Friday, December 31, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This is not our house, but our fireplace mantel looks as busy as this.

I've decided there are two types of people in this world: the ones who get excited on the day after Thanksgiving and pull out all the Christmas decorations, flip to the all-Christmas song radio station and start trimming the tree, and those who look forward to December 31st when the Christmas season (in our house, anyway) is officially over and all the Christmas decorations and disorder can be put back away. I think you can tell which group I fall into.

My husband loves Christmas. He loves everything about it. I almost have to police him so that we don't start Christmas before November. He loves the carols, the decorations, shopping, baking, and everything that goes with Christmas. My mother feeds into this mania and gives him all her old Christmas decorations. He puts EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM OUT. It looks like a yard sale exploded in our house.

I, on the other hand, start clenching my teeth and grumbling the minute I see the boxes of decorations come down from the attic. It's not that I don't like Christmas. I do. It's just that all the frenzy and chaos of it wears me out before the season has even begun. All of a sudden, every surface in our house is covered with as many decorations as will fit. Everyone I meet starts asking me whether I've gotten my shopping done, baked cookies, wrapped presents, sent out Christmas cards, etc., etc. Joyousness is forced down my throat and presents are piled so high that half of our family room is suddenly inaccessible. I look at it all and want to swipe my arm and knock everything into a gigantic garbage bag and call up the Grinch to take it away.

Whew! Got that off my chest.

Luckily, we are a superstitious lot in my house and believe that everything has to be put away by January 1st because it's bad luck to bring the old year in with the new. So on December 31st, I eagerly pack up all the red and green goodies, take down the tree, put away all the gifts, unclench my teeth and breathe because my house is finally back to normal for the next eleven months.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gardens of Water

Reflecting pool and gardens at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

My friend Kristan's blog asked readers to name their favorite books of 2010. That was hard. I read a lot of good books over the past year. I don't think I could name my favorite; choosing books isn't an apples to apples comparison. But if I had to pick the most impactful book that I read in 2010, it would be Gardens of Water by Alan Drew. I was so taken by the book that I was compelled to write to the author afterward and was thrilled when he wrote me back.

The story is about two families in the aftermath of the Marmara earthquake in Turkey. (Which he really experienced.) One family are Muslim Kurds, the other American missionaries. The father of the Turkish family, Sinan, wants nothing to do with the Americans. But the American wife saves his son in the earthquake and his daughter is smitten with the American son, and their lives can no longer remain separate.

I was appalled as I read about the overzealousness of the missionaries. It reminded me of things I experienced in Haiti and I told that to Alan. I wrote:

I was shocked by Marcus Bey's actions. And by his son's. But it immediately reminded me of when I was in Haiti. Some of the church members on my trip lured children to the church with the promise of new shoes. Now, we had tons of shoes, clothes, toys, etc. that we'd brought to give out to the children in the orphanages we were visiting, and the need all over Haiti was great. But these church ladies would only give the shoes to a certain little boy if he came to church. His mother was against it and didn't come, but they took him anyway and gave him new shoes -- once he nodded that he wanted to be saved and accepted Jesus Christ as his saviour. He didn't even understand what they were saying, but they moved forward with saving him anyway.

Alan responded that my experiences were unbelievable and yet, believable. He'd heard from many missionaries after his book came out. Some of their messages surprised him. Apparently his words touched the nerves of many readers.

So, I can't say that Gardens of Water was my favorite read of 2010, but it definitely stirred something in me. I'm still waiting for Alan Drew to write another book.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Waiting for Take-Off

Weather conditions caused a lot of flight delays this week. Snowstorms, security threats, flooding... I was glad I wasn't flying.

I thought I'd include a picture of a flight delay I experienced in Haiti. We sat in a tiny Tortuga Air plane on a gravel runway in northwest Haiti, waiting for people, donkeys, dogs and goats to move so that we could take-off.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Hot Sauce Waiver

A hot sauce store in Tarpon Springs, Florida

"Can I help you, Sir?"

"Yes. I'm trying to find the hottest hot sauce you have."

"The hottest? Are you sure? We have a selection of hot ones over here, but we keep the hottest ones under lock and key. If you want to taste one of those, you'll have to sign a waiver."

"I want the hottest. We're going to my aunt Trudy's for dinner and she's about the worst cook in the world."

The storekeeper laughs.

"No, seriously. The worst. Her food tastes so bad that it brings tears to your eyes. Anyone with any kind of gag reflex has trouble swallowing her food. And this time, she's prepared an entire feast to celebrate her 50th anniversary with my uncle Don."

The storekeeper looks puzzled. "So why do you want hot sauce?"

"Not just any hot sauce. The hottest you have. I want to burn my tongue so bad that my taste buds are singed. I don't want to be able to taste Aunt Trudy's food at all. Not at ALL. I don't even want to know it's on my tongue. Got it?"

The shopkeeper nods. "Got it. You need the Devil's Apocalypse. I'll get the waiver."

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Smell of Saturday Mornings

Olfactory memories are some of our most emotionally-powered memories, perhaps because the sense of smell is connected to the part of the brain associated with emotion. As I was walking through my neighborhood recently, I was suddenly besieged by a whiff of smell and a sound that immediately transported me back to childhood. Suddenly I was reliving Saturday mornings watching cartoons as my dad remodeled our house. What triggered the memory? The sound of an electric saw coupled with the smell of sawdust.

My dad spent years remodeling first one house and then another. He worked full-time as an engineer, but came home and built our houses during evenings and weekends. We lived in constant construction. The houses were beautiful, but it was a strange way to grow up. There were days when we only had sheets of plastic for walls, or had to climb a ladder to get to the second floor, or ate at a dining room table that had a thin layer of plaster dust no matter how many times my mother wiped it off.

