Saturday, March 31, 2012

Transylvania Course Catalog

Oddly enough, Transylvania University is located in Lexington, Kentucky.


CULINARY ARTS 101: Learn how to make scrumptious Italian dishes without using garlic and create new twists on old favorites such as blood pudding and ox neck stew.

ADVANCED DENTISTRY: Students should take the pre-requisite INTRODUCTION TO FANGS.

PSYCHOLOGY OF VAMPIRE HUNTERS: Learn who they are, how to spot them, and why they carry mirrors, Bibles, holy water, crucifixes, and wooden stakes with them.This course will cover traditional eastern European hunters through modern hunters such as Buffy and Van Helsing.

GOTHIC LIT: Reading materials will include works by Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Sheridan Le Fanu, Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer, and Laurell K. Hamilton.

PHILOSOPHY 101: Immortality: To Be or Not to Be?

GEOGRAPHY: Intensive look into the geography of Transylvania, Romania and Wallachia and the migratory paths of vampires.

INTRODUCTION TO GEOLOGY: Removal and transference of native soil. (Concentration on Dracula's hindered attempts to travel.)

FILM-MAKING 101: We'll discuss the cinematography needed to create vampiric special effects such as twinkling diamond-like skin in sunlight, bending a victim's neck for optimal view during the bite, the sudden appearance of fangs and claws, transmorphing from vampire bat to human form, and how to show movement so fast that it cannot be seen by the naked eye, nor captured on film.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What Wood You Think?

This pile of wood is in an alley behind a woodshop where the artisan inside does all sorts of woodworking projects. I stopped to take a picture but am not sure what I'm looking at. Is this some sort of sculpture? Or simply a pile of wood for the garbage?

Thursday, March 29, 2012


As we approached Tortuga Island, all I could think was, This isn't enough. Our rickety boat was laden with duffle bags full of toys, candy and goldfish crackers for the Vacation Bible School class we would hold for the children on this sparse island. But as we approached, I realized the inadequacies and ridiculousness of the situation. These people didn't need toys and snacks; they needed bags of rice and beans, medicine-- real sustenance. They needed more than our boat could carry.

But we had to make do with what we had. So we sat in a circle with fifty-some children in an empty concrete-block building and told them the story of Jonah and the Whale. We distributed our goldfish crackers and played games with them, emptying our bags of balls and dolls before boarding the boat that took us back to the slightly-less-impoverished mainland of Haiti, where we re-packed our duffle bags and headed to the next town.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Car For Sale

We saw this car for sale in New Orleans. There was no way to capture all the decorations, bottlecaps, jewels, watch faces, etc.. that adorned this. I'm not sure whether it's driveable or not, but it's certainly a unique piece or art.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Animal Attraction

Ah, zebras. They always bring back memories.

In college, I took a Zoology class at the Cincinnati Zoo. We had to pick an animal to study for the semester and I chose zebras. (Don't ask me anything about zebras, though. I majored in English Lit., not science.)

Anyway, I spent hours at the zoo, sitting on a rock near the zebras, notebook and camera in hand, waiting for something significant to happen. And by significant, I mean waiting for my Zoology professor to walk by. He worked at the zoo and I had a huge crush on him.

Not surprisingly, one sunny afternoon as I enjoyed an ice cream cone by the zebra exhibit, he did walk by. We said hello and he smiled at me. I smiled back. He smiled some more. We said a few words and then he walked away.

As I followed him with my eyes, I noticed two little boys pointing at me. They were covering their mouths with their hands and looking around for someone else to point me out to. I thought maybe I looked especially good. But, no. I'd dripped ice cream all down the front of my black shirt. I mean, big, hunking gobs of ice cream streaking down my shirt. I was covered. It may have been the reason my Zoology professor stopped to talk to me in the first place. I think he'd been trying to get up the nerve to tell me, but I was too busy flirting to notice.

If zebras had been carnivorous, I would have jumped into their pen. Or let them lick me, if they'd liked dairy. But no, they just stood there, eating leaves. So I scurried out of the zoo before anyone else could see my milky chest. I sat in the back of the room during the next class. And then I returned to my rock.

Stupid zebras.

Monday, March 26, 2012


I read this tip in an email years ago and thought I'd share it here.  As the mother of a child who coughs all night, I was desperate to try anything since cough syrups and allergy meds didn't solve the problem. In the email I read, it said to apply Vick's Vap-o-rub to the soles of your child's feet and then put socks over top of that. I know it sounds crazy, but it works!

I've done this many times now over the past few years and it works almost every time. I've even tried it on myself. It's a strange sensation when you take that initial inhale that starts a cough. It's almost like you can't cough; the cough seems cut off before it starts.

I don't know how it works, or why it works. I only know that in our house, it does work. So I pass the tip along here to you, my friends. Take it or leave it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Used Books

Last week I went to a used book sale and filled a bag for $6.00. Oh, how I love a good bag sale! I bought 8 books that I'd had on my wish list and found dozens more that I'd never heard of but can't wait to read.

As I got home and started looking through them, a few items fell from the pages. One was the photo shown here. I also found a bookmark tucked into the pages of one book, and a boarding pass in another. I always love finding these little treasures that give me a glimpse of the book's former life. Just as I like finding a nameplate inside a book when I open its cover, or a doodle in the margins somewhere. Which is ironic, since I keep my own books in pristine condition while I read them. I barely open them and don't crack the spines or earmark the pages as I read. My books look brand new when I'm done -- until I slap a Bookcrossing label inside and write the BCID number on the back flap.

I love the mystery and history hidden inside used books. It adds a layer of personality to the reading somehow, and I'm linked to the readers before me. I was not the first to read these books, nor will I be the last.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


As mentioned, we've planned an upcoming trip to Savannah. So today, I'm going journal shopping since I ran out of pages in my last travel journal. I'm ready for a new one. This is important, because my mother, my daughter and I journal every evening during our trips and then share them with each other as a recap of the day.

It's interesting to see how differently we process our trips. My mother captures wonderful details about people we meet and conversations that take place. My daughter's perspective ranges from extreme detail on one aspect of the day, to writing about how silly one of us were. I love hearing/reading her take on events. I generally capture more of the logistics and facts of what we saw, where we went, etc.. I may try something new this time-- something more contemplative. We'll see.

But first things first. I'm off to buy a journal!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Mr. President

I have a drawer stuffed with old letters from my grandmother. She was a consummate letter writer, detailing the minutiae of her days as well as her thoughts on current events that she recorded on pages and pages of slanted script. Her writing scrawled across the lines and into the margins. I don't believe I ever got a letter shorter than seven pages. Nor did anyone else.

I saved all her letters because they were a diary of sorts, of not only her life, but mine. Once she moved back to Ohio the letters ceased. There was no need to write once she was back in the vicinity of family and we saw each other face-to-face instead. And now that her dementia has progressed so much that she doesn't venture into conversations about daily life anymore, she couldn't write letters these days even if she wanted to.

Which made it all the more intriguing when I stopped by her apartment and discovered a plain white business envelope atop of a stack of papers in her chair. The envelope was addressed to: The President, c/o The White House, Washington, D.C.

Naturally, I opened it. But the envelope was empty.

My mind was a-whirl. Why was she writing to The President? For a moment, I was fooled into hoping that she knew who the president was and that some current event (or more likely, some sort of injustice) had spurned her into sitting down and writing a letter of complaint. This would have been so like her.

Then I realized-- it would have been just like her. She'd probably written to 'The President' hundreds of times, sending each current man in office her thoughts and opinions on current events just as she'd written them to me. It was an aspect of my grandmother's life I hadn't been aware of but was not surprised to discover. In fact, as I looked through the stack of papers on her chair I saw that they were old letters and journals from the 1980's. The presidential envelope was typewritten. I couldn't find a letter anywhere in the stack beneath it. Apparently the envelope was just at-the-ready.

When my grandmother came back into the room I wanted to ask her what she'd written to the president, but knew she'd never remember. I knew she didn't know who the current president was, and had no recollections of writing to The President in the past. I wanted to snatch up that envelope and add it to the collection of old letters in my drawer. I wish I had. Because empty or not, it told me as much about my grandmother as her newsy letters did.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Guest Post: Mirror, Mirror

by Josie

     Dorrie would not let herself look away.  The woman staring back at her in the mirror was not a pretty face.  Not an aged-nicely face, nor a handsome face, not cute and not comely.  With her hair pulled back it was nearly a masculine face:  square and too many lines to hide with make-up.  So what are you going to do, Old Girl, she asked her reflection.  The truth could not be ignored and she may have to just live with it.  She turned her head from side to side and appraised what she saw.  Then she picked up a hand mirror and studied her profile.  A loud guffaw escaped  her mouth as she remembered that in junior high school she was in the yearbook as having the prettiest profile!  How many decades ago was that? she asked the mirror.
      Okay, Dorrie, she addressed her reflection, what can we do to fix this old gal up a bit and make her presentable?  No amount of skin creams, from Ponds to Lancombe had eased the distinct lines around her mouth and above her top lip.  She drank enough water in a day’s time to fill a bathtub, still to no avail.  My dad’s face was deeply lined, she thought, even when he was rather young.  So I guess I’m trying to fix something where genes have the trump card? she asked the woman in the mirror.
      A big sigh as she released the towel holding back her hair.  That sure sounded like my mother, she thought.  Hmm.  Actually the hair with all its soft curls helped some of the severity, she mused.  I know, I know, she continued to talk to herself, more is less when it comes to eye shadow and mascara.  Thankfully, her daughter had steered her away from the blue lids and eye liner she wore in much younger days.  Okay, that’s good.  No clumps on the lashes and no drama above the eyes.  Oh! she said as she realized she was supposed to put on real foundation tonight, sheer, but enough to cover some of the sun splotches (do not call them liver spots!) on her face and even out the tone.  And use a sponge, Mom, not your fingers to blend it in.  Dorrie looked at the improved image in the mirror and asked, Is this what Angelina goes through?  Blush was tricky; what was the rule?  Start in the middle of your cheekbone and sweep up.  Don’t create a clown face with rounds of red on your cheeks.  I hear what you’re saying, Liz! she called up to the ceiling as she imagined that Liz Taylor was her make-up goddess angel. 
      Dorrie’s hair was full when she took the towel off, but now it was limp and she never did look good with it around her face.  She pulled it up.  She pulled it back.  She ratted it with her comb, and then smoothed it over.  Noooooooo! she threw the comb across the bathroom.  I am just not a person who has every hair in place!  Man, I would like to be, but I am just the mussed up hair lady.  That’s who I am.  Dorrie ran her fingers through it, and then lightly brought it up to a cascading bundle of curls in the back.  She fished for little tendrils at her temples and mussed her bangs.  Better, she thought.  Just as she was applying a delicate peach-colored lipstick, her doorbell rang.  She panicked!  My date is here! she yelled at the resulting image in the mirror.  Why am I going on a blind date at 70? she chastised herself.  She blew her breath into her hand to check for offensiveness, but she passed that test.  Dorrie walked to the door and cautiously opened it; her heart was up in her throat.
                A pleasant man, obviously someone around her own age was standing in the doorway.  His eyes twinkled and his voice was something like Grandpa Walton.  “Well,” he said, “I have a date with Dorrie Underwood.  You must be her daughter.”  Dorrie heard herself laughing and it sounded like a school girl. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Angels In My Eyes

It was a sunny spring morning when I met Clarissa, a beautiful 17-year-old high school student, who was scheduled to volunteer at our nonprofit’s satellite office. She needed to finish community service hours required by some Ohio schools for graduation.

Her mother dropped her off and I showed her into the office. We chatted and I learned she’d been accepted into a nearby Christian college. For the rest of the summer, she’d work at a health food store, and we talked a little about holistic medicine and New Age spirituality.

Then, Clarissa suddenly stopped talking. She looked at me and smiled.

“I see angels in your eyes.”

She gazed at me and I felt as though she really were looking at angels. Our eyes weren’t connecting like they do in typical conversation. She was looking at my eyes, not into them. I felt self-conscious, yet so flattered. It was the nicest compliment I’d ever heard.

I finished giving Clarissa instructions for the work, and started to leave. We turned on the radio so that she’d have a little life in the room, since she was the only person there, other than the groundskeeper outside. I waved good-bye and told her I’d be back later that day.

When my cell phone rang a few hours later, I saw the office number on caller ID and assumed that Clarissa had a question about the project she was working on. But when I answered, she told me in a shaky voice that she’d just been sexually accosted by the groundskeeper, and was now locked in the office waiting for the police.

I rushed to the site and found a trembling Clarissa there with the police officer and her mother. Thankfully, the assault was limited to some inappropriate remarks and lewd behavior on the groundskeeper’s part. I was tremendously relieved that Clarissa was able to fend him off and lock herself away safely until help arrived. The police officer made a report and they began looking for the man, who’d fled after Clarissa escaped him.

We followed up with Clarissa frequently and made sure that she got all the assistance she needed to deal with the trauma of what happened. But as the days and weeks went on, I had a lingering question in my mind: had she seen angels in my eyes that day?

I wondered whether there truly were angels there that day looking over her. Perhaps the situation would have turned out much worse if not for the protection of the angels. Was that why she saw them? Were they a warning?

I believe they were. What started out as a sunny spring morning turned into a much darker day. But if not for the protection of the angels Clarissa saw in my eyes, who knows what might have happened?

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Spot of Tea

I took this picture at a tea shop in China, but everytime I look at the picture, a British voice plays in my head saying, "I think I'll have a spot of tea." That's about all this cup holds -- a spot.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Comedy Success

Gigi takes the stage.

Comedian Rory Rennick delivered a hit yesterday at the Funnybone Comedy Club in Dayton, Ohio. His family-friendly comedy magic act delighted everyone from preschoolers to adults. In my opinion, not an easy feat. But he made it appear effortless.

He started his act by showing the audience a ketchup bottle in a brown paper bag. He pulled it out of the top of the bag just enough that we could see it, then let it fall back in. He waved his hand magically over the top and said he could make it disappear. Then he looked down into the bag and said he did it. As I watched my 7-year-old niece's face, I saw her eyes and mouth grow wide. She believed him. But Rory, knowing that not all audience members would be as trusting as Gigi, went on with the act.

"The hard part is bringing it back," he confided. He just needed eveyone to say the magic words, "Poopity-Doopity." He waved his hand over the bag again and then triumphantly pulled the bottle out of the bag just enough that we could see it. My niece was enthralled. She'd just witnessed magic. The rest of us were laughing at the joke. Then Rory rounded it up with a little bit of laughter and crumpled up the bag to the disbelief of us all. He'd made the ketchup bottle disappear.

That was the warm-up. The rest of the show was fantastic. But perhaps the greatest testimonial to his show's success occured in the backseat of our car on the way home.

We'd bought Gigi a souvenir magic wand after the show. We didn't realize that it had Rory Rennick's web address and phone number on it, but Gigi didn't miss a thing. She sat in the backseat making plans to call Rory and using the magic wand as both her make-believe phone and wand.

"Hello, Rory? I'm going to make you disappear. Poopity-doopity!"

And a new comedy-magician was born.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Out, Leprechaun, Out!

A flicker of light caught Katie’s eye through the kitchen window. It came from the shed out back, though there shouldn’t have been anyone in there. Everyone was here in the house for Katie’s birthday party. Or were they? Katie glanced around the room. Who was missing? And what kind of surprise did they have up their sleeves? Katie smirked at the thought and then snuck out the back door. The surprise would be on them, this time. She’d catch someone in the act before they had a chance to spring another surprise on her.

Katie tiptoed through the grass, careful not to let the sound of her footsteps on the brittle grass make too much noise. As she approached the shed, she saw that there was indeed a light inside; flickering fire light, if she wasn’t mistaken. She’d already had her birthday cake. What were they planning now?

She hesitated outside the door, listening for voices before she entered. She wanted to figure out who was trying to trick her, but the only sound she heard were muffled, low tones and a moan that she couldn’t identify. That low moan gave Katie pause. Perhaps she shouldn’t enter the shed. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

As she debated whether to turn around and head back to the house, she heard her friend Lydia’s voice rise with intensity.

“Renounce the demon,” she said emphatically. “Exorcise him from your soul.”

Chills ran through Katie’s body. She felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. Her hand remained frozen on the door latch as her body struggled with flight or fight.

“Help,” she heard another voice call weakly from inside. An old voice. Trembling and frail. It sounded like her grandmother.

Katie tugged the door open. Lydia’s head whipped around. Her body remained poised over the prone figure of Katie’s grandmother. In her hand, Lydia held a metal cross, steaming with heat. Katie stared at the fire in the small hibachi next to Lydia. Her mind couldn’t make sense of the scene before her; her best friend crouched in the darkness with a fire inside the shed, her grandmother trapped and cowering beneath her.

“Katie –“

“What are you doing?”

Katie stepped forward and Lydia spun around, thrusting the hot cross toward Katie. Katie backed up, taking in the oven mitt on Lydia’s hand, the burn mark on her grandmother’s wrist, and the agonizing moans emanating from her grandmother as she grasped her injured wrist and tried to rise.

“Stay back, Katie.”

“Lydia, what are you doing? What’s going on?”

“I’m saving her soul, Katie. Your grandmother is possessed.”

“Possessed? Grandma, are you okay?” Katie tried to peer behind Lydia, who moved forward to block Katie from her grandmother.

“She’s got a demon in her, Katie. I’m getting it out.”

“What are you talking about?” Katie took a step toward Lydia, ready to brush past her, but Lydia swerved into Katie’s path and thrust the crucifix close enough to Katie’s skin that she could feel the heat. She paused, debating whether to run back to the house for help, but afraid to leave her grandmother here alone with Lydia.

“Don’t worry. I know how, Katie. We learned about exorcisms at our church. I know what I’m doing.”

“Lydia, this is crazy.”

“I need to do this, Katie. She’s got an evil spirit inside of her. You even said so. I’m trying to save her.”

“I didn’t say that.” Katie glanced behind her toward the house. Had anyone noticed her coming out here? Would anyone else see the firelight from the window?

“You called her a leprechaun. You and your mother said she’s always playing tricks, working her magic. That’s not Christian, Katie. Magic is the devil’s work.”

“Oh my God. Lydia, we were just kidding.” Katie lunged closer to her grandmother, but Lydia cut her off again.

“I’ve seen the demon in her with my own eyes,” Lydia said. She stood stock still, the weight of her knowledge filling her with an authoritative demeanor Katie had never witnessed before in Lydia.

“Lydia, she isn’t possessed by a demon. She isn’t really a leprechaun,” Katie pleaded.

“Katie, I know this is hard for you, but she is. I saw proof. She’s carrying a bag of gold.”

An image of a small green bag with dollar signs and a rainbow ironed on immediately flashed through Katie’s mind. “That’s my birthday present, Lydia. That’s what my grandmother gives me every year. It’s a joke because my birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Lydia tilted her head and put the crucifix-free hand on Katie’s shoulder. “Katie,” she said softly. “It’s alright. I’m going to make your grandmother all better.”

Lydia turned her attention back to Katie’s grandmother who still lay on the floor, cradling her burnt wrist. Lydia moved toward her, holding the hot crucifix in front of her as she began her incantation.

“Oh, Jesus, Lord our Savior. Protect this— Ow!” Lydia jerked around as Katie pinched her.

“You’re not wearing green,” Katie said.

Lydia sighed. “Katie—“

Katie reached out and pinched her again, hard enough that it would cause a bruise.  She nipped her arm, her stomach, and her waist.

“Ow!” Lydia yelped.

“It’s St. Patrick’s Day. You’re supposed to wear green.”

“Katie, I’m trying to do something important here. I’m trying to exorcise the leprechaun from your grandmother.”

Katie shook her head. “It’s not going to work, Lydia. You’ve got the wrong person.” She reached up and tucked her hair behind her tall, pointed ear.  “She’s not the leprechaun, Lydia. I am.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Savannah, Here We Come!

We're taking a vacation to Savannah, Georgia this year, but only have a few "must's" on our 'To Do' list.

1. We have to eat at Paula Deen's Lady & Sons restaurant. My husband is a huge fan. Actually a bigger fan than I thought. He says he'd like to marry her. We'll settle for a meal at her restaurant.

2. We will take at least one of the Haunted Savannah Tours. We try to do ghost tours in every town we visit. Savannah is supposed to be the most haunted city in America. We're looking forward to this.

3. Walk around and shop in the historic district along the river.

4. Visit the lighthouses on Tybee Island.

Other than that, we'll play the rest of the trip by ear. But if you have a suggestion of things we should add to our itinerary, please let me know!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happiness Is...

Happiness is...being together.

Could there be anything more beautiful in life than two happy little girls?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ohio is Home

I have a journal that poses a daily question. Today's question seemed so simple:
Where do you live?

I answered with my physical address. But then I thought about the metaphysical answers; not just where I live, but what home means to me.

I've lived a lot of places. I've touched on four borders of the United States: California, Florida, New Jersey, and Alaska. But when it came time to choose a place to settle down and raise my kids, I knew I wanted to move back to Ohio where I'd grown up. In fact, I live around the corner from my old house.

One big reason that I wanted to raise them in Ohio is because this is where my family is. I want my kids to grow up with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all extended family. I want them to know where they fit into their family and their community. I want them to know the four seasons, and engage in all the same childhood activities that I felt privileged to enjoy. They can walk through woods, play in creeks, ride horses, throw snowballs, go sledding, make tree forts, jump in piles of leaves, pick pumpkins in the fall, and run through sprinklers all summer.

I want to raise them where I was raised. I want to know that it's safe for them to have lemonade stands in the front yard. I want them to have as good a childhood as I had. Maybe one day they'll choose to raise their kids here, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Scandal! Vandals at School

My daughter came home from school and said her elementary school had been vandalized over the weekend. Someone (presumably kids) spraypainted the sides of the portable buildings. I was shocked. We live in a very sheltered suburban area. The kids just don't cause trouble. Especially at the elementary school level.

I don't condone the defacement of property at all. But as I learned the details of the vandalism, I had to bite my lip. I don't think these kids understand what vandalism is usually about.

Yep. You're reading it correctly: STAY IN SCHOOL

Then, the delinquents went on with a "shout out" to Mrs. Montgomery, the former Principal.
 I'm guessing if they haven't met the new Principal yet, they're about to.

Monday, March 12, 2012

San Jose

Shortly after I landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, I realized how flawed my planning was. I knew there was a shuttle to the Best Western in downtown San Jose where I planned to spend the night. But I hadn't taken the time to figure out where to find it, when it would arrive, and whether it ran on a regular schedule. I realized that I might be standing in that airport for hours, or that the shuttle might pass right by since I didn't know a word of Spanish and there was very little English that I could see.

Luckily, I'd made a friend on the airplane and we saw each other again outside as she met her mother and started toward the parking garage. She called the hotel for me and found out that the shuttle would arrive any minute. It did, and I was off, waving good-bye to her from the window with her phone number and email address pressed into the palm of my other hand.

The driver did not talk to me, but radioed the hotel with my name. We careened through busy streets of erratic traffic and then into the downtown area, bursting with life and pedestrians and all sorts of storefronts that reminded me of my first Central American trip. I loved it.

The driver dropped me off and pointed down the streets. "No alone."
I nodded. Understood. As a woman traveling alone, I knew to be cautious.

A security guard chatted with the driver briefly and opened the door for me. As I passed into the lobby, he repeated, "Senora, do not go out alone at night." I nodded. I wouldn't. But now, I started to worry that I might not see anything but the inside of the hotel.

The desk clerk said that I could walk around during the day, but not to walk alone at night. It was only 6:00pm. Disappointed, I decided that I was in for the night. I did lounge by the pool, which was in the center of the hotel instead of outside, but then I went upstairs to my room and looked out over the balcony at the sheet metal roofs and winding dirt roads behind the motel that I couldn't wander out and explore.

A rooster kept me up most of the night. It reminded me of the roosters in Haiti, though the Haitian roosters must have liked their sleep more than the Costa Rican variety. After the continental breakfast, I headed outside to explore. It was barely morning, but surely it was safe. I couldn't stay cooped up forever.

The streets were dirty and the traffic was treacherous. I walked the back streets where locals waited for buses. I held my purse to me and wandered on, thinking I might at least find a souvenir, but I didn't come across any stores. Or at least, I don't think I did. I don't know a word of Spanish. Instead I walked, and walked until I had blisters on my feet. I used a hostel as my touchstone. It was the only building I could differentiate from the others, and I knew how to get back to the hotel from there.

Finally, done exploring, I decided to see the inside of the hostel before I went back "home." I thought maybe one day I'd revisit San Jose and perhaps stay in a hostel and meet other people. But it wouldn't be this one. The manager let me in and showed me the accommodations. The rooms were stripped bare of anything but a set of bunk beds and a table. $10/night, You'd have plenty of room to stretch out; the place was bare, except for piles of dog poop on the floor. Fresh ones.

I thanked him and left, then headed back to the hotel. I stood on the balcony a little while longer and watched life unfold before me as people returned home for the evening. Though I did and saw nothing of consequence that day, I felt like I saw San Jose, Costa Rica. Or at least, the part I'd been warned not to explore: life on the back roads where houses are shacks and the roofs are rust.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Caught up in the Wind

Somewhere in France

There is something so hypnotic to me about the movement of the wind. I can sit and stare for hours at laundry blowing in the breeze or the swaying of treetop limbs. It lulls me. Calms me. I feel like I fall into a trance when I watch the movement of the wind, and my mind is finally at rest.

These wind turbines have the same appeal. I want to pull off the road and watch them spin for hours. A field of them is like a candy store; I'm almost overwhelmed. Yet oddly, at the same time, these gentle giants scare me. They make me think of science fiction monsters taking over the world with Freddy Krueger finger blades ready to slice up anything in their path. They make me think of fierce nature; competely uncaring. Steely machines. I must know intrinsically that they harness power so great that we could never overcome it. And we can't even see it. The wind, I mean. It's out there all around us with its superhuman force, and we don't even see it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Music Man

Last night, my daughter and I went to see a production of The Music Man at Lakota West High School. I was blown away! This production rivaled any professional theater event that I have gone to in downtown Cincinnati, and I've seen many. The sets, the costumes, the music, the dancing, hair, make-up and talent were incredible.

I cannot begin to imagine how many rehearsal hours went into this show. The dancers never missed a step or went out of sync. The costumes were perfect, right down to the shoes and hair styles of every character on stage. Did I mention that the cast totalled 75? Or that they were all on stage for "The Wells Fargo Wagon?" It was fantastic.

I had been excited to take my daughter to this play in particular because my father starred as Harold Hill in his high school production of the same. I watched the young man on stage last night and could easily picture my father in the role. I would have loved to have seen it. I'm sure my dad was even better. So, I asked my daughter to imagine her grandpa in the role. And I mentioned that her grandmother had starred in her high school play as well. I didn't follow in their footsteps. Instead, I was the flutist in my high school's rendition of Fiddler on the Roof.

My daughter watched the dazzling actors on stage, choosing her favorites (the prettiest girls, of course). I wondered whether she'd show any interest in getting involved in theater when she gets a little older. She seemed to enjoy it. But in the end, she surprised me. She doesn't plan to follow in her grandparents footsteps, either. Instead, she said she wants to play in the orchestra like me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Behind Blue Eyes

Chloe crowded next to her friend Amy. "I dare you to put this in your pocket." She held a silk scarf furtively to her side.

Amy glanced down at the wiggling fabric in Chloe's hand. She froze momentarily, feeling her pulse race even while her heart seemed to stop. A wave of panic flittered through her bloodstream. She'd never stolen anything before.

Amy searched her friend's face to see if she was kidding, as Chloe rubbed the silk against Amy's hand. "Take it," Chloe urged her again.

Biting her lip, Amy scanned the space around her. There didn't seem to be anyone watching. She didn't want to steal it, but there was a part of her, a small, secret part of her, that wondered what it would be like to take it; to commit a crime and get away with it. She didn't want to do it, but at the same time, she did.

She inched closer to Chloe so that their bodies were essentially smashed together. Then she grabbed the fabric from her friend's hand and wadded it up into her own before slowly dropping her hand into her pocket.  Her palms began to sweat. It wasn't too late to pull the fabric back out and place it back on the display table. She fingered the fabric in her coat, then made her decision. She released the silk and pulled her hand out of her pocket.

"Let's go," she nudged Chloe, adrenaline coursing through her. She quick-stepped toward the entrance of the store that lead back into the mall and had just crossed the threshold when she heard a beeping alarm go off.

Amy froze. Chloe hurried toward her and pushed her out into the mall as a security guard moved toward her. He stopped the girls in their tracks as another store staff member rushed to the scene.

"It's in her pocket," the store employee told the guard. "I saw her put something in her pocket."

The guard stared at Amy and held out his hand. "Empty your pockets, please."

Amy started to hyperventilate. She pulled the silk from her pocket and imagined herself in jail. Her mother was going to kill her. They would show her picture on the news. The police would know her name. She'd have a record.

"I'm so sorry," she said as the guard took the scarf from her hand. He grasped her arm lightly and re-directed her back into the store toward the office.

The staff member nodded toward the mannequins as they passed. "I knew putting security cameras inside their heads would work."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Get Out Your Atlas!

Apparently there are solar flare-ups today that are messing up GPS tracking. So, better be prepared with a paper map and an atlas today, or your trip from Ohio to Michigan may take you a little out of the way!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My First Car Story

I don't have a picture of MY first car, but here's a picture of my son's.

Have you seen the new television commercials asking people to share stories of their first cars? I don't remember which car company sponsors it, but thought it was a cute idea. They share one story in a commercial about a girl's first car that stank of mothballs because her parents always kept mothballs in the trunk.

My first car story is not quite as extreme. I loved my first car: a little red Ford Fiesta that sounded like a toy. It had a sunroof and a cassette tape deck (woo hoo!) -- and -- a stick shift. Trouble was, I hadn't learned to drive on a stick shift, so this was more than a little daunting.

The worst case of this was the day I was stopped at a stop sign on a hill. Do I really need to describe the tears, frustration and embarrassment of sitting in my car, trying to move forward while all the cars behind me honked and (undoubtedly) cursed at me? It was horrible, made more horrible by the fact that I finally inched/rolled backward enough in my futile attempts that I finally backed into the school bus behind me.

I loved that little red Ford Fiesta, but I would have loved it even more if it had been an automatic.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The 2008 Primary Election

Someplace in San Antonio

My trip to the polls this morning was disappointing; almost uneventful. I'm a registered Democrat, so had almost nothing to vote on. Oh, how different than four years ago, when I served as Associate Judge at our local polling precinct. It was a day fraught with emotion, and one that frustrated me so much that I lost faith in the whole process.

Journey back with me to 2008....

By 6:00am that day, there was a line of voters waiting to get in, though the polls didn’t open until 6:30. As soon as we opened the doors, we got a feel for the day. Three voters right off the bat switched their party affiliation to Democrat and we had them fill out the 10-X. We braced ourselves for a busy day. But, it never came. Attendance at our poll was as lacking and I figured that it was only natural; our county was 92% Republican and the Republican ballot didn’t hold anything exciting. Whether voters turned out or not, McCain would probably be the winner.

My husband called around 3:00 to ask me how it was going and asked whether a lot of people were coming in and switching to Democrat. By that point, we’d had a good number switching, and many of the people who weren’t affiliated with one party or another chose to vote the Democratic ticket. But I thought at that point it was probably 50/50.

Then Mike told me that on talk radio, the Republicans were encouraging voters to go out, switch their parties and vote for Hillary Clinton, because they felt confident that McCain could beat Hillary in November, but might not beat Barack. I thought that was completely ridiculous. Apparently Bill Cunningham and Rush Limbaugh were the instigators behind this scheme.

Well, no sooner did I get off the phone with Mike than a woman came up to the table. The other pollworker and I went through our usual spiel with the woman in front of us.

“Would you like a Republican ballot with issues, Democratic ballot with issues, or an issues only ballot?”

She was registered as Republican.

“Well, I’m a Republican, but I have a strategy, so I think I’ll vote Democratic this time.”

I was stunned. Could people really be following the advice of those slimy radio hosts? And be so blatant about it???

I had her fill in the 10-X and explained that she was in effect registering herself with the Democratic Party. She signed and asked how soon she could change it back.

I was pretty sure that was voter fraud. The paragraph they had to sign warned against voter falsification, but we had been instructed that everyone challenging their party was to be approved. There was nothing we could do about it. As poll workers, we were not allowed to express any political views at all. We couldn’t even read the names of the nominees allowed. So we had to let her go.

A few more followed her. They ran through the pelting rain and came inside out of breath, wet and cold. They stood before me and announced that they wanted to vote the Democratic ballot. By this point, I felt sickened by what was happening before me. It was so underhanded, and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to follow the rules and let them vote fraudulently. I was absolutely sickened by it.

The only tactic I could take was to read the 10-X challenge to them as they signed their names. Once I told a few women that they needed to sign the form and align themselves with the Democratic party, they balked and said they didn’t want to be registered Democrats. So they mercifully got the Republican tickets they were supposed to have.

I complained to Sue, our Presiding Judge. Sue was sympathetic to me being upset, but she very diplomatically said that the problem was that people didn’t understand what the primary election was all about. That was sweet of her, and perhaps there were a few who didn’t understand the purpose of the primaries, but I think that for the most part, they knew exactly what they were doing.

By the end of the day, our numbers said it all. Of 300 voters at our precinct that day, 154 had voted Democrat, 145 Republican, and 1 non-party. That was certainly a switch from the 92% Republican status that was, and probably still is, Butler County.

Hillary Clinton won Ohio.

Back to today...
There's been talk about Democrats doing the same thing that Republicans did four years ago, switching our parties to Republican so that we can have a say who gets on the Republican ticket. But I, for one, don't want to do that. If that's the dirty game of politics, leave me out of it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dressing for the Day

I'm sure many people decide what to wear each morning by putting together a whole outfit for the day's occasion. I start with shoes. Before I decide anything else, I think about what shoes I should wear based on how much walking and stair climbing I have to do. The outfit forms from there.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jerry's Birthday

Today is/was my step-father Jerry's birthday. He died three years ago. I'm still not sure how to phrase things. Today is his birthday, but we're celebrating without him. It was his birthday when he was alive. We're continuing on in his memory, having dinner and cake at my mom's house. My stepsisters (his daughters) and their families will be there. I am so glad that we've stayed close.

Thinking of Jerry will be harder on them. His absence will be felt more today, as we gather without him. But it will feel like he's there, to me. I'll be thinking about what kind of cake he would have liked. Probably chocolate, or caramel. I'm not sure what his favorite was, but I associate these flavors with him. He would have been running around, gathering wood for a fire, checking on the horses, playing with the grandkids, puttering in the kitchen and finding a million other things to do than sit down and visit and be the Birthday Boy.

I'm trying to think of what I might have bought him this year. I saw whistles made from deer antlers by a local hunter. He might have liked that. I might have gotten him new books or a movie. I don't know enough about farm equipment to get him anything along those lines. I didn't get him a present this year, but I will stop by his grave. I want to leave something there for him. I'm not sure what. I'll find something before we head out to the farm to gather on his birthday and remember him. The day will border between celebration and grief. It won't be much different than any other day is/was. He just won't be there.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Friday Fish Frys

We love Fridays during Lenten season and have become something of local fish fry connoisseurs, having scouted newspapers, websites, and homemade signs outside of churches within a 50-mile radius of our house to find the best ones. For the past few years, we've sampled different church fish frys every weekend and have come to the conclusion that while most offer similar fare (fried fish, beer-battered fish, hush puppies, coleslaw, macaroni & cheese, and green beans), there are subtleties that make all the difference to us.

Well, the taste, of course, is foremost. But unless the fish really isn't good, we've taken the flavor out of the equation. Instead, we focus on other things:

  • Ala carte? Or full-meal?
I personally hate the ala carte approach. It seems stingy and very un-community-like to me. We're going to a fish fry. Just tell us the price and hand us a plate of food. I don't want to nickel and dime my way through line, deciding whether coleslaw is worth another $1.00. It isn't.

  • Dessert
I'll pay extra for dessert, but if you really want my money, serve homemade desserts, not one or two cookies from a Kroger bakery tray.

  • Drinks
I prefer these be included in the price, too, unless you're talking about beer. You're only giving me a few ounces of liquid from a two-liter of soda, so just throw it into the price. I've noticed that churches that serve beer give the soda away for free.

  • All-You-Can-Eat Fish
Not surprisingly, I LOVE places that do this. They have men wandering around the cafeteria with trays of piping hot fish. They hold their tongs out and asked you if you'd like another piece. Yes, thank you. I would. And -- I'll be back next Friday.

Because of all these things, my top pick in southwestern Ohio  is Our Lady of Sorrow in Monroe, Ohio. They offer delicious all-you-can-eat beer-battered fish with coleslaw, macaroni & cheese, green beans and french fries. Soda is included in the price, but beer is available for $2.00. And the desserts are homemade, sold separately to raise money for mission trips to Haiti. This is the Fish Fry that I look forward to going back to.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, my husband read Green Eggs and Ham to his class and had them do a simple exercise: they were instructed to raise their hands any time they heard anything that sounded like poetry.

It never seemed to dawn on them that they'd have their arms in the air through the whole book.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


This was my entry for the WritersWeekly Winter Short Story Contest. We were tasked with writing a story that began with this paragraph:

Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. She shivered violently as the shifting mass groaned under her feet. She instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees.
Desperately clawing at the ice, she screamed.

Mine continues below.

Her wail carried on the wind, a sound she’d never made before. She heard the low, raspy air escape from her lungs and knew that none of her friends underwater could hear her through the ice.
She pounded on the translucent frost again. A salmon stilled with the motion and she tried to raise her voice to its previous pitch, but without gills she could not make the sound. Having lungs made her voice too hollow.
Crystal dropped heavily onto the thickening ice, feeling the strange sensation of cold against flesh. The sun dipped below the horizon leaving pale streaks of pink and lavender stretching faintly in the sky. Approaching night looked so different above the water, Crystal realized. She wondered whether it could ever get as black as it did under the waves.
A hawk circled overhead. She watched it briefly, wondering whether it might dip down to the water for a fish. She thought to track the bird and see where there was still water to slip into; find a spot where the ice wasn’t so thick that it couldn’t be cracked. The glacier had moved so abruptly. She’d never thought her quick adventure onto land would turn deadly. She’d never realized that water could be so elusive in a land of ice.
The hawk flew westward, out of sight. Crystal’s eye caught another movement behind her and turned to see a bear lumbering toward her, its nose in the air. She thought she must still smell slightly of fish, though her scales and tail were now gone. She peered down at the feet that only hours ago had been flippers. Only a little webbing between her oddly-shaped toes remained. Her legs were nearly two separate entities, no longer gracefully combined into one powerful extension. The human body was so awkward, she thought. No wonder the other mermaids kept their distance when a person happened to fall into their sea.
By now the pastel sky was blackening and Crystal felt the drop in temperature as she shivered uncontrollably atop the ever-thickening ice. She stood and hugged her arms around her body; a futile endeavor against the quaking chill of her body. She howled into the night sky and heard an animal howl back. She forgot her cold for a moment and stood in wonder of the sounds of the world above water. She’d never thought that earthbound mammals might communicate with each other the same way the dolphins and whales did below.
The trouble was, she didn’t know what that animal was saying, or how to tell it that she needed help. All she could do was howl again, slamming her feet down in frustration as the last bits of northern lights melted away.
The ice seemed even firmer, even more resolute in its plan to keep her from returning to the world beneath it. She was trapped on earth with her ill-equipped skin and painfully-frozen lungs. Only a hawk, a bear, and an unknown creature crying in the night knew her fate. Her father would wonder where she was, swimming the oceans in search of her. He’d never think to look above the crest of the waves to the place where ice made land. He’d never expect that she’d disobeyed everything he ever taught her and was now in human peril.
She felt drops of water inch down the stiff skin of her face. It was salty, like the sea, and seemed to mock her. There was very little of her left at this point. Just a few wisps of scales and silt evaporating in the frigid air around her.
She gazed down at the black ice beneath her. She saw the ghostly outline of her pale white feet. The webbing of her toes was nearly gone. She bent down and scratched furiously at the last remnants of her former life, releasing a faint odor of fish that both excited and calmed her. There was just enough trace of fish oils left, she thought.
Then she turned to the black space behind her and peered into the darkness, extending her fishy fingers in front of her.
“Come and get me,” she beckoned.
It took a few moments then Crystal felt the trembling ice beneath her as the space before her moaned. The bear’s breath was warm, if fleeting.