Tuesday, November 30, 2010

3 Egg Nest

These nests were found under an overhang at Hoover Dam in Ohio.
 If you look closely, you can see beaks poking out of most of them.

The nest still holds your indentation.
We three remaining eggs didn’t tumble
And roll to fill your spot.
We haven’t re-configured ourselves from
Square to triangle
Just because you’re off flying on your own now.
We still think of ourselves as a four-egg family
Minus one hatched chick.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Japanese Gardens
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

There is a Japanese word tatemae that means public face. I can’t think of an English translation. Maybe “professionalism”?  No. “Professionalism” doesn’t convey the masked fury of tatemae. Laura Kriska, author of the memoir The Accidental Office Lady expresses it well when she describes her Japanese co-workers displaying tatemae at work:
“…It was having to eat lunch with her and smile and make small talk for an hour. Tatemae was joyfully calling twenty people to reschedule a meeting because your director had forgotten about the meeting that you had discussed with him that morning. It was keeping quiet when the directors called you kanojo – meaning “Hey you” --  in the executive office because they didn’t know your name even though you had been working there for six years.”
I was stopped in my tracks by this passage. I loved that the Japanese had a word for something that is apparently so universal. I thought about all the times I employ tatemae during my work day. Too many. Too, too many. I wondered whether tatemae is the root word for “tattered”? Does tatemae rhyme with “death of me”?
Until I retire, I am adding tatemae to my dictionary.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Haunted Gettysburg

My husband and I saw the sign for the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tour. Since he is something of a history buff and loves a good ghost story, we decided to add this tour to our Gettysburg itinerary. What could be spookier than walking across fields in the most haunted city in America? We decided to find out.

We were to meet at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at dark -- 8:00pm -- on the field where tens of thousands died.

Eight o’clock rolled in, following a thunderstorm that left the skies low and dark. Our tour guide, wielding a lantern, greeted the group of twenty or so adventurers ready to walk across this historical burial site. We were a mix of men and women, young and old, teenagers, couples and families. Some of us were historians, others knew nearly nothing about the Civil War. Our guide introduced himself and gave us a short background on the field where we stood, waiting for ghosts to appear before us.

The Battle of Gettysburg was a three day blood bath on July 1, 2 and 3, 1863. In that short period of time, approximately 40,000 young men died in battle, many of whom were brought to the lawn where we stood. The Lutheran Theological Society, then a Seminary, was turned into a makeshift hospital. Our guide described the weaponry and the bullets, explaining the types of injuries these young men had sustained and why amputations were so numerous.

He pointed to the first floor windows of the building before us. More than a dozen stairs led up to the entrance and he explained that the amputated body parts were stacked against the building, reaching all the way up to the first set of windows. The basement was used to house the more seriously wounded, who had to be rushed out on July 4th as torrential rains began flooding the basement.

When it was all over, the bodies were buried here in the fields surrounding the Seminary until it was later ordered that they be moved to proper burial ground. Officials will claim that every body was removed. It seems an impossible claim to make considering the incredible number of casualties. Surely some soldiers were left to rest here.

Our guide explained that metal detectors are not allowed in most of Gettysburg. A reasonable rule, considering the varieties of metal that must be buried in the earth - rings, watches, bullets, guns, etc. The entire town of Gettysburg would resemble a sinkhole if people were allowed to search and dig.

I found all this fascinating. I'd never been a history buff myself. But now that we were hearing stories and seeing the buildings and fields where battles happened, history was brought to life for me. We didn't encounter any ghosts on our tour, but the stories we heard gave us goosebumps just the same. The walking ghost tour of Gettysburg whet our appetite for more ghost tours like it. It's a wonderful way to learn more about the history, people, and places of any given city. We've since taken ghost tours in Louisville, New Orleans, Salem, and Nashville, but Gettysburg remains our favorite.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cows at Dawn

I saw these cows when I rounded the corner heading for work in the morning. They freaked me out a little with their ghostly white faces staring at me in unison. There are actually about a dozen all together; all spread out but all lying in the field, facing the road with their blank white faces.The sight of them nearly made me run into a ditch.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Children's Birthday Party Industry

I'm completely guessing here, but the children's birthday party industry must be a multi-billion dollar business. In suburban areas such as mine, children's birthday parties easily cost parents upward of $150. There are very popular inflatable play places springing up all over the place. Those start at $125 for 15 kids/80 minutes on a weekday, and go up to $269 for the "Classic Party" which includes 2 hours of jumping fun for 25 kids (which usually means you've invited the entire class).

These parties have gotten extremely competitive. When the inflatables place first opened, every child in our school district seemed to have their birthday party there. My daughter was going every week. Then other places opened up, offering their own gimmicks: paint-your-own-pottery, play on gigantic playground equipment, learn to cook and make your own cupcakes, bowling parties, hotel swim parties, etc.. All costs hundreds of dollars, and all the kids made the rounds of every one.

I was flabbergasted and decided not to have my daughter's party at one of these pricey establishments. She would have a party at home. The kids could swim, we'd get pizza, it would be fun. Just like birthday parties when I was young. Except it wasn't.

