Sunday, September 30, 2007

Coming Soon - Soap Opera Sunday - Three Hundred, etc., etc., can't be wrong pt. 2

Hey Everyone - I'm sick and I've spent 8 hours today (no joke - 8!!! After he did 6 or 7 hours yesterday!!!) helping my kiddo with his high school HW AND I have my own work for my teaching to finish, so...

Part 2 is coming tomorrow as Soap Opera MONDAY.

But for much more fun than this, check out Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. Click on their links and find the other stories!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Off Playing...

Well, my friend J is in from NYC, and I'm going to show her the delights of the Ann Arbor area, so I'll probably be off playing for the next day or two, and will get back to reading at that point, too.

Have a great couple of days and see you back here for Soap Opera Sunday!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nikki Leigh Lady Lightkeeper Tour

Today I am happy to take part in my first ever virtual book tour. I'll be hosting Nikki Leigh, author of Widow's Walk, Lilah and the Locket and now, Lady Lightkeeper, the second in her Misty Cove series. Nikki also has an active promotion business, which she'll tell you about, below. Here is the blurb from Lady Lightkeeper:

Lizbeth is a woman of uncommon strength and determination and that's one of the things that her husband William, loves about her. When an unexpected turn of events cuts Lizbeth's happiness short, that strength is tested in ways she never imagined. Her children are growing up in a time and place where death and loss are a common part of life.

While she struggles with her own fears, she must help her children find their way through an uncertain future. Lizbeth keeps an almost obsessive vigil from the lighthouse catwalk. This makes her the ideal choice for the new lightkeeper for the Stormy View lighthouse. She must decide if she's ready to move forward. Misty Cove residents are concerned about whether Duncan, the assistant lightkeeper, is hiding a dark secret? What long-buried secrets will challenge Lizbeth as she makes the journey through the pages of Lady Lightkeeper?

An here is our interview:

What attracts you to lighthouses and the sea? How did you get started with this as a setting?

I have always loved the ocean and the coast and lighthouses and the history surrounding them fascinates me. So, setting my stories around lighthouses seemed like a natural thing to do. Its also given me an excuse learn more about lighthouses, the lifesaving service and a couple of areas on the east coast.

You mention that Lilah and the Locket is a very different kind of book. Are the Misty Cove books staying in your future, or are you enjoying 1950s Cape Hatteras more?

The Misty Cove books all have elements of suspense throughout the story and the characters are involved with the history of the lighthouse that I feature in the stories. However, Lilah is a cozy mystery and I plan to make the rest of my books mysteries. The third book in the historic Misty Cove book could have a mystery, but I'm just starting to round out my ideas for the book. I enjoy both of the series, although the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras is a favorite vacation location for me. I've enjoyed learning more about the history of Cape Hatteras and Cape Ann.

Do you prefer writing series or writing stand alone books?

So far, I've got plans to make my books part of series. A series gives the author and the reader a chance to get to know the characters and the setting in so much more detail. I've enjoyed spending over 20 years (in her life, not mine) with Lizbeth and her family.

For fans of Widow's Walk, what similarities can readers look forward to in Lady Light Keeper?

Almost all of the main characters are back. Lizbeth is just the way you remember her. Sara gets to have more of “her own life” in this book. You will see Aidan and Marta as they grow up. Also, I reveal the answer to a question that lingered for many people at the end of Widow's Walk. There was also a secret buried in Widow's Walk and the secret is revealed and resolved in Lady Lightkeeper. For fans of Ida Gardner, she is back and she's still got a grudge against Lizbeth. There is also plenty of lighthouse detail, history and a shipwreck rescue.

What kind of projects are you looking forward to working on in the future?

It's quite a list, but I'll give you the scoop on what's coming -

1- Journeys of a Lifetime - Readers' Station anthology - November release

2 - Book Promo 101 - Basics of Book Promotion - release in November

3 - Book Promo - Writers' Resource Ebook - November release

4 - Stormy Shores - re-release of contemporary Misty Cove book - late this year

5 - A Whisper on the Waves - a short story about Sara arriving in America in the early 1800's. This story brings her to America and to the Sullivan household.

6 - I'm starting to plan Rebels and Rogues - 3rd book in Misty Cove series. This book will move the focus of the story to Wilmington, NC in 1864-1865 and you will meet friends and family of Duncan Jones (from Lady Lightkeeper). Aidan will be a central character in this story, but we will still visit Lizbeth and Sara.

7 - I'm planning to write Book Promo 201 in November and December for release in early 2008.

8 - There is also some initial planning for a sequel to Lilah and the Locket. Kristie, Nathan and Lilah will be back and Kristie is expecting a baby.

9 - I'm also working on plans for some new promotional services for authors. For more information, visit

10 - I've got a place to offer classes for authors and I hope to have a class based on Book Promo 101 and a series of character development classes available around January or February.

To keep up with the latest news, visit and Any author who would like to learn about a free way to promote their books should visit and look for Book Promotion for You in the left column.

Anyone who posts a comment to this blog will be entered in a giveaway (please include some way to reach you via e-mail). I'm giving one copy of Lady Lightkeeper to one commenter from the tour. Also, for anyone who buys a copy of Lady Lightkeeper this month, needs to email me their receipt and they will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Widow's Walk. Any questions, feel free to contact me -

Thank you very much for letting me visit with you today.

