Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Write Stuff

Wow. We've nearly reached the end of 2014. I can't say it's been a stellar year for me, but I've certainly had much, much worse. This is the second year in a row I haven't finished writing a book. I would like to break this trend in the coming year.

I've noticed a preponderance of posts on Facebook about writing rules...grammar rules...punctuation rules... Now, I have nothing against rules, in general. But sometimes rules get in the way of writing. This morning I read a list of ways to determine if you're a grammar nerd. One of them was 'mentally correct books you're reading'.

Here's what I've observed through years of reading lots of books (on average about four hundred books a year): If you are more interested in 'correcting' the story than reading it, you're wasting your time. A story should grab you by the short hairs and drag you along for the ride. It should involve your heart and soul so thoroughly you barely have time to breathe as you flip page after page, racing to keep up. You lose yourself in a real story. Nothing matters. Punctuation. Grammar. Vocabulary. Nothing matters except the story.

If that's not happening when you read, why are you doing it?

When I'm editing/revising my own work, the way I know I have it right is when I get so involved in reading the story, I forget to edit it. Think about it. If you aren't caught up in your own story, why would anyone else be?

That's the kind of stories I want to write in 2015. The write stuff.


Monday, December 29, 2014

The Late Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2014...

Christmas 2003. It was a busy, busy year. In June we moved from New York to Maryland because the house hunk was transferred. Moving is always stressful, but this time it was particularly so because we lived in our last home for nineteen years. So much stuff. So much stuff to sort and get rid of or throw out! Then in mid-September Hurricane Isabel roared into Maryland. Fortunately, we were not near the flooding, though one of the trees behind our building ended up on our balcony.

Our younger daughter was pregnant, due in late December. We made arrangements to stay with our oldest son. Our daughter and her boyfriend were staying in a small room so Christmas was celebrated at our son's apartment. No baby. It appeared that the baby was in no hurry to arrive. We made arrangements to wait the baby out, but by December 29th, we were running out of our medications and reluctantly made the decision to go home the next day. That afternoon our daughter called, "Don't go yet! I've started labor!"

In a little while, her boyfriend called. "She wants you to be here when the baby's born." So we hopped in the car and made the forty-five minute drive across the Hudson River to the hospital. When we arrived, he was waiting for us and ushered us up to the maternity floor.
She didn’t quite make it for Christmas, but on December 29th close to midnight, the househunk and I were with my daughter and her boyfriend, present when Daisha Monet made her entrance. 

Witnessing the miracle of a new baby never gets old. The precious gift of a new life—especially at Christmas—is a reminder of the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

She's eleven this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Tacos

We have tacos every Christmas Eve. Why? As a remembrance of friendship above and beyond the usual. In this vignette, I tell the story.


Christmas 1981. We lived in Houston, Texas, far from our families. My dad called to tell the hunk he needed to come home. His father was very ill. We could not afford for everyone to go and our daughters were both in bed with the flu. We decided he would take our sons with him (mostly because I knew he would have to make frequent stops if they were along). When they arrived in Chicago, my parents planned to take the boys to Indiana to stay with them.

I was fine until Christmas Eve. Then the loneliness engulfed me. My friends were all busy with their extended family gatherings. My extended family lived far away. My daughters were sleeping the holidays away, too sick to care if they had gifts or not. I was feeling underprivileged and deprived as I stood at my kitchen counter eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The telephone rang. My friend, Linda, inquired about my plans for the evening. I admitted that I didn't have much planned except a shower and bed. She told me to get my purse and coat ready. Lester, her husband, was already on the way over to pick up my girls and me. We were invited to her home for the evening. I protested that the girls were sick. She pointed out they could sleep at her house as well as mine.

When Lester arrived, we wrapped the girls in blankets and carried them out to the car. The trip to their home was only a couple blocks away so the girls slept through the journey and were soon cozily asleep in bed. We spent the evening quietly, playing board games, eating tacos, and singing along with Handel’s Messiah. It was a lovely peaceful evening. Just after midnight, Lester drove us home.

On Christmas Eve our family has tacos as a remembrance of that Christmas Eve spent with loving, compassionate friends. Of all of my friends, they were the ones who saw my need and acted. It was an action made more remarkable because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who do not believe in observance of holidays… not even Christmas.

A miracle.


Anny

As a footnote... in 2011 I found Linda on Facebook and we've reconnected. Isn't life grand?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Long Road Home

Every year I reprint a few of the Christmas memories I've shared from the past. This is from Christmas 1989. May all those traveling this Christmas be safe...

Christmas 1989. “Please come if you can. Uncle Charles has terminal cancer and probably won’t be with us next Christmas.”

For many years in my family, holidays (Christmas and Thanksgiving) have been alternated with the in-laws. This year was not a our family Christmas, but the family was trying to get together anyway. It wasn’t a great year for us. My husband was on disability because of an accident at work. I was on unemployment because my company, Waldenbooks, had moved their warehouse operation from New York to Tennessee. The boys, recently graduated from high school, were out of work, since they had also been employed there. Jobs were scarce with 700 unemployed warehouse workers suddenly in the job market. I was attending school as a dislocated worker, hoping to obtain the skills for a new job.

“Please come.” Our car was shot. There was barely enough for a gift for each of the kids. Friends had provided Christmas dinner components for us. The trip from New York to Indiana was out of the question. Reluctantly, I called my parents with the news.

The kids asked us if we could talk for a few minutes. “Suppose we give up our present money…would we have enough gas money to get there?” one of them asked.
My younger son offered to change the oil and do a quick check up on the car. The older one pointed out that we could take turns driving. The car had very little heat…but my older daughter suggested that we could take extra blankets.

Slowly, one objection at a time, they showed us that we could make the trip. I called my parents in LaPorte, Indiana and suggested that they make some extra beds.

We traveled to LaPorte, stopping only for restrooms and coffee. Our car was a tight squeeze for five small people. We had six large people. The kids said that was a good thing as we all stayed warmer that way. Meals were sandwiches eaten in the car. In Ohio, we ran into snow. The car heater didn’t work well enough to defrost the windows so they began to freeze over. There were frequent stops to clear them, but we made it. After eighteen hours on the road we arrived in LaPorte. There was close to a foot of snow on the ground.

It was a great Christmas, rendered more poignant because of Uncle Charles’ illness. There were more family members there than at anytime before or since. Two came from Guam. Others came from all over the United States. Close to 70 people sat down for Christmas dinner. Afterwards there were games, carols, and visiting.

A couple of days later the trip home was longer as there was more snow to contend with. In Pennsylvania, the snow was so heavy that it melted on the headlights, creating a sheet of ice that coated them. We stopped frequently to clear them just so we had light. Cars were sliding off the road. It was night. Plows couldn’t keep up with the storm. The rest areas were closed. We had no money to stay anywhere so we kept moving. Twenty-six hours later, we arrived safely home.

Anyone who has traveled with teenagers knows that it’s impossible to travel far without petty squabbles and picking. However, our entire trip, bad weather, extremely uncomfortable conditions, with limited money, there wasn’t a cross word from anyone.

