Directionally Impaired

I’m directionally impaired.medium-Compass-166.6-2348.gif

Have been since grade school when I learned that north is at the top of the compass and south is at the bottom. Naturally I thought that meant north was always in front of me and south was behind me. I made it happily through my childhood years without any major traumas due to my directional deficiency, but this handicap became a problem when I got my driver’s license in high school in Phoenix a few lifetimes ago.

Phoenix, being the “valley of the (scorching) sun,” has some gorgeous natural landmarks surrounding it. Problem is one mountain looks pretty much like another. So when someone would say, “Go toward South Mountain, then head east on such-and-such street,” I was clueless. South Mountain, North Mountain, what’s the difference? My only saving grace was when my destination was somewhere in the vicinity of Camelback Mountain. Appropriately named, that was a mountain even I could identify.

After high school I spent five years in EuroBitburg.12pe, courtesy of Uncle Sam, and never got lost; much to my family’s amazement. That’s because in Germany, I usually traveled by train or bus, plus most of the towns and villages near our American Air Force Base were so small even I could find my way around them. And in London they have this great color-coded underground subway system called the tube.

Piece of cake. Cup of tea.

It was when I returned stateside that the trouble began. While I was overseas, my family had moved from Phoenix to Sacramento, where the myriad of freeways in California’s capital city boggled my mind. They all sounded so similar: Interstate 80, Business 80, and “the old 880.” To further confuse unsuspecting travelers, the old 880 is now I-80 and the old I-80 is now Business 80. Got that? I don’t.

Even my then-eight-year-old nephew Joshua knew his way around better than I did. One day he was in the car with me when I was trying to figure the way to a friend’s house in a part of town I didn’t know very well. This time, I knew the general direction I needed to go, but was bewildered by the variety of freeway options to get me there.

Josh suggested one, but I disregarded him. After all, he was only eight. But as the lights of Sacramento receded in the distance, he piped up from the back seat, “Aunt Laura, we’re on our way to San Francisco.”

(Excerpted and adapted from my first book, Dated Jekyll, Married Hyde.)

How about you? Are you directionally impaired? Or is it just me?

My House is Alive with the Sound of Musicals

I’m a musicals geek from way back. My artist father was an ardent admirer of talent and beauty, and introduced me to many of the great movie musicals when I was a little girl. As a result, in my youth I had dreams of becoming a Broadway star. Those dreams were squashed forever when I auditioned for West Side Story in a Cleveland community theater production in my early twenties. I failed miserably at the dance-at-the-gym number. (To dance, you need rhythm and the ability to step-ball-change. I have neither.)

My lack of rhythm doesn’t prevent me from loving musicals, however, it makes me appreciate them all the more. I especially love the old movie musicals from Hollywood’s heyday in the ‘30s-‘50s—like Top Hat, On the Town, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin’ in the Rain, Oklahoma, and The King and I. Unfortunately, many of those musicals and their stars are becoming forgotten.

So, I’m going to do my part to keep them alive by periodically writing about them and introducing you to some of the greats (which you may not know if you’re under 40.) Like the fabulous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. (The latter you should know well from watching White Christmas every year—“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” number with the inimitable Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen is one of the greatest dance duets committed to film.

Then there’s that great musical quartet who produced two of the most enduring movie musicals in the ‘50s: Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.

Carousel was one of Dad’s favorite musicals, due in large part to Gordon MacRae’s stirring and tender rendition of “Soliloquy.” I can’t hear “My boy Bill…” without thinking of Dad. The beautiful duet “If I Loved You” between Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan gave us both goosebumps, and left me with a longtime crush on Gordon MacRae (sealed for life when he sang “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “People Will Say We’re in Love,” in Oklahoma.) But it was the heartbreaking “You’ll Never Walk Alone” when Billy Bigelow died that moved us to tears when I was a child.

Less than a decade later that song was sung at my Dad’s funeral.

Dad appreciated great singing and dancing, and passed that appreciation on to his offspring. He revered Mario Lanza and introduced me to the great operatic tenor in “The Toast of New Orleans” with Kathryn Grayson. I still remember and love their gorgeous duet of “Be My Love,” a song that became a bestselling hit for Lanza in the ‘50s.

Another amazing musical performer from the ‘40s and ‘50s my dad introduced me to was Ann Miller, the leggy brunette famous for her machine-gun tap dancing. Many considered her the best and fastest female tap dancer in Hollywood—it was said she could do 500 taps a minute!

She usually played the sassy sidekick and was in a lot of not-too-good movies. Although the movies were forgettable, her dancing never was. To see her in her best films, check out Easter Parade, On the Town, and Kiss Me, Kate.

I’ll leave you with a little more Miller dancing to brighten your weekend.

 

 

Decorating (Un)Diva

Some women lust over designer shoes and handbags, some lust over diamonds and pearls. I lust over farmhouse sinks and pendant lights.

I’m addicted to home improvement—and home improvement shows—much to my husband’s dismay. Used to be, every time I watched one of the HGTV or DIY shows on Netflix, I’d get the urge to start a new house project—ka-ching, ka-ching—or do a little redecorating and rearranging furniture.IMG_0788

I come from a long line of rearranging women. It’s in our genes; I’m a “Miller girl.” My mom and her five Miller sisters all like(d) to rearrange and decorate. Growing up, it seemed every few months Mom would move the furniture, which drove my dad crazy, especially when he came home and tripped over the ottoman like Dick Van Dyke.

