Monday, December 29, 2008

The Sound of Sisterhood


[I didn't make time to write this week, but I did pull out a piece I haven't had on the blog before. Check out what other folks contributed to this week's Monday Poetry Train Revisited.]

The Sound of Sisterhood

I didn't know what I was hearing,
at the time.

My Girl Scout leaders were
confident women teaching us to be
confident girls who would grow into
confident women ourselves.

Another confident woman interviewed me,
a conversation we both enjoyed,
then a female student led the tour
of college buildings named after women.

I arrived on campus, one of 500 women
in all shapes and sizes and colors, and my ears filled with
the alto-soprano sounds of voices in conversation.

We talked. We agreed. We argued.
We listened. We learned.
Women led. Women planned. Women failed.
Women played. Women worked.
Women wrote
and their names were everywhere.

The voices took root in me:
comforting, challenging, compelling.

I didn't know it was the sound of sisterhood until later.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008



[Read Write Poem prompted us this week to "go ancestral." Check out what fell out of people's family trees. The image of Isaac Abrabanel is in the public domain from Wikimedia Commons .]


My father's father came to America as a boy,
his family fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine, sailing
west to Ellis Island where they changed his name.
We weren't Mayflower people – no D.A.R. for us.


My dad said we were related to Abarbanel,
famous pawn-broker to Queen Isabella, whose jewelry
became cash to buy three ships for Columbus,
sending him sailing west across the ocean.

Today I read that Isabella didn't hock her jewels.
She filled an empty bank with the wealth of Jews expelled
by the 1492 Edict she and Ferdinand signed.
Yet Abarbanel did back Columbus and, with other
Jewish bankers, launched him west toward America
from harbors crammed with Jews fleeing for their lives.

Abarbanels and Abravanels and Barbanels
from around the world gathered in 1992,
a family reunion in Queens to honor
Don Isaac Abarbanel. One man's father was from
the Ukraine, so maybe I am related after all
to Abarbanel.

[One note - my grandfather's original last name was not Abarbanel.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Seven Magical Things


Cafe Writing's 2008 Holiday Project asked us to list seven magical things in our world. This is a list of seven from my world.

1. My music folder is open in front of me, as with each of the other singers, all eyes on the director. When her arms move, we sing with one voice, one intent. We trusted each other to start at the same time, stop at the same time, use the same words. That is magic.

2. Once upon a time my mom dressed me to go out in the snow to ski. Over underwear went thin cotton socks and cotton long-johns (tops and bottoms). On top of that went wool socks, then a cotton turtleneck. Next a wool sweater and stretch pants with stirrups under my foot and suspenders over my shoulders fought a vertical tug-of-war to keep the entire length of my legs covered. After that I was finally ready for a coat and hat, plus glove liners topped with down mittens. At the end of the day I'd be wet from the outside in and from the inside out.

Today I think the thin polypropylene and other "technical materials" that wick moisture and keep me warm are magic.

3. I watch her spoon the dry powder to into the warm water with a little honey in it and soon there are bubbles and a distinctive smell. Later she mixes in some other ingredients to form a batter that grows. Eventually a home-baked loaf of bread comes out of our oven. That is magic.

4. People from around the world have seen my stories and my poems and I have seen theirs. From shared prompts or from a serendipitous stumble along a chain of links I have connections to these people. The Internet and blogging is magic.

5. It is not just a smile. It starts with a smile, the corners of the mouth raised, but it keeps going, with dimples starting and the corners of her eyes starting to crinkle. It is tender and sweet and wicked and it feeds my heart. That is magic.

6. This weekend I helped my elderly across-the-street neighbor, and his equally elderly brother-in-law shovel the heavy snow that the plows had piled at the end of his driveway. The rest of snow was light, but the plow-built embankment was very heavy. As we worked my neighbor told me that his car had become stuck the day before, when the snow was falling quite heavily. He said a quick prayer to Saint Christopher and seemingly out of nowhere a man appeared with a shovel to help get the car moving again. I would like to think that is magic.

A sight sparks a memory.
The memory carries emotion.
The emotion begets words,
words to paint with.
The words carry the picture,
the emotion, the memory.
That another sees what I do,
that is poetry,
that is magic.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Not that Cold


Last week I heard about the Monday Poetry Train Revisited and since then I have been trying to think of what I wanted to post today. I finally decided that I'd share an old poem that I hope everyone has read. And if you haven't read it, I hope you will.

When I was eleven I think I had some poetry assignments in school. After that, my dad (a true Renaissance man) tried to keep me interested in poetry and made sure there were books available to me. By the time I was in high school he was sharing some of his old books: one was a worn and already-starting-to-crumble paperback called American Ballads: Naughty Ribald and Classic. In it I found a couple poems of interest including one that told a fine story.

And so I was introduced to Robert W. Service. The poem was "The Cremation of Sam McGee," originally published in 1907. It begins:

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

You can find the full text here and here. And for those with access to NPR (National Public Radio) you may be able click the link near the top of this page to hear the poem read aloud.

I like the tight internal rhymes and the way they make the story pull forward. And I happen to like snow, and most times I don't mind the cold (being someone who can appreciate the cycle of seasons). But I know I've never been as cold as Sam McGee. I hope you enjoy it too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Firsts for Totally Optionally Prompts


[Totally Optional Prompts encouraged us to write about "Firsts." First anything, actually. I'm late writing one this week, but decided to do it anyway.]

The Pallbearer

I missed my grandmother's funeral when I was off at school.
I spent the day after she died with my cousin,
learning about claddagh rings and candlepin bowling in Southie.

I was a summer trip chaperone when my granddad died.
They didn't tell me until I got home from constantly watching
5 stragglers in identical blue shirts to make sure they
stayed with the group when we crossed 5th Avenue or
entered the restaurant or left the museum.

But I came home for my great aunt's funeral,
even though it was one of the coldest Januarys on record.
I had never been a pallbearer before but the
funeral director was kind and clear.

There had been more people at the visitation
during the ice storm the night before.
In the morning everything sparkled
except us, bundled in the darkest,
warmest clothes we could find.

After the second time through
"The Old Rugged Cross on the Hill"
Mom said a few words.
She was now the matriarch.

We were all big, strong people:
my sister, niece, mom, one brother and an uncle.
But lifting the coffin by my hand-hold
I was surprised at how little it weighed.
Shouldn't 90 years of life feel heavier?

They reminded us to walk slowly,
even though the trip to the hearse was a short one
and under cover so there was no ice to slip on.

I later wondered how often there were more
women than men as pallbearers.
And I wondered if it would feel less awkward
the next time I was tapped for the job.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hunting Season


[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect set us to write a Terza Rima for this week's Monday Poetry Stretch. Check out her site at the end of the week to see what others came up with. As for me, I have never seen the following, but my Mom tells me that an Arkansas native told her about this.]

Hunting Season

The guns are all clean and alarm clocks are on,
to wake up too early and head right on out.
The long day will feel like a whole marathon.
Youngsters rise with a grumble and pout,
(the weatherman promised the day would be clear)
a quick bite and coffee and then they are out
and into the woods to go hunting for deer.
A few counties over it's turkeys they'll seek,
and many will hope that they forego the beer
as they take enough food to stay out for a week
to fend of the yawns and to keep them awake,
but contrarily too much will put them to sleep!
A few groups that gather to go out and make
a hunting trip into the woods for the day
are seeking for something else out by the lake.
They're looking for parasites locked on their prey.
Their shotguns are loaded and ready to go
after bunches of green amidst branches so gray.
They will aim at the branches and fire just so,
the dead branch will tumble and fall at their feet
so that then they can harvest the green mistletoe
and they'll package it up for a profit quite sweet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008



[Read Write Poem provided Read Write Image promt #5. The image brought out this poem.]


