Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Future Is Now

It happened this morning: that moment that I've been dreading and hoping for since I watched The Jetsons as a kid.
I sat in front of my computer grading essays and listening to NPR, a blanket wrapped around me because I couldn't warm up after my seven-mile morning run. I had showered and scrunched some gel into my hair. I'd bypassed the makeup and moisturizer, and my hair curled in spikes around my head when a screen popped up on the computer.
"Video Call" from Skype.
"Oh, crap," I thought.
I looked awful and I was about to have a screen conversation with my friend Sheila in Milan.
Now, I have no problem meeting Sheila to walk or have coffee before I shower, but sitting and staring at each other's face in a phone call is different.
I could have pushed the answer button and skipped the video, but I knew Sheila would give me a hard time about that. So I pushed the video button too, and there was Sheila in a Milan hotel room.
"Wow. You're curly," she said, being polite about my appearance.
The real problem with video calling is that, in addition to seeing the caller's face, I see my own the whole time too. Frankly, I looked haggard. I don't want to look at my face for a 15-minute phone call.

I enjoyed the chat with Sheila, and her daughter Bethany the international model, even added a few comments as we were talking about the Duomo, transportation, and the expensive gelato.
As soon as we hung up, I straightened my bangs and added a little makeup, just in case I get another Video Call and must look nice for the conversation.
I wonder if Bethany will have to be extra worried about how she looks before she answers a video call? Probably not, since she is captured on video and the internet in makeup and clothes like these:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birthday Celebrations

I learned long ago that, unless you're a kid, birthdays are what you make of them. That's why I carefully orchestrate my own birthday for maximum celebration. Even with careful planning, sometimes teenagers throw in a few twists that take the air from your helium balloon.
I started celebrating the night before after a basketball game when friends came over for wine.
We got to our house about 10 and I pulled the stopper from a bottle of Riesling. "To birthdays and friends, to the end of basketball season" (the boys lost their tournament game).
Spencer stumbled in from the long bus ride home, kissed me goodnight and went to bed. We continued to drink, eat pretzels and cheese puffs until after midnight, although I had expected them to leave after one glass of wine. At 11:58, they glanced at the clock, watching the minutes tick by until it struck midnight and Tisha was the first to wish me a happy birthday. Carrie and Ross followed with birthday wishes before everyone filed out the door on their wobbly way home. Thank goodness we live in a walking community.
The next morning, Earl uncharacteristically got up early, showered and went to run errands.
He returned after the boys had left for school with flowers and pastries. He visited Pistacia Vera in German Village -- Yummm -- and carefully laid out the chocolate croissant and cheese Danish with fresh raspberries. We split both in half to share. I forgot to take a photo of the pastries before we ate them and I suggested that perhaps he should replicate the patries simply for the picture. He didn't.
He gave me a very sweet birthday card that talked about all the places in the world and how he wanted to be with me. I shook the envelope upside down but no plane tickets fell out.
That's okay, though, because I didn't have time to travel the world anyway. I was meeting Sheila at Caribou Coffee. Caribou gives a free coffee for birthdays. Doesn't Sheila look gorgeous with her hennaed hair? She doesn't look like a worried woman whose 17-year-old daughter is gallivanting around Milan alone. Well, Bethany was alone until 8 this morning when Sheila sent an email that she was flying to Milan at 1 p.m. today. What? The tickets in my envelope must have gone to Sheila.
So pastries, flowers, coffee, friends -- more than enough to celebrate a birthday. Then Earl pulled out the chocolate bombe for my birthday cake. I texted the boys at school and asked them if they wanted to come home for lunch so we could all celebrate together. Earl works at 3:30 so we couldn't be together then.
Spencer said sure. Tucker said, "No thanks, but happy birthday."
Then I sent him a picture of the cake and Spencer had to turn around to pick him up. The cake had a chocolate shell and gooey chocolate mousse inside. It was so rich that I couldn't finish my piece.
Here's a picture of me with my bald boys. So strange to see them hairless, but hopefully it will grow quickly. Spencer hurried back to school and I took Tucker to the eye doctor. Why would I schedule an eye doctor appointment for him on my birthday? It was his second attempt to ease contacts into his eyes. He claims there's something wrong with his eyes that they won't open far enough. He finally mastered it after about an hour. He blinked at me and said, "Happy Birthday!" as if his accomplishment was in my honor. I think he looks like a Marine bald and without his glasses.

