Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Child

My last Christmas post for 2016...

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 thirteen this year. Happy Birthday, baby!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

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.

A miracle.


Anny

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.
Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.
Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.
Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.
In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.
Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!
Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.
Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so much that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody!"
Copyright Anny Cook 2007

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Christmas Mouse

It was two days before Christmas and Herald, the Christmas Mouse was too tired to move. When humans started the Christmas Shopping Season, they didn't think about how hazardous all those busy shoppers were for the mice. Why, a mouse could barely scurry across the wide hallways in the mall without someone stepping on his tail--or worse! It was up to Herald to take care of all the tiny mouselets while their harried parents shopped.

Some of the mouse children didn't want to stay in the nursery. Some pulled on Herald's tail because they wanted to shop with their Mamas. There were fifteen children from the Snow family and they all wanted something to eat! Little Angela Tree sucked her paws and bawled for her Mama.

Herald ran from child to child, wiping whiskers, offering cheese crumbs and toys, and refereeing arguments between the two oldest boys in the Star family, Twinkle and Shiny. Herald desperately wanted a few minutes of quiet.

Then he heard a beautiful sound drift through the nursery door. It was the sound of someone singing. One by one the mouse children grew silent. As the singing grew louder, the mouselets all gathered on the rug in the center of the room and they sat down in small groups, listening carefully to the music. Soon Herald realized that some of them were humming the melody.

In the still, quiet nursery, Herald crept to the door and peeked out into the corridor. A young human woman sat on a bench in the center of the mall, singing all alone. People were smiling and stopping to listen. Cranky children who had been crying, grew quiet and leaned against their weary parents as the young woman continued to sing. Slowly, peace fell over the mall to the strains of a Christmas song. Then Herald recognized the music. She was singing the Christmas Lullaby--Silent Night.

Herald turned to look at the mouse children and saw that they were all asleep. Twinkle Star was even snoring!

Softly, Herald crept out to the young woman and stood near her foot with his whiskers twitching and his beady little eyes shining, listening to the beautiful song. And then, wonder of wonders, she bent and offered him a perch on her fingers. It seemed to him that she even perhaps invited him to sing with her.

Suddenly, Herald wasn't so tired. He opened his tiny mouth and began to sing. And as he sang with all his heart, the Christmas Spirit swelled within him so that when the song was finished, he roared out, "Merry Christmas Everybody! And a Happy New Year!"

©2007 Anny Cook

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Christmas Miracle


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.

Then, 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.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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 from 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 with a blizzard 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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Blessings

Every Christmas.  Over the last few days I've read several social media posts and statuses where adults are mourning their lack of Christmas (gifts, lights, tree, decorations, etc.) They're not mentioning the lack for their children's sake. No...they're speaking up for their own lack.

Since this is something I can speak about from vast experience, I had to have my say. For the last innumerable Christmases (not to mention birthdays, Mother's Day, etc., etc.) I could count all my gifts on one hand. Some years I didn't need even a finger to count. And yet, I feel blessed.

I have four reasonably healthy children with their attachments, one healthy husband, two still independent parents, and three healthy siblings with all the attachments--spouses, children, grandchildren. Speaking of grandchildren, I also have five brilliant, healthy ones of my own.

None of them live anywhere near us. But I love them and I am blessed by their very existence.

I have shelter. I have food. I have everything I need to be comfortable, plus some to spare. It was not always so. There were years when I wondered how we would feed our children, but that is not the case this year. And so I am blessed.

I have a closet full of decorations for the holidays. This year I chose not to haul them out. But even if that closet was empty, it wouldn't leave me less blessed. Christmas isn't about decorations or carols or gifts. It's about love.

For those of you feeling loneliness or depression, my heart goes out to you because you are devoid of the greatest of gifts--love. Love for yourself. Love for another. Love for your neighbor. If you have any of those, you are blessed.

Light a candle and give thanks.

anny

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Calligraphy Process



When I have "down time" I do calligraphy. It occurred to me there are parallels between calligraphy and our writing. Believe it or not, the finished product doesn't magically appear. Just as we spend hours working on our writing, polishing and refining it, the calligrapher also spends hours--much of it in preparation before he or she leaps out with the touch of faith to put pen to paper. As with almost anything we attempt, we start with practice. Repetition and constant practice leads to competency at the very least.
Once we have a minimum competency, we start attempting a complete project. First a word. Then a sentence. Perhaps a paragraph! And finally a short story. It's rough. The characters are off just a little. We need to polish it up a bit.
When we're ready, we start to work on the final layout. How big should our calligraphy piece be? How many words will be right for our story? For both, the answer is the same. Small enough to finish without getting discouraged. Big enough to challenge us.
But what about the window dressing? The border? Or as it's known in writing, what about the world building? Even in a contemporary story set on everyday Main Street, there are details we must decide. What is the season? Which way does the heroine turn when she goes to work? A rough map will help nail down the details just as the rough border does for our calligraphy piece. It does something else. It frames the piece providing a finishing touch. Oh, the piece is complete with just the words. But the border gives it framework and cohesion.
When the writer spends time on the world building for their story, it adds polish and completion to their story. Does it take time? Oh, yes. It certainly takes time. Is it worth it? Take another look at the finished piece at the top. What do you think?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

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..."

Friday, December 2, 2016

Singing in the 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.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Exploding Turkey



One year--I think it was 1984--we moved into a new house the day before Thanksgiving. This was after spending four weeks in a hotel with four kids, three of them teenagers. It was a move from Houston, Texas to upstate New York. The kids were out of school for that four weeks because we didn't have an "official" address.