I pout at the gray winter rain, at the drip,
drip, drip in the living room, at the cold
wind-whipped drops flung against my west
window. I pout at the yard getting soggier
and boggier and I feel the mold
growing on my winter soul.

I demand water on my own terms! Give me
mist from a breathtaking waterfall to refresh me on a fierce
summer day. I insist on a steamy hot bath with a closed
door and a good book. I need to coast north in the warm
Gulf Stream with Caribbean fishes at my side.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fall Books 2008


Here are the books I've read this fall.

Rebel Fay by Barb & J.C. Hendee
fantasy, fifth in the Nobel Dead series
This entry continues following Leesil's history and the search for his mother. We also delve deeper into Chap and his situation. And we are kept updated on the efforts of Westiel and Chane, even though they can't enter the land where Leesil, Magiere and company are adventuring. Needless to say, this is not the place to start with this series, but I think it does well by the characters, playing true to their natures and filling in blanks in the history that we'll need later.

Thin Air by Rachel Caine
fantasy, book six in the Weather Warden series
I found this book a challenge. I was extremely irratated at the beginning because it opened with Joanne having lost her memories. She couldn't tell who meant her well and who meant her ill and even some of the former "good guys" weren't sure she was who she used to be. If that sounds confusing, I agree completely. I will say that the mysteries started to clear up and there will be more chapters in this story to come. Once again, don't start with this book in the series. Back up at least a few books before tackling this one.

The Children of the Company by Kage Baker
fantasy, 6th book (give or take) of the novels of The Company
I looked through my previous posts and can't believe I haven't written about any books by Kage Baker. I have been following Company novels for many years now, starting with The Garden of Iden. There have been many lulls, some due to when the new books were published, and some due to the fact that I preferred to wait until the paperbacks were out. The whole basis of these books is that someone figured out how to go back in time and change people into cyborgs. Not just any people - the right people had to be children with certain physical characteristics and they had to be children that would have died without the company rescuing them. That allowed them to disappear and become agents for The Company. They were sent to rescue artwork and about-to-be-extinct plants and animals and hide them away to be "miraculously" discovered generations later. These agents live forward through the ages, working for their unknown future bosses.

In The Children of the Company, Baker shows us that even amongst immortal cyborgs power can corrupt and Labienus is prime exampt of corruption. He schemes and plots and holds enough power to see those plots carried out. Much of this book is a series of stories told as a trip through his memories. Some stories were ones I had seen another side of in previous collections of short stories, but there were some additional twists exposed here. Even so, this book was a frustration in that the main thread of the whole series (the mystery of what happens in the year 2355) is not advanced. If you can't find the older books, then this might catch you up a bit, thought you night not care as much about some of the protagonists as if you started at the beginning.

The Machine's Child by Kage Baker
fantasy, continuing series of novels about The Company
In this installment, we find Mendoza reunited with Nicholas Harpole & Edward Bell-Fairfax & Alec Checkerfield, the men she fell in love with (each in turn). And they are all together in a story that requires a leap of faith to just "believe" and let the story move on. Joseph sees Checkerfield and company as enemies meaning harm to Mendoza and attempts a rescue, even as he uncovers old Budu. The thing they all have in common is the sure knowledge that the Company must be stopped, even if they have to wait until 2355 to see that it happens.

Gods and Pawns by Kage Baker
fantasy, short stories of The Company
Yes, I went on a Kage Baker spree. Unlike some of the previous short story collections of The Company, I felt these were really important. Some illuminated relationships between the cyborgs; another introduced Mr. Hearst - something that would be important later on. And they all seemed to expose more about the nature of The Company and its scheming.

The Sons of Heaven by Kage Baker
fantasy, what appears to be the final Company novel
This finally wrapped things up! With jaunts back and forth across the planet and across time, we see all the players taking sides, making unexpected allies and enemies. The plots are thick and devious and as 2355 approaches, it is not a sure thing that anyone will live to tell about it! You cannot start with this novel - seriously. But if you have been following the series you will need to read it. I was not entirely pleased with how the tangle of Mendoza and her three loves works out, but then they aren't my characters, are they? I did, however, find the conclusion to the whole saga satisfactory.

Music to my Sorrow by Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill
fantasy, in the Bedlam's Bard series
Eric Banyon continues his struggle to rescue his brother Magnus. And he again finds himself pitted against plots by evil Unseleighe elves. Fortunately he has a lot of friends to help him out, even when he is too stupid to avoid the obvious. Underneath the story here is a tale of children used or abused for their talents, as well as the tale of parents who can't handle high-spirited kids. There is no solution offered for those under-tales, except maybe the caution that the "easy way out" may have unforeseen consequences.

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews
fantasy, book 2 about Kate Daniels
Like Magic Bites this story is set in and around an alternate Atlanta where waves of magic cause technology to fail, only to be offset by waves of technology that cause magic to fail. This time we find Kate in a "flare" when magic runs rampant with little technology reprieve. Even worse, someone may be trying to waken a diety or two. And if two dieties start battling for power then Atlanta and the humans living there may pay the price. These books are good, quick reads.

by Kristine Smith
fantasy, book 5 in the series about Captain Jani Kilian
I guess I have been deep in the series books all fall! This one is not a good place to start - too much to tell, too much to catch up with, too many politics to describe. But this is a good story. All the players are there, and the politics have caught up with every one of them. We start out in Thalassa, the community of human-idomeni hybrids, and as always, Jani keeps everyone guessing what she will do, to the frustration of those who care for her. Events cause her to return to the home of the idomeni, the place that still causes her nightmares.

His Dark Materials series:
The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
by Philip Pullman
I admit it. I first heard about The Golden Compass when it was about to be released as a movie. And I read a little about some controversy about it - that it was anti-church. So I went to see the movie when it was released and found it enjoyable and not too objectionable. Seemed to me that the fuss was overrated. So I read the books, all three in the series.

In The Golden Compass, the book, the church is definitely more evil than in the movie. Yet the world in which this is set is not our world and therefore the church of the book is not any real church in our world. In the book Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel seem to be out for themselves, not the sympathic characters that they might have seemed at the end of the movie. The end of the first book is heartwrenching and leaves us watching Lyra walk off into another world where it touchs her own. She decides to discover the mystery of Dust for herself.

The Subtle Knife opens in our own world with young Will caring for his confused mother and fleeing men who seem to be targeting him or his long-lost father's notes. He finds a hole into another world and meets Lyra. Will becomes the bearer of the Subtle Knife that allows them to move from one world to another as she searches for Dust and he searches for his father. There are forces out to find Lyra, some to help her, some who want to use her and her talent with the Golden Compass. And on one visit to this world they stumble across Dr. Mary Malone and set her on a quest that will ultimately intersect theirs again, though the foreshadowing leaves us doubting that it will be a good thing. This book is darker than the first, but still compelling.

The Amber Spyglass continues the dark tone. There are angels (some fighting for good, some for evil). Both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are here, each scheming for their own purposes. Will searches for the kidnapped Lyra. Mary finds a world of giant trees and creatures made to live in harmony with them. The bear king Iorek Byrnison is on the move, as are the witches. The churchmen in this story are bent on a path to separate people from nature on a most elemental level. THIS book, I believe, is the reason for the protests of the movie. It is not that it is a bad book or a bad story, but it does use caricatures to shock us into thinking along new paths. I'm glad I read the series, though I think that I would not necessarily recommend it for young readers, or at least not without wanting to discuss the concepts raised.

