Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading is Fundamental; Romance is just Fun

When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my oldest sister caught me reading a Harlequin Romance at one of my brothers' Little League games. I'm guessing at the age, but I remember that Donna had already moved out of our house and was married. So I was at least 7.

I was sitting near my mother on the wooden bleachers on the third base side when Donna asked my mother if I wasn't a little young for that particular book. I don't remember what my mother said. I don't remember the score of the game, and I don't remember the name of the book, but I do remember that my favorite Harlequin writers were Ann Mather and Janet Daily, so it was probably one of them.

How did a second or third grader come to have favorite romance authors?

My mother and her mother were romance novel queens, and Harlequin was their publishing house of choice. They’d buy Avon carrier bags full of books at a used book store in Linton, read them and exchange them for more when they were done.

Other than the Bible, there weren’t that many other reading options at my house, so when I was done with whatever I’d scrounged from the school library, I turned to Harlequin and was quickly hooked as deeply as they were. In the summertime (baseball season) there was no school library, so there you have it.

I never saw my other grandmother read anything but the Bible and religious propoganda, but she did let me watch her "stories" with her and I was addicted to all of her CBS afternoon soap operas where the bad guys generally died (at least once) to clean up a story line and the good girls always ended up (for a time) with the man they wanted after an appropriate series of trials and tribulations, of course.

Could the soap operas and Harlequins have contributed to my poor early performance in real-life romance? Maybe. I'm certain they're part of the reason I never subscribed to princess fairy tales as a child? Fairy tales seemed too clean for me.
There were similarities. In both cases, the prince always, eventually, came. (Though admittedly in somewhat different manners.)

In both literary efforts, a central figure usually died and love triumphed over evil. But the fairy tales were all so quick and neat. The villains were pure evil. The princesses were always paragons of virtue. They didn’t curse or doubt. And in the fairy tales of my youth, they didn’t rescue themselves.

I had brothers. Mean brothers. Brothers who would have brought those Grimm pretenders to run home crying to their mommy. Worse, my parents were Pentecostal. That’s hard core, man. You deviate from that path and you burn in hell – literally or so they informed me in living color about 12 million times – for EVER.

So I knew from an early age that any rescue of mine would be up to me.

I fell away from both Pentecosts and the Harlequins. The books went earlier, I think. Probably about the 76th time my mom forgot to pick me up from something. I always blamed it on her getting lost in a Harlequin on the couch. In all fairness, it could have been anything -- from the trivial to the really-couldn't-be-helped. I was the 7th child for goodness sake. I'd have tried to forget about me, too.

After I set about having actual romances of my own, I learned more cruel lessons. Sadly, you can't just kill off a bad boyfriend like they did on As the World Turns. And the villains in my adventures seemed to win an awful lot of the time, unlike those Mr. Disney spun. Perhaps I wasn’t as full of virtue as those blemishless, tiny-waisted ladies. Perhaps…

It was a rocky decade or so while I was buffeted about in the mating maelstrom. After a time, as you all know, my best girlfriends held an intervention and finagled a way for the captain and I to find our way. While it's true he wields a might sword, our story probably isn't Disney worthy.

It might be worthy of the genre I discovered years into our marriage. What I read now would make Misses Mather and Daily blush. I tell myself that I’m nothing like my mother and that my books are more sophisticated than the formulaic bodice rippers of her day. They're more complicated plots, to be sure, and often the women are as heroic as the men. So that’s nice.

Jeff stopped questioning my literary choices a while ago after, I suspect, he discovered that a happy wife full of steamy romance can have side benefits. I am, shall we say, much less friendly when I read books that make me cry than I am when I’m fresh of a vampire-huntress who saves the world and discovers a randy sidekick along the way.

So, don’t pity the husband/mate of the romance novel reader. Envy is more in order. At least at my house.

I think I have the Harlequins as early reading on my mind today because I have a new book that I'm trying to save for a short vacation next week. It's the latest in a series by Marjorie Liu. I stumbled across her when I read a book that includes some scenes in Paoli, Ind. They're silly but the characters are funny and flawed and would be people you'd love to hang out with.

Also, Ali and I went to Disney on Ice Saturday night with Jaime, Rachael, Aleasha, Brittney (Jaime's friend) and Lauren and another Alison. The other Alison was about 6, maybe, and she and my Alison became joined at the hip. My Ali took on the role of big sister and was holding her hand through the mall and the sidewalks as we moved from dinner to the show.

They sat on one end of the row and I on the other as the princesses started gliding out in the show, which took three Disney princess stories, shrank them and put them on ice. My princess issues aside, I have to say the show itself was amazing. I can barely skate, let alone dance and the costumes were just amazing. I glanced over every so often to see if my Alison was enjoying the show. She's not been a huge princess fan. Like me (shocking) she prefers the princesses that have a say in their lives and their rescue.

