Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Rediscovering the Will (Or, Have You Ever Heard of a Blogiversary?)

I blame it on my lack of blogging, that is. As 2010 comes within inches of sneaking out that door between this year and the next, I refuse to go down with only one blog post for the month of December. And it all started on November 16th.

Yep. I checked my records and my birthday is when I seemed to lose my steam for posting twice a week. It wasn't even a landmark birthday - not divisible by ten or five - so what's the deal? Is this what aging is doing to me...making me lazy? Uuuugh! One thing I have never been is lazy. I don't procrastinate ever. In fact, I am so impatient that my over-efficiency often gets me into trouble for being too on top of things. (I've been told many times to just sit back, relax, and breathe.)

Adding insult to injury, today my blog buddy, Nicole Ducleroir, posted about her first blogiversary (yeah, that's what she called it), and I felt the weight of February, 2011 on my shoulders. That's when I'll hit one year of blogging; that is, if I still have an audience who gives a damn. Nicole even updated her site (worth visiting, for sure; plus, as a "blogiversary" gift, I wanted to give her a plug), and it's lovely.

In honor of Nicole's staying power, I'm determined to get back on board and stick to a schedule like Nicole has vowed to do. Until then, I wish everyone a splendid New Year. May you, too, find the motivation, inspiration, and will to keep on doing whatever it is you love most. I look forward to seeing you all a lot more in 2011!

Friday, December 3, 2010

On T-9 Texting (Or, Yeah...some holdouts still use it)

If you're a touch texter or Qwerty texter like I am, you vaguely remember the days of T-9 texting, which is why it's time to revisit the days of yore and examine the humorous and not-necessarily-coincidental quirks of the T-9 dictionary.

As a quick review, T-9 texting attempts to make texting on a numeric keypad easier by trying to guess what word you want to type before you complete it. It's based on common patterns in English, but often sends the texter in an unintended direction. In honor of the approaching Christmas holiday, I provide my own Twelve T-9 Examples.

1. Start typing "kids" and you'll get "lies". The same can be achieved by asking your kids who left toothpaste spittle all over the bathroom sink.

2. If you're a Miami Dolphins football fan and want to text about the "fins", you'll get "egos", leading me to believe the T-9 programmers know more than they're letting on.

3. Type "blogging" and you'll discover that "clogging" is apparently more popular than blogging since it pops up first. (Does this mean I'm using the wrong forum to tout my observations? Perhaps I should attend a local ho-down...which would, if nothing else, provide great fodder for my next blog post, don't ya think?) Worth noting is that on the way to "clogging", you'll see "almighty" pop up as an option. Oh yes, blogging is certainly almighty.

4. Type "wide" and instead you'll get "wife", which will not please many of the married women-folk out there.

5. "Hell" becomes "he'll" because the T-9 programmers - wise as they may be about Dolphin football player egos - are really nerdy guys afraid of using bad words.

6. Start typing "kiss" and you'll get "lip" instead...which was the intention anyway, wasn't it?

7. Try typing "Viagra" and you'll first get "Thai" and then "tiara". Personally, I find the visual of a Thai man on Viagra wearing a tiara worth a thousand giggles.

8. Start typing "money" and you'll get "none". Apropos, no?

9. "Boyfriend" takes you on the road from "any" to "boxes" to "cower" - all words that could tell an intriguing story of one's love life.

10. Type "boss" and first you'll get "cop". For some people, the similarity may not be far off.

11. Here's one to piss off the feminists. Type "girl" and you'll first see "his".

12. And finally, type "home" and the best T-9 error appears..."good". I'll never complain about home being mistaken for good so long as my husband's wife is never mistaken for wide.

Despite the Twelve Days of Christmas theme (could you hear the music as you were reading the list?), I wish those who celebrate a Happy "Chanukah" - a word that comes up on T-9 as "chaotic" "chanting". Ah, I'm afraid the Christians will never figure us out.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and if you'd like to add any T-9 words to the list, feel free to expand this "dictionary", which comes up as "fiction" by the way. I love it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On Thanksgiving Games (Or, Not your typical Thanksgiving post, I promise)

Are you familiar with Thanksgiving Day music? Did you even know there were Thanksgiving tunes? Neither did I, but two days ago, a simple game meant to occupy the kids turned our family Thanksgiving into a local musical.

It all started when I felt pity for my two kids for not having cousins to share the family holidays with. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a table full of 'em and so loved all family gatherings. But since my own kids aren't as lucky, they don't enjoy the family dinners like I did, and that makes me sad. So in planning for this year's T-giving dinner at my mother's house, where 13 adults would grace the table with my two children, ages 12 and 9, I decided my kids needed jobs.

I created two questionnaires - one for my rock-musician son, and the other for my silly goofball of a daughter. His question was: Who was your favorite singer or rock group when you were a kid? Her question was: What was the craziest thing you did as a kid or teenager? I then provided the name of every adult in attendance and a space for the kids to fill in the answers. They conducted their interviews during cocktail hour so that during dinner - once the can't-talk-eating silence set it - we'd make a guessing game out of it.

My son began by asking everyone to guess whose favorite group was The Platters. A poor poker face on my father's part revealed him, and when my cousin chose him, Dad broke into song - a tune I could not place, not so much out of lack of familiarity and more out of inability to identify any tune whatsoever. (This from the same man who insists on singing Happy Birthday to me every year over the's painful, I tell you.)

Next came Dion and the Belmonts. Once Mom was guessed...yep, you got it...she broke into a rendition of Run-around Sue which, at least, was better than Dad's singing. At this point, my son was losing it. He wanted to get through the list. I reminded him that this was the purpose of the game - to get everyone talking, laughing, and discussing something other than politics (which never goes over well in this bi-partisan family).

I won't go through all 13 musical selections, but I will mention my step-father's choice, John Philip Sousa. (What????) With this, everyone broke into Be kind to your web-footed friend, for a duck may be somebody's uncle... Oy vey! But when it was my turn and I was identified as the lover of Styx, I couldn't help myself. Tonight's the night we'll make history, honey, you and I, and I'll take any risk to tie back the hands of time and stay with you here tonight. Yeah, baby, the Best of Times.

Finally, it was my daughter's turn to have everyone guess who had committed what crazy act in their youth. I learned many wonderful things about my family and friends that night, thankfully in rated G version since most of us knew these answers would be shared. Not my cousin Don, though, whose answer was "got married". His wife was there, and later when we went around the table and said what we were thankful for, she said, "I'm thankful I've got a sense of humor." Good woman, my cousin Judy!

Other gems included shooting out street lights with a BB gun, climbing a hotel tower and dropping water balloons on people below until chased away by police, trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by trying to drink the most water (failed), sneaking into the University of Miami pool at night and jumping off the high dive naked, and cutting off a sibling's long hair while she slept (my personal favorite).

This game lasted the entire dinner as we talked, stared at each other in surprise, and laughed loudly. It was brilliant. And the kids could not once complain of being bored...the greatest part of it all. Everyone enjoyed it so much that I think it will become a family tradition. I've already got question ideas brewing for next year.

What say you? Any fun Thanksgiving traditions you'd like to share?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Facebook Birthdays (Or, 190 friends? How did that happen?)

Today (November 16) has been a glorious day, and not only because I celebrated completing another year of life. First, I received my annual phone call from my dear friend in Germany. Even though he was out of town on business and had to search desperately for somewhere to plug in where he was staying, he called me at 7pm my time, which is 1am his time. He'd been stuck in meetings all day and confessed to being a little drunk, and I love him for it.

