The Chapel Hill Herald: Columnists

May. 01, 2014 @ 01:35 PM

Good friends to have on a commute

For me, commuting wouldn’t be survivable with audios. For a month, I drove to schools in Raleigh. Feeling a little lonely in still-dark mornings, I relished the company of good friends: clever writer Alexander McCall Smith, talented narrator Lisette Le Cat, and the heroine of their collaboration, Precious Ramotswe, head of the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe is one again the primary protagonist in “The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon” (Recorded Books, 8CDs, 9.75 hours).
Anyone who has lingered in the small town of Botswana with the sleuth knows that there are generally at least two mysteries in these novels. In this one, Mma Ramotswe is discouraged in both — she can’t seem to uncover who’s slandering the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon and why a female attorney acting as executor is acting far more interested than she should be in the recipient of a trust.

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 11:19 AM

‘Well, Forest, stupid is as stupid does’

Today's column is titled “Morons: Why So Many?” Now, don't get all offended -- we each have our moron moments. I know I do. (For the sake of brevity, I won't address my own stupidity today, except to say that it is occasionally stunning.)

Example 1: I subscribe to The Wall Street Journal (as well as The Herald-Sun). I went on spring break last week, and canceled the WSJ during that time. When I got home Tuesday, my neighbor brought my mail along with a pile of newspapers that had been delivered every day while I was away. I called to tell them they messed up: No problem, you’ll get full credit.

Apr. 19, 2014 @ 11:51 AM

'The Execution of Noa P. Singleton,' 'The Never List' two worthwhile listens

I had a seven-hour solo drive to Atlanta, but I was equipped. Or so I thought.
I was halfway through John Banville’s “Ancient Light” (Random House, 8CDs, 9.5 hours). Banville, a Man Booker award-winner, uses elegant language which came alive with Robin Sach’s skillful reading, and I easily entered the troubled mind of Alexander Cleave. Banville’s reflective novel brilliantly weaves Cleave’s risque affair at 15 with his best friend’s mother, feelings of failure after his daughter’s death, and his introspective thoughts about aging. Sach’s narration meshed all time periods without losing flow and, made the protagonist believable and worthy of compassion. 

Apr. 22, 2014 @ 12:33 PM

Happy Easter, happy spring, have you heard Shania sing!

It’s Easter, and my love to you all! (No, I’m not in the bourbon, I’m on spring break … FINALLY!) In honor of this wondrous holiday, I began the following poem:


Apr. 17, 2014 @ 01:01 AM

We spend too little time at play in our busy lives

My last column here dealt with issues of time and busyness.  I received so many heartfelt emails from readers that I want to revisit that subject and delve a little deeper than the first 675 words allowed me to do.  This isn’t a subject I have mastered, but one I struggle with almost daily.  Apparently I am not alone.

Apr. 12, 2014 @ 09:26 PM

This preview has NOT been approved for ANY audiences

OK, I’m on a tear right now, and unless you’re interested in getting on it with me, I think you’d best put down this paper and maybe take a walk, eat a doughnut, or go shoe shopping. In fact, I’ll give you a slow ten-count to get yourself out of the line of fire ... I’m counting ... aaaand 10!


Apr. 12, 2014 @ 01:27 AM

Hiring N.Y. lawyer not answer to UNC troubles

To quote Will Rogers, “All I know is what I read in the newspapers.” According to the Daily Tar Heel, UNC Chapel Hill is hiring a New York attorney, Kenneth Wainstein, to investigate the football and basketball brouhaha. He is a prominent attorney with excellent credentials. The newspaper reports that he is being hired at $990 an hour and they have no agreement as to how long he takes.

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 08:18 AM

Divisive N.C. senator occupies a dark corner of history

 "Buncombe Bob" isn't mentioned much anymore, so I took notice when his name came up in a new book.

"Those Angry Days" by Lynne Olson is an eye-opening history of the years leading up to the U.S. entry into World War II and the bitter debate between interventionists and isolationists.