That afternoon, I paid for my good mothering. A good mom always wants her children to be able to confide in her. And one of my children did. That's when the helium hissed out of the balloon and the rest of my birthday thank yous sounded hollow, as my brother called and friends emailed.
Some things, mothers would rather not have to deal with.
Everyone's safe and healthy and the news just forced me to shift my mothering paradigm.
No, I'm not going to tell you. As a matter of fact, when you ask, I may be humming softly to myself, like Scarlet O'Hara: "I'll think about it tomorrow."
And that was my happy birthday.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My toes are cold. It's 27 degrees outside and the ground is covered with snow and ice. I stood in it for an hour and the moisture crept through my winter boots, slowly up my brown corduroy pants.
I was far from alone though, surrounded by firefighters, police officers, teachers, machinists, construction workers, corrections officers, pipefitters.
Bagpipes and drums from police and fire stations led the rally in front of the Ohio Statehouse. The firefighters wore their helmets; some police officers had on dress uniforms. I have to admit to a tiny frisson of "this is a moment" when I saw that first firefighter in his helmet. These are the people from our neighborhoods fighting for their rights.
A scary Batman looking SWAT truck stood at the ready across the street.
In Ohio, like in Wisconsin, the governor has proposed cuts to public workers' salaries and benefits. Public workers know about the state budget deficit and they have agreed to the cuts. They won't agree to give up their Collective Bargaining rights.
Collective bargaining means all of the workers band together in a union and negotiate for pay and benefits. This is what led to little things like the 40-hour work week, minimum wage, weekends, safer working conditions so people don't lose limbs.
Doesn't it seem like it would cost more time and money to bargain with each employee individually than to do it all as one union? But our new governor, John Kasich, has determined that collective bargaining must go. Maybe he doesn't plan to bargain with anyone, just lay down edicts.
The protestors carried signs. Oh, the signs. Some were over the top, like the one that called Kasich a fascist. And, of course, Hitler and concentration camps were also mentioned. Although the Hitler one was based in fact. "Hitler abolished unions in 1933." Apparently, according to my husband the history buff, that's true, but Hitler abolished a lot of things in 1933.
Kasich worked for Lehman Brothers on Wall Street. I don't think he ever had to rely on collective bargaining. That was another sign: "the rich don't need collective bargaining but 98% of Americans do."
I went to the rally alone so I wandered amongst the crowd and snapped some photos. I chanted along "Kill the Bill."
Everyone looked a little sheepish. We weren't really certain how to protest. Some college students had obviously been working on it. They had some good call and responses chants:
"Tell me what democracy looks like."
"This is what democracy looks like."
Another slogan we chanted: "O-H-I-O state bill 5 has got to go!"
No one was really in charge though. A couple of guys had bullhorns. U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich moved through the crowd shaking hands. News trucks lined the streets.
The bagpipers began playing "God Bless America" and we all sang along, mumbling those words in the middle "from the hmmm,hmmm, to the prairies, to the oceans, capped with snow?"
"No, foam."
"oh, right."
"God Bless America, my home sweet home."
Someone held up a sign about growing hemp. Can we ever be on the same topic for a few minutes?
When the chants began again: "This is our house; let us in." I moved away from the crowd and drove home.
I'm a teacher; my rights are represented by a union, and I have papers to grade.
I couldn't find what I was looking for anywhere: a petition to recall our new governor. I wanted to sign it.
One thing that impresses me about the new governor: that he has managed to rile up this many people in such a short time.

Monday, February 21, 2011


On Saturday, after my very long Friday, I didn't plan to run with my friends. I have managed to skip the entire month of January and was well on my way to avoiding February runs outside as well. Then I blinked my eyes to focus on the clock which read 5:50ish. I wanted to go back to sleep. I was still wrung out like a dishcloth from that full day of swimming and basketball, plus I had three classes worth of essays to grade by the next day.
I made a deal with myself that I would try to fall asleep until 6:10. If I was still awake, I'd get up and meet my friends at the halfway point. When the cat landed on my head, the clock read 6:09. Sigh. Might as well get up.
I always enjoy running with my friends. It's the cold and the tired that I could do without.
At the end of the run, 3.75 miles since I only ran half, I broke into a sprint. I loved stretching out my (admittedly) short legs and feeling the muscles lengthen from my calves to my butt. At the end of a sprint, I can feel my heart soar. I want to lift my arms in the air Rocky style and cheer.
Sprinting at the end of a run brings me joy.
That's what I wanted to ask you: what brings you joy?
Not the kind of quiet, awe-struck joy that you may get from watching the sky turn pink in the morning or seeing a heron wading in the river, but the joy you feel when you want to punch your fist into the air and scream: "Yes!!" A jubilation kind of joy.
Sprinting is not the only thing that gives me this kind of joy. When I finish grading all of the essays waiting in the queue, well, I'm exultant.
And a hot, milky espresso mixed with chocolate can also give me that "I can accomplish anything" kind of joy.
Watch out world if I ever manage to finish grading all of my papers, go for a run that ends in a sprint and follow it up with a mocha.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


