was the pastor and (b) the organist was my best friend. The piece was good enough to not embarrass me, but not a soul came up to me after the service with kudos either.

Still, I get a certain satisfaction from doing these things whether other people are impressed or not, which I think is as it should be, Blog. I’ve made beer (decent) and mead (awful), so I tell myself I have something in common with the cool people who produce spirits from scratch. I’ve been in a few musicals, which of course is huge in my world. I’ve spoken French (feebly) in two interviews on Quebec TV and radio, which made me feel I was a true Francophone albeit briefly. Even my horrendously bad attempt to learn to rollerblade made me feel like I could relate to hockey players.

All that said, there are some things I know I really can’t do. Or at least, my being able to do them pathetically only frustrates me because I really want to be able to do them well. And here are a few examples of the ones that bug me the most, and the Lame Substitutions I must do instead.

Sing in a rock band. I can sing decently as referenced above, and I have even played guitar a tiny bit, but even if I was 24 again there isn’t a garage band in the country that would have me. One time I borrowed a friend’s bass and he showed me how to play the bass line from The Police song “Walking on the Moon.” I thought that would help, Blog, but it only made me more bummed that I will go to my grave without ever being Linda Ronstadt in her Stone Poneys days.

Lame Substitution: I guess instead of playing guitar I could sew one, like this admittedly cool one from The Grateful Thread. They make and sell softie guitars as well as “Monsters of Rock” soft toys.

Do 3D Illustration with DAZ software. My illustrator friend CC Rogers does this and is an absolute pro. Problem is, not only does it take mad artistic skilz, which I can muster to a modest level, but you also need to understand all the complexities of the software that are used in posing, lighting, etc. In short, you kind of have to be an engineer. Which I am so not.

Lame Substitution: I did have good time creating portraits of most of the characters in my books and stories. I used a much simpler software program called FaceGen in conjunction with Photoshop. I thought the results were good enough to merit my using them in the fortune telling cards I published (Diana’s Deck). But to be honest, Blog, being able to do decent character heads is a far cry from the stuff CC does. Sigh.

Be a gourmet chef. I’m a decent enough cook, and in fact not too long ago I thought gourmet cooking was a hobby of mine. That was until my younger daughter, Amanda aka Manzi, grew up. The girl who survived on Hot Pockets until she was 20 suddenly became obsessed with the Food Network and now she’s all about cooking stuff like Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. For my 50th birthday, 24-year-old Manzi (with sister Katie as sous chef/food photographer/scrapbook chronicler) catered a six-course food and wine pairings dinner for ten that would have impressed Tom Colicchio. I just can’t compete with that.  Oh, and I can’t scrapbook either.

Lame Substitution: I do try to cook in a tasty fashion anyway, Blog. It may not be frequent, but I’ve been known to make stuff like grilled lime tequila shrimp now and again. And I certainly do make Alton Brown-style turkey every Thanksgiving.

Be a fantasy sculptor. OMG, Blog, a couple days ago I discovered the most amazing polymer clay sculptor, Nicole West. Her dolls absolutely blow my mind. I mean, how does she make eyes like that? And how do they come out looking like perfect porcelain? She even gives them details like fingernails and tiny teeth and stuff. Oy vay, you have to go to her site and look at them, I’m serious, they define the laws of everything. Nicole’s work is so gorgeous that of course, I fall back on my usual reaction of “is there any possible way I could do something even remotely like this?” In this case I’m sure you will join in my enthusiastic chorus of “NO POSSIBLE WAY.”

Lame Substitution: There’s no substitution for something as fabulous as Nicole West’s dolls, Blog, so give up now.

Well, there are more examples but I’m bummed enough already, Blog. I don’t know where I got the “That-Looks-Cool-I’m-Gonna-Do-It-Too” gene, but there it is, all day-glo pink and unignorable in my DNA.

[And yes, I’m going to try sculpting some faces in polymer clay. Do I hear the strains of “What Kind of Fool Am I?”]

March 30, 2010

Random Gripe Session #1

Blog, let’s turn the Randometer’s dial to “GRIPES” and see what we can generate today.

It’s not that I’m a negative person or in any kind of bad mood. It’s March and there’s no snow on the ground, who can feel bad? It’s just that as a wise man once said, “It’s only by having the bad around that you can recognize the good.” Hey, it’s Today’s Pithy (see lower left column), it must be true!

So let’s recognize the good by considering some random gripes:

1. The fact that biological science is able to clone sheep but not find a way to grow tasty tomatoes year round. Bitter irony: tomatoes are the tastiest vegetable in all the world--for one month out of the year!!! Every other food that I love, I can eat anytime I want because I’m a rich American. C’mon, scientists, I’ll bet Bath and Body Works makes a shower gel that smells like seasonal tomatoes. I guess I should be appealing to the chemists for help here.