By the time we bought decorations, pizza for a crowd, cake (which we made), ice cream, a pinata, and goody bags to give as gifts for each guest, the party cost us close to $150. That didn't include our daughter's presents. We could have booked a party at one of the entertainment places that specialized in children's parties. It would have cost about the same and we wouldn't have had to clean the house before and after the party. Something to consider.

I guess the days of cake and ice cream in the backyard are over. At least for now. There's too much money to be made in guilting parents into holding extravagant birthday parties for their children. Chuck E. Cheese has morphed into a mega-industry. The really smart parents will buy their children stock in these inflatable places before their next birthday. I wish I had.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Give Thanks For Sarah Hale

Plymouth Rock is smaller than I thought it would be.

Writers are often tasked with finding a new angle on a story. Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak, did just that with her informative children's book, Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. While other authors play with different spins on turkey stories, Thanksgiving traditions, and pilgrims, Anderson took us instead to the root of making Thanksgiving a national holiday. I applaud Anderson's ingenuity. It's something I would have never given much thought.

Anderson credits writer / editor Sarah Hale for getting Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. Sarah Hale launched a massive letter-writing campaign that spanned 38 years before President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving. Up until that point, it was more a northeastern holiday that wasn't always celebrated on the same day. Some regions of the United States barely celebrated Thanksgiving at all. But Sarah Hale, herself a writer looking for fresh angles, convinced Lincoln that having all the states celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day would help unify the nation.

In the "Feast of Facts" at the end of the book, Anderson includes this interesting tidbit: Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to change Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of November in 1939 and 1940. He thought this would help the economy by stretching the holiday shopping season. People were outraged. Twenty-three states refused to comply with what was being termed "Franksgiving." So in 1941, FDR decided the experiment was a failure and changed it back to the fourth Thursday.

The whole book is full of interesting facts. I could go on, but I don't want to give them all away here. Read the book!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


If the men around you seem hairier than usual this November, perhaps they're growing their Movember mustaches. Movember is a month-long event starting November 1st wherein men across the world grow a mustache to raise money for prostate cancer research. They start clean-shaven, then "grow a mo."

Men all over the world participate. There's even a Movember Foundation where men can register, raise money, and find celebration parties all across the United States. Some men pay into a pool of money at their workplaces, thereby entering themselves into a mustache growing contest. Other men get pledged donations and raise a certain dollar amount before they can shave their mustaches. Some just collect as much money as they can until November 30th.

However they grow their mo's, I wish them well. Curing cancer is a hairy business.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Searching For Clams

Clam Box restaurant in Ipswich, MA

For me, clams are high school summers on the Jersey Shore. They're the juicy, succulent sensation of newfound freedom; driving with newly minted licenses and spending the day at the beach. My friends and I always stopped for a basket of clams at Moby's in Atlantic Highlands after a day at the beach. The clams were huge, mouth-watering salty treats that tasted like seashore and sunshine. Moby's was casual outdoor dining on a deck at the foot of the Highlands drawbridge. We went there covered in sand and suntan oil to sip sodas and share some clams while we watched all the cute boys work. They all spent their summers handling seafood at Moby's. It was the cool place to work.

Zoom ahead 20 years and I found myself driving through New England with my family. We stopped at a restaurant in the middle of Massachusetts and I ordered clams off the menu. They were juicy and briny and immediately transported me back to my youth on the Jersey Shore. Right then and there I made it my mission to sample as many clams on our trip to Maine as I could. I was sure I'd never taste any as good as Moby's.

The clams at Stewman's Lobster Pound in Bar Harbor came close. I think the outdoor deck atmosphere and view of the water helped. Whole, big clams fried in light batter are meant to be eaten outside by the sea. Those were the best clams I tasted in Maine. Of course, I had lobster a few times (while in Maine do as the Mainers do), but clams are my seafood of choice.

Then I read that the Clam Box in Ipswich, MA was reported to have the best clams in New England. On our way down to Boston we stopped by to see whether that report was true. I liked the ambience, though we weren't on the water. The portions were very generous and the clams were good, but it wasn't Moby's. That taste and experience still eluded me. After eating as many clams as I could up and down the Notheastern seaboard, I decided there's really only one way to recapture the taste and nostalgia of my youth. I'll have to go back to New Jersey.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cinderella's Stepsister Gets A New Home

Your Homely Sister is a gift shop in Hamilton, Ohio

Cinderella and Prince Charming were on their way home from their honeymoon when the prince told Cinderella that he'd nearly married her stepsister Drizella.

"Yeah, she crammed her foot into your glass slipper and wobbled around on high heels planning the wedding."

"She WHAT?!" Cinderella pulled her royal cell phone out of her purse and made a few calls. "I want her out of the royal palace right now. I don't care where she goes as long as I never have to see her ugly face again!"

The prince tried to calm down his bride, but Cinderella wasn't having it. "I've put up with her crap for years. I've scrubbed up stains that she made on purpose. I've listened to her big, fat snoring mouth every night while I slept on the floor above her. I've stayed home and played with mice while she went to fancy parties and balls. And now you want me to calm down? I don't think so."

"Cindy, Cindy. I'm not saying you have to like her, but we can't just throw her out onto the street. How would that look? She's part of the royal family now, whether we like her or not."

