Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Rave

Well, I didn't want to like this book. I hate to like books that everyone raves about. The Help is one of those books that keeps drifting into random conversations, so when I saw it on the shelf at the library, I picked it up.
Since I've been on Christmas break, I haven't read many books. Maybe one or two. I've fallen into some kind of book lethargy. After I checked out at the library, I realized the book had a 7-day tag on it. 444 pages in 7 days? My book lethargy made it unlikely.

Then I settled on the corner of the couch, my head filled with congestion, my sneezes coming so hard I was in danger of knocking myself out if I hit something, and I opened the cover of The Help. The first chapters are written first person in the voice of an African American maid, Aibileen, in Mississippi during the early 1960s. I was put off by the colloquialism and flipped to the picture of the author, Kathryn Stockett, a young white woman.
"Oh, this is not good," I told Grace, showing her the picture of the author and reading a few lines from the book.
Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and the cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

I was embarrassed for her trying to cover this topic and thought the author was in grave danger, trying to capture the voice of black maids in the South before the Civil Rights Movement. The writing kept me intrigued though, so I continued to the next narrator, Minny, another African American maid. Then the third and final narrator began to speak, a young white woman, Skeeter, who had just returned from college. The Help parallels the experience of Skeeter, who tried to convince the maids to tell her their stories of what life was like for women who had to constantly serve white families, giving up their own children and needs. The maids, reluctant to trust a young, privileged, white woman, eventually embrace the idea of anonymously sharing their stories even as they fear the retribution they may face.
My synopsis doesn't do the book justice. The story unfolds revealing all the drama, like the reader is peeking through the curtains into another, very foreign universe. Yet the emotions, the racism, the actions all seem familiar, as if a trace of them remain in all of us today.
If you get a chance to read the book, do. I bet you can even beat the 7-day deadline if you get if from the library. I finished it in three days, even with a day spent entertaining family. Okay, I had to pay Tucker $10 to wash dishes so I could sit and read today, but it was well worth it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Family Sports Outing

One of my laments in the past has been "not enough family at holidays." This year, they made up for it. Mom and Dad came up from Florida and my brother Craig came from Texas with his 21-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. They stayed with my other brother, Kevin, in Dayton, but last night everyone came to Columbus to watch one of Spencer's basketball games.
My family is very competitive. They always have been. Both my brothers play tennis so that is their main competition, but they don't limit it. They'll compete with my 74-year-old dad in ping pong, cards, and even who can eat spicier food. Neither of my brothers' sons got into high school sports. I wasn't sure how it would go when they came to watch Spencer play. I was also a little nervous that Spencer might not do well on the one night they were there.

We sat, all 10 of us, in the bleachers watching Spencer give chest bumps to the starters. Spencer didn't start and didn't play for most of the first quarter. I was getting nervous. He usually gets into the game pretty quickly. The coach moves all the Varsity players in and out.
Finally Spencer got a chance to play.
I sat next to my brothers and they talked about offenses and zone defenses that were over my head. When Spencer blocked a shot, sending the ball back to the court, they whooped with glee. Craig kept track of Spencer's stats and typed them into his phone. He yelled loudly to disrupt the other team when they were shooting free throws. My brothers were proud of their nephew, and so was I.
I liked sharing that experience with my family, and realize now that the nerves before hand all have to do with living up to expectations. When it comes to sports, it's pretty much all enjoyable to my brothers and Dad. But it sure would have been worse if Spencer hadn't played well.
He scored 8, blocked 4 and rebounded 6.
I keep picturing my brothers' delight at the game. It's a picture that I replay in my head -- one that will pop to mind when I think about my brothers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Long, Cold Writing Winter

Have you noticed my silence on the subject of writing? I'm kind of frozen in indecision.
I have sent query letters for my latest novel, Ransoming Raphael, to 13 agents. I've had one request for more material and several rejections. Some I haven't heard back from.
Hundreds of literary agents sell novels to publishers, so why have I stopped after a baker's dozen? I worry that I need to fix something in my novel before sending it out again. Or, I worry that the query letter doesn't sell my novel well enough. I don't want to send letters to all the good agents, get rejected, then make changes to my novel or query letter and not have more good agents to send it to. So I'm doing nothing.
This break between classes has stretched out before me without early morning writing sessions at the computer. I haven't taken my laptop and tromped down to the coffee shop where the smell alone is inspiring. Instead, I've avoided the computer, the fiction, the agent search. I wrote a Christmas letter and published it myself. I don't think that counts.
A few years ago, when I searched for an agent for Trail Mix, my novel about two women who hike the Appalachian Trail, I received an email from a man who worked for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. He said the Conservancy was dabbling in publishing some fiction. I had a lot of interest from agents about Trail Mix at that time and decided to continue my search rather than asking him to take a look at my novel. Now, I wonder if that would have made a difference in my career. To have a book published, even by a small publisher, would be an extra achievement to put on my query letter.
Here's the cover I envisioned for my book Trail Mix:

The jump from writing to publishing is huge. That chasm gets wider every time I step toward it. I know that my writing can improve, so I vow to work on it this year, with workshops and writing conferences. Even if I write well, getting published remains out of reach, until I find an agent willing to take a chance on a novice.
Some do. I just need to find the right one.
So there I am, frozen between working on writing and working on selling. Maybe a happy medium, a compromise of 60 percent writing, 40 percent selling, or some other fraction that doesn't make me tired to think about.
The one thing I can't do any more is pretend my writing life doesn't exist and pop in another movie. I haven't watched Coco Before Chanel yet.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Past

Christmas is over, right? But wait, there's more. (Picture me saying this in a gameshow announcer type voice.)
My brother from Texas drove to Kentucky yesterday with his two kids and is coming to Ohio today, so I'll herd my children into the car once again and go to my brother's house in Dayton to celebrate with them. But, like the procrastinator I am, I didn't get their presents yet so I'll be running out to do that before we leave. I also need to get a birthday present for my 93-year-old grandmother in Kentucky. I'm so over buying presents, but since I enjoy getting them, I suppose I shouldn't complain.
I was inundated with gifts this year, and I always feel a little guilty about that. With Earl's birthday falling two days before Christmas, he always gets short changed. I make the excuse that I have to shop for all the kids and Earl, even though Earl would help buy presents for the kids if I asked him to.
Then on Christmas Eve, as we were getting ready to leave for my brother's house, Tucker came up to me and whispered, "Mom, I didn't get anything for Dad."
"Yes, you did," I replied. I bought a book for him to give his father.
Then he walked across the room to Earl and whispered something to him.
"What?" Earl asked.
I started laughing because it was obvious he was asking the same question about buying a gift for me -- on Christmas Eve.
Two of my children, though, took care of gifts on their own this year, which was a big relief.

Grace did her own shopping at college. Earl and I got tshirts with her college name on them, mine in a lovely chocolate brown. She got the boys tshirts with outdoor pictures and funny sayings on them. Spencer's shows people hiking and says, "Bring a compass. It's awkward when you have to eat your friends." Tucker's shows a guy jumping off a ledge and says, "Determination: that feeling you get right before you do something incredibly stupid."
The present from Spencer took me by surprise. He made it himself. A blonde wood jewelry box with a lift out tray covered in green velvet. I felt so touched. He made it in "machines" class at high school, kept it a secret and wrapped it himself.

I, of course uncomfortable in a sentimental moment, made a joke about how it could be used as a hamster coffin if we ever had a hamster (oh, come on! It's got that shape to it). Truthfully, though, I love it and can picture myself using it and remembering this Christmas when he was a lanky teenager sprawled on the rug amidst boxes and wrapping paper.
Christmas was an extravaganza as usual, but most of what the kids received were clothes, things they needed any way since they had out grown or worn out jeans and tshirts. I even got the boys winter coats since they wear hoodies as their coats, layering them on top of each other.
When we were finished, the floor was littered with the debris of Christmas and like pushing away from a feast, we felt sated, and just a little bit gluttonous.

