Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last Night at the Lobster

Lobster boat in Maine

I just finished reading Stewart O'Nan's novel Last Night at the Lobster. My immediate reaction: Argh! Why didn't I think of that?!

The premise for the book was simple: the restaurant manager describes what happens on the last day before his Red Lobster closes for good. Some of the staff don't show up. Some are angry that they're about to be out of work and he didn't recommend them for the new Olive Garden coming in. He worries about the staff stealing things since they have nothing to lose at this point. A snowstorm blows in and no one is sure how that will affect business, but they prepare for a normal night anyway.

That's it. That's pretty much the whole story. There wasn't much plot line, and not too many developed characters, and yet, something about this book worked. I was sorry when the novel ended. I felt like I'd been in the restaurant all day alongside Manny, the manager, looking out the window at the foreboding weather and going through the motions of his job for one last time.

I wish I'd written this book.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Down by the Dock in Haiti

I have never felt as embarrassed and ashamed to be a "rich American" as I did on the day our mission group walked down to the "dock" in Haiti. I say "dock" euphemistically, because there was no dock; just old, dilapidated wooden boats in the water, and a mob of Haitian men standing at the edge of the shore, calling out for work.

"Two dollars! I'll carry you. Two dollars!"

They crowded around us, hurriedly collecting around the slimmer teenagers who didn't weigh as much, but quickly moving on to the larger middle-aged women and men who also had to be carried. A few dared to raise their price to $3.00, but were underbid by their hungry competition.

And they were hungry. That was the saddest part. Most of the Haitian people I met were too proud to beg for money. Instead, they offered to work for a pittance. But every now and then, one of them would simply, quietly state, "I am hungry." I wished I had a dollar for every person I met, and silently berated myself for not bringing every dollar I had to this impoverished nation. Next time, I vowed.

For now, we stood mobbed on the bank as Haitian men began scooping the Americans up onto their shoulders and carrying them out to the weathered boats where we would sail 13 miles to Tortuga Island, bringing toys, clothes and food to the children there. We couldn't walk to the boats ourselves; the water went up to the shoulders and sometimes over the heads of the men, and the rocky ocean floor would cut up our feet. It was not lost on me that our feet were deemed too delicate while theirs were not, despite the fact that we wore shoes and they didn't.

They carried us on their shoulders as water sloshed against their chests and faces. When we reached the boat, they heaved us up higher on their shoulders, muscles straining as Haitian men on board grabbed our arms and pulled us up onto the boats. It was clumsy; we were heavy. But not nearly as heavy as my heart as I realized the disparity in our lives and how unfair it all was.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Misty Niagara

Janice bit her lip to keep her chin from quivering.  She thought she could pass it off as being cold rather than tearful if Henry asked, except that she was starting to feel her eyes swell with tears. Perhaps she could blame that on the cold, too. The truth was she hated this Maid of the Mist cruise. She was miserably cold, wet, and a little bit seasick. She couldn’t imagine why Niagara Falls was such a popular honeymoon spot.
Henry seemed to love it.  Janice watched him leaning over the deck rail, throwing his head back as mist crashed against the boat and splashed him. He turned to her, laughing, and Janice forced a smile onto her face.  It was her job now to make sure her new husband was happy. She wouldn’t  utter a word of complaint.
Instead, she dug underneath her dripping plastic rain poncho and into her purse. Her fingers were wet and cold, but she managed to pull out the camera and held it up as Henry turned toward her, smiling again.
“Let me take your picture!” she yelled to him. She doubted he could hear her voice over the explosion of the waves, but he seemed to understand her and posed with his back to the magnificent falls. She snapped his picture and nodded toward him. She’d gotten it; a picture of Henry on their honeymoon.
Henry turned back to the falls as the boat bounced atop the choppy waves. Janice stuffed the camera back underneath her rain poncho and slipped quietly inside. She felt a few tears on her cheek, but she could easily dismiss those as drops of mist. No one would suspect this bride was crying on her honeymoon.

Monday, March 28, 2011

1978 Television

What fun! I found a 1978 TV Guide highlighting the new fall season. I doubt you’ll remember some of these winners:
The Waverly Wonders
Joe Namath makes his TV debut as a washed-up professional basketball player named Joe who takes a job at Waverly High School. The principal insists that he also teach history and he says, “The only reason I majored in history was they had the best-looking girls.”   What?! Despite stellar writing like this, the show didn’t make it?

Who’s Watching the Kids
Stacy and Angie, showgirls at a seedy Las Vegas club called Club Sand Pile, share an apartment with 16-year-old Scott Baio’s character, Frankie Viola and his little sister, Melissa. While the showgirls work, a newscaster named Larry babysits the kids.    Certainly sounds plausible. I can’t believe this show didn’t make it, either.

Sword of Justice
What worked for the Count of Monte Cristo, the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro ought to be good enough for Jack Cole, a wealthy playboy imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. He is released from jail and seeks revenge, which he enjoys so much that he decides to do it full time – dressed in tennis gear or carrying a polo mallet, and leaving a playing card wherever he strikes.    I hope, hope, hope this was intended to be a comedy. The picture of the cast is even funnier than the premise!