2. The fact that you can’t get a keyboard with the number pad on the left. Or you can, but your place of employment is not going to offer you one. It’s not that I’m lefthanded--it’s just that it’s so much more comfortable having the mouse right next to the alphabet keys so you don’t have to reach over the number keys. Think about it, you know it is! If I were lefthanded I would WANT a righthanded keyboard. (I actually moved my mouse to the left and learned to mouse lefthanded. It’s surprisingly easy, Blog.)

3. This is not really random because I know everyone in the Western World agrees with me: Why can’t we go back to having New TV from September till May, and Reruns and Summer Replacement Series from June through August? It’s a good thing they invented Facebook so I can be an FB fan of my shows and thereby find out when the hell they are on. Geez Louise, Blog.

4. Also not random because again, the feeling is universal: If there is bad weather coming (“OMG!!! IT MAY RAIN HARD!”), why can’t the local TV stations just put a little logo in one corner of the screen instead of squishing the show down to half size and overriding the soundtrack with squawks and mechanical voices? You know why they use a robot voice for those “The National Weather Service has declared a Mildly Unpleasant Weather Watch for the following counties” messages, Blog? Because no real human is willing to be the a-hole who interrupts everyone’s show!

5. Okay, Blog, after 3 and 4, we better come up with something truly random this time. Like Yahoo headlines that when you mouse over them, all you see is the first line teaser instead of a summary of the story. Like the headline says, “Wisconsin town deals with bizarre disaster,” and when you mouse over it, you get, “March 12 seemed like just another day in Oconomowoc.” And that’s ALL you get, unless you click on the story. And of course, I would have to, and at that point, there’s enough of a time investment that I’m actually wishing ill on Oconomowoc. So terrible.

6. The fact that you take your 40% off coupon to Michaels or Joann, which of course you can’t use on sale items, and everything in the store you could possibly want to buy is on sale for 25% off except the $1.79 roll of Scotch tape. (Are you with me on this, crafters?)

7. People who say, “I hate musicals. No one ever suddenly bursts into song in real life.” To that I say, “Maybe the problem there is with real life, bucko.”

8. Printers like mine that seem to think you want to print your one page on the entire group of sheets in the feed tray. I think my PC, Gaiman, needs to have a talk with my printer, who will not get a name until he learns how to behave. It’s as if on the rare occasion when I send a print job, my printer gets so excited he says, “Oh boy, oh boy, a print job, HERE HERE HERE’S ALL THE PAPER!” Not the sharpest printer in the computer peripherals drawer, that’s for sure.

Well, that’s enough random griping for one day, Blog. Turn the Randometer off “GRIPES” and over to, say, “LOOPY MASCOTS”...ooh, look what came up!

I’d punch that weird movie ticket mascot named Stubby right in the face myself, Blog.

Enjoy your day!

March 29, 2010

A trip to the vet, or "meow mrowr meow mrowr meow mrowr"

As you know, Blog, I took off work last Friday not only to rip songs to my new iPod, but to assist Davie in taking two of our three cats to the vet for their annual checkup.  Alice (aka Pookie) and Selke were the cats in question; Cody isn't due to go again until November.

Alice and Selke are not the sharpest knives in the drawer o' felines.  The fact that Davie brought out our two cat carriers from under the basement stairs did not faze them.  Cody, however, came downstairs per usual to assist me with my workout and it was then he discovered those ominous crates.

CODY:  Oh my god.  [Flees to places unknown.]

Davie, who typically has to do this duty alone, has found in the past that when the time comes to corral Selke and Alice, they are seldom cooperative.  He advised trapping them both early to ensure the moment of capture would go smoothly.  We found Selke had retired to the linen closet on the second floor, which we keep ajar to accommodate any cats seeking napping spots on the towels.  So we shut her in.

Cody immediately planted himself in front of the door.

CODY:  This is not good!  This is not good!  Selke is in the closet!  Humans?  Hey, humans?  Selke is in the closet!  And...and those bad boxes are out.  Oh my god.  [Wants to flee to places unknown but is not willing to desert Selke.]

Davie found that Alice was in the first floor powder room.  He shut her in.  We got ourselves ready for the trip, the cat carriers were brought up from the basement and placed in the dining room.  Cody could bear his terror no longer and fled to places unknown.

DAVIE:  Okay, Alice is in the bathroom.  You can bring Selke out.

ME:  What if she gets away?  Maybe we should put Alice in a carrier first?

DAVIE:  No, first we can put Selke in a carrier.  She won't get away.

ME:  But what if Alice gets away when you try to get her out of the bathroom?

DAVIE:  I'll let you get her out of the bathroom, blah blah blah and other inaninities were said by him and by me which I can't honestly recall except we were way too paranoid about the plan.


We had Selke and Alice safely in their carriers.  They began to meow.  And meow.  And mrowr.  A lot.


See what I mean?  Ye gods.

So, we got home from the vet and let Selke and Alice out.  They were fine, unfazed by their shots and their little adventure.  In fact, I think the moment their furry paws hit the carpet their short term memories were already empty.  The joys of not being the sharpest knives in the drawer o' felines.

Cody, however, is too smart for his own good.

