Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May in Review

This month, for the first time, I tried to blog everyday.
I succeeded, except for one day when Blogger was down, then stil down, then still down. And I didn't blog that one day in May.
What have I discovered?
It isn't that hard to blog every day. Some days my blog posts were a stretch. Nothing came naturally. Other days, I had interesting things to write about.
So, what do you think? Should I try to blog everyday or limit myself to those days when I have something pressing to share with readers?

Tuesday Intros


Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea prints the first paragraph of her current read on Tuesdays. I thought I'd try it this week.
From Everyone She Loved by Sheila Curran.

"Penelope Cameron May had more money than God, which may have explained her need to play the deity from time to time. This impulse took on even greater urgency once Penelope's daughters were born. She added a codicil to her will, appointing her stepsister and three best friends from college to make certain that in the event of her own untimely death, her husband didn't marry the wrong woman."

I don't think the idea is totally unique. I know my friends and I have joked about an approval committee if something were to happen to one of us, but it may be interesting to see how it plays out.
I'm on page 88 so far and like the characters, but some money troubles for one of the characters is making me a little nervous. I hate when people become destitute. I could never stand those Shopaholic books.
What do you think? Would you try this book based on the first paragraph?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

Our town has a Memorial Day parade on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Caroline came to visit for her first parade of the season. She's old enough to enjoy parades now and wasn't spooked by the blaring sirens or the revving of the classic cars.

Caroline loved those flags. She waved them throughout the parade, not even releasing them to grab the candy thrown by the passing floats.
This Memorial Day, I need to add the name of my Uncle Don to those who fought for our country and have passed on. He served in the Navy during the Korean War, even though someone else took his swimming test for him. Uncle Don died this year. Thanks to him and all the veterans, along with the active members of the military.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Porch Work

I'm sitting on my front porch with my knees propped up on the wicker chair across from me working on my computer. The birds screech and warble. The breeze flicks through the trees, moving the branches.

I see trees and weeds growing in the clover that I should get up and cut, but I don't move from this spot.
A bird swoops across, letting the wind lift him from below before he settles in a tree. Then the wooden wind chimes clank a few times. The sun shines hot, but this place on the porch is shaded.
I have papers I could grade, but I'm taking the day off. I can get to those tomorrow. Today, I plan to work on revising my novel. I've revised (again) the first 50 pages. Today I will finish 50 more. Grace is reading it, looking for typos or missing information. When she finished the second 25-page section, she handed it back and said, "Do you have more? I really want to keep reading."
She may have only said that to make me feel better, but I hope she actually enjoys it, and like a book you don't want to put down, wants to read on.
So think of me on this Memorial Day Sunday, sitting on the porch, feeling the breeze sweep across and reading through my novel with the title revised (actually changed back to the first title) The Summer of France.
Hopefully, it will be coming soon to a bookstore near you. You'll be the first to know.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday Snapshot

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. If you are interested in participating, just post a photo (new or old), but make sure it's not one that you found online. Add your link to Alyce's Saturday post for all to enjoy.

Earl went hiking last Sunday in Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio and took this shot full of sunshine and shadow across the rocks.
The trail he followed is one of the most difficult in Ohio, but he found it a bit disappointing because the arduous trail never led to high point with a great view.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unbelievable Plots

A few weeks ago I wrote about the book Her Beautiful Symmetry. I was in the middle of the book, loving the writing, but dreading that I might end up hating the book the way my best friend did.
I finished it and definitely count it as a book worth reading, but before you go on, I have to warn you that I reveal the secrets of the book in this blog post. If you plan to read the book, don't keep reading my blog post. Also, another warning that when I told this story to two co-workers yesterday, one of them snorted water out of her nose. So don't say you haven't been forewarned.
Her Fearful Symmetry was written by Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife. Everyone loved The Time Traveler's Wife. The story idea was unique; the writing exquisite. Such a distinctive book probably put pressure on Niffenegger to come up with an equally unusual next book. That's why the author wrote a book about an aunt leaving her London apartment to twin nieces after she died. When the nieces move into the apartment, they discover that the aunt's ghost lives in the apartment too. Okay, it gets more preposterous.
The aunt ghost discovers she can remove the soul from a living cat and then put it back in. That makes the cat die then come back to life. One of the twins decides she wants to fake her own death so she can escape her controlling twin sister. Why does no one talk the confused 21 year old out of this? Why doesn't someone tell her to get a backbone and stand up to her twin? I'm not sure.
The dead aunt and the boyfriend, who lives downstairs, make a plan to remove the twin's soul and put the body on ice until it is buried in the mausoleum. Then they'll get the body out and replace the twin's soul so she comes back to life and can live free of her sister.
You'll be surprised to learn that this plan did not work out the way the twin hoped, but was the aunt scheming the outcome all along? She claimed she couldn't get the twin's soul to go back into the body, so the aunt entered the body instead.
The dead twin haunts the aunt's old apartment, stuck with the living twin, because apparently dead souls are confined to the place they lived. How ironic, right? The dead twin literally can't escape her overbearing twin. Okay, in spite of all the crazy things that I've told you about this book, the most unbelievable thing is yet to come. The dead twin figures out how to escape the apartment and asks her living twin to help her. The dead twin's soul, and the dead cat's soul, have to go in the mouth of the living twin who then has to run outside and release them.
And that was the moment that seemed most ludicrous, of all the bizarre things in the book. That living twin racing downstairs and outside then opening her mouth to release the soul of her sister and the kitten so they could roam the world.
As for the dead aunt inhabiting the body of her niece, she and the boyfriend move out of London and have a baby boy. At the end, the boyfriend leaves the ressurected girlfriend and the baby behind. That also rang a bit unbelievable, since the boyfriend seemed like a decent guy for someone will to aid and abet the soul removal and body on ice of a 21-year-old. Plus he knew the mother of his baby was evil. She took her niece's body.
The fact that her niece was actually her daughter, well that's another plot twist and you'll just have to pick up the book yourself.
I think Audrey Niffenegger could write about life in a brown paper bag and make it beautiful. I hope her next novel tackles something less preposterous. The human condition is already unbelievable, Ms. Niffenegger. Explore it, explain it with your lovely palette of words.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dangerous Mission