But television in 1978 wasn’t as bad as those three premieres would lead you to believe. It was also the debut of Taxi, Mork & Mindy, Vegas, Battlestar Gallactica, and mini-series such as Brave New World, From Here to Eternity, Ike, Little Women, Roots: The Next Generation, and Centennial. And this was the year that blockbuster movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, and Carrie hit the small screen. Those were big events back in the days before VCRs were common household appliances.  How big? NBC paid $5 million to air Gone With the Wind in 1976.  In 1978, CBS paid $35 million to air it over the next 20 years.
What else happened on TV in 1978? Farrah Fawcett returned for three episodes of Charlie’s Angels; The Lawrences adopted Quinn on Family; the Ingalls adopted Albert on Little House on the Prairie; Mike and Gloria moved out on All in the Family; and Grandpa Walton died.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bad Idea

I am afraid of heights. I don't like to be cold. Ferris wheels scare me to death, especially if they sway. So riding the Navy Pier ferris wheel on a cold April day in the Windy City might have been one of my worst ideas ever.

Can you say panic attack?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oh, Sh*t!

Thanks to former San Francisco Mayor Harvey Milk, dog owners are required to pick up after their dogs in public. He is the one who created the Pooper Scooper Law in 1978 after accidentally, or not so accidentally, stepping in dog poop during a press conference held in a park. He allegedly quipped, “Whoever can solve the dog-shit problem can be elected mayor of San Francisco, even president of the United States.”
Perhaps. I’d like to think that wasn’t the platform that finally got him elected.
I am all for people cleaning up after their dogs, but as a new dog owner, I find the practice very awkward. It’s not so bad in a public park where you can pick up your dog’s mess and then dispose of it. But when I walk the dog around the neighborhood and clean his poop from someone’s yard, I am then stuck carrying a baggie of dog poop for the rest of the walk. Invariably, I see someone outside and stop to say hello, or chat. Doesn’t it seem strange to anyone else that I am standing there making pleasant conversation while holding a bag full of poop?
Maybe it’s just me. It seems odd that instead of letting nature take its course naturally, we have been conditioned to think of holding bags of dog poop as normal. It’s even acceptable to hold the bag up in the air and let it swing as we wave hello to our neighbors (Because our other hand is busy holding a leash.)
Guess that’s just part of the fun of being a dog owner, and I’m no party pooper. I will continue to walk with baggies in hand.
Thanks, Harvey Milk.

Friday, March 25, 2011


After months of planning, working, and honing details, the event was over and suddenly, the room was stripped of its personality. It was no longer the safe classroom where 75 people met, laughed, learned and celebrated. It was no longer the backdrop for budding relationships, friendships, and tests of professionalism. It was simply a hotel space. The posters and banners came down; the tables were disassembled and reconfigured. Another event would be set up shortly. New people would enter a different space and create their own unique atmosphere. Ours had evaporated like magic as soon as the tablecloths were pulled from the tables.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Culture Clash On The Highway

Waterfall in Venezuela

One of my friends at work was telling me a story today about something that happened shortly after she moved to the U.S. from Venezuela. The company had given her a cultural introduction course and she learned things about fitting into our culture like not automatically hugging or kissing everyone when you meet them, and not thinking that everyone would be her friend. (Made me want to move to Venezuela!) One other tidbit of information they'd provided was that the police were not to be approached like they were free to do back home. But she had to learn a little more about dealing with the police the hard way: she got pulled over for speeding.

When she first pulled over to the side of the road she got her first lesson. She started to get out of the car and greet the officer, but he told her to remain seated and keep her hands where he could see them. He approached her window and asked for her license and registration. She had a rental car and still had her license from Venezuela, which didn't include a picture of her or information like height and weight. The rest of the run-in went something like this:

Officer: Do you know why I pulled you over?
Venezuelan Friend (VF): No, I have no idea.
Officer: Do you know how fast you were going?
VF: No.
Officer: Do you know what the speed limit is?
VF: I don't know what a speed limit is.
Officer: The speed limit is 55 mph. I clocked you going 70 mph.
VF: I only know kilometers.
Officer (writing up a ticket, but missing information that he'd normally pull from a driver's license):  Can you tell me how tall you are?
VF: 1.5 meters
Officer: How tall is that in feet?
VF: I don't know the conversion.
Officer: Approximately.
VF: I don't know how big a foot is.
Officer: What's your weight?
VF: I only know it in stones.
Officer: How many pounds?
VF: I don't know.

It went on like that for a little while and he let her go with a warning. We both got a kick out of the story and realized how many times we do the same thing throughout the day, but I never realized she couldn't visualize what I was talking about at all when I said things like "a small filing cabinet, about 2 feet high." She has no idea what I mean. And even though I had to learn metric units in school, if I couldn't see her standing in front of me, I would have no idea that 1.5 meters means she is roughly 5' tall.

