Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tsunami Worries

Yesterday was a strange day. I turned the Today show on while getting ready for Jazzercise and heard the news of the Chilean earthquake. It measured 8.8 on the Richter Scale, 500 times more powerful than the earthquake that struck Haiti last month, and number 5 on the list of most powerful earthquakes ever measured. I shook my head in disbelief as I brushed my teeth, wondering what we'd done to piss Mother Nature off so thoroughly.

The news that followed stopped me in my tracks. Scientists had data indicating a tsunami had been generated by the earthquake, and Hawaii was in its path. My dad and stepmom were in Hawaii.

Although, my dad is well-traveled, having been to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and all over the continental United States, he'd never been to Hawaii. Bruce and I have been to Hawaii twice, once on our honeymoon and again five years ago with the boys when Bruce was invited to coach in an all-star tournament. Hawaii is a gorgeous, magical place. You step out of reality when you're there. Lush and tropical, everything about it is wonderfully exotic. Even the air feels different on your skin and in your lungs.

Thinking of Hawaii as a frightening place is just wrong. Intellectually, I know it's a volcanic island chain, created by the kind of seismic upheaval that wreaked havoc in Chile. I've visited the volcanoes, both active and dormant. It didn't really register. In my mind, Hawaii has always been paradise. But for a few anxiety-riddled hours yesterday, Hawaii was that place where Pele rules, and an angry sea could reclaim what was originally hers.

At 4:00 Eastern time, my family was glued to the TV. We switched between CNN and MSNBC, watching Hilo Bay with a mixture of dread and morbid curiosity. Our only real frame of reference was the Christmas tsunami in Indonesia. My eldest watched the surfers, still in the water, repeatedly commenting on their stupidity. My youngest asked lots of questions about buildings and their ability to withstand the massive surge the graphic artists kept depicting. We knew dad was on the 6th floor of his resort. We listened to the commentators fill time as a whole lot of nothing happened.

Eventually, my boys drifted out of the room. My youngest asked me several times if everything was okay. Dad called me around 6:00 to tell me they were fine and would probably make their evening flight out. He said the scientists should have paid more attention to the whales. They were in very close to the shore all afternoon. When Dad saw the whales, he felt like everything would be okay.

The science of tsunami prediction is still inexact. I'm glad they were wrong yesterday. Lost in my day of worry were the people of Chile. Dad reminded me when I talked to him. My stepmom works with a nun, Sister Ruth Gehres, who is on mission in Chile. The focus of her work is helping single moms and women who want to start their own businesses. As of late yesterday, they still hadn't heard from her.

Planet Earth is dynamic and changing. We forget that most of the time, caught up in the minutia of our lives. Yesterday, I was pulled out of my tunnel vision for a few hours. The people of Chile and Haiti will live with their reminder for years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Speak with Authority!

Janet Reid posted a link to this on her blog, and it like, totally wowed me, ya know?

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

I will use this in my classroom. The medium is very cool, but the message is better.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I read the most delightful book today. I love, love, love it when an author puts a new twist on a familiar story. When she does it with a completely original voice, I'm a fan for life.

SOULLESS is an urban fantasy. Like most urban fantasies, there are vampires, werewolves and a kick-ass heroine. Unlike most urban fantasies, SOULLESS is set in a Victorian England where vampires and werewolves have been seamlessly integrated into the nobility, and are, in fact, responsible for the rousing success of the British Empire. Instead of wielding guns and knives, the kick-ass heroine, an aging spinster who has been "on the shelf" for quite a while, wields a parasol. She's 26 (ancient for an unmarried woman), smart, assertive, and cursed with the tan complexion and prominent nose of her Italian father (deceased). Alexia Tarabotti is also soulless.

Vampires and werewolves have an abundance of soul. This is what allows them to survive the bite of a hive queen vampire or a werewolf. Soullessness is the counterbalance. When Alexia touches a vampire or werewolf, they return to their human state. Though Alexia is persona non grata with most of the supernatural set, one of her closest friends is Lord Akeldama, one of London's oldest vampires and gloriously, flamboyantly gay. She is also enmeshed in a very Jane Austen-y romance with Lord Conall Maccoon, Earl of Woolsey, and alpha of the werewolf pack.

