Tuesday, November 11, 2008

sing along

I love to sing. Unfortunately, I am not very good at it. I am so bad at it, in fact, that when I was a kid, my mother asked me to please not sing around her as my off-key singing hurt her ears. Now, as a mother myself, I can't really imagine that. When Tom and Julie were small, one of my greatest joys was to hear their little voices singing in that sweet, un-self conscious way that children sing. I couldn't tell (and didn't care) if they were off-key or not. As they got older, they became more self conscious and wouldn't sing around me anymore, although they still sang with each other. This made me more sad than I could ever tell them.

I have already mentioned my trip to New York City when I met up with Tom and Kristy in Chinatown. That night we went to a Japanese karaoke restaurant where we had a private room for several hours. I was delighted to hear Tom sing for the first time in probably twenty years. It was the highlight of my evening.

When Julie was home last month, she tried to entice us (well, mostly she tried to entice Ben - I am always up for a road trip) to drive to a bar in Aurora for a beer and a bucket of sliders. "Come on," she said. "We'll all sing in the car." Ben could not be persuaded, but in short order Julie and I were on the road. "I believe I was promised some singing," I told her. She dug the Neil tape - now safely transferred to CD - out of her glove box, and soon his plaintive whine filled the car.

I think I have mentioned the Neil tape before - it is my all-time favorite mix tape that Ben made for me. It is Julie's favorite, as well, I believe, and as we headed north in her car, we sang every song along with Neil. I heard Julie sing and sing and sing. We sang "Powderfinger". We sang "Southern Man", which we used to sing softly together as we wandered up and down the aisles of countless flea markets. We sang "King", which always reminds me of Bobo, and always brings a lump to my throat. We ate sliders and drank beer, then sang all the way home. I tried not to let Julie know how much it meant to me for fear I would somehow spoil the moment, but I am telling her now.

What an unexpected gift that outing was. Thanks, Jules. Let's do it again soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

post-election day musings

I decided to watch the election returns on MSNBC last night. It is my understanding that is the cable news network that conservatives hate the most - just right for me. The mood among the commentators and pundits there was barely contained jubilation, I thought. I wanted to share their optimism, but was just afraid of experiencing that same anger and disappointment that overwhelmed me when the last two presidential elections were stolen by the Republican Party. I just couldn't be confident that it wouldn't happen again.

Every time the television cameras panned the huge crowds filling Grant Park in Chicago, I looked for Tom and Kristy. I didn't even know if they were there or someplace else with a group of like-minded friends, but I looked for them anyway. I couldn't help it. I looked for my brother, as well, although I have not seen him in twenty years now. It just seemed like the kind of night he might be out and celebrating, watching history in the making.

Here in Ohio it was 11:00 p.m. when the polls finally closed on the west coast. Almost in the same breath, the closing of the polls was announced, along with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. I surprised myself very much by starting to sob as his name was announced. I hadn't wanted to care that much, but I did. I do.

Today is a bright, shiny, new day for the United States of America. Today I stand tall and face the global community as a proud American. It feels damn good.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Today is my son's birthday. He and Kristy are in Seattle and will be flying home later today. Kristy has several times given Tom the gift of a trip for his birthday. Last year they came here to spend some time with us, but several years ago, they went to New York City. As it happened, I was in NYC then, as well, and I had the unforgettable experience of meeting up with the two of them on Canal Street in Chinatown on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Last year on Tom's birthday I posted some random thoughts about the day he was born, so I would refer you to that if you are interested. I will simply say, Happy Birthday, honey! I love you very much!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

don't buy this book, part 2

My steadfast readers will remember that almost a year ago I posted a book review I had written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I never understood how in the world that particular book was selected for me as there are just so many good books out there - and that wasn't one of them. Neither is this book, but, as promised, here is my review of it.

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

I wanted to like this book. I really did. And I think it started out well. I quite enjoyed the early chapters of the book set in Milwaukee. A fresh voice, a fresh locale, what's not to like? I didn't even mind the multiple types of supernatural beings thrown at me with each turn of the page. “Charmed” is one of my guilty pleasures, after all.

The author began increasingly to lose me, however, with each of her successive sex scenes. I understand this kind of soft-core porn has been de rigueur in paperback romance novels for a long time, but I don’t read them. It’s not that I’m a prude – I’m just not interested. When I realized that the transfer of some types of supernatural power could only happen during hot sex, that just seemed too silly for words to me. Pretty quickly the plot became a vehicle to get from one sexual encounter to the next. Bor-ing.

I understand this is the first book in a new series for this author, and I do appreciate getting in on the ground floor with the first book in a series. However, I prefer to see each book end with a strong resolution, which was definitely lacking here. I don’t think this book can stand alone, and that is a drawback for me, since I won't be reading anything else by this author.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Today is Ben's birthday. Please wish him a happy birthday here or on one of his blogs.

(You probably won't be surprised to hear that he is getting something hand-knit from me - and I had better get back to it!)

Monday, September 15, 2008

I don't like Ike

I live in Northeast Ohio. I don't love living here. I really want to live on the east coast. Right on the east coast. Like I could see the ocean out my windows and stroll to the beach whenever I so desired. Since we can't afford to live on the beach, however, I have always comforted myself with the idea that at least we're safe when hurricane season comes around - until last night, that is.

Yesterday was a funny day, weatherwise. Soupy and hot in the morning gave way to sunny and windy (an odd combination) in the early afternoon. Although rain was predicted, we never really had any. Ben and I watched football games on and off throughout the day. I was mostly puzzling out a new knitting pattern, and Ben wandered in and out, as he does. We were really waiting for the Browns-Steelers game to start at 8:00 p.m. I was excited at the idea of watching the game on Sunday Night Football, but, as it turned out, we didn't see a minute of the game.

The wind had really picked up in the early evening, and we could hear small branches from the big, old oak trees surrounding our house hitting the roof and deck. The strong winds made the dogs nervous, and Lucie was either parked on someone's lap or hiding under the coffee table. I was watching the last seconds of the San Diego-Denver game, hoping the Chargers could pull off a last-minute miracle (y'all know how I feel about the Broncos) when the power went out. And flickered and went out. And flickered and went out. And stayed out. And that was pretty much it.

Since it was just past 7:30 it wasn't totally dark out yet, but we could see it soon would be. Ben rounded up candles from around the house and put them on the mantelpiece in front of the mirror, where their light was reflected. I lit candles in the kitchen and bathroom, in case we needed to make forays into those parts of the house. Most importantly, Ben found a transistor radio with batteries that still worked so that we could listen to the football game until the power came back on. That's what I was thinking, anyway. I think Ben knew otherwise.

I called the Ohio Edison hotline around 9:00, but the hours continued to pass with no electricity. We listened to the entire football game on the radio, which was o.k., except for the fact that we had to listen to the incredibly annoying commercials. Did you know that radio commercials are even more annoying than the ones on t.v.? I bet you didn't think that was possible.

We had a myriad of concerns. Of course we had been grocery-shopping earlier in the day, and were concerned about the refrigerator full of food that was gradually warming up. Neither one of us knew how widespread the outage was, and didn't know if we would be expected at work today. We had our cell phones, but for how long? If we couldn't recharge them, we couldn't use them. Fortunately, the temperature had dropped as the hurricane blew in, and we were able to open the windows to the cool, fresh air as the evening progressed with no sign of power being restored.

I had a flashlight and my cell phone on the night stand when I went to bed, and I tried to ignore the dozens of little worries swirling through my mind, in hopes that I could fall asleep. I slept fitfully for a couple of hours, and was actually awake when the power came back on around 2:00 a.m. Only a couple of lights were on in the house, and when the air conditioning and my ceiling fan kicked in, I was able to fall soundly asleep for the rest of the night. We had been without power for about six and a half hours.

Okay, I know I am lucky compared to the people living in Southeast Texas, but that is exactly my point. I don't live on the coast, and one of the few benefits of that is not having to worry about hurricanes and the woes associated with them. Until now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Today is Kristy's birthday! Please join me in wishing her a good one!

(ps-s-st... and thanks so much for the awesome weekend, Kristy and Tom!)

Friday, August 15, 2008

day tripping

I went to see my dad yesterday. I have done a pretty good job of seeing him every month this year. It's a little trickier in the summer because he doesn't use air conditioning and I can't stand the heat. It has been cooler than usual this year, however, and yesterday was a good day to visit him. I drove through a thunderstorm on the turnpike (always exciting) but other than that, my trip was uneventful.

I really enjoy my visits with him, and never know what new insights I will come away with. Yesterday, he said to me, "You had something I never had - an electric train. It was under the Christmas tree for you nine days before you were born. Did you know that?" Actually, I didn't. My electric train is part of my earliest memories, it's true, but I never knew that he bought it for me (his first child) before I was born. It makes sense, though. I have seen photos of my mother that Christmas - hugely pregnant with the child (me!) that would be born right after the new year on January 3rd. My parents certainly didn't know whether I would be a boy or a girl, but I have a sense that my dad didn't care. His first child would have an electric train.

I do remember riding the Rapid to Cleveland with my dad when I was very young to go to a train shop somewhere downtown. I have a sense that it was a small shop - long and narrow with a high ceiling, but that could just be a child's perception. I don't remember anymore what we bought there. Maybe it was the automated box car with the conductor who kicked boxes out onto the platform. Maybe it was just some more track. My dad must have taken a child's delight in the small, crowded shop and everything that was in it. He was so young then - not yet 26 when I was born.

