Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Family Night, The Sequel

I wish I could say family night was a hit. It was better than last week. This photo may have been the high point, but I had to tell them to smile.

We went to a Clippers baseball game. I've blogged before about how great this field is, and we had nice seats in the second row. Unfortunately, it was one of those 95-degree days so we were dripping sweat in the sun.
My favorite part of a minor league baseball game is the hot dog races. I don't know why they have hot dog races, but the hot dogs -- one with mustard, one with ketchup, and one with relish -- race down the first base line. So far this season, mustard has won no races. Oh, my heart goes out to mustard who fell again during this race and still has zero wins.
I did get this great photo of one of the other hot dogs jumping over the fallen mustard hot dog.
When I try to explain something like hot dog races and call them mustard hot dog or relish hot dog, it feels like maybe I've fallen down the rabbit hole with Alice. So strange.

Biking to the Birds

Today the weather turned cool after a week of mid-90 degree days. Earl and I decided to go for a bike ride. We realized that we didn't need to limit our bike rides to trips to Monet's Garden -- our last recreational bike ride. And, lest you forget, that trip was full of mistakes, like missing a train and following the wrong man down the road. You can read about it here: http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/2010/04/jai-trompe.html (I don't know why my links won't work in my posts, but it is frustrating.) .
From our house we rode to the bike trail that follows the Olentangy River. Workers are fixing the highway over the trail and I caught a picture of the sparks cascading down the concrete.
The bike trail leads to the confluence of the Olentangy and the Scioto rivers before it heads toward downtown Columbus. The bike trail is like a tourist guide. It leads past COSI, the museum of Science and Industry. It also goes past the Santa Maria, a replica of the ship that Columbus took on his first trip to the New World. The trail also streaks past the Ohio Supreme Court building, which has some gorgeous painting and architecture.
Unfortunately, that's where we ran into trouble and had to take to the streets instead of the bike trail because the city is building a promenade along the river. We had to ride through a construction zone then a busy street in the brewery district before we got to the park.
Earl rode on to the Audubon building while I checked out the park. If my kids were still little and we were homeschooling, this place would be my new hangout. There are sand volleyball pits, a climbing wall and playgrounds over rubber surface. I walked up to the third stage of a tower to survey my kingdom, well, the park around me.
While Earl waited for me to catch up, he sat in a chair in front of the Audubon building. That is him waving wildly. I told him it looked as if he was being attacked by the giant bird statue.
The audubon building is full of photos of birds that have been spotted along the river, wetlands and fields of wildflowers in the area. This section of the river has been known by bird watchers for a long time because migrating birds stop here every spring and fall.
The park has started growing fields of wild flowers, and birds flitted among the plants. The park also had some more orderly flower gardens, again not quite rivaling Monet's Garden, but it is the first year for the metro park.

We found a less circuitous route home and managed to avoid much of the road construction. Here's the new Main Street bridge that is not open yet, but has a sleek look to it in front of the skyline.
Trying to keep the whole vacation motif going, we stopped at a coffee shop before we returned home. Earl had an iced tea and I had a lemonade, squeezed fresh and so bitter that it made me pucker.
It wasn't a vacation day for either of us, but I'm glad we got to snatch some of the enjoyment that we find as tourists in other cities.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I am a writer. At least that's what I say. I have two finished (yet unsold) novels to prove it. And I am 60,000 words into my third novel, thinking "this is the one."
Yet, during this two week break from classes, I have written very little.
I'm kind of stuck. I'm not sure I really believe in writer's block. I know what I want to happen in the book but I've just been unsure how to get there. I tried jumping ahead to write the scenes I know, but they were falling flat.
This book, The Summer of France, started out as women's fiction. A woman with twin teenagers wants to build a close family before they leave for college and careers. She, her husband, and the twins go to France to run a bed and breakfast for her uncle who married a French woman after World War II. So, it sounds like the book will be all about feelings and rebellious teenagers and marriage angst in a foreign country. Then suddenly I find my characters in the middle of intrigue as the main character discovers that her uncle has a famous painting that went missing in World War II. Black market art dealers are trying to get their hands on the painting and the police can't be far behind. What should she do with the painting and how can she save her uncle and his reputation?

