Sunday, November 30, 2008

Irrational Thoughts

(The first three installments of this story are on Nov. 2, Nov. 16th, and Nov. 23)


Sandy tried to keep Elizabeth quiet, but it wasn’t really Elizabeth’s fault. Her little sister just couldn’t keep still, couldn’t keep from making noise, not when she was put to bed when she wasn’t the least bit sleepy. She was too young to understand about Mama. She just wanted to play, to have fun. The grownups in their lives never understood that.

The sun parlor in winter was freezing at night. The blankets on the day bed were scratchy, but Sandy would hide under them and try to go to sleep. On good nights, her mother would rescue her before she’d been there long at all. She’d cry into her mother’s shoulder, as her mother carried her back upstairs.

“Mama, it wasn’t me. I was being good and still and quiet. It was Elizabeth. Elizabeth doesn’t know any better. Please tell Daddy it wasn’t me.”

Mama would always gently pat her back, “Shhh, darling. We don’t want Daddy to hear us. You mustn’t talk about its being Elizabeth. Daddy wouldn’t understand that. Be a big girl now. We all have to get some sleep.”

Other nights, her mother didn’t come. He came instead.


Her hands froze on the steering wheel. This wasn’t the night to have to park the car in the detached garage, to have to walk past those dark woods to get into the house. She’d leave the car outside, parked right next to the front door and hurry into the house where all the downstairs lights were brightly shining, telling her she was welcome to come in and fix herself some dinner. It was so dark outside, though. She wanted desperately to get into all that warm light, but how was she going to get there from the safe, locked car? Surely that dark figure had already begun to creep around to the back of the car. He was probably planning on climbing up on top of the car.

If he climbed on top of the car, she could safely drive out to Route 158. Once out on the highway, she’d drive as fast as it took to get him off the roof. These were rational thoughts: thoughts in which she was planning what to do to get rid of a menacing figure. She and Owen had often discussed the fact that rational people didn’t just let their fears paralyze them or prevent them from acting. They thought through the steps they’d take to protect themselves. They had contingency plans, knew what to do if they were attacked. He’d recently suggested she take a women’s self-defense course, so she could understand she was a strong woman, capable of caring for herself.

That would be her next step. Owen would probably give her another hug when she told him she’d signed up for such a course. She wanted another hug. She wanted to walk into her well-lit house and find Owen standing there, waiting to give her a hug. He’d have other things on his mind, though, as she fell into his arms. He wouldn’t just hug her, he’d kiss her, a slow, but greedy, passionate, and desperate kiss, the kind she’d seen on TV and had read about in books.

She could see and feel him clearly now. He was moving his mouth from her mouth, down her throat, teasing her with his tongue. He was caressing her neck and back with his thick, brown, hands, the lovely hands with their neatly trimmed nails, she’d often sat admiring in his office. Now he was moving those hands to slowly unbutton her blouse, the fingers almost too big for the tiny buttons.

From the front of the house, where she was parked, she couldn’t see the sun parlor and its brightly shining lights. The living room lights, though, the lights in the room into which she was staring, the room where Owen now had her completely naked on the couch, flickered off one by one. Owen disappeared. If the living room lights were going off, the sun parlor lights would be doing so, too. The kitchen would be next, followed by the dining room, and the family room. This was the fourth Wednesday in a row she hadn’t come home before dark, and they were mad at her. She was always supposed to be home before dark. Home before dark and lights out and in bed by 10:00.


At first she’d thought the figure was Daddy staring in at her from one of the windows in the sun parlor. She thought he was sneaking around the back of the house to spy on her to make sure she was being still and quiet. On second look, though, she’d realized it wasn’t Daddy at all. Daddy didn’t have such pale skin. Daddy didn’t have such beady eyes and such big cheek jowls. Daddy’s teeth were straight and white, not yellow and uneven and half rotting. She closed her eyes and tried not to scream. When she opened them again, the grotesque figure beckoned to her. This time, she did scream, and Daddy came in with the belt. Looking up from Daddy’s knees, she saw the pale, bald head turn away from the window, a hunched back lope off into the woods, barely feeling the pain of the leather against her bare skin.

After that, he came all the time. His thick fingers would work their way around the outside of the window, trying to find a way to open it. She didn’t scream anymore, throwing the blankets over her head instead, and reminding herself that he couldn’t get her. Even if he did manage to break one of the windowpanes, the hole would be too small for him, and the window latch was too old and difficult to work. He wouldn’t be able to get it to work from the outside, wouldn’t be able to open the window to climb through it. Besides, he tapped and scratched at the window, but he never did actually try to break it, for some reason, and if she just ignored him, he’d often lope off in frustration.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ten Things I've Learned During NaBloPoMo

It's almost over. Tomorrow is another excerpt from my ghost story, so this is my last post for NaBloPoMo that consists of new material. Here's what I've learned this month:

1. I have no problem, whatsoever, coming up with ideas for blog posts.
2. I do have problems turning all those ideas into actual posts.
3. When I have to post every day, reading others' blogs and commenting on them has to give.
4. When I have to post every day, reading books has to give.
5. When I have to post every day, I'm online way past 8:00 p.m. (which is something I don't like to be).
6. My novel-writing did not suffer the way I thought it would. I kept up with it until this week (holidays are too hectic).
7. I want to get back to posting more frequently than I was before this month started, but I don't want to post every day (maybe every other day?).
8. I can be disciplined when I want to be.
9. When I post every day, my stats go up.
10. I think if I could figure out a way to turn blogging into a career (you know, that extraordinarily likely event, an editor at The New Yorker calling me out of the blue and saying, "You're a fantastic writer. Will you join our blog staff?" happens), I'd be very happy. Oh, wait a minute. I don't think I really learned that this month...

Congratulations to all the rest of you who made it through this month (both those of you attempting to post everyday yourselves, as well as those kind enough to read a month's worth of my blather)!

Oh, and here are a couple of other things I've learned, thanks to Susan and quizzes (taking quizzes is a terrific procrastination technique when it comes to not writing blog posts). My reading personality is:

Exacting Reader
You read for entertainment but also to expand your mind. You're open to new ideas and new writers, and are not wedded to a particular genre or limited range of authors.

(Yep, that one has me nailed.)

My blog type is:

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

(Hmmm...I, the consummate"arguer," who states what's on her mind, one who tends to avoid conflict? I have most definitely created a blog persona!)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Three Reading Challenges

Okay, since I don't seem to be able to complete others' challenges, I've decided 2009 is going to be the year that I create some challenges of my own (while finishing my 2008 challenges, of course). I've got to do something to motivate myself to read more books we already own, instead of constantly heading to the library and bookstores. That's because I plan to try again this year to read three books from our overcrowded shelves before I allow myself to buy a new book. I've failed miserably in my attempt at this in 2008. At some point in time (probably one morning when I'd had about three hours of sleep), I decided that combining this 3:1 ratio with some reading challenges will be the key to success, so I've been browsing our shelves for books that can be turned into challenges. I've come up with three (notice, there are lots of 3s here).

I'd love it if you joined me. You can pick and choose. I promise not to judge you in the least if you don't manage to finish what you set out to do (in fact, I'll probably be sending you virtual martinis and saying, "Let's drink to yet another year of good intentions and unmet challenges").

All 3 challenges begin as soon or as late as you'd like and end Dec. 31, 2009 (because I really want more than a year to complete any given challenge). None of these challenges will have an individual website -- that's just way too much work for me at this point, and you, too, if you're one of those sorts who feels obligated to cross post. I would just ask you please to link to this post, if you decide to take on any of these challenges and also when you write posts on your challenge books.

Here are the general rules for all 3 challenges:

1. Choose 2-5 titles to be read in this category by Dec. 31, 2009
2. Let us know what you're reading. You can tell us why, but you don't have to.
3. Read at least 30 pages of any given book you choose. After that, you are allowed to abandon it if you don't like it, and I hope you'll let us know you didn't like it and why.
4. Write posts as you finish the books (or not, as the mood fits).
5. Link back to this post here when you do post on books.

That's five, which is plenty of rules. I'd add a 6th, unofficial one, though: have fun. If you're not having fun, drop the challenge.

And here are the challenges:

The Getting to Know You Challenge
So who is that author you keep planning to read and never seem to get around to doing so? Now's the time to get around to it. You're to read at least one book by the author and at least one book about that author (biography or autobiography). Then you're free to read more books by or more books about, or nothing at all (especially, of course, if you hate the author). This is going to be a real challenge for me, because I'm a hoarder. With the exception of a few mystery writers, when I find an author I love, I don't tend to read anything and everything I can. I always keep some books in reserve. That means, I needed to pick someone who's written more than three books that we own. I've decided to go with Carson McCullers. In 2007, I bought,

The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers by Virginia Spencer Carr.