CODY [hiding in parts unknown]:  Oh my god!  Oh my god!  They came back alive!  But surely I'm next.  Oh I'm doomed!  So very doomed!  And I have to pee.  Oh no, oh no, oh no....

Hours later the really-having-to-pee Cody slunk down the stairs and into the basement.  He did not make eye contact.  His tail was puffy.  He did not emerge for hours. 

Finally, after dark, he appeared in the living room.  He sat, hunkered down, his tail still puffy, staring.

CODY:  Do I even know you?  Are you planning to torture and kill me?  Will you put me in one of those HORRIBLE CRATES????

ME:  It's okay, Codes, it's okay!  You're fine.  No vet for you, no vet, Buddy!

ALICE [on the back of the couch]:  La dee da, la dee da, life is good, la dee...who am I again?

SELKE: [lying on the cable box]:  Hmmm hmmm sleeping whatevs...

CODY:  I don't trust any of you!  You're plotting my demise, I JUST KNOW IT!

Well, Blog, eventually we did win back Cody's trust (although it took about 36 hours).  But I really wonder how he's going to deal with his turn in November.  Yikes.

March 28, 2010

The May Flowers Challenge

Hey Blog, I think now we've acquired a nice crew of crafty readers, and therefore I'd like to try a Challenge.  After all, Challenges make the world go 'round, right?  Something like that.

So, here's the deal:  May is just around the corner, and here in Wisconsin, May is the month when we actually start to have acceptible weather.  No, I don't know why we persist in living here.  Anyway, in May we can finally go to Lowe's and Home Depot and Stein's and fill our patio with flowering plants, yee ha!

But I'm already looking forward to green leaves and flowers, and that's the inspiration for my Challenge to crafters out there.  During the month of April, do something with a flower (or plant) theme in your chosen craft.  Make it something you are able to complete in no more than three hours.  It can take longer than that to plan and think up, but the actual work should be limited to that timeframe.  Send me a photo (and a few words if you like) by Saturday, May 1, and I will post the submitted projects on the blog!

No, Blog, there are no prizes.  Why are you thinking that being featured on this blog wouldn't be prize enough?  Sheesh.

To get you all in the mood, I'm festooning this post with photos of a dish garden I made in fall of 2007.  This miniature garden incorporates some key elements made of polyclay, and was inspired by the designs of Bunnie Werth. My own invention is the pond, which is molded out of polyclay, decorated with small rocks and silk leaves, and filled with "Quick Water."

The "gazing ball" stand is made of Granitex mixed with pearl clay. The stepping stones are also clay. I purchased the trellis, bench, and tiny cardinals from Bunnie's shop in Cedarburg, Wis., Newberry Thicket.
The grass is sheet moss and other plant life is silk and plastic. The dirt is another cool product, "Looks Like Soil" from Natural Creations. (Couldn't find an internet source for it though!)  All the supplies except the bowl (and styrofoam within) were purchased at the aforementioned Stein's Gardens and Gifts, which unfortunately only has stores in Wisconsin! I'm sure you could find all this sort of thing at your neighborhood craft supply store though, Blog.

So, calling all painters, papercrafters, quilters, needlecrafters, polyclay artists, etc.!  Heck, silk flower arrangers and gardeners count too!  And if you're thinking about participating, please comment below so I can start working myself into a frenzy of anticipation about your submissions.  YAY!

[A quick clarification:  your project can incorporate flowers or leaves in any way you like, you don't have to literally make flowers.  And photographers, you're welcome to join in too!]

March 27, 2010

Bacon, Bacon, BACON!

Just a quickie post, Blog, which is strictly for two groups of people:  those who live in or near Milwaukee, and those who cannot get enough of BACON.  Which I guess encompasses just about the entire world.

Last night Davie and I went to the Comet Cafe, the little restaurant and bar on Milwaukee's east side.  Here's Davie greeting you with his handsome smile from our booth.  This place was was actually featured last year on the show "Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives."  Guy Fieri in da house one year ago, if only we'd have been there!

So Blog, I started out with a Bruncharita, a margarita made with passion fruit liqueur that was just scrumptious.  But the trip to heaven commenced with my first bite of this most spectacular dish:  the Open Faced Meatloaf Sandwich.  The incorporation of bacon into this creation is masterful, and believe me, it was not just the bacon garnish on top.  Find out from D D & D segment how its made--it will blow your mind.

Our evening got even cooler when Davie discovered a door back by the restrooms that bore this:

Wow!  Anyway, we were far too full for dessert (I brought a third of my meal home to eat for lunch today OH BOY!).  Tonight we're going for delayed dessert to Comet's sister restaurant in Bay View (south side of Milwaukee), Honeypie, which specializes in bakery.  Both restaurants use Wisconsin produced ingredients wherever possible and have plenty of vegan options. 

Comet gets the Blog Seal of Approval for sure.  Any restaurant that gives away free bacon with beer on Sunday nights has our vote.