I'm in the middle of a chase scene and I have no idea how to write a chase scene. After two weeks of dithering, I happened upon a writing book at the library. It's a book by Maeve Binchy called The Maeve Binchy Writers' Club. I opened it yesterday afternoon and read the first few chapters on the front porch with a thunderstorm blowing through. Earl sat on the porch reading his own book and was willing to put down his book when I wanted to talk through the stuck parts in my novel.
Amazingly, we fleshed out some scenes to get me through the hard spot and increase the intrigue. Sometimes, just reading about writing or talking about writing can break through that barrier.
This morning, I wrote nearly 2000 words and I have set the calendar on my phone to wake me every morning at 5 a.m. so I can write until 7 a.m.
Thank you, Maeve Binchy, for reminding me that I can find the time to write and I need to be consistent about using that time.
I like Maeve Binchy's books. They're set in Ireland and I love to travel so peeking into the Irish culture is fun. Her books always have intriguing characters, so I enjoy travelling with them. I don't think you have to love the author to learn from their writing books.
Stephen King has a great book called On Writing. I don't read horror books, but his writing book was very helpful when I read it a few years ago. I probably needed to pick it up again to be inspired.
Anne Lamott also has a writing book called Bird by Bird. Lamott has such a wry, witty sense of herself that it is always a joy to read her books, evening something that could be as dry as a writing book.
If I stay on my writing schedule, I could be finished with my book by the end of July. As a matter of fact, there's no reason I can't be finished. I hope someone will hold me to that.
Being a writer though, that's between me and my computer, me and my conscience.
How about you? Do you have a favorite book on writing? If you aren't a writer, do you ever get stuck when you're trying to finish something, whether it's making a quilt or training for a marathon? What do you do to energize yourself and get back on track?
(These book covers come from www.amazon.com. If you click on them, you can't actually look inside, but you can go to Amazon and do that.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Effects of Gravity

My bellybutton has become an emoticon.
You know, those little faces that people use in text messages and emails.
My bellybutton use to be simply a circle, sometimes deeper sometimes more shallow. Three different times it became a taut dot on the mound of my stomach swollen with baby.
Just this morning, as I stepped out of the shower, I noticed that it has taken on a distinctly different look.
It looks like this on the top: ^
And the bottom is like a parentheses turned on its side. A smile. So at least my bellybutton is a happy emoticon.
I imagine that the emoticon at the top right of the photo is the closest to my belly button image.
Now what does this have to do with gravity? Well, I actually tugged on either side of my belly button and pulled it upward. The ^ disappeared. Which means gravity has had its way with the skin on my stomach which I consdered fairly tight.
Something else for me to worry about, or I could just accept that my belly button is trying to express itself. It has gotten over the look of surprise 0_0 and moved on to happiness and acceptance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Books That Raise Questions

I just finished reading a book called This is Where We Live by Janelle Brown. It took me awhile to get into it, but this morning, with nearly half of it left, I sat down and read the rest of the book.
The book focuses on an artistic couple in their mid-thirties. She writes and directs films. He has been in a successful rock band and is trying to start another one. Some bad luck lands them in trouble with their mortgage on their Arts & Crafts house in Los Angeles. Of course, I live in an Arts & Crafts-style house, so I can immediately feel a bond with them.
They had a balloon mortgage that ballooned out of reach. The husband wants to walk away from the house to travel. He feels the debt and the house are a ball and chain pulling him down. The wife, a midwesterner by birth, is desperate not to lose the house.
And that's what got me thinking. I found myself agreeing with the husband. This couple had no kids, no obligations, and I thought, of course they should give up the house. Sell it or let the bank repossess it. Move on without the trappings that weigh you down.
I remember as a woman in my 20s I was so anxious about finding the right man and buying a house, starting a family. Now I wonder what that urge, that need is all about.
I wouldn't give up my kids, and maybe I can say this now because I have three kids, that this couple shouldn't sacrifice their creativity for a house and a family. Maybe I've just moved into my mid-life crisis where I'm ready to sell the house and travel the world.
What would you advise a young couple, or even a single person in this predicament? Do you think the young people you know feel too eager to marry and settle down?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Twenty years ago today in Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, Earl and I were married. The day was sunny and warm, but nowhere near as warm as it is today in Ohio -- 89 humid degrees.
I wonder if it's a bad sign that we can't find our wedding album anywhere? I've searched and Earl has searched. I found some snapshots that friends gave us so you can see how fresh-faced and naive we were in 1990.

My parents owned a blueberry farm in a holler in Kentucky. We were married in front of a meandering creek with the tiger lilies in bloom. On the left side of the photo is Grandad Ish, who has since died. Earl's brother Art was the best man and the priest, Father Al, has gone on to write books about being a priest in Appalachia.
Look at my face. I really love that man. I'm amazed that he's marrying me.
After the ceremony, we stood there by the whispering creek and people moved along to congratulate us.
You can't see me in this photo, but you can see Tracey, my best friend from high school and maid of honor laughing.

Twenty years ago, I had no idea how to make a marriage work. I got very lucky in a number of ways. One of those ways was my choice. I think it's nearly impossible to make a good choice this young (and I was 27!). I chose a man who treated others well. When a waitress dropped a tray, he'd get up to help her. When a woman was panhandling and he turned her down, he later knocked on her car window and gave her money. He cares about other people, and that includes me.
It hasn't been 20 years of bliss. We've had fights that lasted for weeks. We've learned to swallow hurtful words.
We've gone through childbirth together three times (okay, I bore the brunt of that) and find our biggest arguments are about parenting.
We've lived in seven houses and owned four. We've moved from Florida to Michigan to Ohio. We've been to Europe six times and traveled throughout most of the United States.
We have dreams together -- dreams of owning a bed and breakfast, dreams of moving to France, dreams of publishing novels.
Most of our day-to-day lives focus on paying bills and raising kids.
We've already celebrated our anniversary with a trip to France this spring, but today we'll find a table in a restaurant and open a nice bottle of wine. We'll toast ourselves and our great luck to have fallen into each other's arms twenty-two years ago and to have pledged to stay together twenty years ago in front of a small gathering of friends and family.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Furry Visitor

This spring Grace has been walking the dog of a friend who I teach with. The woman has a stress fracture in her leg and can't walk her five-year-old golden retriever. She pays Grace to walk him five days a week. On days when Grace has to work and has swim practice, or during the craziness of graduation, I would sometimes walk him. He's a nice dog and I didn't think twice when she said she needed someone to watch him while she goes on vacation. (She has a husband and an 18-year-old son who are both home but won't help with the dog.)
I agreed to keeping the dog here and didn't think about it again, until I mentioned it to Earl and he said, "I don't want a dog in the house."
That put me in quite a pickle. I felt like I had committed to keep the dog, so I told Grace we would have to brush the dog and clean up dog hair everyday to alleviate the hair situation.
Grace drove his gates and bowls and foods home in the car while I walked him the mile and a half to our house. He got a bath in the backyard and quite a bit of brushing before we let him inside. Here are the clumps of hair we removed from him.

He's a good dog although he has gotten us up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom both nights. I think he sleeps in my friend's bed, so isn't used to being alone at night.
Well, he isn't exactly alone. He has the cats, who, as you can see, feel right at home with him.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Family Night Fiasco

I declared Sunday nights as family nights this summer. After all, Grace is getting ready to leave for college and the boys hang out with their friends most nights of the week. I wasn't expecting a night with the Walton family, but apparently, my expectations were a little high.
We started with a family dinner of chicken and vegetables on the grill. Normally, it would have been shish kebab, but we skipped the sticks. So with a bowl of grilled chicken and a bowl overflowing with zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and carrots on the table, Tucker declared himself not hungry and refused to eat. He sipped on a glass of water and pondered whether he could add mint syrup to it. I vetoed that idea since he wasn't even eating dinner. He informed me he didn't like shish kebab. What's not to like about chicken? And I know he eats carrots. I didn't argue though, just made him turn forward and get his elbows off the table. He had spent the night at a friend's house so I wrote off his bad behavior to tiredness.His silence and refusal to eat as he sat sullenly at the table pulled a wet blanket over the beginning of family night.
After dinner, we chose a game to play. Since it was father's day, we let Earl choose poker. It wasn't Texas hold em, but five card draw and five card stud with a few hands of black jack thrown in. I couldn't find the poker chips, so used these colorful plastic tokens that the kids sorted when they were little. We started with 25 and I quickly lost all of mine, so we added some more.
As Tucker won a few hands, his mood improved. As Grace lost every hand, she grew morose.
"Why can't we play euchre?" she asked. She listed other card games she would be willing to play -- Egyptian ratscrew, spoons. To no avail.
The poker continued. She said it didn't bother her to lose, she just hated that it all seemed to be about the luck of the cards instead of skill. I suppose the skill is a little more subtle than in a card game like euchre.
As they got into the game, the guys put on their poker faces. Some more successful than others.
Finally, the pain of the poker game finished and we took up Spencer's suggestion to walk downtown for ice cream. Of course, I told Tucker he couldn't have any since he hadn't eaten dinner. He wanted to stay on the couch and watch TV. Nope. I told him he had to come along. He spent several minutes explaining in a condescending voice why this was not logical, stupid even. But since I was walking to the ice cream store and not planning to get any ice cream, I was not swayed by his arguments.
Thus began the three-quarter mile walk to the ice cream shop, where the line on this sweltering father's day was out the door. Tucker had a gift certificate to the store and he had walked with Earl part of the way, so I knew that the two of them had hatched a plan that allowed him to buy the ice cream himself and eat it. I decided not to fuss about it. The point wasn't about who would pay; it was about eating healthier. At 14, those points get lost in the fog of adolescence.
Grace came out with a waffle cone with a dip of chocolate and mint. Spencer had a trio, three small scoops of different flavors. He'd ordered Buckeye and Belgian chocolate then "I panicked," he admitted. The pressure of ordering ice cream with the long line waiting behind him made him choose strawberry as his third scoop. He didn't regret it, he said. Earl came out with a scoop of goat cheese and sour cherry. Hmmm. My favorite ice cream from this shop that specializes in strange flavors like salty caramel and thai chili.
When we got home, we decided to choose a "movie on demand." That's a movie that is out on video, but when we order it from home, the cost goes on our cable bill. Grace and Spencer voted for Youth in Revolt while Tucker pushed for The Blind Side. We erred in the favor of the majority. Spencer kept saying, "I thought it would be funnier." It was pretty raunchy with pictures of sexual positions floating out of books and sex tips between 16-year-olds. Tucker headed to the basement. I decided to abandon family night and Grace was right behind me. Earl and Spencer made it through the end of the movie. I'm glad it only cost $4.99 for that mistake.
Next week, we'll try family night again. Maybe I'll order pizza. Everyone likes that. Now to come up with a game everyone can agree on.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Accidental Un-Blog

