Thursday, June 30, 2011

Dutch Windmill

I could only capture this 17th century Dutch windmill
through the rainy glass of a bus window
 as I travelled through Holland. But somehow
 it seems fitting: austere, beyond my grasp. It
belongs to another world that I cannot actually touch.
It makes me think of Van Gogh.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Guest Post: Vacation Bible School

by JoJo McGuire

I recently had the privilege of taking my 5th grade daughter to Vacation Bible School (VBS). For those of you who do not know about VBS, it is a weeklong “school” in which children attend a few hours per day, normally at night, and learn about the Bible and Jesus. (It also helps the parents have a few hours away from their children since it is during summer vacation.) Kids normally learn a passage from the Bible each day and hear stories that reinforce the chosen passage. They also learn a LOT of songs.  These songs, often sung as loudly as possible, help reinforce the lesson of the day and the message of the week. Normally it is comprised of “Jesus Loves You- You Should Do as Jesus Asks- Love Each Other- Obey Your Parents-Pray Every Night.” And, best of all, VBS is free.
Watching the closing of each day’s lessons, I couldn’t help but think back to my own experiences of VBS. With seven kids in my family, my parents had to try to entertain us as cheaply as possible. During the summer, that became harder and harder to do as the days wore on. There were only so many games of kick the can, tag, and hide and seek that could be played. By the end of June, we were bored.  Enter VBS. 
My parents would load the youngest five of us into a van the size of a freight truck, cart us to that year’s chosen VBS and send us on our way. My siblings and I listened as my parents drove off, their muffler heard a mile away, hoping that we would at least be put in the same groups. Most of the time we were separated. It didn’t matter though. We always had fun. Heck, I continued to go to VBS and church camp until I was a sophomore in high school and got a job.
Although those who know me do not believe it, I was always a shy person. But in VBS, you don’t have a chance to be shy or introverted. You are immediately divided up into age appropriate groups and herded off to play, have a snack, learn, make new friends and develop crushes. I can remember to this day the feeling of camaraderie that was developed, the friends made, and the promises to stay in contact. (Much harder back then than it is now.) The whole process of VBS is to show kids that they are not alone and that they can learn about God, Jesus and the Bible and still have fun in life. I did not realize it at the time but I do now. It was a great experience that I am glad my parents took us to each year.
Remembering all of these experiences and feelings, I could not help but smile as I pulled into the church lot and saw my daughter running around, smiling and laughing, ponytail flying behind her. I noticed that most of the kids in her group were new and she probably did not know them. (She can be shy like I was and I am always amazed and grateful to see her outside of her comfort zone and interacting with others.) I arrived a few minutes early so I took in the scene. There were at least 50 kids attending that night and they were all giggling, shrieking and playing. I wondered if my daughter had developed any crushes. (She is at the age where she does not tell me much about that anymore.)
As they were herded into the sanctuary, I noticed that all of the VBS leaders were teenagers with a few college kids sprinkled in. This is a new concept; one that I think is great. The church asks a youth group from an affiliated church in another state to help run VBS with some college students. They stay at the church all week and are chaperoned by a few adults. I think of how much easier it is for the kids to relate to other young adults. My daughter proves this every night, talking about her youth leaders and the new friends she has made.

As I listened to the closing part of the “school” for the day, I was grateful that the VBS was not run as a fear factory. I have heard stories of people leaving other VBS in tears; afraid that they or their parents will burn in hell. I do not want religion “scared” into anyone. It should be explained and taught. Why scare a child into fearing something which should be loved and respected?
At my daughter’s VBS, they end with a recap of the day’s lesson and Bible verse followed by a youth group member “witnessing” or explaining how they came to be a Christian. No Hell Fire and Brimstone from an adult looking down physically on a child, just straight talk from one kid to another. Then, the last “leader” speaks. He is a college student who immediately jumps to his feet and tells everyone to jump up and grab their air guitars. All of the students scream and do as they are told. The music starts and all of the kids and leaders start into the loudest rendition of a church song I have ever heard. They are smiling, laughing and singing at the top of their lungs. Even the parents are enjoying the show.
This is how it should be in church.  Kids having fun.  Not being told that others are going to Hell if they don’t believe. Singing, not chastising. Laughing, not crying. The whole time learning, not being lectured to. I hope she will remember this fondly: the friends, the leaders and the songs. Watching her brings back memories.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flying First Class

I took this picture with my arm stretched out behind me.
Couldn't do that in coach! Note the linens and china.
You can also see my shoes. My legs are fully extended.

I usually fly coach, so was totally unprepared for the class shock of suddenly finding myself in first class on an international flight. I'd spent a frustrating day at several airports being re-routed from one flight to another and put on delay after delay. The flight staff were as frustrated as the hundreds of travellers stranded and sent to stand in line after line, myself included.

Then suddenly, I was the last person boarding the plane for Europe and was guided to my seat in first class. Here's what it was like:

I was greeted by not one, not two, but THREE flight attendants who called me by name, handed me a travel essentials bag, asked for my cocktail order and what newspaper I would like. After a day of being told "no," and "there's nothing I can do; you'll have to stand in line," I nearly cried at the sudden kindness. Seriously. I was exhausted and nearly cried. But I didn't.

I sat back with my water (a headache prevented me from ordering a cocktail) and waited for the flight attendant to collect it since we were about to take off. But they didn't. In first class you get to keep your drinks the whole time.

Then the flight attendants came around with menues. Menues!! I chose shrimp cocktail, salad with viniagrette dressing, fish with plum sauce, plantains, and green beans. I could have had steak, but did I mention it was 11:00pm and I'd scarfed down a McDonald's hamburger about an hour before? Another flight attendant came around with steaming hot towels so that we could all freshen up. It felt like heaven. I wiped off 13 hours worth of airport grime and then ordered another glass of water.

Moments later the flight attendant came around and set our tables. This was absolutely verging on bizarre. I unfolded my tray table (which was not attached to the back of the seat in front of me) and she covered it with a linen tablecloth. I kid you not! Linen! She set a linen napkin with a full set of silverware on my table: 3 forks, a knife, and 3 spoons. Then she then brought me a dish of warm roasted peanuts. Warm! Roasted! This was a far cry from the paltry pack of peanuts I could have bought on my last flight if we'd had enough time between turbulence and 'fasten seatbelt' warnings.

Now, I'm about to get whiny, so go ahead and hate me. But remember, I was exhausted, and it was nearly  midnight, and I still had a full day of rerouted flights and layovers ahead of me, not to mention the time change coming. So, I found myself facing a first class dilemma: partake of all these luxuries? Or sleep?

