The Helpline by Clara B.

Dear Clara B,

There is a group of women at work who are nice enough to me, but they frequently go out to lunch without inviting me or discuss things they did over the weekend together. I've tried to let it roll off my back but it really hurts my feelings. Any thoughts or suggestions?


Dear Derf,

I'm reminded of the Frank Zappa quote, "Life is like high school, except you get money".  Even when we're all supposedly adults, everyone seems to fall into a clique.  You'd think we would all be past that, but it always seems to happen in almost every work place in some way or another. 

It's natural for you to feel hurt or left out, and it could be that they don't realize that they're excluding you.  Yes, people can really be that obtuse.  And you don't want to try too hard with them because then you worry about looking like you're kissing up.  

If this group of gals are friendly enough, the easiest thing to do is take the initiative and and invite them to lunch with you.  Maybe you heard of a great new restaurant, or maybe there's a fresh piece of mancake working at the deli near you that you all could ogle while he slices his meat.  Heh.  I said 'meat'.  Anyway, it really is as simple as that.  Put on your friendliest smile and invite them to lunch.  The worst thing that will happen is they will say no.  

Don't fret too much over it if you can.  From what I've experienced in the working world, office friendships can be trickier to navigate than those high school cliques.  And if they do say no, it's OK.  If their circle is that tightly closed, you probably wouldn't have much fun in there, anyway.  There's always someone else in the office that's looking for a lunch buddy.

Derfs, what are your experiences with office friendships?  

If anyone has a question they would like me to answer, drop me a line at


Paging Doctor Doug Ross...Code Blue at Derfwad Manor

It was all over the news yesterday that Mrs. G's Secret Boyfriend #9 is engaged to whoever. Mrs. G. is flagging at half-mast today. Please bow your heads and hearts for...

And then...



Let's hope the happy couple's engagement _________(fill in the blank)


Previously published October, 2007


Disclaimer: Mrs. G. has been married for almost eighteen years to the same man, Mr G. He is handsome, kind, loyal, and doesn't do household chores of any kind is a wonderful father. Many, many people (some of whom do not reside at Derfwad Manor) believe he makes the best pasta sauce in the world. Period. He uses a secret ingredient, and he will not share it with anyone, because Mr. G. is Sicilian and that's just the way they are.

Mrs. G's hearts a poundin' as she introduces George Timothy Clooney as her Secret Boyfriend #9. She says secret boyfriend because while her love and esteem for George is as dramatic and exciting as a trip to the ER, he has no idea that Mrs. G. exists. Ahh...Mrs. G. thinks unrequited love is healthy in a long term marriage she wants to last.

It all began in 1979 when Mrs. G. loved watching a TV show called The Facts of Life. The show was set in a dormitory of an all-girls school, EastlandAcademy. Mrs. G. was fond of all the girls on the show, but she really  liked Jo the best. Jo was a tomboy and she didn't take any crap and she had beautiful eyes. Mrs. G. liked Jo so much that she put a poster of her up on her wall, causing her mother to light candles and pray the rosary because of Mrs. G's enthusiastic affection. Six seasons later, a handy man named George Burnett showed up (see above) at Eastland Academy. Mrs. G. forgot all about Jo and turned all of her attention toward George. Mrs. G's mother breathed a sigh of relief and resumed her dream of future grandchildren. When reminiscing about his Facts of Life days, George said, "If I surved a mullet, I can survive anything."
He survived all right. Mrs. G. went on to college while George wrapped things up with the Eastland Girls. They reconnected when George played the cocky boss Booker Brooks on the Roseanne show. Booker had a little something something going on with Roseanne's sister, Jackie. Mrs. G. wanted to run her fingers through Booker's floppy hair. Above, George is standing next to Max, his beloved pot bellied pig who unfortunately died in 2006.

Things really started heating up in 1994, when George starred in a little show called ER.  He played Dr. Doug Ross and he was the original  Mcdreamy, he laid the foundation for all future and less worthy, McdreamiesER was hugely popular, and it was at this point that Mrs. G. had to start fighting other women off, mainly a slut nurse named Carol Hathaway who went on to molest Dr. Doug Ross for six seasons until she trapped him by getting pregnant with twins. They both left the show after season six to move to Seattle and raise their twin daughters. Not many people know this, but Doug and Carol divorced bitterly in 2000, the year Mrs. G. and her family moved back to Washington. Hmmmm....coincidence?
OK, Reader, just look at this handsome bastard. Doesn't he scream old school like Cary Grant? Suave and debonair, George can work a tuxedo like nobody's business. Look at those come hither eyes and that naughty smile. When nobody is watching, just lean over and kiss the screen. Mrs. G. won't tell.
Could George's Danny Ocean and his modern day Rat Pack have been any cooler than in this movie? George is one of only two men to be featured on the cover of Vogue and People magazine voted him Sexiest Man Alive in 1997 and 2006. Women want him and men want to be him. Mrs. G. just wants to hug him. A lot.