So finally, we moved in on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. That year it was also my birthday. The next morning when we woke up we had no water because the pipes were frozen. Nothing was unpacked, but we'd had the presence of mind to pick up several aluminum roasting pans. For the turkey, we doubled two pans and plopped the turkey in the oven while we rousted out the necessities from the jumble of boxes that were piled high in the living room and dining room.

It wasn't the first time I had moved. Actually, it was move number forty. So the morning-after chaos was not something new. There were the usual shouts of "Mom, where is...?" and the usual jockeying for space and attention. My husband was trying to figure out why we had hot water in the toilet. Just the little things in life.

When is was time to take the turkey out, the pan collapsed, burning my husband's hands. He tossed it on the top of the stove and it exploded. In a instant we had turkey, dressing, and broth everywhere...on the ceiling, on the walls and counters, down in the innards of the brand new stove...on the floor. Everywhere.

The househunk took the stove apart and carried it outside to wash the worst of it off with the hose in the yard. The boys got in an argument and my younger son "ran away". I remember kneeling on the floor trying to mop up that greasy mess and crying, "I want to go home!"

And my husband leaned down and calmly pointed out, "We are home."

Heh. Well, the runaway came home. My daughters helped set the table and my sons helped wash walls and counters. Amazingly, we sat down to dinner, thankful to be in a home instead of that hotel. And every year, we retell the story of the exploding turkey dinner.

I've grown older--and hopefully wise enough to understand how blessed we were that year.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Compassionate Giving

Yep. It's the season of food drives and holiday baskets and all that other stuff for the poor and disenfranchised. Kids come home with notes from school asking for canned goods. Workplaces and churches urge us to give, so we take a couple cans from our pantry, send them off with the kids or drop them in the receptacle at church or work and move one, feeling like we've done our part. It's quick, impersonal and doesn't involve us in the messy work of getting to know the folks we think we're helping.

My family has been the recipient of many a food basket...among other offerings. For over a year I helped box up food for home deliveries from a food bank. Since I've seen both sides of the deal, I thought I'd add a few pointers. Some folks have never had to wonder where their next meal was coming from. So I figure they may not know some of this stuff.

1. Please don't use this opportunity to empty all the crap from your pantry you will personally never eat. You know what I mean. If you and your family won't eat it, what makes you think someone else will? As grateful as my family was for the food we received, there were times I just had to shake my head in wonder. Why would I need six cans of artichoke hearts and three cans of hominy?

2. If you're putting together a holiday box for a specific family, make sure all the necessary ingredients are in it. You know...butter, milk, eggs. Giving a can of pumpkin and a pie shell might not cut it if the family doesn't have the other things in their pantry or fridge.

3. While I am not picky in general, try to find out if your recipient family has any food allergies or religious restrictions. I know of a very poor Jewish family that received a lovely ham... A little compassion goes a long way. That year we swapped our turkey with that family and everyone was happy.

4. There are other things you can stick in the food basket that would make it special. Paper plates and napkins. A small bottle of dish soap. Homemade cookies. Ziploc bags to store the leftovers. A can opener. Aluminum foil. Let your kids decorate the box and write a personal note. Always remember your food basket is going to a family of real people with real feelings.

5. Consider inviting those needy folks over to share your Thanksgiving. Don't tell me you won't have a pile of leftovers. Be prepared to bag some of them up to send home with your guests. Don't forget there are a lot of older folks who live alone and may find the effort of preparing anything too difficult. Or too lonely.

Being on the edge of poverty sucks all year long, but it sucks more when your kids are listening to other kids talk about the great meals they're looking forward to. It sucks more when parents have to face the terrible awareness that they can't provide for their family like they want to. And the elderly often find it too humiliating to admit they need help. Whatever you choose to do, be compassionate and loving.




Saturday, November 19, 2016

Reaching Out

One of the things you don't realllllly understand about being an author (when you begin) is the reality of the minuscule number of authors who become well known/popular. You have visions of being the next Nora Roberts or John Sandford or Louis L'Amour. The unpalatable truth is that's not going to happen. At least, not immediately. That level of recognition is the reward for perseverance and hard work and craftsmanship. And time.

Even then, the likelihood of joining that tiny group of the top authors is vanishing small. But that doesn't mean you quit. No, you do your best work, every time.

I once had a conversation with a beginning writer who told me she was 'practicing' with her early books until she had her bestseller. And then she would really work at writing. Until that time, arrived, she wasn't going to worry too much about those pesky things like typos and misspellings.

Hmmmm.

Here's the way it works in the real world. Someone reads your book. If they really like it, they go looking for other books you've written. And guess what they'll find? All those books that you practiced on. All those books you didn't think were important enough to edit. Yep. That's what they'll find. And they'll never look for another of your books.

Wherever you are in your writing journey...make sure your end product is the very best you can do. You never know when a future reader will be basing all their book purchasing plans on the impression you make.

Be all you can be.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

They are THEM, We are US

I've been contemplating the rabid, racist, hateful world we live in. It mostly boils down to one thing. They are not us. We are not them

It's irrational. But it's also instinctual. One of those senses deeply buried in our DNA from a past so ancient we only have a dim glimpse of it. In that day, they were the enemy. Every one that wasn't us was the enemy. I suspect that was the entire basis for the enmity. Color, sex, appearance were merely ways to identify the enemy and confirm that they were not us

Animals still have some of these instincts. And children. Children know who the enemy is. How many times have we heard or read about children who rejected an adult, wanting nothing to do with them, only to find out later the adult is a pedophile? Children know. They reject bullies. They reject those who would put them in danger. But they don't reject them based on color or gender or appearance. Children are colorblind until an adult teaches them otherwise.

