A SIMPLE LENGTH OF ROPE

August 31, 2012 in Random Thoughts

7:00pm Tuesday, August 28: At the End of Soccer Practice

            -Wow! What’s all that?

            -It’s a fire truck and an ambulance!

            -And the police too…something is going on somewhere.

            – Can we follow them?

            -No.

            -Did you see all those flashing lights?

            -They’re going somewhere in a hurry.

My children have lived their entire lives two blocks away from the elementary school they attend.

In the beginning, it wasn’t our school; it was our playground. My oldest would push his green and yellow John Deere lawnmower all over the neighborhood, finally winding up at school. He’d slide down the slides, climb up various structures as far as he could, and try to balance on the raised, green stepping stones that led from one play structure to another.

As he got older, he became obsessed with mastering the monkey bars while the newest addition to our family pushed a blue and white stroller with a rotating stuffed animal as the passenger on the sidewalk encircling the playground. Now we had enough people to play tag, hide and seek, Tickle Monster, and Hot Lava Monster, especially if the stuffed animal participated.

Not long after that, it was the three of us plus my infant making trips to the playground. I watched my two older sons cavort and play as I made laps on the bark chips, hoping my baby would fall asleep soon so I could stop bouncing.

Tuesday, August 28: From Facebook

            8:08pm What has happened @ [our school]? Police & fire, not good?

            8:25pm …they had just put yellow tape up around the perimeter. I don’t know what it means but it [is] worrisome.

            9:06pm …was in contact with teachers who were not allowed to leave. I think they are leaving now though.

            9:20pm The police seem to be focused on [the] playground and that first portable area.

It wasn’t just a school; it was our deluxe backyard. The kids rode their bikes, tearing around the empty parking lot and over the speed bumps. They rode their scooters down ramps and off curbs, pretending they were the next Shaun Whites.

On rainy days, we made our way to the under-covered area where the kids could shoot hoops and get a little fresh air after being cooped up for so long.

We waddled to the school wrapped in our snow pants, jackets, mittens, and hats, pulling our sleds behind us over the snow and ice. We were headed to the good hill behind the portables where someone has always built a jump.

The playground was a gathering place; you’d never know which friends you might run into. Kids could play with whoever showed up and us moms could sit on the steps, watching and catching up for a few uninterrupted minutes.

Wednesday, August 29: From E-Mail

            Info About The Tragedy At [Our School]

            You may have heard on the media by now that a tragedy took place on [our] playground last night…

For 12 years, the elementary school’s playground has been our own.

Tuesday night, a small family came to the playground on a warm August night, just as we have thousands of times. Two four-year old children, a boy and a girl—twins—were ready to play. The boy was eager to pick blackberries along the fence, and the little girl had brought a jump rope. The adult caregiver accompanied the boy to help with the blackberries, while the little girl entertained herself on the slide.

I can’t begin to imagine what happened in those next moments. Why did the little girl think to wrap the jump rope around her neck as she sat on the slide? Did it get too tight? Did it get tangled up around her or around something on the playground structure that prevented her from being able to unravel it?

What did her brother and caregiver find when they returned from picking blackberries? What did the teachers, working late to get ready for the first day of school, think when they heard shouts for help or the wail of sirens that didn’t pass by, but stayed with lights that flashed and flashed and flashed….

What did the neighbors think when they heard the commotion and peeked out their windows onto the school playground that they’ve lived adjacent to for years?

What did the EMT personnel find when they arrived on the playground?

Wednesday, August 29: From the Internet

            …a 4-year-old girl has died after accidentally strangling herself with a jump rope at a playground…

It says a lot, and yet it says nothing at all.

A simple length of rope…

This happened on the Tuesday following the weekend where a member of our community, a 14-year-old boy about to enter our high school, took his own life.

With a piece of rope.

A simple length of rope.

Our community is saddened and shaken by these events.

It is surreal to walk down the street to the mailboxes and encounter a news van parked in front of the little girl’s house. Seeing the bouquets of flowers and balloons tied to the fence that encloses our school is heart wrenching. I mourn for the little girl and what she went through in the last moments of her life, and for all the life she had ahead of her.  I mourn for her family and loved ones, and I mourn for the lost innocence of our beloved school.

“It’s haunted, Mom. The playground’s haunted.”

“Well, if it is, then it’s also haunted by the thousands of happy memories that have occurred on that playground over the years.”

Our school is special; I’ve always known this. The children, the teachers, the staff, the parents, the community…it’s more than just a school. It’s our home.