A miracle. Several, in fact.

anny
© 2007 Anny Cook

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Surprise

The end of that year was an incredibly turbulent time. In November on my fourteenth birthday, President Kennedy was assassinated. It was in the beginning years of the Vietnam War. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long before that. Uncertainty was everywhere. So herewith, the story of Christmas 1963.


Christmas 1963. That was the year that Christmas wasn’t going to bring even one gift…we thought. It was a poor financial year. I didn’t exactly know that we were poor. We had plenty to eat. We had clean, warm clothes. We had a warm, sheltering apartment in Chicago that my stepmother, Maxine, worked hard to make a haven for us.

Now that I am a parent and grandparent I realize how difficult it must have been for her to sit us down a few weeks before Christmas and explain that there wasn’t any money for gifts. If all the money she had managed to save was pooled, we could have a special Christmas dinner. Back then there were no such things as food banks or church assistance.

Soberly, we considered the dilemma, and then one by one, we agreed that a special dinner was the best use for the money we had. Once that was settled, we put it behind us and life went on.

A couple weeks before Christmas, Mum told all of us to hurry home immediately after school, as there would be a surprise. Friends of the family planned to bring each of us a gift and wished to be present when we opened them. So on this day, I slung my books into my locker at school and rushed home. Pounding up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I eagerly flung open the door—and froze in my tracks.

Every level surface in both the dining and living rooms was covered with gifts. Piles of beautifully, lovingly decorated boxes with bows and trinkets. A tree twinkled merrily in the corner. The melodies of familiar Christmas carols filled the air. Unexpectedly, Christmas had come to our home.

As I stood in the open doorway, I could not imagine what had happened. Certainly, we didn't get rich overnight. I shut the door before walking around the rooms gently touching the lovely boxes. Mum, more excited than I had ever seen her, urged me to look in the kitchen where two boxes of groceries, a ten-pound ham, fifty pounds of potatoes, and a five pound box of chocolates sat on the table. A special Christmas dinner indeed!

In a little while, when my brothers came home from school and my dad arrived from work, we opened the gifts. Of all the Christmases in my life, this is the one I can remember every single thing I received--not because I was a greedy kid, but because they were all gifts of sacrifice from strangers.

Our family friends were a minister and his wife with a church in Indiana. One of their church families approached them, seeking a family that wasn’t going to have any gifts for Christmas. The parents and children of this church family voted to give up their Christmas gifts so that a family, unknown to them, would have a special Christmas.

The minister and his wife undertook the responsibility of obtaining clothing sizes and special needs, plus transportation and delivery of the gifts. And they delivered our heartfelt thank you letter to the anonymous family.

As Christmas grows closer, whether we are rich or poor, I look back on that Christmas and know that we are blessed because we are together. Every year I remember the blessing of being loved unconditionally by strangers.

A miracle.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Gift of Giving

Every year at Christmas, the overwhelming, unceasing rush to provide more, more, more strikes me in the heart. When did more start to equal better? Sometimes, more can't cut it. Sometimes...sometimes the best gift is the gift of service to others. 

Christmas 1960. A bleak, un-Christmasy year. My mother died at the end of May in an automobile accident in the midst of our move to Gary, Indiana where we were strangers. We had family there but I felt disconnected and lonely. It wasn’t Christmas without my mother and our own family rituals. I did not like snow and cold weather when it wasn’t a novelty. I didn’t like the schools. I didn’t like the teachers or neighbors. Most of all I didn’t like the kids that made fun of my soft, gentle Arizona accent.

My grandmother was living with us, keeping the house together, cooking and cleaning. She noticed that I felt left out. One day, she gave me a miracle. It was the miracle of belonging.

She invited me into her bedroom and shut the door. On her bed, heaps of wrapping paper, bows and boxes overflowed. Shopping bags on the floor bulged with any number of secrets and surprises.
“I need a helper,” she confided, “so that I will be ready for Christmas, but it must be a very special helper—one who can keep secrets no matter what the cost. Would you like to be my helper?”

My heart squeezed tight within my chest. Absolutely positively! She patiently taught me how to wrap presents, cut the paper, miter the corners, remove the price tags, mark the names on the gift tags… Looking back, I know she could have wrapped them in half the time it took to teach me, but oh! what a gift she gave me when she trusted me to keep her secrets. For several years, on and off, I wrapped her Christmas gifts. It was my contribution. It meant that I belonged.

Grandmother is gone now. Every Christmas as I wrap presents, I use every skill that she taught me, including her most important one: to look around and notice the person on the fringes of the family celebration and draw them into the heart of the family by allowing them a “special” responsibility, the gift of being needed.

As my children grew up, each traveled through the “lonelies”—times when they were on the outside looking in. I tried to take care to ask them to serve in a “special” capacity. Individually, they decorated the tree or house, wrapped presents, shopped for the whole family, baked cookies, assembled toys that were labeled “no assembly required.” Each year Grandmother’s legacy lingers in the memory and in the heart.

A miracle.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Let There Be Peace on Earth


The first time I heard this song was at my oldest daughter's Christmas pageant the year she was in fourth grade. The elementary school had no place big enough to hold the pageant so it was held in the high school auditorium. The program was creative and joyous and enjoyed by all the parents and families.

Near the end of the evening, teachers dressed as reindeer took the stage with a rolicking skit and song. As I was enjoying it, awareness of a shuffle and hiss crept in and I realized that the children were silently lining the walls around the auditorium.

The lights went out. A deep silence filled the huge room.

And then one young voice soared in the darkness. "Let there be peace on earth..." A tiny light flicked on lighting her face.

A few more voices joined in...just a few from points all around us. "And let it begin with me."

More lights. More voices until we were ringed in light and earnest small voices singing about peace on earth. I think about that song often. I think about how we still don't understand the underlying truth of the words..."let it begin with me" for peace does not begin with warriors. Peace is protected by warriors when all else has failed. Peace begins with each of us.

Most people believe that peace is an absence of war. That isn't true. Peace is an absence of conflict. And true peace will not arrive until we as humans refuse to countenance abuse, intolerance, genocide, greed, and famine. As long as we turn away from the less fortunate ignoring the needs of the many in favor of the wants of the few, there will be no peace on earth.

"Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me..."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas at Dawn

Christmas 1959. I was ten years old. Our family lived in Globe, Arizona, but we had traveled by automobile to Gary, Indiana. It was before the days of interstate highways and my parents drove many hours, late into the nights, to arrive by Christmas. My younger brothers and I occupied ourselves by discussing and boasting about the snowmen we were going to build when we arrived “up North.”
 
We arrived safely (our first miracle) in the cold pre-dawn hours. It was a cold, damp, windy morning with nary a snowflake in sight. Dad stopped at a gas station so that we could freshen up. The restrooms were unheated, providing us with an excellent reason to speed through our clean-up. With our faces washed and our hair combed, so that we were presentable, we piled back into the car and traveled the few blocks to my Aunt Betty and Uncle John’s house.
 
There, as we shivered under a barely lightened sky, my Dad was struck by an inspiration. He gathered us in a tight group on the small front stoop—and at 6:00 AM—we began bellowing out the strains of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
 
Now it stand to reason that SOMEBODY would want to shut us up, but nobody came. Dad led us into a second verse, urging us to sing louder.
 
