Thursday, August 30, 2007

Compositions - Friday Fifteen

Friday Fifteen

1. Wake up at 4:20 a.m. and begin reading articles on the obscure detail of your novel that woke you up.
2. Brainstorm with dear husband about the detail of your mystery that wakes you up at 4:20 a.m.
3. Work on plot points for the novel. Things are still sticking in your craw despite your husband's excellent suggestions. This is like a song stuck in your head. See Pseudowife for explanation.
4. Plan menu for family dinner tomorrow night - it's a sort of birthday dinner for your beloved SIL and you want her to like the foods, even though you know she'll just be happy to be seeing everyone.
5. Menu: almond/fig mix and olives for appetizers, grilled chicken with lemon balm pesto, roasted green beans with pine nuts and parmesan, pickled carrots, sliced tomatoes and rosemary-cornbread for the main course, apple-cherry-ginger cake for dessert.
6. Make apple cake today. Roast green beans today. Chop apples, mix flours, mince ginger, add the wet, blend, pour into the baking pan.
7. What detectives do you know? Can you interview them? Would any of your Russian connections know mafiosi? (Probably not).
8. Taste the pickled carrots that you put together last night. The vinegar is too strong. More honey? Will the dill fix it?
9. Can you call the guy at U. of M. to find out about sports betting? Is sports betting viable?
10. Would a terrorist be better?
11. You prep the green beans as the cake bakes. Smells of apples and ginger permeate the house.
12. Do exercises in the Hallie Ephron book. These are more useful than expected. All the exercises have been useful - unusual for this type of book. File away for future reference.
13. Take the cake out. Turn the oven to "roast." Toss the green beans with olive oil and roast. The salty aroma of the roasting beans supplants the earlier cake smell. But it's all good.
14. Write prompt. 15 minutes of energy bursting onto the page. WC - 500. About the norm.
15. Take beans out of the oven. Save files. The dinner will be ready on time. The novel will take some more time.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Something I Love about Michigan

I just came back from the farmer's market, which is one of my favorite places in the universe.

I love everything about going there - the farmers that I buy from, the people I haven't seen in a while, catching a cup of coffee with my husband at Zingerman's, the other maniacs who like to be out and social at 7 a.m. I love it so much that one day I was crazy enough to come home and write 15 haiku in one sitting. (Well, maybe that was Leslie's fault, but still...)

I had a particularly nice surprise this morning. As I was sitting at an outdoor table enjoying my coffee and catching up on the week with DH, my cell phone rang. Now, keep in mind this was at 7:27 a.m. And it was my friend L, who wanted to join us for coffee. And that's when you know you have a really good friend - when they know you intimately enough to know exactly where you'll be at 7:27 on a Wednesday morning and that they know you well enough to know that calling at that hour will not only not ruin your friendship, but will be welcomed. So, DH went off to work, and I got a little time with L.

But, see, here's what I love about Michigan: I won't be able to do this for much longer.

And why is this a good thing?

Because it means the next season will be upon us soon, and there will be new delights. And while I dream of being in a more temperate climate or moving to the Netherlands or New Zealand, the seasons and the pace of daily life here are two things I adore with a passion. And yes, I have my "special" seasons. In fact, Fall is probably my favorite so I'm excited about the upcoming change, but what I love most is treasuring each one and savoring each one so much that eventually I'm ready for the new one to come and take its place. And in my family's quest to leave less of a carbon footprint and eat locally and buy from small local businesses, etc., I'm all the more aware of the joys of each season.

So, I'm saying goodbye to fresh tomatoes, huge and ugly and bursting with sweetness; goodbye to this season's never-ending blueberries, which have made me a slave to lemon-blueberry bread production; and goodbye to walking the streets at 7 a.m., picking up our CSA share; seeing Carol, the blueberry lady; and Richard, the owner of our CSA; and our standing order of "one croissant, one ginger scone and two coffees for here, one chocolate croissant to go." I'm saying goodbye to sitting with a cold drink on my porch and reading under the sun umbrella. Goodbye to snipping the budding flowers on my basil, to making pesto, to making sure that DS isn't spending too much "screen time" on a free day, to driving to the lake, to living without a schedule, to being the B&B that so many of my exchange children use, to visiting the lakeside areas where my friend S. lives.

Hello to going to the high school early each morning, PTA meetings, time to write - every. day., correcting papers, planning classes, seeing my completely, totally WONDERFUL students(!), snuggling up to DH on colder nights, sitting on my porch with a warm drink, less gardening, pulling the plants inside, playing with piggies, taking long, fall walks, apple cider and donuts, fall visitors, the first fire in the fire place. Sitting by the fire and reading good books.

We are so lucky and so rich in seasons here.

Distractions - probably TMI

They come at night.

Usually beginning around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m. and swinging into full force around 8:00 and then, if it's a really bad night, attacking with a vengeance at around 4:20 a.m. or so.

No, not bedbugs. (I hope)

But something. Something that is rifling through my body and tearing through my brain and it should be my new novel or one of the reviews I should write or my friends' ebooks that I'm dying to read or my DS starting high school or me starting teaching, but it's none of those things.

It's a set of massive hives.

Which could be the product of all the above-mentioned stressors. Except I'm not feeling stressed.

But I am feeling in need of a full night's sleep. Without itching.

I see the nice doctor who didn't fix it two weeks ago, but who I'm sure will find a solution today, in 7 hours and 5 minutes.

And counting.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - She Doesn't Live There Anymore

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Kate - find the other participants on their posts today

Bunky Williams was in heaven as she opened the gingham curtains and let the morning sun into her breakfast nook. A real breakfast nook! She looked about at the pure “cheeriness” of it: thick, lipstick-red cushions covering the curved bench, refinished table from the 1700s, complete with matching captain’s chairs, pewter milk pitcher on the center of the circular table covered with a red gingham tablecloth. Bunky couldn’t believe that she and George had found their dream house. She sorely missed her two girls, but there were some advantages to the empty nest; they were both done with their education, and she and George could finally afford the things they had wanted for so long.

