Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Candy Quiz

Happy Halloween!

Match each candy with its slogan:

Tootsie Pop, Almond Joy/Mounds, Kit Kat, Butterfinger, Skittles, York Peppermint Pattie, Smarties, Reese’s, Hershey’s Nuggets, M & M’s


  1. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.
  2. Taste the rainbow of flavor.
  3. One of life’s little rewards.
  4. Get the sensation.
  5. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a ______ ______?
  6. Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
  7. There’s no wrong way to eat a __________.
  8. Give me a break! Give me a break. Break me off a piece of that _____ _____ bar.
  9. Break out of the ordinary.
  10. Only _________ have the answer.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Harvest Warning

Barn 'n Bunk, Trenton, Ohio

If you get lost in the corn maze,
Beware the night!
Scarecrows and hay spiders suddenly wake.
Bats and witches burst into flight. 
If you get lost in the corn maze,
Hide your fright!
Werewolves and vampires sniff the air.
Looking for tasty victims to bite.

If you get lost in the corn maze
Stay out of sight.
From spirited zombies roaming the fields
After dusk til morning light.

If you get lost in the corn maze,
Sit tight.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bathroom Spying for Dummies

I wish my toilet looked this pretty

I suppose it's just human nature that people poke around in other people's bathrooms when they're visiting. It seems so forbidden. What hidden secrets lurk in the medicine cabinet? What might you find stuffed beneath the bathroom sink? I think the idea is that something seedy lies beneath the polished marble surface of the vanity.

Not so in my house. What you see is what you get, and it ain't pretty! We don't have medicine cabinets, for one thing, so everything is in plain sight. You can see what brand of toothpaste we use and that we squeeze from the middle. You'll see how worn our toothbrushes are and exactly what hair care products we spritz into our hair. You can even see all my CoverGirl make-up and lotions. Everything's out in the open.

If you look a little more closely (and unfortunately, it's hard not to), you'll see the residue of morning grooming in the sink itself. There's a minty glob of toothpaste hardened to the ceramic. Tiny little whiskers coat the back of the faucet from my husband's morning shave. The hairbrush is full of long, blonde strands.If you pick up the Scope, there's probably a sticky outlined ring of mouthwash that dripped down the bottle. Really, we've hidden nothing.

So if you come to our house and think you're going to spy around in our bathroom, good luck. Our bathroom spying options are geared for dummies. It would take a real mastermind to figure out what (besides cleaning supplies) might be hidden.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

BeBe Jo's Pom Pom

You’re looking at a picture of a horrid, horrid man. And yet – my mother is crazy about him. She affectionately calls him “Pom Pom.”
Pom Pom’s picture was once tacked up to a school bulletin board with the caption “Joann’s Dream Man.”  That about sums it up. She has a t-shirt with Pom Pom’s image on it. She ordered mailing labels that use his picture, too. She even calls herself by the nickname he gave her:  BeBe Jo! BeBe Jo!
She’s obsessed.
Over the years, she has tried to impose her fascination with Pom Pom onto me.  She has hidden his picture inside my shoe, and even went so far as to enlarge his picture to poster-size for one of my birthday celebrations.   The worst  assault was when she pinned his picture to the back of my jacket as I went on a date, as if it were a campaign button that she thought might influence me.
I once found Pom Pom’s picture underneath a slice of personal pan pizza while I was waitressing at Pizza Hut. Another time, his picture was tucked away in a book I was reading, as though he were a bookmark that I would peruse instead of words.
I’ve been finding Pom Pom’s picture hidden away in unexpected places for more than 20 years now. The only recourse I have is to return it to her. I know how lost she feels when she doesn’t know where Pom Pom is.
So I’ve graciously attached it to the sun visor in her car, where she squealed in surprise without wrecking. I’ve placed his picture lovingly into the cup of her bra, so that he could be closer to her heart.  I’ve taped the picture to her toilet seat (which is where I think he actually belongs). I’ve even included Pom Pom’s picture in her holiday decorations, as an ornament on her tree.
But every time she finds his picture, she is determined to give it back to me. I keep telling her I don’t want it. I’m not crazy about Pom Pom like she is.
Most recently I think she stuffed his picture in my suitcase while we were on a cruise, though I don’t have clear evidence of it. Or maybe she couldn’t bear to part with it after all. She’s crazy about the guy.
All I can do is sigh; it’s her heart. I can’t change how she feels about her Pom Pom. But I can give his picture back here, where she’s sure to find it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Peaceful Church in Haiti

Church in Haiti

Though I rarely go to church here in the U.S., going to Sunday worship during my mission trips in Haiti and Nicaragua were among the highlights of my trips there. The church in Nicaragua wasn't much more than a concrete three-walled garage. The top of the walls didn't meet the roof, so a breeze blew through, waving the sheer white curtains hung on the cinder block windows. The congregation was dressed in their finest, and the sermon was humbly delivered in Spanish. As the children sang to the accompaniment of a guitar player, I felt truly grateful to witness the beauty of the the moment.

I felt that way again while attending church service in Haiti. The pink-painted walls and homemade decorations were joyously hung. The minister was soft spoken and the congregation was kind and welcoming. When they began singing hymns in Haitian Creole accompanied by simple hand-clapping, I felt blessed to be there among them.

That feeling of peacefulness was nearly ruined when a visiting Hellfire and brimstone minister from Kentucky took the pulpit and began evangelizing and shouting the message of God. I could sense that the translator was uncomfortable repeating his words and the children in the pews could not stifle their giggles. I was embarrassed to be associated with him and remembered what I don't like about church in America. If our churches were as serene, humble and unassuming as those I visited in Haiti and Nicaragua, I'd be at church every Sunday morning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


If Mr. Johnson had put out a bowl full of candy like the rest of his neighbors in Windermere Estates, none of this would have happened. Instead, he went to the movies. While he watched demons rising up out of graveyards on the big screen, Edward Cullen, Lady Gaga, and a gothic dark angel took trick-or-treat matters into their own hands.

