Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Guest Post: A Merry Christmas and a Smile

by Mike Jones

It never fails. Anytime I pass a red kettle, I feel an overwhelming urge to give money. Change, bills, it doesn’t matter. It’s almost a compulsion. I do not say this to pat myself on the back. I say it because it is so.

This year, I decided to do something a little different. The church we attend signed up to collect money for the Salvation Army at a local store. I decided it was time for my daughter to give back and signed the two of us up for a shift.

We showed up for business on a cold December night. Wearing Santa hats and clutching two bells, we set to “work.” It really wasn’t work though. It was just fun. I told Isabelle as soon as we started that you could not be frowning or in a bad mood if you were volunteering. I challenged her to try to frown! Sure enough, she couldn’t do it and we were soon merrily ringing the bells as people walked out.

We were doing Gangam Style-- Salvation Army Style. And laughing away.

 I also decided to try a little experiment. We counted. The number of people who walked by; the number who acknowledged us with a nod or “Merry Christmas”; the number who gave money, and the number who ignored us.

There were seventy people who walked by in the half hour we collected.  Out of that number- 58 replied to our “Merry Christmas” with a reply.  Twenty five of those 58 with a donation. One man made it a point to thank us for saying “Merry Christmas” and not a generic “Happy Holidays” like the employee he had just encountered.

The amazing thing was that 12 people walked by and deliberately ignored a twelve year old girl ringing a bell and smiling. She was not begging. She was not harassing. She was just smiling, ringing a bell and wishing people a “Merry Christmas.” Twelve!

Not a smile. Not a nod. Not a wink. Just looked at her and looked away. I explained that maybe they were ashamed that they could not give anything or they were sad. Or maybe they did not celebrate the holidays.


I am not one of those twelve. I celebrate. I love this holiday!

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Have a great day!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Cat Scratch Fever

Sara took her dog to the vet and sat in the waiting room for half an hour. The dog strained forward on his leash every time someone new walked through the door. It was easy to tell the dog lovers from everyone else: they either smiled or stooped to pet Dixie. The non-dog lovers simply gave him a wide berth with a sour expression on their faces and sat across the room.

One woman walked in with a carrier full of cats that she'd rescued. She quickly moved out of Dixie's range and sat with her mewling box of kittens as close as she could to the examination room door.

The woman sitting next to Sara scowled at the kittens and leaned over to Sara. "Those are the nastiest animals in the world. That's what my doctor told me. The nastiest in the world."

Sara wasn't sure how to respond. She tightened her grip on Dixie's leash and gave the woman a half-smile, even though Sara had two cats at home.

"I got cat scratch fever last year and it like-ta killed me. Nasty." The woman shook her head and frowned at the cat rescuer. "I've had the worst year of my life. No, the worst ten years of my life. My husband got killed by a drunk driver. Then my son's apartment caught on fire. And his truck blew up. Then I got scratched by some cat he was trying to rescue and I nearly went blind. I can't even see! So I got these special glasses. $669. And then they were stolen out of my car. My phone charger and my glasses." She shook her head again.

"And now this one is about to break me." She held out the tiny chihuahua she's been cuddling to her chest. "He's having seizures. We've been in here twice already this week. I think I'm cursed."

Sara wasn't sure what to say. She shook her head compassionately and then concentrated on the words of the country music song playing overhead.

    Mama's addicted to Mary Kay.
    Brother's addicted to Maryjane.
    Daddy's addicted to Mary, two doors down.

"By the way, my name's Mary," the woman said and stuck out her hand for Sara to shake. Sara switched Dixie's leash to her left hand and started to reciprocate, but the woman suddenly pulled her hand away and held it close to her chest as she clarified one point. "You two aren't here with something contagious, are you? That would be my luck."

Sara shook her head and let the woman briefly shake her hand before the receptionist mercifully called Dixie's name.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

WWSKD? (What Would Stephen King Do?)

The Book Depository
Dallas, Texas

It's been a long time since I read a Stephen King novel. But when my mother brought 11/22/63 along on a recent road trip and kept stealing moments to read a few more pages, I was intrigued enough to ask what it was about, and then hooked enough by her description to read it when she was done.

I'm not usually a time-traveler fan. Nor am I that interested in JFK's assassination, since I wasn't even born when it happened. Still, I found King's storyline interesting: his protagonist would travel back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting Kennedy. I immediately wondered why King chose this event as the most pivotal in history to change. I decided it was worth a read.

Again, I don't read many books that include time-travel. It's too much for me to figure out. Even as King started to explain the rules in his time-travel scheme, I was immediately besieged by questions: But what about...? and was thrilled that as soon as my doubting-Thomas skepticism flitted to the surface, King answered my question. And then another question would arise and I thought, But what about...? again, and King answered my unasked question again. I started to trust him and decided to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Stephen King answered every question I thought of. I started to think he could answer anything, and so my friends and I started posing the same question to each other any time we had a quandary. It became our tag line at work: WWSKD?