Nikki Leigh

Coming tomorrow!

In the interest of always trying to give fellow writers a hand, I'm participating in my first "book blog tour." I will be hosting Nikki Leigh, author of The Misty Cove Chronicles series, for her Lady Lightkeeper tour.

I will probably do this sort of thing about once per month, and I'd love to host some of my blogging buddies (Rebecca? Marianne? Annette? Are you listening? - or any other readers with a book to promote?) Please let me know if you're interested.

And, please stay tuned...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Out of This World

Soccer Mom in Denial is the queen of nice. Truly. She even has the button to prove it. ;-)

And she's so nice that she cheered me up when I needed some cheering up last week by bestowing this pretty button on me:

And now I have the very pleasant task of bestowing this as well. So, I'd like to send a "right back at ya" to SMID and her partner in crime, Jenn, of Something to Say: About Life in the Netherlands, for their absolutely, outrageously, out-of-this world photography blog: Looking Into. Looking Into provides visual delights every. single. day. And Jenn and Allison are even developing their own niches - Allison is a master of both patterns and the use of words in her photos; Jenn is a wonder at miniatures. And I'm probably screwing up what they're actually trying to do, but these are my very uneducated observations about what they do.

And I'd also like to send a Out of This World button to the very, very funny universe of Rebecca James. Rebecca has a wonderful way of using humor to remind us of how we ALL behave in our day-to-day lives. I absolutely can not read her blog without erupting into laughter.

So to Jenn and Allison for providing me with visual pleasure and to Rebecca for supplying me with laughter, you are all Out of this World! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - Three Hundred Chanting and Clapping Jews Can’t Be Wrong

Yeah, they can.

So it all started the summer between seventh and eighth grades. I was at my beloved summer camp. It was my fifth and last summer there; I had gone for eight weeks each summer since third grade. I was a Senior, in camp terms.

Each summer, since that first one, I’d had a “boyfriend.” Or at least a crush.

Now, note that having said boyfriend did not connote physical contact of any sort. Yes, there were some adventurous souls who might hold a hand or two, or perhaps have some sort of groping session in what we at Camp Hillcroft called “The Enchanted Forest.”

And during this last summer, my sights fell on Rob, a lanky, curl-haired nerd with huge brown eyes. He was shy. And I’ve always had a thing for shy. And he was friend of Steve’s. And I’d always had a thing for Steve. But Steve was out of my league (and in retrospect, I think he was also probably gay), and Rob was approachable.

He was a four-week guy. I was an eight-week girl. So we spent those four weeks sitting near each other at group activities, making silk screens side by side, sitting by the sidelines together during athletic competitions (we were both bookworms), and dancing, several feet apart, at our bi-weekly dances. And we talked.

I can’t quite remember what we talked about, but I’m sure it had to do with books and protesting the Viet Nam war. Because it just was like that.

And then the day came when the busses came, and Rob and the other four-week kids were taken away.

And it was sad. But then… there were the letters. And come they did, and they were a source of much pride for me and much intrigue for my cabin mates. And they probably went something like this:

Dear Jen,

I’m fine. I went bike riding with John today. And then we got ice cream. How is camp? Have you talked to Steve? I miss you.

Your Friend,

I ask you: can it get any more romantic than that?

So the summer ended and school began and the letters kept coming. Maybe every week or three or four. Occasionally we’d talk on the phone, but that was “long distance” (he lived in Valley Stream, about an hour away by Long Island Express Train), so we couldn’t talk very long. Our conversations went something like this:

Him: Hi.
Me: Hi.
Him: How are you?
Me: Um… good. How are you?
Him: Good. How’s school?
Me: Good. And how’s your school?
Him: Good.

Well, you get the picture.

And one day a very different kind of envelope arrived from Valley Stream. It was a big, thick envelope. Square. Embossed. My name and address were printed in gold. And the return address was the one I had memorized by this time.

And when I opened it, I was invited at the pleasure of Mr. and Mrs. X, to the Bar Mitzvah of Rob X. It would be about six weeks from the opening of the envelope. It was in Valley Stream. A long, long way away. I’d have to go by train. Alone.

My parents said, “No.”

Tearfully, I called Rob.

He called back. His mother would like to speak with my mother, please.

She said, “Uh huh” a lot. And then “I see” a lot. And finally “Okay” a lot. And I don’t quite know what went on in that conversation, but I do know that when my mother got off the phone, I was going to Valley Stream. And we were going dress shopping. That Saturday. And I needed a “formal” gown.

I’d never had one. We went to Bloomingdales and Sack’s and Lord and Taylor. We didn’t even bother with Macy’s or Alexander’s because my mom just knew it had to be special. I didn’t know why it had to be so special, I’d been to plenty of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs before, and usually a party dress would suffice.

“Trust me,” said my mother. “You’ll see.”

So I ended up with a long, peach gown. It had an Empire waist and was tight across my budding chest. The sleeves were puffy and short and showed off my slender arms. There was a peach-colored shift underneath and the top skirt was sheer, with a cameo print etched delicately throughout. We bought pantyhose. And white sandals, even if it was before Memorial Day. They matched.

And the six weeks passed pretty quickly, and I really didn’t think anything of it, other than the fact that Rob’s and my letters came more frequently and now we signed them with cheery “See you soon!”s.

