Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Five Things

As the New Year approaches and the memory of my mother berates me with everything that I haven't accomplished in my life, I console myself with lists of what I have done:

1) I earned a Ph.D. in a prestigious field.
2) I was a city-wide PTA president for two years.
3) I taught on the college level for twenty-some years.
4) I made a run for the city school board.
5) I wrote a year's worth of an influential newsletter for a teachers' union.

And I write a blog.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bella and Fella

Okay, Fiorella has read all but the last seventy pages of Twilight, which she will dutifully slog through before she posts this review, but so far she is not impressed.

The author handled the high school scene well, I thought. And I liked the way she got into the protagonist's mind. For me, the story started foundering when it centered almost entirely on the two lovers.

First of all, the story is too drawn out. One can only be on tenterhooks so long without getting bored. Second, the vampires are unbelievable. They're too perfect, too talented, too--well--nice. Third, the situation doesn't make sense--everyone knows everything in a small town, and the vampire family's differences would have been noticed and commented on and soon rallied up a mob with flaming torches. And how does one stay under cover when one's skin glistens like diamonds every time one goes into the sunlight? Even when the sky looks cloudy in the morning, it can unexpectedly brighten in the afternoon.

As an educator, I have a real bone to pick about Bella and Edward missing so much class time with no consequences. Doesn't Oregon (or Washington, or wherever it is) have any attendance requirements? And what about those low, LOW-cut gowns the vampiresses wore to the prom? Doesn't the school have a dress code?

As a reader, I am disappointed that the story did not set up a situation which prompted my ever-fertile brain to come up with its own variations and scenarios. As a writer, I wanted to blue pencil scenes like Edward racing through the forest at top speed with Bella on his back and him lurking in Bella's bedroom overnight just to watch her sleep.

But then, I don't enjoy vampire books (like Laurell Hamilton's series) which involve alternate universes, and I do see a vampire sub-culture being set up in Twilight. The problem is that if one establishes an omnipotent character--Superman, vampire or whatever--one has to set up an equally strong opposing character so the story carries some tension. (Thus Superman's opponents became ever weirder as time went on.) I prefer using the human element, like, well, the vampire book I wrote which has--ahem--not yet found a publisher.

Obviously I'm in the minority. Daughter, from whom I borrowed the book, and half the young women in America adore Twilight and are eagerly gobbling up the whole series. I much prefer The Historian.

Monday, December 29, 2008

To My Children

When I am old, so very old I stink
Of unwashed underarms and brain cell death,
So old I shake, my spine and stature shrink,
I whistle, quake and rattle with each breath--
When I am old, so very old I drool,
And age spots big as elephants appear,
When I forget my name and act the fool
And talk too loud because I cannot hear--
Even when I'm angry, trapped in rage,
Become a miser, call each dime misspent,
When I am cruel and stupid with my age,
When I reject you, scotch your good intent--
Remember once I loved you of my will,
And in my heart of hearts, I love you still.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Snippets

Somehow Fiorella thought that, with the monstrous new TV that she and Husband gave each other for Christmas, the shows would be better, but all they are is bigger. And she still can't find anything she wants to watch.
Christmas dinner was a feast. For seven people, Fio ended up with three meats, five side dishes, four desserts, and massive indigestion caused by massive over-ingestion.
Later in the afternoon, Fio had to do a little clever slight of hand when stripping the dining table in order to hide from her guests the fact that under her white linen table cloth was a plastic sheet decorated with Strawberry Shortcake.
Three days later, Fio is finally starting to come to. Her brain is recovering from mush state and her body is demanding she stop lying around on the couch all day. But, oh, she needed that respite!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Do Not Feed This Woman

Fio's Christmastide this year
Was full of laughter and good cheer
And also of good things to eat--
Every kind of chocolate sweet--
Which means our Fio will dieting be
From now until Epiphany
So she again her toes can see.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Think Mink, Ma'am

There's something about slipping into the mink jacket that does it. Fio, who you know, is something of a dorky cut-up, instantly becomes Gracious Lady. Her voice becomes softer, her smile more beneficent, her gait more graceful. She strives to deserve the mink, to act worthy of it.

Fio's like that. She always dresses in costumes, then acts them out. Or, to put it another way, she tries to suit what she wears to whatever role she will be playing. Maybe it has something to do with the three years, ages eight through ten, she spent in Baylor Children's Theater. Or maybe she's just a natural-born ham.

And she wonders why people say she is dramatic.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Rejoice, rejoice, for Christ is born today
In Bethlehem, by ancient prophecy--
The son of heaven, sleeping in the hay.