The other two I plan to read are:

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Member of the Wedding

We have the Library of America collected novels, so I'll still have others in reserve to read if I end up loving her.

The Keeping An Eye on the Enemy Challenge
Okay, I don't really mean "the enemy" here. What I mean is someone with whom you are sure you're going to disagree. When I worked in a public library, it became very important to me that my colleagues and I not practice a form of censorship ourselves, which was deciding not to buy books for the collection that might be, say, politically repugnant to us. After all, how can one, in good conscience, argue against someone/something when one has never bothered to read the actual argument (sound bites from television news don't count, in my book)? This one allows you to read all over the map, but you must choose those with whom right now, having never read them, you are sure don't have much in common with you.

This is a good one for me to read religion. I'm very picky about what I read when it comes to religion (having vicariously attended seminary). So much of what is out there is extremely facile, and I get upset with both extremes: right and left. That means I'm choosing one from the right, which is:

Just Like Jesus by Max Lucado

and one from the left, which is:
Adam, Eve, and the Serpent by Elaine Pagels

I'm wondering if I'll be able to make it past 30 pages in either one. We'll see.

I'm also going to read
Plato Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff
Yes, I love philosophy. Yes, turning to its wisdom can change a person and can even be a good coping mechanism. However, I happen to be a firm believer in the benefits of counseling, the need to talk things through, and, yes, even drugs, when they are absolutely necessary (which is not to say that I don't think drugs are prescribed too often, and, in many cases, when they aren't really needed). I'll be interested to see how much this one can shake up my beliefs.

The Drama Challenge
Not sure I really need to explain this one, but it's plays. You know, Shakespeare. Or maybe Ingmar Bergman screenplays. Aristophanes. Noel Coward. Whatever your little heart desires, as long as its purpose in being written was
to be performed by a cast of characters.
My choices?

Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot (never read it).
Lysistrata by Aristophanes (love Aristophanes, and have been wanting to re-read him for years).
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel (because I have absolutely no idea why we have a copy of this, and I find it very hard to believe the back cover endorsement from Variety that claims, "It is the most compelling work of its kind since Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie." Paul Zindel? Come on! However, Bob says not to laugh at that, that he's seen the play on Broadway, so maybe I'll be proven wrong in my skepticism?).
King Lear by William Shakespeare (hurried through it in college and don't feel I really appreciated it. I want to read it slowly now and savor it).

That's it. Let me know if you're interested, please. Oh, and if you think I've lost my mind, feel free to comment on that, as well, because I'll probably whole-heartedly agree with you. Meanwhile, just think. If I finish all the books in these three challenges, I'll earn three new books. And because I am so generous, I'll do the same for you. If you complete all 3 challenges, I'll send you 3 books from our overcrowded shelves.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

New Quiz Results

What else would I give you on Thanksgiving Day, when I'm too busy focusing on my second favorite thing (yes, FOOD! next to BOOKS!) to pay much attention to anything else, but the latest results from some fascinating quiz I allowed myself to get sucked into taking (no. QUIZZES! are not my third-favorite thing. I promise). This was the Presidents of American Literature, which I discovered via Biblio Addict.

Here's how I faired:

The presidents of American literature

As a new president-elect prepares to assemble his team for government, there are many important questions to ask. Chief among them, of course, is how much do you know about White House residents in literature?
Cast your votes now

You scored 9 out of a possible 14

The audacity of hope. The disappointment of experience

Not too bad for someone who guessed on about half of them.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! This year, I'm thankful ten times over that we will soon have a Democrat back at the helm (but you already knew that, didn't you?).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Memory

As someone who is sitting at Cam's virtual Thanksgiving dinner table, I've chosen to post on a favorite holiday memory. She didn't specify which holiday, and so my memory will focus on my favorite holiday: Halloween. We're going all the way back to Halloween 1991. I was an unattached 27-year-old female, a fate not unlike being an orange argyle sock that comes out of the dryer without its mate, everyone frantically looking around for your match, afraid you're going to be rendered useless if it isn't found.

Every year in Stamford (and I'm sure this is probably a tradition that continues), the Irish Community Center opened its doors even to us English, as long as we were dressed in costume, for a big Halloween bash. This party had quite a reputation. One of my friends had met her fiance here. For some reason, despite the fact that it was somewhat of a Halloween ritual for so many of my friends, which meant it was the sort of party I tended to like, where I could just hang out in a corner with those I knew, I'd shied away from it the two previous years in which people had urged me to go.

This year, it seemed, nobody was going to let me get away with that, not even some good friends of mine who weren't part of this same crowd and who weren't going. This couple, dear friends of mine, to whom I should have paid rent, as much time as I spent in their home, were determined that I was going to go, wearing the coolest costume there, and that I was going to meet a new man. I think they were living vicariously through me, since they'd both been quite the party-goers in their day but were now settled down with their young daughter.

Because I whined that I couldn't think of anything cool to be and thus couldn't go, they jumped into action and decided I was going to be a tree. And I will tell you, it really was a cool costume. I wore brown tights for my "trunk," a long, dark green tunic, and we went out and collected beautiful fall leaves that we attached all over the tunic. We also attached branches on a headband to my head. I set off for the party with my friend Kathy, who, being a Trekkie, had her Spock ears and nothing else to indicate she had a costume. Soon, we were surrounded by other friends, requisite beer bottles in our hands, and Kathy (who always did so) was attracting boys like bees to honey. One cute guy, however, headed our way and started talking to me. I figured he was just warming up, trying to get up the courage to talk to her, but then he asked me to dance. And we ended up dancing all night long.

You won't believe this. He was an arborist. His job was to take care of potted trees in office buildings all around Fairfield County. Needless to say, he liked my costume. When the party ended, we walked out together, and I was thinking the night was almost over, but it had only just begun. As we passed the parking lot where he'd parked his little Nissan truck, heading to my car, he realized that his truck wasn't there. Turns out he had parked in a tow away zone. I don't remember exactly what happened next here (this was in the days before cell phones were prominent), but together, we somehow managed to find a phone and track down the location of his truck, and I drove him to the lot where he retrieved it. (I also have no idea what happened to Kathy. She must have gotten a ride home with one of her many male admirers.) I do remember that he referred to me as an "angel" who had saved him from wandering around in the streets that night, since all his friends had already left before he'd realized he had no wheels. Anyway, by the time we'd retrieved his truck, it was so late, it was early, which meant it was time for breakfast at the local diner, after which he asked for my phone number and called me before the weekend was up.

It didn't last. Not only did he take care of potted trees in office buildings, he also took care of certain potted plants in his own home, and he had more of an affinity for the effects of those plants than he did for me (or anything, really). However, it was a fun fling. He drove a motorcycle, and I loved riding that with him. He played drums in a very cool band, and I liked following that band around. We had a fabulous and fun New Year's Eve together, and then we both just sort of stopped calling each other. I soon met someone else through another well-meaning matchmaker, because well, by now, I was a 28-year-old unattached female.

But for one night, I was a tree, and a cute "bad boy" called me an "angel." Who wouldn't have fond memories of that holiday night?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Questions for Those of You Who Love to Shop

Today is Bob's birthday. That means that I went out on Saturday to buy him a few gifts to supplement the tickets to see Wilco and Neil Young I bought him ages ago (because, you know, even if you spent a fortune on tickets to a rock concert, you still want to give your loved one more than one gift to open on his birthday). By now, everyone knows I love my husband truly, madly, deeply, but why the hell couldn't he have had the decency to be born in July, say, or September, or even February (then again, maybe not in February, as then my birthday might be overshadowed. It's bad enough that we have to share an anniversary. I'm not sharing my birthday)?

No, he has to be born right around "opening day" of the Christmas season. You know, I really don't want to spend two hours listening to piped-in Christmas music jingling its bells all over the place when we haven't even had Thanksgiving yet, and if I didn't have to shop for his birthday, I wouldn't be subject to such things. I repeat: I do not want to hear Christmas music yet. Not even John Lennon and Yoko Ono telling me the war is over. Or Band Aid conjuring up images of Sting and Bob Geldof looking oh-so-cute-and-1980s in the original video (back in 1984, when you had to sit through hours of Madonna or Michael Jackson moon walking or big-haired-even-for-1984 Huey Lewis and the News, along with other less-than-stellar videos on MTV, to get a glimpse of it. Of course, today, a Martian wouldn't believe you if you told him MTV used to be this station whose letters stood for "Music Television" and that basically played videos 24 hours a day. Sorry, I am definitely digressing here with a subject that ought to be its own post. Forgive me. It's late, and I'm suffering from NaBloPoMo overload, in which I desperately grasp at anything that might be turned into some sort of blog post). Anyway, not "War is Over," not "Do They Know It's Christmas," and, most certainly, not "Frosty the Snowman," which I will be forced to listen to, probably about 500 times between now and Dec. 25th.