Selfishly, my brother and I did little to help with the remodeling. I don't know that it occurred to us to help since we were always living amid construction. It was the backdrop of our lives. There were times when we'd be called to hold up a wall frame, or nail down floor boards, or help mix cement. But for the most part, we considered this our dad's hobby. He enjoyed designing and building his dream homes. And we were kids being kids -- living under construction.

Now, forevermore, when I smell sawdust or hear the sharp whining bite of an electrical saw, I feel like it's Saturday morning all over again. My dad is in the basement, or in the newly built family room or bedroom, cutting wood for that day's project and creating fresh sawdust. It's a heady scent; comforting. It is the smell of my childhood.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Travel Brochure

You have a messy house, a few dollars left in your pocket, and desperately need some rest and relaxation. It doesn't matter where these beach chairs are, does it?

Drive directly to the airport. Pack a light suitcase full of swimsuits, sundresses and shorts, and a strong pair of sunglasses. Get on a plane. A fruity cocktail with an umbrella will be waiting under the palm umbrella when you arrive. Dolphins are already playfully leaping in the turquoise water, just waiting for you. The shining sun will kiss every inch of your skin.

Paradise is just a plane ride away.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Evergreen Trees

This is a fir tree.

Is your Christmas tree a pine, spruce, or fir, and how can you tell?

Pine trees are distinctive because they have many needles coming from the same follicle.   Firs and spruce have individual needles growing off the branch.  So if the needles are separately growing from the branch, your tree is NOT a pine. 

Now, take a needle and roll it between your fingertips.  If it is round and rolls easily, your tree is a spruce.  But if the needle is slightly flat, the tree is a fir tree.  Fir tree needles often have two bands of color on the underside as well.  

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Deuces Wild

After submitting a sample restaurant review to the newspaper where I’d recently begun writing book reviews, the editor assigned me a job. I would be a restaurant reviewer. My first assignment was a place called Deuces Wild -- a Harley bar. I was scared to death. Not because I was afraid to go there or afraid of what I might encounter, but because I’d never done a restaurant review before, and I knew nothing about Harleys. I felt like I was in over my head.
There was no one to tell me what to do. I studied the restaurant reviews of other newspapers and got the flavor for what information should be included and how a review should be structured. But I didn’t know that restaurant reviews were supposed to be anonymous. I walked in and told the hostess right away that I was there to write a review for the paper and asked to speak to the manager. He came to the table and actually sat down with me and my family. He told me all about the place and his vision for its future. He enthusiastically told me what was so alluring about riding Harleys. And he ordered us the best steaks and quesadillas we had over my entire 3-year stint of reviewing restaurants.
My editor loved the review. He didn’t change a word and it became my modus operandi to interview the managers or wait staff at every restaurant I reviewed. Sometimes I did so before we ordered. More often I did it after we ate.  I liked being able to include the story behind the restaurant or specific dishes. It differentiated me from the pack and established me as a restaurant reviewer – not a food critic. Those are really two different things.
Writing restaurant and book reviews for the newspaper led to other assignments. I’d established my voice and my professionalism. I found my niche in interviewing people.  I later reviewed festivals, stage events, and wrote human interest features. I began interviewing people for magazines, too. What had started with a pitch to the newspaper and an assignment way out of my comfort zone became my first taste of journalistic success. And it was sweet!

(This article first appeared in Writers Weekly, 12-15-10)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Nutcracker

This lion nutcracker was at the entrance to the Cincinnati Zoo's
Festival of Lights.

Last night we went to see the Cincinnati Ballet's performance of "The Nutcracker." I sat there near tears feeling so incredibly fortunate to be able to enjoy the artistry of those highly-skilled ballet dancers along with the music of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The sets were beautiful. The dancing was exquisite, and I felt chills race down my spine as I listened to Tchaikovsky. I am a very lucky woman.

As we left, we were pushed along with the crowd hurrying to our cars in the 20-degree cold. We passed a homeless woman and I wanted to stop and dig through my purse to give her something, but was swept up with the swarm of people moving briskly down the sidewalk. I wanted to give the woman what I'd been given that evening: a chance to dress up and go out for a wonderful dinner at a nice restaurant, expensive tickets to a metropolitan ballet, rich chocolate truffles and the magic of "The Nutcracker." In truth, I would have only given her a few dollars. Nothing compared to the riches I'd enjoyed last night. But I wish I had stopped and shared something.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Parque Nacional Volcan Masaya

Back in 1998 when the mission group I was with turned into the entrance of Nicaragua's first national park, I had to pinch myself. It seemed unreal. There before us was something straight out of a macabre folk tale: a volcano with an enormous wooden cross erected at the top.

We climbed 186 steps, gazing toward the heavens as we focused on the cross. The volcano spewed small puffs of smoke as we hiked, and we marveled that anyone could carry the materials up this steep incline to build the structure we were climbing to see.

Once we reached the top we stood on the platform beneath the cross and peered down into the mouth of the volcano, the Boca del Infierno or "Mouth of Hell." We couldn't see much. The volcano was smoking. It was still an active volcano, but had only erupted 19 times in the past 480 years. I hoped that day wouldn't be the twentieth.

What was especially incredible to ponder was the volcano's use. The Spaniards had erected the cross in the 16th century and came to the volcano to sacrifice children and maidens in attempts to appease the gods and exorcise the devil. It was too unbelievable for me to conceive. Yet there I stood, looking down into a volcano that had swallowed innocent lives. It wasn't the first time that week that the harsh realities of Nicaragua astounded me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nativity Displays

It's been too cold, too snowy, and too treacherous to venture out and see any live nativities this Christmas season. But my family and I did get a chance to wander through the special exhibit of nativities at the Dayton Art Institute. Each display case represented a different country and different materials used. I don't remember the countries of the ones I show here (sorry!), but of the two below, the one on top uses shell, and the one on the bottom is carved from cow horns.

Monday, December 20, 2010

5 Tips For Kitten-Proofing

1.   First of all, take off whatever you’re wearing and put on your oldest, rattiest shirt because that kitten’s little claws are about to snag up everything you own. And don’t wear any clothes that have loose threads! Threads, yarn—potato, potahto. Kittens don’t care what you dangle in front of them.

2.   How much do you love those delicate china and porcelain knick knacks sitting on the same shelf that you know your kitten will have to balance himself on and walk across? Best to just wrap those valuables in bubble wrap and put them on a shelf in a closet with a door that closes firmly.

3.   Will you wake up in the middle of the night if you hear a marble, bottlecap, paperwad or game piece scuttling across the hardwood floors? Then pick them up. Nighttime is playtime for kittens.

4.   Do you see any 2-inch gaps between pieces of furniture, or underneath shelves, entertainment centers, or sofas? That’s all the room a kitten needs to squeeze into the space. So figure out now how you’re going to get him back out, because he will cry and cry until you do.

5.   Last but not least, start building up your tolerance to ticklishness. That kitten is sure to climb up your chest and purr into your ear. Flinching and trying to pull him off of your shoulder won’t work. His little claws will be tangled up in your shirt and this is all just a fun game to him anyway. And having fun makes him purr harder.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ohio Bicentennial Barns

In 2003, Ohio celebrated its bicentennial in a big way. Artists were commissioned to paint the sides of barns with the bicentennial logo. It became a cultural phenomenon, with nearly 2,000 Ohio barn owners volunteering their barns for painting. One artist, Scott Hagan, painted the logo on at least one barn in every county in Ohio. It took him five years to paint one in each of Ohio's 88 counties, but he finished in 2002 and the barns were ready to go for the Bicentennial celebration.

I enjoyed looking at all the barns as we drove the highways and back roads of Ohio. Many of them are still being retouched and repainted today. But back in 2003 I noticed one barn that seemed to be flawed. Instead of celebrating Ohio's 200th year of statehood, this barn (seen from a distance off the highway) seemed to be missing 100 years.

Curiosity got the better of me. I had to see this up close and see whether they'd really put 1803-2003 and then miscalculated how many years that was. After all, this blunder was painted on the side of a barn! So we pulled off the highway and drove closer. Then I saw that this one said 1903 which didn't make any sense. Ohio became a state in 1803. This was the bicentennial after all.

I shouldn't admit this, but it took me a long time to figure out that this barn was commemorating 100 years of flight in Ohio instead of Ohio's statehood. But I can't help thinking that choosing to commemorate that with the same approach as celebrating the bicentennial was a stupid way to go. Why not create a new logo? Something with planes, or flight? Why use the same color scheme and license plate imaging that the bicentennial was already using? If they do this again (and I'm still alive) for the tricentennial, I'll catch on a little quicker. But I'm still not going to like it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

All Those Lights

Pyramid Hill's Holiday Lights
Hamilton, Ohio

Some people have Christmas traditions like going to see "The Nutcracker" every year, or ice skating outdoors, or visiting Santa at the mall. Our family tradition dates back to when my son was little and we lived in Florida. My grandmother always picked a December night and invited us to drive around to look at Christmas lights.

It was a somewhat strange tradition in Florida, since it was often balmy and there was never any snow while we listened to Johnny Mathis dream about white Christmases. But we enjoyed the tradition anyway. Eventually my son and I moved back to Ohio. My grandmother moved back a few years later and we continued the tradition, later including my new husband and daughter in the festivities. We started looking at not just lit-up houses, but Christmas light displays that we paid to drive through, too. My grandmother loved those.

We could count on her to make the same remarks every year as we drove through hundreds of thousands of lights on display. In fact, we could recite her lines before we even picked her up:

        "Oh! Look at all those lights! I wouldn't want to be the one who had to put up all those lights!"

        "Someone sure had a lot of work to do, putting up all those lights."

        "Where do you suppose they store all those lights?"

        "I'd hate to be the one who had to check all those lights if one of the bulbs burned out."

She'd repeat these lines several times as we drove around looking at light displays. We'd all ooh and ahh over our favorite decorations and listen to Christmas music as we toured neighborhoods for hours. It's become an annual tradition and we look forward to picking my grandmother up and hearing her say her lines year after year.

But last year she didn't say them. The dementia had made her more quiet than usual, and the work and sweat that went into creating these elaborate light displays didn't even enter her mind. She still enjoyed looking at them, but we were all disappointed somehow. Looking at lights just wasn't the same without her annual exclamations.

So last night we ventured out and didn't expect much, though we all hoped we'd hear her usual lines. We recited them to ourselves before we picked her up and headed out. There weren't many houses decorated on the way to Pyramid Hill's Holiday Lights. I guess it's a sign of the economic times, or it's just been too cold and snowy for people to put them up. But as soon as we turned into the drive for Pyramid Hill, we heard my grandmother draw in her breath and gasp with delight. "Look at all these lights! How long do you think it took someone to put all those up?"

And just like that, it was Christmas again.

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Jobs

I have never worked as the target for people throwing tomatos, but would
consider doing this for a shift or two. Or any other job at the Renaissance Festival.

I’m about to start a new job – again. I’m excited, nervous, energized, and curious. I love starting new jobs and have done it frequently -- very, very frequently – over the course of my adult life. Many of my family members have laughed at my relentless pursuit of odd jobs. My stepfather used to laugh because I have several resumes, all highlighting different skills and past experiences, and I’ve never been afraid to sell myself on abilities that I’m sure I could possess.
Other family members have looked at my varied job history as one of my shortcomings, as though I have some personality disorder that makes me unable to hold a job. I’ve been the butt of many family jokes. It hasn’t been uncommon for me to hear “Where are you working now?” as the first question at a family reunion. A more grown-up version of, “What grade are you in?” That’s okay. I’m always very excited to tell them.
I’ve never understood how people can stay at the same job for 10, 20, or 30 years. (So I guess my relatives and I are even.) The idea of that scares and depresses me. To think that you could spend such a large chunk of your life doing the same thing boggles my mind. I’m in pursuit of doing as many things as possible in my allotted number of years. In fact, when I was hired at my current company five years ago, someone said, “You’ll be there until you retire!” and my heart stopped. Oh no, I wouldn’t! Since then, I’ve changed positions at the company three times. Each position is a lateral move, and is completely and utterly different. I love it.
Over the years I’ve held dozens of jobs. In fact, when I was 22, I had twelve different jobs over the course of the year. I didn’t realize it until I got all my W-2’s. The following year, I got thirteen! Most of those were menial jobs, or things I just wanted to try to see what they were like.
I’ve worked as a waitress, a zoo cashier, a door-to-door perfume saleswoman, a bank teller, an ice cream truck driver, and a UPS truck loader. I’ve worked two or three jobs at a time, switching them around as soon as new opportunities came along. That’s how I ended up being a hotel auditor, a domestic violence counselor, a restaurant reviewer, a daycare worker, a cocktail waitress, a fundraiser, a department store gift wrapper, a Hallmark card stock girl, a veterinary assistant, a file clerk, a trivia writer, a games attendant at an amusement park, a factory worker, a nurse's aide, and an administrative assistant.
Looking at Help Wanted ads practically makes me drool. I can’t help it. All those opportunities to experience new things and step into someone else’s shoes!  Because at the core of it, that’s what I’m trying to do: see what it’s like to… be a person who sells perfume door-to-door, or see what it’s like to wrap presents professionally, or serve drinks in a bar, etc., etc..
And why do I want to know what it’s like to do all those things? Because I’m a writer. Because I need inspiration and insight, and need to experience what it’s like to be, see, and do all these different things, whether I end up writing about them or not. If that amuses some of my relatives, so be it. But those closest to me understand that starting new jobs is something I’m compelled to do and is something that makes me happy. And right now, I’m pretty darned happy that I’m about to begin another exciting role!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reading Tea Leaves

Boston Harbor

Today is December 16th -  the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

I wasn't there, but I'd like to think that when the Sons of Liberty threw all that tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773, they leaned over the rail of the ship and read the tea leaves. If they had, they could have deciphered the images they saw with this compilation of symbols and meanings I've pulled from various websites:

ACORN - at the top means success and gain: At the bottom means good health ANCHOR - clouded, inconstancy AXE – difficulties BABY - something new, pregnancy  BAGPIPES- Disappointment BEANS- Poverty BED- Inertia  BEE -Social success BELL - unexpected news  BIRDS - ascension, good news, BOAT – lifepath BOOK - you will find your answer by something written BUTTERFLY – transformation  CANDLE - sacred light CAT - deceit, a false friend CHAIR - a guest CIRCLE - success, completion CLOCK - better health CLOVER – Prosperity  COAT – End of a friendship COFFEEPOT- Slight illness  COFFIN - Bad news COIN - Repayment of debts CROSS - protection, sacrifice CROWN – Honor CRUTCHES - Help from a friend CUP - Rewarded effort CURTAIN - A secret DAGGER - danger from self or others DOG – friend DOOR - opening (to something new) or closing (old issues and relations) DUCK - money coming, a man named Bill EGG - good omen ELEPHANT - wisdom, strength, luck ENVELOPE - message coming, EYE - open (awakening) - closed (something not seen) FENCE- minor setbacks FISH – Christ FLAG - denotes nationality FLOWER – Wish coming true FLY - domestic annoyance FORK - speak with false tongue FRUIT - prosperity GOAT - be careful of enemies GRAPES – happiness GRASSHOPPER - News of a much travelled friend GUITAR - Happiness in love HAMMER - hard work HAT - head, consciousness HAWK - jealousy HEART - love, trust HORSE - if galloping means good news HORSESHOE - good luck, HOURGLASS - time running out, need to decide something HOUSE – security ICEBERG – danger  KANGAROO - harmony at home KITE - wishes coming true KNIFE - hidden enemy  LADDER - promotion LEAF- Prosperity, good fortune LEOPARD - News of a journey LETTER- News  LIGHTHOUSE - Trouble threatening, but averted LOOP - avoid impulsive actions MASK - something hidden MERMAID -  Temptation, an offer that is not what it seems MONKEY –A mischief-maker MONSTER – Terror MOUNTAIN - obstacles NAIL - injustice, unfairness NECKLACE - if broken means danger of losing a lover OCTOPUS - danger, 8 OSTRICH - not seeking a truth OWL - gossip, scandal PALM TREE - success PARROT - A scandal PEACOCK - With tail spread - riches, land PENTAGON - Intellectual balance PIG - Material success brings emotional problems PIGEON - important news PURSE - at top means profit; at bottom means lose QUESTION MARK - need for caution RABBIT - need for bravery RAKE - watch details RAVEN - bad news RING - coming full circle ROCKS – Difficulties ROSE – Popularity SCALE - legal issues SCISSORS - quarrels, possibly separation SHEEP - good fortune SHELL - good news SHOE - sole/soul SNAKE - an enemy SUN - happiness, success, power SWORD - arguments TABLE - social gatherings TENT - travel, hidden truth  THIMBLE - changes at home TORTOISE – criticism TREE - your life path UNICORN  - A secret wedding TRIANGLE - something unexpected, 3 in a relationship URN - wealth and happiness VASE - a friend needs help VOLCANO - harmful emotions WASP - romantic problems WINGS – messages WORMS – scandal WREATH - Happiness ahead WOLF - jealousy  

