Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Speak to Me

From the time I was very young, stones--whether in place naturally or arranged by man--have spoken to me, deep in the heart. My early years were spent in northeastern Arizona, land of sacred mountains. Then we moved to Indiana, Illinois, Texas, always living in urban environments. Often I mentioned to my husband how much I wished we lived closer to the mountains.

Then we were transferred to the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. On the drive up there, he said, "Well, you're going to finally live in the mountains!"

I believe everyone is drawn to someplace in particular, irrespective of familial ties or significant personal history. Folks might not even know what they're seeking until they stumble across 'their' place and everything shifts within them, telling them they are home. It would be nice if we could all live in the places that speak to our hearts, but that is seldom possible.

I know people who long for the ocean and beaches. Frankly, if I never visit a beach again, it will still be too soon for me. I've never wanted to go on a cruise. Though the ocean is a fearsome and beautiful place, it is not my place. I have friends who thrive in urban environments, reveling in the rush of the city. That's not my place either for the noise and hustle-bustle drown out the spirit of contemplation.

No. My heart yearns for the places of stone. A deep longing fills me when I see pictures like the one above or scenes from the lonely places like Cathedral Rock in Arizona or Shiprock in New Mexico. Perhaps that's why I climbed my local mountain, Schunemunk Mountain, New York, every weekend when I was in my forties. That was home. For my college graduation, the hunk gifted me with a painting of the mountain in all it's fall splendor, that hangs on the wall over our bed.

I wonder how it would be if everyone knew what their 'place' would be? Do you suppose people would be more content if they could visit the home of their heart every once in a while and just chill out while they relaxed and let it speak to them? Something to think about on this eve of the day we're supposed to give thanks. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sometimes the Curtains are Blue

There's a story about a professor who insisted there were all sorts of hidden meanings and significance in the sentence, "The curtain was blue." Another individual pointed out it just might be a simple statement of fact, "The curtain was blue."

Writing is a lot like this. Some writers spend time planning story arcs and deep meanings and character development and black moments and...

The rest of us just write. We work more along the line of first this happened and then...

I have great respect for those writers with their color charts and their outlines and their character sheets and all that other paraphernalia. But some of us find that intimidating and off-putting. For some of us, it's all we can do to sit at the computer and type coherent sentences. Sometimes the curtains are just blue.

November is the month writers set aside to write 50K in thirty days. And as is typical of writers, some have planned their fifty thousand words meticulously, with outline cards (color coded) and character growth charts and incredibly terrifying black moments, while the rest of us are fortunate to remember our hero's name and what color his hair is. Whatever your style, it's okay. Writing is not a team sport or a competition. It's a deeply personal, private adventure.

I'm a rebel so my curtains are purple, 'cause that's how I roll.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

One Size Fits All

In my younger years, there was a song about 'ticky-tacky boxes' that referred to all the subdivisions springing up with identical rows of houses and folks with no individuality. Back then, in sixties/early seventies, young people in particular were striving to be different, to be a new generation. I find it ironic that the very folks striving for that individuality are the same ones who crave and demand the one size fits all mentality now.

I posted a link to an article that had personal meaning--that spoke to my frustrations, especially with my non-writing. Evidently, it struck a chord with quite a few other writers because they shared it, too. But I noticed a couple writers that pooh-poohed the idea of the post, more or less saying it was a cop-out.

That's pretty much the attitude of people all over the world when exposed to an idea that doesn't fit in with their world view. Buck up people. If you just believe/live/eat/exercise/drink/whatever I do, life will be bright and happy and...blah, blah, blah. Rather than celebrating our individuality, we're inundated with demands to be just like everyone else. And woe to those who don't fit in.

In the human history, it's always been a case of 'you are your place in society'. Once a peasant, always a peasant. Once a king (unless you really pissed off the peasants) always a king. When I was a kid, there was nothing as deadly as a woman who showed up in church without a hat. Or didn't wear a dress. If you were too poor to own 'go to church' clothing, then you'd better sit on the back row to hide your shame. Charity apparently did NOT begin at church.

I could type the same paragraph above, change a few words and make it relevant to color, ethnicity, gender, or just about any other way we humans use to separate and classify ourselves. While we demand uniformity, we seize on our differences to show our superiority. Why?

We are not all one size. What I might find relevant or encouraging, another might disagree with or reject. So what? If the shoe fits me, why are you insisting it's all negative because it doesn't fit you? We are all sizes, ages, colors, and have different life circumstances. What I might be struggling with, another may have no knowledge or experience with. That doesn't mean my struggle isn't real.

