Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Night

“Mom! Mom!”
Mrs. Stewart hurried down the hall to her 10-year-old’s bedroom. She flung open the door and flipped on the light switch. Jeremy’s hand flew to his eyes. He squinted into the bright light, even as he lurched forward in his bed toward his mother.
“What is it?” she asked as she moved toward her son. Jeremy wrapped his arms tightly around his mother. She hugged him back and then gently pushed him back at arm’s length so that she could see his face. She involuntarily felt his forehead. It was cool. His anguish wasn’t caused by fever.
“Mom! I saw him! The Boogeyman!”
Mrs. Stewart’s shoulders relaxed. She’d worried there was something terribly wrong, but it had just been a nightmare.
“You were having a bad dream,” she told Jeremy as she smoothed his hair back from his forehead. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s no Boogeyman. Now get back to sleep.”
“Yes there is! I saw him!” Jeremy insisted. He whipped the blankets off his legs and pulled his mother toward the window. “Look!”
Mrs. Stewart made a show of peering out the window, searching the street for the Boogeyman. “I don’t see him. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Now get back to bed.”
“Look at the pumpkins,” Jeremy insisted. “They’re all lit up.”
“We blew them out. Remember?”
Mrs. Stewart gazed down at the pumpkins guarding the front stoop. “We must not have blown them all the way out. I’ll take care of that. You need to get back to sleep.” Mrs. Stewart started to guide Jeremy back to bed but he pulled his arm away from her and stood firmly at the window.
“No, Mom. We did blow them out. They were out. But then the Boogeyman came and the pumpkins lit up again and scared him off.”
“Jeremy, you were just having a dream.”
“No, I wasn’t! I saw it! He came up through the grass, all black and scary-looking. He was almost to the porch when the pumpkins lit up like they were on fire and scared him away! He ran down the street to the O’Briens. Their pumpkins lit up and scared him off, too. I don’t know where he is now.”
“Okay. Well, the Boogeyman is gone now, and I’m going to go blow out the candles in the pumpkins. It’s getting late. You need to sleep.”
“You don’t believe me,” Jeremy said.
“Of course I do. Now get to bed.”
“Lock the door, Mom.”
“I will. Good night.”
Jeremy waited until she closed the door, then he jumped out of bed again and watched at the window. His mother pulled the tops off the pumpkins and blew out their lights. Jeremy saw the small wisps of smoke evaporate as his mother went back inside the house.
Jeremy waited there a moment longer. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a black shadow move across the yard where no shadow should be. He sucked in his breath and ducked to the side of the window, out of sight. The Boogeyman was back. He inched across the lawn toward the front porch. Suddenly, the stoop was awash in light. The jack-o-lanterns grinned their triangular grins and the Boogeyman jumped back into the darkness.
Jeremy watched a while longer as pumpkins up and down the street suddenly glowed orange. The Boogeyman was nowhere to be seen. Satisfied the neighborhood was safe, he went back to bed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Uniquely Chinese

I'm back from China. I've shared most of my stories, though I may share a few more in future posts. But for now, I'll post a few of my random street pictures; images that to me, are so uniquely Chinese. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Business in Beijing

Learning Salsa dancing to a Latinized version of "Stairway to Heaven."

As mentioned, I was in Beijing on business (though my posts looked more like a vacation, to be sure). But I was actually there for a training.

At the beginning of the training, the instructor put this quote up on the screen:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

Then we modified that to Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. And Learning begins at the end of your comfort zone. And Discovery begins at the end of your comfort zone. So, it should have been no surprise that we were going to be taken out of our comfort zones, though I'd already considered wandering alone in a country halfway around the world as having fulfilled that.

My comfort zone ended in a Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English and the menu offered up delicacies such as pig's ear, turtle, jellyfish, and pig snout. (Though the menu had English descriptions, no one spoke the language. I just pointed when I found a picture of beef.)

My comfort zone ended when I was trapped inside a tiny souvenir shop outside the Great Wall by a large, aggressive seller who wasn't going to let me leave without a sale. She forced me to haggle, and I got pretty good at it.

My comfort zone ended when I squatted over a toilet alongside a road in the country. And when I used chopsticks. And when I crossed the streets full of zigzagging traffic. I don't think I was ever actually inside my comfort zone in China.

But none of that compared to the networking activity after the training when our class of 47 Chinese twentysomethings and I were given Salsa dancing lessons and yoga instruction -- in Chinese.

Needless to say, I didn't understand a word and could barely keep up with the smooth-muscled gyrations of our incredibly talented instructor. She danced beautifully. I, on the other hand, could not even move in the right direction and managed to tangle myself up with my equally ungifted dancing partner. We managed to stay toward the back of the class for the Salsa lesson, but my new Chinese friends would not let me hide during yoga.

I found myself standing barefoot and flat with my back against a wall, watching the grimaces and exaggerated 'bad posture' examples of the yoga instructor. I thought I got the gist of what she was saying ("good posture is important"), but my new Chinese friends took it upon themselves to translate for me. And to contort my body into the correct yoga positions -- no matter how much my body resisted.

I left my comfort zone far behind, and wished for an outer body experience to leave my body behind, too. But true to the quote, I felt personal growth and achievement when I managed to twist my body in ways it really should never be twisted at all. It was a fantastic night of networking and camaraderie. The Chinese students were so gracious and friendly. I was taken out of my comfort zone, but found that I was grateful for that. That night turned out to be one of the most enjoyable of my trip.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chinese Toilet Extremes

It seems there are two different types of toilets here in China. I got used to the squat toilets which I encountered nearly everywhere outside of my hotel. Again, my pre-reading served me well; I knew I needed to take my own toilet paper with me.

But then, I finally went into the office (since I was here on business, after all), and lo and behold, I found deluxe toilet accommodations! The seats were heated and there were all kinds of extra buttons to push. I read 'massage' and 'bidet' and 'shower pressure'; the rest was in Chinese. I was so tempted to push 'massage,' as gross as it actually seemed in a public toilet. I stopped myself. I was afraid of what might happen if I did. Instead I took pictures while everyone else in the Ladies' room watched my camera flash going off in my stall. I think I'd embarrassed myself enough by pushing the button on my camera. I didn't want to risk further embarrassment by pushing the 'massage' button on the toilet.

It's blurry, but I think you can read it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Silk Factory

I did not expect to like the silk factory. I had absolutely no interest in it, and half-heartedly wandered through the first two rooms with museum-like displays of ornate emperor’s robes. But then we got to the wall display of silk worms, and then to the weaving machines with silk pods and I was hooked. It was fascinating.

I touched one of the silk pods. It was oddly hollow and fragile, which surprised me since it looks like a pellet and seems like it would be dense. But the pod easily comes apart as demonstrated by the silk worker who showed us that they put a dozen pods in a bowl with water and then brush them in a circle. Magically, the silk strands attach to the brush. She pulled it up and we felt the singular threads of silk.
Once the pod is loosened, they take it over to a horseshoe-shaped loom and pull the pod threads over it. It breaks apart on its skein like a spider’s web. Of course, there are large gaping holes, so they spread another pod over that one onto the loom. Then another, and another. They use about a dozen before transferring and stretching it onto a larger loom. The threads attach together and make a dense material, almost like fiberglass insulation consistency.
From there we moved into the next room where a makeshift bed was set up. We took the roughly 12 x 15” mat of silk from the loom and then all grabbed a side or corner and pulled, just like in elementary gym class when we had to open up a parachute. The silk stretched across the bed and we could see the layers of its consistency. It was really neat.
From there we moved on to feeling silk pillows and comforters and what-not. The sales pitches began. They had rooms full of silk duvets and pillowcases. Then a room with mannequins and yards of silk with a large sign hanging from the ceiling:    WE CAN TAILOR-MAKE FOR YOU IN ONE HOUR
Believe it or not, I walked away without making a purchase. They missed a sales opportunity by only offering the finished product. I wanted the silk pods.

The finished product:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How Many Pictures Are Too Many?

Please forgive the barrage of pictures below, but really. How many pictures are too many pictures when you're standing on the Great Wall of China?!

Visibility was low, but I snapped away anyway. I've actually been able to enhance the pictures so that they're clearer on the computer than the views were in person. It didn't matter. Low visibility or not, it was incredible. Every time I snapped a picture and then put my camera down, I lifted my head again and was so taken with the scenery that I had to capture it on film. Again. And again. And again.

These are pictures from the Mutinayu part of the Wall. It's a little further away than the more popular Badaling section, so there were less tourists. It was magnificent!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Chinese Acrobat Show

As I watched the Chinese acrobats contort themselves and fling themselves across the stage, I couldn’t help but wonder how we could ever possibly hope to beat Chinese gymnasts in the Olympics. These acrobats were incredible! They bent and balanced, precisely timing their tricks, while still wobbling just enough to keep us all on edge lest a mishap occur. A few actually did. A few balls dropped. A plate fell. A girl lost her balance and came down off her pyramid. But they were minor mistakes in the acrobatic scheme of things. I mean, we are talking about people throwing other people across a stage, only to catch them in a handstand position with their bare hands.
The women looked like Barbie dolls that a rough child played with. Their legs were ratcheted up parallel to their bodies. They seemed to have the same hinged hips that Barbies have, but their knees bent, too. In fact, their knees and their backs bent around their bodies so far that they balanced plates on their heads and then removed them from behind their heads using their feet. It hurt to watch.
And then I wondered how in the world they ever trained for jobs such as these. Think about it. Their jobs are to contort their bodies night after night after night. How does one practice that? How do you even get started? What do you do with the rest of your day? As a mother, I do not think I’d want my children doing these things atop a stack of chairs that reach all the way up to the rafters.
Incredibly enough, at intermission I began talking to a Filipino woman sitting next to me. She said she used to do things like that and pointed to the stage. I thought she was kidding, but then she told me about balancing on a small table on top of a beer bottle. She said it was all about balance. I was flabbergasted. I asked her how she ever got started and she shrugged. She just did. She also twirled fire batons. I know my mouth was hanging open when she said that. I had to ask the obvious: had she ever gotten burned while she was learning how? She said yes, and left it at that.
She pointed back at the stage again and said that she was too old to do things like that now. Instead, she’d started doing magic acts and was actually in China to buy more supplies. I swear, I don’t know which was more entertaining: listening to this woman or watching the show.
Intermission ended and a man carried another man on his back as he walked on his hands up and down a ladder. That answered my question. The show won out.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chairman Mao

Chairman Mao looking over Tiananmen Square

I'm stealing liberally here, from J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China. I read this book before coming to China and was both fascinated and terrified as a result. His descriptions of the overwhelming population and mind-boggling pollution almost made me whimper with fear. But there were other things he described that I just had to see for myself, like Chairman Mao's corpse. There was no way not to after Troost's description.

...Typically, I find the presence of dead people a little unsettling, but there was nothing ghoulish or macabre about Mao. This is because he is orange -a festive playful orange, toylike, as if he were nothing more than a waxen action figure in repose. And that is probably all that he is after thirty years of death. I almost felt sorry for him, a diabolical tyrant reduced to a morbid curio. But then I noticed the reaction of my Chinese companions. I had expected some good-natured joshing -- "Look how orange he is. Do you think he's a fake? It's so hard to tell in China." Mao had been quite dead now for thirty years. Surely, one could poke a little fun at the fat despot. But I couldn't have been more wrong. People bowed before him. Some of the older ones even wept. They couldn't have been more reverent if they were viewing their own grandfathers...

I had to see this for myself. (Read the whole book. It's fantastic.)

So, I woke up early on a chilly, damp Sunday morning and walked 5km to Tiananmen Square. I was prepared: I did not have a camera, a purse, a bag, nor food, drink, or anything else on me. I did have ID, which was the only requirement. I knew that if I'd had a bag, I would have been pulled out of line to store my bag in lockers across the street. Or I could have given my purse to one of the many people who were guarding and keeping them around the Square. As if! But it's true -- there were people who sat at the sides of the gates all morning while the mausoleum was open from 8am-12pm just to hold bags.

I got there shortly before 8:00am because I knew there'd be a line. I'd scouted things out a few days before and had an idea of what to expect. What I hadn't noticed before is that there were actually two lines; one for individuals and the other for tour groups with guides. Both were very long, and both were entirely Chinese. I drew quite a few stares and am sure I was a curiosity. There I was, a middle-aged Western woman, all alone, soaking wet, shivering in line with thousands of Chinese.

I shuffled through the line with everyone else. It took us an hour and the line steadily got longer even as we waited. The guards checked our IDs and then we had to go through security, which was pretty easy since none of us had bags. Then there was a mad dash to buy flowers from the flower-sellers inside the security area. They sold individual white flowers in plastic. Nearly everyone in line bought one. Then we filed inside and they laid their flowers on a pedestal in front of a huge statue of Mao. Most bowed and then got back in line as we shuffled inside to see the body.

There he was. Mao. Glowingly orange, just as Troost described. Except it wasn't Mao that was orange. It was the orange light inside the glass coffin that shone directly down onto his face. It actually gave the illusion that he was lit up from inside. He looked like some sort of nightlight toy. You could see his orange face as soon as you rounded the corner. It was bizarre.

We'd been cautioned to be quiet inside the room. I'd seen signs to be quiet in other places as well, but this was the first time that people obeyed. It was like being at a visitation. I felt like we were at the funeral of someone who had just passed away. The atmosphere was solemn. These people were there to honor Mao. We slowly and reverently walked past him and suddenly, it was over. No more than 30 seconds of viewing after an hour of standing in the rain. Then we were outside again, where the lines to see Mao were even longer and people sold Mao medals by the side of the steps.

It was a little disconcerting to realize that I'd spent the better part of the morning attending something akin to a funeral visitation when I could have been seeing the sights of Beijing. Still, it was something I had to see for myself. It's not something I would ever do again, but I'm not sorry I went. It was bizarre, and uniquely Chinese.

When in China...

Sunday, October 23, 2011

No More Noodles

McDonald's at the Beijing Railway Station

After eating Asian food for four days straight, morning, noon, and night, I needed a break. Luckily there's a McDonald's on nearly every corner. I needed something besides noodles and rice.

I have eaten at McDonald's in several countries now. It was a heavenly respite in Nicaragua and one of the few places where we found people who could speak English. In Paris and Germany, they seem to have their own recipes. Something about the burgers there just weren't right. The Big Mac here in China was bland, but it was the tallest burger I've ever gotten at a McDonald's. It actually looked like the picture you see in advertisements. And it was cheaper than in the U.S. Doesn't it seem like there's something fundamentally wrong with that?

But the best McDonald's burger I've ever had was in Amarillo, Texas. Maybe it had something to do with the view of the cattle ranch right outside. Maybe. I'm not a big fast food eater ( though I realize it sounds like I am from this post), but I was grateful for those Golden Arches today. No more noodles til tonight.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fact or Fiction

Since I still can't post pictures, I'll share a few stories I heard on the tour I took today since I don't really have pictures to go with it anyway. Whether these are fact or fiction is anyone's guess.

Okay. We've already touched on the one child rule here in China. The Brazilian couple I was with today were brave enough to ask about birth control and consequences. It was all very convoluted, but our tour guide said that if the government found out a woman was pregnant with a second baby, they would take her away and abort it. I'll believe it, though I can't really imagine it.

A little harder to believe was the story I heard as I looked at a piece of pottery that looked like a small urn, about the size of a Big Gulp. The urn had a lid and the tour guide joked that it was an early MP3 player. Apparently the wealthy kept crickets in them and listened to the chirping before they then fought them in cricket matches. The champion cricket could bring in as much money as 2 or 3 houses. Seriously????

Last but not least in the too-hard-to-believe stories today was the reason for the raised entry ways of the doors. The logical reason would seem to be to keep rising water out, but the better story I heard today was to keep out zombies because everyone knows zombies don't have knees.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jamie, The Tour Guide

The Water Cube.
Michael was here!!!!!!
 I took a tour today and really lucked out. Our group was small; only 7 of us, which made everything more personable and friendly. Or maybe that was all because of Jamie (pronounced gem-MAY). I'll write about what we saw on the tour on other days (when I can include pictures). For now, I'd rather share some of the personal stories Jamie shared that made me stop and think about life in China.

The most amazing tale she told was about her grandmother. She's 82 and Jamie was talking about how hard it is for her to find shoes because -- her feet were bound! Her feet are so small and deformed that she has to look for shoes in the children's department, but the shoes are not high enough to fit her feet since her toes are basically stacked on top of each other. Jamie said that they started to bind her mother's feet, too, when she was very young. That was in 1960! Unbelievable! I think of footbinding as an archaic practice from a distant time; not something that still exists on the hobbled feet of women living today.

But then, there are other cultural norms here that still surprise me. The one child rule, for instance. Jamie is the oldest of three. She credits having siblings for making her more social and outgoing. What's funny, though, is that her parents told her she could do anything she wanted with her life. Her brother and sister were not told the same thing. Since the parents were taxed/fined for them, they say they'd better work hard and pay them back. I think they were kidding.

On the way to the Jade Factory, Jamie talked a lot about the use of jade being limited to emperors. She also said that when a man and woman are going to be married, the man buys the woman jade earrings and rings, but the groom's mother presents her daughter-in-law-to-be with a jade bangle.

Jamie had lots of great facts and stories about China and her life. I enjoyed spending the day with her. I'll share one more interesting fact about Jamie that made me stop and think about ordinary life here that I wouldn't otherwise think about. As we left the jade factory, she showed us pictures of the jade-inlaid design on the back of the 2008 Olympic medals. She knew a lot about these because she volunteered in the Water Cube during the Olympics. Doing what? Laundering towels. I wanted to ask her if she touched Michael Phelp's towel, but I didn't. It was enough that she watched him swim. Lucky Jamie!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tiananmen Square

Crowds outside the gate of the Forbidden City

If I were a stereotype, I'd be a man who refuses to ask for directions. I had a map and headed out from my hotel to find Tiananmen Square. I walked for milesalong the Beijing City Wall, sure that behind it was the square, if only I could find an opening. I was going the wrong direction. So I got to the end of the wall, walked around the edge and doubled back -- in an entirely different wrong direction. But I didn't care. I had no plans and enjoyed my exploration.

I was spotted by a woman named Lily, an "art student" who wanted me to see her exhibition which was across the street from Tiananman Square. So, I let her lead me there. She showed me everyone's artwork. It seemed to be a legitimate art show and I met another artist. Naturally, I couldn't leave without buying something. I'm sure I was supposed to haggle, but I just don't have it in me.

I walked away with my art and headed over to the Square. I'd thought I might tour the Forbidden City. the guide books suggested allowing three hours. Well, I'd already been wandering for three hours and really have no interest in history. It was enough for me to be there watching the crowds -- which were massive. I decided to sit and watch and wander the Square. I think I made the right choice. As soon as I can post pictures, you'll see the crowds and again, the haze. I'm not sure it's possible to take a clear picture in Beijing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

If I'd Dug That Hole

Smoggy view from my hotel room. 5:00pm
 You know the one. The one that comes out on the other side of the world in China. Well, I didn't dig. I took a 15 hour plane ride instead, but I'm here. I'm exhausted and weary. The sights from the taxi were intriguing, but it was already getting dark by the time I arrived at my hotel at 5:40pm.

The most astounding thing so far is the smog. I'd heard about it and read about it, but couldn't believe it. I'd just seen the sun from the airplane window. Now it was gone. The other jets at the terminal seemed distant through the haze. It's yellowish-peachy-gray. You can almost taste it when you walk outside. My taxi driver cracked the window and my chest felt tight after the 30 minute ride. I actually tried to take a picture of the air. But you'll probably just think it's hazy. I guess that's true, to a degree, nut this is
more than "haze."

Hopefully tomorrow I can share more. But I can't break through the hotel's firewall to load pictures. I'll keep trying.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Guest Post: A Thin Disguise

by Shannon Farr

     Ellen sat at a corner table of a trendy new restaurant with her 3 best, truest, on-the-same-page girlfriends.  Across from her sat Denise and Trudy; both of them cute, nearly wrinkleless, self-sufficient, and trim.  Next to Ellen was Jeannie, hands-down the most trust-worthy and closest friend on the planet.  Jeannie was such a secret-keeper you knew that telling her something was as safe as writing it on paper, then eating it.  They had endured roving husbands, divorces just 4 months apart, and crazy-wonderful flings with younger men.  All of the details of their lives, shady or shabby were shared then locked in an invisible vault inside their heads. 
      Well, that had always been true before, but Jeannie was so dramatically thin after years of being pleasingly plump and the only reason she gave everyone who asked about her new body was that she was babysitting her grandson and this metamorphosis was from running after him.  The thing was, Jeannie had cut herself off from this group and her other friends over the course of several months, and then she emerged a butterfly where a caterpillar had sat on all the seats of all the clubs they belonged to.  
      Ellen felt like everyone was getting the runaround because Jeannie wouldn’t want to admit to surgery for this new and improved version of her.  “Now, r-e-a-l-l-y, Jeannie, as your best friend, HOW did you do it?”  Same answer.  And here Jeannie sat, cute as a button and ½ her size while Ellen’s butt oozed over the side of the chair. 
      Denise was telling about her new diet, thanks to Dr. Oz on TV, which had her eating strawberries, blueberries and bananas every day, she said as she shuddered over the bananas.  “I’ve lost a dress size already!” she beamed, “from a 6 to a 4.” 
      “I just can’t eat at all!” Trudy lamented.  “Every time I eat something it feels like I’ve swallowed a softball.  I think I’m just going to order dry toast,” she said in a resigned tone, her face a frown.
      Ellen was sincerely worried that something serious could be wrong with Trudy.  “You need to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible and tell him this,” she said.  Trudy leaned back in across the table and said in a hushed tone as she looked around, “You know I got liposuction on my stomach and waist, right?”  Three gasps.  “OMG, no!  When did that happen?”
      “About 5 weeks ago, I think,” Trudy whispered, trying to keep the conversation they were having to a whisper. 
      Jeannie piped up, “Well, I think you look great, but do you think they did something wrong since you’ve lost your ability to eat?
      “Maybe,” Trudy breathed out.  “But it was worth it and then some.  These jeans I have on are my daughters!”
      “Well, as long as everyone is telling good news, I have some.”  Everyone looked at Denise expectantly.   She was grinning wide and touching her hair.  “Is your hair blonder than before?” asked Trudy.  “Oh, no.  Well, it is because I put a lighter color on it, but that’s not it!” Denise blinked at her friends several times.  She could tell they weren’t going to get it so she blurted out, “I had my eyelids tattooed!  I never have to put on eyeliner again!”  The 3 friends were scrutinizing her face and searching for something good to say about it.  To herself, Ellen was thinking why would you go with jet black eyeliner when you have very blonde hair and fair skin, especially when you’re 60 years old?
      “I’d like to have that,” Jeannie said at last.  I would love to not have to do that every morning.  She was thinking the tattoos made Denise’s eyes look like they were bulging.  Not flattering, she concluded to herself. 
      The best friends ate their meager lunches; Ellen ate lightly so they would not all think to themselves no wonder she is so fat with all that food she puts away.  She knew that when she got home there were ice cream sandwiches in the freezer and that  she would finish off her meal.  Trudy nibbled at her dry toast so as not to pop the button on her daughter’s jeans.  Jeannie ordered a small salad and whirled it around her plate most of the time they spent there.  Denise ordered the fruit bowl and a cup of hot tea: no sugar.  They talked a bit more, and then everyone got up to leave. 
      Outside the restaurant they hugged and kissed cheeks and all 4 made a comment about how much they loved their friendship and getting together and why didn’t they set one Saturday aside every month to get together  because they had so much to talk about.
      Leaving the parking lot 3 turned right and 1 turned left to start home.  Within minutes, Ellen’s cell phone rang: it was Trudy.  “Do you b-e-l-i-e-v-e how skinny Jeannie is?  I bet anything she’s had a gastric bypass!”  she began.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hamilton, Ohio - City of Sculpture

On August 16, 2000, Ohio’s governor formally recognized Hamilton as “The City of Sculpture.” Dozens, if not hundreds, of sculptures decorate the city. They can be found in public areas on both sides of the Great Miami River and make for a nice walk, since it's nearly impossible to walk around downtown Hamilton without encountering several pieces of sculpture.

In addition, Hamilton's Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park boasts another 60+ sculptures. Visitors to the park can rent Art Carts (golf carts) to drive throughout the hilly park for a closer look at the various sculptures. They range in size and shape and are created by dozens of artists. Pyramid Hill considers itself "an outdoor museum focusing on monumental pieces of sculpture in an environment of meadows, forests, and various gardens."

I've shared a few of my favorite sculptures here, but there are so many that I find new favorites nearly every time I walk through Hamilton. Anyone who has a day to wander through Hamilton is sure to discover favorites for himself. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Shoulda Been Seven

It gives me the creeps to take snake pictures. I can barely stand to look at them. This one was at the Georgia Aquarium.

After I posted my Six Scary Snake Stories yesterday, my daughter quickly reminded me of another. So I guess it should have been Seven. (It could probably be's anytime I've encountered a snake.)

7.  I was driving in Mt. Vernon, Ohio one night when I pulled into a Staples parking lot. I got out of the car and walked toward the store when suddenly on the sidewalk before me was a snake. I happened to be on the phone with my husband back home and naturally, I started hyperventilating and high-stepping it back to my car as he listened to my panicked hysteria that the snake was chasing me. I peeled out of the parking lot, screeching onto the street to get away from the snake as fast as I could. Except that at that point, I was irrationally afraid that the snake had somehow gotten into my car. My husband tried to calm me down as I blindly drove down streets I didn't know, both pressing the gas and lifting my feet because I was afraid that snake might have been on the floor of my car.

I don't know how I forgot that story in the first round. I think I try to repress these memories. But everyone who knows me seems to have a snake story to add. I don't want to hear them! I want to forget!

No More Snake Stories!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Six Scary Snake Stories That Still Give Me Shivers

My son's cat desperately wants to get ahold of that snake. I would let her.

I am PETRIFIED of snakes. Petrified. I cannot express that enough, though the following stories may illustrate my point. I have goosebumps just thinking about them.

1.  This may be when it all started. My cat Wolfie had been missing for a few days during severe thunderstorms. When the rain finally let up, I put on my dad's work boots and wandered out into the woods beyond our acreage, searching for Wolfie. The mud was deep and the trek was tough, especially because his boots were way too big. I stopped in the woods and called out, "Wolfie!" I stood still, listening for meows, when all of a sudden I looked down and a snake was slithering across the top of my feet. I screamed and began running through the deep, sucking mud. Everything went black. I passed out for a minute, then came to, terrified that the snake was chasing me. I started running in the too-big boots again, intermittently blacking out and coming to as I made my way back to the house. I feel a little light-headed just thinking about it. Sidenote: Someone else found Wolfie's remains. :(

2.   Another cat story. My cat Midnight loved to bring us gifts. We were presented with dead rabbits, moles, mice and birds at least once a week. She often laid them on the doorstep; a macabre greeting that always startled us. But one time she brought back a live present. She meowed at the doorstep, so I opened the door. She ran in with a snake that she dropped at my feet. I remember screaming. I remember leaping across the room to the stairs. (Snakes can't climb stairs, can they?) What I don't remember is who caught the snake and took it back outside.

3.   I tried so hard not to let my fear of snakes influence my children. I tried to keep my fear of snakes to myself. That plan backfired. One day when my son was about 3-years-old, I took him and his friend Richie to a school playground to play. I sat at the picnic table, reading a book when all of a sudden I heard excited screams from the boys as they ran across the playground toward me.  "Mom! Mom! Look!" I looked, but couldn't make out what they were carrying. It looked like they had bouquets of flowers in their hands as they ran toward me. Mac often picked me flowers, but these seemed odd; I didn't see any colorful blooms. Then they got about ten feet away from me and I saw what the 'bouquets' really were: baby snakes. Dozens of them in each hand. I jumped up onto the table and hysterically smiled at the boys. "Take them back where you found them. Their mother is probably looking for them."  I didn't even care that I was sending two toddlers back into what I perceived as extreme danger. Better them than me. Survival of the fittest, and all that. It was all I could do to stay conscious. Sidenote: We never went to that playground again.

4.   I was sunbathing on a lounge chair in my backyard during college. A snake slithered near my chair. I jumped up and leaped as far as I could to the next lounge chair, where my feet went straight through to the ground. Hysterical and tangled up, I dragged the chair with me to the porch as I sobbingly screamed the whole way and then dead bolted my door to the backyard. That snake was NOT getting in my house. Sidenote: I never went into the backyard again.

5.   I was walking on a cement path through a local state park with my family. I saw a snake on the path and took off, screaming that it was chasing me. I saw black before my eyes, but didn't pass out. My husband and kids laughed and laughed. Sidenote: I have not gone back to that park.

6.   This story is my husband's favorite. This will make no sense to anyone else, but I feel a ringing in my ears like I might pass out just thinking about it again:

We were in Estes Park, Colorado. We'd taken the sky lift to the top of the mountain and were browsing through the gift shop. I was wearing clogs. (This is important to the story.) The shopkeeper was showing us things like Jackalope droppings, bear turds, etc. Lots of kitschy joke souvenirs. Then he handed me a little paper packet. "Those there are rattlesnake eggs. Probably about ready to hatch." Suddenly, the paper packet rattled in my hand. It was a spring release that he'd activated, but I didn't know that then. I thought the snake eggs had hatched. I thought (in the brief millisecond before the world went black) that I was now holding snakes in my hand. I screamed. I kicked up my legs and my shoes flew off. I jumped back and was blinded by blackness and a hot ringing in my ears. I was about to pass out even as I heard the shopkeeper and my husband laughing. It was all a joke. Ha, ha. So funny. Sidenote: The shopkeeper did NOT make a sale.

Friday, October 14, 2011


Autumn is my favorite season and this weekend, I hope to do a few autumny things, namely looking at all the red, gold and orange leaves during a drive through the countryside, perhaps picking out pumpkins, drinking apple cider and pumpkin latte, and going to a bonfire. The temperatures are perfect here. I love autumn!

I hope all of you enjoy a little bit of fall fun, too.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

No, the house in the distance is not a real shelter. I would never disclose the locations.
 I worked full-time, then part-time in domestic violence shelters for eleven years. When people hear this, they usually cock their head and wince, imagining that I was constantly surrounded by beaten and battered women. In fact, that was rarely the case. Oh, we'd get some women coming in to the shelter with a police escort after a physical incident, or we'd get a call from a hospital. But usually these calls from the police or the hospital were on behalf of the women. The case workers there were encouraging them to enter a shelter and they were calling to see if we were full. Sometimes they did come. More often they'd find friends or family to stay with and wouldn't decide to leave until later, when something finally made them decide enough was enough.

Working in the shelters was anything but depressing. The women there had made a tremendously courageous move in leaving their abusive situations. I think that fact is rarely acknowledged. These women were brave. Imagine leaving your home, your possessions, often your job and your support network, to move into a hidden shelter where you had to start all over. Yes, you could bring your kids. But it's not that simple. There are temporary custody orders to get, restraining orders, and so many records and documents that you need to start your life over. You have to enroll your kids in a new school. You have to look for an apartment and perhaps a new job. You need furniture again, and a new bank account, and utilities, and, and, and.  The shelter caseworkers help you, but it's not that easy. You have to be willing to build a new life even while someone is threatening and trying to stop you.

And then there's the emotional side of things. Not just the fear of the abuser, but the fear of the unknown. It may seem hard to fathom, but think about how easy it is to live with what you know versus what you don't. At home, she may have some idea of what triggers his violence. She may have some idea of what to expect. But once she leaves, she doesn't know what life will be like. She doesn't even know where she's going. It takes courage.

Most importantly, people tend to criticize these women who finally speak up; who finally take action and leave their lives behind. Why did you stay? Why didn't you leave him? There are a million answers and a million things to consider. One of which is love. People are quick to forget that this woman loved this man and that there are times when he wasn't abusive. There were times he said he was sorry and she forgave him. He brought her flowers. They had children. She loved him. That doesn't stop just because she leaves.

This month, the focus is on domestic violence awareness. Hopefully women today know there are resources for them. But beyond that, we need to understand how deeply this issue runs. It's not a matter of simply calling the police, or finding a shelter. It's about having the courage to change your life. We need to commend any woman who can do that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Was This?

 I love to travel. Luckily, so do my husband and kids AND my mother. She's come with us on our vacations the past few years and we always have a blast! I was just visiting A Dangerous Business travel blog and Amanda's post there got me thinking. She wrote about traveling with her 86-year-old grandmother and how it changes the experience for the better. I knew exactly how she felt. Traveling with my mother does somehow add a different dimension to our trips. I couldn't put my finger on it exactly until I thought about the pictures we share after our trips. It doesn't seem to matter that we were in the same places at the same time, doing the same things together. Her pictures are always so much more interesting.    
I think it has to do with perspective. I spend my vacation time trying to cram in as many sights and experiences as possible. I drag my family around on a pell mell whirlwind of "must-see's" and they go along with me. But I think my mother would probably take a different approach. She is more about soaking up local color; observing people and lifestyles while I'm focused on the place. Simply put, she sees things I miss. Then I leaf through her photos and scrapbooks and want to ask "Where was this?"

In Paris, I was taking pictures of scenery. She was taking pictures of interesting musicians and dogs. In San Francisco, I was capturing the fog across the Golden Gate Bridge. She was taking pictures of ornate doors. My pictures are vacation pictures;
hers are works of art. I take trips; she sees the world.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hunting Ghosts with TRIOPS

It's October. That means it's time to do scary things, right? Like visiting haunted houses, or hunting ghosts with real ghost hunters. Something spooky to set our hearts racing. We decided to roam through the darkened floors of Ryan's Tavern in Hamilton, Ohio with the TRIOPS crew (Tri-State Ohio Paranormal Society) searching for ghosts, or spirits, or paranormal entities. They've investigated Ryan's many times and claim it as one of the most active sites in the area.

We'd been ghost-hunting once before at Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Louisville, Kentucky, so thought we knew what to do. We brought our digital camera, ready to capture orbs and shadows where there shouldn't be shadows. We had our digital recorder, too, in case any of the spirits tried to tell us something. We were ready to hunt ghosts -- or so we thought until we saw the equipment that TRIOPS brought.

Naturally, they had several cameras set up around the building. They also had something that projected dots of green light in the basement so that we could see if any shadows suddenly blocked the green lights. They had divining rods that we ended up using in every room as well as electromagnetic detectors that lit up whenever we were near energy fields. And they had their own EVP recorders to capture sound. Luckily, they were generous and let us all try some of their equipment as we peered through darkness in room after room.

We were trying to communicate with a few known spirits at Ryan's: Elizabeth (a cook), The Boss, Henry, Stanley, another Stanley, and other previously identified spirits. The most successful tool seemed to be the divining rods. We were invited to take turns holding them loosely in front of us while we asked the spirits yes or no questions. If the answer was 'yes,' we asked them to make the rods cross. They acquiesced again and again. We got more inventive and asked them to point toward the area where they were. They obliged us on this point as well, though I couldn't help notice that they were usually in the vicinity of my step-sister. Her house is haunted, too. I think the spirits like her.

My husband did not want to put the divining rods down. He loved using them and got answers from the spirits on each of the four floors where we asked them questions. In fact, he enjoyed the experience so much that he wants to start ghost-hunting on the weekends with the TRIOPS crew.

I suppose the spirits have now claimed my husband. We can't claim for sure that we made contact with them (or at least, I can't), but whether or not we found ghosts on our ghost hunt, my husband found something that set his heart racing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Post: Closed For The Season

   by Joann Storck

     I  walked the lane where the tree people used to talk to each other about the children who were passing by.  They were silent today.
     I looked up to see if the sky were as tantalizingly blue like it always was in the golden days.  It was one shade off.
     I passed through the stalks of corn standing straight, brown, and sturdy waiting to be picked.  The cobs held only gold kernels:  none of them were maroon.
     The tables that held all the mums, pumpkins and gourds stand on only 3 legs if any at all.  Neglect claimed their usefulness.
     I closed my eyes and cocked my head to listen for the sound of the hay wagon returning its passengers, happy and pleased.  It was faint, but I can still hear it with my heart.
     I made a wish and blew a kiss to the moon that you are watching us keeping you near.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I've been a Bookcrossing member since 2002. It's my favorite hobby (besides actually reading the books).

I've started packing for my trip to China. The first thing to go into my suitcase? Books. A few dozen of them. They are always the first thing I pack, no matter where I go. I take them with me, but I don't bring them back. This time, I'll leave the books in China for someone else to stumble upon, accidentally or on purpose as part of an online community called Bookcrossing. This scavenger hunt/book club is a hobby of mine, and a million other people who participate in Bookcrossing. was designed by a man named Ron Hornbaker who had the idea to create a worldwide library. His vision was that a person might find a book at any time, anywhere for free. You may be sipping coffee at your favorite coffee shop and suddenly stumble upon a book that someone else left there. Or you may be in a doctor’s waiting room, or sitting on a park bench, or flying on an airplane. And there it will be --- a free book that someone registered on the website and left behind for others to read.

When you register your books on Boookcrossing, you make a journal entry that shares your thoughts about the book. Then you write the unique identification code inside the book, slap a post-it note on the cover telling the world that it's a free Bookcrossing book, and release it somewhere for others to find. Will it be picked up and journalled? That always remains to be seen.

Sometimes journal entries happen quickly. Other times, it takes years before a curious reader logs on and gives an update of the book’s journey.  We had quite a bit of luck on our trip to San Francisco. Our favorite "catch" was at Alcatraz. My daughter left a copy of Someone is Hiding on Alcatraz Island on top of a bench inside. We received an email alert three weeks later that the book was now in the hands of a 9-year-old boy from Oregon who had been at Alcatraz the same night we were. His grandmother spotted the book and saw the “FREE BOOK” post-it. Curious, she picked it up, gave it to her grandson, and he registered as a free Bookcrossing member and journaled the find. We were thrilled.

Nearly all the books we left in Brussels and Paris were caught and journaled, too. It added extra delight to our trip during and after, as we continue to receive journal entries on the books we left there.

So now I'm headed to China. I've packed a few Amy Tan's and J. Maarten Troost's Lost on Planet China. I'm hoping these books will find new appreciative readers and will introduce more people to Bookcrossing. I've got my books packed. Now I need to figure out what I'll wear.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Feasting On Fun Parks

I feast on fun parks,
devouring roller coasters
like sugary funnel cakes.

I wave my hands in the air
grabbing at clouds
before plunging down and up
like a rocket gone berserk.

I whirl and spin
like a cotton candy machine,
dangling upside down for a moment
on my paper cone

Screaming and laughing,
gobbling up good times
until my thirst for thrills
comes to a complete stop.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reading the Cereal Box

I almost can't fathom it, but there are children (and adults) who sit down at the table and eat their cereal, barely giving the cereal box a glance. I cannot imagine it. I cannot imagine a life that does not include reading nearly everything set before me. What must that be like?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

October is National Apple Month


Some Fun Apple Facts:

  • Apple juice was one of the earliest prescribed anti depressants.
  • Apples are a member of the rose family.
  • It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of apple cider.
  • The crabapple is the only apple native to North America.
  • Apples float because 25 percent of their volume is air.
  • All apples have five seed pockets, each with a seed.
  • Kathy Wafler Madison created the world's largest apple peel on October 16, 1976, in Rochester, NY. It was 172 feet, 4 inches long. (She was 16 years old at the time and grew up to be a sales manager for an apple tree nursery).
  • The pilgrims planted the first US apples trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • The science of apple growing is called pomology.
  • Quercetin is found only in the apple skin. The skin also contains more antioxidants and fiber than the flesh.
  • China produces more apples than any other country.
  • The apple is the official state fruit of New York, Washington, West Virginia and Rhode Island. It is the official state flower of Michigan.
  • Contrary to popular belief, there is no mention of an apple as the forbidden fruit in the Bible. It is referred to as "fruit from the Tree of Knowledge" with no specification as to which kind of fruit. It was Hugo Van Der Goes who first implicated the apple as the forbidden fruit in his 1470 A.D. painting, The Fall of Man. After that, it became popular to depict the apple as the forbidden fruit.
  • To the Iroquois Indians, the apple tree is the central tree of heaven.
  • An apple blossom has five petals.
  • There are more than 750,000 apple orchards in the state of Washington.
  • In ancient Greece, tossing an apple to a girl was a traditional proposal of marriage; catching it was acceptance.

      Wednesday, October 5, 2011

      The Toddler's Trick

      This is a collage I created for a work exercise. It was immediately critiqued and ripped to shreds.
      From Anthea Paul’s “The Toddler’s Trick”
      Three-year-olds have no problem expressing themselves. They can paint and draw pictures endlessly. They do not seem to have a moment’s hesitation about what to put onto a canvas or a massive piece of paper. Give the tots a piece of paper and a paintbrush and they happily go straight to it, with nary a pause. Nor do they mind when they make a mess of the paint colors or tear the paper – they never judge their output.

      It's too bad that we grow older and more judgmental. Sometimes, as artists, we need to remind ourselves of the Toddler's Trick.

      Tuesday, October 4, 2011


      Alcatraz Island
      Years ago I worked for the American Cancer Society in Florida. We did several fundraisers, one of which was "Jail & Bail." The idea behind this fundraiser was that we would recruit local business leaders and politicians to be "arrested." We'd make WANTED posters and print them in newspapers and on publicity materials, showing their mug shots and describing the crimes they were accused of.

      They were funny crimes like 'WANTED for Ending Sentences with s Smiley Face.' Or 'WANTED for Contributing to the Speed of a Minor' (for a track coach).  We arrested my son for 'Bringing Ants to a Teddy Bear Picnic.' They were just goofy crimes that we then had our volunteer Sheriff bring them in on. We sent out a limo (donated services) to arrest them at their worksites, complete with media photographers in tow. We then took them to 'Jail' at the mall, where they were presented before a volunteer judge who set their fundraising 'Bail,' and were then given a phone and a phone book to raise their bail.

      It was a great event and a lot of fun for everyone. It was easy to get caught up in the excitement. So easy that I decided to be arrested, too. I forget what the charges were against me, but bail was set and I began making my calls. The first call I made was to my father in Ohio.

      "Hi Dad. I've been arrested and I need bail."

      "Okay. How much?"

      That was it. No questions. No 'What happened?' or 'What are you talking about? What were you arrested for?'  Just "Okay."  Makes me wonder what he thought about me, and why he didn't seem at all fazed to receive this phone call? I'm glad he had my back, but jeez...

      Monday, October 3, 2011

      The Buxton Inn

      We spent the weekend at the Buxton Inn in Granville, Ohio. The historic hotel is rumored to be haunted, especially room #9 and the tavern in the basement. According to Chris Woodyard's Ghost Hunter's Guide to Haunted Ohio, room #9 is reportedly haunted by Ethel "Bonnie" Bounell who died there in 1961. There have been reports of a smoky haze that disguises thumbs and hands. The room is also haunted by Major Buxton, a cat ghost who plays with guest's hair.

      Room #9
      One former guest who stayed in room #9 said that she loved her room and was surprised to find a cat in there. She said it kept putting its paws up on the window as though it wanted to get out, but she told the cat it couldn't get out that way. When she checked out the next morning, she remarked that she'd liked having the cat in her room and the desk clerk told her that there weren't any live cats there.

      There is a curio cabinet filled with ceramic cats, as well as pictures of cats and cat doorstoppers scattered around the inn. All pay homage to Major Buxton who is pictured on the Buxton Inn sign outside.

      One hotel employee said that she's experienced things like the door and opening and closing by itself. She's also had trouble with locks and keys not working, and then doors opening right up. She says guests have taken pictures that later include a woman in a calico dress, or a man in a top hat standing on the sidewalk. All sorts of weird things have happened.

      Another hotel employee told Woodyard that she was afraid of going down into the tavern alone. She felt like someone was always watching her down there, and bartenders had reported things being moved and disappearing. One night this employee heard heavy footsteps walking up and down the hall. When she turned on the light, no one was there.

      We didn't encounter anything supernatural during our stay, as much as we hoped we would. But we did take a few pictures and may have captured an orb on one. You may decide it's a dust particle, but we took dozens of pictures and this was the only picture that had one. Maybe it's dust; maybe it's an orb. Let's all say it's an orb so we can have our fun.

      The Blue Room