Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bells will be ringing...

When you are cold, your sense of time becomes unnervingly acute. My son and I spent two hours ringing bells for The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign on Friday. Temps were in the teens, and the 9-mph wind gusts sent the cold right through us. The wind even knocked over the kettle.
My son took four warm-up breaks in the store, coming back outside with heat packs, candy bars and a  Mountain Dew. I offered him some of the heat packs I keep in the car during winter, but he preferred buying his own. I'm sure that had nothing to do with the pretty girl on the checkout lane he kept using.

Most people who scurried by us did not seem have a giving spirit. Perhaps they just wanted to get in out of the cold. Those who did give warmed our spirits. One woman said times have been tough, with her husband out of work since 2008. That did not stop her from emptying her change purse into the bucket. It both pleased me and gave me hope for younger generations when several teenagers stopped to donate. One woman rushed past, and I figured she must not have heard me compliment her stylish plaid pea coat. A few minutes later, she pulled up to the bucket in her SUV, rolled down the window and poured all the change she had into my mittened hands as her little white dog wagged its tail at me from the passenger seat.
My favorite part of bell ringing is when children give. One little boy dropped in a quarter after his two little brothers did.
"You better take good care of that money," he solemnly said.
I assured him that we would.
Another young boy looked over his shoulder at me like I was crazy and asked: "What are you doing, standing out in the cold?"
"Raising money for a good cause," I replied.
And it is a good cause. While I do not like the way The Salvation Army discriminates against gay people, I continue to volunteer as a bell ringer because I remember how that organization stepped up to help when a community I care about suffered a devastating flood. I don't have a lot of disposable income to offer to good causes. My time is my most valuable resource, and I'm happy to use it.
I'll be ringing the bell again next year, but I may first consider my son's request to either ring earlier in the season or at a store that allows bell ringers in out of the cold.
By the end of our shift on Friday, I didn't have to think about ringing the bell. My constant shivering  kept the bell jingling.
Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Protecting children should be a parent’s first priority

My column from March 29, 2008

Evil exists in this world. Proof can be found in the epidemic of stories of parents who kill their children.
There is a funeral this weekend for a family of six in Iowa. In Iowa City on Monday, a woman and her four children were found dead in their home. Police believe her husband, recently indicted on federal charges of stealing $560,000, beat his family to death with a baseball bat before killing himself by driving the family minivan into a concrete pillar on Interstate 80.
Last week, a 28-year-old man in Georgia killed his son and twin daughters before killing himself. His son was 3 and his daughters not yet 2.
Last month in California, a man shot his wife, a stepson and his three children before turning the gun on himself. The stepson survived. Police believe it was a domestic violence situation that escalated into murder-suicide.
Last year in Alabama, a man shot and killed himself in front of his estranged wife at her mother’s home during what should have been a custody exchange. She found the body of her 6-year-old son in the man’s car. Her other two children, ages 11 and 4, were clinging to life with gunshot wounds to the head and later died. The man and woman were in the process of divorcing and the the day he killed himself and his children would have been their 12th anniversary.
Last March, in Bedford, Ind., a man killed himself and his 8-year old daughter by slamming his small plane into his former mother-in-law's house. He allegedly told his ex-wife before the crash that he had the girl "and you're not going to get her."
In 2006, an Illinois man killed his two young children by throwing them off the 15th floor of a hotel in South Beach, Fla., and then jumped to his own death. The mother told police she and her husband had been having marital problems, but that the family had been celebrating the couple's 10th wedding anniversary.
Last August in Melbourne, Australia, a man pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder. He allegedly killed his three young sons in 2005 to make his estranged wife suffer “and hate Father’s Day all her life.”
The problem is not limited to fathers. Too many mothers have killed their children. I cannot begin to fathom how a mother could harm any child, especially her own.
Andrea Yates killed her five children in a case that haunts me to this day because her two oldest sons looked so much like my own. Susan Smith drowned her two young sons in 1994. In 2004, a woman smothered her 10-month-old daughter with a stuffed animal before stabbing herself.
Too many more examples of filicide — of a parent killing a child — can be found by doing an Internet search, but I don’t recommend it. The stories will haunt you.
Financial problems and depression led to some of the deaths, but most seem to be related to child custody disputes.
Love has nothing to do with these cases. It has been replaced by something ugly and selfish, an “If I can’t have them neither can you” mentality.
If winning over your ex becomes your prime objective, everybody loses. I guarantee that your children will ultimately pay the price.
I can appreciate the frustrations of dealing with child custody issues, as I share custody of my son. It is not easy, especially when you have to spend a holiday without your child.
In covering police news in Randolph, I see too many reports of child custody disputes where one or both parties have contacted the police to help resolve the problem.
There are no easy answers or solutions to prevent the loss of innocent lives. Requiring people to go through rigorous mental health evaluations and pass parenting classes before being allowed to have kids is not feasible. Family court systems need more funding to employ people to serve as advocates for children in custody cases.
If you are going through a divorce or dealing with custody issues, grow up and don’t let your kids be caught in the middle.
If you know of someone in a child custody case who makes threats of violence or suicide, please take the threats seriously. Urge them to seek counseling and alert the proper authorities who can take steps to intervene. Don’t be a bystander when innocent lives are at stake.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Wishing can make it so

