Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

Some virtual cookies for you:'s your present (if your name is Lauren, that is):

Have a wonderful Christmas. As you open your gifts and eat your cookies and laugh with your family, remember the baby in the manger, the one who came to earth to save us, the reason we celebrate this day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas business

I know I just posted something, but I'm wondering if posting two things in one day (in one HOUR, actually) makes up for all the days and weeks of not posting. But I have a good reason for being away from this blog. Actually, two good reasons. Christmas preparations and craftiness. Oh, and hanging out with my family. (Though they probably wouldn't call mama sitting at her sewing machine and craft counter family time--so picky, aren't they?) But just look at what I've been up to:

Nobody collected money to buy Jared's teachers a gift, so I pulled out some extra coffee sleeves I had made and added gift cards to one of my favorite coffee shops.
Here's one opened up:

I know some people think gift cards are impersonal, but really--I think they're the best gift--especially for teachers. Aside from homemade goodies, that is. Because what else do you get a teacher? A mug? A Christmas ornament? How many of those things does a body really need?
Anyway, I wish I could show you more pictures, but they're gifts! (big sigh) Soon. Coming soon. One more week!

Luke 2:15-19 (KJV)
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Rest In Tattered Peace

I remember the day we met. It was crowded in that store, and I was deeply focused. I knew what I wanted; I was tenacious; I was prepared to do some serious business. At first glance, I missed you. You were shy then, hiding behind your big sister, and she's the one I picked up and took into that room. I tried her on. She was TOO BIG. Gleeful, I tossed her aside and pranced out (re-clad for modesty's sake) to find something smaller. That's when I met you. Do you remember?
You fit me like a glove. I hugged you tight and bought you. (I'm talking about a pair of jeans, here, people. That's all: a pair of jeans.)
For three years we were together, and I wore you to so many momentous moments. Shopping trips frenzied enough to bring chaos to a peaceful world. Birthday parties. Dance parties. The glorious, long-anticipated dress-down Fridays at school.
And remember that one day? The day Ilona told you my $#@ looked nice in you? Yeah. I remember that too. Probably why I wore you so often because she was RIGHT. I did look good.
Alas, I knew the end was at hand. The signs were all there: the worn spot high on my left thigh where the pocket lining was beginning to wear through. The long tangled frayed hem that tickled the tops of my bare feet and dragged behind me. The thin thin knees. I shouldn't have worn you so much; I shouldn't have loved you so much.
And then last night the inevitable happened. I don't know why I was so careless, but as I bent my knee and leaned down into my seat on the couch, I felt the split. I felt you tear at the knee, and that's when I knew you had given up the ghost.
For in the world of Kirstin's propriety, a 34 and a half year old woman is too old for torn jeans. At least this 34.5 year old woman is.
So it is with great sadness that I lay you, my favorite pair of jeans, aside. I will wear you no longer. And if I can bypass my hesitance to desecrate your substance, I may cut you apart and use the pieces for craft projects. Is that heartless of me? Or is it what you would have wanted?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Forget Robeez

When Jared was born, I thought Robeez shoes were the BOMB. But now, I'm not so sure I'd get those suckers. Check these out! So cute. She makes adult slippers too.

Click here to view the shop. It almost makes me want to have another baby...

Reading History

The other day, I was chatting with a couple students after class about good books, and I may have let something embarrassing slip. I could tell by the shocked O I saw each mouth make, one shadowed by hints of a struggling dark mustache, the other as smooth as a ten year old's. I should have stopped right then and walked away, clutching my teacherly dignity tight around my shoulders, but I blundered on. By now, you're probably wondering what I said. I certainly would be. Here it is, preceded by a discreet but impressive drumroll: I told them they should never read their history books if they want to learn history. There. That's it. Horrible of me, isn't it?
And technically, I guess I shouldn't have said that, especially as a nominal member of the history department at my high school (I teach one class each trimester). And I suppose I should show some support for the curriculum I teach. And I suppose they may take my words too far to heart and begin refusing to read their assignments.
But if they pause to consider the intent of my startling announcement, they will know what I meant. And it is this: history, when read only in a textbook, IS dry and boring and will make even someone who loves the subject begin to weep in abject misery. (Maybe a little too harsh, still.)
Okay, here's what I really wanted them to discern: history can be positively FUN to learn if discovered in other ways. How about that? I don't think my department chair would eviscerate me for saying that.
Case in point: the book Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. I was drawn to the book for a)its cover and b)a recommendation from Sarah. Together, these resulted in a sale (and it didn't hurt that the hardcover had been discounted to FIVE NINTETY-NINE!). Just look at this! Wouldn't you want to buy it, too?

If you love art or history--or just a good story--you should read this book. It's also a great read for those who love FOOD. Yes, ladies, I said the magic word. It didn't create a craving for French food quite like Chocolat did, but it came a close second. Susan Vreeland uses a wealth of research and period detail to recreate Paris in 1880, when Impressionism was at its height and the modern world was beginning to make its presence known with things like factories along the Seine and a precursor to the Harley called a steam cycle.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir loves to paint because he falls in love with what he paints. Usually, this is women, and he has loved many. As I read the book, I found myself rooting for Alphonsine, a widow of the Franco-Prussian War, who lives and works at Maison Fournaise, which her father owns. It is a restaurant along the Seine, just outside Paris, a place where Parisians come to relax and celebrate the weekends.
Together, Alphonsine and Auguste envision the idea of a painting of the terrace of her family's restaurant with a view of the river. It is Auguste who decides to make it so large, to include so many models, to mix Impressionism and Realism. This is the result:

You can see Alphonsine in the back, leaning on the rail. When I study the painting, my eye is drawn to her. Maybe because I like her best. Alphonsine tells Auguste one day about Alexander, a Russian engineer, who designed repairs to the bridge you can see in the background of the painting. Alexander had a dream of building an iron tower, its framework just like a bridge, that stretched into the sky. Sadly, he died before his dreams could be realized. Do you know what that tower was? Think about it. Yeah, you're right. Good job.
And another thing I loved about this book--which I had never stopped to consider, was how brim-full Paris was of artistic life in the 1880s. After I read the novel, I pulled down my massive HISTORY OF ART picture book, and almost all the artists of the Impressionist period in my picture book had made guest appearances in the novel. How cool is that, to think that while the characters were wandering the streets of Paris, they brushed shoulders with Degas, Sisley, Cezanne (well, talked about him), and of course, Renoir. The novel also is peopled with writers and musicians of the time. Apparently, Paris was the place to BE. (Maybe I should re-set my time machine, eh? How fascinating would Medieval England be, compared to this. Plus, the food. I don't think I'd like suet pudding and eels much.)
The only thing I didn't like about the book--and I don't know how Vreeland could have avoided this--is the abundance of important characters. The book traces the stories of each of the figures in the painting, showing how they knew each other, how they were connected. And it's all pretty accurate, as I learned when reading the Author's Note. So anyway, I could keep the principals straight, but not the others. It took me at least half of the book to figure out who was who. I seriously considered writing the names of the characters above their figures in the painting...OH! Did I mention that the hardcover has four full color pages with seven of Renoir's paintings on them? Yeah, I know. Seriously cool. How many other books have I read about artists where I end up sitting in front of the computer looking up one painting after another? Right.
Well, I ended up figuring out who was who around page 213, and from there on out, it was all good. I read a few reviews that chide Susan Vreeland for getting too deep into her research and including too much of it in the novel. It was a little chewy at times, but I like that. After all, it's my favorite way to learn history.
So, I'm curious: which figure is your eye drawn to first? Tell me...and then read the book.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Learning New Words

I trust my husband to check movie reviews carefully before we let Lauren and Jonah watch a movie with him, and usually he does a great job. So, when we sat down with all three kids to watch Land of the Lost, I ignored the niggling sense of misgiving I felt as I seemed to recall hearing that this movie wasn't entirely family friendly.
Funny? Certainly. But it had its fair share of Will Ferrell crudeness. We all laughed, I'm not going to lie, but I felt a twinge of discomfort. I was reassured, though, thinking that most of the raunchy jokes passed far above Jared's head--and probably Jonah's too. I figured Jared was just interested in it for the dinosaurs. It didn't even cross my mind that he would pick up anything else.
Then a few hours later, he climbed onto the couch next to me and turned to face me seriously. "Mom," he said with a little furrow between his eyebrows, "we don't say 'What the hell?' do we?" What the ----?? How could he have picked up on that? But I swallowed my disbelief long enough to nod back just as seriously and remind him of the other words we do not say. Jared solemnly told me that we don't say stupid or fat or shut up or coconut-head (which is, of course, his favorite). Now he's added a new phrase.
Guess we're going to have to be a lot more serious in our censoring now. And really, we haven't let him watch anything he shouldn't. It just surprised me deeply that he figured out the phrase and--even more surprising--realized it was something he shouldn't say. What a kid.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This is what I want