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 01:12 AM

None of us should have to live on a racetrack

Once upon a time when someone asked, “How are you?” the expected answer was, “Fine.”  Today, of course, the expected reply is, “Too busy,” uttered with a weary sigh and brief eye contact followed by a nod from the questioner that communicates, “Yeah, me too.”  It is a moment of commiseration, for most of us are too busy.

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 12:45 PM

The importance of voice

One of the most complicated and important writing concepts to explain is voice. It’s the way the writer reels a reader in. Voice might be suspenseful, or ironic, or doleful, it makes you want to keep reading. If you add audio voice to the written voice, the power of both grows. This became evident to me in recent reading-listening experiences.
I began with Kathi Appelt’s new book, “The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp” (Atheneum, ages 8-12). It is a perfect read aloud because of its voice. Appelt has written lyrical but darker tales. Now her poetic tone appears in a romping adventure that believably blends fantasy and reality. The sense of place is evocative and the characters are engaging. All of these are beautifully bound together because of Appelt’s voice. 

Apr. 03, 2014 @ 10:58 AM

Spring (tax) break, hamburgers and miscellaneous

I’m in the mountains for spring break. (Most of my students are, a) in Hawaii; b) in Europe; or c) on a cruise, whereas the only way I could afford even the mountains was if I came with a friend who owns a house here. “Free” is my favorite price.) 

Meanwhile, there are only nine more days, folks. Nine more days until the tax man cometh. I’m sure you knew that. I’m sure you’ve got everything organized, listed, filled-in, calculated and submitted. You probably had your H&R Block appointment weeks, or even months, ago, and are waiting for your $11,000 refund … this is a big reason you and I will never be friends. I brought all my tax stuff up here, hoping to find someone who will “do” my taxes for … well … nothing! 

Mar. 29, 2014 @ 06:04 AM

Dear person who drove up my driveway yesterday

I don’t know who you are, but I don’t mind that you drove up to see my house for sale, since you can’t see the house from the street, and you were driving a nice BMW, so I figured you were probably not a robber or serial killer, although why can’t a serial killer drive a BMW if he wants to, it’s a free country!

Anyway, you seemed to like what you saw -- even if you haven’t made an appointment to see it yet, not that I’m pushing -- because I could see someone smiling in the car, although if you’re riding around in a BMW why wouldn’t you smile, right?  

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 01:19 PM

Finding greater vision in picture books

I know the language of picture books well. I cringe at dialogue that doesn't ring true and prose that clunks. I swoon over unusual word uses. I also believe that some of the most glorious art in America is found in its picture books.
I’m often wowed by illustrations, but not always sure why. Recently, I taught a 10-hour continuing education class specifically for art teachers. My goal was to link reading, writing, art and Common Core State Standards. My suspicion was that I would learn more than I taught. I was right. I wasn't alone; those in the class who were non-art specialists had our eyes opened by the superb vision of two amazing art teachers, Deb Cox and Barbi Bailey-Smith. Here’s a small peek at the kind of things we learned.

Mar. 22, 2014 @ 08:21 AM

A couple’s celebration paves way for another

Sometimes big events coincide in single years, as they did for us in 2011 when Peter’s 60th birthday and our 30th anniversary passed within a month of each other.  Peter retired to the farm and we convinced our daughters to throw us a party at the Murphey School.  We had a lot of fun there with family and friends.

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 11:59 AM

It’s Time to Play WHEEL. OF. (MIS)FORTUNE!

People often ask me where I “come up with” the ideas for my columns. I don’t have to “come up with” anything, because my life is naturally filled with material from the moment I get out of bed. I’m a woman, a daughter, a sister, a mother, a teacher, a dog-owner, a consumer, a driver -- combine that with the fact that I am a gal for whom the simplest things become complicated, bizarre, hilarious, dangerous and unheard-of events, and you’ll begin to get it. My life just kind of writes itself. Watch: