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.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #31

I’m finally back to Book Blurb Friday, a great meme from Lisa Ricard Claro’s Writing in the Buff. The challenge: “Write a book jacket blurb (150 words or less) so enticing that potential readers would feel compelled to buy the book.”

I’m into colons this week, by the way. The punctuation variety, of course. My colon-laden offering this week is 147 words.

~ Option: Survival~

A.D. 2111: The Sentient 350s are classified androids designed for “experimental sport” by a group of scientists. Secret scientist-toys, in other words.

The catch: Sentient 350s are “choice-makers,” programmed to believe that they are human.

The goal: To design a droid who is able to win the game by making the best choices to achieve a life on Edenne, a small island in the Caribbean. Droids that lose are destroyed.

The problem: Daniel has just found out what he is. As if that weren’t bad enough, he can’t let his programmer, Zeus5, know what he knows…which is that each choice he makes—no matter how small—will result in certain preprogrammed outcomes which may lead him to paradise…or death. So Daniel must make every choice very, very carefully.

The paradox: Daniel wouldn’t even choose to live on Edenne.

The bottom line: It’s better than being a dead droid.

I dreamed this one the other night, by the way. It was a pretty creepy nightmare, let me tell you. I was the one who found out that my life had been programmed for sport by some unknown gods. Each choice I made triggered a predetermined outcome that I actually saw on a holographic computer screen because I had a fever and it somehow messed with the program. For example, I’d walk into a room and see a book sitting on a table, and then this would flash on the screen:

Option A: subject thumbs through book...Outcome A: subject gets option to join garden club.

Weird...yet lots of fun to think about.  (Outcome B: subject gets Book Blurb Friday idea.)

“It is not our talents that determine who we are, it’s our choices.” ~J.K. Rowlings (Albus Dumbledor)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sub Notes: Little Deers

On one classroom wall was a mounted deer head. I surmised by the tiny sticks just emerging from his head that he was young—a teenager deer. He was mounted in such a way that he appeared to be shrugging as if to say, “I’m about to be killed and stuffed, but what can ya do?” Even his eyes looked a little sad and red-rimmed. I named him Marty because he looked like such a martyr.

On the back white board, under Things to Think About for your Science Project, an eighth grade girl had written, “I think about giving head all the time.”

I vaguely wondered about her misplaced modifier. Did she think all the time about giving head, or did she think about this activity becoming her primary occupation?

What bothered me most was the self-esteem of a little girl who finds herself obsessing over how to please others because she thinks it makes her desirable. It made me sad.

I looked at Marty while I erased.

“What can ya do?” he asked.

“…on those occasions when speech was necessary he had a way of compressing large thoughts into small, cryptic packets of language. One evening, just at sunset, he pointed up at an owl circling over the violet-lighted forest to the west.
‘Hey O’Brien,’ he said. ‘There’s Jesus.’” ~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Improper Poll: the Future is Now

I recently got to teach George Orwell’s 1984…which I first read around 1984, when everyone was either reading or rereading it. Of course it made me wonder, as such things always do, what the future would be like. What now would be like. Remember The Jetsons? Cartoon or not, how I used to covet that little TV that Elroy wore on his wrist! I used to think that if my kids someday had tiny TVs like that, they would be the Luckiest Kids Ever.

One of my all-time favorite school assignments was in sixth grade. We were supposed to predict what life would be like in the year 2000. I still remember picturing myself with poufy hair and a poufy dress. In reality—go figure—the only poufy thing about me is my stomach.

A lot of kids said we would fly to school on our desks, but considering the condition of the desks in my school—not to mention the recklessness of some of the kids—I figured that would be a scary thing. I remember predicting that people would wear disposable paper clothing and celebrate our birthdays all on the same day so that The Birthday could be made into a Monday holiday.

The closest thing I ever predicted, though, was when I had a dream that earrings and rings would have tiny transistor radios in them.

Have you ever made any predictions about the future that have or haven’t come true?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sub Notes: Touched

She looked at me with pure, unadulterated hatred. Her teacher was on maternity leave, and I suspect she hated me simply for being the wrong person. As if that weren’t enough, Erica was a very large child for seventh grade—almost adult looking. But the thing that stood out the most was the fury on her face.

When I gave an assignment, Erica ignored me. When I talked, she talked. I was never able to catch her doing something positive. When I tried to talk to her about it, the hatred burned hotter on her face. I almost felt stung.

One day she came in the room crying softly. She took her usual seat in the back and looked miserable. It was the first time I saw a look on her face that wasn’t hatred. It forced me to realize that even though she was bigger than I was, Erica was still a little girl. I waited until the rest of the class was working, and then I knelt beside her and gave her shoulder lightest of pats. Did she need anything?

She turned to me as if bitten and then shook her head. I withdrew my hand and thought, Oh, crap, I’ve done it now! Has she been abused? Will she hate me even more now? Is that even possible? Will she try to claim I assaulted her?

