Monday, January 31, 2011


Gertrude didn't need much. She'd been self-sufficient most of her life. She planted a garden and had a few chickens that ran around the yard. They kept her in eggs, and meat when the henhouse got too full.

There weren't any men around Gertrude's farm anymore. She didn't have any use for 'em. She could fix her fences and chop her wood as well as they could. The goat kept the grass short and she had a hammer if her house needed any work.

Gertrude liked the taste of her stew and didn't want anyone telling her it needed a little salt. Truth be told, she didn't want anyone telling her anything. She just wanted to live out her days on her own plot of land, tending her garden and fixing her fence.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I think my stepfather took this picture in the Mexican Riviera.

“Well, Mr. Laughing-Waters, or is it just Waters?”
“Laughing-Waters. Heron Laughing-Waters.”
“Yes. Mr. Laughing-Waters.” Mr. Thomas flipped the stapled pages in his hands one more time. “Your resume is very impressive. You did quite a bit in the 70’s. A role as a native on Gilligan’s Island. And as a warrior on Little House on the Prairie. Good, solid television experience.”
Heron Laughing-Waters nodded once. “I can play any tribe.”
Mr. Thomas stared at him a moment and then re-focused his gaze on the papers in his hand. “And I see you have some stage experience.”
“Yes. I was Okeenefochee in The Battle of Cherokee at the Cherokee Players Stagehouse. And I was Little Big Horn’s tribe mate in American West.”
Mr. Thomas nodded. “Very impressive, very impressive.” He cleared his throat. “Unfortunately, I don’t have any leads on Indian, er, I mean, Native American roles at the present time.”
Heron Laughing-Waters sat forward in his chair. “I can play anyone. I’ve always been typecast, but I have a broad range. I can play anyone.”
Mr. Thomas froze in his chair. The papers in his hand stood straight up. Not a muscle or nerve flinched for a full minute. Then he gently laid down Heron Laughing-Waters’ resume and took a breath. His words came out in a slow, confidential tone.
“Mr. Laughing-Waters. May I ask you a question?”
Heron nodded and leaned forward conspiratorially.
Mr. Thomas’ hands gestured toward Heron Laughing-Waters’ face. “Your face. The blue. Is it… permanent?”
Heron sat back and puffed up his chest. “Oh, yes. It is the mark of a powerful chief. I have earned it.”
Mr. Thomas sucked in his lip and stared back at the actor in front of him. He let out a long breath. “Well, then.” He pushed Mr. Laughing-Waters’ resume back toward him. “I think there may be auditions coming up for a bit part on National Geographic: The Mayans. I’ll keep your name on file and give you a call.”
Heron Laughing-Waters nodded. He would always find work.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How This Blog Came To Be

Mural inside the Hilton Netherland Hotel in Cincinnati,
where the idea for this blog was conceived.

For years, I’d tossed around the idea of starting a blog. Don’t most writers? The idea was intriguing, but what would I write about? Maybe restaurant reviews, since I’d done that for the newspaper. Or book reviews, because I’d done that, too. I thought maybe I could just post a bunch of essays, since I like to write those and then the topic of my blog wouldn’t be so confining. But at the back of mind was that little niggle of doubt: What set my words apart from the other restaurant reviewers, book reviewers, essayists, and bloggers already out there? Who would read my blog anyway?
Stifled by fear and doubt, I did nothing.
Then, just after my birthday at the end of August, I was fortunate enough to attend a week-long conference that included a number of inspirational speakers. One of those was Jonathan Harris, an entrepreneur/artist who specializes in combining computer science, anthropology, visual art and storytelling. His presentation was absolutely fascinating. His latest project (at the time) was something he’d just started doing on his birthday, which was the day before mine. He’d decided to post a picture a day on his website, beginning with his 30th birthday. Sometimes he’d write about the pictures; often he just wrote a caption. I subscribed to his project of beautiful pictures and thought: that’s what I could do, too.
A few days later in the conference, Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen spoke.  His words cemented my decision to start a blog. He conveyed the startling realization that, “It’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen.”
He encouraged people to be creative and express their ideas publicly and often. He encouraged people to let go of the idea that other people would steal their ideas, and that you had to hold them secret and keep them close to your heart to make them valuable. Not so. He said that by sharing ideas freely, more ideas were generated and that collaboration could turn smaller ideas into bigger ideas. Or at least, that’s what I heard him say.
It went along with the idea to forget about failure; to quit worrying about whether an idea was polished and perfect. I took that to heart and waited for the conference to end. I was going to do it. I was going to start a blog.
I knew exactly what I wanted to write my first blog post about. I wanted to write about two of the other speakers I’d heard on the first day of the conference.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the picture I wanted to put with it, so I didn’t post it until weeks later. (That post is here: )
That was okay. I had plenty of other pictures and posts to write. But first I had to figure out how to mechanically create a blog, and then I had to start looking through my pictures. Because unlike Jonathan Harris, I was not going to confine myself to posting a current picture a day. I didn’t want to take the same journalistic approach, but rather, wanted to find pictures that inspired me to write something about them.
And so this blog was born. In November, I suddenly got my daily post from Jonathan Harris. He thanked his subscribers for their interest, but decided to discontinue his project. I was stunned and wondered what that prophesied for me, since my blog had been inspired by his. Then I shrugged. It didn’t mean anything except that Jonathan was onto a new project.  I am still thoroughly enjoying mine.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Were You When The Challenger Exploded?

