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

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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.

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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


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.