Thursday, December 24, 2009

I was. I am.

With my 55th Christmas coming up, I have to admit that they all blend together, and they come around so much faster than they used to. I have watched the days click off in a different manner since I retired --- so rapidly that Christmas sneaked up on me like a bad pair of undies.

As a child we slugged it up Interstate 85 to visit my mother's family in Lynchburg, Virginia. My father was an only child, and his parents dead before he met my mother. My dad embraced my mother's sisters, four of which were unmarried, and they spoiled my siblings and me but loved us so as we were their only nieces and nephews.

My mother's two sisters who did get married were childless, and my mother's two brothers deceased, one in a car accident in 1940, another a suicide after WW2, a post tramatic syndrome hushed up around the family when we were kids -- a fact that I didn't know about until I was in college. It was always called "a shooting accident," and his wife, even though she remarried, was always a part of the family who was talked about, but her move to California making her elusive and mysterious to me.

We always drove up 85 -- my parents bundling us, still asleep, into the car way before dawn to get a beat on the traffic, and as my dad loved to say, "to make good time."

I'm sure they enjoyed the peace and quiet they got in the car before the four of us were awake and ready to pick at each other until somebody cried. My mother packed a lunch, and we would make a stop at a rest area or a road side table, sometimes shivering in our coats, where we ate bologna sandwiches, wrapped in wax paper, and potato chips that left the fingers greasy, before my mother doled out the single stick of Dentyne, the only gum she approved of since it cleaned the teeth.

That Dentyne was a treat -- I know, hard to beleive.

When we left really early, we were given one of the small packs of cereal, which we ate in the car for breakfast; I thought those little mini packs of cereal were fabulous -- it was the only time we were allowed sugary cereal such as Frosted Flakes or Cocoa Puffs. We had some serious fights over who got what cereal. I have no idea how those decisions were made. I'm sure it was diplomatic and fair. Eh.

Those little boxes were like crack to me -- but again, guarded like gold by my mother, a nutritionist who thought it was an addictive substance. We got one for the trip up and one on the way back. According to her, they were not a good way to spend your money.. "ridiculously expensive" she would comment.

Three of my aunts lived in a three-story house in Lynchburg, and another one would drive down from Washington DC to share, usually, a four day holiday together. We usually arrived the day before Christmas eve and left the day after Christmas -- or at least that's the way I remember it.

My aunt who lived in Washington worked for the CIA, and we loved the mystery and intrigue of that job since she never told us exactly what she did. I always imagined spies, flashlights, Communists, and blacklists with my aunt wearing a black, satin hat with a feather quill, smoking a cigarette [which she did], and burning secret files in the fireplace while her boss lurked in the shadows in the background.

When she died in 1994 and we were closing up her house and putting it up for sale, the only relic left from that career was a box full of blue fountain pens with US Government blazoned on the sides that we found in a desk drawer. This was the aunt that I was named for -- I will have to write a single blog on her at some time. She was smart, funny, and interesting.

She pulled one of those blue "government issued" pens from her purse when she wished to make a note, and we coveted those pens as kids -- she never gave them up readily. My mother called her "Hallie" growing up -- but somewhere along the line, my aunt put her foot down -- and she was called Harriett. Since that was her name, in my family, I was called "Harriett Sue," so that when we were all together, it was to distinguish to whom was being called or talked about.

My aunt was the only other Harriett I knew until I went to college. Harriett is still not a name common enough to be found on those cool plastic key chains you can buy at Stuckey's.


In that house in Lynchburg with its three floors, my family was spread out --- my parents slept in grandpa's room -- one of two bedrooms downstairs -- and before my grandparents died, my parents slept on the fold out couch in the living room --- my brothers were put on army cots in the basement, covered in old wool blankets smelling of moth balls and kerosene, and my sister and I slept upstairs, in the attic bedrooms that had slanted ceilings on the sides -- that as we grew, we had to "watch the head." We were tucked "under the eaves" on cots as well and weighted down with quilts that went back two generations.

That house was snug -- twelve of us, hunkered down for celebrating the holidays... and we shared two bathrooms. Lawd -- things were simple then, weren't they? Maybe we were under bathed.

My aunts decorated the house with a flair. Wreaths on the doors -- Christmas tree with handmade ornaments and crammed with gifts, wrapped festively, and red candles in the silver candelabra on the dining room table -- they always made the home as welcoming as a Christmas card.

We descending on them with our child loudness, our needy selves, and we hung out together and worked puzzles, ate, and celebrated the season.

I have nothing but fond memories except for the Christmas evening performance that my mother had made us practice for and perform for my grandparents and aunts. One time, she asked the folks of the Christmas letter to watch as well. [See two blogs ago...]
Egads. I just wanted to throw up.

My mother believed in us knowing the true meaning of Christmas -- the Luke 2 version --- and my oldest brother, who had a lovely speaking as well as singing voice, usually memorized the verses. Then my sister who could sing as well, my other brother, him too, and I, not so much, would be the supporting cast. We sang Christmas carols, carried candles, dressed up in Sunday finery, and performed something every year for my aunts and grandparents.

My mother was a perfectionist, not in the fact that she wished us to sing well cause, well cause you can't wish that, but in the performance itself.


We practiced this little act in Atlanta before we left, in the car on the way up, and in the basement before the event.

I dreaded these. I hated them. The only thing I liked was the cute little green or red velvet dress I got to wear with its huge bow, tied neatly in the back, the black patent leather shoes, that usually squeezed my toe, that I got to flaunt around, and my hair, curled and sprayed stiff by my mother, all fixed for the performance. I thought I was a pretty little girl, and I like to bat my blue eyes and flip my blond curls like I was the cat's meow.

It helped that I was the youngest -- the youngest is always the cutest -- but I must have been annoying as all get out.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I was. I am.

My aunts and my grandparents always clapped, took lots of pictures -- those floating dots from the flash adding to it all, and raved at the end about how great we were, how we were just so smart and so talented, and I know they must have just been wishing they had two more glasses of eggnog before we started to sing.

Maybe, they thought it was cute. Maybe they thought it was custom, tradition, and maybe, my mother had to do the same thing as a child, but

I was really happy when those things came to an end.

I'm not sure when it was. Maybe it was after my grandparents had died -- which was 1964 -- maybe it was when we quit making the trip to Lynchburg every year, and my aunts and parents began to alternate who makes the trip where -- they would come down here, we would go up there, but maybe it was when I got too big to be cute.


But when I think of Christmas eve -- I think of those performances, and how innocent, how simple, how totally lame they must have been --- but in some ways, I miss that kind of Christmas --

the cozy, up under each other, and totally together those Christmas were.

That generation -- my parents, my aunts --- have all passed on....:(

BTW: Now, in my family -- in memory of that little Christmas eve performance, we adopted an aspect of it for my own nieces and nephews. On Christmas eve when we are all together, we do "Stockings," which means that each of the oldest generation has put a tiny gift in each stocking.
The gifts are small and cheap -- candy, socks, puzzles --- that sort of thing, but all of us look forward to it because it is fun....

Any who---- we make them perform -- one year they had to sing a verse of a Christmas carol they knew by heart, one year they had to play a musical instrument (we regretted that assignment -- Gawd. I thought David was gonna bust a gut it was so painful), another year it was write a poem.... you get the idea.

We call it "Make You Worth Your Stocking." Now, the oldest is 26 and the youngest 18 -- we do it for the laughs -- and they are all good sports. Last year, my niece's fiancee, who is German, got in on the fun He probably just chalked it up to "Crazy Americans, " or he thought this is what all Americans do. LOL

I don't know how my mother would feel about this -- her focus was intentionally honorable -- ours, not so much.

Regardless, I miss those Christmases. The Christmases where you made you own entertainment, ornaments, fun -- and you were all stuck with each other for two days.

Wait. Maybe not.


Merry Christmas, my blog readers.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Elizabeth Gaffney's 2005 novel Metropolis compellingly details the corrupt, violent, and often ugly side of New York City after the Civil War.

The late nineteenth century was an interesting age in America, as she shoved off the setbacks of the war and turned her head to recreating herself. In this work of fiction, Metropolis follows the journey of a young German, Georg Geiermeier, seeking to make himself a life in the United States after shrugging off not only his old life and family but also his vocation as a stone cutter who once dreamed of building cathedrals.

