Brie: It's What's For Breakfast

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If I Had Known Then What I Know Now

Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?

At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.

Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.

Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)

There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.

* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.

* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.

* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.

* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.

* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.

* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.

* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.

* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.

What advice would you make your younger self heed?


December 11, 2009 Posted by | Arkansas, Lawyer, Personal, Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Strange Maps

One of my favorite blogs is “Strange Maps.” I admit: I’m a map geek. The maps are really fascinating, I promise. Each map is accompanied by a well written, well researched article that lists its sources. I’ve never failed to learn something from these posts.

For instance, there’s the one that shows how King Cotton picks Presidents, something near and dear to my heart since my family has grown cotton in Arkansas since before the Civil War and is pleased to hold sway still over national politics. (Sorry, I will not entertain questions about how many slaves my ancestors owned. I hate to be prickly, but that is usually the tactless question immediately asked when I mention our history of cotton farming.)

Also on the political front was the map that showed clearly what illegal immigrants were aiming for when it came to the Absolut Perfect Mexico. Scary, huh?

Believe it or not, though, there’s humor in maps, too.

The “Strange Maps” blog featured a very special post on The Semi-Colonial State of San Serriffe, a place that is near and dear to my writing, punctuation-loving heart.

There are maps of strange and wonderful places such as Elleore, a kingdom 12 minutes ahead of Copenhagen. I never discerned whether they have Daylight Savings Time in Elleore, or if at some point they fall 48 minutes behind Copenhagen.

Then there are the bizarre maps of the modern world, such as the “Smart Medicine” infomercial map that located Australia off the coast of Baja California and situated Africa between Maine and Ireland, eliminating Iceland and Greenland entirely, and
a map of the “Special World” that only the hospitality industry inhabits.

Wonderful antique maps crop up occasionally, like the map that inspired Christopher Columbus to believe he could sail from Spain to Cathay in three weeks, overlaid on the true map of the world.

Maps on the site show useful things, too, like where to find goblins in Europe or what to ask for when one wishes to order a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage in a different part of the country.

I have to admit, though, that yesterday’s featured map, from (a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language) is one of my favorites, just for the sheer fun of it:

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Grammar, History, Humor, News, Politics, Travel | Leave a comment

Not Sure I Should Admit This – Blog May Be Deleted

Sometimes I do things purely to amuse myself, and I don’t even tell other people about it. Let me share something with you that amuses me so much I do it every chance I get.

Since 9/11 we have not been allowed to have sewing scissors when we fly. I used to take embroidery with me on long flights. It passed the time and was something I could do with my hands while I talked with my traveling companions. My hands are rarely still.

Embroidery scissors are tiny but have very sharp points. If a hijacker tried to take over a plane I was on, I planned to reach out with my scissors and get his attention. While he was screaming about his stabbed shoulder the he-man passengers could subdue him and save the plane.

Since 9/11, though, I use a round thingy that has a sharp blade accessible only by a thread. It would be useless against hijackers.

Even a nail file is a no-no on a flight these days. Sandpaper emery boards are all well and good, but a quick-thinking wench with a well-aimed nail file could also get the attention of a dangerous hijacker and help to save the day.

To amuse myself, I take a covert defensive weapon past the TSA checkpoints in airports. Dangerous and ill-advised, you say? Maybe. Then again, the weapons I take are cleverly disguised and if I’m caught I could act innocent and surrender them with guileless charm.

I fly with my hair twisted up in chopsticks.

That’s right. Chopsticks. The things we eat Chinese food with.

Not the kind they give you at the local Chinese takeout, made of soft sandalwood or plastic, no – the cruelly pointed kind that could inflict some damage if applied with enough force.

My first passage through the TSA checkpoint with chopsticks was purely unintentional. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had been allowed on a plane with lethal weapons.

My favorite chopsticks were actually purchased in China, and they have very sharp points, perfect for picking up that single grain of rice. They are made of very hard wood.

Doesn’t my hair look cute in chopsticks?

Aren’t those points sharp?

Since I realized that chopsticks are great devices to ward off hijackers if I should happen to be on a plane with such evil people, I have taken to traveling with my hair twisted up just like in the picture. I could do the same hairstyle with knitting needles like my Italian great grandmother no doubt wore.