Still no reaction.
 
The wind whipped up, cutting through our light coats. Lips turned blue and strands of hair blew across our eyes as he led us through a third teeth-chattering verse.
 
Nobody came. Mom rang the doorbell as he launched into the first verse again. Uncle John flung the door open and demanded, “Who is it!” before he recognized us and invited us in.
 
Later there were a few chuckles when he described his mad dash from room to room searching for the radio that someone had left on. During our visit, my brothers and I waited in vain for snow, knowing we only had a few days to spend there. At last, our hopes for snow dashed, we headed home. Oh, we had a great time milling around with our cousins, roaming in small packs from room to room, but in some small secret place within, a little snow would have been perfect.
 
After a long boring trip, suffering from holiday letdown, we arrived home safely (another miracle). Dad parked in front of our small house. We sat in the car staring out the foggy windows in amazement at our snow-covered yard. The cactus plants in the corners had spiky snow beards. There wasn’t enough snow to build a snowman, but we had a great snowball fight before we unpacked the car.
 
A miracle.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Chicken in Every Pot

First stated by Henry IV of France as, "I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday," and later in the United States during the Hoover campaign for presidency as part of an advertisement.~~Wikidictionary

For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. ~~Deuteronomy 15:11 KJV





I remember when a chicken dinner on Sunday was a marvelous treat. For much of my life, we were down on the poverty level. I think the difference between then and now was folks knew how to garden, how to shop so their dollars stretched until they snapped, and how to cook in order to make the most of what they had. In my childhood, eating in a restaurant was so rare I could count those times with the fingers on one hand: once when I was eight and my father and three brothers were in the hospital my mother and I had burritos at a tiny roadside cafe on the way to visit them (an hour long drive); once the day before my mother's funeral my aunt and uncle took me for a hamburger, thinking I might be more inclined to eat away from the chaos at my grandparents home; once when I was staying with a cousin in a hotel in Chicago; and once when my parents took us all to a Chinese restaurant after we shoveled our car out from a twenty-six inch snowfall. 

I do not count the three or four Christmases my step-uncle took my brothers and I to a famous smorgasbord and puppet show in Chicago. That was a Christmas gift.



TV dinners, prepackaged goods, microwave dinners didn't exist. Vegetable came fresh or canned. Meat usually was purchased at the butcher (fresh ground hamburger while you wait--thirty cents a pound). All our bread was bought at the day old bakery around the corner. Every night dinner consisted of a meat, a starch, and two vegetables. We never went hungry.

Now candy, cake, and other sweets--that was an entirely different matter. Cake was something that appeared on birthdays or other special occasions. We got a few pieces of candy at Christmas. And soda...I don't remember ever having soda. Until I left home on my eighteenth birthday we had milk every night with dinner. Not whole milk. Mom mixed dry milk with whole milk, half each. I never actually had whole milk until I was living on my own. Except back when my dad was working as a milkman. 

The point is, we were never hungry and ate well because my parents gardened, shopped carefully, and prepared the food in a way that gave them the most for their money. Occasionally, someone in our church would 'donate' the extras from their garden. Whatever it was, we ate it. There wasn't any such thing as not eating something because you didn't like it. If you weren't allergic, then you ate it.

I have a notion a lot of folks wouldn't survive now. The other day I read a blog about what to donate to a food pantry and while I agree with some of it (if you wouldn't eat it or feed to your family, then don't donate it), I was also a little put out by the volunteers who reported some people wanted more cookies or sweets or refused fresh veggies. I've had time to think about it since then.

We've reared a generation completely unfamiliar with 'real' food. There are children who don't know where French fries, ketchup, and other foods come from. They've never eaten a banana or orange or carrot or apple. They don't know that milk and meat come from animals. I'm not talking about some third world country here. Those children live so close to the earth they know exactly where food comes from. I talking about American children--children growing up in one of the richest countries on earth.

A chicken in every pot? We'll have to teach folks how to cook them first.


 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Grinch's Heart

Today is my daughter and son-in-law's first anniversary--the second time around. It's also my son-in-law's birthday. So in their honor, because they didn't give up, I'm posting this Christmas story about the beginning. Oh, yeah. The 'baby' in this story turned seventeen this year.

Christmas 1997. Well, there we were. Life, as usual, had twisted us in knots. We were short on money, long on bills, and the holiday was around the corner, nipping at our wallets. That year we had a new miracle in our family. Her name was T* M* and she wasn't old enough to know that she was a miracle.

I watched her being born back in September. My younger daughter and her husband were having tough times so they were living with us… which meant that I got to see T* every day. She was nearly three months old and changing almost by the hour.

Back in my more arrogant days, among the many silly things I said, was one particular gem—that none of my children would be allowed to move back in with me once they were on their own. I’ve been forced to eat my words several times. That Christmas both of my daughters were living with us! In any case, I have found that God generally gets what he wills, one way or the other. That June, in a matter of twenty minutes, he simply removed all other options. God was determined to give me a blessing I didn’t want.

Tough times can shrivel the soul. On the outside, I carried on, but on the inside, like the Grinch, my heart was several sizes too small. And then, God sent T* into my life. Life was still tough. There was little income and large out-go. But when I came home from work and held my granddaughter, things were okay. I had forgotten how precious the little children are. I harbored resentments and bitterness because of my own failures with my children. With this tiny baby, I was able at last to forgive myself for my failures and simply allow myself to love her without expectations or conditions. When I watched her young parent's faces when they held her and cared for her, then I knew that I did something right. A miracle. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Expectations

This is the time of year when we talk about what we're gonna do. Bake. Cook. Buy presents. Decorate the house. Travel or invite company over. Shop like mad and spend money we don't have. It's all about expectations--ours and others.

Over the years I did the entire baking/shopping/buying/traveling/decorating gamut--mostly because I strived to meet someone else's expectations. We do everything we can to make sure our children, our parents and families, our friends are not disappointed. Somewhere along the line we give up thinking about what we want.

This year the hunk and I are staying home. We don't exchange gifts as there isn't anything we want or need. We'll cook what we want--I confess it will mostly be distressingly healthy. On Christmas Eve we'll have our traditional tacos, of course.

Christmas morning, long after most folks have tumbled out of bed and ripped the wrappings off presents, we'll have a leisurely breakfast, listen to Christmas carols, and putz around. Later in the day we'll cook dinner. Maybe we'll watch something on Netflix.

I don't know if we'll decorate or not. It all depends on whether we're ambitious enough to haul out the tree and ornaments. We may only set up the Nativity we've had for the last thirty years. And some candles.

Now I understand this would not be an ideal Christmas for most folks. And in the past, I might have been disappointed to bypass the company, the decorating, the baking. But the truth is I'm ready for a peaceful, non-demanding holiday with my spouse. I suspect our expectations change as we age and move on to a new stage in life. Maybe, just maybe, we don't pause to reflect and consider how our expectations might have changed over the transitions.

