Thursday, May 31, 2012

6th Grade Graduation

These are not 6th graders.

At the risk of sounding like a terrible parent, I was not all that eager to go to my daughter's 6th grade graduation. This was her second graduation ceremony already; the first was at the end of preschool.  That was another ridiculous graduation, in my opinion. To me, graduation should be reserved for the end of high school. A person should celebrate that one monumental event in their school career -- the culmination of 12 years of education. To me, graduating high school is an achievement, and marks a rite of passage into adulthood. But finishing 6th grade? Was there really any question?

I didn't have a 6th grade graduation. I didn't even go to preschool, so no celebration there either. But I did walk across the stage for my diploma at the end of high school and again after college. It seemed like those meant something.
I'm of the belief that by diluting graduation down into several graduations, you take away its meaning. It should be a final achievement, not one in a series of events. Not that I didn't love seeing my daughter walk across the stage to get her certificate of completion. But if there hadn't been a 6th grade graduation ceremony, my life would have been just as complete.

Then I started to wonder -- is there some benefit to having students take part in a graduation ceremony at 6th grade? Does it perhaps motivate them to continue on with their education because they have enjoyed a feeling of accomplishment? I wonder.

Now I'd like to know whether there's any correlation between the high school graduation rates of those who also celebrated 6th grade graduation ceremonies and those who didn't. Perhaps it can provide an impetus for those students who might be at risk for not graduating high school. Or maybe not. Maybe for those students, a 6th grade graduation was good enough?

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Street Scenes

In June, I will be heading to Brussels again. My first day plans are simple: to sit in the Grand Place with a Belgian waffle and watch the tourists. This time, I think I may try to capture pictures of them. After reading another blogger's tips on taking street scene photography, I thought this might be a fun experiment. I'd definitely feel more comfortable snapping pictures of tourists while I'm sitting in a city square than I would taking pictures of people as we walk down streets.

We'll see how it turns out. Look for the post in late June.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ripping Off That Band-Aid

My son surprised us with a visit this weekend. He arrived Friday morning and left yesterday. As always, it was a whirlwind. I've noticed that these visits start to follow a pattern.

When Mac first arrives, our whole routine is thrown out of whack. We spend all our time trying to socialize with him. We treat him like a visitor. Then as the first day passes, we fall back into our normal routines: Mac is back in his room, we make dinner for four and he takes his old seat at the table, and we resume living as the complete family that we were when he was still living at home.

And then he leaves.

We feel his absence immediately. His seat at the table now seems empty. We'd gotten used to him being there and are very aware that he is gone. It's like ripping a band-aid off again and again. Our skin is getting a little tougher; we don't cry when he leaves. But we feel it. A part of our family is missing, just when we'd gotten a taste of how full our family used to be.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Today, as we remember those servicemen who have fallen, I'll be remembering Keith.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge!

Today marks the 75th birthday (or anniversary) of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge. Reading about the celebrations planned there made me recall my first visit to the bridge.

When we travelled to San Francisco in 2009, my husband and I had just finished watching "The Bridge," a documentary about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge to their deaths. It was horrible. There are cameras on the bridge and we were watching actual suicides. I was scarred for life. Seriously. I've never stopped thinking about it.

Anyway, we picked up our rental car at the airport and dropped our bags off at the house we'd rented, then headed out toward the San Andreas fault since this was the only day we were renting a car. I was jet-lagged, and a little overstimulated at finally being in San Francisco, but I got behind the wheel and found myself heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was awesome! I wanted to crane my neck and take in its splendor as we approached, but I had to keep my eyes on the traffic. I wanted to scoot to the side and take pictures of the massive structure as we started driving over the bridge, but I couldn't. There were signs and warnings not to stop on the bridge. I thought it might be because they didn't want traffic to back up. Or they didn't want people stopping their cars and jumping off the bridge. My husband said it was more likely they were worried about bombs. Whatever the reason, we weren't allowed to stop.

So I drifted into the flow of traffic, which was going much faster than I'd expected. I had no choice; I was driving over the bridge, and that's when I started to panic a little bit. That's when I remembered how scared I am to drive over bridges. And not only was I driving over the bridge, tired, jet lagged, and overstimulated, but I also couldn't stop looking to the side to see if anyone was jumping. It was a white-knuckled adventure to be sure.

We got across and my mother congratulated me on driving over the Golden Gate Bridge as if I'd done something Herculean. And I accepted her congratulations as though I had. My adrenaline was pumping. I wanted to pull over and recuperate and study the bridge I'd just conquered, but I didn't. We had places to go. Instead, I made sure that my husband agreed to drive us back, because I didn't think I could do it again.

We went back to the bridge two more times on that trip. I walked halfway across it at one point, but that was enough. I saw the suicide hotline phones and turned back around. I enjoyed the views of the bridge from afar much more than I enjoyed being on it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Harold gently set the train engineer into place. It was the last piece of his project.  He sat back on his stool, bracing his hands on his knees and surveyed his work. Connersville was finished. It was his masterpiece. It had taken him six months and more than a few hundred dollars to create. When Jean was alive, he'd hidden this expense from her, stealing time from evening chores to putz around in his basement and assemble smaller, more compact train towns. But now she was gone.

He devoted hours -- days, even, to gluing tiny figurines into place. He visited trains shops and antique malls to find just the right tracks and signs and model kits to use. He made a town that he'd want to live in; one that reminded him of being a young boy. He and his friends had loved to wander near the train tracks, looking for hobos and cast-offs from the trains that went by. People nowadays didn't understand how important trains were.

Harold perused Connersville a while longer. He wished Jean were here to see it. She wouldn't understand it, might even have begrudged it, but at least she would have been there with him and might have enjoyed watching it with him for a bit.

He rose from his stool and grabbed the control pad. He flipped the switch and the train whirred to life. It traveled down the track, past the saloon and bakery. Past the bank, the post office, the school, and the town hall. It went into the tunnel through the mountain and past a lumberyard where a platform waited in case the train stopped to unload. It travelled around the myriad of tracks, with a few whistles of the horn. Harold let the railroad crossing sign pulsate its signal as the cars stopped on either side and eagerly watched the train whiz by.

Then the train looped back in front of him. It had made its full journey through Connersville and had nothing to do but loop through again. Harold shut it off and surveyed the stillness. The train had passed through and the town remained the same. He could watch its same pattern later tonight. Or tomorrow. He could sit in his basement and run the train through Connersville as many times as he wanted. There was no one to stop him. No one else even knew Connersville existed. Nope. Harold had a whole town in his basement now and no one else even knew.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Eat Local

One of the best things about traveling is all the regional foods you can try. When I was in China, I ate Chinese food. When I was in Maine, I ate lobster. In Belgium, I ate waffles, and in Germany, currywurst. But then I start to eat too much of a good thing. Too many Belgian waffles; too much rice; and too many lobster tails (though it seems like that could never actually happen, could it?) So I typically veer off and try something else. Tybee Island, Georgia was no different.

After several helpings of southern food and fried oysters, I thought I'd finally had enough. I needed something different, if only for one meal, and what could be more different than Mexican/Spanish/Cuban/Latin food? The yellow facade drew me in. Unfortunately, the food didn't bring me back. After one lunch of fish tacos, I went right back to my southern lowcountry staple: fried oysters. The Mexican food just couldn't compare to local fare.

The next time I go to Mexico, I'll fill up on tacos. But while in lowcountry, or Belgium, or Maine, or China - eat local.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Running Free Through Fields

When I was a kid, there were fields and woods and plenty of open spaces to wander. My brother and I rode bikes with our friends, making dirt paths through fields of thistle, Queen Anne's lace, and blackberry bushes. If there was a mud puddle, we stomped in it. If there was a hill, we pushed each other off of it. We spent our summers getting sunburned, digging for earthworms and catching honeybees in jars.

My children didn't have this childhood.

Theirs was spent playing video games and walking through neighborhoods. Their time outside has been limited to organized games on manicured lawns. I can count on one hand the number of times they've rolled down a grassy hill or climbed a tree. That's just not what childhood was like for them. They don't know every inch of our backyard the way my brother and I did as kids. We knew every anthill and patch of thorny grass. We were out there every day.

So last night when we took the dog on a walk along a canal backed by roaming fields, I was thrilled when my daughter branched off of the path and ran to a patch of mud to look for frogs. I was elated when we ran through an unavoidable marshy mess of mud and had splatters all the way up our legs and back. Once dirty, there was no stopping us. We tromped through the fields in much the way I did as a kid, breathing in the scent of wild carrot, thistle, and earth. I let the dog off his leash and let him run. We all ran. We needed that.

Then, finally, we headed back to the walking path. The leash went back on. Our steps were more measured, but our smiles were huge. And then my daughter said those magic words: I love being outside. So we're going again tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The View from Here and There

I'm not much of a history buff, so I mainly visited the Heidelberg Castle for the views. It was more breathtaking from the outside than from within, and offered incredible panoramic views looking down on the Neckar River Valley beneath it. I took more pictures of the valley than I did the castle. Maybe I liked it so much because it reminded me of my hometown of Cincinnati, which has a strong German heritage.

I enjoyed the view, but then was urged to go higher -- to take a tram to the top of the mountain for even more incredible views. Higher has to be better, right? How could I resist?

So I boarded the incline (which Cincinnati also once had), and rode the rails to the top.

When we got there, we looked down over the side of the mountain, but a gray mist had moved in and made everything hazy. Plus, we were so far away that I couldn't see much detail.

I enjoyed the ride, which was slow and steep, but preferred the lower views from the castle, midpoint on the mountain. It just goes to show that the best views aren't always from the top. A life lesson as well, I think.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Race for the Oreos

We went to the pig races and watched the swine race for the Oreo finish. They had names like Hammah Montana and Pigtailor Swift. I believe Hammah won. After that, we spent the day thinking up new names for female contenders:

Piggy Longstocking
Dorothy Ham-mill
Hamber Frey
Pork-tia De Rossi
Scarlett Johamsen
Barbra Swinesand
Piggy Sue
Re-bacon Romijn
Natalie Porkman
Hillary Swine-k
Ham-ily Blunt
Hamela Anderson
Swine-dy Crawford

Monday, May 21, 2012

Polar Bears

In Native American culture, polar bears symbolize many things: ability to find their way and never get lost; solitude; expert swimmer through emotional waters; ability to find food where none seems to exist; strength in the face of adversity; communication with the spirit; creature of dreamers, shamans, mystics and visionaries; defense and revenge.

Polar bears are considered fearless and intelligent. Native tribes desired them as allies and considered them the embodiment of the spirit of the North.

If I were to erect a totem pole, the polar bear would be my dominant animal spirit. I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to them, but this is the third time I've written about them on this blog, and I seem to have a million pictures of them. As I wrote before, someday I hope to see them in the wild.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Behind the Scenes - Border State

This is not a scene from the film. This picture was taken in Colonial Williamsburg. And yes, I know I'm mixing wars.

My brother writes screenplays. Usually full-length, but he's also been stretching his writing repertoire to include short films. His friend Troy shoots the films and together they've created a production company called Bluegill Films.

The attached link will take you to a short Civil War-inspired film they recently shot. Watch it, then I'll give you a little behind-the-scenes insight to it.

First of all, you might be wondering what inspired them to shoot this piece. It was akin to writing prompts that I sometimes try. Troy told Ryan that he had a friend who had some Civil War garb and weapons and Troy had a location for a shoot. Could Ryan come up with something?

Why, yes, he could. Ryan wrote a ten-page script and they recruited their cast members. They'd worked with the lead before on another project, but the boy was new. My mother made his shirt, trying carefully to keep it in line with what she'd researched about Civil War fashion. So Bluegill Films had their script, their cast, their location and their props. Troy wanted to shoot the film in one day. They were all set. Then - the boy showed up and he had braces.

I knew all this before I saw the completed film. So when I saw it, I thought they'd replaced the boy. But they didn't. This is the same kid. You can't tell he has braces, can you?

My brother wasn't there for the filming, so he didn't see all the takes and retakes that went into it. He just saw the finished product, which is not the way he typically works with Troy. Still, he was impressed. There are a few things he wishes they'd shot more than once. He would have liked the camera to linger on the boy's stance at the end, and he would have zoomed in when Nathan took the knife from his pocket. But all in all, Troy and Ryan are happy with the film.

Troy's given Ryan another writing prompt: he wants to come out from behind the camera and play a villain. Ryan's already got ideas for writing that. We'll see where he takes that single directive. It could go anywhere!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fun Functional Art

I love this bike stand in downtown Cincinnati.
Makes me wish I had a bike to tether to it.

Friday, May 18, 2012


My daughter told me this morning that her friend Elena has a boyfriend named Trevor. "But Trevor's a jerk," she said. "You know what that is?"

I nodded my head. I know what jerks are.

"A Junior Educated Rich Kid," she informed me, correctly assuming that I didn't really know what a JERK was. "I'm just a JEK," she went one, "since we're not rich."

Oh, how I savor moments like these. Not for the actual conversational content, because it usually wears me out to listen to too much of it. But I do enjoy the glimpses I get into her world and all the make-believe characters she and her friends create that change as fast as YouTube fads.

I listen to her recite the singsong chants she and her friends make up to play hand-bump games. We used to play hand-bumping games, too, when I was a kid. "Bubble gum, bubble gum, in a dish. How many bubble gums do you wish?" And other nonsense. I remember what it felt like to be that age.

I'd better, since I write for middle graders.

Listening to my daughter and her friends is a good reminder of what friendships, and crushes, and social interaction was like at that age. When they talk, I can feel it. I can remember the idealism, insecurity, and confusion that goes along with that age. Also the joys and excitement. And most of all (for me) - the fickleness. My world, my interests, my interactions with my peers, all seemed to change on a daily basis. A month from now if I ask her if she's still a JEK, she may not even know what I'm talking about. The world moves fast at that age.

I try to remember these things when I write middle school fiction. I probably won't ever use current slang in my work since it changes so quickly and would be outdated before anyone ever read what I wrote. But it's good to remember that kids make up these acronyms and slang terms and recess games on an almost daily basis. That's important to my work, much more than the actual words. Knowing this kinda makes me a SENK, don't you think? (Senior Educated Non-Kid.  I just made that up!)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Them's Fightin' Words!

Flamingoes sleep on their feet, too, don't they?

My daughter is sick. Allergies, we think. Maybe a summer cold. All we know is that she coughs all night long. Which, in turn, causes arguments between me and my husband as to who has to get up to give her water, or put Vicks on her chest, or check on her, etc., etc.. In the morning, we're both zombies because regardless of who actually got up and tended to her, we both spent the night listening to her cough.

I dragged myself into work and my co-worker said I looked tired. I told her that my daughter had coughed all night and she stopped me right there.

"You want to hear the worst fight my husband and I ever had? I mean, the absolute worst?"


"We were driving home from somewhere and had the kids in the car, but as soon as we pulled into the driveway, we made them get out and go inside so we could finish our fight in the car. It was the bloodiest, angriest argument we ever had. And you know what we were fighting about?"


"Which one of us was more tired."

Wow. So, it's universal. Not that my husband and I were fighting over who was more tired, or who got less sleep, though there have been many mornings when it seems like that's some sort of bragging right. What I hadn't realized is how common that is among couples. Especially these days, I'll bet, when we're all tasked with doing more and cramming more into every minute of the day.

We're all tired. We're probably all heavyweight champs at being tired. So really, no need to fight about it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Quiet Day

I have nothing to say today. Instead, join me in pretending that we're all enjoying the view from a cruise ship.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


These two look like they could tell some stories!

Over the weekend, we went to the Appalachian Festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. I've been before and have always enjoyed it, in part because of my Appalachian heritage, but also because I studied Appalachian literature in college.

One of the festival events was Storytelling. Different storytellers came each hour and sat on the stage and told stories. It seems like a simple concept, right? In some ways, it is, which is why storytelling is such a predominant form of entertainment in rural Appalachian areas. But as a writer, I listened to the storyteller with a different ear, trying to discern what worked and what didn't as our storyteller took the stage.

As it turned out, our storyteller was not that good. We were bored after his second story, and some audience members left before he finished. I still took this as a learning opportunity and thought about what went wrong with his tales. His speaking style was nice, and he used plenty of inflection in his tales. It was the stories themselves that lost our attention.

The first story was okay. He told a tale of make-believe creatures that were rumored to be hidden underground in Ohio and Kentucky. That was a good selling point: he made it relevant to his audience. He also used a lot of sound effects, which gave us some imagery to imagine. And he used plenty of repetition, which is a crucial element to folk tales and tales for children. So the story was okay, but didn't actually make much sense. We were disappointed by the end because we couldn't decide what the moral of the story, or the meaning of these make-believe creatures were.

The second story was a "Jack" story and followed the structure of folk tales such as The Little Red Hen. Plenty of repetition. It wasn't that interesting, but it worked.

It was the third story that lost the audience. Unfortunately, the story didn't make any sense at all. The storyteller included lots of detail, which you might think would make it more interesting, but actually made it more distracting. Don't include specific details like a James Taylor concert, and describe the smell of the bathroom if those details don't lend anything to the story. We kept waiting for them to be relevant and they never were. They had no place in the story at all.

Instead, the story took on elements of a dream; and like the re-telling of many dreams, it didn't make sense. This tale was clearly lacking in structure. Any writer of short stories knows that every word in the story needs to be crucial to the story. This particular storyteller didn't keep that in mind. We went off on tangents that had nothing to do with anything, and he lost his audience.

The last story he told (and I think he made it his last because he'd lost most of his audience) was a typical legendary myth-- the kind of ghost story that children like to tell around campfires. These usually involve the number three. Three rounds of things happen before the climax. The structure of this kind of tale is almost a formula, and the storyteller stuck to the formula. His big mistake on this tale was setting it up as being scary. It wasn't, even though he promised that as a storyteller, he knew how to scare us if he wanted to scare us. He set up a premise and then fell flat. I find it akin to saying, "This is going to be the greatest story you've ever heard."  No matter what you say after that, it won't be.

So, I wasn't all that entertained as I listened to the Appalachian storyteller (who also told us right off the bat that he wasn't Appalachian), but I did find his stories useful. It was a lesson in what not to do, and sometimes that's just as important as getting things right.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Ways to Occupy Children at Restaurants

At some restaurants, children are given coloring books and crayons. Or word jumbles and mazes on their paper placemats. One pizza restaurant we went to gave children balls of dough to play with. Other places have play rooms and arcades to keep children entertained. But at the Crab Shack in Tybee Island, Georgia, they've taken a completely different approach. They've decided that the best way to keep children from getting antsy while they wait first for a table, then for their food, is to let them feed the alligators.

Guess what? This has been the best method yet.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Locks of Love vs. Pantene Beautiful Lengths

Yesterday I wrote about love-locks. Today I'll write about Locks of Love vs. Pantene Beautiful Lengths since both of my children have donated their hair to these organizations in the past.

A side-by-side comparison does not quite give the whole picture. Locks of Love seems to have updated their mission statement and criteria after a backlash of criticism a few years ago. Many accounts reported that they were selling most of the hair donated; not using it for wigs. They were also criticized for selling their wigs to children with cancer.

Here's what I know. When my son donated his hair right before he went into the military, he had to go to a salon where the stylist cut his ponytail and sent it in to Locks of Love. That was the end of that.

When my daughter donated her hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, we brought her ponytail home with us and mailed it in ourselves. She got a very nice acknowledgement letter and we knew that the ponytail had gotten to the right place. Locks of Love seems to have adopted this same approach now.

Donating hair is a worthy cause, regardless of what organization receives it, but I preferred my daughter's experience.

Pantene Beautiful Lengths
Beautiful Lengths is a partnership between Pantene and the American Cancer Society. The role of Pantene is to help women grow long, strong, beautiful hair and provide the funds to turn this hair into free, real-hair wigs for women with cancer. So far, Pantene has donated 18, 000 free real-hair wigs to the American Cancer Society’s wig banks which distribute wigs to cancer patients across the country.
·         Ponytails and braids must be at least 8 inches, tip to tip, with no maximum length.
·         Gray hair is acceptable, if no more than 5% of the donation is gray.

Locks of Love
Uses donated hair to make hairpieces for economically disadvantaged children who have lost their hair due to medical illness.
·         Must be sent in the form of a ponytail or braid, at least 10 inches, tip to tip.
·         Hair that has been colored or permed is acceptable.
·         Shorter hair and gray hair are separated from hair donations and are sold to another company.

Alternatively, for those who don't have long hair:

Matter of Trust ( encourages salons, groomers, wool farmers and individuals to donate hair, fur, wool, clippings and nylons for their “Hair for Oil Spills” program. “We all get it,” their website states. “We shampoo because hair collects oil.” Shown here are Metamorphosis’ Catherine Nesbitt with the box of hair and Cara Apsey in the background.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Je t'aime

Je t'aime. I love you.
Let me show you how much...

Somehow, a padlock now comes into play.

Lovers from around the world lock up their love on bridges in European cities such as Paris. They come to add their testimonies of love, engraving their initials on the padlocks that they then fasten to the railing.  Then, with what I can only assume would be dramatic flair, they toss the keys into the Seine and kiss, declaring their undying love.

Some say the only way to break the seal of this love-lock is to find the key and unlock the padlock. Which is nearly impossible, since the keys lie at the bottom of the river.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bunk Bed Cribs

Everyone's looking for that million dollar idea, aren't they? My husband has had a few, but I can't reveal them here because we don't want anyone to steal his ideas. There was one that might have made a million dollars, but also made me cringe.  He had the idea of bunk bed cribs, or stackable cribs. I didn't like it. My immediate reaction was, "I picture cages, like at an animal shelter." I think he had a more playful image in mind. Fun bunk beds for little ones. I mean, what kid doesn't love bunk beds?

Then, I started reading Elizabeth Kim's memoir Ten Thousand Sorrows about being orphaned in Korea after her mother was killed in an honor killing shortly after the Korean War. I came to this paragraph:

... The orphanage was run by Christian missionaries, so it was there I was given my first taste of Western religion. The children were kept in slatted cribs, one on top of another, four to a stack. The cribs looked much like animal cages at a shelter -- four deep and lining three walls of that large, stark room. In all, there were probably twenty of them. They had latches on the outside that let the outer square of slats drop down, but they couldn't be opened from the inside...

Yikes. Not only had someone beat him to the idea half a century ago, but they also used it like the cages I envisioned. I sincerely hope this didn't net a million for the inventor after all.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Search & Rescue

My son took part in a Search & Rescue hunt yesterday for a missing 10-year-old boy. He was found today after wandering away from his school on Tuesday. Apparently, he was hiding in the woods from rescuers. My son described it this way:

Searching for someone in unfamiliar woods where they are familiar is very unnerving in a sense. I kept seeing tree clusters that looked like little forts, but who knows if they were or not. Maybe he was there watching us... It was just a very strange experience. He was running/hiding from us, so he had a massive upperhand.

I always thought I'd like to take part in something like this, though now that he's shared his experience, I see that it may be nothing like what I imagine. I think we forget -- sometimes the missing don't want to be found.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Soccer is a Contact Sport

Before my children started playing soccer, I always thought of it as a safe, easy sport. I mean, all you do is run around and kick a ball, right? Maybe the first year, when they're five-years-old and don't even really know they're supposed to do that. But as the seasons go by, the sport gets more and more physical. That's when I have to remember that it's actually a contact sport.

When my son played, he came home with the usual bumps and bruises to his shins. Even shin guards can't guarantee that you'll come home unharmed. Still, I attributed the roughness to the fact that these were boys in the #1 team in the region. But I can't apply that excuse to my daughter's league. The bottom line is, soccer is rough.

I watch the girls run and push and fight for the ball. They get hit in the face, the stomach, the arms. They attack the ball just like the boys. Their shins are just as bruised. Then, last night, I watched my daughter get tripped and sail through the air. She landed hard, spraining her wrist and hurting her ribs. She's nursing her injuries today.

I was never meant to be the mother of children who play rough sports. I wish I'd realized how dangerous soccer really is. I wonder if it's too late to interest them in --- badminton?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


A sure sign that you've been eating out too much.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Words of Wisdom from Elie Wiesel

Sorry the picture is so grainy. It's hard to take a close-up in an arena!

Not surprisingly, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel delivered messages of hope for the future to a packed arena last night. Students from more than 90 local schools attended, and submitted questions for Wiesel to answer at the end of his program. The one that resonated the most with me was this: How did you find the courage to relive the horror of the Holocaust while you were writing your memoirs?
Wiesel’s answer:
I could not be silent. A silent witness is not a witness.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Holocaust

A building in Darmstadt, Germany. During the rise of Nazi Germany,
Darmstadt was the first city in which Jews were forced to close their shops. 
Some years later, 3,000 of these Jews were taken to concentration camps. 

There are moments in our lives that affect us profoundly. Some of them happen in childhood, some in later life, and some moments carry through our lives in ways that we can't always articulate. Visiting Dachau concentration camp while I was a high school exchange student was one of them.

I don't have the pictures I took that day. I only had a few anyway, because the reality of it did not match the horror of it in my mind. The place seemed sterile; cleared out barracks and wooden bunks that could have been a campground for all its vaguery. I looked around and it didn't make sense: how could this have been the site of so much hatred and suffering? How could I touch the wooden beams in the building and not feel anything from them?

I'd been captivated by stories of the Holocaust before I went to Germany and ever since. I wrote essays in high school about concentration camps and my visit to Dachau. I won books for my school with one essay and a college scholarship with another. I took courses on the Holocaust later in college and visited museums and monuments and have never stopped thinking about it.

And now, tonight, comes a sort of pinnacle of all this obsession. Tonight, I will hear Elie Wiesel speak. My nerves feel like a divining rod quivering with anticipation. I feel like I've waited my whole life to hear him.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Margarita Time!

Mexican marketplace

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Endangered Meadows

My macro shot of Queen Anne's lace.

As I was walking the dog this morning, we passed a meadow. I was filled with a sense of peace in the near-silence of nature. Chipsy sniffed the grass as I listened to the birds and spied a butterfly flitting through the brush. And then, the peacefulness came to a screeching halt as my mind raced to this meadow's imminent horrible conclusion. I doubt it will exist a year from now. Even as I enjoyed the walk past it, I was on a paved path with a new subdivision of houses behind me. The meadow doesn't stand a chance.

As we continued down the path, I recalled an interview I did for the newspaper five years ago. I was assigned advertorials for a special issue and interviewed local businesses, writing 750-word stories behind their businesses and the people who owned and worked there. I enjoyed almost all of these assignments, with one strong exception: an interview I did with a local developer.

The man was nice enough. In fact, I almost admired his passion and enthusiasm for his job. But I strongly objected to what he was doing and the vision he had for our community. He pulled out blueprints and land surveys and animatedly took me through them, showing me the proposed plans for a new strip mall, a Walgreens, and a gas station on the corners of what was then a country road. He talked about the revenue this would bring in taxes, and the need for widening roads it would entail. Those developments would fund other road repair and improvements that our township needed. He truly felt he was doing a good thing for our community. He thought he was helping.

But all I could envision was another parking lot where there was currently a meadow. All I could see was another neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses stacked like dominoes down a street with no trees. All I could think of was all the brand new strip malls and office buildings sitting empty. Why not let new businesses occupy those and leave the undeveloped land as country?

It was the hardest interview I'd ever done. I wanted to argue. I wanted to stamp my feet. One thing I did not want to do was promote his work in a positive manner. But I had to. I was there to do a job, just like he was. So I did my job, just not as enthusiastically as he did his, and was not surprised when I saw bulldozers at that intersection months later.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Afternoons in the Sewing Room With My Mother

Like many young girls, I took great delight in watching my mother do things. I remember sitting on the toilet seat, watching her apply her make-up and curl her hair. I scrutinized details she was probably completely unaware of: the fingers she’d use to hold her hot rollers in place; the number of brush strokes she’d use to apply rouge on her cheeks; the way she’d steady her lips, curling them ever-so-slightly over her teeth as she applied her lipstick. I mimicked these motions silently as I sat and studied her.
I treated her grooming habits, her cooking skills, and the way she twirled the phone cord when she talked with her friends as though they were spectator sports.  But I’m not sure any were as magically soothing to me as the hours I’d spend watching her sew.
Suffice it to say, all of my clothes were homemade when I was growing up. I loved it. I had prairie skirts and long dresses. Knit pants and matching vests. Dresses with little umbrella trim around the collars and hem; tailored blouses with cat face buttons. All of them in fabulous fabrics that my mother had chosen specially for me.
We spent plenty of time at the fabric stores, looking through patterns and choosing prints and colors. I was amazed every time the staff worker cut off a 3-yard rectangle of material and then later watched my mother turn that nondescript polygon into something stylish to wear.
Just as I did when I watched her apply make-up, I sat and watched her hold pins between her straight-lipped smile and deftly secure the crinkly tissue-paper patterns pieces into place. I listened to the rasp of the scissors slicing through fabric and noticed her long, sure cuts – a skill I would later try to develop.
After she removed the jigsaw-shaped pieces of material, she let me have the oddly-shaped scraps of material that had fallen to the floor. To me, these were little pieces of possibility and I wondered what I might make from them. Doll clothes? A quilt? A new fashion design of my own?
As I fingered the cloth and imagined the possibilities, I listened to her sew. I heard the whip of the spool of thread as she winded it through the myriad of nooks and hooks on the Singer machine. I heard her drop the heavy presser foot into place and close the bobbin plate. Then she’d wind the dial just enough that the thread and needle were started. Then, always barefoot, she pressed down on the plastic pedal beneath the cabinet and the machine whirred to a slogging start. The electric sound of effort started each project, followed by a slow crescendo of chugging needle and thread as the machine accelerated, sending the presser foot on a ski trip down a precarious path. Could she race along the fabric and keep a straight line along the seams? Or would the bobbing foot veer off course? I didn’t have to watch her  to know when this happened. I’d hear a quiet curse under her breath and an aggravated flip of the switch in the back of the machine to release the presser foot. She’d tug the fabric away from the needle and the thread whined as it stretched. With a quick snip, she’d released the project and quietly undo the tangle of threads before setting the process into motion again.
These sounds, these sewing projects, are forever woven into my favorite childhood memories. I’m not sure my mother knows how much I loved these quiet afternoons in the sewing room, when I could sit and listen and dream. I’m not sure she knew what a gift it was just to watch her.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Double Rainbows

We had lots of storms in southwestern Ohio last night. They went on for hours. But in between bouts of thunder, lightning, and rain, I looked out my front door and saw a double rainbow. I didn't sry like the guy in the well-known YouTube video (, but I did grab my camera and take pictures.

I can almost understand why he cried. We could see the full arch of the rainbows, but couldn't capture the complete rainbow on film. It was spectacular.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Swim Lessons

This is so embarrassing, Corky thought to himself. All my friends already know how to swim. They get to go out in the ocean and everything, while I have to learn how to swim with the tadpoles. It isn't fair!

"Come on, Corky!" Coach Bach bellowed. "Kick those legs! Harder! Faster! You need to get to the end of the pool if you want to get out of the water today."

Corky rocked back and forth as he paddled his feet. He felt himself sinking and struggled to keep his head above water.

"Just dog paddle," one of the baby frogs whispered to him right before he shot forward and surpassed Corky in the water. Corky kicked a little harder in the frog's wake, but then sputtered to a stop and let his shell submerge again.

I'm not a dog. Or a frog. Or a shark, or dolphin or fish. I'm a turtle and I don't want to swim anymore, he thought defiantly. The coach swam up beside him.

"I'm going to tell you one more time, Corky. Kick those legs or you're going to be soup."