To follow up on a couple of blogs from the past few weeks:
Bald Tucker did very well at his swim meet. He missed making states but he dropped a lot of time in his events, including more than three seconds in the 100 butterfly. That's Tucker out in front. He won his heat. I know the times don't mean anything to non-swimmers, but suffice it to say that when I texted his YMCA swim coach the time that he swam, she responded: "Holy Sh**". She has asked him to go to Florida in April to swim at Nationals. Tucker is deciding whether he wants to commit that much time and effort to swimming over the next month. I know he is worn out from the season.
Spencer's last regular season basketball game was Friday. Spence played well and the teams went into overtime. With 20 seconds left, down by two, he was fouled. Spence moved his big high-top shoes to the line. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Swish. Now the team was down by one with another free throw left to go.
Time out.
No, not the opposing team's coach. Our team's coach called time out. He iced his own guy! He iced my son.
The other team's coach will sometimes call time out to make the player think about his free throws and increase the chance he will miss it. The other team's coach didn't have to because our own coach did.
Spencer missed the free throw and we ended up losing the game by three, so the blame didn't rest solely on Spencer.
And, finally, my best friend called again this week. She even commented on my blog post about unions! She said she didn't speak to anyone, even her sisters, last week while she tries to figure out her future. I can understand that. I'm here for her if/when she needs me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Premature Balding -- Really This Time

Well, swim districts morning dawned and Tucker stumbled out of the bedroom at 6:20 find me sitting at my desk.
"Goggles," he said. "I need new goggles."
Then he went back to bed.
Of course, he needs new goggles on the morning of swim districts, not the day before or the week before. But we had other things to take care of first.
So after a trip to Kroger for NutriGrain bars and granola, I drove Tucker to the barber. He chose to shave his head for swim team.

Here he is before the haircut. Even with his hair cut very short, it's bleached out, not his normal dark color.
The barber began with a trimmer set long and then reduced it even more.
He was willing to make the pictures interesting. Too bad this one is a little blurry.
The barber made it as short as possible with the trimmer then said he could go one step shorter with a razor.
What? How could it get shorter than this?
But, the barber laid a hot, wet towel on Tucker's head then lathered it up with warm shaving cream. Slowly, he began to scrape his razor across Tucker's head.

Luckily, the weather is unseasonably warm. The morning started at 58 degrees. Tucker walked out of the barber shop and felt the breeze on his bald head.
We drove up the highway and bought new goggles then went to the team breakfast.
There, Tucker met up with more of his own kind -- bald boys ready to swim fast this afternoon.

Weekends -- Brought to you by Unions

I'm no history scholar, but I do know that when people gather to protest, big things happen.
No, I'm not talking about Egypt or Bahrain.
I'm talking about Ohio and Wisconsin, two states with recently-elected Republican governors who have decided that public employees should no longer have collective bargaining rights.
So what? Who cares about unions? Unions are too big and their employees are too well paid?
People today seem to have no idea what unions have done for the middle class. Without unions, I probably would not be middle class. My dad worked for Ford and was in the United Auto Workers. My mom was a teacher and was in the teachers' union. They paid for me to go to college and graduate school where I am now a member of the teachers' union.
I agree that some things might go too far. For instance, some public employees are allowed to carry over vacation hours and sick hours, adding them up until they are paid a huge sum at the end of their working years. I think workers should take vacation days or lose them. Same with sick days. They are there in case people are sick, not to add a pot of gold at the end of your career.
Still, we mustn't forget our history or else we're doomed... well, you know.
Long ago, workers were told by their employers how many hours a day, how many days a week they would work, and how much they would be paid. If they didn't like it, the employers would simply hire other employees. Workers had no power, no minimum wage.
In 1825, carpenters in Boston were the first to strike for a 10-hour work day. In New Jersey in 1835, children in a silk mill went on strike asking for an 11-hour work day, 6-day work week. What were they working before, I wonder?
People died as they fought for the right to form labor unions. Governments, police and companies sent in armed men. Bombs were set off. Men, women and children all died fighting for workers' rights. Coal miners and railroad workers, teamsters and garment workers. Teachers and police officers. They banded together to have some power.
Unions helped force safe working conditions and helped women gain footholds in the workplace.
In 1938, the United States passed the Fair Labor Standards Act that banned child labor and upheld a 40-hour work week. Thank you, labor unions.
Medical benefits -- thank you, labor unions.
I see letters to the editors criticizing unions. People today have no inkling of a world where the workers have no power, where the workers are doomed to lower class wages with no chance of making enough money to buy a house and send their children to college.
People defend companies like Walmart that refuse to allow their workers to form unions, even as Walmart employees bleed money from the state as their children fill our Medicare rolls. A Georgia survey found that WalMart was the largest private employer whose workers' children were on state medicare. A union that helped employers gain fair pay and medical coverage might even save our states enough money to balance those out of control budgets.
And that might convince states like Ohio and Wisconsin to focus on other ways to save money, rather than aiming for the backs of the workers and taking away their rights to collective bargaining.

