Monday, December 13, 2010

Back to the Other Writer...

Well, it’s a funny old world. I’m back to wearing the hat that wants to know how and why things came to be… this week’s (over) focus is wrapping paper. Now, in addition to knowing that I dislike the word hate and I hate epilogues, you will now know that I strongly dislike wrapping paper!

I cannot remember a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or a just “cause I feel like it” gift that I’ve given where I’ve rushed home and thought, “Yeah! Now I get to wrap it and fluff it up with all kinds of goo-gaws!” I tried to convince myself one year that it was all about the bow. At the time I had a lovely friend who knew how to tie beautiful bows. She’d taken a class and could produce works of art. Her bows looked like Chihuly Sculptures ( She spent the better part of a weekend trying to show me how. This was about sixteen years ago and I use the bows she tied for me out of beautiful red velvet ribbon every winter holiday in some fashion. They are beautiful, but really I place them about as a connection to my past and my friendship with her.

It has nothing to do with ineptness! My wrapping technique was taught to me by my father, who at the time was in the Army and applied ‘spit and polish’ to all things. It has nothing to do with frugality. I love wrapping paper and buy it by the mile. It has nothing to do with it being destroyed within moments of being handed to someone. I actually enjoy watching people open gifts. Is it with caution and care, gently easing tape up and carefully unfurling the item; or is it just a wild abandoned ravaging?

Of course there is nothing like the holidays to really make me want to go running wild and screaming through the woods.

Here is my fantasy. After weeks of calmly walking the aisles and shuttling to and from the shops, I separate the gifts into stacks of his, hers, his, theirs, and ours. I then prepare the present wrapping table with tape, scissors, festive paper and bags, bows, holly sprigs, candy canes, and other assorted accoutrement. I turn on the Christmas music, and spend the day wrapping. By the time the children come home from school I’m finished, everything is carefully hidden and all is well. As a result of my incredibly organized shopping and wrapping days, my husband and I have a lovely Christmas Eve after we’ve chased the kids to bed. We cozy up on the couch, in front of the fire, sipping a favorite beverage while Bing croons in the background. After an hour or two, we put our gifts under the tree, and go to bed so that Santa can make his deliveries. Christmas morning everyone is dazzled with the bejeweled gifts, thrilled with the package contents.

Here is what really happens. My children make their requests and I commence to shopping two weeks before Christmas (with little kids this is a must since opinions and wants change over nights). I rush from this store to that, trying to find what I need. It gets shuttled into the house and hidden wherever there is an empty space high off the floor. This means my husband’s clothes in our closet get covered in bags and boxes. Then I do the rest of life. This means that on Christmas Eve, after chasing the kids to bed, I am locked in the study with piles of presents, miles of wrapping paper, searching for the tape and scissors that have been lost in the bin with the self-adhesive bows and gift bags. I wrap, wrap, wrap, until my fingers bleed, all the while checking the clock hoping to finish in time for the previously mentioned fantasy. Eventually, I come staggering out of the study, with an aching back and knees (because I have of course wrapped all the presents on the floor). It is too late for fires, cocktails, and romance. It is all about checking to see if the kids are asleep and can the gifts get delivered and did we remember to put out the milk and cookies. (Just to be clear, he has always been elsewhere assembling the gifts that need to be ready Christmas morning. He doesn’t bail on me and leave me all alone. He is in his own Christmas Eve nightmare!) Christmas morning is still a great time!

My husband finally sat me down two days before Christmas last year and helped me get the gifts wrapped. We had the lovely Christmas Eve that I’ve always dreamed of. (We made a promise to each other two years ago that any gifts requiring assembly would have to wait until the kids were absolutely desperate!)

Last year, in a moment of zealousness, I purchased Christmas fabric so that over the course of the year I could sew Christmas bags that would be reusable. I still have the fabric. I love to sew, but when it comes to wrapping, I have a block/barrier/hurdle/thing, that I just cannot overcome. Truly, I have to say I just don’t see the point. I say we throw caution to the wind and hand someone a gift and leave the guessing out of it.

Why do we do this? I dreamt up stories… someone needed to discreetly gift a married lover with a bauble? Someone had a utilitarian offering and wanted to fancy it up? Someone loved a piece of fabric and wrapped up their favorite rock? Who knows? So, I went looking.

Here’s what I found out on

The tradition of gift giving became associated with Christmas because of the offerings of the Three Wise Men, though early on the Church discouraged the practice of gift giving because of its pagan associations. But by the Middle Ages the tradition had become so popular that it became a mainstay of the holiday season.

Early on gifts were wrapped in simple tissue paper or more sturdy brown paper. In the nineteenth century, gifts were sometimes presented in decorated cornucopias or paper baskets. The technology did not exist to mass produce a decorated, foldable, paper until the 1890's, when developments in printing presses allowed colored ink to be printed fluidly on stiffer papers. A rotary system developed that allowed the printed paper to be rolled onto cardboard rolls or cut into smaller sheets. The printed gift wrap industry took off at the turn of the century. Hy-Sill Manufacturing Inc., founded by Eli Hyman and Morris Silverman, became the first American gift wrap company in 1903. Wrapping paper's biggest name, Hallmark, stumbled upon the gift wrap market by accident. In 1917, the Hall Brothers's typical offering of green, red, and white tissue paper had sold out in their Kansas City, Missouri store a few days before Christmas. The resourceful owner, Rollie Hall, had sheets of decorative envelope liners shipped over from a manufacturing plant. He placed these large patterned sheets on top of a showcase and sold them for 10 cents each. The decorative paper quickly sold out. The next year, the sheets sold for three for 25 cents, and again they quickly disappeared. The brothers began printing their own Christmas wrapping paper, and soon gift wrap sales rivaled their greeting card department.

Early gift wrappers had to be especially dexterous; scotch tape wasn't invented until 1930! And it wasn't until 1932 that the rolls of adhesive tape were sold in dispensers with cutter blades. Before then packages were tied up with string and sealing wax. In the 20's and 30's small sticky circles were sold in packets along with folded papers that allowed the wrapper to attach the paper. During this time also, small gift tags and a type of sticky decorative ribbon were developed, often included in packets of matching wrapping paper.

Over the years the look of wrapping paper changed as well. The first wrapping paper was decorated in the ornate style of the Victorian era, similar to the Christmas greeting cards that had become all the rage. Gilded flourishes of cherubs, birds, and flowers draped across sheets of popular wrapping papers. In the 30's and 40's, patterns became more stylized due to the popularity of Art Deco. Decorations moved away from nature to symbols we commonly associate with Christmas today. Popular patterns included ice skaters, snowflakes, Christmas trees, and candles. While the symbols remained the same, the artwork became more realistic again in the 50's and 60's. By the 70's and 80's, Madison Avenue had realized the potential of wrapping paper and hence, wrapping paper often had movie or TV show tie-ins, with designs incorporating popular movie or cartoon characters.

Gift wrap was saved from the rationing that many other products were subject to during World War II. The War Office believed that gift wrap and other Christmas traditions contributed to raising morale amongst citizens, and also believed that it encouraged people to send packages to soldiers far from home. Some gift wrap manufacturers turned to weapon and other wartime production, but the ones that remained making paper saw business boom. Sales actually increased by more than twenty percent during the war!

Innovations with gift wrap have continued. The 1980's introduced decorative plastic and paper gift bags, though these "new" bags weren't as new as some people thought. The Victorians had often given their gifts in decorated bags. The introduction of stick-on bows and cascade ribbons in the 80's and 90's further helped less than perfect gift wrappers. Nowadays one can wrap a gift without even using paper, by going on-line and sending an e-card wrapped in "virtual paper."

The two most interesting points that I learned were, there were envelope liners and that gift wrap wasn’t rationed during WWII. I have complete and utter respect for Eli, Morris and the Brothers Hall for their innovative spirit and desire to earn a few dollars. But, did they ever stop to think of the pressure they were putting on the rest of us?

I know many other countries have other traditions; some place gifts in shoes, some in pillow cases, or baskets. I like these ideas. The problem is, as adults we didn’t all get together and say, “This is what we are going to do!” Do gifts appear on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Do you give one gift from yourselves and rely upon Santa for the rest? Does Santa only bring one gift and rely upon you for the rest? Stockings… well, there is another subject. A little continuity might be a good idea. I say we get together, collaborate and come up with a list of suggestions for the next generation and make things a little more standard.

If you haven’t seen it, the epitome of gift wrapping ridiculousness can be seen in the movie, Love Actually. The store clerk places the gift in a box, inside a cellophane bag, adds potpourri, then places it inside a box, then places sprigs of holly, cinnamon sticks, and evergreen boughs inside, before sealing it all shut. All done with great flourish and enthusiasm on the clerks part (played by Rowan Atkins (Mr. Bean)) and painfully tolerated by the customer (Alan Rickman).

My husband’s mother is a creative genius when it comes to gift giving. She would switch it up. One year nothing was wrapped. The next year one person got a certain paper, the next year she wrapped presents without tags and then the opener had to guess whose present it was! I think this is fabulous, it would certainly keep people engaged and entertained. This I can appreciate and get involved in.

For those of you who love to wrap (and I know a few of you do), I commend you! Your gifts are festive and fun. I have reconstructed some of these boxes and use them as props under my tree at Christmas. Just after the kids got used to the idea that they were empty, we used them a few years ago to put presents in and the children were delighted. So, thank you.

So, will I have learned my lesson and get my wrapping done before Christmas Eve? I certainly hope so! I still haven’t looked to see if I have any paper. I am pleased to say that I am 90% done with gift shopping. I have ten days to finish shopping and get it all wrapped. My motivation is my beau! I do love snuggling up in front of a crackling fire with nothing but the sound of carols ringing throughout the house.