On a cold March night, Geiermeir, recently off the boat Leibnitz, awakes to the smell of smoke and the sounds of animals stomping and whinying. Recently hired as a stableman for Barnum's, the noises send him into action as he tries to rescue the animals and alert other employees to the fire. In his attempt to rescue, he's fingered as an arsonist by the dastardly Luther Undertoe, a snitch, killer, and thief, who manages to commit crimes and then set others up for the fall. With a buddy on the police force, Undertoe, [I love the name btw] nicknamed by those who know him "The Undertaker," is the grittiest, lowest kind of villian -- a criminal who lurks in alleys and "rolls" victims for the thrill of it.

Even with his likeness in the paper, Geiermeir manages to elude Undertoe's plan for him to take the fall for the crime, and he slips into the crowded boroughs of New York City by using aliases and being adopted into the highly successful but secretive gang known as the Whyo and the Why nots who pull their own little scams on the populace of New York. In using the alias Frank Harris, Geiermeir works manual labor in New York as a street paver, a sewerman, and then finally a builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. Unbeknown to him, the Whyoes protect him from the police and Undertoe, who crazily seeks revenge on Geirmeir for getting away.

Gaffney's eye for detail, which is richly drawn, as well as her historical accuracy creates a believable as well as suspenseful novel of the less than savory side of a bustling city with a corrupt police force and underground organized gangs who ran like well-oiled machinery.

From the time he is indoctrinated into the gang and donned Frank Harris until the suspenseful ending, the reader will be lead down the streets of New York with its cast of immigrants, newly freed Negroes, and its powerful females beginning to assert themselves in a changing society.

Gaffney not only fully develops a love for the heroic Harris , but also a love for the minor characters who interact with Harris: pretty boy leader of the Whyoes Dandy Johnny Dolan,the benefactor Mr. Noes, and Beatrice O'Gahmna, the tough, smart, and resilient First Girl of the gang. The reader will find himself interested in all the stories -- including the feminist and quite aggressive Dr. Sarah Blackwell, a woman concerned about the need for hygienic filters in the sewers and contraceptives for the city's many prostitutes.

Gaffney's novel is a good one, but its density may not make it a good read for all.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Outside Christmas Decorations Part 2

You know what else cracks me up about outdoor Christmas decorations?

The inflatables.


This Christmas season has been so windy, cold, and rainy -- that no doubt those inflattables have been over ended by the weather.

There is nothing better than waking up to inflatable butts mooning you from the neighbor's yard.

*tee hee*

Down the street from us, our neighbors have four inflatables in the yard -- a Santa, two snowmen, and a reindeer. Every morning for the past week when I go out, those things are blown down in the yard. The snowmen are the funniest to me because they are so big and white....

Funny stuff.

At least to me....

"Merry Christmas and All That"

I still send out Christmas cards through the mail. Yep. Snail mail.

I'm that old-fashioned. Sentimental.

Did Christmas greeting cards begin with the Victorians?
Sounds like them... but I dunno.

I love to receive the cards and look at the style, the size, the greeting, whether it is secular or religious. I like to see how they are signed -- if they are pre-printed -- or personally signed by the sender. Do they have glitter? Foil on the back of the envelope? Does this person know me? Or am I on their Christmas card list, and they have trouble remembering who I am?


I love Christmas letters.


As a kid, I used to love to look at the cards that my parents received. They had a wide range of friends from all parts of the United States. They received cards from my dad's Army friends from WWII and my mom's old roommates from college, friends that my parents had for fifty years, and when traveling, if they were in their town, would call and try to see.

For my parents, this was the only time they heard from some of their friends -- separated by distance and time and the busyness of families to raise, my parents cherished these cards and letters.

My mother would save the cards so that she could write in the next year's card and ask questions pertinent to what was happening the year before. She actually tied the Christmas cards from each year in a bundle and labeled them "Stephenson" or "Callahan." She would bundle the cards from "Flo" her best friend and put them in chronological order. They were stored in the attic in a box. Each year before sending out Christmas cards, she would reread the cards and letters from the year before...when she died, the cardboard box full of Christmas cards were in the attic and the last year that she lived labeled: "Stephenson 1994" on the outside of the envelope. It was fun to see how stamps and postage changed too. :)

During the Christmas season, my mother placed all the Christmas cards that she received in a crystal bowl and at night, she would sit down and look at the cards over and over. She loved keeping up with her friends. She would also show me cards that she found exceptionally pretty or sentimental.

My father would write the annual Christmas letter. He was a good writer -- succinct yet informative - and then my mother would write personal notes on the cards to her friends with more detailed information with what she wanted to tell them about her life --

but mostly she was asking them about what was going on in theirs. Sometimes, she would write such long personal notes that she needed to extend the notes to notebook paper. My mother's handwriting was hard to read, something she knew, so she took extra care to write legibly. She spent hours on those notes.


What a lost art -- and what a lost sincerity of heart...

When my parents died, we found our annual family Christmas letters in a file folder. They were dated back to the early 60s and each one was fun to read as my Dad devoted a short paragraph to each child... and then one about them. These letters were pounded out on an old Remington typewriter with a wonky "r." I have no idea how they were duplicated at the time -- but I do remember carbon paper... LOL.

These were the types of comments that my dad wrote about me:

"Harriett Sue is in 7th grade and spends as much time as we'll let her next door at her best friend's house. They ride their bikes everywhere and help the boys with their paper routes. "


"Harriett Sue broke her shoulder in a freak accident while at a church social. We were thankful that she wasn't hurt worse -- as the break was complicated and quite painful for her."


"As a tenth grader, Harriett Sue made the drill team, a dance team that performs at halftime at the football games. She keeps herself busy with that, her school work, and her time on the phone. In fact, the phone rings constantly, and it is always for her."

I used to love the Christmas letters written by my parents' friends. In retrospect, some of them were quite braggy and obnoxious, others simple and direct, yet empty of real information -- in fact, quite vague. One family included a picture every year -- the children growing up like one of those time lapse videos...

One set of my parents' friends were not only obnoxious on paper, but obnoxious when we saw them. They were the same nuclear family that we were --- four children, Army dad, wife --- but the difference was they had "money."

Money that they didn't mind reminding us of...

When we traveled once a year at Christmas to visit my grandparents, we got together with my dad's friend and his family, the obnoxious Christmas letter ones. They lived in the same town as my grandparents, and we always devoted one night to going to see them or they came to my grandparents's house. What I remember most is that we always had to wear Sunday dress to see them.


We got along well with their kids -- similar in age and interests -- we used to play serious competitive games -- "Spit" and "Stratego" and "The Game of Life" or my older brother and sister would listen to records with the older siblings there. I had a huge crush on the boy that was my age -- and thought him pretty "dreamy" at the time -- even though I could beat him easily at "Spit." I once remember exchanging kisses with him in the basement. I think I was twelve, and he was thirteen.


My parents would drink coffee and have coffee cake on the good china with the parents and did a lot of laughing.. and I remember the cigarette smoke that wafted from the living room where they were sequestered while the kids were sent off "to play" -- both of their parents smoked, mine didn't, and I thought it was so sophiscated to smoke.

With that said, I remember how obnoxious their Christmas letter was -- and I parody it here:

"Jimmy Jr., is captain of the football team and number one in his class academically. He has been recurited by five Ivy League schools with the promise of full scholarships. We are buying him a new expensive, custom made (just for his awesomeness) Ford Mustang when he graduates, of course, after he gives the valedictory address. He's by far the smartest young man in five hundred miles. We hate it for all of those people who dont' have this kind of son. Aren't we blessed?

Robin, our beautiful smart daughter, was crowned Class Favorite and won the Little Miss Tobacco Pageant. She is in demand by all the most promising boys in her class and Jimmy Jr.'s for dates. She has three John Romain purses and wears nothing but Villiager sweaters that she has in all sixteen colors. We are pretty sure that she will follow Jimmy Jr. in being the best thing her classmates have ever seen..."


You get the picture -- while meanwhile, my parents had reasons to brag about their own children, but never did. After all, I was one of them. :) They never mentioned to us in any way that the obnoxious Christmas letter people wrote about anything other than fact... they just read it and were happy and proud for them.

My parents really were such good people; they would be ashamed of how I mock.

Christmas letters -- you either write them or you don't. You either find them informative, amusing, or you don't.
Regardless, I believe that cards and letters will soon vanish from our culture and customs.

