Me and My Dead (?) Snow Blower

2015-02 Pic 1I think my snow blower is dead.  Back in November, I changed the paddles and scraper then started it up to make sure it worked.  The engine turned over nicely and chugged right along.  If it hadn’t, I’d have a new one sitting in my garage today.  Instead, I didn’t know that would be its last breath.  It failed me the first time I went to use it, two months later in January, with the first significant snowfall of the season.  What a pain!

I haven’t taken it in for service, but I’ve tried everything else within my power to revive it.  I siphoned out the old gas and put in new fuel.  I changed the spark plug.  I’ve tried using starting fluid.  All efforts have been to no avail.

It’s not as if I should be surprised.  The machine is ten years old, and I’ve been a neglectful owner.  I let old gas sit in it, over the summer and fall, year after year.  And then there’s the day in 2012 when my neighbor, Don, came over to find out if I could use some parts from his old machine since he bought a new one.  “Have you changed the paddles and scraper yet this season?” he asked.

“No,” I responded.  “I haven’t changed them since I bought the machine.  I didn’t know they would ever wear out.”

To his dear credit, Don didn’t roll his eyes.  He just asked if he could look and then showed me the shreds of what remained of the scraper.  He pointed out how the holes in the paddle that warned you they needed replacing were long gone; that the edges of the snow blower were starting to be eaten away from dragging on the rough pavement.

Don took my snow blower with him that day and brought me back a hybrid between his old machine and mine, having to put my engine into the case of his old snow blower.  Don warned me that the scraper and paddles would need replacing soon and told me where I could get the parts.  He offered to help me if I needed it.

I am somewhat mechanically inclined, but not particularly motivated to work on equipment.  It’s just not something that I enjoy.  So with the 2012/2013 snow season being unusually light, I didn’t get around to changing the scraper and paddle until the start of the 2013/2014 season.  It was a good thing I did because Detroit had a record snowfall of 94.9 inches – more than double our usual average.

2015-02 Pic 2The fact that my little 16” Toro Powerlite handled all that snow is remarkable to me now.  Considering its age and history of neglect, it truly is on a par with the ‘little engine that could.’  It never failed me during that time and went the extra mile as I helped neighbors clear their sidewalks.

Now it sits in my garage awaiting its fate.  I thought I could make it through this season the old-fashioned way using a shovel and buy a new snow blower at the start of the next season.  The sixteen inches of snow we got on February 1st and 2nd has me rethinking that strategy.  Unfortunately, the pickings are slim in the stores right now and even online.  I have considered taking it in for service, however, I’ve heard that can cost as much as half of what a new machine will cost.

So I sit trying to make up my mind on what to do.  Crossing my fingers and hoping we don’t get another sixteen inch snowfall seems foolhardy.  Neighbors have been helping me out with the snow, but I don’t want to take advantage of their good nature.  Calder, my cat, shows no signs of wanting to get outside to help me.  My call for minions in last month’s post has gone unanswered.  Neither have I found a good reference for someone I can pay to come and take care of the snow for me.

I’m happy to hear your suggestions to help me decide on a solution.  For now, I’m watching the weather reports closely, stocking up on Epsom salts, and rooting for an early spring!

The Contenders

Received a lot of good responses to last month’s blog about coming up with a better moniker for Knock Softly.

Everyone agrees that the title is a deciding factor when selecting a new read. That and the cover image(s) are the only things people see before they pick up your book. Those two things and the blurb on the back cover have to say “buy me now.” If not, every other word you’ve written is pointless. I want a strong title that not only draws you in, but also carries its own ballooning weight as the story progresses. Ideally, this title should cause an afterglow effect once the reader has finished the novel. That’s what I’m shooting for.

The need for a title to “sum up” the story came into question, and that was unexpected. I was reminded that some of the best titles intrigue or entice without explaining themselves at all, or not until the very end. Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides is a good example. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is another.

