The Family Picnic

Since ‘tis the season when families get together for barbeques, I thought I’d share a story that first appeared in Chicago Parent in August, 1992, Indy’s Child in July 1995, and online on msnbc.com.

Ah, the annual family picnic. It’s the one day each year when every relative you never knew you had climbs out of his or her time capsule to play Catch with you.

It’s one of those occasions that sounds like it’ll be a lot of fun until you realize, as The Day of The Picnic draws nearer and nearer, just how much you have no idea who these people really are who have come to play Catch with you.

It’s funny, but after all of these years, I still don’t know, let’s say, about…99% of the people who come to our family picnic. For all I know, by some strange quirk in zoning laws, all the people who attend our picnic every year might really belong to a whole other family who always ends up having its picnic on the same day, at the same time and place as ours.

I know I should know these people. Perhaps I just don’t pay enough attention year after year when my mother drags Richard and me over to yet another woman with a bee-hive hairdo, sky-blue eye shadow, and neon orange lipstick and says, “Leslie, you remember Aunt Tootie, don’t you? She used to babysit for you when you were about this tall”, gesturing to her knee.

Aunt Tootie replies, “My! Look how you’ve grown”!

“I’m 34, now, Aunt Tootie”, I think to myself. “People change”.

Aunt Tootie continues, “Do you remember me? I sure remember you! You used to love running around the house naked”.

Richard’s eyebrows crest as he says, “Oh, really? Well, come on, Aunt Tootie. How about you and I go for a little walk so we can discuss this further”?

Now, I know a lot of you are thinking, “Then don’t go. Stay home. Say NO to bugs”!

And that’s a very good idea, unless, of course, it’s YOUR mother who organizes the family picnic. Then, you have to go. And you have to like it. And you have to say, “Yes! Let’s do this again next year”!

I know I should consider myself lucky. I know a lot of people who actually have to travel by car with three screaming, Gummy Bear-throwing children for days just to play Catch with people they don’t know.

But when I stop to think about it, because we both come from such large, extended families, Richard and I spend a lot of time attending functions for and with people we don’t know.

Our good friend Tom once invited us to a very swanky party that we had to miss because one of Richard’s third-cousins-twice-removed had invited us to his son’s Bar Mitzvah. Tom asked Richard exactly how he was related to this boy and after Richard had finished plodding through his family tree, Tom said, “Gee! In most normal families, you wouldn’t even know that person”.

Which brings me back to our family picnic. Unlike Richard’s family picnic, comprised of a whole other family I don’t know, ours has no organized games that supply fun for the entire family. We have games for the kids, but his family plays games such as the ever popular egg toss, and the even more popular “Mummy Mommy” game during which all the darling children in the family race to see who can be the first to wrap their parents up in toilet paper.

Though my family’s picnic lacks the oodles of fun those games provide, we have our own brand of picnic fun known as “The Chase Sisters Hall of Fame”. This game requires a keen eye and a shameless soul, which is why only my sister Beth and I can play it. In this game we award mental trophies to our relatives in such categories as “Best Fake Smile” and “Most Colorful Bermuda Shorts”.

And so, The Day of The Picnic has finally arrived, and as we prepare to leave for the big event I have a feeling that this year will be different. I am actually looking forward to it.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I have matured. Maybe it’s because I finally realize how lucky I am to be blessed with so many people who care enough about me that they come to play Catch with me each year. After all, I have many friends who have no family in the area, and always tell us how lucky we are to share such closeness with our families.

Or, maybe it’s that I saw Richard pack Family-sized bottles of Tylenol and Advil into our picnic basket. I have a feeling this year’s picnic will be lots of fun.

Note: Mom: it’s just a story I really do love our family picnic. It’s Beth who hates it.

Interview with Alethea Eason

I think the coolest thing about blogging is the other bloggers I’ve cyber-met. We are all so different in so many ways, but we all share a passion for writing. I was blown away when Author Alethea Eason asked me to be a featured writer on her blog “Heron’s Path” http://theheronspath.com/. She then contacted me for an interview about my blog and published it on hers. I interviewed her just before she left for Chile yesterday.

