Monday, March 31, 2008

Tuesdays With Morrie Became Monday's Sad Story

My daughter was mistaken for a homeless person outside the Books A Million last week, and the most shocking thing about this is that I completely missed the warning.

She went to the bookstore for some type of heated, after-school debate about a group project. Her best friend gave her a ride to the bookstore, and, true to form, my daughter talked her into running through a drive through for some chicken nuggets before dropping her off. Happily clutching her nugget bag, she headed toward the store, deciding at the last minute to eat her nuggets on the sidewalk before going in.

About halfway through the bag, she was startled when a passer-by of about four years old shrieked out a gleeful request for a nugget only to receive a stern scolding from her scandalized mother. “She’s homeless, dear,” the mother said, giving my daughter a wide berth while steering her child in the opposite direction. “We don’t take food from the homeless!”

We figured the unfortunate mistake was the result of the anteater-at-a-picnic style with which the kid tends to attack a bag of nuggets. It also could have had something to do with the oversized pieces of art and the graffiti-covered gear she had in tow. I’m sure the B-B-Q sauce stains on her sleeves didn’t help.

However, it wasn’t until today that I realized that my daughter's appearance, though undoubtedly a contributing factor, may not have been the primary reason the woman assumed her to be homeless. My working theory is that she probably lives near the Books A Million and sees this kind of thing all the time. Just as the streets of Vegas are populated by those unfortunate souls who pass the time idly feeding the nickel slots, the sidewalks in front of the Books A Million are doubtless strewn with those who count their wealth soely in terms of pages turned. Proximity to the bookstore won't let this vigilant woman lose sight of a fact that I had forgotten:

Reading is addictive.

Although one seldom hears cautionary tales about the pitfalls of reading, I submit here in this forum that, as far as compulsive behaviors go, reading habits need to be regarded with the same concern as gluttony, or off-track betting.

Not that I’m a stranger to reading—-indeed, books are a part of my daily life. It’s just that in recent years, I have managed to convince myself that I don’t have much time to read for pleasure.

I’m not sure how it happened. I grew up consuming Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden on a book-a-day basis. I absorbed Michael Bond and CS Lewis, their British influences infusing my own speech and writing with phrases like “Crikey!” and “there was a row in the queue,” and the tendency to use the favoured spelling of the Monarchy.

It’s just that responsible adult life isn’t designed to accommodate addictive behavior. Even when it masquerades as a wholesome, educational pursuit.

Ironically, my love for literature was rekindled when I got desperately behind on some in-class reading and my husband got me hooked on listening to CD books on my commutes. Eventually, I became so adept at employing CD literature that I got ahead in my reading, and discovered that I had time to listen to other books, too, just for fun.

But I got greedy, which is how I came to find myself crouched in the nonfiction aisle of the Books A Million, sucking up chapters of Tuesdays With Morrie like my daughter on a bag of chicken nuggets.

Remembering the triple digit page count I faced in the form of weekend reading homework, I prudently slid the book back on the shelf when my daughter was ready to go home.

But when I woke up in the morning, Morrie was still with me. I had know what happened, how his talks about life, and love, and death progressed, and how many of Mitch’s questions would be answered before Morrie’s Final Chapter.

I went to the library, ostensibly to pick up a book for school, which I forgot, and left with Morrie, who is far more interesting than linguistics, Chaucer, or that horrible book I have to read for my multicultural literature class. Morrie slam-dunks anything in my sociology book (although, he was, ironically, a sociology professor). Needless to say, Morrie trumps laundry, and dusting, and, to be honest, I read him behind my own booth at the Virginia Festival of the Book on Saturday.

I stayed with Morrie clear through to the end, and all I have to say is that it’s a good thing Morrie’s account wasn’t contained in a lengthier tome.

It’s also fortunate that my husband has a good job, because although my daughter was mistaken for a homeless person, I'd otherwise be in danger of becoming one, especially since my daughter's group is meeting at the Books A Million again tomorrow and I have to pick her up. The truth is, I could come home with anything, and be well on my way to a downward spiral. Indeed, I could even now, be in the final chapters of Responsible Living.

Come to think of it, I think I’ll just wait for her on the sidewalk outside the store and eat a snack.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Brownies, Bunny Cake, and Brewed Coffee (Grounds)

This a quick little post about Monday baked goods and an update for those concerned about the much-maligned New York Capri Pants.