See a timeline of labor unions at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I had a conversation with the mother of a basketball team member the other day and she said something that stuck with me. I commented on the fact that the basketball team seemed to play better at the beginning of the season. She agreed and said that must mean the problem was in the players' heads rather than with their skills. By this, I'm assuming that she means the boys' confidence level.
Of course, it's hard to feel confident when the coach jerks you out of the game at the first mistake and screams at you, but that is a different blog post.
The confidence thing got me thinking about places where lack of self-assurance could be dogging me.
"What?" I can hear my husband asking, "when do you ever think you're wrong?" But being right and being confident are different things.
I began to wonder whether confidence affects my writing: not just my novel writing, but the letters that I send to agents asking them to sell my novels.
Do my query letters crawl into agents' offices begging for a scrap of attention? Should they instead stride in, throw back their shoulders and proclaim: "This is your lucky day!"
Writing is a lonely endeavor. No one looks at my work daily and suggests these parts are good, these parts need work. And then when a writer begins to send out work, the rejections hover, waiting to fall like dominoes in a line.
If a writer feels sure of herself at the beginning, those dominoes slowly collapsing, beat down the writer's self-assurance, til she looks up, holding out her manuscript and says "Please, sir, may I have another?" and the agent she dared to ask smacks that stack of pages out of her hand.
A friend at work, the very pessimitic, literary writer Jeff, admits that he feels like his friends in publishing are doing him a big favor when they read his work. He knows that the young turks who earn huge advances brim with confidence as they present their manuscripts, which may be no better and no worse than his own.
We need to act like we are doing those agents a favor when we permit them to look at our novels.
Of course, I've only added more of a burden to myself. Now I need to scour my query letter so that it not only sells my book, but sells myself as well.
It's either that or go to a hypnotist who can convince me to believe in myself more.
Wouldn't it be easier to just send the agents to the hypnotist and have the hypnotists persuade them that I'm the next Dan Brown or Barbara Kingsolver?
Maybe a hypnotizing query letter. I'd better work on that.
Photo from:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Strange Illness

The morning after the Grammies, I stood at the stairs and called to Spencer.
"You up?"
"Uuuunnn," came the noise from his bedroom.
"You're supposed to be there early for Bio 2," I reminded him.
Again came the groaning noise.
"I'm too tired," he said.
Mondays are hard.
"Spencer." My voice gained an icy edge. I meant business.
"I can't go to school, Mom," he said. "I'm sick."
He stood there now by the stairs in his boxers, long legs jutting out.
"You're sick?"
"Yeah. I got the Bieber Fever," he said.
I laughed as he walked to the shower.
I imagine many actual Bieber fans did want to skip school on Monday after Justin Bieber, his eyes closed tight as he thought, "Pick me! Pick me!" did not win best new artist of the year at the Grammies.
My boys are not among those fans. But they will latch on to any excuse in hopes of missing school.
A tale of two 17-year-olds. Mine's on the left.
Bieber photo from:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Fantasy Relinquished

In honor of St. Valentine, this seems like the perfect day to give up one of my long-held romantic fantasies.
I will now give up my dream of someday marrying a Frenchman and moving to France.
I know, I know what you're thinking...why give up on your fantasy when you're in the prime of your life? Well, my 20-year marriage looks like it may take, after all.
And, although Earl has said he's willing to make concessions if he can move to France too, maybe as a gardener or cabana boy, I think I should simply put this dream to rest.
Why, you may ask, did I not act on this dream before I married a boy from Ohio?
Well, after my stint in France, I wasn't actually intent on living there. I came home and made plans to go to grad school. I dated the New Zealander. I studied in Washington, DC and visited the French embassy only once. I fought for an internship in United Arab Emirates. The world was my oyster and I could have nestled anywhere. I did not, at that time, have my heart set on France.
Now I've visited France nine times and when I come home, I long for the lifestyle of France -- not just the food.
So, I have informed my daughter that if she wants to live abroad, the easiest way is to fall in love with a man who lives in that country.
I'll find some other path, and take my husband along with me.
I wouldn't enjoy it without him anyway.
Photo from

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Last Time

The problem with the last time something happens, unless it is scheduled, we probably don't notice it's the last. I know the last swim meet, the last basketball game, the last show in a play. But so many lasts with my kids I don't recognize.
This morning around 6, I heard the floorboards creak then someone shuffled into a door. Next the word, "Mom" came from the darkness.
"Yeah?" I responded.
Then Tucker stood beside the bed stretching six-feet tall now, his shoulders broadened from this last season of swimming.
I scooted over so he could sit down.
"I had a bad dream," his hand rubbed at his eyes. He sat on the bed then lifted up the covers and climbed in.
I moved over more toward Earl as Tucker turned on his side.
I rubbed his back a few minutes while he slipped back to sleep.
As I lay there, sandwiched between my husband and son, I remembered that this used to be a common occurence. Tucker would seek out our bed. Once he had fallen asleep, I would get too hot from all the body heat coming from those guys so I would get up and sleep on the couch.
Now I can't remember the last time Tucker came to our bed. Probably a couple of years.
Odds are good, this time on Feb. 13 may be the final time that one of our children climbs into our bed after a bad dream. There might be plenty of other times they wake us up in the middle of the night though, and the problems may not be as innocent as a bad dream.
At 14, Tucker can be a handful. When he was two, he would run ahead then look back to see if I was still there watching him. Now he may talk a good game about all the ways I could improve myself, but in the middle of the night, he came to see if I was still there for him.
I am.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Friend Abyss

