Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yoga for My Emotional Body

I was often the last person to be picked for teams in high school gym class. It was always the same story. There I'd stand, my palms sweaty on my gym shorts, watching as the team captains would first pick their friends and then those deemed by all as the most athletic. I'd feel the pit in my stomach grow as I realized if I wasn't picked soon, I'd be the last. The default pick. Mortal embarrassment for a teen age girl who wants nothing more than to fit in.

If I was lucky, the gym teacher would select one of my friends as a team captain. If I was less lucky, the captains would both be non-friends, and I wouldn't get picked until last. If I was really unlucky, the captain would be one of my friends, and I STILL wouldn't get picked because I was bad enough at most sports to be viewed as a drag on the team, even by someone who liked me.

There's little worse than watching a peer look with resignation between you and the other last person standing, sigh, and then shrug a resigned shoulder as if to say "They both suck. Do I have to pick one?"

My lack of popularity when it comes to sports picks was understandable, even by me. I was clumsy and scared of getting hurt. I was the girl to dodge the volleyball. I was the girl to call out "yours" more often than "mine"! I was the girl who waited for the softball to drop on the ground in front of me before I scooped it up to return it to first base. It wasn't that I wasn't capable of being athletic. I was healthy, somewhat tall for my age and had decent aim. But I was non-aggressive and too afraid of making a mistake. I'd volunteer for referee or bat-girl any day.

This is why, as an adult, I love yoga. No one has to pick me. I don't have to worry about dropping the ball and letting everyone down. I can be strong. I can grow in my practice. I can perform at my level. And it's all about me. It's only about what I'm doing on the mat that matters.

I began practicing yoga about 8 months ago. With the exception of a short sabbatical while I was healing from wrist surgery, I've gone at least once or twice a week since then. Each time I go, I grow stronger. I bask in the praise from the instructors - when I hear "excellent expression" as my teacher walks by me, I feel strong, empowered, and far removed from the unpicked girl in the school yard.

I've learned a few things as a new yogi that I'd like to share. If you're afraid of trying yoga like I was afraid of dodgeball in school, maybe this will bring you to the studio:

General Tips

1. It's really all about you. There's no judgment. No one laughs if you can't hold a position or if you topple out of a challenging pose. There's an accepting nature in yoga unlike in any other type of fitness I've seen, even when working out alone at the gym.

2. Work at your level. No matter what difficulty level of the class, if there's a pose you can't do, don't do it. If you want to give it a try, only go as far as you can into the pose that it doesn't cause you pain. If needed, signal the instructor and whisper a request for a modification or alternative exercise. For example, with my healing wrist, I can't do Hero pose, which requires one to balance on their hands using two blocks, lifting the entire body off the floor. Chances are, I might not be able to accomplish this feat anyway - but I can't put weight on my wrist right now to find out. So I do a completely different pose. I do Boat pose, which works the core of the body without using the arms at all. I found out to do this by talking with the instructor before class and letting him know my area of difficulty so he could make recommendations ahead of time.

3. Enjoy the meditation. It's hard to remember to breathe when you are exerting yourself in a tough pose, but breathing really does help you get through it. It gives you something to focus on and comforts you with the thought that no one is watching what you are doing as they are meditating on their own breathing, too.

4. Don't get frustrated. I don't care how athletic you are in normal life, yoga is something different. There will be poses you can't do right away, that you can't do all the way, or that you can't hold for an extended period of time. Some yogi wrote in an ancient text 2500 years ago, "Practice where you are" or something along those lines. It holds true. You will get better, even if it's just in being able to reach your toes a little better or remembering to keep your shoulder blades together while trying a new posture. But it's okay to only do what you can do and if you are stressing about your lack of progress or your inability to twist your leg behind your head, you're not receiving the full benefit of the experience.

5. Do a little research before you go. My first class, the instructor would say the names of positions and I didn't know what they were. Everyone else would be moving into position and I was taken out of my own meditative practice to watch others for cues. This isn't how every teacher does it. I've since found an instructor who guides us into the poses by telling us where to put our parts and then tells us the name of the pose we're in. But if you have a teacher like the former, it helps to know the "basic" poses - such as Downward Facing Dog and Child's pose. Just do a little Googling. If you can't do that, position your mat at the back of the studio and watch others the first few times. You won't get the self-focused meditative aspect of the practice, but you'll learn quickly. Just remember, you don't want others to judge you, so don't judge those you observe while you are learning. Everyone is in a different place in their practice.

6. Observe yoga studio etiquette. Yoga isn't about being popular, but you don't want to be the jerk either. If you are using a studio mat instead of your own, clean it off when you are done. Most good studios have a bottle of disinfectant and paper towels. Don't put your mat too close to others mats. Clean up after yourself - the yoga instructor isn't your maid. Put any bolsters or blankets you use away when you're done. Refrain from conversation in yoga unless the culture of your class seems to encourage it.

7. Don't be afraid. If I can do yoga, you can do yoga! There are special yoga classes for certain limitations, including yoga for the back, yoga for the emotional body, yoga for the neck and spine, yoga for pregnancy and many more. Start with a basic class and avoid HOT vinyasa classes at first. Hot vinyasa is when they heat the room up to sweltering temperatures. I find that extra sweating means extra slippage on the mat which isn't the best for someone just learning.

8. Yoga is not against your religion. Yes, there is some stuff about balancing shakras and ancient words for the positions, but you don't have to attend a class that's heavy on that - and every teacher is different. It's really about finding your own peace, not about worshiping anyone or anything.

Some Not So General Tips

1. Don't worry if you smell. If others can smell you, your mat is too close, but it's okay to sweat.

2. Wear comfortable clothes that cover your body. I like to say, if I can see your vajayjay during Downward Dog, go shopping.

3. Don't eat a huge meal before yoga. A food baby will make it harder to get in the poses. Also, your teacher will keep telling you to pull in your stomach and won't realize you ARE, it's just not obvious with all that food in your belly.

4. Breathing deeply in yoga is expected. Tortured groans are distracting. If you are groaning aloud, you are doing a position you shouldn't or trying to push yourself too far.

5. I highly recommend what's known in my circle as "detox/retox". Nothing tastes as good after challenging yoga as a Cosmopolitan or other drink. Going to yoga with friends and having a drink after will incentivize you to keep going. It's probably not something your yoga teacher would recommend, but I'm not your yoga teacher. Drink up.

6. When your teacher says "You may find that your body is speaking to you more strongly in this pose" the interpretation is "You might notice this hurts. And you will notice it hurts even more tomorrow."

7. I've been told that when you lose your balance during a balance posture (read: a posture where you are doing things while standing on one leg), it's not your fault. It's the earth moving on its axis that caused you to bobble. I love to blame things on the universe, so I embrace this reasoning.

8. If your class is described as "serene" or "calming" yoga, don't interpret that as easy. I don't think there is any easy yoga, especially when you are a beginner, though it does get better.