The hunk was raised in an extremely prejudiced, racist household. But he was capable of learning and changing. Heh. We have three grandchildren who are 'half' black. And two who are 'half' Puerto Rican. Although, I'm not sure how you can be half anything. Of all the things in life, race and color of our fellow man is the least important...unless we choose to believe otherwise. 

I have a picture of my grandson and the hunk 'working' on something, their heads together as Poppy explains what they're gonna do. I don't see color in that picture. I see love. 

But then, that picture bears out my original thought. The color of skin isn't nearly as important as the relationship. Our grandchildren are us.

When we reject others based on color or religion or gender or sexual orientation, what we're really saying is we don't want them to be part of us. As long as we draw that line, we will always have enemies. Always. Until THEY are US.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Billionaire Shifter Alien Cowboy Alpha Seal Vampire Prince

Soooo... I'm in search for an ordinary hero. Someone who has an ordinary job. Maybe he paints houses or cleans gutters or collects trash. He's not rich. He has no extraordinary skills or talents. He has no paranormal capabilities. He just gets up in the morning, gets dressed and goes to work. He doesn't drink expensive wine. He hates football and likes to read.

He's one of the men who live around us, next door, upstairs, or in the next neighborhood over from us.

If I can't have ordinary, at least make him unusual enough to stand out. One of my favorite heroes was a calligrapher. Another worked for the phone company. And a third was a hunting guide. None of them were tortured souls searching for redemption. They were guys.

I'm tired of all the super alpha, super rich, super unrealistic heroes. I don't want one who is out there on top because that was his place in life from birth. I want some fellow who rises above the mundane to become something extraordinary.

Give me a real hero.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Art of Protest

So-called protests have become very popular this week. Regardless of the candidate or winner, folks aren't happy. Now the ones who didn't win are protesting. And the ones who won are demonstrating what they perceive as new power to do as they please. None of them are right. And none of them are really accomplishing anything effective...except pissing off their fellow citizens. Yeah, they're certainly angering the rest of the populace.

There's an art to an effective protest. And rules. Once you break the rules, you've lost all chance at getting your message out. If you want to see really effective protests, check out some of the marches led by Martin Luther King. THEY were effective. No one is gonna hear your "I have a Dream" speech if they perceive you as rioters and rabble-rousers.

1. Know what you're protesting. I would venture 80% of the protesters this week are just folks who want to let someone know they're unhappy. So what? A good percentage of the people in this country--or for that matter, the world--are unhappy. You have to narrow it down to the sharpest possible goal. Just marching around, yelling about the election outcome is not effective.

2. Control your actions. There is a vast gulf between peaceful dissent and rioting with vandalism. Often, silent, peaceful dissent speaks so much louder than rioting. I remember a vivid image from the sixties/seventies when people were protesting the Vietnam War. The Nation Guard was called out and there they stood lined up with their weapons drawn on their own people. One young male protester walked down the line inserting carnations in every single rifle barrel. It was a sharp contrast war vs. peace. And totally non-violent.

3. Make sure your protest doesn't harm the innocent. A woman died this week because protesters blocked ambulance access to the hospital. In what world is that ever okay? Ever? Another family was prevented from reaching their loved one before she died because protesters wouldn't let them through. Again, this is never all right. Never.

4. Consider the effectiveness of a protest vs. some other action. This week was a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of voters. I will not debate here the extra side issues such as popular vote, electoral college, or the third party vote. I WILL say the vote demonstrated just how unhappy a large part of the population was. There is nothing more terrifying to the members of congress than an angry populace willing to get out to the polls.

5. Much of congress has been hanging out in Washington, D.C. for most of our lifetimes. Think about that. We can swap out Presidents every four years until we die. But if we never vote out our congressional delegates, nothing will change. Do you want to know who's really running our government? Look at the Congress. And think about this...if you never write or call your congressman or congresswoman to express your displeasure with the way they're doing their job, then you don't have the right to bellyache about it.

6. Elections do not magically happen. They require people. Polling places require workers. When was the last time you did your civic duty by participating in the election process? When was the last time you offered a ride to an elderly voter? Or babysat so a young mother could go vote? If you're not participating, then you have no right to be unhappy about the outcome.

If you want to protest, do so. It's still your right. But ask yourself if this protest is the most effective use of your time, efforts, and voice.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Media Truth

There is no such thing. Never has been. Never will be. From the time of the town criers 'media' was controlled by the powers that were...usually, the current ruler. And so it is, even today in our techie world. Only the foolish expect it to be different.

Facts are always filtered through the folks in power. They decide what the powerless will be told. State secrets are just another name for facts someone has decided not to share with the general public.

In the past, news was disseminated through newspapers and broadsheets, but never think they weren't slanted to share the views of those who owned them. That's true today.

Then radio became widespread and proved to be a wonderful tool for disinformation and propaganda. It might be shellacked with the palatable coating of music and weather, but it's still controlled by whoever owns it. A few years ago, a singer made the mistake of stating his opinion about something that didn't agree with the general view. And he found it tough going to get his music played on the radio. Retaliation for stepping out of line was swift and long term.

Now television presents news hours in the evening. However, little news is served up. They're actually closer to entertainment. What news leaks through the jolliness of the presenters is mostly accidental and carefully screened by behind the scenes censors who decide what the general public should know.

So. What's this all about? Think about the elections going on. Consider how much 'truth' might actually be suppressed by all candidates. No one lives a blameless life. And the media owners have no interest is presenting truth in any form. Truth doesn't pay. Sensationalism does. If you want to know the truth, stop getting your information from Facebook and television. Research your candidates like grownups. Pretend, just for once, you're really responsible adults.