Different worlds...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Looking back,
the bench that bore Destiny's name
was aptly placed:
in front of a rundown rental
parked next to a liquor store

The bench, Destiny
was frequently visited
by drunks with brown-bagged bounty
whose temporary presence
smothered the rose print

They emptied their bottles
and souls
into Destiny,
then left their debris,
ragged scraps
and broken glass,
as though that had always been
Destiny's fate

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Closest I've Come to Brad Pitt

During a 2008 trip to New Orleans, I didn't see Brad Pitt, but I did see the houses he was building as part of his Make It Right New Orleans Foundation. The organization builds environmentally green houses for people who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. There were only a few houses completed at the time, but we were lucky enough to get a tour of one.

The house had incredible green features inside and out. The landscape was designed to help with flooding, as were the sidewalks and the rainwater collectors. The house had features such as solar panels, Cradle-to-Cradle certified carpeting, sustainable appliances and cabinets, and was built to capitalize on natural wind and solar energy.

Plus, the houses are storm-proof. They have Kevlar hurricane windows so that residents don't have to board up their windows. They have roof hatches, mold-resistant insulation, and framing that can resist winds up to 130 mph.

Check it out online at and drive by the neighborhood if you're in the Lower 9th Ward and see for yourself. The houses are spectacular! And if you're lucky, you may see Brad Pitt.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Soccer Star

Dear Diary,
I'm going to be be a professional soccer player when I grow up. Or a teacher. I'm a really good goalie. I hope my team is purple. Or orange. I want to be number 5. That's my lucky number. I might be a vet.

Bye Diary!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Bike Week at Daytona Beach, Florida

My son just got his motorcycle license.

I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.
I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic. I will not panic.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Waiting For The Movie To Come Out

In 2006, we visited Chicago and were walking along the chilly sidewalks when we suddenly heard sirens. We turned around and saw what looked like a Presidential convoy. We snapped some pictures and were so excited that we'd witnessed something. We kept walking, and then all of a sudden, the Presidential cavalcade went by us again. But this time they stopped, backed up, and drove down the street again. We were confused.

Then we rounded a corner and saw a protest taking place. We couldn't figure out what they were protesting, but it didn't matter. They weren't doing much but standing there until the convoy of black cars with American flags came by again. Then the protestors waved their signs in the air and started shouting as the cars sped by with sirens on. As soon as they passed, it was lackluster again. Finally, someone clued us in: they were shooting a film.

We never did get the title of the film. It was just initials making an acronym; a film about a Presidential campaign or something. We figured we'd know it when it came out. But that was five years ago now. Maybe we missed it. Maybe it was never released. Maybe one of you recognize these scenes from the movie??

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Could Have Been a Freegan This Week

There are vegetarians. There are vegans. And then there are freegans -- a community of people who advocate against materialism, commercialism, and waste. But what they're more notoriously known for is dumpster diving.

Freegans strive to subsist on what they find for free. My aunt could be a Freegan. (Yes, Linda, I mean you.) There have been many times in my own own life when I've lived as a freegan -- namely in my early 20's when I didn't have money for food and only ate when I found food for free. I never resorted to dumpster diving, but found plenty of happy hour buffets, snacks in office break rooms, and refreshments at events that kept me going. If you think about it (which Freegans DO), our society wastes tons of food. I'm glad that freegans are eating it. I hate to think of all that waste.

But I think it would be even better if those who are hungry, freegan or otherwise, didn't have to resort to getting all that surplus food from the garbage. As a society we need to be better about limiting our consumption to the right amount so that we don't have more food left over than what was actually eaten. And when we do have extra, we need to find a way to share it with those in need.

I've been fortunate to work at shelters and know where to find places that can take food. (Call your local YMCA, Salvation Army, or United Way and ask!) I have volunteered to pick up and deliver leftover food from banquets, weddings, parties, and corporate events to residential shelters. Seriously, there's often been more leftover food than I could fit in my car. Food that was on its way to the dumpster until I delivered it to a shelter.

On a smaller scale, I always take leftovers home.  Such was the case this week, when I had several company events with WAY too much food. I took it home. It fed my family all week.

I could have been a non-dumpster diving freegan this week. I wonder, if you look around your own lives, whether you could have been, too?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Faeries

Pretend this is an Irish castle. It's not.
(This is the beginning of a much longer short story. I'm posting a few paragraphs in honor of St. Patrick's Day.)

The Beauties of Mackenzie

           They say there are faeries in the hills of Mackenzie. I know it is true. If you look closely in the hour of twilight, you can just see their sparkling light dancing in the flowers ‘neath the trees. Some foolish souls have tried to capture these wee sprites, but ‘tis a fool’s lot to try. You’d best let them be to work their magic like they did on the folk of Mackenzie.
            It is true that Mackenzie has some of the fairest girls in all of Ireland. More than our fair share, some would say. Some, like Siobhan, were born as pretty as a lilac bouquet. Girls like Siobhan cuddle their baby dolls to them and help their mothers tend the babies. They laugh with school chums and wrap presents with pretty bows that curl to perfection.
            Girls like Siobhan need only the tiniest sprinkling of faerie dust to keep their sweet demeanors. It’s the other ones, the girls who cast frowns and pinch their brothers-- these are the girls that the faeries work their magic upon. These are the girls who prove there are faeries.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Got Salt?

