Category Archives: reflections

Free Kindle Book: Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life

TODAY, Monday, December 19,  Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life is free on Kindle. Don’t miss out. Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Deedee-Divines-Totally-Skewed-ebook/dp/B0028AEDE4.

 

Merry Christmas!

Diana

 

 

 

 

 

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Family Board Games: A Holiday Hazard?

In case you’re thinking about board games to keep your extended family engaged,  this holiday season, let me share what can go wrong.

 

Christmas Monopoly

From morning routines to family customs, our lives are filled with rituals. I figured there was no time like the holidays to incorporate a new one into my repertoire. But trouble arrived when one of my four children suggested we add a Monopoly game to our holiday boredom prevention program.

My oldest son Ron and his wife Julie had driven into town to stay with us for a few days. Their visits, which typically last just about long enough to digest a meal, are always welcomed. However, this time they’d brought along with them the dog they endearingly called my “grandpuppy,” a wiry-haired, hyperactive mixed breed with a vision problem. To this dog, everything must look like a tennis ball—because nothing is deemed unworthy of a good chase. So as you might imagine, our two cats were nonplussed about this houseguest.  

After a food orgy that began at noon and continued well past the point of intestinal discomfort, I commenced pitching camp in front of the television. (I mean, let’s face it; there’s only so much eating you can do before every bathroom in the house is clogged.) It was time to yell, “Back away from the table, and put down your fork.”

But just as I lifted the TV remote controller, Ron blurted, “Don’t turn on the TV! Let’s all do something together. You know, like family bonding.”

First he says he’s staying for two days, and now he says, “Don’t turn on the television”? This can’t be my child.

“I know,” Ryan, my twelve-year-old, said. “Let’s play MONOPOLY!”

Ron’s face brightened. “Yeah. It’ll be our new family tradition,” he chimed.

Right then, I was glad I hadn’t followed through on selling that game in my last garage sale.

As we gathered around the family dining table with Parker Brothers, the dog and one cat joined us. Each gave the other a suspicious eye, though thus far they’d been fairly tolerant.

About twenty minutes into the game, Ron said, “Hey, Mom, I’ll give you these two blue ones for that railroad you’re holding.”

I didn’t really need what he’d offered me, but I said, “Sure,” anyway.

His eyes lit up as he snatched away my railroad card. “Suck-Er-Er-er-er!”

Okay.  This is my child.

I’d forgotten how long a game of Monopoly can last.

Ryan was the first to go bankrupt, so he moved into position to help me. Already, I’d given Ron his third of four railroads. What blunders were left?

If any family bonding was taking place, I hadn’t yet observed it. More like it was every man, woman, child, and dog for himself.

My arms vibrated from all the table shaking that Ron’s leg bouncing produced. His childhood tics had reemerged, the ones that had caused him to be sent home from school with report cards that said, “Refuses to sit still in class.” That was back in the days before Ritalin.

Next, it was my husband’s turn. He drew a Chance Card that condemned him to pay the last of his money to the remaining three players. “No-o-o!” he shouted, slamming his fist down onto the table.

The dog yelped. Then the cat, thinking she might be in jeopardy, attacked with a hiss and a few punches to the muzzle. Ryan fell out of his chair, laughing, and hurt his knee.

Julie, who was by now almost out of money, maintained a glum expression. So Ron looked lovingly into his wife’s eyes and asked, “Would you like me to give you five hundred dollars for that railroad, Hon—just to keep you in the game?”

She gazed back at him and smiled. “Would ya?”

“Of course. What are husbands for?” he gushed. Then he whisked the card from her hand and hollered, “All R-R-I-I-I-IGHT!”

 No one was surprised when eventually Ron won the game, and he was the only one who went to bed happy that night. My husband felt his position as “head-of-household” had been usurped. Julie had been deceived by her own spouse. The other children had been once again outdone by their older brother. And thanks to this entire ruckus, the dog and cat now had more trust issues than ever before.

That evening, I fell asleep and dreamed about traipsing cross-county to view exterior illumination like most normal families do.

This year, we’ll need to establish a new holiday ritual—because the most I got out of that Monopoly game was the two bucks it brought during last summer’s garage sale.

Excerpted from the book, Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road, by Diana Estill.

 

Available in paperback and Kindle format

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What do your dishes say about you?

The Blue Willow Bowl

 

Thanksgiving Central, the “war room,” otherwise known as my kitchen. In the place where it all begins each year, I search for a mixing bowl that hasn’t yet been soiled and sent to the sink.

Nothing.

Oh, wait. Here’s that Blue Willow bowl I never use, the one Grandma gave me . . . when was it? Seems like it was right after I married. I recall her voice when she asked, “Don’t you need a good mixing bowl?”  

I lift the bowl and examine it. How many foods have been made and served inside this cobalt blue and white heirloom? Probably thousands.

My fingers trace the rim. Still chipped in two places—just like the day she gave it to me. Otherwise, I see no cracks. Not any unplanned ones, at least. There’s a crackle glaze that’s rather pronounced around the love birds painted near the bottom. Hmm. Love birds. I hadn’t ever before noticed these.

Now, where is my banana nut bread recipe? Well, it’s not really mine. Actually, I got that from Grandma too—indirectly. For Christmas, one year not long before she died, she gave me a cookbook published by her church. Grandma’s contribution to the book had been her banana bread recipe. She was already up in years when she’d provided those instructions. So she accidentally left out the flour from the list of ingredients. I’ve penciled in the correction. 

I stir together the flour, sugar, eggs, and lard. Yes, lard. That’s how she made it. It’s one day a year. I’m probably not going to kill anyone with cholesterol. I mean, it wouldn’t be her recipe if I substituted canola oil.

Mindlessly, I stare at the blue and white china.

I miss her.

It hits me. I am here, stirring the banana bread that I will serve my family tomorrow, and I am mixing the same batter in the same dish that my grandmother used to blend her baked goods decades before this.

So who cares if the bowl is chipped?

Some day, I will look at one of my daughters and ask, “Don’t you need a good mixing bowl?” When I do, I hope she appreciates the significance.

I pour the batter into a loaf pan and turn on the tap to rinse the bowl.

Water pours. The blue willows weep. And tears flow.

Everybody needs a good mixing bowl.

 

http://www.TotallySkewed.com

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How ‘Bout Some Fries With Those Fireworks?

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Would you like fries with that?

 

When I was a teenager, fireworks were perfectly legal to own and shoot in most of Texas. Had this not been the case, there might be more wood shingle rooftops today. 

I fear I have contributed to at least a few shingle replacements, and I know I’m responsible for an entire kitchen remodel. You see, when I was a teenager I sold firecrackers, bottle rockets, and whistling chasers from our family farm located behind Southfork Ranch.

My folks didn’t seem to mind that their front porch held enough fire power to compete with the Cotton Bowl fireworks extravaganza. Probably they were just thrilled to see me earning money they didn’t have to earn first. 

Nowadays, most folks realize it’s dangerous for children to ignite pyrotechnics during one of the driest months of the year, especially in a grassfire prone state. But back then, I guess people were less concerned. Maybe they figured a burned lawn is one that won’t need mowing.

No one in my family ever caught the yard on fire. The house? Yes, but never the lawn.

My siblings and I received strict fireworks instructions from Dad. “Point the bottom end of that Roman candle away from you,” he’d caution. After I’d seen one of Dad’s errant Roman candles misfire, launching a ball of flame over my head, I really didn’t need to be told this. Being a wise older sister, I also knew to keep the designated exploding end of these fire sticks aimed away from me and towards my brothers.

Like most boys, my younger siblings could be destructive with or without fireworks. Firecrackers simply gave them more options.

Several of my Barbie dolls owe their demise to a fist-full of Black Cats. But I wasn’t terribly upset when my Barbies’ demoralizing bodies were blackened. I’d already outgrown the dolls and was yet too young to realize their future eBay values. Fortunately, my brothers never blew up anything I treasured, like, say, maybe a Tiger Beat poster of Bobby Sherman. That would have instigated the disappearance of at least three G.I. Joes.

