Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Cat Christmas

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

The cats had a satisfying Christmas. Thanks for asking.

Hope everyone has a terrific New Year's celebration.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Gift Snafu

Consumer Reports magazine has a section at the back called "Selling It" that pokes fun at the warnings or advertising used for products. I should definitely send in this one.
About a month before Christmas, I bought a travel mug as a gift and wrapped it up, looking forward to the day it was unwrapped and admired.

The handsome brown mug has a no-skid bottom and an aluminum insert so the hot beverage doesn't taste like plastic.
Then we opened the mug and saw the instructions.

I'm not sure how helpful this mug will be for drinking coffee or tea when it can't be filled with hot liquids.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Holiday Trains

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Our downtown library, voted the best in the country, puts up a holiday train display. Kids just stand and stare, unable to move on from the display.

Here are some close-up details.

And from the top as we climbed the stairs, we saw a waterfall on display too.

Hope you all have a marvelous Christmas, if you celebrate, and a peaceful New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Our Darkest Hour

Well, it's our darkest hour, not in the sense of doom and gloom, just in the sense of how much light we have.
Today is officially the winter solstice -- the day we have the fewest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere. Good thing all those Christmas lights are turned on.
Some people dread the coming months of winter as the holiday season ends and the long, shrill month of January begins. Then February, the shortest month of all, seems to last forever as gray days drag on.
Both those things are true about January and February, but what is also true is that each morning, the sun peeks above the horizon a little earlier, and each evening it lingers in the western sky a few minutes longer -- starting now!
This is the shortest day of the year.
Okay, it's a small hope to hold onto, but if it helps me survive the winter while rejoicing in each extra moment of daylight then so be it.
Enjoy your winter solstice and the coming extra minutes of daylight.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hope and Charity

I have to say I've been a little discouraged lately about giving. You may recall that one side of the family decided to give gifts to a needy family rather than exchanging gifts with each other.
For some reason, even though this wasn't my idea, I became the point person to find a family and organize the gift buying for them. The family, with three kids, does not have heat in their apartment. So after the toys were purchased, I suggested we all donate the rest of the money we would spend on each other toward their gas bill to get heat.
Let me just say that none of us spent as much on the family as we would have on each other, but the person who spent the most is probably the one who earns the least. I was feeling discouraged about the goodness of wealthy people. Maybe people who have more, give less.
Then, just this week, I asked the basketball team families if they would be interested in helping a local family who has fallen on hard times. The family with four kids have been living on mac n cheese for 3 months and have only one inexpensive gift for the entire family on Christmas morning. It's a puppy, so the parents hope to maintain some Christmas surprise and excitement. I felt so bad though, and also felt like many of us could slide into this kind of trouble if one spouse lost a job.
So I sent an email to the basketball families and told them that a local family needed their help, without actually naming the family. Many of the basketball families immediately responded that they would donate gift cards for Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers.
Then on Saturday while I was at a swim meet, Grace called me to say a man she didn't know stopped by and dropped off a 100 dollar bill for the family in need. I couldn't believe it. I thought people would donate $25 gift cards to the local grocery stores, not 100 dollar bills. I stared at the 100 dollar bill and imagined how thrilled my friend will be to buy some gifts for her kids.
Then on Sunday, I drove to my brother's house to visit my parents. When I got home, I found a little stocking with a gift card in it. The gift card to Walmart was for $300. $300!!! Someone donated a $300 gift card to the family.
So these basketball families have given me hope that even people with money are generous and want to help those who are in need.

The Other Life -- A Review

I featured The Other Life by Ellen Meister last Tuesday for First Paragraph and Tuesday Teaser. I finished it this morning before the boys got up for school, and I loved it.
When I first read the premise, the main character has a parallel life that is living with the opposite decisions that she made, I thought, "Oh, I love these kinds of books, like Sliding Doors." I did like that movie, but when I think about alternative lives, I have to consider a movie like It's A Wonderful Life and the book A Christmas Carol by Dickens, both of which I don't like. So my opinion on The Other Life was up in the air. I could love it or hate it.
Quinn lives in a New York City suburb with her husband, son and a baby on the way. She knows her parallel life includes the man she broke up with for her current husband. When she finds out that the baby she is carrying has major birth defects, she is tempted to visit that other life, where the decisions are simpler. Also tempting her is the fact that her mother is still alive in that other life.
This is a book that encourages people to think about the past decisions that led them to this spot in their lives and evaluate if they would do the same things again. It deals with marriage, needy men, mother/daughter relationships, motherhood and friendships.
I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Nature

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

As the hectic holiday season is upon us, we all need something to steady us, help us remember the improtant things in life. So I've borrowed a picture from my husband's winter camping trip.

