Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is It Spring?

What happened to our flowers and sunshine?
This afternoon, big wet flakes of snow started to fall.

The snow clung to the branches and covered the ground.

The daffodils hung their heads in despair. They felt like they'd never see the sun again.


The hyacinths decided to wait for another day before they finish blooming.
Since it's spring in Ohio, hopefully, the snow will leave no trace tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Spring

Time to lighten up with this luscious photo of a French bowl filled with quintessentially American robin eggs.


You remember these from your childhood -- the hard candy shell with chocolate and malted milk ball in the center. Nothing says spring like robin eggs.

Mean Girls

When I was in 7th grade, my best friends were Bonita and Leisa. We talked about boys and the changes in our bodies. We ate Doritos and M&Ms. We went to the movies and walked over to McDonalds. I should have seen the signs. When I would say something, they would look at each other, as if they had talked about this in private. They laughed at the way I said TV, like tevie, and suggested I wax my upper lip. I shouldn't have been surprised when I received the very mean note that ended our friendship.
I sobbed as I waited in my mom's car to go home. My mom was a teacher at the middle school. I couldn't imagine ever going to school again. Who would I sit next to? Who would I eat lunch with? I hated them.
For some strange reason, I showed the note to my older brother, who barely tolerated me, and my father. They both had the same advice. Time to get new friends.
I didn't want new friends. I wanted my old friends back. I wanted things to be the way they were before. And eventually, I was back in the fold, a little gunshy, a little more eager to please my friends.
That story has been haunting me this winter as Grace has friend struggles at college. When people hear how those friends have rejected her, they suggest they aren't really her friends any way. That's true. They haven't handed her a note saying "We hate you" but they have all paired up for rooms next year and left Grace standing alone. She has born up well, applying to live in a dorm that she really wants even if it means an unknown roommate. She's taking a dance class and added swing dance one night a week. She's working at the theater, going to classes. So why does it still hurt so much when those same friends just reconfigured to add a third girl to their room, again with no mention to Grace.
She hides her tears. She calls me. She watches old movies and slinks off to the dining hall with other people from the dorm, but this rejection hurts so much. She doesn't get to come home each night to hugs from her family.
All of the successes at college feel drowned out by the decision of the girls that Grace is not worthy to be considered, to be included.
She thinks about the grayness of the sky and the depth of the snow. Maybe she has Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe she should go to school some place where it's warm. But even bright sun outside wouldn't warm the chill that has settled over her in the dorm.
Making acquaintances should be fairly easy. Now in my 40s, I could easily take a book to the dining hall and eat alone, or pull out a chair next to some unknown people and strike up a conversation. I don't think I could have done that at 19. The idea of starting over in the friend category is overwhelming.
Sometimes late at night we talk about what might have happened. How could these friends who shared deep secrets, who trusted Grace with their darkest thoughts, simply turn away? Maybe they were never true friends. Maybe they were and Grace changed. Her life was fraught with drama Fall Semester -- quitting swim team, dropping a class that she thought she would major in, taking a part in a play that was outside her comfort zone. Yet, she survived it all. This semester all her drama has come from her inner circle -- the people she thought were her friends.
The idea of all new friends is overwhelming. Still maybe she could start with one. Maybe that boy in her history class would meet her for coffee. Maybe the girl in her French class would go to lunch with her. Maybe she could take a yoga class and stop for smoothies with the girl on the mat next to hers. It's a process of inches and she needs to eek along for six more weeks. Six weeks is a long time when you're 19 and alone.
Were you ever rejected by your friends? Were you a mean girl who did the rejecting, kicking someone out of your circle? Do mean girls go on forever, or does it stop after high school, after college?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dogs and Relatives

