Monday, April 27, 2015

Prom 1988 Versus 2015 By C.P. Stringham

Not one to pass up the chance for a good laugh, Syd
turns discarded Caution tape into a great photo prop!
For this week’s (last week’s since I’m a week late) Broads of a Feather blog post, I knew I wanted to write about my daughter’s prom which was held on April 25th. So it's okay that I'm so late! 
Sydney decided to get the most out of her senior year of high school by participating in all the activities she had passed up on in previous years. I guess better late then never. I reminded her that once she missed out on school opportunities like this she wouldn’t get a second chance. She’s an old soul in many ways. She loves discussing politics and social causes. Prefers being around an older crowd for that reason. Even likes older men. When I say older, I’m talking Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, and John McMartin older. Syd doesn’t have a father complex, she has a grandfather complex. Whatever. I don’t have the extra money for a therapist to figure it out. She’s happy, so I’m happy. Who cares if my future son-in-law is as old as my father? Hopefully he’s loaded and good to her.

BFFSK: Sydney and Lesley in their kindergarten
class photo.
Sydney is a sharp dresser, but frugal. She loves shopping at secondhand clothing shops and The Sally (teen speak for the Salvation Army). She's also the lucky hand-me-down recipient for my career girl friends. Her closet consists of name brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, and Liz Claiborne. She loves dressing like a business professional every day for school. In fact, she’s only worn jeans once this past year. She dresses so nice, underclassmen sometimes mistake her for a substitute teacher. She’s also gone on field trips where she’s been mistaken as a teacher. So it came as no surprise when she decided to find her formal gowns in a similar fashion. While her homecoming and winter ball dresses came from The Sally, her prom dress came from Becca’s Closet. Becca’s Closet is a school-operated program where students can pick out from a wide variety of generously donated formal items at no cost. The program is managed by Interact Club (Rotary) and Syd has served as secretary for the past two years. During the two weeks leading up to each formal event, students can use their PM advisory period to “shop” Becca’s Closet. Syd took great pride in helping her fellow students find the perfect dress. She and her BFFSK (Best Friend Forever Since Kindergarten), Lesley, even made cleaning and organizing all of the donated items their first task before winter ball because it was left in complete disarray last year. While into the task, Syd came upon a gown she fell in love with. She tried talking other students into it because she found it to be so amazing. No luck. She went back and forth over it. She already had a gown at home from The Sally for prom, but there was something about this gown she loved. All it took was trying it on and then it came home with her. She had my mother attach the optional straps that came with it for her since strapless isn’t her thing. As the months passed by, a pair of shoes and a wrap were donated to Becca’s Closet that perfectly matched her dress. In the end, Syd spent $20.00 on a pair of black opera gloves for her prom look. Everything else was free.  

At the park for pictures: Alexandria and Shayley form a heart for Lesley and Sydney; the BFFSK all dolled up.
She made arrangements with her friend, Alexandria, to have her hair and makeup done at her house. She wanted her hair styled like Lorelei Gilmore had hers for the dance marathon episode. No fancy up-do for her. I was sort of bummed she wasn’t getting ready at home. It felt like I was being “prom-blocked.” Really. I was sad I wouldn’t get to see her to take pictures before she left. I even pouted. Syd gave in and we made arrangements so I had enough notice to follow them in to town to take some shots at a park before they went out to dinner. Happy mom. Syd invited Alexandria out to dinner with them as a thank you for her hair and makeup. She looked like a million bucks and proved that spending an insane amount of money on prom isn’t necessary. 

Top to bottom/Left to Right: Lesley and Sydney during dinner; a selfie with Alexandria and Shayley; Sydney with her prom court bouquet posing with Paisha and Lesley; their masquerade theme.  
As the evening went on, Lesley and I texted each other back and forth. Like me, Lesley isn’t in to dances and all the socializing that comes with it. As a fellow reading introvert, she finds being social to be just as exhausting as I do. Lesley filled me in about their night and even included selfies and two videos. The videos were to prove she was dancing! At 9:30, the girls let me know that they were ready to call it a night. I picked them up from school at 10:00 to find Sydney carrying a small bouquet of flowers. As she got into the SUV, her face split into a huge smile and she informed me she was voted to prom court—something she never considered a possibility. It totally made her night! Mine, too!
Taking a time machine to 1988 with my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy (who had a Bieber hairdo before Bieber). 