Thanks for reading and Happiest of Holidays!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Girlfriend loves…

As the holidays were approaching my thoughts began to flip through memories. My parents did an exceptional job creating traditions and experiences that not only gave the five of us a great time, but also taught us the significance of the day. I think ultimately the most important piece that I took from their efforts was that we were a unit and that as long as we had each other, everything else was gravy.

As time passed and siblings married and had families of their own, traditions changed, as did the experience of the day. Being the youngest, and last to marry, what I really loved was watching the newest member of the family get deluged with love and attention; not to mention gifts, even if it wasn’t Christmas or their birthday. It was unbelievably wonderful for me when our children were born and became a part of the holiday frenzy.

Years ago, before they moved away to Moscow, Idaho, friends used to host an annual Christmas Party. Everyone showed up wearing their best, hors d’œuvres were served, people mingled, music played quietly in the background. Pretty upscale and controlled of us, considering most of us were in our twenties and quite a few of the attendees were what I would consider to be the ultimate Microsoft geeks.

My boyfriend and I fancied ourselves up and headed to the much looked forward to event. I offered to drive, so after I turned on the ignition music came screeching out of the radio at a fairly high volume. If I could type the look on his face I’d have bazillions of dollars. He first looked irritated (he hated loud noise), then he looked confused (he only listened to classic rock), and then he looked horrified (he had listened long enough to know it wasn’t classic rock or NPR).

We had lived together for six years at this point and in all that time I had carefully kept the secret that I loved country music. Too many people associate country music with “My Achey Breaky Heart.” (To this day I think all country music fans owe a debt of gratitude to Shania Twain. She made it cool to listen to.) So, I let out a deep breath and answered the question, “What was that?” bravely. I held my chin up, looked him square in the eye and said, “I Try To Think About Elvis, by Patty Loveless.” I put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway wishing the song had been Independence Day by Martina McBride.

I swear he walked around the party telling everyone we knew, “My girlfriend loves Country Music.” Having been outted, I proudly admitted to anyone who said, “Really?” with “Yes, I do.” To make a long story short we were more than halfway to the end of our relationship and that single confession convinced me that I would never deceive anyone ever again about my love of country. (I quit Trick or Treating so that I could go Square Dancing; while others got candy, I do-si-do’ed.)

Other than confessing my secret all night, I spent the better part of my time trying to convince my now husband that he really ought to give a mutual friend a chance. She clearly had a crush on him and was doing her best to catch his eye. MacGyver and I had been friends for several years at this point, and I fear I had too much influence. He did in fact date her for several months. Considering my own relationship was meeting its demise, I was a bit irritated with myself for having encouraged him.

Life has a way of turning out as it should; one year later my man MacGyver proposed and we announced our engagement at the same friends Christmas party. We now we go to parties together and he never asks me, “What was that?”

Leaping a little forward down the timeline, our daughter was in First Grade and I was patiently waiting with her for the door to her classroom to open early one Fall morning. Her lovely teacher greeted each child and after my pink and purple fluff ball said good morning, the teacher said to me, “Your pink and purple fluff ball told me yesterday that you celebrate Rosh Hashanah and I was wondering if you would like to come to class next week and explain the holiday and its traditions.” Stunned, I said, “Sure.”

I was stunned because we aren’t Jewish and I didn’t know anything about Rosh Hashanah, but I had my daughters back and decided to go with it until I could discover what had happened. I immediately called my husband and told him the story. After sharing confusion and laughter, I immediately set about researching Rosh Hashanah and found out “what to do.” I then called a Jewish friend to make sure I was on the right track.

At the end of the day, tucked snuggly in her bed, I asked my fluff ball why she told her teacher we celebrated Rosh Hashanah. It was all logical. The previous two summers the kids and I had attended a week long Jewish Summer School that my parents were involved in and our daughter had made the leap that we were Jewish. The next morning at drop off I confessed our lack of Jewishness to the teacher and told her the story. I offered to pull a Rosh Hashanah experience together, but suggested that someone who was actually Jewish might do a better job. The teacher quickly agreed. That Christmas and several following we celebrated Passover by lighting the menorah.

That very same year MacGyver and I woke up Christmas morning, not to the alarm clock or excited shrieks of our children, but due to sufficient sleep. We went out to the kitchen, made coffee, turned on the Christmas music and plugged in the lights. We stared at the tree and sipped coffee while quietly wondering when the children would wake up. Somewhere around 9:30 we heard the sounds of their stirring.

With giggles and feet pounding, the two made their way down the hallway and gasped at the sight of the spread under the tree. Christmas morning mayhem ensued followed by our family tradition of a massive breakfast. After all the excitement of presents and food we were scattered around the living room playing with toys and examining other items with more care when a little voice made a hesitant confession.

It turns out that our sneaky Kindergartner woke up during the night and convinced his older sister, with very little encouragement, that they should see if Santa had come. Once they saw the gifts it was more than they could resist, so they had apparently rooted under the tree and found their gifts, and proceeded to unwrap several just enough to see what they were receiving. The more dexterous of the two replaced the tape and their night time caper went off without a hitch… until the guilt set in.

Looking at me with enormous brown eyes, I could only do what any parent would do (I think). I chuckled. I could only imagine their excitement and sense of accomplishment and it was impossible to feel anything other than happy. To me it was the ultimate childhood caper. To the best of my knowledge they’ve never done it again… but I allow for stories to unfold in the future.

I began this blog just before Halloween and have mulled over why these three stories stand out in my mind. The invisible link is honesty. When I began writing the blog, the intent was to practice writing styles, to give myself short story writing prompts, to gain confidence in sharing my writing. While I still achieve all these goals, I also know that the stories are more personal and my feelings are much more involved. The other writer is me too, the person who pursues the history of mascara and hair plucking. However, life happens to us and we cannot shelve who we are and what we are feeling, and so other stories are written.

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I was taking this year to learn to live in the present and not be so busy. The results are that I am exploring all kinds of thoughts, feelings and experiences that have been on the back burner for a very long time. I think that in living life this way, one has to be more honest. There is nothing to hide behind. No looming PTA decisions, no major conflicts or crisis, no busy, busy, busy.

So, what have I learned? Well, I’m a bit bored! I feel a bit Eeyore’ish at times. I feel adrift when I think about the future. I’m definitely hermity. But, I also know that I laugh more, have a deeper understanding of my family and myself and am firming up the blurry edges of myself. I love living in the moment. I have to be honest and say that I haven’t perfected this and I tend to fritter time away. But, I will find balance, eventually.

Not long ago a friend told me about a yoga website. As I was contemplating taking up meditating, I read a blog that had to do with a method called “Catch and Release.” While I cannot say that I meditate, I have included this method into my life and I think it is powerful and useful. The idea is that thoughts and feelings forge their way to the front of our minds and want our attention. It can be at inopportune times, such as when we are trying to sleep, concentrate on our children, or have some one on one time with our significant other. So the concept is to acknowledge the thought and then let it go once you’ve scheduled a better time to think about it. You say to yourself, “Okay, I need to think about why this is bothering me, I have time tomorrow morning, so I’ll get to it then.” It takes practice to remember to think about it when you’ve scheduled time to do so, but it eventually works. I can think of no better time than the holidays to give this idea a try.

So, back to Country Music! I will share part of the lyrics to a song that has great meaning to me and makes me laugh and cry:

Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Bug:

Well it's a strange old game you learn it slow
One step forward and it's back you go
You're standing on the throttle
You're standing on the brake
In the groove 'til you make a mistake

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're just a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're gonna lose it all

You gotta know happy - you gotta know glad
Because you're gonna know lonely
And you're gonna know sad
When you're rippin' and you're ridin'
And you're coming on strong
You start slippin' and slidin'
And it all goes wrong because

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're just a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're gonna lose it all

One day you got the glory and then you got none
One day you're a diamond and then you're a stone
Everything can change in the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll before we say goodbye because

Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you're just a fool in love
Sometimes you're the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you're the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you're gonna lose it all

(For Linda, with much love.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paranormal is the new Normal

I have a million and one things that I want to write about and generally I take several runs at a topic before I figure out what it is that I really want to express. It is at this point I generally tear what I’ve written completely apart, delete quite a bit, and then hopefully, arrive at the heart of the matter. I began writing this particular blog two months ago and though it’s been rearranged, edited, slimmed down, beefed up, I still find myself wondering, “What am I trying to understand?”

A few days ago I stumbled upon a blog written by a former literary agent, who is now a children’s author. One of the blog entries is entitled Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer. ( I’m fairly certain that these commandments apply to all people, regardless of your profession. In the first paragraph he states, “Writers aren't generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don't particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.” So much for the happiness quotient!

What I believe is that writers are inventors who quietly tinker in solitude. I think it is ironic that these inventors endeavor to create whole worlds filled with people, events and emotions that represent to many an escape from reality – so they can be quiet and solitary.

The first time I was utterly consumed by a book and had the happy circumstance of spending an entire day living in another time and place was when I was ten years old; the book was Little House on the Prairie. When I finished the book I remember wandering to the kitchen to find out what we were having for dinner. Some part of me wanted rabbit stew and hardtack by a fire. I’m sure by evenings end I was grateful for a bathroom and not some scrubby shrub off in the distance. I still remember the power of escape that the book provided and I couldn’t wait to get to the school library to check out the next book in the series. My passion for reading had been ignited.