Last week’s photo shoot was a wonderful success. The photographer followed the girls through the entire brownie process: licking the batter, sliding the pan into the oven, eating the proceeds before they cooled. He even sat though our lesson while the brownies baked. My editor sent the final layout to me yesterday, and the piece looks great. She even added an editor’s note, with links to my new website and books.

My son volunteered to take pictures so all of you could join in the fun. I’m sure these images will make you feel like you were right here with us.

Don’t you just feel like you were sitting right here?

This week, I decided to bake bunny cakes instead of brownies. I’m sure you’ll understand why I’m relieved that not only were no reporters on site, no one else showed up, either:

And the word on the Capri pants is that they emerged from beneath the grounds unscathed. If any staining did occur, the overall brown patina of the fabric rendered any defects invisible to the naked eye, a merit not enjoyed by all baked goods.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


On this Easter Sunday, I would be remiss not to make mention of two facts of note. The first is an update on the ill-fated New York Capri Pants . Evidently, a concerned bystander pulled them from the trash, although I have yet to visually verify this fact, and there is no word yet on how they fared amidst the coffee grounds.

The second is that answers came to clarifycertain uncertainties with which I've been struggling.

New life has been breathed into some stagnant dreams. Isn't redemption a wonderful thing?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lessons of the Pants

For several consecutive Spring Breaks—I’d guess four—I’d fallen into the habit of reading whatever one of the Traveling Pants books was hottest from the presses.

Having read the final installment in the account of the globetrotting jeans last year, this spring left me with no choice but to reflect upon Pants mishaps of my own design.

I’m sad to report that the New York Capri Pants didn’t make it. They were last seen mingling with the coffee grounds in the bottom of my trash can.

There are reasons for the extreme fate of The Pants. For starters, who knew that lugging two layers of shimmery fabric around your waist could be a workout? I should have donated them to NASA for astronauts to use during zero gravity experiments. As far as Earth-bound applications, I suppose you could use them as a paperweight, but my next point will illustrate why you wouldn’t want to.

They’re enormous. The pattern size I measured for was more than double the size stamped on clothes I buy off the rack. “Sewing sizes are different, mother,” my daughter kept insisting. All I know is that the New York Capri Pants could provide shade and shelter over a large portion of Central Park.

Then there’s the fact that every line I tried to sew kept moving—slipping and sliding all over the place, until the midsection looked more like a licorice whip than a waistband.

But the writer in me isn’t content to just let the unfortunate events rest unexamined. No, the ill-fated Pants must be infused with some sort of Greater Meaning, they must inspire, instruct and inform. They must have Purpose.

I wouldn’t blame you for asking why, but the reason is quite simple. It’s the only way I can cope with the personal failure, waste of expensive fabric, and loss of many hours that could have been invested in more productive pursuits.

What then, can the Pants teach us from their gritty grave?

My husband would say that, too, is simple: I can’t sew.

I say it’s a little of that, and a lot of I don’t know when to quit. I don’t know when quitting is good, or when quitting is bad. It seems that there are times for both, but just like a little kid who hasn’t figured out what strangers are OK to talk to (Policemen? The hairdresser? That creepy guy who drives the ice cream truck?) I’m still learning the rules.

That’s what I learned from the Pants. That, and I can’t sew.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tomorrow Comes Early Every Monday

Every Monday at 6:30 PM, it suddenly becomes Tuesday at my house.

The smell of baking brownies and sounds of canine excitement signal the weekly time warp. Tails wag as teen girls, hungry for a combined spiritual and sugar rush, file through the front door. This weekly ritual played out every Tuesday night for ten years until I started my Masters program. After Tuesday evening classes forced a move to Mondays, everyone cheerfully adjusted to the time change, but not a name change. We’re still the Tuesday Night Bible Study. We just happen to meet on Monday.

What’s different about tonight is that instead of making the brownies ahead of time, I’m waiting for the girls to arrive so we can bake them together. The format change is for the benefit of a photographer who is coming to take pictures for a story about our group which will run in a local women’s’ magazine and, apparently, the newspaper as well. The brownie making angle is a concession to the fact that, for photography purposes, taking pictures of us baking would be more interesting than pictures of us sitting around on couches eating the brownies, which is what we usually do.

I won’t have the pictures to post, but, as I happened to write the article, I’d be happy to give you a sneak peek at it.

