06 August 2009

My Apologies Unca' Stevie

I've been reading a long time. According to my mother, I began reading independently when I was around 3 and after that never wanted her (or anybody) to read to me again. I wanted to read it myself.

Fast forward seven or so years and, courtesy of my best friend and her older brother, I'd already read the Lord of The Rings trilogy (a couple of times). Fantasy and Sci-Fi ruled my reading life.

I was a member of the Science-Fiction Book Club (think Book-of-the-Month but only featuring sci-fi and fantasy). I read the biggies, the not-so-biggies and everything in between: Tolkien, Roger Zelazny, Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, Bradbury. I subscribed to "The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction" and thoroughly read each digest-sized issue; devouring everything cover to cover.

Horror is a sub-genre of sci-fi and fantasy, so it was somewhat natural for me to branch off into horror fiction. I can't remember when I first started reading Stephen King's novels and short stories. I must have been around 14 or so. But I know I've read and reread many of his works (Cujo, Christine and Night Shift stand out in my mind. But I've never been able to finish 'Salem's Lot. It's just too scary.). The bulk of my teen years my home life was a horror show so reading about a possessed car or a crazed dog was a nice escape.

Once I reached my 20's, though, I left off reading Mr. King. There was no specific reason I stopped. I just did. Maybe it was because he was a very popular writer (has been for well over 30 years now - there's a very good reason for that) and I was all about not reading "popular" fiction. I moved on to other writers (Neil Gaiman, in particular) and horror lost its luster for me after my dad died.

I haven't read any of Stephen King's work in well over 20 years.

Recently though I downloaded King's non-fiction work, On Writing, to my Kindle (one of the most awesome birthday gifts I've received). I had forgotten what a true master craftsman Stephen King is. Boy howdy, he knows his stuff. His writing is clear, simple yet still elegant, spot-on brilliant. That's what had hooked me as a kid: not so much the horror, but his style (that and I loved that the most mundane thing in the world could become completely terrifying). On Writing is an amazing how-to. I'm about half-way through and have highlighted several passages that I will use with my students this year. It's a must read for any one who enjoys writing.

Stephen King also writes regularly for "Entertainment Weekly" (one of the many mags I subscribe to). His writing is as clean and crisp as ever in his editorials, reinforcing his status as one of this country's most gifted writers. He's smart, honest, unmuddied. He's Unca' Stevie to his readers.

Including this one.

And Unca' Stevie? I'm sorry for not reading the Dark Tower books. Or Misery. Or The Stand. Or the myriad of other stories you've published over the past two decades. I'll make up for it. I promise.

05 August 2009


This is exactly the way Flynn's saying "sorry" these days, though she's not anywhere near as evil as Gilly, the amazing Kristen Wiig's SNL character.

I love my little girl.

03 August 2009

Lazy. Hazy. You Know The Rest

As Quigs, Loosey, and Harley so gently reminded me on Saturday, I haven't posted in quite a while. I've had ideas for posts floating around in my mind, then they'd get jumbled up with ideas for my upcoming classes and when I'd sit down to write I'd just get tired and/or frustrated and I'd just play a round of Bejeweled instead. I haven't really been even reading any blogs or leaving any comments. I've been AWOL.

Excuses, excuses.

So this is what I've been up to: teaching my son to ride a two-wheeled bike (took him a couple of hours to get the hang of it and we've been going for a lot of bike rides), spending time at the pool (when it's warm enough to go), putting together a professional wardrobe for myself (no easy feat), squeezing in a workout when I can, writing up a syllabus and reading list for my future students, general hausfrauery, AND planning and executing two birthday parties for my daughter, who recently turned 6.

Yes, two parties; one so she could get together with her school friends and one with family and family friends. You'd think that since Pokemon are still very popular there'd be Pokemon party stuff all over this town. Not so. I could not find one single iota of Pokemon merchandise (other than toys & playing cards). So I made my own invites, which after I'd totally MacGyvered a stack of invitations, friends who are scrapbookers said "Why didn't you call me? I have a circle cutter."

The parties went off without a hitch. Flynn is very happy to be six. She's starting to lose her babyness and when I look at her sometimes I'm momentarily breathless; she's growing up so fast, my baby girl, my second child. First grade looms ahead and she's excited.

I've also been settling into my 40th year and celebrated that simple fact last Sat. with friends and family. I hadn't had a birthday party in a decade, but after this last one I realized it's something I should do every year. Cupcakes from I Dream In Sugar were amazing; gorgeous to the eyes and on the tongue. Frank and my sister were responsible for all the planning (well, mostly Katy) and it was superb. But the best part was seeing friends I had not seen in a long time. One of my dearest friends from college drove over from Springfield and a few folks drove down from Chicagoland (one of whom is expecting twins in January). I just wish there would've been more time to talk with every one.

You know me and music. Of course I've been scouting out new tunes. Love Amazon's deal of the day for downloading mp3 files.

Ben Lee is one of my new favorites. "I Love Pop Music" is off his new album, The Rebirth of Venus. It's a fun, melodic poke in the side of popular music and those who make it.

I can't make any promises, but I will try to get back in the swing of things and write a little more often.

11 July 2009

That's My Daughter

My little girl will be 6 years old in 14 days. And every day she asks me "How many days until my birthday?" Every. day.

She knows she will be six yet her age varies with her mood. For example she was playing with her dolls yesterday and said she was their mom and she'd taken Sophie (her doll) to the Pink Poodle (a hair salon in St. Joe that caters to little girls) because it was her birthday. Sophie turned 6. When I asked Flynn how old she was, since she was Sophie's mom, she replied, "Eighteen."

Which just about gave me a heart attack.

Other days Flynn's content to be five for the time being and she doesn't want to be six.

I know exactly how she feels. Some days I don't want to be 40, but I am. I just can't help it, especially since my birthday was last Monday and I said "Adios, 30's, it was nice knowing you."


It's become something of a tradition for me to make a mix disc for birthday party favors and Flynn and I have been mulling over the choices for her upcoming party, one of which is Loudon Wainwright III's "Daughter" from the Knocked Up soundtrack (I haven't seen the movie, but love the music from it).

After hearing this song, Flynn asked "Can you do that Mommy? Can you get me everything I want for my birthday like the daddy in the song did?"

Uh, no.

But I wish I could pull down the moon for my daughter.

08 July 2009

Shame On You, CNN

OK, so I'm at the gym this morning doing my thing on the elliptical machine; huffing and puffing away and I glance up at the bank of TV's on the wall. The Price Is Right briefly held my attention (somebody should tell Drew Carey that he needs a haircut), I forget what was on the tube next to that but the third one over was tuned to CNN. I was reading the closed captioning and the headlines scrolling along the bottom of the set when they showed a clip from Michael Jackson's memorial service yesterday.

You probably know the clip I'm talking about; Michael's 11-year-old daughter, Paris-Michael, addressed the assembled crowd and millions of people watching around the world. She said she loved her Daddy and missed him very much, then collapsed in tears.

God, how that little girl touched my heart. I know her pain; I know she will have to accept that some questions will go unanswered and she will hurt for a very, very long time. I was amazed she had the wherewithal to speak at all. I did not speak at my father's memorial service; I did not trust my voice.

So after that clip of one distressed, very brave little girl the anchor asks for a CNN poll: "What was your favorite moment of the Michael Jackson memorial?"

That pissed me off and struck me as incredibly crass. Like this memorial service was supposed to be entertaining? It was a tribute to a dead man; a way of honoring his life and a way for his family and fans to say good-bye. Would anybody answer "My favorite part was witnessing a little girl's heartbreak at loosing the only parent she's ever known"?

Did CNN poll viewers for their favorite part of Princess Diana's funeral? What moron would answer "Watching her children cry?"

I did not watch the Michael Jackson memorial, so I don't know what all happened. I've only seen the bit of Paris-Michael. But exploiting this child in the name of a viewer poll is beyond shameless. Her brief statement brought some clarity to this loss. Yes, the public has lost a popular entertainer, but Michael Jackson was more than his public persona. He was a son, a daddy, a friend. My heart goes out to his children.

So, shame on you CNN. Shame. on. you.

01 July 2009

Hit The Road, Lady

This time a week ago I was on the road with my mom and sister headed in a southeasterly direction.

My birthday is less than a week away and this is one of those milestone birthdays; one that begins with a four and ends in a zero. So to commemorate the occasion, we decided to take a road trip, something the three of us had not done together in well over 13 years (and that was a weekend in Cincinnati for a family wedding).

Originally, I wanted to go west to San Francisco's Napa Valley. But after pricing airfare, car rental and hotel accommodations, I decided something within driving range would be more cost effective and we'd have money left over to do stuff like eat somewhere other than Burger King or McDonald's.
After some research, I settled on Asheville, North Carolina home of the famed Biltmore Estate. The Estate has its own winery so that sealed the deal. My husband is allergic to wine so this trip would not have been any fun for him, so it's good that he stayed home.

The Biltmore may be THE attraction in Asheville, but the town is nice enough on its own. I really dig its artsy/artisanal/conservationist/organic/locavore vibe. Several locally owned eateries use ingredients that are either made/grown in and around Asheville or North Carolina in general. And that includes liquor and ice cream. I am now a fan of the French Broad Chocolate Lounge and Posana Cafe. People in Asheville give a damn about their food. And their jewelry; I scored a very cool necklace made from old nickles, a bracelet made from old soda bottle caps, and another bracelet made from old watch faces and dimes.

We stayed at the super cool Grand Bohemian Hotel. I would stay there again in a heartbeat. And their spa was on our floor, just down the hall and around the corner from our room. The massage/body wrap/facial I received was heavenly.

The tour of the Biltmore was pretty neat, if not staggering on a grand scale. It's just massive and completely unexpected and beautiful. The gardens, of which we only saw two, were gorgeous and the aroma of the lavender separating the rose garden from the medicinal garden was heady and intoxicating on the warm, sunny Summer day.We decided not to return home the way we had come; the only other city of interest on the way north is Nashville, Tennessee, a place I'd never been.

The three of us are not fans of country music. Oh sure, when I was a kid my mom took us to Bluegrass concerts (I probably saw Alison Krauss at some point) but contemporary country music (you know, artists like Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, et al) are not my cup of tea. There's not a lot to do in Nashville if you don't like the music issuing forth from every.single.bar on Broadway Ave. Other than shop and people watch.

Our hotel, the Hutton, was almost the antithesis of Asheville's Grand Bohemian: sleek, modern, linear. Very chic. A nice welcome to the city I wasn't sure I liked to begin with. The vibe in Nashville is very different from Asheville. Like the difference between C-U and Chicago. Nashville is harder, grittier, not as forthcoming as Asheville, and there's a whiff of desperation in the air there that was missing in the mountains of North Carolina. Or that impression may just be because my mom, sister and I witnessed a shoplifting at the convenience store while I was getting some cash from the ATM within the first 30 minutes of entering the city.

We did the touristy thing: go down Broadway to the entertainment district. And we were entertained, but not by the folks you'd think. We ate BBQ at Rippey's (it was OK) and had an ice cream at Mike's. After a couple of hours of avoiding hustling doormen and skanky ladies we retired to our hotel. The next day we visited the Parthenon replica at Centennial Park, which is surprising and awe-inspiring. It gave me hope for Nashville; that it isn't just the glitz and grit of Music City, that it has depth. Shopping was on our agenda and we did just that. All day. Then had dinner at the tres fab Germantown Cafe.

Sunday was an all-day drive home. We were exhausted but very happy. I can't think of a better way to spend time with two of my life-long favorite people: my beautiful mother and sister. I am blessed to have them as family and, possibly more importantly, as two amazing friends.

We're already planning the next excursion: Mexico in three years to celebrate Mom's turning 70 and Katy's turn at becoming 40. I should start my passport renewal process tomorrow...

Until then, I'll sip a glass of wine from the Biltmore's winery and relive those good times.

11 June 2009

Boldly Going

I've had something in the works recently that I chose not to write about until now.

About three weeks ago, while reading the church bulletin after Mass, I noticed that the local Catholic high school was looking to fill two full-time teaching positions in their English department.

I ain't stupid. I know when Unseen Forces Are At Work.

After talking with Frank, Evan, Flynn, my mom and sister and various friends, I came to the conclusion that it was time for me to return to teaching full-time. Or at the very least try.

So I began the many-hooped process of seeking out a teaching job in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and sent off a cover letter and resume to the high school's principal.

Last week I went in for an interview and came out with a fire in my belly and a desire to teach I hadn't felt in a very long time.

Yesterday I was called in for my second interview to meet with the school's chaplain (who is on his way to a new assignment) and again speak with the school's principal and vice principal.

When he said, "If we don't offer you the position, would you consider substitute teaching here? We really like to have certified teachers as subs." I thought, "Uh-oh." And I came home feeling not nearly as confident as I had the week before.

Boy, am I glad my intuition was wrong.

I am now the Junior English teacher. I was offered the position this morning, which I very gladly accepted (then did a Very Happy Dance).

"I knew you'd get it." said my pleased-as-punch son.

Now the real work begins: putting together syllabi (I'll have 2 preps: regular & honors American Lit.), devising writing assignments (BelleNoelle, I may be seeking out your hubby's advice), making contact with my department members, finishing up the application process for the Diocese (which involves making sure they receive a copy of my teaching certificate and some other paperwork), and putting together a school wardrobe. And purchasing a laptop.

So. Onward and upward I go.