Let angels sing and tuned musicians play
A clamoring of happy harmony--
Rejoice, rejoice for Christ is born today.

Let shepherds leave their wandering sheep to pray
Before his rustic throne, on bended knee--
The son of heaven, sleeping in the hay.

Let wise men from the East be shown the way,
And with their aged eyes, their savior see--
A Rejoice, rejoice, for Christ is born today.

Let all mankind observe a holiday
To celebrate his sweet nativity--
The son of Heaven, sleeping in the hay.

Let planets, suns, and twinkling stars display
Their promises of immortality,
Rejoice, rejoice, for Christ is born today
The Son of Heaven, sleeping in the hay.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Husband doesn't understand Fiorella's incessant Christmas decorating and is even rather peeved about it. She's always teetering on top of a ladder or messing up the floor with paper snippets or taping strange stuff onto the wall.

But everyday Fio's world gets worse, and moments of respite are far between. Her house and yard are not as she would like, her family situation is not as she would like, her country is not as she would like, and Fiorella herself is not as she would like.

She must do something about it. Therefore she decorates. It's a form of plastic surgery.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Exponential Proportions

I read that the amazingly fecund Michelle Duggar has just given birth to her eighteenth child. A century ago, this large a family wouldn't have been quite as remarkable as it is nowadays, when birth control is readily available. Husband objects to the size of the family on the grounds of population control. I just wonder how the parents keep all the names straight. I myself have been known to go through husband's name, all three of the children's names, and the dog's name before hitting the right one.

I also ponder the math. If, as seems probable, the Duggars end up with at least twenty-five kids, and if each of these kids marries and, following the Full Quiver Baptist dogma, produces at least twenty-five kids, ol' Jim Bob and Michelle will have 625 grandchildren to remember the birthdays of. If the pattern continues, their great-grandchildren will number 16,625, and so on, until in the not-so-distant future, the country's name will have to be changed to the United States of Duggars.

Of course, at that time they'll have to pay full-price for everything instead of getting it used because everyone will be Duggars.

Monday, December 22, 2008


The ever-energetic Fiorella is exhausted. It might have something to do with her manaical Christmas decorating, the Direct TV man running around on the roof for four hours yesterday hooking up the satellite while the maid did her best to make the house presentable for Christmas visitors, or the fact that Fio and Husband drove an hour plus across town to pick up Younger Son from the airport at 11:00 p.m. and stayed up till 1:00 to catch up on all his activities.

Arising at 6:30 this morning may also have something to do with it. Fio and Husband trundled over to the nursing home and spent about half an hour putting together a clothes rack for her father, who slept in his wheelchair the whole time. Then they went shopping at HEB, using one of the BIG baskets and racking up a bill over $150, with only one meat item in the cart. They got home about 2:00 and Fio started setting up a late lunch for everyone. That's when she began to go under. After lunch, it was obvious she could hardly speak intelligibly so Husband and Son put her on the couch with intructions to rest.

Yeah, sure. Not for four more days.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Body ESP

When outside it's wintery
And inside it's seventy,
I'm still cold and shivery.
When outside it's summery,
And inside it's seventy,
I'm sweating like a piggery.

No matter what
The thermostat shows,
When the sun shines hot
Or the north wind blows,
My body knows.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Fiorella is in holiday hyperdrive, which means she doesn't have time to spend half an hour every morning critiquing her face in the magnifying mirror.

Ever since Fio got her vision fixed, she has been fascinated--and horrified--by what she has discovered about herself. Thus the eyelid surgery and the minor facial clean-ups. And the decision to have a face lift as soon as she wins the lottery.

Fio understands she can't look sixteen again--it might get her husband arrested if she did--but she'd rather not look like Methusalah's grandmother either. Or like her father's sister, which is what the people at his nursing home seem to keep thinking she is. I mean, Aunt Julie is dead.

But such pondering will have to wait a week. Yesterday Fio set up two deer in the front yard and finished off the Christmas cards. Today she has three wreaths and four swags to hang. Then it's off to the airport at 11:00 p.m. to pick up Younger Son.

Merry Almost-Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Snippets

My theory is that all the Christmas ornaments that didn't sell last year were shipped back to China, swashed with gold paint (probably toxic) and glitter, marked up, and shipped back to us again for sale this year.
I stare at the fire and think it is no wonder the ancients worshiped it. Think of its power. Fire provides light and heat. It consumes whatever it touches. It can kill us. We do not control it--it controls us. We both depend on it and fear it.
Times are tight, but Fiorella refuses to cut back on charitable donations. Tight times are when donations are most needed.
Fiorella will, though, review her Christmas card situation next year. She's been designing her own for years, to save money and vent her creative impulses, but this year she was blindsided--and staggered--by how much her vanity cost.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kubla Khan, I Know You

Fiorella awoke this morning with a wonderful story floating through her brain, a two-level romance, heart-warming and funny, featuring a younger couple and an older couple, a clever story somehow involving e-mail. It would be her break-through novel, she was sure. Immediately she reached for her trusty pen and paper, always nearby for when she awakens with brilliant ideas. But first she wrote down some Christmas notes she didn't want to forget. Then, when she tried to retrieve her story, it was gone, only a faint wisp remaining, like smoke from dead fire.

Was there ever anything there? Was it just the afterglow of a good dream? Or was it a masterpiece interrupted, like Coleridge, but without the opium?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dylan and Me

It seems appropriate for Fiorelle,
Who's in a literary mood,
To write about the villanelle.

And thus would start one of poetry's most convoluted forms, the villanelle. A villanelle is five three-line stanzas plus a sixth, four-line stanza. The rhyme scheme is aba for the first five stanzas, then abaa at the end. In other words, the first and third lines of each of the three-line stanzas rhyme throughout the poem, and all the second lines of each stanza rhyme with each other.

Duck soup, you say, but there's more. The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the third line of the second, fourth, and sixth stanzas; meanwhile the last line of the first stanza is repeated as the last line of the third, fifth, and sixth stanzas.

Wowsie! That means one must come up with a two recurring lines that will make sense throughout the poem, then together will give you a socko ending. And don't forget those other rhymes that have to be worked in. All in iambic tetrameter (four strong beats per line) or pentameter (five strong beats per line).

Fiorella looked over several villanelles, good and bad, before she tried one on her own and realized that her best chance of success was to make a list of something, one item per stanza. Thus, after announcing the Nativity in the first stanza of her Christmas poem, she covered the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, mankind, and the universe in the subsequent stanzas.

The best-known, and I think the best-written, villanelle in literature is Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night," which, typical Thomas, sounds good even if you don't understand a word of it. It's a real tour de force. Look it up and note that not only does Thomas adhere to all the rules the Frenchies set for this very challenging form when they invented it, but he also adds another twist by setting up his initial rhymes as polar opposites, "night" and "day."

Fiorella isn't that good yet, but she's done okay. The one she wrote this Christmas is her third, and it's better than her first one, which was better than her second one. Maybe the fourth one, whenever it arrived on the doorstep of her mind, will be better yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hangar Sale

My father was not a union man. In fact, he sat on the other side of the table in collective bargaining. But he respected unions, realizing that they were vital for the protections of the workforce. Check into the abuses of early manufacturers--there were good reasons that workers joined together to protest their pay and working conditions.

So I'm not blaming the UAW for Detroit's current mess. Given the volatility of the employment situation in the auto industry, with lay-offs coming every time one turns around, I don't resent high wages for assembly line workers. After all, one has to be able to store nuts away for the winter.

What I do resent is the high salaries of management, plus the multi-million-dollar perks and bonuses. Why should management's poor decision-making land on the backs of workers?

Sell the fleets of private jets.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Hard Times

First my computer went down and was out of commission for two weeks. Then our water was turned off for a day. Then the printer cartridge died on me and it took almost two weeks to get it replaced. Now the brand new, very expensive TV that Husband and I are giving each other for Christmas won't work!

Husband bought it from Best Buy last week, it was delivered on Tuesday, and the Geek Squad arrived yesterday at 5:00 p.m. to install it, a four-hour job. But by 9:00, it still wasn't working.

Today, with a good night's sleep behind us, we called in all our resources. Older Son advised us from Minnesota and Older Nephew drove up from Austin on a rescue mission. Husband and Nephew are out buying cables now.

I know eventually the TV will work, just as eventually my computer was repaired and the water was restored and the printer cartridge was replaced. But I get tired of the meantime. In modern life, nothing mechanical or electronic should ever go wrong.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Deck the Halls

She gives each wreath a velvet bow
And tops the doors with mistletoe,
Tapes snowflakes to each windowpane
And drapes the walls with colored chain,
Ties cardboard bells along the stair,
Adds fake-o greenery everywhere,
Puts tiny houses above the fire,
Peopled by a tiny choir--
Yes, each year, when it comes Yule,
Fio's a decorating fool!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Come the Christmas season, I finally understand the difference between married couples and cohabiting couples. Married couples divide up the holidays, this Christmas with her family, next Christmas with his. Cohabiting couples divide themselves up, each spending the holiday with his/her respective family.

Committed, but not quite--always leaving an escape route open.

Friday, December 12, 2008

King of the Nursery

Younger Son weighed 11 pounds, 7 ounces, when he was born. During my fourth month, I had been so big that the obstetrician sent me for an x-ray to find out if I was having twins. No, it was just one BIG baby.

The hospital nursery wasn't prepared. The nurses had to send out for larger diapers because the newborn size was too small. We have a classic photo of a nurse with a startled look on her face because he raised his head when he was just a day old.

I liked to hang around the observation window because people would look at their babies, then spot the king of the nursery and say, "And look at THAT one!" Which was when I would glide forward in a queenly way and modestly announce, "That's my baby."

I was proud of him then and I'm even more proud of him today, on his birthday.

Happy birthday, Lee!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Traveling Pantsuits

Did I ever tell you how nervous Fiorella was about what to wear to the RWA conference in San Francisco last summer?

"Dress professionally," her RWA guru had said, so Fio went shopping for neato pantsuits. But it was campaign season and Hillary had already bought up all the neato pantsuits.

Fio settled for a not-so-neato pantsuit, but when she packed her bags, ended up leaving it at home in favor of some old-favorite slacks and shirts.It was just as well. When she got to the conference, the only person she noticed in a neato pantsuit was Nora Roberts.

She probably borrowed it from Hillary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time-Tight Tidings

Did Fio almost miss a day? This month is passing much too quickly!

My schedule is too tight; I don't have time
Each Christmastide to sound and count and beat,
Reciting every year a well-turned rhyme
Replete with inspiration, form, and feet.
You know, of course, the truth of what I say--
Commitments ring me round like silver chain
Hung on a Christmas tree, and hour and day
Run faster than the currents of my brain.
In truth, I'd rather have the time to write
Some gracious greeting, giving you my best,
To wish you joy, good health, your heart's delight--
My love to you and may your year be blessed.
As I've explained, my time is much too tight,
So read top down, far left, to read me right.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Melancholy Snippets

Somewhere in there I decided to ignore aging, assuming aging would ignore me. But it hasn't. Yes, Fiorella is having a hard time facing the inevitibilites of growing older, of which her father is a semi-living example.
Now that Dad has started wandering into other residents' rooms and going through their belongings, I'm more charitable of his original roommate, a 96-year-old I thought was a klepto. No, he was just old.
Every Thursday and Sunday I visit my father and see my future. Surely a better way can be found to depart life than this.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Boob Tube

I want good TV, that is, shows I want to see. I want Harry Dresden to return, and Wolf Lake too. I want more shows like Absolutely Fabulous, Couplings, Keeping Up Appearances, and The Kumars at No. 42. I want more Will and Grace featuring Debbie Reynolds.

Enough with the reality shows. I admit to watching Project Runway, but that's getting old too. I still watch Little People, Big World out of habit, but the family's free-spending lifestyle is a bit obscene in today's economic climate. How about some nice, happy fiction?

Please, someone--come up with a bunch of clever, fast-moving shows that knock my socks off.

Don't drive me to watching old Lawrence Welk reruns.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Academically Speaking

Academia is a hotbed of--well--hot beds. And other available surfaces.

I first became aware of that in Graduate School, when it was common knowledge that several of my more ambitious female peers were trolling after their professors--and snagging them. My own experiences involved an Arab wannabe stud who tried to corner me in my carrel and an eminent Indian scholar who got drunk and attempted to kiss me.

When I started teaching, my officemate dumped her old boyfriend for a higher ranking professor and asked me to handle the loser's phone calls. Nothing like being on the inside track. The new guy's wife was mad.

Of course, there's always the danger of someone walking in at an inappropriate time. I know of two public school principals who got--uh--nailed that way. And then there was the principal who, when he was en dishabille, got his trousers snatched by the young teacher he was attempting to become better acquainted with and had to be escorted across the street to the administration building wrapped in a raincoat.

And then I think of the anthropologists who maintain there was no sexual contact between CroMagnons and Neanderthals. Yeah, sure.

Where there is propinquity, sex happens.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winter Fly

Do not bug me, pesky fly!
The mighty swatter hangs nearby--
One more buzz and you will die!
Take that!

Friday, December 5, 2008


When my mother was a girl, she would paddle a canoe across the lake to visit her friends. She had lived on the Portage Lakes outside of Akron all her life, and the water was her highway.

Sometimes a storm would come up, the black clouds rolling across the lake, the angry water swaying her bark. Then she would lean low in the canoe and paddle more strongly because she didn't know how to swim.

