So Adorable!

Looking through pics of old movie stars, I found this one of Bogey & Bacall. Sure he's older than her, and she's the one leaning up to do the kissing. But she radiates calm and confidence. He looks gobsmacked, having happily relinquished all of his power to her.

Cast My Hero

Last night I started work on my newest project. I'm tilting at windmills, but at least I'm writing without any preconceived notions or worries about whether X or Y person will like it. This one is for me, as the best ones are.

But I'm having a hard time "seeing" my hero. Any of you who know the inspiration for Will Scarlet in WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS knows that I work well with casting actors as the leads. (Although interestingly enough, I never cast Meg. She's a hellfire creation all of her own.)

Here's what I know about my hero so far: Aged roughly 22-25, he's an American from "somewhere in the middle." He grew up in a small town and is the third of five children (his siblings are all sisters). His mom has run a little grocery store ever since his dad died, some accident or illness that left a big whole in their family, and particularly in the hero's life. As a teenager he got into trouble with local law enforcement for petty crime, drinking and delinquency. He's a good guy, though--just a little wild and, underneath his bravado, a lot more conservative than he'd ever admit.

Some of the actors I've considered are:

The magnificent Gregory Peck. I love this photo. All the right look, the right brawn. But I can't feel Peck's personality in my mind so it would be like casting a model. Has potential.

Adorable James McAvoy. However, I need him to be very American. His girl is going to be a proper English rose with a feisty streak, so I want that contrast of cultures. To me McAvoy is always Robbie Turner, which wouldn't help. Needs more macho.

Little-known (unless you watch "Medium") Jake Weber. He was born and raised in England, so his slight accent and demure personality are, again, not macho enough, although he was the inspiration for the character. It's not working now because the demands of the story have changed who and what he needs to be.

So, any ideas? Who would you cast for my leading man? I'm curious to see what you come up with. Feel free to leave links to particular pictures!



Because I'm watching actual television as it happens, as opposed to on my computer in recaps and downloads, the girls caught some commercials yesterday while I watched SYTYCD. It's almost entirely novel to them. Reese's peanut putter cup? Oooh, we had those at lunch! Toyota? Oooh, we have a Toyota. Let the branding begin.

My favorite, though, was Juliette's comment, which came out in one big, long breath: "Once, when we were at Grandma's house, we went to Walmart and it had, well, just about everything!"


I'm going to write this as if I haven't been MIA for about two months. Hi, all!

Top 3 Guys (Sonja jazz): This piece was very strong and funky. I think particularly with this season, the dancers are demonstrating how to become professionals. It's like the choreography lays on top of them. I found myself watching all three of them together, rather than one dancer in particular. But the fact that this didn't "wow" me just proves that any choreography can start to look similar, or else I'm just fickle and demand constant novelty.

Nigel was right, however, when he said that this year has come down to the choreography. None of the dancers are standout personalities or superstars, and the uniformity of their talent has meant that staying or going depends entirely on the luck of the draw re: choreographers and their routines. I suppose that's more along the lines of the professional world, where choreography often determines the success of the dance, but it's an odd thing to see happen on this show. What, no Benji? No Nico? No controversy? Nope.

That said, Jeanine received the loudest cheers when she stepped forward to do her opening credits solo.

Jeanine & Ade (Louis van Amstel samba): I still can't figure out whether Ade deserves to be as far along as he is. His partnering skills are not without serious flaw. And as Lil'C mentioned later with regard to his hip-hop, he doesn't adapt well to various styles. Thus his ability to lead Jeanine through the samba was severely lacking. She could not get the hip rhythm, either, so it kept turning into a salsa or cha-cha. She shook a tail feather quite well, but I was bored.

Melissa & Evan (Tasty Oreo Broadway): Meh? I'm not generally a fan of the Broadway style, so that was part of the problem. But together, I can't imagine a couple with less potential for sizzling chemistry, and Melissa doesn't strike me as particularly comedic. So there was nothing left. I used to be so excited for them both as contestants, but now they just leave me yawning. Poor guys.

Kayla & Brandon (Stacey Tookey contemp): Score! I love Stacey Tookey. I sat there watching for the first half of this routine thinking, "Nope, not working for me. I feel nothing." And then something about halfway through struck me just the right way and I was sucked in. For not caring for either of their personalities very much, I sure have saved a lot of routines by Kayla and Brandon. Their moves are effortless and clean, which puts the spotlight firmly on the story they're telling. Excellent work.

A note about solos: there seemed to be a great deal of flailing this week. I'm thinking of Kayla and Ade in particular. So by the time Brandon's solo made everyone stand up and cheer, I was a bit tired of all the contemporary acrobatics. Jeanine's solos always impressed me; I think it's the combination of her sharp, precise movements and more graceful extensions. And I did like Melissa's ballet solo to Nina Simone. How cool is that? She did a couple of funky things with her pointe shoes that I'd never seen before. That's all I ask for, people--something I haven't seen before!

Melissa & Ade (Tabitha & Napoleon hip-hop): I know it's the name of their clothing line, but I can't refer to Tabitha and Napoleon as "Nappy Tabs." It makes me think of British diaper fasteners. Anyway, I hate props. I'm always concerned they're going to screw up, so I don't give the dancing enough attention. Jeanine's sharpness, again, was great to see, and she pops her boobs like a krump pro. But in the end the routine felt gimmicky.

Nigel's crack about his wife's divorce attorney was hilarious and inappropriate. You know Bonnie watches the show from Australia! I still love Lil'C. And where is Dan Karaty hiding?? Is he high on Dutch weed and pole dancers?

Melissa & Evan (Simon van Amstel quickstep): I like that Simon didn't make this quickstep boring, throwing in a little jive and Charleston. It's a quickstep designed to get votes--but it won't, because they didn't do it justice. I think Evan needs more experience and/or strength to pull off the quickness required by some of these faster old-fashioned styles. And speaking of strength, I give Melissa about 80% of the credit for that final death spin lifty thing. He barely got her off the ground. Had she been any less physically fit, unable to keep her body taut, she would've smacked hard.

Kayla & Brandon (Doriana Sanchez disco): Is Doriana trying to kill her disco contestants? OMG. This was insane! You might as well put them in the top two because they were the only people performing last night who looked capable of winning. I loved Nigel's freak out and Cat's admonishment, "Take your tablets, Nigel, take your tablets!!" Being that they're both British allows Cat to use more Brit vocab on the show. She knows at lease one person will know that "tablets" means "pills."

Top 3 Ladies (Sonja jazz): Nigel's crack about Jeanine's boobs was once again rather crass, but who wasn't thinking it? She was at a disadvantage having to dance with that extra worry of "Will I pop out of my lacings???" I liked the boys' routine better, or maybe because they seemed so similar, I liked it better because I saw it first.

Anyway, it's a tossup who's going home. Melissa? I think she had worse routines and Jeanine did, but only by a smudge. Or maybe she didn't. It's really too close to call. All I know is that at this point in the season, Kayla and Brandon are the only two who need to go through.

Oh, my friend Josie and I were looking at tickets to see the show in Milwaukee. With Ticketmaster fees, they'd be upwards of $64!! So we won't be going.