Little did I know that one author had basically asked just that. After I finished 11/22/63 (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I picked up another book to read: The Speed Queen by one of my favorite authors, Stewart O'Nan. It was totally coincidental that I opened it up and saw that he'd dedicated the book to Stephen King. The reason why immediately became clear.

O'Nan's main character, Marjorie, was a convicted murderer sitting on Death Row, telling her story to Stephen King because he'd bought the rights to her life story. She had a list of questions she was required to answer as part of the deal, and she did -- along with several writing tips and suggestions for King on how he should write her book. I thought that was so clever of O'Nan. It was a bit of humor in an otherwise dark novel. Marjorie had all sorts of writing advice for Stephen King and as I read it, I wondered whether he'd read the book, too, and what he thought of it?

So I started with a book that prompted me to think that Stephen King could answer any conundrum and then followed it with a book about a killer telling him what he should do. It's made for some interesting reading.

Now I'm on to a Gillian Flynn novel. If Stephen King is in this one, too, I'm going to think there's some kind of literary conspiracy that will probably be as hard to prove as the one surrounding the JFK plot that got this whole thing started.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Kicking Off My Christmas Spirit - Literally

Every year there is one event that moves me from a distanced, Oh yeah, Christmas is coming to actually being in the Christmas spirit. It's not putting up the tree, or buying gifts, or watching Charlie Brown, or baking cookies. No, for me, it's going to the children's Christmas program at church. Watching the preschoolers and Kindergartners tickles me every year, and kick starts my Christmas mood.

You never know what they'll do. And that's the beauty of it.

They may remember to put on their paper antlers. They may jingle their bells (and many will throughout the entire program). They may even do a few hand motions to the songs, though you can be sure that each child is watching the others to see what they're supposed to do, so it's never quite in unison.

One or two children will know most of the words to the song. You can usually count on one responsible girl to memorize them all, stand up straight, and either belt them out, or barely whisper. She's the one to watch if you want to see what's supposed to happen. And many of the children will be watching her, too, with a look on their faces like they've never seen any of this before.

If there's a gimmick, or any vaguely naughty sound effect, the boys will shout it out nice and loud. Laugh, and they'll repeat the performance over and over.

But these are all the things you come to expect with young kids. What's most wonderful about the Christmas program is the element of surprise; the things you just can't see coming.

This year was no exception.

The class sang a song and then stood up. They turned the gold blocks that had seemed to be nothing more than gift boxes around and spelled out the word J-E-S-U-S. But they were too far apart; scattered wherever the box holders had (uncarefully) placed them. So one little boy took it upon himself to straighten them up -- and kicked all the Jesus boxes into place.

And suddenly, I was consumed with Christmas spirit.

You probably had to be there, but it was just so wrong that we were all stifling giggles. It kicked off my holiday, all right. I can't wait for next year's show!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Bye, Bye Butch

I believe the hate tweets and facebook notes began the minute Bucth Jones' resignation from the UC Bearcats was announced this morning. Football fans are fickle. We loved Butch Jones a month ago. We hate him now, the traitor. Though I don't think any Bearcat fans feel as much animosity toward him as we did when Brian Kelley turned his back on Cincinnati. (Don't even say his name in our house!) At least we knew Butch Jones' resignation would be coming, and can't really fault him for accepting the job with Tennessee.

Loyalty is only temporary in football, though. We only like a coach as long as he's loyal to our team. The minute he's not, he's out. Bye, bye Butch.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

After the Wedding

I don't know if this is normal. I don't know how you're supposed to feel after your child gets married. On one hand, I'm joyous, elated, and thrilled that my child is so happy and that we have a beautiful new addition to our family. We love his wonderful bride.

But at the same time, I'm besieged with feelings of melancholy. I don't know why. Maybe it's the normal letdown after months of anticipation and running around. Maybe it's the delayed depression of empty nest syndrome; he's really not coming home again. Maybe it's knowing that he's a grown man now with grown man responsibilities and has taken the first step toward creating a family of his own?

I just don't know if these feelings are normal. I'm thrilled and sad at the same time. I feel like I'm walking in a fog. All I want to do is look at wedding pictures.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Swimming On the Edge

When I was on the plane traveling to Singapore, the guy next to me started talking about all his trips to Singapore and things he’d seen and done. I was amazed that he was telling me to go places that hadn’t been featured in any of the tour books I’d read. Then he pulled out his ipad and showed me a picture he took of this Infinity pool at night with Singapore’s gorgeous skyline in the background, and I knew I had to make a trip to this hotel.