We were dogsitting this weekend for Earl's niece's dog. She and her husband went to Philadelphia for the weekend and asked if we could drive up to let the dog out three times a day. We said we'd just bring the dog to our house. Her name is Hannah and she's a beautiful creamy cinnamon color with a tail that curls up and around. She's about two years old. She jumps a lot, which leaves her skinny. She's medium-sized, coming up to my knees and she's a mutt with a longish snout. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, three incidents convinced us that Hannah may be a danger. Here's where I need your advice. Do we tell Earl's niece that her dog is antisocial in hopes of protecting future children and visiting pets?
Tucker and I brought Hannah home and the cats immediately took to the high road, climbing on the mantel and window sills to avoid the dog. Hannah barked at the cats, but seemed much more interested in hanging with the humans.
Saturday morning, Earl and I walked down to the post office to mail a package to Grace. Then we stopped at Caribou Coffee. We couldn't take Hannah inside so we thought we'd stop by Sheila's house to warm up.
Sheila has a dog about the same size as Hannah, but her dog is named Little Ann. Little Ann did not seem too thrilled for Hannah to visit. They sniffed each other for a few minutes and Ann began to gather her toys so she didn't have to share them with Hannah. After a few minutes, Ann climbed up on the couch next to Sheila. As we talked, the dogs settled down. Then before we could move they were snarling, teeth bared then biting. We grabbed Hannah's collar and pulled her back. Our visit ended there until Sheila texted me that evening to say they discovered an inch-long gash on Ann's belly. Hannah had drawn blood.
The neighbors have a dog named Rocky. Medium-sized, but furrier and sturdier than Hannah. Hannah and Rocky met through the fence. They ran back and forth along the fence barking at each other. The neighbor suggested we bring Hannah over to play with Rocky. Earl took her over and the dogs ran and barked for a few minutes. Then snarling and biting ensued. The neighbor was yelling at the dogs and Earl was afraid Hannah would bite him. He dove into the dog pile, which happened to be in a rosebush, and pulled Hannah away from Rocky. Earl came away with a gash from the rosebush. Hannah had drawn blood again, although inadvertently this time.
Earl and I sat on the couch discussing the dog incidents. He suggested that Hannah is an alpha dog and tries to dominate even when she is on another dog's turf.
Tupi had climbed into my lap. Hannah came toward Tupi and got too close. Tupi reached out and swiped the dog's nose. He didn't draw blood or leave a mark, but Hannah yelped and jumped back then came toward me and Tupi with her teeth bared. Earl yelled. I mean really yelled and pulled the dog back.
Usually, when a dog gets swiped by a cat, it backs off. Hannah instead moved to attack.
We returned Hannah this afternoon, leaving her in her kennel in the family room before Earl's niece and husband flew home. She called and told me they were home and asked if everything went okay.
"It was fine," I said. "She didn't get along with the cats." We both laughed.
I know. Grace has already told me that they need to get busy socializing the dog before she gets older. But they're a young couple without kids and their dog is their baby. I especially didn't want to go into a litany of the dog's misbehavior when they were just off the plane.
So what do you think? Do I call them and non-chalantly give the details. Do I say I'm worried about the dog and go into details? Do I just let it go and refuse to keep the dog next time?
We always had kids climbing all over our dog. She knew she was at the bottom of the pecking order -- even under the cats. She barked a lot, but I don't remember her baring her teeth at anyone or another animal.
Is Hannah a danger to other animals or people, especially children? Do I tell the niece?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Does Publishing Still Mean Paper?

A recent blog post between two male authors discussed the future of publishing. One of those men had walked away from a big publishing house offer for half a million dollars. That's right, $500,000 -- for writing.
Barry Eisler, the author who left the big money on the table, has a successful series of books based on the character John Rain who is an assassin. So why did he walk away from such a lucrative offer? He decided to self-publish instead.
Gasps of horror. Self publishing is for losers, isn't it?
The conversation on the blog, listed at the bottom of my post, is long and involved, but the basics are that Eisler decided he would do better in the long run to keep the erights to his books and earn more money from them over time.
According to the discussion between Eisler and Joe Conrath, who self publishes, the big publishing houses are trying to hold off epublishing by charging a lot for ebooks. Ebooks, of course, cost very little for the publisher. Still, the author earns only 14.9 percent of the cost of that ebook. The seller, usually Amazon, takes 30 percent off the top. The publishing house gets 52.5 percent of the list price. On paper, the author gets 25 percent, but the agent and attorney get a cut too, bringing the total down to 14.9 percent. Authors can earn 70 percent of the purchase price if they self publish with very little overhead to get started. Conrath is selling 3000 ebooks per day.
In Conrath and Eisler's opinions, the publishing houses are holding onto their glory days, giving life support to the stiff spine and supple pages of books printed on paper, rather than embracing the new technology.
I love printed books, but I've been hankering for an ereader for a few months. I imagine being able to travel and carry only an ereader filled with lots of different books. I think I would also buy more books if they were priced around $5 rather than the $15 I spent for a paperback yesterday at Barnes & Noble.
One of the benefits of self publishing is that the author has total control over the cover and the title. Apparently some authors have been a little unhappy with the choices made by the publishing houses, like the cover for Eisler's book Connexion Fatale which featured an olive green garage door and security lights. Apparently he felt that did not convey the thriller that lay inside the cover.
Another benefit of self publishing is that the book can reach readers about a year earlier than it would going through a publishing house, each page printed, bound together, and sent to warehouses then bookstores.
Okay, so more money for the author, more control for the author, book in the hands of the readers sooner. All of these reasons seem like wins for the author.
But, what if everyone self publishes? How will readers decide which books are good and which are bad if we don't have the publishing houses as gatekeepers any more? Truthfully, bad books have always gotten published and good books have always gotten rejected. Readers may have to search a bit more, but once a book starts selling, other readers should follow.
I've always wanted to hold a book in my hands with my name on the front. Author Paulita Kincer. Maybe I won't get that chance as the industry changes. But even greater than the longing for a hardback or paperback, is the urge for readers to plunge into a story that I created, to love my characters, to hate my characters, to get to the end and sigh.
So, if given the chance to publish or epublish, I'll grab it and keep in mind the words of wisdom from Joe Conrath and Barry Eisler about authors earning royalties.
http://barryeisler.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Formula Writing