Is there anyone left out there to let me know what you thought? *crickets*


Sunday Update

Hello, my darlings. I know that I post more often when I'm out of town than when I'm at home. Funny that way. But things have been a bit topsy-turvy here lately. Ilsa is having some health problems that need investigating. Nothing major, but a solid diagnosis will help solve some of her more interesting eating quirks and aid in relieving her anemia. She'll be going in for an endoscopic procedure and a colonoscopy on 18 Aug. Can you say enema on a 5-yo? Oh, feel our combined mother-daughter joy.

And believe it or not, that's the one topsy-turvy thing I can actually discuss in a public-yet-coded way. Everything else is off the table when it comes to blogging, but that doesn't make them any less stressful.

Starting tomorrow, I promise to return to my Italian narrative. I have yet to finish Rome and our epic trip home! And then I'll write up a belated quickie regarding my fantastic time in DC. And maybe, very soon, I'll have some good news to share. It's on the horizon. Keep your fingers crossed for me.


Proof of My Officialness

From my first workshop on Saturday, seated between Ann Aguirre (left) and Barbara Caridad Ferrer. My homegirls! Being awesome together! And here's me at the Lit Signing on Wednesday. Notice my lack of remaining books!

Italy #9

First thing in the morning, Alan and Wendy left to catch their flight from Pisa to Bournemouth. When I walked out to say goodbye to them, I stubbed the middle toe of my left foot against the brick work. OW. PAIN!

Later, we picked up Maria from her house and journeyed into Fabriano in order to return the Golf. When he'd picked it up, Keven had driven away from the Avis without checking the whole car, only to realize later that it was missing a hubcap. We were concerned that we'd be charged for it. But no, the woman behind the counter knew Silvia and talked a long time with Maria. No charge for the hubcap.

But then Maria's car wouldn't start. She called Paolo who came to meet up with us. We walked across the street to buy our train tickets to Rome for the next day; Keven and I would be traveling there together, while everyone else would return to Stansted. Tickets achieved, we went to Fabriano's famous paper making museum and learned all that can be learned in an hour's time about medieval paper-making.

My toe was killing me. When we stopped for lunch, I took off my shoe. BLOODY TOE! It was all bruised and purple and hideous. I'd broken the thing. How was I going to walk around Rome??

At that point we all could've toured downtown Fabriano, which is a well-maintained historic city, but frankly I think we were tired. The heat was tremendous, and we had been going nonstop for most of the week. There's only so much beautiful stuff the brain can take it once. So we returned to Casa Rastia with the sole aim of making better use of the pool. I soaked my foot and read. Dinner was all about making use of what we still had left, which meant eating the food Kev's parents had bought too much of.

Oh, but we did go to the market once again, this time for flip flops. My toe was fine if I didn't have to shove it in a shoe. I thought flip flops might help me limp around Rome better. While there, I used a payphone to call home for the first time. Dad said that mom had been in the hospital for dehydration. Her illness had returned in force on Monday afternoon. Things had gotten so crazy that the girls actually went to stay with my brother and his family for two nights. Nuts! But I'm glad I didn't know any of that through the week. It would've been something to worry about, something I had no control over at all. I felt sorry for Dad though, having to take care of their farm animals, the girls, and a sick wife! Ack!

Tomorrow: the home stretch...Rome, Day One


Italy #8

In structure and activity, our second Thursday in Italy looked very much like the day when we traveled to Urbino: 90 minutes of drive time to visit a magnificent old city, lots of steps, lots of heat, and a fantastic meal at Salomone in the evening.

We caravaned to Assisi, but our map-reading skills left something to be desired. We missed the main motorway and wound up going through little towns and villages all the way there. Upon arrival, we parked as high up on the city hill as cars can go. Just off the parking lot was a little sandwich shop tucked beneath greenery and trellises. We instantly made plans to come back up that way for lunch.

Down the hill we all walked, everyone from Casa Rastia along for this trip. St. Francis of Assisi's basilica is massive, with a full three stories at ground level, a smaller two-story cathedral below it, and then the tomb of St. Francis at the very bottom. The paintings on the walls were by Giotto. Breathtaking.

Back up the hill. We descended on that luncheon spot for some food. The poor, lone guy wound up making twelve paninis. Then there was the decision to be made: Who was going to climb La Rocca, the fortress at the very top of the mountain? Our volunteers were few. Keven and I set out and eventually made it to top. It was exceedingly hot that day, and both our thirst and fatigue made the adventure less about sightseeing and more about just saying that we'd accomplished the thing.

Many, many astonishing views later, we returned to the lunch site. Those of us who had to use the restroom before returning to Cerreto had to trek down the hill once again to the basilica, and then back up to the parking lot. Gah. Exhausted.

We returned by late afternoon and stopped for gelato at the same little bar there in Cerreto. Then it was home to nap and get cleaned up for our last dinner as a group. We returned to Salomone and were joined by the ten other English friends and family who were scattered around the area in various accommodations. Paolo and Maria also joined us, for some total of 24 people. It was big, loud, boisterous, and a lot of fun.

By this time, I had been on a full immersion Italian training for about four days. Had Silvia been around, I never would have needed to step up. But as it was, I became the half-assed default translator for our group. Paolo and Maria even sat next to me. I was tapped on the shoulder a number of times through dinner to try and get some sort of point across. And that was the best I could do--gestures, expressions, bad vocabulary...whatever it took. Maybe I was just less embarrassed than everyone else, but the Spanish background didn't hurt either.

Stuffed. Full. OMG.

And then sleep. Another busy, exhausting, wonderful day done.

Next: Our last day in La Marche, and on to Rome.


Italy #7

On Wednesday, the rest of the family went to Loreto to visit the massive basilica there, while Keven and I rode in Paolo's car to the seaside. Silvia's family has a little flat just across the road from the Adriatic. Beaches along the strip of road all belonged to the condominium complexes or hotels, so you need to know a resident or be a guest in order to sit on the beach. Paolo introduced us to the man in charge of that section of beach and made sure we had a comfy spot by the sea.

We were to meet for lunch at 1:30. Until then, I had books to read in a marvelous view. I get out of the sun, ironically, because after the serious hangover problems I'd had earlier in the trip, I didn't want to lose any more time or comfort to something as stupid as a sunburn. And except for the final Sunday we were in Italy, that was the cloudiest, coolest day of our visit. No matter. It was beautiful, with a spectacular view of Monte Conero (much like this one).

I thought Paolo would make us lunch, but instead he had gone for takeout. Now remember this is Italian takeout. Forget burgers or Pizza Hut. He bought a three-course meal of seafood specialties, including spaghetti with mussels. I don't know what all of it was, but it was delicious. We had lemon ice for dessert and champagne to drink. when I was trying to use my rudimentary Spanish-Italian hybrid to say that the champagne was refreshing, Paolo thought that I was complaining about it being flat. He immediately agreed with me and went to open the second bottle. I was embarrassed, but I think he was actually impressed--that I'd found the nerve to complain, which Anglo types don't generally do while in Italy. (Apparently we say "grazie" too often as well.)

Throughout lunch, I break the language barrier in order to converse with Paolo, often translating what he said to Keven. We actually manage to talk about politics and culture, most likely with the vocabulary of a five-year-old, but we laughed a lot and didn't let the barrier come between us and a good time.