 From Jan. 29, 2005

It began with an E-mail from my mother last Tuesday and ended with me removing an item from my wish list.
“Let me know if you're in Cambria or close by some night. Grandma sent a gift for you and I would like to get it to you soon. You'll be VERY surprised...”
Mom had just returned from an extended weekend up North, spent with her parents. I called her that night to try to find out what the gift was, but she refused to tell me, insisting that it had to be a surprise given in person. All she would say was “It’s something you’ve always wanted.”
My father and I had been planning for over a month to go to a basketball game together that Friday, and I had no plans to head to Pardeeville before that.
The next call almost had me out the door though. It was my sister. Mom had called her and spilled the secret. Living up to the stereotype of the annoying little sister, she had to needle me with the knowledge that she knew what the surprise was and I didn’t.
“Don’t let them get your goat” is a bit of sage advice. As Dad puts it, my sister learned long ago where my goat is tied. But that’s a story for another column.
“They’re taunting me,” I said to my son.
On Wednesday I tried again to learn what the surprise was. This time I used my not-so-secret weapon. What grandmother could resist the entreaties of her only grandson?
I put my son on the phone with her. Surely he could weasel the information out of her. She was too wily for that trick, though, only offering another cryptic hint:
“The note with it will make you cry. I didn’t even know she owned it.”
Friday finally arrived, and weather conditions were less than ideal. My parents called to find out if I was still going to come over.
Of course I was. I HAD to know what the gift was
Driving in a snowstorm is no obstacle for a Yooper. We’d never leave our homes in winter if we couldn’t handle some flakes blowing around.
“Where is it?” were the first words out of my mouth when I walked in my parents’ front door. Mom made me wait in her bedroom with the door shut while she went to get the gift, which was still in the garage.
It wasn’t a patient wait. As soon as I was given clearance, I was out the door and down the hall in a flash. Waiting for me in the living room were two plastic tubs, filled with books. Very large books.
It was the Oxford English Dictionary, a 13-volume set, grandma purchased it in the early 1970s.
Anyone who read my column on Jan. 8 will remember that I outed myself as a word geek who coveted a copy of the OED.
Mom was right, the note did make me cry. Grandma was considering leaving the set to the college library, as she didn’t think anyone in her family wanted it until she read my column. Mom had brought copies of my last few columns up North for Grandma to enjoy.
I called my grandmother to thank her for such a lovely gift. She’s a retired English teacher, and knowing that we share a love for words and the evolution of language makes the gift even more special.

Having a way with words

From January 8, 2005

A Yooper university makes an annual contribution to the evolution of language. Lake Superior State University, on the far eastern side of the UP in Sault Ste. Marie, releases an annual list of words and phrases that need to be banished.
Known as the “List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-Use, Overuse and General Uselessness,” it is put together by a committee at the university from nominations that come in from across the country. Written with tongue-in-cheek humor, this year’s list banishes phrases like “I approve this message” and Trump’s abuse of “You’re Fired.”
Political terms like battleground state, blue state/red state, and flip-flopper were also targets for banishment.
To view previous lists or nominate a word or phrase for banishment, visit
LSSU was established in 1946, as a branch of Michigan College of Mining and Technology (known today as Michigan Tech, my alma mater) to make room for returning World War II veterans. Lake Superior State College became autonomous in 1970 and developed into Lake Superior State University in 1987.The list began as a publicity ploy for little-known school in 1976.
This year’s list is the 30th annual. Proving that math isn’t a strength for English majors, I had to pause to think about that. 2005 minus 1976 seemed like 29 to me, until I counted it on on my fingers.
Another puzzler for me was why the Associated Press had DETROIT as the dateline in a story about the banished word list.
Anyone who looks at a map will see that Detroit is a fair bit south of the Soo, and you have to cross a bridge to get there. Just another example of the lack of respect given to Michigan’s better half.
Lake Superior State University is also known for its annual snowman burning ceremony to welcome the return of spring and for issuing Unicorn Hunter licenses.
Words fascinate me, and I enjoy learning about evolution of language and the origins of words. I’ll wish Latin had been offered as language choice when I was in school.
Looking up a word in a dictionary can be dangerous because I may not stop at one word. My dream addition to my book collection is the complete Oxford English Dictionary. It is a 20-volume set with over 22,000 pages and costs $995. lists the COMPACT version of it at $248.85.
I know that my desire for something that would be a few month’s rent completely outs me as a word geek. I subscribe to an e-mail list that sends me a word of the day to tide me over until I own a copy of the OED.
E-mail seems to be killing off the more formal, written letter. Universal Letter Writing Week begins today, Jan. 8 and continues through Saturday, Jan. 15.
Take the time to write a letter to someone you know before letter writing becomes a lost art. While I have a file saving special e-mails, I don’t treasure it as much as the box of cards and letters I hold on to. I still have cards sent to me from my paternal grandmother, get well cards from my second grade class when I missed school to have my tonsils out and a special valentine. I have even kept copies of letters I’ve written, which is easy as I usually only type longer letters so the recipient can actually read it.
The use of email and on-line options to pay bills are hurting the United States Postal Service. It is the only government agency that relies on its own revenue to stay in business.
It was recently announced that there may be an increase to the cost of postage soon. My initial reaction was to complain, but then I thought about it for a minute. A first class stamp cost 10 cents in 1974. What was the cost of a gallon of gas, a loaf of bread, or a gallon of milk that year compared to what we pay now? Sending a letter is a bargain.