It goes something like this:

Who knew when I sat down in my living room one late spring evening with two teen girls, a pan of double chocolate brownies and a Bible that my life was about to change? Sure, I was excited about building relationships with some of the girls at church, but I had no idea I was beginning a chapter of my life that would be peopled by dozens of teenagers who would bring me not only encouragement and joy, but also inspiration in the pursuit of a lifelong dream.

But that’s exactly what happened. Our weekly living room sessions around the brownie pan are now eleven years strong. Over the years, I’ve been in two weddings, and another
two marriages exist because of friendships that formed in Tuesday Night Bible Study.

Along the way, we’ve prayed together over lost loves, sick pets, and plummeting grades. We once sat and cried together at a funeral, too. Sometimes the older girls come back from college or married life and get to know the new girls. It’s a continuous thread.

I was a late bloomer, of sorts. A caution-to-the-wind kind of gal with a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for impulsive road trips during school hours. Having managed to survive into my twenties, I felt a responsibility to extend a map of sorts to my younger sisters—a guide marking the best stepping stones around the tough neighborhoods.

But even my husband, who has been a constant source of encouragement in endeavors ranging from international travel to the ill-advised adoptions of numerous strays, was skeptical.

“It’s a great idea,” he said. “But I’m not sure if you’ll get them to come. I don’t want you to be disappointed.”

But come they did—sometimes in trickles, others in droves. And our group quickly expanded as the girls brought their friends. Soon girls from all over the community began showing up at my door each week for a dose of scripture, a listening ear, and, of course, a brownie.

I keep a few trophies—but not the kind you have to polish. My favorite is a little Ziploc baggie full of “contraband” a couple of girls unexpectedly gave me one night at the end of a study. Not even 24’s Jack Bauer could get me to divulge the contents of the bag, but I promise you, it was worth way more than every chocolate chip I’ve ever had to buy and every hour that stretched beyond our usual two.

And that lifelong dream I mentioned? My experiences with the girls actually gave me the nudge I needed to jumpstart my frustrated writing ambitions! It began as a chapter-a-week online saga featuring a protagonist who, as one girl put it, “is a little bit of all of us.” The experiment grew into two young adult novels that have opened doors for me to talk with girls who would never have the opportunity to walk through my door on a Tuesday night.

Those who come usually hit the door with a single question: “Are there brownies tonight?” They claim my super-chocolaty recipe has “ruined” ordinary brownies for them.

I understand. A brownie isn’t just a brownie for me anymore, either. It’s a warm, gooey celebration of enduring friendship and the unexpected joys of giving.

Cynthia Davis is pursuing an MAT in English at Christopher Newport University. To contact her or learn more about her work, visit

Maybe you'd like the brownie recipe?

Bible Study Brownies (Nestle Double Chocolate Brownies)
This is the recipe for the authentic Tuesday night brownies!
3/4 cup unsifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 package Nestle semi-sweet morsels
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In small bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt--set aside. In small saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and water. Bring just to a boil, then remove from heat. Add 1/2 package of morsels and vanilla. Stir until morsels melt and mixture is smooth. Transfer to large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually blend in flour mixture. Stir in remaining morsels. Spread into greased 9 inch pan. Bake 30-35 minutes.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Knowing When to Say "When"

“Don’t end up at Barnes and Noble,” my daughter pleaded at the end of a cell phone conversation right before my husband came home from work on Friday.

We were going out on a date—spring break item #7, for those who are counting—and if history was any indication, about one troubled meal and ninety minutes away from aimless aisle wandering and a video on the couch.

My husband had given this date a pretty good trailer, though, so I’d looked forward to it with some anticipation. I’d categorized it in the “mystery” genre, as I had next to nothing to go on, but when he came through the door carrying a slender manila folder, I started thinking along the lines of James Bond, or Mission Impossible.

Inside the folder were three columns of numbered sticky notes with the headlines “Dinner,” “Shopping,” and “Film.” The rules, he said, were simple. Once an option was uncovered, I had to decide to accept it or move on, but the catch was, I couldn’t go back.

Twelve possibilities for dinner, seven for shopping—each with varying funds I could spend—and nine potential movies—what fun! I quickly removed the starting options in each category—obvious throw-aways (McDonalds, Wal-Mart, and a movie called “Jumper,” which may be a perfectly fine film, but not one with which I was familiar.)