Oh, and some Bonus Bacon Footage courtesy of our friends at My Food Looks Funny:


Getting to know my iPod, “Ipo”

Dear Blog, I’d like to introduce you and our readers to Ipo, the device that made it possible for me to catch up to the 21st Century. Why does he have this name? Because when I set up iTunes, I didn’t realize the character limit on the device name and it was truncated to “DIANA’S IPO.” Yeah, sometimes it’s just fate. Although in all caps, my iPod seems like a big investment. Ayo!

So, Blog...what took me so long, me who in recent years has acquired a PC (Gaiman), an iPaq (Paqi), a digital camera, an HD radio, a netbook (Coraline), an XM radio, and a Blackberry (’Berry)? And wait a tick; I know the radios were integral parts of my cars Tiny and Racer Y so did not receive names, but why haven’t I named my camera? Huh.

Well, my reasons for resisting the iPod ran like this:

1. I have XM radio, which I can rock in the car, online, or anywhere I want on my XM boombox. Except in the workout room and the kitchen, where the reception is messed up.

2. I did not want to spend the time it would take to rip all my CDs.

3. I am cheap.

Nevertheless, I began to think I should consider an iPod, because of these reasons:

1. It would be great in the workout room and the kitchen.

2. Going with updated technology is usually my modus operandi.

3. How super would it be when I buy an mp3 online not to have to burn it to CD to make it portable?

Then Ipo came on the scene, a one year old 4G Nano for sale by a co-worker’s daughter. A good deal, no shipping, plus I could help out a resourceful girl who saved enough from babysitting to upgrade to an iTouch. It was time to make the move.

I got me a super fab speaker as well as a cable that also works to attach Ipo to Racer Y’s audio system, for a mere 20 bucks! Soooweet, Blog!

So I started ripping away, and after realizing I needed to lower the quality setting or I’d fill up Ipo WAY too quickly, everything went smoothly. As of this writing (and I admit it was a couple days ago, but roll with it) I’m now through my stack of unfiled recent CDs as well as A-F of the older alphabetized ones. That’s like one-quarter of our collection.

Alas, 8GB Ipo is already one-third full.

At first I found this very disheartening, Blog. I was really hoping I could fit all the good music I owned on Ipo. Meaning ripping one track from Deadeye Dick (“New Age Girl”) but every track of “The Lion King.” And now it was clear I was going to have to be more discerning and rip only a portion of my vast collection of Fountains of Wayne. Major bummer!

But then I had a mental breakthrough. It was time not to look at Ipo as the digital cabinet for my music collection, and instead regard him as a Really Big Mix Tape. 1,200 songs (my current estimate) is not a good music collection. But it will be a tremendous Mix Tape.

So, only songs I really love are going to make the cut. That means, for example, just because I love the way Gordon Gano says “I hope you know this will go down on your permanent record” in The Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is not good enough to get it on Ipo. The result of this heightened discernment will be this:

Every time a new song starts to play on Ipo, I will say, “OMG I love this song!”

Which, Blog, is awesome!

Okay, so, I did my first basement workout to Ipo and these are the songs that came up:
  • Broadway: “You Walk with Me” from “The Full Monty,” by Jason Danieley (OMG I love that song!)
  • Rock: “Days Like These” by Asia (OMG I love that song!)
  • Classic Alternative: “Knife Edge” by The Alarm (OMG I love that song!)
  • Flamenco: “Early on Tuesday” by Jesse Cook with Danny Wilde (OMG I love that song!)
  • Jazz: “Take Him Back, Rachel” by Basia (OMG I love that song!)

Yes, Blog, it works! And these are only the A through F’s!

So, that problem is solved, and after another 8 to 10 hours of ripping I will have a Really Big Mix Tape.

However, I am now concerned about the fact that I don’t have a name for my camera. Ideas anyone?

March 26, 2010

Shazam, it’s easy to try out an ebook! One of mine, please.

I’m so happy, Blog! All the books I’ve published except Bloodchained II (coming soon) are now available as ebooks from Barnes & Noble—eleven titles! And don’t they all look spiffy on this page?

You may think it’s cost-prohibitive and a pain to see what ebooks are like, but if you have five minutes and no money, you can! It’s easy to install B&N’s ereader software on your PC, Mac, iPhone or Blackberry. Seriously, in five minutes you can nab yourself a free sample (like 30 page’s worth) of one of my books and try reading it on your computer or smartphone. And if any of you own a Nook (Barnes’ own ereading device), c’mon, check out my books!

Okay, Blog, you start here. From this page you can download the reading software on your computer and install in uberquickly. (You do need to have an account with Barnes & Noble.) If you want to install the software on your Blackberry or iPhone, just use your device to go to and click on the link that says “Download free B&N eReader App.”

