Thursday, December 31, 2009

My very own "Best of 2009" list

If you've watched TV or rolled through your favorite blogs in the last week or so, you've seen dozens of "best of 2009" lists. Cliched as the idea may be, each listmaker comes from a different perspective with different tastes, so I always stop and read. Here's mine.

Young Adult Fiction
  1. Unwind by Neal Shusterman -- This one stayed with me a long time after I finished. You can read my full review here.
  2. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins -- These books made a lot of lists. Word of mouth has spread like wildfire among my students, so much so, I had more students read Collins the first semester for their independent reading project than Stephanie Meyers (Twilight books).
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher -- Another haunting book that examines the devastating snowball effect of gossip and rumors.

Mystery/Suspense

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins -- Rollins is always a lot of fun. I reviewed this book in my What I read this summer post.

Non-Fiction

On Writing by Stephen King -- I read this book for the third time this year. I get something different from it every time. The first half of the book is a memoir focused on King's path to writing. The second half is a toolbox for writers. The memoir is poignant, funny, and inspiring. The toolbox is exactly what it claims to be...a toolbox full of excellent information.

Short Stories

I teach a unit on short stories as part of my professional life, but I rediscovered them in my personal reading this year. Thank you iphone Kindle. I read two particularly noteworthy stories this year.

  1. "The Wife's Story" by Ursula K. Le Guin -- This is a great story for anyone who likes the paranormal. The twist was delightful. I love being surprised.
  2. "By the Waters of Babylon" by Stephen Vincent Benet -- Another engaging story with a twist. Click on the link and read it for yourself.

Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy

I read more of these two genres than I could possible list. When I shuffled through the large pile in the corner of my bedroom, I couldn't even remember what happened in half of them. I almost downloaded one of them onto my phone because the title wasn't familiar when I surfed through Amazon. However, three authors made a big impression on me this year.

  1. Rachel Vincent -- I read two installments in her cat shifter series this year. Shift and Prey. Both devastated me. I discussed Shift at length in this post and Prey in my summer reading post. If you haven't read Vincent, buy Stray, her first book, and go from there.
  2. Karen Marie Moning -- My favorite ending in a book this year was Faefever. It was a true "Oh Shit!" ending. I just read Dreamfever last week, and it has a cliffhanger ending as well. Moning's characters are ambiguous. The first person POV keeps you guessing as to who the true bad guys are.
  3. JR Ward -- I'm a crazy fangirl. Ward can do no wrong. Read my review of Lover Avenged here. Her writing style is "in your face." Her characters are "in your face" badasses, and I love them. In addition to her Black Dagger Brotherhood books, she started a new Fallen Angels series this year. Covet was the first in the series. Fallen Angels is set in the same universe as the BDB, but the characters are different. You can buy BDB as a boxed set. Go now and get them!

My Family's Favorites

  1. First born son: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking -- My kid who hates school loves this book. He started a lot of sentences with "Did you know..." while he was reading it. No, I didn't know, but it was always interesting.
  2. Young son: Gym Candy by Carl Deuker -- If you have teenage boys who like sports, buy them a Carl Deuker book. Son #2 has read every book Carl Deuker has written since reading Gym Candy.
  3. Bruce: House to House by SSG David Bellavia -- This is one marine's account of the original invasion of Fallujah. Bruce read it cover to cover in a day or two.

There you have it...my best of 2009 list. I hope you have a wonderful new year filled with many excellent books!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Drinking the ebook Kool-Aid

I stuck my nose inside a book when I learned to read, and people have been trying to pull it out ever since. Fiction is my first love, but I've been known to step out with a good non-fiction on occasion. Books transport, educate, distract, seduce. The abstract (stories, facts, opinions, conjecture, philosophy, even blathering drivel) is made concrete in books.

I love books as physical objects. I love touching them, flipping through the pages, breathing in their scent. When I walk into a used bookstore or the stacks in a library, the smell of old books triggers the pleasure center in my brain, and my mood lifts. So when ebooks arrived, I held nothing but disdain. Pundits prophesied the end of print, and I laughed. Right...like I want to curl up in bed with my computer until I fall asleep. Ebooks weren't portable. They weren't convenient. The whole idea was ridiculous.

Enter the portable e-reader. For the last couple of years, I've listened to people wax lyrical about their Kindles and Sony e-readers, but I remained skeptical. Not for me, I thought. They're expensive...$200 - $300 expensive. Then you still have to pay for the content. Plus, it's not a book. It doesn't smell like a book. It doesn't feel like a book. You can't flip through the pages to get a literal as well as a literary feel for it. No thank you very much.

My aversion bordered on irrational. I'm not a technophobe at all. My most prized material possession is my iphone. Seriously, I love the thing. If technology can improve something, I'm all over it. Why was I so threatened by the ebook?

I believe nostalgia accounts for 50% of my ebook aversion. Books have always been a source of happiness for me. No matter what is happening in my life, I know a good book will provide a few hours escape. And while the experience of reading is primarily intellectual or imaginative, it is also sensory. The cover art is visually stimulating and often the first lure in checking out a new author. The smell of ink on paper and the physical sensation of touching and turning pages add to the enjoyment.

The other 50% has to do with the idea of permanence. Books have existed as physical objects since man started writing things down. Books don't require electricity or batteries. A virus won't corrupt the data. Yes, I know books can be destroyed, but ink and paper don't seem as fragile as bits and bytes. As an aspiring author, I don't dream of seeing my name underneath the title on an e-reader. I dream of running my fingers across the raised letters of my name on the glossy cover of a physical book.

I know you can't fight the future. We're all barreling into it at light speed, and clinging to the past won't slow it down. So, I dipped my toe into the pool. I downloaded the free Kindle app onto my iphone.

*Insert sheepish grin here*

I now have one more reason to love my iphone. Amazon has a service called "one-click ordering." You find an interesting book, click one time, and shazam! The book is on your phone. I can have any book I want whenever I want with one click. So dangerous...so very, very dangerous. You don't even feel like you're spending money because you entered your credit card number way back when you set the account up. There's no mention of a monetary transaction when you "one click order."

The text is easily readable on my iphone screen, and ironically, more portable than a physical book. My phone is always with me, so I can read anywhere...and I do. I have always had a book for doctors' office waiting rooms, the hair salon, and such, but now I read in the checkout line at WalMart, at the post office, the bank, anywhere I have to wait. My attitude about waiting is vastly improved because I don't feel like my time is being stolen from me. I'm using it to do something I enjoy.

Then there is the massive pile of books in the corner of my bedroom, a constant source of aggravation for Bruce because I refuse to part with them. There are four more large boxes full in the basement. I do lend books to my friends all the time, but with a few notable exceptions, I never pick most of them up again once I've finished. When I'm done with a book on my iphone, I delete it because Amazon keeps a record of what I've bought. If I want to read a book again, it's in my archived items, and I download it again for free.

Yes, I've not only drunk the ebook Koolaid, I've drunk deep.

I probably won't shell out $200 for a regular Kindle. The app on my phone works just fine. Amazon is not losing anything on me with my "one click" fascination. I'm still secure in my love of print books. They're not going anywhere. For the casual reader, print is still the best game out there. Libraries full of print books are a load-bearing support beam for a democratic society.

The smell of ink on paper still hits my brain like brownies baking, but for instant gratification, you can't beat "one clicking" an ebook.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Operation Santa Surprise!

My friend, Pam, found out she was getting a couple of weeks leave at Christmas at the same time she found out she was being extended six months. "Yes, you get to go home to your family, but then you have to come back to Iraq until June." The army giveth. The army taketh away.

If you read my last post, then you know we pulled off the surprise, but it was a close thing. Her family knew she was coming home, but they didn't know when. Pam told them it would probably be between Christmas and New Year's when she arrived, but she didn't have an exact date. Her story was credible because as anyone who has ever served knows, the army works in mysterious ways. In fact, the army's "mysterious ways" almost derailed our whole plan.

So this is how it was supposed to go: Pam would get a departure date. Our friend and photographer, Amanda, would make an appointment with Stephanie, Pam's daughter, for family pictures. Pam had already told her husband, Mike, and all three of her girls the only thing she wanted was a professionally done family picture for her chu in Iraq. This insured her family would be on board for the picture. How do you say no to Mom's only Christmas request? The appointment with the photographer would also insure everyone was home when Pam walked through the door, and she would have great pictures to document the surprise.

A most excellent plan, right?

Right. The only thing our plan did not take into account was the army and its "mysterious ways."

Pam got her departure date on Sunday, the 20th. She would be leaving Iraq at 0 dark thirty Monday morning. The eight hour time difference would put her in Kentucky late Monday afternoon. Perfect! She would be back in time to get her feet under her, maybe even do some shopping before Christmas. Amanda called Stephanie and made an appointment. Pam's oldest daughter, Melinda, raced home from WKU without even selling her books back...a true sacrifice when you're in college and always looking for extra money.

Everything was set and ready to go. Pam would call me from Germany to give me the exact time of her arrival in Kentucky. I had a hard time falling asleep Sunday night. I expected that call to come in the middle of the night with the time difference, and I was as excited as a kid on Christmas eve. When I heard my phone beep at 6:30 the next morning, I sat straight up and knocked half the stuff on my bedside table to the floor getting to my phone.

Imagine my disappointment when I read Pam's text message saying she was delayed in Kuwait for at least 24 hours. Amanda got the same message, and we were on the phone shortly thereafter. We came up with an excuse for her to reschedule the pictures for Tuesday.