We knew rain was coming, so we didn't return to the beach. The drive back to Cerreto was quiet and uneventful. I think I must've been naps then, and an impromptu dinner--too full from lunch.

Next time: Assisi! And so very many steps!


Two Years Later

As many of you know, I attended my first RITA and Golden Heart ceremony while in Dallas in 2007. Afterward, when Ann had gone to her room after having endured all she could stomach of the massive desert reception crowds, I sat alone with several pieces of cheesecake. I knew no one other than Ann and her agent, Laura Bradford. Everyone else was a blur of nameless faces--which was worse because I didn't even know what the famous writers looked like. Although I'd had a great, exciting, overwhelming conference, I was an exhausted wreck by its conclusion.

I'm exhausted tonight, after my third RITA and Golden Heart ceremony, but I'm not a wreck. I know so many people now that my head spins with the range of published big names, clambering cohorts, aspiring talents, chaptermates, bloggers, critique partners, friends...and yes, fans. Tonight I was again sitting by myself eating desert after the ceremony--but alone by choice. Ann had started up a conversation with someone else while sitting on a sofa some ways away, and Cathleen had gone to have a smoke. My plan was to finish desert and head to bed.

Before that happened, a woman came up to me and said, "You're Carrie Lofty, aren't you?"

Mind you, I wasn't wearing my name tag. Just me in formalwear. Color me taken aback. Me? Recognizable? Dude!

I said that I was. She wanted to tell me how much she loved WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS, and that she'd only just finished it this week. She'd attended part of the promo workshop panel I was on this afternoon, which is how she recognized me.

How incredible is that? Two years ago...alone because I knew no one and had nothing more than a rough manuscript and some tasty cake. Tonight...a random fan wanted to tell me how much she appreciated the book that manuscript became. I continue to be humbled by this experience, but in ways I hadn't anticipated.

I want to congratulate all the winners, but for me, tonight, having that anonymous woman single me out was my win.

I fly home tomorrow morning. More tales from DC when I return.

Taken (2008)

Liam Neeson (Mills), Famke Janssen (Lenore), Leland Orser (Sam), Maggie Grace (Kim)

Directed by Pierre Morel

IMDB Summary: A former spy relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade.

This is the last of the three films I watched during our Italian travels. I'd never heard of it, and apparently nobody else did either--when it was released. Now it's one of the most popular rentals of the year. Maybe because of Natasha Richardson's death? Maybe because it's a sleeper hit that preys on the most fundamental instincts a parent can have? Probably both.

Liam Neeson was as solemnent as ever, with his soothing voice and quiet expressions. I found the meticulousness of his character interesting: the way he wrapped a birthday present, the care he took in checking any given room. It was all there that he was a retired spy who could actually do what the plot required of him. On the other hand, he wasn't James Bond or Jason Bourne either. He rubbed his eyes when he got sleepy and couldn't chase down a dude for very long. Part of what made his character work was that he a) was frustrated that his aging body kept letting him down, and b) that he pushed through it because his goal was so overwhelmingly important.

The entire scenario of the film is pretty scary. And then the director gives us the payoff in that every time Mills had the chance to take the hard line, he did. Shoot a dude. Blown something up. Torture. It didn't matter. That gratuitous righteousness propelled the film forward. Every place where ordinary men might pull up and remember their humanity--screw that! They have my daughter!

When they found the non-virgin friend dead, however, I began to smell something a wee bit fishy. It transformed into a race against time--not just to save teenaged Kim, but to save her virginity as well. The innocence parable was laid on a mite thick.

Famke was beautiful, naturally, except her character was obviously written as a naive juxtaposition to Neeson's hard-bitten realism, a character who would see the error of her ways before the movie was out. But it worked. And I loved seeing one of my favorite character actors, Leland Orser, in a role that didn't get him killed (Alien 4), traumatized (Saving Private Ryan), or driven to madness (Se7ev). Here he was just a regular ole' retired spy, very helpful. He didn't die AND he got third billing. Yay Leland!


The Reader (2008)

Kate Winslet (Hanna), Ralph Fiennes (older Michael), David Kross (younger Michael)

Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours)

IMDB Summary: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, young law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.

This was the second of three films I watched on the planes going to and from Italy. Only afterward did Keven mention that it had been edited. "What?" I asked. He said that Kate Winslet gets nekkid in it, complete with a view of her entire birthday suit, and none of that was shown. Being that my husband is reliably in the known with regard to this topic, I believe him and felt somewhat betrayed. I mean, it's not likely that I'll see the movie again. I won't seek out a few scenes just out of curiosity. And even if I did, the experience of seeing it for the first time will have been lost.

Gah. Airlines. Why bother?

Kate Winslet was as lovely as ever, if made brittle and curt by circumstances. She was very childlike, actually, in her lack of awareness, both of Michael's emotion and the larger horrors that she helped to perpetrate. The trial scene in particular demonstrated this, when she gives honest, uncoached answers that wind up doing her in.

Ralph Fiennes is aging nicely, but he's 13 years past Count Almásy. David Kross could've portrayed the character in his early 30s better. In fact, Kross was the centerpiece of this film. He was remarkable, and I hope to see more from him. He was plain yet handsome, intelligent yet vulnerable, childish and yet far more mature than anyone around him. I continued watching just for him.

Perhaps because of missing material, which may have included flashbacks to Hanna's service as a concentration camp guard, I didn't get as much emotional impact from this as I'd expected. The most touching part was when Michael began reading stories into the tape recorder. Hanna's wonder was palpable. But unfortunately, the experience of unknowingly watching a censored movie will be what sticks with me about The Reader.

And then, there's the irony of this clip from "Extras":


Conference Hello

This is me real time, as opposed to stuff I wrote last week. It's Thursday night and I've visited a few fuctions where free booze is the gift of having been invited. I've also had a marvellous three days, which I'll post about in more detail when I return. In 15 minutes, I'm off to crash the Kiss of Death reception for their annual contest and mingle with some agents and editors, at the kind matchmaking invitation of my Broken Writers buds, Deb and Joelle. That means I'll miss the SYTYCD results, but I'm not fussed for two reasons: 1) I'm really non-committal about this year's dancers (either I like them OR they're really good--no outright winners or losers), and 2) that's what DVRs are for!

A big hello to everyone I met last night!! You made me smile, and I didn't feel at all like a mushroom growing on a forgotten, fallen log. Thank you! In some ways I'm a gratifyingly big fish this year, and in most ways, I continue to be humbled. But all is well, entertaining, beneficial, and mostly (mentally and physically) healthy.

Italy #6

We were up bright and early on Tuesday for our day trip to Rafael's birthplace, Urbino, a medieval city that still retains its original walls and ducal palace. But first we have to get there. Silvia's dad, Paolo, would take the lead car and serve as navigator...and pace car! Keven's godfather Roy drove the second car, and Keven and I headed up the rear in the Golf. He was in heaven. The appeal of renting a car in Italy had less to do with freedom and mobility, and more to do with Keven wanting to drive on those insane, twisty-turny roads.

I think Paulo was being generous to us. There were many times he could've overtaken the cars in front of him, but he refrained in deference to his timid English followers. But he was mighty fast. The A14 is a toll road that zips along the Adriatic, and where speed limits are not even a suggestion, let alone a hard and fast rule. I found it much easier to enjoy the scenery, while Keven took his duties very seriously. I love this picture.