I kept going.

The options got better—a nice Mexican restaurant, a decent Target allowance, a fun romantic comedy. But all those uncovered options...what might I miss?

I continued peeling Post-its.

From bar and grill fare, Barnes and Nobel (“I can’t go home and tell our daughter I ended up at Barnes and Nobel”) and a well-reviewed drama, I wound up with: “Bag Lunch—PBJ,” “$25 at K-Mart” and some really scary sounding flick called “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins.”

There was nothing I could do but keep peeling.

It’s a good thing my husband knows me well, that he’s no stranger to my “grass must be greener” urges. Because brown-bagging it in K-Mart duds at a B-movie is what people like me typically come to in the end. By the time I’d reached a tidy, three digit sum at Macy’s and WAS STILL THINKING my date had tuned into “Deal or No Deal” and I was the contestant poised to reject a massive payday and go home with a penny.

But my husband knows I can’t stand the unknown. That I have to know “what could have been,” that I struggle with understanding that the best things are the ones that you have.

Knowing it would likely get to that point, my husband saved some sweet options for the end, allowing me to enjoy a piping hot pot pie, a shopping spree at the mall (variety!) and the same romantic comedy I reluctantly passed by in the number four spot.

He says it won’t go down this way next time. He says I need to learn when to embrace what’s before me and stop second guessing my choices.

Otherwise, next time I’ll be wiping peanut butter off my Wal-Mart T-shirt as I trudge into the video store.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Singed Finger Stymies Blogger


I had a post planned for tonight, but getting ready to settle in to type, I made some tea, severly burning a finger in the process. You wouldn't believe how long it is taking me just to post this simple announcement: pauses to cool the digit on a cube of ice, repeated backspacing to correct myriad typos--I should have just left them as testament to the scope of my infirmity.

If I don't make it back tonight, I hope you'll stop by to check in on me tomorrow.

Need ice...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

...But What Can I Get for the Thousand Words?

It's not a good writing week. On the heels of yesterday's Upset with The Editor , The Antiques Roadshow series came to a screeching halt when the subject ended up with a broken foot. Although my editor--not the one who thinks it's "wierd" to pay for assigned work--still wants the stories when the subject is back on both feet, early projections are that the coverage will fall when I'm wallowing ankle-deep in school work. My relationship with the paper could, if fact, be on its last leg.

In the aftermath of all the literary trouble, I decided it was the perfect time to focus on list item #10:


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tension at the Seams

I cringed as a sunbeam cut through the roughly-hewn piece of cloth I held in front of me. "Do you think this might be a little see-though?" I asked my daughter, hoping she couldn't see me behind the cloth sheath.

She could, right down to my frown of disappointment.

And, just like that, I discovered another way I’d like to imitate Jesus. According to the Gospel of John, (19:23, to be exact) he wore clothes without seams.

While my fascination with this fact may not speak to some of the more crucial ways I need to emulate Christ, it was this detail upon which I found myself fixated as I struggled with my efforts toward eleven eleven list item #1, finish sewing the New York Capri pants.

I’d like to report that the hours of cutting, sewing, and pinning resulted in a happy, stylish conclusion. I’d like to post a photo of the finished product, or better yet, of me looking sharp modeling the finished product, but really, all I have to offer is a sad tale punctuated by events like the shattering of my glass button jar across the tile floor, and an emergency trip to the fabric store when the sunny conditions of my working environment revealed the transparent nature of the smooth, flowing fabric and I realized that some type of liner would need to be fashioned.

Now, common sense will tell you that if I’m struggling with implementing the basic pattern, the skills required to improvise a liner are way off my map. Furthermore, a liner for a smooth, slick garment must be cut from fabric that mirrors those qualities in order to retain the free-flowing characteristics of the piece.

Sewing pieces of slippery material together is even harder than cutting slippery material, which, I can assure you, is no job for a stay-within-the lines perfectionist.

Further complicating my attempts at the harmonious fusing of fabric was the fact that I was coming unglued by events unfolding outside the perimeter of frayed threads in which I’d been hemmed.

Seems that a new editor with whom I’d been excited to work found my request for payment for assigned work to be “weird.” (This is not the Antiques Roadshow series, referenced earlier, but, rather, even more promising work that apparently will not transpire.)

