Fall Time


Fall Time
An acrostic in honor of Autumn
by Hayley (age 9)

Fabulous apple cider
Awesome time for roasting marshmallows
Little bit of light
Late day fires
Terrific times with family
Is a cool time for cookouts
Must wear at least a sweater
Entering Fall is really fun!

No drama mama


Children’s Theatre auditions for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were Tuesday night, and they brought out in me every ounce of self-conscious insecurity that I’ve been toting around since my own childhood. My children, Jake and Hayley, decided to both stick their necks out for this one, a play with around 25 parts for which 84 (!) children tried out. Those 84 included the amazing Sydney, currently playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eric (playing Oz himself), and Kyle, who is both the mayor of Munchkinland and the president of the William Henry Middle School Student Council. Stiff competition, yes?

But that’s just the thing. I don’t want to look at the other children as competition for mine. I hated myself for thinking, “They wouldn’t choose a kid who’s swaying like that,” or “I can’t understand a word she’s saying,” or “Is that kid serious with that British accent—show off.” Petty, petty nonsense. I can see now how stage mothers are born. That seed of comparison creeps in, and before you know it, you’re taking your kid out of 4th grade and homeschooling her in the car on the way to acting lessons in NYC just so she can come out on top.

Despite telling myself to cool it on audition night, I found the day after a little challenging. Will he get a part, I wondered. Will she? What if he does and she doesn’t? What if she does and he doesn’t? What if neither of them do and both are so devastated and hateful toward the theatre that they swear it off forever, squandering what could be the two greatest stage talents of the 21st century? What then?

When I came to my senses, I realized this: if I am a believer in a God of the universe who listens to our prayers and orchestrates things for our good and His glory, then why am I worried about this? So I prayed, “God, please let the children receive (or not receive) whatever role is best for them…even if it means their disappointment…or some other child’s disappointment. All I want is what’s best for them.” And then I waited for the call.

So Jake (age 11) starts rehearsals tonight for his role as a member of the evil army. He was excited, and Hayley (age 9, and without a role) was excited for him. We all learned a lesson, I think. Jake learned that it’s worth taking a risk. Hayley learned that not getting a part isn’t the end of the world. And Craig and I learned that one disappointment (or even more than one) does not a loser make.

It only took us 40 years on that last one, but here we are, and we’re thankful for it.

It’s a volunteer organization


“These are volunteers!
Can’t make them stay.
Can’t make them go.
Can’t offer them a raise.”

From Keeping Your Volunteers presentation – Chesapeake Fire Department;
Chesapeake, VA

Yes, after a pretty healthy hiatus of 2 weeks, 3 days, and about 45 seconds, I’ve gone and volunteered again. Unfortunately, instead of the avalanche of gratitude I was hoping for, I found myself on the receiving end of some territorial posturing, abrupt order-giving, and irritated “that’s not our job” kind of responses.

The way I look at it, volunteers should be respectful of an organization’s ideals, interested in its success, and invested in its future. I am that way, almost to a fault; I am loyal, cheerful, not very demanding, and, most importantly, I show up. I may not do my jobs perfectly, but I try hard. I won’t do just any job (I do draw the line at folding papers—when I was a kid, my Mom typed the bulletin every week for church and guess who was her little helper?), but I’ll bake cookies, write copy, sell tickets, take minutes, crank out thank you cards, and speak to crowds of people without a moment’s hesitation.

For me, though, volunteer gigs can only work when an organization who needs volunteer help is eager to utilize my talents (not just eager for another warm body), open to my helpfully offered ideas (not just open to the guy that says exactly what I just said but moved his hand like this when he said it), and welcoming to happy, hard-working newcomers like me (not so busy kibitzing with all of the old-timers that they wouldn’t even notice if I peeled off all my clothes right then and there and started singing, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right out of my Hair” on top of the conference table—just think, in an organization like that, you too can play the role of the Invisible Man. Sign up today!).

I guess I’m still getting my feet wet with this new group, so I’ll give the kinks a little more time to work themselves out. A couple of quirky people does not an entire organization make, right? Too bad that as I thaw out from the chilling effect of the not-so friendly attitudes to date, I’m not so willing to get much done.

Guess who’s missing out?

Thankful for…

jumbo muffins
…my jumbo muffin pan

…the smell of fresh-baked banana nut muffins when I walk in the door

…boxed brownie mix

…my electric blanket

…author Ian McEwan, and every heartbreaking page of his book Atonement

…websites that let you turn your pictures into products (shutterfly.com, zazzle.com, cafepress.com, moo.com)

The Adventures of Flat Alonzo (our “Flat Stanley” friend from Ms. Von Steuben’s class at Ebert-Palmer Elementary School)

…mall walking with Hayley in the morning, before state testing

…straight A’s on Jake’s room cleaning report card


What’s on the menu? Nothing with a face

veggie dogMany of you already know that my 11-year-old son, Jake, went vegetarian about 10 months ago. His decision was precipitated by the compassion he felt for a beheaded pig we happened upon during an outdoor cooking demonstration on our Colonial Williamsburg vacation last Christmas. Looking back, I can't blame him.

Feeding a vegetarian kid isn’t difficult, in theory. Feeding a vegetarian kid who doesn’t love vegetables, that’s the hard part. Making sure that every meal isn’t some jumbled reworking of black bean vegetarian enchiladas, that’s next to impossible.

That aside, the real challenge for me is working in the meat that the rest of us enjoy without relegating Jake to PB&J five times a week. What every parent really wants is to make one dinner, not one dinner for every member of the family, right? And Jake doesn’t mind if the rest of us eat meat—he just doesn’t want to gag any down himself.

Then Monday, a breakthrough. My sleepless night (see my 10/19 post) gave me some menu planning time, during which I realized that I can use vegetarian main dishes as side dishes on the nights that I’m making a roast or serving burgers. This strategy may have been obvious to everybody else out there, but I guess I’m a little slow on the uptake. And, considering that Monday was the first time I’d done any intentional grocery shopping since…well, I can’t remember when…it was a great opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

Here’s what I’m planning on cooking this week (recipes can be found in the cookbook, Vegetarian Classics by Jeanne Lemlin):

Stuffed Baked Potatoes with Spinach and Feta Cheese (Sounds good with pork roast!)

Baked Orzo, Broccoli, & cheese (Chicken breast as well!)

Bow Ties with Green Beans in Tomato-wine sauce (1/4 tsp red pepper flakes goes in this sauce—tangy!)

Caramelized onion, walnut, and goat cheese pizza w/beer crust (Only for grown-ups tastes? We’ll see. )

Havarti & Sprout sandwiches (Had this on Monday night with pickles and cheetos—HOME RUN!!!!)

Classic Vegetarian Split Pea Soup & Shepherd’s Pie too (Classics—how can we go wrong?)

I’m two days in to my new cooking plan, and so far, so good. I think today will be baked orzo day, with chicken for the carniv’s among us. It’s just crazy enough to work, so keep your fingers crossed!

Less sleep, more often


You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I’ve been up awake since 3:45 this morning. Combine an overstimulating weekend with no exercise, a too early bedtime, and a kid dumping the dog on my bed in the middle of the night, and it’s like a no-sleep potion designed especially with me in mind.

It’s OK, though. I’m usually good on the first day after an iffy night. I’m giddy, I’m kidding around, I’m making my shots at tennis, I’m shopping at three stores in one morning and not even breaking a sweat. This sleep-deprived, get-it-done version of me is the one that makes my husband say, “Mom should get less sleep more often!” Two days from now, though? I’m wondering whether make-up and clever tailoring will conceal my freshly sprouted horns and tail.

My own sleep situation is making me think better of my children, whose less than ideal behavior I often label as “willful disobedience” even though it’s probably caused by something more like “radical exhaustion.” Let’s add up the facts: I didn’t want to get up on Saturday morning, and 11-year-old Jake didn’t either, but he didn’t just get up—he got up and played a regulation-length soccer game in a 40 degree nor’easter at eight-freaking-thirty in the morning! Add to that a junior cotillion ice breaker on Saturday afternoon, a sit up and be charming social engagement with family friends in the evening, church on Sunday morning, and a 2-hour classical music concert on Sunday afternoon, and you tell me how we’re doing on the exhaust-o-meter.

Babies, thankfully, rub their eyes when they’re tired. They nuzzle a parent’s neck. They get cranky and cry. Older kids, I have a feeling, just keep going wherever their parents tell them to, complaining or not, until they hit a steel-reinforced brick wall that will grow poison tipped spikes if watered with enough caffeine, sugar, and sit-still time.

So today I’ll give my kids a break. Not an “I’ll let you do whatever you want no matter how you behave” kind of break. More like an “I’m going to chuckle at your otherwise irritating antics like you’re trying to be funny and get you to bed at a reasonable hour so you can sleep it the heck off” kind of break.

Come to think of it, maybe I should take a dose of that medicine myself.

Still scary after all these years


I was watching my daughter’s rehearsal of The Wizard of Oz last night at the The Children’s Theatre here in Dover, and (dork that I am) I seriously started to cry right along with Dorothy when she was trapped in the witch’s castle and wishing, oh wishing, for home. Don’t get me wrong—the teenager playing Dorothy is very good, but thinking back about it now, I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t her acting that got me going.

The truth is, I am not a fan of The Wizard of Oz film. When I was a kid, I thought it was the creepiest thing I had ever seen (the creepiest, that is, next to all those previews of 1970’s Stephen King horror adaptations; prom queen Carrie, drenched in blood—yeah, that’s what your scaredy cat seven-year-old wants to see right before she goes to bed). I’d try to watch the pre-VCR/DVD/DVR annual showing of Wizard of Oz on TV, but try as I might, I’d barely get through that scene in the forest where the witch is on the rooftop cackling her head off; I don’t know about the scarecrow, but she sure scared the stuffing out of me. Once a year I’d give it a try, I’d get to that scene, and I wouldn’t sleep for a week.

I’m not going to tell my daughter that, though. She’s a flying monkey in this children’s production, which would give me the creeps if she weren’t so darn cute. Thankfully, my son pointed out to me that the flying monkeys aren’t really bad; they just work for whoever will pay them, and if the wicked witch is their gravy train then so be it.

I know I’m in the minority here on the Oz front, but in my book, tornadoes, kidnapping, death threats, melting flesh, and mercenary monkeys do not an endearing family classic make. So if you happen to come to The Children’s Theatre production (10/24, 10/25 and 11/1), just do me this one favor: pay no attention to the Mom whimpering behind the curtain.

The rules don’t apply to me

break the rules

I’ve said it for a long time. It’s kind of my personal slogan. It’s what makes me an anti-institutional rebel despite all appearances to the contrary. For those of you who may not have already guessed, I’m Cheryl, and the rules don’t apply to me.

Now before you get all finger wagging at me, let me just say, yes, there are many, MANY rules that apply to me. I meet my writing deadlines. I pay my taxes (and I don’t shade the truth, however painful). When I fly, I put all my liquids and gels into a quart size plastic bag (though I still have it out for that airport security guy who made me toss my apricot-scented antibacterial hand lotion because he just didn’t get it). I certainly obey traffic laws (except for that one way sign behind the TJ Maxx on Route 13 because it simply makes no sense). And call me a dork if you will, but I do pay for online music.

At this point in my life, though, I’m trying not to get wrapped around the axle about certain man-made (i.e., not God-given) rules, possibly to the dismay of many people around me. I try to get books back to the library on time, but I don’t sweat a fine here or there. I fill out permission slips to the best of my ability, but I may bypass the channels here or there because of this or that. I park on the wrong side of the street on street cleaning days (and I haven’t gotten a ticket yet).

Pretty much I look at lots of policies as flexible…unless they’re posted in writing…next to a metal detector.

Just the other day, in fact, I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer from a pizza parlor girl who said that I couldn’t order my pizza by phone, show up to meet it, and then eat in the restaurant instead of taking it home. This from a girl who, when I asked her how big the medium pizza was, told me it was 6 slices. I wonder, if I was really hungry, could she make it 12?

I remember learning years ago about philosopher Immanuel Kant’s approach to ethical decision-making. In short and in my words, he said that if you’re trying to determine which rules or moral principles to live by, just ask yourself, if everyone followed this principle all the time, then would that be OK with me? Sadly, I fear that the rule of “the rules don’t apply to me,” pitifully fails this test.

Just think, if everyone ordered their pizzas to eat in, then surely the heads of pizza parlor hostesses around the world would simply explode. And you and I both know, we can’t have that.

Thankful that practice makes [almost] perfect

sheet-musicI am a mediocre musician. And I’m not just saying that, either. I took up the viola in the third grade, but the reason that I am mediocre is that I didn’t start practicing until about four years ago, after I showed up for a high school musical pit band rehearsal and pretty much couldn’t find my place for two and a half hours.

From this experience I learned a very important lesson:

Practicing (that is, practicing your butt off) really does make a difference.

After I’d picked up all my belongings from the twisted wreckage of the derailed locomotive that was that rehearsal, I decided to throw a little practice time at the music. At the next rehearsal, I found myself thinking, “Has the conductor slowed the tempo down, because I’m kind of getting 80% of the notes now,” and “Hey, I didn’t play that sour note! It was that horn over there!!” and “You know, it really does sound better when you play all of the flats in the key signature.”

So now here I am, less than two weeks before the first Dover Symphony Orchestra* performance of the season, and I’m practicing pretty much every night. I probably would have started sooner, but I’m finally familiar enough with the melodies that go with the alto oompah-pahs in my part, that I can kind of make sense of them in my head. I think I’m making progress (the kids asked me to “play the fast part” tonight—bless ‘em, they actually think I can play it!!!), and I’m thankful that they’re around to observe my conscientious work ethic (which by some might be interpreted as robust procrastination followed by desperate scrambling, but, seriously, since I’m the one putting in the bow mileage I’ll call it whatever I want).

Yet more proof of good results comes from my friend Trish, who told me today that she hears beautiful music coming from my house and asked me what instrument I play.

I’m thankful that the practice is paying off, so I guess I’ll keep it up. For the Symphony, for the neighborhood, and for me.

*This first DSO performance this season will be on October 18th at 3:00 pm at the Schwartz Center in Dover. The program is called “The Dover Symphony Goes to the Animals” and features The Pink Panther, Memory, a Swan Lake medley, music from Jurassic Park, and more. Adults are $20 and kids are (get this!!) FREE! Call 734-1701 for tickets. And if you like cellos, we’ve got 13 of ‘em this time around—hopefully the stage won’t tip to one side (although that could make for quite a show).

It’s how it is about it


“I don’t hate my brother. If anything, I may pity him. He’s a complete idiot, and he’s the one who hates me.”

“He hates you?”

“Precisely. I think that’s why he came back here. So that he could spend his last years hating me at close quarters.”

I reflected at last month’s book club meeting that maybe one of the reasons I stopped reading (and essentially couldn’t stand) Pillars of the Earth was because of the violence against women that it portrayed.

Let me now retract that.

Consider movie critic Roger Ebert’s take on the content of film: “It’s not what a movie is about. It’s how it is about it.”

Reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m struck that violence against women (which this book has, in buckets—not literal buckets, but close) can be handled as engaging rather than unilaterally offensive, placed into context, and used for developing respectable characterizations and not just as a device for hurtling along the plot. I can’t say that I’m in love with the lifestyles of Larsson’s various characters (whose respective theme songs—trust me on this one—could be “Love the one you’re with,” “You give love a bad name,” and “Love stinks.”). But I have to admit that after a while—even with the story’s (spoiler warning!) crazed creeps and the women they’ve trapped—I couldn’t put the book down…and didn’t feel like I needed to take a shower when I finally did.

The original Swedish edition of Dragon Tattoo bore the title Men who Hate Women, which, while accurate (in spades), is not exactly the kind of thing that will keep Americans in suspense. I’m not making a feminist commentary here; it’s just that I think Americans may like a little mystery in their mysteries. With the less direct title, I, for one, was surprised at the extent to which one limited group of men in the book could hate women…and how those women (or one in particular) chose so creatively to respond.

Yes, I enjoyed reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Would I recommend it? Well, yeah, but with a strong graphic content warning.

Another point of interest for me was that this is one of those rare books I could imagine a man reading. Let’s face it—so much of today’s fiction is written for a women’s audience. But I could see a man reading and enjoying this combination mystery, family epic, detective novel, crime story, corporate morality tale, and miniature computer catalog (I swear, I’ve never seen the word “iBook” in print so many times in one place). I do have qualms about the sinister ground it covers, but, hey, I can’t police the conscience of the entire reading universe.

On now to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. That one can’t be so edgy. Not, I guess, unless the original title was UK Women Who Stabbed Their Men With Dull Potato Peelers while Reading Collections of Charles Lamb in their Blood-Soaked Nighties. I’ll let you know on that one, one way or the other.

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