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.


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.


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 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. 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 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 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 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 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!"


"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???



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


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.