As an odd aside, I received my first electrical shock as a small child when my dad allowed me to plug the transformer into the wall socket. He didn't realize that my tiny fingers were touching the metal prongs of the plug. I was more surprised than hurt, and learned a life lesson I have never forgotten.

I have really struggled in recent years with the concept of passing time and with memories of places (and people) that no longer exist. For some reason that I don't really understand, spending time with my dad makes me feel better about all that. It's a win-win situation.


Today is Andrew's last birthday in his 20's. Yeah, he's that old. Please join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday - while he's still young enough to enjoy it.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

what was that?

That was a little black dog named Muffin. When the days were hot, Muffin's family all went to the country. We're off to the country, they said, and you're going, too, Muffin.

Thus begins a record I must have listened to a thousand times when I was a kid. Muffin's family loads him in a "travel box" where he can't see outside, but he can hear. The rest of the record (both sides of a small 78) is a series of sounds, followed by the narrator's voice asking, "What was that?" over and over and over again.

My brother gave me a stack of old records some years ago, and Muffin in the Country, as it is called, was among them. I was delighted to have it, although the record doesn't play all that well anymore, since my brothers once tried (successfully, I must admit) to play it with a straight pin as they manually spun the turntable. We did mange to listen to it, however, and more importantly, Ben taped it so that Tom and Julie could listen to it. It is almost as familiar to them as it is to me; so much so that for a while "Muffin" was in the running as a name for Rufus, because he is a little black dog, after all.

Last month, when Ben and I were at the flea market in Hartville, I was looking at a booth full of old chilren's books when I found a paperback called The Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown, an author best known for writing the children's classic, Goodnight Moon. I picked it up because I loved the graphic style of the cover. It was a re-print of a book first printed in 1939, and it seemed very 30's-bustling-big-city to me.

Imagine my delight when it turned out to be a book about a little black dog named Muffin! The format was very similar to my beloved record. Poor Muffin got a cinder in his eye, and when his family took him to the vet, a bandage was put over his eyes until he was healed. So, once again, Muffin couldn't see, but Muffin could hear - all the sounds of the big city, as it turned out.

I started sifting through the stacks of books to see if I could find, possibly, Muffin in the Country, as well. And I did, under the title, Country Noisy Book. I also found an indoor noisy book and a winter noisy book. I think I bought all four of them for two dollars.

What a find! Are these books worth more than I paid for them? They are not. But how delighted I am to have them anyway.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

come sail away

If you had driven by me on my way to work yesterday, you might have seen me laughing and laughing as I drove down Newcomer Road. I pretty much only listen to the radio when I am in my car. I station-surf until I find a song I know (and like) to listen to. Yesterday the intro to a song I didn't recognize came on. The music was so stupid and queer that I left it on to see what it was. Then, an odd, nasal voice started to warble, "I'm sailing away..."

Could it be? Was this the queer song that Cartman has to sing compulsively whenever someone mentions it to him? As I listened and waited for the refrain, I marveled at the grandiose music and the total inanity of the lyrics. I had never listened to this song before (because it was so stupid, and because I hate Styx) but it had to be the one.

At last - the refrain: Come sail away, come sail away... I could immediately picture Cartman singing faster and faster, unable to stop until he sang it all. I burst out laughing as I drove along and continued to laugh until the song was over.

Man, I love to laugh like that, and wish I could do it every day. I include the lyrics below in the hope that they will make you laugh, too. (I bet they will.)

I'm sailing away,
set an open course for the virgin sea
I've got to be free,
free to face the life thats ahead of me
On board, I'm the captain,
so climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I'll try, oh lord, I'll try to carry on

I look to the sea,
reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy, some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever,
so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold

But we'll try best that we can to carry on
A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope,
and this is what they said
They said

Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me

I thought that they were angels,
but to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship
and headed for the skies

Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm down. I'm really down.

I don't know what is wrong with me lately, but I'm down. I am trying to figure out why, and more importantly, to just get over it, already. Don't read any further if you don't want to listen to my sad little list of things that haven't gone just right recently.

Let's see - a weekend that Ben and I had really been looking forward to turned out to be a bust. That same weekend, Julie and Andrew went to Chincoteague. Now, I am thrilled they went there - the scene of so many happy family vacations when Tom and Julie were growing up, but at the same time, I'm sad we weren't on Chincoteague with them.

Right around that same time, I broke out in some kind of mysterious rash on my face, neck, and, uh, other places, as well. Hives? Poison ivy? Yarn allergy? I just don't know. I do know it is unsightly and itchy and real irritating.

I'm always broke. I got my first paycheck, and am very pleased to be gainfully employed again, but, let's face it, I did not take this job for the money. I love the shop and the people I work with, and the women who come in are, by and large, very pleasant to deal with - all good things, but they don't pay the bills. I'm tired of being broke.

And that's another thing - I'm just plain tired all the time. When we got home from grocery shopping on Sunday, I went back to bed and slept for two hours. What's up with that? I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I'm ready for a new phase, aren't you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

there are chickens in the... yard

We live at the end of our little street in the crook of an L-shaped intersection with Short Street, which is a very short street, indeed, having only two houses on it. The down side of living there is that we are on the corner and so have that whole long side of the lot (sidewalk and tree lawn) to care for. On the plus side, however, we don't have any neighbors at all to the west of us, and we like that a lot.

The other end of our street T's into a larger side street, and right at that intersection lives a very interesting family. They live in a big old two-story house, and when we first moved here, we frequently saw a big old city bus parked in front of their house. It was painted a sort of faded aqua, and the destination on the front of the bus could be just about anywhere. Clearly, it belonged to the family who lived there, and we were always pleased to see it parked other places around town.

The city did not appreciate the bus as much as we did, apparently, and posted signs in front of that house only, saying "No Parking Between Signs". The bus is still parked there from time to time, and I say, "good for them!" but we don't see it much anymore.

Yesterday evening when Rufus and I walked by there on our post-prandial walk, I saw something I had never seen there - or anywhere else in our neighborhood - before. Two brown chickens with bright red combs were chasing each other around the front yard. Rufus didn't notice them because they were across the street, but I was delighted. I asked a woman who was out in front of her house as we walked by, and she told me, "oh yes, they've had them for a while. They raised them from chicks."

Now, I am pretty sure our town has some sort of ordinance prohibiting that. (No livestock within the city limits - whatever.) Most towns do. I am delighted, however, to see that this family is still practicing their mild form of civil disobedience.

Oh, and I'm glad they don't live next door to me.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Miss Chickpea's

Taking a look at my list of tags or "labels", as they are called here, I am surprised to find that I have never mentioned Miss Chickpea's (full name:"Miss Chickpea's Funky Fibers") in any of my posts. Miss Chickpea's is my LYS (local yarn store) and it is located in the new First & Main development in downtown Hudson, about twenty minutes from here. Their website is here: http://www.misschickpea.com/

I love Miss Chickpea's. I have loved it since the first time we walked in there last December. When we knew that Tom and Kristy would be spending Christmas with us, we wanted to find some neat, funky little yarn shops to take Kristy to - 'cause knitters love places like that. A quick search on the internet turned up Miss Chickpea's - right next to Aladdin's, our favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. It was the perfect outing - lunch at Aladdin's and a trip to the yarn store.

If you have checked out the website, you have seen what a cute little place it is - just chock-full of yarn. Yarn everywhere. Even non-knitters, like Julie, love to go in there. One just feels inspired to knit.

Tom and Kristy gave me a knitting class there as a birthday present, and when I went, I began to make friends with the incredibly helpful and friendly women who work there. They are always available to help new knitters (or experienced knitters!) through a rough patch, and don't mind if you just sit down and knit for a while.

A couple of months ago, Julie and I were heading to Aladdin's when we saw a "Help Wanted" sign hanging in Miss Chickpea's front window. Over lunch, we discussed the pros and cons of applying for a job there. Well, really, there didn't seem to be any cons, so I stopped in and picked up an application.

Long story short, I am now working at Miss Chickpea's Funky Fibers. I am still very much a newbie, but working there is almost as much fun as shopping there - and that's saying a lot. We are encouraged to work on our knitting when everything else is done. And they even pay us. How lucky is that?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

change is good... I guess

I didn't used to be a morning person - getting up too early to shower and rush out the door to work and all - but I love my mornings now. And I love my daily morning routine. Here's what I do every morning:

1. Get up and let the dogs out.

2. Start some coffee brewing.

3. Feed the dogs, if they haven't been fed.

4. Bring the newspapers in. (Get a little irritated if they haven't both arrived.)

5. Give the dogs their little treats for eating all their breakfast.

6. Read the newspapers while eating breakfast - usually a bowl of lowfat granola with fresh blueberries and fat-free milk and a mug of coffee with Splenda.

7. Chase Rufus out from under Julie's bed, where he has run to hide with the kleenex he stole out of the bathroom waste basket.

8. Hop on line to check my email (usually just updates from some knitting sites) my blog for comments (usually none, as you all well know) the LibraryThing talk page (which is being taken over by spammers, unfortunately) and, most importantly, my Ravelry page for comments and inspiration.

9. Whatever I want to do - gosh!

My routine came to a screeching halt at #8 yesterday, however, when my computer was unable to connect to the internet. I made the trip to the basement once, twice, a half dozen times to toggle the router switch, but to no avail. No connection. No internet. Normally, this might be cause for panic, but as yesterday was my second day of work at my new job, it wasn't the problem it could have been.