Second, I received no fewer than 54 birthday wishes from Facebook friends - enough to keep me occupied all morning as little red flag announcements popped up in my FB bar minute by minute. It was great to receive good wishes from people who normally would have had no clue it was my birthday (and who probably wouldn't have cared for not knowing).  But as my profile page was filled with wall posts, it occurred to me...what about the other 136 friends in my list?

According to FB, I've got 190 friends, only 54 of whom cared enough to write a short message of happiness on my birthday wall, apparently. And that's just fine with me. Honestly, 54 is five times what I need. If I'd received 190 birthday messages, I might have found myself wishing I hadn't reached this annual milestone. So how did I end up with 190? Here's where Facebook annoys me.

When I first joined, back in 2008, I was very particular about who I requested friendship from and more particular about who I accepted if from. But just like in high school, where peer pressure forced us to sometimes hang with kids we didn't want to hang with, I've accumulated about 100 more FB friends than I care to have. (Not naming names here, of course.) I know how callous I sound, and I'm aware I may lose some FB friends in the wake of this post, but the good news is that any of you reading this are NOT part of the 100 or so I don't care about.

Conceptually, Facebook is a brilliant idea that has mostly been the funnest (yeah, I said "funnest") thing to come along since roller skates. I've loved reconnecting with people I thought I'd never hear from again, and more importantly, I love how connected I am to my overseas and out-of-state friends. For that, I thank the Facebook team almost every day. And as I stayed home today determined to write at least 1000 words, I didn't mind not accomplishing my task since I was busy chatting with FB friends in live chats or speaking to others on Skype (another worldly wonder).

Now, as I prepare to end my birthday, I will put my nasty attitude to rest and instead focus on the blessing of those friends who remembered me on my special day. My life is good and my true friendships - real and virtual - are beautiful. After dinner, I cracked open my Pei Wei fortune cookie and read, "Your life is a dashing and bold adventure." If the cookie says so, it must be true, and my friends are an integral part of it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Coexistence (Or, Can't we all just get along?)

This is the bumper sticker I have on my car. It's been years now, and I'm always pleased when a stranger notices or asks about it. Yesterday, while parked at a red light, I noticed the woman behind me pointing to my sticker and talking to her passenger. I could actually read the driver's lips and saw her mouth "Jewish" as she pointed to the sticker. Then she held up a questioning hand as if to say, Don't know what the other stuff means.

Since the women in the car behind me were obvioulsy unfamiliar with the meaning of the sticker, I thought it would make a great blog post. I'm all about tolerance, but to appreciate my message, you must understand the symbolism. Here's the story...

Piotr Mlodozeniec is the Polish designer of the original Coexist design, which substituted the crescent moon representing Islam for "c", the Star of David representing Judaism for "x", and the cross representing Christianity for "t". Since then, the design has been expanded to cover all types of tolerance.

- for the letter "o", the peace symbol is substituted
- for the letter "e", a male/female symbol is substituted
- for the letter "i", a pagan/Wiccan symbol is substituted
- for the letter "s", a Chinese yin-yang symbol is substituted

All we need now is to color it like the rainbow flag to represent homosexuality, and the design becomes an international message of tolerance and hope.

(If you're interested in helping spread the word, you can do it here.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Time Management (Or, Not!)

I love blogging. I only entered the blogosphere back in February of this year, and I jumped in head first, exhilarated by the hard splash. I set myself on a twice a week posting schedule and honored it for many months. Then it became once a week. (You know what I'm talking about.) And somewhere between once a week and today, I got lost. And I'm disappointed in myself - my harshest critic.

You must understand...the biggest compliment-insult my husband bestows on me is that I'm too efficient. (He's trying to insult me, but I take it with pride.) Never was I a procrastinator - not in childhood and certainly not in adulthood. No, siree. You'll never find me putting off until tomorrow what I can get done and check off my list NOW.

So if procrastination isn't my vice, why haven't I been blogging? Or writing, for that matter? I blame it on my muse. Many of my blogfriends reference a variety of amusing muses (I just wanted to type that), often posting muse avatars to inspire them daily, but I've never gone that route. Admittedly, I've never been able to clearly identify the source of my inspiration...either it was there or it wasn't, and I simply waited (rather patiently, I might add).

But last week I got pissed off. Since the school year resumed, when I've bumped into friends who ask about my writing, I've heard myself say, "My muse went on summer vacation and never came back." It's a charming enough response that elicits smiles, but every time I said it, I was afraid it was true. What if the unknown source of my inspiration never returned? I thought I'd die.

Then I found it. It started with a conversation in October in New York, where I got the idea for my next book. I let it sit for a while, brew inside my head and take shape. Then I picked up my copy of Hollis Gillespie's Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood, and I felt inspired. (If you're not familiar with this book, check it out. It's pee-in-your-pants funny while also being touchingly poignant and beautifully written.) I sat down and started the Preface of my new book and was already on a roll when my lovely blog buddy, Nicole Ducleroir, said I HAD to read Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

How could Nicole know that I was writing my own memoir and troubled over the narcissistic nature of the whole project? She couldn't, of course. But that, my friends, is an example of serendipity. By picking up King's memoir (already half-way through), I found the courage and attitude necessary to move on with  my own project.

So I thank you, Nicole. And I thank Hollis and Steve, too. (Yeah, we're not really on a first-name basis, but hey, this is MY blog.) I still can't promise you'll be seeing me post regularly, but at least I'm writing...and that's a beautiful feeling.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On Tranquility (Or, Ingenious places to find inspiring photos)

I saw this photo on a Hallmark birthday card and just had to have it. I paid the $3.69 even though I have no one at the moment to send the card to, just so I could take the card home, scan the image, and have it for-e-ver. That's how much I love it. I knew I had to find a way to post about it because any writer worth her/his weight in journals would love this picture too, I figured.

I really have nothing remarkable to say, so I'll simply invite whoever is interested to sit down on this bench, lean against whichever pillow suits your taste, take a sip of the cup of Joe (or tea if you prefer), pick a journal from the pile, sit back, enjoy the sunshine, and start writing.

Happy journaling!

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Days Off (Or, Never too old to play hookie)

Can you ever be too old to play hookie? I think not. In truth, I had to talk myself into it, but that inner dialogue took all but ten seconds. What defines hookie in my world?

According to my W-2, I work part-time. But all of you part-time working moms know that's a bunch of crap. We work double time. Okay, men out there, relax. This isn't going to be a tirade on how underpaid mothers are. Chill out. (Or, chillax. I learned that from the TV show, iCarly. Yeah, I'm that hip.)

Getting back to the topic at hand...defining hookie.
I teach at the college two days a week this semester and spend the other three days taking care of my family life and trying to squeeze some personal accomplishments into those hours too. It's no joke when I tell my husband that my full teaching days are my "days off". The rest of the time feels hectic and often overwhelms me. No June Cleaver here. (And if you're wondering who June Cleaver was, go ask your mother...or your grandmother.)

So this morning, after dropping the kids off at school and then filling my shopping cart at the supermarket, I realized my day was virtually open. Sure, there are 22 student essays to grade, but I've got till Sunday night to make that happen. Still, the non-procrastinator in me said, while unloading the groceries, "Now get to work, Wen. You can shoot these babies out and have the grades posted online before the kids get home if you're diligent enough."

Then the strangest thing happened. I lay down on the sofa. (And yes, Missed Periods, I think that's the correct use of the past tense of "lie".)

Two hours later I woke up.

"Holy cow!" I shouted. (Actually, it sounded very different from that.) Now what? Realizing I was hungry, I prepared myself a salad. It was, after all, 11am, and having had breakfast at 6am made it spot on lunch hour. With my salad bowl on my lap, I sat back on the sofa and turned on the TV. "Just a bit of my favorite show, Ghost Whisperer, recorded on TiVo to keep me company while I eat," I told myself.