On my recent trip to Dallas I dug through my purse in the hotel room. To my surprise I found a second pair of chopsticks. These were made of silver. Yes, metal. My purse went through the x-ray machine and passed quickly. Those silver chopsticks were lying in the depths of my purse. They aren’t as sharp as the wooden ones, but they are still metal stakes.

I think if a hijacker attacked us on a plane, I could muster the courage to loosen my wenchly tresses and attack them with my hair baubles. Heck, it’s me or them up there.

Frankly, I’d rather be armed than not

November 16, 2007 Posted by | Humor, Travel | Leave a comment

We’re Going to China!

Jack and Maggie

I’m going to be an Auntie Anne again. Or maybe a godmother. I’m getting another baby from China, and I’m sending her home with my best friend.

As some of you know, almost two years ago I traveled to China with Jane and Rich and got Maggie, their first daughter. Maggie’s full name is Margaret Lili Anne… yes, she was named after me. Why?

It’s complicated.

Jane came to work for me in October 1994. I was just back on my feet after my first bout with cancer. Thanks to Gloria, her predecessor, my solo law practice was able to hobble along for the six months I was at home. Almost as soon as I returned to work full time, Gloria told me she was moving back to Virginia. I was devastated. I was losing a phenomenal legal secretary and the woman who had kept my hopes for my business alive. I was our primary breadwinner at the time, and without Gloria I can’t imagine how bad things would have been for us financially. Jack was three years old.

Gloria assured me she would find me a good replacement for her. I despaired. She smiled at me in the cooly confident way she had and told me not to worry. Worry? I had to rebuild my practice and train a new assistant at the same time, making sure the bills were paid, while still recovering from cancer. What, me worry?

We interviewed several people. Gloria handled most of the questions. For some reason, I remember Jane’s interview but not any of the others. Maybe it’s because Jane was such a superlative candidate for the position.

Jane had worked for a part-time municipal judge who had an active law practice in her home town, which was about 45 minutes from Little Rock in the Ouachita Mountains. “The commute will be long,” I remember saying.

“I’m moving to Little Rock whether you offer me this job or not,” Jane replied with determination.

I explained they type of practice I had. It was a general practice, and I handled a little bit of everything. The complex things I referred to lawyers who did those cases more frequently, or I associated the lawyer on the case and let him do most of the work. There were lots of divorces and post-divorce matters, settling estates and probating wills, writing wills, advising small businesses, creating corporations, the occasional car wreck, real estate transactions, evictions for landlords we represented, leases, paternity cases, boundary disputes, juvenile delinquency, custody cases, and child welfare cases. She’d be exposed to almost everything but securities work and adult-sized criminals.

“Not a problem,” she said. “That’s what my boss and I do now.” She had worked for this lawyer for six years.

During my conversation with Jane, Gloria excused herself then reappeared with a cup of coffee. She set it carefully on my desk, then turned to Jane.

“I want to hire someone who will take good care of Anne,” she said to Jane. “That means bringing her coffee, calming clients who are upset, screening her calls, and making sure her parking tickets are paid.” That last bit was not a joke. Someday I’ll tell about the parking tickets. It’s a subject for a completely different blog.

Jane smiled. “Right now, I pay my boss’s bills for him, arrange for babysitters, screen his calls, and handle the calls from the defendants in municipal court who think they can talk directly to the judge. I’m used to taking care of my boss, and I think he will tell you I do a good job. Call him and ask him.”

I will do that, I thought to myself, an I’ll check these other references, too.

Gloria and I were both impressed with her. “That’s my replacement,” Gloria said as Jane left the building.

I called her references. First was Jeannie, a lawyer in her hometown I knew from some volunteer work she had done in Little Rock’s juvenile court while she was in law school.

“Jane can’t spell her own name,” Jeannie told me, “but she goes the extra mile. She knows what to do and when to do it. She is the person I go to when I have questions about cases.”

“You don’t ask her boss?” Jeannie and Scott, Jane’s boss, were sharing office space.

Jeannie snorted. “Why would I? Jane does all his work.”

Next I called the insurance agent whose office was next door to Scott’s.

“Jane is the best lawyer in Morrilton,” he declared.