My blog is called an accidental blog because I started it one day without intending to. Someone in my Yahoo group sent an email. I clicked on the blog related to the email and I wanted to leave a comment. I couldn't figure out how to leave a comment without registering for a blog myself. Thus, an accidental blog was born.
Today, I accidentally removed my blog and for a few frantic hours, I thought it was lost forever.
When I started this blog, back in August 2006, a gmail account wasn't required. I began with my own personal email. This spring, I started a gmail for an alter ego account to write some racy fiction under another name. That name immediately became connected to this blog. I lived in fear of my alter ego making comments on other people's blogs. I know, it makes you think, "How unsophisticated is she about technology?" Pretty naive.
Well, the racy fiction was rejected and I was tired of seeing the alter ego's name at the top of my blog, so I decided to delete the Facebook page and the gmail account. When I did, my blog disappeared.
When I clicked on it, the message said, "This blog has been removed."
Yikes! All of those years of posting. All of those visitors stacked up one by one. Gone.
I started searching for answers. I couldn't get on Google accounts to ask questions because I didn't have a google account anymore. I opened another one. Then I found the answer to reinstating the alter ego's account, which should bring back my blog.
I sent the message to the Google elves.
A few hours later, they replied that they couldn't reopen my account because I'd started another one. I deleted the new one and sent another message.
Finally, after about five crazy hours, they sent me an email telling me that I could change my password.
Aaaargh! I didn't want to change my password. I wanted to get my blog back.
I found an old email from my website designer and started constructing an email. I would give him all the details and my emails and passwords to see if he could fix it.
I needed to give him my blog address. I clicked on it to copy the link, and there was my blog reinstated.
All of my stories about my unruly or successful children. My complaints about teaching college. My love affair with France. My resolve to be a more dedicated writer. My gripes about exercise and gaining weight. My stories about friends and families. They were all reinstated.
The only thing different that I could see, was that I am now a "follower" of my own blog. I'm not sure how that happened and I can't figure out how to undo it, so I'll live with it.
I promise never to take you for granted again, dear blog, now that you've been taken from me and brought back from the dead.
I still plan to get rid of that alter ego though -- as soon as I figure out how.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Electronics Crisis

Last year, right around this same time, in the middle of grading final exams, my computer stopped working. Guess what? It happened again on Sunday. The screen just went black and it turned off.
That evening, as Tucker was begging for more time on his XBox, I asked him to work his magic on my computer. Whenever anything in the communication world goes down, I turn to Tucker -- television, cable, DVD player, computer, iPods, phones. He's my go-to guy.
So, he unplugged everything, blew on it and plugged things back in.
It worked. For about three days.
Yesterday, it succumbed again to the black screen.
I had deduced that the problem was either the battery or the cord, because when the computer came back on Sunday, the battery charge was very low, okay, nonexistent.
So this morning, with the black screen facing me, I unplugged and replugged. I took out the battery and replaced it. I turned to Tucker. Nothing worked.
I had grades to finish for the other college where I teach, so I completed those on Earl's computer then hoisted my computer into its bag.
I took it to IT department at the college.
The computer geeks there suggested that -- since the cord had been kittenized -- I should probably start with a new cord. The kitten chewed on the cord when he was little. We have it wrapped in electrical tape and it has carried on for nearly a year.
This evening, after some amazing swims at a swim meet, Tucker, Grace and I returned home.
"Can I have more time on the XBox?" he asked, his hair still wet and his trunks soaking through his shorts.
"Fix my computer," I ordered as I picked up a dish towel and began to dry the "clean" dishes from the dishwasher.
He unpacked it from the case and 30 seconds later said, "Mom, I got it to work."
I walked in and, sure enough, the lights were glowing and the battery was charging, slowly but surely.
"Can I play XBox?" he asked again.
"Have at it," I said.
Could it be that he does something to the computer so that he can fix it and gain more time on his video games? Very possible. For now though, he's just the electronic miracle worked.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Joys of Motherhood

My kids can be so annoying and so funny. That really hasn't changed much since they were little.
Spencer is trying to redeem himself after his run-in with the law by volunteering at a basketball camp this week.
"It's horrible," he moans. He's coaching the third and fourth graders.
"Horrible for you or for the kids?" I ask on the drive there this morning.
"Both," he says.
Apparently the kids don't listen and just run amok. I had advised him to be firm with them, but this apparently hasn't helped.
"Just try to make a difference for one kid," I advise this morning as he gets out of the car.
"I do," he says. "I give them fun nicknames, like Slick Rick."
Then he loped across the field, all six-foot, three-inches of him. Making a difference, one nickname at a time.
All three of my children were home last night, which is unusual. One or all of them are generally "hanging out" with their friends somewhere in our small town. But following a day of swim practices and basketball scrimmages, they were all fairly lethargic.
About 11 p.m., I heard a sound outside and thought I saw movement. I pulled aside the curtains and saw the wind was whipping through the trees. I heard a rumble of thunder and saw a flash of light. Thunderstorm.
Then I remembered the convertible.
"Grace," I called to her. "Did you put the top up on the car?"
She hadn't.
"Come on," I yelled. "Thunderstorm."
The convertible top motor has given out. It won't put the top up or down. And, since it's heavy, it takes two people to put the top up.
We ran through the dark down the alley to the street where the car was parked.
"I'll work from the outside. You start the car," Grace yelled above the wind, flinching as thunder boomed again.
I started the car and tried the button that puts the top up. Nothing. Grace was tugging and pulling on the top.
I got out of the car and grabbed the other side. We pulled up then pushed it forward before I hopped the car to finish the job. Then we sprinted to the house again, with only a small scream from Grace when the lightning flashed again.
Never a dull minute at my house.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Which City Would You Choose?

