Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Mess in Indiana

I just finished reading a satire from the New Yorker, "Indiana Governor Surprised By How Many People Seem to Have Gay Friends." It was very well done, and might have been funny except for the mess in Indiana right now, due to the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I'm from Indiana; I grew up in a mid-sized city, Fort Wayne, where my parents, brother, and extended family still live. I spent the first eight years of my marriage in Indianapolis, where my son was born, and I could still drive you down Meridian Street and point out the Governor's mansion, the one with the sturdiest fence and the cop car parked in the drive.

My brother, who is an attorney, assures me that the law is basically unenforceable, and he may be right, but I think this is one of those times when the appearance of the thing is what matters. It certainly looks as though this law was designed to foster hatred and separatism. The only heartening thing about it is how swift and thorough the public reaction has been, from country-wide criticism to Hoosier businesses putting "We Welcome Everyone" signs on their doors to the front page of today's Indianapolis Star.

I am trying so hard to fulfill my Lenten resolution--No Snark--and it does change how I write about this. Maybe it even changes how I feel. Because the righteous indignation I suspect I would usually foster has been mostly changed to a deep and heavy sorrow.

When I was growing up in Indiana, the biggest event all year was the Indianapolis 500. It was different then. Drivers spent the entire month of May at the Speedway. Winning the pole was a big deal. On the day of the race itself, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the race would be blacked out on television in Indiana, so we would all--I'm not making this up--listen on the radio. In our family we cut up the list of drivers from that morning's paper and divided them among us; when one of your drivers wrecked, you'd wad their name up and throw it away.  Once the race was over they'd show a replay on tv, and, despite having listened to the whole thing, we'd sit down and watch it.

The voice of the 500, and by extension the voice of Indiana, was Jim Nabors. If you're as old as I am you can probably just remember him playing Gomer Pyle on reruns, but he is a classically trained singer with a beautiful voice, and from the 1970s until this year (he has said last year would be his final 500) he opened the 500 with the song, "Back Home Again In Indiana." I don't really remember anyone but Jim Nabors singing that song.

The new-mown hay sends out its sweetness in the fields I used to roam.
When I think about the moonlight on the Wabash, how I long for my Indiana home.

Two years ago, Jim Nabors married for the first time, to Stan Cadwallader, his life partner for 38 years. No word on whether or not anyone refused to bake them a cake.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Two Novels--and a Giveaway!

This weekend I read two very different novels that I want to talk about. (I actually read more than two books this weekend. First of all, I often do. Second, I feel WAY behind on my reading right now, though I notice that people just keep writing more books, and some of these books are important ones I really need to read, and others I just want to read, and so there are all these books. I'm trying hard. But--not unusual for a Monday morning, particularly a rainy one--I digress.)

One was called Man at the Helm and the other was Station Eleven, and given that they are both novels written in English by women, they couldn't be more different. Station Eleven actually freaked me out a bit--I had to inform my subconscious on Saturday night that really, it was fine to fall asleep, I was just feeling a little anxious because of the story. Station Eleven is all about the aftermath of a virus that kills 99.9% of the people in the world. The infrastructure collapses entirely--no electricity, no gasoline, no Internet. The bulk of the story takes place 20 years after the virus hits, though the whole thing drifts back and forth among different people and different times. I really loved it. I loved the characters, the writing, the premise (survival is insufficient). I loved every last bit of it. These days I don't find many books that I simply can't put down, but this was one.

On the other hand--there's always an other hand--I'm not sure I agree with her version of dystopia. Maybe. But maybe not. I tried to imagine, if there were 40 people left in Bristol? Could we figure out how to work the lights? I suppose some of that would depend on which 40 survived. And would all those roofs really collapse so soon? It would depend on the weather, I guess. Also I don't think the author actually knows anything about horses. She's got horses in the book for transportation, and I buy that--but she doesn't get them.

Sometimes it's hard to know what you don't know. It's been pointed out that I use the word canned, as in canned vegetables, in TWTSML, when it properly should be the British version, tinned. I feel badly about this. We made some deliberate changes into American English since I was writing primarily for an American audience, changing torch, for example, into flashlight, but canned I just missed.