Some folks confess they don't have the 'holiday spirit'. I don't think that's the problem, but rather I believe those folks might be hankering for a different style celebration. The trappings don't make the holiday. The heart does. This year...follow your heart.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Santa's Helper

For those who follow my blog, you know I post several Christmas Vignettes from my past throughout the month of December. Mostly, I do it to remind myself of all the blessings I've been given through the years. Since today is my son's birthday, I post this story in his honor.

Christmas 1979. That was the year we stretched the budget to get the kids’ bicycles. At our house, Santa always brings a stuffed animal. It was my feeling that Santa bringing tons of presents sets up kids for unrealistic expectations. No matter how the year goes, a stuffed animal is always doable. And after that, whatever Mom and Dad can come up with is great.

My kids had a realistic idea of our money situation from the time we sat them down and let them pay the bills with real money. My house hunk had his check cashed at the bank in $1 bills. Then we sat down with the kids and let them count out the money for each bill. We did that for six weeks. If there was any money left over after the bills we let them do the grocery shopping with a calculator and count out the money for the food.

After that when we said there was no money, they understood that reality. To this day, they’re all very good managers. This particular Christmas was important to us as a family as the previous Christmas had been very, very bad. We didn’t have a lot of money, but there was a bit more than usual so we decided that we could afford to buy bicycles.

Of course when your kids are pre-teen age, hiding bicycles is a pretty tricky proposition. Finally, we simply made the garage off-limits. Late Christmas Eve the house hunk and I were out there trying to assemble three bicycles. The store would have assembled them, but that cost money that we couldn’t afford. One needed training wheels. Things did not go well.

Around 2 AM, the door opened and my second son trotted out there with his hands in his pockets. First of all, I was startled that he was still dressed. And then of course I demanded to know why he was awake.

“Well,” he said, “I thought I would see how long it took you to put them together. But it’s late. I’m tired. And I would like to ride my bike tomorrow. So I gave up. Do you want me to put them together?”

His father handed him the wrenches. “If you think you can do better than we are, go for it.” Thirty minutes later all three bikes were assembled and parked by the tree.

My son was nine years old that Christmas. Until he left for the Navy, it was always his responsibility to assemble all the gifts marked “Some Assembly Required.”

That year Santa brought the kids stuffed Safari animals—lions, tigers, and such. Up until a few years ago, they still had them. And then they decided to donate them to a kid’s program. As I recall, that was the sum total of Christmas gifts that year, except for the perennial favorite… new underwear. To this day, that’s a family in-joke.


Blessings and Happy Birthday, Tony!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Great Christmas/Holiday Debate

Every year...EVERY YEAR...a huge debate rages over whether to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. So-called Christians loudly defend their right to say Merry Christmas. Everyone else says, "Who cares?" A holiday is a holiday is a holiday.

First of all, I've heard of NO ONE arrested for saying Merry Christmas. I wish all these folks that share this nonsense on social media in a knee-jerk reaction would grow up. Seriously. No one cares what words you use. No one.

Secondly, I was raised in a strict Southern Baptist home. My dad's a minister. And if, I say IF anyone out there truly wants to celebrate Christmas the Christian way, then...no tree, no presents, no Santa, no holiday decorations, no feast. All of those are pagan rituals adopted by the church to make Christianity more attractive to converts. So every time you say Merry Christmas, you're continuing an old pagan tradition.

After much research, I can't find any evidence for Christians to celebrate Christmas. None. I searched high and low for any Biblical reason. There is none. The entire holiday is a sham invented by corrupt priests to snooker the local pagans. The truth is Christmas and all its trappings is 99% pagan from the 'Christmas' colors (red and green) to the candles to the tree tradition to the pine bough decorations. Presents are a fairly recent tradition (in the last couple centuries). And the date was picked to coincide with the Roman holiday of Saturnalia and the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice. Christmas Eve Mass and other services are no more Christian than any other part of the celebration.

So. If you want to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then follow his example. Feed the poor. House the homeless. Heal the sick. That's the way to celebrate Christmas.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Craft

A craftsman (craftswoman) is an individual who creates--with their hands, their minds, their voices--and yes, in this day and age, with a computer. They produce something by their personal efforts. In the past, not so long ago, craftsmanship was respected and honored. Folks were willing to pay dearly for a one-of-a-kind piece of furniture or knitted sweater or painting. They revered those who produced music with an instrument or their voice. Books were treasured and passed from one generation to the next.

And then we entered the Wal-Mart era. Oh, it's not only their fault. All stores seemed to embrace the throw-away philosophy. Folks no longer re-read books, mining them for new insights. Now the cry is, "I have nothing to read!" Every season we have to have a new coat or new boots or new furniture or pots and pans or towels or something--even if we don't need it, whatever it is.

Because we are completely aware of the ephemeral aspect of all our worldly goods, they really have no value for us. And therefore, nothing has value. When we look at a house or car, we're not calculating how many years we will have them. We're not thinking about passing that beloved book or table or vase on to our children. We're not planning to use Grandma's turkey platter for our dinners...because we can buy our own new improved turkey platter--every year if necessary. Our landfills and dumps are overflowing with our discards.

I made the pocket rocks in the photo above as free giveaways for a writer's conference. FREE. I couldn't give them away. At the end of the conference, a reviewer offered to take the leftovers to add to prize packages. I let her have them. I probably spent two or three hundred hours making them. But all the folks at the conference saw were cheap rocks.

I may spend six months writing a book. Readers complain when I ask them to pay three dollars for the privilege of reading it. They only look at the external aspects of production--cover art, editing, marketing--which require special skills that are all expensive on their own, and decide the actual act of writing is worthless. Books have been so devalued in our time, many authors are moving on to some other job so they and their families can eat.

I once spent considerable time and effort producing calligraphy art. For one piece (8"X12"), the average time required for design and lettering was seventy hours. That did not take into account supplies (ink, pens, brushes, special paper, matting and framing). I charged fifty dollars for heirloom quality art. I sold two pieces. Both buyers took pains to point out they could have printed something out from the computer for a lot less money.

Craftsmanship is fading in a slow, painful death. Everything we cherish is mass produced in a factory by underpaid workers. Quality is a thing of the past. In the next twenty-four days, people in this country will race from one store to the next, snatching cheap, mass-produced goods, spending billions of dollars for crap that will be discarded by July. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sixty-Five Years

Today I'm sixty-five years old. It is cause for reflection. Who am I? How did I get here? I look back at the past--my past--and see many times I took the road less traveled. Were those times the best decisions? Even now, I don't know.

Most children have no concept of 'old'. They can't envision a time when they won't be able to run like the wind or do somersaults or race off on their bikes. For them, climbing a tree is as exciting as taking a spaceship to the moon. When they sprawl in the grass, they don't worry about bugs or ticks. Freedom and curiosity are just abstract concepts.

Then they reach their teens. Life abruptly takes on a baffling confusion of conflicting expectations and desires. Their bodies change in weird, terrifying ways. They long to be grown up while clinging to the security of parental care.

Abruptly, they're flung into adulthood where things really get scary. Responsibility isn't just a vague concept anymore. Sex and relationships and marriage fling them into changes they're not prepared for. Suddenly, on that day they hear themselves tell their children 'Because I said so,' they realize they're becoming their parents.