And for more information on that, you will just have to tune in tomorrow.

Monday, June 30, 2008

driving it around the block

I don't know if you can tell or not, but I am writing this post on my brand new computer. It is an ~goes to look at box~ HP Pavilion a6400f - for those of you who that means something to. What it means to me is that I am back on the internet without fear of my computer crashing at any second. What else can I tell you about it? I am told that I have "Vista" instead of "XP" and that is a good thing. (Not sure about the capitalization of those two terms - forgive me if I got it wrong.) I have a smaller, quieter hard drive, and a smaller, lightweight keyboard that I am slowly adjusting to - which is a pleasure and not a burden, let me just say.

This is the first new computer I have ever had. We generally don't get new computers at our house. In fact, I think it has only been within the last nine months that Ben, Julie and I have all gotten brand new store-bought computers for the first time. That is sort of the down side of living with computer whizzes. Ben and Tom (who I am sure has had multiple new computers - that's his line of work, after all) have pretty much been making their own for the past twenty years.

Think of it like those families you know who always have a stripped-down, partially re-assembled car in the garage or driveway. (No, I don't know any families like that, actually, but I have driven by their houses.) Anyway. They have the parts to assemble probably several cars, but it's just a matter of getting the parts together and - more importantly - in operating condition. Ben has always been able to rig something up for me, but this time he decided to just drive a new model out of the showroom. And I am glad he did!

I can't promise more posts, but I can promise that I will enjoy writing them once again, so what's that worth?

Monday, June 23, 2008

experiencing... technical ... difficulties...

When I was a kid, back in the Dark Ages, our tv would occasionally go on the fritz. Some times it would be our set's fault, and the picture would "roll" or we would have excessive "snow". My dad would fiddle with some tiny knobs at the bottom of our big box of a television, or move the rabbit ears around a bit. Some times it helped, some times it didn't.

Every once in a while, the network or the local affiliate would have problems, and after a short period of time, a stationary picture would appear on the tv screen. The picture showed a man standing next to his television set, leaning over, and peering inside the front of it. Even before we knew how to read, we understood what that meant. The station knew something was wrong and they were working on it.

If I used images on this blog, I would be searching the internet for that picture, as I'm sure it is out there somewhere. Because, you see, I know something is wrong with my computer, and Ben is working on it. Until he figures it out, however, my posts will be brief to non-existent, as my computer tends to lock up on me somewhat unexpectedly.

So, please stand by. We'll be right back.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


(Due to problems with my computer that cause it to freeze up with increasing frequency, this may not be the post I hope it will be.)

Today is Julie's birthday. She is twenty-six years old, and this is the first year she won't be home with us for her birthday. Imagine that - an adult daughter who wants to spend time with her parents. I don't know how we got so lucky.

I do know Ben and I desperately wanted to have a daughter. We had hoped that Tom would be a girl when I was pregnant with him, although we both sensed from early on that he was a boy. He turned out to be such a delight that when I got pregnant a month before his first birthday, Ben and I agreed that another little boy (just like him) would be fine. I was so confidant that my second child was a girl, however, that we never even chose a boy's name for the baby I was carrying.

She was due two days after our sixth wedding anniversary, although my ob/gyn had told me I would probably deliver late. To be on the safe side, however, Ben and I decided to celebrate our anniversary a few days early, on the sixteenth. We dressed up and drove to Vermilion to have dinner at McGarvey's, a popular lakeside restaurant. I guess I was pretty hugely pregnant, as our server that night seemed amazed - and a little concerned - that I was out and about. We laughed at her concerns, and enjoyed our dinner. When we got home, however, and I bent down to pick up my twenty-month-old Tommy, my water broke. Ben took the sitter home so she could pack some things for an overnight stay, and I went to lie down for a few hours.

Skipping all that messy, painful stuff in between, I was safely delivered of our daughter, Julie Anne, the following morning. I was delighted. So was Ben, although he swore he would never go through that again (!) I missed Tommy too much to stay in the hospital, so we came home after only two days - which was early at that time. Our little family was complete.

Ben and I are so proud of our children, and who could blame us? Happy, happy birthday, my sweet girl. I love you very much.

Friday, June 13, 2008

breakin' the law

I noticed the other day that my university parking pass had finally expired, so I threw it away. It felt okay to do that. When I first left the university, I knew I would leave the pass on my car until I felt ready to be without it. I didn't feel ready for a long time.

In the small university town where I live, most of the cars are small foreign cars - Toyotas, mostly, but Hondas and Subarus and Mazdas, as well. A good percentage of those cars sport university parking passes. I see them in parking lots at grocery stores and restaurants and the public library. A quick glance shows one the pass hanging from the rearview mirror, a closer look identifies the lot where the bearer parks. For a long time, I couldn't imagine driving around town without that identifying marker.

It's not that the university didn't want the pass back. I received an email not long after I left demanding its return, threatening to ticket me if I tried to use it in any of the campus lots. I thought about all the times I couldn't park in the lot I had a paid permit for because so many cars that didn't have passes were already parked there, and I knew I didn't have too much to worry about.

I did use it a few times in the past eleven months, actually. I have been back to visit my former co-workers occasionally - less frequently as time has passed and I have grown accustomed to being away from them. I don't have it any more, though, so I will have to be a scofflaw like dozens of others if I want to park on campus again - a risk I am willing to take.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Today is my brother's birthday. I won't tell you how old he is, but I will say that I was seven years old when he was born, so he is my "baby" brother. I remember my mother being pregnant with him, and I most especially remember the day he was born.

I had just finished the first grade, and at my elementary school, we traditionally went back for an additional morning to pick up our report cards, which would tell us if we had been "promoted" to the next grade. I would be allowed to take my younger brother, Tommy, along, and we could wear shorts to school - something our strictly-enforced dress code did not allow during the school year.

I woke up excited that morning, and found my mother awake and pacing the house. "I think today is the day, honey," she told me. "I think I will have the baby today." "No! Oh no!" was my reaction. "Who'll comb my hair for school?" It is important to know that I wore my hair in a "pixie cut," a hairstyle popular for young girls at that time. It was short, short, short all over, and I can't imagine that combing it was too difficult. My mother assured me that my dad's sister, Aunt Isabel, had already been telephoned, and she, along with my grandmother and cousin, were on their way. They lived over an hour away, however, and I knew they wouldn't arrive in time. My dad would have to comb my hair.

Tommy and I went off to school, and I can remember the two of us sharing the seat at my desk as we waited for the report cards to be handed out. My teacher, Miss Pressler, sang in the church choir with my mother, and asked if she had had the new baby yet. "She's at the hospital now! She's having it now!" I was thrilled to have such important news.

As we started the walk home with dozens of other newly-promoted children, my aunt drove up, yelling out the window, "She had a boy! You have a new little brother!" Then we hopped in her car, and as she drove us to the grocery store to pick up food for lunch, Tommy and I tried to understand what this new addition to the family would mean for us. For one thing, it meant that he would be the one to share his bedroom with the baby, and not me. It meant that the wicker bassinet that my mom had spray-painted baby blue out in the gravel driveway was the right color. And it meant that I would stay my daddy's girl, which was pretty important to me.

We didn't see Billy until he came home from the hospital, of course, and the first clear memory I have of him is in that blue bassinet at the foot of my parent's bed. He had wispy red hair, but it was his little face that was bright red, as he exercised his new lungs and wailed. Tommy and I were fascinated and appalled. We weren't allowed to cry like that.

The memories tumble out after that, and I see my mother holding him and singing, "Oh where have you been, Billy-boy, Billy-boy? Oh where have you been, charming Billy?" I remember learning how to change his diaper and give him a bath, and I remember the endless trips up and down our short, dead-end street, pushing him in his stroller. But I also remember the soft, orange curls that sprang up all over his head and how he would nuzzle into my neck and fall asleep, even on the hottest summer days. Oh yes, I loved my little brother. And I still do.

Happy Birthday, Bill.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

school's out --- completely

Julie finished her classes last week. No, I mean she finished her classes. For good. After twenty years of more or less continuous schooling, and just short of her 26th birthday, she has taken all the courses necessary for her PhD. Now, all she has left to do is take her comps and write her dissertation. It kind of makes attending classes seem like the easy part, doesn't it? Proud doesn't begin to cover how I feel about it all.

When Tom and Julie were growing up, we always used the phrases "when you go to college" or "after you finish college". We didn't even want them to look up from their books until they at least had their bachelor's degrees. And they didn't. In fact, they both went on to complete their master's degrees, as well. Tom was tired of being a penniless student, I think, and opted to join the real world at that point, although I know he often thinks about returning to school.

Julie, on the other hand, has never left the world of academia, and, in fact, probably never will. She and Andrew both hope to become college professors - aspirations which I think suit them perfectly. I can see them in future years, with a big house full of dogs and plants and books - mostly books. Julie will be wearing her bathrobe and plaid pajama bottoms... Yes, I can see it all now. And I can't tell you how proud and happy it makes me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

the merry month of may

We may have had a more beautiful spring than this one, but if so, I don't remember it. The weather has been the perfect blend of warm and sunny to make everything bloom, with cool and rainy to keep the flowers blossoming longer. Everything is so lush and green right now - I think this is what the Pacific Northwest must look like.