Tuesday morning brought another text message...another 24 hours at least, but probably not until Thursday. Amanda called Stephanie with an imaginary family crisis in Ohio. Could they do the pictures on Christmas eve instead...around 6pm? It bears mentioning that Mike is a stickler for punctuality. He hates being late, and he believes people should show up when they say they will. Pam was smart in having Amanda make the arrangements with Stephanie.

Another message from Pam...an email this time. I could hear Pam's deteriorating state of mind in each successive message. As disappointing as the delays were on my end, they were absolutely crushing on hers. She briefly thought she was going to get home on Wednesday, sending me on a frantic search for U of L's basketball schedule because Stephanie had tickets for Wednesday's game right behind the players' bench. Before Amanda and I could take action...another message. "I lost all military bearing and had a meltdown on an E4 and two Kuwaiti nationals, but I will be on the next flight out of here and should be home Thursday morning. Change the pictures to 11 or 12." Turns out she had disappeared out of the system, and if she hadn't had the meltdown would probably still be sitting in Kuwait.

This was the point where it crossed my mind that we might have to bring Mike in on the plan, but we had come this far. We were too invested not to make it work. Poor Amanda had to call Stephanie again, and the situation was getting dicey. Mike had made plans to take the family to Louisville to spend Christmas eve with Pam's brother. They were having an early dinner and would be back for the 6pm appointment. Oy! Mike pushed to reschedule the appointment for 10am, but Amanda talked him into 11am. When Pam arrived in Atlanta, we discovered her flight to Lexington wouldn't arrive until 1:26pm. The earliest Bruce and I could get her home would be 2pm, and that was assuming everything went smoothly at the airport with baggage claim. Let me say again...Oy!

Amanda texted Stephanie...lol...she didn't have the nerve to actually talk to her. "Got held up in Lexington traffic. Won't arrive until 11:30." Pam called her brother and told him not to ask questions. Just tell Mike something had happened and dinner would be delayed a couple of hours. Her brother's call calmed Mike down because a short time later Stephanie texted Amanda back. "No hurry now." Amanda took her at her word and didn't arrive until almost noon.

Amanda brought every piece of photography equipment she owned. Lights, backdrops, lenses, etc. and took her sweet time in setting up all of this mostly unnecessary gear. She shot every possible combination: Mike and the three girls, Mike and each girl, each girl separately, each girl with each sister, and so on, and so on. Thank God, Pam's flight arrived on time and baggage claim went without a hitch. Traffic was even surprisingly light. It was the only part of the whole operation that ran smoothly.

When we were 10 minutes out, we got a call from Amanda. "I'm at my car getting my laptop to preview the pics. How much longer?" Her voice held a tinge of desperation, and with good reason. Pam had made it clear she was not to leave until we got there. Pam knew as soon as Amanda was gone, Mike would pack up and go to Louisville. I was happy to tell her we were almost there, and she didn't have to send Mike off the deep end yet one more time.

Mike's face was priceless when Bruce and I knocked on the door holding a Christmas present in our hands. For just a second, I could actually see, "Now what?" on his face. He recovered quickly and graciously invited us in. Pam was pressed against the side of the house like special forces getting ready to kick in the door...lol. Pam waited a minute to give Bruce time to get on the other side of the room with the video camera and to give Amanda time to get her camera out and ready. I babbled something about wanting to stop by before Christmas and bring a present. Allie, the youngest daughter, later told me I was "cheesing" the whole time I was talking. When I saw Pam's shadow outside the door, I said, "Oh yeah, and I brought something else too." Then I got out of the way.

The screaming and hugging and crying lasted a long time. Joy was tangible. The air was laced with it, and no drug could ever replace that high. Bruce called it a once in a lifetime experience, and he's right. Christmas morning was brighter in my own house because I knew Pam was waking up in hers. The warm glow carried all the way through the weekend.

Amanda documented the whole thing on film, and her reputation was restored. Yes, she can keep an appointment, but the army operates on its own schedule. She was a hero in all of this. Being the wheel man was a lot easier than annoying Mike with constant schedule changes. So thank you, Amanda.

I'm going to go annoy Mike now by camping out in his house to catch up with Pam. Although, maybe I've accumulated enough goodwill that he won't mind so much.

Friday, December 25, 2009

This is what Christmas looks like



You are looking at the best Christmas present I ever delivered. My best friend, Pam, has been in Iraq for a year with six months to go. She found out she was getting leave for the holidays and wanted to surprise her family. The surprise was a major undertaking, and for a day or two I didn't think we were going to pull it off. Without our friend and photographer extraordinaire, Amanda, we couldn't have done it. It's an exciting story, and I'll share the details in another post.

Now in the early hours of Christmas morning, I am thankful to have my friend back.I am blessed to have given her three girls and her husband the only gift that matters. Nothing my own boys will open in the morning even comes close.

Two moments will define Christmas for me this year. The first happened at the airport. Pam came down the escalator at baggage claim and we hugged and it was wonderful, then as she was taking her bag off the carousel, another lady, a complete stranger, quietly touched her on the arm and said, "Thank you."

The second happened at her house. When Pam walked through the door, I watched the look on her husband's face change from shock to disbelief to joy all in the fraction of a second. The soundtrack to this moment? Three girls letting loose with a scream that started at ear-piercing decibels and ending as something that only dogs could hear.

Enjoy your family and friends today, and say a prayer for those soldiers who didn't get to hug their husbands and wives and kids.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Universal Truths

Pride goeth before a fall.

I wasn't sure if Ben Franklin or Jesus said that, so I Googled it. Turns out it's in the Old Testament...Proverbs. Proverbs is not only a book in the Bible, it's a word we use to identify statements of truth, universal statements of truth. This particular proverb shows up in every religion, every culture. The Greeks called it hubris, and nothing got a mythological character in trouble faster.

Sooooo, in my 100th post, I bragged on my baby steps toward self-improvement. "I didn't throw a fit over a silly game of golf. Go me!" I felt good about that accomplishment, proud even. I was growing into a mature adult, leaving sore loserville behind.

Then Saturday came, and I proved that proverbs are universal truth.

Saturday was Bruce's staff Christmas party. We never just sit around eating, drinking, and making merry at a football party. These are coaches, by god, and they are all about competition. Kinda makes sense that I married one, doesn't it? Anyway, Ellen, the head coach's wife, always has some big tournament planned for the Christmas party, and the prizes aren't anything to sneeze at. Cold hard cash is involved. Combine a room full of highly competitive people, the spirits of the season, and cash...honestly, I'm surprised we still like each other when it's over. I haven't seen the linebackers' coach since Saturday, but I'm still composing the apology I owe him.

Ellen organized a Catch-Phrase tournament this year. You know, the word game where you give clues to your partner so they'll say the word or phrase that pops up on the screen. She broke everyone up into offense and defense, and then divided the various tables up so that offensive coaches and wives played against defensive coaches and wives. To make everything nice and even, she had to make some arbitrary assignments. She put the athletic trainer and his wife on team defense which would have been fine if she hadn't apologized for it. "I'm sorry, Randy. I had to put you and Amy on defense."

Sorry? Really? Ummmm...the only thing standing between the other team's quarterback and the end zone is the DEFENSE! Are you sorry when the defense puts the quarterback on his ass? I think not. Offense may win games, but another proverb, universal truth as it were, is that defense wins championships.

Yes, my husband is the defensive line coach, and yes, my hackles were standing up when the game started. In the first round, I was paired up with the linebackers' coach. Picture me banging my head against the table. It's been three days, and I'm still not over it.

I had the electronic thingy first, and the phrase was "Anakin Skywalker." Piece of cake, right?

"Luke's father," I say

"Darth Vadar," says Shan.

"Yes!! But it's his name before he became Darth Vadar!"

"Skywalker."

"YES!! I need his first name too."

Blank stare until the buzzer sounds an obnoxious end to the time. Point to team offense. I took a deep breath, cracked my neck to relieve tension, and shook it off. Anakin is hard, and although it's a piece of pop culture almost everyone knows, Shan is definitely not a Star Wars geek. We restart the electronic thingy, and offense quickly gets their phrase correct. Now Shan has the electronic thingy.

"Oh!" He shouts dramatically.

"Oh Brother, where art thou!" I shout back.

"No. Guys like to be called this."

"Dude, bro, man, strong, tough..."

I listed every appellation or adjective I could think of. Shan sits, staring blankly at the screen. Finally, as the electronic thingy is beeping wildly, indicating the buzzer is about to sound, Shan shouts, "HE'S A LOVER!"

Huh? My clues are "OH!", "Guys like to be called this," and "HE'S A LOVER!" Before I could say WTF, the buzzers sounds. Point to team offense. The word Shan wants me to say???

Romeo.

Romeo.

Honestly, what's the first thing anyone else in the English-speaking world would say? Juliet, maybe? This one really stuck in my craw because Romeo and Juliet is part of my ninth grade core content. There are a hundred things Shan could have said that would've made me say "Romeo".....starting with JULIET!

In the next two rounds, I had different partners, and we kicked ass and took names. At the end of the tournament, couples added their points together and the highest totals won. Bruce and I came in third overall, and we did leave with cash. Third place cash. Anakin Skywalker and ROMEO could have meant second or even first place cash. I harangued poor Shan mercilessly the rest of the evening, and I will apologize the next time I see him. He's a truly nice guy who doesn't deserve my crazy, sore loser alter-ego.