Introducing Alethea Eason…

Your blog looks so professional. How are you able to be creative and technical? I didn’t think it was possible to combine the two.

I was having the same thoughts about your blog, how professionally done it is. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I waited for “featured writers” to come to me, and then last week I thought, hey, I needed to invite them.

I can’t stop reading the excerpts of your books. Where do you get your inspiration for the worlds you create? I only know how to write non-fiction memoir-type stuff. I wouldn’t know where to begin to write the way you do.

As far as writing, I’ve written for most of my adult life. I always knew I wanted to be one, but I guess I was too much of a perfectionist as a kid to try. I was too scared.

It’s very hard to write and to teach. I used to be able to write after school at night, but having a classroom I had NO energy. I’m going to be reading specialist again next year, so I’m hoping I’ll have more ummpf for when I get home.

I don’t really understand social media very well and have no idea how to market myself. How do you do it?

I do not like “social networking”. I twitter only when I find articles I like. I tried promoting Heron’s Path on it but everybody and their sister is hawking books on it. Facebook works for me and I’m having more and more response to my blog because I’m trying to look at others. What gets me is that I don’t want to spend my life in front of a computer screen. I can get sucked in and hours have gone by and I think taking a walk would have been better.

My first book HUNGRY was published by HarperCollins and did not do well. They were not interested in STARVED. It’s been on my computer for five years and I just decided I had to do something with it. I’m glad I revisited it because it’s a better book than HUNGRY. And I love (the character) Deborah.

I was convincing myself to not worry about writing. I like to paint as a hobby. Teaching is ENOUGH on many levels, then Spectacle told me that they were doing this second edition. So, here I am, at least until the first week of August when I have to go back to work. The second edition has been delayed . . .

It must be absolutely gorgeous in Cobb, California. What a great place to write.

It’s very pretty. We’re kind of in the Appalachia of California, the county north of Napa, but a world away.

How long have you lived there? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Anaheim, and then we moved to the desert, Yucca Valley, when my dad retired in 1971. I went to the University of Redlands, near San Bernardino. Moved up to N. California after I graduated and struggled until I went back to become a teacher. I’ve been teaching since 1986. Lived in Lake County since 1980, when we only had one traffic light!

What are you going to do in Chile?

We lived in Chile for a year and a half. My husband wanted to see if we might move there forever. Many reason why not, though with health care we might change our minds once I retire. There’s a richness to life we don’t have here. I’m going down to visit the women I taught with. The junior school librarian, Miss Carmen, was like my Chilean mother. She’s getting close to 80 and I want to visit. I taught at St. Margaret’s British School for Girls, for rich Chileanas whose parent could afford it, so they grow up learning English.

Alethea said that she had to get ready to leave for Chile and that a friend was coming over so she had to go. I thanked Alethea for her time. Then she said, “By the way, your response to my writing is what I’ve always dreamed of”.

Right back atcha, Alethea!

Alethea Eason Biography

Alethea Eason is a writer, teacher, and free-lance editor.

Heron’s Path is her second published novel. Two sisters, two destinies. Journey with Katy and Celeste down the Talum River as they discover Celeste’s destiny to fulfill the heron’s path. “A magical tale of a girl finding her power, beautifully told.” Ashen Vaden, Course in Mirrors (Amazon review).

Hungry is Alethea’s humorous middle grade science fiction novel published by HarperCollins in 2007. Would you eat your best friend if your parents told you to? That’s Deborah’s dilemma. She’s the only 6th grade alien on Earth, disguised by a human overskin, and pulled between her loyalty to her friend Willy and her family and species. Alethea has finished Starved, a sequel to Hungry.

