Sunday, January 31, 2010

Better than Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes?

Friday morning I was planning on just doing my retired thingy -- coffee and Internet in the morning, a little exercise, a good lunch, and then an afternoon of perhaps a book or one of the Netflics that I have ordered.

Currently watching Friday Night Lights.... season 1, episodes 1-4...

and then David messes with my retired schedule mojo:

Wednesday: David calls me from work.

David: You need to be home at 12 on Friday so that Toby [contractor's assistant] can come over. He's gonna be in the neighborhood, and he needs to check something.
Me: Check what?
David: That thing on the roof and maybe a measurement on the sink. And the doors.
Me: What thing? We already have the sinks. What doors?
David: Above the porch -- the way the gutter is all whacky, and I want him to look at the doors to the laundry. The sink might need adjusting.
Me: Look at them? Adjusting? Haven't you already fixed that gutter?
David: [huffs] Can you be there or not?
Me: Okay, okay, I can be here. I mean, I'm retired; I got nothing planned.

So, Friday morning I rush around and get all my stuff done so that I can be here to let Toby come over and check something, measure something, or look at something.

Gawd. Men and their somethings to look at.... vagueness and generalities!

At 11:30, I open the front door wide, and Keats plants herself there -- you know -- in case of an influx of stray cats, buzzards, or crack squirrels try to come in the yard or [Dare them!] on the porch.

I open the door so that Toby knows I am here so that he can check, measure, and look at something.

At 12:00, a white car creeps into the cul-de-sac -- takes a slow turn, backs up, and then moseys and parks in front of my house.

Just like Mrs. Kravitz, I pay attention to what's happening in the neighborhood -- in case of random Jehovah witnesses, miracles, or Fed Ex.

Out of the white car and from KMHS comes two counselors -- Ms. Brown and Mrs. Young to my door.

Keats checks them out to make sure they are not rabid, and after ringing the doorbell, I let them enter my house. They are grinnin like they are playin' hooky.

Aside: Technically they are.

Me: Uh? I'm a little nervous. Why are you gals here?
Them: [still grinnin'] We're just in the neighborhood and thought we stop by.
Me: Whatever. Do you have bad news? Did I miss a parent conference? Do I have to come back to teaching? Are you here to "counsel" me through it? Do I have to give the Exit Exam? Learn what's in the career center? Did I steal a #2 pencil in 2004?
Them: [Looking around -- at the porch, the cul-de-sac, at the bushes] No... we're here about something.
Me: Something? Well, hurry up cause Toby is coming over soon to check, measure, or look at something, and I only got so much room in the house.

Then another strange car pulls into the cul-de-sac, and out of it jumps two former students, Anna and Caitlin.

They come skipping and jumping across the yard.... screaming...

Anna and Caitlin: Mrs. Gillham! Mrs. Gillham! You're it.

Me: I'm it?

Anna and Caitlin: Star teacher. You're our star teacher.

Me: What? Star teacher? How? I quit. I retired. I turned in my room keys, my passwords, my powerful red pens. I mean, I'm not there any more. [turn to the counselors] Is this true? Can I be named Star Teacher and be retired?

Ms. Brown: Yep. They can pick anyone they want.
Me: Really? [grins big] Heh. [smiles] Really. [puffs up a little] I wonder what my friends back in the trenches think...

Teachers [former allies] at KMHS: That Gillham. I thought she retired. How annoying is this? She wins, and she's not even here? Humph. Someone needs to read the fine print, I'm thinking. Star teacher? You mean former teacher as in she has exited the building. She's not here. Hello.

I have to say that having this surprise at my front door on a Friday afternoon was lovely and absolutely jaw dropping, but I'm glad it happened. I love those girls, and what a privilege it is to be chosen. It's a honor. A true honor....aww.. shucks.

Me: So, I like it that you girls beat all those stupid boys. How close were they?
Caitlin and Anna: 60 points behind us, at least.
Me: [grins] That a way to show 'em.

We then shared the goodie basket, compliments of Great Harvest, and relished the moment.

Counselors: Well, I guess we'd better get back to school.
Caitlin and Anna: Us too.
Me: That stinks. [shrugs] Well, I guess I'd better get back to Friday Night Lights.
Them: Not fair. [pouts] Not fair. [whines]
Me: Yeah, oh well, I just wished that I had figured it out earlier that I could not teach and still win Star Teacher. Dang. I'm good.


Keats sits on Anna's purse.

Keats: Are they leavin' soon? I'm thinkin' nap -- and this thing is in my way.

And for the record, I'd rather be named Star Teacher and be surprised at my door in my sweats and socks than win the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes --this was a little like that -- minus the video camera, the check for 10 million, and the Hollywood celebrity.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Library: Then and Now

I usually make a trip to the Marietta public library every three weeks.

I usually check out between five to seven books, and if my three weeks has been a quiet one, I can get all seven books read -- if not, then I might only get three. I mostly read what I check out; rarely do I put down a book -- it has to be bad to do that. Really bad -- like Twilight bad or The Power of One bad.

*waves to Emily and Dr. P. on that last comment*

*tee hee*

Most books I check out have been recommended by people I trust or I have read the review. :)

I always take a list of the books I want to read..... sometime ago, I started a list of suggested titles, which is now close to 3oo books long -- and I take this list and walk around the library in search of the novel... the list ever changing as I add books and cross the titles of others out.

I use the Internet from home with "my account" to renew books or put a book on reserve [you gotta love the Internet for that], but I love going to the library and just perusing "the stacks" for any book that might meet my fancy.

I don't look to see if they have the book ahead of time -- like use the online card catalog -- I like the hunt in the stacks.

*trembles with anticipation*

It's all about that... the hunt, the chase, the pursuit... that's inherent in all of us --- it's universal. It's all about chasing that "gold" I want -- ask Keats, the poet, ask Faulkner, heck, ask Shakespeare --we all like the hunt, the search, and then getting the prize. Hello? Ahab? The white whale?

Well, I do.

The library has changed exponentially in the last ten years -- and changed so much since I was a child.

