riverwild.jpgAt this moment I'm supposed to be thinking about my paper. In Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale" a jealous king falsely accuses his wife of adultery, she dies before he can ask for forgiveness, their child is abandoned in the wilderness and adopted by a shepherd, she grows up to be beautiful and catches the heart of a young prince, who turns out to be the son of a rival king... they marry, and it turns out the queen didn't really die! All is forgiven and people get married. But I don't care.

My mind is wandering.

Tales of Winter are on my mind. There's an image in my mind of a gorge, deep in the frozen heart of the wilderness. A campfire's slim strand of smoke slices into the thin mountain air, like a ghost.

When I daydream about camping, it means I'm missing my husband. My nature-loving, mountain-climbing, rugged husband.

In the background I'm watching The River Wild. It's a favorite of mine. The suspense gets to me every time. Kevin Bacon is pure evil. I've always found him attractive, but his cold eyes pierce right through me in this one. And I love Meryl Streep as the strong, capable mother and wife. But mostly, it is David Strathairn, the father, who makes me so proud. When his family is threatened and held hostage, he rises to the challenge, relying on his instincts to save their lives.

Good movie.

I want to turn and see Jonathan sitting beside me, a shadow on his cheeks. I want him to hold my hand and tuck a blanket around me, tell me I'll be all right... even if I know so on my own, it sounds wonderful coming from the one who takes such good care of me.

He'll be home on Friday night. Between now and then I have to get better. My paper is due tomorrow, and I have a day of work on Friday. Let's just hope that time flies.

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white_christmas.gifOn Friday the Ya-Yas and I joined the crazy mobs and went shopping at Union Square, a tradition. Lots of laughing and catching up, enjoying the cold, merry speed of a holiday in the city. For dinner we worked very hard to secure a great table on the terrace of the Cheesecake Factory, at the top of Macy's. Some Ya-Ya magic must'ave helped as we finished dinner in perfect sync with the countdown to the lighting of the Union Square Christmas tree.

Thus, the season has begun.

And today I joined my mom and her two girlfriends on another trip to the city. We had lunch at the cafe in Nordstrom's before heading to the Orpheum Theater. I'd suggested that we take in a showing of the new broadway rendition of White Christmas.

In a word: magical. As a huge fan of the original White Christmas, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, I was skeptical when I went to the theater with Jon's folks last year at this time. But even with the changes made to adapt the show to the stage, I was enchanted. This time was no different.

Inspired by one of the most famous Christmas carols of all time, written by Irving Berlin and shot to the top of the charts by the vocal stylings of Bing Crosby, White Christmas is the story of two GIs ten years after the end of World War II who are successful on Broadway. They fall in love, give generously to their former general when he falls on hard times, and sing and dance up a storm in the process. Oh, the joy of fifties musicals!

The dazzling young cast gave an all-around beautiful performance. Especially the young woman who played Betty Haines. Goreous voice! Mom, Denise, Gigi and I allowed ourselves to be transported back to a simpler time, and we were practically tap dancing out the door at the end of the day.

I'm ready for this season. Thanksgiving was wonderful, bring on Christmas!

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
just like the ones I used to know,
where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
with every Christmas card I write.
May your days be merry and bright,
and may all your Christmases be white.

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turkey.gifIt would be very cliche for me to make my Thanksgiving Day entry a list of things I am thankful for. But, thankfully, this is my first Thanksgiving as The Girl Behind the Red Door. Hence, I will exercise my right to be cliche for this year only. Who knows? I may run dry before this time next year! Probably not. Just in case, here is my list, completely lacking, though it is, for I could never begin to name all of the blessings in my life. No harm in trying, right?

Both necessary and useful...

* My Jon
* My family
* My job
* My school
* My bed

Sounding selfish? I'll go more general...

* Shelter (and that it's such a cute house!)
* Transportation (Brownwyn first, of course.)
* Health (no cavities, baby!)
* Love
* Charity
* Those who adopt
* Those who rescue doggies and kitties from shelters


Now to think globally...

* President Bush (he makes up words and gets locked into conference rooms, but he is a good man)
* Our troops overseas, and those here
* Our allies
* Technology
* The Internet
* That the fourth terrorist in Jordan couldn't detonate her explosive belt
* Unemployment is down in the U.S.A.
* All the missionaries, ministers, and good people who are spreading both the Word and all the little things others might need.

Random...

