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Category: News

The Real Mrs. Clean

Okay, so a little last-minute unexpected drop-by company—-someone I haven’t seen since the dawn of mankind—-got me thinking about this piece I wrote quite a few years back. We might be out of the legos-all-over-the-floor-stage, but the mess? Well, let’s just say it’s better than it used to be and leave it at that...

I love this lady--it looks almost like me with a broom. 'Cept I'd be frowning LOL
I love this lady--it looks almost like me with a broom. 'Cept I'd be frowning LOL

Housekeeping is not my bag. You might never know this, if you didn’t come for a visit. From the curb, my quiet, unassuming abode looks just like any other house around (except that I haven’t mulched or weeded in a year). But step foot inside, and if you’re lucky you might be able to travel two feet before stumbling upon something left in the wrong place and destined to cause you to do a Dick Van Dyke flip over the ottoman right onto your behind.

Dishes are stacked to eyeball level in the kitchen, waiting to be washed once we run out of utensils. In the bedroom, you’ll find piles of unread magazines decorating the perimeter of the unvacuumed carpet. Catalogues that will never be used (but you just never know) rest peacefully in a corner, secure in the knowledge that they are not bound for the recycling bin for at least 6 more months. Half-finished projects lie unattended, detritus of dashed ambitions.

Throughout the house at any given time you are likely to find strewn about the floor: backpacks, lunchboxes (day-old leftovers intact therein), pens and pencils, dirty socks and undies (always turned inside out), hair elastics, twisted beyond repair, mangled dog toys, heel-piercing lego bits, and the occasional spot of parrot doo doo (lucky for us, our bird has projectile capabilities).

To my great relief, my house has not gotten this disastrous. Yet.
To my great relief, my house has not gotten this disastrous. Yet.

For some reason I have found over the years that just when I think I’m gonna grab the bull by the horns and make something of my mess, it all just seems to snowball further out of control. Carpe diem, schmiem. With 3 kids, 2 dogs, a cat, a parrot, and the commensurate tumbleweeds of fur, feathers and food that migrate across my floor, I’m lucky that I’m not raising a family of asthmatics by now. So let me just warn you right off the bat: you cannot eat off of these floors. Unless you’re looking to get pinworms or something.

This non-neatnik problem has weighed heavily on my mind for a while. I think I hit an all-time low several years ago when I contemplated entering a contest on a national television show: Why I need The View to Come Help Me Clean Up and Organize My House. When you think about it, you’ve gotta be feeling a bit desperate about things to resort to a contest in the first place. To then shamelessly videotape your mess of a house in the hopes that you are chosen, so that the entire nation can then see your untidy ways, is really rather pathetic. But honey, this little lemming (or is that salmon?) is not swimming successfully against the tide.

You want to know the worst thing about that contest? I never got around to sending off the application in time; it got lost in a pile of papers on top of my messy desk. As my then 9-year old son said, “irony rears its ugly head!”

Truthfully, I found I was limited by the constraints of the application. I’m a wordy girl; the limit was around 50 words, and I just couldn’t whittle it down. But in case you’re interested in my plea for salvation, here goes.

Top Ten Reasons to Help Jen Get Organized:

7) Great visuals, touring pigsty;

6) Audience will laugh out loud at the slob;

5) Prevents basement’s spontaneous combustion;

4) Her kids won’t think she’s a hypocrite;

3) Husband will stop threatening to run away;

2) Frees up time for therapy sessions; and

1) Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Now maybe if I had some spiffy Mr. Clean boxer-briefs I'd be motivated to clean more...Not that I wear boxer-briefs!

Now maybe if I had some spiffy Mr. Clean boxer-briefs I’d be motivated to clean more. (Not that I’d wear boxer-briefs!)

I find that being organized for a family of five is an onerous task for someone like me. I mean, I can’t recall a time when organizational skills were a hallmark of my personality to begin with. When I was single, my idea of being organized was wearing the same color bra and panties at the same time. But now, trying to keep one step ahead of a houseful of mess-makers has me weary. I’m sick and tired of having my house look like it’s been ransacked by burglars. Ironic, considering we don’t really own anything terribly burgle-worthy anyhow.

So to make myself feel better, I’ve decided to attribute these shortcomings to genetics. One of the beauties of having children is when they pick up all your bad habits, you’re able to rationalize that these are genetic traits that cannot be helped. I had a father who abandoned his nice, organized briefcase in favor of hauling his paperwork to and from work in cardboard boxes. Rather than periodically cleaning out his brief-box, he just kept dumping all the contents into bigger and bigger containers. Eventually he had to see an orthopedic surgeon due to his back problems. No doubt from schlepping his heavy cargo.

So my kids are doomed to repeat these slovenly ways. When my son brings home notes from teachers lamenting that his locker is so cluttered it won’t close all the way, I heave a sigh and throw my hands up in dismay. When my girls misconstrue the notion of picking up their rooms, and simply shove everything along the wall, my consternation is supplanted by resignation. Thank heavens my husband likes to file and sort things, otherwise my whole family might one day end up buried alive beneath of mountain of life’s debris.