They set Johnson's pumpkins on fire, tangled his 7-foot spiders' web, and murdered the skeleton hanging from his tree. They unstuffed his scarecrow and decapitated the vampire bat on his door. Then they took a melting chocolate candy bar and wrote one simple brown word on his window:


Monday, October 25, 2010

Thank You, Airman

Mac and two of his biggest admirers at the Alamo

After my son, Mac, finished basic training for the Air Force, we left base and walked around San Antonio, Texas. So did all the other families of the newly official airmen. Since ours had never been a military family, I wondered how welcome the airmen would be off-base. It seemed like I'd heard horror stories. I imagined that the locals were probably pretty sick of the new airmen walking around their city, perhaps causing trouble or becoming unruly. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

As we walked along San Antonio's famous Riverwalk, one person after another greeted my son and thanked him for serving our country. Many men came up and shook his hand. Children pointed at my son in his dress blues and then waved shyly behind the legs of their mothers. Strangers came up to Mac and asked to take his picture. A few people even had their pictures taken with Mac. A Mexican family asked me to take their picture, and then all of them squeezed around Mac as they posed for a quasi-family portrait. I still wonder whether that picture is framed on a mantel somewhere?

The greetings and thank-you's continued when we went to the Alamo, out for pizza, to the movies, Wal-mart and everywhere else we ventured. It's been three years now and strangers still approach him wherever we go. It's so foreign to me. I can't get used to strangers viewing my son as a public hero. The outpouring of support has been incredible. He loves it. He's gotten used to it. I suppose someday I'll get used to it happening, too, but for now, every time a stranger shakes his hand and thanks him, I'm so proud to be his mother, I could cry.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where Our Dogs & Cats Come From


During a presentation by a pet food company, I found the following statistics regarding how people acquire their dogs and cats quite interesting. Look at where they come from:

To me, this chart makes so much sense. People think of their pets as members of the family, so it’s only natural that they try to find good homes for the animals they can’t take care of, or kittens and puppies that need to be adopted. I’m not surprised that the largest percentage of pets are acquired through friends and family members.
The fact that an equal number of dogs and cats come from shelters is not surprising either. When people think of going out to get a pet, this is probably where they go whether they want a dog or a cat. They want to save an animal and give it a good home.
I see that more stray cats are taken in than dogs. Though this may seem surprising at first, it isn’t really. Dogs usually have identifying tags, leashes and microchips to identify them if they get off their leashes. Cats, who often tend to stray or are left behind when owners move away, aren’t returned to their homes so easily. I’m just glad that according to this chart, many of these stray cats are taken in.
Not many people buy cats and dogs at pet stores. I never have. I think of pet stores as the place to get guinea pigs, hamsters and fish.
I was surprised by the number of people who get dogs from a breeder. Not many cat people are that interested in pure-breds apparently, but people like dogs with papers. Guess that’s why dog shows are so big.
When I think about my own pets, this chart is right on the money. We got our dog from a foster shelter. One of our cats was from my step-sister, and the other from my mom. She has three dogs of her own:  two from a shelter, and the other was a stray. We’re just average American families, right down to our pets, aren’t we?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Someday I'll See Polar Bears

Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago

Ever since I read The Cage by Audrey Schulman, I’ve been fascinated by the thought of seeing polar bears in the wild. I’m not sure why. The book is about a nature photographer who joins an expedition to photograph polar bears in the Arctic. They have high tech equipment, including a "safe cage" to photograph and study the bears from. The author did an incredible job of making her readers feel the burning chill of the arctic landscape and also portrayed the bears as the wild, dangerous creatures they are, not the amusing swimmers we watch at the zoo.
Then Mary Carillo did a segment during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in which she travelled to Churchill, Canada to see polar bears in the wild.  As in Schulman’s book, Carillo was protected. She viewed the bears from the safety of a tundra buggy with a tour guide. The polar bears came right up to the monster ice trucks. It looked thrilling. It looked like an endangered opportunity; something that won’t always be available to us as global warming continues.  It looked like something I need to do someday. I’ve added it to my list of future adventures.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Macabre Suicide Conversation

This sign is posted on the Golden Gate Bridge, right next to a crisis-line phone

During a recent children's birthday party, the adults huddled in a group away from the children and discussed a recent story in the news. A woman had jumped from the top of a 5-story building. (She lived.) What surprised one of the men was that she had jumped off the back side of the building, not the front where everyone would have seen her. This started a strange discussion.

The man who brought it up said that he would have jumped from the front of the building because he would want witnesses to know that he'd been driven to this.

The women in the group tended to think they would have jumped from the back of the building, because the suicide act seemed so private. I thought that if I were really going to end my life, I would jump from the back because I wouldn't want anyone to stop me if I were serious about doing it. Not that I ever would!!!

One man said he'd jump from the back because he wouldn't want people to see him afterward. Another woman wanted to shield the public from that, too. Of course, this was all speculative anyway. None of us are suicidal, so who's to say how we would think or act if we were.

It was an odd conversation to have. Especially at a children's birthday party. I was glad to get off the subject, but found it interesting that we all approached it from a different angle. Proving that there are always different ways to think about anything.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

I don't know what possessed these two to put napkins on their heads during dinner, but it made me realize that good food is wonderful, but good company is even better.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Starstruck by Melissa Gilbert

This is not one of the monkeys Melissa Gilbert saved, but when I saw the monkeys at Victor Bodden's Monkey Farm in Isla Roatan, I was reminded of my day working at the zoo.