Oh hubris, you have been the fatal flaw of greater characters than I, but you can add me to your list of the fallen. I am appropriately humbled.

(For the record...the first, second, and third place couples were all on team defense. It's a mindset. Offense thinks about scoring points. Defense thinks about crushing the enemy, proving that universal truth that defense wins championships.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Standing Up

I opened blogger this afternoon intending to write a humorous piece about Bruce's football staff Christmas party, and maybe later I will. But scrolling through the blogs I follow, I came across something I am compelled to share.

Moonrat (an editor at a publishing house) held a contest in which writers entered short essays celebrating the mentors, muses, and monsters that inspired them to write. She has been posting the finalists' essays on her blog for the last three or four days. Today's entry by Merry Monteleone blew me away.

My teacher friends will love this because it's a reminder of the difference we can make. Everyone else will love it because it is a reminder of how standing up for someone else has as profound an effect on you as it does on them.

Please take a moment to click here and be uplifted.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy 100th! And Self-Improvement!

This entry marks the 100th post of my blog. I started this blog last January during an ice storm when I was forced to write in a Starbucks that still had power. You can read that inaugural entry here. Eleven months of posts rambling over a wide range of topics, and here we are.

The writer in me loves the instant gratification of blogging. Novel-writing is a long, lonely, laborious process. You spend hours inside your own head. Self-doubt is a constant companion. Am I any good? Is this crap? Finally finishing and getting feedback is a rush, but it's a long time coming. Blogging is immediate. You spend an hour or so writing, click a button, and shazam! You're published!

I've chosen to use my 100th post to update you on my road to self-improvement. If you've been reading awhile, then you know I struggle with an extremely competitive nature. To put it bluntly, I'm a sore loser. One might even say I'm an obnoxious loser. You can read more about that here. I'm working on it, though, and I'm happy to share a couple of recent events pointing to improvement in that area.

Thursday, the staff participated in another of the dreaded team competitions at school. This one was an indoor golf competition. Plastic cups representing tees and holes were strategically placed around the building, and teams had to navigate obstacles to sink the putt...a twisted version of miniature golf.

The fun started when the putters were distributed. I haven't decided if teaching freshmen changes a person or if a certain personality type is naturally drawn to teach freshmen. Either way, we found ourselves talking over the administrator while the rules were explained, swinging our clubs, and repeating Tiger Woods jokes we'd heard from the kids. (Did you hear he's changing his name? He's sticking with the cat theme and changing it to Cheetah.)

Things did not improve when we started to play. We sent golf balls careening off of walls, furniture, and members of other teams. Golf etiquette was thrown out the window as players intentionally aimed for the other teams' ball. Grown men shouted gleefully down the hall, "Hey, leave my balls alone!" And no, alcohol was not involved. Although, one could argue living through the last week before Winter Break produces the same disorientation and lack of inhibition as downing a six pack. (What's the difference between a golf ball and a Cadillac? Tiger can drive a golf ball.)

When the dust settled, my team came in dead last. This despite Amanda's incredible bank shot off a classroom door for a par two on the last hole. Dead last. We would have come in third (out of four teams) except that just as a member of another team hit the ball, a student opened an outside door, and the ball sailed into the parking lot. That team initially held the doors open and played the ball from outside, but the powers that be decided to let them play the hole over. The urge to cry foul welled up inside of me, but instead of indulging it, I bit my tongue. It helped that I had to leave before they finished replaying the hole and was not there when the final score was tallied. Still, I recognized I would have screamed bloody murder if it had been my ball in the parking lot. This is improvement, don't you think?

Then again last night, I played bunco with some teacher friends. I tied for the most buncos but lost the roll-off that determined who took the money home. I smiled and congratulated the winner with nary a bitter word.

Maybe it's the holiday season, or maybe it's my recent reminder of my own mortality, but I just couldn't work up the righteous indignation. I love my job, and I love the people I work with. Maybe, I was just having too much fun to be mad. (What's the difference between Santa and Tiger? Santa stops at three ho's.)

I hope you have a weekend filled with holiday shopping and parties!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Appalachian Antics

What do a box of X-rated videos, a Baptist minister, and man with cerebral palsy have in common? Sounds like the set-up to a bad joke. They are actually the key components of a day in the life of my new friend, John.

I only just met John, but I suspect he is perpetually underestimated. He exudes Appalachian good-ole-boy charm. His unassuming manner, the cadence of his speech, his turn of phrase are straight out of the mountains. Some folks out there equate those attributes with a lack of sophistication and, dare I say, intelligence. Woe to them that make those assumptions about John.

The man is wicked smart. Linda called him the smartest person she knows, and that's saying something. He has a bigwig job at the University of Kentucky, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. The man is a chameleon.

John possesses another wonderful Appalachian quality. He is a great storyteller. Oral storytelling is an enduring tradition in eastern Kentucky. I once had an Appalachian storyteller visit my classroom. She told a Civil War ghost story that scared the bejeebers out of a group of jaded high school students in the middle of the day. But I digress. My retelling is a pale imitation of John's original, but here goes.

John had a friend back in eastern Kentucky with cerebral palsy. The man was a well-known, well-liked fixture in their small town. Apparently, he not only refereed high-school basketball games, he was the radio color commentator for the high school football games. John's friend struggled with small motor function. Sorting out called fouls made for high drama in close basketball games.

John's friend also had a penchant for porn. To hear John tell it, he amassed quite a collection over the years. But porn is a cold companion, and they were lonely years. Then he met the girl of his dreams. They fell in love, and she accepted his proposal of marriage. John's friend only had one problem. What to do with his porn? Being a man who believed in giving back to the community, John's friend decided to donate it to the local video store so anyone could come in and pick up a nudie flick or two.

John's friend needed help moving his video library from his house to the video store, so John came over to box it up and drive it across town. Did I mention he had a large collection? The oversized box was overflowing and heavy, and it took both of them to lift it. They managed to get out the front door and onto the porch. John stepped his end off the porch, and then it was his friend's turn to step down. Sometimes John's friend struggled with large motor function. Carrying a big, heavy box, that step was just more than he could navigate.

When he missed the porch step, all hell broke loose. His feet flew out from under him, and VHS tapes exploded like an obscene bomb all over the front yard. John's friend landed on his back, and he was stuck there like a turtle, unable to roll over and regain his feet. Meanwhile, his next door neighbor came outside just in time to see the accident. Unfortunately for both John and his friend, the next door neighbor was also the local Baptist preacher. Being a Christian man, he rushed across the yard to help.

John was yellin' like a lunatic, "It's okay Reverend! I got it! I got it!" all the while, ignoring his friend rolling back and forth like a bug on it's back, shoveling porn as fast as he could into that box. He actually managed to get most of out of sight. The preacher focused his energy on getting John's friend back on his feet, bewildered as to why John would ignore him in favor of the box.

I suppose all's well that ends well. John and his friend transferred the collection to the video store where it remained for three months. When the new bride filed for divorce, John's friend happily reunited with his movies, and they've stayed together ever since.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

...and Lewis Black was funny too.

This is one of those posts where I'm struggling with my blogging persona. Friday's frivolity created a wealth of fodder for my blog, but I enjoy having a regular pay check and health insurance, so I am ever mindful of the line which denotes oversharing. To bump right up against that line without crossing it is a delicate thing. Interestingly, I ignore that line's existence completely when I write fiction. Fiction is...well, fiction...and to quote author Christina Dodd, should be written "balls to the wall" or don't bother. I agree wholeheartedly.

But Friday's frivolity is non-fiction, the kind of wonderful reality everyone needs now and again. Especially after one has suffered through a particularly miserable Thanksgiving. I joined Linda and company in Louisville for dinner and Lewis Black at the Palace.

My friend, Linda, has an eclectic group of friends. How she collected me, I couldn't say. I'm not strangely quirky or a walking, talking nonsequiter like some of her other close friends. I am able to think on my feet, a necessary survival skill in that crowd, and I guess that qualifies me for inclusion.

Donnie is a writer/musician who has lived big. I infer this from the wealth of information he imparted on a variety of subjects about which I was clueless. And mind you, I read a lot. He has a rapier wit with no filter, and early on in the evening, before I got the lay of the land, he had me sputtering and choking on just about everything he said. Donnie is the primary reason I'm struggling with my blogging persona. I want to title this post with one of his nuggets of wisdom, but I'm certain it crosses that heretofore mentioned line. Really....every funny thing he said crosses that line.

We ate dinner at a hibachi grill, and together, Linda and Donnie managed to thoroughly piss off our chef. Linda annoyed him because she kept getting distracted, missing his tricks, and then wanting him to do them again. How she missed a flaming onion volcano is a mystery. The flames shot three feet into the air directly in front of her. After he dismantled the volcano and began to cut up the onion, Linda said, "Oh...he didn't do the volcano thing." To say the chef gave her a black look would be an understatement. Combine Linda's inattentiveness with Donnie's eye-rolling and refusal to be impressed, and I can only applaud the chef's professionalism. He never once threw his large knife in either of their directions.

After the show, as we followed Robert's complicated instructions for meeting him at the car (Robert is Linda's husband and seems to have a zen quality about him in these situations. Donnie said they only let Robert come along to pay for things and park the car.), Donnie pointed out a strip joint sitting adjacent to a bar. He proceeded to explain that in Louisville, full-frontal nudity is not allowed in an establishment that serves alcohol, so the patrons have to shuffle back and forth between the bar and the strip joint. Toplessness and alcohol are legal together. Linda piped in and said that Lexington, a smaller city, is more progressive in this respect. Donnie's response? "If beer and b*** are your measuring stick, then yes, Lexington is more progressive than Louisville."

We had expensive floor seats (Thank you Robert) to see Lewis Black, a nationally recognized comedian. I see him regularly on The Daily Show. He was funny, riffing on politics, Tiger Woods, and such. I was entertained. But the only line from the entire evening I actually remember is Donnie's.

Tomorrow, I'll blog about Linda's friend, John. His story about a box of porn, a Baptist preacher, and a man with cerebral palsy really needs an audience.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma'am!

My trip to the doctor today made me chuckle, and I decided it was time to blog about my recent stroll through the health care system. My surgeon, a lovely Indian man, walked into the exam room and said, "Oh you! You had the really nasty gall bladder!" He said it so gleefully I had to smile. I was glad my gall bladder was sufficiently disgusting to break up the monotony of all those regular screwed-up gall bladders he's had to remove. After waxing lyrical about the overabundance of stones in said gall bladder, he looked at my incision, poked at my belly a little, and said, "Go back to your life." Then before I could blink, he was out the door. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

I wasn't mad. Inordinately disgusting gall bladder notwithstanding, I know I'm not special. Just another patient on his table, and the more of us he sees in a day, the more cash rolls in. And honestly, who really wants to spend any more time in a doctor's office than you have to? What's funny is that my surgery pretty much went the same way.

I arrived at the hospital last Tuesday at 6:30 am and I was back home by 10:30 am. I was still groggy from the happy drugs when the recovery room nurse handed me my clothes and asked me if I was ready to get dressed. I wasn't. "No hurry." Two minutes later another nurse was helping me sit up and get into my clothes. Five minutes after that I was in a wheel chair being deposited onto the portico while Bruce hustled to get the car. We pulled away from the entrance, and I'm pretty sure we both said, "Damn."

My surgery was routine for everyone involved...everyone except me. Assembly line gall bladder removal. Again, I'm not complaining really. Having spent two days in the hospital over Thanksgiving weekend after my initial attack, I wasn't anxious to spend a lot more time there.

Anyone who's ever been admitted to the hospital knows it's not a good place to get any rest. Sure, you're confined to a bed, but like clockwork, every time you close your eyes, someone comes along to poke, prod, stick, shake, rattle, and roll. Unless, of course, your IV machine starts beeping, and then no one comes until your head's about to explode and you're weeping with frustration.

The second night I was there, I got a roommate at 1 am. It took them an hour to get her settled. She was transported by ambulance from a hospital one county over because they didn't have a surgeon to take care of her kidney stone. Interestingly, our hospital didn't have a surgeon to do it until 4:00 pm the next day, so of course it made perfect sense to rush her by ambulance in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I can't unhear the 2 am conversation about passing kidney stones.

It's all good though. I'm lucky enough to live in a country with superb health care and to have a job with good health insurance. This bump in the road would be a game changer without that good health care or that good insurance.

I'm going back to work tomorrow, and I can't tell you how happy that makes me. I'm not usually averse to time off...recharging the batteries, chasing my writing dream, and all that good stuff. But this last week and a half has been mostly spent sleeping or staring listlessly at the television. I talked about the erosion of my mind in my last post. I'm done with that and ready to educate some kids!

(My teacher friends are now certain my mind is gone if I think I'm going to to educate kids when Winter Break is less than two weeks away. Cat-herding anyone?)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pain

In my last blog post, I wished my small, but loyal, audience a Happy Thanksgiving. As some of you already know, my Thanksgiving holiday took a wrong turn in a big way.

Thursday started well enough. My dad and stepmom arrived early, and the morning went exactly as I envisioned it. We hung out in the kitchen, cooking, nibbling, and catching up. We sat down to dinner around 1:30 or so, and it was lovely. I did the corny thing where I made everybody say what they were thankful for. Teenage boys just love being forced to say something embarrassing before they're allowed to eat. But they did and it was nice.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching a movie and dozing. Later that evening, I went back for round two of Thanksgiving dinner. Was I particularly hungry? No. Not even a little bit. But Bruce had warmed up a plate, and the aroma of smoked turkey and homemade dressing grabbed me like a cartoon character and pulled me into the kitchen.

Have you ever seen that Monty Python movie where the guy eats "a wafer-thin mint" and explodes? Yeah...well that's exactly how I felt. I immediately zonked out on the couch and experienced the last sustained sleep I would have without serious pain meds.

Pain is a frightening, powerful force. It beats at you, and like waves relentlessly pounding the beach, it erodes. It erodes your peace of mind. Do I have indigestion? Gas? Then later...appendicitis? Diverticulitis? An invisible knife in my belly? It erodes your social sensibilities. I went from putting a brave face on it for my company to curling up in a ball in the ER and not caring who saw me. It erodes your resolve. It erodes every coherent thought until all that remains is MAKE. IT. STOP.

Blessedly, the ER doc's first order was pain medication. If we had gone around the table 24 hours later, I would have been most thankful for morphine. Morphine was beautiful for two reasons. First and foremost, the pain went away. The invisible demon knife disappeared, and I could breathe. Second, many odious tests passed by in a fog. The hospital vampires took vials of blood, and I watched, disinterested. A nefarious blueberry shake called "contrast" was forced on me before my CT scan, and I drank it without complaint. Iodine was plunged into my IV right before they ran me through the donut hole of an ominous machine. Even in my morphine haze, that CT scan was freakin' scary. Without the drugs? I shudder to think.

The irony of pain meds is they perform a different kind of erosion. They erode your will to do anything other than exist. My husband brought me the book I had been reading, and I had a new ebook on my iphone Kindle app. I didn't read a word of either while I was in the hospital. I lay in the bed staring at bad TV and listening to hospital drama (that's a whole other blog). Yesterday, more than a week after my initial attack, I finally felt like reading again. Today, I finally feel like writing. I haven't taken pain meds in over 48 hours, so I'm convinced that's the difference.

For the last week, my life has revolved around managing pain. The offending organ (my gall bladder) has been removed, and I'm on the mend. Yesterday, I finished the Iris Johanson book I started before all this happened, read part of the ebook of short stories on my iPhone (Marjorie Liu's was particularly good), and read all of the YA my colleagues brought me (Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why). Today, you finally get a blog post, and I'm getting those eroded parts of my mind back.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Lights

I know I'm going to sound a bit Scroogish in this post, so let me start by saying, I'm not a Christmas hater. I like Christmas just fine.

In December.

I had to run a couple of errands after the sun set this evening, and I saw several of my neighbors had put up their Christmas lights. I was in the car by myself, and I think I said out loud, "Are you freaking kidding me?"

I don't know why I'm surprised. The Christmas commercials have been running on TV for a week or more. A local radio station is already playing Christmas music. Wal-Mart had their Christmas merchandise out the day after Halloween.

I hate this trend. Seriously. I really, really HATE this trend.

The Christmas lights actually soured my mood which is, I'm pretty sure, the exact opposite of what they're supposed to do. My reaction bears examination. Why should I care if somebody else wants to celebrate the season for more than a month? It's their electric bill after all.

I went shopping this morning for my Thanksgiving meal. My dad and stepmom are coming to stay with us for the long weekend, and I'm looking forward to it. We'll cook together, eat, lay around watching football and movies. We'll spend hours just catching up with all the little details we don't get around to sharing on Facebook or the phone. My stepmom and I will do some shopping on Friday at a reasonable hour. While I'm not a Black Friday fanatic, I'm not stupid. The sales are good, and it's my only opportunity to shop with Patricia. We won't be getting up at the crack of dawn and waiting in a cold line. All in all, we'll have a laid back family THANKSGIVING weekend.

Pushing Christmas on me when I'm thinking about Thanksgiving just pisses me off. Let me enjoy this holiday without feeling like I'm already behind on the next one.

Stretching the season out so long takes something away from it. Scarcity gives anything value. An overabundance of a resource makes it cheap. Holidays are special because they come once a year. Stretching the Christmas season to 5-6 weeks means you are spending more than 10% of the year celebrating.

We won't put up our decorations until two weeks before Christmas, and my boys will be certain we are the last people in the world to put up a tree. Maybe, but who cares? I will be ready to look at that tree and appreciate it until Christmas day. Any earlier and I'll be completely sick of vacuuming needles, and I'll start to resent it. I won't put any presents under the tree until a week out, maybe less. That really makes my boys crazy, but when the presents do appear, it will be special. Remember when you had to WAIT for Christmas? My teenagers will be 5 years old again, and that's a gift you can't buy.

To my friends out there already celebrating Christmas, I'm not bashing you. Have at it. I just won't be joining you for a few weeks. When I do, I'll be the life of the party because I won't have holiday fatigue.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Unwind

I just closed the pages of Neal Shusterman's Unwind. Usually, I like to think about a book a little...let it simmer...before I blog about it. This one had me heading straight for the computer.

I picked up Unwind at the urging of a couple of my students. Science fiction is not normally my genre of choice, but their book talks were intriguing. Unwind is a young adult novel, but that label is misleading. There is nothing lightweight or juvenile about this book.

The book takes place in the not-too-distant future after the second Civil War. Called the Heartland War, the fight was started by militant factions of the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Peace was finally achieved when the Bill of Life was signed. The Bill states that a child cannot be harmed between the moment of conception and its thirteenth birthday, at which time a parent can choose to retroactively abort their child by having it unwound. Unwinding is a process in which the child is harvested for body parts. Every single part is used, so the child is considered to still be "alive." Once a person reaches the age of eighteen, they are a legal adult and can no longer be signed over to the state for unwinding.

The premise is simultaneously intriguing and horrifying. I had not previously read any of Shusterman's work, and I feared the book might become a shrill political statement on the abortion issue, although I was uncertain on which side of the issue he would fall. Here's the interesting thing...I've read the book, and I still don't know. I have not yet gone in search of that information out here on the information super-highway, and I'm thinking I won't. I kind of like not knowing.

The novel follows three teens, Connor, Risa, and Lev, who have been signed over for unwinding. Connor, 16, suffers from impulse control and a hair-trigger temper. Throughout the novel, he struggles to think beyond the first thought that enters his head to the second, usually wiser, thought. In this respect, he resembles almost every teenage boy I know. His parents get tired of dealing with his poor choices and sign him over to be unwound. He runs away and is thrown together with Risa, 15, and Lev, 13. Risa has been a ward of the state, unwanted since birth. The budget for the overcrowded state homes is tight, so any ward without a talent that justifies the cost of their care is signed over for unwinding. Lev is a "tithe." His religious-fundamentalist parents take the call to tithe 10% of their possessions seriously. Lev is the 10th child. He is prepared from birth (read brainwashed) to be unwound when he turns 13.

The three meet other Unwinds on the run. Each story is more awful than the one before it. Hayden's parents signed him over for unwinding as the culminating act of spite in a bitter divorce. Each parent would see him unwound before allowing the other to have custody. Embry's parents died and left him money, so his greedy aunt signed him over. As I read, I thought, "Okay, Shusterman is pro-life. He's making the point that these parents make horrible rationalizations to justify terminating the life of their child."

It's not that simple, though. Shusterman also includes the overcrowded state homes filled with unwanted babies who become unwanted, unwound teens. Then there is "storking." Storking is a law which says a parent can leave their unwanted newborn on someone else's front porch. The person who finds the child is required by law to raise it whether they want it or not...more often than not a recipe for disaster. Lev's family was storked three times, making the decision to "tithe" him easier.

Lest you think the book is one big convoluted social comment, let me assure you it's also a page-turning rollercoaster of a story. The adults are baffling, and almost universally unlikeable, but the teen protagonists are real and round and suck you in. The stakes for these kids are high, and the suspense and sense of urgency keeps you reading. The inevitable scene in which we see a character unwound left me cold with horror. I fully expect to have nightmares tonight.

In spite of possible nightmares, I don't regret reading the book. The best adjective for the experience would be "haunting." Shusterman illustrates there are no easy, pat answers to the abortion question. His views on some other social issues are clearer. Society has replaced the terms "black" and "white" with "umber" and "sienna" to describe skin color, but the underlying racism still exists. One of my favorite secondary characters, CyFy, has two dads who are m-married, and they are the sanest adults in the story. And I cackled out loud when someone asks Connor why he doesn't know more about a historical event, and he responds by saying it was the last chapter in the textbook and they couldn't get to it because of state testing.

I have two teenage sons who routinely test my mettle as a parent. They are good boys, but sometimes they make poor choices. They have made me lay awake with worry, cry, and rail at the universe, but the idea of throwing my hands in the air and disposing of them is unthinkable. I can't imagine a world where it would be routinely accepted. Shusterman can. He opens the last section of the story with a quote from Albert Einstein.

"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ripples...

Our school lost a good teacher today.

Questions are integral to my job, but today I fielded questions I couldn't answer. Why did this happen? She wasn't old. She didn't seem sick. She was just here in her classroom. Why?

I don't know why.

When I lost my mom to cancer, I asked the same question. Why? Seven years have passed, and I still can't answer it. I don't imagine I'll ever have the answer.

I have learned from the experience, and that's what I shared with my students. Sometimes things happen out of the blue with no rhyme or reason. We can do our bests to lead healthy lives, but sometimes genetics or plain bad luck kicks us in the teeth. Moments like today are an inevitable part of the human experience.

What do we do about it? We love each other every day. We lift each other up at every opportunity. We take a breath and reach for patience when we want to bite someone's head off. We thank the people who have gone out of their way to help us, and we apologize to the people we've hurt. We use the moments we have to do the best we can.

Our lives are short, but we have the power to extend our influence well beyond our allotted days. Hundreds of students have been changed for the better because of one good teacher. Those students have gone on to great things, and they've influenced more people...ripples in a big pond.

I don't know why this terrible thing happened. I can only strive to make my moments...my ripples...count.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Challenging Happily Ever After

A good writer is an avid reader by necessity. For emerging writers, models demonstrate the conventions of the particular form as well as appropriate tone, organization, sentence structure, and vocabulary. Models benefit more seasoned writers as well. Since I began writing fiction, I read fiction differently. I notice character development, point of view, the placement of chapter breaks, and I learn from them.

Recently, I've read several good books in my two preferred genres, paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Not only were these books good reads, but they drove home the problem with my abandoned work in progress. I tried to write an urban fantasy sequel to a paranormal romance. The result is a major plot cohesion problem.

I read JR Ward's Covet and Lara Adrian's Ashes of Midnight, both paranormal romances. Last night, I finished Keri Arthur's Bound to Shadows, an urban fantasy. All three books are a lot of fun, (I especially loved JR Ward's book. She might be my new favorite author.) and all three are part of ongoing series. The major difference is that the two paranormal romances focus on new couples within the larger series. They face obstacles, solve mysteries, and find their happily ever after. The urban fantasy centers around the same female heroine in all the books in the series. There is romance and mystery, but no happily ever after. In fact, urban fantasy tends to throw a major monkey wrench into the romantic works to keep the heroine edgy and never-quite-happy.

Sapphire Sins (officially confirmed in RWA's Golden Heart Contest) is a paranormal romance...obstacles, mystery, happily ever after. The sequel I've fought with for over a year takes the same hero and heroine and challenges their happily ever after. It felt like a good plan when I started. I knew these characters. I liked them. I wanted to keep hanging out with them. The problem with challenging happily ever after is that once it's lost, it's hard to find your way back. Sometimes, there isn't a way back. Urban fantasy is okay with that. Heroines can be broken at the end of a book as long as the bad guy is defeated. As much as I enjoy reading it, I'm not ready to write it. I never meant to break my heroine, but I wrote myself into a corner. To get out of it, I betrayed my characters.

I've been lost in the trees. I knew I had a cohesion problem, but I haven't been able to get to the bottom of it. My reading these last few weeks has helped me see the forest. I can actually pinpoint the exact place in the text I went wrong. Now I have roughly 90,000 words I don't know what to do with. Being the queen of avoidance, I've set those words aside and started writing new ones. New characters, new world, new plot...a romance. As much as I love the dark, I need the promise of the light at the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Facebook Rant

Social Networking can be a beautiful thing. Facebook, Twitter, blogging are all great ways to meet like-minded folks and stay in touch with long distance friends and family. I check in with Facebook and Twitter every day. I roll through all the blogs I follow at least every other day or so depending on how hectic things are.

I've chosen to break my social networks into categories. My friends on Facebook are people I actually know in real life. Now granted, I haven't seen some of my Facebook friends in over 20 years, but we really did know each other once upon a time. The people I follow on Twitter are mostly book people. I follow agents, editors, authors, book reviewers, book publicists, etc. (Okay...and Ellen Degeneres and Ryan Secrest, I admit it.) Reading Twitter keeps me up to date on what's going on in that world. I've discovered the most interesting tidbits from my Twitter people.

Here's the thing though. Some folks use their social networks for purposes that don't mesh with my own, and I'm in a quandary as to what to do about it. Blocking Twitter followers is no big thing. I don't know those people, and they don't know me. If they become tiresome, I just stop following. Facebook is another matter. Linda's daughter, Mallory, informed us that blocking a Facebook friend is just not done. Really...it is apparently the worst kind of social networking faux pas.

But what if they are really pissing me off?? Am I obligated to keep listening to them? Mallory tells me to hide them from my news feed so I won't see their status updates. Okay...but that seems dishonest to me.

While the occasional political or religious status update on Facebook is fine, I'm not interested in having our online friendship serve as a platform for your political or religious point of view. Would you spew the vitriolic political rhetoric to me in person that you're forcing me to read online? I think not because I KNOW you in person. I avoid political hate-mongers in all other forms of media. I surely don't want to read it on Facebook. Nor do I want to read hellfire and damnation scripture references every day. I'm good spiritually, so thanks but no thanks.

Facebook is for sharing fun bits of your day...or the struggles of your day because maybe I can help. Tell me the funny thing your kid did or that great restaurant you tried. Tell a joke...wish me luck...tell me about a good book. I like seeing your quiz results even when I think you must have lied to get that result. :) I can even live with your mafia wars and farmville updates even though I will continue to ignore your invitations to whack Vinny or raise chickens.

Comments about politics and religion should be made online in the same way you would make them in person. And if you throw them in my face online, I will treat you the same way I would in person. I will leave. I'm probably going to offend some folks, but if I do they would be the same folks who are offending me on a regular basis.

If you really have a point of view you are dying to express, create a blog. You will probably find like-minded people, and I can say, "Why don't you just blog about it."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is It!

I saw Michael Jackson's This is It today. Wow. Forget any opinion you have about Michael Jackson, the man. This movie is all about Michael Jackson, the artist, and he was an incredible artist.

