Author Archives: msmurfie

About msmurfie

Shawn Murphy is a woman of mystery and power whose power is only exceeded by her mystery. She did not adjust well to the corporate life of cubicles and voicemail so went back to school and became an elementary school art teacher. Shawn enjoys walks in the woods despite being mostly allergic to the woods. She loves dogs, hates snakes, listens to self help CD’s and sings loudly to Beach Boys songs while driving. She tries to understand algebra , no luck so far. Past accomplishments include mending fences, literally and figuratively, folding a fitted sheet and shooting awesome photographs. Hopes to one day learn how to tie ties and sharpen knives properly. Easy going and painfully honest. Tends to share almost anything, much to the chagrin of friends and family.

Plan A, Plan B – Just Winging It


When I was young I just always assumed there would come a time when I would have it all together.
During my twenties I didn’t worry so much that I owned a car with a burnt out starter that I had to park
on a hill wherever I went so I could kick start it and that the passenger door was held shut was with a
rope tied around the gear shift. There was still time. I was gonna make it big. I was convinced that I
would be a successful architect or maybe an airline stewardess traveling around the world. I would
love my job regardless of financial reward, have a family and attain internal peace. I was young and
full of crap. The letters I found in my father’s things after he passed away that I wrote home during my
college years were a testament to this. I burned them in the backyard in a flower pot afraid someone,
years after my demise, would find them and read them. They were that obnoxious.
Of course my life did not turn out they way I had planned because it never does. I’m okay with that,
but I really thought I would get to a point in my life when I could own a piece of furniture that didn’t
come in a box that I would have to put together myself. Like my parents before me, I pictured driving
to Gerald Ray’s Colony House where I would spend a sufficient amount of time perusing the goods and
selecting perhaps a nice buffet or a credenza. Meanwhile I would go home and wait while my
purchases were wrapped securely in padded blankets, loaded onto a truck and driven carefully from
Gerald Ray’s the 1.2 miles to my house where two nice clean cut men with their names sewn onto their
Colony House shirts would gingerly unload my furnishings, carry them into my house and set them up.
I would give them a tip and perhaps some freshly baked cookies for their troubles. I really did not
envision myself dragging a big heavy box from Amazon off my porch into the living room like a bear
dragging a dead deer into it’s lair where I would then sit for the next seven hours with an Allen wrench
and a poorly produced sheet of instructions trying to figure out which of the 196 screws I need to put
part B together with part C. I don’t know about you, but I never get it together right the first time. I
inevitably put the wrong two pieces together or put something on backwards or upside down and after
taking it apart for the third time I eventually just leave it that way and go drink a glass of wine content
with the thought that there is a reason behind it all and have faith that someday it will all make sense.
In the end I did not become a globe trotting stewardess and I have yet to achieve internal peace, but I
really do believe that the universe is always conspiring for my highest good even if I may not be able to
see it at the time. Now if I could just convince my mother to stop worrying about me. I am 59 and she
still worries that some day I may end up living down by the river in a van and licking discarded candy
wrappers for nourishment. I do my best to assuage her concern. I'll be fine Mom. Say what you will,
but a van down by the river is still waterfront property.


Getting Zen at the Senior Center


I have advanced to that age where I am now considered a senior citizen which qualifies me to participate in all the fun activities that the Joyce Raye Patterson Senior Center has to offer. Exciting things like blood pressure screenings, rip-roaring bridge games, line dancing lessons, shuffleboard and yoga classes. Adverse to regular yoga classes with young twenty and thirty somethings where I always pale in comparison I figured that even I, with my sloth-like tendencies, could keep up with the folks in a yoga class designed for the elderly. Boy was I wrong.

