Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Story Excerpt

Orange-red embers pulsed and flickered in the bottom of the copper saucer, now dirty, dented and stained from exposure to the elements over the course of several years.  The last remnants of the fire still shared some heat, warming the man’s legs as he sat, transfixed, in the warm November night.  He poked at it occasionally with a stick, startling the dog that lay in the leaves next to him. 

“Go back to bed Charlie,” he mumbled, and the dog dutifully laid its head back down on the ground, though its ears still perked up occasionally as it parsed out the sounds beyond camp – leaves falling with each gust of wind, crickets chirping, an animal sneaking through the shadows.

Above the man and the dog a string of lights had been suspended between two trees and now, even with intermittent burnt out bulbs, they lit the perimeter satisfactorily, swaying in the pleasant, breeze.   He stared beyond them, at the silhouettes of leaves against the sky, wondering absently what planet was lit so brightly against the dark. Then he tilted his head to the left, looking into the distance at the milky blue-white illumination of the clouds, as the waning moon struggled to make itself seen.

A siren from a police car, or perhaps an ambulance, sounded in the background amidst a dull quiet roar of traffic noise.  He was never certain where that noise came from.  There wasn’t a major highway nearby – just Capital Boulevard, the main thoroughfare that brought folks out to the suburbs from downtown, and Main Street, a not-terribly-busy road either.  Neither were heavily traveled at night.  

Either way, it reminded him of Maryland where the house he grew up in had the same sound – the constant, dull roar of traffic from I-95 that ran several miles from his neighborhood.  It reminded him, too, of his grandparents’ house, off of Liberty Road, where he lay in their bed late into the night while the adults celebrated the holidays downstairs, and the noise was more constant and sirens were commonplace beyond their bedroom window.  It was oddly comforting to him.

He sighed, staring back at the fire, savoring the evening that was devoid of the day, devoid of progress, of electronics, of everything 21st century.  Yet still, he felt compelled to pull out his phone just, he thought, to check the time.

A few moments later, perhaps because of the quickly approaching midnight hour or perhaps because the spell had broken, he decided the night must end.  He lifted himself out of the plastic Adirondack chair, poked the fire one more time, and threw his phone into it, before heading inside.  On his way, he unplugged the lights and called the dog, who lumbered along, nonplussed by the course of events.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Well, school is back in session.  Track out has ended and here I find myself again, trying to regroup.  It's one thing I'm not sure I like about year round - the back and forth between lives - nine weeks in one mindset, three weeks in another.

In traditional calendar schools, one knows there will be one long summer break, and that is one life.  That is long, lazy summer days, endless time at the pool, kids home, lunches whenever, mornings in slow motion.  Then September comes and back to school and lunches and busy-ness that way and one can settle into it for a good nine months.

But in year-round it's constant motion and change.  Nine weeks in, time to get projects at home started and complete, lunches, papers, homework, field trips, volunteering, conferences, end of quarter celebrations, done.  Then kids home all the time and projects are put on hold.  A week easing into track out time, planning play dates around an ever-decreasing number of time slots in friends' busy lives, fitting in activities, packing and shopping for vacation, late nights for a short time, then easing quickly back to earlier bedtimes for track out ends in just a week, four days, tomorrow.

My head spins and it seems like as the kids get older, the time is quicker, crazier, busier.  I don't know that we ever really get to relax, not the way one does during summer vacation.

But then, isn't that the way the world goes now?  Few of us are fortunate enough to even be able to stay home.  This economy isn't very forgiving in matters of family time - it is nearly impossible to get by on one income and has been for a long time.  And for those of us who are able to (sort of) make it work, we still struggle to slow things down, if not for us, then for our kids, so that they might still, somehow, enjoy being a kid when the world is pushing them to be little adults.

That is my struggle with year-round in a nutshell.  Sure it's nice to have flexibility in vacation time, and it's nice for the kids to theoretically get a routine break, and sure, I'd probably get tired of the long summer days after a while.  But summer breaks force us all to slow down, remind us all to take a long deep breath, make us all learn to enjoy each other's company again.

Even in today's world where every kid is in a sport and parents enroll their children in travel leagues that become a whole family activity, and many families see both parents working, I can't help but feel that the year-round calendar complicates things, makes schedules crazier, imposes an unnecessary burden on our lives.  I wonder, in twenty years when society looks back and evaluates its success, what they will determine.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


We left Myrtle Beach late yesterday afternoon.  It was 84 degrees and sunny, but as we approached the I-95 corridor the sky was looking stormy due to the line of thunderstorms crossing the Carolinas from west to east.  By the time we'd been on I-95 for 30 minutes or so, we were smack in the middle of the storms, my husband driving precariously through intermittent bands of heavy, windshield spattering rain as I desperately fiddled with the defrost mode to find the right setting that would allow a clear view of the road ahead.  The temperature reading on our dash was dropping quickly, first 75 degrees, then 70, then 64.