I was really proud of her one day when I had country music on and Little Big Town was singing about a girl who wanted her boyfriend to take her down to the little white church. Alison, not a country fan, impatiently turned to me and said, “Why doesn’t she just take her own self down to the church?”

At intermission, I glanced over. She was reading a book to the other Alison.

No, it wasn't a Harlequin. It was Franny K. Stein, though, and perhaps not appropriate for a 6-year-old.

Franny is a mad scientist who lives in a pretty pink house with lovely purple shutters at the end of Daffodil Street. A loner, her lab is in the attic and her best friend/lab assistant is her dog, Igor. She creates all kinds of things, gets in trouble and gets herself out. She once discovered the other girls played with dolls so she created one of her own, trying to fit in. Unfortunately, Franny's doll liked to eat the heads off the other, princess-like dolls.

I love Franny. The other Alison seemed entranced by Lunch Walks Among Us. I'm probably going to have to apologize for nightmares.

But hey, it could have been worse. I had my new romance novel in my purse...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Life can be hairy; you don't have to be

When I write my book, my superhero will be tall, dark and handsome. He'll be strong enough to cry when it's appropriate; smart enough to know when that is (and isn't); and he'll be willing to wield tweezers and attack the chin hairs that escape my scrutiny.

Yes, I said it. I have unwanted chin hairs, and if you're honest, ladies, you do too. You may have other unwanted, albeit natural, growth in other areas as well, but that's your business. Because I love you dearly, I wish for you a mate like mine: in my case a man who for all his flaws, will alert you to, perhaps even help battle the kudzu-like growth that will eventually set in if it hasn't already.

For those of you with more testosterone than estrogen, I appeal to you to heed the call you may first have heard when Edwina met her love, H.I. McDunnough: "Turn to the left!"

That's right: check out the ear hair, man. And rely on your partner, who if he/she loves you enough, will address the situation for you. And if you have Joe Kernan eyebrows, don't fear trimmer; embrace it.

Here's what else I wish for you.

I wish for you a mate who will:
1. Squirrel away notes and momentos from your life together -- even it if means you have unwanted clutter taking up space in your basement.
2. Not just make love to you when you're not at your best physically, but actually WANT to make love to you because you're you.
3. Make you so angry you could do bodily harm every once in a while.
4. Have a past. A past that involves other lovers and adventures you have never undertaken so there's a comparative.
5. Have a past that can't compare to your present and future because you've both learned what really matters.

I could go on, but it'll just devolve into maudlin crap. Please, I beg of you, don't discount the tweezers. They're going to be important in your life. There may come a time when you're trapped in a hospital bed unable to take care of those little buggers yourself.

Sure, Ward was happy to clasp June's pearls. And it's handy to have help with troublesome jewelry, zippers and the like. The real test of love and endurance is the facial hair.

Why am I waxing hirsute-ical? Because this weekend, Jeff and I went through a bunch of old stuff to contribute to an e-cycle effort. We had old electronics but they were taking paper, too. A torrent of memories -- some great, some awful, some sweet, some kick-ass funny -- came pouring out. Love letter, advice to the love lorn, old cards and notes.

I found a box of clip files and speeches I'd written for politicians long out of office. Jeff found legal papers that sprung him free to meet and steal me away from a former love, the congratulations note he found in his locker when he tried out for the high school basketball team and an encouraging note from his coach the next year.

Most of it was fun and we kept more than we should. I'll apologize to Alison now for the detritus she'll have to deal with one day. But for today, I'm happy for that look back and my peek (fully supported by the man) into my husband's life.

Life can be hairy in more ways than one. Lucky for us both, we're stronger than the follicles. Here's hoping we all are.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Time Traveler

Alison and I took a walk into Broad Ripple this morning and she spent the "to" portion telling me about her DragonVale adventures. It's a game she plays on her iPad, which began on mine, so she has a double dose of dragons for whom she has strategic breeding plans (no actual copulation is involved), food production and revenue streams.

I could recount to you the types and monetary value of her 35 dragons and dozen or so habitats... OK. I know you're fascinated, too: There are sky dragons and water dragons, earth dragons, swamp dragons and fire dragons and ice dragons and.... Names run the gamut of Gusty (wind dragon) to Rubble (he's a mountain dragon) and my favorite, Tsunami (a water dragon.)

It's a mile into Broad Ripple, ergo I know a mile's worth of dragon lore. Don't you wish you were me? :)

Part of the deal with breeding dragons is that you have an incubation perior that can last from minutes to days depending on how exotic your dragon is. Back when my iPad was her only path to the world of dragons, I'd often find the clock was off. Sometimes by days. It was really annoying. I'd reset it only to find it off again next time I checked in.

And then I discovered that Ali was time traveling. She started doing it when she was playing another iPad game called PocketFrogs. Turns out these critters have an incubation period, too, and Alison was manipulating time so she could hatch her batches of frogs in record time.

She'd tried it with DragonVale, but it turns out that dragons are smarter than frogs and they smack you around if you try to hatch a dragon out of the proper time sequence.

"You're kind of tricky," I said.

"No, I'm smart. There's a difference," she explained, quite seriously.

It was funny to me that we were talking about time travel because it's the subject of my latest Book Club book -- 11/22/63.

The book itself is fascinating, depressing, uplifting, often hard to put down, but sometimes difficult to keep at.

If you could change history, would you? Should you?

I know there have been times in my life that I would love to have a do-over because I did it so badly in round one. But, with apologies to Darius Rucker, it was the mistakes (and some right calls) that brought me here to this.

"This" being a long walk hand-in-hand with my daughter on a cold winter's morning. Sure, my mind might have wandered a bit during the detailed dragon descriptions, but my heart didn't.

It couldn't. A little, gloved hand had a firm grip on it.

I wouldn't take a trip back and risk missing that.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Snippets from the season

We celebrated Christmas early with my family. It was a lot of fun at "the big house" as we're calling Donna's new abode. It's just outside of Coalmont and it comes with a neighbor who Chevy Chase would envy. I'm sure it'll take that guy until Spring to get all the outdoor decorations put away.

I brought a box of old photos rescued from my parents' house. I'd share them with you but I'm afraid my family would kill me. Somehow no one thought they looked good in the 80s and early 90s...


On the way home from shopping with Auntie Jen, Alison was lamenting how bored she was. She was so bored it was as if she was in a Civil War museum. "Grandpa would love to be in a Civil War museum; he wouldn't be bored there at all," I said.

"Grandpa was in the Civil War?" she said, incredulously.


Like Indiana, there wasn't much snow in Maine this holiday but we made the most of what we had. The morning we went sliding, we were the only ones at the golf course where last year there was tons of snow and the famous couch-down-the-hill sliders who let Alison climb on board. It was fun just being there by ourselves and not too cold, either.

On one of the flights home, there was a man with an infant in the seat beside Jeff. Ali and I were across the aisle. A woman with another infant stopped by to chat with the man by Jeff. They were siblings on their way home from visiting their parents. She was assigned a seat several rows back.

By definition an officer and a gentleman, Captain Reed offered to switch seats with the woman.

Alison, flashing back to last year's Spring Break trip where we were surrounded by a horde of screaming babies, hissed in my ear: "He did it to get away from the baby!"


James and David are wearing wedding bands, a fact that didn't escape Auntie Jen's eagle eye, although the rest of us were apparently in a coma. There should be a party soon to celebrate. We're all very happy for them. They may need a crash course in how to be a new couple though.
1. They refused to do a classic "hand" pose to show the rings.
2. David insists on wearing his ring on his right hand because: "I'm left-handed."


Alex came over the day after we got back home from Maine. After a week surrounded by only grown-ups, Alison was ready for some time with her peer group. It took us a while to connect and I asked Ali to help me with something in the interim.

"Sorry Mom, I can't. I'm waiting for the phone to ring," she said. I shuddered and sent up a prayer that I won't witness that incident with a different context anytime soon.

Thirty seconds after the "guess what I gots" the two pals were scrambling downstairs so Alison could show off her iPad and they could get to breeding new dragons on Dragonvale -- an artform she'd spent hours trying to instruct her grandfather on. (I don't think the lesson took...)

I set about dis-assembling Christmas upstairs. Before I could get to the first ornament, I hear the pitter patter of 10-year-old feet. "Mom, can we borrow your iPad?"

"I thought you were playing with Alison's iPad."

"Yeah, well, we think it would be better if we each had one."

Ah. Technology...It's not like I was using it anyway...


We spent New Year's Eve with John and Lisa and a nice bottle of Krug. Jeff found it on crazy sale a while ago. Like the Dom we had a few years ago, it's clear why it's priced so much higher than other champagnes.

As we marveled at the taste, I asked the boys if they'd pay for another bottle. Without hesitation and nearly in one voice came, "No."

"I'd buy five $40 bottles instead," said my favorite Republican.


Christmas is back in its bins. The house is spic and span from the obligatory cleaning that goes along with packing up the holiday and the zero-point soup is simmering on the stove. It's back to reality next week.

Hope your holiday was as great as ours and that 2012 brings about great things for you and yours. As for me, Ali has promised to train me on her new Kirby game.

"Don't worry, Mom. I'll start on a really easy level so you can learn," she said.