Three episodes later, I find myself wiping away tears and actually saying aloud, "That's an awesome show." And now it's 1pm. Holy cow, the morning is gone! I haven't cleaned house, graded any papers, unloaded the dishwasher, or made the beds. (Please don't tell my mother about that last one. Since Mom reads my blog, I'll claim temporary insanity.)

Anyway, since I have to leave to pick up my daughter in 45 minutes, the only logical thing to do is go online and write a blogpost, right? At least then I'll be able to say I did something productive with my day apart from providing food and sustenance for my family, which is not overrated, I tell you. So here I am, bragging about playing hookie. And believe you me, it feels marvelously decadent to steal a couple hours of sleep and then stare at the unmade beds while I do something for ME.

Oh yeah, and about that next book I'm supposed to be writing...don't ask. It's enough that I was able to talk myself out of hookie guilt for one morning. These days, finding time to write still seems so selfish. I need a muse to convince my over-developed sense of responsibility that it's okay to do the things I love most.

Until then, I'll revel in this morning of hookie. I've got 15 minutes left until I have to get my daughter. Let's see if I can find something soothing and non-productive to do. I think I'll go pet the cat.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On Top of New York, Part II (Or, Virtual and Real Adventures)

Back in May, I posted On Top of New York (part I), and now it's time for the second installment with a few new adventures to report.

First off, fellow blogger Vicki Rocho of Rambles & Randomness was in New York City just days before me. As one of my dearest blog buddies, it broke my heart not to be able to have Iowa and Florida meet up in the Big Apple, so I found a way to make it virtually happen (our friendship is, after all, virtual). Vicki and I shared a meal at Brasserie Maison, just not at the same time. Here's Vicki:

And here am I. You can see that our virtual conversation was so engrossing that our meal started at night and lingered into the morning hours. That Vicki can talk up a storm, I tell ya.

After leaving Vicki at Maison, I headed off for NBC Studios at 30 Rock, where despite my small bust size and the fact that I'm well over 30, the network thought I'd make a good weathergirl. I had intended on posting the video clip, but the DVD I purchased freezes up my computer. So it looks like it ain't happening for now. Just as well, though. My performance wasn't grounds for quitting the day job.

Instead, I'll show you what it looks like when two childhood friends who grew up like sisters hit middle age and decide to travel together for the first time:

My oldest and dearest friend, Suzanne (on the right)

No fighting, no bickering, no faux sibling rivalry - just great times. I'll close by showing off the view from my brother's fabulous apartment, this time a Manhattan sunset:

All in all, another great New York adventure. I look forward to meeting more of my blog buddies either in the virtual world or in reality since some of you have grown dear to me (probably those of you actually reading this). Until that day, however, we will have to rely on our creativity to make these meetings happen. I mean, if NBC can make me a weathergirl, anything's possible!

P.S. Saw American Idiot on Broadway. Hated it. Felt like an American Idiot.

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Insomnia (Or, An ode to 4:00 AM)

Where are you, Sleep?
I'm waiting here
for you to whisper
in my ear.

I'm too alert,
it's monkey mind
as dreams allude me.
Please be kind

and let the Sandman
do his best
to sprinkle here
a dose of rest.

How will I do
in morning time
when rushing starts
but I must shine?

If you could bring
one taste of sleep,
I won't denounce
the waking beep.

No, no, instead
I'll stretch and sigh,
so grateful for
some brief shuteye.

So please, I beg,
(Have you no shame?)
or else I'll blog
and curse your name!

[5:00 AM note to self: threatening Sleep and writing angry odes do not bring slumber.]

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Originality (Or, It's all in the voice)

I've just finished reading a book that captivated me unexpectedly - The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton. In it, one of the characters, Brett, quotes Pulitzer-prize winning author Wiilla Cather as saying:
"There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before."
This got me thinking; what is it that makes one story more enticing than another?

I think about the stories I've written, all the great novels I've read so far, and all the fantastaic tales yet to be told. When you get down to brass tacks, there are a limited number of conflict themes in writing, and every story ever written can fit into one of them (or a combination of them): man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. himself, man vs. machine/technology, and man vs. fate. A writer often thinks her story is the most original and unique plot ever devised when, in reality, its themes are based on the same stories humans have been telling since antiquity, in times when oral story-telling was the only way to go.

Why do we keep telling the same tales over and over? Because for every person who has experienced one or more of the above-mentioned challenges (and who hasn't?), the experience is special, individualized, personal, and oftentimes incredibly fascinating and worth telling. It is that fierce desire mentioned by Cather that drives us to write it down, translate thoughts into words, and give voice to what was once simply an idea.

And that is the key, I think. In attempting to answer the question of what makes one story more enticing than another, it isn't the plot or the characters; it's the voice. Meg Waite Clayton's voice is unique, and it spoke to me clearly, without sounding like any other I'd read before. I envy her that. Her story is one of friendship, falling into the combined conflicts of woman vs. society, woman vs. herself, and woman vs. fate. Nothing particularly original, but the voice sure is. I feel that if I were to be fortunate enough to sit down to lunch with Ms. Clayton, I'd know exactly what she'd sound like even before she opened her mouth. It would be like meeting a pen-pal for the first time and having the sensation of familiarity, as if I could say, "I just knew you'd sound like that."

As we fiction writers delve into our latest projects (or search desperately for our misplaced muses, as am I), I encourage you all not to fret so much over how to make your story stand out in a saturated market of bestsellers. Instead, trust in your voice. If you listen carefully enough, you'll realize that no one can really sound like you, except for you. In closing, I will summon the words of one of my favorite animated characters and say, "Bee yourself." (Can you guess who it is?)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

On the Bridge (Or, Finally time to tell the tale)

As I stand on this bridge, overlooking a vast river with hundreds of years of historical influence, I ask myself how many people have jumped off. It wouldn’t exactly be suicide since the water below does not flow with the turbulence of a bay, nor is it as frigid as that of the American Great Lakes. It would probably be fun, if one didn’t break a bone upon landing, to fall into these waters and be submerged into the bevy of stories it holds, tales of seafaring captains and crew with great dreams of sailing the ocean of a round planet to discover first the Indies and then, more knowingly, the New World.

Fast forward five hundred years and the ghosts of mariners, merchants, and fisherman surely haunt the winds that blow delicate ripples throughout the murky surface of water whose colors range from deep navy to moss green and even to violet gray, depending on the light in the sky. Along both this river’s shores and spanning this bridge, invisible spirits undoubtedly whisper tales of love lost or wishes fulfilled, to deaf ears.

But I hear them.

On a crisp Sunday in May, late in the morning, I stand on the Triana Bridge looking south over the Guadalquivir River in Seville, Spain, and I listen. This is the land where religious tolerance once ruled supreme before dying a shameful death, and where Gypsies are a paradox to be looked down upon and romanticized at the same time. It is also a land where progress, both socially and morally, is always on the move. So I keep my heart and ears open. I hear voices in different languages, laughter of all ages, boat engines humming below, cars rushing by behind me, horse hooves clopping on pavement as they pull carriages of tourists behind them, my own thoughts colliding with each other, and the undecipherable cries of Spanish spirits begging me to stay.

It is said Christopher Columbus set sail from the mouth of this river, and as I visualize that mouth, I wonder what stories of adventure it will some day tell of me.

I must find out.

This is the opening to a memoir-type story I'm considering writing. I welcome your feedback, even the critical (but kindly-worded) kind.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Chocolate (Or, The great taste-testing adventure)

"Everyone's a critic." And now, so are my daughter and I. In attempt to find something creative to do on a rainy Saturday, my 9-year-old daughter and I decided to be our own chocolate critics. As self-proclaimed chocolate connoisseurs, we considered ourselves up to the task. We went to our neighborhood Kilwin's and ordered one of almost everything from the individual cordials/truffles tray. It was an expensive experiment worth its weight in chocolate, not so much because it was delicious but rather because it was enlightening.

We sat down outside the store under the covered patio and got to work evaluating each chocolate based on smell, texture, and taste, and finishing it off with a rating from 1 to 10. We sampled eleven different pieces, the first three of which did not come from the glass display but from the open basket section where each individually-wrapped piece sold for 40 cents. The remaining eight pieces came from the counter and sold for over $1 a piece. The results surprised us.

The only two perfect 10's went to the individually-wrapped pansy, a 40-cent item that was rich and pure in its flavor and had just the right amount of bite, and the chocolate mint truffle with its smooth, authentic mint filling. The rest of the high scores were as follows:

-the coffee truffle (smooth, thick filling with an authentic coffee flavor) = 9.5
-butter cream (melty, soft center just like butter cream frosting) = 8
-chocolate heart (individually-wrapped 40-cent  item with a pure chocolate flavor) = 6

From this point on, it got ugly:

-amaretto truffle (not so sweet but with a smooth center) = 5
-chocolate dome (individually-wrapped 40-cent item, slightly bitter) = 4
-chocolate bon bon (white chocolate shell with disappointing center) = 3.5

The last three scored so low because their flavors were indistinguishable. Here's our best guess of what we ate:

-Irish cream truffle = 3
-hazelnut truffle (smooth center but no nutty flavor) = 2
-champagne truffle (smelled like coconut!) = 2

When all was said and done, we walked away from the table deeply unsatisfied with an aftertaste that sent us to the water fountain, convinced that the taste of public water would be more pleasing than the bitterness that saturated our tongues.

To close, let me just say this. I LOVE CHOCOLATE. And so does my daughter. But our final analysis is that Kilwin's is overrated and overpriced. We agree that chocolate bliss can be more readily achieved with a Lindor truffle, though I prefer dark chocolate while my daughter will fight to the end that milk chocolate rules.

We enjoyed our outing despite the disappointing results, but I think our next chocolate critique should take place in Switzerland, preferably in Zurich at the Lindt & Sprüngli store. Anyone care to join us?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Cynicism (Or, When the learning curve doesn't exist)

Apparently, I should buy the Shark Navigator Vacuum and the NuWave Oven Pro because my house is filthy and my food isn't being prepared in a healthful manner. This from my 12-year-old addicted to infomercials. Normally, I would link here, but since I have no intention of promoting these products, there'll be no linkage today. Instead I give you the heartfelt plea of my son (and a glimpse into the mind of a child with Asperger's Disorder):

"But Mom, with the Shark you'll never lose suction and it's easy to maintain. With only four easy payments of $49.95, you can get the Shark AND the free Shark Steam Mop, which is  a $99 value!"
I don't know...never losing suction? He's got a point there, I guess.

The good news is I don't have to pay any attention to my son's hard sell because my 9-year-old daughter is doing my mommy job for me. She berates him for his naiveté as she tries to convince him that the advertisers want him to believe what they say, that the product just looks amazing, and that it's actually not a great deal.

The thing is just one year ago, my daughter was right there on that band wagon with her brother, trying to sell me on other house-improvement tools like Command hooks and picture frame hangers. But somewhere between eight and nine years old, the cynicism kicked in. Somewhere between crooked teeth and the first phase of braces, the skeptical side showed its face. Somewhere between Dora the Explorer and iCarly, the world taught my little girl to be a skeptic. I imagine it's developmentally appropriate, but it's all new to me given the path my son has taken.

I ask myself if cynicism is taught or caught, and in the case of my daughter, it has definitely been caught. But what about my son? Is it my job as his parent to teach him this characteristic? Or is it all right for me to let him live in gullible bliss, believing everything he hears (which he does) and also being incapable of telling a lie (even a white one)? Recognizing people's ulterior motives is an important skill, and my son needs to be taught this while my daughter has picked it up instinctually. Yet it pains me to have to consciously teach such an attitude of distrust.

I am reminded of the adage, "Ignorance is bliss." But I feel I would be remiss in letting my son walk through middle school with such ignorance since other kids will be quick to blow up his bliss given the first chance to mock him.

This is my task teach my son to see the possible hidden lies, to understand there is bad to balance out the good, and to go through his days with the understanding that not all that glitters is gold - which is a whole other battle to fight since he takes everything literally. Euphemisms, adages, colloquial expressions...torture for a person with Asperger's.

I suppose I could sit back and let my daughter take care of things for me since she's usually eager to criticize her brother and teach him these lessons so painfully. Okay, there's my cynical side, which negates the above-asked question of whether my daughter's cynicism was caught or taught. At least I know I'm doing my job well with her.

What say you? Is cynicism a necessary survival trait?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On Long Hair (Or, A Lady Godiva Complex?)

It's five minutes before test time in a college classroom, but the scuttle in the hall outside has nothing to do with the chapters in question and everything to do with hair accessories.

"Does anyone have a ponytail holder? I forgot mine," a twenty-something girl shouts.
"I've got a clip," a thirty-something woman offers.
"My hair's too thin for those things," a forty-something woman says. "That's why I need rubberbands."
The first girl nods in empathy.
"I have an extra scrunchy," another young woman announces.
The first girl sighs with relief as she accepts the fabric-covered elastic. "Life saver."

When I was in college, this pre-exam interchage would never have happened. The styles back then included bobs...


and teased hair sprayed so thickly that strands rarely fell into the face.

(Yeah, it's me. Junior year of college. My hair's not thick enough to get really big, but you get the idea.)

Since hair fashions, like any other type of fashion, are always changing, long hair eventually came back in style. First, it was long straight hair, causing every wavy- and curly-haired girl to buy a flat iron or seek expensive Keratin treatments. But now it seems long, natural tresses are in, so anything goes.

Which leads me to the college classroom observation. In the class being tested, there are thirteen females ranging in age from 18-47, and each and every one of them (including me, the professor) has hair at least five inches below the shoulder. (And not one of them has bangs - another aspect of hair fashion that seems to have gone the way of perms.) These women ususally wear their long hair loose and flowing, but today almost all of them have it pulled back in a bun or the sloppy-style ponytail, another fashion newbie. They look so darned studious it's all I can do not to stand up and cheer them on to an "A".

Why is long hair so popular? With all the maintenance required for most of us to make long hair look good, why does this fashion continue coming back around?

Easy. It's feminine, versatile, and flattering to most faces. While it takes a naturally beautiful face to pull off a short hair style well, an otherwise average-looking girl is flattered by long layers around her face. And no man can deny the sex appeal of a woman wearing an up-do to expose typically-covered neck and shoulders.

Despite our historical (not to be confused with hysterical) cries for equality, it seems we women still crave the feeling of femininity. And why not? We are not men, after all, and working with our sexuality, sensuality, or whatever we've got has always been a useful tool in this man-controlled world.  From the 11th century days of Lady Godiva (whose long mane did more than simply cover her necessities) to the 21st century hair fashions, long hair is here to stay.
Lady Godiva

So how do you wear your hair?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Sad Stories (Or, William Faulkner was spot on)

William Faulkner said, “Between grief and nothing, I will take grief.” I’m not a Faulkner fan - let's be clear about that - but these particular words ring true for me. As they do for many of us. In Meg Waite Clayton’s novel, The Wednesday Sisters, she asks:
“Why are we drawn to sad stories?...No one wants sad in real life. You want the sad life behind door number one, Monty, or the happy ending behind curtain number two? And yet sad plays well in literature. Romance and tragedy. Romeo and Juliet, Anna Karenina…Why is that?”

I got to thinking, and here’s what I came up with:
We say we want happy endings in our stories, but when that happens without incident, we’re cynical about it. “That could never happen so easily.” Or we’re envious of the characters for not having achieved that happiness without struggle. “Not real, no way,” we claim. So even though we want things to go well for our characters, we feel cheated or ripped off if it’s unbelievable.

Happiness is fleeting. We feel exhilarated, but it’s hard to carry that joy around for long since, ironically, it is that happiness that gives us the power to move on. Sadness, on the other hand, sits deep within us for a spell, doing some damage and causing a ripple effect as we contemplate our misery. It reminds us we are alive.

How many of us have said to ourselves while perusing options for DVD rentals, "I'm in the mood for a good cry"? We never call it a bad cry. Think about it. Sharing in a character's sadness is like traveling through cyber-space. It's virtual sadness, which feels as real as the real thing but doesn't way us down the way our own grief could. It's cathartic.

Sad songs do the same thing for our souls. They help us feel passionate about something but then allow us to move on. Because even though the music and lyrics stirred up something real within us, they don't bog us down with real troubles. I, for one, like to be stirred but not shaken. But as Faulkner implied, given the choice to be shaken up or left stagnant, I'd take shaken up any day. Drama queen, you say? Perhaps. But life is messy.

What say you? Are you ever up for a stirring tear-jerker, or does that kind of story suck the life out of you?

Monday, September 6, 2010

On the Kindness of Strangers (Or, When it's okay not to be kind)

Imagine this scenario:

You're in a waiting room with people coming and going. A stranger several seats away asks you to watch her laptop while she runs to the restroom. You nod, and the woman is gone. One moment later, another stranger casually approaches the laptop, unplugs it, and wraps the whole thing under her arm as she walks away.

What do you do? Do you yell to her to stop? Maybe it's the first stranger's friend picking up the computer for her. I mean, who would be so brazen as to steal a computer in front of another person?

When the first stranger returns from the restroom and finds her computer gone, she turns to you with unabashed anger. "Where's my computer?!" Suddenly, the problem is yours because you took responsibility for a stranger's possession.

This kind of thing happens more frequently than you'd imagine. Because of this, I decided years ago not to accept responsibility when a stranger innocently asks me to "watch their stuff". So yesterday, when the first part of the above scenario happened, I smiled kindly at the woman and apologized, explaining that I wouldn't take responsibility for her computer. Oh, the dirty look that followed. And all I'm thinking is how does she know that I'm not the exact person who would steal it?

The woman left the computer anyway, which means if she was prepared to do so, she shouldn't have asked me in the first place. If she's that trusting, she should have simply taken the risk, hoping that nobody would have touched the laptop since I was present.

For the record, I once witnessed a mother ask another woman to watch her toddler sleeping in the stroller so she could run to the bathroom. People...please!

I hate not to be the Good Samaritan, but this is setting yourself up for trouble. If I sound cynical, answer me this. Why does airport security specifically advise travelers not to accept goods from others in the airport and to report abandoned luggage? Life can be beautiful, but it's also pretty dirty sometimes. Agreeing to take responsibility for a stranger's property is never wise. And asking strangers to take on that burden is unfair.

If your item is that valuable, pack it up and take it with you. And if you're really willing to leave it for a few moments, go for it (but not with young children) and hope that honesty and morality will prevail. Like Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Bucket Lists (Or, Wollen wir tanzen?)

I've never given thought to a bucket list, mostly because I can't imagine what would happen if I managed to accomplish all the items. Would that mean it was time to kick the bucket? Or time to make a new list? I'd spend a lifetime making lists, checking them off, and then chasing after new lists, which feeds the possibility of frightening addictions if you ask me (which I know you didn't, but you get my two cents' worth anyway).

That nonsense having been said, I was watching an episode of Samantha Brown's Passport to Europe, and everything changed for me in about two minutes, which was about how long she spent on the segment in Vienna, Austria that would inspire item #1 on my bucket list.

She danced at a Viennese Ball.

The Vienna Ball season runs annually from the New Year through February. The above shot shows the opening of a ball where the debutantes open the dance with the first Waltz of the evening. After they've done their rounds, the public joins in for the rest of the evening. And apparently "the public" could be anybody. Yeah, even you or I could buy a ticket to a ball, don our finest threads, and dance like princesses in venues worthy of royalty but open to Joe Schmos like us. I watched Samantha Brown glide across the floor doing the Waltz - which, for the record, is a relatively simple dance to learn - and looking so fairy-tale elegant that I said out loud (and I was alone when I said this), "I want that to be me."

At this point, I should mention that I've been coveting Samantha Brown's job for years, but this is the first time I actually believed it possible for me to have that kind of moment...that is, without having her meet up with an accident for me to get there.

As soon as my husband came home, I told him about my new bucket list, the one with only one item on it. He was nonplussed.

Hubby: With all the worldly adventure out there to conquer, you want to dance the Waltz at a Vienna Ball?
Me: Yes. I mean, Ja.
Hubby: I want to go white-water rafting on the Colorado River, class 5 rapids.
Me: Wunderbar. Enjoy.
Hubby: You want to Waltz in Vienna. (a statement, but it's filled with incredulity)
Me: You don't like dancing. I get it. But think of the level of THAT challenge - learning the Waltz so you could take me to Vienna and treat me like a princess, just for one night of fairy-tale romance.
Hubby: (the ultimate romantic, truth be told) OK. As soon as I win the lottery - item #1 on MY bucket list.

I may not have a date on the calendar for my Viennese Ball, but just dreaming about its possibility fills me with hope...which I guess is the main purpose of a bucket list anyway.

What say you? What's on your bucket list?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

On A Beautiful Death (Or, A Toast to Rose)

I don't watch much TV, but once I got over my Sex and the City-in-syndication addiction, I moved on to Ghost Whisperer. I am not ashamed to say I love that show. However, I am on the fence about the concept of spirits only remaining earthbound because of unresolved issues. I kind of liked imagining my grandfather and my step-sister watching over me. I'll even confess that when my cats suddenly stare at the air and move their ears, I like to think it's my other dear cats who've passed on. Except that Ghost Whisperer says spirits at peace cross over into the light.

So much for being watched over in good faith.

There are times, though, when imagining a spirit moving on is a soothing thing. I'm reminded of this as I prepare to go to my best friend's grandmother's funeral tomorrow. I was literally born with my best friend (our moms are best friends and conveniently had their daughters eight days apart in the same hospital), so I knew "Nana", as she was affectionately called, all my life.

When my best friend and I were seniors in high school "Pop-Pop" passed away, making Nana a widow. I remember the tears at that funeral and wondering how long my own grandparents would remain in my life. Five years later, I lost both my maternal grandparents. And eleven years after that both my paternal grandparents. (Yes, I thought it strange that both couples passed in the same year.) So by the age of 33, I had no more grandparents.

Now, at 43, I will say my good-byes to Nana, who lived to be 98 years old. I think most people will understand when I say that I'm not sad. I'm not even sad for my best friend and her parents. Don't get me wrong; I feel their loss and know that mourning is appropriate and natural. But when I think about Nana's life, the love she had around her always from her local children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, I feel joy for Nana, and I hope her family does, too. I want to rejoice in the good health that she experienced for the majority of her life. No painful diseases or crippling syndromes to wear down her days. No estrangement from family members she might have wronged. No living to watch her own children or grandchildren die before her.

That's not to say that Nana didn't have her worries and strife. We all do. Especially if we're blessed to live 98 coherent years. She was even lucky enough to have her best girlfriend by her side her entire adult life. That would be "Grandma", my best friend's other grandmother. And Grandma is still with us, which I suppose means Grandma will be one of the saddest people in attendance tomorrow.

So today I memorialize Nana, aka Rose. I send my love and thoughts to my best friend, Suzanne, and her family, and I pray for Nana to cross over so she can be with Pop-Pop.

I also send my prayers to all my blogfriends so that you, too, may be as lucky as Rose and have friendship, family, good health, and a sound mind for as long as time allows. Only then can death be beautiful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Lessons from the Lil' Ones (Or, All fanagle and no jenk)

Three women + three glasses of wine + Japanese food + twelve flavors of frozen yogurt = four hours of girl talk and lots of revelations. Ah, the wondrous bonding of girl time. It's the reason we live longer as widows than men do as widowers...we've always got our girls. This particular dinner was with an old friend I hadn't seen in ages and a friend of hers I'd met once before. It's nice to know that in adulthood, three is not a crowd but rather a trifecta of the Sisterhood, the Motherhood, and the Wifehood. The only reason we stopped talking after four hours was because of our obligations to the latter two hoods. But our continuous thread of conversation could have gone on indefinitely.

The most enjoyable part of our talk involved our tales of motherhood. Among the three of us there are seven children between the ages of 8 and 16, all full of insight and self-taught life lessons to share. Here are the top 10 lessons that may just teach you something you might otherwise have not known.

Lesson #1 (from a 9-yr-old): Just because you can doesn't mean you should, as in, "Just because you can throw the cat over the stair rail doesn't mean you should." (Yeah, my mind was spinning too, wondering why that example seemed to her the best illustration.)

Lesson #2 (from a 9-yr-old): I'm old enough to be left alone. But when you want me to do chores, I'm just a little girl.

Lesson #3 (from an 11-yr-old): Even girls who get Straight A's can be ripe for a good fist fight because "Impulse control isn't all it's cracked up to be, Mom."

Lessson #4 (from a 12-yr-old): When a twelve-year-old gets her period for the first time, it is NOT okay to tell Dad...unless he's going to take her out for ice cream. Coldstone Creamery works best.

Lesson #5 (from a 10-yr-old): If you dial 9-1-1 and then hang up immediately, the police will still come. It might take 10 frickin minutes, but they'll come, and they'll lecture you about wasting their time when they could have been out saving someone else's life who may be dying right now because of you. (This is great, because Mom doesn't have to inflict any punishment. The shame of it all is enough for the child.)

Lesson #6 (from a mother): When going on a family cruise, make sure to take Grandma along so she can occupy kids long enough to give you and Hubby "private" time. Five minutes should do it.

Lesson #7 (from an 8-yr-old): You're never too old to sleep in your parents' bed. It stops them from making strange noises in the middle of the night, plus if you fanagle it right, you get your bedroom redecorated as an incentive to return to it.

Lesson #8 (from an 11-yr-old): If your parents are strict and you are frugal enough, you can eventually save your allowance to buy your own cell phone. Then you just have to butter up Grandpa so he'll add you to his cell phone plan.

Lesson #9 (from a mother of a pre-teen me): YA is hot right now. Forget what you want to write and go write a YA novel. Make some money, and then go do what you want. (She so doesn't get why I write...and apparently believes I'll never make money doing it.)

Lesson #10 (from a 9-yr-old): When Mommy and Daddy make scary noises at night from behind their locked bedroom door, and you ask Mommy if she's okay, and she says, "I fell down, and it hurt. But I'm all right now. Go to bed," ...that is jenk.

With these newfound tidbits of knowledge, I hope you parents out there can sleep a bit easier. Just knowing that your kids have become masters of manipulation and bedroom espionage should be enough to inspire your own time with your peeps. After all, it is the battle wounds and adventures that unite us the hood that is parenting.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On Justin Bieber (Or, I said, On Justin Bieber! What, are you deaf?)

I survived the Justin Bieber concert! I said, I survived the Justin Bieber concert! What? What? I can't hear you. You want me to stop screaming? I'm not screaming! And what's that damn ringing noise? Oh yeah, I survived the Justin Bieber concert, but my eardrums didn't.

And so it goes. 22,000 fans - most of whom were female and under the age of 15 - screamed for Justin and put the power of performance amps to shame. Female screams have a higher decibel level than male screams, and young female screams are higher than mature female screams. Therefore, it stands to reason that before Justin Bieber actually goes through puberty, he will be too deaf to hear his own voice cracking.

Until that day, however, I have to admit the boy can put on a show. He can dance like all get-out, play guitar while suspended in a sparkling ball, and play the drums. Who knew? I've also heard he writes much of his own music. Can Taylor Swift dance like that? I'm just sayin'.

It's a good thing the boy put on a great show because I know three little girls who would have given him what-for if he hadn't pulled through. The thrill of being at his show was brand new for the girls when we pulled up to the arena. I say brand new because until that moment, they had believed we were all going to girls' night out dinner. They'd been good sports about it all since what they really wanted to do that night was see Justin Bieber, but with ticket prices being prohibitively expensive n' all...they understood. Except that one week earlier, my friend had scored a handful of free tix for club seats. At that moment, the made-up girls' night out story was born as she and I secretly looked forward to the all-u-can-eat smorgasbord and open bar. Yeah, baby, open bar, which is the least they could provide to all the parents who were doomed to lose their hearing before the night's end.

So we're heading out to our special surprise dinner location when we "accidentally" get stuck in arena traffic. With three girls and three moms in the car, the next few moments went something like this:

Presley: "Why aren't we moving? I'm hungry."
Me: "Sorry, girls. Bieber traffic."
My daughter: "Aw, Mom!"
Me: "I should have known better. Sorry."
Denise: * crosses arms over chest* "Now we have to watch all those people going into the concert. That's so unfair!"
Denise's mom: *smirk*
Presley: "Can't you get in the faster lane? Over there."
Me: "Neh, we're already in this lane."
Presley's mom: "I have an idea."
Presley: *rolls eyes*
Me: "What?"
Presley's mom: *digs through purse and then waves tickets in the air* Let's go to the Justin Bieber concert!

Here is the look from the backseat...

And here we all are ready to have our eardrums blown out enjoy the concert.
Here's the proof we were there. See the Justin Bieber screens in the background? Like my daughter's braids? It took me almost an hour to do these but amazingly less than two minutes for her to take them out the next day. Argh. Still, it was worth it since I caught her on camera...AT THE JUSTIN BIEBER CONCERT!

For the next 24 hours, I was her hero. But life has now resumed normalcy since hero worship dies an even faster death than those braids did.

Ah, Justin...may your shining star burn slightly longer.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Looking Back (Or, A Tribute to Karen Carpenter...and my mother)

"When there's no getting over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won't come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won't last a day without you." In 1972, Karen Carpenter's silky voice sang to me from my mother's record player as the hum of the vacuum cleaner tried to drown out the ill-fated singer. At six years old, I believed my mother to be happiest while cleaning house on a quiet Saturday and listening to her favorite 33, the Carpenters.

(If you're asking yourself what a 33 is, you were born too late to appreciate the magic of Karen and Richard Carpenter, the duo who shaped my childhood and so many of the pleasant memories I have of my mother. I should also mention Carole King's Tapestry album, in case you're feeling motivated to research mellow rock of the early 1970s.)

By the time I was old enough to collect 45s (again, if you're too young, look it up on Wikipedia), I had moved on to Elton John, Olivia Newton John, and Grand Funk Railroad. But the Carpenters were my cornerstone of childhood happiness.

Fast forward a number of years to last Saturday night as I'm cleaning up the kitchen after a wonderful meal cooked by my amateur chef of a husband. He's out doing exercise, and the kids are playing quietly. (Only a parent can truly appreciate the sanctity of such a  moment.) I turn on the stereo and select the Carpenters' A Song for You from the CD player. This 1972 album includes the song I Won't Last a Day Without You, whose lyrics I cited above. Nostalgia is a dastardly demon, and as I raise my voice to belt out the chorus of this song - surprising myself by knowing every last lyric even though it has been a lifetime since I've heard the song - my throat locks itself in a knot of tears that sneak up from Lord knows where so that I can't even finish the chorus without crying.

Why? you ask.

I do not know.

All I know is that my tears smack me across the face and say, "That's what you get for letting sleeping dogs lie."

"What sleeping dogs?" I ask.

Nostalgia gently lays its hand on my shoulder. "You've just had a nice family dinner (even though your daughter refused to eat the delectable saffron fish and garlic broccoli), and now you're enjoying the meditative peace of cleaning up...just like your mother used to do. How can you not get it, Wendy?"

I stop wiping down the dining room table and sit for a moment. I listen to Karen Carpenter and I think of my mother. There really were so many things that were unpleasant about my childhood, but when I listen to the Carpenters, all I can think about is how beautiful those years were, how safe and happy I felt at times.

In these days of parenting, I often find it to be the hardest job I've ever had. I think back to my own childhood and imagine my mother having it so much easier than I do. But the truth is that she had her own stuff to deal with, which didn't come to light until I was older. I've always associated the music of the Carpenters with a feeling of peace and security. But this particular evening, as I wash dishes and clean as my mother once did while the children played in the secure confines of their home, Karen Carpenter's voice speaks to me. She reminds me that very little is actually as it seems, and sometimes that is AOK. We all have some childhood memories best viewed through rose-colored glasses. We do this for self-preservation. But if we dare to wake the sleeping dogs and stir up trouble, we're reminded that chaos is a natural part of life and that it's all right to live in a world that's less than rosy, more of a muddled color that isn't always pretty.

Listening to the Carpenters sing that night made me see that my childhood wasn't perfect, nor was it terrible. It was a mixed drink of peace and comfort stirred with insecurity and longing. But once swallowed, it went down smoothly and settled in my heart with an aftertaste more sweet than bitter, which is why the soothing voice of Karen Carpenter could bring me to tears of sweet nostalgia.

Earlier that day, I had realized that my children had long reached the age of remembering childhood events, and I asked myself what they would remember about this time when they were older. How would they view me? Despite the arguing and age-appropriate power struggles, will they grow into adults who hear a certain song and get choked up because it reminds them of me?

I wondered. And I hoped. (Later on, I asked my daughter if there was any music that reminded her of me. She said, "Spanish music and Beautiful Girls [by Sean Kingston] because you like that song." She's right.)

As I tried to resume singing along with the Carpenters, I remembered my mother. Despite the bad times, she was my rock, the solid stone of security in my life. The love that kept me strong. Even though we don't speak every day, she is still a crucial part of my life. So to her, I dedicate the Carpenter's lyrics, with a slight change. (We'll call it poetic license.)

"When there's no getting over that rainbow, when my smallest of dreams won't come true, I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won't last a day without your love."

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Free Hugs (Or, What the world needs now is love sweet love)

I'm about four years too late to spread some sunshine. So deflating. My depression began a few days ago when a Facebook friend posted the video below. I was awed by the outcome and felt motivated to make it happen in my hometown. After further research into the Free Hugs Campaign, however, I learned that people from cities all over the world had jumped on board long ago - about 4 years to be exact - and had learned the hard lesson that most town law enforcement agencies were interrupting the movement by demanding permits. You concerns and all...because hugging can certainly spread the worst of the worst diseases, right? Or we could knock someone over and then, hello...did someone say lawsuit?

I even had another friend on board (remember Jen from Finding Thesea?), and we were thinking of who else we could draft to join us on our day of doling out free hugs. We were trying to decide which song we'd use to accompany the awe-inspiring video we'd eventually post after our day of sharing the love. (What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love???) We'd even gone so far as to talk about what clothing we should wear to appear appropriately welcoming but not too enticing (a challenging feat for two hot ladies like us...maybe). It was going to be the community service event of our summer.

But no.

Instead, I invite you to view the video and feel the warmth that Jen and I would have loved to pass on. If this is the only way I can do it, then by God, this is how it will be done. I send a free hug to every one of you, and to all the people in your lives who I don't know, and to all the people in your town, and to all your followers. I encourage you to share the love by linking, if you'd like. I don't want this to sound like an appeal for more followers, so link at your own discretion. I'm truly just in it for the hugs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

On Samantha (Or, The winner is...)

Okay, so in my mind's eye, the closest celebrity snapshot I could find to resemble Samantha is actress Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls). The two pics below are how I imagine Sami in her 20s, when she first arrives in Seville, and then a bit later, after a comfortable adjustment to expat life.
According to reader comments, Al at Publish or Perish was the closest. Actually nailed it. (And dare I say, he might like to nail Lauren Graham? Sorry, Al, shouldn't have gone there, but I did.) Speaking of Al, I want to congratulate him on finally being able to hold in his hands a hard copy of his novel, Veiled in Shadows, soon to be available online. (That's your prize, Al, for guessing Samantha's appearance correctly - a free plug!)

Thanks, everyone, for playing along. Happy Weekend!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Visualization (Or, She looks like what?)

Stealing an idea today from Jen at Unedited, who presented her followers with a fun game (in my opinion). The idea is to post a snippet from a WIP (Work in Progress, for my non-writer friends) and ask readers to describe the MC's (Main Character's) appearance. This idea came about when Jen realized that her idea of a character was often completely different than what her readers had in mind. So as I work on this next novel, I give you a very random clip of Samantha as she takes her first Spanish taxi ride upon arriving in Seville for the first time. The only background info you need is that Samantha is telling this story in retrospect. In present time, she is a 40-year-old woman who has been living the expat life for many years.

Okay, here we go. Read on and tell me what Samantha looks like. I'll reveal a photo image of Samantha in a few days.

Señorita, I take you somewhere?” A taxi driver held open his trunk for my luggage as I stood on the curb obviously looking helpless and American.

Sí, gracias.” I handed him a piece of paper with my new address on it.

The driver eyed it for a second and then nodded his approval. He tossed my two bags haphazardly into the trunk, slammed it closed with more force than was necessary, and ushered me quickly into the back seat. “Traffic get bad soon. We go fast.”

As we zoomed through traffic and weaved from lane to lane, coming precariously close to other cars and proving that Seville cabbies were probably even more efficient than New York drivers, I sat in the back seat of that taxi feeling a sensation I’d never felt before. Confidence. It was the most daring venture I’d ever set out on, a time when confidence should have been the last thing I felt. It seemed fear, doubt, and even indecision had forgotten to find their way into my luggage when I packed up for my life of drinking coffee in streetside cafés and strolling Spanish calles.

Monday, July 26, 2010

On Growing Up (Or, Oh, to borrow your brain, Tom Robbins, just for one day of writing)

I am not a book critic, and I never plan for my blog to bungee jump off that bridge. But I did an impulsive thing the other day while at the library; I checked out a book. Actually, the impulsive part was that I chose a book I’d already read. (I hardly ever double read.) Back in high school, I remember loving this book for its quirky story, so much so that as I stared at the spine and read the familiar title, I couldn’t remember one single detail from the story. All I could remember was how much I loved it and how I’d gone and read another book by that peculiar author, Tom Robbins. For a man with a particularly normal name, he is anything but common.

I'm so glad I re-read Still Life with Woodpecker because as the story all came back to me, so did my affirmation of the brilliance of Tom Robbins. (I don't smoke, but I actually debated purchasing a pack of Camel cigarettes yesterday as I stared at the label behind the drugstore counter. If you want to know what I'm talking about, read the book.) Here today, I will not review his book but rather offer you tidbits of the lovely and eccentric language of Tom Robbins as used in the two novels of his that I’ve read: Still Life with Woodpecker and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

Still Life’s home base is Seattle, where “A gelid wind, Alaska decals on every piece of its luggage, lingered in the rain without a sneeze…” (If I hadn't been reading a library copy of the book, I swear I'd have highlighted this phrase and practiced it until my writer's brain could come up with a similar way to describe the heat of South Florida.)

The underlying theme of Still Life is the protagonist’s quest to find out how to make love stay. Princess Leigh-Cherie is in love with Bernard Mickey Wrangle, aka the Woodpecker. The author’s response to Leigh-Cherie’s question: “Tell love you are going to Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.”

Come on! Even if you’re unfamiliar with Junior’s Deli, how can you not love this man?

Here are two more gems:

“Sometimes one gets the feeling that life still thinks it’s living in Paris in the ‘30s.” (I’m personally all for life’s delusional thinking on that one.)

“They glared at her the way any intelligent persons ought to glare when what they need is a smoke, a bite, a cup of coffee, a piece of ass, or a good fast-paced story, and all they’re getting is philosophy.” (I know this look very well because I feel I’ve passed it around a few times.)

Robbins spends a LOT of time philosophizing in all his books, which might drive some readers to the point of taking the aforementioned bungee jump without first attaching the bungee cord, but I for one have to agree with the attitudes Robbins shares with us. Oh, you want a sample? (Well, you’re getting one anyway. I mean, if you’ve read this far, you must like something about Robbins’s writing, right?)

On humanity, Robbins says, “Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.” Which ties in to this next topic. “Growing up is a trap…When they tell you to shut up, they mean stop talking. When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing. Reach a nice level plateau and settle there, predictable and unchanging, no longer a threat.”

That brief treatise has stuck with me recently. When I find my children asking me to participate in childlike play and I hesitate, I hear Robbins warning me not to grow up. He tells me not to settle for the adult rules placed on me so long ago. He reminds me it’s perfectly healthy and better for my growth as a person to let myself be childlike every now and then – especially with my kids.

In a recent post, I included a photo of my son jumping through the sprinkler, and I remarked how my neighbors would think I was crazy acting like a kid if they caught me doing that. Tom Robbins reminds us all that those neighbors feel threatened because they themselves are stifled. Who are we, the reckless neighbors, to break the rules of growing up? In rebellion, I've just returned from a water park with my kids, where I let myself be jettisoned from the superslide and be sprayed from every direction with blasting water along the lazy river. I laughed the whole time. (Take that, cranky neighbors!)

So in honor of my children and Tom Robbins, I encourage all of us to continually grow, to go on playing, to always want to know more, to never completely conquer our fears or realize all of our dreams, to only stop being a threat once we die. Only then is the game truly over.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Seatbelts (Or, I dare you not to be moved)

A couple of days ago, I read a post by KLM at A Rock in My Pocket, where she found herself questioning the seemingly stupid behavior or poor decisions made by us quirky human beings. (Like what makes an overweight middle-aged woman think she'll look hot donning a bikini? And why would someone buy a full shopping cart worth of watermelons...without also purchasing vodka?) In her comments section, I said it was always good to question life but suggested that perhaps she was asking the wrong questions.

Well, hah! The joke is on me because the next day, while driving, I saw three moron drivers not wearing seatbelts. And yes, I asked myself Why? Why? Why? With all we know today about car accident statistics, how can there be any excuse for not wearing your seatbelt? I just don't get it.

So for those of you out there who, just maybe, are making a similarly moronic decision when you drive, I ask you to watch the following video.

To quote one of my favorite movie characters, "And that's all I have to say about that."

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Messing with Nature (Or, This was supposed to make it better?)

I love lizards. Being a native South Floridian, I really have no other choice. I grew up with them running in my house at the call of any open door, so catching them became necessity, especially since I didn't want them to suffer a fate worse than death - being toyed with by my cats. (It's the only cruel side of felines I've seen so far.) And since my husband is not a fan of lizards, it's a good thing I am. As is my daughter. Which is why I took her today to the Miami Museum of Science. After all, it was Lizard Day!

Imagine a dog show but with lizards. And I ain't talkin' about the kind that sneak in your door and become cat prey. No, no, no. These lizards could be cat predators. So you can imagine my daughter's thrill to discover she could not only pet these reptiles but even hold them.
Holding a Bearded Dragon (this one was missing three of its feet and part of its tail because, as a baby, it had been in a cage with too many lizards and the food supply ran low. Yeah, you heard me...lizard cannibalism.)

The lizards on display included Bearded Dragons, as shown above, various breeds of Monitors...

Monitor Lizard (

...and lots of large Iguanas. How large, you ask? Well, let me show you.

This guy needed a harness, and to give you a little perspective... daughter is petting him while his owner struggles to keep his hind legs from kicking. She said it was like holding a toddler over her arm.

In addition to the lizards on display, humans were given the opportunity to "eat like lizards" (minus the tongue thrusting). Chefs were lined up stir frying worms and crickets, and small bowls of fried worms were available for snacking. For dessert, there were cookies that looked like the chocolate chip variety, except they were cricket-chip cookies. To answer the question burning in your head, NO! I did not taste any of this, but my brave daughter had a fried worm and my father (a fascinated tag-along) really like the cookies.

Now, since I've mentioned my father, I should get to the point of this post, which is the horrible discovery he and I made while touring the hall of lizards on display by proud owners.

A young man was holding a strawberry-blond colored dragon with no scales. It's called a Silkback Dragon. He invited us to touch its skin, bragging about how rare this breed was. The skin felt smooth (silky) and dry, and it had wrinkles in many spots as if the skin couldn't bounce back from having been rubbed there seconds earlier. The guy said their skin is so sensitive without its scales that you have to rub lotion on it frequently to prevent cracking and infections. He added that if the Silkback got out, it would die almost instantly. The rest of the conversation went more or less like this:

Dad: How did this breed come about?
Guy: Oh, we breed them like this?
Dad: Why?
Guy: Well, it started as an accident, while trying to improve the breed. You know, make a better gene pool.
Dad: Another lesson in why you shouldn't mess with nature.
(At this point, I'm thinking the conversation is over since Dad has ventured sarcastically into socio-political territory. But the guy doesn't get the hint.)
Guy: Oh, no. Look how beautiful they are. The color is so vibrant. We breed them like this now because they're so rare and exotic.
Dad: (incredulous) On purpose?
Me: (infuriated) Are you kidding me?
Daughter: How sad.
Guy: No, these guys go for almost $500 for an adult, $250 for a baby.
Me: This is so wrong. You made a mistake that hurts the lizard and now you're doing it on purpose?

At this point, Dad grabs my elbow and politely tries to escort me away from the man, mumbling in my ear, "Not the time to get political." I give him a look but surrender because I know it will be much more satisfying to blog about this than to take on a man with a five-pound lizard in his hand.

So here I am saying THIS IS WRONG. I'm all for stem cell research to help cure or prevent diseases, birth defects, and the sort, but causing a genetic "accident" and then intentionally propogating it because it's fasciniating and brings in big money...this is worthy of an OMG. Or an OMFG. (And I hate those acronyms. Don't get me started on LOL, or LMFAO.)

If there are any of you out there considering purchasing an exotic lizard as a pet, please, please, please make sure it has scales. A scaleless lizard is as cruel a breeding trick as is a hairless cat. (Though admittedly much more attractive. I mean, what good is a cat who can't entertain me by hacking for minutes before upchucking a hairball?)

But seriously folks, bald may be in fashion for human men these days, but men have that choice to make. (And I must say, I like it.) Lizards, on the other hand, need their scales. Don't let the uber-exotic lure you into making inhumane choices.