Monday, August 30, 2010

Simple Pleasures

I'm not sure if everyone would consider it much of a vacation to stay holed up and work on a novel for three days straight, but that is what I have done. My only break has been to walk downtown to get coffee every morning.
It's about a mile to our little downtown strip and we have three excellent coffee shops.
The day was already promising to be hot when I set out around 9:30 a.m.
I'd turned onto the main east/west street when I saw a little girl in front of her brick house. She was standing by a stroller and her mom disappeared inside the door. The little girl had two braids that nearly reached her shoulders. She was three or four years old and focused very hard on the stroller next to her.
I thought she said something, so I smiled and waved.
Then she looked at me and blurted out, "Grandma's coming!"
"What fun!" I responded.
Her mother came out then and, so I wouldn't be thought of as a potential child snatcher, I repeated the brief exchange for her mother.
"Not until after lunch though," the little girl added.
"That's a long time to wait," I sympathized.
I just loved the little girl's enthusiasm. The best thing that could have happened in her life was grandma coming to visit.
Ah, the simple pleasures of childhood.
Here are my kids, about 12 years ago, enjoying a visit with their grandparents.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Novel News

Editor's note: The following blog has been edited because I realized that some parts of it may have hurt feelings, and that was never my intention.

As I noted in my last post, this is a free weekend for me. I decided to devote it to my novel -- the one that I recently finished and have been revising called The Summer of France.
Although I don't have a "synopsis" written yet, here's the gist of it:
Fia has lost her job when she receives a phone call from her Uncle Martin. He wants her, along with her husband and teenage twins, to come to France to run his bed and breakfast. When they arrive, she learns Uncle Martin has a secret from World War II that may be endangering her family and tearing them apart.
Earl, who is working this weekend, agreed to read the novel for me as I revised.
I worked on it Saturday night, reading each word aloud and making changes. Then I printed out the pages.
I drove to pick Earl up from work at 10 p.m. and debated whether I should have him read it. What was my purpose? That is what I needed to decide.
Reading aloud helps me find grammatical mistakes and stilted dialogue. I was pleased with those first 47 pages I'd revised and printed out.
"In a perfect world, I'd like for you to read it and tell me that it's good," I admitted as we drove home along the dark streets. We avoided the Arena District since a Clippers baseball game had just finished.
I needed to figure out my purpose in asking Earl, or anyone to read it?
Earl is an editor and I value his opinion. I finally told him that I like the way this opening goes, but if he sees gaps, missing pieces, he should tell me. I was asking an editor to be a big-picture guy. It could have gone either way.
As of this afternoon, he has read 80 pages and made some good observations. He pointed out that before Fia's family rushes off to France to take over the bed and breakfast, they need passports. I went back and added a trip to Niagara Falls, the Canadian side, the previous summer so they would have passports in hand.
Earl suggested that the end of one section lost its finality when I repeated key words. He also wanted me to take out some of the "French accent" in the dialogue because they were distracting and a little too farcical.
Those were all changes that I was happy to make and am sure will strengthen the book.
When he asked why I had written the main character in first person, I wasn't as willing to have that discussion. My last novel (that didn't sell) was written in third person. It puts a little more distance between the reader and the character, I think.
The main character for this novel, Fia, has a lot of energy. She can be a little frenetic. But she learns things about herself from the time she loses her job, moves to France, finds out about her uncle's secret, and... well, I won't tell you the end.
Maybe those are lessons I wanted to learn so I wrote the character first person. Maybe it just felt right.
Asking someone to read and critique my work is hard. It's as if my ego is printed out along with the pages.
I can tell myself everyday that I'm a good writer. I had the English professor at my college announce to my brother's class that I was one of the best writers to pass through the college. I had my writing published in a newspaper every day for years and every week for more years, but that doesn't take away that gnawing feeling that maybe I'm a fraud. Maybe I will never have a novel published.
I'm not ready to give up though.
This might be the one, so I'd better go back and finish.
I hope to get to page 150 tonight so Earl has a whole stack of revisions to read when he comes home from work.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Good Things; Bad Things