About 20 minutes outside of Urbino, Paolo stopped his car at a strip mall so we could get a coffee. This seemed to be a very Italian way of thinking: We're almost there, so we might as well stop and refresh ourselves. Most of the English seemed little confused. Their thinking was just the opposite: We're almost there, so why are we stopping?

In the café, Keven's dad and godfather of tried to pay for the drinks and actually reached the man behind the counter with their Euros first. Paolo, however, talk with the men and told them not to accept his guests' money, then promptly picked up the bill. This became like a going home edition throughout the day, seeing who would actually pay for things. For the moment, Keven and I were content to stay out of it.

Urbino was lovely. It's very hilly and quaint, completely covered in cobblestones. everywhere you looked, people were walking--cars had a hard time of it. It was very hot that day, as with most of the days we were there, but not in a way that I felt terribly uncomfortable. Maybe less humidity? We visited the Rafeal Museum in the ducal palace, where Roy scored a coup by paying for the tickets, and generally marveled over the lack of security on some of these very old, priceless works of art. Some of them weren't even alarmed.

At one point, Paolo talked to one of the docents and got them to open the restricted balcony so we could enjoy the view. See that top white balcony on this picture? That's where we were. Very cool.

Afterward, we bought gelato and waited for Paolo to get his car out of the impound (he'd parked it illegally). By then, the mini museum in the house where Rafael had been born was open. Once again Paolo stepped up with the cash for the entrance fee. The residence was nice, and I enjoyed seeing how houses from that era were constructed, but many of the paintings were replicas, not as well cared for, or by lesser artists. We had already seen the best of the best at the palace.

Before returning to Cerreto, we stopped for some light refreshments. I took everyone's order and pay the man behind the counter. When we were finished, Paolo went back in to pay--the custom there was to pay afterward. But ha! I'd already done it! Score one for me. Insert laughter.

We changed for dinner and returned to Salomone. Keven and I had been there on Sunday night, in the dark, so the views and landscaping were quite spectacular at sunset. Angelo, our host, spoke no English, but his cook and her 11-year-old daughter, Denise, make communication possible. Angelo was amazingly charming and kept offering everyone samples of his best wine. We headed back to Casa Rastia stuffed full of good eats, wine, and with tired legs.

Next up: a trip to the seaside.


The Fray

So on the 4th, I went to see The Fray at Summerfest in Milwaukee, which is billed as the world's largest music festival. I don't know how they quantify that, but it was pretty damn big. They have something like six full-time stages, all running simultaneously with various artists, both known and unknown. One stage, for example, was entirely for tribute acts. I saw a Garth Brooks imitator, who seemed to believe that Garth's fattest period was his most scintillating and that emphasizing the curse words-based alternate verses would most please a crowd...at 3pm...on a Saturday afternoon...filled with kids and grannies. Nope.

I went by myself because a) Keven hates The Fray and b) they're not the kind of band that needs to be see in a group. They're rather intellectual and emotional, so I was content with the idea of enjoying them in a cone of my own introversion. So I left the car at a park 'n' ride and took a shuttle in--the absolute best thing ever. I always get lost coming out of Milwaukee and didn't want to have to deal with post-concert traffic jams.

While wasting time, I saw a band called The Urbanites out of Chicago. One of the stages was designed to feature nothing but up-and-coming acts. Nice set. Great sound. The guitar player reminded me of a young Sting--not just the shades and bleached hair, but the attitude and self-importance. Perfect for a rock star. If you're curious, they have a free EP on their website.

After grabbing a fantastic BBQ pulled chicken sandwich and trying not to ruin my shirt with sauce, I listened to Katzenjammer, an all-girl group from Norway that blends the harmonies and folk-country instrumentation of The Dixie Chicks with the retro-throwback sensibilities of a squeaky clean Amy Winehouse. Like if Nancy Sinatra was Norwegian and sang like a rowdy cowgirl. Here's "A Bar in Amsterdam," which brought down the house--especially the bit with the trumpet. I would've bought a CD but they were sold out.

Anyway, then it was over to the Marcus Amphitheater for the main show. Opening Act No. 1 was like a cross between Elton John and the Blues Brothers. No good. Opening Act No. 2 was some local group that seemed to have tons of appreciative fans. They put on a good show. The assholes behind me in the stands, however, were drunk and loud. I prepared myself to be annoyed for the duration.

On came The Fray. The started with a verse from "Happiness," then into "Absolute" and "Over My Head (Cable Car)"--a bit surprising. Get their biggest hit out of the way first so no one's waiting around for it? The best part was when they completely rocked out to "Little House" and "We Build Then We Break." Can you head bang to The Fray? OK, maybe not really, but I got really close with those two. Amazing how some of the younger fans were more fans of drippy-sappy "How to Save a Life," but hardly anyone clapped for one of my favorites, the darkly jaded "Say When." Kids. They rounded out the night with a full performance of "Happiness," which raises goosebumps on my skin even now. Brilliant.

So after the show was over, I raced back to the bus and hopped on the first one bound for the car park. I was home just after 1am. A very unique experience, and well worth the time and effort, but I think next time I'll drag someone along with me.


Inkheart (2008)

Brendan Fraser (Mo "Silvertongue" Folchart), Eliza Bennett (Meggie), Paul Bettany (Dustfinger), Helen Mirren (Elinor)

Directed by Iain Softley (K-PAX)

IMDB Summary: A young girl discovers her father has an amazing talent to bring characters out of their books and must try to stop a freed villain from destroying them all, with the help of her father, her aunt, and a storybook's hero.

I watched this film on the plane journey between Toronto and Frankfurt. It looked like a modern version of Escape to Witch Mountain or other post-childhood/pre-adult adventure movies that I grew up with, so I was partly scouting for the girls. And my friend Nancy had said it featured a very nice shirtless scene featuring Paul Bettany. A little something for the moms out there...

But let's stick with Paul Bettany for a while. Despite Brendan Fraser's starring role, the movie was all about Bettany's character, Dustfinger. If you consider that a story's central arc is the one that is resolved last, then it was all his. Dustfinger's arc is completed at the very end, and his character experiences the most amount of change. He goes from a genuine coward-- where his cowardice borders on villainy--to a genuine hero who deserves his happy ending. This is far more internal growth than Fraser's rather static good guy Dad undergoes.

But why was Fraser American and his daughter English? Did I miss something?

Part of the amusement of this story had to do with bits of literary classics brought to life. Being familiar with the Western canon of popular storytelling, I was able to see them coming and laugh along with them. However, and this is where we'll need to wait a few years, my girls are too young to understand or recognize many of these references. In addition, the finale featured a Nothing-like badguy a la The Neverending Story. Very scary. Or it least it would be if I were five.

All in all, I was quite entertained. I especially appreciated how much books are lauded and revered by the characters. Everything revolves around the magic of storytelling, the usefulness and power of words, and the potency of creative imagination. All very good morals, ones I hope to share with the girls when they're a teensy bit older.

Oh, and the shirtless firebreathing scene featuring Paul Bettany? Lovely. And waaaay too short. Nice call, Nancy.


Italy #5

On Monday morning, our bed and breakfast hostess, Anna, and her husband, Paolo, served us breakfast before we got our start. First on our agenda: grocery shopping. We headed back toward Cerreto and stopped at a supermarket. The employees were very generous in tolerating our lack of Italian. The town is so small that they probably knew who we were. In fact, a woman from the wedding recognized me in the checkout line and said hello--well, it sounded like that.

We shopped very economically, sticking with coke, water, bread, some fruit, a bit of filled pasta, and breakfast pastries. Kev's parents and other relatives, however, bought a great deal. Toward the end of the week, they were trying frantically to use up what was left. For lunch, Keven and I sat on the steps outside of our room and a little sandwiches made from fresh bread, tomatoes, mozzarella, and speck--ham from northern Italy that's been smoked with peppercorns and juniper. I LOVE IT.

Oh, backtrack. Earlier that morning, we'd gone to Silvia's parents' house to say goodbye. Steve and Silvia were preparing to return to London. From there, they would catch a plane to Johannesburg for their three-week safari honeymoon. While there, I used Paolo's computer to check my e-mail and learned that my mom, who had been sick, was on the mend. I was able to traipse through the week with that assumption in my head, which was a relief (although wrong, I later learned).

In the afternoon, we drove past nearby Fabiano and visited Grotte di Frassassi, a natural cave that was discovered in 1971 and is one of the largest formations in Europe. You can take the virtual tour here. That was pretty amazing. Italy contains a great many ancient relics, old enough to make this American's head spin, but contemplating geologic time is well beyond my capacity.

One of the nice things about spending as much time as we did with Keven's relatives is that I learned so much about them. I've known them for more than 12 years now, but the only time I see them is at reunions and brief visits during the holidays. So when Aunt Wendy made humorous cracks about the phallic nature of the stalagmites, I giggled. I was getting to know the real person, and the real person is just a teensy bit dirty-minded.

Because most restaurants in Italy closed on Monday, we ate pasta that night and generally relaxed. Pool time was had by all. It was an interim between the wedding festivities and the bulk of our sightseeing yet come.

Next time: Urbino! Italian motorway driving!


Twelve Years Ago

Twelve years ago today, Keven and I got married. We're getting into the realm of science fiction because I have a hard time coming to grips with that. If I sit down and think about all that we have done and seen and accomplished, then 12 years makes sense. But that number is just a little freaky.

As with most of our anniversaries, today hasn't been particularly romantic or celebratory. Keven is at a BBQ with the girls while I finish up the last of my packing. I printed business cards, signed books and cover flats, placed an ad for SCOUNDREL'S KISS in Romance Sells, and generally caught up on all the last-minute details of a business trip. The girls need their showers, the laundry still needs folded, and the adventure of packing the girls' suitcases remains. "No, put that back. Where's your blue top. Not that one. Yes, two animals is fine. How many undies do you have."

Yesterday I managed to make plans for sightseeing adventures. Ann and I will do the Mall, the National Holocaust Museum, and the American History Museum on Tuesday, and then meet up with Barb for dinner. I'm excited because the American History Museum was closed when Keven and I visited back in November of 2007. Also closed at that time was Ford's Theater, which was undergoing renovations. It officially reopens on Wednesday, so Ann, Cathleen and I have tickets to go see it on Thursday afternoon. Squeeze it in before the Kensington party!

I have a headache and I'm feeling a little nauseous. I think it must be nerves. Every year I think I'm ready for Nationals, and then every year something happens to set me back on my heels and remind me that my confidence only go so far. It gets out of practice!

Oh, I'll be interviewed by Wendy the Super Librarian on Saturday at 2 PM for the Romantic Times website (will post the link when I get back). This will be right after I present on a panel. And then I'll have another panel that afternoon. These major events, along with the literacy signing on Wednesday, mark definite progress from where I was in my career last year. In 2008, I got my pink "first sale" ribbon, went to my publisher's party, and had coffee with my agent--all firsts. In 2007, I attended, pitched to Hilary, and survived! This makes me curious what next summer will bring...

I have some posts lined to keep you company while I'm gone. I don't know how much exercise will have to e-mail over the next week. Wish me travel luck!

And to Keven: I love you. I love our babies. And I've loved (almost) every minute of the last twelve years together.


Proud of Juliette

On Wednesday, we went to the Downtown Toy Store to get over-sized ink pads for our arts-n-crafts based summer. There, Juliette saw a pack of two ceramic horses that you paint yourself. She fell in love. They were $8, and she had $13 saved up in allowance. Should be no problem, right?

Well, she's been jonesing on a mammoth for ages. The girls have been studying paleobiology--you know, as a hobby, in between episodes of "Wow! Wow! Wubzy!"--and Juliette decided her favorite Tertiary period animal is the mammoth. (Her Mesozoic animal is the triceratops. In fact, at the girls' urging, we've all chosen animals from these two periods. Keven is a diplodocus and a basilosaurus. Ilsa is a T-rex and a synthetoceras. I'm a coelophysis and a smilodon--did you know saber-toothed tigers had been renamed?)

Since we have no mammoth in the house, Juliette decided this was what she wanted most in the whole world.

We'd already planned to visit the Kenosha Public Museum, which features a replica of the Hebior mammoth found in the Kensosha area in the 1990s--the largest mammoth specimen ever found in North America. It's massive. Very impressive. And the museum has a gift shop, filled with mammoth-based awesomeness.

But that was two days away! And we were already right there in the toy shop, horses in hand! And that was the only pack of horses left!!!

What's a six-year-old to do?

My brave girl put the horses back.

Later she said, "What would I have done with them after I painted them?" That was something I'd thought of but kept to myself, because in the heat of the "I want this" moment, she probably would've just argued with me. A lesson in parenting I shall tuck away for our future with teenagers.

So yesterday, we headed over to the museum in the afternoon. I didn't even pretend to go to the exhibits first; we went straight over to the gift shop. And lo!! A stuffed mammoth for $12. I think there was a halo of light shining on it, praising Juliette for her awesomeness. She snapped it up and named it Manny (it was going to be Martha, but the mammoth's tusks are too big for it to be female). Later that day, while we took the long way home on the streetcar, I asked her if she was glad of the decision she'd made.

She just grinned and hugged Manny. And it was good.

(The slightly-less-rosy ending: She dropped Manny in an unflushed toilet before bed, which meant she couldn't sleep with him. But he's machine washable!)


Website Updates

I spent the morning updating my website. So now we have the schedule for my appearances at Nationals (here, under "Upcoming Events"), the official jpeg of the SCOUNDREL'S KISS cover, and its updated web trailer. Yay!

Edited to add: I've also drunk Interwebz Kool-aid by joining Twitter. Follow me!


Italy #4

After the bacchanalia of the reception, most people took the opportunity to use Sunday for rest and recuperation. We didn't have to be out of the resort until that afternoon, so I was able to partake in the breakfast buffet that morning. Too bad I had missed it the day before, because it was entirely lovely. Then it was off to the pool.