Cinderella considered this. She didn't want to tarnish her new golden reputation. She pulled out her cell phone again and called her fairy godmother.  "Can you make her a place to live? Someplace small. Make sure the floor needs cleaned, and make sure she has plenty of cleaning supplies around. Let her rip up her dresses and for rags and let's make her new quarters open to the public so she has to keep up appearances. Put a sign over her door."

She flipped her phone closed and sat back against the plush carriage velvet with a smug smile on her face. "I've found a place for Drizella to live," she gleefully told the prince.

"That's great, Cindy," he said and patted her knee. "I knew you'd come up with something."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

National Chemistry Week

This is National Chemistry Week. I immediately picture beakers, burners, test tubes, and the Periodic table in my mind. Those images are quickly followed by feelings of panic, heart palpitations, anxiety, and dread. I hated Chemistry. It ranked right alongside Algebra II as the worst classes I took in high school. If it hadn't been for the fact that we worked in groups at a table, I would not have passed the class. I was the handicap of the group and tried to be helpful by cleaning up after labs, or gathering all the equipment we needed - anything but having to do the actual experiements themselves.

It wasn't just the calculations and formulas that eluded and frustrated me. It was the worksheets as well. I still remember it clearly. We'd be asked innocuous questions such as "What is the expected outcome?" (how should I know!) or "What did you observe?" and I had no idea at all what they expected me to say. Were we supposed to write something about the chemical compounds? Or would a simple, "It turned blue" (even when it wasn't supposed to) suffice? I never knew. All I remember are red X's marking my pages. I tried to answer the questions correctly. That was my main focus in class. Somehow I passed, but I learned very little, if anything, about chemistry.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watching the Bearcats Practice

UC Bearcats Football Practice

I was invited to a University of Cincinnati Alumni event in which we watched the UC Bearcats football team practice from the press box and then listened to UC President Gregory Williams and Head Coach Butch Jones say a few words.

I felt as giddy as a schoolgirl watching the team practice, which is ironic since I never watched a UC sporting event while I was a student there. I wasn't a sports fan then. But I am now. So as I watched the team run their exercises on the field, I couldn't help but look for some of the players I see on TV every week: Zach Collaros, DJ Woods, Isaiah Pead, and Ben Guidugli. I felt like they were stars. I couldn't believe I had the opportunity to watch them. Then it dawned on me that I could watch them anytime. Nippert Stadium isn't exactly off-limits. Even knowing that, I was thrilled to be there.

Practice ended as President Williams thanked us all for supporting our school. Then Butch Jones came up to the press box. I was starstruck immediately. He was much smaller than I'd expected, but then I only ever see him in close-ups on TV as he paces back and forth. He smiled at us and thanked us for supporting the school and then talked about what a great city Cincinnati is and how the team is family to him. His voice was hoarse from the long practice. He described a typical day in the life of a coach and talked about the stellar academics he expects from the team.

One man asked him how he planned to recruit top players and Butch launched into a spiel about Cincinnati selling itself. And even though we were all native Cincinnatians ourselves and knew that Butch Jones was a relative newcomer, we bought his pitch hook, line and sinker. I can only conclude that we, as Cincinnatians, have enourmous pride in our city, and as long as you say you do, too, we're behind you 100%. Even though the Bearcats are off to a lackluster season, when Butch Jones asked us to hang in there and support our team, we answered enthusiastically:  UC!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Eat Like a Bird?

Has anyone ever said you eat like a  bird?  I hope not!

What they usually mean to suggest is that you are eating small quantities of food. But that’s not true about birds at all! In fact, birds eat large quantities of food throughout the day because they have high metabolisms and burn large amounts of energy when they fly. They must constantly replenish their energy source in order to keep flying.

Birds eat differently than we do, too. Since they don't have teeth, they use their beaks to break their food open and to eat. Birds with harder beaks, such as parrots, can break open larger nuts and extract the nut meat inside. Birds with softer beaks are only capable of breaking smaller seed shells, vegetables and grains with husks.

Baby birds gulp their food whole and so have different needs altogether. They need their mothers to chew up their food for them and then pass it into their open, waiting mouths. They then gulp it whole into a sac.

One eating habit that birds and people do have in common is eating in groups. You may see a flock of birds descend on a cornfield as they fly south for the winter. They eat, refuel, and then fly again. We do something similar when we gather together for meals that provide us with the energy to move on to our daily activities.

People and birds do share some qualities when it comes to eating. But if someone tells you, “You eat like a bird,” feel free to tell them that actually, you don’t!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not My Baby

Mama had a baby, but I’m the one stuck taking care of it. The kid cries and howls all day and all night, and Mama screams at me to get up and get him a bottle, or change his diaper, or do whatever else she doesn’t want to get up and do herself.

Did anybody ask me if I wanted to have a baby? No. I don’t want a baby of my own and I don’t want this one. And I don’t want to hear anymore that I’m ungrateful, and she oughta kick me out of the house if I can’t even help out around here.