Here is an interesting thing: I got into teaching because I love books. I love to read, love to talk about what I read, love to pick apart sentences and admire their vivisected beauty. I wasn't too sure, though, about whether I'd like kids. I had watched my fair share of movies and TV shows featuring a high school setting, and I was quite uncertain about my ability to quell a paper-throwing riot or stand firm when confronted by an angry young man 6 or more inches taller than me. And it wasn't just the threat of violence that concerned me. Even more, I was worried about the day to day--about how I would get along with them. What if they didn't like me? What if I was too stiff, too formal?
My nerves were a mess the week before I started teaching. On the first day of school, my legs were shaking so badly I had to lean against the desk, taking deep, calming breaths. And then I began. I began talking about who I am and what I had planned for the class. And that class of 26 sophomores lifted their faces to me like flowers. I don't want to sound like I'm bragging--but they absorbed my words like sunlight. They smiled and laughed and let me teach them.
And this is what I learned: I have stayed in teaching because I love my students.
But in seven years, something else has changed. I have discovered that while I still love to devour books, I am no longer so convinced that the way we teach English is the best way to kindle that hunger in our students.
There are so many other ways teens today can occupy themselves. Reading a book seems, by comparison, boring--something only nerds would do. To make matters worse, the classics we read in high school classrooms are often inaccessible, unexciting, and outdated. Should every high school graduate have read Twain, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Milton? Maybe not. Isn't it more important to show students that reading is not merely for bored, boring nerds?
This is my proposal: to create a classroom atmosphere where books are treasures and reading is rewarding. First thing, I'd get rid of the desks and put in a large plush carpet and comfortable seats--beanbag chairs, a recliner or two, a sofa. I would need lots of bookshelves and more books too. Picture books, fiction and nonfiction--things that are relevant and interesting. I think fluorescent lights are hideous, so we would need lamps. And then, a class set of notebook computers with video cameras for streaming to other similar classrooms (if there are any).
Sometimes we would all read the same thing. Sometimes the students would form book clubs and read together. Sometimes we would all read individually. My role would be to direct and focus discussion and to suggest new topics or books.
After reading, we would write. Sometimes, we'd write about the books, sometimes about life, some fiction, some poetry, some nonfiction. And we'd talk about ways to publish our writings, on the web or in print.
Wouldn't that be better?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Edge of Things

When Torren lifted his foot to step out of the woods, a silent wave shivered down his bones and tossed him gracelessly to the wood-floor, which was thick with scarlet leaves and the earthy scent of fungus. When he opened his eyes, his breath caught round in his throat, he realized his back cricked with a rather small pain, and he reached his long earth-singer’s fingers back to warm it. Humming a healing song, he felt the light warm the ache away.
He crouched then, elbows on his knees, and considered. Although he had seen twenty midsummers, he was young in his tribe’s reckoning, and his training had lately kept him confined to Master Althus’s hut at the edge of the leaf-hall. But it had been Master Althus himself who had sent Torren out before dawn broke the sky with a request for iron from the smithy in the village a half day’s run down the forest road.
“Your feet are faster than mine,” Althus said with a grunt. “You go.”
Sucking a nervous breath, Torren had nodded. “Should I take my bow?”
“Hells no. And announce yourself to the queen’s men? Your knife is all the protection you need out there—that and those fleet feet of yours. Borrow some clothing from Rourke. And cover your ears.”
Althus had rolled back into sleep, leaving it to Torren to rouse Rourke before dawn to beg the rough dun tunic and breeches the townsfolk wore.
Torren scratched his leg and then felt in the leaves for a stick. Holding it before him, he stood and prodded the bright light beyond the leaf-dappled edge of the forest. Nothing happened. He stepped forward until his fingertips were just at the edge of that veil separating light and dark. He froze, took a hard breath, and let just the sliver of one fingernail cross into light. The stick shattered in his hand.

Althus peered through the blue-grey smoke of his long thin pipe. “Tell me again, more slowly this time.”
Torren took a breath, sucking air and the calming mint of Althus’s pipe smoke deep into his lungs. He began with the sound and ended with the slivers of wood falling from his fingers.
Althus leaned back against the wall and pulled on his pipe, his eyes closed. Smoke drifted up and over his head, accumulating and hovering in a cloud, a fragrant cloud—moments passed and Torren felt his eyes grow heavy and he swayed in his perch. He bit the inside of his cheek, bit it hard and sat upright.
“Pain as a stimulant,” Althus murmured and the cloud evaporated. “Interesting choice, Torren.” He leaned forward, his pale blue eyes as cold as bitter ice. “You have much to learn yet.”
“Why did the forest not let me leave?” Torren asked. “Do you know?”
Althus closed his eyes. “I have many thoughts and may tell you in time. Meanwhile, I want you to do two things. First, compose a list of possibilities. What may the sound have been? What might it portend? And also, consider a better stimulant. Pain—self-inflicted as that was—will only weaken you.” He sucked on his pipe, closed his eyes, and leaned back. Torren knew he had been dismissed.
It was far more easy to roam the sun-streamed leaf halls of Manluvi├ír than to focus on the task Althus had set him. Each room was built of trees charmed to shelter the woodfolk from the elements; each room held treasures formed in ancient days, treasures whose craftsmanship had been lost as his race diminished, their magic dimmed, their ageless bodies fallen prey to the grey-fletched arrows of Queen Asyn’s men.
This queen had appeared one winter out of the deeps of the Grey Mountains just as the white-bearded human king was dying, and she had settled her gaunt, black-robed form into his vacant throne, and she had summoned a silent army of men, fierce of eye and swift of arrow, to surround her. The king had been burned with indecent haste, and a rumor--more than a rumor--had reached the Folk of a flicker of his eyelid as the flames licked hungrily at his robes. Some said his hand twitched or maybe clenched. One rumor said the new queen had tossed another brand onto the fire, her eyes glowing (maybe with fireglow or maybe--none would complete the sentence). But all agreed that when she cast that branch on the pyre, the fire had leapt up and consumed the body of the king that was.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wise Fool

You know what "sophomore" means, right? I don't think anyone makes it through tenth grade without hearing it from someone much older (by at least ten months) and much wiser (doubtful, really). Wise fool. That's what it means. And after almost seven years now of spending 180 days with 150 (give or take) of them, I have to concede that "sophomore" is the perfect word for this age group.
I was certainly both wise and foolish when I was a sophomore. Heck, I still am. Maybe that's why I get along with my students so well. And something that happened the other day in class got me thinking about why I teach, why other great teachers teach, and why kids like those great teachers. (Hmm, did I just insinuate that I am one of such greats? I don't mean to toot my own horn. But I do believe my students like me. That counts for something. Greatness? Maybe. Time will tell.) (Moving on.)
By the end of the day, especially a nice sunny day, especially a nice sunny Friday, I am just as slap-happy and just as easily distracted as my students. Last Friday was just one such kaleidoscope of chaos. I had wrapped up my lecture on the Industrial Revolution a few minutes early and the students were chatting quietly. Well, to be brutally honest, they were not quiet at all. But that's really not an important item. They were in their seats, not throwing spit wads or balls of paper or textbooks or each other across the room (which they never do, mind you--just making a connection to movies you've probably seen about out of control classrooms. Which mine isn't). You know, just a lazy Friday afternoon breeze-shooting.
I think it all really got started when somebody said something about TGIF and I overheard it. I do love my Fridays and here is why: we get to wear jeans to work. And if there's one thing I love more than Fridays, it's jeans. Jeans me lovey very much. But not so much as 1) Jesus, 2) Clint, 3) my kids and chocolate--two way tie, 3 again) which is tied also with books. Or actually, books may be higher up there. I think I need to stop this ranking. (And sorry to anyone not on this list. You're there. You're all there. It's really like a 437 way tie for 3rd place. I love you all.) (4th is cilantro.) (And sports are dead last, well--right before Satan.) (Okay, I'm really stopping now.)
So I was happy about getting to wear jeans, and to demonstrate this moment of pure unadulterated bliss, I leaned back in my comfy new desk chair (thanks, dad) and flung my leg (jeans-clad, of course) into the air. That was when it happened: the moment, the quintessential moment of pure sophomoric-ness. One of my students (let's call him Bob for privacy's sake) said--and I quote: "Mrs. Genthner, you are the oldest dork I've ever seen."
The room got so quiet after that period you would not have believed you were stepping into a classroom full of teenagers. Heads swiveled. Girls gasped. Bob began to backpedal.
"Well, look: I'm not saying you're old. Cause you're not. You look like you're really young. I just meant that all the other dorks I know are, like, my age. And you're a lot older than them."
"Did he just call the teacher a dork?" someone whispered.
"Yeah, and he said she's old too," someone replied.
Bob blushed. In the interest of his sanity, I graciously accepted his apology.
"I meant it as a compliment," Bob said, but by then the class had gone back to its (ahem) not-too-loud chatter.