During college I worked at the Cincinnati Zoo as a cashier. Usually I was at the ticket gate, but on this particular day, they'd put me at the Children's Zoo.

I was standing there, collecting the extra dollar admittance fee from people entering the Children's Zoo when all of a sudden the person standing in front of me was none other than Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie fame! I was a HUGE Little House fan as a kid. (Read "I am a Child Memoir Junkie" blog entry.) So I was immediately starstruck by Laura Ingalls handing me a dollar bill.

I took her dollar, all the while staring at her. She seemed much too glamorous for Cincinnati, even though she was wearing jeans and sunglasses and should have been inconspicuous behind her child's stroller. (Her husband was performing in a play downtown.) As she entered the Children's Zoo, I leaned out over my counter and watched her out of eyesight, still clutching the dollar bill that I should have had her sign. Ah, hindsight!

More people filed through the line and I collected their entry fees, keeping Melissa's separate. I would swap out one of my own dollars later and keep hers as a souveneir. I was still berating myself for not having her sign the bill, but I knew that it was Melissa Gilbert's dollar.

Still enthralled, I was shocked when she suddenly appeared in front of me again! The exit gate was at the other end of the Children's Zoo, so I never saw people twice. This time, other people noticed who she was, too.

"Excuse me."

She was talking to me!!!!

"The monkeys have pulled the fan cord out of the wall and it's lying next to a bowl of water."

"Okay," I replied. I wondered whether I should take this opportunity to ask her to autograph my dollar. But I couldn't get up my nerve. She stared at me staring at her.

"It's dangerous," she said.

"Okay," I repeated.

She huffed a little bit and looked around my booth. I suppose she was looking for a more rational person, or a phone, but there was only me, the cash register, and her dollar bill in my hand.

"Can you call someone? The monkeys have pulled the electrical cord out of the wall and it's next to a bowl of water."

Frankly, I had no idea what to do. I couldn't leave my register, and I was young and stupid anyway. And let's not forget starstruck. I really wanted to get her autograph.

Luckily for Melissa and for the monkeys, a zoo staff member walked by and she grabbed him and lead him to the monkey house. I watched them walk away, still thrilled that I'd met Melissa Gilbert. She'd even talked to me! I knew I'd never forget that day. And I think I made an impression on her, too.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sophomore Nerves

November is quickly approaching, and that means it's time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). During NaNoWriMo, participants write a 50,000-word novel between November 1st-30th. Writers get periodic motivational emails, encouraging them to keep going no matter how "craptastic" their novels are. (I love that word.) The idea is to get writers to sit down and write without self-editing and giving up.

I wrote my craptastic novel last year. All 50,000 words, many of which were unnecessary. I liked my novel enough to go back and start revising it. I'm still at it.

Now it's almost time for NaNoWriMo to start again. I've registered, but I'm nervous about it this time. Much more nervous than I was last year. Maybe it's because I know now what writing 50,000 words entails. I know that there will be many days when I won't want to write; when I'll want to give up on my story and forget the whole thing. Ignorance was bliss last year. NaNoWriMo was something novel to do. But this time, I'm all too aware of what I've signed up for, and I'm not at all sure I can do it again.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Armed Fart Sale

My husband just loved this sign in Maine

Emmie Lou sat slowly rocking on the porch. Paulette banged through the screen door, wiping her hands on a towel.
            “Did I miss anything?” She squinted toward the sign marquee across the street.
            “No, he’s just standing there looking at his sign,” Emmie Lou said. She held a crepe-papered arm in front of her and pointed in the direction of a man who could easily be mistaken for a scarecrow.
            “Ooh, wait. I think he’s getting mad!” Emmie Lou said.
            The man across the street pounded a shaky fist on top of the signboard and whipped his body around as he peered in one direction, then another. His lips were tight and his body was rigid. He walked a few paces, still looking for a culprit, then stopped to read the sign again from a distance.
            “Damned hooligans!” he bellowed.
            Emmie Lou and Paulette stifled giggles as they rocked merrily in their chairs.
            Wilfred stomped back over to his sign and began removing the offending letters. He corrected the words and slowly stood again, bracing his back as he hoisted himself up on stiff knees. He glanced around again, searching for the criminals. Then his gaze stopped on Emmie Lou and Paulette, who smiled back at him and waved.
            “Oh, Emmie. We’ve got to stop being so mean to Wilfred. He can’t help it if he’s about as artistic as... well, as an armed fart,” Paulette said to her sister. “Let him sell his framed art.”
            Emmie Lou stared at Wilfred with contempt. He refused to sell her artwork in his shop.
            “Not yet. We’ll stop in a while. But I already have the perfect slogan for next week’s sign: FAMED RAT,” she smirked. “That’s honest advertising if I ever heard it.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Vosges Chocolate Review

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.” – Forrest Gump

Especially true if that chocolate is a Vosges chocolate truffle. Vosges Haut-chocolatier Katrina Markoff, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, describes music and travel as the muse for her creations. Her flavor combinations are very distinct, very unusual, and very expensive.
I sampled her exotic truffle collection (9 small chocolate truffles for $27) which was inspired by her trip around the world. Every truffle was different and included unusual ingredients. Some I liked, some I didn’t.
Katrina recommends tasting each truffle in two bites: in the first bite you get to know the truffle and in the second, you delve deeper, searching out the flavors and nuances. I let my tongue pick out the subtle ingredients and enjoyed tasting each one. 
The collection included:
Oaxaca – Guajillo and pasilla chillies, dark chocolate, and organic pumpkin seeds
Gianduia –crunchy hazelnut praline, milk chocolate and praline bits
Absinthe – Chinese star anise, fennel, dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Viola – Milk chocolate and candied violet flower
Wink of the Rabbit – soft caramel, milk chocolate, and organic New Mexican pecan
Budapest – sweet Hungarian paprika and dark chocolate
Ambrosia – Macadamia nuts, Cointreau and white chocolate
Naga – sweet Indian curry powder, coconut and milk chocolate
Woolloomooloo – Australian macadamia nut, coconut, and milk chocolate
Black Pearl – ginger, wasabi, dark chocolate, and black sesame seeds
Chef Pascal- kirsch, dark chocolate, and dried Michigan cherry

The exotic flavors were a novelty; something to taste and talk about, so perfect for a social gathering. But if I really want to eat chocolate, these are not the chocolates I would reach for. The truffle collection was fun to taste, but there was only one truffle that I tasted and thought, “I want more!”
A few (Absinthe and Budapest) reminded me of licorice, so I was disappointed with those. The Chef Pascal was nice, though I’m an old-fashioned American girl who loves her chocolate cherries to be juicy. And while I don’t typically like white chocolate, the Ambrosia was fantastic.
But my favorite of all, the one I’d love to have an entire box of, was the Woolloomooloo. Delectable!
What wasn’t included in the truffle collection was a combination I am dying to try: Bacon & Chocolate candy bars. It sounds incredible. But I’ll let my tongue decide.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Magic of October

Autumn has arrived.
 Jump in!

Crash into a crunchy playground
   Let the wind slap your face
Hide from ghosts in a graveyard
   Did apple cider bite you?

Coat your hands in jack-o-lantern goo
   Be the needle in a haystack
Disguise yourself
 and dare
to take candy from strangers

Let autumn cast its spell
October is magic

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Bean - A Narcissist's Dream

Millennium Park in Chicago

I think this is my favorite sculpture in the world. It's commonly known as "The Bean," because of its kidney-bean shape, but its official name is "Cloud Gate." Apparently the artist, Anish Kapoor, hates the fact that everyone refers to it as "The Bean." His inspiration was actually liquid mercury.

I think it should be called "Narcissist's Dream." People can look at their shiny reflections for hours! I didn't think my husband would ever stop circling the sculpture, looking at himself smaller, then taller, then concavely and convexly. The kids and I liked seeing our distorted images, too, but also enjoyed the reflections of the city we could see in the sculpture.

So, relax Anish! No matter what anyone calls it, this fun piece of art is a hit.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fear vs. Phobia

Natural Bridge State Park, Slade, KY

During a team-building exercise that involved hiking to the top of the Natural Bridge Arch in Kentucky, I was partnered with my boss and we were instructed to tell each other what we were afraid of. I was shocked when she shared that she’d had a terrible fear of flying. She travels all over the world, so this was news to me. She said that she finally worked through her fear by listening to music that drowned out the sound of the plane engine.
Then I shared my biggest fear (heights), which I qualified as being completely different from my phobia of snakes. Debbie asked me what the difference was. I explained that to me, fears were something I could confront and work through. For instance, I was afraid to be on top of the Natural Bridge Arch, but if I didn’t go too near the edge, I could manage my fear. But if I saw a snake --  well, that’s a different story.
When I see a snake, I have a physical reaction. I don’t get the adrenaline rush of “fight or flight” unless you count passing out as “flight.” I have fainted before. And even when I don’t actually lose consciousness, things go black before my eyes, I feel  heat and panic course through my body, and my ears ring. I swear, if I could see my eyes, I think they’d look like those of someone in shock.
When I see a snake, I am temporarily paralyzed. When I finally can move, I run and tremble, and irrationally think that the snake is chasing me. THAT’s a phobia, in my mind. Seeing snakes makes me unable to function as normal.
Unfortunately, my hike up Natural Bridge brought me up close and personal with my biggest fear AND my biggest phobia. Luckily, I wasn’t near the edge of the arch when I thought I saw a snake (it was a tree root), because I would have surely fallen to my death.  It was enough that I froze in place while the world went black before my eyes. Then  I ran down that trail and back inside our cabin as quickly as my panicky legs would take me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Clothes Collection

Every single morning I stand before my closet and try to figure out what in the world I can wear. I’m always tempted to lament, “I have nothing to wear!” but that’s not true at all. I have two closets full of clothes, a dresser that can barely shut, a pile of t-shirts and shorts that have nowhere to go, and enough shoes to fit a classroom full of size seven’s. Still, I can never find anything to wear. I finally realized that though I do have plenty of clothes, I don’t exactly have a wardrobe. What’s hanging in my closet is more of a clothes collection.

What I mean by “collection” is that my clothes are really more to be looked at and appreciated than to be worn. Think of my closet as a museum. I can look at my clothes chronologically (because they do date all the way back to high school), or I can look at my clothes in groupings: there are two dozen skirts in prints that I loved; there are several white blouses I bought because I always think I need one, not realizing that I have eight more white blouses at home.

Then there is the collection of “someday” clothes. These are clothes that I hope to fit into one day. If I just lose ten pounds, or if I hem them, or if I don’t mind being uncomfortable and unable to move for a certain amount of hours. I don’t know where the logic comes in when I buy these clothes. I know they won’t fit and yet, I just have to have them. I add them to my collection, and like treasured items in a collection, I refuse to get rid of them. I should do myself a favor and bag them up for Goodwill, because these clothes are torture. These are the clothes that I want to wear. They’re so cute! Well, of course they are – they’re too small.

I’ve realized that I have no real sense of what I look like when I go clothes shopping. I am constantly buying clothes for an imaginary woman who I seem to think is me. She wears trendy, figure-fitting clothes in bold prints with accessories. She has an amazing wardrobe. I know, because I house it in my closet.

My wardrobe is much more boring. It consists of the same dozen outfits I wear over and over. My real clothes take up about a dozen hangers, and they’re always in the very front of my closet, where I stand and frown each morning as I try to decide what to wear. I push them aside to see what goodies I may have forgotten in the back of my closet. The darling clothes that I will pull out and try on, then hang back up when I realize that these precious items won’t fit.

Then I grab the same, tired outfits that I know I can rely on, and I get dressed. I leave the museum collection intact, go to work, and take the same tour again the next morning.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Queen Anne's Lace

August, the month that bears fruits
Under a midwest sun of smothering heat.
Bumblebees stumble in haphazard intoxication
Of overripe blackberries staining dusty, brown dirt.

August, the month of dandelion wine
Fermenting in back yards of sharp, dry grass.
Queen Anne's lace rules a chirping meadow
Of background music for dancing fireflies.

August, the month of wilting children
Slamming screen doors with frantic boredom.
Thunderstorms paint the sky watery-green
As tornadoes carry the summer into September.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day

Replica of the Mayflower
I know I shouldn’t admit this, but holidays like Columbus Day always make me think of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” Because when it comes to history, I’m most definitely not. Everything that happened on the east coast between 1492 and 1776 is jumbled in my mind. I find most of these words interchangeable:
Columbus, Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Puritans, Boston Tea Party, George Washington, Paul Revere, Thanksgiving,  Pilgrims, Crossing the Delaware
So in my mind, once Columbus crossed the Delaware at Plymouth Rock, he got caught up in the Puritans’ revolution in Boston. Once the pilgrims threw all the tea over the side of the Mayflower, George Washington and Paul Revere made friends with the Indians and we celebrated the first Thanksgiving.
All I can say is, Thank God I’m not a 5th grader! Because learning all of this once was painful enough.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Finally Found My Fortune

Fortune cookie maker at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company

I've never been one to save the little pieces of paper from my fortune cookies. I don't tack them to the refrigerator or pin them on my wall. They're not floating around in my wallet or at the bottom of my purse. Until now.

I finally found my fortune; the one I'm sure was destined for me. All the others have been too generic:

You will always be surrounded by friends.

Money cannot guarantee happiness

Blah, blah blah

But the other night I went to P.F. Chang's with my co-workers. After the meal, we got our bill and seven fortune cookies. My friend Martin held them out to me and I started to take one, but he pulled them back and started scrambling them all up again. Then he held it out again, and like Charlie Brown, I reached for my fortune cookie. He grabbed them away again and mixed them up.

"Martin, you're messing them all up! Now I may not be getting the fortune I was supposed to get!" I protested.

So he held them out again and I chose my fortune. I pulled out my tiny slip of paper and sucked in my breath. This fortune was mine! We went around the table, reading them aloud. Theirs were all very generic and could have applied to anyone. But mine was surely meant for me. It said:

You are a lover of words. You will write a book someday.

I had written a book and was working on revising it! With that fortune tucked into my wallet, I went home and fixed it up a little more and sent it off to an agent. She responded quickly. She'd like to see more.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Happened at the Morgue at Waverly Hills

The Morgue Tables

Last June, my husband Mike and I did an overnight stay at Waverly Hills Sanitarium, which, according to the Ghost Hunters T.A.P.S group, is believed to be one of the most haunted places in the world. More than 65,000 people died there. So many, in fact, that they built a death chute to transport the bodies down to  hearses so that patients wouldn't constantly see bodies being taken away.

The death chute was one of the sights we'd get to explore. But first, we arrived at Waverly Hills at midnight and were taken on a brief tour of the 5-story building and roof so that we'd know our way around, and know the hot spots for paranormal activity. Most of us had brought cameras. A few people had more advanced equipment. We had a digital recorder that we were hoping was good enough to record EVPs.

Our tour guide lead us through the building, telling stories about ghost sightings in the morgue, the nurses' station on the 5th floor, the hallway near an old elevator shaft, and the electroshock therapy room.

Mike and I listened eagerly and started scoping out where we wanted to go first. There were a lot of people on our tour and we wanted to break away so that we could do voice recordings without having a lot of human interference. Mike wanted to start in the morgue. The guide finished up his spiel and told people to keep their flashlights off, that our eyes would grow accustomed to the dark, but we'd never see anything if we kept shining flashlights all night. And he told us not to jump out at people or pretend this was a haunted house. We'd come to go ghost-hunting, not act like children.

He finished talking and my husband and I raced down the stairs back to the morgue. It was immediately creepy walking around that old, dark abandoned building on our own. I wondered what we were thinking? Did we really want to see ghosts??

My husband began speaking into his voice recorder. "This is Mike. We're entering the morgue. If there are any spirits with us, let us know."

Then he began screaming. And screaming. And running down the hallway. If you listen to the recording, you can hear my footsteps running behind him as he screams.

"I saw feet! There were feet!"

Pounding footsteps.


"There were feet sticking out of the morgue table!"

We ran and ran, flashlights blaring our approach as loud as Mike's continued screaming. Other people came to see what all the fuss was about. You can hear that on the recorder, too. Along with another far-off voice saying, "It's me, you idiots. It was me."