Lest, Reader, you think George is just all about handsome, he donated one million dollars to the Hurricane Relief Fund for victims of Katrina. In April of 2006, he spent 10 days in Chad and Sudan with his father to make a film aboutDarfur's refugees. This year, he founded Not on our Watch , along with his fellow Ocean's Eleven actors Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and JerryWeintraub , to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Dafur.
George says he will never marry (edited: liar) and spends much of his time at his home in the Italian village of Laglio. He recently told an interveiwer, "I bought a piano once because I had the dream of playing As Time Goes By  as some girl's leaning on it drinking a martini. Great image. But none of it worked out. I can't even play Chopsticks." Mrs. G. loves martinis and Chopstix. Is it any wonder George Clooney is her Secret Boyfriend #9?

Ciao Baby!

Who Knew Imaginary Rats Could Shed Light on Humanity

For the last several weeks, Mrs. G. has had recurring nightmares about rats running around inside her house walls. She hears the scritching and the scratching and wakes up in a full body sweat. For the first few weeks, Mr. G. would calm her down and comfort and reassure her. Now he just pokes her and says, "NO RATS." 

Today, someone was mean to Mrs. G, cruel really. This person, not a particularly close friend -- more of an occasional coffee date, laid out her years of grievances with Mrs. G. Grievances Mrs. G. was legitimately unaware of, which is weird because Mrs. G. is pretty in tune when she's being a jerk. She has been known to apologize for things that other people have completely forgotten. She's certainly no saint but she's not completely detached when she acts like an ass. She's not in a fugue state when she's being mouthy. But the truth in this situation was she was blindsided. Mrs. G. thought she was having a triple latte and a how's life conversation without the heaping side of you are a bitch and have always been a bitch.

Mrs. G. was so exhausted by the end of her friend's list of all the shit she had done wrong, Mrs. G. didn't have the energy to defend herself or disagree, plus she didn't buy the bill of goods this person was selling, and that just took the wind right out of her fishwife, harpy sails. Mrs. G, solid as a rock, heard the imaginary scritch scratch of rats in her walls. "No Rats," as Mr. G. would mumble in his sleep.

So Mrs. G. chose kindness. Does this make any sense to those of you who have not been not diagnosed as off-base by paid medical professionals? There were no rats -- only the nightmarish shadows of ill-natured vermin so many of us fear, so Mrs. G. finished her latte, hugged her friend and wished her the best.

Mrs. G. thinks she just happened to be at the wrong coffee shop at the wrong time, and her friend was loaded for bear.

Since third grade when Philip Wong called her four eyes and heifer, Mrs. G. has built some fairly solid suppositions on bullies.

1) If you are mean, the chances are you know you are mean and are an insecure mess. Get some help.

2) If your parents were mean, Mrs. G. truly feels for you and, again, encourages you to get some help.

3) If you are mean, your kids are likely mean, so don't act so surprised when the school calls.

4) If you are mean, surround yourself with kind people and try to reign your hostility in. Kindness is catching.

5) If you are mean, find the courage to let someone love you, because they will.

Mrs. G. is not a therapist, psychiatrist, a hairdresser or a bartender -- she hasn't been schooled in counseling people, so take everything she says with a grain of salt and the reality that you can't squeeze blood out of her turnip. She's just a human who has been human.

Mrs. G. left the coffee shop satisfied with herself. Kindness is sometimes hard, especially when you are dealing with assholes ( See, Mrs. G. still struggles), but it's light and airy in comparison to the brick-like solidity of hate.

As Mrs. G. slides past middle age, she wants to leave the planet and her people safe and secure in the knowledge she loved them hard during the good times and the dirty dog bullshit. She wants her kindness to prevail in their memories of her crazy ass.

For your information, despite this post being all over the place, Mrs. G. is sober. Tonight she is just feeling defensive for love and light, and she felt the need to fling it on the page before she went to bed.

In summation: Be kind, be kinder even when it hurts, peace to you and yours and sweet dreams.