Do you send Christmas cards? Letters?

Just wondering -- cuz, that's what I do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Father's Tears

As an English major at a small, private Methodist college in the 1970s, my courses in English were limited to the staples -- Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, British poetry, and early twentieth century American literature. As a graduate student, the choices included more variety -- Faulkner, Robinson and Frost, Dante, the Russians, French and German novels, and the poetry of John Donne. I finished my degrees in 1990, and I did not study for any of them -- anything written after 1960.

John Updike was not part of my collegiate course study, falling into that category of American writers of the latter part of the 20th century. I hope that current students enrolled in English classes now are assigned essays or short fiction by Updike, who will hold up to time as a significant American writer.

In the 1980s, a fellow teacher asked me if I had read the novels of Updike, most notably the ones called the Rabbit series, starring the small town athlete Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. Considering myself at the time a reader of fiction, I attempted to read one of them and found them slow --- too small town --- too male -- and perhaps too far from my own experience to be relevant - Rabbit's sexual conquests alone a little off putting, and Updike's pun not lost on me. :)

As a reader of The New Yorker for the last twenty years, I have read essays and short stories by Updike and grown to respect him as a writer -- finding not necessarily his political or religious views aligned with mine [after all he is a Yankee and a liberal ...LOL), but some of his social commentary is incisive and thought provoking.

In one of his essays in the fall of 2001, Updike wrote poignantly about the tragedy of 911, an event that he and his wife observed from their Manhattan apartment fourteen blocks away. His reporting on that event -- personal and poetic - moved me to tears. I actually kept the magazine that contains it.

His short fiction also appealed to me because he wrote nostalgically of his childhood and used his experiences effectively to relay his sheltered but interesting upbringing. Perhaps, I am old enough to appreciate what he has preserved for American fiction -- or maybe, in my humble opinion, this is his best form.

I doubt that I will try another of the Rabbit novels -- but I just finished My Father's Tears and other stories, a collection of the last short stories written by Updike, who died in January of this year, and apparently wrote up to the last days of his life.

Perhaps, I now feel a connection with Updike. Even though Updike was fifteen years younger than my own father, in the majority of these short stories, he made me think of my father and mother's generation. Born in the 1930s, Updike, an only child, grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania in the home of his grandparents. My father too was an only child and grew up in his grandparents home in a small town in Missouri...

but it is Updike's reminiscences of this era that make me think of my parents, especially my father, and the things he remembered from his own childhood.

Eighteen short stories made up this collection. Most of the stories had elderly protagonists -- their commonality -- wealth, ability to travel, and time on their hands. These characters thought about their past, sometimes the way they had wronged others, seemed confused about the fast paced world they lived in now, but were totally "okay" with being in the last years of their lives. Updike writes vividly about the infirmities of old age -- about the fears, the memory lapses, and the emotional pain that comes with outlasting your wife, your classmates, or even your children -- or about being unable to follow directions to an unfamiliar place.

I liked something about all of the stories; some of them stuck with me returning me to memories of my own parents' stories of growing up in the Depression as well as the problems they encountered as they aged. Whether Updike was recollecting the kitchen of his grandparents with details like "oilcloths, tin dippers, Bakelite phone, or "linoleum" or carefully illustrating the small town five and dimes with their "overhead pneumatic tubes and Philcos," he incorporated autobiography by using his childhood and young adulthood memory to tell these stories and give realistic pictures that only someone who had experienced it first hand could do. His vivid details were reminicient of the stories my parents told of their coming of age in the Depression, not in the shadow of it as Updike did. Regardless, Updike reinforced in his stories the impact of that time, a time that made a lasting impression on my parents and obviously Updike.

In the short story "My Father's Tears," he describes the train station of his youth, a place that "you felt safe inside... being built for eternity, when railroads ... looked to be with us forever. The station was a foursquare granite temple with marble floors, a high ceiling whose gilded coffers glinted through a coating of coal smoke. The tall-backed waiting benches were as dignified as church pews.... [but]within a decade passenger service to Philadelphia would stop and eventually the station, like railroad stations all across the East, would be padlocked and boarded up. The fine old building like an over sized mausoleum... all the life it had once contained ... sealed into silence, and for the rest of the century it ignominiously waited .. to be razed."

In this passage, Updike's description reminded me of the sentimentality that I listened to from my parents's generation of the rapidly changing and unpredictability of the future. They talked about train travel and train stations -- its romance, its adventure, and its being such a comfortable way to get from place to place -- much more than the automobile, which was mechanically unreliable -- plus, they were notorious for flat tires.

As a child, I rode the train from downtown Atlanta to my grandparent's home in Virginia -- leaving from a grand building very much like the one Updike brings to life in this story.

In "Free" he tells the story of an elderly man who did not appreciate his "boring" wife until she succumb to cancer, and he moved about for two years with the numbness of her absence. In yet another, "The Walk with Elizanne," he writes about a man going back to his fiftieth high school reunion and being embarrassed as a classmate he hardly remembers tries to takes him down memory lane, a vague and foggy place.

One short story, "Varieties of Religious Experiences," Updike imagines the experiences of the hijackers and one of their victims prior to their deaths in September of 2001 -- one of two stories that Updike obviously deters from his usual point of view.

Updike worked best in the short story --- like all writers, they write best about what they knew -- and what Updike knew --- radiators, Canasta, coal chutes, Katzenjammer kids, mechanical change makers, and first run movie theaters is his own history.... American history that I experienced vicariously because of my own parents.

The beauty of fiction is that it can freeze time -- and there is no more wonderful time to freeze than your own. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I Was Big Foot's Love Slave"

I heard recently that the average Westerners is hit with 50,000 images a week --- if that is true, then someone out there is takin' part of mine. Not all of them, mind you, but some of them -- I get my own overload of the media without trying at all.

What I have noticed lately, besides the fact that I am on the Internet more now that I retired, is that I cannot escape the images, put forth by the media -- slinging at me what they consider news worthy --

Come on. Tiger Woods can't even be unfaithful to his wife in private?

I used to use a software program for my email. When I bought two new computers, a desktop and a laptop in the last six months, my brother convinced me to just use the email from the Internet.

Brother: Why do you need a program?
Me:I dunno. You set it up last time.
Brother: You don't need it. Just use the Internet. It's faster.
Me: Okay. I need fast mail. I do. I need to see quickly that you don't read my emails.
Brother: Don't mock.

My carrier is ATT -- so now when I open my email, there is always an advertisement and news from the Internet.

Sometimes it's as lame as "Look at what Sharon Stone is wearing," but sometimes it's a more impacting image --- a starving child in Africa, a bombing in Baghdad, or a video clip from some disaster. Those images hit me sometimes as many as five times a day --- when I check my email. Sometimes it's the same image over and over -- sometimes it's a different one -- but they all have one thing in common -- someone out there thinks that I need to read this, or someone out there thinks I should.

What do you suppose that person looks like?
These are the things I ponder.

Most of the images trash up my memory bank. I don't want to see these things, I don't like to see these things, yet I get to see them anyway.

Talk about Spam -- this is mind spam -- and there really is no Spam filter or delete button installed in my mind-- if I see it, it's burned into my memory hard drive whether I want it or not. Trust me, my memory hard drive is about full -- it's "bitten" out.

I know this is why all those years ago that my parents limited what we watched on tv. My mother had the foresight to recognize that she didn't want some stranger determining what images were embedded in my feeble brain. I have told you before -- one time, during the 1960s, our television was broken for two years.

Eh. It could have been six months, but I was young and exaggerated every thing.

Thirty years ago, there abouts, when I was first teaching school, I would chuckle with my students about the magazines and tabloids displayed by the grocery checkout lines. I would complain that even if you didn't want to read National Enquirer or People -- you had no choice in seeing what was featured in their content free publications.

BTW: A friend of mine from high school would sometimes buy them -- National Enquirer -- bring them over to my house-- and we would take turns reading the articles out loud. We would laugh so hard sometimes that we'd cry --- tears streaming down our faces, slapping our knees, having to leave the room to contain ourselves...

one time, Jonathan left the Enquirer at my house, and I thought my mother would have apoplexy over it. She did not see the humor -- she only saw trash. That was not fun trying to explain what we did. I can still see my mother, her face set frozen with disapproval, when I tried to redo it for her, and she would try not to see the humor. My mother knew I had a sense of humor, but she did want it to be a little more sophisticated, I guess. I'm sure she was not happy that they misspelled "inquiring." LOL

The phrase "enquiring minds want to know" used to bring Jonathan and me to our knees in guffaws and snorts of laughter. We would read an article like "Duck People Colony Found in Texas" and follow it with "enquiring minds want to know" and then fall over laughing at it all. I would laugh until my face and side hurt, and we would beg each other to "quit reading, quit reading!!!"Jonathan, my good friend, if you are out there somewhere, here's to the memory...

Here are some of the memorable headlines from the Enquirer that I remember:

"Moth Baby Eats Mattress"

"Mother Gives Birth to Baby with Moustache: Looks Like Hitler"

"I Was Big Foot's Love Slave"

"Statue of Elvis Found on Mars"

"Kennedy's Body Found in Housewife's Freezer in Tuscon"

The way Jonathan and I would follow the articles with "enquiring minds want to know" was ....

kind of like how my aunts, when they were children in the 1920s, would keep themselves from falling asleep in church: they would flip through the Methodist Hymnal and read the title of a hymn and then follow it with "between the sheets." For example, "Come Thy Fount of Every Blessing" -- "between the sheets."


My aunt Ava said that part of the fun was trying to stifle the laughter. My aunt and I had the same sense of humor...

I remember thinking this was hilarious, but not quite getting the innuendo until I was older. If you are seven and you think, "He Lives" --- "between the sheets" is funny -- wait till you are twelve.

Never mind.

Anyway, back to school teaching, I taught journalism in my first days of teaching.


I can't tell you how much trouble a newspaper and journalism teacher used to get into for the articles published in the school newspaper, the content of which was ultimately the sponsor's responsibility.

I was young and naive, and I had a marginal sense about what I thought was appropriate or funny compared to what the other teachers or administrators [some of them hating the school newspaper] thought was appropriate or funny -- and I spent many times with the principal defending my student's editorials, articles, or columns.

Each time the newspaper came out, I was sort of sick the night before with anticipation as to what was gonna "overstir the stew" of the readership.

Regardless, our newspaper had a funny edge, and the sales of the newspaper stayed in the black,[most of the student body loved it] which was ultimately more important to the principal than the fact that one student satirized the student's homecoming theme or spoke out about the double standards of the school's dress code and the length of the cheerleaders' skirts.

Good times. Only not. I still have nightmares.
Kidding. Sort of..

I actually did two stints as newspaper sponsor --- I loved the camaraderie I had with the students -- crazy late afternoons trying to meet the deadlines and dashes to the printer where one student would find random clip art and place it on the mock up of the paper at the printer's. It was the first time I had heard of a smelt. I did some serious laughing with those former students, but I also did some serious ulcer growing.

*waves to Captain Jay*

Gosh, did I get off on a tangent.

Meanwhile, to my former journalism students out there --- those were fun days -- weren't they?


And I won't even get started telling you the stories of Journal Ball or selling ads during class. I should have been fired....



NSB: This blog's for you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Double Bind

The title The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian did not resonate with me as to meaning anything other than being in a mess or "being in a bind," a term used loosely by me from time to time in conversation with others over situations in which I find myself in conflict -- like having to be in two places at once or not having enough time to both clean my house and read my book. What a bind!


Bohjalian uses "double bind" to explain the onslaught of schizophrenia in a child whose mother professes to love him, but at other times actually turns away from him "in disgust." The child cannot effectively decode these mixed messages, and so he escapes into another world. How accurate this use of the term is -- is not really important in its use in the novel.

The novel opens with a prologue narrating, in the first person point of view, a young college sophomore's brutal attack, while riding her bicycle on a logging road in Vermont, by two men in ski masks. Laurel, the bicyclist, survives the attack, she tells, by clinging fiercely to the handlebars and by not releasing her feet from the pedal clips, a unforeseen difficulty for her attackers. After vividly describing her physical wounds -- including broken fingers and a collar bone and the deep scrapes she suffered while being dragged still adhered to her bicycle across the gravel road -- as well as the emotional trauma of being afraid that she was moments from death-- a group of men, also bicyclists, close behind her on the road, scare off the attackers and save Laurel's life.

As the novel opens, it is seven years later, and Laurel, with a Masters in social work, currently makes a living as case manager at a homeless shelter called B.E.D.S. and has befriended a schizophrenic. The schizophrenic homeless man has few possessions except for a crumbly box of black and white photos and negatives. Calling himself Bobby Crocker, the homeless man dies suddenly and leaves behind the box which he had refused to let other see --
among his collection were ones of Eartha Kitt, Flip Wilson, Robert Frost, Chuck Berry, and Julie Andrews as well as photographs of himself and his sister taken in front of his childhood home. The childhood home strangely enough is supposedly - the home of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, the fictional characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby - and his sister -- Pamela Buchanan, their daughter.

Since Laurel herself had been a photographer, her boss thinks that she might be interested in cataloging the photographs for a possible exhibit that could raise much needed funds for the homeless shelter. Laurel finds herself totally immersed in the photos and seizes this box of Crocker's fading memories and uses the local college's darkroom to develop the negatives.

As the negatives float to life, Laurel believes she is uncovering an old dark family secret -- a secret that someone might pay to keep from surfacing. Determined to prove Crocker's brilliance as a photographer and give him legitimacy, Laurel doggedly guards the photographs in order to unravel the seventy year history of Crocker's past and his connection to the family of Fitzgerald's novel.

Even though I found Laurel's story compelling, the riveting opening having cemented my interest , the fact that Bohjalian uses the fictional Fitzgerald characters in his fictional work was all kinds of strange to me. Perhaps it is because I know the novel so well, and its being interwoven into Laurel and Bobby's story was just weird.

How is that any different than the way other writers have used historical figures in their ficitional works?

I dunno. I can't explain it.

Regardless, Bohjalian managed to keep me interested, and his shocking revelation at the end only added to my enjoyment of the novel.

Should you read it? I dunno.

BTW: Bohjalian added photographs taken by a real photographer, Bob "Soupy" Campbell, to the pages of his novel. Apparently, Campbell was homeless at the end of his life and his photographs left behind at a shelter. The photographs included have nothing to do with the story. :(

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Splash of Passion?

Splash of Passion Parties?

I saw an ad for this on one of those magnetic car signs on my way to the mall to go Christmas shopping.

The lady sporting this ad on the side of her 1999 white Alero was not someone you would want to meet in the dark.

Or the light.

Just sayin'.

Gosh, I love free enterprise.

"Splash of passion" makes me think of fruit juice -- with guava.

BTW: The lady in the Alero was not advertising for juice.. she was looking for partners.


I got to quit blogging -- but the world is so much fun when you ain't working.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fat bushes

As the Christmas lights begin to shine from the porches, roofs, and yards of the neighborhoods around me, I have always wondered at the randomness of lighting.

In one yard, the lights will be strung around three windows and one bush. What about the other bushes?

In another yard, the lights will go around the roof line and one lone lighted reindeer will stand in the yard. All by himself. So sad.

In yet another, lights will be draped over three small bushes on one side. The bigger bushes on the other side, forgotten. Forsaken. No bling.

I am kind of feeling bad for the big bush that gets no lights.

Is that because the bush is fat and no one likes a fat bush?

In another yard, one tree on the left side of the yard will be strung with lights. No other lights anywhere.

Next door, the lights are hanging on one side of the railing. On the opposite side of the steps, the lights are on a bush. Why not just put the lights on both sides of the railing?

I think I like symmetry and balance.

Regardless, Christmas lights on houses are random.


Outside Christmas lights are mostly hung by men.

Is there something in their psyche that makes men hang them with this much inequality?

Yesterday, my own husband was putting lights on the deck.
He used five strings and had only gotten about 1/2 way around.

Then he turned them on.

Me: Uh, no. You cannot turn the lights on until you finish the whole deck.
Hubby: Why?
Me: Just cause.
Hubby: Is there a Christmas outside lights etiquette book?
Me: Yes.
Hubby: I'd like to see it.
Me: It's unwritten.
Hubby: Figures.

You guys know what I mean? You can't just do half the deck.
It ain't right.

And no mixing of the white lights with the colored...either all white together and all colored together.

[Sounds like the rules for a prom circa 1965, Mississippi]

*slaps knee and chuckles at own joke*

It ain't right. Outside Christmas lights should not be random.

*shakes head*

It just ain't right.

Just sayin'.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jack London in Paradise

As a former English teacher who spent the last years of her career teaching American literature, I was immediately attracted to the title of this book, Jack London in Paradise, when I saw it on the shelf at the public library. I have never heard of the author or the work, but I took the novel from the shelf and stacked it with my others.

I have to admit that when I went to pick my next book to read, I kept moving this one to pick another one -- then this past week, I was in the mood... as I had read the first pages and knew the nature of the read. You have to be in the mood. Trust me.

Jack London reminds me of "survivor" stories, and since Thanksgiving was approaching and time with the "out laws" was imminent, I was in the mood for "atta boy" literature.


I'm kidding.

Jack London in Paradise, written by Paul Malmont, tells the story of Hobart Bosworth, a director, producer, actor, and "seducer of women," who falls on hard times, and seeks to partner with London on a screen play to help salvage his career.

A financial misunderstanding estranges the old friends, who had several successful movie adaptions of London's works -- most notably Martin Eden. Bosworth wishes to repair the relationship and his financial state, and he travels to Wolf House, London's estate outside of San Francisco, hoping that London will listen to him as he tries to explain how he was misunderstood. What he finds instead is Wolf House in ruins flattened by a fire.

Not deterred by this, Bosworth charms London's step sister, who is managing London's ranch in his absence, and discovers that London has escaped to "paradise." Bosworth sets sail to Hawaii in search of London and what he hopes will be a career saving screen play.

As Malmont obviously fictionalizes London's time in Hawaii, he does write a captivating novel with London as his central figure, even though most readers might despise the self-indulgent Bosworth.

Set in 1915, Malmont re-imagines London's last year, when Hawaii itself is still a tropical paradise, and when London was in a declining health, both mentally and physically.

London, "the dog writer," [LOL -- said by a vapid woman in the novel], and his private life come alive as Malmont describes Charmian, London's second wife, as desperate to save her husband who suffers from many ailments apparently the side effects from London's earliest travels and adventures -- most notably his trip to the Yukon and his grandiose idea of sailing the world in a sail boat which was cut short in Australia by a bout of malaria and kidney stones. Charmian keeps a drug regimen up that is both dubious and suspicious.

Not only is London physically ill, but Malmont focuses on his mental state -- a psychosis that has London having "visions" of the island's myths as well as Jungian psychology. Not helping his mental stability is the guilt and grief over the death of his infant daughter Joy and his wife's adultery.

The novel is a good read, but Malmont falters with his little side stories. Even though his descriptions of Hawaii are beautiful and effectively portray what it must have been like, he often sets off on adventurous side stories with secondary characters that I just wanted to end so that I could get back to London and that seedy Bosworth to see what happens.

Am I reading like a teen-ager?

Don't answer that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We gathered at my sister's last night for a Thanksgiving eve since we all head out to the other side of the family for the actual turkey day... today.

"the other side" is a nice way of puttin it... heh...

Four of my nephews were there and chatting it up about college.

GT nephew: Make it stop. I have no life. I always have to do something.
YH nephew: Papers. I have written a thousand papers.
Me: Any of them any good?
YH nephew: Probably not...

KSU nephew: I long for the days of tests and no papers. I write papers all the time. My next paper is on CNN's [as the media's] impact on American culture for political science.
Me: You need a reference.... cause I have an opinion or two.
KSU nephew: Uh, no.. I mean, no thanks. I really appreciate it.
Me: I got time, you know.
KSU nephew: I'm good.

GT nephew: My English 1101 class is labeled Community 2.0.
Me: Huh?
GT nephew: Yes, the class is about projects and creating a community, and of course, she throws in some boring essays for us to read. My most recent community was an old folks home.
Me: Careful now.

GT nephew: English is now "woven."
Me: Explain.
GT nephew: That stands for "written, oral, visual, electronic, and non-verbal."
Me: Damn. I'm already overwhelmed.
GT nephew: On my last paper she was pretty underwhelmed. She dominated me.
Me: So, what's your grade?
GT nephew: Eh. B maybe. C maybe? Just a maybe.
Me: Sounds confident.

GT nephew: I'm looking forward to my next English class.
Me: Is that sarcasm?
GT nephew: No. It's English 1102.
Me: And?
GT nephew: Its title is "Witches, Aliens, and Communists."
ME: LOL. You think you will read?
GT nephew: Highly unlikely.

Of course, this discussion about his English course at Georgia Tech got all of the adults whipped into a frenzy about the lack of reading and writing and the focus on "media" ---

the nephews rolled their eyes
the adults longed for the "good ole days"


some things will never change.. I guess my parents and their generation did the same thing, but some how I think that things have changed more rapidly that if I taught on the college level I might have to title my course "Stories, Mostly Sad, and Writing."

You think anyone would sign up?


BTW: Nephews, thanks for explaining "flashmob" ["organized randomness" quipped one] to me -- I get it --- but I'm trying to decide if it's a good thing.

Any thoughts out there?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Much Ado about.... lunch

I guess I am never gonna blog about my trip to North Florida with three crazy women, a dog, and miles and miles of nothing, and then gators.

<------------- three of the four crazy women and the dog

That's all you get cause now I've forgotten what was so funny. I didn't take notes. :(

<-------------- gator --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Yesterday, I went to lunch with Mary and Emily, also former students and presently University of Georgia students.

We met at Chili's by the mall.

Since I was going to that area, I decided to go to Cotsco.

BTW: I thought the Monday before Thanksgiving would not be a crazy day to be on Barrett Parkway... or even Costco.


The place was overrun with people with big butts.

The aisles were crowded,

shopping buggys stacked up in major-shopping buggy jams,

folks lined up at the sample lines...

Maude: Henry, look at this artichoke spread.
Henry: Not now, Maude, they have motor oil for a dollar a can -- I'm gonna get 10, 000 cans. Maude: This is so good. I'll buy two gallons, and I'll take the 98 oz bags of crackers.

they hovered over the turkeys and hams [folks were elbowing each other to get at them], and the check yourself out line had ten people in it. Costco man had a mobile scanner to help the overflow.


I should just pay three dollars more for the 40 lb bag of cat litter and save myself the aggravation.

It was insane.


Where was I? Oh yeah, I was at Chili's. Mary. Emily.

That's right.

When I asked the girls what was new, these were their answers.

Mary: I'm going to Kenya!
Me: [wide eyed]
Emily: I'm going to Turkey!
Me: [mouth agape] Really? When?

They both proceeded to tell me of the opportunities for next summer that they have been given and are taking advantage of -- both of these ladies are smart, beautiful, and one has a overly "kind" heart, the other one has a heart -- as she always claims, "I'm not that nice."

They are twenty years old -- and adventure ahead of them -- my adventure at that age was more selfish and in the continental United States.... and well.. never mind...

Mary: I will be working in an orphanage.
Me: Awww. But KENYA? Aren't you scared to be so far away?
Mary: Not really. It will be terrific. Africa.
Me: [thinking -- aren't there orphanages a little closer?]

Emily: I will be studying abroad, actually in Italy, but I will travel through Turkey for a few days. I'm a little concerned with navigating the airport in Istanbul.
Me: [thinking -- a little? I'd be shaking in my third world sandals]

They both were both so excited; I'm the only one with my mouth agape.

We talked books... Mary's always looking for new titles --- Emily is just finishing some ones.

Emily: Wuthering Heights. I loved it.
Me: Great book. I wanted to shake all of the characters in that novel and put them on timeout: "Quit being so mean and revengeful and stubborn." Tragic, tragic story.
Emily: Definitely tragic.
Mary: Sad. Wuthering Heights is a sad book.

Emily had not taken any English classes this semester, but she was headed to some next semester including "Novel Theory" or is it "Theory of a Novel"?

Theory of a Novel is definitely not a course I am familiar with since I have been out of graduate school for twenty years. When I got my BA and Masters in English, we were limited to 20th Century American novel, Shakespeare, and History of the English language -- at Georgia, they must have over fifty to choose from...

Theory of the Novel?

What could that be?

I hope it's a way of thinking about the novel and its place in history, its impact on culture, and its ability to provide insight into human nature.

This day an age -- it could be anything.

I hadn't heard of "Queer Theory" till one of my former students told me about it. Of course, he attends Georgia Tech... and I dunno.....but he came back and expanded on it for Dr. Parrott and me.


Mary is currently enrolled in four English classes -- I can't remember the names of her courses, but we talked about what she liked and what she didn't. I know she had Shakespeare, the 20th Century British novel, African-American literature, and one more.... but I can't remember what...

<------------- going to Kenya

<------------- going to Turkey

Mary liked all of her Shakespeare (we all chuckled about why Titus Andronicus always has to be included in a Shakespeare course -- Emily concluded "for the boys in the class" LOL -- "it's so bloody -- IMHO -- overrated, but I digress),

but she wasn't that wild about the 20th Century British novel -- but we did talk briefly about Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh.

Me: I love that book.
Mary: Well, I liked the discussion; we talked about God, but the story is so sad.
Me: Mary, literature is full of sad stories. Life is sad. Who wants happy endings in their reading?
Mary: I do.
Emily: I don't.
Me: LOL.. me either.

We laughed again because we three have been having this same conversation for five years. This all goes back to when both of these girls were in my English class, and Mary, with the heart of hurt for others, and Emily with just a heart, and I would argue about whether something was sad.

When the girls asked me what I was doing, I said, "read my blog. It's not sad."

Muah, Emily and Mary.



Are you out there?

You and I used to have this same conversation when you were in my tenth grade English class.

Shelley: Are we ever gonna read something that has a happy ending?
Me: No.
Shelley: Why? I just want to read something happy.
Me: Not in this class. Get yourself a romance novel.
Shelley: Argh.

*shakes her skinny fist in the air*

*shakes mine back at her*

Is anyone out there reading a happy book? If so, let me know.... I'm currently reading Jack London in Paradise.........

and, he ain't happy.
Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

That's Biblical -- but this is not.

Bob and Toby came to fit the new vanity top in the master bathroom yesterday. They ripped out the old and put in the new.

The new didn't fit -- the sink was cut over too far to the right, so the drawer is in the way and the plumbing is wrong.

The boys at Marble Inc. didn't read Bob's drawing and measurements correctly.

Toby was not happy.
Bob was not happy.
They carried out the 300 lb vanity to the driveway.
Picked up the other new 300 lb vanity to put in the master bath, and it didn't fit.

So... Toby and Bob are mad at the Marble Inc men.

Looks like hubby and I will not be able to use the master bath sinks for at least three weeks.

But, you know who is most ticked?

Keats and Tallulah.

They both get on that vanity top that doesn't fit and look at the faucets.

Keats: Water. *stares at faucet*
Me: No water, Keats. The Marble men made a mistake.
Keats: Water. *stares at faucet then at me*
Me: There is no water, Keats. I can't make it.
Keats: Water. *stares at faucet*
Tallulah: If Keats wants water, I want water. Water. *stares at Keats*
Me: No water, Tallulah, no matter if Keats wants it and therefore, you want it. There is no water.
Keats: Water. *hisses at Tallulah and stares at faucet*
Tallulah: Water. *stares at Keats*
Me: No water for cats. Get it from the tub.
Keats: I want faucet water. *blinks at me*
Tallulah: Me too. Water.*blinks at me*
Me: Get it in the tub.
Keats: Okay.
Tallulah: Okay.

*stare at tub faucet, jump out of way when the water comes, stare at water*

Then it starts over again. Every time we go in the master bath.

Keats: Water.
Tallulah: Water.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bonfire for the Vanity

We're having new vanity counters put into our bathrooms. I decided that it was time to clean from under our vanity since I didn't want the workers to think we were slobs, or worse, pack rat slobs with chronic coughs. Geez, I found five half full bottles of cough medicine.

David: Why don't you wait till after the work is done?
Me: I'll have to do it twice. I'm sure there will be vanity dust.
David: Vanity dust? That sounds like something Lindsay Lohan would snort.
Me: Heh. Not that funny.
David: Will you put it on the blog?
Me: Are you reading my blog?
David: No.

Here are the rules for cleaning from under the bathroom vanity:

Rule 1: Wear gloves.

Rule 2: Put your cat in the basement.

Rule 3: Remember that dust does really odd things to a water pik.

Rule 4: Look carefully in all old cosmetic bags. Be prepared to scream.

Rule 5: Put both cats in the basement.

Rule 6: Sit on a towel or a rug. [the tile makes your butt go numb]

Rule 7: Don't think that anyone could possibly want any thing you find under there.

Rule 8: Throw out all free samples without thinking that you could use them as stocking stuffers--- yes, even after they have been dusted and washed.

Rule 9: Never keep cotton balls in an open plastic bag.

Rule 10: Don't try on old glasses. EVAH.

Rule 11: Never clean from under you vanity. Just move and leave it for the next occupant. Whatever you do find, burn it.

ETA: Did you know that toothpaste explodes?

That's all I got...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson

Listening to writers is such a pleasure for this retired English teacher.

Last night, I was able to listen to yet another writer talk about books, writing, and living.

This writer was Joshilyn Jackson, author of three books, two of which I read: Gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming. Her other novel, Between, Georgia, I haven't read.

I finished The Girl Who Stopped Swimming the afternoon of the author meet and greet.

*chuckle, chuckle*

The book club, which I don't belong to but was invited to because they wanted a larger audience for the writer, seems to be of about eighteen to twenty women -- all middle aged or older, even though it looked like one woman had brought her teenage daughter who disappeared pretty quickly after Jackson began to talk. I laughed out loud at the fact that one of the oldest of the group held tightly and proudly to her Kindle the whole time. She was also the most opinionated.. I wonder if that goes together?


The hostess's home was a ranch -- built in the 1960s or 1970s and located on a huge tract of land in west Cobb --- as usual, I was driving in the dark and the rain with crappy directions from Google. Argh.. Google told me to turn left when I needed to make a right -- I knew it as soon as I saw the house numbers. It's always fun to turn around in a strange driveway ... only not.

The hostess had her house lit up for the evening, and her husband graciously waited in the long driveway to help park the cars. When I asked if he was the valet, he dryly retorted, "No, I'm just showing the hags where to park their brooms." We both laughed. Somehow I thought he might be serious....

When I parked my car, I heard his wife yell at him from out of the dark: "Beeeennnneeett? We need more coffee."

I heard him mumble under his breath as he shuffled up to the house.

The inside of the house was typical ranch -- kitchen and den combined together and separated by a bar/counter. The fireplace was roaring, the "hags" were grazing around the cracker and cheeses, and I took in the antique collection of hand bells and small farm implements and looked for the one person I knew. I was introduced to four women pretty successively, and then whamo! I forgot their names. In the large den, I settled in on a nice comfy leather with the chair that Jackson would eventually sit in right across from me. It would allow Jackson to make a lot of eye contact with me, which she would do often, and I would nod back at her like I used to do my Algebra II teacher. The difference -- I nodded at Jackson with understanding -- Algebra II not so much.

Jackson arrived, took time to sign a few books, and then sat in a hard-back kitchen chair and began to talk. I could listen to her all day.

Jackson is a Southern girl [married with two kids and a cat and a dog]-- even though she didn't say where she was born, she did mentioned her grandmother being from Alabama and growing up in a "garden shed lean to." She said her grandmother was "broken" and poor.. which was a double whammy. Her own upbringing was solid with loving parents, even though her website quotes her as saying her family was "a wild tribe of Fundamentalists." Her parents, she credited with being the backbone of who she was. Even though two of her three novels are not for "mother to read," she did write Between, Georgia, a book that she said she would hand to her mother or daughter without question.

She told us that she "shamelessly loves her books," and that she could "talk incessantly about them." She says that readers have complained that there is always a murder in her books. She retorted -- "I'm from the South -- there has to be kissin' and shootin'."

She giggles.

Jackson giggles a lot, and this already rounded out her vibrant, warm, and obviously smart personality. Not only was she a writer, but she had spent time doing voice overs for commercials and documentaries, in the theater where she noted there are "no morals and three ethics," and got shortlisted for an Audie for her reading of her book Between, Georgia.

About the Audie: She told us that her agent/manager told her that she had little chance to win since her competition was Maria Shriver, Maya Angelou, Cookie Roberts, and David Sedaris.


As a group, we asked few questions. Jackson easily slid from one story to another:

she told about how she goes to writing retreats --

defined by her as "a hotel business suite complete with refrigerator in Alpharetta for four days"


the most recent one with a girlfriend at the Breakers in West Palm where "there are only so many mojitos you can drink before you are exhausted..."

she told how she sets goals --- 14,000 words in four days

she told how she gets the characters first -- then the story


how she always wanted to be a writer.

When she was in middle school, she got her first stack of blank books which she said she filled with the worst blather -- one of his stories was called "Don't Go Into the Woods." She said she reread it recently and laughed her butt off... it was so trite, so adolescent, and so lame.

She believes that most books need two reads.
The first read for plot ....
The second read for other aspects -- imagery or theme or motifs.

Note to former students: See, you morons. You don't just read books once....

Jackson admitted that there are books on her shelf that she is still not through reading - - that she has read them two and three times and is not done yet...

To Kill a Mockingbird
Life of Pi

Everything that Rises Must Converge
Poisonwood Bible ...

Uh, I'm not so sure about Poisonwood Bible, but I have friends who think that book is awesome. I'm not in that camp....

She talked a great deal about her own novels --- and how she saw the characters, their faults, and their stories.

Jackson was a delight to listen to --- and I am glad I had the opportunity to do so.

When I was leaving, two of the book club members stopped me.

Member One: You're young. What did you think of her books?
Me: Uh, well, I liked 'em okay. I liked her better.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: She sure was smart.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Me: Totally --- and she was smart, but in a whacked kind of way.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: I bet she's got that disorder.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Me: What disorder?
Member One: The one every child on McDonald's playground has.
Me: A.D.D.?
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: That's the one. I couldn't think of it.
Me: But she's gifted.
Member One: Who to?
Me: No. It's like being exceptional.
Member One: To whom?
Me: No, it's a good thing. You are creative, talented, and learn quickly. Jackson is definitely gifted.
Member Two: Uh. Huh.
Member One: I'm so old. I can't remember any of these "distinctions" that they put on diplomas these days.

LOL -- those two ladies were a riot. It made me think of how hard it is sometimes to explain the way we have labeled children in so many ways in "education."

This group club asked me to join them. Their next read for January -- Olivie Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, 2009 Winner of the Pulitizer for fiction.

Do I join?
If so, is it so I can blog about them?

BTW: I don't always trust the Pulitizers. Just sayin'.

Right, Edie?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aussie, Robert Frost, and Derek

After settling in at Wingate's and Catherine appeared an hour later, "after making a right at the dumpster," we settled into an evening of chat, beverages, and reminiscing.

[< Wingate's porch]

I am quite thankful that I really don't remember the stuff from college -- it sounds like -- well, it sounds like I had a good time, even though they always tell stories of which I don't think I had a part. They assure me I did.

*wonders if I went to college at all?*

At least I'm not like Catherine who doesn't remember that she was Wingate's roommate one summer at JSU.

I do remember all of my roommates. *giggles*

Wingate's sister Martha came over to join us for dinner, and she brought her dog, Aussie. Martha lives across the street next to Wingate's parents home ---

BTW: Wingate and her sister have moved back to the home place in Thomasville... the land was originally 10,000 acres [it could be more than that -- I can't remember the specifics] and in Wingate's family since before the Revolutionary War. Now they are down to about 125 acres. They have retired to the land .... it's a wonderful tie to the past .. how blessed they are to have this legacy to return to....

Robert Frost wrote .. "The land was ours before we were the land's. She was our land more than a hundred years Before we were her people. .."

Of course, that was taken totally out of context, but that line jumped in my head....

Aussie is an Australian sheep dog called a blue heeler --[that is no misnomer -- she literally followed at Martha's heels]. When she and Martha came to the door of the screen porch, she was jumping four times her height because she was excited.

Aussie: More people to herd! More people to herd! More people to herd! Let me herd them! Let me herd them!

Since the sheep she wished to herd mostly sat on the screen porch sofas, she settled for having her belly rubbed.

Aussie: No need to herd? Then rub my belly! Rub my belly! Rub my belly!

Wingate's sister Martha sounds like her, looks like her (but her sister is 15 years older), and the two of them are really "farm" girls... they even laugh alike... but there is such love between them -- the way they care for each other, see to each other, and just enjoy what each other does...

We shared a dinner of boiled shrimp, corn on the cob, crusty bread, and salad with home made blue cheese dressing. YUM. It was delicious....

We settled in on the porch for a good night of talking, and we spent the rainy evening laughing and gossiping.... and throwing "men" under the bus.

Eh. It was a hen party. It's in the constitution.

Aside: Wingate's house has a tin roof -- the wind was blowing -- and the acorns hitting the roof sounding like rifle fire. The whole time we were there -- things hit the roof... it was a noisy place for a quiet place, if that makes any sense. When I was outside taking pictures the next day, an acorn came down like it had been hurled by Nolan Ryan and hit me in the temple. Whoever said the acorn doesn't fall too far from the tree needed to amend that statement to ... it depends on the weather... dang. I could have been maimed.

The next day we were all slow moving --- for various reasons ---- and we headed to downtown Thomasville for lunch and shopping in a misty, miserable rain.

We ate lunch at Relish, a upscale kitchen store with a small deli in the back that served coffees, sandwiches, and salad.

I ate a ham and cheese sandwich with fig spread and dill pickle potato chips. I chased it down with a Diet Coke. I don't know what the other girls had -- I was too focused on my delicious lunch..

Relish had baked goods to die for -- I bought David a three dollar brownie, which somehow I restrained from eating before I brought it home.

The little girl who waited on us had a broken arm. It was like a Flannery O'Connor short story without the digs at religion.

We tried to shop in Thomasville, but we were too tired from staying up late the night before... we halfheartedly walked the streets, gazing in shops and trying to buy things. We failed. We decided to come back to Wingate's house and rest so that we could get up the energy to go out to dinner.

We did stop at the farmer's market for Wingate to buy "green" peanuts to boil.

I told David that afternoon that Wingate was "boiling" peanuts, and he said, "Crazy butt farm girl."

I dozed in a big chair in Wingate's living room, watched the weather channel, and tried to read this book that I have been waiting to finish. It's not a good book, and it's not a bad book; it's just an annoying one --

Do you ever have one of those novels {they are always long} that gets on your nerves and all you want to do is find out what happens, but you really don't care?

Quite the conflict. These are the types of conflicts you have when you are retired.

*does a little jig*

This novel is one of those --- I wanted to scream at it, "you are all dumb characters, and I just want to see if you live to make more mistakes or die and be thankful there is no sequel."


They lived. All five of them....

*emails author -- "i hated all of those people"*

We went to dinner at Marabella's -- an adorable Italian restaurant in the old train depot.
When we got there, the restaurant had eight customers, and they were all women.
It was already loud.

Derek was our hostess and then our waiter.
Derek fumbled behind the counter. Derek looked around the restaurant.
Derek saw many tables vacant.
Derek put us right next to six women who were five glasses into a girls' night out.

*looks at table full of gabby women; looks at Derek*

Derek was new.
Derek was a little slow.
Martha wanted to make him her pool boy.
I wanted to make him take a literacy test.

Derek tried really hard, but if you confused him like Catherine did when she asked for "hot pepper flakes" on the side, Derek went blank.

*blink, blink*

Oh, Derek. You might be cute, but you know, there are other occupations that don't require you to remember to refill the water glasses.

We had a delicious meal in spite of Derek, but I have no idea what Wingate, Martha, or Catherine said the whole evening.

The restaurant filled up with people and noise -- between the hard wood floors, the high ceilings, the cackling of the girls' night out group, the rain on the roof, the rectangular table, and my going "huh" all the time, I gave up and just enjoyed my fettuccine.

Thomasville, in spite of it being in the middle of the pine forest from a Disney movie, has some delicious restaurants.


Back to the house, more talk, more laughter, but an early bed time...


ETA: I'm too old to stay up late two nights in a row.... and it turns out I will need the rest for our eight hour excursion into North Florida.

*wink, wink*

Monday, November 16, 2009


I've been a little M.I. B. [Missing in Blogging?]

I've been on two trips -- and neither had Internet. One place -- the Internet was down -- the other -- not even connected. I felt like I was in a bubble for five days.

I drove down to south Georgia to see Wingate and a girl we both knew from college. Catherine drove up from Florida, and I drove down from Marietta -- and we met in the middle at Wingate's home in Thomasville, Georgia, also known as the middle of freakin' nowhere.

I mean, seriously.

I drove down in the rain on last Tuesday -- which is always a good day to be on I-75.
Only not.

When it rains, people drive weird and act weird. When I taught school, kids would stand in the rain. Now that I am retired, I see that people drive long distances in the rain. This was a serious rain -- remember? -- we got five inches here...

At a rest stop in Perry, Georgia, a fellow traveler and I had this conversation in the ladies' room.

Me: Fun, huh? Driving in the rain.
Fellow traveler: It's one of the signs of the end of the world. The Rapture.
Me: Uh. Yeah. I mean, it could be.
Fellow traveler: Oh it is. It's in Revelations.
Me: Really?
Fellow traveler: Yeah, honey, Revelations -- you need to read your Bible.
Me: I do. I really do. [sets hand dryer to turbo]

When I finally got off Interstate 75 at Cordele, Ga, I gave Wingate a call on my cell. She said cell service was terrible out there, and that I would be surrounded by plantations and nothing else.

She was right.


She didn't say cotton. Cotton was everywhere -- I kept lookin' for Scarlet. Lawd.

I stopped at a place called "Striplings" for gas. Apparently, they are proud of their hog whacking.
Over the doorway it reads, "You Never Sausage a Place."

Later, on the phone with my hubby, I tried to recreate that sign for him.

Me: It read "you never s-a-u-s-a-g-e a place.
Hubby: Whut?
Me: What does s-a-u-s-a-g-e spell?
Hubby: I don't know.
Me: Yes, you do.
Hubby: Spell it again.
Me: S-a-u-s-a-g-e -- the sign read "you never s-a-u-s-a-g-e a place."
Hubby: I don't get it.
Me: Sausage. You never sausage a place.
Hubby: Whatever. How is that funny?

I paid for my gas, got a few looks from some old men with few teeth, and I got back in my car and turned left headed to Thomasville.

I went the speed limit because it was raining -- however, I would like to go on record to say that the Crisp County State Prisoners' Van passed me going at least twenty miles over the limit, and its tires spewed blinding water on my windshield.

I am not sure that a prison guard was driving. I've seen that Nicholas Cage movie -- the one where the prisoners take over the plane and crash it? Nicholas Cage was all pumped up, and John Malkovich played a psycho?

Wait. John Malkovich always plays psychos. Never mind.

Well, he sure was in a hurry. Was Tuesday the night they get extra servings of spaghetti? Were they running a Clint Eastwood movie night? Were the prisoners having a knitters meeting?

When I got into Pellham, Georgia, I was temporarily distracted by a lime green 1976 Chevelle that pulled in my line of vision, but I did note that the median of the highway held 9 crosses and flags... I wondered if that was the impact of Iraq on that very, very, small town?

Wingate gives visual directions -- if she knows the names of the streets, she gives them, but some of her travel tips including "Big BP station" and apparently for my friend Catherine coming from the south, "turn right at the dumpster."


When I got in to Thomasville, I took a road over to the east side of town and to Wingate's house, which was about 7 miles out of town on a road full of nothing but big plantations, pine trees, and dark.

I arrived at her abode at 5 o'clock just before the coming of the real dark -- as my husband likes to say, "Dark thirty."

I drove in mud, pulled up to her garage doors, and there she was...

Wingate's house .. two days later when it wasn't raining.

More later -- I'm headed to Bible study -- we're studying John, but I think I need to look at Revelations.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Name that Beetle?

I heard a great podcast on the dung beetle.

Any takers?

According to Doug Emlin, the man who studied them, they're the equivalent to the mule deer.

*checks notes*

The males have serious weapons coming from their bodies -- some look like antlers, others horns, and still some like pincers..... and they do what all males do, well, most males, they fight for their female. :)

The one with curved horns is called the Taurus dung beetle. Heh.

Taurus? Bwahahaha.

I guess I could get a job naming dung beetles.


I would like to name nail polish, you know, since the latest color I chose, with the help of Lena, my favorite pedicurist, "Smokin' in Havana." The one before that --- "I Love This Color"
before that ... "That's An 'El" of a Color" ...

Talk about lame....

What was I blogging about?

Apparently even though studying them looks a little like studying chaos, they are well organized as well as well armed. horned. antlered. or well pinced?

You know what -- they have some rather sneaky males too -- they are not big enough to fight the big males (the armed ones), and they don't have these "extensions," so they burrow and try to sneak in to see the female.

The more we study animals, the more we see us?

Maybe I should talk about the guy who studied "rats" (nature's monster) for a year... hanging out between two fast food restaurants in an alley in Manhattan..... he and his buddies would go "Ratting" together.....

He said that rats like what we like -- fried food, fatty foods, but not vegetables.

He said they are extremely organized --- and that they can jump as high as a foot.


He said the big ones look like a theme park mascot.

He said there are some "really" big ones....

Somehow, this is not blog material.

It was animal week on NPR -- what can I say?

And I wonder why David keeps bringing home "business cards" from clients who have ideas of possible jobs for me.

I don't need a job -- I still have 37 more Podcasts to listen to.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Deli Junction, the mountains, and Doctorow

I'm behind.

I was gonna post about Wingate and Parrott and I practically getting kicked out of Deli Junction in hoppin' Ellijay, but then I lost my muse or should I say, I forgot what we said because now that was a long time ago. I will, however, post some pictures.

I will also tell you that we giggled, got stared at, and ate pie -- which Parrott says, "It isn't as good as it used to be when it was sold at that other place....".

I thought it was good, but, of course, I didn't get to eat it at that other place.


BTW: Deli Junction has a bell that if you have good food, good times, and good service, or any combination of the three, you ring. When we left, Wingate pulled down on it like she was at a carnival and trying to win a stuff animal. The whole place looked up from what they were doing; I scooted out because I didn't wish to spend the night in the Ellijay jail with those two.

Geez. They were out of control.

Wait. If I had to spend the night in jail with someone, those two wouldn't be bad. Bad would be Zaid or Chris.


David and I were in the mountains this past weekend. It was past the peak of color, but it didn't matter, the leaves still shone in gloriously.

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork ...."

On Halloween night while we were in the mountains, David and I went to Momma G's, a local pizza place, and all of the waiters and waitresses were dressed up for Halloween. Some of the costumes were a little hard to discern exactly what they were supposed to be -- the hostess was a flapper, the bartender was Link from Mod Squad, and our waitress was ... well, I think a French maid.

David: French maid gone wide.

He's hyper-critical sometimes. The guy who made the pizza had a mask on the back of his head; I wasn't sure what that was either....

As we exited the restaurant, we looked up on one of the east mountains, and there is a beautiful cross, lighted, that shone out at us -- it must be huge --- we drove to see if we could get closer, and we could, but it was one of those drives where it moved -- first, it was in front of us, then to the side, then to the back of us -- we finally gave up --

Darn those curvy mountain roads. Halloween night was rainy and foggy, and the look of that cross up high like that -- made it appear to be floating in the air.

On our way to look at it, we passed the Clayton Halloween Carnival.

Me: You wanna stop?
David: I'd rather go to Wal-mart on Christmas eve.

I took that as a No.
Pretty firm no.


I caught up on some more podcasts ....

Doctorow talked about his book Homer and Langley, a ficitonal story based on the Collyer brothers who lived for fifty years in isolation in their Central Park home in NY. They died in 1947. When their apartment was opened by officials to take the bodies out, they found it was piled high with junk -- including a Ford chassis. Apparently, thousands of people drove by the house as well as passed in front of it in order to gawk..... as the curious, the living spectators wanted to see how it could be that two men could live like that.... What could be more terrible than, according to Doctorow, "being turned into a mythical joke?"

Doctorow said that "Americans are the champions of collecting stuff."

The Collyer house was a museum of American civilization.

Doctorow takes the point of view of Homer, who begins the novel with..."I am Homer, the blind brother."

Doctorow also talked about the importance of opening lines in novels. It made me think of some of the ones that I taught:

1. Call me, Ishmael.

2. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

3. A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments and gray, steepled crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak and studded with iron spikes.

4. You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

5. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.

6. In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

See how you do -- well, if you got nothing to do, that is...

Doctorow said that first lines were like the acorn of which the oak grows... do we remember first lines of books? I apparently do, but then I taught them....

That's all I got....

for now...

*inserts dancin' banana*