She went into the kitchen to grind some beans for her cappuccino maker. She couldn’t wait to sit in her breakfast nook! And … have breakfast, of course! She could look out into the street, drink her coffee, and eat her English muffin. “Well, maybe not into the street,” she thought to herself. The only problem with their new Colonial was that a couple of windows faced “The Manse,” a modern mess of a building - all angles and circles - which had housed “Guru Samsi” and her followers. Thank God they had all moved to some undisclosed location a few months previously. She laughed to herself. Well, the silly thing was on the market and she was sure whoever bought it would have the taste to have it bulldozed. It looked like a bunch of bowling balls stuck together with a rubik’s cube. Oh, well, maybe she’d read the paper, instead. She had a million things to do, but surely she could make time to enjoy her breakfast nook.

The doorbell rang as she had her palm pressed against the bean grinder, almost finished with her task. She scowled at the clock, noticing the time. 8:30. An ungodly hour for visitors, but perhaps her new neighbors wanted to welcome her and George to the neighborhood. Bunky removed her yellow-checked apron, smoothed her lemon slacks and walked to the door, checking her burnt orange lipstick in the 18th century mirror as she did so.

“Yes?” Bunky smiled at the young man and woman on her front steps. They were dressed in the oddest outfits, she thought. He wore white baggy pants and a tunic sort of thing in a pale orange. His black hair was long, but neatly pulled back into a ponytail and he seemed immaculately clean. She was tiny and seemed nervous, and was dressed in a similar outfit, except for orange pants and white tunic. She also had a long, blond ponytail, neatly pulled back. Hers seemed to pull at her face, though.

“Do you know if… She’s there?” the young man asked nervously, yanking his head towards the monstrosity sitting across the street. “We’ve come all the way from Oregon to see her.”

The young girl nodded her head vigorously, looking both hopeful and scared.

“Oh, my dears, I’m sorry, but she doesn’t live there anymore,” Bunky explained. “I had heard that she moved several months ago. I wish I had more information to give you, but we’ve only just moved in ourselves, you see.” She bade the crestfallen pair goodbye and turned back into her new home, shutting the door behind her.

“Now, for that cappuccino,” she thought, a smile seeping into her usually concentrated features. She went back to the kitchen, removed the beans from the grinder, filled the water container with Evian. and put the freshly-ground beans into the filter holder. As she put the cappuccino maker through its motions, she allowed the sensuality of the smell to invade her senses. Nothing could make her happier; she was finally home. She decided that she would spend the time at the table planning her next decorating and unpacking steps. After all, she was far from done. As she began frothing the milk, the doorbell rang again. Insistently, this time.

Bunky walked briskly to the door, sure that some neighbor would greet her with baked goods or neighborhood information. She opened the door to three women, probably in their forties, all wearing unseasonably light clothing. There was something simple and “unmade” about them. They each had identical “bowl” cuts, their faces were lined, but lean. Actually, as she thought about it, they each looked like yoga instructors. Bunky would have giggled, but she didn’t want to be rude. “Can I help you?” she asked.

The tallest of the lot, a wispy brunette done up entirely in pale violet, stepped forward. “Where is she?” she demanded. “No one’s around anywhere. The place is deserted.”

“Where is whom, dear?” Bunky tended to get motherly when she was confused.

“You know, the Enlightened One,” the brunette appraised her coldly.

Bunky was distinctly unhappy. “She doesn’t live there anymore. She moved away some months ago.” She turned to go back into the house.

“Well, where is she, then?” a stockier woman in sky blue caught Bunky’s arm.

“I’m sorry, dear, I’ve really no idea,” Bunky tried to smile. “We’ve just moved here ourselves and I’m afraid I’ve a bit to do still.” She pulled her arm away from the clutching hand and sought refuge behind her door. As she was closing that door, she heard the third woman pipe up, “Well, she didn’t have to be rude about it!” “Me, rude?” Bunky thought to herself. “It’s barely nine a.m. and they are ringing my doorbell, but I’m rude. Very nice.” She stomped back to the kitchen, grabbing her apron from the counter and tying it on so tightly that she almost stopped breathing.

She looked up to find water all over the slate countertop; the steamer had operated on its own, and dumped a dose of hot water across the entire surface. Bunky decided against cappuccino, pulled the finished coffee out for a plain cup and went to the Sub-zero refrigerator to pull out her amaretto-flavored creamer. Pausing, she put the container back, pulled out the real cream, and then crossed over to the liquor cabinet and poured in a generous shot of actual amaretto. “A celebration,” Bunky said under her breath. “To the new house!”

She took her coffee and a biscotti to the breakfast table and sat down. An english muffin seemed like too much work. She peered out the window, and winced at the sight of “The Manse.” The Caldwells, who had sold them the house, had warned them that they might have occasional callers looking for Guru Samsi. The Guru had run from the town after some incident with an underage boy, apparently, but her followers still turned up from time to time. She guessed she’d been particularly unlucky this morning. Nice people the Caldwells. Too bad about Mrs. Caldwell and that tic. It really spoiled her natural beauty when she was always blinking at everybody like that. Bunky wondered what had caused it. Some people just didn’t have enough mettle. No fortitude to accept life’s challenges. Speaking of which, her break should absolutely be over by now. She stood up to place her Limoges cup and saucer in the new Kitchenaid dishwasher, and climbed the winding stair to unpack a bit in George’s study.