And now this little girl has a place in it all her own—in our hearts, in our prayers, and in our memories.

AN INTERVIEW WITH GARTH STEIN, AUTHOR OF THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN

August 29, 2012 in Interviews

Garth Stein is the author of three novels:  The Art of Racing in the Rain (Harper, 2008)How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets (Soho Press, 2005), which won a 2006 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, and was a Book Sense Pick in both hardcover and paperback; and Raven Stole the Moon (Harper, 2010).  He has also written a full-length play, Brother Jones, which received its first production in Los Angeles, in February, 2005, and was described as “brimming with intensity,” by the L.A. Weekly.

After receiving his B.A. from Columbia College (1987), and his M.F.A. in film from Columbia University, School of the Arts (1990), Garth worked as a documentary film maker for several years, and directed, produced or co-produced several award winning films.

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Seattle, Garth’s ancestry is diverse:  his mother, a native of Alaska, is of Tlingit Indian and Irish descent; his father, a Brooklyn native, is the child of Jewish emigrants from Austria.  After spending his childhood in Seattle and then living in New York City for 18 years, Garth returned to Seattle, where he currently lives with his family and his dog, Comet.

 

1)    You are definitely a jack-of-all-trades: author, director, playwright… How do you balance it all? Is there one that you’d identify as your favorite?

It’s not as complicated as all that.  I don’t do everything at once!  I made documentary films for many years in my twenties and into my thirties.  Then I wrote books.  I did kind of crowbar a play in there, too, but that’s because my passion when I was young was the theater.  I consider myself a storyteller.  Which medium I choose depends on the story.

 

2)    All of your books deal with themes of family relationships and loss, and The Art of Racing in the Rain is no exception. What draws you to these particular themes?

I don’t know.  And, frankly, if I did, I’d probably stop writing.  I mean, no one wants to read a book written by a totally well-adjusted, fully in control writer.  Part of writing is working out the dark things we don’t tell anyone else.  Clearly I have a deep seated fear of abandonment….

 

3)    When I remember the books that impacted me growing up, Where the Red Fern Grows tops the list. Old Dan and Little Ann, Old Yeller, Marley, and now Enzo has entered the list of dog stories that weave their way into our hearts. What is it about a dog that can touch us like no other character?

I don’t know, honestly, because I don’t really think of Enzo as a dog.  I mean, I know he’s a dog and all.  But I see his character more as a nearly human soul trapped in a dog’s body.  Now that’s a character with a conflict!  I’m not sure Yeller had a conflict, and I’m pretty sure Marley just wanted to get the heck away from his awful owner.  (World’s Worst Dog?  How about World’s Worst Master!)

 

4)    You’ve written two versions of this story: The Art of Racing in the Rain originally, and then Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog, adapted for younger readers. As a parent, I appreciate the need for the YA version, but as a writer, how difficult was it to give up the powerful plot between Denny and Annika and find an alternative that carried the same tension? What other challenges did you encounter in writing for a younger audience?

I was getting so many e-mails from middle school teachers and librarians telling me they loved the book and it has some great messages for the younger reader, but they simple can’t put it in their libraries because of community standards.  I understand that, so I spoke with my publisher about creating a Young Reader’s edition.  Taking out the bad language was easy, massaging the accusation of sexual molestation was more difficult.  The trick was lowering the degree of peril Denny was in.  I had to take away “criminal neglect,” and make it more of a domestic dispute/fight for custody.  I didn’t want kids thinking, “Oh, if daddy’s late picking me up from ballet, they’ll put him in jail.”  That would be awful!  So I added a couple of things, as you can see (the frostbite moment, for one), and think I made it so it works.  Naturally, I think everyone should read the original version, but if community standards or family values don’t allow for that, I hope kids will read the Young Reader’s edition.

 

5)    How does it feel to have your novels chosen as our city’s first One City, One Book program?

It’s a great honor to be chosen for a community reading program.  I’ve done several of them and I always have a good time.  I think it’s important that communities come together around the arts, and, being a writer, especially literature.  I’m glad that kids see their parents reading and see that reading is cool.  And bringing a community out to celebrate libraries and book stores is always a good thing!

 

6)    What’s next for you on the horizon?

I’ve been working on my new book for three years now, and I just had a major epiphany which makes me very excited.  It’s not a quick thing, writing a book.  I have to constantly remind myself:  we’re making mountains here, not molehills.  Be patient!

 

7)    What is your favorite dessert?