Looking to spice up your trip to the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, Tennessee area? Dash inside the Museum of Salt & Pepper Shakers!

My husband and I couldn't resist going inside. There were thousands of salt & pepper shaker sets. I actually enjoyed milling around, looking at all the different designs. Or maybe I just enjoyed being child-free for half  an hour, since my children refused to come inside and waited in the car instead. I would have-- no, should have-- spent longer looking at the displays. But with a sulky teenager waiting in the car, I only looked long enough to get the flavor of the museum.

What's funny though, is that ever since, I cannot stop myself from picking up salt & pepper shakers at every yard sale, thrift store, or flea market and think about that museum and wonder whether they have the same set that I'm holding? I almost want to buy the sets I come across and send them down to Tennessee to add to the museum collection. Maybe the next time I'm headed down that way, I will.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Books About The Holocaust

This German statue stands in memory of those killed at Dachau.

I am drawn to novels about the Holocaust. I’ve read dozens and am always surprised when I read a new one that offers a different slant or perspective, broadening the scope of the Holocaust even more.
Below are my favorites from the past few years. 

The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy
                Two Jewish children are sent into the woods by their father and stepmother to escape the Nazis. Their father begs them to call themselves Hansel and Gretel and to never reveal their Jewish identities. The author provides incredible descriptions of the forest and the atrocities the Nazis inflict on the Jews they catch. Throughout, the author alludes to the well-known fairy tale, but with much scarier overtones.

Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer
          This book was fantastic. It should be used as a social studies text book. Although I've read dozens of books about the Holocaust, this is the first time I understood what was happening in Germany. We got parallel accounts: one from a young man growing up in the Hitler Youth, the other from a young Jewish woman. The author did a fantastic job of helping me wrap my mind around all the numbers that made up the 6 million killed, and gave an incredible account of the liberation.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
            The back blurb describes the author’s experience in interviewing Holocaust survivors for Steven Spielberg's project. I kept thinking about that as I read. I thought her twist on the interviewing project in the book was a great idea. And I wondered how many of the Holocaust/War stories in the books might have been based on things she heard?

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
          The sense of setting and time were so precise that every time I sat down to read this I was transported to Holland in the late 30's/ early '40's. I could clearly visualize the streets, the people, the watch shop, and the Beje. I liked the fact that the book started years before Germany occupied Holland. It drove home the fact that things changed gradually, and without warning. The book captured the growing fear among everyone, and the subtle changes in lifestyle that finally meant that this was war and nothing would ever be the same.

Shanghai Diary by Ursula Bacon
            This novel told the story of Jews who escaped Holocaust by moving to Shanghai – an aspect of history I was not familiar with. It was odd to read about the ordeal of Jews escaping Hitler without reading of the tortures of the Nazis. Instead, they were affected by the war between Japan and the U.S.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sociology Experiment

Cafes along the streets of Mt. Adams, Cincinnati

Amy sat at a table near the window, still wearing her uniform of black pants and white button-down Oxford shirt. She pulled out her Sociology textbook and read the chapter on crowd behavior again. People in crowds were less likely to take action, assuming that someone else would do it instead. Interesting. People in elevators were uncomfortable if onboarding passengers faced them instead of turning around and facing the elevator doors as society expected. Amy pondered this. Surely she could come up with a similar experiment for her Sociology research paper.

She continued to read until her break was over and her floor manager called her to wait on the couple who'd just sat at table eight. Amy rose to serve them when an idea suddenly hit her. Like the backward-facing elevator passenger, she would do the unexpected. She'd turn the tables on her tables. She greeted the couple at the table and took their order.

Twenty minutes later, Amy arrived back at their table with plates in hand. She set the large cranberry chicken salad in front of the woman and a mile-high mushroom burger with a mound of steak fries in front of the man. They thanked her and were just about to begin eating when Amy interrupted.

"Excuse me. Do you mind if I join you? I haven't had a chance to eat yet today and I just hate to eat alone."

Before they could respond, Amy set down the last plate she was carrying; a quesadilla platter with an extra set of utensils. She quickly turned away from their startled expressions and allowed herself a small smile as she pulled another chair to their table.

"Bon Appetit!" she offered and held a quesadilla triangle up as a toast. The couple were taken aback, but raised their drinks in return and then settled into silence to eat their meals.

Amy settled in and soon the three were holding a first-date kind of conversation. Amy asked them what brought them to the restaurant that night. It turned out that they were celebrating the sale of their house. Amy congratulated them and finished her quesadilla, grabbing their empty drink glasses and returning moments later with refills. She did not sit down again, but thanked them for dining with her. Then she let the couple eat in peace and waited on the other tables in her section.

When they left, Amy was surprised to find that they'd left her a 50% tip. She pocketed the money and marked it down in her notebook. She'd try the experiment again on each of her shifts that week.