There are some very good things about my job. For instance, this fall I teach 15 hours for one college and eight hours for the other college. That's about 23 hours per week of actual class time where I have to be gone from home and instructing students. And this year I'm actually making a decent living at what is essentially a part time job.
The bad thing is that the grading and class preparation are always hanging over my head. If you're going to become a college professor, pick a subject other than English. With English, there are all those papers to grade. I wish I were a math whiz. I'd just have students color in the circle of the correct answer then I'd watch those answer sheets whir through the grading machine and I'd be finished.
I grade papers and answer emails every day. I don't take off Saturday and Sunday, or Monday through Friday. Those papers are always hanging over my head.
Except for this week.
The one college I teach at just finished on Friday. I worked like a mad woman to grade all the papers, enter the grades in the gradebook, then into the online system then to make copies for the registrar and the Dean. Now I'm finished and classes don't start againg until...Monday.
But, hey, for this weekend, I'm free!
My four classes at the other college turn their papers in online by Sunday at midnight. I had already graded their papers for last week, so until Sunday at midnight, I am ignoring any papers that get turned in and any emails that come into my college mailbox. I'm not even checking my email there.
Suddenly, for two whole days, I have freedom from grading.
I ran with my friends this morning - 8.5 miles -- because I felt so liberated from my responsibilities. I sat on the front porch and listened to NPR.
My only commitment for the day was a graduation party, which I attended for half an hour. Now I'm back to my computer.
My goal is to make some revisions to my novel -- to go at it with gusto.
And I'll tell you about some major changes that I have to make because of a lack of preparation, another time.
For now I'll focus on the good things. I have time to work on my novel and I have a gorgeous day to sit on my front porch while I work. A nice glass of wine should make it just about perfect.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Whatever it takes... for a week

My brother texted me last night.
"Any update on Grace?"
I was in mid-margarita slurp when the phone buzzed. I assured him she seemed to be adjusting.
"Good to hear. How are you holding up?" he asked.
My chicken burrito and beef burrito arrived on a hot plate from the kitchen. The waiter at the Mexican restaurant cautioned me as he set it down.
"Eating a lot," I replied.
Sheila, Linda and I were having a rare night out. We homeschooling moms didn't see nearly as much of each other since our kids went to school. But it wasn't just the restaurant food. I'd been eating whatever I liked since I dropped Grace off at school.
Grace and I had been eating healthy, avoiding wheat, much of the summer. We definitely felt better. We'd also been exercising like crazy - P90X every day, plus running for me.
Since Grace left, eating has become my coping mechanism. I decided to do what I needed to for this first week. I just needed to find comfort where I could, even if it was food.
Which is why I fixed myself a dinner of French bread with olive oil, mozzarella, tomatoes from the garden, basil from the neighbor's garden and goat cheese. I slid it into the oven and let the cheese get melty. This is one of my favorite meals that I hadn't enjoyed with fresh ingredients this summer because I was avoiding wheat. This weekend will be my last hurrah.
I'll stop buying junk food that I like. I'll return to treats of cashews, dried blueberries or tomatoes in vinaigrette.
I'll return to my daily workouts and meet my friends for our seven and a half mile run in the morning, but I'll probably go ahead and open that bag of chocolate covered raisins tonight.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Glimpse of Fall

I'm sitting on my front porch in my running clothes. I had a nice run this morning and now I'm grading papers. I love to sit with my computer on the front porch to hear the birds singing and watch the leaves flutter in the wind and reflect the sunshine.
But after I had settled, I had to go back inside for my fleece. Then I added some fuzzy socks on my bare feet and warmed up a cup of hot cocoa.
It's 59 degrees and is only supposed to reach 76 degrees today.
I love this perfect weather.