The thing is, as much as I love watching those shows, I could never be on one because you have to sign the design decisions over to their designer. Not gonna happen. I have very definite design ideas that I like to implement myself. I know what I like (farmhouse chic and cozy English cottage with lots of books, art, flowers, and touches of whimsy) and what I don’t (modern, minimalist, and sleek.)

Old books and our Bruges Pinocchio
Old books and our Bruges Pinocchio

I’m so not a modern girl. I like pops of color, but trust me, there will never be a pop of chartreuse or orange in my our house.

I love decorating and making things pretty. It’s one of my favorite forms of creative expression. Back in the day when I got to stay home and write books for a sort-of living, every time I finished a book—after weeks of being hunched over the keyboard during deadline crunch—and hit ‘Send’, the first thing I did (after a celebratory lunch) was jump into a new decorating or home-improvement project.

That project almost always begins with cleaning. I can’t stand a dirty house (another Miller-girl trait) but during deadline madness, normal household chores fall by the wayside; it’s all about the book. All my time and energy was devoted to writing, so by the time I finished my latest not-so-magnum opus, the house would be in serious need of a good cleaning. Michael regularly kept up with the basics—cooking, dishes, and laundry—but scrubbing toilets and dusting isn’t really his strong suit.

Once the house was sparkling clean, I’d jump into a new decorating project. Sometimes it was painting a room, sometimes rearranging the living room, sometimes ripping up carpet to expose gorgeous hardwood floors, sometimes repurposing an old piece of furniture, and sometimes it was simply moving a bookcase to another part of the room. (The latter always took the longest since I had to remove every book then re-shelve them. That was very distracting since each book called to me, “Read me, read me!”)

IMG_0778Although I love all those decorating shows (especially Fixer Upper; Chip and Joanna, subway tile, and shiplap, be still my heart) I must confess I see red when the designer displays books with the spines AGAINST THE WALL—hiding the titles and showing the pages facing outward. Sacrilege! Why would you have pictures of the backs of your friends’ heads? Clearly those designers aren’t readers.Cover - Daring Chloe

As I said in my novel Daring Chloe (I don’t usually quote myself, but when I Googled my name to see if my brand-new blog came up, several quotes from my books appeared. Pretty cool. I’m not used to being quoted.) Anyway, as I said in Daring Chloe, “How do you explain to a nonreader that books aren’t just things but treasured friends? Companions

No way will I ever hide my book spines. Nobody puts my babies in the corner. Are you with me?

IMG_0831

TV Crushes

IMG_0830TV Crushes

Growing up, I was in love with Little Joe Cartwright. How could you not be? He was so cute!

In the mid-‘60s, TV westerns were the best place to find a wagon load of gorgeous guys. My favorite was Bonanza. And not just because of the curly-haired, mischievous, and dimpled Little Joe. Some episodes I was drawn to the dark-haired handsome Adam who always dressed in black and was so wise and mature. Other times I even fell for Hoss; for such a big guy he was dadburned gentle. (Although what was the deal with their clothes? As rich as they were, you’d think the Cartwright boys could have afforded more than one outfit.)IMG_0829

My preferences changed weekly, depending on which of the boys was taking a girl for a buggy ride and picnic. But did you ever notice that going on a picnic with one of the Cartwright boys usually ended in death for the unlucky woman of the week? Once I realized that, I scratched that IMG_0831romantic scenario and moved on to the Barkley brothers over at The Big Valley.

Problem was, not one of the Barkleys alone had all the characteristics on my wish list. I yearned for the intelligence of Jarrod, the strength and raw masculinity of Nick, and the sensitivity of Heath. (Later, Heath became The Six-Million-Dollar Man, so I could have had two out of three in one package if I’d only known.)

Finally, there was The High Chaparral with Big John Cannon, his happy-go-lucky brother, Buck, sensitive son Blue, and flirtatious brother-in-law Manolito Montoya. Manolito was the dashing and charming ladies’ man who made my heart flutter every Sunday night. But my tween heart was fickle and some weeks I’d give my heart to Big John, the gruff family patriarch who reminded me of John Wayne. And a couple times I gave it to Buck, the fighting, free-spirited, Civil War vet who deep down didn’t think he deserved the love of a good woman. I wanted to show him he did. And then of course, there was the sweet, young “Blue Boy,” always trying to prove himself to his daddy. I fell in love with his beautiful blue eyes and sweet spirit.

But it wasn’t just the guys of TV Westerns who won my tweenage heart. I also fell for the dynamic secret-agent duo in The Man From Uncle. Although Illya Kuryakin was arguably the cuter of the two with his black turtlenecks, intensity, and thatch of blonde hair, I usually swooned over the cool suaveness and sophistication of international ladies’ man Napoleon Solo in his ubiquitous suits and tuxedo. A world away from the blue-collar guys in my factory town.

And of course the crème de la creme of my romantic childhood yearnings was Davy Jones of The Monkees who made a daydream believer out of me.

What about you? Who were some of your childhood TV crushes?