One of the writing skills I absolutely cannot wrap my head around is POV. I cannot get it. LOTS of well-meaning editors, fellow writers, teachers have all tried to pound it into my head to no avail. I imagine there are other skills just as elusive to other folks. That's because we're all different.

Some of us embrace our individuality with obvious flare. Others are quietly different. That's as it should be. I once had a conversation with a neighbor who came over to my house. She was...OCD about her home. It looked like a model house. I had four kids, plus all the neighbor kids running in and out of my house. At this particular time, it was summer. We didn't have AC so all the windows were open. Construction trucks were hauling 'fill' dirt down our street at the rate of four trucks an hour.

So, my neighbor ran a finger through the deep dust on one of my book shelves. "Don't you ever dust?"

I just stared her for a moment, then soberly replied, "Don't mess with my dust. When it gets deep enough I'm going to plant marigolds..."

I don't think she ever got over that. But really, it's all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Christmas Rumors

It's started. The annual bombardment of false rumor mongering about some nebulous group of individuals who object to how some other nebulous group celebrates Christmas/Yule/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever.

Stop it. Stop posting idiotic crap on your social media pages. NO ONE cares how you greet folks, whether you call it a Christmas Tree or a Holiday Tree, what songs you sing, or any of that other bullfeathers. No one really cares what kind of cups some coffee place serves their product in. If folks quit spreading this garbage around the internet, it would go away. Think about it--you're helping spread dissension and hate.

If you want a tree, get one. Decorate it however you wish. Say 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Holidays'. About ninety percent of the population won't even hear you because they're busy trying to survive. When you're worried about having food next week or wondering where you're going to sleep, you just don't have the energy to worry about what color a coffee cup is.

Pressing 'share' on some dubious article, written by some group no one knows is an act of laziness. I repeat. No one cares. If you're worried about keeping Christ in Christmas, then I'll tell you the true way.

Feed the hungry. Don't just empty all the cans of no-name veggies and expired food from your pantry for the food drive. Kick in some money. Food banks desperately need real dollars instead of stuff they can't use. Consider. If you don't want to eat it, why would anyone else?

Care for the destitute. Do you know how many people in our country are homeless, living in tents, sleeping in cars, surviving on the street? Do you know what the homeless need? Basic necessities. Socks. Soap. Tooth brush and tooth paste. Toilet paper. Comb. Razors. Shampoo. Warm coat, hat, gloves. Oh, yeah. Food.

Protect the elderly. Check up on them. Make sure they have enough to eat. Offer to take them to their appointments. Spend time visiting. Value them for their contributions.

If you profess to be a Christian, then you'll be following Jesus' commandment to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words--be selfless, loving, giving. All the rest of it is just useless distraction. I'm pretty sure Christ didn't have Christmas trees, decorations, present orgies, or gluttonous feasts. Didn't he command us to go out into the byways and invite the homeless in to eat? Can you imagine what kind of world it would be if no one was in need?

Instead of worrying about unimportant things, why not start posting about food pantries and homeless shelters that need help? This Christmas, why not talk to your family about giving up their gifts for someone who has nothing? Do it up right. Pick a family to sponsor. Buy the gifts. Wrap them. And don't forget a box of groceries. I can absolutely guarantee they will never forget it for the rest of their lives. I know my brothers and I will never forget the Christmas we were on the receiving end of such a gift. It's a life changing event.

That's the meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Year I Stopped Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

For most of our married life--soon to be 48 years--we have lived many miles away from the rest of our extended family. When our children started moving out on their own, they didn't have the space or utensils to cook a big dinner. So it fell to me to produce a holiday meal.

Early in November on the particular year in question, I was chatting with my neighbor, Marie in our joint back yard when she asked, "What are you having for Thanksgiving dinner?" I know I shocked her when I shamelessly admitted I had no idea and furthermore I didn't plan to worry about it.

"But, but, but--" she stuttered.

"If the family wants a big dinner, they'll cook it. I'm done."

Now it wasn't nearly the arbitrary decision you might think. Most years my birthday falls either right before or right after Thanksgiving. The previous year was one of the years it was actually on Thanksgiving Day. I was up early roasting and baking and so forth while the kids and the hunk were off doing 'something' important. At dinner time, they all showed up, devoured dinner like a plague of locusts, and... left. Total elapsed time: 35 minutes.

As I cleaned and scrubbed and struggled with leftovers the rest of the afternoon (by myself), (with nary a simple 'Happy Birthday'), it occurred to me I was completely at fault. If you will allow yourself to be a doormat, well why get upset when folks walk all over you and wipe their feet on you? I resolved to stop being a doormat.

