Thursday, May 28, 2009

If We Wore Hats, Maybe We Could Tip Them Or Something

There‘s a woman I always see in the morning when I walk my dog. I live on the easternmost side of our neighborhood and head west along the river. She begins somewhere at the far west end and walks east. She’s always in the same walking uniform: white sweater, black pants, black sneakers. No dog or anything – she’s up early every morning for exercise. Good for her. At some point every single morning, our paths cross.

She refuses to say hello.

What’s up with this? It always throws me. If we were walking down a crowded city street it would make sense. We could bustle by each other among throngs of strangers all wrapped up in their own business. On a wide open path, surrounded only by trees and birds and a chorus of bullfrogs, it feels awkward.

I’ve tried everything to make the exchange less uncomfortable. I’ve offered cheery good mornings day after day, thinking she might just need time to warm up to me and my galumphing dog. I’ve smiled. I’ve nodded. I’ve made eye contact, or tried, anyway.

I’ve resorted to talking to my dog, as if we were too absorbed in the subject of earthy smells to notice the only human for miles approaching us on an empty path.

Finally, I’ve resigned myself to staring straight ahead, not acknowledging her in any way. After all, I’m not sure whether it’s my quirk for needing that social convention, or hers for insisting on enjoying an uninterrupted stroll.

Now when I pass her I’m reminded of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the remaining humans have to keep their expressions to themselves to avoid being caught. My morning walk has been taken over by thoughts of pod people.

So, what’s a little offbeat in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is It That Time, Already?

My daughter wants a new swimsuit. We were at the outlet mall, browsing. I pointed to an orange striped bikini that didn't look too revealing.

Me: How about this one?

Her: It’s okay for you, maybe.

Me: Honey, I think my bikini days are over.

Her: Nuh-uh. Have you seen the people on the beach? You’re skinny.

Me: That doesn’t mean I'd look okay in a bikini.

Her: What are you talking about? No one looks good in a bikini. Those days are gone!

I'm not sure if that’s good news or bad news. I’m going to eat another scoop of ice cream and think about it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More On Vlad

There may have been a couple of unanswered questions about Vlad, the one-horned fuchsia-eating caterpillar. Here's a quick update:

Where is the caterpillar in this picture??

It turned out Vlad had already eaten his fill once he devoured the fuchsia in the garden. As soon as I added dirt to his jar, he burrowed right in. It would have been nice if he'd let me know he wasn't hungry before I snipped a few remaining leaves for him. Sheesh.

It was nice of him, though, to leave a little peep hole for us so we could see what he was up to:

It doesn't look like he's up to much, although melting down and transforming into a whole other creature is quite a feat. I've read that these guys sometimes stay underground all winter. But since it's only spring, I think it'll be more like 2 or 3 weeks.

My son was a little disappointed that he didn't get much of a chance to get to know Vlad as a caterpillar. Something tells me we may be repeating this little experiment...

I have to say, so far Vlad has been a lot less trouble than Swamp Thing.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Swamp Thing Returns

This is the story of a boy who went to sixth grade camp and had a blast. On the first day, a sparkling creek invited him for an invigorating (and fully-clothed) dip. That night the boy stuffed his sodden clothes into the extra plastic bag his mom provided. After five days he stuffed the plastic bag, more wet clothes, clean dry clothes (clearly superfluous), two damp towels, and a hunk of well-sanded manzanita wood into the suitcase.

Upon his return, his mother opened the suitcase and immediately detected a presence. Being invisible and having no sound, the presence can only be identified by a peculiar and specific funk. The boy’s mom recognized it to be none other than Swamp Thing.

After admiring the well-sanded hunk of manzanita, the boy’s mom tried to dispatch Swamp Thing by dumping the entire contents of the suitcase (including a handcrafted name badge and several pieces of sandpaper) into the washing machine. She turned the dial to ‘hot’ and glugged several seconds’ worth of ammonia over the clothes. She crossed her fingers. She might have said something like, “Holy cow, I hope there aren’t any dead animals in there.”

The boy’s mom had encountered Swamp Thing several years earlier. The boy’s parents entrusted a teenage girl to housesit while they were away. The teenage girl and her friends delighted in the use of a community pool and a linen closet stocked with fresh towels.

A day (or two?) before the family returned, the teenage girl tidied up by washing every towel the family owned (dish towels included) in two washer loads. For reasons unknown, her tidying efforts were interrupted. Marinating in the laundry room were one washer full of wet towels, and one dryer also full of wet towels.