A Colorado Christmas

From Dec. 25, 2004

My earliest memories of Christmas include time spent at the “Farm,” my grandparents’ home on a former dairy farm nestled between two hills. The driveway is long and steep, and sometimes hard to drive up in the winter. The fields surrounding the house were ideal for sledding, and so was the front yard. Snow would fall off the roof in front of the kitchen window and pile up high enough to give us a great start for sledding through the yard, across the driveway and into the raspberry patch. Wet hats and mittens were left to dry on a radiator at the bottom of the stairs and the fireplace was always going to warm us up.
The back hill was home to antennas and towers for the local cable company. The tallest tower had a blinking red light. When I was very small, I believed it to be Rudolph’s nose.
While living in Colorado, my family made a few trips back to the U.P. for Christmas at the Farm. For two holiday seasons, though, we tried to bring the magic of a Christmas spent as a family to the mountains of Colorado.
And we succeeded.
Rather than spending the holiday cooped up in our apartment, my parents rented a cabin in Marble, Colorado. Once a prosperous community home to the workers of the nearby marble quarry that gave the town its name, in the late 1980s, Marble was practically a ghost town. Marble from the quarry was used to make the Lincoln Memorial, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and many other buildings and monuments.
The cabin was big enough to sleep twelve, so my parents invited other members of the family to join us. Aunt Laura came from Denver with her family and Uncle John from Colorado Springs with his daughter. During our first year there, Aunt Mary from Spokane joined us; and on our second visit, Aunt Carol flew in from Germany.
The cabin had electricity, a telephone, running water and a full kitchen. What it did not have was a television.
And we didn’t miss it. We brought all of our Christmas presents, a live tree, decorations and food with us. We even brought our cat, Riley, who kept us up one night as she chased a mole through the cabin.
Days were spent hiking, skiing at a nearby resort, sledding, shopping expeditions and exploring. Evenings were spent talking, playing games, reading next to the fireplace, cooking and eating.
That part of Colorado has many natural hot springs. One bubbles up along the banks of the Crystal River, down the road from Marble. Locals build up a pile of rocks around the springs to make a pool, with a little river water allowed in to make it a comfortable temperature. Many bathe there in nothing at all, but we opted to wear swimsuits when we tried it.
Being outside at night, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, is an experience I will never forget. The warm water may make you drowsy, but the dash back to the car in winter air wakes you up in a hurry.
On Christmas Eve, we attended a nondenominational midnight service, complete with candlelight and singing many of our favorite carols.
To be able to get away from it all for the holiday, and share the experience with those you love in such beautiful surroundings makes for a magical Christmas.
May yours be as blessed.

Rediscover your sense of whimsy

From Sept. 22, 2007

While cleaning out a desk drawer in my office on Wednesday, I came across a package of crayons, a box of 16 with a few colors missing and one or two half-melted crayons. A wave of nostalgia swept over me, for the days when a coloring book and a box of crayons could keep me happily occupied.

In my childhood, the biggest box of crayons I ever owned was a 64-pack. I always coveted the 96-crayon box, so when it came time to buy my son his first box of crayons, that is the size I purchased. Now that my son is in middle school, crayons have dropped off the list of school supplies needed. Scented markers were apparently never “cool” for a boy to have, so I haven’t had fun with those since I was in elementary school.
My son has been the recipient of a lot of toys and gadgets that remind me of my youth. While someone can never be too old for Play-Doh, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him use it. Opening a can for that distinctive, familiar smell and squishing and rolling it around in your hands is soothing, better for you than squeezing a stress ball. Silly Putty works too.
Last Christmas I found a metal Slinky in my stocking, a joke from my sister to replace one she had bent out of shape years ago. It found a home in my son’s room. Most card games can be found on computers today, but I still have a few packs of cards around. My sister and I spent a lot of time playing games like War, Old Maid, Go Fish, and variations of solitaire, our favorite being clock solitaire. Rubik’s Cube was big in my childhood, but I could never solve it. My son has one, and we still haven’t lined the colors back up.
What I could use was the Rubik’s Snake, which could be contorted into lots of shapes like a dog, a duck, a swan, a telephone, and various gun shapes. My specialty is the ball, which I can still create in less than 20 seconds, even if blindfolded or holding the Rubik’s Snake behind my back.
I once loved building blocks, especially Legos, so naturally my son has tubs of them. Sadly, I seem to have outgrown building fanciful structures and cars with blocks. Instead the blocks bring out my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and I find myself compelled to sort them into piles by size, shape and color. My son finds this habit useful when he’s picking up his blocks.
From time to time, I think we need a little play therapy, an escape from reality back to pursuits that made us happy. We need to embrace our sense of whimsy, and take delight in simple pleasures, like coloring or playing with childhood toys and gadgets. If there’s a bottle of white glue handy, you can rub some glue onto your fingertips, let it dry and then peel off your fingerprints.
It’s just as important to take a nature time-out and watch butterflies, hummingbirds or fireflies, or lay back and stare up at the sky, watching for falling stars or trying to spot shapes in the clouds. I don’t do it often enough, but it’s fun to spin until I’m dizzy and then try to run. It usually ends with me collapsing on the ground in a fit of giggles.
I think brainstorming meetings would be more productive and creative if the first five or 10-minutes was spent coloring, playing with play dough or clay or even tying up long strands of yarn or string to play cat’s cradle.
Last fall, I tucked away a few fallen leaves I picked up during a walk, to have a reminder of my favorite season when winter seems to drag on. One leaf remains after a year, and it has been sitting on my desk. On a whim, I pulled out a crisp sheet of white paper, dug into the rediscovered box of crayons, picking out autumn colors, and made leaf rubbings. In a few minutes I was done, but the sense of peace and calm I enjoyed afterwards lasted much longer. It fired the creative spark that made this column easy to write.
Find a way to recapture your sense of whimsy, taking delight in the small moments that make life magical. Remember the importance of play, even if it is just for five minutes.

PC police hit Santa 'Down Under'

My column from Nov. 24, 2007.  I was tickled when my editor let me get away with the headline, which he called the best he had seen all year.

The use of politically correct speech or labeling language as politically incorrect has haunted us for a few decades now. Some changes to the way we use the English language are for the better, and some border on
the ridiculous.
On the off chance that someone is not familiar with the terminology, politically correct describes language, ideas, policies, or behavior that is used to try to avoid offense to identity groups. Politically incorrect is used to refer to language or ideas that may cause offense.
I usually appreciate the trend to have more gender equality in language, but draw the line when people want to make a substitution like “herstory” in place of history.
Calling a member of the fire department a firefighter rather than a fireman makes sense to me, as firefighter more accurately describes what his or her role is. Chairman has been replaced by chair or chairperson, the old-fashioned hairdresser has been replaced by hair stylist, and secretaries are now assistants. Blind and deaf have been replaced by visually challenged and hearing impaired. People are not handicapped anymore, they are physically challenged.
I don’t see the point of calling someone “economically unprepared” when poor or low-income would work just as well, or “alternatively schooled” instead of illiterate. Humorous attempts at political incorrectness swap vertically challenged for short and follically challenged for bald.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote an excellent column about how calling something politically incorrect often is a cover for a phrase or word that is just wrong.
“Language should let you say what you mean,” wrote Pitts. “But if what you mean is mean-spirited, we ought not diminish that by calling it simply ‘politically incorrect.’”
So, while politically correct language serves a purpose, society needs to draw a line somewhere.
Recently, Australia was in the news because the trend to be politically correct has run amuck in the land Down Under.
The PC police there have gone too far. They’ve gone after Santa.
Those who leave treats for Santa Claus and hang stockings to be filled should remember that Santa is a very busy guy this time of year. Getting ready for Christmas is a full-time job, so he delegates his public
appearances to doppelgangers who help him spread the Christmas spirit.
This is why an Australian company supplies over 550 Santa Clauses to shopping centers and other venues in that country. This organization has gotten some bad press because of reports that it trained its Santas
to replace “ho, ho, ho” with “ha, ha, ha.”
It would seem that the traditional Santa greeting is considered politically incorrect because “ho” could be offensive to women. I’ve never thought of it that way, and can’t imagine that any young child would understand what “ho” is a euphemism for.
A company representative said that the true reason it has asked Santa to use “ha, ha, ha” instead is because kids could get scared of a deep voice calling out “ho, ho, ho.”
Young children being freaked out during their first encounter with jolly, old St. Nick are common. Most families probably have video or photo coverage of a kid cringing or even screaming on poor Santa’s lap. It's a rite of passage, really.
Perhaps we should also come up with a new word to replace the one used for a garden tool for chopping off leaves. I’m sure Santa is having a big, fat belly laugh over the issue.
Santa’s troubles may not be over. The obesity epidemic may soon make Santa a target for the wellness police. They’ll want to give him an image makeover and have people leave him healthy snacks rather than milk and cookies. We may soon see a trim, buff Santa.
I think he would be justified in leaving lumps of coal if he doesn’t get his cookies.

Kitchen chemistry

From April 19, 2008

“Has trouble following directions” was a comment found on some of my earliest report cards. I blame my overactive imagination and tendency to daydream more than the my sometimes contrary nature. When the situation calls for it, I can follow directions, though I don’t like being told what to do and have a tendency to dig in my heels in certain situations.
When it comes to cooking, it is very rare for me to follow recipe directions to a “T.” If I’m cooking something new, I look up recipes for it in multiple cookbooks or on the Internet, and then cobble together a recipe of my own. I’m the kitchen equivalent of a mad scientist testing a new formula, but instead of a lab coat, I sport an apron. Some experiments yield success, and others are abject failures.
The only recipes I don’t fiddle with are ones that I already know produce excellent results, like the caramel brownies recipe from the mother of my childhood best friend, or any recipe from my grandmother.
While I love to cook and try new things, the hustle and bustle of everyday life doesn’t leave a lot of time to experiment, and the limited counter space in my kitchen doesn’t give me a lot of room to maneuver.
In December, I first tried an Italian Cream Cake made by The Cheesecake Factory for a warehouse store. The combination of delicate cake and rich marscapone cheese filling was divine. I sampled the cake again in late January and was inspired to try to make it on my own.
My cookbook shelf in the kitchen overflows with books and recipes I’ve snipped out over the years that I wanted to try. Most have yet to be tested or tampered with, but I recently came across a recipe for “Lemon Tiramisu Cake” that looked similar to the Italian Cream Cake. I decided to whip it up.
It was a great opportunity to use my copper mixing bowl, a birthday gift from my parents after I watched “Good Eats” on the Food Network. Alton Brown is a fun source for cooking advice, and copper bowls are supposed to great for beating egg whites. As the daughter of a former copper mining engineer, I tend to favor anything made of copper.
Following Brown’s advice to use three bowls to separate eggs, I soon had cracked the six eggs the recipe called for. After allowing the eggs to come to room temperature, I poured the whites into the copper bowl with a pinch of salt and a bit of cream of tartar and broke out the hand mixer. Gradually adding sugar, I soon had a bowl full of glossy peaks that reminded me of winter snowdrifts in my backyard on a sunny day.
The yolks, vanilla extract and flour were folded into the meringue. The recipe also called for lemon extract, but I don’t keep any in the house, as my inner food snob turns up her nose at artificial flavors. My spring-form pan, greased and lined with greased wax paper, was soon filled up with a light and luscious batter.
The cake rose beautifully, and I soon had it cooling on my wire rack while I worked on the filling, making it with marscapone cheese and lemon curd. The recipe also called for whipped cream and ricotta cheese, but I substituted light cream cheese instead. It also called for a lot more powdered sugar than I was willing to use.
My parents raised me to appreciate the natural flavor of things, especially when it comes to whipped cream. We use sugar sparingly, preferring to taste the cream, not have it be something so sweet it makes your teeth hurt.
When the cake was cool, I cut it in half and slathered on the filling. The remaining lemon curd was used as a glaze for the top of the cake, and then I dusted the cake with powdered sugar.
The results were delicious, if not quite right just yet. Next time I’ll obey the recipe and use cake flour instead of just sifting all-purpose flour, and I’ll add some lemon zest to the batter. I think I’ll also reduce by half the number of yolks the recipe calls for. Perhaps instead I can use the yolks while trying to make lemon curd from scratch.
My usual preference for cake is chocolate, though I have made banana cake and love my mother’s oatmeal cake. Still, there is something delightful about this recipe with its cheesecake-like filling. It fits the season, the perfect cake for spring, light and delicate with a rich, lemony filling.

