How to Lie and Spy

Lutheran Lady secretsI wish I were a better liar.

Dallas Cowboy Fan will ask, checking the fridge for a late night snack. “Hey who ate the last of the ice cream?”

“Uh… the cat?” It’s the first thing that comes to mind since I blame the cat for everything.

I’ve often thought that I need to work on my lying skills. I suppose that “lying’ is a sad thing ,but it would be handy to have a quick comeback for the neighbor who’s always asking how much I paid for something.

I’ve come across some research about women spies during the Civil War, and wondered how they pulled off their lies.

Already, I’ve learned a lot from Belle Boyd, a seventeen-year-old Southern belle who

Belle Boyd (wiki)

Belle Boyd (wiki)

stumbled into her espionage career when Union soldiers tromped into her West Virginia home. The men insulted her mama, so she pulled out a gun, shot, and killed one the bluebellies. Then she charmed the soldiers who were keeping sentry over her, was exonerated, and ended up marrying the captain of the  unit. This put her in the perfect position to hide in closets and listen to her hubby’s conversations with  fellow officers.

The young, sneaky vixen wrote down their loose-lipped war secrets, pressed the paper into a hollowed-out watch, and sent her maid scurrying past enemy lines to the Confederates.

(NOTE TO SELF: This is what it takes to be a good liar: an accomplice and an ordinary item with a secret hidey-hole in it.)

Then there was Rose O’Neal Greenhow who ran a boarding house in the nation’s capital. She made connections with presidents, generals, and military officers, and then passed whatever information she gleaned to pro-Confederate members of Congress.

It was Allen Pinkerton, head of the Secret Service,  who finally caught her and her 26-symbol cypher for encoding messages. Even confined to her house, she allegedly continued to send messages using  the position of her blinds or the number of candles in her window.

(NOTE TO SELF: Work out a code system.  BLAH!!! Already this is starting to sound like too much work. I can’t even keep track of sticky notes.)

She was arrested and released several times, finally running the blockade and escaping to London where she wrote her spy memoirs which sold like hotcakes among the Brits.

(NOTE TO SELF: Stop writing books about Lutheran Ladies. Become a Lutheran spy, then write a book about being a spy.)

A few years later when she sneaked back into the U.S., her boat was chased by a Union gunboat. It capsized and she drowned at Cape Fear. She might’ve survived, but she’d sewn the royalties from her books ($2,000 worth of gold) into her undergarments. Down she went.

(NOTE TO SELF: Do not use underpants to hide secret loot.!!!! )

So in honor of “change”, I’m learning a new skill. I’m practicing lying, cyphering, and hiding stuff, by using several secret hidey holes to stash my important treasures: chocolate, mad-money,and postage stamps [because everybody raids my stamps when they want to mail something]. Unfortunately, I’ve run into a few glitches.

I forget which place I’ve stashed what. I write myself notes, but then misplace the notes among the million pieces of paper on my desk.

At this point,  I’m not sure if I”m simply hiding stuff from myself, or if Dallas Cowboy Fan has actually found my stash and is lying about it.

It was easier when I just blamed the cat.


How Not to Give Criticism


I’ll get to the point, just wait a minute.

Okay…no matter how old I get…I still keep learning something. Whether I want to or not.

I needed to hand out criticism to a committee member. What I would like to use is the kick-butt approach:It goes like this: ” For the love of St. Pete, we’re talking about the book fundraiser, Lulu. After the meeting is over, we can talk about  your achy knee and  strange-mole problem and all the books you’ve used to diagnosis yourself..”

I’ve used this kick-butt technique a couple of times. I felt kind of skunky afterward..  But no one was insulted enough to volunteer to take over chairing the meeting, which would’ve been a nice side benefit to offset the skunky feeling..

So I switched to the ol’ interrupt-and-refocus technique.

“LuLu what in blithereens does your topic have to do with what we’re talking about— which at the moment, is the BOOK FUNDRAISER?”

Again I feel skunky for such a shut-up-and-get-with-the-topic approach. But that quickly goes away because LuLu can relate anything to the latest topic. She simply says (quite officiously) “Well, just wait…I’m getting to that.”

Five minutes and four doctor visits later, she finally reports that she has books that didn’t help at all and she’s going to put them in the book-fundraiser…if we ever get one planned.

So finally I used the OREO technique. (A suggestion for improvement is sandwiched between a couple of compliments)

“Lulu, wow that sounds like you’ve really done a lot of thorough research into in-grown toenail problems. How about you  hold those thoughts until we finish talking about the fundraiser,then we can hear your amazing information after the meeting.”