During my youth, Independence Day was a more celebrated and dangerous time when otherwise law-abiding citizens morphed into mailbox felons overnight. Rooftops smoldered beneath rockets’ embers. Grassfires dotted roadway ditches at night. And ever so often, some hoodlum would shoot a Texas Twister into a fully stocked fireworks stand. Secretly I was enthused by the astonishing light show that typically followed.

Though I wasn’t a particularly destructive kid, while tending our family’s fireworks stand, I did set fire to the kitchen.  

This wasn’t entirely my fault. Okay, maybe I was partially responsible. All right, I flat out suffered an idiot attack.

It was July 4, the peak sales day for fireworks, and there seemingly was no end to the extent of customers who wanted to prove their patriotism by blowing up something. All morning, I’d been serving anxious buyers. My stomach ached from hunger, but the crowds kept coming. Finally, there was a break in traffic, so I raced indoors to fry some French fries. But then I heard cars arriving again, possibly ones with cute boys inside. 

Quickly I turned on a gas stove burner, poured some frozen fries into a skillet full of vegetable oil, and rushed back outside. 

By the time I remembered the skillet, it was too late.

When I returned to the kitchen, the stove was engulfed in flames. And to make matters worse, the fries were ruined.

Not long after this, my parents sold their farm, and they never again encouraged me to sell fireworks. But sometimes when I’m driving through rural areas and I spot a little fireworks stand, I feel an overwhelming urge to stop—and offer French fries.

 

Diana Estill is the author of Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life

www.TotallySkewed.com

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Book Expo America: an inside look

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Having spent the past three days at Book Expo America, in New York City, I am now home. Seated comfortably in a lounge chair in my backyard, near Dallas, TX, I consider the contrast in these two vastly different environments.

It is quiet here, with only the occasional hum from a distant passing automobile. Purple finches and cardinals serenade from the trees overhead. Trickling streams cascade over a rock waterfall. My cat roams, searching for any sign of invaders.

This is not New York. Not even its distant cousin.

This is the space I share with my husband, an oasis from outside concerns, a place where I find solitude when needed.  However, only a day ago, in New York City, the scene looked more like this:

 Inside the Marriott Marquis Hotel I am challenged to select, from a series of alphabetized doors, the correct elevator to carry me to street level. 

Outside, throngs of tourists and locals compete for pavement along with schools of taxis, snaking busses and viciously circling Lincoln Town Cars. Horns blare, despite posted signs that threaten to fine violators $350 per offense.

Pedestrians pay no mind to walk lights or each other. Once caught in the flow of traffic, individuals must keep moving or risk being pounded by those who surely will.

Inside the Javits Convention Center, the cars, busses and taxis are no longer a threat. But the foot traffic is equally, if not more, hazardous than it is outdoors.

In here, there are no traffic lights or unified patterns. Booksellers, publishers, authors, librarians, literary agents and others move about at every imaginable pace—and in no particular direction.

People dressed as storybook characters wander through the crowds. These whimsical figures mix incongruently with the bikini-clad women who’re offering free pina coladas.

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An extraterrestrial-looking costumed pair holds a sign advertising a book about alien abductions. I can’t help myself. I laugh at their gray masks.

There is something here for everyone, whether fans of Harper Collins, Harlequin, Hay House, or L. Ron Hubbard.

A super-sized inflated Clifford greets visitors to the main floor atrium where media members periodically collect to film a variety of authors.

Educational classes are underway on the lower level. Inside the ballrooms, sessions are filled to standing room only capacities. I attend a few sessions, climbing over floor squatters to reach whatever crannies haven’t yet been occupied.

Every hour or half hour, depending on a predetermined schedule, authors rotate in and out from behind 30 autograph tables. Between classes, I bounce from line to line to obtain signed books and have my picture taken with The View host Sherri Shepherd.P1011007

Predominately, the action takes place on the main level, around the Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and other major publishers’ booths. In these areas, ARCs (advanced reading copies) are distributed to those who arrive early enough to grab them. Occasionally, an author such as James Patterson may make a brief appearance.