At some point, as we marveled at the beautiful sunshine to our left, the ominous deep gray sky in front, and the stormy mottled sky to our right, my husband remarked that he hadn't found the rainbow yet, for surely there would be one.

And shortly after, sure enough, it came in the form of a brilliant double bow, one whose clarity and depth of color I have never witnessed before.  The arc stretched out before us on the right and we were able to see the full bow, end to end, for many miles as we traveled.  I tried to snap some pictures, but the quality of color was lost.  It was something that had to be seen in person.

It was a lovely moment in a very stressful drive, in a very stressful and busy time in our lives, after a weeklong vacation that fit the description dubiously at best.  Rainbows always seem to portend good things, a purging of sorts of all bad thoughts and worries.

As the remnants of a long, hot, ho-hum summer pass on by us, I hope this rainbow does, indeed, mean good things.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Last night, G was afraid to go to sleep (an on-again, off-again, but recurring theme).  She had a serious conversation with her father when he came up to see what was wrong that went as follows:

Her:   "I saw something green flash outside my window.  I think it was an alien."

Him:  "There are no aliens around here.  I'm pretty certain it was a lightening bug."

Her:  "Well okay, but if there are aliens around here, I'm moving to Florida!"

Him:  "I think you'll find there are a lot more aliens in Florida than there are here."

Really, Florida?

Well, we are going to be spending some vacation time there this summer (no, we're not going to see the rat), so clearly that was fresh in her mind and I'm impressed that she retrieved and used it so effectively.

I'm also amused at my husband's bit of sarcastic humor there.  But the joke is likely to be on us.  If I know our daughter well, the alien / Florida theme is likely to re-occur, and if it does, it will most certainly be just in time for our trip.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


My seven-year-old daughter, the apple of my eye, the perfect child, has been misbehaving.  She came to us in a bout of guilt-induced tears last night to tell us so.

Her heavy heart was lifted some when she got these tidbits off her chest:  she'd embellished a photograph from her school writing folder of her sister stooping over a bucket of shells at the beach by adding poop coming from her behind. She'd drawn pictures of hairy butts and things during free time at school.  She'd watched Chowder even though she wasn't supposed to.  She'd thought the drawings were funny at the time, but now apparently she just feels weird.  She said she'd tried to wipe off the markered poop but it just smeared and looked that much worse.

It is very hard indeed to keep a straight face when your daughter confesses her biggest sins and they all center around potty humor.    Hairy butts, really?  Well, I guess she ought to feel weird!  We had to leave the table several times because the hits just kept on coming and at 40 years of age, I guess none of us is to immune to a good poop story once in a while.

These little confessionals of hers have become a habit lately, surfacing every month or so when her laundry list of misbehaviors get the best of her.  It seems to me she's figured out a rather crafty way to do something wrong and not really get gravely punished for it.  I have to marvel at exactly how deeply Catholicism is ingrained within her DNA!

Anyway, we've caught on to her.  After last night's confessional, she'll be serving a punishment of no tv for the foreseeable future.  I don't care too much about the drawings, though we tried to stress the inappropriateness of the subject matter.  But she is in trouble for watching "Chowder" on Cartoon Network (a perfectly awful little cartoon that she has no business watching) when she'd been specifically told not to do so.

Meanwhile, I need to work on my poker face because it's so hard not to laugh at this sort of stuff.  In ten years, when she's coming to me about more adult matters, I know I'll want the times back when the worst thing on her conscience were some hairy butt drawings that sent me from the table in a fit of private laughter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Watching the Grass Grow

It's raining again today.  This is a good thing, as North Carolina has been flirting with drought status for several seasons now and we need the infusion of water.  Plus, my little three-quarter acre has some grass growing on it in nearly every spot, which is nothing short of a miracle!

Growing things here in the south is not the same easy endeavor as up north.  Our neighbors, also Maryland transplants, would attest to that fact.   Our soil is not the rich, healthy, black soil of Maryland in which anything will grow.  Plants and grass do not thrive here, they merely survive, struggling to stretch their roots into nutrient-deprived hard-packed, clumpy, red clay.  I cannot simply pick up a beautiful flower from Lowes, bring it home, and pop it into the ground.  I must dig, and till, and amend, and supplement. And if I'm lucky, in three or four years, the flower will flourish.  Ah, so frustrating for wannabe gardeners like us.  When I visit my sister north of Baltimore and listen to her complain about how invasive my grandmother's roses are, and I stare longingly at the massive lilac just planted last season and which is now covered in impossibly fragrant late spring blooms ... well, I just want to smack her.

We have been in our house for nearly nine years now.  When I think about it, our yard and garden is largely reflective of our time here in North Carolina, which is going on 13 years altogether.  When we bought the house, the yard was nothing more than a tangle of trees and overgrown vines and weeds.  It begged for someone to transform it, clean it up, make it work.  Similarly, when we moved here from the beach, our lives were just starting out, our future uncertain.  We faced difficult times that made us want to turn back, return to what we knew.  We had no money, we had no friends.  We had difficult issues from back home that pulled at us, complicating our choices.

But we had a vision.  We wanted to look out from our windows and see a lawn stretch out before us, with paths and little spots to sit and reflect on the day - something successful from what was once a tangled mess.

Like our relocation south, it was so soon apparent that we'd bitten off way more than we could chew.  We cut and dug and tilled and raked and threw way too much money into the dirt.  We fussed about the hickory nuts, the oak saplings that sprung up everywhere, the spiky balls from those useless gum trees, the gross, slimy masses of mushrooms that cropped up everywhere, the mosquitos!  We seeded, fertilized, limed, and then called in professionals.

This spring, nine years into it, we feel pretty good about what we see.  As I said, the grass and weeds are green and growing.  Some of the things we've planted over the years are actually thriving.  The mature hardwoods have been thinned to a manageable level.  There is even a bench.  Our lives, too, have paralleled.  We have managed to weather the hard times here, set down a few roots, grow a few kids successfully.  In our path back to the beach, we are, dare I say, happily wandering along.

I am realistic.  I know that in a month or so, when the hot southern heat sets in, and the rain showers become fewer and further in between, the grass will fade, and I will once again fuss about the five gallon buckets I must lug around the yard to keep things alive.  I know we will eventually need to don our regular protective coating of Deep Woods Off just to be able to sit on the bench at all.  I know I will sigh in frustration at the failure of a plant or two.  I know, too, we will face bumps in our own path.  That is life.  But I feel a sure sense of accomplishment at what I see when I look around, and I have learned to enjoy the heck out of the times when it flourishes, and weather the times when it does not.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Malfunctioning Keyboards

I just got the keyboard fixed on my Mac.  It was not more than a month ago that I schlepped over to Crabtree, waited my turn at the Genius Bar, and left my laptop with the nice folks there who replaced fixed it for me, for free.

Now here I am with a faulty delete and enter key, neither of which work at all, because I got the laptop a little too close to the sink while making a dinner recipe from Allrecipes.com.

It is a pain in the neck to attempt to type without a delete or enter key.  Thanks much to my husband who three days into it, showed me that there was another enter key one over from the space key, and who, five days into it, told me about control H.

But these are in no way substitutes for the normal placement of the properly functioning keys and I have learned that a very fast typer does not an accurate typer make.  What would I have done in the days of mechanical typewriters and correction tape?  Gotten my ass fired, that's what.

Here's hoping the Genius people will take mercy on me one more time.


I treated myself to a jar of pickles whilst in the middle of my regular grocery shopping last Thursday.

I love pickles, but no one else in my immediate family does.  Hold the pickle is a regular and routine directive by my husband when we're out to lunch at the local deli, as is the mysterious appearance of an extra pickle on my plate on those times when they forget and give him one anyway.  It's good for me, but an annoyance for him - he who has no tolerance for the crispy, salty, sour flavor of the lowly pickled gherkin.

When you're on a budget, as I am, items that we will all eat often take priority.  So most often when I'm at the Super Target making my way down the first aisle, the condiment aisle where all of the peanut butters, jellies, mayonnaises and dressings live, I tend to linger in front of the pickle shelves and wonder if today will be the day that I buy some just for me, after which I always talk myself out of them.  

But this past Thursday, with a little extra money in my pocket, I must have been feeling rebellious as I made my way toward the mustards at the other end because when I stopped in front of those pickles, I thought, 'what the heck,' and I decided it was finally time to bring a jar home with me.

As with most things these days, there are a gazillion varieties of pickles - sweet pickles, sour pickles, pickle chips, and sliced pickles.  I don't like sweet pickles at all (what's the point???) so that was a no-brainer.  Sliced pickles are okay, but not quite what I was looking for either.  Finally, my eye settled on the baby dills, by some brands called "snackers."  Perfect!  Because that's what I wanted - just enough for a little snack here and there.  It's like the marketing geniuses at the pickle companies had read my mind.

After some careful consideration, I selected a nice jar of Mt. Olive Kosher Baby Dills because they were  cheaper than Vlasic and I couldn't imagine there'd be much of a difference in taste.  Into my cart they went!

And once home, after almost all but forgetting about them, I remembered again as I made my way to the bottom of the last grocery bag.  And even though pickles should ideally be eaten when nice and cold, I popped open the jar and ate a few right there on the kitchen floor.

Oh, what I had been missing - they were crunchy and sour and perfect!  They reminded me of summer days in Baltimore in the hot kitchen at my grandmother's house where the table was set with a bowl of Utz potato chips, hamburgers and buns, orange carrot jello salad, baked beans, and pickles!  They were so yummy!

And the best thing is, since I know nobody else likes them, I won't suffer the disappointment of throwing open the refrigerator door the next time the mood strikes me only to find an empty jar.  I know that I can safely offer them up as a snack to my marauding daughters and they will not bite, and that my husband's fingerprints will never grace the side of that jar.   They are my pickles, and mine alone and I think I will go and have one right now!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Winter Daphne and Garden Things

Winter Daphne is, in my opinion, the perfect spring flower because it so epitomizes the spring climate here in North Carolina.  It starts to show the slightest hint of flowers sometime in late January, but it takes its own sweet time getting here.  Every day, I wander by it, stooping down to examine the still-tight buds.  Some days more than others it looks surely like it's ready to bloom, its light pink and white blossoms peeking out from the green foliage, the slightest bit of lemon scent detected, only to close up again at the slightest bit of cool weather.  It's a tease.

Spring here is like that, too.  Gradually warming days, weather forecasts of 50 degrees, 60, maybe even 70!  One day is so delightful that it warms our souls after the bitter cold nights of winter.  The next is chilly again, and we collectively sigh as we're left wondering when?  When will we be able to venture out again?  Feel the warm sun against our skin as we shed our coats for something less confining?  Spread some mulch?  Plant some seeds into the warming ground?  We wonder, with the next warm spell, if we have finally turned the corner on winter once and for all.

And then one day, usually in late February, as I walk through the seemingly still-bare garden, something has changed.  A breeze lifts, mild against my cheek, and at the same time, the most ethereal lemon scent wafts past me on the breeze.  And I know.  The daphne has bloomed!  Spring is here!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Darth Vader

There's been a ton of chatter recently about the Volkswagon Super Bowl ad featuring the little boy dressed as Darth Vader.  It's for good reason - the ad is great.

With it, Volkswagon continues a long history of advertising that really hits the mark, in one way or another, by eliciting an innate human sense within all of us that I think gets lost all too often in today's world.

The current ad features a mini Darth Vader, who runs around the house trying, unsuccessfully, to use the force to affect the objects within his domain - the family dog, his sister's doll, and so on.  Finally, when his father comes home, mini Darth tries his powers on the family car and is mighty surprised when it does roar to life in front of him, thanks to his Dad and a remote key fob being worked from the kitchen.  It's very cute, and it has the unique ability to remind us all watching what it felt like to be a kid.

There's another Volkswagon commercial from many years ago titled 'Pink Moon' that features a group of early twenty-something kids cruising around on a moonlit summer night in a convertible cabriolet.  I love that commercial most - it really evokes such a feeling of being carefree, of freedom, of having no worries in the world.  For anyone who's ever ridden around in a convertible on an early spring night when the air is still warm and felt the air and stared at the stars, they surely know what I mean.

Links to both ads are here:

Pink Moon video

Darth Vader ad

Friday, January 7, 2011

Snow Boots

This morning, I am setting out to try to find snow boots.  I am, shall we say, unhappy about this.

First, I should not even have to be thinking about snow boots because I live in North Carolina and it's not supposed to snow here.  Also, we've already had three snow "events" in December, and when there is a harsh November and December in the South, we're supposed to have a mild January and February.  The National Weather Service said so!

Nevertheless, the local weather people say something is coming, and given the recent spate of masses of birds falling out of the sky all over the world, the crazy out-of-control weather worldwide in the last year, and the fact that the Republicans took over the House, I think we should all concede to Al Gore that global warming is upon us, or to the super-evangelical doomsdayers that the end of days is coming.  One or the other, something is causing things to spin out of control and for snow to happen three times too often in Dixie.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I am looking out my windows on this bright, cold, winter day where the sun peaks out from thin, high clouds, and realizing something less than profound ... that I desperately need to clean my windows.

Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) for me, the screens are currently down and stored in the garage, and the Christmas wreaths are down, waiting to be placed in bags and then in storage, so I have no excuse.

I tend to think of my mother whenever the brief consideration arises to clean windows.  My mother, for some reason, is all about clean windows.  I think it's a factor of her generation, where clean windows must have been a matter of great importance in one's status as a successful wife and mother.  Or, I think clean windows just make her feel better, much like a straightened house, neatly made beds, and a freshly mowed lawn makes me feel better.  It appeals somehow to our need for a sense of order.