I am so not a dessert guy.  But I have been known to take a swipe at my kids’ ice cream sundaes on occasion.  Usually I go for strawberries and cream, or even a nice cheese plate for dessert.  I’m more savory than sweet….

 

Thank you so much, Garth! It was my pleasure to interview you! To find out more about Garth, please visit www.garthstein.com.

If you are in the area, please join us on September 11, 2012 at Eastside Catholic High School at 6:30pm for a visit with Garth Stein as a culmination of our city’s One City, One Book program. I’ll see you there!

My youngest, age 6

My oldest, age 12

My middle, age 9

AN UNFORESEEN BENEFIT OF HIKING

August 27, 2012 in Adventures in Parenting

 

Hiking is in my blood. I grew up with it in Southern California: day hikes on the peaks across the highway from our house, overnight camping trips to Joshua Tree, and backpacking through the San Gorgonio mountains in the pouring rain: fun!

Moving to the Pacific Northwest only kept my desire to hike alive. With so many lush trails to choose from only a short drive away, making the time to hike is easy. I couldn’t wait to introduce the wonder of hiking to my kids, but as it is turning out, they are the ones teaching me something about hiking that I hadn’t even realized.

Not because they love hiking: they claim they hate it. They complain—loudly—the entire way up. They mosey close to hold my hand, and then stop walking, expecting me to pull them up the mountain. They sit down on a rock or a log, refusing to take a step further. And they whine:

“I’m starving!” You just had a snack!

“How much farther?” We’ve only been hiking for two minutes!

“I have jelly legs!” I’m not even sure what that means.

I, the intrepid mom carrying a backpack weighing roughly 40 lbs laden with food, water, and a first aid kit, have to threaten, bribe, beg, cajole, plead, and (gently) push all three boys to the top of whatever mountain we’re on.

Why do I torture myself—and them—in this way? Because out there in nature with no TV, no Wii, no iPod Touches or any other distractions, they talk to me.

CHILD: Mom, why don’t you like Chris Brown?

ME: I like his song Don’t Wake Me Up.

CHILD: But you don’t like him.

ME: I think he’s made some poor choices in his life.

CHILD: Like what?

ME: (hedging) He’s made some poor choices.

CHILD: You mean like Lil Wayne?

ME: What did he do?

CHILD: He beat up Rhianna.

ME: (Eek! He knows that? How does a 9-year-old know these things?) No, it was Chris Brown who beat up Rhianna.

CHILD: No he didn’t!

ME: Yes he did!

CHILD: No he didn’t! It was Lil Wayne!

ME: Listen. I know that it was Chris Brown, and you can’t hit girls. Or people in general.

CHILD: Why not?

ME: It’s against the law. Don’t sit down! Keep walking. Plus, it’s really bad to hit girls.

CHILD: Why?

ME: Think about it. Most guys are bigger and stronger than most girls. It’s not a fair fight.

CHILD: But some girls are stronger than some guys.

ME: True, but even so, you can’t hit them.

CHILD: Can you go to jail for hitting someone?

ME: Yes. It’s called assault.

CHILD: Do they have a jail for kids?

ME: Yes. It’s called juvenile detention. (pause) You don’t want to go there.

See? An honest conversation about assault and incarceration right there in the middle of a beautiful forest!

From there we segued into the ever-popular “What part of the belly do babies come out of, exactly?” where we discussed the finer points of a vaginal birth vs. a C-section.

On a hike, I have both the time and the privacy to answer these kinds of questions. I’m not rushing to a doctor’s appointment or a soccer practice, and no one is around to judge me as I tackle the “Why are there so many different religions?” topic, something I would never attempt at my local Target.

It took us 1½ hours to climb our last mountain: 1½ hours of intense, focused, uninterrupted conversation with my kids.

I cherished those moments on the way down the mountain, when I didn’t see my kids at all until the bottom of the trail. They ran it in about 45 seconds flat, nimbly leaping over rocks and tree roots like little mountain goats while I walked slowly and carefully as hikers on the way up mocked me.

HIKER: Those your kids I passed a mile back? They’re crushing you!

ME: Yeah, well you should have seen them on the way up.

And

HIKER: You’re not running with them?

ME: (primly) I prefer my ankles unsprained.

Still, it was a beautiful day with my kids, and I can’t wait to take them on our next hike. I wonder what conversations we’ll tackle then?

USING PIE TO ORGANIZE MY LIFE PLUS A RECIPE!

August 24, 2012 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself, Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

Jeannine Bergers Everett over at mobyjoe cafe recently posted I am not a pie chart, which segued into a rather nice discussion about pies in the comments section. (Warm apple pie with a streusel topping and vanilla ice cream…yum!)