And the day arrived when my father took me to Penn Station and put me on the train to Valley Stream. Rob’s Aunt Ellen would pick me up from the platform on the other side. They promised.

And sure enough, Aunt Ellen was on the platform. She was a very nice, elegant lady with the same curly hair and deep brown eyes as Rob. And she drove me to the synagogue and dropped me off in the section where about forty other girls and boys were seated.

And that’s when I began to know that something was up.

Aunt Ellen had introduced me to one or two girls seated near me, and they shook hands and were polite as she stood there, but when she glided away, the giggling started. And the pointing. And I started to feel that my great new dress maybe wasn’t. So great. And through the whole, endless ceremony I’d notice, from time to time, another whisper and a finger pointing at me. But Rob looked pretty handsome in his new suit, kippah and tallit* and I decided to concentrate on him and his moment.

Immediately after services, I was picked up by the same Aunt Ellen and taken off to the country club where the reception would be held. And that was when the fun began...

For more fun, check out Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe. Click on their links and find the other stories!

*a kippah, also known as a yarmulke in Yiddish, is the skull cap worn by male Jews (and now females as well, in certain movements) either in the synagogue or all the time, depending on which branch of Judaism you belong to. A tallit (also known as a tallis, depending on whether you are an Ashkenazic or Sephardic Jew) is a prayer shawl, worn in synagogues (again, traditionally by males, but that's changed in certain branches) and also worn in other settings where prayer takes place.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Too much

This has been a very hard week. A young man we knew, a brilliant scholar and gentle person who had suffered from depression for quite some time, took his life. One of C's classmates tragically lost her father from a fall on Tuesday night. A friend's brother, non-smoking and 54, and with three small children, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and has been brought home to die. Another friend's 71-year-old aunt was given a couple of weeks, at most, after being diagnosed Monday with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

It would have been my father and mother's 49th anniversary this week and his 95th birthday yesterday. He's been gone 15 years from prostate cancer and my sister has been gone 10 years from lung cancer. She didn't smoke, either.

The other deaths bring up these, more personal, losses.

I awoke at 2:00 a.m. with a massive panic attack. I haven't had one in years, and it took me by surprise. Happily, the training I received to rid myself of these attacks kicked in, and I was back to sleep within an hour.

I guess I don't really have anything else profound to say, but I'm not clear how much I'll be around over the next few days and wanted to explain my recent absence.

On the positive side, our weather is glorious and the trees are turning and C is thriving and my friend is coming for a visit next week. So in the midst of a lot of death, life continues.

Give all of your loved ones extra hugs and kisses.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

If I Had $1000000-Barenaked Ladies

Dedicated to Rebecca James and Anno for their posts today. I can't link to them because I stink at putting up videos, but you can click on their blogs in my blogroll!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - The KGB and Me - Coda

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe - find the other participants on their blogs today, and join the fun!

For part one of this tale, go here, and for part two of this tale, go here

We walked down the same gray tunnel that we’d entered all those months ago. This part of Sheremetyevo airport reminded me of the innards of a whale. The wide, concrete, ribbed arch folded down to a scarlet red carpet and was interrupted periodically by windows that showed the dreary tarmac. Despite the fact that it was morning, it was unbearably early, and so we shuffled along feeling the chains of the Soviet friends we had left behind, along with the sorrow of our goodbyes.

I was perpetually on the verge of tears. Despite Tanya’s being there with me until the last second, it was the full week of farewells and ceremonies that had left me in rags, emotionally.

We had one more stop to make before stepping through the security doors and out onto the tarmac and up to the waiting Pan Am jet. We could see the plane through the windows and the taste of freedom was palpable. My U.S. passport was resting in my back pocket, ready for inspection. My ticket was in my hand. I was devastated to be leaving my friends, but the promise of independence, of being back on familiar ground, of embracing family and friends on the other side of this flight was tantalizing.

While my entire experience in Russia had been life-changing, it had also taken enormous concentration and energy for almost every second of my time there. Being a diplomat is not easy, and this was, in fact, what we’d been. For those of us in the cities far from Moscow and Leningrad, it had been even more difficult, as we were anomalies and carefully scrutinized in each bit of our daily routines.

And I was sick of Soviet rules.

And I was sick of behaving.

And I was sick of living inside the lines and trying to do everything within the boundaries of what was acceptable in Soviet society.

So, at the last moment, I had chucked the visa that I had used to travel to Pyatigorsk on that last field trip with the kids. I figured it would only hold me up at the airport, and if there was one thing I wanted, it was to get out.

We’d reached the end of that whale-belly tunnel, and one by one we were being processed through a series of three customs/passport control booths.

I’d remembered from the initial trip that these officials made the guards at Buckingham Palace look downright friendly. My first contact was a series of grunts and pointing, despite my passable Russian. For all I knew, these guards didn’t speak Russian.

I was among the last three of our group of American teachers, and we were among the last passengers to go through passport control. Our group had been held back and given a last "debriefing" by a final Soviet apparatchik. I could see Frank, John and Allie on the other side of security. Allie was doing a happy dance, and John was making faces at us, trying to get us to crack up. We, on the other hand, were trying our best to remain solemn and passive – the best way to fly under the radar in any official situation.

Finally, Mary, Jackie and I were called forward. We each stepped into identical booths. I shoved my passport through the appropriate slot and raised my eyes to look at the guard who would be my key to the other side. He looked at me, and looked at my passport and looked at his computer.

He looked at me again, looked at my passport, rifled through my passport and looked at his computer.

He skipped through my passport, looking at every stamp I had accumulated during my five years of its ownership. He must have seen the stamps for East Germany and Czechoslovakia, among others.

He stared at his computer.

He stared at me.

Vwee,” he barked at me and pointed to a chair to my right. “Seedeetzye!” (You, sit!)

I sat.

He left.

I felt the moisture collect around the back of my neck.

To make things worse, I could see my group through the glass barriers. And they were beginning to board the plane.

I wasn’t.

I was beginning to imagine what would happen if I were thrown in a Soviet jail. What would things be like there? Would there be a special jail for foreign prisoners? There were so many levels of niceties in this classless society, would I be saved as a result?

I waited. I could feel the sweat trickling down my breasts now.

My guard came back to his booth, accompanied by another, poker-faced drone. They whispered intensely, pointing at me and pointing at my passport. They looked at the computer screen and shook their heads.

I noticed the departure lounge was empty with the exception of two, bored-looking Pan Am counter staff. I didn’t dare sneak a look at my watch. I looked down at the floor, trying not to draw attention to myself.


I looked up. My passport was shoved back through the slot. “Iditye!” (Go!)

I went. I picked up my passport and walked through those doors and was met with “Hurry!” by the Pan Am folks and I walked through their doors and I walked out on the tarmac, and up the stairs to my plane, and a lovely flight attendant met me at the door, and showed me to my seat, and when my fellow teachers saw me they broke into cheers.

And I sat down to an International Herald Tribune and a glass of orange juice. It was the sweetest orange juice I’ve had before or since. And the news was from a Capitalist source and uncensored.

And I just wanted to kiss my fellow teachers, kiss the Soviets on the plane, kiss the seats, the arm rests, the carpet and my newspaper. But I didn’t.

I sipped my orange juice and read my paper and wallowed in being on an American plane.

And we took off and began to soar into the skies, leaving the Soviet Union, with its beauty and its terror, behind us.

Friday, September 14, 2007

In Honor of the School Year - 15 of my favorite education sites

Friday Fifteen

As many of you know, we home schooled for six years. Over that time I found many simply wonderful sites that would be helpful to both students schooled at home and those schooled in the traditional way. I'm hoping that maybe some of these sites will prove useful to a few readers:

1. Project Gutenberg - This is a library of over 17,000 free books whose copyrights have expired in the United States. It is a wonderful resource for those who don't have good libraries nearby or who want to save money but have their children read classics and other excellent materials. They also need volunteers and funding and this is a site well worth supporting.

2. MIT's Open Courseware - students from all over the world can participate in MIT courses for FREE. This is an ever-changing list of classes (over 1700 currently) for each term. Most classes are self-directed, but still - this is MIT! Plus they have a free weekend of classes for middle school students every November that's gotten rave reviews.

3. - there are hundreds of resources on this site, plus special sections for both parents and teachers. I'd recommend the teacher resources to parents, as well, because there are real gems there.

4. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab - this is a wonderful resource for students in 7th - 12th grades, their parents, and those advanced students who are a little younger. They have tons of exercises, explanations, plans, etc., etc. It's a wonderful service.

5. - I'm sure that Fourier Analyst mentioned this link here, but it bears repeating. This is an amazing source for all things astronomy, and again, has sections for students, teachers, etc. Wonderful resources, beautiful photography, clips, etc.

6. Virtual Library Museums Page - this is the "top" page for comprehensive listings of museums all over the world. Click on a country and links and museum descriptions will be provided. Three of my favorite museum sites (all art, because that's just the way it is) are The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Louvre, and The Hermitage. Oh, and I love The American Museum of Natural History as well. Two more I just had to add in are and The Henry Ford. I think the Smithsonian is for obvious reasons, and I had to give a plug to The Henry Ford - it truly is one of our nation's treasures and can merit a visit to Michigan all on its own. If you click on their History Field Trips section, you'll end up with teacher resources.

7. - the site of the American Academy of Poets. This is a wonderful resource for poems, biographies, history, types of poetry, etc., etc.

8. K-12 Resources for Music Educators - links, links, and more links on music.

9. - similar to, but with the National Public Radio content. Free podcasts, clips, articles, etc., on a huge variety of topics.

10. - even though this is a commercial site, there are hundreds of activities, author's interviews, lesson plans, etc., etc. Wonderful clips, too. I've used this site for various levels of teaching over the years.

11. The Food Network - another commercial site that's chock full of great projects, etc. While this is definitely less kid-friendly than most of the other sites here, it provides thousands of recipes, great how-to videos and a lot of information about party planning, etc., which is a wonderful resource for teens who are part of extra-curricular organizations.

12. - while this is ostensibly for college students, it has wonderful resources in terms of applying to colleges, information on political issues, national parks, etc. Basically, it's a web portal for all of the materials that might be handled by the U.S. government. Which means this site is very well-funded. But it also means this site is sponsored by the U.S. government. There is a similar portal for younger kids -

13. The Educational Resources Section for the EPA - there are tons of resources and activities for students of all ages. Again, the photography and details are wonderful here.

14. One of my real frustrations is that I haven't found a site that I just love for drug education. The best one I've found, though, is NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse. It at least gives concrete information and is easy to navigate.