How many friends do you have?
I have a lot of friends. Friends I run with, friends who read my blog and whose blogs I read, friends who I sit with at basketball games and friends who meet me at swim meets. I have homeschooling friends and Michigan friends and Tribune friends. I even have long-lost college friends and grad school friends.
But I only have one friend who I can call at anytime to talk to about any topic. I call her when I hear something funny on NPR or when I hear something unbelievable. I call her when I'm frustrated with my husband or my children. I call her when I feel like I want to scratch my eyes out rather than read another English comp essay.
For years, nearly 16 years, she has been my best friend.
We met at a LaLeche League meeting. She had a one-year-old, I had a baby and a two year old. On our first play date, which was more for us than the children, she told me she was pregnant with her second baby.
When I look through pictures at baptisms and birthday parties, she and her kids are there.

When we moved away from Michigan twelve years ago, I bought a telephone plan that allowed me to talk to her everyday.
I strained to hear her as she waded through her divorce. I drove to Michigan and sat in the courtroom, supporting her fight to keep her children full time. Then, later that same year, I drove to Michigan to attend her wedding to a new man.
I suggested that she wait. "If he's a nice guy now, he'll be a nice guy next year..." but she was turning 40 and he wanted children so she married him.
We visited a few times as a family. We continued to talk most days.
Troubles began.
Maybe my job as a friend is to listen to her problems and only give her what she needs. Maybe these past few years I've been pushing too hard to get her to end her marriage to the man who spends her money, yells at her children, and never gets enough of her time or attention.
I know I have output control. Sometimes, I just need to make myself say nothing. But not with my friend. I didn't stop myself.
And that's why this week, my phone has not rung. When I needed to talk, I picked up the phone and stared at it for a few minutes before setting it down. I had no one to call.
Because, although I've been urging her to end this unhealthy relationship, this unhealthy marriage, instead, she ended the friendship with me.
We didn't have a break up call.
We just had silence.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Shoes and SAD

This week, I bought two new pairs of shoes. Now, that isn't like me. I am definitely not a clothes horse. My husband even pointed out recently that I am nothing like those women on House Hunters who complain about the size of the walk-in closet and say laughingly, "Well, I don't know where he'll put his clothes."
What spurred me to buy new shoes was my walk to the coffee shop with my computer. My winter boots are warm and furry, but they are not made for walking miles.
I don't want to wear hiking boots, which make me feel like a lumberjack, so I tromped off to Macys that day after I walked to the coffee shop. And, for you judgers, yes, that is the only day I have actually walked to the coffee shop -- so far.
However, I have exercised every day, except Wednesday, which is (coincidence or no?) the day that I fell into SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder hits people in the winter, however my SAD, Son Affective Disorder, can hit year round and usually does.
I realize that I'm a mother and mother's are supposed to give selflessly, never expecting anything in return, and most of the time I'm fine with that. Sometimes though, I snap.
The day began at 7 a.m. when I picked up bagels for the basketball team. Not my basketball team, mind you, but my son's basketball team. Then, because he couldn't get the ice off the inside of his windshield, at 7:15, I drove him and his friend to basketball with the bagels and the gallon of chocolate milk. At 7:45 I drove Tucker to school.
At 8:15 the swim coach called and I talked to her for half an hour (see the previous post). At 10:30 I took Tucker to the eye doctor and at 12 we drove through Subway to get him lunch before I returned him to school, only to pick him up again at 3.
"Mind if I run up to the grocery store to get sour cream?" I asked him. It was a rhetorical question. I was going to the store anyway.
"Only if you get me chocolate milk," he said. (What is it with teenage boys and chocolate milk?)
So we started driving and Tucker began the latest litany of the ways I have embarassed him and how I need to change. "At that other eye doctor, when you laughed, it was obvious you were mad," he said.
"Yeah, well, I was mad. I wasn't trying to hide it."
"Well, why do you laugh then? You always do that and it's so obvious."
I turned the car down a side street and took him home. How long are we expected to sit and list to our shortcomings?
"I'm not perfect and neither are you," I told him. "Some day..." well, you know how the rest of that sentence goes.
Home from the grocery, I prepared for the class I teach Wednesday night.

