Saturday, April 28, 2012

200th Blog Post: Something Special

            I like to think I’m pretty good with words. Whether I’m speaking or writing, I rarely have trouble expressing myself. But there is one subject I never express adequately—the way I feel about my husband Dan. We have been together for more than half our lives and tonight we celebrate our 16th wedding anniversary.
            We met in the most unlikely place to start a long-term relationship—a college keg party. Dan was in town visiting his friend and his sister who were both involved with a production of The Wizard of Oz with me. Any theatre person will tell you that a cast party is the last place to meet a guy. But there he was with his curly hair, U2 tee-shirt, and mischievous grin.

            To say that it’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years sounds so trite, but it’s so true. He still has that grin. He still has that playful sense of humor. But he has become so much to me over the years. Dan is my partner in parenting and my best friend. He puts up with my mood swings. He works hard to provide for us. He thinks my laugh lines are cute. He’s a great dad. He’s humble, funny, smart and as handsome as he was twenty years ago.
We compliment each other in so many ways. He goes with the flow. I like to plan things out. He’s thoughtful and quiet. I’m emotional and verbose. When I want to fly off the handle, he helps me look for answers instead.
It’s been a wonderful journey together so far. We have had joyful moments beyond count. Of course there have been sad moments too, but when I look back on those, I am thankful we got through them together. I don’t know why or how I managed to get so lucky, but I am deeply grateful I did.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The City of Champions

            “So Karen,” Mr. Petersen asked. “You’re a Brockton girl, eh?”
            She sat up a little straighter feeling the strange pride of her rough-around-the-edges hometown. It could be a tough place, but it was part of who she was.
            “Yes,” she said. “Born and bred.”
            “Have you ever met Rocky Marciano?”
            “No Mr. Petersen I’m probably the only Brocktonian who won’t claim to know Mr. Marciano,” she said with a smile. “The whole city is very proud of him, of course.”
            “As you should be. Great boxer. And smart to retire while he was on top. You have to admire a man like that.”
            Karen nodded and looked over at Henry. He was smiling. Dinner was going well. Karen was even beginning to enjoy herself. She had eaten the first two courses very slowly, watching for which utensil to use.
            “Does your father work for one of those shoe factories the city is so famous for?”
            “Dad, I’m sure Karen doesn’t want to talk about what her father does for a living. Have you and Mom read the new James Michener book yet?” Henry said, trying to change the subject.
A Brockton Shoe Factory.
Karen wanted to fill the awkward silence. She could see Henry pretending to be nonchalant and his father growing colder waiting for an explanation.
            “Henry, it’s okay,” Karen said. “I’m sorry Mr. Petersen. I think Henry didn’t want me to be embarrassed. To answer your question, my father was a foreman at The Eaton Shoe Company for years. When it closed down, he got involved with the wrong people. I haven’t seen him since I was ten. My mother works very hard and we manage without him.”
            “She must be a very strong woman,” Henry’s mother remarked. She had been so quiet most of the evening, it startled Karen when she spoke.
            Karen nodded, grateful for the kindness. She knew the conversation might go in this direction, but she had been too concerned about her appearance and making sure she didn’t splash soup on herself to worry about it.
            “So, are you a student like Henry?”  Mrs. Petersen asked.
            “Not yet,” Karen said. “I’m hoping to save enough money to go to secretarial school next year.”
            “Smart move,” Mr. Petersen said with forced heartiness. “Everyone should learn a trade even if they can’t get into college.”
            “I got in,” Karen said, trying not to sound offended. “But it’s too expensive and I don’t want to leave my mother on her own.”
            “Good girl,” Mrs. Petersen said approvingly. “Too many young people are so selfish these days.”
            “I’m all she has. She is a strong woman, but everyone has their limits.”
            “They do indeed,” Mrs. Petersen whispered. Karen was sure there were tears in her eyes as she said it.

            This week’s Write On Edge prompt was to explore the meaning of the word “core” in fiction or non-fiction. It seemed like a natural place to pick up where I left off with Karen. For years I’ve been wanting to use the city of Brockton as a background—almost a character in a story. I think I’ve found the right story with Karen. You can read more about Brockton here and more about Karen here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

100 Word Song: The Marble Hallway

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            I’m getting my 100 Word Song story in under the wire once again for Lance’s link over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week’s song to inspire was Bauhaus’ “Of Lillies and Remains”. Here’s a story of Karen as she goes to meet Henry’s parents for the first time. You can read more about Karen here.

The Marble Hallway

            Karen squeezed Henry’s arm as they walked into the country club. The overpowering smell of lilies reminded her of Grampa’s funeral. She fought the urge to crane her neck to see how high the ceiling went. Karen had never been in a place so grand. Fear made her breath quicken.
Then she heard her mother’s voice in her head, “Money doesn’t make them better than you Girlie. Hold your head up high.”
She took a deep breath and smiled up at Henry, determined to act like she belonged here. Determined to be a lady. Determined to leave her past behind.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sleeping with the Fishes: A Tale of Guppy Love

            James got a fish tank for Christmas. We read all the directions and went to the pet store to investigate what critters might be right for our home. We came home with three guppies. James cradled the water filled plastic bag with the same care I held him as an infant. He wouldn’t let the cashier put them into another plastic bag at checkout, “They’ll be scared.” He insisted.
            On the way home we discussed names. The blue one was to be known as Jay, after James’ favorite Lego Ninjago character. He let Owen name the orange one. Owen called him Rust in memory of our late orange tabby cat Rusty. Then James bestowed upon me the honor of naming the third. The fish was a bright yellow color. I thought a Scandinavian name would be good so I suggested Thor. The boys loved the idea—even when James pointed out that Thor the guppy was a girl.
            Now maybe at that moment, I should have thought about what would happen with boys and girls swimming together in a five-gallon tank. But animal husbandry has never been my specialty. So I didn’t give it a second thought until about a month or so later when Thor seemed to be getting fatter and fatter. Apparently, guppies are the rabbits of the aquatic world.
            One evening while putting the boys to bed I noticed extra movement in the fish tank. Sure enough, there were a half-dozen or so tiny new fish in the tank. Guppies don’t lay eggs like most fish. They have give birth to a litter of guppy puppies. This is called a fry—an ironic name for a bunch of fish to be sure!
            Our family was tickled with the new development. James slept on the floor of his room so he could be closer to the fish tank. Like so many events in our lives, I announced it on Facebook.  There were many congratulations and one dose of cold water as a friend from high school mentioned the fact that guppies have a habit of eating their young. Not these guppies, I thought to myself. Not Thor, she would never eat her babies.
            But an animal must be true to her nature. By morning, there were no babies left in the tank. There were tears from my boys.
“How could she do that?” Owen asked. “How could a mother eat her babies?”
I tried to explain that you can’t get angry with an animal doing what comes naturally. You can’t be mad when a lion eats an antelope or a hawk eats a cute little bunny. They’re just acting the way God made them. Owen didn’t seem convinced.
            “Besides,” I said. “Look at the guppies. How big do you think their brains are? What’s bigger? Their brains or their stomachs?”
            I assured the boys that if Thor had babies again I would separate the adults and offspring as soon as possible. A month or so later I noticed Thor getting chunky again. I found a fish bowl and had it cleaned out and ready for the big moment.
            One Monday morning after feeding the boys and sending them upstairs to get dressed and brush their teeth I heard a whoop from upstairs.
Okay, technically it's a hurricane lamp, not a fishbowl.
            “Mom! Thor had babies!”
            Why does stuff like this always happen on Mondays? Again, there were about a half-dozen baby guppies in the tank. We scooped the adults out of the tank and placed them in the fish bowl.
            “Mom, I think you got some of the babies,” James said.
            I assured him that I hadn’t. But by the time we left for school there were three babies in the fish bowl with the adults. I hadn’t moved them with the adults—Thor just hadn’t finished giving birth when I moved her. And you thought your labor was bad. Naturally, those babies didn’t survive. But the seven in the tank thrived and got big quickly.
            I did some on-line research about when I could reintroduce the adults to the babies. Every site I visited said, “When they’re too big to be eaten”. Well that’s helpful! Can you be any more vague? So I stopped by the pet store to get advice. The very helpful sales woman suggested giving it another week or so. She also warned me that having more males than females would be very taxing to the female. “They’ll just keep going after her,” she said. Wow. Fish are pigs!
            Unfortunately, Thor didn’t make it to the reunion with her babies. I found her at the bottom of the fish bowl that afternoon. I guess having twenty or so babies in the space of a couple of months then being relentlessly pursued by two horny guppies takes its toll.
            Upon hearing of Thor’s demise, James took up the mantle of parenthood. He slept on his floor next to the fish tank. He wouldn’t leave them alone. I figured eventually he would crawl back into his bed. Instead, he made the floor beside the fish tank his nest. After a week or so, there wasn’t a pillow, blanket or stuffed animal left on his bed. For over a month he faithfully slept beside the babies, until we needed to get a bigger tank and there just wasn’t enough room on the floor. James is going to be a great dad some day. Or a great veterinarian.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Ring

            Edmond cringed as the bells jangled against the glass door. Tony’s Pawn Shop was the last place he wanted to be. But he couldn’t keep a roof over his baby girl’s head with two broken legs.
            “Eddie!” Tony called. “What brings you in to my shop this fine morning?”
            “I got myself into a bind Tony,” he said. “Think we can keep this quiet?”
            “Eddie! Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the pawn business.”
            “I thought bailing out idiots like me was the cornerstone of the pawn business.”
            “Potato, potahto,” Tony said. “You behind on the rent? Thought you were doin’ okay at the shoe factory.”
            “The shoe factory’s fine. I made a bet with Little Mickey,” Edmond said. “It was a sure thing.”
            “They’re all sure things, ‘til they ain’t.” Tony said sagely.
            “Spare me the lecture Tony.”
            “I’m just statin’ facts. Other peoples’ bad decisions keep me in business. What do you have for me?”
            Edmond reached into the inside pocket of his sharkskin jacket and pulled out the worn blue velvet box. He laid it on the glass counter with shaking hands.
            Tony didn’t pick it up. He wiped the sweat from his balding head, remembering the day he sold the engagement ring to a love struck boy two years ago. Now that nervous kid was a man was a scared man with a debt to repay.
“You sure about this Eddie?”
            “What choice do I have?”
            “Does she know?”
            “No. Peggy’s hands are swollen from the baby. She hasn’t worn it in months.”
            “You think that means she isn’t going to notice it’s missing?”
            “I’ll be able to buy it back in a couple of weeks if I’m careful.”
            “I’ll make you a deal. You tell Peggy first and I don’t charge you interest.”
            “You won’t make much of a living making deals like that.”
            “Eddie, I like you. I’ve known Peggy since she could walk. Her old man and I were friends, you know? He was a good guy before he was a drunk. She got a raw deal with him and I don’t want to see her get a raw deal out of her husband too.”
            “Wait just a second Tony. I can take care of my wife. I’m not a bum like her old man.”
            “Prove it. Go tell her you made a mistake. Tell her the deal I offered. You have nothing to lose. Her ring will be safe and she’ll see to it you never gamble another dime. After a couple of pay days, she’ll have her ring and an honest husband.”
            “Screw you Tony. There are other guys in this town who’ll give me top dollar for this ring and all I’ll owe them when it’s over is money.”

            Today’s piece is in response to Write on Edge’s prompt to write about a time you or one of your main characters had to repay a debt. The debt can be legal, like sending taxes to the government or paying off a credit card, or it can be something promised in a back room deal, sealed by a handshake more binding than a written contract. This is part of a larger piece I have in the works. If you’d like to read more click here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

100 Word Song: The Woman in You

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
             I was over the moon when Lance over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog asked me to pick this week’s song for the 100 Word Song prompt he hosts. The pressure was on to pick a great song by a great musician. I must thank my wonderful friend, known on this blog as Kate Sterling, who introduced me to the fabulous musician Ben Harper. My tastes can be a little predictable so if it weren’t for her, I might never have heard any of his songs other than his hit from a few years back, “Steal My Kisses”. While that is a great song, it pales in comparison to some of the poetry to be found if you dig a little deeper into his music. I picked the song “The Woman in You” for this week’s 100 Word Song. I hope you enjoy the song and the story…

The Woman in You
            “Why so chipper today Girlie?” Peggy asked.
            Karen shrugged and tried not to look like a thirteen-year-old who’d been caught breaking curfew.
            “Why shouldn’t I be happy?”
            “No reason. But I wouldn’t think taking the clothes off the line is cause for so much joy,” she pressed. “You seen that Henry again?”
            Karen continued folding the worn and faded towels.
            “You have a future Girlie. Don’t blow it on some charmer.”
            “It isn’t like that Mum!”
            “No? Good.”
            “I’m not stupid and I’m not a little girl any more.”
            “I know Sweetie. That’s what scares the hell out of me.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

100 Word Song: Run Away

            Karen watched the full moon rise in the violet sky.    
“That explains it,” she whispered.
            “Explains what?” Henry asked, startling her from her thoughts.
            “Just a bad day all around,” She said. “I was clumsy, the customers were nasty, and my feel hurt.”
            “Run away with me,” he said with a grin.
            “You have mid-terms.”
            “Don’t remind me. Let’s find a quiet beach somewhere and drink cocktails out of coconut shells. I want to see the sun warming your shoulders and the salt air making your hair curl around your face.”
            Karen closed her eyes. She could smell the ocean.

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            I’m linking up with Lance’s 100 Word Song meme over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week’s musical inspiration is Jefferson Starship’s “Runaway”. If you liked reading about Karen and Henry, you can find more here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Second Inning

Dear Owen,
I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t move up from instructional league baseball to the minor league. Disappointment stinks at any age. I just hope you don’t let it lead to discouragement.
            You were so fired up last Tuesday for baseball season to start. You were obviously having a great time throwing the ball around with your friends. And when the coach asked you to show up on Saturday to try out for minors, you were so excited you begged me to leave early. It was the very first time in the four years you’ve been involved in organized sports we arrived someplace early.
            I don’t want you to lose that. That passion, that enthusiasm. That is the stuff that drives us to reach higher and do better. Nurture that and you’ll get better and better. Anything you can bring that sort of energy to—baseball, soccer, music, or those phenomenal lego creations you build will be better because of it. You had that on Saturday. Don’t let discouragement put your fire out.
            In your disappointment Monday night, you asked me if you had to play instructional. You asked if you could just practice on your own and try-out again for the minors next year. I think you’re nervous or embarrassed about being one of the older kids on the team. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who makes her children do something that they don’t want to do (except for eating your vegetables, getting your shots, and doing your homework—I will continue to make you do those things). But I think sitting out the season would be a mistake.
            First of all, you’ve already signed up. If you don’t play, your team will be without your two years of experience. Sure you weren’t ready to move up to minors, it doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer your team. It would be a loss for them if you don’t play. Sticking to it will demonstrate your dedication to the game and your good sportsmanship. A coach that values those things is a coach you want to work with.
            Second, you’ll get to play with your brother. I’ve never in my life seen two people be as good at being brothers as you two are. This is the first time you’ve been assigned to the same team in any sport. You and James are so different and so complimentary. I think you’d be amazing team mates.
            Third, you could just practice at home. You’ll probably improve your throwing, catching, and hitting. But you won’t learn how to be a part of a team. You won’t get to see your friends because they’ll all be at practice. You won’t experience the excitement of playing a game. You won’t develop the kind of think-on-your-feet skills you get during a game. There simply is no substitute for playing if you want to improve.
            Finally, it’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun and you certainly looked like you were having fun last week. So, do you have to play instructional? No. Of course not. But I don’t think you’ll enjoy the game as much from the bleachers. I support you no matter what you decide.
            All my love, Mom

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Hundred Word Song: Breaking the Girl

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            Once again, I’m sneaking into the 100 Word Song Prompt, just before the deadline. This week’s inspiration is The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song, "Breaking the Girl". When I listened to the song I immediately thought of my character Karen and a moment from her childhood. You can read more of Karen’s story here.

