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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Too Austen-tatious?

What can I say about my little blog background fixation? I like variety.

But I also thought this was a good background, and as if it weren’t appropriate enough, it was called “Lost in Jane Austen.”

It just so happened that I was on a Jane Austen quest today, even. Within the last year or two, the BBC (I think?) reproduced all of her novels on film to be shown on “Masterpiece,” and I didn’t get to see them all. So I wanted to buy one or two using some Christmas money.

Went to Barnes & Noble. Couldn’t find what I was looking for, so had to ask the cute young guy behind the counter. I fully expected him to give me that tolerant look that most young men his age reserve for, well, women of my age. Who are looking for Jane Austen tapes.

Instead, he was so knowledgeable about the Jane Austen movies that I learned quite a bit. And got a great tape, on sale, even.

Where were these wonderful, knowledgeable young men when I was young?

“[Mr. Elliot] is a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who thinks only of himself; who, for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character. He has no feeling for others. Those whom he has been the chief cause of leading into ruin, he can neglect and desert without the smallest compunction. He is totally beyond the reach of any sentiment of justice or compassion. Oh! he is black of heart, hollow and black!” ~Jane Austen, Persuasion

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlepeeps

The above picture has nothing to do with this post. It’s just a Christmas card that I got from my talented writer friend Becky. Be sure to click on it to see it bigger. Isn’t it adorable??!!

Anyway. Every year, during the panic of before-Christmas shopping, I struggle with rude people. I’m seeing more of them when it comes to certain types of behaviors. A friend of mine mentioned that she’s noticed it, too, and she thinks it’s because of the way reality shows emphasize competition. They glamorize greed. Unfortunately, I agree.

I've had a few too many people play “chicken” with grocery carts this year. I am weary and hostile…which means I’ve allowed other people's rudeness to negatively influence me.

Fortunately, every Christmas season I also have at least one stranger teach me a good lesson. This year’s came from a woman in Target. There was nothing especially outstanding about her; she was just a person who seemed to have what I would call an aura of decency.

I kept encountering her in different aisles, and she was always polite. She said, “excuse me,” didn’t hog aisles, and took turns. She had a lovely smile that left me feeling warmed and cheered.
At one point two little boys went by her, and the youngest dumped over a display. When the older boy (who was only about five) cleaned up the mess, I overheard her offer to help. Then she complimented the little boy on his sense of responsibility. I left the store feeling good as a direct result of this brief encounter with a total stranger.

Later on, I thought back about this. Because she was pleasant, did I think she was weak? Not at all. She came across as elegant, secure, and socially and emotionally polished.

And as for the rude ones…do they come across as strong or superior? On the contrary, pushy, greedy people come across as desperate, shallow, and ignorant to me.

So this year I’ve been trying to remember the Target Lady. I keep reminding myself that I take charge by allowing my own good cheer possibly to influence others rather than allowing others’ negativity to get to me. It's helping. I notice that the more I smile and enjoy myself, the more pleasant other people are...and the more the rude ones just seem to disappear. Thanks, Target Lady.

Hope you got as much of a laugh as I did at the above card. And have a merry day and a wonderful holiday.

From president John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1961:
“…civility is not a sign of weakness….”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doug Does Haul with Boundless Hollerin', fa la la la la, la la la la

Magpie’s (mmm—Magpie’s!) is on the other side of Old Town, and three of us—Linda, Becky, and I—were hungry for a late lunch/early dinner after the book signing.

“You mean you’re going to ask that little man to haul our fat asses down the street ?!!” That was roughly what Linda gasped when Becky flagged down the reluctant-looking man pedaling a little Christmas-decorated carriage pulled by…a bicycle.

My fat ass actually wounded poor Linda. We were literally crushed in.

We asked the little man hauling our asses what his name was. Doug. I held my breath and sucked in when Doug stared pedaling, as if that would somehow reduce my gravity. He strained. I helped by mentally willing the whole contraption to go. Slowly, slowly we inched forward, gaining momentum as Doug furiously pumped his legs.

Bless his merry macho muscles, Doug made it. We cheered so loudly that a gracious passer-by offered to take our picture to commemorate the momentous occasion.

I noticed Doug was not waiting for us when we were done eating.

“Get your bun off my paper.” ~High school kid speaking to a girl who was leaning back so that her rolled-up hair was on his desk

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bah Humbled

My head ached, and traffic was unbelievable. Already late for the book signing, when someone stole my parking spot I did more than bah and humbug. I am ashamed to say that I let out such a blood-curdling scream that a passer-by heard me through my closed windows and looked frightened. When I finally did park blocks and blocks away, I dove out of my car and started running. My boots were never made for these ancient, red brick streets. But as I ran, the miracle began to set in: this was Main Street Saint Charles (Missouri) over Christmas.

The festivities have grown over the years, and it is spectacular. Here was a real-life version of those nostalgic little Christmas towns that people try to capture in ornaments.

As I sprinted down the damp streets, an old-time, velvet-cloaked Kris Kringle waved a gloved hand at me and smiled a genuine smile. Smoke billowed the scent of roasting chestnuts from the street corners. People hugged their mugs in icy hands, breathed in the chocolate-scented steam, or cradled homemade cookies in their mittens. Bundled, pink-cheeked children clung to their parents’ hands and tried to keep up, jiggledy-frolicky bounce, pom-poms dancing.

When I finally got to Main Street Books, Vicki was there to greet everyone in a scene right out of a Christmas calendar. Upstairs sat six smiling friends: Linda O’Connell, Becky Povich, Theresa Sanders, Sherri Stanczak, Pat Wahler, and Patsy Zettler. Below are (far left to right) Pat, Becky and Linda.

The parade started shortly after I got there, and we had a great view from upstairs. We met many new people, saw some beloved old friends, and as always, laughed.

Stay tuned for Part II—Doug Hauls Asses.

Minister at a service we attended on Christmas Eve, 2006: “Love wins.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Chicken Soup for the Soul...Canned Soup for the Body

Seven of us St. Charles/St. Louis authors will be signing books this Saturday, Dec. 12 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm. at Main Street Books in Old Town St. Charles.

If you bring in a canned good to donate to a local food pantry, you will receive 10% off your entire purchase.

Hmm...books...friends...soup...Old Town...? I can't think of too many places I'd rather be over the Christmas season! Hope to see you there!

We know what we are…but not what we may be. ~William Shakespeare

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

Today I realized how thankful I am for the written word.

Earlier in the week, when going over lesson plans for teaching descriptive writing, I was thinking about how miraculous the written word is. I can think of no other more direct way of connecting with another human being’s inner thoughts than through these little symbols of meaning.

Those of you who know me best know that my life has been drained by the emotional parasitism of at least one Malignant Narcissist. Their specialty is maintaining a superficially human exterior while, like the real-life vampires they are, feeding off all that is worthwhile in the human beings to whom they attach themselves. I would have starved if it weren’t for the bounty I’ve received in the connections provided by the written word. Amazing to me how words alone can feed the spirit.

All people who write graciously provide me with a rich cornucopia of experiences and ideas and memories. Their writing allows me to sit and sup, however briefly, in the nourishment of kindred souls.

By visiting here, you sit down at my little table and share something life-giving for me. And when I read your words, I am renewed.

Thank you. May your day and your life be richly blessed.

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music - the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself. ~ Henry Miller

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bizarro World Easter

My daughter was looking through the pictures on my camera and asked, “Uh, Mom? What are these weird red Easter eggs?”

I am so UN-handy in the kitchen that when I thought up my very own kitchen hint, it was so unusual that I had to capture the moment. Then again, maybe someone has already thought of it, and I am so kitchenally-challenged that I didn’t know? Nevertheless, here it is:

I have a lot of recipes that call for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste. I used to open a can and wonder what to do with the rest. THEN I discovered (don’t I sound like a commercial??!!) that most Easter egg holders measure exactly one tablespoon. Spray on cooking spray, smoosh it in, cover and freeze, then pop out and wrap in individual little tablespoons to store in the freezer. My last bag lasted almost a year.

Take that, Martha Stewart.