By six o’clock, she had answered the door 26 times. None of those times were for the Williams family. By the time George came home, ringing the door because he had forgotten his new keys, she greeted him by yanking the door open and slurring, “What?!” in his face. George had never seen Bunky look unkempt, and Bunky was most definitely unkempt, and this worried him a little. He was even more alarmed when his customary martini wasn’t prepared for him and as he asked about dinner, Bunky had barked, “I’m sure even you can manage to dial pizza delivery. I’m going to bed.”

George stood in his new foyer, looked about at half-finished projects in both the living and dining rooms, and walked back out the door to go meet his secretary for a drink.

The doorbell continued to ring. It rang at all hours of the day and night. It rang on weekends. It rang in the middle of the Williams’ Christmas dinner.

Bunky stumbled about most days, unshowered, mismatched clothing hanging off her once-plump frame. She thought about starting new projects: cleaning the house, cooking a meal, but everything seemed like too much effort. Her memberships in her bridge club, the Jaycees and the Association for University Women had all been dropped. She no longer volunteered at the hospital, the food bank or at church. Hell, she didn’t even go to church. George was having a full-blown affair with his secretary. He still loved Bunky; he just couldn’t find her anymore.

Bunky, being Bunky, still answered the door. “She doesn’t live there anymore,” she’d mutter, shutting the door almost before she’d pulled it all the way open. Bunky had taken to spending the day on the nearest couch, reading and rereading the paper from April 14, the day of the announcement of Guru Samsi’s departure. George was trying to find the courage to tell Bunky that he was moving out. Bunky’s daughters were nervously chittering about an exclusive facility for those with “special” problems. “She doesn’t live there anymore” was all that Bunky would utter these days.

Then there was the day when Bunky came to the door with an ice pick. Now she doesn’t live there anymore, either.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday's Feast

Friday's Feast

Say there’s a book written about your life. Who would you want to narrate the audio version?

Janeane Garafolo because she plays the kinds of characters that would probably reflect me and my life, lol.

In my dreams, Emma Thompson, because she plays the kinds of characters that I would want my life to be like!

Take the letters from your favorite kind of nut and write a sentence. (Example: Perhaps every avenue needs understanding today.)

Absolute liars make onerous, nasty deals sometimes.

If you could go back in time and spend one week in another decade, which decade would you choose?

If I could choose the week, I'd probably choose my last week in Russia, when I was teaching. If I had to choose the decade, I'd choose this one.

Main Course
Name a song that brings back memories for you.

There are so many, but this morning what comes to mind is "Let's Get This Party Started" by Pink, because it reminds me of many road trips with all my wonderful international kids and, of course, my own wonderful kiddo!

Do you prefer to wash your hands in cold water or warm water?

warm or hot - I cook so much and want to make sure that the germs are AWAY. I love the sensual feeling of cold water on my hands on a hot day, though.

Only two days left! Don't forget to enter the fabulous The Long and The Short of It Grand Opening Contest

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ask A Ninja : Question 44 :

Or those of you who don't... With the start of school on my mind, I thought we could all use some punctuation help. This is hysterical!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bureaucrazy... warning - rant ahead

Disclaimer: This is not a knock-down of the public schools, teachers, etc.

I'm a teacher.

Some of my best friends are teachers.

Some of my favorite students are becoming teachers (see Geetha's marvelous blog on this subject).

I have nothing but the highest respect for dedicated teachers who do their job well. And there are a lot of them out there.

But here's where I get po'd:

I've been involved with, and aware of, rules and regs for the home schooling community in various states and countries since the 2000/2001 school year. In many settings, the scrutiny of parents teaching their children is extraordinary. Lesson plans submitted for each week of the school year. Requirements for a syllabus that practically contains when the child will sneeze, etc. There are very few school districts that apply this level of scrutiny to their own teachers.

And here is the other thing: the majority of home schoolers are beating the pants off of public schooled students in ACTs, SATs, state-mandated tests, etc. Home schooled students tend to be more prepared for college, having needed to work independently throughout their high school years. They are socially more mature, having spent their years with a variety of age groups, taking on internships, etc., at earlier ages.

There are certainly exceptions. The media loves to latch on to the "crazy" home schooling parents who are abusive. The children who never see other children, etc. But from my experiences, these folks are in the same kind of minority as they would be in the public schools. Maybe they are even less frequent.

Because those who choose to home school usually do it because they want more for their children. They want their children more challenged, or given a stronger moral base, or to have the ability to go at their own learning pace or to develop a passionate interest. These parents give up one income, usually, and make enormous sacrifices in order to home school. And there are a heck of a lot of certified teachers home schooling their own children. And there are now plenty of co-ops and social organizations of home schoolers so that it's very rare that these kids go without seeing PLENTY of other kids.

So, when I, who have 25+ years of teaching experience, have spent the past three days with my rear end GLUED to my chair preparing paper work so that a teacher with 15 years' LESS experience than I have can approve courses I'm teaching for home schooled students in the fall, it gets OLD.

Now the program I'm prepping for is very home school friendly. Folks are trying hard. The teachers in the school district who have taken this program on are working their little behinds off. I respect them TREMENDOUSLY. I also know it's the old issue - accountability. That word, in and of itself, may be the killer of all innovation in education in this country.

In addition to the thousands of children who have been left behind by the "No Child Left Behind" act, what about all the creative, innovative teachers who have been left behind, as well? Can we really afford to lose the best of what they have to offer?

On much more cheerful notes...

That creative twosome, Jenn, of Something to Say About Life in the Netherlands and Allison, of Soccer Mom in Denial have joined forces to create an absolutely stunning photography blog Looking Into . By all means go check it out - the photos are thought-provoking and simply beeeeyooootiful!!! Congrats Jenn and Allison!!!


Don't forget to enter the fabulous The Long and The Short of It Grand Opening Contest

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - I try to mail things in Soviet Russia - pt. 2

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Kate - find the other participants on their posts today

For part one of this story, go here

We set off at a quick trot back up to Krasnaya Boulevard. We no sooner made it to the corner than one of my students screamed at the top of her lungs, “Daaaaaadddddeeeeeeee!!!!”