I laughed.

“Really,” he insisted. “She writes all the wills for my clients. I send them over there and Jane fixes them right up. I’m really going to miss her.”

I called Scott. Jane had said I could, and the current employer is no better person to give an assessment.

“She told me she had interviewed with a lawyer in Little Rock,” Scott said ruefully. “I guess this means I’m going to lose her for sure.”

“You don’t want her to leave?”

“Lord, no! She’s the person who runs my practice! I’m not going to find anyone to replace her anytime soon.”

“How’s her work?”

“She’s fantastic. She can’t spell, but that’s what spell check is for. She writes my letters, takes care of my clients, and makes sure I know where to be and when to be there. She does it all.

“I can’t keep her here as long as the big city lures her. I think there’s a man,” he confided.

Offering Jane the job was definitely not a mistake. Over the last 13 years we’ve had our ups and downs, but not with each other. She’s become my best friend, my confidant, my cherished girlfriend. She’s my right hand and my left brain. She’s the reason I have time to write the occasional blog.

I’ve sent her to paralegal school and announced on Friday afternoons that we needed to go see a chick flick. Our husbands wouldn’t take us to them, so if we wanted to see tear-jerkers we were on our own. Every once in awhile we’d take the morning and go for pedicures. It’s not all about work. The work gets done, though.

Jane and I celebrated our tenth anniversary together with a trip to New York without husbands or children. We saw shows, went shopping, and played tourist. Our families vacation together in the summers. We go to the beach as soon as school gets out for a week. She is like my sister. In fact, people often ask us if we’re sisters. We’re both short, plump, and have dark hair. We laugh. We are sisters in spirit, we tell them. We are good judges of each other’s moods. We can finish each other’s sentences. We laugh at each other. We are not at all alike, but we complement each other beautifully.

After years of fertility treatment, Jane and her husband Rich, who she met a year or two after coming to work for me, were finally able to have a son. After that, though, the fertility treatment was frustratingly ineffective. She became pregnant twice and miscarried. Her doctor told her he’d keep doing the in vitro, but he doubted it would work. Jane and Rich had spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on fertility therapies. It was time to look into adoption. I was relieved. All those hormones made her into a raging monster. I was glad to put up with it, though. She put up with me, after all.

Jane was terrified of adopting a child through a local agency or through the state. Practicing family law, we were all too aware of how badly wrong things can go, especially when the birth parents start fighting each other and drag the adoptive family into it. Several high profile adoptions going wrong cemented Jane’s resolve to adopt internationally.

Jane came to work one morning and solemnly asked me if we could talk. Their health insurance didn’t cover the fertility treatments and they had borrowed money to keep trying to have a baby. Although they were steadily paying the debt off, and had already paid a significant amount, there was still a lot left to pay. If they were going to adopt, they needed to borrow money.

Jane outlined a repayment plan to me, and I agreed. I would have agreed whether she had a plan to repay it or not. This baby was important to her, and I had the power to make it possible. I told her that day that I didn’t expect repayment. This was something I could afford to do and something she needed. There was no way I could, or would, refuse her. She insisted on signing a promissory note. I never got around to drafting one. Jane is important to me.

China seemed to offer the best program. China’s been exporting girls for decades because of the law that allows each family only one child, and the Chinese preference for sons. They began the long process of applying for approval from China.

From the time they made the decision and started gathering paperwork, it was a year before they were told that Maggie was waiting for them in Guangdong Province, the place we used to know as Canton.

“We’re going to China!” Jane exclaimed joyfully.

“Not without me, you aren’t,” I told her.

That’s right. I tagged along when they adopted her baby girl. In fact, one of my very first blog entries, before I started writing regularly, was made from China.

Jane and Rich’s family still wasn’t complete, though. About six months after we returned from Guangzhou, Jane told me that she believed there was another Chinese girl who would be calling her “mommy.” This little girl’s name would be Kennedi. Kennedy is a family name on Jane’s side.

They started the paper chase again. All the documents that had been gathered for the Maggie’s adoption were out of date and had to be replaced. Jane got busy and replaced them and sent them to China. The debt from the fertility treatment is almost paid off, and Jane and Rich have paid all Kannedi’s adoption fees to date with money they have managed to save.