But I'm blaming my Saturday misery on the way-too-early Christmas season when it really wasn't all the decorations and music that were doing me in. Yet again, I have to admit that it really was just the shopping, made that much more unbearable by the Christmas season. The damnable shopping. And, so, I have questions (five, as that seems to be my magic number these days) for those of you who like to shop. Here's the sixth: would you please be so kind as to enlighten me?

1. When you pull into the parking lot of yet another godawful strip mall, which is where Border's happens to be in your hometown (and isn't that where it is in everyone's home town?), fully prepared to park as far from the store as possible, because you like to walk and know that seeking out such parking spaces is one of those "squeezing in exercise" techniques you learned from Weight Watchers, only to discover that every shopper today must be a WW member and that every other shopper must be a lazy slob who doesn't want to walk more than two feet to get inside, because you've driven up and down seven aisles and can't find a single space, what inspires you to keep from saying, "Fuck it. Nothing's worth this," and pulling out of the parking lot fast enough to earn a speeding ticket if any cop happens to be nearby?

2. How on earth do you handle over-exuberant, over-friendly sales clerks? No, I do not need help. Even if I needed it, I probably wouldn't ask, because, well, I'm just not the sort to ask for help. And because I'm not that sort, I'm even less likely to buy if someone gets in my face asking me if I need help. Oh, and you see, I happen to have my 13+ years of schooling under my belt, plus lots of real-life experience. I do not, nor will I ever, need help "finding the size I need" in a pile of khakis very neatly stacked by size. And just one more thing. You know, if I'd wanted fleece, I'd have been looking for it before I got up to the checkout counter and would have discovered on my own that all the fleece is on sale today. I do not want to get out of line to go look for it now, just because it happens to be on sale.

3. When you are shopping at an outlet, do you really believe that anyone on earth would pay $65 for the pair of khakis you are about to buy for $22.50? I mean, you are either someone like Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Sarah Palin, when she's suddenly discovered she's "on the campaign trail," who has all your clothes tailor-made, who would never shop at an outlet mall, and who doesn't really pay attention to price, or you are someone who expects a pair of knock-around khakis to cost around $45.00. $22.50 is a real bargain. There is no need to pretend they were ever $65, and I'm insulted that you think I'd believe such a thing.

4. Are you fooled by 29.99? 39.99? I'm telling you, I'm not the least bit math phobic at this point in my life, but I still find 0's far friendlier than 9's when it comes to trying to add stuff up in my head. I'd rather add $30 and $40, than 9-anything. And I want to meet the fool who did the study everyone claims exists proving that people "really do think $29.99 is a much better price than $30.00." I'm sure there are all kinds of holes in his or her research methodology, because I have yet to meet a soul who doesn't mock this notion.

5. Has anyone yet invented a shopping robot? Can I get one without having to leave the comfort of my own home?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

The one and only time I've ever been to Austin, TX (a city that grabbed hold of my heart the second I arrived. If it had real winters and weren't in Texas, you could easily convince me to move there), I had the good fortune to see Michelle Shocked in concert. This was in the late eighties, and sure, I could have seen her in New York, where she played all the time, but what better place to see her than in her home state? She was one of the happiest performers I'd ever seen; you could tell she just loved playing music.

I guess that's why she's hard to pin down, musically. She obviously loves what she's doing and likes to experiment with all kinds of musical genres, and she's got the talent to pull it off. I remember playing her album "Arkansas Traveler," a very folksy compilation, for a friend of mine, who liked what he heard and seemed incredulous when I told him who it was. "I thought she was a punk rocker," he said. And she can rock. She can also jazz it up, or, if you're in the mood for the blues, she'll do that for you, too.

Her 1989 album "Captain Swing" is jazzy and bluesy and has many, many great songs, but this is my favorite from the album. If you've ever suffered from insomnia, the lyrics should immediately grab you. She appropriately composed a blues piece to go with them, because what else would an insomniac be suffering from if not the blues? Anyone who's followed my blog for any length of time knows how I love irony, and you just don't get much more ironic than this.

Sleep Keeps Me Awake
by Michelle Shocked

Sleep comes creeping in
At four in the morning
Sneaking up the stairs
Shoes in her hands.

Don't you know what time it is?
I've been worried about you, Lollie
I say the least you could do was
Phone to say you'd be late.

Sleep keeps me awake all night
I wonder where she is right now
I told her if she's late to call
Or don't come home at all.

Don't you know what time it is?
I've been worried about you, Lollie
I say the least you could do was
Phone to say you'd be late.

Last week it was one a.m.
This week it was two a.m.
Last night it was three a.m.
And tonight it's four a.m.

You never mind that now
You come lay down beside me, lollie
Let me hold you in my arms
Let me kiss you, kiss you, lollie
Let me hold you in my arms
Let me hold you in my arms.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Irrational Thoughts (Continued)

(The first installment of this story was posted on Nov. 2nd. The second on Nov. 16th.)


Almost every night, he locked her in the sun parlor. It didn’t matter that Elizabeth was the one tapping on the wall, or giggling, or turning the light off and on. She was the oldest and should know better. As soon as he turned off the light, they were both supposed to be quiet and to go to sleep. Mama needed rest, and she couldn’t rest with the least bit of noise. Sandy knew this, and she lay still, never making a sound, but Elizabeth couldn’t be expected to be so quiet. Daddy ought to know that.

He didn’t, though. He didn’t even seem to be able to tell her voice from Elizabeth’s. If he heard anything, even if it was clearly Elizabeth crying because Sandy had pinched her to make her stop giggling, down she’d be taken to the sun parlor, far away from the bedrooms, where she “could stay all night if she wanted to keep making that Godawful racket, disturbing everyone else’s sleep.”


Owen’s office was located in the re-finished basement of his house. It was a fifteen-minute drive from her house. Recently, he’d switched their appointments from Wednesday mornings to Wednesday evenings, believing she was now capable of driving home in the dark. It was pitch black by the time Sandy left his office at 6:30. She immediately labeled the thought that a serial killer was lying down, hiding in the backseat of her car, as “irrational.” The car had been locked the whole time she’d been there. There was no sign of anyone having broken into it. She unlocked the doors and climbed in, forcing herself not to check the back seat before sliding into her seat and sticking the key in the ignition.

Owen had been wonderful tonight. He seemed genuinely proud and happy when she related her previous night’s success in the sun parlor. He had given her a hug. His hugs were few and far between, and she needed to learn to cherish them as signs of his love and affection toward her. She wasn’t to be repulsed by them. Normal, rational people are not repulsed by hugs from those who care for them.

She hadn’t felt the least bit repulsed this time. As a matter of fact, she’d felt something completely different – quite the opposite. She’d wanted his hug to last longer. She’d felt an ache and a longing when he’d let go. She’d balled her hands into fists and had looked at the floor to keep from flinging her arms back around him.

All the way home, she thought of Owen and how he was saving her life. He often helped her imagine a life in which she did more than just go to her receptionist’s job at Dr. Campbell’s from 10:00 – 4:00 everyday and come home every evening to make dinner and watch TV or read a book. He had her moving out of the rambling old farmhouse that had belonged to her great grandparents, a place he said was way too big for a young woman living alone. He had her in a cute little townhouse in town, supping with friends, and even going to movies that didn’t start until 9:00 p.m. With his help, she’d been practicing, imagining this life, although she didn’t tell him she often imagined it while still living in the farmhouse, because Mama and Daddy and Elizabeth wouldn’t understand if she moved into a townhouse.

Tonight, as she followed the curves back to her home, she was practicing the breathing techniques he'd taught her. She tried very hard to imagine going home to a bright little townhouse, having just been to a matinee at the Little Theater with friends. She had loved attending plays on field trips when she was in school and had often imagined she’d enjoy it just as much now she was grown.

When she opened the door to the little townhouse, in her mind, though, she wasn’t alone. Owen was there, and he welcomed her into his arms, giving her a long, lingering hug. He’d made dinner for them, and he lit two candles on the dining room table where they sat and held hands throughout the meal.

Before she knew it, she was turning into the long, gravel driveway that wound for a quarter of a mile before depositing her in front of her house. Were these irrational thoughts she’d been having? Was her imagination running wild in the wrong direction? Was that a large, hunched-over figure that limped its way across the driveway in front of her headlights and headed off into the woods adjacent to her property?

(To be continued.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ian Rankin's The Falls

Rankin, Ian. The Falls. New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.