Mother was in deep enough water anyway. First of all, her appearance went against her. Tall for her age, she was expected to act more mature than she was. And her long, coal-black hair and striking dark eyes frightened her grandmother: "Schwartze Augen," the old lady said, gesturing against the evil eye.

Also, my mother's father was an alcoholic, a man's man but a woman's nightmare. The family lived a nomadic life, moving all around the lakes wherever "Pop" could pick up a job for a while. Her older brother died of a burst appendix when he was fourteen. Her younger brother was an alcoholic by the time he hit high school.

My mother's eighth grade class photograph says it all. Mother, her black hair cut in a flapper bob, stands curiously apart from the rest of the students--beside them, but tilting her head away, as if she is looking at the world from a slightly different angle.

School was her sanctuary. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school and college classes. Then she taught for a few years and married my father, who did not drink. As was required at the time, she quit working when she became pregnant with me, her oldest child.

Mother was sentimental about old people and other people's children. But with my brother and me she was tough, because that was how she thought a parent should be. I remember taking her to meet my older son's second grade teacher, expecting her to say all sorts of sweet, grandmotherly things about her grandson and encouraging, teacherly things to the teacher. Instead she sneered and told Mr. Tedford that in her day male teachers never could keep discipline. Years later I realized that she had not known what to say, that she was afraid anything nice would sound weak, so she hung tough.

Mother was afraid of a lot of things, of seeming soft, of drinking, of swimming, of driving, of flying on an airplane, of leaving Ohio. She was rarely soft and she never did drink, swim, drive, or fly, but she did have to relocate when my father was transferred to Waco.

And when she died, she was buried in the tough, no-nonsense soil of Texas.

But sometimes when the night is dark and the moon is high, I think there is a shadow far out on the Portage Lakes, and if you look at it long enough, you will see a tall girl with long, dark hair, paddling a silent canoe toward the distant shore, as if against a rising wind.

The storm is gone, Mother. Your skies are clear. Rest in peace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Intimations of Winter

It's coming winter in the hill country. Within the past week, the leaves have been falling like golden rain, baring the bones of our forest.

We've spotted two bucks in our area, one with a magnificent six-prong rack, the other a tender spikeling. They tend to pose on the side of the road, looking, for all the world, like paid advertisements for Hartford.

There are so many brush piles along our driveway that it looks like we're preparing for an auto-da-fe. Now you know what we do for winter entertainment.

And Husband has been getting his money's worth out of the new chain saw. I like the idea that our fallen trees are burned in our fireplace rather than chipped and trashed. I think the trees like that too-it means they didn't die in vain. (But then, I tend to personify.)

Meanwhile, I dream of snow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

All Creatures Small

Husband and I have different attitudes toward insects. I step on them, swat them, or smash them. He carefully scoops them up on pieces of cardboard and carries them outside. Even scorpions.

I think it comes from his mother, who, having read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the first big ecology book, banned the use of any pesticides in her house. I remember going into her kitchen late one night, turning on the light, and seeing a million big river roaches dive for cover.

Husband isn't that extreme. He sprays for roaches and obliviates flies. Ants also receive no mercy from him, especially the ones that attack him in the yard. But caterpillars, pill bugs, and stray wasps all get the royal treatment.

And so do I, even when I bug him. (But he lets me stay indoors.)

All creatures small-husband rescues insects, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Even More Snippets

This was one of those mornings when I tried to open the garage door by pushing the button that closes the car windows.
I love a fire made with our own wood. But I also love to look out the front door at our full wood racks. It's the age-old problem: I want to burn my wood and keep it too.
Money talks. When I say, "I placed second in a short story contest," people say, "That's nice." When I say "I won seventy-five bucks in a short story contest," they say, "THAT'S GREAT!"
Just learned that Felix Salten, who wrote Bambi, also wrote a porno novel--Debbie Does Dallas?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Sticks and Stones

"Erase the R-word" the big billboard advertising the Special Olympics screamed. I would guess the "R-word" being referred to is "retard," used as a pejorative noun, derived from the adjective, "retarded," as in "mentally retarded."

"Retarded" is a euphemism, a nice word for something we want to pretty up, like "sex worker" for "prostitute." The problem with euphemisms is that they still have the same references, which means they soon acquire the same connotation. Today's euphemism is tomorrow's epithet. The new euphemism for "retarded" is "special," which has already gone down the garden path.

But I don't think words are the problem--or the solution. The problem is attitudes; there are always going to be people whose egos require them to insult and belittle other people, but it doesn't mean we have to pay attention to them, and we certainly don't have to overinflate the English language to try to counteract them.

My take? I think Special Olympics should save its billboard money and invest in more ribbons and trophies instead.