Either process sets you up an ebook library where samples or ebooks you download are stored. You can access them ever after either from your computer OR smartphone. Here’s my ebook library as seen on my PC, Gaiman (note the nifty free sample from my book Soulful Sex III):

On ‘Berry, the library looks like this:

Pretty sleek, hey? Here’s how a book looks on ‘Berry:

And here’s how my first short story in the book, “Hunter,” starts out:

It’s all very exciting, convenient, and (here comes one of my favorite words) CHEAP! I heartily recommend anyone wanting to experiment with an ebook—or with my writing, for that matter— to download my novel Looking on Darkness. Barnes currently has the ebook on sale for a mere $2.13! Cripes, the paperback is twelve bucks! Here’s the blurb about this gripping book:

A British psychologist with a mysterious past and strange powers. A former monk with the voice of an angel and untamable vanity. A jazz performer who derives her confidence from a secret lover. A college student obsessed with becoming someone’s “Lolita.” These four haunted characters take separate paths to meet in 1991 Milwaukee, and the alchemy of their union creates thrilling, bizarre, magical and deadly results.

Looking on Darkness is Diana Laurence’s first full-length work outside the romance genre, and draws heavily from the psychoanalytical theory of Carl Jung. It is a mainstream novel of psychological vampirism that explores the deepest caverns of the mind and the darkest corners of the heart.

It’s great! Really, Blog, why would I lie? Well, at least I really liked it. You liked it too, Blog? Awesome.

At any rate, this is all a very quick and handy way for newbies to check out the ereading experience for themselves. And I hope anyone familiar with Nook, ereading, or Looking on Darkness will comment....

March 25, 2010

Hershey's Better Basket Blog Hop

Dear Blog, you may not be aware that I was obsessed with stuffed rabbits as a child.  The king of my little suburban warren was Bugsie, shown here cuddling with me.  At one point I had 36 stuffed rabbits.  In the 2010's, that kind of lapine largesse is no big deal, but in the 1960's it certainly was.  The reason my world abounded in bunnies was Easter baskets.

So when I see a basket of bunnies like the one sent to me by friend and fellow blogger Cherie Burbach (on her very cool new blog, Frugal Home), I get a little giddy.  I'm happy to support Hershey's Better Basket Blog Hop and by this blog entry, donate $10 to Children's Miracle Network.  You can too if you have a blog! 

Here are the official rules:


Copy and paste these rules to your blog post.
  • Create a blog post giving a virtual Easter Basket to another blogger – you can give as many Virtual Baskets as you want.
  • Link back to person who gave you an Easter Basket.
  • Let each person you are giving a Virtual Easter Basket know you have given them a Basket.
  • Leave your link at comment section. You can also find the official rules of this #betterbasket blog hop, and more information about Better Basket with Hershey’s there.
  • Hershey’s is donating $10 per each blog participating to the Better Basket Blog Hop to Children’s Miracle Network (up to total of $5,000 by blog posts written by April 4th, 2010).
  • Please note that only one blog post by each blog url will count towards the donation.

I'm giving my virtual baskets o' buns to these other fave bloggers of mine:

Cre8tive Quilter
Love - on a Budget!
Meandering Mouse

Meanwhile, back at the bunny trail...can I get a hippity hoppity, Blog?

March 24, 2010

Artist of [Undetermined Timeframe] #3: Quilter Jen Buettner

If you think I’m creatively prolific, Blog, you are about to see me left behind in the dust.

Meet my good friend Jen, who has blown many a mind with her endless creative talents. She’s a photographer, scrapbooker, jewelry maker, needlecrafter, and above all quilter of some serious renown. Her blog, Cre8tive Quilter, is frequented by quilters all over the world as a source of both information and amusement. I’m not even into quilting and I check it every day!

Jen is also very generous with her time. She’s always doing needlework for charity (like quilts for kids and pillowcases for the military). She also makes gifts for her friends all the time, everything from quilted postcards to baby quilts.

And her talent at her craft just blows my mind! You’re looking at a photo of my favorite of her quilts, a bargello that I could stare at all day. I can’t even fathom the precision and patience required for something like this, Blog.

I am the proud owner of many Jen-made treasures, and wanted to share with you a few of them. My favorite is this incredible table runner that is one of my best-loved Christmas decorations every year. She made me matching coasters too. For more shots and info, visit her post about the project.

Speaking of coasters, Jen also made me a custom-designed set with the logo from my novel Bloodchained. How’s that for awesome?

I just love Jen’s hobby of making purses, wallets, and other types of totes. For example, she made a set for me to take along on our family’s 2007 INKYTNMO road trip. I use the backpack-like satchel as my briefcase now every day. And the wallet is a perfect fit for my digital camera and is also a daily companion! Read about these on her post here.

Jen works in a quilting store and does some work on commission, so is a full fledged professional in her creative field. That doesn’t keep her from spending a ton of her free time creating beautiful things as well. Blog, I insist you look at her wrap up of 2009 to see with your own eyes what she can accomplish in a year—the proof is there in pictures.

What an inspiration! I’m thankful for all the beauty (and usefulness!) that has been added to the world by my friend Jen. Blog, I can tell you are really wishing you could work a needle right now—so sorry for that lack of opposable thumbs as well as fingers at all!

March 23, 2010

Welcome to my bar!

If you’re thinking my insurance problems may be driving me to drink, Blog, you’re kinda right. But not to worry, even though I’m from Wisconsin I’ve never been a binge or heavy drinker. Heck, until my mid-30’s I’d only been in one bar in my whole life, Paul’s Club in Madison. (And don’t forget, I was legal at 18!)