Then vote your conscience.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why? Who? What?

Sigh. I've been working on the concept of reading new-to-me authors without much success. You know it's bad when you can quote your favorite authors' dialogues from memory. Hence the attempt to find new authors. Here are my observations:

1. It's difficult to get into the story when you don't give a damn about the characters. Not even one little damn. They aren't engaging. Their dialogue is stilted or childish. They have no redeeming qualities...or they're too precious for words...including their cutesy names. Give me a Bob or Harry or George. Please.

2. Learn to spell. Learn the difference between utter and udder. Believe me, 'he was udderly desperate' is a startling image. I used to keep a list, but after six pages, it just wasn't worth the effort. And no, these weren't self-published authors. They weren't even small pubs. These books came from the 'big NY pubs'. Yuck. Don't depend on spellcheck to catch your incompetence.

3. Provide some hope for an HEA. The last three books I started had odds so stacked against the hero/heroine they made me ill with anxiety. I have enough anxiety in my life. I don't need more from my reading material. Also, when there is no glimpse of hope, the eventual happy ending is just unbelievable. Really.

4. Maybe place that black moment near the end. Geez, if the whole damn book is one long black moment, what's the point? You never get an opportunity to root for the good guys, cause they're just miserable. Why? Why would you do that?

5. What is wrong with some nice, normal people? Why do all women have to hate cooking? And all men are slobs? Why can't the heroes have normal cars instead of souped up jobbies? Why are all the women willowy or BBW? Aren't there any in the middle? And really...isn't there anyone over thirty in the entire world?

6. If you're gonna have a cat or a dog or a hamster or a goat, then dammit have it! I'm thinking of starting a digital rescue for all the lost romance pets.

Anyway, that's my take. And now I'm back to reading some of my long-time favorites. I reckon it'll be a couple years before I take that leap into the unknown again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Perspective the Second Time Around

A while back I received the last of my book rights back from a certain not-to-be-named publisher. And quite frankly, I was in a bad place in my life and at that time I didn't care if I ever repubbed them again. I also was thinking iffy thoughts about the subject matter/erotic content. So I put them on the back burner to simmer.

Above is the cover for the first book. I had strong thoughts about completely rewriting it or expanding it or... well, if you're one of my fellow authors from there, you know where I'm coming from. But today, I finally sat down and read the darn thing for the first time in about a year. And found myself chuckling and smiling. And I decided this was where I was in 2007 and it wasn't a bad place, you know?

So hopefully by the end of the week, I'll have it back up at least on Amazon. If you like your romance a little steamy, maybe you'll give it a try.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mean Girls League

In the past two or three weeks, a number of posters on my facebook timeline have announced they have 'unfriended' folks for various reasons ranging from political beliefs to some vague personal reasons. Now I don't care if an individual unfriends the entire list of friends. What disturbs me is the secret glee--and self-righteousness--peering out from the posts. That 'I paid you back!' attitude says more about the poster than it does about the unfriended.

The internet, and in particular social media of any ilk, has a long memory. What you post today will come back to take a chunk out of your backside in the future. Trust me on this. I learned this lesson much to my cost more than five years ago when I sunk my writing career with careless words.

At the time I had more than fifteen books contracted with a certain unnamed publisher. I was unhappy about various issues (covers, publishing schedule, etc.) and discussed it on what I considered to be a private group of friends/fellow authors. Within weeks, I was assigned a new editor who not only didn't want the additional burden of a new author, but also didn't think much of my writing skills--and wasn't shy about stating her opinions. Several weeks later, I was assigned a different editor who briskly informed me it was going to take several months for her to read through my previous books so she could get 'up to speed'. In the meantime, I should fill out the attached forms. Seventeen pages. She would get back to me when she was ready to deal with me.

My royalties tanked. Seriously. They dropped from over 2K a month to less than two hundred dollars.

Fellow authors and friends vanished into the internet ether. Like the old-time Amish, the shunning began. It was pervasive and total. No one wanted to know me.

And my royalties sank to nothing. Checks failed to arrive. Editor e-mails went unanswered. I was officially persona non grata. I had committed the unpardonable sin of mentioning the small short-comings of my publisher.

I was among some of the first who faced the unfair practices of a publisher.

Eventually, my editor sent my most recent submission back with a detailed five page letter explaining all my shortcomings and noting she would be willing to reconsider it if I made the changes noted, thereby substantially changing the book. I declined. And submitted another story I had written in the interim to a different publisher where it was accepted.

And life went on for a short while. I found myself in a smaller, constricted circle of friends as one after the other drifted away. My next four submissions were rejected out of hand. And I stopped writing, convinced I'd never been more than competent to begin with.

I have all my book rights back from that publisher, but I'm not sure I'll ever re-pub them. The three books I currently have on the market net less than $10 per quarter--total.

And the 'friends' and 'fellow authors' I enjoyed sharing with so much earlier in my career? Well, most of them have discovered for themselves the real sorrow of dealing with that publisher.

All of my troubles can't be blamed on that initial transgression in that 'private' group. But certainly, some of them started then. I wonder if the individuals who hastened to pass on my feelings really understood how damaging it was for me? There's no way to tell.

But since then I've adopted a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy everywhere on the internet. If someone bothers me with their post, I quietly unfriend them and move on. It's no one else's business. I learned an expensive lesson back then. I hope others won't have to learn that lesson, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Hope and Dreams

Unless you live in a cave somewhere in the deepest, darkest Amazon, you know a little competition (the Olympics) is taking place in Rio. By their very nature the Olympic Games are totally about hopes and dreams. Just taking part in the world wide arena is a major hope and dream, whether you are at the top or the bottom group of competitors because wherever you're from YOU are the best from your country. I think some of the observers forget that.

Yes, on one level, it's all about gold and silver and bronze medals. On an entirely different level, it's about competing against the world's best and performing at your peak ability. How many opportunities does any individual have to do that? In any arena? And it all begins with a dream and high hopes.

If you're not the best does that negate your dream? No. Someone will always be better. I think about Usain Bolt, 'fastest man on the planet'. That's what the sportcasters are yelling, but who knows? Likely, somewhere in the world, quietly going about his life is another man who could give Bolt a run for his money. So, in truth, Bolt is the fastest at this particular competition. The same is true for all the competitors in all the various arenas. Winning--while exciting and wondrous--is not what the Olympic Games are about. Politics, doping, and all the other scandals are not what they're about either.

No, they're about hopes and dreams. They're about a 41 year old gymnast with the guts to go out there and compete on the world stage against young women half her age. Or the 38 year old volleyball competitor when dared to go for the gold. They're about all the men and women who sucked it up, worked like stevedores, put their futures on hold so they could represent their countries.

For those who thumb their noses at the men and women who didn't win gold, I say shame on you. Shame on you. What have you done with your life that gives you the right to badmouth them? Winner or loser, the Olympic competitors went out and tried. They got up off their couches and recliners and worked for their dream. Who cares whether their outfits were attractive or their hairstyles were up-to-date or they placed their hand over their heart during the National Anthem? They earned the right to stand on that podium.

As an American, I'm proud--and thankful--for all the men and women who went out there and worked to represent me. Competition in the Olympic arena was never my hope or dream, but we all have some hope, some dream we strive for. May we continue to work for our dreams undeterred by the naysayers in the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mocking Keys

Writing is more challenging the longer you're away from it. The brain is a clever opponent, zigging this way and that, presenting other more attractive options than sitting down and actually writing. There are oh, so many books to read. And social media pages crying out for attention. And of course, the never-ending wonder of the Internet. If all else fails, the brain just takes...a nap.

What's distracting me now? An orange. The scent of it--even through the closed refrigerator door--is soooo alluring I can't stand it. I must have the orange! I. Must. Have. It.

Wait! The blog post isn't finished. No orange until it's finished.

The end.

No, no, no. That's not right. Say what you have to say. Hmmmm. What was I gonna say? Something important? No-oo.

The end.

No! Hands on the keyboard. Write! Write, write, write. Um, write? Yes. Write. But, but, writing is so hard. So hard. And there's an orange in the refrigerator. And a cheese stick. Really, writing is too hard to do today. Maybe tomorrow...

Write!

But I'm so tired. And sleepy. And zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Paralyzed with Fear

In the past few weeks I've corresponded with numerous writers who all began writing about the same time I did. Everyone is reporting the same thing...no writing going on. They sit down in front of the big white screen and freeze. The brain doesn't work. The joy and desire isn't there. Nothing. Nada.

Oh, I understand! It's been a long dry spell for me. Then today as I was putzing along with a computer game the reason dawned. It's damn hard to write when you don't really care what happens to your characters. I think we've been victims of our success.

Back in the beginning when we didn't know much, we just wrote. All those things we worry about now like POV and character development and grammar and blurbs and other crap too stupid to even discuss just gets in our way. We've forgotten how to just tell the story. We're worried about writing the great romance/mystery/paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy novel--instead of just writing the story.

How did this happen? I think we're all so hung up on 'improving' and 'honing our skills' and all that other stuff that gets in the way that we're afraid.  Yep. Afraid we can't measure up. Afraid we won't be a success. Afraid someone won't like what we write. Too bad. So what if someone doesn't like it? Back in the beginning, weren't we eager to share our stories with someone...anyone? And didn't we write because we loved writing? Didn't we love our characters to the point of living with them day in and day out so that the rest of the world didn't really matter?

If we aren't involved with our stories, why would anyone else be? That's what we're missing. Recently, I've read several books, some that we'd even call novellas, that are NOT the great American romances. But you know what? I love them. I can't wait until the next ones in the series come out. And do you know why? Because it's obvious their creators love them. They're engaged in telling their character's stories. They want to share their character's adventures.

I have a story I've struggled with for several years. And here is why. I forgot to just tell the story. I was afraid I couldn't do justice to this character. That his story would be a 'throw-away'. And in refusing to share his story, his triumph, I did him a great injustice. I didn't trust him to let me tell his story. I was afraid.

We have to get back to the basics. Tell the story. Let the characters shine through.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Death Came Today

Fifty people died early this morning in Orlando, Florida. They weren't the only deaths in the USA...or even the only deaths of American citizens today. If their murders weren't so spectacular and gruesome, if the political spin potential wasn't so great, we wouldn't be having conversations about terrorism, or gay lifestyles, or gun control. The families would be mourning in private and life would go on.

The manner of their deaths is what sets this group of people apart from all the others who died today...All those who died in accidents, from cancer, from old age or birth, from heart attacks and strokes and family violence. People die every single day. Some die from stoning because they're just who they are--women--and others die from guns because a child found a weapon that was unsecured. Some die from a car accident because of a blown tire. Others die from beatings inflicted by family members. Death comes everyday.

A peculiar reaction happens when a mass death happens, though. People rise up, determined to blame someone or something, even if none of the dead are theirs, because by Golly, someone is going to pay! Instead of mourning, instead of pulling together to provide comfort, we argue and debate about who deserves to shoulder the blame.

I wonder. Is there a magical number that makes death more important? Does the family that lost their child to cancer grieve less than the family that lost their child to gun violence in a night club? And does their religion or sexual orientation or ethnicity or race or occupation make their lives more or less 'valuable'?

Death came today across the world, leaving terrible holes in the lives of those who live. Humans are the same everywhere. Volunteers inundated the blood banks in Orlando to donate blood. In the pictures I saw, there were black and white, male and female, waiting patiently to do their part for the survivors. Because blood is blood. It pumps through our veins. It sustains life. And when it stops, unbearable grief descends on family and friends, regardless of the cause.

The blame game settles nothing, particularly when the perpetrator is dead. If we seek to blame others, then we take away from the monstrous deeds of one man. Why do we do that? Why do we try to spread the blame for this man's deeds to others? He planned it. He carried it out. No one else. He bears the responsibility. I refuse to give him any glory by using his name, but only he did it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Absotively Possilutely

We've all known an individual who is so upbeat all the time we just want to slap them. They not only make lemonade with the lemons life tosses them, they also make lemon bars and lemon cake and lemon sherbet and lemon... Well we all know at least one.

Then there's the one who resides on the other end of the scale. Nothing is right. Nothing. If they inherited a million dollars, it still wouldn't be enough. If the sun is shining, they complain about the heat or the wind or how it makes their eyes hurt.

Somewhere in the middle is a happy place. This is a place that allows us to deal with the lemons in life, but provides comfort and contentment to bolster us in the bad times. It's reality. The secret is awareness of the good moments in the center of the bad. A good cup of coffee. Bright shiny leaves on a tree after a hard rain. A single flower blooming it's heart out by the side of the road. A child's smile. A book or song that touches the heart.

We're living in hard times all over the world. I'd be the first to admit there is violence, grief, war all around us. But if we are to survive on an individual basis, we must find a center of quiet, a place of tranquility where we gather strength to face the battles of life.

In the past, everyone was expected to take a time of contemplation, a time to live in that 'happy place' even for a few moments. Thinking doesn't happen in the hurly-burly of life. The mind and heart require quiet for that. It's probably why so many writers admit to having their best ideas while in the shower.

Take a moment. Have a cup of tea or coffee while listening to a favorite piece of music. Walk in the woods. Hear the laughter of children. Smile at a stranger. Five minutes. Just five minutes without interruption. Gear up for the day.   


Monday, June 6, 2016

Copy and Paste

Sigh. Reach out and touch someone by saying hello. Copying and pasting some mindless status takes little-to-no effort and just annoys folks. It's passive-aggressive and irritating. Say something original...even if it's just an observation about the life going on around you.

Talk about a book you're reading or the flowers growing in your garden or the silly stuff your gerbil is doing, but for crying out loud, quit asking people to copy and paste crap--especially when there's an implied threat that all life as we know it will come to an end if they don't. It's social media, not chain letter heaven.

That is all.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Self-centric

Sunday is my day to surf the web and read dubious content. The thing that struck me about the various stories that caught my eye is the extent that our culture has supported self-centrism. It's all about 'me'...even if it's incredibly stupid or criminal.

Take the young woman who asked a potential bride's maid to dye her red hair brown...so all the bride's maids would match. Um, if hair color is that important, why ask the woman to be in your wedding? Clearly, it's not because of your emotional attachment.

Or the agnostic fellow who lives far away from his family. During a home visit, he was invited to his sister's renewal of her marriage vows--in a church--and was deeply offended that he might have to go inside a church. He felt like his beliefs were more important than her ceremony. Um, don't attend, idiot. Your disapproving presence would ruin her celebration.

Of course, the topper for the week is the fellow who was convicted of rape, then given a six month sentence because more time might negatively impact his future. Yet again, a victim is pushed aside in favor of a convicted felon. Why? What about her future? Doesn't her life have value?

Or the chick who caused a car accident that killed four people--because she was texting--and now is whining because she doesn't believe she should have to serve time. Four people died. Since when do we let someone walk away when they are clearly at fault? Hello...if you shot them, you sure wouldn't.

I have to scratch my head over such stories. Are we really so self-centered no one matters except ourselves? Are we so accepting of such behavior that we not only approve, but even support injustice based on self-importance? I don't understand.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Not in my Lifetime

"High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," the rock slab says. "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point." ca. 1896
 
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/century-old-warnings-against-tsunamis-dot-japans-coastline-180956448/#BMfZk8EpPFTcV1Jb.99

The warning stone above was carved after 22,000 Japanese citizens died in a tsunami. In 1896. Many who died in the most recent tsunami were living and working below the points where the tsunami stones were erected. And why? Because 'nothing like that has happened in my lifetime'.

In the midwestern USA a flood disaster is in progress. I cannot tell you how many videos I've watched where shocked, homeless survivors say things like, "I'm in my seventies and I've never seen anything like this." Or..."My grandpa is ninety-two and he said there's never been flooding like this before." Well, that's pretty much the definition of a hundred year flood. The notion that it's never happened before, therefore it never will, is false.

My heart goes out to all those people who've lost their homes and family members to floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, wild fires, hurricanes, volcanoes and other natural disasters. But the truth is life is pretty much a crap shoot. Wherever you live you have to expect the unexpected--and that means you'll likely have little-to-no warning. I have observed my fellow man and woman for quite a long time now. And I have to say in spite of the ever present mountain of information and electronic media, people are oblivious. 

They're oblivious and have pathetic faith that nothing bad will happen to them. The police warn of a serial killer/or rapist attacking women in a certain scenario or part of town. "Don't walk alone," they warn. "Lock your windows and doors. Be aware of your surroundings." And yet...the warnings go unheeded.