Jane called me today, in tears. We only work two days a week now. She spends lots of time at home with Maggie, who is now two and a half and acting every bit of it. She is able to pick her son, Cade, up from kindergarten every day.

“We got the referral,” she said. I barely understood her she was crying so hard.

“Tell me about her!” I demanded.

“She has a cleft palate.” We expected this. This time Jane and Rich had requested what the Chinese refer to as a “waiting child” – one with a birth defect or some other special need that prevents them from being the most desired for adoption.

Jane and Rich specifically asked for a child with this particular birth defect. We can have it fixed here in Little Rock at Children’s Hospital. One of our clients works for a local doctor who specializes in this surgery, and makes regular trips to China to donate her time and skills doing the surgeries there.

“We haven’t got the last of the fees saved yet,” Jane told me. They hadn’t expected the referral this soon.

“You know that’s not a problem,” I told her.

Once again she outlined a repayment plan. Once again, I will forget to draft the promissory note.

I’ve spent the afternoon staring at the pictures of a very pretty baby. Yes, she has a funny smile, but that smile will be as perfect as it ought to be shortly after we get her home. She’s bald. She’s 9 months old. She lives in an orphanage near the border of Tibet. If only she was actually in Tibet!

Jane and I are going to get Kennedi without Rich, this time.

We’re going to China!

October 3, 2007 Posted by | Children, Health, Lawyer, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Confessions of a White Wench


Tragic factoid about this Wench of Aramink: her skin is so pale it’s translucent, and she’s never had a suntan in her life.

It doesn’t bother me until someone says something like, “Dang, girl! Didja just crawl out from under a log or somethin’?” Or, “You need a little color to look healthy.” Or, “Put on some pantyhose. Those legs are blinding me!”

Every year I let myself get bullied into going to the beach the week after school breaks for the summer. It’s not hard to bully me into it – I love the smell of salt water and I like to snorkel. In fact, I like swimming so much that I’m going to put a pool in my back yard. The plans are drawn and the bids are rolling in! I feel a little inadequate next to the already-tanned sun worshippers surrounding me. Slathered in sun block I play in the surf and then I hide in the shade under the beach umbrella to read my book. Since even the reflection from the sand can give me a burn, I can’t stay out long. I head to the condo and read some more, and sleep, and feed my 360 addiction.

Sometimes I just feel a little silly spending money for a week at the beach when I can’t be in the sun more than a couple of hours a day without getting second degree burns. Even with SPF 5000 I can only stay out an hour or so at most without painful results.

I have ended up in the hospital with second degree burns from the sun on not just one but two occasions. For that reason, I am really, really careful.

The first time it happened I came down to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with a couple of friends from college over spring break. It was my sophomore year of college. From Hamilton, New York, we drove first to Arkansas. These two friends of mine were from Auburn, New York, and Springfield, Massachusetts, and had never been in the South at all. We stopped in Memphis and went to Graceland, which had just been opened to the public for the first time. We toured the Sun Records studio and went to Beale Street, home of the blues. Then we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas.

Several things of note happened to my friends in my hometown. They ate fried catfish and tasted okra for the first time. They were surrounded by southern accents and for a change it was their way of speaking that make people say “huh?” And they met Bill Clinton. It was primary season, and after losing the office two years before he was running again for his second term as governor. My dad was a rather influential politico even though he never ran for office himself, and Clinton stopped by my parents’ house while we were eating pizza. He joined us and we had a great visit talking about the difference between college life in the Northeast and real life in Arkansas, education, and what we all wanted to be when we grew up. Not surprisingly, Bill said he wanted to be president.

Ten years later when Clinton won the New Hampshire primary, one of the girls who had come home with me that year for spring break called me. “Isn’t that the same guy we ate pizza with?” she asked.

“That’s the one. Remember he said he was going to be president someday?”

“Yes! I didn’t think he really meant it, though!”

“Oh, he meant it. He’s always meant it.”

But I digress. On with the sunburn story:

From Arkansas we headed due south to New Orleans, another one of my favorite places in the world. I showed my friends what live oaks look like when their spreading limbs are hung with Spanish moss, and what Bourbon Street sounded like before the street musicians were banned. We rode the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue and strolled in Audubon Park. We saw cockroaches so big they sounded like 747s when they flew at your face. We went to Cooter Brown’s to sample some of the exotic beers. Then we headed back east along the coast for some quality beach time.

We bypassed the Mississippi and Alabama gulf shores and headed across the border into Florida. We stopped about 40 miles into Florida and pitched our tent in a state park on the beach. I showed them what sea oats were so they’d be sure not to pick them. They were amazed at the whiteness of the sand and at the whiteness of my skin.

We hit the beach early our first morning there. We only had two days to spend in Florida before we had to head back to school. The ground back at Colgate would be white, too, but with snow, not with sand made of quartz crystals. We wanted to make the most of our time.

After about four hours on the beach, we decided to find food and a movie. I changed from my bathing suit into shorts and a t-shirt. I was a little pink, but not red. By the time we finished eating I was shivering. By the time the movie was over I was nearly crying with the pain. We went to sleep in the tent and the next morning I woke to see a blister the size and shape of a baseball had grown on my upper left arm.

The three of us spent that morning in the emergency room of the local hospital. Every inch of my exposed skin was bubbly with burn blisters. After declining the doctor’s invitation for me to stay as his guest in the hospital, we decided to head back toward Colgate a day early. We stopped in three more emergency rooms on the way back. Each time my skin was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. Each time I was granted stronger painkillers. Each time I was advised to check in for an extended stay. Each time I declined.

We got back to Colgate in the midst of a blizzard. Clad only in my bathing suit and unable to put on shoes, I limped from the car to my apartment through the wind and snow. I missed a week of classes and finally went to the campus medical clinic. Once again, I was punctured, drained, smothered in salve, swathed in bandages, and treated as gently as possible. This time I was given antibiotics as well as painkillers. My entire body was puffy and swollen from the burns.

After another week I was able to put on clothes and go to class. I swore I was done with the sun. Anything that could hurt me that much was to be avoided. I came out of the experience with lots of new freckles and a permanent hypersensitivity to the sun.

I didn’t remember for long, though. The summer between my junior and senior year in college, my friend from Auburn, NY and I loaded a couple of backpacks and headed to Europe with our Eurail passes and our passports. On the Amalfi coast of Italy, near the Island of Capri, I did it again. My friend and I had separated to travel with different people we had met along the way and were going to meet up again at Brindisi, Italy, where we’d cross into Greece. I sent her a telegram at the American Express office, the place we had agreed would be our contact point: “REMEMBER FLORIDA STOP I DID IT AGAIN STOP MEET YOU IN VENICE TWO WEEKS STOP”

No, I don’t mind all that much that I don’t have a suntan.

June 13, 2007 Posted by | Arkansas, Environment, Health, Travel | Leave a comment

Pieces of Eight – YARRRRR!

Pieces of Eight - YARRRRR! magnify

Since we’re at the beach, topics related to the beach are naturally the topics of discussion. (Imagine that!)

Jack and I are here with friends. Three adults, a couple of teenagers, a toddler, and a newly minted first-grader. Guess who dominates the TV? SpongeBob SquarePants. Yup. More beach stuff. Hey, it’s a theme vacation.

In keeping with the theme, the conversation over breakfast turned to buried treasure (whether or not a 6 year old was likely to find any) and Spanish doubloons (the popular piratical medium of exchange due to the fragile and somewhat messy nature of sand dollars).

“What, exactly, were ‘pieces of eight?’ Gold doubloons?” wondered the father of the rugrats (another cartoon sure to be on the TV at some point during this vacation, but not beach-themed, so irrelevant).

“Spanish money, cut into eight pieces,” supplied my kid, who does his best to flunk out of school but whose mind is otherwise a steel trap for useless information. (If only his diligence in remembering things extended to remembering to do, and turn in, his homework, we wouldn’t be so worried about whether he’d actually make it to college. But I digress.)

“They actually cut their coins?” asked our 17 year old friend.

“Yeah. It was before they minted coins worth less than a full unit of their money.” Where does Jack come up with this stuff? Since I was sitting in front of my laptop feeding my Yahoo 360 addiction, I flipped over to Google and looked it up.

The phrase “pieces of eight” did indeed refer to the fact that the Spanish dollar (yes, in the Americas it was called a “dollar”) was cut into eight pieces. Why eight pieces? Other than the relative ease of dividing the coin into eight pieces, the coin itself was worth eight reales, or royals. So calling it a “piece of eight” is similar to referring to the American gold coin as a “twenty dollar gold piece.”

The Spanish real was minted in different denominations, though. There were 2, 4, and 8 real pieces. The coins were cut in half or quarters, or even into eighths to make smaller change.

Reales were always silver. The Spanish gold coin was called the escudo. The coin worth eight escudos was the famous Spanish gold doubloon, which was 22 carats pure. It was also cut into eighths, for the same reason as the silver real: to make change.

The Spanish reales and escudos were the first world currency. The purity of the gold and silver were dictated by Spanish law, and because of its colonial expansion in the Americas gold and silver were plentiful for the Spanish government. Even China, which had never been keen on accepting anything other than gold, was willing to accept reales. Sometimes the Chinese placed impressions of their own on the Spanish coins to indicate that their own tests had been conducted as to the purity of the silver.

Have you ever wondered why a quarter is referred to as “two bits?” It goes back to the divisions of the Spanish 8 real coin. This coin and its pieces were legal currency in the US until 1857, and it’s why the American stock exchanges valued stocks in increments of one-eighth of a dollar until 1997.

More reading for those two or three of you who wish I’d spent more time on this blog instead of rushing out into the sun and sand:

The University of Notre Dame Library information on Coins, including Spanish silver and Spanish gold
Pirates of the Caribbean (not the movie, but a site full of nifty pirate information)
Wikipedia’s article on the Spanish dollar’s entries on Pieces of Eight and on the Spanish Real

June 10, 2007 Posted by | Conversations With Children, History, Travel | Leave a comment

Jack and the Garage


So we’re leaving on another trip.

Tomorrow: Destin’s white sand beaches and clear emerald waters.

The last time we went out of town for a week there was an accident of rather unsettling proportions just four days before our departure. I’ve held my breath this time. So far, so good. With less than 24 hours to go, no unscheduled holes have appeared in my house. You have no idea what a relief that is.

The Sunday before we left for England over Spring Break, Jack was pulling my car out of the garage when disaster struck. Well, the car struck and disaster resulted. Now I have a better understanding, though, as to why this child with such a high IQ has such terrible grades. It seems that he has a reading disorder that had been undiagnosed all these years. As often as the kid has his nose in a book, I was completely fooled. I learned about the reading disorder at the scene of the accident.

My driveway has stone walls on either side. Backing out of the two-car garage can be something of a trick, especially as big as my car is. Jack calls my car “The Mother Ship,” a name that’s actually pretty accurately descriptive. A fleet of Mini-Coopers and Smart Cars escape every time the pod bay doors are opened.

On this particularly auspicious day, Jack was at the helm of The Mother Ship when he came out of the garage just a tiny bit crooked. That meant he was very close to the tall stone wall on the driver’s side of the car, and dangerously close to scraping paint.

He pulled forward in an effort to get away from the stone wall. Then he needed to back up again to get out of the driveway.

In addition to stone walls on either side, my driveway is also a steep slope down from the street to the garage. So, naturally, when he went to reverse and hit the gas, and the car rolled forward, he hit the brake.

“Jack, whoa,” I said. I was calm. I knew that yelling at him would only make him mad.

He ignored me and immediately gave The Mother Ship a tad more gas. Again, the car went forward.

“Jack, whoa,” I said, this time more forcefully.

He gave me a look of exasperation. “I know what I’m doing, Mom,” he snapped, hitting the gas again. The car rolled forward a few more inches before he stepped on the brake.

“Whoa, Jack!” I said, very strongly.

He hit the gas again. When the car rolled forward, he knew it had to be the steep slope behind him, so he gave the car a lot more juice. This time the car shot through the wall dividing the two doors of the double garage.


THROUGH the wall.

“WHOA!” I yelled.

The car came to a halt about four feet inside the garage. I reached down, shifted the car into reverse, then said, “Okay, NOW back up.”

My son looked at me. He gave The Mother Ship some gas. Magically, it backed up.

Once the hood of the car cleared the former wall of the garage, Jack shifted into park. He lowered his head to the steering wheel, banging it a few times for good measure.

“Oh, god,” he moaned.

“Um, Jack, when I kept saying ‘Whoa,’ that meant you should stop,” I offered hesitantly. It was probably my word choice that had confused him, right? My fault. All my fault.

He banged his head a few more times on the steering wheel, then hid his face deeply in the crook of his folded arms.

“Mom, I broke the fucking HOUSE,” he informed me in a shaky voice.

I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t even be upset at his word choice.

“Well, son, I now understand why your grades suck.”

“What are you talking about?” he asked, not raising his head.

“You can’t read. You don’t know your D’s from your R’s.”

His shoulders started to shake. I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying. I think maybe it was a little of both.

My insurance agent is my brother’s best friend. Within 24 hours, I had a new wall where one of my garage doors used to be, and within a couple of weeks of our return from England I had a brand new garage door that stretched across where both old doors and the wall between them used to be. Having one door rather than two makes it MUCH easier to negotiate The Mother Ship out of the garage.

Here are a few pictures of the scene. The picture at the top of the blog? That’s the sum total of the damage to The Mother Ship: two scratches. Oh, and the “bonnet leaper” was twisted.

Jack’s not getting behind the wheel of a car before we leave.


June 8, 2007 Posted by | Children, Travel | 2 Comments

London (Mis)Adventures

London (Mis)Adventures magnify

It’s Monday, and here we are in London.

Whose bright idea was it to take an overnight flight, anyway? What idiot thought we could sleep on the plane? In COACH no less? By the way, in case anyone is curious, those seats in coach in even the largest of airplanes are meant for people who are smaller than I am. A five year old might be able to sleep in them. When Jack was 10 we flew to Ireland in the back of a plane. I suppose five years is enough to make the memory fade. I do recall that after that trip I swore I’d never again fly across any body of water wider than the Mississippi River in steerage class. Like labor pains though, the memory must have faded. When business class seats weren’t available, I didn’t postpone the trip until summer. No, I bravely (read: foolishly) decided that the agony of sleeping sitting up wasn’t all that bad and we could fly in the main cabin of the plane.

On the trip to and from Ireland in 2002, my ten year old son slept in my lap for the most part. He sprawled across his seat and my own. No, I did not get a wink of sleep heading either direction. But at 15 Jack was unlikely to want to cuddle with Mommy on a long flight, so I figured the comfort level would be better. For someone with an IQ as high as the experts claim mine is, sometimes I can be downright DUMB.

Jack folded his long, skinny 15-year-old body in half and put his head down on the tray table and slept for about four hours. Jealously, covetously, I glared at him the entire time. What evil gods have played such a trick on me that I am not only wider but rounder than I used to be? I’m not that big, really. I’m downright short, when it comes to that. But the circumference thing (not to mention the fact that I’m old and I just don’t bend that way any more) made it impossible for me to mimic the origami of my son’s body. I leaned my seat back as far as it would go. I dozed. I awoke within 15 minutes, my head lolling steeply to one side and the muscles in my neck screaming for relief. In the interest of keeping with the laws of physics, I allowed my head to loll steeply to the other side. Equal and opposite reactions should have nullified the screaming muscles, right? Wrong. It meant that he muscles on the other side of my neck kicked up a major ruckus within the next 15 minutes.

This went on for a couple of hours as my resentment escalated toward my peacefully sleeping offspring in the next seat. Then I gave up and watched Walk the Line. I listened to my iPod. I tracked the plane’s progress across the Atlantic. I watched Dreamgirls. I finished my book. I wrote in my journal. I listened to the man seated next to me snored. I wished someone tall, dark, handsome, and accommodating was sitting next to me so I could put my head on his shoulder and sleep. Yes, I was fantasizing.

We arrived Saturday morning and fell gratefully into our beds in our hotel room by noon. I slept a couple of hours then started trying to wake Jack. I thought we could go to Piccadilly and wander around. Jack loves Times Square in NYC, so I thought he’d feel comfortable there for his first night in port.

I couldn’t wake him. This child of mine, who selfishly slept most of the way across The Pond, refused to rouse himself no matter how I begged, pleaded, threatened, or bribed him. “Can’t we just get room service, Mom?” I’m so glad we traveled 4500 miles to eat in bed.

So Sunday dawned early. The UK went on Summer Time (The equivalent of Daylight Savings) while we slept, so we were an hour late getting started. We made our way to Victoria Station where we met our bus tour and climbed aboard the double decker. Two stops later was the Hard Rock Cafe, so we were forced to disembark.

I guess I should explain that compulsion. You see, Jack has an uncle who lives in Southeast Asia. Ever since Jack was a very little guy, his uncle Matt has made sure Jack has Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts from every place Matt’s been. Jakarta, Taipei, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Manila, Bangkok… the list goes on. It also means that now Jack has to hit the Hard Rock whenever we travel. It’s a requirement. We might as well set it early in the itinerary because if we don’t Jack will agitate about it until we get there. Even if we go to Memphis, which is just two hours away from home, we can’t leave without stopping by the Hard Rock on Beale Street. London was the site of the original Hard Rock Cafe, so we make sure to see the guitars Eric Clapton and Roger Daltry donated to start the collection. It feels like a pilgrimage every time we go to one of these restaurants, but this one, the original one, felt like arriving in Mecca itself.

So we ate and bought a couple of t-shirts and a pin then climbed back aboard the tour bus to see the rest of the main sights without debarking. “We’ll come back and see the real sights tomorrow,” we agreed. Upon arriving back at the hotel after the day on the bus, we both took a nap. A couple of hours later I was once again trying to rouse my son and failing miserably. Finally I gave up. I played online and even managed to visit the 360 pages of a few friends. At midnight Jack woke up and was ready to go. I laughed at him. “Go to sleep,” I said. He did. Can any creature sleep more than a teenage boy?

Now Day Three of our trip has unfolded as the day in which Murphy’s Law has reared its ugly Irish mug and interfered with us. I woke with a migraine and had to take a shot of Imitrex to banish it. I also had to nap a bit after taking the shot to make sure it worked. I wasn’t able to go anywhere until I did. What did Jack do while I was recovering?



He slept.

At noon I roused him and we headed to the Tower of London. It’s the one place Jack knows he wants to see other than the British Museum. While we waited for the bus, we went into a Starbuck’s near St. Paul’s Cathedral to get nourishment. Outside again at the bus stop Jack looked at me strangely. “Mom, I don’t feel so good,” he said.

He sat on the sidewalk against a wall. His face was a ghastly white and dark circles appeared under his eyes.

“I’m going to get sick,” he said.

Hoping his nausea would pass with a little nourishment, I encouraged him to eat the cinnamon roll and drink the white mocha he got at Starbuck’s. We boarded the bus headed for the Tower and had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman Londoner about politics, imperialist world dominion (both British and American), terrorism, and tourism, then received an admonishment not to miss the Crown Jewels at the Tower. I love talking with natives!

Once off the bus, Jack’s nausea had not dissipated. He threw away what remained of his coffee. We found a bottle of water and a quiet corner where we sat for about an hour hoping the nausea would pass. He finally asked if we could please get a cab back to the hotel. I felt terrible for him. As often as I get migraines, I know what it’s like to have wonderfully exciting plans interrupted by headaches and nausea. What was touchingly sweet was how he kept apologizing for feeling bad. I do the same thing whenever my migraines interfere with plans I have with someone, so I know where he got the notion that he had to. He didn’t have to apologize to me, though. If anyone can empathize with how powerless he felt over his traitorous body his mother can.

Thankfully we found a cab very quickly and are at this moment back in our hotel room where Jack is (guess what) sleeping peacefully. If he feels better later we’ll try for Piccadilly Circus again. For now, I’ll just watch him sleep. I won’t try to rouse him. Not yet, anyway.

There’s a Virgin Megastore at Piccadilly. Evidently I’m not the only one in the world who sells Virgins. I can’t wait to see the selection! I hope it’s better than the one I went to in Orlando a couple of years ago. Despite the name, all that Virgin Megastore had to offer were books and music. What a disappointing bait and switch operation!

March 26, 2007 Posted by | Children, Health, Humor, Travel, Virgin Training School | Leave a comment