The Evils of Smoking Pot

I think it would be difficult to find people my age who didn't smoke pot in their teens. That's why it is easy to have discussions with my kids about whether pot should be legalized. I agree that it should be.
As far as I know, none of my teenagers are smoking pot, but the morning newspaper presented an excellent reason to avoid it.
"Drug Cartel Suspected in Massacre of 72 Migrants."
In Mexico, they found a mass grave with 72 people, migrants from Central and South America. These migrants were apparently traveling through Mexico trying to reach the United States when they encountered the Zetas drug cartel. For a few years now, we've been hearing about the drug wars going on in Mexico. Different drug lords are trying to be top dog as supplier to the teenagers and adults throughout the United States who need their recreational drugs. Those killings seem far away -- as if they have nothing to do with Columbus, Ohio.
But the idea of a mass grave gives me the shivers. It reminds me of the stories of naked Jews standing at the edge of a pit while they were shot in the back. How can we look away while people are being killed and dumped into a mass grave?
And for every American who buys marijuana that came from Mexico before it eventually reached Ohio or Chicago or New York or Kansas City, aren't we all responsible for those bullets in their backs?
Now, in addition to pointing out that pot may stunt your growth and kill brain cells and take away your motivation to accomplish things, I can say that the people who provide it have no compunctions about killing others to make sure you get your toke.
Until marijuana is grown in the United States and regulated by the government like alcohol and cigarettes, I can firmly tell my children that if they smoke pot, they are contributing to evil, like a bullet in an innocent person's back.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love -- the movie

We went to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love last night. Although it was a little long, it wasn't as hideous as some would make it out to be (see
First, if you didn't like the book, and I have some friends who thought the book was a little whiny, don't go see the movie. The movie follows the book pretty closely.
Maybe, because Earl and I walked on a fine August night to the little theater in our town, I was more open to enjoying the movie. Maybe because I had a box of Snow Caps in my lap and my husband beside me... Maybe because we have traveled to places like Italy and we enjoyed the scenery and the food... Maybe because we both dream of traveling and writing... Whatever the reason, most of the movie was enjoyable from the unglamorous character played by Julia Roberts to the hunky Brazilian guy she meets at the end.
Some of the complaints about the movie have made me laugh. The local newspaper said that in this down economy people wouldn't want to watch a woman indulge in traveling for a year.
Excuse me? That's exactly when Americans would want to watch someone take off on a three country vacation. Does the reviewer think we want to see a movie of someone struggling to pay off bills? We can see that in our own kitchens.
The reviewer also complained that the author/main character had nothing to whine about when you consider the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan and other tragedies. Well, again, that is true for most Americans, isn't it?
When we say things are hard for us, that means we may have to wait two months to save up for that new dishwasher. Overall, most of us don't lead very difficult lives.
The beginning of the movie, the part that shows why she was so miserable and sought a divorce, isn't well established, but I'd read the book so I knew the background.
In the movie, I saw and heard glimpses of Elizabeth Gilbert's voice from the book. And in the book she provides nuggets of truth, things that I can relate to. Everyone knows that the television show Seinfeld was about nothing -- just everyday things that happened in the charcters' lives, somehow made funny.
This journey that Gilbert went on could be similarly characterized. There were no car chases, although she does get knocked off her bike by the hunky Brazilian, and that scene was very obvious. This is a movie about her wrestling with her emotions and healing from a bad divorce. A lot of people would prefer not to think about or deal with emotions.
For us, the movie was a chance to escape from teenage boys who are wondering why they can't play xbox on school nights, phone calls from our daughter who needs help figuring out whether to buy her books at the bookstore or online, bathrooms that need retiling, and bad television. It was a chance to go out for the night as a couple and watch some beautiful scenery, along with some emotional gymnastics.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Settling In

Thanks to everyone for their comforting words and thoughts as we adjust to life without Grace at home.
Just to follow up on the dread that we felt and Grace felt on the first day -- things were, of course, much better in the daylight.
I didn't get any panicked phone calls last night. Although she did say around 10:30 that she was exhausted and planned to go to bed.
"No! Don't go to bed!" I warned. "Do something else so you don't lie there and think about being homesick."
This morning, I found a text message that came in around 12:30 a.m.
"We just had a three room singalong. It's like college musical. You're right. I will be fine. Love forever."
Of course, she is in the performing arts dorm, so I imagine not every new college student is having midnight singalongs, but this is getting her through.
Now, I just have to try not to imagine that petrified look on Tucker's face as he left for his first day of high school today.
"Wait? What do we do for 15 minutes before homeroom?" he asked Spencer as they headed out the door.
"Well, the freshmen are real excited and they scream a lot," Spencer said.
I don't think his words were comforting.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reading the Signs

