Friday, January 29, 2010

To France or Not To France?

Earl and I may not be the best at making practical decisions. When the kids were 2, 4, and 6, we decided to take a three-week vacation to Europe with them. We had a big old house that could have used work but a vacation seemed more important.
This spring, we're facing a similar dilemma. Our 20th anniversary is coming up so we hope to go to France.
Oh, it's more than we "hope" to go to France. We read books about it. We drink wine and talk about it. "Remember when we were biking through Provence and we had climbed that long hill, we stopped at that little restaurant?"
"Yes, we had pork and rose wine. That was the best meal ever."
"It looked out over Aix en Provence."
"And we could see Mt. Ste. Victoire from there."
Which leads us to the next conversation: "Remember when we rode our bike to Mt. Ste. Victoire?"
"Look the guidebook said the road was around the mountain..." I always reply.
So we dream of France. Sitting in cafes and walking along the streets hand in hand. We take our dance classes and say we'll have to find a place to dance in France this spring.
We read travel websites and compare airfare. I've organized my work so that I miss the minimum number of classes if we leave at the end of April and come home 10 days later in the beginning of May.
But practicality raises its ugly head.
Or to save money for college?
Financial things are looming, like Grace going to college. For anyone unfamiliar with the cost of American college, it's about $20,000 per year -- that's for a big state school like Ohio State or the University of Cincinnati. Smaller, private colleges run around $33,000 per year, but they offer scholarships. She's been offered $17,000 from one, $13,000 from another, so the price tag is reduced to about $20,000 per year. We're still hopeful more money will arrive for college.
Then last week, the outside water tap was turned on for days. It flooded the basement, saturating the carpet. Another purchase of new flooring for the basement is another imminent cost.
Or to buy a new car?

Our second car is getting old, a 1998 convertible. Spencer will be getting his driver's license soon. Should we buy another car to replace the old one?
Leaving the kids behind always makes me nervous, right up to the time we step on the ground in France. I won't be able to sleep for at least a week before we leave worrying about the possibilities of us not returning to raise our kids.
In spite of all these complications, Earl and I reallllllllly want to go to France this spring.
Should we be practical or follow our hearts?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Trauma of Turning 18

It's official. My eldest child is now 18 -- an adult.
This is how fast it has gone: One minute she is a two week old with colic, crying and crying, inconsolable - the next she is a 5-foot, 10-inch young woman slicing through the water like an arrow, bobbing up with a smile.
She's been in tears for nearly a week now imagining the horror of this birthday and the responsibility of becoming an adult.
To her turning 18 means she has ended that blissful state of childhood. And I have to admit, Grace has taken advantage of childhood. She has squeezed every drop of imaginary play and kicking tantrum that she can from childhood. Even without the birthday numbers though, she became responsible and inched her way into adulthood before 18.
"I can be arrested now!" she bemoaned.
"Don't do anything illegal," Tucker advised.
"If I hit Tucker, it's illegal instead of just a brother and sister fighting," she cried.
Tucker and I listed all of the benefits of being 18. She can get a tattoo. She can get piercings. She could gauge her ears.
Of course, we're cracking up at the thought because Grace hates pain -- hates it and would never do any of those things.
"You can sign yourself out of school," I suggested. That one quieted her down a bit.
"Will they still call you?" she asked.
Having one child reach adulthood doesn't feel like the relief I might have imagined. It doesn't seem like the burden has left my shoulders. I haven't brushed off my hands and said, "That one finished."
I can't protect her forever, but I have brought her to this place, to this adult line and helped her cross over fairly intact. Now I'll have to watch while she inches forward trying to decide if she wants to try her wings.
Are you sure this is the same kid? Grace in the Luxembourg Gardens at 14 and then at 17 in her senior picture

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Morning Musings

This morning, as I sat at my desk in the dark early morning, listening to the snuffling sounds of my sleeping family, I heard a faraway rumble. I'd already heard the next door neighbor warm up his Land Rover and leave, so I paused, wondering what that sound could be. It could be the train from down the hill chugging along, but that was usually a sustained rumbling. I clicked on WeatherBug and saw that thunderstorms were possible today with the temperature hovering around 44 degrees -- a winter thaw that is welcome. The thunder is like the hand of spring waving, "I'm here. I'll be back."
The warmer temperatures Saturday morning were a relief when I met my friends for our 6:15 a.m. run. In less than a mile, I'd pulled off my fleece and tied it around my waist. We ran the whole way, not stopping to walk and watch deer or adjust socks. The weather must have inspired us. I know it won't be long now before some of my friends are suggesting that we increase those Saturday morning runs from 7.5 miles to maybe 10 then maybe 13. Hope I'm ready when they do!
I'm up early on this Sunday morning, grading papers. I'm teaching eight classes this quarter, about 25 students per class and three essays each to write, along with rough drafts to review. Someone else can do the math because if I were teaching math, the grading would be much easier. There's a right answer and a wrong answer and I would just check it off. Instead, I read through the essay and suggest that they tie back to their thesis and don't forget transitions and remember to use in-text citations.
Friday evening a college coach came to Grace's swim meet to watch her race. We'd already visited his college and it remains on her list. I like the coach a lot - a blond giant of a guy. When the meet was finished, he talked to Grace and said he was glad to see that she was smiling at the end of the race. He liked that she cheered for her teammates.
And that seemed so weird when Spencer's basketball coach recently pulled him from a game because he had smiled.
The college coach's visit left a warm feeling for me, and hopefully for Grace. It was a reminder that she's good at swimming; she's special. It was the final "home" meet for her team this season, her senior year, which, of course, resulted in tears and a bit of melancholy afterward.
Here's Tucker on the left and two of his friends enjoying a smile at the Middle School championships on Saturday.
The warm feelings on Friday night didn't carry over on Saturday to the middle school championships, and I'm trying to figure out the uncomfortable feeling I had when Tucker took second place, by less than a tenth of a second, in both of his individual events. He swam well, had good times, but still barely missed first place. I think I'm too competitive. I'm used to seeing him win and I felt sad that he didn't. Then I start thinking maybe it's because he hasn't worked hard enough this year. Maybe I need to push him to practice more and harder.
Then I dope slapped myself and suggested I get over it before I become one of those parents who scream: "Get him! Catch him!" as Tucker is swimming. I need to stick with "Go, Tucker!" which is the cheering I limit myself to.
A weekend of highs and lows, and it's only half over. Who knows what joys the rest of the weekend might bring if I ever get these essays graded!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Senior Pictures

After wading through proofs and more proofs, we've finally chosen the senior pictures that will go out in Grace's announcements. I remember that it was hard when I was a senior, and that was back in the old days when they actually used film. Imagine how many more shots they can take with digital.
For anyone who hasn't received a graduation announcement lately, the "in thing" is to hand out cards. The cards have the student's name, along with cell phone number and email address. Some of them have Facebook information too. The card has a picture on the front and back, which means we have to narrow it down to two favorite pictures. Here's the photo that we chose for the front of Grace's cards:

There's something about the way that the blue of the pool is reflecting on her face that I just love.
For the back of the card, she chose a picture because she loves the look of the stones that she's leaning against. It reminds her of a castle in France or Ireland, she says. She's so much like her mother, living in that fantasy world! Here it is with the contact information clumsily blocked out:

I remember my senior pictures. I wore a maroon velvet blazer, and don't even get me started on my hair with its swoops. I hadn't yet learned to live with my curly hair and they hadn't invented really good straighteners yet.
How about you? What was your senior picture like?

Monday, January 18, 2010


That's twice now this year I've sat down and tried to meditate. For someone as flighty as I can be, that's not bad.
I've been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love on CD in the car. I love that book. At least the eat and pray parts. Funny that I'm not tempted to start making Italian meals to copy the eat part of the book, but I do want to follow the author's lead in the prayer and meditation.
No, I'm not inclined to go to an ashram for four months, or even a month or a week, but I would sometimes like to quiet the thoughts whirring through my head. She talks about climbing through levels and being in God's palm.
I have had times where I've felt like I was above my body, transcendant even, but it was never while I was sitting still. I've had it happen a couple of times while I was running. I never realize it is happening until a thought suddenly jars me -- You'd better get back in your body before you fall or something.
I know, it sounds crazy. How much smarter to have a transcendental experience sitting still instead of running along the road. Maybe that is actually chirunning, where you can leave behind all thoughts of the physical. The body works like a machine while the mind soars above.
My biggest meditation problem is finding someplace in the house to be alone. Our kitchen, dining room and living room are all open together. Even at 5 a.m., I can't be alone because most nights Tucker chooses to sleep on the couch. He's asleep, but I still feel him close by which interferes with my meditation.
I like to sit in the living room facing our big Arts & Crafts window that looks straight out into the trees.
The only things I know about meditation are what I've read, and one time I went to a "Centering Prayer" session taught by Father Vinnie. I think centering prayer is the same thing as meditation. Father Vinnie didn't suggest a Sanskrit mantra, but he did say we should choose one word to concentrate on, one word to bring us back when our minds started to drift.
At the time, I remember I chose the word "Peace."
Then Father Vinnie told us that of course other thoughts would interfere. He said we should think of those thoughts as cars passing on the street. Just let them go past but don't run after them and try to catch them.
So this morning, after I started the kettle with water, the darkened living room called to me.
Tucker and two other boys were asleep in the basement; the television still rumbling before I switched it off.
I sat cross legged on the rug and turned my hands palms up. I tried to imagine a string running from the base of my spine through the top of my head, keeping my back straight.
I had the sound of one of the chants from Eat Pray Love running through my head, and I matched my breathing to it. This morning though, instead of peace as my centering word, I chose gratitude.
I tried to ignore those passing thoughts, letting them scurry by, but it was harder to ignore the cats. Each took turns coming over to rub their faces against my upturned hands, and when the little one started biting my fingers, I pushed him away.
He came back and I pushed with a little more oomph.
Try to concentrate, I reminded myself.
I wouldn't call it a success exactly, but by the time the water on the stove began to churn and boil, just before the whistle, I opened my eyes and saw the cats, both black and white as if ready for a formal night out, sitting in front of me and staring at my face, as if they were my disciples.
I can't imagine I will ever reach the goal Gilbert talks about: being still enough to have a bird land on my head. But I can be sure that if a bird ever did land on my head, my tuxedoed disciples would take care of it pretty quickly.
My cats practicing their own brand of sun worship

Friday, January 15, 2010

Drip, Drip, Drip

That seven inches of snow that has been on the ground for the past few weeks was beautiful, but when I woke this morning to the sound of drips, I felt like spring has come. I know I still have the rest of frigid January and I can't even think about the gray days of February, but the drip of the melting snow gives me hope.
When Tucker checked in with me yesterday after school as he was walking home, I heard birds in the background. Actual birds singing, as if we weren't in the middle of winter. Isn't it funny how you don't notice things like the birds not singing, until you hear them again?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Watch Those Facial Expressions!

That's my boy in blue going up for the rebound.
Many of you know from my previous rantings, that I do not think highly of sports coaches. I've seen them do so many dumb things. Last night's just made me laugh.
Spencer was playing with the JV team and it was the 3rd quarter. Our team was ahead by a good 15 to 20 points.
We had the ball and were coming down the floor when the small boy (point guard) dribbling had the ball stolen by the other team. Back they all ran to the other end. The other team scored and so the same boy started down the floor for our team again with the ball. Spencer sprinted ahead to get under our basket. Before the small boy reached mid court, he had the ball stolen again.
The next thing I knew, Spencer was pulled out of the game. The coach moved the entire team down so Spencer was sitting at the end in isolation and the coach was in his face yelling. I couldn't hear what was being said, but I could tell from Spencer's posture that he was pissed. His long legs were askew. His mouth curled up at the end in contempt.
I pointed out to the other mothers that Spencer was in "time out."
"He wasn't anywhere near the ball. How could he have gotten in trouble?" I wondered.
He didn't go in the game again for the rest of the night.
When I picked him up from the bus that night at 10:30, I asked him why he was in timeout.
"I smiled," he said.
"Yea, coach said I smiled when we lost the ball. He asked me if I thought that was funny."
"So what did you say?" I asked.
His friend Dakota said, "You say, 'I dunno.' And then he says, 'I dunno.' And he's mad."
That just made me laugh. Coaches say the darnedest things.
Now, in addition to his shooting and his jumping and his dribbling, Spencer needs to work on controlling his facial expressions.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

What Life Could Have Been

Disclaimer: This is a post I didn't want to write, but like a broken down car in the fast lane, it seems to be blocking my forward progress. So, here it is, more than 30 years after, my attempt to understand.
This week was my sister's birthday. I usually call my parents and we talk around the birthday, not usually about it. My sister, Tammy, four years older than me, died when she was 18 at the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Cincinnati on May 28, 1977 -- the night before her high school graduation.
Growing up, we were like normal sisters. We shared a bed until I was about in the fifth grade. I remember playing dress up and tea party and tying up our little brother. I remember lying in bed and talking after the lights were out. I remember the time she asked if I would "freak out" if her boyfriend tapped on the window one night. Yes! I told her.
She seems to have been incredibly stable. Good grades, steady boyfriend, in the chorus of the high school musical The Sound of Music. She was pale and thin, probably not even 100 pounds. She had big brown eyes and a tiny mole that looked like a beauty spot on her face. She liked to curl up on the couch and read, which I loved to do too, but I picture her calm while I was whooping about the neighborhood loud and rowdy. If we played Little Women, I was always Jo and she was Meg.
Her life was going places I couldn't begin to imagine. Her high school graduation was the next day. My mom had cleaned the house and gathered food. Relatives were coming, even my grandmother from Kentucky.
That Saturday night I had a Rainbow Girls event. I don't remember where we traveled to -- Blanchester or one of those far outposts. I do remember that Tammy's friend Jane drove me home. We went through a neighborhood in my small town that I couldn't find again, but Jane pointed out a spooky window where someone is said to watch for someone who never returned.
My parents were in the remodeled basement playing cards with another couple. I could hear their laughter carry up through the floor. I turned on the television and plopped onto the couch.
The Carol Burnett show was on. Was it the end of the show or did they interrupt it with news of the fire? I'm not sure now. Did I yell downstairs to my parents or did they come running up because they heard something on the radio? I can't recall. But I remember that we huddled in front of the television watching the place where my sister and her "fiance" Brent had gone to celebrate -- his new job, her graduation. I don't remember when my brothers came home, Craig, two years older than me, Kevin, two years younger.
I tried to stay awake waiting for news. We saw survivors and searched the crowds hoping to see Tammy and Brent. About 2 a.m. I went to bed, my single bed in the small room that I had moved into after we remodeled the basement. I cried and cried.
When I woke the next morning, I remember my mom hugging me and with eyes red and swollen she said they had found her. Hope soared before she continued that my dad had gone down to identify her body.
"They wouldn't let me hold her," I remember my dad crying when he returned. "They wouldn't let me hold my little girl." He seemed frail, this dad who had always been strong.

Photo from
Her friends filtered through the house for confirmation. Graduation continued with a red rose on her chair. Relatives filled the house and ate the food that was prepared for a celebration.
I selfishly wanted things to return to normal. I wanted to finish all of this so we could be normal again. I didn't understand that normal was gone.
160 people died in that fire. My sister was just one of them. Her picture and her story filled the papers. People called and brought food. Relatives stifled laughs as they reminded themselves of the reason they were all together.
My cousin Kim came to stay. The two of us slept in Tammy's room. One morning, I don't remember how long after, a day, two days, we were lying in bed and the sun was filtering through the curtains. Kim and I talked and we giggled some. My mom stuck her head in the door and smiled, "What are you girls laughing about?" Maybe it was nice for her to stand outside the door and hear girl laughter, to imagine that life might go on. I felt guilty about being happy even for that minute.
I don't remember moping or crying as we passed Sunday and Memorial Day. Some friends who owned a dress shop opened the shop on Memorial Day so I could find something to wear to the funeral. As a 14-year-old tomboy, I owned no dresses. And the stores were closed on Memorial Day -- too weird to think about now.
We held the visitation and funeral at our church. I was okay through the visitation until it was time to leave. We couldn't just close the casket and leave Tammy there all alone. The idea was horrifying. I started to sob and didn't know if I would ever stop. I turned to my parents who were making their way methodically around the church checking the cards on all of the flower arrangements. They couldn't deal with my crying right then. They were too numb themselves.
I ended up sobbing into the chest of the minister, a tall man with a tailored suit that I covered with tears and snot. I couldn't stand the idea of leaving my sister there alone in the church. Maybe the fact that she had died was just hitting me.
The funeral was a blur. My cousin Kim sat with me. My brother's girlfriend squeezed into the pew next to us. We were crowded together in that pew like an overloaded life boat.
I don't remember the burial. I'm sure that I had to block it out because alone in the church was too much, alone in the ground would be unbearable.
After that, life was supposed to return to normal. I missed a few more days of school and was voted into student council -- sympathy vote.
We started the summer and I began a life of how everything would have been different if Tammy had been there. I busted through high school in three years and moved on to college, the one where Tammy had originally planned to go. Each step of my life, I wondered what she would have advised. College, boyfriends, career.
The magnitude of the loss came when I held my baby girl in my arms and thought "I have no idea how to be a mother. If Tammy were here, she'd be beside me offering helpful tips. She'd know how to do all of this."
But she wasn't there when I was married or had my three kids. She wasn't there for the fights or the falling in love. She's not here now as I watch my own daughter approach high school graduation.
Maybe because I now have an oldest daughter at the same place my sister was, maybe I'm standing in my mom's shoes and I can't imagine the devastation. Or maybe I just need to look at the life I've lived and realize that a gaping hole was torn in it that day in May 1977. It's a hole that I can never patch over as much as I try to stretch the material to reach the other side.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Remembering What's Important

As the new year dawned, I decided to slack off on the hair straightening. I was getting tired of all that time with the flatiron. Although my hair started off with nice long curls in the morning, it frizzed as the day wore on until I looked like Roseann Roseanna Danna from Saturday Night Live. To combat the frizzes, I tamed it in a high ponytail, imagining how romantic the curls looked cascading down to my bare neck.
Before mass on Sunday, I had pulled my hair into the ponytail with a clip and I stopped in front of the mirror to loosen one curl so it hung down from the nape of my neck. Sexy!
Then I got to church and was thrilled to see many of the friends I hadn't seen during our busy fall schedule. That's when Michelle walked in. She beamed and looked radiant and wore a blue knit cap on her head. Michelle's hair was very like mine, dark and curly, but she had lost it all in chemotherapy since I'd last seen her. Michelle is two years younger than I am but has much younger children -- four of them ages 9 to 3.
Here are Michelle's beautiful
children from last Easter

Seeing Michelle, whose latest MRI shows tumors too small to measure, I wanted to pull down the curly ponytail which seemed ridiculous. I at least wanted to tuck up the errant curl that I had so lovingly released. Michelle didn't notice. She hugged me and asked about Grace's college search.
And I sighed, realizing that once again I'd been caught up in the minutiae of life with hair and teaching and kids' sports eating up my thoughts and my time. I bet Michelle doesn't spend time thinking about those things any more. I bet she sits with her kids and reads; I bet she gives them hugs that never end. I bet she doesn't give a thought for the long curls that are missing, but gives thanks every day that she can comb her little girls' hair.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


My daughter is averse to change. It sends her into a tizzy, and many times, I think I'm not the right kind of mom for her. I have inadequate amounts of patience for her angst.
So the beginning of a new year with the beginning of a new decade were traumatic. Around nine o'clock New Year's eve, she was preparing to leave the party I was at and go to another party. She hugged me and said, "I'm not ready for 2010."
"Well," I said, taking a sip of my pina colada, "you've got another three hours to get ready."
See, probably not too comforting.
2010 is the year she turns 18 and joins the "adult" world. She must picture me with a big pair of scissors cutting the knot between us. She will become adrift in the adult world, forced to make every decision for herself. My mother tells me she hated turning 18 too, so maybe it's genetic.
2010 is the year Grace will graduate from high school and go off to college. These are things to embrace, but she clings to her life, afraid of what may come.
The next morning she was bemoaning that a whole decade had passed. I suppose she may have been old enough to remember New Year's of 2000 when she was 7, almost 8.
"Look," I told her. "You've accomplished so much in the past decade."
Her big eyes looked up, begging me to list her achievements.
"You kept trying out for parts at OperaColumbus until you landed one with the children's chorus. You're in Singers. You do solos at all of the performances. You got a big part in the play and in the upcoming musical. You learned to Irish step dance and continued ballet until you were 12. You can ride a horse and jump the horse, plus you won ribbons for it."
Grace and her dance partner perform at the Ohio Statehouse.
I continued to think of all the things she'd done in the past 10 years. Sailing and swimming and geography bees. Switching from home school to high school was painful, but she has succeeded.
"The only time you need to look back on a decade and regret that it's gone is if you are still in the same place you were when it started," I said.
"If you are sitting at the kitchen table in front of our laptop the morning of 2020 then you need to rethink your decade," I said, looking at her in front of the smooth wood table.
She smiled, a wry smile.
She seemed not to hate the new decade as much and I hope eventually she'll be able to embrace changes, at least the good ones that move her life forward inch by inch.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I Love the Library

The first squabble/dispute/fight of 2010 drove me out of the house this morning. I ended up at the big library downtown. Our library is the best! I know that because it has been voted best library in the country year after year.
As I walked in, past the coffee shop, I saw a big railroad crossing sign blinking red from left to right. Then inside the main entrance was a huge train display. Parents and young children clustered around it. Kids darted around trying to see where the train disappeared into the "snow-covered" mountains and then they gasped in amazement to see it come around again.
It reminded me of the devotion I had to the library as a kid, and the thousands of enthralling trips my kids and I made to the library. Since I was little, the library has always been one of my favorite places.
When I was growing up, my mom would take us to the library once a week. One of those imposing buildings for a small town, we would walk up the big marble steps to the front door that opened in the adult section. I would take a left and run down to the children's section that was kept in the basement. Sometimes we'd go for story hours, but mostly I remember hauling home a huge stack of books that I would read that afternoon. I would have to wait for the following week to return the books and get more.
I wanted my kids to love the library as much as I do. I'm not sure if they do, although Grace does love reading. When we moved to Columbus as homeschoolers, the first thing I checked into was the library. To homeschoolers, a first-class library is the equivalent of the best schools. We used the libraries as gathering places, but we spent many hours wandering the stacks, finding books on Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Cherokee language, Vikings, the Crusades, the gold rush... Well, any subject that interested us, we managed to find in books at the library.
Now Ohio is making cuts to its library system and I worry about its future. What would life be without libraries? Just today while I was there I found some French movies that were mentioned in Debra Ollivier's new book What French Women Know. I got a couple of books to read and lucked into finding Eat, Pray, Love on dvd so I can listen to it in the car.
My kids turn to it for "Homework Help" when they are stumped, and thousands of jobless people go there for help with resumes or to search for jobs online.
My friend Tracie is a librarian. This year during Christmas dinner a sister-in-law commented that she didn't see the point of public libraries. People were quick to set her straight while steam poured from Tracie's ears. But I wonder how many people share the feelings of this woman who doesn't see the point... the point of an oasis of books that can take us far away or bring the whole world, past and present, close to us.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Midwestern Values

In spite of some people who don't believe that Midwestern values are worth the Jello mold they're written on, I was reminded that I'm glad to be Midwestern as I watched the pregame of the Rose Bowl this afternoon.
Ohio State is (was by the time you read this)playing Oregon. The television had several interviews with Ohio State players and the coach Jim Tressel. Tressel talked about his respect for the other team, their "velocity." Oregon's coach just laughed and said that Tressel may use three syllables but Oregon is just "fast." The Ohio State players were interviewed and talked about how they respect the game that Oregon plays. Oregon players smirked and said, "Yeah, we're really good."
I thought maybe they were showing interviews where they spoke well of Oregon and later they'd show interviews where the other team said nice things about Ohio State. Nope.
Oregon is just cocky.
Frankly, I'm glad that we live in a place where you don't have to tell people how wonderful you are. You can prove it with your actions but not your words. Let other people admire you.
These are the same values that A Prairie Home Companion modestly touts on the NPR radio program. And the same values that Suburban Kamikaze turns her nose up at on her blog:
Ohio State is ahead right now, in the fourth quarter. The game could still end badly for us, but we didn't brag and threaten. We went out and played a tough game.
I still hope we win!

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...