Category Archives: Mysteries

Random question

Why is it that the macaroni you get in prefabbed boxes of mac and cheese is straight, but the kind you get by itself is curved? Is this a cost-saving maneuver? Like, does it cost extra to curl it? Or will the straight kind only breed in captivity? I’m truly baffled.

Yeah, I have no idea why I thought of that, either, but I bet you can guess what kind of high-quality dinner I made for myself this evening.

Lunch: frozen pizza.
Dinner: mac and cheese out of a box and two leftover pigs in blankets.
Dessert: Franken Berry and a big glass of grape Kool-Aid, prolly.

It’s like I’m not even pretending to be an adult any more.

Speaking of Franken Berry, today’s BlogHer prompt was: “Tell us about your favorite autumnal treat.”

Until last fall, I’d have said caramel apples, but then I found out General Mills waltzes out the monster cereals (Franken Berry, Count Chocula and Boo Berry) for Halloween. I have no idea why anyone would want blueberry-flavored anything, and as much as I love chocolate, I don’t really want it in my cereal, but I have developed an inexplicable fondness for Franken Berry. It’s pretty much the only thing I find tolerable about fall, and it certainly beats the hell out of these pumpkin-spice abominations that have flooded the market lately.

I can’t decide what irritates me more: Ruining perfectly good beer and coffee by lacing them with squash extract, or giving indecisive twentysomething girls who don’t like coffee one more excuse to tie up the line at Starbucks. (If I haven’t had my coffee yet, and you’re the only thing standing between me and it, it’s probably in your best interest to hurry up. Just sayin’.)

Anyway. Franken Berry. Getchu some.


Folk Thursday: La Llorona

So a weird thing happened the other night. My mom had just finished reading my novel, and she had e-mailed me with her thoughts on the manuscript. In my response, I described how one of the book’s final scenes had drifted into my thought as I pulled into San Jon, N.M., late one night, too exhausted to drive another mile, and checked into a tired little motel a half-mile from the defunct business that had inspired much of the novel’s setting.

I’d gone to New Mexico in search of inspiration that weekend, and I found it in the surreal combination of cold and wind and darkness and desert. What I didn’t realize was precisely what I had found.

As I told Mom about that night and the way it had inspired my perception of one of the novel’s secondary characters — a kind, generous woman facing a terminal illness with grace and selflessness — a name popped into my head: La Llorona.

I had seen La Llorona mentioned once in a Tony Hillerman novel, and I was vaguely aware that she was a weeping spirit, but I knew absolutely nothing else about her.

I Googled her and was somewhat unnerved to discover a painting of La Llorona that bore a striking resemblance to the scene I’d imagined that night in San Jon, where I’d spent the evening curled up in a threadbare motel room, listening to the wind wail outside. Leave it to me to conjure up a 500-year-old infanticidal Southwestern banshee without even realizing it….

In the course of my online research, I made the delightful discovery that Joan Baez had recorded a song called “La Llorona” — so of course it had to be this week’s Folk Thursday offering. 🙂

Meanwhile, the benevolent character in my novel has taken on a slightly different persona. She’s still benevolent, and I still love her, but with La Llorona informing my perceptions, she has taken on a darker backstory, and her benevolence seems to be the product of a tormented soul in search of redemption.

This is what I love about writing fiction: Spend enough time with your characters, and they will eventually write much better stories than anything you could have come up with on your own.


Six degrees

I had to help give a standardized test today, so I had a sub for my morning classes. The test ended a little earlier than I expected, so when I got back to my room, I had a chance to chat with the sub for a few minutes.

He had read the autobiographical article I’d posted on my newspaper-themed bulletin board and noticed I was an SIUC alumna. He said his girlfriend was from Carbondale, and her grandfather was a retired SIU math professor.

The odds of an English major knowing anyone in the math department were fairly slim, but on a lark, I asked him if he remembered the professor’s name.

“Dr. Elston,” he said, searching for a first name.

“Not George Elston?” I asked.

He thought that sounded right.

“Does he have a daughter named Jetta?” I queried.

“Yeah! You know her?”

Do I know her? She was my seventh-grade English teacher, my little sister’s scholar bowl coach, and the mother of one of my little sister’s best friends from Sunday school. In high school, I used to grade papers for her while babysitting her daughters. That experience more or less cemented my decision to become an English teacher … and here I was this morning, 500 miles and 22 years removed from Jetta’s classroom, talking to her niece’s boyfriend.

I never cease to be amazed by life’s odd little John Guare moments….


You drive us wild, we’ll drive you crazy

I have no words for how proud I am of this:


It all began when Ron and I stopped at Sullivan Pottery on Route 66 in Missouri a few weeks ago, and I hit the mother lode on cheap concrete lawn gnomes.

Looking over my collection of concrete friends, I thought, “They remind me of the Something-or-Other Army.”

The term I was trying to come up with was “Terracotta Army.” But the term that kept inserting itself into the sentence was “KISS Army.”


This, of course, immediately conjured up images of lawn gnomes wearing KISS makeup — an image so gloriously ludicrous that I was powerless to resist the compulsion to turn it into reality.



I can’t explain it, either. I’ve found that when I feel a creative outburst coming on, it’s usually best just to roll with it and not ask too many questions.

I’m not sure why I started with Paul Stanley. It just seemed like the thing to do at the time. I’ll post pictures of his bandmates as soon as I finish painting them.


Lessons in empathy

I have two assignments for you tonight:

1. Take an hour or so out of your weekend to watch this video. You may think you know all you need to know about race relations, but unless you’ve seen this video … you don’t. This is well worth the time you’ll invest in it.

2. Read this entry on my friend Sara’s blog. Her young son was diagnosed with autism a while back. This is the clearest explanation I’ve ever heard for what it’s like to live with this disorder.


Still crazy after all these years

Two weeks ago, I learned that one of our English teachers was resigning.

For reasons I still do not fully comprehend, I walked into Zaphod’s office and offered to swap my nice, cakey curriculum-writing gig for a chance to teach sophomore English again for the first time in 10 years.

Zaphod said yes.

I start Monday.

God help us all….