Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, one and all

Me and my tree have just a moment to say MERRY CHRISTMAS to everyone who stops by I Woke Up Thinkin' to read and comment. 
I read dozens of blogs, and I've been blogging since 2002 (starting with my first blog, Common Sensibilities). I'm never less than amazed at the quality of writing, the range of subjects, and the dedication to updating this still-new way of publishing.
Here at Thinkin' Central in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we've been slip-sliding through an ice storm and its aftermath, so I apologize for the spottiness of posts.
Stay tuned!
Bloggers and readers both, thank you! Have a wonderful holiday.
(Oh yes, that is my Christmas tree.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lavender in winter

If in summer
As I walk by
I can run my hand lightly
Along the tall spike
Covered with small flowers,
Releasing the sunny scent
Into soft air; it
Clings and lingers on my fingers.

Today I shuffled by
On ice-crusted sidewalk,
To find pale leaves buried
In last night's snow,
Bracts stiffened, color gone;
My gloved hand reached out--
To grasp only the faint memory
Of fallen flowers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

About Winter

Oh anybody could write a bad poem, but some days you just need to read a good one. It's about hope:

The Darkling Thrush

by: Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

      LEANT upon a coppice gate
      When Frost was spectre-gray,
      And Winter's dregs made desolate
      The weakening eye of day.

      The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
      Like strings of broken lyres,
      And all mankind that haunted nigh
      Had sought their household fires.

      The land's sharp features seem'd to be
      The Century's corpse outleant,
      His crypt the cloudy canopy,
      The wind his death-lament.
      The ancient pulse of germ and birth
      Was shrunken hard and dry,
      And every spirit upon earth
      Seem'd fervourless as I.

      At once a voice arose among
      The bleak twigs overhead
      In a full-hearted evensong
      Of joy illimited;
      An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
      In blast-beruffled plume,
      Had chosen thus to fling his soul
      Upon the growing gloom.

      So little cause for carollings
      Of such ecstatic sound
      Was written on terrestrial things
      Afar or nigh around,
      That I could think there trembled through
      His happy good-night air
      Some blessèd Hope, whereof he knew
      And I was unaware.
You've got to love a poet who can combine both "The Century's corpse outleant" AND "Some blessèd Hope" in the same poem.

Seemingly, so little reason to sing--yet still he does. Still he does.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

About snow blowers

Astrological winter may not start for a week or so, but meteorological winter started December 1. 

Given the little snow storm that I drove home in tonight, winter has settled in beautifully, and intends to linger long.

And if I dislike -- nay, why sugarcoat it, loathe -- any kind of cold weather, the first site of flakes stirs a different kind of feeling in the men of my neighborhood.

Those flakes stir a love, an excitement, an anticipation among the menfolk here on Hearthstone Drive. Also, a competition that rivals the lawnmower wars of summer. 

It's a time to break out the snowblowers.

Honestly, I think the guys on our street, at the first hint of flake, glue themselves to window and weather radar, just waiting for that 1/16th of an inch coating they need to justify gassing up the snowblower and having at it on the driveway.

What is it about these things the guys love so much? Is it the satisfying roar of the engine at the turn of a key (or pull of a recoil starter)? And I mean roar. Is it the lurching thrust of the engine as the throttle is engaged and the monster takes off? Is it the graceful arch of said snow as the auger-thing sucks it up into the funnel then blows it into oblivian? Is it the site of of the newly cleared sidewalk, now safe for humanity to traverse?

I don't think so.

Rather: Is it the my-blower-is-bigger-than-yours competition, as evidenced by the covert looks given each other as snowblowers compete, driveway by driveway, seeing who can be done first?

Because the first one done then takes the responsibility of any sidewalk not already blown, any neighbor's driveway not already cleared, and any left-over patch of cement unfortunate enough not to belong to anyone.

It's like a fast-motion marathon of snow clearing, that begins at the first flake and doesn't end until the last wisp of wind has whipped the drifts to snowy peaks.

Because when you start with the first flake, one pass is not enough. Oh no. There's nothing better to a snowblower owner than a two--or even a three!--pass snowstorm.

The guys have all been out tonight--you can hear the noise on every side of the house. Radar looks like it's going to keep up most of the night. I'm guessing not one guy in the neighborhood is going to sleep well tonight--they're going to want to be up extra early tomorrow.

There's nothing like the roar of a nine-horsepower snowblower in the morning.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

About stringing words together

Night flurries

White out of blackness;
Driving through the snowy night;
Stars fall at warp speed.

School play

Rows of fresh faces;
Today they are eleven,
And sing without guile.

The tree

Pick out a good one;
Next place the lights, carefully;
Top with a bright star.

Friday morning

Sound of the alarm;
Another dark morning comes--
Motivation lags.


If I say I want
This, but you decide to buy
That--I won't be mad.

Full moon

Sharp through the skylight,
Moonlight falls on your face;
Ghost on the pillow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

About the three stages of belief

I have no memory of believing in Santa Claus.

I don't mean I never believed--I may have. I just don't remember the belief. My first memories of Christmas Eve involved listening to my parents wrapping gifts and putting stuff together.

Plus, I don't think either of my parents were big on the myth. My mom, especially--she liked taking credit for the pile of presents under the tree. A child of the Great Depression, she loved that she was able to provide her four kids with the toys she never had. She loved being Santa.

I do have a hazy memory of being taken to talk to Santa, who was holding court while stuffed into a cold, little hut in uptown New London, in front of the Ben Franklin store. I didn't have much faith in the conversation, but I was okay with sitting on the jolly old elf's lap for a second with my brother and sisters. Might was well cover all the bases.

Last night, we attended the Christmas concert of the community band Angela plays in. Santa always makes an appearance during the intermission, talking to the kids and handing out candy canes.

So it was interesting to observe the reactions of the three kids we were with.

Julian, at 11, is well into the age of reason, and fully cognizant of where the presents come from. However, while he had no desire to talk to Santa, he did come down to the aisle to sneak a peek at Big Red Guy, and pick up a candy cane.

Caroline, who at a very pragmatic 5 you'd think would be in prime Santa territory, surprised us all by refusing to have anything to do with the process. She's not usually scared of anything, but she's developed an aversion to guys in red suits and stayed put in her seat.

It was Taylor, so intense and sensitive, who was more than ready to queue up with the other kids, sit on Santa's lap, tell him her request (a Dora vanity, I think), and gratefully accept the candy cane offered her. She even posed for pictures with Mr. Claus.

Julian has faith that his parents will fill his stocking on Christmas--he thinks he no longer needs Santa. Caroline must sense that Santa is not entirely who he says he is--she needs to hold back and assess the situation, but she knows that somehow there will be a package under the tree for her. Taylor is buying the whole deal--at three, she truly believes; her face as she talked to Santa was innocent and trusting.

Watching them, I realized I could connect with how each of them reacted to Santa--Julian's practicality; Caroline's reticence; Taylor's exuberance. It's representative of how individuals react to Christmas, isn't it? For some, it's a long to-do list; for others, it's something to avoid; for a few, it's a time to accept and rejoice.

As the band played the Hallelujah Chorus, and we rose to our feet, I could only hope that we could all be a little more Age Three at Christmas--accepting and rejoicing, exuberant and even innocent:

|: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|

|: For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
|: Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! :|

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
|: King of kings, and Lord of lords, :|
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
|: King of kings! and Lord of lords! :|
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

--by Georg Friedrich Handel

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

About John Milton

Today is John Milton's 400th birthday, and if most of the world does not know or care, it's slightly comforting that some do.

Because when you are an English major, John Milton is very important, and when you have a good teacher explaining him to you like Hermine van Nuis, he even becomes accessible.