Doesn't this look peaceful?
What are you strategies for staying sane in the holiday season?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Philisophical Thought

There was a time when I probably enjoyed debating deep philosophical questions. But that time has passed. I'm much more shallow now.
Deep questions make my head hurt, like graphing calculators do.
So you can imagine how concerned I am that Spencer and his friends have embraced the writings of Albert Camus and existentialism. It seems incongruous to me that guys who love to mix it up on the basketball floor and compare the size of their biceps spend hours sitting in a friend's garage discussing existentialism.
I think I can blame the existentialist movement throughout our small town garages on the Senior English teacher who assigned "The Stranger" by Camus. Spencer declared it a good book.
So I racked my brain to remember some of the ideas of existentialism, which was espoused in Europe in the 40s and 50s by people like Jean Paul Sartre. The current existentialist ideas, I think, relate to today's hipsters. Spencer would probably argue this point, but it would make my head hurt and I wouldn't contine after a few minutes.
Spencer described existentialism as the realization that life is absurd. "The themes popularly associated with existentialism—dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on" according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
I fear that part of embracing this philosophy comes from the fact that one of the boy's older brother's commited suicide this fall. The boys are probably trying to find some answers and excuses for why this happened.
Online, I find a debate about whether hipsters are existentialists, but from my point of view, hipsters are people who are determined to declare everything in life boring and out-of-date.

Spencer is no stranger to philosophy. It was one of the subjects he chose to study when we were homeschooling. And, although he doesn't see it as a good college major, he wouldn't mind minoring in philosophy.
I can picture a day when my son is speaking in terms I don't understand at all. This might be worse than basketball jargon as he talks about picks and triple/doubles.
And I'll probably break down and get him a book by Sartre for Christmas. I just hope he doesn't want to discuss it with me.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blow-Up Fun

Okay, enough sadness on my blog.
It's time to celebrate American ridiculousness.
There's a pretty European-style house down the street from me. I don't like the owner because he puts up ridiculous signs warning dogs not to poop in his yard, which I think is tacky.
He's taking tacky an extra step this year.
Here's how his yard looks during the daytime. Deflated:

Then in the evening, when Grace and I walked past on our way to Caribou, we got a picture of the house with the inflatables in full regalia.

The overkill makes me laugh. I'm not overly fond of blow-up yard art anyway, but seeing it deflated during the day makes it look like everything has melted into a big puddle.
Grace decided she liked one of the penguins. This little one with earmuffs, that didn't deflate during the day but stood vigil over her collapsed friends.

How are your neighbors decorating for Christmas?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rest in Peace

This morning was Rini's funeral. They held it in the Greek Orthodox church because Columbus doesn't have an Eastern Orthodox church. Rini's family was from Romania a few generations ago.

The Greek Orthodox church is gorgeous, but the funeral was rather dry. If you don't want people to cry at your funeral, it would be the best funeral ever. The priest chants and sings, sometimes in another language, for a good half hour while everyone stands.
The incense is a nice addition though. I wondered if the incense has some special numbing power as the scent drifted throughout the church. Then the priest gave the brief eulogy. He called her Irene, which, to me, means he didn't know her at all, since everyone called her Rini.
So I was dry eyed. At the end, they asked everyone to walk to the casket to pay last respects. I'm not fond of this tradition. I'd rather remember Rini as she was in life, even complaining in a hospital bed.
Then, when her two sons and mother walked up to the casket, I couldn't help it. I realized they would never see their mom again and I just felt so sad.
As I drove home from the funeral, I thought for a minute that I couldn't wait to tell Rini who was at the funeral and who was missing. She would probably laugh when she found out the secretary from two years ago showed up, but the chair of the department didn't. This was some juicy gossip Rini was sure to enjoy. Then I realized I wouldn't be able to tell her.
Her departure leaves a hole in my life too.
Thanks for your friendship, Rini. Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Paragraph, Teaser Tuesday -- The Other Life