The next year, when the troops started discussing Thanksgiving dinner, I firmly announced I was going to order dinner from Boston Market and pick up a couple pies from the grocery bakery. My goodness what a fuss! That would never do. But I stood firm. I pointed out it was MY birthday and in all the years our family have lived miles and miles from the rest of our family, I had NEVER had a birthday cake--unless I baked it myself. That was understandable when the kids were small, but now, well now they were all adults. It was time for someone else to take over. AND clean up.

From that time on, until we moved out of state away from our children, I never cooked Thanksgiving Dinner again. And I never was reduced to ordering it from Boston Market. And I always had a birthday cake, one that I didn't bake.

When folks on social media moan and groan about how much cooking and shopping and baking they have to do, I struggle to keep my mouth shut, because I want to ask how it can be a family dinner when no other part of the family is participating in the preparation? Sometimes, you just have to speak up and let your family know you're not the holiday chef.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

An Encouraging Word

Folks that don't write professionally may not understand the debilitating consequences of discouragement. It's easier to embrace failure than to continue on in the face of slow sales, bad reviews, and rejections. In the past, I've more or less ignored NaNoWriMo as a gimmick I didn't really have time for. But I haven't written anything of note for about two and a half years. That's thirty months. 30.

This year, I didn't sign up for it either, but I'm striving to 'write along' with those who did. In the first two days I discovered something valuable. Never underestimate the importance of an encouraging word.

At the end of each day, I post my word count, meager though it might be. It's still more words than I've written in a long time. Once I've posted my word count for the day, friends stop by with an encouraging word. Those words are priceless.

Writing is lonely. It's all in the author's head. Until the words are down on paper, we really have no way to share our vision, our story. And there's likely nothing more boring than a writer trying to share that vision before it's been written. It's kind of like telling another person about this fabulous movie or television show you've watched. Trust me. It never works.

So. If you're a reader who values my work, stop by and let me know. No one will appreciate your encouraging words more than I will. And if I'm not the writer that floats your boat, then go encourage the writer that does. We all need a cheering section. All of us.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Break Time

When I was younger, there was a concept called 'break time'. Most paying jobs included time for lunch and one or two breaks. If you worked long enough at the same job, you earned vacation time. I used to write during my lunch and break time. Then something happened.

Job pressures made me feel guilty about taking my allotted time. Phones were ringing. Long lines were forming because there weren't enough workers to handle the customers. Oh, noes! They needed me!

Right about the time I left my last job, cellphones really caught on. Now, it's possible for your boss to reach you at anytime, day or night. You're never really off the clock.

Somehow, our culture has allowed computers and other electronic gizmos to monopolize our time--and our lives. We feel naked without our phones and other electronic umbilicals. How did that happen?

We allowed it to happen. We live in a noisy, busy world. What if we turned it all off?

Quiet. We would have blessed quiet to contemplate life. I don't think it's truly possible to appreciate the bounty we've been given when there isn't quiet to enjoy it. Our lives are so filled with the hurry-scurry of daily busyness, we don't have time or peace to ponder on the important things.

We need to start taking our breaks...set aside a specific time with no distraction, no music, no computer, no TV, nothing to interrupt our time. Start with fifteen minutes a day. See what happens. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Alternative Protection

For all those folks discussing the pros and cons of gun control. Consider the lowly axe. It's a perfect weapon for defense.

The long handle creates an advantage when dealing with an assailant who is wielding a knife.

The blade is guaranteed to get the job done, even if it isn't razor sharp. All you have to do is connect with the target.

As the caption says, it's been the weapon of choice for thousands of years--because it's reliable.

AND when you aren't using your axe for self-protection, you can use it as a door stop or to chop wood. Don't delay! Get your axe now before Congress enacts Axe Control Laws.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Letting Go

For most of my adult life, I've been in control. I'm one of those individuals that follow people around redoing a job after they've done it because it wasn't done my way. You know. I'm the one that rearranges the dishwasher after it's loaded. And refolds the towels because they're not folded like I want. I'm your basic control freak. My way or the highway, as they say.

Then, a couple months ago, I woke up in blinding pain. Over a period of two weeks, my condition had deteriorated to the point I couldn't get out of bed by myself. If the hunk didn't perform the chores, they didn't get done.

That's when I started learning the art of 'letting go'.

A control freak tends to flatten the confidence of the folks around them like a steam roller. In their quest for control, they send out a strong, clear message, "You're so incompetent, I don't trust you with this task."

Many of the control freaks tell themselves, they're not really seeking control so much as performing the task correctly on the first pass, thus saving time and energy. They're the ones who make their children's beds and do their laundry--even when they're adults...because, hey! Obviously, their son or daughter wouldn't perform to their high standards. In this way, they foster dependence. And of course, that just proves the control freak is desperately needed.

