August 30, 2011


Sing us a song
Of a love that once belonged
Tell me your tale
Was your journey far too long?

All the voices that are spinnin' around me
Trying to tell me what to say
Can I fly right behind you
And you can take me away

--Norah Jones

Today is my 34th birthday.  I had a lovely celebration with my husband, daughter, and in-laws over the weekend (because birthdays that fall on a Tuesday are hardly convenient for anyone who actually has a job).  I have a roof over my head, food, clothing, and shelter.  I wasn't anywhere near Hurricane Irene, and my house is air-conditioned--honestly, folks, there are times when I suspect I would find other necessities negotiable compared to that one!  My daughter is beautiful, vibrant, and the joy of my life.  My husband is a wonderful man whom I love devotedly and, strange as it seems to me at times, he makes it very clear that he feels the same way about me.  As if all that wasn't enough, I swore to myself that I would be published before age 33 ended, and though it didn't look exactly like I expected it to when I made the vow, it did happen.  In other words, I am a content woman, and my birthday is a happy time for me.

But it's also my first birthday since my mother died, and that just feels wildly unnatural.  She was one of the essential characters in the original drama, for heaven's sake!  On August 30 (of an undisclosed year), she was at Washington County Memorial Hospital giving birth to me.  My story starts with her, and it seems bizarre that's she's not here on the anniversary of our journey together.
Naturally, my story also started with my Dad, and I miss him deeply, as well, but let's face it, the old cliche is true--Dad's contribution to the process of my origins WAS relatively small compared to Mom's!  Somehow, the person who selflessly let you grow inside her body and leech off her resources for nine months is supposed to be there to commemorate finally getting to stop carrying you around on her person.

This post began with the lyrics of a Norah Jones song which I've had stuck in my head for a week.  When my parents were young and newly in love, Dad used to call Mom "Nightingale," because of her beautiful singing voice.  (I'm sure he would have continued saying there was a nightingale in his house, if he weren't also living with two little parrots who called their mother whatever their father called her, and he preferred that they learn to call her "Mommy.")  After I moved away to college, and then when I got married and set up house on my own, Mom used to telephone me every year on my birthday.  She was always a nocturnal creature, just as I am and so is my daughter after me, so she would call me at midnight and sing "Happy Birthday!" to me, live or into my voicemail box.  What a voice!  In her later years, the lupus and the drugs meant to slow its progress stripped her voice of much of its power, but in her prime she could shake the rafters and move the hardest cynic to tears.  Not many people sound good singing through a cell phone connection, but she managed it.  I miss you, Mom; thank you for everything.

In March of this year, the FDA approved the first drug ever devised to treat the causes of lupus.  They don't even know the ultimate cause yet, and this drug certainly isn't a cure, but it's a great leap forward compared to the nasty, harmful drugs lupus patients have had to rely on up to this point.  Find out more at the Lupus Foundation of America, and check out my Lupus Resources page.  Add one of my lupus awareness badges to your own blog or website.  This disease has ended too many lives; let's find a way to stop it.

August 29, 2011

Embracing Defeat

Oh, mea culpa, and yet, the relief of admitting and embracing my defeat is actually quite pleasant.  After plugging away valiantly for a while--and then not getting a single line further since the last time I wrote about it--I have given in to the crushing gravitas that is A Distant Mirror, and said good-bye to the "Calamitous 14th Century."  At least, I have for now; I hope to get back to it someday.  Since I began this project of actually reading the books that I own, I've begun to understand why so many people publish lists of the books they say I simply must read BEFORE I DIE.  I need to get around to it eventually, but it's not high on today's To Do list unless I want to be depressed, or so bored that I can't stay awake.  Yes, I'm talking about you, Proust!

Anyway, I put away the 14th century today, and got out my copy of The Know-It-All, the book that really launched A. J. Jacobs' career as a writer of lifestyle travelogues.  For those not familiar with the book or its author, this is the guy that set himself the task of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and The Know-It-All is his running commentary on the project as it was in progress. 

He also went on to write The Year of Living Biblically, in which he tried to better get in touch with his Jewish faith by following every letter of the Mosaic Law for one year.  That book is simply a wild ride, an often hilarious romp through the absurdity of religious texts once they're out of their context, and an all-round good read.  I highly recommend it.

I don't know yet if I can recommend The Know-It-All, but it's heavily favored to go more quickly than A Distant Mirror  did, because A. J. Jacobs tends to be a lot like PBS reality shows--much more intelligently written than other people's efforts in the same genre, but still light and fluffy enough to be a little bit like cotton candy for the mind.  We'll see if this book holds my interest.  (When in doubt, just blame the books for not being interesting enough!)

I must add one further update to the library project while I'm on the subject.  I said at the outset that I would try to resist the temptations of new e-books and library supplies.  Yeah, my library card has still been pretty well-traveled the last few weeks. 