When the matriculation began yesterday at Grace's new college, bagpipers marched up the aisle in kilts. That is how I know this university is a perfect match for her, in spite of her angst.
Grace loves bagpipes and all things Scottish. So when the pipers began to play and walked up the aisle followed by the drummers and all of those faculty members in robes and funny hats, I knew she was in the right spot.
Matriculation is a ceremony that welcomes the new students and starts them on their schooling career, much like graduation comes at the end.
I had spent the day helping Grace unpack and set up her room. We made lists of things she needed from the grocery and things we needed to send from home. We avoided tears although there was lots of hand clutching. Then Grace went to join her "house" for a meeting and they walked over to matriculation together.
As I sat through the speeches of matriculation, I felt myself blinking back tears. In the invocation, one woman advised the students to "put away your fears" and I wanted to grasp those words and thrust them in Grace's pocket. The president advised students to "look to the stars" to realize how small they are and their problems are in comparison to the world.
Blink, blink.
I just wanted this to work for her. I wanted it to be easy for her as well.
In the end, each of the new students walked out under the banner of their houses. They stood in circles in the fieldhouse and we were allowed to say a brief goodbye before we left them.
I hurried through the groups of students looking for Grace's house. I didn't want her to think we weren't coming for a goodbye. I felt a sob gurgle up and swallowed it down. And I saw her then, her plaid rainboots covering her feet. Her high school sweatshirt proclaiming her name and sport.

We hugged and cried and wiped mascara. And then we left for our 10-hour drive home. There was no going back.
And that lasted until about 11 when the cell phone started to ring and Grace's voice was muffled by sobs. She hurt physically and she couldn't do this.
So we talked her down. Just one night, make it one night. Eventually, as we drove through the rain, the phone stopped ringing and we assumed she had fallen asleep.
The darkness of the New York thruway closed in around us as we headed home to our boys who would begin high school on Tuesday.
We had taken a back to school photo before Grace left, one to put with the other photos for posterity.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Almost Time

We're at a motel in upstate New York. That's right -- a motel. And if you ever toured the U.S. in the 1970s, you'll recognize the kind of motel It's one-story and brick. You can pull up right to the doorway and unload your car. This motel happens to have about a dozen or more motorcycles parked in front of the doors. Apparently, a lot of older people from Canada ride their motorcyles to upstate New York for the weekend.
The room inside is nice though with wood floors and wooden tables, a bed, and a rollaway bed so that Earl, Grace and I can all fit. Grace and I shared the bed while Earl took the cot.
So far, tears have fallen intermittently and sobs have shaken Grace's swimmer's shoulders several times.
Before we left yesterday, she sat on her bed clutching a stuffed panda bear, rocking back and forth as she cried.
We lured her out with the promise of a family breakfast and convinced her to bring the panda bear along. Breakfast with the boys was a little belligerent with Tucker picking apart everything I said, before the boys gave hugs to their sister who was going away for four months. Well, Spencer gave a hug. Tucker stood still and was hugged.
Spencer had asked me earlier in the week, "Will you cry when you leave Grace?"
"Of course, I will," I told him.
"I'm not going to cry," he said.
And he didn't, but he gave her a few words of encouragement.
While we were driving nine hours, I called and checked on the boys. Spencer had "a few" friends over, including Chelsea and Hannah. Um, no. That's not okay.
At least it took my mind off the impending departure.
Today is the day when we get to travel about 15 miles, find Grace's dorm room, make up her bed, put some posters on the wall, have lunch in the cafeteria, walk around the campus and sit in Adirondack chairs. I can cheerfully anticipate all of that. I just can't think about that moment -- that moment that is stamped onto the schedule -- family goodbye at 4:30 p.m.
That's when we'll climb in the car and leave her alone with people she has only met on Facebook.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Melancholy Cat

"Woe is me," says the cat Tybalt.
He cannot face the world.
Maybe he's just shy and doesn't want his face posted on the blog.
I have the weirdest cat.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Emotional Eating

My husband was going to the store for the second time yesterday in preparation for some evening guests when I asked him to bring home some cookies. Those chocolate kind with the marshmallow inside.
He didn't point out that I had been eating healthy for a couple of weeks sticking to fruits, vegetables and proteins. He just bought the cookies.
I guess I'm an emotional eater because a few hours of sorting things in my daughter's room, counting the days -- 3 -- before she leaves for college, made me crave cookies.
I ate two when he returned and got back to the business of helping her pack her clothes.
People keep asking how I am with the move to college. I don't have a choice. My role in this is to be positive and upbeat and to eat an occasional cookie.
Grace has taken the emotional road. She cries. She lays her head in my lap when I am sitting on the couch. She hugs me whenever we are within a foot of each other. She holds my hand as we walk through the store to look for new clothes.
She chose the college 10 hours away when she originally protested going away at all.
Now she says, "I don't think I can go."
The tuition has been paid. The classes scheduled. The roommate is waiting.
My only role is to be supportive. I can show no chink in the armor.
"You can do this" is my mantra.
Now her belongings are stacked in bins.
Earl has repainted and reconstructed the window seat that Grace sat on during the play Little Women last year. She will take that with her as a bridge between her high school years and this new independent section of life. She has filled the window seat with her bedspread and mattress cover still in plastic wrapping. Within it are sets of sheets and matching towels never used.
And I can't think about that moment when we pull away from the college and she isn't in the car, when it's no longer my job to put on a brave face.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Morning Sounds

Have you ever listened to one of those sounds of nature CDs? They always start off soft with maybe the sound of crickets. Then the crickets grow louder and there comes some running water. A bird calls softly in the background then perhaps louder while fading away.
That was what I heard this morning as I walked out my back door. I was attaching my iPod, ready to plug the earbuds into my ears when I caught the sound of the crickets. I laced the headphones around my neck so I could listen.
As I walked past the Rose of Sharon bushes, the crickets grew louder. Then out my gate down the alley, I passed my neighbor's water feature tinkling. The roads were so still. No cars moved. The air was cool enough that the air conditioners were not clanging to life.
I kept walking, trying to be aware of the sounds around me. A breeze stirred the trees making their leaves whisper and the crickets chirp louder. I turned the corner toward the east. That was the direction I wanted to walk, even though it was downhill, which meant I'd have to come back uphill.
In the orthodontist office the other day, I read an article, I think it was Real Simple magazine, that one way to energize is to face the east for 10 minutes every morning. Facing east was beautiful. The sun was past the point of sending up pinks and oranges into the sky. It was a definite yellow behind those trees and buildings in the east. But the sky was a clear blue and a trace of clouds looked like powdered sugar when it's sprinkled on brownies.
The birds grew louder. A man on a scooter puttered past. A plane engine droned overhead. Then I turned the corner again and the people sounds faded behind the rising sounds of the cicadas waking up for their morning buzz.
When I came home, I gathered my computer and sat on the front porch to continue enjoying the sweet breeze. I watched as a crow was chased by the other birds. He made raucous cawing sounds as the sun continued its yellow path higher in the sky. Like a nature CD set on replay, the sounds started over again with the crickets chirping and the crow harmonizing his protests.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Flight or Invisibility?