May has been my favorite month of the year for a long time. What's not to like? The whole world is green and blooming, the temperature is perfect ("ideal," the thermometer outside my kitchen window reads), there is no humidity when the sun is shining, and there are almost no bugs. Maybe I am noticing it more because I am at home every day to appreciate it. Whatever the reason, I am loving it.

Rufus wants to go outside now, and so do I. Hope you are enjoying this spring as much as I am.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

May 4th

Later today, as I do every year, I will drive over to campus with four bunches of freshly-cut flowers. I will lay them at four temporary memorials marked out in the parking lot where I used to park when I worked at the university. It is the only way I know to leave a concrete symbol that I remember what happened there.

Thirty-eight years ago I was a junior in high school. The first knowledge we had of something gone horribly wrong at Kent State was a frantic phone call from my aunt. Shots had been fired, she told my mother, "I'm going up there to get David." Davey, my much-loved cousin, was a KSU student living on campus that spring. My aunt and my grandmother got in their car and drove from Canton to Kent to "rescue" my cousin. I learned later from countless news stories about the hell they drove into. We all learned about it. It was the only topic of conversation in all my classes in the days that followed.

You know what happened that day - or you should. Government troops had arrived and set up camp on the university commons. Armed soldiers patrolled the campus perimeter. When students protested the military presence on the campus where they lived and attended classes, the troops opened fire on the unarmed students. Thirteen of them were shot, four fatally. Two of the dead students were a part of the protest; two of them had been walking to class when they were gunned down.

So many thoughts swirl through my mind as I remember that day. The one that I come back to time and again, though, is how it feels when spring finally comes to Kent, Ohio. The winters are long here. The days are cold and snowy, the skies are gray for months on end. When the temperature finally climbs above 70 degrees and the sun shines and all the flowering trees on campus bloom, it is the most joyous time of the entire school year. Everyone is outside, playing frisbee, laying in the sun, checking out the opposite sex, for sure. Doing anything, really, just to be outdoors on a glorious spring day. I know if I had been on campus that day, I would certainly have been on Blanket Hill to see what was going on, and, yes, probably to protest an armed government presence on my campus.

Allison and Jeff, Bill and Sandy were older than me when they died - I was still in high school, after all, and they were college students. The years have passed, however, and now my own children are older than they lived to be. I think of their sunny, bright, young faces in all the photos I have ever seen of them, and I know I won't ever forget them or how they died in that sunlit parking lot - killed by agents of their own government. I hope you will always remember them, too.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Ohio - Neil Young

Thursday, May 1, 2008

and I don't eat 'em, either

This time of year, it's not unusual for me to see dandelions when I close my eyes at night. Robust, vigorous, brilliantly green-leafed, sunshine-yellow dandelions, growing up through the grass. I see them because I spend a part of each day pulling them out of the struggling grass in my back yard. I even have a special tool to pull dandelions. I hate dandelions. I cannot express that strongly enough.

In my earliest memory of dandelions, I don't hate them, actually. A neighborhood child (who it was is lost in the mists of time) and I have picked large bouquets of dandelions and I marvel at their intense color. The other child encourages me to present my bouquet to my mother, and although I sense that is a bad idea, I give them to her anyway. She quickly abuses me of the notions that they are a)beautiful b) flowers or c) an appropriate gift to give her. She tells me to throw them away and go wash my hands.

I have one other memory of my mother and dandelions. The only work I can ever remember her doing in our tiny back yard or our even tinier front yard was when she would go outside on a spring evening after dinner with an old kitchen paring knife, and cut dandelions out of the lawn. She must have hated them alot to do that.

I have been told that dandelions were introduced to the U.S. by the A. I. Root Company in Medina, Ohio for the benefit of their honeybees. The closest thing I could find to a verification of that is this: "They were even introduced into the Midwest from Europe to provide food for the imported honeybees in early spring. " I found that information, for what it's worth, at this website:
http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Dandelion.html Damn them to hell, if it is true. What a curse they brought upon our land.

None of us like to think that we have become - or are becoming - our parents, but when I do battle with my mortal enemies, the dandelions, I think of my mother, bent awkwardly at the waist, cutting dandelions out of the yard on a warm spring evening. It's not the worst trait I could have inherited from her.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

welcome to my neighborhood

There are a lot of things I like about the neighborhood where we live. It is quiet, for one thing, and that's important. We live far enough away from the university that there is not much student housing near us. We hear the occasional loud music from a weekend party, sure, but not more often then in any other neighborhood. There are only a couple of families with children on our street, so there are no yelling kids riding endlessly up and down the street on their big wheels/bicycles/skateboards.

Our neigbors keep to themselves and mind their own business - for the most part, anyway. We do have the nosy old lady who lives across the street, but what neighborhood doesn't? And, after all, she was the one who took Bobo in the one and only day he wandered off. Ben found him fenced in her backyard, and he says that he and Bobo looked at each other like, "What are you doing here?" I try to think of her as the neighborhood watch.

As Rufus and I take our daily walks this spring, I enjoy the flowering plants and shrubs that bloom in each yard we pass. I have realized that there is something else I really appreciate about this quiet, middle-class neighborhood. People in this neighborhood have violets in their lawns. That is enough for me, in and of itself, because I love violets, and always have.

As lovely as the violets are, however, their presence serves as an indicator of something that is even more important to me about our neighborhood. It is the fact that although people perhaps don't encourage violets to grow in their lawns the way I do, they certainly allow them to stay. What I mean to say is, for the most part, we don't have "perfect" lawns here. Oh sure, there are lawns that are chemically treated and posted with signs warning you to keep your children and pets and any other living thing you care about off them, but they are the exception. In our neighborhood, violets and spring beauties and - sad to say - dandelions grow in our lawns, and that suits me just fine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Norwegian wool

(Okay, Ben was the first to use the title for this post, but, come on, it's a natural.)

I got two skeins of beautiful red yarn in the mail yesterday from Bergen, Norway. I received them in exchange for a skein of yarn I sent to a knitter whom I "met" on Ravelry. Ravelry is a community of knitters and crocheters from all over the world who share patterns and tips and ideas. I would need to devote a whole post to rave about how much I love Ravelry - and maybe I will. (You can find a link at: http://www.ravelry.com/tour/peek)

Are you surprised that I would be interested in something like this? Don't be - I am coming out of the closet with my latest obsession, knitting. Maybe you think "obsession" is too strong a word for it. Trust me, it's not. I feel like Hermey (that's what IMDb says his name is) in the "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" television special: "Molars and bicuspids! You've no idea!" How does one explain something like that without sounding, well, a little crazy, a little - obsessed?

I have always had enthusiasms, I would say. Some of you may remember all the way back to my button collection (since passed on to Julie.) I think I got in pretty much on the ground floor with my toaster collection. If we even see toasters as nice as the ones I have, they cost way more than I would pay for them. Then there was the postcard-collecting phase. How exciting it was to drive to a postcard show in Wooster or Columbus and find fifteen or twenty postcards we had never seen before! We would probably still be in that phase, actually, if there were any Elyria postcards left that we don't already have.

With knitting, however, I have finally found the creative outlet I have lacked for years. I am absolutely fascinated by the idea that if you gave ten different knitters the same yarn, they would come up with ten different and unique projects. I am thrilled by the potential of new yarn. With each project that I work on, I feel like I am uncovering a new treasure - how will this look when I add a new color? I am absurdly proud of my finished objects and want to show them off to everyone. (If you want to, you can see them at my Flickr account at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23003429@N06/)

See what I mean? I just can't help it. I think this one is going to last.

Monday, April 21, 2008

it's a bloomin' miracle

Granted it's not the Tidal Basin, but the cherry blossoms on the trees that line our street are incredible this year. In fact every blooming thing looks incredible, especially compared to last year. The freezing rain that fell the first week in April last year as we left for Chicago wiped out the blossoms on just about every flowering tree and shrub in the area. I guess we were fortunate the plants themselves didn't die. It didn't feel fortunate, though.

This year it looks like the redbud and the wisteria - my favorites - will have a banner year. The lilac has more buds on it that it ever has before, and the forsythia outside my window gives my whole room a golden glow when the morning sun shines on it. The azaleas are blooming beautifully, nothing like the shrivelled black buds of last year. This has been the best year ever for our daffodils, and the tulips look promising, as well. Did I mention that I love spring?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

spring cleaning, of a sort

My shoulders hurt most of all, and my arms ache when I lie in bed at night. I haven't hurt my lower back yet, however, and I think that must be because of the weight I lost. All this is by way of saying that spring has finally arrived in northeast Ohio, and I have been out working in the yard. The amount of work that needs to be done each spring can be overwhelming if one thinks about it too much, so each day I just go out and work on what bothers me the most.

Tuesday I raked our fenced-in back yard, and cleared the leaves from a couple of the flower beds. We have been cleaning up after the dogs on a daily basis, so I didn't have to do the massive poop pick-up we have done in past years. I dragged the patio furniture out into the yard and hosed it off. Then I got the cushions and rug from the shed. Voila! Our patio is ready for use.

Yesterday I raked in the front for a while, but only got half of the lawn finished. Each year it seems like more branches and sticks have fallen from the surrounding trees than in previous years, and this year is no exception. Today is a bright, sunny morning, and I am optimistic that I will at least get the rest of the front finished. I know rainy weather is in the forecast, and I would like to have the lawn freshly-raked when it arrives. I am counting on those April showers to green up the sad, yellow grass.