Apollo 15 Command Module on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Museum

This is the question of my generation. Not "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?" but rather "Where were you when the Challenger exploded?"

I was working as a waitress at Pizza Hut in Shrewsbury, New Jersey. I did the salad bar prep in the morning and opened the doors when the restaurant started serving lunch at 11:30am. Some of my regulars from a nearby Army base came in and told me the news. This was in the days before cell phones, internet, and instant news. I was in the middle of my lunch shift. But I remember that I heard that the Challenger had exploded and I inexplicably ran outside and looked up at the sky.

On another Tuesday morning in 2001, I did the same thing, but that's another story for another day.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The People She Meets

Sometimes I'm afraid for my mother to leave her house. She seems to have some kind of magnet that attracts all the Crazies in the world. Most are harmless, I suppose, but why do they always pick her to talk to?

In the past, she's been accosted by a dwarf who asked her on a date while she was shopping for wrapping paper at the store. He got irate when she said she was already involved with someone and was irked because she wasn't wearing a ring. On another occasion, a woman who came to her yard sale started detailing her marital and drinking problems, then asked my mother if she had any earrings. (It was bizarre, but you had to be there.)

When she was walking down a street in San Francisco, a man came up to her and said, "Na-nu, Na-nu," and yes -- he was doing the Na-nu Na-nu hand gesture, too.

A few months ago, she had a lonely man approach her at a gas station with the corny line, "I think you dropped something." When she looked confused, he followed up with: "Your smile." She then did smile. I wouldn't have. I'm not as approachable as she is.

So it should have come as no surprise (except how could we not be surprised when these weird things happen?) when a man approached her at Wal-mart today, claiming that he "invented" taking shopping carts apart when they're stuck together. And though he invented it, now "everyone is copying him." I hope to God he was joking. But I doubt it. He even demonstrated it for her and explained the mechanics. This was just another weird person telling his story to my mother. I don't know how she finds them, but it seems they always find her.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Astronaut Izzy

This spacesuit is on display at the
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Museum
in Dayton, Ohio

ASTRONAUT IZZY:  I'm off to the moon, Mom. I'll be back later.

MOM:  Wait a minute! Why are you going to the moon?

ASTRONAUT IZZY:  I'm taking the puppy and we're going to practice moonwalking. And then we're going to fly to Mars.

MOM (confused):  What?

ASTRONAUT IZZY (giggling):  Just kidding. I'm going up there to get my time machine. I left it there a long time ago in case I needed to go get it and turn back time.

MOM:  Hhhmm. And why do you suddenly need to turn back time?

ASTRONAUT IZZY:  Because I forgot my homework and I don't want to turn it in late.

MOM (sighs): Fine. But be back in an hour.

ASTRONAUT IZZY:  I can't be back in an hour! It takes a whole day to get to the moon!

MOM:  That's what the time machine is for.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Message to People Who Can Drive in the Snow -- From Someone Who Can't

Driving in snow shouldn't turn into a game of bumper cars.

I know you're behind me, swearing a blue streak and calling me every form of "idiot" you can think of. I know that you're screaming for me to get off the road, and believe me, I wish I could. I wish I could be anywhere but driving in the snow.

But what you don't know is how petrified I am. You don't know that I've had accidents in the snow and am terrified that it will happen again. That's why I drive so slowly and leave plenty of space between me and the car in front of me in case I have to stop, or in case I start to slide. Invariably, someone will pull into the space I've left between me and the person in front of me. I'm a nervous wreck.

I'm watching you in my rearview mirror and you're riding my bumper and all I can think is that as soon as I start to slide, you will, too -- right into me. You're actually making things worse because I see that you're too close and I'm pumping my brake in case I have to stop. I want to make sure you can stop, too.

Honking your horn won't make me move faster. In fact, I can barely hear it over my whimpering and chanting. Oh my God, oh my God. Every muscle in my body is as stiff as rigor mortis. I am clutching my steering wheel for dear life. Do you understand that?

