Please Don’t Talk About Him When He’s Gone

So Fred Phelps, the founder of the Westboro Church, just died. He was the guy who got his fellow church members to protest at the funerals of servicemen and women and other notable funerals because he had the strange idea that war and other human actions were somehow God’s punishment for homosexuality. So yeah, he had a pretty despicable agenda. Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of Facebook posts and Tweets and cartoons that were downright happy about his death.

Here’s the thing: Taking joy in the death of another human being, no matter how despicable he or she was, tarnishes our own humanity. You can’t say, “I l love all people. I am for equality and social justice” and still be happy when someone else dies. You can’t. What you can do is fight despicable agendas. We’re all the same species. We all do good things and bad things. Fred Phelps left a legacy built on discrimination and irrational hatred. I don’t know what lies beyond this life. If he is now in eternal sleep, well then, he can’t hurt anybody. If there is an afterlife, now he gets to have a come-to-Jesus chat with, well, Jesus. They can go over the whole “love thy neighbor” stuff together and review how well Fred did on that during his 84 years in his mortal coil.

It’s tempting to hate back and to make jokes at the expense of the Fred Phelps of the world. Instead of that, let’s just try to be really awesome human beings. Let’s be the type of person who helps push a stranger’s car when it’s stuck in the snow, even if that car has a Westboro Church bumper sticker. Hold the door open for another person. Volunteer. And then let that person know, “Oh by the way, the people who just helped you are gay/lesbian/allies. ” Be the kindness you want to see in other people. My mother always said that the best way to deal with difficult people was to kill them with kindness. I don’t want to repay hate with hate, that doesn’t get us anywhere. If we really believe in equality, then we need to be equally kind.


A Visit from an English Major

On my way to work this morning, I stopped in at this great little bakery to pick up a scone for lunch and a loaf of their fabulous cinnamon raisin bread for Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day breakfast. They usually aren’t open on Mondays, but it being Christmas week, they were. Typically there might be one or two people in line ahead of you and half a dozen people hanging out with a cup of coffee and a croissant or a sticky bun, lingering and talking. Not today. Nobody was sitting, and the line reached almost out the door. Just when I thought I’d have a long boring wait ahead of me, a woman and a little boy who looked around 7 or 8 walked into and got in line behind me. As they walked in, I could hear the mom saying to the son something like “Well, ‘blah blah blah’ aren’t really the words, but I can’t remember the real words.”  The tall guy in front of me and I both glanced back at the mother and child at the same time, and she looked at us and asked, “Do you know the words to “Twas the Night before Christmas?”

Oh,such a question to pose to an English major who likes to show off.

“Actually, it’s called “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” I said, “And I do know it.”

“Could you recite it?”

I looked at the line and figured, hell, we’re going to be here awhile. Why not? So I said “Sure” and I started reciting. When I was a kid,we had a copy of Tasha Tudor’s Take Joy, which has Christmas carols, legends, stories, recipes, everything, including Clement Moore’s classic poem. I used to read “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” all the time. I will admit that I was not word perfect and couldn’t remember every line. For instance, when I got to the “With a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick,” I couldn’t remember how the heck Santa gets from the speaker’s front yard to the chimney. I said as much, and the another guy, who looked like he wanted into get in on the action, turned around and said, “And one if by land and two if by sea.”

“And the password is ‘swordfish,'” I replied.

He nodded. The tall guy good-naturedly told him not to cause trouble. I dove back into my recitation. The goofy guy chimed in “Into the valley of death rode the Six Hundred.”

I said “Forward charged the Light Brigade” and kept going.

The tall guy said, “This is why we have smart phones.”

I defended the oral tradition and kept going.

The tall guy pulled out his phone anyway and looked up the poem (after confirming the correct title). I got about 75-80% of it from memory, and pulled out a few more lines of bits I had missed when he read a couple of words as a prompt. When I was done, we high-fived each other. “English majors for the win,” I said.

It’s strange what poems lurk in our memory banks, and sad that more poems don’t. I have a cell phone. Technically it’s a smart phone that’s been rendered mute. I don’t text, and I don’t see the need to pay $30 a month for a data package just so I can surf the Internet at the drop of a hat. If I’m waiting around somewhere, I’d rather watch what’s going on around me instead of numbly staring at a tiny little screen. If I did, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun waiting in line for my bread.


Start Them Young

When I was making breakfast this morning, the kid wanted a bagel with cream cheese and just a little bit of hot chocolate. I said we could share a cup or she could have her own little tiny mug. She took the latter option. I have a tiny “I Love NY” espresso mug that I got for her several years back when a friend and I took a 24-hour jaunt to NYC to see Paul Weller in concert at the Apollo (Paul Weller!). I had almost forgotten about it, and to the best of my knowledge, she hasn’t actually used the mug until this morning.

I took it down from the shelf, washed it out (yes, it had been gathering dust up there for a few years), and made her hot chocolate.

“What’s NY?” she asked.

“It stands for New York.”

“I hate New York.”

“It’s just the city, not the Yankees,” I explained. “You can like New York City without liking the Yankees.”

She considered this. “Okay. Because I hate the Yankees.”

“Me too.”

“I bet they hate the Indians.”

“I think they hate everyone who isn’t the Yankees.”

She gave a little “Hmph,” which from a seven-year-old is about as condescending a sound as you can get, and drank her hot chocolate.



My Spring Ensemble OR I Don’t Know How to Dress

When I was 16, I was briefly friends with this super-cool punk girl who went to my high school for a semester. I don’t even remember her name, just that she had the pop punk look down and was immediately popular among all the punk and alternative kids. I kind of hung out with those kids and kind of hung out by myself, but for some reason, she deemed me cool enough to be buddies with. One time we were sitting in the courtyard at Heights High School, talking about clothes and how people dress and she said to me: “You dress like you don’t care.”

I wasn’t brave enough to ask whether that meant I dressed like I didn’t care what I wore, what other people thought or me, or something else. I still dress like I did then–jeans and sneakers and T-shirts and a sweater or sweatshirt if it’s cold. Sometimes it’s a band T-shirt or it has something ironic or revolutionary printed on it, but mostly they’re just plain old clothes. I guess I still dress like I don’t care.

My child has told me that I dress “boring.” Granted, she’s a kid and favors bright colors (we let her pick the paint and her room has two walls in Crack Whore Flamingo Pink and two in Bordello Purple). but yes, I tend to wear blues, dark greens, blacks, and purples. What one friend called the “bruise palette.” It seems to be a look favored by Humanities majors.

This evening, I took my daughter to dinner at the local Indian restaurant because we were both hungry and my husband wasn’t. We went on the spur of the moment, throwing on shoes and coats and fleeing the house in eager anticipation of some serious spice. We had a great dinner. She told me about the day-long Girl Scouts event she attended today. Near the end of the dinner, we both went into the bathroom–two stalls, no waiting. It wasn’t until I sat down on the toilet that I noticed I was wearing two different shoes.

On my left foot, I had the brown loafers I wore all winter, and on my right foot I had the brown docksiders I generally wear all summer. Mix them together, and I guess you have  a spring ensemble.  This is what you get when you dress like you don’t care.

Sometimes I think I ought to look more like other women, like other moms. You know, maybe color out the gray hairs that are starting to spring up, wear a bit more makeup, wear something other than men’s jeans (which are like eight dollars cheaper than women’s jeans), find some shirts that don’t, you know, hide my light under a bushel. I actually do have clothes like that, I just don’t wear them very often. In the never-ending battle between function and form, function will always have the upper hand. I do care, but I also like to be comfortable. I like to do things–run, jump, cook, bake, garden, hike. It seems that you’re more free to do things and do them with abandon in clothes are functional. I suspect that when I am an old woman, I’ll still be tramping around in my hiking boots and men’s jeans and hoodies and  minimal makeup. But yes, I will check that my shoes match before I leave the house.

Proof that I don’t know how to dress.


What My Dogs Talk About in the Mud Room

We are fortunate to have a good-sized mud room. It’s large enough to hold coats, hats, gloves, three bicycles, two cabinets (one w/ toys/sporting equipment and one with paper), a printing press (long story), and a small table. There’s also room for two wet and/or muddy dogs to hang out and dry off. I think I’ve finally figured out what the dogs talk about when they’re hanging out in the mud room. Just to give you a visual:

This is Junojuno






And this is Masonsnowy mason








Mason: Why do we have to stay out here?

Juno: You have to stay out here because you’re a slob who can’t stay out of puddles. I’m being punished simply because we’re the same species.

Mason: Do you think she’ll give us a treat?

Juno: Perhaps. If you don’t chew on anybody’s boots.

Mason: Mmm.. boots. They smell like our people.

Juno: Get That Out Of Your Mouth.

Mason: I love our people.

Juno: Me too. It’s awfully quiet in there. I hope she’s okay.

Mason: Maybe she’ll give us a treat when we come in.

Juno: Not if you don’t get that out of your mouth. Have some dignity.

Mason: I really love things that smell like our people.

Juno: What’s that noise? It sounds like somebody’s screaming. Is she okay?

Mason: I think that’s the tea kettle. The whistle hurts my ears.

Juno: If I were in there, I could help her. I could herd that motherfucking tea kettle into next week if she’d only let me.

Mason: Have they ever given us tea? I’m pretty sure I’d like it.

Juno: Would you be quiet? I’m trying to listen. Dammit, how can I keep an eye on the house when I’m stuck in here with you?

Mason: Sorry.

Juno: And stop that incessant licking.

[The door opens.]

Me: Okay puppies, I think you’re dry. Come on.

Juno: Oh thank Dog.

Mason: Do you think she’s gonna give us a treat?




In which I give advice to famous people

Tom Hanks: Hi, I don’t know if you remember me or not. We both used to work at Great Lakes Theater Festival. Okay, not at the same time, but we met when you came back to do your first benefit at GLTF. I introduced myself saying that I might be the only person in the room who’d spent as much time as you in Municipal Stadium (I spent a summer there hawking beer and dogs).  As a long-time Cleveland Indians fan, you know the problems the team has. However, you’re one of the few Tribe fans in the position to make things better. What I’m driving at is this: You should buy the Cleveland Indians, if not outright, then at least a significant share. It would help the team compete in the free agent market and, come on, how cool would it be to own your favorite baseball team?

Emma Thompson: You really need to record audio books of all Jane Austen’s works. You did that marvelous (dare I say quintessential?) adaptation of Sense & Sensibility. I understand that making films is a long and arduous process, so I can’t really fault you for not doing film adaptations of all Austen’s works. (Which is not to say that it wouldn’t be lovely if you did, because we still lack a decent film version of Emma, and where’s the love for Northanger Abbey?) But you could pop off an audio book recording of an Austen novel in a long weekend.  Book lovers everywhere would be in your debt.

Justin Beiber: I’ll confess, I’m not a fan. However, congratulations on essentially creating your own career out of the Interwebs. You clearly understand the power of virality better than most. Here’s the thing–you’re stuck in this netherworld between teen pop star and young male singer.  What you need to do is star in a Broadway revival of Bye, Bye Birdie.  Yes, I know it’s a teen pop star role. But it would also give you a chance to show off a few acting chops. Broadway has a way of legitimizing young stars or helping them bridge the teen to adult gap. It worked for that one Jonas brother and it worked for Daniel Radcliffe. It’ll work for you. Plus, teenage girls and their parents still have lots more money that you haven’t collected yet.

Daniel Craig: You’ve reinvented and reinvigorated the James Bond franchise. Just to keep the critics on their toes, why not go the other way with your next project? Do a  romantic comedy. I’m thinking something along the lines of famous-actor-falls-in-love-with-a-normal-person scenario. Kind of a reverse of Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. But instead of falling in love with a bookstore owner, your character could fall in love with a struggling writer with a cynical streak. If you want to take some time preparing for the role by hanging out with a struggling writer with a cynical streak, I’m available. (I can help you run lines, too.)




Things I found under our old stove

We just had a new stove delivered. The old one was in the house when we moved in 11 years ago, thus its age was indeterminate. Only three of the four burners worked (there was a time when we turned it on with a pair of needle-nose pliers, but the model was discontinued and we couldn’t get a new knbo), and the oven stopped working last week. Before the new stove was delivered, I moved the old one so I could clean behind/under it. Under the old stove I found the following:

  • 4 rawhide dog chews
  • 1 rawhide bone
  • 3 dessicated M&Ms (two peanut, one plain)
  • 1 small candy heart in disturbingly good shape
  • 1 unpopped kernel of popcorn
  • 27 pieces of dog kibble
  • Dust bunnies the size of a Mini Cooper

What I take away from all this is the next time you run out of dog food or dog chews, move your stove.

A vacation summary in bullet points

1. We rented a cabin at Punderson State Park that had a gorgeous view of the lake. The word “idyllic” comes to mind.

2. I went trail running every morning and all the twitchy little muscles and tendons that have been giving me trouble lately (I’m talking to you, Achilles tendon and hip flexor) felt wonderful. Trail running=pleasurable running.

3. We had three visitors during the week:

  • One of my sisters, who came and spent two days with us, so the kid got to swim and play with someone other than her boring parents. (Because, you know, when you’re a kid, parents are, like, so boring.)
  • A field mouse that ran over my stomach in the middle of the night. Much like the ancient solders of Sparta who could go from sleep to battle-ready in the blink of an eye, I was awake and out of bed in a fraction of a second. We didn’t manage to catch the little critter but peacefully co-existed with it until we left. My husband named it Bobby (or Bobbi–I didn’t get close enough to determine its gender).
  • A girl with long blond hair who looked about 11 years old and wandered into our cabin by mistake the morning we were leaving. We said this was Cabin #4 and asked what cabin she was looking for. The little girl didn’t say anything, just looked around the room in disbelief, as though we had somehow supplanted her real family. Then she ran out.

4. We went swimming every day (sometimes twice). I do love swimming outside.

5. El Patron Mexican restaurant in Middlefield is really tasty.

6. Somewhere near the start of the Iroquois Trail is a little fairy house made of stone and bark. The kid and I built it. It’s a little small but in a great location. It’s now listed with Howard Real Estate.

7. Some Amish families will give buggy rides for a donation. We had a buggy ride with an incredibly kind family (an older couple who live with her their daughter, son-in-law, four grandkids, two horses, and a bunch of cats) in Mesopotamia. The grandmother drove the buggy for us. She also confided that her husband is afraid of mice (see #3 above). This amused me to no end.

8. Leaving vacation on the day when it’s cold and pouring rain is far preferable to arriving when it’s cold and pouring rain.


When we were driving to the Emergency Room, my finger wrapped in a bloody towel, I looked over at my husband. The only thing I could think of to say was: “I need to be okay for the fantasy baseball camp.”

“If you’re not, I’ll go. You can still write about it,” he replied with a smile.

Such is the power of baseball.

I am registered to play in a one-day fantasy baseball camp in a few weeks at Progressive Field (home of the Cleveland Indians). As a kid, my brother and I played baseball or whiffle ball all day and watched the Indians every night on TV. There was a time when I dreamed of playing  for the Cleveland Indians when I grew up. I was about nine or ten. I still remember the moment of realization that there were no women on the team and the moment I realized there were no women in baseball anywhere. At least none that I could see. For about a summer (an eternity in kid years), I dreamed of being the first women to play major league baseball. There weren’t many opportunities to practice. I had already noticed there weren’t a lot of girls playing baseball and had already had my first encounter with someone who thought girls couldn’t play hardball.

One day, down at the old Coventry School, my brother and I were playing. He was pitching; I was batting. Two boys were didn’t know came up to us  and went into the “girls can’t play baseball” spiel. I can still remember what they looked like. One was white, maybe 11, sandy blond hair. The other was black, a skinny little guy, maybe nine. The smaller one, especially, was convinced girls couldn’t, shouldn’t play.  To my brother’s credit, he threw me a beautiful pitch, right down the middle, and I smacked it clear to the other end of the playground, so far that the mean boys could only stand there in shock. However, that one little moment of triumph can only carry a kid so far.

My brother played in the local Tris Speaker League (kind of like Little League). I toyed with the idea of playing too. I asked him if there were any girls who played. He said there were a few but added:  “But you have to be really good.”  He never said that he thought I couldn’t play. I said it to myself. Years later, when I took up baseball again as adult (I play in a wood bat pick-up league on Sunday nights), my brother said, “You were really good.” Such is life.

I was too scared as a nine or ten-year-old to play in a league. As I’ve gotten older, the fear has gone away, replaced with the knowledge that I know and love this game. I’m not a great player. I’m not terrible either. I’m an average recreational ballplayer. What makes me stick out is my gender, not my skill level.

What made me sign up for a one-day fantasy camp? Because it’s a chance to play two games on a major league field, in uniform, with a bunch of other people on whom baseball has the same hold. Because it will be fun. I’ll be writing about the experience for’s SweetSpot blog and at, so I get to combine two of my favorite things, baseball and writing, into the same participatory journalism experience.

For a while there, I thought the stitches were going to delay my little dream. I had sliced open the ring finger on my right hand, picking up a metal/chrome pasta maker to clean it. Who knew there was a sharp little edge on the inside of the base? It cut me right on the crease at the top of the finger. Three little stitches and a big gauze pad that made it appear I was flipping The Bird to everyone I encountered.

I can’t quite imagine being a professional athlete, making a living with my body and yet knowing that I could derail everything through a simple kitchen accident (or playing on a trampoline with my kid). Our bodies have limitless possibilities, yet there are also limitless ways in which we can hurt ourselves. We’re so strong and so fragile. Lucky for us, we can heal, and we can continue to dream.


How to swim a Sinatra

Years ago, I read that when Frank Sinatra was a young singer, he used to swim regularly to improve his lung capacity and his phrasing. He’d go from one end of the pool to the other on one breath. The training showed. When he sang, he could express the lyrics as thoughts and phrases, as though he were speaking, unencumbered by worrying about when he was going to breathe.

I’ve never been a good swimmer. We had one of those above-ground pools that my father (accompanied by a steady stream of cursing) would set up each summer. As we got older, we’d help, so the work went faster (although it didn’t reduce the amount of swearing). As the youngest of six kids, I never had formal swimming lessons. The thought seemed to be that if we had something larger than a bathtub in the backyard, the kids would learn how not to drown.

Up until my teens, most of my time spent in swimming pools was less about swimming than about not drowning. I noodled around in the backyard pool, but it was only about 15 or 18 feet across, and it was always full of other kids. There wasn’t a whole lot of swimming going on as much as a whole lot of splashing. I also had numerous ear infections in elementary school, and had tubes put in my ears in second grade. The ear doctor said I shouldn’t put my head underwater for a while. I think I was about 12 when he finally said, “Oh sure, you can put your head underwater.”  (This is also a lesson in getting timely information from your physician.) By that time, I had it in my head that something bad would happen in I put my head under water. I’d drown or my ears would explode and I’d go deaf or some other malady. Being under water was bad.  In high school swimming class, I tried to convince my gym teacher that I had a modified form of hydrophobia and consequently couldn’t put my head under water.

It didn’t work.

My college had a nice pool, and I’d swim there, but I did the swimming-without-actually-putting-your-head-under-water thing. It’s inefficient, but it moves you through the water. When I lived in the Netherlands, I’d bike to the beach about five miles from my house and go swimming in the North Sea. I’d swim out just past the point where I could touch the bottom and then tread water. It was kind of a forced method of teaching myself not to panic in deep water. But it didn’t teach me to swim.

And there my swimming stayed until about three years ago, when I finally decided that it was high time I actually learned to swim properly. There wasn’t any one impetus. It just seemed ridiculous that an active, strong, healthy adult couldn’t swim. And I had a little kid who loved the pool. How could I teach her to swim properly if I couldn’t?

So I went out and bought a pair of swimming goggles and added a swim session to my weekly workout schedule. The goggles helped, as not being able to see while under water made me feel more helpless than my lack of gills. And then I swam. First just gliding through the water, then an odd mixture of not-putting-my-head-under and faux rotary breathing. And I took my kid to open swim sessions and taught her to swim. The more comfortable I appeared to be in the water, the more comfortable she was. So I faked it.

Learning a new skill, especially a physical skill, is a gradual process. You struggle and struggle and then, one day, you realize you aren’t struggling anymore and you don’t remember when the struggling stopped and just doing began. Somewhere along the line, I realized I wasn’t faking being comfortable in the water. I was comfortable in the water. And swimming. Under water.

The kid and I went to open swim the other day. Just before we were going to leave, I paused at the wall in the deep end, took a deep breath, and swam a Sinatra. I moved through the water with a smooth legato.