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
Just this morning I picked up this book and decided to read it now that my teaching break has begun.
The Other Life by Ellen Meister has a teaser line on the cover "What if you could return to the road not taken?"
Here's the beginning of Chapter 1:
Quinn Braverman had two secrets she kept from her husband. One was the real reason she chose him over Eugene, her neurotic, self-loathing, semi-famous ex-boyfriend, was to prove her mother wrong. She could have a relationship with a normal, stable man.
The other was that Quinn knew another life existed in which she had made the other choice. The two lives ran in parallel lines, like highways on opposite sides of a mountain. There, on the other side, the Quinn who had stayed with Eugene was speeding through her high-drama, emotionally exhausting, childless urban life. Here, the Quinn who had married Lewis lived in the suburbs of Long Island, drove a Volvo, and was pregnant with her second child.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Also this week is Teaser Tuesdays.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Here's my teaser from page 172:
Quinn took her husband's hand from her shoulders and wrapped them around her. I promise to never do it again, she thought, and tried to imagine her guilt as vapor that dissipated into the atmosphere.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Haply I May Remember

I hate when people get to the end of a vacation and they have to run around to visit everything the last day. The vacation isn't about the last day. It's about the entire experience and all the other days before.
And that's how I have to think about life too.
My friend Rini died on Saturday.
She was 61 and had a son the same age as Grace. We worked together at the same college and lived in the same small town.
She was diabetic and her health has always been fragile. Then she had a stroke Labor Day weekend but was recovering. No one expected her to die.
I went to see her on Wednesday. I didn't think it would be the last time.
Other women in the community are really torn up that they didn't make it to see Rini again, one last time. And that made me think about the last day of vacation.
It isn't about getting that last visit in at the hospital. It's about all the girls' nights out and meeting for coffee and having lunch or simply going for a walk -- together. All of those moments are the ones that add up to make a friendship, and in the end, only one of you will remember the last time that you saw each other.
Rini was my friend because she was caustic and witty. She offered me insights into the small town I moved into. She'd been teaching longer than I had, and we shared complaints as well as the accomplishments of our students.
Another teacher told me that I had been "lovely" to Rini. But our friendship wasn't about me doing things for her. It was mutual.
I enjoyed her company.
She might have needed me a little more lately, as she went through a divorce this summer, and when she needed someone to walk the dog last summer. But I got as good as I gave.
Thanks, Rini, for your friendship. I hope you're at peace now. You will be missed, but all those moments before, will be remembered.
Here's a poem by Christina Rosetti that I think talks about remembering the life, instead of the death.

When I am dead, my dearest

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- The Prodigal

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

After three months in France, Grace returned home last night.

And she brought chocolates

Grace is terrified of flying, so as she walked to board the plane, she had tears running down her face. The flight attendant was alarmed and asked what had happened. She told him she was scared.
He took her in to meet the pilot. She got to sit in the co-pilot's chair. He bumped her up to business class. Another flight attendant gave her a phone to use so she could call me before the plan left. They took turns coming back to sit with her during the flight. Apparently a few tears go a long way.
But now she's home.
Post Script: In response to questions and comments about the airline, I should have added that she flew American Airlines. We usually fly AirFrance, but this time American had the better deal and Grace was lucky to be amongst that crew and passengers who all supported her.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Domino Effect

You know how one thing leads to another.
Nothing is ever simple. I'm learning that lesson all over again tonight.
Grace will be home tomorrow. (Yay!)
That means, I have to clean out her bedroom, a room that her younger brother claimed before her flight left Columbus.
In order to clean out her room, I have to move Tucker. He doesn't want to share a room with Spencer so he'll get the basement rec room futon. He has a dresser there, but no place to hang his hoodies and the button-up shirts he has started wearing.
So before I can move him, I have to figure out where to hang up his clothes.
Then it hit me. I have a coat tree in my room that holds purses, scarves, belts and my robe. I can clean that off and move it downstairs for Tucker's things.
I looked in my closet to figure out where to hang the robe and the scarves. Then I needed to clean the warm weather clothes out of my closet in order to make room for the things hanging on the coat tree, in order to move Tucker's things to the rec room, in order to begin cleaning Grace's room for her 40-day stay at home before she moves off to college and I'll reverse that order.
I have no hopes that her room will be as clean as it was here in June 2009 when I spent three days straightening it, but I know it will be a bit more organized than Grace left it when she went to France and Tucker is leaving it as he moves to the basement bedroom. I'm going to start in there by picking up the dirty socks and the wadded up tissues. Who knows if there's still a nice wood floor under all those discarded bath towels.

