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

France BookTours -- That Spring in Paris

I can't imagine running to Paris for an emergency instead of for sheer pleasure, but that's what happens in That Spring in Paris b...