Alethea has published stories in several anthologies for children including A Glory of Unicorns, edited by Bruce Coville, Stories have also appeared in New Moon Magazine and Shoo-Fly Audio Magazine. She also writes for adults and her work has appeared in Sweet Fancy Moses, Radiance, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, among others. She won the Eugene Ruggles Poetry Award, sponsored by The Dickens, published by Copperfiled Books of Sonoma and Napa Counties.

As a reading specialist, Alethea has taught grades kindergarten through eighth. She spent a year and a half at St. Margaret’s British School for Girls in Concon, Chile where she worked in literacy in the junior school and as an IB English teacher at the senior school. She now teaches at Minnie Cannon Elementary School in Middletown, California.

Alethea has edited a number of novels and memoirs. She prides herself on working quickly and thoroughly. When working on a novel, she becomes invested in the book and hones it so that the best potential of the manuscript shines forth.

Alethea lives in Cobb, California with her husband, Bill, and Jinxy and Arturo, their two tabby cats.

About HUNGRY

Hungry

Deborah is starting to notice things about her best friend, Willy—like how cute he looks in his Halloween costume and the adorable way his red hair curls just above his collar. He’s the coolest boy in sixth grade, and the closest friend she’s got . . . that is, until her alien parents tell her she has to eat him for dinner. After all, she’s an alien, too—even if she and her family do live in disguise.

Should she keep Willy alive and survive on forbidden hamburgers and chocolate . . . or point her tentacles at her best friend and gain approval from alien kind?

There are times when everyone feels like they’re from outer space. A zany adventure and a close and sympathetic look at middle-school friendships and rivalries, Alethea Eason’s wonderfully unique first novel satisfies that craving to fit in.

About Starved:

starvedthenovel.wordpress.com

Sequel to Alethea Eason’s middle grade science fiction novel HUNGRY

Chapter One: Destiny

Posted on May 19, 2013 by aletheaeason

While our mothers planted tulip bulbs, Willy Logan and I were working to stop my species from invading Earth.  I think Willy and I became friends because both of our families have this huge weirdness factor.  His family is way into horror films, and mine? Well, we eat people.

About Heron’s Path: the herons path

Alethea Eason’s newest book, The Heron’s Path, has all the grace of the river that flows through its pages. One steps lithely into the world of Katy and her delicate sister Celeste. It is a world where the old and the new mingle, the Old Ones hold a knowing but genteel sway and the country man perhaps shouldn’t be so trusting of his dulled senses. Will Celeste come to know the purpose of her wanderings and dreams? Will Katy and aged Olena be able to keep her from the clutches of the evil we-nei-la? Follow them “north to the true wilderness, dark with ancient trees, where the Nanchuti struggle to keep their sacred songs from vanishing”. Like the current of the river Talum that witnesses all within these pages, you too will be swept along in the adventure, sometimes in reflective pools, sometimes drawn inexorably to the falls… to find the Heron’s Path.

It’s a Small World

Like many American families in the 1960’s, mine took road trips in the old station wagon at least once a year. My father would take a few weeks off from work in the summer and we would drive across the country from the Chicago area in one direction or another. All in all, I think we visited about 33 states.

My older brother Paul always sat in the “way back” of the station wagon. He had a little cushion, almost like an elongated dog bed, to make his “seat” more comfortable. Obviously, this was before seatbelts were mandatory.

My much older sister Beth and I shared exactly equal sides of the back seat. A piece of luggage was placed precisely between us so we wouldn’t fight over who had more space. Of course we fought anyway.

One of us would either purposefully or accidentally nudge the piece of luggage toward the other one. It didn’t matter whether it was an accident or not. If that suitcase budged a nano-millimeter toward either one of us, it would cause pandemonium. Also, I wasn’t allowed to look at her, touch her hair, or breathe too loudly. She was a lovely older sister. Just lovely.

My father smoked cigars with the windows rolled up. My husband, Richard, says that explains everything about me, but we’ll save that story for another time. My parents harmonized to show tunes and un-show tunes for hours at a time. This was before iPods, so we were prisoners forced to listen to “Mares Eat Oats”, “Old Man River”, “You Are my Sunshine”, “Red River Valley”, and one of the most annoying songs ever written (if you are 8 years old), “Dominique.”