There may be some who would read Paradise Lost outside of a classroom--I wouldn't be one of them. But when it's for class, and for a grade, and ultimately, for your degree--you crack open the book and start reading. And thank God for an instructor like Dr. van Nuis, who helps you make sense of it, by taking it all apart so it means something, then putting it back together, so it's poetry again.

How long did she lecture on just these opening lines?

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav'nly Muse,that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa's Brook that flow'd
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.

So there's the whole thing he's going to attempt--just the fall of man. Just a little light reading for the weekend.

I wonder what Milton would have thought of what we do here, online--blogging, Twittering, updating Facebook and MySpace? Would he embrace it, or be abhorred?

Milton was totally blind when he began writing "Paradise Lost". He was 50. I'm going to remember that the next time I'm casting about for something to write about, or lamenting my lost youth and all the words I did not write.

For this is our journey, too:

The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.

Happy Birthday, John Milton!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

About an ode to cell phone talking

(Apologies to John Keats)

O thou unravished bride of ringtones,
Thou foster-child of minutes lost,
Obsidian recorder of my spent time,
Flowery conversations less stately than this rhyme.
What mythical tale has come to thy ear,
Of husband or daughter or friend held dear,
In car or home or grey-walled cubicle?
What whacky people these? What friend gone nuts?
What errand gone mad? What struggle to escape?
What radio rhythm? What wild ecstasy?

Unheard conversations are sweet, but those heard
Drive you crazy. Therefore, keep thy conversations to thyself.
Not only to my ear, but to those
Fair friends, caught in cars or office near, who cannot leave
Thy voice; nor ever can that story be ended;
Bold talker, thou can never shut up
Though my hand hovers near your mouth;
Yet for this interruption I cannot grieve;
Volume cannot fade, for thou has not thy bliss
Forever wilt though talk, and me overhear!

O rectangle shape! Fair little keyboard!
If only men and women would text,
With quick fingers and quiet mien,
Thou silent form! Nothing teases us out of anger
As dost a hang-up. Dear reader, that's cold.
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of our communication,
So this, face to face, to thou I shall say,
"Shut up! or I shall throw that ******** phone into tomorrow" -- that is all
I need to say, or anyone needs to know.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

About thanking Bossy

Because I was thinkin' it would be nice to be on her blog, and I got an early Christmas present! Me, on her blog!

[Just added a snip of her main page (left) with COULD IT REALLY BE ME? featured.]

Also, I must quote my co-worker Amanda, who spotted me on Bossy, and send me an email about it, proclaiming, "You are a freakin' celebrity."

Does that make a Tuesday awesome, or what?

If you're not already reading Bossy, you should be, so start now:

Monday, December 1, 2008

About how Christmas comes

Christmas come quietly
Turn the calendar page.
Christmas come slowly
For children and their wishes.
Christmas come busy
Too much to be done.
Christmas come quickly
Full weeks fly by.
Christmas come softly
Carols on the stereo.
Christmas come tasty
Cookies in the oven.
Christmas come sadly
Missing you.
Christmas come anxious
Family dysfunction.
Christmas come tiny
Little kids' eyes.
Christmas come green
Tree twinkles in the window.
Christmas come bright
Lights on the houses.
Christmas come on TV
Grinch and Rudolph.
Christmas come presents
Did I choose right?
Christmas come stressed
Spent too much.
Christmas come empty
Lost the Christ.
Christmas come sweetly
Children being good.
Christmas come loudly
Noisy party.
Christmas come crowded
At the mall.
Christmas come peaceful
Midnight service.
Christmas come whatever
For whatever, Christmas comes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Passing through Fitchville

This small town, it's so little,
There's not even anything worth hating--
If you were so inclined--or loving, either.
You can't miss it, though;
Pay attention where the highway splits,
Go west to New London,
Or south to Mansfield,
Or straight, into the Vermilion River.
You won't be in Fitchville long,
Regardless; you would have passed
The American Legion, that big old barn
Just north of town.
You'll not have stopped in the cemetary,
Not your turn to take a place beneath
The big pine trees on the hill.
Don't take the right that leads past
The elementary school, no longer used,
Where once children shouted at play.
The white Methodist Church waits for
Sunday, austere and empty.
Only across the street, in the point made
By SR250 and Fitchville River Road
Is there life--gas station and mini-mart,
A modern marvel of convenience. Need anything?
No need to stop at the smallest rest stop
In Ohio, a wide spot to park and picnic.
Whoever stops there, anyway, ever?
Just pass on by, over the bridge
And past the turnoff to Ashland,
Fly right through your past.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I found on West County Line Road

So I hustled down Covington Road, 
Right brain still sleepy,
Left brain full of to-do and on-the-agenda,
NPR turned up too loud,
Neal Adams too eager to tell me the new bad news,
Me too weak to say no.

Take a left on County Line and
Not much traffic this morning.
Some mornings this too-skinny, too-rolling, 
Country road is a drag race, quick
And dangerous. I've fantasized
My death here. Probably a head-on.

Whitley to the west and
Allen to the east, when
It's summer and sunny the
Light streams in and out of my car, as I pass 
Additions, the little woods past Aboite Center,
Then a white fence casting long, uneven shadows
I chase before me.

November days, through, start
Late and end early; twilight visits
Morning and night. The stratus clouds
Hang so low, they simply
Morph into the mist that
Ghosts over the fields on the Whitley side,

Fields spare and yellow-brown, newly shorn, 
Somehow almost alive under the slightly shifting,
Strangely clear, silver light that this morning brings;
How far away the sun seems, far as forever--
Still, even as these few miles of County Line Road
Pass by, both counties lighten, west and east.

My little car slows and somehow the radio's off.
No one's around. The light gathers and grows,
And I roll my window down. It's cold.
I watch the field for a moment, breathing slowly,
And with the mist, a small quiet slinks inside,
Here on a hill just past Liberty Mills.

Inexplicable, still -- 
Light and quiet --
That's what I found 
On West County Line Road
One Monday morning
In November.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

About the rhythm of a Monday

You wake up and for a moment
You don't remember just who you are,
Or maybe where you're at,
Or maybe just something you don't want to.
And then -- oh. yea.
A great gathering happens,
--It might take a minute--
And you roll
Out of bed and into your life.
Before you know you're cleansed,
Baptized for the day,
And in the car, and here's a half hour
Free for contemplation and horror
Eyes wide open to what lies ahead.
Just Monday, sure, sure, just
One more Monday in a life's calendar
Of Mondays and all they can bring, or not.
So you take those thirty minutes and
And sink into some Monday place
Where you mix one part anticipation
With three parts regret and
One part ennui. Shake and share.
But your cubicle neighbors have
Stirred their own cocktails and
Want you just to keep to yourself.
Which you do.

But we're a strong, resiliant, stubborn,
Foolishly optimism, terribly forgetful people, and
There's much to be said for
A cup of coffee and a smile.
If we're self-absorbed and
Uncommunicative at 8, by
Nine some of us are rediscovering
Civilization -- such as it is --
And by 10, we've managed to dress
Ourselves in more than clothes.
Here's who we need to be,
Here's the face we couldn't quite manage
Back there at 7. It takes longer, doesn't it,
For us to pull it together.

On Monday.

