Friday, October 19, 2012

This week's highlights

It's been a good week for a lot of reasons. Here are three:

REVIEW: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

I'm a reader/writer/lover of narrative nonfiction, so the chance to read Behind the Beautiful Forevers made me very happy. The book itself stirred me, as did a survey of the reviews. Read more here.

FROM THE NOTEBOOK: The country road

There are downsides to driving in the country:... trying to pass a rickety hay wagon as it weaves from shoulder to shoulder.

... potholes that eat front ends and separate mufflers from exhaust systems.

It's easy to complain, but "The country road" offers a short, different perspective. 

I'd love to read your thoughts: what do you enjoy in your everyday surroundings?

And finally,


A stat I'd like to see: how much of a bump do the online NY papers get from Detroit fans reveling in the Yankees' collapse?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Order, Beauty, Abundance

New post is up at Twig and Rivet. I'm looking forward to considering this in more detail:

So often we think in terms of economy: the language of money, the language of sparseness. I want to turn away from home economy and toward home ecology. How might we flourish and thrive?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

So I've mentioned my new blog, Twig and Rivet.

While I continue to work as a freelance writer, and continue to develop content for a future business venture, this site has nothing to do with all that. Twig and Rivet is not-for-profit, dedicated to exploring the ideas of beauty and place.

In my first post about this, I mentioned that In My Little Town would become a companion site to Twig and Rivet. I may change my mind. I'm still learning the Jux platform, and I just figured out how a reader may comment directly on that site (click on an individual story or picture, then hover the mouse or your finger near the top of the screen. You should see a dialogue icon, it looks like an oval with a bird beak pointing southwest). I'm not sure what that means for this blog. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, here's a thought from my latest post, Art and Place:

Sometimes I think our consumerism and our global connectedness get the better of us, sapping our creativity and our immediacy and our physical ties to this place in which we stand. I want to do something about this, but what? We are not going to undo what the Internet has done for us, so I'm starting here. I hope to end, though, in concrete places where I live and work and worship. 
What do you think? Can art ever be separated from your lifestyle? How does our ability to easily consume art from around the world impact the art we might make? 
See the rest here, and leave me a note here or there. I'd love to consider your thoughts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Twig and Rivet - Origins

Beauty and place occupy my mind, sometimes as independent ideas, more often interlocked. What is it we hope to create and grow in our homes, our communities, our churches, our schools, our world? How do the concrete spaces help or hinder what we desire? What works well? What stands in our way of creating and growing the things we value? What cheap substitutes do we accept? Beyond the money, how might we think about investing in these places? Why does it matter?

Here's a excerpt of a piece I wrote earlier this year:
...I want to better our space. This year in particular I’ve been thinking about ways to alter our environment, but I’m torn. So many ways to approach a house, so many ways to handle your money. How do I determine the best ways to use and/or change the house we have?
I dwell sometimes on efficiency. We need the space to work, to contribute to our purpose. I think about shelves and storage and baskets and a bigger kitchen. Other times I yearn for for something less utilitarian. How can I bring a sense of beauty into our lives?
Our culture chases me with ways I might spend time and money on my home. I don’t always like what I see. Magazines bait me to buy more and more things. Somehow, this ever-expanding list of essentials is supposed to make life more simple. Television shows exalt glossy customized rooms–beyond customized. Does everything have to enshrine us?
I want to create a space were we, family and friends, thrive. How to do that without falling into desperate consumerism and self-indulgence mystifies me, in some ways, but this summer I’ve realized that I manage one space that works.
Read the rest here.

File:Trinity Cathedral blueprint.jpg
Original blueprint of Trinity Episcopal Church, Davenport, Iowa
What makes a place beautiful? Why does it matter?

In My Little Town is now a companion blog to Twig and Rivet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Changes in Direction

Hi! It's been a while, hasn't it?

I'm not good at transitional chit-chat, so ... here's why I'm posting. I'm making some changes. In the next few weeks, the focus of this blog will shift. For the next year, I want to explore some ideas I have about beauty and place, but I have a problem.
Thumbnail for version as of 06:32, 6 July 2006
I find the blog templates on Blogger limiting and not beautiful.  This runs counter to my interests, so I began looking at other platforms. It's important that the site is lovely, ad-free, and low- to no-cost. I found a near-perfect place. Hooray!

The downside? It lacks the opportunity for conversation. I really want to have a conversation about some of these things; it's why I'm writing about it online and not (yet) in a book. So, this site will move away from my brief and occasional thoughts about life and toward the specifics of beauty and place.

I hope you'll join me.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rained Out Haiku

Clouds bode a downpour,
but I rejoice in downtime--
unexpected gift.