15. Ditto for a service learning website that I just love. But again, this is probably the best - Service It has pretty good resources but is harder to navigate than I'd like.

Happy Learning!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Klutzes of the World - Unite!

There have been many reflections on "pretty" lately. See these wonderful posts by Anno, Jennifer, Carol, Anno and Jennifer - and yes, those are intentionally repeated links.

Today I'm going to not-so-gently meditate on another wonder of growing older - grace.

Yes, arguably, we may gain some spiritual grace over the years, but grace of a different sort eludes us. Or me, in any case.

My new heroine for my mystery series is a klutz. And I guess I was channeling her this morning because I managed to pull a muscle in my abdomen. And not any of the usual ones that you expect via sit-ups or some reasonable method.

It was pure klutz. And yes, it was at least through a workout session and not by, like, eating the wrong string bean or something.

The hives are back. Dum da dum dum. Yes, all those wonderful medicines I was given have run their course, and my good health and non-itchy evenings have gone down the drain along with the last of the steroids.

So, this morning, after 4 hours of sleep (which has been a pattern for a whopping 5 or 6 nights now), I am distracted. This, despite the fact that I had a lovely dream where I got to host Jan and Goofball during their sojourn to America. I guess I was jealous of Soccer Mom in Denial.

But... see, I'm distracted. Okay, so in this general level of distraction I begin my workout with no higher ambitions than to feel less miserable and stop barking at my family. I do my mile/workout/warm-up for weight training and feel... better. I go into my bedroom to do my weight training and turn on the TV and find Good Morning America. Fine. I get in a position to do a modified plank. Fine. I kind of forget how to set myself up. Distraction. Distraction. Distraction. My thighs are itching from the hives. Maybe I can scratch them?

No, scratching is bad.

I. am. going. to. ignore. this. itching. And do my plank.

I lift up into the plank and let out a yell that brings both DH and DS running. I manage to pull the muscles running down the side of my stomach. I even looked them up. They are my internal oblique muscles. I manage, with great pain, to stand straight. I am heading for the showers, because my work out is kaput.

Okay, ladies and gentleman of a *certain* age - what is your best klutz story of the moment. Come on, leave a comment. I know already that Jami's had one of these weeks herself (see her September 7th entry).

Don't be shy.

After all, some days, all we have left is our dignity, right? ;-)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - The KGB and Me - pt. 2

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Walking Kateastrophe - find the other participants on their blogs today, and join the fun!

For part one of this tale, go here.

Part 2:

It was about a week ago, and it was one of the weirdest things yet. And that’s saying something in a country where each day was made up of “weird.”

“Why was my phone changed?” I stood in front of the “reception,” which was misnomer if ever there was one. The two regulars behind the desk still flew from me like pigeons whenever I approached. They were clearly still frightened of being stuck with an American guest for three months.

The shorter, stouter one looked up from behind her magazine. “Shto?” “What?”

“Why do I have a new phone?” I said this calmly. Quietly. I wasn’t trying to draw attention.

She did the Soviet shrug. “Neeznayoo.” She ran the word together – Idon’tknow. “You don’t have a new phone. Why would you have a new phone? There is no new phone.”

Okay, so that was an answer. Of sorts.

“Well, when I left for school this morning, I had a gray phone in my room. And it worked perfectly well. Now, as I return from school, I have a bright red phone and there are odd clicking noises and I can hear bits of other conversations occasionally.” I placed my hand on the counter and leaned in. The smooth wood felt cool and comfortable and I leaned more fully against the counter. I was tired, my feet were aching from the walk home from school, and I wanted to get out of my teaching outfit and into my jeans.

“All our phones are red. It must be your old phone.” She ducked back behind the magazine and leaned against the back counter, putting more distance between us.

“Um… right.” I looked at the bank of gray phones sitting next to her on the back counter. She jumped a bit.

“No, our phones are grey. It is the room phones that are red.”

Umhmm… I gave up and went back to my room.

And then there was the student, who wouldn’t identify himself and had a much deeper voice than the usual, reedy teenaged voice that I would hear when a student called to ask for help or to issue an invitation. And, of course, this particular, unidentified student was only interested in my selling audio tapes I had brought and then setting up a black market sales thing in partnership with him. Which I was clearly going to do. Because my exchange meant nothing to me, right?

So, yeah, I kinda knew I was being watched by someone.


But if Tanya wasn’t ready for this information, I certainly wasn’t going to push it. We walked along the boulevard under the glorious sun, lifting our faces like sunflowers.


It was very different weather the day this all came to a head.

Tanya and Rimma and I were the accompanying teachers for the field trip for the November 7th vacation. Another anomaly in the Soviet school system – students usually took several-day “field trips” with their teachers during “holidays.” When the children actually did get holidays was still unclear to me. This was our second field trip and I had fought hard to be able to go. The upshot was that the buses we took and the youth hotel we stayed in were safe enough for Soviet children, but not for the American “guest”. This had left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.

But here I was, up in the mountains of the Caucasus, in a fairly lovely, if simple, youth hotel in the middle of a blizzard. It was around 9:30 at night, and Tanya and I were comfortably lounging in pajamas and keeping snug against the raging weather outside. We were talking about Pink Floyd, one of Tanya’s obsessions. I’d brought The Wall and we were listening to it on my portable cassette player, which I’d donate to the school at the end of my run there.