Hope these tips help! Remember, yoga is all about you. No judgment. No school yard picks. Though you never thought of yourself as fit or as an accomplished athlete, yoga has something for everyone - even me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Vehicular Arachnophobia

I was the guest speaker at the American Business Women's Association dinner today on the topic of professional writing and writing for the web. After my presentation, a city councilwoman and candidate for Oakland County Commissioner asked me to develop the website for her campaign. Needless to say, I was feeling good, decidedly accomplished and professional, as I climbed into my car to drive home.

Ten minutes later, I was feeling decidedly unprofessional as I crouched shivering in the dark in the passenger seat of my car, parked on the side of the highway with cars rocking my car as they rushed past. I had been driving at 70 mph, already brainstorming website ideas for my new potential project, when a spider crept into my line of vision across the inside of my windshield.

What happens when I typically see a spider happened this time, regardless of the fact that I was speeding down the highway. I went into escape mode. I cut over two lanes, screeched to a stop on the shoulder and literally threw myself away from the spider and into the passenger seat. My high heels, small sporty car with limited space, and extra body weight didn't slow me down a bit. If I'd been a cartoon character, I would have left a little cloud of smoke that said "pffft" or "zoom" behind me in the driver's seat.

Though they all seem enormous to me, I'll admit, this wasn't a super huge spider. It wasn't a tarantula. But it was one of those sturdy little fat ones that scare me far more than the whispy long-legged variety. Its body was the size of a thumbtack, and legs included, it was maybe the size of a quarter. But the size and shape of the spider isn't really important here. Even its attitude isn't all that important, although this was a particularly active little sucker with a skittery, jumpy kind of personality. What's important is that it was a spider at all and currently in my personal space.

I've always been terrified of spiders. I can't see them on TV or even read about them in a book. I think this phobia comes from the fact that my dad used to make my mom squish spiders in our house when I was growing up. If my big, strong dad was afraid of a little spider, it was safe to assume they were deadly, terrifying creatures and I should fear them, too.

If a spider appears in my home these days, I typically get all lightheaded and scream for my husband. If it's late, and he's already in bed, I've learned not to wake him -- even if that means I have to abandon whatever I was doing and leave the room until later. This has happened more than once when I've prepared to take a bath in the evening. When my husband walks in the bathroom in the morning to find the tub full of cold water, he knows I abandoned my bath for the safety of the bedroom the night before. If he's awake, my husband either kills them for me or scoops them up and takes them outside. He often mocks me gently while he does this, thoroughly entertained and equally exasperated by my shaking and uncontrollable clothes brushing. (I'm always convinced there's a second spider lurking somewhere in my hair or clothing when a spider has been spotted.) I fear dead spiders as much as live ones, so I need him to tell me the spider is gone - I can't look at the tissue for confirmation.

Sometimes, I get the nerve to tackle spiders on my own. I have a hard time killing them with a tissue. It puts me too close to the spider. Instead, I scramble for something with reach - the bathroom is a convenient place for this, as I can use air freshener, hairspray or some kind of cleaning product to attack the offender from a distance. If it's a big one or one that seems immune to chemical showers, I typically abandon the room as previously noted. Once, when in my car on the way to a job interview, I managed to get my hands on an aerosol can of wrinkle releaser and sprayed the spider over my shoulder until it was cemented against the rear window. I can only imagine what I smelled like walking into that interview.

This time, there was nothing in reach and I was trapped inside with the spider. I couldn't just run from the room. Unfortunately, I had also just cleaned out my car, so I didn't even have a tissue. After five solid minutes spent shaking in the passenger's seat, I dug around in my briefcase in the backseat and produced a scrap of paper. I couldn't seem to make myself do anything about the spider that had stopped on the windshield across from the steering wheel and seemed to be looking at me. I realized I was being ridiculous and finally got up the nerve to smash at the spider with my eyes closed. I sat and chewed my nails for a few minutes after, waiting to see if the spider might have somehow escaped the smush.

Nothing happened, so I got out of the car, came around to the driver's side, and got in after a few moments of inspecting the seat for any sister spiders. I pulled back onto the highway and went a few more miles before I saw the spider on the windshield again. It had escaped certain death. Once again, I screamed, freaked out, and made it to the side of the road without hitting anyone. I launched myself into the backseat this time. Now I was shaking and crying.

My speaking engagement was only 10 miles from home, and yet it was now almost an hour since I had left there. I started to worry how I was going to get home. I felt powerless. I'd been carjacked by an arachnid. I started to think of ways to call my husband to come and get me without telling him it was because of a spider. Could I tell him my car was acting funny? Have him come get me and ask him to drive my car home to "test it out" while I followed in his car? I also began to worry that someone might stop on the road to help me. Here I was at 10pm at night on the side of the road with my hazards and interior dome light on. How humiliating it would be to explain to a patrol officer or good Samaritan that my car was okay, I was just scared of a spider.

As often happens when I'm confronted with a spider, my thoughts began to race -- and I knowingly started coming up with all kinds of irrational thoughts. This spider was out to get me, because I had killed two spiders already this week. (One crawled across the keys of my laptop while I was writing late Tuesday night and then later, the same night, I sprayed one with Tilex mildew remover in the bathroom.) This spider was revenging for his relatives. I knew this was totally ridiculous, but three spiders in one week was simply overwhelming.

Finally, I called my husband. I explained that I was on the side of the road and completely paralyzed because of a spider. As he's done before, he literally talked me off the ledge, telling me all the stuff I already knew, but in the calm, reasonable voice that I needed: "It's more scared of you than you are of it", "It can't hurt you", "Just take some deep breaths, get a tissue out of the bag in the trunk, and kill it."

By the time I found a tissue in the trunk and readied myself to try another squish, the spider had disappeared. This was more horrifying than having to kill it, because now it could be anywhere. It could rappel down from the roof and land on my head. It could be on the steering wheel and, God forbid, crawl across my hand while I was driving!

I looked everywhere. Finally, I convinced myself he had gone into hiding and climbed back into the car. I drove too fast to get home and tried not to look anywhere but straight ahead. I used the tissue to hold the steering wheel. I didn't use my blinkers for fear of moving my hands into the shadows. The most embarrassing part is that I talked mean to the spider on the way home. "You better just watch it. I've got a tissue now," I said threateningly. I also called it names.

When I got home, I sprang out of the car and rubbed myself all over. My husband came out on the porch, shaking his head at the little frantic dance he's seen me do many times before. I changed clothes immediately and brushed my hair like crazy before I finally settled down.

After this latest incident, I realize I probably need some help with this problem, and not just a spider fogging in my car or a Dustbuster in my glove compartment. One of these days, I'm going to get myself into a car accident or my husband is going to get tired of being married to a freakbag. I need to overcome this irrational, paralyzing fear. Admittedly, the thought of having to confront my fears in therapy is a strong deterrent to seeking help. I've seen those TV shows where the TV therapists make the patients surround themselves with what they fear.