Folks build on low-lying land or flood plains because they can't conceive of that much rain. They live on the coast because a hurricane is not going to come ashore exactly where they live. They live below a volcano because it hasn't erupted in years. 
 
Time to wake up. Mother Earth is seriously annoyed and she's changing. Just because something hasn't happened in your lifetime...your chances are going up sharply that it will in your future. Heed the warnings.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Aging--Not for Sissies

To all those twenty somethings out there...your life is just beginning. You may think you're all grown up and adulty, but the truth is you're starting on the road, not at your destination.

I married three weeks after I turned eighteen. I was sure I was ready. Phft! No one is ever ready for any new experience. We all learn on the job. Spouses don't come with learner's manuals. Neither do children. And grandchildren? Parents? None of them come with learner's manuals, either. You just keep rolling along, doing the best you can in your current position.

This year, I'll be sixty-seven when I reach my birthday in November. In December, the hunk and I will be married forty-nine years. That doesn't sound right. Didn't we just get married a couple years ago? Really?

Another thing that doesn't come with a manual is the aging process. Of course, for every person, it's a different experience, but there are some things I wish I had known way back when.

Live a life with less stress. This was a small nugget of wisdom one of my doctors doled out to me when I was back in my forties. I didn't get it then, but I sort of understand it better now. Stress, above all, is the #1 killer in America. At that time, I had four teenagers, a high-stress job, financial distress, and I was a full-time student in the evenings at college. You might say I was seriously trying to kill myself. Not because of all the peripheral stuff, but because I was damned determined to manage everything around me. I didn't have any idea how to say 'No!' to anyone. But I learned. Oh, I learned.

Self-care is the first commandment. If you're a micro-manager like I was, then you by default must give up the time you need to take care of yourself. You don't eat right. You're more than likely sleep deprived because you're worrying about crap you can't control anyway. You definitely don't exercise because who has time for that? Somebody or something might slither out of your control. By the time you understand what you've done to your body, the damage is done. And from there it's an uphill battle all the way. Remember this--no one on their death bed says they wish they'd spent more time managing other people's lives. Nope.

Take time everyday to meditate. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can hear it now. Meditate? Well, you might call it prayer or thinking time or downtime or something else. But basically, this is time when nothing else intrudes. If you have kids, you might have to go take a bath with the door locked. You could kill two birds with one stone and go for a walk alone. No music. No television. No computers or cell phones. Absolutely no input except from yourself. I'm firmly convinced one of the great losses in modern life is the time to simply think. I believe that's why studies have found that knitters and crocheters are less stressed--because the process allows time to think.

Learn to enjoy preparing and sharing food. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it's not. A large part of the whole let's-eat-out phenomenon is we really, really, really don't like food preparation. And a large part of that is because we do it alone. For those folks who have families, this is especially true. We start to resent having to do all the work because we're doing it by ourselves. And our spouses and children don't appreciate our efforts because they don't contribute. Why are cookouts more fun? Because we do them as a group effort. We're all there, socializing while we prepare the food, and then...we continue that socializing while we eat. Put the damn cell phone in a drawer and declare a moratorium on 'talkie' time. Turn off the radio and television. Shut down the computer. And gather in the kitchen to prepare dinner and eat together. Time is precious. Don't waste it.

Pay attention to your body's messages. Men especially tend to ignore what their bodies are trying to tell them until they just drop one day, but women are just as guilty. For men, it tends to be a feeling that seeking medical help means they're not manly or something. For women, it's a sense of guilt. You read that right. We feel guilty because we have the notion that everything around us will come to a screeching halt if we take time for ourselves--even to take care of our health. HELLO! Serious illness will definitely keep you from managing everything you believe you need to manage. AND just a head's up. If you drop dead, life will continue on for the survivors. It's a unpalatable truth, but there it is. None of us are irreplaceable.

If you reach your sixties, there will be adjustments. I don't care how much you do to take care of yourself, there will be changes. You will inevitably discover you can't move like you did when you were younger. You'll find certain foods are not friendly anymore. You may need more rest. Patience evaporates more quickly. There's a need for solitude and quiet. Traveling might be more challenging. Why? Because hopefully you are facing the challenges of aging. The alternative--death--is not one any of us want to face any sooner than we must. As we age, we learn to cherish every day. We celebrate waking up in the morning. We treasure time with friends and family because we start to see time is not something we can take for granted.

If you are younger than me you still have time to assess your life and how it will affect your aging process. Let me tell you, the time will pass so quickly it will take your breath away. You'll look around in amazement wondering how the time has gone. When did that happen? Be purposeful. Be aware of every moment. Once it's gone...it's gone.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gettin' Down

Found this photo of me at twenty-eight and I stopped to marvel at my ability to squat down next to my youngest child of four in her stroller (you can't really see her, but she's there). Based on clothing, etc., I imagine this was taken in the fall of 1978... a little while ago. I can't imagine getting into that position now.

My knees pop when I bend. My hip joints protest in no uncertain terms. Nah... I don't get down like that anymore unless I'm in a swimming pool.

But ya know? It's good to have proof that I COULD do it once upon a time...

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Weekend

Properly speaking, Memorial Day Weekend is to honor all the men and women who've lost their lives in the service of our country. But for me, it's also a weekend that reminds me of the day I lost my mother 57 years ago. A few moments before midnight on May 29, she died in a car accident on a lonely starlight rural road in New Mexico. I was ten years old then.

This picture is about what she looked like when she died. At the time, from my childish perspective I thought she was old...not as old as my grandparents, of course, but OLD. It was only when I approached the age of 31 myself that I realized just how young she was.

