Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Teacherly Advice

A great thing about talking to another English teacher is the ideas we generate when we're together. I suppose other people talk about work when they meet up with someone in a similar field, and I wonder if other doctors, lawyers, engineers, artists, etc. talk about their jobs with as much enthusiasm as teachers do. At least the teachers I hang out with. Or maybe it's just me, and they're all humoring me.
Anyway, when I met E for coffee yesterday, we came up with some great brainstorms. I've been complaining loudly lately to anyone who will listen about the horrible cloud high stakes tests have created over my head--and the head of any teacher who likes to ENGAGE students' minds and interests, and not just "teach to the test." Complaining about how I don't want to just push multiple choice tests and worksheets at my students but get them to think creatively and write creatively and interact with literature instead of just spew content and analysis. But the MAN keeps saying we need to prepare students for the ACT and nothing else matters (we've even been told students don't need to care about what they write because they won't ever write after high school) (can that be true? I'm not naive enough to think all my students will WRITE all the time, but surely everyone writes, in some fashion, right?)
Enough ranting.
E gave me some great ideas I can't wait to try to get my students to produce meaningful, authentic writing--writing that has a purpose and an audience.
1) for my Creative Writing Club kids: have a writing marathon some Saturday, where we travel to 3-4 local spots, sit and write in each one for 30 minutes, then get together at the end to share what we've written. Pick one to polish and publish (local newspaper, maybe?)
2) do a collaborative project with my Creative Writing (class) students and her 7-8 grade writing students. Pair them up and have them write a poem together; I will try to visit her classroom and she will try to visit mine; we may try to get the students together to share at the end.
3) send my English 10 students out into the community to get corporate sponsors so we can raise money to publish a class anthology, for which each student will submit one piece of writing.

Are these not great ideas? I can't wait to put them into action.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding My Strength

Today I met a good friend for coffee, and amidst our talk about Christmas and kids and teacherly things, she told me something that really made me think.
She said she's been reading this book by Marcus Buckingham about finding your strengths. According to the book, so many of us focus on our weaknesses and try to work on them instead of focusing on our strengths and building them. Seems silly, right? But how many times have I looked in the mirror and seen the new red spot that will probably erupt into a pimple instead of my cute round cheeks? When I look at my hair, why do I see the gray hairs instead of the blondish--okay, mostly brown hairs? When I listen to myself sing, why do I focus on the missed notes intead of all the good ones?
And I know I do this when I grade students' papers: I write maybe one sentence or even just half a sentence about what the student did well on his or her paper, and then I spend the next four sentences dissecting his or her mistakes. Why do we do this?
My friend said the book claims that if we dwell on our strengths and praise ourselves for what we do well--and if we try to do MORE of those things we're good at, we'll be well--physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.
So what are you good at? What am I good at? How can we improve ourselves by focusing on our strenghts. Good thoughts for New Year's Eve-Eve.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sicko

So what's up with getting sick on Christmas day (head cold) and still not being over it? Today, I slept in until 9:13, letting Clint get up with Jared, and snuggled back under the cozy blankets until that decadent hour. And after lunch, when Jared went down for his nap, guess what I did? Yup, I took a nap too. And now, at 6:40, I'm feeling tired enough to go to bed already. How am I going to accomplish my list of good intentions for the Christmas holiday if I can't get enough energy to change out of my pajamas?
I have done a few things: I finished grading my Creative Writing students' papers; I baked a ton of cookies (on 12/24, the day before I got sick), I read a few books, and I've sat around. Oh, and I've probably posted more regularly to this blog than I have in the last 2 months. But other than that, nothing.
So my revised resolution for tomorrow: get up early, meet E for breakfast, and keep non-lounge clothes on all day. Sit up in chair (no slouching or reclining), get up and move around, and try to speak with normal voice. Sounds doable. We'll see how it turns out.

Oh, and that essay I mentioned a week or so ago? The one I submitted to Miranda Magazine? It's on their website. Follow the link and read it, if you want to.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Question of the day

What movie is this from?

"Everyone I know has a big but. What's your big but, Simone?"

Book Review: Beauty


You know how you can read a book once, set it down, and come back to it a few years later and enjoy it all over again? That's what this book is like. I find that most of the books I buy are books I will read multiple times, and there is a unique sort of pleasure to be found in a second, third, ninth read of a treasured book.

Beauty is the almost-sixteen year old daughter of the Duke of Westfaire, a man whose two favorite passions appear to be fathering children and visiting holy relics. Beauty's three closest friends are Father Raymond, the priest who teaches her Latin and the classics and who sees far too much for Beauty's comfort; Giles, her father's handsome man-at-arms, who is both honorable and socially inferior to her; and Beloved, her half-sister who could be her twin, who was born the same day as Beauty.

There is a mystery about Beauty, one her seven spinster aunts (who live at the castle) refuse to share with her, but Beauty knows it has something to do with her mother, who disappeared shortly after her birth.

When a woman comes to visit, a woman whom her father has pledged himself to marry, Beauty is ousted from her bedroom and takes refuge in the Dove Tower, which had been her mother's favorite room when she was still at Westfaire. There Beauty finds a letter left for her by her mother, a note revealing that her mother Elladine is Lady of Ylles, a land in Faery, and Beauty is therefore half-fairy. The note further says that an evil enchantment was laid on Beauty at her christening: that on her sixteenth birthday, the Duke's beautiful daughter would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into an enchanted slumber.

(Is this story beginning to sound familiar?)

Beauty convinces Beloved to take her place for the birthday party so she can escape the fancy clothes and admiring eyes, and it is Beloved who falls prey to the curse. By the time Beauty realizes what has happened, all in the castle have fallen into an unwakable slumber, and a hedge of thorny roses has begun to climb about the castle. Beauty escapes and stands outside her home, weeping in dismay. There is but one spot of hope in her dim outlook: Giles had been sent away on a mission by Father Raymond after the priest observed the two young people exchanging a love-charged glance, so Giles has been spared from the enchantment.

As she wanders the countryside, blinded by tears, Beauty stumbles upon something completely foreign to her: a crew of time-travelling filmmakers from the twenty-first century, arrived in the fourteenth to record a bit of magic. They seize Beauty and take her back to their time, a world that is horrifying in its absence of magic and hope and beauty.

From there the story becomes a romp through space and time as Beauty tries to find her way back home and figure out her destiny. Along the way, stories of Cinderella, Snow White, and the Frog Prince get worked in, plus numerous visits to the land of Faery, which is peopled with a myriad of fantastical creatures.

Although the narrative becomes preachy at times, when Tepper rants about the fate of the world if modern people do not conserve resources, appreciate nature, stop deforestation, and allow abortion, there is enough magic and humor in the majority of the novel to give the sermons just a hint of bitterness that is quickly swallowed and forgotten.

In all, I highly recommend this book, especially if you like a mix of fantasy and humor, but please don't assume that I espouse all of Tepper's views.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Soul Sistah

Well, apparently, my youngest sister Gretchen has been feeling increased anti-sister angst since the post I made oh, what, like three months ago? More? about the wine/cheese/bread party with Ilona, and how she is my best friend. Really, I should have known better than to bare my deepest feelings like that. Turns out, I may think Ilona is MY best friend, but (alas) I am not hers. Where's the sisterhood in that?
And now Gretchen has been simmering with indignation that she does not hold the same place in my heart. Apparently, she thinks she should share the pedestal with Ilona (and I'm wondering if I should just shove both of them off--the pedestal, that is, not the mortal coil--and find a BFF who will reciprocate my devotion).
But since Gretchen has been bugging me now for too long to have her own ODE published on my blog, here it is.

Oh Gretchen
faithful gentle tweezer
of mine eyebrows
thou bastion of fashion and
movie watching panolply
THOU who hast bravely
applied dye to my headly follicles
in what is (unbeknownst to thee and me)
a vain effort at beautification
because not even the most discriminating of
critics can tell the difference between
Mocha Brown and our natural color
THOU who hast designs upon the industries
of theatre and music
who hast shared thine voice with
untold countless masses
with undiminished benificence
My thanks is heartily rendered for the
following acts of service:

FIRST: for quaffing the elixir of joy
with reckless abandon and infusing
the homestead with laughter
SECOND: for sneezing like a cat, almost always seven times
THIRD: for inspiring creative cooking from
the paternal units with thine foodish
allergies
FOURTH: for filling our lives with song
FIFTH: for acting as my surrogate child
when I was pubescent and beginning to feel
motherly inclinations
SIXTH: for nearly always happily agreeing
to play babysitter

For being a treasure and almost always happy
EXCEPT WHEN YOU'RE NOT,
I thank you.
For music and kidwatching,
I thank you.
And if I decide to let Ilona keep her honored position
in my mental hierarchy, I promise to push her over
A BIT
so you can climb aboard.

There: are you happy now?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

So I'm not a bah humbug sort of girl at all, not even close. I love Christmas, love spending time with family and eating good food. It's just that right now, all the kids are watching a movie, all the last minute cookie decorating has been done (Swedish Cremes and Hedgehog Truffles and Baked Pecan Truffles, in case you're curious), and most of the adults are working on a puzzle.
Of course, since I've started typing, the quiet has shattered and Sam has a poopy diaper and he doesn't want to get changed; the puzzle has been completed and the puzzlers dispersed; judging by the noise of children, I'm guessing the movie's finished; and Gretchen's playing piano and singing. Clint's standing next to the computer desk, tapping. I think he wants to get on the internet.
The presents have all been unwrapped and the paper cleaned up. It feels like Christmas is done. And here's my big admission: sometimes I feel like the holidays are not so fun. I like parts of the season. I like sitting in my living room in the evening with all the lights off except for those on the Christmas tree. I like singing "Silent Night" at the Christmas Eve service, especially the verse we usually sing a capella, when everyone is holding a candle and the lights are dim. I like--no I LOVE cookies and candy. I like watching my kids open presents.
But it's like the feeling you get when you spend a long, dedicated time in the kitchen making dinner, and you set the table beautifully, and then the meal is done in twenty minutes. I have spent maybe four to six weeks preparing for this one day, and now it's almost over. Is there some place where people spread gift giving out over a period of time? I'm not talking about in-law and step-family Christmas celebrations. I'm just saying (and maybe it's because Jared is two and a half and he's really INTO presents) that it felt a little frenzied, and the meal was good and all, but now it's over and all I am is tired.
Not a great way to end a post, but I'm too lethargic to think of anything else to say. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Not Even New Year's

So much for good intentions, eh? I finished the novel in a whirlwind of typing, and as I look over my (now, I realize, WAY too optimistic) list of plans for the rest of my days in 2008, I see I've done...hmm...a lot of reading. That was on there somewhere, right?
And get ready for Christmas. I can check that off. As of today, shopping is almost done. Two more little things to put in a couple stockings. Oh, and a birthday present for my mom. Whose birthday is tomorrow. Any ideas? Hmm. Not a lot of time to come up with something great.
So here I am at 9pm, just finished a delicious bowl of TurtleFudgeBrownie ice cream, and I'm thinking about those good intentions.
I've got one notch on my belt though, something I'm proud of. I did submit an essay to an online magazine. Miranda Literary Magazine. And they accepted it! Woo-hoo. Thanks, Ronster.
So I'll send out a note when the issue hits the proverbial press, and you can check me out in online print. Ron, the editor, says they will be offering a new feature with this issue, print on demand, so if you'd like a paper copy, let me know and I can get one for you. No idea how much it'll cost.
Revised goal then, for Christmas break:
Send out 5 query letters
Finish grading Creative Writing stories (should probably put that first)
Do first major revision for latest novel

And goal for the rest of the winter:
10 more query letters
One contest submission
Submit novel to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest

Keep me honest! Make sure I do it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Drumroll please

After 29 grueling days of feverish typing, I am pleased to announce that my new novel, presently nameless, is finished 27 hours ahead of schedule. True, I did type almost all day today, to the probable frustration of my family, but it's done.

How long is it? You ask. Baby _______ weighs in at 51,000 words (or so) (unfortunately, I shut down the laptop before I checked my final word count) and 172 pages.

Am I glad it's done? Heck, yeah. I've got some reading to catch up on.

What next?
Hmm, more faithful blog posts.
Look for two different sorts of agents.
Check out wordhustler.com and find something short to write.
Hello! Read some more.
(Ugh) Christmas shopping.
And...spend time with the fam. Yeah, sorry guys, you shouldn't be at the bottom of the list. Thanks for being so bifurcating awesome.

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's going crazy

Oh, hunting season, how I love thee (sometimes)
For thou takest mine husband and progeny out of mine sight.
Lost in such depths of despair that in mine loneliness,
I crawled forth

Germs of ideas sprouting in the cavernous recesses of my head
Spewing forth in letters and words
Spidering across the lucent glowing screen
Multiplying in indecent haste into

23,000 words
And 80 pages

Monday, November 10, 2008

Plugging Away

As of Sunday night:

53 pages
1400 words

Woo hoo!

Thanks for suffering through blog withdrawal with me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Update

Novel started: November 1
Average daily word count: 1845 (just kidding...I have no idea what the average is, but I'm doing all right)
Number of days I've missed writing so far: NONE
Total pages to date: 32

That's it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Dialect Lesson

The activity is finished; movie clips are viewed; dialects are discussed; dialogues are written. Overall, a great success. What did I learn?
1) when you watch a movie on your own, the swearing and other bad parts aren't as obvious as they are when you watch the same movie with 26 fifteen year olds. In 6 minutes, Matt Damon and Robin Williams said the F-word 7 times, as Cory S. was happy to inform me.
2) according to a large majority of students, any movie viewed at school is automatically more interesting than the same movie viewed at home. Therefore, students clamored loudly and almost convincingly enough to let me play the entire film of Men in Black. But I persevered.
3) no matter how many times I give directions and even if I give them both aloud and in writing, a handful of students will still find ways to shirk the complete assignment.

What did they learn?
1) it can be fun to study dialect, especially when they get to watch fun movies.
2) it is very frustrating to watch movie CLIPS.
3) Mark Twain is a genius, an even greater genius than some had previously thought.
4) their English teacher is pretty sweet.

Sometimes I'm so clever I amaze myself. ;)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Intended Use

When I conceived the idea for my blog, it was meant to be a wastebasket of sorts, a repository for possible ideas that I could dive back into if needed and find inspiration for a story or poem. I haven't done much of that, but I thought today might be a good day to toss some things away and see what happens.
I write every day with my Creative Writing students. And I've got a notebook half full now of the beginnings of stories and poems. Actually, most of the poems are complete, but the stories...I get tired of them and move on the next week.
Here are the kernels of the stories I've begun. Do any of them sound like they should be continued?
1) a fractured fairy tale in which a princess has grown up as a changeling, raised by a family of disguised fairies who want her for her human vitality. She eventually finds out she's not the same as her foster family and goes out into the world in search of her identity. It's got a wry tone so far, with a winking knowing narrator.
2) Pauly Malucci is a taxi driver in NY who always lands the night shift. One night it's so humid everyone seems to be at home in front of an air conditioner, and Pauly is just driving around looking for a customer. He sees a body lying in the partial light of a street lamp and stops to investigate...and lands in the middle of a murder scene.
3) Gregor Samsa (remake of Kafka's "Metamorphosis") wakes up one morning from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into...Underdog. What does he do? Does he decide to keep his new identity or find a way to revert back to his slightly boring self?
4) This one is finished, but could be polished. A woman tells the story of her abusive husband and justifies murdering him. It's an experiment with an unreliable narrator, but when I read it to my students, they didn't get that she was unreliable. So either they're slow or I need to do some major revisions.
5) Memoir about finding out I was pregnant with Jared, how it felt to be pregnant and have a baby at this later stage in my life, how he has changed our lives.
6) Science fiction: Captain David Stark and his crew are stranded on an alien planet which appears to be uninhabited. But then strange things begin to happen with their sensors, things like the sensors showing signs of life but nothing appears on the view screen. Are there aliens? Are they invisible? Are they hostile or friendly? Will Capt Stark ever get home to his family?
7) I'm working on this one now: Arin Maxwell owns a small bakery in a small town, and her business is failing. She keeps baking and fills her shop with bread, but the customers walk past her window, looking in with hungry eyes, but walking past. A man comes in one day, beefy and sweaty, asking for protein bars. She turns him away. Then when she goes to deliver the day-olds to a shelter run by her friend, Josie tells her even the women at the shelter don't want bread anymore; they're all on the low-carb diet. So Arin decides the time has come to take on the MAN and get her customers back...

What do you think? Any good ideas here, or should I scrap them all and keep starting over?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Tricks

Since I've only taught for six years now, I don't exactly consider myself an old dog, but I do find that I often get into a rut, and now that we're almost half way through Huck Finn, I have become a bit bored myself with the tedious daily schedule of 1)review yesterday's reading and sigh when the same three kids demonstrate that they're the only ones who read their assigned pages 2) clue the rest of the class in on what happened, probably reinforcing their decision that it is unnecessary to read the assignment anyway since the teacher and the three good kids will give them the highlights 3) dive in to reading, trying to remember exactly how Huck sounded yesterday--and trying to keep the King's voice at least a little different than the Duke's, and 4) in the last minutes assign the next night's reading homework.
Sometimes, to make things fun, I vary things up a little by throwing in a pop quiz. Always depressing because then I know for sure how many kids didn't read the chapter. At least when I just ASK them about it, I can think maybe they DID read and are too shy to raise their hands. Oh, and earlier this week, I had them draw and label mappish diagram of Huck's adventures thus far. But for tomorrow, I think I've outdone myself on creativity. I am so excited about the lesson, I am almost bursting with glee.
The idea came to me last week, as I was showering. Always a great place to forment ideas, I have found. Maybe it's the steam and the still-dreamy state. And I don't turn the lights on either, which heightens the sense that I am still mostly asleep. Anyway, I got to thinking about how Mark Twain really is a genius when it comes to writing dialect, but that my reading of his novel (while, admittedly, pretty durn good) is not a true rendition of the variety of the characters. And I was also thinking about how in America, even today, we have a wealth of different accents and dialects. And I was thinking about the fact that Twain carefully studied speech patterns, eavesdropping on people and transcribing their words, and turning those patterns into the dialogue in his novel. And that's when the lightning struck my brain.
If only I could find a bunch of movies that have people speaking with really great, strong accents--the real kind, not the totally fake kind of accents, and have my kids watch clips of the movies and then transcribe what they hear, that could be really cool. So I fooled around on google for an embarrassingly long while, looking through lists of movies with good accents (and sadly, most of the lists are lists of movies with horrible accents--people are so negative!), but I finally came up with my list.
I'll start with My Fair Lady. Yeah, I know, they're Brits. But the scene where Prof. Higgins is spying on Eliza Dolittle and writing down every word she says...I can't not show that. That's exactly what Twain did, and what my students will be attempting. So we'll start with that.
Then it's on to Good Will Hunting. I had to look long and hard to find a clip without the F word, at least too many explosions of it, but I found one near the beginning. And Matt Damon's Boston accent is fantastic.
Then they'll watch Escanaba in the Moonlight. We're starting off easy, I hope, with strong clear accents that they should be able to pick up on. I plan on playing each clip twice. The first time, they'll just listen and watch. The second time, they'll write down characteristic words phonetically as they hear them. Then they'll share (and add to) their lists in their peer groups while I'm cuing up the next movie.
Then I'll pop in Sweet Home Alabama, a movie I really love, not sure why, and Reese Witherspoon's Southern accent is pretty accurate--which makes sense, considering she's a North Carolina girl.
Then I think Men in Black which is perfect because it's got both Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, both with strong accents. I'm going to show the scene where the two meet after Smith has come in for initial Agency competence tests.
Next Saturday Night Fever for John Travolta's New York accent. I'm going with the scene where he eats the family dinner and they're all arguing with each other and slapping each other.
Then finally, Nell for Jodie Foster's Appalachian accent. Only problem is: I rented the thing, but I can't find it. I'm afraid Jared hid it somewhere or maybe it fell under the seat in my car...I have to find a clip before I just randomly pop it in...hopefully the lesson runs over till Monday so I've got some fudge room.
Then after they've done all those transcriptions, I am going to have them try writing some dialogue with at least 2 of the dialects they've heard and then write a reflection on the experience, hopefully showing a realization that Mark Twain's work was not easy or quick.
So I'm sure it's pretty clear that I am eager for class tomorrow. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Finding the Voice

I love reading out loud. It's probably my favorite thing to do when I'm teaching. I am pretty good at it too, if I do say so myself.

My favorite read-aloud book of all time is Of Mice and Men--mostly because I just love to do Lennie Small's voice. I've seen a couple different versions of the movie, and my voice for Lennie is a combination of John Malkovich's Lennie with a little sprinkle of Randy Quaid's Lennie too (this was a made for TV movie that came out in the 80's--can't find a clip for it). When I start in on Lennie's voice each time I read it, my students perk up. By the end of the novella, most of them are so glued to the story, they mourn along with George when he...well, I won't tell you; don't want to spoil the ending.

But I've discovered a new favorite book to read aloud: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yeah, it's long, and I've only read a total of 4 chapters aloud to my students so far, and my voice is already getting scratchy--but really, I should multiply that 4 by 3 since I've got that many sections of sophomore English. And I do assign reading homework each night, but I get so addicted to reading out loud to them, to getting into Huck's southern twang and trying my hand at Jim's negro slave dialect, I just can't help but read it out loud. For some kids, the kids who can't or won't do their reading homework no matter how many chapter summaries I assign, this is the only place they will engage in this book.

And I figure it's my job as their English teacher to make that encounter as memorable as possible. I've already been stopped by former students and other teachers who can hear me in their classrooms when I get into full swing. "So," they say, "you're reading Huck again." I think I can detect a twinge of jealousy in their voices. Maybe they want to sit in on my class and hear me read.

Or maybe I'm just flattering myself.

Whatever the case, I like reading out loud and I intend to continue doing it until I lose my voice.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Rent

Oh sheet of sage splendor
Of glorious striped matte and satin damask
Stretched taut over the vastness
Of ivory comfort puffed with foam
Imbued with memories of our bodies
Lying supine in repose
Drowsy in darkness
Restless with dreams

What hath caused thee to rend thyself?

Was it because I loved thee overmuch
Discarding the other sheets for their
Faded limpness, their years of use
Ingrained too deeply even for the vicious
Cycle of rinse and spin,
The searing tumble seeking to evaporate moisture

Was it out of protest, out of tiredness
That thou allowed thinness to invade thy very weave?

Perhaps the tear began in stealth
A small separation of fibers
A test of our observation

Thou hast won this battle,
O sheet of sage splendor,
But dost thou fathom the enormity
Of thy choice?
The product of thy scheme?
No longer shall our bodies cover thee
In times of darkness
Thou shalt be cast aside
Thrown into the vile bin of refuse
Making company with castoffs and rubbish
With the unwanted and discarded

Hark!
What hast thou murmured into mine ear?
The susurration of a whisper,
The hushed crumple as I ease thy elastic fingers
From the mattress
Villainy, thou murmureth, foul deeds done
Under shadow.

To hear thee tell as I bend close to listen
A tale of savage malcontent
Mine own beloved partner hath wrought a deed
Of such fiendish destruction
Mine heart hath frozen within my breast

The wicked sharp nails on his toes
Those nails which he hath refuseth to cut
Hath worked an end to thy life
Hath rent thee in the very fabric of thy soul

Clippers, thou hath whispered, and nail files
And rasps
A powersander as well
Shall be mine weapons of vengeance
I gather thee close for one last embrace
Before folding thy ruined form
Into the rubbermaid masoleum

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pie Making

she bends over the sink and
water trickles on fingers (cracked with use)
which curl around the flashing silver
handle of the knife
as she whittles away red
skin leaving
white flesh exposed to light

naked fruit rests in a white enamel
bowl by her elbow
each waiting to be sliced
and hollowed of its core

the mound has grown in the bowl
so tall she turns off the water
and begins to slice
water dries on her hands which stick
with the transparent blood
of apples

a crust drapes over the pie pan
and apples sliced and cored
tossed now with sugar and flour and
cinnamon
fall into the dish

her hands are floured
dusted white in cracks and nail beds
as she unrolls the top and crimps the edges

(her hands are washed and dried)
then she slides the pie into the oven

after she squints at the timer to set it
she presses clean hands to her back
and tries to straighten out the pain
into a thin manageable line

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Notice is served

You know how sometimes you get one of those reply emails when someone's out of the office for a vacation or business trip or something? I just want all my faithful readers to have advance notice that my blog may take one of those vacations for the ENTIRE month of November.
Why, you ask? Well, as you may not know, November is National Novel Writing Month. And a challenge has been issued to anyone who likes to write to produce a 50,000 word novel between midnight on Nov 1 and midnight on Nov 30.
I've decided to take up the challenge. I have a vague idea swimming around in my brain that might become my main plot, but aside from that, I've done no other thinking or writing related to this new novel. It's going to be completely cold turkey.
I'll try to post updates on my progress, and I challenge all of you to try it out too. What a relief December 1 will be for all of us, eh?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Killing the Zombie in Me

I was shopping around again on Curly Girl and I found this card that made me think. You can look at it here (I can't copy this one) but here's what it says: "The world is full of people who will go their whole lives and not actually live one day. She did not intend on being one of them."
Wow, I thought. I am one of THOSE people. I spend all my free time with my nose in a book. Yeah, it's what I like to do, but I'm not really living.
I was talking to C about it last night and he says he'd been thinking I've been a bit zombie-ish lately. Focused on day-to-day stuff, boring stuff like crumbs on the kitchen floor and ironing and junk like that. Who really cares about crumbs and wrinkles?
What would happen if I just let some of it go? And stopped reading so much? How would I spend my time? What would I do with myself?
I've got to admit, I'm a little afraid to let go. But very very curious.
What should I do first in my adventure of living?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another Curly Girl

It’s funny how I’ve lived my whole life with an unruly mop of curly hair and just accepted it, usually loved it, occasionally hated it—and now suddenly I’m seeing curly hair stuff everywhere. It started when I tried out a new salon (which I love, by the way—Salon Breathe, for anyone close to Jackson), and my new hairdresser raved about a product line called Deva Curls which (obviously) caters to people with curly hair. After I got home, I read up on the product and learned all sorts of crazy techniques for taming my hair into natural, obedient curls.


And then just a few days ago, a friend sent me some pictures from a fanciful fun calendar—and guess what the design company is called? Curly Girls Design. I checked out their website and found lots of products I WANT, ranging from cards to magnets to T-shirts. And even though I make my own cards now and can’t bring myself to BUY one, they are super cute. Maybe the calendar will satisfy my need for curly girl cute-ness.


So watch out, all you with the so-called normal follicles: curly girls are on the rise and we will soon take over the world. Once we get our curls under control.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

My other creative side

When my backside hurts from too much time in contact with my favorite comfy chair, I know it's time to put down my book (the usual suspect) or notebook (alas, not the usual suspect of late) and get up and do something.


The fun kind of something, not the boring yucky kind like change a diaper or make dinner or fold laundry. No, I'm talking about projects. Making stuff.


When I was young, my mom decked my sister and me out in matching Easter outfits, she made jumpers and jumpsuits, pajamas and bonnets. We were as adorable as a Riccar sewing machine and a creative woman's mind can imagine. My mom experimented with other crafts as I grew up. She tried needlepoint and cross-stitch, candlewicking and crewel, macrame and rug hooking. Then she found her niche: crocheting. She tried to teach me many times, but I'm a lefty and she's not, so it never stuck.


Anyway, about ten years ago, I inherited the old Riccar when dad got her a new sewing machine. And since then, I've made all sorts of great things: doll clothes, baby blankets, clothes for Lauren, a handful of bathrobes, piles of curtains and duvet covers, even a few ties once for Clint. Oh, and Halloween costumes. But lately, I've discovered two new loves: purses and skirts. And the beauty of it is this: if I have enough leftover fabric after making a skirt, voila! a matching handbag.


Mom came down last night to spend the night and coach me on my newest bag, a new pattern using somewhat tricksy hardware. We spent the whole rainy day on it, and it's finally done. What do you think? Are the ladies cute? Wanna guess which one I am? No, don't guess. I guess I don't want to know.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Into the Swing Again

I had always thought of myself as a morning person. Until I became a teacher. Then I had to start getting up at an ungodly hour, an hour when only the streetlights are shining, an hour when even the sun is still sleeping. Maybe other working folks get up at (drumroll, please) FIVE FORTY AM, and maybe teachers are not the only ones to suffer with this horrid wake up call, but I still grumble every morning when the alarm jars me out of warm peaceful slumber.
Once I get up and stumble into the shower (have you discovered showering in the dark? It's a great way to wake up slowly) and finally get dressed, I am resigned to my state of wakefulness. And by the time breakfast has settled in my stomach, I am excited about my job. I do love it, I just don't like getting up before the sun does.
And then this year we tried out something new. Jared had been going to Mrs. Childs' house every day, a wonderful woman who sends her kids to the school where Clint teaches and our children are students. She loved him, I think, as much as one of her own children, and he loved going there. But because of money (evil, evil money), we decided to send him to the child care program at Trinity.
Yesterday was his FIRST good day at child care. Up till yesterday, he cried like crazy when Clint dropped him off, and his teachers reported that he was "sad" most of the day. But yesterday, their report was glowing, and today was even better. Clint said they greeted him with hugs and smiles this morning, probably relieved that they might not have to put up with a crying kid any more. Clint picked him up today, and found he'd had another happy day.
So Clint said, "Jared, did you have a good day at child care?"
"Yes. I did." Jared said. (He's pretty literate, we think.)
And Clint said, "So Jared, you like child care now, right?"
Jared thought for a minute. "No. I don't," he said. "I don't like it."
Hmm. Guess we're still working on that one. At least he's over the crying and clinging phase.
And we've decided not to ease into fall sports for Lauren and Jonah. It's much more fun to jump in with both feet. So they've got games or practice 3 or 4 days a week, (thankfully) on the same days, and we're running back and forth for that.
And that's about it. Bed time's approaching and the kids are currently engaged in a three-way "wrestling match" (read: Jonah's mad because Jared keeps touching his Legos and Lauren's exploiting his anger while trying to look like she's innocently playing with Jared, who doesn't have a clue what's going on but thinks wrestling is fun).
Probably better break it up.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Next to Godliness

If you have kids, you've experienced this. You're in a store and your spouse is safe at home doing something constructive. For some crazy reason, you've volunteered to take one or more of the kids with you. You think it's going to be a quick trip, just in and out. You just have to get one thing.
It seems like a simple plan, slightly selfless on your account, since you're the one with the kid(s).
That's when the chaos starts. At first, the baby is just whining a little in the cart. Maybe he's hungry. Then the two older kids decide to do some creative play in the aisle next to you while you're looking at _________ (the one little thing you came to the store to get). When reading "creative play", the intended subtext you should infer is "boisterous shouting with potential for destruction of store property." You know, the usual.
How often does this happen? All the time. Everyone with kids has experienced it more often than they'd like. And what should be a simple trip into the store turns into a recurring nightmare that leaves your curly hair in a frizz and adds stress cracks to your bottom back molar. The one that probably needs a root canal anyway. Oh, did I mention that the baby who had just been whining a little has now erupted into full blown shrieks?
And why do the other people in the store feel they have any right to look down their noses at you, to think critical thoughts of you? Are they forgetting that their children did the same thing, that they were probably even more screechy and more destructive with their creative play?
So here's what I propose: get your ammunition ready now. You know it is inevitable that too soon you will forget about this horrific experience and you will once again volunteer to take the kids for a quick trip to the store. And they will do what is (really) inevitable. And someone will assume a pained expression and perhaps complain to store personnel. WHEN THAT MOMENT COMES, you must know what you will say so that you can stop said hypothetical hypocrite dead in her tracks (it's always a woman, right?).
Will you assume an outrageous accent and describe your child's upcoming beating in lurid detail? Will you look frantically around and pretend the kids aren't yours, that someone else has left screaming children right next to you in the aisle? Will you prepare a clever pithy remark that will put said complainer in her place? What will you do?
Preparedness is next to cleanliness and Godliness, I'm pretty sure. So good luck, and let me know if you come up with any great ideas.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mouth of an Angel

It is both odd and amazing to watch a child learn language. When Jared was just turning one, he was enthralled by animals and mimicked us as we told him the sounds animals make. It wasn’t long before his repertoire of animal sounds was pretty extensive.
Then he started adding words and stringing those words into sentences. Now, at the age of two, our little copy cat has a pretty impressive vocabulary. He’s called Clint “little buddy” a couple times, he tells me to “wait a minute” or “just a little while” when I tell him to hurry up, and he strokes my leg sometimes when I’ve just rolled out of bed and says “Mama’s pretty/handsome/beautiful” (that’s my favorite—and proof that love is blind). We know where these phrases come from. Maybe Clint and I don’t realize how often we say them, but we know through his voice that we must have said them often enough that they made an impression on him.
But lately he’s picked up two new words that he uses with an alarming accuracy, and we didn’t know (for sure) where he got them at first. For such an angelic little guy, our baby has begun to use “kill” and “die” a little too often. He throws Elmo off the couch and crows “I kill Elmo!” He pushes his wooden train off the track and says “It’s dead” under his breath.
Where did he come up with these words? Is it as natural for a boy to be obsessed with killing and death as it is for him to play with Matchbox cars? As natural as it is for a girl to like to twirl in front of a mirror? Or did some insidious outside element introduce these two words into our baby’s vocabulary?
Clint and I have spent the last week scratching our heads and fretting that maybe our youngest was cut out for a life of serial crime, watching in helpless fascination as Jared systematically killed his toys again and again. And then we saw it: Jonah, Jared’s 10 year old brother, standing almost out of sight, bent over his cupped hand, laughing so hard in silent glee that his muscles were rigid.
Insidious outside element, huh. We needed to look no further than the evil force under our very roof: the older brother who delights in corrupting the innocent mouth of his sibling. So now we’re not sure how much relief to feel. On one hand, Jared has probably (thus far) escaped the threat of years in prison. But on the other hand, Jonah probably has a bunch more tricks up his sleeve, many more ideas for ways to twist his younger brother into something not quite angelic any more. And we always thought Jonah was such a GOOD kid. Apparently, he’s only as good as the next opportunity for mischief.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Video Dilemma

You know how sometimes you go into the video store and nothing on the new release shelves looks good? Maybe you’ve already seen everything or maybe you’re just in a funk and nothing is appealing. Maybe the new releases all just seem too shallow, too violent, too horrific, too something-that-isn’t-right.
Maybe you leave then, empty handed, resigned to reruns or a night spent surfing the net.

Clint and I hit on the solution to this problem a few years ago when just such a catastrophe nearly happened. Picture this: we’re walking through our favorite video store (appropriately named The Video Store (which has since closed (which makes us really sad ‘cause it was less than ¼ of a mile from home))). We were looking for a family movie to watch, a difficult task because most family movies are an exercise in eye-rolling for adults. I love my kids, but I don’t like to sit through a ridiculous movie. And Lauren was already at such an age that she found such movies childish.
After a shared look of desperation, Clint veered into a totally new direction: the OTHER shelves. You know, the ones in the middle of the video store. I had always walked right past those guys, all forty-seven of them, figuring they held only musty dusty oldies. Nothing I hadn’t already seen. He walked right through the alphabetized stacks to the “I” section, where my eyes and his lit on the same film at the same time. It was brilliant. We were almost gleeful as we assured Lauren and Jonah that this “old” movie was actually good. Lauren was skeptical but Jonah bought it.
Took it home and popped it into the DVD player. Soon the living room was filled with the soundtrack of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Our kids LOVED it! And so did we. It was fun for Clint and me to see a movie we’d enjoyed many years before and find it still pretty exciting. It was fun to watch our kids’ faces as Indy handled every obstacle with a grin and a grunt. Since then, we’ve often ventured away from the new release shelves to find old movies that we remembered enjoying in the past.

Here’s a selection of some of the highlights:
The Princess Bride
Willow
Strange Brew
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

And, uh, low lights:
The original Superman movies (a little cheesy)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the woman is SO ANNOYING!!)
Ghostbusters (did they swear that much when we were kids?)

What do you think? Any others we should try?

Monday, September 1, 2008

School Dreams

In the weeks before my first day of high school, my dreams were plagued by horrors beyond imagining. I woke filled with dread from dreams about walking into school without my pants, without my shirt or shoes, without any clothes at all; dreams about walking around with my skirt tucked into my undies, trailed by people who pointed at me and laughed maniacally and I couldn’t figure out why; dreams that I got lost in the labyrinthine dark hallways of my new school; dreams that I couldn’t find my locker, or worse, that I couldn’t work the padlock on it. By the time school started, I was a bundle of nerves, almost too worried by the residual anxiety of weeks of haunted nights to preen in my cute plum and mustard plaid skirt and plum mock turtleneck with gold buttons up the back.
Those of you who are familiar with St. Matthew Lutheran High School are probably laughing hysterically now because you know in what ignorance my nightmares were founded. There was no chance I’d get lost: there were only four classrooms and really no hallways at all. There was no chance I would be unable to find my locker: there were only 96 of them, and each student got three. (Yeah, that's right: about 30 students total.) And no need to worry about padlock combinations: we didn’t have them. Apparently, nobody steals in a Lutheran school.
The saddest part of it all is that I had spent 180 days each year, preschool through eighth grade, just a parking lot away from the high school that had caused such trepidation. If only I had ventured inside that low brown building, I would have laid most of my fears to rest (except for the skirt in the undies trick, always a possibility for a girl as graceful as I). But here’s what I did learn: I have a very healthy fear of the unknown, really more like dread, and this dread often seeps into my nighttime subconscious.
So it’s no wonder that every year around August 15, for six years now, I start having the dreams. I have conducted a very scientific poll of two other teachers, and both of them claim to have similar dreams. I dream that I am stuck in a classroom with out of control students and my voice has shrunk to a whisper. I dream that they are jumping from one desk to another and swinging off the fluorescent lights. I dream that my phone won’t stop ringing, but I’m too afraid to pick it up because the noise level in the room is embarrassing. I dream that my students are throwing paper wads at me and it looks like snow, but it’s not pretty.
School starts tomorrow, and the dreams began a few weeks ago. They have been better this year than previous years, which may mean that I’m not as nervous about the first day of school as I was in previous years. Or maybe I’m just sleeping so soundly that the dreams aren’t sticking in my conscious memory. Whatever the case, the dreams have never come true. My dreaming mind is much more pessimistic than reality, and while I’m not excited about waking up before dawn tomorrow--and for 179 school days after that, I am excited about meeting my students and trying out some new ideas for writing and analyzing literature.
Here’s to a great school year! And no more bad school dreams.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not Bat Man

Written by Clint Genthner, a guest writer who has his own story to tell.