I bought Man at the Helm solely because it was written by Nina Stibbes, author of last year's delightful memoir Love, Nina. I hate to use the word delightful--sounds so twee--but there's really no better choice, though her memoir wasn't twee at all, just young and fresh and matter-of-fact, which is also how I'd describe her novel, with its unsentimental and unsparing child narrator.

I found myself wanting to ask Nina, "Was this really what your childhood was like? Your parents, your sister?" But of course that's utter claptrap. She's a writer, for heaven's sakes, she's allowed to make things up, and not book is a roman a clef. Many times I've had people assume stuff in my novels was autobiographical when it wasn't. Just recently, a librarian said to me, in puzzled voice, "When I read your book [TWTSML] I sometimes got the impression that Susan was gay."

"That's because she's gay," I said.

"But,' the woman continued, "I Googled you, and you're not gay."

"No," I said. "I'm not." Because Susan isn't me. Confusing, I know

I've had people who read Halfway to the Sky press my hand and tell me, with tears in their eyes, that they're so sorry my brother died. They look kind of peeved when I tell them that my brother is a nondisabled attorney in Indiana.

So Man at the Helm may not be factual, but it's true. As is Station Eleven. That's all any reader can ask.

I'm in a fine giving spirit today. If you've made it all the way here, leave a comment, and I'll use the random number generator to pick the winner of a free audio version of The War That Saved My Life. Today only! Happy Monday!

Friday, March 27, 2015


It's that kind of a day. Cold again, wet, and, thankfully, Friday. So this is just some stuff; I don't have it in me to be cohesive today.

1) I was walking down in the street in Santa Barbara last week and a college kid whistled at me. I turned around and he said, "OH, gosh! Sorry, Ma'am!" in a completely horrified voice.

2) I thought that was hilarious, actually.

3) Also in Santa Barbara, I bought a bunch of new eye shadow. I've recently developed a contact dermatitis to petroleum jelly, of all things, and when anything containing petroleum jelly hits the skin near my eyes, the skin turns bright red and swells. It is, as my husband said, not a small reaction. It turns out that all the eye shadow I previously owned contained petroleum jelly--who knew? but they use it to bind the pigments--and so now, after the debacle that was Christmas Eve, I can't wear any of it, and while I don't wear makeup often I like to be able to if I want to dress up. So when I saw a Sephora, I went in and explained my plight, and got some makeup that doesn't contain petroleum jelly. Then my whole family forbade me to experiment with it while we were on vacation, on the grounds that they didn't want me to ruin our time together. So I just now put some on for the first time, since it's cold and rainy and I don't plan to do much outside today. So far, so good.

4) Fingers crossed.

5) I did go to power yoga this morning, in case you think I'm slacking off. Power yoga is hard. That's a good thing.

6) For about three years now, I've been planning in my head a sweater I want to knit. I have the yarn, Malabrigo worsted, and I knew I wanted a garter or reverse stockingnette body, but with some textural interest, and a v-neck, and I had an idea about how the whole thing should fit. I'm capable of designing a pattern but it's a lot of work, and a lot of trial-and-error, which means pulling work out and knitting it over, and I never could buckle down to it. But now I need an appropriate knitting project for my daughter's tennis season (last year it was Bert and Ernie's wedding present) and the sweater seemed just right except for the lack of pattern. So, in a fit of pique, or desperation, I typed "Malabrigo sweater" into the search engine at Ravelry, and up popped, the first hit, the exact sweater I had in mind, only somebody else--I'm checking, it's a woman named Beth Q. Beck--had already worked out the pattern. So I bought it via Paypal and I'm all set. Sometimes I love the world.

7) Ravelry is a big knitting/yarn community website.

8) Yes, knitting is that big of a thing. You didn't know it, did you? Once there was a two-day convention in Portland, Oregon, dedicated to just knitting socks, and when they opened registration the site crashed, because 30,000 people all at once tried to sign up for a sock-knitting convention in Oregon. True story.

9) That's enough. Eight real things. Go enjoy the weekend, even if it's cold where you are, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Religion Should Be Like Pony Club

I had an epiphany.