A few years ago I was at the public library trolling the shelves for locations unknown and not finding anywhere to go. Deciding this was ridiculous I applied my strategy skills and now have a handy set of rules to follow: I check out at least one biography, one staff recommendation, one fiction, one non-fiction, and two artsy books. For the last two years I have added books by authors who I think might belong to the same genre as the one I am trying to get published, so I end up with an additional four or five book to read. At this point I would guesstimate that I read approximately four to five books per week (and skim two).

So, I feel completely free to blame some poor, innocent employee of the library system for my recent encounter with a Paranormal Romance Novel. As far as inventions go I haven’t found a need for werewolves, empaths, vampires, and shape shifters. I couldn’t care in the slightest how popular The Twilight Saga is/was! Before writing this blog I had no idea who wrote it, where it was filmed or that it was a saga. I thought it was one book.

At the behest of the employee I read about four pages of some horrific book about a woman who had a piece of dragon in her body, was consumed by a wild and lustful crush on some “thing” who was mostly dragon (it was conveniently tied to DNA and blood issues, he didn’t actually look like a dragon), but was the consort of some other “thing” that resembled the Devil. Now, one must commend an author who can give that much information in four pages, but none-the-less, I decided I couldn’t read the remaining 350’ish pages.

As I was ranting about the ridiculousness of the storyline to a friend she sadly shook her head and asked who the author was. When I told her the authors name she said, “She isn’t any good. You have to read…” Now I knew she was a huge paranormal romance fan and the person to go to for information, because as with all genres there are tried and true conventions and formulas successful authors use. Basic continuity rules must be observed. After getting the low with regards to all things paranormal my lovely friend gave me half a dozen novels to read, which I have now made my way through.

By no stretch of the imagination am I converted or an expert, but I feel like there are a few insights that I can share. My favorite generalization is this: once a paranormal critter finds its mate it cannot be unfaithful! It is repugnant. Fidelity is the result of sharing either blood, mating pheromones, or empathic abilities, or all of them, which forges a connection both so emotionally and physically binding that they are truly “one.” I have decided that the author who invented this paranormal truism was jilted at some point and is looking for their “happily ever after” fictionally.

My second favorite generalization is that these creatures are either immortal or cease to age at a normal rate. There are many smoking hot guys who are over 600 years old. (I truly burst out laughing when one hero explained his tan was the result of being turned into a vampire during the summer and so his tan was permanent.) When you combine the previous generalization with this one, well… you have invented the unbeatable combination; people who will always look their best, have super strength, unusually developed senses, and pheromones that will rage between them for forever!! These people won’t grow old and bored. These creatures know that once they have met their mate this is their eternity, so they are happy to wait around a few hundred years for the right person to come along. Who wouldn’t? Most of us would take a bite to the neck or become genetically altered by a scientist if we could be in our prime forever. I’m equally as certain that I will become more willing to be vampire fodder as I age. This getting old(er) business is for the birds. AND I’m still going with the idea that a jilted lover invented this concept as well. Because let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see an old flame fifty years after splitting up and look like a twenty five year old?

From a Science Fiction perspective, my favorite book had to do with creatures that live in parallel universes and can travel to the past or future; returning to present time to bring technology with them or prevent some disaster. Somehow they are the guardians of humanity and live amongst us for generations. Other books deal with the retelling or foreshadowing of stories that can be quite interesting; a vampire might have lost his wife and children to the plague, his mistress and children to the crusades, another mistress or two to various wars. But voila! All is forgotten once he meets his true love. I’m telling you, their patience is enviable!

My favorite paranormal creatures so far are similar to those in X-Men movies. Some creature is the result of human DNA crossed with animal DNA and the result is that “it” has incredible sense of smell, sight, and/or hearing along with phenomenal strength and speed. These creatures are feral! There are all kinds of alpha dominance issues going on! I’m telling you, no mortal male can compete with these guys! So next time someone appears to be appreciating your perfume, take a deep long look in his eyes and see if they remind you of a lion or coyote!

As you can see, I have endeavored to make my way through all permutations of creatures, but have yet to find a normal human romancing a paranormal creature. I don’t think it can happen; there are too many differences of lifestyles; what to buy for dinner (bottled blood or steak), who sleeps where (coffin or bed), whose blood is this (a feeder or victim), do we plant a moonlight garden (we can both enjoy it for a few hours every night). In all honesty, if you’ve read a successful combo of this sort, let me know.

If at this point you are wondering how Paranormal Romance ties into the question I am asking myself, the answer is, I admire the forerunners of Science Fiction for taking us into worlds created purely from their imagination, borrowing only minutely from reality. I admire the inventors of genre standards. In every way that I can measure, these people are creative and financial geniuses. Last year over 1.3 billion dollars was spent on romance novels and a hefty chunk of this money was on paranormal romances. It has to be because these books are an interesting combination of action hero and titillating romance. If you are a fledgling author, I’d recommend going down this path. If you’re suddenly wondering whether I will or not, I have to be honest and say it’s tempting, but I think the bases are covered.

What spurred this sudden emergence I can only venture an educated guess. As farfetched as it may be, I think it has to do with the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling introduced children to supernatural creatures who are cuddly and kind as well as menacing and cruel. When we were kids supernatural creatures definitely lived in the realm of the terrifying (unless of course you were watching Scooby Doo.) I watched Vincent Price’s Wax Museum when I was in the sixth grade and all I can say is, “Egads!” I avoided all things spooky for years after that. Readers now fully accept and want to integrate science fiction themes with everyday events.

I believe that it is virtually impossible to measure the success of artistic pursuits. By the public – everyone knows the artists name and loves their work? By the artist – satisfaction in the completion of the piece or public acclaim and financial solvency? There are many authors that I’ve read, who have invented a formula that is incredibly successful and they have published many (predictable) books and there are authors who’ve written one brilliant book and they are considered to be successful.

My new friend, Nathan Bransford, writes for Commandment number three: Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it's tempting to think that it's all your fault if your book doesn't sell, or your agent's fault or the industry's fault or the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius, a lot of times it's just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.

Author Ann Lamott poses the question in her book, Bird by Bird, “Do you want to write or be a published author?” People have kindly asked me whether I’ve made any progress in getting my book published. Alas, the answer is no. In all honesty I can say that I am thrilled to get responses to my submissions. The knowledge that someone in the field of publishing has taken a peek at my book makes the experience all the more real. At this point in my life, what I want is “real.” I want to take things from the “Wouldn’t-it-be-great-world” to the “I-gave-it-my-best-effort-world.”

Right now, I have great balance. To date I have had over a thousand visits to my blog from people in nine different countries. The feedback has been fabulous and I believe my tinkering has improved significantly. This feeds my confidence and helps me move forward with another submission.

So, finally, at the end of this blog, I know that the question I’ve been trying to explore for months is, have I the talent to invent interesting escapes? Can I create people and experiences that supplant living in the here and now and take readers to the end of a day, wondering whether to return to the real world or to stay adrift on a cloud of my imagination? I believe the answer is yes.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bonjour, Allo, Kalimera, Eh?

We’ve recently returned from a family vacation to Montreal, Quebec (Canada – that’s where the “Eh” part comes in). This past summer our children requested a trip to see their Grandmother and we were happy to oblige. It couldn’t have been more fabulous!

We landed in Montreal at 4:00 in the afternoon during a hellacious rainstorm. Normally I wouldn’t see rain as something to be grateful for, but to make a long story short, the weather was bad, traffic slow going, and the need for food was growing. When you combine this with the knowledge that it was dark and we were lost, the final result was Smoked Meat at Chenoy’s. MacGyver and I couldn’t wish for a better first meal in Montreal, but what made it spectacular was that our daughter ordered it as well and loved it. MacGyver Junior gave it a nibble and returned to his chicken assuring us that he’d try it again – sometime!

(For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of eating Smoked Meat, it is pastrami amped up a million times, served on really great rye bread, with just the tiniest amount of mustard. It is served with vinegary coleslaw and a peppery pickle. Reading the description might not lead you to ordering it, but trust me, given the opportunity, take it!)

Finally, three hours behind schedule, we arrived at MacGyver’s best friend’s house. Normand has been MacGyver’s partner in crime for thirty eight years. He had the key to the apartment we would be staying in for the first few days. We had told the kids to expect people to greet them by giving them a kiss on each cheek. It was incredibly sweet that Norm and Isabelle (his lovely partner) initiated them into this cultural experience. Again, somewhat dubious, little MacGyver accepted it, while our daughter giggled and participated with a little more gusto.

We haven’t been to Montreal with our children in six years and haven’t seen Norm’s children in nine. My tender hearted guy was moved to see the four kids together and took great delight at the immediate connection. They all went downstairs and watched Shrek in French for a few minutes. After a hasty conversation and the promises of a get together, with key and children in hand, we took off for places fondly known!

MacGyver grew up in the middle of Montreal in a house on a corner in a neighborhood that I have dreamed of living in since I was a little girl. We lived in Ahuntsic, his childhood neighborhood, briefly in 1998. Every day I took walks and marveled at the different architecture of the detached, semi-detached, apartment filled, shop ladened world. Most everything is built of brick or stone, many homes have stained glass windows, wrought iron railings and balconies; there are huge street trees and streets filled with playing children.

So, with the fortune of having the key to Andre’s apartment (Normand’s dad), we spent the first four days living in Ahuntsic and showing the kids what MacGyver’s normal day to day life as a child was like. We showed them the house he grew up in, the school two blocks away, the playground that gets turned into ice hockey rinks in the winter, subways, and parks. Many neighbors still live there and it was nice to know that familiar faces were all around us.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up moving every two years, so this constancy, this sense of home that Ahuntsic offers is like candy to me. There may be other neighborhoods with bigger houses or that are less urban, but in Ahuntsic MacGyver showed us where he played tennis every summer day, showed us where he spit on a street lamp one winter night and counted how long it would take to freeze solid (he of course did this over and over with Normand), where he raced his bicycle after his brothers, where he trained to run his first marathon. These aren’t just houses filled with transient people, these are homes filled with people who will raise their children and watch their grandchildren skate on ice rinks at the neighborhood park and remember when it was their children they watched.

The morning after we arrived in Montreal we took the children to see their Yaya (the Greek word for Grandmother) and one of MacGyver’s brothers and his family. It was my turn to watch my children grow up in front of their eyes, and experience my own disbelief when I got to hug and kiss our niece and nephew. I’ve known them since they were three and four and I just have to say, I was dazzled.

I hit the jackpot when I married MacGyver in many ways. One of the most important was in receiving a fabulous brother and sister in-law. They both make you laugh until you cry. They will both do anything they can to help you. My sister in law is Greek and is only happy when everyone is eating; my brother in law happily supports this endeavor. Tell me, what is better than sitting around a table loaded with incredible food while you laugh your head off with the people you love? Nothing! I’ve spent many nights of my life at their table talking, laughing, overeating, and wondering how in world we can be so comfortable with each other when the time between visits is far too long and life experiences are so different.

One night during this visit, our lovely niece and her lovely boyfriend spent a few hours playing with our kids and our special friend, Artemisia, in the living room while the rest of us chatted at the table, in the kitchen. From where I sat, I could see the whole group talking and laughing, getting along so well. Given that our niece is now a student at McGill University, I was deeply moved that she was interested in getting to know her young cousins and gave them her time. She may never know how deeply that night impacted our children; their laughter was filled with warmth and acceptance was tangible in the air. I can only think of the phrase, “the ties that bind us.”

Much of our family time was spent in one of three ways, eating, going on adventures, shopping. We got our kids to eat Shish Taouk (very garlicky Lebanese chicken), Souvlaki (very garlicky Greek chicken), and pretty much every doughnut Tim Horton’s makes. We saw Monet, Picasso, Cassatt, Seurat; we saw our daughter ride a unicycle across a wire suspended 15 feet above the floor at the Science Museum; we watched bugs crawl across our son at the Insectarium. The third best adventure for our kids was probably the dollar store! Tell a child everything costs a buck and everything becomes affordable. I think we spent $56.00 on the first trip; imagine all the “stuff” we brought back.

The best adventure was probably La Ronde; an amusement park that mostly features roller coasters. We spent that cold and sunny day with Normand and his son. There were bright blue skies and it was 41 degrees. We waited patiently for about 45 minutes to get on Goliath. For much of that time my husband’s back was to me while he chatted with Norm in French. While one could have complained at being ignored, the thought that went through my mind over and over was how lucky they were and did they know it? I know that they do! It was written all over their faces; they laugh so hard, they speak so intensely, they are so relaxed. There is an acceptance and understanding there that I long for.

A while later, finally sitting on Goliath between my daughter and Normand, the only thing I could do was laugh! I had willingly strapped myself (and my child) into a device that took me straight up so that all I could see was blue sky and then with clicking clacking in the background, we finally crept to the precipice and hurled our way straight down at an alarming rate which then lead us to twists, turns, loops, and a series of bumps that made you feel like a rock skipping on water. I heard Normand laughing the whole time. As a person who is generally earthbound, all I can say is, it was a beautiful ride.

A few short days later, we made our final visit to say good-bye to family. What was going to be an hour or two turned into four hours. We finally forced ourselves out the door and into the car. As always I found myself crying, but trying to do so quietly so that the kids wouldn’t be sad. As we pulled away from the curb we heard sniffing from the backseat of the car. Both children were crying. They didn’t want to go home, they wanted to stay. We had a long conversation about the word “bittersweet” and what it means to really love someone. Time and distance mean nothing to love.

As parents we learned what great travellers our children are. They embrace new opportunities, they like people, they are curious about the world they live in, and they love whole heartedly.

Mac and I are blessed, happy, and content. But we are also confused. Since 1999, when we moved from Montreal, we have talked about when we will move back to Montreal. We love the urban buzz and hustle; we love the food, the architecture, the opportunities; we love so many people. The fact that our children embraced all that Montreal offers is a great delight to us. We are torn.

We are torn because our life, here, is so rich. We have all that we want and need and then some. We have quiet, we have a home, we have opportunities, and we love so many people. The day after we got home I was cleaning up the front yard when a friend drove past, rolled down her window and yelled, “Welcome Home. We missed you.” What a great feeling to have so many friendly familiar faces all around us.

The ties that bind us and time and distance mean nothing to love. These two phrases I roll around in my heart and mind. Whether here or there we are thankful, you mean the world to us.

Merci beaucoup for reading!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The loveliest Rumble

One of my fondest hopes is that every girl has a Granddad like mine. While he was alive he lived in England, so my opportunity to see him was very limited. But when I was able to spend time with him, I felt like he and I grabbed as much from those days as possible, they were very, very special.

At one point, I think I was two or three, my family moved from Germany to England. My father finished his tour of duty in the army and went from being a soldier to being a Milkman (many hilarious stories here). We lived there for just a few years, but because the economy was doing poorly my parents made the tough decision for my father to re-enlist. We were sent back to Germany. My Granddad came to visit once and we returned to England for a wedding, not long before our family was moved to the U.S. in 1972.

I remember on holidays and birthdays my mother would have us write letters and draw pictures for him (my Nana died in 1968, while we lived in England). At that time phone calls were extraordinarily expensive, so when the chance came, phone calls were quick, usually with the five kids shouting “we love you” in the background. Though the memory of those calls are vague, I have a memory of a happy rumbling voice chuckling at some random thought I had chosen to share, and the assurance that he loved me too.

In 1985 my brother, the one who teased me about reading romance novels, decided to go to England to visit our relatives. I jumped on board and went with him. Thirteen years had passed since we had come face to face with most of our relatives in England. My aunt and uncle met my brother and me off the train and whisked us to a great-aunt and uncle’s house. The house was full of all sorts of relatives, but my Granddad was absent. Someone told us we were going to see him the next day. Who told us I do not know because between the sleep deprivation, the inability to understand much of what was being said, and hunger, my brother and I dissolved into laughter at regular intervals. I just remember feeling as if we were parrots, because we kept repeating the same word over and over, “Pardon?”

Finally we were allowed to get some sleep. I was to stay with my Great Aunt Beryl and Uncle Len while my brother went off to stay with our Uncle John and Auntie Barbara. In my sleepy stupor I had no idea whether we were in a city or farming community, what my room looked like, or where the “loo” was. My disorientation was complete. At some point in the morning I woke to the sound of birds I’d never heard and my only thought was, “Are we on a farm?” before drifting back to sleep.

How much longer I slept, I cannot remember. I only know that I woke to the sound of excited chatting. I leapt out of bed, found the “loo” and then went to the bathroom to complete an abbreviated version of my morning ablutions.

Following the voices to the lounge I heard my Great Aunt Beryl say, “I told you I’d call when she woke up.” To this day it brings tears to my eyes when I remember hearing that happy rumbling voice say impatiently to her, “I thought she’d be up by now.” (Now that I think of it, there was a bit of a Wallace and Gromit cadence to his speech.) This was followed by what would become a familiar sound, the sound of his tongue popping against his teeth.

I have to admit I was very nervous about seeing him. So, I pushed open the lounge door with my heart beating really fast and feeling sweaty. My Granddad spun around to look at me. He just stared at me, so I dashed a look at my aunt, who had an enormous smile on her face as she watched her brother’s face… watched as I went from being a seven year old to twenty. When I looked back at him I could see the confusion on his face, but it was quickly replaced by a huge smile as somehow the features he remembered grew from a child to an adult.

As he gave me a very tight hug, he said something, and I said, “Pardon?”

It turns out it wasn’t the accent that was the problem but the tears that were in his eyes and the choke in his throat that were causing the confusion. To give us a moment alone my aunt did what all British people do in times of emotional upheaval, she went and made tea.

My Granddad and I very quickly covered the basics; health, the flight over, the train ride, the car ride, how my parents were, how my siblings were, and when should we go see my brother. Then there was a bit of silence. We didn’t know each other, and we were both trying to figure out how to move forward. I am here to tell you that drinking tea does solve a lot of problems. In this case it gave us something to do.

I quickly gave my brother a call and told him we’d be down soon. Not twenty minutes later, my Grandfather repeated the experience by having his grandson grow from an eight year old to twenty one right before his eyes.

Honestly I cannot remember what we did for the rest of that visit; I just remember that we made plans for the next day to go to Fritton Lake ( We were happy to go, having no idea of what there was to do at Fritton Lake. It turns out to be a great place where you can row boats, play golf, hike, play on the playground, ride ponies… I will risk embarrassing my brother by sharing that the singular most laugh-out-loud-until-you-have-to-pee-but-you’re-too-busy-crying moments of my life was watching my 21 year old brother ride a pony. His feet were literally less than a foot off the ground. I have a picture to prove it and will never give it up!

I think it was seeing this that helped my Grandfather realize that we were adults and not children. It must have been a bittersweet moment.

I have the fortune to say that all my male relatives fought and returned from the battle of WWII. As a result of having several ships shot out from underneath him, my grandfather was deaf. So, at first our relationship was the result of what we could learn about each other while shouting and misunderstanding each other’s accents (at times).

Upon reflection I think that something very beautiful came from those obstacles. Did my Granddad know my deepest hopes and fears? No. Did my Granddad know of my triumphs and struggles? No. Nor did I really know much about his strengths and weaknesses, achievements or regrets. But somewhere along the way we learned to be comfortable with each other; we also learned to have a relationship that included a great deal of quiet time; thus we had quite a bit of time to observe each other.

There were many sunny afternoons spent digging in the soil in his backyard; picking peas and beans, tying up gladiolas, drinking beer he had brewed in his garage. There were cool evenings spent sitting in his lounge in front of the fire reading books he’d picked out for me at the library (he picked out mystery novels, his wife picked out romances) while sipping tea and munching on the stockpile of treats he would buy, knowing we didn’t have the same things at home.

We shared a lot of giggles over my dubious glances at the particulates floating in my beer, his stealing the much hated brussel sprouts off my dinner plate or hikes we would take across graveyards; the latter a result of my odd obsession with finding the oldest grave stone. We spent hours sitting then walking then sitting and walking some more, slowly making our way down the beach, poking at rocks and shells. On those days he would take me out for ice cream at a place called ‘Celie’s.’ (My family nickname.)

We shared many tender moments. One of my fondest recollections is of him holding my hand to make sure I crossed the road safely. I was twenty five, he was using a cane, and we were on our way out of the pub. But he was making sure I was safe.

Perhaps the most emotional conversation I’ve ever had was the last afternoon I saw him, in the summer of 1990. In the four trips I took to England between 1985 to 1990 we never talked of death. But that last afternoon he talked to me about life for him and my uncle after my Nana died; we talked about where he was to be buried; we talked about how much he had wished my family had never left England but that he could see it had been for the best. He had worried many years about my mother “with all those children.” It was a terribly serious conversation, but I listened as calmly as I could because it was clear he needed me to understand these parts of him.

In October of 1991 my Granddad died in his sleep. It took me quite some time to absorb it since we lived thousands of miles apart and there was quite a bit of time between visits. It wasn’t until I went to England in 1995 and my uncle took me past my Granddads home that I realized he didn’t live there anymore. It took me that long to find comfort in the knowledge that he’d died in his sleep, at home. We then went to the cemetery to visit the graves of my relatives. After a little sprucing up of all the headstones, my uncle showed me something truly beautiful. In my grandparent’s headstones is a place for vases of flowers. When you pull the vase out, there are pink stones naturally heart shaped that my sister had sent to be placed there. They quietly and lovingly rest on the earth close to them.

Lately there seems to be much need to figure out the timeline of life and the purpose behind those issues which we flesh and blood beings must accept. Rattling around in my head, in those quiet moments, I keep returning to the purpose of quiet; the opportunity to reflect, to absorb, to appreciate, to simply hear and experience the qualities of being alive. I love that I have so many more moments where I exist in the present.

When I think of my Granddad I believe that the biggest gift I received from this relationship was much can be learned from observing, that there is more truth to be found in observations and actions than in the words. When he died I knew that we would never be separated by the barrier of hearing loss or distance. All the things we never knew about each other were discovered, because I believe that he is with me always. It is an issue of the heart. I held him dearly to me in life and I hold him as tightly today.

For me there is not greater feeling of peace than when I am with those I love and I am digging in the soil or walking on the beach. Amdist the fundamental elements of life that will continue to be here for longer than I can imagine. This is where I go to meditate.

Thanks for reading!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Outside Myself

My brother will laugh when he learns that I’ve been trying to write a blog about Romance Novels. He’ll laugh because for years he has accused me of reading them and I have staunchly and passionately denied that I did. He of course based his accusation upon the number of Harlequin Romances I had stashed around my room when I was in my teens. That tiny irrefutable fact was not enough to make me pony up and give an inch.

My denial was partly based upon being embarrassed at being caught at such a schmaltzy thing; he also delighted in bringing it up in front of absolutely anyone who was around; friends, family, boyfriends, boyfriend's parents, strangers – it didn’t matter. My denial was also based upon the fact that I wanted to be an intellectual, and be above “that kind of thing.” There are a million reasons behind that, and we’ll leave it to your psychological examinations to figure out the reasons why.

Here’s the big revelation… I still do! As a member of Romance Writers of America, I recently learned through the Romance Writers Report that over a billion dollars was spent last year by romance readers. Fortunately not a single dollar of that came from me (at least not directly), as I use the public library for most of my reading material. My intellectual side would now like me to assure you that I have read many other types of books as well! (Examine that at your leisure as well.)

I have been pondering my need to write a blog about Romance Novels and what I really want to communicate – either about the world at large or about myself. It comes down to this… passion! Like many women I know, we are at the place in our lives where our children need us less and we are looking at the skills we have, what we can bring to the working world, what will fulfill us. What is our next chapter? What is our passion?

If you’ve read my first blog, you know that I spent quite a bit of time at the University of Washington. Twelve years on and off; mostly on. I originally started out in Journalism, but quickly found geology, which then quickly shifted to sociology. I think my true interest in sociology turned out to be that my instructor looked and moved a whole lot like Yoda and I found her fascinating to watch. I pondered this while I sat through a history class and decided I wanted to study psychology.

However, the universe had different plans for me, and I learned that I could get college paid for by the Navy Shipyard in Bremerton if I studied math and engineering. So, I let this direct me. It didn’t hurt my feelings any that I was one of three women, the only single one, among around three hundred men who worked in my division (I worked in the Nuclear Engineering Division while I went to school). It was a very good time for my self-esteem. I cannot remember if I cut back on the romance novels at this time…

Moving forward a few years, I then went to work at a little known company called Microsoft. I lasted just a few years, and the misfit between me and my position was such that I just wanted out. For me it was a passionless experience. I didn’t even stop to wonder if there was a different position to be found. I watched the landscapers dig in the soil, and thought, “That I can do!”

Oddly, my next step was to study Interior Design at the local community college. I think those years of reading romance novels were starting to pay off at this point. I could see spaces and places in my imagination and it was up to me to get them from my head to the paper. In my imagination, not only was I helping to create aesthetically pleasing spaces, I was creating nurturing environments.

It was during these studies that I found a life-long passion which is art. I had a great art history teacher who had been a comedian earlier in life and she made studying art fun. She had HUGE passion for what she was doing and it showed with every slide that flickered on the wall in front of us. She’d get up on a desk and strike a pose and call out, “What culture is this?” (Most cultures have specific poses that represent the hierarchy of their society.) I took every class she taught, and still I wanted more. I began to wonder if I wanted to be an historian, archeologist, artist, or curator. I kind of liked the idea of being the female version of Indiana Jones.

The next logical step was to return to college and take more classes. Wasn’t it?

So, after researching various fields of study, in the Spring of 1990 I returned to the UW and began the battle for a position in the College of Architecture and Urban Planning. It was a grueling class, taken by hundreds of students, and only a few would be chosen. I was pretty clueless as to what I had signed up for. It was five days a week, four hours a day, taught by six professors, all of whom gave us daily work to do. Remember we were all juggling other classes as well! The most incredible thing happened though! My passion, my purpose for being, my joie de vivre was found. By June of that year every part of my brain hurt, I was exhausted and living on pins and needles waiting to find out who was selected, but I was thoroughly happy.

The story had a happy ending and I ended up with one of the coveted positions. The second battle was then waged; a position into the College of Landscape Architecture. I had found out about Landscape Architecture during that grueling spring, and I knew it was where I belonged. Yet another couple hundred students were vying for sixty positions. It took two attempts to gain admission, but I did. The first time I was passed over, I was heartbroken and bewildered. Many friends were already in the program and they were supportive over the next year and pushed me to try again. When I gained admission I was euphoric.

If you haven’t been inside a design studio, imagine a huge room filled with beaten up wood drafting tables jammed up against each other, an aisle for walking, and more drafting tables. Along one long wall are windows to the world beyond, to the “Ave”, to the College Inn, to the sandwich shop run by a really good looking Italian guy, who knows he’s good looking. Opposite are more glass windows overlooking the interior grey concrete courtyard which is filled with mismatched tables and chairs, a coffee shop, students, and all manner of models and drawings on display. On either end of the room are the functional spaces, the bulletin boards, refrigerators, microwaves, and mountains of unclaimed projects.

I sat in my first design studio, excited to have my very own work station loaded up with drawing tools, fancy markers, lettering guides and any other piece of equipment I might possibly need to be successful. I sat and listened to a guest lecturer discuss our first project. The key point of the discussion was that as designers we needed to learn what our process was. The second, and more terrifying point to ponder was, what skills did we have that would lead us to become talented designers. Most of us were floored by these provocative questions, a few were cocky enough to think they knew; by the end of the program, we’d all have many opportunities to passionately, logically, artfully, technically, and creatively evolve our own answers to those questions.

I figured out my process. It requires a window, a cup of coffee and a molasses cookie, and the opportunity to think. To this day, when I have big issues to solve, I return to this process, and it never fails me. The cookie may vary, but nothing else. I stare out the window, sip my coffee, eat my cookie, and think about "what should be."

Passion. Along with Landscape Architecture and art, I have found many other passions along the way; my husband, my children, friendships, and my home. However, this year I have stepped back from many years of being freakishly busy to learn what it means to be quiet, to be still, to hear the thoughts in my head, to see if they lead me to the next chapter. I want to find a place filled with the same passion that kept me enthralled for hours upon years. That which satisfies me; not me the wife and mom, the me that lives all by myself inside my head.

I think many of those I know who are in this same process feel guilty. It is as if we are saying that the life we have right now is not enough. Though intellectually I have always known, I have only recently begun to feel, that it is healthy to want to satisfy myself. We encourage others to try new things, in fact we throw our kids in the deep end and hope they can swim (or kick the soccer ball, or read a book, or be a good friend).

So I say, feel passion, not guilt.

When I say, “Thanks for reading” I truly mean it. Because your reading is helping me to find my passion

Thanks for reading.

I have been asked by a few what was the last romance novel I read. It is When Strange Gods Call, by Pam Chun. A story that includes love, art, history, and folk tales. What could be better?

One review, "One is deluged with the fragrance of Hawaiian flowers and the tantalizing smells from the luau in this riveting love story, a timeless classic of opposing families, between East and West." Teresa Tse Bartholomew, International author and curator of Himalayan Art and Chinese Decorative Arts, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My First Day Of Junior High

Some days it is completely apparent what to write about, and on others, there is a cluster storm in my head of words and feelings that need and want to be expressed. Today, this is my fourth attempt at the same topic, but the other three evolved into bigger thoughts than I can write about today. Why today? Where does this indecision come from?

Well, it could be the five cups of coffee I drank at the Welcome Back Coffee for parents that our PTA hosts on the first day of school. However, I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that I often find myself experiencing my own turmoil and angst on the first day of school. Forget that I haven’t walked into a classroom as a student since 1996. (I was a late, late bloomer.) At the morning coffee I quickly touched base with a few friends whose daughters have embarked upon life at the Junior High. They are seventh graders!! So many memories from those days have been floating through my head for the last week.

The summer before Junior High my family moved to Shelton Washington from El Paso Texas. Not only did I have knots in my stomach about leaving the safety net of elementary school, I had knots about being the “new girl.” In El Paso I was still in that phase of life where I was torn between wanting to play with my Barbie’s or hang out with the neighborhood kids and my brothers. I was in the 6th grade; signs of my late blooming were already showing.

When we moved to Shelton, a timber industry town, it was like stumbling upon small town America. The town is situated in a valley, the hills surrounding were thick with Douglas Fir, and a river wound its way lazily through the valley floor. Downtown had one clothing store, a pharmacy, the post office, a grocery store, and the other small fillers – cafes, barber shop, ice cream parlor and churches with steeples. That which I remember most powerfully about the summer of 1977 is the smell of sawdust and boxwood which hung in the hot summer air. The next most powerful memory was feeling somewhat blinded by all the green. Trees and shrubs were everywhere. Drastically different from the sand and cactus of the desert we’d left behind.

In the days leading up to my first day of school I scoured the JC Penny catalog, the Woolworths catalog, and trolled the aisles of the one clothing store in town. I pronounced them all inadequate. Fortunately for me my parents plonked my brothers and me in the car and drove us to Olympia to go shopping. I really cannot remember much of what I bought, but two shirts really stand out. Both had strips, both had white collars, both were short sleeved. They hung lovingly from hangers in clear plastic bags until the first day of school.

The last night of summer vacation I chose my clothes carefully. I remember picking the shirt that had stripes in shades of blue with a thin line of pink repeated infrequently. I picked it out instead of the shirt with pink stripes with the occasional thin line of pale green. I wanted to wear the pink, but sensed that blue would allow me to blend in more. Jeans of course, some form of tennis shoe, and after much discussion, my parents gave me the okay to wear my hair down. Wearing my hair down was a big deal.

Every day of my life before the first day of Junior High, I wore my hair in two braids. There isn’t a single picture that exists that has me sporting anything on my head other than two braids. I had never had more than a trim since birth, so my hair was really long. Braids were the only way to protect against tangles and globs of chewing gum.

Surely seventh graders didn’t wear braids; maybe a pony tail. I was relieved when I arrived at school and found out that I was correct on both counts; blue shirt, not pink, loose hair, not braids.

I quietly, yet nervously, maneuvered the halls, looking for any familiar face. I saw my brother a few times, but of course I wasn’t going to talk to him, he was my brother! Besides, I was jealous, he was walking with someone. He’d already made a new friend.

By the end of the first week of Junior High I realized that the clothes I picked were okay, not great, that girls wore make-up, they hung out and they knew all kinds of words that I didn’t, and were experts on subject matter that I was clueless to. I have a memory of a girl using a word that to this day I would find horrific, and I laughed because she did. I stumbled from group to group looking for someone to connect to and after a month or so the weirdest thing happened. The most popular girl in school announced to her “best friend” that I was going to be her new best friend, but that was okay because the old best friend had picked out a new best friend too. Did it matter that I couldn’t reveal my inner-Barbie playing self? No! The most popular seventh grader, sister of the most popular eighth grader, wanted to hang out with me.

I’m sure you are wise to what happened! That friendship lasted until the two girls quit fighting. So, we the leftover friends did what any sane girl would do. We became best friends. We did hang our heads in shame for a day or two, but then went about the business of being cool all by ourselves… literally! It turns out that being the new girl whose father is the town’s priest was bad, and hanging out with the girl whose parents were freshly divorced (remember this is 1977) and poor, well, we were pariah! We were unable to withstand the pressure, and that friendship died a quick death as well.

Somewhere along the way, I met Lori. She and I remained friends until we moved from Shelton when I was a sophomore in high school. Together we could be part of the big crowd. We could blend in. Her mom was cooler than us. She drove a white Camaro and wore white jeans.

Sure junior high had some terribly awful moments. But many were sweet, funny, and others poignant. My group of friends grew bigger as I began to develop the ability to discern what made someone a true friend from the rest. I grew strong enough that on my last day of school in Shelton, sitting in biology lab, I confronted the girls that had hurt me the most and asked them why. They were embarrassed, but admitted that they did it because they could. It wasn’t personal; it was just their way of trying to figure out the pecking order. Does it make it alright? No. But no matter how cool they may have looked to others, they too were trying to find their place.

Thanks to my mother, I learned that less is better than more when it comes to make-up. I came down the stairs one morning in the eighth grade, not having gained permission to wear make-up, fully painted up. She looked up briefly and said, “Take half of it off.” She didn’t say, “Take it all off.” So I did without a fight. She did me a huge favor; I would have been laughed out of school. I wish she’d have taken a picture of me with it all on.

My very first boyfriend, Greg, asked me to go steady. His buddies chatted not too far away, lounging near their lockers, offering some form of moral support. Greg’s coolness was way above mine, so not only did I have my first boyfriend, but my coolness factor went way up. Greg played center on the boys’ basketball team, we nodded at each other at lunch and recess, and it was a beautiful relationship. We dated the whole school year!

The following year, behind the gym at a school dance, I had my first kiss. Chip is his name… or at least I think it is. I never asked if Chip was a nickname, now that I think about it. Anyway, it wasn’t a scary first kiss. It was a nice, “I like you”, respectful first kiss. I was absolutely giddy and terrified at the same time. I remember bolting back into the gym to find the bathroom. I was moments away from wetting my pants! We never kissed again. We did date the rest of the school year though, graduating from nodding at each other to talking once in a while.

People don’t believe me, but it is true, I am shy. I’m not sure if I was born shy, but I can tell you that moving all the time was hard. I have learned to throw myself into situations, I have learned that I cannot let my shyness control me, but to this day, even on mornings when I am surrounded by people I know, I can find myself nervous and clueless. Am I cool enough? Are my clothes right? Should I have worn the blue instead of the pink?

The angst I feel on the first day of school is my own. My children are miles ahead of me. Granted they haven’t hit junior high, and I know that they’ll have hic-cups. But they also have an ever widening group of friends, a deepening understanding of themselves, and they know that we’ll help them blend in when they need to and stand out when they want to. I remind myself often that true joy is learned by experiencing pain, and that they’ll be okay if the water gets choppy from time to time. Do I want it get choppy? Heck no! I just can’t stop it, regardless of how hard I may try. All I can be certain of is that as their parents we’ll always be there, will always love them, and when necessary, guide them towards beige eye shadow instead of blue.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Married MacGyver

I think like most women of my generation I pride myself on my independence and “can-do” spirit. No task too great, no mountain too steep; no goal unachievable if I set my mind to it. I’m a parent, a well-travelled, fairly educated individual who has lived alone. I know how to change diapers while changing a light bulb!!

However, and there is a “however”, I have certain challenges. One is that my internal compass had to be consciously created to prevent the continual disorientation I felt when trying to go somewhere. The other is if asked whether something is two inches or six I’m not sure I could answer with any degree of accuracy. My can-do spirit has allowed me to say I can find a ruler and measure, and then give an answer.

This summer I have faced a few challenges. Before embarking on three day trip to the beach with my children I purposefully studied several maps and written directions before walking out my front door. Given the previously mentioned issue with my internal compass I have a tendency to over prepare. Well, it didn’t entirely help. I was confronted with a literal fork in the road that hadn’t appeared on any maps or written direction.

It was hard to ignore the knowledge that help was just one little cell phone call away. Looking in the rear view mirror I saw that the kids were happily listening to a book on tape, munching away on a bag of snacks, oblivious to my confusion. So, I quickly pulled out the cell phone, dialed the familiar number, and was instantly connected to my man, MacGyver.

After providing him with the location of the fork in the road, he had me pin pointed within moments on a map and had me reassured that I was headed in the correct direction. My man MacGyver hadn’t fashioned a home-made compass using a piece of steel and random sewing kit he found lying conveniently in the hallway outside his office. No! He had used his computer!!

Checking my rearview mirror, I pointed my car in the correct direction, the one I was already heading, and let the roads take us where they may (as long as it was Southwest)! Not too long after, we drove through rolling hills peppered with small towns and farmland, the random and oddly located cemetery, and little else. As a bonus, the sun was shining brightly adding to the bucolic scene.

An hour or so later, the rolling hills had been replaced with the coastline. A dense grey layer of clouds had hidden the sun and a heavy mist bathed the stunted woodland hills just outside the town of Newport. “We’re there,” I called enthusiastically to the children, who were still distracted in the back of the car, this time playing video games. Thankfully, a road construction crew was working on the road, giving me an opportunity to look at yet another map to find out where we were staying.

Twenty minutes later I’d driven up and down the same short stretch of road several times and couldn’t find the address I was looking for. Not wanting to get overly irritated in front of my kids, I parked out front of a lumber store, pulled my cell phone out of my purse and clambered from the warm comfort of the car into the cold, wet, and darkening day.

Dialing the phone number quickly, I huddled in my shorts and t-shirt against the hood of the car, letting the heat of the engine keep me somewhat warm. “Hey, it’s me,” I said to MacGyver once again. I quickly explained the situation, and in no time he’d found a map that showed the cross streets I had given him and gave me a very quick explanation of where I needed to be. Gratefully I thanked him, chatted for a few moments and then leapt into the warmth of the car.

Soon the children were running throughout the house we had rented on the beach, checking every nook and cranny, claiming their beds, and neatly arranging toys, pillows and blankets brought from home. I paused to take in the view of the harbor from the living room windows as I lugged in another load of suitcases and tote bag of beach toys. “Just the cooler,” I thought to myself.

My parents, who had joined us minutes before, were settling into the bedroom they’d be using for the week. The kids were now talking a mile a minute to their grandparents about the suite upstairs, and could they, would they, come take a look at it? Being very indulgent grandparents, they quit unpacking mid suitcase and wandered upstairs, offering much praise for the way the children had decorated their newfound bedroom.

The evening past cheerfully; the warmly painted walls, cozy furniture, and filling dinner left everyone feeling replete and happy. Not too late, everyone drifted off to their rooms to sleep. Kids tucked in, grandparents chatting behind closed doors, I tiptoed out onto the balcony overlooking the bay that sparkled lights from boats and houses back at me. Dialing the same number as before, I chatted quietly about the rest of the day and then listened to the recounting of his day; we chatted for a little while about whatever came to mind before saying goodnight. I slipped back inside and quickly got ready for bed.

This is when I have to introduce my greatest challenge. Sleeping!

It was while I wrestled with my white noise machine, trying to remember what plugged into what, that I noticed the skylight above my bed. I groaned when I realized I didn’t have a sleep mask. Mentally calculating when the sun might rise, I quickly figured out I’d get six hours of sleep. That included the time it would take for my sleeping pill to kick in, and I’d finally fall into deep, nourishing oblivion. I congratulated myself when the rush of soothing noise erupted from the speaker that would rest next to my ear all night. My last thought of the day was that I’d find a sleep mask tomorrow.

The sun rose close to the predicted hour and I tried to find enjoyment in the sunrise. Unfortunately the sun was deeply hidden by another wall of dark grey clouds. I made coffee and spent a few hours pleasantly reading while the rest of the family slept.

The day went on to pass quickly; playing on the beach, running up and down sand dunes, shopping for fresh seafood, cooking, swimming in the pool, running up and down the ramps that lead to the boats anchored in the harbor tired us all. It wasn’t until I was staring at the skylight that night that I realized I had forgotten to buy a sleep mask. "Tomorrow," I thought.

I followed the previous day’s routine of sneaking quietly about the house while others slept. Tired and envious of their abilities to sleep through sun and sound, I drank coffee, read, knitted, organized, tidied, and whatever else I could until the others rose well rested.

Slightly less energetic from two nights of sleep deprival, I dozily participated in making plans for the day. We set about kite flying, running around sand dunes, building sand castles and walking through the local tourist shops. By dinner I was asleep in my plate. I sat up with a jolt when I realized that I still hadn’t purchased a sleep mask. Irritated I tried to convince myself that I was exhausted enough that surely I would sleep through sunrise.

Somewhere around five a.m. I woke and stretched an arm out for the extra pillow. I plunked it down on my head hoping it would block the light. Unfortunately the air got too warm, and the only solution was to pull the pillow off. I tried various permutation of this until I gave up, quite grumpily I might add. I stared up at the skylight with great disdain cursing the inventor, designer, contractor, and anyone else who had anything to do with my window to the sky.

After a few cups of strong coffee and a talk with myself about attitude, I set about rounding up all the paraphernalia we’d dragged in and carted it back to the car. It was check out time! I was thrilled. While schlepping suitcases and coolers isn’t much fun, I was about to move inland and to a new abode! Even after several breathless and exhausting trips to the car I giggled at the thought of a room with no skylight and a good night’s rest. We said good-bye to the indulgent grandparents and went off to explore the day and meet MacGyver’s train late in the afternoon.

All went well, until, and I kid you not, we hit another fork in the road. At this point, if any of you are cartographers, I plead with you to include forks in the road. They are loathsome inventions that confuse the compass challenged amongst us. We have a split second to make a decision that could take us to into the wild or thrust us onto one way roads of towns that are best forgotten.

So, I did what any sane person would do, I asked for help. The local had no idea what to do. So, I did the next sane thing, I used my GPS gadget. Are you wondering at this point why I was only just now using it? I’d forgotten I had one. It’s that simple.

MacGyver was on the train and had intermittent cell phone reception and was without wi-fi! So it was just me and my GPS gadget. When we finally got to the train station (three times around a series of one way streets), I literally wanted to explode out of the car and find justice. However, all the caffeine I had consumed along the way in order to stay awake had other demands. So, I quickly kissed MacGyver hello, and ran for the restrooms.

Happily ensconced in the front passenger seat I recounted the horrors of one-way roads, forks, and the fact that I couldn’t hear the man on the GPS machine. With a gentle tap on the GPS screen MacGyver showed me how to turn the volume up. Just one little tap on the screen, that’s all! I actually smiled. What I was really happy about was that a bed in a dark room with my name on it was just a short distance away.

Being quite late and dark when we arrived, we set about schlepping all the paraphernalia into our new abode. The kids were settled and life was good. I sat down to rest on the corner of the bed and only then noticed a pained smile on MacGyver’s face. That’s never good!

I began to scan the room and quickly realized that the room was open to the floor below, there were huge windows allowing the woodland view into the living-room just below our bedroom, and lo' and behold, there was a skylight above our bed. Someone has a twisted sense of humor!

I will allow your imaginations to decide what I said and felt about all of this. You may paint a kinder picture of me that I actually deserve.

So! Exhaustion had caught up with me enough to allow me to sleep until seven o’clock. We spent a lovely day playing in the gently flowing river and strolling through the scrubby woodlands. Late in the afternoon the sky turned graphite grey, the booms of thunder were loud, and the rain fell in massive globs to the ground. People ran pell-mell for cover. After dinner the storm had passed, so we ventured out for a late swim and found the remnants of the storm; beach towels and pool toys all around the pool deck.

Now, one thing to know about MacGyver is that he is a tidy guy. He piled the spoils of the storm under shelter while the rest of us readied to return to our woodland abode. After everyone had readied for bed and were settling down, MacGyver asked our daughter for a pillow she made for her doll. I guessed it to be the size of pot holder. She handed it over and went to bed.

Reading in bed and waiting for the sleeingp pill to take over, I looked up to see a satisfied grin on MacGyvers face. He handed me the doll pillow and a nose plug. The pillow was sewn from brown and blue fabric that had the drawings of Tiki characters on it. The nose plug was a bright pink “U” shaped object on the end of a very long white elastic band. Utterly confused for a moment I suddenly realized I had a sleep mask!

Laughing at how ridiculous I had to look, I hunkered down with the pillow hugged to my face by the nose plug! I slept until ten o’clock!

I never did buy a sleep mask. I so appreciated both MacGyvers inventiveness and the fact that he loves me so much that he could look past how ridiculous I looked that I happily slipped on the pillow with nose plug every night. After all, the least I can do is support his ingenuity!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pump Up the Volume!

First of all, I have to admit that the quest I set for myself in my last blog was a tad bit of a reach. A week or two to find a book that I found interesting enough to read and write a sequel to wasn't realistic. However I still have the goal, but will shoot for another day.

I was re-reading my very first blog and found a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and thought I would venture forth and look into the consternating subject of why some women who wear so much mascara that their eyelashes are fuzzy and clumpy. Following the rule of “write what you know” I went in search of the history of mascara.

[I would like to take a little pause here to thank all those involved in creating the internet and those who upload mountains of information, no matter how momentous or inconsequential!]

For those of you who are like me and find trivia fascinating, let me share what I’ve learned about mascara. About 6000 years ago the Egyptians were not only practicing hair removal (read Hairy Heroines) they were also wearing mascara along with eyeliner. Crocodile dung was mixed with kohl, water and honey; then it was applied to the lashes with a comb made out of ivory or bone.

Because eyes were considered the window to the soul, the eyes were concealed to ward off evil spirits and bad energy.

You can look at many ancient drawings found on papyrus and pottery, along with frescos and hieroglyphics depicting ancient Egyptians and not a single one of them shows a woman with clumpy fuzzy eyelashes. So, research into the subject continued!

You have to leap all the way forward to the Victorian Era before mascara was used to cosmetically enhance women for beauty. Before that mascara was used by many cultures during times of war, celebrations and in funereal ceremonies. Victorian women generally made their own mascara out of anything from rose water and ashes to elderberries and wax.

Even though most women of a certain financial stature wore the cosmetic, it wasn’t produced and marketed commercially until the early 1900’s. You can bet that there are plenty of Victorian Era people rolling in their graves at this financial oversight!

To be fair, when you go in search of portraits of wealthy women of the mid-1800’s, the paintings are generally of elaborately posed women, and more detail is spent on the clothing and background than on the eyes… yet, still no trend of clumpy fuzzy eyelashes to be found.

For a while I thought I was on to something when I learned that in 1913 mascara was a combination of coal dust and petroleum jelly, a product invented by chemist T.L. Williams for his sister Mabel. She loved it so much, he formed a company for the production and sale of mascara, and hence the company Maybelline was founded. Everyone knows that petroleum jelly is sticky and could clump anything together. Again, a brush or comb like device was used to apply it. BUT then Max Factor came along in the mid 1960’s and invented the wand that is commonly used today. The product is now commonly made out of natural waxes (carnuba or bee), coloring, polymers and nylon fibers! To top it all off an incredible amount of time and technology has been devoted to the issue of non-clumping mascara!

At this point I have decided that this isn’t a product issue; it is an individual’s preference. I was 99% certain of this to start out. While I loathe to stereotype, stereotypes exist for a reason, kind of like tourist traps. The Roman Coliseum is pretty spectacular and if you go to Rome, you ought to see it along with every other tourist. It is an architectural feat, and has incredible history. That doesn’t mean you need to buy a souvenir mug or t-shirt with a picture of the ruins on it.

Generally there is an overall persona of an individual who likes the clumpy eyelash look.

Clacking and popping her gum as she walked across her new carpet she called out, “Gloria, hold your horses! I’m coming. Shesh, give a girl a chance why don’t ya?”

Opening the door in gleeful anticipation, Tanya said, “Whadda ya think? Tell me, don’t you just love it?” Snapping her gum some more, she turned her back on Gloria to lead her into the newly remodeled living room.

“It’s gorgeous! I knew it; I knew when we saw that carpet that it would match the wallpaper perfectly! I just love brown carpet with all the swirls in it! It looks clean forever, you won’t even notice when the kids spill their coke or Johnny’s ashes fall on the floor. It’s perfect.”

Tanya nodded in happy agreement the entire time; she chewed her gum in rhythm with her head bobbing up and down. “It’s perfect! And it matches the sofa so well.” She danced her bright red talons across the caramel colored suede sofa that perfectly matched the loveseat and recliner; leaving a swirling pattern across the fabric.

“Wow you sure are lucky your uncle’s in the carpet business. Do you think he’d give us a deal? It’s the only way Mikey would go for it.” Gloria complained. She hadn’t had new furniture, let alone new carpet in over twenty five years. Both women laughed; they knew Mikey would spend the money without hesitation on bowling, but the house, forget about it!

Smoothing her red blouse over her animal print leggings, Tanya showed off her new pleather belt and said, “You wanna coffee while I fix my face? I just made some fresh.”

Gloria declined, “Nah, I’m good. My pants are so tight; I don’t want to have to pee at the Mall.” She followed Tanya and stared at herself in the mirror at the end of the hall. “Do you need anything in particular there?”

By now Tanya was firmly planted in front of the mirror in the bathroom carefully examining the make-up she’d applied an hour before. “I’d like to buy some throw pillows and maybe one of those silk flower arrangements at ‘Home Décor’. After that I’ll barely have money for lunch.” She answered while digging through her make up bag, looking for her pink and green tube of mascara. Finding it, she picked off a few clumps of mascara, and then set about applying a fresh layer.

Tossing her make-up bag back into the drawer, Tanya left the bathroom and looked at Gloria in the mirror, “I tell ya, you still got it. With those curves, Mikey’s one lucky man.”

“Aw Hon! Thanks! You ready?” Gloria asked.

“Lemme just switch off the coffee,” Tanya said, tripping across the carpet in the new heels she bought to match her blouse. She’d been thrilled. Red was her signature color.

“Alright, let’s go!” Tanya said returning to the living room, seeing Gloria’s undisguised look of envy.

Putting her arm around her lifelong friend, “Don’t worry sweetie, you’re gonna get your new carpet,” she said with a knowing smile. Mikey wasn’t all bad.

As for me, my first memory of mascara and its application comes from my sister Michelle. She is six years older than me and as an early pubescent girl I would sit and watch her put make-up on, trying to pick up some tips. Michelle was meticulous. First came out the eyelash curler, then a layer of mascara was applied, followed by a straight pin being used to divide the lashes, followed by another layer of mascara. If necessary another round with the eyelash curler and voila! Perfection!! Her eyelashes, naturally long and curly, were dreamed of by chemists, make-up artists and women everywhere.

Michelle very patiently tried to teach me how to make my eyelashes into perfectly divided wondrous hairs of beauty! A couple complications… my eyes are so recessed that there wasn’t an eyelash curler made that could grab ahold of my short and stubby lashes. I am now the happy owner of dozens of eyelash curlers. It has become a joke amongst friends that on my birthday I receive the latest and greatest in eyelash curling innovations! There are one or two that do the job, but at this point, I wonder what is the point?

The question has now become, when and why did having thick, curly eyelashes become part of our sexual identity? That seems to be a much trickier question to answer, considering it defies all stereotypes!

Dedicated to Michelle and Rachel. Michelle for being a great big sister and Rachel, her daughter, who owns a tube of every brand of mascara ever made, and has lovely lashes, with or without it.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Prologues, Parodies, and Presentations: a continuation!

As opposed to Epilogues, I am quite a fan of Prologues. Perhaps it is vaguely reminiscent of my personality, but prologues allow you to barge in on the story with a certain savoir-faire. Two or three pages of set-up do me quite nicely. Just enough to introduce the characters, get everyone in place, and then off you go to the meat of the matter.

As opposed to the epilogue in the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I have yet to read a prologue that warrants specific address. Sorry, that isn’t what this blog is about!

Just before school let out for the summer I read a very good book called Rebecca and Rowena, by William Makepeace Thackeray. He is most famous for Vanity Fair (published in 1847), a satire on wealthy members of British society in the 19th century.

One review of Rebecca and Rowena calls it the “burlesque sequel to Ivanhoe.” Published in 1850, it is a continuation of Thackeray’s tongue in cheek parody on western civilization. He writes passionately about the tragedy of a book coming to an end when the romance is in full bloom, the villain captured, or the mystery solved. He makes very witty remarks about how a woman of “five and thirty loses all interest to society, especially once her waistline begins to expand.” He writes a healthy argument for continuing to read the hero’s story to see if the hero in fact is a hero or just a one hit wonder.

Thackeray mocks the whims of the time (and because he doesn’t like the story as written) he ups the ante quite a bit with Rebecca and Rowena taking off where Ivanhoe ends. Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, in a nutshell, is the more political, less romantic version of Robin Hood, set in the year 1194. The original storyline is barely detectable after Thackeray is finished with it. While it didn’t go on to receive quite the favor that Vanity Fair did, it has become a highly referenced book in literature and feminism courses.

However, this is not what the blog is about! The blog is really about the on-going obsession readers across the world have with Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice.

I have read the book a time or two; watched the 6 hour BBC version starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth at least ten times, have seen the 2005 version around 4 times, and have even seen the 1938 version! That’s a lot of Pride and Prejudice.

Recently I was wandering around the local book store in the “literature” department, just browsing and reading titles. I think I had made it to the “C” section when actual shock overtook me after observing how many books linked themselves to Jane Austen or to Pride and Prejudice. So, me being me, I made a bit of a project comparing how many books referred to P&P versus Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. While I couldn’t actually keep tallying the numbers, there’s only so much you can write on the back of a paper napkin, I can answer without any hesitation, there are a whole lot more books borrowing upon P&P than any of the others. (How’s that for scientific research?)

I gathered up a pile of books, hunkered down into a chair, and read the descriptions of 42 books. I decided to bring home Mr. Darcy Presents His Bride, A Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, by Helen Halstead. As I write this, it is hard for me to decide which direction to go. Do I talk about how flabbergasted I was to find out that Helen Halstead had the courage to call the book an actual sequel? Do I talk about the fact that there were more than 42 books? Do I just talk about the book?

Much has been written about Jane Austen and her unconventional life; she chose to not marry and instead lived in her family home until her death. Most of her time was spent at what would have been conventional tasks, those very much like Elizabeth Bennets pursuits; reading, practicing the pianoforte, sewing, visiting acquaintances, and dancing!

It turns out that Helen Halstead has a bit of William Makepeace Thackeray in her. Not that her book is a parody, but that it seeks to follow the storyline beyond “romance in full bloom.” The story follows what would have more likely been Elizabeth Darcy’s reality; trying to win the favor of “society” after being ostracized by them as a result of Lady Catherine de Bergh’s influence, and its effect on her relationship with Mr. Darcy. Helen Halstead also does a remarkable job carrying the Bennet and Bingley families forward as well.

I’m not really writing a book review, so much as again appreciating the desire to imagine what more there could be to the story. I truly sit in awe at Thackeray and Halstead’s dedication in creating the ‘more’ they wanted to know. The beauty in writing a book is that you never really wonder what will become of your characters; you finish telling their story, but they continue to live in your imagination and their future is only limited in your desire to write a sequel. I find myself wondering what Jane Austen would make of Helen Halstead’s attempt at furthering Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s story. Much is written about Sir Walter Scotts reaction to William Makepeace Thackeray’s parody – for the most part it was unappreciated!

I think for entertainment purposes, my next blog will be an attempt at continuing the story line of a famous book and seeing what you think of the outcome. I will post a poll and you’ll be able to let me know whether I did it justice. If you have a suggestion to make as to which book, please feel free to leave a comment.

Thanks for reading.