Today is haiku day in Blogathon 2012, and rain out day for my family's sole scheduled activity. Hurray!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Letter to the Tooth Fairy

The tooth hangs by a strand of flesh. Last night it brought forth enough blood to simulate a vampire movie, but alas, it remained. This spawned great weeping; for how, the child conjectured, would funds be gathered and applied toward Disneyland without the immediate benefactor-y of the Tooth Fairy?

Sorrow continued past bedtime, but then, quiet ... and finally... Eureka! Glorious light! A vision, a solution!

The child descended the stairs in haste. Gathering paper and pencil, the wee one perched at the dining room table and penned the following:

Translation (as read to the child's father):
Dear Tooth Fairy, 
I am sorry I didn't bring a tooth. But it didn't come out. So give me a surprise next morning. I would like to have 2 more dollars. 
Is this the first ever Tooth Fairy IOU? If accepted, what sort of credit debacle would that be?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Recipe for Chuck Roast

I originally posted this recipe at my consistently neglected food blog. It's one of the most popular posts I've ever written, and it's a great recipe for families on the go. I hope you enjoy it!

My personal tastes run toward the ridiculously expensive. Take my relationship to beef. I wait until I have a few extra bucks and splurge on ribeyes, our favorite cut. This means I sometimes forget about the simple beef roast. But when I give it a chance, I'm always pleased.

I grew up on chuck roast, and I still enjoy that cut and flavor: satisfyingly beefy. It was on sale this week,  and I was excited. It's a great cut to cube for beef stew or Hungarian goulash, but I really wanted to make it in the slow-cooker.

While this is not their recipe, I've got to give a special shout-out to America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I've learned a lot about cooking from reading the recipes and tips, as well as everything else published by the folks at Cook's Illustrated magazine. I love everything about it. If it were a wine, I'd describe it as 'nerdy but accessible'. It's ad-free, well-illustrated, and scientific. The recipes are so detailed, they're practically foolproof.

A few thoughts:
  • Set aside the extra 15-20 minutes and brown the meat and vegetables. It will add depth to your finished dish. If you don't want to take my word for it, believe my mom. She's not a foodie. She's a very practical woman who doesn't like to fuss over a dish, and I can remember her standing over the frying pan awkwardly turning big ol' roasts - because she could taste the difference. 
  • If you don't do wine, try a 'dry' juice like cranberry or pomegranate.
  • This recipe would suit a 6 quart slow cooker. Mine is 5 quarts, and there was about 3 cups of liquid that just wouldn't fit - but still plenty of delicious sauce. 
  • Served with baked potatoes and salad. We're planning on leftovers with noodles.
  • My estimated cost per serving is $2 for the main dish, salad, and potatoes (had a nice coupon for the meat)
Slow Cooker Boneless Chuck Roast and Sauce
Makes 8+ servings

5-6 lbs. chuck roast (I used two smaller roasts for a total of 5 lbs.)

1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 dashes cayenne
2 dashes paprika
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried ground thyme

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
6 carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
8 oz. sliced mini-bella mushrooms
1/3 cup chopped celery (fresh or frozen)
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 beef bouillon cube
2 bay leaves

In a small bowl, mix kosher salt, cayenne, paprika, pepper and thyme. 

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Pat the top of the roast dry with a paper towel and  sprinkle with a teaspoon of the salt mixture. When oil is hot, place roast seasoned side down in pan. Sprinkle an additional teaspoon salt mix on top. Brown roast on both sides, 5-10 minutes, and place into slow cooker. If working with two smaller roasts, brown each one individually.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onions and cook about 4 minutes. Add carrots and cook about 4 more minutes. Add mushrooms and cook an additional 3-4 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen and browned bits. Add the Worchestershire sauce, tomato paste, chicken stock and bouillon cube and bring to boil. Add bay leaves.

Pour liquid and vegetables into the slow cooker over the browned roasts. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high 6-7 hours.

When meat is fork tender, remove from liquid and place in serving dish (a large casserole would work well here). Remove as much fat from the liquid as you can (I used a gravy separator) and purée the vegetables in batches. Transfer to a gravy boat if you're feeling fancy, or just put in a bowl with a ladle. Serve.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Scheduling Like Clockwork

I have a friend who can remember not just the birthdays, but the due dates of all of her friend’s children.
Me? Unless I make an effort, I can’t remember how many kids she has.

This is what I mean when I say that I am not a detail person. In some ways, this makes me feel very unwomanly. Combine this with a distinct tendency toward uni-tasking, and there’s no doubt. I fall short of the feminine ideal. If I bring home the bacon, the frying pan is dirty.

This is why I require such a commitment to a calendar. One calendar. Singular.

I used to keep a paper wall calendar, but somehow, this one wall calendar begat more wall calendars. These spawned scheduling problems and missed appointments. I then moved to a purse-sized paper calendar, which was great until they stopped making the one that tracked everything I needed to track and still fit in my purse.

This year, everything’s on the computer. I color-code each of our activities, so I quickly know who’s got what when. I usually write out the week's schedule and post it. Nothing may be added to the schedule without coming through me. So far, this is the best system for us.

How do you stay on top of your family’s schedule? Any tips you’d like to share?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

We celebrate moms today: their love, their care, their sacrifice. I especially want to celebrate my mom's sense of humor. She's funny, and she thinks her kids are funny (and at least two of them are). I loved sitting around our dinner table, listening to her pun away. Still do.

Happy Mother's Day! May your quick wit and clever ways continue with your children's children.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Top posts

As some of you know, I'm participating in a 31-day blog challenge hosted by Michelle Rafter. I wanted to take the challenge and see if I could post about life as a family on the fly. How do we stay connected to each other and our communities? What do we see and learn? How do other families do it?

As of yesterday, the challenge is one-third complete. These are my most popular posts:

Mom Marketing for Picky Eaters - Four tips on how to persuade your kid to try new foods.

Queen of the Road - A quick introduction to my life. Includes great youtube clip of Roger Miller singing "King of the Road" in front of some psychedelic backdrop.

A Tale of Two Bagels (one standard, the other gluten-free) - My longest post of the challenge. Two bread machine recipes for bagel dough, and a review of the process.

Pause the Spin Cycle - How do you enjoy the journey?

And my most popular post so far?

Comedies that Inspire - Six movies that make me laugh and inspire me as a parent, road warrior, community member, and writer.

Thanks for reading! Have anything you'd like to read about in the next third of the challenge? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Out of the desert

When you come to a desert in your work, what do you do?

Obligation, Like Mercy, my new essay, is now available for reading at Curator Magazine. Here are a couple of quotes that influenced me as I wrote:

  • What more, you may ask, do we want? Ah, but we want so much more—something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and the mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.-C.S. Lewis
  • We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.-Marie Curie
How are you participating in and pursuing beauty in your life and work today?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Music on the Road

Life on the road, I hear, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Oh sure, traveling sounds great, and some of the destinations are remarkable, people tell me, but you get sick of the airports and the restaurant food and the hotels.

I get this, but consider how irritated you might be on a flight with unsupervised children behind you, kicking your seat, whining, starving, fighting with each other over who said which word first, as if "jinx" were a UN treaty. You might wonder, where is their mother?

Life at home means their mother is present but occupied, the pilot of that flight, a stripped-down operation where she is also the stewardess and baggage handler. The chair being kicked is hers.

I'm not saying I'd trade spots with the business traveller. My kids aren't always awful. Sometimes they're fabulous. One of the things that helps them be fabulous? Music. Music hath charms to soothe the savage children who scream at each other for the slightest offense. Singing along is like magic. For a brief moment, there is unity. Harmony, even.

We sing along to all types of music, but here's a video clip of one of our favorites:

How do control your flights and keep the backseat beasts at bay?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Mom marketing for picky eaters

five more than I would eat
I was that kid. The one sitting at the dining room table for hours. It was me versus four lima beans, I think, and I didn't budge. I like to think I won that round. Some might argue that's three hours of my life I'll never get back, but when you're a kid, you've got time.

Now I've got no time plus kids of my own, and can't imagine using the "sit there until you eat it" strategy. We've got places to be. This is the season for mom marketing. Four tips:

Tip #1-Rebranding, Part One: Concept Dining

Potato-cheddar soup sounds boring and torturous. Everyone talking like pirates and eating Golden Treasure Soup? Shiver me timbers.

Tip #2-Secret Recipe

When making individual portions of something (a burger, for example), let the kids sniff their way through the herbs and spices. Each child can then season his or her own (but careful with the cayenne pepper!).

Tip #3-Rebranding, Part Two: Gross? Cool

(A couple of friends of mine reminded me of this one yesterday, and inspired this post.)
Raising a little thrill-seeker? Come up with something awful to call the food you set before him or her. Alien eyeballs with a side of monkey brains, anyone?

Tip #4-The Magic of Bacon

This one's courtesy of my mom and dad. Well, probably just my dad. When I would refuse to try something, he'd tell me it was like bacon, or a different form of bacon. I believe he used the line with both sweet potatoes and mushrooms. Note: I'm guessing this strategy evolved after the lima bean incident.

How do you market food to your kids?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Two bagel recipes, one GF

Road warrior foodie moms, how do you handle it? Sometimes our pace in life puts our values in conflict. I get sick of packaged food dominating our meals and snacks, but can you imagine if even packaged food was a difficult option?

Some of my friends don’t have to imagine. Those with celiac disease must eat a gluten-free diet. You’d be amazed by the ways gluten sneaks into packaged food. Finding appropriate, tasty, well-priced options is challenging, especially for those who live in rural areas.

According to one of my GF friends, this is especially true of bagels. She is a road warrior mom of the highest order. One of her tribe needs her to travel a long way, and she’s going. She wants to be prepared, especially for breakfast. She spotted a recipe for GF everything bagels, and thought it would be a fantastic, portable choice to freeze and take. She knows I love to get my food nerd on, so she invited me to help with a test batch.

wheat bagel dough

The Pre-Test Batch (Gluten-y)

Before making the GF bagels at her house, I made a regular batch at mine. I wanted to be able to compare the doughs. I use a modified version of Beth Hensperger’s recipe from her amazing “The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook” (My modified version appears as the first of two recipes at the end of this post).

The dough was lovely: heavy and elastic. The challenge? I suck at dividing dough evenly, and I excel at over-flattening the dough balls. No matter. The bagels tasted great.

GF everything bagel dough

The Test Batch (Gluten-Free)

With this experience fresh in my mind, I headed to my friend’s house. We reviewed the GF recipe together, as well as her preferences. She likes the “everything” of the everything bagel (poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, and garlic) in the dough, so we tweaked the recipe to suit her taste (this appears as one of two recipes at the end of the post). We were careful not to increase the salt in the dough, as salt retards the growth of yeast. While the recipe called for a mixer with dough hooks, we decided to give a bread machine method a try.

We discovered that the dough was a little dry, and added water a little at a time until all dry ingredients were absorbed. We also used a rubber spatula to help during the initial knead.

Gluten vs. Gluten-Free Prep Notes

  • Compared to a standard dough, the GF dough does not have the same visible rise. I think this is due to the differences in density. 
  • After you divide the standard dough, you poke a hole in each dough ball with your finger, then leave it there and spin it, expanding the hole. It’s fun. The elasticity causes the hole to close a little as the dough rests. The GF dough was dense, but soft. No spinning! Just form the hole with your index finger, and it holds.
  • The standard bagel recipe calls for boiling the bagel in salted water for about 7 minutes. The original GF version uses canola oil in the water, not salt, and the suggested boil time is only about 30 seconds. My friend and I upped that time to about a minute. 
  • The standard bagel recipe uses an egg wash after the boil but before baking, and then you sprinkle each with your topping(s) of choice.  With the GF bagels, we buttered the tops of the boiled dough and sprinkled them with salt. 
  • After 20 minutes, the GF bagels smelled great but were not browned. We moved them up a rack and let them back for about 10 additional minutes. (This was more in keeping with the time in the original recipe. We let them cool for as long as we could stand it, and then split one. Delicious!


Regular Wheat Bagels
(Modified from the Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook)
Yield: 16 bagels
1 cup water
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
2 cups bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon gluten
2 teaspoons fine kosher salt
2 1/2 teaspoons SAF yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast
3-4 quarts water
2 tablespoons fine kosher salt
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tablespoons water for glaze
Seeds for garnish (sesame, poppy, caraway, or fennel)

1. Place the first eight ingredients (water, eggs, flours, sugar, salt, gluten, and yeast) into the bread machine pan according to manufacturer’s instructions. Place pan in the bread machine, select the dough cycle, and press start.
2. After about 2 minutes, check to see if the dry ingredients are being absorbed into the liquid. Add water a tablespoon at a time as needed, pausing after each addition.
3. Allow the dough to go through the entire dough cycle. When cycle is complete, empty the dough from the pan onto a prepared surface.
4. Divide dough into 16 equally sized balls. Stick a finger into the middle of each ball to form a hole. Spin the dough on your finger to expand the hole (it will shrink a bit as the shaped dough rests). Allow dough to rest as you prepare the water. No additional rise is needed.
5. While the dough rests, bring three or four quarts of water to a boil and add remaining salt to it. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper.
6. With a slotted spoon, lower 4 bagels one at a time into the boiling salted water. Boil for 4 minutes, then flip the bagels in the water and boil an additional 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and place on lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining bagels.
7. Place desired seed garnish on a plate. Brush tops of bagels with egg yolk/water mix and then dip in garnish. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bagels are golden brown. Cool before serving. Serve the same day you bake them, or freeze for up to one month. (Hint: you can slice before your freeze them.)

Gluten-Free Everything Bagels
(Modified from
Yield: One Dozen Bagels
2 cups warm water
5 ½ cups all-purpose gluten-free flour blend with a one-to-one ratio (we used King Arthur brand)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon powdered dried garlic
2 packets active quick-rise dry yeast
2 quarts boiling water
2 teaspoons canola oil
Melted butter
Kosher salt for sprinkling

1. Place the first nine ingredients (water, flour, sugar, salt, flavorings, and yeast) into the bread machine pan according to manufacturer’s instructions. Place pan in the bread machine, select the dough cycle, and press start.
2. After about 2 minutes, check to see if the dry ingredients are being absorbed into the liquid. Add water a tablespoon at a time as needed, pausing after each addition.
3. Allow the dough to go through the entire dough cycle. When cycle is complete, empty the dough from the pan onto a prepared surface.
4. Divide dough into 12 equally sized balls. Stick a finger into the middle of each ball to form a hole. Allow dough to rest as you prepare the water. No additional rise is needed.
5. While the dough rests, bring two quarts of water to a boil and add canola oil to it. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
6. Poach bagels a few at a time in simmering water for 60-65 seconds. Remove from the water and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
7. Bake for 18-30 minutes until the bagels are golden on top. Cool before serving.

How do you handle your food challenges?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Comedies that Inspire

These are not movies that inspire in the traditional sense. You won't find Remember the Titans (although I love that movie). These six reflect my theme this month (family on the fly) and/or push me toward better craftsmanship as a writer. They also reflect what I enjoy most in a movie: humor. 

Please note that this in not an endorsement of these movies as “family-friendly.” All contain adult content.

Families on the Fly


One scene stands out: Gil Buckman (Steve Martin) projecting the future of his son during a ball game. Buckman imagines his boy Kevin overcoming his emotional issues on this very day through wise parenting and baseball. Kevin will become college valedictorian and publicly honor his dad, validating his decisions. When Kevin drops a pop-up, Buckman imagines his son on the college campus bell tower, raining gunfire, all because "you made me play second base." As a parent, how easy it is to imagine every decision we make is life-altering. This movie brings levity and good humor to our reality: yes, parenting matters, but parenting is not the only factor in, nor the end of, our children’s stories (or our own). 

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Steve Martin again (yes, he is one of my favorites), this time with the late John Candy. Neal Page (Martin) just wants to get home for Thanksgiving, but as modes of transportation continually fail, his fate becomes tied to Candy’s overbearing salesman, Del Griffith. Like Parenthood there’s a bit of schmaltz, but I’m willing to overlook it. We are more than just individuals racing to our own goals, and more than just families. Wherever we find ourselves, those around us matter.

Great storytelling with travel and/or family themes

These movies stir me to write funny, write better, push myself and, frankly, write fiction or a screenplay. 

Grosse Pointe Blank

John Cusack's Martin Blank can’t go home again, but he can still shop there. I don’t have words for how much I enjoy this movie. Alan Arkin? Joan Cusack? ’80’s soundtrack? Dan Ackroyd singing “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” during a shootout? I love everything about it. In fact, I’m demonstrating self control by continuing to type. I love the blend of the ordinary (class reunion) and the extraordinary (mercenary assassin for hire), the tone, everything.

Addams Family Values

This time Joan Cusack takes the star turn as gold-digger nanny serial killer Debbie Jellinsky. This does not have an ’80’s soundtrack or Alan Arkin, but it does have Camp Chippewa and Gary’s vision and a slideshow monologue and Raul Julia singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

(Moment of self-discovery: I love it when characters sing traditional music in a movie. Did I mention Martin and Candy sing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles?)

All-time favorites

A tie. My two all-time most inspirational movies - The Jerk (I told you he’s one of my favorites) and Network.

The Jerk 

Martin's Navin Johnson never fails to make me laugh. Right now, I can crack myself up by thinking any of the following: He hates these cans. Fresh wine, the freshest you can find. Cat juggling. The second day felt like three days. And this thermos … that’s all I need.


While not exactly a comedy, it is funny, glorious, profound, prophetic. Here’s an excerpt of an essay I wrote for Curator Magazine:
…I thought I might find it easy to focus on the character of Howard Beale. Beale is an anchorman on a fictional fourth network, competing against ABC, CBS, and NBC. His life is falling apart at the outset of the movie, but in his shattered state, he becomes a voice for the frustration of his audience. He is deemed ‘the mad prophet of the airwaves’ and instead of delivering the news, he spews his delusions on an adoring group of followers who respond to his tirades with applause and occasional action. His show becomes the news, and at its peak includes segments like a supposed psychic predicting the future, a fabulously dressed woman revealing people’s dirty secrets, and Vox Populi, an opinion poll.
‘It is,’ Roger Ebert said in his 2000 review, ‘like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the World Wrestling Federation?’
Ten years after Mr. Ebert’s review, I stand more amazed as I think of the news personalities branding themselves on every 24-hour news channel.

You can read the complete essay (free, no subscription required) here. What movies inspire you? Feel free to share your thoughts or links as a comment.

This post is a part of a theme day in the 2012 Blogathon. For more about the Blogathon, visit freelance writer/community builder Michelle Rafter’s site. If you enjoy lists, try “The Top Five Most Self-Centered Songs of All Time.” Mac Davis gets a very special honorable mention.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grasping Offside in Soccer

A friend of mine declared these “soccer mom sandals.”