By the end of the semester, Amy concluded that sitting down and breaking bread with her customers was good business. Her tips steadily came in at 50% or higher. She found she enjoyed talking to her customers and eating dinner with them. When the Sociology project was over, Amy continued her routine and discovered that many of her dining companions came back and invited her to eat with them again. One of them was Amy's Sociology professor who not only enjoyed his meal with Amy, he gave her an A.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

200th Post

This is my 200th blog post. Cause for celebration of sorts, I think. Though daunting to consider writing another 165 to make a full year.

I've tried to vary my genres and have been surprised by some of the statistics to date. As someone who primarily writes non-fiction, I expected that to be the bulk of my entries. And at 36 posts, it is, closely followed by 35 essays (which are non-fiction, too). Thirty-three random thoughts...undoubtedly days when I didn't have anything else to say. Though to be fair, I have millions of random thoughts. In fact, some might say all my thoughts are random.

What's actually surprised me most is that when I think back over my posts, my favorites have been my fiction entries. I've been writing more fiction over the past couple of years and find that when I sit down and look at a picture and think up a story or a scene to go with it, those blogs are the most fun for me, and are the ones I like best.

So, two hundred down. An infinite amount to go. Look for more fiction to come in the future.
  • book review (6)
  • children's non-fiction (1)
  • essay (35)
  • fiction (31)
  • haiti (5)
  • journal (21)
  • list (4)
  • non-fiction (36)
  • poetry (18)
  • quiz (3)
  • random thought (33)
  • rant (2)
  • review (5)
  • travel (14)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Dinosaur Times

At the Smithsonian Museum, Washington, D.C.

Landon looked up at the menacing dinosaur skeleton towering over him. His mouth formed an "O" of wonder as he stood beneath it. This looked much scarier than his plastic dinosaur set.

"Grandpa, what was it like back when dinosaurs were alive?"

Grandpa whistled and shook his head. "You don't want to know," he warned Landon.

"Tell me!"

Grandpa stroked the beard on his chin and snuck a quick glance at the dinosaur again. "I don't know, Landon. Are you sure you're big enough to hear this? I don't want to scare you."

"I'm not scared!"

"Well then, you're braver than I am. Because those dinosaurs were a scary bunch, always stomping along and gnashing their teeth. They'd howl something awful! Especially when they caught a whiff of... nope, I can't say it."

Landon's eye grew as large as boulders. He tugged on his grandfather's pant leg. "Tell me! Tell me!"

Grandpa looked down at him and waved him off. "I shouldn't have said anything. Let's go see the polar bear exhibit." He pretended to start in the other direction, but Landon pulled his pant leg again.

"No, Grandpa! Tell me! A whiff of what?"

Grandpa grimaced and shook his head. "I don't think you should hear this."

Landon waited expectantly, holding his breath.

"You sure you want to hear this?"

Landon nodded. Grandpa shrugged his shoulders and shook his head again. "Okay. You asked." He crouched down to his grandson's level and peered up at the dinosaur with him. "They'd start gnashing their teeth and howling like all get out whenever they got a whiff of..." he paused. "Little boys!"

Grandpa straightened again. Landon grabbed his hand and pressed himself against his grandfather's leg. He inched away from the dinosaur.

"Good thing they're extinct," his grandfather said as they started walking toward the polar bear exhibit. "Not like those polar bears." He stopped in his tracks. "You sure you want to go see those polar bears?" he asked Landon.

Landon nodded. Grandpa shook his head and let out a low whistle. "You're braver than I am."

Friday, March 11, 2011

What Exactly Do You Mean By "Better"?

My husband is sure that I am about to be banned from the eye doctor's office. Maybe, but I can't help myself. I'm a writer who majored in English. Words can mean so many different things. So sometimes I overanalyze questions a little, as was the case during my eye exam yesterday.

The doctor started clicking the dials a notch and asking me which was better: 1 or 2? I'd answer, he'd make adjustments, and then he'd ask me again, "Which is better: 3 or 4?"

I'd bite my lip and hesitate, just for a fraction of a second, and he'd get impatient. "Are they the same?"


He'd run through them again. "1 or 2?" I answered. "3 or 4?" I'd hesitate.

"Are they the same?" he demanded.

No, they weren't and I said so, though he told me that hesitations indicated to him that I couldn't tell the difference. He was wrong about that. I could see a big difference between the two lenses; I just couldn't say which was better.

Better. What a vague word. I finally told him that I couldn't decide which was better because I could read them both clearly, but in one frame, the letters were thin and precise like an Arial font and in the other, the letters were bolder and wider, but equally legible. 

So you tell me, which is better:      POTATO              POTATO

Exactly!  Please rephrase the question.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Before You Move To Florida

Before you move to Florida,
You'll drive down a Pinellas county road
And find the shops bright and glinting in the sun.
You'll think that it might be nice to live here.
The traffic doesn’t bother you;
Just a line of eager cars with the same idea
To go where the sun shines warm.