Pondering what led to this unsettling turn, I realized that my difficulty with seams extends way beyond the ten pieces of fabric with which I was wrestling. I don’t know how—or if—school fits into my life. The penny-pinching turbulence at the newspaper is evidently worse than I realized (I’ve been called weird before, but it’s usually for something like organizing the wares of store shelves into ROY G BIV order while I shop, but never for collecting a paycheck). I don’t know where to focus my future writing efforts.

It should really come as no surprise that seams are troublesome. Why else would we use the phrase “seamless” in admiration of work strangely free of flaws? Seams are where things come together, the intersection of incongruous elements, and are, therefore, inherently challenging.

If seams were simple, we wouldn’t talk about things “coming apart" at them, and “popping a seam” wouldn’t be viewed as a problem. Sewing kits wouldn’t come stocked with forked tools known as “seam rippers.”

Seams aren’t simple because they represent transitions, and if you’ve written as much as a high school essay, you know how elusive it can be to craft a smooth shift.

Seams are the creaky joints where the frayed edges of our lives converge. We jockey, we pin; tentatively at first, testing to see how the fit squares with the pattern we’re aiming to craft from the bits and pieces with which we have to work. Opportunities, ambitions, longings and hopes—these are the elements we must reconcile with the resources available: our skills, time, and tools. It’s arduous work, and success is never guaranteed.

Today, I need to spend some time contemplating my patterns—-the one printed on newsprint to guide me through the transitions of trousers, and the other to write upon my heart as I seek to become more Seamless.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Documenting my Wanderlust

I’ve always had it—it’s what ignited my ill-fated bid to summer in Cabrini Green when I was 13. It’s why I’ve never been able to hold down a job involving attendance in the mid-calendar months. It was behind the urges that led me to Africa and Mexico. It’s the force whispering into my ear even now, taunting and tempting me into the unknown.

Wanderlust is a powerful mixture of idealism, curiosity, and passion for life. It’s an urge that’s satisfied only through acts that leave your hands dirty and feet sore. It’s never safe, usually risky, and always deeply fulfilling. At its best it’s spiritual, at its worst, it is self-destructive, even fatal.

I’ve been listening to the CD book Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s account of the early 1990s explorations of Christopher McCandless, a young wanderer whose quest to quench his internal cravings led to a grim conclusion in the Alaskan bush. At times, excerpts from his journal read eerily like my own; his yearning for “unfiltered experience,” his belief that there’s “more” out there than most people allow themselves to discover.

My current efforts toward fulfillment of eleven eleven list item #3—start cross country scrapbook—have turned my thoughts toward open spaces. Not just in the “go west” sense, but in the direction of self examination, of understanding the role and purpose of dreams, longings, and cravings, and what to do with mine.

Recent educational developments have caused me to reconsider the path on which I’ve embarked with my masters program. I had to drop the in-depth-examination-of-a-middle-school “lab”class—unexpected field work requirements in my other classes left me with no time to even start the time consuming project. Dropping that led to a realistic look at my remaining course requirements, and two important discoveries: that I definitely have to extend the program, and I’m not sure how much I want to. There’s a lot more field work, for one. More importantly, the field work I have done has led to the conclusion that as nice as a little part-time, private school teaching gig can be, Being a Teacher isn’t something I’m all that jazzed about. Perhaps the biggest doubts have originated from some professors I’ve consulted who have questioned the compatibility of my personal goals with this particular program.

In short, I can build a convincing case for staying, and an equally convincing one for cutting my losses. However, another semester will take me past the point of no return, and I have just a couple weeks to decide: is this just wanderlust, luring me away from the conventions of society? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve run from confinement at the first sign of longer days and warmer climes.

Or is the voice I hear the weak gasp of an author and journalist crushed beneath the weight of assignments I’ve turned down and projects I can’t pursue due to the demands of academia?

Oh, and did I mention that my old, very part-time job as a private school art teacher is available once again?

Abandoning free education—I’m studying on a full-ride scholarship— with the ideation of major success in print somehow doesn’t make me feel much wiser than McCandless. Armed with meager provisions and no charted course, he was last seen heading into the unknown, blissfully happy but thoroughly deluded.
The story of my own temptation to embark Deep Into the Literary Wild—and the results thereof— will unfold here, soon enough. If I don’t make it, just tell the authorities you last saw me with a pair of scissors, some colorful Sharpies, and a stack of photos of the Grand Canyon.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sharing Dinner

I wish you could have joined us for dinner last night. A creamy blend of three cheeses and fresh picked parsley wrapped in paper-thin crepes beneath a layer of homemade sauce…manicotti as it's meant to be enjoyed. I satisfied eleven eleven list item #5—recreate my favorite dinner for my family—with a humble attempt at manicotti in the tradition of The Little Venice.