But the crux of her message stayed with me: “I feel so divided these days, my mind always in many places at once, fully present in none.” I feel the same way. With all the different interests I have, how do I give my all to all of them and still stay sane?

Until this year, it was impossible. With sons on both half day and full day schedules, my days were divided into short segments of time, none lasting longer than 15 minutes. I lived my life piecemeal: clean one thing here, write one paragraph there; I started many things and finished nothing.

This year, for the first time in 12 years, my three boys will be in school all day, which means I will have consistent blocks of uninterrupted time to myself!

What will I do with it? This is where my problem lies: I want to do everything!

I want to spend hours writing, uninterrupted with no distractions. I want to see what I can accomplish if I devote some actual time to this pursuit.

I’d like to stay more on top of my social media and learn Pinterest.

I want to play with my art supplies. I have a couple of projects that I’d love to finish, and I have grand plans to teach myself mixed media via a couple of art books I’ve purchased.

I’d love to sort through my millions of pictures and start scrapbooking again. I left off when my youngest son turned one, and he’s now 6, so this could keep me busy.

I want to read. To get lost in a plot or an era or a love story for more than 10 minutes at a time.

I want to bake. I love the idea of greeting my kids at the door every day with various home-baked goodies as after-school snacks.

I want to go out: meet girlfriends for lunch, browse at a favorite bookstore, an arts and crafts store, or a clothing store.

I suppose I should clean the house, do the laundry, pay the bills, and run the necessary errands as well.

And I want time to play: to watch TV, do crossword puzzles, browse the internet for random unimportant things for no reason other than it’s fun, and above all, to spend time with my kids.

In my organized way, I considered breaking down my day into bite-sized pieces, so that there is a place for all of these interests during each day.  But while my brain works that way, my creative side does not. Am I really going to pull out all my art supplies, make a complete disaster of my kitchen table in a joyous art frenzy, and then break off when my self-imposed schedule dictates that I should?

Am I going to be on a writing roll and quit just when my writing hits full stride?

When I get to the really good part in a book, am I going to stop reading?

No, I’m not, because as much as there is a part of me that loves to schedule everything, there is a another part of me that needs to finish. I need the feeling of accomplishment, even if it is small.

Knowing all this about myself, I need a schedule that

  • Allows for small, short tasks to be interspersed with longer ones to foster my sense of accomplishment.
  • Offers flexibility so that if I’m on a roll in one area of interest, the bathrooms can wait…sometimes for days.
  • Carves out space for all my interests, if not daily, then at least weekly.
  • Provides ample time for healthy eating or sleeping otherwise none of this will happen.
  • Gives me permission to occasionally lie on the couch like a sloth for awhile.

Maybe a pie chart will help me and maybe it won’t, but in either case, a piece of actual pie could go a long way.

In honor of pie, I’d like to share with you my all-time favorite recipe for my all-time favorite pie. An old book club friend introduced me to this pie and I’ve never looked back. Yes, even the crust is from scratch, but it’s totally worth it! Apple Pie with Oat Streusel from bon appetit…enjoy!

THE BOOK OF THE SUMMER: GONE GIRL BY GILLIAN FLYNN

August 22, 2012 in Book Reviews

Every season is a good time for reading.

The Fall:

Bright yellow school buses rolling down streets lined with brilliantly colored trees, crunchy fallen leaves creating a layer so thick I can’t see where the sidewalk ends and the grass begins, the days sunny and the cold, crisp air kept at bay by a warm sweater, although it does manage to find a way to nip at my cheeks… Sounds like a good time to read a cozy mystery, or a love story set in another, simpler era, or a novel of intertwining friendships and family ties sprawling across decades. It’s a time of comfortably settling in to a Maeve Binchy, a Marian Keyes, an Agatha Christie, a Nick Hornby, or an Emily Giffin novel.

The Winter:

Frigid air burns noses and knuckles even through scarves and mittens, and the freezing rain doesn’t help matters. The cold seeps in my skin, down past muscles and nerves and into my bones where it sets up residence, requiring hours in flannel pajamas under a warm blanket to thwart the chill. Winter is a time for burrowing in: deep, dark, intense, moody books are the order of the season. Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water, Patricia Cornwell or Sue Grafton novels, Laura Hillebrand’s Unbroken, or a re-read of Where the Red Fern Grows call to me in the winter.

