Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tom Swifties

My desk

In the 1960’s, a series of books featuring a character named Tom Swift were quite popular. These books included a writing style that incorporated clever adverb puns. These are known as “Tom Swifties.”
Some examples are: "'I lost my crutches,' said Tom lamely"; and "'I'll take the prisoner downstairs', said Tom condescendingly."

Here are a few Tom Swifties that I’ve concocted during idle moments at my desk:

 “Can I have another cookie?” she asked sweetly.
“I love it when my hair looks wind-blown,” she said breezily.
“You remind me of a witch,” she said wickedly.
“Repeat after me,” she said mockingly.
“I don’t care about nature,” he said woodenly.
“I finished making all the beds,” he said tiredly.
“The smell of that garbage is making me gag,” she said reflexively.
“I hate lemonade,” he said sourly.
“I can’t find the farm animals,” he said sheepishly.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

John Comes Courting

Colonial Williamsburg

John has asked permission to court me and Father has consented. I am pleased. He'll join our family for church on Sunday and return to the house for dinner. My sister Clara predicts that we'll be married by June. I hope so. He comes from a fine family and lives in a stately home. I imagine living there as his wife and am filled with pleasure. I have long desired to be mistress of my own house. But listen to me; I'm racing ahead of myself. First we must begin with courting, then see how things progress.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Riding In The Rain

I feel a childlike thrill
Riding in the car when it rains;
Cozy and dry in the backseat
While it’s so deliciously wet outside.

I am quiet in the rain
Content to watch passing neon lights
Illuminate the blurry gray backdrop
And listen to the swish
Of tires against pavement,
The soothing lullaby of the
Wipe  -- per
Wipe  -- per
Metronome rhythm
Battle  the percussive raindrops on glass

I almost hate to reach my destination.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eat More Vegetables!

The punchline is:  Does carrot cake count as a vegetable?

A New York Times article reported that vegetables are struggling to gain appeal and that baby carrots just tried to reposition themselves as junk food. A $25 million campaign was launched advertising baby carrots with heavy metal music, a phone app and a commercial showing a young man dodging baby-carrot bullets shot by an attractive woman in tight jeans.

I don’t know if that campaign will increase baby carrot sales or not. But here are some of my ideas to ramp up vegetable consumption:

Slap a “Go Green” label on broccoli. Promise consumers they’ll be saving the earth by eating vegetables that look like trees. Show commercial spots of environmental devastation and then crying children who won’t have an earth to call home if we don’t all start “going green” by eating broccoli.

Peas. Lots of nostalgia and fairy tale/nursery rhyme possibilities here. We can tout peas as the vegetables of royalty and show beautiful (and of course, sexy) young women only being able to sleep and wake up beautiful because they’ve eaten their peas and there are no more that could have inadvertently rolled under their mattresses.

Or we could make peas more kid-friendly and appetizing: “I eat my peas with honey; I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny, but it keeps them on my knife.” Now – wouldn’t that be fun? Little lunch-sized pea and honey snack packs with plastic knives. Kids are gonna love ‘em!

The Red Hot Chile Peppers are a natural fit for promoting chili peppers.

And it should be easy enough to bring back “Popeye” cartoons to promote spinach. The hard task will be making the public think a pipe-smoking bald sailor with a smoker’s voice is cool and aspirational. I have no idea how they did it the first time.

In conclusion, launching vegetable campaigns ought to be as easy as sweet potato pie. All advertisers need to do is give the public something they can really sink their teeth into. Ha, ha. Sink their teeth into. Get it?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cruise Confidential

Carnival Legend

Brian David Bruns, the author of Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties, is the only American to have made it through the 8-month contract working in Carnival cruise ship kitchens. In his book, he describes his initial training, in which he and I were both surprised to learn that the wait staff have to be trained on how to serve Americans.

His instructor tells the new team of foreigners: “Americans are the easiest people to serve in the world.”

He tells them that Americans on a cruise are interested in having fun and want fast service, not fine service. Very true. They are also told that Americans want to befriend the people waiting on them; they want to know their servers’ names, where they’re from, and like to have their pictures taken with them. Also very true. The author says that the Americans may or may not recognize the names of their countries, and probably couldn’t find them on a map. Fair enough. And that Americans only speak one language – English. I think that’s a fair statement, too.

The staff is told that “Americans want to know you are trying. They eat out almost every day there, so they want something different, something fun. Being in the dining room is not a special occasion for them the way it is for most of you.”

Guess that’s why they make the waiters dance….

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How Superstitious Are You?

Marie Laveau's Tomb

Voodoo queen Marie Laveau's tomb is well-marked. People leave offerings at her gravesite, such as flowers, money, or other trinkets that they hope will appease her. Other people mark three XXX's on her tomb, thinking it will bring them luck. Maybe just a silly superstition, but couldn't that be said about most superstitions?

Superstitions have become commonplace in our culture.  In fact, some superstitions are such widely held beliefs that nearly everyone observes them.  For instance, the number 13 is commonly thought to be an unlucky number, so many hotels and tall buildings do not number the 13th floor.  They skip it and number the next floor 14.

Here are some more unusual superstitions (taken from David Pickering's Dictionary of Superstitions) that aren't so well known:

  • If your ear tingles, somewhere someone is talking about you.  If your right ear tingles, something good is being said; if it's the left, malicious gossip is the talk.

  • Putting a hat on backwards means you'll suffer bad luck.  It can only be reversed by going out and buying a new hat that day.

  • If a spider drops down from the ceiling onto your face, it's supposed to be lucky!  And if it runs across your clothes, it's a promise of new clothes.

  • Anyone who sees an ambulance should hold their breath and pinch their nose until the ambulance is out of sight.

  • Anyone who bites their tongue may be suspected of telling lies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Scooby Doo & The Mysterious Knight

This pictures just begs to have a Scooby Doo story written about it.