But then you sign a lease,
Get a job,
Buy groceries,
And the line of cars is nothing but annoying tourists
Spewing exhaust fumes,
Thinking that life is a vacation.
Meanwhile, you’re running late to work,
Stuck on the causeway,
Missing the sunshine,
The beach,
And the suntan oil and Frisbee toss.

Now Florida is no longer a vast sunny playground;
It’s the state where you pay taxes
Fill your days with 9 to 5
Then watch TV until bedtime
Like everyone else;

Like you did
Before you made your vacation spot your home.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

10 Things I Wish I Could Give Up For Lent

1. Work - But let's be honest. I don't want to work after the 40 days are up, either.

2. Pounds of Flesh - without having to give up the fattening foods that caused it.

3. Housekeeping - Oops! I gave that up years ago.

4. Telemarketer phone calls - Can I tell them I've given up listening to them for Lent?

5. Rejection letters - Contracts only from publishers, please.

6. Any mention of Charlie Sheen - Who even cares?

7. "iCarly" and "Suite Life on Deck" - Because I am not a 10-year-old girl.

8. Bills - Don't pay for 40 days?

9. Mud - Muddy footprints, muddy pawprints, and puddles like ponds in my yard.

10. Giving up things for Lent.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cincinnati Exposed

I think most of Cincinnati watched "Undercover Boss" on Sunday to see Mayor Mark Mallory go undercover among city workers. I don't have a strong opinion about the mayor one way or the other, but watched the show to see how they portrayed Cincinnati.

Initially, I was unimpressed. I thought the city looked pretty, and the producers of the show could have easily found ways to depict Cincinnati in a less-than-favorable light. As it is, we did that to ourselves, instead. Immediately after the show, people began complaining to the news media that city workers such as the sanitation worker on the show should not be picking up dog remains from someone's yard. City dollars shouldn't go toward that.

Why are people so petty? I think that the sanitation worker's willingness to remove a carcass from someone's yard should be applauded. As should the meter maid's kindness. She was poised to write a parking ticket but saw the car owner racing toward the car and so she let her go without ticketing it. Don't we all wish that someone would be as merciful if we were in the same situation?

The mechanic who works on the city fleet service personally knew most of the policemen whose motor vehicles he was servicing. He knew their driving patterns and how best to tune their vehicles. He feared rumors that the city was getting ready to outsource this job. What a shame to lose such a personal touch. Hopefully Mark Mallory reconsidered.

Cincinnati is a small city that boasts of being "Hometown Proud." As I watched the show, I wondered how the rest of the country would view Cincinnati. I hoped they wouldn't look at us as simple and unprofessional. I hope they saw a glimpse of Cincinnati and Cincinnatians for what we really are: nice. That's why I choose to live here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Graffiti - no - street art in Hamilton, Ohio

I am so oblivious to my surroundings sometimes. Then someone will turn my head for me, speak to me and explain what is going on, and I will be amazed that I missed something that was right in front of my eyes.
Such is the case with street art.
Unfortunately, I do not have an artistic “eye.” Until someone tells me what I’m looking at, I’m not sure. So as I’ve wandered around for the past decade and spotted graffiti and murals painted on the sides of buildings, all I saw was vandalism by people who wanted to make their mark on the world and thought that spray-painting their names on concrete overpasses and tunnels accomplished that.
I could tell that some spray paintings were more elaborate than others. But so often they involved skulls and crossbones or fantasy creatures that it was still lost on me. What were they trying to say? Or were they, like schoolchildren, just doodling on concrete canvases instead of notebook covers? I didn’t really consider these works “art.”
Then I watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop.”  How eye-opening! Again, I needed someone to turn my head, show me the work, and explain it to me. Now that they have, I am astounded at all I’ve missed! Would you believe that I went to a Shepard Fairey exhibit and had no idea that it was a display of street art? I thought it was interesting that his paintings seemed to be on newsprint, and I read the small plaques next to his Andre the Giant “OBEY” prints. I didn’t really get it. And was sure I was missing some important political message with all of his Marxist theory prints (that weren’t mentioned in the film).
I am so obtuse.
I’d also never heard of Space Invader, Banksy, or Mister Brainwash. But now I’m intrigued. I would be thrilled to stumble upon Banksy’s work as I traipse around a city. When I go to Paris, I will look for the Rubik’s cube Space Invader pieces. I am looking forward to discovering that art more than touring the Louvre or the Picasso Museum. It sounds like a fun treasure hunt.
Banksy, Fairey, and Mister Brainwash turned the heads of people like me in “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” They directed our gaze to the artwork that is right in front of us. They promoted the street art movement and now I’m viewing it with new appreciation.
But my naiveté does not end there.
I watched the film without knowing that it is widely believed to be a hoax. Many critics do not believe that Thierry Guetta even exists. Some have put this documentary on par with “The Blair Witch Project.” It made me pause and reconsider the film. If it is a hoax, I think I like it even more, because it is yet another work of experimental art.
What else is going on around me that I’m missing?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Are They Smiling?