I opted to eat my food as quickly as possible, skipping dessert (I could have had creme brulee!) and trying to sleep for the remaining three hours before they woke me to serve breakfast. (If you don't hate me by now, you never will.)

So - sleeping accommodations. Well, it was no 3/4" reclining seat like in coach. And my personal space was not impacted in any way by the person reclining in front of me. I had my very own area that had so much leg room that I couldn't even reach the foot rest (ottoman) until I reclined my seat the full 180 degrees. Which I did. I turned off my personal TV (I had my pick of shows, movies, games or music) and laid back with my down blanket and pillow. I set my glasses on the nightstand beside me and went to sleep.

Three blissful hours later I awoke to the announcement that it was time for breakfast. We had an hour until we landed and then were ushered off the plane before everyone else. It was unreal. I can't believe they didn't offer full massages while we were flying up in those suddenly-friendly skies. First class was definitely first class all the way.

Well, not all the way. Unfortunately, after my next 4-hour layover, I found myself back where I really belonged - in coach, pondering whether or not to spring for a bag of peanuts, which were sure to be room temperature, at best.

Monday, June 27, 2011

I Oughta Be In Pictures

I don't know how I do it. I have stumbled upon another movie shoot. I have previously shared my pictures from shoots in Chicago and New Orleans. This time, I'm at the Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium.

I watched production for a while and then asked one of the cameramen what they were filming. His accent was thick, but I did understand that it was an Italian film. When I asked him the title, he said, "Exa." Maybe X? Then he said "Prima." I guess he's talking about the film.

I watched for a while longer, shaking my head at my dumb luck. They changed scenes and brought new people onto the cafe stage to be background extras. I started to wonder why they never pick me? Maybe it's because I look so stupidly starstruck with my mouth hanging open and my camera constantly in my face.

I will look for this foreign film sometime in the future. Maybe it's called "X", maybe not. I'll try to recognize the Italian movie star that I probably should have been awed by.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Street Food in Amsterdam

With only three hours to explore Amsterdam, I spent my time walking and walking and walking. The city is beautiful; the architecture, the crowds, the ambience of a vibrant city full of people from all over the world. I loved it. So I didn't want to waste a moment of my time sitting in a restaurant when there was still so much to see. Instead, I opted for street food. The most popular item seemed to be frites (French fries). There were competing frites stands everywhere, even side-by-side.

Though there were many frites toppings available (ketchup, curry, cheese, mustard), by far the most popular seemed to be mayo. In fact, several frites stands boasted their own special sauce (doctored-up mayo). So, I did what everyone else did: I ordered mine with mayo and received a cone full of frites and a tiny wooden spork to fish out the last few frites from the bottom of the cone. It was delicious! I walked around with my treat and explored more of Amsterdam. I forgot to see how many of these frites stands were next to the multitude of coffee shops where I'm sure most of the people emerging had the munchies. Let's just say the number of coffee shops and frites stands were about even.

Friday, June 24, 2011

5 Hour Delay

My husband has a 5-hour layover during an upcoming trip and wonders what he'll do to pass the time. As someone who just had a 5-hour airport delay (shortly followed by another 4-hour delay), I can share how other people passed the time.

1. Drinking - the bars were packed!

2. Playing with electronics - as long as the batteries hold out, you're good.

3. Arguing with flight crew. That didn't get anyone anywhere. Literally.

4. Shopping.

5. Taking turns walking up and down the terminal. This only works if you're travelling with someone who can stay put and watch your bags. Otherwise, it's too much of a hassle.

6. Making numerous phone calls and working on your laptop.  I think a lot of people got a lot of work done.

7. Cry -   There were more than a few frustrated travellers who'd had all they could take.

8. Sleep -  if you're one of the lucky few who can in a crowded airport.

9. Yoga -  I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it for myself, but one woman did a good 20 minutes of yoga at her seat.

10 Watch someone doing yoga  -  because if someone around you is doing it, trust me - you can't help but watch.

Environmentalists, Raise Your Glass!

Wine barrels at Jacuzzi Vineyards in Sonoma, California.

We all know that drinking red wine can be beneficial to our health (in moderation). Little did we know that it's also environmentally friendly!

Wine is a zero-waste beverage. The glass bottles can be recycled, and now - so can the cork. Whole Foods teamed up with ReCORK America and offers drop-off boxes in some of their stores. Those little corks can be recycled into flooring tiles, shoe soles, bulletin boards, building insulation, and fishing rod handles.

The natural antioxidants from winery waste are touted as soil conditioners. Winery waste is also used in heavy metal absorbency. And if you're the rare being who doesn't finish all the wine in the bottle, even those last few drops can be environmentally-friendly. Just add them to the compost heap.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hippocampus

Seahorse exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium

I love it when I read a book that makes me want to know more. Such was the case when I read The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. The story revolves around a woman whose young daughter disappears while the two are spending the afternoon on a foggy beach. She struggles to recall any detail that might help her find her missing daughter, who she believes is still alive.
The book touches on several concepts regarding memory, memory recall and the brain. I found these theories and facts fascinating and was particularly drawn to Richmond’s description of the hippocampus:  a seahorse-shaped portion of the brain responsible for memory and emotion. I immediately looked this up on the internet and found even more intriguing information about the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in memory forming, organizing, and storing. It forms new memories and connects them to emotions and senses, which explains why certain smells and sounds trigger strong emotional memories. The hippocampus indexes memories, sending them to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage and retrieval. It is also essential for creating new memories. As one site explained it, if you didn't have a hippocampus, you couldn't live in the present; you'd be stuck in the past of old memories. Which sparked a lightbulb moment in me: the hippocampus’ function must be related to Alzheimer’s.
It is. Alzheimer's disease severely affects the hippocampus first, before other parts of the brain.  So memory is usually the first thing to start to falter in Alzheimer's. A person without a properly functioning hippocampus lacks the ability to make new memories.  That is why someone with Alzheimer’s can’t recall recent visitors or phone calls. They can’t remember current conversations. They simply don’t have the ability to do so.

I found this insight absolutely frightening. Nothing scares me more than the idea of losing my memory. While there is some research into neurogenesis, or the birth of brand new brain cells in the hippocampus and frontal lobes, I couldn’t get past the image of that critical seahorse-shaped portion of my brain shriveling and shrinking. If only I knew how to prevent it from happening. I read that there is a connection between estrogen levels and the hippocampus; I want to delve deeper into that.

Basically, I want to find out what I can do to keep my little seahorse fully functioning.  And, while my seahorse is still working, I want to write a thank you note to Michelle Richmond for introducing me to my hippocampus in the first place.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

24-Hour Short Story Contest: Honorable Mention

A picture of grapes would have worked so much better here.
But I don't have one. Strawberries will have to suffice.

Back in April, I took part in the 24-hour Short Story contest sponsored by Writers Weekly. The judging is now complete, and I was delighted to learn that my story earned one of 22 Honorable Mentions out of nearly 300 submissions.

Angela Hoy at Writers Weekly always shares common themes that emerge in the contest. You can read that list and the writing prompt we were given here:

Below is the story I entered. Enjoy!

The Last Few Grapes

The fruit vendor smiled at her through sightless eyes, enjoying the warm sunshine that bathed them. He always remembered the smallest details of his customers’ lives, even ones they couldn’t remember sharing with him in the past. The girl choosing grapes had been coming to his stand every day since she was a child. As she turned to leave, she patted his hand and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, friend.”
Half-heartedly smiling, he replied, “No, you won’t.”
“You say that every day,” she chuckled back. “But here we are, every morning.”
The vendor sat back in his chair and let his face bask in the warm morning sunlight. He didn’t have to see to know that the street was nearly empty. There were fewer and fewer footsteps along the cobblestoned street these days.  The grinding motor of the bread truck had not been heard in four days now. His own supplier had stopped bringing fruit more than a week ago.
“I fear this time, I may be right,” he said softly to the girl.
Anna pulled her hand away from the old man’s arm. Her smile faltered for just a moment. With forced gaiety she said brightly, “Well, I’ll be here in the morning, my friend.”
She patted his hand again and began to leave, but he suddenly reached out and held her hand in place so that she was bent over him, closer than she cared to be.
“You must be careful, Anna,” he said in a low voice. “Surely you know what things are happening now.”
Anna tried to tug her hand away, but the man held her in a firm grip. “I don’t –“
“They’re invading our town tonight, Anna. They’ll force the remaining Jews onto the street and take their houses and belongings; everything they have. You must leave, Anna.”
Startled, Anna pulled back so sharply that she dropped her grapes onto the ground. Her hand involuntarily rose to shield her mouth as she let out a cry, even as her eyes slid down to the fruit at her feet. As they travelled down the length of the old man, she caught a glimpse of yellow fabric tucked beneath his apron.
“Oh!” she cried out again. She turned to flee, but slipped on the grapes and fell to the ground. The old man rose to assist her, but she pulled back as he grasped her arm.
“Anna, I remember when you were a small girl and came here with your grandmother. She talked about the grapes that she grew in Lyon. You must go there, Anna. Go to her farm and find the grape picker, the vendangeurs Pascal that worked for her. He’ll take you in. He must. Go now, Anna.”
Anna stared at the fruit vendor. She studied his face and realized that she’d never really looked at him before. His face was lined with years of sun and hardship. His hands were spotted with age, and his legs bowed slightly as he stood. He was an old man – had always been an old man as long as she could remember. She’d started coming there as a girl and had never said more to him than a pleasant hello. But now she saw that they were not such strangers. He’d known her for years; knew details about her life that she’d forgotten, and yet, she didn’t even know his name.
“What about you?” she said softly. “Where will you go?”
The vendor shook his head. “I’m an old man, Anna. This fruit stand is all I know.”
“But the Nazis - 
The old man pulled Anna to her feet and grimaced slightly. “The Nazis may take my home. My business. My fruit,” he said expansively as he waved his hand toward the meager offerings that remained on the stands in front of his small store. “They may even take me.”
He dropped back down onto his worn wooden chair. “I’ll close up shop today and wait for them. But you, Anna. You must go.”
Anna looked around the lifeless street. She saw now that most of the storefronts were empty. The sun glinted off glass windows and reflected no movement. Other than a cat stealing down the road, they were alone.
“You can come with me,” she told the vendor.
He held out his hands and she grasped them in hers. He rubbed his rough fingers along the back of her knuckles. “You always were kind. But no, I must stay here and close up my shop.” He cupped her hands tightly in his. “Be careful, Anna.”
Anna leaned over and kissed his cheek before hurrying down the street toward home. The vendor listened to her footsteps fade away and then began gathering his fruit. He took the remaining peaches and grapes inside the barren store and placed them in baskets. He carefully cut each piece with a razor blade and then filled the small crevices with rat poison. As his fingers smoothed over the fragile peels of the tampered fruit, he thought he heard the cadence of boot steps advance from a distance.
He carried the baskets back outside and gingerly set the fruit on his stand. He shrugged off his apron and tugged the yellow star into prominent position on his chest. Then he sat down in his chair and waited with the warm sun shining on his face.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Was My Pregnancy and I Cried If I Wanted To...

These are not MY kittens.

Pregnancy hormones.

I can laugh about them now, but they weren't so funny 22 years ago when I was pregnant with my son. I think it was the closest I ever came to feeling crazy, though my feelings seemed perfectly normal at the time. I didn't have mood swings from one minute to the next, like you often see in movies. No, I had one set of emotions -- overly sentimental. I cried about everything because everything was sooooo touching. But my over-the-top emotions seemed warranted to me. It was everyone else who was reacting inappropriately.

Imagine the emotion that Hallmark greeting card commercials try to evoke. Then multiply that x 1000 for everything from a news snippet about a lost dog, to a crosswalk sign that had a parent and child hand-in-hand, to Archie and Ethel singing the theme song on All in the Family. Flood gates.

Then imagine me, a weepy pregnant woman watching She's Having a Baby (starring Kevin Bacon). I cried, and I cried, and I cried. It was The. Best. Movie. Ever! I believed that so much that I wouldn't shut up about it until my parents came over and watched it, too. So we all sat there, me bawling almost from the moment the opening credits rolled, until I was weeping tears of happy joy at the end. Then, stunned, I turned to my family and inexplicably saw dry eyes. Not a tear in the house! What was wrong with these people?!

I went on with my pregnancy, happily sleeping as much as humanly possible, and then waking up to find new profound moments of joy and tenderness, whether it be telephone commercials or children swinging on swingsets. It took very little to move me. But the biggest emotional breakdown occurred over the cats.

My cat Sylvia was pregnant at the same time I was. I spent my days as lazy as her, curling up with her in bed, nurturing our growing babies. I felt so connected to that cat. I felt like we were going through this pregnancy together, and I was practically her labor coach when she delivered her kittens in May. Four beautiful bundles of fur. I loved them like my own.