Inspirations strikes to no avail

My column from Nov. 28, 2008.

My grand career ambition as a high school freshman was to be a novelist. I didn’t aspire to write the Great American Novel. Instead, I wanted to pen mysteries and romance novels. Working as the editor of my high school newspaper had me considering journalism, but the true allure there was to be accepted at Northwestern University because I’d become smitten with its campus. A great writing class in my junior year gave me a new aspiration - to be a poet.
Reality eventually set in and family moves and financial constraints had me opting to start my college career at a community college, with the intention of becoming a high school English teacher. Then life led me to Michigan Tech, where I switched majors to technical writing.
After five years of technical writing and too many months of unemployment in a poor economy, I found myself working as a reporter.
While I miss the challenges, work environment, regular hours and nice compensation that came with working as a technical writer, it wasn’t as fulfilling creatively as writing features stories and this column. And while I worked with some great people as a technical writer, this job introduces me to people from all walks of life who allow me to share their stories.

To my editor’s dismay, a looming deadline seems to help my writing process and I tend to cut the deadline pretty close. Writing for work and the little bit of writing I do for my personal blog soak up most of my creative juices.
So here I am, five and a half years later, with no burning desire to write fiction.
I’m hoping to tackle a non-fiction project, if I can talk my grandmother into tracking down a journal my grandfather kept in the late 1930s. My goal would be get the the journal typeset, and then do some interviews and research to help learn more about who my grandfather was and a cross country journey he took to share with the generations of his family that never had the chance to know him.
What I really miss, though, is poetry. When I was writing it, it was a form of therapy, but in the last six years, I’ve probably written one poem. I have countless notes jotted down when inspiration for a poem struck, from a hike along waterfalls on the Presque Isle River in the U.P., to a bike ride an an autumn day through the cemetery near my house. Not one of the notes have gone beyond scribbles - thought fragments and descriptive words I want to use.
I don’t care if I’m ever a published poet, but it is a form of self-expression that I miss, to paint a picture with words to capture a moment so vividly that reading it takes me back there.
There are so many other things to do between motherhood, work and the vagaries of life and I lack the discipline to take the time for myself. So the piles of scribbled notes for potential poems grow, cluttering up my head until the day arrives when I unleash it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Flowchart to my heart?

Cleaning out my email accounts (keeping busy with small tasks is one of my biggest crutches when avoiding writing) and came across an email from OkCupid. It compiled a flowchart of “the path to my heart” to find out if I would consider dating someone through a series of questions: 

Do you read 12 or more books each year, beyond any required for school  or work?

Would you ever consider being with someone who demands complete control over everything you wear?

Who will be responsible for cooking the meals and cleaning the house? Assume you both work.

Do you believe that women should be allowed to serve in the military in a front line capacity? (i.e. infantry, etc.)

Would you consider living with a partner who does not want any pets?

Kids are?
- Fun
- Taking attention away from me
- The Future
- Annoying

Do you find glasses on the opposite sex attractive?

Debt brought into a marriage should ...
... remain the responsibility of the individual.
... become shared debt.

You are interested in someone, and you discover that they were a nerd in high school. How does this discovery affect your opinion of them?

Would you rather that, when you meet your partner, he/she is complete and happy without you so you can be complete together, or would you rather they were incomplete so that you can come along and complete them?

You are at a busy event when you come across a child who appears to be lost, alone, and distressed. How do you respond?

What would you think of a romantic prospect who uses childish language when being affectionate?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

If I could have one (or more) wishes

Two years ago, I shared a holiday wish list

This year, faced with a Christmas that I won’t be spending with my sister (for the first time in her lifetime), and an edict from said sister and my mother that we not buy presents for the adults in the family, but instead give to charity (something I do anyway, but whatever) I am putting together a greedy, me ME ME! wish list, similar to my epic letters to Santa Claus. While the power of positive thinking did not give me winning lottery numbers, perhaps putting my wish list out there will send some good fortune my way. Here it is, from the ridiculous to the achievable.
PS - This is by no means a blatant, pathetic attempt to score gifts. I was inspired by this:

A house on Lake Superior – either somewhere along M64, Misery Bay or on the Keweenaw Peninsula. I’m not picky.

A place where I could create the Elemental Directions garden I’ve been growing in my imagination for years.

More seasons of “Firefly” and “Freaks and Geeks.”

Having Nathan Fillion follow me on Twitter.

A reunion with all my favorite Fishbowl friends.