My first course of action was to find something to wear. Because as we all know 98% of yoga is finding something ridiculous to wear. Anymore, you can’t find workout pants not made of spandex that completely encase your body so that not a single molecule of air can reach your skin. Seriously, does a person really need vacuum sealed pants to do the downward facing dog? Scuba divers need airtight pants; so do Olympic bobsledders. The rest of us could use some breathing room. So I pilfered through my dresser drawers and made my selection. Due to the condition of my nearly 60 year old thighs I long ago gave up wearing shorts and opted for a pair of brown yoga pants that I bought at Ross for $5.00 which may have had something to do with the fact that, stretched to maximum capacity over my cellulite, they made my legs look like those Brown and Serve Breakfast sausages. Long gone are the days when when I used to get compliments on my legs. Come to think of it, that time in ’81 when someone honked at me because they thought I was attractive is probably still the highlight of my life.

Thirty minutes later I arrived at the Senior Center ready for action. As I unrolled my yoga mat on an empty spot on the floor, I sized up the competition. Most of the other participants were women and appeared to be older than me, Most were regulars who knew each other like the ones next to me, Esther and Judy. “I can hold my own here,” I thought. The only thing I was really worried about was whether or not I could make it a whole hour without having to pee.

As we started our routine our instructor seemed nice enough, a Lululemon clad priestess walking among us giving gentle encouragement like a nurturing earth mother. “Just breathe. Meet your body where it is,” she would say. By the time we were half way through I hated her. I was keeping up until we got to the warrior pose, that forward lunge with your arms out to the sides. Easy enough…for the first minute until my muscles start to burn, legs quivering, skin growing clammy and yoga pants stuck to my legs. That’s when I learned that gravity is a cruel mistress…lean too far in any direction and you might find yourself closer to the ground than you expected.

The highlight of our routine however was the shoulder stand. Once I got into position I couldn’t move thanks to the enormous weight of my thighs in the air above my head and rolls of fat on my stomach cutting off my air supply. And I have to tell you, the view looking up through my legs was so repellent that it comes back to me sporadically even now despite heavy medication. The depression induced by the jellied oatmeal texture of my thighs was indescribable. Our instructor yammered on, “Yoga is great for letting go of those things that no longer serve you,” and that’s when it happened…somebody’s hindquarters ‘exhaled’ if you know what I mean. And the instructor says, “That’s okay, it’s okay to fart. A fart is your body letting go.” I looked over at Judy and we burst into laughter. I thought I was going to choke to death or have a stroke. There was no way I was getting up off the floor now without assistance of some sort.

When class was over, the teacher said something like, “Take a moment to thank yourself for committing to your practice,” which made me intone the prayer, “Please God, make me less fat then I was an hour and a half ago. Amen.”

Goodby 2017, Hello 2018


One thing I did for myself over Christmas break this year was get a massage. With nothing else to do as I lay there in the dim light, enraptured by the sounds of Indian flute music, my face squished into that padded ring I started thinking… At first it’s the usual, trying to guess what must be going through my therapist’s mind as she applies the massage oil over my rolls of fat. “Geez, somebody needs to lay off the cheesecake,” came to mind, but soon those thoughts faded out, and in floated thoughts of the impending new year and all the things we are leaving behind with 2017. Of course, with the way my mind works all the bad stuff came through first. It was the year that social media brought us a Twitter showdown between the leaders of the United States and North Korea with threats of nuclear devastation and schoolyard taunts like “dotard” and Little Rocket Man (scary), and also an FBI investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential campaign (sigh). It was the year that gave us four monster hurricanes all within a three week time span ravaging Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. There were mass shootings, devastating forest fires and more accusations of sexual misconduct than anyone not named Harvey could count.

And then my mind said, “Stop, that’s enough,” as it tends to do, “find something good to think about.” And it really wasn’t hard. Inspired by my favorite Christmas movie, “Love Actually” I began to think about what I know is true…There is good all around us. And there’s nothing like a disaster to bring out the best in us. In 2017 we saw a ragtag group of good Samaritans calling themselves the Cajun Navy caravan from Louisiana to Houston towing boats of all kinds to rescue their Texas neighbors trapped by rising floodwaters. And a guy in Las Vegas who made it to safety, but went back into the gunfire to pull others out being shot himself in the process.