I spot sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whom I had previously thought was dead. What can I say? Believe me, I’m not the only one who’s admitted this.

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 At the Ingram booth, a collection of gawkers (including myself) watches the new Espresso machine (billed as the “ATM for books”) print out an entire book, cover and all, within seconds.

By midday, my hands ache from hauling an ever-growing stash of books. My feet are throbbing from traversing the gargantuan facility, and I am tired of dodging those who are clearly more important to the book trade than I.

A stop for some much needed bottled water sets me back $3.75, but that’s just part of the carnival-like experience. In the old days, pre-recession, many of the publishers dispensed water and sodas for free. For the most part, those times have disappeared. I’m sure the food vendors aren’t disappointed.

My latest book has been nominated for an award. I try to appear happy when the winners’ names are announced, though mine is not among them. Oh, well, I tell myself, God must have something better for me. I force a smile and keep moving.

By the end of day two, I’ve scored a private meeting with an editor of a major publishing house, met a man I’ve been trying to contact for months (and nabbed his personal email address) and developed tons of new book marketing ideas. None of this, I realize, would have been possible from home, though by now I sorely miss the tranquility of Texas.

At night, in Time Square, I again meld with the undulating masses, snapping photos whenever safety permits. It seems as if I’m the only object here that’s not in perpetual motion.

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Suddenly I am struck by this revelation: I am but a single pixel in a mural of humanity.

That’s easy to forget, sometimes. Especially when I’m sitting quietly at home in my backyard.

 

 

 

 

 

Diana Estill is the author of Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life.

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Can funny books offer a message?

“What’s the message you’re trying to get across with your books?” my marketing guru friend Kadena asked.

 

Message? Did I have one? If so, it must have been a subconscious desire. I thought I was hoping simply to entertain readers with my stories. I’ve said that “I help find the fun in life’s frustrations.” But perhaps there was something more going on. Maybe it was time to reexamine my intent.

 

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I write most of my humor essays as a form of personal therapy. As one who has a magnetic attraction to calamities, I write to cope with chaos. Life for me and my brood often turns crazy, complicated and confusing. And when it does, I stop and ponder this question: What’s funny about this?

 

If I think about most any situation long enough, my anxiety, anger, or compulsion to consume an entire box of sugar cookies in one sitting passes. Before I know it, I’m laughing at the very events that earlier might have left me contemplating revenge or, at a minimum, a retaliatory shopping spree. Just ask my husband about the ring I purchased while he was on a solo trip to New York. Yeah, I don’t get mad. I get jewelry.

 

Anyway, in tracing a positive (as opposed to a precious gemstone) path through undesirable situations, I’m leaving a trail for others to follow.

 

Jack Canfield summed it best in his book, The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, when he cited the formula “E+R = O.” This equation signifies that life events, plus our reactions to those events, equal the resulting outcomes.

 

At some time, we all suffer undesired or unintended situations. That’s just part of the human experience. We can’t always control life, but we can take charge of how we respond to the events that occur. If we hold on to these negative experiences, fret about them, rehash the perceived injustice or unfairness we’ve endured, then we’ll have an entirely different outcome than we might if we dealt differently with our emotions.

 

There is no better way to overcome life’s annoyances than to laugh at them. When we become amused with ourselves and our foibles, then we are free to move forward in a new direction. With fewer accessories, perhaps, but still….

 

If there is an overall lesson in my stories and books, then learning to find the levity that’s sometimes hidden in life’s challenges is it. I strive to follow this practice (though often with scant success). “We teach best that which we most need to learn.”

 

I have to keep sharing my silly tales so I can move closer to my desired level of harmony. No doubt, many readers will arrive well ahead of me. I’m a terribly slow learner. But as long as I’m laughing, I’ll be okay.

 

 

Diana Estill (aka Deedee Divine) is the author of Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life.

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Totally Skewed Thoughts: The Stimulant Package

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My normally sunny, happy-go-lucky disposition has been completely destroyed by recent events. I feel hurt, angry, and lost. At times it’s even difficult to get out of bed. My mattress is nearly four feet off the ground, so, technically, it’s always hard for me to rise from it. But, as they say in the South, that’s a whole “nuther” issue.