Shaggy and Scooby Doo walked slowly through the chamber door.
“Scoob, is it my imagination, or is there a person inside that knight’s armor?”
Scooby reared back on his hind feet. “Ruh?”
Shaggy and Scooby backed up a little toward the door they’d just come through.
“Knock on his shield, Scoob, and see whether the armor is hollow.”
Scooby shook his head. “Ruh unh!”
“I don’t like this.”  Shaggy slowly approached the knight and peered into his mask. Two blue eyes stared back at him. The metal of the knight’s arm began to screech as the knight slowly raised his sword.
“Like, I don’t think we’re alone, Scoob. Run!”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How Do You Say "No Snakes!" in Espanol?

After all that, this is the only oxcart I saw. "The world's biggest."

I was already a day late in travelling to Costa Rica and scrambled to re-arrange my plans. I was going on business but had hoped to fly out early and do some sightseeing. A family illness made me delay my trip. Now, instead of going on the volcano tour I’d booked, I settled for a trip to the oxcart village and coffee plantation.  
I woke early and sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for my tour bus. I watched other people come and go for hours. Panic started to set in. I was the only person left and my 10:30 tour bus had never arrived. It was already 11:00am and I was still sitting in a hotel lobby on my only free day in Costa Rica. I felt tears welling in my eyes. I was going to miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime chance.
Then a man walked into the lobby.
 That's me!  (I hoped.) The van was already 1/2 hour late, but I was relieved it was there. I got on and there were two other Americans on board. One was a 70-year-old woman from Nevada, and the other was a 30ish man from Florida. We got to talking and they told me all about the places I should see while I was in Costa Rica. The woman had just gone zip-lining and loved it. The man had, too, in a different area. They did make it sound fun. They'd both been to Costa Rica a few times, so they talked and then one of them said, "This is the way to the falls?" 
The falls???

The two of them talked and said that the falls were near the Poas volcano and that they were pretty sure that someone else they'd met earlier that week was joining the tour. I couldn't concentrate too much because I was thinking -- falls?? Was I on the wrong tour bus?!  By then, it was nearly noon, and we'd travelled pretty far. If I said anything, I wouldn't have the chance to get on any other tours. And I wasn’t sure how to say something to the driver anyway, since I don’t speak any Spanish. So I kept my mouth closed and asked Marta what our itinerary was. She looked at me strangely and then said that first we'd go to La Paz Waterfalls and then to the butterfly garden and rainforest. The man chimed in that we'd see monkeys and sloths and snakes.
My heart dropped. Snakes? I am terrified of snakes, but I was going to have to buck up and get over my fear of snakes or spend the afternoon on the minibus. I was so disappointed that I wasn't going to get to go on my nice safe coffee and oxcart tour, but I couldn’t spend my entire time in Costa Rica sitting in an office. Snakes or no snakes, I was going to see the countryside!
Then Marta asked me if I’d brought a rain poncho?

I still couldn't bring myself to admit that I'd gotten on the wrong bus. I just said that I wasn't sure. My plans had gotten all screwed up. I sounded like an idiot, but I was still trembling at the thought of stumbling upon big snakes in the rainforest. I asked her if she'd been to the coffee estate on her past travels, hoping she’d say we were going there today, after the snakes. She started to answer and then the bus stopped and a man walked up to the bus and said "Juliann. Come with me."

I was so embarrassed. I thought that the driver had figured out that I wasn’t really on this tour and called for someone to remove me. How embarrassing.  But no, this had been the plan the whole time. Another tour bus was waiting for me. This bus had just been the means to get to the next one. What a relief! I was going to see oxcarts and coffee and had escaped the encounter with snakes.  So it all worked out. If I'd spoken Spanish, I might have known that earlier.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Look at all those plastic bottles

When I saw the following statistics, I immediately thought about the beach I went to in Haiti. It was completely littered with garbage, as were other areas, since there was a lack of waste removal in the country. But people still swam in the water, and one daring man in our group got into the water with some of the local kids. While he was splashing around with them, a man's shirt washed up alongside an old suitcase. Gary put on the soaking wet shirt and grabbed the suitcase, pretending that he was about to catch a ship back to America. The kids found his antics hilarious. The rest of us stood in tiny patches of clean(ish) sand on the beach, afraid of what we might step on.  Not the kids. They ran up and down and splashed in the water just like kids on any other beach. The garbage didn't seem to deter them at all. I suppose they don't know any different.

I, on the other hand, found that beach, and these numbers disturbing:

The International Coastal Cleanup is the world’s largest volunteer effort of its kind for the oceans. On one recent annual Cleanup, 390,881 volunteers in 104 countries and locations around the world collected an astonishing 6.8 million pounds of debris. The Top Ten item cleaned up on this day were:

1          Cigarettes/Cigarette Filters (3,216,991)
2          Plastic Bags (1,377,141)
3          Food Wrappers/Containers (942,620)
4          Caps, Lids (937,804)
5          Plastic Beverage Bottles (714,892)
6          Paper Bags (530,607)
7          Straws, Stirrers (509,593)
8          Cups, Plates, Forks, Knives, Spoons (441,053)
9          Glass Beverage Bottles (434,990)
10        Beverage Cans (401,412)

As an avid recycler myself, I often pick up bottles and cans strewn across the grass in the park. It amazes me how many people throw their garbage down in public parks and into people's yards. I can't simply walk by. When I see recyclables littering the ground, I feel compelled to pick them up. Sometimes I feel embarrassed about looking like a bag lady, picking up trash along the road. But then I think, no; I shouldn't be embarrassed. The people who left their garbage there are the ones who should be embarrassed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 5 On The Ship

Somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico

Aaron stood behind Amy and grabbed her arms. He pushed her forward slightly toward the ship’s railing and then jerked her back hard into his chest. Amy struggled out of his grip and pushed her way past him.
“Stop it, Aaron! You are such a jerk!”
She stormed off down the deck.
“Ah, Amy. You know I was just foolin’ around.”
Amy kept walking.
“Come on. I was just teasing you.”
“Real  funny, Aaron.  You could have pushed me over. So excuse me for not thinking it was funny.”
Amy stomped down the stairs toward the Lido deck. Aaron followed her.
“Come on, Amy.”
Amy twisted around to spit more words at him, but her foot suddenly went out from under her. She slipped in a puddle of water and fell backwards. Aaron caught her under the armpits before she hit the ground. He laughed.
“See! Nothing was going to happen to you with me around. If anything, you could have slipped over the side of the ship all by yourself.”
He laughed at her misstep and helped her stand. Moving a little more cautiously, Amy stomped off again.
Aaron’s laughter died away.
“Where are you going?”
“You are such a jerk, Aaron!”

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Cheering Section

You did it!!!

I am not a runner, so going to watch a marathon was a totally new experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect, and wasn’t even sure how one “watches” a marathon anyway. I learned a lot over the course of the day. Some logistics, for sure. But more about what running a marathon means to people.

As the first runners returned from the course and neared the finish line, the crowds of people were pressed against the fence, cheering them on, holding up signs and screaming out to their runners that they did it. Some of the runners looked exhausted as they crossed the line; pain was etched on the faces of a few. But more often, runners sprinted toward the finish, smiles on their faces and arms in the air, urging the crowd to celebrate with them and make some noise. They’d just run 26.2 miles! Cheer for them!

It was exhilarating to watch, but I was still mystified by the number of people that train and run these marathons. Twelve thousand people participated in the USAF Marathon I attended. I was there to cheer on my son and his friends who were running in memory of one of their Air Force buddies who’d just died in an accident. They wore shirts with their friend’s name on them. He was supposed to run, too.

They weren’t the only ones running in memory of someone. Other people ran in teams honoring loved ones. Others walked with the person they were honoring. Some were overcoming physical limitations and pushing themselves to see whether they could do it. They did.

My husband is training to run a marathon. A promise he made to himself if he ever quit smoking. He quit six months ago and hopes to run his first marathon in six more months. He’s the one who reminded me that every runner there has a story; every one has a motivating factor that has brought them to running.

I always thought of running as simply a form of exercise. And couldn’t understand why people would push themselves so hard that they could cause injury. My son and his friends were nearly crippled after the marathon ended. Their knees hurt, their feet were injured; they had muscle cramps and tender muscles and seemed to be in excruciating pain. But they finished. They ran 26.2 miles, pushing past the pain, after hitting “the wall”. They ran across the finish line in Keith’s honor, and their own. And they want to do it again someday.

I am still not a runner. But now I can appreciate a little better that marathons aren’t just about the running. And that even those runners who straggle in hours after everyone else deserve a cheering section at the finish line. They have all accomplished something incredible. Next time I’ll be standing there cheering and screaming and holding a banner. You did it!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mardi Gras World

Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, New Orleans

Travellers to New Orleans generally spend most of their time in the French Quarter. But across the river is another iconic

New Orleans gem: Mardi Gras World. Visitors to Mardi Gras World are invited to wander through a maze of rooms that explode with color. No matter which way you turn, another fantastic image grabs your eye. This is the place where parade floats are made. Not the gigantic balloon heads that float above the streets of New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, but the fantastic floats that glide down St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana during Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween.

The forms are used over and over. A quick change of paint makes a genie into a revolutionary soldier. A Halloween pumpkin becomes Cinderella’s carriage. The magic is in the artistry created with these oversized doll’s heads and rotating fantasy worlds.

The result is magical. Visitors feel as though they’ve been taken backstage on the set of an amusement park ready to spring to life. The rooms are sprinkled with familiar cartoon characters and newly-imagined monsters such as the dragon Leviathan, who is decorated with blinking arcade lights that add to the fun.

It’s a part of New Orleans that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you travel to the Big Easy in February for the real Mardi Gras parade or not, a little bit of the festivities of New Orleans’ carnival atmosphere is always available to be sampled at Mardi Gras World.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Superman - Help!

We may need Superman's help to clean this Batcave.
Like Batman, I'm something of a superhero myself. I'm a mom. And sometimes, we superheroes need a little down time. Batman chooses to play video games; I like to read. But we're both always oncall for our Bat-Signals, which may take the form of a text message (for him) or the siren call of "M-o-o-o-m-m-m-m-m-m-m!" for me.

We can see that the Batcave is something of a mess. Eventually I'll get around to cleaning my lair, but honestly - if I can't count on Batman to tackle the disaster in his room, I can't be expected to do it, can I? I mean, my superhero powers only go so far. Maybe it's time to call in Superman!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Orphans in Haiti

Life at an orphanage in Haiti

Witnessing a slice of real life in Haiti is exactly what I'd hoped for when I volunteered to go on a mission trip. We visited several orphanages and brought toys and food to the children. We played with them, colored with them, and sang with them. We held them for hours and let them teach us some Creole. I enjoyed these visits, but knew they were also manufactured. We were expected guests and the children anticipated our arrival. They cleaned up the grounds, wore their best clothes, and performed songs for us. It was wonderful.

But on the day I took this picture, another missionary and I arrived at the orphanage unannounced. We were picking up truck parts for a broken-down truck, and we were not expected. The scene at the orphanage was much different this time; more genuine, I'm sure.

The children were eating burnt beans and rice from an old pot with jagged edges. Some of the children were only partially dressed. We didn't see any adults while we were there, though it hardly mattered. The children weren't always supervised. They were still gracious, though not as forthcoming as they'd been the day before. Now they seemed shy; unsure of why we were there. While my friend and I waited for the truck parts, we watched these children live their lives. It was a scene I'd hoped to see on my trip; a glimpse of life in Haiti.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Ryan Interview

Ryan says a few words at the premiere of "Screamshare"
This is the interview I fully expect to happen one day for E! True Hollywood Story or some other film/entertainment magazine. Surely they will want to talk to Ryan’s sister! And I will do my best not to fall into a pit of sibling jealousy.