Lucky for us, we occasionally do get houseguests, though. And about the only thing that lights the match under my behind to get things sparklingly clean around here is the threat of outsiders seeing the true me. So if you’re planning to visit our house any time soon, have no fear. I’ll be armed and ready with my mop, vacuum, dust rags and trash bin (if only I could find them!). And if you’re really lucky, you might actually be able to eat off the floor.

The Incredible Shrinking Everything (but me)...


Downsizing is happening to an alarming degree these days, isn’t it? For instance, last week I saw all these women at the pool for the first time since last summer, and they’d all downsized. Damn them, squeezed into teeny bikinis like they were. Of course that’s the good type of downsizing. The rampant scaling back, the kind we hate, involves jobs and salaries and such. And groceries. And that, alas, is everywhere.


I first noticed a large and steady uptick in grocery prices a couple of years back, when practically overnight ethanol became embraced by Washington lawmakers as the alternative fuel of the future (despite its not being such a great alternative fuel).





All of a sudden those ubiquitous mono-culture corn fields draped across the heartland became fields of gold. And then the fields producing wheat, soy and oilseed crops soon got flipped over to grow yet more corn to feed the Archer Daniels Midland ethanol beast. So anything made with corn products—pretty much everything falling under the categories of food, clothing and shelter, from soda to wallpaper paste—doubled in price. And products made with flour, soy and most other staple crops also ratcheted up in price because there were half as many fields devoted to producing those crops. Remember when a trip to the bakery was the best bargain in town? Now you better re-mortgage the house before you seek out pastries, what with the cost of flour these days. That is if the bank will let you.

            Now I’m no economist. In my college Econ 101 class, when asked on a test the definition of “economics,” forgetting the exact answer, I replied, “Economics is the dismal science.” To which my professor wrote on the margins in bold red ink, “perhaps for you it is.” And he was indeed right about that.





My finance skills are equally lacking, but we’ll save that for another day. But I am a grocery store economist and I can tell we’re all getting hosed when I see it. And I see it. First, of course, came the rapid doubling of prices. Then came the shrinkage of products.

A roll of paper towels went from the diameter of a healthy adult’s thigh to that of an anorexic gangly-legged ‘tween. That pound of pasta? Now twelve ounces. Same great price; a bit less filling. And they thought we wouldn’t notice how much smaller the box has gotten. It’s as if food companies have decided to put America on a diet, since we are all so bad at doing it for ourselves (but for those bikini-clad moms at the pool, damn them).




 I’m not a big fan of grocery shopping. There are only two things I like about it: Running into friends mid-aisle and chatting, thus temporarily forgetting that I’m grocery shopping; and the self check-out. I’ll be forever grateful to Giant, despite all they have done to make their product selection less desirable to us shoppers over the past few years, for trailblazing with self check-out machines. Nothing can be more momentarily thrilling while at a grocery store (and yeah, it’s not like much of anything would be thrilling at a grocery store, I’ll grant you that) than being able to scan your purchases, making that bar code force a beep out of the scanner. Power at your fingertips. Till you have to pay for it, that is.

Even better? Learning your numbers and foodstuffs in Spanish. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by checking out in Spanish, though it occasionally backfires when I don’t know what certain produce items are called in Spanish. Who knew “apples” begin with an “m” (manzanita)? But I can tell you now that an awful lot of groceries end in noventa y nueve centavos (99 cents). Yeah, make it a penny less than the next highest dollar price and you don’t feel so ripped off paying what you do for undersized groceries these days.

Apart from the sticker shock, the other thing that has made me loathe grocery shopping that much more these days is the less-than-subtle ways in which stores are economizing. It was bad enough when times weren’t so tight—I’d shop at three stores to fulfill the grocery mandate, bulk at one place, organic another, the main things a third locale. But now most stores have sneakily swapped out national brands for their own product. It used to be that store brands were often fairly comparable. Nowadays, the store brands don’t usually tend to stack up to the name brands. I mean how else are these stores cutting costs but for cutting quality?

Sure, the packaging has come a long way from the days when generic products came in no-frills black and white boxes (remember those?). Now the outside looks great. But the inside? Not so much. So if I want to find the products I used to buy at the closest store to me? Sorry, gotta add at least one more store into the grocery round-up, often two. These days pursuit of groceries can take on part-time job status. And cost about the much as a salary from a part-time job, sadly.

I guess in a twisted way this less is more happening is a good thing. We’re all learning to do more with less, and to expect less for more. Something about lowered expectations can actually make life simpler, bizarrely enough. And perhaps we’ll just have to focus on that forced diet all of these grocery store shrinkages are bound to result in down the road. Who knows, maybe by next swim season I’ll be the one flaunting the bikini…Although since I barely wore a bikini when I was in my twenties, perhaps I’m morphing into fairy tales now. Let’s just stick with less products at the store means less time shopping. And that can’t be such a bad thing, now, can it?