Think about that for a moment. I'll wait.

There is nothing wrong with having standards. But sometimes we set the bar so high, no one can ever meet it. They all back off and quit trying. It's our own fault when we end up having to do everything on our own.

So back to my personal epiphany. I discovered the world didn't stop if I wasn't there to take care of things. Dishes still got washed. Food was prepared. Underwear works the same whether it's folded or not. Mostly, it doesn't really matter which pair of shoes I wear. Life went on without me being the boss.

I LIKE it this way.

Much of the pain is under control now. And if I move slowly, I can get around on my own with the help of my walker. But I'm not too worried about 'doing'. I no longer itch to redo chores someone else has done. I've found freedom in letting go.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Today the hunk is going to make bread. I'll sit on a chair in the dining room and offer advice. Three weeks ago, I would have made the bread myself while he played computer games, but life is all about change.

During the last three weeks, I've learned a lot about change. Then I could walk around our parking lot. Using a cane. Now, there are days I can barely make it from my office to the bathroom. What changed? A pinched nerve in my back. Something small that affects every hour of my life.

Thousands of people live with debilitating pain every day. Maybe even millions. In the past when I've gone to various doctors for various issues, I've filled out questionnaires about how my particular complaint of the day is affecting my life. For instance, when I go to the pulmonologist, I fill out a paper asking how my breathing issues affect what I can do each day. Are these effects every day? Every week? All the time?

Up to now, regardless of the issue, I've been pretty smug in stating there were negligible effects. But that was then and this is now. Now...well, things are different. Today I have to work up the courage to stand up because I know halfway up there will be fierce shooting pain until I'm completely upright. And then, every step will be uncertain until I reach my goal. At the other end (chair, toilet, bed) it all works in reverse. What fun.

I've learned a few things about living (as opposed to life) in the last few weeks. Living takes effort. Living is moving, even when it hurts. Living is doing everything possible. And living is accepting help.

I'm not much on asking for assistance. I was the original I-can-do-it-myself! individual, but now I can't. So the hunk does it and I watch. Ohhhhh, that burns, doesn't it? Well, I've discovered the world didn't stop turning. His bread tastes as good as mine. Nothing bad happens if he slices the bread thicker than I do. And when he rubs BenGay on the sore bits, it feels wonderful.

I do what I can, which I admit isn't much. And what I can't do, I'm thankful to say the hunk does. I am blessed. Every day. And I live, one day at a time.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Article Two

The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.
 * * * * *
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.

The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.

Article Two defines the responsibilities and powers of the President of the United States. In that space indicated by the five stars is a lengthy explanation of how the President is to be elected, what his qualifications must be, and how long he can hold the office

Notice that the President does not have the power to pass laws, declare war, or borrow money for the country. That is the purview of the Congress: Article One, Section Eight
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
To borrow money on the credit of the United States;
To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;
To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;
To coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures;
To provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States;
To establish post offices and post roads;
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;
To constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court;
To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
To provide and maintain a navy;
To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;
To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the appointment of the officers, and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;--And
To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.

On any given day, you cannot turn on the television without hearing about another individual who has decided to run for President in 2016. Pay close attention to the rhetoric. What are they promising? Do they have the power to deliver? Or is it all smoke and mirrors? Who really should be held accountable? When we go to the polls next, should we be paying more attention to our Senators and Representatives? Are they really delivering what they promised?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Article One

All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Legislation--the writing of laws. Here's where the Congress has their chance to influence life in our country. Unfortunately, most new legislation resembles that book in the picture above. Most legislators (our Senators and Representative) haven't even read the legislation they pass. Think about it. Mostly, except for a few influential individuals, the folks we vote for and send to Washington don't even know what they're voting for. If the legislation isn't controversial enough to attract media attention, no one knows what it is until suddenly it's law--usually passed in the middle of the night when their constituents are sleeping or watching television.

If you're unhappy with the direction the country is going, it's these men and women you should be investigating. Do you know who your senator and representatives are? Do you know what they're working on? How they voted? Such information is easy to obtain. What are you waiting for?

Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States; if he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the objections at large on their journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the bill, it shall be sent, together with the objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a law. But in all such cases the votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and nays, and the names of the persons voting for and against the bill shall be entered on the journal of each House respectively. 

The President doesn't make laws. That's the Congress. And they control the money. If they don't vote to approve something (like war or other controversial spending), then it doesn't happen. When you don't like a law, you should have a chat with your Senators and Representatives. Seriously. They get nervous when their constituents start talking about voting them out. That's our power and responsibility. If we don't like what they're doing, then it's up to us to change things.