Some joker had decided to scare his friend by laying inside the morgue table with his boots sticking out - which is exactly what we'd been told not to do. But Mike and I got there first. Scared the crap out of us, though it's fun now to listen to the tape. But in the moment, we were pretty freaked, and only 30 minutes into a long night of wandering in the dark looking for more things to scare us. Thankfully, nothing scared us as much as that.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Pam studied the classified ad in front of her.
What could this mean?
As a lab assistant, the advertisement intrigued Pam. She rarely worked with rats herself, but knew that the scientists down the hallway did a lot of work with them. She wondered whether the rescued rats were from that lab, and what the implications might be. A lot of research might have been comprised; the findings obsolete now.
Pam was torn on her feelings about this. On one hand, she understood and appreciated the need for research and lab testing. Important discoveries required testing. And while she didn’t want animals to die or become deformed by the procedures, she didn’t know any way around it, either, if scientific advancements were to be made.
On the other hand, she couldn’t stand witnessing the effects some of these procedures had on lab rats, and worse – cats and dogs. When they were harmed for the advancement of things like make-up, Pam wanted to rage and scream and cry at the injustice. She never did, though. The most she’d done was avoid the labs where animal testing was done. Maybe she could do something else now. Be proactive.
This rat ad intrigued her. Rescued rats? Free to good home?
She dialed the phone.
Pam stammered. “Uh, hello? I saw your ad in the paper? For the free rats?”
“Oh! Great! They make great pets. A lot of people don’t think of rats as pets, but they can be very lovable and they’re as smart as dogs. They’ll ride around on your shoulder if you let them. Kinda tickles. Mine likes to weave in and out of my hair. Feels really neat.”
Pam shuddered slightly at the thought of a rat in her hair.
“Well, I don’t really know if I want a rat for a pet. I mean, I’m sure they’re excellent pets? But I was thinking more like maybe I could help rescue more rats or something? Get involved?”
There was a distant rustling on the other end of the phone and a clattering sound, like someone was hanging up.
“Hello?” Pam called tentatively into the mouthpiece.
More clattering.
“I’m here. Just dropped the phone. One of the rats was fighting the other and they both ran up my arm at the same time.”
Pam was sure her heart stopped for a moment. She felt frozen into place, as though the rats were about to travel through the phone line and attack her there in her apartment. She instinctively raised her feet off the ground and tucked them under her. This call was a bad idea.
“Oh, well, if you’re busy, I’ll just call back.”
Pam hurried to move the receiver to its cradle.
“No, that’s okay. It’s all under control here. You sure you don’t want one?” the girl on the other end of the phone laughed.
Fight or flight panic flooded through Pam.
“Just kidding,” the rat girl said. “But sure, if you want to help rescue more rats, that would be cool. I think there’s another Chinese restaurant down Columbia Avenue that we can check out.”
Chinese restaurant? Pam was confused. Was this girl inviting her to lunch?
“Um. Well, I guess Chinese would be good. I work full-time, though.”
“That’s cool. We’ll stake the place out after the restaurant closes. The rats come out when it’s dark anyway.”
Pam squinted at the ad again. “Um… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Rescuing rats. Didn’t you say you wanted to help rescue more rats?”
“Well, yes, but I thought we’d be liberating them from a lab. I thought I could help with that.”
Rat Girl laughed.
“No. Though that would be cool. But I’m not into the whole breaking-and-entering-getting-arrested thing. I just save the rats that I find by the dumpsters.”
“Rats by the dumpsters?”
“Yes. They’re the ones that need good homes. Not that the lab rats don’t, but at least they’re in out of the cold and not getting tossed into the back of a garbage truck.”
Pam stared at the ad in front of her. She should have known that the person who submitted it was crazy. She wasn’t even sure how to respond. Her sense of rat injustice dissipated. Crazy people rescued rats. What had she been thinking? The woman on the other end of the phone continued talking as Pam slowly lowered the phone into its cradle. She vowed never to answer a crazy ad again, crumpled up the newspaper and dropped it into the trash.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cupan Tae

The Gaelic term "Cupan tae" is often Anglicized into "cuppa" or "cup of tea"

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
wasn’t a blessing,
but a lament that Maura muttered
nearly every time she grabbed a clean cup
from the dish rack by the sink.

Tea was the antidote to most of life’s problems,
and by life’s problems,
Maura meant children --
all six of them;
one more trouble than the next.

Precocious Bridget; she’d find herself in trouble.
Stephen ended up in jail, but at least she knows where he is.
It’s Billy she’s worried about. No doubt
he’s found his way to a bar and a bottle of whiskey.
Patrick is up to something; she’ll find out what it is.
Colleen might make something of herself, if
she’d just get rid of that good-for-nothing boyfriend.
And Jimmy -- well, Jimmy – he’s the baby.

The kettle whistles.
Another cupan tae.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph
How would anyone get through the day without it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Evening With Leigh Anne Tuohy

Leigh Anne Tuohy speaks at Fairfield High School

Leigh Anne Tuohy became famous after she and her family took in a 6’6”, 350 lb. black teenager they found wandering the street. That boy is Michael Oher, an NFL rookie who Tuohy says would have been dead by now if it weren’t for someone stepping in before he fell completely through the cracks. He was bound for gang life, where the mortality rate for a body guard is 21 years. Instead, he’s making millions and is loved by a family who took him in and made him one of their own. You know this story; Sandra Bullock won an Oscar playing Leigh Anne in the movie "The Blindside."
Leigh Anne encouraged everyone to get involved with their community in the spirit of “cheerful giving.” She said that we didn’t need to adopt someone into our homes to make a difference. All we had to do was make the world a better place for someone else. It wouldn’t take much more than a smile.
She shared a story about her son, SJ, and a day that he tried to make a small difference in someone’s life. SJ was at a gas station and went inside to pay for his gas since the credit card swiper was broken. Then man in front of him set a $5 bill on the counter and asked the cashier for $5 on pump number 8. With gas at $2.69/gallon, that wasn’t going to buy much, so SJ reached around him and laid another $20 on the counter, telling the cashier to make it $25 on pump 8.
“Why did you do that?” the guy asked.
“Five dollars won’t get you very far.”
“Yeah, but you could use that $20 for other stuff.”
SJ shrugged.