E!:           What was it like growing up with Ryan?
Me:        I think we had a typical brother/sister relationship. Some days we were the best of friends and other days we couldn’t stand each other. But when we played, we really played. We used our imaginations and came up with all sorts of scenarios that entertained us for hours. For instance, we often pretended to own a restaurant, or compete in Olympics, or run a radio station. Ryan was always a fantastic radio announcer. I always thought he missed his calling. But apparently screenwriting was his true vocation.

E!:           Was he always a writer?
Me:        No. Actually, I was the one with writing aspirations. (I stop myself from a downward spiral into sibling rivalry here.) Ryan was the more artistic one. He was always drawing. Especially comics. If he was going to be any type of writer, I thought it would be comic books.

E!:           It sounds like you’re a family of writers. Is that so?
Me:        We definitely have some writers in our family. Our mother writes and is a fantastic artist. I think that’s where Ryan gets some of his artistic talent. And then our father is an engineer/designer. I think Ryan may get some of his ‘hard work equals success’ ethic from him.

E!:           What has Ryan’s journey to success been like?
Me:        Well, his screenwriting success started with a script called “Screamshare.” Ryan’s friend Troy had toyed with the idea of filming a movie, so the two of them decided to work together on a project. They didn’t have any money to speak of, so Ryan was tasked with writing a script for a no-budget film. He did it, and they hired aspiring actor/college students to play the parts. The film turned out better than any of us expected. It was such a thrill to go to the premiere and see it shown on a big screen.
 “Screamshare” was also shown at a Louisville film festival. After that, Ryan continued writing scripts. He and Troy collaborated on another film. You many know it:  “The State.” My husband and I actually got to be extras on that one and my brother mentions me by name in the film. (Look at me! Look at me! I write, too!)
And that brings us to where we are today. Ryan’s still writing and coming up with new ideas all the time. I imagine he’ll try branching out into new genres. He says romantic comedy is a possibility. And I know he’d love to do more with the animated TV series he’s written.

E!:           I’m sure network producers will be beating a path to his door soon.
Me:        Yes. I’m sure they will. Ryan’s no one-hit wonder. He’s the real thing. He’s got unlimited talent and determination. He’ll be huge.  But I get to say that I knew him before he was famous, and that no matter how much of a big shot he becomes, he’s still the little brother that played with stuffed animals when we were young. He knows what I mean.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Ways We're Sick

Just give me what works!

Everyone handles being sick in a different way.
Some people like to wallow in it, sharing their misery with everyone around. They sniffle and sneeze and cough loudly and often. They provide plenty of evidence that they’re sick, and make sure they have an audience. These are the people who come to work sick, or drag themselves to social events with tissue in hand, and tell everyone who will listen just how sick and miserable they are. 
Why don’t they stay home?  Very good question. These people can't stand losing social interaction just because they're sick. Besides, being sick is a way to get attention. They don’t want to stay home alone in bed and recoup all alone. They want sympathy.
Then there are the stoics. The people who drag themselves into work and pretend that their illness isn’t that bad; that they can still function. These people have an inflated sense of their self-worth, in my opinion. They think the world can’t go on without them, so they down as much medicine as they can and get to work. Who cares if they’re spreading germs!
Unlike those who can’t afford to be sick. Those who take as much medicine as they need to get through the day because they don’t have the luxury of staying home and being sick. These are the working mothers, laborers, and people without medical care. They suffer quietly. They know they should stay home, but they can’t.
And then there are those who just want to be alone when they’re sick. They don’t feel social. They don’t like imposing themselves on other people. They just want to retreat like a wounded animal,  sleep, and get the sickness over with. For these people, sickness is a disruption and is treated as such. This person won’t try to resume normal activities until he/she feels better.
Last, but not least, we can't forget the hypochondriacs. They won't let us.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Meet Me At The Grocery

I worked for 11 years as a domestic violence counselor and transported many women to the shelter.

While other people push carts full of pop tarts,
I stop my car next to a woman.
Jane Doe?
She nods.
So I lug her garbage bags from her friend’s trunk into mine.
This is everything she could carry.

She trusts her child to my back seat,
though she still doesn’t know my name.
I will drive her blindly
to a safe place
where she’s never been.

Meanwhile other women circle,
clanging their metal carts into return stalls,
loading their dinners into their SUVs,
that they have just witnessed
a woman’s escape.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Unexpected Music

"Play Me, I'm Yours" piano outside the Fitton Center in Hamilton, Ohio

I heard about a trail along the Great Miami River and went walking there today. It was a nice path, with plenty of walkers, and this afternoon was sunny and warm. After walking a couple of miles, I turned around and finished back where I’d started, but the whole scene had changed. Music was playing. Piano music. Outside.

I walked closer and saw a blue piano painted with a marsh scene and cattails on its side and a teenaged boy in a white t-shirt, shorts and sneakers sitting on the bench, playing classical music to an audience of two. The other two adults seemed just as surprised as I was.

I noticed the words “Play Me, I’m Yours” painted on the front of the piano and examined it more closely as the boy played. The top was decorated with pebbles, and the whole thing was chained to a nearby bike rack. This wasn’t the best neighborhood, and I was delighted and very surprised that no one had vandalized the piano. I sensed this must be some sort of artistic experiment. Apparently anyone who came along was invited to play the piano. A nice idea, but I envisioned dozens of children banging the keys. Instead there was a young man playing the piano! Could the experiment actually be working?