The Key to Happiness

The most exciting email ever arrived last night. It said:
"You've won: Spontaneous Happiness."
Really? I won that? So whenever I want, I can tap into spontaneous happiness? It's mine. I won it.
Turns out, I won a book from Vicki's blog. The book is called Spontaneous Happiness and it's by Andrew Weil. So that's still exciting, although not as exciting as winning happiness.
According to Amazon, the book explains that happiness comes from within, so I guess I'll never be able to win it. But the book does lay out a plan for "attaining and sustaining optimum emotional health."
I'll let you know if this book hands me the key to Spontaneous Happiness.
Then again, I may be too happy to write my blog any more.
Here are some things that make me happy:
Traveling with my husband

My family

Coffee with friends

Running with friends

And cats stuck on screen doors

What makes you happy?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Free Time

Like a wisp of a breeze on a still day, I feel it.
Like the far away whistle of a train in the night, I hear it.
Like that spot on the horizon that draws closer, I see it.
Freedom is nearly mine.
I give finals today and tomorrow. Then I have to grade the finals for five classes and turn in my grades.

For three weeks, I will not have to go to work. Not until Jan. 3.
I can almost feel my body collapsing in a heap just at the thought.
Now, I know that compared to many people, I don't work that hard. Some people are doing manual labor or standing up all day. They wouldn't complain about sitting in front of a computer answering students' emails or grading a stack of papers while munching on popcorn.
And I am truly grateful for my jobs, which help pay for one kid's college and next year two kids' college tuitions.
The thing is, teaching at two colleges means that their breaks don't coincide. So when one college is on spring break, the other is still having classes. And this summer when the one college took a two week break before summer quarter, the other college took the week after. I eeked out five days and darted down to Florida and back.
So since last Christmas, I haven't had time when I wasn't teaching.
Until now.
If I'm smart, I'll go ahead and prepare for winter courses next week. Then I could have two whole weeks not to think about teaching or work.
And what will I do with that time?
Well, a lot of basketball and swim events, plus Christmas shopping and baking and cleaning. Plus, I plan to read a lot and take many walks to Caribou Coffee.
Sometimes, maybe I will allow myself to collapse in a heap, learning a lesson from the cats.
How about you? Will you have any time to relax during the holidays?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Christmas Miracle

For awhile now, I've been wishing that we hadn't made Grace's reservations home so late in the month. She was feeling uncomfortable staying with the French teenagers who made her feel like an imposition.
I called the Airlines and they said the change fee was $250-$275 plus whatever the flight difference was.
I called AAA and talked to a travel agent who said she couldn't do anything to help.
Tonight though, Grace and I were both wishing we could be together, and the French teenagers emailed her to ask if she could find another place to stay next week because they have tests coming up. (You can imagine that Grace is a really noisy person who would keep them from studying.) So she messaged me in a slight panic.
I'll fix it, I messaged her.
I would have to bite the bullet and pay the high change fee.
So I called the Airlines again. I got a man with a super deep voice and told him I wanted to find out what it would cost to change my daughter's ticket. He immediately seemed sympathetic.
I asked him for a flight any time between now and Dec. 19 and the cost to change it. He searched for a minute and talked to me about his son in a private college in North Carolina.
"How about Wednesday? Your cost would be $1," he said.
"One dollar plus the $250 change fee?" I asked.
"No, ma'am. One dollar."
Wednesday doesn't work because Grace will be on a train back to Paris, but the helpful deep voiced man found the next available date and said, "That one's going to cost you $26."
"I'll take it!" I said.
And so, Grace will be home by the end of the week.
Now, I just have to figure out how to tell Tucker that he doesn't get a room of his own anymore.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Pez Dispensers

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I usually try to find something artsy or beautiful to include for my Saturday Snapshot, but this week, this display cracked me up. The picture isn't even very good, but I never thought I'd see the day when The Lord of the Rings characters, those brave and honorable men were Pez dispensers.