And still--getting old is something that will happen way off in the distant future.

Mine is a long-lived family. My parents are in their eighties. I don't anticipate death anytime soon. And yet I'm slowing down. Crawling out of bed in the morning is accompanied by a few more groans and pains than I would like to admit. I have to swallow far more pills than I'm happy about. But life, so far, goes on.

Do I have regrets? Not many. That's a pretty good place to be at sixty-five. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

I've been quite remiss in my blogging lately. It's that time of year when it seems I'm always busy, always have SOMETHING to do, SOMEWHERE to go. I could say that's the reason and almost everyone would accept it. But the simple truth is I've had very little to say.

I am not sure why that is. Perhaps my life is just that boring. Perhaps I'm in a quiet eddy of life and should enjoy the peace while I have it. I don't know.

The other day, I was cleaning out my e-mails, sorting through some files, and it occurred to me we don't communicate anymore. Folks that have cell phones text. Most of the rest use social media via their computers. No one e-mails. No one actually WRITES. Fewer and fewer people TALK on the phone. My phone calls are 90% bill collectors for people who don't live here. My e-mails are mostly ads from companies I was insane enough to order products from. The last time I received an e-mail from a real live person was about two weeks ago. She was a reader asking about one of my books. I was thrilled!

More and more we rely on social media for that pale, shallow thing we call communication. We post pictures of cute kitties or puppies, post links to interesting or controversial articles, post prayer requests for unspecified catastrophes in our families, or post pics about the bad weather. Very little of substance is exchanged. Social media allows us to fake real communication.

I tried to figure out why we've stumbled down this trail to oblivion. I suspect it's pure laziness. Writing--or talking--takes energy and time we just don't want to spend. Where we used to have long conversations on the phone, we now have a quick 'message' exchange. Typing is too much work so the exchange is generally very short. And e-mails...well, I remember when they started replacing actual letters. Now, no one bothers.

When is the last time you wrote an actual letter? You know, the kind that requires a stamp and envelope? Birthday and Christmas cards don't count. Uh-huh. I'm the same. The US Post Office mostly deals with  junk mail, packages, and bills. I love receiving letters. Can't remember when that last happened.

Instead of increasing communication, all the technology at our fingertips has actually isolated us even more. In the past, letters to loved ones in the military were treasured, carefully preserved, and taken out often for re-reading. I wonder how many soldiers receive letters now?

Families were separated by long distances. Letters and telephone calls kept the members up to date. Now, we're too busy to even e-mail. How is that better? Yes, a picture posted on Facebook is nice... I suppose I shouldn't complain, eh?

Perhaps, blogging is the last bastion of communication. Who would have thought?

Drop me line. annycook67@yahoo.com


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bad News, Bad Weather, and Media

I don't normally listen to the 'news' on the networks. Actually...I rarely switch on the news from any source. That doesn't mean I'm uninformed. I do my own research about the topics that interest me. Otherwise, I get on with life.

Frankly, I just can't stand the gushing excitement displayed by the news guys and gals as they report new examples of humanity's capacity for violence and increasing lack of compassion. The weather guys are just as bad.

Ebola! Murder! Bombing! Rain! Wind!

After a while, it takes more, MORE to get the public's attention. Have you noticed?

It used to be we were horrified if someone was murdered. But with the spread of more and more information bites, we found that unexciting. Ho-hum. So what? Really, how many murders can you report before folks tune 'em out? Crazy people who were looking for attention discovered they were going to have to up the game if they wanted national coverage. It wasn't enough to shoot/stab/poison a couple people. Nope. Multiple victims were required. Lots of bodies.

We're fickle. Pretty soon even mass murders couldn't keep our attention. The crazies had to find some new, more horrifying way to attract our attention. Slowly, but surely, they graduated to executions, beheadings, and who know what will be next. I sincerely believe the escalation in violence is directly related to HOW such things are reported--and the duration of the coverage.

The weather folks have learned this lesson, much to their cost. Every little rain storm, every high, every low was so over-reported, the public just turned it off. The inflated excitement was akin to the boy crying 'Wolf!' After a while, people yawned and found something else to watch.

If the news media reported murders in a matter-of-fact fashion that listed the bare facts and moved on, I believe the shock value would drop like a stone. No extra coverage. No forty-seven reporters standing in front of schools, factories, court houses, scenes of devastation, repeating the same three or four facts over and over and over. No cameras flashing from scene to scene as cops try to track down bombers.

Surely there are positive events to report. If not, then why turn on the news at all? It strikes me as sad when the news can only scrape up one positive story a week. Are we really that lost?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fear

Every person on earth, whether they are willing to admit it or not, has experienced fear. Some face their fears, owning them, analyzing them, and finally banishing them. Others run, hide, deny or blame their fear on someone else.

Every time I think of fear, I remember a scene in an old movie, Remo Williams. Remo is standing on the precipice of a tall building, frozen by his fear of heights. His mentor points out that fear is just a feeling. "We feel cold, we feel hot, we feel happy, we feel fear. Fear cannot kill you."

What we do with that fear, that adrenaline CAN affect us. Fear is an atavistic signal that something is wrong, something is not quite right. Fear protects us if we remember it is a feeling and take the necessary moments to assess the source, then decide how to deal with that source. Perhaps the best step is to run! On the other hand, me just might need to squish it!

If we allow fear to paralyze us, we give it power over us. How can we make a decision or solve the problem if we let it have that power? Acknowledge it. Look at it head-on. Decide how to deal with the source. Set it aside. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chicken Little Syndrome

Henny Penny, more commonly known as Chicken Little and sometimes as Chicken Licken, is a folk tale with a moral in the form of a cumulative tale about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. The phrase "The sky is falling!" features prominently in the story, and has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent. Versions of the story go back more than 25 centuries and it continues to be referenced in a variety of media.~~Wikipedia

An acorn falls from a tree, plunking Chicken Little on the head. Convinced the sky is falling--and therefore the world is coming to an end--she sets off to see the king to demand a solution. On the way, she encounters several other animals, shares her story (always declaring the sky is falling) and each animal joins her in her quest. None of the animals question her conclusion. Finally they meet a fox who pretends sympathy for their quest and offers his assistance. Instead he takes advantage of their fear to lead them back to his den where he kills and eats them.

My friends, we are in the days of Chicken Little and his friends!

Ebola! Ebola! It's coming!

Enterovirus! Enterovirus!

Plague! Plague!

War! War!

Something bad happens everyday--somewhere. Once in a while, it happens to us. None of us is isolated. All of us are vulnerable. But running around yelling, "The sky is falling!" is not helpful.

Instead, folks should determine what they can do on a personal level to minimize their chances of being affected by whatever the problem is. What preparations are appropriate? What actions should be taken? What changes in our daily lives should be made?

I can tell you right off the bat that huddling together and feeding each others fears is not going to help. There are things folks can do. Every year doctors urge folks to wash their hands. Yet, when researchers study this one behavior, they find few people actually wash their hands often enough. The simple act of washing our hands would dramatically cut the spread of all sorts of diseases. It's a simple, effective solution, but we fail to change this one behavior.

