A Friend and a Feast

Author’s Note: (in the spirit of my friend, Sharon) this post has taken me a ridiculously long to time write. Part of it is I don’t want to quite let go and share of the magic of the day. The other part is not quite knowing what I’m going to write that does not read like either a diary entry or an itinerary.

Imagine this – you are in a bookstore, looking for a book to sustain you on a long trip. Needing something that you will immediately ‘fall into’ in order to get your mind away from the fear of flying (or rather, crashing and dying) . Feeling a little daring, going outside of your favorite genre, just browsing around and noticing a thick tome with an intriguing cover, pulling it out and loving the feel of the book, the weight of pages, and the flexible, glossy cover – you take a chance and buy the book.  The memory is vivid because within a day, you cannot put this book down.  Voila – you have discovered a new author. As a reading-nerd, this is truly a special moment.  The delicious feeling of falling completely in love with a novel, the characters, the writing and the story; it captivates you like nothing else and you cannot wait to read devour everything this person has ever written. Yet you also grieve for the end of every book they have written.  And you think, what would I give to meet this person face to face?

And I know, in this world, it is very unlikely that I’d ever get to meet this writer – this person that has given me so much joy.  But I want to meet Sharon Kay Penman. I want to tell her how much her words have meant to me.  How utterly captivated by these stories I have become – how I want every person that matters to me to read these stories also and feel that feeling.

Luckily, the world is always full of surprises.  It is also filled with social networks.  A small little thing like Facebook – a time waster, most will say. Filled with a barrage of senseless utterings and cat pictures…but amongst the flimflam we can find a few gems.

One such gem, for me, was the Sharon Kay Penman Fan Club page. I’ve written about my fascination with Sharon’s works here and mentioned her here.  I’ve written about my butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of her first FB post in which she USED MY NAME.  I’ve written about how engaged she is with her devoted fans. But I’ve never written about becoming her friend. That’s what I want to share.

In November 2013 I received a Facebook email from Sharon Kay Penman asking me to contact her via her personal email.  I vacillated between jumping for joy and having a lead ball in my belly – what if she was asking me to stop posting on her FB page because I tend to hijack threads? But, because I like getting things over and done with ASAP, I emailed her right away.

Her response floored me. She was telling me that she had been invited and accepted an invitation to the Tucson Festival of Books in March 2014 and would I be ‘interested in HAVING DINNER WITH HER ONE NIGHT?’  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

I slapped myself a few times, screamed out loud to my husband, called my Mom, danced around the kitchen and then immediately wrote back and said “No.” – HA – I’m messin’ with ya, I emailed back a strong and definitive YES.  She asked me in the most humble manner as if it might possibly be an inconvenience to spend an evening with her.   I can’t tell you how stunned I was.  She has THOUSANDS OF FANS …and she asked me to dinner.

I dared not share this with too many people for fear of jinxing myself. Because, while I looked forward to the festival and dinner, I secretly felt like it was too good to be true and something untoward would happen if I let myself get too excited.  But we began corresponding more and more via email.  Let me tell you this – even her emails are like mini novellas.  Much to my UTTER JOY.

And I save each and every one of them. They are like little individual gems – writings from the writer – something quite extraordinary to someone quite ordinary. In the bizarre twist of fate in a world where anything is possible – you find yourself one day exchanging words with someone one whose words have impacted your life more than you can really describe.

Finally, March rolls around. Sharon is starting her book tour for her most recent novel, A King’s Ransom (which you should go out and get, immediately).  She is from New Jersey and as all you state-side people know, it’s been a rather horrid winter for everyone except people in Tucson (sigh – I would like some cold, puleeze). There’s a slight fear in my heart that her flight will be cancelled. So I’m still keeping my exuberance under wraps.

And the day HAPPENS.  She makes it to Tucson – she calls me on the phone! I’m stunned to be SPEAKING TO SHARON KAY PENMAN…and giggling to myself that she has a New Jersey accent (she writes about Medieval England and I knew she would not have an English accent but for some reason, I didn’t expect Jersey – hee hee).   She’s been here before because she went to law school here in her 20s – but it’s been a while and everything has changed.  I like that connection – we both have been to the same university.