Throughout my childhood, I looked forward to the times when the sluggish pace of a rural Saturday—monitoring motor vehicle sightings past the property, blowing a pickle-shaped Burger King piccolo to summon the neighbor boy, that sort of thing—was broken by my grandfather’s voice from the Ham radio on the kitchen counter, announcing that we were going out for dinner.

He’d pull up in front of the house with my grandmother in his Lincoln Town car, and we’d all get in—my parents, my sister and I—for the half hour ride to Binghamton. I never liked any of my grandfather’s Town cars—the ride was too smooth—but I loved the 8-tracks he’d play: John Denver, Kenny Price, and Loudon Wainwright III’s big hit, Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.

At the restaurant, there was never any question that the food was authentic, top-notch, and plentiful. I don’t remember everything I used to order, but I know I must have had my fair share of manicotti, because no rendition of the dish has ever sufficed since. Whenever I see it on the menu at an Italian restaurant, I always ask if they make their own crepes, or use pre-fabbed tubes. It’s invariably the tubes, and it’s a shame. The extra effort for the crepes isn’t just a nice touch—I won’t even bother ordering the dish sans crepes.

The really exciting thing is that I had the opportunity to revisit Little Venice in adulthood several years back—and I can report with complete certainty that the manicotti is every bit as good as I remember it as a kid. Well worth the trip to Binghamton if you live in North America.

Recognizing that real life prevents most of us from making the pilgrimage to the land flowing with marinara sauce and manicotti, I offer the following recipe, adapted from our friends at Taste of Home magazine:


1 ½ cups flour
1 cup milk
3 eggs
½ t. salt

2 lbs Ricotta Cheese
½ cup Romano
½ cup Parmesan (not the stuff in the green shaker can!)
1 egg
1-2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley (dried will do in a pinch)
(make ahead and chill in fridge for best results)

I use my home made sauce that involves crushing Italian tomatoes in a food mill and adding fresh herbs (basil, oregano, etc.), a pinch of brown sugar, salt, pepper and garlic to taste. Feel free to experiment, improvise, what have you, but please don’t resort to jarred sauce. You’ve come this far—don’t skimp here.

Mix crepe ingredients in a bowl. Spoon about two tablespoons into a hot skillet. Use spoon to spread into a paper thin 5 inch circle. Do not flip or brown. Set aside on paper plate, and continue making crepes until batter runs out.

Spread sauce on bottom of 13x9 and other various pans you may need to deploy. Spoon cheese mixture into crepes and place, seam down in pan. Top with more sauce and grated cheeses. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 minutes more or until heated through and bubbling.

Oh, and one more thing…this recipe lends itself nicely to a sweet ending I remember fondly—a tall, thin, crème de menthe parfait.

If you don’t have time to cook, feel free to stop by for leftovers. We have plenty, and they’re even better the next day.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Happy Welsh Heritage and Antique Guitar Appreciation Day

“Well, you would be headed in the right direction if we were open today,” the security guard cheerfully informed me, “but today’s a holiday.”

My random adventure with the kids was off to a shaky start. I had to think fast. Yesterday, when I posed the idea of an adventure, both children announced that there was nothing new to see in our city. When I suggested they join me in eleven eleven list item # 6—fly a kite on the beach—they scoffed, claiming kite flying doesn’t qualify as an adventure. Tough crowd.

Undaunted, I asked them, over dinner, to each write down three things about which they wanted learn more. “Oh, no, research,” one child groaned, while the other dutifully scrambled for a library card.

“Who said anything about reading,” I demanded, mentally scrapping the library from my plans.

I used the kids’ reported interests—ranging from playing the guitar to native American history—as inspiration for some local, low-cost experiences. A quick internet search revealed a free museum with impressive Native American holdings less than 2 miles from our front door. Hidden within the campus of Hampton University—an instructional institution with which we are largely unfamiliar—the museum qualified as both something new to see and a non-print source of interest. Bingo!