Seriously. Like my own.

Then the day came when my husband said it was time to find homes for the kittens. He placed an ad in the newspaper and to my dismay, people called about them. The first family came and claimed their new pet. I cried and cried. Then another family came. I cried some more. The last two families came to pick up their new kittens and I went a little crazy. I cried. I begged. I pleaded to keep them. I kept telling my husband that those kittens needed me. They wouldn't know what to do without me. They'd be lost! They'd be frantic! How could he be so horrible and unfeeling? How would he like it if someone came to take our new baby away? (Believe it or not, I did not find this question over-the-top.)

My husband tried to calm me down. He tried to be reasonable. He honestly didn't know what to do with me. The families and children were in the living room holding the kittens, ready to take them to their new homes and I was shut in the bedroom like a crazy lady, having a meltdown. I know they could hear me.

They took them anyway.

So, I did the only thing I could. I watched them out the window and wrote down their license plate numbers so I could track them down and rescue my kittens. Oops - did I say my kittens? I meant Sylvia's kittens. I was sure she'd be as inconsolable as I was at losing her litter.

Armed with the license plate numbers, I refused to talk to my husband. I did nothing but lay in my bed and cry. So he did the only thing he could: he called my mother. She came over and tried to talk to me. I'm sure she said some very logical things, but she just didn't understand. No one understood. Those poor kittens!

I know. This all sounds a little crazy. Even to me. In hindsight, I wouldn't believe it all really happened except that I still have the sympathy card my mother sent me that said she knew how upset I was about the kittens... Yes, she actually mailed me a sympathy card.

I think I finally got over it when I went into labor (22 years ago today  :) ). Pregnancy hormones finished, I moved right into postpartum fun. Like I said, I can laugh about it all now, but boy - it was all something to cry about then.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

On the strike of the hour, the bells of this glockenspiel (a clock tower with animated figures) ring out and the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin unfolds. It is the 13th century story of a rat-catcher who was hired to play his silver pipe to lure away all the rats from the village. He did so, but then the Lord Mayor would not pay him. As revenge, the rat-catcher came back to play his pipe again, this time leading all the children out of the town, save one crippled boy who could not keep up.

The rats following the Pied Piper.

This German folklore is most likely based on the hundreds of children who disappeared from Hamelin during the 1212 Children's Crusade and who never returned. Other theories suggest that the disappearance of Hamelin's children may have been a result of the black plague, or the willing desertion of the town's youth to colonize eastern Europe. Theories vary; even Disney and the Brothers Grimm turned the tale into popular fairytales.

But despite this glockenspiel's Germanic history, isn't actually located in Germany. It can be viewed at Mainstrasse Village in Covington, Kentucky where a tape recording tells the tale every hour while the children and rat figurines circle around, following the Pied Piper.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers, Daughters

The principal watched Charissa swagger into his office. Her face was red and blotchy and her hand was still pumped into a fist, but her demeanor remained cool and slow despite the adrenaline rush that Mr. Timberlane knew was coursing through her.
“Hey, Mr. T,” she said in a low voice.
Mr. T. studied the girl in front of him. She wore heavy black eyeliner and had dyed her hair pitch black as well. Even without the clownish make-up, she was an unattractive girl with beady eyes drowned in make-up and a sallow complexion that seemed to emphasize her plain, flat features.
“Take a seat, Charissa,” Mr. T. instructed as he waved his hand toward the chair at the edge of his desk. She flopped down and let her eyes roam around the room. She feigned interest in the plant on a shelf to his right and kept her gaze there.
“I hear you got into another fight.”
Charissa wriggled in her seat and opened her mouth to protest, but the principal stopped her. “I don’t want to hear it. We’ve been through this before. I warned you last time that if you got a referral again, it would be 5-day suspension.”
Charissa grunted her dissatisfaction. In truth, Mr. Timberlane wished this wasn’t the next course of action. He knew that Charissa’s home life was contributing to her disciplinary problems at school. She lived with an abusive stepfather and an alcoholic mother. Her brother was serving time in prison for beating his girlfriend. Her real father had been missing from her life since she was three. Sending Charissa home for five days would be punishment, but would do little to improve her behavior. He would rather send her to talk with the counselor again, but his hands were tied. Disciplinary actions were progressive.
“I’m going to—“
The principal stopped midsentence as his cell phone rang. He lifted it from his desk and stared at the display. “I’m sorry. I have to take this,” he told his student as he swiveled away from her in his chair.
“Hi Beautiful," he smiled into the phone. "How was school? Everything okay? Do you have homework? Okay. Well, get started on that, Good Girl, and I’ll be home in a little bit. You know the rules. I love you. Bye.”
He flipped his phone closed and set it back on his desk as he returned his attention to Charissa. The girl who sat before him was a different girl. Her defiance deflated, Charissa sat slumped, shoulders drooping and arms folded into her chest. Her mouth hung open as she stared at Mr. Timberlane with round eyes.
“Was that your daughter?” she asked in a small voice.
Mr. Timberlane nodded. “I apologize for the interruption, but she’s supposed to call me when she gets home from school.”
Charissa stared at the phone on his desk. Mr. Timberlane saw tears form in Charissa’s eyes and run along the black kohl rimming them. She bit her lip and struggled to keep her chin from quivering. She looked longingly at the silent cell phone.
“I wish my dad talked to me like that,” she said with a voice barely above a whisper.
Mr. Timberlane glanced at the diminished girl in front of him, her vulnerability palpable. Then he followed her lead and turned his gaze toward the cell phone. He nodded.
“I wish he did, too.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Words on the Page

Another shot of the artwork I showed in "Red Flag."

There have been times during writing groups, creative writing classes, or in 1:1 conversations when the person who has written a piece of work starts to explain what he meant. I usually clamp my mouth shut during these often long-winded explanations, but what I want to do is scream: you can't do that!

I typically have enough patience to wait until the speaker has finished his explanation before I suggest that he fill his readers in with all that pertinent information. What some beginning writers don't understand is that the words on the page must speak for themselves. In all likelihood, an author will never know how his words were perceived by the anonymous readers who read them. (Except in blogs.) He will probably not be standing over their shoulders or conversing with them about his work. The words on the page have to make sense. They must clearly tell their stories all by themselves.

That doesn't mean, however, that they will be read the same way by different readers. When a person reads, he brings his own life experiences to the pages. He interprets meaning through his own world view. I saw that over and over again in literature classes as each student shared his opinion/perspective on what the author meant by certain words or phrases. My husband and I actually met in this way. We were in a few college classes together and as we participated in class and analyzed pieces of literature, we found that our views were completely different. He often shared his take on a story and I'd think, "How could anyone come up with that?"

So I shouldn't have been surprised when he commented on one of my recent blog posts and reacted to it in a completely different way than I meant it. I'm referring to my fictional story in "Red Flag," about a boy expelled from school for hanging effigies of fellow students in the hallway. I thought I'd created a completely unlikeable character in the boy, but my husband said he felt sorry for him.

Sorry for him? Had I left any room in my words for compassion? I read back through them and still couldn't see what he saw. His reaction was certainly not what I intended. I've always wondered what authors would think about some of the ways their words and stories are interpreted. I'm sure that sometimes they would be appalled at the meaning certain readers ascribe to their work. The way people read something is not always the way it was intended to be read. Regardless, the words on the page have to speak for themselves. What follows that is literary discussion.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jonah Sheppard

This was a nativity set on display at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio.

On his fourth birthday, Jonah Sheppard received a very special gift from his uncle Frank: a set of farm animals to play with. Uncle Frank told Jonah that he'd picked out the one with the most sheep since Jonah's last name was Sheppard. He'd laughed and then kneeled down to eve-level and asked Jonah if he knew what a shepherd was. Jonah thought the question was silly. Yes, he knew what a shepherd was. He was a Sheppard. But then Uncle Frank went on to explain that a shepherd is a person who keeps his eye on the sheep. Then he'd stood back up and ruffled Jonah's hair before he went back into the kitchen for more of Mrs. Sheppard's pasta salad.

Since then, Jonah spent most of his days playing with his toy flock. He arranged them this way and that; sometimes by size; sometimes by imaginary family. Every once in a while he'd hide a sheep and then his shepherd figurine would wander out into the carpeted living-room field to find his missing lambs.

Jonah thought he'd never received a better present. Day after day, he looked after his flock and never seemed to tire of counting his sheep and making sure that they were all accounted for. It felt good to have a purpose in life. Now Jonah knew who he was - the boy who looked after sheep. And one day he'd be a man with a whole farm to tend to. Jonah Sheppard the Shepherd. That's who he'd be. How had Uncle Frank known?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Much Do You Know About Skeeball?

The game can be spelled skeeball, skee ball, or skee-ball.

Did you know J.D. Estes first invented the game in 1909 to be played at his son’s birthday party? His prototype was a 36-foot lane blocked off by wooden rails. The players threw heavy metal balls toward three elevated holes.
You probably didn’t know that the Wurlitzer Company bought the rights to the game of skeeball in 1935 and sponsored the first skeeball tournament in Atlantic City, NJ that same year. Ownership then passed to the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1945.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the first electronic skeeball machines came into existence.
Are you aware that there’s a skeeball league in America organized as Skeenation? If you check out their website, you can learn the history behind the names of skeeball teams such as Backskeet Boys, Bad News Bearskees, Big Lebowskees, Black Eyed Skees, Charleskee’s Angels,  Charlie Skeen, Don’t Stop Skeelievin’, Easy Skeezy Beautiful Cover Girls, Jon Benet Ramskee, and Jerry Gar-skee-a. Though, we can probably figure out the history behind these clever names without even visiting the site, can’t we?

Maybe you knew all this. Maybe you didn’t. If your game play is as good as your knowledge about the sport, perhaps you ought to enter the Brewskee-Ball: the first ever national skeeball league. The skeeson started in May, but maybe you can skee if they can fit you in.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Flag

Artwork display at Fairfield High School, Ohio.

Mrs. Crawford held a piece of paper. Her hand shook as she read through it, while her son Brad sat sullenly, not bothering to meet his mother's eyes while she confronted him.

"It says here that you hung effigies of your classmates in the hallway, Brad. Effigies! And that you stabbed them and doused them with fake blood, then made puddles of blood on the floor." Brad sat silent. "Is that true?" Mrs. Crawford's voice rose higher as fear clutched her throat. Brad stared beyond her, not meeting her eyes.

"Answer me! Is that true?" Mrs. Crawford knelt down into her son's line of vision, but he continued to avoid her stare and instead tilted his head back, placing his hands behind his head as he slouched down in his chair and kicked out his feet.

"You wrote their names on their chests and made bulls-eyes? Brad, I --" Mrs. Crawford read the letter silently to herself again, then dropped her hand to her side.  "You've been expelled, you know. Brad. Are you listening to me? You've been expelled." Brad sat motionless, deaf to his mother.

"Answer me!" she cried, her voice cracking. She dropped into a squat near Brad's feet and continued reading the letter. "A police report has been made. We strongly advise that Brad receive psychological counseling. A full report of the incident can be obtained from the school board. Legal action may be taken by the victim's families."

Mrs. Crawford dropped the rest of the way to the floor. "Legal action, Brad. You could go to jail. Don't you care? Don't you care about anything?" Angered, she rose to her feet again and grabbed her son's chin in her hand. "Answer me!" she demanded.

Brad's eyes finally met his mother's. With his chin squeezed between her shaking fingers, he shrugged before he knocked her arm away. "Whatever."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reading a Barn

I didn't know what to expect when I heard about a Parks program entitled "How to Read a Barn" being held at an Amish-Mennonite farm. But of course, I had to go. Years ago I wrote a magazine article about the hex barns in Pennsylvania, so thought that maybe this would touch on that. It didn't, but it was interesting just the same. "Reading a barn" translated into exploring the construction of the barn to determine who had built it, for what purpose, and when.

I know very little about barns, architecture, or construction, so nearly everything in the presentation was new to me. It was nice to tour the barn with a knowledgeable guide who explained why the barn was built the way it was.

For instance, this was a Pennsylvania bank barn. What that means is that it was built into a sloped piece of ground so that the grade to enter it, whether with horse & wagon, tractor, or threshing machine, was fairly level. Farmers entered through the west side onto the threshing floor and threshed the wheat. Then, because the barn openings were on the west and east sides of the barn, the wind (which comes from the West in the Ohio Valley), then carried the chaff through the opening on the east side. Very practical.

We examined the cornerstones which were "chinked" with smaller stones that stabilized the stone structure and held it in place without mortar. We discussed whether or not this particular barn had had a cantilevered overhang like most other Pennsylvania bank barns. The engineers and barn historians in the group couldn't come to an agreement, but studied the beams, rafters and construction to make educated guesses.

I was more entertained by the farm-life insight I acquired. As we stood in the cool bottom level of the barn looking at the design of the rafters, our guide observed that the ceiling rafters were painted. He asked if anyone knew what that probably meant. A few people did. It indicated that section of the barn was used for dairy, because it was custom to paint the ceilings to keep cobwebs and dirt from falling into the milk.

We also got a demonstration of how some of the antique farm tools were used. Again, most of it was over my head, but I did get to see an adz, which is one of my favorite Scrabble words to use.

Do I now know how to read a barn? No, though I do have a better sense of how well-constructed and utilitarian they are. Building barns is best left to those who understand all the work that needs to take place within its walls. Because every single inch of that space had a purpose. That's my summary from the reading.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Post: Scotty's

By JoJo McGuire

When my wife and I went on our very first trip together, we knew it was truly love when we both stated that we never ate at restaurant chains or places we had tried before. Weird but true. We both like to support the “little man” and independent places. We have discovered some of the best food that way…
John Boy’s in Pigeon Forge is an awesome place with the best fried green tomatoes we have ever tried. The best bagels and lox, covered in tomatoes, onions and capers belongs to Skidders in Tampa, Florida. Even the Celestial Seasons Tea Company in Colorado had great stuffed tomatoes that we raved about and even took a picture of. These are places that we would gladly break our rules for to eat there again. (Truth be told, we did at both John Boy’s and Skidders.)
There are pitfalls as well. We should have learned early on that Chinese buffets and park lodges often do not lend themselves to great food. But no, it took two park lodges in Indiana and countless buffets through New York for us to discover that.
You would also think that on a drive of almost 600 miles, a straight shot down Interstate-75 to see our son, that there would be plenty of places that are new and interesting. There are. Does this make them good?  Umm, let me think…
After five or six round trips from Cincinnati to Atlanta, I can safely say that on that stretch of highway, there are more places that should be avoided than visited.
Case in point. Do not ever stop at a place that claims it has “Best B-B-Q on the interstate.”  Especially if those words are followed by  8-point font stating- clean showers, truckers welcome, open 24 hours.  You cannot read it on the highway while going 70 miles an hour but you can tell it is there. Run and scream. You will sit down, order B-B-Q, not barbecue, and be served a scoop of canned meat on generic Wonder Bread. Later that night, you will also wonder where the rash on your back came from (the filthy booths) and why there is still a metallic taste in your mouth when you used plastic ware to eat.

Last year we were travelling down I-75 South and saw the Thacker Christmas Inn, the same inn that we see every time we hit Tennessee.  We decided that this time we would eat there. We got excited and wondered about what we would experience. Would it be Christmas d├ęcor? Would we get to drink wassail? Would goose be on the menu even though it was the middle of July?  We excitedly exited and turned towards the parking lot. Looking up, we saw open balconies and a seven foot gate surrounding the entire property. Looking into the rooms through the holes in the wall, you could see that there was not going to be any Wassail and goose today. How many times had we driven by and seen it? How long had it been closed?
Who cared? We were flipping starving and my mother- in- law (yes, she was with us and we enjoyed every second of it!!!) was about to see me on a food rant ready to break down and eat at a chain. There goes the “son-in-law of the year award.” (Unless I still get it for mentioning you here?)
So, there we were, starved and shaky. But wait, hadn’t we seen another sign at the exit? One for  Scotty’s, Home of the Famous Scotty Burger. It looked independent and was definitely not a chain. Let’s try there.

We pulled into the rock-covered parking lot and immediately noticed the covered porch with a sign that read: Liar’s Corner. It looked bigger than the building we were about to enter. Pushing open the grease covered door, I looked down. Was that a spittoon? Who cared? I was starving.
We entered the one room building with ten vinyl covered seats at a counter, picked out the least cracked ones and placed our naked, sweaty legs on them. Looking at the menu, it was fairly easy to order: Scotty Burgers for my wife and I, nachos for the other two. The waitress (missing her front tooth like the Alan Jackson song) turned on the grill to heat it up. Looking at all of the grease she pushed to the back of the smoking grill made me scope out the emergency exits. (Just the greasy front door.)
I watched as she took a handful of nachos out of a bag and placed them on a plate, using an ice cream scoop to place the meat on top and then, holding the mound underneath the spigot, proceeded to push the lever down to dispense the cheese. (Think movie theater style). She quickly threw them somewhere to get hot. The microwave?
She got the drink orders for us: sweet tea, Dr. Pepper and water. My daughter immediately took a drink of her Dr. Pepper and exclaimed that it was watery. My mother-in-law busily poured sugar into her tea without looking. She took a drink and gagged; it was the Dr. Pepper. The two quickly switched and I thought about how glad I was that we would soon be done. The nachos were served, steaming hot and looking like a blob of school food that we would make the janitor clean from the walls. The Scotty Burgers served with fries; old school greasy sliders that could clog your arteries just looking at them.
We dug in too busy feeding our hunger to notice anything else. We did not even notice the fly, buzzing nervously inside the sugar dispenser, desperately trying to escape his prison by banging against the greasy glass walls that surrounded him. Nope, we did not notice him until we’d finished the food and Jo had poured more sugar into her tea.
We survived the Scotty’s debacle and still insist on stopping at independent restaurants on our many drives down I-75. We figured nothing could be as bad as Scotty’s – but that was before we stopped at Pizza Inn in Jellico, Tennessee and discovered that the “secret sauce” on our pizza was mustard.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Gift

Anyone with a cat knows that they like to bring their owners "gifts." Sometimes they only bring them up to the doorway and lay them on the ground for us, but sometimes they make it past the door and bring their gifts all the way into the house. Yesterday was one of those days.

Lucky ran in through the screen door with a bird in his mouth. He dropped it at my husband's feet (because he loves him the most). I suppose this was intended to be the most generous gift of all -- the bird was still alive and immediately began fluttering its wings and trying to fly. As Lucky watched, ready to pounce again lest his prize get away, my husband jumped up from the table and acted upon the real gift; the gift of a little unexpected excitement in our otherwise routine day.

We had four things to deal with -- five, actually, if you count trying to keep our daughter from witnessing what might have gotten ugly. We had to grab two cats whom we knew could be quick, and whose appetites had been whet by the frantic bird and feathers on the floor. And we had to grab the dog, who thought that barking and circling the bird was the best game ever.

We tag-teamed. I grabbed the dog. My husband grabbed Lucky and threw him in the garage, and the other cat ran off. Then my husband had to capture the bird and get it outside without any of the animals following him.

We felt a little bad that Lucky was not only denied his catch, but was banished to the garage and missed all the action. We praised him later for being such a good hunter, but cats don't really understand what we're saying. We'll have to just assume he saw how excited we were about the bird, and leave it at that.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Talking Heads

These medusa heads were part of the decoration
in the Kids' lounge aboard the Carnival Legend cruise ship.

Caleb, Amber and Tina sipped their Hurricane Hawaiian punches as the heavy beat of hip-hop music bounced through the room. Most of the pre-teens and young teenagers were dancing. A few were racing around the room as though they were playing laser tag. The trio of new friends were taking a break, refueling with sugary drinks before dancing again.

"He likes you, you know," they heard a vaguely-distant voice say. The three youngsters looked at each other with wide eyes, wondering whether they were imagining the voice.

"Did you do that?" Caleb asked Tina as he leaned across the table to be heard over the blaring music. Tina leaned in toward him, too, secretly excited to find their faces so close together.

"What?" she yelled back and smiled. She cupped her hand to her ear and Caleb leaned in closer to repeat his question.

Amber smirked as she watched Tina in action. Boys were so clueless. Anyone could tell that Tina was just acting deaf to get closer to him. Amber shook her head and took a sip of her drink. She searched the dance floor, looking for someone new to hang out with if Tina and Caleb were going to hook up and make her a third wheel.

"Try the blond boy with the blue-striped shirt," she heard a voice say behind her. Startled, Amber turned around. She had been looking at the boy in the blue-striped shirt. Was it that obvious? Amber bit her lip and leaned in to interrupt Tina's conversation with Caleb.

"Hey, you wanna go dance again?"

"Not now!" the same unidentifiable voice chided. "He was just about to ask her to dance."

"Yeah, and you were going to introduce yourself to the blond boy," another voice said.

The three teens leaned back in their chairs, their mouths open as wide as their eyes. "Who was that?" Caleb breathed. They each scanned the space around them. The other tables were empty and no one else could have been heard so clearly above the noise. With eyebrows raised and bodies stiff, they rose from the table and moved to the dance floor, still searching behind them for clues as to who had spoken. But the seating area behind them was empty.

"Ah, youth," the head on the left said to the right. "It truly is wasted on the young."

Friday, June 10, 2011

I Love Lucy

New York City as seen from the Empire State Building.

As I was watching an episode of I Love Lucy last night, I started to wonder: how many hours of my life have been spent watching I Love Lucy? It must rank in the hundreds, if not thousands. I've seen every episode; many so often that I have lines memorized. When I thought about that, it scared me at first. So many hours of my life spent watching the same thing. But then I shrugged and realized that that was hundreds or thousands of happy hours spent.

I first started watching re-runs of I Love Lucy when I was a teenager. My mother introduced me to it and I was always amazed that she knew what episode it was simply by the opening scene. She was quick to announce whether it was "a good one." In my first rounds of watching them, they were all good, but like her, I've grown to have my favorites.

For me, none top the zany antics of Lucy meeting William Holden in Hollywood. That episode makes me laugh out loud every single time I see it, and I've seen it more times than I can count. I also love the Vitameatavegamin episode, and the classic candy factory and freezer episodes. But there are a few more obscure ones that I like, too, such as the one where Lucy and Ethel make salad dressing to sell, the one when Lucy wears a heavy headdress and tilts down the stairs, when Lucy tells Ricky she's pregnant, and when Lucy dons a short, dark Italian-style wig and pretends to be a stranger flirting with Ricky.

I'm running through the lines and the scenes in my head as I write this. It is that ingrained in me. It's comforting to listen to the notes of the opening theme and picture the black and grey heart on the screen. It takes me back to mornings when I sat and drank coffee and played cards with my mother before we each went to work. I'd moved out of the house as soon as I finished high school, never guessing how homesick I would be. My job as a lunch waitress didn't start until 11:00, so I went back home to my mother every morning and fell into the comforting routine of cards, coffee, and Lucy.

I later introduced Lucy to many friends who'd never watched I Love Lucy before. They all loved it and I found myself watching all of the episodes again.

Then I had a daughter. I Love Lucy was playing on TV one day when she was about five years old and I begged her to watch it with me. She loved it and we ended up watching an I Love Lucy marathon. That Mother's Day, she bought me Seasons 1-4 on DVD. She has her favorites -- the one in which the gang finally leaves for California, and the one where Ricky and Fred try to teach Lucy and Ethel equal rights by leaving them to wash dishes after dinner at a restaurant. It's fun to watch them through her eyes, and interesting to see which ones she likes.

Ahhh... they're all good. We've watched them many times, spending many hours on these same classic episodes. Yes, I've definitely spent thousands of hours watching Lucy. Those have been good hours in my life, first with my mother and now with my daughter. And I'm looking forward to many more.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guest Post: All I Could Take in the First Half Hour

by Joann Storck

The cars are already pulling up and people are wandering up the driveway. We haven’t even put our stuff out! Doesn’t anybody care that we don’t open til 8:00??

I was answering a woman’s question about how you fold up a Pack and Play when my eyes fell on the old gentleman gingerly walking up the driveway with his dutiful, round wife following closely behind him.  His “kind” always came to Yard Sales, but not because they wanted to find a bargain to buy, but rather an audience for their worn-out humor. 

The woman I was helping with the barely-used 21st century model of a good old playpen from my day was turning her head this way and that as she considered making the purchase.  “Will you take less?” she asked me as I knew she would.  “Suuurrrre,” I answered with a hint of sarcasm in my voice.  After all, if I had only been asking for 50 cents, someone would have asked if they could have it for $0.49  

Every single person has asked “Will you take less?” Maybe, if Hell froze over, and the Mississippi ran backwards, we would have another Yard Sale and at that fingernails-on-blackboard event we could put price tags on everything that said  “WHAT I WANT” and under it “THE ‘LESS’ PRICE THAT I WILL TAKE”.  Not a bad idea!

A skeleton of a woman, dripping cheap jewelry, wearing skin-tight jeans and two tank tops with her black bra straps hanging out, stopped to ask me if we had any jewelry.  Her over-tanned skin was like a leather purse.  Whether fake or wadded up bobby socks, her boobs stuck out of her size 0 body like huge water balloons.  It was windy out, so maybe she wore them to stay grounded?  She brushed back the bangs of her bad, ginger-colored wig and I saw that she wore “diamond” rings on every finger.  My friend had put good, expensive jewelry in the yard sale and I was fairly sure this was not the right buyer for her things, but the skeleton tried them all on anyway. I just knew she was going to ask, “Will you take less?” No. I won’t.