I show up for her author talk on Ransom – and am thrilled to find that there are MANY people that are waiting to see her – both men and women. Which, for someone that writes historical fiction (with a cast of HUNDREDS), is rare.  It’s typically women that read but Sharon’s writing is different – it’s more historical than fiction and (gratefully) lacking in the over romanticized style of many authors of this genre.    I meet a couple of people who are just as excited as I am – and we all sit front row center.

Then Sharon has the book signing (one of many). So me and my new friend wait in line and finally it is my turn. I go up (with my new friend) and introduce myself as her ‘date tonight’.  She looks delighted and then asks me if I want to come over early to her hotel so we have time to talk before dinner (we are eating with another very cool author). Well OF COURSE I WOULD  (and I’m sweating bullets inside, what if I cannot find things to say????).   So it transpired that I picked her up after the festival (in a freshly washed car) and we hang out at her place for a couple hours.  From the get go, we have NO PROBLEMS with conversation.   She’s very human, witty, intelligent and hilariously cursed in the realm of technology.

The evening is fabulous. We go to a great restaurant called Feast – which was chosen by the third person joining us (she is part of the Festival of Books committee) and it was the exact same place I was going to choose if asked.   At some point prior to dinner, I asked Sharon if she is often recognized when traveling. And she said, “thank god, no.”  So of course, the woman sitting at the table next to us came over during dinner to tell Sharon how much she LOVED her talk today and was so excited to be eating dinner next to her.   Coinkidink?  Quite possibly.   But she is a super star.  At least to her fans.

And that’s my story.

2nd Author’s Note: Thank you Sharon – I’m honored that we have become friends.  And I hope this post does you justice.   Also, I’d like to thank Stephanie Churchill Ling, who is a close friend of Sharon’s and now a good friend of mine. She emailed me right after Sharon asked me to dinner in November wondering if I was ‘happy dancing’ all over the place. She was the one person with whom I could talk to about how excited and fearful I was about my dinner with Sharon– and so totally ‘got it’.



Sharon in her Eleanor of Aquitaine coat and me with a big goofy smile

Sharon in her Eleanor of Aquitaine coat and me with a big goofy smile and a sunburned nose

Posted in Blogging, connections, Humor, love, Random Thoughts, Relationships, Sharon K Penmen, Story, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Thank You All

This is a fast post – I wanted to thank everyone that has been faithfully following me – including you, spambot! I reached 2,000 followers this morning and am a little ok, MUCH thrilled.

I have very mushy feelings for you all, especially you, Hope Tours & Safaris Africa.

All of you have always been kind and supportive of whatever comes out of my mind and goes into the intergooglenetwebs.

But on a serious note – I am truly grateful to all of you who read my posts and to those that read and comment.  You all make my life a little brighter.

Love & Mush & Stuff,

Rutabaga ~


Now enjoy some Frank Zappa’a “Call Any Vegetable”  because Vegetables ‘keep you regular and they’re real good for ya’ (so says Frank). And he sings about Rutabagas…because, well, who wouldn’t?

Posted in Blogging, Random Thoughts, Relationships, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 59 Comments

Naughty Bits

It all started with the naughty bits.

But please note: This is a frank and open discussion about anatomy and the rigors of bike riding upon it – very specifically in the region of, well you know, the naughty bits.  Can also be discussed semi publicly with the terms: private parts, girly parts, and happy or whoo-whoo box (but only among known company). For the truly modest, a worried eye gaze flickering quickly down ‘there’ and back will convey everything there is needed to know.

I’d noticed that most people complained of having a sore bum when they ride longer distances or if they’d not biked in a while.  My pain was a little more spread out in the general region and going forward, where you’d imagine it would be bothersome without me having to point it out in a vulgar manner.  And of course if I’m writing about it online, I’m sure as shit sharing it with my face to face friends.  Using this method for the wide distribution of ‘what’s on my mind’, I can usually get a good tip from some of the less horrified kith and kin. I did.  Padded Shorts.

I never had padded shorts before – just the basic black cotton/stretchy kind. The cheap kind.  So someone suggested getting padded shorts. Let me describe what they feel like. They have a very thick gel insert in the crotch all the way to the butt. It feels like I’m wearing a ginormous Kotex pad with ‘wings’ that I’m sure everyone can clearly see as I walk by. Shorts that make me feel like stopping perfect strangers and asking them if these pants ‘make my vagina look fat’. That’s what they feel like.

And because I had just recently written about how redonkulous it is to feel like you need to have a ton of specialty items in order to ‘exercise’, it would figure that sometimes the padded shorts ARE NOT ENOUGH. It’s like I wrote a short rant and my body (specifically the naughty bits) rebelled to make me a hypocrite.  So now, along with the padded shorts, I own a ‘cut out’ seat, which I was told by other people with the same kinds of naughty bits, is much helpful in the realm of ‘ouchy pain’.   I’m gonna have to concur (like Twindaddy does) – it makes a HUGE world of difference.

See - the naughty bits are pressure free!

See – the naughty bits are pressure free!

But in my defense, this is a $50 seat which I got for $34…I could have bought the $160 seat – but that’s insanity.  Maybe if I was touring across country instead of across town.  But even then, I might be too cheap to ever spend that amount of money on a seat.

So that’s the story of the naughty bits – not as tantalizing as you were hoping eh?

Note: Mom – I know you were appalled about me writing about cat poop on my carpet, I don’t know how you’re going to react to this… but it’s just one of those facts of life. We have naughty bits and sometimes they are ‘ouchy’ when squished on a bike seat for 80 plus miles. 

Posted in Biking, Clothing, Health, Humor, Random Thoughts, Story | Tagged , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Italian Marble

This is my fastest post yet…

When my husband and I were moving to Raleigh, NC in 1999 we moved into an apartment complex – basically sight unseen as we set it all up while we were still in Tucson. In 1999, the intergoolenetweb wasn’t so vast as is now. And the online apartments were basically a picture with a description. So we found this apartment complex that boasted of having the luxury feature of Italian Marble (it’s an important ‘amenity’ – therefore I’m using caps) Believe me, we did not rent this place based on that at all…it was just one of the things that I remembered from the website.

So we move there – get settled in our apartment (on an ironic note, the moving company sent ONE person, yes, ONE PERSON to move us in to our apartment – we moved from a 3 bedroom house with a huge amount of music media and books- there was a lot of stuff – so much so that the company severely underestimated the weight of our stuff and tried to get us to pay more….knowing  that, they sent ONE PERSON). Anywhoo – we settle in and I’ve forgotten all about the Italian Marble. Then one day I trip over the threshold piece between the vanity bathroom area and the mini room with the toilet AKA water closet.  As I’m swearing up a storm I take note of what the threshold was and realized it was the “Italian Marble” listed as a luxury feature on the website.  I looked around the apartment and sure enough, no other Italian marble in sight (it got demoted to one cap and one small – it was only a threshold for god’s sake).  I had to laugh that one 32″x 4″ piece of marble was described as a luxury feature. I would have been more interested if they’d mentioned that the bathroom vanity and water closet were carpeted. Ya know why? Because it’s gross – bathrooms were not meant to be carpeted.

Posted in Humor, Random Thoughts, Story | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments

Why You Should Never, Ever, Ever Get A Tattoo (but Having a Baby is Fine)

Rutabaga the Mercenary Researcher:

This pretty hilarious ~

Originally posted on The Ugly Volvo:

I’m not super pro-tattoo or anti-tattoo.  I’ve debated getting one in the past but never that seriously.  But my mother is vehemently anti-tattoo.  Listed below are the reasons my mother has always given me for why I shouldn’t get a tattoo.

And I understand that she’s from a different generation.  And I love my mother very much.  She’s a really wonderful person and I’m not saying none of them is a legitimate reason, but I’m saying that after having a child, I find it really hard to take any of them seriously.

And so in case you were headed out to the tattoo parlor as we speak, here are:


1.  “A Tattoo is Forever”

Yes, a tattoo is forever.  Totally forever!  Except that a tattoo can, if needed, be erased with a laser.

 *Some of you read that and immediately thought, "I am so exhausted, please I need a laser that can temporarily erase a three year-old," but sorry, that is not a thing that exists.  

View original 841 more words

Posted in Humor | 2 Comments

As If – My Subject in a Box Rant

Warning: This post could be somewhat disjointed and rambly…and ranty.  Go figure…

Yesterday on a bike ride with my friend, we discussed his upcoming book, “The Smartass Buddha” – just talking about different things – chapters he was trying to work through, philosophies he was sussing out, things which were vexing – that kind of stuff.  Eventually, this morphed in a discussion (or rant on my part) about being active vs exercising.  That for most people, ‘exercise’ is this very specific thing that you go out and ‘do’. You have special clothing, special shoes, special accessories, and special pieces of equipment. And for some – if all those elements are not there, there is no exercise to be happening.  I’m not saying that people riding bikes don’t need, well say, a bike…my typical beef is that they need ‘the best bike with all the riding clothes and blah, blah, blah…as if being active is impossible if it’s not relegated to this special time and place with all the special things.  As if you cannot incorporate ‘being active’ into your everyday life; as if you can’t park your car far away from a building (or worse, a gym) because you don’t have your $150 cross-training-walking-from-parking-lot-to-building-shoes on.   AS IF.

Which, of course, lead me to a typical rant I have about what I call Subject in a Box.

Basically it’s this insane way we teach things in our society – every subject is relegated to this idea that it exists in a box.  Now it’s time to teach Math, then it’s time to teach History, and now it’s Lit time! As if these general subjects just exist in this time frame of 3rd period, 10:00-10:40AM. As if history, in and of itself, is some sort of preordained dot on the timeline that has to be committed to memory. As if the concepts of Math have no relation at all to anything that has to do with the box subject of History.  Which leads to another rant about history… this wonky idea that history ‘happens’ in some sort of linear fashion. History is not a dot on a line; it is a continuous and ever expanding circle with millions of dots all over the place.  History is ALL THE TIME. Everything is history – not just 1492, not just 1066, not just 1199. Those are just dates – they mean nothing if there is not a context of the world around them being discussed; it is meaningless if we don’t understand the time and place. It is useless if it’s just something rote committed to memory for the next few days or until ‘the test’.   I understand that there’s a practicality to having subjects taught as specific subjects, but what annoys me is that there is very little connecting between the subjects.  None of these things exist in a void.

In one of my university humanities classes, there was the typical whine from one of the students… why must I take classes in humanities if I’m an engineering major?  Well, I don’t know…Archimedes?

This steams me up every time. I’m a firm believer that one can learn something from any kind of class – or any kind of situation.  Just because I’m studying X, doesn’t mean I should be closed off from Y & Z because chances are there’s a connection between X, Y, and Z.   To reiterate, nothing really exists on its own – so why do we teach things as if they are in a box??  Fractions had much more meaning to me when I learned to bake rather than just writing the answers on a worksheet of random problems.   But conceptually, those two things were never introduced together in my math class.  Why? Because baking was a home ec class – not a math class.

So to bring it back round to the original exercise vs being active topic, I think that this idea that ‘we have to go exercise’ as if it’s something completely separate from our normal every day activities, derives from our exposure to the ‘subject in a box’ methodology of teaching. It keeps us from realizing that we can be active in a variety of ways throughout the day instead of just in a specific place, at a specific time with specific things.  And to be clear, I am not against going for a run, taking a planned bike ride, going to the gym – but these are not the only times one can be active. That’s really what I’m trying to get at. I think.

Rant over… in a box.


Posted in Baking, Biking, connections, Education, Philosophy, Random Thoughts, Relationships, Society, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Searching for Tribe

Give me some place that I can go 
Where I don’t have to justify myself
Swimming out alone against this tide
Looking for a family looking for tribe 

                                                           New Model Army – Family

Ok – that might be a bit dramatic. I’m not actually ALONE without family. I have family I grew up with. We were very close to my Mom’s side of the family until we moved from New York. And I was (am) close to my father’s sister as well. There’s a 20 year difference between them, so I’m actually closer in age to my Aunt M than my Dad is to her – which makes it easy to feel a bond with an aunt that is more like a cousin.

That said, once we moved, we didn’t see family often – there was no internet and flying across the country for a family of four is not cheap. My Father tends towards a more solitary lifestyle (like a hermit, really) and didn’t talk so much about his family. So trips were infrequent but cherished. Of course, as I got older, we traveled as a family less and less and I wouldn’t know some of my cousins if bumped into them on the street. So in this day and age of social networks, Facebook is a gift for those of us that want to keep in touch but don’t have the means to do it by traveling.

That aside, I did grow up feeling very different from my family. The black sheep, if you will. Not that I was a ‘bad’ person – but I was hard pressed to find common ground with anyone. I love them all dearly as they love me, but I found no one in which I could share my tastes in music, reading, philosophy, politics, avocations – any of that.  I often wondered if I was a foundling – plunked down amidst a family, which in many ways, is diametrically opposite to me.

Several years ago my Mom’s Mom died and I went back to New York for the first time in almost 20 years. I cannot tell you how exciting it was to see my cousins and meet their families. But, alas, I was still the odd-(wo)man out. I took a lot of teasing about my political leanings (left – very left) and one of my cousins joked that I worked for ‘communists’ (I work in public television/PBS).  No one shared any interests with me and neither I with them. We did have plenty to talk about and got along fabulously well – but common ground was hard to find.

The one low point was when when a family member got verbally and almost physically hostile with me DURING THE FUNERAL about my support of President Obama. I never even MENTIONED politics because I know they are all fiercely Republican and I have no interest in being verbally beaten down and having to defend my views. And I wasn’t there to ‘convert’ anyone to my ideology. I don’t enjoy arguing about politics but I do like sane discourse.  For some unknown reason someone made an off-hand remark about me being a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ and they just went a little berserk.  As an aside, I would NEVER walk up to someone and call them a ‘black hearted conservative’ – but people think it’s A-OK to do the opposite. Why, I cannot fathom.  ANYWAY – the point of this is that even after all those years, I still felt like I was set apart.

Then something a little fabulous happened. A cousin of my Father’s contacted my Aunt M looking for information about my family as he was putting together our family tree.  My Aunt and I were insanely excited –bordering on inanely euphoric. It was completely thrilling to discover a whole new side of my family. And most of them reside in Canada. Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a Canadian-Wanna-Be. I know my Father’s family is Canadian and that he’d lived there for several years as a child. I always loved the few stories he’d tell me about living in Ottawa – skating on the canals, speaking French – I yearned to do those same things too but never had the opportunity.  My Father was very close-mouthed about his family to begin with and his Father (my Grandfather) died before I was born. When my Father’s brother died quite young, he became even more guarded about his life growing up.  One thing he did tell me often was that he thought I was a lot like his side of the family. Of course, I was completely skeptical as I never thought I was much like my Father.  I think I need to rethink that now.

Turns out, he was 100% correct.  I am a lot like my Father’s clan. Through the magic of Facebook I’ve ‘meet’ a whole slew of relations. People that I actually RESEMBLE physically (weird, eh?); people that I share common interests with – love of music, food, hobbies, ice hockey, nerdy IT things, hot yoga, running, biking, education and a host of other things that I find fascinating. I feel like a missing puzzle piece that has been found and fitted into its proper place.  They have all welcomed me into the fold and I’m kinda warm and fuzzy inside with the experience.

I hope they take a shine to me because I’m in it for the long haul.


My Grandfather Tut and his brothers - all musical and looking very happy.

My Grandfather Tut and his brothers – all musical and looking very happy.


Posted in Bikram Yoga, Blogging, Childhood, Children, Family, Italian, love, nostalgia, Philosophy, Random Thoughts, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments