Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Straight Talk


My parents visited this weekend and I am lucky to have avoided a stroke. It's not that my parents and I don't get along usually, but I made the mistake of bringing up the presidential election. Not in front of my dad, who had already commented that the president doesn't have that much power, so Bush couldn't be responsible for this mess. I choked out something about 6-years of a Republican congress before I stifled myself.
But the afternoon my parents were leaving, as we sat at the dining room table without my dad, I approached my mom. She'd made some reasonable remarks recently about no one in Washington to look out for the people. I thought she might be rational on the topic. Instead, she was the farthest thing from it.
When I mentioned Obama's name, she said, "Well, you know he's only where he is because of the Chicago mob."
My husband choked on his chili and a vein started throbbing in his forehead. "The Chicago mob would NOT put a black man in a place of power," he roared. I motioned to him to calm down. We could return this conversation to a sensible one yet.
"Mom," I started, "you know those e-mails you get are always wrong."
"Well, his stepfather raised him as a muslim."
I had nothing on the stepfather.
"And, he said that he'd visited all 57 states and there are 57 states of Islam. I saw that in the paper!"
This was the point where I began to bang my head on the table. No, I didn't, but I wanted to.
"Mom, if you want to vote for McCain then do it for a real reason, not this made up crap."
I wanted to spend some time imagining what my mom thought would happen if Obama was elected. Would he take over the country and force us all to be muslim, was that her fear?
I got up and walked over to the sink. "I guess we can't talk about this, because you don't realize how panicked I am about the idea that we may have three years to leave the country before Spencer turns 18 and is drafted into a needless war."
"FDR started the biggest war ever and he was a democrat."
At that point, I went downstairs to do laundry. Hmmm. Let's compare World War II and the Iraq War. My mom still thought we went there to fight Al Quaeda. She thought the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center were from Iraq instead of Saudi Arabia.
Deep breaths as I pulled warm laundry from the dryer and carefully folded the towels into squares.
What would be the reason to vote for McCain? The newspaper the next day gave me a good reason. So, Mom, if this is you, under the McCain tax plan, taxes will go down for the top 1 percent in the country by $125,000 per year. I can understand voting for McCain if you want that $125,000 back. I mean, I can understand that people don't want to pay a lot of taxes. And that money the top 1 percent gets back, that's more than we gross a year. But, if you need the money, vote for McCain. Maybe we can borrow that tax return money to buy a new house in France or New Zealand, where my boys will be safe from unnecessary wars.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Today I'm feeling...


Satisfied, like I finished a good meal, but not full and bloated and unable to move. I want to do a happy dance. Yesterday, after months of procrastination or brain freeze, I finished the revision of my novel Trail Mix.
Like a patient after bariatric surgery, the manuscript shrank from 99,000 to 87,000 words. From 360 pages to 326 pages. And, I think it improved - a lot.
I think I can blame part of the delay on my friend Marcus. He methodically began to sift through the book and we would meet each week over turkey sandwiches (sauce on the side for him, what kind of bread is that?) or espressos with flavor (only 3 squirts of raspberry in his coffee, please, and skim milk). But the loitering over lunch and coffee also led to the refinement of my manuscript. He'd come up with comments like: "This page is very -ingy." And when I read it, I realized he was right. I puzzled over sentences like: "Wearing only a blue jogging bra and her Nike running shorts, she scrubs her hands at the sink before popping some bread into the stainless steel toaster." What's with all the detail? Marcus would ask. How does the reader know which ones are important?
I got the point, and I think I reached a new writing phase where I could zip through pages and hear Marcus' nagging voice in my head. So the manuscript is better.
Now I feel anxious. I've given three copies to literate friends and asked them to read them -- fast. I want to send out query letters and manuscripts to agents who will love it! Okay, like it enough to ask to see the full. And maybe, that one agent who will say, "I can sell this."
So, what sort of incentive can I offer my friends to read my manuscript in record time? Well, I do hope they enjoy it and want to keep reading. Maybe, like the actor Bob Hoskins, who takes scripts to the toilet and knows they're good when his butt goes numb, maybe my friends will find themselves unable to put my book down.
Just in case, though, I'll offer a gift certificate to COSI or Panera or Borders to whoever finishes it first and gets it back to my greedy little hands.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What I learned living without power for 5 days


The morning after the Ohurricane blew through dawned clear and cool. Not cold, but a humidity-free cool that made the sky an eye-blinding blue. The landscape of splintered trees and blown leaves seemed surreal as kids raced by on bicycles and the quiet of an electricity-free neighborhood rang in our ears. Anybody can last 24-hours without power but how long would it go. We lost power on Sunday, and on Thursday, with a blink of off/on power at the high school, electric service was restored at our house. I knew because Earl texted me: "Ta da."
Here are some things I learned:
10. Showering by candlelight is not romantic when it's your only alternative.
9. There's no point in getting out of bed before it's light when you have no electricity and no school.
8.Taper candles work best for homework and reading at the table. Those little pillar candles don't shed much light below.
7.I will always burn myself trying to light a candle with a lighter rather than a match.
6.The night is incredibly long when it begins at 8 p.m.
5.12-year-olds need electronics way more than teenagers
4.Necessity is the mother... well, you know. I made pork chops on the grill for dinner in time for Grace to eat before swim practice, but Spencer wasn't home from soccer. How could I keep them warm? I lit a burner on the stove and filled a skillet with water. I set the plate over the skillet and put a lid over the plate. Voila. Warm pork chops when Spencer got home.
3. Midwesterners are disgustingly optimistic. I can't count how many conversations I heard that started with "It could be so much worse..." as we listed the benefits of having running water, warm weather, a gas stove and water heater
2.Don't gloat about the fact that you have electricity when much of the city is still in the dark.
1. I am no Laura Ingalls Wilder

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

No Power, the True Black Hole



That first night the power went off wasn't so bad. Tucker pulled his acoustic guitar from its case and played songs while we sang along. When he grew tired, Grace practiced the piano as the light waned. I set a candle on top of the piano, but she said she was only playing from memory so she didn't need the light. We sat on the front porch, legs propped on each other's laps and laughed about childhood memories.Then we went inside and played Apples to Apples while Spencer tried to read The Hobbit and shushed us for breaking his concentration.
The whole situation was a little pioneerish. Music and stories and family games. The boys bunked down in the living room and I blew out the candles before going to bed.
The next day I only needed to light a match to the gas stove to heat water for tea. We put the two gallons of milk in a cooler with bags of ice and we salvaged the ham and turkey lunch meat, along with the block of mozzarella and goat cheese. Sandwiches for lunch. The bread was thawing anyway. Hash browns with bacon thrown in for dinner because they had also thawed. As the light began to fail on the second day, Tucker approached me.
"How much longer? I can't go without power. Can't we go to the Knotty Pine to watch football?"
One of his friends has power. "Go to Matthew's house and watch TV," I suggested.
"It's not the same, I can't flip through the channels. I need power."
He lay his head on the table.
I tried to reassure him. "We're safe. We'll be okay."
Apparently safety is not uppermost in the 12-year-old's mind. "I need power. I can't go for six more days."
Well, I don't know if I can either. But I have hot water. I can take a shower. My hair is curly rather than straight, but really, we're fine.
Spencer has almost read all of The Hobbit and Grace sat on a trampoline with friends late into the night before walking home and finding her way to bed by flashlight.
Our radio/boombox has batteries, so I let Tucker put a CD in and he set it beside his pillow, listening to We The Kings "Check Yes, Juliet" as he fell asleep. Any kind of electronic device is better than nothing when you're desperate for civilization.
School was canceled again today and people are lined up out the door at Panera where the lights and power, along with the coffee and bagels are going full strength. So, Panera doesn't exactly make it pioneerish, but a little roughing it won't kill us

Ohio Hurricane


How was I to know that the "high wind advisory" was actually a hurricane blowing through? Seriously. Who thinks hurricane in Ohio? I went for a run in the morning and spent the day baking banana bread, cleaning, helping with homework. I noticed that the trees were bending in the breeze and my husband came in from reading on the front porch predicting that the wind might knock down limbs. I disregarded him as I handed the car keys to my 16-year-old. She was headed downtown for her dance/vocal group. I left a few minutes later.
"I'll ride my bike," I called to my husband.
"No, take the car. The wind's too strong."
I pshawed, but took the car anyway. As I drove along the main road, half a mile from our house, I swerved to avoid major branches in the road. This mile drive was fraught with wind gusts, malfunctioning traffic lights, and blowing debris. What had I sent my 16-year-old into? During the meeting, I tried to reach my daughter by text. "Let me know when you're safe."
Finally she called. "Mom, I'm having really bad stomach cramps."
She was safe. My husband and I drove down so we could both drive cars back. She seemed chipper. "I'll get my stuff."
The dance instructor confided, "She was cramping up."
"I think it might be anxiety," I replied.
When we ran to the car, the wind ferociously howling, she burst into tears.
"Is it that black hole thing?" she asked. We'd recently read about the semiconductor in Switzerland that could, possibly create a black hole that might or might not engulf the earth.
"No, honey, it's not the black hole. It's the hurricane."
So Hurricane Ike, which took hours to move across Houston, reached Ohio within a day and swept away our electricity, along with lots of tree branches. On the bright side, it wasn't a black hole.

Dreaming of France -- Sunny Montpellier

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