The opportunity and resources to puppy-sit  my puppy sisters.

A system like this for storing my paperback books:

Something like this in blue (and safe) that I could donate to a certain school district:

A personal trainer/chef who looks this
to help motivate me into better shape.

Sweet-talking my favorite romance authors into letting me interview them for a story about why the world needs romance.

A gift certificate for one year of acupuncture treatments.

“Linda Craig and the Search for Scorpio” by Ann Sheldon. This is a very rare, out-of-print book. Someday it will be mine.

This makes leftover pizza taste like it just came out of the oven.

 A better way to grind my beans:


These to stomp around in at the office:

I’d be happy with just a wee dram of this:

 And chocolate.

Happy Holidays!
What do you want for Christmas?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Trixe Belden was my first fandom

*Written in 2006 for The New Atlanta, a community for fans of girls fiction on LiveJournal. (Also, I wound up buying the first 10 books in the series for the school library. Hope it gave some other child the chance to fall in love with the series.

Trixie Belden was my first fandom. 
My love for the series sparked my need to collect books, and may even have been responsible for some of my childhood crushes.
In the summer of 1982, I was becoming a voracious reader. I was going into third grade, and the town library was across the street from my house. The librarian had a limit on the number of books a child could check out, and she began making an exception for me, if only to keep me from making more than one trip to the library in a day.
My mother bought two chapter books for me, a series about a girl detective. The books were “The Haunted Mansion” and “The Red Trailer Mystery.”
Being a horse crazy girl myself, I immediately empathized with Trixie’s yearning to learn to ride and be around horses. Trixie seemed so real to me; she was impatient, resourceful, loyal and brave. Trixie’s quick thinking when her brother Bobby was bitten by a copperhead enthralled me. My reaction would have been more similar to Honey’s.
After reading and then re-reading the first two books, I set out to get more. The town I lived was too small to have a bookstore, but I could sometimes find Trixie Belden books in neighboring communities. I saved up my allowance to purchase them, or would list them on my birthday and Christmas wish lists.
I loved how the friendship developed between Trixie and Honey, and how their personalities complemented one another. There was something about each character in the Bob-Whites that made them come alive for me. Like Trixie, who disliked math, didn’t like doing her chores and often made false assumptions, none of them was perfect. From Jim’s quick temper, Dianna’s shyness, Honey’s phobias, Mart’s teasing Trixie and being a know-it-all at times, or the way Dan (a sadly neglected character) seemed to brood, the characters seemed so real. As for Brian, I can’t remember any faults for him.
I tried and developed a taste for strawberry soda after reading the book where Trixie arranged to have Mr. Lytell carry it at his store. I’ve tried a number of times to make a burger the way the books described “Moms” making them. When Trixie and company explored the land around their homes, it reminded me of my own adventures exploring my grandparents’ dairy farm, and the hills and woods surrounding it.
Jim Frayne was my first fictional crush. Looking back, I have to wonder if my affection for that character was responsible for me falling for the red-headed, freckle-faced boy in my fifth grade class.
Though I used my allowance to buy books as I found them, often begging for an advance to buy more, the series went out of print before I could complete the series. Now, with the Internet as a resource, it would have been fairly easy for me to complete the series. In the late 1980s, though, I had to scour used bookstores and yard sales, looking for the last 11 books I needed.
It wasn’t until 1992, when I was in a used bookstore in downtown Duluth, Minn., that my search came to an end. I found the children’s section, and there was a shelf full of cream and gold books. There may have been squealing involved as plucked from the shelf the titles I needed. I was walking on a cloud for the rest of the day.
At one point, I’d read the books so many times, that if you covered up the numbers on the covers, I could still put them in order by title.
Though my collection is complete, (except for the two mystery quiz books), I still can’t resist buying Trixie Belden books when I see them in stores. I stockpile them to send to friends who share my love for the series.
In the last 10 years, I’ve met more than a half dozen people who love Trixie Belden as much as I do. The Internet has introduced me to even more.
I’ve re-read a few books in the series a few times as an adult. Now I can pick up a few phrases that date the series, but I still enjoy them. Reading the series again is like going to a reunion of old friends. I have read many titles in the Nancy Drew series, and though I liked them, Trixie has my loyalty. She was closer to my age when I started reading the series, and her imperfections made her more real. Nancy Drew was like the Barbie Doll of girl detectives.
My love of mysteries with a female detective continues to this day. I also collect the Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski series. Veronica Mars has become one of my favorite television shows, and her spunk, uncanny ability to solve a mystery, and close relationship with her father remind me of Trixie.
When the Trixie Belden series was re-released in hard cover, I coveted them. Rather than buying them for myself, though, I purchased the first three and donated them to my son’s school library. Perhaps some young girls will discover Trixie there and a new generation of Trixie Belden fans will begin.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Remembering Kathy...

My son and I drove down to visit my Aunt Kathy on Mother's Day in 2009. I made her a Lemon Chiffon Cream Cake and enjoyed spending the day with her. She remained in my thoughts, and I spoke to her again a few weeks later after I used another aunt as a courier to deliver one of Kathy's favorite pizzas. 
Cancer took her from us in July. Writing this helped me heal. I finished it in September 2009.

Still missing you, Kathy and thinking about you, especially today...your birthday.

Looking to the North
It still does not seem possible that someone so full of life is no longer here with us.

We can accept the reality of our loss and find comfort in knowing Kathy’s pain is gone. We have faith in believing she is surrounded by the loved ones who passed before her, but it is still a loss that is more than our hearts can bear.

Kathy was a survivor. One of my favorite memories of her remains the time she flashed me after her mastectomy and reconstruction. She wanted to show me that breast cancer could be survived. I miss the gleam in her golden eyes, her smile and her laugh.

She is my favorite aunt, and I don’t think anyone could begrudge her that title. She was everyone’s favorite because of her love for her family and friends. She lived a life full of good food, chocolate and potent potables. I love sharing her love of reading and cooking. We love her for her sense of humor, her passion, her patience as a teacher, and the home she created that became the southern outpost of The Farm for her extended family.

Kathy was a marvel. She did not mince words...she spoke her mind. I was in awe of the older sister who could keep my mother in line.

A Christmas tradition at The Farm was the pool tracking everyone’s estimate for when Kathy and her family would arrive. It was something to make the time speed by because we so looked forward to seeing them and digging in to her fabulous cookies.

Last summer, while staying in Ironwood, she helped haul firewood. She would not let her diagnosis slow her down when there was work to be done. She was quick to lend a hand to those in need.

Kathy was an amazing mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend and a teacher until the end. She showed us how to live and love in the face of adversity. She tried to hide her pain by making us laugh and smile. Kathy’s grace, her spirit and her courage inspire us.

Her final lesson was to teach us how to face the final step in this journey of life — how to die. She passed away while surrounded by love. Who could ask for more?

Kathy’s obituary said that she was the rock of our family, but she was so much more than that. The North Star is a constant in the night sky. It is easy to find, and helps those seeking direction, guiding the lost home.

Kathy is our North Star.

We have only to look in our hearts and memories to find her. We can continue to seek direction and learn from the lessons she taught us. When it comes time for our journey to end, we may take comfort in knowing that she’ll be there to help guide us home.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Favorite Romance Authors

In my Internet wanderings, I came across a list of Top 100 Romance Books. I toyed with the idea of posting the list and bolding the books I read and enjoyed. That morphed into creating a list of my favorite romance novelists, and I stopped myself at 25.

1. Jude Deveraux — I first read her book, “Velvet Angel” when I was in middle school, and fell in love with the Montgomery family. It remains a favorite, along with “The Raider” and “The Awakening.” Her best book, though, has to be “A Knight In Shining Armor.” A woman with an asshat of a boyfriend gets abandoned on a trip to Great Britain. Crying in a church, she is startled by the appearance of a man in armor. She introduces him to the 20th Century, and finds a way to go back in time. The last few pages still haunt me. I recommend skipping anything Deveraux wrote after 1992.

2. Julie Garwood — A friend in my high school first introduced me to Garwood’s books. I love her historical fiction, especially anything written before 1997. Try “The Lion’s Lady,” “Guardian Angel,” “The Secret,” and her Rosehill series, especially “Come the Spring.” She mostly writes contemporary romance/thrillers now. I don’t like them nearly as much.

3. Judith McNaught — I’ve been waiting for years for McNaught to release a new book. I think only Lisa Kleypas comes close to her talent for writing both historical and contemporary romances. My favorites are “Paradise” and “Perfect,” followed by “Until You” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” I think “Double Standards” is my least favorite, and “Whitney, My Love” has a scene that many critics consider to be the “hero” raping the title character.

4. Kathleen Woodiwiss — It’s been years since I’ve read her books, but she remains a favorite, mostly because I know my father read one of her books once when he needed a break from his studies at MTU.

5. Johanna Lindsey — Her Mallory family series is utterly divine. Some of her books set in the Old West can be skipped. Some of her stand-alone stories featured Fabio on the cover, which makes me giggle. “Silver Angel” and “Captive Bride” were good books.

6. Georgette Heyer — I’m a newcomer to the Heyer, but quickly fell in love with her Regency romances. My favorites include “Devil’s Cub,” “Lady of Quality” and “The Grand Sophy.”

7. Julia Quinn — I first read her book “An Offer from a Gentleman.” While it was essentially a re-telling of Cinderella’s story, the richly-drawn characters and poignant and funny scenes riveted me. It turned out to be the third in her series about the Bridgerton Family. “When He Was Wicked” remains my favorite Quinn book, but I’d be hard-pressed to rank the rest in order of how much I enjoyed them.

8. Lynn Kurland — I chose “My Heart Stood Still” as one of my selections when joining a book-of-the-month club. Absolutely fell in love with the plot – part ghost story, part time travel and heartbreaking romance. Her romance books continue to delight and enchant me, and they would be safe to let a younger girl read.

9. Mary Balogh — I read a few of Balogh’s Regency books, but really fell in love with her stories when I read the “Slightly” series. Her “Simply” series is fantastic too, but my favorites remain “Slightly Dangerous,” “A Summer to Remember” and her novella, “A Matter of Class.”

10. Jo Beverley — The first book I remember reading by her is “Something Wicked,” and I devoured the rest of the books in her Malloren family series. Her Company of Rogues books are good too, but my favorite titles are “My Lady Notorious” and “A Lady’s Secret.”

11. Stephanie Laurens — My first introduction to Laurens came from reading “On a Wicked Dawn.” I fell in love with the rest of the books in her Cynster Family series, and my favorites are “All About Love” and “The Perfect Lover.”

12. Lisa Kleypas — I first read “Someone to Watch Over Me” and did not really like it. Then I discovered her Wallflowers series, and absolutely loved them. The Hathaway Family series is especially engaging. Her contemporary books, especially “Blue-Eyed Devil” are also good.

13. Diana Gabaldon — I love Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, featuring a nurse who travels back in time from WWII to the mid-18th century. I love the epic tale of Claire Randall and her love, Jamie Fraser, in a story that spans both centuries and continents. Champing at the bit for the next book, not due out until 2013.

