Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lordy, Lordy! Mike & Cam are 40!*

Or 10. Whichever.


*I believe on Modern Family tonight, Cam will celebrate his 10th/40th birthday, just like Mike.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Julie vs. the Volcano

A few years ago I went to Costa Rica and had planned to take a tour to view a volcano. Circumstances changed and I had to cancel the tour. I was so disappointed that I didn't get to see a volcano while I was there. But, as luck would have it, I had a window seat on the plane home and flew over not one, but four different smoking volcanoes. I got a fantastic view that I wouldn't have had on my tour. I still want to go back, though, and see the volcanoes from the ground.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm An Oscar Winner!

This will seem even more unfair when you learn that last night was the first time I watched the Oscars. If I'd ever thought that it would pay off, I would have watched before. I watched this time because of my Viggle app. During the show, they had trivia questions to answer and you could make award predictions to earn points. I guessed enough best actors, actresses and movies that I earned a free movie ticket. I think I'll go see The Descendants.

But it gets better.

This morning, on Good Morning Tristate, they were giving away an Oscar Swag bag that all the stars got at the Academy Awards last night. You just had to be caller number ninety-nine. And guess what? I was Caller #99!!! I won! My 'swag bag' was actually a great big box, not a bag, and it didn't contain quite as much as the stars got. Mine was valued at $1,000. Theirs is valued at $50K. But assuming they got what I got inside, here's what we walked away with:
  • A seven-layer caramel cake from Caroline's Cakes in Maryland
  • A stuffed elephant and African Safari book (Oscar nominees got a 7-day African Safari. The rest of us just get to read about it.)
  • A darci make-up brush cleaning system with a handwritten note from Lisa Di Caprio congratulating me on my Oscar nomination. (oops! :) )
  • Herb Ritts L.A. Style book
  • Nozin Nasal Sanitizers
  • a Belldini sequined sweater
  • Deerfoams slippers
  • Deerfoams booties
  • a necklace from bamboopink
  • an Essential Safe Products bag of eco-friendly bamboo utensils and mugs
  • Naughty Bits Brownies Choclate Indulgence
  • Thermarobe robe that includes 4 heating pads
  • earthpawz doggie slobber glass cleaner
  • Nightfall perfume
  • a set of four Slimware plates
What a wonderful event. Too bad I didn't get to actually go to the Oscars. That would have been fun -  except that I would have topped the list of 'Worst Dressed' since I watched it in my sweatpants with a box of tissues next to me.

Despite Lisa Di Caprio's note, it wasn't really an honor being nominated, but it was a thrill to win an Oscar bag. I'd better go buy a lottery ticket!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Traveling via Books (for now)

Perhaps another beach vacation soon??

I've mentioned Bookcrossing, my favorite hobby, in an earlier post. I think I've also mentioned that I'm suffering from a severe case of wanderlust right now. I'm not sure if the current bookboxes that have arrived on my doorstep have alleviated any of this travel envy, or just continue to feed into it.

As part of Bookcrossing, I often sign up for bookboxes. Someone puts together a box of books, usually centering on some sort of theme (biographies, romance, science fiction, or titles that have a woman's name in them, a number, or some reference to a place, etc..). Those interested can sign up to receive the box, and then once it comes to your house, you choose the books you want from the box, replace the same number of books that you took, and then send it on to the next person. I LOVE bookboxes.

I just finished making my picks from the "Travel Narrative Bookbox" (which is my favorite genre) and sent it on its merry way. Now the "Vacation Bookbox" has arrived. It is full of books with strong settings that one could imagine as vacation spots. Though honestly, there are few places I can't imagine as vacation spots. Still, books that qualify for this box need to have a strong setting.

Until I can strike off down the road or through the air on a real vacation, these books will have to suffice. I think they're actually making my wanderlust worse, but I can read about exotic places until I take vacation. Then I'll take these wonderful books with me to release.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I See Naked People

We passed this sign on an Indiana country road and had to double-back to get a picture.

I think this could only happen to my mom.

She's in Florida right now, escaping the winter doldrums and cold. I wish I could say she's having a good time, but she isn't. In fact, she called me yesterday and said it was the worst day yet. She'd driven to the beach hoping to comb the shore for seashells and enjoy a few hours of surf and sand. But the shells were all little broken bits, the sky was overcast, and it was too cold for the beach. So she chucked it in and decided to head home when her truck broke down on Highway 19.

Luckily, she was near an auto shop and managed to pull in and get an estimate. Her brakes were completely shot, but the guy said he could get the parts and start work the next morning. The only question was, how would she get back to Wildwood?

The mechanic said he'd call her a cab. He'd even pay for it, since she was having so much work done on her truck. It seemed awfully generous. Too generous. Wildwood was two hours away from the coast. But my mother agreed and he called a cab. They came and picked her up and started driving. He'd prepaid them $25. She was a little suspicious about this nominal fare, but she'd heard the mechanic call the cab company and tell them she needed to go to Wildwood.

The cab driver, who'd only been on the job for four days, took her to Club Wildwood -- a nudist colony.

Oh, how I wish she'd gotten out of the cab. I might have been willing to pay her truck repair bill in exchange for seeing how she fared at a nudist colony for the night. But no such luck. She had the cab take her back to the auto shop, where there was a "who's on first" type of discussion on the mix-up between Wildwood and Club Wildwood and where she actually needed to go.

Suffice it to say, she ended up with a rental car, driving two hours back to Wildwood all by herself -- fully clothed.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Anyone Healthy Out There?

Apothecary Museum display inside Heidelberg Castle, Germany.

I'm not sure I know anyone who hasn't been sick lately. We've run through every conceivable germ in our house. The people at work are sick, too. I'm too stubborn to go to the doctor yet, but as soon as I've exhausted my homemade remedies, cold and flu medicines, and curative naps, I'll give in and go. Let's say, Monday.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Smartest Dog in the World

This is Chipsy, a.k.a. the Smartest Dog in the World! (We'll never tell him otherwise.) He may not respond to "What? Timmy's in a well?", but he understands a lot of other things we say.

Every time my husband leaves and I'm pretty sure he's close to getting home, I'll ask Chipsy, "Is Daddy home?" His little ears perk up and he runs pell mell up the stairs to the front window to wait. I have to admit, sometimes I say this just to get him to leave me alone and wait by the window. He's smart, but I'm smarter.

If we say, "Do you want to do the dishes?" he runs helter skelter to the dishwasher. That's his favorite chore. He does a wonderful job of licking the dirty plates. That's our pre-wash.

When we say, "Is it time to get the girl?" he knows it means one of two things: either it's morning time and he waits by the stairs to go wake her up by licking her face, or it's time to meet her at the bus stop in the afternoon and he waits by the front door for his leash.

"Bring me your ball," is so simple. Sometimes we can even be specific: Bring me your red ball.

Ditto "Bring me your baby."

Of course, what dog doesn't respond to the phrase, "Do you want a treat?" We're not giving him genius points for that.

But we do give him extra points for recognizing the phrase, "Is Grandma here?" The excitement and noise he makes over the idea of his grandma coming over rivals any dog pound. It's ear-piercing. He loves his grandma! And I don't think it's just because she always has dog treats in her pocket.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter Harvest

A newspaper report announced that 220,000 deer were 'harvested' during Ohio's 2011-12 hunting season. Harvested. They actually used that word, as though killing deer was akin to reaping a crop. As though these beautiful creatures were simply born to be picked and gathered by men in camoflauge jackets who bag their kill, load the carcasses into the beds of their pick-up trucks and then stop off for a beer on the way home.

220,000 of them.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Big Miracle

Whale tails near Juneau, Alaska
 Yesterday I went to see the film Big Miracle, based on the true tale of three grey whales stranded in Barrow, Alaska in 1988 when the sea unexpectedly froze and trapped them before they could migrate south. I liked the movie, but couldn't get past the fact that I don't remember hearing anything about it.

As you watch the movie, you're made to feel as if this was the biggest news story all year; that it dominated world headlines, held the potential end to the Cold War with Russia, and that Reagan's approval rating and George Bush's chances as a successor depended on the saving of these whales. The movie made you believe that the world sat on the edge of its seat, waiting for the outcome.

But I don't remember anything about it. Not in 1988, and not even in 1991, when I moved to Alaska and saw whales and Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship for myself. Which leads me to wonder whether the story was actually that big in 1988, or whether I was completely self-absorbed with my own life. Likely, it's the latter.

Rainbow Warrior's 1991 Alaska Tour

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidential Trivia

The back of the White House

I couldn't resist asking a few trivia questions for President's Day. Not being a history buff, I wouldn't know the answer to any of these except the Bonus Question at the end, since it relates to the day I took this picture.

1.       Which of these presidents was a Supreme Court Justice?
a.     William Howard Taft
b.      Franklin Pierce
c.       Lyndon Baines Johnson
d.      James Polk

2.       Which president served in two non-consecutive terms?
a.       James Monroe
b.      William Henry Harrison
c.       Gerald Ford
d.      Grover Cleveland

3.       How many presidents have been assassinated while in office?
a.      2
b.      4
c.       6
d.      8

4.       Which president had 15 children (which is the most so far of any president)?
a.      James Buchanan
b.      James Madison
c.       John Adams
d.      John Tyler

5.       Which is the only president who has been divorced?
a.      Gerald Ford
b.      John F. Kennedy
c.       Ronald Reagan
d.      William Henry Harrison

6.       Who was the tallest president, measuring 6’4”?
a.      Abraham Lincoln
b.      Barrack Obama
c.       Ronald Reagan
d.      Bill Clinton

7.       Which of these presidents was reportedly the first to bring a Siamese kitten to America?
a.      Martin Van Buren
b.      Rutherford B. Hayes
c.       John F. Kennedy
d.      Theodore Roosevelt

8.       Which country hosts an Obama reality show (“Obama Golden Ticket”) in which the winner receives an all-expense paid trip to significant places in President Obama's life?
a.     South Africa
b.    Germany
c.     Japan
d.    Indonesia

9.       Which president’s grandson says Newt Gingrich is a “big jerk” who “… needs to stick with the same wife, that’s what my mother taught me.”
a.      George Bush
b.      Lyndon B. Johnson
c.       John Tyler
d.      Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Last but not least, the BONUS QUESTION:
10.   Who was in office when Hannah Montana performed at the White House Easter  Egg Roll?
a.      George W. Bush
b.      George Bush
c.       Barrack Obama
d.      Bill Clinton

1)a, 2)d, 3)b, 4)d, 5)c, 6)a, 7)b, 8)d, 9)c, 10)a

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mardi Gras Parade Floats

As a tribute to Mardi Gras, I thought I'd share these pictures from Mardi Gras World - a warehouse/studio where artists create and store Mardi Gras parade floats. These are from 2008. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Cool Moms

Each year at my daughter's elementary school, the moms are invited to come and eat lunch with their children for a Moms' Day lunch. The cafeteria prepares a special meal and moms send in their paper registration sheets; their RSVP for the event. This was my last Moms' Day Lunch. My daughter is a 6th grader now. Once she moves into Junior High next year, the moms won't be invited to have lunch with their kids anymore. Too bad. We finally wised up.

The 1st and 2nd grade moms haven't gotten the hang of things yet. They come in and file through the lunch line with their babies, loading their special meals onto their cafeteria trays. But make no mistake -- 'special' or not, it is still very much a grade school cafeteria lunch.

By 3rd and 4th grade, you're starting to realize that you can bring your own food and don't have to buy the cafeteria platter. Some moms start to pack a lunch and those moms that are finally coming to the Moms' Day Lunch for the first time look upon them with envy.

But I was a 6th grade Mom. One of the Cool Moms. I'd been through this routine six times and knew the real deal: we could bring fast food. And ALL the 6th grade moms knew that.

The school principal congratulated us all as we stood in the hallway waiting for the 5th grade moms and students to clear out. She said that usually by the time kids reached 6th grade, they didn't want their moms coming and often didn't even tell them about the event. But this year, there were record numbers. I was not surprised at all. As we stood in the hallway, queueing to enter the cafeteria, I think we represented every fast food chain and pizza place within 10 miles of the school. We had McDonalds, Taco Bell, Arby's, Chik-fil-A, Burger King, Subway, Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Penn Station, Wendy's, and every other place you can imagine.

Of course our 6th graders had invited us! We'd brought enough food for our own children and all their friends. After six years of lunches with us, they had us trained.

Friday, February 17, 2012


I imagine them as refugees, looking for a haven for birds who won't fly.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

With A Handshake

I think there are some defining moments in life. Pivotal moments.

With one handshake, he transitioned from boy to man.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine Viggling

(This is not my living room.)

I think maybe Valentine's Day and dressing up, going out for a romantic dinner, and the whole she-bang is probably celebrated more by younger, newer couples. My husband and I are an old, married couple -- still very much in love, but not so into 'painting the town red.' We spent the night at home, eating a heart-shaped pizza, watching TV, and Viggling.

Viggling? you wonder. What's that?

It's an app on our smartphones that let's us earn points to redeem for free prizes while we watch TV. Trust me, we're all over that. We turn on our televisions, let Viggle tune in and see what we're watching, then we watch movie trailers and play trivia games and earn points. In fact, part of our heart-shaped pizza was bought with Viggle points that I redeemed for a Papa John's gift card.

Sure, a romantic dinner might have been nice. But so was sitting in the comfort of our living room, vegged out on the couch watching Glee with our daughter and earning rewards while we did it. For us, home is where the heart is...on Valentine's Day or any other.

(Check it out for yourself on

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Flower Wars

"I've really got to concentrate on this memo I'm drafting. I think I'll go into a huddle room so I can focus. I'll be in there if you need me, okay?" Sheila said.

Katherine wanted to slap the saccharine smile off Sheila's face, but nodded instead. "Sure. I think we can hold down the fort without you." Sheila faltered for a moment. "In fact, work usually does go on just fine when you're not here."

Sheila squinted and let her eyes dart around the cubicles. There was no privacy in their small office. She was sure Amy ducked her head to smirk, but maybe she was just looking for a paperclip or something.

"Okay," Sheila continued. "I'll be right around the corner."

Katherine turned back to her computer, but movement outside the window caught her eye. A man in a brown jacket slammed the back door of his van shut and balanced two bouquets of roses in his arms as he walked up the path to the company's main entrance.

Katherine's heart dropped. Valentine's Day. She'd almost forgotten all about it. She hated this day in the office; all the smug smirks from the chosen few whose husbands or boyfriends made a public display of themselves. The corny cards that swooned with sentiment. The self-congratulatory hugs that her co-workers gave themselves and each other as they gushed and teared up over the alleged undying devotion of their significant others. Katherine doubted any of it was sincere. If they were so consumed with love, why did it take a Hallmark holiday for them to show it? She didn't see flowers arriving by the dozens any other time of year.

Her phone rang, and Katherine turned gratefully toward it, away from the spectacle of love outside her window.

"Katherine speaking."

"Katherine, this is Jeannie at the front desk. I've got a flower delivery down here for Sheila Anson, but she's not picking up her phone. Could you come down and sign for them?"

Fire rose from the pit of Katherine's stomach, moving up her chest and throat like a cannonball. She whipped her head around toward the huddle room where Sheila had conveniently disappeared. She knew now that it had been planned. Sheila must have seen the van pull up outside and decided to turn her Valentine gift into an office occasion. Katherine was tempted to tell Jeannie no, that she wouldn't come down and get them. But Jeannie would just call someone else.

"Sure. I'll be down in a minute."

A million ideas swirled through Katherine's mind as she slowly trudged down toward the main lobby. She could throw the flowers in the garbage. But she knew she wouldn't. She could hide them somewhere and feign ignorance when Sheila asked her where they were. She could dip them in ink and turn them black. Or vomit on them, like she really wanted to. She could put them in water and knock the whole thing over on Sheila's desk, ruining her computer and all the papers she had stacked there. She kind of liked that tactic. She wouldn't really be messing with the flowers at all.

She continued debating plans as she carried the deep red roses back up to Sheila's desk. The cloying perfume of them assaulted her with each new step. Katherine couldn't wait to put them down. She knew, in the end, she'd do nothing. It was the same thing every year: flowers on half the women's desks, grim pretenses that it didn't matter on the faces of the rest of them. Next year she'd remember to take Valentine's Day off.

Not surprisingly, no sooner had Katherine set the flowers down than Sheila emerged from the huddle room. Guess the memo hadn't taken as much concentration as she'd expected.

"Oh my gosh! Are those for me?" she exclaimed as one hand fluttered to her heart and the other covered her lipsticked mouth in mock modesty. "I can't believe Johnny did this."

She reached for the rose-covered (overkill, Katherine thought) envelope and pulled out the card. Sheila bit her lip to contain her smile, a move Katherine knew was intended to come across as bashful for her audience, because make no mistake: everyone was watching. But what Katherine saw surprised her. Sheila's brow furrowed and her smile went flat for a moment. Her mouth formed the word 'who' before she silently gasped and hurried to stuff the card back into its envelope and plaster a big, bright smile on her face.

"He's so sweet," Sheila concluded and sat back down at her desk. The performance was over. Everyone could go back to work now. But Katherine wasn't fooled. She knew that Sheila usually  dragged her performances out. This was much too brief.

After a few minutes, Sheila quietly rose from her chair and plucked the card from her bouquet. She hurried toward the Ladies' room and remained there for at least 15 minutes. When she reappeared. Katherine thought she looked fresher than ever. She'd apparently re-applied her make-up. And she remained unusually quiet. Sheila pushed the bouquet to the edge of her desk and began clacking on her keyboard. Katherine was starting to enjoy this Valentine's Day more and more.

She followed Sheila's footsteps to the Ladies' room and was glad to find it empty. She lifted the top few wadded up paper towels in the trash basket and then spotted the tell-tale rose card. As excited as a treasure hunter, she darted into a stall with her bounty. She was about to find out what secret Sheila had tried to hide. She pulled the small cardboard square out of the envelope and read Johnny's note:

Angie, these flowers pale before your beauty. I can't wait to hold you in my arms tonight.
All my love, Johnny

For a moment, just a moment, Katherine felt sorry for Sheila. But more than that, she felt happy. This was her best Valentine's Day ever.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lost in Translation

Crystal clear, right?
I loved coming across translated signs as I wandered around Beijing.
You never knew what wisdom they might impart.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cincinnati Artswave

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the performers, but this was the set for Porgy & Bess.

I don't know if other cities do something similar, but in Cincinnati (historically on the weekend closest to Valentine's Day), the former Fine Arts Fund, now Artswave, organizes hundreds of free fine arts events throughout the city. I always look forward to this and usually cram in as many cultural events as I can.

Yesterday, I attended a modified one-hour production of Cincinnati Opera's Porgy & Bess. I was actually somewhat amazed that I've never seen it before and was thrilled that I had this chance to sample it before they perform their full production this summer. The shortened version whet my appetite. I can only imagine how magnificent the opera would be with a full orchestra backing the singers rather than yesterday's lone piano.

Last year I participated in a drum circle and later watched Indian dancers perform a variety of traditional and Bollywood dances. I enjoyed that immensely. In previous years, I took my daughter to try her hand at pottery and we both did yoga. I've been to a backstage tour of Cincinnati's Playhouse in the Park, a sampling a hula dances, piano concerts, string quartets, a mask-making class, and ballet performances. I don't know if I could choose my favorite. Luckily, I don't have to.

I feel privileged to live in a city where there are so many arts organizations. This sampler weekend is just the tip of the iceberg; there are other free events as well as paid performances every weekend of the year. I don't know whether other cities offer as many choices as Cincinnati does. I only know how much I enjoy it.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Guest Post: The Doughnut Eating Champion

by Izzy

                It was a normal day in Loco, Oklahoma and Fred had just moved in. Boxes were everywhere. It had been the first day of school and he had not known something was coming later. Fred was eating doughnuts with his dog, Doughnut. He was eating a chocolate glazed donut. Doughnut was eating a jelly filled donut. “Yummy!” Fred exclaimed, “This is delicious!”
                Donut barked excitedly in agreement. They both looked at each other and decided to go get ten more doughnuts for them to split for breakfast. Fred walked out and looked both ways. No one was there that was a relief. Fred hurried to the bakery going as fast as possible. For him it was a sprint there but to everyone else it was a slow run or jog.
                Oh no, Fred thought, this couldn’t be. He saw a boy from his school who would beat Fred up if he walked past him. Fred acting fast hurried and maneuvered himself over a fence to avoid him. After he got himself over the fence he rushed to the bakery once again.
                When he got to the bakery he smelled the delicious scent of pastries baking. When he walked up to the counter he ordered four chocolate, three glazed and three jelly filled doughnuts. When the cashier gave it to him he rushed out the door and then saw his one and only friend Ryan.
                “Hey Ryan!” Fred yelled but Ryan never noticed. Well there’s always later, Fred thought positively, he will have to notice me then.
                When he got home Doughnut greeted him excitedly.  Fred dropped two jelly filled doughnuts into Doughnuts dog bowl. Doughnut ate them before Fred could even put some on his plate. Fred bit into one of his doughnuts right when Ryan walked by. Fred noticed Ryan and ran outside.
                “Hey Ryan!” Fred yelled. Ryan heard him and looked around until he spotted him. Fred then walked up to Ryan and said,” I tried to get your attention earlier but I guess you couldn’t hear me. What’s up?”
                Ryan answered, “The sky, the cloud, birds, planes, everything. I’m just kidding I didn’t want to tell you but I’m going to have to go to a privet school.
“Really?” Fred asked solemnly.
“No I’m just kidding!” Ryan said.
“Good. Bye.”
Fred walked back into his house. A couple minutes later the doorbell rang. Fred answered it.
“Hello, someone told me you were the fastest eater in your town and I was wondering if you wanted to be in this Americas Top Doughnut Eater.” 
“Um… exactly who are you?” Fred asked.
“Oh sorry, I’m Jack, and I’m the host of Americas Top Doughnut eater or A.T.D.E for short,” Jack answered.
“Oh well let me think about it for a minute,” Fred said. A thoughtful moment passed. “Okay I’ll do it.”
“Great just sign here,” Jack said holding out the contract. “Just sign on the bold X.”
Fred signed the contract on the line and then asked, “When and where will it take place?”
“Tuesday, August 12th,” Jack answered joyful that someone finally joined the competition, “Be at the bakery at noon. The competition starts at 1:00pm.”
Fred said thanks and shut the door. He went and sat down on his couch when it hit him, Tuesday was tomorrow! He hurried and stuffed the doughnuts that he was trying to eat earlier that day. He whistled for Doughnut to come and then said, “Doughnut we’ve got some training to do.” Doughnut barked excitedly at that comment and then leaded Fred outside onto their porch.
“Let’s go to the bakery and get more doughnuts. Maybe thirty this time,” Fred said directly to Doughnut.
They then ran to the bakery. They asked the baker for thirty donut and the baker looked astonished. She had worked at the dirty little bakery for twenty years and had never gotten an order this high but she gave Fred the doughnuts anyway.
As soon as Fred got the doughnuts and rushed outside.
“Time me.” Fred said to Doughnut,”I need to eat these fast if I’m going to beat the competition.” And right after he said that he started eating. “Done!” Fred yelled and looked at the timer. He had eaten all of the doughnuts in ten minutes.
After he told doughnut his time they went home because it was 8:00 and Doughnut had wanted them to watch “Elmo’s Big Victory”. Once Fred realized what doughnut picked out he shouted, “Hooray you picked out my favorite movie ever!”After the movie was over Doughnut and Fred went to bed to rest up for the morning.

It was morning the next day. Fred started practicing for the big competition by gnawing the air. Then he said to Doughnut,” I’m ready let’s go.”
They walked there because they wanted to save Fred’s energy and because it was only 11:00am. They had left early to get Doughnut a good seat. By the time they got there, got through the line, and got Doughnut a seat it was already 12:59pm and Fred was sprinting to the stage so that he could get there on time.
Fred luckily got to his spot right when Jack announced,” The rules are simple, only stop and go when I say to and finally, no barfing! Now ready set go!”
Fred started eating like a maniac. Fred ate two, three, four; by the time five minutes were up, Fred had eaten twelve! By the end Fred had eaten twenty-six!
At the end Jack announced the winners. “In fourth place eating twenty doughnuts is… Bob! In third place eating twenty-two doughnuts is… Elena! In first place eating twenty-six doughnuts is… Fred! Congratulations to all of you!”
Everyone cheered and started to leave but Ryan and that tough kid from the day before stayed behind. It was that moment that Fred realized that he had just won one million dollars!
Fred saw Ryan and the other guy walk up to him and he snapped out of it. The tough kid talked first, “Hey I’m Nathan and I was wondering if you wanted to hang out.”
Fred replied,” No because until now you have bullied me.”After that remark Nathan walked off leaving Fred and Ryan behind.
“So how does it feel now that you’re the coolest kid ever?” Ryan asked Fred.
Fred thought it felt amazing because now he would not get bullied like in the past and he could buy everything he wanted but instead he said,” No different, I’m the exact same just richer.”

Friday, February 10, 2012

What This Snow Girl Reads

It's supposed to snow today. The temperature dropped. The sky is white/gray. I've snuggled in and picked out a book. So, let it snow! I'm ready.

A lot of people have "beach reads" -- books they read in summer while they're lying in the sun. Chick Lit often falls into that category for me. But more than beach reads, I have "winter reads" -- genres and styles that I like to curl up with on dark, snowy days beginning in December.

I find that I read thicker, slower books in winter. Books that are complex and hearty, like stew. For me, this is the time to delve into literary novels that require readers to concentrate and read for longer spells at a time. These are not the books you pick up, read a few pages of, then put down. These are novels that take you to cabins set deep in the woods if you let them; books that span the globe and time dimensions. In winter, I read books I can savor.

And in between those heavier novels, I like to curl up by the fire with suspense and murder mysteries. Especially those set in the snow. You'd think I'd like to read about a tropical setting when I'm huddled on my couch swathed in blankets. But, no. I want to feel the comfort of being inside contrasted against the chill outside in both real life and the novels I'm reading.

A couple of favorite snowy reads:

The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard that begins with a farmer discovering the frozen naked body of a teenaged girl while he and his sons are rounding up their livestock during a blizzard. I'm a sucker for a blizzard story.

Which brings me to The Children's Blizzard, by David Laskin. This is a true account of an 1888 blizzard that suddenly swept across the American plains killing hundreds of people, mostly children, who were caught unaware as they tried to walk home from school. The book is absolutely chilling and you'd think it would make me swear off reading about snow during the winter, but instead it fascinated me and made me prepare my coats and car for impending disaster. I'll never forget this book.

I've written before, but will mention again, my favorite short story, which falls into the winter reads category: To Build a Fire by Jack London. I loved it!

Last, but not least, Speak Softly, She Can Hear by Pam Lewis is one of those wrong place, wrong time novels that changes the lives of the characters involved. A prep school girl goes to a cabin one snowy weekend with her boyfriend who, unbeknownst to her, has also invited another woman there. Things get out of hand and the stranger is killed, then buried in the snow. The book follows the girl through decades as her life unfolds, always affected by that one snowy weekend.

Anyone else a winter snow reader? I'd love some more snowy book recommendations.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Boys' Day

An hour into “Boys’ Day,” Joan was reconsidering whether bringing her three grandsons to an amusement park was such a hot idea. The 11- and 12-year-olds were having a blast. They’d run off together as soon as they could, racing for the mega-roller coasters that 6-year-old Jeremy was neither brave enough, nor tall enough to ride. Instead, he was abandoned to the company of his grandmother, who was determined to make sure that Jeremy had as much fun as they did, no matter the personal sacrifice to her own enjoyment of the day.
“Can we ride this, Grandma?” Jeremy asked as they passed in front of the Scrambler.
Joan pasted on a smile and bit her lip. She knew the ride would wreak havoc with her back, but it was one of the few rides that Jeremy could go on outside of Kiddie Land. “You sure you want to? It looks like it’s going pretty fast.”
Jeremy nodded and tugged her toward the line. They watched the passengers before them spin toward them and then whip away. There were a few squeals of excitement and one or two from people who sounded scared. Joan watched her grandson’s face, trying to gage whether this ride might be too grown-up for him. Though his eyes grew wide as he watched the heads and arms of children flail in their seats, he eagerly pulled his grandmother along and ran to an empty car once they passed through the gate.
The attendant strapped them in, pulling their seatbelts firmly across their laps and then fastened the pin lock into place. Joan and Jeremy grinned at each other and then the motor began to whir into action. Jeremy gripped the handle bar tightly, his round eyes saucers of excitement. Joan held on, too, hoping to hold herself in place so that the motion didn’t jar her back too severely.
The ride picked up speed, slamming Jeremy into his grandmother with each criss-crossing pattern. He giggled and yelled as Joan grimaced with the force of his small body ramming her in the side. Who knew how bony and sharp one little body could be.
As the ride slowly wound to a stop, Joan let out a sigh of relief. It hadn’t hurt too badly, though her stomach was a little unsettled. Sharing Dippin' Dots with Jeremy beforehand might not have been a good idea. Still, she’d survived it and the smile on Jeremy’s face made her minor discomforts worth it.
The teenaged attendant came to their car and released the lock. They struggled forward to step down from the ride and dizzily searched for the exit sign. Jeremy spotted it and grabbed his grandmother’s hand, ready to run as fast as his little six-year-old legs could carry him.
Joan braced herself. She knew what was about to come next. Jeremy pulled her along, his body quivering with anticipation.
“Let’s ride it again!”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Funeral Flowers

Arlington National Cemetery

Two weeks ago, my co-worker's father died. He flew down to Tennessee to be with his family and my department immediately began collecting money to send flowers. Two days before the funeral, we got the name of the funeral home and the funeral arrangements. Of course, we couldn't be there, but we'd all chipped in for a huge bouquet to be sent.

The day after the funeral, the administrative assistant in our group said that the senior manager didn't think we'd have enough time to send flowers to the funeral home (wrong!), so instead, we'd just send them to our colleague's house once he and his family got home.

I was flabbergasted. Am I alone in thinking that idea was totally absurd?

I donated money for flowers to be sent to the funeral home in lieu of us actually being there. To me, the flowers were a show of respect; an acknowledgement that our company and our department specifically were trying to represent ourselves and show respect to the family since we couldn't be there in person. Why in the world would our co-worker want flowers delivered to his home a week after the funeral?

I know when my step-father died, it meant a lot to me that my department sent flowers. It showed me that they cared and were thinking of me and my family and what we were going through on that sad and difficult day. I voiced my opinion to the administrative assistant that I was very disappointed. She relayed the sentiment to the senior manager who then decided that instead of sending flowers to our co-worker's home, we'd send an edible arrangement. Somehow, to me, that's even more crass. Edible cookie or fruit arrangements seem more suited to celebratory occasions.

She missed my point entirely. I am very disappointed in how this was handled, but maybe I'm over-reacting. Am I wrong in thinking that flowers should have been sent to the funeral home as a sign of respect?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pull Up the Oxcart!

This beautiful oxcart is on display at the Doka Coffee Estate in San Jose, Costa Rica. Oh, how I wish someone would load it up with nice, strong Costa Rican coffee beans and deliver it to my house. I've got my coffee cup all ready.

Monday, February 6, 2012

How To Be An American Housewife

Japanese Gardens, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Usually by the time I've reached the end of the first chapter in a book, I flip to the back cover pages to read the 'About the Author' section. This information seems somehow critical to my reading, as though I need this information to put the book into the right context. This was probably never more true than when I flipped to the back of How To Be An American Housewife and read the blurb about author Margaret Dilloway. Suddenly, her novel about a Japanese woman who married an American soldier at the end of WWII and was supplied with a guide on how to be a good American housewife seemed more biographical than fiction.

The author blurb says that Dilloway was inspired by her Japanese mother's experiences, and especially by a book her father had given to her mother called The American Way of Housekeeping. Like Dilloway, this discovery fascinated me. Each chapter of the book begins with an excerpt from the book, some of which were very insightful as to the differences in our cultures. For instance, the guide instructed Japanese women on how to make spaghetti, which they considered to be the meal that every American husband would want. It also addressed the isolation and prejudices they might face as Japanese women in America, and how they should respond. It was a glimpse into life in that era, and into the lives of a population few knew anything about.

Dilloway painted a fabulous picture of what life might have been like for a young Japanese woman at the end of the war. She takes us from American-occupied Japan to the United States. I can only imagine that much of Shoko's character is based on her mother. It also made me wonder whether the character of Sue (the daughter) was based on herself and her relationship with her mother? Bottom line, I inserted that perspective into the book as I read.

The author blurb definitely added to my enjoyment of the novel. I'm looking forward to reading Dilloway's next book, and can't help but wonder how the 'About the Author' blurb will change.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February Is Fattening

If you start a diet in January, things go okay for about a month. But in February, it all falls apart. February is so fattening. There's Superbowl party munchies, Valentine's Day candy, then Fat Tuesday paczki doughnuts. Sure, you could substitute some of these goodies and have chicken breasts instead of chicken wings, or low-fat desserts instead of Mardi Gras cakes. But that's a recipe for insanity, if you ask me.

I'd rather just resume dieting in March when I may have to dodge a few Fish Frys. Or maybe April. I'm not big on Easter candy anyway.

I think I'll start today with a doughnut in memory of Jerry. Then on to chili, wings, chips & dip, and anything else we serve up for the Superbowl.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Honesty Prevails

Military swearing in

"Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching."
                                                                           -- Thomas Jefferson

In the past few months I've come across two sociology experiments that tested people's honesty and was heartened to learn that there really are decent, honest people in this world. I am often a hopeless optimist, sure that people are fundamentally good at heart. But in our crazy world with doom & gloom headlines, sometimes it's hard to believe that it's true. Luckily, I stumbled upon a couple of headlines that confirmed my theory.

In Scotland, author Paul Story released 5,000 copies of his book Dreamwords around towns including Moray and Edinburgh. He left a note with his novel asking finders to read the book within a month and if they liked it, to voluntarily pay for it if they wished to read the follow-up book. His plan worked. So far, 561 people have paid. You can read more here: Honesty Project

Closer to home, an experiment was launched in Cincinnati last summer. Honest Tea set up a webcam on Fountain Square along with a rack of bottles of cold iced tea priced at a dollar. Payment was on the honor system. They placed an acrylic box for people to drop their dollar bills into and then sat back and waited to see how honest Cincinnatians are. I was happy to learn that most people paid. In fact, 88% of the people who took a bottle of tea paid. I was definitely Hometown Proud. Read more here.

I'm sure there are many more instances and stories of people displaying honesty even when they don't know they're being watched. Unfortunately, these stories rarely make headlines. Apparently integrity just isn't sexy enough.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writing Group

Not surprisingly, some of my friends are writers. There are two in particular that I like to talk with about writing. I've talked with each of them separately on several occasions and we always say we should start a writing group. So we finally did. I wasn't sure how it would go, or whether the three of us would gel. I write some fiction, but mostly non-fiction. One of my friends is a poet, and the other a screenwriter, so I was curious whether it would work, bringing us together even though our writing is so very different.

It was fantastic.

We each shared a little of our writing and found that there are certain similarities, but more importantly, things we could learn from each other that might help sharpen our own writing. For instance, the screenwriter writes emotionally and sees the movie running in his head the whole time. The poet writes emotionally, too, as well as visually. The way she places her words on paper is as deliberate as the words she chooses and the effect is powerful and symbolic; something I'd like to adapt to my own work.

They both professed to think that non-fiction writing is something harder than what they do. Neither thinks they could be as concise in their writing. Funny -- I struggle with stretching things out.

Anyway, our get-together was a great success. I can't wait until we meet up again to share more work. I just know they'll be instrumental in helping me with my latest writing experiment: a long (for me) literary short story about a pig auction. (Hence the picture above.) I wonder what they're working on?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Prairie Dog Village

If you look in the background, you'll see a gathering of people. I don't know why we thought we'd have better luck if we looked for prairie dogs off the beaten path.

Happy Groundhog's Day! I don't have a picture of a groundhog, but I do have a picture of a prairie dog, so I thought I'd share the story behind the picture.

We were in the Badlands of South Dakota and heard about the Prairie Dog Village. Hundreds (maybe thousands??) of prairie dogs  were concentrated in an area of mounds and tunnels. We bought some sunflower seeds and headed off, hoping we might see one.

When we got there, we began walking around and saw a prairie dog or two pop their heads up out of holes. Entranced, we spread out, hoping to find a hub of prairie dog activity.

My brother cased his hole, inching slowly toward the hole where a prairie dog coyly peeked out at him. Ryan held a sunflower seed in his hand, creeping closer and closer to the hole, hoping the prairie dog would come out, unable to resist the temptation of the seed. I trailed Ryan, hoping to capitalize on his expedition and snap a picture of a prairie dog.

Meanwhile, off in the distance behind me I heard my then-8-year-old son yelling "Mom! Mom!" Intensely focused on the prairie dog progress in front of me, I stage-whispered back to him, "Just a minute!" but he continued to call to me.

Finally, Ryan's prairie dog emerged from his hole and took the bait. We saw a prairie dog! We saw a prairie dog! We were ecstatic. I turned around to call my son Mac over to see it, but stopped in my tracks. There was Mac, surrounded by prairie dogs popping up out of their holes like a hyperactive Whack-a-Mole game. He'd been yelling to me because he was already out of sunflowers seeds and the prairie dogs wanted more.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Torturous Colleagues

Medieval torture device

Bev was waiting at Carrie’s desk as Carrie walked out of her meeting. Her footsteps slowed and she quickly ran through escape scenarios in her mind. Bev’s demeanor said it all: something had transpired while Carrie was in her meeting, and Bev was looking for the only ally she thought she had.
Carrie plastered a smile on her face, determined not to let Bev drag her into whatever new drama she’d created.
“Hey,” Bev said pitifully as Carrie dropped a stack of papers on her desk and lifted her phone receiver. She didn’t have any voicemails, but hoped Bev didn’t know that and would be deterred under the assumption that Carrie was busy. Carrie punched in some numbers as Bev stood behind her, plaintively sighing and whispering, “Can I talk to you?” The phone ruse didn’t work.
“What’s up?” Carrie asked brightly, even as her lips flattened with the force of her smile. She checked her watch; one last-ditch effort in deterring Bev before she got started.
“I was a bad girl. I snapped at Jody while you were in your meeting.”
Carrie quickly turned toward Jody, who stared with a little too much concentration at her computer screen. Carrie noticed the headphones plugged into her ears; something Jody didn’t usually wear.
“But I apologized to her,” Bev continued. “Didn’t I, Jody?”
Jody’s back remained an unmoving wall of stillness.
Bev pursed her lips. “Oh, I suppose she’s not talking to me now. Jody. Jody!”
Reluctantly, Jody turned her head and Carrie saw the flush of her cheeks and the hooded look in her eyes. Jody removed one earphone, but said nothing.
“Jody, tell Carrie that I apologized to you.”
Carrie and Jody locked eyes. Two deer in the headlights of a barreling truck. Carrie wanted to stop her, to thwart this further humiliation of Jody, but she was too stunned to speak. Jody did instead, saying flatly, “You apologized,” before turning back to her inconsequential computer screen.
Carrie took in the stiff resolution of Jody’s back as Bev pleaded for her attention again. “See? I apologized,” Bev insisted.
“You shouldn’t have snapped at her in the first place.”
A look of alarm passed over Bev’s face as she realized that Carrie might not side with her. “My head hurts,” she said, pressing her hand to her forehead as her lip quivered.
Carrie looked toward Jody again, whose muscles hadn’t moved. She’d seen enough. “I’m going to lunch.”

When she returned, Bev was standing at her desk again, a piece of paper in her hand.
“Carrie, would you mind taking a look at this? I’m thinking of applying for a new job.” Carrie took the paper from her hand and glanced toward Jody’s chair. It was pushed in. Her desk lamp was dark, her computer shut down.
“Where did Jody go?”
Bev’s shoulders hunched defensively. “She left. The boss pulled me into a conference room and had a talk with me. Apparently Jody went to him and said that I was mean to her and she was so upset that she had to leave.”
“What exactly happened?”
Bev’s voice rose. “I don’t know! Honestly, Carrie, I don’t know what she’s talking about. She said I was mean to her, but I have no clue what’s she’s even talking about.”
“Wait a minute. You told me earlier that you snapped at her.”
“I don’t know what she’s talking about! I don’t know what I could have possibly said that would have upset her. And now she’s quitting.”
“Wait a minute.  I don’t understand. What actually happened?”
“I have no idea!”
“You said you snapped at her, but about what?”
“I don’t even know what I could have done. I didn’t do anything, Carrie! It’s her word against mine. She says I was mean to her and that she’s leaving, but no one will tell me what I supposedly did wrong! I told the boss to keep Jody and I would leave since apparently I’m too difficult for anyone to work with.”
Carrie stared at her. Bev’s eyes watered as she ramped up her role as victim.  “Can you look at this job posting for me?”
“I guess. But is Jody really leaving?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened or why everyone is against me. I have no idea what she’s upset about.”
Carrie shook her head and glanced through the job posting. She debated whether to call Jody and find out the story, but was already tired of the drama and just wanted to get back to work. She nodded her head and handed the sheet of paper back to Bev. “This looks perfect for you. Go for it.”