When your child reaches their senior year, nostalgia creeps in when you realize how quickly the years have passed. It was only natural that Sydney’s prom made me remember elements of my own prom. I graduated in 1988 from a high school that merged the following year with our town rivals. (Goodbye, SRU Tigers! <sniff>) Our prom theme was Never Say Goodbye and it was held at the Sayre Elks Club. My husband and I are high school sweethearts so he was my date. He went on his own to get his tux and my mom made my gown since she is highly skilled in all things domestic goddess. She’s made wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses numerous times in the past. Her cooking skills are incredible and she is an equally talented artist. She’s more Martha Stewart than Martha Stewart!
My best friends in 11th and 12th grade were Tiffani and Deb—the minister’s daughter and the butcher’s daughter. We were inseparable our senior year and had lots of great times together (I could tell some stories!). Tiffani’s dad was reluctant to let her attend prom at first and we had to help her talk him into it. Almost like a scene out of Footloose! But not quite because Pastor Craig gave in to our urging without a fight. He saw how important it was to us. Tiff was their oldest out of three daughters. This was new territory for them.
Left to Right: Tiffani with her date, Don, and Deb with her date, Beanie.
The day of prom came and we helped our class advisors, Mr. Stivason and Miss Russell, decorate the hall that morning. Later, we borrowed my future brother-in-law’s car and Marty spent the afternoon washing, waxing, and vacuuming it. He took me to dinner at the Cedar Inn in Elmira for Saturday prime rib. Our first solo formal dinner as a couple.
I was co-editor of our yearbook. It was a big honor for a senior. It was my third year belonging to the club and I took it very seriously. Yearbook sort of gave you an open reason for wandering the school without a hall pass since we were always doing something whether working on drumming up advertising revenue, looking for photo opportunities, doing artwork for layouts, or interviewing faculty members. Most teachers didn’t bother asking to see our pass—except for Mrs. Wolf because she was a stickler. On prom night, I found myself hanging out with our former principal, Mrs. Patrician, and her husband who were our honored guests as well as other teachers who were serving as chaperones. Lots of Bon Jovi played that night and slow dancing.

After the prom, one of my friend’s parents permitted a party with booze provided everyone’s keys were confiscated and each of our parents signed off on it. This is something I’ve been totally upfront about with my daughter. We have no secrets. Not everyone will agree with our parenting style, but I believe that teens who feel comfortable talking about things with their parents are more respectful and responsible. And so far, our daughter hasn’t disappointed us. In fact, she’s proved to be a remarkable young lady with a wonderful reputation. She’s graduating from high school with honors and received some hefty merit scholarships to each of the five colleges she applied to. I don’t know how many times we’ve had her teachers tell us how lucky we are, in this day and age, to have such a responsible, respectful, level-headed teen. She may not have the highest GPA, but she cares. Her former algebra teacher told me he would love to have a classroom full of Sydneys to teach. Another teacher told me he could count on her to run errands and not have to worry about her wasting time or getting into trouble. If she was given a task, it was done properly the first time. We have truly been blessed with her. She talks to me about everything and I am so thankful for the relationship we have. My husband and I know we can count on her to make good decisions while still being a kid. 
At any rate, getting back to my prom night, the party was great. Responsible drinking. No one left the party trashed and we had a safe environment. Only one of us got wasted. Nope. It wasn’t me. The pastor’s daughter was blowing chunks by 3AM! My husband didn’t drink that night. Instead, he was assigned the role of babysitter. So, as Tiffani vomited, he was stuck with the task of holding her hair back for her as the rest of us laughed and complained about the smell. Always the devoted preacher’s daughter, between barfing, Tiff mumbled, “Marty, please make sure I’m up in time to go to church in the morning. I promised my dad I wouldn’t miss church.” Marty told her he would make sure she was up in time. Throughout the rest of the night, we could hear Tiff talking as Marty sat up watching TV to pass the time. He sat in the armchair and Tiff was sprawled on the sofa with her head in a wastepaper basket which gave her voice an echo effect. The rest of us were in the neighboring room either sleeping on their sleeper sofa or on the floor. As morning neared, Tiff’s puking began to subside and we heard her say, “Marty, am I going to die?” to which he replied, “No, Tiff, you’re not going to die.” “Good because I have to go to church.” Tiff fell asleep soon after and didn’t make it to church that morning. And Marty tried to wake her at 7AM. She was out cold—with her head in the garbage. Tiff never could hold her liquor. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Horses, Chickens and Facebook friends! Oh My! by Robin Janney