I enjoyed the concert a while longer and then went home and logged onto the computer to see what this was all about. As it turns out, this piano is one of 35 pianos placed around greater Cincinnati as part of an initiative called “Play Me, I’m Yours,” a celebration of a combined 150 years of local public radio.

The organizers are hoping that the public will do exactly what the teenager at the piano was doing today: sit down and play. I hope more people do, too. I was thrilled to end my walk with a musical surprise. If the object is to provide joy through unexpected music around the Cincinnati area, then this experiment is definitely working.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Am A Child Star Memoir Junkie!

Doesn't this building almost look like it could be on the set of "Little House on the Prairie" (minus the gas pumps, of course)? It's actually in Story, Indiana.

I just finished reading “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch” by Alison Arngrim and have fully immersed myself in re-runs of “Little House on the Prairie.” Her book was fascinating for any fans of the show. It was a behind-the-scenes tell-all told by someone who loved being on the show and stills loves and appreciates the fact that she got to be Nellie Oleson. What a fun read!

As a six-year-old child, Alison Arngrim was sexually molested by her brother. He was a child actor, too, in a series that I’ve never heard of. (It was before my time.) She had a bizarre household and upbringing as did some of the other child stars I’ve read about. And she was painfully shy. So being a mean-spirited villain was freeing for her. She says that she learned to let out a lot of rage while she was being Nellie.

She also shared funny stories about being best friends with Melissa Gilbert. My favorite was that she and Melissa would go shopping together in stores and as soon as they separated to look for grocery items, people would run up to “Laura” and warn her that “Nellie” was in the store. She could never cast off her Nellie character, but didn’t especially want to.

She also shared that Melissa Sue Anderson was an antisocial, insulting prima donna; that Michael Landon and most of the cast drank daily during filming; and that her on-screen husband Percival was gay and died of AIDs.

She gave so much background information on some of the episodes that I am now tuning into Hallmark, TNT and other channels that air re-runs. I’m hooked on the show all over again.

This happened when I read Maureen McCormick’s (Marcia Brady on "The Brady Bunch") memoir, too. Hers was the most compelling of the child star memoirs I’ve read. She was a hardcore cokehead, which I didn’t realize but could see when I started watching the re-runs again. But she also had one of the most f**-ed up families of all. Her brother rivals Alison Arngrim’s for “people you should avoid at all costs.” But what was sad was that Maureen’s mother went insane from syphilis and Maureen spent her whole life worried that she would, too. Oh, Marcia!

Jodie Sweetin (Stephanie Tanner of "Full House") was a big druggie, too. Mostly crystal meth.

Valerie Bertinelli (Barbara on "One Day at a Time") was a cokehead and was sleeping with Steven Spielberg while she was a teenager!

Mackenzie Phillips (Julie on "One Day at a Time") – well, we all know her sad junkie & incest tales, don’t we?

I am anxiously waiting to see which child star’s publish next. Maybe Erin Moran? Tina Yothers? Nancy McKeon? Lisa Bonet? I can’t wait!

Don’t judge me because I’m hooked on child star memoirs. Someone’s got to read them.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Prison Pen Pal


During a Prison & Literature class, my professor assigned us to spend the semester writing to a prison pen pal. I found the idea intriguing, but it also scared me to death.

I was young, probably 27 or so, and was a single mother. I’d had a few run-ins with crazy boyfriends and potential stalkers, so opening myself up to a convicted felon unnerved me. Still, I was curious enough to follow the assignment and picked a prisoner from the line-up.

I wrote a letter introducing myself, though I was very vague about who I was. I used a pseudonym, refusing to give away my real name. I used my work address and hoped that he would never get out of jail and look me up, and I told him almost absolutely nothing about me.

He wrote back a very nice, extremely articulate letter that completely flustered me. He seemed polite and genuine. He said he was serving two years in jail for writing bad checks. He’d fallen into hard times, but that was no excuse for his actions. He vowed never to give in to such desperation again.

He described prison life to me, though he kept it clean. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of his letter was a lie and if any part of it was truth. I wrote back, and looked forward to getting his next letter. But I still worried that I was being stupidly na├»ve, and somehow putting myself at risk.

I kept up the correspondence while I took the class and read works by admitted criminals and those who adamantly pleaded their innocence. I struggled with the concept of people being falsely accused and imprisoned and wanted to believe that my prison pen pal was truly an upstanding citizen who’d been reformed by his sentence.

Then he wrote and asked me for a picture of myself. This was too personal for me. His request was expected, yet frightening. I felt vulnerable all over again, and worried that he might find me someday. That was the end of the experiment for me. I never wrote back.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Behind The Geisha Door

A door in San Francisco
I pulled up to the address I’d written on a slip of paper: 334 Judah Street. I studied the door. This looked like the place.

Only one person had responded to my request seeking interviews of former geishas. With the large Japanese population in San Francisco, I’d expected a better response, but this was it. The geisha on the door looked promising. I gathered my notebooks and rang the doorbell. A young Japanese-American woman answered.

“Mrs. Toyota?”

She shook her head and bit her lip as though she were trying not to smile. She asked me to follow her and she lead me to a startlingly pink living room. I stopped in my tracks as I tried to take in the rose-colored hues that pitched the sunlight from the bay windows directly into my eyes. I shielded my eyes from the glare and then I spotted her: Mrs. Toyota. I sucked in my breath.

There before me was a vision of Japanese costume beyond imagination. Mrs. Toyota was a large bulldog of a woman dressed in a bright blue silk bathrobe, bath slippers, and an ill-fitting black wig formed into a traditional geisha hairstyle adorned with dozens of fake silk butterflies. Mrs. Toyota’s own frizzy fried red hair poked out at the edges, as well as beneath the heavily penciled-in arches she’d drawn over her own bushy red eyebrows.

Her face was thick with white powder. It caked along the creases of her nostrils and chin. She wore bright blue eye shadow drawn into an oriental cat’s eye corner, and bright red lipstick that she applied like quotation marks on her upper lip only.