As far as which title everyone thought best, I have to laugh. As responses started coming in, I was reminded of something my brother, Dave, once told me way back in the 20th century. He’s ten years older and light-years wiser, and he said that, “People don’t know what they want, they only want what they know.” I laughed because all the first suggestions said don’t change the title, or put the ellipsis back in. Then, I started to get other suggestions. I’ve narrowed it down to seven, but first, here’s a draft of a 100-word synopsis for the back cover blurb:

There are things worse than death. Reoccurring cancer is one.

Elizabeth Bergman, mother, lover, wife and special education teacher, won her first bout with cancer ten years ago. She recovered and led the perfect life until an unexpected pregnancy coincided with cancer’s return.

Only mitochondrial DNA can save her now, but to get it, her husband must first unlock a dark and secret past his wife has kept from him and the children. Her desire to die with her secret is almost as strong as her will to live for her children and the child she carries, and for the life she hopes to carry on.

And now, the Contenders…

  1. Knock Softly…
  2. Knock Softly
  3. Ring Around the Twisted Ladder (the double helix & ring around the rosy)
  4. Carry on, Mrs. Bergman (or, Carry on, Mr. & Mrs. Bergman)
  5. Elizabeth! (Several by this title, none with the !, almost all about Queen E. or E. Taylor)
  6. Both Sides Now (Joni Mitchel’s song. Look up the lyrics if unfamiliar; spot on.)
  7. All to Die For (or, All to Die For, Baby. Liz’s outlook from start to finish)

The last two are somewhat ambiguous, but so are the first two.

Now what works best in your mind?

What’s a Penny Worth?

I buy most of my hair products at Ulta3. I find the people who work there helpful in suggesting the right product for what I need. I also like their sales. My favorite is the one where, if you buy two of something, the third one is free.

Last November I needed some hairspray. I went to Ulta3 and talked with one of the saleswomen. “What hairspray would work best on fine hair that has a mind of its own? I want something to hold it in place. But I don’t want to look like I have a steel helmet on.”

The salesgirl suggested one of the Paul Mitchell products.

I wasn’t sure. “What if it doesn’t work for me? Or, what if I don’t like the way I look?” I asked.

She told me, “Don’t worry”. It’s a Buy 2, Get 1 Free sale. If you’re unhappy, you can bring the unused product back with the receipt and exchange it for something you like.”

That sounded fine. I bought three cans.

When I got home, I put the cans in the bathroom closet because I hadn’t yet finished with the old hairspray I was using.

A few weeks ago, I finally finished the old hairspray and started using one of the new ones. At first it was o.k. But, after a few days, I wasn’t happy with how my hair looked or felt: It felt hard, not fresh and silky, and looked dried out, just like I had a steel helmet on my head. I decided to give it a few more days but nothing improved.

I searched for my receipt, put it and the other two cans in the Ulta3 bag and went back to the store. Once there, I walked to where the Paul Mitchell products are kept and located the hairspray that I was bringing back. I looked around on the shelf to see if they had something else that would look and feel softer on my hair. I read the descriptions on the back of the cans. Finally I found one that sounded good.

I stopped the saleswomen I saw walking by. I told her my problem and asked, “Will this other hairspray work for me?”

“Well,” she said, “The new spray won’t hold your hair as well but it will feel soft and natural.”

I walked to the front of the store to make the exchange. I explained what I wanted to do and the cashier said with a smile, “No problem.” To me, that’s the universal sign that very soon something’s going to go wrong.

The saleswoman entered the product information into the cash register and called for her manager to put in her code to complete the exchange.

The manager came up front. “You know,” she said. “It’s too hard to do it this way. I know an easier way.”

“Fine.” I said. I just wanted to complete the sale and get going. I hadn’t planned on spending this much time at the store.

The manager started ringing up the hairspray. First she swiped the bar codes on the cans I was returning. Then she punched a number of keys. After that she stopped and gazed at the cash register. Lastly, she cancelled everything out and started over.

I watched her do this three times while trying to discreetly peek at my watch to see what time it was now. This was taking much longer than I’d expected.

After the third attempt, something must have gone right, because she asked me to hand her the two new cans of hairspray that I wanted to purchase. She swiped them.