Friday, November 21, 2008

About this afternoon

A week's long days slide into
One last afternoon.
Staring out the small window.
A low bank of gray clouds,
A thin slice of blue sky,
A chill, autumn aspect.
Tall, tired oaks,
Their brown leaves puddled round.
Wind gusts, we're all startled by
A sudden burst of snow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

About if I ruled the livingroom

If I ruled the livingroom, there would be no white cat hair on the brown microfiber sofa.
There would be no unknown food smears there, either.
If I ruled the livingroom, my favorite blanket would never move from my favorite place to sit. Oh, and no one would ever sit in my favorite place except me, either.
If I ruled the livingroom, I would have either 1) total control of the remotes we have or 2) exact duplicates of every one.
Come to think of it, if I ruled the living room, I would have a remote that controls everything.
One. Remote. Just. One.
If I ruled the livingroom, that remote(s) would NEVER get lost. Ever. Get. Lost.
If I ruled the livingroom, we would be watching something that doesn't involve a ball. Anything. Without. A. Ball.
Because I was in a meeting last week, and people were talking about the shows they watch, and they were like, do you watch The Office? Or CSI: Wherever? Or Boston Legal? Or "Fill in this blank with your favorite show I've never seen."
And the answer would be, mostly: "No. Because that show 1) has no ball, and 2) no ESPN logo in the lower right."
But do you want to know the Notre Dame score? I know it. How about Ohio State? Ditto. How about that Ball State game? Call me. Colts? All over it. Browns too.
If I ruled the livingroom, I'd be all about Brothers and Sisters and maybe even 30 Rock and ... hmmmm ... some other show I can't remember right now.
And I'd be about ruling the DVD player and watching all those movies I've missed, including most of last years' Oscar winners and I'd watch Sex and the City again.
If I ruled the livingroom, I might sometimes even turn the TV OFF, as in NOT ON, and turn on some Boney James or maybe John Mayer or even, in a more lively vein, Coldplay, oh and the Twilight soundtrack, and then I'd be able to concentrate even more on what I usually do in the livingroom when I'm not ruling it, such as:
If I ruled the livingroom, everyone else would be bored to tears, and move to another TV in the house, none of which is HD, which they would complain about, so I would be lonely in the livingroom, but entertained.
So, I continue to abdicate the control of the livingroom, and the remotes, and the sound level of the TV (usually too loud for me), and queue up the above-mentioned music on Napster, with headphones, and do the other stuff.
Cause I don't rule the livingroom.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

About Sunday night

We're at the mall
And it's families and teenagers
And the little girls, cooped up all day,
Run through the crowds.

They want to ride the carousel
Which they do, but for some reason
The music is silent; they glide around the food court
On zebra and stallion, in strange silence.

We wander into Penneys,
Joining the mothers and daughters
Looking at drapes and linens
And the husbands, staring at where they'd rather be.

So then we're hungry and hike the long way
Down the main hall, through thinning crowds
For it's almost six; Fort Wayne closing up early
On the day of rest, at the church of mall.

To Red Robin, where it's warm and busy,
More families skipping right through meal prep
At home to full service at the restaurant;
It sounds good to us too.

We pile into a booth and assure the hungry girls
That we'll eat soon; it's menus and drinks
And want-do-you-want-from-the-kids-menu;
Cheeseburgers and corndogs and chocolate milk.

While we sip our drinks and wait we
Plan for the future: Christmas and Thanksgiving,
Ballgames and school programs; practices and
Shopping and visitors from out of town.

Like magic a meal appears, one we didn't shop for,
Cook, worry over, nor will we clean up--
Indeed, that seems like a perfect recipe for
A day of rest to us.

Soon we're done, and we tumble out of the booth,
Coats rescued, bags claimed, bills paid,
Girls bundled up, tired now, wanting carried,
We're all ready to head home.

Out into the night, a cold parking lot,
Wind whipping the big flag across Coliseum;
The little girls lift their faces to the sky:
Look, it's snowing.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

About change

Absence of change may bore us, or comfort us; slight change may amuse us, or annoy us; great change, of any kind -- it frightens us, even if we have longed for the change.

In the United States, when leadership changes hands, there's change. Nearly always, the change that's coming has been talked about, anticipated, stump speeched, beaten with a stick, villified and/or demanded.

But because we hand over power so peaceably here, sometimes the change seems a long time comin'. We are a democratic, bicameral, bipartisian nation, after all--we change by consensus.

Although "consensus" can mean, "by an electoral landslide but just 6.5% of the popular vote."

Which leaves a lot of people feeling, well, to use a politcally correct phrase, disenfranchised.

I don't think that change will be so slow, this time, and if that makes some people almost wildly optimistic, it makes some disenfranchised others so upset they fly their American flags upsidedown and half-staff in the breeze.

Now: If I asked you to name a time in our history that seems to stand for change, you might say the '60s. Rock and roll, Vietnam, woman's liberation, the civil rights movement, the Cold War--all signs of change, right? We've never been the same.

Except I think those symptoms were of a change that had taken place almost two decades earlier, and were the last gasps of a society long gone. I think the '40s were the decade when the country changed--I think WWII forced us to change for good; if we went into denial a bit (quite a bit, actually) in the '50s, the '60s were the result of what happens when an entire society tries to pretend that women hadn't contributed as equal partners in the war effort, that black and white could stand as equals on the battlefield or elsewhere, that the U.S. was the leader of the free world, and that for God's sake, can't we find some way to solve the world's problems besides bombing and shooting the hell out of each other's best and brightest young people?

The change we're seeing now? Just a few HUNDRED years in the making. No wonder some of us are so upset.

My 53rd birthday was election day. Middle age has brought me two things, one I thought I'd never learn, and the other I tended to anyway: Patience, and pragmatism.

The patience I've learned will help me wait on this new administration; I don't expect these newbies to solve all our problems in the first year--maybe even the first term. There's a lot that needs changed, and I don't forget about that bicameral, bipartisian, flag-upside-down part of our government.

Pragmatism--common sense--tells me that not everything advertised can be delivered; that great promise can lead to great disappointment; that sometimes leaps of faith can trip us up.

But hope, my native optimism,  tells me that miracles can happen, change can work for the good, that those who have learned from the past are not doomed to repeat it.

Patience, pragmatism, hope, change--

Yes we can.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About Veterans Day

We ask the brave to give, over and over.

Not to Keep

    They sent him back to her. The letter came
    Saying . . . and she could have him. And before
    She could be sure there was no hidden ill
    Under the formal writing, he was in her sight -
    Living. - They gave him back to her alive -
    How else? They are not known to send the dead -
    And not disfigured visibly. His face? -
    His hands? She had to look - to ask,
    "What was it, dear?" And she had given all
    And still she had all - they had - they the lucky!
    Wasn't she glad now? Everything seemed won,
    And all the rest for them permissable ease.
    She had to ask, "What was it, dear?"

    "Enough, Yet not enough. A bullet through and through,
    High in the breast. Nothing but what good care
    And medicine and rest - and you a week,
    Can cure me of to go again." The same
    Grim giving to do over for them both.
    She dared no more than ask him with her eyes
    How was it with him for a second trial.
    And with his eyes he asked her not to ask.
    They had given him back to her, but not to keep.

--Robert Frost

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

About when the world changes

Yesterday, election day, I turned 53 years old.

The entire world had been counting down to my birthday for over a year. Consequently, I embraced the day, rather than practice the denial I've practiced of late. Why fight it?

Because it became evident early this year that one way or another, history would be written this day. Somebody, by virture of their gender or the color of their skin, would make history on a day that is usually devoted to me, plain white female, getting older.

But who knew, who KNEW, just what kind of a day this ordinary birthday of mine would be?

In the 53 years I've now had, I can count three times when I was aware of the world changing around me. Days that maybe started just like always, but ended as touchstones for generations.

In 1963, when I had just turned 8, it was the assasination of President Kennedy. So much sadness for a second grader to understand. What a changed world that day left behind--something intangible lost that I think we still mourn for. And I'll never forget that second-grade classroom--we all remember "where we were" that day.

In 2001, a beautiful late summer day turned into the tragedy of 9/11--the world gasped, trembled, crumbled and is only just now being rebuilt. We Americans will never feel as untouchable as we did before that day.

Two horrible events when time stood still--surely enough for any lifetime.

But I woke up thinkin' that I now had to add to my list of world-changing, life-defining, time-stopping days.

My 53rd birthday, November 4, 2008. Just another birthday for me. But for our country, for the world, when Barack Obama walked out on the stage in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, to the cheers of a million people around him, as the new president-elect of the United States of America, a black man with a strange name and a cool demeanor but a warm smile, who dared to tell a cynical nation, yes we can be something diferent --

Time stood still; the world shifted its course a little--for a second, I was a new 8-year-old who believed that anything could happen, something good.

Maybe we could change the world.

If I could reach the stars I'd pull one down for you
Shine it on my heart so you could see the truth
That this love I have inside is everything it seems
But for now I find it's only in my dreams

That I can change the world
I would be the sunlight in your universe
You will think my love was really something good
Baby if I could change the world

If I could be king even for a day
I'd take you as my queen I'd have it no other way
And our love will rule in this kingdom we have made
Till then I'd be a fool wishin' for the day

That I can change the world
I would be the sunlight in your universe
You will think my love was really something good
Baby if I could change the world
Baby if I could change the world

That I can change the world
I would be the sunlight in your universe
You will think my love was really something good
Baby if I could change the world

--Eric Clapton

Friday, October 31, 2008

About the ghosts of Halloween

They're here in the aisles of a discount store long gone, where a little girl picks out a witch costume, and contemplates how scary she'll be in the short black skirt, the cape, the hard plastic mask with warts and a long, crooked nose.

They're flitting around a stuffy classroom in the elementary school in Fitchville, Ohio, where the kids have left their desks and ineptly frost cupcakes, and that same little girl is just a little disappointed when she doesn't win the contest.

They're lurking in the corners of a big house with a long driveway off a state highway, where the knocks on the door with cries of "Trick or Treat!" are few, but the excitement of giving out candy is great.

They're following a group of four little kids as they trail around Fitchville, a town without a stop light but with enough streets to make a Halloween bag pleasantly heavy. The sharp fall wind might whip through her costume, and the little girl wonders why that lady always gives out apples (who needs an apple? There are plenty at home!), but she and her sisters and brother will have plenty of good stuff, anyway.

The ghosts whisper to me, reminding me of that little witch of long ago, and for a moment I ride a broom high above the few streets of Fitchville, catching a glimpse of the pumpkins flickering in the fall night, hearing the children shrieking between houses, feeling the wind that rustles the last leaves off the trees.

The ghosts of Halloween fly with me, always.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

About a chance of snow

Hearing the furnace kick on in the night,
feeling the warm air on my face. A drowsy sound.

Waking up and it's dark; reluctant to leave the warm flannel sheets.
A great act of will power to arise.

Peeking out the window. Afraid to see white.
But just the darkness of the lingering night.

Opening the door, letting the cat out, a blast of chill air wakes me up too quickly.
The wood floor cool to my feet.

In the sanctuary of the kitchen, I begin the liturgy of the coffee.
Its incense fills the house, a simple gift.

Getting ready, a shower cleansing and reviving me.
Blessed water.

Donning my office armor.
Putting on my game face, a sturdy defense against the day.

Turning on the radio to a litany of bad news.
Not the least of which is, a chance of snow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

About what might, or might not, be important

Actually, I woke up thinking about a dream I'd had, which starred someone I really don't care about. And wondering why I'd dreamed about THEM--what did that MEAN? Then deciding ... that the dream just wasn't important (sorry, Dr. Freud).

Then I started thinking about today, and being glad it was Friday, and about how our work lunch bunch is going to a new Chinese buffet today, and that it would be fun. (And, hopefully, tasty.) And how a small thing like lunch with friends is important, because it means you have friends whom you want to be with.

Even if you end up talking about about politics, which is important, but sometimes depressing. Because we are a polarized society, and divisions among voters can be so ... divisive. Debating politics, rather than arguing about them, seems impossible in the current climate, but some of us try. And being judged on one's politics--that's what hurts the most. That if you are of a certain political bent, you've less patriotic, or even, sadly, less MORAL--that's hard to take. I might not be Joe the Plumber, but I am Cathy the U.S. citizen, and hopefully I'm just as American as Joe.

And I turned on the radio to the news on NPR that world stock markets were tanking--same song, third or fourth verse. And I got to thinking maybe I should change allocations around in my 403(b), even though I have no idea what I should move money TOO, or even if much is left to move....

So then I got to thinking about last night, when I was taking care of two of the little girls for a short time as their parents were at a parent-teacher conference for their big brother. Tay wanted to play her new memory game, so we got out the pieces and spread them on the floor. C-dawg wandered over and we tried to match up the Mickey Mouses and Goofys and Mickey Mouse Clubhouses (it's a Disney set).

We weren't having much success until we started cheating by turning all the pieces right-side-up. Since we all did it, I guess it's not cheating.

C-dawg had a piece with two bees on it, and couldn't find its match. "Are some pieces missing?" I asked. "Maybe," Tay said.

I made a sad face and in my full-of-fake-tears voice said to C-dawg, "Oh, these bees are all alone! We can't find the match."

She looked at me with 4-1/2 year-old disdain: "It's only a CARD," she told me.

I just laughed. I should have known better than to try to pump up sympathy for some cardboard bees.

That girl's got her head on right. She's not wasting any tears, or even fake sympathy, over something that isn't important.

But I still wonder where that other bee card went.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

About if I ruled the world

And the song that is in my head today, maybe because of the proximity of the election, and the rueful look on President Bush's face every time I see him on TV lately:

Viva La Vida--Coldplay

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own
I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy's eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"
One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Calvary choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
Once you go there was never, never an honest word
That was when I ruled the world

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in.
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn't believe what I'd become
Revolutionaries Wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Calvary choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Calvary choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
For some reason I can't explain
I know Saint Peter will call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world

Friday, October 17, 2008

About getting crowned, and I don't mean on your head like a queen or even a princess

First it's the bad news during your teeth cleaning when the hygienist says, oh what is that? It might be a crack.

And she looks closer and puts the little camera in my mouth and suddenly there is my entire mouth cavity in all its pale pink moistiness on TV in front of everybody.

And she zooms in on the suspicious tooth and runs her little pointy instrument of death and poky torture over it and says, yes you have a crack right there see it?

And after trying not to look at all that mucous membrane grossiness but now I must look and just say, yea.

Because what to Miss Hygenist is just a crack in Number 18 Distel or Buckle or whatever that must be fixed is a future of pain and hurt and several hundred dollars for She Who Must Sit All Uncomfortable In the Dental Chair.

Then Miss Hygienist calls in Dr. Dentist and I'm thinking maybe he is waaay too young to even know what he's talking about and I ought to get up and go somewhere else, somewhere with a nice, old, cheap dentist, but this young one, when my pale pink moistiness is not filling the TV screen, he lets me have the remote and I can watch anything I want to during cleanings and get headphones too. So I guess I'll stay.

So Dr. Too-Young looks up on the screen then down in my mouth with his little mirror of decay detection and says, yep, she's got a crack in Number 18. She needs a crown. Let's get it scheduled.

And right then I am not wanting a crown, but some crack sounds good.

So I make the appointment at a time in the future that seems really far away but I know it's not. It's just long enough for the nice ladies at the front desk to send away for an insurance estimate, and yes, I take time to thank God I have dental insurance, and I get the estimate back and it's four figures, and no the insurance doesn't pay anywhere near that much so I'm wanting that crack again.

