For Love of Country

I’m writing my blog post for Memorial Day one day late because most Americans were busy yesterday with picnics and parades. That is certainly not a criticism, so please don’t take it as one. In fact, my hope for every person reading this post was to have been surrounded by loved ones doing the activities you enjoy. But again, quite a few of us were busy yesterday, so I hope you have time now to read what I write because it may present information of which you were not aware.

Did you know that the Civil War, which ended in the spring of 1865, claimed more American lives than any conflict in the history of the United States? The first national cemeteries were established to provide final resting places for the many soldiers who died in the war.

Americans began the practice of decorating these fallen soldiers’ graves with flowers and reciting prayers during springtime tributes in the late 1860s in various towns and cities. No one is sure where this tradition originated because different communities may have started the memorial gatherings independent of neighboring towns.

In 1966, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. Waterloo first celebrated memorial services on May 5, 1866, and the town was chosen because it hosted an annual, community-wide event. All businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers and flags.

These days, businesses stay open and Memorial Day is often seen as simply marking the beginning of summer. Most Americans wish each other Happy Memorial Day, but I’m not quite sure that’s appropriate. And at the risk of becoming a little more somber, let’s not forget that the day came out of a conflict in which brother fought against brother. Still, if I make you pause for just a moment to realize how blessed America and Americans are, then I’ll take the risk.

War is never good, and America is not perfect. But since we have Memorial Day, I’d like to offer some suggestions on how to observe it. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts decorate the graves of local soldiers with American flags. I’m sure they’d gladly welcome non-Scouters who wish to honor the fallen.

Visit nursing homes and seek out veterans. Use caution when talking about their war experiences, but by all means, encourage them to talk about whatever interests them. Keep in mind that your own neighbors may be veterans, so offer to cut grass, cook a meal, or run errands for them. Please don’t rule out young veterans. They have needs, too. Remember, not all wounds are visible; use love and wisdom in every situation.

Don’t forget the family of soldiers who are currently serving. Your kind words and offers of assistance will go a long way. It doesn’t take a lot of money to show compassion. Babysitting, washing dishes, or simply visiting a lonely spouse will help to ease the void left by a serving soldier. And since we’re Americans, and everyone knows Americans love their pets, don’t forget to walk the dog or brush the cat of a serving soldier or elderly or disabled veteran.

Widows and widowers of fallen soldiers may be the hardest to detect especially if you weren’t already aware of the fact that she or he was married to a soldier. When you do find out, gently encourage the surviving spouse to remember their fallen loved one. Sharing memories is a great way to work through the grieving process.

When you see a stateside soldier, shake his or her hand and offer thanks for his or her service. If you’re able, offer to buy that cup of coffee he or she just ordered, the lunch he or she sat down to eat, or his or her groceries on the conveyor belt ahead of yours. And if you’re not able, consider giving your place in line to the soldier behind you.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preaching. These are just suggestions, and I’m sure you can come up with many more. The thing is, it isn’t just on Memorial Day but rather every day that we need to be serving each other. I have to remind myself more than I care to admit that I should be serving others. Memorial Day is one of those days, not unlike Thanksgiving, when I’m reminded to do just that.

Meet the Tedescos

As I prepare to query my novel, The Tedescos, I thought I’d better introduce the family to you so you’ll know who I’m talking about in upcoming blog posts for Research Road and Edible Fiction.

Joe Tedesco is the big-hearted, sometimes clueless, but always lovable patriarch of the Tedesco Clan whose primary job is to bring home the bacon and do his best to not muck things up too badly for his lovely wife, Shirley.

Shirley Tedesco is the savvy, stay-at-home matriarch of the Tedesco Clan responsible for keeping her husband, their brood of eight rowdy children, and her crazy mother-in-law in line. Hers is a difficult task.

Sixteen year-old Joe Jr. is the good-natured, oldest sibling with a love for sports, girls, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Katherine, the second oldest sibling at fourteen, is a mastermind of manipulation who knows how to play her father for whatever catches her eye.

Thirteen year-old Ava Maria is the saintly, third oldest sibling whose limitless compassion extends to stuffed animals, overworked nuns, and anyone in need of prayer.

Holly and Noelle, ten years-old, are the pink and blue wearing Christmas twins possessing twice the sweetness or twice the mischievousness depending on what the situation requires.

Billy (age seven), Grace (age six), and Pauline (age five) are the youngest three siblings who work as a unit whether it’s planning or executing the next round of trouble they’re going to get into.