Which then, of course, reminded me of the Seinfeld "Pez Dispenser" episode. Which I can't embed in my blog, too tech inept, but you can see it at the link above.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Virtue Post

Some people use their blogs, like their Christmas newsletters, to talk about how fantastic they are. I take kind of an opposite tact on my blog, pointing out every flaw and downfall I or my children have. When Earl does something embarrassing, he looks at me and says, "You're going to put that on your blog aren't you?" I like to think of the blog as self deprecating.
Last week when I wrote about my selfishness, that same husband of mine said I was too hard on myself. So I promised to write about a virtue. And here it is: The Virtue Post.
I teach college, so I have a lot of opportunities to influence young minds. I teach at an inner city college, so most of the students have life experiences that I could never dream of. One thing I do is try to convince the students that with education comes responsibility. I give them extra credit if they vote in elections.
This year, using an idea I got from another blogger, Peppermint PhD, who also teaches college, I offered my students extra credit if they brought in two non-perishable items to donate.
This is what I ended up with.

I drove to Mid-Ohio Food Bank today and donated the mostly canned food.

The guy said we turned in 42 pounds of food. I'm not sure if that's a good number or not, but it gives me something to try to beat next time.
The Mid-Ohio Food Bank has a huge warehouse. It's sad to imagine how many needy families need extra food, especially during the holidays when kids can't get meals at school.
I hope you'll consider donating too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

NaNoWriMo Attempt

Well, today is the last day of November and I have to say that for a big chunk of November, I fell off the writing train.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's an organized effort to get people to write 50,000 words of a novel. I've done it two times before successfully, and a few other times half-heartedly.
I started out strong, writing the required number of words each day to finish. Then I started getting distracted by work and basketball and swim team.
And somewhere in the middle of the month I slid into a funk. I decided I wasn't a writer any more and just gave up. Maybe it was the holiday blues. Maybe I was missing my daughter Grace who is in France instead of home.
So at 5:53 a.m., I have 24,243 words of my next novel. But yesterday at this time, I only had 18,108 words.
Who knows what can happen in a day?
To be fair to me though, I do have to work then I have a staff meeting and next I have to be at Tucker's swim meet. In between though, I'll write my boney fingers off.
Check in at the bar along the right side to see how far I get today.
And when I'm finished, even if I don't reach 50,000, I'll have a good chunk of a new novel started, because I'm a writer. There's no escaping it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Packages on Porches

So after whining about not getting enough presents last week, there it was on my front porch -- a long white package, placed there by the mailman.
I carried it inside and tore open the end without even looking at the addressee or the return address. I just knew it was for me.
And this is what I found.

What could this be, you ask? Look at the gorgeous presentation, the sage colored outer wrapping and the party-atmosphere raffia cords tying it closed.
Then I looked at the card.

Yes! My Provence Rug had arrived, and pretty quick too.
My blogging friend Delana in Aix en Provence and another blogger in North Carolina at An Eye for Detail started a business together -- Provence Rugs. In addition to rugs, they also sell trays and bowls and soap dishes in Provencal materials. (And they're offering 10 percent off through Wednesday.)
Anyway, enough promoting Delana's glorious business, back to me and my mystery package.
So I unrolled it and there I saw the beautiful "Rosehip Red" rug with the little golden cigales along the border.
I placed the rug in front of my door where it immediately received cat approval.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Grand Tour