*Resources to prevent bullying 


Full Confessional Friday...With a Twist

Mrs. G. has noticed that many of us have issues that annoy or exhaust us and goals we are too fearful to even attempt to achieve. So, she decided this week that we each need to set a goal(s) that we will work hard to meet by Friday, May 23rd. That's four weeks to take a big or small step. And should you just think eh, she'll never know. Mrs. G. will find you and check in on your success. She has her ways. When she's not hooking, she's working part time at the NSA. No kidding, though, you can't dodge her. Don't freak out. Your goal can be as simple as changing the sheets.

Confess as always, but don't forget to set your goal(s). Let's do this for ourselves and each other.


Be it Venial or Mortal (there's no escaping Original), we've all got secrets -- light, dark, funny, sad -- worth bringing to light. The act of confession can be liberating, mollifying and entertaining. Contrition? Repentance? A shot of Tequila? That's your call, sister.  


Losing Yourself for the Better

Mrs. G. changed his name for privacy purposes but this is really him! Thanks Google.

When Mrs. G. was in college, she was flat out in love with Professor Wright. He didn't know she existed, but how could he when he had at least three hundred students in his Survey of Early American History. Mrs. G. was just a face in the crowd, a face in the crowd that wanted to kiss his at least fifty-year-old cheeks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when class was in session.

Professor Wright always wore a trench coat and lugged a battered brief case on his way to class. He had unruly salt and pepper hair and was constantly pushing his thick glasses back in place. He read while he was walking around campus, oblivious to those around him. He was a fixture on campus, so most students knew that if Professor Wright was strolling down the sidewalk with his nose in a book, to get the hell out of the way.

If you spoke to Professor Wright out of class or in his office, he came off as a shy, unassuming man who was a little uncomfortable in his skin. It was clear he was most satisfied inside his books. His office was overflowing with them.

But when this shy, unassuming man was lecturing about Agrarianism or the Civil War, he was in his element. He became alive, worked up, nearly beside himself. Every once in a while, when he was really into, say, the battle of Antietam or Shiloh, he would climb up on his desk, swing his arms around and smile, truly stirred by the extraordinary information he was sharing. When Professor Wright climbed up on his desk, the energy shifted in class. Some students, like Mrs. G, were into it, others snickered like he was a wack job, while still others just couldn't wrap their minds around the fact he was standing on university issued furniture. But Professor Wright's goal, Mrs. G thinks, was to bring history to life, fire his students up, and he mostly succeeded. One afternoon, a student had his head down on his desk sleeping, and Professor Wright threw a pencil at his head. Nobody felt bad for the guy because when Professor Wright was standing on his desk, shit was real.

Mrs. G. hasn't seen Professor Wright for over twenty years. She hopes he's still alive walking the streets of Eugene with his face in a book. It's hard not to admire the daring stoutheartedness it takes to climb up on a real or metaphorical desk and share your genuine self, what really makes you tick, even at the risk of being mocked. Professor Wright did that and Mrs. G. thanks him for it. And to this day she has a fervid attachment to personal passions, odd birds and unruly salt and pepper hair.


Good For What Ails You by Aunt Snow

I had an inkling I was catching a cold in the morning, when I awoke with a headache and it took a while to banish the sleep from my mind. At work, my cold came on gradually and inevitably. I sat at my desk feeling the chills prickle my skin, and the skritch in my throat when I swallowed. When my husband was a little boy, he once described to his mother how a cold makes everything in your body ache; he said, “My hair hurts.”  That’s how I felt.

It's an old wives' tale that hot soup helps cure the common cold. I'm not sure if that’s true, but I know that when I’ve been brought down low with a cold, I want a good bowl of phở, or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

I wish I could remember who introduced me to phở. I know I tasted my first bowl in Seattle, a city whose grey and rainy climate fosters a primal need for such a hot, steamy comfort. There’s a little wedge-shaped clapboard shack at the five-way intersection where Rainier Avenue meets Jackson Street, so small its windows were always fogged up from the steam that arose in the kitchen. That may have been the first place I sat, crammed behind a formica table, slurping up broth and noodles flavored with herbs, and chopsticking slices of tender beef in hot sauce.

But it could have been a little counter downtown, hidden behind a jewelry arcade just across Fifth Avenue from the old Nordstrom’s building. I would go there for lunch break when I worked at the Fifth Avenue Theatre or the Paramount, when I wanted to be by myself instead of grabbing a beer and a sandwich with the guys. A bowl of phở was cheap – under five bucks, back then – and there was something both comforting and solitary about sitting on a stool at a counter with people who spoke another language.

Phở is the kind of dish you find in the proverbial hole-in-the-wall joint. When I first came to Los Angeles, and worked in the nearby city of Long Beach, I ate lunch at a strip-mall Chinese take-out place. After I learned they had an off-menu selection dishes for Vietnamese students at the nearby university, I never ordered orange chicken again.

