Monday, January 31, 2011

You Gotta Have Friends

Oh, what a wonderful world it would be if every morning could begin with coffee and friends.
This morning, at 7:15, well, I actually got there at 7:20, I met my friend Sheila for coffee at Caribou. Today is Sheila's birthday. Happy Birthday, Sheila. (See her blog Life's Many Colors on My Blog List to the right.)
We spent almost two hours talking, mostly, okay, all about kids and the hurdles they face, debating the best ways to help them succeed without interfering too much.
It feels like a cleansing shower to share my worries, to hear Sheila's opinions on what I should do or should have done.
And even though the talk focused on all those kids -- three each -- the worries were our own. So I could feel my concerns about Grace de-escalating.
Sheila, facing her first birthday without one of her kids around, checked her phone every time it lit up to see if Beth was calling or texting. She's in New York alone for a modeling trip. Both of our daughters are in far away New York and we aren't there to be the safety net if they need us. That's scary.
I'm a little nostalgic for the days when we had to talk about whether her son Daniel was too rough when he wrestled with Tucker or whether Tucker was manipulating Daniel to get him in trouble. Those were difficulties we could tackle with a little extra oversight.
Now we talk about careers and college majors, drinking and sex, smoking pot and sporting competitions. (Some things never change in my family and the sports have remained a constant.)
I left the coffee shop a little jittery from the caffeine of the espresso, but feeling much more optimistic about my day.
What are you doing tomorrow morning, Sheila, or any of my other local friends?
Coffee with friends is a great way to start the day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

No Time for Cleaning

I'd like to give a shout out to working moms; no, maybe not even moms, but working women. I don't know how you've done it all these years. Of course, as a stay-at-home mom for years, who still managed to work from home, I don't know how I did it all those years either.
Here I am at Friday of the week and I still have essays from two full classes to grade. I could look at the bright side -- that means I've finished grading four classes worth of homework.
Yesterday, I worked from 9 to 1 then again from 2:30 to 5. But, of course, I'm teaching four classes online this quarter, so when I actually get home, more work is waiting.
Then there are groceries to buy, dinner to fix, and kids to talk to. Meanwhile, the essays waiting to be graded pulse silently in the background, taunting me.
I haven't vacuumed for...well, awhile. I could be doing that right now instead of writing a blog post! I've offered the boys 10 dollars per room they clean, but they have to follow my carefully constructed list of cleaning steps. So far, they'd rather be broke than clean.
My husband Earl is a real trooper, doing the laundry to keep us all in sweet-smelling clothes.
In addition to the waiting essays and the gathering dustballs, TurboTax is downloaded ready for me to complete our yearly taxes by the end of the month so I can submit it to the financial aid gurus and hope Grace continues to get some help with college expenses.
Saturday is shot, filled with swim meets and basketball games.
I'll get around to grading all of those essays, and I will finish our taxes, but the dust balls are just going to have to rally, maybe start some sort of wagon train to head out west, cause I'm not sure when I'll get around to sweeping them in that direction.

Based on a photo

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Faraway Birthday

Happy Birthday, Grace.
Today is the first time since
well, forever, that I haven't been with you on your birthday.
I suppose that's what I get for having winter babies. I'm doomed to be separated from them on their birthdays when they go away to school or to their real lives.
Still, you know how I am. I don't think we should pack everything into one day, but spread it over the whole year and all of our time together.
Grace was named Grace by default. Before I ever thought about having babies, I had three girl names that I loved. Alexandra, Brigid and Francesca.
Alexandra was the only name Earl would consider, but he said he would call her Alex. I didn't want a girl with a boy's name. So we went with Grace Alexandra.
Grace was born in Florida and even though the weather was warm, we brought her home in a fuzzy sleeper, and then drove through Wendys on the hour-long trip home. We placed her in a cradle in our bedroom and tried to sleep ourselves, but we kept getting up to put a hand on her back to make sure she was breathing.
Her personality was set as a baby. She came out with big eyes that watch everything. She likes to figure things out before she jumps into them. And that is why she is such a smart adult.
Last year, we had a dance party to celebrate Grace's birthday. This year, her college friends get to decide how she spends her birthday. Oh, sure, we've sent along our gifts and wishes, but it's strange not to be able to kiss her good morning and wish her a happy birthday.
I'll text her around 8 and hope I'm not waking her up. I'll call her later between my classes and her classes. But for now, I guess I'll send her a hug that I gave her years ago and hope it will last.

Happy birthday, Grace. I love you.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Aaaah, Paris!