But the next day, she gave me a different look. I was sure there wasn’t so much hatred. I smiled at her. Her mouth…twitched. It was a start.

In the weeks that followed, she did her first assignment since I’d been there. She colored a map, and she’d done a great job. I slapped that map with the biggest “A” I felt I could get away with and hung it on the bulletin board, front and center.

I moved her seat up front “so I could see that smiling face.” And miraculously, in the weeks that followed, that face did smile, and often. I will always think of Erica as one of the greatest miracles I’ve ever encountered in education.

Who knew the power of one little touch on the back?

Only connect. ~E.M. Forster

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Improper Poll: Baby Rodents

Here is an interesting fact I noticed years ago: nearly everyone has at least one story about baby rodents. Here’s an example from my own past. When I was a kid, my friend got a pet mouse. A female...and it turned out she was pregnant. When tiny pink lima beans appeared in the cage, one of the younger sisters decided to take them out to show her mother. She carefully placed them on a pillow and took off up the stairs. It was a huge house with very long stairs…so as you might imagine, the size of that mouse family was reduced considerably by the time she got where she was going.

Another friend found a nest of baby mice holed up in her desk, of all things. Her young son had a friend over at the time, and the friend excitedly asked if he could take those baby mice home. He thought they were the coolest things ever. “Sure!” my friend said. She was mean like that. She got him a nice box and set it up all cozy, then giggled the whole time he carried his prize so carefully home. Then she waited for the phone to ring.

Another friend had a three-legged gerbil named Stumpy. Stumpy’s mother was dumb even by gerbil standards and built her nest in the wheel. So shortly after giving birth, when she decided to run…well, you can guess what happened. Poor Stumpy ended up catapulted on the other end of the cage where he got stuck in something or other and tragically earned his name.

What are your baby rodent stories?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Loving Memory of Buddy, April 1996-September 14, 2011

Our beloved black lab and terrier mix, Buddy (aged 15 1/2), went into heart failure last night. Today he passed peacefully and at home with the help of the House-call Vet, who even waited for my son to get here from out of town. It was a gentle end to a wonderful, long life. He will be dearly missed.

This was printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul What I Learned from the Dog, © 2009.

Best Dog in the World
by T’Mara Goodsell

Years ago, I owned the very best dog in the world.

I was a child when we got her. She was a graceful brown hound, a foundling who taught me that our pets are not purchased, but ordained.

She romped when I did and knew how to smile in that funny way that only some dogs have. She grew up with me, always there when I needed her. My grown hand still remembers the sleek bump on the top of her head and that gentle divot just past her nose that fit my index finger just perfectly.

She passed away during one of my college vacations. My heart broke then, and I knew that there would never be another dog like her, and there hasn’t been. I was sure that I could never love another dog as much as I’d loved her.

Fortunately, I was wrong about that part.

My next dog came into my life when I was married. My husband traveled for a living, and I was often lonely. This dog grew into a lumbering wolfhound/sheepdog mix who taught me patience. He was a large, grizzled sentry, that dog. He rarely left my side until the children were born, and then he became their guardian, too. I can still feel that swirl of fur along his back and the weight of his chin when it rested in my lap.

When he passed away, my heart broke. As much as I had loved that childhood dog, I had been wrong. This was the very best dog in the world. There would never be another dog like him, and there hasn’t been. I was sure I would never love another dog as much as I’d loved him.

I was wrong again.

We got the next one, a loping black lab-and-terrier mix, when the children were little. He taught me the importance of adapting. He was everyone’s dog from the beginning, and that was just as it should be. When he played tug of war with the children, he dragged them across the kitchen floor as they shrieked with laughter. He always seemed to sleep in the room of the child who needed his company the most.

These days his face is expressively gray, and he spends more time with me since the almost-grown children aren’t around so much. The other day my oldest, home from college, played tug of war. We all laughed—just a little—as the dog was gently pulled across the kitchen floor.

He is, of course, the very best dog in the world. I will never forget that exquisitely soft tuft of fur behind his ears or the tickly feel when he nuzzles. There won’t be another dog like him.

And that’s okay, because we will never be at this point in our lives again.

Sometimes I’ve wondered why two species that get along so well should have such different life spans. It just doesn’t seem right. And then I wonder if that’s part of the lesson: To teach us that love itself has a spirit that returns again and again and never really dies.

It’s amazing, in a way, how they bring to our ever-changing lives exactly what it is that we need at the moment. They make room for one another, this family of dogs who has never even met. And they fit—into our families, into our lives, into our memories, and into our hearts—because they always have been and always will be the best dogs in the world.

One’s first love is always perfect until one meets one’s second love. ~Elizabeth Aston

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Improper Poll: Nasty Mom Food

Sioux over at Sioux’s page has some entertaining reflections on bread worth checking out. She reminded me about Friendship Bread. Remember that? You had to “feed” it and keep it warm, and it was supposed to bubble and grow before you cooked it. That was way too Little Shop of Horrors for me. I like my food to be a little more subdued. 