My nephew Michael was the first grandchild on both sides of the family. He was feted and corrected by more grandparents and aunts and uncles than he could count. Now he's almost 24 and has been in the Navy for nearly 5 years.
He served on a nuclear sub, which sounds dangerous, but keeps him away from road bombs. This year he decided to accept land duty in Afghanistan. He's in Texas training for what he's calling Afghan Deployment 2011.
I long for the days when a mischievous Michael tried hard to stay out of trouble.
At our house in Florida when little Michael visited, the lights suddenly dimmed and went out. I found a pair of tweezers stuck into the outlet on my makeup mirror. That tripped the breaker. We examined Michael's hand to make sure he hadn't burned himself.
Here's the whole gang except for the two youngest, including Tucker. Michael is on the right with his eyes closed.
Every time he visited us in Florida, he seemed to get bronchitis. One day, while eating Entenmann's chocolate donuts, he started to cough and threw up all over my favorite sweatshirt. As we were cleaning him up, he asked, "Can I have the rest of my donut now?"
My favorite Michael story is from when we were visiting my parents' blueberry farm in Kentucky. Michael must have been two years old and he had a little plastic tennis racket. Earl, who I was dating at the time, was in charge of Michael as he leaned over a little waterfall, running the racket under it again and again, as two years old will.
In a fraction of a second, Michael fell head first into the cold creek.
Earl says he still remembers the quiet of the countryside that second that Michael was face down in the water. Then Earl lifted him out feet first and his wails filled the air.
When Michael was 19, he joined the Navy. He rarely makes it home as he figures out what his adult life will look like, but he got home this spring and luckily, his flight came through Columbus. The boys went with me to the airport to see Michael off. We won't see him again until after his tour in Afghanistan.
My boys have grown in size to catch Michael, but they have years to go before they're ready to make decisions similar to Michael's.
When your kids, or even nephews, are making life-changing decisions as grown ups, all you can do is watch and hope for the best.
Thanks for your service, Michael, and come home safely.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever

I'm not prepared for my class tonight, but I wanted to try to keep up my streak of blogging everyday in May, except for the one day that Blogger was down.
Yesterday we took the cats to the vet. The younger one, who is usually more sociable, hid behind Grace and tried to climb in her purse.
The older one just hung out on the counter wondering what the big deal was. They both received shots, but the younger one, Tybs, got a 3-year rabies and distemper shot.
The cats kept their distance, but a close eye on my brother's dog when he came to visit.

In the evening, Tybs couldn't settle down. He threw up three times. He moved meowing from room to room. His back leg thumped like a bunny's as if he couldn't control it. His breathing grew rapid and shallow. He refused to be held or petted. I tried to call the office and it referred me to an emergency pet clinic. The vet tech on duty suggested that if he kept throwing up, he should be seen. He hid for awhile in Spencer's closet until Grace found him and took him out.
Her fear: Cats go to be alone if they are going to die.
She looked up his symptoms online and read that vaccines could lead to seizures and death.
Things settled down and everyone went to bed before Earl got home from work, until 2 a.m. when Spencer came to the living room complaining that Tybs was standing at his closet door meowing to be let in.
I picked him up and carried him upstairs. He hissed and clawed at me. I wondered if the distempter vaccine had given him a temper. I finally let him down and decided we should let him go in the closet.

The whole family, except for Tucker who slept through it, stood in Spencer's room, watching the now violent cat disappear into the darkness of the closet.
The older cat followed him and everyone went back to bed.
Here's Tybs in calmer times being tortured, I mean dressed up, by Tucker with the cut off sleeves from a t shirt.
This morning, I woke to Tybs lying beside me, his back leg thumping against my ribs.
His breathing was normal, although he has slept a lot today. Looks like he's getting better.
I called the vet this morning and they decided giving him both vaccines on the same day may not have been a good idea. I could have told them that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teen Trouble

My boys have provided me with some challenges as they muddle their way through their teen years.
But truthfully, they aren't nearly as bad as I was as a teenager.
When I grew up, we thought nothing of drinking and driving along country roads that rose and fell like roller coasters making our stomachs drop. We emptied cans and bottles and flung them out the window like grenades in front of farmhouses.
When I talk with Tracey, my best friend from high school, we admit that we are lucky to be alive.
Today's teens seem much wiser. They talk about designated drivers. They talk about ways to avoid fist fights and whether peer pressure can convince them to do things they shouldn't.
Perhaps, more surprising to me is the despair I feel when I learn that one of my boys has broken a rule. Not because they did something that most teenagers are doing, but because I must now discipline them. And I'm realistic about the fact that whatever consequences they face will probably not dissuade them from this typical teenage behavior.
As we reprimanded Spencer on Saturday, he apologized.
"I'm sorry you found out."
And truthfully, that's what he meant. He wasn't sorry for the behavior but sorry that he upset us.
So, as a parent, I must ask myself, am I telling the boys they need to stop their typical teen behavior or am I only saying they need to be better at hiding it from me?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rainbow After Rapture

A big money preacher claimed that the rapture was going to happen on May 21 at 6 p.m. Gullible people sold their belongings and quit their jobs.
Surprise.
He was wrong. Again.
On Sunday we had a rumbling thunderstorm go through. Grace and Tucker decided to make an ice cream run. My phone rang.
"Mom, you have to look. It's a double rainbow that goes all the way across the sky," Grace said.
From my front porch, I could only see portions of the rainbow.
I guess I was too close to it and the trees were in the way. I went from the front porch to the back yard taking photos of pieces of the rainbow.
Our neighbors were just pulling in from a trip to Wisconsin. They said they followed the rainbow home, getting closer and closer until they felt like they could grab it.
I thought maybe it was a gentle reminder from God, not the one who encourages people to protest with signs that say: "God hates_____ (fill in the blank)." But a God who promised:
And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Scenery

A blogging friend recently wrote about an art exhibit that included views out of windows.
That got me thinking of some of the scenes I've glimpsed and loved out of windows. I can't draw or paint, but I can share some photos with you.
Here's the view from an upstairs window at Monet's garden.

After the stay in Paris, we visited friends in Nantes. They have a gorgeous, rambling apartment with views of the cathedral. Imagine seeing that everyday. From the other side of the "flat" they can see the Nantes chateau. Quite a sight.

When Earl and I traveled to Chicago, we had a fabulous view out the window.

In March, the moon makes its way past my bedroom window and wakes me up with its bright rays.

I can't believe I don't have a picture out the front window of my house. The house is on a hill and the trees in the summer make me feel like I'm living in a tree house. I promise I'll take one soon.
Do you have a favorite view out of a window?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Movie Dilemmas

When Earl has a rare evening off, we like to watch movies set in France or Italy, places we hope to live someday.
Last night, we walked to the library and scoured the foreign film section. We ended up with a handful of movies. First, we tried a 1960s movie Divorce Italian Style with Marcello Mastroianni who fantasized about killing his wife so he could hook up with his high school cousin. We watched for about 20 minutes before moving on to another movie.

The next choice was a 2002 French movie called Va Savoir which can be interpreted as "Go Figure." The dvd case described it as a French romantic comedy. We love romance in Paris, but this one was full of angst and overbearing characters. Frankly, most French comedies are not funny to me. Maybe I just don't have that Gallic sense of humor. Why do people die in French comedies? The funniest thing that usually happens is someone gets locked in the closet, which happened in Va Savoir. Earl says I missed a funny scene at around 2 hours, 10 minutes. I had gone to bed by then.
Don't get me wrong, I have liked some French movies, such as Manon of the Spring or Paris with Juliette Binoche, but overall, French movies fall flat with me.
Here's what I figured out. I like American or British movies with American or British humor or romance set in France or Italy -- like A Room with a View (my all time favorite) or Under the Tuscan Sun or French Kiss.
So, I need your help. Please recommend some movies set in France or Italy that I will like.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Comings and Goings

Last night at my house was like Gare de Lyon on a holiday weekend.
I'm not talking about the evening when I pulled into the garage at 4:30 and Tucker hopped in the car with his guitar so I could drop him off at band practice. Or the fact that when I returned home Spencer was there for a brief while before he sped off to work.
I'm talking night time, when most families are sleeping.
I went to bed at 10. I'd been up since 5 a.m., ran three miles, taught from 7 to 4, planned my class for the next day then baked an oatmeal cake. I was exhausted.
A little after 10, Tucker appeared beside my bed for a goodnight kiss. At 10:45, I bolted out of bed and stood in the kitchen. Spencer was home from work.
"Go to bed," I mumbled as I staggered back to my bed.
Sometime later, Grace left for a midnight showing of the new Pirates of the Caribbean and Earl arrived home from work.
At 12:20 a.m., my phone rang. "Grace" read the glowing screen.
"Hello? Hello!" I groggily muttered into the phone.
No answer. Just the sound of the movie playing in the background.
She must have butt dialed me.
I staggered into the living room and saw Earl watching TV. I held up my phone in explanation and then plugged it in to charge -- away from the bed.
Earl came to bed at some point but didn't wake me. At 3 a.m., I heard the backdoor open and Grace came in to kiss me goodnight.
I didn't ask how the movie was. I felt more exhausted from my night of no sleep.
"Did you lock the back door?" I asked.
Then she got ready for bed, her light on, the bathroom light on. The cats wandering around, unable to settle down.
"Grace, go to bed," I called.
"I am," she said, and turned off the light, before flipping it back on.
Finally, everyone in the house was asleep.
My eyes shot open. The cat was chewing on the computer cord. I could hear him rubbing against the velcro cord holder.
"Tybalt," I hissed.
He left the cord and jumped onto the bed, pacing up and down until I got out of bed.
5:07 a.m.
Time to catch a train.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mothering Epiphany

Yesterday, between my three classes, I spent a bit of time with my teenage children, and I realized that the words I say have more impact than I imagined.
I'm sure you don't believe me. Teenagers never pay attention to their parents, but two incidents convinced me.
Grace was sitting on the couch looking as glum as I've seen her since she arrived home from college.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't know what I'm going to do with my life," she said.
I assured her that going to college was plenty to do at 19.
"Yeah, but you don't like my major," she said.
And I thought back to a few comments I had made, encouraging her to look into science again. When the doctor asked what she planned to do with her multi-lingual studies major, I jumped in and said, "Order coffee in any language."
I suppose these comments are not exactly supportive.
I promised Grace that I would back her decision and that she would find a splendid job with her major.
Then I left to take Tucker to swim practice. He sat in the passenger seat next to me and glanced in the side mirror.
"I'm going to shave tonight," he said rubbing his hand across the beard on his chin and cheeks. His beard filled in pretty well and I had been urging him to trim it. I didn't want it to get long and straggly looking. I didn't respond to his comment about shaving.

"No, I think I'll shave all this," he rubbed his cheeks, "and just leave this," he said pointing to his chin.
I made a snorting derisive noise.
"Oh, fine. Everybody else likes it, Mom. You're the only one who doesn't."
"I didn't say anything," I replied in my defense.
"You made that laughing noise," he said and fell silent.
Since this was the second time that day, I realized that my children were, for some reason, putting a lot of stock in my opinions, as much as they struggled to convince me otherwise.
We drove on in silence and I debated whether I could joke with Tucker to get him out of his anger. Then I decided on a direct approach.
"Tucker, you're right. I should have been supportive of you. You guys are practically adults and I need to stay out of your decisions."
He looked at me, afraid of a trap.
"Seriously," I said. "The same thing happened earlier today with Grace and I just need to keep my opinions to myself."
His shoulders relaxed and we drove the rest of the way to the pool.
Truthfully though, keeping my opinions to myself is not something I'm very good at. I find myself offering my children, and my husband, tips on better or easier ways to do things.
This is going to be an uphill climb.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Photo Effects

I've got a hectic day, teaching at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. today, so I'll share this photo from a time when the sun shone in Ohio. It was brief, but we enjoyed it.
Here I am enjoying a cosmo on the terrace of a local restaurant. I took the picture with my phone and was delighted to learn that I can use different techniques, like changing the photo to a cartoon. So, here's my Cosmo Cartoon photo.

Here's wishing everyone a sunny day with cosmos on terraces.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Crafting Villains

At the writing conference I attended a week ago, a psychologist spoke about creating villains.
Funny, cause I don't think of my novels as having villains, but every novel has something or someone the main character must struggle against. As Carolyn Kaufman began to explain how to give rise to the perfect villain, I realized that a number of characters in my latest novel might be villainous.
The perfect villain is someone who "pushes your hero's buttons," Kaufman explained.
I hadn't thought about that. I began to consider my current main character Fia, whose goal is to have a happy family. Her husband could be the villain as he opts for money over family. The Frenchman bad guys struggles to be free of a controlling family. Lots of family buttons being pushed. That makes me happy.
"The villain will personify the dark side of the hero," Kaufman explained. The villain must be the hero's shadow, that dark side. "Think of the things that you consider the darkest, most heinous. That's what is in your shadow," she said.
Kaufman went on to explain some hero/villain duos. Bilbo and Gollum. Luke and Darth Vader.
"A truly great villain personifies your hero's dark side and what your hero will become if he falls prey to that dark side of himself," Kaufman said.
I would add here Harry Potter and Voldemort. JK Rowling made it so clear throughout her books that the main differences between Harry and Voldemort were the choices that Harry made to do good rather than evil.
So the hero should be tempted to give up that important thing, to turn to the dark side, but resist.
Kaufman had a lot of great insights and tools in her book The Fiction Writer's Guide to Psychology and on her website at Archetypewriting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Homemade But Not Healthy

If you eat healthy, just stop reading now because you will only judge me if you continue to read.
Yesterday, as Earl and I were leaving our ballroom dance class, Tucker called.
"Will you please get me some donuts at Tim Hortons?" he asked.
"No. You eat too much fast food, I don't have any extra money this week, and Dad needs to get to work." I reeled off the reasons for the rejection.
Truthfully, both of my boys would eat every meal at fast food restaurants. They don't even like my homemade bread, much less the brownies or the pasta salad or grilled chicken. Anything I make, they would rather have the restaurant version.
Earl dropped me at home and headed off to work. I was determined to make something to eat that Tucker would like.
It needed to be quick though because I still had a bunch of essays to grade.
I pulled out a heavy pan and filled the bottom with canola oil and started heating it. Then I unwrapped a tube of biscuit dough and popped them open against the counter. I found a small circle, half of a tea ball, to cut holes in the center of the biscuits and soon had 16 donut shaped pieces of dough. I dropped them into the hot oil, turning them when they started to brown.
When both sides were browned, I used metal tongs to fish them from the pan and throw them into a plastic bag I had filled with cinnamon and granulated sugar. Another bag was filled with confectioner sugar. The hot donuts were covered with sugar and set on a plate.
The ones with sugar and cinnamon tasted like elephant ears from the fair, and the ones with powdered sugar tasted like funnel cakes.
Tucker ate four.
A fewer hours later as I sat at the desk grading papers, I heard his footsteps pounding on the stairs.
"What's for dinner?" he asked.
"Donuts," I said. "Help yourself."
What can you expect? I'm only good for about one meal a day -- healthy or not.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Male Perspective on Prom

The funny thing was at 4 p.m., when Grace's friend Deidre showed up to have her makeup done, Spencer hadn't even showered yet. He was chilling with some friends. Deidre's nails and hair had been done. Glitter spritzed her face and the poofy part of her hair. Grace gave her smokey eyes before taking her home so she didn't muss her prom preparedness.

Spencer hopped in the shower at 5. His tux was hanging on the closet door. The orchid corsage for his date was in refrigerator. The prom tickets were in his wallet.
I took a few pictures of him alone before he left, but couldn't get a genuine smile out of him.
The minute he got to his date, he relaxed, as if the anticipation was much worse than the actual experience.
When Grace went to prom, we had the advantage that her date came here so we could get some photos of the two of them together. Earl and I skulked over to Claudia's house, hoping to snag some photos of the two of them before the big crowd arrived. Too late. 12 couples and most of their parents came to take pictures.
Here's a picture of the whole group so you can see how diverse the girls' dresses were.
That's Spencer in the center towering over everyone else and his date slightly to the right of him in the photo.
Here's my favorite picture of Spencer and his date Claudia.

All 24 kids paid $17 each to ride on this "Party Bus." It took them to dinner then to the prom at Franklin Park Conservatory.

We didn't hear from the kids again until AfterProm where Earl and I were chaperoning. Spencer and friends played basketball while the girls sat in groups talking. Baskets overflowed with food -- Chipotle, pizza, fruit, chips, baked goods. I stayed until 2 and Earl closed down the place at 3:30 when all the kids were shipped home.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Caught Between the Covers of a Book

I've finished the first third of a book that I'm enjoying, and I want to freeze time.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, who also wrote The Time Traveler's Wife, is a little creepy, but it's meant to be. The apartment in London is next to a cemetery. The dead aunt, who left her apartment to her twin American nieces, haunts the apartment, adding commentary about the goings on of the people in her apartment. The aunt's ex-boyfriend lives in the apartment below and works in the cemetery. The twins are symmetrical, mirror images of each other.
Doesn't that make everyone picture the creepy twins from The Shining?
The book is copyrighted in 2009, but I came across it earlier this spring when I was looking for a book to buy at Barnes & Noble. I buy so few books that I really stress over it, afraid I might buy the wrong book.

When my friend Ruth asked for a book recommendation to download to her iPod, I suggested this one without having read it. I said it looked good.
Ruth bought the book and read it while on vacation. She hated it. She said none of the characters were likable.
So now I'm in even more of a dilemma. I'm a third of the way through and I'm loving it. I'm trying to slow time down. I read it occassionally, torn between wanting to continue through this sinister world and not wanting to hate the book at the end.
I finished reading this book and posted some insights here if you want to read more.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cola Cake

Yesterday as I was driving Spencer to school, before I returned home to run Tucker to school, my phone rang. Jane apologized for bothering me, but she was in a pinch. She needed more parents to bring food to the staff appreciation luncheon at school.
“I didn’t know if you were busy this evening…” she paused just a few seconds so I could jump in and volunteer there.
“Well, I teach tonight, but I can help,” I said.
In my mind I was cataloging my day. Teach at 10, breast center at 1, drive north of Columbus for my 6 to 10 p.m. class.
I agreed to make a dessert. When I got home at 4, I had nearly an hour before I had to leave again, so I whipped out my Cola Cake recipe and started baking. Cola cake is one of those things I tasted at a church dinner when I was a kid. The chocolate cake is incredibly moist. It has the magic southern ingredients of Coca Cola and miniature marshmallows. What’s not to like?
The cake baked and the marshmallows rose to the top forming a crispy crust on the top.
“Please, Mom. Can’t we keep it?” Tucker asked as the smell permeated the house. “You can give the teachers something else.”
I headed off to class, leaving the cake without icing. On the way home from class, hungry, I thought, “Sure. I can bake that cookie dough I froze last week when I doubled the batch.”
I told Tucker that we would keep the cake and give the teachers the chocolate chip cookies. I stirred the cola, butter and cocoa into an icing. With a last flourish, I spread the chocolate icing over the cake and it was ready.
I sliced a piece and placed it on a plate.
“Tucker,” I called. “Cake’s ready.”
“Nah. I’m not hungry right now,” he said.
So I ate the piece of cake, and I had another for breakfast. Since then, I’ve been giving pieces to the neighbors in hopes that I don’t eat the entire Cola Cake.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Teaching for Little Pay

This morning I'm having a hard time getting motivated to go to work. I teach at 10 a.m. and again tonight at 6 p.m.
I have some great lesson plans -- things that push college students out of their comfort zone. The interpersonal communications class has to judge the body language of people in photos, and later they'll put themselves in order by birthday without speaking. They'll see clips from the Daily Show about sexism and racism.
The English Comp class will draw houses then write instructions in hopes someone else can follow the instructions to draw the same house. The goal there is that the writer can begin to consider the audience and which information needs to be included.
So, lesson plans in place, I still feel sluggish and sit in front of the computer instead of hopping in the shower.
The reason, last week, this private, for-profit college emailed us that "Ooops! Forgot to put paychecks through. We'll just include it all in the next pay period."
And I find that teaching for free is less motivating than teaching for money.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How to Have Perky Breasts

True confession: I am on the downhill side of 40 and I still don't wear a bra.
My doctor confirmed that I have "dense" breast tissue as she looked at the results of my recent mammogram. I like to think of them as "upstanding" breasts. Did I do anything different to make sure my breasts didn't begin to sag as I got older, had three children, nursed for over five years? Yes, I did, and I'm going to share my secret with you here.
My journey to perky breasts began more than 25 years ago with a college student trip to Europe. The photos are dull instamatics where I look like an outline.
Here I am in Venice in St. Marco Square.
The trip took us through about 12 countries in three weeks. Everyone, including the bus driver and the tour guide, were college students. Most of us were American college students; the bus driver was Giorgio from Italy, and the tour guide was Christian from Austria.
I'm going to say I was fairly conservative at the time, but one night, sitting with Christian and my boyfriend Todd who I was traveling with, we had a discussion about bras and breasts.

Strange as it may seem, this conversation was the basis of my breast philosophy for the rest of my life.
At that time 25 years ago, lingerie was not as popular in Europe as it was now. People bought perfume and chocolates and cuckoo clocks, but not lingerie. The reason was scandalous -- most European women didn't wear bras.
Christian, the Austrian who apparently had put a lot of thought into this theory, suggested that when women wear bras, the bras do the work to hold the breasts up. Once the bra comes off, the breasts sag.
And that was it. That theory formed my breast philosophy. I got rid of my bras and haven't looked back.
Occasionally, I'd buy a pretty bra to wear to seduce my husband. I had some nursing bras to keep wet spots off my blouses when the kids were little. As soon as they were old enough to eat solid food, the nursing bras were packed away.
I've wondered throughout the years if I should start wearing bras. I'd do the pencil test -- you know the one where you put a pencil under a breast to see if the breast will hold it up. Nope.
Whenever I put a bra on, it feels itchy and uncomfortable. I sit in church behind coeds and notice the awful lines that bras make on their backs, no matter how thin they are.
All of those reasons seem legitimate to continue to leave the bras in the lingerie chest.
My doctor isn't buying the perky breast theory. She says it's probably genetics. As proof, she offers the National Geographic pictures of natives who never wore bras. But, seriously, those women have led much harder lives than I have.
Not wearing a bra has worked for me, even if I didn't burn my bras for revolutionary reasons, it still feels a little naughty to go without it.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Cat's Tail is on Fire!

Even as he stood in the kitchen with a dish towel in hand, my husband had to know that this story could not avoid the blog.
I had allowed the younger cat, Tybalt, to go outside a few minutes before. He stays on the sidewalk and rolls onto his back the minute he feels the sunshine, unlike the older cat who always makes a break for it. I let Tybalt enjoy the warm day and the outside smells for a few minutes until I carried him back inside.
I returned to my computer and Earl decided to heat some water for tea.
That's when I heard him speaking in warning tones to the cat.
"Tybalt. Is that feeling a little warm?"
I went back to the kitchen and saw that the cat was sitting on the counter staring out the back door. His tail swished back and forth, close to the gas stove burner that Earl had lit to warm his tea water.
The cats, of course, are not allowed on the kitchen counters. We have a spray bottle of water to use that convinces them to jump down. I have even put pieces of tape, sticky side up, along the counter to dissuade them from using the kitchen counters as a short cut.
I searched for the spray bottle to get Tybalt off the counter.
"Let him learn his lesson," Earl said.
With another flick of Tybalt's tail, the end flamed yellow.
I could picture him making a run for it, his tail lighting couches and curtains on fire. The house would burn to the ground because my husband thought a cat, with a 3-second memory, could learn his lesson by catching his tail on fire.
As Earl described it later, it was just like a cartoon where the fuse is lit.
The cat's black tail flamed, Earl smacked the fire with the dish towel, and all that remained was the sickening smell of burnt hair.
Tybalt is okay. He sat on my lap later licking the burnt tail hair. Earl assures me that the skin underneath never burned, just the hair, and that the cat is not hurt.
I just hope he learned his lesson. Not the cat, my husband. Anything that blatantly obvious will land him on the blog.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Treasuring Memories of Mom

Today is Mother's Day. I'm not sure why we decided to have a day to honor mothers. In a lot of societies, mothers are revered every day. Here, I think it kind of depends on how much respect a mother demands.
For me, even though Earl declared it Mother's Day weekend, starting Friday with lunch out, I've felt a little lonely for my mother, who lives in Florida, and for my daughter, who's at college in New York.
Don't get me wrong. I've been wined and dined and gifted. When one of my sons woke me at 3 a.m. after a bad dream, he remembered to tell me Happy Mother's Day in the middle of the night. I got flowers from my daughter, good smelling Aveda products from my husband and sons, and a mustard-yellow fondue pot from my oldest son who went to the garage sales yesterday. I had coffee with friends, went to a writing conference, attended dance class with my husband and stopped for drinks on an outdoor terrace in the sunshine. I have no reason to complain about the amount of attention I received on Mother's Day.
I have been thinking, however, about what makes a good mother. Some days, I know I'm a good mother. Other days, I don't quite reach that high bar.
What I have decided is that everything good I know about being a mother, I learned from my mother.
Here she is young and in love with my dad.

Some of the snapshots I have in my mind are the tough times my mom overcame, raising four little kids and crying into a dish towel. Then I think of her jumping rope with us in the slanted driveway with her teased hairdo.
She finished college while raising four children. She worked full time as a teacher. She took kids to baseball and basketball and brownies. I remember every time she raised her voice at us, because it happened so rarely.
I remember my mom being calm, and mostly loving us more than anything else. And that's what I tried to give my kids.
Here's a picture of mom and dad with my two brothers and me at Christmas time.

I haven't always been the best wife, and sometimes I've jumped off the cliff of crazy mothering, but most of the time, I've tried to accept my kids for who they are and let them know that I love them.
This mom experiment is still under way for me, but for my mom, I just want you to know that you did a great job. I always felt loved. I always felt that no matter how I messed up, I could talk to you about and you would tell me that everything would turn out okay. And it has.
Thanks, Mom.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Ebooks versus Codex

I spent the day at a Writer's Conference, which usually inspires me to sit down and get some writing done. The keynote speaker, a guy named Lev Grossman who writes for Time Magazine, had some interesting observations on ebooks versus the bound version we use now, which he calls a Codex. He explained how books used to be on scrolls, which wasn't very useful for flipping back to previous sections or marking certain passages. The early Christians started using codex for the Bible, and the bound style caught on. So, for 2000 years we've been using books that have front to back pages, until now.
The eBook threatens to replace the bound version.
Some good things about eBooks, he pointed out, are the compactness and portability. Some bad things are the battery life, since a print book never runs out of battery life; it's always there. And a print book is very "robust." You drop it, you simply pick it up again; whereas, when an eBook reader gets dropped, well, there may be repercussions and cracked screens. EBooks have display/contrast issues unlike print books and eBooks are tricky to take notes on.
Like the scrolls used by the Romans, eBooks are linear. The reader goes from the beginning to the end and returning to favorite sections of the book is difficult.
The best thing about a print book versus an eBook though, according to Grossman, is that physical proof of the fictional experience. The book sits on the shelf as a reminder of the whole world within the cover. He compared it to a magical dream about riding on an eagle, and then finding a feather on the pillow, as proof that something more than a dream has occurred. That's what the paperback or hardback book on the shelf is, the feather that says something more happened here.
Publishers, of course, are concerned about making money, They don't care if the reader has that eagle feather as a talisman, as long as they have the cash in their pockets.
"They aren't realizing the other tangibles from publishing codex," Grossman said. "Keep a close eye on the trade offs."

Friday, May 06, 2011

Moseying Along To School

I drove Tucker to school this morning since Spencer went early. On the way home, I stopped to get a gallon of milk, which put me driving through the neighborhoods smack dab in the middle of elementary school time.
Our high school and middle school start at 8 a.m. while the elementary kids begin at 8:10 a.m. That gives parents time to get kids to both schools if they need to.
In our little burg, we don't have any school buses. Everyone can walk or bike to school. For the high school age kids, of course, most of them drive so they can be cool, and sleep in later.
It struck me as I saw all the parents walking to school with their elementary-aged children: Walking to school with little kids takes a long time.

My kids didn't go to school when they were that age, and I always said the best thing about homeschooling was not having to get out of the door in the morning to get somewhere.
I don't think I saw one parent and child combo actually making progress. They were stopped waiting for the dog. Or the kid was in a yard looking at flowers. Another kid knelt down on the sidewalk tying his shoe. Another kid was pointing up in a tree.
The parents stood on the sidewalk, their shoulders slumped in defeat, realizing that a beautiful spring day was no time to hurry along curious children.
The shortest distance between two points (home and school) is not a straight line for most little kids.
I guess the parents know that the walk to school will be more like a mosey, or a treasure hunt.
That's a hard lesson, but a good one, for those of us who are always in a hurry. We need to stop and smell the daffodils before they're gone.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Lonely Cinco de Mayo

I worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and forgot to take a lunch along. My stomach growled and around 2, I texted Tucker, suggesting we go out for Mexican food to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I got no reponse. When school let out, Spencer texted me to say he was hanging out with Casey. I suggested Mexican food again. He seemed ambivalent.

My widely mixed heritage includes Scottish, Irish, British, French, American Indian and African, but no Mexican, so celebrating Cinco de Mayo was not a necessity. But the day was sunny with pure blue skies, the only break from rain in weeks with more rain on the agenda in the coming weeks. I could practically taste the tangy margarita that I planned to order with my dinner, allowing Spencer to drive us home.

The minute I got off work, I called both boys, my stomach really churning and my mouth watering. If we hurried, we could beat the crowd and sit in the sun. They both blew me off. Tucker said he had Mexican for lunch, Qdoba or Chipotle, no doubt. Spencer said maybe another time, and later came home with a Taco Bell cup. I guess they celebrated in their own way.

I stopped at Rancho Allegre and ordered a burrito. I asked whether they'd give me a margarita to go, but the lightly-accented waitress said, "Sorry, but it's against the law."
Whatever.
I came home and ate my burrito, chased with a pineapple Smirnoff Ice. Not nearly the bite of a margarita.
This isn't the first time that I've failed to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Mexico's independence day.
When Earl and I were living in Tampa, we worked with a fascinating group of people. One of our friends, Dave, left the Tampa Tribune for a job at the Miami Herald. As Cinco de Mayo approached, our friend Rosalva, a California native whose family came from Mexico, suggested we take a road trip down to Miami to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

So we did. We piled into a car and drove the four hours to Miami. We all crashed in Dave's apartment, ready for the big Cinco de Mayo celebration. It wasn't until we were walking the streets of Miami Beach that we realized Miami's latin influence is Cuba, which doesn't celebrate Cinco de Mayo.

It wouldn't have been so bad if the assumption had been made by a bunch of transplanted Midwesterners, but the fact that Rosalva was the ring leader made it a little embarrassing.

Hope everyone else got to sip a maragarita today.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

You'll Never Find...

When my boys aren't making me mad about something, they crack me up with their ideas of teenage romance.
This morning I was greeted with rain and 43 degrees. I decided to forego a cold, wet run. Instead, I took Spencer's car to put some gas in it. He told me that he had scraped together $2 in nickels and quarters the night before to put gas in the car. We give him $20 a week for gas so he can drive to school and to basketball practice with occasional forays over to Ohio State or to The Men's Wearhouse to order his tux.
That seemed like plenty of money for gas until prices shot up to $4.19 per gallon.
As I stopped at a stop sign, I heard things clinking. I thought maybe empty bottles were under the car seat. Another stop and another clink made me open the console betweeen the seats.
There, I found an aluminum bottle of Old Spice body spray -- a necessity for teenage boys.
The next item puzzled me. Two votive candles in glass candleholders.
When I got home, as the boys were scrambling to get out the door on time, I asked Spencer why the candles.
"I set them down in the sunken area and light them," he said. "Adds a little ambiance."
"While you're driving?" I ask.
"No, when I'm parked at the turf or the school lot."
I know that the high schoolers hang around their cars on weekend nights and I tried to picture Spencer with his flickering candlelight.
I told him he was definitely in competition with his father who had sculpted shag in his van as a teenager.
Then I suggested that candles and cars don't really mix that well since cars are highly flammable.
"Yeah, I gotta get rid of those," he agreed.
There goes the romantic candlelight when sitting in the middle of the school parking lot surrounded by other teenagers. I guess they'll have to fallback on Plan B -- a portable strobe light that they ordered from Best Buy.
"Are you sure we can't use it while we drive around?" he asked.
"Pretty sure."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Weather Fantasies

We are well past 40 days and 40 nights of rain, yet no arks are in sight.
Let's just pretend that the weather is beautiful. If April showers bring May flowers then we should be floating in blooms pretty soon.
These are tulips growing in front of my house. I thought they were a little late this year.
Every neighborhood has an overachiever and this neighbor excells in tulips apparently.
Here's another vantage point of the yard full of flowers.
Earl and I planned to videotape ourselves in front of these tulips in an effort to win a bicycle trip in Holland from KLM. The deadline was May 1 and we never made a videotape to upload. I guess we didn't want the trip enough.
Similar to Tucker who injured his knee recently when he cracked it on the door he was opening. It hurt too much for him to take part in P.E., but not quite enough for him to go to the freezer and get ice to put on it.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Simmering Tempers

That's me, simmering this afternoon. I planned to blog about the boys' confirmation last night, or maybe about Spencer's first college visit, but I'm so over being a mother to teenage boys right now.
Aaaargh!
Instead, I'll post a couple of photos.
One is my beautiful great niece Caroline who has grown up in the week since Easter when we saw her last.

The other is a precocious 4-year-old at church who felt the confirmation service went on a little too long. She is the youngest of 4 children and she rules the roost. She was mad because she couldn't sit with her mother, who was a confirmation sponsor for one of the teenage girls. Staying away from mom was torture for little Natalie.

One of the problems with my camera is that the photo may look great on screen, but once I upload it to the computer, it isn't the amazing shot I had imagined. Like this one of Natalie. She's a little blurry and the color seems a bit off. I wasn't allowed to use a flash during mass.
Luckily, Natalie's sister Morgan posed for me in the remaining daylight, so I got a clear, ferocious picture or her.

Sometimes I long for the day when my kids were these ages. Life seemed so simple then.
But I'd better not forget how tiring life was then -- physically tiring anyway.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Good with The Bad

In less than two weeks, my daughter will be home from college for the summer. The end of an all male household, plus me, is in sight.
But I don't want to give the impression that having Grace away at college is all bad. I've found one silver lining to this gray cloud.

Since she left in August, I have used the exact same ponytail holder every time I needed a ponytail holder. For morning runs or P90X, that ponytail holder was waiting for me. Sometimes, I might have needed to move a brush out of the way to find it, but none of the males in my family took it.
It didn't disappear from my shelf to be lost in a swim bag or pulled from Grace's ponytail in a bedroom to be laid on a bedside table and later swept under a bed. It didn't find its way into a cupholder in a car. I wore it when I exercised, then I would take it out and put it back on the shelf where it remained until I needed it again.
Amazing. One ponytail holder for the entire school year.
Still, for the reward of having Grace back, I guess I'll buy another pack of ponytail holders and welcome her home. It seems a small price to pay.

Dreaming of France -- Caunes-Minervois

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