I know you're back there, yelling for me to move, or get over. I would if I could. The very thought of pulling over and across the paths of the tires before me is akin to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. It's just not going to happen. If you're so brave, you pull into the untouched snow and go around me. I can't do it.

Sorry you're behind me. It's going to take a while. Believe me, I won't be on the road a minute or a mile longer than I have to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

High Heels Are Murder

After a very long, nearly interminable work week, I needed to relax with a light, cozy mystery. I picked up High Heels Are Murder: A Josie Marcum Mystery Shopper Mystery by Elaine Viets. I like her Dead-End Job mystery series, so thought I'd try this book. It was the perfect pick to decompress.

I was caught up in the storyline almost immediately, partly because it was so unusual. Josie Marcum, the heroine, was mystery shopping a shoe store where she was waited on by a foot fetishist. (My mother was once accosted by a similar man in a department store, so I was really hooked by this twist.) When the shoe salesman is fired and then murdered the same day, Josie Marcum, Mystery Shopper, investigates.

The book was a lot of fun -- and was surprisingly educational. For instance, I'd never heard of pedal pusher videos. Have you? I'm not going to explain what that is. You'll just have to read the book for yourself. What was even more fun about this book was the author's shoe shopping guide at the end. Some mystery writers include recipes in their novels. Elaine Viets included shopping tips. Who couldn't like that?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ice Sculpture Festival

Ring toss game. Players had to hook their rings onto one of the bowling pins.
I don't know whether there are many towns in America that host an Ice Sculpture Festival, but Hamilton, Ohio does every other year. This year there was a large crowd turnout despite the frigid weather. We walked along the town square admiring the ice sculptures carved to depict this year's theme: "Great Books In Ice."

More than 40 tons of ice was brought in to create over 200 sculptures. We saw carvings that illustrated Harry Potter, The Hungry Caterpillar, The Little Engine That Could, Make Way for Ducklings, The Giving Tree, Lord of the Rings, The Holy Bible, The Wizard of Oz, The Last of the Mohicans, Wheels on the Bus, and more. All of the sponsors had blocks of ice carved with their names, too.

There was an Alice in Wonderland miniature golf game that required players to hit their balls under the ice sculptures to get to the holes. There was a ring toss game (shown above) made of ice. There was a human sled race that day, and many ice carving demonstrations (below).

All of the restaurants on the street and vendors outside sold hot chocolate, coffee, and chili. Inside the municipal building was an art show. There was truly something for everyone willing to brave the cold weather. Though Ohio loves its festivals, there aren't many outdoor festivals in January. But everyone looks forward to this free event, no matter how icy it is outside.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Rose sipped her tea and watched small wet flakes fall from the sky. Another gray day. The weatherman predicted a high of 12 degrees for the day. Rose shuddered at the thought and tucked her lap blanket securely around her lap. She watched a few pedestrians slip and slide as they walked along the icy sidewalk below. She hadn't left her apartment in nearly a month now. She couldn't risk the pneumonia coming back.

Behind her, she heard the lively tune of a game show jingle begin. The news programs were over, as were the daily talk shows. This was the interlude of energetic fans winning prizes before the soap operas began. Rose sipped her tea. It was already tepid. She'd make another cup in a moment.

A child, bundled in a thick coat, scarf, gloves and hat, held his mother's hand as she hunched her back against the bitter wind. She pulled her child down the sidewalk and Rose watched as the child leaned his head back and stuck his tongue out for a snowflake. Why did children always seem immune to the cold?

Caught up in his delight, Rose tentatively pressed a finger against the glass window. It was pure ice. She pulled her hand back and tucked her lap blanket tighter. She marveled again that such a thin sheet of glass separated her from the frigid air. Suddenly she wasn't so enamored of the scene outside. She'd turn her attention toward the television instead, and enjoy the comfort of being inside. She sipped her tea.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Winning The Lottery

I met a Russian woman today who'd won the lottery -- the U.S. lottery to immigrate here. She and her husband moved here six years ago from Uzbekistan and she says she has no intention of ever going back.

"We were not legal citizens in Russia, even though I am Russian. We were aliens there," she told me. "We were treated like the illegal Mexicans here. We could not get jobs."

Still, I asked her whether moving to America was a hard decision when she found out she was eligible for the visa. She said no; she didn't even hesitate for a second. She described her homeland as dangerous and unfriendly. She says you would never walk around in Russia and see people smile at you. There was also a lot of terrorist activity nearby. She has two children here now and never plans to take them back to where she came from.

Getting the visa wasn't easy. She'd applied for the lottery two years earlier. Only about 100,000 are granted worldwide each year, and only half of those lottery winners actually get a visa. When she got the letter in the mail, she took immediate action. After hours and hours of grueling questions and interviews, she was granted a visa. She and her husband left their country and  are gainfully employed here in the United States, raising their two children. She'll take her citizenship test in a few weeks.