Breaking the Girl
            “Daddy? Is that you?”  Karen whispered, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
            “Shhhh Princess,” he said. “You should be asleep.”
            “A loud noise woke me up,” she said. “Daddy, why is your suitcase out? Are you going somewhere?”
            “Daddy has to leave town for a few days Princess.”
            “Like a business trip?”
            “Something like that. You be good for Mum, okay?”
            “Okay. I’ll miss you Daddy,” she wrapped her skinny arms around his neck.
            Edmond touched his ten-year-old daughter’s wild curls. His throat ached with swallowed tears. This was for the best. They’d all be in danger if he stayed.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Mad Lib Tea Party

             My family loves Mad Libs, so I was beyond excited when the brilliant minds over at Write on Edge created their first ever Mad Lib link up in honor of April Fool’s Day. Here’s my contribution…

A Mad Lib Tea Party
There was a paper weight set out under a stapler in front of the cat, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having streetlamp at it: a Dormouse was purring between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a swing set, sailing their toes on it, and crawling over its belly button. `Very squishy for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

The watermelon was a purple one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they collected when they saw Alice coming. `There’s PLENTY of room!’ said Alice gratuitiously, and she skied down in a creamy washcloth  at one end of the checkbook.

`Have some baseballs,‘ the March Hare said in an furry tone.

Alice secreted all round the table, but there was nothing on it but lollipops. `I don’t see any apron’ she baked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very luscious of you to sing it,’ said Alice sang.

`It wasn’t very curvy of you to rotate without being invited,’ said the March Hare.

The Next Level: Advice from an Actor to an Athelete

            I was not a sporty kid. My interests all ran toward artsy stuff—dance lessons, choirs and drama clubs. Naturally I have children who want to play baseball and soccer. So I have become a sports mom. I may grumble about sitting through practices and games in the unpredictable New England weather. And I’ve gotten pretty stressed out trying to get the boys to two different practices at the same time. But the fact is, I love watching my kids do sports.
            There is something adorable about watching a pack of six-year olds tear down a muddy soccer field. Half of them don’t know why they’re running. They’re just keeping up with the pack. At baseball a bored little kid in the outfield is truly entertaining. They’re focused on bugs, dandelions, cloud formations—anything except the game itself. Until now, my kids have played sports at a fairly low level of competition. Everyone gets to play, everyone gets a medal, and everyone cheers for a good effort on either side.
            But things are changing. Owen has played baseball on an “instructional” team for the past two years. James played tee-ball last year and is on deck to move up to instructional baseball this year. I got a call from the coach asking James and Owen to show up for practice Tuesday night. Both kids would be on the same team—at last! They are just far apart enough in age to NEVER play on the same team no matter the sport. I was thrilled.
Owen was not. His first question was, “Am I in instructional again?”  The next level of youth baseball around here is the “minors” and he thinks he’s ready. I didn’t know how it works for a kid to move up to the next level. I figured we’d find out at the practice. Sure enough, after the kids were all tossing the ball around and running some drills, the coach took some phone numbers. Including ours. Later that night he called me and asked Owen to show up for try-outs on Saturday.
I didn’t know what was going to happen on Saturday so I didn’t give him much advice. I don’t know much about baseball beyond the basics and I didn’t want to give him incorrect information. But as I watched the try-outs unfold, I realized that the process is very similar to auditioning for a play or musical. The same advice applies to both procedures.

1.) Early is on time. Your director coach will probably arrive early and you should too. This gives you a chance to ask or answer questions, warm up, and demonstrate that you’re reliable.
2.) Be flexible about your role. You think you’re an awesome shortstop? The coach might see something in you that suggests left field. He has more experience than you do. Give it a chance.
4.) Don’t be afraid to speak up. He’s only tried you out in left field, but you’re dying to show him your stuff at third. When there is a lull, respectfully ask to try out for that. If he says no, suck it up. He may have his reasons. But it never hurts to ask.
5.)  Listen. Really Listen. Yes, the coach wants players who know how to throw, catch, hit, and run. Basic skills are really important, but a player who listens and takes direction well is a player who wants to get better.
6.) Don’t badmouth anyone. Negativity sucks the life out of a group—no one wants it in a cast or a team. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Also, you never know who’s listening. That really awkward kid who fumbles every catch? He could be the coach’s nephew. Stay positive or stay silent. If you have something to grumble about, save it for the car ride home with mom or dad. That’s what they’re there for.
The only baseball team I ever "coached".
7.) Say thank you. When your audition try-out is over, be sure and thank the coaches. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal. But it lets them know you appreciate their time and consideration.
I’ll admit everything I know about baseball I learned from directing Damn Yankees. But every thing I learned about making a good impression came from years of auditioning for shows. Who knew an actor would have so much advice for her athlete children?