This is the first spring in many that I have been home and able to work outside when the weather beckons me, and it is a wonderful experience - even when my shoulders hurt.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Today is the first anniversary of Tom and Kristy's wedding. They got married a year ago today in Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple in Oak Park, in a memorable and unique ceremony. It's hard to believe a year has gone by already, but it's true.

So Happy Anniversary, my dears. I love you both very much.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

is a puzzle-ment

On Saturday we decided to take a drive south on Rt. 43. We stopped at Helen's Kitchen in Hartville for lunch, then headed further south to the aptly named "Rt. 43 Antique Mall". We don't go there very often because there really isn't much of a turnover in merchandise, but I find that what we see there changes from time to time. I guess we look with different eyes.

A couple of years ago, Ben found an old plastic glow-in-the-dark Christmas tree ornament like the ones he remembers from his childhood. Over the years I have often seen Brownie box cameras like the one we had when I was a kid, but when we were there last fall, I found a complete set still in the box, like the one that sat on our bay window seat for so many years. It was hard for me to leave it behind.

This time it was old jigsaw puzzles that caught my eye. I mean really old. I would guess from the 1940's. I was mesmerized by them. I have always loved working jigsaw puzzles. I can well remember two puzzles from my earliest childhood. Each puzzle probably had about ten thin, cardboard pieces. One was a baby carriage in pastel colors that didn't really hold my interest - it didn't even have a baby in it. The other one, however, utterly fascinated me. It was a fishbowl with two orange goldfish in it. There was a gray castle with a wavy green piece of seaweed next to it. I worked that puzzle hundreds of times. I knew how it tasted. (Although I had to be careful not to warp the pieces when I licked them.)

I can also remember a couple of Zorro puzzles, based on the T.V. series, and I know that we got a Sleeping Beauty puzzle not long after the Disney movie came out. My brothers were never the avid puzzle workers that I was, and often wanted to help after the hard work of sorting out the border pieces was done. I didn't like that.

I was still a child when I was allowed to work some of the easier puzzles my parents had. (I hesitate to say "adult puzzles.") I loved the one with the blooming trees and the duck pond in the foreground, and the winter scene in shades of blue, with children skating on a frozen pond. I liked interlocking puzzles best - I still do - but I also loved the oldest puzzle with the thick, thick pieces that didn't interlock at all. It was an old Tuco puzzle; an old farmhouse with a garish purple and orange sunset in the background. It is in my attic now, along with dozens of others.

I think jigsaw puzzles contributed to my life-long love of art. Most of the puzzles we had were based on paintings, some of them well-known. I pored over their vivid colors and visible brush strokes. I remember particularly a Dutch windmill and a Utrillo street scene. Later we had a Norman Rockwell, a Klimt garden, and American Gothic by Grant Wood. Those are all in the attic, as well. Julie and I bought a jigsaw puzzle just this past Christmas season. It is a painting of skaters on the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center, with the huge Christmas tree in front of the towering skyscraper.

Of course I bought a couple of old puzzles on Saturday. I haven't worked them yet, and there is always the danger that one - or more - of the pieces will be missing from an opened puzzle box, but it seemed worth the risk. Maybe I'll spread one out on the card table tonight and start sorting out the border pieces. There are worse ways to spend an evening at home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

signs of spring

The first flowers of spring are not like the showy displays of mid-summer. One has to know where to look to see them. In sunny corners, bunches of snowdrops spring up from under mats of last year's brown leaves, their snowy-white heads drooping shyly. Crocuses, those true harbingers of spring, appear suddenly in fallow beds or in the midst of slowly-greening lawns. Their bright yellow and purple and white flowers are the very colors of spring.

We have seen robins in the yard, and are delighted to hear their familiar song both mornings and evenings. The goldfinches on our feeder seem to have changed the color of their feathers overnight from dirty brown to a brilliant yellow. The male birds fight in ascending spirals with a great deal of flapping and chirping before flying off in opposite directions.

The Tribe won the home opener, and there wasn't even a hint of snow on the ground or in the forecast. This year for sure, eh? Spring has finally come to northeast Ohio, and it is more than welcome.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

round, round, get around, I get around...

So, this is kind of funny. If you ever have occasion to visit a certain elementary school library in Round Rock, Texas (which seems to be just north of Austin) you may see a black and white photo there of a young girl reading. The girl's fly-away hair is pulled back in a ponytail and she is wearing her cowgirl outfit. She sits on the kitchen floor, Indian-style, with her dad's college Spanish textbook open on a wooden stool propped up against the kitchen cupboard in front of her. Now, she can't read at all, so it doesn't matter that the text is in Spanish. However, she loves that book because it belongs to her daddy, and she lugs it around the house, pretending to read it.

How do I know so much about it, you ask? Well, because the little girl was me, over fifty years ago. How the photo ended up in Texas is another story. From time to time I have mentioned LibraryThing in my blog, and how much I enjoy it. I use the old photo on my profile page there. So I guess that is what I look like to the LT community - which is a funny thought in and of itself.

One of the many things I like about LT is the really interesting people I have "met" there. One of the most interesting is a man who lives in Texas (Round Rock, apparently) with his wife, who is an elementary school librarian. He recently asked me if his wife could make a copy of my photo to display in her library. Naturally, I gave my permission. Chances are, I won't ever see my picture hanging in that elementary school in Texas. But how fun to think it is there.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

check it out

My blog got another mention in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Check it out here: (the date to look for is March 10th.)


wanna go for a ride?

Ben and I were having a meandering morning conversation at breakfast when he mentioned something about "putting up preserves." I immediately pictured The Spider Room in the basement of our old house with one lonely jar of preserved something sitting on one of the shelves. The preserves were already there when we moved in in the spring of 1955, and as far as I know were sitting there still when my parents moved out more than twenty years later.

The Spider Room? Doesn't every house have one? Hm-m-m... perhaps not any more. It was a small room in the basement of our house on West 6th street that was lined with shelves. It was where the conscientious 19th-century homemaker would have stored the fruits of her hard work throughout the late summer months. Gleaming jars of canned tomatoes and pickles and jams and jellies would have filled the shelves of the cool, dark room.

It probably wasn't festooned with spider webs back then, the way it was when our young family moved in. By naming it "The Spider Room" my dad pretty much guaranteed that although we might open the door and peek in occasionally, there was no way my brothers and I were ever going to actually walk into the small room and risk being closed in there with all those spiders - whose handiwork was obvious even to us. We knew they were in there.

It is not surprising that my thoughts should have drifted back to the old house. I think about it often now that it is gone. It is harder to let go of than I thought it would be. I mentally wander through the rooms of the house where we live now and try to find things that we had at the old house. The dresser in my room, the bedframe in Ben's room, the disassembled crib in the attic that my brothers and I and my own children all slept in come to mind. I have Dobbie, of course, the bright red wooden rocking horse that I rode every morning when I came downstairs, according to my dad. It's not much, I guess, but I'm glad to have what I do.

I will come to terms with this because I have to, but the process may take a little longer than I had anticipated. I hope you don't mind coming along for the ride on the occasional trip into my past. I appreciate the company.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


According to the National Weather Service, although "blizzard-like" conditions existed over the past two days, we did not actually have a blizzard here in Northeast Ohio. Well, the NWS and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. There was a blizzard for sure in my neighborhood, and I know because I haven't been able to leave here in three days.

It started to snow Friday morning about 10:00 a.m. It stopped snowing some time last night. Yes, it snowed continuously for more than 30 hours. Sometimes the snow floated to the ground in big, fluffy flakes. Sometimes it fell in little pellets that sounded like rain when they hit the ground. Sometimes it snowed sideways as the wind whipped the snow into drifts all along the back fence. The point I am trying to make is that it did not stop snowing.

Ben and I went out four times yesterday to shovel the driveway. We finally broke through to the street in the late afternoon. I'm not sure why it seemed so important to do that - we can't really go anywhere. I cleared the paths I had shovelled through the deep snow in the back yard a half dozen times so that the dogs could go out. The snow is taller than they are. Lucie is not quite the springbok she was in her younger days, but she did race around the paths a bit before she ran up on the back porch to be let back in the house. Rufus, on the other hand, is the perfect age for something like this, and he romped through the snow with abandon.

We generally do our grocery shopping on Sunday morning (while the righteous are in church) but I am not sure we can make it there and back without getting stuck. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I voted today

The weather was surprisingly beautiful yesterday. It was already almost 50° out when I woke up, and the sky was a cloudless blue. My snowman had slumped over and died during the night as the temperature rose. The backyard was a swamp as the saturated ground tried to absorb the rapidly melting snow. The sun continued to shine all day, and I opened as many windows as I could as the temperature outside reached into the mid-60s. It smelled like spring.

Today, however, is a different story. The temperature hovers around 30°, which means that the precipitation fluctuates between snow pellets and rain - yes, freezing rain is falling from a gray sky. This is all to be expected because today is primary election day in Ohio. I have just returned from casting my vote in the presidential primary election. I didn't plan it this way, but I ended up only voting for a presidential candidate. The fact is, I hadn't studied up on any of the other races, which, for the most part had candidates running unopposed, since I vote as a Democrat.

The turn-out was sparse but steady at my precinct, and I didn't have long to wait before I stepped up to vote at one of the touch-screen voting machines. I don't trust the voting machines, frankly, even though my late Uncle Virgil was a vice president at Diebold's. I mean, as much as I loved him, he was a staunch Republican, after all. I believe that I had the option of requesting a paper ballot, but I am not sure the well-meaning elderly women working at my precinct would have even known how to handle that.

I have had a difficult time deciding who to vote for in this important primary election. Although I vote in every election, I am not accustomed to feeling that my vote really matters on a national level. Today I feel that it does. I have discussed this with Ben, with Tom, and with Julie, but ultimately, I stand alone in the voting booth. (I used to love those voting booths with the curtains you closed and that opened when you threw the lever to cast your vote, but that is off-topic, I know.) I have gone back and forth - Hillary or Obama? Obama or Hillary? - a dozen times since my candidate, John Edwards, dropped out of the race. I watched most of the televised debate at Cleveland State, but turned it off when I realized it wasn't helping me make a decision.

The bottom line is that I want to help nominate the candidate who will be most likely to defeat that truly creepy little man, John McCain, in the election in November. I am cautiously optimistic that Hillary and Obama have an equally good chance of doing that, so that didn't help me decide. I have read some articles written by women who are thrilled to be voting for a woman for president, but I have already done that. Remember Shirley Chisholm? Barack Obama is an exciting, charismatic man, but really, he is just so young and inexperienced. I wish he could have waited until the next presidential election.

I am just procrastinating, really, for the fact of the matter is that I voted for Hillary Clinton. The deciding factor? Her appearance on Saturday Night Live, oddly enough. I think Hillary is in a lose-lose situation, really. She is either considered a weak sister or a shrill bitch, but on SNL she was funny and gracious and able to poke fun at herself. She won my vote.

I am not trying to talk anyone else into supporting Hillary. I am just sharing my thoughts, which I will continue to do throughout this election year. It is too important a topic to be ignored. Now, go out and vote, if you haven't already. It is your right and your privilege to do so.

Monday, March 3, 2008

no, no, they can't take that away from me

There is no longer a house at 419 West 6th Street. In fact, there are no houses at all on the north side of West 6th Street. When I was in Elyria yesterday, a thick blanket of snow covered the now-empty lot where four houses and a 3-unit apartment building had until recently stood. I was surprised at how small a space those houses and their yards had occupied. That row of houses encompassed my whole world when I was a little girl.

It was sad, indeed, to see them all gone, but the white blanket of snow gave the area a clean, fresh look that it hadn't had for a very long time. And, really, even when the houses were still there, the world that I remember was long gone. I'm sure more than forty years have passed since the last time Granny Getz walked slowly down the street, returning from her trip downtown to have her scissors sharpened. Longer still since Mrs. Pusbach moved away, telling her neighbors sharply, "Timbuktu!" when they asked where she was going. No one was there who remembered when Mrs. Seymour came every day to care for Mr. Sotherden in his little house where he lived all alone.

The overgrown, empty lot next to our house became an apartment building in the early sixities, and I remember that my brothers and I watched the construction every day. I was especially fascinated by the bricklayers. I found their quick, precise placement of row upon row of bricks machine-like and hypnotic. I can see myself looking out our big kitchen window, with its sill low enough for a child to sit on, watching their steady progress. That building is gone now, too.

Most importantly, of course, my house is gone, and I am trying to make my peace with that. I tell myself that it was really a mercy killing - the old place had looked pretty bad for a long time. And, after all, it hasn't changed a bit where it really counts - in my memory. As Kurt Vonnegut said, "The big show is inside my head." Inside my head, I am still pedaling my tricycle right to where the sidewalk ends just past Mrs. Pusbach's house, endlessly pushing my baby brother up and down the street in his stroller on hot summer days, and receiving my first kiss on the front porch swing. (Yes, I really did.) Those are things that won't ever change, no matter what stands on that little strip of land on a dead-end street.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Thomas

Today is my brother Thomas's birthday. He was born when I was two years old. Although I have not seen him in many years, and sometimes fear that I never will again, I think about him often - especially as I get older. We didn't have a happy childhood by any definition of the word, but we survived it. Somehow we survived it. Together.

So, Happy Birthday, Thomas. I will always be waiting for you.

Friday, February 29, 2008

leap day

So here we all stand on this little joke island of a day, February 29th. Don't know what a "joke island" is? Well, that's understandable since it's part of the private lexicon of the Mancine family. I will explain it to you. When the kids were little they had a really cheesy video golf game. (Perhaps one of them will comment here and kindly tell us which game it was.) If one hit the ball so that it landed just barely in one of the water features, a little round tuft of grass would appear in the water for the golfer to stand on. It was a joke island, if you will.

I suppose if one really cared about "winning" the game, one would not want to deliberately hit the ball into the water feature. However, in the wacky world of video game playing at our house, a joke island was very desirable, and the kids pretty much aimed for the edge of every lake or pond they encountered. Then one of them would come running to find us, saying, "Come look at the joke island I made!" It was all very entertaining.

Anyway, here we are on Leap Day, which you probably read all about in the local newspaper this morning, as did I. So you already know that we have it every four years to keep the calendar from shifting around until we have Christmas in the hottest part of the year like those wacky Australians. I understand all that, but I do have just one question about it. Why in the world do we have to add an extra day to the crappiest month of the year? Why not add a day to the lovely month of May? Wouldn't you love to have one more perfect day of late spring instead of another day like this one? That's all I'm sayin'.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today is my dad's 81st birthday. If you would like to send birthday wishes to him, you can just post them here, and I'm sure my brother will pass them along to him.

Right, Bill?


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Butler Institute of American Art

Did you know that I live within an hour's drive of the first museum built solely to showcase American art and artists? Well, I am embarrassed to say, neither did I. (That question is not for you, Joany. I'm sure you knew about it, but never told me!) Once I found out about The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, however, it took us less than a week to drive out there and see it.

I actually learned about the museum in an interesting way. Saturday afternoon I was working on Julie's second scarf, trying to get it finished before she had to go back to Maryland. I like to have the tv on while I knit, but I really listen to it more than I actually watch it. I was clicking around, looking for something to watch when I found Bob Ross just beginning a painting. Perfect, I thought, and began to knit. I quickly realized, however, that I didn't want to look away from Bob's painting to knit. I might miss something. Well, it was only a half-hour show, so I laid my knitting aside, and watched Bob work. I love the sound his brush makes as he taps the canvas with spring green paint, and his soothing voice assures me that there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. My eyes glazed over, and I never even realized when I fell asleep.

When I woke up, Bob was gone, and someone else was talking to me about the collection at The Butler Institute. I had heard the name before, and I guess I thought it was probably in Pittsburgh. I was totally surprised to learn that it was actually in Youngstown, a place I have never been, despite living within 50 miles of it for the last seven years. I sat down at my computer and googled the museum. You can see what I found here: http://www.butlerart.com/ Well, we love museums, and since Ben has this week off, the two of us headed out there on Wednesday, mapquest maps in hand.

We only got lost once, and within an hour of leaving home, we turned into the parking lot of the beaux-arts building designed in 1917 by architects, McKim, Mead and White. After a quick lunch in the small (and very cold) museum café, Ben and I set out to explore the collection. What a pleasant surprise this little museum was! It had works by all the big names in American art, of course, Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper and Grant Wood, to name a few, but it also had a lot of works by lesser-known (to us, unknown) artists, as well. I love to have a good mix of familiar and new art to look at, and that is exactly what we found.

A large new wing of the museum is "dedicated solely to new media and electronic art. The facility regularly displays works of art that utilize computers, holography, lasers and other digital media." The exhibits there were fascinating and fun, especially the interactive Ronald Amstutz installation.

Several hours passed before we knew it, then we headed for home. Although it took us a long time to learn about The Butler Institute, it won't take us long to return there. This was a One-Tank Trip well worth taking.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

time for another movie review

It is much more difficult, I find, to praise a movie than to pan one. I guess that is true of most things, actually. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Juno earlier this week with Julie. It was just what we expected it to be, and that is a good thing.

Juno is a modest little film, but that is not to say that it doesn't have some interesting things to say. As you probably already know, it is the story of a pregnant teenager who decides to give her baby up for adoption after she is unable to go through with an abortion. The movie follows her from her third pregnancy test (she tells the store clerk that the previous test result looked more like a division sign than a plus sign) through telling the baby's father and her parents, finding adoptive parents, attending school with an ever-expanding waistline, forging a relationship with the childless couple she has chosen, shedding tears in her hospital bed after giving up her newborn son, and finally, returning to the normal life of a sixteen-year-old.

This may sound odd, but what I liked about this film was all the things that didn't happen. Juno and her boyfriend weren't forced to get married. Her parents didn't disown her - or even chastise her. She didn't have a skeezy relationship with the man-child whose wife desperately wanted Juno's baby. She didn't have a car accident. She didn't miscarry. She didn't change her mind and keep the baby. Just like in real life, there weren't any shocking plot devices to change the course of the story. I liked that.

The actors were excellent - none of them struck a false note throughout the entire film. Ellen Page was outstanding as Juno, but I also liked J. K. Simmons as her dad. I recognized him as Dr. Emil Skoda from many episodes of Law & Order, of course. Well, I could just go on and mention each of the actors by name, but suffice it to say they were all pitch perfect. The dialogue was clever and smart-alecky, but didn't sound overly witty or artificial. Julie recognized much of the music in the sound track, and although it wasn't familiar to me, it seemed to fit just right.