Some dogs, like dolphins and koala bears, always look like they're smiling. Maybe they are. Think about it. For one thing, we think they're smiling and approach them with smiles in return. And why wouldn't they be smiling? Is there any reason to think they aren't content?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Billy, Don't Be A Hero

I don't think a song like "Billy, Don't Be A Hero" would be popular now.

There is much speculation and debate over music and how it affects children. When children commit crimes, act out, or engage in self-destructive activities, critics are quick to blame the influence of explicit music and lyrics. I don't think we can ascribe blame to music that easily. Just as a reader brings his own world experience to anything he reads, I think the same is true of a listener bringing his/her own experience to the music he hears. We hear and interpret things in our own way.

But I will say that music has an affect on a child's perspective, and that it may influence a child in ways that may not be intended. What people tend to forget is that a child is listening to a song with immature ears. He may not hear it in the same way that an adult would. It may have different meanings for him because the material conveyed is adult material; out of his scope of knowledge. He may easily misinterpret what the music is saying, though his interpretation is equally valid because he is hearing it through his own perception of the world.

My example is a rather innocent song in comparison to what's on the radio today. When I was a child, I remember riding to school on the schoolbus and hearing a song that haunted me in ways that I'm sure an adult would have never realized. I'm talking about the song "Billy, Don't Be A Hero." I heard that song and it scared me.

Billy, don't be a hero,
don't be a fool with your life.
Billy, don't be a hero,
come back and make me your wife.
And as he started to go, she said,
Billy, keep your head low.
Billy, don't be a hero, come back to me.

(Later in the song)

I heard his fiancee got a letter
That told how Billy died that day.
The letter said that he was a hero
She should be proud he died that way.
I heard she threw that letter away.

I was a 7-year-old girl hearing that song. What I heard was that a woman could have so much power over a man that if he didn't do what she told him to do, then if he died, it was his fault for not listening to her. She actually blamed him for his own death. I couldn't believe she was so cruel that she threw his letter away because he didn't do what she'd said. That's what the song was about to me. And I couldn't understand it. I couldn't understand how someone could tell someone else what to do, claiming to love him, and then wouldn't care if he died. That was my naive, childish interpretation of the song. And that impression lasted for decades.

I recently downloaded the song onto my iPod and listened to it again. At first, I thought that I must be listening to the wrong song. This was a jaunty, upbeat tune with something like fife and drums, which I'd never heard as a child. But the words were the same. Now I could put the song into the perspective of the times and realize it for the anti-war sentiment it was. I'd thought it was all about control issues.

So, what are children really hearing when they listen to music today? We can easily criticize musical lyrics for being too explicit and too adult for our children. I will agree with that. But I'm not sure that the actual songs are even what they're hearing. They are hearing songs through an immature, inexperienced filter and it may not sound the same to them as it does to us at all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Audition

“I’m here to audition for the part of the apple tree.”
The casting director looked the maple up and down his trunk. “You have any apple in you?”
The maple shook his branches. “No, but I can play an apple tree.”
The director shrugged. “Go ahead and give me your line.”
The stand-in scarecrow fed him his cue. “Come along, Dorothy. You don't want any of those apples.”
The maple tree stood stoically. “Are you hinting my apples aren't what they ought to be?”
The scarecrow started to say his next line, but the casting director interrupted him. “Cut. Cut.” He waved his hand toward the tree. "You gotta say it with a sneer. Can you do a sneer? These people gotta be afraid of you.”
The maple nodded and listened to the scarecrow repeat his line. He pulled what ire he could from his roots and spoke again.
“Are you hinting my apples aren’t what they ought to be?”
“Oh no, it’s just…”
The director cut the scarecrow off again and waved the script at the tree. “No, no. You need to lean over them and scare them a little. Shake your branches. They just insulted you. They stole your apples. Show us your anger.”
The maple nodded and he and the scarecrow ran through their lines again. This time the scarecrow finished, “Oh no, it’s just that she doesn't like little green worms!”
That was his cue. The maple snatched an apple from the ground and threw it at the scarecrow, but it fell limply at the base of his trunk.
“Cut! Cut!” the director yelled and jumped to his feet. “What kind of throw was that? That’s not how you throw an apple. Haven’t you ever thrown an apple before?”
The maple shook his branches. He felt sap break out in his treetop. The director sighed and sat back down.
“We’ll let you know. Next!”

Thursday, March 3, 2011

To Kristan and Sarah

After clocking too many overtime hours and drowning in work that seems to have very little to do with who I am or aspire to be, I had the pleasure of reading your blogs. I needed those. They reminded me of a simple fact that was getting lost in my life: I am a writer and take joy in writing.
It’s easy to get mired in work, life, kids, family, and minor disasters that eat up my days, thoughts, and energy. It’s easy to fall into a routine of going to work, paying bills, doing chores, and spending my days on things that don’t bring me satisfaction. I forget that writing can be the small act of pampering I need at the end of the day. Too often lately, writing gets categorized as something else I “need to do.”
But your blogs reminded me that putting words on paper is a joy. Sometimes the words make me smile, Sarah; or words come together so “cleanly,” Kristan, that I dream about living a literary life full of book releases and publicity tours.
Thank you both for reminding me of that. Thank you for reminding me that I need to wedge my foot firmly in the world of writing before I lose my balance.

For those of you who haven’t read Writing Dreams Into Reality or Folding Fields, check them out here:

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It's True What They Say About Writing True Crime

The house where the murder occurred

Front page headlines always seem like perfect fodder for true crime novels. All the elements are there, and yet, we know there's more to the story than what is printed in the newspaper. There's a story behind the news story splashed across the front page. So when the headlines touched home for my husband, Mike, he decided to try his hand at writing true crime.

A murder recently occurred down the street from Mike's childhood home. My husband's boyhood neighbor was accused of killing his own mother. In addition, his former girlfriend had been missing for four years.

Mike was captivated by the unfolding events. There was more to the story than what the newspaper presented. Mike knew the family. He could provide insights that other writers couldn't, and present the full story. All Mike needed now was to figure out how to write it. Luckily, there was a manual for that.

In his book How To Write & Sell True Crime, Gary Provost outlines the steps and procedures for breaking into the true crime genre. He shares his own experience and details the case that first inspired him to write true crime. The circumstances of that case lead him to caution would-be writers:
"It (writing true crime) is especially not for you if you are extremely uncomfortable in the presence of people who have suffered great pain. Make no mistake, when you write true crimes you are going to meet people who have suffered something awful."

What sage advice. If only my husband, Mike, had heeded this warning.

He read through Gary Provost's book and began making an outline. He did some online research and found a blog about the murders, and another about the girl's disappearance. Some of the people posting comments claimed to be friends and cousins of hers, so my husband made a note to follow up with them at a later time for background information.

A trial was set for the accused killer and my husband made plans to attend the trial. Then he tracked down the phone number of the girl's father and called him for an interview. Mike left a message for the man, explaining that he was writing a book and wanted to include information about the girl's disappearance. As it happened, he called on the day that police found her remains.

Not surprisingly, the girl's father was angry and suspicious when he spoke to my husband on the phone. Until then, I don't think Mike ever fully comprehended what it would be like to immerse himself in a murder investigation. It's one thing to sit on the sidelines and speculate, or read about a case in newspapers and books. But to suddenly come face-to-face with overwhelming grief, pain, and criminal activity was a whole other matter.

The man on the phone rambled on. Angry, bitter, and raw with emotion, he spewed forth the frustration and suspicions he'd carried with him for the four years that his daughter was missing.

By the end of the phone call, my husband was shaken. His mind was spinning and he wanted to go write, to capture the emotion and conversation on paper. But first he wanted to go lock every door, and close all the shades. He expected the FBI to turn up at our door any minute. He was sure our phone was now tapped, and his computer and notes would be confiscated. He wondered what he'd gotten us into, and whether we were safe. He realized, suddenly, that we were now entrenched in a murder case. And he wasn't sure he could continue. If he felt this shaken by interviewing the father of the victim, how would he feel when he interviewed the accused?

Gary Provost addresses this phenomenon in How To Write & Sell True Crime. He says that all true crime writers probably have occasional bouts of paranoia. But he adds, "The question is not just: Are you in danger? The question is: Are you going to worry about the fact that you might be in danger?"

Mike's answer to this question was a resounding "yes." Interviewing victims and criminals was not something routine for him, and wasn't something that he wished to make routine. A girl had been murdered and he wasn't going to lose sight of that. A boy who'd once lived two doors down from Mike was now behind bars in the state penitentiary, accused of killing his mother.

It's true what Provost said about writing true crime: it's not for the faint of heart.

Provost's book provided the nuts and bolts of writing a true crime novel, but even Provost couldn't provide the strategies for coping with fear, paranoia and the heightened emotions that come with covering crime. That was something that Mike would have to learn on his own - if he continued writing at all.

(This article first appeared in Writers Weekly, June 2009.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Get The Switch

I was a pretty good kid; didn’t cause much trouble. Neither did my brother. But there were moments when we pushed my mother as far as we could. We were smart-alecky, that’s for sure. So when we finally pushed her far enough, we heard these three frightening words: “Get the Switch.”
For those of you unfamiliar with this type of punishment, getting the switch meant that we had to go out to the tree and bring back a switch for my mother to whip us with. I’m trying to remember which tree we pulled these from. Probably the apple tree out back because it had thin, green branches (switches) that we thought we were so smart to choose. I don’t know why we didn’t realize that the skinnier the switch, the more it stung. We were foolish.
Most of the punishment actually came from the fear and anticipation. The switch made a whooshing sound as my mother flicked it through the air; a sound not unlike an actual whip. That was enough to send my brother and me into fits of remorse and promises that we’d never misbehave again. Now that I think about it, I don’t know if we felt a switch across the backs of our legs more than once. It was never our mother’s intention to hurt us; it was more a way to instill fear – and it worked. For the most part she’d just chase us around a little with it. We knew it would sting if she made contact with our skin, and that was enough.
My kids don’t know how lucky they have it. I’ve never told them to go “Get The Switch.” In fact, they wouldn’t even know what I meant.