I looked at her expectantly. It looked like everything would be o.k. after all. But then she undid everything and started over again.

At that point I couldn’t help myself. I very obviously looked at my watch. I’d been in the store for almost half an hour.

I looked at the manager again. She was still swiping and pushing buttons on the cash register. I asked her, “What seems to be the problem?”

“The cash register keeps saying you owe a penny in tax, but you don’t.”

“That’s fine. Don’t worry. I’ll pay it.”

“No. You don’t owe it,” she said.

“I don’t care. I’m happy to help fund the government. I’ll pay it.” I put a penny on the counter.

“Are you sure? You really don’t have to do this.”

“I want to.” I picked up my bag with the new hairspray and walked out the door. I felt I had escaped.



Insta-success with Instagram

Twitter is stupid, and Instagram is for people who can’t read.”–Max, 2 Broke Girls

I always think of that quote when I mention Instagram to others.  Instagram is a social site for sharing snapshots.  If you don’t like imagetaking pictures, this post won’t be for you, but you should read to the end just to make sure.

As a writer, or any business owner, you need to find social media platforms that work for you and your desired end goals.  The sites need to be ones that you will maintain and that are fun for you.  I think Facebook is a big time-suck with algorithms that don’t let me see the feeds of everyone I want to in the order that I want to.  Still, I have a Facebook Author Page that I modestly keep up with.  I have discovered informative people through Twitter and it seems to be popular for writers.  It’s hard to keep up with the news feed some days, but there’s some good interaction with my tweets.

What about Instagram?  I’m a scrapbooker and, by default, take hundreds of photos every month.  I’m surprised it took me so long to find the value in Instagram.  My first two photos posted the week of June 10-16, 2012 (138 weeks ago) when I was just playing around with some filters on my first smartphone.  They were pictures of teddy bears.  I didn’t know what else to do with it, so I trailed off and lost interest.  I picked it up again the week of February 2-7, 2014 (53 weeks ago, or just over a year) as an outlet to showcase my writing, initially my haiku poetry.  Now I use Instagram for my writing and…well, stop on over and check out my photos at @dwhirsch.

I use Instagram as a marketing tool as much as a social experience.  I don’t pretend to know everything about Instagram.  I read information from bloggers who have done the research, such as @jenns_trends, who is a goddess on Insta-information.  What I’m offering is my personal experiences and successes adapting those tools.

To use Instagram effectively, you have to decide what you plan to share.  This can change over time, but start with some initial rules.  My guidelines are the same ones I have for my personal blog.  I never post pictures of friends or family without first getting their consent.  I don’t post photos of my house because I have “location services” turned on my phone.  I don’t want people to know where not to find me when I’m out of town.  There’s nothing valuable, explicit, religious, political, controversial or anything my dad–were he still alive–would be disappointed to read about me.


Instagram is Insta-easy to use, and the site’s features are relatively uncomplicated and obsessively playful.  It’s free to set up, and I recommend you snag your profile information now: create your Name (generally your real name or business) and Username (what you’ll be known @as). Photos are posted in a square, and most smartphones have a “square” option in the camera settings. If not, or if a square cuts off some important part of your photo, there are many free apps that will shrink your photo and place a border around it. To post, just upload a photo or 15-second video that you take live or have stored in your smartphone library. You can alter your media with black-and-white, sepia or color filters, with additional tools to adjust the image’s brightness, contrast or saturation level.  Finish it off with a frame or vignette, add a caption and press Share.

Now that you’re live, how do people find you?  Your 153-character bio, along with your photo’s caption, and hashtags need to be creative, potent and relevant.  Going back to Max’s quote comparing Twitter and Instagram, the latter is not restricted to 140 characters.  Your photo or video should tell a complete story, but you can use about 440 words to explain that image. This comment section is vital because you can tell your story and highlight your image using crucial hashtags.

Instagram is hashtag heaven. People with similar interests will find you based on how you tag your images.  Common hashtags reflect those you find on Twitter, but you don’t have to be familiar with Twitter to use Instagram.  Think about what your picture is about and tag your image with common terms.  As a snapshot in the moment, you can showcase a twisted #tree branch, a royal #sunset, a #selfie in your awesome new #shirt, an art exhibit or the #bananabread you’re baking.  You’ll get a feel for tags once you start using them.  Tags have no spaces and use just alphabet characters with no suggestions, so type in exactly what you’re looking for.  Much like Twitter lists, you can also create hashtags to group your own images in a somewhat folder design.  Some of mine include #iamapoetess, #SnuffletFinse and #Champsp. Be sure to check out this group’s posts, which are under the same hashtag as on Twitter: #dwriters.

The Explore tab complements tags by suggesting people to follow based on tags you use, images you’ve ‘Liked’ and people or companies that your followers follow.


Oh, yes, companies use this.  Instagram is a successful marketing tool, a highly-used space to display products from #clothing to #cosmetics. Check out companies like @Bathandbodyworks, @Ford and @Applebees.

I sometimes stage my work because I want my followers to see the best of me.  I give my followers a peek into my writing, #Zentangle art and my overall creative process while infusing my quirky personality and personal interests.  Think about it: if I follow a particular author, I feel more connected to the “person” rather than to the “celebrity.”  Therefore, I’ve taken my book cover image and overlaid a part of a review on top of it.  I type up actual text from my latest #shortstory or #poetry.  Photo editing can be fun.

Given my goals, I show images of blue-inked-up work as I edit my current draft.  I show the #coffee shops where I #amwriting. I show the stages of my Zentangle #wip so people can see my creation from start to finish. I have too much fun with it on the go not to let it be organic.

Remember, social media is social. I share my work and myself because like Max on #twobrokegirls, the experience on Instagram is more social. I comment more than I Like because the image doesn’t always grab me but the story in the caption section does.
image When someone takes the time to comment on my work, I respond to every–and I mean every!–comment made to me even if that person replied with a smiley face emoji.  I appreciate the time that person spent appreciating me, similarly the gratitude when I receive a #bookreview on #Amazon or #Goodreads.  If nothing else, I reply “Thank you.”  People like you when you like them.

What are the benefits?  The most important is meeting people with similar interests.  I’m reading a #memoir recommended by a follower who is #writing her own memoir. I’m inspired by new #art and #painting techniques.  I’ve been challenged to take pictures in #blackandwhite.  I could meet any number of them for #coffee if I was in their area.  I have a connection to these people. You can do the same with your peers and have fun doing it.

Tall Tales

My husband’s grandmother, Roseanna, prominently displayed a picture of herself sitting atop a camel. The memory had been captured while she was on vacation in Egypt. The one time I visited her home, I noticed the photograph hanging on a wall. I silently admired her sense of adventure and her confidence in traveling alone to a far-away land. She reminded me a bit of the protagonist from the movie, Titanic. In that film, the main character, Rose, nearly froze to death in icy Atlantic waters. She survived and went on to experience life in a way most women of her time didn’t even consider. Passionate living and unconventional travel set these two women apart from others. “Am I anything like them?” I wondered as I examined my own interest in traveling.

During my childhood, my family and I went on summer vacations. The six of us woke before the sun, piled into our Oldsmobile Delta 98, and drove to our destinations. Early into each drive, Dad rolled his window down to let in crisp cool air. His maneuver to jostle us awake worked as we quickly shivered away our sleepiness. Our chattering coupled with the whipping wind to keep him alert.

On one trip, I squished beside my three siblings into the backseat of the car for a nearly week-long drive from Michigan to California to visit relatives. We didn’t have to wear a seatbelt back then. Frankly, I’m not sure cars even had them. Unrestrained, my younger brothers were small enough to take turns lying on the rear window ledge. That helped my sister and me because we had more room to stretch out on the cushy backseat itself. Before you scream, “That’s not fair!,” know that we girls needed the extra space so we could take turns strategically holding a white pail for those moments when our motion sickness couldn’t be contained. Besides, we were older and bigger than them, and I’m sure we had “Called it!” first.