I'm taking a writing class online to try to revise my novel and make sure I'm working on my "craft" as we say. The course is called "The Character-Driven Novel," which sounds like the kind of writing I do and want to do.
Here's the thing, so far, most of the class has been analysis of my novel. It's filled with questions like main character's Inner Conflict (IC) and Outer Goal (OG)and where is Turning Point #1. Ugh. I hate that.
I can't imagine that F. Scott Fitzgerald ever went through a novel thinking that the first turning point came a little late and he needed to nudge it back toward the beginning of the novel.

Here's F. Scott Fitzgerald suddenly realizing that the second turning point for Tender is the Night came at 80 percent of the novel rather than the recommended 75 percent. Damn. Now he'd have to write it over.
Photo from http://www.unc.edu/~wellons/images/fitzreading.jpg

Isn't timing something that a good writer should be able to feel without plotting every step and misstep?
Although I'm nowhere near an F. Scott Fitzgerald, why can't I just write a great story with great characters and leave it at that? Why do I need to follow the formula? I want book groups to analyze my novel; I don't want to do it. Do you think that means I have underlying issues in the book that I'm not willing to fix?
In the writing world, I'm what is called a pantzer instead of a plotter. That means I write the story by the seat of my pants without planning it ahead of time. A lot of the time I don't even know how it ends.
My current novel which has had a working title of The Summer of France and Ransoming Raphael started as an idea for a novel about a couple who goes to Mackinac Island in Michigan to run a bed and breakfast. I was going to call it Fudge Ho since Mackinac is famous for its fudge. Next I changed the idea to have the couple run a b&b in France. Then the World War II idea and the stolen art seeped into the book. The novel evolved in ways it wouldn't have if I'd plotted it out ahead of time.
Rules make me itch. I hate having a Triptick that I need to follow when I travel or when I write. So going through this formula and finding places in my novel that match the formula feels like plucking eyelashes out one by one.
Soon I'll be blinking baldly, eyelashless at my novel.
Will I need to make changes in my novel? Always. Will I need to follow the formula, the one that splits a book or a movie into three acts? The one that every successful book or movie follows? That's something I'm still wrestling with.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Brings Tears to My Eyes

I know that I complain about my kids a lot, but I want to make sure I also appreciate them when they go a step above the normal teenager.
I was in the kitchen yesterday evening sauteeing tomatoes for my tomato and turkey omelette when I heard the bathroom door open and then the creak of the hall closet door.
A knock at the front door drew my attention and I waved in Forrest, one of Tucker's friends.
"Is he in the basement?" Forrest asked as Tucker emerged from the bathroom.
I didn't think anything more of those squeaking doors until I went in the bathroom later that evening.
There, on the toilet paper holder, was a fresh roll of toilet paper.
That's right. My 15-year-old son went to the closet and got a new roll of toilet paper and put it on the toilet roll holder with the end coming over the top, the same way I always do.
I'm feeling so proud and a little verklempt. Forget swimming fast or getting good grades at school, changing the toilet paper roll is where you can see the real mettle of a man -- or, future man.
And I've included a picture of cats and toilet paper, because this could happen at my house too, but it hasn't...yet.

Photo from: http://www.lolpix.com/_pics/Funny_Pictures_671/Funny_Pictures_67113.jpg

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Take A Breath

Sorry for the long silence, and it isn't due to March Madness!
You know I was grading papers all week. I finished my four classes and turned in grades Saturday morning at 7 a.m. before I got Tucker to his Zones swim meet. He swam until noon. Then I had papers to grade for my other two college classes which aren't on spring break.
Today Grace and I left the house at 4 a.m. to get her to Rochester by 11 a.m. so she could catch a ride back to college. I got back to Columbus around 5 p.m. after driving 13 hours and drinking lots of caffeine.
I hated being so busy during Grace's spring break. I didn't even take any pictures of her, including the new highlights she got on Friday.
Things should settle down by tomorrow (I spend my life thinking "Once things settle down...") and I want to write about my mammogram (Oh, Joy!) and Dream Girl and crows that dive in rivers to catch fish and spring crocuses and that darn writing class I'm supposed to be taking.
Thanks for being patient with me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stir Crazy

I've been grading papers non-stop because it's finals week. I taught Monday and Tuesday at one college, where it isn't finals week, and the rest of the time I've been grading online. Grading, grading, grading.
All of this is said merely to justify the fact that I might be going off the deep end because suddenly I became fixated on how similar the words Yeehaw and Jihad sound and I wondered if there might be a correlation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NPR Saved My Life

We spent a leisurely Saturday morning as teenagers stumbled from their beds. Earl had driven 13 hours to pick up Grace for Spring Break the day before. Earl made omelettes and the boys poured heaping bowls of sugary cereal. Our conversation meandered from the sad, the earthquake in Japan, to the trivial. In the background, as always, was the sound of NPR, National Public Radio.
I told Grace about the story I'd heard on NPR the week before of a flamingo in Siberia.
"Yeah, so these boys were ice fishing in Siberia and something fell from the sky. It was a pink flamingo," I told her.
She didn't believe it. They took it to the zoo. A year later in November, the exact same thing happened. A flamingo froze in the skies above Siberia and fell to the ground in the same village. NPR talked to a scientist and learned that birds can sometimes get turned around so they fly exactly 180 degrees in the opposite direction of where they should be migrating. And guess what, this village in Siberia was 180 degrees opposite of Iran where the flamingos who summer in Kazakhstan should have been headed. They get turned around and go 180 degrees opposite of where they should go.
The flamingo story was amazing, but even more amazing is the fact that I get to hear stories like this on NPR and relate them to my children. Sometimes they care; most of the time they don't.
When Grace was a baby, we lived in a small city in the middle of Florida. As I stayed home with an infant, nursing her, rocking her, singing to her, I could barely tune in the NPR station in Tampa, which helped me stay sane. I could listen to the station for brain stimulation while I sang "Hush little baby don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird" for the 100th time that day.
When the boys were born, we lived in Michigan and the Ann Arbor NPR station came in loud and clear. Each morning and each evening, the wisdom of the reporters boomed from the radio. Although I might be spending the day with infants and toddlers, I could carry on adult conversations and stay up to date on important issues.
I'm sure that when my children have moved out of the house, the sound of NPR morning edition wil give them a homesick feeling. The morning theme music should always remind them of me, even if now they switch channels in the car when we drive together.
Today, more than ever, we need a news organization that has the goal of finding and sharing the news with the American people without a secret agenda. So many "news" channels have become propaganda arms of either political party. People watch Fox news or MSNBC and actually think they are giving a straight news story rather than propaganda. But they aren't; both channels intend to persuade viewers that their points of view are correct. They leave out important points. They tell their side and ask leading questions.
NPR shows both sides. How do I know? Because many times, I disagree with the person being interviewed on NPR. Many times I agree.
So whatever happens, whether the government continues to help fund NPR, it needs to continue to operate, delving into the events of the day and giving the news in a straightforward manner.
Some days, NPR has been the one thing that gave me hope. Some days.."If that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring"...NPR saved my life.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Odd French Combination

My morning began with coffee
French mustard

And a silky blue scarf from a vintage store in Paris.

It sounds like one of those food games where you have to open your refrigerator and make something out of the contents. Coffee and French mustard may very well be in my cabinets and refrigerator, but if I put the blue scarf in the refrigerator, it may be there as a flag of surrender because I'm out of red wine.
Instead, that's how my morning started when I met my friend Sheila for coffee and she brought me goodies from Paris.
Thanks, Sheila. You can visit Paris without me anytime as long as I reap the benefits!

Big Feet

Every weekend Spencer spends the night with guys from the basketball team, or they come here and spend the night. On Sunday morning, after the time change, when I got up to go for a run, big shoes were blocking the back door so I couldn't get out.
I lined them up and Earl snapped a few pictures.
Even though Spencer is the tallest of the boys, he doesn't have the biggest feet. That really bothers him. But his own father, a whopping 6-foot, 4-inches, wears size 10.5 shoes, so genetically he isn't engineered to have big feet.
The shoes don't look so giant on their own, but I put my shoe into the middle of the pile for comparison. Can you see it?
What is up with kids and big feet today? Is it just the way the shoes look or are kids' feet getting bigger. And why? They certainly don't use them that much since they need rides everywhere.
Here's a one-on-one comparison of my shoe next to one of the boys' shoes.
Even though they're small, my feet have not let me down yet. I get everywhere I need to go and have even run a marathon on these tiny feet.
Bigger feet equal stinkier shoes, which fill my kitchen with the aroma of teenage boy, even when they are all asleep in the basment.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ice Cream Art

Even though the weather was cold, we stopped at Jeni's for ice cream after the last eye doctor appointment.
Jeni's makes its own ice cream with some daring flavors. I tried the goat cheese and fig but not nearly as tasty as the goat cheese and dried cherry that they serve in the summer. I also skipped the riesling poached pear. I've yet to try the Bangkok peanut flavor or the new corn syrup custard with whiskey and pecans.
The boys got trios, which cost $5 for three half scoops. The lids looked like a work of art where they left them lying on the counter.
Although Spencer's lid doesn't tell the whole story, he had cherry lambic and two scoops of dark chocolate. He took a bite of the combination and said it tasted like a truffle. Only the cherry left its mark on the lid.

Doesn't it look like you could dip a paintbrush into it?
Tucker had a scoop of Buckeye (which is some sort of peanut butter and chocolate), a scoop of honey pistachio and a scoop of wildberry lavender. Here's how that lid looks:
The cloth texture on the lids as they soaked in the ice cream inspired me. Too bad I don't paint.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Model Life

My friend Sheila, who used to blog before she became an international traveller two weeks ago, sent an update to her friends as Paris fashion week is winding down.
It’s so much more work than either Beth or I imagined. The emotional stress is also so much more than I would have thought. But at the end of the day Beth loved it. It’s a hard life being a model. It’s definitely not all glitz and glamour....it’s constant travelling never knowing where you’re going to be next. College would be so much easier than all this.

I don't think Sheila actually expects people to feel sorry for her daughter who has become an international model in the matter of a month. And the hours that Bethany has spent going to castings and fittings before waltzing down the runway sound exhausting. Many days she worked 14 hours without time to stop and eat.
She was booked for shows then cancelled at the last minute. She was rejected because she is too skinny -- too skinny to be a model? What did they expect when she didn't have time to eat?
In spite of the excruciating hours and the emotional highs and lows, modeling has some benefits that college would not have.
Even though Beth travelled to New York city alone, she had a strict schedule she had to follow. Nearly every hour was planned. Believe me, that cuts down on the emotional highs and lows that come from the many unscheduled hours in college where teenagers can wallow in their loneliness.
Bethany had planned to go to college in Ohio. Instead, she started modeling in New York City, flew to Milan then on to Paris. Modeling has allowed her to travel the world.
If Bethany had gone to college, she would have to pay the $20,000 yearly tuition, or find grants and loans to pay for college. As a model, she'll be paid for shows and her work. Of course, Sheila still has no idea how much money she has made or how much the expenses of the trip will cost.
As a model, at least in Paris, when Bethany exits the buildings she has to stand and allow the paparazzi to snap her photo. If that happened at college, it would mean she had a stalker.
As a model instead of a college student, Bethany does not have to read any more than her daily schedule. At college, she would have to pay for expensive textbooks then read them by the deadline, along with writing papers and studying for tests.
The best thing about Bethany deciding to forego college is that, after two weeks away from home, Sheila was able to fly and join her. She can smooth her hair and kiss her goodnight. Even when they're in a foreign country and Beth feels tired and may snap at Sheila, they aren't separated for months at a time.
That is something that, as a mother, she could not have done if Bethany had gone to college. When they go away to college, the most a mother can do is send calming words across the phone.
So, in spite of the long hours and hard work,even though it isn't all glamour and easy cash, I'm envious of the new life Bethany and Sheila have. Not just because they get to visit exotic locales, but because they get to be together.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Money Changes Everything

