Morning Practice

By zero-dark-thirty, she was already in the pool.

This was the day I was warned about. Nine years ago, when my six-year-old performed the perfect stroke, her coach yelled across the pool deck. “Get ready to get up early, mom. This kid’s gonna be a swimmer.” Everyone likes to hear great things about their kids. Most of us are thrilled when they exhibit athletic prowess, especially at six. I was beyond proud.

What I didn’t understand was the get up early part.

In swimming, hierarchy is built into the schedule. The better you swim, the earlier you have to show up for practice. Today, Cherry graduated from late nights to early mornings. It’s dark at 6:15 a.m. That was the time on the mini van’s dashboard clock when I delivered her to the front door of the natatorium. She got out of the car without saying a word. The sound of silence, if you’ve ever had to wake a teenager from a cozy cocoon so she can dunk her sleep-deprived body in chilled water, is a gift from Heaven. Will she hate it? Will practice be too hard? Cherry has never been a morning person. Will she settle for being average, so she won’t have to get up so early?

An hour and half later, she got back into the car.

“Can I just go to sleep, now?” Then she smiled. “Coach talked for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes that I didn’t have to swim at all.”

“What did he say?”

“Focus on what you’re doing and don’t waste time.”

“For thirty minutes, he said that? Thirty minutes you could’ve been swimming?”

“I know. Right?”

IMG_2502I blew a sigh of relief. She survived the early morning plunge and lived to joke about it. Now, on to biology class. I drove through rush-hour traffic while she put on her makeup and shook out her wet hair.

Today’s milestone is next week’s routine.

The Olympian

Flag of New Zealand

A few weeks ago, Cherry and I wandered into a gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas. We expected to find stained glass and pottery. We discovered an Olympian from New Zealand. Cherry was wearing one of her high school swim team shirts. It’s a clever riff on The Hunger Games, a conversation starter.

The woman, who was the shop owner, wanted to know about Cherry’s swimming. “What stroke do you like? What event? Do you enjoy relays?” It’s not often an adult takes a considered interest in a high school athlete, who doesn’t play football. One of her employees mentioned the Olympics. From there, we found out she was a runner,  but no longer a competitor.

“I swim now. It’s easier on the knees.” Her crisp British dialect was unusual in a the heart of the Texas Hill Country’s geographic twang. “My granddaughter has just accepted an offer to play volleyball at Texas Tech.”

We made small talk over the art glass in her shop. Then I asked, “What year were you in the Olympics?”

Embarrassed, her eyes darted to the left when she smiled. “A million years ago, 1964. I was 22. We went to Tokyo. It rained the whole time we were there.”

Simple math told us the woman was 73 years old. She easily passed for 50. She stood tall and straight. Her blond hair was styled in a bob. She looked like she could swim or run a mile today without a hard breath.

After we bought a knick-knack, she wished Cherry luck, and we said our goodbyes. On the sidewalk outside, Cherry said, “Goals, mom.”

“What goals? The Olympics?”

“No. I want to look as good as her at 73.”

I want to look like her at 60.

Rearview Mirror for 3/29/2015

A linear recap of the past week’s thoughts and events.

CoffeewCanineJazzy3Sunday: I look forward to driving Coco to orchestra rehearsal. I get to work on my book at a bakery with great coffee and free WiFi. It’s my new Sunday office.

Monday: Jazzy is still basking in her new-found celebrity. In case you missed it, she’s the pooch on Coffee With a Canine.

Tuesday: Come on, Princeton Review. You’re writing test questions for teens. Did you expect them not to notice?

Wednesday: I finally got around to watching, This is Where I Leave You. I liked the movie, especially Jane Fonda as Mom, but not as much as I loved the book.  It must have been hard for Jonathan Tropper to compress all those characters into two hours of dialogue.

Thursday: We have tired swimmers at our house. Middle-schooler Coco swam the high school set for the first time, and Cherry swam a timed 2000 meters. For us metrically illiterate Americans, that’s about a mile and a quarter at top speed.

Friday: This is great advice. I wonder how long it took Steinbeck to write the chapter in Grapes of Wrath where the terrapin crosses the road? It took me forever to read it. 

Saturday: I watched Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on Saturday Night Live. I didn’t realize he was so funny!

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Prose for 3/28/2015


Here’s a scene from a story I’m working on. For a short description of the novel, read the post here.

Kemper was too sensitive looking from Gideon’s perspective, too studied. Horn-rims drifted down a straight nose. Dark hair shagged over one eyebrow. A haircut designed to look like it needed a trim. He wore faded jeans, a heather gray t-shirt, and sport sandals. His carelessness made Gideon feel awkward in his dark suit. He wished he could’ve planned this meeting, but waiting violated another political rule. When opportunity arrives, say yes.

Gideon hung back, leaning against a mural of a New Mexico road map. Hovering between Carlsbad and Roswell, he considered his approach. Kemper covered the Middle East, wars and terrorist attacks. He wrote narratives about genocide in Africa and humanitarian efforts during natural disasters in South East Asia. Why was a big league journalist here, burning Zozobra?

Was he on a working vacation? From the scruff of his beard to the cut of his jeans to his useless shoes, Kemper appeared more hipster than artiste or tree hugger. No, Santa Fe was the wrong spot for a Hudson Kemper holiday. Besides, Kemper had a reputation as a ladies’ man. If he ever took time off, he wouldn’t do it alone.

So why had the most influential newspaper in the world sent their ace foreign correspondent to off-season Santa Fe when all hell was breaking loose in at least a half-dozen other parts of the world? Why waste the talent, especially after the latest Hudson Kemper exposé? Unmasking the ulterior motives of a Marine Corps Commandant ought to count for something.

That was it. Of course, Kemper wasn’t on vacation. He was in trouble. He’d pissed off someone, someone big. So big, he’d been shipped off to the middle of nowhere until whoever it was cooled off.

The epiphany turned Gideon around. He pulled out his smart phone and typed into the search box, bylines by Hudson Kemper. A few seconds later, he was skimming a long list of headlines. One struck the right note. African bushmen were evicted from their homeland, so Botswana’s government could secretly build a diamond mine. Kemper wrote passionately in support of the Basarwa tribe’s right to their ancestral homeland. Gideon thought, it doesn’t get any better than this. Without a doubt, the Anasazi needed Hudson Kemper almost as much as Kemper needed the Anasazi.

He knew what to do. He’d been breathing politics since junior high school when he defeated the son of a tribal elder for class president. That day, he learned how to make his dreams come true. Winning hooked him for life. Any pol, smart enough to stuff a ballot box, knew how to stage a comeback.

That’s what he could offer Kemper, a comeback. He slid the phone into his pocket, straightened his collar, and shot his cuffs. With his strategy crystallized, he pulled back his shoulders, lifted his chin, and strolled up to the table. “Mr. Kemper?” Gid extended his hand. “It’s an honor. I read your piece on Botswana’s diamond trade. You found the pulse of that problem and made me understand—made me care about the Basarwa.”