Monotony made the drive close to unbearable. To pass time, we counted red cars to compare with the number of blue, gray, white and black ones. We played “I Spy.” We kept watch for different state license plates. There was no mistaking us as The Brady Bunch, however. We weren’t cheerfully singing any song but did manage to get through most of one, “99 Bottles of Beer,” after running out of other things to do.

We tried to come up with novel ways to have some excitement and fun along the way. Once, my family took a short break at a rest stop so we could stretch our legs (that wasn’t the fun or exciting part). After we got back into the car, my sister and I convinced my brother, Gary, to crunch down on the floor and hide, while we girls patiently held in and planned for an expertly timed exclamation. After several miles one of us yelled out, “Where’s Gary?!” LOL, right? It didn’t take long for Dad to find Gary and for all of us to see that Dad didn’t appreciate our joke. I can’t remember which of us took the most blame, but Mom swears that it was really an accident when I was lost on a later trip to an aquarium.

We eventually made it to Grandpa’s house where I met aunts, uncles, and second cousins for the first time. We visited Great-Grandpa who was a talented landscaper earlier in his life. In his backyard, we saw a tree that produced two different varieties of fruit. He had created his own hybrid by splicing a fig tree and grafting some different fruit tree onto it. I can’t remember what the second was. His peach tree, however, left a bigger impression on me. It was naturally free from pesticides and the peaches would probably be considered organic by today’s standards. I still wish I had known that before taking a bite and seeing little squirming, protein-enriched worms inside. For many years afterward, I couldn’t make myself eat another peach.

Dad risked his life on a number of different road trips. On several occasions, he’d spot turtles trying to cross the freeways we were on. He reacted by quickly veering off to the shoulder and parking the car. The rest of us would then watch as he dashed in and out of traffic to collect an additional traveling companion. The clean, emergency white bucket came in handy to hold our newfound friend. Dad always knew what kind of turtle it was. The sharp jagged edges at the rear of its shell gave away its identity as a snapper. A pretty red bottom meant it was a painted turtle. A box turtle was just that: boxy. It was never long before we released each back into the wild.

Another time, he picked up three fiddler crabs and placed them in a paper cup for Gary to hold on the car ride. “Don’t spill them,” was barely uttered before those little creatures toppled over and scattered for hiding places. My sister and I shrieked and squirmed to get out of the backseat as quickly as possible. There was no way we were getting back in that car until those creepy crawly things were recaptured. The problem was that Dad could only find two. He wasn’t afraid of getting pinched by the renegade, so he tried to find that third crab by reaching into crevices of the cushions. Eventually, my sister and I were forced to get back into the car and we all continued on our way. That was a long, worrisome ride, but we were never bothered by the phantom fiddler, which had proven to be a great escape artist.

Dad had flown in tiny airplanes as part of the Air National Guard, and he vowed to never go on a larger commercial flight because he wouldn’t be given a parachute. If I were ever going to experience flying, it wasn’t going to be with him and the family. Therefore, my first plane ride was with friends on a trip to Florida for Spring Break. For several years, I could recall the handful of times I had flown. Most often, I dreaded air travel. Turbulence made me tense. I fervently reminded myself that flying really was safer than driving and that nothing was better than arriving at my destination in hours instead of days.

My interest in traveling grew after I married. My husband and I looked forward to annually visiting his brother and sisters who lived in California. After he and I had children of our own, I could no longer remember how many flights I had been on and my nervousness about flying was easing. Our children actually helped me get more comfortable with that. Their take on air turbulence was far different than mine. When we hit a rough patch for their first time, they squealed with delight instead of holding onto their armrests for dear life. What I feared, they loved.

When a friend of mine recently asked if I had a favorite vacation spot, I admitted that I didn’t. Each place I’ve been to has offered something unique and charming. Soon, I’ll tell you about them. You see, I’m afraid if I wait too long, I won’t be able to recall the details very well or that my perceptions will evolve into tall tales. While trying to verify some facts about Roseanna and her inspiring photograph, I found out that no one in the family remembers her having gone to Egypt…or having posed for a picture on a camel.