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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where Can Brown Take You?

“What can Brown do for you?” No, wait, that’s another site…

I bought a new book recently, and I’ve used it daily, since. It’s called
“Flip Dictionary: For When You Know What You Want To Say But Can’t Think of the Word.” It’s not just a dictionary or thesaurus, because it categorizes words. When you can’t think of what they call the front of a ship, you don’t have to remember the word bow, you look up ship, and find a list of related terms like galleon, carrack, binnacle and bosun. The ribs are called futtocks. Now that’s an interesting word.

So, I was browsing this book shortly after purchase, and ran across a section listing eighty-one shades of brown. I fell in love! Brown is amazing, it’s rich and warm, earthy and---well, brown. Brown can take you so many places. Stroll into the kitchen with biscuit, oatmeal and toast. Lose yourself in the candy store with chocolate and nougat. The local coffee shop is full of brown, in the coffee, with mocha, hazel (nut) and almond---and the café au lait.

Of course, your spice rack is overflowing with brown, in shades of bay, cinnamon, maple sugar, nutmeg and peppercorn, while on the forest floor you might gather acorn, chestnut, and walnut. The forest’s trees range from mahogany to sandalwood and its creatures are beaver, fawn, fox, mink and otter. In the barn, look for brindle, leather, peat, rust and sorrel. And for the few remaining days of fall, don’t miss amber, autumn leaf, bronze or butternut.

Brown can take you anywhere.

Where will you go, today?

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Fall Cotillion

While I was busy with daily chores, Autumn dawdled and delayed his arrival in my Oklahoma town. I felt an occasional chill in the air, and remarked with surprise. I stared out my kitchen window at the steady rain that filled the gutters with streams of water, rushing onward past my gaze. I considered the still green trees all around me, and wondered what was keeping him. He was late by at least a week, and I had things to do, preparations to make for the holidays to come. Losing myself in activity, I neglected to watch for the signs of the seasons changing guard.

Driving downtown over the weekend, I began to note the colorful clues all around me. At the fall market, polished orange pumpkins in great piles took up residence next to buckets of mums spilling rust, gold and crimson over their rims. A row of Bradford Pear trees lined the avenue, and at the top of one branch a red leaf blew in the breeze. Like an invitation in a bright red envelope, it fluttered for my attention.

So, I dropped some items from my to-do list, and took some time to celebrate the appearance of my beloved friend. The trees bowed and waved at me, shaking out their colorful skirts as they prepared for the grand ball. The morning mist frolicked around my feet as I walked through the field at the neighborhood park. The air was heavy with the smell of smoke, and leaves chased my footsteps down the sidewalk. The breeze whispered in my ear, and playfully blew my hair across my face. I reveled in this romantic dance, however short-lived it might be.

Today my thoughts turn to mugs of hot tea and bowls of steaming stew as I gather wood for my outdoor fireplace, and stack it neatly on the porch. I intend to gather these last days to me like flowers, and enjoy them until they fade, dropping their petals in my hands. For all too soon, winter will lay its blanket of snow across the shoulders of my town, and I will be forced indoors by the frigid temperatures. Autumn will shortly slip away again, while I am preoccupied with life’s demands.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Young Bibliophilist

I taught myself to read at the age of four.

So, I cannot really recall my first book. Maybe if I telephoned my mother, she’d tell me yes, she has it written somewhere in my baby book, or she has a Polaroid of me sitting in the floor with it open on my lap; finger on the page, sounding out the words.

Or maybe she doesn’t remember either.

But I can imagine what that first book must have felt like. I get a hint of that same feeling with every new book I take down from the book store shelf or unwrap from the cardboard box the postman delivers.

Running my fingers over the flat cover and hearing the first creak of the spine as it opens both give me a thrill. The new book smell floats on the air and I lean close, breathing it up from the pages. I love to feel the weight of a book in my hand, to draw aside the textured end papers, like a curtain opening on a Broadway play.

Examining the typeface, the title page, and the illustrations, I smile in anticipation. This bundle of ink and pages, paper and print is my ticket on a long black train. As I read the very first words on the very first page, I am carried away by the clackety-clack rhythm and through the window I can see a whole new world.

This post is part of my
8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #8 coming soon.

The Queen Bea, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Scribbled Script

I have horrible penmanship. It’s true. I’m not sure whether it stems from being left handed, or from my mind going too quickly to keep up with my pencil. You see, I read really rapidly, and talk very fast, and I write like I’m in a footrace. It’s always been that way, and my penmanship, I’m afraid, has suffered for it.

