Picture Day

schoolpictureElbows on the table, leaning over her bowl of Cheerios, Miller Glenn Madison smiled at the prospect of having a successful picture day this year. For her first seven picture days, MG, as she was known to her best friends, approached the day with trepidation because she knew her school picture would turn out awful. Last year’s was particularly hideous with her mouth full of braces and stringy hair. And there was the damn sweater. Now with straight teeth and a hairstyle chosen after watching hours of how-to youtube videos gave her a reason to be hopeful.

Armed with more tips for a successful picture day from an article she ripped out of the Seventeen magazine at the orthodontist’s office, she bounced upstairs after breakfast, ready to transform herself.

She crossed the threshold into her room, stopped cold, screamed and yelled, “NOOOOOO! I will not wear Gramma’s monogram sweater this year! I. WILL. NOT!

That brought Mom running to her room with Gramma close behind. Mom calmly spoke. “Miller Glenn, you know that ever since you were big enough you wore that sweater. It means so much to Gramma.”

Gramma continued that sentiment, “Yes, dear. My mother, your great-grandmother, made that for me, and I wore it in all my school photographs.”

Tears flowing, MG protested, “I know. But that sweater does not even have MY initials. I’ve checked, Gramma. Your last name initial is supposed to be in the middle. This says MGM for Mary Miller Griffin and my monogram is supposed to say MMG. Other kids know and they made fun of me last year.”

“Well, darling,” Gramma said, “the letters are the same. That’s what bonds us.”

Looking at her mother, MG cried, “Mom! I can’t wear that sweater! I’ve… I’ve… ”

Taking in a big breath, “I wear a bra now, Mom. That sweater will be too tight! Plus, I have already picked out the perfect dress that makes my eyes look so blue. And, and, and … just get out of my room! I have to do my hair.”

The two older women backed out of the room and Mom said, as she softly closed the door, “I know you’ll do the right thing.”

Her confidence shattered, MG got herself ready for school and reluctantly pulled the short sleeve crew neck over her pretty, blue floral sundress. Turning this way and that as she looked in her full-length mirror, she knew she was in for another horrible school picture. Even her hair refused to cooperate.

Mom and Gramma stayed out of sight, and watched through the kitchen window as MG ran to the school bus. Gramma smiled, but Mom was alarmed at how right her daughter had been to balk at the sweater this year.

Because they were the oldest, the 8th graders got to have their pictures taken first. They gathered for the group photo, and MG strategically stood on the 3rd row so she wouldn’t be seen. Later, lining up for the individual pictures, she crossed her arms over her chest, trying to make herself as small as possible.

Cold sweat trickled from her prickly armpits when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Caught off guard, she blushed a hot pink when she saw the boy she had a crush on. Paul, the cutest boy in 8th grade, looked at her chest and out of nowhere poked her in the middle of the monogram, right between her breasts.

“Hey! Those aren’t your initials,” he said as he continued to poke.

Caught off guard, she turned back around, trying not to cry, when the photographer stuck his head out of the room. “Next.”


“Miller Glenn Madison,” MG whispered.

“Miller Glenn.” He checked her off the list, and looked up. “Are you ok?”

Shaking her head, MG sat on the stool with the school backdrop behind her and smiled a wobbly smile. At least her teeth were straight. She started to hop off the stool and stopped, catching a glimpse of her skirt and remembering this year was going to be different. Peeling off the sweater, she said, “Wait, can you take one shot without the sweater. My grandmother made me wear this and I hate it.”

The photographer nodded. A man who truly loved working with the children and wanted to get the best out of them, he was relieved that it was just the sweater upsetting her. He had no idea what had just happened. He took a few more shots and she slid off the stool with a good feeling bubbling deep inside her belly. Maybe the flash bulb was magic. She put the sweater back on, and winked to the photographer as she walked out.

No boy had ever done what Paul had done and now that she had regrouped during her photo session, she wanted to teach him a lesson. Summoning every ounce of bravery in her 13 year old body, she stood waiting for his session to finish. As he walked out of the classroom, she stepped in front of him and blocked his way.


He stopped, startled, and she continued, grabbing him by his index finger and drawing it as seductively as she knew how toward her monogram.

In what she thought was a sexy voice, she said, “Paul, I really, really….”

After a pause as long as she could stand, MG tensed and bent his finger back hard. “… hated it! Don’t ever do anything like to me or any other girl again. Your name really isn’t Paul either. It’s Prick!”

She flipped her hair as she turned, head held high, with that bubbly power surging through her body. She didn’t even care if his finger was broken, but kept on walking as she heard him whining on the floor. Taking off the sweater once more, more than anything she wanted to drop it in the nearest trash can, but knew that would hurt Gramma too much. She even knew that she would have to put it back on one more time so her grandmother would know she had worn it, but it would be the last time.

As she walked into the kitchen after school, Gramma said, “Sweetheart! You wore the sweater. Thank you. Next year, I will find something else for you to wear for your picture because I can see this is a little snug. Come give me a big hug.”

MG obliged, hugging the older woman tightly. Then she stepped back and said, “Gramma. I love you so much, and I want to make you happy, but next year, and all the next years, I’m going to pick out my own outfit.”

And before Gramma could say anything, MG walked out of the kitchen and up the stairs to do her homework.

I am currently participating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on writing. This one, How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women is offered by the University of Iowa. “Picture Day” is my submission for the first assignment.

Book Report: A Mother’s Reckoning

Meadow Green Columbine Mountains Purple Wallpaper Mountain 1920x1080

From the book jacket:

“In A Mother’s Reckoning, Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, she [Sue Klebold] chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible.”

If I had to sum up this book in one sentence, that would be it.

Columbine. No longer is it merely the state flower of Colorado. It is the name of the high school where unspeakable tragedy took place. You hear that word, and you know what’s coming next. Columbine has become the standard against which the latest mass shooting tragedy, especially if it happens in a school, is measured. To a few disenfranchised youth, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are heroes.

Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan, has spent the years since April 20, 1999 trying to understand. A Mother’s Reckoning takes you on the journey with her as she has wrestled with the question, how did she, how could she, not have known what was going on with Dylan.

Incredibly sad, incredibly moving, I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and hold her hand as she told her story. The first chapter begins at 12:05 p.m. on April 20, 1999 with a phone message from her husband telling her to call him immediately, it’s an emergency. There were so many passages that made me cry. She describes the anguish she and her husband, and Dylan’s brother go through in the immediate aftermath and the months and years that follow.

Everybody should read this book. If you think that something like this could not, would not happen to your own family, you should read it. Her message to the world is that it is possible to not know your own children. It is possible to miss signs of mental illness (or brain illness, her term in the book).

I know this is not so much of a review, as a “go read this book” message. Sue Klebold is now a passionate advocate for mental health and suicide awareness and intervention. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a conference for long-term survivors of suicide loss this past September and her strength and resilience are palpable.

NaNoWriMo and the First Line

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_participantI have signed up to participate in NaNoWriMo in November because it seems like a perfectly plausible/possible thing to do. If you have never heard of this it stands for National Novel Writing Month because of course one should be able to write a novel in a month. The No could also stand for November since that is when it takes place, but it does not stand for “No. There is no way you will do this.”

In my history of writing, one of the hardest things I find is just getting started. I suspect that I’m not alone in this. I am doing some pre-planning (i.e., figuring out a general plot, some characters, settings, etc.) that includes reading a book written by one of the founders, Chris Baty, called No Plot? No Problem!. Mostly because it was only $1.99 for Kindle. What a deal!

Besides prep work for my own novel, I thought it might be useful to look at some first sentences of a few novels (out of the way too many) that I have at home. You know, not everyone can write a “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” first sentence. Bonus points if you know who wrote that one.

Going from oldest to newest:

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.

~Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

If you saw the movie which came out in 1985, I suspect that you can hear Meryl Streep saying these very words. Technically not a novel, Dinesen published this book in 1937 about her life on her farm in Africa.


Shifting gears (you might even hear them grind here) to a book published in 1970.

It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling and snapping back whenever one of us turned loose.

~James Dickey, Deliverance

Can you hear the banjo music? Do you want to know what unrolled?


One of my all-time favorites, published in 1976, and also made into a movie with Meryl Streep (unplanned, I assure you).

In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.

~William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

No clue whatsoever about the horrors that lie ahead in this book.


Published in 1982:

Barrabás came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.

~Isabel Allende, House of Spirits


And finally, by another favorite author, this book published in 2001:

When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.

~Ann Patchett, bel canto

Darkness and beauty.

Set in South America, this is another favorite, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.


I’ve got some more planning to do!








Pandemonium, clamor and din,

cacophony, caterwauling.

Heads are spinning, make it stop!

Where is tranquility?

Walls close in, smother

day in, day out

we long for



Inspired by a recent afternoon in an airport baggage claim/check in area. My first attempt at the poetry form called nonet, a form that I, as a novice poet, particularly enjoyed.


The blue man shoots. The black man dies.

A crowd will gather, rage again.

We hear the keening, louder cries.

The blue man shoots the black man. Dies.

Bring back trust, hope, let us be wise,

for all are red beneath the skin.

The blue man shoots. The black man dies.

A crowd will gather, rage again.

I am wading yet again into the world of poetry, this time attempting a form called triolet.



Ready, Steady…



In the mid-1990s our little family moved to Prague, Czech Republic. While Dad worked in his office with a team of translators, Mom (me) foraged for food and took care of our two children. One needs to learn the skills of a domestic engineer quickly in a foreign country and I did so with the help of ex-pats who paved the way. The International Women’s Association of Prague was a fabulous way to get started, and by the looks of their website, they are still going strong. They showed me how to navigate the shopping, bill paying, child care, schools and the afternoon glass of wine.

Grocery shopping had its own unique challenges for Americans. In addition to learning the Czech words for things, amounts in grams or liters had to be reckoned with. In no time, I could ask for a deset deka, point to the deli ham and get 100 grams of sliced ham (about a quarter of a pound).

The experience felt like a scavenger hunt with the list in a code that didn’t match the items in the store. The unpredictability of the inventory often made a list useless anyway. Stores would be out of things that Americans take for granted, like chicken. Or eggs. If you were lucky, you happened upon cans of Ninja Turtle Spaghetti-Os and you snapped up as many as you decently could because you may never see them again, because how did they even get there in the first place.

I managed to scrounge up the most basic of meals which was fine for my kiddos, and frankly, even for my husband. Since cooking really isn’t my jam, I doubt they even noticed a difference. Did I mention there were several McDonald’s locations?

After a year or so of life in Prague, we got our hands on a pirated Sky TV box (a European satellite system). The kids got to enjoy Cartoon Network in English and I discovered a British game show called Ready, Steady, Cook. Under typical circumstances, I don’t watch cooking shows, but this one gave me a way to cope with living in a strange land.

The show had two contestants who supplied chefs with a mystery bag of ingredients. The chefs then had 20 minutes to whip up several courses aided with supplies of basic ingredients. The contestant got to do the tasting, and then the studio audience voted for their favorite by holding up a red tomato paddle or a green pepper paddle.


The kids and I adapted the game show to work for us and it helped me unleash what little cooking creativity I had. Winning meant we had a reasonably edible meal on the table, quickly. The bar was set pretty low. We would stand in front of the pantry and yell “ready, steady, cook” and then start pulling out random things that might possibly, if we were lucky, go together. I say “we” but the reality is that it was just me doing the selecting and the cooking. The kids hightailed it out of the kitchen after the yelling of the catchphrase.


After choosing the ingredients, I would skim cookbooks I had brought with me and, in the words of reality TV guru Tim Gunn, “make it work.”

Dinner was served! While I still didn’t enjoy the whole grocery shopping, cooking experience, playing this little game with myself did take some drudgery out of the process. I still do this today, even though we live 5 minutes from a supermarket and suffer from the First World problem of too many choices. Shopping and cooking from my pantry can be satisfying. And I am almost always reminded of the lesson that we don’t have to continually buy more here in the land of the plenty. We often have just what we need right in front of our noses.

Ready? Steady. Cook!

Texas and the Challenged Book

I just finished reading 2 more challenged books for #bannedbooksweek which is officially this week. Coincidentally, both seemed to have only been challenged in Texas. Those Texans sure can be difficult, can’t they? (I say that as a Texan who hasn’t lived there since 1984.)

I’ll be nice here… **NO SPOILERS** IN THIS POST.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

This book, by Mark Haddon, is wonderful! It has been around since 2003, so it’s not exactly new, but it was new to me. Haddon’s debut novel, The Curious Incident, is a mystery novel. Christopher Boone, a 15 year old mathematician with some behavioral issues, finds a murdered dog (not a spoiler, have you seen the cover?) and sets off doing some “detecting” to find out whodunit. Challenges and revelations abound for Christopher.

Challenges for the book itself? Well, some folks in Galveston and Bryan, Texas (on separate occasions) did not like that there was some use (limited) of the F-word and Christopher does not believe in God or the afterlife.

I find people confusing.

~Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I have nothing to say about this as I found nothing objectionable and plenty to talk about in this book ranging from Christopher’s schooling, his parents, lying, and of course the dog. I highly recommend reading it.

The Curious Incident has also been adapted into a play which has appeared in London and on Broadway.


Drama, by Raina Telgemeier, is a graphic novel that was published in 2012. I am new to the world of graphic novels and I really enjoyed this one. One perk of the graphic novel is how fast you can read one. Set in a middle school drama department about 7th and 8th grade students putting on a musical, this is a sweet coming-of-age story about girls and boys figuring out who they are and what is important to them.

The Texans were back at it in the challenge department, claiming that Drama is sexually explicit. Yes, there are homosexual themes, and one kiss, but I would hardly call it explicit. Yet this book was banned in an elementary school in Mt. Pleasant, Texas and one in New Braunfels.

Go figure.