Grandma Josephine, Joe’s widowed mother, lives in the twilight realm between long-term memory and reality as she navigates her way through the golden years.

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the unmarried, shiftless member of the family who is long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic.

Family – The Ties That Bind…and Gag!

I had never read Erma Bombeck until a literary agency’s query letter specifications required me to find comparable books. I Googled books about families with a strong humor element, wrote down the titles, and placed holds on them at my local library. I also visited Books-A-Million to find the titles my library didn’t own, and I read the book jacket flaps, the opening paragraphs, and random selections throughout the books. One novel in particular seemed like it was going to be close, but I just didn’t feel a connection with it. The comparison to my novel ended up being slim at best. I never finished reading it.

I went back to the drawing board (Google) and refined my search for comparable books. I wanted truly funny family situations, the kind to which a reader could relate and which would make him or her laugh out loud. What I didn’t want were books that pushed someone’s social, political, or religious agenda or books that praised deep-seated dysfunctions in need of therapy and medication. Whatever I did returned a better selection of titles that weren’t just new books and authors, but many classic humor writers, too.

And I discovered Erma Bombeck. I had heard about Mrs. Bombeck as a kid, and I’ve read snippets of her writing usually on refrigerator magnets or bookmarks. At first I worried that her writing would be considered too old or irrelevant to today’s family, or worse, today’s woman. After reading Family – The Ties That Bind…and Gag! I realized that Mrs. Bombeck’s humorous writing is every bit as relevant today as when it was first published.

What appealed to me about Mrs. Bombeck’s writing was that she blended her role as a wife and mother into that of her writing career. She used the years she wasn’t writing for a paycheck to gather material for the times when she could. She made sacrifices without sacrificing her family, and it paid off in fifteen books, a humor column that appeared in nine hundred newspapers throughout the world, and an eleven-year guest appearance on ABC’s Good Morning, America. Mrs. Bombeck held twelve honorary doctorates, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Committee for Women, and was repeatedly named to The World Almanac’s annual list of the twenty five Most Influential Women in America. Pretty impressive for a housewife.

Per Mrs. Bombeck:

Raising a family wasn’t something I put on my resume, but I have to ask myself, would I apply for the same job again?

It was hard work. It was a lot of crud detail. It was steady. Lord, it was steady. But in retrospect, no matter what deeds my life yielded…no matter how many books I had written marched in a row on a library shelf, no matter how many printed words of mine dangled under magnets on refrigerator doors, I had done something rather extraordinary with my life as a mother. For three decades, I had been a matriarch of my own family…bonding them together, waiting for stragglers to grow up, catch up, or make up, mending verbal fences, adding a little glue for cohesion here, patching a few harsh exchanges there, and daily dispensing a potion of love and loyalty to something bigger than all of us.

I cannot tell you how reassured I was to know that Mrs. Bombeck understood the importance of investing in her family. She understood that women aren’t defined by how much they earn or their status in life. She knew that the stay-at-home mother who didn’t make money doing what she did was every bit as important as the woman in the corporate boardroom pulling down millions.

Family – The Ties That Bind…and Gag! was a truly satisfying read, and I hope women today will realize that the greatest thing they can do for themselves is to selflessly serve others. The rewards are endless. Don’t believe me? Reread Erma Bombeck’s list of accomplishments above.

The Sukkah Experiment

Less than twenty-four hours to Sukkot, and I have no sukkah.  What I have is a cabana frame with no way to attach the Chinese silver grass (and no promise the frame will support the weight) and no way to affix the sheets I plan on using as curtains.  Oh, I also have a mother who says, “You know I like things elaborate,” and “I just ran out of time to make the curtains.”  Funny how we’re back to using the sheets I suggested in the first place and she dismissed as hillbilly.

This is round two of building a sukkah for the Gibson Family.  You’ll recall last year’s efforts (Learning Curve) were redneck at best.  We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve learned a few things.  Such as sukkahs need four walls and branches still attached to the tree don’t count.  Still, we did our best, and I truly believe Adonai was honored by our efforts.  This year, I’m thinking He might be grading on a tougher curve, and we’re getting points checked off for lack of preparedness.

You see, I had this all planned out on Monday when Mom and I went to buy the PVC pipe, three-way elbows, and the shower curtain clips.  We were on our way to Home Depot and ended up everywhere except Home Depot.  I could have had this finished Monday evening and been peacefully admiring my sukkah in anticipation of sundown Wednesday.  Instead, I’m anticipating watching my mother weave paracord around the top of the frame (at minus five-foot-short, I have no idea how she’s going to reach the top of the ten-foot-plus, peaked cabana frame) probably while standing on a step ladder (I’m not sure we own one anymore) placed on uneven ground.  I’m having flashbacks to Mom and Dad fighting over the set-up of…well, just about everything.