The man was incredulous. “No one’s ever done anything for me before.”
SJ told him to do something nice for someone else someday. Still flabbergasted, the man questioned SJ again and then went out to pump his gas.
The cashier looked at SJ with suspicion.
“Why’d you do that?”
“Just thought I’d do something nice.”
“Nobody’s ever done anything like that for me.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” SJ said as he went out to the pump to gas up his car.
The guy from inside and his friend were still at pump 8 and the friend came over to SJ.
“Did you really buy him $20 of gas? Why’d you do that?”
And on it went. SJ told his family about it at dinner and said that he’d gotten more than $20 worth of pleasure out of the experience and thought he’d do the same thing with three $20 bills the next week. Then he posted the story on his facebook page and got a string of responses, half of which asked “Why’d you do that?”
Leigh Anne encouraged us all to do something like that. She challenged us to volunteer, to help a neighbor, or give money to an organization that would make a difference. She ended by reminding us that no one ever goes poor by giving of themselves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Monroeville, Alabama

This courtroom was the inspiration for the scene in To Kill A Mockingbird

There’s a small patch of land in rural Monroeville, Alabama that seems like it should be hallowed ground among writers. It is the spot of land where Truman Capote grew up, living and playing with his next door neighbor and best friend, Harper Lee.

It seems as though there must be something magical about the space; something potent in the water, or the air, or the dusty red dirt. Whatever it was, the magic eludes visitors to the spot. Harper Lee’s old homestead now houses Mel’s Dairy Bar. And the house where Truman Capote lived with his cousins and aunt is nothing more than remnants of a rocky foundation that remained after a house fire.

The houses don’t draw visitors to Monroeville, Alabama. What lures people 30 miles off the highway to this struggling small town is the old Monroeville County Courthouse that inspired the famous courtroom scenes in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. 

The courtroom is almost a temple of sorts.  In fact, a copy of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set on the judge’s bench next to a gavel and the intimidating witness chair. The view from the balcony is even more awe-inspiring than Scout described.

The Museum is kind enough to also offer guests a walking tour brochure. It details how the town appeared in the 1930’s when Lee and Capote lived there. You can wander the streets and try to picture what they saw. Not much has changed, really. The road is paved now, and the businesses inside the storefronts have changed hands. Truthfully, I didn’t walk much farther than down the street to Mel’s Dairy Bar where I stood on ground where these literary greats once stood, and licked my soft-serve ice cream while I waited for a little bit of literary greatness to rub off on me.

Honestly, there was nothing remarkable about their beginnings. They grew up in a small town and wrote stories in a treehouse behind one of their houses. Perhaps the small-town atmosphere was all the magic they needed? Perhaps a childhood spent watching the town go by from the front porch was enough. I could see nothing remarkable from where I stood. But thank God, they did.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What I Don't Know About Botswana

I think they dance in Botswana

What I don't know about Botswana could fill a book. A series of books, actually. I believe it already has. It's called the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series. If I want to know about Botswana, I guess I'll have to read those books.

I attended an international cultural festival yesterday featuring Botswana. I had hoped to learn more about their culture and perhaps be inspired to write something about it. But after spending a day at the festival, I still know nothing about this African nation.
Here's what I didn't get to experience:

I didn't get to eat typical Botswana dishes. The only offering at the Botswana food booth was vegetable stew, but it was being manned by a little girl who wasn't allowed to take the cover off the dish because it was too hot and would burn her.

The World Bazaar of Botswana goods was filled with jewelry, woolen caps, and wooden carvings stamped with 'Made in Kenya' and 'Made in China'. I bought earrings anyway.

My daughter and I went to listen to a speakers' panel about "Growing Up In Botswana". The "panel" was one man named Christopher, whose last name was so difficult that it was not shared with us. Christopher was very quiet and very.. sullen. I can't think of a better word to describe his lack of enthusiasm for telling us anything, and I mean ANYTHING, about his childhood in Botswana. The moderator asked him questions about his family. "There were six of us," he answered.

Q:  What kind of games did you play?
Chris: We used our imaginations.


Q: Did you live in a village, or a city?
Chris: A village.


Q:  How many people were in your village?
Chris: I don't know.

Q:  I saw a documentary that showed hippos in Botswana. Did you have to worry about dangerous animals?
Chris: No.

After 20 minutes of monosyllabic answers, I felt I'd subjected my daughter to enough non-culture. We left. Naturally, as we walked out, we saw the very end of a Botswana dance performance.

To sum up what I learned about Botswana today:  they eat stew, and they dance. Guess I'm going to have to read the books.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Synchronized Swimmers