It’s supposed to cost $20 to go up to the Skypark at the top if you’re not a hotel guest, but for some reason, my co-worker and I were waved on as long as we went to Ku De Ta at the top for a drink. We did. Our drinks were $25 a piece, but I have to say, the views were worth it. We would have stayed for the breathtaking views of the skyline at night like my plane companion had, but a storn was rolling in.

Still, I was not disppointed. From here I saw the Infinity pool on one side and then all the ships pulling into port off the other side. I loved that view even more! They looked like little toy battleships all askew, as far as I could see. Imagine it. This is just what fit into my viewfinder, but there were ships as far as the eye could see. It was magnificent!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Holiday Traffic

Fifteen miles of backed-up Thanksgiving holiday traffic made us wonder: is family really worth this?

(We said yes, since we were traveling the opposite way.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

What I Learned at the Peranakan Museum

One of the best things about traveling is learning about other cultures. I knew that Singapore was made up of Chinese, Indian and Malay (not Malaysian, as I always thought), but I knew little about the Peranakan people until I took a fabulous tour of their heritage museum.

I joined a lovely group of women from Tasmania and we all fawned over the beautiful intricacy of the museum's treasures.

Our tour guide explained the things we were looking at and told us a little about the culture and beliefs. His stories were fantastic. For instance, he told us about this funeral altar. You can just make out the coffin behind the flowered altar, covered in an intricate quilt. This coffin would have been left open for three days while the doctor and the wife of the dead sat beside it, keeping away pregnant cats so that they did not suck out the soul of the deceased. And what would have happened if a cat got past them and did that very thing? The deceased would have turned into a zombie!

But hold on. Let's back up. Before death comes marriage, and there are lots of wedding traditions among the Peranakan. For one thing, the Peranakan women are known for their intricate beadwork and embroidery skills. Traditionally, the bride-to-be would embroider beautiful beaded slippers for her mother-in-law. It made me think about my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Should I tell her I expect some? Think she has time to whip up a pair while she works on wedding plans? Probably not. I'll let it go.

But wait! Before we can talk about wedding presents and ceremonies, we need to talk about how I would have picked her as a bride for my son if we were Peranakan. What I would value most highly is her cooking abilities. Girls are raised very traditionally and master embroidery and cooking. Then, when they're 16, they're married off to boys aged 19 or 20. But how to choose, how to choose? Oh, here's how. As a mother, I would hang out around the kitchen windows of the girls' houses and listen in to what's going on while she cooks. If her mother is telling her to pay attention, or pots and pans are falling, she may not be "The One."

But once I have chosen the right girl, they will have a beautiful wedding procession.

Then, on their wedding night, they will be presented with two chickens: a hen and a cock. These chickens will have been starved for a day or two and put underneath the wedding couple's bed. Then, the father (Baba) will throw down some rice and the first chicken to emerge will be a prediction of the sex of their firstborn child. Apparently 8 of of 10 times, the fowl are right.

Hhmmm.. I'd been struggling with what to get the wedding couple for a present. Maybe a couple of chickens? If my daughter-in-law beads me some slippers, I'll do this for her in return.
The wedding bed is actually comprised of two beds: a single and a double. If the couple is fighting, one can sleep in the single bed. Smart!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Spectacular Singapore Skyline

Forgive me, Cincinnati, but I think I have a new favorite skyline.

The Merlion statue spouting water into the Singapore River
From Merlion Park, the Esplanade bank and to the right, the Singapore Flyer.
Buildings reflected on the Singapore River.
The beautiful lotus flower-shaped Arts & Sciences Museum.
In back, the Sands Marina hotel and Sky Bar. In front, part of the double helix pedestrian bridge.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Long, Long Campaign

Isn't it enough that the city of West Chester had to close roads, put 47 policemen on duty,
and bring in a sound stage, lights, stadium bleachers, and dozens of tractor trailers for
the Romney rally? Did they really have to close the library, too? Apparently so.
It's been four days since the rally and no one has packed it all up and carted it away yet.

Could there be any state more ready to be done with this election than the state of Ohio? Folks, we Buckeyes are campaign-weary. We're bombarded with political messages, phone calls, appearances, signs, and heated controversy over who is winning our all-important state. The news says that Ohio will pick the winner, and we are a state very much divided.

I don't think I've seen a television commercial in weeks that isn't a slam against one opponent or another. I can't imagine the millions spent on ads in our state.

On any given day we can open the newspaper and see which Presidential candidate, wife of a candidate, or running-mate is making another appearance in Ohio.

Our roads are closed for motorcades.

The signs in our yards are plucked out almost as soon as they're put up.