When I was in France for three months, more than 25 years ago, I probably talked to my parents three times by phone. We sent regular letters, but my folks had no idea what my daily life was like.
Grace's trip to France has been very different. We text, we email, we Skype. I know her schedule, which is why, on days like today, I'm anxiously hovering around my computer waiting to hear from her.
She went to Rome last Tuesday by night train -- alone, which I think is very brave. She met a friend there and she was supposed to take the night train back to Paris on Saturday. But an Italian train strike caused her to spend an extra night in Rome. She had her ticket for Sunday evening and she should be back in Paris now, which is nearly noon Monday Paris time.
I turn on my computer and check Skype. She isn't online and hasn't left me a message. I look at my email. Nothing from Grace.
Next I look at Facebook to see if there are any updates. No.
Now I'm working myself up.
The last I heard from her was Sunday morning as she sat in a restaurant/bar with WiFi, alone, in Rome. She had dropped her phone into the Mediterranean Sea, so it wasn't working. She planned to venture out to find some tshirts as souvenirs for the boys. She had the rest of the day before she caught her train.
We went to my brother's house near Dayton yesterday and we tried to connect with Grace by Skype there. No luck.
Did she get on the train?
Did the train make it to Paris?
I'm trying to think of other cyber clues I could look for to discover Grace's whereabouts.
I sign onto our bank account and now I can relax a bit.
I see that extra money has been added to her account. She must have stopped at the train station and returned the extra ticket she had to buy because of the train strike.
Now, I can feel more comfortable that Grace has made it back to Paris. I can go on with the other things I need to do, like making lunches for the boys.
I'm not sure which is preferable while having a teenager abroad -- being able to stay in touch and worrying about the little things, or being totally oblivious to the details of her life so assuming the best.
Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing -- especially for a worrying mother.
Update: Grace contacted me by Skype and she is back in Paris. None the worse for wear, except for falling out of the top bunk on the night train. Don't they have rails?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Traditions -- Not So Much

This year was an odd Thanksgiving, so I tried to come up with some new traditions to add for my family. The one thing I hoped to do, bake cookies in the shape of a turkey, did not happen. Why, you may ask? Well, the turkey cookie cutter which I saw on Corey's blog, and which I felt sure I had in my stash of cookie cutters, was not there.
On that Wednesday, after my darling husband had already mixed up the cookie dough and placed it in the refrigerator, I called my mom. "Didn't we have a turkey-shaped cookie cutter?" I asked her.
She thought that we had.
"Did you keep that one?" I asked. She had handed over all the old cookie cutters to me. I didn't figure she'd kept out the turkey for sentimental reasons. So she laughed and said she'd look for it, but since she lives in Florida and I live in Ohio, I had no chance of getting it in time for Thanksgiving even if she found it.
I sent my darling husband in search of a turkey cookie cutter on the day before Thanksgiving. One of the worst days to go to a store, especially a grocery store. He looked at World Market, Kohls and Kroger. No luck.
I pulled out the big bag of cookie cutters. I could do leaves -- those are fine for autumn, and even though this leaf is obviously a holly leaf, it would pass. I could make some orange icing and call it a fall theme.

Then I looked at the cookie cutter that I have called a dove for years. I couldn't decide why it would be with the Christmas cookie cutters if it wasn't a dove, but it looks a bit more like a chicken. Could I somehow make it look like a turkey? I imagined trying to add some bigger tail feathers and some kind of wattle under its chin. That would never work.
So I went to work cutting out leaves, dove/chickens, hearts, some stars (which are universal, right?) and some Christmas trees, because those are the ones I like eating the most.
Once the cookies were all baked, about 45 of them, I mixed up the powdered sugar icing. I was ready to add the food coloring.
"What color?" I asked Earl.
"Red," he suggested.
So I pulled out all of my food coloring boxes and discovered that he must say "red" every year because each box was devoid of red. So I settled for green. Bright green.
I slathered on the icing and asked Earl to decorate with red hots and sprinkles. He must have been channeling Tucker as a small boy, because he loaded up those cookies.

So the finished products were colored perfections.They stayed on the waxed paper drying, until the first handful of boys walked through the kitchen on their way to the "man cave" in the basement.
What I discovered, as waves of boys moved through the kitchen, is that they don't really care what shape the cookies are in. They ate them all, except a few that didn't get iced.
Now I have a year to find a turkey cookie cutter. Unless you think I could somehow pass this dove/chicken off as a turkey. What do you think?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Snapshot-- Stained Glass Reflection

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

Grace took this photo while touring a church in Montmartre in Paris. I could assume that this is Sacre Coeur, but I can't ask her right now because she is partying in Rome this weekend. I think she took this shot during her visit with Linda who writes the blog Frenchless in France.
I love the way the colors reflect on the columns.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Selfish Again

Okay, but who doesn't like presents?
Who doesn't like to unwrap a gift and see what is inside?
"For me? You shouldn't have. But thank you."
Ever since I was a kid, I've loved getting presents. I never outgrew it.
I enjoy giving gifts as well, but I've never gotten to the point that I would prefer people buy a cow in Katmandu in my honor instead of giving me a gift.
Can't we do both?
So now that you know another of my character flaws, let me temper it by explaining that for a lot of my married life, as I decided to stay home with my kids, money was tight. We lavished Christmas gifts on the kids, while Earl and I stuck to stocking stuffers for each other. Through that time, my younger brother and family were the only ones who would buy me an actual Christmas gift. My parents resorted to giving checks awhile ago. That much-appreciated money would go into the household fund to pay the gas bill or water bill. It never went to buy something special for me.
A few years ago, as my husband's nieces grew up and took husbands, we decided we'd draw names and each person would get one decent gift to open. We even had a "no gift card" rule so that each person had an actual present to open.
That meant at Christmas I'd get a gift from my brother and one from Earl's family.
Yay! I love presents.
Thanksgiving morning as I mixed up the turkey quiche, I was busy thinking of gift ideas to put beside my name when we drew names.
Then, at our Thanksgiving brunch, my sister-in-law proposed instead of drawing names this year, we find an unfortunate family and buy for them.
"That's a great idea," I said.
Well, really. Who wouldn't say that? Who can argue that they really want a gift instead?
I know that I have everything I need, so I can't be selfish and refuse to give gifts to a needy family.
I did impose one condition that if we are going to buy gifts for a needy family, we have to all go together to buy the items, so we can bond as a family.
And just when I thought the odds of unwrapping a gift had faded, Earl's niece Julie, mother of Caroline, announced on a Skype call to Grace that she's expecting again. A baby in June.
Okay. That will serve as my gift for this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Okay, it's time for me to stop kvetching about the fact that I'm never with my extended family on holidays. Instead, I need to start building traditions with my kids so that when they are grown up with families, they'll come home for holidays.
When I think of Thanksgiving as a kid, I remember my mom in the kitchen while I watched the Thanksgiving parade on television. Sometimes we went to my grandmother's house in Kentucky and we'd play with the cousins. Nana always had stackcake, which was my favorite (or maybe I'm confusing that with Christmas).
Right, so back to Thanksgiving traditions. My parents are in Florida, one brother is in Texas and another brother spends every Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day at his in-laws. That leaves my husband's family. This year, they are doing a run and then going to their in-laws for a 4 p.m. meal We wedged out a tiny block of time for a Thanksgiving brunch.
Then Earl will go to work in the evening. Grace is still in France, so it will be me and two teenage boys at home.
I came up with one possible tradition to add from reading Corey's blog. Corey has an amazingly close-knit family that makes me so jealous. She lives in France, but she is home in California for Thanksgiving. She talked about her mother baking cookies and showed a cookie cutter of a turkey.
Eureka! I have a turkey cookie cutter from my Mom.
So my husband mixed up the dough for the cut out cookies this morning while I was at work. Tomorrow, I can roll and cut out the cookies shaped like turkeys.
The boys and I will probably go to a movie on Thanksgiving, but if Grace was home, she would not go for that. She's very traditional. She would insist on family games probably.
So, any suggestions for Thanksgiving traditions?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Being Unkind

Being mean to someone is more work than you would think.
It's not something I normally do, so maybe I'm just out of practice.
Here's the story, this summer, Spencer and some of his friends got in trouble. His friend Danny didn't have any consequences for the actions and the mother told me she had encouraged Danny to be a better influence on Spencer, which made me crazy, because he was doing the same things that Spencer was, but he lied to his mom about it.
So this summer, when the mom came up to me and put her arm around me, I said that I couldn't talk to her then. I was still mad that she fell for Danny's BS.
What I discovered through the summer and fall, was that it is kind of nice to not be talking to this mother. She has ADD and talks incessantly. She gossips about all the kids in the high school and she doesn't understand limits. I'm constantly having to say, "You're in my space" when she moves in too close, or "We were in the middle of a conversation" when she walks up and starts talking. So that can get kind of tiring.
The mother of another boy and I had planned to ride to a basketball game together Friday night. I got a message from Danny's mom saying "Can I ride with you to the game?"
We were leaving in about 20 minutes and I had looked forward to spending time with the other mother. I simply ignored the text.
Well, about half an hour into the game, Danny's mom arrived and sat by us.
The other mother isn't as good about setting limits. She had even complained that Danny's mom had ridden with her to most of the soccer games and she tried to leave town early to avoid her, but she couldn't bring herself to say no.
At one point, the other mother and I were talking about her brother who is going to New York for Thanksgiving when Danny's mom jumped in: "Now who was this? What was happening?" Aaargh. See how annoying that is?
So I left without having made eye contact or talking to Danny's mom.
I don't think I can keep it up through the whole basketball season though.
So what should I do? Simply accept the fact that she's going to glom onto us throughout the season and put up with it.
Lay out some boundaries, like "you can ride with us to every other away game but not every time."
Point out that she is very annoying the way she talks constantly and interrupts people?
My running friends said I was being too harsh, but she really doesn't get boundaries unless they are clearly stated.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Harvest Moon in the Morning Sky