Linda Mathieu, who writes the blog Frenchless in France (which you can click on under My Blog List) recently wrote a book for those traveling to Paris. It's available at on eBook for $8.99. Here's what Linda had to say about the book:
Why did you write Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide? A few years after I moved to Paris with my husband I tried to find several jobs including trying to teach English but it wasn't for me. I had a friend who did walking tours around Paris and he showed me how he did a typical tour. I did a huge amount of reading and
walking and finally started my own company, Paris Photo Tours. I really enjoy photography and I thought it would be fun to do tours with people who liked taking photos. It eventually developed into tours of all sorts. So, to answer your question, after doing tours for ten years I decided to put together all of the knowledge I've gained. I'm hoping it will be a help to people coming to Paris for the first time.
What can Paris visitors find in your book that they wouldn't see in other tour books? Besides where to stay, some places to eat and what to expect once you have arrived in Paris, I have walking instructions for four of my favorite tours. I also include my favorite places for photos. I hope my love of Paris comes through.
What is the one place visitors don't know about but should definitely see? There are many places that the typical tourist misses mainly because Paris is so full of beauty and there is a list of places that most people want to see-the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arch de Triumph. One of my favorite churches that many people miss Saint-Étienne du Mont next to the Pantheon. It has an unbelievable rood screen inside along with the body of Sainte-Geneviève, the patron saint of Paris, in a Cinderalla-like coffin. Then head on down the hill to Rue Moufftard, an interesting shopping street.
Where can readers buy your book? Right now it is only available on Amazon as a digital book, such as Kindle. I plan to have to available for publish on demand soon.
Here's an excerpt from the book:
It is hard work being a tourist. You arrive in Paris after an all night flight on which children screamed, the person in the seat next to you woke you up to go to the toilet the few times you managed to drop off, and then, just as you finally fall into a deep sleep, the flight attendants serve what is laughingly called breakfast, usually a banana, a cold hard roll and some yogurt.
Finally you leave the plane; your hair is sticking up on the back of your head; you long to brush your teeth; and hundreds of people are in line before you waiting to go through customs. Making it past this stop, where they didn’t even stamp your passport, you arrive at luggage pickup and stand with fellow travelers for at least fifteen minutes as the luggage is slowly disgorged out of the little door to the moving track. Pushing your way through crowds of people from all over the world, each with huge carts of luggage, you make it to the taxi stand outside. The taxi driver does not understand what you are saying when you give the name of your hotel. After several attempts, along with writing down the address, he finally gets it and you are off. That is, if the traffic is flowing on the périphérique around Paris. If you have managed to stay alert, the Eiffel Tower will suddenly spring into sight and you realize that you are, indeed, in Paris.
Arriving at your hotel, you find, if it is the average Parisian hotel and not one of those grand hotels along the lines of the Ritz, that it has a small, crowded lobby, but the person behind the desk speaks English and, in English, you are informed that your room is not yet ready. She allows you to leave your luggage at the hotel and, having no choice, you stagger out onto the street, unbelievably tired, and walk around getting your first look at Paris.
There they are, those buildings looking so, well, French, just like in every movie filmed in Paris you have ever seen. You hear people speaking French all around you, and a few American tourists can be heard as well. Paris smells different and looks different with the cafes open to the air with tables and chairs spilling out onto the sidewalks, the flower shops with their fantastic displays outside the door, boulangeries selling desserts that look like jewels to the American eye and with long sticks of baquettes sticking up like trees behind the sales people manning the counter. After a while, you stop at a cafe and have your first revelation on how different Paris is when you taste the French coffee, full and robust, and eat a croissant that showers your shirt front with buttery flakes. Weeks, months, even years from now that first taste will come to your mind when you hear the word Paris or catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower on television.
You return to your hotel, and thankfully, your room is ready. Opening the door to the elevator, you give a surprised laugh when you see the size of it, as it is only able to hold two average sized people if they squish up closely together face to face—not side by side—or one person with a suitcase. Making it to the floor of your room, you find the hall in total darkness before you discover that there is some sort of lighting in the hall which has to be turned on with a button on the wall and which automatically turns itself off in a few minutes, hopefully not before you manage to get the key into the door.
You open the door of your room and, my, is it small! The double bed fills most of the space. There is a lamp on a bedside table that you will whack with your elbow each time you pass it. There may or may not be a chair or desk, and if it is one of those really charming rooms filled with ambience and that French look, there will be an armoire that will barely hold your clothing, no place to put the luggage, and tall men will become claustrophobic within a few minutes. The decor will either be charmingly French and reminiscent of the movie Gigi or like something lost in time looking like the room hasn’t been touched since 1955.
You open the window and find no screens (and interestingly, no flies will ever enter the room) and discover that you can lean out and look at the buildings across the street or the crowds of people below, and should your hotel be in the right place, you will see the Eiffel Tower or Arch de Triumph in the distance. If you are lucky, there is air conditioning, but either it will not work with the efficiency of what you are used to in the States, or it will be turned off at three in the morning, which you discover when you wake up sweating and hot. Often people will leave the window open at night to hopefully let in some fresh air. This is when they discover that the room faces a very busy street full of party animals doing a lot of drinking and full of merriment. Finally, around 3 AM, it quiets down, and just as you drop into a deep sleep, the trash man comes to pick up the garbage, the recycling truck comes to empty the containers holding thousands of glass bottles, and then the cleaning men come to hose down the street with noisy sprays of water.
The bathroom in your room will either be a good size, with a tub and lots of marble, having been recently renovated, or it will be the size of a small closet with a tiny shower that you will exit by stepping over the toilet. There will be no shower curtain and there will be one of those hand held shower heads that the French are so fond of. The floor of the bathroom will always get wet.
In spite of it all, you won’t care. You are in Paris, with a discovery to charm you on every street corner. You will stand on a bridge crossing the Seine, that river you have heard of all of your life, and look at Ile de la Cite, the island where the Notre Dame stands, and you won’t believe your luck to be in the most beautiful city in the world.

Just reading the excerpt, I felt that frisson, remembering the smells, the sounds of Paris. I can't wait to go again, but, long before my next trip, I'll read the book for the memories and to find out which places I've missed.
Now I just need to get an eReader.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Dominoes Begin to Fall

I got a message yesterday, one that every mother dreads.
Yet, there the text was, flashing on my cell phone.
"I love my Irish lit class!!"
The hopes and dreams that my child might leave behind words and writing and low-paying English jobs, those hopes all fell away, like a balloon meeting a sharp pin.
I already knew she loved theater and reading, but she went away to college to study science.

"Remember how much you love doing those little genetic calculations," I'd remind her.
"Think about your internship at the zoo," I'd say. "Maybe you can work in the Camargue" (a wild part of France with bulls, horses and flamingoes).
So she went to college to study science, but this semester she is taking French, Irish lit, history and First-Year seminar. She got closed out of the science classes she wanted to take.
And the hand of fate, or the scheduling wizard, has thrown her to the breast of the literature gods we were trying to avoid. We, her parents, two journalists, hoping to send out children who love words but aren't reliant on them to make their fortune.
We knew it was a long shot, but Grace seemed the most likely to break free. Although she loves words, she is very practical.
Just this weekend, Spencer admitted that he isn't crazy about his Biology 2 class at high school. He had thought he'd study marine biology when he went to college. Both the boys love history, like their father.
I suppose there is no escaping the genetic love for words and stories that they received from both of us, but a parent can always dream.
Photo from:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Boots Made For Walking -- in the snow

It's Ohio, which means we don't have a ton of snow. We don't live on the tundra. The snowfall has increased the past few years though and seems to stay longer. I have some hiking boots I've worn in the snow, but they aren't appropriate for teaching.
Last year I bought some high-heeled ankle boots which work nice for teaching, but I can feel the wetness seeping in when I wear them in the snow.
Last Thursday, as a snowstorm sprinkled on central Ohio, Grace and I traipsed into Macys. I found a pair of snow boots that are warm and a step above hiking boots so I can get away with wearing them to teach.

They lace up the back, which makes it difficult to slip them on and off, but they are incredibly warm.
After I had paid, I put them on in the store.
"Come on," I told Grace. "We need to leave. I'm burning up with these new boots on."
I wore them on my driving odyssey to New York and I did take them off for awhile, but putting them on at the rest stop added too much time to my trip, so I just left them on after that.
They have a design of metal studs, some round, some square along the top, but I don't know if anyone will ever see those because my pants cover them and I don't wear skinny jeans to tuck into boots.
Have you had to opt for new snow gear this year?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

23-Hour Drive

Grace's classes start on Monday, so we needed to get her back to school. The boys both had sporting events on Friday. I decided to drive Grace on Saturday and Sunday. Ten and a half hours each way. The dorms opened again on Saturday. As she texted friends and checked Facebook, she feared she would be the only one back on Saturday.
"Will you stay with me if no one else is back?" she asked.
"Sure," I said, already dreading a night in a dorm room.
We left about 7:30 on a bitterly cold morning. The temperature at home read zero; as we cruised north of Columbus, it dropped to -7 but the sun rose blindingly over the snow-covered fields.
Usually, Grace and I talk a lot in the car. She slept instead this time. She'd been home, mostly forming an indentation on the couch for five weeks. She got home on Dec. 17 and she came down with a cold on Dec. 18. She hardly left the couch.
Two trips to the doctor finally revealed that she had whooping cough, which probably explains why she wasn't able to shake the "cold" and why getting up to exercise or taking a walk around the block didn't help kick the cold.
So we had five weeks to talk. We went shopping on Thursday, avoiding the house while the water was turned off and sewer work completed.
Even though we didn't talk, I could reach over and touch her. We held hands for a lot of the way.
We arrived at the school at 5:30, and after a brief panic where Grace couldn't find her student id which gets her into the dorm, we carried about six loads of things into the dorm room. And there was her roommate Colleen limping around because she sprained an ankle. How? She likes to jump off her front porch into the snow. Her dad had dug up the yard and deposited rocks in the yard, which he hadn't told her before she jumped. Thus, the sprained ankle.
Everyone screamed to be reunited. Hugs. Late Christmas gifts. Nick has dreadlocks. Big Mike lifted girls off the ground in backbreaking bear hugs. All the exciting news. Kim had whooping cough too.
I helped Grace unpack some then sat and watched. I'd planned to take a nap in her dorm before heading back southwest to Columbus. I thought I'd drive and get a hotel some place in New York.
I started driving at 7:30 p.m., twelve hours after we had left that morning. The snow splattered the windshield and the nights seem especially black on the two-lane road in upstate New York. The snow and dark made it hard to see, and I felt really nervous when I passed an Amish carriage with a lantern swinging on the back. The lantern gave off faint light through the falling snow.
The snow made the trip slower. I travelled at 40 miles per hour on much of the highway. I stopped for coffee. Then more coffee as the hours ticked off. At one point, somewhere between Syracuse and Buffalo, I pulled into a thruway rest area and laid the seat down. I covered myself with a quilt and tried to sleep. Nope. I might as well get some coffee and keep going.
Whenever I got tired, I'd stop for coffee, the cold air kicking my eyes wide awake before I scrambled back to the car to drive some more.
I'd hoped to wait to fill up with gas again once I got to Ohio. Gas in New York hovered around $3.35 while in Ohio we were paying $3.08. With the snow pelting the roads and the snow plows lumbering along, I kept filling up whenever I stopped, in case I got caught in a snow traffic jam.
Earl texted me again around 2 a.m.
Still driving I told him, when I called.
At 4:50 a.m., I stopped at a rest stop in Ohio, about 70 miles north of Columbus and rested for 20 minutes. Then I drove the rest of the way home. I arrived at 6:30 a.m., 23 hours after I left. The car is coated with dirty snow and salt. The inside of the car is littered with blankets and sleeping bags and bottles of water.
I put on my plaid, flannel pjs and climbed into bed just as the sun began to rise, reflecting again off the bright snow.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Tart Read