A current model Peugeot roared to a stop, almost causing six cars behind it to have a huge pile up. I saw a window roll down and a short, mustached man lean over. “Natashka, whatever is the matter?”

Natasha gave the famous pout that had already caused at least two fist fights that year. “Oh, Daddy it is too terrible. They are not treating Jennifer with any respect, and we Soviet children are not being given a chance to show that we want peace and they were actually mean to Jennifer and we have talked to so many of these women,” here Natasha wrinkled her nose, “and no one will listen to Jennifer and it is such a simple thing, really….” Natasha went on and on and finally slowed down enough to explain what had happened.

“Well, Natasha, of course we need to fix this! Jennifer, a pleasure to meet you! I am Sergei Davidovich!” Natash’s father flashed me a charm-filled smile that rivaled his daughter’s. “Jennifer, you will get into my car and we will go together to this Inna Evgenievna of yours. Children, put the books…. Yes, all the books, into the back seat, and then go back to the pochta and wait for Jennifer to return. Tanya Valentinovna, you please get in the back seat with the books in case you’re needed. Poyekhali! Fast! Fast!”

We all did as we had been ordered. Moments later I found myself zipping through heavy rush hour traffic at a speed I didn’t want to think about. We screeched to a stop in front of the Interior Ministries building, another seedy, shabby monolith. We were parked in a conspicuously illegal spot. Sergei Davidovich tore open the passenger side door, grabbed my hand to help me out of the car and then virtually dragged me along until we ended up in front of Inna Evgenievna’s door. The door was locked. My heart sank.

“No matter, no matter…. I will go see Stepanka,” Sergei Davidovich muttered, dragging me down yet more corridors. We stopped in front of an office labeled simply “Minister of Education.” I gulped. I wasn’t at all sure this was a good idea.

“I must see Stepan Ivanovich… now!” Sergei Davidovich barked at the well-coifed woman sitting behind a heavy oak desk.

“Stepan Ivanovich sees no one,” she began, “He is in a very important…”

Before she could finish, Sergei Davidovich had burst through the carved oaken door that was obviously the way to the regional Minister’s office. We saw a man with his feet up on a massive heavy, oaken desk, staring out the window and obviously lost in thought.

“Styopa!” Sergei Davidovich crossed behind the desk and gave Stepan Ivanovich a bear hug. “How ARE you? And is this the way you are spending your time these days? Planning what next to put in your garden? Why don’t you work a bit, like the rest of us!” Sergei Davidovich smiled affectionately at the short, balding man who was looking completely perplexed.

“Seryozha! What brings you here on this cold afternoon? I was just thinking of our upcoming hunting trip and was planning to call you,” he stopped abruptly, noticing I was also in the room. “And who is this? A foreigner? A familiar one from somewhere….”

“Styopa, come, come! This is our famous American teacher, Jennifer! You know, the one on the exchange!” Sergei Davidovich gave his friend a stern smile.

“Oh, yes, Miss Shikes! Come in, sit down, what can I do for you? I wish Masha had let me know you were coming…. Er, did we have an appointment?” Stepan Ivanovich was clearly perturbed.

“Styopa, er, Stepan Ivanovich, I insisted on bringing Jennifer myself… she has been delivered a grave injustice by members of our Soviet postal system,” Sergei Davidovich flashed me another smile.

“Ah! I see!” began Stepan Ivanovich, “Wait…. No, I don’t… er, what can I help with? I am not the postal authorities… what has happened? What could possibly have happened?” Stepan Ivanovich frowned.

“Now, now, Styopa, you worry too much!” Sergei Davidovich slapped Stepan Ivanovich on the back so hard that I thought the little man would be knocked across his massive desk. “The problem, so to speak, is a simple one, and one I know you’ll be able to help her with. Isn’t she a charming lady?”

I tried to smile in my most charming manner.

Stepan Ivanovich coughed. “Alright, explain, please.”

Sergei Davidovich explained, elaborating and exaggerating every detail until we left Stepan Ivanovich’s office 5 minutes later, permission slip in hand. When I read the paper it stated that “Soviet educational materials are to be exported to the United States to promote peace, as per instructions of Stepan Ivanovich Rustov, Minister of Education for the Krasnodar Region.”
I looked at my watch. 4:31. “We must RUN,” I called, dragging Sergei Davidovich down the corridors of the monolith.

At 4:39 we were at the side door of the post office again, students, books, and a weary-looking Tanya in hand. Sergei Davidovich held the door open for me, then raced off to his last appointment of the day. I felt as though I exploded to that top floor and I tore into Rita Sergeievna’s office. “Here is the paper!” I started to wave it in front of her face, and stopped, realizing a different, stone-faced woman had taken her place.

“May I help you with something?” Stone Face asked. “I was just closing up for the day.”

I put on a Tanya smile. “Yes, please! I was here earlier and spoke to Rita Sergeievna and she said I could export these materials if I got permission from my exchange officer, but she wasn’t there so I have this!” I waved the paper again, “and it’s from the Minister himself and I am sure that must be good enough and…” I stopped, looking at the incomprehension on her face, “Didn’t Rita Sergeievna tell you? She promised me she would!” I realized I was starting to whine at this point, which is never a good idea when dealing with Soviet officials, but I was becoming increasingly desperate.

“I am sorry, but Rita Sergeievna and I didn’t overlap. She had to leave early and I came in just a few minutes ago,” the woman looked at me calmly and coldly over the top of her glasses. I knew she must be the actual person in charge here, as she was attractive, calm and utterly without personality, typical of Soviet women put in charge of large, bureaucratic structures. “Now what is it that you need?”

I explained. She asked to see all the books. Again. I explained we’d need to do all this before 5:00 because I had students with me and I didn’t want to inconvenience them again by bringing all these books downtown a second time. She asked to see the books again. I showed her the paper I had. She explained that she wasn’t under the authority of the Ministry of Education and while the paper would help, ultimately it was her decision. I ran down the stairs skipping three and four at a time and gathered the students and marched them, no, shoved them, up the six flights and paraded them in front of who I now knew was Natalia Grigorievna. She looked through each of the bags thoughtfully. I dared not look at my watch. Finally, she put the last book in the last bag.

“Alright, everything is in order. You are all set. I will give you a voucher to take to Sophia Stepanovna, and she will allow you to send these books of yours,” her lips turned up in what might have been a smile, but I was too tired to care. It was 4:52.
“Thank you, thank you Natalia Grigorievna!” I clutched the paper to my chest and gestured to the students to follow me, quickly. We all zipped down the stairs, around the corner, up the carved stone steps, started to open the doors and found them…. locked.

I couldn’t believe it.

A couple of students giggled nervously, others just looked exhausted. Without realizing it, I gave them all an impromptu lesson in American vernacular. I raced back around the corner to run back up to Natalia Grigorievna’s office, just to see her chatting with the seedy guard, who was locking the outside street door. “Natalia Grigorievna,” I panted, “We cannot get in! What must we do?”

“Oh, well, we are closed, of course!” she gave me a disingenuous smile.

“But…. It is before five o’clock!” I started.

“Yes? It is nothing, just come back another day,” she smiled at me more broadly now. “I hope you enjoy your evening.” With that, she buttoned two more buttons on her coat, and walked up the street, teetering on heels that were obviously uncomfortable.

I walked back to my loyal troupe. Much to my astonishment, nobody else was in the least surprised. “Now, dear Jennifer,” Alyosha smirked, “we give you a cultural lesson!” The others giggled. I was famous for my “cultural lessons” as part of their language program.

“Well, what can you do?” I thought to myself. The students didn’t seem upset; they offered to take home their individual bags and try again the following afternoon. They dispersed, rushing off like shooting stars in the cold, autumn night.

Don't forget to enter the fabulous The Long and The Short of It Grand Opening Contest

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Off working...

I'm going to be scarce until I tame my classes for the fall... shhhhhh....

But in the meantime, don't forget to enter the fabulous The Long and The Short of It Grand Opening Contest

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


Marianne had this quiz on her blog and I couldn't resist.

You Are Impressionism

You think the world is quite beautiful, especially if you look at it in new and interesting ways.
You tend to focus on color and movement in art.
For you, seeing the big picture is much more important than recording every little detail.
You can find inspiration anywhere... especially from nature.

In another life (ie. high school/college) I painted, was in art school, studied scenic design and was the daughter of an art historian. This art historian wrote about... Impressionism. What goes around comes around, I guess.

Speaking of Marianne, don't forget to enter the fabulous The Long and The Short of It Grand Opening Contest

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Happy Day

This is a good day.

Some friends of mine who are romance writers have put together a site to review romance books, stories, etc. They've worked incredibly hard to make this a fun and exciting site, and I'm glad all their hard work is paying off. I now have a button on my side bar for the new site - The Long and Short of It. They also have a fabulous contest for anyone who is an avid romance reader.

Another friend of mine, Charity, whom I mention here frequently, and her good friend Darcy, have gotten a wonderful agent and their The Geek Girl's Guide To Cheerleading will, I'm sure, be snatched up by a lucky publishing company soon. I've read bits of this book and it's WONDERFUL!!! And anything these two touch is wonderful so I'm delighted that they're on their way finally. YAHOO Charity and Darcy!

That's it for now. I've gotta go think I can dance. ;-)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - I try to mail things in Soviet Russia

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Kate - find the other participants on their posts today

Okay, so my life isn't that spicy, so I need a soap opera about a post office. This two-part tale took place in another reality - Krasnodar, RFSFR 1987:

I listened to the noises coming from behind the heavy oak door. Childlike twittering, that was the word for it. Pretty weird – these “children” would graduate shortly, and along with that graduation would come marriage, employment and full adult responsibility – unlike their American counterparts, who would spend several more years lost in the world of consumerism and perpetual adolescence.

“No, I am here to help Jennifer!”

“No, she asked for my help!”

“Well, I am stronger… I will be more help!”

The affection shown me, as the “American Teacher,” was truly touching, and I would certainly miss it when I left. They burst in with a flurry, almost knocking down the bust of Lenin that was placed prominently on a pedestal by the door.

“Who have you promised to let help you? Didn’t you promise me? Natasha says you invited her, and Alyosha insists he should carry everything because of his big muscles! Big muscles? Can you imagine? You’re such a silly boy, Alyoshka! Look at him, Jennifer, isn’t he just a twig?” Lena would have gone on forever, but she was cut off by Alyosha, who threw his arms around her, gave her a big bear hug and said, as she tried to squirm out of it, “Are these not strong arms? Want them any stronger, Lenochka?”

With that they both collapsed onto one of the oak, double desks, laughing. By this time a swarm of about seven students from 10C had entered my room, opening the bags by my desks, laughing at what they found, pestering me to ask if they could come, too.

“Alright, enough, enough!” I said, grabbing the various books and trying to shove them back into bags. “Tatiana Valentinovna will be here shortly and she will join us to go down to the post office, and yes, you may ALL go! Don’t you have better things to do with your afternoon than follow me to the post office? What an exciting trip! I have to admit, though, that Alyosha’s strong arms would come in handy…. Although maybe Lena’s look a bit stronger, honestly speaking.” Lena actually stuck her tongue out at Alyosha. Yup, these students were still children.