But here we were, turned away at the gate, victims of some holiday of which we were not privy.

I was doubly surprised by the holiday angle, since I’d already scoured my mental database to identify the reason why both my kids and I were all off on the same day. In former times, those sweet days when all three of our lives included only one small school where I taught and they learned, we’d grown accustomed to having an entire week off together each spring. We’d usually tackle some project—one year we painted my daughter’s room, another year mine—and we’d scrub the kitchen floor, all the while listening to a carefully selected book on CD. In the afternoons, we’d visit parks and friends and libraries—good times that, this year, must be compressed into a single day, now that the three of us are all at different schools, each with a different spring break.

Although I’ll confess to being slightly stymied by the museum’s closure, I recovered quickly, dashing into another museum around the corner (we’re loaded with ‘em here, what with all water, European colonization, and all) arming myself with tourist brochures, all of which highlighted the merits of places the kids have already been, none offering a single new lead.

My big break came in the form of a serendipitous parking place in front of a storefront sporting a British flag. Recalling the upset that ensued last spring when the children discovered their Welsh roots, I herded them into the store in hopes of helping them connect with their newfound heritage.

I knew I struck gold when the friendly lilt of a British accent greeted us at the door. The shop owner pulled out maps, recalling tales and recounting customs. The concept of tartans, plaid patterns worn by family groups, totally captivated the children to the extent that they went home and researched theirs.

We stocked up on British junk food for the afternoon—sodas and chips of unique flavour—and continued on to our next stop, involving an elderly guitar—a weathered electric cast off abandoned by my nephew—about which there has been much recent ado. Just that morning, my son had been strumming its 5 poorly tuned strings as it hung precariously from his neck by a broken leather belt sporting several dozen bent staples.

We drove to a cluttered but well-stocked guitar shop. You know the kind—dark and a little dated, managed by a Woodstock-era hippie strumming out peace and love on a battered acoustic. He replaced the missing string, gave the old clunker a good prognosis (“might even be a collector’s item someday, if you hold onto it”), and infused the kids with a good dose of fascinated inspiration. Today, they’ve got it plugged into some old stereo equipment and were last seen with a chord chart and some slightly roughed-up fingertips.

Although a second glance at the calendar still didn’t corroborate the security guard’s holiday story, I still think I might side with him on this one. Although we may well be among the select few who knew, the day certainly proved itself worthy of special commemoration.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Eleven Eleven

For reasons that have remained unclear and largely unexamined, I have, since childhood, taken an odd delight in noticing when it’s 11:11. Identical pairs of slender neon digits lined across the display of the clock radio or dashboard, the unassuming numbers never fail (twice each day!) to remain noteworthy. Maybe it’s an aesthetic appreciation for the element of line. Perhaps I’ve come to associate the hour with lunch, or repose. I suppose there’s even the specter of psychological disorder, which would be especially concerning, as I’ve recently learned that the affectation is apparently genetic. Seems my daughter sends a text message to her best friend twice daily to alert him of the time of day, but since he actually appreciates this service, I figure the habit is less weird than it initially appears.

Clocks aside, today finds me doubly enamored with the number eleven. Tomorrow morning, I begin eleven days of spring break, and, in celebration, I’ve created a list of eleven things I want to do. The plan is to tackle one each day (although there’ll be some overlap) and post the progress here.

In no particular order, here’s what we’re dealing with:

1) Finish sewing the New York print Capri pants I started last winter, and promptly abandoned once I realized they’re supposed to have a zipper.

2) Make amends for the mosaic-wedding gift mirror I managed to ruin during the final grouting last fall (a full 16 months after said wedding) by designing and beginning a replacement.

3) Use all the stuff I bought that time I emptied the scrapbooking shelves during that sale at Target to begin the scrapbook of last summer’s cross country trip.

4) Complete an assignment for a pair of articles about the Antiques Roadshow

5) Recreate my favorite dinner for my family

6) Fly a kite on the beach

7) Attempt a real date with my husband

8) Plant flowers in my window boxes

9) Stay up late watching movies

10) Start a new photo blog

11) Take the kids on a random adventure

Perhaps by now you're a little overwhelmed. You might even think you misunderstood, that I’m taking off the entire Spring season, that I must have said eleven weeks, not days. No need to scroll back for clarification—as usual, my expectations exceed reality. I figure at the very least, it'll make for interesting reading. Stay tuned.


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