The Spring:

Ahh, spring! The sun peeks out, cherry blossoms burst forth in soft pinks and white, and hope shines through once more as new beginnings abound. It’s a time for lightness, romance, love, and laughter. I think of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, Tamar Myers, and Jane Austen.

But…The Summer!

The summer is decadent: hours of daylight + a reduction of scheduled events = lots of time to sit by a pool or on the beach or in my own backyard and just read for long periods of time.

I’ll read anything in the summer, but the key here is that it has to be so good I’ll keep turning the pages instead of falling asleep like a kitty in the sunshine. This is the season of the page-turner, a compelling story that I cannot put down!

And ladies and gentlemen, I have just read the book of the summer! It is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

It’s about—

Well, I don’t want to tell you.

I want you to be as surprised as I was!

I liken it to watching The Sixth Sense before the ending was leaked: I never saw it coming. I was completely blown away. To this day, that moment in the movie theater when I gasped loudly and my hand flew to cover my mouth as the truth about Bruce Willis’ character finally dawned on me remains etched in my memory.

It wouldn’t have been the same if I had known the ending. It wouldn’t have been the same if someone came to me and said “This movie is so good! You’re not going to believe the ending! You won’t even see it coming! Seriously, you won’t have a clue.” I would have watched that movie in an entirely different way, as an observer trying to nitpick every scene for clues instead of as a participant, drawn into the magic of the story until the denouement swept me off my feet.

So I’m not going to tell you much.

On the first page, the header says:

               Nick Dunne

              The Day Of

The header on the first page of the second chapter says:

             Amy Elliott

            January 8, 2005

            Diary Entry

And so begins the tense dance between the viewpoints of Nick in the present and Amy in the past in this wildly successful psychological mystery/suspense.

Gillian Flynn pulls a thread from here and one from there, and another that doesn’t seem to match at all and she weaves them together like a master loomer, with patience and precision until finally, a pattern emerges—but it’s not a simple one. It’s a complex, geometric design requiring meticulous planning in order for all the threads to fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It is a well plotted, well-researched, taut ride that will keep you wondering what in the heck is going on, and you will keep turning the pages because you are dying to find out.

If you haven’t read it yet, I envy you the journey you are about to embark on! I LOVED every second of this novel!

That’s all you really need to know. So…drop everything you’re doing, buy or borrow the book, turn off your cell phone, send the kids outside, prepare to stay up much too late, and Happy Reading!

ODE TO CALIFORNIA

August 20, 2012 in Reflections on Pop Culture

 

I was not sad to leave my childhood home in California. Leave behind lung-clogging smog, asphalt, eight-lane freeways stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at any given time of the day? No, I was not sad to leave at all.

Especially when you consider where I live now: the idyllic Pacific Northwest, where I’m surrounded by stunning bodies of water and majestic green trees with two mountain ranges nearby filled with lush vegetation, waterfalls, and panoramic views from the top…paradise!

That being said, there are a couple of things that the Pacific Northwest claims to have that don’t quite compare to what California has to offer.

One is the heat. Another are the beaches.

The first time I saw a beach in the Pacific Northwest, I was stunned…and not in a good way. “What is this?”

“It’s a beach,” my companion, a native Northwesterner, said.

“This isn’t a beach! Where’s the sand?”

“You’re standing on it.”

“These are rocks. I can’t even walk out here without shoes on. Where are the waves? And why am I dressed in a large hooded windbreaker and jeans because it’s so cold?”

In my mind, a beach is miles of fine, warm sand butting up against white foam water rolling in as wave after wave crashes into shore with the sound of seagulls calling in the air. You can swim in the ocean for hours and not get hypothermia. You can lounge on the sand, dressed skimpily in a bikini and sunscreen, with nothing but a good book to keep you company. That is a beach.

Photo from www.ratestogo.com

Nothing compares to California beaches, and apparently, nothing compares to their miniature golf courses either.

My first miniature golf experience in the NW was a lot like my beach experience.

“What’s this?”

“Miniature golf.”

“But…we’re inside.”

“It rains a lot here.”

“This is just a strip of artificial turf with a hole cut out of it.”

“So? Isn’t that what miniature golf is?”

Um, no. This is miniature golf:

Outside in the baking sun with honest-to-goodness water hazards adorned with fountains, larger-than-life castles with closing doors that you have to time your way through, and secret tunnels that will either place your ball directly by the hole or nowhere near the hole depending on which ramp you make it onto.

And it’s all butted-up against an eight-lane freeway stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. But never mind that.