I was listening to This American Life which aired a show about superheroes. One guy makes parties more interesting by asking people which super power they would choose -- flight or invisibility?
Here's the link:
I stopped grading papers for a minute and thought about it.
Flight, I decided. It was practical. I could actually use flight to get places.
I couldn't think of a single reason that I would want invisibility. I'm not the sneaky type. I'm very forthright and am always surprised when other people aren't. People on the radio program talked about being invisible so they could steal sweaters from Barney's and get on airplanes to fly places. I'd have the power of flight. Why would I need to sneak on an airplane? And I wouldn't become a thief just because I could get away with it. That's not what keeps me from stealing in the first place.
One person on the program said everyone truly wants Invisibility but some people pretend to want Flight because it seems more admirable.
I thought of Harry Potter, who, with his invisibility cloak, could have been very nefarious. Instead, when he was on the run and hiding under his invisibility cloak, he would leave money behind when he took food.
Maybe I don't like people enough to want to be invisible. I can't imagine choosing to spend more time around people so I could watch them in secret. That's what reality shows are for, right?
So, I choose flight by default. I could fly to visit Mom and Dad in Florida. I could fly across the ocean to visit France. I wonder how big a suitcase I could carry with my superpowers?
What about you? Which would you choose -- Flight or Invisibility

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Brush With Fame

My kids love when I tell the story about my brush with fame. They've built it up over the years -- "Didn't you go to prom with Woody Harrelson?"
"No," I'll explain again.
So here's the real story, saved for posterity.
I grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, a small town between Dayton and Cincinnati. And, in spite of the history that Woody grew up in Texas, he went to my high school. He was into theater, but the only show I remember him performing in was Li'l Abner.
Woody is older, my brother's age, and we spoke, but I wouldn't say we were friends.
Now switch focus to a couple at school. Paul and Alice were the kind of couple who dated forever. As a matter of fact, I heard they got married right after high school. Paul was always a guy who flirted with me when Alice wasn't around. One week during my sophomore year, Paul and Alice broke up. The tears from the break up weren't dry when Paul invited me to a party that weekend and I said yes.
He picked me up, I can't remember the kind of car he drove or what I wore, but we went to the party somewhere out in the country.
Everyone was at the party, including Alice.
You can imagine what happened. Paul and Alice got back together at the party, so there I was dumped and rideless. That's where Woody Harrelson stepped in to save me. He offered me a ride home.
I'm not sure why I didn't ask my brother for a ride since he was at the party.
So, I was feeling humiliated about being dumped by my date, and Woody was jovial as he drove me home. We parked in front of my house and talked for awhile.
I don't remember if he was particularly religious, but I do remember his confession that he felt bad, guilty, that he had kissed so many girls in his life. He said he had kissed 71 girls.
I can't remember how I reacted. I was probably awestruck because there weren't that many girls in our small town.
Before I got out of the car, he asked if he could kiss me goodnight.
That's when I laughed and asked if he wanted me to be number 72 on the list of girls he had kissed? He did. So he kissed me goodnight and he gave me his senior picture after he had signed the back: "To number 72."
I wish I knew what I had done with that picture so I could tell you what the rest said. I could even scan it and put it on this blog post, but I don't know where it is.
So here's a picture from his younger days, closer to the Woody that I kissed in his car in front of my house on Ridge Road. The picture is from

As a reporter, I've interviewed Catherine DeNeuve and Al Gore. I even walked behind Ted Kennedy, but I've only been kissed by one person who became a star.
How about you? Do you have a story about a brush with fame?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


When I returned home from Florida, I found a thin, pliable package with a return address in France. Shouldn't everyone find gifts in their mailbox? The possibilities are endless.
Inside the package was a beautiful silk scarf from my blog friend Gina.

Okay, it's still a little wrinkled from its travels, but you can see the beautiful colors and I wish you could feel how soft the material is, like a whisper in the night.
Gina started a blog last year before her family moved from Texas to Paris. Her husband's job required him to go to Paris for the year. (I know. My husband is obviously in the wrong line of work.) They also have an adorable set of boy/girl twins who just turned 7 this week.
I loved watching Gina discover France, and I have to admit that she reminded me that it isn't all stars and red wine. Moving to another country is full of challenges.
Gina handled it like a champ and when the company changed hands and the family needed to return to Texas five months early, again she rolled with the punches. But before she moved, she took the time to send presents to some of her blog friends, including me!
Thanks for sharing your adventure, Gina, and for your generosity, a trait I'm still trying to learn.
My links never work on blogger, but you can find Gina's blog in the column along the right under "My Blog List." It's called "A Year of Change" and boy, has it been.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lessons from France

Twenty-five years ago today, I was in France. That was my longest trip to France where I spent three months shepherding two young American girls as their grandparents spent a month each in Corsica, the French countryside near Bourges and then their apartment in Paris.
Although the trip was long and I began to miss home, the trip definitely changed my life. One of the things I learned was that education was a priority for the French, and although I had my bachelor's degree, I came home determined to further my education. I entered graduate school the following year and received my master's degree. Maybe my need for more education came because of the cute doctor, Francois, who trying to explain sailing to me asked in a puzzled voice, "Didn't you ever take physeeks?" Of course, he meant physics, and I still haven't taken it.
Maybe the love for education came from lying on the beach in Corsica while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. Aaah! There is no better place to read Fitzgerald than on a French beach. Maybe the need for education seeped in during the heated political discussions with the German cousins. Maybe it came from being surrounded by a strange language, although I had minored in French in college, that finally began to be understandable. I loved being able to decipher the words so that slowly the family had to stop talking about me when I was in the room.
And that master's degree has really paid off for me, finally. I'm not just a stay-at-home mom writing occasional articles for the newspaper. I'm teaching at two different colleges and making enough money to send my daughter to college.
But, in spite of all these ways that visit to France changed my life, that isn't why I started thinking about my trip 25 years ago.
It was the simple peach that brought it back to me.

When I was a kid, I was fairly persnickety. I remember sitting at the dining room table all afternoon because I refused to eat the apricots my mom served. She made me stay at the table until I ate them. She finally gave up.
So when I went to France, at the beginning I was turning down offers of cantaloupe and watermelon. The French would look at me in astonishment. How could someone not like these fruits?
When they offered me a nectarine, I took it curiously. I had never eaten a nectarine. They asked me what the word was in English and peach was as close as I could get, but that wasn't right.
That nectarine in Corsica was heavenly. The juice would have dripped down my arm if I'd eaten it like an American, which I didn't, since I was in France. We used a knife and fork to slice up the nectarine and delicately eat each juicy morsel. It was the best fruit I had ever tasted.
This year, the peaches I've been buying from Trader Joe's are rivaling those nectarines. The scent rises from the box tempting me as I pass. And I do pick up a peach with its red and gold soft skin and bite into it, allowing the juice to drip down my arm. And it makes me think of Corsica and France and cute French doctors who say "physeeks."

Friday, August 06, 2010

Then and Now

The problem with kids and the good things about kids is that they grow up. One year we visit Florida and they are busy building sand castles or burying each other or collecting coquina shells. That's Grace looking at the camera. Anna has her back to the camera and Maggie is the smiling red head. Tucker is tiptoeing along the sand in the background.

The next time we visit, they're all grown up and awkward with each other. They complain before being dragged together, but once they're all there, a niche opens and they begin to talk.

Plus, there's always ice cream to draw them together.
And it helps to have a good-natured 11-year-old to act as comic relief. Since he was little, Patrick has been the one that drew the older kids together, from the time he was one-year-old and we visited during the 2000 election recount. The kids would ask him, "Who's going to win, Patrick, Bush or Gore?" Little Patrick, who was just learning to speak would make a proclamation and the other kids would fall about laughing, no matter who he tagged as the winner.

Family Day at the Beach

From the looks of it, it was a perfect day to visit the beach. But those clouds building up had already turned dark behind us. The water in the Gulf of Mexico was warm, warm, warm. Tucker had been watching Shark Week, so he refused to go near the water.
We mostly sat in the sand and caught up with our friend Kathleen who dragged her three children along to the beach.
Once the thunder rumbled, we packed up and headed to miniature golf. Spencer decided that shirts were optional while in Florida and especially on the miniature golf course. The golf course used to be fairly exciting. Now the management seems to have lost its verve. A giant tiger and green painted python are the extent of the excitement. Some holes have nothing more than a big rock or a ceramic bunny rabbit. Earl kept score and tried to encourage us to follow the rules. We were reluctant. According to his caluclations, he won the game.
Grace pulls off the Florida look with her hair piled on top of her head to stay cool and her sunglasses secured above her hairline.
Atterwards, we debated whether we should buy a French silk pie from Village Inn or go to Coldstone ice cream. We headed to Tom and Kathleen's house and then out to dinner.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Lagging Self Confidence