I've been thinking about money recently, not just because of the "Didya Ever" post that asked if I had enough money to be satisfied. Truly, it would take so little bonus money to satisfy me.
I started thinking about money when Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report explained that in the United States, one percent of the people control one-third of the wealth. And 10 percent of the people earn three-fourths of the wealth. Wow. That means the other 90 percent of us share one-fourth of the wealth.
The wealth that the top 10 percent has is so beyond my imagination.
When I fantasize about a lottery win, I think I might be able to afford a Honda Pilot to replace my dearly departed one. (This is not a slam at you, Grace. I just love that car.)
One of my fantasies was that if I won the lotto, I could call the local NPR station and stop the fund drive in the middle. "That's it. I'll cover the rest. Get back to programming," I would say.
I'd like to be able to pay for my children's college education without sweating over the checks. Currently, according to our Quicken report, our college payments take 22 percent of our income. That's with me working two jobs and Earl working overtime whenever he can. That's a much higher percentage than someone poor would have to pay, and those rich people, who make $500,000 a year or more might not even notice the monthly college payment.
Of course, I'd like to be able to visit Europe frequently too, so that would take some money.
Still, to live the life that I want, to be satisfied, it wouldn't take anywhere near the amount that the top 10 percent of our country control. I don't long for expensive jewels or flashy cars or pricey clothes.
Even my simple longings seem ridiculously selfish when I consider that some families live in squalor or don't have enough food to eat.
If I feel selfish wishing for college money, trips to Europe, NPR donations and a Honda Pilot, how must those top ten percent feel? Shouldn't they be shoveling their money to the poor to try to make things better for them?
The top ten percent are so far removed from the rest of us. Even those making half a million a year are millions below the top ten perecent. And I wonder why we allow so few people to control the resources in our country. I wonder why we don't protest like the people in Egypt and Tunisia.
Even stranger, I wonder how the media can convince the "middle class" people to keep voting for a government that maintains the status quo, low taxes for everyone. The lure of the American dream is what makes people support low taxes for the rich. "That could be me anyday," they think.
Maybe we all need to decide that it's true, we could become unspeakably wealthy because this is America, but maybe if we did become unspeakably wealthy,we wouldn't leave our morals behind.
Come on top 10 percent, pay higher taxes. Make our country a stronger and better place for everyone. We promise if we become rich and you become poor, that safety net will catch you too.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Blue Eyes

The next couple of days are filled with "end of the season" banquets. Sunday we'll spend the day at Ohio University for YMCA swim champs then go straight to the high school swim banquet. Monday is the winter sports awards at the high school and then Tuesday is the basketball banquet.
Since I'll be gone all day Sunday, I already prepared a double batch of manicotti. Spencer will put it in the oven for me on Sunday so we can snatch it up and get to the swim banquet.
The mom in charge of basketball banquet texted and asked for a first grade photo of Spencer. Of course, Spencer never went to first grade. I searched through stacks of pictures. Almost every picture of my kids when they are younger is outside. The only indoor pictures I could find were violin recitals or chess tournaments.
Finally, I scanned in one of the pictures of Spencer on the beach and cropped it down to a headshot.
Isn't it adorable?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Didya Ever?

This is a list of 100 things to accomplish in your life, originally posted by Linda at http://lindamathieu.com/.
Which ones can you check off?
Which ones do you really want to accomplish?

1. Started your own blog. Well, yeah, accidentally as you'll notice from the title.
2. Slept under the stars. Yep, along the Appalachian Trail, in Yellowstone Park and at the base of Cadillac Mountain in Maine.
3. Played in a band. I was a flag girl in our high school marching band. I always wanted to sing in a band. I sang a lot of solos at church. My son's in a band too.
4. Visited Hawaii- Sadly, no
5. Watched a meteor shower-Yes, although I have a hard time staying awake to see them.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity. Again, sadly, no. Although I tried to donate our used car to NPR once and my husband made me ask for the title back so we could sell it.
7. Been to Disneyland-I've been to Disney World and Disneyland Paris. Should I be proud of that?
8. Climbed a mountain- Yes, see note above about sleeping under the stars at Cadillac Mountain in Maine. I had an awful cold and couldn't breathe as we climbed the mountain. I made Earl find us a ride back to the bottom.
9. Held a praying mantis-yes, when the kids were little and I had to show them how cool they were.
10. Sang a solo-Yes, at church and at a prison!
11. Bungee jumped-Not on my list.
12. Visited Paris- Nine times and counting.
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea- From the shore when we lived in Florida. I've seen waterspouts and hurricanes as well. The bridges all survived and I got to write a newsarticle about it with my friend Suburban Kamikaze.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch-Hmmm. Can't think of one that I initiated and actually succeed at.
15. Adopted a child-I think we've established that I already overdid my quota of children.
16. Had food poisoning-I used to get sick every time we ate at a restaurant.
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty-No, I've only been to NYC to shop.
18. Grown your own vegetables- We have a strawberry patch this year, but we grow tomatoes and basil, cucumbers and peppers every year.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France-Check
20. Slept on an overnight train- From Paris to Munich and from Venice to Nice. On the Paris to Munich trip a little girl went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and came back to our car by mistake. She was putting her shoes under my bunk when I grabbed her by the little wrist, thinking she was stealing something. I returned her shoes to her car the next morning.
21. Had a pillow fight-all the time with my cousins in Kentucky. We made haunted houses and threw blankets and pillows as the "stickey goo" of Spiderman.
22. Hitch hiked. Nope.
23. Taken a sick day when youre not ill- Isn't that what they are for?
24. Built a snow fort-yes
25. Held a lamb -- Not held, but petted.
26. Gone skinny dipping -- How did I miss this one?
27. Run a Marathon- Yes. Columbus. Once was enough.
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice-Yes, but not when we took the kids to Venice. Tucker still hasn't forgiven me.
29. Seen a total eclipse-I think so. I remember making those weird boxes in school so we could see the reflection of the eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset-Often and enjoyable.
31. Hit a home run-How about a homerun in kickball? Would that count?
32. Been on a cruise- Only a whalewatching tour.
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person-Amazing
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors-Relatives still lived there in Three Links, Kentucky when I was growing up.
35. Seen an Amish community-Yes, in Indiana and also when I take Grace back to school in north country New York.
36. Taught yourself a new language- I studied a language -- French. I also studied a bit of Russian.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied- I am fairly greedy, so the answer is no, although I am very satisfied with my life.
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person- Yes, when tourists were still allowed to climb it.
39. Gone rock climbing-Does a rock-climbing wall count?
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David- Yes on a college tour.