The old gentleman I had seen earlier, walking at a snail’s pace, was now in front of us.  He appeared to be bewildered, or mute, or confused about where he was and who we were.  My friend asked him, “Is there something we can help you find?”  He steadied himself in his thick-soled shoes and answered, “Yes.  Find me a blonde 49-year old with 19-year old legs!” he chewed the words like a cud.  “You can keep her!” he swung his flabby arm to indicate his long-suffering (my supposition) wife who was standing behind him.  He waited for appreciative laughter, and against my will I chuckled for him so he would move on, if he could.  His wife shook her head of white curls as if to say, “Isn’t he something?”  Yes.  He WAS something:  One of the leftovers from an era where women were put down and subservient to self-righteous men. 

The old guy wasn’t moving from his spot -- his stage, as it were -- so I got up and made myself available for those wanting to know the least I would take.  Funny.  A half hour in and these customers had been the most I could take.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


One of the dolphin sculptures on display outside the Georgia Aquarium.

Dear Diary,
Someday when  I grow up I’m going to have a pet dolphin. I’ll name him Bubbles. I’ll ride on his back to Mexico and teach him how to do flips. Then he can teach me how to balance a ball on my nose. If we meet any penguins, we'll try to teach them how to fly. That’s all, Diary.
Bubbles Best Friend

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Answer: Richard Bach

The Anonymous guesser was right!

I am Richard Bach, best known for authoring Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story about a seagull who flew for the love of flying rather than merely to catch food. The book, which included many photos of seagulls in flight, contained fewer than 10,000 words. It was a bestseller that broke all hardcover sales recorded since Gone with the Wind.
My other works include Illusions, One, and Out of My Mind. My books present my philosophy that our apparent physical limits and mortality are merely appearances.
I am a pilot and most of my books involve flying in some way.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Am I?

As always, the pictures I post with quizzes are not to be taken too literally.
This is just another hint.

I wrote a script for the unproduced "Star Trek: Phase II" series that was cancelled in favor of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).
I was 63 when I married my third wife in 1999; she was only 29.
I am a descendant of the classic composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
I was a charter pilot, flight instructor, aviation mechanic, and barnstormer.
I was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force from 1956-1962.
One of my most famous books starts: It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea. A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water.  
I am credited with saying, “Your friends will know you better in the first minute you meet than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years."

Sunday, June 5, 2011


"Dad! Dad! We found diamonds!"

"Slow down," Craig told his girls as they came running pell mell with huge rocks in their hands. The girls circled around him, out of breath and bouncing excitedly.

"We're going to be millionaires!" Amy, the oldest, proclaimed.

"Yeah! Millontares," her baby sister Jeanie repeated.

"Hold on now," Craig told the girls. "Let's see what you have."

Six small hands were thrust before him. Craig carefully studied the gems on display. He pursed his lips to keep from laughing. He nodded slowly and collected himself. "You know,  I think you've got something there," he told them.

The three sisters bounced up and down, squealing excitedly and knocking into each other. Small pieces of  rock spilled to the ground. "Careful," Craig said. "You'd better put those diamonds down before you drop them on your toes."

With wide eyes and careful hands, the girls set their treasures on the ground. The family kneeled around them as Craig let out a low whistle. "I'm mighty impressed," Craig said reverently. "Who'd have thought you'd find diamonds right here in our own backyard. Amazing." He looked up. "Think there's any more?"

The girls looked at each other with wonder. Amy answered for them all and nodded.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Craig asked. "Go get 'em!"

The girls scampered off as their mother stepped outside, the screen door slamming behind her. "What are you all doing?" she asked her husband as she walked toward him.

Craig rose to his feet and dusted off his hands. He chuckled. "Oh, the girls think they found a mine of diamonds in our backyard. Think we're gonna be millionaires."

Carolyn studied the rocks at her feet. "Why didn't you tell them those aren't diamonds?"

Craig stared off into the distance at his daughters. He saw their small frames hunched over the ground, peering into the dusty dirt for bounty. "Oh, let 'em dream," he said. "If they think they can find something good in their own Arkansas backyard, let 'em. They'll be disillusioned soon enough."

Craig trudged off to his tractor while Carolyn went back inside to work on dinner.  Only the girls enjoyed the rich life that their diamonds promised. They dreamed of being millionaires all summer long.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Welcome to the Rileys

This is the shot in "Welcome to the Rileys" that shows where
Kristen Stewart dances.

On a trip to New Orleans in October, 2008, I turned a corner and found myself in the midst of a movie shoot. One of the staff on the sidewalk told me it was a film featuring James Gandolfini, who was standing right down the street (but can’t be seen in this shot). I stood for a while and watched, then ambled down another road where, believe it or not, I saw Angelina Jolie walking along with three of her kids.
But back to the movie.
The film being shot was Welcome to the Rileys, which I rented on DVD last night. It’s the story of a middle-aged couple who have become estranged since their teen-aged daughter died in a car accident years ago. The wife has developed agoraphobia and doesn’t leave the house or mention her daughter. The father is having an affair with a waitress who suddenly dies. He travels to New Orleans for a convention and meets a teen-aged runaway prostitute who reminds him of his daughter. He calls his wife and tells her that he’s decided to stay in New Orleans.
Not surprisingly, this news forces the wife to confront her fears and leave the house to follow him. What was surprising was how much I liked her character. She seemed cold and hollow until we watched her try to leave. Instead of witnessing stark terror, tremors and an emotional breakdown (which would have been trite), we see her get in the car and not know how to adjust the seats. It’s actually a funny scene, followed by bad driving that has her crashing before she even leaves her driveway. Still, she forges on and her character becomes more and more endearing. She’s fragile but kind, and braver than expected. I found myself wishing the storyline were more about her.
When the credits rolled, I waited to see who the actress was (because I hadn’t read the case). It was Melissa Leo! I’d had no idea. Her character was so different than the one she played in The Fighter and she looked so different than she did at the Oscars. I was impressed.  She was an actress I didn’t think I’d like, but have now reconsidered.
James Gandolfini was – James Gandolfini. He never seems any different from character to character. And the teenaged prostitute, Kristen Stewart, was an edgier Bella, but equally as unlikeable. I liked the movie, but mostly because of Leo’s performance and the fact that I felt a personal tie after stumbling upon the street corner where the movie was filmed. I’ll save the Angelina story for another day.