* Disneyland
* Socks
* Carmex
* Dry cleaning
* Lower gas prices
* Honey on toast
* Knowledge of all kinds (also intangible)

And intangible...

* The kindness of strangers
* Faith and free will
* Liberty
* Holidays like Thanksgiving
* Romance
* Happiness
* Abundance
* Humility

Things the list couldn't be complete without...

* Raindrops on roses
* Whiskers on kittens (especially Disney)
* Bright copper kettles
* Warm, woolen mittens
* Brown paper packages tied up with string

Moving on...

* Baby pictures
* Indian summer
* Washing my hair
* Literacy (both mine and yours, hehe.)
* Sunglasses
* Work ethic
* Smiles
* Mariska Hargitay

May your Thanksgiving be as pretty as a Norman Rockwell painting, and as memorable as you and your loved ones can possibly make it!

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badminton.jpgOur home is lovely and cozy. Not elegant, of course. The kitchen is consistantly and prettily red. The loft is the most finished, with the big movie posters on the walls. The bedroom is, well... a mess. That leaves the living room. Empty.

What to do?

First we got bookshelves, then a couple hand-me-down end tables from my folks, a stereo. Still, there's this massive space in the middle. It looks like such a lonely room. But you'd be surprised.

In the living room we unpack, regroup, play with the cat, dance, inventory Christmas decorations, pile stuff... and tonight we found a new activity. Badminton.

Honest. We went out tonight specifically to get a badminton set, for tomorrow. Thanksgiving with my folks usually incorporates some kind of sport. And, since Dad has torn his achilles and had his gall bladder removed in just the last 18 months, he's not really up for basketball or football anymore (despite everything he says to the contrary). Jon and I figured that, next to walking around the block, a rousing match of badminton might be just the thing.

Then we had pizza and went to see the new Harry Potter movie. Too long, too slow to start, amazing special effects.

Once home you'd think that we'd be exhausted, and ready to go to sleep and start the holiday off immediately. Instead we both had the same idea. And within minutes the game was unpacked, a line was traced in the carpet to symbolize a net, rules were sketched out, and play began.

We rallied back and forth, laughing at our own clumsiness. I told stories about the badminton team at Newark Memorial High School. Jon thinks that badminton isn't enough of a sport to deserve a spot at the Olympics. But the little booklet that came with the game gave a short bit of history on the game, including the fact that Bette Davis and James Cagney were avid players! (If you don't know who those people are, then I don't know you.)

Anyway, we played badminton in our living room. Our wonderful, all-but-empty living room. Isn't it fun to be young and couchless?

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baking.jpgThe nice thing about being wifely in this day and age is that everything can be made by simply adding water. Like today, Jon and I started the process of making our Thanksgiving contribution. It called for corn bread. Corn bread! Who knows how to make corn bread? Well, Jon's grandmothers, my grandmother, probably any American girl who can both open a cookbook and read it. That last really ought to be me. However, some genius out there has developed a lovely thing called "corn bread mix". Let the fun begin!

Pour corn bread mix into a bowl.
Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
Mix until all the lumps are gone.
Pour into baking pan.
30 minutes.

Hello world! I can cook!

Okay, I know that's going a bit far. I know that it doesn't actually count as baking. (I also know that I'm blurring the lines between baking and cooking... but, I didn't burn the bread, so cut me some slack, people!) After popping the pan in the oven, I stopped to open my recipe box. No one will be surprised to hear that it isn't exactly bulging with potential cullinary masterpieces. There are the recipes I received at my bridal shower, all neatly written on cards that match the apple-decorated box. Then there are some smaller, bordered cards with recipes from William-Sonoma (mailed to me as a "Congrats on being a bride" thing... girls, look forward to it!).

But last, and neatest, are the slightly yellowed cards, laminated, covered with tiny, spiraling script. They belonged to my grandma. A few months ago my aunt mailed them to me. "Dear Audrey, I thought you might like to have these." She was right.

Today I took out a card labeled "Ice Box Cookies", and as I turned it gently in my hands like a wish, I thought about all the times she might have made those cookies for my dad, when he was a little boy, and his brothers and sister. And how maybe she made them so often that she didn't even need to read the recipe after a while, but she would place the card near the stove out of habit.

Unfortunately I can't tackled the "Ice Box Cookies" until I figure our the conversion equation between Oleo and butter. I barely know what Oleo is!