When I go to a coffee shop, or a waiting room, or the parking lot of the building where my husband works, I can’t take my computer with me, so I carry a messenger bag packed with writing how-to books, pens, pencils and a couple of lined journals. I sit quietly and write, write, write. Filling page after page with what looks like meaningless scribble, I don’t have time to slow down. I can’t risk letting myself question whether it makes sense or sounds good. That will come shortly in the editing stage. I scribble and scratch away, and hope that later I can read my own letters and words.

To tell you the truth, it’s not easy. I’ve dragged those notebooks out, and sat at my computer, trying to decipher what I wrote there. Is that an e, or an a? Is that break, or brink? Sometimes, for me, editing is just getting an idea of what I was thinking, and re-writing from there. I wonder sometimes, whether I miss the really good stuff, the one amazing, perfect phrase, because it turns out illegible and for the life of me, I can’t remember what it says. Oh well.

I often dream of words, phrases, and paragraphs. I write much more creatively asleep than I do alert. But sometimes, in that place between the two, I can grab those drifting words and sentences, and jot them down in the notebook that lives on my bedside table. Of course, I have to decipher them by the light of day, or they’re mangled and distorted, lost forever.

This penmanship problem didn’t start when I began to write in earnest, and it doesn’t show up only when I’m creating. I have unreadable shopping lists, and address books. I have dialed the wrong number countless times, because I can’t tell the difference between my nines and my fours. I guess I could work on it. Practice my printing, and cultivate my cursive. But, I’ve lived this long with horrible penmanship; and who is gonna read anything before I type it up on the computer, anyway, right?

Maybe someday, if it’s one final love-letter penned on linen paper, or a last will and testament written on the back of an envelope--on a deserted island--after my plane went down over the Bermuda triangle, I’ll slow down and distinguish my e from my c. After all, I don’t want to leave my children all the eats in my house, and have them neglect the cats after I’m gone. Now, that would be horrible.

This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #7 coming soon.

P.S. TAG, Mrs. Pivec @ Golightly Place, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Road My Pen Travels of its Own Accord


The following is a writing exercise from the book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life.

Starting with "I remember", write until you come to a stopping place. Then start with "I remember", and go again.

It's a different kind of piece for me, with no forethought, no planning, just following my pen. As I watch my adult and almost adult children making choices, it's good to travel this road again, in my memory. The place where it takes me isn't so scary, after all.


I remember the sound of slamming lockers and the throng of people hurrying to class. We were grabbing books, passing notes, trying to beat the one-minute warning bell. I got caught kissing a guy enthusiastically outside a classroom during break, and was reprimanded by a favorite teacher. I don’t remember if the guy was named Tim or Todd.

I remember writing a poem about Wes and Jeanette. I used to watch Jeanette in class as she French-braided her long blonde hair in minutes. There was a joke in our group about cream-of-mushroom soup, and mushrooms being fungus, not vegetables. We passed that soup can from locker to locker for weeks. I recall eating in the cafeteria for lunch, or going off campus to Sonic. I sometimes sat through the lunch hour in Larry’s black pick-up truck listening to the same Survivor cassette tape over and again. I don’t remember which song it was or why it was so important to me.

I remember checking Larry’s locker between classes for a jacket, a note, or his keys. I remember he could always get out of Mr. Gay’s class with his laminated blue slip. I would look up at the math class windows from his truck outside and wonder if Larry was watching me. I consoled him time and again, when he and Lynne broke up---his mirror sun glasses masking his eyes and making him look to tough to care. I cried on his shoulder when Jason and I broke up, and later when the other guy from drama class dropped me. I don’t remember that guy’s name, either.

I remember T3, a trio of girlfriends who met in choir class. We attached ourselves to each other immediately. Tauna, Twyla and Tammy---we weren’t best friends, but we were close. We wrote the T3 symbol all over our notebooks and the notes we passed in the halls. I sang “Father’s Eyes” for Tammy during some kind of ceremony. Was it a rainbows thing? It had something to do with the Masons but, I don’t remember now.

I remember Twyla dated J.P. Blackwood. He was on the debate team, and was a really funny guy. He had a friend named Butch who was absolutely gorgeous. Butch sent me roses to school one day, and when he called me that night, he didn’t mention them, so I didn’t either. He later told me he drove to the school after dark, and peeked into the windows to find out if the office staff had neglected to deliver them. I recall kissing Butch on the front porch of my house on Madison, and the day he, J.P. and I met after school to go to the electronics store and check out the new, compact disc. I was amazed that this little silver thing would replace cassette tapes and records, and was almost indestructible. I remember riding to speech and debate tournaments, and Butch was there, on the team, on the bus. We always sat together and held hands for the whole trip. We didn’t date for long. I don’t remember why.