Phở is made with beef marrow bones, cooked for hours with spices that include cloves, cinnamon, and star anise. The broth is strained, defatted and clarified, and then heated up again to a searing boil. To serve, the broth poured over boiled noodles called banh phở, flat white rice noodles, and garnished with sliced onions and cilantro.

It comes to the table in a huge steaming bowl, and alongside a platter heaped with herbs, bean sprouts, sliced green chiles, and wedges of lime.

Just breathe in the steam. If you’ve ordered phở tai, thin slices of rare beef eye of round float atop the broth, slowly losing their pinkness as they cook in the hot liquid.

Sip a little broth to taste. Then customize it as you like - add a squeeze of lime, handfuls of sprouts, torn bits of fresh basil or sawtooth herb.

Hold the spoon in your left hand and your chopsticks in your right.  It’s okay to put your face down low to the bowl. Some people put a bit of onion or herb, a bit of beef and some noodles in the spoon and sip. Others just use chopsticks to eat the noodles. It’s okay to slurp.

The bean sprouts are crunchy and have that faint chlorine taste, while the basil is the purply-stemmed Thai kind, sharp and anise-like. I like to float a round of jalapeno on top for its fragrance and flavor.

Tables in phở joints have an assortment of condiments at the ready, like hoisin sauce, Sriracha hot sauce and fish sauce. I like to mix sauce in a little dish and dunk the slices of beef before I eat them.

Phở is said to have originated in the northern city of Hanoi. Before the French colonial era, cows were used primarily as beasts of burden, but the French had different tastes. The French took the meat, leaving the Vietnamese the bones – which were perfect for broth. The word "phở" may be derived from the French "feu" or fire, as in "pot-au-feu" which is basically beef stew in a pot. And, indeed, that’s how it’s pronounced – like “fuh” or even “furhh”, not “foe,” as it looks to our American eyes.

Diners can choose from a wide variety of beefy treats to add to the soup. For phở tai, beef eye-of-round is sliced thin and added to the broth – it’s so hot it cooks the raw beef in the bowl. Other versions serve sliced brisket, flank, tripe, little round meatballs, and something called "tendon," which, I admit, I haven’t tried. You can also get tripe. At a restaurant, if you see Phở dac biet on the menu, it’s the house specialty, and means you get a little bit of everything.


Though Seattle was where I met its acquaintance, southern California is heaven for those who love phở.

Garvey Avenue in El Monte is a wide paved hodge-podge of muffler and auto-body shops, tacquerias, markets, liquor stores and botanicas - and dozens of Vietnamese restaurants. Some have a full dining menu, others are simpler and more focused, but almost all of them serve phở. Competition is fierce on Garvey Avenue – and the customer is the winner.  You can get phở made with filet mignon, the raw steak chopped like tartare in a dish alongside.

One place, Phở Huynh, which shares a parking lot with a muffler shop, serves Hanoi-style phở bắc with fresh rice noodles, which are wider and more soft and silken-textured in the mouth. It comes to the table in huge double-walled stainless steel bowls. Hanoi-style phở is more austere and less fancily garnished than southern phở nam, sometimes called phở Sài Gòn after that city.

But even the basic phở dac biet sets you back only eight dollars or so. For that, you get a bowl of soup that will help you sweat out that fever, clear your bronichals, soothe your aches and pains, and fill your emptiness. A pretty good bargain, I’d say.


Aunt Snow is one of the most interesting women Mrs. G. has had the pleasure to meet. She is a true renaissance woman who writes about the need to celebrate life all around you. You can read more of her writing at her blog, Doves Today.


Blueberries For Sal: The Director's Cut

Years back, Mrs. G. and her class of third graders were just finishing a lesson on active verbs. Mrs. G. explained that active verbs allow Superman to leap, lions to roar and fairies to flit. She had them each write out five sentences using active verbs and then let each of them read their sentences out loud. But the deal was that when they came to one of their active verbs, they had to yell it out in their loudest voice. It went a little something like this:

My dog bit my sister and then ran and hid under the bed.

told my mom I hate beets and she made me eat them anyway.

The lesson was a big hit. Sanctioned screaming in a classroom is always well-received and kid-approved. The energy level in the classroom was through the roof. Mrs. G. sensed that the kids were moving toward nutty and reckless, so she told then to grab a carpet square, take a deep breath and settle themselves on the floor for a story.