As Americans, we like to wonder what we'd do if we won the lottery. But I don't think we can imagine what it would be like to enter a lottery to uproot your life and move halfway around the world in the hope that you'll have a better life and "win the lottery," so to speak. We like to imagine the riches and adventures that we might enjoy if we hit the jackpot. Perhaps we'd go see the world. It's a fun "what if...".

But Vicky knew exactly what she'd do if she won the lottery: everything in her power to make sure that she kept her prize and moved halfway around the world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Head In The Clouds

How does one begin a cloud journal?
With feet firmly on the ground
And neck craned backward
Or lying flat on the ground with only sky in focus?
When should one begin --
On a pretty blue day with puffy cotton balls above
Or a dark gray day amidst thunderclaps and ferocious
Wave-like breakers bearing down?

Atmospheric phenomena
Or merely backdrop for earth-bound scenery?

As my gaze floats toward the clouds
My thoughts cement me to the ground,
And lower,
As I ponder my mortality and the immensity
Of the universe.

But the thoughts are fleeting
Like the striated clouds above me
And my attention moves to imagery:
That one looks like a rib roast;
To the left I spy a fleecy baby’s blanket.
Those look like waves in the sea;
That pink one is decidedly shaped like a rabbit.
I could stare at the clouds all day.

But how does one begin a cloud journal?
By writing about the wispy majesty above
Or the heart-breakingly beautiful world below?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fight Over Me

Swordsmen at the Ohio Renaissance Festival

I used to joke all the time whenever there was a situation where people were deciding what group I belonged to. I’d urge them to fight over me, and they’d naturally follow that with “You take her. No, you take her.” And then we’d all laugh.
But it wasn’t so funny when I found myself positioned between two warring  co-workers. When I suddenly found myself the third member of a three-person team, I didn’t think much about the comments bouncing back and forth at first. One person kept saying that she wouldn’t do anything without the other’s permission – even when she knew that it was causing a delay in work. And the other person wouldn’t do anything unless the other person was there, lest she be accused of not including her. It didn’t seem that big a deal. On the face of things, they were being nice and polite. A little too nice and polite, actually. They were being overly solicitous to each other while secretly whispering snide comments to me.
Lunchtime rolled around and as luck would have it, they both asked me to lunch at the same time. My standard line almost slipped out of my mouth by habit. I almost joked, “Fight over me!” but wisely held my tongue. I suggested the three of us each lunch together, and not having any concrete reason not to, they agreed. It was a fairly smooth lunch, but I could tell that I’ll have to watch my mouth. There will be too many times when “Fight over me!” could easily slip out.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Two women play cornhole aboard a Carnival cruise ship.

If you don't know what you're looking at, then you don't live in the American midwest. These women are playing a game of cornhole -- a beanbag toss game that arguably has its roots in Cincinnati. It started as a backyard game, similar to horseshoes in play and scoring, but now it's become so popular that you can find cornhole sets at bars, restaurants, corporate outings, and even on a cruise ship where it was simply called "Bean Bag Toss Contest." Apparently they didn't read the backs of the boards where was clearly printed.

To play cornhole, two opponents stand at the same end and take turns throwing each of their four cornhole bags. (And yes, they should be filled with corn.) Bags that land on the board score 1 point; those that go in the hole score 3 points. But bags cancel each other out. So if I got 2 bags on the board and 1 in the hole, but my opponent got 1 bag on the board and 1 in the hole, I would only earn one point for that round. The game goes to 21 exactly. If a player happens to go over 21, they subtract those extra points and now need more points to win.

It's simple really, and is played by people of all ages. It's a popular outdoor bar game, backyard barbecue game, team-building exercise, seniors activity, as well as a game played at school carnivals. It's become so popular that there are cornhole tournaments springing up all over the country. Some of the prize monies are pretty high. And the cornhole boards themselves don't come cheap. Around here a custom-made board (which you can find advertised in people's yards as you drive around Cincinnati) runs between $75-125.

So if you haven't heard of cornhole yet, you can bet that it's headed your way. Who knows, you may even see it televised someday. Or entered as an Olympic game. It's already shown up as "Cornhole: The Movie." It's a grassroots phenomenon finding its way around the globe.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Weirdest Tag of the Day

When we go on road trips, we like to look for weird license plates. As we drove through Kentucky yesterday, this car caught our attention because the window sticker and the vanity plates were so incongruous.

In case you can't read it, the window sticker says:
Exposure to the Son
Prevents Burning

(Clearly a reference to accepting Jesus so you don't go to Hell)

But then it's followed by the vanity plate reading:  WENCH

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adam Hurtado and Aaron Thompkins Made Me Cry

Aaron Thompkins (left) and Adam Hurtado (right)
speak at the YMCA's Activate Butler County event.
Jan. 15, 2011

I’ve never watched “The Biggest Loser” before, but I will now. I was fortunate enough to hear Adam Hurtado and Aaron Thompkins speak at a YMCA event yesterday and found myself stunned, inspired, and finally, moved to tears. Here in front of me were two healthy-looking happy young men standing next to life-sized posters of them “Before”.
The publicity statement said Hurtado had started the show at 402 pounds and was able to lose 182 pounds or 45.27 percent of his body weight. Thompkins weighed in at 468 pounds,  and lost 172 pounds, losing 36.75 percent of his body weight.
Hurtado cried as he spoke about watching his mother die from diabetes complications. It moved him to change his life; he didn’t want to let obesity and bad health kill him the way it had her.
Thompkins talked about childhood: his alcoholic father and the emotional pain that he suppressed with food. He’d thought he was so different than his father, then realized that he was an addict, too, using food instead of alcohol. He says obesity was just a symptom of the problem, it was not the problem itself. The problem was the issues he’d never dealt with; the issues that lead him to have low self-esteem and bad eating habits.
“I’d cried maybe twice in my life before I went on the show,” Thompkins said. Then he laughed and said the producers of “The Biggest Loser” knew what buttons to push and what questions to ask. It drove home his belief that obesity is about much more than food.
Hurtado and Thompkins talked a lot about the behind-the-scenes workings of the show and credit the show with getting them healthy both emotionally and physically. They said what the audience doesn’t see is that doctors monitored them through every workout, stopping them if their bodies were becoming too stressed.  They also worked extensively with psychologists on the show, and that made all the difference.
Both Thompkins and Hurtado talked about the psychological and emotional changes that affected them after the show. When Hurtado went back to California a thinner man, he was able to relate to his physically-fit brother in a way he never could before. “He was so proud of me,” he said. He finds their new relationship much more spiritual now that he has the self-confidence he’d lacked his whole life.
Thompkins inspired his entire family. He said sisters, cousins and aunts went to his wife’s house to work-out and then watch the show. They were all in it together and he says he is re-inspired by them.
But what brought me to tears wasn’t the recounting of painful childhoods or yo-yo dieting and weight loss trials and tribulations. It was the fact that they feel blessed that they can inspire others. The YMCA director said that he’d never seen anything like it. They went to an elementary school where Hurtado spoke to 4th graders and the kids were absolutely starstruck. I can understand that. Hurtado has been elevated to celebrity status for changing his life and getting healthy. And he and Thompkins don’t take that for granted at all. That made me cry. Because they told the crowd that they can't backslide. They have an obligation to stay healthy for everyone who believes in them; for everyone inspired to take steps toward being healthy like them; for their families so that they can continue to be with them; and most importantly, for themselves. Losing weight wasn’t about looking good; it was about staying alive.

Saturday, January 15, 2011



As soft as a freckle-faced girl,
Wispy secrets,
A precious gem.

As sweet as a strawberry lollipop,
Fresh bubble gum,
Cupcake icing.

As joyful as a young girl’s hair barrette,
Frilly party dress,
Candy-flavored lip gloss.

As romantic as puppy love,
Valentine hearts,
Budding passion.


Friday, January 14, 2011


The heavy Buick softly crunched down the gravel drive as Crystal crept away from home. She kept the headlights off and hoped that her parents wouldn't see her. She could see them through the windows as she inched toward the street. She saw her mother covering the supper leftovers and putting them away. Her father was relaxed in an easy chair watching the news. She saw the bluish lights of the television flicker across his face. It was an evening like any other.

She turned out of her driveway and headed toward the highway. She adjusted the volume on the radio and tried to tune out her anxiety. When would one of her parents wander upstairs to check on her? They would find her room tidied. A suitcase missing, some clothes, her guitar, and her freshly-minted diploma. Hard to believe she'd gotten it earlier that day.

She'd made her bed. And there, propped on the pillow, was an envelope with a note inside. "Don't worry about me. I'm off to live my dream." She knew they'd be upset. They might even be mad. She bit her lip and looked in her rearview mirror. The highway entrance ramp was just ahead. She flipped on her turn signal. Wouldn't they also be a little bit happy?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pink Triangle Park

Pink Triangle Park, San Francisco

If the tour guide on our walking tour of San Francisco's Castro district hadn't pointed out this small wedge of land in the median of a busy street, we would have never noticed it. More's the pity. This triangular-shaped pink memorial park is the first of its kind in America and honors the 15,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of the Nazis during and after WWII.