Another thing we can do is sharpen our awareness when we're in public. Avoid crowding into space with a lot of people. Most stores offer disinfectant wipes near their carts so you can wipe down the handles. And again, few people take advantage of them.

Pay attention to all the items you touch every day. Door knobs, exit bars, light switches, mail, money, keys, items in stores...The list is endless. Wash your hands!

How often do you touch some part of your body? Face, arms, mouth, feet. All are covered by germs. That's reality. Wash your hands!

Immunity and disease resistance needs a bit of help. Eat nutritious food. Chuck the junk.

Make sure you get enough sleep. Instead of staying up all night, playing on the computer, go to bed.

Drink water. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know water isn't terribly sexy, but it's good for the body and helps flush out all the nasty stuff. Drink it!

Go for a walk, even it it's just around the parking lot. This one is a two-fer. You get fresh air and exercise AND you get all the Vitamin D you need in 15 minutes. Important stuff!

Think positive thoughts. This sounds kind of silly, but the truth is, we generate most of our anxiety ourselves. We wallow in 'what ifs' instead of being grateful for what we have. We are responsible for making ourselves ill!

I'm not advocating we ignore the dangers around us, but we need to jump off Chicken Little's bandwagon. That thing is going nowhere good.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pig in a Poke

A few days ago, I located a specific particular set of knitting needles on the internet and ordered them. Stores don't carry them, though some knitting shops will special order them. They are metal with a square shaft instead of a round one.

I didn't just take a notion to buy them. I purchased a circular needle in a shop (two needles connected by a cable) made from the same type of needles and tried them out. I've already tried out wooden 'cubic' needles--as has the hunk--but the tiny sizes are fragile and I was looking for something in the same style, but sturdier.

I'm generally willing to try something that interests me--at least once. Most times, I'm pleased with my purchase. A few times...not so much. For instance, the hunk purchased a set of needles by the same company that made his favorite crochet hooks. There's absolutely nothing WRONG with them, but he was disappointed with them after working with the cubics. Such is life. Sometimes things just don't quite fit right. I don't return them, if that's the case. After all, it's not the fault of the store or maker. I consider it a lesson learned and move on.

A friend of mine doesn't quite understand my philosophy. Isn't that a waste of money? Well, no. I learned something and the money spent was the price of the lesson. If I send it back, I'm less likely to take note of what I learned. What will we do with the needles? Probably somewhere down the road, we'll give them to someone who loves them and will treasure them.

I suppose you're wondering where I'm going with my meandering post. Well, it's this. Unless the purchased article or service is defective, I'm against returning it. Don't you think all the 'return-no-questions-asked' has led to a lot of folks snapping things up with the mentality of if I don't like it, I'll return it?

I believe folks are pretty careless when they purchase things. Just ask any author who's dealt with returns. Some of the reasons for returns:

I didn't like the book. Fair enough. Don't buy any more of my books.

The book was too short. Book length was stated in the description. Did you expect it to grow longer during download?

The book had too much sex. Please refer to the description where it says 'erotic'.

I don't like westerns. What part of Cowboy at Dead Gulch was unclear?

I didn't like the ending. See #1. Don't buy any more of my books.

In effect, buying a book, then returning it, is the same as borrowing it. The purchaser received something for nothing. It's the same as buying an article of clothing, wearing it to a party, then returning it because it's not quite what you were looking for.

Some authors don't agree with me. They say they'll get more readers by taking the hit in the pocketbook. I don't think so. I think if more folks had to keep what they bought, they'd purchase more carefully--whatever the item. What ever happened to Buyer Beware?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rainy Days and Mondays

When I was a youngster, I enjoyed rainy days. Those were days I was allowed to stay 'inside' and actively urged to read. Unlike many of my peers, our family didn't have a television. We had books. Lots of books. When I was around eight or so, my parents bought a sixteen volume set of children's books. Each thick red-bound book had a different theme...mysteries, sci-fi, poetry, stories for young readers, sports, unusual fairy tales and legends, stories for teens. I still have the books. I still read them.

The books were my first exposure to the best-of-the-best in literature. It was in these books I read my first O. Henry, my first Edgar Allen Poe, my first stories about the old west, outer space, and Shakespeare. They opened infinite new worlds for me. In their pages I met a young Michelangelo, Paul Bunyan, Mollie Pitcher, other intrepid young colonial and pioneer girls, and learned there were all sorts of possibilities for me.

For much of my pre-adult life, I lived in small, insular towns where women's roles were sharply, narrowly defined. Television in the fifties and sixties wasn't much better. But in this set of books I found a place where girls and women lived a wider role in society. Girls had adventures. They had dreams. They had desires that had nothing to do with sticking to the traditional roles of society at that time.

That set of volumes was the foundation for my life-long love of books. To this day, I associate rainy days with snuggling under a warm cover with a thick book. Reading--the best way to spend a rainy day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Simple Living

The photo above is one of my family's homes. The fellow second from the right is my grandfather. The house was still occupied until I was in my thirties. It consisted of four rooms with no running water or indoor plumbing. There was a well (off to the right of the house). The rooms to the left and the right had separate entrances. By the time I visited as a girl, it had electricity.

The summer I was fourteen our family went to visit for a week. At the time, I thought it was a great adventure. My Uncle Bill had sheep and a horse and a water tank where we went swimming. We didn't have air conditioning at home so I didn't think it was a big deal that Uncle Bill didn't either. But let me tell you, creeping out to the outhouse in the middle of the night, flashlight and hoe in hand was a different issue. It was enough to make you reconsider the necessity. For those of you wondering about the hoe--that was for the snakes.

This place was also the first place I drove. Uncle Bill had an old pick-up with a long stickshift on the floor. No markings for 1st, 2nd, reverse. You just had to do that by feel. Fortunately, there wasn't much out there to run in to...except the cattle guards. All gravel road and dry brush.

I'm sure life wasn't nearly as much fun when a person lived there all the time. Laundry was done with a washboard and tub and hung on a line to dry. Water was heated on the stove. Baths were taken in the wash tub or out of a bowl with a wash cloth.

But something about the simple life was obviously better. All the folks in that generation of my family--and most of the next generation--lived well into their eighties and nineties. Maybe it was the constant exercise and work. And no doubt it was also the home grown food. But I also think it was just stressing less about things in the outer world and not worrying about keeping up with the Jones or the Smiths.

Best of all, no one really cared what the celebrity of the week was up to. No one cared.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Inner Circle

Life is a series of circles. Most of us spend our entire lives out on the edges of life's circles, perfectly happy with our place in space and time. Oh, we might want to nudge to one side or the other, but when it gets down to it, we're content. That doesn't mean we don't have goals and destinations in mind. Without those, we grow stagnant.

A few folks elbow and pummel their way to the inner circle. "This is where it's all happening!" they cry. The real truth is that's where they're hemmed in, prevented from change and growth by the walls surrounding them. The walls might be expectations. Or responsibilities. Rules. It doesn't really matter what hems them in. The end result is the same. The closer to the inner circle, the less freedom.

I've been part of an inner circle only once in my life. It was the most miserable, stressful time of my life. Responsibility nearly drowned me. Anxiety and stress destroyed my health. And until I walked away, I didn't realize how much I hated it. Months passed before I finally settled in the outer circle--a totally different circle--and learned to breathe again.

The funny part is we strive from early childhood to be one of the inner circle, one of the elite, one of the popular crowd. Until we reach adulthood we don't realize how very empty the inner circle is. Some men and women don't learn how hollow the center is until they've destroyed their lives through drugs or alcohol or some other vice. They're dancing so fast to keep up, they never have time to calculate the true cost of their place.

Occupants in the inner circle delude themselves, believing they're important, they wield authority, they're in the know. Not so. Their power is an illusion, bolstered by the folks in the outer circle. When those on the outside withdraw their admiration, support, or interest, the inner circle collapses in on itself. If their belief in their invincibility leads to corruption and greed, the collapse is usually spectacularly public.

After my brief stint in an inner circle, I contemplated my folly for a while. Then I made a deliberate decision to roam the outer circle, seeking new experiences, relishing the freedom to try new things, and savoring the peace and tranquility of contentment.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Never-Ending Restarts

I haven't written in a while. This last week, I decided to work on a 'sword and sorcery' fantasy I started a couple years ago. Immediately, I ran into a problem. I couldn't locate the file.

I've changed computers since I began work on the story...and I could have sworn I moved all the files. But evidently not. I fired up the older computer and started running search patterns for various key words. Nothing. Nothing. No files.

Then I sat back and thought about the various bits that would set it apart from other stories and began a new series of searches. In the end, I found five files--each with a different story--but the same beginning. With a deep sigh, I created a new folder and stashed them all together.

And then I began to read them. One by one. It was like reading a 'choose your adventure' book. All of them started out with the same three chapters. Then they diverged wildly. All had parts in the later sections I would like to include in the final book.

I don't work well doing rewrites electronically. Back when I started writing, most writers did that first draft by hand and I find I work best that way still. On the other hand, if I print out all five files, I'll end up with a stack of paper like the one in picture.

I foresee a week of winnowing. Mark the bits I want to keep and print them out. Then cut and paste. And finally...see what I can make of it. Those on the outside of the writer's world think it's a linear process. For me...not so much. My brain tends to leap around from one scene to another. Then I have to arrange them like a jigsaw puzzle, making all the pieces work. If I succeed, that's a miracle.

I bet you didn't know I'm a miracle worker, did you?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer Gone

This year was the year of the wet, cool summer in Baltimore. Oh, there was a day here and there when the temps were uncomfortable, but mainly it was a cool summer. Last winter was cold and bitter--and if we believe the Farmer's Almanac--it will be cold and bitter this coming winter.

Right now, though, it's cool, sunny and fallish. Here and there the leaves are starting to turn. In some parts of our country, it's not cool or sunny or wet. Some places are suffering from drought. Some are facing another round of floods from Hurricane Odile in the southwest. The country is pretty much in weather flux.

For all the influence the weather has on our lives, I find it odd how little attention we pay to it. Every time there's a disaster, folks say things like, "I didn't realize it would be this bad." Or, "Wow! I didn't know it was supposed to rain (snow, spawn tornadoes, hail, or climb into the triple digits)." We have the greatest collection of scientific weather tools we've ever had. Why are we failing to take advantage of them?

Well. Summer's rolling out. Fall will whiz by with all the colored leaves and pumpkins and Halloween. Then bam!  Winter will be here. So before that happens, enjoy the sunny days. Get out there and breathe. Let the sun kiss your face. Walk beneath the trees while they still have leaves. Listen to the birds before they all fly south. Summer's going, going, almost gone...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Common Core

Back in the 'olden' days, I learned how to count with dried pinto beans, or buttons, or used match sticks. Then some idjet came along and decided that beans, buttons, and match sticks were dangerous objects in the hands of first graders so they substituted paper strips. The strips were harder for small hands to manipulate and weren't nearly as hardy, but there ya go. It was still low tech learning.

We learned how to read by a combination of phonics and sounding out words. If you knew the phonics code, you could put together the various letter blocks together to make word. Pick + lock = picklock. Cat + nap = catnap. And so on. In the same way, you could deconstruct a word to sound it out.

Then the REAL idiots came along and decided that wasn't complicated enough. Phonics was baaaaad. Counting with paper strips was baaaaad. And lo, some nudjit with power in the school systems decreed that would no longer be the way kids learned.

Sight reading and New Math were introduced. Now we have a nation of adults who can't read OR add or subtract. So someone had a bright idea. We'll go back to the OLD way. Everyone got on the bandwagon. Educators saw the light! Most children learned.

As all things work, a new cycle rolled around and someone decided they had a better way. Because some children had difficulty learning. Instead of focusing on WHY they didn't learn--instead of giving them personal help--someone decided EVERYONE should learn at the same level. And our government made it a law, totally ignoring reality. NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND.

The truth is some children will NEVER learn more than basic skills. Some will be fortunate to learn to dress themselves and feed themselves. And some children are so advanced they can do high school work in second grade. The vast majority are in the middle. Every child should be challenged to the best of his ability. But we can't do that by treating them as cookie cutter kids. And we can't do it by inventing gibberish ways to teach them.

Now we have something called Common Core. The math problem above is an example. I foresee a new generation of kids who can't add or subtract. But that's okay! They'll have electronic devices to think for them. Of course, no one is considering what will happen when all our devices fail. Folks who have graduated in the last forty years have far fewer skills than those before that. Every generation depends more on technology and less on personal knowledge and skill. Whenever that happens, a small core of individuals ends up with all the political power. That's what we see happening now.

Common Core. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!

A fake weather forecast from Empire News is making its way around the Internet. It forecasts unimaginable snowfall and incredibly cold temps. It was well written and fooled a lot of folks. That doesn't particularly bother me. People need to read with discrimination. Really.

But it does bring up the question of whether anyone would pay attention if the warning was serious. Our government--and others--frequently make the excuse of possible wide-spread panic for failing to warn their populations about various catastrophic possibilities. I believe so few people would pay attention that it wouldn't matter if they announced aliens were going to land tomorrow. Most folks would A) shrug and go on about their business, or B) be so busy reading about the latest celebrity scandal they'd never know about it. (Until the aliens were rounding them up to ship them off to some distant planet. Then they'd think it was a movie stunt.)

Is it a case of the authorities crying "Wolf!" too often? I don't think so. I suspect it's more a case of people who are too oblivious to their surroundings to care. Perhaps there's also a lack of perception or insight about what is important as opposed to what is entertainment. People don't want to be anxious about everyday living.

The hunk and I have been watching a mystery series set during World War II. There is a considerable bit of the show that portrays what the general populace endures in their day to day existence. Blackouts, shortages, rationing, air raids. And always, there are those individuals who refuse to accept reality, who deny that any of it is necessary--because the enemy can't be 'that bad'. Why should they be deprived just because the government wants to instill panic?