The mystery that drives the story is fun, but the characters (with last names like Loontwill and HisselPenny) and Carriger's droll British style absolutely made the book for me. Simple details like Alexia describing her mother as "prone to wearing yellow and engaging in bouts of hysteria" had me chuckling. I laughed hysterically more than once. I'd love to quote some of the funniest lines, but they would be major spoilers. Go to the amazon link here and read the sample pages.

SOULLESS has everything I love in a book: smart writing, humor, mystery, romance, and voice. I highly recommend it. I devoured the book in a day. It's one of those stories where you can't wait to see how it ends, but you're sorry when it does. A sequel called CHANGELESS is coming out next month, and I'll be first in line to get my copy.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Margaritas and Menopause (the Musical)

Last night, I hit the town with a group of my girlfriends, a fabulous group of eleven women, ranging in age from late twenties to sixties. We started at a Mexican restaurant recommended by one of our group. You really can't go wrong when you start your evening with chips and salsa and margaritas.

The service at the restaurant was oddly slow. Usually, Mexican restaurants are really fast, but we waited almost 45 minutes for our food. I'm not sure if it was a ploy to get us to order more drinks, but if it was, it was effective. Thankfully, we were very close the the Opera House because we arrived right at curtain. The show? Menopause the Musical.

I had heard from several sources that the show was funny, and it was. The slow service (and subsequent additional margaritas) at the restaurant greased the wheels, and everybody laughed. I noticed something interesting, though. Those of our group who had already reached menopause howled...and I mean howled with laughter. Those of us who weren't there yet...not so much.

The show begins when four women meet at a bra sale at Bloomingdale's in New York. "The Professional Woman," "the Earth Mother," "the Iowa Housewife," and "the Soap Star" are in the throes of menopause. They spend the day together at Bloomingdales celebrating the change of life in song. A good bit of the humor came from the songs, parodies of hits from the sixties and seventies. For example, the opening song was "Change of Life" done to the tune of "Chain of Fools." My favorite parody was "Puff, My God I'm Draggin'."

Honestly, while clever, the first two-thirds of the show depressed the hell out of me. The women sang tributes to hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, wild mood swings, Prozac, and being replaced by younger women.

At one point, I looked at my friend Stephanie and said, "This is what we have to look forward to?"

And while I was thinking, "WTF. This isn't really that funny," the older women in the audience were laughing hysterically, until they had tears rolling down their cheeks. I guess it's one of those things where having survived something gives you a sense of humor about it. Teachers often laugh about things other people wouldn't find funny at all. So I kind of get that.

My discomfort probably says something about my own fear of aging. I'm still a few years shy of menopause, but it looms on the horizon closer than it used to. I like to think I'm comfortable with my age. I see the accumulation of years as accumulation of wisdom and experience. But for a while last night what I saw was a future where I physically fall apart. I was very motivated to get up this morning and go to Jazzercise. Thank goodness that's not where the show ends.

The last part of the show is a celebration of womanhood, and I liked that. One particular scene in which the housewife bemoans her husband's waning desire and the other women clue her in to "Good Vibrations" was fall in the floor funny. The actress wielded her pink microphone with comedic genius. Stephanie, whose grandmother was sitting two seats down, was mortified...which made me laugh even harder.

My personal aging issues aside, I would recommend the show. There were moments we could all identify with regardless of age. The Earth Mother's continual struggle for zen was both funny and familiar. The fact that each of the four women had labels instead of names was interesting. The tension between the archetypal behavior expected of them and their actions was pointedly funny. Sometimes it's hard to live up to the labels we carry.

In the end, if I have to think about the fact that in the not-too-distant future I'm apparently going to come apart at the seams, I want to do it with a group of smart, fabulous, funny women. I also recommend a couple of margaritas to soften the blow.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Men like Big Sub-Woofers

Mother Nature has decided to give Kentucky the cold shoulder, and while she's wreaking havoc on the school schedule, she is affording me lots of time to write. I actually thought I would be done with my re-writes by now. Last night, I called my beta-reader, Amanda, to tell her young son was coming over to shovel her drive, and she got all excited, thinking I was calling to bring her the manuscript.

I'm feeling a bit like Marty McFly. When you completely change a scene in the middle of the manuscript, you change everything that comes after it. If two of my characters don't kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance, then who winks out of existence later? I will definitely be asking Amanda to read for continuity. I'm sure I'll miss something the first time through.

I needed to walk away from the story for a few minutes to clear my head, and I thought I'd use the time to share a bit o' blog amusement. Today's topic: Men and their sub-woofers.

Yesterday, I had some errands to run, one of which interested my eldest son. We took his car because it has four-wheel drive, and ironically, my big honkin' SUV doesn't. Our neighborhood streets hadn't been touched, and we needed the 4WD to get to the main road. The boy was quick to note that his car sucks serious gas in 4WD mode, therefore I owed him a fill-up. I suppressed the urge to retort that with everything I'd done for him in the last 18 years, he owed me his first-born child...mainly because I don't want it. When I manage to get him successfully raised, I'm done.

But I digress. My son is a good driver. I actually have quite a lot of faith in his skill and good judgement behind the wheel, but I almost never ride with him. The experience is physically painful for reasons having nothing to do with his driving ability.

For son's seventeenth birthday, we bought him a "system" for his car. This was not my idea, by the way. Bruce seems to think a bitchin' stereo system is a rite of passage for a young man. You should have seen the two of them at the store the night we bought it. We went in with a budget of $X. We left having spent $2X. Anyone want to guess the reason we spent double our budget?

Yep...the sub-woofers, or as the kids refer to them...the subs.

The two of them were like kids in a candy store when the clerk (who wasn't a day over 25) demonstrated the difference between subs. There are subs that will give you an acceptable, albeit weak-assed, bass sound. Then there are subs that can create a bass measurable on the Richter scale. And yes, my friends, size matters. We didn't leave with the most expensive, but we did leave with the biggest. When we picked the car up after these massive subs were installed, the technician (another kid of about 20), warned our eldest about noise violations.

I've experienced my son's subs several times, but only for a few seconds because I literally can't stand them. It's not the volume...shoot, I like cranking the stereo when I'm driving and a good song is's the vibration. He took his grandfather for a ride once and vibrated the hat right off his head. I've always been able to shut the subs off quickly (I paid attention when the technician gave him a tutorial) because I was in the passenger seat.

Fast forward to yesterday. I drove because the conditions were pretty crappy, and he hadn't had any experience driving over snow drifts. We weren't out of the neighborhood before he started fiddling with the stereo. He didn't turn the subs on immediately. He had enough sense to wait until we were on the main road. I didn't notice he had turned them on at first. The song started with only treble. Then the bass came in.

OH. MY. GOD. I screamed, and I mean literally. It was like we had crossed the event horizon into some horrible science fiction movie. The sustained bass note was low and ominous like the mothership was hanging over the car, preparing to blow us into next week. The vibration distorted the sound and rattled the whole car. I immediately sprang forward in an attempt to break contact with the vibrating seat. It was futile. My chest vibrated. My hands and feet vibrated. My scalp vibrated. Everything vibrated. Before you laugh like a big dumb eighth grader, let me assure you, there was nothing remotely pleasant about it. It reminded me of the time I was a kid and touched an electric fence just to see what it would feel like.

I screamed, "Turn it off!" My son just laughed uproariously. I couldn't take my eyes off the road to turn it off. We pulled up to a stop light with the stereo blaring like a fog horn from hell. The car next to us? A sheriff's deputy.

This was the icing on the cake. I imagined having my name in the local paper for a noise citation. My son turned it down considerably, but the damage had been done. I looked tentatively over at the deputy...and burst out laughing. He was bobbing his head in time to the still very audible bass. He pointed his finger at me and then drove away as the light changed.

I wonder. Did he think I was cool? Or did he think, "How sad. That woman needs to grow up and act her age." I tend to believe it was the former.

Men like big sub-woofers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Open Valentine to My Family

The cynic in me sometimes regards Valentine's Day as a commercially manufactured holiday to boost sales of chocolate and stuffed animals. Thank goodness, I'm not truly a cynic at heart. I write romance, so no matter how cynical I might pretend to be, it's not who I am.

In that vein, I'm sharing an open Valentine to my family.

To my extended family: To say we don't share the same world view would be, well, an understatement, and in spite of the physical distance between us, it's probably that philosophical distance that keeps us apart. We do share DNA, and beyond that, we share a history together. We share a dozen Christmases and summers at Grandmother's house. We shared that moment in a hospital room when the world stopped turning, and Mom took her last breath. In the end, those moments mean more than the differences. Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.

To my brother: Happy Birthday! Mom always called you the best Valentine Dad ever gave her. You are the smartest person I know. For real. You read more than I do, and you read non-fiction, so the stuff you know might actually be useful. I respect the person you are and the life you've chosen for yourself. Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.

To my dad: Thank you for raising me to be self-confident and independent. You never went around preaching feminism. It was simply a given that I could do anything I set my mind to. When a high school teacher told me I couldn't be a doctor (he was probably right, lol), you made an ass of yourself in front of God and everybody to set him straight. I love that. You were at every band performance, every school play, even the one where I scandalized my grandparents by saying "hell" in front of an audience. I never doubted your love or wanted for your approval. There's no greater gift you could have given me...except maybe the comfort of knowing you took care of Mom when she needed it most. I know you protected us from the worst of her illness. I know she wanted it that way. Thank you. Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.

To Patricia: Thank you for bringing joy and laughter back into my dad's life. I'm glad you're part of my family. Happy Valentine's Day. I love you.

To my eldest son: High school is five minutes compared to the whole of your life, and when you walk across that stage this spring, the rest of your life will be stretched in front of you with endless possibilities. You are smart, creative, and sensitive. You will find your place in the world. I am proud of the strength you've shown in the face of adversity. I am proud you are my son. Happy Valentine's Day. I've loved you since before you were born.

To my youngest son: Never, never lose your sense of humor. It will get you through the roughest moments in your life. Nobody makes me laugh like you do. Keep aiming high. Your goals are lofty and worthy. Keep them in front of you, and nothing can stop you from achieving them. You are a natural leader because of your work ethic and your willingness to take responsibility when you mess up. I'm so proud of you. Happy Valentine's Day. I love you, honey.

To my husband: When we went to pre-marital counseling and the minister asked us why we wanted to get married, neither one of us mentioned love. The minister pointed out that omission when we were done talking and said it boded well for our marriage. I still chuckle when I think of that. Oh sure, we were in love, but we each seemed to have realized we had found someone we really liked. Liking your mate is a bigger deal than most people realize. That genuine affection has gotten us through when hearts and flowers haven't. I still like you, honey. You still make me laugh. You steadfastly supported me when I told you I wanted to go back to school and become a teacher, even though it meant cutting our income at the time by more than half. My happiness was more important to you than my salary. You never laughed at me when I said I was going to write a novel. You said, "It's about damn time!" You are a good man, and I'm glad our boys have you as an example. Happy Valentine's Day, Bruce. I love you.

To my readers: Thank you for continuing to show up and read whatever random thing I post here. I hope you all have a Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Big Pimpin' Wilma!

I started my day by going to work and slipping into a $4.00 Walmart sheet safety-pinned together. I ended it watching a member of my team projectile vomit at Ruby Tuesday. Typical day in the life of a teacher.

Okay, maybe not.

The sheet was actually a Wilma Flintstone dress, and the projectile vomiter was 9 months old. And today represents one of the many reasons I love my job.

Our principal works very hard at team-building among the staff. I've blogged ad nauseum about our team competitions, but for anyone who may have missed those posts, click here, here, and here. Today was "Decades Day." Each of the four teams picked a decade. Members of the teams dressed as TV, movie, and musical characters from their decade. Team English picked the 60s, and our TV show was the Flintstones.

My teammate, Amanda, who seems made of rainbows and unicorns (seriously, I've never met a more positive, enthusiastic person in my life), came over last night and in a Project Runway moment of genius, turned a $4 sheet into a Wilma dress. Even more impressive, she did it armed only with a pair of dull kitchen shears and a few safety pins. Every time I thought we were done, she would say, "No wait! This makes your butt look huge. We have to fix it."

Ah, sweet, naive Amanda. So cute. She thought she could fix that in one night. Bless her heart. The dress was a bit poofy with shorts on underneath, but with our time and budget constraints, I'm not complaining.

So I got to school today and discovered I had not one Fred to my Wilma, but TWO! Wow. Wilma's a playa! She is big pimpin'. She's a vixen in pearls and white linen. She's...okay, she's none of that, but I did have two is the photographic evidence.

My colleague, Stephanie, brought her baby and dressed him as BamBam, but because both guys on our team came as Fred, there was no baby daddy for the poor child. That's probably what drove him to the bottle after school at Ruby Tuesday. Linda was in charge of entertaining him and let him eat half a gum wrapper. In a move that belied her having raised four children of her own, she beat the child repeatedly on the back. When that didn't work, she stuck her finger down his throat. To the dismay of the adjacent diners, the gum wrapper shot across the restaurant along with the contents of his last bottle. Linda quickly handed BamBam off to his mama, called one of my Freds a name I shan't repeat, and the party broke up.

It's always a good day to be a teacher, but today was especially fun.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sanity is Over-Rated

I'm trying very hard to regret three snow days in a row and the distinct possibility we will be in school for half of June. Normally, it aggravates me, and right now, I should be aggravated. I have to reschedule the premiere of my students' digital stories. I have an important meeting to reschedule. My students aren't prepared for their mid-quarter common assessments. The computer lab schedule is now royally screwed up.

Yep. I should definitely be aggravated.

Instead, I'm down right giddy. I'm on one of those writer's highs that make everything else seem unimportant. I'm in the kind of zone that makes everything that pulls me away from my manuscript seem an aggravation. I'm only here now because I had an appointment I had to keep, and with Jazzercise in an hour, I dare not re-open the file. I won't be able to pull myself away.

Our first snow day was Tuesday. I opened the new project I've been working on and actually made some progress. Even though I have a rough outline for the plot, I've struggled to find the characters' voices. They aren't fully formed in my mind yet. I don't know how they react under stress, and I put stress on them immediately. But Tuesday, I finally "heard" my heroine for the first time. So I was moving along. Everything was grand.

Then came Wednesday morning. I sat straight up in bed at 7:00 am...on a snow day when I didn't have to get up. I knew how to fix Crimson Crimes. I saw the scene I needed to add like a movie in my head. For those of you who don't know, Crimson Crimes is the almost finished sequel to my first novel. I abandoned it last fall because of a major cohesion problem. I loved the last third of the thing, but I knew in my heart of hearts it was off somehow. I hadn't written the last chapter because the scene before it was wrong.

I've written like a crazy person for two days. I was up at 6:30 this morning. The laundry is piling up. I'm annoyed at my family for being all needy and wanting clean dishes and dinner. I graded a giant stack of tests Tuesday night that need to be put in the computer. I was supposed to get with Amanda and put a Wilma Flintstone costume together, but all I want to do is WRITE!!

These characters I know. They are screaming at me. "Put your butt in the chair and finish our story already. Give us our ending. Make us real. Give us an audience."

I have to make them wait just a little longer. Jazzercise has become a crucial part of my day, and in some ways, I think the exercise has shaken the log jam in my brain loose. And I guess I'll have to feed my family when I come home. I'm pretty sure we'll have school tomorrow, and if we do, I have to dress up like Wilma Flintstone (long story and I'll blog later), but I'm this close to finishing.

All writers are a little crazy. We live in your world, but we've got this whole other one dancing around in our heads begging for a chance to be realized on paper. Right now, I'm thinking sanity is over-rated.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Super Bowl Fence Sitting

Happy Super Bowl Sunday! This is akin to a national holiday in my house, and although this year my family is just hanging with each other, it will still be a party.

Usually, I have no problem deciding which team to support. Last year, I rooted hard for Pittsburgh. You can read about my reasons why here. This year, I'm a bit flummoxed. I like both of these teams.

The Colts have Peyton Manning. I always root for him. He's a smart, decent guy with a wicked sense of humor. I find those three qualities extremely attractive. This SNL skit sealed his place in my heart.

So I want Peyton to win. Here's the thing...I want New Orleans to win too. That city has been through a lot in the last five years. Tell me how you root against this city?

So whoever wins, I'll be happy for them, and my heart will break a little for the other team.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Toilet Possessed

Friday finds me at the end of a long week. Twice in the last three days, I sat down to blog and fell sound asleep with my computer on my lap. I'm hoping to stay awake long enough to finally get something posted.

Today marked my tenth Jazzercise class, so I'm officially calling it a habit. I actually look forward to it. In fact, I credit my new habit with getting me through the last week. I have successfully resisted the urge to have a head-spinning meltdown, and rather than sitting in a bell tower somewhere, I'm calmly blogging in my home. So, I'm gonna keep on dancing.

Most days, I take my workout clothes to school and do a quick change in the bathroom before hurrying off to class. One day last week, the teacher's bathroom was occupied, so I changed in a stall in the girl's restroom. The toilets in our school flush automatically when you stand up (and sometimes when you don't) with a very loud whooshing sound. The water pressure is so strong, you can feel a breeze off the mini-hurricane in the toilet.

I can almost hear you thinking, "Interesting, Kathy, but are you so desperate for blogging topics that you're writing about the toilet?"

Well no, not yet. The extraordinary flushing power of our school's toilets is integral to my story.

As I said, I went into the stall to change. I set my bag on the floor and slipped off my sensible work shoes. When I bent over to pull my Nike's out, the toilet read my change in altitude as a flushable moment. I ignored it, flipped my slacks over the stall door and bent over again to pull out my sweats. A stiff breeze wafted across the back of my legs as the toilet flushed again.

I pulled on my sweats and bent over to pull my athletic socks out of the bag. WHOOOOOSSHH! This flush was accompanied by giggles. I was alone in the bathroom, and with the stampede that occurs at dismissal, the hall was mostly empty. But two girls were sitting on the other side of the wall that separates the stalls from the main hallway. (We spent our entire school bathroom budget on good water pressure and ran out of money before we could install a door.)

I could only imagine what the girls were thinking. Why is Mrs. Owens alone in the bathroom and repeatedly flushing the toilet? Now I was paranoid. I needed to put on my socks and pull my t-shirt out of the bag, but I didn't want the toilet to flush again. I tried to put on my socks without bending over. I lost my balance and crashed into the side of the stall. As the walls reverberated, the toilet flushed again. The giggles became laughter.

I couldn't just leave the stall because I was still half-dressed. I contemplated looping my foot through the strap on the bag to get to my t-shirt. Then I contemplated cracking my head on the flushing toilet when I lost my balance with my foot tangled in the strap. Resignation set in, and I bent over quickly and grabbed my t-shirt. The toilet mocked my attempt at a speedy recovery with a loud whooshing raspberry. I muttered something unrepeatable under my breath. The flush as I put on my shoes came on the heels of the flush as I repacked my bag. I finally got out of the possessed toilet's stall, but not without a farewell flush.

The girls sobered up as I left the bathroom. I held up my gym bag. "I was changing clothes."

I don't know why I tried to explain. One of the girls looked confused for a moment, and then her face brightened.

"Gym class makes me pee a lot too."