Not help around here? That’s all I do! That baby probably thinks I’m his mother, not her. I’m sick of sticky fingers in my hair. I’m sick of wiping snot from his nose while he screams and cries in my face. I feed him, dress him, bathe him, and put him to bed. I hear him cry, I watch him scream, and I smell his diapers. What I don’t do is go out with my friends anymore, or have a minute to myself. Gotta always be watching to make sure the baby doesn’t get into anything.

It’s not my baby. It’s hers. She chose to have it. But I’m the one stuck with it. I know one thing; I won’t make the same mistake Mama did. I’m not having a baby until I know I can take care of it myself and not shove it off on my kid like she did to me.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Together We Can

Strangers form a conga line aboard a Carnival cruise

My daughter is entering this picture in a school art competition. The theme is "Together We Can." She decided to use photography as her medium and chose this picture she took last summer. She doesn't have to explain why she thinks it fits the theme, but I decided to describe why I think it does.

This picture shows a group of strangers forming a conga line aboard a Carnival cruise. It was taken during the middle of the day while these people were simply walking along the deck. There wasn't any music; it wasn't some sort of planned event. They formed a conga line because my nine-year-old daughter asked them to. She was participating in a digital photo scavenger hunt and one of the pictures she needed to get was a group of people in a conga line. So she asked these people to help her. They stopped whatever they were doing and formed a conga line and let her take their picture. There was nothing in it for them. All they were doing was trying to help a little girl with a project.

She couldn't have done it alone. She needed all of them.

"Together We Can" became "Together, they did."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When Words Fail Us

We'll call this sculpture a statue.

I use the terms "statue" and "sculpture" almost interchangeably, until it finally dawned on me that there must be a distinction between them. Here's how Webster defines each:

Statue:  a three-dimensional representation usually of a person, animal, or mythical being that is produced by sculpturing, modeling or casting.

Sculpture:  a three-dimensional work of art (as a statue).

Ah, Webster.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Morton Salt Girl

Morton Salt Factory
Dayton, Ohio
I wish I knew who drew the Morton Salt girl. She is my favorite iconic figure. There is something so soothing and appealing about her. I love the rain and umbrella, her yellow dress, the dark blue packaging behind her, and her joyful step as she carries a carton of salt. But in my mind, I often replace that salt carton with a book.

When I see the picture of the Morton Salt girl, I am almost overwhelmed with the sensory image of being a young girl myself, curled up next to a window reading a book while it rains. I feel sure the Morton girl is headed home from the library with her favorite volume of the 1960's Best of Children's Books series. I feel certain that whoever drew her was, or would have been, a fantastic children's book illustrator.

I never could figure out what she had to do with salt, and I always feel like she should be wearing rubber galoshes. (Didn't she once?) I buy Morton's salt because of her picture anyway. I rarely salt my food; a container could easily last me a decade. But I like having the Morton Salt girl's picture tucked away in my cupboard. Every time I see it, I am transported again to being a girl reading a book while it rains. Such a simple pleasure in life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Top 10 Signs - You’re Not The Next Food Network Star

Cooking demo at Jungle Jim's in Fairfield, Ohio
(This woman COULD be the next Food Network Star)

  1. Your cooking instructions match the directions on the back of the box you’re preparing

  1. All of your meals, including the vegetarian options, use hamburger

  1. Your motto is: Broil or boil; what’s the difference?

  1. Your idea of gourmet is the Pick ‘n Pair combos at Applebees

  1. You follow the phrase “while that cooks…” by setting the oven timer and watching TV

  1. The only appliance in your kitchen is a microwave

  1. You’ve vowed to keep Grandma’s Secret recipe a secret

  1. You burned your mouth on your 5-alarm chili and now you thalk lide thid
  1. The dog at your side won’t eat the food you drop

  1. You’ve got bottles of Pepto Bismol, Syrup of Ipecac, and Alka Seltzer on your counter

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cavetubing in Belize

Crossing the river to begin our hike through the Belizean jungle

Cavetubing in Belize was not what I expected it to be. I'd imagined an exotic adventure that started with a hike through the jungle, then being carried downstream on slow river rapids through cave after cave. The actual adventure was a little different.

After an hour-long bus ride (which I loved!) through the scrubby, impoverished countryside, we veered off the road and pulled up to the outskirts of the rainforest jungle. We left everything on the bus and were encouraged to strip down to our bathing suits because we were going to get wet. I imagined this "getting wet" probability akin to riding the log flume or other amusement park ride that involves water. I thought our butts might get wet through the hole in the innertube, but that would be about it. Wrong!

We were handed lifejackets that we could wear or carry as we hiked half an hour through the jungle. It was hot, so we first thought we'd carry them, but then we were also handed great big yellow inflatable tubes to carry, so the best course of action was to hang our lifejackets around our necks. We walked quickly, carrying these tubes that were not all that heavy, but were very awkward. Many of us stumbled a little on rocks and roots as we trotted down the jungle path toward the river. There was a clothesline hung there that we were instructed to grab onto as we carried our innertubes across the river to begin the real hike.

We got wet. Very wet. The water was up to our waists and was surprisingly cold. We'd had the good sense to wear water shoes, but they weren't the most conducive shoes for a jungle hike. The lush trail was beautiful, but we were moving at such a fast pace that we didn't get to savor the beauty. Plus, we had those gigantic innertubes and lifejackets to contend with. Luckily for the women, the tour guides took most of our innertubes away and carried them for us. (I think because we were slowing things down.)

We worked up a sweat walking toward our river entry spot where the tour guides had each family or group enter the water together and then they tied the group's innertubes together so they moved as a unit. Most groups were tied together like a chain, with one person's feet resting onto another person's tube. That person would then rest their armpits onto the ankles of the person behind him. A daisy chain effect that was immediately uncomfortable in my opinion.

Maybe I'm just an old woman now, but we were reclined in an awkward position that left our heads unsupported. All I wanted to do was sit up, but alas, that was not to be. And we didn't drift lazily down the river through a series of caves. We were pulled by tour guides who waded through the river, splashing loudly as they dragged us along.

The scenery was beautiful. The caves were pretty, the water was nice, and the lush greenery of the banks was awesome to look at. But I was too distracted by the awkward reclining pose of my body, trying to keep my feet latched onto my daughter's tube, and the pampered guilt I felt as the Belizean men pulled our heavy American bodies through the cold rocky-bottomed river. I enjoyed the outing, but the adventure was not what I expected.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Dirty pink locker etched with the word "HANSON"

Malika traced her fingers across the scratchy letters on the locker. She didn't know what HANSON meant, but the fact that someone took the time to mark this locker made it special. She would choose this one.

She timidly lifted the rusty metal handle and release the latch on the door. It creaked open and she peered inside. The interior was as dingy as the outside, but it intrigued Malika nonetheless. She moved closer to the locker and pressed her face close as she started to shut the door. The interior grew darker and more mysterious as less light showed through. A small rush of pleasure filled her. This could be a secret hiding place.

She opened the door again and placed a rock inside the locker, then let it shut, just a bit. She stared at the pink door, enraptured with the idea that something was now hidden inside. She opened the door again. There was the rock. She shut the door with a bang and looked around her. She found the splintered end of a worn pencil on the ground and eagerly placed it inside her treasure cave, too. She shut the locker with satisfaction and walked back outside. She had a secret. The other children could not begin to guess that she'd hidden away a rock and a pencil inside the specially-marked locker.

The children continued to play on a picnic table as Malika watched. She started to join them, then looked back toward the pink locker. It seemed to glow with her secret. Two boys started to walk near the locker. Malika couldn't bear it. She ran back over and opened the scratched-up HANSON door. It creaked loudly. The boys turned their heads. Malika, heart-racing now, gathered up the rock and the pencil and shut the locker door again. She'd put them back in there tomorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dog Experiments

Chipsy as a pup

I've been reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, What The Dog Saw, and found one of his revelations very intriguing.

In the title chapter, Gladwell shares dog whisperer Cesar Millan's insight that dogs look to human beings for cues on how to behave. Research shows that if a person took two cups, turned them upside down and put food under one of them, then looked at his dog, pointed to the cup with the food underneath and looked at the cup with food, the dog would go to that cup. He'd follow the human's body cues, whereas a chimpanzee in the same experiment wouldn't. A chimpanzee doesn't look to humans for guidance the way a dog does. I thought that was fascinating. And naturally, I had to try it on my own dog.

We have a 1-1/2 year old beagle mix who loves to play and has lots of energy. We could barely restrain him while we were setting up the cups on the kitchen floor. We put a piece of food under one cup and followed Gladwell's instructions. We looked at Chipsy, pointed to the cup, then looked toward the cup and he went right to it. We didn't lift the cup, but pointed it to it again and he went to it again. He ignored the other cup completely until we pointed to it, and then he went to that cup. I don't think he was even all that interested in the food. This was more of a game to him. Which lead to our next experiment.

We let our daughter do the cup experiment without putting food under either cup. Again and again he went to the cup she pointed toward and ignored the other cup until she pointed to it. We gave him a treat after we'd had our fun. (It was fun for him, too. He's a people-pleaser.)

The experiment really brought home Gladwell's learnings in What The Dog Saw. It made me much more aware that we are constantly giving Chipsy signals whether we always realize it or not. I wonder what else we're subconsciously telling him?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

αλλαγή λαδιού

Greek Car Gods

In case you don't speak Greek and aren't sure what the title of this blog is, it's: Oil Change. Because when I get my oil changed and the attendants start asking me questions, they may as well be speaking Greek.

I can pull my car up onto the ramp, but that's where any semblance of competency ends. I shouldn't admit this, but when I went to get my oil changed today and they asked me to pop my hood, I didn't know how to. I've had my car for six years and still don't know where the hood release is. Usually I just pull up, hand over my keys and read a book in the waiting room until it's all over. That's on the few occassions when my husband doesn't take the car in for me.

But today, they promised to be quick and said I could just stay in my car. I smiled, silently cursing my husband for putting me in this predicament and longingly staring at the empty chairs in the waiting room. Three technicians worked on my car at once. They all became familiar with my deer-in-the-headlights look within minutes. They assaulted me with rapid-fire questions as they each attended to different parts of my car.