What I’m talking about here is serious. Way serious. It affects not only me but also every family member who comes into close contact with me, “Da Man O’ Da House” included.  

          People grow mean when you take away the little pleasures in life, the ones they believe are essential to well-being, like Dr Pepper.

          Research suggests that diet sodas can make a body fat. So initially I switched from a daily consumption of four cans of Diet Dr Pepper to two of the real stuff, the kind with 150 calories and 40 grams of sugars per 12-ounce serving.

Ever since I made this transition, you could say that my heft has dramatically increased. You could say it and see what happens! I don’t recommend doing that. 

It’s entirely possible that I’m gaining weight also from a less than strict diet. Nevertheless, adding 300 calories’ worth of soda pop per day isn’t exactly a viable weight management plan.

To compound my problems, I have friends who are what I can only in the politest of terms describe as “health freaks.”

Upon witnessing my refrigerator filled with, EGADS, high potency soft drinks, meaning those laced with high fructose corn syrup, otherwise known as POISON to these folks, one pal had to avert her eyes. She’d just bestowed upon me a pound of Amish-made butter and some whole, hormone-free milk that had been cheerfully supplied by grain-fed cows with green lips. How could I possibly expect such wholesome foods to share shelf space with non-nutritious stimulants? 

I’d heard it all before, how awful all these various food additives and unnatural ingredients can be for those who wish to maintain good health. For every study that says one of these culprits is bad, I can find another that touts its benefits. Frankly, if I eliminated from my consumption every food or beverage that’s had a negative research finding, I’d die from starvation, dehydration, or reading too many health journals.

In any event, I decided to improve my health by giving up caffeine. For good. Essentially this means I’ve turned into a caged badger. A groggy one, but still.

The degree to which I’ve been addicted to caffeine and/or Dr Pepper is debatable. I’ll admit this drink has been, since childhood, a necessary part of my day. However, hubby says it’s more like this: If I could find a way to dispatch Dr Pepper through a mainline, I probably would.

“Your only hope is for someone to invent a Dr Pepper PATCH,” he teases.

Possibly you’re wondering how anyone could become this hooked on a soft drink. Let me just say that access to this stimulant has been essential enough that my spouse checks the fridge before bedtime every night, to insure that HE will have a good tomorrow.

But that was then, and this is now.

Today is Day Five without caffeine.

Who the hell is ringing my phone? Oh, it’s him, Da Man O’ Da House. Interrupt, interrupt, interrupt! He’s probably calling to ask if I’ve yet drunk a Dr Pepper.

 

Okay. I’m back. Right now, right this very second, I am aware that there are six unopened cans of Dr Pepper in my fridge, half a dozen opportunities for failure. And I can honestly state that I don’t want one.

I want them ALL!

If I had a smidgen of willpower, I’d throw away that soda pop. If I had a vengeful heart, I’d give it to someone who’s attractively thin. But I simply can’t part with my liquid lust, my carbonated companions. Somehow, just knowing they’re here soothes my sleepy soul.

I sit and scheme of ways to quench my thirst for the forbidden. How could I do this without my husband knowing I’ve cheated? Already I have fallen once and been caught.

“It was nothing,” I told him. “Just a frivolous one-time swig.” But he didn’t believe me. The hurt and disappointment showed in his expression. He studied my thighs and said nothing.

Ah, but that sweet stolen taste still lingers on my parched slack lips.

How long am I going to keep these remnants from my wayward days? It’s difficult to say. But I can tell you this much; given the state of our economy right now, the most valuable part of my children’s inheritance could be a six-pack of unopened antique Dr Pepper cans.

What? You think there’s something wrong with that? Well, tell it to someone who’s had their caffeine!

 

Editorial note: As of Day 11, the author’s refrigerator contains only five unopened Dr Pepper cans.

Diana Estill is the author of Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road (Brown Books) and

Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life (Corncob Press).

Visit www.TotallySkewed.com to read more of her humor.

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