This past week has been beautiful weather.  A bit of rain here and there is nothing to complain about after the snow we had this past winter!  A lot of sunshine though, and no day was more beautiful than last Sunday.  Mostly because I went on an adventure.

I was on my own that day, as Mr. Janney couldn't be persuaded to join me.  His loss.

First I drove up to my friend Carol's home, where had I moved fast enough I could have seen their resident ghost.  I mean, all I had to do was step around the corner and peer down the hallway.  I was close enough to have goosebumps and that was good enough for me!  Today was a research trip for me and it wasn't ghosts I was interested in researching!

From there, Carol and her daughter Sydney led me to Foxwin Farm just over the border into NY state.  The reason for my research trip can be seen to the right.  Horses.

As I have been working on my third novel, I came to a point where I realized I needed to know more about horses since I had given my main female lead (Angela) a love of horses.  I had been able to fluff  my way through those parts of Ring of Fire, but the moment that Angela walked into the stables at the beginning of three...I knew I was in trouble since it's been a long time since I've even been near a horse and the only time I've actually been on a horse was when I was still in diapers!  Angela's horse Belle, a thoroughbred show horse had been instrumental in her healing from the traumatic ending of my first novel.  In the third novel, it will be a horse named Buster that gets more of the spotlight.

The horses at Foxwin are Morgans, and odds are once I get to know Buster a bit better he'll be one too.  Buster is a trail horse, with a mind of his own and an attitude to match Angela's independent flare.  Belle was her jumping horse, as is Lily.  Angela does not have the same rapport with Lily that she had with Belle, and because of a spooking incident early in Ring, she and Buster have a rocky relationship at the start of 3 and there will be focus on that being mended.

Pat and me posing for Carol
Pat Ross, owner and instructor at Foxin, was a pleasant guide that day.  She drew the horses close to us by filling the water trough.  All three horses in that section of pasture meandered over with a 'Don't mind if I do'.

The four of us spent a few minutes chatting while the horses wandered over,  I was given a crash course on who was who.  Diva was the first one to make it to the watering trough, her mother Twinkle taking her time.  Twinkle, I found out, is Diva's mother. The other horse in the background is Gem, who is related to the other horses.  Gem, Sonny and Twinkle share the same sire - the late Foxwin Jericho, also known as Tank.

Diva wasting no time
Sydney, who is classified as a "working student" at Foxwin, separated Twinkle out from the trio and led her off to be prepped for riding.  We of course all followed.

Something I will have to correct in my novels is saddling a horse by cross tying them.  The one time I show Angela saddling Belle they never left her stall!  Hmm, well she was upset at the time and Belle wasn't your average horse.  However, this didn't always work in Angela's favor as this lack of cross tying is what contributed to her incident with Buster.

Beautiful Twinkle!
Anyway, back to the real horses!

Isn't Twinkle a beaut as she stands waiting for her saddle and rider?  I don't know how it felt for Twinkle to be brushed down, but just watching Sydney run the brush over the horse was therapeutic to me.  Just the time she took, showing the brushes to the horse before using them was calming.  I did get brave enough to step closer and hold my hand out to the horse, but it wasn't until she was saddled and outside that I was actually able to pet her.  Whether she was able to tell I was nervous, I don't know, but she wasn't impressed with my attempts while she was tied here.