Mother Mary, Joseph, and all the baby donkeys!!!! It worked. WhooHoo. (and no skunky feeling)

There’s only one catch. I have to hang around after the meeting and listen to the FULL info dump on toenails.

I learned more than I ever wanted to know. But I figure someday it’ll be me, blathering on about the ridges in my fingernails or accidental  farts or how I don’t sleep well during a full moon.

Someday I may be lonely and the only way I know how to relieve my desperate ache is to join committees so I can be with people and hijack  conversations so I can talk about myself.

I hope they know the OREO Technique.

By Ismael Nieto

By Ismael Nieto

Have you ever dealt with a conversation hijacker?

Things that Comfort

Because I’m a writer, I keep a list of:

Things That Comfort

That way, I can siimply throw a few comforting elements into a scene and the reader will relax along with a character, and I can bring them down from big drama in the previous scene or set them up for a big scare in the next scene.  A literary trick. Warmth from a fireplace, a sunny day, the cat lying on the heating vent.  Aaaah, We all feel relaxed and soothed.

Recently our digital version of our Oregon newspaper pointed out “the least creepy thing on the internet, lately”. So I hurried over there see if it qualified for my comfort list.

Google Sheep Views

Carmel, North Wales. Photo by Howard Hughes

Carmel, North Wales. Photo by Howard Hughes

Google Sheep View is a blog in which folks post pastoral pics of sheep. Yep.

One photo isn’t much of a relaxer, but scroll through the site of woolie after woolie and you’ll feel your blood pressure start to drop. Maybe you can even imagine yourself someplace where no one wants anything from you.

You wanna know the truth?

I met a bunch of sheep on my trek across England last year. Day after day after day. Right through their pastures. Baaaaaaaaing each morning at the whisper of dawn. Right next to my pack whenever I set it down.

Here’s the truth about these gals. Not only are they wool machines. They are crapping machines.In a defecation contest between a goose and a sheep, my money would be on the woolie. I doubt if there is a square foot of the Yorkshire dales that isn’t peppered with sheep doo (unless it’s indoors.).

This won’t bother you if you’re in a car. If you’re walking fifteen miles, then you’ve spent the last 14.9 miles looking for a place to sit down and  eat. Honest to mud, a few times we sat ourselves in somebody’s  gated front yard.

These animals chew grass at one end and spit pellets out the other end. AT THE SAME TIME.!!!  CONSTANTLY!!!

Most of the sheep are spray-painted, like you see here, because all the farmers run their animals together on the moors. And the great sheep round-up is something to behold.  Not comforting to the sheep.

There’s lots of yipping and howling (that’s the humans who are riding 3-wheelers). The dogs (3-4 of them) are quiet and running the fringes of the herd.  Thousands of sheep baaaaaaing in every note within human range.

There’re sorted by colored spots (which represent different farmers). They’re sheared, doctored, and then back to the fields they go….

Naked and happy to create more sheep pellets.

And maybe that’s the comforting part. Maybe that’s the lesson here: No matter how much hair you lose—life goes on. Keep doing the things you like: eating and crapping.

(But sheep still didn’t make my comfort list). (Creepy list coming in October)

Cuppa Fancy-Pants Dishes

High Tea by Lucas AlexanderWe had a fundraiser. A High Tea at church. I love and hate these shindigs.

First the love: 

The rule for being a hostess for a table is simple: NOTHING HAS TO MATCH. So the women who “mother” a table drag out every bit of their fancy garage-sale-finds, heirlooms, and grandma-gave-it-to-me linens.

It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s so much work. And It makes me as nervous as a fingerless-short-armed tyrannosaurus to pass around their delicate plates which are often as translucent as paper. That’s probably how the tradition of cutting off the bread crusts got started… so the added crust-weight of a pile of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (who thought of this combo?) wouldn’t make a heritage plate shear into eleven pieces when it’s lifted.

The amazingly architected cups (with bone-thin saucers) hold 4.3 oz of liquid which is about two good sips. If we were drinking like we were sitting at a Starbucks, the “Table Mother” would need arms like an octopus to constantly refill cups, but according to the Tenant of Tea rules (which were secretly handed down from southern woman to southern woman, allowing a sort of snobbish superiority over uncoached Yankees, whose participation in the Boston Tea party created a sort of unlimited right to tea supping),  well tea rules dictate that a woman eats BEFORE she goes to a party. Thus she will only sip 2.4 oz of tea and nibble a quarter of a tiny scone with clotted cream.

Fortunately, this is Oregon, and the need to survive a frontier of logs, beavers, and 8 months of rain has left us with a culture that allows the delicate plates to be piled high with savories and at least 2 pots of tea grace the table: caffeinated and unleaded.

And then comes the guilt

I keep telling myself I should invest in some tea service doo-daas and help out with the serving. But I don’t possess a Martha Stewart gene. Honest to Pete, I’m too lazy. The only fancy plates I have are boxed in attic. They’re the type every Lutheran church possesses and doesn’t use anymore because we church ladies have saved soup labels and box tops and bought new sturdy stuff that fits in the dishwasher better.

So I buy tickets to the tea. I love going and nibbling at the dainties (because, of course, I’ve eaten beforehand). The admission is worth it when I think about myself handwashing/drying every saucer and cup, and then wrapping it and putting it away.

And lemon curd. I love lemon curd. So I’m glad someone organizes a tea, but now that Downtown Abbey is off the air, perhaps life will change and the work of the afternoon teas will go away?

Or perhaps not?  Because what else can be done with all those fragile dishes? Perhaps some things won’t change?

Do you have fancy-pants dishes? Do you use them?

A Change in Death—Or Not

Thank you for sending notes and letting me know you’ve missed me. I appreciate that.

860293834_4c8f575321_qI finally finished writing the latest Lutheran Ladies Circle novel, and it’s become wildly apparent to me that there’s been a CHANGE in the way we treat death.  Maybe that’s because lately, I’ve spent so much time with morticians.

The main character in Melody Markett’s Crash Course on Life is female funeral director with a checkered past (which she’s carefully hidden). I knew very little about the undertaking process, so I spent time with  folks at mortuaries, crematoriums, and cemeteries.

I discovered a bunch of fascinating details, which my red-ink-happy editors  cut because: “…while it’s intriguing, it doesn’t move the plot forward.”

Well, phooey!.  But then I realized…”Hey, I can share some juicy idea-bits with you.”  So start the organ music and let’s look at a few changes.

GROWING UP in the ‘50s.

Save the dress:

My grandparents (and every old person I knew), had one good dress or suit in their closet which they might wear on special occasions, but they’d be sure to let their nearest relative know, “This is the dress you need to bury me in.” It didn’t matter that the clothing was twenty years old or two sizes two small. The mortician could fix that. Even before people were dead, they were planning what to wear.

And then there was a wake:

But because we’re Lutheran, we didn’t call it that. It was visitations at my grandparent’s Covering-Earshouse, and all of us kid-cousins (who’d been banned to play in the yard) were constantly in trouble. These were the days before attentive parents provided toys and activities, so we hooligans made our own amusement: digging for worms, having dirt fights, or sneaking under the fence to explore the crawl-space beneath the Baptist church down the street. If we were caught and scolded back to the yard (to continue flinging dirtballs), an adult would come out of the house and yell at us for being too rowdy or noisy.  “For the love of saints! Be quiet out here! Your uncle is dead! Have some respect!”

We couldn’t figure out why a dead man would care about our ear-splitting screams. And why did the adults get to laugh and tell stories that carried down the block?

Funeral Parlors

When funeral homes bundled their services into packages, many of our family activities went away—moved to a more professional, air-conditioned, padded-chair visitation room where there was nothing for kids to do but kick each other and dare the youngest cousin to go touch dead Aunt Mildred’s hand.

And then the popularity of cremation brought an end to even more childhood exploits.

CHANGES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY…New traditions are beginning.

Living Funerals:

These are being embraced by folks with a “fatal” illness. A small group of friends and156097132_d7c96f8eed_q family gather to tell the dying person the heartfelt things he/she wouldn’t have gotten to hear at their funeral. It breaks isolation and allows others to know the dying person is willing to talk about his illness and death, and there’s no need to feel uncomfortable about visiting.


If you’re important enough, the NY Times or perhaps even your local newsrag will write your “advance” or “draft” obituary while you’re still alive. A journalist must be ready. The uncomfortable part is phoning the pre-dead for an interview. (I can attest to this. I’ve written two obits for live interviewees who wanted to “make sure the paper got it right.”)

Video Obituaries

A home DIY project (or you can hire a professional), folks are making videos and delivering their own obits to be watched at their funeral.  Maybe you’d like to leave someone a message  that you would’ve never uttered in life?  A company will allow you to create any message you choose and they’ll send it for you after you’re dead.