Later that afternoon, people began to disperse. Some were returning to England, and those of us who were staying made our way to various bed and breakfasts in the area. Keven and I stayed at Casa Rastia with ten relatives: his parents (Linda and Trevor), his grandma and her younger sister, his godparents (Carol and Roy), his mom's sister and her husband (Wendy and Alan), and his mom's brother's widow (Aunt Margaret) and her daughter (cousin Karen). We were the only people at the bed and breakfast for the entire week.

Keven and I had a private room; everyone else had to make do with sharing, so we were appreciative of our privacy. Each room had its own kitchen. And while Keven and I didn't have the views that the upper story rooms did, we were in the basement which meant cool relief on any given hot, hot day. And boy, did some of the days get hot!

That evening we drove up the mountain, near to the very top, and had another fantastic dinner at a little family-owned place. They seemed to get all of their business from people like us, referred by the local B&B owners. All very secluded and private. The sunset over the Apennines was amazing. We returned to Casa Rastia and dropped everyone off, then Keven and I headed over to another bed and breakfast called Salomone, which specializes in honey production, honey-based wines, agricultural tourism, and fantastic food. Keven's Aunt Rose and Uncle Keith and their sons, 20-year-old Jack and 24-year old Eric, were staying there.

But we didn't eat at Salomone that night--just had more to drink. It's like a national sport. So fantastic. We again hit the sack at about 4AM.

Tomorrow: the Anglos go shopping! And spelunking!

Wedding Photos

Silvia, my new sister-in-law, has posted the official wedding photos on her blog. Very cool, all of them.

SYTYCD Week #5

My lack of enthusiasm for this season is making me sad. I think it's because I can't rely on my favorite personalities to deliver the goods, and the best dancers of the year are turning out to be people I really have no feelings for either way. Oh well. Some good routines last night.

Gasp! I hope Cat didn't cut her hair. But it was hella cute.

Melissa & Ade (disco & waltz): The disco was actually pretty fun. Lots of good synch work, and her hair was very Keeley Hawes in "Ashes to Ashes." The lifts were not effortless, which detracted from the fun, but I occasionally get it in my head to blame Dorianna Sanchez for that. Or a lot. The looked like they were having a great time, despite the work.

As for the waltz, I loved Melissa lines, as always, and their non-waltzy bits were very nice. However, it's still supposed to be a waltz. He was doing a lot of stepping, rather than gliding, and I was left to wonder two things: a) how would Brandon have handled the same chorey, and b) just how good is Ade? I can't figure it out because Melissa is so distractingly lovely. She has a strong following, but I wonder if she may have peaked too soon. After all, these two performances were ones that people could take for granted if they tried hard.

Kayla & Kuponoh (contemp & Broadway): Well, Mia certainly is on her game this season. The group number (to Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" in week 2) was striking. The Butt Dance was an instant classic. And now she adds a fantastic and emotional piece about addiction. I wonder if Sonja's success is keeping her on her toes? Kuponoh played a fantastic character and completely did his job, which was to hold steady for Kayla. She showed him up in a painful way, technique wise, but it turned out to be a gorgeous, moving dance.

As for the Broadway...not so much. I don't think I like this new woman. Or else her chorey hasn't been done justice yet. But if you want to see how other SYTYCD alums dance to this music, check out Kate & Jack (third place and winner from AUS#1) as they demonstrate a routine to the AUS#2 hopefuls in Sydney. It's at 5:50 in. I just can't get over the intensity on their faces and the power in their movements--both of which were lacking from K & K.

Caitlyn & Jason (foxtrot & jazz? contemp?): Caitlyn looked elegant and lovely in her 20s-ish dress, and the gliding, classy style really suited her. They at least looked like they didn't hate each other. The other routine was by Mandy Moore, yes? So forgettable. I think these two are done, if for no other reason than there are more memorable dancers still left in play.

Jeanine & Phillip (Russian folk & jive): WTF was that? Was there any couple who could've rocked this out? I felt sorry for them like I did for Kherington & Mark when they got the two-step last year. Trying out a new style when you're desperate to make it one more step is not what these dancers need or want. Unfortunate. The jive was nicer, but they certainly made a much bigger deal out of Evan's lack of bounce in week 2. Phillip was passable and everyone cheers. "He can stay another week!" Look out, girl partners.

But enough about Phillip. They're always talking about him, when Jeanine is really, really good. Her jive was hot and funky-flirtatious. Can't wait to see her shine.

Randi & Evan (hiphop & samba): AUS#2 used "Halo" for a gorgeous contemporary this past spring, so my opinions about what should be done with this song were already colored. Hate to say it, but this was fairly pedestrian chorey from Tabitha & Napoleon. Meh? That's the best I could sum up. I think they're both better dancers than this, but they didn't show it tonight.

PASHA!! Anya as a blonde! Can you imagine how hot that samba would've been had they danced it? Notice that they didn't show too much of them dancing in the rehearsals, for fear of melting TV screens and ruining Randi & Evan's chances of making a good go. Evan, he is not the samba king. I don't think Evan can do any brand of sexy patented after 1952. And Randi needs more playfulness to show off her cutesy sexuality. This just wasn't good enough. My faith in them wanes.

Janette & Brandon (tango & jazz): Holy crap!! See, I think they're cool enough people, but I don't have it in my heart-of-hearts to root for them. Something just doesn't connect for me. BUT, that said, they absolutely killed it last night. That tango was breathtaking. Nigel was wrong in that it wasn't the best, most professional ballroom routine of all time, because that was Heidi & Benji's mambo from Season 2. But damn. Great work from Janette and Brandon. As for Wade's love-it-or-hate-it style, it won't do them any harm. They danced his piece well and will be so so so very safe tonight.

The bottom three will be Caitlyn & Jason (who will both go home), plus some combination of Not Melissa, Ade, Janette or Brandon. My guess is Kayla & Kuponoh again, because their fanbase is seriously wonky and unreliable, and Randi & Evan, who could do with a dose of positive in being able to perform their own style before going into the Top 10.



Italy #3

The day of their wedding arrived, and I was sick like I've never been before. Keven and I had grand ambitions to head down to breakfast before 10 AM. I got out of bed, showered, and got back into bed. I was so hangover that the hangover hadn't actually started yet. I was still drunk. OMG. Absolutely wretched. And what was worse, I had to read during the wedding, so it's not like I could hang out in the back of the church and hide.

Meanwhile, Keven went and did non-hungover things. Good for him. I became acquainted with the Ideal Standard toilet in our bathroom and contemplated the ubiquitous existence of Italian bidets.

At about 1:30, I was feeling marginally recovered. Keven came and fetched me, dragging me down to the restaurant. I ordered strong coffee and a fruit plate. Luckily, I was in Italy and both strong coffee and fruits are available in abundance. After that, things started to look up. I actually felt quite good by the time we arrived at the church at 4 PM. Oh, and we looked really good! Everyone did! Maybe it was the sunglasses and the bright sunshine, giving all of us Anglo types some color!

The wedding was to begin at 4:30. We were inside the church, gathered and waiting, but the festivities didn't begin until roughly 4:50. The priest spoke no English, so one of the bride and groom's friends, Alan, an Englishman who had married an Italian girl, translated the priest's impromptu speeches. Everything else was translated in our program.

Silvia's dress was amazing, and Steve looked very handsome--and extremely nervous. Because I was reading and Keven was an usher, we were seated with the family at the very front and had a fantastic view of the whole proceedings. My reading went off without a hitch, and the entire ceremony probably lasted an hour. If you were going to create a fairytale wedding in your mind about the blending of two cultures for a very special day, that was it. That was what happened. It was absolutely perfect.

After a zillion photos and much throwing of rice, we all headed back to the resort for the reception. I changed shoes right away! A tremendously huge buffet was laid out, and Keven and I quickly partook of two plates of food. Only then did a waiter announced that we could adjourn for dinner! The buffet was simply the appetizers. And already the champagne and wine were flowing freely. I was fully recovered enough to partake, but I kept my ratio on that evening at 4:1 (water:wine). This proved a successful strategy.

Dinner was, in a word, amazing. I have never eaten so much consistently fantastic food and in such quantity. But again, this was an opportunity for Keven and I to recognize that the entire experience would've been vastly different had the girls been in attendance. They would've been bored out of their minds. Speeches from old relatives translated into two languages? Food they've never seen before? Lots of grown-up talk about people and things they don't know or understand? Boredom!

But for me it was heaven.

The final course, poor thing, was barely touched by most folks at our table. I thought for sure that no one would have room for dessert, but I think people were pacing themselves at the end. At the end of a half hour, the dessert buffet looked like the victim of a locust infestation.

Then the band took the stage. They were a kind of 50s and 60s tribute band, with lots of surfer music and rock'n'roll standards. Steve and Silvia danced to a montage of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" and "(Bang, Bang) My Baby Shot Me Down," and then Dick Dale's "Misirlou," which really got the party going. All very well done and tons of fun. I got to dance to "Helter Skelter" and The Doors' "Roadhouse," so I was a hella happy girl. After the band signed off, they turned on some tunes and Keven and I danced to "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" by Chris Isaak. Ultra cool.

Oh, they even brought out a birthday cake for Grandma Lofty and Keven's cousin Eric, both of whom were born on June 13, the wedding day. So that was special. They were serenaded "Happy Birthday" in two languages.

Keven and I turned in at about 4 AM. I think the jet lag was really helping us at that point, because it would have only been 9PM back home in the central time zone.

Tomorrow: the post reception chill out.

Italy #2

In case you missed it when I added the link to the last post, here's my photo album.

Keven and I spent the night at Silvia's parents' house and slept in until 11. I awoke to Paolo, Silvia's father, telling me something about driving. Steve and Silvia had already left for the wedding rehearsal, so I didn't know what he meant. Luckily, Silvia returned from church in time to translate: Keven had to get to the car rental place in Fabriano--the next town over--by 12:30! He zipped around and got ready. Valentina drove him there, then basically pointed in the direction of Cerreto and wished him good luck. He made it back to the house and channeled Scotty from the new Star Trek: "I like these roads. They're exciting!"

So we had achieved a Volkswagen Golf. Next we had to make it to the resort. The wedding partiers were stationed at the Borgo di Lanciano, which featured hotel rooms, a restaurant, and reception facilities in what used to be medieval servants' quarters, all entirely renovated and amazing. The castle where the lord would have lived was up on a hill overlooking the valley below. Keven I arrived, checked in, and found our people.

We were pretty much the only guests staying at the resort that weekend. Everywhere we looked there were people we knew. Keven compared it to a 1980s sitcom like "Family Ties," where the Keatons would take a holiday in the whole show would relocate to Florida or wherever. Waiting underneath the veranda, drinking, were all of the ordinary family members we spend time with at holidays and reunions...except we were all in Italy!

This is where getting older kind of sucks: I know it's been six months since I saw everyone during our holiday trip to England, but it felt like no time had passed at all. Sheesh.

Let's see...drinking, relaxing, talking, drinking, chilling. That was Friday afternoon. The older crowd--Keven's parents' and most of that generation--adjourned for dinner. We went into Cerreto later that evening for dinner with our friends and the younger members of the family--a total of 35 people! We sat outside and experienced our first full Italian dinner. The food was insanely delicious, and the wine flowed as freely as the water. I tried to keep my ratio to 1:1 (water:wine), but alas, that wouldn't prove enough.

Turns out the whole dinner was only €20 each. Amazing. Something like six courses with dessert and all the wine we could drink for the equivalent of $30. What's even funnier, the waiter said that Steve could pay him the next day rather than interrupt our evening's festivities by hassling with the bill. Granted, this show of faith was backed up by the fact that everyone at the restaurant knew Silvia's family, but still. I can't imagine that happening in the US.

Afterward, we strolled across the street, back to the gelaterria/bar that we'd visited the night before. That was probably where my drinking ratio went haywire and I lost track of what I was doing. Some generous friends have suggested jet lag also played a part. They're nice to me that way.

Tomorrow: the consequences. And the wedding!


Public Enemies (2009)

Johnny Depp (Dillinger), Christian Bale (Melvin Purvis), Billy Crudup (Hoover), Marion Cotillard (Billie Frechette)

Directed by Michael Mann (Heat)

Summary: The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.

Keven and I went to see this with our friends Richard and Karen, which has been how we've been seeing most films this summer. Babysitter. Friends. Movie. Tiki bar. Good times!

I don't know what I was expecting from this, but perhaps my amorphous expectations were too high. I've only truly enjoyed one Michael Mann film, which was The Last of the Mohicans--and even that one has some flaws. Overall, he creates big movies that don't necessarily feel as big as they're billed to be. Heat was like that. And so was Public Enemies. It seemed like it could be big--big characters, big action, big emotion. But I didn't get a sense of any of that.

There is a scene in Heat when Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro sit down in a café and have a five minute war of words. A verbal chess match. A machismo face-off! It's the only time in the film when crime-stopper and criminal share screen time. Public Enemies repeated that same stylistic choice, with Christian Bale's FBI agent, Purvis, sharing about five minutes of screen time with Johnny Depp's jailed Dillinger. Instead of being wowed, I thought, "I've seen this before."

And then there was the romance, which didn't fit and didn't work. It seemed forced. I never believed that she was his one and only (she wasn't), nor did I get the feeling that he would shrivel up and die without her. Without that sense of potential loss, the entire relationship they based the film on was hollow. When compared to two classic "together in crime" films, namely Bonnie and Clyde (based on history; unhappy ending) and True Romance (fictional; happy ending), Public Enemies simply came up lacking. If you're going to do a crime romance film, it needs to live up to its predecessors or risk falling flat.

Christian Bale's performance was much more subtle than he's been giving of late. I truly got the sense that he was having difficulties with some of the decisions Hoover and the FBI were making. Johnny Depp was as deliciously Johnny Depp as always. When some of the machine gun battles and vintage car getaways got a little bit long, I realized it was because I hadn't had a dose of Depp in several minutes. (And because the film would've benefited from an aggressive 20 minutes cut from its run-time.) He was the heart and soul of this picture, but it wasn't enough.

A decent movie, overall. But in the summer when we've already seen some very good pictures, "decent" wasn't good enough.


Italy #1

Edited to add: here's a link to my photo album.

Now that I've finished copyediting SCOUNDREL'S KISS, and I've polished off some other chores that were awaiting my return, I can finally sit down this week and narrate our trip to Italy. I'm doing this for myself as much as for readers--a journal of our experience.