It’s true. I am a soccer mom. Only I don’t feel like a soccer mom, because one of the mysteries of my life is soccer itself.

Now understand, I’m no sports hater. I can explain the infield fly rule, the difference between a false start and offsides, icing. (I would add “traveling,” but this knowledge is obsolete when watching the NBA, so I don’t count it.) Despite my love of sports, the rules of soccer remain elusive to me, especially offside. I’ve decided this ends today.

(Note: If you have little soccer players and are unfamiliar with this rule, don’t fret. Offside is not a part of all kid’s soccer. My middle child’s league plays 6 vs. 6 on a smaller field. They do not have the traditional offside rule.)

Now let’s break it down.

An offside violation in soccer is made of two parts.

Part 1 - Where is the player who will receive the ball?

For a player to be offside, we have to consider the player’s location. The player who will receive the ball from a teammate is offside if s/he
a. is in the offensive zone
b. is nearer to his or her opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opposing player (the goalie counts as an opposing player)
If a & b are true, the player is in an ‘offside position,’ but remember this is only one part of our equation. The player is not in violation of the rule unless s/he is in an offside position and involved in the play when part 2 happens.

Part 2 - Who last touched the ball and where did it go? 

For offside to be called, the player who last touched the ball has to be a teammate of the person who will receive the ball.


-Unlike football or hockey, the soccer offside rule doesn’t have much to do with lines. The only line that matters in discussing offside in soccer is midfield. The midfield line matters because offside won’t be called if the player who will receive the ball off of a teammate is in the defensive zone (see Part 1, a).
-You may have noticed I’m using an awkward phrase, “who will receive.” I have to say “who will receive” because if the receiving player is onside when the ball is sent, s/he is onside, even if s/he appears offside when s/he makes contact with the ball. The reverse is also true: if the player is offside when the ball is moved ahead, s/he is offside, even if s/he runs onside to make the play.
-You may also note that I’m not using the term “pass.” “Pass” implies intent. If you are the player who is offside, your teammate does not have to intend to move the ball toward you or toward the opposition’s goal. It could glance off him or her and you could still be considered in violation of the rule.
-The rule does not apply on throw-ins, goal kicks, or corner kicks.

Why does it stir such emotion in spectators?

Source of Anger A: discretion. The player who is potentially offside must be “involved” in the play. If you’re on the field playing, how can you be declared uninvolved? I’m not sure, but it’s an option for the ref.

Source of Anger B: sight lines. The potentially offside player can be level with the second-to-last defender. From one angle, s/he may look level. From another, s/he may look offside. The refs may not agree, let alone the spectators.

Source of Anger C: requires super vision. The rule requires the refs to be able to consider who made last contact with the ball, as well as where the receiving player was in relationship to two opposing players when that contact was made. These two events can span more than half the field. That’s a lot to see all at once, and that’s not all the refs needs to observe.
How did I do? If I've got it right, then writing this helped. I hope reading it does the same for you. If you’d like some charts and graphs, I like these. If you’ve got a kids’ sports rule or play I can research and/or write about, let me know in the comments.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Writer's Group

In the month of May, I've got 5 days without children's sports. Four of those are Memorial Day weekend, when many of the folks in the Mitten take off for parts north. The other was today. While I would've loved to stay home, I set out early to attend a writer's group meeting.

I know. If you're a writer-type, you may hate this idea. For me, this easy-going group is an encouragement to continue to write, even when it's hard to find time. The group gives good critiques, improving my craft. We read books on writing, building up our determination and stamina. We swap ideas and experiences.

It's great to be a part of a community of writers. For me, it's worth the time.

When life gets busy, how do you take the time to invest in bigger communities? How do you develop your skills? Do share your ideas!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Pause, Evening Edition

photo credit:
Luc Viatour /

Earlier this week I talked about pausing the spin cycle of our life and  reconnecting with our surroundings, and this weekend presents a great opportunity. From Saturday May 5th-Sunday May 6th, the night sky will offer both a super moon and the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. What a great excuse to break from our routine, make s'mores or hot chocolate, and dream a little.

While technically the moon will be at its closest point to earth at about 11:35 EDT, I think we’ll try to catch it as it rises. Who can resist the moon through the trees on the horizon? If you are in the U.S. and want to find out when the moon will rise in your area, visit

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Thrive. It's my word this year. As individuals who are a part of communities, what do we need in our ecosystems to thrive?

the forest and the trees
While I could make a very serious list, today I want to focus on just one thing: playing.

I thrive on play, especially while creating with others. When I go without this, I feel doubly wrong.

Wrong #1, I am a writer. All reports indicate this should make me a lone wolf-type, but here I am, yearning for the pack.

Wrong #2, I am also a theatre-type. Theatre satisfies this need for play, but my location and season of life makes a theatre commitment difficult. I don't regret my life choices, but I love to play. What to do?

Among other things, I drag my friends into story ideas. In My Little Town's two most popular blog posts were written collaboratively. Friends riffed on a Facebook post, and I compiled their answers. Excerpts and links to both are below.

Pomp and Circumstance and Meatballs
(examines the high school graduation open house tradition in Michigan, giving tips and tricks for *success*)

Here's what you can expect if someone invites you to an open house:
  • A high school graduate who looks annoyed at being at his or her own party 
  • A beautifully clean garage with tables full of food 
  • Paint cans, weed whackers, bottles full of motor oil, and other junk crammed into a locked basement 
  • Mystery relatives 
  • Cocktail meatballs in chili sauce and grape jelly 
Read the complete article here, or try ...


You are a rock star soccer mom and kitchen ninja, and it's time to let the world know it. It's time to write your biography blurb.

Not just any biography blurb: the greatest bio in the history of the internet, the one that's going to revolutionize the art and practice of blurbing, the one that's going to catapult you into the rare air of internet darling and employed author. After all, you are a housewife with three kids living outside the most insulted city in the country, faking a basic understanding of SEO and nursing an anemic freelance career. The only thing holding you back is a quality bio.

Continue reading "Write Your Own Bio Blurb" here.

What do you need in your personal ecosystem? How might you thrive?

This month, I've started a professional page for myself on Facebook. From time to time, I'll be cultivating a collaborative piece there. I'd be honored if you liked my page, and I look forward to connecting to you.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pause the Spin Cycle

How many sayings about traveling can you think of? Do most challenge you to celebrate the journey?

My brain is loaded with a rangy assortment of bygone songs. This means musical clichés may attack at any moment, including that old Mac Davis song, the one where "you got to STOP ... and smell the roses." I’ve wasted space on that for 38 years. Perhaps if you are of another era, you can hear “The Climb." Thirty-five years from now, remember this: if you don’t want it in there anymore, they don’t make a scrub. It’s sticking.

I know those songs are big metaphors for life’s journeys, but I can’t connect. If my life were a Bugs Bunny map, it would look like a technical illustration in an appliance brochure. “The Washing Machine Spin Cycle”. STOP ... ping to smell the roses, or to say hi to a friend and admire his bees (that’s not a metaphor; I live in the country; I have more than one beekeeper friend) sets my internal dial whirring. This is a shame. I like the roses, and I’m fascinated by bees.

So I’m trying. Whenever I can, I’m pausing the spin cycle, allowing more time, a little cushion, some space to enjoy whatever comes along, including the detours. For instance, if heavy equipment blocks your usual path (again, not a metaphor, looks like someone needed work done on their septic field), you might take the less-direct lakeside route, and find this guy standing in a neighbor’s yard.

Sandhill crane.

To my fellow road warriors, I say, leave a few minutes early when you can. Take a different route, mix it up, re-engage with your surroundings. I’d love to hear what you find.
For a slightly less positive, but more amusing bird encounter during my non-taxi season, consider this turkey

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Queen of the Road

My husband once threw a legendary fit. In a room strewn with inert children and un-put-away stuff, he declared our kids “like a bunch of hobos”. This struck me as funny, and right. We have a house, we do, but right now it functions more like sleeping quarters. We live out of our car.

This is not a complaint. We choose this life, a life of running, and we are privileged to have this option. We run from after-school activities to evening events to weekend happenings 6-7 days a week. On our way, we do our best to find time together as a family. We grab time with friends and our bigger communities.

Weekdays, it’s usually me and my kids. I circle, delivering one child to point A, taking another to point B, returning to point A, etc. On a good day, I see my roles as shuttle driver and food truck operator as fun, worthwhile sacrifices. Other days I think I’m Sisyphus, expending energy but unable to call it work, stuck in a never-ending loop that yields no progress, unless you call fast food and hobo-ism progress. I do not.

This is my life, and God willing, it will be like this for a while. I might get used to it, but I would rather get better at it. That’s what this month in my little town is all about: learning to thrive as a family on the run.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Touching the Art

You are welcome to check out my latest essay at Curator Magazine, "A Record of Wearing and Worn." An excerpt:
The word is “worn.” As in well-worn, as in worn out, as in weary. Wear on, wear thin, wear off.
A thing can be worn in many ways. It may be that a thing is put on, a show, an adornment, a cover. A lady may wear her clothing or adversity well. Hearts may be worn on sleeves, worn out with tears or trying.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

On reviewing

My first book review appeared on ERB this week. Here's an excerpt:
When I read a book, it’s as if I’m on a date. Some dates go well. We discover common ground, and the book and I stay together into the wee small hours of the morning. Other dates are like early scenes from a Hollywood romantic comedy, where the evening twists and turns and misunderstandings create distance.
Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language by Ina Lipkowitz made a great first impression. The book promised to explore our Jekyll and Hyde attitude about what is good to eat by examining the history of five types of food: fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and bread. It would explore human history, church history, the Bible, linguistics and modern examples to make its case.
Based on all this, I said yes to the date. The introductory pages reinforced my decision. The author revealed herself as witty, a little self-depreciating, self-aware, knowledgeable about history, food, and the culture at large. Then we got into her thesis.
(You can read the rest here.)

Writing a review was harder than I thought. A friend of mine who has reviewed Bible software in the past put it well when he said that you have to show why you hold your opinions. That's what I tried to do in the review of Words to Eat By: share a digested experience (ahem), not just (double ahem) spew opinion.

For more of my book-related writing, please check out To Tame a Friend at Curator Magazine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Keep February Short

If you know me, or if you've read this post, you know how I feel about the coming month. I've come up with a new plan to deal with my hatred of February. You can read about it at Curator Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

I will go to great lengths to ward off the February blahs. In years past, I have decorated my home with tropical flourishes, distracted myself with games and group trips, tried to embrace winter with snowmobiling and “Doctor Zhivago” weekends. I have done all I can think to do, and February still comes… and stays. 
My pain is prolonged this year, as it is a Leap Election Year. This is when we make up for time unaccounted for in the solar calendar, and make it seem longer still by adding the torturous political primary season. It’s an extra day to campaign; I know the politicians will never give that up. They are too busy twisting truth. But perhaps we don’t need the politicians to help us Keep February Short (™). 
That’s right. I’m doing it. My New Year’s resolution: instigate calendar reform. ...

To whom do I address my plea? How will I respond to my critics? Will I use math? Discover the answers to these questions and more at the source:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Starting and Stopping

I am a wuss. Example: I claim that I like to have my errand-running all planned and efficient, but this somehow leads to a billion different reasons to delay the running of the errands:
Am I sure this is all the dry cleaning?
Surely there is a coupon somewhere for that.
It would be better if I waited until I was going out anyway, that way, I will waste less gas. Besides, it’s awfully unpleasant out there.
With these and other thoughts like them, I stay home for days. Stuff piles up at the door. The pantry contains only dried kidney beans I once used for pie weights and Jell-o.
That was 2011. This is 2012.
January 3rd, 2012, I am conquering you, I thought. I will go to the dry cleaners with the two items I want cleaned. I will fill up my tank with gas. I will relish the cold. I will pick up groceries at the most consistently inexpensive store and not worry about the coupons.
All this before 10 a.m.? Victory! I turned west toward home, the day’s battle against lethargy won. But a new war awaited.
A creature appeared in the distance, walking in the eastbound lane. A single car sat near it, then sped  from shoulder to shoulder, swerving around the animal.
I was a little miffed. Surely the dude (I assumed it was a dude) could have stopped to let the poor thing by.
As I drove closer, I realized the poor thing was a wild turkey. Unlike the dude, I, the conqueror of the errands, could offer a little benevolence. The turkey ran toward the ditch, so I stopped and gave him (I assumed it was a him) some room to be sensible.
The turkey froze. He turned and looked around. He looked at me. And then, he ran … directly at the grill of my car.
Now I looked around. I wasn't sure what to do, so I treated him like a distracted driver and honked my horn. The turkey turned out to have a case of road rage. He stopped momentarily, then charged my car and disappeared.
I honked again. A greyish-white head popped over the hood of my car, gave me the eye, and then vanished.
I imagined him pecking at my bumper with demented fervor, or reenacting that scene from Cape Fear. I checked the rearview mirror. The nearest vehicle was far enough away: I put my car in reverse and eased back a few yards. Retreat only angered him more. He charged me again. People were now coming eastbound, so I put the car in drive and tried to sneak by on the shoulder. He headed me off like a sheepdog.
I slowly returned to my lane and hit the brakes as the jake once again disappeared. Eastbound traffic paused. The turkey head shot up again. The driver opposite went wide-eyed. I was playing chicken with a turkey.
Now a line of cars formed behind me. I realized that from their point of view, I was merely a crazy woman impeding their progress for no obvious reason. So I honked again. The eastbound driver moved, and the westbound drivers took their turns staring at me, first in disgust, then with disbelieve.
Finally, all traffic cleared. I threw the car into reverse and aimed for the shoulder. As the turkey came my way, I threw the car back into drive and — like the dude five minutes before me — gunned it. I swerved and flew back into my own lane, leaving, I’m sure, a distant motorist with the same temptation as me.
To her (I assume it’s a her) I say, it’s easy to rush to judgment, but for 2012, I’m quitting that. Cold turkey.