I don't believe I saw mention of it in the guidebooks we took with us on our trip, and we nearly got run over trying to cross the street to see it. But it was a pretty park and as worthy of our attention as any other Holocaust memorial.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Appalachian Roots

During college, I took a class on Appalachian Literature. As part of the course, we were encouraged to interview someone who’d grown up in the Appalachian region, so I interviewed my grandmother. I’m so glad I did. Not only do I have a record of her family and Jellico, Tennessee heritage written in her own handwriting, but I also captured a piece of history that she can no longer provide me now that her memory has gotten so bad. I’ll share a piece of our Appalachian roots here, in her words:

Peter McCully worked in the mines until he was killed by a falling slate rock slide. His widow Bettie was left to raise 8 children on a very small miner’s pension in the miner’s shack given to her. The house was poorly furnished with 2 beds, a chest for clothes, a big old coal range in the kitchen for cooking and heating. Curtains were an unaffordable luxury so a length of cloth was tossed over the rod in the kitchen. A big old table and mismatched chairs completed the kitchen.
The food was kept in a cold cellar – a dugout in the yard near the back porch, cooled by the shade trees. A pot of beans was on the stove daily to feed the family. My grandmother made biscuits for breakfast and topped it with her freshly churned butter from the lone cow’s milk. The children had to milk the cow.
The laundry was done in a metal tub placed on a chair with no back, rinsed and hung to dry and later ironed with a flat or “sad” iron heated on the range. The kitchen table was padded with a worn blanket and white cloth to make an ironing board.  One had to make do – or do without.
My mother only got to go to 2nd grade then stopped to do housework to earn a few cents. The mine owners were the ones who lived well. The coal to heat and cook with was bought for $0.25 / bucket at the coal yard and if no one was looking, you could pick up several extra small pieces to add to the bucket. Most of my grandmother’s supply was provided by this method.
Our furniture was used and old and utilitarian. We never had a carpet on the floor. Our usual covering was ragged and worn linoleum or bare floor. No wardrobes. Clothes were hung on a nail in the wall- usually the bedroom. The house had five rooms. It did have a front and back porch. My mom and grandma liked to sit out on the back porch and chew their snuff and spit over the rail. I hated to see them do that so much. It seemed such nasty and ignorant behavior.
When I was growing up in so much poverty, the most comforting thing was to smell a pot of beans simmering away on the coal range and waiting for the cornbread that came with it. On rare occasions we’d get a glass of milk and maybe a slice of bologna. For a treat, we’d get to go to Granny’s and she was usually cooking a stewing hen and dumplings and sometimes she’d bake an apple pie. Pure delight!

My grandmother went on to marry, have three daughters and work as a Children’s Librarian. She moved from poverty, to humble surroundings, to a comfortable life. I never would have pictured this childhood for her. Until she described it to me, I had no idea what her life was like. I’m so glad I asked.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


This isn't a hotel room. It's a stateroom on a Carnival cruise.

I am fascinated by all the "1" combinations that will occur this year. I already noted 1-1-11 on my blog. Now today is 1-11-11. I can't wait until November for 11-1-11 and best of all, 11-11-11. I don't know why these dates seem special to me, but I took a look online and I'm not the only one.

The Pod hotel in New York made a special offer of $111.11 for a queen room on January 11th, but they added a special fun twist: customers will only be able to book this deal for one hour and eleven minutes starting at 1:11 PM on January 11th.

So see, it's not just me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Are Lunch Breaks Called Picnics?

Can you imagine going to work every day in a building shaped like a basket?
This is the Longaberger office building near Newark, Ohio.

Resume for

                Basket Weaving 101, 201 and 501
                Masters – The Psychology of the Basket Case

·         Easter basket development, March-April
·         Wove the basket that carried Toto in “The Wizard of Oz”.
·         Wove prototype basket for Little Red Riding Hood to carry.
·         Calculated the “Bad Seed’s” basket equation:  a basket of hugs = a basket of kisses
·         Convinced Jonathan Demme to have killer Jame Gumb tell Catherine, “It puts the lotion in the basket” in “The Silence of the Lambs”.
·         Wrote and published “A-tisket, A-tasket, a green and yellow basket”.

·         Going to Hell, Grand Cayman in a handbasket
·         Playing basketball

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Poetry Prompt

This is a lobster boat in Maine. Pretend they're catching fish.

This month's Writer's Digest just came in the mail today. As I read, I saw Robert Brewer's 'Poetic Prompt' in which he challenged writers to "write a poem with a hole in it."  He says the hole can be an actual hole or something nuanced, such as writing a poem removing all the verbs or adjectives. So I thought I'd try it.