The trip was going to be a huge pain. Bags were everywhere; they seemed to cover the classroom floor. And each bag was filled with books - gifts which had been given to me by students, their families, strangers, teachers, folks from every institution I had visited in my official capacity as an exchange teacher, so that “American children will know that we want peace.” My Soviet friends and colleagues felt that if Americans saw these books, which featured gentle children’s stories and beautiful landscapes, that they would understand the beauty and warmth of the Soviet Union and be impressed by the sheer generosity of the gift givers. I estimated that I had 120 pounds of books to send home.

Finally, my friend Tanya – Tatiana Valentinovna to the students - came to the door and announced she was ready.

We wandered out of the white brick structure into the bright sunlight of a crisp, autumn day, no different from one I might have experienced if I were teaching that fall in Ann Arbor. Here, though, was the dust of dirt alleys next to paved boulevards, the smell of leaded gasoline and cabbage soup, and the chaos of multitudes of poorly-driven buses and private cars.

We walked to the corner and looked longingly at the trolley stop. Here we were carrying ten pound string bags in each hand. The strings cut into our fingers, making red lines of pressure and pain. The trolley would have been wonderful, but we all looked at each other and decided Nyet. With our bags, there was no possibility of shoving our bodies onto the sardine-like trolley. We would walk the two miles to the post office.

As we walked along Krasnaya Boulevard, past the manicured center areas filled with marigolds and roses, we worked out the lyrics of American pop songs and I tried to avoid translating phrases from Harold Robbins’ books, a special favorite of these teens. “What does ‘going down on someone’ mean?” asked one of my most sheltered students. As I coughed and tried to think of what to say, Alyosha piped up with “I can tell you, Dasha, but I really, really don’t think you want me to!” He laughed and glanced at me. He was probably my best student, as well as sort of being my favorite student, although I would never, ever have admitted having anything resembling a favorite. He was a brilliant disaster who felt school was beneath him and had put himself on his own “program” to learn English. He was kicked out of our elite school shortly after I left Krasnodar, and I wonder now if he only made it through that semester due to my presence and favoritism.

Finally, we arrived at the monolithic stone building that was Krasnodar’s Centralnaya Pochta. I pushed through the metal doors and almost knocked into the ubiquitous bust of Lenin. As I bumped my left arm into the pedestal, the pain of carrying my books shot through like fire.

The post office was a large, drafty room with thirty-foot ceilings and an attempt at grandeur that was ruined by the shabby way in which it had been maintained over the years. My students sauntered over to the long line, uncomplaining. I could see by their shifting and flexing that everyone’s arms were as sore as mine.

We goofed around while waiting, picking up particularly silly picture books and reading parts aloud. It took awhile, but the line actually moved forward, something that was not a given on many of the lines in Krasnodar.

Eventually I made it to the head of the line, walked to the next available worker, and gestured to the students and Tanya to come and join me. I explained what we wanted to do in terms of shipping the books and that I had been told to bring the unwrapped books to the post office and that I understood that the books would be inspected and sent from there. The woman behind the counter looked me over very carefully. She looked at the bags filled with books. She looked at each of my students, taking in the details of each uniform, each variation in apron or material or pin (while dressed “alike” the older students had a bit of choice in some of the accessories of their uniforms). She took a particularly long time looking over Tanya, apparently deciding whether or not to approve of Tanya’s choice in clothing. “Nyet,” was what she finally said.

“What do you mean, nyet? What nyet?” I was puzzled.

Nyet, this isn’t the right station. I don’t work with these things. I am not even sure who works with these things, but you must go to Sophia Stepanovna,” she pointed to an incredibly large, incredibly grouchy-looking woman who was standing behind a huge set of antiquated scales. The students hadn’t particularly been paying attention to any of this, having been absorbed in some choice piece of gossip. I waved them over and explained that we needed to cross the office to the weigh station. The caravan of books followed me to Sophia Stepanovna.

“Good afternoon,” I began, “I would like to send these books to the U.S. The woman over there felt that you would know how to do this.”

Sophia Stepanovna studied me carefully. She looked at Tanya carefully. She glanced at the students, but dismissed them quickly. She gestured to one of the bags with a “give me” swipe of her hands. I lifted one of the bags onto the table. She turned it upside down, scattering books everywhere. She looked at each book, sorting some into one pile, some into a second pile and placing a tourist book in a third. She stood back with her hands on her hips, considering the books. She looked at all the other bags. She gave a low whistle through her teeth. “Who are you?” she snapped.

“I am Jennifer Shikes, an American teacher, on an exchange. I teach at Spetzshkola #23. This is my translator for the exchange, Tanya Valentinovna Baumova, another English teacher at Spetzshkola #23. And these are my students from 10C.”

“You know you can’t send these books?” she smiled at me pleasantly.

“Um…. They are children’s books, and some tourist books, surely I can send them to Americans? These books were given to me by students and families so I that I can show Americans how generous and kind Soviets are and how much Soviets want peace. Soviets DO want peace. Surely this is permitted?” I smiled pleasantly back.

“Forbidden,” she shifted her weight and looked at me somewhat gleefully.

“Forbidden? Why on earth would this be forbidden? It’s not like I am smuggling Solzhenitsyn out of the country!” I was exhausted, not only from this particular bureaucrat, but from countless situations like this one since arriving in the U.S.S.R. Tanya drew a deep breath…. Invoking Solzhenitsyn was probably not my swiftest move. Now the stupid woman might think I actually was up to something. Her eyes narrowed. “Forbidden. Now move on…. I have work to do!” with that she turned on her heels and retreated to the back of her cubicle, shuffling papers over and over since it was obvious she had nothing else to do.

“Please? Sophia Stepanovna?” Tanya was at her most obsequious. “We don’t want to intrude on any more of your work time, but isn’t there someone from whom we could obtain permission? Or at least apply for it?”

Sophia Stepanovna clomped back to the front of the cubicle and smiled a bit at Tanya. I tried to put on an obsequious expression as well, but I just am not good at that. I think it is something genetic with Soviet citizens, and something that is missing from the American gene pool.

She looked Tanya up and down once more as if gauging whether or not she wanted Tanya's dress in exchange for the permission. Okay, I was not going to get into the weirdness of this. “Alright. There may be something you can do. Perhaps.”

Tanya just beamed. “I knew you might solve this for us."

Sophia warmed to her subject. “Alright. Go out of the building and walk to the side of the building on Pochta Street. You will see a small entrance. Go in that entrance, walk up to the 6th floor, and see Natalia Grigorievna. Bring ALL the books, so she can approve each one.” She smiled with triumph, certain that we would not even attempt such a task.

I sighed.

Tanya sighed.

We turned to face the students. “Alright ribyata (kids), listen up! They are telling me I must go to the side of the building and up many flights of stairs to have each book approved individually. Should we forget it? I can maybe get a taxi back to the motel and will try to figure something else out. What do you all think?”

“Jennifer, for you I will carry all these books myself!” Alyosha looked at me and winked. The others rolled their eyes at his grandstanding, but agreed:

“What are a few stairs?”

“You think we have all kinds of exciting things to do on a Tuesday afternoon?”

“You think Alyoshka’s the only one with strong arms? Bah!”

“Alright then,” I massaged my arms and got ready to pick up the bags once more. “Poyekhali! (we’ve gone!)”

We left the building and rounded the corner. We found the doorway. A dour “guard” stood there looking seedy and ashen, and eyed me suspiciously. It seemed that everyone in Russia seemed to know instantly that I “wasn’t from around these parts.”

After climbing the six flights of stairs, we crammed ourselves into a nine-by-nine foot office with two oak desks and stacks of letters and packages everywhere. All of these pieces had been “held” for inspection. “It’s a wonder any postage moves anywhere in this country,” I thought to myself. “Natalia Grigorievna, pozhalosta (please)?” I asked, trying to mimic Tanya’s obsequious smile.

A woman with brassy red hair and too much makeup looked up sourly from her desk. When she saw me, her eyes widened.

“And what do you want?” she asked.

“Sophia Stepanovna sent us,” I began. “We have a rather difficult diplomatic matter.” I smiled so broadly I was sure my molars were showing.

She frowned. I guessed the smile was the wrong tactic for this situation.

“Diplomatic? With these…..” she looked at my students, “…. Children?”

“Well, actually, yes. You see, Natalia Grigorievna,” I began.

“I am not she,” the redhead looked at me as if I were a large cockroach who had emerged from her dinner plate.

“Oh, well, we don’t want to waste your time, but perhaps if you could possibly let us know where we might find Natalia Grigorievna?” I tried the Tanya smile once again.

“I am not she, but perhaps I might help?” she said this with a tone of voice that indicated that the likelihood of this event was slim to none.

“Alright, well, as I said… a diplomatic matter. Um, I am the first exchange teacher from the U.S. to Krasnodar. I teach at Spetzshkola #23 and additionally I go to speak and learn at many other educational institutions in Krasnodar. As I have been here during the past two months, many generous Soviet citizens have given me these children’s and tourist books to bring back to the U.S. to distribute to libraries to show that Soviet citizens want peace. I am only allowed to bring back 140 pounds of weight on my return flight and am only halfway through my exchange and receive more of these materials each day. There are close to 120 pounds here. I have the rubles to send them…. I am planning to use much of my exchange salary to do so. Surely this isn’t a problem?” I even cast my voice to a higher pitch, which I had learned to do from another of my friends, Rimma, when she was in difficult bureaucratic settings.

She took a very long, drawn out breath. “Alright, well…. This may be possible. I assume you have your required permission voucher from your exchange administrators at the Department of Education?”

“Er…. No. I had no idea I would need such a thing.”

She laughed. “There is always permission needed, our American exchange teacher. Always… If you learn nothing else here, this is what you must learn.” She chuckled again. “Alright, so it is very simple. You go to your exchange administrator and if she gives the proper papers to you, I will give the proper papers to Sophia Stepanovna. Fair enough?”

I felt like my face would crack from trying to hold expressions foreign to me. “Alright, I will go and speak with Inna Evgenievna. And to whom am I speaking now?” I smiled at her once more.

“I am Rita Sergeievna. I work with Natalia Grigorievna, who is out for her lunch.”

I looked that the clock. It was 4:12. The ministry would close at 5, as would the pochta. The ministry was 10 blocks away.

“Very well,” I said to her, “May I please leave the books here? The children are getting tired.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t,” she said dryly. “I imagine that Inna Evgenievna might well want to see exactly what it is you are sending.”

“Well…. Very, well… Thank you,” I said through my teeth.

On the way downstairs I muttered something in English that I didn’t expect to be understood by anyone else. Tanya’s and Alyosha’s heads came up sharply – Tanya looked at me in wide-eyed shock and Alyosha laughed, looking at me with newfound appreciation. I colored scarlet, and gave him the warning sign that this was NOT to be translated for his friends. He chuckled some more. When we got outside I said “Alright, ribyata, you heard what the nice lady said. If we are going to make it to the ministry and back, as tired as we all are…. We must RUN! Are you all up for this, or do you want to do this another day?”

“We are Soviet children…. We can do anything!” they replied, both ironically and seriously.

To be continued...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Writers, Writers everywhere...

I am never at a loss for good things to read.

In addition to the unwieldly stacks of books next to my bed, on the coffee table, on our end table and piled on the chair next to mine at the dining room table, and also in addition to the great reads posted on my blog roll, there are wonderful writers behind the blogosphere who are each working on intriguing projects.

Two major champions of these writers are Charity and Marianne, each of whom has sent us off to recent sales/releases of friends - Trish Milburn and Allie Bonaface. Marianne's wonderful stories and longer works can be found here, and although I wish I could share Charity's fulll wonderful body of fiction with you (she has written some of the best tales I've ever read) some of her tidbits are here and through here.
Then there's Diesel, who is about to release his collection of hilarious blog pieces Anti-Social Commentary from the Secret Files of the Mattress Police, and Rebecca James who has recently released her e-book, Nightswimming.

And then there are those who just plain write. And write and write and write. I'm thinking of Jennifer, whose work as a translator is evident as she translates the world around us into her thoughtful essays on love and family. And Anno, who captures snapshots of her world in a way that's both beautiful and delicate. Greg writes lovely, tight vignettes about his family and youth. Jenn takes us on her perpetual journey of life in the Netherlands. Fourier Analyst has started a spectacular series of Soap Opera Sunday pieces and then there are the founders of Soap Opera Sunday themselves - Brillig and Kateastrophe.

It also seems that NYC/Caribbean Ragazza has a book in the offing, and I noticed Sognatrice has a manuscript button on her blog. As I will soon, too. And as Marianne and Charity do, almost always. I believe Leslie mentioned something about a book, too - and we all know how much she loves Haiku!

And in terms of the generosity of writers, I can speak first hand how generous both Charity and Marianne are with both their advice and their time, and how two food writers, with marvelous websites and backgrounds, Lorna Sass and Gemma Driver, gave of themselves and their time to help me research my latest WIP.

I can't imagine my life without books and reading.

And writing.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

On Vacation...

I'm on an unexpected semi-vacation through Friday, so I'm not sure how much I'll be around. Back soon! ;-)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Starlight, Star Bright - Repost

This morning I had a gut-wrenching scare. I went to feed the piggies, and as I brought out their greens, Starlight, my alpha male, was stretching his little body up as usual, begging for my attention and food. I put the plates down and gathered the pellet dishes. When I returned with the pellets, Starlight was lying near one of the greens plates, wriggling and rolling and seemingly unable to stand or walk. And then he just lay there.

We ended up rushing him to the animal ER and it turned out he had a seizure. He's okay now, but I wanted to revisit part of what makes this little guy so special. This is from my old blog, Jen's Word Stew:

Starlight, Star Bright

Have you ever been kissed by a guinea pig?
I have.

It's tiny licks of love sprinkled across your chin or hand. And it's rare.

I never thought we'd have pets. My husband is highly allergic to so many things that even birds were out of the question. Then some friends were going to Europe and asked us to take care of their guinea pigs. Or more specifically, they asked my son.

And I wanted him to have "work" experiences, so... we lived with two guinea pigs for a month. I hadn't been looking forward to it. Much as I enjoy most animals, rodents and rodent-like creatures don't have much appeal. Tie that in with one horrible experience with an over-reactive hamster during my student teaching experience, and I just wasn't expecting jollies from this venture.

But we all found out some things about guinea pigs:

1. They purr, just like cats, when you pet them or hold them. Not all the time. Not every guinea pig. But they do.

2. DH wasn't allergic!

3. We needed guinea pigs of our own.

We absolutely fell in love with the little, furry fuzzballs, and so, before our friends even returned from their trip, we were the proud owners of two seven-week-old females, Sunshine and Moonbeam.

There was only one problem. They were both preggers and we didn't know it. The whole story behind that is another entry altogether, so suffice it to say that now we have four guinea pigs. There were two deaths in the first litter and one in the second, and we gave away a male from the first litter. Sunshine's litter, however, were two, perfect, red female twins and one adorable, all-black male: Starlight.

There was no doubt that we'd have to find a way to keep Starlight. He was our family favorite (yeah, I know you're not supposed to have favorites) from the moment he opened his groggy little eyes at us. Smart as a whip, gorgeous, curious and affectionate, he weak-weaked his way into our hearts from day one.

There was also no doubt that four guinea pigs is our absolute limit.

So, today Starlight had his manhood taken away. This can be a tricky proposition, but thanks to the wonderful ministrations of Animal Kingdom Veternary Hospital and the talents of Dr. Vicki Marsh, Starlight will soon be safe for piggies everywhere! Up until this point, we were chaperoning his "playtime" with the others for an hour every day. Oy Vey.

So, much as I'm embarrassed to say it, all day long, my thoughts were with little "weaky-boy" as he stayed with the Vet.

But now he's home, and snuffling his way through food, litter and bed.

He's not a purrer, but tonight, when I petted him upon his return, he purred.

And he licked my hand. And I swear he smiled.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fifteen Haiku about the Farmers Market

Friday Fifteen

1. 7 am early
Are there any good things left?
not enough to park

2. Lush ripe tomatoes
smiling from their basket-stand
pick one - happy bite!

3. yeast/sugar odor
tantalyzing everyone
drawn to this stall now

4. elderly woman
fights cane against young mother
with fancy stroller

5. How much is the price?
As much as you'll pay for it
You put the herbs down.

6. Heirloom vegetables
organic everything - quick!
Catch before they're gone

7. No cookies yet, Love.
It's before breakfast - too soon.
tears trail down sad face.

8. Cheese! Fresh mozzarella
Just made this morning - still warm
salt wash delicious

9. Proud she sits with sweet
potato pies and home-baked
muffins - her offer

10. Blueberry lady
Always makes me glad she smiles
talks her week and mine

11. Peaches in August
Zucchini in July - fresh
Greens in rainy spring

12. Rain heavy on roof
Will business still be enough?
Farmers stand worried

13. Tantre Farm - best!
My CSA home-bounty
Vegetables galore

14. Savor warm berries
hot bread with melting icing
wash with strong coffee

15. Everyone you know
Will stop here on sunny days
early risers or not

Okay... I'm suckered into it! I'm entering Leslie's Haiku Buckaroo Contest!