I remember working at Sonic just around the corner from my house---filling cups with soda, lining up tickets, and bagging onion rings. I hated cleaning the shake machine and walking on wet floors in my black tennis-shoes. I always called my mom to let her know I was walking home at midnight – the equivalent of three houses away. My clothes never smelled of anything but burgers and grease and milk from the shake mix. I enjoyed working with one manager in particular, Delbert Briscoe. He had a million stories to tell, and was a great boss. I used to make onion rings early on Saturday mornings, with the red-haired lady whose baby grandson was named Jeremiah. She called him Miah for short. I don’t remember her name.

I remember Larry used to show up on random weeknights, and order a Route 44 vanilla Pepsi, with extra vanilla, easy on the ice. One night he kissed me behind that Sonic, when I was supposed to be walking home in fifteen minutes. I can still feel the softness of his lips, and see the smile on his face. I asked him why he’d done it. He said he just wanted to see if he could. We never dated much in high-school, but he kissed me anyway. He still kisses me that way, sometimes. I don’t remember whether I was late getting home that night.

I remember my high school years. I made choices of my own, and came to regret some---like the night I lost my virginity in the front seat of a car. I thought I was in love with a boy. We dated for several months, though I don’t know whether he was faithful to me or not. I remember my mother saying that she didn’t think he was the one and the heartache when he finally cut me loose. I recall a notebook of his poems, and a black sweater, and sneaking off to the auditorium to be alone. I destroyed that book of poems in college. I don’t remember what happened to the sweater.

I remember the guilt that haunted me for years, because I chose attention from guys over God’s plan for me. I felt ashamed and dirty because I’d had sex outside of marriage. I decided I’d always have to settle for less than His plan, because I had messed everything up. But, I remember the day I realized that His mercy was enough to wash me clean, and give me back His best plan, again. I don’t remember all of the mistakes I made, but by His choice, God doesn’t either.

I think I’ll always remember that.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Branches on My Tree

Some of you may remember in my list of 8 Random Topics about Me preliminary post, that I listed the fact that I am the oldest child of three.

Actually, I’m the oldest of five, if you count the two sisters my mother didn’t give birth to---the two siblings who didn’t share my childhood.

It’s a strange thing, to have sisters who didn’t grow up in my home but are still a piece of my family. I grew up with three parents who were always a part of my childhood. We never said “step-sister” or “half-brother”. So, instead of a mom, dad and step-dad, I had one mother and two fathers, and I was very happy in spite of the divorce that came when I was nine. It was hard on my sister and me. But we adapted. And we were loved.

It wasn’t long before my second dad came along and married my mom. Soon after my little brother, Derek was born. But before Derek, my other dad brought us a sister, Angela. She only came on weekends, but she was just the cutest thing, and the three of us had so much fun. After a while, she stopped coming. We really missed her. A few years after Derek was born, my first dad remarried and had a baby girl, Natasha – the cutest little baby I’d ever seen. I was a teenager, and I loved babysitting for this beautiful, dark haired child.

So, I am the oldest of five.

My brother Derek, who will be thirty, next year, talks with me often about the wonder he finds in our family tree---the people who came before us with dark, thick hair, or freckles, or high foreheads, and how he can see them in himself, his sisters, and our children. How his love for the woods and the water must be a genetic predisposition, passed from a great-great-great-grandfather who spent his life among the trees, listening to the voice of the wind in the branches.

Derek is eleven years younger than I am. When he was very small, he started calling me Bubba. It’s an unusual nickname, borrowed from a little friend of his who used it for her older brother. Though he’s been six-foot-something for nearly fifteen years, he’s always been my little brother, It’s odd, now, to look at him and see a man who’s not only “full-growed”, but whose face is painted by the life he’s lived.

Derek is a man who stands for something, no matter the cost. He believes in love even as his heart is healing. He can make you laugh in about three seconds, and sing a song that would cut right through your soul. He’s a loyal friend, and someone I’m better for knowing. And even now, when the phone rings, and I hear, “Hey, Bubba, I love you.” I’m the happiest big sister alive.

Before Derek came along, there was always my little sister. Alissa is three years younger than I am, but I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t my playmate. We used to dump all of our toys out and scatter them about our tiny bedroom. Sitting in the empty toy box, we’d sail away on a ship to Africa, or drive a bus to school. We could make believe like no other kids we knew. Summer afternoons were spent at Mimi and Grandpa’s house playing outside with all the neighborhood kids. We’d put together a talent show and rehearse for hours. As twilight would fall, we’d drag the adults out onto the lawn and perform in the front porch spotlight. We were such a hit!

For my sister and me, things were always a competition. We argued over chores and the television. I remember throwing a peanut-butter sandwich at her in the heat of the moment, and a plastic dinner plate on another occasion. Somehow as we grew older, our friendship became more and more of a rivalry. I wasn’t thrilled when she joined the choir after me, or when she got a job at the Sonic where I worked. She didn’t like it when everyone called her my sister.

When I got married and started having kids, and Alissa soon did the same, we quickly realized how amazing it was to have each other as friends. My sister never met a stranger. She’s the kindest, most generous person I know. She’s an amazing mom and wife, and when her husband did a tour of duty in Afghanistan, I watched her hold everything together, manage the household, her job, and their finances, while sleeping alone every night in their bed, and praying every day he’d come home safely. Watching her through all of that, I knew---she was my hero.

Looking back, I still sometimes feel like the oldest child of three, and I often wonder what I missed out on with Angela and Natasha. As an adult, I’ve had the chance to get to know Natasha better. She’s a really beautiful and fun person. And though I don’t know Angela that well, I wish we’d all had the chance to share toy box adventures, and long conversations walking home from school together.

Childhood passes too quickly, and a kid can never have too many siblings to share it with.

This post is part of my 8 Random Things About Me response to tags from Lavender Chick and Shannon. Be sure and check back for Random Thing Topic #6 coming soon.

Michelle @ Childlife, You're It! - Share 1 (or 8) random thing(s) about yourself, and turn it (each one) into a blog topic.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Plangent Din

The coffee shop is filled with noise. The music clangs and thumps in time to the voice of the woman at the next table. She’s unhappy. Her tire is damaged. The service center is backed up. She frets to the listener on the other end of her phone that her busy, important life is interrupted. Her voice pitching against the ceiling tiles, she deliberates changed plans for dinner, picking up the kids from school, bills to pay and frustration. How can her tires give her such trouble today, when she has no time or patience to spare?

The blender and coffee grinder spin in the background as baristas greet customers and distribute cups filled to the brim with flavored caffeine. In another corner, two men in business attire discuss claims and dynamics, golf and chaos theory. The man behind me sits stoically as the waves of noise break over us. Randomly, the chain he wears from his belt clinks against the chair leg---a persistent, albeit timid voice in the cacophony. Absorbed in his book, though he frowns in response to the woman’s tirade, he is, for the most part, weathering the storm.

Another woman, chatting on her cell phone, cuts across this sea of sound on her way out the door. Like a passing steamship, her voice grows louder and then fades as she sails out of sight. Finally, the woman with the ill-behaved tires ends her phone call, and in the quiet that follows her wake, the smaller voices chime in. The clink of ceramic cups and metal spoons, the rustle of a newspaper, and the melodic humming of a barista behind the counter all blend with the jazz cascading from the speakers in the ceiling. Occasionally, between the melody, the conversation, and the crashing of the ice machine, silence sounds its grave, tacit notes, and my pen scratch-scratch-scratches as it makes its journey across the page.

Too much silence can be a gaping, greedy beast, stalking me. Moving in to devour the creativity that pushes my pen, it threatens. But today, in this coffee shop, teeming with life and humanity, silence is a welcomed friend, who takes me by the hand and whispers truth in my ear. Even here, in this sea of jangling din, there is room for words to unite, grow and thrive. Beauty is born of clamor---moments before the headache begins.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

St. Vitus, I Salute You

It’s a generational thing – my reaction to spiders. I know, because I’ve heard the stories, I’ve seen the spectacles. I’ve danced the dance.

“It’s on me, it’s ON me, IT’S ON ME!”

It has been a creepy-crawly week.

My bathroom was invaded by a BIG black furry spider, and I danced. Even as he lay on his back, his legs curled in the throes of death, he was bigger than a half-dollar. My daughter has a spider bite on her hip. Ewwww! I can’t even think about how it might have crept into her bed at night, only to be squashed as she rolled over in her sleep—biting as its eight creepy legs twitched in agony. It makes me feel crawly-all-over. I’ve read and heard more spider bite stories in the past week than I care to recall.

And then there’s Charlotte.

Disclaimer: This is NOT a photo of my new friend Charlotte. It is, however, a very nice portrait of one of her family members. And since I didn’t want to disturb Charlotte---lest she jump on me, (she was a bit camera shy) I decided this photo, from Wikipedia, which is available under the GNU FDL, was the best alternative. Charlotte shares this spider’s coloring and—ahem---girth. I hope she’s not sensitive about her hips!

Charlotte is a fat voluptuous brown spider who has been living under the eave of my front porch for several weeks. She sleeps in the daytime, and at dusk, she goes to work. First, she repairs her giant web. Then she waits patiently near the top for the prey that she knows will come.

As soon as the porch light goes on, the moths and bugs begin to congregate. The crisp night air is evidently just right for a bug soirée. Charlotte is a smart hunter. She nimbly navigates her tightrope web, capturing and wrapping the unfortunate insects that find themselves trapped in its silk. I suppose she waits until the wee hours of the morning to drink their blood. I appreciate her thoughtful discretion. I prefer that she dine while I sleep.

Charlotte and I had a late-night discussion, and came to a verbal agreement.

If she stays on the porch, and doesn’t enter the house…

If she helps control the bug population that tries to enter my home through the front door, or the window over which her web is strung…

I won’t let the neighborhood kids poke her with sticks…

I won’t knock her to the ground with a broom and Stomp.Her.Guts.Out.

Because, generally speaking, the dancing, screeching, stomping of guts reaction is my family's pavlovian response to creepy-crawly spiders. My great grandmother used to call it her
Saint Vitus dance.

This reaction, as I said before, is a learned response. The women in my family were all fine instructors, I assure you. My childhood memories are crawling with bug related episodes that I will never forget --- mostly because of the way my mother handled them.

When I was but a wee child, before my kindergarten days, I recall the morning that my mother found a tarantula in the bathtub. Evidently this creature had crawled up the drainpipe, like the itsy-bitsy spider of children’s sing-a-long fame.

Only this baby was neither itsy nor bitsy.

My mother, true to her heritage, made what her children now call her ‘satan noise’ --- a deep, guttural bellow of pure terror --- then twitched and ticked her way to the bedroom, where she leapt onto the bed and planted her feet firmly in the mattress yelling for my father to DO SOMETHING!

I can’t remember the first time I heard my mother tell the story of the day she stopped rush-hour traffic. But if I've heard it once, I've heard it a hundred times. She was driving our little red Volkswagen downtown one afternoon, when she was suddenly overcome with arachnophobia. She slammed on her brakes, threw the car into park, and jumped out of her driver-side door, exhibiting that same twitching, flapping dance.

A man on a white horse in a white truck came to her rescue – He was stuck in the traffic jam, what else could he do? He asked whether she was having engine trouble, and she replied, “No. There’s a spider in my car.” The beast had had the nerve to drop from her sun-visor to her steering wheel, right in front of her eyes. Brave spider. The kind gentleman deftly removed the offender from my mother’s car, and sent her on her way, while drivers around them cheered.

There was a time when my mother and father were headed down a country road in their old pickup truck. The truck had those wing-vent windows, the kind that push out at an angle and funnel the air back into the cab. My mother lovingly laid her hand on my father’s leg. He suddenly yanked the truck over to the roadside, put it in park, and jumped out of the cab. He yanked down his pants, in front of God and everybody, and sure enough, there on his thigh was a bee sting. The pressure of my mother’s hand had panicked the poor creature, and it had defended itself as only a bee can.

After a careful search for the bee, a moment to dress himself, and a few calming breaths, my dad got back in the truck, and they continued on their way. A while later, mom felt something hit her smack in the middle of the chest – something that felt rather buggish, and bee-like. She panicked, and flapped and beat and clawed her bosom until she had angry red marks all over herself. Once again, dad pulled over to the roadside, and got her calmed down. There in the floorboard was the body of a dead bee – the same one that had died in a battle with my father’s leg and my mother’s hand. Its body had lain on the floor for a while, until a particularly strong draft from the wing-vent windows picked it up and hurled it at my unsuspecting mother’s chest.

The Saint Vitus Dance that day was a clumsy partnership, performed by my parents for the entertainment of fellow country-road travelers.

I could tell you more stories about bugs like the talking roach my aunt found in her new Texas home.

I could share tales about snakes and mice and even a raccoon that inspired the St. Vitus Dance.

But I won’t. Instead, I leave you with evidence that the St. Vitus phenomenon is not only hereditary. It can be passed between friends.

Yes Ma’am.

Across the miles, and mega-html-byte-world-wide-ram-dsl-particles of the internet, St. Vitus can be transferred.

It is true.

Don’t believe me? Check out this
lovely autumn tale, told by my dear bloggy friend, Kari.

And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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