PicnicOne thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that death may be final, but as long as a person is remembered, they live on.

Sometime over this Mother’s Day weekend the family will head out to the cemetery, armed with picnic baskets and garden implements. We’ll cut and trim and tidy.  Mom did it for Grandma. Grandma did it her mom. Great-grand did it for those who came before her.

And then we’ll spread picnic blankets under the nearby trees and raise a glass of lemonade and a snickerdoodle to those long-gone saints. The kids will throw worms and grass at each other. The adults will tell family flower-galleryplayer.jpgstories and laugh—remembering.

It’s tradition.

Happy Mother’s day, Mom. I’m keeping the tradition alive.

(If you’re interested in the story that evolved out of all this research, check out the book tab above for Melody Markett’s Crash Course on Life.)

The WWII Ration Diet

From the National Archives

From the National Archives

In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, I have several acquaintances who are cooking only from the WW II Ration Plan.

Now, let me say that they live in Australia and England, and as I look at their food allotments, it has to be a real challenge to make meals.

WW2 Rations : Each person: Per Week United Kingdom

Butter: 1/4 Cup
Bacon or ham:  about 4 pieces
Margarine: 1/4 Cup
Cooking fat/lard: 1/2 Cup
Sugar: 1 Cup
Meat: 3/4 pound      <—THIS IS PER PERSON PER WEEK
Cheese: 1/4 cup
Eggs: one per week; supplement with dried eggs
Tea: A couple ounces of leaves per week.
Jam: two ounces a week…think in terms of a DAB on your toast
Sweets & Chocolate: 3 ounces a week.  (HINT:  A Hershey bar is 1.5 oz)


So let’s see what we could buy in the U.S for canned goods:

From Ames History Organization

From Ames History Organization

We have 48 points per month.I’d be tempted to blow it on 2 cans of pineapple, but that’s it for the month. I couldn’t buy any other canned food, but other family members could use their points.

As you can see, it would be better to have 3 cans of corn than 2 cans of grapefruit juice to live on for the month.

Some years ago, when I interviewed my grandmother about rationing, she was quick to point out that folks who lived on a farm …even a poor one…were used to doing without.

(Keep in mind they were just getting over the starvation of the Dust Bowl.)

“ANd we  grew our  own vegetables, skinny hogs and cattle. It was fuel and sugar that had us worried.”

With the problem of obesity so rampant, perhaps we should go back to this stricter food choice. We’d have:

  • No Starbucks
    No Fast Burgers or Pizza
    More Meatless Meals
    No food wasted. Instead we’d throw it in a pot and cook it as stew each week

I was admiring and  thinking about copying the WarTime Woman for just a week and eating according to

From the Wartime Woman: Beetroot Sandwiches

her rationing plans, but she lost me at BEETROOT sandwiches.

Hip hop on over and checkout her experiment.

You’ll look at food differently.

In the meantime, Let us count our blessings. Thanks to both the veterans and civilians who help ensure that we eat in a time of peace.


Good-by Phone. Hello Change

Vintage Elgin Men's Wrist Watch, Sterling Silver Case, 7 Jewels Circa 1918

Do you know about the Time Lady?

“Who?” a group of young people at my discussion table asked.

“Used to be…watches had springs and they had to be wound up. Sometimes they ran fast. But usually, they ticked the seconds off slowly. If you asked a group of people what their watch showed, (of course, most people wore a watch—even kids). everyone would have a different time by a few minutes. This meant that before any important caper like blowing up the world or heisting artwork from a museum, crooks had to “sync” their watches.  But first…..somebody in the group had to call the Time Lady.

Actually, back in the 60s everybody called the Time Lady. Usually it was a free service provided by a bank or the electric company. The electronic pleasant-voiced woman would say something like…

“The time is … four thirty-three. The temperature is sixty-three degrees.”

Sometimes lonely people called the Time Lady over and over just to hear a  voice talking to them.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” The young folks shook their heads, appalled at such a hit or miss method to organize schools, trains, and dinnertime. “Well that explains a lot,” one of the young men said. “Now, can you tell me why this weird little barbell is on my icons? What’s that supposed to represent?” Because it sure doesn’t look like a phone.

iPhone: The Home Screen, the Tantalizing Empty Row, and the Four Major Applications

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. Change is coming faster.

Photos: watch-Joe Haupt, woman -Chris Golderg; phone-Pleter Ouwerkerk