On our recent visit to California, I was excited to show my Pacific Northwest children what real miniature golf was, and their reaction did not disappoint. They ran around the holes like maniacs, sweat dripping down their faces, sticking their balls down pipes to see where they led before they planned their shot (“This doesn’t count! I’m just seeing where it goes!”), dipping their fingers, toes, and club heads in the water for no apparent reason, and challenging their putting prowess like no other kind of golf can.

“What did you get on that hole?” I asked, my pencil poised to write down the score.

“A 57.”

“Um…I’ll just write down a 6.”

Hands down, it was their favorite part of our trip. Of course, future miniature golf excursions are going to be expensive. Admission fee plus a plane ticket to California is going to start adding up.

NOTE TO CELEBRITIES: PLEASE STOP DYING!

August 17, 2012 in Reflections on Pop Culture

I have vivid memories of my mother poring over the newspaper or the USA Today insert at our dining room table when I was young, clicking her tongue and saying “Oh no! So-and-so died!”

“Who?” I’d ask.

“So-and-so!” A famous actor/director/musician/athlete.

“Never heard of him,” I’d say dismissively, already moving on to other things.

My, how times have changed.

Now that I’m older, I’m the one distraught over the losses listed in the “News and Notes” section of my Entertainment Weekly.

“Oh no! Whitney Houston died!” I exclaimed one day while my kids looked on blankly.

“Who?”

Who? Are you kidding me?” How is it possible that my kids didn’t know one of the most influential artists of our time? Clearly, I had failed them. I forced them to accompany me to my computer where we listened to a Whitney Houston medley courtesy of iTunes.

But that wasn’t the end of it. Then came Maurice Sendak, Nora Ephron, Gore Vidal, and…

“Oh no! Sherman Hemsley died!” At age 74—so young!—due to a complication from lung cancer.

“Who?” my kids asked. I didn’t even bother trying to explain.

How can you explain George Jefferson unless you grew up watching him? Strutting his stuff with his stiff arms moving side-to-side behind his back, crying “Weezy! Weezy!”, his hilarious interactions with his maid Florence and his neighbors Tom and Helen, and calling all white folks “honky”… Crotchety, cantankerous, insulting, and a heart of gold.

Sherman Hemsley brought that character to larger than life, and like Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker before him, brought our own prejudices to our attention and helped us overcome them. Even better, he did it while making us laugh. That is a gift that I will sorely miss.

Further along the “News and Notes” column came another unwelcome surprise.

“No no no no no no!” Maeve Binchy? Dead at 72 from an unspecified brief illness? But that’s so young! And I love her! I’ve read all of her books, and own most of them, like Circle of Friends, Light a Penny Candle, and all the interlocking characters in Tara Road, Scarlet Feather, and Heart and Soul.

What am I going to do without her?

This death thing is getting personal.

I suppose it’s bound to happen. As we age, the celebrities we grew up with grow older too. They can’t live forever, but I can tell you that I’m too young for this. I’m too young to know all the names in the death columns of my favorite magazines. I’m too young to face a world without new Maeve Binchy novels to read, or Whitney Houston #1 hits to fall in love with, or Marvin Hamlisch scores to sweep me away in a movie moment.

I humbly request the medical community to step it up. We’re losing too many of our greats, and it’s occurring to me that I’m no longer that far behind.

ONE CITY, ONE BOOK: THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN BY GARTH STEIN

August 15, 2012 in Book Reviews

Our small, suburban city is doing something amazing. We are participating in our first One City, One Book program, whose aim is to bring a community together through reading a common book. The selection is Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain and his juvenile title Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog.

Can I just tell you how much I love this idea? Our city has really gotten into it. In addition to the 300 copies available at our local library, our city has placed free copies in local businesses, like veterinary offices, coffee shops, and grocery stores. The idea is that while you’re running errands in our fair city, you can pick up the book, read it, and pass it on to a neighbor.

Our local library is hosting book discussions for adults and kids. Because the protagonist in the book is a dog, the city has scheduled several dog-related events as well, such as cleaning up a local dog park, and learning more about Guide Dogs for the Blind.

The event culminates with a visit by bestselling author Garth Stein! The fact that he happens to live locally only adds another layer to the spirit of bringing our community closer together.

Our family is participating in this 100%. I just finished reading the adult version, my oldest son is reading the YA version, and I’m reading the YA book out loud to my younger sons. We will be attending the author visit as well.

It’s been fun running into friends while clutching my library copy of The Art of Racing in the Rain under my arm.

“You’re reading that too? I just finished,” my friend said to me the other day, and we proceeded to talk about the book, right there in the parking lot after our sons’ baseball game.