When I was a kid growing up in southwest Atlanta, our library was the Stewart Lakewood branch, run by Fulton County. It was less than a 1/2 mile from my childhood home, so many a day I would walk to the library to check out books, and if it was in the summer, I would hide out in one of their hard plastic chairs to be in the air conditioning.

Plus, in the summer, Atlanta city schools sponsored a "Read 20 books" and get a ribbon in order to encourage students to read. I used to do that in the first week of the summer and would roll my eyes at those friends of mine who thought it was "too hard."

Of course, my parents expected the love the reading -- since I grew up among piles of newspaper, magazines, and books.

I used to think that tables were for books and lamps -- what the heck were you supposed to do with knick knacks, anyway?

We had no room for knick knacks.

Checking out the books then involved a stamp with the date on it -- emphatically imprinted on a card nestled in the cardboard pocket of the back cover.

In my elementary school and high school, the library used a system that the student signed the card in the back, put their teacher, or for high school, homeroom teacher's name on it, and turned it in. I used to get all kinds of chills if the person who checked out the book before me was "cool" or "good-looking." I'd search the card for the "cool" person's name. It took me a long time to understand that those folks didn't read.


Just kidding.

Only not really.

At the public library, I used to open my books to the back cover in order to speed up the process for the librarian to wield her mighty stamp. She used to nod her head in appreciation. I felt proud to do my duty as a patron of the system.

It was quite exciting when the library went to the microfiche/picture taking for their check out system -- a hulking blue machine that took pictures of the card in the back [thus, the loss of the stamp sound and the card fill out ...*cries*] and filed it somehow under your name. It made this humming and clicking noise that I loved....I wanted to run that machine -- it was all kinds of mysterious and powerful.

I adored my home library -- a square building -- and the fiction books took up over 1/2 of the outer wall space. It's hard to know how many titles the branch actually had --- 5,o0o or 15,000 - - but it had enough titles that I read for a lot of years there and never wanted for something to read. In addition to the outer walls, there were between fifteen and twenty groups of shelves that came out from these walls also containing books.

They has a section that was totally devoted to children -- small chairs and tables -- and a "tale telling" corner where the librarian herself would read aloud books to small children on Saturday mornings. I never attended those -- don't know why -- but it could be because I learned to read at a young age -- and preferred my own voices. LOL

Stewart and Lakewood had a terrific research section. When I was in elementary school, I spent many a time there in the encyclopedia section researching "Spain" or "Montana" or "the solar system" in order to do reports and projects. Some of my friends had sets of encyclopedias at home, mostly the World Book, but my parents were too frugal and too poor to indulge in that when "the library is right around the corner." Plus, those things came out annually and were outdated quickly.

Later as a high school student, I spent many a school night researching for history or English papers, rushing to get through before the library closed at 9 or pretending to have "research" to do if it meant sharing a table with a cute boy with whom I shamelessly flirted -- and of course, meant that he and both got little done and would have to return the next night to finish the work.

A little bit of ancient history here -- but the library was a quiet place -- and this shameless flirting I did was in passing notes back in forth in the most surreptitious way -- in order to escape the glance of the vigilant librarian -- not only a woman who took her job seriously but also went to my church and knew my parents well. She would not have been above tattling on me and my behavior.

There was a lot of "shhhhhh" going on in that library, and we by and large behaved, but there were nights when more rowdy tables were kicked out of the library and their parents notified. No one wanted to be on that particular list --- and I did not want to suffer the repercussions of a phone call to my own parents.

Another perk of the library was the current magazine section -- all encased in these hard plastic covers to keep the masses from mucking them up. I never fooled with these in particular since my father subscribe to more magazines that I could ever get through: Life, Look, Newsweek, the Atlantic Monthly, Harpers....

It was in those pictorial magazines that I followed Viet Nam, JFK's assassination, the horrors of 1968, and Kent State. It was in the latter two magazines that I learned the delights of the essay and short fiction..

Man, I always get side tracked.

Today, the library is a different animal. I still love the fiction section, and the Marietta public library has a great selection, but the rest of the library is.. well, it's some kind of community center for the homeless and the out of work.

The homeless come in from the cold -- squat in a chair in the reading area and hold a book in their hand.. while they sleep. They put off some powerful aromas too --

In the study carrels, they put their heads down and snore up a storm.

Today, no lie, I passed a woman sitting in a study carrel and talking up a storm on her cell phone in the middle of the library.

Lady on phone: Yes, Uh huh. I told her she was gonna have to pay me that [expletive deleted] fifteen dollars or I was gonna bust her [expletive deleted] head. She borrowed that from me. Told me it was for her daughter's [expletive deleted] diapers. Said that as soon as she got paid, she was gonna come over and pay me back. Have I seen her? No? Do you think that [expletive deleted] ..... is coming over now? Oh no. She not telling me no more lies. When I see her, I'm gonna show her what [expletive deleted] happens when you lie to me.....
Yep.. in the library. That conversation.

*rolls eyes*

You know what else -- they have self service check out like Home Depot and Kroger. I now check my books out by holding first my library card and then each book and its bar code under a red light. It lights up like night goggles... I cover my stomach just in case its radioactive.

It's spooky. It's weird. It just ain't the library that I used to know.

BTW: I got nothing against homeless people, but you know if you are out of work, you could catch up on all those books you wanna read. I mean, I'm out of work, and that's what I'm doing.

I mean, you know what I'm sayin'?

BTW: Nan? I know that now they are called media centers, but you know, out here in the real world -- they are still libraries.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Brett Fauve

I don't follow the NFL much. I mean, I know it exists.

I understand football, and I appreciate it for its.... well, I appreciate it.

The NFL has changed a lot in the last ten years -- its fuller now of pump and pomposity and sometimes when I watch it -- I think of ancient Rome ---all that confidence -- all that "fight to the finish" mentality. The emperors/patricians in their sky boxes --- the plebeians in the stands with their gear -- and on the field------- the gladiators with their helmets, their armor, and their eyebrows?

[Russell Crowe -- man, do you remember his eyebrows in that movie?]


We watch the NFL at my house mostly because it looks good in HD. My husband doesn't really care that much about pro-football, but he does like the way it looks on his big-screen TV.

Hubby: Look at that, would you?
Me: Yes, dear.
Hubby: My TV is good, isn't it?
Me: Yes, dear.

That kind of love for the electronic takes a lot of testosterone.

BTW: My hubby has fallen asleep holding the remote.


Brett Farve....

Is freakin' nuts.

What was he thinking?

Forty year olds should not play in the NFL.

Each time he went down on the field [which we got to see over and over again], the camera would show his wife -- standing in the stands either covering her eyes or looking like she just wants to "smack" him for putting her through all this.

Lawd. Men.

Brett Fauve.

What were you thinking?

ETA: Brett Fauve played in the NFC championship game on Sunday night -- the Vikings versus the Saints. The Saints won -- in that game, Fauve went down, more than once, very hard --at one point, he was on a stretcher on the sidelines, in quite a bit of pain, and the trainers wrapped him up some more and he went back on the field. He was as gimpy as grandpa when his arthritis acted up...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eva Moves the Furniture

Mother dies in childbirth. Child feels alone. Outcast. Boom. Other world ghosts defend her from bullies, a sexual attack, and a bombing in WW2 London?

It's out there, but Margot Livesey makes it work in Eva Moves the Furniture.

Eva McEwen is the coming of age heroine in this novel of the real and the unreal. When her mother dies after giving birth, Eva's dad, broken by his young wife's death, and her mother's aunt raise Eva on a farm in Troon, Scotland.

One afternoon, two strangers show up in the McEwen's garden, a child of about eight and a woman. Over the years, the two, who can only been seen by Eva, make appearances in Eva's life --- their deeds, at first, seem helpful -- they clean her room or get the eggs -- then ambiguous -- the young girl throws rocks at a local girl who asked Eva over for tea. Eva, desperate for friends, is not sure she understands these mysterious beings' intentions toward her at all.

Are they protectors of her or imps of evil?

Never far from her, the companions, as Eva refers to them, even travel to Glasgow, where Eva trains to be a nurse, whose timely choice leads her to tending to the many injured soldiers of WW2. In Glasgow, Eva meets a surgeon, talented in the new medicine of plastic surgery, with whom she falls in love.

The story of Eva is a story of loss, rescue, and recovery.... Livesey writes flawlessy as she lets the reader uncover the fine line between the magic and the real and the living and the dead.

ETA: This is my second Livesey novel -- the first was The House on Fortune Street. Add her to your reading list. :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I have just finishied watching Smallville, Season 1, Episodes 1-4. circa 2001 -- so what if I am nine years behind?


I had never heard of Smallville. I have watched very little television in the last thirty years except for General Hospital and baseball. I gave up General Hospital in December of 2008 [dont' get me started -- it's a sore subject -- LOL], and I have actually not watched as much baseball in the last two years --- I miss Skip Caray.


But now, I have more time, and well, I am catching up on the last thirty years in television.

I actually sort of like Smallville even though I can't imagine watching it with commercials. Of course, I have gotten to feel that way about almost everything I watch.

When I saw John Schenider was in it, I kind of laughed -- he's an old Atlanta boy, and a "one hit" wonder of a pop song -- it might have been a country song.

He was in Dukes of Hazzard, which is simply embarrassing that it was ever a tv show, much less the fact that someone thought it was memorable enough to make it into a movie.

did so much for the stereotypes of the South[rolls eyes], and it was lame in its day. LAME.

Schenider plays Superman's daddy in this show. He looks kind of good... LOL

My favorite character is Lex Luger. I don't know why -- could be his bald head or his purple chair in the Luger Lounge at the Luger Mansion, it could be the way he has the best lines, or it could be that I have forgotten his real role to Superman. He's just all kinds of good in this...

The actor who plays Superman is certainly a pleasure to look at -- big baby doll eyes and a nice physique. I had to google him to find out who he was.

Of course, I love googling men...

I googled Smallville, and up popped the actor who plays Clark Kent -- Tom Welling -- and when I looked on their "official" site, I saw that he ages beautifully, but I was disappointed to see that it's Season 8, and Lex is nowhere to be seen.

*stomps foot*

Oh well, that's what I did today -- on this rainy Thursday -- I watched Smallville.

I love retirement.


Monday, January 18, 2010


As a teacher, I always envied those in other professions who took vacations at any time of the year. You know, pack your bags, tell your boss, and then vamoose .... off to exotic, warm places in the middle of January.

*le sigh*

Well, guess where I went?

Florida -- and it's in the middle of January


What a type of freedom..... have people always been this free? I mean -- like -- just going places and not having to make lesson plans?


David and I visited our friends, Laura and Joe, who always tell us how wonderful Florida is in the winter, so we headed down to capture some of that magic ---- last week.

I have never been to Florida in the winter for any length of time -- the last time I was here -- in between Christmas and New Year's - the weather was brutal -- cold, windy, and rainy. Not once did we get to the beach -- we stayed inside, burned wood, packaged and sold by Publix, and watched bad movies.

This time -- the weather cooperated -- two days of 71 and then 66 .... It was cool -- but sunny -- and gorgeous.

David and I walked to the jetty and back [about three miles] -- and it was winter solitude.

The sandpipers and other sea fowl gathered in packs on the sand, pecking at things or just having a meeting of the "bird" brains [which means it wasn't all that smart]. Their black backs and white underbellies of these birds contrasted with the gray of the sand. Their heads bobbed up and down like one had been preaching and the others were nodding "amen."

Because there was a wind, the sand was patterned like Berber carpet --- perfect wind swirls making delicate decorative arrangements. The wind blew strongly -- enough to barely lift a layer of sand granules above the beach and for it to dance and flit across the top like gossamer curtains.

The sky was a gray blue --- streaks of jet streams cut Vs across the cirrus high clouds, and the sun was to the right as it was setting behind the muted soft colors of the beach houses. The stratus clouds lay low over the ocean side, slightly dark .... the waves broke hard, and the wind picked up the spray from the waves and slung it left and right like a sprinkler, possessed.