Is this movie the best picture of the year? Probably not. However, it was entertaining and human and real, and watching it was a perfect way to spend a cold, damp February afternoon. I recommend it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

family is where you find it

I hadn't expected to be back in Elyria again so soon, but when I read in the online Chronicle that my friend Linda's husband had passed away, I knew I would attend the memorial service. I wanted to see Linda and tell her how sorry I was, but I also wanted to see the library ladies, whom I knew would all be there. Linda works at the library where I worked for eleven years, and one thing I know about working there is that the staff takes care of its own.

I left the house mid-morning on Saturday, and an hour later I was turning into the parking lot of the church across the street from the library. I was barely inside the church door when I ran into Jenni and Maggie and Joanne. There were hugs all around, and as we walked down the hallway together our first questions were about each other's kids and where they were and what they were doing.

As we waited in line to sign the guest book (is that the correct term?) I saw more familiar faces up ahead. There were Mary and Terri and Barb and Lisa standing to one side. I received hugs straight down the line from all of them, and although I knew it was a solemn occasion, I felt a huge grin on my face from the pleasure of seeing them again. There was another quick round of "how are the kids?" before we turned to enter the sanctuary. I saw Brenda and Marianne and Janet there, as well, before we sat down.

I found myself seated between Jenni and Mary, who is so tender-hearted that she had her pack of tissues open on her lap before I even took my coat off. Mary is Irish, as was my friend's late husband, and as the organist played "Oh, Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes are Smilin", Mary's eyes welled over. I knew she had lost her mother within the last six months, and I could only imagine how difficult the day was for her. She was there anyway, though. For Linda.

Sitting at the memorial service surrounded by my friends, I was reminded of another service we attended together - could it be ten years ago now? - when Ava died. Terri's bright, beautiful daughter, who attended law school in Akron, had been sick most of her life. You wouldn't know it to look at her; she looked vibrant and healthy and full of life. She was my kids' babysitter for the years that they needed one. Their most vivid memory of her, I think, is that they always watched Court TV together, and that Ava always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She was working towards that goal when her final illness caught up with her.

Seeing Linda enter the sanctuary with her daughters and their families brought home to me how devastating the loss of her husband was. My heart ached for her. I could only hope that the crowded memorial service would begin a healing process that I knew would take a long time. As the organist played "Amazing Grace" at the end of the service, even tough little Jenni broke down, and I handed Mary's tissue pack to her so she could wipe her eyes.

As we filed out, I saw Gina sitting in the back pew. I knew then that I had unconsciously been looking for her all morning, as I had known she would be there for Linda, as well. In fact, I could have written out a list beforehand of the women I anticipated seeing on that cold February morning, and I know I would have listed everyone I saw. We shared our joys and sorrows when we worked together, and we were sharing them still. That's what family does.

Monday, February 4, 2008

looking for the silver lining

February is a difficult month for me, and today is a good example of why. The temperature hovers right around 30 degrees, which means that some, but not all, of the ice that covers all horizontal surfaces has melted into huge, icy puddles. The sidewalks are bumpy, uneven sheets of ice covered by freezing water. Rufus and I will not be able to take a walk again today.

The sun has not been out since (let me see - counting backwards...) last Thursday, but that was while I was at my dad's house, so it may have been overcast here. The sky is gray, the leafless trees are gray, the ice-covered streets and sidewalks are gray... Well, you get the idea. While it is true that each day is imperceptibly longer, it just doesn't seem to matter much when the whole day passes by without a glimmer of sunshine.

April may be the cruelest month, but it's a damn good thing that February is the shortest one. On the plus side, however, the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl yesterday. That puts a smile on my face every time I think about it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

a final farewell

I went to visit my dad yesterday, which turned out to be a good idea, as today we are being soaked by freezing rain. Northeast Ohio in the wintertime - gotta love it. We had a nice visit, including lunch at a little family restaurant that was a skeezy bar thirty years ago. Now it is a bright and cozy space with mismatched Fiestaware dishes and the work of local artists displayed on the walls. They serve the best meatloaf I have ever eaten. (Yeah, we both had the meatloaf. Hey, it was my big meal of the day, so climb off.)

After lunch, we decided to drive by our old house, which has the misfortune to be located between two local behemoths that are swallowing up all the old homes surrounding them - the high school and the old folks home. (You can supply your own p.c. term for that - I grow weary of trying to keep them straight.) It is the high school that is taking our house, along with the rest of the houses on that side of the street. An eight-foot tall chain link fence surrounds them all now, and it looks like the workmen are finishing up the process of removing all the valuable fixtures from the interiors of the houses, and beginning the demolition.

The old street looks pretty bad now, although even when I was a kid, I knew it wasn't a "good" neighborhood. It was a solidly blue-collar neighborhood, with many of the fathers on the street walking to their jobs at local foundries, and then straight to the nearby bars when their shifts had ended. I suspect my dad was the only person on the street with a college degree, but things like that never mattered to him.

This is an ugly time of year in Northeast Ohio, and even though the sun was out yesterday, it could not improve the appearance of the empty, windowless houses with piles of rubble outside each of them. It was unutterably sad to know that I was seeing my old house for the last time, but at the same time, I was oddly comforted to be there with my dad. He is not a sentimental man, and I drew strength from his matter-of-fact attitude.

As we drove away from our house for the last time, I took with me the memory of a young father walking up the street with his daughter's small hand held in his own. It is twilight on a warm summer evening, and the two of them are walking to the local carry-out to pick up a six-pack and maybe a bag of pretzels, if she can talk him into it. He says hello to everyone they pass as they walk along, whether he knows them or not. He explains to his young daughter that it is courteous to do so. He walks on the street side of her at all times, explaining that a gentleman always does this to protect his lady.

Darkness has fallen as they walk home, and the three glowing yellow rectangles of the bay window welcome them as they turn the corner towards their house. The young father allows his daughter to run ahead once they have safely crossed the last street. Whatever else it is - or isn't - the old house is home to her, and she is happy to return there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

right on schedule, the doldrums set in

Julie left for her apartment in Maryland today. The dogs and I are sort of mooning around the house, looking up hopefully at every sound from outside. Lucie and Rufus don't know it yet, but they won't see Sister (as we like to think they think of her) again for a long time. Maybe it's better for them that way - thinking that each passing car is hers returning home. I know better.

Spring classes don't start at the University of Delaware until the second week in February, so we had Jules at home for the better part of two months. With neither of us working, I think this was the most time Julie and I have spent together since that first summer after we moved here, when we would drive to West Branch every day to swim and lay in the sun. It has really been wonderful having her home, and I know I will miss her every day.

At the same time, however, I know she needs to get back to school and to her life in Maryland. She has such a clear goal and is focused on accomplishing it. When she and Tom were growing up, we always said to them "when you go to college" not "if you go to college" and they both took that to heart, it seems, with four degrees and counting between the two of them.

I try not to have too many regrets, but one of them is definitely that I never finished college and got a degree. At least Tom and Julie did not make that same mistake. For that, I will take partial credit.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

been knittin'

Everyone is familiar with the cultural trope of the shop that is unexpectedly shuttered and closed on a beautiful summer day. A hand-lettered sign hangs crookedly on the door, explaining, "gone fishin". Lately, those who come to "If this isn't nice...", expecting a bit of nonsense or profundity have found instead an empty shop, lacking even a sign on the door. I apologize for that. The fact of the matter is that I am deep in the clutches of my newest obsession, knitting. I can't begin to tell you how much I am enjoying it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my daughter-in-law, Kristy, gave me a refresher course in knitting when she and my son were here over Christmas. I don't remember anymore when I first learned to knit, but I know that by the time I was in college, I had knit a couple of sweaters. I only did the actual knitting and perling, you understand. My mother would cast on the stitches, bind off the sections as I completed them and sew the pieces together. But, hey, I did the knitting.

My brother, Bill, who has always been good with his hands, learned at the same time I did, even though he was still just a kid. He would knit the rows together so tightly that every once in a while he would hand his knitting over to me so that I could knit a row in to loosen it. When I read about the pregnant character in one of Louise Erdrich's books who knit the little onesies for her baby so tightly that they stood on their own and resembled little suits of armor, I understood exactly what she meant.

So, anyway, I have been knitting. I started by making a scarf for myself with the beautiful Malabrigo yarn that Kristy gave me as part of my Christmas present. I made a scarf for Ben with some yarn that he selected, and I have most recently been working on a scarf for Julie with some yarn that she picked out for herself. Nothing too complicated yet, in other words, but I did cast on my own stitches and bind off my completed work. I have even learned to fix my own mistakes - if they aren't too serious.

I have missed posting on my blog, and I hope a few of my readers have missed my posts, as well. (If you are still out there. Are you out there?) At least now I have hung a sign in the window so you will understand where I have gone. I will be back, though. Stay with me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

looks at books, as Ben would say

When we moved here, one of the first places our family went en masse was to the local public library to get library cards. Some of my previous posts have stressed the importance of libraries in our daily lives. It has been an ongoing struggle for me, however, to learn to appreciate the library here, and one of the many things I have found lacking is an established book discussion group.

That first summer we moved here, I approached the reference desk to ask the reference librarian for a list of book discussion groups. The dapper and hirsute little reference guy looked up from his reading and told me the library didn't have any book discussion groups, but that he thought the local independent book store might have one. He seemed somewhat surprised that I even thought the library would provide such a service.