Hope you enjoyed my list, though it looks like I need to read something besides fantasy for a while!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Miracles for Read Write Poem


[Read Write Poem provided a Wordle as a prompt - a cloud of words to choose from. The words in that image sparked this poem.]


Shadows gather then race westward,
wrapping night across the continent.
The murmur of the frozen north
is punctuated by dandelion-bright candles.
At Chanukah carnivals
Jews gather in congregations,
a religious archipelago in an ocean of gentiles.
Grandfathers wearing tallisim with an indigo thread in each corner
strain the last of the meniscus in their rusty old knees
to teach the little ones to play dreidel.
The smell of frying fills the buildings
promising sufganiyot drizzled with honey
and humble potatoes suddenly made numinous
by their bath in hot oil.


for those who have other traditions, here is a small glossary:

Chanukah is also called the festival of lights, and you'll find a menorah (a 9-branched candle-holder in the window of many Jewish houses). The holiday usually falls some time in December.

tallisim is the plural of tallis, which is a kind of scarf with religious meaning, warn by more observant Jews. Each tallis has a thin white tassle at each corner. Many tallisim have one blue thread in each tassle.

meniscus is cartilage in joints like the knee.

dreidel is a 4-sided top, used in a game of chance at Chanukah, often played for pennies, nuts, or chocolates.

sufganiyot are deep-fried donuts, often filled with jelly.

oil is the basis of the Chanukah holiday because of a miracle when oil that should have lasted one night instead lasted for eight nights. Foods fried in oil are a Chanukah tradition, hence potato pancakes (latkes).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Semi-Formal


[This is more-or-less the way I remember this Winter's Tale. See others at Sunday Scribblings.]

I did not attend a lot of dances when I was a teenager. I think there was one or two a year in junior high school, one formal and usually another was a "sock-hop." In high school there were no more than two each year: homecoming in the fall for all classes and the junior-senior prom in the spring.

So I didn't have a lot of experience with dances when I got to college in New England. I went to a few parties in the fall, one on campus to celebrate the new college president, the rest were at frats in town. My dorm planned a semi-formal dance for February. While I was home for winter break, I made sure to pack a fancy dress to take back with me.

We planned food for the party, and had someone coming from Boston or Cambridge to be DJ. We had people signed up to arrange the furniture in the living room so there would be plenty of dance space. And there were dates coming (mostly from Boston and Cambridge). Not all of us had dates, but practically everyone in the dorm was going to attend anyway.

So, early in the day of the dance it started snowing – hard. In fact, it snowed so hard that we soon got a call from the D.J. telling us there was no way he could make it. But we rolled with the punches: a search of the dorm turned up some pretty decent stereo equipment and everyone chipped in records and tapes.

The food was already in the building (nothing for that was last-minute) but the roads were terrible. Soon we heard that no one was going to make it out to the suburbs that night. We were on our own.

I don't think it crossed our minds to cancel or postpone the party – there was too much going on at school to move it. So we threw a party for ourselves. We got dressed up and danced by ourselves in the living room. We had the curtains open so we could watch it continue to snow through the wall-sized windows.

A bunch of us finally couldn't stand it anymore. We went back to our rooms and traded semi-formal dresses for snow clothes. We slid down the snow from the dorm slightly uphill from ours toward the living room. We threw snowballs and chased each other and totally wore ourselves out.

When our fingers started to get numb, we went back inside and bundled into snuggly nightclothes. We took handfuls of party food up to our common room and settled in to play cards. One person taught most of the rest of us how to play Hearts. She whupped us completely, but we had a blast. We adopted the game completely and continued to play frequently all the way through college.

There were other semi-formals, at our dorm and at others. But that first was one of a kind.

Second Hand


[This was written in response to a prompt on Cafe Writing's Jewels Project.]

Second Hand

She had what she needed,
a paid-for house,
a new car and a golf cart,
and enough money to last
her whole retirement.
a roof over her head,
a pickup truck in good shape,
and enough extra for
a vacation once a year.

Every week
she tried to stay
out of the way knowing
she would do it differently
if she cleaned it herself.
she pulled up in the truck
to dust and sweep
and mop and wipe as if
it were her own place.

And then
she heard her cleaning woman
had multiple sclerosis
and would have
her doctor told her
she had M.S.
and was advised

to stop working.
She gave away the
fur coat she had not worn
for years.
She tearfully said
goodbye and accepted
the generous gift.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dental Limerick


[For Mad Kane's Humor Blog and the Dental Limerick and Haiku prompt.]

She hated her teeth were not brigher
and so sought out a way to go lighter.
The hygienist did preach,
but the dentist used bleach,
and now no one has teeth that are whiter.

Dancing Through Time


photo credit: Janet Spering

This was written in response to a prompt from Cafe Writing's Jewels Project. ]

Dancing Through Time

The three sisters danced in the dappled arbor,
early summer breezes cooling them
as their twirls sent gossamer skirts whirling.
Grace was in every step as they moved
in perfect and intricate counterpoint,
sparking inspiration and joy in everyone who saw them.

They danced in paint on a canvas,
captured mid-spin by the painter
who had herself been captivated by them.

They danced into the mind of the cameo-maker,
who saw the painting and felt the breeze they stirred.
They helped tease rhythm out of stone.

They danced in a brassy ring on a grandmother's coat.

And now they dance on mine.

Pieces of the Landscape of My Youth


[This was written in response to a prompt from Cafe Writing's Jewels Project. For Option 1 I used the following words: landscape, paper, museum, touch. ]

I was anxious to leave my hometown, something that might have been in my genes.

My great-grandparents left the area, taking their children west to homestead in Oklahoma. That didn't work out for them and so they came back to the area of southern Illinois that eventually gave birth to my mom.

She, in turn, wanted to leave and finally managed o do so, though not until her husband retired.

I left sooner, happy to be from there – it is a great place to be from – and happier to be living elsewhere.

But since I left small pieces of the landscape of my youth have followed me east. Some are quite concrete like my baby blanket or the folder of stories and artwork I created on lined paper in the first grade, and some other tidbits of my own creation – old in my life but new in the timeline of my family's history.

I have my mother's high school ring. She gave it to me years ago. Although I finished high school and college I never had a class ring of my own. Hers has three colors of gold and an element of age about it – it doesn't look like the most modern school rings. I wear it on my pinkie from time to time.

But the pieces that drag people and places out of the past belonged to my grandma and great-aunt. They are mostly kitchen things – hardly museum pieces.

There are some old brown crockery bowls – nothing special. I don't use them much, but I love seeing them every time I open the cabinet my measuring spoons are in.

The old, once-white, oval plates, one small and one medium, send me down memory lane when I use them. The small one is perfect as a spoon rest, though I don't remember what it was used it for before. But I can't touch the medium one without seeing it piled with chicken-fried steak, sitting on Grandma's dining room table.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Things I've Done


Last seen at The Miss Rumphius Effect. She says she got it from Libby. You are welcome to play and pass it on if you like. The things I have done are in bold [with some comments.]

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band

4. Visited Hawaii

5. Watched a meteor shower [I've only seen one shooting star!]

6. Given more than you can afford to charity

7. Been to Disneyland

8. Climbed a mountain [I didn't make it all the way to the top, though]

9. Held a praying mantis

10. Sang a solo

11. Bungee jumped

12. Visited Paris

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea [but I've had an ocean-side view of a hurricane]

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch [glass-etching]

15. Adopted a child

16. Had food poisoning

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty [been in it, but not up it - renovations were going on when I was there]

18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train [I was on an overnight boat ferry]

21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort [I always got too tired before getting very far!]