“People got to do something useful if they’re going to take up space in the world.” ~Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Salute

Fortunately for me, my father did not die on a battlefield in the South Pacific when he served as a Marine in World War II. Unfortunately for me, I got a call on my 34th birthday that started, “Happy birthday, but…I’m sorry….”

For the rest of my life, my birth date would become carved into my heart as the same date that was carved into my father’s headstone.

Right around Veteran’s Day that year, as my black pumps sank into the soft lawn of the cemetery, several members of my father’s veteran’s group lined up to help honor the friend who had succumbed on another dreaded battlefield called cancer.

The guns swung into place. At the salute, they fired.

But these were not the highly polished, dead-on shots of rigorously drilled soldiers who fire as one. These were shakier, rustier shots that wavered just enough to make it clear in that split-second: it was individuals who were firing that day.

These men were not sleek young men who hadn’t yet lived. The guns had fired from arms that had lived over seventy years each, arms grown weary from age and toil and worry. These arms knew what it was to cradle the newly dead…and the newly born. These arms had fought for their country and for their lives, and so far, had won both.

Some men were bald, some were round. Some had arms that were driftwood thin. But all stood as tall as their tired backs would let them.

These men were not soldiers. They were so much more. They were soldiers, workers, sons, and brothers. They were friends, husbands, fathers, men. Real men who know that life itself is a series of battles that we win by struggling for and protecting what it is we hold dear.

Thank you all for fighting for what matters. Thank you, Daddy, for having been a father who matters…to many. To me.

I salute you. All of you. Happy Veteran’s Day.

The heart is unconquerable….~Dave Pelzer, A Child Called It

Sunday, November 8, 2009

"They" Were Wrong

When I was young, I used to be slightly haunted by a line in the John Cougar Mellencamp song that goes, “Oh yeah, they say life goes on/long after the thrill of living is gone.” I worried it might be true that the thrill of living leaves us as we age. How hard it would be to live life without that thrill, I thought.

And then during my divorce and the events that led up to it, I realized there was no thrill. Just relentless responsibilities, attacks, hassles, worries. And on top of it all, I worried about the loss of that thrill. Was it gone forever?

Today, on this November day, I look around. The ginger (above) is wafting the most lovely gardenia/papaya scent throughout the house. The passionflowers are still draping the French doors. Outside in the sunlight, a Bouncing Bet flower is still in bloom, and so is a rose. Sweet alyssum is everywhere. The dog is making me laugh, rolling in the grass and leaves, snorting, celebrating the luxuries of sun and earth and air. My daughter finally got over her flu and is playing classical music on the piano, the notes drifting out into the yard and into my soul. I recently heard from another loved one and couldn’t help but grin at the smile in his voice. Got the nicest letter—yes, letter!—from a friend I haven’t heard from in ages. Got a birthday card from another friend I haven’t heard from in even longer. Spent yesterday sipping wine and laughing with some great people at a winery, overlooking the hills of Augusta. When I look back over something sweet that happened at work last week, I can't help but smile. All of it gives me a thrill—all of it.

If someone had told me years ago that I would love this part of my life so much—divorced, and in the autumn of my years—would I have believed them? And yet not only is the thrill of living not gone, but I get it at the slightest, silliest things.

Oh, yeah, life goes on…and the thrill of living gets even more strong.

Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy. ~Anne Frank

Friday, November 6, 2009

If Mohammed Can't Go to the Tropics

If you’ve ever seen a naked plumeria cutting, you would know why my little girl first dubbed this plant “The E.T. finger.” There is a vaguely alien quality to the bald little stick.

Rooting it wasn’t easy, either, since I got E.T. at the worst time of year for a plumeria that has the misfortune to live in the Midwest. I had to baby him throughout the winter on a heating pad, under lights, to get him to root. But root he did, and has been growing for at least six years now into quite a handsome little tree. Although plumerias only branch when they bloom, mine branched right away thanks to the inflorescence (flower thingy) that the cutting came with (but that dropped during the rooting process). Every year, I hoped that this would be the year it finally bloomed.

At first I thought it was a semi-bad thing that E.T. chose fall to bloom, since I would normally let him go dormant for winter storage this time of year. But I’ve been enjoying the blooms so much that it’s clear this was quite a blessing. I’m pretty sure it is Celadine, which I’ve read has a unique feature to the leaf edge. The scent is faint and less fruity than the plumeria products I’ve purchased in the past, but it’s still beachy and exotic—slightly coconutty and citrussy, like suntan lotion.

So maybe I can’t go to the tropics, but I’m feeling pretty pleased with having the tropics right here in Missouri. In November.

I never saw an ugly thing in my life: for let the form of an object be what it may—light, shade, and perspective will always make it beautiful. ~John Constable

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One Great Smelling Fishbone

This is epiphyllum anguliger, or Fishbone Cactus, that bloomed last week. The flowers were the size of a cup and saucer with a scent that was mild, but heavenly...sort of jasmine/fruity/citrus. Delicious. This flower (to me) smells more like some plumeria products I've bought than actual plumeria does.

Every day I discover how little I know; it's just that I also discover that other people don't know as much as I thought. ~Gloria Steinem

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Things for Losers

Back in spite of absolutely no demand! 10 Things for (older) Losers to Do on Their Birthdays:

1. Experiment with serving other birthday pastries, such as bagels. Decorate with cream cheese and lox. Place Magnolia-scented votive candles in the center.

2. Put your various old age medications in little boxes and wrap them all up in festive wrapping paper. When it’s time to take them, rip off the wrapping and exclaim, “Whee!”

3. Stand in front of a mirror and practice hoisting up all of your saggy parts (omg, I really do this).

4. Pull your hair back into a really tight ponytail and pretend you’ve had a face lift.

5. Instead of sticking candles into a cake, try less sugary food items, such as Sugar Free Jello, pork chops, or leftover lasagna.

6. Walk past construction workers and yell, “Woo Baby, shake them cakes!” to get them back for when you were young.

7. Get the nakedest poster of Brendan Fraser you can find. Play “Pin the Loin Cloth on George of the Jungle.” Miss a lot.

8. Dab Ben Gay behind your earlobes as perfume. Also, say things like, "Dude-I scored some Actonel from my doctor." This will make you sound very cool and street-wise.

9. Chug a can of beer and see if you can belch out the Beatles’ “Birthday” song.

10. Go into your bathroom and sing to the mirror, “Happy birthday to me/I live in a tree/I might be damned old/but I can’t get P.G.!”

“I am not superstitious…but I am a little stitious.” ~Michael Scott, “The Office”

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fall is Budding Out All Over

One of the things I love about my tropical fragrant plants is that they occasionally bloom their little buds off long past the time when our northerly seasons are done. That’s been especially welcome this year because it’s been raining…and raining…and raining.

The above is plumeria (I believe it’s ‘Celadine’ but hopefully will find out soon).

Right is hedychium coronarium 'Dr. Moy' (also known as butterfly ginger).

Left is epiphyllum anguliger (also known as Fishbone cactus).

When I lived down South, I was shocked to find out how much I missed the different seasons. I admit…I am season-greedy. Best of all to me is getting several different seasons at once. Ah, variety.

Mistakes are opportunities in disguise. They offer you the opportunity to look at a situation from a different perspective. Many inventions and discoveries have been the result of a mistake. Columbus discovered America while searching for the West Indies; he simply got lost! ~Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Raining...Dog Stuff

Recently my writing friend Becky said, “Pretty cool...and fascinating ...to have ‘met’ people all over because of our writing, huh?!”

How true! I am mentally trying to prepare for a time when our 13½ year old dog is no longer with us, so the stories I wrote for Chicken Soup for the Soul What I Learned from the Dog had to do with grieving. Now, suddenly, I’ve been hearing from people who can relate.

One specialist in pet grief from Nova Scotia, Canada recently asked to use one of my stories on her website. I appreciated that and am flattered by the distinction.