I tried the group at the book store, and while I found the other ladies there friendly and welcoming, I found the book store owner who led the discussions to be somewhat distant and off-putting, and not too surprisingly, more interested in selling books than discussing them. In the event, the store soon closed, and I was left without a book discussion group. No big deal, you might think, but I had previously belonged to two groups for a number of years, and I missed the intellectual give and take. Plus, it was the best way I knew to meet people with interests similar to my own.

The groups I had belonged to were about as different from each other as they could be. One of them was at the public library where I worked, and was led by my friend and supervisor, Ruth, the Reader's Advisor. The group was open to the public and met monthly throughout the school year. The group members were a mixed bag, mostly women, mostly middle-aged, but ranging in age from early twenties to quite elderly. The group dynamics were those familiar to everyone who has every participated in discussions of this kind.

A group of people is a group of individuals, after all, and we had every type: the woman who attended every session and read every book, but never spoke a word; the woman who thought she was clever, but was sly instead, and tried to take over every discussion with recollections of her life; the radical who was no longer young, but espoused the causes of her youth, and found links to them in every book we read. We had the elderly, emaciated woman who was wealthy and quite prominent in our small town. She couldn't remember if she had read the book, but ate the cookies provided like she hadn't eaten all week, then promptly fell asleep. We had the young mothers who brought their restless children to the group, and promised the kids would read quietly, although they never did.

The library staff members took turns leading the discussions, which kept things fresh and interesting. It was an adventure and a pleasure to lead the group, but I learned not to lead discussions about my favorite books because I just took it too personally if everyone didn't love the book as much as I did. I learned to ask a question and wait patiently for an answer, even though my instinct was to hurry on to the next thing. I learned that in a group of that kind, the discussion leader needed to lead with a firm hand; and that the people who were most offensive were also the most difficult to offend so subtlety was not the answer. Good life lessons, all.

My other discussion group was led by Ruth, as well, but it was a private group, with the members hand-picked from among our co-workers at the library and close friends of Ruth's. We were all about the same age - I would say maybe ten years separated the oldest member of the group from the youngest. We met in each other's homes every six weeks. There were probably eight to ten of us in the group at any given time, and we grew to know each other quite initmately. Our December discussions were held at the country club over a Christmas dinner, and our July discussions always included a picnic or a barbecue. It was hard to leave this group of friends when we moved. Harder still when I realized that there would be no replacement group in my new home town. And so it has been - until last week when an article in the local newspaper caught my eye.

To be continued...

Monday, January 14, 2008

more domestic than you might think

The quilt that covers my bed is in need of some TLC. Literally within a 24-hour period, Rufus shredded the quilt top in one spot and barfed on it in another spot. So, the quilt needs to be washed, but I can't wash it until I mend the square he shredded. Frankly, I am not that good at mending, but I will stitch it up the best I can, as I have done for years.

Way back in the early 70's when I was a college coed living in a dorm, patched jeans were all the rage. I raided my mother's fabric remnants and patched my hip-hugging bell-bottoms even where they didn't have holes. It was a laborious process, let me tell you, but I found it worth the effort.

That is basically what I have been doing with the quilt on my bed for the past few years, as it slowly comes unstitched at the seams. The quilt is faded red and cream and sort of a khaki color - not really something I would have chosen for myself, but I bought it in hopes that Ben would like it even though it had flowers on it. That was back before my snoring (and my need to sleep with dogs on the bed who scratch and barf in the night) drove him to a more quiet, tranquil room of his own.

The curtains in my room match the cushion on my chair and are a lovely blue on cream toile - I always wanted toile curtains. I bought additional matching fabric and have been using it to patch my quilt, much the same way as I used to patch my jeans. Most of the patches don't cover holes of any kind, but they are strategically arranged and, to my eye, quite pleasing.

Although I much prefer writing about sewing to actual sewing, this doesn't get my quilt mended, so off I go. Hope I don't prick my fingers too badly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

you knew it was coming...

...as surely as the night follows day. Here is my list of the worst books of 2007. One caveat: these are the books I actually finished and didn't like. There were probably a handful of books that I started and pretty quickly knew weren't for me, and so gave up on them. I am usually pretty good at choosing books and don't bring home too many clunkers.

There are only three books on this list, and the third one is the worst, although not by much. Take my advice, and don't read these books!

1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - My God. This book was so bad. It was like a black hole. I couldn't finish it. I couldn't give up on it. And I couldn't read anything else. I finally slogged all the way through it, but it took forever. A really bad translation, perhaps? Surely it wasn't this poorly written in its native Spanish. I read this because it received many rave reviews on LibraryThing - but then so did The DaVinci Code.

2. Twin Killing by Marshall Cook - At first glance, this appeared to be a typical cozy little who-dun-it. It was not. I suppose I could have forgiven the second-rate writing if the author had not constantly thrown in references to the strong religious beliefs of all the characters and our brave fighting men in I-raq, but that was not the case. The play-by-play at a high school football game was excruciatingly boring, and the passage where the author tries to describe an erotic dream of lovemaking from the POV of his female protagonist was laughable and embarrassing. Far better writers than him have attempted that and failed.This book needs a warning label: Cloyingly sweet and heavy-handed. Not for those who appreciate fine writing.

3. On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell - Reviewed in an earlier post, this was the worst book I read this year. I would have never even started it, let alone finished it, but that I felt an obligation to LibraryThing to complete and review the book.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

favorite books of 2007

One of the best things that happened to me in 2007 was joining LibraryThing, the online community that I mentioned in an earlier post. When I joined LT, I was inspired to start reading again after a several year hiatus, and, in fact, ended up reading 123 books last year. Looking over that list of books, I decided to cull my favorites and post them here. I ended up with seventeen books, and thought, what the hell, why not the best seventeen books of the year? The only order these are in is the order in which I read them; that is to say I probably read the first one in January or February, and the last one in December.

I was delighted to realize that while the majority of the books are fiction, as usual, it is a slim majority, indeed, with nine of the seventeen books I selected being fiction and eight of them non-fiction. I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction this year, with Julie's excellent assistance at selecting books.

Without further ado, here they are, and I hope you find something that looks interesting to you.

1. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - I loved this comedy of manners about a bright young thing from London who goes to stay with her cousins in the country and decides to re-arrange their lives. The cousins are straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, and never know what hits them.

2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott - I really loved this book. The author is so encouraging and honest in what she writes.

3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - I was concerned that this book wouldn't live up to all the hype, but I absolutely, un-reservedly enjoyed it. A wonderful first book for this author.

4. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer - This is a fascinating - and really scary! - look at the Church of the Latter Day Saints. It details the history of the church, but also focuses on the heinous murder of a young Mormon woman and her daughter, brutally killed by two of her polygamous brothers-in-law.

5. Find Me by Carol O'Connell - The latest Mallory book. I sat up one night and read the whole thing. Once again the author takes the NYC detective on the road - this time down fabled Route 66. O'Connell expertly weaves Mallory's personal quest into the search for a serial child killer who has been burying bodies along the road for decades. I cried as I read the last page of this book, and that is very unusual for me.

6. When Madeline was Young by Jane Hamilton - I enjoyed this book so much. The narrator reminisces about his childhood growing up with his parents and his sister and his father's first wife, Madeline, who was severely brain-damaged as a young woman. This is a hauntingly beautiful novel.

7. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell - I knew immediately I would enjoy this author's irreverent and smart-alecky writing style, but I didn't realize how much actual history I would learn from her. I want to go on an assassination vacation!

8. Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton - I really enjoyed this book so much. After having visited friends in Sierra Vista, AZ earlier this year, I have seen much of what the author describes in this book. So I was interested in it from that aspect, but I also really enjoyed his witty and informative writing style. And his love of that part of the country shines through in every phrase and paragraph.

9. Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart - What a delight this book is! The author spent the summer of 1945 in New York City with her best friend, where they both worked at Tiffany's. She writes in such a sweet, straightforward way that is all the more charming for its simplicity.

10. The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard - This may have been the best book of the year for me. An atmospheric mystery set at West Point during the time that Edgar Allen Poe was a cadet there.

11. The Unnatural History of Cypress Parrish by Elise Blackwell - This was a very interesting little book, to be read in small doses and savored. On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, an old man remembers the great flood of 1927 and the events that led up to the destruction of his home and many others in southern Louisiana.

12. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane - This book created such a steadily building sense of dread in me that I finally had to read ahead to the ending. I hate it when I do that! And it was so surprisingly sad, as well.

13. The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of my Life by Pat Conroy - I love Pat Conroy, and his cookbook is written in the same wonderful, personal style as his novels.

14. Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds by Kit Bakke - I picked this book off the library shelf and put it back a couple of times before I actually brought it home and read it. I don't know why I hesitated, as it is a delightful and informative book.The author's idea is to send an email to Louisa May Alcott and see what happens next. What happens is a combination of memoir of Ms. Bakke's life in the turbulent 1960s, a biography of Louisa May Alcott, and an extremely readable history of the time in which she lived.

15. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - A young Pakistani man strikes up a conversation with an American in Lahore. He shares the story of the time he spent in the U.S. as events which seem to be beyond the control of both of them unfold. The narrative style of the book worked very well here, with the unsaid as important as what was said.

16. Letter From Point Clear by Dennis McFarland - There was a lot more to this book than I initially expected. Adult children of a dysfunctional family is a topic that has been done time and again, but this author came up with an interesting interpretation.

17.Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman - This is a really delightful collection of essays on the joys of books and reading. I bought a copy of it for Julie for Christmas.