Statistics claim half of all women and 10% of all men have some level of spider phobia. I'm not sure what the statistics are on the number of people who kill themselves in car accidents because they saw a spider, but I'd have to guess it's low. Regardless, I'm pretty sure Death by Spider-induced Car Crash is a crummy and rather humiliating cause of death on the coroner's report. I suppose that makes me open to your doctor referrals.

P.S. - I usually try to include a picture of some kind with my blog posts. I tried. I googled "spiders". And then I had to close the page for fear the six pictures of spiders would come alive and crawl out of the screen onto my hands.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coming out of the Boy Band Closet: I heart N.K.O.T.B

In my tween and teen years, I was obsessed with the New Kids on the Block. If you don't remember Joe, Jordan, Jon, Donnie and Danny, they were (and are) an American “boy band” that peaked in the late 80s/ early 90s with a popularity at the time that was compared to the success of The Beatles a generation before. New Kids were the perfect formula of good-looking boys and easy to memorize song lyrics, and I fell fast. A friend introduced me to the phenomena. I went to her house for a sleepover and came back a different girl. We had watched the VHS popumentaries "Hangin' Tough" and "Hangin' Tough Live" about thirty times that weekend. When I got home, I think my mom thought I was on drugs, because when I'd left for the weekend, I had lots of interests; when I came back, there was only one. And there would only be one, for years to come.

A few weeks later, I visited my god-sister Kelly's house. She had apparently already known about New Kids "forever". I hadn't been over in months, so it was a shock to step into her bedroom and find the walls completely covered with New Kids. There was no blank space. She had created New Kids on the Block wallpaper with posters.

Not to be outdone as their biggest new fan, I came home and began a project that over several years, and with the help of my best friend, Julie, would become a bigger and better shrine than Kelly's. I papered my bedroom walls with thousands of pictures of the group, not settling for covering the space in large posters but cutting out every tiny picture of them from Bop, Big Bopper and Teen Beat, framing in the larger posters, and covering the light switch, electrical sockets and moldings. I bought every shameless promotional item, from the bedspread and sheets to the shoelaces and basically blew the weekly allowances I should have saved for my college education. It was like kismet between my hormone enraged body and their amazing marketing machine.

Not many people knew about my "New Kids thing", except Julie and a few other friends. I rarely had friends over because I didn't want them to see my room. For some reason, at my school, no one wanted to admit they liked New Kids. I remember being harassed one day in English class by a group of boys because of a small Joe button attached to my purse. Julie experienced similar backlash at school, so we began talking in code around others and saved the gushing for after school at my house.

As much as we loved them, Julie and I were normal girls from normal families. Our moms were not the types to drive us to other states to see them perform, or take us in the middle of the night to stake out their tour bus or hotel entrances. Thus, we only went to the few concerts that came to our town and only dreamed that we could be the groupies we read about in Teen Beat. I always wanted to be a writer, so I started a New Kids story, which grew to nearly 500 pages long. It was about winning a contest to go on a cruise with them, something they did for fans in real life but I could never have afforded had opportunity presented itself. Thankfully, my embarrassment isn't complete, as I never finished the story. I finally got a real boyfriend and started living instead of fantasizing.

Twenty years later, I realize there shouldn't have been shame in being a blockhead. Lots of girls were New Kids fans (even if they didn't admit it), as evidenced by their album sales. But now here comes the hard part of the confession, of my "coming out" if you will...I'm still a blockhead.

If you're not up on your New Kids trivia, you're probably picturing me wearing a twenty-year old tee-shirt and dancing to Step-by-Step in my bedroom. But if you're a little with it, you'll know that they're back. After going their separate ways in 1994, they reunited to release a new album in 2008 called "The Block" and started touring again. And despite myself, I've fallen again. What's worse, I'm a grownup with money, so it's much easier afford the concerts, tee-shirts and music downloads.

Last October, Julie and I went to their sold-out comeback concert, ready to relive our teenage years. When we got to the Palace, we bought tee-shirts and changed into them in the bathroom before finding our seats. At long last, brand new tee-shirts that would actually fit us! We purchased Property of Jon Knight (Julie) and Property of Donnie Wahlberg (me) shirts for $40 each. Yikes.

Whoever stocked the tee-shirts at the venue was apparently re-living the past too, because the tee-shirt sizes were almost comical. Size large felt almost obscene on our grownup chests, stretching the fonts of their names to extra large grande. But five minutes into the concert, I could have been naked for all I would have noticed. We had third row seats and had the time of our lives being thirteen again. Part of it was reliving memories and part of it was experiencing that long-forgotten rush of hormones that allows you to do things you wouldn't normally do. You know the hormone rush I mean. It's the one that compels women to scream at the top of their lungs, at men they don't know, things that they wouldn't whisper in bed to their husbands. (You may have seen this rare phenomenon in action at bachelorette parties and strip clubs after 1AM when the shots have kicked in.)

We had such a good time at the concert that when the summer tour came back around in June, we decided we had waited long enough to meet them and would go all out and pay the extra money for a Meet & Greet, something we wouldn't have been able to do back in the day. I lost 20 pounds and wore my Donnie tee-shirt again, mostly so I didn't have to shell out the money for a new one. I won't give a detailed account of the entire day waiting around to meet the group, but I will tell you two important things we learned:

1. Some girls will spend a lot of money to feel special. We met girls who are thousands of dollars in debt from following the tour across the country. They do this for different reasons - some to show their love, some in hopes the guys will recognize them as friends, some to forget about troubles in their own lives, and some because they have the free time and had money to indulge when they first started out.

2. There's a lot of negotiating and quick, school yard picks in line. Ten girls meet the five guys at a time. We learned you don't want to go in with a group where all the girls like the same guy because that means no one gets satisfactory face time with their man. Also, two girls to a guy means each girl can take a side of him during the picturing taking. Standing directly next to your man is highly prized for the purposes of cropping out the other people from the picture later, for your Facebook or Twitter profile pic. There was lots of scrambling to find two Joe girls, two Donnie girls, two Jordan girls, etc. There was also a lot of "I don't want to go in with another Jordan/Donnie/Joe/Jon/Danny girl who is prettier than me."

Once we had our groups figured out, there was a lot of waiting in the rain - and a bit of drama. Donnie almost didn't make the meet & greet due to weather and deplaning issues. And then we got the breaking news, spreading like wildfire from Perez Hilton via the concert-goers with smart phones, that Michael Jackson was dead.

It was finally our turn. We went in, and there they were in 3D. It was overwhelming. Twenty years of frenzied fandom - flashbacks of cutting all those pictures, all the rolls of tape we went through, all the lyrics I'd memorized, all the pages of my story fluttering through my mind... It went so fast. They were making up time because Donnie had arrived late, so each group had maybe 30 seconds. The other "Donnie girl" in my group, Ela from Canada, went over to him right away. In the 20 or more meet and greets she'd done, she hadn't gotten a chance to tell Donnie everything she needed to say, and she claimed this was her last one. I waited patiently while she showed him her homemade tee-shirt and handed him a letter smuggled in under her shirt. While I waited, I turned to Danny and Jon and said hi to them. Neither said anything back, but then, they had their Danny and Jon girls. I gathered that my Donnie tee-shirt announced that I wasn't waiting to talk to them. I turned back to see Ela still talking to Donnie -- and something else. Two barbie dolls, who had called themselves Jordan girls, were now claiming Donnie hugs! I was new to the rules, but I was pretty sure this was a meet & greet crime!

Suddenly, they were arranging us for the group photos. I was maneuvered two spots away from Donnie, the interlopers crushing around him, and then it was over and they were ushering us away. I turned to Ela and mouthed to her "But I didn't even get to say hello." I'd waited years, through all that time when we thought they'd never come back.

Ela and I had gotten to know each other in line and she recognized a fellow fan's plight. Ela pushed her way back over to Donnie and said loudly, "Donnie, this girl has waited 20 years to meet you."

A bodyguard was brushing against my arm, herding me toward the exit. But then I saw Donnie make a motion at him, and suddenly, I was nudged back and Donnie was hugging me. And hugging me. It seemed to go on forever. Everyone else was gone, and I was still there, hugging and being hugged. It made everything worth it. All the money I'd spent. All the times I'd been teased for being a fan.

I heard the bodyguard say "Okay, let's go", and I started to pull away. Amazingly, Donnie was still hugging. I let myself sink back into it, and this time, when the bodyguard touched my shoulder to pull me away, I pulled my face from the crook of Donnie's neck to declare, "If he's not letting go, I'm not letting go." The hug lasted another 10 seconds or so, when we finally released each other and I was escorted away. It's a blur, but I'm pretty sure I never said a word to him.

It was the best concert ever, and we hadn't even actually gone to the concert yet. Our seats were in the fifth row, but there was an empty space in the front against the stage. We made friends with a security guard who let us move up during the opening acts. We'd met them and now we had first row seats. Couldn't get much better than that! I've been to many concerts and I've never felt the kind of energy I feel at a New Kids concert. The screams simply don't compare. At any other concert, there are usually people there who just happened to get tickets, people who like one or two songs from the new album or who only like the band's old stuff. At a New Kids concert, it's thousands of me's.

Sitting in the parking lot later, waiting to get out of the traffic jam to get back to Julie's house, we rambled on about our favorite parts of the show while listening to "The Block". Julie felt we'd met all of our goals, and this was a great way to end things. We had closure. I agreed with her, except now, in some small way, I understood why those girls I'd previously dismissed as crazy followed them across the nation. Why they went to concert after concert; paid for meet & greet after meet & greet. It was a rush. I kept wondering if maybe it could get even better. Maybe next time, I could actually speak to one of them. I could choke out a hello or something. Maybe I could make Donnie smile or laugh! Get an autograph! My tendency to stay at the poker table too long, to buy back into a cash game over and over, was rearing its ugly head in my New Kids world. Damn my addictive personality.

Aside from the two concerts and the m&g, what's really gotten me hooked again is that the guys themselves seem much more accessible this time around. Once when I waited eagerly for a fan club newsletter in the mail or a few seconds of concert footage during the New Kids on the Block Saturday morning cartoon, now I only need look as far as their official website or sign on to Twitter. The marketing machine that exploited them back in the day is no more, but the boys did learn a few tricks. They've joined the social networking arena with ease -- five guys can cover a lot of virtual ground, between their blogs, tweets and contests.

And now comes the cruise to the Bahamas. They did one last year, and now this May, they're sailing again. And guess who's going? Beach parties, meet & greets, concerts - oh my! A chance to live the story I wrote when I was thirteen years old.

What does my husband think about all of this? Well, in practical terms (with regard to the cruise), he gets seasick and will never cruise with me, which is something I really enjoy doing. So this is an opportunity for me to be on a boat, in a safe environment, with entertainment I know I will like and fellow passengers with whom I have a lot in common. Does it matter that I don't know anyone else on the boat? I'll make friends. With regard to the other stuff, I think he looks at me as kind of a geek. He likes his computer games, his motorcycle stuff...his hobbies. I think he accepts this as my geeky hobby. Everyone has one, don't they? Am I any different than the people who save up their money to go to Graceland? (And come on, most people agree that Elvis isn't even alive.) I'm pretty sure my husband tries not to be embarrassed by it, but he might be a little. Luckily, he knows I love him more than all of the New Kids put together. For as many fantasies I had about meeting New Kids, I had more about getting married someday to a man who would accept me for who I am.

As for me, I'm trying to keep control of myself now that they're back, monetarily and mentally. (And it seems they might be back to stay - there are rumors of another album underway.) I might understand why girls follow the New Kids around the world, but I don't have to get carried away myself. I'm not going to the pre-cruise concert in Miami. I'm not going to the concert in June in Windsor, even if they will only be a stone's throw away. I'm not letting myself listen to Donnie's Friday evening DJ show on Cherrytree radio. I only check Twitter posts every few weeks, and I no longer respond to their posts (though I did for a bit right after the concert - Jordan plays a twenty questions game that's hard to resist). I don't enter the contests (even when I was really tempted by the "Weekend with Donnie" one).

It's like gambling. I draw out what money I need and leave my ATM card at home. I'm policing myself. Sad that I have to, but at least I understand my weaknesses.

And now you know my weakness, too. I'm a blockhead. A big old geeky blockhead.

Enjoy your laugh.

Or maybe, just maybe, you will join me out here in the light.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nashville Nightlife - by guest author & singer Kymberly Bryson

It all starts with a song....That's a line you'll hear in Nashville, Tennessee. Filled with honkey tonks, Nashville is known as Music City. Most people in town are aspiring singer/songwriter types like myself, Kymberly Bryson. We're all here to be heard. A good song, the right connections and soon you could be on your way. I've been fortunate to play at some great venues - Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar, Legends, Second Fiddle, The Stage - along with traveling with a band to different states. It's all been a blessing.

Currently, I'm working on a cable tv project, singing with the band Beacon Hill, and performing at Buck Wild Saloon as a karaoke jockey. I've met some great people in this town. There's nothing like a country crowd. Performing for them is always entertaining. Everyone is very welcoming. But don't be fooled, not everyone walks around in a cowboy hat and boots. From business suits to chains on jeans, Country music brings many different people together. And keep your eyes open as you walk the streets of lower Broadway. You may very well see some of Nashville's finest. Blake Shelton and Jamey Johnson have both been spotted around town along with many others. And you can't forget about the regulars. When I work at Buck Wild Saloon there are several people that come back again and again to see my show. Some join me by dancing on the bar and others get up and sing a song. It's always a pleasure to see their smiling faces along with others that stop by when they are in town.

Nashville is really a great city. From the Grand Ole Opry to the Ryman Auditorium, you're surrounded by dreams coming true and the legend behind country music. So if you're looking for a small town with a big city feel...come check out Nashville. We'll be glad to have ya'll. Oh, and be sure to look for me...Kymberly Bryson.

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Friday, April 9, 2010


It's been gloomy and rainy these last few days, but unlike many of my solar-powered friends, I love the rain -- all kinds, the drippy kind, the blowy kind, and especially the loud kind. It doesn't matter what the season, I love the Rain. Wetting the fall leaves, nourishing spring plants, or sliding over icicles, I love it! Here's a little poet-prose sketch I've played with over the years, usually when it's raining and I'm in the mood:

An ashy tree, lifeless with life, stands as it does every day, collecting dust stirred by shiftless breezes. Sidewalk blocks endlessly imitate one another. Stretches of ordinary cement, shaded in ordinary light gray, are veiled by soiled reminders of footfalls. The sky is barren canvas pressing down upon the stillness.

Eroded sky, at last, becomes again The Heavens – black clouds layer above in deep dimensions as if the sky itself is unfolding its thick fingers, capturing rain in soft cupped hands. From skilled fingers lightly parted, rain sprays the sidewalks in patches. Through disheartened hands, rain escapes in big drops to dot the thirsty cement in splotches. As palms hasten to bury bleary eyes, the rain slips suddenly –pouring rain stains the walkways an angry grey.

The dispirited world beneath is overspread by a blanket of cloudburst. When the rain sweeps through the trees, bringing animated dance to sleeping leaves, all is imbathed in elemental purity – awakened by Nature’s virginal lamentation yet overwhelmed by its fierce restoration.

From Midnight’s throne come fistfuls of rain. Black trees wink in flashes of illuminated silence, and quail beneath voiceless shouts of thunder. Trees bow to intense winds borne from the eager lips of Spring.

Under hot sun, leaves shiver as cold raindrops roll down their slick breasts, dripping to a scorched mask where tiny rivers of cool tears descend in soundless exploration.

From sultry sun come splashes slapping down the trunks, softening piles of crunchy corpses on the wet ground below. When fainting autumn sun at last comes cold, rain slips across mirrored branches to taste frozen winter thorns.

And when the rain is gone, gathered weightlessly in wind-puffed pillow, the world stands straight again – brushing moistened sleeves with flick of hand as the pursed lips of Wind soften to weary yawn. The sky folds within itself once more as glistening leaves softly flapping flit past downcast eyes to the sodden earth restored.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

David's Dream Bubble - Part III

On the heels of my most recent post about our haunted house, I thought I'd follow with a short story written in college that might keep you in a creepy mood. Written for a creative writing class in 1999, the assignment was to begin with the teacher-supplied line: "When the man looked in the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back" and spin an original story from there. Despite the gnawing desire to update aspects of my writing, I'm going to leave it as-is to allow you to enjoy the tone I now recognize as from my "angsty" and "student workshoppy" phase. Here is Part III of III:

The coffee was strong and too hot, but David drank it when his mother insisted. She was telling him that he needed sleep. The coffee, she said, would not keep him awake. She had carefully chosen the right kind. His head was hurting and she could tell. 

It was Midnight, but his mother was straightening his house. David decided to go to sleep. He climbed into his bed and slept a long, dreamless sleep. When he awoke, the sun was shining through a crack beneath his window shade. He did not hear any sounds from the depths of the house and determined that his mother had left. When he entered the kitchen, the linoleum had been scrubbed clean and his dishes were stacked neatly within the cabinets. On the table were blue place mats. They were like the ones at his mother’s house. 

David dallied as long as possible in the kitchen. He inspected his cupboards and refrigerator. There were frozen, homemade soups in the icebox. He placed one of the plastic containers in the microwave and thought about brushing his teeth. His fear of the bathroom, he decided, was real. He thought about the bathroom as he brewed coffee, drank it, and rinsed the cup. He set the clean mug and soup bowl in the empty dishwasher. 

His eyes were normal in the mirror. The walls were empty. He heard only the usual sounds of the bathroom. When he was in the shower, David noticed the smells. He could smell the soap before he had picked it up and before he had wet it. The shampoo in its bottle made his nostrils flair. The toilet water, too, had a strong odor. It smelled like he was sick and heaving over it—-but he was in the shower and the lid was closed.

[Can I dream in the daylight?]

He sat on the couch with his too-long hair drenched and clinging to his face in wet chunks. He was shuddering and naked. He was cold and he had left the towel in the bathroom. His strong, callused hands were trembling on his thighs. David considered calling his mother. He picked up the phone, dialed, and then easily replaced the receiver. She would not understand.

[Who dreams all the time?]

The door was knocking. He could hear it, but he could not move. David was tired, and he was unclothed on the living room floor. The carpet itched his nose. He was too nervous to scratch it. After some time of sitting, he had decided that even his bedroom, next to the bathroom, was unsafe. It was almost dark in the room, lit only by the yellow streetlights outside. David was unsure how long he had been on the floor. He heard a key crunch into the lock and the soft sound of the door push open. He heard his mother thank someone, probably his landlord from next door.
She was bending over him and he could smell the artificial flowers dabbed on her neck. He heard her nails click the buttons as she dialed the phone. David didn’t care what she thought now. She had placed a warm, brown blanket over him and he was comfortable. He pulled the corner of it under his head and his nose ceased to itch. The knock of her thick heels on the kitchen floor, and then the soundless foot vibrations to follow, told David his mother was nearing the back of the house. She was using his bathroom. He considered calling out to her. She would be afraid of a place where she could smell and see and think and hear like she was in a dream. If she doesn’t come running out in fear, he thought, does that mean my bathroom is just a bathroom?

The washcloth was rough and hot. She had wet it and rung it out before placing it against his forehead. His mother seemed impatient. She was waiting for someone. She had not spoken when she came out of the bathroom, but he knew she had been in there a long time. 

David sat on his bed. He wanted to protest when his mother was packing his clothes, but he did not. He wanted to ask her what she had seen in the bathroom, but she was unusually silent, and he did not want to disturb her. When the moving people came, they took his couch and lamps. They pulled the carpet from the wood floor. He watched his mother direct traffic and thought about all the strangers walking over his floors. He chewed his fingernails and the skin on the sides of them.

He slowly unpacked his belongings in his bedroom at his mother’s house. He unwrapped a shoe from wrinkled newspaper. She had wrapped everything. It was dark, and his mother was asleep in her bedroom. He could hear her deep, calm breathing through the wall. He could not remember what it was like to sleep like that. He decided to ready himself for bed, but he could not find his toothbrush. He flipped through the boxes on the floor. All were empty. As he sat on the edge of the bed, David found that he had not unpacked his shampoo, his razor, or his soap. There were no bathroom supplies. 

He realized his mother had forgotten to pack in the bathroom.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

David's Dream Bubble - Part II

On the heels of my most recent post about our haunted house, I thought I'd follow with a short story written in college that might keep you in a creepy mood. Written for a creative writing class in 1999, the assignment was to begin with the teacher-supplied line: "When the man looked in the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back" and spin an original story from there. Despite the gnawing desire to update aspects of my writing, I'm going to leave it as-is to allow you to enjoy the tone I now recognize as from my "angsty" and "student workshoppy" phase. Here is Part II of III:
While water rained on the empty tub, David studied his eyes in the misty mirror. They were fine. They were familiar. He reached into the small closet to the left of the sink and removed a towel. When he glanced back at the mirror, he saw a spider reflected on the opposite wall. He twisted around.  

Exaggerated and dreamlike, the spider moved up the gray tiles of the shower stall. It was sliding in slow motion and David began to feel that they were both captured in invisible molasses. Time ran at one second to every three ticks of the clock. As he watched it, David at once felt an urgency to rid the clean, smooth tiles of the spider. It slowly climbed across white valleys between gray plateaus like car tires crossing illuminated lines on a black night. David was transfixed. He could not move to kill it.

Suddenly, David became aware of the room. His sense began to reverberate with the urgent hum of the toilet, the piercing squeak of the floor, and the resounding whisper of the spider’s phantasmal legs sliding up the tiles. The sound of water drops falling in the sink pounded in his ears. To David, the dripping faucet was a cannon blasting fluidic dream-bombs. He pressed his palms to his ears to muffle the sounds—the water, the humming florescent light, the air moving through the room. 

The spider, unmoved by the paralysis it provoked, tilted its shiny body and eyes toward David’s hand, as if sensing the potential of his fist to smash its gross existence from the wall and from his mind. David slowly raised his hand, intent now on killing the spider. Time was suspended—in the darkness of hesitation, a flicker of light caressed flesh. The spider shattered in silent explosion. Polished pieces of the spider’s body floated to the floor, winking in their descent. The spider, David realized, had been made of glass. Falling to his knees, he tried to sweep the fragments of glass into a cupped hand. He cut himself. The blood was welling into a red droplet when his mother knocked on the door.  

He opened the door and stepped out. Looking down, he saw that his hand was not bleeding. His soft palm was not cut. The spot of blood on his jeans was gone. His mother was staring. She glanced into the bathroom behind him. The shower was running, but he was clothed and he was not wet. Following her gaze, David found that the bathroom was in its usual condition. The hand towels needed to be laundered, there was soap scum on the sides of the tub, he was out of bathroom cups—but there was no glass on the floor. There was no spider on the wall. The running water sounded as it should.
[Could I have been dreaming?]

Enough - poetry by guest author Renee Anderson

When is enough really enough?
when you feel broken and empty inside
when you have nowhere to go
when you have no more tears to shed

Can anyone really live this way?
you hate to go home
in a room full of people you stand alone
your heart yearns for more
all you see is emptiness

When you are told that you are loved - but it's hollow
you can hear the words but no action is given
the need you crave is never met
you replace one addiction with another
until you are just a shell

Standing alone
I want so much more than I have
I have so much more than I need
If life was simpler I would be set
My wants carry over into obsessions
My thoughts take control of my head
If I could just take a step back
Maybe just maybe I wouldn't feel alone

how do I control the rage
how do I control the beasts inside
how do I let these feelings out before they become my life

I wish
sometimes I wish I could go back in time
to a worry-free feeling of bliss
to lack responsibilities
to lack wants
to start over or end it all

Renee has been writing poetry to let out her emotions since she was 9yrs old. For Renee, writing is just another way to express who she is deep inside. As "Chief Dribbler" on this blog, I'd like to add that I'm thrilled to bring Renee's poetry to Minddribbles and encourage all of my friends who enjoy writing either poetry or prose to submit their words for display on this blog to I'd love to read whatever has dribbled from your mind, in any format!

A Life Unplanned - by guest author Shannan Mix

November 25th, I turned thirty-five. This was a special year. Instead of the normal presents I would ask for or even get for myself, a trendy outfit, a gift certificate for a massage, dinner at a nice restaurant; I decided to ask for something completely out of the ordinary…a divorce. The reasons why I left my husband aren’t important. Well, they are or I wouldn’t have left him, but they don’t matter for the purpose of this blog. The important thing is that on the day of my thirty-fifth birthday, while my family was trying to rally around me asking if they could take me to dinner or make me a cake, I sat in my room crying wondering where it had gone all wrong.

Was it when my friends went off to big universities, but I had to stay behind at the local community college? When I got in a car accident that forced me to drop out of school and quit my job? Should I not have married my now-ex-husband? I sat cataloging and second guessing every major decision in my life. I had just abruptly ended my marriage of almost eight years. I had no job. No idea where I was going to live. My self esteem was in the crapper. I was thirty-five and single again. No, this was not the life I had planned.
No, the life I had planned…well, wait a minute. I guess you would have to be specific about my age at the time I was planning it. See from the time I was six until I was about 11, I was certain I was going to be a model or an actress because that’s what Olivia Newton-John and Christy Brinkley were and I was going to marry Kirk Cameron, John Stamos or Jeff Renaud, a boy in my class. Whoever asked first would be the lucky one. He would propose with a Batman or Superman ring and we would live happily in my parents’ basement.

By the time I reached 7th grade, I was no longer pining over Kirk, John or Jeff. I had moved on to Jon Bon Jovi, Johnny Depp and an older boy that went to school with me. He was an 8th grader. I remember my best friend, Renee and I had it all worked out: By the time we were in our twenties, we would be working at our dream jobs; I would be a movie director and she a hairdresser to the stars in California. At age twenty-three, we’d have met our soul mates, just gotten married and be well on our way to living happily ever after. We would have our first kid by the time we were twenty-five and be done having our fourth and final kid by the time we were in our early thirties.

Oh, how naive and stupid we were. At twenty-three we could barely take care of ourselves, never mind a husband. When our twenty-third birthday approached and neither of us had met our knight in shining armor, only some idiots in knockoff tin suits, we modified our dreams a bit. The age we would get married got pushed up and became more of a ballpark number. We started focusing on finding a guy we would actually consider going out with on a second date. The number of kids diminished, greatly. She decided she wanted to own her own salon in Michigan. I went from wanting to direct movies to hoping to regain enough of my vision to be able to go back to school and complete my psychology degree.

Now here I was, thirty-five and divorced. Once again, my plan was getting modified. I ran the gamut of emotions. There were times I felt completely alone even when I was surrounded by people. Other times I felt angry, hurt and confused. Mostly I felt scared, unsure of myself and like a big huge failure. I mean look at all of my family and friends… and that’s when it hit me. For the most part, we’re all in the same boat. More than half of my friends are divorced. A number of them (and the rest of the world, for that matter) just lost their jobs and have no idea what they are going to do either. Most of them didn’t end up becoming what they thought they were going to be when they were six, sixteen, twenty-six or even forty-six. And you know what? That’s okay. I don’t love them any differently or think any less of them because of it. Here are some things that I’ve learned over the past few months:

1.) You can’t have a future if you’re living in the past. You have to let go of the person you thought you were going to be and learn to love the person you are;

2.) It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you want to do with your life. Most of the people I know that seemed so focused and chose a major and career right out of high school hate their jobs. The good thing is you can always change it. My sister’s brother-in-law was a licensed CPA. When he was thirty, he decided he hated being an accountant and wanted to be a lawyer. Everyone said he was crazy. He wouldn’t graduate for eight years making him forty. His response was, “In eight years, I’m going to be forty either way. I’d rather be forty with a law degree than without one.”

3.) Never let other people decide your fate. Others will always have opinions on what you should do with your life or how you should handle your relationship, but you’re the one that has to live with and deal with it. Make sure your decisions are your own, and if you’re involved, discuss them with your partner;

4.) Never take advice from someone whose life you don’t respect. Have you ever noticed the first people to hand out financial advice are the people that don’t have any money? If you do want advice on how to handle your financial affairs or about your relationship, ask someone that has a bank portfolio or a relationship you admire;

5.) Never hold others responsible for other people’s mistakes. Your new love is not your old love. Your husband is not your father. Direct anger where it belongs. Just because someone else hurt you, doesn’t mean the next person will;

6.) Love is always worth it. The reward is always so much greater than the risk.

It has now been several months since my divorce. I still don’t know exactly where my life is heading, and I’m happy about that. After all, how boring would that be? I have wonderful family, great friends that love me, I’m dating…at least I think I am. Still trying to learn how to do this whole dating thing- Texting, facebook-ing, whatever happened to the plain old telephone call? But that’s another blog. I’m no longer on an emotional rollercoaster. I am happy, calm, a little nervous about the future, but more excited than anything. Most of all, I feel a sense of peace.

Life hardly ever turns out the way you planned it. Thank God, for that because being married to Kirk Cameron, raising our four kids and shooting movies all while living in my parents’ basement could have gotten a little crowded.

Shannan Mix always had an interest in writing, but became serious about it when she wrote her first nonfiction on the topic of chronic pain titled, "Pain, Pain Go Away..."  The book can be downloaded for free @ She has just finished her second book, "Why Am I Still Single?" and is currently shopping it to publishers and agents. Read excerpts from the book, along with humorous weekly observations on her blog: After Wife found @ 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

David's Dream Bubble - Part I

On the heels of my most recent post about our haunted house, I thought I'd follow with a short story written in college that might keep you in a creepy mood. Written for a creative writing class in 1999, the assignment was to begin with the teacher-supplied line: "When the man looked in the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back" and spin an original story from there. Despite the gnawing desire to update aspects of my writing, I'm going to leave it as-is to allow you to enjoy the tone I now recognize as from my "angsty" and "student workshoppy" phase. Here is Part I of III:

When the man looked into the mirror, the small beady eyes of a rat looked back.

[I am dreaming]

He rubbed rough knuckles into his eyes and, blinking, looked into the mirror. The face was his. A long, narrow nose still jutted oddly from beneath wild eyebrows. His chin was still a hard square and his tight skin, as usual, was pale and unshaven. Cheekbones, wide and pronounced, dominated his slender face. They were two 25 cent gum balls unnaturally buried beneath his stretched cheeks. His round cheekbones were familiar. They had always been there.

Framed between his hairy brows and bulging cheekbones were the new eyes. They were black and glassy. His eye sockets and lids had adapted to their size. In a different context, in a smaller face, the eyes may have gone unnoticed. In his large face, they were impossibly small.

[I must be dreaming]

David would not panic. His rat eyes flicked about the bathroom. They worked well. The bathroom was drawn with crisp, clear lines. The tiles above the wash basin were thousands of pressed grains. He could count each particle that formed them. From across the bathroom, the grooves of a soap bar in its shower dish were clearly defined. David could not tell if his fingers were broken or if the doorknob evaded his reach, but he failed his first attempt to exit the bathroom. His fingers were useless sticks of butter. His arms were useless rubber pencils.

The door opened. He stepped from the false bathroom light to the lamp-lit hallway. It was foggy. It was under water. David realized he was seeing with his own eyes. As his gaze traveled over the white walls and hung photographs, he did not detect the cat slipping around his legs and into the bathroom. When he reached the living room, he scanned for changes. He studied the black couch, the lamps and the coffee table. He did not notice the motionless rustle of the draperies or see the cold air seep through the window cracks. When he had crossed from the bathroom to the hall, he had awoken from whatever dream he had dreamt.

The phone was ringing. David melted into his couch and pulled the phone onto his lap. It was his mother.

[I just had the strangest dream…]

His voice was nervous and she offered to come over. The thought made his head ache, but he agreed.

She bustled in the doorway with a brown bag of groceries. Each light was clicked as she walked. David was annoyed by the invasion of his mother and the light she inflicted upon the house. He took her bag to the kitchen and placed it on the counter anyway. She was immediately unpacking it and making coffee. She told him he looked tired. His eyes, she said, were red.

He could hear the sound of his mother opening and closing his cupboards as he walked down the hallway. He could see her mouth twitch and her brow crease as she discovered their contents. He could hear her unpack broccoli and apples and bottles of vitamins—things he did not have or want. He decided he would take a shower. He would forget about his dream.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ghost Story

This isn't a topic I want to write about at 2 in the morning, when I'm sitting on my couch in the dark, wishing I felt more tired. Unfortunately, I often can't sleep, and I've learned that those early morning hours are in fact my best writing times. So we'll see how it goes this way, because it's bright and shiny right now at 2:05 in the afternoon, the doorwall is open, letting in a spring breeze, and there's no way I'm writing about this at night. Seeing the sun shine in fat patches on the deck outside the doorwall, hearing the birds chirping in the trees, I wonder, really, how can I be scared of ghosts at a time like this? Except, when I look too long, I begin to see shadows blowing over those patches of sun, and I start to remember why I didn't want to write about this in the first place.

So, my house is haunted. A bold statement and somewhat melodramatic I know. Let me emphasize first, I'm not often scared of our ghost. It's only when I've just watched a scary movie, I'm home alone at night, or I indulge in thinking about it for too long, like now when I'm writing about it, that it bothers me.

You don't believe in ghosts?

I admit, before I moved here, I didn't either. And I can tell you, my husband took even longer than I did to convince. But things happen here that we can't deny or explain away.

The explain-awayable things are varied but not unexpected in a description of a haunted house. We hear sounds that don't always belong. Sometimes, things fall upstairs when we're down in our living room with our cats sitting in our laps. Items are easily moved or misplaced. (For example, I leave my cell phone on the charger every night on the mantle above the fireplace, and yet most mornings, I find it unplugged and without a charge.) Our house has a black hole where things disappear constantly, like important papers, tools and clothes. Sometimes the stereo or television will turn off by itself. On occasion, when I'm alone, I will hear footsteps and windows or doors opening and closing, but when I walk around the house, everything is as it should be. The doorbell rings, but no one is there when I look. And the doorbell ring is an old-fashioned "ding-dong" sound, though we have a doorbell ringtone device that plays music when one pushes the doorbell from outside. My husband wakes up at the exact time of night, every night. He never did this before we moved here.

But all of these things are easily explainable, right? Old houses shift; sometimes things fall down. There's no black hole; we're just disorganized. Things turning themselves off and the funky doorbell are electrical problems. The sounds I hear are my mind playing tricks. My husband has a weird internal clock that causes him to awaken at exactly 3AM without fail.

But I invite you try to explain this one away.

One night, my husband and I watched a movie in our living room. When our movie ended, it was time for bed. I walked around and blew out the candles on the fireplace mantel, in the wall sconces, and on top of the television while my husband folded blankets and closed up the entertainment system. We went upstairs together and, as usual, I tried for a good hour to fall asleep without success. Not wanting to disturb my husband's sleep with my tossing and turning, I returned downstairs to sleep on the couch. I flipped on the television and watched old recordings on the DVR of The Tonight Show, and then The Late Show, and then part of the Late, Late Show. Eventually, I felt sleepy and turned the TV off.

I let myself fall asleep on the couch.

An hour or so later, I awoke to a loud pulsing sound, like a deep bass drum. It sounded like it was coming from the attic, or maybe outside, or maybe downstairs. We'd heard this pounding sound before and hadn't been able to locate the source or explain it. I'd even asked my dad what to do about it. I mean, we couldn't just call the police and say we had an unidentified banging sound in our house. And we couldn't call a maintenance person, because we didn't know what to tell them to fix.

But it wasn't the banging sound that freaked me out. I'd heard it before. It was the fact that all the candles were lit. On the mantle. On the television. On the wall sconces above the fireplace. I jumped up, my blanket falling to tangle at my feet, and tripped my way over to the foyer. I called upstairs to my husband at the top of my lungs. He came stumbling out of the bedroom, pulling his robe on, and came down the stairs. I wasn't sure if it was my calling for him or the sound that had awoken him.

"Did you come down here and light the candles?" I asked him.

In his post-sleep haze, he was eloquent. "Huh?"

I pointed at the lit candles. "Did you light those while I was sleeping?"

"Why would I do that?"

Why would he do that? He wouldn't. Even if he had wanted to mess with me, I couldn't see my frugle, safety-first husband wasting candles or leaving them unattended to burn while we were sleeping.

The sound suddenly stopped as soon as it had started. I blew out the candles as I told him what had happened. We reluctantly went back up to bed. It wasn't as if there was anything we could do. I'm pretty sure we both laid awake for a good while.

We've shared this story with a few friends. Theories abound. Perhaps I didn't blow the candles out fully before we went to bed. Sometimes, a candle can re-spark. (Sure, maybe one candle. But ten of them? And don't forget, I sat and watched TV for hours after I'd blown them out, and they never re-sparked while I was watching.) The other popular theory is that my husband lit the candles himself to freak me out. Well, if he did, it totally worked, but I sincerely doubt it. We live in an old, historical home. We have creaky hardwood floors, and the stairs are even louder. There's no sneaking in our house. Our cats can't even sneak. I find it unlikely that my husband could creep down, light the candles, and return to bed without me waking.

Aside from that incident, there have been a few others, though nothing as dramatic as spontaneously lighting candles. Our cats often stop in the middle of the room and seem to walk around something, or get spooked for seemingly no reason and go tearing off though the house, running sideways like little monkeys. One of our cats sits for hours on end and stares at the dishwasher when it's not running. It was funny at first, but it's a little creepy when you walk into the kitchen at night for a glass of water and find him staring at the dishwasher in a pool of moonlight. We've checked the surrounding cupboards. There are no mice, or bugs...nothing that would make a noise or smell that attracts him to that location. This activity runs in spells, sometimes he'll do it every day for a week, and sometimes he will go months without doing it. We joke that the dishwasher tells him to do things.

Most of the time, our ghost doesn't bother or frighten me. In fact, the more often we blame things on the ghost, or simply acknowledge him and his role in our household, the less often things seem to happen. I don't believe we have a mad or vengeful ghost. I think we have more of a prankster who likes to tease us whenever we start to forget about him. Still, I feel strange writing about it. I worry that if I actually admit that it's not just a family joke, that things will escalate. And despite the fact that the sun has slipped behind the clouds, and the breeze from the doorway is cool now, I'm very glad I didn't write about it at night.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mandolyn's Masquerade - Prologue

Want to know if Mandolyn's Masquerade is the right book for your young reader? Here's a quick taste:
Once, many years ago, when there were more undiscovered lands than found, and dragons and unicorns were not merely creatures of myth, there was a far-off land, now long-forgotten, filled with many kings and many queens. The greatest of all the kings in this land was King Gerome of Bhellington. His enchanted castle, built of strong stones by strong honest hands, perched so high atop the hill on which it stood that wispy white clouds drifted around the peaks of its three tallest towers. Vivid flowers of every hue brightened the castle's stony visage, and trickled down the hillside to the warm homes of the hardworking villagers who lived below. The villagers' tiny, well-kept cottages scattered from the castle like colorful dots as far as the eye could see, connected by tidy little dirt roads that were carved into the lush countryside.

Oh yes -- Bhellington Castle was built as nobly as the members of the royal family who lived there. However, the most envied treasure of the Bhellington family was not the magnificent castle, or even its honored king. No -- the greatest treasure of the land was Princess Mandolyn, whose grace and charm captured the heart of the kingdom and all who knew her.

Indeed, Princess Mandolyn was quite the apple of her father's eye. Even though she was dressed and groomed as handsomely as her mother, the lovely Queen Tealina, Mandolyn's strong chin and warm hazel eyes made her look remarkably like King Gerome in female guise. Despite the striking similarity between them, however, Princess Mandolyn looked every inch a princess, and a lovely one at that. A sparkling tiara sparkled upon her gleaming gold tresses, which floated gracefully down her back to curl gently at her royal waist, encircled with velvet ropes and sashes meant to match all her fine gowns. Precious rubies and sapphires winked from her wrists and fingers, but these glistening jewels paled in comparison with her great natural beauty.

Every daydreaming girl in the kingdom wished that she could be the princess, coveting her beauty and riches, while every handsome prince in the realm wished her for his bride.

Mandolyn's Masquerade is available for purchase at or Barnes and Noble's online store. I recommend this book for ages 10 and up, though I know younger advanced readers have been able to read it without difficulty. I believe in pushing children to read above their vocabulary and grade levels to become stronger readers, and wrote it with that goal, so there will certainly be words they don't understand and likely will need to look up, especially the "old-timey" words that are reflective of the time period. The illustrations by artist KC Bath are there for your younger readers, as this work is meant to be a "companion book", enjoyed together with parents and siblings of all ages. There's something for everyone in this fairy tale!