It was the year Southwest Airlines flew a plane full of stranded puppies to safety after Hurricane Harvey. We watched as 10,000 firefighters, tired and bloody, continued to fight to save the lives and homes of those in their community. Along side them were nearly 4000 California inmates who volunteered to fight the wildfires, with many on the front lines. Hundreds came from all around to help round up wild horses saving them from the blaze. And don’t tell me we are not a compassionate bunch when I see a guy run into a flaming forest to save the life of a frightened bunny rabbit. If that doesn’t get you right in the heart I don’t know what will.

This year gave us the first Total Solar Eclipse since 1979, and my favorite thing that happened this year ­— A veteran Virginia state legislator who proclaimed himself the state’s “chief homophobe” lost his bid for re-election in November — to a transgender woman. It was the year a snowstorm stranded two U.S. congressmen (one Democrat and one Republican) in Texas unable to reach Washington by plane for an important vote, so they decided to rent a car a drive there…together. During their trip they took questions via Livestream talking about hot-button issues face-to-face. According to NPR, they arrived in Washington in time for the vote with about “15 minutes to spare. See folks we really can get along. Was that so hard?

Even though we lost Tom Petty and Chuck Berry this year, it was the year Fiona the baby Hippo was born six weeks premature at the Cincinnati Zoo, weighing just 29 pounds. But against tough odds, Fiona survived, making her a fitting avatar for all things good about 2017.

It was the year Heinz gave 22,000 workers the day off after the Super Bowl instead of paying for an advertisement spot during the game. The number of hate crimes dropped at about the same pace as smoking and hundreds of volunteers formed a chain in New Zealand to prevent a pod of pilot whales from beaching themselves. Meanwhile, a Florida couple noticed nine people, including two children, caught in a rip tide and in danger of drowning. They swiftly gathered 80 others on the beach, forming a human chain that reached to the trapped swimmers and made it possible to pull them to safety.

Yes, we humans are not so bad. This year A Pittsburgh woman lost 40 pounds so she could donate her kidney to a friend in need. Florida high school students started a club so that no one has to eat lunch alone. A woman donated all the food from her cancelled $30,000 wedding to feed the homeless and a Secret Santa paid for over 8000 toys that were on lay-away at Toy’s R Us. And something else that made us smile...Britain’s Prince Harry is engaged to Meghan Markle. She is divorced, biracial and American — Something that could not have happened a mere decade ago. We’re making progress.

So whenever I become convinced that the world is going to hell in a hand basket I remember part of the opening dialog from my movie “It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”


If I have the back of my skirt tucked into my pantyhose… Somebody please tell me, Okay?


I don’t know what possessed me to try and eat a crunchy taco in the car today, but there I was regardless, driving down the Belt Highway, taco crumbs everywhere, meat juice dripping down the front of my white top (of course it would be white – isn’t it always?) and there was shredded cheese everywhere. I managed to soak up most of the meat grease with one of the 50 napkins thoughtfully provided in the sack with my one taco. I picked the shell pieces off my shirt and ate those, however I was still covered in shredded cheese. I decided to wait until I reached my destination to brush it off because I didn’t want cheese all over my car. It hadn’t been that long since I’d had a similar incident in the car involving chicken and noodles. The aroma of rotting poultry was still a vivid memory and so I wasn’t willing to take any chances on ending up with another rancid odor in my car that wouldn’t go away without professional intervention.

It was not until I had traversed the entire square footage of Kohl’s and had stopped to talk with old friends and the parent of one of my students that I realized I had forgotten to shake the cheese off my clothes when I got out of the car. I was at the check-out counter applying for a credit card, so I could get the 30% discount, when I noticed a substantial amount of shredded cheese still clinging to the embroidery on the front my retro hippie peasant blouse. I said to the cashier, “Oh my, it appears that I still have cheese all over me from trying to eat that taco in the car.” “Really? She replied, “I didn’t even notice.” I knew she was lying, but I appreciated the effort.

“This is so embarrassing,” I said to the lady behind me in line who was precariously balancing her merchandise on her arms because I had sprawled my belongings out across the entire counter top. “Oh, I’m sorry, I said, “My stuff is taking up all the space.” “That’s alright she replied. “Here let me get this out of the way,” I told her then proceeded to grab my purse and billfold with such velocity that the secret compartment came unfastened and launched my Aldi’s quarter into the air. The coin’s trajectory followed a perfect arc, bounced off the lady’s shoulder and onto the floor. If I wasn’t sufficiently embarrassed at first I was now. Not only was I making her wait while I applied for a credit card, I had assaulted her with loose change. Thank you dear sweet baby Jesus that she had a sense of humor and she, along with several others in line, helped me capture the wayward quarter that had gone rogue on the marble floor. The cashier joined in and we all had a good laugh. I mean what else are you going to do in line at Kohl’s? It was one of those real bonding moments. I do what I can.

The whole experience got me thinking. Why don’t people tell you? I must have stood talking to at least four people during my shopping spree and not one of them mentioned the cheese all down the front of my shirt. So I’m asking you to do humanity a favor and be brave. I know it’s awkward, but have some compassion and tell a person when they have something stuck in their teeth or a stain on the back of their pants, when their zipper is down or toilet paper is stuck to their shoe (or anywhere else for that matter) and for Pete’s sake how can you not speak up when someone has accidentally tucked the back of her skirt into her pantyhose? This happened to me my freshman year of high school. I went walking through the commons area completely unaware that my posterior was exposed smiling flirtatiously at all the boys lined up on the radiator where they sat perched most days. God bless Brad Morrow who jumped down and followed after me tugging at my backside despite my attempts to slap him for being fresh. The moment I realized what he was trying to tell me was one of the most embarrassing moments of my young life. I’ve had so many others since then it has paled in comparison, but at the time I was horrified.

So please do me a favor and tell a person if they have ink on their face, lipstick on their teeth or need to…well…blow their nose. They’ll thank you for it later, even if they slap you first.


Warning: Don’t be a victim of perm-icide.


While we Baby Boomers aren’t ordinarily in the business of public service announcements, perms are a subject upon which too many of us can speak from experience. We still remember the salon perm plague that swept the nation in the 1980s, the memory of it still strikes a nerve. Ask anybody who lived through it and you will hear no end of horror stories from ’80s perm victims, but few are willing to provide photographic evidence – the memories are still too raw.

The last time I got a perm I remember saying to myself that I would never get another perm in my hair, but memories fade and a person forgets that perms never look as good as you think they will which brings me to my most recent encounter at the beauty salon.

My hair looked acceptable when I left the salon, but as the evening wore on it started to grow, like those sea monkeys we used to order off the back of the cereal box when we were kids.  So, I wet it down, conditioned and let it dry on my head, no blow dryer.  Before bed I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror expecting to see that “Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza” look, which was, in my day, the envy of young women everywhere, but instead I looked more akin to a very large standard poodle, even my bangs were kinky.  Put a diamond collar on me and a little bow in my hair and you could call me Fifi.   Not to be discouraged I went to bed thinking, “It will be okay in the morning.  I’ll curl it or flat iron it.”  

The image staring back at me this morning in the mirror was one I had seen before. It was Roseanne Roseannadanna and I could just hear her saying, “Well, Jane, it just goes to show you, it’s always something — if it ain’t one thing, it’s another.  I know what you’re talkin’ about, because, I, Roseanne Roseannadanna, once had the same thing happen to me and I thought I was gonna die!”

I don’t know what happened.  I can’t recall a perm ever looking this bad.  My hair was fried and I thought I noticed a bald spot right in the middle of my head above my now frizzed out bangs.  I began to frantically snip away at my bangs with the kitchen scissors in a fruitless effort to add girth and disguise the barren spot so I wouldn’t look like an old bald woman. Not to mention this whole process bleached my hair into a very unbecoming mottled shade of brown that reminded me of a stained couch we used to have back in college, a kind of sepia tone with rust stain highlights and undercurrent of burned tree bark.  

As if this was not bad enough, I smell like a walking bottle of perm solution that no amount of hair product or perfume can neutralize. Looking like one of those cartoon characters that stuck their finger in a light socket, I seriously considered calling in sick. I just could not go out of the house looking like this, and for those of you who know me, that would have to be really bad. It was that bad.

I love the honesty of kids.  My adult co-workers were very supportive saying things like, “It doesn’t look that bad.” Or It will loosen up, just give it a few days.”  However, the kids in my classes were more forthright.  When they asked, “What did you do to your hair.” And I answered that I’d gotten a really bad perm, they didn’t argue.  One replied with, “Well, you’re all set for Halloween.  You can go as a witch.”

I was so hopeful as nowadays the “experts” in the perming industry claim that new techniques not only yield more natural-looking results, but are also less damaging to the hair shaft.  Don’t believe them.  Nothing has changed.  I can attest to this fact. So let this serve as your warning. Wherever the winds of hair trends may blow, whatever you do: Don’t get a perm.


There’s nothing funny about death…or is there?


All of us are aware of the inevitability that we will die someday, yet most of us have difficulty
being light-hearted about it. Perhaps due to fear or out of respect for the grieving family we treat
death as somber and serious business. Few of us see any place for humor in it. Humor, however
can relieve our anxieties about death, help us cope and ease the stress that often surrounds it. I
for one, can attest to this and sometimes it comes out very unexpectedly like when my father
When the doctors told us there was no hope for recovery with any quality of life for Dad, my
brother and I made the decision to let him go knowing he would not want to live that way. We
brought him home to my house and set up a hospital bed in my room. We took turns staying
with him around the clock waiting for the moment when he would go. My mother, trying to do
her part to provide comfort to her children, ordered her now husband Bill, to bring over a
comfortable blue velvet swivel chair from their den. Bill graciously complied, loaded said chair
in the trunk of his car and dutifully hauled it to my house setting it beside the bed. And so we
sat, in the blue velvet swivel chair, keeping vigil beside Dad's bed.
It was on my brother's watch that my dad took his last breath. I was in the next room watching
Law & Order with my boyfriend Jeff when I heard Greg yell, “You guys come in here I think
this is it.” We rushed to the doorway and stood very still, surveying Dad, trying to surmise
whether or not he was still breathing. After a long silence Jeff said, “Is he dead?” “I don't know,
he looks dead,” I replied. Which prompted by brother to pull out his best Billy Crystal
impression from the Princess Bride, “Well, he’s mostly dead. There's a big difference between
mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, there's usually only
one thing you can do…go through his clothes for loose change.” We all looked at each other and
suddenly the damn burst. All the stress we'd been under for the past three weeks flowed out in
laughter. We laughed until our sides hurt.
The best story I have ever heard was from another teacher at a “Humor in the Classroom”
seminar. Her mom had died at home surrounded by all her loved ones. They called the funeral
home to come and get her. The somber mortuary men arrived, dressed in suits and ties
expressing condolences. They went upstairs, reverently strapped the deceased onto a gurney and
started toward the front staircase. Here’s where it gets fuzzy. Apparently someone wasn’t paying
attention and Mom began to roll down the stairs unattended. By the time anyone noticed she was
too far gone to stop. They watched in horror as the gurney began to pick up speed. “By the time
she reached the bottom of the stairs Mom was really sailing,” she told me. Their beloved mother
flew across the foyer on two wheels, came back down just in time to make it out the open front
door and down the sidewalk stopping only when she collided with the side of the hearse. They
all just stood there looking at each other in disbelief. And then…a burst a laughter so forceful
that my friend thought she was going to pee her pants. They laughed until they cried.
That kind of laughter is a venerable thing. When I die I don’t want a lot of fuss, but most of all I
don’t want my loved ones to have to spend what little money I might have managed to squirrel
away on a funeral. When my time comes, in keeping with Irish tradition, I want an uproarious
wake. Prop me up in the corner at the Ground Round or somewhere and celebrate my life.
Reminisce about all the stupid things I did while I was alive and LAUGH. Lord knows, there