"What type of oil do you take?"
"5W20 Durablend?"
"Let's take a look at your air filter." He pulls out a white thing. "Look okay to you?"
"How long since you've had your radiator flushed?"
"It says we changed your transmission fluid last time. We'll just top it off today."
"We'll check the air pressure in your tires. What is it supposed to be?"
"I can look it up on your door jamb."

Mechanical things are just something I can't comprehend. When the oil change guys start talking to me, I know I look confused. I feel like I'm trying to translate their words into English. Honestly, Greek would be easier. I don't have a clue what these men are saying to me. They should have thrown in a few make-believe words just to see if I'd pretend to know what they meant. I wanted to appear moderately intelligent but I don't think I pulled it off. I hope they started laughing about me as soon as I pulled away because my car knowledge is definitely comical. Sadly, I'm a stereotype.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

So we decided to lock our cars

We kept our immunity as long as we could,
not succumbing to the scare tactics of the
nightly news. We would not live in fear!
Then one morning we awoke to find
our car battery dead. The dome light on,
passenger door slightly ajar; the work of
teenagers, we supposed. The glove box open,
papers scattered. The only things missing:
a handful of quarters and a fresh pack
of cigarettes. Nothing of value. And yet,
the intrusion, the trespass, forced our surrender.
White flag raised, we locked our doors.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Purple Balloon

Author / Illustrator Chris Raschka paints during a talk
 at the OKI Children's Literature Conference
November 6, 2010

After listening to Chris Raschka speak at the OKI Children's Literature Conference, I read a copy of the book he wrote for Children's Hospice International (CHI) entitled The Purple Balloon.

The 24-page picture book begins with this note from Ann Armstrong-Dailey, Founding Director and CEO of CHI:

When a child becomes aware of his or her pending death and is given the opportunity to "draw your feelings," he or she will often draw a blue or purple balloon, released and floating free. Health care professionals have discovered that this is true regardless of a child's cultural or religious background, and researchers believe that it demonstrates the child's innate knowledge that a part of him or her will live forever.

Raschka said that when he was asked to write this book for hospice, he felt tremendously honored but wanted to be sure he approached the material in the right way. He needed to be diverse without being bland; a pitfall that can occur when an artist tries to include everyone and ends up depicting no one. His solution was to personify balloons.

It sounds simplistic, but the result is fantastic. The soft, humanized balloons quietly deal with the subject of childhood death. It only takes a few minutes to read the book and yet, you can't help but catch your breath by the end of it. Rashchka did an incredible job of choosing soft words and colors that deal with an oft forbidden topic.

Its poignancy is best captured in Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu's acclaim on the back cover: "...This is an important book -- simple, reassuring, and loving..."

I would encourage anyone to read this touching book. But I wish no one ever had to.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

If A Monkey Got Into Our Purses, What Would He Find?

Let's imagine, for a moment, that this monkey had his choice of prying his little fingers into one of four purses: a 90-year-old's, a 60-year-old's, a 40-year-old's or a 10-year-old's.  What might he find in each one if he reached his greedy little fingers inside?

a check to be cashed, tissues, sunglasses, scissors, comb, lipstick, mirror, mints, scarf, stamps, and $24

checkbook, wallet, pictures, credit cards, insurance cards, driver's license, coupons, ticket to a fashion show, a check to cash, free coffee coupon, gum, tissues, cellphone, notepad, pen, hand sanitizer, business cards, photos that had just been developed, St. Theresa prayer card, cosmetic bag, reading glasses, hand cream, feminine hygiene products, address book, and 3 sets of keys

lots of receipts, post-it notes, 6 pens, a Sharpie, work ID badge, dead batteries, a camera, pictures, credit cards, driver's license, library cards, check to be cashed, an old Franc note, lipstick, brush, tissues, crayons, 2 flashdrives, band-aids, keys, concert program, raffle ticket, bank statement, Excedrin migraine, and $60

crayons from a restaurant, receipt, camera, $5 bill, wallet, modeling clay, brush, bracelet, tickets to a soccer game, candy, markers, and a ring

So which one would the monkey pick? Why, all of them, of course!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Playing the Organ

Yun Kyong Kim - November 5, 2010
First United Methodist Church, Middletown, Ohio

My mother and I took my 91-year-old grandmother to hear an organ recital performed by accomplished organist Yun Kyong Kim. We knew she'd enjoy it because she's always liked the organ. In fact, she used to play. But she doesn't remember that anymore. The dementia has erased that memory along with so many others.

When I was young, I always asked my grandmother if I could play the organ during our visits. I loved the varying tones, the smooth feel of the keys, and the simplicity of playing hers since it was an instructional organ with the notes labeled above the keys. When she moved from her apartment, she gave the organ to my parents and suddenly we had this magical musical instrument in our very own house! I played it nearly every day. I could read music well enough and played one-handed songs from the songbook she'd given us. Here is where I learned such classics as "Danny Boy," "Jealous," and "Let A Smile Be Your Umbrella." I played the songs slowly, experimenting with different keyboard sounds and wishing that I knew how to play the accompanying chords with my left hand.

I credit those early days at the organ with my later love for music. I became a pretty good flute player and still appreciate classical music and listening to concerts. My grandmother seems to still enjoy it, too, but she doesn't really know what she likes and what she doesn't anymore. She listened to the organ concert today with a pleasant, if somewhat blank, expression on her face.

Yun Kyong Kim played "A Menagerie of Animals," "Passacaglia in C Minor" by Johann Sebastian Bach, and jazz tunes to round out the complexity of the organ. But none of those songs brought back my grandmother's joy of the organ. She didn't remember even having one. I almost wanted to run up to Yun Kyong Kim and ask her to play "Jealous" or "Danny Boy" - songs I was sure would spark some sort of memory in my grandmother's mind. Except that it wouldn't. It would only spark memories in my mind, and I have to be okay with that. Because whether my grandmother remembers it or not, she taught me to play the organ, and she introduced me to a world of creating music. It's enough that I remember.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Precious Toenail Polish Massacre

I'd never spent so much on a pedicure. $325! But I was about to meet Johnny Depp on the beach set of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie and I had to look my best. He was taking me shoe shopping! This was all part of a sweepstakes prize package I'd won, so $325 on a pedicure seemed justified. Plus, the color matched my sundress exactly - and I mean, exactly! The resort spa had mixed the nail polish just for me.

I handed over my credit card and gingerly stepped toward the door in my flip flops. The doorman opened the door and escorted me to the curb where a man in a jeep motioned for me to hop in the back. He would take me to the set. He peeled away from the curb and raced toward the sand. As he veered off the road, he dug around in the front passenger seat and threw a pair of thick, dirty boots toward me.

"Put these on," he said.

I held the dirty, worn boots away from me. There was no way I was going to put those on and ruin my pedicure.

"I'm going to the beach. The set of Pirates of the Caribbean? To meet Johnny Depp?"

He nodded at me through his rearview mirror and flicked his cigarette out into the racing wind. "You can wear those."

He jerked to a stop at the edge of a rocky-looking patch of land. I remained sitting. I could see palm trees in the distance, but we were in a desolate spot away from any sign of people. The driver hopped out and began collecting supplies from the back of the jeep.

"I've got shoes, thank you," I said as I opened my door and started to follow him.

"Whoa! Don't move! You can't walk out here without boots on. The black sand comes from volcanoes, you know."

I examined the ground a little more closely and noticed that what I'd thought was patchy black soil looked more like hot, sticky tar. Volcanic lava? No wonder I was supposed to wear boots. I admired my brightly-polished toes against the striking black of the lava. The polish was still a little wet. And I'd already ruined my flip flops by stepping out of the jeep.

"I'll just wear -- OH!" I yelped to the driver as lizards ran across my feet. I screamed in shock, then cried aloud as I noticed the tiny little clawprints skittered across my toenails.

"The lizards got ya, did they?" the driver asked as he pulled a big brown bottle from his bag. "We'd better get this on your feet before the poison seeps through."

"Poison? What is that?" I asked as he began pouring liquid over my feet.

"It's an acid. It may sting a little, but it beats the alternative."

My toenail polish bubbled and disintegrated as I suffered the cure. The driver thrust the boots at me once again and I reluctantly pulled them up over my feet. We trudged across the lava until we reached cooler sandy beach. Then I pulled off the boots and examined my pedicure. The precious berry-colored polish had been massacred. I wiped a streak of mascara from my wet cheek and took a deep breath. Pretty painted toenails or not, I had a date with Johnny Depp and some shoes.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Don't-Steal-Stolen-Goods Conundrum

I drove down a back alley behind a used appliance store and saw warnings spray-painted on several old appliances: STOLEN- DO NOT TAKE.  It seemed like a riddle to me. I know I could have easily walked into the store and asked the store owner about the notes, but instead I spent my entire drive home thinking about it.

What puzzled me most is - what good are these appliances now that they've been ruined with spray paint? Is the store owner just going to trash them? Will they be returned to their owners damaged? We can assume their owners have been identified since they had to be reported stolen in the first place. The store owner obviously isn't going to sell them. Nobody is allowed to take and recycle them. The police don't seem to need them as evidence. I can't figure this out. Are the insurance companies going to collect them?

Or, most likely, are they just going to sit out back of this appliance store until someone ignores the warning and steals the stolen goods? I am oh so curious....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Adam Richman at Miami University

Adam Richman works the audience at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio

Adam Richman delivered his speech on "Why We Eat, What We Eat, Where We Eat and Why Culinary Anthropology Doesn't Suck" as though it were a stand-up comedy routine. His salty language was peppered with profanity. He did impressions of Dirty Harry, George W. Bush and Bobby Flay. He swaggered around the stage as though he were John Travolta and he told a few Jewish mother jokes. He also talked about food.

The "Man vs. Food" star grew up in Brooklyn, which he credits for giving him a taste for authentic ethnic foods. He showed slides of Brooklyn neighborhoods and restaurants. Polish food next to delis, Chinese food next to Italian pizzerias. He depicted Brooklyn as the melting pot of first generationers who brought their recipes and their culinary anthropology with them.