The creative process is fascinating to me. My favorite blogs are writers' blogs where they talk about process. I love Top Chef and Project Runway for the same reason. You see creative people thinking out loud. This is It is a feast for anyone interested in the creative process. You get a behind the scenes look at everything from the dancers' auditions, to musical rehearsals, to the making of the short films that accompany every song in the show.

Michael surrounded himself with amazing talent, and he was generous in showcasing it. He let his dancers shine. He reveled in his musicians ability to jam. He let one of his back-up singers have the spotlight when they sang "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." And it was obvious the dancers, singers, and musicians wanted to live up to Michael's high standards.

The dancers all had stars in their eyes. Several of them broke down in tears in interviews between rehearsals. This break was career-making for them. You couldn't help but feel their joy or smile at the "holy crap, I'm dancing with Michael Jackson" expression on their faces.

The musicians had nothing but respect for Michael. One grizzled old guitar player said, "So many pop artists don't know music. Michael knows music, and no one understands his music like he does. We're creating genius stuff here." Watching Michael work, you believe it.

My favorite thing about the movie was watching Michael turn every song into a story and weave a narrative between the songs. He understood pacing. He knew the moments between the beats were as important as the beats themselves. He stopped the whole production when he felt the opening to "Smooth Criminal" was moving too fast. "We have to let it simmer," he said. Later in the show, he insisted silence would be more dramatic than than the rumbling noise the director wanted to use. He was right.

As much as I loved the movie, it left me a little sad. Michael came alive when he performed. Early on, you could see the joy in his face when he sang and danced. The music lived in him. In the later footage, Michael was tired, almost haggard. In a full dress rehearsal for "Thriller," he needed a crew member's help to keep his footing on the hydraulic stage. You never quite forget you are watching him put together a show that will never be fully realized.

I recommend the movie to anyone who appreciates the creative process. Even more, I recommend the movie to anyone who loves Michael's music. The soundtrack to this movie is the soundtrack of my high school and college years. I could have closed my eyes and remembered specific events in my life as I listened. Except I couldn't close my eyes.

It would have been a great show.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Don't You Blog About it?

One of the most difficult things to capture with the written word is tone. How many times have you written an email or a facebook/twitter status update only to have it completely misconstrued by your intended audience?

How did you read the title of today's blog post? Did you perceive it as an honest question, a helpful suggestion? If you did, you would be wrong. Allow me to provide context.

Once again, my principal, in his infinite wisdom, has pitted the faculty and staff of our school against one another in a year-long team competition. I did, in fact, blog about this during the last school year. You can read those entries here and here. I am self-aware enough to know I'm a very competitive person. I'm a sore loser...I've admitted it before and I'll say it again. HOWEVER...I never let my competitiveness devolve into personal attacks.

Twice....TWICE...in the most recent competitions, my colleagues have thrown the title question of this post in my face. The first time, I was merely clarifying the rules of the karaoke contest before we began. A lone derisive voice from across the room says, "Why don't you just blog about it?" Uproarious laughter. So Will, here ya go. I'm blogging about it.

Today, we had a homeroom fight song contest. Two members of one of the teams proceeded to announce the winners, putting themselves in first place. I piped up, "Hey! That's a conflict of interest!" Their response? "Why don't you blog about it Owens?" So Robin...Kathy P...here ya go. I'm blogging.

Now, I realize they were teasing me because I've blogged about these team things before, but come on guys. The only person I've given a hard time to was myself. Okay...and Linda, but at the time she was on my team, and we have a relationship where I can do that.

My blog has elicited varying responses from my friends and colleagues. Most are entertained and mention something they liked or had a thought about. A few are mystified as to why I'm doing it. They don't see the point.

I blog because I am a writer, and I want to be read. Until I get that book contract, this is my forum. So beware of asking me "Why don't you just blog about it?" in that oh-so-snide voice. Because I probably will.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time Keeps on Ticking into the Future

Bless me Father for I have sinned. It's been 11 days since my last blog entry. Only five total posts this month. I've missed my goal of 10 posts per month by 50%. One might think I've been totally slacking, laying around eating bon bons, kicking back, watching the leaves change.

Not so much.

I'll avoid the OMG I've been so busy, the laundry list of things I've accomplished and things I haven't because frankly, we're all busy. My life is no more crazy than any of my friends' lives. We all have more on our "to do" list than we have hours to actually do it. Time is a more valuable commodity than money.

Time is on my mind. I celebrated another birthday this past week. I've never been one to bemoan the passing of time, and I'm still not. Every year has been a gift, and I'm grateful. This particular birthday hit at a time when I feel tired and overwhelmed, so I actually spent a day thinking, "Damn, I feel old." Because that sentiment is out of character for me, a step back was in order.

I reminded myself that not only is every year a gift, but every moment, every second of every day is a gift. Those moments are finite. At some point, hopefully in the far future, the clock will tick down to zero. I'm not going to spend my moments whining about being tired and overwhelmed. I'm going to view the curve ball life has chosen to throw at me as an opportunity to swing the bat and meet it head on.

Just typing those words makes me feel better. I've shaken off my blog ennui. I have topics brewing...I shaved 5,000 words off Sapphire Sins and entered it in RWA's Golden Heart contest. I read the new Dan Brown and the new JR Ward, and my students' book talks last week were interesting. So here's to taking a deep breath and getting on with it!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Word Clouds





I discovered the coolest thing ever on Nathan Bransford's blog. Word Clouds! Wordle.net is the site. You simply paste in a block of text or a website url and voila! You have a word cloud. A block of words in itself is just generally awesome, and you can play with the font, the color, and the layout until you get an aesthetically pleasing cloud, but for my fellow writers out there, the cloud has an added benefit. The cloud is created out of the 150 (a default number which can be changed) most used words in the block of text. The most used words are the biggest words in the cloud.

I've posted two clouds. The first is made up of words from the most recent entries in my blog. The second is from my novel, Sapphire Sins. I pasted all 107,000 words. Can you guess the names of my main characters? I've been working on yet another edit of the book, and I knew I was using the word "look" too often. Could a word be more lackluster and boring? Obviously, I still have some editing to do.

This will be fun to use with my students. They can see the words they've used the most in their writing. I visualize printed word clouds all over my classroom.

Yes, my geek is showing, but come on people...Word Clouds! 'Nuff said.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mohawks and Mad Grandmas

Let me preface this post by saying I have permission to share the story.

My friend, Linda, is one of the most open-minded people I know. She has an eclectic group of friends, including mountain climbers, Pentecostal preachers, and Broadway actors. (She once had a walk-on role in Rent.) She is just as likely to invite me to a drag queen show as she is to a Band of Brothers marathon on the History Channel. Acceptance of others is at the core of her belief system.

Linda's daughter and grandson live with her. Since Linda's daughter split up with her son's father, they share custody. It's complicated because the father moved back to New Jersey, and she still lives here. Everyone is amicable, and they shuttle the boy back and forth at regular intervals. The other set of grandparents are Jewish, and they want their grandson to learn Hebrew. Linda loved the idea and decided she would learn with him. With the help of boy's father, she set up a chart of basic English to Hebrew words. She's excited to learn, and subsequently, even I know one or two Hebrew words.

All was well. We are the World. Kum-ba-ya and all that.

Then they messed with the baby's hair.

During his last visit to New Jersey, Linda's grandson got a haircut. It wasn't his first haircut. He's two now. No big deal, right? Wrong. For some bizarre reason, the other grandma thought a mohawk would be cute. She didn't ask either of the baby's parents. She just went and did it...a for-real, shaved on both sides, spiked tall in the middle mohawk. On a two year old.

Oh. My. God. Linda had a cow. For a week at school, she ranted about that poor baby's hair. She sent me pictures on email. She laid awake at night fretting about it. When her grandson returned to Kentucky, they discovered his hair was shaved so close on the sides he would be bald if they shaved off the middle. So they've kept it combed down until the sides grow out, but Linda says he looks like baby Hitler with that one strip of hair combed straight forward.

I discovered the limit to my friend's acceptance lies on her grandson's head. She's still teaching the Hebrew words, but she's added one phrase that wasn't previously there.

Allah Akbar.

When she told me this, my eyes got wide and I almost fell out of my chair. "NO! You didn't!"

Linda waved her hand dismissively. "The baby's father and grandpa will think it's hilarious."

"Are you sure?"

"They've both got a great sense of humor."

"Okay..." I was dubious. "What about grandma?"

Linda got an evil glint in her eye I've never seen before. "Oh she won't like it at all."

Don't mess with the grandbaby's hair.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Lighthouse

Several years ago, for a graduate class, I wrote a personal narrative. This is breast cancer awareness month, so to honor my mother, I'm sharing it here on the blog.

The Lighthouse

The late afternoon North Carolina sun beat down on my burnt skin. Heat shimmered off the pavement. I reluctantly crawled out of the air-conditioned car and stood in the parking lot next to the lighthouse. I felt gross. After a day at the beach, I was sunburned, windblown, had sand in my shoes and that itchy feeling that comes from swimming in saltwater. My two boys, then eight and five, were tired and whiny.

“Why do we have to stop? We can see the lighthouse from the road.”

“I’m thirsty. I want to go to the pool.”

I explained for what seemed like the fiftieth time, “Because this is what Grandmom wants to do. You got to play on the beach all day. Grandmom wants to see the lighthouse.”

