Sunday, July 31, 2011

Being There for Friends

Many times when I call Spencer to check on him, he'll say, "I'm in Casey's garage." Casey is a boy his age, tall and blonde. He lives across the street from the high school. He's always polite, and the boys like the autonomy of hanging out in his garage. Casey has a younger sister, Josie, who is Tucker's age. Josie and friends frequently show up at our house, sometimes clutching kittens they've found and hope to persuade their parents they should adopt. The girls are always polite, leaving their shoes beside the front door and calling cheery goodbyes when they exit.
Last week, the older brother of Casey and Josie died at his own hand.
My boys didn't know the brother, but I've urged them to be there for their friends. I feel strongly about this, because I think of the one visit my friends paid after my sister Tammy died in the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Northern Kentucky. I was 14 and the house was filled with relatives who spoke in hushed tones and didn't smile.
My cousin Kim spent the night and we slept in my sister's bed together. In the morning, we were talking and laughing about something. I remember that my mom opened the doors and said lightly, "What are you girls giggling about?" She didn't say it in an accusatory tone, but I felt guilty. Guilty that I was there and my sister wasn't. Guilty that I had been talking and laughing when Tammy had died.
Tucker saw Josie last night and he said he felt sure she didn't want to go to her brother's memorial service. She just wants to be finished with it, he explained.
And Josie, 15, is just one year older than I was when my sister died. I remember feeling that way too.
I wanted all of the visitation and notification and funeral stuff to be over. I wanted to not have to wear dresses and answer the phone and find strangers in my kitchen.
I wanted everything to be normal again, and I felt an anticipation every time the front door opened that Tammy might walk in the door. Maybe this was all a big mistake.
One afternoon during the long days of funeral plans and relative visits, three of my friends came over. I was wearing a dress. I never wore dresses. But my friends and I escaped the confines of the house. We walked around my neighborhood.
They didn't know what to say. They tried to talk about my sister, but I wanted to talk about normal things. Who had a crush on whom? What had everyone done for Memorial Day weekend while I lived in this artificial hushed world? After awhile, we started talking about things that had nothing to do with my sister or my family's grief.
When I look back on it now, I could feel guilty that I wanted to rush through the sadness of losing my sister, but I realize that as a 14-year-old, that was the only coping mechanism I had. Pretend things were normal. Go on with my life.
So this afternoon, my boys, probably dressed in cargo shorts and polo shirts, will attend the memorial service for Casey and Josie's brother. They don't have to speak to the parents or share a memory about the brother, but they just need to be there for their friends.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Cat's Eyes

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

We angled the televison on the last morning of the Tour de France and it blocked the cat's path. He couldn't get past and he was not too happy about it.
I'm not sure if it was the television or the flash that made his eyes look like he was trying to hypnotize me.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Uncoupling Review

When I posted the first paragraph from The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer last week, some commenters said they hesitated to read it because of the reviews. I hadn't read the reviews, so I continued on with the book.
The book is set in a small town in New Jersey where a new drama teacher comes to town. That, of course, is the most preposterous thing, as if in the economy we live in today, a school would splurge on a drama teacher. Anyway, the teacher decides to put on the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes about Greek women who go on a sex strike until the men end the Peloponnesian War. As play practice in this New Jersey school begins, all the women in town, adults and teens alike, stop having sex with their men, not to get them to stop the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, but because a cold wind spell hits them that takes away their desire. In addition to sexuality, the book delves some into the economy and the ongoing U.S. war in Afghanistan.
It wasn't a book that I raced through, grabbing it between every class or outing. It was a long, slow unwinding. I enjoyed the characters and popped into their lives regularly. I could relate to the main characters, Dory and Robby Lang, who teach at the school, and their worries over their sophomore daughter Willa. The author's descriptions of the characters made me like them. Here's a passage near the beginning:
The Langs were young, but not too young; old, but not too old. Girls often exclaimed over Dory's boots, which dated back to her Brooklyn days and were the approximate color of caramel, narrowing to a subtle point -- not quite the boots of a snarling female rocker, but not the boots of a hiker with a bag of muesli swelling her pockets either. The girls also liked Robby's pale, much-laundered work shirts, which by third period he had invariably rolled up at the sleeves, revealing arms with a light spatter of goldenrod hair.

I haven't really sold you on this book, have I?
A lot of the scenes in the book had a heady, sexual undertone at the beginning, like this scene as the teachers discuss technology.
...but then they all added that of course they knew that civilization wasn't really ending; that in fact it was only beginning, it was in many ways thrilling, it was all cracking open, and in their lifetimes, which was so terrific. How wonderful to be there for the show. The problem, though, was that they themselves were getting outdated. They just couldn't remain as fluid as they needed to be in order to thrive and embrace the hulking, steaming heap of technology before them...She (Dory) hated to wait excessively for a burst of information, but she often had to wait and wait.

I didn't feel that sexuality build with longing as the women gave up sex and (spoiler alert) when the spell was broken, it didn't return in the hasty denoument of the book.
I enjoyed the novel but I think the ending let me down, so now it has flavored the entire experience of reading the book.
Let me just say that while I was on the journey of the book, I relaxed and floated along. At the end, I felt the ideas were a little predictable.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cracks of Separation

On my way home today, I looked at the Starbucks coupon for a free cold drink and wondered which child should get the drink: Tucker or Grace.
The idea of buying it for Spencer never crossed my mind. After his initial grounding this summer where he spent a constant week with parents, a week grounded then a week without his car, he has made the most of his freedom. He is rarely home until curfew.
In three months, Spencer will be 18 -- a legal adult.
He is, and always has been, my most social kid. He goes to basketball three days a week, lifting weights with his basketball buddies. He works two or three nights each week, and the rest of the time he is hanging out. Eating at fast food restaurants, cruising, and socializing at the football field take the rest of his time.
Still, it shocked me a little that I hadn't even considered that he might be home, that I could buy him a Starbucks treat. I decided to call him and, if he was home, I'd get him a Frappucino.
"Hey, Mom," he answered.
"Are you home?" I asked.
"No, I'm at Joe T's," he said. "Chillin'"
Ah. No Frappucino for him.
"I was thinking we need to touch base. Get together. Talk about college visits and stuff," I said. "Maybe we could have lunch sometime."
"Yeah, well I already ate but okay."
Well, it was three o'clock, so most people had already eaten lunch.
"I was thinking Friday," I said. "We'll go someplace with wireless so we can search for colleges online."
"Okay," he said.

So now I have a date with my middle child, my oldest son.
I don't expect to have his attention for long.
I know, unlike his sister who would happily have stayed home rather than venturing off to college, he is counting the months until he finishes high school and tries his sea legs on a college campus, eager to see what he can do in a bigger pond.
I still catch glimpses of that little boy though, the one who danced to Riverdance and cried at the Tigger movie because Tigger didn't have a real family.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rainbow of Petals

Last week I wrote about my garden surprise -- the gladiolus that sprang up from nowhere. Okay, I had planted the bulbs, but I forgot, so I was surprised by them. I was alerted by the peachy, rosy color of the first gladiolus that bloomed.
Nothing else in my garden is that color.
But I didn't want you to think that gladiolus only come in that color. We planted bulbs randomly and these are the colors we have seen so far.

White, of course. Pure, but slightly predictable in a flower.

The palest pink tipped with brighter pinks at the edges, and, wait? What's that? Yellow in the center? Who does your decorating, gladiolus, because that looks phenomenal.

This one looked intensely purple before opening and then once opened, released its purple to the wind and was satisfied to be lavender tinged.

The red is so dark and rich. It made me want to plan a December wedding with girls in green taffeta dresses and armloads of red velvety gladiolus.

And then I found these. Yellow, no shrinking yellow, but a hello-I'm-here yellow with reddish orange in the center. And the blooms opened all along the stem at the same time, flashly, like a can-can girl at the Moulin Rouge.
Oh, gladiolus, you flirts. You promised color and drama, and you delivered.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

First Paragraph -- Dancing for Degas

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

This week I am starting Dancing For Degas by Kathryn Wagner with the hope that it will be as good a story as The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. The book is supposed to transport readers to Paris where a young ballerina is painted by Edgar Degas, falls in love with him and is drawn into Paris's secrets.
Here's the first paragraph after the introduction:
I wasn't always filled with such anxiety. The inescapable need for perfection was cultivated during many years of training -- just as my body was strengthened to complete a flawless pirouette, my mind underwent vigorous instruction until I believed that I was better than all others and entitled to nothing short of the riches of an empress. Yet it was no secret that I could be dethroned without a second thought. My success was nothing but an illusion, which I find especially ironic because I was not born into such complications. I sought them out.

What do you think? My reading time is limited these days. Would you pick up this book?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Brilliant Idea or Crazy Scheme?

I'm an idea person. I come up with great plans like adding helium to running shoes or making cars out of rubber so they bounce off each other rather than crashing. I have little follow-through on my ideas though.
Sunday morning, Earl, Grace and I sauntered down to Caribou Coffee. As we sat at an outdoor table, we started talking about Grace's future. Would she go back to her college in upstate New York and major in languages? Would she go to college in Florida and major in marine science? Would she just stay home and go to the local community college until she figured out what she wanted to do?
We had ruled out the return to New York, and completing everything for Florida seemed unlikely at this point.
"You can just stay home this fall," I said. "You can already sign up for the classes that you want."
As we started to walk home, I reminded her she'd need to find a job other than lifeguarding since the pools will close.
I was already dreading Tucker's reaction. He takes Grace's room when she leaves for college.
But we hadn't even walked a block when I said, "Or you could go to France and Italy this fall to stay with our friends. Maybe you could even help Roby take care of her baby or work at cousin Cinzia's ski resort."
This idea seemed brilliant to all three of us!
So what do you think? Should I give this gawky 14-year-old a chance to have some more attractive photos taken in front the Arc de Triomphe?
When I went to France fresh out of college, I returned full of the urge to return to grad school, to get more education, to understand the world better.
Maybe a semester abroad would help Grace figure out what she wanted to do.
If she decides to major in languages then living in France and Italy will only help.
The cost to fly to Europe and stay with friends would be a quarter of the cost for a semester of college.
The more we thought about it, the more brilliant it became.
"Just go to college," Tucker proclaimed when we discussed the idea in front of him. "You're supposed to be in college. Just go and finish."
Well, he had a point. This could put her a semester behind, but she had taken some extra classes at the local community college, plus college credit for a biology trip to the Bahamas, so maybe it would even out. Plus, what is the point of going to college when she doesn't know what she wants to do.
The other worry is that Grace was homesick last year 10 hours away from home. She'll be an 8-hour flight away from home if she goes abroad and not able to make it back for a week-long visit.
She feels sure she won't be homesick, but when I went for three months, I was homesick. I wrote long elaborate letters and ran to the mailbox everyday. I wouldn't have traded that time for the world though.
So far, I've sent out emails to two friends in France who sent their kids over here to stay with us, including Marie's family. She spent five weeks with us the summer between Grace's junior and senior year.
One family has responded already. "Of course!"
They have two children studying in Paris and Grace can stay with them, plus holidays at the family home near Bourges, and any time with them in Nantes.
Earl hasn't contacted the cousins in Italy yet, but I thought I should take a moment and ask for some advice from my wise friends.
Is this a crazy scheme or a brilliant idea?
So, what do you think?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Haunted Phone

We had our landline disconnected in March. Everyone in the family carried cell phones. It seemed like we only had solicitors calling the home phone. So I called Time Warner and had it shut off, saving a total of about $15 per month. For some reason though, I never unplugged the phone from the outlet or the modem. Every few weeks, the phone would ring -- just a spontaneous few rings. If one of us picked it up and pushed the button, it was obviously dead.
It inspired me to write a first line for some future novel.
"The phone had been disconnected for three weeks when it rang that morning..." Well, who knows how that will turn out.
Today, as I moved my laptop back to my desk and bent over to plug it into the electrical strip, I saw the phone's cord and decided to unplug it. As I wrestled to pull it from the outlet, it started ringing and ringing, over and over. I got it out but still the phone struggled, its cord wrapped round the other cords of the modem and the router. It rang more quickly as if gasping for air.
Tucker picked up the handset and pulled the batteries out. Still the jangle continued.
I pulled the cord lose and then followed the other cord to the modem. I pinched the plug and pulled it free from the modem. The phone fell silent.
Now, we don't have a landline and don't plan to again, but I hated to just get rid of the phone.
Tucker was headed to the basement. Take it to the basement and put it in the back room, I told him.
"No, Mom," he said. "It will just creep on me."
"It's not plugged in anymore," I pointed out.
He reluctantly carried the phone downstairs. A few minutes later, I had barely sat down in the office chair when I heard a call from downstairs.
As I complained to myself that a sensor must go off whenever my butt touches a chair, alerting my children that they should call for me, I walked to the top of the stairs.
"Yeah?" I called.
"The phone's ringing."
"Okay," I said. "Bring it up and I'll throw it away."
With stiff arms to keep the phone as far away as possible, he carried the phone up to me. I'll probably slip it into a give away bag and let the phone go haunt another family.
You've got to admire this phone's tenacity.
Sorry. Gotta go. The phone's ringing again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Snapshot -- Swimming

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.
The photographer, who took Grace's senior picture and is scheduled to take Spencer's senior picture in August, has some kids on the swim team. Lucky for me. She sent this great photo of Tucker swimming butterfly.

Butterfly has always been my favorite stroke to watch Tucker swim because the muscles in his back ripple and he looks so powerful. You can see from this picture that his arms stretch almost across the whole lane, which might hint that he will grow even taller than the 6-feet tall that he is now.
Tucker doesn't like the picture because his mouth is to the side, but that's just how he breathes when he swims butterfly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Garden Surprises

Last week, I talked about how I'm trying to get more color in my front garden. I made that vow last summer when the tiger lilies faded and I was left only greens and browns.
So the zinnias have given me some much needed color.
I was sitting on the front porch when I looked down the hill and amongst the greenery and the red, orange, purple zinnias, I saw an unusual color: a peek of peachy rose.
"What is that?" I sat upright in my wicker chair.
"What?" Earl asked looking up from his book.
"That peach colored flower?" I asked. I was already climbing down the concrete stairs with my bare feet.
"Those are the gladiolus," Earl said.
Oh. I'd forgotten that we planted a row of gladiolus bulbs in early spring, intent on adding color. And now, here they were.

I know it shouldn't be a surprise, since I planted them. But I'd forgotten and now, here they are, a garden surprise.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Family Day

For the first time this summer, we reprised our family activities, roping in everyone to see the latest Harry Potter movie.
Grace and Spencer had already been to see it, but Earl, Tucker and I hadn't seen it yet. So we trooped out Tuesday morning to beat the crowds and cool down in the theater.

My family loves, loves, loves the Harry Potter stories and movies. We have been going to the release night for books and movies as long as I can remember. Every family car trip is soothed with the sounds of Jim Dale, the narrator on the Harry Potter CDs. Even now, we're in the middle of listening to the last one again.
My kids loved growing up with Harry Potter.
One of my friends said she didn't want to see the movie characters all grown up because she felt like she was seeing her own kids grown and moving on.
I don't feel that way. I was okay with seeing Harry and Ginny with their own kids.
(I would say spoiler alert, but if you don't know how the book ends then you shouldn't go see the movie anyway, IMHO.)
I did get a little teary in the movie when Harry's parents appear, along with his godfather. They tell him how proud they are and I felt my eyes well up. And again when he was a baby and his Mom was about to die and she turned to the crib and just kept saying, "Mummy loves you, Harry. Daddy loves you." Those are the words you would want your child to hear before you die.
Anyway, in spite of what some people might say, and in spite of the fact that the producers didn't follow the book exactly, the movie was spectacular.
My own family left blinking in the sunlight and when we turned on the car to drive home, there was Harry again, still on his adventure.
It's like we teach students when writing about literature. You write in the present tense, because literature is always happening in the present, it will never be past.
And Harry's adventure will come to life again every time we open the books or slide in the disks.
Plus, someday, I'll have grandchildren who won't know the story of the boy wizard, the boy who lived.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waiting in the Heat

It was almost a perfect ballet. Entrances, jettes, and exits perfectly timed. Until a trip, smack, failure. Which is why I am standing in front of a restaurant in the 95-degree heat typing a blog post on my cell phone.
These are the chances we take in our attempt to be a two-car family with four drivers.
Earl loses out most the time, riding his bike to work in the heat or hoisting his bike onto the front of a city bus then riding home on the bikepath late at night as bunnies swerve into his path.
I usually drive to work. When the weather is perfect, I'll ride my bike. If the car is needed, I'll get dropped off and picked up.
Grace's lifeguarding job is far enough away that she needs to drive or get a ride. She also takes a class two nights a week and drives to that.
Spencer should walk. He rarely leaves our little burg and his job is less than a mile away. But he has claim to the extra car because he helped pay for it. Officially, we call it "Spencer's car."
I was the only one available to attend Earl's sister's birthday dinner. This is a milestone birthday for her, grandmother of Caroline. Even though everyone else in the family had some place to be, I carefully orchestrated a driving schedule.
Earl took the bus to work. Spencer drove to work, and Grace dropped me at the shopping center, adjacent to the restaurant, an hour early so she could get to class on time.
I browsed the Barnes & Noble for an hour then crossed the baking parking lot to the restaurant.
A text from Tucker came in as I walked. "Throwing up. Terrible headache."
"Sorry," I texted back.
"Nosebleed now," he texted next.
"You r falling apart," I responded. Then I called him. "You want me to come home?"
"No, I'm okay," he said.
I entered the coolness of the restaurant -- a faux Italian and looked forward to some sort of sunrise cocktail and maybe a Caesar salad.
I told the hostess I was meeting a group. "Could it be a different name?" she asked me. "How about Jenny?"
No, that wasn't the group I was meeting.
I called a niece to double check. I knew I was at the right restaurant. Then I realized I was at the wrong location. The other location was about a 15-minute drive away.
Oops. I didn't have a car.
So I called our neighbor Sandy and asked for a ride home. The driving plan failed with my location mix up. Luckily, Sandy didn't mind coming to pick me up, which is why I was standing in the heat in front of a restaurant where I would not get a nice Italian meal or a sunrise cocktail, but I did come home to make sure my little boy was okay.
No one said it would be easy having two cars in a 4-driver family. Good thing we have reliable neighbors.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Paragraph -- The Uncoupling

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
I started a book last night that had such a dull first paragraph, that I knew I had to switch before today's post. So I'm trying The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer. Here's the first paragraph:
People like to warn you that by the time you reach the middle of your life, passion will begin to feel like a meal eaten long ago, which you remember with great tenderness. The bright points of silver. The butter in its oblong dish. The corpse of a chocolate cake. The leaning back in a chair at the end, slugged on the the head and overcome. Dory Lang had always thought there was a little cruelty in such a warning. It was similar to how, when she had a baby, people always tried to clue her in on what they were sure would befall her. Once, long ago, Dory and her infant daughter were riding a bus in the city, when an old woman leaned over and said, "May I tell you something, dear?" She had a kind face full of valleys and faults. Dory imagined she was about to describe the baby's beauty -- in particular, the curve of the mouth -- and she made her own mouth assume a knowing, pleased modesty. But what the woman said, leaning even closer, was, "You will never have another day in your life that is free of anxiety."

I love this opening, even with its mixed metaphors of passion and baby compliments. I can't wait to keep reading.
What do you think? Would you read on?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Exercising for Energy

The other day when I was kvetching to my friend Ruth about how tired I was, she said, "Isn't exercise supposed to give you energy?"
That stopped me. If exercise gives me energy, then I should be a whirling dervish. Instead, I wake up tired, catch a 20-minute nap when the day allows and move like I share joints with the Tin Man on the Wizard of Oz.
Most exercise gives people extra energy, it's true. But not my kind of exercise. This summer, I decided to follow the marathon training schedule. That means I ran 10 miles on Saturday.
Creak, creak, creak -- those are my joints as I pull myself out of a chair.
Now, let me be clear, as I have to everyone who asks, including the 20-year-old guy at the running shoe store and the young lady at Starbucks, I do not plan to run the marathon this fall. Running the marathon was the most miserable I have ever been. But, I decided I wanted to get in good shape this summer, and training for the marathon seemed like the way to do it.
Maybe if I got up at 5:30 and ran 5 miles before going to work, like today, then I wouldn't be so exhausted.
Twing, twang, that's the achilles tendon in my left foot when I hobble down the stairs.
But after I ran, I did about a 45-minute core exercise from P90X. Grace and I have been doing this together all summer, but she wouldn't get out of bed this morning.
Jab, jab. That's the shooting pain from shin splints shooting up the front of my legs.
And somedays, when the heat index isn't 100, I might hop on my bike and ride the half hour to work in the morning and back again in the afternoon.
My goal is to get in really good shape. I don't weigh myself and stress about numbers. I determine if I look good and if my clothes fit well. I'm pumped about the number of miles I can run without collapsing or begging my friends to walk.
But maybe the exhaustion is not the fault of the exercising. Maybe I need to go to bed at 10 like I did during the school year. In bed at 10, up at 5:30 -- 7 and a half hours of sleep seems like a good amount.
Instead, most nights, I drag myself to bed around 11 after Tucker gets home and then when Grace or Spencer gets home they come in to kiss me goodnight and tell me about their evenings. Then I may wake up when Earl gets home from work at 12 or 12:30 or 1 a.m. and again when he comes to bed at 2 or 3 a.m.
Last night around 3:15, Spencer wandered into the bedroom and asked whether he could have a pillow because he fell asleep on the couch and didn't want to go to his bed. I woke up Earl and took his extra pillow. Then I felt guilty and got up to get Earl an extra pillow.
At 5:30 the alarm went off and I started over again.
So maybe, it's not exercise making me tired. Maybe it's lack of sleep.
How about you? Does exercising give you energy?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday Snapshots

To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken then leave a direct link to your post on Alyce's blog At Home With Books. Photos can be old or new, and be of any subject as long as they are clean and appropriate for all eyes to see. How much detail you give in the caption is entirely up to you. Please don’t post random photos that you find online.
Columbus just opened a new park along the riverfront. It's call the Scioto Mile.
Along the mile are columns with pergolas above and some metal porch swings. Fountains of fish spewing water line the walkway.

And large shallow plates overflow with flowers.

I wondered where everyone was going, until we came to the end -- filled with fountains that shoot up from the ground and spritz down from above. On this hot day, the park was filled with people. All I could think was "Oh, the humanity!"

I caught these girls with the sun behind them enjoying relief from the heat.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Garden Secrets

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, has does your garden grow?
I've been thinking about my garden lately, but this rhyme reminds me of my friend Pat who auditioned for a fairytale theme park when she was a little girl and got the part of Mary, Mary, quite contrary. Her mother, who I can picture in low heels, a shirtwaist dress and a string of pearls, smirked a bit at the part she received.
Anyway, last year at this time, my flower garden at front was devoid of color, except for green and sometimes brown. Once the spring Irises and the June tiger lilies have faded, I had no color. I vowed that this year, July would have color.
I have a few spots of color, like my balloon flower

or my echinacia.

But they are sparse so far, not spreading in my garden. So this year, I planned ahead.I ordered some zinnias from the PTA plant sale, and my husband planted them along the front.
Zinnias are kind of flirtatious. They start to show a bud and they tease you that they will arrive soon.

And then you wait and wait for them to actually open.
Oh, but when they do.
They appear in shades of yellow, orange and red, and even purple.

They come in pink:

And even pinker:

They start out opening flat like a daisy then add layers and layers of petals until they are thick and lush.

Here's a photo from the back garden that shows a zinnia mingling with a pink hollyhock and some blooming purple hostas.
The hollyhocks come every other year and the soil around this house doesn't appear to nourish the hollyhocks that I've transplanted from my parents' house in Kentucky to Michigan to Ohio. The hostas are these hilarious little low growing shade plants that suddenly send a shoot straight up in the air, like a flag pole with purple hanging blooms.
But wait until I tell you about the surprise in my garden. I planted something that I forgot.
I'll tell you next time I'm feeling contrary.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day

Continuing with my obsession for all things French, I celebrated Bastille Day by buying croissants for breakfast and watching the Tour de France before I had to dash off to work.

I love watching the Tour de France for the scenery but then I get sucked in to the bike race part too.
If you haven't been watching, the most awful crash happened on Sunday. Two crashes, actually, one that ended with a guy who broke his pelvis and another guy with a dislocated shoulder. The worst crash though happened when one of the media cars swerved and knocked into the leading group of five riders. One of the guys flipped in the air and landed in a barbed wire fence. He, of course, got back up and kept riding while the doctors car pulled up next to him and bandaged his legs. As he kept riding, blood fell in drips down his legs. After the race that day, he had 33 stitches.
Can you imagine?
Here's hoping your Bastille Day includes croissants, but no bike crashes.
If you want to read more about Bastille Day celebrations in France, take a look at Corey's blog or Days on the Claise

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

FIrst Paragraph Tuesday -- Bossypants

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
This week I've started Tina Fey's Bossypants. Here's the first paragraph after the introduction:
My brother is eight years old that I am. I was a big surprise. A wonderful surprise, my mom would be quick to tell you. ALthough having a baby at forty is a commonplace fool's errand these days, back in 1970 it was pretty unheard-of. Women around my mom's office referred to her pregnancy as "Mrs. Fey and her change-of-life baby." When I was born I was fussed over and doted on, and my brother has always looked out for me like a third parent.

I was excited to start this book because I think Tina Fey is hilarious. The book is a little bland though. Some parts I can hear her voice and picture her saying them, which adds to the fun. Others, well, it might be like me writing my biography. Not that many people will be interested.
What do you think? Have you read it? Are you going to?

Monday, July 11, 2011


This morning, when the alarm went off at 5:40, I did not want to run. As I got dressed, I did not want to run. As I lay on the living room floor stretching my back, I did not want to run. As I checked my mileage for the day on the computer and the Weather Bug chirped about a heat advisory, I did not want to run. And as I walked out the back door, latching my water bottle belt, I did not want to run.
I moved slowly through the thick, humid air.
The breaths did not seem to fill up my lungs.
In grad school, I had a friend, who was probably depressed, but on some days she wouldn't get out of bed. She would say, "The gravity is simply too strong today."
That's how I felt. Gravity encouraged me to lie down and rest rather than running or working.
I walked to warm up and considered whether I could walk the entire route for today's schedule -- 4 miles. It would probably take me forever to walk 4 miles. I'd better run. So I did, but when the light changed and cars crossed at the half mile mark, I stood gratefully breathing. At the mile marker, I took another break and walked some. I ran most of the way interspersing some walks to catch my breath.
My running friend Pam pointed out that I "get into" running in the spring. She notices these kinds of things and I'm oblivious to fluctuations and schedules. I should ask her when I usually lose my enthusiasm. I'm guessing about July 11th.
My body does feel battered and bruised. Not just from the running and the new shoes that rubbed the wrong way.
Grace and I started doing P90X again, so, on many days, I have two work outs.
Last week, I rode my bike to work one day, and "laid it down" with me on it. It couldn't really count as a wreck because it was in slow motion. I forgot I had my foot clipped to one of the pedals and when an 18-wheeler turned right on red, I had to stop, not too quickly, but quickly enough to make me forget I couldn't put my left foot down. I ended up with some bruises and scrapes on my legs.
Getting in shape requires taking the road through battered and bruised while avoiding the turn off to broken.
So hopefully I'll keep running, and doing P90X, and occassionally, like today, riding my bike to work.
I'll try not let gravity win today.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Saturday Snapshot

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

In honor of the Tour de France and all the great French scenery I'm watching on television, here's a market scene from Aix en Provence.

And this was a seafood market in Paris along the Rue Mouffetard.

And, of course, who can visit even a market in France without thinking about wine.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Doggie Paddling Video

While I visited my parents, my brother and his family were there too. They brought along their little dog Jasper, who does not like the water, but is willing to get in to "save" his mom when my brother attacks her.
The dog is so funny because the minute he's above the water, he starts dog paddling. Must be some sort of preservation instinct.
The person you hear laughing loudly, is me! I'll need to learn to fix that. Enjoy.


I wish you could be with me on my front porch right now.
The light is dim because the rain falls in a steady whoosh. Splatter, splatter, split, splat. Then the drops hit the metal awning, bum, bum, bum.
The sweetest breeze blows across the porch. The air feels like a peppermint patty tastes.
The birds still squawk, undeterred by the rain.
I have a cup of English Breakfast tea that I sip as I watch the rain run across the dark pavement below.
Sometimes the breeze blows a mist of rain across my shoulders, making me shiver with delight.
In the distance I hear the grumble of thunder, like someone in a house next door complaining. An occassional burst of lightning brightens the sky, like the flash on my camera.
The best part about sitting on my front porch is that the rain gave me an excuse not to run this morning. My aching and bruised legs propped on the wicker chair in front of me, my tweaking knees and twinging lower back all are thankful for this rainstorm.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Next Step for The Novel

Right now, I am feeling elated and excited. Yet, a nervousness nips at my stomach.
I have finished the revision of my latest novel. I've made changes; I've tweaked it; I've slashed and rewritten. I think it's ready.
Grace proofread it for me and kept nudging me to finish. On Sunday, I spent the day at Caribou Coffee revising before handing over the final pages. Grace plopped on her bed and read the rest. She came to me with a big hug and pronounced it "Good."
Finishing the manuscript and the editing is the easy part compared to what comes next. Now, I must begin sending it out to agents, in hopes that someone will say, "Yes! I love this story." And then, if an agent says yes, that agent will need to convince a publishing company "This is just what I need." It will be edited and formatted. Someone will design a cover and I'll get to write a page of acknowledgements and thank yous. And someday in a year or so, I'll find it on a shelf in a book store or find it on Amazon so I can download it.
Right now, I feel hopeful. I love the concept of the book and I've worked on my writing.
Sending this book off feels like the long ago memory of falling in love, that hopeful rise in my chest, but the fear that my hopes might be dashed. It's like raising a toddler and then dropping him off for his first day of kindergarten. Once he walks away, he's on his own. I can't be there to coach him or cheer for him.
I feel like I'll jinx myself if I'm overconfident. But all the positive thinking books remind me to imagine what I want to happen. I want my book to get published. I'm envisioning it.
I created this book cover to print out and post on my dream board.

I've spent the past few days thinking about how to describe the book to agents. It doesn't matter how good the book is if I can't hook the agent with my query letter.
I haven't sent out any letters yet, Grace and Earl are mulling over my crucial paragraph. But I have sent my website designer a blurb and an excerpt to the novel That you can read here. Take a look.
So far, here's the paragraph for my query letter.
Jobless but optimistic, Fia Randolph spends her days in Columbus, Ohio, wishing away the steadily increasing pile of bills on the kitchen table. She fills her days corralling her 14-year-old boy-girl twins and appeasing her husband Grayson until a crackly, trans-Atlantic call from her great Uncle Martin in France breaks the monotony. He begs her to relieve him and his French wife Lucie from the hassle of running their bed & breakfast in Provence. Left without instructions and limited language skills, Fia works to keep the bed & breakfast afloat until she discovers the 60-year old secret that has haunted her uncle since WWII. Swept into a world of mystery and intrigue, Fia must find a way to clear her uncle’s guilty conscience, while keeping herself and her family safe from those who would steal the secret for themselves – at any cost.

What do you think? Suggestions? Confusion? I'd love your input.
Maybe soon you'll see my book on First Paragraph Tuesdays because someone is reading and reviewing it.
Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

First Paragraph

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
This week I'm beginning to read a book by Jacob Lieb Cohen. His book is a series of short stories and is available at Amazon. He has some interesting insights on his blog too that make me laugh.
Psychiatry is bullshit. It’s puzzling that psychiatrists are considered real doctors, while dentists aren’t. Psychiatry is the only medical specialty that’s incapable of actually knowing anything. Where else does the patient’s description of his own symptoms constitute almost the entire basis of diagnosis? It’s the only medical specialty that considers questionnaires diagnostic tools. Five psychiatrists dispense six diagnoses. I’d be better off going to a rabbi.

Okay, I love this opening because I've thought this before. Heck, I hate it when the eye doctor asks me, "Which is clearer, lens 1 or lens 2?" And I'm thinking, shouldn't you be telling me?
According to the blurb on Amazon, Leib Cohen's stories deal with "themes of panic, anger and disorientation." All things I can relate to.
Would you keep reading?

Monday, July 04, 2011

Bruised Toes and Thunder Storms

This morning I rode my bike a mile, took off my shoes and tried to run barefoot on the high school track. Even though that track is supposed to be rubberized, it feels like asphalt on the bottoms of tender barefeet. I didn't make it 100 yards before I took to the grass, put on my shoes and rode home again.
The reasons for this bike ride and barefoot run attempt are all because of the adventure we had Saturday morning.
I can see my running friend Pam waving at me wildly right now. "No, no! What happens on the running trail stays on the running trail," she'd say.
The story actually begins on Friday though, when I went to buy new running shoes. The running shoe store is great because the sales people know what they are doing and they encourage you to run around the building to test the feel of the shoe. I chose a new pair and decided to wear them Saturday morning for our 9-mile run.
I know better than to wear new shoes for a long run, but they felt comfortable.
I could hear the distant rumbles of thunder as I dressed Saturday morning to meet my friends for our run. I turned on the weather channel and saw storms swirling around Columbus.
On the drive to meet my running companions, I saw a streak of lightning to the west. I decided we should run the 1.2-mile lap around the lake eight times rather than running along the trail north 3.75 miles. That way, we would be within a half mile of our cars at all time. If the storm struck, we could get to safety.
Also, I had my old shoes in the car, so if my new shoes started to hurt, I could switch.
Pam did not like the lake plan.
"But why would lightning strike us when it has so many other things it could hit?" she asked.
Isn't that always the question?
Maybe it would hit a tree and the tree would fall on us, I suggested. Then you'd feel really guilty.
Princess joined us for our run after a long absence. She was willing to follow along with whatever we decided.
We ran around the lake first and the sky seemed to be getting lighter.
"Okay," I said, "we can go north."
So we started running away from the parking lot and safety. Mostly the storm seemed like something happening in another part of the county. We could hear it distantly.
As we got toward the turnaround part of the trail, the rain started to fall.
"We can stand under the shelter while it passes," I told Princess. When we got to the shelter though, it was a slatted roof that let the rain come through. We waited only a minute under the beams before starting again.
The rain soaked our clothes, my shirt clinging to my shoulders and heavy. We had gone past a clear area and were amongst the trees again when a bright bolt of lightning startled us.
"Did you see that?" Princess said. And then her words were drowned out by the percussion of the thunder so loud that it reverberated in our chests. The kind of thunder that sets off car alarms.
"We have to go back," Princess said, her eyes rolling like a horse in a barn fire. Near the turn around were some stores and a coffee shop where we could take shelter.
"But if we go back, we have to run through the clearing again," I said. Would we be safer on the trail under the trees?
We kept going because we didn't know what else to do.
Whenever lightning flashed, Princess would point it out and the thunder always seemed louder, so we superstitiously told her to stop acknowledging the lightning.
The storm had let up by the time we reached the lake again, but our clothes, washed with rainwater freshness, weighed a couple of pounds more than when we left. And our shoes squished from the wetness.
My new shoes rubbed against the two little toes on my left foot bruising them. So even though we had only gone 8.7 miles instead of 9, I limped toward the car. I couldn't wait to take off those painful shoes and wet socks.
And when I put on my old running shoes today, those little toes still complained from the bruises, which is why I tried to run barefoot, but failed.

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'...