I did a little research on “Dominique” and found out it was written by a Singing Nun from Belgium. No, really. I got the information from Wikipedia, so you know it’s a true story! Her name was Jeanine Deckers, and she became an international star known as “Sister Smile” because of this song, which was sung in French. The song became the second foreign language song to hit number one on the American charts. Sadly Jeanine Deckers left the church and ultimately committed suicide. Not such a chirpy little song in my mind anymore.

We saw, among other places, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, Disneyworld, and Disneyland. I recently found an old scrapbook I had kept and on the first page I wrote,“This snap book you have just seen is a ture of Leslie Chase’s 1969 summer vakation.” Inside the scrapbook I had pasted postcards, matchbooks, and even gum wrappers I had saved as mementos of all the places we visited. Apparently I was enamored with Caesar’s Palace because I have a 50 cent casino chip, a wrapper from a water glass, a postcard with a photo of Tony Bennett, stationery, a “Do Not Disturb” sign, and a housekeeping sign that reads, “Caesar Commands: Prepare this Chamber With Dispatch!”

After staying in Disneyland, we wended our way east to Lost Valley Ranch in Deckers, Colorado. It’s interesting that we went to Deckers, Colorado and the Singing Nun was named Jeanine Deckers. Ooooooooooooh. That’s eerie! Anyway, Lost Valley Ranch was a great family place. We all ate at the same time with all of the other families staying there. We went on long horseback rides together. We sang around the campfire at night and learned how to whittle, how to use a leather burning tool, and a lot of other stuff that would be completely unsafe for children these days. Boy, the good old days.

On the last morning, we ate breakfast with all of the other families and then packed our car and continued our journey east toward home. Saying goodbye to all of the ranchers, wranglers, and other families was sad. We all cried because we didn’t know when we’d see each other again. We had arrived as strangers and became one big giant family.

After chowing down with everyone and then crying my eyes out while saying our goodbyes, I fell asleep in the car, leaning ever so gingerly on my side of the suitcase so as not to knock it over onto my sister.

Ever since we left California my brother had the song “It’s a Small World” stuck in his head and sang it relentlessly. As I slept, my father navigated the one-lane mountain road away from Lost Valley Ranch. The huge breakfast I had eaten, combined with all of the crying, factored in with the winding road was beginning to make me feel sick, waking me up.

I heard my brother continue to sing “It’s a Small World”. I asked him to stop, but that only made him sing it more loudly and more obnoxiously. I begged him to stop, even warning him that I was nauseous and would throw up if he didn’t stop. Of course, being my older brother, it was basically his job to keep bugging me.

So, I threw up all over myself, the back seat, and the perfectly placed piece of luggage sitting between my sister and me. My father pulled over to a rest stop so my mother could dig through my suitcase to find me something clean to wear. I felt a little smug because I actually followed through on my threat and my brother got in a little bit of trouble. As I have said in previous posts, he is the undisputed favorite child, so even when he does something considered “bad” by most people, my parents consider it just slightly less than 100% perfect behavior, so he didn’t really get in any trouble at all. He did stop singing that annoying song, though.

All these years later, the “It’s a Small World” story is brought up (pun intended!) as much as possible. My brother even bought me a music box a few years ago for my birthday that plays the song. How nice. My kids even know about it and sing it to me whenever they want to really bug me. Luckily I have grown immune to the effects of the song and don’t vomit when I hear it.

A few years ago my parents, my husband, my kids and I went to Disneyworld. I decided it was time to conquer my fears and take that crappy little boat ride amongst the scary little moving mechanical “people” from around the world who sing the most annoying song ever composed in any language. I rode through twice! In a row! Without vomiting! I had been cured. Since that day I can safely say I will never be harmed by “It’s a Small World” ever again.

I ran out of the line for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, though, because the ride looked too scary. And don’t get me started on the animated Presidents. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.