But that tooth, when the hygienist touched it with her shiny sharp instrument of death, it did hurt, so I know I better get crowned.

Which I did: After an hour of needles jabbed into my gums, numbing me to the point of drooling, jaws of life keeping my mouth open to the procedure, the high-pitched wail of the drill vibrating my whole head, my mouth filled with fluffy white putty stuff, the pungent airplane-glue-stuff that keeps the temporary crown on, not even CNN's Most Political News In the Morning could keep my mind off my mouth.

I just want to go home--and I can't even to that, because I have to go to work.

Where I sit, numb from lip to ear, tongue to cheek.

Queen Catherine of Novacaine. All hail. Sorry about the drool.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

About 10 questions regarding Cathy's trip to Minnesota, for the2nd time this year

Cathy spend the weekend coming and going to Minnesota! Let's find out more!

1. Cathy, why did you go to Minnesota AGAIN?
To a wedding, of course, my nosy friend! My BFF's youngest son was married in Mille Lacs/Onamia.

2. Where/what the heck is Mille Lacs?!
It's a beautiful area about 2 hours north of Minneapolis, my geographically challenged friend. On an Ojibwe Indian Reservation, there's a big casino and resort. There's also a big lake. And did I mention the casino?

3. Okay, we'll bite on the casino. How'd you do?
Your concern is appreciated, my thoughtful friend. I'm chicken to play 21 and I suck at slots. Even penny slots. In other words: I did badly. But it was fun trying because they have free pop.

4. Free pop? Weren't you too sloshed from the free booze?
Unfortunately not, Kemosabe. Mille Lacs is a dry county. I mean, desert dry. Nada. Smoking at the casino--okay. Drinking at the casino--doesn't happen.

5. So how cold was it in Minnesota? We're sure winter has hit up there.
Not so much, my meteorologically inclined friend. While no record warm temperatures were set, it was a balmy 66, although much more cloudy with more chances for rain.

6. How about the fall color? Past peak?
I'd say, just at peak, my nature-loving friend. Many more reds and yellows than we see here. Also, more evergreens of the pine persuasion.

7. Okay, so you flew into Minneapolis. We know the airport is right next door to THE MALL of America and your personal Mecca, IKEA. Did you bite?
Fifty-fifty, my shopoholic friend. Indeed we could not pass THE MALL without a short lunch stop at Bubba Gump's and a quick dart into Marshall's. So sadly, IKEA must wait for another day.

8. In this time of financial crisis, how do you gauge the mood of the traveling/gambling public?
A discerning question, my inquisitor. Airports: busy. Airplanes: VERY full, to standby levels. Mall: Busy. Casino: Packed. Topics of conversation: Anything BUT the value of one's 401K.

9. And how was the wedding?
Tip-top and smashing, Miss Manners. The bride and groom, teachers both, were young and beautiful; the bridal party a fun-loving bunch; the families pleased with the union; the ceremony, heart-felt and joyous; the reception, a damn fine party. And did I mention the cake?

10. So, was the manic pace of the trip worth it?
Any trip that includes a visit to the Mall of America and wedding cake, my solicitious friend, is more than worth it. Plus, we saw two windmills on the way to the event. And, we got to dance to Hey, Ya! Now that's my kind of reception.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

About the fear of fear itself

Sometimes we need to listen to the pastor; sometimes to the poet; sometimes to the professor. In these days, we are often left listening to the politician and the pundit--unfortunately.

The politicians have too much at stake to be able to speak candidly--dare I suggest, even honestly? A handful of votes can decide an election, even a national one--hello, Florida. And the pundits have too much at stake, too, for common sense to prevail over hysteria--a ratings swing to another channel can mean one's job.

So I got to thinking about President Roosevelt's speech, which seems to be getting quoted by left and right, in miniature. How much more do we know of it than the "fear of fear itself" line? And if indeed that snippet is painfully true this October, how much more of the speech can we learn from?

There is much, and in that spirit, I reproduce the text and offer a video. The speech is President Roosevelt's First Inaugural Address, on Saturday, March 4, 1933.

President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends:

This is a day of national consecration. And I am certain that on this day my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency, I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impels.

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; and the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

And yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.

Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried. But their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of that restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.

Recognition of that falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation is asking for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing great -- greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our great natural resources.

Hand in hand with that we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land.

Yes, the task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products, and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities. It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, the State, and the local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities that have a definitely public character. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped by merely talking about it.

We must act. We must act quickly.

And finally, in our progress towards a resumption of work, we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments. There must be an end to speculation with other people's money. And there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

These, my friends, are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the 48 States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time, and necessity, secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor, as a practical policy, the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment; but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not nationally -- narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and parts of the United States of America -- a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that recovery will endure.

In the field of world policy, I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor: the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others; the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take, but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress can be made, no leadership becomes effective.

We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and our property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at the larger good. This, I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us, bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in times of armed strife.

With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Action in this image, action to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple, so practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has ever seen.

It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations. And it is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly equal, wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But, in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis -- broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

For the trust reposed in me, I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded, a permanent national life.

We do not distrust the -- the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

In this dedication -- In this dedication of a Nation, we humbly ask the blessing of God.

May He protect each and every one of us.

May He guide me in the days to come.

And may cooler heads, common sense, and wise policies prevail!

Monday, October 6, 2008

About the conversations I overheard

Just walking around at the Apple Festival on Sunday.

"... I think there's a entrance in the fence over this way by the grandstand...."

"What is that?" "It's from the basket-weaving tent." "But what is it?" "It's a potholder or something."

"Did you see the debate the other night?" "Yea, I thought Sarah Palin...."

"Your candle looks like a banana."

"Do you want to make a doll?" "That's not a doll." "It's a doll made of corn husks." "That's not a doll."

"Mommy I need a drink." "Do you want some root beer?" "Mommy do I like root beer?" "Yes."

"I might buy that basket." "What's it for?" "For the cat." "I don't think the cat will sleep in that basket."

"Where are the elephant ears?" "That booth is closed." "But I saw people walking around with elephant ears!" "Don't ask me."

"Do they have caramel apples without the nuts?" "Do you want a whole apple or one cut up?" "I don't care, I just don't want nuts."

"And I think he is for McCain, but there's no sign in the yard...."

"Where did all these people come from?" "Can't just be Kendallville."

"Let's go listen to the music." "I want to dance." "You can dance." "You dance with me." "Ah, no."

"Let's go to the craft area." "It's in the livestock barn." "Well I hope they cleaned it out."

"They're shearing sheep over there." "Why do they do that?" "We make clothes from the wool." "Oh, yuck!"

"Did you hear this joke on Fox News? No African-Americans are going to vote for Obama because...."

"Did we have that last year? I thought we had the Caramel Apple Sundae...."

"Yea, it goes until 5...."

"Where'd we park?"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

About the library on Friday afternoon

The scent. Always the scent for me, of books and books and books, stacks of books, rows of books, piles of books, old books and new books, fiction and non. Breathing in deeply and feeling so at home among the dusty, papery smell of all the books.

The muted busyness of the library. The quiet calm of yesterday's libraries long passed. The murmur of conversation, the click of computer keys, the beep of the computer scanner, the laughter of children.

Overhearing the conversations: "Have we seen this one? I think we've seen this one." "Can I get another, Mommy? Just one more?" "That's his latest one. Did you read the one before?" "We don't have it but can get it from the main library." "If you like the Weepies, you'll like this one."

My books on hold, treasure just for me, I quickly find, and move to the shelves that always have the newest books, then to the stacks by letter, looking for this favorite author, that favorite author, always searching for that new book I can't resist.

Shelves of books, chaotic rainbows of book spines, hypnotizing me as I walk up and down, looking for the book I seek. So many books I've read and so many yet to go.

My library card in hand, burning like a credit card with no limit, and I am so tempted by all the books, the many many books, that I reign in my need to just check them all out--I can't carry them all.

A long line waiting to be checked out by a very-black-haired, many-pierced, way funky librarian, not named Marion, but Josh.

Finally my turn with my precious pile of books. Josh lets me know I owe $4 in overdue fines from my last fix.

A small price to pay.

Friday, September 26, 2008

About the last games of summer at Tillman Park

Four softball diamonds glowing in the dusk. Green meadows ringed by dark, still trees. A quiet pastel sunset beyond the unseen river.

The park anything but quiet: The thudding ring of the bat on the ball. The pounding of feet heading for base, their owners grunting with the effort.

Chatter of a few spectators, girlfriends and wives and even parents sitting on bleachers and in lawn chairs in the soft, still-summer air, that chills as the long shadows get nearer. A child cries. A little white poodle barks.

Scattered clapping, shouted encouragement with each at-bat: "Get 'em! You're there!" "He's out!" "Good catch!"

At the playground behind the diamonds, children swarm on the slides and walkways, laughing and screaming. But they disappear as the evening deepens, for homework calls.

Teams coming and going as games are completed and diamonds free up: Bat bags and equipment tossed into piles and hung on chain-link fences.

A man selling hotdogs and sandwiches from a little, red-awning cart in the parking lot.

Pop and candy and apples with caramel at the little concession stand near the rest rooms.

Last games of the summer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About dancing at weddings

How most of us are so awkward at it.

And lots of us don't care, and dance anyway. Although some just won't dance.

How pleasant it is to watch someone who dances well.

How sorry I am that I know what liturgical dance is.

The pleasure of watching children dance--the wild abandon of it, the concentration they give it, the joy it gives them.

How beautiful a bride looks as she dances, white dress flowing, smiling, laughing, secure knowing all eyes are on her.

How people enjoy dancing in groups, whether to the Electric Slide or the Hokey Pokey.

When a slow song starts, all the recreational dancers sit down, and all the couples jump up.

People still dance to YMCA, but groan as they do so.

Twist and Shout, still gets people on their feet. 

Dancing with the Stars does not seem to have improved the quality of dance at most informal functions.

One should probably really give more than one dollar during the "Dollar Dance" at a wedding.

The amount of time before the groom and his party remove their tux coats is directly relational to the amount of alcohol consumed before the dancing begins.

It's all about the DJ.

It's extremely difficult for anyone to dance to "Sweet Home Alabama."

"Dance as if no one is watching"-type dancing should probably not be attempted ... in public.

Monday, September 22, 2008

About things that make fall tolerable

The clearness of the sky.

The sweet and sticky crunch of a caramel apple. (Because an apple is healthy no matter what it's wrapped in. Or especially because of said wrapping.)

Football lights glowing from the high school on Friday nights.

Music wafting over the neighborhood during marching band practice in the evening.

Putting on jeans for the first time all summer and they still fit.

Fall street fairs.

Warm days that linger well into October.

Leaves going brilliant, even though they fall after.

The scent of leaves burning in a neighbor's yard.

Knowing the election will finally be over in a few weeks. As in, on my birthday.

Turning off the air conditioner for good.

Lots of candy on the shelves at the grocery.

Planning a trip to Chicago.

The World Series.

Maybe combining the last two for the first time ever.

Realizing I really have to work to come up with a whole post of things to like about fall. Because I miss summer already. And it's three seasons away.

Friday, September 19, 2008

About being in the city

Thankful that there are so many tourists you don't feel stupid.

Standing on a corner, juggling three maps, figuring out which way to go. Asking somebody.

Or somebody seeing you juggling maps, and stops and asks where you want to go. And tells you a better way to get there.

The first glimpse of the city, walking up the stairs from Penn Station at dusk, as the street lights glow in a rainy Friday night.

Trying to look at everything at once.

The "I'm in a movie" feeling.

The "I'm such a tourist" feeling.

Buying umbrellas on the street for two dollars because it won't stop raining.

Dropping off the guys at Yankee Stadium (old and new), seeing it for the first time, finally sunny for the Saturday game, following the people in the subway in Yankee hats and jerseys up to 161st Street.

Later to Washington Square, playgrounds full of parents and little kids, college students studying on benches, friends chatting, couples holding hands. Buying bottled tea from a corner vendor.

Nearby a street fair, buying corn-bread pancakes filled with melted motzerella. Real lemonade for $1. Pashima scarves in every color of the world, just $5. Stocking up for winter. Chinese ladies giving us shoulder massages.

On McDougall, finding hummus, fresh, wonderful hummus for lunch, with just-baked, still-warm pitas. Stuffed grape leaves. Regretting ever buying hummus in plastic at Kroger.

Strolling into the Kate Spade store and wanting everything.

Finding Old St. Patrick's, a relic of Mother Teresa on display.

Skirting a blocks-long street fair in Little Italy, that had traffic in a knot all around it, white, red and green arches stretching on and on overhead.

Meeting the guys after the game, sitting down and sharing slices of floppy, warm New York pizza.

Riding the 1 train to Canal Street. Following the crowd to Ground Zero. Flowers, so many flowers, stuck in the fence, wilting slightly.

Construction loud and active even on a Saturday night. Over the Vesey Street walkway, buying souvenirs from the vendors. Taking pictures of the pit.

Trying to figure out how to get to Battery Park, tips from a lady who walked by and helped us, who said, "Just walk through that building, it's a nicer walk than on the street." And she was right.

Walking around the south tip of Manhattan, passing yet another 9/11 memorial, yachts at a marina, around the corner and there is the Statue of Liberty. Taking more pictures. Seeing the torch alight even as we watched.

Dozens of flags drifting in an evening breeze in Battery Park.

A packed Staten Island ferry, boys with skateboards roughhousing, the Brooklyn Bridge with waterfall, the Manhattan Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, this time close up.

Wall Street looking substantial and solid on the outside; somewhere inside the walls, financial institutions are crumbling, as we walk by, taking pictures.

The bells of Trinity Church ringing over all.

Rockefeller Center. Flags and fountains. 30 Rock. Lunch under an umbrella at the cafe, too expensive but too fun to skip.

Window shopping on 5th Avenue, buying toys at F.A.O. Schwartz, tourists and locals with bags and bundles. The toy soldier guy.

Finding Central Park, sudden stillness a sidewalk away. A blue-gray spray-painted Statue of Liberty lady posing for picture for $1. Break dancers entertaining for tips. Carriages and bike-carts. The lawns scattered with blankets and picnics and kids and nappers. Carnival rides just beyond in a meadow.

Walking over a stone bridge, turtles sunning themselves on a rock, the horizon of trees backed by the city skyline.

Souvenir shopping one last time in Time Square, double-taking at the Naked Cowboy Guy, a last glance back as we go into Penn Station.

Long drive home.

Paying for lunch today, I found a subway pass still in my wallet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

96 hours

On Thursday at 7 p.m. we were driving down SR205 in DeKalb County, slicing a yellow and green soybean field in two.

By Friday at 7 p.m. I was in Times Square, New York City, stepping through puddles as we crossed Broadway, dazzled by the lights, caught in the crowd, not minding the rain.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., I was in the Bronx, facing Yankee Stadium(s), the old on the left, the new on the right.

At 11:30 a.m., I was on the streets of Greenwich Village, then Soho, then Little Italy, and back to the Village, drinking a soda in Washington Square.

At 5 p.m., I was at Ground Zero, fences full of bouquets, a pit full of construction.

At 7 p.m. I was walking towards Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, on my way to the Staton Island Ferry.

On Sunday at 10 a.m., I stood at the spot on Wall Street where George Washington was inaugurated.

At 11:30 a.m., I was walking among a moving river of people over the Brooklyn Bridge.

At 1 p.m., I was lunching in Rockefeller Center under a canopy of canvas umbrellas, sipping pink lemonade.

At 3 p.m., I bought toys in F.A.O. Schwartz.

At 4 p.m, I paused by The Pond in Central Park and took pictures of a dozen turtles sunning themselves on a rock.

At 7 p.m., I were flying down interstate 80, the New York skyline in the rearview mirror.

By Monday at 7 p.m., New York souveniers were delivered to those who had stayed behind.

Somehow, I'm still hearing the roar of the subway coming up from the street grates, the guy in the red BMW convertible yelling "A--hole!" to the taxi that had just cut him off, the old man asking for just a couple bucks for his medicine, the jazz wafting in Washington Square, cacophony of Times Square, the quiet in Central Park.

Maybe, maybe, a little of that energy came along for the ride home to Indiana. Maybe.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


These walls, this chair, that screen.

Listening, always listening. Personal Muzak. Don't bother me.

Too quiet, too noisy, your phone call, his conversation. 

I think: shut. up.

Reading, reading. Typing. 

Can't find something. Familiar frustration. Looking.

The comfort of a Diet Coke.

And another.

And the bathroom.

Thinking not about what I'm doing. What I'm going to do. What I'm reading. What I wish. Maybe I worry. Maybe.

Something else.

Phone rings. Question answered.

Time and time and time. Same hours, different day.

Email and write and send.


Cross another off the list.

Too quiet, too noisy, too cold, too warm.

Thinking, typing, reading, writing, breathing, talking. Working.


Wondering--how came I to this cubihell? How. Is this -- ?

These walls, this chair, that screen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

About a coaster ride

The graceful arc of steel track against a blue sky.

The should-we-or-shouldn't-we, is-an-hour-too-long-to-wait conversation.

Nah. We hear it's worth it.

Standing. Standing Standing. Shuffle. Shuffle.

Idle talk and chatter. Eavesdropping on the next queue over.

Reading the signs posted along the way. (Persons with heart conditions should not ride this ride.) (If you are wearing earrings you must take them off.)

Wondering about the condition of my heart, and putting my hoops in my wallet.

Setting little goals as we creep along: We'll be at the next corner in five minutes. The spot by the posts in seven minutes. Near the stairs in four minutes.

Trying to ignore that we have to go to the restroom.

Listening to the coaster as it runs the track, over and over again, a rumbling rhythm punctuated by screams and applause at the end.

Starting to wonder if it will ever be our turn, as we turn and turn in the endless maze, even as we near the end.

All that waiting, then it happens so fast: One last decision, which seat line to enter. The middle looks good.

Next on. A gate opens and shuts.

Following some business major's instructions: Put your belongings in the bin. Fasten your seat belt, pull your shoulder harness down, make sure it's latched.

A future teacher double-checks the belt and harness and it's thumb's up, enjoy your ride and thank you for visiting Cedar Point, ride on.

A short pause, just one breath, and we're flung up a hill--and all of the peninsula filled with coasters, and the azure bay, and the small city beyond spread before us, brilliantly sharp in the August sun.

At the top, here's just a moment between blinks to look--the sky, the sailboats, the sea gulls--and we're launched through a rock-n-roll, up-then-down, upside-down, speed-racer, mile-long, air-time, dark-tunnel, photo-flash who-is-that-screaming-oh-wait ... it's me.

Hard brakes, one last scream that ends in a laugh. Everybody claps.

Welcome back, riders, did you enjoy your ride? asks the future teacher.

Hell yes. Queue me up again.

Friday, August 29, 2008

About last night: Abraham, Martin and John

A lot of rhetoric, a lot of people, a lot of lights, a lot of history. Later, a lot of analysis and a lot of criticism.

I am truly a child of the '60s, for I was a child in the '60s--so far away, now. A dream long gone?

But I woke up hearing this song in my head:

Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freed a lot of people but it seems the good die young
I just looked around and he's gone.

Didn't you love the things they stood for?
Didn't they try to find some good in you and me?
And we'll be free
Someday soon
It's gonna be one day

Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walking up o'er the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

Monday, August 25, 2008

About weddings

Just another Saturday afternoon wedding with the usual suspects.

The young couple-to-be, with expressions alternating between too-wide grins and dawning apprehension. White lace and promises.

Young women in colorful gowns destined to be worn once, with sculpted hair and graceful flowers. Guys in stiff suits and bow ties and shiny rented shoes.

Little kids in ruffles or white tuxes, slicked down or up-do'ed hair, baskets of petals, pillows with rings, looking alternately terrified and blissfully unaware.

Parents looking both relieved and heartbroken.

An elderly minister who's the groom's grandpa. Full of humor and wisdom, he ad libs his way through the ceremony with audible admonitions to his grandson to smile.

Rows of guests who might rather be out in the August sunshine, but are enticed to the wedding by assurances of cake.

Here are the promises made at a million million and more weddings, promises made again and again, promises that will be bent and broken, remade, reworked, maybe, sometimes, sadly, removed.

Today in this auditorium church the promises are made in voices young and strong, and for a moment everybody believes, everybody knows, this set of promises will keep.

Applause as the new family is presented, as the guests are dismissed from church with a hug and a handshake, and a "thank you for coming."

An evening reception with all the trimmings, the cash bar and the buffet; the wedding cake and the chocolate fountain. A stack of presents in white and silver. A wedding planning to announce the grace-before-the-meal (again offered by Grandpa), the toasts, the garter, the bouquet. The smashing-of-cake in each other's faces. The bride-and-father dance, the groom-and-mom dance. The bridal party dance (to, really!? Kung Fu Fighting?).

And finally, the last disintegration to carnival. All the tribal rites completed, the DJ assumes command, the table ranks are broken, the veil comes off as well as the shoes, bow ties, and cummerbunds. And every romantic "You Look Wonderful Tonight" is followed by two or three '80s anthems that gets the whole assemblage on the dance floor, Bon Jovi being a favorite of the bride.

And who considers themselves totally married without a rousing rendition of "YMCA," with a "Chicken Dance" shooter?

The bride and groom have a 6 a.m. flight on Sunday morning, but they're still dancing as we say goodbye at 10.

O kids, I want to say (though they're not, and I don't)--be happy, though I know you will have sadness; stay lighthearted, though I know your hearts will be broken; hold tight to each other, though I know how easy it can be to drift away; remember to make the most important promise of all--when one of you screws up (and you will), love and be kind.

Keep doing the chicken dance, for it will make you laugh.

Friday, August 22, 2008

About housework

The way stuff piles up. The mail and the papers and notes to myself and lists and books. Until a bonfire seems to be the only way to rid ourselves of all the paper.

The way things get dirty, and you get used to seeing them grubby, and don't even realize how much something needs scrubbed, like the pantry door, or the white walls, or the kitchen cupboards.

Dishes and dishes and dishes and dishes. Always more dishes.

The way stubborn little messes won't go away, like the little pile of dark green Play-doh that hardened on the hardwood floor in a hard-to-get-to corner of the dining area, and I try and try to remove it. For. Years. And neither soaking nor a paring knife nor a scrubbing vac can make it go away. Accept it as part of the landscape.

The way dust falls and falls and falls, always more dust. The way the TV and the DVR and every electronic box in our house attracts dust, loving the dust, drawing the dust to themselves. The thin, pale veneer of dust that is hard to see until a certain slant of light picks it up, highlighting it, shaming me with its ever presence.

The dirtiness of our shoes, the tramp, tramp, tramp of dirt and mown grass and little sticks and God knows what from the outside to our inside; the roar of the vacuum sucking it up, one more time; the stain where the Coke fell, and the scrubbing to obliterate said stain; the slow acceptance that part of the Coke is going to be with us, forever.

The cat: its long, white hair, everywhere. His food messes, the way he barfs when he eats too fast. On the carpet. Twice. The litter box. His bad aim. The dead mouse on the sidewalk.

Last night, a quick cleaning: Papers, throw out, sorted. (Or, hidden.) Surfaces scrubbed. Play-doh, ignored. Electronics, dusted, a wing and a prayer. Vacuum roaring. Litter cleaned. Counters swiped. Dishes done.

Just of couple of hours. Just a little tired. And just enough improvement to make me feel just a little better about the state of the homeland.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

About August

Locusts screaming at us every night.

Driving down a country road in Ohio, the corn so high it's a green-topped-with-gold tunnel.

My parents' mile-high tomato plants drooping with fruit, picking the ripe ones, that sharp smell. Eating one still warm, like an apple, a little salt. Too much juice. Just right.

A tree already highlighted with yellow leaves, us saying, "Turning early this year." Or is it too dry?

A stormy day with hot, heavy air morphs through dusk into an evening with a hint of coolness, fall lurking in the darkness.

Backpacks and notebooks and pens filling the aisles at the store, filling me with longing for that first-day-of-school feeling, that new dress-and-new-lunchbox feeling, that sense of anything-can-happen-this-year.

Driving by the school in the evening and catching a flash of color on a green field that is football practice.

Stopping by the farm market and feeling guilty at the embarrassment of riches, the peaches and peppers, the watermelon and cantelope, the tall bunch of fuchsia gladiolas, the sweet corn I'll cook in boiling water for just a minute then serve with salt and pepper and butter, and savor its crunchy freshness in my mind, all winter long.

Passing yellow school buses on my way to work.

Staying up too late watching Olympians in China, regretting it the next morning that seems so much darker than just two weeks ago.

Checking the baseball standings, wondering if this is the year the Cubs really will, well, you know, not fail.

Trying to remember that summer's not really over until after Labor Day, not even until late September.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

About his birthday

So it was his birthday yesterday, my long-gone "baby," and I remember wondering what he would be like when he was this age. But I didn't have enough imagination--I couldn't have dreamed, when he was one, what he would be at 29. For that seemed so, so far away, an infinite time, for I was young and he was little and there were all those years of growing up in between, for him and me.
And I would have laughed, even then, that today he would so closely resemble his baby self--oh, he lost the round face somewhere around 8th grade--but the blond hair, the blue eyes, the tall build--still there.
And would I laugh to recognize myself? Ah, no--those lines around my mouth are no laughing matter, and I would never have imagined myself in those. Nor do I feel like my 23-year-old self anymore: I've learned a lot of patience since then.
So yesterday was his birthday, and it was not a particularly good one. He had a busy day, filled with meetings and phone calls and clients and decisions. His last meeting didn't start until 4:30 and intruded right in to what was supposed to be his birthday dinner. And the deal-making was so stressful and protracted that he was taking text messages right through the birthday cookie and happy-birthday-to-you.
And I could have thought, that poor kid. He's working too hard. Why can't they leave him alone? It's his birthday. Let him enjoy it.
But I'm no helicopter parent. Back then, or now.
It's hard, NOT to be a helicopter parents. Because when your angelic little boy puts on the catcher's equipment for the first time at 9 years old and heads out to catch a game in 90+ degree heat, well, you think he's going to get too hot. And he might get hurt. And, why do people YELL at the catcher when a ball goes past him? Isn't that the pitcher's fault (note to pitcher's moms: sorry, that's a catcher's mom typing).
But you let him. You let him at age nine, and age 13, and age 18, and on up through even college, if he loves baseball enough.
He gets beat up--catchers wear a lot of gear, but sometimes it's no match for a fastball. There's a lot of non-protected area, too. But he learns to shake off the tears and get down in the crouch, one more time.
He learns to take verbal abuse too--from the other teams, from the other fans, sometimes even from his own, during a bad enough game. How to ignore it, how to learn from it.
He learns how to take care of himself, and he learns how to be a good teammate, and he even learns a little about coaching and teaching and cheering and how to have fun and how to show a little class, winning or losing. How to fight back when things look bad. Oh, and how to cuss and spit--as ballplayers do everywhere.
Especially in college, I feared he learned way too much about the fun and the swearing--but even college years fly by.
And soon you've got a job you wear a suit to, and a beautiful wife, and an amazing little girl, and a house and a couple cars and a full, grown-up life.
So yesterday, instead of felling sorry for him him, I was happy, and grateful, for I knew we'd raised one tough kid, with a strong work ethic, somebody who could take the bad days and the good days and know how to handle both of them.
And if his birthday didn't turn out quite as he wanted, he replayed it today: dinner was on time tonight; then he bought that plasma TV he'd been eying and saving for, finally.
He took it home with a big grin, ready to set it up and watch the Cubs.
Like I said, he's pretty tough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

About books

So it's that time of year when I just want to find a book to fall into and into and into and that book would never end. Like when I was a precocious kid on summer vacation and all the grownup books were new to me and I'd read anything, good or bad, and something long or with multiple volumes was the best book book of all.
And I didn't and don't care if it's great literature or pulp fiction.
Especially in summer, I don't care. So the summer I discovered Harry Potter was a good summer then another year it was Ron Faust and another it was A Series of Unfortunate Events
This summer I'm searching, I read Playing for Pizza and that's good but short and I've read most of Grisham anyway. I think about re-reading an old favorite but I already re-read ...And Ladies of the Club last winter and I'm not in the mood for Gone With the Wind.
I'm lusting for something new when I catch a wisp of buzz about a new book in a series about vampires, not a subject I'm particularly interested in but something in the reviews catches my interest and I order a used copy from Amazon, my favorite way to acquire a book cheap, especially when I suspect the hold list at the library stretches into the next decade.
So Twilight comes and thank God it's a week with not much going on, because suddenly I've fallen hard and can't quit, I just can't quit reading. The story opens its covers and invites me in and it's like I've been bitten--I step into this new world and don't want to leave.
And when the first book is done I'm dying for more, so I say casually, let's got to Wal-mart, we need a couple things. And he thinks I mean paper towels and orange juice, and I what I really mean is Eclipse and New Moon and Breaking Dawn.
The stack of three books on the table calms me as I think of the pages and pages before me and I start the first one and disappear. I read when I have a minute and I read when I don't and I read when I wake up in the morning, I read in the car, I read til 3 a.m., I wake up tired and don't care. Because I just want to keep reading. I read like I am 12 and the only obligation I have is my chores and if I don't do them my mom will. I'm not 12 and I have to go to work and it's a temptation, a horrible temptation to bring my book to work with me and read instead of work, but I resist, my inner grownup is in there somewhere.
So I read and read and read and I want to finish, no I don't -- I don't want the story to end. I don't want to turn the last page. Yes I do. Of course. Is it why I like books? They can end tidily, as this series does? With, even, a happy ending?
Maybe so.
How I loved this past week, lost to me in any substantive way, perhaps, as I lost myself in that fiction-world. Who knows how long until I find another story or another author who will invite me into a place I don't want to leave? Yet I know, I will.