should be enough material there to keep people entertained well into the wee hours. Also, if
some feel the need, let them line up at the bar and list all the ways I wronged them, then buy
them a drink on me. If the entire thing ends in a riot that would be even better.
And for the funeral plans? As of right now my funeral arrangements basically consist of a
Folgers can lined with floral shelf paper, lighter fluid and a match.


GARAGE SALE – Your treasure awaits


There is a popular alternative to the city landfill. It’s called a “garage sale”. Every summer I work tirelessly much like a squirrel gathering up nuts for the winter in preparation for the big day. This goes on for a week or two as I prepare for this marvel of commerce that will unfold in my driveway.

When the much anticipated day arrives I spend it raking in the dough in exchange for things I might otherwise haul to the dump. I learned the art of hosting a garage sale at an early age. My mom had one every summer. Back then it was fun. I was young and took delight in cleaning and organizing the merchandise and writing out the price tags by hand in my best handwriting, attaching them with care to my treasures. Fast forward forty years and I’m walking around the yard with a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie. Never mind the dust and dirt covering the merchandise. Using my finger, I wipe off just enough dust so the tape will stick and move on to the next piece of merchandise. Things I once would have just thrown in the trash or donated are now sitting proudly displayed on my lawn.

All the while I am having visions of what I will do with my earnings. Yes, I start the day in this upbeat state however, by the last hour or two of the sale, I am giving stuff away, begging the shoppers to just take it out of my yard because the thought of having to pack it all up and take it to the Goodwill is too overwhelming at this point in the day.

Of course, I should mention that I could not pull any of this off by myself. Thank God for my co-host and hostess, my friend Sharon and her husband Chris. You guys make it possible for me to continue to do this at my advanced age – and for that I thank you.

When you are sitting in a lawn chair on your driveway with friends soaking up nature and presiding over this event you have plenty of time for philosophical discussion. For instance, I was explaining to my friend about garage sale etiquette. Believe it or not there is such a thing. And also there is the “Law of Crap” which states “the junkier it is the faster it will sell.”

Take today for an example. We had three Weed eaters for sale. This reminds me of the story of the Three Bears. One Weed eater was in really great shape – worked like a champ, clean, aesthetically pleasing, and the prince of garage sale lawn equipment. Another was acceptable – a little rougher around the edges, but worked, and then there was the old ratty looking thing that wouldn’t even start. “What’s wrong with it?” they would ask. “Do you know what part is broken?” “Nope.” “Do you think it’s fixable?” “We have no idea.” Guess which one sold first? Yep.

Once I had a lady come to shop who bypassed all the lovely household items laid out before her and made a bee line for my trash can excising a used toilet bowl brush. “How much for this?” She queried. “Uh, 25 cents?” I answered. “I’ll take it.” she replied.” Sometimes they actually pay YOU to haul off your trash. You can’t beat that!

As the event draws to an end you may calculate that the sales you’ve made have nearly recovered the cost of the ad in the newspaper and the twenty dollars you had fork over to the locksmith because you can’t remember what you did with the key to that car topper the one time you took in on vacation.

All in all, it was a good day – time spent with good friends, enjoying the outdoors on a beautiful day. People paid us to haul away our castoffs. I will soon forget the exhausting days of preparation and dragging myself around the yard at an ungodly hour of the morning setting out my wares. I will only remember the fun we had and the extra influx of cash. That’s why I will do it all again next year. I have already started a new “garage sale box.”