There are empty chairs lining the street like pitiful yard sales of dilapidated fiurniture left in the rain.

Our phones ring as early as 8am with recorded messages from every interest group that shouldn't have our names in the first place. Seriously -- don't they know who they're calling?

We've been polled.

We've had our hands shaken.

We've been re-routed on our way to work.

We're ready for the long campaign to be over.

We'll be out in droves to vote tomorrow. We are Buckeyes.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo Has Begun!

Book sculpture/waterfall outside the Cincinnati Public Library.
I'd better kick it into gear if I ever want to see my book on the shelves there.

Here it is. November 1st. The start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) 2012.

One of my managers is doing it with me this year. We sat at lunch yesterday and talked all about it. There were common themes that ran through our conversation and I realized that my imagination runs wild every October 31st, just before I sit down to start. Here's what I thought last night:

This book is going to be so good. Oh my gosh. This is the best idea ever. I can't believe nobody else has written this. Nobody else has probably ever thought of this. I'll be able to find a publisher right away. Probably by December. This book is probably going to write itself. After I get a publisher, they'll probably want me to turn this into a series, but I think it's better as a stand-alone. I'd better start thinking of the next book after that. I'll probably have a lot of book signings. I wonder if I'll be able to retire right away? I'm going to take my co-workers to the bookstore and surprise them and walk over to where my book is on the shelf. That'll be so funny. I'll probably be a common household name, like Stephen King. Oh my gosh -- this book is going to be great!

I could barely sleep for all my delusions of grandeur.

Then I woke up and went to my computer to start this Great American Middle-School Novel. I typed 300 words and it's already going wrong.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Moon

As Hurricane Sandy was approaching and meteorologists were warning residents on the east coast that the storm surges would be made worse because of the full moon, I couldn't help but admire its beauty. It was washed in a haze of cloudy sky here, pulling tides toward shore in other states.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo - the Abbreviated Version

I'll have to find some time to lock myself away and write.
It's almost time for NaNoWriMo again! This fall, I've felt more motivated to write than I have in a long, long time. I have three different novel ideas swirling in my head. I'm ready to sit down now and get started, but I won't. That would take the fun out of being part of the NaNoWriMo community as it occurs.

But, I'm not going to be able to write 50,000 words this year. I know, I know. This sounds like a lame excuse already, but now that I'm entering my 4th year of participation, I feel I know of what I speak.

I've only finished once so far. I was thrilled with the middle grade novel I wrote the first year, but quickly learned that I needed to cut about half of the 50,000 words I wrote.

The second year, I wrote 32,000 words before throwing in the towel. I wish I would have stuck with it, but the novel was spiraling out of control and wasn't even making sense anymore. I didn't know where to take it and sadly, set it aside to fix at a later date. That still hasn't happened.

Last year, I started a novel but was traveling on business for 2-1/2 weeks and barely had time to take a shower, let alone write a novel.

And this year, I'm traveling on business again. Then, right when I get back from that business trip, I'll head down to Georgia for my son's wedding!

I have a million things on my mind and plenty of exciting things happening. It's too bad NaNoWriMo happens in November. If only we could push it out to January when so many of us will have freshly resolved to write our novels in the new year. (NaNo organizers - are you listening?)

Yes, I could just write it on my own in January, but that's not the same thing. It's the community of NaNo that I like. The pep talks; the empathy from other writers; the group project of it all. So, despite the trip to Singapore and exciting wedding events afterward, I'm going to sign up.

But  -- I'm doing my own modification of NaNoWriMo this year. I'm only going to attempt 25,000 words, which is perfect since I'm writing another middle grade novel. If I can complete this, I'll be amazed. I'm going to give it my best shot. I know NaNoWriMo won't consider me a winner if I only write 25,000, but I will. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Politics & Neighbors

A good old political statement out by the road.

Perhaps it's different around here than in the rest of the country, but here in the swing state of Ohio, politics between neighbors is starting to get ugly.

I googled the Cincinnati Enquirer's website in search of a story I wanted to share about a couple in another Cincinnati community. He's a Republican; she's a Democrat, and they both put yard signs in their front yard, side-by-side. Then they took their dog for a walk and came back to find that her Obama sign had been stolen. The husband was outraged on his wife's behalf.

That was the story I was going to share, but when I did a search on the newspaper's site, dozens of other stories popped up. Apparently sign-stealing this election is widespread and big news. Some of the offenders have been caught with hundreds of signs that they've removed from people's yards. Across the border in Kentucky, it's local election signs that have been removed almost as soon as they're put up.

Politics are creating some pretty bad neighbors among us.

My mother's neighbors, who are the kindest, sweetest, most neighborly people in the world, have suddenly turned on her. These are people who come over and  let her dogs out when she's gone for long, who feed her horses, who help shovel snow off her porch and who she exchanges Christmas gifts with. But now, they're barely speaking to her since they disagree on politics. And instead of putting out yard signs, they've placed an empty chair in their yard expressing their support of Romney, Clint Eastwood-style.

At our house, our Obama sign lasted less than 24 hours. We put it in our yard, went to bed, and woke up to find it missing. There's no trace of it, and few other Obama signs remaining in the neighborhood. We suspect our neighbor -- the same man who brings us vegetables from his garden in the summer. His daughter even told us it might be him.

All we can do is shake our heads. Stealing our yard sign isn't going to change our vote, but we may think a little harder about the cliched saying that 'fences make the best neighbors.'

Friday, October 19, 2012


...the heady fermentation of apple cider wafting through the air... the sound of brittle leaves crinkling across the ground...the vision of red, orange, and yellow decorating spots of brown...the smooth roundness of a pumpkin....the intoxicatingly cozy briskness of autumn...


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just a Wheel Watcher

This weekend, Wheel of Fortune rolled into town. They set up shop at the Treasure Aisles Flea Market in Monroe, Ohio and hosted auditions for the show.

Not to brag, but I'm really good at Wheel of Fortune, much to the dismay of anyone else (my dad, especially) who is in the room. Guess I ruin their fun. So I felt compelled to drive up to Monroe and join the crowd in the hopes of auditioning to be on the show.

One 900-person group

By 'crowd,' I mean the line of cars backed up down the state highway, trying to turn onto the road that lead to the parking lot, swarming with people.

And by 'swarming with people,' I mean THOUSANDS who showed up for a chance to audition for one of three shows.

Here's how it worked: Everyone could stand in line to fill out an application. They hosted three show auditions, letting 900 people at a time into the building where they then pulled five names from a drum and let those five come up on stage for a Speed Round. They encouraged people to jump up and down, show their enthusiasm and personality, and come across to the producers and crowd as good contestants to bring onto the show. It didn't actually matter if you got on stage, or if you won the Speed Round. Those things didn't automatically qualify you. They were auditioning these people.

Guess what?
___     ___ ___ S N ' T     P ___ C K ___ D

I bounced up and down with the 900+ people in my group, hoping they'd pull me out of the crowd. They didn't. I remain simply a Wheel Watcher, despite my winning personality and dreams of fame and fortune.


When is Jeopardy coming to town???

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Quick Switch

During a meeting at work today, we were asked to get out of our comfort zone a little. The facilitator asked each of us to take off our watches and put it on the other arm.

Take a minute to do this.
Do it.

Doesn't it feel weird?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Instant Gratification: Good or Bad?

Just because they don't all have ribbons doesn't mean that they're not all delicious.

I just finished reading Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott. A wonderfully terrifying book about two parents who don't seem to comprehend how bad their daughter's drug use is getting. If you like books like that, definitely read it. But what I want to focus on today is not that story element, but a subplot and idea that the step-father in the book, a writer for NPR, brings to life.

It is the idea that as bloggers, or in his case, a weekly columnist, our writing and focus changes based on reader comments and instant feedback. If we get lots of comments, we're on top of the world. If we get little response to our writing, we deem it bad, and it often throws us into a downward slump, wondering what was wrong with our piece. I found this thought to be provocative and true. I think those of us who blog do react this way and base our merit largely on "likes" and comments and hits. But I'm wondering if this is helpful, or detrimental?

It used to be that we, as writers, would write our pieces, make our revisions, work with editors and then finally -- finally -- see our work in print. We did not get feedback on our words. We almost never personally connected with our readers. And I wonder whether that wasn't nice in some ways, because we could continue on with the assumption or grand delusion that our words were wonderful and were resonating with thousands, or millions of strangers in ways we might never know.

But now, as we share our thoughts and ideas with millions of others on the blogosphere, we almost instantly know that we haven't. And somehow, that seems to diminish what we've written.

It shouldn't be that way, but I fear it is. I am afraid that we tie our self-worth as writers on feedback now. If we have a popular post, we're on top of the world. If no one leaves a comment, we doubt our writing abilities.

Maybe it should be this way. Or maybe we need to focus on our writing and how it makes us feel as writers, rather than worrying about what the world thinks. I don't know. It's something to think about. I do love the instant gratification that blogging brings, but I also need to remember not to rely on it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musical Education

I've been tasked with developing a theme for a workshop we're holding at work. The workshop topic is how to be a better manager to your team. Great topic. Luckily, my manager is already familiar with the material in the course. :) Then, as a steering team, we decided to thread the theme of being an orchestra conductor into the class.

As someone who absolutely loved music, orchestra and band growing up, I thought this a fantastic theme. Which lead to me being asked to create an exercise in which the class participants would start to think about themselves as conductors and about their direct reports as the people in the band.

Oh, I had a million ideas! My creative juices were definitely flowing. I started brainstorming like crazy.

My first idea was to bring in different instruments to let people try. Or even different mouthpieces. This idea came to me because my daughter and I do this at home. I let her try to play my flute and she lets me try the trumpet. Neither one of us can get sound out of the other's instrument. I thought this might be a nice exercise to illustrate that every person on your team has different skills and abilities; some are agile and can play several instruments (roles), while others specialize in one instrument (mastering a skill).

Some of the steering team members loved the idea, but I could see fear in the eyes of others.

"I get what you're trying to do, but I know nothing about music," one said.

A-ha! I hadn't really thought about that. Except that I had, in an existential sense. I thought that this exercise might bring to life the fact that some people don't really know where their talents lie. I would have bet that this person could have gotten some sound out of at least one of the mouthpieces, even if she didn't know which.

Anyway, I moved on to the next idea.

"We could have a set of common household items on each table and the people in each group would have to figure out how to make music together using them."

They liked that idea. But the more I thought about it, I realized that this exercise seemed geared more toward making them into musicians than teaching them how to be conductors of their departments.

"Or maybe we could have them draw pictures of their department members and build their own orchestras. For instance, you could think Sally is always at the forefront of projects and is involved with almost everything we do, whereas Jon is more of a slow and steady person who takes the time to thoroughly research what he's working on. So maybe Sally could be a woodwind, and Jon could be in the brass section, and we could think about how necessary both are.

Or you could make Sally a melody, and Jon harmony, or bass. Something like that. Because both sounds/people are necessary for a more robust team."

I lost them there. In fact, one person said exactly that. "You lost me. I don't know anything about melody or woodwinds or what they're supposed to do."

I realized how complex my musical theory exercise was becoming.

If it had been me, I would have loved to have categorized the people in my department as instruments or the role they play in music. I would have made my co-worker a bassoon -  often whiny and something that many orchestras can do without. (Oops-did I say that out loud? Nothing against the bassoon, though. I actually like the sound of them.) I would have made my manager the percussionist because she sets the beat and guides us in the pace and tone of our work. I would have made another co-worker a clarinet. She often has the melody on projects, but also plays harmony.

Anyway, I eventually abandoned this idea for the one that we decided to go with. Something much easier and clear-cut that features the class participants as conductors who make a collage with different scraps of sheet music to illustrate the people in their departments.

I like it. It's simple and clear and even those who don't know much about music can see the difference between easy beginner sheet music and classical pieces. We'll expand discussion from there, but this will allow them to begin thinking of the people in their departments and the skill sets they bring and need to develop.

So, I continue to brainstorm and define the musical thread that we're weaving into each of the course modules. Secretly, I hope that it sparks some interest in learning more about concert music, though that's not the real intent. But a renewed interest in music education would be music to my ears. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yee-Haw! The Sheriff Done Arrested My Ma!

I long suspected that my mother was an outlaw. She goes by Josie sometimes; "Jo" to others. It shoulda been no surprise that even when we walked into the Cross-eyed Gun Fight at the Old West Festival, the sheriff sought her out with a warrant for her arrest in his hand. The charge? Wearing one earring instead'a two. Her son-in-law got thanks for turning her in. And despite her pleas and excuses, they threw her in the county jail.

Okay, so we paid $5 to have her arrested. But She didn't see it coming and we had a lot of fun. We followed up those antics with a medicine show and a covered wagon ride (which was a Little House on the Prairie dream-come-true for me).

Then we had some root beers and vanilla cream sodas to wash down our rattlesnake chili before we headed into the Long Branch Saloon to see Rider Kiesner in action.

Story has is that Kiesner got a Will Rogers trick-rope kit for Christmas when he was 9-years-old. He practiced and practiced and began performing at age eleven. Now 20, he's a three-time WWPAS (Wild West Performing Arts Society) World Champion trick roper. He got up on the saloon stage and twirled ropes and cracked whips and started spinning guns like nobody's business. He even cajoled a few audience members into getting on stage with him. He cracked two bullwhips around a nervous young teen-aged girl while he was blindfolded. She was visibly shaken when she got off stage, but it didn't stop Kiesner from slicing the head off a flower sticking out of a saloon girl's mouth moments later.

It was a wonderful show. We couldn't get over Kiesner's talent. Eventually we caught up with him outside and he even roped our daughter into a picture.

After that, we got outta Dodge before my mother could commit any more crimes. 'Cause I'm pretty sure that even if the sheriff couldn't catch her, Kiesner's lasso could.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cincinnati Chili Taste Test

If you've ever been to Cincinnati, someone has probably insisted that you try Cincinnati chili. It's what we're known for, like barbecue in the south or lobsters in Maine.

Cincinnati chili is unlike any other. It's nothing like Tex-Mex, or any other thick bean stew you're used to. Cincinnati chili is a no-bean chili made with boiled ground beef, cinnamon, cloves and unsweetened chocolate in a beef and tomato base. It's runny and served over spaghetti with a huge mound of finely grated cheddar cheese on top. Or we pour it over a hot dog and mound a pile of cheese on top of that to make our signature coneys. Either way, it's delicious. And it's so popular that there are two big competing Cincinnati chili chains in town: Skyline and Gold Star.

Now, if you ask a local Cincinnatian, he or she will tell you which one they prefer. We're brand loyal, though the two restaurants have identical menus and serve the same things. There are other independent restaurants that serve Cincinnati chili, too: Camp Washington Chili, Blue Ash Chili, Empress Chili, etc.. And guess what? They all have the same menu items as Skyline and Gold Star. Like I said, we love our Cincinnati chili.
But I wondered: did they really all taste the same, or could we tell the difference? And did those of us who claimed to like Skyline better really know if we did? There was only one way to tell: we had to do a blind taste test.

We got regular coneys from Skyline and Gold Star. My husband told Skyline what we were doing, so they took extra care in making sure that our coneys looked good. I didn't tell Gold Star our plans; I just brought home five coneys. In a side-by-side comparison, Skyline won hands down. Theirs looked much better.
I think you can guess that Skyline is on the right.
But this was all about taste. And since they looked different, we really did do it blind and blindfolded each other one at a time so that we were judging by taste and taste alone.

Before we started, I took a poll. I was a Gold Star fan. My husband claimed to like Skyline better. So did my mom. My son said he preferred Gold Star's chili for its thickness, but liked Skyline's cheese better. We all seemed to be quite the aficionados. Then we put our coneys in our mouths. One by one we sampled each. I thought for sure there would be some indecision; I thought they would probably taste so much alike that some of us wouldn't be able to choose. But that wasn't the case. We all chose. Fairly quickly, too, and based on the spicier richness of the sauce.

It was unanimous: we all picked Gold Star.
Gold Star -- fix your sign!
We were all a bit surprised. Both coneys were delicious, but there was something about Gold Star's that we just liked better. We hadn't expected such a difference in flavor, but side-by-side, there was. Let me be clear: we like Cincinnati chili and there's never a bad place to get it. But I guess we learned we liked Gold Star a little better than the others. Who knew?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Making a List and Checking it Twice

I probably should have been pulling the weeds growing in the cracks of my driveway,
but I chose to indulge in pleasure and rode my fancy-schmancy new bike instead.

I'm not a list maker. I don't write down my daily to-do's at home, nor at work. I have yet to move my Bucket List beyond two dreams that I'll probably cross off in the next couple of years. I'm just not a thinker; I'm more of a do-er. Or so I thought, until I had the day off.

This summer has been crazy-hectic. It's been wonderful, but left me with little time to do the simpler things in life that just give me a perk. So today I had the day off work, and by 8:30, I was already starting to feel defeated. I started remembering all those things I wanted to do today. Not the things I should do -- the things I wanted to do. Like ride my new bike, play my flute, clean out my son's closet, exercise, and go to the library for Pattie Mallette's new book.

Instead, I found that I was spending my morning watching the same stupid talk shows I always watch when I'm home, and thinking of the things that I need to do (clean), but have put off. So I started to pick up all the shoes on the floor and then I thought --no. They're not mine and I'm not going to. This is my day off and I'm going to ride my bike!

So, I went for a bike ride. (I won't describe the pain that immediately followed.) As I caught my breath, I thought, what next? Not my flute. That will have to be later today, when I can breathe again. I tried to remember all the things I thought I wanted to do today but I couldn't remember what they were. Then it hit me: I need to write them down. I need to make a list of all the things I want to do and give myself time to do them. But I'm not going to cross them off. I want to keep doing them.

If it takes a list to remind me to do the things I enjoy doing, then so be it. I'm making my list and checking it twice. And now, I'm off to the library to read about Justin Bieber's mom. Because later, I have to play my flute.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Today We Saw the President!

President Obama
Seasongood Pavilion, Eden Park, Cincinnati, Ohio
September 17, 2012

When my husband was younger, he saw Reagan. My son's marching band performed at a George W. Bush rally. But today it was my turn to see a president. My daughter and I suddenly found ourselves with tickets and headed down to Cincinnati to see President Barack Obama. It was fantastic!

Somehow, in the course of 45 minutes in which I stood in the same spot, I snapped 27 pictures. I just couldn't believe I was there. The crowd was wonderful. There was a spirit of community that I've found again and again in Cincinnati. Everyone was considerate of each other, making sure that no one was blocking anyone else's view. We were all there for the same thing: to see the President and cheer him on toward "Four More Years." I can still hear that vibrant chant in my ears.

Obama talked about all the expected issues: taxes, education, bringing our troops home, Obamacare, jobs, etc.. It was all very moving, but I don't need to tell you about that here. You can read that in the papers. I'd rather share what it was like to be there with my 12-year-old daughter, who may not have realized the enormity of getting to see a President today. I think that will come later, in hindsight. She did remark that he was very funny. He did crack quite a few jokes. I was glad she was paying attention.

What may have made even more of an impression in the immediacy of the day was the good deed a woman did on our way there.

In order to get to the Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park where the President was scheduled to speak, we had to park up a steep hill, walk down the hill past the pavilion and approach from an even steeper angle. We didn't mind. We certainly understood the need for security and closed-off streets. What surprised us was a woman who came down the hill and waved us over to her SUV. She offered us and four other women a ride up the hill. We gratefully accepted and jumped in her car. Another van pulled over and picked up some other event-goers.

"Are you part of his campaign group?" I asked her as I thanked her for the ride.

"No. I'm actually a Republican," she said, "but it's a really steep hill, even if you're used to it."

And that, my friends, made my day. The coming together of differing parties to unite in an historical event in Cincinnati. No matter your party affiliation, we should all honor the office of the President. This woman kindly gave us a ride, then drove away and picked up more people at the bottom of the hill. This is not the first time I've been impressed with Cincinnatians and their graciousness and I know it won't be the last.

I will remember her kindness as the second greatest thing that happened to me today. But nothing can to seeing President Obama in person. My son and husband got to see their presidents. Now my daughter and I have seen ours, and I think we saw the best.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Scoop and the Poop on Running a Marathon

Yesterday I attended a third Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. It was magnificent as always. A Stealth bomber flew overhead to mark the start of the race. Thousands and thousands of runners began their 26.2-mile journey and I waited on the sidelines, cheering on my husband this year, rather than my son.

Mike is a little more forthcoming about what it's like to run a marathon than my son ever was. Non-runners like me want the inside scoop without having to run. Mike shared the little details that I've wondered about.

For one thing, when the runners start and they're clustered around their pace leaders, it gets a little dangerous. I always thought I'd hate that part: running in a mob of people. One man tripped and fell hard this year. Right past the start gate. He's lucky he wasn't trampled. As it was, I'm not sure whether he was able to continue the race or not. A year of training for naught.

There were food stations and water stations nearly every mile. For some reason, they handed out bottled water instead of cups. (I was wrong, as noted in comments below. They handed out cups of water and Gatorade. The bottles on the ground were the ones they brought with them.) The ground was littered with them. It was hard for my husband to just throw his bottles down on the ground; we're huge recyclers and we don't litter. But he had to. There were bands playing at stops along the way, too. He really liked that.

This year, they had buses taking family supporters out to the 10-mile mark. We'd wanted to do that last year when my son ran, but they didn't have buses. I hope they continue this. It was wonderful to go out to a midway point in the route and cheer my husband on as he passed and he said it made a big difference to him that we were there.
He enjoyed the scenery of running through parts of Dayton we've never explored before. There was one stretch on the Air Force base that he described as boring.

We'd had a lot of discussion about a factoid he'd read in his runner's magazine. It said that 1/3 of all marathon runners have to stop for a bowel movement during the run. We thought this was an odd thing, but my son thinks he knows why. He says it's the body's response to fight or flight. Running a marathon is hard on your body and when it gets physically taxed, it goes into fight-or-flight mode and voids itself of excess waste just as it would when panicked. It makes sense to me. We're going with that idea.

A few people were taken off the course by medics. The sag wagons and ambulances were always nearby along the race. We saw one woman escorted across the finish line by medics. Others were cheered on by the announcer who shared that many of them, like the heart transplant patients and cancer survivors, were advised by their doctors not to run it, but there they were, crossing the finish line after running 26 miles. Again, I'm not a runner, so I don't get risking your health for this, despite it being a great accomplishment.

My husband says the last half-mile was one of the hardest. We scanned the runners off in the distance, hoping to spot him before he was actually right in front of us. There were a few runners we thought might be him, dressed all in black and about his size. But it wasn't until I actually spotted him and realized how well I know his gait, even from half a mile away, that I got excited. He'd just run a marathon. He'd trained for a year, conditioned himself to do this, and there he was: running toward the finish line with a gigantic smile of achievement on his face. And almost immediately, he talked about doing it again.