My Kindle was growing a layer of dust, forlornly sitting on the end table by my chair with a dead battery, until my FABULOUS mother-in-law gave me gifts cards for $50 worth of Kindle books.  $50 + shopping for new books = very happy me.  Oh, dear.  This reading project is going to be with us for a while, I can tell from here.

August 27, 2011

Geek Bliss

Okay, all, I just had the geekiest birthday imaginable, and I have my loving, supportive family to thank for it.  Yes, I'm an "out & proud" Geek, as is my husband, Michael, and those of you who know us personally have long been aware of this.  But for those new to the area, let me flash my geek credentials for a moment.

First Atari--age 9
Original NES--kept it until I was in grad school, and eventually had to buy an emulator, because I could not live without...
ORIGINAL ZELDA--the ONE and ONLY truly great Zelda game
Star Wars--The first movie and I were born the same year, and I went to a drive-in to see it with my parents when I was still an infant
Star Trek--I own every episode of ST:TNG & Voyager, have seen every episode of TOS & Deep Space Nine, and have nearly finished watching every episode of Enterprise and even THE ANIMATED SERIES
LOTR--Own all three extended version deluxe editions, all the books, a copy of The Hobbit, and a copy of The Silmarillion, of which I've actually read at least 1/3.  That's farther than a lot of people get, anyway.
Harry Potter--I am currently reading the whole series for the 5th(?, maybe 6th?) time, and own every one of the films released thus far, the first 6 in the ultimate editions.

In other words, I am seriously what Michael affectionately calls a "BBD" or "Big Buttery Dork," and I am extremely content that way.  Michael's geekiness runs to other outlets, so he gets a bit weary with all cult classics, all the time around here.  Nevertheless, loving man that he is, he bought me ***drum roll*** The Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Lego set for my birthday!  Isn't he wonderful?
The real star of the show tonight, however, was my mother-in-law, Debbie.  We assembled to celebrate my birthday (which isn't for another three days, but my in-laws will be gone on vacation then).  When we cut the cake and opened the gifts, I discovered that Debbie had bought me a Pharaoh's Quest Lego set!!!!!! 

It's one thing when your fellow geek husband buys you Legos for your 34TH BIRTHDAY, but when a mother-in-law who is completely innocent of even an ounce of geek blood buys you Legos, you know you've found THE COOLEST MOTHER-IN-LAW EVER!!!!  You rock, Debbie.

Another article published!  Be sure to check it out at ViewsHound.

August 26, 2011

"They Got Some Sake & Sashimi..."

First things first: OMG!  I got my first article published on ViewsHound!  Click on the link on the right-hand side of this page (the red box with the sniffing pup on it) to read all about it.  I can't help it; I'm REALLY excited!

Okay, moving on.

Let me tell you a little story.  Once upon a time, I hated sushi.  I hated Japanese and Chinese food.  I hated hummus, falafel, olives, salsa--oh, my, it was a really long list.  Most of the items on it, I had never actually tasted, but I knew instinctively that I hated them, like a five-year-old does, except I was in my 20s.  Some very patient, helpful friends (thank you, Paul, Keegan, and a numer of others) waded through my reticent stubborness to rescue me from not knowing what I was missing.  By the time I enrolled at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York, I had learned to love a number of items on that list, and more importantly, I had learned to try new things.  And a good thing, too, as Michael and I went to a Chinese restaurant/sushi bar on our first date.  Ah, the good old Rice Star.

Let me clarify here.  This meal wasn't really accompanied by the typical awkwardness, uncertainty, and general unpleasantness that people associate with first dates.  By the time we finally got around to going out, Michael and I had been in seminary together for eight months, had been debating with ourselves about admitting our mutual interest for quite some time, and finally had a conversation vowing our undying love and devotion, all before our "first date."  We were both pushing thirty when we met, after all, and were both fed up to our back teeth with the frivolities of youth.  So by the time we were walking through the Rice Star parking lot together, I was experiencing more wonder at having found "the one" than nervousness about whether or not my breath was fresh.  Nevertheless, we remember Rice Star very fondly, and wish to thank them here and now for many happy meals and conversations.  End of back story.

For reasons of geography and life circumstances that we won't go into here, Michael and I haven't been able to find a good Chinese restaurant or sushi place near us since we left New York.  Until tonight.  Oh, joy!  Oh, rapture!  I have found Nirvana, and it has sushi!  Michael came home from work yesterday with a menu from "Sakura Restaurant, Chinese and Japanese Food," and in our desperation for good sushi, we only managed to wait 24 hours before we had to go try the place.  We dropped off Brigid with her kind, generous grandparents, and went to Sakura with our hopes high.  We weren't disappointed.  I had to struggle not to moan and sigh in satisfaction with every bite.  I'm a happy sushi lover.

August 25, 2011


Oh, the hoops you'll jump through to gain a readership when you're an aspiring author, folks!  In an effort to drum up further interest for my blogs, I am going through the process of getting them listed in blog directories on-line, and I must say, it's a bit like being put through some very odd hazing rituals when pledging a sorority.  So, here is today's required event for Pledge Week: I have to put this code into this blog, and a different one into a post on my alter ego, Philothei of Salem.


By-the-way, UPDATE!  I sent in another article to ViewsHound today (even though the first one hasn't finished going through their editorial process yet).  Wish me luck!

August 23, 2011

The Doorknob of Doom

The Further Adventures of Brigid the SuperToddler!

When we last saw our giggling hero, she was blissfully pushing my broom around the house, refusing to relinquish it on pain of splitting parental eardrums.  There have been further developments.  Thus far, Brigid has only stumbled upon being able to open doors around the house a few times, partly by sheer luck.  She continues to perfect her technique, but this week, she found a powerful motivation to perservere.  She saw where I put the broom away when she finally got bored with it.  So, I was in the bathroom the other day, when I could have sworn I heard the hall broom closet open, but since Michael was home, as well, I thought, "Surely that's just him getting something."  Wrong again.  I discovered a few minutes later that Brigid had quietly opened the door herself, retrieved the broom, and was now zipping around the house with it.  She was getting a little frustrated, though, because it's unwieldy at her height, so I ordered her a toy broom on Amazon that's just her size.  Far be it from me to discourage cleaning and helpfulness generally.  I am less enthusiastic about her new-found skills with doorknobs, however; from now on, no parental hiding place for annoying toys, contraband and Christmas presents will be safe.  Oh, dear.  *Sigh*

In other news, Brigid managed to scare the Hell out of me and herself the other day, when she got an urge to go spelunking.  For some reason, my child has an extraordinary skill that is amazing to watch, completely unhelpful and generally a pain in the parental ass.  No matter where she stands in the living room, she can manage to propel any toy she owns through the air and straight under the couch every time with perfect accuracy.  She then proceeds to set up a plaintive cry of, "Uh-oh!  What happened?  Where did it go?  Help!  Help!"  (I promise, that's a direct quote; I hear it often.)  Hoping to encourage independence AND save my sanity--not to mention my knees--I've been allowing her to fetch the items she can reach herself, after which I step in with my marginally longer arms, and if all else fails, I move the furniture.  But, determined to retrieve something and ever the problem-solver, Brigid realized earlier this week that if she turned her head sideways, she could squeeze her entire upper body under the couch, and thus extend her reach. 

All went swimmingly until she tried to emerge, at which point it never occured to her that she would have to angle her head again.  The blood-curdling screams were enough to launch me bodily toward her, picturing in my head the adrenaline-fueled parental heroics we've all read about and prepared to lift the couch with one hand and grab her by her feet with the other.  Intelligent child that she is, however, Brigid resolved the issue herself and remembered that she needed to turn her head just as I got to her--no injuries, no problems.  Really wish she had remembered just a few seconds sooner; she frightened at least a year or two off my life.

Abandon Hope! Unless It Works, Of Course...

Oh, it's been a big day for me.  I sent out not one, but two pieces of writing to publishers for consideration.  However, that's not quite as drastic progress as it sounds (yet), so let me explain.

First of all, have you ever heard of ViewsHound?  Yeah, neither had I until they suddenly appeared on my Facebook sidebar, probably because I started blogging and most bloggers are secretly--or quite openly, in my case--hoping to be published someday.  So, here's the synoptic explanation that ViewsHound gives about itself.

"ViewsHound is built on contributions from great authors just like you.
Every day we give away a prize fund of $120 US Dollars.
Whether your article wins a prize or not, ViewsHound is a great way to get your message out to the world. Use ViewsHound to gain readers for your articles, as ViewsHound allows you to link back to your own site. Also, get visibility for yourself, and to establish a track record as a writer and an expert."

In other words, this isn't exactly the top of the publishing industry heap, but I did some research, and it's legitimate, so what have I got to lose by submitting an article?  Which I did today.  Moreover, they're specifically looking for articles about religion.  Surely I need not outline in detail why this gig fits me like a glove.  Now we just have to sit back and see if they think my writing is any good.  Fingers crossed, everybody!

The second submission today, however, was for a project in which I am much more emotionally invested.  If you glance through the previous posts (see "Veni-Vedi-Vici"), you will find that shortly after my father's death, I wrote a book that was about a lot of things, but primarily about my conversion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and my father.  Since then, I have sent the manuscript out a couple of times, but have not yet found a publisher for it.  So, today, I screwed up all the courage I could muster, and sent an inquiry letter to perhaps the best-known Orthodox publisher in the US, Conciliar Press.

For those of you who have never been through this process before, let me make clear that I don't have a book deal or anything yet.  Far from it, in fact.  Though some publishers let you just send in a manuscript and then they mail you a decision letter of some sort, many now require a few intermediate steps, because they'd never get anything done except swimming through unwanted manuscripts if they didn't.  Conciliar Press requires an e-mail letter of inquiry first, in which I outlined what the book's about, why I think it would be a good fit for their publishing mission in particular, and what qualifications I have to write for their intended audience.  Based on this, they decide whether they think the book is worth looking at or not.  If they think it's worth a glance, they'll ask me to send them a few sample chapters and an actual proposal, in which we get down to the nitty-gritty of how I would help publicize the thing if they publish it, stuff like that.  Only after all that, if they are satisfied that I'm not a crackpot trying to get my lunatic manifesto out to an unsuspecting public, and that I really can put together readable sentences, will they let me send them the manuscript so they can finally read the whole book and decide if they want to publish it.  In other words, this is a long, tedious, nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching, often heart-breaking process.  Aren't you glad you're along for the ride?

Seriously, I'm just excited that I worked up the courage to start sending stuff out again.  Hopefully, I'll have good news for you soon from one source or another.  All prayers appreciated!

August 21, 2011

The Illusive Quill!

OMG!  Okay, I know this actually happened about a week ago now, but I've been anxiously awaiting a good time to tell you all about it, and that time has now come.  I have been one of the lucky few (and by "few," I mean 1 million people) who have won the famous Pottermore Magical Quill challenge.  For those of you who are Harry Potter fans, but have also been living in a rolled-up newspaper under a bridge somewhere for the last few months, here's the run-down on Pottermore and the Magical Quill Challenge.  J. K. Rowling, the lovely and talented author of the Harry Potter series, knew that all of us fans would be deeply in mourning, now that there will be no more books to read (supposedly) and no more new Harry Potter movies to look forward to.  No doubt she also knew, as she is quite an intelligent woman, that her income was about to decrease sharply.  Put that all together, and she and her publishers decided it was time to release "Pottermore," an exciting new on-line Harry Potter experience.  Its exact contents have been kept rather hush-hush, but among other awesome features, Pottermore reportedly will provide periodic chat access to Rowling herself, a sorting quiz designed by Rowling so that we will each know OFFICIALLY to which Hogwarts house we belong (no more of those crack-pot quizzes on Facebook), and a house cup competition, just like the one featured in the books.  We'll each be able to earn points for our respective houses!  The "crack-pot quizzes" said I was a Ravenclaw; I hope that turns out to be accurate, because I've kind of gotten attached to my fictional British boarding school house.

Sorry; got sidetracked.  So, free registration to Pottermore opens in October, but 1 million lucky early birds get the chance to go in early and be part of the Beta testing, to help craft the site, spot bugs that need to be fixed, and give feedback on elements that were just a bad idea to begin with.  These coveted million spots were available only to those who won the "Magical Quill Challenge," a 7-day competition that involved being awake at 3:00 am when they finally updated the challenge each day, flipping through the books to find the most arcane information imaginable in answer to the daily Challenge question, being led to ANOTHER website if you actually got the correct answer, and playing a momentary video game in which you had to make the quill float in mid-air, as Hermione did in the first book and film.  If you managed ALL THAT, you were officially informed that your name was down to attend Hogwarts.  And yes, YOURS TRULY braved this labyrinth of slightly childish excitement to capture the Magical Quill and force it to write me a Hogwarts letter!

With 1 million people in the queue, the Pottermore crew had to stagger our early entrance to the site; otherwise it would quickly have crashed and that would have been the short life and quick death of Pottermore.  In other words, I'm still waiting impatiently for it to be MY turn to enter the site, which is REALLY frustrating, =0) .  It's like being in line for the most popular ride at a huge amusement park while wearing a blindfold--you can't even see how close you are to getting there or how many people are ahead of you!  However, Pottermore Insider, the official blog of this mayhem, keeps reassuring us that invitation letters are continuously going out, and we have not been forgotten.  I'll keep you posted the moment I get my invitation, and let you know how things look in the inner sanctum thus far.

AND FINALLY, a special note for those of who to whom all of the above made absolutely no sense: I found one of Willie Wonka's Golden Tickets in my chocolate bar (or the 1 million-strong equivalent thereof)!  And if THAT cultural reference can't help you, then I recommend you ask your children, grandchildren, or other young relatives to explain it all to you.  I'm sorry; I decided long ago that COMPLETELY growing up is highly over-rated.

August 20, 2011

Baby's First F-Bomb

Disclaimer:  Whether you can believe it or not, the following story is absolutely true.

It's every mother's proudest moment, isn't it?  That delightful instant when her child first produces the infamous "F"-word?  Now, all those of you who know me well--or even just regular readers of this blog, frankly--will know that I love a good curse word.  My own mother tried her best to train expletives out of me, with the help of other horrified female members of our family.  I mean, it just doesn't sound good when the 3-year-old daughter of a Pentecostal preacher responds to every disappointment and frustration by loudly proclaiming, "Well, SONOFA-----!!"  As Mom always complained, people tend to hear such things and say knowingly, "Well, she had to have picked that up SOMEPLACE."  (Actually, I picked it up from the babysitter.)  You did the best that lay within you, Mom, and it's not your fault you failed; I was born loving to swear.

Considering all the aforesaid, I fully expect my daughter to employ what Michael likes to call "the full force of the English language" as she gets older, but I do try to monitor my own speech in front of her right now.  She's in the toddler parrot stage, and she has no idea that some words are more alarming than others, nor that there are inappropriate times and places.  She has repeated an occasional "Damn!" that she heard from me, I'm afraid, but so far, she has then quickly deleted the information, thank God.  I'm hoping to be able to wait to have the "When & How to Swear" conversation until she's at least 3 & 1/2!

But, my little Brigid has always been a precocious child.  She's just 2.25 years old, and already she can consistently count to 15, and knows every one of her capital letters on sight.  We're currently working on learning the lower-case alphabet.  Surely that's a feat of which any mother would be proud.  (Let me pause very briefly to give credit where it's due; Brigid's breadth of knowledge is almost entirely thanks to watching Sesame Street with me and discussing what was on the screen.)  And one of her favorite pastimes currently is her set of magnetic plastic letters, which spend far more time on the floor, in her mouth, or under the couch than they do on the fridge.

A couple of days ago, I was having fun eavesdropping on Brigid's play time while she moved her letters from the floor to the fridge for a change.  As she did so, she called out the name of each one, happily displaying her familiarity with the magic squiggles.  "T," she announced.  "W."  Pause.  "F," as I smiled to myself at my baby's abilities.  "U."  Wait.  What?  "C."  Oh, surely she's not actually going to--"K."  Yep, she did.  Totally unprompted, Brigid managed to spell her first expletive.  And since anything worth doing is worthy of overkill, she cut straight to the heavy amunition.  Mommy's so proud.  Brigid is living proof that you really can have just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

August 19, 2011

A Blog (besides this one) is Born!

So, if you're new to the blog you're currently reading, right about now you're probably saying to yourself, "Wait.  What?  You started ANOTHER blog?  I didn't even realize you had THIS one until today, and it looks like it's still firmly in the fledgling stages!"  And of course, you would be right.  Just last week, I was cruising around, idly looking at strangers' blogs, noticing that some people had 5 or 6 each, and wondering to myself why anyone would do that.  Honestly, I still wonder; 2 blogs is plenty for me at the moment.  But the answer to why I opened blog #2, "Philothei of Salem," requires a little back-story.

When I recount the long line of Pentecostalism that makes up my gene pool, I feel a little like the Apostle Paul when he gave his pedigree of Jewishness in his letter to the Philippians.  My mother's family lived in Appalachian Kentucky for generations, and in the Kentucky "hollers," you have two options where religion is concerned: the mountain holiness brand of Christianity, or atheistic heathenism.  Most of my family chose to be holiness Pentecostals--you know, the women who wear their impossibly long hair up in a bun on top of their heads and wouldn't be caught dead putting on a pair of pants instead of a skirt.  One of my forebears, a great-great grandfather, I believe, was a circuit-riding preacher.  My father pastored small Pentecostal churches in several parts of rural Indiana until his fourth heart attack put an end to his preaching career.  I've sung, wept, shouted, spoken in tongues, attended tent revival meetings, and accompanied my parents on evangelistic crusades that took us to churches with outhouses instead of new-fangled indoor plumbing.

When I left my hometown of Salem, Indiana, to start college, I quickly met a much wider section of humanity than I had ever been exposed to before.  I hadn't even left my home state, and already I was making friends with Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Buddhists, and Christians of more varieties than I ever knew existed.  By the time I finished graduate school, I had traveled halfway around the world to teach English to native Russian speakers, and discovered a brand of Christianity that caught my attention and wouldn't let go--the Eastern Orthodox Church.  {For those completely unfamiliar with this church, go rent the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  The main character is a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, which just means that her family are all Eastern Orthodox Christians from Greece.  She's Greek Orthodox; I'm American Orthodox.  Same church in different countries.  You get the idea.}

In 2004, I became an Eastern Orthodox Christian in a ceremony that would have truly baffled most of my family if they had worked up the courage to come.  Instead, they voted for accepting that I was still a Christian of some kind and leaving it at that; we were all happier that way.  The upshot of all this is that I have numerous different microcosms in my life for which I stand as the only connective tissue.  Most of my Orthodox friends have no clue what Hoosier Pentecostals are like.  Probably 95% of my Pentecostal family and friends had never heard of Orthodoxy until I suddenly decided to convert.  The Muslims who have graciously offered me their friendship over the years--whether as my peers or as my students--have little desire to discuss the intricacies of Orthodox theology with me, and who could blame them?  I live in many different worlds, and though my "Eclecticism" blog is a place where many of them intertwine, asking the general readers of this blog to dive into all things Orthodox with me seemed like an unreasonable request.  Still, my faith is important to me, and so--voila!  Blog #2!

There's my whole life story, the very truncated version, for anyone who has ever wondered how I woke up one morning and joined a religion in which all the churches have pictures on the walls, the clergy are called "Father," and the services involve more incense than the average 1960's hippy concert.  If you want to know more about Orthodoxy, come on over and visit "Philothei of Salem"!  If not, I promise the next "Eclecticism" post will return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

August 17, 2011

The Good Old Circle of Life

When you're 18 years old, graduating from high school, and standing out among the crowd in your cap, gown and tassel, the "Circle of Life" sounds pretty cool.  For the 18-year-old who is capable of introspection, it calls to mind images of your parents standing in this position themselves, only to watch their child march down the same long aisle between chairs in the same gymnasium or on the same football field some 30 years later, your mom getting all teary while your dad hands her his hanky and gruffly clears his throat a lot.

But when you're dealing with a screaming 2-year-old, and your own parents have already passed away, the Circle of Life no longer looks quite so friendly.  In fact, it greatly resembles some sadistic universal force that spends its time tormenting teething toddlers into giving you a headache, constantly reminding you that you're not as young and spry as you once were, either, and making you strongly suspect that your mom might be sitting in heaven, quietly enjoying a moment of satisfaction as she reminisces about what a nightmare YOU were at the age of 2!

Picture this:
I'm 4, and I'm standing on a step-stool in my maternal grandmother's kitchen on a hot summer day, blissfully enjoying the fact that the air-conditioner, a window unit, is hanging out of the kitchen window and therefore blowing directly into my face.  I'm wrapped in one of my grandmother's aprons, and I do mean wrapped, like a burrito--it envelops me three times before its strings finally meet in a neat little bow tied across my belly.  I'm up to my biceps in hot, soapy water, with which I am liberally painting counter tops, floor and my own socks and shoes, all in the pursuit of spotless dishes.  Grandma's thrilled to have a VOLUNTEER to do the dishes for a change, but the added mopping dims the joy of the experience for her just a bit.  Sighing aloud, she makes that age-old announcement that baffles children everywhere.  "Someday, we won't be able to DRAG you to the sink to do the dishes, so I should probably enjoy it while I can!"

Huh?!  My stunned 4-year-old mind says to itself, "Why would anyone NOT enjoy doing dishes?  You get to play in water AND watch stuff magically go from dirty to clean!  I can't imagine a more exciting way to spend my afternoon!  Shoot, that dirty to clean thing is just a little bonus.  I don't have a swimming pool!   I'll take ANY excuse to get soaking wet, even a bath!  I just love water!"

But time marches on, of course, and demonstrates to us as it does so that Grandma was right nearly as often as Mom was.  These days, nothing smaller than one of P. T. Barnum's circus tents will wrap around me three times, and my family is very blessed that our house is equipped with a dishwasher.  If it weren't, it's more likely that we'd periodically just buy NEW dishes than it is that I would stand over a sink washing them after our every meal.

Now picture THIS!

Oh, the irony!  At the ripe old age of 2, my daughter swiped the broom out of my hand last night while I was in mid-sweep, and dragged it all over the house in a completely ineffective but nonetheless impressive display of domestic acumen.  And what were the first words out of my mouth to her father?  "Too bad we won't be able to get her NEAR a broom when she's 16!"

August 16, 2011

The Depot Railroad Museum


In my last post, I mentioned the Depot Museum in my hometown of Salem, Indiana, so I thought I would explain that reference further for the uninitiated, which being interpreted means, for my many friends who did NOT grow up in Salem.

Cecil J. Smith is emeritus editor-in-chief of the Salem Leader and the Salem Democrat, the two Salem newspapers which survived long after their two titles ceased to have any political significance.  Cecil lives in a beautiful old house in Salem, (which among other things has the dubious distinction of having once been the home of a grand dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan!), with an old-fashioned carriage shed in the back yard.  The Smiths converted that shed into a usable space decades ago now, and over time, Cecil's lifelong hobby passion, model railroading, transformed a back garden shed into a well-known local attraction, The Train Shed.  I visited that layout when I was about 4 years old, at an open house Cecil graciously held as part of Salem's annual festival.  I never dreamed that I would later spend countless hours of my teenage years in or around that shed.

My father, John Campbell, Sr., was a relatively familiar name among Salem's inhabitants.  HIS father, Lebert Campbell, had founded Campbell Shoe Repair, a business Dad and his brothers helped maintain when Lebert died.  Dad also worked for several years as one of the primary voices of WSLM, Salem's local radio station, and pastored a church in Salem, as well.  With that odd combination of factors, Dad was at least guaranteed a certain notoriety.  But when he suffered a massive heart attack in his mid-40's, the year I turned 17, Dad found himself retired from all occupations overnight, whether he wished to or not.  He needed to find something with which to fill his time that was restful and enjoyable, yet made him feel a sense of purpose.

I don't personally know the details of how Cecil Smith and my father became friends--they'd at least known of each other for years, and Dad was also a fanatical rail enthusiast.  Whatever the progression, the two finally realized that Dad, Cecil and the Train Shed all had problems and could help each other solve them.  A busy newspaper editor could not dedicate the time he wished to his layout, and my father had never had the space or finances to build the sort of track plan he'd always wanted.  The Train Shed often sat neglected, waiting for the occasional school tour group to request an open house from Cecil.  All three found their solution in each other, and in the friendship the three established together.

Dad, Cecil and a small cortege of train fans living in and around Washington County, Indiana, had long mourned the final demise of the Monon Line, the indigenous railroad that had once been the pride of southern Indiana transportation.  Attractive, well-built Monon depots had once dotted the landscape of Kentuckiana, and as members of the last generation to see Salem's depot in action, Dad and Cecil had been scarred for life when they witnessed that depot bulldozed flat.  Depot reconstructions were going up all over the country, constructed as museums to various defunct railroads, and Cecil felt the time had come for a Salem Depot Museum.  I don't know the names of each volunteer involved in securing funds from county, state and private national foundations, but in 2001, the Depot actually materialized.  Dad and Cecil had come a long way from the Train Shed.

The Depot is a lovely building, a very detailed replica of the Salem Depot as it stood in decades past, with the delightful added feature of a basement model railroad layout.  The modular design displays miniature reconstructions of the towns of Washington County, as well as the Monon lines which connected those small towns.  It was my father's pride and joy, the fulfillment of his lifelong dream--he got to design a major layout, and watch his son put his associate's degree in electronics to use by constructing a fully automated control system to keep the HO-scale trains running without constant supervision.  This was a great boon to the Depot's staff of volunteers, especially during the annual city festival, Old Settler's Days, which still takes place every fall.  The Depot's open house during the festival is always a popular favorite, and the Depot volunteers are kept busy anwering questions and demonstrating their rolling stock, especially for their younger visitors.  (For those of you raised in Salem who have moved away, this is the new name for the old Fodder Festival.)

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed funds to the Depot, including those visitors from all over the world who pay the nominal entrance fee when they come; their donations keep the lights on and the trains running.  I wish to thank Dad's fellow Depot volunteers, especially "Louisville" John Campbell (so named to distinguish him from Dad, "Salem" John Campbell) (they're not related), for all their time and effort.  Thank you for keeping the Depot alive and honoring Dad's memory, even though he can't be there to do his part any more.  He loved all of you, and he loved that museum.  Most of all, I'd like to thank Cecil Smith, for demonstrating how a shared dream and a basic compassion for one's fellow man can cross lines of class, socioeconomic status, and even religious differences to create lifelong friendships.  You're kind, decent people, Cecil and Martha, and Salem is lucky to have you.

Cecil's Tribute to Dad in the Salem Leader

August 15, 2011

A Typical Weekend

So, my family was away for the weekend, and I cleaned the house from top to bottom, allowing me a whole day of watching the house REMAIN clean before the chaos that is my two-year-old and the cook of "reckless abandon" who is my husband returned and transformed the place back into its usual pandaemonium.

EXCEPT that's not what happened at all, and the above paragraph does not resemble my weekend in any way.  That was the plan, naturally; it just never materialized.  Instead, it went like every single weekend does.  Let me demonstrate.

Instead of heading to her grandma's house during any part of Friday, Brigid finally headed to Grandma's house with me at 2:00 pm on Saturday afternoon.  Michael did, indeed, leave to attend a weight-lifting competition in Portland, Oregon, at the crack of dawn Saturday morning, but due to budgetary constraints, he did not stay overnight at a hotel in Portland and go to church there Sunday morning, but rather, returned home at about 7:00 pm Saturday evening.  All of this equates to me having 5 free hours in which to get something done on my house.  I did the only obvious thing a harrassed Mommy, desperate to have her house restored to sanity, could do--I went shopping and had lunch out!

In this case, "shopping" included buying one magazine, because of the aforementioned budgetary constraints.  But I had to buy this particular magazine; this situation was not optional.  The Salem Depot Railroad Museum, the project on which my father spent many happy hours in the last years before he died, was featured in a national magazine called
This magazine featured VERY prominently throughout my childhood, as it was one of my father's favorite reading materials, and he kept countless back issues roaming about the house.  Actually, he kept them in neat, orderly piles, and later, boxes or binders.  The roaming part was really more my doing.  I loved to flip through the glossy, full-color pages, enjoying the sketches of layout track plans and the eye-level photos of model buildings that made them look entirely real.  When I heard that two of Dad's fellow volunteers at The Depot, Cecil Smith and (another) John Campbell (no relation) had written an article for the Railroad Model Craftsman, I had to pick up a copy at my local Barnes & Noble.

I then set off to fulfill one of the things on my VERY long List of Things I've Always Wanted to Do, that travels around in my portable memory device, i.e. my brain.  Admittedly, this particular Thing on the list of Things was a very low priority Thing, but I was standing right beside the establishment in question, so what the hell?  Yes, I screwed up all my courage and ate at the Azteca Mexican Restaurant in the mall.  Eating Mexican is pretty much always the same experience, and I don't know why I thought this would be so different that I had to add it to The List of Things, but there it is.  And it was the same as always.  It was, indeed, authentic Mexican food, which means I was brought a delicious plate of mixed, mashed and mangled brown goop, enjoyed it quite a bit, and had heartburn and . . . other, even less pleasant after effects for the rest of the day.  (This experience is NOT to be confused with that of eating totally Americanized "Mexican" food, which is completely different--except for the after effects, which are precisely the same, and usually ten times more dramatic.)

Then I went home, started some laundry, and watched Star Trek: Enterprise, and that's exactly where I was sitting when Michael came in.  I did actually spend Sunday finishing the laundry and cleaning up Brigid's toy messes, just in time for her to come home Sunday evening and storm, tornado-like, through the recently organized toys, scream her head off while I cleaned up her explosive . . . um, unpleasant after effects of whatever Grandma fed her for dinner, and then go to bed, leaving a harrassed, exhausted, sweaty Mommy to drop into her chair, cry for a few minutes, and then go back to Enterprise.  Happy Monday, everybody!

August 10, 2011

Read Your OWN Damn Library!

So, the book project is coming
along--sllloooowwwwwllllllyyyyy.  First, I read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.  The purchase of this book was kind of frivolous, I must confess; for a while now, I've wanted to start my collection of the Penguin Classics Hardcover set (they're pretty!), and this seemed a likely place to begin.  It felt a bit like cheating to read this one first, because I bought this book just a few months ago, so I was still "in the mood" to try it, if you know what I mean.  Still, it was a good entree to my "Read Your Own Damn Library!" adventure.  If you saw the miniseries of Cranford on PBS, let me tell you that the book, predictably, is better.  Less melodrama, more humor, and more of the matter-of-fact of everyday life.  I liked the miniseries IN SPITE of its dripping tragedy.  I just liked the book.  Period.

Next came The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, a buy that fit in much more with the spirit of the project.  I bought my copy of that one in 2008 at the Jefferson County Friends of the Library booksale in Colorado, when Michael and I were living near Denver.  I've had a love/hate affair with Walt Whitman ever since I saw the movie Dead Poets Society at the age of 11.  (If you don't understand how that film connects with Walt Whitman, you REALLY need to see the film.  It is by far Robin Williams' finest hour, with the possible exception of Good Morning Vietnam.)  Walt Whitman's most famous collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, is basically all about the brash self-aggrandizement of a young genius who has not yet learned to channel his gift into something that will benefit mankind (in my not-so-humble opinion), rather like Orson Wells and Citizen Kane.  The Civil War infinitely humanized Whitman, and his best work is the post-Civil War project, Drum Taps.  The author of The Better Angel, Roy Morris, Jr., seems to totally agree with this assessment, which of course means that I enjoyed the book hugely, =0) !  However, it was also informative, as I had never realized that Walt Whitman was a flaming homosexual.  This was an eye-opening read, a page-turner that I hadn't expected would be a page-turner when I picked it up.

The current read-in-progress is A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century by the late Barbara Tuchman.  This woman is an inspiring figure for me, a self-taught historian who literally changed the way history is written ever since the mid-20th century, largely through this particular book.  To my undying shame, however, I have never actually read the ground-breaking book before, so I have set my hand to the plow, as it were, and am determined not to look back until I have completed the task.  It's slow going, I admit, with lots of re-re-re-re-re-re-reading Harry Potter to break up the non-fiction seriousness.  This is not because Tuchman's writing style leaves anything to be desired; on the contrary, she is brilliant--humorous, engaging, and great all-round entertainment value, as well as a first-rate historian, despite the poo-pooing of stuffed-shirt professional historians of an earlier age.  Nevertheless, she's writing about the age of the Black Death, and it can be heavy reading.  This book is roughly 700 pages.  Reading 700 pages of Harry Potter and reading 700 pages of the Plague are VERY different experiences.  Updates forthcoming.
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