Tanya was. obsessive. with. Pink. Floyd. And I’d been listening to all her thoughts on Pink Floyd for about an hour. And we were having a real, girlfriend-bonding time. And this must have sparked something in Tanya’s conscience because all of a sudden she grabbed my wrist and tried to drag me off the bed where we were sprawled. Given that I was 5’3” and probably 125 or 130 and she was 5’1” and maybe 100, made this an interesting endeavor, but she did, in fact, pull me off the bed and out through the balcony door with such force that I was astounded.

We stood there, on the concrete balcony, in bare feet. Snow swirled around us and there were drifts already appearing at the corners of our 6’ by 6’ space.

“Tanya, what the?”

“Shhh… let me talk quickly. This is the only safe place.” She grabbed me close and whispered in my ear, her breath warming against the winds raging around us. She held me by the elbows, intimacy in her every gesture.

“It’s true,” she whispered. “It’s true, what you talked about at that café.”

Now, we’d had so many café conversations at this point that all I could think about was my chattering teeth. I shook my head.

“The KGB – I’ve been questioned!”

Oh my God.

I stood back from Tanya and searched her face. Her eyes had grown pale and glassy. I wondered if she’d start crying.

This all came out in a rush in that same warm breath against my ears and face. Almost like a lover’s embrace: “At my last Komsomol meeting they grilled me. They wanted to know where you’d been, what you’d done, whom you’d seen. They wanted me to go back to the beginning. They wanted… everything.”

She leaned away from me and the frigid air came swirling between us.

“We can go back in now,” she said, and she took my hand as she opened the door back into the room.

We dried off with towels made warm from the rack in the bathroom and said nothing for a bit. The Wall had run out on the cassette player and the room was silent.

I was unsurprised, but it was clear that Tanya had gone through some sort of transformation, both through her experience and through her confession.

“All in all, it was just a brick in the wall.”*

*From Pink Floyd’s “The Wall pt. 1”

Friday, September 7, 2007

Godspeed Luciano - 15 Pavarotti-inspired items

Friday Fifteen

1. I really enjoy opera. I don't particularly enjoy going to opera, but I love listening to it, especially when cooking certain dishes and hiking.

2. There was one of the most simple, but wonderful, posts yesterday by Betsy of Blog Ness Monster. The gift she spoke about is a very personal gift. The voice of a Luciano Pavarotti is a gift to the world.

3. For a lovely clip of the beauty of Pavarotti's voice, visit NYC/Caribbean Ragazza's blog and see the wonderful clip.

4. In 12th grade, my NYC school, along with 3 or 4 other NYC schools was chosen by the Metropolitan Opera to do a modified production of La Boheme, using materials and a scenario and score developed by the Met.

5. We also got to see a dress rehearsal of La Boheme, starring Pavarotti as Rudolfo, and the leads were generous enough to meet with their teen counterparts. I was able to meet with David Reppa, the Set Designer, as I was the set designer for our production.

6. The production (the Metropolitan's, not ours) was legendary and you can still buy a DVD of the production. This is a clip of Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and doing O Mimi tu Piu No from La Boheme, as Rudolfo proclaims his love for, and sorrow about, Mimi. It's from a Met Gala in 1991, complete with Japanese subtitles. Pavarotti's voice was even more lovely in 1977, from what I can recall. And no, Domingo was not with Pavarotti in the 1977 production, sadly.

7. I was not excited about opera when I was in high school, despite these incredibly rich experiences. I did enjoy the dress rehearsal we saw, and I liked listening to it on the radio, occasionally, if it was playing on Sunday morning and I was sprawled with a bagel and the Sunday New York Times.

8. I really became hooked on opera when I saw my favorite movie of all time: A Room with a View. This clip gives you both a feeling for the film and for the way it used opera.

9. The music in that movie was magnificent and my favorite piece is O Mio Babbino Caro, sung beautifully here by Kiri Te Kanawa, as she does in the film .

10. I found this piece and some others on this Kiri Te Kanawa CD, and I've played it at least once a week ever since (and that was a good 20 years ago).

11. A pure, top opera voice is a thing of indescribable beauty and the world was lucky to have had Luciano Pavarotti as long as we did.

12. As often follows with a great talent, though, his life was tumultuous, and I'm not certain those who loved him would entirely share the opinion of the world, especially his long-suffering first wife.

13. I believe, though, that sometimes it's the gusto with which you live that allows you to be a truly great artist. There is ample evidence that great creativity and great madness are linked. I believe that the idea of Bacchus may well have grown from the behavior of ancient entertainers.

14. Pancreatic cancer is probably one of the bleakest deaths and I feel very sad that it decimated this proud, over-the-top artiste. I would have preferred that Pavarotti keel over from a heart attack, at the ripe old age of 89, after having consumed a sumptuous and many-coursed meal, with sycophants and his beloved second wife by his side.

15. You Tube is filled with clips of Pavarotti (sometimes accompanied by Domingo and Carreras, the other two of the famed Three Tenors) singing Nessun Dorma, Death Watch, due to both this being one of his signature pieces and for the fact of its irony this week, but I choose instead to leave you with this clip of U2 and Pavarotti paired for Miss Sarajevo. While Pavarotti's contribution here is very brief, his voice soars to the heavens, and he was in his element - the video starts with his kissing Diana on the red carpet (he was close to her and was devastated when she died), and shows him in the middle of the glitz and glamor that he loved so much. It also is a tribute to his work with both the Red Cross and refugees. And the mood just seems right.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

10 Things I Love that Begin with the Letter "D"

Before I start my "lite-write" for today (and lord knows I needed a "lite-write" after yesterday), I thought I'd share that DS got through his first day with flying colors, and it was only a slightly nervous boy that left for school this morning. And his mom is less nervous, too. And his first day was so unusual because his school is just so darned neat, that I'm going to make that a separate entry, but I just don't feel like writing about it today, so there!

Now, on to the "lite-write":

I first saw this challenge on Anno's place, who apparently saw it on Marianne's blog (not sure how I missed Marianne's posting) but in any case, here's my list:

1. My Dear Husband - D. How could any list not start without him? How could any day not start without him? He's my handsome, sexy rock, my bff, occasionally my frustration, my jokester, and I've never (or at least, rarely) spent a day regretting marrying him 17 years ago. May we have many, many more.

2. The Dixie Chicks - not only do they ROCK as musicians, but any women who can stick it to Bush and stay true to themselves and THEN win a whole mess of grammy awards has my vote any day.

3. Mr. Darcy - my ideal "man". (Especially as played by Colin Firth). Another true-to-himself kind of guy. I could do without the social snobbery, but his sense of moral responsibility and his genuine love of Elizabeth sways me each time I read Pride and Prejudice.

4. Drifting - I really love drifting down a river in an inner tube. I even like those "lazy river" things, if they're not crowded. And I love to drift as a tourist - especially in a foreign land. I like to explore in a leisurely manner, so drifting seems like just the perfect descripter.

5. Daiquiri - A frosty banana or strawberry daiquiri can instantly transport me to Caribbean vacations of my childhood. Not that I was drinking them then, mind you, but they taste to me like St. Maarten or St. Croix or Martinique in a glass. One of the first things my dad would do is to order a daiquiri on the first night before dinner. And since he was from Boston, it was daaa-kiri. He also enjoyed Planter's Punch, and so do I, but that doesn't start with a "d".

6. Dragons - my favorite mythological creatures. An especial favorite right now is Sapphira from Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Trilogy. I'm also very partial to
from Kazul from Dealing with Dragons. I even have some affection for Smaug, whose "breath is death."

7. Dessert!!! Oh my goodness, dessert, dessert, dessert! And while I've always loved dessert, my tastes have changed over the years. As a child there was nothing better than a brownie sundae. These days, I'd rather have something like Apricot Chestnut Tarte Tatin from Amanda's wonderful Figs Olives Wine blog.

8. And speaking of dessert... DARK CHOCOLATE. Nothing finer. Fruit be damned.

9. David Lipshitz. Okay, so he's a character. My character from my still-unpublished YA novel A Changeling Goes to the Prom. But if I could have had my dream boyfriend in high school, David Lipshitz would probably be it (minus the unfortunate name and the werewolf thing).

10. Donuts. Yes, they're horrendously bad for you. But a dark chocolate-covered (see above), pastry cream-filled Boston Creme donut from the Crescent Bakery, warm out of the oven, is a close to pinnacle (you can insert another adjective of choice here, but there are kids who read this blog, so use your imagination) experience. Just trust me on this one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

DS starts high school!


DS couldn't get to sleep last night and had to play the music from Shrek, so he could.

I couldn't stay asleep and am up playing with the blog between 3 and 4 a.m. And the darned thing is, I know he'll do just fine and I'm up at 3 a.m. anyway.

And I couldn't manage the technical ability to post my clip below AND write a comment, so enjoy the clip below by Barenaked Ladies.

We've all been there.

Barenaked Ladies - Grade 9

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Recipe Monday for September!

Here are some recipes we've been enjoying recently:

Apple-Cherry-Ginger Cake with Caramel Frosting

For the apple cake recipe go to the Apple-Rhubarb Cake recipe here (Just scroll down a bit - it's the second recipe in that entry). Substitute 2 cups of chopped apples for the 2 cups of chopped rhubarb, and substitute dried cherries for the dark raisins.

Here's the frosting recipe (adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion:

6 TBS butter
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 oz. milk (this can be estimated)
3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Melt the butter in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Stir in the salt and brown sugar and heat the mixture to boiling, stirring constantly. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, until the sugar is totally dissolved. Stir in the milk and return to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the powdered sugar. Adjust consistency with a little more milk, if necessary.

Eliane's Chunky Zucchini (or Summer Squash) Gratin

Adapted from The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
4 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
1 lb. zucchini, summer squash or patty pan squash, trimmed and cut into chunks
3 TBS light cream
good salt
freshly ground pepper
1 oz. grated French Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat the broiler.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Ad the garlic and zucchini and brown for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until soft, about 10 minutes more.

3. With a slotted spoon, transfer the zucchini to a gratin dish or baking dish. Drizzle the cream all over. Season to taste with the salt and peepper. Sprinkle with the cheese. Place under the broiler and broil until the cheese is melted and golden - 2 -3 minutes.

4 servings. Serve with good, crusty bread and a lively salad for a lovely summer meal.

Summer Squash Pudding - This is an old family favorite - we can't have Thanksgiving without it. It's from Elegant but Easy Cookbook by Marian Burros and Lois Levine

1. Preheat oven to 350

2. Boil (or microwave or steam), drain and mash
4 large summer squash

3. Add
2 beaten eggs
2 TBS sour cream
1 TBS sugar
1 TBS butter
salt and pepper to taste

4. Place in casserole. Spread top with buttered bread crumbs.

5. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.

Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Roasted French Bean Salad with Pine Nuts and Parmesan adapted from Angela Tedesco of Turtle Farm from From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce by Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition

1 quart haricots verts or thin green beans, washed and dried
2 TBS olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste (and more salt if you want it)
1 TBS wine vinegar
1/8 cup toasted pine nuts
1/8 cup freshly shredded parmesan (preferably parmigiano reggiano)

1. Heat oven to 425.
2. Toss beans with 1/2 TBS olive oil. Spread them in one layer on a baking sheet; and roast on the top shelf of the oven for about 15 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.
3. In the meantime, mash the minced garlic with the 1/4 tsp salt. Add the vinegar. Whisk in the 1 1/2 TBS olive oil.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a frying pan. Make sure they don't burn or they'll be bitter.
5. Remove the beans from the oven when roasted; put them on a serving platter, sprinkle them with the pine nuts and the parmesan. Drizzle dressing over everything and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Soap Opera Sunday - The KGB and Me - pt. 1

Soap Opera Sunday from Brillig and Kate - find the other participants on their blogs today, and join the fun!

The KGB and Me - pt. 1

I sat across from Tanya, swirling the coffee dregs in my cup. The sun was astonishingly brilliant, the sky was blue and cloudless, and the boulevard below was covered in flowers and darting shoppers. Everyone was smiling. It was that sort of day.

Tanya and I had stopped for an after-school snack of Turkish coffee and ice cream, the two edible café items. The ice cream was delicious, if vanilla, vanilla, and vanilla, and the folks in Krasnodar were justly proud of their ice cream factory. “Is our ice cream not delicious?” was a question I was asked with some frequency.

“There was one thing I didn’t understand. Don’t understand,” Tanya slouched a bit. Her cheeks became vaguely rose. “Why do you Americans think we spy on you whenever you come here? Why would we care what you do? You’re Americans. You’re our guests; we’re happy to see you. It’s as simple as that.”

I had scoured the Soviet bookstores for a gift for Tanya. We were becoming really good friends and I wanted to share some of my favorite authors with her. Unfortunately, the foreign language literature selection at the Tsentralnaya Biblioteka was slim. Jerome K. Jerome was one of the most popular authors, and at that point, I hadn’t even heard of him. I did, however, find I Wonder as I Wander by Langston Hughes. Hughes had visited the Soviet Union during the height of its industrial glory in the early thirties. He was extremely impressed by it all; he hadn’t been taken to the bread basket of the Ukraine, where between 2.5 and 5 million people were slowly starving due to Stalin’s policies and ineptitude.

He did, however, mention the tracking that took place by the NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB), and he complained of it in the book. Tanya was puzzled by this.

“But Tanya, it’s true! We’re always followed here. Maybe not each tourist, but an important poet like Hughes, or Paul Robeson when he came here, or someone like me on a new exchange.” I put my coffee cup back in its saucer. The cheap china screeched as I did so.

“Oh don’t be ridiculous.” Tanya leaned back as far as she was able to in her uncomfortable, straight-backed chair. She crossed her arms and looked petulant. It was an odd sight, as she was wearing her usual, blue polyester, “teaching” suit. Given how stiff the fabric was, parts of the suit stood away from her body, as if trying to divorce themselves from what she was saying. “Why would anyone follow you? You’re a teacher. What do they think, you’d be carrying state secrets?”

“I have no idea what they think, but I know I’ve been checked on.” I traced the lace placemats with my forefinger. I tried to make my voice light. I’d already managed to offend Tanya in other settings; there was information that was simply kept from the general populace, and some things I’d said in the past had challenged her sensibilities.

Tanya leaned forward and gripped the edges of the front of her chair. “How do you know?” She almost hissed this. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or frightened.

I looked at the street below. A well-dressed woman was having an altercation with one of the “babushkas” (grandmas, pensioners) whose job it was to sweep the streets with tiny brooms. Possibly the babushka had swept up some dust toward the official’s bags or clothing, as certainly, only a high level official, or the wife of one, would be dressed as she was. Another contradiction in this “classless” society.

“Well, there was the day that a woman called across the lobby, loudly, and asked if I would bring letters to the U.S. in my luggage. And you know that’s illegal.” I looked at Tanya. She was still pressed forward in her seat.

“But that doesn’t prove anything. Maybe she was incredibly stupid.”

“Maybe, but the desk folks didn’t look shocked. Or anything. It was like it was expected. And we’d been warned during our orientation that this sort of thing would happen.”

“It still doesn’t prove anything.” Tanya’s arms and legs crossed. “So what did you do when she did that?”

“I called back, equally loudly, that I couldn’t possibly do that because it was illegal and I certainly wouldn’t break any laws in the wonderful country that was hosting my exchange.” I smiled.

“Oh, you’re learning, alright.” Tanya laughed. “Yes, we’ll make a good comrade citizen of you, yet. Come on, let’s go. It’s a beautiful day for walking the boulevard.”

We gathered up our things and started for the stairs to the street level. I was looking forward to getting out of the café and off of this conversation. I still hadn’t told Tanya the real reason I knew I was being followed.