Actually, I was thirsty too, and the cool water of the pool sounded a lot more inviting than the inside of a musty old lighthouse. But my mom loved lighthouses. She collected little lighthouse figurines with the strict criteria that she displayed only the ones she had personally visited. My whole family vacationed on the Outer Banks every summer, but for some reason we hadn’t managed to visit the Currituck Lighthouse, even though it was the closest lighthouse to where we stayed. This year my mother was determined to visit it.

Two months earlier, my mom had been told that the breast cancer which had been “gone” for two years had spread to her liver and the bones in her right hip. She was in the sixth week of an eight-week chemotherapy cycle and would be flying home early to receive her weekly IV cocktail of cancer drugs.

She stood looking up at the stately red brick structure.

“I want to go to the top,” she announced.
“Do you think you can make it?” I asked anxiously.

My mom was a strong woman. Her quiet will and determination were legendary in my family, but I knew her hip had been bothering her, and she was weakened by the chemotherapy. My chest tightened as I imagined her slipping on the narrow staircase.

“I want to go to the top,” she repeated firmly. “Bruce can follow me in case I slip. It’ll take a while, but I can do it.”

I sighed. Of course, the decision had been made the moment she announced her desire to go to the top. The kids were delighted by the idea. Suddenly, the lighthouse seemed more exciting, an adventure to be had. They raced ahead with my brother and his daughter. My mom started slowly up the iron staircase with me in front of her and Bruce behind.

It was excruciatingly slow. She stepped up with her left foot, grabbed the rail with her left hand, and then painfully pulled her cancer-riddled right hip up to the next step. She labored up and around that spiral staircase. Step, grab, pull. Throngs of people passed us, and the kids went up and down twice as we slowly wound our way to the top. We didn’t talk much. Mom was concentrating all of her energy on the next step. Step, grab, pull. Two hundred fifteen times she repeated that painful process.

I was so caught up in the rhythm of the climb, looking behind at Mom instead of ahead to the top, that it took me a bit off-guard when we finally reached it. I stepped out of the damp, dark lighthouse and onto the platform. The sun shone brilliantly, blinding me for a moment as it reflected off the waters of the Currituck Sound to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The din of voices and the sound of people clamoring up the iron staircase were abruptly silenced, replaced by the steady rush of the wind.

Mom limped to the rail and gazed for a long time at the sea. To the stranger’s eye, I’m sure she appeared small, weight and hair lost to the harshness of chemotherapy. I have never seen anything as strong and beautiful as my mother in that moment.

She smiled at me and said, “I made it.”

I wondered how I could have ever doubted she would. Her reverie was eventually interrupted by her three grandchildren as they ran over to show her all the things they could see from the lighthouse. She was as excited as they were, pointing out every familiar landmark on the narrow island. Finally, it was time to go back down. The descent was slow, but somehow it didn’t seem as hard. Mom was energized by her achievement and its reward.

Mom made it back to the Outer Banks two more times and added the Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island Lighthouses to her collection. Throughout my life, my mother taught me the value of setting goals and working hard to achieve them, but never was the lesson more powerful than when I stood next to her at the top of that lighthouse.

I keep a picture of the Currituck Lighthouse on my living room wall and my mother’s strong steady light in my heart.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Black and White

Today marks the end of Banned Books Week...the the ALA's celebration of our freedom to read. I make note of the week every year, if for no other reason, to spark a student's interest in reading. The forbidden fruit of a challenged book appeals to some kids. My pre-AP class takes note of the week because they read Fahrenheit 451 over the summer, and the tie-in is obvious. Honestly, a brief conversation on library day is all the mention Banned Books Week usually gets from me. This year it was a little more poignant.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to take a book out of a student's hand for the first time in my career.

My principal came to me after school one day. "Kathy, has the English department added a book called Black and White to the curriculum?"

"No."

"Have you specifically assigned this book to a student?"

"No, but I have recommended it to several. I require each student to read one book independently each 9 weeks. They choose the book. My only requirement is that they choose a novel, a biography, or narrative non-fiction."

"Okay, so if a student has that book for your class, then it's because they chose it themselves in the library."

"Yes."

My principal went on his way, and that was that...or so I thought. The next afternoon he was back.

"Mom wants her son to select a different book. She was offended by the content of Black and White."

I shrugged, "I'll help him find something different the next time we go to the library."

I didn't get too bent out of shape in that moment. I completely respect the right of parents to help their kids make choices that are in line with their values. This mom wasn't challenging the book's placement in our library, so she wasn't trying to make choices for my kid and every other kid that patronizes the library. She was simply concerned about her own son. Fine.

Several days later, we went to the library. I was surprised to see the boy with Black and White in his hand. I was even more surprised to see him go to the desk and renew it. I had assumed (yes, I know all about assuming) he would immediately turn it back in when his mom told him to because teenage boys always do what their moms tell them...right?

Yeah.

The librarian raised her eyebrows at me. The principal told her about the situation in case the mom decided to challenge the book's placement in the library. When the line at the checkout desk dwindled, we put our heads together. Neither of us wanted to tell him to hand over the book. Finally, I sucked it up. I'm the teacher. I pulled the boy aside, and the librarian started scanning the sports section for something different he might like.

"Um...student...weren't you supposed to turn this book back in?"

His face turned beet red. "Yeah."

"Well?"

"I want to know how it ends."

Well crap on a stick. The kid liked the book...was about 50 pages from the end and wanted to know what happened...and I had to take it away from him. As an English teacher, an avid reader, a writer, and a lifelong bibliophile, it made me truly ill. Instead of throwing up, I smiled ruefully, put my arm around him, and walked him to the desk where the librarian had several basketball themed novels artfully arranged.

In a surprising turn of events, he opted not to choose a sports book, going instead for a science fiction novel. The librarian suggested The Dead and the Gone, and he checked it out. I sincerely hope he likes it. I hope he gets to finish it.

I still support a parent's right to make choices for her child. I don't know what this parent found offensive about Black and White, but I can't imagine anything in a young adult novel that would override a boy's enthusiasm for reading it.

I wish she could have seen the look on her son's face when he dropped the book into the book return. I saw it, and I never want to be the cause of that expression again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Anti-Climax

So I've been working on this novel for about a year now...okay, 10 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days...but who's counting? I've had my ups and downs along the way, but now I'm in the final chapter of the first draft. I'm going to finish very soon. It's weird knowing I'm a few short hours from the end. Okay...not the end, just the first draft...but finishing the draft will be a major milestone.

Here's the thing. I don't think I like what I've written. When I finished the draft of my first novel, I knew it was rough, but I believed I had written a good story. I don't feel that way now. I don't know if I'm just sick of this book, or if the story really isn't good. I suspect I have a cohesion problem. The novel I started writing isn't the one I'm finishing. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt there will be major rewrites and edits.

When I finish this last chapter, I'm going to walk away from the whole thing for a while. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says he lets a draft sit for at least three weeks before going back to edit and revise, so he can look at it with fresh eyes. I need fresh eyes.

I've allowed my querying efforts on the first book to languish because I've been so focused on this one. I've also had another idea pinging around in my head for a while. I haven't let myself put words to it yet because I'm afraid I'll lose my momentum so close to the end. Momentum has been hard to come by on the thing (11 months=painful).

Struggle and Failure may be unpleasant companions, but they are tremendous teachers. I am a better writer now than I was a year ago. And that, my friends, makes the whole process worthwhile...even if I have to rewrite the entire book.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Glee

Wednesday night's episode of Glee made me laugh harder than anything I've seen on TV in a while. This is particularly hilarious to me because my husband is a football coach. My son is a high school football player and a member of the school choir. My son watched the episode with me. His response? "They would get a delay of game penalty for that. I fell out of my chair...seriously.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Invictus

My high school English teachers were fabulous, especially Mrs. Holinde, my Junior and Senior English teacher. She is one of the reasons I am an English teacher. It's funny, though. I don't really remember studying poetry in her class. I remember reading short stories and novels. She made them come alive for me. I wept at the end of A Tale of Two Cities. But poetry? No real memory of it.

I did study poetry in college...no way around it with an English major...but I didn't love it. We talked a lot about rhyme scheme and meter. Bo-ring.

I didn't love poetry until I had to teach it to 7th graders 13 years ago in my first teaching job. I taught at an inner city middle school where most of my students were reading well below grade level. Approaching poetry as an academic exercise with those kids would have been the kiss of death. I had to make poetry accessible, a difficult task since I didn't find it accessible. I had a list of "the dead white guys" in the curriculum at the time, but what I needed was a poet that mattered to them. I went online and discovered Tupac's poetry. I've been introducing students to poetry with him ever since. The kids can't discount poetry when one of their heroes clearly valued it. I've purchased The Rose that Grew from Concrete three times because it keeps "disappearing" out of my classroom.

From Tupac, we hit Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Maya Angelou. Then I sneak in some Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. Paul Laurence Dunbar, then some Robert Frost. I found a book of poetry in Spanish with the English translation across the page. We read it in both languages. Dylan Thomas, ee cummings, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot...they all get their turn.

I've grown to love poetry with my students. As a writer, I've learned that every word has to count. In poetry, that idea is even more intense and condensed. Every word, every breath between words has to count. I read something new now, and I'm blown away by a poet's ability to capture the essence of something in a single word or phrase. I encourage my students to memorize a poem. I've memorized a few along the way, and sometimes those poems come back to me when I need them.

I'm going to end this post with a poem I've recently given to someone close to me.