The best part of having these little pieces of Grandma's past is reading the notations she'd made years ago, reminding herself of possible substitutes or extras. Like on the card marked "Butterscotch Coffee Cake", below all the ingredients, it reads:

In case of emergency, use 2 c white sugar, mix with other dry ingredients, add 1/2 c golden brown molasses. (Thank God! An answer to the inevitable three-alarm sugar crisis!)

Thanksgiving isn't just a day, in my opinion. It's a season, even a state of mind. Right about now we begin mulling over all the things we're thankful for. My parents and brothers and I never lived near our extended family. I don't remember the very few times we all got together, noisily in Grandma's dining room, awaiting a next course of fabulous, home-cooked food. I never stood on my tiptoes in the kitchen, leaning slightly over Grandma's shoulder as she taught me just the right way to test and see if the turkey was done. I don't associate cooking or baking smells with my grandmother.

But I also don't resent that I didn't have any of that. Today I am thankful that I have been entrusted with a precious part of who my grandmother was, as a young bride, young woman, young mom... and I hope that, in time, I will be able to do justice to her fudge, or "Mother's Oatmeal Crispies". (And I have a sneaking suspicion Jon is hoping for the same thing!)

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desolate.jpgSteel-gray morning clouds moving across a chilly sky... the last earnest red leaf letting go of the empty branch with a sigh... the crackling complexity of the frost on the grass... all signs point to winter. She's a-comin'.

Now it's true that the last couple of days have been unseasonably warm, but don't let the Ice Queen fool you. She's collecting herself. Soon she'll wake us with a slap on the face as we open our doors, heading off to work, leaving our cheeks ringing with the cold. She tug meanly at our coats, daring us to leave them unbuttoned. I hate her.

Yet, I'll tolerate her. Why? Because she can't stop Thanksgiving or Christmas or the birth of a new year. And shopping is more fun when you're battling the wind, armed with your snuggly scarves and thick sweaters, when you're on a mission to find the one present that will make your true love smile the most brightly.

I suppose I'll begrudge her icy disposition less because her presence makes me really value the coziness of my home. It's all relative, after all. And in the summer time I want to escape the confines of the walls because it's too hot, and in the spring and fall the outdoors are too beautiful to ignore. Winter is a beauty, too, but in a cruel way. Like a poisonous snake or a river of lava. Look, marvel, but don't let it bite you! Don't fall in!

If Winter is death, Ceres mourning her kidnapped daughter and refusing to let anything bloom, then Autumn is the dying time... when Persephone is obliviously playing too near the deep well, her sunny gold hair in a messy braid down her back, her sky blue eyes the color of naive. When Hades rises from the hot depths of his hellish home to snatch that gorgeous child for his turn as her keeper, and when Ceres drops the dried roses, letting their brittle petals crack and smash against the ground, and when the last screams of Persephone are smothered by the dirt... Winter is.

I'm not a morning person, but occasionally something will wake me much earlier than need be, and if I'm coherent enough I'll sometimes raise the blinds in our room and peer at the chalky, gray outside. I suck my breath in hard, wishing it was still October and all autumn-drenched and lovely. I am bitter about my season being over. Too soon, I think, too soon.

Then Jon, in his sleep, turns or sighs. I am smiling again. As I gaze out the window my perspective changes. Winter is out there, after all. And in here I have a pocket of warmth and love to cherish until I absolutely have to go outside and face the world in its present condition. Winter makes me more grateful for socks, fireplaces, hot cider, quilts, hats... and for my sweet husband. I nudge him gently, his eyes open just a bit.

"Honey," he whispers. "Come back to sleep." He needn't ask twice. We're curled up in the warmest place, where Winter's frozen fingers simple can't creep in.

Because Winter allows for the cheeriest of holidays, and because it gives me more excuses to decorate my home and sing and bake pumpkin bread, and because if Jon thinks my toes are too chilly he'll chase me, tackle me and make me wear socks... I'll agree to a truce with the Ice Queen.

Besides, it's not like we Californians have to deal with snow or sleet. Spring will burst onto the scene giggling right around my birthday! That's something to look forward to!

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PointArenaJournal2.jpg

Jon whisked me away this weekend in celebration of our Engagement Day, two years ago. It's definitely more my idea than Jon's to set aside the day for celebration. But he likes the excuse to plan a get-away, too. The Coast Guard House in Point Arena was welcoming, cozy and quaint. We stayed in the Flag Room, which boasted ocean views and a captain's desk, homemade quilts and soft pillows, and an over-sized antique tub. Heaven!

On Sunday, before heading home down beautiful Highway 1, we stopped at the Point Arena Lighthouse, took lots of pictures... and a tour! Over dinner on at a coastal restaurant, we watched a sea otter play in the water. *sigh*

P.S. If you want to read my entry, left in the Captain's Log Book at the B&B, click on the picture. It's not that exciting, just fun that we thought to take a picture of it. In case we go back someday and find it again! :-) By the way, I would recommend to everyone right now, if you have the chance to take a break... do it. It makes all the difference.

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fingerpainting.jpgEvery week starts and ends the same way. Work all day, sleep, school all day, sleep, work all day, sleep, school all day, sleep, work all day, sleep... In the bits and pieces of "spare" time it's easy to sink in on the couch and watch TV. When I start to feel too "grown up", I have to improvise.

Today I had a conversation with a friend who is also dealing with the massive decisions that come with years. Just thought I'd use this opportunity to post a few tips, all of which have worked for me, on how to recapture a moping/hiding inner child.

* Pour yourself a glass of juice, grape or apple is best. But use a wine glass. The point? Well, now that we're all old enough to drink. Any allure it had may have worn off. However, I think we all pretended at one point, pre-21st birthday, that we were all "grown up" and at a fancy cocktail party, or relaxing in our mansion with a glass of wine. Acting it out again is fun, plus there's no headache in the morning when you have to go back to work. :-)

* Grab your significant other (who you are with because they understand when you want to be silly) and then grab a favorite movie from your childhood. Thankfully Jon and I both love the classic Disney animated feature films, but anything you loved as a kid will work. Snuggle up and sing along with the songs or laugh before the jokes you know by heart can even be made.

* Wear only one sock. Seriously. It looks goofy, it feels weird, and it's the kind of thing you would have subconsciously done for hours when you were five.

* Call a friend you haven't seen a while. Giggle with them! No shame. Suddenly you're in fifth grade again, back when you dreamed about boyfriends even before you found boys attractive.

* Fingerpaint! No kidding. Supplies are cheap. And the smooth, cool texture of the paint will relax you... nevermind your artistic talent (or lack thereof)... just go! Paint, man! Paint!

* Do elementary school math. No one probably would have guessed that of me... but one part of math I always loved was fractions! Seriously. I used to go crazy over the packets my teachers used to give me to teach me to multiply, divide, add, subtract and play with fractions. Just running over little problems in my head, easily manageable, recognizable problems, makes me relax. Oh, and don't feel bad if you have forgotten how to do some of the math from your youth... be happy! Why? Because you were absolutely right when you said to your parents, "But Moooooom, Daaaaaad, I don't have to care about this stuff because I'm never going to use it again!"

* Shop at a thrift store. Not for the faint of heart because, as my Dad would say (and has said many times), God only knows where that junk has been! Never stopped me. Probing through the stuffed racks of clothes you'll come upon t-shirts bearing familiar logos from your past. Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles (Jon was impressed that I could name three of the four... and April... I never watched them, but they were a part of the culture). You don't have to buy anything. Gees.

* Start a pillow fight. Yay! Just wait until your best friend or boyfriend or husband isn't suspecting anything, and then WHAP! them with a pillow. Lightly. Gently. Not in the face. You know the rules. When they look at you, awestruck, WHAP! them again and then run! No matter who loses, everybody wins.

* Color a picture. This summer some of my friends and I bought a coloring book and spent an afternoon coloring with markers. Unproductive you say? We have the vibrant portraits of Disney princesses to prove you wrong!

* Bake cookies. Anyone, even me, can follow a chocolate cookie recipe. No excuses now. It's on the back of the bag of chocolate chips. Just follow the instructions, play some music while you work, put away the ingredients as you use them so that you have less clean up at the end, drop 'em in the oven and then... you get to lick the bowl! Watching your figure? Give the cookies to neighbors, coworkers, classmates or friends. You get brownie points w/o the calories. Sounds great to me.

* Write an old fashioned letter to someone who will appreciate the gesture. By old fashioned I don't just mean with pen and paper. Practice your cursive. You know you're rusty. The days of looping endless rows of L's to satisfy your penmanship grade are long gone. We type too much to remember the accomplishment we felt after a session of simply writing letters. So sit down and pen a lovely letter to your grandma, your aunt, your mom, or even your Jane Austen loving best friend.

I understand that most of my tips apply better to girls than boys. But that's okay. All a guy has to do is find a basketball or a soccer ball or a baseball and a best friend.. and then get out and just plain RUN! And there's nothing wrong with getting in touch with your sensitive side by taking part in some of these activities, guys.

Boy, I'm lucky Jon puts up with me. :-)

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tarzan_jane.jpgI love Disney's Tarzan. When it came out in the theater back in 1999, my friends and I saw it three times! There was something about the swinging, intense hero... searching for himself by finding others just like him.

After a series of less-than-Disney calliber flicks, it was refreshing to see a romance that had to do with two people separately seeking their own kind of truth, and then finding it in one another.

Besides the all-Phil Collins score, which I love, Tarzan is colorful and energetic. Sub-plots involve the bond between mother and son, father and son, reaching for your dreams, never letting people tell you "it" cannot be done, how to be a good friend, siezing the day... the list goes on.

My favorite part, of course, is the scene where Tarzan takes Jane up into the treetops to see dozens of beautiful birds... and it's also the moment that he realizes he never wants her to leave. Jane's voice is perfect...

honeymoon.jpgOh, and I'm writing about this because Jon and I just watched it while playing the worst game of Scrabble ever. In fact, we abandoned the game because it was soooooo boring! And the word choices we rotten! And there was nowhere to play! Anyway, we watched Tarzan. When the falling-in-love moment came, I got teary eyed. Not because the romance between two animated characters is overly emotional for me, but because that moment reminds me of our honeymoon.

"Go get the book, honey." Jon wisely thought to suggest that we look at the honeymoon scrapbook I made. As long as I was gonna cry, why not make it over something understandable. (And no, I didn't weep. Just happy, reminiscent tears... graceful, understated...)

We paged through the twelve lovely, loving, Disney-filled days and laughed to the tune of our memories there. Never has a trip been so much fun! And relaxing. We ate delicious meals, stayed at the best hotels, played and played and played, saw the sights, lazed in our room, drank ice-cold lemonade, took pictures with Minnie... we were newly married and loving every second of it!

Jon and I have been to Disneyland many times. In a month or so we'll be going back after my finals are over. No matter how many times we go, though, the magic and romance are still floating in the air. Music, lights, smiles, love. It truly is a land of fairy tales. Thank goodness the people at Disney have the good sense to make movies like Tarzan.

(On a side note, we went to see Chicken Little the other night. Aside from the many amusing references to other movies including Star Wars, Indiana Jones and King Kong, it didn't rate terribly high in my book. There's a dancing fish in a scuba helmet... worth seeing on DVD if you're trying to get in touch with your inner child. Do NOT spend more than $5.)

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WeddingVows.jpgJon showed up at my parents' door on a week night when I was away at Davis. He had notes in hand, a smile on his face. The moment had come. He sat in the living room with my folks to ask their blessing before he asked me to marry him.

Mom helped pick Dad's jaw up off the floor.

Since I wasn't there, I can only say that Jon emerged alive and not at all dissuaded from his original purpose. And I can report that the first phone call I received after the meeting was from my father.

"Audrey, do you understand what it means to be married? Have you gone through the scenarios? Asked the questions? Do you have the faintest idea of the ups and downs, the gravity of the decisions?!" (Insert scary Jaws-type music here.)

Dad already thought the world of my guy, but I am, after all, his only daughter. What's a man to do? Some dad's bite their nails, others hire mobsters... Mark Edward Pancoast is a list man. His answer to any problem: make a list. Pros and Cons. Grocery. To Do. Laundry. Destinations. Chores. In this case he called to make sure that I had a list prepared of questions for Jon and I to ask of one another before we decided on something so permanent.

The fact was that Jon and I had talked about marriage a lot. We'd known all along, in fact, that our love was destined for matrimony. But Dad has always had a talent for scaring the living daylights out of me by using his BIG voice, throwing around HUGE words and basically strangling me with hyperbole.

I wrote out a list.

Then Jon called.

"I told your parents that I am going to ask you to marry me."

"I know."

"How do you know?"

"Because I have been given homework."

Together we ran through the rough list I came up with that night. Most of the questions were simply more specific than the ones we'd discussed previously. Of course, some were unnecessary. Others were fun. Others made us get very quiet and serious.

I want to be cremated and Jon doesn't want to talk about death.

Jon refers to the nearest child as "it", and I, though far from maternal, do feel a little warmth in my heart when I see cute baby hats in boutiques in downtown Pleasanton.

Anyway, my brother, Ted, has announced to my family that he is engaged! Exciting? Yeah! Scary? In so many ways... He doesn't read my blog, so this isn't necessarily for his benefit. But today I came across this list, done almost exactly 2 years ago as I prepared to say "yes" to an eternity with one good man.

1. Define love.
2. Do you love me?
3. How many children do we plan on having?
4. How far apart should they be in age?
5. What will we do if one of our children is born with a physical/mental disability?
6. Which is more important: having expensive cars or investing money for our future?
7. Are we doing the right thing?
8. Is there anything about yourself that you hope I never find out?
9. If one of us meets an unexpected failure in education or work, how will that affect our relationship?
10. Will you share my crazed enthusiasms just because they are mine?
11. Will you require me to share your enthusiasms?
12. What does my family do that annoys you?
13. If we have two cars, who gets to drive the new one?
14. If there's an issue in our relationship that could cause a divorce, what is it?
15. If we were to eliminate our physical attraction to each other, what would we have left?
16. What is our most important joint goal?
17. Do we have a plan in the event that one of us gets too angry?
18. How would you describe yourself?
19. How do you think I see you?
20. Are you a saver or a spender?
21. Do you consider going to the movies together/going on vacation every year a necessity or a luxury?
22. What are our financial goals?
23. How will we make decisions together?
24. Are we both willing to face difficult areas, or do we try to avoid conflict?
25. How important is it to maintain intimacy in a relationship?
26. Are you comfortable expressing your sexual likes and dislikes?
27. What kind of birth control do you want to use?
28. Do you believe there are different levels of forgiveness?
29.If we fail at having children, how long do you want to wait before we consider other options?
30. Would you consider adoption? Invetro?
31. What is your parenting philosophy?
32. What is your definition of commitment?
33. If you are in an accident which results in you being in a coma, do you want me to keep you on life support?
34. If an accident happens in which I end up in a coma, will you have a problem taking me off of life support?
35. Do you plan to continue to romance me after we're married?
36. How important is that to you?
37. Is there anything in our relationship you would like to change before we're married?
38. What do you expect of me as your wife?
39. How do you define the role of the husband?
40. On a scale of one to ten, how patient would you say I am?
41. How patient are you?

They're all good questions, ones that I now think people should ask of their significant others long before marriage even enters the equation. But my list is incomplete! Why did I spend so much time wondering about the "kid thing"? What's with the death questions? I mean, there is so much more important stuff that comes up just in the first 18 months under the same roof.

42. Who gets to choose if your boxers have waaaaaay outlived their prime, thus rendering them to the fate of the garbage can?

43. How many times will you clean up the disgusting things that make me feel sick to my stomach before you go on strike and I am forced to grow up and put dishes in the dishwasher before the mold sets in?

44. Do you have a problem with sleeping facing me?

45. Who is in charge of making sure that we don't sleep ALL day?

46. If I hypothetically forget to put gas in the car, how upset will you actually be?

47. On a desert island you can bring me and a board game. Which board game do you choose? (No, Halo does not count as a board game. No, you can't bring two board games and not me.)

48. Whose parents' do we spend the different holidays with?

49. When we enter a room and I flip on the light, will you always turn it off when you come in directly behind me? Leaving me then to wander aimlessly in the pitch blackness with my hands out, praying that I don't trip and break my neck...

50. Is it that you're incapable of putting the new roll of toilet paper on the roll when the last one is exhausted?

51. Will the eventual sharing of previously and amazingly hidden natural bodily functions turn me into more of a "roommate" than a "girlfriend"?

52. Define date.

53. Do you consider me high maintainence? Low maintainence? High maintainence, but I think I'm low maintainence?

54. Why do you consider Simpsons/Family Guy/Other Crap good TV?

55. If I promise not to leave my trimmed toenails on the coffee table, will you please, please, please promise not to bring your stinky climbing shoes into the house?

56. Are you prepared to bear my wrath if/when you beat me at Scrabble? (For the record, he trounced me in the game we played as I wrote this.)

bride_n_groom.jpgOkay, so none of these things are really THAT important. But they are worth considering. Even asking aloud. If you haven't... have fun with it. We did.

As a final note, marriage is about answers, too. Who will be beside me every morning? Jon. Who will massage his back after a long day's work? Me. How many times will I forget to put the grape juice back in the refrigerator? A thousand. Will Jon be able to deal with that every single time? Absolutely. Who gives us the stamina and wisdom to make it through the rough times and the simple times? God. Family. Friends.

I love when the BIG questions get answered.

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how_to_be_lost.jpgI have an author recommendation. And no, she's not one the authors I am assigned to read in my "boring" English classes at school. Amanda Eyre Ward was someone I'd never heard of until I walked into Barnes and Noble intending to buy another quick read late this summer. Her latest novel, How To Be Lost, caught my eye, and buying it was an impulse. But I couldn't put it down. In a little more than two days I'd dusted it off between the rest of my busy schedule.

When I'd finished the book, I was left wanting more. Something about Ward's prose is soothing; even if the content is also disturbing or graphic, the metaphors she draws are easy to see in your mind's eye. I appreciate her logic.

She also uses all five senses in her descriptions, often detailing the scent of a person or the texture of an item in the scene in order to most accurately get her point across. It always works, bringing characters vividly to life. They stand in front of you, breathing, wearing flannel and smelling faintly of cloves and cigarette smoke. Ward knows that her readers will attach themselves to characters they are allowed to know more intimately than usual.

sleep_toward_heaven.jpgToday I picked up an earlier book by Ward entitled Sleep Toward Heaven, and I didn't put it down until I'd finished it. Literally in the span of just a few hours I gulped down every ounce of the story. She amazes me.

Not only is her voice as real as a friend's or a neighbor's, but she refuses to write in a stale, linear fashion. Rather, she chooses several plot lines and alternates between them, giving each protagonist his or her own distinct expression so as to make the reader's journey with each very easy, and then she braids them together. At the beginning the three sides of the story are so disparate that one wonders how they'll ever come close to one another... and in the end Ward wraps them up, tightly unified, so they can't exist without each other. The movements are subtle and surprising. I love it.

But I think Ward's most important talent is her staunch, balanced point of view. Even in Sleep Toward Heaven, a story about women on death row in Texas, I could not feel Ward's own stand on the issue of corporal punishment. The tale itself is told through the life of an inmate, the life of a victim's widow, the life of a young doctor... and minor characters influence each segment with stories and experiences of their own.

Yet, Ward doesn't enter her own plotline. There is no ringing endorsement for the needle at the end... there is no proof of innocence after punishment is inflicted. Nothing. Her poker face is admirable, and it makes her work that much more valuable.

"I'd won a bet- my husband had bet me that he could make Priscilla sit still with a biscuit on her nose, but he couldn't. Priscilla kept snapping her head around and eating the biscuit. I won the bet, so he had to go buy the beer. 'Get something good,' I yelled, as he pulled the truck out of the driveway. 'None of that Miller Lite crap!' And that was the last word he heard from me: crap. I'm sure he heard some other words afterward, maybe a song on the radio, the price of the beer from the cashier. I can watch the tape if I want to find out exactly what Karen Lowens had said. But the last word he heard from me, his beloved wife, was 'crap.'"

To sum up, she's great. If you've got a few hours to spare... check her out. Rest assured I plan to track the rest of her writing down and read it diligently.

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cake.jpgTonight we gathered at my parents' house to celebrate Mark Edward Pancoast's 48th birthday (Did you hear that, Ted? 48. Not 50. Great card, though.) Anyway, it was a fun-filled night. After all, it's not every day that a man over the age of 40 gets an IPod for his birthday.

Yes, Mom bought Dad a shiny blue IPod mini. And I am happy to announce that the new addition to the family has been christened: Old Blue.

The really good news is that while Jon installed software and plugged everything in, I led my folks through a little tutorial on the use of the IPod. Wait, no, the REALLY good news is that Dad caught on to everything quickly, and he got a big kick out of it.

So, between delicious cake and the IPod-inspired enthusiasm, the evening was a lot of fun. Oh, and Jon was introduced to Dad's favorite song. The classic "Dead Skunk" by Loudon Wainwright III. Never heard of it? Don't let Dad catch up to you when he has his handy-dandy IPod... he'll tie you down and make you listen!

"Deeeeeead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to hiiiiigggh heaven!"

Ew. The smell and the song. But Dad's birthday was happy, and that's the important thing. Happy birthday, Dad.

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