For almost a week now, I've been thinking about what he said. And you know what? Maybe it was a compliment, like Bob insisted. After all, I prided myself on my dork-ness in high school. If someone said I was weird, I felt gratified. After all, isn't weirdness actually uniqueness, maybe with a hint of self-confidence thrown in? Weird people aren't afraid to show who they really are. They revel in their difference. Emerson said, "Imitation is suicide," and the dork (if I'm understanding Bob correctly) is far from suicidal--because the dork doesn't imitate anyone. The dork is comfortable in his or her skin.
And that got me thinking about teachers and why students seem to like the weird ones. After all, what sort of person eagerly signs up to hang out with teens all day and try to teach them stuff? The one who loves his or her content area and gets all giggly just thinking about ways to spread that love to young people who (really) (for the most part) don't care a whole lot. That person is a dork. When I walk past classrooms in my building and see kids leaning forward eagerly in their chairs, they're leaning to soak up the strangeness of their teachers. They see their teachers (the good ones) being themselves, unafraid to stand in front of a room teeming with probable apathy and say, "You know what? You might think books and writing (or insert another less-important topic) are boring, but I'm going to show you today why they're not." And then, through a secret alchemical formula composed of...well, I wish I could tell you...sprinkled liberally with passion for the subject and unvarnished strangeness, that dorky person can get kids to listen.
They might start listening because of the strangeness of the person standing in front of them; hopefully, they keep listening because something he or she says has begun to awaken an interest. And that, my friends, is why I am proud to admit that I may well be the oldest dork you've ever met. Words of wisdom from a foolish genius. Thanks, Bob.

Friday, November 6, 2009

In Which I Flaunt My Craftiness

For awhile, I tried maintaining two blogs. I know, it was a silly endeavor. I don't even do a very good job keeping up with this one, but I got swept up by the idea of breaking into the crafting world through my etsy shop. (Psst: Have you been there? Oh, all sorts of things to love. To buy. To make ME happy and wealthy.) (Bwahahaha.)
And that other blog didn't work out so well, now did it? No. Obviously not. I just want to read, really. That's all. But so far, I haven't made a whole lot of money doing that. Not sure why. Get back to me on that one.
So anyway, I've decided to merge my two blogs into ONE AMAZING WEALTH OF CRAFTY, WELL-WRITTEN PLEASURE. Just for you, my loyal readers. And to make this merge extra special, I am now going to show you pictures of the costume I made Jared for Halloween. And while I'm talking about it, I think I'll reveal something shocking.
It's a rocky relationship, me and Halloween. I don't really love the holiday. I don't like scary things like skeletons and witches and goblins. (Of course excepting any vampires who are also hot. Which, apparently, seems to be intrinsically related to the blood lust.) Also, I think trick-or-treating is, in all honesty, a bit impolite. Think about it: we're giving our children permission--no, we're encouraging them--to dress in strange clothing and walk up to total strangers in hopes of amassing vast hoards of candy. Strangers. The ones we tell our kids NOT to take candy from. Is this weird to anyone else?
Also, I don't like Halloween because I have sewn myself into a tight box of pride. I CANNOT let myself buy a costume. Can't do it. I can sew, darn it, so my children need to wear costumes I have made. And of course, I let Jared choose what he wants to be. Jonah and Lauren are at the age now where they're on their own. No guilty qualms at all about that. They have a big storage container full of costumes from previous years and have been blessed with creative genes from both parents; they can fend for themselves. But Jared, he's three. He still gets to show off his mama's talent.
So first he wanted to be a dinosaur. A T-Rex, to be exact. But then his idea changed. And changed. And changed again. Next he wanted to be a domino, then a pop tart, then a box of cereal (I think he was hungry). I was pushing for cowboy because I think he would really look cute in cowboy boots. (OK: honesty time. Really, I want cowboy boots for myself. Red ones. I should just get them and stop pining.) (I said PINING, by the way, not WHINING.)
Then he proposed being a lizard. A lizard just like Fyreborne had been. And finally, full of charitable thoughts for our recently deceased pet, I assented. Of course, it helped that he made this decision while we were at the fabric store looking at fabric that would make a perfect lizard costume (AND said fabric was also 50% off). So I got the fabric and began planning away.
I was able to reuse his pattern from last year (He was a camel. Honestly, where does this kid get his ideas?) and just had to add some extra frills and spikes to make him the perfect bearded dragon costume.
So here it is:

Of course, he wouldn't put down his Reese's Pieces long enough for me to get a nice shot of the body, and I didn't think to back up and get the whole front of the costume. But you can see the frills around the neck and the contrasting lizard-y fabrics I used for the body and the accents. And please: don't look too closely at the zipper. I am entirely too picky about many things, but sewing in zippers is not on that lengthy list.

Here's a view of the back. I know what you're thinking and you're right: His tail does look more like a stegosaurus tail, as I realized AFTER taking a close look at the temporarily-named Squirt (our new bearded dragon) and discovering he/she (Jonah's not sure yet) has spikes on the sides of his/her tail, not the top. But anyway, the spikes also go from Jared's wrists to his ankles and he has more spikes on his back.
If I put him back in his costume and take some better pictures someday, I'll post them. It was pretty cute, not going to lie. Maybe my best costume yet.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Breaking the Sixth Commandment

In Victorian times, the period of mourning depended on the closeness of the relation. Think this way: the entirely-black outfit, chin to toes; no going to balls or festive events; not leaving the house at all except for church. And previously mentioned, the duration of this deep mourning depended on the relationship. If your husband died, it would last for 18-24. If one of your parents died, 12 months. 8-12 months for a sibling or grandparent, 9 months for a child, 6 weeks-6 months for an aunt, uncle or cousin. After the proper time of mourning has been observed, you may gradually add color back into your wardrobe and begin to attend social events, always keeping your loss in mind. It would not do to rush into such things. Like the strumpet in the below picture did. And consider where it left her: lonely and desperate.

Apparently in these modern times, the period of mourning for an Australian Bearded Dragon is 37 hours. And you don't have to wear black at all. After that time, it is perfectly acceptable to go to the nearest pet store and find a suitable replacement.

Don't think, however, that choosing to do so is a sign that you do not feel grieved at the loss of your pet. You have gone through the stages of grief, however abbreviated, as outlined below.
  • Stage One: Shock and Denial--This is what your mother expressed when you came into her bedroom at 6:43 on Saturday morning to announce that Fyreborne had indeed died in the night. It could be that she reacted thus due to lack of sleep, but for our purposes, we will consider stage one duly met.
  • Stage Two: Pain and Guilt--This period of intense questioning happened after your mother woke up enough to digest what you had announced. This is when you discussed whether it was your fault that the lizard had somehow found a toy rubber lizard and eaten it, later extruding it from his nether-regions. Your tears watered your mother's pillow as you struggled with culpability, but soon dried as you shifted all blame for the ingestion to your sly younger brother who had always had a fixation with Fyreborne.
  • Stage Three: Anger and Bargaining--Well, there was not so much anger as bargaining in this stage. This is when you tearfully asked your mother whether she had been sincere when she told you BEFORE the purchase of Fyreborne that if this pet died an untimely death, there would be no more pets in your household. You had already prepared an arsenal of reasons that this death was not your fault, but she shushed you with a hug and you let the sense of reprieve flood your thin grief-wracked body.
  • Stage Four: Depression and Loneliness--After your mom finally stumbled out of bed and began to make her way through her first bleary cup of coffee, she noticed you sitting pensively in her favorite chair. She held you and rubbed your back as you blinked back tears. These tears simmered most of the morning, always threatening to overflow, as your loss began to sink in. Every time you walked past Fyreborne's tank, you felt a pang. Finally, after the fourteenth time she had asked you how you were doing, you told your mom that you didn't want to talk about him any more.
  • Stage Five: The Upward Turn--Your mom told you that Fyreborne needed to be buried, and you shrouded his frail body carefully with a long skein of toilet paper before digging a shallow grave in his favorite basking spot in mom's flower bed, murmuring goodbyes as you shoveled the dirt over his body. Strangely, after doing this, you began to feel better.
  • Stage Six: Reconstruction and Working Through--When you came back into the house, you cleaned out Fyreborne's tank and put his favorite climbing logs into the garbage can. You decided you needed to take a break before getting another lizard. Then your mom told you about daddy's surprise plan. (Sometimes she has a hard time keeping a secret when it's really good.)
  • Stage Seven: Acceptance and Hope--All night you deliberated between the leopard gecko and the three-legged bearded dragon (and half price! Your dad is nothing if not frugal) you had seen at the pet store a few nights before when purchasing what had been Fyreborne's last meal (not the rubber lizard; an appetizing treat of tender young crickets). It took a trip to the store to make your decision, and you came home an hour later with your new friend, the three legged dragon, currently un-named, who, despite his tender youth, has already shown himself to be a fighter: he survived an attack at the pet store by a ferocious older beardie who bit his foot off before the keepers could pry them apart. This young beardie, only two months old, has great potential for longevity in this (possibly) doomed household.
And thus, although Fyreborne will remain on his pinnacle in your heart as the best pet ever, you have found solace in this new pet. Already, differences have been noted, aside from the obvious foot-less-ness. Newbie doesn't gobble his food like Fyreborne did. As well, the new beardie is less content to rest on your shoulder as you walk around the house. You, however, hold high hopes that this is a learned behavior that your new pet will pick up after a few days or weeks of handling. And you would like to officially rebut your sister's suggestion that purchasing a new pet so soon after the death of its predecessor is not remotely like adultery. Nothing like it at all.

Indeed, all hints of possible adultery aside, we have high hopes for this tiny new inhabitant in House Genthner. We pray he lives a long and fruitful life, and we all solemnly pledge to keep lizards of rubber far from the reach of his agile pink tongue.

Fyreborne Genthner
June 2009-October 17, 2009
Rest in Peace

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another reason on my list... visit Paris.
I don't know if the books are finding me, or if I'm finding them, but I just can't get enough of this city! One of the perks of my friendship with Ron, editor of this magazine, is that he also writes reviews for Library Journal, so he sometimes sends me books he's reviewed (pre-publication, folks!) that he thinks I might like. He was dead right with this one.
It's Rebecca Stott's second novel, and it's set in post-Napoleonic Paris. The protagonist, Daniel Connor, is a naive young Englishman sent by his professor to study natural science with the masters at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where Daniel has hopes to work directly with M. Cuvier himself. He has been brought up with a firm faith in God and the Genesis story of creation, a belief that is shaken on the coach ride to Paris when he discusses natural history with an alluring older woman. She talks about the near-agelessness of coral, of the stories those polyps could tell if they had words to do it, of how Paris itself used to be a seabed above which monstrous plesiosaurs and other fishes used to swim before one day one of them crawled forth from the water and exchanged its fins for feet.
Daniel tells her about the rare corals he has in the knapsack beside him, along with his notebooks and a letter of introduction to M. Cuvier. They talk long into the night, and just outside the outskirts of Paris, Daniel falls asleep. When he awakens, he finds that his knapsack has been stolen, all except his wallet which has been tucked inside his jacket.
With no letter of introduction, no notebooks, no rare specimens for his mentor, Daniel thinks of leaving Paris for home. But he decides to stay a bit longer, talk to a detective, and search for another glimpse of that bewitching woman, the woman who probably stole his treasures.
Daniel finally does find Lucienne Bernard, or rather she finds him, and somehow, he discovers he would rather NOT tell the police detective about their meeting. Or the next. Or the next. And soon, Daniel finds himself caught in a web of deception where nothing is what he once thought it was.
I found myself caught in that same web as I read. Rebecca seamlessly weaves the strands of history with adventure and romance, and I learned much about Paris in the beginning of the nineteenth century. But I never felt like I was being schooled. It was an education that I was pleased to recieve, as I learned about the origins of street names in Paris, about the love the Parisians had for their lost Emperor, about the cutthroat world of scientific discovery in the decades before Darwin, about the night life of Paris in 1815.
Read it. I promise you'll enjoy it. And you'll certainly learn something.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Words of Affirmation

She was precocious even when she was still in diapers. I'm quite certain her pediatrician (crazy Dr. Hess--don't get me started) must have written an article about her amazing little patient, who, at her one year checkup, could make over thirty different animal noises on command. Dog, cat, cow? Easy. How about fish and squirrel and elephant? She knew them all. And before long, little Lauren was speaking intelligible words and soon sentences. Heck, this creative kid even made up a few words of her own. Go ahead: look mastus up in the dictionary. You'll see it's the answer to every question that begins with the word why. And secubaba, that's in there too. Can't remember what it means by now, but I'm sure it was something amazing.

Her journey through elementary school was equally stellar, and I always enjoyed hearing her teachers laud her praises. But I must admit: I had a few niggling doubts. Did they speak highly of her because they knew her and they knew us (after all, Clint teaches at the same school)? Or was she really as exceptional as we believed her to be?

At home, we see her grace, her maturity, her humor, her love for language and music. But was she really that amazing at school too? And even if she had impressed her teachers at Trinity, where she was the child of a teacher, probably as comfortable with her place there as she is at home, how would she act in a new environment where nobody knew her? Yes, that's right: high school. A big city high school. (Well, is 1800 students big to you? It is to me...)

So last night I headed out to her parent-teacher conferences with Clint and (I won't lie) a bit of doubt in my heart. What would her teachers have to say about her? I'd seen some of her assignments, and they seemed good. She had said, though, that she felt shy, that teachers often didn't notice her in class.

But as we spent an hour meeting with one teacher after another, our fears were laid to rest. Okay, maybe just my fears. Clint doesn't really worry about these things. Each one said basically the same thing: We love having Lauren in class; she is bright and fun; she seems to love learning; she is so well prepared; she never misses an assignment; she's a great writer; she has wonderful insight into the discussion; we can always count on Lauren to have the right answer. And her grades? 3 A pluses, 1 A, one A minus.

Can you feel my pride? Is it transmitting over the digital waves to you? Five weeks ago, none of these people had a clue who my daughter was, and in those few short weeks, she has managed to find a place for herself in a brand new (at first, very frightening and overwhelming) environment. And not only has she found her place, she has made it comfortable enough that she has shown these five strangers who she truly is.

I wish I could take all the credit (well, half--shared with THE MAN), but I don't really think it's us. It's God. It's God who created this amazing treasure He gave us, who gifted us with a daughter who amazes us daily and who brings a glow of pride to my face every time I talk about her. I know I didn't do anything to deserve her. It's all grace, people, and it's a grace I am blessed to bask in.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Miraculous Recovery of Jonah E. Genthner

Remember that part in ET where Elliot fakes sick by holding a thermometer up to the light bulb near his bed? When I first saw that scene, I thought that was so diabolical, a kid feigning illness to stay home from school. I guess it never crossed my mind (I know, I know: I was--actually, I still AM--one of those weirdos who actually LIKE school) to try to actually GET OUT of school by pretending to be ill.
Unfortunately, my children have not inherited my love for education. I can't begin to count the number of times Lauren or Jonah has begged to stay home in a croaking voice, pleading a serious case of sore throat/upset tummy/plaguing cough, only to have a full recovery before lunch.
Today was one of those days. Jonah complained last night of a sore throat and sniffles (now that I think about it, he was just setting up his plan). This morning, I had to use a crow bar to pry him out of bed, but he seemed fine, so I retreated to my room to get dressed. As I was poking my arm through my shirt, a timid knock sounded on my door. "Mom?" a weak shaking voice called. "Mom?" It was Jonah, looking unbearably pathetic. "My throat," he rasped, "it really hurts. I think I need to stay home."
My reaction was pure and simple: I caved. Just like I do every time. What kind of mother sends her sick child to school, right? Even after twenty-three miraculous recoveries, I caved. "But I can't stay home with you, hon," I said. "You'll have to stay home by yourself."
He nodded slowly. "I can do that," he said.
"Go back to bed, sweetie," I crooned, smoothing down his hair.
I went back into my room to grab a pair of socks and that's when it hit me: today was the trifecta dentist appointment. All three kids in one shot. If Jonah missed his appointment, it might be months before we could reschedule him.
I popped back into his room and explained he'd have to go to school after all. But as he got showered and dressed, I reconsidered. I have plenty of sick days, and if I stayed home WITH him, I could pick Lauren up from school and take her to the dentist myself without having to ask
someone to do my chauffeuring for me. I called a sub.
And guess what? Jonah recovered in record time. Before nine, he was dressed, kicking a ball around the family room, asking me if we could go to the pet store. It's a miracle, and I am so so grateful that he had such a remarkably brief illness.
Of course, I got to stay home today, too, with my not-so-sick boy. And you know what? Sometimes it's nice to take a day like this and get some things done. I finished a sewing project and started a new book, caught up on some of my favorite blogs, and I still have time to get to the dentist. It's a good day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Review: The Glass Castle

Remember how you felt when you read Angela's Ashes? That's the way Jeannette Walls's memoir The Glass Castle makes you feel. You laugh, you cry, you shake your head in disbelief, and you thank God for what you have.
Jeannette is the second of four children belonging to Rose Mary and Rex Walls. Dad is a brilliant man who is convinced that all politicians are crooked, labor unions are a front for the mob, and the police are part of the gestapo. Therefore, the Walls family rarely lives in one place more than a year, because it doesn't take Rex long after getting a job to lose it, and whatever money he brings home is quickly spent on food and cigarettes and booze. Oh, and Mom's art supplies. Yes, she has a teaching degree, but she only got it to stop her mother from nagging at her, and really she just wants to be an artist. Not a teacher, not a secretary, just a free spirit. And really, not a mother either. Her philosophy of child rearing is that children need to learn to fend for themselves. That's why the book opens with three-year-old Jeannette boiling herself a hot dog and catching her belly on fire. Where was mom? Painting in the other room. When doctors and nurses in the ER questioned precocious little Jeannette about how her parents were caring for her, she said she often cooked her own hot dogs; they were easy to make.
The memoir is told in brief scenes, following the Walls family as they flit from one home to another, sometimes living in a house, but more often living in their car or a rundown shack. Once even an abandoned train depot.
And yet despite the appalling neglect the children face, Jeannette still loves her father. Even though he later cons her out of money and basically prostitutes her one evening, she dwells on all the things he taught her, all the ways he made her childhood magical.
She writes about the games her father played with neighborhood children, having so much fun that kids were more likely to ask if Mr. Walls would come out and play than any of his children. She writes about the Christmas they didn't have any money (ONE of the Christmases) when Rex took each of his children out one by one to sit under the desert stars and offered to give each of them whichever star they wanted. She writes about his brilliant architectural plans for the glass castle he vowed to build the family one day. And she writes.
Jeannette's stories about her mother are less forgiving. Rose Mary was a selfish woman who snuck bites at a King Size Hershey bar when her children had eaten nothing for dinner for two nights running. She sulked about getting a teaching job, complaining that she just wanted to do what SHE wanted to do, often staying in bed until her children roused her, dressed her, and sent her off to work. She didn't keep their house clean, didn't cook regularly, didn't tell their father no when he took the family's money to feed his habits.
The memoir spans the family's journey from the deserts of the Southwest, to California and Phoenix, to West Virginia, and then to New York City. Starting with Lori, the oldest, each of the children fled West Virginia one by one as they grew old enough to survive on their own. And despite their desperate beginnings, three of the four made wonderful lives for themselves as an artist, a writer, and a policeman.

Since finishing the book, I have found myself thinking about the relationship between parents and children. I wonder why a child would continue to love a parent who neglected her, who let her go hungry so often, who stole from her and lied to her and didn't care for her. I wonder about what creates and sustains love. And I have discovered (again) that all the things we think are essential (how many pairs of jeans? shoes? this new gadget or that one? camp and lessons?) really aren't. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to quit my job and toss my family into the van so we can drift across America. But I am saying that time is priceless and infinite, and it is the best gift we can give each other, especially our children. The poor have as many hours as the rich, and they are probably less miserly with their time than the people living in the comfy houses.
Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Finding Joy

If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me how calm I am, I'd stop shopping the clearance racks at Gap and sighing as I replace anything with a tag over 19.99. I'd be wearing stuff that's BRAND NEW! JUST IN! Everybody's gotta have it. Full price queen. The girl all the salespeople want to help. That would be me.
But nope, no dollars poking out of my back pocket for my calmness factor. Instead, as I'm sitting here ruminating on my day, I have begun to think that I might like to trade up all my calmness for a little joy. Because I really want to feel joy, and I have a suspicion the calmness gets in joy's way. I have this suspicion that my level feelings are a hindrance to the necessary high that lets joy flood in. I want something to be really excited about, even if it's nothing that exciting, and I want to feel that joy in anticipation swelling up in my throat like a bright yellow balloon, swelling so large it reflects a bit of its shine onto my face. And when I am in the moment, when the anticipation is done and the good thing is happening now, I want to feel the electric rush of joy jangling its way down my nerves, all the way down to my fingers, toes, to the ridges and hollows of my ears, to the ends of each hair.
Is this an impossible wish? We wrote about emotions today in one of my English classes, and I shared my desire for joy with my students. One of them suggested that those who feel joy best are children. So they suggested I should throw off the heavy mantle of adulthood (my words, here, not theirs) and do something really crazy, let myself find my inner child. They suggested taking my life into my hands, risking death. I'm sure they were imagining me bungee jumping, cliff diving, hot rodding, riding a bronco.
I'm thinking that maybe I don't need to get quite that close to Death--I don't need to see the whites of his eyes to find my joy. But going back to childhood and throwing off my adult self: now that's an idea.
So for the rest of this evening, as I'm getting ready for bed, I'm going to think about where I might be a little less staid and a little more silly. Somewhere in that middle ground, I'm hoping a pocket of joy might be waiting for me.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Valediction Forbidding Grading

As I sit and scribble madly away
And tell Jared to find patience
Jonah peers over my shoulder and whispers,
"I think she's almost done." But Lauren knows: "No."

They leave me to grade
Surrounded by towering white wrinkled stacks
A red pen in one hand
The other buried, a claw, in tumbled wild curls.

And whilst I am lost in the land
Of misused homophones and elusive commas,
They set the table, fold their laundry,
Wait patiently for me to emerge.

Sadly, I crawl from that desperate land
Long after they have passed into dreams.
And as I bend over their soft sweet cheeks,
Breathing deep and smoothing damp curls

I weep inside at the hours and minutes
I have placated them with empty promises
My fingers wrapped too tightly around that pen
Instead of twining with their yet-small fingers.

And I resolve that next week, I will say no.
I will leave the work at school and come home
To them with an empty satchel and open arms
And time to listen to their dreams.

At least for a few days of five, I will be a mother
More than a teacher:
Giving my family the woman they need
Instead of the shell they've grown to accept.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Traveling to Guernsey...

Alas, it was only in my mind. But if you haven't visited, you must go there. Read the book, I mean, if travel to one of the Channel Islands (between the UK and France) is out of your budget.

I wasn't sure what to expect at first when I realized this was a novel composed entirely of letters, and there were a few parts early on where I had trouble keeping the characters straight, but that could all be chalked up to sporadic reading opportunities for the first several days.

The novel begins in England in 1946, post WW2 of course, and the main character is Juliet Ashton, a writer who has won great fame for her recent publication of a collection of her articles written during the war. As she ventures from London on book tours, she receives a letter from a gentleman named Dawsey Adams, who lives on Guernsey, asking for her opinion about a book that she once owned.

She had to sell it as she had two copies and needed money, and this man now owns it. He wants to know about her notes in the margin. Thus begins their correspondence, a series of inter-channel letters that eventually spreads to include Juliet's publisher, her school chum, and the members of Dawsey's literary society. It doesn't take long for Juliet to become entranced with their story, or for the reader either.

Guernsey was occupied by German soldiers for the last five years of the war, and during the occupation, the islanders had to scrounge for food, using their wits to survive. Many of them had kept pigs, but the Germans declared them to be army property--although the islanders were responsible for the pigs' care. The Guernsey literary society began one night after a pig died.

Yes, that's right. A dead pig. Seems those Germans weren't too bright, and when they came to inspect and fill out the form for the dead pig, they didn't do anything with the carcass. Remember how I mentioned the resourcefulness of the islanders? Well, they carted the dead pig to another farm, called the Germans and said a pig had died, had the inspection, and took the dead pig to another farm, keeping it up until the carcass became too corrupt for such shenanigans. In this way, several farmers got to keep an extra pig off the German record, and after a dinner party featuring roast pork, a party of islanders were caught coming home long after curfew. When asked where they had been, one young woman blurted that they had been at a meeting of the Guernsey Literary Society. And that's how it began.

I'm not doing the book justice, I fear. You simply have to read it. The characters leap, laughing, off the page, and you will quickly find yourself entranced by their story. I guarantee you'll love crazy Isola, who flits from one obsession to the next. Dawsey and Eben and Elizabeth are endearing. You'll want to adopt precocious little Kit, and you'll wish you had a friend like Juliet.
Oh, and you'll probably want to stop texting and emailing and start writing letters again. And visit Guernsey, of course.

That's how I feel. Completely sucked in and sad to have turned the last page.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do you love Chocolat?

(and it's on sale right now at amazon, t00! $8.23 for the hardcover!)

If you haven't read Chocolat or at the very least, seen the movie, stop reading this and take care of that business first. If you have, then sit back and read on...

I remember how I felt after reading Chocolat the first time: deliciously sated, bemused, lost in Joanne Harris's dreamlike France, with a ghostly trace of chocolate on my fingertips. But also, a little bereft. I didn't wholly like the way the novel ended, with Vianne following the wind and leaving her heart in Lansquenet with Roux. So when I heard that there was a sequel novel, I was very interested. Very curious to see whether Vianne and her heart would be reunited.

The Girl with No Shadow begins with a new character who gathers identities like other Parisians gather items at the market: almost daily and with great discrimination. It's frightening how easily this girl can sift through a few pieces of mail to find enough details to access bank accounts, apply for a passport, rent an apartment. And Francoise Lavery becomes Zozie, who bumps into a 4-years-older Anouk standing outside a black-swathed chocolaterie in Paris. Anouk says she is on her way to a funeral, and when Zozie asks her whose it is, Anouk replies "My mother's. Vianne Rocher."

I almost swallowed my chocolate at that! How would a dead woman ever find her heart again? But Anouk was lying. She's eleven now, and she struggles with her differentness as she tries to find a place in the world. Soon Vianne appears, dressed for the funeral, with a nearly four-year-old redhead in tow. And as Zozie watches Anouk skip off down the street, the colors of her power trailing her like kite strings, with Pantoufle in her wake, she realizes that this girl is too luscious to pass up.

So the story unfolds, told alternately by Vianne, Zozie, and Anouk. As Anouk (now called Annie) struggles to fit in at a school where designer clothes and hairstyles defines popularity. As Zozie sweetly infiltrates Vianne's chocolaterie and Anouk's confidence. As Vianne struggles to accept the dependability a man of wealth and power can provide for her and her daughters. And as Roux returns, diffident and passionate, perhaps to disrupt everything.

It is a novel of love, of chocolate, of choices. Because of it, I bought a new pair of red shoes and ate too much chocolate and may just have booked a flight for Paris. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Beware the tall dark

I don't know exactly what I was thinking. I'm good at many things, but making a snap decision whilst in the midst of a group of friends is not one of them. And when the nice waitress asked me what I wanted to drink at the CHURCH committee meeting I just returned home from, I asked for a beer. Not a big deal. I figured, we were in a restaurant/bar, and I didn't need dinner (had just eaten), and I'm a LUTHERAN for Pete's sake, so a beer was a logical choice. I guess I would have preferred a glass of water, but that sounded too cheap. It IS too cheap.
And she asked me if I wanted a tall. Now in coffee shop lingo, a tall is the smallest size! Maybe I was thinking of that--yeah, I can use that as my excuse for the beer I got.
I am telling you no lie: this tall Leiny was ENORMOUS. I'm thinking the glass was at least 16 inches tall, and it was full to the brim with rich, smooth, creamy dark beer. And of course, as a product of my clean-your-plate upbringing, I had to drink (nearly) the whole thing.
Let's just say it was an interesting meeting, and by the end, I was feeling very friendly. And desperately in need of a bathroom. And somehow, I seem to have volunteered to make a giant calendar to hang in the narthex and call a bunch of people. Again. For the second time in a week. But right now, I'm feeling pretty mellow--not really tipsy at all. But mellow, certainly.
Clint would have known better than to order a TALL beer. He chided me when I told him about it a few minutes ago. Maybe I should drag him along to the next meeting, just to help me order.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: Sweetness and Pie

What started with a dead jack snipe on the kitchen doorstep (postage stamp skewered to his beak) progressed to a dead man in the cucumber patch, and it wasn't really even seconds before eleven year old Flavia de Luce was ready to begin crime solving. She wouldn't call herself a sleuth, I don't think. But a chemist, absolutely. She lives in a mansion in the English countryside with her distant, widowed, philatelic (that means stamp fiend) father and two sisters--Ophelia, who loves playing piano and preening before her mirror, and Daphne, who loves to read. Both sisters largely ignore Flavia. She doesn't much care for them, either. The only person she connects to is Dogger (that's his last name), who somehow helped her father in the war (World War #2, that is), during which he suffered some sort of trauma that makes him a little unreliable. But he's interested in Flavia, in what she thinks and does, and that is enough encouragement for this attention-starved child.
The novel is told through her irrepressible voice, and Flavia shows both spunk and uncommon brain power as she deduces her way through the twisted web that connects the dead bird to the dead man. Along the way, she learns more about her father's past and gains a hint of insight into his character. She also succeeds in poisoning Ophelia's lipstick (not fatally, just enough to temporarily disfigure her lips) and impressing Detective Hewitt, the officer assigned to the case.
It was a delightful new book by Alan Bradley, the first in what he promises to be a series of books about Flavia. I look forward to reading more, and to finding out whether her mother really did die in a mountaineering accident in Tibet (I have my suspicions about that one). For those of you who enjoy an engaging heroine, arcane references to chemistry, 1950s film and stage references, and loads of (occasionally too many of them, really--two in one sentence??) quirky similes, this book is a great read.
Highly recommended. Thanks, E, for lending it to me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

On Writing

It's interesting to read old journal entries, for I find that when I'm not hashing out a new story idea or telling about something funny one of my kids has done, I lament the fact that I'm not writing--and I know I should be. But here's the funny thing: even though I complain about not writing, and even though I find excuses not to write, once I swallow the obstacles and dive in, I get lost.
It happened today. I sat down at a computer to work on a story I started last summer (and forgot about--good thing I wrote the first few pages down in a safe place!) and once I started typing, I was there, in that good place. The place I am when I write.
The rumble in my stomach, the itch on my shoulder, the soft whisper of birds, everything fades away. I inhabit this other world that I have created, watching what the characters do and moving my pen or keys as furiously fast as I can as the story emerges. It's magic and it's exciting and I wind up feeling more buzzed than I've ever felt on wine.
I'm eager to get back to that place tomorrow...might even skimp on some of my housework tonight and dive back in.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Olfactory Memory

There are three particular smells that take me back to that week every summer we'd visit my grandparents' farm in Scottville: dill, wheat toast, and pancakes.
In some ways, my grandparents were typical of their generation. They lived simply, off the land, preserving food from their garden to use throughout the year, welcoming their grandchildren with love and hugs, but not coddling us, and sending us off for hours at a time to roam the fields, play in the barn, investigate the empty chicken coop and other outbuildings.
Grandpa was a quiet man, stoic and silent as most good Germans are, but I remember sitting on one of those rickety stools at the kitchen counter as he drew sizzling animal shapes for us with pancake batter. Mickey Mouse, a snake, a turtle, maybe a dog. Whatever we wanted, he would create for us.
Aside from that once-weekly pancake breakfast, Grandma was the chief cook. She ran her kitchen efficiently, ordering her daughters and daughters-in-law around with the practiced ease she must have gained as mother of eight children. Not only did she cook and bake and preserve the bounty of her farm, she also made us personalized peanut butter-chocolate eggs each Easter, decorated with our names in pink or green lettering. There was always homemade granola on top of the fridge and an intricate web of bottles, tubes, and pipes in the corner where her wine fermented.
But although they were typical old Germans in their efficiency, economy, and stoicism (and love of card-playing and wine or beer), my grandparents were far from ordinary. They were travelers and artists, and grandma was an exercise enthusiast (she walked or cross-country skied at least 3 miles every day) and hoarder of slightly questionable wisdom. When grandma died in 1987, she left behind a score of paintings of things she had seen with her eyes and her heart. I have two of her paintings in my home, framed by grandpa. She also left a notebook of her thoughts and ideas about nature, medicine, and her own peculiar brand of common sense. My aunt shared some of the pages with me a few years ago, and I realized that my good Catholic grandma had probably absorbed a good deal of the counter-culture of the 1970s.

(That's three-year-old me, curious about what Grandpa is doing to Grandma's back)

But those smells--dill, wheat toast, pancakes--those smells take me back there, to those summer days at the farm.
And now, I continue the ritual of making pancakes on Sundays after church. And as I watch my daughter learning to make them herself, shaping the batter into a snake, a fish, another snake for her young brother, I see a glimpse of my grandparents in my children, and the smells rise in me and pour out in a sigh.
I hope that this sigh travels straight up, laden with the scent of hot pancakes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What happened on my craft-cation

I know this may seem to fit better on my other blog, but trust me: I have a very good reason. I learned something very important about myself in the midst of the wild whirlwind of thread and fabric and paper and ink.
And really, this is something I've known about myself for quite some time now, but never before has it struck me with such drastic, immutable, dreadful force.
In the interest of being sly and not giving too much away at the beginning, I'll tell you a little story.

I already told you about how I was being selfish (blah, blah, blah) and how the MAN lovingly opted to take himself and the kids away for a little vacation. Overnight. Waterpark and sleepover at Grandma's and all that. I was a little giddy with the prospect of uninterrupted craft time, and there may have been tiny little purses and cards fluttering around my head like you see in Bugs Bunny cartoons (except those are usually birds, of course. Yellow ones, I think).
On Tuesday, I decided to sew. Laid out the pieces of fabric, decided on a design (messenger bag) and began to cut and piece. This was the first major sewing project that I had intentionally made for my etsy shop, so I was trying to be much more precise than usual on my seams and corners. (For a person as picky as I am about perfection, I am a surprisingly laid back seamstress.) (I'm not sure why.)
After several very frustrating encounters with my seam ripper and slight teeth gnashing, I was finished, and it does look mighty cute. I'm pretty proud of my idea to add an appliqued flower to the front flap. But as I was sitting on the floor for a very MAJOR seam removal, I got the bright idea (time out: do you think I'm pushy?---OK: back to the post) to turn on a movie while I ripped seams. An online (netflix) movie. (It was Hancock, if you're interested.)
And then, after the movie was over, I thought, well, that wasn't so bad. The movie noise had carried me past my frustration, and I hadn't been too distracted from my sewing. I even caught the main gist of the movie. Why don't I just watch something else? So I found some online episodes of this TV show I had forgotten to watch last fall, even though it did seem interesting.
And the next thing I knew, I had turned off my sewing machine and was sitting in my chair with a glass of Fat Bastard, a small bowl of chocolate chips, watching more episodes of this show. If you haven't seen it, it's a little creepy. Probably more horror than a girl like me should watch. Especially a girl who is alone and who has to take frequent potty breaks (my, how wine goes through one's body) in Lauren's creepy bathroom which has a door that creaks closed all on its own. Oh, and by now it was midnight.
Well, I don't know if it was the contagion of the show, the caffeine in the chocolate, the excitement of the day, OR SOMETHING ELSE (see how sly I am?), but for some reason, I kept watching and watching the show. Minutes crept past. Soon it was one. I toddled off to bed, somewhat unsteadily.
I lay there trying to find sleep, alone in the vastness of my dark room, but for some STRANGE reason, sleep was still elusive. So I reached for the lamp and my book and read for awhile, not stopping until my eyes were heavy enough and grainy enough to plunge me into sudden sleep. It was two.
(Have you figured out what my problem is? That last bit was the climax of the story, so the clues have all been given.)
The next morning, the morning light drifted over my eyes around 7 and I blinked at the clock. Too early. That would only be 5 hours of sleep. I drifted back under, waking again at 8. This time, my thoughts became coherent enough to realize that if I slept much longer, I'd be wasting Day 2 of my craft-cation in bed.
So I slugged my way out from under the covers and down the stairs to make some coffee. Bolstered by caffeine, I found myself half an hour later sitting in my craft area, waiting for inspiration to strike. Usually, with several uninterrupted hours, I can churn out ten to a dozen cards. Yesterday, I made two new designs (yes, I made 3 copies of each design, but copies are not nearly as time-consuming as new stuff). Yes, that's right: 2. And the rest of the day, I spent time doodling on a piece of paper, trying to figure out how to draw people from a perspective other than front-on. Also, trying to think of new designs. Nothing came, and my sketches are hideous. Shameful. I don't even want to show them to you.
Hmm, guess why my brain was so fuzzy? Even after 5 cups of coffee, the contents of my mind were more oatmeal-ish than anything else.
Maybe I need the MAN around to help me fall asleep at night, and maybe a few interruptions during crafting times are essential to remind me of what is really important.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Did I mention that I started something new?

Yeah, I've turned into a crafter now. The die-hard kind who just told her husband that instead of wanting to take a 4-day trip to Chicago, she really wants to just be home. Alone (ie: with husband and kids gone) (which means no interruptions for dishes-cleaning-laundry-food prep-kid care). So would he please either a) take them to Chicago without her or b) take them somewhere else?
I know. You don't need to tell me. It's a disease, an obsession, and it's not healthy.
But, you see, I opened this shop 2 weeks ago, and even though NOBODY has bought anything yet (I'm not holding it against any of you, but you could visit the shop and--you know--browse a bit...and maybe put something in your virtual cart...and just happen to pay for it. Just if you want to...), I still just want to make things. Lots of things. Things that use paper and scissors and fabric and thread.
And it's dangerous too, because even though I haven't made any money (yet), I still keep buying supplies. Oh, Michael's has a sale on paper? Better get some. Oh, Jo-Ann has their buttons 40% off? And some are even clearanced down to 25 cents? Got some. Oh, Hancock's of Paducah is selling Amy Butler and Anna Maria Horner fabric for $4 and $5? Yup, got some of that too. Yeah, it's definitely a plague.
So anyway, Clint opted for plan b, and he's taking the kids to a waterpark on Tuesday. I'm just holding out till then, although I may be squeezing in a little sewing and painting and paper cutting before then.
After all, I can't help myself. Oh, and if that weren't bad enough, I also started a crafting blog. You can check that out here. I know, I know. Don't tell me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Good news!