25. Held a lamb

26. Gone skinny dipping

27. Run a Marathon [I ran a 1-mile fun-run when I was a teenager]

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice

29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run [a double is the best I can really hope for]

32. Been on a cruise [thanks to my parents for taking me when I was young]

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors [depends on how far back we're talking. One great-grandmother was born in a country house just a few miles south of where I grew up. But I'e never been to the "home country" of any of relatives not born in the US.]

35. Seen an Amish community

36. Taught yourself a new language

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing

40. Seen Michelangelo's David

41. Sung karaoke [but only with the on-demand feature of my TV while folding laundry]

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight [and tripped over a baby coconut tree!]

46. Been transported in an ambulance [I guess that's how I got to the hospital when I got hurt the 1st weekend in college, but maybe it was a station wagon - hmmm.]

47. Had your portrait painted [not painted, but drawn by my sister at least twice that I know of]

48. Gone deep sea fishing

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris [only part-way up]

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling

52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a drive-in theater

55. Been in a movie [guess home-movies don't count...]

56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia

60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies [more than I care to remember!]

62. Gone whale watching

63. Got flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving [not at all interested!]

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp [I have too vivid an imagination to want to do this]

67. Bounced a check

68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy [my dog Waggles is in the basement now]

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial

71. Eaten Caviar [but I was too young to remember - will have to try again]

72. Pieced a quilt [I keep wanting to do this.]

73. Stood in Times Square

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job [does being laid-off count - job reductions due to budget cuts]

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London [I've seen the Guards, just not the changing part]

77. Broken a bone [no but a torn ligament takes longer to heal.]

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican

82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem

84. Had your picture in the newspaper [growing up in a small town made this easy]

85. Read the entire Bible [I think I made it all the way through the Old Testament, and I've read at least the first 6 books of the New Testament.]

86. Visited the White House [just from the street]

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating [catching fish is the closest I've come, but I wouldn't even touch them to take them off the hook.]
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life [I was a lifeguard and am thankful that yelling at people was the most I ever had to do. I did once ride in the back of a vehicle with a kid we thought might have a severe back injury - she turned out ok (whew)]

90. Sat on a jury

91. Met someone famous

92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one

94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been involved in a law suit

98. Owned a cell phone

99. Been stung by a bee

100. Read an entire book in one day [or in one night!]

I think that is 42 out of 100, but I'm too tired to try and count again!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Fill-Ins 99


1. The last band I saw live was too long ago to remember, but the last performer I paid to hear live was Carrie Newcomer.

2. What I look forward to most on Thanksgiving is
stuffing, pie, rolls, and pie.

3. My Christmas/holiday shopping is
only a faint un-formed thought at this point (I'm a last-minute kind of shopper).

4. Thoughts of holiday concerts
fill my head.

5. I wish I could wear pajamas and slippers to work.

6. Bagpipes
are really cool and I wish I had the patience to learn to play them, but my neighbors are probably happy I don't.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to
making homemade pasta noodles, tomorrow my plans include playing host to some friends for the afternoon and dinner (when we're going to eat those noodles), and Sunday, I want to relax, but I've been invited to sing at an interfaith worship service in the evening!

You can find more fill-ins here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Old-School Activism


[This week's prompt at Sunday Scribblings is "scandalous." This family story is what immediatly came to mind.]

Old-School Activism

My mom grew up in the Depression, though she reminds us that as kids they didn't know that they were poor because nearly everybody in town was in the same way. So partly because of the era and partly because there was no money, it was up to the kids to make their own fun. My mom was sandwiched between two brothers and it sounds like the kind of fun she enjoyed a lot of the time was physical. She loved to run.

I guess it was natural, given the kind of play she liked, that she took to wearing her older brother's denim jeans. He was just two years older and he didn't like it, but it didn't stop her, even though she had to roll up the bottoms and belt them really tight. At school, though, she had to wear dresses or skirts. All the girls did – it was a rule.

As I hear it, though, my mom wasn't content to let that rule stand. As I remember hearing it (and I'm sure my family will correct me if I'm wrong) my Mom was just a year or two into high school when she decided to do something about the "no pants for girls" dress code. She counted up the number of girls in her class. She figured if they ALL wore pants on the same day, there was no way for them to punish them all.

So on the appointed day, nearly all the girls showed up in slacks instead of skirts. And as Mom had figured, there were too many for them to send home to change (the usual approach). And the rule came tumbling down. I'm sure some thought that was scandalous.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Judgment of the Moon


[Cafe Writing prompted me to write some fiction about a night when the moon is howling... ]

Judgment of the Moon

I was cold. Not shivery-fun cold, like when the snow crunches under your feet and you know cocoa is waiting at home. This cold was damp and ran right through me as I stood in the woods and listened.

Or tried to listen. It was hard to listen to nothing. No breeze moved one branch against another. Not a single mouse scurried. The dead, wet leaves had compressed into a spongy mat that swallowed the sound of my boots. This was a night when even the trees held their breath in fearful expectation and only the clear, empty sky rang aloud with the howl of the moon.

The giant, yellow eye unblinkingly spied me cringing in the shadows. Passion-full it searched my soul and judged me wanting. I held my breath in dread at the sentence, unable to image the payment it would demand.

Then the wind sighed and the moon shed a tear, and the howl was in my own throat and I was sentenced to live.

One Knife


[It looks like 3 Word Wednesday is on a Halloween bent this week with the words corpse, damage, and knife. I couldn't resist.]

One Knife

Who knew that one knife
could do so much damage?
The crystal block of ice was now
a perfectly-rendered corpse.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008



[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect set a Monday Poetry Stretch to write batty poetry. As in real bats. Here's mine. Check her site at the end of the week to see what others might have come up with.]


In the darker, shallow end of the pool we
lounged in summer-heated liquid and watched
insects swarm around the lights at the deep end.

Bats darted and wheeled, flying bug zappers,
sometimes dipping low enough to sip
a chlorinated nightcap to chase their midnight snacks.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Not Jackie or Marilyn


I love quizzes. Those short little things in magazines or on-line. I find them quite irresistible, although I don't pay much attention to the results. I just like taking the quiz. Maybe I just like being asked my opinion.

Today I saw that Janet at Fond of Snape took a quiz "Are you a Jackie or a Marilyn? or someone else?" She pointed me at the site and I took the test.

As it turns out, according to the quiz, I am not a Jackie or a Marilyn (which doesn't surprise me). Instead, it says I am a Grace. I would not have compared myself to Grace Kelly but there you go. Here's what they say - for what it's worth.

Your result for Are You a Jackie or a Marilyn? Or Someone Else? Mad Men-era Female Icon Quiz...

You Are a Grace!


You are a Grace -- "I need to understand the world.

Graces have a need for knowledge and are introverted, curious, analytical, and insightful.

How to Get Along with Me
* Be independent, not clingy
* Speak in a straightforward and brief manner
* I need time alone to process my feelings and thoughts
* Remember that If I seem aloof, distant, or arrogant, it may be that I am feeling uncomfortable
* Make me feel welcome, but not too intensely, or I might doubt your sincerity
* If I become irritated when I have to repeat things, it may be because it was such an effort to get my thoughts out in the first place
* don't come on like a bulldozer
* Help me to avoid my pet peeves: big parties, other people's loud music, overdone emotions, and intrusions on my privacy

What I Like About Being a Grace
* standing back and viewing life objectively
* coming to a thorough understanding; perceiving causes and effects
* my sense of integrity: doing what I think is right and not being influenced by social pressure
* not being caught up in material possessions and status
* being calm in a crisis

What's Hard About Being a Grace
* being slow to put my knowledge and insights out in the world
* feeling bad when I act defensive or like a know-it-all
* being pressured to be with people when I don't want to be
* watching others with better social skills, but less intelligence or technical skill, do better professionally

Graces as Children Often
* spend a lot of time alone reading, making collections, and so on
* have a few special friends rather than many
* are very bright and curious and do well in school
* have independent minds and often question their parents and teachers
* watch events from a detached point of view, gathering information
* assume a poker face in order not to look afraid
* are sensitive; avoid interpersonal conflict
* feel intruded upon and controlled and/or ignored and neglected

Graces as Parents
* are often kind, perceptive, and devoted
* are sometimes authoritarian and demanding
* may expect more intellectual achievement than is developmentally appropriate
* may be intolerant of their children expressing strong emotions

Thursday, October 09, 2008



[I don't know if this is prose poetry or maybe something else, but it started out with a prompt from the Monday Poetry Stretch at The Miss Rumphius Effect (to use cup, gate, and sea) but it also seemed to satisfy the Totally Optionally Prompt to write about "discoveries." ]


She found the once-white cup, chipped
and dirty, dull red rust peaking through where the enamel gave way long ago. Full of dirt and dead leaves and sticks, and probably a bug or two, but its handle was still solid and it wanted to be found. From the hole at the base of the tree, she took it to the creek and washed away years of abandonment and promptly filled it with big, fat acorns that littered the path.

Her steps carried her away from the trees at a stately, measured pace. With her eyes closed she saw the aisle of the church, decorated with flowers to match those her sister had pinned in her hair. She replayed her movements, slow and careful, following the instructions to drop just one petal at a time from her basket. One by one the acorns fell, bouncing on the pavement, rolling to one side or the other, and one wobbled its way into a pothole in the street.

When her fingers brushed the bottom of the cup, she pulled out the last two acorns and rolled them around in her hand, like the silver Chinese balls that her grandmother kept in a red silk box on the shelf by her bed. They were awkward to hold and so big that she nearly dropped them.

The old wooden bridge, just wide enough for one car to cross at a time, had gaps where you could look through into the water below. She dropped one of the acorns through one of the holes and watched for the splash, but she couldn't see if it sank to the bottom or bobbled its way toward the sea.

Cup in one hand and the last acorn in the other, she skipped toward the big houses. The grand Victorians seemed palatial, but maybe not as nice as they might once have been. Like the cup, they were neglected, with weeds and bushes taking over, with paint peeling from the siding (where there was any left at all), and lopsided shutters hanging on out of habit. The wrought iron fencing was rusty and showed only a passing acquaintance with paint. The clanking rattle was tremendously satisfying as she raked the cup across the iron rails until she got to the empty space where the gate yawned permanently open, sagging deep into the soil of the yard.

She tucked the remaining acorn in her pocket and raced herself down the sidewalk to the beach where autumn's chill had finally chased away the summerfolk. The cup was perfect for digging in the dunes, and for carrying water to newly-minted moats, and moving a pile of mussel shells to the back of the castle.

Eventually she headed back home, to the secret place in her yard where she kept her treasures safe from the growups who would call them junk. She tucked the cup and acorn in next to the pieces of beach-glass and the yellow feather, beside the coin with a hole in the center and the green plastic turtle, inside the blue pottery saucer that was only chipped in one place.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Camp Iroquois


[Totally Options Prompts challenged us to revisit a place, person, or idea that was once familiar and that you haven't seen in a long time. This is what came to my mind.]

Camp Iroquois

He saw it clear and sunny,
fresh as honeysuckle vines.
The fresh air of New Hampshire
lighter than a Brooklyn summer,
even with trips to Coney Island.
Color wars and war canoes,
camp crafts and camp fires,
swimming in the lake and
hiking the nearby mountains.
And, oh! those wild strawberries
and low-bush blueberries!

The summer we looked
at colleges for me we plotted
our trip to take us nearby,
thinking we'd stop by and see
the camp, ask politely at the office
to look around, for old time's sake.
We knew we were close and finally
we stopped to buy maple syrup
and ask if they knew
where Camp Iroquois was.

It was closed, they said, but
directed us there anyway, where
we parked and wandered
into the wilderness, grown up
around crumbling foundations.
I think our hearts broke
when we found the skeletons
of the mighty war canoes,
spread wide and bleached in the sun.

[Effective 30-April-2015 I have turned off comments on this post.]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008



[Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect posed a Monday Poetry Stretch to write an acrostic poem about fall. I love the crisp air this time of year, even if I hate the falling leaves, pretty though they are.]

Chilly mornings make me

Roll over and hug the covers tight.

Icy toes hit the floor on the way to the

Shower to warm up. Nevertheless, I

Prefer this to turning on the furnace.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wall Street Woes Limerick


[Mad Kane prompts us to write a limerick and/or haiku on Wall Street Woes. I liked that turn of phrase so much, I used it.]

We put money in and it grows.

Or so we do hope and suppose.

But the mortgage disaster

makes prices fall faster

and now we all sing Wall Street woes.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cafe Writing Seven Things


[Cafe Writing is back with more prompts and one of them is to describe seven tastes or scents that define autumn to me. I warn you not to read it if you are hungry!]

1. homemade donuts
I haven't yet put the story in my blog, but when I was a kid I used to get a hankerin' for homemade donuts around about August. It was always too hot to put a pot of hot oil on the stove to deep-fry them, so Grandma and my great-aunt always made us wait until it cooled off. The first cool weekend, when we went over on a Saturday or Sunday, there would be homemade donuts rising underneath tea towels on the counter. We'd fry them up and glaze them and eat way too many. They were worth the wait.

2. a crisp apple eaten right in the orchard
I love "sweater weather." And a day when I can put on one thin extra layer, and go out into an orchard under a clear blue sky with a bag lunch and an empty container to fill with apples - (sigh) is a delight. We'd usually get one or two pecks (four pecks make a bushel) of several kinds. The orchard where we go uses no pesticides and they have several varieties with overlapping seasons. One of the first things is to pick a perfect one on the small side - maybe a Macoun, or a McIntosh, or a Cortland. Then it gets polished on my sleeve or shirt-tail. And I crunch into it and try not to be a total slob about the juice. Mmm.

3. honey
For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, it is tradition to start with something sweet. One tradition is to dip apple slices into honey. Another is to eat honey cake. I have a ton of recipes for honey cake, and there are many different styles. And they all taste like fall to me.

4. apple cider
I have nothing against apple juice at other times of the year. But the only kind of fresh (not fermented) apple cider I can get in the grocery store these days is pasturized. I love it when I can find an orchard to sell me unpasturized apple cider. It tastes fresher. And if you leave it just a little too long, it starts fermenting, with tiny little bubbles that make it "spritzig."

5. blueberry pie
I know that blueberries are a summer fruit, not normally associated with autumn. But my dad loved blueberries. He preferred blueberry pie or cobbler to a birthday cake and his birthday was in early October. I taste his fall birthday when I have blueberry pie. Especially when it has vanilla ice cream on top.

6. candy corn
I don't love candy corn, but it is ok. I almost never buy it in the store for myself. And most times of the year, I can pass it up. But something about October makes me dip into the candy dish of artificially colored, artificial-tasting wedges of tooth-rotting sweetness. I remember eating it at my grandma's house, nibbling off the tiny white tip first, then biting off the orange middle part, leaving the stubby yellow base for last. The ones you can find now with a chocolate layer are just wrong. And I seem to remember my college roommate taking me to the candy store in her hometown, just to get fresh candy corn. I must say that the nuances were wasted on me. But then, I didn't turn it down either.

7. pumpkin pie
Just as my dad preferred pie to birthday cake, my mom's favorite birthday treat is pumpkin pie. She, too, has a fall birthday (albeit much later in the season). I like pumpkin pie enough I sometimes have a slice for breakfast. Usually eaten out of hand - no need to dirty up a fork and plate.

The only problem with this list is now I'm hungry!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

9th Grade Track


[I'm finally catching up with some of my favorite blogs and discovered a prompt at Mad Kane's Humor Blog to write a Limerick or Haiku on things I wasn't good at. I immediately thought back to running the 800-yard event in 9th grade. It wasn't pretty.]

In running I had but one pace -
that was slow, even when in a race.
But I did win one prize
when I once moved my thighs
to just barely come in at fifth place.

Thursday, September 18, 2008



[This weeks Totally Optional Prompt was to write a poem in blank verse, that is a poem with meter with or without rhyme. I toyed around with a the sound of triplets or a waltz. That makes it largely "dactyl" I think, though feel free to correct me. This is less of a work in progress, and more a exercise. Go check out what other folks came up with. Oh, and click here if you want a definition of obbligato.]


cupcakes on weeknights or choc'late chip pancakes
tending to needs of her family and friends
fridge always stocked and the always-clean linens
proof of her love and devotion to home
others came first and she always came after - yet
there she was nearby with smiles and a hug
then she was gone and the melody faltered
weft-less the family fabric was frayed

Wednesday, September 17, 2008



[Read Write Poem challenged us to write an elegy. I had trouble with the subject until I remembered the jolt I got (many years ago now) when reading a campus newspaper.]

Unexpected Death Notice

She was so young! and I
had not known she was ill.
I cannot believe I won't bump
into her on campus, on my way
to the bank or the post office.
It makes me feel emptier,
and ashamed I didn't know.

She was the boss of my boss,
chic and savvy, with impeccable
taste and a great deal of patience
for my impetuous boss and others.
I thought she was fair, but a bit
gullible. She lost her cool
when she thought we had
pieced together the shredded
files from the bag outside her door.
But her smile was less
than chic, a little rough
around the edges and
it made me like her more.

I saw her name and picture
in the campus newspaper
and I sent a copy to my old
boss, who had moved on
years ago. He was shocked
too and we commiserated.
And days later, I still can't
believe she's dead, while
I'm still here.

Sunday, September 07, 2008



[Read Write Poem challenged us to rubberneck and then write about it.]


Teenage boys know they can
be seen: posing for the girls,
or mooning them.

But you, and that guy over there,
seem to have forgotten. You don't
remember that I can watch you
run your fingers through your hair.
I see you put on eye makeup at
40 miles an hour. I stare as you
run an electric razor over your chin.

I see you pick your nose and lean
over to pick up the CD you dropped.
I see your left hand gesturing and your
right hand holding the phone to
your head and I hope you are at least
steering with your knees.

Did you know I watched you turn
to talk to the small people strapped
into your back seat so that you missed
the light turning green?

I check out the newspaper propped
against your steering wheel. I see the
map you are struggling to fold into
a more manageable shape. I wonder
what book holds your attention while
you speed down the turnpike.

Did you know I memorized your
face when you kept straying over
the lines, jerking back into your lane
when the rumble strip jarred you awake?

I saw you changing your shirt after work.
At least you waited for a stop light
to change shoes. Did you know you
are not invisible inside your car?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Wedding Trip


[Sunday Scribblings prompts us this week with "Somewhere..." And since my mind has been on stories of my life, I thought of a time my parents took us to Massachusetts.]

Cousin Jonathan Gets Married

My cousin Jonathan was getting married. My dad had only one brother, and my uncle had three sons. The cousins were from New York, from Brooklyn, and they were significantly older than I was, closer to the ages of my older sister and brother. I know they had visited us in the Midwest, but I mostly recalled the trips from pictures, not from my own memories. And I know we had visited them in New York, but all I remember are vague memories of a hotel room and a day-trip to a distant relative's house (also in Brooklyn).

I had been to weddings before, usually pretty close to home. We'd dress up and were reminded to mind our manners. We'd go to a church and most of the time the reception was in the church fellowship hall, decorated for the occasion. Once we left the party, we'd be home in less than 10 minutes.

But I didn't remember ever having traveled to go to a wedding before. Jonathan and Jean were getting married in Massachusetts. We had been to Massachusetts before, driving two days to get to Cape Cod for vacation. But by the time of this wedding, we had stopped going there for vacation. I think I was about 9 years old.

We flew to Boston and rented a car. I remember following along on a road map as we headed west to the center of the state. I thought the arrangement of towns was funny. Northampton was north of Southampton, and Westhampton largely west of Easthampton, but Easthampton was kind of in the middle (north to south) between Northampton and Southampton. I thought if some place were going to be in the middle of all that it should be just plan "Hampton." It made me think the people who named the places weren't very original.

I don't remember which town we stayed in, but I know we spent two or three nights in a motel, along with a lot of other people with our last name. My dad was a doctor and so were several of the other guests. And some fool phoned the motel and asked to speak to Dr. Lastname and didn't even know the first name of his doctor. Since I heard about it they must have called all the rooms to try to track down someone who knew the patient!

My aunt, mother of the groom, was a bit on edge, wanting everything to be perfect and being in control of very little. I had learned a song in Girl Scouts that had words that sounded like a native-American chant, and it had hand movements that went with it. While my younger brother and I were trying to keep ourselves amused (and knowing we'd get in trouble for playing in the parking lot) we started doing this chant and hand-movement thing. When my aunt asked what we were doing, my mom teased her by saying it was a kind of rain dance. My aunt had a fit! We were banned from singing that song until after the wedding.

As for the wedding itself, I remember very little. I had never been to a wedding with that many people at it. We were quite a ways back and I really couldn't see over people's heads. I don't know what my younger brother did to entertain himself – he must have been about 7. He might have been entertained by the yarmulkes that they had given out – he got to wear one just like the grown-up men.

At the reception, I remember my cousin Michael's wife teaching us to do the Bunny Hop. I remember dancing (the box step) with my dad, and probably with some other relatives. And I remember someone asking me how old I was. When I told them 9, they told me I was 9 going on 30. I remember asking my mom what that meant, though I don't remember what she answered.

I don't remember much else about that trip.

As it turned out, that marriage didn't last. And cousin Michael's didn't either. But I still remember how to do the Bunny Hop, in case you need to invite someone to your wedding.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Feeding the Piranhas


[My sister out-law inspired me to make a list of "My Life In Stories." I have a long list of titles and from time to time I write out one of the stories. This is one of them.]

Feeding the Piranhas

When I was very small, my family drove two days to get to the ocean for summer vacations. We went to Cape Cod in Massachusetts, back in the early post-Camelot days. The area around Hyannis was not yet built up and congested, but it was heading in that direction. The distance and the diminishing payoff for the long drive made my parents think about alternative ways to take vacations.

My parents had owned some property on Lake Sara, just an empty lot. Once in a while we'd drive over there and spend the day fishing and picnicking. We bought a wooden picnic table to keep there. As my parents were trying to decide what our alternative vacations might be, they turned their attention to the possibility of a vacation house.

They looked into the idea of building a house on that empty lot, but building a house was a large project and they weren't sure that was what they wanted to spend their time doing. They ended up buying a house on another part of Lake Sara. The house had been a full-time home for the previous owners, so it was fully winterized. It had yellow aluminum siding and it sat at the back-end of a cove on three lots of land. The house was on the first lot, the second lot was mostly flat and grassy, and the third lot was grass but with a few trees near the road including one large enough to have a tree swing on it.

We started going to the vacation house on lots of weekends, even before school was out for the summer. We'd pack a small bag (we kept toiletries and towels and even some clothes there, so we didn't have to bring much). We'd head east on Interstate 70 as far as Altamont. We'd exit and go north past the Stuckey's and if it was a Friday night, we might even stop there for the buffet dinner, but that was rare. Usually we tried to get an earlier start so we passed on and turned right onto old 40 toward the fairgrounds. We'd usually pass our turnoff toward the lake and drive through Funkhouser all the way into Effingham where we'd buy groceries.

Across from the grocery store was a pet store and sometimes we'd get to loiter and look in the window there. We had a dog, and Mom certainly wasn't about to let us have another pet, but that didn't stop us from looking. We usually only looked from the outside, but once in a while we got to go in to pick up dog food or something. One summer they had Piranhas in one of the fish tanks. We saw how their jaws looked funny (and strong) and from TV shows we knew they were killers. Once they fed them while we watched and they snapped up whatever it was faster than we could have imagined. The man in the store told us that's how he lost the end of one finger (we could see it was a little shorter than it should have been). He said he forgot to be careful around them. We believed him but we didn't want these dangerous fish for ourselves anyway. They were not at all cuddly, though they were fascinating.

After a quick stop for ice cream or a sandwich from Burger Chef, we'd retrace the path back to the turnoff and head to the lake house. When we got there, we'd first take the groceries in to the kitchen, then the bags to our room. At the beginning my brother and I shared a room when we were there, leaving the 3rd bedroom free for guests. If it was hot, the air conditioner got turned on, but often we were sent to open up all the windows in the place to get the air moving through.

Mom often drove us kids over as soon as she was ready on Friday, leaving Daddy to come once he was done with work. That meant we had two cars there, which was good in case the hospital called him to come fix somebody up.

Sometimes Daddy had some office hours on Saturday morning, so we'd spend some of the early part of the weekend cleaning up the lake house, dusting and sweeping inside and out. Then my brother and I (and the dog) would run in the grass and swing on the tire swing (us kids--not the dog). We'd pick up the mail at the mailbox and run down the gravel driveway to take it to Mom. At home we had a Post Office Box and so the only mailman we knew was at Grandma's house.

Like most lake houses, the living room faced the lake. What you saw from the road was mostly the attached garage (and the wall with the master bedroom and bath). And just toward the road from the garage was a rock garden with a giant boulder. Mom loves rock gardens and boulders too. That big, pale sandstone boulder would heat up in the sun and be a warm spot to sit when the weather wasn't hot yet. We'd sit there and try to catch the lizards that liked playing in the rocks. Someone told us that if the lizard lost its tail, it would grow another one. I new that starfish were supposed to do that, but I wasn't sure I believe them about the lizards.

We had to stay out of the woods because the ground underneath was covered with poison ivy plants. We knew how to identify the plants from the time we were pretty young. I'd never had a rash from them, but since I knew to stay away, we were never sure if I was allergic or not (and I wasn't looking to find out). There were also snakes in the woods but I think they didn't want to scare us by telling us then.

Eventually there would be fishing off the dock or from the rowboat, and swimming in the cove where the water was crystal clear all the way to the sandy bottom. Sometimes there would be neighbor kids (or neighbor grandkids) to play with. If the weather was bad, we would roller-skate in the big empty basement room where Daddy had strung ropes between the support poles, giving us something to hold onto since we hadn't yet learned how to balance ourselves.

And on Sunday morning, Mom always wanted a Sunday newspaper. Sometimes a neighbor would give us a powerboat ride across the lake to the marina. My parents would buy a newspaper and sometimes pick up some other groceries. My brother and I would beg them for coins to buy a slice or two of bread to feed the piranhas. The owner kept a stale loaf next to the cash register by the door. Since it was only a dime or a quarter, Mom or Daddy would let us and we'd be cautioned to be careful to stay dry. Leaving the grownups to talk, we'd scoot out the door and head over to the docks where the first slip or two usually were empty. We'd break off the smallest piece of bread, smaller than a pea, and toss it in the water.

And immediately the surface would boil with fishes competing for that bread. We'd toss the pieces close and far and marvel at the piranhas and be glad that they only lived on this side of the lake, not near our house.

Of course they were not piranhas, not in our climate. And we knew that, we really did. But it was so much more fun to pretend that they were. In truth they were the same bluegills that we caught with our bamboo fishing poles. Little sunfish that were more bone than meat. But when they charged over for those bread crumbs, you would have thought they could tear you apart.

Back on our side of the lake we'd fight over the comics section of the paper before being shooed outside to play. And far too soon we'd have to pack up the dirty laundry and close up the house to return back to our regular house again.

[I was going to put in a picture of piranhas but they are just too scary. Go over to and type in "piranha" to see what I mean. Then if you need to wipe that out of your mind, you can type in "bluegill" to see some much tamer critters.]

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Summer Vacation Books 2008


Maria's wish is my command (well, this time). She asked to hear about the books and I was just thinking that it was time to write about the books, here goes. In no particular order, these are what I've been reading recently (and what has been occupying my time instead of writing).

The Grand Tour
by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Years ago I read Sorcery & Cecelia by these same two authors. The idea behind that older book was started as a game in which each author "took" a character and then wrote letters to the other character, developing the story as it went along. According to the notes, they did that and ended up with very little communication (except once to decide how long it would take to wrap up the story lines so everything came out at the same time). They liked what came of that so well it was turned into a book about two young ladies of the Regency, one just having her coming-out season in London, the other stuck in the country with one of the aunts. It had impertinence and magic and romance and danger. It was silly and they were somewhat silly, but I enjoyed it and have read it more than once. I was not sure I'd like the sequel. But this year I gave up, bought it and dove in. Once again the story was told from first one viewpoint, then the other. The book's title page lays it out like this:
The Grand Tour or the Purloined Coronation Regalia: being a revelation of matters of High Confidentiality and Greatest Importance, including extracts from the intimate diary of a Noblewoman and the sworn testimony of a Lady of Quality
This allows for alternative views, even though they are traveling together across Europe. Again it was silly and impertinent and clever and brave, and in grave danger, as is the entire world or at least all of Europe. And I enjoyed it.

Bedlam's Edge
edited by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill
fantasy short stories and one essay
Most of these stories have elves, but not in the time or places you might think. One story has a serial killer looking for teenage mall rats as victims, another is set in the civil war, another is set in modern South Africa, and another involves a search in a very dangerous modern place for the bottle of a djinn. How the long-lived elves and other magic creatures interact with people in the modern day is the general topic of a dozen or so stories. It was a quick read for me.

Steal the Dragon
by Patricia Briggs
I have been reading a series by the author and I really liked her characters so I tried this novel set in another world. The description of the book had me a bit skeptical: the main character's tribe had been attacked by slave traders when she was a girl, but she had escaped to freedom and trained horses until the head of the spies needs someone to pretend to be a slave in the place she escaped from... It could have been dreck, but in Patricia Briggs' hands I enjoyed the story. I found the main character smart, likable, and believable. Well, as long as you buy into the magic end of things, and the chance that the enemy might be a god, and the ally might not be what he seems either. I liked it well enough I may read it again sometime.

Fantasy Gone Wrong
Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittiany A. Koren
fantasy short stories
I really liked this collection of short stories where the expected tales take at least one turn for the unexpected. Most had a lot of humor in them. In one the characters start giving the author a lot of backtalk. In another the goblin is not at all what you think (and if only that baby goblin would go to sleep!) And Esther M. Friesner's contribution has this phrase near the beginning:
...As the boldest, bravest, and third-handsomest knight ever to couch lance in the service of his king, there could be only one thought going through his mind at such a solemn moment, namely:
"Why do I always get the squirrel-butt jobs?"
I gotta love them.

Cast in Shadow
by Michelle Sagara
(Yea, I know, all fantasy so far. I promise I did read some other books. Just hold on a little longer.)
I have been putting off getting this book for a while. It too had a description that made me wonder if I'd like it, but I decided I could always put it down. Except that I couldn't put it down. I was dropped in the middle of a place with so many different kinds of peoples. And the protagonist (a kind of policewoman) is forced to work with a ghost (not literally) from her past, as a nightmare of a killing spree that she survived as a child is playing out again in the slums she came from. I couldn't wait to get from one chapter to the next and I was satisfied with the ending, although it is the beginning of a longer arc of a tale that I foresee will take at least a few books to get to the bottom of. Guess I'll have to watch for the sequels now.

Sleeping with the Fishes
by Mary Janice Davidson
fantasy (but quite different)
Fred is a mermaid. She has green hair (but everyone thinks it is blue). She works in Boston's New England Aquarium (trying hard not to get wet because she likes being able to leave at night instead of being kept in a tank there) but she's having trouble getting the fish to eat because they want her to play loud music when she feeds them. She hasn't had a date in just about forever and her best friend (who everyone thinks is a gay but is really straight and in love with Fred's boss) keeps telling her she needs to get laid. And all at once, she meets a very handsome man, a visiting researcher at the Aquarium who is trying to figure out where the suddenly-high toxin levels in the harbor are from. And then the mer-Prince from the Black Sea there to do the same thing (and make Fred his wife, or so he says). A rollicking romp that had me snorting (in a good way). Did I remember to tell you that Fred can't ride in a boat? She gets seasick. And she's allergic to shellfish!

All Together Dead
by Charlaine Harris
Another Sookie Stackhouse novel in which our intrepid heroine now has a boyfriend with no (apparent) ulterior motives. He is a shape-shifter, but that's better than her erstwhile vampire lover (whom Sookie is trying to ignore). Sookie had promised to travel with the Louisiana Queen of the Vampires to the Vampire Conference in Chicago (Sookie had never been that far north) in order to mind-read the other humans who might be accompanying the other Vampire courts. If you are confused, you need to back up and read the books in order. Or else the part about where her brother wants to get married might be a bit confusing.
As for this installment, well. I like Sookie, I really do. But she just HAS to start learning to say "No." Weird things are going to find their way into her life without her having to practically go looking for them. All-in-all a good story, and I'll be back for the next installment.

A Deeper Sleep
by Dana Stabenow
I don't read many mysteries these days (though we have plenty in the house because they seem to be Chelle's favorite genre) but Kate Shugak novels are ones I try to keep up with. In this one, Kate and others know who did it. But the trick is proving it. And when he goes to trial, they can't believe that the charges didn't stick. Now how to keep him from killing again...
The crimes are horrible and are described from the viewpoint of the victims. But other things in the book are lighter. Especially the change in Kate and Jim Chopin's relationship. Cracked up up a few times! He should know better!

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth
by Chelsea Cain
I was still pretty young when I found a copy of The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene at my grandma's house. I guess it had belonged to my older sister. I read it and was hooked. I read all the other Nancy Drew books I could find in the local library, and then had them order the others from the inter-library loan. Somehow I never was drawn into any of the other teen-sleuth stories, but I knew of quite a few. I later read that Keene didn't actually write all the books, many (most?) were written by a consortium of writers. All of that, and the fact that I have a twisted sense of humor, means I was the perfect target audience for this book by Chelsea Cain. Here is a sense of what's inside from the Introduction:
...As many of you know me only as a character in a series of books written by a former friend of mine named Carolyn Keene, let me make one thing clear: Carolyn Keene used my name without my permission and made a career for herself telling stories of my adventures, many of which were fraught with error and some of which were patently false.
...I feared that if I revealed myself, details might come to light that could embarrass my husband and child.
Yet the time is now ripe for Nancy Drew to do just that. Reveal herself and the truth behind the stories in those teen-sleuth novels, and the other mysteries that she faced in her adult life too. I chuckled throughout the whole thing. If you don't know much about the teen sleuths of those old books, then much of the parody will be lost on you. But I thought it was a riot.

Between the Bridge and the River
by Craig Ferguson
I love Craig Ferguson, although I hate to admit I am ever up long enough to see him on late, late night T.V. I always thought he was smart and when I heard he had written a novel, I put it on my list. Now it seemed to me that the story must have something to do with suicide (and someone jumping from a bridge) and before you get too far into this book you do encounter someone on his way to commit just such an act. But this book has so much more in it. With a large cast of characters (and I do mean characters, all writ large) on both sides of the Atlantic, the author gives even the minor walk-on parts depth and history. And linkage. A lot of interconnectedness flows through the braided stories and it should come as no surprise that one of the characters regularly talks with the dead Carl Jung. From Scottish schoolboys to American con-artists, a sad-beautiful French woman fated to love men about to die to a deadly-snake-handling reverend from Florida, this book ranges from topic to topic, but ties it all together through dreams and inspiration and shear coincidence.
It has graphic sex and violence. It has politics or the drama that stands in for politics. The characters are not afraid to state their piece whether or not it will offend someone. It has cynicism but also optimism. And I think it works beautifully.

In addition to those, Chelle and I are maybe half-way through the last Harry Potter book (don't spoil the ending, please!) and I'm half-way through yet another fantasy novel. More on them when we finish.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

I'm Back


Hi, all. I am back from vacation, well-rested now.

As it turns out, I didn't write anything (!) while I was on vacation. No memories, no essays, not even a single poem. But I did read a ton. I'll soon post about the books I finished.

I'll be around sometime in the next week to see what I missed. Can't wait to catch up.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Books 2008


In my continuing series of documenting which books I read, here is what I have read this summer (pre-vacation). It is a very short list because (a) work is keeping me quite busy and I have been too tired to pick up a book at night, and (b) I'm slowly (very slowly) working my way through two non-fiction books. About the latter, I am bound and determined to finish them. One I have been reading (on and off) for at least three years. The other I just bought and am a bit more interested in at the moment. But I can't read very much of either at a time.

But now on to the two I have finished. There will be a bunch more when I get back from vacation.

Child of a Rainless Year
by Jane Lindskold
I wondered for a while if I would like this one, and then decided to dive in and try it. I was a bit startled that the main character was only five or six at the start of the book. But soon the descriptions of color and its power carried me along and I found that the author was just setting the stage so that we would understand the adult that would carry the bulk of the story. So by page 37 she is in her early fifties and the story really begins there. It is a bit eerie at times, and requires "willing suspension of disbelief" although the characters described definitely ring true to me. They act like real people, although ones who may be a little off-center. I liked this one, even if the very end was prosaic compared to the rest of the story.

The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
by Robert Rankin
fantasy of the most impertinent variety
I actually just finished re-reading this. I saw the title years ago and put it on my wish list. I believe that one of Chelle's siblings bought it for me, agreeing that something with a title that odd must have something going for it. It is a mystery-detective story set in a toy-town filled with walking, talking toys and nursery-rhyme characters. The protagonist is, of course, named Jack, a youngster who had set out to seek his fortune in the big city. In spite of that, however, it is an adult book, with significant improper behavior. Besides, they are trying to solve a murder that turns out to be only one of a whole string of murders.