I'm working hard to keep my Lenten resolution--Avoid Snark--because sometimes it's a lot easier to rail about somebody else than it is to be quiet, and because my son says I complain too much. "You have a nice life," he pointed out, not long ago. I told him mostly I was not complaining about things in my own life, mostly I was complaining about injustice or hatred disguised as Christian love or fear or not getting my boots repaired on time, and he said it was all still complaining and I should stop. So I'm trying to. Not because I listen to everything my son says, but because I think he might be right.

Anyhow. On the way home from quiz rally, in addition to dissecting the plot of every episode of the last three years of Dr. Who, my daughter and her friends had a short discussion about protests. Now, protests are a legitimate part of pony club. The people who create the quiz stations are volunteers who don't necessarily understand all the rules; sometimes the rules are not quite as clear as one would like; also, the classroom questions, which come from the national office, are notoriously poorly written and occasionally incomplete. I always tell my kids that if they think they're right they should protest, because sometimes the judge doesn't use his or own discretion or doesn't know any better and simply goes by what's written on the card.

An example, so that you all can stay with me. I was once a classroom judge. The card read, "Name three kinds of reins," and the answers on the card were "smooth, braided, web." The child answered, "Braided, web, rubber." I said, "Correct," because I knew from my own experience that rubber was a perfectly acceptable answer, but another judge, reading the card, might have said, "incorrect." If the child protested the technical delegate would have come in and instantly marked it correct.

In the stations I created for quiz this year, there was one thing that, the night before, the Technical Delegate and I agreed was a bit dicey. We consulted the rulebooks and finally agreed to keep the dicey thing in for an least the first round. Every single first round team protested that specific piece. The TD and I laughed and threw it out of the rest of the competition.

My club is pretty much known for being willing to protest, and my daughter is the reigning queen. I told the TD, a friend of mine, that if my daughter got out of hand she should fine her ass for being frivolous. (This, too, is completely legit, though my kids have never gotten nailed with it.)

Anyway--I'm getting to my point, though clearly taking the scenic route--my daughter's team stayed after one phase to protest, and so did another team. Turned out the other team was protesting not that they'd gotten something wrong but that my daughter's team had gotten something right which they felt was incorrect. They were protesting another team's responses, not their own. Before the TD could open her mouth, my daughter said, "You can't do that, it's against the rules."

The other team was puzzled. My daughter told them it was none of their business what she answered or how she was judged. The only thing they could change is how they themselves were judged. Her responses were none of their business. She was correct: it's a pony club rule.

Can you see where I'm going with this?

What if we all answered correctly according to our conscience, as developed by our faith, and left all the other teams alone? What if we only held ourselves responsible for ourselves?

It'd be a more peaceful world, wouldn't it? A lot fewer protests. I think, a better way to go.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Two Names on the Same Big Trophy

The first day I clearly remember my daughter's friend Missy (whose name is not anything like Missy, but this is how I amuse myself, by creating wildly inaccurate pseudonyms) she got dumped by a pony in the jump field at our farm.

We were holding a very small, very amateur, very low-key horse trial. Missy was perhaps eight years old--no more--and riding a small elderly grey pony named Dancer, who'd carted many pony club kids around in his day. Dancer loved jumping, so when Missy attempted to trot him over a very small crossrail, he jumped it with vigor and might, and Missy sailed over his head and landed on the ground, bawling. It's not fun to fall off, especially not at your very first competition.

My daughter, about 9 at the time, had just switched from her own small elderly grey pony, Shakespeare, to a full-sized square-bodied quarterhorse named Pal. Pal had already been canonized--a true saint of a horse--but he was much farther from the ground than Shakey and my daughter hadn't gotten the hang of him yet. When he got going she tended to panic. When she panicked, Pal felt that his only responsible course of action was to quickly get them both back to the safety of the barn. So after we picked Missy up and dusted her off, my daughter set out on Pal, and pretty soon was being galloped up the hill to the barn, bawling.

You wouldn't think that would be an auspicious way to start a friendship, but it turns out you would be wrong. Missy and my daughter hit it off. The following year I drove Missy and her mom with my daughter and I to quiz rally--four-and-a-half hours each way in the car. Missy and my daughter passed the time by playing a game they made up, an equine take-off on "Rock, Scissors, Paper" that involved a lot of chanting and hand-waving and was marginally less annoying than the song, "99 Bottles of Beer on a Wall." I didn't know Missy's mom at all then; we made polite conversation until she started to feel sick and threw up on the side of the road. After that I just drove.

By my calculations Missy and my daughter have since been on seven quiz teams together. They both do very well. They love quiz, they love learning, and they remember everything they learn. Two years ago, in an effort to keep more older pony clubbers interested in quiz, our region created an award, and with it a great big trophy kept in a display case at the Virginia Horse Center, to be given to the highest-level high-point competitor at quiz rally. Quiz is primarily a team competition, but this trophy is for the single child in the highest division who does the best.

With a trophy on the line, Missy and my daughter went head-to-head for the first time last year. All day long they switched leads back and forth--my daughter better at the written test, Missy better in the barn phase, Missy better at classroom, my daughter edging ahead in Megaroom. As a two-person team they were over 100 points (out of 500) higher than the second-place team, and in the end my daughter edged Missy by a single point.

We admired her name on the trophy last time we showed at VHC.

This year there was a lot more competition in the highest division, and Missy, who passed one of her national horse-management exams last summer and therefore has to answer more difficult questions than my daughter, was at a distinct disadvantage. Which didn't stop her from whomping my daughter and 14 other competitors. Missy's name goes on the trophy this year.

I looked at Missy's Mom, who since that long-ago car ride has become a close friend. I said, "Their names will always be there--right next to each other." We both got a little teary-eyed, because it seemed so perfect, so exactly the way it should be.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Number One Worst Mother in Literature

I've been on Spring Break.

Not my own; my children's. It was confusing and fun and involved trips to Santa Barbara, California, and Lynchburg, Tennessee. Lynchburg is home to Liberty University, the evangelical school at which Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for President yesterday, but I meant what I said about giving up snark for Lent (it's been harder than you'd think) so that's all I can say about that, except that I was actually in Lynchburg for the Quiz Rally of the Old Dominion Region pony clubs.

Later this week I hope to tell you a really nice story about this year's quiz. Today I've got a different story to tell.

A lot of people--a LOT--have commented with surprise at how wholly horrible they find the character of Mam from my new book The War That Saved My Life. Some people feel she verges into caricature; others feel like very few people as evil as she is exists. (Betsy Bird from School Library Journal has named her the #1 villainous parent in children's literature, 2015; that, I might believe.) But as for the rest of it, no. Now I will repeat that my own mother is a gentle, loving person. She's not Mam. But Mams exist--there are far more of them than people apparently think. Maybe it's my work in social justice, or maybe it's the time I've spent reading about abuse, or the afternoons at Janie Hammitt home--I just know, and wish I didn't, that Mam's behavior is as appalling common as is the poverty of London's pre-WWII East End. Kids who'd never seen grass? There were loads of them.

Kids whose mothers hate them? Yep.

Here's my story.

This is a quiz rally from a long, long time ago. My children were both competing on the same Rising Star team, along with a boy and a girl they'd never met before from another club. I was their team chaperone, and since they were Rising Stars, the very youngest competitors, I stayed with them the entire day, sitting outside the classrooms they competed in (we were in a borrowed elementary school) but walking them from room to room.

At the beginning of the morning, my children and I went to find their teammates at their club's table. I don't remember their names and wouldn't use them if I did, but I asked for them, and at the girl's name all the older kids rolled their eyes and groaned, and said rude things about her. I'm the leader of our local club now, and I'll tell you, none of my big kids would ever be so nasty toward a teammate, not ever, not if they wanted to keep my respect, which they do. The big girls pointed to this small, scruffy, dark-haired girl, and she hunched her shoulders and came along with us.

She was a mess. A great big annoying mess. She kept picking up things in the classrooms--pretty soon I was going into each classroom just to keep an eye on her, because we were not allowed to touch the school's things, and here she was rootling through the classroom desks. She wanted Skittles, and she told me her mom had her Skittles, and she needed Skittles, needed needed needed them. I told her not until lunchtime (the last thing she needed was Skittles) so she started asking every other adult she encountered, in a plaintive voice, if they please knew where she could find her mom, it was really important, and I'd cut in that it was not important and it could wait, and the other adult would look at me like I was a monster.

She aggravated the hell out of the rest of her team. Pretty soon my son and the other boy were refusing to listen to a word she said, and that was too bad, because she really knew her stuff. Kid was as smart as they come. My son was plenty smart, too, though, and he was ticked. When the girl insisted that she was going to protest one phase, which was her right, my son leaned over and signed the score sheet to cut off the protest, even though since he wasn't captain he didn't have the power to do so. I made them all sit and wait out her protest, under extreme duress, and we were late to lunch.

Now picture four disgruntled children, ages 5 to 8. My daughter, the youngest, was resolutely plowing through her food. The other three were disassembling their sandwiches to remove the offending bits. Suddenly a large dark-hair woman sat down beside us. "I see you're stuck with my daughter," she said, loudly. "I bet she's been a BRAT."

The girl flinched, as though she'd been struck. The other kids looked up, horrified.

I said, "She knows an awful lot."

The woman snorted. "Maybe, but she sure is a BRAT. Nobody wants to be on her team."

My daughter's eyes widened over the top of her sandwich. My son caught his breath. I said, slowly and deliberately, looking straight at the scruffy girl, "We've enjoyed having her on the team. We'd be glad to have her on our team any time."

The woman said, "I wouldn't know why."

I'm not making any of this up. A privileged kid by the world's standards, well-fed and educated and riding ponies, and her mother said awful things about her, in front of her, to strangers. Who knows what she said when they were alone?

I wanted to sweep that kid up and take her home. I wanted to tell her that if she belonged to my club no one would ever laugh at her, or roll her eyes, and she could calm down and breathe and she would be okay. I couldn't of course, and I never saw her again.

But I put her mother into print, the evil witch. Mam is real.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Happy Surprise

The other night was crazier than usual, all four (my son was home for spring break) of our family members busy in different directions. We were all inside the same house, but we all had things to do, urgently, and it was kind of a mess.

Then my husband came up to me, smiling. "Can you come with me for just a minute?" he said. "I have a surprise."

He took my hand and led me out the front door, into the dark cool night. "A little farther," he said. "Now, wait."

I waited. I was pretty sure a new horse wasn't going to gallop up the driveway, but I had no idea what he was up to. Then I heard it.

peep-peep. peep-peep.

My husband put his arm around me. "The peepers are back," he said. "It's spring."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Stuff About My Books

Hi guys--

Brief blogpost today; I'm busy cutting out little horse-related photos and laminating them and making test sheets for the upcoming Old Dominion Region pony club Quiz Rally, which is a knowledge-based competition. This is the first year I've created any of the testing materials, and I'm really enjoying doing it.

If you count this year's, which I fully anticipate attending, I will have been to 13 ODRPC quiz rallies in a row, because my daughter will have competed in 13 in a row. She started when she was five, but because of when her birthday falls, her "pony club" age was 4. And yes, that's the youngest competitor I've ever seen at quiz rally in all those years, but her older brother was competing, and quiz that year was an 8-hour drive each way (our region is long and skinny; we're at a far end), and I had a choice between letting her join pony club and compete, or having her sulk and sob and hang on my leg the whole 3 days. Which would you pick? She did pretty well for a five year old. She also did pretty well for a six year old, seven, eight, and so on, up to being part of a team that finished in 5th place out of over 40 regional champions at a national championships when she was 12. She quit going to championships in quiz once she was old enough to compete at championships in eventing, but she still takes the regional competition pretty seriously, as does one of her very good friends. True story: this year we gave her a choice between a trip to Hawaii for spring break, and a shorter much less glamorous trip that would allow her to compete in quiz and she picked quiz.

ANYWAY, that is all just extra information. Here's what I really want to tell you:

Today I sold the Spanish-language rights to The War That Saved My Life. That means it'll be translated and sold in countries that speak (read) Spanish, and, to me, it's pretty exciting. My little nonfiction science books have been translated into Korean and Japanese (and sell like crazy in Korea) but this is the first time one of my novels is being translated into a foreign language.

Also today, I was emailed a copy of Dial's new curriculum guide for The War That Saved My Life. I was very impressed--lots of different ways to use the book with students in grades 5-7 to align with the common core for Language Arts and for History and Social Studies. You can like or hate the common core, but I can't find anything negative about this curriculum guide. I even like the font.

Actually, what I like most is the parts where it encourages students to reflect on how and why Ada transforms, and the parts where it asks students to write poems or dialogues expanding on how Ada feels. I've seen this type of assignment done on some of my other books, and am always tremendously impressed by the heart some students pour into their writing. I remember the last line of a poem about the opening of Halfway to the Sky, my book in which a grieving young teen runs away from home: "I hope my mother finds me." NOWHERE in the book did the girl actually state that. She repeatedly said she wanted to be alone. But of course she hoped her mother found her--it was the heart of the book, and the student understood.

So there you are. If you want the curriculum guide, send me an email address. If you want the book in Spanish you'll probably have to wait. I sent a PDF to the translator (not kidding) but I've no idea how long translation takes.

Two other points: I once met a boy who could read my book Energy Makes Things Happen in Korean. He could not, however, translate the Korean into English, so I have no idea how good the translation was. However my name was apparently given as "Kimberly Bradley-san." No Brubaker.

Also, I am allergic to cats and I do have three of them. But they live in the barn, and that doesn't matter, because I'm allergic to everything else in the barn too.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fan Mail Questions? I Have Answers!

A child named Ava from an elementary school in rural Kansas recently sent me a nice piece of fan mail. I don't get fan mail all that often, so you can imagine I make the most of it when I do. Ava didn't tell me much about herself, other than that she loves my book Ruthie's Gift, which was written before Ava was born unless she's the world's oldest elementary school student, which I doubt.

Anyhow, Ava sent a pretty amazing list of questions. I thought, hey, two birds, one blog post. Excellent! So here we go:

Q: Do you have any pets?
A: I have one dog, three cats, and 6 horses, though two of the horses are technically ponies and none of the cats think they are mine.

Q. Do you have a favorite color?
A. Yes. Blue.

Q: What is your next book called?
A. Ava, that's a toughie, because my publishers are always changing the titles of my books. Apparently I'm not very good at titles. But right now my next book is called The War I Finally Won. It's a sequel to The War That Saved My Life.

Q. Do you have any kids?
A. Yes, two, a boy and a girl. But almost a man and a woman, they're getting so old. They are both much taller than me.

Q. What is your favorite book that you wrote?
A. I think I will always love Ruthie's Gift, because it was about my grandma and my childhood memories of the stories she told me. But my best book is definitely The War That Saved My Life. (You should read it!)

Q. Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
A. Yes, and it's probably one you've never tried. This tiny custard shop in Rochester, Indiana, used to sell red cinnamon flavored (like cinnamon candy, not cinnamon powder) ice cream that my husband and I loved when we were teenagers. My husband learned to make exactly the same flavor; we call it Firecracker, and he makes it every year for the Fourth of July (and sometimes at other times, too).

Q. What is your favorite season?
A. Summer. I don't really like winter very much.

Q. What do you like to do in your free time?
A. Ride a horse, read, knit, cook.

Q. What was your favorite subject when you were in school?
A. Chemistry. I actually majored in chemistry in college. I liked writing classes, and I liked my college history class, but I didn't like English classes or history in high school.

Q. Do you like teddy bears?
A. Yes.

Q. What is your favorite animal?
A. Horses. Especially my big horse Sarah, who acts like a large teddy bear.

Q. What state do you live in?
A. Tennessee.

Q. Do you like chevron print?
A. Yes, but not as well as my daughter does.

Q. Do you have any family members?
A. Yes. Besides my children and husband, I have two parents, and a brother and a sister. Both my siblings are married, and both have two little boys, which makes four nephews total. I am Godmother to two of them. I also have aunts and uncles and cousins, all sorts.

Q. Do you like cats or dogs better?
A. Dogs. But then I'm allergic to cats.

You can see Ava is pretty comprehensive with her questions. So now you know me better. What about you, gentle readers? Dogs or cats? And teddy bears--pro? Con?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mary's Birthday Bash

Yesterday was my friend Mary's 48th birthday. We were friends in middle school, and I might not have ever known her as an adult except for the wonder that is Facebook. She's someone I feel I have a lot in common with now, as I did back when we were both thirteen.

Yesterday I couldn't stop thinking about Mary's birthday party--I think it was her 14th, though it may have been her 13th. She had a slumber party, not at her own house, but at her older sister's apartment, which we all thought was very cool. Her mother and her older sister were both there the whole time, not being wholly nuts. I can't remember what we ate, though I'd guess pizza and birthday cake. We played some games, which was not always part of our usual slumber-party routine, but which was fun--the one I remember best is everyone getting a blank piece of paper and being told to draw a map of the United States, freehand, with all the states labelled. I won, though I think I mixed up New Mexico and Arizona, and as a prize I got to pick between a bunch of small tupperware items. (Mary's mom sold tupperware.) I chose what I call a pie scraper--it's just a stiff piece of plastic with a bevel edge, that you use to scrape all the flour and gunk off your countertops after you roll out pie or cookie dough. I still have it. I could find it in ten seconds; it's in my spoon drawer.

Later we rolled out sleeping bags over the whole of the living room. We place light-as-a-feather-stiff-as-a-board. I've never figured out how that works. Kim Osborne told the best spooky stories and always had to be at the head. I tried never to be the person who was lifted up.

I fell asleep first, because I always do, pretty much, and therefore got my hand put in a bowl of warm water to see if it would make me wet my sleeping bag. It didn't. It never did. In the morning, when we were roused extremely early so that we could go as a group to 9:30 Mass, I found my bra in the freezer. Someone had soaked it in water and it was flat and rigid, like a sword. I borrowed a hair dryer to thaw it but didn't really have much time, so ended up at Mass in a wet though defrosted bra, which made us all giggle through the entire service.

I hope Mary had a great birthday yesterday, as awesome as the one she had 34 years ago, except, of course, without the frozen underwear.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sometimes Friendship Looks Like A Pan Of Enchiladas

On Monday my daughter left for school at 7am, as usual, and I left for the hospital. When my daughter got home she took a nap-it was an exhausting weekend for her, too-and then went to a school practice. I'd texted her several times but I didn't get home until after 7, right after she returned.

Our next-door neighbor had left us a pan of enchiladas. I covered them with cheese, stuck them in the oven, and went up to take a shower. When I came back downstairs, my daughter was just asking the enchiladas out of the oven. "This," she said, holding the pan between oven mitts, "is what friendship looks like."

Yes. It is.

Back From the Land of No Internet

Dear readers--both of you--I'm back. Sorry for the absence. It's been a slow month in terms of blogging, what with my dearly beloved being hospitalized by a piece of bad fish, and then my spending a week with almost no internet at all. (I say almost because my phone could, sometimes, access the internet. It could also sometimes work as a phone. I used to think my friend Angelica was kidding when she'd say, "Hang on--I've got to go stand in the one spot in the driveway where my cell phone works.) Anyhow, much as I love you, both of you, dear readers, I wasn't going to tap out a blog post on my phone.

If I'd ever actually read Gulliver's Travels I might be telling you I'd been to the land of the Houyhnhnms, where horses ruled society, but I haven't read it and I'm not sure of the implications, so I won't say that. I've been down to Ocala, Florida, to visit with my friends Betty and Angelica, and ride horses, and spend a week different from the rest of my life.

Most of my friends are not horsepeople. They don't really understand why I continue to take riding lessons since I obviously know how to ride. But down in Ocala I can--and did--watch the U.S. national eventing team coach (the Olympic coach in Olympic years) give lessons to some of the best event riders in the world. Every rider can get better, and every rider can use the perspective of someone standing on the ground.

The time I spend in Ocala is the one time I let horses dictate the rhythms of my life. At home I live on a farm, with horses; I ride most days in good weather. At home I've arranged my horses' schedules to suit myself, not the other way around. In Ocala I lived on the farm, too. Morning chores began at 6:45, though since my horse Sarah spent the night in the field, and her stall was left ready for her the evening before, "morning chores" were really just bringing her in and leaving her alone to eat breakfast. Evening chores, at 4, were more complicated. Every time I ride in Florida I clean my tack afterwards, which I should do at home but don't. Every time I ride in Florida I wear a clean polo shirt, and tuck in in, put on a belt, pull my hair back into a hairnet, wipe the dirt from my boots. I take myself seriously, because I'm at a serious barn, in Florida in the winter. When I'm not riding or doing chores I watch other people ride, watch lessons so I can learn from them.

I don't want to live my whole life like this--I've always been glad horses were my hobby, not my business--but I completely love it for small amounts of time. I love getting to go to Ocala.