So today I remember my mother. Still miss ya, mom!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fifty Ways to Kill

Among the stranger things an author might research are all the ways to kill off a character. You might think it would be easy to knock off a character--but you would be wrong. Of course, there are the usual suspects. Shooting. Stabbing. Poisoning. Car accident. Drowning. Battle. But those have been done--pardon the pun--to death.

I've started a list of the more unusual ways my favorite authors have killed off a character. It takes imagination and creativity to make it work. You can't just present a messy death without setting up a plausible scene...and a believable narrative. So here's some of my favorites...not fifty, of course, but two or three.

1. Beheading by video game. Fantasy in Death by Nora Roberts. Yep, this one definitely grabbed my attention. I'm not going to 'splain it, but I read the entire book in one sitting to find out how Lt. Eve Dallas figured it out.

2. Bear attack. Prey by Linda Howard. The trick here was arranging a realistic reason for the character to be available for the bear. Incidentally, this was one damn, scary bear. Brrrrr.

3. Fall from a horse. Connagher by Louis L'Amour. Again...the reason this was unusual was because so many times western writers use guns as though that was the only way folks died then. This time the character was trapped beneath the horse in the wilderness...and eventually died there.

I've read a zillion stories where authors have killed off characters. And I've spent some time considering all the ways a human can die. So it surprises me when an author goes with the tried and true as though shooting or stabbing someone is the only way. Yeah, it takes more thought and time to set up, but the payoff in adding interest to the story is immeasurable.

So...what's the most interesting way you've read of a character dying? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Time Flies

Heh. Was looking through some photos and came across this one from 1979. That's my bunch at Grand  Canyon on a cool, damp August day. It rained most of the way as we drove up there from Phoenix where it was much warmer--hence the shorts on the kids. But the Grand Canyon cuts through a high plateau so the temps were much cooler.

A lot has happened since this photo was taken. The kids all grew up. The youngest, cradled in her daddy's arms is now a momma with a daughter graduating in a few short days. I look at this picture and remember this wild trip, 3300 miles, camping out every night, traveling the hot searing roads from Houston to Carlsbad Caverns to Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, back across New Mexico, Texas, to northern Oklahoma for a family reunion and then finally back home. We arrived in our driveway with about $3 and change in our pockets.

Our station wagon wasn't air conditioned so we rode with all the windows down. Somehow, we packed clothing for everyone (and bedding) plus camping equipment, a folding port-a-crib, and a high chair all in the back of that wagon. I have NO idea how we managed.

We had some adventurous times. High winds near the painted desert meant the kids all slept in the car while the hunk and I slept in the tent (and our weight was all that kept it from blowing away). In Oklahoma, a tornado touched down less than a mile from our camp ground. During torrential rains. When it passed, everything was soaked.

We encountered cactus, cows, snakes, rocks, scorpions, and horned toads. The kids learned to walk wary and keep a sharp eye out for unfriendlies. But we not only survived, we thrived. I'm glad we made that trip. It was the last 'big' trip we were able to afford.

As I think about it, the memories though misty and fragmented are precious. Time passes. Possibilities slip through our fingers. And before we know it, our children--and grandchildren--are grown, moving on to create their own adventures.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In The Beginning

Back in 2006 the hunk was transferred from New York to Baltimore. I resigned my job, supervised packing up the house, and we moved--all in a four week span. Then I spent several months wandering our new apartment, wondering what I was supposed to do with myself.

Finally, my son (who was staying with us temporarily after leaving the Navy) became frustrated enough to...suggest that I take myself off to my 'office' and brand spanking new computer and write. "You've moaned and groaned for years about not having time to write. Now you have time. Go write."

So, I wrote.

When I finished, that first book was almost 300,000 words. When I started investigating publishing possibilities, I discovered no one wanted a three hundred thousand word book. So I went back to the drawing board, carved my masterpiece into several smaller chunks, polished the first one up...and polished...and polished...and...the hunk, seriously annoyed at my procrastination sneered, "You're never gonna do anything with that book."

"Hah," I sneered back. Little did he know, I'd completely prepared my submission, but just couldn't make myself press the send button. However, with him standing over me, shaking his head in disbelief...I pressed send. And wondered what the heck I'd gotten myself into.

Well, anyone who's submitted a book to a publisher knows you don't get an answer back immediately, so I began work on the sequel. Positive thinking, right?

Five weeks later, I received an e-mail asking for the entire book. Shortly after that, I was offered a contract. And by then the second book was finished, so I sent it off. And then the third...

In the meantime, I had an idea for an new series of books about three sisters who go to Camelot in search for husbands. I sat down to begin the first one. And immediately, the entire enterprise jumped the tracks. Nothing I tried served to bring the characters to their senses. They refused absolutely and categorically to behave. Finally, I threw up my hands and let them have their way. And when I finished, I had a strange farcical version of King Arthur's court that I titled, Chrysanthemum.

With a shrug, I sent it off to my editor, thinking it would be rejected, but at least she would derive some amusement from reading it. To my eternal shock, I was offered a contract for my farce. Now publishing schedules are inscrutable to the average writer. Heck, they might even be inscrutable to the publisher for all I know. But for whatever reason, Chrysanthemum ended up on the publishing schedule ahead of all the other books I had contracts for at that point.

So. On May 23, 2007, nine years ago, Chrysanthemum, my first published book was released. It's not currently available as the rights have been reverted and I haven't re-issued it yet. But in that process, I've re-read it recently, and yeah...I laughed. It's still fun. And I'm pretty sure a writer can't ask for more than that.