The memories of that encounter with Swamp Thing were so distressful the boy’s mom couldn’t remember how she finally defeated the beast. She may have resorted to burning something. She hoped this time a hot water and ammonia bath would be enough. She washed and waited. In the days following, she retrieved load after load of laundry with no hint of the creature. Satisfied, she gave the hunk of well-sanded manzanita a little victory pat.

Weeks went by.

Then one morning the boy approached his mother before school.

“Mom, does this shirt smell weird to you?”

Against her better judgment, the boy’s mom took a whiff. “Is this one of the shirts you took to camp?”

The boy looked down and considered the Spiderman print. “Uh-huh.”

Yes, the boy had been to camp, had a blast, and brought home a little something extra. A highly resilient something extra. It’s on, Swamp Thing. It’s on.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tips From a Newbery Winner

I had the chance to hear a very encouraging talk by Susan Patron, Newbery award-winning author of The Higher Power of Lucky.

Her path to publish this book included a ten year period of writer’s block and six revisions. Her work space is a cozy writer’s cabin without distractions of phone or internet access. She doesn’t outline her stories, and the first two drafts of her books are written in long-hand (in pencil).

Here are a few bits of advice from her talk:

Don’t try to write the story’s events in order. Dive right into the center of the action and work in any direction that keeps you learning about your characters.

Incorporate whatever emotion you’re feeling that day – any irritation or exhilaration over the day’s events – into the scene you are writing.

Read your work aloud. If at some point you find your mind wandering, cut those passages.

Closely observe to let the reader see what you are describing.

A trick she learned from another writer – if you get stuck, try putting an object in your character’s hand. What can it tell you about your character?

Regarding her use of a very controversial word in a middle grade novel (on page one, even!)– respect the intelligence of your readers, then use the word that works.

End your writing day by leaving something that you are excited to come back to the following day.

Don’t worry too much about what you’ve heard publishers are looking for (or not looking for). If you believe in your project and think you’ve done something different, go for it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Froggy Friday

I was looking for something in the closet yesterday and I found this painting. I'd completely forgotten about it. Before I started working on a children's portfolio, I did a lot of semi-abstract watercolors. This seemed like a good image for springtime, so I dusted it off.

The picture's not great because it had been framed for an exhibit, and I was too lazy to take it out of the frame to photograph it. I titled it "All Four Frogs"...can you spot them?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Few Words

Words I like:

Words I use too often:

Words that drive me up the wall:


Words I think are a little depressing:


Words that are fun to say:


Words that are the color blue (because I’m kooky that way):

Words that are funny just because:

Words that are satisfying to say:
anything ending in ‘k’

My favorite word that doesn’t sound anything like its meaning:

Got any favorite words? (Reminder: kids are reading...)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beauty and Beast

I was sitting in the garden yesterday morning, admiring all the new flowers blooming, when I noticed my fuchsia bush looked a little puny. I gazed through the twiggy center, wondering where all the leaves had gone, and discovered this guy:

My first inclination was to snip off the twig he was chowing down on and throw it over the wall with him on it. He could take his picnic someplace else. Instead I waited to show him to my bug-loving son, who promptly stuck him in a jar and named him Vlad.

He's been wanting to keep a caterpillar through metamorphosis. Although Vlad has a face only a caterpillar mother could love (or find, for that matter), I ended up spending a good part of Mother's Day morning trying to find out who Vlad's relatives are.

I was rooting for one of the pretty swallowtail butterflies we sometimes see in the garden. Their larvae look similar, but minus the tail spike. It's hard to see in the picture - and it's hard to tell which end is which - that's the tail on the left.

We think Vlad is a white-lined sphinx moth. We find them resting by our front door, and flitting around the back yard. They're fun to watch in flight because they look just like mini hummingbirds.

When Vlad makes it to the hummingbird moth stage, he's welcome to hang out in our back yard all he likes. I just wish his kind would lay their eggs elsewhere.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lovely Things

The parents of a good friend of mine were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, so I offered to do the flowers for their party. I love an excuse to get my hands on big bunches of flowers. We filled my friend's garage with buckets of flowers and turned it into a flower shop for a day. Petals were flying! Unfortunately, I forgot my camera at home. Rats.

I did have the chance to snap a few pictures at the party. Here's one of the table centerpieces:

The theme was black, white and gold. I used a mix of white flowers, curls of black ti leaves and some swirls of gold painted bear grass. Here's a close-up:

My friend decorated the room with white tulle and butterflies. Here's a fuzzy shot (yep, a good camera is still on my wish list):

There were enough flowers to make a couple of arrangements for the buffet tables:

Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to the ladies room to take a picture of the fun arrangements I made for the bathrooms with leftover flowers. You'll have to take my word for it, they were inspired...

My friend's mom told the story of how on their wedding day, the photographer showed up hopelessly drunk. He snapped a picture of their wedding cake and then disappeared. Shortly after that, the elaborate cake fell to the floor. So the one and only picture they had of their wedding was of a cake that no one got to taste.

My friend decided to recreate the top of their wedding cake for the party:

After 50 years, they finally got to have their cake and eat it, too.

Also on the subject of lovely things, Kelly has nominated me for the Lovely Blog Award. Thanks, Kelly!

You are supposed to pass it on to some lovely blogs that you've discovered recently.
Here are a few blogs I've found more recently, which I find lovely for one reason or another - humor, warmth, family spirit, creativity...definitely worth a visit:

Anne Spollen
Debbie at Suburb Sanity
K at Interstitial Life
Donna at Looking Forward and Back
Mary at Resident Alien

Have a lovely weekend everyone, and Happy Mother's Day to all the moms!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Triple Happiness

This Sunday is Mother's Day, and this year it just happens to fall on my husband's birthday. We'll be doubling up on the celebrating. It'll definitely include one of my favorite things: brunch. What better way to celebrate two events than to pig out on two meals at once! Would it be overdoing it to have two desserts, too?

One more thing making me happy this week - I won the Mother's Day Contest on Stories For Children's Families Matter Blog, for a story I wrote about my mom. And the prize for first place is a necklace. Yippee! You can find my story "A Little of This" here.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spa Treatments Do Not Include Whoopie Cushions

I thought it was time to cash in a gift certificate for a pedicure. One that I thought I got for Christmas, but have actually had since my birthday last June. Definitely time for some pampering.

For me the real treat of a spa pedicure is the chair. That heavenly massage chair. The toe painting is nice, too – I actually had a party to go to and there was a color theme for the attire, so I wanted gold toes. But mostly I wanted the fancy chair.

I chose my gold paint. The pedicurist dunked my feet. I turned on the chair.

The little rollers started working their magic on the small of my back. About halfway up my back, the chair said, “Bzzzrt!”

“Yikes,” I said. “Noisy chair.” The pedicurist gave me a confused look.

“That, um… buzzing sound,” I said. The woman sitting at my feet knit her brows and pointed to one of the manicurists, who was busy buffing someone’s nails with that thing that looks like a dental drill.

“No, behind me. The chair made a noise,” I said. The chair was silent. The woman shrugged and went back to sanding my feet. I tried to relax.

“Pfffft…pffft!” said the chair. This isn’t sounding good, I thought. Maybe there was too much pressure on those tired old rollers. I started shifting my weight in the chair and then thought better of it. Maybe people would think I was the one making that awful noise, and trying to cover for it.

I felt a case of the giggles coming on. “Brrpppt, brrrpppt!” said the chair. I bit my lip. It was like lounging on a yak that got into a bad patch of grass. There were only five people in the shop. Surely everyone could hear it. No one looked up.

“Pllllt…plllt…pffffft…pffffft…blaarrrrrrrrttttt!!!!” said the chair.

I snatched the controls and jabbed at buttons. The pedicurist looked at me. “You want it off?” she asked. She gave me an understanding smile. Of course I wanted it off.

So, I’m guessing she knew the chair was defective. Why didn’t she stick me in another chair? Maybe handling people’s feet all day makes her cranky.

So much for pampering. I settled for a nice quiet foot bath, gold toes, and a good giggle.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Something Different

I kept getting hints from the family that I haven’t made a favorite treat in a while. I finally made a batch last week when my son got home from sixth grade camp.

We call them Raisin Spicy Dice. I invented them when I entered a recipe contest on a whim – something I’ve never done before or since. No, they didn’t win, but they won over my raisin-loving son. Even my daughter likes them, and she’ll go out of her way to avoid a raisin.

The challenge was to come up with a recipe for raisins using no more than six ingredients. I used an unlikely combination of raisins, chocolate, and chili peppers. They taste like a spicy Tootsie Roll. If your curiosity gets the better of you, here’s the recipe:

1 cup raisins
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
2 T light corn syrup
2 ¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp. ground cayenne pepper

Combine raisins, cocoa powder and corn syrup in food processor until mixture forms a soft paste. Gradually add 2 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar and process until combined.
Transfer to clean surface and knead until sugar is completely incorporated and a soft dough is formed.
In a shallow dish, mix together remaining ¼ cup sugar and cayenne pepper. Shape dough into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in spiced sugar, then pinch sides to form into cubes.

Also, speaking of contests, I found another one to distract me from anything I should be doing. Stories For Children is having a Mother’s Day writing contest on their blog, Families Matter. The deadline to enter is May 4, so there’s still time to enter. You can read about it here.

Is there any type of contest you just can't resist?