The activity on the beach was light -- few walkers -- ahead of us a lone woman, gray long sleeve shirt, black beachcomber pants, and barefoot --- walking away from us -- her silhouette imprinted against the backdrop like the end of a movie or the cover of a cheesy, romance novel.

The sounds of the beach are loud --- the roar of the ocean paired with the numbing sound of wind --- so much noise that all other was muted -- David resigned to pointing instead of talking --- as he noted a sailboat or fishing boat on the horizon.

The beach is therapeutic -- it's a reminder to us -- that there is beauty, there is solitude, there is a God --- it is all around us. I now have time to notice.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Small Island

Just when I thought that I had read about every perspective on WW2, I came across Small Island by Andrea Levy, a novel that was the Whitbread Book of the Year in 2004 and shortlisted for five more literary book awards.

As always, I have no idea who recommended this book to me or if it was from a review, but Levy's depiction of Gilbert Joseph, Jamaican islander, who joins up with the R.A.F. to support "the mother country," is both poignant and hilarious. Levy is able to effectively present the Jamaican's disbelief that after serving in its military, the country is not interested in embracing the "black" man into their fold. It's not just the black men -- it's also the Americans.

{Who could blame that about the Americans? LOL -- we are totally jerks in this novel; she paints an ugly picture of our "cowboy" behavior.}

Set in London in 1948, Levy uses four voices to tell the story of the bombed out, yet proud British people, who were horrified at the onslaught of immigrants who sought England after WW2. One thing you have to say for the British as presented in this novel, their racism runs deep and not just along color lines. If they can't fight class, then they will pick their fights with nationality.

With a wry sense of irony, Levy depicts the displaced Jamaicans, Hortense and Gilbert Joseph, as well as the white British landlady, Queenie Bligh, who rents them and other "coloreds" a room, and the stories that surround -- including Queenie's husband Bernard, who disappears into the war.

Their voices give us clear background on their nature as well as their motivations for the decisions and choices they make. These backgrounds are thorough and well done. When you come away from Hortense's section or Bernard's section, you know them, and you know them well.

Levy's novel also travels many places -- the verdant fields of Jamaica, the grayed- out streets of London as well as the grisly details of the butcher's life, to the rioting streets of Calcutta where civil war breaks out -- and thousands slaughtered by the Indian police.

The story is part romance, part history, part anger, but all human -- Levy tempers it with humor.. just enough -- like vinegar to the fish and chips.

I love the title too!

I enjoyed. :) I have discovered a new writer.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Is that still supposed to be a rectangle?

It's the 14th of January, and it seems like I should be at a point of running out of stories from the family at Christmas, but I feel the need to post about Cranium and Pictionary.

Either of these games is amusing to me, especially since the Play-Doh (or the sculpting clay included in the Cranium game dried up the first year) is no longer a factor for Cranium.

I hated the sculpting because all I can sculpt are snakes. No one ever got those anyway -- and there was groaning galore when you drew a card that said "sculpt this," and it was bicycle or a tyrannosaurus.

Really. Cranium? Sculpt that? In a minute?

*rolls eyes and checks box for suggested age to play the game*

Cranium also has a category called Performer -- it means if you draw from those cards, which you have to do throughout the game, your choices are humming or Charades. These are hilarious almost every time.

For examples:

When my brother tried to act out baking bread....

or we had a Club Cranium, which is like an all play, -- and five different teams were humming "Wake me Up Before you Go-Go" -- well, that was a little like Dante. You know what I'm saying?

Aside: I mean, come on, Wham!? Weren't they the 80s and found to be lip syncing? No, that was Milli Vanilli.

Same thing.
Only not. I get them mixed up. It was the 80s -- a decade of music to forget.

Where was I?

Oh yeah.

There are also cards called Creative Cat which is the sculpting or drawing -- these are not the categorys (see Data Head and Word Worm) my family picks first, but it always has the most hilarious outcomes. We now draw everything since -- as I told you, thankfully, the clay dried up -- which was a type of divine intervention.

Unfortunately, sometimes it calls for you to draw with your eyes closed. In my family, having your eyes open when you draw is not really that much of a bonus.


You also have Data Head (facts and knowledge), and Wordworm (which is definitions, fill in the blank, spelling backwards or forwards) -- which my family picks when it has a choice, but when it doesn't have a choice, it ends up in Performer.

We're nerds, I told you that.

Cranium is a loud game, but we take as many people as we can cram into a room and go for it... {we actually invited in some extras for this night -- Daniel (a neighbor), Sarah (a favorite of mine), and Kristy and Robyn (my niece's friends and now, mine :)} .. so we circled the coffee table in the family room -- and laid out the game.

We had five teams of four --- Team Hearth (sitting on the hearth), Team Couch, Team Smart Girls, and Team Glenn (my team --- with my two nephews, James and Glenn, and Sarah) and Team Whatever (since they said that when ever they didn't win the card).


It was high energy, competitive, stressful, yet fun. One of the best things about the game is that when it's not your turn, you can talk within your group, but most of the time, you are distracted by all the thinking and mind draining facts or spelling backwards -- of course, unless there's a Performer Card being done -- then everyone watches so they can guffaw.

We were especially astounded on Team Glenn, when Glenn was doing a Charade of running up the steps and Sarah said, "Rocky," and then he made a face and she yelled "Rocky Horror Picture Show," and that was the right answer. We were on the same wave length that night, and we won on a blind draw by James of the White House.

Gawd. We were good.

Not to say the others were not, but we were good.

We played that game again on the last night -- this time I was on Team Couch, and we lost big time even though we did have the pleasure of watching Chapman jump up and down all bow-legged and firing his guns to demonstrate Yosemite Sam.

Team Smart Girls won that night --- they were all over the humming.
Team Couch -- not so much --- LOL

Last, but I got to blog about the Pictionary Game from Hell we played -- when all the cards that one team drew were All Play.

I thought we were gonna come to blows because this meant that we had to have a judge and a timer watcher because we would all scream "we got it," and no one knew who was first.

We had some serious stare downs before my sister-in-law stood in the middle of the room like a school marm with a stupid stick to smack us around, and she determined who was "first" in these -- after a while it got so ludicrous that we did more laughing than anything.

It would be like this...

The Team who got All Plays all the time would draw and then groan "it's an all play," and we would all laugh. They really thought the rest of us were cheating when we said our cards weren't. We didn't cheat, but I can't speak for the other Teams.... LOL

Pictionary has some funny dialogue too:

Player: What is that? Is that an animal? No, it's a hedge? Not a hedge? Is it a car? It's not a car? It's a sheep? Not a sheep. But aren't those legs? Leaves? Tires?

Another player: A rectangle? A rectangle on sterioids? A rectangle that is not a box. Is that a jack in the box? Is that still supposed to be a rectangle? Man, how did you do in geometry?

But my favorite moment came with Team Glenn when Stephen drew this shape, and I guessed "Indiana. No. Iowa" and it was right. (see drawing on left)

Pictionary -- a game for the masses, and we had the masses.

Family done.

For now.

Game Over.

Monday, January 11, 2010

After You've Gone

After You've Gone is the second novel I have read by Jeffrey Lent. The first one was a Civil War ditty titled In the Fall about a Vermont farmer fighting in the "War," and then returning to Vermont with a former slave, now his wife, in tow. Yeah, things were complicated.

After You've Gone relates the story of Henry Dorn, a college professor, who after his unsatisfying childhood, determines to rectify this by moving away from his home, Nova Scotia, and seeking other places to live. Don't we all like to run from our past sometime? Not necessarily a new idea, at all.

In the process, Dorn marries Olivia, has three children and settles down to live out that life in New York. Of course, when life is planned to be happy ever after, it isn't, and Henry receives the tragedy that sends him "away" from his life and to Amsterdam, where he takes cello lessons from a secretive Russian and meets the "independent" Lydia.

With that little plot summary, the story sounds rather ordinary, but it is Lent's chronological approach, his layering of Henry's childhood with Henry's adulthood, and Lent's beautiful descriptions that make this book a must read.

Blog note: The cover I downloaded was not the one on the book I read, and I this one is much more accurate to the book's content... as much as that is possible -- the one I read -- looked like it could be about anything.

Just sayin'.

Robyn: I tidied up the length for you.... :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fools' Ball: Tricklers, Robberies, and such

No. Fools' Ball is not a dress up affair.

It doesn't involve jesters and jokers.

It's not about costumes, fans, and corsages.

Fool's Ball is our family's name for Foosball.

The first time I played Foosball was in the 1960s at the first church my family attended in Atlanta, West End Christian Church.

It was in Cascade Heights --- and we left there when I was in elementary school. What I remember about this church is the basement where there were games set up for the youth to play -- one game was Carrom, a wooden box of a game with spinning tops, string, and hardwood pins to knock down --- and another of the games was Foosball.

The table was wood, the men were wood painted yellow or black, and the playing court was green felt. When the ball was hit into the goal, it emerged to a recessed bin on the side. I have no idea where the scoring was -- maybe we used an abacus.


I could never play it well because I was too young and too short, but I loved the wooden thwack noised the game made when the "older boys" made a goal.

Those teenage boys with their suit jackets off, their sleeves rolled up, and their ties loosened, huddled around the game like it was a pool hall, when it was actually just a church fellowship hall ---- some similarities, I guess -- minus the beer and the cigarette smoke.

The next time I saw a Foosball table was in college, and the whole nature of the game had changed -- the table was still wood, but a veneer, and the men were hard plastic in red or blue jerseys, and the plastic nature of the field made this game loud. Plastic men hitting plastic balls and going into plastic goals -- definitely noises of the modern generation. It was a craze -- folks played it for hours and hours and late into the night.

In college, I prided myself on becoming quite the Foosball player. I played defense, which meant I only had to handle three defensive men, as opposed to offense, which had nine. A guy friend of mine and I ended up in the championship round at a local fraternity house playoff. I think we won, but it was a long time ago.

*waves to Shoobie*

I loved the stress level of Foosball -- the sweaty palms, the hard thwack of the ball, the adrenaline pumping, the anticipation of stopping a goal, the jackked up nature of it all -- and of course, the victorious feeling of scoring from the goalie position.


Not a feeling I look for anymore -- any where.

Just sayin'.

I was quicker, younger, and, of course, more able to play that game than I am now.

When my sister ended up with three sons and no daughters, she bought them a Foosball table -- a game they ignored until they were teenagers. When they were young, I would go over there and make them play with me --- so I could show off my college form, but then one Christmas, when all my nephews were teenagers -- I couldn't beat them silly any more. They became competitive, able to play with one hand, and I got "outplayed." I hung in for a few games, but each year, they became better and better and stronger and stronger -- and I went the other way -- you know--- older.


Now the Foosball has morphed into some kind of raucous game at Christmas -- full of teams, tournaments, and yelling from the basement, and appropriately, renamed by my family to "Fools' Ball."

I mosey on down to the basement to play a round or two, but I can't hang any more. I can score here and there, but I can't handle the "level" of competition that it is -- when I have six nephews and two incoming in-laws who are male and stoked to play and win.

This year when I was playing a round or two with the "phews," I said, "I can only play goalie -- the offense is too many men for me to handle."

The phews: *snickers*
Me: This applies only to Foosball.
The phews: [behind their hands with much rolling of their eyes] Whatever, Aunt Harriett.

One night over the holidays, there was an especially wild game of Fool's Ball coming from the basement -- apparently, they made up their own little jargon for the level of Fool's Ball they were playing to much guffawing and yelling -- the kind you might hear at the pool hall or perhaps a sixth grade boys sleepover.

Huddling around the table, they made up names for the types of things that happen during the game.

The next day, I come to my sister's house, and on the dining room table were the remnants of a box, plastic covering, a huge ruler, black electrical tape, scratch paper, and pencils.

From the basement, the sounds of the game -- "thwack" and "thud" and much laughter as I heard one say, "put my score on the board."

These "phews" had taken a white board, some dry erase markers, and made up categories for the types of scores in Foosball, concocted totally out of their delusional, yet humorous minds.

"Estimated pieces of"

That sort of jargon and nonsense.

From now on --- the scoring will be tight and made note of --- and they put my name at the bottom of the board as a kind of.... memorial?

I dunno.

Meanwhile, Fool's Ball is over for this year, but next year, I'm sure it will be louder and full of chortles and jousting about... the object each year will be to score in each category.


And the girls -- what were they doing? They were upstairs -- two levels up --- trying on wedding gowns.

Same noises -- but no thwacking -- just ahhhhhhiiiinnnnggg.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Puzzle Maestro

When we traveled to Virginia to visit with my mom's family, there was always a puzzle for the children to work "if they got bored." Mine was the generation where it was not my parents' job to entertain me, but my job to keep myself from getting into trouble or in other words, "out of my parents' way" who had things to talk about.... we were the children, and we were treated as children.

My aunts and grandparents set up puzzles for us to work on a card table in the living room, while they gossiped and worried about "what the world was coming to" at the dining room table over coffee and dessert.

We were dismissed. To the puzzle table we went....

We worked puzzles of flowers, the Blue Ridge parkway, animals, and one I remember pretty readily of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of the God of the wavy, long white hair touching the finger of Adam. You know the one... the painting -- not the puzzle.

The puzzles were between 500 and 1000 pieces, as I'm sure they were increased gradually in increments as we got older and faster. I really don't remember working puzzles that were less than hard. We also worked puzzles more than once -- I mean, my parents and grandparents were the "Depression" generation.


So working puzzles is a family tradition that goes back two generations, and the way my nieces and nephews are progressing -- it will go one more.

We have a system, of course, and when there were four seats at a card table, we had equal access to the puzzle, as there were only four of us, but we would argue over who got to work the edge pieces, who got to sit with the puzzle directly in front of them.

The most vehement we got with each other was -- who had to work the solid pieces like the sky? Who had to fill in the blue? As I remember it, so many of our puzzles had huge areas of sky or grass or white snow capped mountains.


We are maniacs -- in case you haven't figured that out -- and once we get started on a puzzle, we will stay up all hours to work it, or bend over it till we can't move or are so stiff that we fall when we get up .. and we have aged .. not a pretty sight -- and, of course, our eyesight ain't what it used to be either.

We have lots of unwritten rules: If you get up, you don't necessarily get your same seat back or your same puzzle offense -- you know, you might have to work defense when you get back -- which means you get relegated to working the pieces that are all the same color. As long as you sit there and claim jurisdiction, say over the pieces that have the stripes, then they are yours, but if you get up --- it's musical chairs, puzzle version.

My oldest nephew, Chapman, has made it his mission now to purchase and bring the most difficult puzzle he can find. One year, he gave us a puzzle that didn't have a picture of what the puzzle looks like on the box -- so we just had to put it together.

Another year he bought one that was a picnic scene, but the perspective was from the bear hiding in the bushes. A perspective that also wasn't included on the box.

So, conversation sounded like this:

Puzzle Worker 1: Oh, that's a piece of fruit that's fallen from the basket.
Puzzle Worker 2: There's a basket?
Puzzle Worker 3: This looks like.... uh.... I have no idea what that is? Glass? Mirror? The lake?
Puzzle Worker 4: There's a lake?
Puzzle Worker 1: What fruit is black?
Puzzle Worker 4: Wait. There's a lake?

Aside: Using Puzzle Worker sounds so Communist... you know for the good of The Party and all..


We take puzzles seriously, and we like a challenge.

Now, there are so many of us [this year at one point 23] -- so many hands involved, so many seats pulled up to the puzzle table, that it is like working puzzles with the octopus family. Arms everywhere -- picking up pieces, examining the box, moving pieces around -- and the most annoying habit we all have ....

the *tap, tap, tap* of a piece fitted into the puzzle -- so that the whole table knows that you have placed that piece in....

Personal satisfaction --- made known around the table...

*rolls eyes*

This year, my niece's fiance, Bryan, was here for the second time with the family, but the first time with a puzzle.

It was probably the engineer in him as well as the competitive spirit, but he became a fanatical puzzle worker.

He camped out in the chair, refusing refreshments, and he worked like he was on the clock.

He studied the box.

He picked up a piece.

He studied the box.

He would stare at a piece.

Then with satisfaction would announce --- "this should go there" and promptly placed the piece where it belonged in the puzzle.



Acclimating himself to the family?


He, my brother, and my nephew stayed up to 3 Am one night "getting a jump" on a puzzle of Monet's "Lilies," a crack head's puzzles of greens, yellows, and blues that would send a normal person into fits of drooling and head smacking.

But this guy.....

He did get a little blurry in the eyes, a little territorial, but he was a maestro.

*tee hee*

BTW: We worked four 1000 piece puzzles in four days.. I'm sure that's a family record. So you know what that means -- next year -- we will need to do five.

And Honorable Mention for Being a Puzzle Worker: Angie

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Unaccustomed Earth

When I read the title for Jhumpa Lahira's collection of short stories..... I did not make the connection, but when I read the epigraph where she used a quote from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, I was grinning like the cat who ate the canary. :)

Aww. The Scarlet Letter.


The quote, taken from "The Custom House" an introductory chapter to the novel, references Hawthorne's family ties to Salem, Massachusetts, a connection that finds its beginnings in the late 1600's with his Puritan ancestor and leads to his great grandfather, a judge at the Salem witch trials, both men remembered "not for the good they did, but for the curse they incurred."

Hawthorne, embarrassed by his family's dubious history, believes the tie to Salem an unhealthy one and determines that his own children will "strike roots in unaccustomed earth." Thus, the connection to Lahira's short stories basic themes -- all of her characters are "unaccustomed" to America, especially the generation whose sons and daughters are unfamiliar and not necessarily desiring of their parents' cultural roots.

Unaccustomed Earth is divided into two parts: the first five short stories, unrelated to each other, the second three about two characters, Hema and Kaushik.

Lahira writes flawlessly about the Indian who finds himself living in America and liking it. Whether the character is a professor at MIT or Harvard, an arena that Lahira favors for her Indian characters, or a pregnant daughter displaced to Seattle whose widowed father comes to see her and warns her not to give up her day job, that of lawyer, Lahira's characters are successful -- professionals who succeed in American colleges and turn their backs on the homeland , even though the pull is there --- in favor of this one that they have grown "accustomed" to -- despite their parents' generation who scurry back to Calcutta to see "the family" -- to see "the roots."

Just because they are professionals, of course, does not save them from untimely deaths, alcoholism, betrayal, bad decisions, and disappointments --

Each of the stories paints the difficulties of living, despite the optimism of American culture, wealth, and convenience, and she layers (no pun intended) her stories with a focus on the preparation of Indian cuisine -- the table prepared for the lover who doesn't show, the cancer ridden mother who can only sip broth, to the prodigal son who ignores the meal prepared by his mother for a nip of beer or vodka hidden in his room. The food is a part of the story -- it plays, and when it's not savored, the reader is disappointed, for it has been prepared with such care.

The last three stories, overlapping, tell of Hema and Kaushik, two unhappy characters, whose lives intertwine.... a sad story of "what ifs" and "how comes" that resonate with all of us....

Lahira has the flair, the formula, the style, and the depth.

She is a writer who will hold up to time because she writes about what is real, what is life, what it is like to live and be uncertain even though we live in America -- the land where dreams can become reality if life does not mess it up.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Let's play!

I need to blog about my Christmas since our Christmas celebrations are really like five straight days of eating, drinking, playing games, working puzzles, and repairing/upgrading computers.

Yep. That's what we do. We love a gerund.

Blog lesson: A gerund is a verb used as a noun and ends in "ing." All of the above gerunds are objects of the preposition ... the preposition is of -- which according to old school teachers should never end a sentence, thus, the elongated unnecessaryness of this.

We don't watch movies. We don't listen to classical music. We don't take in a museum, go for a walk, or chat about philosophy....

The minute the relatives hit the door --it's -- "WHAT GAME ARE WE PLAYING FIRST?"

This year we had four days -- four 18 hour marathon days of highly and sometimes tense filled competitive games, some mental, some physical, some just lame.

My nephew's girlfriend Angie said, "When you come to the McDaniel's Christmas fetes [McDaniel is my maiden name] --- you either think so hard your brain hurts or you are so stressed out you think you will explode."

I'm pretty sure this was a compliment -- I mean, after all, what's not to like about that?

One of the first game we played was Mental, which was full of tension and competitiveness.

We broke up into pairs, [in retrospect we probably should have had larger teams] and there were seven pairs, sitting around the dining room table. A couple of these pairs were married, one was dating, and the others were random. I was teamed up with my oldest nephew, who is a great game player and more competitive than Tiger Woods. Well, that would be Tiger Woods pre- December 2009.

Wait. I'm talking golf here, readers.


The object of Mental was to look at four things on a list, and first figure out which one doesn't belong, and then figure out how the other three are related (according to the card), not necessarily according to logic or reason.

*tee hee*

Not a good start.

It was our first time playing the game, so the rules had to be read, and the writers of the rules were sarcastic themselves. Those writers of the rules for Mental had no idea who was about to play their game. They can't think all of their gamers are families like the Waltons.

No one in my family concedes easy to losing -- we do it graciously, but we don't do it happily -- and especially not a game that is about "challenging your brain."

Angie was right.

One of the first problem (established by the rule makers) was that you couldn't look at the card because the answer was at the bottom so the cards had to be read aloud by someone else.


Another problem -- there was this aspect to the game called "Steal" and "Challenge." With 14 people, that became a noise problem as well as "who's first at stealing" problem. Quite a few times I thought we could come to blows, and other times, tears.

Relative: I said Steal first.
Other relative: No, I did.
In-law: Neither of you did, I did... and then [blurts out answer].
All relatives in sync: Not fair! Not fair! New card.
Fiancee: I said "Steal" first.

And another problem ---- we thought that the answers were "dumb."
Imagine how that flew?

Relative: Those are so not types of muskets -- those are types of Civil War muskets.
Other relative: No technically, a Civil War musket used only this type of powder.
In-law: Who cares?
Relative: The powder was grown from .... [blah, blah, blah]

You see the problem. Lawd.

And one thing I noticed is that Mental was for the young -- you had to be quick to get the answer right to which of the names did THE WHO not sing under.

Boom. Chicka. Bow Wow.

Card example:

Honeysuckle Rider
April Dancer
Pussy Galore
Holly Goodhead

The one that doesn't belong -- April Dancer --- the others have being Bond Girls in common.

That's how the game was played, but remember, this was an easy one.

How bout this one?

Grand Canyon
Green Mountain
Pine Forest

or this one


Huh? Do those and get back with me. No cheating.

There was much infighting, bickering, and glaring around the table.

It was Family Reunion Gone ---- Get the Gun, Mabel, I'm gonna have to shoot me an in-law

We played about ten rounds, and folks were yelling "STEAL" on top of each other, arguing over what the three had in common, and down right like an MTV reality show where all of us were holed up in a room too small for us and told to PLAY NICE.

We finally said, "NO MORE OF THIS GAME," and Mental was taken off the play list for the rest of the days.

Then we went to calmer games like Pass the Pigs to decompress.

"Double Razorbacks"

"All I ever do is pig out."

"She stealing my pig mojo."

"21." "24." "30" Pig out! {expletive deleted}

"There must be something wrong with me that I can't roll a leaning jowler."

That's more like it.

Upcoming Blogs:

I Can't Go to Bed Before I Finish this Puzzle
Fools Ball
Windows 7.0 Upgrade: YOU LIE.


Pictionary Marathon aka "Is this another all play? All Groan."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Monkey Blog

When I pass along the idiosyncrasies of my family, my friend Laura always says, "Great blog material."

Laura reads my blog and will feed me ideas: Monkey Butt powder, the people she sees at Wal-Mart in her home town, and of course, her own personal stories. :)

Monkey Butt Powder fell by the wayside once we learned that men know about it, and we women don't cause we have no need for this "powder," thus, since "monkey butt" is a real affliction ----it is not quite as funny.

So scratch the monkey butt blog -- no pun intended. :)

I know that sometimes when I put the word "monkey" with any other word, I go all giggly, as does my husband, family, and numerous friends. What is it about "monkey"?

One time at my niece's graduation from high school in Colorado, my former student Jess [who had relocated there] was chatting it up with my nephew Chapman, and they were discussing literature.

Me [aside]: Yes, literature. They have similar interests and sense of humor. They got all in a giggle fit over Celebrity Jeopardy [from SNL), and kept laughing and recounting those episodes. Then they segued into this ....

Jess: I just finished reading "Monkey Nuts" by D.H.Laurence.
David: Bwhahahahaha.
Jess: No, it's a story.
Chapman: I've read it.
David: *chortles* Monkey Nuts? Bwhahahaha.

"Monkey Nuts" became a kind of line that was said over and over between us when the conversation lagged. We would say, "Monkey nuts," and then laugh all over ourselves. The others around us just thought we were being sophomoric.


Maybe we were.

Anyway, David and Chapman still say "monkey nuts" when they see each other and go into all kinds of laughs and giggles.

Last year, the game we played at Christmas was called Jungle Speed; it hadn't been brought out for play for five minutes before it was renamed "Monkey Spit" to much chuckling.

This year, David received his own "stuffed" monkey -- accompanied by one of his gifts. When he unwrapped the monkey, the whole family burst into laughter.


Cause it was a monkey......


Lunch duty and 2010

Four years ago I was sitting on lunch duty in the 45 degree hallway (not my name) at KMHS and guarding the door. Very much like Cerberus without the bonuses.

Lunch room duty is really what teachers will do who go to hell. If Gary Larson had been a teacher, he would have drawn the cartoon to mimic it.

For the first nine years of my teaching career at DCHS, the school was on a traditional schedule, and the coaches had one less teaching assignment (which was good for the students -- heh), and they did lunch duty. I don't think I stepped into the cafeteria at DCHS more than a few times the whole time I taught there.

My first years there -- they had a "smoke hole" -- also new to my world, and they were smokin' more than cigarettes. What can I say -- it was the 1970s -- that decade invented "disco." Need I say more?


DCHS was separated into many buildings, and it was rare for me to have a reason to step out of my "language lair" to go anywhere. When I had to travel to the math building, my palms would sweat. Math gives me rickets.

At my next school in Cobb County, I had floater duty in the lunch room, which was three flights of stairs down from my classroom and on the bottom floor.

All teachers had some kind of lunch duty -- but I mostly was a floater. The administrator on duty most of the time, Dr. Short, always said, "keep moving, keep moving," and if you didn't, he would make eye contact with you and make this little circular motion with his finger. I would walk and walk -- and that was back when I wore high heels to work. I used to plan my wardrobe thinking of lunch duty and the shoes I needed.

Dr. Short was a formidable administrator -- strict, unforgiving at times, but by the book. We used to call his little mantras "Shortisms." He was the old-fashioned kind of administrator -- a no nonsense, note taker, who paid attention to the rules. Every school needs one, and he was ours.

*waves to Dr. Short if he is out there*

If there was on good thing about being on lunch duty, it was that I had interesting conversations with teachers from other departments.

One teacher of the gifted lived in stream of consciousness, and all the stories he told me were "in medias res." I never completely understood him, but I found him downright entertaining.

Another teacher would crack me up -- as I passed him "Floating," he would tell me these outrageous stories about the kids he taught -- most of who had behavioral disorders. His world was so different from mine, and his humor, which was grounded in what was best for his kids, was legendary. He and I exchanged quite a few guffaws on that duty as we "kept moving" about the cafeteria.

It was on this lunch room duty that I saw a brutal fight that caused me to almost faint.... one child pummeling another to the level of blood splattering. It was real, and it was ugly. I had never seen such a level of punching.....nor that much blood except in the movies. I was weak kneed the rest of the day, and I had to be escorted back to my classroom. I turned, apparently, a white color that lacked confidence that I was "okay."

One year, I spent most of my time hanging around a table of students and exchanging wisecracks. I would walk, and by the time I got around to them, they were on to something else. They were hilarious in the way they passed time at lunch --- sucking down the jello, making up limericks and poems, building strange shaped animals with their tin foil, or seeing if they could laugh hard enough to make milk come out their noses. Uh, yeah, it was high school -- what can I say?

Somehow I gave you a history of lunch duty when I all wanted to do was tell this story:

But guarding a door from the cafeteria to freedom [in the eyes of the students] is different than floating -- even though, I wouldn't stand in line for either job no matter the health benefits. :)

I was doing my job on this particular day for this particular duty -- you can imagine -- watching five duty stations at once -- both restrooms, the students standing immediately outside the cafeteria on the patio, the students standing directly in front of me, checking hall passes from the classroom hallways to the cafeteria and vice-versa, and the two doors of which they could escape at any minute.

Absolutely the worst hall duty a teacher could draw -- unless it was standing in the traffic circle and directing the students from the student parking lot. For that duty, you better have an updated last will and testament.


So, as I stared and pretended to be all evil and "because I said so" with students that I only saw while on duty, I looked out at the patio at a table of students. One student stood, and I read his t-shirt -- on the back it read --- "Class of 2010."

Self: Class of 2010? Are you kidding me? I am in the future.

I don't know what it was about that number four years ago that sent me into a kind of contemplative apoplexy -- "OMG, it's the future," but it did. That number sounded so Aldous Huxley, Twilight Zone, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, so.....Douglas Adams that I did make the sign of the cross and filled out paperwork for retirement.

When I think of 2010, I think of that day -- when I had my epiphany -- my moment -- my understanding that ...... it's now -- we are the future, and I think I liked the past a little better. I was younger and thinner ---

Happy New Year and all that....

Cartoon -- New Yorker