On the Wednesday of our flight, Keven and I spent the morning being lazy and slowly packing. We left the house around 12:30, parked in the long-term lot, and navigated O'Hare airport--including security--without any hassles. We ate at a sports bar and settled in for the wait for our trip to Toronto, the first of three planes we would board before arriving in Italy.

Toronto's main airport is much easier to navigate than it used to be, and all Air Canada flights arrive and depart out of the same terminal, which they didn't used to do. More waiting. At this point, I'd like to say that we saved $400 apiece by taking the hard way and suffering through two separate connections. This isn't something we would've even tried with the kids in tow, which started an ongoing narrative between Keven and I entitled, "Things We Wouldn't do With the Girls." We found many such instances during our travels.

So then we were on our way to Frankfurt. I must say that the Frankfurt airport's arrivals area came as a complete shock. The restrooms were all port-a-potties, and the entire place smelled of hot urine. Getting through customs was also interesting, mostly because of the very taciturn customs agent who didn't like to provide any more information than he required. That said, once we were through customs and into the departures area, the airport was like a shopping mall--all duty frees and restaurants. We ate some food and waited some more.

Our last flight was in to Rome. My brain was already getting a workout, using rudimentary Spanish in order to half-assed translate the stewardesses' Italian. But we were also bone tired. Luckily, Silvia's cousin, Valentina, and Valentina's dad (the brother of Silvia's mother), had agreed to come to the airport and pick us up. Valentino speaks very little English but enough to make herself understood--which was certainly more than I speak Italian. So she and her father chatted away while Keven and I slept. It was better that way, for me, so that I didn't freak out about her father's driving. Italian driving really is as crazy as you've heard, but there is a sort of logic to it. Everyone takes the racing line as if they're in Formula One, which only works when traffic from the opposing direction does the exact same thing.

We arrived in Cerreto D'esi, Silvia's home town, in La Marche at about 9 PM, a full 25 hours after we left the house here in Kenosha. I had asked Keven if he thought we might get food at Silvia's parents' house, which is where we were spending Thursday night. I needn't have worried. Silvia's mother, Maria, had prepared a fantastic dinner. We ate with Steve, Silvia, Richard (the best man), Silvia's parents, and Valentina and her father. And we learned our first word in Italian: "Basta." Enough!

Full and sleepy, but with my circadian rhythms reset after having been awake for so long, we headed out after dinner to get gelato at a little bar nestled at the base of Cerreto's old fortified town center. Cerreto only has about 3,000 people, and I swear Silvia and her parents know every one of them. While out for ice cream, she met people who had been invited to the wedding but who hadn't been able to attend. I sat next to a fountain, ate my gelato, and marveled at the fact that I was in Italy.


15 Books Meme

Barb Ferrer tagged me on Facebook with this one. I'd be curious about your lists! Instructions: List fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. Don't take any longer than fifteen minutes.

I've made these choices based on one particular requirement: They smacked me upside the head. For whatever reason, at whatever period in my life, each of these taught me something new about what was possible with storytelling. In some cases I've gone on to appreciate better or more recent works by each author, or I've since reread them and they didn't affect me as intensely, but these are the books that changed me.

In no particular order other than how I remembered them...

1. Atonement by Ian McEwan
2. Dune by Frank Herbert
3. Apache Temptation by Janis Reams Hudson
4. Fire & Rain by Elizabeth Lowell
5. The Mammoth Hunters by Jean M. Auel
6. Night by Elie Wiesel
7. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
8. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
10. Water, Carry Me by Thomas Moran
11. The Siege by Helen Dunmore
12. The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
13. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
14. The Sleep Book by Dr. Seuss
15. To Love and to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney


SYTYCD Week #4

So what was it about last night's SYTYCD that didn't impress me as much as it should have? I mean, the dancers were brilliant, overall, and the routines were generally innovative and well executed. But something about the entire evening didn't WOW me. I'm trying to figure out if it's the lack of highs and lows--no utterly outstanding dances last night, but no clunkers either--or if I'm generally prejudiced against this season's crop because few of them are striking me on an emotional level. Hmm. It's probably me.

Jeanette & Brandon (cha cha): I don't remember the last time Jean-Marc did a cha-cha, but this was a very clever routine. Lots of light and shadow. I object with Nigel, however, in that Pasha & Jessie from Season 3 performed the best cha-cha ever. *Sigh* for Pasha. I am suspicious of Mia's "I'm hard on you because I love you" speech, because it sounded too much like she was trying to save face.

Kayla & Kuponoh (contemp): This is the only routine from last night that I've watched more than twice. I keep going back to it and finding new and intriguing moves. Kuponoh is finally showing himself as being capable, and not just as an "I miss Mark" substitute. Kayla's feet are amazing. And although I didn't agree with Mia when she said that this was Sonja's best routine to date, because obviously her best routine was "The Garden," it wound up being my favorite of the night.

Randi & Evan (Broadway): I loved the Austin Powers meets Broadway meets the Mafia vibe, but I agreed with Mia in that this could have been more fantastic--bigger moves, more committed expressions. But more than anything, it didn't show us anything new about these two dancers. We know they're cute, lovable, funky, and fun. More please. If a viewer wasn't already a fan of them, this dance wouldn't do anything to change their minds.

Caitlyn & Jason (jazz): Friedman needs to get off the show. His ego and his high concept work are getting in the way of the dancers' abilities to connect with the audience. I think Caitlyn and Jason must hate each other, because they are both very good dancers, and yet they never seem to give a shit about each other when they perform together. Their body language is very antagonistic, as are some of the comments they make about each other in the packages. I would love to see them finally get with other partners. But as for the dance, if anyone felt like voting for "quirky" last night, they'd vote for the Sonja routine instead.

Jeanine & Phillip (hip hop): Did anyone else notice that the entire night seemed rigged? Tabitha and Napoleon have only choreographed three numbers this season, and Phillip gets two of those? The concept was fine, but again I was in agreement with Mia: the chain got in the way of what may well have been fine dancing. But I was too distracted. I would like to see Jeanine coupled with a more versatile partner.

Melissa & Ade (pas de deux): Again, another moment when I felt this was rigged. If they hadn't made such a big deal about how this was the first official pas de deux, which it wasn't because Katee & Will did one (not on pointe) last year, then it wouldn't have stuck out so badly. But it just so happened to be Melissa?? And then I got to thinking that Evan got Broadway, too, and Kayla and Kuponoh got contemporary. Hmmm. Anyway, this was beautiful and Melissa was lovely, but I found absolutely no emotional zing. What was missing?

Karla & Vitolio (quickstep): And then there was the cannon fodder. Poor dears. Rigged some more?? The routine was actually quite entertaining for a quickstep, which makes it all the more a shame that people will ignore it. I mean, how can they compete with Kayla & Kuponoh's Emo steampunk flaily deathdance? They can't. Oh, but Jean-Marc cracks me up. And I love France's utterly beatific expressions--must be her coping mechanism.

So what did you think, everyone? Were you left curiously deflated like I was? My bottom three are: Caitlyn and Jason, Karla and Vitolio, and *quelle shock* Randi and Evan. But if Jeanette and Brandon are down there instead, it'll prove just how insurmountable Evan and Phillip's fan bases are.