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.

I took this photo on an early morning walk to meet my friend Sheila. What I love about the picture, is that it could have been taken in the middle ages with the spire of the church, the tree limbs and the bright moon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some Secrets to a Long, Happy Marriage

I don't want to pretend to have all the answers. Earl and I have definitely had our challenges in 21 years of marriage, but this week we did two things that, I think, have helped us maintain a relationship where we still enjoy each other.
The other night, on one of Earl's rare nights off, once the boys were safely home, I suggested that Earl and I walk the mile up to Caribou Coffee. Of course, it was dark already, but the temperature hovered in the 50s and a misty rain fell occasionally. We both carried umbrellas and I had my reusable cup so I could get 50 cents off and so I could be ecologically conscious. We held hands as we walked the quiet streets until we got to the brightly lit Caribou. I found a seat and Earl fetched my coffee, which was supposed to be decaf, but considering how wired I was afterward, I'm thinking it might have been regular.
As we sat in the cozy Caribou Coffee, we talked about Earl's plans, which constitute the second step to a happy marriage. He was leaving for a backpacking trip in West Virginia. He would only be gone two days, but sometimes a marriage is stronger with a little distance.
He takes offense at this idea, but sometimes I do need time to myself. So I told him I had arranged to have the day off on Thursday. That way, I could rejuvenate alone.
It's not that Earl bugs me when I'm home. Sometimes he's a little oversolicitous.
"Can I get you anything?"
"What are you working on?"
"Do you want some tea?"
"Want to go for a walk later?"
And these are all perfectly kind questions for my husband to ask me while we're home together and the boys are at school.
Sometimes though, I like to have the place to myself.
This morning, Earl left around 7 and the boys screeched out of the house a little before 8 hoping to make it to school on time.
I had a 45 minute conversation with my friend Ruth in Michigan (who, with 4 kids at home, is very jealous I'm home alone). Then Grace called me on Skype and we talked for a few minutes.
Next, I did 45 minutes of yoga. Usually with yoga, I'm itching to finish, ticking off all the things that I need to do yet. But today, I was calm and the time passed quickly.
Now I'm in front of the computer, ready to do some writing, and I'll probably reward myself with a walk down to Caribou later.
I'm a free woman until the boys get done with school. Then I'll have to do some driving and make some dinner -- maybe chili since the temperature is still in the 30s.
This time alone is rejuvenating for me, And hopefully Earl's hike in the West Virginia mountains will be refreshing for him. Then I'll see him in two days and we'll be ready to move onto 21 more years.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First Paragraph, Teaser Tuesday -- Two Towns in Provence

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.

Continuing my obsession with France in general and Provence in particular, this week I'm beginning the book Two Towns in Provence by M.F.K. Fisher.
So here is the town, founded more than two thousand years ago by the brash Roman invaders, on much older ruins which still stick up their stones and artifacts. I was as brash a newcomer to it, and yet when I first felt the rhythm of its streets and smelled its ancient smells, and listened at night to the music of its many fountains, I said, "Of course," for I was once more in my own place, an invader of what was already mine.

And this first paragraph feels so right for me. Have you ever felt that way about a place?

Also this week is Teaser Tuesdays.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Here's a teaser from within Two Towns in Provence.
Far above the stone ribs of the hushed room a small eye of open sky in the cupola looks down upon the empty basin that the first Christians found so conveniently ready for their baptismal rights, after decades of Roman ladies had bathed hopefully there to give themselves children. Perhaps, it is said, St. Maximin himself, one of Christ's disciples, stood beside that pool.

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