Once done with the saddling, we returned to the outdoors where Sydney donned her safety helmet and used a mounting step to climb onto Twinkle's back.

While Syd was trotting and cantering around the fenced in corral, I was given a brief lesson on the different strides horses have, the difference between posting and sitting.  Posting is rising up out of the seat every other step to take some of the stress off the horse, while sitting is exactly that.  Then there was something about diagonals and inside legs and outside legs that for whatever reason went right over my head.  I don't think I'll ever go into that kind of detail with Angela's riding, but if I do I know who I'll be messaging on Facebook for a clearer understanding!

One bit of interesting trivia that we learned is: the reason why horses are usually mounted from the left side, and led for that matter, is because of the placement of cavalry swords!  Which made sense after Pat said that. Which also means I'll need to come up with a good reason why Buster spooks when he's approached from the left side, something I wrote into Ring without much thought.  I don't have a fully realized thought yet, but I've been batting stuff around.

It was a great experience and I enjoyed meeting Pat.

Carol, myself and Penny <3
Afterwards Carol led me down the highway a stones throw so I could meet one of her friends, who I only knew through Facebook.  Penny was generously giving me one of her old Tracfones so I could activate it and have some kind of phone while mine is turned off.

The one I held is the gold one
hiding in the back

We were highly amused to realize that all three of us had all chosen to.wear purple tops that day!  Hey, great minds think alike right?

I've seen of Facebook where Penny has chickens, but somehow I missed the fact that she has two Silkies living in her kitchen!  And let me tell you they live up to their name as Penny didn't hesitate to hand one over to me despite the fact I'd never held a chicken before!  She also sent me home with a dozen of her homegrown eggs; she also has outdoor chickens.  Three of the eggs were from the Silkies though.

After this we all parted ways.  Carol and Sydney took off in their direction, Penny of course didn't go anywhere as she was already home, and I took of to go to Walmart to buy some minutes and activate the phone she'd given me.  I'm still learning how to use the thing as it's far different from the smart phone I had been using.

Out for a Sunday drive
On my way home, I was hit with another special treat.  While I am not into antiques as much as some of my family, one thing both my husband and I appreciate are antique cars.  And while I was sitting at a traffic light, look what I met!  Of course, the light turned green while I was trying to get my old smart phone out and the camera turned on so I just pointed and clicked, and amazingly got a somewhat decent picture of this oldie.

All in all it was a great day, one I won't soon forget.  I met some pretty cool people, got up close and personal with some beautiful horses, and breathed in plenty of fresh spring air.  As much of an indoor person I am, I do enjoy getting out and about.

What kind of adventures have you been on recently beloved readers?

Author's note: this was actually 90% done yesterday, but because I was spending time with my family it didn't get polished and finished until today.  Sorry for the delay, but I hope you all understand.  :)

Monday, April 6, 2015

It’s a Sorkin World After All By: C.P. Stringham

Sorkin's gift to humanity.
They say that you can get a pretty good idea of what an author’s personality is really like by reading their works. I’ve admitted to some of my readers that there’s a little of me in each of my characters. I like adding elements that reflect my likes and dislikes as well as personal experiences life has taken me through. My close friends could even tell you what some of those real elements are. I’ve also touched on social issues I feel strongly about. My books. My story. My right. Readers can either agree, disagree, or, if my story moves them enough, maybe they will end up agreeing with me by the end of the book.

Most of my readers wouldn’t need a degree in psychology to figure out that I’m a huge fan *cough-cough* stalker of actor Martin Sheen and, more specifically, his portrayal of fictional President Josiah Bartlet. In my book A Moment’s Rest, I gave Reverend Stephanie Talbot my Sheen crush as well as her love for his former NBC series The West Wing. Truth be told, I am a complete and unapologetic fan of writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of The American President, The West Wing, and The Newsroom among other notable works. Those particular three are my favorites. Family favorites, too. In fact, we love having marathons and our motto is: “The family that Sorkins together, stays together!”
Before I ever knew the name Aaron Sorkin, I was starting the second trimester of my first pregnancy and had entered into the nesting phase, never feeling much like venturing out—later into it, I was ordered to stay home on bed rest for a good portion of it when I was diagnosed with pregnancy induced hypertension. My husband and I found entertainment in stacks and stacks of VHS movie rentals. One Sunday, he brought home The American President. I recalled seeing trailers for it before it went to theaters and knew it starred Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, but that was about all. Fifteen minutes into it, the scene when Bening’s character, Sydney Ellen Wade, talks smack about the president, played by Michael Douglas, while not knowing he is standing right behind her, comes on and we instantly loved it. I realize it’s a chick flick, but the breakneck, witty dialog, touching storyline, and political drama make it a timeless classic—at least in our family. My husband and I liked it so much, we named our oldest daughter Sydney despite having already picked out another name for her months earlier.

Fast-forward to December 1999. Our youngest was four months old and well into sleeping through the night. It was a cold winter evening and both my husband and I had an unusual Wednesday night off together from our retail management jobs. We found ourselves flipping through TV stations when we came upon this show where a homeless man was found dead in a park. Figuring it was a cop drama, we left it on and settled in to watch. We soon learned it wasn’t a whodunit, but a political drama and it had us at rapt attention. In the episode, the DC police discover a business card inside the homeless man’s coat pocket they trace back to the White House Communications Director, Toby Zeigler. Toby tells the police that he donated the coat to charity and must have left the card in his pocket. The police explain about the man’s death and Toby looks into matters. It turns out the homeless man was a Korean War vet who suffered from mental illness. Toby is outraged that someone who served his country and returned with psychological problems was homeless and left to die on a park bench. Determined to give the veteran the funeral he deserves, Toby uses the President’s name to arrange a full Honor Guard ceremony with burial in Arlington National Cemetery. The episode was so moving and relevant, at the end of the show, we hit the info button on our satellite remote to see what the show was called: The West Wing and the episode was titled In Excelsis Deo. While writing this week’s blog, I was looking up quotes and came upon an interesting fact about this episode: "The Pentagon has been phenomenally friendly to us and very supportive of this show and what it has to say. They gave us the Arlington location and the Marines and set up the whole funeral for us because they had read Aaron's script and felt very touched by it and wanted to help in any way they could."- John Wells The West Wing Executive Producer (taken from the article The money is the message by John Allemang, January 22, 2000 The Globe and Mail.) Because of that very compelling episode, my husband and I tuned in thereafter for every show over the seven seasons it was on and now own the complete series on DVD and Aaron Sorkin became a household name. Richard Schiff’s portrayal of Toby made him my favorite character for the duration of the series. 

Toby: “A homeless man died last night. A Korean War veteran who was wearing a coat I gave to the Goodwill. It had my card in it.” President Bartlet: “Toby, you’re not responsible—,” Toby: “Took the ambulance an hour and twenty minutes to get there. A lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, Second of the Seventh. Guy got better treatment in Pan Moon Jong!” 

This episode won the Emmy Award for best writing. Sorkin and Rick Cleveland co-penned with the rest of the writing crew.

The West Wing is ridiculously special. If you haven’t watched it, I can’t begin to explain to you the changes that happen in your way of thinking when it comes to all things political. I have heard people call it a religious experience and, I guess, it is. No matter what your political party allegiance, you were guaranteed an Aha! moment during any given episode. Some leave you moved to tears or grinning from ear to ear while pumping your fist in victory or fueled with fire to seek social change over some injustice in the world. Every episode gives a civics lesson. And when President Bartlet has his way, you may even learn some obscure Latin phrases or the names of all of the National Parks and their locations. Among all of those admirable qualities lies some really great writing. The witty repartee between characters is incredible and gives them an endearing quality making them feel like your best friends while teaching you about American politics. Great guest stars made appearances and, in fact, another favorite episode titled The Supremes brought the uber talented Glen Close to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as the first female nominee of Chief Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Sydney discovered The West Wing two years ago, but not until after watching a full season of HBO’s The Newsroom, Sorkin’s most recent drama series set behind the scenes of a cable TV news network. The series was the perfect vehicle for examining the world of politics and current events as seen through the staff of a newsroom fighting for ratings and sponsors. Unique to the series was the fact that Sorkin set the show a few years in the past and covered real events as if they were breaking news. Episode one of the first season, We Just Decided To, aired in June 2012, but was set in 2010 to relay the events of the newsroom covering the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and scooping the story. Probably my favorite episode of the series was 5/1 and covers the death of Osama Bin Laden. Three of the staff members are stuck inside a plane on a runway as their newsroom coworkers scramble to figure out why the President is planning on addressing the nation “on a matter of grave national security.” The ending provided one of those Aha! moments its predecessor was known for. I have to say the three seasons the show treated us to only left my family wanting more. And it had so much more to offer us. A show gone much too soon.

Today was Easter. Last week, I found myself tossing blog post ideas around not knowing what I would write about and then it just came to me. As we spent our holiday at home, family dinner and whatnot, we found ourselves having a Sorkin marathon. Two episodes of The Newsroom and three episodes of The West Wing. It never gets old. In all seriousness, if you have never watched, they provide the makings for the best binge-watching ever. Thank you, Aaron Sorkin for creating some of the best damn television ever. As President Bartlet liked to say, “What’s next?” How about a reunion movie for The West Wing?
On a side note, I think my next blog post, in two weeks, will come with my daughter's college decision. Will she choose Alfred University or Elmira College?! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Parking on Mars by Robin Janney

As the car pulled into the store parking lot, I rolled my eyes at how the other cars were parked.  My husband wisely put a whole parking spot between our car and the next.

'It doesn't matter where you go,' I said, gathering my purse in preparation.  'Nobody knows how to part.'

'I know, right?' replied hubby, shutting the car off and pocketing the key.

'Any town, any parking lot, any state, it's all the same'  Shutting the car door behind me, I started for the front of the store.

'Any planet,' he chimed in with agreement.

'Yeah, any planet.'  Pausing, I looked at the row of unevenly parked cars.  One was parked too much to the driver's side, another too far to the passenger side. 'Look, we could have parked in that gap!'

He didn't acknowledge my rant.  Instead he said, 'Except maybe Mars.  I bet they know how to park on Mars.'

'Don't tease me that way,' I said, petulant.  'If they know how to park on Mars, I'll move!'

He laughed, a pleasant sound in the chilly afternoon air.  'Do you think they'd even let us drive?  I mean, we don't know how to park.'

I frowned, fixing him with the evil eye as he shattered my fantasy of properly parked cars.  'You could be right,' I admitted grudgingly. 'Those Martians are sticklers.  But maybe they'd have chauffeurs for us then, or better yet...automated cars!'

'Or robot drivers.'

'Exactly!  Imagine how nice that would be! To just kick back and relax and not have to worry about crazy drivers!'

'Until something malfunctioned or their computer crashed,' he said, coming by my side to put an arm around me.  'Or someone programmed them to go haywire.'

I scowled. 'I'd take that chance. You just like ruining my imaginations, don't you?'

He laughed again, pulling me alongside him as we began to walk to the store.  'No, I just like the look on your face.'

I stuck my tongue out at him.  He pinched my backside.

'Hey!' I giggled.

'Hey, hey!!'  He waggled his eyebrows at me and pressed a kiss to my cheek.

We went about our business, the conversation slipping from my mind.  We shopped, we talked, we enjoyed each other's company.

Until that night, when I crawled into bed next to.  I sighed and snuggled close.

'What's wrong?' he asked.

'I never got my blog post written for this week.  And I don't know what to write about.  No, that's not true.  There's a lot I could write about, but it's bound to get me into trouble with someone in my family.'

He considered this for a short moment. 'Write about parking on Mars.'

I laughed, but then said, 'Why not? That's a great idea.'

So I did, even though it's uber late.  (Technically this is last weeks post!)  I hope you enjoyed my fictionalized account of an actual conversation between Mr. Janney and I.  ;)