Charlotte, North Carolina or Salt Lake City, Utah?
Those are my choices this fall for attending conferences.
First, let's deal with the obvious -- surprise that the college wants to send me to a conference. But, the people in charge picked me, so I, of course, said yes. It's not like I'm sick of hotels and airplanes because I travel so much for business.
Then the director of the Writing Center said I should choose between these two conferences.
Information isn't up about the presentations and the discussions, so I'm really left choosing based solely on the city.
Everyone in my family said they would choose Charlotte. I think we are predisposed towards the east -- kind of prejudiced in its favor.
Its closer -- about nine hours away by car. Salt Lake City is a couple of days away by car. But I'm not driving to either one. I'm flying. So why do we lean toward North Carolina?
It's beautiful. The Appalachian Mountains, lots of old trees, forests actually, people with slow southern drawls. Earl and I honeymooned in North Carolina.
Of course, just as my family is drawn to the East, some people are drawn to the West. Earl's sister's family goes out west every chance they get. His niece lived in Colorado for awhile. They vacation in New Mexico and Arizona whenever they can.
We've visited Salt Lake City as a family once. I think it was beautiful too in a different way, like the unending sky and a sharp mountain backdrop. In the West, the mountains don't seem to start like rolling hills and work up to high peeks. Instead, the plains run right up to high mountains.
While we were in Salt Lake City, Earl toured the Mormon temple with a friend while I herded kids. There is something a little uncomfortable about being in such a religious city. I remember that the restaurant we went to didn't serve alcohol -- a Mormon influence.
Still the prevailing religion shouldn't dissuade me from choosing Salt Lake City.
The flight from Columbus to Salt Lake would take anywhere from five to eight hours with at least one plane change. The flight to Charlotte could be as short as an hour and a half if I book the non-stop flight. Of course, the college is in charge of booking the flight, so it might go for a cheaper flight that takes up to five hours with layovers.
So, all things being equal, which would you choose -- Salt Lake City or Charlotte?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Party Flower

The bee balm is blooming.

I'm not sure if this flower has any special powers, but, to me, it seems like it should be an antidepressant. Who could be sad when looking at this flower?
This flower is obviously the life of the party.
My friend Ruth, in Michigan, gave me some of her bee balm, and it's thriving here in Ohio. Hers aren't blooming yet, but mine are already mid-party.
This is the kind of flower that Dr. Seuss drew in his books.
This flower should have a soundtrack from the 1980s: "Celebrate good times, come on...."
Look at its crazy top with the "court jester" hat tendrils that stick up in the air.
This flower screams summer barbecues, the coconut smell of suntan lotion, and frosty drinks of pineapple.
Celebrate! Thanks for your encouragement, Bee Balm.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Middle of the Night Visitor

At 3:38 a.m., I heard a voice outside my bedroom window.
"Mom? Dad?" Spencer's voice called from the front porch.
"Everything's okay. I just need to be let in," he said.
He was supposed to be spending the night at a friend's house. I scrambled out of bed and wondered if he was sick. Maybe the boys had decided to drink alcohol or experiment with drugs, so Spencer came home. All of these thoughts flitted through my mind as I scrambled out of bed to the front door. I never suspect the worst of Spencer. I never think he'll make the wrong choice.
As I turned the key in the lock, I saw someone standing behind Spencer. Someone big and I became worried. This man, because it was obviously a man, was standing with his feet spread wide, both hands in front of him in a military "at ease" position. This was a cop.
I opened the front door and the young police officer began to explain.
"Why don't you come inside?" I suggested, aware of the short exercise shorts and tank top I'd worn to bed and wishing I'd had a little warning of a night time visit from the police.
I could see Spencer was fine. Just in trouble.
So they came into the living room and Spencer collapsed on the couch, running his hands over his face.
The officer explained that he had found Spencer and a couple of other boys outside after curfew. When they spotted the boys, they ran and hid in the bushes. Then a car picked them up and they drove away. The police pulled the car over.
I was picturing a high-speed pursuit through our little town.
The boys said they hid because they saw the police. They claimed they weren't doing anything wrong.
"I'm so sorry, Mom," Spencer said from his perch on the couch.
"What about telling this officer your sorry that he has to bring you home instead of doing his job?" I asked.
"I'm so sorry, sir," he said.
Then he moans and rubs his face again.
The officer said the boys aren't being charged with anything, just curfew violation. And he warns that the school is very strict about taking away sports and extracurricular activities if the boys had been charged with a crime. Then he asks me to sign that a paper that says he delivered my son home in the middle of the night after curfew. In our town, anyone under 18 can't be wandering the streets after midnight.
We'd been standing in the dark of the living room, a light from the top stairs of the basement giving us just enough light to see. I turned on a lamp by the front window and signed the document on a clipboard. I shook hands with the officer who didn't let his eyes stray to the wild curls standing around my head.
I switched on the front porch light as he made his way down the 24 steps to the street.
I held my hand out for Spencer's phone, which he was wildly texting on.
"Have you heard from the other boys?" I asked. "Is everybody home safely?"
"Yes," he said.
So I took the phone and turned it off.
"Have you guys done this before?" I asked.
Yes again.
"We'll talk in the morning," I said. "Are you sleeping here on the couch or going to your room?"
Tucker had two friends spending the night and they were sprawled in the basement main room.
"Don't tell them, okay?" he said desperately, settling on the couch.
"Oh, I'm sure you'll be an object lesson for many boys," I told him.
I climbed into bed next to my still sleeping husband. I nudged him awake and gave him an update on the police and our now delinguent son.
"He's grounded," my husband mumbled before he fell back to sleep.
I lay there for over an hour before I finally drifted off.
Our children's first brush with the law.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Curly Girls Unite

On our run this morning, talk turned to hair, which is strange because currently, DreamGirl has no hair. She ran without a cap, her bald head still nubbly in spots as the chemotherapy continues to work its magic.
I thought I was being petty as I twisted my hair into a braid to control the frizz created by the humidity. I reminded myself even as I tucked the braid in a cap that DreamGirl will be starting from scratch when her hair starts to grow out, so I should quit complaining. I thought I might feel uncomfortable talking about hair problems with a bald woman, but I didn't.
I asked her how she could resist telling bald men that she likes their hairstyle. She just smiled.
Then she told me that her daughter is having hair issues. When she brushes it, it grows huge.
"Tell her not to brush it," I urged.
"She doesn't have curly hair," DreamGirl said.
"Trust me. If her hair is getting big and frizzy, she has curly hair if you just allow the curls to emerge."

This is still a novel idea to many people, but if you have curly hair, brushing is not the way to go. I should know.
For years I brushed my hair and dealt with weird bumps that I tried to smooth down. When I read the book Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey, I became a convert.
I know what you're all thinking. Isn't this the same woman who loves to straighten her hair? Yes, that's me. But in this humidity, there's no sense pretending I have straight hair. I have to let it curl and control the frizz the best I can.
I start in the shower. I don't use shampoo. I haven't for years. Curly hair has open follicles and shampoo is bad for it. Curly hair also doesn't get greasy.
So I rub my scalp and add conditioner. I spread the conditioner from my scalp to the ends, removing all the tangles with my fingers. It's important to remove the tangles because I don't brush it, remember.
In humidity like this, I also leave some of the conditioner in. It isn't leave-in conditioner, but I only rinse the top of my head and leave conditioner on the ends.
When I get out of the shower, I don't wrap my head in a towel. Instead, I use a towel to scrunch it and get out the excess water. Then I add a hair product. I use Aveda Confixer. Then I let my hair dry. That's it.
I'll pull down my bangs and try to dry them, but they usually curl up again.
I got to thinking about curls after I went through old pictures for Grace's photo album. I saw some pictures of myself that I loved. My hair was really long, down to my elbows, and dark. The curls had taken over in long rolls that looked almost Rastafarian. This was at the height of my Curly Girl phase.
Before I read Curly Girl, my hair looked wavy instead of curly. That's because I used a pick to comb it every day after my shower. Not combing or brushing it makes a huge difference -- and can even lead to the Rastafarian look.
That's why I told DreamGirl that her daughter should stop brushing her hair. The more we curly girls brush our hair, the more we'll resemble Rosanne Rosannadanna from Saturday Night Live.
I even have a favorite curl. No matter how many times I straighten my hair, once I let it curl again, a curl on the right side down below my ear always emerges. It falls in a perfect long loop. Why can't all of my hair do that? Then I would truly have Romance heroine hair.
My hair is much shorter now, which is a problem for curls. The shorter the hair, the less weight, which means it has a tendency to frizz up. I like the weight of long hair to help control the frizz.
That's where straightening my hair has foiled my plans again. The more I straighten it, the more I damage it and have to cut the ends, thus resulting in shorter and shorter hair.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Finals Week

Here it is, the final week day of finals week. That means that I've been grading papers all week.
I've just finished grading the last essay that students turned in Sunday night. Now I can begin grading their final exams -- which are also essays.
Essay grading can be truly tedious. I have a list of comments that I insert, reminding students how to use MLA format, where to put commas, etc. Still, it takes a long time.
This is the farthest behind I've ever been in finals week. By this time, I've usually added up the grades and turned them in. Graduation this week and a visit from my parents put me behind.
So when I got up at 6 this morning, I gathered my computer and my coffee cup and headed to the front porch, my portable office.
And here is my view as I grade papers, looking up from my laptop:
And when I look to my left, the direction where I can see the downtown skyline in the winter, here is what I see:
So, although I am stuck grading papers. I can't complain about my little house in the treetops.
And, I'd better get back to work because I am expected for a family get together in Dayton this afternoon.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Longing Returns

It took a month and a half. Nearly 45 days of contentment. Or maybe I was just too busy getting ready for graduation that I didn't have time to think about it.
This morning, I read a blog, one of the blogs I read everyday, and that feeling hit me in the gut.
The blog is Tongue in Cheek and you can find a link along the right side of my blog http://willows95988.typepad.com/tongue_cheek/.
Today, she talked about different kinds of French breads, baguettes and batards and pain de campagne. She showed wheels of goat cheese. Then she included shots of the markets -- big melons and handwritten signs with loopy French writing.
That's when the longing hit. I wanted to go to France again.
After our trip at the end of April, I thought I'd fulfilled my desire for a few years, but here it came again.
Then I got an email from France Guide, announcing a new contest. I entered and watched the "lost in francelation" video about apero, that before dinner drink and snack.
Oh, how I want to visit France again.
I begin to plot. I could win the lotto. I could sell a novel. I could win the contest.
Even a bowl of black olives hasn't quenched that latest gnawing in my stomach.
Picture me in France - again.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Baking Day

So, you all know I was in a tizzy about getting ready for the graduation party. The theme Grace and I chose was "Let Them Eat Cake" and I had a plan for 12 different kinds of cakes.
Could I have done this alone? I'm thinking my family would have felt the brunt of it if I'd tried. But I didn't have to.
On Thursday night, Grace and her friend Emily took the ingredients to Emily's house and baked a turtle cake. Turtle cake has a layer of German chocolate cake on the bottom, caramel and chocolate chips in the middle then a layer of German chocolate cake on the top. I made another one of those at our house. Then I made two Cola cakes. Ever take a cake out of the pan and put it on a serving platter? It's very flat looking. So I increased the recipe by half to make it look fuller. For some reason, I kept messing up on the math for that increased recipe. The cakes turned out okay, but not my best Cola cakes.
I also made a carrot cake which is practically healthy enough to serve for dinner. It has carrots, coconut, pineapple, yogurt and golden raisins in it.
I had been to the grocery and had all the ingredients. I was ready for baking day.
Ruth drove down from Michigan on Thursday night, arriving after 11 as I waited up bleary-eyes.
The next morning, Sheila came by 8:30 a.m. loaded down with cake pans and a mixer.
Sheila created a Lemon-Lime refrigerator cake that includes lime jello and lemon pudding. On the day of the party, one niece asked whether we'd injected the cake with Sprite. She thought it tasted amazing. Ruth started making lemon curd for her lemon cake with raspberries. I know. Who makes homemade lemon curd?
"Good lemon curd tastes like sunshine," according to Ruth.
I kind of scurried around getting ingredients and staying ahead of the dishes. I also made the icing for the Cola cakes and had Grace ice them. Grace was so sweet when she got up and saw us in the kitchen. She said something like, "You guys are the best."
The oven was full of cakes and the smells emanated as the air conditioner worked overtime to keep us cool.
Earl and I had to run back to the store three times when we needed extra ingredients, like red food coloring for the red velvet cake.
Sheila baked a chocolate cake with cherry pie filling that was so moist. She also made a chocolate cake with whipped cream and heath bar icing.
A firefighter who stopped by the day of the party said, "That heath bar cake is awful. You'll probably want to donate it to the fire station so no one has to eat it." He had a couple of pieces.
Ruth whipped up a white cake in a bundt pan (because that was the only free pan I had left by then) that we later iced with a butter cream frosting and put strawberries and blueberries in the layers between and on top.
Sheila's daughter Bethany came over and hung with Grace. They made little name cards for each of the cakes and decorated some cakes with their own interesting style. Like the carrot cake. Too cute, right?
Ruth baked the red cake, which is really a buttercream or Italian cream cake with red food coloring added. I don't know why we add the red food coloring, it's just what Aunt Ruby has always done.
Somewhere along the way, I made two pineapple upside down cakes.
My friends oohed and aahed at the pineapple upside down cake and how perfect it looked. It's so simple, I'm not sure how they mess it up, but my prediction is that they don't wait for it to cool before they pull it out of the pan.
All of these cakes we made, plus the bakery cake Earl picked up Saturday morning, and the two cookie cakes we got from the grocery store, made up our selection of the "Let Them Eat Cake" party.
Because Lucia asked for it in a previous post, here's the recipe for Cola Cake from Southern Living Cookbook
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups sugar
Combine and set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, combine 1 cup Coke, 1 cup butter and 2 Tbsp. of cocoa.
Bring to a boil stirring contantly.
Mix into the flour mixture.
Add 1/2 cup buttermilk (Since I don't ever buy buttermilk, I use milk with a tsp of vinegar), 2 eggs beaten, 1 tsp vanilla and 1 1/2 cups of mini marshmallows.
Pour into a greased and floured 13X9X2 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes.
The icing needs 1/2 cup of butter, 1/4 cup of Coke, 3 Tbsp of Cocoa, 3 cups of powdered sugar and 1 tsp. of vanilla.
Cook the butter, Coke and cocoa together and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add the next ingredients. Spread it on the cake and Voila! Enjoy.

Monday, June 07, 2010


Aaaaaah. What a crazy, exciting weekend. And I'm so pleased now that it's all over and everything went smoothly.
There are three posts I want to write: Baking Day, Party Day and Graduation Day.
But first, I have to get ready for my class and get my oldest son to basketball, my husband, father and youngest son off to the golf course and my daughter out the door to work.
So for now, I just want to thank everyone who helped me make it through this weekend -- and you all know who you are.
To Ruth who drove 4 1/2 hours to help me bake cakes then drove back 4 1/2 hours the next day without ever tasting a cake.
To Sheila who forced me to get organized and then baked. She brought pans and mixers, umbrellas and coolers, hula hoops and cake servers.
To Bethany, who decorated and kept Grace calm.
To my neighbor Sandy who let us empty her backyard to create a circus-like atmosphere in our backyard.
To my friends who came to support me as much as Grace, especially the ones I didn't think would show up -- like Pam and Najah. To Noreen, who came 45 minutes early when I wasn't even home, but who brought along her husband who helped us get the DVD of Grace's childhood running.
To my best friend from high school who drove an hour and a half knowing that she wouldn't know anyone at the party and that I wouldn't have more than a few minutes to spend with her, but still she came to celebrate.
To my mom who took pictures and cut cake and washed dishes. To my dad who sat through the party, the graduation ceremony and came out to dinner even though it meant missing the end of a golf tournament on television.
To Pam W-H who stayed and cleaned up the trash and sopping wet plates from the backyard.
To Tracie who took the time to ask me about my writing in the midst of the chaos, and who, when I described the latest book said, "I got chills..." What more inspiration do I need to keep writing?
To the Chelli who came to eat cake and to the Julas who came late but still came.
And to all of you in cyberspace who don't know me but who were sending me good thoughts
I am truly grateful.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Girls in White Dresses

I went shopping for a graduation dress with Grace today. I felt a little rushed, but hopefully didn't let Grace feel it. In my head is a running list of all the things I need to do for the graduation party.
We went to Macys and found a dress that she loved, but it was a little tight. The clerk checked and found that another store, not near our house, had the dress in the size she needed. Deep breath. The clock ticks in my head. So we drove to Polaris, north of Columbus and north of the outerbelt.
The dress is beautiful on her. A simple white eyelet with ribbon straps and a silky white empire waist. An inch or so of white netting peeks out from the bottom of the dress.
Girls often wear white dresses because their graduation robes are white. The boys get the other school color. Grace's school colors are blue and white, so the boys will wear blue. A bright dress underneath white robes would definitely show.
As we were shopping, I tried so hard to remember my graduation dress -- for either high school or college. I couldn't picture my dresses at all.
I could remember my sister's dress. The one that hung in the closet waiting for her because she died the night before graduation. White cotton with a capped sleeve on the shoulder, pearl buttons on the bodice and a cotton bow on the back.
I told my heart to slow down and tried to push the memory of that other graduation dress from my mind.
This is totally different. This is my daughter, not my sister and she will walk across that stage on Sunday in her white robe with the eyelet dress underneath and sparkly silver shoes on her feet.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Another Milestone

Eighth grade graduation seems like a fairly trumped-up excuse to make your 8th grader put on nice clothes and sit through a ceremony. Still, they did a nice job and I begrudginly trudged along to the school. I guess 8th grade is hailed as a milestone because the next stop is high school. Tucker and I fought about what he would wear. We had a nice white shirt with a very pale blue plaid in it that fit him well. No. He wanted a solid blue shirt. We had none of those and I refused to go buy one for the single night of use. I'm already hemorrhaging money for Grace's graduation and subsequent journey to college. Plus, Tucker's class leaves today for Washington DC, which is another expense. (I had regrets as I lay in bed last night and decided I should have sprung for the new shirt.) Tucker refused to wear a tie and then balked at the dress shoes and went for tennis shoes. I let him choose.

Most everyone was dressed up. The girl in the front row on the left in the white dress is Tucker's girlfriend. They break up sometimes, but always end up getting back together.
Some of the girls looked much older than the boys. This was enhanced by towering heels and sometimes risque clothing.
Tucker was recognized for being a finalist in the Geography Bee, winning the President's Physical Fitness Award and Merit Roll. Everyone got an 8th grade diploma.
Afterwards, he handed me his envelope with the awards and was anxious to see me leave. The dance was starting!

I made him pose for one picture with a friend before I left him to it.
And, as bad as I felt later that he wasn't in a shirt that fit and looked nice, I knew that he'd made more effort than many of the parents.

Here was a guy sitting a few rows in front of me. His shirt says "Do it Hoggy Style." This is a play on words that has sexual connotations and also advertises a restaurant. Now why didn't I think to wear something like that to 8th grade graduation?

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