"Spencer," I called.
"What?" he reluctantly responded and came up the basement stairs.
I told him that his aunt and uncle would be at the basketball game that night since neither Earl nor I could be there.
"After you guys go in the locker room, go back out and talk to Uncle Jim and Aunt Vicky."
"What? Why? Why does this have to be such a big deal? Why can't I take a shower first?" said my ungrateful elder son who ended up getting a free meal when the aunt and uncle took him out to dinner.
They were doing us a favor. I hate it when my kids have sports events and no parents to watch them. Spencer, now 17, needs to show a little more gratitude.
So feeling like I'm raising selfish teenagers (which I am) I left for class. I stopped to get a mocha hoping it would dispel my SAD. Then I tried a Peppermint Pattie. Alas. The SAD remained.
This morning, as I slipped on my new shoes and left for work, I stopped at Starbucks for one more try to kick the SAD. The sun was shining; the thermometer hovered at 1 degree. Finally, the double shot of espresso mixed with white chocolate launched me out of SAD.
And the new shoes made me feel better too.
The black shoes are by Born. I love the way they look from this angle, which is the angle I see them at the most. At least twice before I travelled to France I bought Born shoes. They last forever and are great for walking, plus dressy enough to wear to work.
The other pair I bought are by Jambu. That's the same brand that I bought last spring before Earl and I visited Paris. Last spring though they were wedge sandals in patent leather. This year, obviously, slip-on, sporty shoes. They still have a bit of a heel and will be perfect the next time I walk to the coffee shop, which should be when the thermometer rises above 35.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Early Baldness

I'm in an email fight with the high school swim coach.
She sent a message yesterday about preparation for the Sectional swim meet this Saturday. For boys, "On your head, hair must be completely off."
That's right. Bald.
Tucker has been fretting about this all season. He does not want to be bald.
He's 14. He's the fastest swimmer they have on the team. He can put on a swim cap -- like Michael Phelps did.
My arguments have run the gamut.
*The girls don't have to shave their heads.
*This is high school, not world-class competition.
*The world record holders are not bald.
She responded that this is a bonding experience for the boys.
I gently explained that bonding happens when people decide to do things that bring them closer together.
Bondage is when they are forced to do things.

As a freshman, Tucker has made many concessions, beginning with the tiny Speedo swimsuit. Previously, he always wore a knee-length suit. A 14-year-old does not want to put his junk on display. At 17 or 18, he may be happy, even eager, to wear a tiny Speedo. He might also joyously shave his head, first into a mohawk one week then bald the following week.
But 14-year-old boys are a little more fragile than 17-year-old boys. They worry about what people say.
Now Tucker is worried that the boys on the swim team will be mad if he doesn't shave and the kids at the high school will make fun of him if he does shave.
Ah, a teenage dilemma.
I, of course, get no credit for the things I didn't say to the coach, like, I wonder if the athletic director would support this mandate... followed by a pregnant pause while the swim coach realized I was threatening to report her.
To me, the annoying thing is that we have to fight about something that might improve Tucker's time by 1000th of a second. Work on his technique, not his hair length.
As I was writing this post, the swim coach called to talk. I still resisted threatening, although she thought my choice of the word "hazing" was a little strong.
I apologized for that.
In the end, she agreed to let the boys cut their hair very short and wear two swim caps if they do not want to join the team camaraderie.
Tucker doesn't know I fought this battle for him and he wouldn't thank me if he did. As a matter of fact, he might decide to shave his head in the spirit of the moment, but I'll know that he chose that for himself.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Dream World

Does real life ever infiltrate your dreams?
That happened to me last night.
My husband came home some time in the middle of the night after working until 1 a.m. He unloaded the dishwasher and made the boys' lunches. Then he knocked into the office chair as he came into the bedroom with some folded laundry. (I know, overachiever.)
I woke up and thought how thirsty I was. But I was too tired to get up and get a drink of water. I could have asked Earl to get it, but he had already done so much.
He also fed the cats (at 3 in the morning?) but maybe that would keep them from bugging us in the morning. He climbed into bed and a few minutes later I heard the older cat throwing up.
"He's throwing up," I said and pushed the covers back.
"I'll get it,"my prince of an Earl said. And he did. He cleaned it up and talked to the cat for a few minutes before coming back to bed.
Then I slept. In my dream, we were visiting someone else's house, someone with a lot of cats. I went to open the front door and cats were coming in and going out.
My cat, Tybalt, was there.

Why would we take our cats to visit someone?
Tybalt is an indoor cat but he snuck out so I had to grab him and bring him back in.
Then I opened the door again to let more cats in and Tybalt jumped and hit the other cat in midair. Wham! The impact took them several feet out into the yard. They wrestled together in the snow. It was like a cartoon cat fight!
The next thing I knew, I was standing in the kitchen of this strange house drinking water from a big plastic pitcher. That's how my thirst infiltrated my dreams -- a pitcherful of water.
Then my alarm sounded at 5:10 a.m. and I pressed it off. I needed to get up and write and exercise. I have to work today at 9.
The next thing I heard was Tucker's alarm going off. 7 a.m.
So much for good intentions.

Monday, February 07, 2011


I am most productive early in the morning.
I have finished three novels by getting up early and writing. I exercise when I first get up, or else I simply never get around to it.
Usually, I only end up doing one or the other -- exercising or writing. I can't seem to find time to do both.
That's why, today, I began to multitask with my writing and exercising.
I set the alarm for 5:10, got up, got dressed, packed up my computer and headed out the door.
I walked to the coffee shop with my computer.
It that brilliant or what? Combining exercising and writing.
My plan was to write for an hour and fifteen minutes then to walk back home by the time the boys get up for school at 7.
The plan has some flaws, starting with the fact that I didn't get up when the alarm went off. I left the house at 5:32.
I walked along the street since many of the sidewalks remain covered with ice. The computer is a little heavier than I had anticipated. I threw it over my shoulder first, the strap crossing my chest like a bandoleer. Then when that started to pull on my back, I carried it by the handle, switching arms several times.
It's like a workout for my arms, I congratulated myself.
I wore my furry winter boots and as I reached the half-mile mark they began to rub on my right, little toe. I guess they aren't good walking boots.
Then as I passed the first two coffee shops on our main street, I noticed that they were both closed until 6. I began to get a little nervous.
Sure enough, when I arrived at Caribou, the sign said it opened at 6.
Luckily, I had worked up a sweat walking and the weather is a balmy 33 this morning, so I sat down at the outdoor tables and chairs that scrape metal on concrete at the slightest movement.
I was able to connect to the internet and sat surfing until the coffee guy with the wool stocking cap opened the front doors to welcome me in.
Now, with a light white berry in hand-- espresso, skim milk and raspberry syrup, I can get some real writing done.
Well, after I check my email and stare into the flickering fire a bit more.
This multitasking is a beautiful thing.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Jesus and Democracy

Our government provides a lot of great benefits. I have convenient and safe roads to drive, and, although they are currently pock marked from the snow and salt, they will be dutifully patched when the weather clears. I can walk into the library and leave with more books than I can carry. On the mornings when I run, I see police officers patrolling in their cars to make sure I'm unmolested. My husband can ride the bus to work in the worst snowstorm. Our government helps sponsor medical research to try to cure diseases and it prevents foreign countries from invading. The politicians may make some crazy laws, but overall, the government is coming through for me. That's why I don't mind paying taxes.
Some people need extra help from the government. They don't have health care; they don't have a place to live; they don't have food to feed their children.
Then the question is, should the government help these people?
That's where Jesus comes in. For those who are Christians, Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked.
The argument then is that individual people should take care of those duties, not the government. People pay tithes to their churches so they don't have to think about the poor. But mostly, the churches construct bigger buildings and buy the pastors Cadillacs.
Many Christians say the churches and charities are responsible for the needy.
But, wait. This is a democracy.
We are the government. Every single one of us.
In a democracy, where the majority religion is Christianity, shouldn't there be more support for programs that take care of the poor?
Yes, people should work; true, they shouldn't have children if they can't feed them. But our job is not to judge them. Jesus did not list that as one of the many things we should do for the poor: Feed them, clothe them, lecture them about having children and getting jobs. He admonished us to feed them and clothe them and comfort them.
Unless, as Stephen Colbert said, we just choose to ignore what Jesus said because we are really more interested in our money and our things.
I'm just saying: Jesus lived in a dictatorship, not a democracy.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Youth and Beauty

Do you have a time when you thought you were at the height of your looks? You know, a time when you look at pictures and realize, "I looked good then. I don't look like that anymore."
I've been having a lot of conversations with people lately about the fact that I would not want to go back to my teen years, too much drama. I wouldn't want to go back to my twenties because I was too black and white like the woman I wrote about in the previous post. Most of my thirties were a blur because I had little children who sapped my memory cells. Right around 39 or 40 though, I think I hit the peak of my looks.
Of course, I'm making assumptions that things are not going to get better from here.
First of all, I loved my hair then. It was long and curly. One of my journalist friends described it as romance heroine hair. I think I had finally just given up on doing anything to it and now that I look back, I love the way it looked.
I've been straightening it for a couple of years now, so it gets cut shorter and shorter because straightening it dries out the ends. The hair dresser cuts off the dead ends and now my hair is barely to my shoulders when straightened. Try to picture how short that is when I let it curl.