She pulled this little 1948 classic out of her book bag. It was Mr. G's favorite book as a child and shortly after the birth of Mrs. G's daughter, Mr. G's mother gifted Mrs. G. with the original copyshe had read to wee Mr. G. and his three siblings. This book has been read, loved and slobbered on by three generations. Mrs. G. treasures it.



The story is about a little girl named Sal and her mother who go out into the country to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries for winter.



Little Sal walks behind her mother with her small tin pail picking the sweet, plump berries and eating every single one.



Meanwhile, on the other side of Blueberry Hill, a kindly mother bear and her sweet baby cub are meandering the countryside eating berries for winter, preparing for their impending warm and cozy hibernation.



Sal keeps swiping blueberries from her mother's pail, so her mother tells her to run along and play so that she can gather enough berries to can for the winter.



Sal heeds her mother's words and scampers off to play, but she gets a little lost.

Mrs. G. could tell by the faces of her third graders that they were into the story. She had to hold the book in front of her for a while, so that everyone got a chance to see the pictures.



So, anyway, Sal tramps happily along when suddenly she hears a noise and is sure that she has finally found her mother...



but instead, Little Sal finds herself nose-to-nose with the kindly mother bear.

"What do you think happens next?" asked Mrs. G, trying to keep the childen engaged.

Five of them threw up their hands, wiggled around on their carpet squares and begged to be pickedAs she often did, Mrs. G. ignored the loudest, wiggliest kids and turned her attention to one of her more wary, more reserved students. In this case, a quiet, serious boy who had a grim look on his face.

"So what do you think happens next?" Mrs. G. asked him brightly.

"What do I think? I think Sal is a goner."

"Oh, no no no no no," said Mrs. G. quickly. "I've read this book hundreds of times. Sal doesn't die. The mother bear is a niceloving bear. I promise!"

The kid wasn't having any of it.

"I saw a show on the Discovery Channel," he said. Bears are unusually aggressive. A mother bear is called a sow, and a sow is very protective of her offspring. A sow will always attack if she thinks she or her cub is being threatened."

To bring it on home, the boy took his finger and slowly slid it across his throat.

A couple of the kids squealed for effect.



"Hold up!" Mrs. G. said emphatically. "Sal is not going to die. Let me finish the story. Sal's mother turns around, sees the sweet little baby bear cub and finally realizes Sal is missing. She sets off to find Sal..."

"That's the end of her," another kid piped up. "That mom is dead meat"

Discovery Channel boy nodded his head; it was clear he was now in charge, the new Superintendent of all things Bear:

"Approximately 70% of bear caused human fatalities are the result of mothers defending their cubs."


"NO ONE DIES!" Mrs. G. insisted. "Look at this picture. Do you see? Sal's mother finds her alive, safe and sound and in one piece...not mauled."


Mrs. G. went on to read the last page:

"...And Little Sal and her mother went down the other side of Blueberry Hill, picking berries all the way, and drove home with food to can for the next winter— a whole pail of blueberries and thee more besides. The End."

Mrs. G. closed the book and scanned the faces of the small, innocent children in front of her. They were unimpressed. They were let down. They didn't want blueberry freezer jam and happily ever after. They wanted carnage and mass murder. They wanted a full-on bear bloodbath.

Kids today. And their bullshit cable.


Originally published in 2007 when 17 people read this blog.


Baby Shoes

Hemingway (far left) and friends at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan

A friend of Mrs. G's told her an interesting anecdote about Ernest Hemingway, the literary legend, and his prowess as a word slinger. 

Let's set the scene according to a secondhand witness:

"More than thirty years ago, at the beginning of my career, I had lunch with a well-established newspaper syndicator who told me the following story: Ernest Hemingway was lunching at the Algonquin, sitting at the famous "round table" with several writers, claiming he could write a six-word-long short story. The other writers balked. Hemingway told them to ante up ten dollars each. If he was wrong, he would match it; if he was right, he would keep the pot. He quickly wrote six words on a napkin and passed it around. The words were "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn." Hemingway won the bet: His short story was complete. It had a beginning, middle and end."

Mrs. G. thought it would be engaging and compelling for us to try writing our own six-word-long short stories. They can be based on your life or pulled from thin air. The only rules are to use just six words and carve out a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. You can enter three if you like.

Mrs. G. will add hers in the comments but, trust her, this is not an easy assignment. She jotted down a few potential stories this morning and in her mind, all of them fell short. It made her irritable and argumentative when she did yard work all afternoon. She cursed daffodils and foxgloves, and mocked a few aggressively cheerful red tulips. But let's face it, she can be this way.


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