So perhaps as the tea leaves swirled in the sepia-stained water, they spotted a knife, a nail, a dagger, and (if they were especially perceptive and anticipated Paul Revere's later warning) an envelope. Or maybe they just saw a lot of caffeinated fish.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The women at the shelter
are snowbound, trapped
inside too many shared walls with too few cigarettes
to sustain them. Tempers burn hotter
than the constant furnace and more than one
woman sneaks off to call her abuser
and beg him to take her back. Anyplace
would be better, she says, than being trapped
in this shelter, with all its rules. She forgets
that there are rules at home, too,
and just as much snow.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mac's Generous Nature

Dollar bills stapled to the ceiling of Rosie's restaurant in Slade, KY

I was recently talking to a friend about how generous my son, Mac, is. He is getting ready to donate bone marrow; something I don't think I could do, but am not surprised at all that Mac is generously willing to do this for a stranger. Mac is generous by nature. Always has been.

I started thinking about the first time I really realized this. I think I'd taken it for granted until I took him to work with me when he was about seven years old. It was Bring Your Child To Work Day. I was working in a medical insurance office inside a six-storied office building. On the first floor there was a cafeteria, convenience store, dry cleaners, and ATM. You get the picture.

I'd actually taken Mac to work with me several other times at previous jobs. He knew his way around an office and office machinery, so on this particular day, I volunteered his services to anyone who needed help. He made copies, sorted office supplies, ran envelopes through the stamp machine, etc.. Then my friend Joan gave him a project to do. I think it involved looking through pages of printouts, highlighting something or other. He happily did the task and offered to do more.

Joan (who also has a generous heart) paid Mac $2 for helping her. She told him he'd earned a break and suggested he go down to the convenience store and get a treat. He took the elevator downstairs and she expected to see him back up in a few minutes with candy and junk food in hand. But when he got off the elevator, he was gingerly carrying a cup of hot coffee. For me.

Joan was so impressed with what a wonderful, thoughtful child he was to spend his money on his mother instead of buying something for himself. She couldn't get over it. I was touched at his sweetness and generosity, too, and a little surprised to see him with coffee since I had already gone into the break room and refilled my coffee cup several times that day. (We always had a pot going (for free).) But Mac used his money to buy me a coffee. I know it made him feel good to have $2 in his hand and be able to do something for his mom. He's always been like that. Still is. I could describe a thousand similar circumstances that demonstrate his generosity, but that one always sticks out in my mind.

Monday, December 13, 2010

He Said, She Said

Brusselsprout stalks we saw at Trader Joe's market
where we bought gingerbread coffee.

WIFE: Those are pretty. I'm going to get a picture of them for my blog.

HUSBAND: They're brusselsprouts.

(Minutes later in the car.)

WIFE: I like that picture I took, but I don't know what I could write about brusselsprouts.

HUSBAND: You're welcome I pointed them out to you.

WIFE: No, you didn't. I said they were pretty and that I wanted to take a picture.

HUSBAND: But I told you they were brusselsprouts. I was already looking at them.

WIFE: No, you weren't. I said they were pretty and pointed at them and then you said they were brusselsprouts.

HUSBAND: I was already looking at them.

WIFE: Like it matters who saw them first.

HUSBAND (allegedly says this): I'm going to go home and make some of that gingerbread coffee.

WIFE: Bake some coffee?

HUSBAND: I said 'make.'

WIFE: Oh, I thought you said 'bake.'

HUSBAND: Why would I say 'bake?' I said 'make.'

WIFE: I thought you were being clever because it's gingerbread coffee.

HUSBAND (shaking his head and sighing loudly): Ohhhh, I love you.

WIFE: This is what I'm going to write for my blog. I'm going to write about this stupid conversation.

HUSBAND (laughs). WIFE (laughs last).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shimmering Madness

One piece of art in particular caught my attention at Ohio’s Dayton Art Institute. It is a brightly-colored, contemporary jellybean and butterfly masterpiece titled “Shimmering Madness” by artist Sandy Skoglund.  It is found inside Experiencenter, the one-room children’s experiential space in the museum.
I couldn’t stop looking at the details. The two action figures in the center are covered with jellybeans. So is the floor. Thousands of jellybeans. The figurines are in motion, and oddly, their heads face backwards. When the artist was asked why she did that, she answered simply, "Why not?"

Behind the figures are two black walls with hand-painted multi-colored, multi-specied butterflies controlled by invisible tubing and electronics so that every once in a while, some of the butterfly wings start to flutter. The “shimmering” in the madness.
I could have stared at this piece for hours. It was whimsical and fun; a perfect way to introduce children to art. It was simply joyous.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Screams In The Night

This is the back of a tattoo parlor near the University of Cincinnati

Brad and Dylan left the bar around midnight, each carrying a six pack back to Dylan's apartment. They flopped onto Dylan's torn fake-leather chairs and turned on the TV to play Halo.

"Hey man, give me a beer and put the rest in the fridge," Dylan said as he wandered past pizza boxes, dirty underwear and textbooks on the floor on his way to the bathroom.

Brad carried the beer a few steps into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. There were a few Taco Bell hot sauce packets, but no food. He put the beers in the fridge and called down the hallway to Brad.

"Ah, Dude. You don't have anything to eat. I'm starvin!"

A sudden scream pierced the air.

"What the -- ? Was that you?" Brad yelled down the hall. He started toward the bathroom, then stopped and looked around the apartment. The toilet flushed and Dylan appeared, zipping his jeans.

"Did you just scream?" Brad asked.

Dylan shook his head. "Nah. Some loser downstairs."

Dylan lead Brad back over to the recliners and reached for his remote. He turned up the volume on the TV just as another scream wafted through the apartment. He turned the volume higher. Brad looked at Dylan and then jumped up to look out the window.

"Should we call the cops or something?"

Dylan started the game. "Nah. It's just some guy downstairs getting a tattoo."

Brad absorbed this information and took a long swig of his beer. "You have to listen to this all the time?"

Dylan nodded. "All the time. Just wait til 2:30 when the bars close and a bunch of dumbasses think they want to get a tattoo. They start cryin' and screamin'. Or laughin'. It gets pretty loud. It's usually a bunch of 'em, drunk off their asses."

"Dude, I'd move."

"Nah. The owner and I made a deal. Every morning I stop by and pick out a tattoo. Then if he gets anyone in there who says 'I don't know' or I don't care, give me anything' when he asks them what kind of tattoo they want, he gives them whichever tattoo I picked out that morning. It's my reward for listening to them whine and scream all night."

Brad downed his beer and picked up his remote as another scream rose from the shop below. "So, what'd you pick today?"

"A rainbow Care Bear, man. Give 'em something to really scream about."

Friday, December 10, 2010

My First Day Driving An Ice Cream Truck

The Ice Cream Man, circa 1987

Back in 1987, I drove an ice cream truck in southern California. People usually chuckle when they hear that, but then when I tell them about my first day on the job, their mouths either drop open in disbelief, or they just don't believe me, period.

I don't know whether ice cream trucks operate the same ways these days, but back then, we went to the truck yard in the morning and had to buy all of our ice cream from the company. We'd load our truck freezers and head out. We set our own prices and drove until we made our money back, since we were responsible for buying all the ice cream. On good days you'd make a reasonable profit.

On my first day I arrived at the truck, a preppy, college bound teen-aged girl in a mini skirt and crop top. I probably even had a ponytail. The owner/dispatcher sent me out with a woman named Marty. She was supposed to show me the ropes. Not sure what ropes those were. We left the truck yard and drove straight to the prison where she went to visit her sister while I waited out in the parking lot unsure of what I should do if someone actually came up and asked me for ice cream.

After the prison visit we drove through a very dicey neighborhood where, to my surprise, some thuggish-looking teenagers hailed us to the curb for ice cream. Marty pulled over and did hand them some ice cream-- and some money as they slipped a baggie full of something to her. I pretended not to notice. I was naively encouraged that at least we'd turned on the tinkling jingle music while we got ice cream out of the freezer. I innocently hoped that I was about to get a little bit of training for my new job.

Instead, we drove to Marty's apartment. She gave me the once-over and didn't invite me in. She was inside for a long time. I can vaguely imagine what she was doing. I sold two pieces of ice cream while she was in there. I was having serious doubts about the job.

When Marty finally returned to the truck, imagine my surprise when we went to another bad neighborhood and made another bogus transaction that involved ice cream, money and drugs. I was afraid we were headed back to Marty's apartment again, but she called it a day and took me back to the truck yard. She told the boss that I'd done fine and was good to go. Thank God he took her word for it and gave me my own truck the next day. I was scared to spend another day with Marty. Instead, I figured things out for myself and found good neighborhoods full of kids. Though over the course of my stint as an ice cream truck driver, I did occasionally have people approach the truck looking for drugs.

A few years later when I started doing some freelance writing, I tried to sell my story to a few newspapers, but no one would believe me. The newspapers all but called me a liar. One newspaper in Florida seemed interested but decided that the story was only relevant to California ice cream trucks and said that things didn't operate that way in Miami. Now my jaw dropped with disbelief. I thought I was naive!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

100th Blog Post

I absolutely love this statue. Believe it or not, it's actually on top of a tombstone
at Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati, Ohio.
This is my 100th blog post! I want to take a moment to reflect on how writing this blog has affected me.

When I first created the blog, I worried that posting every day would be unrealistic. And I still worry that there will come a day when I'm all tapped out and unmotivated to write anymore. I thought that day would have already come, but instead I find myself writing more. I write little blurbs, thoughts, and short fiction that I wouldn't have before. As a freelance magazine and newspaper writer, I usually only wrote what I thought I could sell. Now I feel free to write whatever I want without worrying whether there's a market for it. This has been very liberating.

I also find that more than ever I've become an experience junkie. I've always liked trying new things, going to odd places, visiting events, listening to lectures, etc.. Now I do it even more. Now I'm always on the lookout for new inspiration. I love it! In the past I'd often see free concerts or lectures or events and think that it might be fun to go. Then on the day of the event I'd lose my momentum to get up and go. Not anymore. Now I've driven miles and miles to wait in line for over an hour on the off chance I'd get in to hear Leigh Anne Tuohy or Adam Richman speak. I probably would have stayed home before. But now I feel compelled to go see if they spark an idea in me. I am busier than ever.

My perspective has changed. I see the world around me in a different light. I am constantly on the lookout for pictures to snap and topics to write about. I carry a camera with me wherever I go. There are potential snapshots everywhere!

I have stopped myself from invading people's privacy and taking pictures of them just because I thought the pictures might spur me to write a blog post. For instance, one day I saw a burly-looking man sitting in the library knitting a pastel blue, pink, lavender and yellow blanket. He had a whole knitting bag with him and was pretty far along with his creation. I was dying to take his picture. I even scoped out various angles I could take it from and how I might surreptitiously take his picture. I debated walking up to him and asking him if I could take his picture. I spent 10 minutes just prancing around him deciding whether or not I was crossing a line. Wisely, I left him alone and now find myself writing about a picture I didn't even take. See - this blog has brought out the habitual storyhound in me!

This blog has been incredibly fun. It's changed my perspective and many of my writing habits. It's increased my sense of adventure and has taken me out of the house and off on adventures. I see potential all around me. I look forward to thinking up a new topic to write about, or creating a little fiction to go with a picture. I don't worry anymore about writing what I could sell. I'm finally writing exactly what I want.

100 blog posts and still going strong.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Voodoo Offering

One small section of a voodoo temple in New Orleans

On bad days at work (which have become too frequent) I think I'd like to revisit this voodoo temple in New Orleans and make an offering. Now, before anyone thinks I'm trying to shrink my boss' head or stick pins in places that would make her uncomfortable, voodoo wishes can be for other things, too. Like health, prosperity, love, or luck. People leave folded up dollar bills, cigarettes, gold tokens, and other small offerings in the temple. It's fun to look around and search for them tucked away in odd places. But I'll be honest: a voodoo doll and pins sounds pretty good right now. Call me old-fashioned.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pemaquid Point

Perched atop Pemaquid Point
while angry waves pummel splintering rocks,
I am the heroine in a gothic
Jane Eyre-like tale.
I stand balanced on a cliff,
enveloped in semi-permanent fog,
listening to the rushing crash of the water.

I imagine myself as a governess
in a drab brown dress
spurned by a cruel lover;
wistfully contemplating suicide.
Or an almost-widow
peering out into the black-shrouded sea,
wondering whether her missing sailor
will spy her in the momentary spotlight
of the towering lighthouse.

Pemaquid Point calls into the darkness
jutting into the Atlantic at her own peril,
flashing her white light every six seconds
to seamen who speak her language.

But at night, the Point is mine alone
as I creep in shadow past the unwelcoming gate
and stand on the edge of a bittersweet love story
bound to end in ruins
on jagged rocks
piercing hollering waves
that prompt gothic heroines to jump.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Larry the NASA Guy

Rockets and Sputnik on display at
Wright Patterson Air Force Base Museum
Dayton, Ohio

Have you ever watched the NASA Channel on TV? No? We did. We turned to that channel and happened to catch a woman walking into a formal reception. It was like home movies on TV. We watched her sign in. There were several military officers standing around. People were milling and mingling. It was as though a video camera were candidly recording an event. Then they all walked outside into the bitter cold. A few of the men wore Russian hats. The dignitaries stood in a line and dozens of camera flashes went off as they stood still, their breath steaming in the chilly nighttime air. After the picture-taking they boarded a bus with what looked like Russian letters on the side.

Then the cameras took us to a NASA control room. Again, nothing but still shots, really, though this was video footage. After that, the programming switched to a woman telling us about carbon-based organisms and a discovery they'd made in a California lake that arsenic was turning to phosphorous, or something like that. It was an exciting discovery about arsenic and how it relates to determining life on a planet. Then they showed the DNA double-helix. And then...

A Larry the Cable Guy commercial came on. Larry stepped out of a NASA mobile RV and said that he learned everything he knew by watching the NASA Channel. "Git 'er done! Watch the NASA Channel."

Then the broadcast turned to another professorial-looking woman talking about arsenic and phosphorous again. My husband and I, now afraid that we'd just been lumped in with Larry the Cable Guy, turned the channel.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Harping On A List

Cinnamon Peppo plays the harp
First United Methodist Church, Middletown, Ohio

As I listened to Cinnamon Peppo perform a Christmas concert on the harp, I debated whether I should add learning to play the harp to my Bucket List. I have always loved the harp. It sounds absolutely beautiful; like music from heaven. I've always thought it would be neat to play one. As I listened to Cinnamon play, I thought: this is it. This is my one lifetime, so if I'm going to learn to play, then I need to learn to play.

I watched her fingers pluck and strum the strings. I'd never noticed how many strings there were before. Or how her two hands were playing two entirely different sets of music. I sat and watched her and wondered whether she also plays piano, because it made me think of piano music and learning to play one line of music with your right hand and chords and other music with your left. Not just play them but look at two sets of music on the page at the same time. This would be difficult.

Then Cinnamon said she was going to play something particularly difficult from "The Nutcracker" because it involved a lot of footwork on the seven pedals. Seven pedals plus two lines of music and two hands doing two entirely different things. Hhhm. Should I or shouldn't I put this on my Bucket List?

When she finished playing she answered a few questions from the audience. We learned that her fingers used to get calloused and blistered, but not so much anymore. And we learned that harps cost between $13,000-$30,000. Whoa. This wouldn't just be tinkering around with a guitar. This would be a major commitment. But I do love the sound of a harp.

Maybe my Bucket List could be earning enough money to hire a harpist to play background music in my mansion all the time. Possibly, possibly. Or maybe I'd move "learning to play the harp" from my Bucket List to "getting a CD of harp music" to my Christmas List. That's probably the only way I'll get to hear one.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Middle Finger

Sarah Palin was in the greater Cincinnati area today doing a book signing at a local Kroger grocery store. I saw the full-page ad in the newspaper earlier this week along with all the stipulations for attending the event. Here are a few of the rules:
·         Autograph seekers could not line up before 10pm the night before.
·         Tents were not allowed.
·         Fans had to have purchased her book from Kroger’s and needed to bring the book and receipt to line up.
·         Wrist bands would be handed out at 6am for the first 500 people in line.
I am not a Sarah Palin fan, but thought I might get up a little early and see what the scene was like. I live in a very Republican county and saw enough of the madness at the last Presidential primaries to know that Palin fans could be ruthless. So I set my alarm and went to sleep.
But when the alarm went off, I hit snooze. It just wasn’t worth it to get up early and go out into the 20-degree cold to see a bunch of crazy fans. I had no doubt that people camped out there all night long for a chance to see Palin. I imagined  traffic jams and a mobbed line stretching throughout the entire parking lot. I doubted I could even get that close to Kroger’s to see what the scene was like. This could be Sarah’s middle finger to all the “Haters”.
Except that it wasn’t. All the local news channels were covering the story on the morning news. They showed the line of people bundled up in coats, hats and blankets in the cold. As they were interviewed, you could see their breath in the chilly air. One woman brought her 3-year-old because it “meant so much to her (the 3-year-old).”  If you say so, Lady.
As promised, they started handing out wrist bands at 6am. The first 100 people got to go inside at this point to wait for the 11am signing. Others sat in their cars. Maybe some went home. But the big surprise was that all 500 wrist bands hand not yet been given out. At 6am, there were still spots left if you hurried to Kroger’s.
I went about my morning routine and turned the news on again at 9am. There were still a hundred wrist bands left. Yikes! How embarrassing. Sarah Palin was coming to Cincinnati to sit inside a Kroger grocery store and sign her books, but not even 500 people were interested. At this point the news stations were urging people to go.  Maybe she should have joined forces with the Old Spice Guy yesterday. His line was REALLY long.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

As you can see, everyone had their cameras out.

Hello, ladies. I just saw the Old Spice guy. Look at him. Now look back at this blog. He was on stage during a Marketing awards ceremony where Old Spice won for Best Digital Brand. Look at him. Now look back down here. Where are you? You’re in a crowd of women with their iPhones and cameras out, snapping his picture. They’re all admiring his pecs and debating whether he looks better in his white-pants horse-riding outfit, or just a towel. Bottom line, he looks even better in person than in the ads. He’s on the stage.
As you can imagine, we were all thrilled when Isaiah Mustafa walked out on stage. He spoke his now-famous lines and then the Old Spice commercial played along with a few spoofs like the Elmo / Sesame Street spoof. Then Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble asked him a few questions. Mustafa stood in character, with his hands on his hips and his chest puffed up and he answered with the same sultry manly man nonsense that he uses in commercials.
I have no idea what he said. Something about the Amazon River, or rafting, or fighting. I don’t know. His answers were totally off-question. Just “manly man” answers. We were all laughing and scrambling to get pictures of him as he posed on stage. Little did we know that after the awards ceremony he would be available for autographs and, if you were patient, you could have your picture taken with the “man your man could smell like.”  Sadly, I had too much of a cold to smell him.  (But I know he doesn’t smell as good as my man, anyway.)
The line was incredibly long. Hundreds of women were waiting to have their pictures taken with him. I imagine there were a lot of jealous husbands looking at autographed pictures that night, vowing that they’d never wear Old Spice on principle. Fools.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Moral Dilemma of Wrapping Paper

Almost without exception, my daughter's school or day care asks the students to sell wrapping paper as a fundraiser. Ugh, this fundraising program is the worst, in my opinion. I'm okay with selling magazines. I'm okay with selling candy. I definitely buy books at the Book Fair. But wrapping paper? I'm just not for it.

I use wrapping paper very sparingly. I try to reserve it for little kids who are newly experiencing the thrill of ripping paper off a present. But a few birthdays/holidays is enough of that. Then I move on to gift bags that I hope and hope the recipient will re-use. I know I do, and it's not just because I'm cheap. It's mainly because I can't stand waste! Look at these statistics:

·    More than 8,000 tons of wrapping paper will be used on presents - the equivalent of 50,000 trees. If every family in the U.S. wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • Around 744 million holiday cards are sent each holiday season. If all of these cards were made of recycled paper, approximately 248,000 trees would be saved.
  • Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year's holiday season versus the rest of the year? That amounts to 25 million tons of garbage!

After learning this, I may do away with gift bags, too!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Texas Trivia

Mission San Antonio de Valero

Don't ask me how, but somehow I lucked into a job writing trivia questions. Over the course of my trivia stint I wrote questions on all sorts of topics including musical groups, TV shows, celebrities, cooking, NFL and Arena football, NBA teams, math, and more. I was given a topic, a number of questions to write, and a deadline. I did research online and at the library. At the time, I commuted to work, taking the bus a half hour each way every day. I’d read and jot down questions during the commute, then type them up when I got home.
A year passed and I didn’t write any trivia questions. Then suddenly, I got another assignment. This time I was to write 200 questions on Texas history. The San Antonio mission immediately sprang to mind since I’d recently travelled there. So I started re-reading my pamphlets and tour information, then got online and did some more research. Writing 200 questions wasn’t easy, and neither were the questions I wrote. But I enjoyed reliving my trip to San Antonio and some of the things I learned while I was there.
Here are a few sample questions. If you’re a history buff, you’ll know them. If not, good luck guessing!

1.   In the Battle of the Alamo, 189 defenders held the Alamo against 4,000 Mexican troops for how many days?
a.    99
b.    13
c.     3
d.     6

2.     Who established Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718?
a.      Father  Antonio Oliveras
b.      Father Joseph San Pedro
c.      General Santa Anna
d.      William B. Travis

3.     The San Antonio River was named so by Spanish explorers for what holiday?
a.      Feast Day Of Saint Anthony
b.      All Saints Day
c.      Cinqo de Mayo
d.      Summer Solstice

4.       Texas outlaw Clyde Barrow and his brother were arrested for possession of what stolen items?
a.      Lanterns
b.      Horses
c.      Diamonds
d.      Turkeys

Answers:  1b, 2a, 3a, 4d