Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Improper Poll: Way Past Prime Numbers

My daughter is a renowned expert on expiration dates. So when she isn’t here, I am defenseless against those little stamped numbers which are often hard for me to read even if I can distinguish them from mysterious product codes. Does 022012 mean February 20th of 2012 or just February in general? Usually I only remember to check during canned food drives, because I wouldn’t want to give someone else expired food.

Here is a confession: The other day I knowingly drank expired coffee. It was a powdered instant mix, and really, how much could powder degrade? Still, I was worried enough that I warned my daughter ahead of time in case that special, relaxing “me” time from the commercial became non-relaxing rush-me-to-the-hospital-time and she needed to know what to tell the paramedics. It smelled and tasted fine, though. And I lived. Oh, and the expiration date was a year ago.

I was going to have a contest to see who could locate the Most Expired Food Item in their pantry, but I was afraid no one would want to participate.

Or that I would lose.

You’ll be pleased to know I’m not going to tell you what’s in the back of my refrigerator. In fact, I am not even going to look! Instead, I’ll ask this: do you have expired food, or am I the only one?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Blurb Friday #48

Not only is it Book Blurb Friday, but gracious Southern hostess and Belle-of-the-Blurb herself, Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff, has chosen my picture to use as this week’s cover! It’s an extreme close-up of ‘Miami Rose’ plumeria that bloomed for the first time this fall and has been brightening up my sunroom ever since, so it’s been fun to play with possible plots for it. The weekly BBF challenge is to “write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.” My blurb this week has 150 words.
~It Also Means Goodbye~

They couldn’t have been more different. But Connecticut accountant Charlotte Wilder and Hawaii nursery owner Mimi Rose Ebert began their internet friendship with a similar passion for plumerias.

Perhaps because they felt safe at such a distance, the unlikely friends began to share more than plumeria cuttings with each other. Mimi knew how much Charlotte hated her job…and Charlotte knew that Mimi was planning to leave her controlling husband.

When Mimi unexpectedly killed herself, Charlotte was shocked to find her friend had willed her a gift: a one-way ticket to Maui. Mimi’s grieving husband insisted it was Mimi’s last wish to have Charlotte come to the funeral and choose a plumeria to plant near her grave.

But when Charlotte arrived and met Mimi’s handsome brother Scott, she learned she wasn’t alone in thinking that Mimi’s death was suspicious.

Now that she was in paradise, was her life in danger, too?

Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends. ~Euripides

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sub Notes: Science of Scary Hair*

Tarzan, or Newton's Untamed Descendant?
*Or:  Why English Majors Should Never Be Allowed to Teach Science

Today's Improper Poll evolved. Perhaps it's because I’ve been teaching science lately, so nothing has been normal for me.  But teaching science also means I am occasionally bombarded with pictures of various scientists from the past. I've developed a theory that science does weird things to your hair. 


Because have you ever noticed that scientists from a few centuries ago appear to have discovered interesting ways to sprout hair? Sir Isaac Newton, whom I suspect was a model for the cartoon Tarzan, has always reminded me of 80s hair bands or else 60s go-go dancers. His head is proof of Newton’s little-known discovery that a large mass of hair can actually defy gravity and therefore expand within the universe (m=1,000,000xhair²).


Copernicus, on the other hand, whose buoyant bob appears to have fallen in bouncy body-liciousness, spent many hours working on the hypothesis that the universe, in fact, revolves around his hair (otherwise known as the Hairiocentric Theory).

On the opposite pole is Charles Darwin, who was actually cute in the years before survival of the hairiest evolved him into Santa Clause’s scarier brother.

Darwin Before
Darwin After

And don’t get me started on Einstein. Discover a middle ground, people!

When red-haired people are above a certain social grade their hair is auburn.
~Mark Twain

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Improper Poll: I have a dream

This morning I awoke with an extra weekend day. It is glorious, this beloved freebie plunked down right in the middle of January just when I need it most. It’s like a snow day, only planned, so that I can do things like make dentist appointments and not have to worry that I’ll get there at the end of the day when the dentist might be so sick of looking at nasty mouths that she’s grown hardened and insensitive to my worn enamel and tooth sensitivity.

I will accomplish so much! I will organize my photographs left over from March…of 2010! I will make helpful financial charts using Excel. I will learn how to use Excel! I will paint, glue and decoupage my old encyclopedias into attractive furniture items! I will clean out my underwear drawers and throw out the really comfortable underwear I’ve dubbed the “crotchless (but not in a good way) panties.”

I will read entire novels while lounging in the sunroom with a fat-free iced cappuccino. I will clean out my entire basement. I will see if my treadmill still works and then go out and buy a whole collection of Zumba dvds, and then come home and work till I lose maybe a pound or two. I will diagnose and fix the phantom flushing problem in my toilet rather than blaming it on ghosts. I will select, iron, color code and arrange clothing for the upcoming work week.

I will write a short story for a contest, revise and then submit those essays I’ve been meaning to get to and start my novel. And I’ll do this right after I finish putting down the mulch I’ve been meaning to finish since last fall. But first I’ll go to the hardware store and buy it. And replace the wheelbarrow tire while I’m at it. Maybe pick up a few paint chips because I’m thinking about repainting the hall. And then I’ll cook a whole gourmet dinner where not one single item came from a box, and only a few came from bags.

What I will NOT do is hang out in pjs all day reading blogs. No sir!

What is your dream?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Blurb Friday #46

It’s finally Book Blurb Friday again! This is due to Thursday’s snow day. Well, really it’s due to BBF’s talented and illustrious hostess, Lisa Ricard Claro of Writing in the Buff, but the snow day was welcome and beautiful for those of us who could stay home and get caught up without having to drive. There were times when it snowed with the sun shining so that the flakes looked just like glitter. One of many times I wish I were better with a camera. Anyhoo! The weekly BBF challenge is to “write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.” My blurb this week is 149 words.

~The Summer of Twilah Moon~

Summer at Lake Obochobi came alive for Kari and Brian the year that Twilah Moon moved into the next cabin. Not content to sit for long, Twilah explored everything. The reason, she confessed, was a secret alien microchip implanted in her brain that was designed to transport information about Earth back to her home planet, Nevaeh. Someday soon, her native people would be calling her home.

Kari and Brian weren’t sure how much they really believed, but life beside Twilah came alive with diversions they’d never known, from the things that happened in other galaxies to the Nevaehan scanners that had been placed under the pier. And there was no denying that Twilah was sent away for days at a time and came back looking awful. Was she really getting microchip placement scans that left her drained from the Cytoxian radiation, or did she have a more frightening secret?

Problems are the soul’s invitation to transform. ~Lynne Forrest

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

They Also Wield Blog Awards

Thank you to Lynn of Present Letters for the lovely and coveted Versatile Blogger Award!! Lynn’s epistolary writing, addressed to the mother she lost when she was young, is moving and inspiring in so many ways. Lynn is also a fellow W.W.W.P. (Wild Women Wielding Pens), described in more detail below.

I’m supposed to tell you seven things about myself that are not included in my blog. So here goes (and if I’ve mentioned any before, sorry):

1.  My mother used to put our Great Pyrenees puppy in the playpen with me, so I literally grew up with dogs. In fact, if I speak a language, it would have to be a very small amount of Doggish. But only if my teacher is very patient with me.

2.  Am not originally from Missouri. We moved around a lot due to my former husband’s job, and this was the place we lived the longest. A few years ago I chose to move back to the St. Louis area. It’s not just the “Gateway to the West.” To me it possesses a sampling of nearly every part of the United States, and I love that. St. Louis has so much variety, there is something for everyone—culture, history, sports, children’s activities, outdoor activities, scenery, weather (ha!—maybe a little too much weather variety, but I’ve definitely lived in much worse) etc. And it’s affordable. Love it.

3. When I was a kid, I used to play Cowboys and Indians with a little boy on the next block named Stevie. Stevie and I got along well because he wanted to grow up to be a cowboy and I wanted to grow up to be an Indian.

4. I spent every possible moment of my childhood without shoes and have always felt fortunate that my mother let me.

5.  Also when I was a little kid, I thought clowns were a race. People still used the phrase “colored people” then, and let’s face it, clowns are colored.

6.  I have Hannibal Lecter’s sense of smell (without his sense of taste—ha!) and collect fragrant plants. Below is a picture of one of the delightfully fragrant viburnums that’s been blooming out of season since December because our weather’s been so warm.  This one is burkwoodii 'Mohawk.'
 And below is plumeria ‘Miami Rose’ that’s been blooming in my sun room all winter, followed by the orchid that a dear friend sent me for my birthday over two months ago. Not only is it stunningly beautiful, it’s still blooming!

7.  I once attended something called Laughter Therapy. The idea is that laughter causes wonderful things to happen in the body and the brain, so you laugh without reason if necessary. It was supposed to provide the body with the equivalent of several hours of exercise and leave you feeling refreshed. The small critique group I joined last year is like laughter therapy, but way better because the laugher (and the people) are genuine. Although our senses of humor range from the naughty to the nice—sometimes all in the same person—those brilliant, witty, talented, spiritual, raunchy, silly, wise, genuinely fun women provide the reason for the laughter in addition to first-rate writing advice. And sometimes, they even provide chocolate…which is another thing we all have in common. So thank you again to Lynn, a fellow W.W.W.P.

I believe I am supposed to pass this award to four awesomely versatile bloggers. The problem is that not only are all of you awesomely versatile, but some people don’t like awards. So I've chosen two who've given me awards in the past and are also awesome and versatile, too.  I'm hoping two others will consider it passed to them as well.

I love Trying to Get Over the Rainbow  because Jules leaves me feeling uplifted and refreshed by her amazingly unique—not to mention hysterically funny—perspective.

Donna’s Book Pub always has advice, opportunities, contests, interviews and other wonderful tidbits for writers. I'm always glad I stopped in.


Friends are those rare people who ask how we are and then wait to hear the answer. ~Ed Cunningham

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Improper Poll: Switching Channels

I’m not a big television watcher, but over the holidays I watched a bit more than usual while wrapping Christmas presents. And I am surprised at what’s out there.

There’s “Ghost Adventures,” an oxymoronic show if I ever saw one, because, really, how adventurous can dead people be? But the show must be incredibly popular since it seems to be on all the time every evening. In this case, grown men appear to walk around shouting insults at dark buildings. Don’t get me wrong—I grew up in a haunted house, which makes it hard not to believe in ghosts, but these particular ghosts just never seem very lively. I watch, though, because I keep hoping at least one of them will show up for their television debut.

Then I discovered that there is such a thing as “Barbie Channel.”  Channel.  'Nuff said there.  

Weirdest of all was something called “Nighttime Programs for Baby.” Apparently television sets are now a staple of baby’s layette, and we must start training little crib potatoes as soon as they are just this side of the womb. I actually watched Nighttime Programs for Baby until the music made me feel colicky. It wasn’t too strong on plot, but it appeared to be made up of trippy little vignettes that were sort of artistically appealing in some cases. On the whole, though, I thought it insulted babies’ intelligence.

Of course, even that plot might just be better than the show called “Best Bra Ever,” but I can’t bring myself to watch that one, even as valuable blog research.

Last but not least of entertaining show names involved the Naughty Channels. I don’t subscribe to those, but apparently my satellite provider thinks it will tempt me by showing me the names. And I have to admit, some of them make me laugh myself silly. Problem is, I found very few I'd feel comfortable posting on my blog. Fortunately my personal favorite was the publishable “Naughty Golf Champ.” I imagine this one was specifically made for those men who wish to combine their passions, so to speak, much like the Seinfeld episode where George tries to combine sex and deli meats.

Have you discovered any weird TV programs lately?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sub Notes: Noticed In Passing

The other day, Tom mentioned different aisle-blocking behaviors. He mentioned that women are the only ones who walk in a line, thus blocking those behind them from getting around.

I’ve been thinking, and that is not always a good thing. Because…I'm about to make poor Tom sorry for asking perfectly nice rhetorical questions.  Part of my job in high schools is preventing hallway blockages during passing periods. And those minutes add up. So I’ve begun to think of myself as somewhat of an anthropologist of adolescence. And what are schools but teenaged microcosms?

True, several males never travel in a straight line the way females do. I think it’s a dominance thing. A straight line is cooperative in nature.

Girls form cooperative packs. It’s what we do. Some girls do use those groups to dominate others. Movies like “Mean Girls” are legendary for portraying the negative aspect of girl groups. But I’m convinced that the tendency to form cooperative groups is hugely beneficial to women. It allows them an opportunity for mutual nurturing, protecting, and empowering of the members—and their children. No question those female groups encourage, in lots of different ways, successful child rearing. And anyone who doesn’t realize how vulnerable women can be on their own has never been sexually assaulted, groped, or harassed.

Girls and women will engage in cooperative behaviors that you’d never see boys and men do, like fix each other’s hair or whisper or apply each other’s makeup. They’ll also stand up for each other. Fiercely. And men know this.

Boys are just as legendary for tryng to establish dominance over other boys. When they stand together in a large group, their behavior is almost always competitive. They’ll give each other playful shoves. Or if a small group is sitting in the classroom in a casual mode, I’ve noticed one boy will often try to sit on the desk to raise himself higher than the others. (I never let them. Not only do I not want them breaking the desks, but I want to keep them in a psychologically cooperative group with myself as the one in charge.)

Mixed-gender groups have a whole different dynamic. Sometimes several boys will walk side by side if girls are in the group. I think it’s that they have to submit in a sense in order to join. If a girl tries to sit higher than a group of boys, sometimes I do let her for brief periods of time. I’m not trying to be unfair. I think there’s a weird little paradox going on that says she is accepting the boys by diffusing any threat. I don’t remember ever seeing a boy try to sit higher than a group of girls when no other boys are present. Groups of women are, as Tom mentioned, intimidating. And they are supposed to be. Groups wouldn’t give women a sense of safety if they weren’t.

Once I subbed in PE and a male teacher asked me to monitor the girls’ locker room “to make sure they don’t kill each other in there.” I laughed to myself. If a girl is mad enough at another girl to attack her, she won’t do anything as nice and simple as attack her. She’ll make her life absolutely miserable by attempting to ruin her social status and kicking her out of the group.

Anyway, Tom asked if those aisle-blocking women are trying to get attention or what. I think they’re just doing what comes naturally and are so focused on their little group that they just don’t think about the larger group out there. But what of those women who habitually block aisles on their own using just their grocery cart? I hate that! Or did, till I thought about it and realized I’ve caught myself doing the same thing—when I was so heavily focused on a small group that I was shutting out the rest of the world. That small group wasn’t even there, either. It’s called “family.”  Go figure.

“When you really know somebody you can’t hate them. Or maybe it’s just that you can’t really know them until you stop hating them.” ~Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game

“We are no longer the knights who say ni! We are now the knights who say ekki-ekki-ekki-pitang-zoom-boing!” ~Monty Python

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Improper Poll: New Year’s Resolutions!

People keep asking me if I’ve made my list of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps it‘s a hint, but here‘s the thing. I’ve spent most of my life working on my worst faults. If whatever's left over isn’t fixed by now, it’s not likely to get there in one puny old year.

Besides, if this old dog is going to learn any new tricks, the reward had better be pretty big and juicy.

So I prefer either to think of resolutions for OTHER people…or else pick one easy thing for myself to do. I am happy to report that a few years ago, thanks to help from my daughter, I accomplished my resolution to overcome a Fear of Oatmeal. Want to know the secret? Here it is. First clear your mind of all thoughts relating to snot and boogers and paste and curdled throw-up. All clear, then? All righty! The secret is that you must pretend it’s a seriously undercooked oatmeal cookie.

Hoo boy, that was a lot of work! Frankly, I’m still working on it and have been too pooped to think of a new one till now. But here’s the new one I just thought of. I am going to scale back on my exclamation point use in personal correspondence.

Surprising, right?! I know!

I’m generally okay in public writing, but I am a closet over-exclaimer. And guess what one of my pet peeves is? You got it. I am a hypocritical, closet over-exclaimer. If I were editor of my own emails, they wound be bleed red ink.

Years ago, there was a book series that every high school girl carried. I won’t say the name of the series, but I once tried to read the first book and it was torture. The unnecessary exclamation points alone set my teeth on edge. It read like this:

I went down the stairs! I went into the kitchen! I sat down!

And that was it. Notice I am not exclaiming here, but I want to. Because what any idjut knows is that you just kept waiting for a creature to jump out and eat the narrator or anything at all that warranted those stinkin’ exclamation points, but there was nothing. Why we were supposed to be excited over the walking down the stairs and the sitting is still the biggest mystery of the book to me. I don’t think I ever finished it, either. Eventually all I could do was count those vile exclamation points.

So my fear is that people do that with my personal correspondence. Yet I once knew a woman—another writer and enthusiastic exclaimer—who used to hint that I must be depressed if I wasn’t exclaiming like a school girl. And I guess that’s what it comes down to. Like or not, in real life I have an exclaiming personality.

And after all, isn’t that part of what makes me who I am? Other than the anal retentive need to spell and punctuate text messages correctly? So on second thought, maybe a better resolution would be to ask my writing friends to forgive my over-exclaiming and be done with it.

By the way, happy New Year!!! Do you have a resolution for yourself or others?