I picked up the book because of the title The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. Of course, lemon cake is tart and that could be a bit sad, but no, that is not what the book was about. The cover told me that 9-year-old Rose can taste the sadness in the cake when her mother bakes it.
The book sounded similar to Like Water For Chocolate, which is one of my favorite books, so I brought it home, uncertain if I would hate it because it tried to imitate Like Water for Chocolate or love it for its similarities.
The similarities did not continue.
Like a present from a fairy godmother gone awry, the little girl can taste the emotions of everyone involved in the food-making process. She isn't attuned only to her mother, but to the farmer who drove the lemons to market, and the cows that gave the milk. She tries to confide in adults but you can imagine how that goes over. She takes to eating mechanically prepared foods -- twinkies and honeybuns.
The story really though is more about the emotions she discovers in her family. She can taste the guilt when her mother begins an affair. She watches as her brother begins to disappear -- literally.
Near the end of the book while talking with her father, she discovers that her grandfather could smell emotions. Where was the father all this time that the little girl claimed she could taste emotions?
In spite of, or because of, the mystical qualities of the book, it's a good read filled with the emotions of coping in a family.
Photo from Amazon, where you can look inside the book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Loss of a Good Man

I received the most poignant email forwarded from my mom this morning. It came from some friends in New Zealand.
I am very sorry to tell you that Rex was knocked off his bike and has died.
Of course we are all devastated and find it hard to believe.
We are coping,somehow.
I'll be in contact again later.
Just wanted you to know.

Joy and Rex are in their 70s like my parents.
I met them a couple of times when they travelled here to the United States and my parents went to New Zealand to visit them once. If I had to describe Rex, I would say alive is the best word. He was always moving, always had a plan. He played every sport every invented, and if he hadn't yet, he would try it. He was very "fit," I think is the word the New Zealanders would use to describe him.
It seems appropriate that he didn't grow old sitting in a chair and losing his memory, yet no one was ready for him to go so unexpectedly.
My parents' friendship with Rex and Joy came about through me.
I met their son Mike when he was bicyling through the United States. He was staying with a couple in Middletown, Ohio and I was a reporter there. When the editor told me to interview this guy from New Zealand, I didn't know anything about the country.
"Do they speak English?" I asked.
I immediately fell under Mike's spell -- tall, blonde and athletic with the dulcet New Zealand accent. He tried to explain to me the difference between the Australian and the New Zealand accent, moving his tone up into his nose to talk like an Australian. We talked for hours: he was an accountant, he wanted to own race horses, he'd worked in Australia and they always wanted to fight. I returned to the newsroom to write my story and when I went home that night, I told my younger brother Kevin that I had met the man I was going to marry.

I misspelled his last name in the news article.
Still, when I called and asked if he wanted to go out to eat, he did. We shared some meals and time. He planned to continue biking and I asked if he wanted to go to my grandmother's house in Kentucky.
He did. We went boating with my cousin Mike, and Mike from New Zealand worried that we might run into alligators as we swam in the lake. I laughed at him because, obviously to me, no alligators live in Kentucky, and he kissed me that day for the first time.
I took Mike to a truck stop/bus station so he could hitch a ride or continue his bicycle journey. A few weeks later, he called and returned to Ohio on a plane. I met him at the airport. When he flew out again, we looked at the travel posters on the wall and talked about how we would love to visit Greece. I thought, "Who knows." But I was starting grad school that fall and he was off to New Zealand.
We stayed in touch for a long time, writing letters that probably sound overblown now.
A few months before Earl and I got married, I sent him a letter to let him know. Our letters must have crossed in the mail, because I received one from him about his new wife, Leigh. Leigh and Mike visited once with their girls and Leigh was here again a few years ago to stay with us.
Today, I sorted through photo albums to find a picture of Mike. I called Grace down to the basement to look at some old college pictures.
When I finally found the picture of Mike that the newspaper used, I pulled it from the sticky page.
"Who's this?" Grace asked.
"It's Mike. From New Zealand," I said.
"And you didn't follw him?" she asked.
She turned as Earl came down the stairs. "Can you believe she didn't follow him?"
"I don't think he's the one you want to ask that," I told Grace. "Besides, you wouldn't be here if I did."
Plus, life isn't like a romantic comedy movie, well, maybe the comedy part.
Funny, because I was never sure how much I meant to Mike, until his wife visited a few years ago and told me he thought very highly of me and felt strongly. Maybe if I'd known then...
But the reason I wrote about this lovely family today was to mourn a great man and to send sympathy to his family, who will always be looking out the window to see if he's returning from his latest run, his latest bike ride, his latest cricket match. The road will seem so empty without him there.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Blueberry Syrup and Coffee Kind of Day