And the grasses still need cut down.  With a reciprocating saw.  I know we own one of those, but I have absolutely no idea what it looks like or where it is.  Dad is supposed to help me with this, but then I wonder who will watch Mom while she’s weaving paracord on a ladder?  This is not going well.  At least Dad should be sufficiently occupied cutting grasses so as not to pick a fight with Mom.  And nobody better pick a fight with me because I have a headache already.  Is it too early in the day for a glass of bourbon?

Here’s the kicker:  we have until sundown this evening to complete this, except Mom wants to eats dinner in the sukkah as a family.  My husband, William, leaves for work at 3:30 PM.  So, we have roughly four and a half hours to get this thing ready.  I’m thinking we should have completed the sukkah today, enjoyed some coffee, tea, and cake in it, and then tomorrow when husband’s vacation starts, enjoy dinner as a family.  Am I the only person who sees this spiraling out of control?

Don’t even get me started on dinner.  Mom asked what I planned on making for the first evening.  This is code for “I’m buying the cabana frame, so you make dinner.”  Not a problem at all.  Really.  I figured we’d have the sukkah up by Monday evening anyhow, so I’d be free to prepare food.  Then she texts me with a picture of the marinara sauce she’s making for dinner.  I hadn’t even suggested a menu, and already she nixed it.  Again, not a problem.  We like marinara over spaghetti, and I have back-up sauce in case our teenager snarls his nose at it.

It’s anyone’s guess how this is going to go off.  I know there are a few details we still aren’t going to get right, but like life in general, Adonai gives us time to grow.  It’s anyone’s guess whether it’s His voice or mother’s in my head saying, “Have a little faith.”

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 21

A little over a month ago, I started a new section on my blog called Quotation Station.  It began as a blog post of its own explaining the difference between a quote and a quotation.  The idea was that I’d schedule writing-related quotations for my followers to appear on Friday morning.  They were to be a friendly handshake as we parted ways for the weekend, a final communication before my family began our electronics and social media blackout for Shabbat.  Everyone seems to like them so far.

Last Friday’s post included a quotation from Charles Bukowski stating “Writers are desperate people, and when they stop being desperate, they stop being writers.”  This particular quote fit my writing life so well.  At any given moment of the day, I have felt desperate about my writing.  Desperate to complete it, desperate to come up with new things to write for my blog or a literary journal or a novel, desperate to be published, desperate, desperate, desperate.  All that desperation added up to a lot of miserable living.

What struck me as interesting was that I’m not alone in this practice and belief.  But it also made me question it especially since one of my repetitive prayers was for peace in my life.  Desperation and peace cannot cohabitate, so which did I really want?

Further adding to my desperation was something a wise friend said to me a little over a week ago.  She asked how I was, and I ended up unloading a lot of desperation on her!  Thankfully, she’s not the kind of person to regret having asked.  At the end of our conversation, she suggested that I write from my abundance.  What does that even mean?

About a week after her suggestion, another wise friend gave me a pamphlet of Weekday Morning Prayers and the Bedtime Shema.  I started reading them in the morning and evening, and what an amazing effect they’ve had on my life in just three days.  My peace increased and my desperation diminished.

But wait, my desperate writer’s mind yelled, if you’re not desperate, you’re not a writer!  Turned out desperation was a clingy companion.  However, I was really rather tired of being desperate, and I was not at all willing to surrender the peace I’ve been praying for.  Also, I could keep writing what I loved when I wanted to write it.

You’re just being lazy, my writer’s mind whispered which I instantly knew to be a lie because leading up to the conversation with both friends, things have been falling in place in my life in a wonderful way.  Not to mention that the two chapters I’m somewhat blocked on in my new novel no longer freak me out.  I’ll sit on them for a while and not add to the blockage by stressing my mind out with desperation.  I’ll trust that in good time, the right words will come to me.

What all this boils down to for me is change.  I’m not good with change especially when it’s sudden.  Not that what I was experiencing was sudden, but it could have been if I hadn’t been so resistant to changing for the better as well as admitting that it was better.  It’s better that I’m no longer running on the gerbil wheel of desperation for all the things I mentioned above.

So now I’ll explore the abundance in my life, and I’ll write from there.  I’ve discovered an abundance of talent given as a gift from God.  I’ve discovered an abundance of time which is another gift.  I have an abundance of great books by authors who I admire; I’ll follow their example.  I have an abundance of wise friends whose counsel I’ll seek when desperation desperately tries to re-enter my life/writing life.  I have an abundance of support from my husband, William, who has supplied me with great storylines, helped me work out problems in my plot, and won’t let me stop writing when I’m in the desperation dump.

I have no doubt that desperation will attempt to raise its ugly head in my life.  It’ll evolve and reappear as envy, writer’s block, or self-doubt.  Fortunately, my arsenal is well stocked with abundance.  And in case I forget that, please, dear friend, do not hesitate to remind me as you are part of the abundance in my life.

Write Happy!

Washing Dishes

It’s the oldest girl’s chore to wash the dishes.  She will do so without complaint, drying and stacking them on the cupboard shelves.

“Can’t we run the dishwasher?” she asks.

“No—that thing makes too much heat, and it’s already eighty-five degrees in here,” her father replies.  Disgust tinges the edge of his words, and he shakes his head at her like she’s an imbecile for even asking.

The girl’s brother and two younger siblings, a girl and a boy, wear the smiling faces of obedient, compliant children.  They dash away amidst the tension their older sister has created.  Their smiles have more to do with not having to wash dishes in the August heat.

And so the girl suffers alone as her family seeks shade in the darkened family room and cool beneath the ceiling fan.  She’s up to her elbows in hot, sudsy water, thinking about how her father never used to speak to her in that tone when he spoke to her as a child.  He developed the manner in the sixth year of his second marriage when his new wife had their first child, the little girl.  It worsened when the boy was born, as if her father was obligated to speak to her this way.

She’s not paying attention, and her hands slip off a plate.  It lands on the two inches of counter space between her and the sink, bouncing twice, before it shatters into a million shards.  All she can think is that she didn’t know a plate could bounce.

“I’ll replace it,” the girl says, sensing her father’s wife behind her.  No doubt the woman had come to criticize the girl’s work, but a more fortuitous situation presented itself.

“Don’t worry about it,” the woman says.  There is no inflection in her voice, no understanding in her eyes.  “It was ugly and mismatched anyhow.  The last one from your grandmother’s set.”

It is not the last one, but it might as well be.  There’s a saucer under a dying jade plant in the family room, chipped and stained from soil leaching out the hole in the terracotta pot.  The girl will pay for the broken plate with money earned from her job as a lunch counter girl at the golf course because it’s the right thing to do.

Later, when the sun dips behind the pines in the backyard, the girl sits in a lawn chair and drinks iced tea.  Her bare feet brush over the fuzzy, silver leaves of lamb’s ear she planted around the air conditioner compressor last year.  She thinks to herself that she cannot remember a time when there wasn’t lamb’s ear in her life.  Even at the apartment complex where she lived with her mother and brother.  And she thinks that it is stupid to have whole-house air conditioning and not use it.

There was an old couple who lived on the first floor of the complex who kept lamb’s ear in planters on the concrete porch.  She would slip down to visit them while her mother slept off her third-shift weariness.  Her brother sat in his playpen in front of the TV turned to Sesame Street.  The old man and woman knew the girl never had enough to eat, but they were also poor.  They fed her ice cream floats made with Pepsi and sent her home with bouquets of lamb’s ear.  Her mother spanked her when her brother ate one and got sick.  Then her mother got sick, and finally her dad came to visit.  She remembers him calling his new wife from the green phone hanging on the kitchen wall.  His finger absently picked at the peeling, flowered wallpaper.

“Honey, the kids are going to come stay with us for a while.”

With one sentence her life changed forever.  She and her brother had a new home and a new mommy who never let them forget that she sacrificed her career in banking to raise them.  Then came the two new siblings who the girl tried to watch over when she wasn’t being shooed away by her father’s wife.  She didn’t want her new sister and brother to eat lamb’s ear.  They are old enough to know better now.

She remembers when each of those babies came home from the hospital.  Everything smelled new then, like baby powder and plastic toys.  Plenty of pictures exist of these events, pictures with the girl’s profile or arm just barely captured in the frame. That’s when she realized her position was oldest girl, not oldest daughter.  Her brother is nowhere to be seen.  In fact, except for school pictures, there are very few of the girl and her brother since the arrival of their new siblings.

The sky turns dusky, then the shade of a bruise, and when the bats swoop from the trees, the girl goes in.  Her family already retired upstairs for the night without calling to her.  She is old enough to get herself to bed.  First, she must do a load of laundry that includes her bras and pantyhose.  Her father’s wife made her wait until laundry for the rest of the family was done because no one else needed to wash their items on delicate.  The girl doesn’t want her things ruined; she has to buy them herself.  No matter.  It is cool in the basement, and she can doze on the day bed while watching reruns of ‘80s sitcoms on the black and white TV her father keeps on his workbench.

The girl falls asleep to the rhythm of the washer and dreams about the Gibson Girls in the wallpaper behind her father’s bar.  She sees herself in the bust-enhancing gowns with her hair piled elegantly on her head and a bouquet of lamb’s ear in her hand.  Many suitors try to tempt her with ice cream floats, but the girl knows she is not free to accept, and so she runs away, Cinderella-style, to a waiting sinkful of dirty dishes.

The Hoopla About Chuppahs

Beautiful white chuppa with red flowers for outdoor wedding ceremony.

When John Welles’s best friend, Sam Feldman, invited him to a party Sam’s mother was hosting, John was not at all enthused. Sam, who always had a girlfriend on his arm, wanted John to run interference for him as he dodged the girl his mother wanted him to meet. Little could either young man have predicted how captivating Abigail Cohen, called Babby, would prove to be. Not only was Babby beautiful, the young school teacher was intelligent, articulate, and poised. John began to rethink his opinion about dating Babby, but not in time. By the end of the party, Sam and Babby hit it off exactly as Sam’s mother knew they would. John did not begrudge Sam his good fortune. Rather, he and Claude Willoughby were the best men at Sam and Babby’s wedding.

Being Jewish meant Sam and Babby took their vows under a chuppah. A chuppah is a Jewish wedding canopy with four open sides. There are many traditions surrounding the chuppah, and they have changed throughout the years depending on an orthodox or modern interpretation.

The chuppah is usually a square of cloth supported by four poles. The fabric can be as elegant as silk or velvet, as simple as cotton or linen, or as important as an heirloom piece of lace or tallit belonging to a family member. The poles can be free-standing or held in place by friends of the couple. Either way, the poles should touch the ground. It is a great honor to be asked to hold the chuppah poles, and this role is often given to people very close to the couple.

Many couples like to decorate the chuppah poles and tops to match the theme of their wedding. Whatever material is chosen, be sure that it will withstand unpredictable weather conditions if the ceremony is outdoors. Ruining a family heirloom or the collapse of an unsteady chuppah will definitely spoil the wedding.

the-hoopla-about-chuppahs-2The purpose of the chuppah is to symbolize the new home the couple will create. At one time, the cloth chuppah was draped around the bride and groom but was later spread over their heads. Ancient rabbis compared the chuppah to Abraham’s tent during Biblical times. Abraham was famous for his hospitality, and since his tent was open on all four sides, travelers could enter from any direction.

The bride and groom are brought to the chuppah by both parents. The space inside the chuppah should be big enough for the couple, clergy, and a small table for ritual items such as wine and glasses. The bride will also need enough room to circle her groom without tripping or snagging her dress. Don’t forget to make the chuppah tall enough for the tallest person to stand under without hitting the fabric where it will drag in the center. Family and friends in the wedding party, including parents, often stand outside the chuppah. Afterward, the new couple can receive guests in their chuppah as a symbol of the love and openness of the home they will build together.

Learning Curve

learning-curveMy husband and I always try to present a good example for our son, Joshua. So this year, we decided to get down to brass tacks and build a sukkah. After all, we wanted to be obedient followers. William started by searching the Internet for suggestions on how to build one and found many companies that sell plans and/or frames. They were expensive. Next, he looked up the cost of PVC pipes and fittings with the intention of building our own frame. He must have looked at the price for 1/4” pipes because when we arrived at Home Depot, the pipes that would actually create a frame to withstand a gentle breeze were somewhat out of our price range, especially with all the cash we’ve been shelling out for our son’s upcoming Eagle Scout Court of Honor. We were not deterred.

We took encouragement from a friend who suggested building a sukkah over an existing frame such as that for a cabana. The Gibson household doesn’t own a cabana. We have a pup tent. Back to the drawing board. At least we had a ton of Chinese silver grass to cover the top of our sukkah once we built it. Another Facebook friend suggested chili pepper lights. I don’t believe we’re going to do that.

So, limited by funds but spurred on by faithfulness, William and I walked up and down the aisles of Home Depot looking for sukkah ideas. We found the prairie-style windows we’d like to have some day, the pegboard for the ribbon rack I want in my scrapbook room, linoleum for the basement room to replace the carpet that was ruined in the flood, and the sink and vanity for the bathroom when we finally redecorate. Nothing remotely sukkah-oriented came into view.

I can’t speak for William, but I started to feel depressed. I wanted so much to keep Sukkot this year, and I could blame only myself for not preparing. Who am I kidding? I also blamed William just a titch. That’s when the idea to build a sukkah between the back of our shed and our maple tree popped into my head. I envisioned something tent-like with an open top covered in the grasses William had yet to cut down. We could sit in our sukkah, eat, and watch the beautiful stars above. One hundred-feet of paracord and two lag bolts with eyes later, we were on our way back home to construct our sukkah.

Will drilled holes in the back of the shed for the bolts, and Joshua used a couple knots learned in Boy Scouts to make two sides of the sukkah. Thelearning-curve-2 paracord was looped around the tree, held in place by a two-by-four and a garden stake to reduce the sag, and I draped mismatched, flannel top sheets over the rope. The sheets were held in place by two clothespins on one side and two clipped hangers on the other. We didn’t use the grasses because the branches of the maple provided the perfect lattice cover.

It’s crude, and the sheets blow around quite a bit, but our redneck sukkah is the perfect place for two camping chairs positioned face to face with enough room for a third if Joshua ever gets a night without an overwhelming amount of homework. William, our collie, Aria, and I enjoyed a dinner of buffalo chicken dip eaten directly from the casserole dish in our sukkah last night. He had to sit a little to the right to block the setting sun from blinding me, but the golden reflection on the maple leaves was quite heavenly. We revisited the sukkah after dropping Joshua off at Scouts, and I must say that the stars looked a little brighter when viewed through the open top of our sukkah.

This Stinks!

One of the best parts of being a parent is getting to torture your teenager. It is why my husband and I were put on earth according to our teen, Joshua. We make his life miserable by expecting him to unload and load the dishwasher, sweep the floors, feed the pets, empty the trash, take out the recycles, keep his room clean, keep himself clean, do his homework, and get good grades. I’m sure you can see what horrible ogres we are.

These requests are usually met with heart-wrenching sighs and occasional eye rolls, sagging shoulders, and shuffling walk as he wanders off to complete this drudgery. This frees up me and the hubby to invent news ways to torture him right out of existence. And sometimes, the opportunities just present themselves in the form of stinks bugs.

this-stinks

Public Enemy Number One

I don’t remember stink bugs when I was a child. I’m sure I would have because the name alone invites ridicule; but truly, these foul little creatures seem to have materialized from nowhere. At the end of summer, just as the temperature is changing to give us frosty mornings, warm and breezy days, and chilled nights, the stink bugs show up. They cover the screens of every window and door, walk around looking menacing, and make the most horrible buzzing noise. I’m not an entomologist, so I assume the stink bugs are looking for a warm place to crash in the winter. Every now and then, one makes its way inside. If I leave the windows down on my car, they climb in. Joshua is terrified of them.

Picture this: I’m driving along one day with Joshua in the passenger side when I spied a stink bug on his side of the vehicle. It took my wicked mind only a split second to devise a plan.

“Hey, Josh? Don’t freak out, but there’s a stink bug on your side.”

“What? Where?”

“It’s moving.”

The brilliant little stink bug must have overheard our conversation because it flew off right on cue. Joshua freaked out, looking all around him for the flying demon. I actually lost sight of it for a moment because I needed to keep my eyes on the road. Joshua, who was seat belted, twisted in his seat peering into the space between his chair and door or between his chair and the center console. I saw the stink bug had landed on the far side of the visor in front of him. It was barely visible from where I sat. The tips of its legs gently curled around the edge of the visor.

“Mom—where is it?”

“Right here.”

I flicked the visor down toward Joshua which sent the buzzing offender flying toward his face. He screamed like a little girl. If I hadn’t been driving, I’d have been rolling on the floor. Then in a microsecond, he managed to unbuckle himself and dive head first between the front seats, landing in a gangly heap in the back.

For the sake of this post, I actually measured the space between the seats: it’s eight inches wide. At the time, Joshua was probably 5’ 10” – 5’ 11”. How he managed to jump from a seated position, fly between the seats without touching either side or the gear shift, and land in the back without breaking something is beyond me. It sure does make for one hilarious post. We never found the stink bug.

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

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