Invictus
William Ernst Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Overtime

Saturday nights bring either brooding silence or happy satisfaction to my house, depending on the outcome of the day's work. Either way, we're always tired. The massive surge of adrenaline brought on by the game, regardless of the outcome, is followed by the inevitable crash. The crash is much easier to handle after a win.

We won today, and we learned a long time ago that every "W" is a good "W," but we experienced a first today, and my house is caught somewhere between the silence and the satisfaction. Bruce has coached 23 years now, but today was the first time we ever had to go to overtime. How weird is that? You would think in over 200 games, there would have been a few ties at the end of regulation play, but today was the first one.

Bruce's teams have served up some gut-wrenching, heart-stopping finishes in those 23 years (including a come-from-behind kick-off return with 11 seconds on the clock), but today takes the cake. Riding the elation/devastation see-saw left me feeling physically sick, and we won. I don't even want to imagine how it would have felt if our DB hadn't stepped in front of their receiver on the one yard line and picked off the touchdown pass that would have sent us into double-overtime. Players for the other team literally curled into the fetal position on the field when it was over. I was glad it was them and not us, but I felt sorry for them.

Our fans left the stadium jubilant. They certainly got their money's worth today, intense hard-hitting football with an exciting finish. I had a moment or two of jubilation, but it was tempered by knowing it could have easily ended differently. On the field when we hugged each other, there was more a sense of wide-eyed "holy crap" than joy.

I wonder if there are other professions where intense emotional highs and lows are inherent in the job? I've had several jobs over the course of my life, but none that made me want to scream until I was hoarse or curl up in the fetal position at the end of the day.

Aristotle says catharsis is good for the soul. I'll bet he never coached a game that went into overtime.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Libraries

I found a link on Moonrat's blog that floored me. As of October 2, 2009, the Philadelphia Public Library system is closing its doors. Read the article here. There is also a great discussion in the comments section of Moonrat's blog.

Philadelphia is the city where the fundamental belief of our nation was given words and life. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal." The irony of losing libraries in Philadelphia is tragic.

In my classroom, I indoctrinate students with another fundamental belief. "Knowledge is Power." People with accurate information are the people with power. Libraries have always been one of the great equalizers in providing access to information. Several of the commenters on Moonrat's blog talked about libraries being like livery stables...in the digital age they are obsolete. This comparison is just wrong.

Libraries have changed radically since I was in high school. They have adapted to the electronic age, but their fundamental mission remains the same. Libraries provide books and information FREE to anyone in the community. I have surprisingly large chunks of students who do not have computers in their homes or who do not have Internet access. This seems outrageous to many of us...almost akin to not having indoor plumbing or electricity...but the reality is there. When times get tight, and they are, families choose to keep the indoor plumbing and the electricity over the Internet service.

These families rely on the public library. I know our school library spends more of its budget on keeping electronic database subscriptions up to date than it does on books. My guess is our small town public library does the same. Any night of the week, you will find all of the computers in the public library occupied. Saying libraries are obsolete in the digital age is ignorance.

Library programming is integral to many communities as well. Our library has fun activities all summer long for children and teens centered around literacy. These programs morph during the school year to support school activities. The library has classes for adults to help them navigate the digital age. Information is useless if people don't know how to access it.

Then there are the books. Where else can you read to your heart's content without paying a dime for the privilege? I have always been an avid reader, so libraries have always seemed like treasure houses to me. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the weekly trips we made to the public library. My mother waited patiently while I spent hours in the stacks. I would come home with a carefully selected stack of books, and every week it felt like Christmas.

Where will the children of Philadelphia go for books?

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Without equal access to information, those are just pretty words.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

No writing. Lots of reading

After my writing frenzy last weekend, I didn't write anything else all week. I have lots of excuses, and some of them are even good ones.

My family needed me this week.

I wrote about young son's problem becoming my problem on Tuesday. Then last night, we celebrated his birthday with 9 freshman boys spending the night, tearing through pizza like they might never see it again, repeatedly trying to sneak in a round of UFC on the living room floor when I wasn't looking, and watching slasher movies until 3 or 4 in the morning. Fun, but exhausting.

My boys needed me in other ways this week as well. I remember when my boys were babies, thinking how much easier it would be to meet their needs when they were older and could tell me what they needed or wanted. Any parents of teenagers out there are probably laughing ruefully now. I know. I've come to realize there will never be a stage in their lives in which my heart doesn't seize in my chest because I can't fix all their problems. The older they get, the less fixable their problems become. The best you can do is teach them how to cope with the curve balls life throws them, and in the words of Dorie from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming."

The physical and emotional exhaustion took its toll this week, and I didn't write. I know professional writers put their butt in the chair and write even when the world is falling down around their ears. They have to. It's their livelihood. My livelihood is teaching, and I soldiered on in my classroom. I didn't have enough left in the tank at the end of the day to open the manuscript. Honestly, I was a little afraid. The writing went so well last weekend. What if I struggled again?

When I don't have the mental fortitude to work on my own book, I go to my fall-back position. I read. I read three books in the last four days. People engage in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors to forget their problems. I read. I disappear into someone else's world for a while. I'll end this blog post by sharing a snippet of those worlds.

STORM OF SHADOWS: Christina Dodd's follow-up to STORM OF VISIONS. This book features a Native American art thief turned Chosen. He has to protect the bookish, socially inept heroine. The characters made this book fun.

CATCHING FIRE: The second book in THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. I found Katniss' adventures as compelling in this book as I did the first. Suzanne Collins weaves social commentary into page-turning storytelling. It's no wonder her books have "caught fire." I stayed awake until 3am one morning finishing it. The problem, of course, is waiting a year for the third book, and second books in trilogies tend to leave you hanging in a major way.

SUCCUBUS BLUES: I bought this book solely because of the title. How can you not like that title? The heroine is a conflicted succubus whose job is to use her feminine wiles to steal men's souls for the forces of evil. Seriously. This is a new author for me: Richelle Mead. Her sense of humor is right up my alley, so I enjoyed the book. The sequel is already in print, and now I'm gonna have to go find it

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday-Monday

The calendar says it's Tuesday, but I've had a Monday. I spent most of the long weekend buried in my manuscript -- 23 pages (I lost track of word count, but it was big.). I mentioned yesterday that coming out of it was like waking up from a really intense dream. Today I got smacked in the face with reality.

My alarm seemed more obnoxious than usual. Yesterday, I popped out of bed early and went right to my laptop. Today, the same hour seemed ungodly. Why would anyone get up so early? I staggered into the shower and washed my hair in a daze. A moment later, I realized I had shampoo in my hand again. I know the instructions say lather, rinse, repeat, but I usually only lather and rinse once. Not wanting to waste the shampoo, I lathered and rinsed again, ignoring the fact that lathering and rinsing clean hair is probably still a waste. I was trying to get my brain in gear, mentally running through my first hour lesson plan, when I realized I had the shampoo in my hand AGAIN. I lived the hair-washing version of Groundhog's Day.

Finally, I managed to escape the shower. I should have realized the kind of day it was when my boys woke up easier than I did. Anyone who lives with teenage boys knows you need necromancy skills to wake them up. They sleep like the dead. Except for today. Younger son had a birthday today and a football game after school, so he was up and at 'em. Older son, well I don't know why older son got right up, but he did. I seemed to be the only one in slow motion.

I managed to get through the morning okay, but then at lunch time, I discovered that I had not in fact grabbed the leftover grilled Italian sausage. I had actually grabbed the leftover onions and peppers. I had a bun and onions and peppers. Mmmmmmmm

The piece de resistance was the panicked phone call I received from young son after school. He was on a bus halfway to the freshman football game and realized he left his cleats in the locker room. I run to the custodian and talk her out of her master key. Doesn't work. I run to the Principal's office, praying he's still there. He is, and thankfully, his key works. I frantically search the row of lockers for my son's. (Side note: high school football locker rooms are disgusting.)

Once I have the cleats, I have to get them to my son before his coach realizes he doesn't have them. The game is set to start in 40 minutes and driving at a reasonable speed it will take at least 30 minutes to get there. As a bonus, I'm on empty, so I have to stop for gas. I hit the road and drive a smidge past reasonable for exactly 5 minutes when the heavens open. The interstate looks like a lake, and traffic slows to a crawl. I grab my phone and call my friend who is certainly already there.

"Is it raining there? Have they started warm-ups yet? Is my kid barefooted?"

"I have no idea. There's been a bad accident. The highway is a parking lot."

Of course it is. Why wouldn't it be on this Tuesday-Monday. I call another friend who directs me off the highway and on to a back road. It's now 5 minutes until gametime and I'm sure my son is toast. I generally believe in letting kids live with the consequences of their mistakes, but the idea of my son not getting to play on his birthday is too much. I'm almost in tears at this point.

I finally arrive, and miracle of miracles, the players are all still in the locker rooms. The refs saw lightning and made them go inside until it cleared. I found a kid who had come out of the locker room for something, and I used him to smuggle my son's cleats inside. He had snagged a 4th string player's shoes, and the coach caught them switching back...of course. Luckily, my kid is usually responsible, and the coach forgave him. Turns out he was a game captain today. Can you imagine him going out for the coin toss with no shoes?

I sat in the stands, exhausted. The skies cleared, and we played football. All's well that ends well. We won. My son made a couple of pretty good plays, and more importantly, didn't have to sit the bench on his birthday. And I enjoyed the game with really clean hair.