Coincidentally, I had just been thinking about my own family’s history with food. My grandmother was a perfectly lovely person and a wonderful cook. But every now and then, she would eat…are you ready?...pickled pigs feet. I know this because I once opened her refrigerator and discovered a jar that belonged in the back of a science room. The ones where intact animal parts float suspended in murky liquid. In her refrigerator. I literally screamed and ran.

My mother’s nasty mom-food was sardines. She would hide them and cover them up, but still—you knew they were lying in wait side by side in their little can.

And then the other day I bought…I’m embarrassed to admit this…Vienna Sausages. My grandmother used to give them to me when I was little, so I bought them for old time’s sake, but it struck me as I was sneaking them that they are, in fact, my version of nasty mom-food. After all, who knows what they really are, not to mention what that gelatinous substance surrounding them is? And any meat that has to hide in a jar or a can is just afraid it won’t really qualify as meat.

So 'fess up.  Or am I the only one who eats disgusting food?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #28

Hooray for Book Blurb Friday! In this fun meme from Writing in the Buff, Lisa Ricard Claro invites us to come up with a blurb of 150 words or fewer for a pretend book jacket that makes potential readers feel compelled to purchase. Mine this week is 108 words.

Marlie was about to be dumped by her dumpy husband of 14 years—by way of a dumpster. Fortunately for her, she had a few modest talents in this world. One of them was a recurring dream that had warned her...and showed her what to do. The other was that luck was on her side. There was a little twist to the hit man her husband had hired to kill her.

He was a friend, and he was there to warn her. Together, they used the dumpster to concoct a plan that would help both of them…while making sure that Marlie’s husband’s dumping days were over. Forever.

“Throughout the history of mankind there have
been murderers and tyrants; and while it may
seem momentarily that they have the upper
hand, they have always fallen.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sub Notes: Rynallison

The following took place at some point across the country between 1982 and the present. All names have been changed.

The two of them were a pair all through middle school. They were Samneric. Bert and Ernie. Mutt and Jeff. They were Ryan and Allison. Rynallison.

Yet they couldn’t have looked like a less likely pair. Ryan was big and ruddy and handsome, with thick hair and perfect teeth and a huge smile. Allison was tiny and pale and quirky, like a cartoon come to life. She had glasses that were too big for her face and tiny ears that stuck straight out like rudders that were trying too hard to halt her forward motion.

They’d met in first grade, Allison once told me, and had been close friends ever since. They always sat together when it was allowed, and they laughed, the two of them, always. At everything. When Ryan left the room, she deflated somehow and looked frail. But with Ryan there, she came alive in a shimmer of bubbles. And when Allison left the room, Ryan lost a certain glow. I would have to reprimand them sometimes, but deep down I couldn’t help but marvel over the strength of that human bond.

Then one year I saw Allison, in high school now, sitting primly and quietly. She was bigger, and her glasses fit her face better, but there was something wrong. And then I realized what it was: she was missing her Ryan. Where was he? I asked. Different high school, she said. It came out in a whisper, almost.

And broke my heart.

A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Improper Poll: The Shirt of Worms

While moving my daughter into college, the subject of theft came up. And this reminded me of my all-time favorite article of clothing, ever, which was unfortunately stolen at college along with some others. My Favorite Article of Clothing of All Time was a souvenir tee shirt from Worms, Nebraska.

Yes, there is such a place, though I’m sorry to say I have never actually had the pleasure of visiting there. I admired a friend’s shirt so much that she gave me one as a gift. Her father was a farmer who used to drive to Worms for some reason. At the time, I believe she told me that the population of Worms was somewhere around 25 people. There was a church and a bar. The bar was appropriately called “Night Crawlers.”

What is your All-Time Favorite Article of Clothing?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #27

It’s time again for Book Blurb Friday from Lisa Ricard Claro’s Writing in the Buff! This fun meme invites readers to come up with a book jacket blurb of 150 words or fewer that makes potential readers feel compelled to buy the book. I struggled this week but managed to come up with around 114 words. Be sure to check out the others here!


The well-known talk show host and former stand-up comic, Jack Blattstone, told one too many jokes. He officially insulted al-Qaida members who called for his assassination.

What people didn’t hear about was the families of Jack’s wait staff—and also his limousine driver and private pilot. What would their families go through just because they were associated with Jack Blattstone?

Would it matter that the pilot’s wife—whose landscape firm Jack had hired to redesign the courtyard in his California house—was Jewish?

Just as everyone was beginning to relax, a note was left on board Jack’s Gulfstream and another just outside the house. And that was when the real fear began.

I guess you want to fly the plane? Well good luck pressing “Take Off,” then “Autopilot,” then “Land.” ~Carol on 30 Rock