Hope your Christmas was good too.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Newsletters Worth Saving

Who would blog on Christmas Eve? Between baking cookies, preparing to drive to my brother's house in Dayton, and wrapping presents, I decided to sit down and give a little love to those people who take the time to write Christmas newsletters. I blogged a few weeks ago about how I hate to get Christmas cards that are signed -- no pictures, no news.
The newsletters aren't as popular this year as in previous years, but two of them got me laughing.
One came from a Florida friend. We worked with Steven at The Tampa Tribune. While we were all single, working late, partying hard, Steven was married to Joy and had three little boys. Now those little boys are all grown up and he has a daughter who is in 8th grade.

Steven has managed to keep his sense of humor, in spite of losing his job as an editor. Instead, now he manages a St. Vincent de Paul store.
"It looks like the store will be around longer than the newspaper because people still insist on being poor even though those Tea Party people tell them to get a job. We try to let them know, but the homeless people don't have mailboxes so the letters keep coming back," Steven writes in his newsletter. He considers hiring them to work in the store, but then the store would have no customers so he'd have to lay himself off.
His oldest son Matt became a lawyer last year, but couldn't find a job working in law. Instead, he worked as a hotel parking valet. This year, he's working for Florida as a child abuse lawyer.
"Child abuse is popular there so he is very busy," Steven writes. Sad but true. Yet, the family should prosper as they serve the poor and the abused.
I wish I could print Steven's entire letter, but that would be plagiarism, so I'll just tell you that his wife Joy broke a toe this year "because a fat man in a wheelchair ran over her toe at the hospital." Joy is a nurse. Steven tried to appease her by pointing out that is could be worse.
"Yeah, like it would be worse if you were a monkey because you couldn't grip the branches with your foot and you would fall on the ground and get eaten by wild animals." Joy did not appreciate his input.
Another great Christmas newsletter came from Dream Girl. I've written a number of posts about Dream Girl and her breast cancer treatment. Her newsletter begins:
"What I liked Best About Having Breast Cancer..."

True, it's an odd stand to take, but you should know that Dream Girl feels she has learned a ton from having cancer.
Some of the things she appreciated are "smaller boobs...baldness... being popular... playing the cancer card."
One of her gems of wisdom came under the "Baldness" heading. "Before my hair fell out, I was a mess. But once it began falling out, I was cool with it...It turns out that I had a really nice-shaped head under all of that hair, and I looked so good that I decided I would not be putting it under wraps, choosing to go au natural instead."
Maybe she'll write a book some day: Lessons I Learned From Cancer, cause I just can't see people buying "What I Liked Best About Having Breast Cancer."
So, people, once the presents are all wrapped and under the tree, once the Christmas ham or turkey is in the oven, take the time to write a Christmas newsletter. We want to know what is going on with your family, and we only hear from you once a year.
Not everyone can be as funny as Steven or as wise as Dream Girl, but everyone gets an E for effort. Merry Christmas!

And just be glad my cats don't fit in the Christmas box so no one is getting them as presents this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

We decided, kind of by default, not to get a Christmas tree until Grace came home from college. She arrived home last Thursday.
Friday was a basketball game after school. Saturday was a day-long swim meet. We decided to get our tree after mass on Sunday morning. Then Spencer announced a special Sunday basketball practice at noon.
"Can we get the tree without you?" I asked.
He shrugged. It's hard to know if those shrugs mean, I don't care or I'm so sad that I won't be there to choose a Christmas tree.
We went without him. The YMCA lot only had 13 trees left. We chose one within minutes and tied it to the top of the car.

Earl set the tree in its stand while Grace, Tucker and I moved furniture around to make a place for the tree.
And it stood there, forlorn, free of decorations.
Christmas carolers came to the door that night -- four high school boys, friends of Grace. They came in and made no comment about the bare tree.
I scheduled a decorating time for Monday.
Tucker had swim from 8 to 10 a.m. and Spencer had basketball from 11 to 1. Earl had to leave for work at 3. I declared 2 p.m. tree decorating time.
Earl put the lights on the tree ahead of time and I made a batch of manicotti along with a salad to feed us afterward.
Charlie Brown Christmas music played as we hung ornaments.
Spencer was feeling sick so could only be roused to hang a few ornaments, but at least we were all together for a little while.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buttinski

In the past, I have dealt with saying things that should have stayed in the thought bubble. I'm still working on it and I find myself wanting to hold an intervention for a woman who is an acquaintance. That's right, not even close enough to call her a friend, but an acquaintance who I think is making a grave mistake. Maybe I have a little vested interest because her daughter is Tucker's on-again, off-again girl friend (currently on), and her son has been a friend of Spencer's since 8th grade, although they have found separate interests and don't hang together that much. He is in theater though, so Grace hangs with him sometimes.
This acquaintance has four kids -- the two who are friends with mine, an older son who is married, and a 9-year-old son. We got to know her and her husband a few years ago. Earl rode the bus with her when she started back to work. She told him as her marital woes increased. She and her husband separated then divorced about a year and half ago.
Last year, she had a boyfriend who accompanied her to the choir concerts and musical performances and soccer games. She seemed happy. The father also remains involved with the kids, attending events and serving on boards. They always call here to see if a parent is home before they drop off their daughter to hang out with Tucker. See, normal, responsible parents.
Now, the mother is engaged to a different man who she started dating three months ago. They plan to marry in July and she will move to a Columbus suburb about 20 minutes away from here. Her kids will live with their father so they can continue to go to school here.
"We just won't be hanging out here as much," the 14-year-old daughter explained yesterday as I drove her and Tucker to the library to get some movies.
"What about Titus?" I asked, assuming the 9-year-old would go to live with his mother.
"No, he's going to stay with Dad too."
I was astounded.
First, I know I'm prejudiced because I see how life with a stepfather has turned out for the children of my best friend in Michigan. It stinks. They can't enjoy being at home; they walk on eggshells constantly; they're miserable with him.
So even before I knew she would be moving away, I thought it was a bad idea.
Tucker confides that the daughter does not want her mom to marry the guy. Grace says the son is not fond of the boyfriend either. Grace has met the boyfriend and says he gives off a creepy vibe.
This woman is a good mother and she is giving up her children for a man she has known three months.
I also feel that because my mother made the choice to sacrifice for us, I owe it to speak out for other kids in similar situations. My parents were divorced from the time I was 3 until I was 10. Then they remarried each other and are together today. My mom had a string of boyfriends. A lot of them were fun, but the best one was Johnny who owned horses. What would be better than a stepdad with horses?
Each time mom dated these guys until they asked her to marry them. Then she would break up with them. As an adult, I asked her why she never married any of the guys.
"I knew they could never love you kids the way Dad and I do," she told me.
That's the bar that she set. I don't know if I think every mother should make that sacrifice, but so often, the stepdad thing goes bad. I can't think of a single situation that I know of where the family is happy together when a stepdad moves in.
I want to say to this acquaintance, if he's the guy then get married a year from July. If he's a nice guy, he will be nice in a year. I don't really have the right to intervene.
I asked my best friend to wait before she remarried, but her new man wanted a baby and she was 40 so she didn't feel like she could wait. Now, on many days, she wishes she had waited to see if he showed his true colors before they married.
So, do I have this woman over for a glass of wine and beg her to reconsider, or do I stay quiet?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Demeaning

Three times in my life I've had to pee in a cup for a job -- the two most recent ones for the same job -- teaching at a local university.
The first time I encountered peeing in a cup was when I went to work at The Tampa Tribune. One of my friends, SK, put up a stink about peeing in a cup, proclaiming it would violate her rights. All the bosses assumed she was doing drugs. I can't remember if she ever peed in the cup.
Then, back in the late 80s, the person administering the test had to come in the bathroom with you while you peed in the cup. As if it isn't hard enough to pee on command alone.
Some things have changed, I got to go into the actual bathroom alone, but others haven't -- the whole place felt slightly grimy and squalid. The place I went on Friday claimed to be an urgent care facility, but everyone who walked in while I was there came for a drug test. I couldn't imagine this was a place I would take one of my kids if they needed stitches. "We can run a drug test after we stitch that up," the "nurses" would offer. "See what he was on while operating that skateboard."
All of the drug testees filled out paperwork then were sent to the next waiting area in the inner sanctum.
The Mexican guy who finished his paperwork before me was waiting, along with a woman sipping a cup of water and reading a magazine. I immediately began to wonder if she had failed to pee in the cup so was forced to remain in this limbo, drinking water until she could produce the necessary urine.
I hadn't gone all morning and was in danger of needing to ask to use the facilities if they didn't speed things up a bit.
The businessman who came in after me joined us in the back room. He had been accompanied by another man who announced that the guy was there for a "random drug screening." The guy asked his escort: "Oh, we're only screening for random drugs?" The escort did not laugh.
So I immediately assumed this businessman must have a drug problem and be forced to return for random drug tests.
It was getting crowded in that back waiting area, but the "nurses" continued to chat around the corner. Finally, one came and took the Mexican man to the testing room where we could all hear the instructions. Gulp!
I'm not sure what kinds of people need drug tests. Maybe bus drivers, pilots, people who have the lives of other people in their hands. Probably not news reporters (unless they're driving the helicopter) and probably not part-time English teachers.
The cup had a little thermometer on it, one of those strips, and I was instructed to pee above the thermometer. I guess that insured that I hadn't snuck in someone else's urine.
Remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine had eaten poppyseed bagels and her drug test came up positive. She finally got someone else to pee for her and they wouldn't let Elaine go on her work safari because the pee of the woman tested positive for menopause.
That made me smile as I washed my hands then entered the toilet cubicle. I had to keep reminding myself not to flush. Flushing is just a natural step that I will take without thinking. I chanted to myself throughout. "Don't flush, don't flush."
What is with the rule about not flushing? What evidence do they miss if someone flushes?
I gave the woman my cup. She sealed it and I signed my initials on it before I was permitted to exit the sordid walk-in clinic.
The businessman with the escort was still waiting, his leather jacket folded across his lap. The woman with the blonde ponytail was still sipping water and leafing through magazines.
The snow began to filter from the sky and I took it as a cleansing sign and shook off the grubbiness.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Newsletters

I know, I know, some people hate Christmas newsletters. We usually send one out and try to be self-deprecating or funny. We get lots of comments, especially from older relatives and friends, who say they look forward to our newsletter. This year, I suggested to Earl since so many people have had a rough year, maybe we should skip the newsletter. What were we going to say? We both kept our jobs, Grace started college and we went to Paris for our 20th anniversary? It just sounded too self-satisfied.
But, when Earl bought Christmas cards and sat down to address them, I hated the idea of sending a card that simply had our names signed. I don't like to get cards with people's names -- no picture, no comments. This is the only time of year we catch up with some families.
"Okay, okay," I said as I held downward dog position in the middle of my P90X yoga. "Grace and I will write a Christmas letter."
I wrote one, searched for photos and pasted it all together. Then I made a fatal flaw. I printed it out and left it lying on the table.
"Don't draw attention to the fact that my eyes were swollen," commented Grace about the family photo as she was leaving for school.
"You can't say I gained 30 pounds of muscle and scored 10 points last week," complained Spencer. "It sounds too braggy."
Then Tucker caught a glimpse of it. "Could you find a worse picture of me?" he asked. Truthfully, I had a hard time finding a decent picture of him.
"And look, you wrote twice as much about Spencer and Grace as you did about me," he said.
I sighed.
The Christmas paper I bought to print the newsletter on left a big snowflake in the middle of Spencer's nose. Grace wasn't crazy about the jumping in the snow picture.
Oh, well. Even if the letter never leaves the house, I made the effort and hope all my friends and relatives, even those who will never see the Christmas newsletter, have a Merry Christmas.
And to my blog readers, Merry Christmas. You get to catch up on my family everyday, so you aren't getting a newsletter either.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Dreams

I lay in bed in the dark on Wednesday morning when Earl kissed me goodbye and drove into the frigid morning air. He returned at 3:15 a.m. Thursday morning to find me back in bed. He had driven for nearly 21 hours to Grace's college to fetch her home for Christmas.
Grace hugged me and scooped up the cats. The younger cat just looked confused. He doesn't have a very long memory and can't recall that another person lives in this house.

"That's too long of a drive for one day," I murmured as Earl climbed in bed.
"I know. I can still see snow flying at the windshield," he said.
We had searched the weather forecast, trying to find a day when the snow would be minimal. The entire week was supposed to be full of snow. The road to Grace's college follows the Great Lakes, which is always dumping "lake effect" snow on the highways and cities nearby. In Syracuse, they already had 42 inches of snow last week.
"Almost a white out in Syracuse but at least we're to Syracuse," was the message I received Wednesday evening at 7:05.
My entire day was a series of text message updates from Earl as he traveled there then Grace as they traveled home.
"In Pa." came the message at 9:40 a.m.
"NY" arrived next at 10:21 a.m.
"Roads clear but NY has plows parked and running in the medians," Earl texted at one point. He was impressed with the way they handle snow.
Grace's texts talked about a boy then about the drive.
I suggested they stop and get a hotel.
"Dad says it's not going to happen. We both feel fine. You've got a nighttime newspaper editor and a college student who has spent the last week and a half preparing for finals by staying up late and cramming. We're gonna be fine."
And they were fine, just tired, and, obviously, still in bed this morning as the boys stumble off to school.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Wine, Less Whine

Okay, I want credit for not whining last week about all of the essays I had to grade. You may recall that last year as the quarter grew to a close, I was hyperventilating about all the work I had to do.
This fall, I taught six classes. I started with five, but one teacher quit in the middle of the quarter and I took over his class, so that landed me with six classes. Each started with 25 students, although some of them dropped out before the end.
I tried to arrange my schedule a little better. I had my in-person classes turn in papers the week before finals. My three online classes turned in their final essays a week ago Sunday. Then all six classes turned in essays for their final exams last week.
I graded and graded and graded. I didn't complain, right? You didn't see me whining on my blog.
So now, I want a little credit. Grades are finished and submitted to the system. I've carefully downloaded everything into an Excel document for the school secretary.
I'm finished!!
I think a round of applause is in order for me.
Six more classes begin on January 3. But, I'll think about that tomorrow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dangers of Surfing the WorldWideWeb

We have some big sporting goods stores in Columbus. Some specialize in specific sports while others carry everything required for any sport. Sports Authority is one of those stores. I wanted to look for something online, so I simply typed in sportsauthority.com and went straight to the store. Then I wanted to compare prices with the other big sporting goods store, Dicks.
I typed in dicks.com. The store is technically called Dicks Sporting Goods, but everyone calls it Dicks.
Whatever you do, do not type in dicks.com, unless that is what you are actually looking for, and apparently, according to my brief glance at the website, there is quite a wide variety in stock and available.
It reminds me when Grace was about 10 and she was working on an online report about horses. She had to break down the horse from the whole to each individual part right down to a cell.
I heard a scream from her bedroom. "Mom, come quick!"
I went running upstairs and her computer was flashing with a dozen tiny movie screens of pornography.
"How did you get here?" I asked her.
"I was searching for parts of a horse. I typed in horse and organ," she explained.
Oh, that was a mistake too.
When she was doing a report later that year on winter animals, she considered focusing on foxes.
"No!" I told her. "Choose something else."
I didn't want a repeat of the horse and organ search. I could only imagine what she would search for with fox.

French Breakfast


The snow, the cold, the gray days, all make me reminisce about those beautiful 10 days Earl and I spent in Paris last April.

The temperature hovered in the 70s. We walked, we ate, we drank. Aaah.
We visited all the popular tourist sites and found some that were off the beaten track.

Sometimes, it just makes me feel warm and happy to look at those pictures. Thanks for letting me share them with you.
Plus, I'm writing this in the morning and I'm hungry, so here's a picture of a French hotel breakfast.

Funny,I'm still hungry.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Snow!

This is what happens if you go to college in north country New York.
Lots of snow!

Just wish she'd have a little fun sometimes. :)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dreamscape

Today, the dean of the college called to ask if I'd substitute this week. The professor who needed a sub was going to the beach with a friend who has breast cancer. I suppose some people decide to coddle their friends with breast cancer. As for us, we insist Dream Girl meet us in the freezing weather every Saturday morning at 6 a.m. for a seven to 10 mile run. Rain, snow, ice or even a full moon, we're out there slogging along the trail.
This week, Dream Girl finishes her last radiation treatment. Nine months ago, she told us on the trail that she'd found a lump in her breast -- a lump that she unconciously rubbed as she waited between sets of lifting weights. "I'm sure it's nothing," we all said, including her. Instead, we made it into a joke about the mammogram machine being broken and whether the jaws of life would be called to free a woman's breast.
Then we learned that she did have breast cancer. They removed the lump and some lymph nodes. Within weeks, she was back running again with a drainage tube secured. Next she ventured through the world of chemotherapy. In October, she ran the half marathon to celebrate the end of her chemotherapy. For the past few months, she has been going to radiation. She enters a room alone and has a beam of radiation aimed at her breast. She is nearing the end of her treatment.
Cancer has changed her life. Not just in the fact that she had to think about death and how she spends her life. She says she has learned so much, things she never would have learned without the cancer.
She hasn't been sick. Most people get throwing up, lying down sick from the cancer treatment. We worried that she wouldn't be able to run with us. We'd walk instead, we decided. Or, we'd meet for coffee. Now we laugh at our fears. She is in better shape than all of us.
Other than not being able to run, the two things she worried about were -- gaining weight because of the steroids and losing her hair. Dream Girl had long dark hair that she would cut off to donate to Locks of Love. She couldn't imagine that hair being gone. But after it started to fall out and she shaved it, she loved the way she looked bald. She refused to wear a wig or a scarf or a hat. She went au naturel. With her shiny head glaring, she started a job as a tutor at a high school. The students assumed it was her look. Dream Girl had no shame about her bald head.
She had planned to get in great shape over the summer before she learned that she had cancer. Then she worried that she wouldn't be able to exercise and that the steroids would make her puff up. Wrong again. She has lost some weight. She is in her best shape ever. When a nurse said to her, "Thin, small breasted women like you..." she wanted to look over her shoulder. Who was that nurse talking to? But it was Dream Girl who is now thin and small breasted!
Even before Dream Girl's chemotherapy ended, her hair was growing in. She looked like a baby chick, all fuzz around her head. Then, a few weeks later, a salesgirl called her "Sir" because she resembled a balding man. Now though, her hair is coming in thick and fast.
She's on target to meet her "goal" of having hair by her birthday at the end of the year, even though Pam pointed out that it is silly to make a goal for something you have no control over. Maybe a wish, but not a goal.
And, a few weeks ago, her eyebrows and eyelashes suddenly sprung to life too.

She's the old Dream Girl, except she isn't and she never can be again. She has lived through an experience, no, not lived through it, she has embraced this experience. She's learned so much about life by looking death in the face.
They say that cancer patients forget about their new outlook on life after a few years. I can't imagine Dream Girl putting this away and returning to a suburban life. She has plans.
She has backpacks and pop-up tents. A sleeping bag that weighs ounces and hiking boots that won't rub off her toenails. She dreams of hiking the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. She wants to gather in every mountain and ocean, every bat and raccoon, every moonrise and sunset. The world is truly her oyster, and she has earned some champagne to go with those oysters.
A toast to you Dream Girl for making it all look so easy, for blazing the trail everywhere you go.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Highs and Lows

Saturday was full of ups and downs. It started with a crisp 7.5 mile run with my friends in the 25-degree weather. (I'll have a Dream Girl update tomorrow).
My day was scheduled to be full of sporting events. Not the usual college football that I watch, but a swim meet an hour and a half away, and the first regular season basketball game. Of course, the snow started to fall before I left.
I have no practical shoes for snow. I have clogs and crocs and high-heeled boots. I ended up wearing my hiking boots with jeans, which just makes me feel a little too manly. But I drove through the pelting snow and made it to Wright State University before the first race began. This was Tucker's first high school swim meet invitational.
The swim coach put him in the "B" relays at first. Then, after he swam on Tuesday, she moved him up to the "A" relays.
"She thinks I'm bad," he said.
"You'll just have to prove it to her," I said. And he did.
He came in first in the 50 back stroke and broke the old meet record. Then, as his team and another team seesawed back and forth in first place, they lined up to swim the final event. A 200-free relay.
I was nervous. I shook my leg, I screamed, I smacked my hand against my jeans in place of clapping. "Go! Go!" I yelled as the boys each dived in and swam. They were slightly behind the other team throughout. The final swimmer drew even and out touched the other team, winning the race by two hundredths of a second.
"Whoooo!" I yelled loud so the swimmers would hear. All of the parents had erupted into cheers and celebrations. Our boys' team won the meet against the 12 other teams there.
Then I slogged out into the parking lot. I was going to be late for the basketball game which was taking place an hour away. I turned on the windshield wipers to try to scrape the snow off and I searched futilely for a scraper. I used a CD case -- the Blues Brothers. It worked fairly well.
I had to slow down for a few accidents and one tow truck pulling a car out of a ditch. I made it to the basketball game at the start of the second quarter.
One of the dads explained that Spencer had been in the game but was called for traveling because one of the big guys on the other team was pushing him hard enough to scooch him along the court. Any time Spencer went into the game, the fat guys were put back in by the other team. Spencer's added muscle was no match for these 200 plus pounders. At one point, one of the moms pointed out the fat guy had carried Spencer about six feet.

Things did not go well for Spence or his team. He missed four free throws. His rebounding was done, not with sticky hands, but like a volleyball game as the ball was hit and flew into the air. The coach stopped yelling and sat on the bench. They ended up losing by about 17 points.
I parked Spencer's car at the gym and walked the mile home in the quiet night around 10 p.m. The sidewalk shone with ice and I windmilled my arms a few times to keep my balance.
When Spencer arrived home, he said, "It's just embarrassing to try that hard and be that bad."
"Everybody has a bad night," I told him. "You can't quit trying. Then you'd hate it."
"I did quit trying at the end," he said. I nodded.
That's when the coach finally took him out. The coach could tell.
Someday, maybe both my boys will have great sport days or great academic days or great days in love. For now though, as volatile teenagers, they have up and down days, usually all within 24 hours.
I'm glad I can be there for them, whether to celebrate their wins or mourn their losses.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Things That Go Bump in the Night

"Call from, Tucker," said the metallic voice of my phone waking me at 11:20 p.m. I groped for the phone on the bedside table. Tucker was supposed to be home and in bed by 11:30 to prepare for a swim meet the next day.
"Mom," Tucker breathed heavily as he gasped my name. "I was so scared."
"What happened?" I asked.
He was walking home from Alex's house, about half a mile away in our little, and mostly safe, town. The police just put out a press release that said 11 cars have been stolen this year. All of them had the keys in them.
I had no problem going to bed before the boys were home because they always come in to kiss me goodnight when they get home and I know Earl will be home from work shortly after so he can bust them if they are late.
"I was walking past the bushes by Alex's house and I stepped on something," Tucker said, still out of breath. "It was a possum's tail."
Possums are mostly harmless creatures who waddle along at night looking for dinner. They're most famous for carrying their babies along as they walk and for their hairless tails.
After Tucker stepped on the possum tail, he screamed. He didn't say it sounded like a little girl, but that's how I imagined it. The possum started toward him and he ran.
Then Alex came out of his house to see why Tucker screamed and the possum headed toward him. He screamed (probably like a little girl) and ran in the house.
Apparently, he'd had a previous run in with a possum in his garage and he tried to shoot it with an airsoft gun.
I talked to Tucker for a few more minutes as he made his way through the dark streets. Then we hung up and I heard the back screen door slam shut and his big feet clomping on the floor. He leaned over the bed and kissed me goodnight and we laughed about the possum, even though he insisted it was "sooo scary."
And things that jump out in the dark are scary. We were running a few weeks ago in the dark when a little dog came running up to us snuffling. The dog wasn't threatening, and if we'd seen it, it wouldn't have scared us at all. But we weren't expecting it so we jumped and screamed and the dog's lucky we didn't kick it.
Living in a major metropolitan area, we have a surprising amount of wildlife. In addition to possums, we have numerous squirrels, birds, snakes, chipmunks, raccoons, groundhogs, and even foxes. The deer don't make it into our little burg very often and the coyotes, muskrat and beaver stick near the river.
Walking home at night, the odds increase of running into these creatures, but stepping on them is pretty rare. They usually spot the humans and scoot away.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Words of Wisdom From a Marriage

As a kid, I used to read the column "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" in a women's magazine, maybe Ladies Home Journal. The columnist would outline both sides and then dispense words of wisdom.
Sometimes, I feel like I might be that wise columnist, but I only hear the one side from my best friend in Michigan, and I've learned to laugh at the totally ludicrous words that come from her self-obsessed husband.
He's had some real jewels the past few weeks. When they were discussing her "output control" issues, he said, "I've learned to tolerate you over the years."
With that kind of obvious adoration for her, it's hard to imagine why this marriage is floundering.

When one day they were discussing if they would ever remarry other people if one of them died, the husband said, "Oh, my God. I could not do this again."
In the midst of another argument, he declared, "I'm sure there's somebody out there who would love me more than you do."
I'm not sure why she didn't take him up on it and suggest he go look for that somebody.
Then just this week, her two teenage sons got in a fistfight and had to be pulled apart. My friend was obviously distraught at the idea that her children were willing to beat on each other. She told her husband that she needed some support from him.
"Oh, I gave you support earlier in the week when I let you go to Washington for two days," he said.
She had to go away for work to Washington and he was kind enough to "allow" her to go. He has no problem overspending the money she makes, about twice as much as he does.
In the past, for her birthday he has given her a horse (which she never got) and a trip to Paris (which she had to pay for). He schedules twice monthly massages for himself to relieve all of his stress. She's been sick since October and can't seem to get well because of all the stress she's actually under.
So, back to the original question: "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"
My diagnosis: As long as she's willing to laugh off his narcissism and verbal attacks, the marriage can continue indefinitely. I'm willing to to be her sounding board for as long as she needs me because I love her even if she's married to an asshat.
And, just in case she decides someday to meet him at the courthouse, I'll try to keep track of all the hurtful things he says. She may need them as evidence.
Photo from www.media.cakecentral.com

Monday, November 29, 2010

Smell Memories

Smell is supposed to be the sense that creates the strongest memories. I believe it because a smell can instantly transport me back to a moment. Sometimes it's important and sometimes it's trivial.
Sunday was a day when Grace and I left the house at 7 a.m. so I could get her to a friend's house in Rochester, New York, and she could return to school with that friend. According to Mapquest, the drive from our house to Rochester is 6 hours and 48 minutes.
I dropped Grace around 2 p.m. and she dripped tears onto my chocolate brown wool coat. We'll see her again in two and a half weeks when she has Christmas break. She feels sad every time she leaves. Her friend John loaded things into his car, ready for the three and half hour drive back to school from Rochester. His mother looked pale and as if she wanted to drip tears onto her son too. John's father showed me how they had arranged a strand of Christmas lights into upside down fish bowls along the driveway.
Then I began driving home, alone in the car. I made it through New York and stopped for gas in Pennsylvania for gas. I inched through a drive through and bought a cup of coffee. The digital clock in the car read 4:44 p.m. I had about four more hours of driving.
I didn't realize until I had rolled up the window and called Earl to tell him where I was that the smell of the coffee brought back a smell memory. Of course, the smell of coffee is very familiar. Why should it bring back this particular memory? But there, in the car, after traveling for 10 hours, that smell reminded me of waking up on an Air France flight as the flight attendants busily prepared "breakfast," ready to rouse the sleeping passengers and prepare them for the landing in Paris.
The flight from the U.S. to Europe usually begins with a dinner then all the window shades are closed, the lights are dimmed and everyone pretends they have a normal night's sleep. A few hours later, the flight attendants serve breakfast with hot coffee to help people adjust to the time change. When we arrive in Paris, it is morning.
In the car, listening to a story tape about a food critic, I sipped that coffee and thought of the hours of traveling I do before I land in Paris. Funny that memory came to me.
Do you have a smell memory that came to you this weekend? Thanksgiving is full of smell memories.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over

This morning I was listening to my favorite liberal talk show host's program, but she was on vacation like most of the country is today. She had a guest host named Hal Sparks, who I like well enough, but he can be fairly strident. He was talking about how bogus Thanksgiving is as a holiday since the pilgrims and settlers later massacred the indians and took over their land. I wanted to ask him, although I didn't try to call, what does he want us to do at this point? Because, being part Native American, I feel bad that the Europeans felt free to run roughshod over the natives in this land. That isn't what I celebrate at Thanksgiving. That's the story that teachers focus on at schools so they can put on cute elementary plays, but I don't know anyone who gathers with their family and thanks God that the Europeans were able to overrun the Native Americans.
Instead, it's nice to take a moment to pause and be grateful for all that is good in our lives. That's why it's called Thanksgiving Day, not European Domination Day.
At a time when many people have suffered through what the media is calling "The Great Recession," our family dodged a bullet. Both Earl and I kept our jobs, and we've managed to make payments to cover Grace's college this first year.
Everyone in the family is healthy and relatively happy. Other than adolescent angst, I'd say a snapshot of this moment in time would reveal a steady family.
The dryer tumbles clothes in the basement and fresh sheets stretch across our mattresses where we'll lay under warm blankets. We ate our fill at Thanksgiving dinner and brought home leftovers, which hopefully won't spoil in the refrigerator.
We are the spoiled ones. So often accepting the fate, the luck that brought us these jobs, this home, this safety.
It's right to have a day where we stop and think about all that we have and to give thanks rather than taking it for granted.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Strangers in the Rain

I'm convinced that the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch portrays a person with a sinus headache.
I know because that's how I've felt the past four days.
"Lie down and rest," Earl urges me in between work and attending kids' activities.
"I don't feel any better when I lie down," I admit. And it's true. Whether I veg out on the couch or cook dinner or sit through a basketball game, that pounding in my head, the aching in my teeth continue.
That's why I decided to meet my friends this Thanksgiving morning for a run. When I opened my eyes at 5 a.m., the familiar throbbing behind my eyes was there to greet me. I drank some water, swallowed some B vitamins and filled my water bottles. Whether the medicine or the sinus issues, I'm thirsty all the time. I didn't take any ibuprofen or Sudafed before I left. Sometimes the medicine makes me feel worse.
I did flip on the television to see the weather forecast. Rain and thunderstorms. 39 degrees.
I went anyway. Princess joined us for a run for the first time in ages. I didn't want to miss it. But I did ask my friends to just run around the lake with me and then I would go home. The rain wasn't heavy, but I didn't want to be out in the cold rain for a couple of hours when I was already sick.
We ran around the lake, catching up on each other's lives. While running through the dark rain, I didn't even notice my headache. Maybe it's the friends, maybe it's the distraction, maybe it's the fresh air or exercise.
I decided to go on a half mile farther before they turned away from the road and headed along the river. I hugged them all goodbye before turning back to the half mile trail.
"Sing," Princess urged, "so we know you're okay."
"I'll be fine. There are lots of fishermen back at the lake."
I ran through the increasing rain back toward the lake, and I did see a fisherman. He was loaded down with fishing equipment and called out, to me, a lone woman running along the trail.
"Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?" he called. He was tall and had a rain jacket on with the hood pulled up.
Everyone knows that if a man wants to ask someone a question, he should not approach a woman alone in the dark in the rain. What was he thinking?
I turned toward him but didn't walk over to him. I was ready to make a break for it. But I know I was stupid to stop and answer his question. What was I thinking?
"How far is this path around the lake?" he asked. He held a fishing pole in one hand, a lawn chair and other equipment in the other hand. He looked miserable.
"One point two miles," I said and started off again.
"Really? Mumble, mumble," he said.
"What?" I asked turning back toward him.
"That large?" he asked.
"Yep."
I moved away from the man, away from the lake and toward the parking lot.
The world is full of people doing strange things, like running in the rain on Thanksgiving morning, or fishing on Thanksgiving morning, or stopping people to ask the distance around the lake when a sign right by the deck clearly states the mileage. Strangest of all, perhaps, is feeling like the politeness of answering a stranger's question is more important than safety. I could hear my friends, my husband's and my parents' voices echoing in my head as I climbed into my dry car and locked the doors behind me.
But, for the most part, people are trustworthy and not predatory -- just strange, like me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Promotion

A few weeks ago, while sitting in the sunshine at an outdoor cafe with my husband, sipping a glass of white wine, my cell phone rang. I missed the call but saw it came from the dean of one of the colleges where I teach.
My husband of 20 years was not offended that I returned the call to the dean as we sat waiting for a lunch to arrive. Phone calls from deans are not that common.
She called to offer me a job as "Visiting Professor."
What did that mean? Well, I'm not entirely clear, except I have to teach a minimum number of hours per year and I'll be assigned classes before the other contract employees. That was me until the phone call -- a contract employee, which meant I was paid 10 weeks after the class began in one big check. Now I'll receive bi-weekly paychecks, which should help us plan a budget better.
I said yes to the job offer, though, mainly because I like the title: "Visiting Professor."
It implies that I'll be moving on to other colleges and other students very soon. Maybe I'll make a stop in San Francisco, Provence, Rome, Wellington, New Zealand. As a "Visiting Professor," I am free to roam with my exquisite skill teaching English composition.
Earl and I clinked our wine glasses together as the lunch time traffic shuffled past. I ate cashew-encrusted mahi mahi along with mushroom risotto, and as we moved toward the car, I suggested that Earl walk at least four steps behind me since I am now a "Visiting Professor."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cute Baby

Yesterday's post was so depressing, that I needed to redeem myself with a cute baby picture.
Luckily, Earl's niece Julie visited with baby Caroline yesterday.
And Grace was home too so I can show a cute baby picture and a cute teenager picture!

Don't you love those smiles when they only have a few teeth?
But Grace won't like that picture of herself, so I'll need to add one that she prefers.

I can't recall what was happening to the left of those girls, but it must have been fascinating the way they both turned in that direction. When you're a teenager who has been away from home and frequent hugs from people who love you, nothing is better than hauling around a baby who doesn't want to be put down.
She did leave a wet spot on Grace's jeans at one point, but Grace didn't even complain. See how mature she's getting in college?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fight the Good Fight

Last week, there was a horrific crime about an hour from Columbus. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that a 13-year-old girl was rescued alive while her mother, 11-year-old brother, a female family friend, and the family dog were found stashed in trash bags inside a hollow tree.
I wonder if the girl would have been better off if she had died before watching or being aware of her family members' deaths one by one. I can't even imagine how a 13-year-old would survive being tied up, gagged and held in a man's basement, much less having seen what she saw.
And then I wondered how one man could capture four people. Wouldn't someone have broken free? Couldn't someone have made a run for it?
I wonder if we aren't conditioned to give criminals what they want in the hopes we'll get out alive.
Yet, women are told, if someone points a gun at you and tells you to get in a vehicle, run for it. Your odds are much better if you resist being alone with the criminal.
And I think that's what I would do now in almost any situation with a criminal -- resist in the hopes that someone gets out alive. If there are two of us, we can both run for it and one of us may survive.
I know crimes like this are extremely rare and most people will never have to face the choice of fighting or placating a criminal.
I do not for one minute want to blame the victims.
Yet, I think back to the Jewish people who dug the pits and stood naked alongside waiting to be shot by the Nazis. Maybe they thought it would be different for them. Maybe they remained hopeful. Or maybe they were filled with despair and thought they had no choice. "Resistance is futile."
I guess, having read about the evil that some people are capable of, I would run for it.
Then I thought about the people on that plane during Sept. 11, 2001. The one that had been highjacked and when the passengers realized that other planes were being flown into buildings, they led an insurgency. The people on that plane all died, but they may have saved the lives of thousands in a building somewhere. And, the passengers could have survived. They could have taken over the plane and landed. Even though they died, they were heroes.
These morbid thoughts led me to Dylan Thomas' famous line: "Do not go gentle into that good night."
Of course, he was talking about growing old and dying, but maybe it's worth the fight to make sure you grow old.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Homecoming

Grace and Earl are driving through the night right now on their way home. Grace has a week off for Thanksgiving.
Her sheets are clean and the blankets are folded back on her bed.
I can't remember what it was like when I came home from college. I think I was so caught up in spending time with my friends that I probably didn't even notice the comfort of being home.
I hope that when Grace walks through the door at home she feels the same way that I do now when I walk in my parents' house, no matter what house they live in -- Ohio, Kentucky or Florida. Of course, as an adult and as a mother, walking in my parents' house has always felt like a shedding of the weight that I carry on my shoulders. Whoosh! All the responsibility melts away and I'm a duaghter again instead of a wife, mother, teacher, writer.
I joked with the students in my class last night that I imagined we might spend the entire week with me on the courch and Grace's head on my lap.
But that's a fantasy too, since I'll be in bed when she gets home and then I'm off to a swim meet at 6:30 a.m. before a basketball scrimmage at 10 and... well, it's a typical weekend at our house. There will be little time to sit with her head resting in my lap.
Still, just having her at home makes everything feel a little more secure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dreams

I wish I could describe that feeling. The nervousness and anticipation when I send out a letter to an agent. I have carefully honed the letter, hoping to sell the literary agent on my latest book. I try to be immune to the rejections and figure the right agent will see the potential.
I've probably sent only half a dozen query letters for my latest project, Ransoming Raphael. I peruse my list of top agents and choose one carefully like a rich chocolate.
An agent responds, "Send me x number of pages of your manuscript."
And my heart soars.
This one.
This could be the one.
This could be the book. This could be the agent. This could turn my world upside down.
I sit with my completed manuscript and scour it for misspellings, awkward wordings.
Then, like a baby bird perched on the edge of a nest, I send it out, hoping it will soar before it tumbles to the ground.
I push the send button; the pages cross the electronic divide arriving in an agent's inbox. Maybe the agent will open it right away. Maybe the agent will park it in a long cue behind manuscripts about vampires or pirates or the biography of the man who discovered calculators.
I hope she loves mine.
I hope she calls or emails and says, "More please."

Legacies

At the basketball scrimmage on Saturday, two parents asked who "that number 18" was. That was Spencer. They asked because they didn't recognize him, even though they'd sat beside me at games last year and invited Spencer into their homes for meals. Since basketball season ended in April, Spence has put on about 30 pounds of muscle.
"He was so skinny last year," one of the mothers said, explaining why she hadn't recognized him.
It's true. When I saw him around the house, I thought he was normal sized. Tall, but normal weight. When I saw him on the basketball court, I realized he was a stick figure.
Not this year though.
Adding to the confusion of his appearance is a recent haircut.
A senior on the team, short with a bald spot, told Spencer that he has an athletic body but a pretty boy haircut. Spencer trotted off to the barber for a "high and tight" cut to go with his athletic body. I'm not sure who made this senior boy fashion arbiter.
Spencer does have pretty boy hair. It's thick and smooth. And he still has a baby face.
The short haircut took care of that. Now he looks like a man.
Something about the haircut reminded me of my dad in his high school days, so Mom sent me some pictures.
People have always said that Spencer and my dad look alike because of the blue eyes and the square chin. I thought the haircut might add to the similarities, but now that I compare. I'm not sure. What do you think?
Here's Dad's senior picture and one from when he was Spencer's age.
The other thing about Dad and Spencer is they are both basketball fanatics. Dad didn't even hold a basketball until 8th grade but then excelled. He was offered a basketball scholarship to a college in Kentucky but turned it down to start working after graduation.
He has continued to play though, in a senior league and teaching his grandsons his hook shot until a shoulder injury a few years ago.
"You can just tell Gran was good at basketball," Spencer said when he looked at the picture my mom had sent.
As he flipped through the pictures, he looked at the one of my mom and dad together in high school. "People don't really marry people from high school, do they?" he asked.
But, of course, they do and they did more frequently in the past, like his grandparents who met when they were in high school, when they were both still baby faced and had no idea that their future would lead to four children and seven grandchildren.
Maybe the story of high school sweethearts is a different story though, one that I'll have to tell about Tucker someday as he tries to reconcile now with the on-again, off-again girlfriend

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deep in Chocolate Cups

Last month, I wrote about a party that my roommate Pat and I threw 20 years ago. At the party, at her insistence, we served alcohol in stale chocolate liqueur cups that tasted like burnt rubber which we later found hidden in plants by friends who were too polite to throw them away.
Astor Chocolate took up the gauntlet challenging me to try their chocolate liqueur cups to prove that the cups are tasty. They sent me a box of 60 cups, each in their own gold foil like miniature muffins.
My husband, who refused to try one of the cups because 20 years later that burnt rubber taste remains imbedded on his tongue, took an artsy photo of the box.
We lifted the lid from the box and inhaled the rich chocolate scent. Not a hint of rubber from these cups.
Then, after a Girls Night Out dinner, where we were all slightly tipsy from the bartender's free drinks and an after-dinner liqueur, we returned to my house to try the chocolate cups.
I can honestly say that it didn't matter we'd been drinking before we tried the cups. At that party 20 years before, plenty of people had been drinking but still abandoned the cups.
My thoughts on filling the cups ranged toward sweet liqueur.
Baileys, Kahlua. We had some mint Baileys so I climbed on a chair and pulled that from the cabinet over the refrigerator. I also got down a bottle of Drambuie that came from Earl's parents' liquor stash, and a bottle of limoncella that Earl's sister brought from Italy.
We all tried the cups, some with the Baileys, others just as an after-dinner chocolate. The verdict -- good, dark chocolate. Linda, a chemist by profession, studied the ingredients on the side of the box, and proclaimed it quality chocolate.
Janine merely broke off the pieces of the chocolate cup and ate it, although this picture indicates she may have sampled the Baileys in a cup before switching to straight chocolate.
Sheila tried the Drambuie in the cup and warned the rest of us to stay away from it. I'm not sure if it was the alcohol in general or the alcohol mixed with the chocolate that didn't go together.
I tried the limoncella in the chocolate cup, and again, not a good match. When I started thinking about it, I couldn't picture lemon and chocolate together. Not like chocolate and raspberry or strawberry.
Laura, who was celebrating her birthday, took the gold foil cup and folded it into a table shape. In addition to quality chocolate, the foil was quality too, she declared.

So, the opinion of the five of us about chocolate liqueur cups has been swayed. I let the boys each eat a chocolate cup, no liquor involved. They asked for seconds. I put away the remainder for when Grace comes home and makes chocolate mousse that we can dole into the tiny cups and serve at Thanksgiving.
Thanks Astor Chocolate for the taste treat.
Earl still hasn't tried one. He can't get over that traumatic first experience in a party in Largo, Florida 20 years ago.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Letter From a Son

"Dear loving mother," began the typed letter that lay on top of my keyboard when I returned home from work at 10:30 Tuesday night. The letter was from the son who went to bed the night before after spewing vitriole about his brother and me and his horrible life. The son who pulled the old door closed tight rather than leaving it open to hear the sounds of life throughout the house like he usually did.
Perhaps he wrote to apologize. Please, don't be naive. There's only one reason for a letter that begins like this: he wrote to ask for something.
"I am yearning for the newest experience in the world of first person shooter video games..." he wrote. I suppose a boy who yells and slams the door should be encouraged to play shooter video games.
He pointed out that his grades had improved and he had gone to swim practices and he had started mentoring -- all steps for the better this year. And I had to agree, if it hadn't been for the outburst the day before. The outburst really didn't have anything to do with me or his brother. It had to do with the new Xbox game coming out at midnight and he would not be in line to get it.
His "improved behavior" this fall, he admitted, was a ploy to receive the video game.
"This may be because of hopes to get the game as an early Christmas present, as so when I get the game, I will not be referred to as a 'noob' by all my friends and other online players," he wrote.
He then included the cost and a list of stores where we could easily find the game.
"I feel this would be a righteous investment on your part to see the smiling face of your ever so loving child as you hand him this glorious gift of Call of Duty Black Ops..."
Ah, yes. The lure of Xbox live which offers the ability to talk to your friends as if they are sitting in the same room with you when, in fact, they are in their own homes playing Black Ops. A boy never has to leave the basement to be surrounded by his buddies.
These were simpler days when Tucker was content to dress as a tiger while Spencer played at Johnny Tremaine and Grace posed as Hermione from Harry Potter.



I intend to get the game for Tucker, violence and all, as a Christmas present. I just don't see the need to rush out on release night to snatch it up. All of his friends have it, he claimed, today at lunch when I picked up him and four friends.
I drove them back to our house for lunch meat and cheese on sub buns, apple slices, Sun Chips, homemade brownies, M&Ms and Orange Crush. They each made their own sandwich and sat around the table.
"Owen, do you have it?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Sam?" He doesn't even have an Xbox. Two of the boys have the new game. Both said they bought it with money they had saved.
They tell of one boy at school who got the game when it was released at midnight and then played the game until 5 in the morning. He is grounded.
"I truly hope you rethink your decision twice over before you decide what you may," Tucker wrote in the letter to me. I suppose he thought my decision would be no, so if I rethought twice then a double negative would make a positive.
I showed the letter to Earl this morning.
"Send him a letter that says the committe will make a decision by Dec. 23," he said.
And he drove the boys back to school before 5th period started while I put away the sandwich fixings and the uneaten apple slices.
Tucker's friends go out for lunch everyday, he says. He takes his brown bag and goes along with them.
Eating out everyday and buying pre-Christmas presents just seems excessive. My kids already are so privileged. They've never been hungry because we don't have enough food. They have cell phones and fast internet connection. They have a television in the basement just for video games. They have plenty. Tucker can take one for the team this time.
Then Tucker goes home with his friend Josh to play Black Ops on the split screen. "This game is amazing," he says. Josh has two copies -- one for the upstair Xbox and one for the downstairs Xbox.
The bar for privileged keeps rising, but I don't have to keep jumping.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Steam from my Coffee

This morning I planned to blog about our girls night out where we all got a little tipsy because the bartender plied us with drinks, but as I reached in the cabinet for a cup, I spotted this one.
I pulled it out and filled it with coffee.
I bought this mug when I moved into my very first apartment alone. Originally, there were two with different colored flowers. I can't remember what happened to the other one. This mug has pink and gray irises with yellow centers. Instead of round, the cup is octagonal. As I drink my coffee or tea, I can trace each corner.
This cup evokes a feeling of beginning in me. I can't remember buying it and its mate, but I know I moved to Florida without much furniture after graduate school. Mom gave me some pots and pans along with dishes. I took the rattan table and chairs that might have been in our basement at home. I bought a lot of furniture at garage sales or flea markets. My co-worker sold me a couch -- nubbly and flecked with different colored threads.
Having my own place felt so grown up, even if I lived in one of those 1970s, sprawling apartment complexes.
I can't imagine that anything else in this house came from that long ago apartment. So, this morning, I took down the mug and drank from it. Maybe my hand will soak in that feeling that I had when I held the mug long ago, when all I had to worry about was meeting deadlines and where we would eat lunch. The apartment where I lived when I fell in love with my husband. I suppose I felt my life was full of angst then, dating and friends and all-consuming journalism. Maybe each stage we look back on seems not so stressful and a little bit sentimental.
Do you have a favorite cup? Piece of furniture? Something that connects you to another, long-past life?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Cat Tails

I remember reading somewhere, an advice column or something, about a person who asked why his cat was always sitting outside the bathroom after he finished his shower. The advice columnist said that it probably meant the guy's showers were too long and the cat was running late for work.

Our cat Tupi loves to hop in the shower. If he just sits under the shower curtain though, the little cat is sure to attack him, whether its the swishing tail, or (in his mind) the unknown cat behind the shower curtain.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Got Hope?


This little flower bloomed yesterday surrounded by dry leaves. It must not be aware of the climate. Hope springs eternal in humans and flora.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My Shot at Fame

When I was in ninth grade, our little town of Lebanon, Ohio was chosen to film a movie. A big Hollywood movie. Harper Valley PTA.
Now, you may think that the honor was rather dubious. Unfortunately, that little town I lived in was perfect for a movie about small town backstabbing and politics.
The authentic downtown has an ice cream parlor, antique stores and The Golden Lamb, Ohio's oldest continually operating inn (a place I later worked as a hostess).
The main attraction though was Berry Middle School, an old school set atop a rolling lawn. I'd gone to school there fifth through eighth grades. My mother taught there. I remember she told me that during the filming the teachers were not allowed to adjust the shades in the windows so that the shots always looked the same.
The movie was based on the song and had a far-fetched plot about a slightly loose mother whose daughter will be punished by the school board if the mother doesn't conform. As the quote on the movie poster says, "The day my momma socked it to the Harper Valley PTA." The mother gets back at the school board by exposing their own questionable behavior.
So why am I telling you this?
Because I was an extra in the movie.
It's funny because I haven't rented the movie or searched for it on Hulu. I haven't watched it since it came out in the theater and I saw myself on screen for a split second licking a peppermint ice cream cone. If you want to look for me, I had on a maroon wool sweater, crew neck. I had out of control hair that I tried to straighten and then flip backward from my face.
So here's what happened, somehow, I got signed up to be an extra in the movie. Every kid in school must have wanted to be an extra, I don't know how I got on the list ahead of others. There were a bunch of us though.
We got to leave school for the day, taken on a bus downtown to the ice cream parlor. The ice cream parlor was a place we'd hung out since we were old enough to leave our parents behind. In addition to ice cream, they sold hamburgers and other food. Think of it like the burger joint in an Archies comic book.
We were all sat at tables in the ice cream parlor and given treats. I had a sugar cone, the pointy brown kind, with peppermint ice cream. I'm sure some of my friends were in the movie too and we sat together.
The scene in the ice cream parlor involved us all eating and talking when some main characters come running through. We shot the scene over and over. At one point, Craig Colston, a friend of my older brother, got to be pushed over by the main characters running through the ice cream parlor.
At another point, we were all herded outside to stand in line before they brought us back in for more shooting. I remember licking that ice cream cone quickly in the sun so I could get another one before the next shooting began.
What I learned about movie making that day: repetition is dull.
The pay I received: a day off school and two free ice cream cones.
Even today, that might be enough of a reward.
P.S. I found this youtube clip that shows clips from the movie set to the song. Note the very fashionable clothes that the students are wearing. Guess that was what I looked like. Sorry, you know my links never work on this blog so you'll probably have to copy and paste, but here it is anyway.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ivUOnnstpg

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Failing Works Sometimes

In one of the textbooks we use for English composition class, an example of introductions points out that John Milton and Beethoven were both failures. Startling idea, right? How could they be failures when their work lives on centuries later? Well, they're failures because, although they achieved great things, they didn't meet their wildly outlandish goals.
I am setting out to be a failure tomorrow, and I want you to join me.
I have joined NaNoWriMo, again. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30.
It's a crazy idea. The reasons not to join stack up like dirty laundry in the basement, yet I signed up anyway for the fifth year in a row.
Fall quarter is the busiest for me. Thanksgiving at the end of the month always drags me away from my computer. I know if I focus on writing that my exercising will dwindle away. I just finished a novel and haven't even fleshed out my ideas for the next one.
Nevertheless, on Monday morning, Nov. 1, I will begin work on my new un-named novel.
The first year I took part in NaNoWriMo, I succeeded in writing 50,000 words.
Every year since then, I have failed. But if I get to the end of the month and I wrote 30,000 words, that doesn't feel so awful. Maybe I've only written 20,000 or 10,000. At least I've started thinking about and writing a new novel.
How many people spend years planning the novel they will write and never type out the words? The novel lives only in their head.
Face it, when is a good time to try to write 50,000 words? We'll always put it off another day, another year, another decade. When the kids are older, when work slows down, when I'm thinner, when we're wealthier... Excuses are easy to find. Time isn't.
So I signed up.
You'll find me under PaulitaK.
Sign up and friend me.
Let's be failures together.
Go to www.nanowrimo.org. It's free, but you can make a donation if you want to.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Books

It seems like so long since I read a book that I enjoyed, until I stumbled on Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

When I started this book, I couldn't tell in which time period it took place. An older man reminiscing about simpler times in England and the old Empire. He was born on the Indian subcontinent. It could have taken place in the late 1800s or the early 1900s between World Wars, but it is actually set in present day. The main character is devoted to tradition yet finds himself attracted to a Pakistani widow. In spite of his love of country and British customs, he moves forward ignoring the resistance from even those Brits younger than him, and the Pakistani family which oppose the relationship. The book is very sweet. It doesn't throw tradition to the wind but encourages people to look at customs and determine which are useful in today's world while weaving an intriguing story around likable characters. Earl wants to read it next.
The other book I stumbled on was Anna Quindlen's Every Last One. I filled my library bag with books on tape before my most recent trip to pick up Grace.
This was one of them. I knew nothing about the book. The blurb on the back was fairly innocuous. A woman, mother of three feels herself growing distant from her husband. Well, that sounded like life in suburbia. I'd read other books by Anna Quindlen and enjoyed them so I slid it into the bag.
When I began listening to it, I became enthralled with her characterizations. The daughter Ruby as a quirky senior in high school, the twin teenage boys. Of course, they reminded me of my own family. I told my friend Ruth that she should listen to the book because her family also has an oldest daughter, an independent thinker, with two younger sons. The book stretched from Ruby's prom junior year to New Years her senior year until (SPOILER ALERT), Ruby's ex-boyfriend kills her, her father, one of the twins and stabs the mother. That's right. Without any warning that this book included murder and mayhem, the entire family is killed except for the mother and one of the boys who is away on a ski trip.
The book included no indication that murder was on its way. I felt outraged that I had been lured into loving this family only to see them killed on New Year's Day. The title comes from a conversation the mother overheard as she drifted in and out of conciousness. The police officer who found them says, the whole family is dead: "Every last one."
I overcame my outrage at the surprise mass murder to listen to the remainder of the book because Quindlen is a good writer.
Would I have picked up this book if I knew about the murders? Probably not. I try to read books that don't make me feel too anxious. I use books for entertainment and escape.
Nevertheless, I'm glad I listened to this book because the characters snagged me. I guess if Quindlen were not such a good writer, I wouldn't have cared so much that they were strangled and stabbed on New Years Day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Clue

The problem with starting a mystery is that eventually the answer must be revealed and this time, it isn't very exciting.
Remember when I tore my ACL by rollerblading? The story was improved by the fact that I was training for the marathon and had just finished my 17-mile training run when disaster struck! Duh, duh, duh, duh!(That's the exciting music)
Lately, my family has been beset by ho hum injuries. Grace sprained her ankle this fall but never knew for sure how she did it. Maybe overuse of flipflops as she sprinted across campus.
This time, the crutches and the aircast belong to:

Tucker
The rather blase story is that he stepped off a curb onto uneven ground and rolled his ankle. He called me and said he thought he'd broken it.
When I arrived, two adult women were there applying ice. He was pale and sweaty. I suspected he wanted to avoid the swim meet the next day, but like the good mother I pretend to be, I didn't say that.
I didn't rush him to the emergency room because I have made that mistake before. He broke this ankle when he was seven. He has injured it a couple more times. I think the sweating and the paleness come partially from that memory of the broken one.
The urgent care at Children's Hospital took an xray and determined that it was a sprain. No weight on it for 7 to 10 days. No swimming.
More ice cream, please, for Tucker who is forced to loll on the couch for a week.

Dreaming of France -- More Hard Goodbyes

Today, we begin week 2 of living out of a suitcase since we sold our home and moved out last week. My neighbor tells me that once we vacate...