We see a similar attitude every time we're warned about hurricanes or blizzards. People don't want to accept the inconvenience of preparation. Then, there's a huge disaster like Katrina or Sandy and all those folks who didn't prepare for the worst, for the unimaginable, are busy pointing fingers at the authorities. "You should have warned us," they cry.

I want to know, were you listening? Probably not. Did you pay attention to the warnings and take responsibility for your own welfare? No. Every year we hear the same refrain after major disasters--where it the government? Why aren't they here, helping us, rescuing us? These are the same people who ignored the warnings.

When did we become so weak as a country that we can't figure out how to prepare for our family's safety? Are we really that hopeless? What if there was no prospect of help? Think about all the pictures we see on the news of refugees fleeing from war, or flood, or earthquakes.

Now. Picture what our country would be without our various agencies. Yes, yes, yes, I know you think they don't move fast enough. But what if they weren't there at all? Are you ready? Are you aware of possible catastrophe? Are you listening? Or do you think they're just crying, "Wolf?"

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On Strike

A good friend and fellow author wrote about burnout. She had some excellent things to say. Check our her post HERE. Burnout is often brushed to the side or pooh-poohed by folks as unimportant or imaginary. Last year I confessed to another writer that I just wasn't interested in writing and he fired back a pithy suggestion to get with the program.

Well, that's not always possible. 

I would point out that writing--as any creative endeavor--is not something you just sit down and do like counting matchsticks or doing sit-ups. There's an element requiring thought and imagination. And sometimes, sadly, our imagination and thought processes go on strike. Unfortunately, those around us, our significant others, our peers, and our friends can't see the picket signs waving inside our brains. 

When we see striking workers on the street, we generally have an idea about what they want. Their demands are right there on the picket signs. More money. Shorter hours. Benefits.

But when a writer goes on strike, it's difficult to make out what the problem might be. I suspect for a lot of writers the number one demand is Feed Me. Not the junk food and coffee writers seem to inhale by the barrel as they write, but real food--a balanced diet-- and water. We can't write well on shoddy fuel.

Second on the list is probably Go Outside. Walk around. Take pictures. Talk to people other than your family. Observe the world around you. Writing is a solitary occupation. You can't do it without mental input. With the best of intentions you can't get that input by reading, watching television, or texting. It requires interaction with others.

Third would definitely be Exercise. Jogging is not required. Movement is. For the most part, writing, researching, planning are all sedentary. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary. If there's a great issue our descendants will pay for, it's the sedentary life technology has fostered. Turn on the radio and dance. Sing while you vacuum. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Go swimming. There are real mental benefits in movement. Sitting leads to sluggishness. That's why we get so many good ideas in the shower.

Finally, the last demand might be Visit Your Doctor. As much as we want to deny it, we're aging every single day. And with aging (no matter what your current age is) things change. Particularly with the sedentary life, there are a zillion things that can happen. High blood pressure. Thyroid changes. Diabetes. High cholesterol. The first symptom of many of these conditions is...fuzzy thinking. That's the signal. Go. Talk to your doc about how you're really feeling. The truth. The WHOLE truth.

Pay attention to those strike pickets. Changes just might make them go away. And then we can all get back to what we love best. Writing.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Plot Craters and TSTL Characters

Whilst knitting away at the sock factory, the hunk and I have been watching various re-runs (mostly mysteries) on Netflix. I entertain myself by pointing out the plot holes for the hunk. Some of them are sooooo huge, though, he spots them even before I do. We also critique the TSTL (too stupid to live) characters--the ones who inevitably die before the first break. And lastly, we make wagers on whether folks will scream when they find a body.

It's minor entertainment, but our own.

One memorable episode had it all. It opened with this woman flinging her second story window open and screaming, "Help! There's someone in my house!" It was the middle of the night. And I know no one who would dress and go to see what was going on. Why not telephone the police?

Anyway, all these men from the village arrive to rescue her, only to be stymied by a way to get in. No one seemed inclined to break down the door as they were more entertained by her nightie. Never fear, it turned out she kept a spare key under a flower pot by the front door. Problem solved. No intruder was found, but the police were called--and a report made.

Next night. She lets her dog out, in heavy rain. Afterwards, she locks up and goes to bed. And later wakes to discover her back door is open and there are boot prints on the floor by the back door. Where is the dog? No mention of him. No barking. However, she decides someone is in her house and calls the police inspector, then grabs a knife from the kitchen before running screaming into the rain. Really?

Police arrive. LOTS of police. And they discover a body in the garden. Ahhhhh. The plot starts to pick up speed. Cops suggest she change her locks so the next day she arranges for the local handyman to change the locks. When she arrives home from work, he demonstrates all the improvements he's made, then providentially produces a bottle of wine to share with her. And idiot that she is, she agrees. Later, when he pronounces he's too drunk to drive home, she suggests he can sleep it off in her summer house.

In the middle of the night she wakes up and decides to go check on this turkey in the summer house. In the pouring rain. (It rained every night in this episode!) And guess what? The handyman is dead--murdered.

Police arrive. LOTS of police. Blah, blah, blah.

Next day, she invites a different man (her neighbor) to spend the evening because she's afraid. He agrees. Then she suggests he spend the night in her spare room. He agrees. Then, in the middle of the night she sleepwalks into the spare room and...well, when he objects, she wakes up screaming. The entire village pours out to see what's up. The police arrive. LOTS of police. (By now, I would have rented a room in the village!) And she suggests they lock her up--the first sensible suggestion in this show. BTW, after the first night, the dog pretty much disappears. So what happened to the dog?

In the meantime, the other villagers have been planning their annual festival night complete with dinner and auction to raise money to repair the village hall. Two factions have formed. One wants to have a fancy new dinner with 'high class wealthy' guests and expensive items to auction. The other plans to carry on the way they always have. One particularly obnoxious social climbing woman is the leader for the new plan. This story line is interwoven with the main plot line.

Suddenly, with almost no preparation, the police inspector arrives at the solution to the murders. There's no explanation for how he arrived at his conclusion, but ta-da! In a few moments, with his sidekicks, he demonstrates how it all was done and reveals the killer.

BUT, there was one redeeming feature of this story. It turned out that the murderer was the snobby woman's husband. And in one brilliant stroke, she totally gets her comeuppance. Yes!

Now. Guess what the dippy heroine did for a living? She was a school teacher. Really.

The hunk and I have watched this episode several times...and we get a lot of laughs each time. What were the writers thinking? 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kissing A Frog

You can't ever tell what you'll get when you kiss a frog. You might just get warts. Frogs can be deceiving. The most beautiful frog could turn out to be a serial killer. The ugliest frog could be a man or woman of loving compassion. Choosing a frog based on appearance is an iffy proposition.

A lot of men and women develop online 'relationships' based solely on the personality their friend displays for them...with no idea whether there is truth or falsity behind the image. They're kissing the frog without having a clue whether they'll get a prince or the court jester or even the hangman.

I worry about folks who share all sorts of intimate details with their online friends. I'm not even talking about things like identity theft or online scams. What about predators that use their online disguise to stalk their victims? How easy does the average person make it for a predator?

What about you? Are you kissing the wrong frogs?