14. Celeste Bradley — I read the first book in her Liar’s Club series and loved it, and also liked all but one of her “Royal Four” quartet.

15. Eloisa James — I wish I could remember the first book by her that I read. I love her Essex Sisters series, and “A Duke of Her Own” is my favorite, and the best of her Desperate Duchesses series.

16. Constance O’Day Flannery — I first read her time travel romances when I was a teen, and my favorite remains “Timeless Passion.” It follows a woman from a modern day, pre-Katrina New Orleans to just before the Civil War. Most of her novels have a paranormal element to them. I also loved “Once in a Lifetime.”

17. Sabrina Jeffries — Her School for Heiresses series was delightful, especially the letters between headmistress Charlotte and “Cousin” Micheal. I’m also enjoying her Hellions of Hallstead Hall series, and the Swanlea Spinsters books were fun, too.

18. Gayle Callen — Her Sisters of Willow Pond trilogy was marvelous, and I liked the latest trilogy, featuring three women and a scandalous painting.

19. Suzanne Enoch — In “Twice the Temptation” she ties the storyline of her contemporary heroine with a story from the past. Her “Sin”quartet and Lessons in Love trilogy were excellent too.

20. Karen Hawkins — I love her St. John Talisman Ring series, but “Her Master and Commander” and “Her Officer and Gentleman” were simply outstanding.

21. Jacquie D’Allesandro — Her Mayhem in Mayfair series is a delight, and I’ve enjoyed her other books. And she’s fun to follow on FB.

22. Bertrice Small — I read “Skye O’Malley” and loved it and most of the saga that followed. I also loved “The Kadin” and “Love Wild and Fair.”

23. Liz Carlyle — “No True Gentleman” was fabulous, but I like most of her books. Especially ones that include George Kemble.

24. Gaelen Foley — I first read a book in her Knight Miscellany series, and especially love “Lady of Desire.”

25. Elizabeth Boyle — I adore the books in her Bachelor Chronicles.

Special recognition…
Phyliss A. Whitney who wrote “romantic novels of suspense,” and whose books I devoured as a teenager.
Victoria Holt’s books were similar to Whitney’s, but mostly set in Great Britain.
Eva Ibbotson’s book “The Countess Below Stairs” was sweet and heartbreaking.
Marissa de los Santos’s book “Love Walked In” was marvelous.
One of my favorite books is now "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." I often re-read the last 10 pages when my spirits need a lift.

Monday, January 2, 2012

My 2011 Reading Wrap-Up

I struggled to read this year. I still lack focus, and it seems that fruit flies have longer short-term memories than mine. Books usually serve as my escape, an armor I slip into to shield me.
There are some things in life that you cannot hide from, though, and heartaches and loss that strike like an armor-piercing round.

I finished 169 books in 2011, the lowest number since I began tracking the books I read in 2007. It dropped my average from 202 books a year to 195.

By the Numbers
Total: 169
Number of books that I'd read before: 46
Non-Fiction: 7
Mysteries: 26
Romance: 76
Sci-Fi/Fantasy: 17
Young Adult: 16
Anthologies/Short Story Collections: 8

I tried a few new series in 2011, a few that I’ll stick with and a one or two that I’ll skip. I discovered Casey Daniels’ “Pepper Martin” series because they are set in Cleveland. Those were fun. Molly Harper’s “Nice Girls” series involves a librarian turned into a vampire. It shares similarities to Mary Janice Davidson’s Betsy the Vampire series, but the main character in Harper’s series is more likeable.
Here are six books that stand out from 2011:

“River Marked” by Patricia Briggs
The latest in her Mercy Thompson series about a woman who works as a mechanic in the Pacific Northwest and shape-shifts into a coyote. Start from the beginning with “Moon Called.” Briggs’ “Alpha and Omega” series is connected to this one and also worth reading.

“A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah E. Harkness
Very hard to put down, with intriguing characters and a fast-paced stoyline. It’s the first in what will be a trilogy. The next book comes out this summer.

“Candy Freak ” by Steve Almond
An addictive look at not only candy, especially chocolate, but the industry that produces it and the little Mom and Pop-type places struggling to keep their brands alive.

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
Another book that is hard to put down, and one that I was sorry to finish. Loved the characters and the intrigue of it.

“Just Like Heaven” by Julia Quinn
Quinn’s writing creates characters vividly brought to life in books that make me smile, laugh and cry. A wonderful romance.

“Falling Together” by Marissa de los Santos
The author is also a poet, which comes across with her lyrical writing style. I enjoyed this book, but not quite as much as I did her novel “Love Walked In.”

Honorable mentions
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards, “Ghost Story” by Jim Butcher, “I am Half-Sick of Shadows” by Alan Bradley, “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline, “All Roads Lead Me Back to You” by Kennedy Foster and “The Mark of the Golden Dragon” by L.A. Meyers.

The Meyers and Bradley books are the latest in young adult series, and a lot of fun to read. Butcher's book is the 10th or 11th in his Dresden Files series.

I highly recommend this website if you want to learn the order of books in a series.

I plan to limit the books I re-read in 2012. The few exceptions will be the first Stephanie Plum book before the movie comes out in January, and the fourth Spellman book before the new title comes out by Lisa Lutz. My 2011 resolution was to not buy books, and that lasted until March when I was stranded at O'Hare for six hours and ran out of things to read. This year, I'll limit myself to one new book a month, and if I buy more than that, I have to get rid of two books for every new one purchased. I also hope to read more non-fiction in 2012.