From a writing standpoint, I’m enjoying the juxtaposition of his adult and YA versions. I started reading the YA out loud to my kids first, and it was all smooth sailing. Then I picked up the adult version and started reading that all the way through to a very disturbing hallucination scene involving the dog, lovable Enzo, and a demonic stuffed zebra.

I was curious/worried about how that would unravel in the YA version, and I must say that Garth Stein did an admirable job toning the scene way down for a younger audience.

Now that I’ve finished the adult novel, there are so many adult themes that I can’t even imagine how he will handle these going forward in the YA version. I’ll keep reading out loud to my kids as long as it’s appropriate, and I’m hoping Garth Stein made it so we can read all the way to the end.

I’m sure this is bringing the community together, but I’m even more excited about how it’s bringing our family together. With a six-year age span between my oldest and youngest son, it’s not often we can find a book that holds all their interests. Even now, I’m pushing the boundaries with my six year old, but I foresee an art project with Enzo in our future, and that just may bring the story to life for him.

You don’t have to be from here to join in. Read The Art of Racing in the Rain with us!

My book review of The Art of Racing in the Rain is  here at Goodreads.com, and my review of Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog can be found here.

THE OLYMPIC MOMS

August 13, 2012 in Reflections on Pop Culture

Alas, the 2012 London Olympics are over. I’m sad! I love the Olympics: the hoopla, the knowledge that you can turn on the TV at any given moment day or night and find Olympic athletes poised for greatness, the triumphs, the heartbreak, the examples of good sportsmanship across country lines… There is nothing like the Olympics.

I couldn’t watch it all (because I can’t stay up until midnight for two weeks in a row, or ever), but I was able to witness:

  • Great Britain’s Mo Farah’s amazing friendship and gold/silver medal finish in the 10,000m race with his training partner Galen Rupp from the USA.
  • The end of Misty May-Treanor and Kerry Walsh Jennings’ dynasty in the Beach Volleyball event, culminating in their 3rd gold medal in as many Olympics.
  • Michael Phelps swimming for the last time, and earning another gold medal in the process.
  • The USA Women’s soccer team triumphing over the Japan team that defeated them in the 2010 World Cup finals.
  • USA’s Manteo Mitchell running his portion of the 4x400m relay on a broken leg.
  • The inspiring Oscar Pistorius, aka the Blade Runner, running in his heat in the 400m.
  • The USA Women’s gymnastics team winning team gold, and Gabby Douglas winning all-around gold.
  • And oh, the moms!

I don’t remember ever seeing so much coverage given over to the moms of the Olympic athletes before. Then again, these are no ordinary moms.

John Orozco’s mom Damaris wormed her way into my heart as I watched her watch her son during his gymnastics performances. She was a quivering mass of anxiety, covering her eyes with both hands so she couldn’t see a thing, her entire body jiggling and shaking nervously, taking deep, gulping breaths throughout. It wasn’t until the audience burst into applause that she took her hands off her eyes and thrust them into the air in victory, cheering louder than anyone else in the building—and she hadn’t seen a thing. She had no idea how he fared. But did it matter? Not to her. He was her son, and that’s all she needed to know.

Aly Raisman’s mom made it onto TV too, but her reaction was the polar opposite of Damaris’s. Lynn watched every second of Aly’s performance. She lived it with her, knowing every element that was coming, and offering enthusiastic, and often comical, advice. “Catch it. Catch it!” she’d cry, hoping that Aly would catch the uneven bar after her release move. “Stick it. Stick it!” she shouted before Aly’s dismount and landing. She came across as one of those beauty pageant moms I see on TV. I laughed along with everyone else as I watched her repeatedly on You Tube.

Until I caught myself shouting something during one of my son’s sporting events that did not sound good. Horrified, I clamped my hand over my mouth, while my fellow moms on the sidelines laughed with me. With me, because we have all been guilty of a little anxiety-driven shout-out in the heat of the moment. I’m just thankful a camera wasn’t around to catch me. In fact, that’s just one of many reasons I’m not on a reality show. No one should hear some of the appalling things that come out of my mouth, especially not repeatedly on You Tube.

Some have complained that there was too much coverage of the moms, and maybe they’re right.

Then again, these Olympic athletes might not have been in London had it not been for their moms driving them to practices, washing their uniforms, cheering them on when they succeeded, building them back up when they failed, not letting them quit during the tough spells, and sailing along behind them when they were cruising on their own.

The athletes accomplishments are their own. It was their drive, determination, talent, and practice that brought them to the medal podium, and the good moms are the first ones to tell you that.

If my kids ever make it to the Olympics, I will be there in the stands watching every second, incognito, my mouth taped shut, and my arms thrown into the air in victory regardless of how they do. They’re my sons, and that’s plenty for me to cheer about.

WHAT IS YOUR HIDDEN TALENT?

August 10, 2012 in Random Thoughts

On a whim, my kids and I dropped by their elementary school’s Talent Show this past Spring. We were already at the school for my son’s baseball practice in the sand field, and the strains of periodic bursts of applause drew us in.

The gym was crowded and hot, and as it doubles as the school’s cafeteria, it didn’t smell very good. We made seats for ourselves on the hard floor and settled down to watch.

I am no stranger to talent shows. My younger sister sang and danced her way through several, so I knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into: off-key singers (my sister wasn’t one of these, by the way), painful piano solos, comedians whose jokes fell flat, and interminable silences where teachers frantically tried to fix the AV system.

That night a lot of kids did perform piano solos, but I was pleasantly surprised by the young man who wailed “Back in Black” on his electric guitar. They certainly didn’t have acts like that when I was growing up!

Another act that was new to me was the “Math Magician.” The young man claimed to be able to calculate which day of the week you were born on if you gave him the date and the year you were born in. An audience member volunteered that he was born on April 12, 1971. Repeating this information carefully into the microphone, the young man retreated into himself, his arms by his side, still and silent. For minutes! I squirmed for him, and I wasn’t the only one. I fretted that he didn’t know the answer and had just realized that there’s nowhere to hide up on stage. I worried that he was about to be humiliated in front of the entire audience, while the younger kids grew restless. They looked upon his silence as an opportunity to either start punching their neighbors, or, in the case of my youngest son, to fall asleep in my lap.

Finally, he opened his mouth and said, as calmly as if he were in the privacy of his own home, “Monday.” The audience erupted into applause. I wiped the sweat off my forehead in relief.

He did this three more times, calculating his answers with formulae he kept in his head, completely unfazed by the fact that he was standing in front of all those people seemingly doing nothing. That’s his talent, I thought. Sure, it’s cool that he can figure that out in his head, but the real talent is his comfort in front of an audience. When he took his final bow, other than his parents, nobody clapped harder than I did.

Then came the “Cha Cha Cha” dancers from 2nd grade. I’ll admit it: I rolled my eyes when they announced that one. But then from out of the wings emerged a little girl with her hair tightly pulled back into a bun, full make-up, and a professional looking mini-dress with nylons and small heels. She strutted confidently to the center of the stage, her chin tilted up, and her hand held out gracefully to the small gentlemen looking resplendent in black head-to-toe. I knew then that we were about to witness something.

These kids didn’t just throw this together in the last month to finagle their way on stage. These kids were pros. When the music started, they cha cha’d their way across the floor, twirling, swiveling hips, extending arms long and gracefully, dipping…these kids were ballroom dancers that could have earned a spot on So You Think You Can Dance. And they were in the 2nd grade!

I sat back in awe that evening, watching these kids, some of whom I’d taught art to for years, never knowing they possessed these incredible talents.

It made me stop and think: how many of us have secret talents that we spend hours working on, but our daily lives don’t seem to be the proper venue to showcase them?

After all, it’s not as if these kids can start ballroom dancing in the classroom. The gymnast who spends upwards of 20 hours a week at the gym can’t erupt into a tumbling run down the center aisle of the cafeteria, and the 6th grader with the voice of an angel who could very well land herself on American Idol someday can’t break into song during PE.

I recently discovered one of my fellow art moms is an exquisite cake decorator. As in, she’s so good she could open her own business. Why didn’t I know that? Probably because I run into her in the halls of the school or in the art supply room—not exactly venues for her to schlep around a fully decorated cake.

I have another friend who used to live across the street from me. I spent hours talking to her, and it was only much later in our friendship that I found out she’s a synchronized swimmer. She gets together with her teammates and practices weekly, even traveling to participate in competitions. What? That’s amazing! How did I not know that?

Another good friend of mine is a gifted athlete. We all know this; she runs marathons, she coaches, she plays a lot of sports. But how many years did I know her before she finally confessed that she took 3rd place in the NCAA Women’s Basketball 3-point shooting contest one year? Third place? My goodness!

So many of us have talents beyond what our friends and colleagues see. Wouldn’t it be great to share them with each other? Maybe it’s time for all of us to bring our talents out of the closet, dust them off, and let them shine out into the world.

What talents have you been hiding?