41. Sung karoke- No. Maybe tonight!
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt-Yep.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant -- No.
44. Visited Africa-No.
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight- Fell in love with my husband on a moonlit beach.
46. Been transported in an ambulance-No
47. Had your portrait painted -- Not yet.
48. Gone deep sea fishing-No
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person-Yes, but was too young to appreciate it. That same college tour.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris- Yes with many people I love.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling-Snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain- Yes, Gasparilla Flotilla 1988 with my future husband.
53. Played in the mud-Built a bat cave in the empty lot next door.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater- Love the drive-in. Fanta sodas and popcorn in brown paper bags. I've found drive ins to take my kids to so they don't miss out on the experience.
55. Been in a movie - Yes. Harper Valley PTA
56. Visited the Great Wall of China-No
57. Started a business-Does it count if I claim a freelance writing business on my taxes?
58. Taken a martial arts class - No
59. Visited Russia-No
60. Served at a soup kitchen. We've served meals for the homeless with the church and worked at a food pantry.
61. Sold Girl Scout cookies. Yes, and eaten many.
62. Gone whale watching- Yes. Had to turn back because of rough weather.
63. Got flowers for no reason- Lovely.
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma-Used to donate blood regularly.
65. Gone sky diving- I went indoor skydiving in the Smoky Mountains where they have one of those huge fans that blows you up in the air.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp- Yes. So stunningly sad.
67. Bounced a check-Unfortunately.
68. Flown in a helicopter-No
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy. Still have some, including my Elmo stuffed animal that my brother and his roommate scratched off the pupils and hung from my loft at college.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial-Yes, I went to grad school in DC. My favorite was the Jefferson Memorial at night.
71. Eaten Caviar-On my last trip to France. Not bad on buttered bread.
72. Pieced a quilt - yes. Never finished it.
73. Stood in Times Square-Yes.
74. Toured the Everglades-Almost bought a house there where they pave over the Everglades and name the streets things like Heron Drive for the wildlife they've killed off.
75. Been fired from a job-Only from freelance work.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London- Yes
77. Broken a bone -- "Oh, my nose!"
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle -- Yes, all motorcycles feel like they're speeding.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person- Yes
80. Published a book-Not yet
81. Visited the Vatican-Yes and bought a sucker with a picture of Pope John Paul on it for my friend Cyndi.
82. Bought a brand new car- A 1988 mustang convertible. gray and black.
83. Walked in Jerusalem-No
84. Had your picture in the newspaper-Of course.
85. Read the entire Bible-Yes, as a college student.
86. Visited the White House- Yes, the pressroom as a reporter.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating -- No. Not on my list.
88. Had chickenpox. Yes and so did all of my kids without the vaccine.
89. Saved someone's life- No.
90. Sat on a jury -- No, journalists never get picked.
91. Met someone famous-The famous Woody Harrelson kiss. See my previous post -- somewhere this past year.
92. Joined a book club- Yes

93. Lost a loved one-Yes.
94. Had a baby-Two sons and a daughter
95. Seen the Alamo in person-Yes, with my mom and my kids on the great Texas trek where the air conditioning broke in the car.
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake-Saw it, smelled it, but never swam in it.
97. Been involved in a lawsuit-Does it count if they sued our insurance company? The little girl across the street was bit by our dog.
98. Owned a cell phone- Yes, after we left the kids home alone and the roofers came to check something, climbing onto the roof while the kids cowered inside.
99. Been stung by a bee -- So many times. I love to go barefoot.
100. Read an entire book in one day-One of life's great pleasures.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

She Likes It!

I started taking an online writing class about the character-driven novel. I want to keep working on my writing and if I have to think about it, send emails about, analyze it, that keeps me working.
One of the first questions the teacher asked is "Why do you write?"
My response is "Why wouldn't I?"
Since I was a kid, I have kept notebooks filled with my writings. I would get up early on summer mornings, make a peanut butter sandwich and set off throughout the neighborhood looking for adventures that I could include in my writing.
This question forced me to think about the purpose of my writing.
I write because I love to tell stories. Truthfully though, it wouldn't be enough to simply write. I want two other things: I want to be paid for my writing and I want people to enjoy my writing. I want people to read my work in search of those little gems, those words that say precisely what the reader has felt.
Awhile ago, I gave a copy of my latest novel Ransoming Raphael to my friend Sheila. I can't remember when I gave it to her -- maybe last fall, maybe in January. Her life has been in a bit of turmoil as her daughter Bethany becomes an international model. In Ransoming Raphael, a woman travels to France to run her uncle's bed and breakfast and discovers his secret from World War II. While driving around in the backseat of a car in Paris, Sheila took out the manila folder that held the 295 pages of my novel and began to read.
She took pictures of bridges and buildings and flowers throughout the capital of France, and she read my novel. She emailed me when she was on page 104 to tell me she liked it.
Oh, how that made me heart soar. To have someone reading my work and enjoying it -- that feels so good.
Then today, early this morning, our time, she sent this message: "I'm a few pages from the end, I'm loving it btw."
Yippee! I felt like Sally Field at the Oscars. Approval is so energizing.
Within the hour she emailed again: "I like how everything ended up. Its perfect! I can see this as a movie, muy bien!"
Well, she's mixing up her languages, but what can you expect since she has been in both Italy and France within the week. The point is one person in the world has read my book and enjoyed it.
As I continue my online writing class, I'll tweak things in my novel and strengthen the characters and the words, but what motivates me even more is that eventually, more people will read my novel. Some will like it; some won't, but at least it will be on the shelf of a local bookstore for people to choose whether to pick it up or not. I feel sure of it.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Stormy Fifteen

Last night, after dropping Tucker at swim practice, my eyes blurry with tears, I planned the blog post I would write. He turns 15 today and our relationship is stormy.
As a child, he loved me most ferociously. No one else would do for Tuck. He had to have Mama.
Now as a teenager, he hates with an equal passion.
Oh, I know that this will pass. I know he is marching toward an adulthood where his strength will be an asset, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with him now.
I see him wince at every word I say. Any suggestion, any observation, any witticism is like a dagger in his teenage heart.
I spent the day shopping for the list of clothes he requested for his birthday, entering stores where the music is too loud, the lights are low and the scent of cologne burns the inside of my nose.

As he berated me on the drive to swim team, he couldn't know that I had skipped the Statehouse Rally to make his birthday special.
Earl called me as he walked past the rally on his way to work. People chanted. Bands played.
"Those are for people who don't have a kid having a birthday tomorrow," I explained to him as I walked past the Cinnabon inhaling deeply.

He also had no clue that his girlfriend and I were coordinating a surprise birthday party.

So all of those thoughts were racing through my brain as I went back home. I helped Grace with a French project by phone and nearly fell asleep before it was time to pick Tucker up from swim practice.
He got in the car and I decided to begin my birthday present to him. Silence. I would make no comments that would make him cringe. I would say nothing for most of the day.
"What's wrong? You okay? You tired?" he asked after a minute of silence.
So I broke my silence to say I was fine.

"You know, it's amazing how much better I feel after some exercise," he said.
Don't even get me started. I wanted to bat him upside the head. But I went back to silence instead.
I'll take the good mood when it comes and check out the sky for a blue moon while I'm at it.

Dreaming of France -- Arriving in Paris

Thank you for joining this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog . Share with the rest of us yo...