Look at this man in the market. He is delighted with me. Okay, maybe he is delighted that I am buying some of his product, but I think that I had no idea how charming I was at the time. Can I go back there now and take advantage of the attention?
A careful reader of this blog might notice that all of these photos were taken in France. Maybe I am just connecting a wonderful memory with the photos and think that I look better then.
I was also in pretty great shape. I think this was the year after I ran the marathon. Earl and I biked around Provence.
I didn't mind bicycling around France in a pair of padded shorts and I had a wrap around skirt that I pulled over the shorts when we stopped for lunch.
Maybe the looks are not better or worse than they are now or than they were before. Maybe it all has to do with how I was feeling at the time. If so, this picture pretty much says it all:

How about you? Would you go back to a previous age? Would you go back to the way you looked a previous age?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Black and White

On Tuesdays, I work with a 28-year-old teacher named Emily. She sees the world in black and white. In proclamation after proclamation, she solves the world's problems.
"All 12-year-old girls should have IUDs inserted until they are old enough to support a baby," she said.
Yikes. How traumatizing for the 12-year-old girls still playing with Barbies, I thought.
"I will never have children because I have a life," she said the other day. "I like to stay up late."
That's when I asked her how old she was. My intent was to warn her to watch her assertions because those sorts of things always come back to bite you. How many people have said, "My children would never..." only to eat those words later. (See that's a mixed metaphor because how could the words bite you if you are eating them?)
Emily would not heed my warning.

"Oh, I might change my mind some day, but if I have kids I'm going to homeschool them in a classical education."
Yeah, I tried that too.
It's possible, okay, probable, that at some point I was as strident as Emily. I saw the world as easily fixed if people would only follow my plan.
Emily is pale and slightly pudgy, perhaps because she hates sports or the talk of sports.
"If I had children they would never play sports because I couldn't bear to sit through those kinds of activities," she said.
She has blonde wavy hair that ripples down to her shoulders. Maybe she would be considered pretty in a classical education kind of way.
"How would a 13 or 14 year old have the opportunity to smoke pot or have sex? Where are their parents?" Emily asked.
I suppose Emily planned to spend every moment of every day with her children, even in their teens. No wonder she decided having kids is not for her.
Then I was telling a story about my friend Sheila whose daughter Beth is on a modeling trip to New York City alone at 17, and Sheila is very nervous about this trip.
"Oh my gosh, she's almost 18. She has to let go of her sometime," Emily said.
So, somewhere between 14 where she would spend every moment with her child and 17, she would relinquish total control and send the child alone to New York City.
"If I had children, there would only be two possible reasons -- to control them or to pick a cool name," she proclaimed.
Okay, I'm starting to agree with Emily's decision not to have children. As a parent, the last thing you can do is control your kids. They are always going to pick the opposite of what you would pick for them. I'm sure I didn't know that when I began this parenting journey though.
Just when I was beginning to think that I couldn't take many more of Emily's edicts, I began to feel a little sorry for her.
"People should wait to have sex until they can afford to raise a child," she said.
True, that would be the right thing to do, but who has that $200,000 on cash that it takes to raise an American child to adulthood?
"Well," I said to Emily, "I think it's very difficult for some people to wait to have sex."
"I was 24," she said proudly.
"And besides, sex is not that great."
Ouch. I'm afraid that told me a little bit more about Emily and Emily's marriage than I wanted to know.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Snow Day!

Remember being a kid and waking up in the morning while the dark presses in. The morning seems quieter than usual because the blanket of snow has muted the noise. The birds aren't singing. The cars are not whizzing along the roadway.
Then, there, the noise of a shovel scraping along a driveway.
I remember hearing the radio blaring the news in the kitchen as my mom listened to the school closings. And when they announced our school, oh, the joy. A free day.
Since my kids were homeschooled until a few years ago, they didn't know the feeling of a snow day. And even going to school now, they rarely get a day off school.
Our little town doesn't have buses. Everyone can walk to school. (But my boys drive the mile to school so they can squeeze out every ounce of morning sleep then rush there at the last minute.)
Usually when the snow covers Columbus, they listen to the school closings glumly then set off grumbling about our superintendent.
Last night was different though. Earl worked until 1 and when he came to bed -- at 2 or 3, he told me the roads were a mess. The snow had not swept through. Sleet covered the city.
Now sleet the superintendent has to pay attention to because of all those elementary school children walking to school. The best thing that can happen for my kids is for the superintendent to walk out onto the sidewalk and fall on his butt because of the ice.
Maybe that happened because when I stumbled out of bed at 6 and clicked on the school's website, it read "Schools closed due to icy conditions."
I walked into Tucker's bedroom and whispered in his ear. "No school."
"Yes!" He punched the air. "I was right."
I smiled and started to leave.
"Hey, come here," he said. And he reached up to hug me.
"My friends will all be here at 7," he said as he turned over to go back to sleep.
Then I went to Spencer. He had slept restlessly, worried about a chemistry test he wasn't prepared for. Just the night before as we sat at the dining room table, he told me that he is exhausted. Tired of working so hard at school and at basketball.
As he slept this morning, I whispered in his ear that school was closed, he blinked his long lashes a few times and focused.
"Yes, get some sleep," I responded.
Hopefully, he will have a chance to renew his tired mind and body.
As for me, my work was only postponed until 10 and then I get to drive through the icy town to school where very few students will probably arrive to meet with me.
For the boys, the day will be filled with video games, hot chocolate, reruns of The Office and, hopefully, some studying for a chemistry test. Maybe they'll even take the cat for another walk in the snow.

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'...