But I was raised to appreciate good wine, learned to like beer, and have always been fascinated by cocktails. All those colors and flavors! Endless combinations! Fun names like “Singapore Sling”! And no baking! So when my level of affluence permitted it, I began to refine the Art of the Well-Stocked Bar.

I am a totally amateur mixologist. However, I do have the credential of having placed third in a cocktail contest last December, so I’m not a total poser, am I, Blog? I wish Blog could vouch for my modest skills, but of course he has not only a low tolerance for alcohol but also no mouth.

Here’s a look at our bar, which also serves as our coffee bar (and storage for my mug collection). Our glassware, including Davie’s pint glass collection, is mostly elsewhere.

Cody had to seize his piece of the limelight of course....

So, for what they are worth, here are my recommendations for what you need to make your home as popular a watering hole as the neighborhood Applebee’s. Items in bold will comprise a good starter kit for a basic bar.


white rum
dark rum
brandy and/or cognac
spiced rum (i.e., Captain Morgan’s)
coconut rum (i.e., Malibu)
flavored vodkas (pepper, raspberry, etc.)

LIQUEURS (order of importance IMHO):

almond (Amaretto)
orange (Blue Curacao, Triple Sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier)
raspberry (Chambord)
chocolate (Godiva, Creme de Cacao)
mint (Creme de Menthe, Rumple Minze)
coffee (i.e., Kahlua, Tia Maria, Starbucks)
peach (Peach Schnapps, Southern Comfort)
hazelnut (Frangelico)
Irish Cream (Bailey’s)
apple (Apple Pie, apple schnapps)
banana (Creme de Banana)
melon (Midori)
anise (Galliano, Sambuca)
cinnamon (Goldschlager)
root beer (Root Beer Schnapps)


dry vermouth
sweet vermouth
Rose’s lime juice

Before we continue, let’s take a creative break and look at the switchplate cover I made for the bar area out of polymer clay. Picture me creating those tiny, tiny, tiny grapes and the individual shnivels I mashed together to make the tiny, tiny, tiny corks.


tonic water
sweet soda (i.e., Sprite/7Up)
sour soda (i.e., 50/50)
sour mix
club soda (sparkling water)
ginger ale
lemon juice
lime juice
orange juice
pineapple juice
half & half or cream
ice cream


Bloody Mary
Old Fashioned


white and brown sugar
sugar syrup
large grain salt (for glass rims), table salt
tabasco sauce
worcestershire sauce
pearl onions
green onions, celery, beef sticks etc. for Bloodies
maraschino cherries
mint leaves


cocktail shaker
blender and/or ice crusher


wine glasses
beer glasses (pint glasses can double as highball glasses)
Old Fashioned glasses (small, round tumblers, 8-10 oz.) – for moderately strong drinks
Highball glasses (tall, straight-sided, 10-12 oz.) – for weaker drinks heavy on the mixers
Martini glasses – for very strong drinks that are mostly liquor
champagne flutes
hurricane glasses (extra big and tall and curvy)
cordial glasses (for liqueurs served alone)

Now let’s take another break to look at one of my cocktail creations. First up, a layered drink (aka “pousse-café”) called a Firecracker, concocted for 4th of July, 2008. It’s grenadine, blue curacao, and a mix of sour, vodka and Chambord, and the glass is edged in honey and crushed blue pop rocks. Talk about a party in your mouth. See how fun this can be, Blog?


1.  I have a cool tip that’s sort of a cheat but saves money. I also use flavored syrups (like you use in coffee) in cocktails. Coconut syrup can turn rum into Malibu, raspberry syrup can sub for Chambord, etc. This can also be a way to reduce alcohol content if you are so inclined, or to make mocktails with no alcohol.

2.  If it’s sold in your area, Jimmy Luv’s is my fave Bloody Mary mix. Fan-freaking-tastic, Blog. If you only had a mouth. And I am a big believer in the beer chaser on the side with your Bloody. Such a great combo.

3.  For a fun highball, do a Frosted Coke: Fill a hurricane type glass half full of ice. Throw in a glug of any combo of these: rum, chocolate liqueur, coffee liqueur, almond liqueur, Irish cream. Fill almost full with cola. Top off with a splash of cream, half & half, or even some soy milk product like Silk (that actually works real well). Stir and serve.

Okay, now here’s a photo from a mint julep party on our patio. I make my own mint syrup and use my 1960s Oster ice crusher, Sno Flake (bought on eBay). Cody obviously approves.

4.  The secret to getting your martini so cold that ice crystals form in the glass: Fill the glasses with water and ice and let them sit like that a few minutes. Shake the drink extra long with ice in your shaker. I know this weakens it a bit but I don’t mind that, the crystallizing effect is worth it. Dump out the glasses, pour in the drink, and enjoy.

5.  Is good vodka important? After all, it’s basically flavorless. Here’s what I do: I have a medium priced vodka on hand like Skyy or Three Olives, for use in highballs and bloodies. I also have my favorite, Rehorst from Milwaukee’s Great Lakes Distillery, for martinis. For whiskey, bourbon and gin I go for the good stuff. For rum and tequila, moderate is fine for me (although I’m sure connoisseurs of those would differ on that point).

6.  If I could only have three wines in my wine rack to cover the bases, what would I stock? If you’re looking for few options that will please the most palates, I’d pick a Riesling, a White Zinfandel, and a Merlot.

Well, Blog, it’s kinda crazy how long I can go on on the subject of booze! And I haven’t even talked about the times I made mead (turned out awful) and beer (not bad but too much work). Readers, feel free to post a question, tip or fave cocktail in the comments. And party on!

March 22, 2010

A SNAFU on steroids

Well, Blog, that’s what you could call the last ten days of my life. As the U.S. faces a sweeping overhaul of the health care system, I’ve been enjoying my own experience of the “most hilarious antics medical bureaucracy has to offer.” My experience has been with the private sector, but lest you think the government does any better, check out this story about the heinous actions of Medicare, reported yesterday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. At least my case isn’t life-and-death like hers.

So, let me share the nutshell version of my story, emphasis on the word “nuts”:

  • Last year I got approval for my Freestyle Navigator continuous glucose monitor, known by his friends as “Navie,” including the sensors I stick in myself every five days.
  • Last October my employer switched from United Healthcare to WPS for our coverage. The switch was scheduled to occur in a couple of weeks. Naturally fearful, I immediately went through the process of making sure my sensors would still be paid for under WPS.
  • In November WPS assured me (in writing) that they were. Our coverage switched as of 11/1, and mid-November I ordered a box of sensors. Ordered another in December, and another in January.
  • Mid-January I received my Explanation of Benefits from WPS. I was supposed to pay in full for the November $833.33 box of sensors. (Hmm, used to be $500 under UHC.) I saw a I still had an outstanding deductible from the UHC period of $956.24, so I figured that was why, and expected to have to pay $121.91 for the December sensors.
  • In February I ordered a fourth box of sensors (we are now talking $3,333.32 total).
  • Mid-February I received my EOB from WPS for the December box, and it was still $833.33 patient responsibility. It was then that I took a closer look at the EOB to try to figure out what was going on. THE SENSORS WERE BEING TREATED AS OUT-OF-NETWORK. Please note the interesting fact that the out-of-network deductible is $10,000, and a year supply of sensors at this price costs $10,000. How about that?
  • Thus ensued the last ten days of constant phone calls between myself, my company’s head of Human Resources and his assistant, two people at our benefits coordinator company (I love how businesses have to have those now), my account rep at WPS and their sales guy responsible for our account, two people at Abbott (who manufactures the Freestyle Navigator), and three people at various DME (durable medical equipment) suppliers that actually SELL the sensors. I’d say 90% of these calls have involved me, and we’re at the 18 hour mark for my time.
  • At first, WPS insisted they had no in-network DME supplier that offered the Navigator. They said I would probably have to switch machines to another brand. You cannot understand the horror of that idea unless you’ve gotten used to a continuous glucose monitor like I have with Navie, but please trust me—that is just not an option. I had to prepare a four-page document explaining why I wanted to stay with the Navigator (the research gave me even more reasons to want to!).
  • Abbott insisted there were two DME suppliers in WPS’s network that I could use.
  • WPS then found there was a supplier in-network that I could use, but not one of the two Abbott said. It’s called Apria Healthcare.
  • I tried to get the ball rolling between Apria and Abbott to send me sensors (down to a week’s worth at that point). Abbott insisted before I could use Apria, they had to have confirmation from Byram that Byram was out-of-network at WPS. Didn’t matter that I, the patient, wished to switch. Didn’t matter that WPS, the insurer, said Byram was out-of-network.
  • Abbott finally got that confirmation and began work with Apria for me to get my sensors from them.
  • Apria refused to proceed until they got confirmation from WPS that they insured me.
  • WPS called Apria to do that, and in the process discovered that in fact, Apria was NOT in the WPS network after all. Can I get a really loud “WTF???” at this point, Blog?
  • So WPS has gone back to Byram to try to negotiate a brand new contract with them so I can be covered as in-network with Byram.

Please keep in mind, Blog, that each of these steps took hours to days, and required numerous phone calls and documentation by several parties.  Now I wait.  Some more.  Running out of sensors in a few days.

Here’s basically what I don’t understand: Why doesn’t my insurance provider have a simple database including all FDA-approved medical products, listing the suppliers for those products with which they have contracts? Why couldn’t they have looked at that database back in October, seen the situation then, and dealt with it? Why can’t DME suppliers trust insurance companies to be familiar with their own contracts? Why can’t I, the patient, choose where I want to buy supplies, like people do with drugs and pharmacies?

And apparently if I were uninsured, I could buy sensors direct from a supplier for as low as $417. Why do I have the feeling my being insured by WPS will prevent that supplier from being willing to sell to me direct?

Patients and doctors have lost so much control of medical treatment in the U.S. And I have no reason to think (see the Milwaukee Journal story) government control is going to improve that one bit.

Blog, I promise tomorrow to return to our regularly scheduled cheerful and humorous content. Just had to get this off my chest....

March 20, 2010

A real-life 1960’s Mad Men-style ad man: my dad

Dear Blog, today we are celebrating the birthday of another hero of mine: my dad. He’s turning 84 and persists daily in being a very cool and amazing person. I could discuss any number of interesting things about him, from his childhood in a rooming house during the Depression, to his current expertise at websurfing and devotion to YouTube. But in view of the popularity of AMC’s series “Mad Men,” I thought our readers might be particularly interested in his experiences as a real-life ad man.

Here is a photo of us enjoying ice cream cones circa 1963, the same year as “Mad Men,” takes place.  As you can see, my dad sported a look totally in tune with the gang at Sterling Cooper. (In fact, he bore a remarkable resemblance to Pete Campbell.) Back then he worked as a copywriter for a prominent ad agency in Milwaukee called Klau Van Pietersom Dunlap.

How much was it like Sterling Cooper? Well, he tells me if there were that many sexual shenanigans going on in the office, he wasn’t aware of them. However, the three-martini lunch was definitely an institution for many in the biz. And certainly the place of women in the Ad Game was very much like on the show; anyone aspiring to be like Peggy had a hard row to hoe.

Dad was promoted to a vice president at KVPD in 1968, an occasion I remember as very exciting to me at age twelve. A vice president! That sounded so important! I recall Dad telling me at the time though that it was not something I should go bragging about to my friends. He thought that kind of behavior was something to be avoided--a good lesson for me to learn.

Is it plausible that someone with a humble background like Don Draper could really rise to such prominence at an important agency? That sure wouldn’t happen today, but things were different in the 1960s. My dad always felt bad that he didn’t get to go to college, but his intelligence and writing skills made that no obstacle to his success. Those talents were what got him into advertising in the first place (at GE Medical), and it was hard work and skill that landed him at the agency and brought him great success over the years to come.

Blog, I just had to laugh during one episode of “Mad Men,” when they referred to “the Kimberly Clark account.” In fact my dad had the Kimberly Clark Papers account (meaning stationery and printing papers)! Perhaps his coolest project ever was an award-winning campaign involving the creation of a book about that famed tourist attraction, the House on the Rock. The book was designed to show off various types of Kimberly Clark papers. Dad interviewed HOTR creator Alex Jordan and wrote the copy. It turned out to be an amazing little book, back when HOTR was amazing and still little.

What about all the frightening office politics? Also very true to life, Blog. The old Ad Game is exciting but not always fun. When I was in high school things got pretty hairy, and eventually KVPD was merged into a larger firm, Hoffman York, not too unlike the situation on Mad Men this past season. Dad emerged unscathed, and began his in-house marketing career in 1975 as Advertising Manager of Master Lock. I realize we’ve passed out of the Mad Men era now, but Dad had some fun exploits at Master that are worth mentioning.

Master Lock is most famous for its “Tough Under Fire” campaign, which continued for many years and predated my dad. He worked on this campaign with Master’s agency, Cramer-Krasselt. That of course entailed working on the renowned series of Super Bowl ads that showed a lock being shot with a gun and still refusing to open. In 1989, a 30 second spot cost $675,000. But as Dad told a Milwaukee Journal reporter that year, “You aren’t buying 30 seconds, you’re buying 76 million people.” (In 2010, make that $3 million and 90+ million viewers.)

Dad interfaced often with the media and the public on topics related to locks and security. He also dealt with requests for using Master Locks in movies, like the time he took a phone call from Wes Craven. Yes, that Wes Craven. Mr. Craven wanted to use Master Locks in his movie “Nightmare on Elm Street.” They had a very amusing conversation; Dad had to laugh at the idea of the locks appearing in a slasher film. Wes Craven said, said “It may not be Shakespeare but the money is no laughing matter!” He even sent Dad an autographed photo of Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund. Alas, Blog, it has been lost to prosperity, but it’s bright in my memory!

One of the most interesting times Dad ever had was when he was involved with the production of a 15 second TV commercial for Master’s “Tough Stripes,” lock, a high-tech bike lock introduced in 1987. He got to work both with models painted black and yellow and with a live tiger, as you see in these awesome photos, Blog! For 15 seconds of footage it took a day’s shoot in Toronto and two days of production time in Chicago.

Dad retired in 1991 but for several years afterwards had a small freelance advertising business. It’s in the blood, what can I say? Today I do in-house marketing in a position a bit like his at Master Lock, his granddaughter Katie does production art and internet interactive work at Cramer-Krasselt (yep, the same Cramer-Krasselt!), and his other granddaughter Amanda works in ecommerce at Kohls corporate.

Oh, and Dad’s a very passionate fan of “Mad Men.”

A big happy birthday to my awesome father, Russell A. Bauer! Want to send birthday wishes to a real 1960s Ad Man? Put your comments below...he’s also a big fan of this blog. :-)