Whoooo-Hoooo for Judi Fennell's Debut Novel!!!

A couple of years ago my then-manuscript, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, finaled in the Dorchester Publishing/Romantic Times American Title III contest. Amongst the group of finalists was my guest today, Judi Fennell, whose friendship just happens to be yet another wonderful thing that came about from being in that contest (yeah, winning it was pretty sweet, too, but Judi, you’re a close second!). It was a pleasant bonus to learn that she, too, is a graduate of Penn State, which is, of course, one kick-ass institution of higher learning ;-) . 

After the American Title contest, Judi went on to final in I think one or two of the writing contests and networked her butt off and landed a publishing contract with the lovely Deb Werksman at SourceBooks for her novel In Over Her Head and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Judi and I have been compared at times. Must be because we’re from Penn State. Or because we’re blonde…Ish. And because we have a snarky sense of humor at times. Whatever it is, I really love to read what she writes because it is funny and clever and because she works so damned hard at it too. I know you’ll love her debut novel In Over Her Head.

Here’s the buzz on the book:

Nora Roberts? Danielle Steel? Much acclaimed romance writers should step aside. There is a new romance writer in town and she is certainly causing a great splash with her debut novel, In Over Her Head.”

I truly found a pearl in my oyster when I read this delightful tale. I was surprised how good of a book In Over Her Head is. It is extremely well-written, the storyline flows and I was hooked from the first page.

IN OVER HER HEAD is a delightful, quirky blend of humor, adventure and passion. All in all, this is a fast, fun read and a great way to spend a snowy afternoon or a sunny day at the beach.

-Lynda K. Scott, Star-Crossed Romance

In Over Her Head is a heartwarming, but action-packed story of two people-one human and the other of the seaworthy body-joined together in an adventure. I enjoyed this story immensely.

-Dawn M. Ekinia, Armchair Interviews

A delightful underwater adventure… full of good-natured humor and fun. A strong first effort by a promising new talent.

-Romantic Times

A playful debut… sincere wit.

-Publisher’s Weekly 

And here’s what it’s about: 

When Erica Peck, one terrified-of-the-ocean marina owner, finds herself at the bottom of the sea conversing with a Mer man named Reel, she thinks she’s died and gone to her own version of Hell. When the Oceanic Council demands she and Reel retrieve a lost cache of diamonds from the resident sea monster in return for their lives, she knows she’s died and gone to Hell.

When they escape the monster and end up on a deserted island, she amends her opinion – she’s died and gone to Heaven.

But when Reel sacrifices himself to allow her to return to her world, she realizes that, Heaven or Hell, with Reel, she’s In Over Her Head.

JG: Tell me a little about your book. 

JF: Erica has been scared of the ocean ever since The Incident when she was a little girl and won’t go in unless under duress. Being at the wrong end of her ex-boyfriend’s gun is that duress. Reel Tritone, second in line for the Mer throne, has been fascinated with Erica ever since The Incident, but interacting with Humans is against Mer law, so he can only watch from afar. Until she ends up in the water with a shark on her tail and Reel has to make the biggest decision of his life… because Erica is really In Over Her Head.

JG: What got you writing in the genre in which you write. 

JF: When your favorite shows are about genies and witches – I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched – it’s kind of pointless to assume you’re going to write straight romance. In my stories, I get to relive the wonder and fun of those shows. Toss in my love for all things Disney and fairy tales, and paranormal romance novels are right up my alley.

JG: Favorite thing about being a writer? 

JF: Writing in my fluffy robe, fur-lined mules, feather boa and tiara. :) Seriously, my favorite thing is to hear from people that they liked my story.

JG: Least favorite thing about being a writer? 

JF: The perception of Romance in the media. I recently saw a story on a major network show about how Romance is recession-proof, that the sales of Romance are up in this rotten economy, yet the reporter went for all the “bodice-ripper” and “tales of lusty love.” Mystery writers don’t have to defend their genre, Science Fiction, thriller, etc. but Romance always has to justify itself.

JG: What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author? 

JF: Having people I don’t know email me that they love my stories. This was my “little talking fish” story that everyone else is getting the humor and enjoying, and that just tickles me pink.

JG: What’s your favorite type of pie? 

JF: Apple. And I make a good one. Thanks to my 9th grade Home Ec teacher, that’s my contribution to family gatherings. The funny thing is, I entered a pie baking contest against that teacher (it was a blind judging) and won. Yes, I got an A in that class. :)

Here’s how on top of it Judi is: she’s already got her two sequels put to bed and ready for publication. Well, almost. But they’ll be out soon, so look for these titles: Wild Blue Under and Catch of a Lifetime.

And lastly, to celebrate the release of each of her books, Judi Fennell and the Atlantis Inn and the Hibiscus House bed and breakfasts are raffling off three romantic beach getaway weekends. All information is on Judi’s website,