Saturday was one of those Mom days. I got up early to make blueberry syrup -- tripled the recipe and poured it into the Crock Pot so it would stay warm for the basketball players' breakfast. We went to the school cafeteria at 9 to set up the waffle makers. We had six waffle makers and my friend Jane mixed up the batter with Bisquick. I know, I've never used a waffle mix. I just use flour, milk, eggs. She wanted to buy the mix so I acquiesced.
About 9:40, we started plugging in waffle makers to do test waffles before the boys got there at 10. I plugged three waffle makers into one outlet, three in another. Then I noticed the light on the power strip had gone out. We tried some other outlets but saw that the breaker had knocked them out too. We moved to another corner of the room, moving tables again. This time, we blew the circuit and the pop machines there gave a gurgle before they stopped working, the lights flickering out.
A shelf held two microwaves. We lugged those away and plugged the waffle makers into the dedicated circuit, after blowing one more outlet.
Finally, we were able to operate three waffle makers and fed the 25 boys who were very polite and claimed we had the best breakfast spread yet.
After cleaning up, I returned home long enough to eat a waffle before driving an hour away to a swim meet. The swim meet lasted six hours.
I drove the hour back, dropped Grace off at home, picked Tucker up from the bus, dropped him at home and went to a basketball game to watch Spencer.
See, a totally Mom day. Nothing was about me.
While I was at the swim meet for six hours, I started reading a new book -- one of those I keep in the car for just such occasions. The book is called The Various Flavors of Coffee by Anthony Capella.
The title was appropriate because Grace had purchased white mochas for both of us on the way to the swim meet. The mochas tasted sweet and thick with a hint of bitter espresso.
I started the book, wedged into a corner of the pool area, my eyes burning from the chlorine and my straight hair beginning to frizz in the humidity.
"Oh, I don't like this kind of narration," I commented to Grace as I read the first page. It begins with an Dickens-esque narration as "we" watch the character traipsing down the street.
The narration changed to first person in the next chapter and I began to find things that made me chuckle, so I read them to Grace.
Then I came to a section that made me fold down the page so I could find it again.
The main character, a foppish man who lives in London after flunking out of Oxford in the late 1800s, considers himself a poet. He meets a coffee merchant who wants the poet to help determine the language for describing coffee so he can standardize it.
In the coffee merchant's office, they have a discussion because the merchant has been unable to find any of the poet's work in the bookstores. The coffee trader explains:
"...A merchant is someone who trades. Ergo, if I do not trade, I am not a merchant."
"But a writer, by the same token, must therefore be someone who writes," I pointed out. "It is not strictly necessary to be read as well. Only desirable."

"What?" I squawked.
I read it to Grace and we cracked up.
That means I'm a writer. I don't have to be read to be a writer, but it is "only desirable."
So, the next time I question whether I'm a writer, remind me, all it takes to be a writer is writing.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I worked yesterday with another teacher who is also a writer. Jeff is more of a literary writer than I am. He's in his mid-30s, no kids, wife finishing her post graduate degree. He grew up in New York City and went to graduate school in England. He wears a tweed blazer and sometimes speaks with a slightly pretentious accent. We have some interesting conversations.
He finished his first novel after a year and a half of writing, and has been shopping it around, including to some agent friends. So far he has had no takers.
"Do you have some sort of daily affirmation to keep going?" he asked.
I recognized the look on his face. I had it once myself when sitting at a table at a writing conference with an older woman who told me she had written six novels. She hadn't sold any of them. I wondered why she kept writing, how she kept writing when she obviously wasn't going to sell a book. I felt like she was desperate. I felt superior.
Now, that woman is me. I've written three novels and haven't sold them. Am I that hopeful, oblivious woman now?
I don't have a daily affirmation that makes me send letters to agents trying to sell my novels.
I have had some positive feedback from professionals, including an agent who said "We're sure you'll sell this work."
Jeff's comments got me thinking about the positive support I get from my family.

Just the other morning, my mom called and said she was sending a check for some expensive sewer work at our house. I protested that Earl and I were grown ups and we would take care of it.
"You can pay us back when you sell your first novel," she said.
That comment didn't even register until I was talking to Jeff.
My mom didn't say "if you sell your novel." She said "when you sell." She has no doubt that I will succeed.
I wonder how many affirmations I receive from my family that slide past me. I'm going to try to be more aware of the support I receive and try to make them proud with my work, and eventually the sale of a book.
I can't wait to hold that book in my hand and give a copy to the people who believed in me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Worry Bubbles

Do you ever lie in bed when you should be sleeping and worry instead?
I was doing that yesterday morning. It was early, a time when I should still be sleeping when my eyes popped open. If I could manage to avoid letting thoughts take root, I could probably fall back to sleep. But my current worry was there waiting for me and, like a firework, it soared to the front of my brain ready to explode and drip slowly from the sky. As soon as I started to toss and turn, the younger cat moved from his place at my feet to nudge me with his head, to pounce on my hand if it moved beneath the blanket. I pushed him away and tried to return to sleep.

After a little while longer, I turned on my side and determined that I couldn't fix my current worry.
In my half sleepy state, I decided to let it go. A giant bluish white bubble floated away from me and the pestering cat. That was my worry floating away. I fell back to sleep.
Throughout the day though, I felt it coming back, and I reminded myself that I had let it go. Things would work out. That's hard though, for a control freak like me. I want to manipulate things until they fall into neat rows.
I pushed it away all day, but it was still there. I hadn't let it go, even as I tried to picture that bluish white bubble floating away each time.
A phone call from my mom early this morning as I stood in the coffee shop swept the worry away. I knew I shouldn't have held onto it.
How do you let go of worries when you don't have control?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Growing Up

My intention was to write more stories about my adventures in France, but the weekend got away from me and today I have three doctor's appointments that I have to ferry people to, along with teaching.

I was at the doctor with Spencer this morning and he lopes along in front of me with a hoodie that proudly proclaims Basketball, but I doubt that anyone who sees him would think he isn't a basketball player.
His black Nike high tops are untied and his navy sweat pants sit low on his hips. He's tall and gangly. When he sits down in the doctor's office, his knees jut out taking up the space of the two adjacent chairs. I tap his big shoe with my foot, telling him to pull in those long legs.
Other parents are at the pediatrician with their little children. The kids play with the little beads that travel along metal tracks up and down and around in circles. They hum songs to themselves. Spencer texts his classmates and checks his Smurf village on his iPod.
Not that long ago, that was me at the doctor with my little kids, afraid they would pick up more illnesses from playing with the toys in the doctor's office.
Watching a little boy turn into a man is astounding. It feels so different from watching Grace grow into a woman. Maybe because it's so foreign to me.
That little boy who nursed at my breast, that little boy so curious about everything that he needed to touch it and smell it, that little boy is now a lumbering man, still not sure where his body ends and the world begins.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


My Uncle Don died this week and my mother, having just returned home to Florida, returned north for his funeral. She didn't get to see him on the last trip because he was in intensive care after a botched surgery.
My mom is the youngest of nine children. Her oldest sister Lula died when Grace was young, and her sister, Lorena, the eighth child, died about four years ago. Now her brother Don, who is the seventh child has died.
Unlike the rest of his brothers and sisters, Uncle Don did not leave his home state of Kentucky, so he always sounded more southern than the others. His voice was a high tenor. He also went bald early. I don't remember him not being bald, while the rest of his brothers still have thick heads of hair as they journey through their 80s.
When I think of Uncle Don, I remember visiting there as a child and the time he had the three-legged dog named Rainbow.
My mom and Uncle Don fought when they were children. They grew up on a farm in the hills of southern Kentucky and Uncle Don was the brother who tortured her, mostly because the others were grown and moved away. Uncle Don knew my mom was afraid of pigs, so he would hide and make pig noises to scare her. He knew it would always get a rise out of her.
The other story I remember is about Uncle Don's military service. He was in the Navy during the Korean War. I sat down with all of my uncles a few years ago and videotaped their reminisces about their military experience. Uncle Don pulled out a card the size of a drivers license. It was a mini certificate for crossing over the Prime Meridian while in the Navy. My Uncle Clarence, who fought during World War II, hurried over to his car and came back with a full-sized, wall certificate that he got for crossing the Prime Meridian. His certificate dwarfed Uncle Don's. They laughed at the way the certificates had shrunk as crossing the Prime Meridian became less of a feat.
The question I asked Uncle Don about his military service was whether the rumor was true.
"Did someone else take your swimming test for you?" I asked.
That was the story I had heard. To be in the Navy, Uncle Don was required to take a swimming test, but he wasn't able to swim, so he had someone else swim for him.
Now, just a few years later, I can't recall what his answer was. I'll have to search for the videotape to see what he said. But that's how I'll remember him, a man willing to get on an aircraft carrier and cross the Pacific Ocean while unable to swim a lick.
Uncle Don always wore a hat, not a baseball cap, but more of a tractor or trucking cap with a bill. He always spoke to me at the crowded family reunions and asked how my family was. He raised two sons who now have wives from the Phillipines, one of whom helped care for him while he was ill.
Today as she mourns his passing, my mom doesn't think about the ways he teased her as a child, but the relationship they built as adults.
"Bereavement in their death to feel
Whom We have never seen --
A Vital Kinsmanship import
Our Soul and theirs -- between" -- Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Go Bucks

This is a melancholy day because it is the end of college football season for the Ohio State team, but it's a happy day because they won their game last night against Arkansas.
I love college football, but it is messed up!
The colleges make millions of dollars off their football programs. The players, if they are lucky, will go on to play in the National Football League and could make millions. At the very least, they are supposed to get a "free" education for playing football. I think the school gets much more out of the players than the players get out of the school.
Watching Grace attempt a college sport, practicing 22 hours a week, I saw how difficult it must be for hard core athletes who are gone for games and miss classes, along with more hours of practice. How can they possibly keep up with classes? They don't very well. That's why football players are notorious for majoring in things like athletic training.
Earl claims it's a symbiotic relationship, but the power is very lopsided.
Some of the OSU players got in trouble with the National Collegiate Athletic Association for selling some of their football trophies. They aren't allowed to earn any money off their "celebrity." I'm sure these boys are coddled and treated like kings because of their athletic prowess. They also are allowed to let slide through the system rather than pushed to work hard and earn a degree. The boys who sold their trophies -- a charm and a ring for winning, made $1500 to $2500 and also got some free tattoos.
They have apologized and promised to come back to school next year to finish their college rather than going to the professional football league, where they could make big money.
Last night though, they played like men. The guys who were in trouble all made great plays to help lead the Buckeyes to victory over Arkansas. I hate to listen to the sports announcers who say that Ohio State can't keep up with the southern teams, but I love watching those same announcers eat their words.
I don't know how to fix the college system. I love being able to support Ohio State along with hundreds of thousands of other fans and alumni in Ohio and around the world.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Material Girl

Today, I meant to write the story of an Argentine sailor and an Ohio girl who met at the Louvre in Paris. But, I didn't feel that I could tell you that story unless I could find a picture of myself from that trip to France so you could imagine the whole scene.
I found some pictures but they led me in a totally different direction. They reminded me why I fell in love with France. This first picture should sum it up for you.

This was the view from the balcony of the house where I stayed in Corsica. But before I got to Corsica, I was a 22-year-old working at The Middletown Journal, covering exciting things like school boards and city council. I was dating a photographer named Greg and his sister was married to a Frenchman.
Duh, duh, duh, duh.
That's the set up. They lived near Yale or Harvard or someplace, and they had two little girls, Brigid and Claire. The mother was pregnant with her third child when she started to have difficulties with her pregnancy. The family already had tickets to travel to France in early July. What could they do? They asked me to go along with the girls and the father to Paris. Then the father would return home and I would stay in France with the girls at their grandparents' home until their baby brother was born.
I didn't hesitate. I told my boss I was going whether I had a job when I returned home or not. He talked to me about health insurance and I vaguely hummed "La Vie en Rose" as his words whizzed past. Who cared about jobs and health insurance? I was going to France with an open-ended ticket.
The grandparents had an apartment at the Viroflay RER stop, headed from Paris out toward Versailles. But they weren't there when we arrived. They had gone to their vacation home in Corsica.
Before I get too carried away telling the story of a young Ohioan in Paris with two French-American toddlers, I'd better return to the point of this story. My clothes. This was the mid-1980s and I dressed in skirts, dresses, ankle socks and low heeled shoes.
Look. Here's an example.

See those cute little socks that may be red or pink. Hard to tell but they match my top and the plaid in my skirt.
Okay, the girls are cute too. That's Brigid, 4, on the left and Claire, 3, all the way to the right. On my lap was Isabelle and next to me Agnes. They are the children of the French/Polish couple we visited in April. Now back to the 22-year-old me.
I couldn't find a photo of myself in my favorite dress. It was flowered pinks, blues and purples, and had a wide, round, white collar. That's what I was wearing the day I met the Argentine sailor in the Louvre. I also wore a pair of pink ankle socks that had lace around them. The sailor said, in his smidgen of English, that I couldn't possibly be American because I wasn't wearing tennis shoes and chewing gum.
But, I'm getting pulled into the Argentine sailor story, when I meant to talk about why I loved France and how I dressed like Madonna.
Here's another photo on the balcony where we ate dinner every night in Corsica. I look a little fuzzy in this picture, but you can see my white fishnet ankle socks. You can't see my shoes, which are the same color blue as my top.

If they'd had the phrase then, I would have thought I was "all that."
My suitcase was so full of outfits that I probably didn't even get around to wearing them all in the three months that I was there.
Who was that girl, I wonder. That very confident, very flamboyant girl who would only wear shoes that matched the outfit. Now, I shuffle through the snow in my Crocs.
When I first arrived in France, although I had minored in French in college, I couldn't understand very much of what was said. The French family spoke freely in front of me -- about me.
I remember one night at dinner, one of the guests said that it was obvious I loved French food.
They thought I was chunky.
"Oh, no. She came that way," the family assured the guest, letting the guest know that I hadn't been fattened on French food but American food.
I don't remember being insulted, just shrugging it off.
I felt satisfied with myself. Maybe that's why the country spoke to me so much, because I liked who I was at that very moment.
When I visit France now, I think I'm much more aware of trying to do "the proper thing." On that trip though, I was the authentic me -- a Material Girl.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Anything's Possible

Listening to a radio program tonight as I fixed dinner, the author of the book The Genius in All of Us inspired me. David Shenk talked about things like: there isn't a math gene that makes some people good at it; child prodigies are excellent at their talent compared to other children, but not usually compared to other adults. And all of these skills are things that people learn through practice.
They try; they hit a wall because they don't have the skill; they learn the skill; they go back and succeed.
Truly, isn't that, plus a drive to succeed, all that any of us need.
The ideas this author talked about encouraged me as a mother, teacher and a writer.
I've seen that drive and skill seesaw in Spencer. He loves basketball. The more he plays, the better he gets. He needed a different body type so he spent the summer lifting weights to give him more bulk under the basket. Of course, he's lucky that he's tall. No amount of working out could have added the height to him. Spencer doesn't believe that he can play basketball in college, but if he continues to work at it, who knows? This book says talent is developed, not innate. The example the author used was Michael Jordan, who was not supposed to be as good at basketball as his older brother. What was his name again?
As a teacher, sometimes I feel that students are so disadvantaged they can never catch up. Just last quarter though, I had a student, Paul, in his 40s. He'd been in the military and he was taking my English 101 class. His first paper was bad. He couldn't write in complete sentences. I handed back essays and I gave a speech to him and other struggling students. "The resources are available to help you pass this class if it's what you want." and "It's always easier to move forward now and to pass rather than to take the class again." Paul spent the quarter getting one on one help for each of his essays. By the time we wrote the in-class final, he was writing in complete sentences and his essays were unified. He decided to focus on English and he learned the skills that he never had when he was a teenager in school.
As a writer, well, people have always told me I was a good writer, and that might have been my downfall. Because I already believed that I was good at it, I haven't worked on it the way I should. Now I find myself looking at sections of my novel and I envision slashing through them, rewriting them. I picture the scenes and wonder how I can help the reader see the same thing in my head. I have submitted my manuscripts and had them rejected. That means my choices are to stop writing or to learn more skill sets that will help me succeed.
This book puts to bed the argument of nature versus nurture. Everyone can do anything if they are willing to put in the time and have the opportunity to learn the skills.
Photo from

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Budget Tricks & Trip Ups

I'm not a big one for New Year's Resolutions. I make resolutions constantly. New College Semester Resolutions. New Exercise Routine Resolutions. New socks resolution. It doesn't really take much. And, I rarely stick to them.
This year, on New Year's Eve, I visited the library and got some books on budgeting. I hoped one of them would hold the secret that I am searching for. It's not the secret of how to plan a budget. That, I get. It's how to stick to the budget.
I've asked this question probably three times in the past week and my husband answers me the same way, as if I haven't heard or comprehended what he is explaining to me.
"You look at what you spent the past year and you include those expenses into your budget."
Yeah, I can plan a budget like nobody's business. Give me the state budget and let me slash it. Give me the federal budget. I'll balance it on paper in half a day. It's the actual implementation that trips me up.
Lest you think I'm in this alone, I should point out that although I plan the budget and pay the bills each month, my husband balances the checkbook. Again, on paper, we should both know about all the money coming in and going out.
We keep our expenses on Quicken, so when I click on "Plan Budget" then name it Budget 2011: Wham. The suggested budget plan appears. It suggests things like $200 per month on eating out and $154 a month on travel. Well, obviously, we can cut those down.
It also includes clever things like "Business Expense $48" and "Business Expenses $54." Apparently, I have two categories that I need to add together.
Going through and weeding out expenses like "Gifts" versus "Gifts Given" is no problem. As a matter of fact, once whittling down the categories and some of the miscellaneous expenses, I end up with more money than I had planned to save.
That's on paper though.
Here's the tricky part. I pay car insurance every six months. So my budget suggests I save $89 per month for car insurance. How do I save that though? Do I have a separate savings account for each bi-yearly bill? At the end of each month I should be saving for life and car insurance, along with the water bill and recreation expenses, like swim team and basketball shoes. Quicken averaged out my monthly utilities, but right now I'm in the expensive season for gas and electrics. You can see how it all starts to get muddled together.
I did figure out a few things about budgeting though.
Budgeting is easier right after a gift-giving event, like Christmas or a birthday, because I am restocked on all of my expensive creams and lotions. My budget should definitely stick until I need to buy more.
A budget should also be easier to stick to if I underestimate my income, so every month or twice a month when those pay checks come in, I have a little bonus (to spend on those Aveda creams and lotions when they run out).

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Words, Words

One thing I promised I would work on this year is the craft of writing. At the library yesterday, I picked up a few books on editing. One of them is The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. I heard Lukeman speak several years ago at a Columbus writers' conference. I credit him with the success I've had sending query letters and receiving requests from agents. So I figured his tips could help me improve my novel as well.
Lukeman's book focuses on how to make the first five pages the best they can be so that agents will want to read more. Of course, if I need to make changes to the first five pages then I probably need to improve the other 295 pages.
That falls on me and seems an impossibly difficult task. Could it really be more difficult than writing the entire novel in the first place?
I decided to do a little work at a time. If I imagined refining every word today, on the first day of the year, I would probably give up.
Lukeman's book starts with explaining how to format a manuscript. I think I have mastered that so I moved on to the next section. That focuses on cutting down or choosing more precise adjectives and adverbs. Sometimes, more accurate nouns and verbs make the adjectives and adverbs unnecessary. The exercise at the end of the first chapter required me to take the first page of my novel and remove all of the adjectives and adverbs.
I had 26 adjectives and adverbs on the 407-word section that I edited. After working on if for awhile, the words seemed to swirl around my brain. I saved both versions and decided to put it away. I think I can make changes that will improve my writing.
My original sentence read: “Uncle Martin. What a surprise. How’s life in France?” I asked in a quiet voice meant to encourage him to lower his volume.
When I revised, I changed it, I removed the adjective "quiet" and tried replacing "asked in a quiet voice" with "murmured." Then I looked at it. I'm not sure that murmur describes the same thing as speaking in a quiet voice. If someone murmurs, is it too much like mumbling? So, even as I make changes, I'm questioning those revisions.
I'll give myself credit for my attempts and put the whole thing to bed -- for now.

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'...