I thought it best to use an old poem that I wrote so that I wasn't simply trying to fashion a poem without verbs. (Though that was probably what Robert Brewer intended I try to do, wasn't it? Oh well.)  It didn't work well on the first two poems I tried, but I think it works fairly well on this satirical 'ode' poem I wrote. I've included the original poem and the "hole" version in which I removed the verbs.

Ode to a Dead Fish

Put the rubber lures away,
Pick the worms up from the floor.
What was scaly-skinned and gray
Will not bite them anymore.

What was cold is strangely warm.
(How do gills work anyway?)
How can this small body be
Dinner served as fresh fillet?

Hole version:

 Ode to a Dead Fish

The rubber lures away
The worms up from the floor
Scaly-skinned and gray
Not anymore

Cold, now strangely warm
(Gills anyway?)
This small body
Dinner as fresh fillet

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

This is a piece of the Berlin Wall on display at the
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Museum

About a year ago, my boss traveled to Berlin, Germany and came back raving about a street food she’d had there called currywurst. She said there were stalls at every corner; it was touted as Berlin’s specialty. She brought home as much of the sauce as she could carry. That stash didn’t last long, so she started having her business contact in Berlin send her more.

Apparently, currywurst is a uniquely German food that sprang up in post-WWII Berlin. And now, Berlin even has a museum devoted to it: the Deutsches Currywurst Museum.  (If I find myself in Berlin, I will have to check it out.)
Anyway, my boss hosted a cocktail party last night and planned to serve the currywurst shipment she just got in. That’s all I needed to hear. I had to try it. So even though it snowed and the roads were a mess, I crawled along in traffic to her house to taste this famous German treat.
Currywurst is a grilled sausage cut up into chunks with a curry-tomato gravy – along the lines of a crockpot full of meatball snacks at parties here. It was simple and spicy and tangy. I loved it. I could have eaten the whole batch. I’ll have to find a way to order it online or find my own German contact because Currywurst ist Wunderbar!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Master Tusks

These carved elephant tusks made up a window display in San Francisco's Chinatown.
Isn't this illegal???

I included this picture of exquisitely carved elephant tusks because I recently learned that elephants often favor one tusk over the other, much like we do our right hand or left hand. The favored tusk is called the master tusk. But leave it to humans to overanalyze what this preference means.

For instance, we celebrate a Left Handers' Day on August 13th. (You probably only know this if you're left-handed. August 13th is also my grandmother's birthday, but she's right-handed, so we'll confine ourselves to a birthday celebration on that day.)

There are college scholarships for left-handed people. Hhhmm...I can slowly write my name with my left hand. Do I qualify?

Other fascinating facts:
  • Left-handers often draw faces facing right.
  • Stuttering and dyslexia occur more often in left-handed people.
  • Left-handers adjust more easily to seeing underwater.
  • 4 of the 5 original designers of Macintosh computers were left-handed.
And strangely, 4 of the last 6 presidents have been left-handed! Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

Can left-tusked elephants beat that?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's My Line?

In 2008 I was assigned to write an article about a local theater group's senior actors. I wasn't sure what my angle would be; I imagined this would just turn into a promo article for their upcoming play. But as I interviewed three of the actors over the phone on three different days, I noticed a trend. They were all telling me how hard it was for them to remember their lines as they got older. It changed the way they participated in theater. I had my angle. 
I was a little afraid to write the piece for fear that I was stereotyping senior citizens or being offensive, which was certainly not my intent. I called each actor back and made sure that they didn't mind me approaching the article from this angle. They let me tell their story in their words. 
One 70-year-old actor found her role in "The Cemetery Club" daunting. She was the lead and had several soliloquies with numerous lines. “It was scary,” she said. “I’d never had trouble learning lines until this time. Doing a soliloquy is much harder than doing regular dialogue, because there’s no one to bounce your lines off of. It made me more fearful of doing big parts.”
Another veteran actor who'd performed on stage for more than 25 years said, “It’s a sad fact, but it does get harder to remember lines as you get older. You learn more tricks for memorization, like tape recording your lines or listening to them in the car or on walks. I’ve never been stuck on stage without something to say.” 
The oldest of the group, a 76-year-old man, said that he still enjoyed being a part of the theater but had given up on acting. He chose instead to work behind the scenes. 
I found the interviews so insightful and appreciated their candor. I've never taken the stage and can't imagine memorizing lines at any age. Luckily they are all still enjoying the theater life. They may take small parts, but they are not small actors.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dog Allowance

My daughter took this picture while her puppy did his chore.

Our dog loves to do dishes. He has a much better attitude about it than our children and frankly, does a better job. I should pay him an allowance, but I think licking the dishes is its own reward.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Close Call

If you look, you can see spotted salamanders along each side of the glass

Jacob stared into the aquarium. The salamanders from school barely moved. He tapped on the glass. Nothing.