Then yesterday I was interviewed by one of the writers/editors of several Chicken Soup pet books, Jennifer Quasha, for an article on grief for “Dog Fancy” magazine. I asked her ahead of time to edit out any stupid things I may say, but fortunately, I think it went pretty well. Jennifer was an easy person to talk to, and it’s always nice to get to talk to other animal lovers.

We got to talking about my last dog, Griswold, who was a doggy genius…which brings me to the above picture. One day when I was out, my neighbor looked up and saw our dog taking a stroll on the roof. Fortunately for us, she was able to get inside the house to coax him in and get the screen latched. But when she looked up again, the dog was back. What none of us knew was that he’d figured out how to unhook the screen. “I’m sorry,” she laughed, “but by the second time around, I decided I had to get my camera before I went back in to rescue the dog.”

The second time she shut the window. Whew.

We aim above the mark to hit the mark.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, October 23, 2009

Random Thought #1

Here is today’s random thought. There are so many coincidences in life. Sometimes I wonder—what if life really is just a dream, a figment of our imaginations? But then I realize the undeniable: I am neither genius nor masochist enough to have dreamed this up.

If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain. ~ Morpheus, “The Matrix”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where the Word "Dogged" Comes From

My dog is dogging my footsteps. Again. In his case, arthritis has its benefits.

That’s because I give this 13 ½ year old lab & golden retriever/terrier mix a variety of arthritis treatments. He actually gets around pretty well and doesn’t have any of the dreaded hip problems, but it’s clear his joints just aren’t as cooperative as they used to be.

First there’s the liquid glucosamine, which I originally bought for myself on sale. One swig, and I couldn’t help but imagine a frustrated chemist in the glucosamine lab, attempting to come up with a way to make this foul fish-liquid into something palatable. First he tries grape soda. Then orange cough syrup. Then chicken broth, Liquid Pledge, a few urinal cakes and some liquid cherry Tylenol. It is a vile and violent war of flavorings, and the even the dog was so unenthusiastic in lapping it up at first that the children and I had time to take bets on whether he’d give up altogether. I guess he eventually decided that anything under the heading of People Food is worthwhile, because now he’s convinced himself that it’s a yummy alternative to the constant diet of senior formula dog food.

After that I give him an omega 3 wrapped in cheese, and it gets sucked down so quickly that I have to stop and count my fingers afterwards.

Then he gets a dog biscuit to help clean his teeth.

I originally spread these things out to make his night more worthwhile, but it’s made my nights miserable with the continuous begging. And don’t tell me dogs can’t count. That dog knows exactly how many things he gets and at what time. So night after night, he stalks me with wide, pleading eyes. And when we are finished for the night, he stalks me some more.

I used to think it was that he was getting forgetful…and then I realized there are nights when I honestly can’t remember which I’ve given him, so I give him some more, just in case.

That dog is smarter than he looks. I’m no longer sure the problem is his senility. Could very well be that he's just exploiting mine.

The dog has got more fun out of man than man has got out of the dog, for man is the more laughable of the two animals. ~James Thurber

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Room Just for Sun

It's been cold and rainy the past couple of days, and I'm wet and chilled from bringing plants in for the winter.

This is one of my very favorite places in all the world—my sunroom. This picture was taken back in July, and right now it leaves me with a sense of longing. I love the way it faces east, so I can watch the sun come up on weekend mornings, and south, so I can sit in the reach of a long ray on weekday evenings.

The direction of the windows means that the room glows most of the day, casting the doorway in its own golden, beckoning aura.

And when I do walk into the light, there are pools of aureate air where I can drench myself, feeling my pores opening in the baptismal beams as if in worship.

To me, it is a poem of light, this room...a prayer.

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don't know what was in the newspapers that morning...a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. ~Joseph Campbell

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Speaking of Soup

As I said in another posting, the tomatoes were very late this year. The good news, for me, was that the final ripening coincides with…soup time. Any chill in the air makes me think of soup, but this year I can’t help but think of tomato.

My grandmother used to make a tomato/potato one she called “Butter Soup.” I used to think it was a weird name for something that had no visible evidence of butter, but you don’t argue with an 80+ year old woman who is also a wonderful cook.

Before she passed away (at 102 years), I tried to get some of her recipes. She just frowned and said, “Oh, Honey, I don’t use recipes; I just make those ‘by thought.’”

That thought-method of cooking, though, made trying to pin her down almost painful. For example, I’d ask her how much of an ingredient to use.

“Oh,” she’d say, cupping her ancient hands to measure the imaginary ingredient, “You know, ‘some.’” And I would watch her hands carefully to guess about how much “some” was. So it went.

Sadly, my grandmother’s true Butter Soup recipe went with her. This is the best I could do. It’s always been a simple recipe, but I think it manages to be delicate, warm, and comforting—all things which happen to describe my grandmother as well as her soup. “Merlee” was the name my older sister gave her as a toddler, and it stuck. It was the only name I ever knew her by.

I figure I might as well throw in a recipe. Guess you could say my blog is a soup of sorts.

Merlee’s Butter Soup (makes—you know—some)

2-3 garden tomatoes, peeled and diced
3 T butter (I used a light one)
2 ribs celery, diced
½ med. onion, diced
14 oz. chicken broth
1 largish Yukon Gold potato or 2 red potatoes, peeled and diced
11.5 oz. can tomato juice
white pepper
Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt or other spices of choice

Fill a medium saucepan with water and boil; drop tomatoes in and remove as soon as split appears. Rinse till cool, remove skin, and dice.

Dump out water and use saucepan to melt butter. Sauté onion and celery until onion is transparent. Add chicken broth and diced potatoes. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer till potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Add tomato juice and bring to boil. Add diced tomatoes and heat through. Season to taste.

“We can do no great things—only small things with great love.” ~Mother Teresa

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Soup with Soul

Yesterday I got a message to call Amy Newmark, editor of Chicken Soup for the Soul What I Learned from the Dog. It seems they have a television proposal for early morning TV news shows and wanted to use a shortened version of my story, “Best Dog in the World,” for one of the pilots. It’s only in the proposal stage, so it may never come to fruition; still, it was flattering and exciting.

I liked Amy very much. She, too, it seems, champions humane societies. She mentioned projects in which the new dog book is being used in conjunction with various fundraisers to aid in the placement of stray and rescue dogs.

She was genuinely proud of the book, and not just as a product. It was clear that she is fully aware of Chicken Soup’s significance as a positive force in society, and that touched me deeply. This was not just a person who cares about selling books; this was a person who cares about making the world a better place.

I like to think it’s that core premise—that conscious awareness of the greater good—that makes Chicken Soup for the Soul series such a success. I do know every one of the contributors I’ve met is a font of talent, truth and wisdom in her own right. It never ceases to amaze me how uplifting it can feel to be a small cog in a big wheel…as long as that big wheel moves the force of good in the world.

But words are things, and a small drop of ink, / Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces / That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think. ~George Gordon Byron

Friday, September 25, 2009

Demented Decades

It was bad enough when my daughter informed me it was “Decade Day” at school, and she had picked the 80s because the clothes were so funny. The eighties? Far too recent to warrant a “Day.” It was a little like hearing my era’s music on an oldies channel for the first time.

But being such a great sport, I quickly warmed to the idea. For instance, when she asked me what she should wear, I told her: Think big except for the jeans. Big, permed hair. Big, stick-out bangs. Big, padded shoulders.

“No, really,” she said. “I get to wear leg warmers, right?”

Turns out her view of the eighties was derived completely from the movie, “Flashdance.” She wanted to wear workout clothes. I explained to her that people didn’t wander around that entire era in workout attire. She was horrified.

Feeling proud of myself, I led her to the basement where I still happen to have authentic 80s clothes…well, really nineties, but they still had an eighties feel.

Horrified, she wanted to know why I still have those.

Honestly, I don’t know. Some of it was formal wear that I couldn’t stand to give away when I’d only worn it once. Some was so darned cute that I was sure it would come back in style. And some was just so tiny, I guess I needed to remember that I was once able to fit into it.

But the thing is, she didn’t want authentic. Too dorky. She wanted pretend 80s. Shoulder pads and giant bangs? Forget it. The only thing she wanted to be giant was her earrings. She wanted an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a side ponytail in a scrunchie. Never mind the fact that regular people wore those things…never. To me, there was no small amount of irony in the fact that she skipped off to school looking like a mismatched Trailer Trash Barbie because real 80s attire was just too clownish.

Later that evening, she told me that “everyone” was dressed pretty much exactly the way she was, other than the ones who had chosen the 70s. And then she said one kid came wrapped in one of those Snuggle Blankets. You know what I mean—those blankets with arms? Anyway, this kid, God love him, said he was from this decade.

Ha. I told my daughter I am going to purchase a Snuggle Blanket just to save for her children. When it’s “2009 Day” at their schools, I will have just the outfit for them.

Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of. ~Peter Ustinov

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Place to Rest His Feet

Last weekend was Parents’ Weekend at my son’s college. I forgot to take my camera. So I started to ask him to take pictures with his cell phone…but then thought better of it. This is what he sent last time I forgot my camera and asked for a picture of his dorm room. Please—don’t go to any trouble or anything, ‘kay?

At least he is not a photography major.

"Oh yeah? Well my son is god to millions of Asians." ~Peggy Hill, “King of the Hill,” after reading a "My Child is an Honor Student" bumper sticker when Bobby is being considered as the next Dalai Lama

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Guess You Serve Them at a Pity Party

The older and wiser I get, the more I love my job. The other day, while subbing in a seventh grade class, a little girl came in and uttered one of my all-time favorite quotes. So I’m giving it its own post.

Here it is, spoken by a 7th grade girl (while walking in the door and swinging her giant pink purse):

“I feel sorry for muffins, don’t you? When you think about it, muffins are, like, really ugly cupcakes. They’re like cupcake rejects, all naked and bald like that.”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chakras Again

I haven’t mentioned chakras lately because I’ve been on the solar plexus one. It seems that, instead of requiring yoga positions for proper chakral tuning, this one necessitates some actual abdominal exercises. So I ran some off from an exercise website, and that was plenty exhausting, let me tell you. Am thinking this one could take a while.

Is it working, though? Well, I had several great weeks at work, got offered a good—if temporary—job, have had fun weekends, and got asked out by someone who didn’t mention steaming his brain fungus or start a conversation discussing his close encounter with aliens. And I suddenly can’t quit writing. Hmm....

Everything You Do Or Don’t Do Is An Expression Of Your Walk With God. ~Robb Thompson

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An Art Fair to Remember

Went to the Saint Louis art fair today. I took a picture of this cute little café area almost as an afterthought, but later loved the way the fair booths were reflected in the window.

Great event, great weather, great day. Have lived in a few cities across the nation, but St. Louis is my adopted home because it’s the one that has the most variety. As my son said, it has everything but an ocean. I can live with that.

Don't compare your life to others'. You have no Idea what their journey is all about. ~Anonymous

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

All Partied Out

This part cracks me up. The day after, it just looks so pooped.

Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath. ~George Carlin

Monday, September 7, 2009

That Ain't No Lady

Here she is in all her glory—Queen of the Night Orchid or Night Blooming Cereus (though it’s really a jungle cactus). Some people actually have Night Blooming Cereus parties. Okay, admittedly not the most exciting-sounding party theme in the world; sounds a little like watching grass grow to me, but who knows.

What I do know is that Epiphyllum oxypetalum blooms are the size of a dessert plate and showy with a capital SHOW that borders on garish. The hoochy-coochy dancers of the flower world, they don’t whisper to potential pollinators, but shout at them with all manner of trumpets and fanfare and blowsy petticoats and beckoning ticklers and effusive nighttime perfume.

Surround yourself with what you love, whether it's family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge. ~George Carlin

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Growing Cereus-ness

I love this stage where the monstrous, pinkish, be-tentacled buds elongate and reach up as if ready to strike an unsuspecting victim. To me, these have a "Little Shop of Horrors" feel that makes me not want to turn my back on them....
Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!Feed me, Seymour Feed me all night long~"Little Shop of Horrors"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What Do You Call a Group of Frogs?

Answer (according to Jeeves’ former employer): An army.

This is half of our pond army. And it does seem like an army when they’re all out at attention, eyeing me with amphibian apprehension. At ease, guys.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”~Mark Twain

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Miracle or Curse?

While packing for school, my son asked (without a hint of a joke) if he should use the Never Ending Bags. That was when I knew that the Never Ending Bags have truly established themselves as a legendary fixture in our lives.

The Never Ending Bags were a Costco purchase. There are many Costco products which are so generously packaged that they bring to my mind the opening of The Flintstones cartoon, where Wilma struggles to fry gigantic pterodactyl eggs and serve ribs the size of a washing machine. The Never Ending Bags are like that. I rued the fact that I didn’t personally own a forklift when I hauled them home back in 2003, but figured it was worth the struggle (and their own closet shelf) never to have to worry about having the correct wastebasket liner for the rest of my life.

Only it turned out they were not the correct wastebasket liners. They are way too big for a standard wastebasket and just a bit too small for a tall kitchen one—but the box was so gi-normous that I decided it would be better to make do rather than rent a dolly to haul them back to the store. What I didn’t realize was that it would take so very long to get rid of them. They’ve swallowed up our wastebaskets in a pool of plastic for so many years now that I don’t think my children have any idea what our wastebaskets really look like under there.

And it looks like we have many more years to go. Just as some religions have legends of endless manna or fuel oil, our home has the legend of the endless, odd-sized plastic bags. I figure at this rate, my great grandchildren will never see their wastebaskets, either.

We discussed giving them away as Halloween gifts one year, but we knew we would become the pariahs of the neighborhood, ranking somewhere in between the family who gives pennies and one who gives religious tracts. We would probably get teepeed for it.

Heyyyy…! If you know of any kids who are looking for a more durable alternative to toilet paper for their teepeeing needs, you know who to call.

This is the song that never ends/Yes it goes on and on my friend
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was/
Now they’ll continue singing it forever just because/
This is the song that never ends/Yes it goes on and on my friend…. ~ Song from Lamb Chops Play-Along

Saturday, August 29, 2009

You Can't Be Cereus

The gardening season has entered its finale, where plants get in that last, desperate bloom.

I'm going to chronicle my Night Blooming Cereus bud. Even if you don't happen to be into gardening, I can't see how anyone could resist the allure of these fleshy alien space pods that dangle from a leaf. Though it's my understanding that "leaf," in this case, is really a misnomer; experts claim that the long, succulent leaves are actually modified stems.

“You are in exactly the time and place prepared for you. Believe in your own worth to the universe. Do not doubt. Do not be afraid. Do not act meanly. Take what comes--both the hard and easy—and learn from it. Advance ever. In the journey, you become yourself. . . Begin.”~ from "Secret of Spirit Lake" by Dan Skelton

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Dillos Are Coming

It was on my way back from the college, which is due south of St. Louis, when I saw them. A deluge of dead ‘dillos.

I was shocked because I always thought these were only a Southern creature. When we lived in Savannah, Georgia, someone from Louisiana asked me if I had ever seen an armadillo. I told her yes, thousands. And I had even seen a live one once.

I met the live one in my backyard. It seemed quite friendly from what I could tell, armadillo faces being not so expressive. It reared up on its back legs briefly, seemingly to get a better look at me. I guess it could have been a gesture intended to be a threat of some sort, but that strikes me as contradictory in a creature whose underside is so obviously its most vulnerable part. It had the effect of making it look like a bald and hideous little dog that was begging.

It interacted with me just enough to convince me that it had to be a mammal. I went and looked armadillos up. They are, turns out. Really weird looking mammals.

But other than that one in my backyard, the begging one, all the rest of the armadillos in the United States appear to be lying dead on the roadsides. Here is my theory. I think scientists must have hybridized the little mutants by breeding possums with PVC pipes, the intent being to launch them at cars as some sort of nighttime speed deterrents. Only it doesn’t work at all, clearly. In fact, it seems there must be a secret sport wherein the contenders drive around at night with the express purpose of seeing how many they can get.

And this does fit with what I’ve seen of Southern men. So what surprised me was seeing ‘dillos this far north. I saw the last one not 50 miles south of St. Louis.

Gentlemen, start your engines.

"Nature is a whore." ~Nirvana

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Trip to College

Today is a beautiful day, and it smells like the beginning of a college year. The sky is almost heartbreakingly blue, and the breeze has just enough coolness in it to hint of football games, jerseys, and those big, hefty books. My oldest is a sophomore, and today is the day I drive him two and a half hours away to his second year of school.

I leave home as a responsible, secure, grown-up mother. But the farther from home we drive, the more we transform, my son and I. We both know, after all, that this is his road we’re following. By the time we're there, I feel as lost as a child. “Where is the exit?” I have to ask. “Where do I turn?”

And he tells me, guiding us expertly though this place that is his home for the second year now. When we get to the dorm, he holds my door. “Is this too much?” he asks, handing me a modest pile of bedding to haul up to his dorm room. I feel so small and helpless next to this big big boy who knows so much.

The first trek up four flights of stairs feels good after the long drive. The second is a workout. After that, my son has to stop occasionally to wait for me. He is gentle, gentlemanly, solicitous. He checks to make sure I am okay. “You can do it,” he encourages. And I do.

When we get there, I ask him where he wants me to put his things. Last year his roommate’s mother arranged things the way she wanted them. I can’t do that. This is his room, his world. I am only a brief visitor here.

When it’s all hauled up, my son walks me down to my car. He writes out careful instructions telling me how to get home. “Do you think you have it?” he asks.

I am about to go back out into that world alone. I nod, putting on a brave face, and we hug each other hard. “Thank you.” We both say it at the same time. And then we smile, and we each turn to go home.

“My children teach me everyday that I’m less in control than I thought I was.” ~Nina Miller

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Those Magical Orange Orbs

My next (sachral) chakra is supposedly associated with sweetness, the little book tells me. It is important to savor food in order to unblock the orange chakra. This reminded me of my tomatoes.

It’s been a bad year for tomatoes here. I don’t know if it’s the cool spells we’ve had this season or what, but I just haven’t had any. Now that it’s almost fall, I finally have enough cherries that I could make a sling out of my t-shirt and pile them in.

There is something almost spiritual about eating tomatoes right off the vine while they’re still warm from the sun. They are sweeter, but it’s something else. It’s as if they hold a little magic. Star magic.

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn. ~Thoreau

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I Can See You Shining in the Sun

I had inadvertently parked next to it at the grocery store: an older model, white Cadillac with a blue top.

For a moment I stood there and just reminisced. It looked conspicuous in the Wal-Mart parking lot, stretching absurdly long like a small yacht in a sea of rowboats. It even glinted in the sunlight, looking far cleaner and more perfect than the much newer cars around it. The hubcaps bore the Cadillac insignia, which has always reminded me of the crest on a country club blazer.

I knew this car. My soul knew this car. La voiture d’une grande dame. It was exactly the car my mother would have owned if she were still alive.

My mother died when I was thirty, but for at least as long as I was alive, her signature car was a blue and white Cadillac. The most memorable one was her ’54 Coupe Deville convertible that she kept over twenty years. It was white with a blue top, although she always claimed it was really an extremely light gray. And she would’ve known, since she always had a little jar of paint with which to do touch ups. She would go out to the garage and dab carefully with her sable artist’s brush at any imperfections. It was no joke to say that Mother was outside working on her car again. She was reputed to have been quite an artist at one time, but sadly, the only thing I ever saw her paint was her car.

When I think of that car, I can’t help but picture my mother’s brown arm rested carelessly on the window in summer, a Salem menthol balanced chop-stick-style in between pink, frosted nails. She rarely put the top down, but…oh...when she did, it was an ecstasy of wind and sunlight that swirled my hair into a face-whipping frenzy.

I remember those slick leather seats and the way we children used to catapult forward when she stopped too fast—because of course we were never buckled in. In fact, I remember often standing as she drove. If she even had seat belts, they were probably tucked neatly away so as not to detract from the light blue leather.

It may have been from a different era, but it was undeniably a more glamorous one. My mother kept her car shiny and spotless and elegant. Although the Mean Kid in grade school once referred to it as “that big old tin can,” he came across as merely jealous. Far more often, strangers at stoplights would look over and ask if it was for sale.

My smile lingered long after I went inside the grocery store. Later on, rounding the paper goods aisle, I heard her. “Oh, my goodness!” she laughed, wrestling with the direction of her cart, as if maneuvering a cart were an adventurous and slightly exotic thing, exactly as my mother would have done. She managed to right it just before I could get there to help her. She was slim, neatly dressed, and well-preserved enough that it was hard to say if she was in her seventies or eighties. Not too different from anyone else, yet she was somehow conspicuous in a Wal-Mart aisle. There was no question in my mind who she was.

I didn’t ask her, though, imagining that it might scare her momentarily; she might think that someone had scratched it. So I just kept going, but I knew. I smiled, but the lump in my throat knew.

A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back.’ I thought I knew what love was/What did I know? Those days are gone forever/I should just let them go ~Don Henley, “Boys of Summer”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Searching for My Root

I’ve attempted to begin the chakra opening process by starting with the root one. I’m having several problems with this.

One is that my instructions aren’t explicit enough. I’m a Westerner. I need to be told how to meditate and for how long. How long does it take? How do I know if my mission has been accomplished?

One thing they did tell me was to wear my little necklace over the body part that’s being repaired. But the root chakra is located in a place where I wouldn’t even know how to wear a necklace. And plus….eww. And...ow. So I’m wearing it around my neck and hoping it doesn’t jumble up my chakras.

The other problem is one of the yoga positions I’m supposed to do. The illustration shows the model bent at the waist so far that she’s actually folded in half like a wallet. Her stomach is squished against her thighs, and she has sort of locked herself in place by reaching behind and grasping the backs of her legs.


“Many men spend their lives fishing and never realize it isn’t fish they’re after.” ~H.D. Thoreau

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Merry Belated Chakra Unblocking

Blogs are supposed to have pictures, so I am trying one. It is a picture of my chakra stones, which are sitting in the sun in order to “neutralize the stones’ energy palette.” I hope it isn’t possible to over-neutralize, because although they were supposed to sunbathe for a couple of hours, they’ve been there...um...since Christmas.

But first, here’s why they are there in the first place.

I've been on a self-improvement kick, and I had someone tell me that perhaps my chakras need to be unblocked. This was an older man, and he offered to unblock them for me. When I asked him about my chakras, he produced a picture of them. Only this picture looked like a smiley-faced Homer Simpson drawn by a little kid. Homer had a bunch of dots on him.

I didn't ask how the chakras were unblocked, but I couldn't help but notice there were naughty bits chakras.

Ordinarily I would think no one would want to unblock my naughty bits chakras, as those particular chakras are simply not what they used to be, and they never were that wonderful. But this guy was older than I am, and who knows, maybe he isn’t particular.

So I politely declined, but the whole thing made me laugh so hard that I felt wonderful. So I started to think chakras must have a great purpose, after all.

Fast-forward a few months to Christmas day. I was taking my garbage out when I looked in my mailbox out of habit. And there, in the mailbox, was a little present from a friend.

The weird thing is that I remember bringing in my mail on Christmas Eve. So all I can figure is that it originally went to a neighbor’s house, and they re-delivered it. Or my friend suggested that my mailman might have brought it out of niceness. She says hers does things like that. Mine’s nice and all, but that’s practically a saint in my book.

Anyway. It turned out that her gift was a tiny kit so that I can unblock my own chakras. It has these pretty stones, and she knows I love polished stones. The stones are mounted like a little necklace even though they are really supposed to be placed on the body part where the blocked chakra resides.

I'm still not entirely sure how that works, so that’s why the stones are overbaking. I mean over cleansing. But I've decided I am officially going to begin the unblocking process. Will let you know how it goes.

Tell me all your thoughts on God/'Cause I would really like to meet her/And ask her why we're who we are. ~ ”Counting Blue Cars” by Dishwalla

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

I've been having the most fun lately messing with my blog. Which reminds me of something that happened to me last year. I fell in love with a guy through his blog. Yes.

It was fate, I could tell, because I kept hitting the same guy’s blog for different reasons. I love gardening, and he has this gorgeous garden. Then I hit the same blog looking for quotes. He had these pithy, philosophical things to say.

There was a picture of him on one page, and not only was he about my age…could it get any more amazing? He was good looking.

He also had cats, judging from one of his pictures. Although I don’t currently have cats, any cat-hating men are automatically relegated to the “NO WAY” pile. But then….

I looked at the cats more closely. There was something about the photo. Was it that the cats were entwined a little too sensually? No, that wasn’t it. And then I realized: it was the sheets of the bed on which they were lying.

Gorgeous sheets. High thread count. Tone on tone. Clean. The embodiment of elegant masculinity. They were even drawn back artistically.

Gay guy sheets.

I later found a picture of his partner, also quite handsome.


Not that I’m going to be picking up guys from their blogs, but still.

Another one bites the dust. ~Queen

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Gone to the Dogs" is a Very Good Thing

The coolest thing happened to me not too long ago. I was reading this wonderful book called While the Daffodils Danced by Cathi La Marche, and I forced myself to take a break and check email. And there was an email from the very author of the book I was reading.

Cathi is a local author with whom I had today’s book signing. Besides having a story about her three-legged dog, Dexter, in A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II, she also has a book out. So I bought the book ahead of time to read it before I met her. And I must say, I enjoyed both the author and her work.

So had a great time at the book signing. Was also happy to have been visited by long-time writer and new friend, Teri (who brought me the cutest stuffed dog holding a rose), as well as long-time friend and new writer, Rebecca J. Am also grateful to Becky, who couldn’t be there due to her trip…so instead, she gave her help, support, good wishes, dog stickers, “Autographed Copy” author stickers, and adorable dog house pencil holder.

The nice thing about getting to be friends with local authors is that you get to know them from the inside out. It’s a unique perspective, a cherished one.

I am lucky indeed.

the role model for being alive.”
~Gilda Radner

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Just got my hair cut the other day, and she managed to make it do cool things.

Of course it slowly undid itself as I was driving home despite the many products designed to subdue it. The hair eventually won. The hair always wins.

Except once. I lived in Savannah, Georgia for two years, and I once had a hair stylist there make my hair bouffant. I didn’t think my hair could ever do bouffant—I have hair that doesn’t want to do anything completely other than hang in strings. It doesn’t want to have a good wave, doesn’t want to hang straight…and definitely doesn’t want to be bouffant. That giant, bouffy hair was an amazing phenomenon to behold.

I had a hard time driving home because I wanted to look at The Hair in my rearview mirror—which wasn’t hard to do since it took up the entire thing. It was so big, I seem to remember that it hit the roof of my car. When I got The Hair home, I had to examine it carefully to see how she had done it.

All I can tell you is this: It’s still a mystery. It defied gravity. She hadn’t teased it at all. Powerful styling products were involved, but they always are. As I’ve said, my hair laughs at powerful styling products. After much examination, I finally decided it’s another Southern woman mystery. If you’ve ever known Southern women, real ones, I mean—I’m talking the kind who not only know what grits are, but how to pronounce the word with two syllables (“gree-its”)—you know that all Southern women seem complacently aware that they have charms that the rest of the country—or world, for that matter—doesn’t possess.

Now my hair, which was cut and styled by a non-Southerner, is hanging in its customary strings again.


When reporters started to ask at about 50 if I would have a facelift…the truth is I'm afraid I'd become like the guy with a bad toupee; when you're talking to him, you can't think of anything else. ~Gloria Steinem

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Little Fish Story

My wonderful writer friend Becky has tagged me for a game. Here are the rules:

1) Go to your photo files. Select the 6th folder or album.
2) Select the 6th photo in that folder/album.
3) Post that photo along with the story behind it.
4) Then challenge some blog friends to do the same!

I have a little 4' x 2' pond out back that I just love. It's a surprising amount of work for such a little thing, but the waterlilies and fish have become a summertime joy for me. Because my pond is too shallow to house the fish over winter without freezing, their winter home is my friend Fran's giant pond, aka The Fransion or the Sea of Franquility. (No kidding, this thing is huge.) I added some new fish this year, so I have seven total, all fantails. They are Leopard, Moby Ick, Beauzeau, Diva, Little Richard Hatch, La Loge, and Bob.

This is La Loge. She's the newest. In Fish World, "she" might just be a honkin', studly, testosterone-filled, raging bull of a man-fish for all I know, but to me she looks like a cute little girlie fish. She even has a little bend in her tail fin that makes her look sort of...perky. It reminds me of a pony tail.

Initially I named her Renoir, but even that was too manly for her. So I changed it to the painting that she's named for. I would post it here, but I don't know the first thing about copyright laws. If you do "google-images," you should come up with the painting.

I think La Loge actually means "The Theatre Box," but I don't care. Besides being all fluffy and striped and black-and-white-and-pink-all-over, this fish is also sort of box-shaped.

So there you have it. My fish story. Just be glad the 6th picture wasn't Moby Ick.

"Enjoy the simple things." ~George Carlin

Friday, June 26, 2009

Not Too Much Independence, Please

Both of my children are going out of town for the 4th of July this year. This will be the first holiday I’ve spent completely without them since they were born.

Independence Day has special meaning to me because it was my mother’s birthday. She’s been gone almost 18 years now, but it still never ceases to feel like a family holiday to me. So I’m planning now so that I don’t get stuck with nothing to do.

Last year my friend Pam called, and neither of us was going to see fireworks. So we thought up these

Things for Losers to Do on 4th of July:

1. Stalk people with fireworks. Spray them with hoses and yell, “Some of us is tryin’ to sleep, dammit!”

2. Take your dog’s tranquilizers.

3. Go into your bathroom and sing, “We’re an American Band” into your hairbrush. Throw your hair a lot, a la ‘80s bands.

4. Paint yourself red, white and blue, then take a picture of yourself taking a picture of yourself in the mirror. Don’t forget the teeth!

5. Light a sparkler and sing Happy Birthday to You, only substitute United States of America for the “Dear________” part. For extra excitement, do that indoors, and then clap when the smoke detector goes off.

6. Light old birthday candles, matches, and votives. Turn out the lights, set them around you and make fireworks noises.

7. Make a “Miss America” style sash out of toilet paper and drape it around yourself. Sing the “Here She Comes” song while practicing the Princess Wave and weeping.

8. Tape Brendan Fraser’s face over an Uncle Sam poster. Practice winking while you whisper seductively, “I want you, too, Darlin’.”

9. Buy a family-sized order of curly fries and put them on a blue plate. Squirt on ketchup. Eat them all. (Pam’s)

10. Have a picnic in your living room. Tie a chair to one leg and have a three legged race all by yourself. Then win a game of Spider Solitaire on your computer, turn out the lights, and exclaim, “Oooh!” and “Ahhh!” when the little fireworks come on.

“Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth. Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?” ~Tecumseh, Chief of the Shawnee

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Write On, Dude

A Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II is out today. I have several reasons to be jubilant about this.

My husband used to put me down. He made nasty little threats. Took my graduate school money. Wouldn’t let me take one day off. Wouldn’t let me take a vacation. Got mad when I had friends. Got mad when I painted or drew. Got mad when I distinguished myself in any way. Oddly, I never really thought of it as abusive because I laughed at him and did most of what I wanted, anyway. But I got what I always called “the punishments.”

And then one day I volunteered to write my subdivision’s newsletter. My husband was mad. Again.

It was only when he tried to punish me for writing that I really began to see him for what he was. I was living life with a human being who seemed only to know how to take--a parasite. Suddenly, I wanted to fling him off and feel free again. And the way I did that was by writing. It felt like I wrote myself back into existence. I felt paradoxically whole again.

He got mad when I used his computer...I used it anyway. Wouldn’t baby-sit the children so that I could take a computer class...I took it while the youngest was in preschool. He wouldn’t keep an eye on the children so I could write the newsletter...I locked myself in the bathroom and scribbled on scraps of paper while they lay on the floor outside and put their little fingers under the door.

When I tried to write creatively, the computer “crashed.” Twice. When people dropped off items for the newsletter, he literally pushed himself into the conversation. He had jealous fits when men brought articles for me to print. He tried distracting me every way he knew how. He even tried pretending to people that he’d been secretly doing the writing for me.

But I wrote and wrote and wrote. And I found myself again in those words. And finally, much, much later than I should have, I left him.

I left in spite of poverty, attacks, and struggles. I left in spite of the fact that most of my extended family is dead. I left in spite of a future that’s worse than uncertain; more poverty, attacks and struggles are certain. And I’m not a bit sorry.

Then last week, he shorted child support even though last I knew, he made 16 times what I do (although I do 100% of the parenting and pay 20% of college and medical expenses). So when I emailed him to ask where it was, I got this telling little email: “I would think that by now with all of your writing deals and book signings that you really wouldn't have time to mess with trying to extort yet more money from me.”

So right now, I am laughing….And I am writing. And those snarky little words are music to my ears.

Is it tacky of me to be telling this? Probably. But the truth is, if I had read this a few years ago, it would have helped me…so I will write. And it helps me now…so I will write. As long as this controlling person attacks me, I will write. As long as any controlling people attack anyone, I will write and write and write. And if they don’t attack, I will still write…about something else.

It's not bragging when I announce I have a story coming out. That’s not it at all. It's not about being a great writer. It's not even really about writing. It's not about being special or successful or making money. It's about refusing to give up or give in to a person who—for reasons I will probably never understand—thought love meant destroying me. It’s about celebrating. It’s about saying, you can take everything away from me, but you can’t take me. I am still here. And in spite of it all, I am happy.

The truth is that monetary poverty is nothing—nothing—compared to the starvation of the creative spirit.

“I dedicate this book to that part of myself that inched forward when a thousand winds blew and she had but one small pink birthday candle to hold up her wish….” ~Tama J. Kieves, This Time I Dance! Trusting the Journey of Creating the Work You Love

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Good Book

I just finished reading a good book called Controlling People: How to recognize, Understand, and Deal with People Who Try to Control You by Patricia Evans (©2002 by Adams Media Corporation). There are parts that so closely nail controlling personalities, it occasionally made me gasp aloud and require a break just to let it sink in.

A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors. ~Charles Baudelaire

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

...Way Worse Inferno, Part II

So I actually survived the classes all the way until the afternoon—5th hour, with my plan period coming up 6th hour, meaning a blessed break for one whole class period with no kids.

And then the lights went off.

At first, the kids freaked. You would’ve thought they were being thrust into total darkness instead of the pleasant daylight of a hot, sunny day. Some kids thought we were under attack. And when you think about it, lack of electricity really is a reason to panic for these kids. Everything they know and love is operated with it.

Plus a lot of that is exactly what makes eighth grade so awful. It’s the age where the cluelessness of childhood mixes with the instability of hormones. The resultant mixture is so volatile, it’s a veritable Twilight Zone of tween-dom where spontaneous emotional combustion is commonplace.

I managed to get them calmed down in much the way the Dog Whisperer does—by distraction. But those battery operated clocks confirmed it: the bells didn’t work. I waited with Pavlovian pleading in my head. Bells! Where were my bells?!

Then a walkie-talkie carrying vice principal came around to deliver the sentence: Do not release classes until the electricity comes back on!

I watched in agony as my whole break ticked away. The room grew more stifling with the air conditioning off. I opened the windows; the kids threw things out. They hollered to their friends who were lucky enough to be outside for P.E. They were loud. The noise throbbed. My feet throbbed. My head throbbed. The heat throbbed.

They began to complain. They wanted something different to do. They wanted to go to the bathroom...all at the same time, because they were afraid the bathrooms would be dark and scary. They wanted funner friends and better games (yes, I played games with them; I was desperate).

A couple of the most tiresome girls sat near the door and whined. At me. I’ve heard some children with their parents, and it’s clear where they get it. “Let us ouuuut! We’re so hot!” Like I was personally keeping them in there on purpose because the whole thing was just so danged much fun for me. Like I was torturing them by making them play games with their friends. All that went through my sweat-soaked head was that these little girls had no freaking idea what torture was.

Hell is hot, yes. But here’s what they don’t tell you: it is also filled with eighth graders.

At that moment, as a middle aged woman at the opposite end of the hormonal spectrum and trapped in the stifling heat with 25 restless adolescents, I was possibly far more dangerous than any little old cyber-threat.

If I admit that here, is that considered another cyber-threat?

The lights came back on…just in time for 7th hour, the last hour of the day. No break, but I survived. Some people climb Mount Everest as tests of their mettle. Mine was a descent of sorts, and much hotter, but no less an achievement of a lifetime.

Let the summer vacation begin.

However mean your life is, meet it and live it: do not shun it and call it hard names. Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do want society. ~Henry David Thoreau

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dante's Way Worse Inferno, Part I

Anybody who teaches can tell you that the last few weeks of school are h-e-double pencils for teachers. For substitute teachers, those last weeks are worse still. Make it eighth grade—that pubescent purgatory, the most dreaded of all ages experienced by humanity—and you have a recipe for sheer teaching torture.

Last week I descended into such madness. It was at my favorite middle school, even, but I realized something was up when I saw extra security guards posted at the entrances. Apparently there had been a “cyber-threat.”

For those of you who are unfamiliar with public school terminology, “cyber-threat” usually means somebody started a rumor on Facebook about how somebody else threatened to blow the dumb school to kingdom come…and parental panic ensued.

In MY day (yes, I know) when somebody threatened to blow up school, we all got a fire drill while somebody—my guess would be the custodian—looked around to see if there was a giant package marked “bomb” sitting around anywhere. We got to go out just long enough to see how nice it was outside (and to give the teachers and some of the naughtier kids--and maybe the cutstodian himself--an extra cig break), and then we had to go back in again. But in MY day, no one had yet freaked out in a school and committed mass murder.

So these days, after the police and fire department and bomb sniffing dogs and school board and administrators have all gone in and checked things out, we go in with extra security.

I actually worked extra security once. I was basically a not-so-glorified hall monitor who also had to patrol all the girls’ bathrooms to check for threatening graffiti. No kidding. But this time, they had hired real security guards with uniforms and everything. They were old guys who looked like they’d retired from meter reading, but the uniforms were a nice touch.

(To Be Continued)....

“I like saw your phone? And I was like, ‘that’s a really small phone.’” ~Overheard from 12 year old girl

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Here's my own quote:

I am not a writer, I'm a compulsive note-taker of life.

Unfortunately, have had too much life and not enough time for the notes. Hope that changes soon!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thanks, Snigglefarts Bustapants

My dear friend Becky and I were emailing about being bummed out lately. Some of the things she said reminded me of what I do to feel better. Have had a lot of chances to think of these throughout my divorce, so here are a few (besides the obvious “call a friend”):
1. Make yourself smile even if you don’t feel like it. It sends a good feeling down your spine.
2. Rent a funny movie (or in my case, “The Office” seasons on cd). Whatever makes you laugh uncontrollably. Laugh out loud.
3. Force yourself to sing a happy song out loud.
4. Turn up the radio and dance.
5. Sit in the sun. If none available, do a Mr. Rogers and use your imagination.
6. Smell the roses—literally. Or buy a hyacinth at the grocery store, or put fragrant potpourri around.
7. Find something silly about your situation—for instance, I remind myself of the old Droopy the Dog cartoon when I cry and my nose swells up. Or think about how you’ll laugh about this later.
8. Exercise (Hey, do as I say, not as I do).
9. Write about how you feel.
10. Find one miracle and/or one lesson in your day, every single day. Write it down.
11. Force yourself to learn something new.
12. Look up art that appeals to you on the internet under “Google Images.” Use it as your computer wallpaper. Study the piece and look up the artist.
13. Look up photos of parts of the world. Ditto about the wallpaper. Take a pretend vacation every day.
14. Take care of a pet.
15. Light a candle, get out the pretty tablecloth, use the good china…whatever it takes to create a pretty setting or mood.
16. Make up silly names (thanks, Becky).
18. Not to be all religious, but pray. Honestly.
17. Make up a list of things to do to make yourself feel better.

“Reject a woman, and she will never let it go. It’s one of the many defects of their kind. Also, weak arms.” Dwight Shroot, “The Office”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Omenous Cookie?

Fortune cookie I got the other day: “You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.”
I am the masterpiece at the end of the journey so it is worth the climb. ~Anonymous

Sunday, April 5, 2009

When Words Don't Quite Fail

Right after I filed, I actually had someone ask me point blank why I was getting a divorce. He prefaced this with, “As you know, I’m a good friend of the family.”

One of the last times I saw this particular “good friend,” an older, alcoholic former boss of my ex husband’s, he was soused and grabbing my knee under the table at a dinner party my husband and I were throwing. I hadn’t talked to my good friend in close to 10 years and wasn’t at all unhappy about that. So my first response was stunned silence, which I think is one of those times in life that guileless honesty has given me the perfect retort.

Then I got to use the comeback I’d fortunately filed away for just this occasion. It is: “I simply don’t deserve him.”

The response was perfect. "Oh, why yes, yes, of course. That is, ahh, oh. Oh, yes, of course. Oh, uh huh, I see. I—Yes. Uh huh. Oh."

Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech. ~Martin Farquhar Tupper

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What I kept thinking when I read the below joke was that I did the opposite. I married what some people thought was a hunk, and he turned into a frog.

The other way around would be way better.

“God don’t like ugly.” ~St. Louis woman on TV news referring to a man who’d committed a heinous crime

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pardon My Porn

A friend sent me one of those email jokes. It’s the one about the old lady who buys a frog and it turns into a hunk. The punch line is what did she turn into? (A motel.)

I didn’t really intend to post the joke, but I wanted to see how easy it was to cut and paste something like that to post on my blog. I’ve been wanting to mess with the photo feature a little more since a friend told me how to position pictures the way I want.

So I experimented. It wasn’t easy. For one thing, the pictures didn’t transfer, and there were quite a few of them. There was not only the hunky guy, but there were also frog pictures as the joke unfolded. So I had to cut and paste the pictures separately.

I got The Guy to post properly, but once I had him all set up and published, I was taken aback. Without the visual effect of scrolling down, and without the goofy little animated frogs along the way, he looked like a cheap Man-Pinup. It was only a naked torso, I promise, but he looked sleazy.

Horrified, I deleted it all. I bet the whole process took maybe five minutes—which is a surprisingly long time when you’re cutting and pasting.

Apparently it’s also a long time when you’re browsing blogs. A friend chose just that moment to look at mine, and up popped Naked Torso Guy. Confused, she clicked on him…and she says he took her places no family oriented woman wants to go. Bad, bad Formerly Frog Man! She says she didn’t stick around long enough to see if it was—urk—a true pornographic web site.

I don’t understand that, but then, I don’t know the first thing about computers. I just want people to know that I am not, in fact, a porn peddler.

“People in the library shouldn’t conjugate near the doors!” ~Teacher making an announcement in a high school library

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today I realized the chief difference between my view of the marriage and my ex husband’s. When I look back on all those years of marriage, I see all the times I should have left--and can’t forgive myself for staying. He sees all the times I stayed and can’t forgive me for finally leaving.

“The greatest of teachers won’t hesitate/to leave you there by yourself, chained to fate….” ~Live, "I Alone"

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Peggy Hill Moment

I got stuck.

I got stuck because I’m trying to recall how far I’ve come from the anger, but in order to do that, I have to recall the anger itself. And I don’t want to do that.

So I won’t for now.

For now, I’ll stick to the day I had last week. I subbed in middle school P.E., which I almost never do. The P.E. part, that is. I’m not sure why I took the job in the first place other than the fact that it was in a school near a store where I’ve been wanting to shop. Plus it meant I got to wear my beloved Reeboks to work. Ahhh.

I like gym because you get to just sit back and observe the kids…sort of like an anthropologist of adolescence. I often think, as I’m sitting there playing gym teacher and supposedly monitoring the game, that gym class is such a microcosm of our competitive selves.

I was horrible at gym in middle school. Horrible. I still think of my middle school gym years as a nightmarishly literal sweat-and-blood struggle mixed with ill-fitting polyester and pubescent agony.

Ironic, then, that I’ve grown up to play gym teacher sometimes. I do it because I feel like it slightly smudges the helplessness I used to feel. That, and all I have to do is stand with my arms on my hips and yell a lot. I yell, “LISTEN UP!” and “LET’S GO!” like I know what I’m doing. Here is a confession: I sometimes don’t even know the rules of the game.

The horror is that I wasn’t one of the pale gawky girls who look like they should be bad at gym. In my experience, they are usually just annoyed with sports, but they’re really not that bad at playing them. I was truly bad at gym. The kid who came closest to who I was at that age was a mostly unattractive girl with pretty hair. She continuously shrieked and cried, “Don’t hurt me!” while darting delicately away from the ball every time. When it would land near her, she’d slap that icky ball limply away. I was in much greater denial of my sports-helplessness and therefore much less demonstrative of it, but I had about that much interest, grace, and talent.

Turned out the kids were playing Dodge Ball. With today’s no-risk mindset, that sort of surprised me, although the balls were partially deflated so that they made a horribly explosive noise when they struck the right way but didn’t really hurt. I know they didn’t hurt because I accidentally got hit once. The kids all giggled and watched me to see what I'd do (I laughed and told them I was now going to cheer for the other team.) I asked if the deflating of the balls was intentional, and the other P.E. teacher said it was just a byproduct of being too lazy to blow them up.

At one point a male gym teacher told me I had to go in the girls’ locker room to “…make sure they don’t fight or anything.” I had to laugh at that. Middle school girls don’t tend to have fist fights; when they get mad, they make each others’ lives miserable in every possible way. It’s far more prolonged than a straight-forward fist fight and causes far deeper and more permanent scars.

Something happens to boys in middle school gym—they wrestle and tumble and fight. But girls just sit there and talk. Even the truly athletic girls don’t play aggressively, and they’re all considerably more athletic than they used to be. Even the best of them lob the ball—not with that anger that the boys seem to have—but with a calm competitiveness. One little pony-tailed girl moved like a dancer and hit the ball so hard it whistled, all with a benign smile on her face. The other gym teacher confided that the boys were afraid of her, and it was clear he was right.

It struck me that I was observing a civil war of sorts, the way each side just faced each other and picked off the other side like that. Interesting who was left standing, too. In each class, there seemed to be a little girl who fared well simply by virtue of being too thin to hit easily. In each case, the girl stood with her hands stick-straight at her sides or twiddled her hair or picked at her cuticles while the balls screeched past her head. Occasionally she stepped out of the way, looking slightly bored.

In one class, the kid who was left standing every time was a boy I had in In-House Suspension last week. I think he was left because he’s the kind of kid people just don’t notice, and he stood in one corner looking out of place in gym shorts. In eighth grade, this angry looking red-headed child looks like he should be wearing camouflage. Somehow even his normal clothes look like camouflage.

Last week in in-house suspension he spent half of a class period playing with his eraser, and at the end of the day he picked lint off the carpet and put it in his pocket to take home. He told me that dead people always talked to him, and—I know it’s horrible of me—I asked him if they told him to get back to work.

He’s one of those kids you can’t help but worry about, both for his own sake and for others’. When he’d end up left standing in Dodge Ball and all the other kids suddenly noticed him and started throwing balls at him, you could tell he was taking it personally. He’d suddenly come alive and start throwing back with such anger that it made my throat ache. I noticed he hit the same girl several times after she was out, too.

I really did want to ask him what the dead people said to him, by the way, but I would have been encouraging him to be “off task.” Talking dead people are against the rules in middle school.

“Everyone gets hurt. Meaning’s got nothing to do with it.” Aryn Kyle, God of Animals