She rested her cigarette on top of an overflowing ashtray and pulled her bathrobe around her as she gestured for me to sit down.

“Mrs. Toyota?” I inquired, because really, I couldn’t be sure.

“That’s me,” she answered with her deep smoker’s voice.

I glanced down at my list of questions and felt a sweat break out on my forehead. This wasn’t going as planned.

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” I began. I cleared my throat and plastered on a smile. I had to know. “You were formerly a geisha in Japan?”

Mrs. Toyota coughed and shook her head. Her wig twisted slightly as wet coughs racked her chest. When she raised her fist to cover her mouth, I saw that she had tattoos on her wrist. I couldn’t be sure, but they looked like tattooed handcuffs.

“No. I was a geisha in a former life,” she finally choked out. “Just like you said in your ad.”

“I --,” my mind was racing. I couldn’t even formulate a sentence. This situation was too bizarre.

“Hey, you want some tea?” Mrs. Toyota barked out loudly. “Ando! Bring us some tea!”

At this point, I had to bite my lip to keep from letting my nervous energy turn to laughter. The “geisha” was having someone else serve tea? I had planned so many of my interview questions about this very traditional ceremony. I studied my papers again and tried to collect myself as the young Japanese woman who’d greeted me at the door returned with coffee mugs full of hot water and Lipton tea bags. I thanked her and sipped my tea as I turned my attention back to my host.

“So, you weren’t actually a geisha back in Japan?”

She shook her head and slurped her tea.

“No. I’ve never been to Japan. But I found out I was a geisha in a former life, which makes sense. My granddad went to Japan in the war.”

“Oh! Did he meet your grandmother there?”

Mrs. Toyota sat back on her couch and wrinkled her lip. She cocked her head and looked at me like I was crazy.

“No. She’s from Arizona.”

I took a deep breath.

“So, where does the name Toyota come from?”

“I made that up! My real name’s Vicks. But after I talked to that psychic in Chinatown and she told me I was like the Japanese, I changed it to Toyota. Sounds more realistic, ya know?”

I nodded.

“And she told you that you were a geisha in a former life?”

“Yeah, something like that. So I asked my boyfriend at the time what a geisha was and he told me and said it’d be real neat if I dressed up like one, and now, here we are. Everybody around here calls me the geisha lady. That’s why I got the door.”

“It’s a beautiful door.” I closed my notebook.

“Well, I think that’s all the questions I have. Thank you for your time. I appreciate you letting me talk with you.”

She stubbed out her cigarette and mercifully tugged her bathrobe closed as she rose to her feet.

“Anytime. If you ever wanna bring your friends over to meet a real live geisha, just give me a holler.”

I nodded and bit the inside of my cheeks. “Oh, I will. I will.”

Then I bowed, and left.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mossa's Wheelbarrow

Mossa, Haiti 2008
Like many people, I have wondered if I could make a difference in someone’s life. I am just one person. I’m no hero. So what could I really do? I’ll tell you….

I met Mossa.

Mossa spends her life curled on an old foam-rubber mattress on the ground in northwest Haiti. Her one-room home has four cement walls that encircle her like a dark, cool, cave. There were doorways, but no windows. There was a table, but no chairs. Just Mossa lying on a foam mattress in the corner, where I imagined she’d spent a countless number of years.

There were bowls on the floor, like a dog’s bowls, and I was pained to see that they were empty when our mission group visited her one day. I wasn't sure how often someone came by and filled them. I knew that she couldn't care for herself; her body was folded up like a pretzel. One foot was behind her head. One arm was functioning, the other was shriveled and small; the result of a childhood illness for which she received no treatment.

This was rural Haiti. Clothes were washed by being beaten on rocks at the trickling stream. Electricity was non-existent and water was carried in water pouches slung over the back of a donkey. Small cinder block houses contained families of 8 or 20. Dirt footpaths lead to the church, where the minister ran a generator to power a few lights for the nightly service.

The folks in my group wondered what we could do to help her. Pastor Mike had an idea. If we could raise enough money, he would send a truck to town (3 hours away) and buy her a wheelbarrow. The price was steep by Haiti standards -- $100.

Those of us with cash on hand eagerly pitched in. Pastor Mike sent a truck to town and three days later they returned with a brand new wheelbarrow for Mossa.

She cried when the pastor picked her up and placed her in it. He wheeled her two miles on dirt lanes to church on Sunday. Mossa was surrounded by her community, singing and rejoicing with the whole congregation. It was a beautiful sight and we felt blessed to have been a part of it.

I didn’t change the world by going to Haiti. But I did something to change someone’s life. I pitched in and helped pay for a wheelbarrow; something so oddly easy, but with tremendous impact. It only takes a small gesture to change the world for one person. Mossa taught me that. Here, I’d tried to change her life, but really, she changed mine.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Roads That Get You There

I choose:  ALL the roads not taken!

Everytime I look at this signpost, my heart beats a little faster and I draw in a breath. So many options!  It reminds me of the C.S. Lewis quote that I've heard in too many presentations (usually about choosing a career path). It goes:

                     If you don't know where you are going,
                                                  any road will get you there.

I always smile when I hear it, but then realize that the person quoting C.S. Lewis is trying to illustrate a negative point. Something about focus, having direction, ... blah, blah, blah.

I choose to change the quote. I think it should read:

                      If you don't know where you are going,
                                                    EVERY road will get you there.

Why be confined to just one path????

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Wall

(This wall was actually part of the stage for the Mudde Show at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I'm not sure why...)
Rocky had a racket going on in the neighborhood. All the dogs knew it. He was a scruffy beagle/pit bull mix with a baby face and an eager tail, but he also had a snarl and bite that most of the neighborhood dogs knew to avoid. And if that wasn’t enough, his sidekick, Guido, a nasty little Chihuahua, made sure that nobody messed with Rocky. Because at some point, they all needed Rocky’s services.

Rocky was the mastermind of what the dogs called “The Wall.” The Wall was the candy shop of the dog world, where a dog could find any type of stuffed babies his heart desired. They were displayed in all their glory along a wooden fence. Even when the dogs couldn’t afford the goods, they stopped by to window shop. Rocky hung up new goods every few days.

He was a master at his game. He waited for the neighborhood kids to bring their stuffed animals outside. Sometimes the kids left their babies in their bike baskets, or resting beneath trees as they ran off to play other games. Just yesterday, Rocky made off with a whole tea party of stuffed babies when the little girl who owned them had to go inside for lunch. They were hanging on The Wall now, a little damp from spilled tea, now advertised as “juicy”. Word got around.

“I need one,” Duchess growled. She was a white German Shepherd with a real baby problem. Rocky always hiked his leg when he saw Duchess coming. Her owners never seemed to keep her on a leash.

Rocky froze in a formidable stance, Guido yapping excitedly beside him and lunging at Duchess.

“Can you pay?” Rocky asked.

Duchess dropped a tough, new bone at her feet. Rocky reluctantly sniffed at it, then stepped back to guard his wall.

“That’s brand new. It’ll only get you one a’ the beanie babies.”

Duchess panted and licked her chops. Her eyes darted across the rows of babies hanging just beyond her reach. So many fluffy ones, and some with matted fur. She wanted one of those, not the beanie babies that were displayed at the bottom where any old dog could get them.

“Do they squeak?”

Rocky leaned back on his haunches.

“No, they don’t squeak. You want one that squeaks, you gotta bring me a good bone. One that’s been buried for a while, not one of these new chew toys that still smells like plastic.”

“But Rocky, I gotta have a squeaker.”

Rocky turned in circles and lay down. He knew Guido would watch the store. They went through the same thing with Duchess every day. She went through babies in a matter of minutes. She had no self-control at all, and as usual she needed a fix.

“Either take one of the small ones or get out!” Guido barked.

Duchess pushed the bone toward Rocky with her paw and waited while Guido got a striped kitten beanie baby from The Wall. He slobbered on it a little as he brought it over and laid it at her feet. She pounced on it immediately, pulling it head off and spilling little beads everywhere.

“Get outta here. You’re bad for business!” Guido snarled.

Baxter was next. He waited until Duchess was around the block before he dropped his well-worn bone at Rocky’s feet. Even with his eyes closed, Rocky could smell bits of ham that once flavored the bone. Now, specks of dirt and decay mottled the bone black and brown. This was a good one. Rocky snapped to his feet and gave the bone a good once-over.

“Pick whatever you like,” he told Baxter.

Baxter wagged his tail as his eyes roamed The Wall.

“I want one with big eyes that I can pull out,” he yipped excitedly. He spotted a potential teddy bear. He let out a little whine. “And it has to have a lot of stuffing. And fabric that doesn’t rip open right away!”

Drool dripped out of Baxter’s mouth as he panted with excitement.

“I see the one you’re lookin’ at,” Rocky said. “That’s the best one I got. I found that one in a baby carriage and it had milk spilled all over it. It plays music, too.”

Baxter yowled with longing and ran in tight circles. He barked and threw his head back, then reared back on his hind legs and begged.

“I want it! I want it!”

Rocky sat still, with Guido at his side. He twitched his head toward The Wall and growled out the words that Baxter longed to hear.

“Go get it, boy. Fetch!”

Baxter trotted to The Wall and grabbed ahold of the bear’s left leg. He pulled and tugged as the animal held its resistance. Finally, it tore free from The Wall and Baxter clutched the baby in his mouth. His tail wagged ferociously as he carried the baby down the sidewalk, past other dogs chained in their yards, with “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” playing all the way home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Clump O' Monkeys

Victor Bodden's Monkey Farm, Isla Roatan, Honduras

My daughter loves monkeys. I can’t tell you how many times she has wished she could have a monkey for a pet. So when we went on a cruise and saw that a trip to Victor Bodden’s Monkey Farm in Isla Roatan, Honduras was an option, it was a no-brainer. We booked our trip.


When we arrived at the Monkey Farm, we were handed off to a teenager named Mike. He took us to a cage of baby capuchins. They were adorable with their little tiny old-man faces, all huddled together in a corner. Did we want to hold them? My daughter eagerly nodded. This was the highlight of the trip.

Mike grabbed the monkeys and handed them to my daughter – all three of them, clumped together. She oohed and awed and held them while we took pictures. Then Mike took the clump of monkeys from her arms and passed them to me.

It was a little awkward holding three scared little monkeys clumped together. And, a little repulsive, too. I could see some fleas on them, and had worried a little bit about them having lice beforehand, so it was a little nerve-wracking right off the bat. But now I couldn’t help but wonder whether these monkeys were also deformed? I mean, I couldn’t be sure which little arms and legs belonged to which individual bodies. Was this the monkey equivalent of conjoined triplets? Is that how they ended up here in a tiny backyard monkey farm in Honduras? I was a little freaked out.

Mike did try to separate them. He started to untangle one monkey from his brothers, but the monkey grabbed ahold of his brother’s face and pulled at it like a piece of taffy as he clung to his brothers. We told Mike not to worry about it, that we were fine holding them like this, and we continued to pass the clump o’ monkeys around. So now I can say I held monkeys. I don’t know that I ever need to do it again. But it was the highlight of my daughter’s trip.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Beneath The Uniform

Officially Airmen

When someone looks out over the swarm of uniform crewcuts,
I want them to see the boy who chased dogs in the creek;
The boy who played legoes with his little sister.
I want the 5th grader who did double-jointed tricks to shine through.
I want them to know you did the Macarena at your Spanish Fiesta.
Aside from the uniform you’re an individual
Who went to Paris and watched Cartoon Network,
Who hunted for the Mona Lisa and then went to McDonalds.
You are the boy who sold paper boats instead of lemonade on the sidewalk.
And who filled a knapsack with water balloons that sold like hotcakes at a steamy summer festival.
You are the boy who sold hundreds of candy bars door to door
To earn a cheap water cooler for your room.

These are the things I see
As I look at you standing in formation.
I still see the boy chasing dogs in the creek.
Even while you're camouflaged in a line of dress blues.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Laundry Lover

My clothesline
P&G spends a lot of time and money on developing their products. More than most companies, they pride themselves on being in touch with their consumers and spend vast amounts of money doing consumer marketing research. From that, they place their target consumers into representative groups. I was greatly surprised when I listened to the fabric care group talk about their consumers, only to discover that I was not included in their target audience!

How could that be? I love doing laundry. That, and vacuuming are my two favorite chores. I love smelling the detergents and fabric softeners, not only when I am deciding which to buy, but also when I’m doing the wash, folding the clothes, and wearing them.

I love the white noise of the washing machine as it chugs and rinses. I love to sit back on my couch and listen to the washer while I read a book. I prop my feet up, sip my coffee, flip through pages, and know that I’m cleaning the clothes at the same time. I mean, really, what cleaning task could be simpler than laundry? The machine does all the work!

I’m not a big dryer fan in general. I’d rather hang my clothes outside on the line. But in the winter, the dryer can bring me pleasure, too. The soft, warm clothes that you can heap across your lap as you fold. And the scented air that wafts out of the laundry room and out into the chilly winter air.

Someone at P&G argued with me that what I really like is the sense of accomplishment laundry gives me. I’ll grant that. But I like the process of washing clothes and hanging them outside, too. In fact, there have been days when the washing machine buzzer goes off and my husband announces he’s going to go get the clothes and hang them up. I’ve dropped whatever I’m doing to race him to the washer. I know this sounds incredibly geeky, but I love hanging each piece on the line and finding the perfect spot for each item to get maximum airflow. I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s actually fun for me.

The fun doesn’t stop there. After I hang the clothes on the line, I like to come inside and position myself on the end of the couch that lets me look out the window to where the laundry is hanging. I just lay back and watch the clothes sway in the breeze. It’s such a lulling feeling of comfort. Peaceful. I watch the clothes and daydream for hours when I can.

Folding laundry is fine. Putting it away is the part of laundry that I could do without, but the marketers and researchers at P&G aren’t really interested in that either. As one person described it to me, women hate doing laundry and P&G is trying to find a way to make it more enjoyable -- not such a dreaded task.

Dreaded task! Who are these women? According to the statistics, doing laundry ranks about as high on the pleasure scale as speaking in public. Okay, doing laundry probably doesn’t appear as a typical “favorite hobby”. It is, after all, a chore.

I guess what surprises me is that I’m such an anomaly. I love doing laundry, but that passion has excluded me from P&G’s lists of targeted consumers. Apparently they don’t need to go after me; they’ve had me all along. They’re trying to find a way to make doing laundry more pleasurable. Hhm…. maybe they should put me back into their consumer target groups. Me, and women like me who already love doing laundry. Maybe they could learn a thing or two….

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Ohio River

This picture was taken in spring of 2007, but it still looks the same today.
I attended a conference this week that included people from all over the world. We had visitors from Japan, China, Chile, Panama, Germany, Switzerland, and Americans from Boston, New York, Maryland, and beyond. I was thrilled to share Cincinnati with them, and invited them to the RiverFest fireworks this weekend, which is Cincinnati's largest festival.

The WEBN radio station pumps music out from gigantic speakers on barges on the river while audiences flock to both banks of the Ohio River in preparation for the choreographed fireworks show. It's spectacular! Not just the fireworks that explode off the barges and bridges, but the festivity of the event itself. The crowds on the Kentucky bank try to out-yell the Ohio side, and the Ohio side yells right back at them. It's odd to think that the two states are only separated by a river small enough to scream across. Especially if you consider the history.

The Ohio River was all that separated free states from slave states. Just that narrow, muddy river. Cincinnati has a rich underground railroad history. The Underground Railroad Freedom Center downtown recognizes all of that, and explains it much better than I did to our foreign visitors this weekend. But I wanted to share the beauty of Cincinnati with them; the significance of our small city, and the role it played in a part of American history. I shared the German history that founded our town, and the soap and slaughterhouses that were our early commerce.  I explained as much as I could as we stared out at the Ohio River. I am constantly awed by its beauty.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Captivated by Carousels

Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

I love taking pictures of carousels. The colors, the patterns, the movement -- they’re intoxicating. I find that I’ve taken numerous pictures of carousels since I went to the Merry-go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio. I was fascinated to learn about the artistry of carousels, though the rides themselves do not particularly interest me. Let’s face it; merry-go-rounds are for toddlers and old people. There is no thrill in galloping in circles.

And yet – I ride every carousel I come across. At Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, near the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., below Sacre Couer in Paris, France and at various amusement parks across the country. I ride them and I take pictures of them. They’re beautiful.

Zoom in and you’re hypnotized by the confusion of color and old-fashioned swirls as the merry-go-round spins. You can look at a picture of a carousel and hear the tinkling calliope music. You can smell the cotton candy and popcorn crowding the midway. You can feel the lazy up-and-down motion of the rickety horses between your legs as you anxiously catch glimpses of your festivity in the passing mirrors.

I protest that I don’t love carousels, but maybe secretly, I do. I have a personal connection to them. In fact, some of the most joyous moments of my life have occurred in amusement parks. The carousel reminds me of that. My first job was at an amusement park. I had my first date with my husband at an amusement park. He later proposed there. Now we take our children there.

This is just one of many carousel pictures, but now I’m thinking that I can probably never have enough.