"God must love the common man, He made so many of them..." Abraham Lincoln

Friday, December 4, 2009


Having descended from a long and noble line of literary nerds, it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m fascinated with books. I love the stories they impart, the images they inspire and the feelings they invoke. I love ruffled pages, stiff covers, and don't even get me started on that new book smell. When it comes to books, what I love the most are the characters. And I do believe this love affair all began innocently enough…

When I was really young, before I loved books, I loved moccasins. They were my shoe of choice, regardless of occasion or weather, and my parents were indulgent. Black or brown, smooth or suede, embellished or plain -- I never met a moccasin I didn't like. I was certainly the only third grader in my school with high-top footwear that was both beaded and fringed. Speaking of third grade, one day my teacher gave us a wonderful assignment. “Write a story,” she said, “and make your main character like you in some way.” My imagination went wild and my first heroine ever arrived on the page. Princess Sego Lily was her name, nursing was her game -- and of course she wore moccasins.

In the years since then, my imagination has continued going wild and both my character roster and my shoe collection have expanded. Moccasins now share closet space with lots of different shoes and, likewise, my Indian princess nurse heroine has been joined by a host of other characters. After all, there’s nothing like variety when it comes to footwear or fictional friends and family.

New shoes come from shopping and new characters come from everywhere else. They are often inspired by people I encounter every day. Just recently I saw an elderly lady in a snazzy leopard-print ensemble jauntily walking through town. She was toting a big red purse on her shoulder and in her hands she carried an even bigger piece of cake on a paper plate. If that doesn’t have character stamped all over it, I just don’t know what does.

Now if only she had been wearing moccasins…

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Name Game

This week I had the chance to attend a reading by one of my favorite authors. Of course it was great and so was the Q & A afterwards. But I had a question and didn’t ask it – I was overcome by celebrity cowardice. My question is, I think, something any writer of fiction has grappled with and must, at some point, find an answer. So here’s the burning question – how are characters’ names chosen?

Names are fascinating and so is the process of choosing a name. Volumes of baby names have been published and every year the media shares the Top Ten most popular boy and girl names. Where I work, I run across new names on a daily basis. Some are great, some are not so great, and some…well…I just hope those poor kids will change them when they grow up. I’ve met babies named after seasons, colors, movie stars, foods, constellations, plants, cars, historical figures, and geographical locations. I’ve met babies whose names are in the II, III, and even IV recycling. After more than 20 years of meeting babies, I have come to learn that names don’t reflect their ‘owners’ so much as they reflect the parents. What were some of those parents thinking at that oh-so-crucial naming moment? It’s practically cruel and unusual punishment to tag a sweet innocent baby with an awful moniker in the hopes of being unique or distinctive.

That’s what I worry about when I name my characters. I want them to be memorable, but not because of a ridiculous name. I’ve had a female villain in mind for a while now and I just can’t find the right name for her. I must have been subconsciously stewing about it the other night because I dreamed about her and she was named Saffron. No kidding. So where exactly did that name come from? Too much Food Network before bed? Too many yellow paint swatches taped to the kitchen wall? It’s truly a name dilemma – but I just can’t have my evil villain sounding like a Spice Aisle Girl.

And so the burning question continues to burn.

Friday, October 9, 2009


“What’s for dinner?” If only I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that. Between the picky-eater kids and the suspicious-eater husband, I’d be rich! Now don’t get me wrong, I like cooking dinner. It’s just the decision-making before I get behind the stove that drives me crazy.

My mom took dinnertime seriously. Experts have long said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, those experts didn’t consult my mom who believed dinner was the overlord of all meals. Mom planned menus, kept track of recipes, and rotated leftovers. Almost every night our family gathered around the table for something hot and homemade. We never asked what was for dinner. Mom fixed it and we ate it. Pot roast, spaghetti, sweet ‘n sour meatballs and tacos were her signature dishes. Mom really was an outstandingly good cook.

I don’t know that I could claim to be an outstanding cook or even a good cook, but I can say that I’m a bored cook. Same pans, same process, night after night can be a real drag. How can such dinner drudgery be livened up? I like to use a dinner theme. There’s nothing like a theme to change mundane dinner into something special. So it could be Ethnic Dinner night, or Breakfast Dinner night, or Fend for Yourself Dinner night, or even Drive-Thru Dinner night. Dinner themes are limited only by my imagination and my paycheck. When my family asks the dreaded dinner question, I respond with my theme du jour. Here are my two all-time very most favorites…

Adventure Dinner! This is the most feared theme in my arsenal. Oh yeah. When it’s Adventure Dinner, every food is a new food – or at least new recipes. If your family’s like mine they will be afraid. Very afraid. This dinner can be time consuming to prepare what with intensive recipe researching and more-specific-than-usual grocery shopping. Crock-pot Adventure Dinners usually turn out pretty good. Curried Adventure Dinners, not so much. Please let me assure you that Adventure Dinner isn’t too bizarre or far-fetched, but it is always an adventure.

Monochromatic Dinner! Just picture this – poached chicken, mashed potatoes, and canned pears. Or how about this – fish sticks, mac ‘n cheese, and canned peaches. Yep, Monochromatic Dinner means all of the food is the same (or very nearly the same) color. The first time this dinner happened it was just culinary dumb luck. But now, it has evolved into a genuine theme. To do it justice, this dinner requires some serious planning and a fairly sophisticated color wheel. Using plates the same color as the food adds to the ambience and introduces an unexpected camouflage factor.

Hey, hold on there just a second… Camouflage? Another whole new dinner theme!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Bedroom Door

I'm having a hard time with the girls' bedroom door. Oh sure, it opens up fine and it closes like it's supposed to. The knob turns and the latch fits. So what's the problem? The problem is that there's no one living on the other side of that bedroom door anymore.

We moved into the house when our oldest child was 10 months old and ever since there's been a kid in that bedroom. I'll bet I've opened that door a million times over the last 20-odd years. Whether it was the dinner summons or the last night-night of the night, someone was always there. So just last night, once again, I caught myself turning the doorknob. It's been a hard habit for me to break.

I always knew the kids would grow up and move on. My head understood it, but my heart is having a hard time accepting it. I know the kids will be back and forth between college and home, but it won't be the same. That closed bedroom door just feels so final and so lonely.

Maybe a transformation is in order. Should the bedroom become the TV room? Or the pet dormitory? I'm sure that either the TV or the critters would like their own room. Drastic change -- that seems heartless, and yet it's a practical solution to my closed-door dilemma. If the room is something else, my head and my heart can cope with being a side-lined mother.

And then I’ll leave the door open.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Diet Books

Since my last posting, I’ve come to the conclusion it's time to go on a diet. Again. This time, I pulled out all the diet books that have accumulated on my shelves over the years. Some were best-sellers while others were barely-sellers. There are how-to books and what-not-to-do books. There are low-cal, low-carb, and/or low-fat options. Menus, recipes, shopping lists, food diaries, and snack lists – all present and accounted for. Exercises? Oh yeah, them, too. By the time I rounded up and piled up all those books, I really had quite the workout and was ready for a snack and a nap.

So which of all these diet books is the magic one? It’s hard to say for sure. After all, humans have thrived on all kinds of diets for centuries. If anyone needs proof of that just open up the yellow pages to the restaurant listings and take a look – Mexican, Chinese, and Italian are the top three cultural cuisine offerings. Does that mean those cultures are healthier? Are enchiladas better for you than manicotti? What about sweet ‘n sour? Sigh. Face it, the phone book is a menu menagerie not a diet book. Ding-Dong darn it all. (I know I could have looked at the gym listings – oh well.)

It didn’t help to check the authors’ credentials, either. The super-qualified Dr. So-and-So says this is the way to go for health, happiness, and slimmer, trimmer thighs. But the uber-qualified Dr. Such-and Such says that is the way to go for health, happiness and tight, defined abs. Everyone knows that a picture is worth a thousand words, but looking at their bio pictures certainly didn’t help matters any. They all look too tan, too dried out and too stringy – just a bunch of over-cooked turkeys.

Maybe the recipes would point me in the right direction. After all, nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven! So throw together a bunch of nutritionists, spa chefs, mile-long ingredient lists and voila – what do you have? A tasteless meal that no one will eat which cost way more than the take-n-bake pizza deal that comes with a tub of chocolate chip cookie dough.

So what’s a fluffy-around-the-middle girl supposed to do? Buy another book! What I don’t need is another diet book. What I do need is a first-grade math book – addition and subtraction is where it’s at. Calories in, calories out. Big salads in, fat pants out. Circuit-training in, vegging-out out. I’ve never been very good at math, but maybe I can figure this problem out and get back in shape. Well, at least a different shape than round.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cankles & Duckles

The photo to the left is the weather forecast for the next week. Really, I’m not kidding. You know what this means? Cankles and duckles.

Cankles and duckles, what are these hot-weather afflictions exactly? For a lovely visual, just imagine water balloons full to bursting. Now imagine the same thing except it’s your ankles and hands. Cankles are when your ankles retain water and swell to the same diameter as your calves. Duckles happen the same way except it’s your hands swelling enough to make your knuckles become dimples. Both are miserable and both make me move around like a really old lady. And if you put me up to your ear, you can hear the ocean!

So is there any kind of benefit from these summer maladies? Not so much from the duckles because of the ‘fumble-fingers’ side-effect. Cankles, however, are so much easier to shave. No bony ankle angles. Smooth and round – kinda like shaving a watermelon. Just beware of springing a leak thanks to the aforementioned fumble-fingers…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


So my “baby” girl graduated from high school two weeks ago. Cue the nostalgic mood music. It was just yesterday that she let me do her hair, pick out her clothes, and buckle her into a car seat. Stop the music. Today she does her own hair, picks out her clothes, and (hopefully) buckles up before peeling out. How did this happen overnight? After all, I just graduated…25 years ago.

High school graduation is an important milestone, whether it feels like that or not. It means you are educated, whether it feels like that or not. It means you met standards, whether it feels like it or not. It means you worked hard, whether it feels like that or not. It means you are ready for adulthood, whether it feels like that or not.

Graduation prompts an interesting behavior I call grudge evaporation. Grudge evaporation happens when all of your classmates are your friends because you’ll probably never see some of them again. Gone as if by magic are those petty leftover grudges from grades gone by. She didn’t share? Oh well. He didn’t call? Too bad. He spit in your hair in the 6th grade? So what. She told her other best friend who told her cousin who told her other best friend who told her mom who told your mom? Who cares. Bygones are bygones. Say goodbye and move on.

High school can be an all-consuming never-ending cycle of friends, homework, and activities. Graduation puts a screeching halt to the old familiar routines and flings wide open the door to the future. Yes, Virginia, there is life after high school. A lot of it. For me, at least 25 years’ worth so far. Colleges, careers, vacations, lazy days, new houses, new friends, new spouses, kids, pets, cars – the list of life goes on and on. And the best part of post-grad life? Who you have been is not necessarily who you become.

So to my own graduate and by extension to recent graduates everywhere, enjoy becoming you. To us older and wiser graduates, let’s just keep on becoming ourselves – we’re not done yet!

Thursday, May 28, 2009


A birthday is like a personal mugger that’s hiding right around the corner just for you. It waits patiently, approaches carefully and attacks gleefully! Quick as a wink you’re older.

When I was younger, I wanted to be older. Now that I’m older, I want to be younger. My friend and I were discussing this odd age-reversal birthday wishes phenomenon and she asked me if I’d do my teenage years over again. Heck yes, but only if I could take my middle-aged brain with me. Knowledge wrapped up in perspective is the best birthday gift of all.

What if I had my middle-aged brain with me in junior high? Oh man! In math, I would rock on those rotten story problems. If a train was traveling at 70 mph how long would it take to churn 9 quarts of cream into butter? In P.E., I would fearlessly give the stink-eye to the evil coach who had a fondness for tight short-shorts and tall socks. Hey buddy, can you rethink the wardrobe and lay off the butter? In Home Ec, I would confidently use a big knife and chiffonade faster than a culinary-trained swashbuckler. Sauté that in melted butter!

Fast forward back to high school – just imagine a middle-aged brain roaming the hallways with a middle-aged outlook. Prom is not life or death. Boyfriends are temporary. Friends are transitory. Gossip is bad. Studying is important. Mom is right. Be good. Drive carefully. Make plans. Have goals. Move away. Work hard. Save money. Spend frugally. Grow up.

So let my middle-aged birthday mugging commence! Bring on the cake and fire up the candles! Oh my, is that butter-cream frosting?

Friday, May 8, 2009


I’m notoriously cheap. Pinching pennies and stretching dollars are my modus operandi. Once in a while I go a little crazy, though. Every now and then I come across a BOGO sale. Buy One Get One – the only way to spend money. I love BOGO deals because free is a very good price. Buy one frozen pizza, get one free. Buy one flower pot, get one free. Buy one college education, get one free.

Okay, okay, college isn’t really like that – but it can be. My husband is one of those perpetual college students. We met in college when he went for the first time. The second time he went to college we had two little girls and two cats. The third time he went to college we had not-so-little girls and four cats. The fourth time he went to college we had gray hair, a herd of cats and a puppy. I shudder to think of the aging or wildlife that more college might bring. Anyway, when it’s all added up he’s been in college for 12 years, half of our 24-year marriage. We have paid a lot of money for his education and mine has been free. BOGO.

Over the course (and courses!) of all those college years, I’ve acquired a heap of knowledge through a process I call Wife Typist Osmosis or WTO. Actually it is a BOGO side-effect and this is how it happens: when the wife types assignments or papers, the wife asks questions. In response and maybe in defense, the husband shares his textbooks and lecture notes. Now the wife knows what the husband knows. It’s as simple as that. So, some of this wife’s most favorite BOGO classes have been world history, children’s literature, classroom management, and educational philosophy. The assorted “ologies” (geology, sociology, and biology) were pretty good, too. Math and more math were not favorites. Just think about it – all of this education and I’ve never had to take a quiz, pass a test, or sweat a final. BOGO WTO.

Now that the kids are in college, I have the chance to expand my educational horizons by the BOGO.2 and BOGO.3 versions. Those editions don’t come with WTO attached because the girls know how to type. However, the recently developed and stringently tested MEO, Mama Editor Osmosis, module is included!

There is a downside to BOGO WTO and BOGO MEO learning, though. The free education is undocumented. No advanced degrees decorated with curlicue flourishes. No fashionably medieval academic hood. But oddly enough, that’s okay because undocumented certainly doesn’t mean unrecognized. My typing and editing efforts are frequently rewarded with non-BOGO roomy tote bags, sparkly earrings, or sweet chocolate. Roomy, sparkly, and sweet – just like the wife/mama/typist/editor herself!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nap Time

Sunday is indeed a day of rest – especially because of the afternoon nap. Those few hours between the end of worship and the start of the workweek are a precious time of rest and renewal. I just don’t get hours like that during the other six days of the week.

Life sure is busy. Pull out anyone’s calendar and you’ll see it’s full – appointments of wondrous variety, lists of infinite variety, and activities of dizzying variety. How does it all get done and get done well? You put your shoulder to the wheel and push along. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho! It's off to work we go!

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are crammed with shouldering, pushing, and working. Finally Sunday arrives. How nice it is to wake up without a to-do list. How nice it is to wake up looking forward to a nap.

After my nap, I feel like I could conquer the world! I wish I could feel this good every day of the week. It’s almost a shame to waste such energy on a day of rest. Do you think there’s a way to save it for later? Energy storage like food storage? Just imagine…The calendar has promised a truly hectic day, so you just go get a little extra scoop of energy from storage and voila! The house is painted, the marathon is run, the bread is baked, and, and, and…

On second thought, all that energy might kill me. I’ll stick with Sunday afternoon naps just the way they are.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I’ve always considered myself a writer – an unknown, undiscovered, writer. I can’t say unpublished though, but copywriting educational materials just won’t get you onto the Oprah show. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, I’m always writing. When blogging came along, I realized that I had a new outlet for all of the things that swirl through my head and emerge on paper. So I’m still unknown and undiscovered, but at least I’m on the ‘net!

My mom was very artistic in color and word. I thought I knew her as well as any daughter could know a mother. When Mom passed away, I inherited a box full of her daily journals. It wasn’t until I read them that I realized how much I didn’t know her. I didn’t know she had feelings, impressions, dreams, goals, or trials. Her journals, full of her perfect artsy penmanship, told the story of her life and it was a story I hadn’t heard before. To me, she was just Mom, the organizer and driver of the family. She was a complex, thoughtful, kind, sarcastic, and occasionally angry woman. But, Mom was a wonderful woman and I didn’t know how wonderful until it was too late.

The blog bug bit the first time last year and I’ll be darned if it didn’t bite harder the second time. I started blogging about my school board experiences in an effort to be more open with the public. You know how the public trusts elected officials! Anyway, I realized there were so many more things I wanted to blog about, but the topics just didn’t fit on the board blog. I started a second (personal) blog, but now the two are combined into one because my board seat will soon have another seat sitting in it. I decided not to run for another term. Not because of any one reason, it’s just time for someone else to take a turn.

Considering the experience I had with Mom’s journals, I decided I want my kids, my family, and my friends to know me now, not after my funeral. So please enjoy The Common Mann. Comments are always welcome and candy is most appreciated!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Such a Slacker...

I know, I know. I’m such a slacker. Honestly, my blogging intentions are good but I just can’t seem to find the time lately. Part of the problem is that I have short-timers syndrome what with Election Day right around the corner. Soon my school board seat will have another seat in it. Another part of the problem is that I have budget blues. But in this day and in this economy, who doesn’t? Another part of the problem is that my husband is taking Master's classes. When Pa takes classes, Ma loses her free time.

My mom and my grandma were teachers. Mom taught first-graders because she loved the experience of teaching them to read. Even years later, long after she’d officially left the classroom, she would talk about how wonderful those moments had been. Grandma, on the other hand, liked teaching older kids and spent her days teaching middle school English and running the high school library. Between their combined efforts, I can read and I can diagram sentences!

My mother-in-law and my husband are teachers. Mom recently retired after a long kindergarten career. How she managed I’ll never know. Two classes of kindies mean double the students, double the work, and double the show ‘n tell. She’s certainly earned her stars ‘n bars and a retirement check. Rick, on the other hand, is just starting his teaching career after spending the last 20 years in another industry. He’s subbed all over the place and has now realized how tough you actually have to be to teach kindergarten! With the way district budgets are looking, he’ll probably have to sub for another year or two before getting a for-real classroom job.

I’m so thankful to have been part of the public school system as a student, as a room-mother, as a fun-run helper, as a cookie lady, as a field trip chaperone, as a sports fan, as a band patron, and as a board member. When I ran for the board four years ago, I didn’t have any personal agenda or vendetta. I just wanted to be part of a system that has done so much for my family and I felt the need to pay it back and pay it forward. Serving the community has been an extraordinarily satisfying and rewarding experience. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Whew – last week was a busy week as far as meetings go. There was a Budget Committee Training Session and a School Board Work Session. When the kids were little and into every sport, I developed an intense case of bleacher backside due to the hours spent perched on the bleachers. The chairs in the board room are padded, but I found the symptoms returning. So I call this new malady board room backside. Thankfully, it disappeared when the meeting was over and no medical intervention was required!

Budget Committee Training Session
One of the best facilitators in the business, Betsy Miller-Jones, led the whole committee through the do’s and don’ts of school district budgets. Believe it or not, the budget committee is not supposed to debate the budget, mess with salaries, cut programs or change policy. Well then, what is it supposed to do? The committee is supposed to hear the budget, hold public meetings about the budget, get public comment, discuss and revise it if necessary, approve the budget and finally send it on to the school board.

The district has a really very civilized budget process, with every principal working closely together with each other and the superintendent. They build a sound and balanced budget before it ever even gets to the committee. After the committee sends it along, the board is then responsible for revision and adoption.

The whole problem this year is that there’s too much budget left over when the money runs out. Just like at home between paydays. Sigh.

Work Session
It was a full agenda, lots to do! The calendar for next school year was adopted and the late-start days are gone thanks to some creative time management. The science textbook adoptions were presented – kudos to the committees for their thoughtfulness and hard work to find affordable, reliable text books that meet the needs of our students. Licensed and administrative contracts were renewed. Thank you for all your work every day in the hallways, in the offices, in the classrooms and on the playing fields. You guys (and gals!) are just the best!

And just like that…Ta Da! Meeting adjourned until the next work session on April 13th.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No News is Not Good News

The old adage says that "no news is good news" and when it comes to cholesterol testing or dental exams, it's so true. However, it's not true here on a school board blog. I've been so discouraged about the economy, community lay-offs, and district budget woes that I thought it best to wait on posting until I had something good to say. You know that other old adage "if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all." So I've decided to say some nice things.
Some of the very best school parents live right here in our district. Everywhere you look, parent volunteers are doing their best to help the district succeed. From Boosters to Band Patrons, from kinders to seniors, parents are involved in supporting student success. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.
Some of the very best education programs are right here in our district. Innovative reading, math and writing programs are being used every day to help our students sharpen their skills. Music, drama, art, and pottery are just a few of the programs that allow students to find their "true love" and motivation. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.
Some of the very best staff are right here in our district. Every district employee has our students' best interest at heart. Our staff is creative, kind, and encouraging. They work long days without complaining and show up at night to support extra-curricular activities. Going that extra mile for student success is done selflessly. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.
Some of the very best students are right here in our district. Our kids are preparing every day to reach for the stars. Their potential is unlimited, and they know it. The future is in very capable hands. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.
As far as the "say nothing at all" part of this post goes, I won't mention the budget. I won't mention detention. I won't mention make-up work. Let's just stay focused on all the good stuff in our district. And let me thank you again for your hard work and dedication.