Cayman Islands Turtle Farm

“Hustle up!” Coach Bochs bellowed.
Tommy continued floating on his back. Shelley barely even turned around.
Coach Bochs sighed.
“Hurry it up, gang. This is exactly why we have to change the agenda this year. Turtle races didn’t work last year. I think we can all see why.”
Shelley and Tommy continued drifting aimlessly around the pool.
“If we’re going to have any chance of drawing a crowd this year and saving our skin, we’re going to have to come up with a better plan.”
Old Tut and Greenie nodded their heads as a few more turtles slowly inched their way toward the coach. Coach Bochs blew into his whistle. Greenie pulled his head into his shell. He hated that whistle.
“Tommy! Shelley! Listen up while you make your way over here. I have an idea for a new show. The tourists are gonna love it. We’ll do a synchronized swimming routine.”
The turtles rolled their heads from side to side, assessing the reactions among the group. The more advanced swimmers dove briefly underwater and twirled a little on their sides. The old seafarers like Ceeshor laid back and relaxed. They were born swimmers. But Tut and a few other snapping turtles clenched their teeth until the coach was finished speaking.
“Count me out!” Tut snapped. “I’m not gonna flip and flop around like some kind of circus performer. You young whippersnappers can show off and balance balls on your noses like seals, for all I care, but I’m not going to be a part of it.”
With that, Tut and a few other turtles retreated into their shells.
Coach Bochs blew his whistle.
“Get back out here, Tut! You are going to be a part of this show just like the rest of us.”
“Yeah, just like the rest of us!” Tommy mocked him.
“Zip it, Tommy,” Coach continued. “We’re all a part of this. We’re going to swim, dive, roll over, advance and retreat in unison. We’re going to make the dolphins look about as graceful as puppies paddling in the ocean. You got that?”
Tut remained hidden in his shell.
“I said, ‘You got that?”’ Coach Bochs screamed.
Tut poked his head out.
“And what if I don’t?”
Coach Bochs jutted his neck out as far as it would go and leaned into Tut’s face.
“Then you might as well hold out a spoon, cause you’ll be soup.”
And with that, the turtles flipped onto their backs and started practice.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Bike Wreck

Hamilton, Ohio

It’s funny how some of the biggest moments in our childhood are not clear to us as adults. Some of my memories are really just impressions. Others are tiny details in an otherwise larger story. And some childhood memories are primarily based on what other people tell me. There are moments that I think I remember well, only to discover that I don’t know many of the facts at all.  Such is the tale of my infamous bike wreck.
I was seven years old when I went sailing over the handlebars of my neighbor Lori’s bike and skidded across the road. I was riding her bike around the neighborhood, a typical summer pastime. But Lori’s bike was different than mine; hers had brakes. Mine didn’t. I was still riding a small purple two-wheeler that I stopped by using my feet or riding into the grass. I was thrilled to be riding Lori’s bike that day while she rode her sister’s. The bigger bikes made us both feel older and glamorous.
But when it was time to apply the brakes, I didn’t anticipate how suddenly the bike would stop. It lurched to a halt while my body kept moving – up and over the handlebars.
Or so I think.
In my recollection, I crashed my bike right in front of my babysitter Candy’s house. But I also remember crashing next to the creek where there was always a lot of gravel on the road that made bicycling difficult. In my history tale, Candy then drove me home and Mom took me to the hospital where they put a stinging antiseptic all over my road-rashed body. Those scabs healed, but there was permanent damage from the bike wreck: my two front teeth were permanently chipped.
Now, I don’t know how much of the story in my mind is true. I was unconscious for a while (I think), or else I was just in shock. I don’t know how I got home, but my mother has filled in some of the blanks.
Yes, a neighbor drove me home and delivered my bloody, gravel-caked body to her. She rushed me to the bathroom before my father could get a glimpse of all the blood. He’s squeamish and she had enough of a situation on her hands without having him faint. She started cleaning me up, wiping off my bloody arms, legs and face to assess how badly I was injured and then discovered that I had chipped both front teeth.
We were off to the hospital (still without my father). They cleaned me up. There were no broken bones or serious injuries other than the gaping hole in my smile.  That repercussion was permanent; I’m on my second set of caps. I have been a cautious bike rider ever since.
That moment in my childhood was a life-altering event. And yet, I remember very little of it. It’s odd how malleable our memories are. I can only vaguely recall the events of that day and the memories I do have shift to fit the story that my mother tells. What I think I remember may not be accurate at all. Which makes me wonder what else I’m remembering wrong?

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Posture of Exploration

I recently attended a conference that began with Story Musgrave (astronaut, farmer, and mechanic on the Hubble telescope) showing us a picture from his childhood in the 1930’s. In it, he was a small boy, crouched down, looking at something in the grass. He called this pose “The Posture of Exploration” and said that creativity stems from a childhood spent crouched in this position.

Later that afternoon, Dayna Baumeister (biologist and biomimicry expert) began her speech. She had a slideshow, too, and was astonished to find that she had a similar slide in her deck as well. In it, her children are crouched near rocks in a creek, looking down at whatever treasure they’d discovered. She said she’d put that slide in to illustrate the point that we should all take time to observe and study nature for inspiration.

As soon as her slide appeared on the screen, duplicating Story’s earlier slide, I immediately wondered whether I had similar slides of my children. I went home that night and pulled out the old photo albums and stacks of snapshots shoved to the back of old drawers. Sure enough, I had pictures of my own children in this same Posture of Exploration pose. Which lead me to believe two things.

First, that this pose is universal among children.  I suppose it’s only natural that children explore the ground beneath them. They often observe things that adults don’t notice, perhaps because they are closer to their subjects, or maybe because they have a more appreciative manner while they’re young. I remember when spying a caterpillar, or ant hill, or shiny quartz rock excited me. The wonder of children captures that old cliché that it’s the little things in life that matter. And as Story and Dayna both pointed out, that curiosity and appreciation of nature can lead to greater results in life.

The second realization I had as I held those two photos of my children in my hands, is that taking pictures of our children in the Posture of Exploration pose is something of a universal truth, too. Why is it that parents grab their cameras and snap a picture of their children crouched in wonder? It’s not because the pictures turn out well. In fact, you can’t tell what the children are looking at in any of the pictures I mention or show here. What we’re capturing instead is the beauty of seeing our children observe the world around them. For a moment, we are as mesmerized with the natural world as our children are, because we are seeing it anew through their eyes.