"'What's life without a bit of risk?'"
'A much pleasanter, less stressful experience.'" (p. 175)

How can one not love a book that contains such lines spoken between two of its characters? I haven't actually finished this book yet, as life (or maybe blog posting) seems to have gotten in the way of reading these days, but I wanted to post on it before the Connecticut mystery book group meets this evening, if for no other reason than to tell Michael I am cursing him up and down for choosing this book. I really did not need to be introduced to yet another great detective to love, which means yet another series of books (and this series contains loads of them) I must read.

I'm about 2/3rds of the way through the book, and I've discovered it's not an easy one to describe. I told Bob this afternoon that it's just so much fun, and he said, "Fun?" And I said, "Well, yeah. It's got all these different components: crossword-puzzle-like clues, a supernatural-sort-of-creepiness, a possible serial killer, and a little romance, as well." Bob's been reading a lot of John Sandford lately, so his next question, was, "Is it a nail-biting, John-Sandford-thriller-sort-of-fun or an Agatha-Christie-puzzle-it-out-sort-of-fun?" I wasn't quite sure how to answer that. In some marketing copy or review for it somewhere, I saw it described as a "police procedural," but I'd say it's more than that. There's more depth of character than I've seen in say, Ed McBain.

It definitely has elements of a Christie or Dickson Carr puzzle, but it's also got the thrilling, page-turner quality of what I think a John Sandford (having never read any Sandford) has. I found myself saying, "Well, yes, and well...yes." In fact, what I'd say it's most like is Ross Macdonald (one of my favorites, in case you haven't been able to figure that one out yet), evolved and updated. I mean, John Rebus is a detective who listens to The Rolling Stones to unwind. (In fact, his musical knowledge is wide-ranging and astounding). Case in point: Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer was very into the psychology of people -- what made them tick, family dyanmics, etc. At one point, a pathologist says to Rebus:

"'Endlessly fascinating, what this animal exterior can contain.'" (p. 116)
"...Rebus didn't feel he had anything to add. To him, a body was a body, was a body. By the time it was dead, whatever it was that had made it interesting had disappeared." (p. 116)
I can hear Lew Archer thinking similar thoughts.

John Rebus is also a detective who lives in Edinburgh, my second favorite city in the world, and the city (as well as the weather) is vividly portrayed, which I like. He drinks too much (of course. I have a knack for enjoying the company of people who drink too much, as long as I don't have to live with them), but I don't blame him. I'd self medicate, too, if I had his job and lived all alone. He's a detective with a wry sense of humor, who does things his way and is not one to play by the rules when he thinks he's right. Thus, I am completely confident that he's going to figure this one out.

Right now, I haven't got a clue whodunnit. Rankin certainly keeps us guessing (he didn't even let us know whether a particular victim was alive or not until about halfway through the book), but I've been paying close attention and am beginning to narrow down the suspects. For me, that's the sign of a good mystery writer. I like being strung along, working alongside the detective, and I don't even mind if I get it wrong (as long as the final answer doesn't turn out to be completely absurd and unbelievable). And now, I think I will get back to it, so I can find out whether or not my detecting skills hold up in Edinburgh. When I'm done, I'll join you at the pub for some malt whisky and let you know what I thought of the ending.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sweet Potato Casserole for the Virtual Thanksgiving Feast

Cam always comes up with all these wonderful, creative blogging ideas, from interviews, to surveys to this new virtual Thanksgiving dinner. She asked those who'd like to participate first to post a favorite recipe for the virtual meal by Nov. 23rd and then to post on one of the following topics by Thanksgiving day:

1. A favorite family holiday tradition
2. A favorite holiday memory
3. Something for which we are grateful this year

(Depending on how desperate I get for blog ideas before the end of NaBloPoMo, I may be taking all 3 ideas and running with them.)

Today, I'm starting with my favorite sweet potato casserole recipe. This one earns the distinction of "favorite," not only because I happen to think it's delicious, but also because I get so many compliments when I make it. The recipe has definitely evolved over the years, but I've now hit upon what seems to be the perfect version of it. It was originally given to me by one of my roommates when I was a young 20-something, having Thanksgiving with friends instead of family for the first time in my life, because I was stuck working the day after and could not make the long trek from CT to NC. It involved canned yams, canned pineapple, and marshmallows.

It was good, but nothing spectacular. I made it as given for a few Thanksgiving meals (eventually learning to use fresh, rather than canned yams), both those spent with family and those spent with friends. People seemed to like it, so I didn't think much about changing it. My mother doesn't like pineapple, so when I made it for the family, I substituted mandarin oranges, which seemed to work well.

Eventually, though, I met Bob. The first year we were married was the first year I spent Thanksgiving with his family. His father was diabetic. That meant, although if we balanced the other foods we served, he could have a small helping of sweet potatoes with pineapple, he certainly couldn't eat the marshmallows. I had to adapt my recipe, which I did. My adaptation was delicious -- something I decided I'd eat more than once a year. The next year, when we traveled to my parents' house for Thanksgiving, I made this new version, pineapples and all, and even my mother (who claims the pineapples are not "noticeable") loved it.

Bob's father is no longer alive. Since last year, we've lived very close to Bob's uncle (his father's brother), and we spent last Thanksgiving at his house (Bob has to officiate a Thanksgiving Eve service every year, so we can no longer travel for this holiday). I brought my sweet potato casserole to his uncle and aunt's house. This year, Bob's aunt specifically requested that I make it again.

Here's the version I make today:

4-5 sweet potatoes (or yams. It doesn't matter which you use)
1 (or more) can of crushed pineapple and juice from the can (the regular-sized cans, not the little ones)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bag of stuffing mix (I'm partial to Pepperidge Farm, but any will do)
5 pats of butter, plus butter for greasing casserole dish

Peel and cut sweet potatoes into chunks. Boil until tender. Mash with crushed pineapple (you may need less than one can or more, depending on how big your potatoes are. Start with half the can and add as needed, keeping in mind that your goal is mashed potatoes, not pineapple and sweet potato soup). Stir in chopped onion. Grease casserole dish and spread mashed potatoes into the casserole. Top with stuffing mix. Distribute the five pats of butter evenly over the stuffing mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Enjoy! If anyone decides to make this, I'd love to hear what you think.

And before I end this post, I just have to let everyone know that it's snowing here today! I hope that means we're going to have a nice snowy winter to make up for the nonexistant winter we had last year. Maybe then I'll start believing people when they say to me, "We do get snow in Lancaster County." Over the river and through the woods on our sleighs we go...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Five Things I Love about Pennsylvania

So, a while back, I did the 5 things I miss about Connecticut. Now, I'll give you some things that make me very happy to be living where I am.

1. Friends -- some of you may recall that before I moved, I was afraid I wasn't going to make friends. Silly me. I've made some wonderful new friends in the past year. The way people have reached out to Bob and me since we moved here has just been humbling. For instance, we will be enjoying two Thanksgiving meals this year, one on Thursday and one on Friday. Oh, and I have to add that some of these friends are as insanely bookish and nerdy as we are.

2. The Amish -- I love hearing the clip-clop of the horses and buggies passing in the streets. I love their beautiful farms and the resulting goodies at their farm markets. I love their gentle, quiet ways of being. I love their oh-so-European-looking (and sweet) children. Oh, and did I mention I love their sticky buns and cherry pies?

3. The Free Library of Philadelphia -- I just love the fact that it's called "free" -- echoes of the significance of the city in the founding of a free nation, as well as, of course, blatantly stating "you don't have to pay to read our books." I haven't bothered to look up the history, but I'm guessing it was founded during a time when fee-paying lending libraries were still the norm and that it was something special for being "free." Oh yes, and it's also a magnificent old library, one to rival (dare I say it?) New York and Boston.

4. History -- in downtown Lancaster, you can still drive down narrow brick streets. The Central Market is America's oldest farmer's market building. To our east, we have Valley Forge and Philadelphia (with its free library). To our West, we have Gettysburg. We have magnificent old homes everywhere and all kinds of parks and trails that trace the state's natural history.

5. Location, location, location -- it's quite cool to live in a state that's pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the east coast. It means that in less than eight hours, I can drive to such diverse locations as Boston to my north; Raleigh, NC to my south; and Cleveland, OH to my west. NYC; D.C.; Baltimore; and Wilmington, DE are all day-trip-drives. (Of course, I haven't taken much advantage of this yet, but we've only been here a year). And then there are oh-so-many beautiful beaches, also all within an 8-hour drive (and some much, much closer than that) from Rehobeth, DE to Nags Head, N.C. to Cape May, NJ, to Cape Cod, MA. doesn't seem that five is enough. I'll have to do Five More Things at some point, because I want to talk about things like country roads and covered bridges and pretzels. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

For Those Who Have Not Lost Interest in Yet Another Remake of the Bloggers Take Manhattan

I’m pretty sure I spotted a few mad dogs and Burberry-coated Englishmen as I pulled out onto the Lincoln Highway early Saturday morning, heading east. But, of course. I’ve been to NYC three times this year, and the forecast all three times has been “100% chance of rain” (despite the fact that here in the Northeast we tend to teeter on the brink of drought most of the time). It’s a 2 ½ hour drive from my house to Manhattan. During that time, I went through monsoon-worthy downpours, fog to make the aforementioned Englishman proud, lightning (yes. In November!), and a brief period of clearing with patches of blue sky.

However, once I arrived in Manhattan, the actual rain had stopped. Someone of our group must have favor with the gods. I’m guessing Charlotte, who was the first to arrive at The Hungarian Pastry Shop. I recognized her immediately from photos on her blog, glowing and happy, despite her horrible jet lag. You could tell she was being infected by the city (I know very few other places where it’s so easy to find so many people who are both radiant and exhausted).

We stood outside, chatting for a while, and then I spotted Becky and ZM, turning the corner the wrong way on Amsterdam, and called out to them. Miraculously, Becky heard me. We stood outside a while longer and then headed in to find a table. This was when I began to kick myself for not remembering, when I suggested we all meet here, that The Hungarian Pastry Shop isn’t the best place for a large-group meeting, being a typical NYC establishment (i.e. very small and narrow). But just as Dorr and Hobs arrived, the friendliness of the city made itself known, as people got up and told us we could have their tables, so we pushed tables together and waited for Cam.

Cam was also the only one I’d never met nor seen photos of, so I really had no idea what she looked like. She was easy enough to spot as she walked in, though, obviously looking for us (and I waved to her, hoping she didn’t turn out not to be Cam). One cherry cheese strudel, a cup of coffee, and lots of “getting to know you” conversation later, I decided this had been the perfect place to meet after all.

From there, it was down to The Strand (because, of course, we were determined to take poor jet-lagged Charlotte from one end of Broadway to the other. For those of you who don’t know, the pastry shop is at 111th St., a block over from Broadway, and The Strand is 99 blocks down at 12th St. Oh well, at least we didn’t take her cross-town as well). We decided to walk part of the way, since it had turned into a nice, warm day and then to catch 2 cabs. ZM, Charlotte, Cam, and I went in one cab. We got to The Strand well before the others, at which point Charlotte was beginning to look like she needed a bed much more than books. She gamely followed us all in but eventually had to seek out a cafĂ© across the street to renew herself.

We all went our separate ways in the bookstore, occasionally crossing paths, as we browsed the “18 miles of books.” I was busy consulting with Bob by cell phone every other minute. I wanted to get him a treat (since he hadn’t been able to come along), and I can’t keep track of which thrillers he has and hasn’t got/read.

A word of warning: don’t go to The Strand with the likes of Hobs. While I was busy looking through Harlan Coben and John Sandford, I bumped into him to discover he had the likes of a huge James Fenimore Cooper biography, Victor Hugo, and The World without Us in his hands. I immediately began to feel I should stop filling up on candy floss and sit down to a good, long meal of duck a l’orange, roast potatoes, and spinach soufflĂ© with a fancy side salad and chocolate mousse for dessert (in fairness to me, I did look for a copy of The Faerie Queene, but I couldn’t find the Penguin edition I want to read).

Eventually, we all met back on the street, signature bright-yellow bags in hands, sharing the contents of said bags like children on Halloween night. At this point, we all realized that all this book shopping had made us very hungry. Macaroni and cheese at Chat ‘n’ Chew sounded like an excellent idea. Make that macaroni and cheese and mimosas. Ahhh! New York! 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday, and they still have their brunch special: $5.00 mimosas. In Lancaster, 4:00 would be cocktail hour, for those who drink, what with dinner typically being served at 5:00.

After food and drink, Charlotte really did need a good nap. ZM was getting tired, too, and decided to head back to CT. That left only Cam, Becky, Dorr, Hobs, and me to head off in the direction of Ground Zero to explore The Mysterious Bookshop (which made perfect sense, since four out of five of us are members of the detective book discussion group). What a wonderful gem of a place this turned out to be.

We were greeted by a little skeleton as we walked in the door, who, apparently, stands patiently there all day, dressed in his oversized shop t-shirt (wonder what he does at night, when no one’s around). It’s a small shop, but it’s floor to ceiling books, all of a mysterious nature (although I’d quibble a bit with that, as my fellow browsers did. I don’t remember a Mr. Body in either Twilight or Harry Potter). One side houses new books, one old, and the back wall is dedicated to all things Sherlock Holmes. I had a great time browsing the shelves and, of course, feeding my candy floss book addiction some more.

After that, it was time to call it a day. Hobs and Dorr needed to get home to Muttboy. I still had a long drive ahead of me (for which the skies did a very nice job of opening up, yet again), and I’m sure Becky and Cam were eager to start reading their books. Next time, I think I’ll take the train, so I can have some uninterrupted reading time, too (that is, if bookstores are in the offering again). Cam was staying where we’d met and I’d parked, so we said “goodbye” to the other three at the Times Square subway stop and took the #1 train back up to Cathedral Station, which is a ride I’ve taken many, many times (only one stop short of the Columbia stop, where I used to disembark). It makes me kind of sad, so it was nice to have my new friend for company.

All-in-all, a wonderful day. Wish you’d been there, too. Oh, and for those of you dying to know, my booty for the day:


The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey. Do I really need to explain this one? Ghost stories by the likes of Algernon Blackwood, L.P. Hartley, and M.R. James? Illustrated by Edward Gorey? How could I go wrong?

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichel, because I’ve been looking for some good food writing, wasn’t impressed with the one M.F.K. Fisher I found in the cookbook and food section, forgot that The Strand files her under literature as well (until we'd left and Becky informed me she’d found quite a few, but didn’t know which one to get), and I’ve been meaning to read this one for some time.

Secret Prey by John Sandford, for Bob, who discovered Sandford a couple of years ago and loves him (and probably for me one day, too, if I ever get around to discovering him myself).


Hag’s Nook by John Dickson Carr, whom I haven’t read in a very long time, but who is a master with puzzles of the “door locked from the inside” sort. This is the first Gideon Fell novel, which I’ve never read.

The Fiend by Margaret Millar, who was Ross Macdonald’s wife. I’ve never read any of her stuff, and this musty old copy (written the year I was born) seemed like a good place to start.

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin, because I’ve just met Rebus through the detective book discussion group, love him, and want to read more (also want Bob to read him, so I got this one “for him”). This is an author-signed copy in which he scribbled a dead man’s face, so I couldn’t resist.

And that puts me in something like 72-book deficit for 2008 (the year I was supposed to read 3 books I already owned for each one book I bought). Better start reading all those picture books up in the attic before the year ends.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Short Post

I had planned to post on the NYC blogger meetup today, because I had, yet again, forgotten that I don't have a clone to do such things, while I soak in a hot bath before falling into bed. You see, I got up at 4:30 this morning to drive up to Newark, NJ to spend the day visiting classrooms full of 5-8-year-olds doing math. I just got home, and needless to say, I couldn't possibly write a coherent post that would do justice to the day on Saturday. Instead, I'm giving you five interesting things I learned today (because, you know, I went to school):

1. If you're thinking, "Why isn't the GPS telling me to take the New Jersey Turnpike to the Garden State Parkway?" listen to your instinctual reply, "Because the GPS hasn't a clue what it's doing," and stay on the New Jersey Turnpike, instead of thinking the GPS might know some cool, new, better way to go.

2. Newark, NJ has a little Italian bakery where you can get the best chocolate canoli you've ever had in your life. Who would've thought?

3. Despite the fact that lots of things have changed in schools today, second-graders still throw up on the floor in the middle of class, just like they did when you were in school, and all the other kids react exactly the way you remember kids reacting.

4. Even when kids wear uniforms and are only six years old, you can still spot the future nerds, hipsters, rockers, and jocks. The difference is that at this age, they are all adorable (most especially the miniature nerds -- the only ones with their shirts tucked into pants with elastic waists, cinched by belts, which no other kids are wearing).

5. Being a teacher is absolutely THE hardest thing anyone could choose to do. Forget Obama "socialism," I'd like to set up a little "wealth redistribution" plan of my own, in which all CEOs swap their salaries with teachers.

And now for that bath...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

After spending Saturday in New York and driving along the Henry Hudson Parkway, it seems highly appropriate to choose one of my favorite songs centered around one of my favorite bodies of water, The Hudson River. The song is Dar Williams's "The Hudson." Some of you know that Dar is my cousin. That doesn't really mean too much, because I grew up in North Carolina, and she grew up in Chappaqua, New York, so we rarely saw each other. Nevertheless, I am so often so moved by her lyrics, I can't help thinking it must have something to do with the common gene pool.

As the song says, the Hudson holds the life. I can remember days in New York, when I was a little sad or depressed for some reason. I'd deal with it by walking over to Riverside Park and sitting on a bench with a view of the Hudson. Immediately, my mood would lift as I watched the current and thought about all the many, many, many people who have traveled that waterway. What a magnificent history it has. The river is a great one for those of us with overactive imaginations.

I love it in every single season. Nothing sparkles more brilliantly than its ripples when a golden autumn sun is shining down on it. When it's frozen in the winter, it begs me to slow down, to stop and wonder at its icy cold beauty. The ice flows in the spring, formed from the long, jagged cracks, and the rushing water underneath, promising warmer weather soon, are thrilling. And is anything more fun than sipping a cold drink at Hudson Beach Cafe on a hot summer day and watching the boat traffic out there?

The song captures all my feelings beautifully. I remember the first time I heard it, I immediately had to replay it about four times, sighing over its perfection. And I dare any New Yorker to tell me there's never been a time when the Hudson stole a breath or two. I think there's a time or two it actually knocked the wind out of me.

The Hudson
by Dar Williams

If we're lucky, we feel our lives,
Know when the next scene arrives,
So often we start in the middle and work our way out.
We go to some gray sky diner for eggs and toast,
The New York Times or the New York Post,
Then we take a ride
through the valley of the shadow of doubt.
But even for us New Yorkers
there's a time in every day,
The river takes our breath away.

And the Hudson holds the life.
We thought we did it on our own.

The river roads collect the tolls,
For the passage of our souls
Through silent silver woods,
And flowers and snow,
And past the George Washington Bridge
Down from the trails of Break Neck Ridge,
The river's ancient path is sacred and slow.
And as it swings through Harlem,
It's every shade of blue.
Into the city of the brand new.

And the Hudson holds the life.
We thought we did it on our own.
I thought I had no sense of place or past,
Time was too slow, but then too fast.
The river takes us home at last.

Where and when does a memory take hold?
The mountain range in autumn cold,
And I thought West Point was Camelot in the spring.
If you're lucky you find something that reflects you,
Helps you feel your life, protects you,
Cradles you and connects you to everything.
This whole life I remember has led back unto itself.
Never turned me into someone else,

And the Hudson holds the life.
We thought we did it on our own.
The Hudson holds the life.
We thought we did it on our own.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Irrational Thoughts (Continued)

(The first installment of this story was posted Nov. 2nd.)

Owen had suggested twenty minutes at a time; that was all. Last night, she’d heard nothing at the windows, but she hadn’t even made it ten minutes without grabbing up her book, hitting the light switch at the door, pulling the door shut tight, locking it, and scurrying up to the safety of her bedroom. The bedroom was safe; no one could peer in at her through the second floor windows. Even if they could, even if they climbed a ladder or something, her bedroom windows had shades and curtains that could be drawn.

Tonight, however, despite the fact she had heard something, she was determined to make it at least twenty minutes sitting in the sun parlor before heading up to the safety of the bedroom. Wouldn’t Owen be proud of her? She kept ignoring the noises, even peeked out one of the windows when her watch indicated it had been twenty minutes. As Owen had predicted, she saw no one peering back in at her. Thus bolstered, she stayed an extra five minutes and then calmly headed up to her bedroom.

She smiled as she climbed the stairs, picturing Owen patting her on the back and praising her. How far she’d come in just a year. Last year, when she first met Owen, she couldn’t even enter the sun parlor, hadn’t entered it in years, kept it locked at all times. Martha was the only one who ever set foot out there, cleaning it every other week, just as she cleaned the rest of the house. Sandy had no need ever to go out there. Most of the time, it was a rather impractical room, too chilly in the winter on a sunless day and too hot in the summer before sunset. The secretary had long since been emptied of all useful contents, and the room had nothing of value in it, except the old furniture and a few standing lamps. These were completely dominated by the bad memories that took up every inch of the rest of the space in the room, and Sandy couldn’t bear to face those or to try to get rid of them.

However, Owen insisted confronting the bad memories would free her from them, so six months ago, she had made the first big move and had started keeping the door unlocked. Since then, her progression had been fairly rapid. She stepped into the room during the daylight hours. Over the summer, she had slowly but surely learned to sit out there five to ten minutes at a time, during the hours just before sunset, when it wasn’t too hot to do so. That was when she’d made the decision to have the furniture re-done. While the furniture was gone, she’d begun stepping out there when it was dark, and now that the furniture was back, it was time to learn to use the room in the dark, before she lost her courage, before the winter really set in, and it was too cold to do so.

How wonderful it was to be freed from having to check the door several times a day, ensuring it was locked. How nice it might be for her in the spring and early summer to sit out there with all the windows open, just as her family had done when she was very young. Visitors had always loved the room, and many overnight guests had chosen to sleep out there, as they could open all the windows for cross-ventilation and run a fan during the hottest months of summer. Of course, that had all been before they’d stopped having many visitors, before Mama had become so sad, before Sandy had been left with most of the responsibility of raising Elizabeth, and before Grandma had died. Tonight, she felt brave. Tonight she knew she could get over all the sadness that had hovered around the house most of her life; it was time to do so. She was going to make new friends to sit in the sun parlor with her. They’d, in turn, invite her to sit on their decks and eat barbecue.

As she crawled into bed, she realized these were all wonderfully rational thoughts, as she and Owen had come to define them together. Worrying about shining, beady eyes imbedded above large sagging cheeks, in pasty-white heads, staring in through windows at night, large lips parted in grimacing smiles, displaying over-sized, yellowing, and rotting teeth was irrational. Thoughts that focused on thick, white, gnarled and hairy hands sporting yellowed and broken fingernails scratching at windowpanes were irrational thoughts. Accepting the fact that these thoughts were there, labeling them, then ignoring them was rational. Grown women sat in rooms surrounded by windows and read books without feeling the hair rise on their necks. They even looked out those windows. They even came home after dark without being the least bit afraid.

To be continued...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nobody's Home Today

Thanks to the wonders of technology, if all goes as plans (despite the fact I am writing this Friday night), I will not miss a NaBloPoMo Saturday post. Not only that, but this will be posting at exactly the same time I will be meeting up with fellow bloggers from far and wide in NYC. Since tomorrow is more "Irrational Thoughts" day (have access to that again, so I can post it. Yea!), and Monday is Music Monday, I guess you won't get my take on the day until Tuesday. But how can it help being anything but great fun? I mean, getting together with great friends? Meeting new friends? NYC? And we're all bookish sorts who like the idea of eating Hungarian pastries and spending time at The Strand? It just doesn't get much better than that.

And on that note, I will leave you with my Dewey Decimal classification section (thanks to Stef), pointing out that this is not the first time I've taken a test whose results proved I'm a nerd. But fossil mollusks (I know I'm getting old, but hey...)? However, look at that: science AND math! Maybe the overall description of what I'm supposed to be like will explain to you why I'm dying to know what kind of equation was put together using very basic facts like my name and birth date to come up with the number 53925.

Emily's Dewey Decimal Section:

564 Fossil mollusks & molluscoids

Emily = 53925 = 539+25 = 564

500 Science

Math, astronomy, prehistoric life, plants and animals.

What it says about you:
You are fascinated by the world around you, and see it as a puzzle worth exploring. You try to understand how things work and how you can make them better. You might be a nerd.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Friday, November 14, 2008

Haunting Good Reads

(First of all, before I get started: everyone go over to Ian’s blog and wish him a happy birthday in his comments today. He deserves it, even if he never posts anymore.)

I’ve mentioned in prior posts that, supposedly, a ghost wanders around in my house. Despite the fact that two people claim to have seen him, I really don’t believe this. I’ve been living in this house for over a year now, here all day and all night long when I’m not traveling for business. I’m an insomniac, which means there have been plenty of times that I’ve been up, doing my own wandering at 2:00 a.m. I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of the man who is supposed to climb the stairs in his night shirt.

However, I do believe he exists. He just doesn’t like to show himself. He is a bookish ghost who likes to steal from our collection. He’d probably go unnoticed by someone who had less of a literary obsession, but he has not escaped my keen senses. Last winter he both pissed me off and spooked me enough that I came truly to admire him. At the time, I was reading Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence. The copy we have of this book is an old, small, hardcover whose dust jacket must have bitten the dust long ago. I was reading it for the outmoded authors challenge, which meant I always had pencil in hand, so I could underline passages and take notes in the margins.

I was reading that book in our library one evening and set it down on the ottoman before going to bed (something I often do). When I came back down the next morning, both the book, and the pencil I was using to make my notes were gone. I searched all over the library for both. The blanket I keep on the chair was tossed over the ottoman, and in that desperate way I often do when looking for something I can’t find, I kept lifting up the blanket and looking under it for the book. Finally, I decided I must have been so tired that I’d taken the book off somewhere else, and I began to search other rooms, to no avail. During this search, in that other desperate way I so often do when I’ve lost something, I kept coming back to the library and looking under that blanket. Finally, I got fed up and threw the blanket off the ottoman as a reminder that absolutely nothing lay beneath it, that the book was nowhere in the library (I’d already taken both chairs apart, checking under and behind their cushions). I temporarily abandoned my search and went upstairs to start my work day.

Bob went off to the church to work. Around noon, I started getting hungry and ventured downstairs to pull together some lunch. For some reason, I decided to check the library again for the missing book. When I walked in, I was flabbergasted. The cushions on my chair were all in disarray, and both the book and the pencil were sitting on the ottoman. So happy to have found the book, at first I wasn’t too concerned about this weird turn of events. But then I thought about it for a while, immediately coming to the conclusion that Bob was playing some sort of trick on me, especially since we’d only recently been informed that we had a ghost in the house.

I called him at the church, but he promised me he had not been playing tricks on me. As a matter of fact, he got somewhat spooked himself and came home to check to make sure nothing was missing and that no one was in our house. How absurd was that? I’d been home all morning. I would have heard if anyone had been in the house. Besides, why would anyone breaking into our house decide to mess around with chair cushions and old copies of books by outmoded authors? I was still convinced he was playing a joke on me, doing a fine acting job, but when he seemed to be just as convinced that I must have somehow managed to miss the book earlier in the morning, I really did get a little spooked. I’d looked way too many times for it to have been there all along. I might have second-guessed myself if I hadn’t had the moment in which I'd thrown off the blanket, assuring that the ottoman was completely empty. It definitely had been a bookless ottoman when I’d gone to work that morning. I locked the basement and attic doors (because, you know, that will keep a ghost at bay) and went back to work.

That brings us to the second spooky book story. Last October, I decided I was going to read Ghost Story by Peter Straub as one of my “Halloween treats.” I happened to take a trip up to office headquarters just after I’d started reading it, and I had it with me. When I got home, I didn’t completely unpack my book bag and didn’t think about it, because I was busy reading something else at the time (probably The Moon and Sixpence). The next day, I went in search of it and couldn’t find it. I checked my (now empty) suitcase about ten times. I went through the contents of my book bag about a hundred times, and finally (sadly, because it had been such a good book) concluded that I must have left it somewhere. I figured I’d get another copy of it at some point, but I didn’t. Fast forward a couple of months to my next trip up to the office: I opened my suitcase to pack, and what did I find inside it? You guessed it. I tried to pick up where I’d left off, but couldn’t remember all the different characters, so just decided I’d save it for some other Halloween and start it all over.

So, September rolls around this year, and we’re headed up to spend the month in Maine. Bob’s looking for a good Halloween treat himself. I suggest he take Ghost Story, which has since managed to stay put on the shelf in the guest bedroom. He obliges, takes it along, starts it while we’re up there, and finishes it once we get back home. He loved it. He’s dying for me to read it. He tries to get me to take it with me when I head up to the office again in mid-October.

“No. That’s how it disappeared last time,” I tell him. “Besides, it’s pretty scary, and I don’t think I really want to be reading it when I’m all alone up there. It kind of got to me last year.” I left it behind and took my book about vampires (because, of course, that wasn’t likely to spook me in the least when I was all alone) instead. Once back home, and disappointed that the vampire book was good but not as scary as I’d expected when I started it, I told Bob it was time I found some fiction that would really scare me; I was in the mood. His response? Ghost Story, of course.

“Does it stay scary? Did it really, really spook you?” I wanted to know. He assured me it did, but he said Ramsey Campbell’s The Overnight was another good choice. Thus began the search for Ghost Story. Guess what. It was nowhere to be found. Nowhere, which made no sense. There are only about three different places Bob would ever leave a book after finishing it, and I knew I hadn’t picked it up and moved it at all. I looked, again, about a hundred times in those three different places: on or around his bedside table, on or around one of the chairs in the library, and on or around one of the chairs in the room we call the Santa Fe room. It wasn’t there. I started looking elsewhere: coffee tables, bookshelves, around my bedside table. It was definitely gone. I surmised that the ghost, for whatever reason, just didn’t want me to read that book.

About two weeks later, Bob found it on his bedside table. So, tell me: do you think the ghost is taking these books, reading them, and returning them? Or do you think I’m just under the influence of The Overnight (which is all about a haunted bookstore)? I say “yes” to the first question, “no” to the second, and raise my teacup to this very clever ghost, who obviously has good reading taste.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Commenters Meme

Thanks today goes to Charlotte (see #7 below), who has helped the NaBloPoMo cause by tagging me for yet another meme (actually, I suppose you could say I tagged myself for this one, once you read the rules). I have to say that at first I was a little nervous about this meme. I mean, unlike Charlotte who gets scads of comments on every one of her posts, I consider myself successful if a post gets five comments. I wasn't sure I'd have the requisite 10, and then I'd have to come up with some sort of lame excuse for not doing this meme (even though desperate for post ideas), because who wants to have to admit that she's had a blog for over 2 years, and fewer than 10 people has ever commented on it? But then I started scrolling through my comments and realized I do have ten (in fact, more than ten -- woohoo! -- because some of my regulars don't even show up on this list). I also noticed that the list suspiciously resembles those who were on my "I Love Your Blog" post. You are not to interpret that to mean that I only love those who comment on my blog. It's just that maybe I love those who do a wee bit more. I mean, how can you love someone you don't know is there?

Here are rules:

1. List the last 10 commenters on your blog.

2. If you’re on the list, you’re tagged.

Here's my list:

1. Sara at It's Sara with No H

2. Stefanie at So Many Books

3. Pete at Couch Trip

4. Cam at Cam's Commentary

5. Marcy at ZoesMom

6. Nigel at Hand Made Luck

7. Charlotte at Charlotte's Web

8. Becky at Musings from the Sofa

9. Debby at She Knits by the Seashore

10. Courtney at The Public, the Private, and Everything Inbetween

And here are the questions:

1. What's your favorite post from number 3's blog:
Oh, I just loved his Diary Monday (on a Tuesday). He got the idea from Courtney to post diary entries from a particular time in his life and made it his own, being so honest and giving us a little self analysis. All that, and he also proved to be a man after my own heart when the #1 thing on his list of ten things to feel good about was "choc dessert." That is most definitely a thing to feel good about (as was the "mashed potato with cream." I was a little more skeptical about the "papaya in the fridge," but had it been grapefruit, well, then I would have decided I'd met a long-lost twin brother).

2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that moved you?
She takes gorgeous shots of her home-state of Michigan that make me long to visit it. And then she writes gorgeous poetic prose about it that makes me want to visit it even more.

3. Does number 6 reply to comments on his blog?
Oh, he is one of the most faithful responders out there, even when I play catchup and post comments on, like, six posts in a row. He goes back and responds to all of them. If you want to feel like someone cares about what you have to say, go visit Nigel.

4. Which part of blogland is #2 from?
She is one of the best litbloggers out there. Occasionally, she also posts on other things like her library school experience. Always, always, she is entertaining and makes me think.

5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7, what would it be?
I'm assuming other than "post more often," (which would be the advice I'd give everyone)? Visit more beautiful cities and give us your take on them (something I know she's doing right now, actually).

6. Have you ever tried something from number 9's blog?
Well, I have been trying to knit, but I have to say, I am nowhere near as accomplished as she is. Maybe one day...

7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you?
Well, I've only recently "met" number 1, so it's really kind of unfair for me to answer this question, because it isn't like I've been reading her for two years. However, I absolutely LOVE her sidebar of "Things I Find Irritating." That should inspire anyone who visits her blog to feel free to speak out against life's irritants and maybe to put something similar in her own sidebar (if she isn't as much of a Luddite as I, whose #1 irritant would be "trying to add things to blog sidebars," am).

8. How often do you comment on number 4's blog?
I try to comment on every post, unless I'm just way behind in my blog reading (which is certainly happening during this NaBloPoMo).

9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly?
Oh, absolutely! In fact, if she checks her site meter, she'd probably notice that even though I have her on my google reader, I check and re-check her blog constantly for new posts, new comments, and new books added to the list of books she's reading.

10. How did number 5's blog change your life?
In many ways. I've gotten to know her as a real life friend. I've gotten to know her daughter. I'm getting to know her mother, who might write a book for me. Oh, and she's turning me into someone who might start visiting a few cosmetic counters.

There you have it. That was fun. And (yea!), one more day of NaBloPoMo done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Challenges and Faerie Queenes

Yesterday, I was talking about hangovers and swearing off drinking. Today, I'd like to discuss Novembers and swearing off blog challenges. Let's take a look at what happens in November for those of us stupid enough to take on too many challenges, the way some of us are stupid enough, at times, to take on too many drinks.

November 1st rolls around, and I think, "Well, I'm almost done with all my challenges for the year. A new year will soon be upon us. I wonder what sorts of interesting challenges await in 2009. Better finish up what I've got to do before then." Then I take a closer look. What? I took on four challenges equaling seventeen books? I've only completed 1 (and that because it began in 2007)? I've got 2000+ pages to read in the next two months (plus books for two book discussion groups to which I belong)? That's it. Absolutely NO challenges next year! Here are the details.

Outmoded authors challenge: done. Completed. Okay, so I only had to read three of the six books I'd chosen by February, because I'd already read the other three in 2007, and one of them was almost done by Jan. 1. I did it. Finished that one on time. I'm so proud of myself! (Lots of patting self on back.)

The Science Book Challenge: (Self-patting hand has stopped in mid-air.) Ummm, had the whole year to read 3 books of a scientific nature, on any topic, and only made it through 1 1/3. I, a math and science editor couldn't make it through more than 3 books in a whole year? Yes, I will probably make it through the other 2/3 of the second book before the end of December, but still. I am truly pathetic.

The Graphics Novels Challenge. All right, most graphic novels take what? all of about 3 hours to read? Nevertheless, I just don't seem to have found that extra three hours to read my final book in this challenge. Want to place bets on whether or not those three hours come knocking on my door sometime between now and Dec. 31?

Finally, we have the Soup's On! Challenge. Now, we all have to admit that this one was a little bit tricky. Not only did we have to read the cookbooks, but we also had to cook something from them. We were to choose six. Does it count that the first one I chose required that I write two posts, because it was practically unusable? No, I didn't think anyone would be forgiving on that point. I've read three of the six thus far. Does it maybe count that I chose two that are War and Peaces of cookery, because I was somewhat out of my mind, or something, at the time the challenge presented itself? No? Then I guess you won't accept any excuse for the fact that I actually read and cooked from the third one in August but still have not posted on it. Okay, I promise to get through the last three (reading and cooking and everything), if you'll just give me an extension till the end of 2009.

Oh, and then there was that fifth challenge I forgot all about until I did a "challenge" word search on my blog and discovered Kate's Modest Poetry Challenge. That one, which only required one post in April, I did manage to complete. Maybe 2009 will be full of other such do-able challenges.

And speaking of 2009. November's nearly half done. I'm beginning to feel a little better. Maybe I was being too harsh on myself when I swore off all challenges. After all, a new year is nearly upon us! The chance to start fresh. This year I'm gonna do it! Not only am I going to finish all the 2008 challenges I began, but I'm going to be wise and sober about any challenges I undertake. I've got twelve new months of reading ahead of me. Isn't it exciting? I think it's time I created a challenge of my own (besides the ecojustice challenge, which will be completely revamped for 2009. Stay tuned for more info. on that during NaBloPoMo month), don't you? Meanwhile, here's what I've (gulp) already agreed to for the new year:

The Faerie Queene Challenge

This one has been started by Heather over at The Library Ladder. Technically, I guess, it's really a group read, not a challenge, because we're all going to read this one together in 2009. However, I consider the undertaking of this reading to be a great challenge. I thought I'd take this opportunity to let others know in case some of you would like to join us. As I've already noted on Heather's blog, I hope you won't really consider applying unless you think you might be a fellow, "Huh? I don't get..." sort. That means, say, Dorr and Hobs, as much as I adore you two, you probably ought to stay away. Others, however, who think you might get lost somewhere in Faerie Land and need someone to come find you (hmmm. Maybe we need the likes of Dorr and Hobs after all), please feel free to join us and let Heather know (she plans to post more details in December).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Alcoholic Meme

This meme is forever indebted to its wonderful friends, those friends it could not live without, who brought it home in the wee hours of the morning and made sure it made it through the front door. Once through that door, it stumbled into the kitchen, ate half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream it doesn’t remember eating, apparently put some Peter, Paul, and Mary on the stereo (probably for a little childhood reminiscing with Puff), because the CD is still in the CD player, and then staggered up to bed. It woke up this morning, sprawled out on the bed, only half undressed (happily, there is no weird stranger in bed beside it), immediately decided -- despite the fact it's a misty, foggy day -- it was just too bright to get up, finished undressing, and crawled under the covers. Soon it will creep out from under the covers -- head throbbing, no doubt -- and will venture downstairs for some tea and toast. Meanwhile, I’ve arrived on the scene to pose its questions for it, with the hope that this will be of help to those of you who are stuck in the middle of NaBloPoMo.

1. What’s your favorite drink?

3-way tie: Bombay sapphire martini straight up with olives, mint julep, gin and tonic. I'm also partial to the following "girlie" drinks: dark and stormies, apple martinis, and mai tais (if they're made right, which they usually aren't unless they're being made in my own kitchen).

2. Do you prefer red or white wine?

Red and so dry a dust storm swirls around every time I set down the glass

3. Do you prefer dark or pale ale?

Like my chocolate: the darker the better, and I like it so heavy it could stand in for dinner, especially if it's served with an array of cheeses. Better yet, though, it's accompanying a pub lunch somewhere in the Lake District.

4. What was the worst hangover you ever had?

That would be the night I introduced Becky to mint juleps at her house. We drank not only (how many? Three?) mint juleps but also had wine with dinner and whiskey afterward. I remember eating some delicious ginger chocolate chip cookies Becky had baked, drinking some tea and musing from her sofa with her while the boys watched baseball, then passing out in the car and falling down in the yard (I must have sprained my pinky finger doing that, which hurt for months afterward) when I got home. The next thing I remember is the worst hangover of my life (I didn’t drink any alcohol for weeks after that night), followed by a book discussion group in which the other members (mothers) seemed to be a bit envious of Becky’s and my carefree lives, while I was thinking, “Maybe children are a good thing if being responsible for them would keep me from ever feeling this way again.” And that's what a hangover will do to you, which is why it's much, much better just to have one or two and then stop.

5. Would you describe yourself as a mean drunk, a happy drunk, or a maudlin drunk?

I am most definitely a happy, albeit argumentative, drunk.

6. Are you a two-fisted drinker or a light-weight?

I am such a light-weight, I’m surprised I haven’t floated off into some black hole in outer space long before now.

7. Do you drink while reading?

Bob and I have a “cocktail hour” every evening that doesn’t always involve cocktails. Quite often it’s tea or lemonade and a light snack before dinner. Other nights (depending on the type of day we’ve had), it’s a true cocktail and a light snack. We often read during this period, so yes, I do drink while reading. I’ve also been known to sip sherry while curled up with a ghost story collection on a chilly, stormy Sunday afternoon. However, I much prefer tea and something sweet (cake or cookies, it doesn’t much matter) or hot chocolate with a good book (habits developed as a child that I’ve never outgrown).

8. Reading what makes you want to drink?

(Barring, of course, many of the manuscripts I have to edit) that would be any hard-boiled mystery.

9. Which favorite fictional character of yours has got to be an alcoholic?

Lauren Henderson’s Sam Jones. The way I drank that night with Becky is a pretty standard night for Sam. I would imagine her liver could probably win a pickle contest at a state fair. I love her, though. I'd like to go bar-hopping with her (she ends up in some very interesting bars), which just gave me an idea for the next question.

10. Which fictional character would you most like to bar hop with?

Any of Marian Keyes's Walsh sisters (even Rachel who, since her "holiday," no longer drinks. I'd be perfectly happy to sit at the bar and drink seltzer water and lemon with her), most especially if it meant we would be doing our bar-hopping in Ireland.

11. What’s your favorite scene from a movie involving drink?

That has got to be Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart in A Philadelphia Story (who wouldn't want to be kissed like that?) and her oh-so-realistic hangover the morning after. A close second would be Harrison Ford with Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, for his being SUCH a gentleman -- sigh! (What girl, working or not, wouldn't want Harrison Ford to put her to bed?)

12. Watching what movie makes you want to drink?

Any James Bond, despite the fact he drinks vodka martinis. And Sideways (which also makes me want to hop a plane to wine country).

And there you have it. I think I hear the meme stirring under the covers. I’ll be nice and bring it some tea and toast, along with a bottle of Excedrin, in bed, because don't we all want someone to do that for us on such mornings?


All NaBloPoMo participants who are reading this

Anyone who has ever woken up with a hangover and sworn never, never to drink again

Anyone who felt like mixing up a favorite drink/pouring a glass of wine/pouring a glass of ale while reading this