"Mom, I think the salamanders are dead!"

Jacob looked around his room and then ran outside to get a stick. He carefully lifted the top of the aquarium and poked in the general direction of the salamanders. They still didn't move. He swished the tip of the stick in the pebbles, mixing them around. One of the salamanders seemed to twitch, ever so slightly. Encouraged, Jacob nudged the stick a little closer to the salamander. It darted forward and scrambled up the stick. Jacob flinched and instinctively threw the stick in the air as the amphibian raced toward him.

"Mom, one of them got away!"

Jacob frantically searched the floor of his room. He didn't see the salamander anywhere. He cautiously peeked under his bed. Dozens of candy wrappers rustled as he peered into the darkness. He ran to the utility drawer and grabbed a flashlight. Another search under the bed revealed the soccer cleat he'd lost last spring, but there was no sign of the salamander.

Jacob looked back at the aquarium that still held one class pet. He was sure to get a bad grade for this project. But maybe if he cut off the tail of the remaining salamander, another would grow in its place? He deliberated a moment and then heard a scream from the living room.

"Jacob! Get in here!" his mother yelled.

Jacob breathed a sigh of relief. The second salamander had been found.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Nature Lesson

Screech Owl

I think kids are getting smarter these days. I took my daughter to the Sharon Woods Nature Center where we listened to a talk on "Winter Survival" and how some animals adapt in winter months. Most of the children there were 4-7 years old. All of them were under 10. The naturalist started off by showing them the globe and demonstrating why we have winter months as opposed to places like Madagascar where it's tropical year-round. She asked if anyone could point to Madagascar on the globe and four of the kids volunteered. They knew right where it was; probably because of the movie "Madagascar", but still...

Then she brought out a pretty big bug and asked if anyone knew what it was. The 7-year-old boy sitting next to me knew right away. "A hissing cockroach." Why, yes it was. And we all got the chance to pet it, so now all these kids also know what it feels like. (I petted it, too. Its exoskeleton feels rough and scratchy. Most of the kids knew what an exoskeleton was, too.)

After that she brought out a screech owl. It was beautiful and wide awake. He flapped his wings noiselessly and the naturalist explained why his wings are so quiet. She also talked about his hunting habits and asked whether anyone knew what an owl's strongest sense is. Of course they did: hearing.

She talked about deer in Ohio and how their eating habits change in the winter, as well as the color of their coats. Did anyone know what deers eat in winter? Sure they did. Bark. Last but not least, she brought out a box turtle and asked how the box turtle survives in winter. She had already told us that owls help keep warm by eating. Their food fuels them like a furnace. But turtles don't gain body heat by eating. They take a different tactic. They hibernate, and all the kids knew that. (I didn't. But in my defense, I rarely even think about turtles.) She said that they burrow into the dirt and leaves and that insulates them like a blanket. And then this little 5-year-old girl behind me asked the fiftieth intelligent question of the day and asked whether they go inside their shells to hibernate when they go underground. Yes, they do.

I was so impressed with the questions these children asked. Very intelligent and much more insightful than I'd expected. I expected easier questions like, What do turtles eat? Instead, I heard a six-year-old boy ask if owls can track their prey in the dark, because all of the kids in the room knew that owls are nocturnal. They already had a great basic knowledge of animals and nature. I found myself studying them as much as the animals on display. I learned a lot. I feel like I've been living under a rock, like a...I don't know what animal lives under rocks. We'll ask the kids.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Places Foreign

This is a typical Monday at a park in Grecia, Costa Rica

I love pictures like this; random snapshots of daily life. Nothing special going on. Just a glimpse of people going about their daily routine someplace foreign. I have pictures like this tacked to the walls of my cubicle at work. Sometimes I just need to stare at them and be reminded that there's a whole world out there with people living their lives just like me. I have one picture of a woman sitting with a bag at a bus stop while a man in a jacket walks by. He's huddled against the air so I think it must be fall. There's a billboard in the bus stop of a beautiful blond woman. I think it's a shampoo ad, but I'm not sure. I can't read the billboard and don't even know what language it's in. There's litter on the street. I love to look at that picture and wonder what people in the other parts of the world are doing right that minute. How many times is that scene playing out at bus stops around the world?

I wonder if anyone else is sitting in a cubicle staring at pictures of strangers?

Saturday, January 1, 2011


January flatline.

Calendar pages as smooth and bleak
As the snow-covered horizon out the window.

Potential and possibility,
But loneliness, too.
A blank journal;
An empty calendar.
With no reflection of life lived.

Straight lines.
Absence of matter
Until the beginning is over.

Then, flatline feebly revived,
The middle begins: