Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween 2008

Hope everyone has a fun Halloween. Just thought I'd share some photos of a recent visit to the Arboretum with my daughter's class. We spied a pretty pink princess, a nutty squirrel, a house made of pumpkins, and lots of gorgeous flowers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


By Jacob Hammonds, guest blogger

I enter the lunchroom every day at relatively the same time. I am usually one of the first people to enter given that the location of my class is relatively close. When I enter the room is relatively empty. I hear nothing more than the buzzing of the florescent lights and mild, quiet, contained conversation. I take my seat on the end of the bench, same as every day. I make an attempt to converse with an acquaintance who is located adjacent to me. After a few meaningless words there is typically an awkward pause in which for a split second there is only the sound of silence. The sacred sound of silence is an underappreciated phenomenon.

Every day we surround ourselves with noise. Noises from cars and TVs and stereos. We even put a TV and a stereo system in a car. Even now, sitting here, I hear the squeaking of pencils against paper, the constant indescribable vibrations caused by air moving through the air conditioner and, of course, the occasional sound of snot juice being vacuumed back into one’s nasal cavity. But I digress…

So for a split second in the lunchroom, I get consumed by the simple buzz of the florescent lights and then comes a dull roar from behind me. I hear a soft piano of footsteps accompanied by quiet, indistinguishable dialogue. A certain amount of footsteps becomes more pronounced. I take a guess at who the person is before I turn around. But before I turn around, my guess is confirmed. What I hear is the sound of carbon dioxide being forced out of one’s lungs and passing through one’s larynx. As the air passes the vocal folds it causes a vibration that, in this case, resonates in the person’s nasal cavity producing a most unpleasant but very distinguishable sound (aka my ex-girlfriend’s voice). As she tries to make meaningless conversation, I turn around, trying to find any person who can distract her long enough for me to make a conversational segue to another person. My messiah has come in the form of a guy named Ryan who allows me to avoid all conversation, and her voice slips into the cluttered mess of noise which is the lunchroom.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Four more things that have absolutely nothing to do with each other

A. Took the dog to the vet yesterday. Bad news: He has an ear infection. Worse news: Said ear infection cost $153. Better news: I took advantage of the dog scale in the waiting area and, according to the digital readout, I no longer weigh as much as a full grown Great Dane. Now I'm closer to a Rottweiler with a healthy appetite.

2. I used to work with a woman who couldn't stand to wear anything around her wrists, such as a watch or tight sleeves. She told me she believed she was a slave in a previous life and spent much of her time shackled. If her theory holds true, I've got $50 that says I was a hippie in my previous life. I can't stand to wear a bra past 9 p.m. and would rather go barefoot than wear shoes.

III. I was in my son's room the other night, watching him play his guitar and just talking with him. His cell phone rang and he answered it. "No, I can't talk now," he said. "Just hanging out with my mom." He hung up. It was a girl. Wow. I know a compliment when I hear one. Thanks, Jacob.

d. If you are a woman and haven't seen Then She Found Me with Bette Midler, Helen Hunt, and Colin Firth, rent it soon and keep the tissues handy. I highly recommend it. If you're a guy (or a woman who doesn't mind a violent, laugh-out-loud, smart movie), go see Burn After Reading or add it to your list to rent one day. It's great too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading for everything in between

This morning I wondered what Evel Knievel did to unwind at the end of the day. Did he cruise on a Harley, wind whipping through his bandanna? Did he own a vintage Honda that he only puttered around on, keeping it under 50 miles per hour? Or did he do something so out of character—like knitting or penning sonnets—that he found was the only way to relax?

My typical day involves a lot of reading. Currently I am rereading the manuscript I wrote with Joan. We’ve tweaked it, fine-tuned it and now feel the need to read it once more. At 90,000 words, I’d say we’ve read it through at least five times now. Thankfully, I’m not yet sick of it. One more time? Maybe that would put me over the edge.

I also read other friends’ works in progress. Sometimes it’s a short story or a poem. Typically it’s a chapter from a manuscript. I love doing it. It’s fun to be a part of the creative process, especially early on, and I feel vested in their success—thrilled to be a trusted critic.

Additionally, I freelance write articles for magazines. Finished one today. Have another one due Friday. And then I blog when I can think of something half-way interesting to say. Factor in emails, online reading for research and for amusement, and by the end of the day, my vision has had a workout. And I still don’t wear glasses! I’m sure it’s coming.

I’ve whittled my television viewing down to two shows I follow, so relaxing in front of the television at the end of the day doesn’t happen. I avoid the news (I can catch what’s relevant online) and abhor reality TV (except for Idol) and most everything else that’s on.

So, when I need to wind down and go to sleep, I read. (This is after about a half-hour of reading to my daughter who always wants just one more story, please.) Not surprisingly, my eyes are pretty tired some nights. I have a stack of books that friends have sent me recently. Jennifer bought me Twilight—which I intend to read to see what the hubbub’s about. Sonya mailed me Liberating Paris at least two months ago. And Trisha sent me Resistance and The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen earlier than that. I’m sure they’re great. And I’ll get to them. Soon.

But lately I’ve been drawn to reading short stories. A friend loaned me two collections: Glimmer Train and The Best American Short Stories 2005. Fascinating. I’m not sure I’ve written a short story since college and it’s clearly an art form. Some I’ve read have left me wondering, What was the point? And others I’ve been haunted by for days afterward. When I finished “Until Gwen,” I was so moved I looked up the author online. Then I was embarrassed that I didn’t recognize his name: Dennis Lehane. He also wrote some pretty successful novels: Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone. “Until Gwen” is written in second-person and done really, really well.

Last night I was reading another short about a woman whose daughter was caught up in a cult the mother couldn’t penetrate. The only evidence of her child’s existence was a birthday card that would appear anonymously in her mailbox each year, addressed in her daughter’s distinctive handwriting. In the middle of reading that story, I completely lost interest. It had nothing to do with the writing, but an idea came to me for another novel I’m currently working on. So, I crawled out of bed and went searching for some paper and a pen, jotted down some notes, and then went to sleep completely inspired to start over again today.

Doubt if I rode a motorcycle the same thing would have happened…but who knows?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Baby-sitter Extraordinaire

I don’t remember having many baby-sitters while I was growing up, but I certainly spent many hours employed by neighbors and family friends. One summer I kept our neighbor’s two sons, Dwight and David, at their cool old house. Sometimes my little sister would tag along. The three of them would put on shows for me, playing tennis racquets like guitars and singing along to the Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight. Totally inappropriate in retrospect but, hey, they had fun.

My boys have baby-sat for hire on a few occasions—mostly when neighbors have to dash out for a bit and need an older child to oversee their young ones. Lately I’ve been leaving my five-year-old daughter with my oldest son when the middle child has soccer practice. It’s been a good lesson in responsibility for my son, and a nice opportunity for his sister to get to know him better. A few years from now, he’ll be away at college, and I hope their times together will form some lasting memories for her. And for him.

Last night I got home late—her brother had gotten her ready for bed, read to her and she was asleep. The Hot Wheel track was out (he claims she has the better cars, but he helped her buy them), and this artwork was on the fridge. He immortalized her into a cartoon character and then helped her color it.

This is one I will keep. Just in case she sometimes forgets what an awesome brother she has.