Monday, November 29, 2010

Smell Memories

Smell is supposed to be the sense that creates the strongest memories. I believe it because a smell can instantly transport me back to a moment. Sometimes it's important and sometimes it's trivial.
Sunday was a day when Grace and I left the house at 7 a.m. so I could get her to a friend's house in Rochester, New York, and she could return to school with that friend. According to Mapquest, the drive from our house to Rochester is 6 hours and 48 minutes.
I dropped Grace around 2 p.m. and she dripped tears onto my chocolate brown wool coat. We'll see her again in two and a half weeks when she has Christmas break. She feels sad every time she leaves. Her friend John loaded things into his car, ready for the three and half hour drive back to school from Rochester. His mother looked pale and as if she wanted to drip tears onto her son too. John's father showed me how they had arranged a strand of Christmas lights into upside down fish bowls along the driveway.
Then I began driving home, alone in the car. I made it through New York and stopped for gas in Pennsylvania for gas. I inched through a drive through and bought a cup of coffee. The digital clock in the car read 4:44 p.m. I had about four more hours of driving.
I didn't realize until I had rolled up the window and called Earl to tell him where I was that the smell of the coffee brought back a smell memory. Of course, the smell of coffee is very familiar. Why should it bring back this particular memory? But there, in the car, after traveling for 10 hours, that smell reminded me of waking up on an Air France flight as the flight attendants busily prepared "breakfast," ready to rouse the sleeping passengers and prepare them for the landing in Paris.
The flight from the U.S. to Europe usually begins with a dinner then all the window shades are closed, the lights are dimmed and everyone pretends they have a normal night's sleep. A few hours later, the flight attendants serve breakfast with hot coffee to help people adjust to the time change. When we arrive in Paris, it is morning.
In the car, listening to a story tape about a food critic, I sipped that coffee and thought of the hours of traveling I do before I land in Paris. Funny that memory came to me.
Do you have a smell memory that came to you this weekend? Thanksgiving is full of smell memories.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over

This morning I was listening to my favorite liberal talk show host's program, but she was on vacation like most of the country is today. She had a guest host named Hal Sparks, who I like well enough, but he can be fairly strident. He was talking about how bogus Thanksgiving is as a holiday since the pilgrims and settlers later massacred the indians and took over their land. I wanted to ask him, although I didn't try to call, what does he want us to do at this point? Because, being part Native American, I feel bad that the Europeans felt free to run roughshod over the natives in this land. That isn't what I celebrate at Thanksgiving. That's the story that teachers focus on at schools so they can put on cute elementary plays, but I don't know anyone who gathers with their family and thanks God that the Europeans were able to overrun the Native Americans.
Instead, it's nice to take a moment to pause and be grateful for all that is good in our lives. That's why it's called Thanksgiving Day, not European Domination Day.
At a time when many people have suffered through what the media is calling "The Great Recession," our family dodged a bullet. Both Earl and I kept our jobs, and we've managed to make payments to cover Grace's college this first year.
Everyone in the family is healthy and relatively happy. Other than adolescent angst, I'd say a snapshot of this moment in time would reveal a steady family.
The dryer tumbles clothes in the basement and fresh sheets stretch across our mattresses where we'll lay under warm blankets. We ate our fill at Thanksgiving dinner and brought home leftovers, which hopefully won't spoil in the refrigerator.
We are the spoiled ones. So often accepting the fate, the luck that brought us these jobs, this home, this safety.
It's right to have a day where we stop and think about all that we have and to give thanks rather than taking it for granted.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Strangers in the Rain

I'm convinced that the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch portrays a person with a sinus headache.
I know because that's how I've felt the past four days.
"Lie down and rest," Earl urges me in between work and attending kids' activities.
"I don't feel any better when I lie down," I admit. And it's true. Whether I veg out on the couch or cook dinner or sit through a basketball game, that pounding in my head, the aching in my teeth continue.
That's why I decided to meet my friends this Thanksgiving morning for a run. When I opened my eyes at 5 a.m., the familiar throbbing behind my eyes was there to greet me. I drank some water, swallowed some B vitamins and filled my water bottles. Whether the medicine or the sinus issues, I'm thirsty all the time. I didn't take any ibuprofen or Sudafed before I left. Sometimes the medicine makes me feel worse.
I did flip on the television to see the weather forecast. Rain and thunderstorms. 39 degrees.
I went anyway. Princess joined us for a run for the first time in ages. I didn't want to miss it. But I did ask my friends to just run around the lake with me and then I would go home. The rain wasn't heavy, but I didn't want to be out in the cold rain for a couple of hours when I was already sick.
We ran around the lake, catching up on each other's lives. While running through the dark rain, I didn't even notice my headache. Maybe it's the friends, maybe it's the distraction, maybe it's the fresh air or exercise.
I decided to go on a half mile farther before they turned away from the road and headed along the river. I hugged them all goodbye before turning back to the half mile trail.
"Sing," Princess urged, "so we know you're okay."
"I'll be fine. There are lots of fishermen back at the lake."
I ran through the increasing rain back toward the lake, and I did see a fisherman. He was loaded down with fishing equipment and called out, to me, a lone woman running along the trail.
"Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?" he called. He was tall and had a rain jacket on with the hood pulled up.
Everyone knows that if a man wants to ask someone a question, he should not approach a woman alone in the dark in the rain. What was he thinking?
I turned toward him but didn't walk over to him. I was ready to make a break for it. But I know I was stupid to stop and answer his question. What was I thinking?
"How far is this path around the lake?" he asked. He held a fishing pole in one hand, a lawn chair and other equipment in the other hand. He looked miserable.
"One point two miles," I said and started off again.
"Really? Mumble, mumble," he said.
"What?" I asked turning back toward him.
"That large?" he asked.
I moved away from the man, away from the lake and toward the parking lot.
The world is full of people doing strange things, like running in the rain on Thanksgiving morning, or fishing on Thanksgiving morning, or stopping people to ask the distance around the lake when a sign right by the deck clearly states the mileage. Strangest of all, perhaps, is feeling like the politeness of answering a stranger's question is more important than safety. I could hear my friends, my husband's and my parents' voices echoing in my head as I climbed into my dry car and locked the doors behind me.
But, for the most part, people are trustworthy and not predatory -- just strange, like me.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


A few weeks ago, while sitting in the sunshine at an outdoor cafe with my husband, sipping a glass of white wine, my cell phone rang. I missed the call but saw it came from the dean of one of the colleges where I teach.
My husband of 20 years was not offended that I returned the call to the dean as we sat waiting for a lunch to arrive. Phone calls from deans are not that common.
She called to offer me a job as "Visiting Professor."
What did that mean? Well, I'm not entirely clear, except I have to teach a minimum number of hours per year and I'll be assigned classes before the other contract employees. That was me until the phone call -- a contract employee, which meant I was paid 10 weeks after the class began in one big check. Now I'll receive bi-weekly paychecks, which should help us plan a budget better.
I said yes to the job offer, though, mainly because I like the title: "Visiting Professor."
It implies that I'll be moving on to other colleges and other students very soon. Maybe I'll make a stop in San Francisco, Provence, Rome, Wellington, New Zealand. As a "Visiting Professor," I am free to roam with my exquisite skill teaching English composition.
Earl and I clinked our wine glasses together as the lunch time traffic shuffled past. I ate cashew-encrusted mahi mahi along with mushroom risotto, and as we moved toward the car, I suggested that Earl walk at least four steps behind me since I am now a "Visiting Professor."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cute Baby

Yesterday's post was so depressing, that I needed to redeem myself with a cute baby picture.
Luckily, Earl's niece Julie visited with baby Caroline yesterday.
And Grace was home too so I can show a cute baby picture and a cute teenager picture!

Don't you love those smiles when they only have a few teeth?
But Grace won't like that picture of herself, so I'll need to add one that she prefers.

I can't recall what was happening to the left of those girls, but it must have been fascinating the way they both turned in that direction. When you're a teenager who has been away from home and frequent hugs from people who love you, nothing is better than hauling around a baby who doesn't want to be put down.
She did leave a wet spot on Grace's jeans at one point, but Grace didn't even complain. See how mature she's getting in college?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fight the Good Fight

Last week, there was a horrific crime about an hour from Columbus. I won't go into the details, but suffice it to say that a 13-year-old girl was rescued alive while her mother, 11-year-old brother, a female family friend, and the family dog were found stashed in trash bags inside a hollow tree.
I wonder if the girl would have been better off if she had died before watching or being aware of her family members' deaths one by one. I can't even imagine how a 13-year-old would survive being tied up, gagged and held in a man's basement, much less having seen what she saw.
And then I wondered how one man could capture four people. Wouldn't someone have broken free? Couldn't someone have made a run for it?
I wonder if we aren't conditioned to give criminals what they want in the hopes we'll get out alive.
Yet, women are told, if someone points a gun at you and tells you to get in a vehicle, run for it. Your odds are much better if you resist being alone with the criminal.
And I think that's what I would do now in almost any situation with a criminal -- resist in the hopes that someone gets out alive. If there are two of us, we can both run for it and one of us may survive.
I know crimes like this are extremely rare and most people will never have to face the choice of fighting or placating a criminal.
I do not for one minute want to blame the victims.
Yet, I think back to the Jewish people who dug the pits and stood naked alongside waiting to be shot by the Nazis. Maybe they thought it would be different for them. Maybe they remained hopeful. Or maybe they were filled with despair and thought they had no choice. "Resistance is futile."
I guess, having read about the evil that some people are capable of, I would run for it.
Then I thought about the people on that plane during Sept. 11, 2001. The one that had been highjacked and when the passengers realized that other planes were being flown into buildings, they led an insurgency. The people on that plane all died, but they may have saved the lives of thousands in a building somewhere. And, the passengers could have survived. They could have taken over the plane and landed. Even though they died, they were heroes.
These morbid thoughts led me to Dylan Thomas' famous line: "Do not go gentle into that good night."
Of course, he was talking about growing old and dying, but maybe it's worth the fight to make sure you grow old.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Grace and Earl are driving through the night right now on their way home. Grace has a week off for Thanksgiving.
Her sheets are clean and the blankets are folded back on her bed.
I can't remember what it was like when I came home from college. I think I was so caught up in spending time with my friends that I probably didn't even notice the comfort of being home.
I hope that when Grace walks through the door at home she feels the same way that I do now when I walk in my parents' house, no matter what house they live in -- Ohio, Kentucky or Florida. Of course, as an adult and as a mother, walking in my parents' house has always felt like a shedding of the weight that I carry on my shoulders. Whoosh! All the responsibility melts away and I'm a duaghter again instead of a wife, mother, teacher, writer.
I joked with the students in my class last night that I imagined we might spend the entire week with me on the courch and Grace's head on my lap.
But that's a fantasy too, since I'll be in bed when she gets home and then I'm off to a swim meet at 6:30 a.m. before a basketball scrimmage at 10 and... well, it's a typical weekend at our house. There will be little time to sit with her head resting in my lap.
Still, just having her at home makes everything feel a little more secure.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I wish I could describe that feeling. The nervousness and anticipation when I send out a letter to an agent. I have carefully honed the letter, hoping to sell the literary agent on my latest book. I try to be immune to the rejections and figure the right agent will see the potential.
I've probably sent only half a dozen query letters for my latest project, Ransoming Raphael. I peruse my list of top agents and choose one carefully like a rich chocolate.
An agent responds, "Send me x number of pages of your manuscript."
And my heart soars.
This one.
This could be the one.
This could be the book. This could be the agent. This could turn my world upside down.
I sit with my completed manuscript and scour it for misspellings, awkward wordings.
Then, like a baby bird perched on the edge of a nest, I send it out, hoping it will soar before it tumbles to the ground.
I push the send button; the pages cross the electronic divide arriving in an agent's inbox. Maybe the agent will open it right away. Maybe the agent will park it in a long cue behind manuscripts about vampires or pirates or the biography of the man who discovered calculators.
I hope she loves mine.
I hope she calls or emails and says, "More please."


At the basketball scrimmage on Saturday, two parents asked who "that number 18" was. That was Spencer. They asked because they didn't recognize him, even though they'd sat beside me at games last year and invited Spencer into their homes for meals. Since basketball season ended in April, Spence has put on about 30 pounds of muscle.
"He was so skinny last year," one of the mothers said, explaining why she hadn't recognized him.
It's true. When I saw him around the house, I thought he was normal sized. Tall, but normal weight. When I saw him on the basketball court, I realized he was a stick figure.
Not this year though.
Adding to the confusion of his appearance is a recent haircut.
A senior on the team, short with a bald spot, told Spencer that he has an athletic body but a pretty boy haircut. Spencer trotted off to the barber for a "high and tight" cut to go with his athletic body. I'm not sure who made this senior boy fashion arbiter.
Spencer does have pretty boy hair. It's thick and smooth. And he still has a baby face.
The short haircut took care of that. Now he looks like a man.
Something about the haircut reminded me of my dad in his high school days, so Mom sent me some pictures.
People have always said that Spencer and my dad look alike because of the blue eyes and the square chin. I thought the haircut might add to the similarities, but now that I compare. I'm not sure. What do you think?
Here's Dad's senior picture and one from when he was Spencer's age.
The other thing about Dad and Spencer is they are both basketball fanatics. Dad didn't even hold a basketball until 8th grade but then excelled. He was offered a basketball scholarship to a college in Kentucky but turned it down to start working after graduation.
He has continued to play though, in a senior league and teaching his grandsons his hook shot until a shoulder injury a few years ago.
"You can just tell Gran was good at basketball," Spencer said when he looked at the picture my mom had sent.
As he flipped through the pictures, he looked at the one of my mom and dad together in high school. "People don't really marry people from high school, do they?" he asked.
But, of course, they do and they did more frequently in the past, like his grandparents who met when they were in high school, when they were both still baby faced and had no idea that their future would lead to four children and seven grandchildren.
Maybe the story of high school sweethearts is a different story though, one that I'll have to tell about Tucker someday as he tries to reconcile now with the on-again, off-again girlfriend

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deep in Chocolate Cups

Last month, I wrote about a party that my roommate Pat and I threw 20 years ago. At the party, at her insistence, we served alcohol in stale chocolate liqueur cups that tasted like burnt rubber which we later found hidden in plants by friends who were too polite to throw them away.
Astor Chocolate took up the gauntlet challenging me to try their chocolate liqueur cups to prove that the cups are tasty. They sent me a box of 60 cups, each in their own gold foil like miniature muffins.
My husband, who refused to try one of the cups because 20 years later that burnt rubber taste remains imbedded on his tongue, took an artsy photo of the box.
We lifted the lid from the box and inhaled the rich chocolate scent. Not a hint of rubber from these cups.
Then, after a Girls Night Out dinner, where we were all slightly tipsy from the bartender's free drinks and an after-dinner liqueur, we returned to my house to try the chocolate cups.
I can honestly say that it didn't matter we'd been drinking before we tried the cups. At that party 20 years before, plenty of people had been drinking but still abandoned the cups.
My thoughts on filling the cups ranged toward sweet liqueur.
Baileys, Kahlua. We had some mint Baileys so I climbed on a chair and pulled that from the cabinet over the refrigerator. I also got down a bottle of Drambuie that came from Earl's parents' liquor stash, and a bottle of limoncella that Earl's sister brought from Italy.
We all tried the cups, some with the Baileys, others just as an after-dinner chocolate. The verdict -- good, dark chocolate. Linda, a chemist by profession, studied the ingredients on the side of the box, and proclaimed it quality chocolate.
Janine merely broke off the pieces of the chocolate cup and ate it, although this picture indicates she may have sampled the Baileys in a cup before switching to straight chocolate.
Sheila tried the Drambuie in the cup and warned the rest of us to stay away from it. I'm not sure if it was the alcohol in general or the alcohol mixed with the chocolate that didn't go together.
I tried the limoncella in the chocolate cup, and again, not a good match. When I started thinking about it, I couldn't picture lemon and chocolate together. Not like chocolate and raspberry or strawberry.
Laura, who was celebrating her birthday, took the gold foil cup and folded it into a table shape. In addition to quality chocolate, the foil was quality too, she declared.

So, the opinion of the five of us about chocolate liqueur cups has been swayed. I let the boys each eat a chocolate cup, no liquor involved. They asked for seconds. I put away the remainder for when Grace comes home and makes chocolate mousse that we can dole into the tiny cups and serve at Thanksgiving.
Thanks Astor Chocolate for the taste treat.
Earl still hasn't tried one. He can't get over that traumatic first experience in a party in Largo, Florida 20 years ago.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Letter From a Son

"Dear loving mother," began the typed letter that lay on top of my keyboard when I returned home from work at 10:30 Tuesday night. The letter was from the son who went to bed the night before after spewing vitriole about his brother and me and his horrible life. The son who pulled the old door closed tight rather than leaving it open to hear the sounds of life throughout the house like he usually did.
Perhaps he wrote to apologize. Please, don't be naive. There's only one reason for a letter that begins like this: he wrote to ask for something.
"I am yearning for the newest experience in the world of first person shooter video games..." he wrote. I suppose a boy who yells and slams the door should be encouraged to play shooter video games.
He pointed out that his grades had improved and he had gone to swim practices and he had started mentoring -- all steps for the better this year. And I had to agree, if it hadn't been for the outburst the day before. The outburst really didn't have anything to do with me or his brother. It had to do with the new Xbox game coming out at midnight and he would not be in line to get it.
His "improved behavior" this fall, he admitted, was a ploy to receive the video game.
"This may be because of hopes to get the game as an early Christmas present, as so when I get the game, I will not be referred to as a 'noob' by all my friends and other online players," he wrote.
He then included the cost and a list of stores where we could easily find the game.
"I feel this would be a righteous investment on your part to see the smiling face of your ever so loving child as you hand him this glorious gift of Call of Duty Black Ops..."
Ah, yes. The lure of Xbox live which offers the ability to talk to your friends as if they are sitting in the same room with you when, in fact, they are in their own homes playing Black Ops. A boy never has to leave the basement to be surrounded by his buddies.
These were simpler days when Tucker was content to dress as a tiger while Spencer played at Johnny Tremaine and Grace posed as Hermione from Harry Potter.

I intend to get the game for Tucker, violence and all, as a Christmas present. I just don't see the need to rush out on release night to snatch it up. All of his friends have it, he claimed, today at lunch when I picked up him and four friends.
I drove them back to our house for lunch meat and cheese on sub buns, apple slices, Sun Chips, homemade brownies, M&Ms and Orange Crush. They each made their own sandwich and sat around the table.
"Owen, do you have it?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Sam?" He doesn't even have an Xbox. Two of the boys have the new game. Both said they bought it with money they had saved.
They tell of one boy at school who got the game when it was released at midnight and then played the game until 5 in the morning. He is grounded.
"I truly hope you rethink your decision twice over before you decide what you may," Tucker wrote in the letter to me. I suppose he thought my decision would be no, so if I rethought twice then a double negative would make a positive.
I showed the letter to Earl this morning.
"Send him a letter that says the committe will make a decision by Dec. 23," he said.
And he drove the boys back to school before 5th period started while I put away the sandwich fixings and the uneaten apple slices.
Tucker's friends go out for lunch everyday, he says. He takes his brown bag and goes along with them.
Eating out everyday and buying pre-Christmas presents just seems excessive. My kids already are so privileged. They've never been hungry because we don't have enough food. They have cell phones and fast internet connection. They have a television in the basement just for video games. They have plenty. Tucker can take one for the team this time.
Then Tucker goes home with his friend Josh to play Black Ops on the split screen. "This game is amazing," he says. Josh has two copies -- one for the upstair Xbox and one for the downstairs Xbox.
The bar for privileged keeps rising, but I don't have to keep jumping.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Steam from my Coffee

This morning I planned to blog about our girls night out where we all got a little tipsy because the bartender plied us with drinks, but as I reached in the cabinet for a cup, I spotted this one.
I pulled it out and filled it with coffee.
I bought this mug when I moved into my very first apartment alone. Originally, there were two with different colored flowers. I can't remember what happened to the other one. This mug has pink and gray irises with yellow centers. Instead of round, the cup is octagonal. As I drink my coffee or tea, I can trace each corner.
This cup evokes a feeling of beginning in me. I can't remember buying it and its mate, but I know I moved to Florida without much furniture after graduate school. Mom gave me some pots and pans along with dishes. I took the rattan table and chairs that might have been in our basement at home. I bought a lot of furniture at garage sales or flea markets. My co-worker sold me a couch -- nubbly and flecked with different colored threads.
Having my own place felt so grown up, even if I lived in one of those 1970s, sprawling apartment complexes.
I can't imagine that anything else in this house came from that long ago apartment. So, this morning, I took down the mug and drank from it. Maybe my hand will soak in that feeling that I had when I held the mug long ago, when all I had to worry about was meeting deadlines and where we would eat lunch. The apartment where I lived when I fell in love with my husband. I suppose I felt my life was full of angst then, dating and friends and all-consuming journalism. Maybe each stage we look back on seems not so stressful and a little bit sentimental.
Do you have a favorite cup? Piece of furniture? Something that connects you to another, long-past life?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Cat Tails

I remember reading somewhere, an advice column or something, about a person who asked why his cat was always sitting outside the bathroom after he finished his shower. The advice columnist said that it probably meant the guy's showers were too long and the cat was running late for work.

Our cat Tupi loves to hop in the shower. If he just sits under the shower curtain though, the little cat is sure to attack him, whether its the swishing tail, or (in his mind) the unknown cat behind the shower curtain.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Got Hope?

This little flower bloomed yesterday surrounded by dry leaves. It must not be aware of the climate. Hope springs eternal in humans and flora.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

My Shot at Fame

When I was in ninth grade, our little town of Lebanon, Ohio was chosen to film a movie. A big Hollywood movie. Harper Valley PTA.
Now, you may think that the honor was rather dubious. Unfortunately, that little town I lived in was perfect for a movie about small town backstabbing and politics.
The authentic downtown has an ice cream parlor, antique stores and The Golden Lamb, Ohio's oldest continually operating inn (a place I later worked as a hostess).
The main attraction though was Berry Middle School, an old school set atop a rolling lawn. I'd gone to school there fifth through eighth grades. My mother taught there. I remember she told me that during the filming the teachers were not allowed to adjust the shades in the windows so that the shots always looked the same.
The movie was based on the song and had a far-fetched plot about a slightly loose mother whose daughter will be punished by the school board if the mother doesn't conform. As the quote on the movie poster says, "The day my momma socked it to the Harper Valley PTA." The mother gets back at the school board by exposing their own questionable behavior.
So why am I telling you this?
Because I was an extra in the movie.
It's funny because I haven't rented the movie or searched for it on Hulu. I haven't watched it since it came out in the theater and I saw myself on screen for a split second licking a peppermint ice cream cone. If you want to look for me, I had on a maroon wool sweater, crew neck. I had out of control hair that I tried to straighten and then flip backward from my face.
So here's what happened, somehow, I got signed up to be an extra in the movie. Every kid in school must have wanted to be an extra, I don't know how I got on the list ahead of others. There were a bunch of us though.
We got to leave school for the day, taken on a bus downtown to the ice cream parlor. The ice cream parlor was a place we'd hung out since we were old enough to leave our parents behind. In addition to ice cream, they sold hamburgers and other food. Think of it like the burger joint in an Archies comic book.
We were all sat at tables in the ice cream parlor and given treats. I had a sugar cone, the pointy brown kind, with peppermint ice cream. I'm sure some of my friends were in the movie too and we sat together.
The scene in the ice cream parlor involved us all eating and talking when some main characters come running through. We shot the scene over and over. At one point, Craig Colston, a friend of my older brother, got to be pushed over by the main characters running through the ice cream parlor.
At another point, we were all herded outside to stand in line before they brought us back in for more shooting. I remember licking that ice cream cone quickly in the sun so I could get another one before the next shooting began.
What I learned about movie making that day: repetition is dull.
The pay I received: a day off school and two free ice cream cones.
Even today, that might be enough of a reward.
P.S. I found this youtube clip that shows clips from the movie set to the song. Note the very fashionable clothes that the students are wearing. Guess that was what I looked like. Sorry, you know my links never work on this blog so you'll probably have to copy and paste, but here it is anyway.

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'...