So I got a letter in the mail yesterday, addressed in my own writing. I looked at in for a second in bewilderment before I realized what it was: a reply from one of the agents I had sent a query to. I wasn't very optimistic as I opened it, thinking the chance of a positive response was very small. After all, everything I've read and heard about querying has been overwhelmingly pessimistic. I pulled out a blue printed sheet and scanned it, finally noticing the red check at the bottom. Yes, that's right! She wants to see my complete manuscript! I think I may have squealed, for Clint came running, and I showed him. Hugs ensued and a bit of jumping up and down. Then we settled down to talk logistics. I needed to go the printer and make a clean copy.
$23.17 later, all 312 pages are neatly stacked and ready to mail out, which I'm about to head out and take care of. Then, it's just a matter of waiting. Waiting for her to read it, to decide whether she thinks it's marketable, and if so, to convince a publisher that it is.
Your prayers and good wishes are coveted.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kids' Day

Clint and I both have our birthdays in early June, and between birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day, it's really not surprising that Lauren and Jonah realized at an early age that something stinky was up.
It happened a few years ago. "Mom," Lauren asked, "when's Kids' Day?"
"What, honey?" I was probably busy doing something, not really paying attention.
"Kids' Day," she repeated, so patiently. (It makes me sad sometimes to realize how often I require my kids to be patient with me.)
Finally she got my attention and I turned to face her. "Kids' Day?"
"Well, there's a Mother's Day and a Father's Day. When's Kids' Day?"
She finally got through to my clouded brain. "Well, sweetie, there isn't one. Just one for Mommies and one for Daddies."
"Why not one for kids?" she asked.
Why not, indeed. Clint didn't need any persuading whatsoever, and that afternoon found us sitting in the living room explaining to Lauren and Jonah that there WAS a Kids' Day, conveniently falling in July, on which kids got presents and didn't have to do any jobs.
I don't think the "no jobs" part of the deal was nearly as enticing as the "presents" part. Still isn't.
So today marked our fifth annual Kids' Day. It's funny how often July 20 has found us on vacation...once we were camping, once in Virginia, once at Camp Arcadia. But this year we were home.
Here is how the day went:

Wake up to find daddy gone, so we had to wait till he got home (around noon) to open presents.

And they were very tempting...

I think Jared liked his present (ONE of the dart guns; the other is Jonah's)

Sit down to a nice diner, and then daddy and Jonah left to go fishing (caught three fish!), Lauren and her friend Chloe made popcorn and went downstairs to watch a movie, and mommy introduced Jared to Star Wars (or Star Whores, as Jared calls it).

It was a good day, I think.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pride and Prejudice AND ZOMBIES

I am an Austen fan. The manners, the sly humor, the layers upon layers of subtext, the well-developed characters--both major and minor--I love it all! And even though Emma is my favorite Jane Austen novel, when I saw this book advertised on amazon (click here for your own copy! Now only $7.77!), I knew I had to have it.
Finally, after a few weeks of my summer vacation have passed in a restless haze of waiting for the most opportune moment to crack the binding for the first time, I have succumbed. It was a long-awaited pleasure, and it was not a disappointment, overall.
Was it classic literature, deserving a space on my shelf next to Austen's other works? Maybe not. Was is pure, silly fun? Absolutely.
Here's the first sentence, just to give you an idea: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." And it just goes on from there. According to this revision of Austen's novel, England has been plagued by a--well, a plague that makes people into zombies. And the zombies like nothing more than to kill people and feast on their brains, which apparently are quite tender, succulent, and salty. A young person of any class or standing is sent to be classically trained in killing techniques by the masters of death-dealing in Japan (or China, if a family has less class or standing, such as the Bennett family).
Nobody with any brains leaves home without a dagger in her stocking and a Katana or Brown Bess strapped to her back.
The story unfolds much as does the Pride and Prejudice you may have been required to read in high school or college, with occasional (no, really, frequent is the better word) diversions for vomiting, sword-practice, and zombie slaying. Oh, and there are ninjas, too.
Remember Lady Catherine de Bourgh? She's an accomplished zombie slayer, one of the best in England.
How about Mr. Collins? Guess what? He's no good at all with killing zombies. I'm sure you're surprised.
Of course, all the Bennet girls are excellent swordswomen, and they have even perfected a five-point formation, which they use to good advantage when zombies attack guests at a ball.
It was gruesome, and the gore was only heightened by the illustrations every few chapters that usually featured zombies feasting on corpses or being decapitated by one of the main characters. Much of the text is word-for-word from Austen (85%, I've read in some sources), but there was certainly enough zombie mayhem to satisfy my taste for the gruesome.
Still overall, it was a fun read. Definitely something I'd recommend to a friend who has read and loved Pride and Prejudice. If nothing else, it will make you appreciate Jane Austen's genius even more.
One of the illustrations from the book. Don't worry: it's cauliflower the zombies are feasting on. Obviously, they're not very bright, and the veggie is often used as bait for zombies, who mistake it for succulent brains. That's Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy in the background, by the way.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The little things

I have been thinking for awhile about what makes me happy, where I find joy. And I realized that it is the small things that please me. Check over my list and see if you agree:

-a quiet, comfortable place to read and drink my coffee in the morning, seeing the sun stretching bright across the floor when I look up

-snuggling my children fresh from bed in the morning when the sheet wrinkles are still deep on their faces

-getting into bed and streching my toes into the crisp fresh scent of sheets fresh from the clothesline

-the smell of homemade bread

-getting a nice latte from a coffee shop

-walking into a library and inhaling the scent of printed pages

-the smell of rain

-making something with my hands

-walking through a fabric store and rubbing the fabric between my thumb and forefinger

-cracking open a new book

-rubbing Clint's head after a haircut

-watching him with the kids--with any kids

I could go on and on...but I'm feeling maudlin now...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why I'm not writing

Last week, a green bug bit me.

It makes me dream about fabric and paint

It makes me check my etsy site and email hourly

It makes my fingers itch to hold paper and a paintbrush

And to spend hours looking at fabric websites

And comparing prices

And tallying spending allowances

On things I haven't even sold yet

So I haven't been writing much...

Just crafting...

And thinking...

And planning...

And eating ice cream and chocolate cake...


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Art in the Park

I am so glad I persuaded my new good friend to try a different day. Glad she drove. Glad we pulled in a few more friends. Glad I went. To Plymouth's Art in the Park, that is. I just love art fairs, but I haven't been to one in years upon years.

I met a few designers of cards and jewelry who have etsy shops (like her or her) and who were so friendly when I told them about mine. Even though it was hot and sweaty, it was fun to share Jessica's croissant stuffed with Nutella and Lisa's roasted garlic baguette when we felt munchy and get a coffee (even though I was roasting) at the Plymouth Coffee Bean Co. And Lori gave me a few bites of her kettle corn, too. So friendly. So giving, all of them.

So here's what I got. The typewriter key earrings are for Lauren for Kids' Day (a Genthner family creation and tradition--July 20, if you're interested. Just like Mother's Day or Father's Day: the kids get presents and royal treatment), so pretend you don't know anything. And the Empire State Buildings are for me. They're made out of antique buttons! How cool is that. And the sticknymph business card: that's a promise. I'm going to get something from her etsy soon as I pick out my favorite from the multitudes of cute things. And she's inspired me to take off on a new design for card making. WHEN WILL IT EVER STOP?

I think that's why I like art fairs: I come home just itching to create.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I am a writer...

...and not a graphic designer. That's what I've realized this morning, although (really) I should have known that. I have spent all morning trying to use a program I downloaded (since I don't have photoshop) to create a banner for my new etsy shop (that--so far--is sadly empty because I've been fiddling around with hateful hateful hateful graphic design).
I've been thinking about biting the bullet and just buying a customized banner for $20 like one of these(Those etsy people are so clever: they know that craftiness doesn't always go with computer-ness, don't they?). But I have such a great idea for mine, and I want to make it myself.
So here I am, jiving on 4 cups of French Roast, my calorie counting plan discarded because of last night's binge on Black Raspberry Pie, ditching running for today to work on the computer, in my PJs, watching the hours slip past before I take the kids to the pool at 2.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Plunge

I have officially done it. Not the wimpy way like I did last time (a half-hearted email) but FOR REAL. I sat my little self down and typed up a query letter and a synopsis of my novel (the one about the French Revolution--death and betrayal--that one) and sent out packets to some literary agents.
For those of you not so well versed in the publishing protocols, that's what you have to do, really, before you can find your book on the shelf at Schulers. You have to convince an agent to represent your book, then that agent sells it to a publishing house, and the publisher--ah, publishes the book. THEN you can find it on the shelf at Schulers.
It's a daunting endeavor for me, though, because whilst I was at my residencies for my MFA, the mantra we all chanted to ourselves at night, so lulling and soothing, was this: "No book without an agent, no agent without a book." Yeah, the same thing that happens in the work world happens in the book world. You can't land a job without experience, but you can't get experience without a job. And most agents don't like to handle unpublished authors...but you can't get published without an agent. Sigh.
But I mailed out my packets this afternoon, and I'm crossing my fingers. But I won't keep them crossed--it can take anywhere from four weeks to never to hear back. So meanwhile, I'll just keep writing, keep reading, keep etsy-crafting (I'll get my shop up soon! Promise!), and keep doing all the other things that take up my time. Oh, and blogging too.