Since we're in Florida, we plan to visit some old friends in St. Petersburg. We'll go to the beach where the wife and their three kids will join us. Then we'll all go to dinner joined by the husband when he finishes toiling at the nationally-known newspaper where he works.
Earl worked with Tom in St. Louis 30 years ago. When that paper folded, they both moved to Florida. We all worked together 20 years ago at the Tampa Tribune. Then we paired up, married off and had kids. Once a year or so, we get together. When the kids were little they would play happily building sand castles and swinging high. Last time we got together, the middle child, a tomboy of a girl, was beating up on our boys. This time with their girls 17 and 14 and the boy 11, it will probably be awkward with teenage gaps in the conversation.
Two days ago, Earl made plans to see them.
As the days pass, I find myself dreading it.
It's all because I don't feel good about myself. I hate to admit it, but it's true.
Maybe it is the fact that I'm spending a lot of time in a bathing suit. Maybe it's because I've put off finding a new stylist to cut and color my hair so it's curly with strands of gray. Maybe it's because I'm eating vacation food instead of only fruits and proteins.
I'm judging myself and assuming they'll do the same, which is stupid. We've all aged.
Generally, I consider myself a fairly confident person. I don't stand in front of the closet and throw aside outfit after outfit. I don't spend hours looking in the mirror and criticizing lines around my eyes. I'm smart, accomplished and sometimes even witty.
This time, though, I feel inadequate.
So, I asked Mom to call and see if her stylist can give me a trim and color today, straightening my hair in this humidity with the hopes that it will hold through tomorrow where I'll sit on the beach refusing to get my hair wet in anticipation of meeting up with old friends.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


Mom and Dad used to have cats that lived outside and came twice a day for food. They were always breeding and bringing along their kittens. The kids would argue about who got to name the new kittens. One year when Mom and Dad came to Ohio for their month-long visit, the cats went elsewhere looking for food and they've never come back.
This year, Mom and Dad have some different kinds of pets hanging around outside the screen door.
I sat on the patio and looked outside the screen. What I saw looked like some kind of windchime. It curled down like a spring and it had a star shaped spiky thing in the middle. I didn't have my contacts in, but instead of getting up to look at it, I asked Mom and Dad when they joined me on the patio.
"Is that a wind chime?" I asked.
"Oh, no. It's our new pet," Mom joked.

I walked closer and saw that it was a big spider on a bigger web. The part that looks like a spring is the reinforced web in the center.
Mom decided to leave the spider and its web so the kids could see it. She planned to tell them that the spider, and its two smaller friends on the webs next to it, were replacing the cats. She hasn't let them name the spiders yet.

Here's a closer look at this spider. The common name is Banana Spider. But it shouldn't be confused with the Central and South American banana spider which is venomous. This guy is longer and leaner. The venomous guy is thick and hair looking.

Here's a comparison to Tucker's hand. He is on the other side of the screen, of course. Tucker has the biggest hands in our family, so you can see that this guy is no small fry.
I hope Mom doesn't want help pulling the webs down. If she does, I think I'll send Earl to help.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Peace Part 2

I lay on a blue raft in the blue pool staring at the very blue sky.


I slid the glass door from my parents' living room to their patio and stepped out into the stillness. The water in the swimming pool is a sheet of blue. The air does not move. Even the birds are quiet. No traffic.
This is what I need after a day packed into the car with four other people, driving, driving.
Then a bird in the palm tree behind the pool squawks. A morning dove coos. An air conditioner kicks on.
The trees behind the screened-in patio are prehistoric palms and live oaks with big vines climbing. The ground is thick with fan-like palms that block any path.

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'...