I usually don’t get freaked out by spiders, snakes, salamanders and slithy toves, but I have recently found that there is one creature that I don’t care for flying around my bedroom. Yeah, the bat is the guilty one.
I actually have spoken highly of bats. The fact that they eat around 2,000 mosquitoes in one night makes them heroes in my book. That still stands. I’ll let them swoop down knowing that they won’t get tangled in my hair (nothing but pine sap can get stuck in what little hair I have left). I welcome the presence of these flying mammals decreasing the surplus population of mosquitoes in Michigan. I even built a cedar bat house recently. The problem comes when they are in MY house.
Over this summer we have had several evenings of interrupted sleep. It starts out as a fluttering sound integrated in my dream. A bird scratching in the dirt. A superhero (me) running at swift quiet speeds. But then I come out of my dream and realize that a bat is flying back and forth across the room. I can barely make out the black ghost fluttering across, up, circling around, over and then down. There is no way I can get a good night’s sleep like this, especially after watching some Discovery Channel show about a guy who sits himself out at night at the mercy of blood sucking bats. Captured on camera, the guy (pretending to sleep) gets bitten and lets the bat lick the blood up until he freaks out and scares the bat away.

That bat’s gotta go. I lean over to my wife and whisper, “There’s a bat in the house.” She mumbles “Oh” and turns over to go back to sleep. “I can’t sleep with it in here. I have to get it out,” I tell her.
So I get out of bed, ducking so it won’t fly into me, or worse, land on me. I open the door to our balcony and then leave the room, bent over the whole way. Of course I close the bedroom door to contain it to one room. I gather the necessary tools: a broom, and a mesh reusable shopping bag. After puting the bag on the broom stick, using it as a net, I first try guiding the bat toward the door open to the outside. I then try to catch it in the bag as it lands on the window curtains. Several swoops by the bat bring me diving to the floor. Kirstin has been watching for a while now.
Without warning she calmly stands up, walking across the room fully errect, gently grasps the broom from my hand, and says, “Here, let me try.” With that, she calmly waves the broom at the right moment and sweeps the bat out the open door.
That’s it. Braver than I can be when it comes to bats. My wife, the “Bat Mama.”

The Further Adventures of Bat Mama (which must be uttered in a reverent hushed whisper, emphasis on BAT)

It was a quiet night, the kind of summer night you only get at the beginning and end of summer, the kind when the windows are all open and a breeze bells the curtains out in a whisper and the noise from the street has died down and only cool air comes in the windows, no sound at all. It was finally cool enough at night that we didn’t need the air on and could actually pull up the blanket instead of immediately kicking it onto the floor. I settled into my favorite sleeping position with a sigh and prepared for a great night’s sleep.
A few hours later, the darkness was impenetrable, and my breathing was slow, my dreams blissful. I was deeply asleep, but apparently not deep enough. Something woke me, something frenzied and violent, a jerking movement of the bed and as my eyes flashed open, they were assaulted by the vision of my husband vaulting from the bed, his arms waving about his head, his skin a pale glow in the darkness, like a reflection of the moon on still water.
I blinked and lifted my head. Clint was peering into the corner of the room, up near the ceiling. “What is it?” I asked, but I knew what the answer would be. We had another bat.
Our house is old and probably riddled with holes we haven’t discovered yet. The holes come for free with the hardwood floors, the tall ceilings, and the irreplaceable charm. Since the summer began, we had had five bats, and Clint has dutifully chased each one out, contriving various bat catchers with broom handles and mesh shopping bags and wire hangers. I don’t want to make him out to be a pansy, but he’s really afraid of bats. He gets almost giddy with fear when he hears the flapping of leathery wings. And I have to leave the room when he starts bat hunting because the sight of his cringing swats with the improvised bat catchers elicits uncontrollable laughter in me, and it hurts to laugh that hard that late at night.
So that night, with a bat hiding in the darkness of our room in the middle of the night, he stood and shook and tried to find the bat as I lay in bed watching him through sleep-blurred eyes. “What should we do?” he asked.
I flopped back down and pulled the blanket up to my chin. “Go back to sleep.”
I heard the pad of his feet on the floor and then felt him slide in next to me. He lay rigid in bed as I drifted back to sleep, probably listening for that leather whisper of wings.
Sometime later, a distinctive sound penetrated my dreams. Flap-flap-flap, metallic shiver, small plop. Flap-flap-flap, metallic shiver, small plop. How did I know what it was? How could that sequence of sound mean anything to me? But it did. I nudged Clint. “The bat’s flying into the screen door.” (We have a door to a balcony in our room.) “Go let it out.”
He was paralyzed next to me. I hate getting out of bed at night, even to go to the bathroom. I figure that night-time feedings for three children more than makes up for any occasional excursion during normal sleeping hours. Besides, Clint is the man. It is his job to mow the lawn, chop firewood, and take care of any noises that occur between the hours of 10 pm and 7 am. Bats included. But I could feel the dread radiating from him, so, with a sigh, I heaved my body from bed.
I slid my feet across the floorboards, trying not to make a sound as the bat hurled its body against the screen door and then flopped down to the floor in defeat. Three times the poor creature did this as I slowly crossed the room. I wasn’t afraid, really. I don’t know why, but I don’ t mind bats. The only thing I feared was stepping on it as it lay panting on the floor. But my feet didn’t encounter any furry foreign bodies, and I made it to the door. I reached out my hand, felt for the handle, and pushed. By then, the bat was on the floor, but it roused itself for one final attempt at escape, and this time it found success.
I slipped back into bed and Clint pulled me close. Finally, his body had relaxed. “Thank you,” he whispered, and I fell back into sleep with a smile of triumph on my lips.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Spit Vacation

I remember when I was about ten or twelve, Dad took us on a spit vacation. Ever been on one of those? He told us to pack our clothes and we loaded into the van. (How did we fit 9 people into a minivan? I’m still not sure.) Then, at the end of the driveway, after he’d quieted our questions, he announced his plan. He was going to spit into one hand, slap the other hand down on it, and turn whichever way the spit flew. He spit, he slapped, he announced that the spit flew to the left, and thereupon we embarked on an adventure that ended up taking us to some town in Canada, with Dad pausing to spit at each intersection.


Clint and I decided that we wanted to take one last mini-break (I got that word from Bridget Jones’ Diary—isn’t it perfect?) before school starts, without telling the kids. Clint sneakily booked a hotel in Traverse City for Wednesday through Friday of last week, and then on Wednesday morning, he dragged Lauren out of bed and snagged Jonah (who of course had been awake since seven) and took them to his school to help him get some things organized. While they were gone I FLEW around the house packing their suitcases. (Jared helped by dragging an empty suitcase around—he’s fascinated by the handle and wheels.)Jonah was easy to pack for: he doesn’t care what he wears, but for Lauren, I just packed a little of everything. Only snafu: I couldn’t find the bottom piece of her bathing suit!


By the time they got home, I had the van loaded and even had a good excuse to get them all out of the house: a trip to Target for some last minute school supplies. We trundled off, and since it was about lunch time, I bought some “snacks,” ostensibly to tide us over till lunch, but really road-trip snacks. They had no idea! (I’m chortling evilly as I write this and rubbing my hands together like a villain from a silent movie.)


I had to work hard to make up a reason for Lauren to try on a new swimsuit without alerting her hyper-sensitive radar to secret plans, but she bought it. (Hint: a teenage girl will ALWAYS be interested in buying new clothes. There doesn’t need to be a reason. Don’t know how I forgot that. ) Unfortunately, we didn’t buy a suit. She’s pickier than I had expected.


So after a whispered consultation while the kids were buckling themselves into the van, Clint and I decided to take a detour to my mom’s, where Lauren keeps an extra swimsuit for their pool. It was mostly on the way, anyway. After picking up the suit (and imagine their questions when we told them we were just stopping in), we were off.


It took them about an hour to realize that we weren’t anywhere near Jackson. Finally, Jonah said, “Mom, WHERE ARE WE?” and it was my turn to give Clint the eye. I had my spittin’ hand out and ready to create the Genthner family spit vacation, and CLINT SPOILED IT ALL! He told them the whole thing. GONE was my hope of giving my kids one of the memories that I KNOW they’d treasure! DASHED were my grand schemes of FAKE SPIT (yeah, there’s no way I’d REALLY spit in my hand! Disgusting. I had the fake spit and slap routine all figured out).
I fumed at Clint until we got on M-115, at least, giving him sufficient evil glares to finally figure out I was mad. “What?” he said, glancing at me. “What’s wrong with you?”


“The Spit Vacation! You ruined the whole thing!” I said.


“You were really going to spit in your hand? That’s disgusting. I was hoping you were kidding about that.”


I was too distraught to explain my glorious scheme for fake spit. It took too much effort. So I opened my book and looked out the window.


The vacation was fun. The kids loved Traverse City, and I got to visit my favorite bookstore TWICE! (If you’re in Traverse City, you must visit this bookstore—especially if you have children. They’re children’s book section is AMAZING!) We ate some good food and spent time at the beach.


I’ll just have to wait till next year to have my spit vacation. And I WILL do it; that I promise.

Contest Announcement

We interrupt the regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you
this important message from our sponsor.

I’m looking for quirky, absurd ideas for tabloid headlines, and your contribution could be a winner!

The contest will have two, possibly three winners, and top prizes are as follows: first prize, your headline featured in upcoming story by me; second prize, your headline featured in upcoming story by me; third prize (if I decide there is one), your headline featured in upcoming story written by me.

The story: something about a guy with a parasitic twin roaming around under his epidermis (skin, to the layman). That’s all I’m gonna say for now.

Chances of winning: pretty good

Got multiple submissions? Bring ‘em on!

Submission deadline: sooner the better

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Clint the Champion

I think maybe I’m a bad wife. I mentioned how Clint “picked up” running, didn’t I? Yeah, he’s down to a 6.5 minute mile now. Show off. And today was his first race. I should have gone, I know. But here’s the thing: it started at 7:30 in the morning! Who sets these times? Some sadistic person, I’m guessing. And of course, the race was at least 20 minutes away, and of course he had to be there at least fifteen minutes early.

So when he offered (very kindly, I thought…practically a selfless offer) to let me stay home, I took the chance. I want to be clear though: I HAD figured out a way to shave my morning routine down to about 15 minutes (skip shower, wear pigtails, pop contacts in and grab a pop tart—oh, and throw some clothes on) and just put Jared in the car in his pajamas—get him dressed after Daddy runs his race. I offered to do this because I want to be a good wife, the kind who stands on the sidelines and cheers. And I have to say, it would have been cool to throw my arms around his neck when he finished and was all sweaty and triumphant. Maybe I even could have held his water bottle for him while he did the running part.

But when I shared my plan for coming along with him last night, assuming he would be so excited by my sacrifice, he shrugged. “It wouldn’t break my heart if you don’t come,” he said. What exactly did that mean? Was there subtext beneath those nine words? If I’d said them, there would have been. If I’d said that, it would have meant “It wouldn’t EXACTLY break my heart if you ARE SO INCONSIDERATE AND UNSUPPORTIVE THAT you don’t come, BUT AT LEAST IT WILL CONFIRM MY OPINION OF YOU: THAT YOU ARE UNFAILINGLY SELFISH AND JUST WANT TO SLEEP IN.” But usually, he is pretty straightforward, and he doesn’t usually speak in subtext to me. He just speaks text, you know, just a means-what-he-says kind of guy.

So I stayed home, and I kissed him on the arm as he leaned over to turn off the alarm before it even went off this morning at some horrible time like 6:15 (a time at which I will all too soon be up and showered and shoveling in breakfast). I might have said something about good luck, but I’m not sure. Then I went back to sleep, and I may have sprawled a little onto his side of the bed. I’m sure, though, it wasn’t the “yes, he’s gone, now I get the bed to myself” kind of sprawl. More like the “oh, poor guy, he has to get up this early to go run a race” kind of sprawl.

And he was kind enough to wait until 9 to call me and tell me how he’d done. He got 11th place out of 200 or more runners, second in his age bracket. He’s fast, I know. I’ve slowed him down too many times when he condescends to run with me, and when I tell him on the last leg that he can speed up if he wants to, he takes off like the 6 Million Dollar Man. I can almost hear that shimmering mechanical sound when he starts running at his own speed.

So now that it’s done and he’s brought home his medal, I can’t stop wondering: was it bad of me to stay home? Is his heart really not broken, or is it maybe a little bit cracked in a hidden spot? He seems happy and hasn’t made any mention of my absence at the finish line, so I’m guessing he’s really okay. But I still feel like a bad wife for accepting the easy way out. Again.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jackson This Weekend


What are you doing this weekend? Jackson is hosting its 24th annual Civil War Muster at Cascades Park. It was maybe five years ago that we went for the first time, following the shaking ground and heart squeezing booms of cannon fire. By the time we squeezed into a parking space and followed the crowd to the center of the action, we had missed the battle. The bowl of Cascades hill was left smoldering in the smoke of spent powder and littered with hoof prints and wads of white paper.


Another year we made it to the park in time to catch the tail end of the battle, and we chanced to stand next to a veteran observer of this Civil War muster. He told us that each re-enactor has researched his character in the battle, so he knows where the man probably stood, shot and (maybe) fell in the battle. The officers led the charge on horses glistening with sweat, and occasionally through the ear-numbing battering of cannon blasts and gunfire, we could hear a trumpet signaling movement for the troops in blue or gray. I should say here, if you didn’t already suspect it, that they don’t fire REAL guns or shoot REAL cannon balls at each other. The guys who “die” fall with varying degrees of drama or grace to the ground, and pretty soon after, they prop themselves on an elbow to watch the rest of the fight. Apparently, we’re all spectators.


After the battle, we wandered around and sampled some of the wares of the food carts, mostly typical carnival fare. Clint, though, seemed to thoroughly enjoy burning off a few thousand taste buds with jambalaya (extra hot) from the Cajun Wagon. Ice cream, lemonade, popcorn, pizza, hot dogs: all these are also available for those less daring (foolish?).


The kids (and me too, I admit) enjoyed strolling through the white canvas tents set up to house the wares available for sale. Here you can buy clothing and accessories for a realistic Civil War era costume. You can browse through antiques and reproduction goods that take you back to the 1860s. I’m pretty sure Jonah’s going to beg for a cork gun again, even though he has one from last time. And Lauren will probably settle for some maple sugar candy or a sugar stick. The coolest part for me, though, is that many of the people walking and shopping along with us are already dressed in full costume, men in uniform and women in dresses almost as wide as their spread arms. Kids too, sometimes, barefoot with straw hats and overalls or simple cotton dresses. Yeah, I always secretly want to buy a dress for myself, along with a pair of gloves and a hat and about ten thousand petticoats.


Did I mention that this year’s Muster starts tomorrow? Yeah, it lasts through Sunday. I checked out the weather forecast, and I think Sunday’s our day. 83 and partly sunny. Sounds perfect. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mother's Instinct

Does every girl have a mother hidden within? Does every girl secretly want someone to care for, someone who is totally dependent on her? I remember reading The Indian in the Cupboard when I was 11 or 12, and I spent weeks afterward desperately wishing that I had a pocket sized person that I could fashion clothing and furniture for, that I could scrounge my mother’s kitchen to provide fingernail-sized food for. In Light on Snow, 12 year old Nicky got that wish…for about an hour.

She had been hiking in the woods with her father on a snowy evening in New Hampshire when they heard a cry, which they followed to its source: a newborn infant girl wrapped in a towel and tucked into a sleeping bag on the side of their mountain. The baby was so newly born that she was still covered in birthing fluid and a dangling something that 12 year old Nicky didn’t yet know was an umbilical cord. Her father scooped up the baby and raced to the hospital.

That’s how the story begins. As it unfolds, told through the eyes of a wise young woman, we see her father, a man wrapped in the sorrow of a wife and baby daughter taken from him in a car accident two years before. It is Nicky’s mother and Nicky’s sister too, but Robert Dillon often seems too sunk in his grief to realize that. After they find the baby and undergo the questions of a suspicious detective, Nicky and her father go home. She can’t stop thinking about the baby, wondering if somehow they can take her home and keep her. As Nicky is lost in these thoughts and struck again by fading memories of her mother and baby sister, a young woman shows up at their door: the baby’s mother, who has come to see the man who rescued her abandoned infant and thank him. And she has a tragic story of her own to unravel.

Anita Shreve has written a beautiful novel here, with a very convincing 12 year old narrator. She is wiser than her years, some might say, but she has lived through more heartache than most 12 years olds have. Her story is simply told, with beautiful imagery of the play of light on the snow covered mountains around her, and by the bittersweet end, Nicky has righted some of the wrongs in her life.

By the time I read the last word, I was swallowing hard around a lump in my throat and I had to jump up out of my chair to run upstairs and check on my napping toddler. Because I’m not 12 anymore, and I never did get a pocket sized person to take care of. But I have 3 of the normal sized ones, and they fill my heart to bursting sometimes. And reading about the love Nicky had for a family she lost--and for a family she never had--made me appreciate mine even more.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: Those Who Save Us


Check out this book: it's by first time novelist Jenna Blum, a book that I first heard about in my "Book A Day" tear off calendar (which I have loved all year so far, except that it's driven me to buy more books--sigh). Since I bought it, I've seen it all over in various bookstores, and I finally got around to reading it this week.


Here's the story: 56 year old Dr. Trudy Swenson has come back to rural Minnesota from her life in Minneapolis to bury her father Jack. But he's not her biological father. She has suspicions and vague memories that her father is a tall man in an SS uniform, a man she remembers pieces of, and a man she found in a picture one day while digging through her mother Anna's bureau. Her relationship with her mother is strained and quiet.


Flashback to 1940, a young Anna is paraded in front of barely-desirable suitors--barely-desirable, that is, to her. She's more attracted to a Jewish doctor twice her age who lives down the street. But Jews have become the objects of persecution in Germany by this point, and Anna knows her growing interest in Max Stern will not be tolerated by her father.


Told through a series of flashbacks, this novel portrays a side of World War II that I have not often read about, the side of the Germans who lived through the war. Were they monsters, knowing the camps were miles from their homes? Were they innocents, oblivious to the rumors swirling around them? Were they something in between, torn between survival and ethics?


Ironically, Trudy is a professor of history in Minneapolis, and guess what her focus of study is: German women in the Nazi era. She feels a strong connection to this time, naturally, as she lived her first 5 years in the war zone, before she and her mother were saved by Jack. But as much as she knows about history, she knows very little of her own story. Her mother is silent, and Trudy resents her mother's closed mouth more than she knows.


What really brought this novel to life was the details, of course. Jenna Blum is herself an expert on the Holocaust, having worked for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, which has collected the oral histories of almost 52,000 people who were affected by the Holocaust. This wealth of information gave her novel life. I finished the novel a few days ago, and the one image that has haunted me since then is that of the smell on the Obersturmfuhrer's body: he smelled something like smoked bacon, but not quite the same. This detail of scent was repeated at least three times in the novel, and by the last mention, I knew for sure that my suspicions were confirmed. It was the smell of the victims of the crematoriums that his body exuded. All of those who died had perfumed his skin so that every time he came near Anna and young Trudy, the scent of rich meat was almost overpowering.


It is details like this that make a novel memorable, believable, and powerful. The story was riveting, at turns touching and beautiful and horrifying. It is the story of what people do to survive, what they come to feel for those who save them, and how they come to terms with the after-effects of their decisions.


Please read this book. You will be so happy you did.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Priceless

5 bottles of Winking Owl Cabernet, not chilled +
5 bottles of Winking Owl Chardonnay, chilled +
8 baguettes (only used 4, but you never know) +
Clint's homemade ricotta and gouda +
1/2 pound Gruyere de Comte +
1 box of wine glasses +
2 jars green olives +
2 cans black olives +
1 pound blanched green beans with horseradish-mayonnaise sauce +
79 assorted Dove chocolates +
plates and napkins +
roll of brown paper +
1 box 24 crayons +
1 bouquet flowers +
8 votive candles +
sloppy joes, chips, watermelon, lemonade, and Oreos for kids +
theater in garage with popcorn +
32 friends and family members=

a really fun party!
Thanks, everyone, for coming to celebrate my graduation. Don't hate me, but I didn't take any pictures!! Did anyone else get some?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Thrill of the New

So we're having a party tomorrow to celebrate my graduation from Western Connecticut State University with an MFA in Professional Writing. Woo-hoo! (By the way, it's currently the only program available that offers a degree in Professional Writing, providing a realistic balance between pracital writing--read: something you can make a living doing and creative writing-- what we writers all want to do). Anyway, we are having this party, and since most of our friends have kids, we need something for the chi'ren to do.

And I had a great idea, so I set the husband right to work on it.

Clint cleaned out the garage and borrowed a multimedia projector and hung a white sheet on the wall. Voila! Instant movie theater. Right now, it's gotta be about 15 degrees hotter in the garage than it is in the house, but guess where our kids are? Yup. In the garage, watching a movie they've seen 147 times--Willow.

Where will they be tomorrow night? In the garage. Watching another movie. With 15 other kids and 10 bags of microwave popcorn. Come on over if you're not busy. We've got wine and cheese for the adults...or you can pop into the garage and sprawl out with the kids. I think they're going to watch Ice Age.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Finding inspiration

Every writer gets depressed, right? Maybe depression and writing are linked somehow. Maybe writers are depressed (depressing?) people, or maybe our depression leads us to write. I don't know what the link is, but every other writer I know has suffered as I have lately been suffering. It's all linked to my writing, too (of course). Everything I write lately feels DUMB, feels LACKLUSTER, feels SACCHARINE. Where are the good ideas? And why aren't they in my brain?

This is how I felt last week. It should have been a great week for writing, because I was on vacation and I got to hang around the beach (Lake Michigan) for an entire week just sucking in inspiration with a few grains of sand and the smell of water, but it wasn't. Nothing came. I spent most of my time lazing around and chatting with my siblings and their spouses. I tried to write but everything was ___________ (see adjectives above or supply similar words).

And then I read a book, a small book, by a man named Peter Selgin. I attended one of his workshops a year or so ago, and I wanted to buy one of his books then, but they disappeared too quickly into the greedy hands of my classmates. I finally broke down and ordered one a few weeks ago and then finally broke down and read it last week (in the last few days of my vacation). It's called By Cunning and Craft, and it has all sorts of PRACTICAL tips for writing fiction.
Peter acknowledges that writing is not easy, but he says that it is a craft that can be learned with diligence and determination. And guess what makes a writer better? Anyone? Anyone? Yes, that's right. Practice.
So here we go. I'm really going to do it now. I'm done whining about not having any good ideas. I'm just going to write (and I'll keep Selgin's book close at hand in case I get stuck).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Career Opportunities on the Rise

I'm thinking I might be able to quit my job. I could make a whole lot more money (and grade ZERO papers) doing it too. Actually, I'm not sure about the money. I've looked around and can't find anyone else who offers the service I'm thinking of. But that could be a good thing. I'd be one of a kind. I could offer my exclusive services to the highest bidder. This is sounding better and better.

It all started about 1pm today with a nagging ache behind my right eye. At first I thought I was tired. But I tried to lie down and couldn't sleep. Chocolate didn't help; neither did a cool glass of water. And the ache grew and spread tentacles of pain up to my scalp and down around my ear. That's when I knew what this was: a barometric headache. I get one every time a storm approaches. The bigger the storm, the bigger the headache.

And even though I'm typing now through my pain (trying to ignore it), I can't help but feel a twinge of excitement. So here's my new career idea: psychic weather forecaster. Ever heard of one? I can use my pain to make money!

That's not such a novel idea, I realize. Think of the guys who walk across fire pits or swallow swords. Their pain brings in the money too. I could start small, maybe with a live feed on the internet--on this blog maybe! All I need is one of those little eyeball cameras...and a lot of time to sit in front of it reporting on the state of my head. I could give updates, maybe spend my non-headache hours making charts or those cool maps other forecasters use. I'll admit, my range of accuracy will probably be limited. I'm not traisping this head around the country in search of thunderstorms. So hopefully the locals will be financially inspired by my plight--inspired enough to send me money in gratitude for my storm forecasting headaches.

I have to say, the more I think about it, the more I realize I'm excited about the possibilities. Ooh, sharp twinge here; my vision just blanked out. I think the storm's getting close. I'm going to go try the chocolate remedy again.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Trying New Things

I'm not going to lie: I am pretty proud of the fact that my kids are not finicky eaters. Honestly, I don't know if there is anything Clint and I have done to contribute to this phenomenon, but I like to think it's all due to stellar parenting--and delectable cooking--skills.

Whenever we go to a Chinese buffet, I pick a variety of foods, trying to make healthy choices and avoid the deep fried options. And when I get back to the table and look at the kids' plates, there are all sorts of weird things going on there. Tentacles sprawl like stretched out starfish on Lauren's plate, and she's made a smiley face of those sushi roll things; Jonah's got a mountain of crab legs on his plate and he bites on each section to crack it open and pull out the meat. They love to touch their food, to try new things, and the more legs and tentacles a food item has, the happier they are.

(Side note: Certain unnamed people make fun of me because 1) I don't like to eat food with visible fat and 2) I don't like to eat meat off the bone, and they insist that I'm a picky eater. I'm not picky, I'm delicate. I just don't like to eat like a caveman.)

So Lauren said she wanted to go to a sushi restaurant for her birthday this year, and how could we say no? It was her thirteenth birthday.

I had only tried sushi twice. The first time was at one of those Chinese buffets. I had watched her eating her selection, and she offered one to me. And I'm thinking, what kind of baby will I look like if I say no? I took one bite. It tasted just as bad as it smelled: exactly like the can of gold fish food on the shelf at home (not that I had EVER tasted those nasty flakes, but I couldn't ignore the odor every time I fed Fred and George Jr., may they rest in peace). The second time, my dad made the sushi rolls. He's a great cook, and after my first dubious bite, I was pleasantly surprised. It didn't taste fishy at all. I'm guessing that freshness has a bit to do with flavor in the case of seaweed rolls.

So the sushi restaurant? I was ready. We were a big group, with Mom and Dad and Ilona's family joining us as well, and Dad (the expert on sushi) ordered for us. He told the waitress we wanted the sampler "boat"--chef's choice.

When she brought it to the table, it looked beautiful. All these colors, shades of red to pink to white. Then I realized what I was seeing. The boat was stocked with little piles of quivering raw fish. I had not prepared my stomach for this. I had been gearing myself up since we walked in, telling myself that the seaweed here was probably just as fresh as the seaweed at my dad's house.

I closed my eyes and gulped. Everyone else was grabbing at little slabs of fish and swishing them around in soy sauce, wielding their chopsticks with a grace that would have made Marco Polo weep.

I swallowed hard again and passed my plate down, asking for a selection of items from the bountiful boat. When my plate got back to me, there were all these quaking pieces of raw stuff and a few seaweed rolls. I picked up my chopsticks and tried to force them into cooperation. Figuring I should start with something familiar, I tried to pick up a seaweed roll. There was nothing delicate or graceful about my attempt. I ended up mashing the roll between my chopsticks and dipping it into my dish of soy sauce and wasabi. I popped it into my mouth and chewed fast. Swallowed. Not too bad. Not too fishy.

Then I looked down at my plate. There was just one seaweed roll left, and all the others had been snatched from their berths on the boat. I had to eat the raw fish or go hungry. Lauren was chasing some little red beads around on her plate with nimble chopsticks. She must have felt my glance, for she looked up and smiled. "Mom," she said, "fish eggs!" There were a couple stuck to her bottom lip. My stomach turned over and I smiled weakly.

I had to do it. I fitted my chopsticks between my clumsy fingers and poked at the smallest pile of raw fish. After drenching it in soy sauce, I tried not to watch its slippery ascent toward my mouth. I forced my lips apart and stuck it in. I chewed. The fish melted against my teeth. It was moist and tender and surprisingly not disgusting at all. It tasted good. My senses were having a little sushi party in my mouth. But my brain was in a state of shock and it was pretty stubborn. Kir, it said, you are eating raw fish. You don't even like to look at raw stuff. You cook chicken before you cut it up so you don't have to touch raw meat. What the heck are you thinking?
I started to eat faster, my chopsticks were a bumbling blur, but as each bite passed my lips, I fought a little battle. Tastes good vs. rawness. It was tough. Finally, I swallowed the last seaweed roll and sat back in my chair.
Everyone was watching me (I don't know why) and my dad was smirking. "How was it?" he asked. And I had to admit, it was not bad at all.
I would never have thought I would say this, but raw fish tastes pretty good (and so do soy sauce and a little squirt of wasabi paste). I might even be able to eat sushi again--in about 5 years.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Finding Friends

I'm not the sort of person who stands out in a crowd. I've got a certain camouflage, I think, that allows me to blend in and do what I like to do best (except for reading, writing, and eating chocolate): observe. If you invite me to your party, you won't find a group of people standing around laughing at my jokes. You definitely won't see me dancing on a table wearing nothing but a lampshade. In fact, you probably won't see me dancing at all. It's just not pretty. You'll probably see me standing on the edge of a group, trying to look like I belong at your party, trying to act nonchalant. Trying not to look like I'm avidly watching.

I'm not saying I'm a stalker. There is no malice or obscenity in my observation. I just find people fascinating creatures, every one of them, and watching provides me with great ideas for writing!

So I don't make friends easily. Most of my friends are people I've known since I was still wearing those tights with lace ruffles on the backside and something that looked like bloated shoelaces tied around my pigtails. I've added a few friends here and there since I grew out of ruffled tights and puffy hair ties, but it's never been an easy endeavor for me.

But you want to know who my best friend is? Really? (Aside from my husband, of course.) The person whose number is most often dialed? The person who makes me laugh most? The person who answers my questions and puts up with my faults? The one who knows me inside out? My sister Ilona.

Twenty years ago, if I had somehow spied into the future and seen myself typing these words, I would have fallen on the ground laughing. Ilona and I fought all the time. We're two years apart, and we CONSTANTLY begged our parents NOT to make us share a bedroom. We're polar opposites, you know. She tried on 14 outfits every morning before school, throwing each one on the floor in disgust (which led to an eventual accumulation that some guy in goggles planted a French flag on one February--weird). I wrote lists of the outfits I'd wear each week and had them ready (in order) in the closet. She loved to stay up late. I went to bed embarrassingly early. She took sadistic pleasure in tickle torturing me and trying to spit in my laughing mouth. I don't do sick stuff like that. We argued, yelled, pulled hair, "dug" each other (with fingernails in tender areas--I had a scar on the inside of my wrist for at least 8 years). I don't think we really liked each other until we were in high school--maybe?

But today, we're inseparable. I love to spend time with friends, and I adore spending time with my family, but I think there's something special about the bond between sisters, especially sisters who have a past as tumultous as ours.

I don't want to offend anyone here, and I am sorry to the rest of you who each thought YOU were my best friend. (It's like she's number one, and you're all tied for number two.) There's just nothing I can do about it.

So thank you, Ilona, for being my complement. For having all those parties just so that I could stand on the edge of the crowd and watch your crazy friends. And thanks for inviting us over yesterday for a wonderful evening. I am so glad God made you my sister, and I am really glad you didn't kill me when we still shared a room.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Death Brush

I.
Death brushed my shoulder in Zurich on a cloudy April morning. Seven months pregrant, my belly a flag swelling before me, I stepped into the street following the heels of a (beloved) man hurrying to buy cheeseburgers for a Euro.
II.
This Zurich was not quaint like Salzburg and most of Bavaria. The streets were broad and modern highrises reflected metallic shadows that chilled my neck. The Golden Arches were twinned smiles in reverse though--a familiar welcome--and they beckoned me (reckless) into danger.
III.
I am American. I don't speak Swiss. I don't speak the language of trolleymen. How was I to know that his impatientbleatbleat meant stop instead of go? Graciously forgiving most minor faults, I impose that gentility on others (often misreading). Who would plow down a girl with bouncing ringlets a wide smile a swollen belly?
IV.
I trotted into the street/the trolley's bell became a whine that didnotstop/itwascoming/Icouldn't turnback/itwasgoingtohitme
V.
Sobbing/laughing? Angry/relieved? I felt the chill wind of the trolley passing at my heels as I tumbled running into my beloved's wiry arms. On a drear April morning in a cold city in Switzerland, my belly swollen with child, I ran faster than death.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Gift

I knew my father loved me; there was never a question about that. But I also knew--I know--he hates to shop. Today he buys everything online. He is a seasoned internet shopper and has, I'm sure, links to his favorite online stores bookmarked. The only store I've ever seen him spend time shopping in is a bookstore.
Even as a young child, I knew Mom was the one who bought Christmas and birthday presents, since Dad was clearly as surprised as we were each time the wrapping paper was torn away.

I remember my fourth birthday.
I remember hearing him pull into the driveway. Maybe I was waiting for him by the window. Maybe the scent of a baking birthday cake drifted through the house. I remember running out to greet him. He must have reached over and opened the passenger door for me. The air in the van (when I was older we called vans like that kidnapper vans, you know, the kind without any windows in the back) was slippery with summer sweat and motor oil and the peculiar scent of hot iron, the scent of wrenches and pliers baking, waiting in the hot darkness to be used on the job. He had just started an electrical company when I was four, and I remember him being gone at work until late in the evenings.
I am sure he reached out a strong hand to help me clamber up into the van and sit beside him, and I remember seeing a package on the dashboard. It was wrinkled, torn a little in the corner. Maybe there was a ribbon on it. And I know he smiled at me when I saw it, his teeth flashing white in his dark beard.
"Is that for me?" I asked, holding out eager hands. "Daddy, YOU got me a present?"
"For you, Kee," he said, passing the gift to me. He didn't make me wait for mom to watch as I opened it. He just sat back and watched.
When I ripped open the paper, I found a stuffed dog with floppy black ears and deep black eyes. I slept with that stuffed dog held tight in my arms just about every night for the next dozen years. Today my toddler sleeps with it.

I always knew my father loved me, but he had never bought me a gift. Even now, I can't think of another gift from him that has that same significance. When I see that stuffed dog, its eyes a little less shiny, its fur matted, and its nose hanging on by a few threads, I think of what it means to have a dad like that, a dad who 1)remembered my birthday, 2)did something he hated (shopping) to make it memorable, and 3)continues to shower me with his love 29 years later.

He said, "Happy Birthday, Kee," but what I heard was "I love you." And I still hear it every time I see that ragged stuffed dog, every time I kiss him goodbye, every time I see him in myself.
Thanks, Dad, for being my heart.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A painful exercise

First of all, I'd like to offer an un-sponsored commercial warning: do not apply spray-on sunscreen on a windy beach. It does not have the promised sun blocking effect, mainly because it's not on your body. It's scattered in tiny molecules all over other beach-goers, your towel, and probably your sunglasses. Also, maybe your husband who is dutifully spraying you with sunblock.
And then if you do apply the spray variety of sunblock while standing on a windy beach (and apply is a relative term here), it is probably not wise for you, if you are one of the fair skinned varieties of humans, especially those who are still (in July) whiter than said sunblock in its lotion form, to wear your smallest bikini.
Because I found out for myself just this past Sunday that these conditions taken together result in a sunburn of a furious, hotter-than-fire nature. It hurts to sleep (back or stomach). It hurts to take a shower. It hurts to move because my shirt rubs against my flaming skin. It really hurts to lie on my stomach and type this, but it hurts even more when my two year old climbs on my back, gleefully shouting "Horsie!" and bouncing up and down.
So I really don't know why I decided to go for a run tonight.
I'm a newby to the running field. But when my husband picked it up--and I mean literally PICKED IT UP, as in, "Hmm, I think I'll try running" so he goes out for a two mile run and does it in 16 minutes and comes home not even breathing hard sort of picking it up--I thought, I've been bursting my lungs for two years now, 5 days a week on the elliptical, I can do 2 miles. No problem. I ran a total of 0.274 miles before I had to stop, bent in half, wheezing like crazy. It's taken me since April to get up to 2 straight miles, running at least 3 times per week. And I tend to avoid humid days like the plague, opting to exercise inside on those days with my weights.
So today (which is, of course, hot and humid), I decided to run. With a hideous sunburn. It was one of my more horrible 25 minutes of life so far. Not as bad as childbirth, not as bad as Freshman Speech class, and not as bad as the time I got a wart removed from the ball of my left foot (the shot was what killed me). But pretty high up there on my top 50 most painful moments list.
And then I was done. And after standing in the garage to sweat and drip off the worst of the sweat, I came inside and took a shower. And guess what: I feel great now. Isn't it weird? Never thought I'd say this, but running does make you feel better.
Next time, try it with a sunburn. The payoff is even greater.