I found it interesting that Richman instructed us to seek out authentic local food when we travel. He encouraged us to do our homework and research what ethnic groups inhabit a city and that would lead us to knowing what specialties and fresh foods we'd find there. And yet, he didn't do his homework when he came to Cincinnati. He stood on stage and asked how many people in the audience were of Italian descent. A smattering of people raised their hands. "African?" A few. "German?" he asked, and about 80% of the hands in the room went up. Richman laughingly took a step back and said that he'd never been in a room with so many Germans before. "It makes me a little nervous since I'm a Jew."

He was funny. He delivered one-liners throughout his speech. My favorite was: "You can't have balls in skinny jeans, boys." The college guys laughed. Richman was a hit.

At the end of his slide show presentation he answered a few questions from the audience, such as where he had his favorite food challenge? Alaska, because everything he ate came from a 4-mile radius. And was there any place where the background story behind the food was especially interesting to him? Yes, Hawaii (because the pineapples, ham, and coconut we think of Hawaiian food isn't) and Cleveland (where he went to the west side market that still operates sporadically like it did when it relied on the ice supply to come in).

Richman never did bring up Cincinnati chili. I suppose he wasn't in town to eat, anyway. He was here to speak and entertain us. And boy, did he make us laugh!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


It’s always a horrible tragedy when someone young loses his life. It’s unsettling; like something is not right with the world. 

When my brother was eighteen, a boy he’d played baseball with died. Charlie Baumhower. He’d been drinking on campus and fell from an 11th story balcony and was impaled on a fence below. It shook all of us up. It’s bothered me for twenty-three years now. It doesn’t seem fair that one moment of stupidity could have such tragic consequences. He had so much life ahead of him.

I went to Charlie’s funeral, along with about a thousand other people. I saw Mr. and Mrs. Baumhower in the receiving line. Mrs. Baumhower seemed sedated. Still, I wondered how she could even stand up and not crumple into a sobbing mass. It made me nervous to inch closer to her in line and face such grief. I didn’t know what to say and so smiled and blurted out to her that I’d gotten married. She didn’t say anything in response. I don’t blame her. I’m not sure she even knew who I was, or connected me with Ryan in any way.  But I knew who she was. We’d been to their house for baseball celebration cookouts. I’d thought of them as a golden family with a beautiful house in West Chester. People who couldn’t be touched by tragedy.

I’ve thought about Charlie so often over the years. It was a tragedy that haunted me. He missed out on getting married, having kids, and everything else that the other boys his age, like Ryan, lived to enjoy. 

Then, when I was working the polls this past May, Mrs. Baumhower was suddenly checking in at my registration table. She stood right in front of me, looking old and ordinary. I felt like her tragedy showed in her posture, and it struck me as odd that all the people milling around had no idea what she’d been through; that she’d lost her son when he was only eighteen. I wanted to say something to her, to tell her I knew Charlie. But it seemed so inappropriate. I barely knew him, really. And didn’t have anything to say to her other than that he’d played baseball with Ryan and that I went to his funeral. I wanted to acknowledge that  I’d known him and let her know that Charlie was not forgotten. But the circumstances were too strange. Though I’m sure she’s gone on with her life and wouldn’t break down at the mention of his name, I wondered how it would affect her to suddenly be reminded of him in such an unlikely place: by a pollworker that she didn’t even know.

I let her leave the precinct without saying anything to her, but I still wish I had. I still wish I’d just made a simple statement to let her know that we still remember Charlie.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Night At The Neon

Neon Cinema - October 30, 2010

A few nights ago, I went to the Neon Cinema in Dayton, Ohio, where they were showing the zombie movie "Revelation" and a few other short independent local films. The prologue trailer for my brother's new film "The State" was in the line-up, as were a film shot down the street from me, a short comedy filmed in downtown Cincinnati, a short, brutal film shot at Wright Pat AFB, the trailer for a weird turtle movie, and a webisode that starred a guy I work with!

I was thrilled that the small cinema was nearly full. Everyone in the audience had some connection to one of the films. I recognized several moviegoers as actors on the screen. Some of the people in the theater were directors and writers. Others were involved in make-up and production. It was a roomful of enthusiastic supporters and we all cheered each other on for our attempts on the big screen. It was such a safe environment. It reminded me of my writing group; a safe place where we can all share our stories and ideas without fearing rejection. The same was true in that theater.

Some of the films were more polished than others, but what an appreciative audience! We were each studying the cinematography, the lighting, the acting, etc.. We all had a personal connection. We saw things we liked or might want to try in the future. We saw what worked and what didn't, and how we could apply new techniques in our own work. It was a wonderful collaboration of minds. So much creativity here in Cincinnati and Dayton!

The full line-up included:
"Bubbly"  - directed by Josh Flowers & e.E. Charlton-Trujillo
"The State" - Itzahobby Productions - Troy Berry, Jeremy Johnson and Ryan Wetz
"Turtle Heat" - produced by Zachary Shierloh
"Fallen (The Revolution)" webisode #7 - http://www.fallentheseries.com/
"Destroyer" - directed by Rocky Smith
"Intangible" - directed by Josh Flowers
"Revelation" and "The Making of Revelation" - directed by Will Graver

I loved it all. What a great evening. I hope I find more opportunities to experience local efforts like those on the big screen  that day.